Volume 08, Number 03— March 2008


What's in this issue?

March Events
March Holidays — National and International
This Day In History — March
March Birthdays
Travel - Norway's Picturesque Oil Town
Obituaries - February 2008
The Best of the World Almanac Blog
Chronology - February 2008
It's All in the Numbers
Offbeat News Stories
Links of the Month
Quote of the Month
How to reach us


March Events

March 1 - Iditarod Sled Trail Dog Race begins (Anchorage, AK)
March 1-2 - All-Northwest Barbershop Ballad Contest (Forest Grove, OR)
March 3-22 - Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (Texas)
March 7-9 - National Money Show (Phoenix, AZ)
March 7-16 - South by Southwest (Austin, TX)
March 8 - USA Memory Championship (New York, NY)
March 8-9 - Eggsibit (Phillipsburg, NJ)
March 9 - Daylight Saving Time begins
March 13-16 - Ultimate Sport and RV Show (Grand Rapids, MI)
March 15 - Ides of March
March 16-23 - Dr. Pepper Dallas Cup (Pizza Hut Park, Frisco, TX)
March 19-25 - NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Finals (Kansas City, MO)
March 19-25 - NAIA Division I Women's Basketball National Finals (Jackson, TN)
March 20 - First Day of Spring (Northern Hemisphere)
March 21 - British and World Marbles Tournament (West Sussex, England)
March 28-29 - Schmeckfest (Freeman, SD)
March 29-April 13 - Cherry Blossom Festival (Washington, DC)
March 30-April 5 - Merrie Monarch Festival With World's Largest Hula Competition (Hilo, HI)

March Holidays — National and International

March 17 - St. Patrick's Day
March 21 - Good Friday
March 21 - Benito Juárez's Birthday (Mexico)
March 21 - New Year's Day (India)
March 23 - Easter


It's a Fact!

The Japanese constitution, adopted in 1947, renounces war "forever."

This Day In History — March

Day Year Event
Day Year Event
01 1815 After escaping the island of Elba, Napoleon returns to France in an attempt to regain power, but is defeated at Waterloo a few months later.
02 1985 The U.S. approves the first commercial blood test for AIDS.
03 1923 The first issue of Time magazine is published.
04 1933 Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt appoints Frances Perkins the secretary of labor, making her the first woman cabinet member.
05 1946 Former British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill, speaking in Fulton, MO, states that "an iron curtain has descended" across Europe.
06 1857 The Supreme Court issues the Dred Scott decision, holding that slaves do not become free in a free state and that blacks cannot be citizens.
07 1965 Hundreds of marchers for voting rights en route from Selma, AL, to Montgomery are turned back by some 200 sheriff's deputies and state troopers using teargas, nightsticks and whips, on what will become known as "Bloody Sunday."
08 1945 In World War II, a massive incendiary raid by U.S. bombers destroys about one-fourth of all Tokyo's buildings.
09 1862 The Confederate ironclad Merrimack and the U.S. Navy's ironclad Monitor battle inconclusively off Hampton Roads, VA, marking the end of the era of wooden fighting ships.
10 1876 Alexander Graham Bell transmits the first telephone message - "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you" - to his assistant in the next room.
11 1888 A huge blizzard begins to pound the eastern United States, eventually dumping 40-50 inches of snow and causing more than 400 deaths.
12 1968 Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean, becomes an independent country.
13 1972 Author Clifford Irving admits that his purported interviews with and biography of multimillionaire Howard Hughes were hoaxes.
14 1794 Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin.
15 1939 Nazi troops occupy two provinces in Czechoslovakia.
16 1926 The first liquid-fuel rocket flight takes place, launched by Robert H. Goddard in Massachusetts.
17 1871 Parisians begin an uprising against the French government, temporarily establishing a proletarian dictatorship in Paris known as the Commune of 1871.
18 1931 Schick markets the first electric razor.
19 1972 India and Bangladesh sign a 25-year friendship and mutual defense treaty.
20 2003 The first U.S. ground troops enter Iraq and move north towards Baghdad, meeting sporadic resistance.
21 1918 In World War I, the 2d Battle of the Somme begins with the launch of a German offensive against British lines.
22 1622 Indians attack the English colony in Jamestown, VA, and 350 colonists (of about 2000) die.
23 1775 In a speech to the Virginia Convention, Patrick Henry says, "Give me liberty, or give me death!"
24 1603 England's Queen Elizabeth I dies and is succeeded by James I.
25 1933 The German Reichstag gives Adolf Hitler dictatorial powers.
26 1979 Israeli Prime Min. Menachem Begin and Egyptian Pres. Anwar Sadat sign the Camp David peace accord.
27 1977 In the world's worst airline disaster, 2 Boeing 747s collide on the runway in the Canary Islands, killing 582.
28 1881 The "Greatest Show on Earth" is formed when P.T. Barnum and James A. Bailey agree to merge their circuses.
29 1951 Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Morton Sobell are found guilty of conspiracy to commit wartime espionage.
30 1981 Pres. Ronald Reagan is shot and seriously wounded - as are Press Sec. James Brady, a Secret Service agent and a policeman - by John W. Hinckley Jr.
31 1854 Commodore Matthew Perry and representatives of the Japanese emperor sign a treaty establishing trade relations between the U.S. and Japan.

March Birthdays

Day Year  
Day Year  
01 1954 Ron Howard, actor/director (Duncan, OK)
02 1931 Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet leader (Privolnoc, Russia)
03 1962 Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Olympic champion heptathlete (East St.Louis, IL)
04 1944 Mary Wilson, singer and member of the Supremes (Detroit, MI)
05 1937 Olusegun Obasanjo, president of Nigeria (Abeokuta, Nigeria)
06 1944 Kiri Te Kanawa, opera singer (Gisborne, New Zealand)
07 1960 Ivan Lendl, tennis champion (Ostrava, Czechoslovakia)
08 1921 Cyd Charisse, actress/dancer (Amarillo, TX)
09 1964 Juliette Binoche, actress (Paris, France)
10 1964 Prince Edward, youngest son of England's Queen Elizabeth II (London, England)
11 1934 Sam Donaldson, TV journalist (El Paso, TX)
12 1946 Liza Minnelli, singer/actress (Los Angeles, CA)
13 1950 William H. Macy, actor (Miami, FL)
14 1916 Horton Foote, playwright (Wharton, TX)
15 1933 Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court justice (Brooklyn, NY)
16 1926 Jerry Lewis, actor/comedian (Newark, NJ)
17 1972 Mia Hamm, champion soccer player (Selma, AL)
18 1963 Vanessa Williams, singer/actress (New York, NY)
19 1933 Philip Roth, novelist (Newark, NJ)
20 1958 Holly Hunter, actress (Conyers, GA)
21 1962 Matthew Broderick, actor (New York, NY)
22 1931 William Shatner, actor (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)
23 1973 Jason Kidd, basketball player (San Francisco, CA)
24 1990 Keisha Castle-Hughes, actress (Donnybrook, Western Australia)
25 1942 Aretha Franklin, singer (Memphis, TN)
26 1943 Bob Woodward, journalist (Geneva, IL)
27 1963 Randall Cunningham, football player (Santa Barbara, CA)
28 1981 Julia Stiles, actress (New York, NY)
29 1943 John Major, former British prime minister (Brixton, England)
30 1968 Celine Dion, singer (Charlemagne, Quebec, Canada)
31 1948 Al Gore Jr., former U.S. vice president and presidential candidate (Washington, D.C.)

Travel - Norway's Picturesque Oil Town

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Wikipedia

The harbor in Vågen

Stavanger is a moderate-sized port town (population a bit over 100,000) known for some time as the capital of Norway's flourishing oil and gas sector. But nowadays, especially this year, it is also being celebrated as a magnet for tourists. Foreign workers drawn to the city in recent years by the offshore petroleum industry helped stimulate a cosmopolitan spirit here, reflected in the heart of the city by the highest density of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs in all of Norway. And a raft of other features make it a great place to visit.

For 2008 the European Union has supplied an extra enticement, having named Stavanger one of two cities to serve as the year's European Capital of Culture. (The other is Liverpool, England.) One result is an array of special events for 2008.

Fjords and more

A major lure for visitors is the town's location, on the picturesque Boknafjord on Norway's southwestern coast. The region has some of the finest beaches in northern Europe, but its fjords, waterfalls, and mountainous terrain are probably its most celebrated natural attractions. Among the famous sites are Pulpit Rock, or Prekestolen, whose sheer rock face soars 1980 ft (604 m) above the Lysefjord, and Kjerag Mountain, which is also by the Lysefjord and reaches a height of 3640 ft (1110 m). Kjerag makes for a challenging hike; it also enjoys popularity as a venue for the parachute sport known as BASE jumping.

Long historical run

It's only in recent decades that Stavanger emerged as a major player in the petroleum industry. But the region has played other big roles in its long history, going back as far as Viking times. It was here, at the Battle of Hafrsfjord around 880, that Harold the Fairhaired (Harald Hårfagre) united Norway into a single kingdom. The city proper is usually considered to have been founded in 1125. Centuries later, when merchant sailing was at its height, and Norway had the world's third biggest trading fleet, the ownership of most of that fleet resided in Stavanger. Fishing served for a while as another major source of income for the town. In the latter part of the 19th century, canning became an important activity. Dozens of canning factories appearing in Stavanger and nearby, giving the town a claim to the title of world's largest canning center.

Sampling the centuries

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Jupiter Images

Cobble-stoned Stavanger Old Town

History lies behind many of the sights to be found in the Stavanger region today. At Møllebukta on the southern shore of the Hafrsfjord there's a striking monument to the battle won by Harold the Fairhaired: three immense bronze swords, some 32 ft (10 m) tall, stand as if stuck into the rock. Stavanger's cathedral, situated on a hill above the harbor and marketplace, dates as far back as the founding of the city. It is the only medieval stone cathedral in Norway that retains its original style. Inside there is a remarkable 17th-century baroque pulpit that resembles the figurehead of a ship. Not far from the cathedral is the area known as Old Stavanger, where narrow, meandering cobblestone streets are lined with white, wooden clapboard houses built in the 19th century. Old Stavanger has been called Europe's biggest and best-preserved assemblage of wooden houses. It lies on one side of Vågen, the harbor that cuts into the city center.

On a hill on the opposite side stands Valberg Tower, built in the mid-19th century to provide a vantage point for keeping watch for fires - an obvious threat in a place with so many wooden structures and, in those days, wooden ships. Today the tower offers visitors a splendid view of the region.

Key museums

Economic high points of Stavanger's past and present supply the focus for the city's most distinctive museums. The Stavanger Maritime Museum deals with the region's two millennia of maritime history and includes two 19th-century sailing ships. The Norwegian Canning Museum, housed in an old canning factory in Old Stavanger, on certain days offers smoked brisling fresh from the oven. The architecturally unique state-of-the art Norwegian Petroleum Museum, at the waterfront, includes a main building resembling a block of stone and three cylindrical platforms standing in the sea - reminiscent of ships or oil platforms. Here you can learn about how oil and gas were formed over the ages and how these resources are extracted today.

Other museums of interest include the Stavanger Museum, the Museum of Archaeology, the Norwegian Telecom Museum, and the Rogaland Museum of Fine Arts, whose holdings include the biggest collection in Norway of works by the 19th-century painter Lars Hertervig.

Cultural capital year

In the past some cities designated European capital of culture have used the honor to help stimulate economic development. Stavanger does not need such a shot in the arm. Mayor Leif Johan Sevland notes, "We have unemployment of 1 percent. If you gave me 1000 skilled people tomorrow, we could find jobs for them." The year as cultural capital is more about simply promoting culture and boosting the city's image, and the official theme is "Open Port," signifying the city's openness and inclusiveness. The slew of special events taking place during 2008 - running the gamut from exhibitions, to music festivals, to theater events, to technology workshops, to nature excursions - were chosen with an eye toward involving the region's people themselves, along with artists coming from the outside world. Open Port, according to the organizers, is, among other things, "about challenging the region and its people to be even more open and inclusive towards each other, art, ideas, and opportunities." Among key arrivals from abroad for the cultural capital year are Muziektheater Transparant from Belgium, the Lithuanian group Oskarus Korsunovas Theatre, the Israeli company Inbal Pinto Dance, and South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company, each expected to spend four months in residency.

The cultural capital year schedule includes a number of major events that are regular part of the city's calendar, such as the jazz festival MaiJazz, on May 6-11 in 2008; the International Chamber Music Festival, running from August 11 to 17; Numusic, an internationally renowned "club-based festival dedicated to the advancement of new, alternative, and electronic music," slated for September 4-7; and the international literature and freedom-of-speech festival Kapittel ("Chapter"), planned for September 9-14.

Websites:
Stavanger Guide Maps
Stavanger 2008
Stavanger Kommune
Stavanger Region
Stavanger-Web


It's a Fact!

Johann Sebastian Bach was not the only member of his family known as a composer; seven generations of Bachs achieved prominence in various musical fields from 1580 to 1800.

Obituaries in February 2008

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Wikipedia

Steve Fossett

Butz, Earl, 98, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under Pres. Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford (1971-1976), he was forced to resign after it was reported he made a racist comment; he was briefly jailed for federal tax evasion in 1981; Kensington, MD, Feb. 2, 2008.

Carr, Johnnie, 97, longtime civil rights activist who joined her childhood friend Rosa Parks in the historic Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott of 1955; Montgomery, AL, Feb. 29, 2008.

Fossett, Steve, 63, millionaire adventurer who set many air, sea and land records, including the first solo circumnavigation of the world in a hot-air balloon (2002), the first solo flight around the world without stopping to refuel (2005), and a record (since broken) circumnavigation by sea in 58 days, 9 hours, 32 minutes, and 45 seconds (2004); legally declared dead Feb. 15, 2008, after having gone missing near Yerington, NV on Sept. 3, 2007.

Lantos, Tom, 80, Democrat from northern California who served in the U.S. Congress since 1981. A Hungarian-born Jew, Lantos was the only Holocaust survivor to ever serve in Congress; he credited Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg with assisting in his survival, later introducing legislation naming Wallenberg an honorary U.S. citizen; Bethesda, MD, Feb. 11, 2008.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, 91, Indian spiritual leader who founded and developed Transcendental Meditation, and became more internationally known after the British rock group The Beatles visited his ashram in 1968; Vlodrop, the Netherlands, Feb. 5, 2008.

Scheider, Roy, 75, actor who starred as the police chief in the 1975 blockbuster film Jaws, and who appeared in other popular films including Klute (1971), The French Connection (1971), and All That Jazz (1979); Little Rock, AR, Feb. 10, 2008.

Buckley, William F., Jr. , 82, author and conservative commentator who founded the political magazine National Review in 1955 and hosted the political affairs show Firing Line from 1966-1999; he was a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, and wrote over 60 non-fiction and fiction books; Stamford, CT, Feb. 27, 2008.


The Best of the World Almanac Blog

The Inventors Hall of Fame Class of 2008 - Andrew Steinitz

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Image from joelogon's Flickr stream

Last week the National Inventors Hall of Fame announced its 2008 inductees. To be inducted, inventors must hold a U.S. patent (sorry Leonardo da Vinci) and "the invention must have contributed to the welfare of mankind and have promoted the progress of science and the useful arts."

Take a look around you. Perhaps you see a digital clock, a solar-powered desk calculator, or your lunch in a Styrofoam container. Each was made possible by one of this year's inductees.
     * Nick Holonyak, Jr. invented the first LED (light emitting diode).
     * Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson were the first to convert the sun's energy into electricity using silicon solar cells.
     * Ray McIntire invented polystyrene foam while working at Dow Chemical.

Other important inventions include Sir John Charnley's low-frictional torque hip replacement in the 1960s and Malcom McLean's concept of containerized shipping. A personal thanks to Robert Adler (ultrasound TV remote) and Ruth Benerito (wrinkle-free cotton). Brief bios for all 18 inductees are available on the website.

The hall was created by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the National Council of Intellectual Property Law Associations in 1973. It now contains 371 inductees.

New Passport Cards to be Issued - M. Lisa Lui

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U.S. Department of State

Maybe I'm the only one around the office who's constantly contemplating my escape abroad ... but I was surprised to find out the U.S. government would begin issuing so-called passport cards this spring.

Passports can cost upwards of $75 to obtain, but the wallet-sized passport card can be had for as low as $20 (for a renewal). (Or submit applications for both at the same time and save!)

Though the passport card is valid only for land and water crossings between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean, the card's cost and size is expected to ease travel for U.S. residents in border communities.

As with the e-passport, the passport card will contain a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip. Unlike the e-passport, the passport card's RFID chip will be capable of being "vicinity read," which "will allow CBP [Customs and Border Protection] officers, in advance of the traveler's arrival at the inspection booth, to quickly access information on the traveler from secure government databases, and allow for automated terrorist watch list checks without impeding traffic flow. In addition, they foresee that multiple cards can be read at a distance and simultaneously, allowing an entire car of people to be processed at once."

I just had this vision of a carload of people all happily waving their passport cards in the air. Somehow I doubt going through the border will be any more fun. Though the government hasn't yet set a release date for the card, it's already accepting applications.

Websites:
Homeland Security: Crossing U.S. Borders
Chicago Tribune: "Here's what you need to get back into the U.S."

It's a Fact!

Gottlieb Daimler is credited with building the first practical motorcycle in 1885.


Chronology — February 2008

National

     White House Unveils $3.1 Tril Budget - Pres. George W. Bush submitted a budget to Congress Feb. 4 that called for expenditures of $3.107 tril in fiscal year 2009. The budget forecast annual deficits of $410 bil in fiscal 2008 and $407 bil in 2009, a substantial jump from the $162.8 bil deficit recorded in 2007. Projected outlays for the Defense Dept. totaled $515.4 bil for 2009, which brought U.S. military spending to its highest level (in constant dollars) since World War II. The budget also called for a supplemental expenditure of $70 bil for what the budget categorized as the global war on terror, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush proposed slowing or cutting spending on most domestic programs, including entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid. He also called for eliminating or cutting funding for 151 federal programs, 50 of which were overseen by the Dept. of Education.

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mccain.senate.gov

Sen. John McCain

     McCain Takes Command of GOP Presidential Race; Obama Leads Clinton in Democratic Contests - A month-long marathon of primaries and caucuses left Sen. John McCain (AZ) far ahead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. On the Democratic side, Sen. Barack Obama (IL) took a modest lead over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY) in the estimated delegate tally.
     Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, was the single busiest day of the 2008 primary calendar, as voters went to the polls in two dozen states. In Republican contests, McCain won 9 states - including the two richest prizes, California and New York - while former Gov. Mitt Romney (MA) won 7 states and former Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR) won 5. McCain collected more delegates than all his Republican rivals combined. Romney, who had spent an estimated $98 mil on his campaign (including more than $42 mil of his own money), withdrew from the race Feb. 7 and endorsed McCain a week later.
     Among Democrats, results on Super Tuesday were not nearly so clear-cut. Obama won his home state of Illinois and 12 other states, some of them by large margins. Clinton won in California, New York (her home state), and in 7 other states and American Samoa. Proportional representation rules ensured that Obama would receive a substantial share of those states' delegates, and he finished the day with a slight lead in the delegate count. Clinton campaign officials disclosed Feb. 6 that the candidate had loaned her campaign $5 mil; Clinton had raised $13.5 mil in donations in Jan. fundraising, while Obama raised more than $32 mil.
     The next major delegate contest came Feb. 12 with elections in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC. McCain captured three winner-take-all contests, and Obama beat Clinton in each of the three Democratic primaries by margins of 20% or more. McCain and Obama continued to gain in subsequent primaries and caucuses during the month, notably on Feb. 19, when McCain and Obama won their respective Wisconsin primaries by convincing margins and Obama also won 76% of the delegates in Hawaii, his birth state.

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NOAA

Tornado damage at Union University

     Tornado Outbreak Kills 59 - More than 80 tornadoes ripped through the South on Feb. 5-6, killing 59 people and causing extensive property damage in five states. Hardest hit was Tennessee, where 32 people died; 14 of them were killed in Macon County, northeast of Nashville. In western Tennessee, much of the Union University campus at Jackson was devastated. The twisters claimed 13 lives in Arkansas, 8 in Kentucky, and 6 in Alabama.

     Stimulus Plan Enacted, as Economic Slump Worsens - Congress gave final approval Feb. 7 to a $168 bil economic stimulus package. The plan called for tax rebates of up to $600 for individuals and up to $1,200 for couples filing jointly, with families receiving an additional payment of $300 per child; a minimum rebate of $300 would be sent to tax filers who paid less than that amount in federal tax. The House had initially passed its version of the stimulus package Jan. 29, but a more ambitious plan favored by Democrats was blocked in the Senate. A compromise measure that followed the outlines of the House bill, but added coverage for about 20 mil Social Security recipients and 250,000 disabled military veterans who would not otherwise have been eligible for rebates, passed the Senate by a vote of 81-16. The House quickly approved the Senate version, 380-34, and Pres. Bush signed the measure Feb. 13.
     Meanwhile, concerns about short-term U.S. economic prospects intensified. A Feb. 5 report showing a weakening service sector contributed to a one-day plunge of 370 points in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In manufacturing, General Motors announced Feb. 12 that it would offer buyouts to all of its 74,000 unionized employees. The buyout plan accompanied disclosures that GM had lost $722 mil in the fourth quarter of 2007 and had experienced a record loss for the year of $38.7 bil, mostly attributable to a $38.3 bil write-down of deferred tax assets.
     Citing the ailing housing market, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee Feb. 27 that "the economic situation has become distinctly less favorable" since the summer of 2007. The Dow tumbled 315.79 points Feb. 29, closing at 12,266.39 - its fourth consecutive monthly drop. Crude oil prices settled above $101 per barrel, and the dollar continued to slide against the euro.

     U.S. Seeks Death Penalty Against Alleged 9-11 Plotters - Military prosecutors filed capital charges Feb. 11 against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and five other al-Qaeda members for their roles in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The six men, all Guantánamo detainees, would be tried on conspiracy, murder, and terrorism charges under special procedures laid out by the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
     Mohammed had admitted to being the mastermind of the 2001 attacks in military tribunal transcripts released in Mar. 2007. Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael V. Hayden acknowledged in congressional testimony Feb. 5 that Mohammed had been waterboarded while in CIA custody. A second defendant, Mohammed al-Qahtani - whom investigators believe would have been the "20th hijacker" had he not been denied entry into the U.S. in Aug. 2001 - had also claimed he was tortured and in 2006 had recanted accusations he made against other detainees. Anticipating that attorneys for the six defendants would seek to exclude evidence discovered as a result of harsh interrogation methods, FBI "clean teams" using traditional rapport-building techniques had reportedly been re-interviewing witnesses since late 2006.

     FEMA Trailers Found to Pose Health Risk - Federal health officials confirmed Feb. 13 that trailers issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita posed a serious health risk to their occupants. The health threat stemmed from excessive levels of formaldehyde, a wood preservative linked to vision and respiratory problems and (with prolonged exposure) to cancer. FEMA had issued some 144,000 trailers and mobile homes to Gulf Coast victims of the 2005 hurricanes; about 38,000 trailers were still in use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged that new housing be provided before spring and summer, when rising temperatures would cause formaldehyde levels inside the trailers to increase. FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison pledged Feb. 14 that the agency would not "ever use trailers again," and would seek to transfer trailer residents to apartments or hotels.

     Bolten, Miers Cited for Contempt of Congress - The House voted Feb. 14 to issue contempt citations against White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers. Both had refused to comply with subpoenas issued in 2007 by the House Judiciary Committee, which was inquiring into possible political motivations behind the dismissal of several federal prosecutors - an investigation that eventually led to the resignation of Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales and other top Justice Dept. officials. Miers and Bolten had declined to honor the subpoenas after Pres. Bush declared that evidence related to the dismissals was covered by executive privilege. The House passed the contempt citation, 223-32, while Republicans, who claimed the vote was a political ploy, staged a mass walkout. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) demanded Feb. 28 that the Justice Dept. pursue misdemeanor charges against Bolten and Miers, but Atty. Gen. Michael Mukasey refused. The Bush administration noted "long-standing department precedent" against allowing the U.S. attorney to pursue grand jury indictments for congressional contempt citations or to prosecute the executive branch.

     Six Die in Shootings at Northern Illinois University - A former Northern Illinois University graduate student went on a shooting rampage at the DeKalb, IL school Feb. 14, killing five students and injuring at least 16 others in a crowded lecture hall. The shooter, later identified as Steven Kazmierczak, 27, was armed with a shotgun and three handguns; he killed himself before police arrived. Kazmierczak, who was enrolled as a graduate student in the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign at the time of the shooting, had no apparent connection with any of the victims. The incident was the fifth and bloodiest U.S. school shooting during the Feb. 7-14 period.

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NASA

The Columbus laboratory

     Space Shuttle Atlantis Completes Mission; U.S. Shoots Down Failing Satellite - The space shuttle Atlantis touched down at 9:07 A.M. EST on Feb. 20 at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, completing a successful 13-day mission to the International Space Station. The shuttle's seven-member crew had delivered and installed the ISS's European-built Columbus laboratory. With the shuttle safely on the ground, the U.S. Navy gave the go-ahead for a previously announced mission to shoot down an errant National Reconnaissance Office satellite carrying 1,000 lbs of highly toxic hydrazine fuel. A single SM-3 missile launched from the USS Lake Erie intercepted the spy satellite at 10:26 P.M. EST, 130 mi above the Pacific Ocean. After analyzing the debris, the Defense Dept. expressed confidence Feb. 25 that the fuel tank had been destroyed and the hydrazine dissipated. China and Russia accused the U.S. of exploiting the satellite malfunction as an opportunity to demonstrate the nation's missile-defense capabilities.

International

     Twin Baghdad Market Bombings Kill at Least 99; Other Iraq Developments - According to the Iraqi Ministry, at least 99 people died and another 123 were injured Feb. 1 in suicide bombings that took place within minutes of each other at Baghdad pet markets. The bombings - carried out by two women with a history of psychiatric problems who were believed to be unwitting participants - marked the Iraqi capital's deadliest suicide attack since Apr. 2007. At a roadside stop near Iskandariyah Feb. 24, a suicide bombing targeting Shiite pilgrims en route to Karbala killed at least 56 people and wounded 68. Influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army militia to extend its ceasefire (originally declared in Aug. 2007) for another six months, in a move welcomed by Iraqi officials and the U.S. military. U.S. troop deaths during the month totaled 29.
     In northern Iraq, Turkey launched a sustained ground and air assault Feb. 21 against a Kurdish rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (P.K.K.), which the U.S. had classified as a terrorist organization. On a Feb. 28 stopover in Ankara, the Turkish capital, U.S. Defense Sec. Robert Gates urged Turkish leaders to conclude the offensive as soon as possible. The following day, Turkish military authorities announced the end of their operation, during which 24 Turkish soldiers and an estimated 234 P.K.K. rebels were killed.
     Before adjourning for a month-long recess, the Iraqi legislature Feb. 13 passed three important measures: a 2008 budget; a limited amnesty that could impact thousands of inmates in Iraqi prisons, a key issue for Sunnis; and a measure spelling out the powers of provincial and local governments, under which provincial elections would be held by Oct. 1. Iraq's Presidency Council rejected the third law Feb. 27.

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clintonglobalinitiative.org

Timor-Leste Pres. José Ramos-Horta

     Coup Plots Fail in Chad, Timor-Leste - More than 2,000 rebels stormed Chad's capital city of N'Djamena Feb. 2, seeking to oust Pres. Idriss Déby, who has ruled the central African country since 1990. Clashes with government troops left at least 400 civilians dead before the rebels called for an all-out ceasefire Feb. 5. Déby, whose regime had the backing of France and the UN, was said to be using the crisis to crack down on civilian dissidents along with rebels, and at least half a dozen opposition political leaders were reported to have "disappeared." The government's security powers were augmented by a state of emergency proclaimed Feb. 14 and extended Feb. 29.
     In the southwestern Pacific nation of Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, renegade soldiers Feb. 11 shot and seriously wounded Pres. José Ramos-Horta at his home in Dili, the Timorese capital. Rebel leader Alfredo Reinado was killed in the attack. An hour later, Prime Min. Xanana Gusmão escaped unharmed when gunmen ambushed his motorcade. Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1996, was airlifted to Australia for medical treatment and was expected to make a full recovery. Australia beefed up its 780-member peacekeeping force already stationed in Timor-Leste with an additional 350 troops.

     Bomb Kills Hezbollah Commander - Imad Mugniyah, a Hezbollah leader, was killed Feb. 12 by a car bomb in Damascus, Syria. Known to have ties with Iran, Mugniyah was suspected of having orchestrated a series of terrorist operations that caused the deaths of hundreds, including bombings at a U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983, and at the Israeli embassy and a Jewish community center in Argentina in the early 1990s. Hezbollah blamed the killing on "Israeli Zionists," calling Mugniyah a martyr.

     Harsh Winter Weather Batters China - Weeks of unusually low temperatures, freezing rain, and the worst blizzards in five decades had claimed at least 107 lives, Chinese Civil Affairs Minister Li Xueju reported Feb. 13. Severe winter storms stranded large numbers of migrant workers and left millions of Chinese without electricity. The stretch of severe weather had coincided with the Lunar New Year Feb. 7, a time of year when millions travel to reach family. As many as 800,000 travelers were stranded in just one Guangzhou station. Economic losses were estimated at more than $15 bil.

     Australian Government Offers Apology to Aborigines - In an address to Parliament Feb. 13, Prime Min. Kevin Rudd offered an unprecedented apology for decades of government mistreatment that had inflicted "profound grief, suffering, and loss" on Australia's indigenous peoples. The apology was specifically directed at the "Stolen Generations" - tens of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were separated from their families and communities between 1910 and 1970, under a government policy that promoted their assimilation. Rudd pledged to narrow the gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in life expectancy, educational opportunity, and income. On average, life expectancy at birth among Aborigines is about 17 years less than for other Australians.

     Pres. Bush Tours Africa - Pres. George W. Bush made a six-day visit to Africa Feb. 16-21, stopping in Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, and Liberia. The trip was intended to focus on U.S. efforts to assist African countries in combating poverty, corruption, violence, and diseases such as AIDS and malaria. On Feb. 17, Bush signed an agreement awarding Tanzania a $698 mil grant from the Millennium Challenge Corp., established in 2004 to help nations that foster democracy, reform markets, and fight corruption. Two days later, in Rwanda, he commemorated the victims of that country's 1994 genocide and called for an accelerated effort to stop the killing in Sudan's Darfur region.
     Responding to rumors that had followed the Pentagon's establishment in 2007 of a new Africa Command (AFRICOM), Bush denied while visiting Ghana Feb. 20 that the U.S. planned to establish additional military bases there or elsewhere in Africa. About 1,800 U.S. defense personnel are stationed in Djibouti to coordinate antiterrorism activities on the continent.

     Violence Intensifies in Afghanistan - In Afghanistan's worst suicide bombing since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, more than 100 people were killed Feb. 17 at an outdoor dog-fighting competition on the outskirts of Kandahar. The following day, a suicide bomber targeting a Canadian military convoy killed at least 38 Afghan civilians at a busy market in Spin Boldak, also in southern Afghanistan; four Canadian soldiers suffered minor injuries in the attack. Mike McConnell, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 27 that the Taliban had regained control of approximately 10% of Afghan territory. He estimated that the central government controlled only 30%, with the remainder dominated by local tribal leaders.
     UK officials confirmed Feb. 28 that Prince Harry - third in line to the British throne - had been on the front lines for 10 weeks in Helmand Province. British media had known of the deployment but had embargoed the story until it surfaced on the U.S.-based Drudge Report website. The UK defense ministry announced Feb. 29 that the prince would be pulled out of Afghanistan immediately.

     Kosovo Declares Independence - Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, unilaterally proclaimed its independence Feb. 17, as thousands of ethnic Albanians, or Kosovars, celebrated in the streets of Pristina, the new national capital. Kosovo had been under UN administration since 1999, when a NATO bombing campaign ended repressive Serbian rule; about 16,000 NATO troops remained in Kosovo at independence. On Feb. 16 the European Union had approved deployment of an 1,800-member mission, known as EULEX, to help uphold the rule of law in the new nation, which is one of Europe's poorest.
     The U.S. and many of its Western European allies promptly recognized Kosovo's sovereignty. But Russia and Serbia - which considers Kosovo part of its own historic patrimony - refused, and some minority Serbs within Kosovo launched violent protests. On Feb. 21 a mob ransacked and set fire to the vacated U.S. embassy in Belgrade, the Serbian capital; one protester was killed, and about 150 people were injured.

     Opponents of Musharraf Win Parliamentary Elections in Pakistan - Secular parties opposed to Pakistani Pres. Pervez Musharraf won a parliamentary majority in elections held Feb. 18. Unofficial returns indicated that the Pakistan Peoples Party, led by Asif Ali Zardari - the widower of former Prime Min. Benazir Bhutto - would have the most seats in the new Parliament, followed by the Pakistan Muslim League-N, headed by former Prime Min. Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf had ousted in 1999. "We accept the election results, and will sit on opposition benches," said former Prime Min. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, a leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, a pro-Musharraf party. On Feb. 21, Zardari and Sharif announced that their two parties would seek to form a coalition government.
     The run-up to the election had been marked by violence, including the assassination of Bhutto on Dec. 27, 2007. A suicide bombing Feb. 9 at a campaign rally in Charsadda, in northwest Pakistan, killed at least 25 people. A suicide car bombing Feb. 16 in the northwestern town of Parachinar left up to 46 people dead.

     Fidel Castro Steps Down as President of Cuba - After nearly a half century in power, Fidel Castro issued a letter Feb. 19 announcing that he would retire as Cuba's president and commander in chief. The 81-year-old Communist leader had not appeared at any public events since July 2006, when he underwent stomach surgery and his brother Raúl, Cuba's defense minister, became acting president. Raúl, 76, formally succeeded Fidel as Cuba's head of state on Feb. 24, but Fidel kept the title of first secretary of the Communist Party.

     Kenya Rivals Sign Power-Sharing Agreement - Hoping to end two months of post-election violence that had killed an estimated 1,500 people and displaced 600,000, Kenyan Pres. Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga signed a power-sharing agreement Feb. 28. The accord, mediated by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, called for balanced representation of Kibaki's and Odinga's parties in the cabinet, with Odinga to wield influence in a newly created position of prime minister. As president, Kibaki would retain command of the country's armed forces.

General

     Giants Upset Patriots in Super Bowl - The New York Giants stunned the previously unbeaten New England Patriots with a come-from-behind 17-14 victory in Super Bowl XLII, played Feb. 3 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ. The heavily favored Patriots had entered the game with an 18-0 record, while the Giants began the playoffs as a wild-card team. Quarterback Eli Manning, who engineered New York's winning touchdown drive in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, was named the game's MVP. (His brother, Peyton Manning, had won the MVP trophy as quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI a year earlier.) Nielsen Media Research estimated the average U.S. television audience for the game at 97.5 mil viewers, making it the most watched Super Bowl ever and the second-most watched program of all-time.

     Mormons, Greek Orthodox Name New Leaders - Thomas S. Monson, 80, was officially named as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has a worldwide membership of more than 13 mil, on Feb. 4. Monson, a senior church leader for more than four decades, succeeded Gordon B. Hinckley, who had died Jan. 27 at the age of 97.
     On Feb. 7, a conclave of 74 bishops in Athens, Greece, elected Metropolitan Ieronymos of Thebes and Levadeia to lead the Greek Orthodox Church. The 70-year-old Ieronymos succeeded Archbishop Christodoulos, who had died Jan. 28 at the age of 69.

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flickr/daniel arnold!

Amy Winehouse performing November 2007.

     Winehouse Scores at Grammy Awards - British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse won five Grammy Awards Feb. 10, including honors for record and song of the year for "Rehab," and the Grammy for best new artist. Winehouse, under treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, checked out of a London rehabilitation center to perform live via satellite on the Grammy telecast. Veteran jazz pianist Herbie Hancock took home album-of-the-year honors for River: The Joni Letters, based on songs by Joni Mitchell.

     Screenwriters' Strike Ends - A 100-day walkout by about 12,000 film and television screenwriters ended Feb. 12, when members of the Writers Guild of America East and Writers Guild of America West voted to return to work. Two days earlier, the guilds' governing boards had approved a tentative three-year deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, providing writers an increased share of revenues from digital media. The strike had crippled production of scripted TV and film, impacting many workers in related fields. Members of the writers' unions ratified the contract Feb. 25.

     No Country for Old Men Earns Best Picture Oscar - Joel and Ethan Coen's grim thriller No Country for Old Men, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, won four Academy Awards Feb. 24, including the Oscar for best picture. The Coen brothers also claimed the Oscar for best director and best adapted screenplay; the film's fourth award went to Spain's Javier Bardem for his supporting role as a serial killer. For the first time since 1964, Americans were shut out of the acting categories, with Marion Cotillard of France picking up the best actress award for La Vie en Rose; Daniel Day-Lewis (UK), best actor, for There Will Be Blood; and Tilda Swinton (UK), best supporting actress, for Michael Clayton.


It's a Fact!

Gustav Eiffel built metal structures all over the world, but he also designed railway bridges and the interior structure of New York's Statue of Liberty.

It's All in the Numbers

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Jupiter Images

The Eiffel Tower

122,295,645 - number of popular votes cast in the 2004 presidential election - the highest eligible-voter turnout since 18 to 20-year-olds were enfranchised.

40,448,191 - population of Spain in July 2007.

3,900,000 - estimated billions of barrels of crude oil reserves in Alaska at the end of 2006.

190,000 - number of Peace Corps volunteers invited to 139 countries since its inception in 1961.

73,674 - estimated number of Americans 100 years old or older in 2006.

1,063 - height, in feet, of the Eiffel Tower (including the flagpole).

894 - total goals scored by Wayne Gretzky during his career.

26 - number of countries in the NATO alliance after the addition of 7 former-Warsaw Pact nations in March 2004.

9.5 - magnitude of the largest recorded earthquake, which struck off the coast of Chile on May 22, 1960.

3 - number of weeks it took Jack Kerouac to write On the Road.


Offbeat News Stories — Sarah Janssen

The Man, the Myth?

When Winston Churchill said, "Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets," he couldn't have known just how badly future generations would disappoint him. According to a new British poll, about a quarter of British teens believe Churchill, who led Britain out of the depths of World War II, was a fictional character. The poll also showed that Mahatma Gandhi and Florence Nightingale were popularly believed to be myths.

On the other hand, the poll showed that some fictional characters had been elevated in the public consciousness to ‘real-life' status. Among the elevated characters was Sherlock Holmes, whose temporal existence was believed in by 58 percent of people polled. Sixty-five percent believed that King Arthur once led the Knights of the Round Table, 51 percent believed that Robin Hood had really robbed the rich, and 47 percent thought that Eleanor Rigby, the creation of a song by The Beatles, was a real person.

"While there's no excuse for demoting real historical figures such as Churchill....Stories like Robin Hood are so inspiring that it's not surprising people like to believe these characters truly existed," said Paul Moreton, the head of UKTV Gold, which had commissioned the poll.

Obama Loves Obama

The residents of a small Japanese fishing city may not be able to vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, but that doesn't mean they're not heavily invested in their candidate. The town, bedecked in "Go Obama!" posters, has been selling "I Love Obama" t-shirts and sweet bean cakes with Barack Obama's face on them, all to the tune of a theme song, "Obama Is a Wonderful World." In short, Obama, Japan, loves Barack Obama.

Obama is hoping that Sen. Obama's campaign is successful, believing that sharing its name with the U.S. president will make it a more popular tourist destination. Obama's mayor has sent Sen. Obama a letter, lacquered chopsticks, and a DVD of the town, though they've yet to receive a response from the Democratic candidate. "So far, we have been unilaterally giving him ‘love calls' as we have a close affinity with him, although we have not met him," said Hideki Ikegami, a city tourism official.

It's not just City Hall throwing their support behind Sen. Obama. Koichi Inoue, who prepares the Obama-faced sweet bean cakes, also supported the candidate. "For someone of my generation, America is John F. Kennedy and Rocky, you know, Sylvester Stallone, and now there's Obama."

It's a Fact!

Mime Marcel Marceau had the only speaking role in Mel Brooks' Silent Movie.

Links of the Month — Edward A. Thomas, Editor in Chief

I remember that LEGO building blocks were fun to play with when I was a kid. It's amazing the things that can be created from them. Lonnie Dusch, a big fan of LEGO has a great web page Some of the Most Impressive Lego Artwork I've Ever Seen - that highlights some neat creations.

Check out the Bill Gates Retirement Video.

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Women's Project of New Jersey/Rutgers University Library

Ramsey changing a tire on her green Maxwell.

When you read the name Alice Ramsey, what comes to mind? Okay, nothing; that was my response too. Nearly a century ago, Alice Huyler Ramsey, a 22 year old housewife and mother from Hackensack, New Jersey, drove into history books by becoming the first woman to drive across the United States. Accompanied by two sister-in-laws, and a female friend - none of whom drove - she set off from New York City on June 9, 1909, in a Maxwell automobile (the Maxwell Motor Company sponsored the trip), driving 3,800 miles to San Francisco. It took Alice and her companions a total of 59 days to cross the country. To commemorate this event, Dr. Richard Anderson and his daughter Emily are rebuilding a 1909 Maxwell, and on June 9, 2009, Emily and 3 female friends will make the same journey Alice Ramsey made.

According to my age, weight, height and physical activity, the USDA recommends that I eat 9 ounces of grains, 3.5 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruits, 3 cups of milk, and 6.5 ounces of meat & beans per day to help me reach a healthier weight. The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, an organization of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was established in 1994 to improve the nutrition and well-being of Americans. Toward this goal, the Center has created My Pyramid Plan which can assist you in creating a nutritional plan that is right for you, and suggests smart choices in food groups, as well as tips for getting the most out of your calories.

With tax season upon us here in the states, it raises a perpetual question for me; how long do I need to keep my old tax returns? The Internal Revenue Service offers advice depending on your circumstances. As for other records, you should check with your financial planner; CNNMoney.com has provided a crib sheet as to what to keep. The federal government's public information site also has information about home record keeping. One other thing to consider, is what records you should grab if you have only 5 minutes to get out of your house.

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Library of Congress

Lt. Selfridge & Orville Wright stepping into the Wright aeroplane at Ft. Myer

Not something to celebrate, but still noteworthy: Thomas Selfridge, age 26, became the first airplane fatality on September 17, 1908. A West Point graduate, he was later assigned to the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps at Fort Myer, Virginia, where he was trained to fly an Army dirigible. He took his first "flight" aboard a tetrahedral kite built by Alexander Graham Bell, and in March 1908 he flew in his self-designed Red Wing airplane. During the summer of 1908, the Army consented to purchase a Wright flyer, and test trials were scheduled for September. On September 17th, Orville Wright took off with Selfridge as his passenger, and on their fifth circuit, the right propeller broke, which set in motion a series of events which caused the flyer to fall in a nose-dive. Selfridge's skull was fractured in the accident, and he died the same night; Wright suffered severe injuries, breaking several ribs, and his left thigh bone, and damaging his hip.

I'm currently reading two books: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. I know that both books are not about food, per se, but at the moment, that's the memory they are stirring for me. The first third of Gilbert's book takes place in Italy, and while on a spiritual journey, she talks a great deal about the food she eats; it stirred my memories of eating gelato every day when I was in Italy in 2006. I tasted fried green tomatoes for the first time a few months ago, and I can sum up my thoughts in one word - yummy.

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Fred Thomas

My Dad was 23 when he arrived at Camp Upton Yaphank (New York) in August of 1941 to begin his service in the U.S. Army, in which he served through the end of the war. Like other veterans of that war, he rarely talks about what he saw and experienced. Documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick interview soldiers and other Americans who were affected by the war in their series The War, an amazing look back on a war that resulted in the death of 60 million people. The war shaped generations to come, and it's a good idea to reflect on the sacrifices made by soliders in the past, and today. The series helped me understand the war more than I had in the past, and I plan on sitting down with my Dad to try and learn about his participation and observations.

When I was a kid, we had a small wooden board with a picture of a cat on it, with painted-on whiskers and two "real" ones that were extra long, so I could learn to tie shoelaces. If only I'd had Ian's Shoelace Site, perhaps my shoelaces wouldn't get untied quite as much as they tend to do.

There's something I want to admit here: after scanning the front page of the newspaper for the lead stories, I generally read the Obituary section to see who has died. Now while some are looking at the paid notices to see if anyone they know has died, I tend to see which noted personalities have died, and to learn about people I never knew existed - like Richard Knerr, the inventor of the Hula Hoop. Check out the Blog of Death to read the about some interesting people.

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(c)Edward A. Thomas

A petrified grapefruit and a rubber band ball

Unable to find something on my desk at home the other day, I began a thorough cleaning up and throwing out process, which extended to my desk and surroundings here at work. Among the "treasures" found here in my office was a 25 year old rubber band ball (which is by no means near the size of the largest rubber band ball, which weighs in at 3,500 lbs.), a petrified grapefruit (it's a long story), and some great vintage ads from contests that Funk & Wagnalls ran in the 1950s. Perhaps I should rephrase my first statement; I didn't actually throw out anything here at work!

Collect unusual things? How about these collections?
Banana Labels
Band-Aids
Envelopes
Flashlights
Mailbox Pictures
Manhole Covers
Sand
Talking Clocks
Tissue Box Covers


Quote of the Month

"The marble not yet carved can hold the form of every thought the greatest artist has."
     - Michelangelo Buonarroti, (1475-1564), Italian Renaissance artist


© World Almanac Education Group

World Almanac E-Newsletter
Edward A. Thomas, Editor in Chief

Newsletter Contributors:
Geoffrey M. Horn, Sarah Janssen, C. Alan Joyce, Bill McGeveran and Andy Steinitz.

Comments and suggestions can be sent to:editorinchief@waegroup.com

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