Volume 08, Number 04— April 2008


What's in this issue?

April Events
April Holidays — National and International
This Day In History — April
April Birthdays
Travel - Kansas City: Metropolis at the Heart of the U.S.
Obituaries - March 2008
The Best of the World Almanac Blog
Chronology - March 2008
It's All in the Numbers
Offbeat News Stories
Links of the Month
Quote of the Month
How to reach us


April Events

April 4-5 - Natchitoches Jazz Festival (Louisiana)
April 5 - Elmira Maple Syrup Festival (Ontario, Canada)
April 5 & 7 - NCAA Division I Men's Final Four (San Antonio, TX)
April 6 & 8 - NCAA Division I Women's Final Four (Tampa Bay, FL)
April 8-12 - Branson Fest (Missouri)
April 10-13 - Masters Golf Tournament (Augusta, GA)
April 11-13 - (World's Largest Trivia Contest) Steven's Point, MI
April 12 - Prairie Dog Chili Cook-Off and World Championship of Pickled Quail Egg Eating (Grand Prairie, TX)
April 15 - Tax Day
April 18-27 - Fiesta San Antonio (Texas)
April 18-20 - Yo-Yo Celebration and Convention (Burlington, WI)
April 19 - World Cow Chip Throwing Championship Contest (Beaver, OK)
April 21 - Boston Marathon (MA)
April 21-26 - World's Biggest Fish Fry (Paris, TN)
April 23-27 - EbertFest (Champaign, IL)
April 24 - Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day
April 24-27 - Fiddler's Frolics (Hallettsville, TX)
April 24-May 1 - USA Film Festival (Dallas, TX)
April 25-27 - Interstate Mullet Toss (Pensacola, FL)
April 25-27 - Rattlesnake Derby (Mangum, OK)

April Holidays — National and International

April 1 - April Fools' Day
April 4 - Qing Ming Festival (China)
April 20 - Passover (1st full day); Earth Day
April 21 - Patriots' Day
April 23 - Administrative Professionals Day; Book Day/Lovers' Day (Spain)
April 25 - Arbor Day


It's a Fact!

In late 2007, the UN estimated there were 33.2 million people living with AIDS.

This Day In History — April

Day Year Event
Day Year Event
01 1939 Francisco Franco and his Nationalist forces are victorious in the Spanish Civil War.
02 1513 Juan Ponce de León discovers Florida and claims it for Spain.
03 1933 Two airplanes, manned by British crews, fly over the top of Mt. Everest for the first time.
04 1841 Pres. William Henry Harrison dies after only 1 month in office.
05 1792 George Washington casts the first presidential veto, concerning representative apportionment among the states.
06 1830 The Mormon church is organized by Joseph Smith in Fayette, NY.
07 1948 The World Health Organization is established by the UN.
08 1974 Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves baseball team breaks Babe Ruth's career home run record when he hits #715 in Atlanta.
09 1865 The Civil War ends when Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders 27,800 Confederate troops to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, VA.
10 1896 Greek runner Spiridon Louis wins the gold medal in the first modern Olympic marathon, in Athens, Greece.
11 1951 Gen. Douglas MacArthur is relieved of command in Korea by Pres. Harry Truman.
12 1934 The strongest wind ever reliably measured on the surface of the earth (225 mph) is recorded on Mount Washington in New Hampshire.
13 1742 Composer George Frideric Handel's Messiah has its premiere in Dublin, Ireland.
14 1894 Thomas Edison's kinetoscope, or motion picture machine, is given its first public showing.
15 1912 The luxury liner Titanic, which hit an iceberg the night before, sinks in the early morning hours; more than 1,500 die.
16 1917 Vladimir I. Lenin returns to Russia in a sealed train after years in exile.
17 1961 Cuban exiles - trained, armed, and directed by the United States - unsuccessfully try to invade Cuba's Bay of Pigs to overthrow Fidel Castro.
18 1906 A huge earthquake and subsequent fires begin in San Francisco, with 500 dying in the earthquake and another 200 in the fires.
19 1943 A revolt begins by Jewish residents of Poland's Warsaw Ghetto against German troops.
20 1969 Princeton University announces it will admit women to its undergraduate program for the first time in its 223-year history.
21 1918 The Red Baron - German flying ace Baron Manfred von Richtofen - is shot down and killed during World War I's Battle of the Somme.
22 2000 Armed U.S. Immigration agents stage predawn raid to seize 6-year-old Cuban refugee Elián González from his Miami relatives and reunite him with his father in Cuba.
23 1910 Sicily's Mount Etna erupts.
24 1981 IBM introduces its first personal computer.
25 1945 Delegates from 50 nations meet in San Francisco for what is officially known as the United Nations Conference on International Organization. Over two months, they draw up the United Nations charter.
26 1994 South Africa begins holding multiparty elections in which blacks are allowed to vote for the first time in the nation's history.
27 1865 The steamboat Sultana explodes in the Mississippi, killing some 1,450 passengers.
28 1945 Italian partisans kill Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
29 1945 U.S. troops liberate the concentration camp in Dachau, Germany
30 1945 German dictator Adolf Hitler commits suicide in his Berlin bunker.

April Birthdays

Day Year  
Day Year  
01 1932 Debbie Reynolds, actress (El Paso, TX)
02 1947 Camille Paglia, literary and cultural critic (Endicott, NY)
03 1934 Jane Goodall, anthropologist (London, England)
04 1928 Maya Angelou, author/poet (St. Louis, MO)
05 1937 Colin Powell, secretary of state (New York, NY)
06 1928 James D. Watson, biochemist and codiscoverer of the structure of DNA (El Paso, TX)
07 1939 David Frost, TV personality (Tenterden, England)
08 1938 Kofi Annan, UN secretary general (Kumasi, Ghana)
09 1933 Jean-Paul Belmondo, actor (Neuilly-sur-Seine, France)
10 1915 Harry Morgan, actor (Detroit, MI)
11 1948 Ellen Goodman, columnist (Newton, MA)
12 1979 Claire Danes, actress (New York, NY)
13 1963 Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion (Baku, Azerbaijan, USSR)
14 1963 Cynthia Cooper, basketball player (Chicago, IL)
15 1990 Emma Watson, actress (Oxford, England)
16 1947 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, basketball player (New York, NY)
17 1972 Jennifer Garner, actress (Houston, TX)
18 1963 Conan O'Brien, TV personality (Brookline, MA)
19 1962 Al Unser Jr., auto racer (Albuquerque, NM)
20 1920 John Paul Stevens, Supreme Court justice (Chicago, IL)
21 1926 Queen Elizabeth II, queen of the United Kingdom (London, England)
22 1937 Jack Nicholson, actor (Neptune, NJ)
23 1928 Shirley Temple Black, child actress and diplomat (Santa Monica, CA)
24 1942 Barbra Streisand, singer/actress/director (Brooklyn, NY)
25 1976 Tim Duncan, basketball player (St. Croix, Virgin Islands)
26 1917 I. M. Pei, architect (Canton, China)
27 1922 Jack Klugman, actor (Philadelphia, PA)
28 1926 Harper Lee, author (Monroeville, AL)
29 1957 Daniel Day-Lewis, actor (London, England)
30 1955 Jane Campion, director (Wellington, New Zealand)

Travel - Kansas City: Metropolis at the Heart of the U.S.

Of all American cities, Kansas City in a way is the closest to the country's heart. The geographic center of the lower 48 states lies just a little to the west, in Kansas, and the country's population center a bit to the east, in Missouri.

The Kansas City metropolitan area, with some 2 million people, covers parts of both states. Its biggest town and central tourist destination - Kansas City, in Missouri - has long enjoyed fame as a jazz hub and the capital of world-class barbecue. Right now the city is seeing its cultural and entertainment facilities amplified by a multibillion-dollar construction boom. A case in point is its most important art museum, the Nelson-Atkins. The museum boasts a new addition, designed by celebrated U.S. architect Steven Holl, that earned Time magazine's pick as the "most anticipated building" of 2007.

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VisitKC.com

Country Club Plaza

City of Fountains

Lying in a pleasant setting, amid a gently rolling wooded landscape along the Missouri River, the town has plenty of attractive parks, parkways, and boulevards. As long ago as 1947, a Kansas City residential district enraptured visiting French author André Maurois, who praised it as "a masterpiece of city planning." He wondered, "Who in Europe, or in America, for that matter, knows that Kansas City is one of the loveliest cities on earth?"

Maurois was not so impressed with the downtown area itself, but that area has changed a lot since his day. The big construction projects there and elsewhere in recent years have altered the look of the city, while diligently maintaining one of its central motifs, an abundance of fountains. The city has some 200 public fountains, more (it is said) than any other city in the world, except perhaps Rome.

Traditional charms

Fountains, along with sculptures and murals, adorn the Country Club Plaza, a combination shopping complex and open-air art gallery south of downtown, built in the early 1920s. It was the first suburban-type outdoor shopping center in the U.S. Its architecture reflects Spanish/Moorish styles. It was also in the 1920s that the Kansas City-style barbecue began its climb to world fame. The city's traditional barbecue, slow smoked over wood (typically hickory) for as long as 18 hours, is available at more than 100 venues. The most famous of these is Arthur Bryant's Barbecue, which New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin once called the "single best restaurant in the world."

Kansas City jazz had its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, with such luminaries as Count Basie, Lester Young, and Charlie Parker. Many of the jazz clubs were located in the black neighborhood east of downtown, today known as the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District. Here you can visit the American Jazz Museum, which includes the Blue Room Jazz Club. The same building houses Negro Leagues Baseball Museumthe . (The Negro National League was founded a few blocks away in 1920.)

The River Market, a shopping and entertainment district north of downtown on the south side of the Missouri River, has been the site of a huge farmer's market since the mid-19th century. It also is the location of one of Kansas City's most unusual attractions, the Arabia Steamboat Museum. The Arabia, fully loaded with over 200 tons of cargo, sank in the river in 1856 and for decades lay hidden beneath layers of silt. It was recovered in the 1980s, and mid-19th-century artifacts and merchandise retrieved from it can now be seen in the museum, along with sections of the boat itself.

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The Nelson-Atkins Organization

The Bloch building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

New attractions

The most architecturally distinguished addition to the Kansas City scene is probably the Holl-designed Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, situated near the Country Club Plaza. The Nelson-Atkins has long been famed for its tens of thousands of art objects. It is strong in European paintings, American photography, modern sculpture (including the biggest collection of Henry Moore bronzes in the U.S.), and, most of all, Asian art. The museum's Chinese collection is regarded as one of the world's best. The new Bloch Building, which opened in June 2007, increased the Nelson-Atkins's space by some 70 percent, or 160,000 sq ft (14,900 sq m) - mostly underground, thus allowing the museum's venerable Beaux-Art building (1933) to retain its visual integrity. Five glass pavilions, functioning as transparent or translucent ceilings ("lenses") for the galleries they cover, make up the aboveground portions of the Bloch.

Also new in the Country Club Plaza area is the West Edge, a multiuse development designed by Moshe Safdie and reminiscent of a European hilltop village. Besides offices, stores, a hotel, and the like, it will house a new Advertising Icon Museum, slated to open in spring 2009. Safdie is also lead architect of the huge curvilinear Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, under construction downtown, which is expected to open around the end of 2009. Nearby is a new nine-block dining, shopping, and entertainment zone called the Power & Light District. Right to the east of that district is the Sprint Center, featuring an 18,500-seat arena that opened in October 2007. The Sprint Center includes College Basketball Experience, with interactive exhibits and a round-ball hall of fame.

Union Station area

South of downtown and north of the Country Club Plaza is Union Station, dating from 1914. A massive structure of 850,000 sq ft (79,000 sq m), with ceilings 95 ft (29 m) high in its Grand Hall, it accommodated 79,000 trains in 1917, and half of the U.S. servicemen in World War II passed through its doors. Now renovated, the station has an Amtrak stop, along with stores, restaurants, a "theater district," a railroad exhibit, a planetarium, and an interactive science center.

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VisitKC.com

American Royal Rodeo

Right across from Union Station is the National World War I Museum at the Liberty Memorial. The 217-ft (66-m) Memorial Tower opened in 1926, and the museum in late 2006. It is the only public museum in the U.S. devoted to World War I, and houses over 49,000 artifacts - the second biggest collection in the world focused on the Great War. (Britain's Imperial War Museum has the largest collection.)

Round and about

The gigantic cattle stockyards that were once the city's hallmark are now gone, but the heritage of the livestock business is not forgotten. A 14-acre (5.7-ha) complex just west of downtown, in the River Bottoms District, is the site of the legendary American Royal, held every year in the fall. Events include a parade, cattle drive, rodeo, professional bull-riding competition, and livestock and horse shows, along with the world's largest barbecue contest. The complex includes an interactive museum focusing on agriculture and livestock.

Visitors with a yen to go farther field have a number of options in the immediate metropolitan area. The town of Independence, for example, is the site of the Truman Presidential Museum and Library, as well as the National Frontier Trails Museum. Across the state line, in Kansas City, Kan., there's the Strawberry Hill Museum, devoted primarily to the area's Eastern European heritage, with exhibits focusing on such countries as Croatia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Russia. The museum opened a Hall of Immigrants in 2005.

Other Websites:
Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association
PBS, Jazz


It's a Fact!

The two official languages of NATO are English and French.

Obituaries in March 2008

Clarke, Arthur C., 90, British science fiction writer and futurist best know for his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey (written in collaboration with director Stanley Kubrick); Colombo, Sri Lanka, March 19, 2008.

Dassin, Jules, 96, American film director whose works included The Naked City (1948) and Night in the City (1950); he was blacklisted in 1951 for his early ties to the Communist Party; Athens, Greece, March 31, 2008.

Gygax, Gary, 69, co-creator of the 1974 role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons; Lake Geneva, WI, Mar. 4, 2008.

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US Congress

Howard Metzenbaum

Metzenbaum, Howard M., 90, Democratic U.S. senator from Ohio (1974, 1976-1995), who had success in passing social legislation; Aventura, FL, Mar. 12, 2008.

Minghella, Anthony, 54, British director who won an Academy Award for his film The English Patient (1996); his other films included The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), and Cold Mountain (2003); London, England, March 18, 2008.

Pran, Dith, 65, Cambodian photojournalist whose survival of the Cambodian genocide (1975-79), became the subject of the Academy Award winning film The Killing Fields (1984); New Brunswick, NJ, March 30, 2008.

Scofield, Paul, 86, British film actor who won both a Best Actor Tony Award (1962), and Best Actor Academy Award (1966) for his role of Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons; Sussex, England, March 19, 2008.

Widmark, Richard, 93, radio and film actor best known for playing hoodlums in such films as Kiss of Death (1947) and Night in the City (1950); Roxbury, CT, March 24, 2008.


The Best of the World Almanac Blog

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Library of Congress

Take Me Out to the Ball Game - Andy Steinitz

This year is the centennial of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" the unofficial anthem of baseball composed by Albert Von Tilzer and written by Jack Norworth. Songs about baseball weren't new in 1908. "The Baseball Polka" had already been around for 50 years according to the Library of Congress Music Division. Yet "Take Me Out..." is probably the only piece of Tin Pan Alley music that most Americans can instantly recall. It's surely more memorable than "Take Me Out for a Tank Ride."

As Major League Baseball starts its 2008 season this week there will be many mentions of the song. Mainly, the league is hosting "in-park searches for the most talented performers of the unofficial anthem of baseball fans everywhere." (Enter online: here). There will also be many news articles about Katie Casey and the song's verses, as well as its conflicted history due to the new book Baseball's Greatest Hit: The Story of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game".

To get you in the spirit, Tinfoil.com, an online collection of early recorded sound, has a 1908 rendition of "Take Me Out..." performed by Edward Meeker.

The Library of Congress also has sheet music and other useful information on the song as well as many other baseball songs in their Performing Arts department: Online Collection of Baseball Sheet Music including "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and Bibliography of Published Baseball Music and Songs.

It's a Fact!

Residents of the small European country of Andorra enjoy the longest life expectancy in the world, at an average of 83.5 years.


Chronology — March 2008

National

     McCain Clinches Republican Presidential Nomination; Obama Maintains Lead Over Clinton in Democratic Race - Sen. John McCain (AZ) clinched the Republican presidential nomination with victories in the Texas, Ohio, Vermont, and Rhode Island primaries Mar. 4. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR), the second-place finisher in all four Mar. 4 primaries, conceded that evening and pledged to support McCain in the general election. The following day, McCain went to the White House to receive the endorsement of Pres. George W. Bush, who had defeated McCain in the race for the Republican presidential nomination eight years earlier.
     Accompanied by two of his leading colleagues, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R, SC) and Joe Lieberman (Ind., CT), McCain landed in Iraq Mar. 16, beginning a high-profile foreign trip that also took him to Israel, Jordan, Britain, and France.
     In the increasingly heated Democratic race, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY) won the Ohio and Rhode Island primaries Mar. 4, while the front-runner, Sen. Barack Obama (IL), was victorious in Vermont. Results in Texas were mixed, with Clinton winning the state's primary and Obama winning a majority of delegates in Texas party caucuses that same evening. Clinton's modest Mar. 4 gains were offset by Obama victories in the Wyoming caucuses Mar. 8 and Mississippi primary Mar. 11.
     In a wide-ranging address at Philadelphia's Constitution Center Mar. 18, Obama discussed the divergent attitudes and experiences that underlie America's continuing racial divide. The candidate condemned, "in unequivocal terms," a series of inflammatory statements made by his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, that had been widely viewed on TV and the Internet. But Obama said he could no more "disown" Wright (who had officiated at the Obamas' marriage and baptized their two children) than he could disown the black community or his own white grandmother. Gov. Bill Richardson (NM), who had dropped out of the Democratic primary race in January, endorsed Obama Mar. 21.
     Obama's speech also briefly referred to former Democratic vice-presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, who had resigned from Clinton's national finance committee Mar. 12 amid controversy over her racially charged statements about the Obama campaign. Sen. Clinton faced another controversy when statements bolstering her foreign policy experience, which referred to the experience of fleeing sniper fire on a tarmac in Bosnia in 1996, were proven false. In a newspaper interview Mar. 24, Clinton said she had misspoken.

     Loss of Hastert Seat Highlights House GOP Problems - In a special election Mar. 8, physicist and businessman Bill Foster (D) defeated dairy company owner James Oberweis (R) to fill the congressional seat vacated by former Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert (R). The two would likely face off again in the general election in Nov. 2008. Hastert, who had represented the reliably Republican district west of Chicago since 1987, had resigned his seat in Nov. 2007.
     The loss was viewed as a bad omen for House Republicans, already dealing with revelations of financial irregularities at the National Republican Congressional Committee that had been referred to the FBI for investigation. In a public statement Mar. 13, the NRCC leadership acknowledged that committee treasurer Christopher Ward, who had been relieved of his duties Jan. 28, had submitted "bogus audit reports for 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005." The NRCC said "it appears likely that over a period of several years Ward made several hundred thousand dollars in unauthorized transfers of NRCC funds" both to outside committees and to "what appear to be his personal and business bank accounts." At the end of February the NRCC had $5.1 mil in cash on hand, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) had $38 mil. The NRCC and DCCC each spent at least $1 mil on the race to fill Hastert's seat.
     On Mar. 20, Rep. Tom Reynolds (R, NY), a five-term congressman from the Buffalo area and former NRCC chairman, said he planned to retire at the end of his current term. Rep. Reynolds had come under fire regarding the financial irregularities at the NRCC, of which he was chairman when many of the accounting problems took place. Reynolds was the 29th Republican to announce his decision to leave the chamber since the GOP lost its majority in the 2006 election. Only six Democratic incumbents had announced plans to vacate their House seats.

     Top U.S. Commander in Middle East Steps Down - Adm. William J. "Fox" Fallon, head of the U.S. Central Command (Centcom), abruptly announced his retirement Mar. 11, ending a military career of more than four decades. As Centcom commander since Mar. 2007, Fallon had overseen the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with operations against Al Qaeda and the defense of sea lanes that carry nearly two-thirds of the world's oil supply. According to press reports, Fallon had argued against the 2007 surge of U.S. troops to Iraq and favored a more rapid pullout of U.S. forces than did the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. A recent article in Esquire magazine had also portrayed Fallon as an opponent of Bush administration policies on Iran and quoted him as having told Al Jazeera, "This constant drumbeat of conflict . . . is not helpful and not useful."

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U.S. Department of State

Eliot Spitzer

     New York State Governor Resigns in Prostitution Scandal - New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) left office Mar. 17, a week after the New York Times first reported that he had been a client of a high-priced prostitution service. In an article posted on its web site Mar. 10, the Times had identified Spitzer as the man named in court papers as "Client 9," who had allegedly paid the Emperors Club V.I.P. for services that included a Feb. 13 encounter at a Washington, DC hotel with a prostitute.
     Spitzer - who had won the governorship in Nov. 2006 based in part on his reputation as a hard-driving reformer as the state's attorney general - apologized to his family and to the public in a brief statement the day the Times story broke. He announced his resignation Mar. 12, without having reached agreement with prosecutors as to the extent of his criminal liability, if any existed.
     Spitzer's successor was Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, the first African American (and first legally blind) governor in the state's history. On his first full day in office, Mar. 18, Paterson and his wife held a news conference and acknowledged that during a troubled period in their relationship they had each had extramarital affairs, but had since repaired their marriage.

     Passport Files of Presidential Candidates Breached - U.S. State Dept. officials revealed Mar. 20 that two contract employees had been fired and a third disciplined for improperly accessing the passport file of Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama on three separate occasions in early 2008. On Mar. 21, federal officials disclosed that during a training exercise in the summer of 2007, a State Dept. employee had inappropriately viewed the passport file of another Democratic contender, Hillary Clinton. Further investigation showed that one of the workers who had opened Obama's passport record had also accessed the file of Republican candidate John McCain. Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice apologized to all three senators for the breach of privacy. A subsequent departmental inquiry found at least 20 instances of unauthorized viewing of computer passport files of American politicians and celebrities since Jan. 2007.

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Kilpatrick2005.com

Kwame Kilpatrick

     Indictments Target Detroit Mayor, Puerto Rico Governor - Wayne County (MI) Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced Mar. 24 that Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (D) and his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty, had been indicted on multiple felony counts. The two were charged with perjury and conspiring to obstruct justice in an effort to cover up an extramarital relationship. The investigation had begun two months earlier, when the Detroit Free Press published suggestive text messages between Kilpatrick and Beatty that appeared to contradict their sworn testimony in a 2007 civil trial, during which they denied having an affair. The civil case involved complaints by several police officers that they had been wrongfully fired. The mayor had agreed to an $8.4-mil, publicly-funded settlement, on the condition of confidentiality, shortly after learning that the plaintiffs' lawyer had obtained copies of the text messages. Detroit's city council had passed Mar. 18, by a 7-1 vote, a nonbinding measure calling on Kilpatrick to resign. The two-term mayor vowed to remain in office, and on Mar. 26 he and Beatty pleaded not guilty to all criminal charges.
     A 27-count indictment against Puerto Rico Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá (D) and a dozen associates was unsealed Mar. 27. The indictment, stemming from three campaigns from 1999 to 2004, charged Acevedo with violating federal campaign finance laws and diverting campaign contributions for personal use. Acevedo, who is running for reelection, denounced the charges as "lies and falsehoods."

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HUD

Alphonso Jackson

     HUD Secretary Resigns - Sec. Alphonso Jackson, the nation's top housing official, announced Mar. 31 that he was resigning to attend to "personal and family matters," effective Apr. 18. Jackson had led the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) since his unanimous Senate confirmation in Mar. 2004. Jackson had been under investigation by the FBI, Justice Dept., and a federal grand jury since Apr. 2006 for alleged favoritism in the awarding of housing contracts. Jackson's legal problems had weakened congressional confidence in HUD's ability to deal effectively with the ailing U.S. housing market; on Mar. 21, Sens. Christopher Dodd (D, CT) and Patty Murray (D, WA) had called on Pres. Bush to ask for Jackson's resignation.

     Economic Slide Continues, as Federal Reserve Props Up Credit Markets - A steady drumbeat of gloomy economic news continued to erode consumer confidence and dampen spirits on Wall Street. On Mar. 6 the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that the mortgage delinquency rate had risen to 5.82% - its highest level since 1985 - in the last quarter of 2007, and the foreclosure rate had increased to 2.04%. U.S. government data released the following day indicated that the economy had lost a net total of 63,000 nonfarm jobs in February, with manufacturing, construction, and retail especially hard hit. The Conference Board reported Mar. 25 that its Consumer Confidence Index had reached its lowest level since March 2003, dropping to 64.5 - down from 87.3 in January.
     At midmonth, as the stock market gyrated wildly, oil and gold prices soared, and the dollar sank to new lows against the yen, euro, and other currencies, federal officials struggled to stabilize the credit and mortgage markets. On Mar. 14 the investment bank Bear Stearns saw its stock plunge from $54.24 to $30 per share. On Mar. 16 - a Sunday - as the venerable Wall Street firm teetered on the brink of collapse, the Federal Reserve agreed to back a buyout of Bear stock by JPMorgan Chase at the shockingly low price of $2 per share. (JPMorgan raised its offer to $10 per share Mar. 25.) In another emergency step, the Federal Reserve effective Mar. 17 began allowing securities dealers to borrow from the Fed on the same terms as banks. The following day, a key short-term interest rate - the federal funds rate - was lowered by 0.75% to 2.25%. Treasury Sec. Henry Paulson proposed long-term Fed reforms Mar. 31 that would overhaul regulation of the U.S. financial system.
     The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed Mar. 31 at 12,262.89 - down 7.6% since the end of 2007, for its worst quarterly performance in more than five years. Crude oil prices, which had risen above $110 a barrel on Mar. 12, finished the month below $102.

International

     Medvedev Wins Russian Presidential Vote - As expected, First Deputy Prime Min. Dmitri Medvedev won the Russian presidency Mar. 2, capturing 70% of the vote. Medvedev, the handpicked choice of Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin and the United Russia Party, easily outdistanced Communist Party leader Gennadi Zyuganov (18%) and the Liberal Democratic Party leader and nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky (9%). Campaign coverage in Russian media had heavily favored Medvedev, who refused to debate his opponents. Putin, who had agreed to serve as prime minister at United Russia's party convention Dec. 17, was expected to continue to wield enormous influence in the government. Medvedev was scheduled to take office May 7.

     Zapatero Reelected in Spain - Spanish Prime Min. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero won a second term Mar. 9, as the left-wing Socialist Workers Party claimed 44% of the vote, defeating the conservative Popular Party, which captured 40%. During his four years in office, Zapatero had withdrawn Spain's troops from Iraq, ease divorce laws, legalized same-sex marriage, and expanded regional autonomy. The Socialists won 169 seats (a gain of five) in the 350-seat parliament, but would need to seek support from smaller parties to form a majority government. Both parties cancelled their final day of campaign appearances when a Socialist local politician, Isaias Carrasco, was murdered Mar. 7 in front of his wife and daughter in Mondragón, a town in the Basque region of northern Spain. Both candidates blamed the Basque militant group ETA for the killing; in an ETA statement published Apr. 1, the group took credit for the assassination.

     Ahmadinejad Allies Retain Parliamentary Majority in Iran - Iran's Interior Ministry reported Mar. 17 that conservative allies of Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the first round of parliamentary elections held three days earlier. Iranian officials said conservatives had captured 19 of 30 seats in the capital city of Tehran and 163 of 260 seats in the provinces. Reformists had taken 35 seats in provincial voting and independents 47, with some seats still contested; those would be decided by runoff elections in May. The validity of the election was questioned by some in the international community; the European Union denounced it as "neither fair nor free." About 1,700 reformist candidates had been disqualified from appearing on the ballot by the conservative Guardian Council, which is charged with vetting candidates.

     Winner of Taiwan Presidential Race Seeks Reduction of Tensions with China - Pledging to pursue a formal peace treaty and increased economic cooperation with China, former Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou of the opposition Kuomintang (Nationalist) Party defeated Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party by a 58%-42% margin. The Mar. 22 vote represented a break from incumbent Pres. Chen Shui-bian's pro-independence policy. Ma, who is scheduled to take office May 20, expected to make progress with China on multiple measures, beginning with direct flights to the Chinese mainland.

     China Cracks Down on Tibet Unrest - Tibet's "long-simmering resentment" (as the Dalai Lama described the sentiment) at domination by China turned violent Mar. 14, as Tibetan rioters in Lhasa attacked ethnic Chinese residents, burned and looted Chinese- and Muslim-owned shops, and burned a branch of the Bank of China. The riots followed rough treatment by the Chinese police of Tibetan monks, who had begun peaceful demonstrations Mar. 10 - the date that marked the 49th anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.
     The Mar. 14 clash occurred while some of Tibet's top officials, including Communist party chief Zhang Qingli, a protégé of Chinese Pres. Hu Jintao, were in Beijing for the National People's Congress. Hu - the party leader responsible for suppressing Tibet's last major uprising, in 1989 - was reelected president by the Congress Mar. 15. That same day, Chinese troops began moving throughout Tibet to suppress the disturbances, which had spread to other Tibetan cities. The Beijing government said 22 people had been killed and more than 600 wounded during the riots, while Tibetan exile sources said the death toll was at least 140. Wang Xiangming, the deputy Communist Party secretary of Lhasa, said Apr. 3 that the 800 people who had been arrested over the Lhasa violence would be tried by May 1.
     The Tibet crackdown cast a shadow over China's preparations to host the summer Olympics, and several European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, announced Mar. 27-28 that they would boycott the opening ceremonies in Beijing in August. Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice ruled out the possibility of a U.S. boycott Mar. 28, referring to the 1980 U.S.-led boycott of the Olympics in Moscow as "feckless."

     Iraq War Enters 6th Year, as U.S. Military Deaths Exceed 4,000 - In a speech at the Pentagon Mar. 19, Pres. George W. Bush marked the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He noted the "understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting," but insisted that "removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision, and this is a fight that America can and must win." Bush's remarks came during a month when U.S. military deaths in Iraq since Mar. 2003 crossed the 4,000 mark, and the number of U.S. military wounded passed 29,600.
     Coordinated bombings killed at least 68 people Mar. 6 in a mostly Shiite shopping district in Baghdad. On Mar. 17 a bombing in the Shiite holy city of Karbala left some 43 people dead. The Karbala attack took place while Vice Pres. Dick Cheney was meeting with Iraqi officials in Baghdad. Two days later, Iraq's Presidency Council reversed its Feb. 27 ruling and approved a law calling for provincial elections in October. Prime Min. Nouri al-Maliki launched an offensive Mar. 25 against what were described as "rogue" Shiite groups in Basra; the operation ended in a stalemate five days later. After more than 350 people were killed in the fighting between government forces and radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Baghdad, Basra, and other southern cities, Moqtada al-Sadr released a statement, negotiated with Iraqi officials, calling for his militia to stand down and demanding concessions from the government.
     Figures released by Iraq's Interior Ministry Apr. 1 placed the nationwide death toll for the month at 2,012, an increase of 55% over February. U.S. troop deaths in March totaled 38.

     Bhutan Embraces Parliamentary Democracy - Nearly 80% of eligible voters cast ballots Mar. 24 in the first parliamentary elections in Bhutan's history. The remote Himalayan monarchy had begun the transition to democracy on orders from King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who stepped down in Dec. 2006. His son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck remained head of state after the elections, which were won by the Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party, or Druk Phuensum Tshogpa.

General

     Tiger Woods Ties Ben Hogan with 64th Career Win - Sinking a 24-ft birdie putt on the final hole, Tiger Woods notched a one-stroke victory Mar. 16 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational tournament in Orlando, FL. The win, the fifth for Woods in the annual event at Palmer's Bay Hill course, marked his 64th career triumph on the PGA Tour. It tied him for third with Ben Hogan on the all-time victory list and left him trailing only Sam Snead (with 82 tournament wins) and Jack Nicklaus (73). The 32-year-old Woods had passed Palmer on the all-time win list Feb. 24 when he captured the Accenture Match Play Championship in Marana, AZ.

     Miller, Vonn Win World Cup Skiing Titles - American skiers Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn were honored Mar. 16 at Bormia, Italy, for winning the overall World Cup skiing titles. The ceremonies marked the first time since 1983 that Americans had won both the men's and women's world alpine skiing championships; of 84 overall titles given to men and women since 1967, 75 had been claimed by Europeans. Miller had clinched the overall title (his second in four years) after his closest competitor, Didier Cuche of Switzerland, said Mar. 13 that he would not enter the season's final slalom event.

     Space Shuttle Endeavour Returns from 16-Day Mission - The space shuttle Endeavour landed Mar. 26 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after completing a 16-day mission to the International Space Station. During their 12 days docked at the station, the Endeavour crew made five spacewalks. Astronauts installed the first section of Japan's Kibo laboratory and assembled a 12-ft Canadian Space Agency robot named Dextre, designed to perform maintenance chores on the station's exterior.

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Phonoautograph: Recording-History.org

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville (1817-1879), and the phonautograph

     Earliest Audio Recording Deciphered - A sound recording made 17 years before Thomas Edison patented the phonograph in 1877 was played publicly for the first time Mar. 28 at a meeting hosted by Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA. The recording - of an anonymous singer performing a brief excerpt from the French folk song "Au Clair de la Lune" - had been produced Apr. 9, 1860, on a phonautograph, a device invented by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian tinkerer and typesetter. Scott's phonautograph recorded sounds by etching sound waves on smoked paper as "phonograms," though he devised no device to play them back. Discovered in a French archive as part of a research effort led by audio historian David Giovannoni, the 1860 phonogram was converted into a digital soundtrack by engineers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, CA.

     Major Cities Dim Lights for "Earth Hour" - Participating governments, companies, and citizens in major urban centers around the globe turned down their lights and switched off appliances Mar. 29 between 8 and 9 P.M. local time to focus attention on the threat of global climate change. Famous landmarks from the Sydney Opera House and Rome's Colosseum to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and New York's Empire State Building were darkened for "Earth Hour," a global campaign orchestrated by the World Wildlife Fund. The idea for the event had originated in Australia, where an estimated 2.2 mil people dimmed their lights for the first Earth Hour in Mar. 2007.


It's a Fact!

Although Franklin D. Roosevelt was selected in a Zogby poll as the greatest president of the 20th century, his wife Eleanor Roosevelt consistently outranked him in approval polls during his lifetime.

It's All in the Numbers

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NASA

Suez Canal

400,000,000 - $ estimated property damage (in 1906 dollars) as a result of the San Francisco earthquake and fire.

300,000 - number of people who attended the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

30,100 - approximate number of known species of fish.

3,105 - number of people who lived in the Falkland Islands in 2007.

101 - length (in miles) of the Suez Canal.

19 - age of Joan of Arc at the time of her death.

8 - Grammys won by Luther Vandross; four were in 2003.

7:22 a.m. - time of Abraham Lincoln's death, the day after he was shot.

.349 - Jackie Robinson's batting average in his last year with the Montreal Royals.


Offbeat News Stories — Sarah Janssen

Ambassador Jughead?

The U.S. Senate could currently be considering the nominations of Captain America, Homer Simpson, or Clark Kent to an ambassadorship - if only they would take a cue from Japan. Japanese Foreign Min. Masahiko Komura recently appointed Doraemon, a popular cartoon cat from the future, to the post of "anime ambassador."

Doraemon was charged with promoting Japanese cartoons worldwide, "to deepen people's understanding of Japan so they will become friends with Japan," said Komura. The foreign minister made the statement during elaborate inauguration ceremonies, at which a life-sized Doraemon (in reality, an unidentified person in costume) was offered a certificate and dozens of red bean cakes, his favorite treat.

A cultural icon now for several generations, Doraemon began as a manga (comic book) character and has starred in his own animated TV show since 1979. Born in the 22nd century, he travels through time with the help of gadgets he keeps in a 4th dimensional pocket on his stomach. "Through my cartoons, I hope to convey to people abroad what ordinary Japanese people think, our lifestyles, and what kind of future we want to build," said the voice of Doraemon (the actress Wasabi Mizuta) from behind a paper screen.

Flipper Saves the Day

Amazed bystanders may have been wondering whether dolphins knew CPR too, after one heroic dolphin played lifeguard for a day. Moko, a bottlenosed dolphin - and frequent swimming partner of visitors to New Zealand's Mahia Beach - guided two stranded whales safely back out to sea. Moko's lifeguard-like antics managed to accomplish what rescue workers had been attempting without success for several days.

The two pygmy sperm whales, a mother and calf, had been stranded and restranded four times on a nearby sandbar. Rescue workers had started to contemplate euthanization to end their prolonged suffering. Thankfully, "Moko just came flying through the water and pushed in between us and the whales. She got them to head toward the hill, where the channel is," said Juanita Symes, one of the rescue workers.

"It's the first time I've heard of an interspecies refloating technique," said Anton van Helden, a marine mammals expert at Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand's national museum. Van Helden also referred to dolphins having "a great capacity for altruistic activities."

It's a Fact!

After the 1789 mutiny on the Bounty, the captain and 18 crewmembers were cast out on a 23-foot launch boat in which they safely traveled an astounding 3,618 miles to Timor.

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

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The Confluence Project

Boardwalk trail inscribed with texts from Lewis and Clark's journals.

Maya Lin, the architectural artist who created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., is currently working on a new installation, The Confluence Project. A project inspired by the Lewis & Clark expedition of 1804-1806, there will be seven art installations along the Columbia River Basin in the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington. These pieces will evoke the environment as well as American Indian influences, and the changes that occurred in the Pacific Northwest as a result of the expedition.

After an absence of over a year, I've joined a new choral group in my town. I'm not the best note sight reader, but the group web page led me to a great website CyberBass which breaks major works up by vocal part (soprano, alto, etc.), and has musical MIDI files playing your voice part, against the backdrop of the larger piece. There are also websites from which you can purchase these files, as well as pronunciation CD's.

In last weeks New York Times (March 28, 2008) there was a fascinating article about an audio recording that was discovered by American researchers, which pre-dates Thomas A. Edison's patent on the phonograph by 17 years (see story in Chronology). Prior to this discovery, the oldest known sound recording that could be played back was of an 1888 performance of Handel's "Israel In Egypt." You can also listen to a 120 year old recording of The Pirates of Penzance composer Sir Arthur Sullivan speaking about the invention of the phonograph.

Want to know who your neighbors are? Check out Family Watchdog (US) which is a free national registry of sex offenders, offered by the National Coalition of Victims in Action.

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Fridgewatcher.com.

There are plenty of websites that offer up opinions on whether you should purchase Camera A vs. Camera B, or if the hotel you are looking to stay in is worth it, but at Yelp.com it's just regular people writing in giving their opinions on a range of services, ranging from the quality of your local deli, to whether or not you should visit the local Optometrist.

Do you have any idea what's in your refrigerator right now? I have a fairly good impression lots to drink, sodas, bottled water, some leftovers from dinner last night, yogurts, lots of fresh fruit, cheese, and batteries (doesn't everyone put them in the fridge?). At Fridge Watcher, you'll have the opportunity to see what's in other people's refrigerators Discover if people in Germany stack things differently than those in China. One thing I noticed is that so many of them are spotless!

If you don't watch enough television now, and have time for more, make sure you visit Hulu.com, a new website that has been launched by FOX and NBC Universal to put their old TV shows online. The quality of these videos is exceptional, and you can watch your favorite Simpsons episode, or The Partridge Family, or any many other shows, as well as full length movies. And the best thing of all? IT'S FREE!

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What color are my eyes?

How well do your friends know you? I wonder how well my friends know me. Do they know what I sold on eBay to pay for a trip to Brazil? Do they know what city I was born in? Do they know which Secretary-General of the United Nations I met when I was 12? Do they know what unusual pets I had as a child? Do they know which First Lady shares a birthday with me? Do they know what my ethnic background is? Do they know what my favorite book is? Do they know what voice part I sing? Do they know what I ate for lunch every day during high school? Do they know what color my eyes are? Okay, well, you can create a ten question quiz about yourself to see how much your friends know about you. (Answers to the questions about me: glass eyeballs, New York, U Thant, hermit crabs, Hillary Clinton, Italian/Lebanese, A Prayer for Owen Meany, tenor, a salami sandwich, and brown).

The quote in this newsletter is from the silent screen actor and producer Harold Lloyd, who with his contemporaries Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, is considered one of the great comedians of the silent film era. Playing an average guy with horn rimmed glasses, Lloyd's characters won in the end, but not before overcoming some mishaps; this is demonstrated in his 1923 film Safety Last.


Quote of the Month

"Laughter is the universal language. It establishes a common identity among people - regardless of other differences. It is the sweetest sound in the whole world."
     - Harold Lloyd, (1893-1971), film actor & producer, known best for his silent comedies


© 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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