Volume 08, Number 06— June 2008

What's in this issue?

June Events
June Holidays — National and International
This Day In History — June
June Birthdays
Travel - Montreux: Mountains, Lake, Music
Obituaries - May 2008
The Best of the World Almanac Blog
Chronology - May 2008
It's All in the Numbers
Offbeat News Stories
Links of the Month
Quote of the Month
How to reach us


June Events

June 5-8 - Chicago Blues Festival (Grant Park, Chicago)
June 6-7 - Chicken and Egg Festival (Prescott, AR)
June 6-8 - Buffalo Days Celebration (with Buffalo Chip Throwing) (Luverne, MN)
June 7 - Do-Dah Parade (Kalamazoo, MI)
June 7 - Belmont Stakes (Belmont Park, NY)
June 9-15 - U.S. Open golf tournament (Torrey Pines Golf Course, San Diego)
June 13-15 - Huck Finn's Jubilee (Victorville, CA)
June 13 - Friday the Thirteenth
June 13-23 - NCAA Division I Men's College World Series (Omaha, NE)
June 14 - Turtle Races (Danvile, IL)
June 16-21 - National Old-Time Fiddlers' Contest and Festival (Weiser, ID)
June 20 - Summer begins (Northern Hemisphere)
June 21-22 - Midnight Sun Festival (Nome, AK)
June 23-July 6 - Wimbledon tennis tournament (London)
June 26-29 - U.S. Women's Open golf tournament (Interlachen Golf Course, Edina, MN)
June 26-29 - Watermelon Thump/World Champion Seed-Spitting Contest (Luling, TX)
June 27 - Glastonbury Festival (Somerset, England)
June 29 - UEFA Championship Final Match (Ernst-Happel-Stadion, Vienna, Austria)

June Holidays — National and International

June 8 - Dragon Boat Festival (China)
June 14 - Flag Day
June 15 - Father's Day
June 18 - Evacuation Day (Egypt)
June 19 - Juneteenth

It's a Fact!

Argentina is home to a number of mountains in its West: Aconcagua Mountain is the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere, with an altitude of 22,834 feet.

This Day In History — June

Day Year Event
Day Year Event
01 1638 An earthquake rocks Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, the first such event to be recorded and described in writing in the United States.
02 1953 Queen Elizabeth II is crowned in London's Westminster Abbey.
03 1888 The comic baseball poem "Casey at the Bat" is printed in a San Francisco newspaper.
04 1989 Chinese troops crush pro-democracy student demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds.
05 1967 Israel, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan begin fighting the so-called Six-Day War.
06 1944 D-Day, World War II: U.S. and Allied forces invade Europe at Normandy on the north coast of France, in the greatest amphibious landing in history.
07 1975 Sony introduces the VCR, selling the Betamax for $995
08 632 Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, dies in Medina (now in Saudi Arabia).
09 1973 Secretariat takes the Belmont Stakes and becomes the first horse since 1948 to win the Triple Crown.
10 1898 U.S. troops land in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.
11 1770 Captain James Cook discovers the Great Barrier Reef off Australia.
12 1978 David Berkowitz, the New York City "Son of Sam" killer, is sentenced to 365 years in prison.
13 19672 Thurgood Marshall is appointed to the Supreme Court, becoming the first black justice.
14 1982 Argentine troops surrender as British forces storm Stanley, the last Argentine stronghold on the Falkland Islands, ending the war that began in April.
15 1215 England's King John seals the Magna Carta, guaranteeing the privileges of nobles and the church against the monarchy and assuring jury trials.
16 1963 Soviet Valentina Tereshkova, flying on Vostok 6, becomes the first woman in space.
17 1876 At the Battle of Rosebud Creek in Montana, American Indian chief Crazy Horse repels a detachment of U.S. troops under Gen. George Crook.
18 1815 Napoleon is defeated at the Battle of Waterloo.
19 1953 Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed for committing wartime espionage.
20 1900 The Boxer Rebellion begins in China when young rebels attack foreigners in Beijing.
21 2004 For the first time, a privately owned craft carries a human being into space.
22 1897 Queen Victoria of Britain celebrates her Diamond Jubilee
23 1894 The International Olympic Committee is founded in Paris.
24 1901 The first exhibition of Pablo Picasso's work opens.
25 1876 Col. George Armstrong Custer and 264 soldiers of the 7th Calvalry are killed by the Sioux in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, MT.
26 1963 John F. Kennedy, visiting a divided Berlin, speaks the famous words "Ich bin ein Berliner."
27 1893 The NY stock market crashes, leading to financial panic and a 4-year depression.
28 1914 Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife are murdered in Sarajevo, touching off a conflict that escalates into World War I.
29 1966 U.S. planes begin bombing the Hanoi area of North Vietnam
30 1966 NOW (the National Organization for Women) is founded.

June Birthdays

Day Year  
Day Year  
01 1975 K.T. Tunstall, singer/songwriter (Edinburgh, Scotland)
02 1948 Jerry Mathers, actor (Sioux City, IA)
03 1925 Tony Curtis, actor (New York, NY)
04 1928 Ruth Westheimer, sex therapist/writer (Frankfurt, Germany)
05 1949 Ken Follett, novelist (Cardiff, Wales)
06 1954 Harvey Fierstein, playwright/actor (Brooklyn, NY)
07 1954 Louise Erdrich, author (Little Falls, MN)
08 1925 Barbara Bush, First Lady of the United States (Rye, NY)
09 1956 Patricia Cornwall, mystery writer (Miami, FL)
10 1943 Jeff Greenfield, TV journalist (New York, NY)
11 1969 Peter Dinklage, actor (Mendham, NJ)
12 1924 George H.W. Bush, 41st president of the United States (Milton, MA)
13 1935 Christo (Javacheff), conceptual artist (Babrovo, Bulgaria)
14 1969 Steffi Graf, tennis player (Bruhl, West Germany))
15 1973 Neil Patrick Harris, actor (Albuquerque, NM)
16 1938 Joyce Carol Oates, novelist/short-story writer/critic (Lockport, NY)
17 1946 Barry Manilow, singer/songwriter (New York, NY)
18 1942 Paul McCartney, singer/songwriter/musician and member of the Beatles (Liverpool, England)
19 1962 Paula Abdul, dancer/choreographer (San Fernando, CA)
20 1931 Olympia Dukakis, actress (Lowell, MA)
21 1948 Ian McEwan, writer (Aldershot, England)
22 1971 Kurt Warner, football player (Burlington, IA)
23 1943 James Levine, conductor/pianist (Cincinnati, OH)
24 1942 Mick Fleetwood, musician (Cornwall, England)
25 1963 George Michael, musician (London, England)
26 1970 Sean Hayes, actor (Glen Ellyn, IL)
27 1955 Isabelle Adjani, actress (Paris, France)
28 1948 Kathy Bates, actress (Memphis, TN)
29 1963 Anne-Sophie Mutter, violinist (Rheinfelden, Germany)
30 1917 Lena Horne, singer/actress (Brooklyn, NY)

Travel - Montreux: Mountains, Lake, Music

Montreux may be a small place, with just 23,000 or so residents, but it is not your typical small town. One of the gems of the so-called Swiss Riviera, it lies at the foot of the Alps, by the serene waters of Lake Geneva. Across the lake you can see the mountains of the Dents-du-Midi. The spectacular setting, coupled with a mild climate year-round, has attracted countless notable visitors since the 19th century. Writers and performers seem to gravitate to the area. Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov spent his final years in Montreux. So did actor Charlie Chaplin, in nearby Vevey. Rock legend Freddie Mercury, another devotee, once told Spanish opera singer Montserrat Caballé, "If you want peace for your soul, go to Montreux." You should also go to Montreux, one might add, if your soul longs for music. The little town on the lake has plenty of music to offer, exemplified especially by the world-class jazz festival it hosts every July.

Seeing the sights

For those not musically inclined, the calm, milieu still guarantees a pleasant sojourn. A boat ride on the lake is a must, and a walk through the Old Town above the train station can be a pleasant diversion, if you don't mind the steep terrain. You can also learn about local history in the Musée de Montreux, housed in a collection of 18th-century buildings.



The sun sets on Château de Chillon

The area's most famous sight is the turreted Château de Chillon, occupying a strategic location on the lake, just southeast of town. Dating from the 13th century, or perhaps earlier, it ranks as one of Europe's best-preserved medieval castles. The 16th-century Swiss scholar François Bonivard was imprisoned there, shackled to a pillar for several years for his political activities - an episode that formed the basis for English poet Lord Byron's celebrated poem "The Prisoner of Chillon." ("There are seven pillars of Gothic mould,/In Chillon's dungeons deep and old,/There are seven columns, massy and gray,/Dim with a dull imprison'd ray,/A sunbeam which hath lost its way. . . .")

Also not to be missed is Rochers-de-Naye, a peak that overlooks Montreux from an elevation of about 2040 m (6700 ft) above sea level and affords superb views of the town, lake, and surrounding mountains. A cog railway takes roughly an hour to get to the top, leaving behind the palm trees by the lake for mountain edelweiss. In addition to providing an amazing vista, Rochers-de-Naye is the location of Marmot's Paradise, featuring exhibits along with live marmots from all over the planet. You can even see inside their burrows.

Monuments of music

A stroll about Montreux will quickly show its music ties. Along the lake and in the town's gardens you can find sculptures representing rhythm and blues pianist Ray Charles, jazzman Miles Davis, singer Ella Fitzgerald, and blues guitarist B. B. King, among other musical giants. Even the local casino, a somewhat nondescript edifice, has a link to music history. It replaced a rather more impressive 19th-century structure that burned down in 1971 when a member of the audience at a concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention fired a flare gun that ignited the ceiling. The band Deep Purple, which happened to be in the area, witnessed the fiery scene and made it the basis for the classic Smoke on the Water.



Freddie Mercury statue in Montreux

Many of the musicians associated with Montreux came there to perform or record. A fair number chose to make it their home, including the flamboyant Mercury, one of whose last songs, A Winter's Tale, conveys a dreamy appreciation of Montreux. A striking bronze statue of him, by Czechoslovakian-born British sculptor Irena Sedlecka, has become one of the town's most frequently photographed attractions. It presents Mercury, with his fist extravagantly held high in the air, overlooking the lake.

Jazz festival

The centerpiece of the town's musical calendar is the Montreux Jazz Festival, which in 2008 runs from July 4 to 19. It delivers much more than its name might imply. Performances take place both indoors and in the open air, and the range of music extends far beyond jazz. In addition, along the lakeshore you can find crafts galore, and an abundance of food from around the world.

A main focus of the 2008 festival is the distinguished U.S. composer, arranger, and producer Quincy Jones, who celebrated his 75th birthday in March. Some 20 soloists (among them Petula Clark, Herbie Hancock, Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan, and Nana Mouskouri) are scheduled to take part in a July 14 tribute to Jones, along with the Swiss Army Band and the Montreux in the House Band. Other high-profile performers slated for the 2008 festival include Erykah Badu, Joan Baez, Gnarls Barkley, Leonard Cohen, Sheryl Crow, Deep Purple, Etta James, Alicia Keys, Lenny Kravitz, k.d. lang, and Paul Simon.

More events

The annual roster of musical events features a choral festival in the spring, a late-summer classical festival called Septembre Musical that extends into Vevey, and a Freddie Mercury memorial on or about his birthday in early September. The year concludes with another Montreux hallmark, the Christmas market called Montreux Noël, scheduled in 2008 to run from November 24 to December 24. Along with crafts and food by the lake, offerings include themed exhibitions at the town's convention center and, on certain weekends, a medieval market at Chillon featuring people in period costumes. Meanwhile, Santa Claus will receive visitors at Rochers-de-Naye.

It's a Fact!

The Kingda Ka roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, is the fastest coaster in the world, reaching a maximum speed of 128 mph.

Obituaries in May 2008



Hamilton Jordan

Arnold, Eddy, 89, country singer who recorded 100 albums, sold more than 85 million recordings, and had more Top 10 hits (92) and consecutive Top 10 hits (67) than anyone in country music history. His 28 number one singles spent a total of 145 weeks at that position; Franklin, TN, May 8, 2008.

Capa, Cornell, 90, photojournalist and founder of New York's International Center of Photography; younger brother of famed war photographer Robert Capa; New York, NY, May 23, 2008.

Jarvik, Murray, 84, psychopharmacologist who was one of the first researchers to study LSD, and whose later work contributed to the development of the nicotine patch; Santa Monica, CA, May 8, 2008.

Jordan, Hamilton, 63, strategist and key advisor to Jimmy Carter in his bids for governor (1970) and President (1980); served as Carter's chief of staff, 1979-1980; Atlanta, GA, May 20, 2008.

Keenan, Brian, 66, former member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who spent 16 years in prison for his coordination of a series of bombings; later served on the IRA's ruling army council and participated in disarmament talks; Belfast, Ireland, May 21, 2008.

Key, Ted, 95, cartoonist best known for his comic strip Hazel, about a bossy but lovable maid, which became a television show in 1961; also created the genius dog Mr. Peabody and his adopted boy, Sherman, for TV's animated The Bullwinkle Show (originally Rocky & His Friends); Tredyffrin Township, PA, May 3, 2008.

Korman, Harvey, 81, comedic actor best known for roles on TV's The Carol Burnett Show, and in the hit movies Blazing Saddles (1974), and High Anxiety (1977); also voiced The Great Gazoo for The Flintstones; Los Angeles, CA; May 29, 2008.

Law, John Phillip, 70, film actor known for his roles in cult classics such as The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966) and Barbarella (1968); Los Angeles, May 13, 2008.

Loving, Mildred, 68, black woman whose challenge to Virginia's ban on interracial marriage led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling striking down such laws nationwide (1967); Milford, VA, May 2, 2008.


Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger is shown in 1968 with models of a spacecraft and launch vehicles that were being studied for human exploration of Mars.

Martin, Dick, 86, comedian and director best known as co-host of the hit comedy television show Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In (1968-73); Santa Monica, CA, May 24, 2008.

Mondavi, Robert, 94, vintner whose Robert Mondavi Winery brought worldwide recognition to Napa Valley (CA) wines; Yountville, CA, May 16, 2008.

Pollack, Sydney, 73, Academy Award winning film director, producer and actor, best known for directing Out of Africa (1985), Tootsie (1982), and They Shoot Horses Don't They? (1969); Los Angeles, CA, May 26, 2008.

Rauschenberg, Robert, 82, influential 20th century American artist whose work bridged the eras of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art; he also pursued such diverse fields as printmaking, choreography, and set design, and won a Grammy Award in 1984 for designing the Talking Heads album Speaking in Tongues; Captiva Island, FL, May 13, 2008.

Robbins, Irvine, 90, Canadian-American co-founder of Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream (1948) who, with his brother-in-law Burton Baskin, created the ice cream empire's famous "31 flavors" -one for each day of the month, not counting chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry; Rancho Mirage, CA, May 5, 2008.

Stuhlinger, Ernst, 94, German rocket scientist, one of 118 (including colleague Werner von Braun) who surrendered to Americans in 1945 and contributed their knowledge to the U.S. space program. Served as director of science at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center during the early years of the space age, working on electric propulsion; Huntsville, AL, May 25, 2008.

The Best of the World Almanac Blog

Top Baby Names of 2007 - Andrew Steinitz


Vincent Higgins

The Social Security Administration released its list of most popular baby names for 2007 earlier this week. Jacob and Emily remained the top choices for boys and girls. Michael stayed the second most popular boy's name, while Isabella overtook Emma at the number two position for girls.

You can find the Top 10 First Names of Americans by Decade of Birth in The World Almanac 2008 on page 726.

Boys Top 10 2007: Jacob, Michael, Ethan, Joshua, Daniel, Christopher, Anthony, William, Matthew, Andrew

Boys Top 10 2006: Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Ethan, Matthew, Daniel, Christopher, Andrew, Anthony, William

Girls Top 10 2007: Emily, Isabella, Emma, Ava, Madison, Sophia, Olivia, Abigail, Hannah, Elizabeth

Girls Top 10 2006: Emily, Emma, Madison, Isabella, Ava, Abigail, Olivia, Hannah, Sophia, Samantha

Collection of Native American Legends - Andrew Steinitz

The United Cherokee Ani-Yun-Wiya Nation in northeast Alabama has a small web presence, but they have accumulated a large collection of Native American legends; more than 2,000 tales organized by region. If you don't know where to start, I recommend some of the many Coyote stories. That most western tribes have a Coyote character reflects the range of the coyote population. In the myths and legends he is usually devilish or foolish but very human. Sometimes his intentions are good but at other times not so much.

United Cherokee Ani-Yun-Wiya Nation Online Collection of Legends
Coyote's Sad Song to the Moon (Pueblos)
Coyote And The Swallowing Monster (Sahaptin)

It's a Fact!

The Euro was originally set to be named the ecu, short for European currency unit, but Germans said it sounded too much like "kuh", their word for cow.

Chronology — May 2008


     Measure Barring Genetic Bias Becomes Law - Legislation making it illegal for employers and health insurance firms to discriminate on the basis of genetic test results gained final passage from Congress May 1 and was signed May 21 by Pres. George W. Bush. The measure, known as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, had passed the Senate Apr. 24 by a vote of 95-0 and won House approval May 1 by 414-1. The law was intended to encourage people to seek genetic testing - a key element in preventing and treating certain diseases - without fear that disclosure of test results might adversely affect their job opportunities or health insurance coverage and premiums. The legislation also barred insurers from requiring people to submit to generic testing.

     GOP Loses Two More House Seats - In special elections to fill vacant House seats in two Southern states, Don Cazayoux (D) narrowly defeated Woody Jenkins (R) in Louisiana May 3, and Travis Childers (D) easily beat Greg Davis (R) in Mississippi May 13. The Louisiana vacancy had been created by the Feb. 2008 resignation of 11-term congressman Richard Baker (R), the dean of the state's congressional delegation; the Mississippi opening arose when seven-term Rep. Roger Wicker (R) was elevated to the Senate to replace the retiring Trent Lott (R). Both districts had been solidly Republican in the 2004 presidential election and in congressional voting two years later.
     Another Republican, Rep. Vito Fossella Jr. (NY), announced May 20 that he would not seek a sixth full term in November. Fossella, whose district encompasses Staten Island and part of Brooklyn, had been arrested May 1 on charges of driving while intoxicated in Virginia. He later admitted that he and the woman who posted his bail - retired Air Force Lt. Col. Laura Fay - had an extramarital relationship and were the parents of a three-year-old daughter.


U.S. Senate

Presumptive Presidential nominees John McCain (Rep.) and Barack Obama (Dem.)

     Obama Moves Closer to Democratic Nomination; Other Presidential Campaign Developments - In the last full month of the Democratic primary calendar, Sen. Barack Obama (IL) expanded his delegate lead over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY). On May 6, Obama won the North Carolina primary, 56-42%, while Clinton claimed the majority in Indiana, 51-49%. A major concern of voters in both states was rising gasoline prices. Clinton had embraced the idea of suspending the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon during the summer to relieve hard-pressed motorists, a proposal made earlier by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (AZ). Obama derided the gas tax holiday as a "short-term, quick-fix" plan that would save the average consumer no more than $30 over the course of the summer months and would divert funds from much-needed road and bridge repairs.
     On May 13, Clinton trounced Obama in West Virginia, 67-26%. The following day, Obama picked up endorsements from NARAL Pro-Choice America and from former Sen. John Edwards (NC), who had quit the Democratic presidential race Jan. 30. The two candidates split the May 20 primaries, with Clinton capturing Kentucky, 65-30%, and Obama winning Oregon, 59-41%. Clinton also gained some two dozen delegates May 31, when the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee resolved disputes over the Michigan and Florida delegations, which had held their primary contests in January in violation of party rules. But Obama continued to lead by more than 150 delegates as the month ended.
     With an eye toward the general election, both McCain and Obama took steps to resolve lingering political problems. On May 22, McCain repudiated the endorsements of two controversial televangelists, John Hagee and Rod Parsley. McCain's campaign had learned of a sermon in which Hagee had portrayed Adolf Hitler as part of a divine plan to get the Jewish people to return to the land of Israel. Hagee had also offended many Catholics by calling the Catholic Church a "false cult system." Parsley had vehemently criticized Islam in footage broadcast May 22 on Good Morning America. Obama announced May 31 that he and his family were leaving Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, where the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. had long served as minister and where Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest, had given a sermon ridiculing Hillary Clinton May 25.
     McCain, who will turn 72 in Aug., sought to allay concerns about his age and health by allowing reporters to examine his medical records May 23; his primary care physician, Dr. John D. Eckstein, noted that McCain's melanoma, which had been removed in an operation in 2000, had not recurred. Several high-ranking McCain staff members stepped down in May, including McCain's national finance co-chairman, amid press reports that they had lobbied on behalf of foreign governments, including the repressive military junta in Burma (Myanmar); his campaign issued new rules May 15 barring lobbying activities by paid staffers.

     Jenna Bush Marries - Jenna Bush, the daughter of Pres. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, married Henry Hager May 10 at the Bush family ranch near Crawford, TX. The bride, a 26-year-old teacher and author, has worked on behalf of UNICEF; the groom, a 30-year-old graduate student, comes from a Virginia family that is prominent in Republican Party politics. The ceremony was a private event, with the White House offering few details to the press.

     Major Immigration Raids in Iowa, California - U.S. immigration agents May 12 descended on a meatpacking plant in Postville, IA, arresting 389 immigrant workers, who made up more than one-third of the plant's staff. Federal officials described the raid at the Agriprocessors plant, one of the nation's leading producers of kosher meat, as the biggest immigration enforcement operation ever carried out at a single U.S. workplace. Many of those arrested were from Guatemala. Prosecution was swift, and by May 23 a total of 297 illegal immigrants had pleaded guilty, with 260 receiving five-month prison sentences for using fraudulent documents. Most of the plea bargains also provided for immediate deportation when the prison sentences ended.
     During the three-week period ending May 23, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested an additional 905 people in California sweeps. Of these, 495 were charged with being "immigration fugitives" who had failed to comply with orders to leave the U.S. or returned illegally after deportation; the other 410 were accused of various other immigration violations.

     U.S. Lists Polar Bear as Threatened Species - Interior Sec. Dirk Kempthorne announced May 14 that the U.S. had decided to list the polar bear as a threatened species because of shrinkage in its sea ice habitat attributable to global warming. The long-delayed listing, authorized under the federal Endangered Species Act, came in response to a federal court order in late April that gave May 15 as its deadline. While welcoming the decision, some environmental groups expressed their displeasure with Kempthorne's accompanying statement that the Bush Administration would take steps to ensure that the polar bear ruling would not lead to additional restrictions on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic region.


flickr/carbonnyc and ny.gov

A gay wedding, and New York Governor Paterson discussing the directive to state agencies on marriage equality.

     California Court Reverses Ban on Same-Sex Marriage - Overturning two state laws that defined marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman, the California Supreme Court declared May 15 that the state constitution guaranteed marriage rights to gay as well as heterosexual couples as a "basic civil right." California thus joined Massachusetts as the only states in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage; several other states allow same-sex domestic partnerships, or civil unions. One of the measures thrown out by the court was Proposition 22, a statute that had been approved in 2000 by more than 60% of California voters. According to an LA Times/KTLA poll released May 23, 54% of California's registered voters would support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as "between a man and a woman." However, a Field Poll conducted May 17-26 later found that by a 51-42% majority, registered voters in California now supported gay marriage rights. An initiative petition with 1.1 mil signatures seeking to reinstate the same-sex marriage ban as part of the state constitution qualified June 3 for the November ballot.
     Responses by other states varied. In New York (which does not allow the performance of same-sex marriages), state agencies began implementing a May 14 directive from Gov. David A. Paterson's (D) office that required them to move toward recognition of homosexual marriages licensed by other jurisdictions, including California, Canada, and Massachusetts, in part to avoid legal challenges. On May 30, the attorneys general for ten other states made public a letter petitioning the California court to stay its judgment, under which same-sex marriage licenses could be issued beginning June 17.

     Supreme Court Rules on Child Pornography, Workplace Bias - In a 7-2 ruling on May 19, the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Williams upheld the constitutionality of legislation passed by Congress in 2003 to ban the distribution of child pornography over the Internet. The measure, known as the PROTECT Act (the acronym stands for Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today), applies to any person who "knowingly advertises, promotes, presents, distributes, or solicits" material that purports to represent children in sexually explicit poses, even in cases where no actual children are depicted.
     In a pair of decisions made public May 27, the Court strengthened federal protections against workplace discrimination by holding that workers who face retaliation from employers for filing complaints about age or race bias may sue for redress in federal court. The rights of workers in the private sector to seek protection against retaliation were upheld by a 7-2 majority in CBOCS West, Inc. v. Humphries, a case involving an assistant manager who was fired after complaining about a racially motivated firing at the Cracker Barrel restaurant where he worked. Similar rights were extended to federal employees in Gómez-Pérez v. Potter, which arose from retaliation over an age discrimination complaint filed by a 45-year-old postal clerk in Puerto Rico; the 6-3 majority opinion was written by a conservative, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., with other conservative justices (Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas) dissenting.


U.S. Senate

Sen. Edward Kennedy

     Sen. Kennedy Has Malignant Brain Tumor - Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston revealed May 20 that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D, MA), a champion of liberal causes in the U.S. Senate for more than 45 years, had a malignant glioma, or brain tumor. Kennedy, 76, had been hospitalized May 17 after suffering a seizure at the family's compound in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod, MA. News of his illness prompted encomiums from many U.S. political leaders, including Pres. Bush, who called Kennedy "a man of tremendous courage, remarkable strength, and powerful spirit." The senator underwent brain surgery June 2 at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC. After recuperating there, he was expected to receive radiation and chemotherapy treatments at Massachusetts General.

     Parents in Texas Polygamist Sect Allowed to Reclaim Children - Three-judge appellate panel ruled unanimously May 22 that Texas authorities acted improperly in seizing more than 460 minors from their homes at the Yearning For Zion (YFZ) Ranch, a compound owned by a polygamist group, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The appeals court found that when the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services removed the children from the YFZ compound in early April, it lacked credible evidence that all the children were in imminent danger of sexual or physical abuse. The appellate ruling was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court May 29. District Judge Barbara Walther issued an order June 2 allowing parents to retrieve their children from state-arranged foster care. The parents were ordered to take parenting classes, not to interfere in ongoing investigations of individual child abuse cases, and not to leave Texas without court permission.

     Soaring Fuel Prices Take Toll on U.S. Economy - Increased costs for energy and raw materials led some industries to boost prices, raising fears of inflation. During a five-day visit to the Middle East, Pres. Bush traveled May 16 to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, hoping to persuade officials there to increase oil production. Saudi officials announced that day that they had decided to increase output by 300,000 barrels a day, to 9.45 million barrels, but noted that they had reached the decision for commercial reasons a week earlier. Also on May 16, the White House bowed to legislation that Congress had passed May 13 and suspended deposits of 70,000 barrels of crude oil per day to the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the rest of the year.
     Hit hard by rising fuel costs - which climbed 82.5% over the last year - airlines cut flights and raised fees. Data compiled by the Official Airline Guide indicated that the number of scheduled flights in the U.S. dropped in May by 3% from the total in May 2007. On May 21, American Airlines announced that as of June 15 it would impose a $15 fee for a customer's first checked-baggage item, just two weeks after it had decided to charge $25 for a second checked-baggage item. The airline also announced that it would cut the number of seats on domestic flights by up to 12%, in part by retiring at least 75 aircraft from its fleet.
     Crude oil traded above $135 a barrel on world markets for the first time May 22, as upward pressure on fuel prices continued to impact U.S. producers and consumers. Crude oil futures settled May 30 at $127.35 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up 12% for the month. The average U.S. retail price for regular gasoline May 30 hit $3.96 per gallon, a new record, as the price for a gallon of diesel exceeded $5 in some areas. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 12,638.32, a drop of 1.4% for the month, while the tech-heavy NASDAQ Composite was up 4.6% to 2,522.66.


     Cyclone Devastates Coastal Region of Myanmar - Packing winds of up to 120 miles per hour, Tropical Cyclone Nargis May 2-3 slammed into densely populated southern Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Devastation was especially severe in the low-lying Irrawaddy Delta and in Yangon (Rangoon), the country's largest city and former capital. As of May 30, at least 78,000 had died as a result of the storm, with an estimated 56,000 still missing.
     International aid agencies complained that Myanmar's ruling junta was preventing relief workers and supplies from reaching the most severely affected areas. On May 23, while visiting Myanmar to witness the damage, UN Sec. Gen. Ban Ki-moon said that Gen. Than Shwe, the junta leader, had promised to ease access for foreign aid workers, but international relief efforts continued to be blocked in some areas. At the end of the month, the UN estimated that conditions remained desperate for some 2.4 mil people who had survived the storm.
     Despite the disaster, Myanmar's repressive regime pushed ahead with its political agenda, carrying out a referendum on a new constitution May 10 that was intended to consolidate the military's hold over the country. The government announced on May 15 that in areas not impacted by the cyclone, the constitution had passed with a 92.4% majority; turnout was reported to be 99%. The junta extended the detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, on May 27. She has been under house arrest since May 2003, and intermittently for 12 of the last 18 years.

     Medvedev Becomes Russian President; Putin Named Prime Minister - Within hours of his inauguration May 7 in Moscow as Russia's third president, Dmitri Medvedev nominated his predecessor and mentor, former Pres. Vladimir Putin, to be prime minister. The State Duma confirmed Putin May 8 by a vote of 392-56, with Communist Party members casting the dissenting votes. Putin's new cabinet, named May 12, had many holdovers from the previous government and included several powerful aides who had served Putin during his presidency.

     Wave of Anti-Immigrant Violence Sweeps South Africa - More than two weeks of xenophobic violence beginning May 11 left at least 60 people dead in South Africa. The mob attacks, which included beatings, burnings, rapes, and the looting of foreign-owned businesses, started in Alexandra Township, near Johannesburg, and spread to poverty-stricken shantytowns in other parts of the country. Troops were deployed - for the first time since apartheid ended in 1994 - to limit the attacks in Cape Town, May 22. Pres. Thabo Mbeki drew wide criticism for his slow response to the violence, much of which was aimed at Zimbabweans who had fled hardships in their own country. At least 40,000 Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, and other African immigrants in South Africa fled to makeshift refugee shelters after the attacks began.


Wikimedia Commons/Miniwiki

A shot taken in the road heading to Wenyuan, the epicenter of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake

     Earthquake Kills More Than 69,000 People in Southwestern China - China's deadliest earthquake in more than three decades rocked Sichuan Province May 12, leaving more than 69,000 people dead and millions homeless. According to official statistics released June 5 by the Information Office of China's State Council, the death toll from the quake stood at 69,127, with another 373,612 people injured and 17,918 reported missing. The quake, which measured 8.0 on the open-ended Richter scale, was followed by weeks during which thousands of aftershocks of varying magnitude occurred. The extreme seismic activity caused floods and mudslides, knocked out power and communications systems, and damaged roads, dams, and bridges. More than 45 mil people were affected by the disaster, and more than 15 mil were relocated as part of a massive rescue and relief effort, assisted by international agencies. An estimated 10,000 schoolchildren were killed, many in schools that had completely collapsed, leading to speculation that substandard methods and materials had been used in their construction.

     Power-Sharing Accord with Hezbollah Ends Political Deadlock in Lebanon - The Shiite militant group Hezbollah and the government of Prime Min. Fouad Siniora reached agreement on a power-sharing formula May 21, bringing an end to an 18-month-long political stalemate. The accord, negotiated in Doha, Qatar, followed an upsurge of violence May 7-13 in and around Beirut and Tripoli that had claimed more than 60 lives. The fighting between Hezbollah militia members and Sunni Muslim and Druse supporters of the government was triggered by a cabinet decision May 6 to shut down a private telephone network established by Hezbollah. The agreement between the rival factions paved the way for parliament May 25 to elect army chief Gen. Michel Suleiman as president.

     Canadian Foreign Minister Resigns - Canadian Prime Min. Stephen Harper announced May 26 that he had accepted the resignation of Foreign Min. Maxime Bernier. The announcement came just as Bernier's former girlfriend, Julie Couillard, was preparing to reveal in a televised interview that he had left confidential government papers in her Montreal apartment. The documents were later identified as briefing notes for a NATO conference, at which Bernier discussed Canadian plans to keep troops in Afghanistan until 201l. The flamboyant Bernier, a Quebec native who assumed the office in Aug. 2007, had been under pressure to resign for more than two weeks, after press reports spotlighted Couillard's associations with members of biker gangs linked to organized crime. Harper said that Trade Min. David Emerson would take over the foreign affairs portfolio on an interim basis.

     Israeli Prime Minister Targeted in Corruption Probe - At a court hearing in Jerusalem May 27, Morris Talansky, an American investor and fundraiser, told Israeli prosecutors that he had provided about $150,000 in cash to Ehud Olmert during a 15-year period when the current prime minister was mayor of Jerusalem and a cabinet member. Denying any impropriety, Olmert had survived earlier probes of his financial dealings, but the testimony led members of Olmert's cabinet to call for his departure. On May 28, Defense Min. Ehud Barak, the leader of the Labor Party, said Labor would leave Olmert's coalition government if the prime minister did not resign or take a leave of absence. The following day, Foreign Min. Tzipi Livni - a popular member of Olmert's Kadima Party - said the party needed to start preparing to choose a new leader.

     Nepal Monarchy Abolished - Meeting May 28 in Kathmandu, the newly elected constituent assembly voted 597-4 to end Nepal's 238-year-old monarchy and replace it with a republic. King Gyanendra was given 15 days to vacate the royal palace, which will become a historical museum. The vote took place as thousands of Maoists, well-represented in the assembly, marched triumphantly through the capital and other Nepalis danced in the streets. Suspected royalists set off several small bomb blasts in the hours before the assembly acted, injuring several bystanders.

     111 Nations Agree on Treaty to Ban Cluster Bombs - Conferees in Dublin, Ireland, reached agreement May 28 on a treaty to outlaw the production, transfer, and use of cluster bombs and to destroy all stockpiles of the weapons within eight years. The bombs consist of canisters packed with many smaller explosive devices, which may be spread over a wide area and are designed to detonate on impact; in practice, many "bomblets" do not explode immediately, but may maim or kill civilians who encounter them years later. The treaty, formally known as the Convention on Cluster Munitions, was endorsed by 111 countries, including many American allies, but not by the U.S., Brazil, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, or Russia. The UK, a key player in the talks, agreed not only to scrap its own cluster bombs but also to ask the U.S. to remove its cluster munitions from British soil. A treaty provision would allow signatories to "engage in military cooperation and operations" with countries that had not approved the agreement. Sen. John McCain and Sen. Hillary Clinton opposed such a ban during a 2006 Senate vote; Sen. Barack Obama was one of only four senators to vote in favor of the ban.

     Casualties in Iraq Drop Sharply - U.S. military deaths in Iraq numbered 19 in May, the lowest monthly total since the war began in Mar. 2003. According to an Associated Press tally published June 2, at least 528 Iraqi civilians died in war-related violence during the month through May 30; the number was less than half of the AP's estimate for April. Contributing to the decline in civilian deaths was a May 10 truce deal, negotiated in part by Iran, between Iraq's central government and followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that halted weeks of bloody violence in the Sadr City section of Baghdad.
     Australia announced June 1 that it had officially ended its Iraqi combat role, fulfilling a campaign pledge by Prime Min. Kevin Rudd; 550 Australian troops had been deployed in two southern provinces. Some 300 Australian forces will remain in Iraq, performing logistical and surveillance missions, as well as providing security for Australia's diplomats in Baghdad.


    Big Brown Wins Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes - Big Brown captured the first two jewels in thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown, winning the Kentucky Derby May 3 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY, and the Preakness Stakes May 17 at Pimlico in Baltimore, MD. Trained by Rick Dutrow Jr. and ridden by Kent Desormeaux, the powerfully built colt finished the Derby nearly five lengths ahead of his closest competitor, Eight Belles. A filly ridden by Gabriel Saez, Eight Belles collapsed after the race and was euthanized on the track; a necropsy showed compound fractures at the fetlock joints of both front legs but no preexisting diseases or bone abnormalities.
     Big Brown's win at Pimlico two weeks later was preceded by the announcement that syndication rights for his stud services had been sold to Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, KY, for more than $50 mil. Unbeaten in five starts, the three-year-old had been lightly raced because of hoof problems early in his career. On May 25, Dutrow revealed that Big Brown had a small quarter crack, or minor stress fracture, on the inside of his left front hoof. He remained the favorite to win the Belmont Stakes - the third and longest of the Triple Crown races - on June 7. No horse had claimed the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

     Henin, No. 1 in Women's Tennis, Unexpectedly Retires - Justine Henin, top-ranked in women's singles by the Women's Tennis Association, said May 14 that she was quitting the pro tour. The surprise announcement, made at a press conference in her native Belgium, came less than two weeks before the start of the French Open (Roland Garros), where she had claimed four singles titles (2003, 2005-07). Her other Grand Slam tournament triumphs had come at the Australian Open (2004) and U.S. Open (2003, 2007. Henin also won a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. The 25-year-old Henin, who had played lackluster tennis in recent months, told reporters she had lost her motivation. Her agent said Henin had told him, "I've won everything I need to win. I have more money than I can use in three lifetimes, and I don't have the will to play one day more."

     Lester Pitches No-Hitter - Cancer survivor Jon Lester pitched the first no-hitter of the 2008 major league baseball season May 19, leading the Boston Red Sox to a 7-0 win over the Kansas City Royals. The 24-year old left-hander, who survived a bout with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2006, struck out nine and allowed only two runners to reach base, both on walks. The no-hitter was the fourth caught by Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek — a new major league record.

     Manchester United Takes Soccer Crown - In an all-English final, Manchester United beat Chelsea May 21 to win the UEFA Champions League title, emblematic of European football (soccer) supremacy. The match, played in a Moscow rainstorm, ended in thrilling fashion with a shoot-out after two extra time periods, turning a 1-1 draw into a 6-5 penalty victory for United. Sir Bobby Charlton and four other former United players, all of whom survived a plane crash 50 years earlier that had killed eight teammates as they returned from a European Cup quarterfinal match, witnessed the dramatic win.


NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

This image shows an American flag and a mini-DVD on Phoenix's deck, which is about 3 feet above the Martian surface. The mini-DVD from the Planetary Society contains a message to future Martian explorers, science fiction stories and art inspired by the Red Planet, and the names of about a quarter of a million earthlings (May 28, 2008).

     Scott Dixon Wins Indianapolis 500 - In a race repeatedly slowed by accidents and yellow caution flags, Scott Dixon won his first Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway May 25. The Australian-born New Zealander led for 115 of 200 laps and recorded an average speed of 143.567 mph while beating Vitor Meira of Brazil by less than two seconds. Fan favorite Danica Patrick finished a disappointing 22nd, after a car driven by Ryan Briscoe clipped hers on a pit road with 29 laps remaining.

     Phoenix Spacecraft Lands on Mars - NASA's Phoenix spacecraft made a picture-perfect landing on Mars May 25, ending a journey of more than 9 months and about 422 mil miles. Phoenix - assembled largely from parts built for other spacecraft - was the first mission to touch down in the planet's frigid northern polar region, a location chosen because of the presence of readily accessible water ice. After a minor glitch, the lander began flexing its robotic arm May 29 and scooped up its first sample of Martian soil June 1. The lander's miniature on-board chemistry lab will analyze the soil and ice samples, seeking evidence that life has existed - or might exist - on the planet.

     French Film The Class Wins Top Prize at Cannes Festival - The Palme d'Or, the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, was awarded May 25 to The Class, directed by French filmmaker Laurent Cantet. The film, also known by its French title Entre les Murs, portrayed a teacher at a tough school in Paris and was notable for its casting of nonprofessionals as the teenage students. The jury, headed by Sean Penn, awarded the acting prize to Benicio Del Toro for his starring role in Steven Soderbergh's Che, a 4½-hour-long film based on the life of Latin American revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
     One of the festival highlights was the out-of-competition world premiere screening May 18 of Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The action sequel drew mixed reviews from critics but earned an estimated $311 mil worldwide in its long opening weekend, May 22-26.

     Jamaican Sprinter Sets New World Record in 100 Meters - Sprint star Usain Bolt of Jamaica set a new world record of 9.72 seconds for the 100-meter run in the Reebok Grand Prix, held May 31 at Icahn Stadium, Randall' s Island, NY. Aided by an allowable tailwind of 1.7 meters per second, Bolt beat the previous mark of 9.74 seconds, set in Sept. 2007 by another Jamaican, Asafa Powell. A 200-m run specialist, Bolt had run the 100-m in sanctioned events only 4 times before his record-setting sprint. Veronica Campbell-Brown, also of Jamaica, won the women's 100 meter sprint in 10.91 seconds.

It's a Fact!

Sinclair Lewis became the first American to win a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930.

It's All in the Numbers



Ed White on the first U.S. Space Walk, 1965.

4,400,000,000,000 - $ combined wealth of the world's 1,125 billionaires in 2008.

97,500,000 - million approximate number of American households that receive CNN, a reach surpassed only by Discovery, TNT, and ESPN.

735,000 - number of telephone numbers registered with the Do-Not-Call list on the day it went into effect.

10,000 - $ reward offered for Jesse James "dead or alive," for which a fellow gang member shot him dead at James's home in Saint Joseph, Missouri, in 1882.

1,933 - length in miles of the border between the United States and Mexico.

824 - estimated 2008 population of Vatican City.

25 - length, in feet, of the tether attaching Edward H. White II to the Gemini spacecraft.

5 - number of weeks that Robert McNamara served as the president of Ford Motor Co. - the first to not be a Ford family member - before he was appointed the secretary of defense in 1960.

0 - amount Milton Glaser charged for designing the "I (heart) New York" logo for the state's tourism board in 1977.

Offbeat News Stories — Sarah Janssen

The Truth Is Out There

Conspiracy theorists and sci-fi fans rejoiced when the British National Archives released more than 11,000 declassified UFO files to the public in May. The files include reports of various unidentified crafts - from traditional flying saucers to unexplained bright lights and radar paths - that date back to the 1950s. Curiously, all of the aliens and extraterrestrials sighted were green (or, in one report, wearing green overalls). Around 90 percent of the Ministry of Defence's reports were found to have logical explanations, leaving 10 percent unresolved.

Most of the files are dated after the 1977 release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when the Ministry of Defence saw reports double over prior years. Some reports were immediately dismissed; for example, a 1985 letter writer reported a friendship with an alien named Algar, whose craft had crashed in a nearby river. The writer reported that Algar had been killed by other aliens, but he was still in telepathic contact with another extraterrestrial, Malcben, on the planet Platone in the Milky Way. The letter was deemed unworthy of a response by the Ministry of Defence.

Not all of the reports were as easily dismissed, though. Public curiosity was at a fevered pitch in the early 1950s, culminating in Prime Min. Winston Churchill, in 1952, asking the Air Ministry "What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to? What can it mean? What is the truth? Let me have a report at your convenience."

Punctuation Police

Jeff Deck and Michael Herson know an apostrophe from an ampersand, and they're not afraid to use them. The duo - founders of the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) - went on a road trip/hero's quest (of sorts) to prove it. For more than two months, their Typo Hunt Across America had them fighting subject-verb disagreements, unnecessary quotation marks, and tricky homophones on public signs and fliers nationwide.

The friends encountered more than 400 mistakes during their trip, which began in early March and ended in mid-May. Misused apostrophes were the most common error, with Deck describing their occurrence as "like a virus." Parking lot signs explaining that vehicles could be towed "at owners expense," were everywhere.

They were able to fix many errors themselves, equipped with Typo Correction Kits containing assorted markers, chalk, Wite-Out®, and even crayons. Sometimes they resorted to guerilla tactics to address mistakes (according to the TEAL blog, "much like hiking or lake-swimming, typo-hunting is best enjoyed under the buddy system" for this reason). Other times proprietors eagerly assisted or promised to fix signage errors at a later date. When their journey was complete, they calculated their typo-correction success rate at nearly 55 percent.

It's a Fact!

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was the first rock album to win the Album of the Year Grammy.

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

I recently found that someone had included the E-Newsletter in their blog. The entry read: "...my favorite section is the "Links of the Month" from the editor in chief. It's down towards the bottom of the page, and it always seems totally random. There's only a slight theme, but it ends up being mostly stream of consciousness from Edward A. Thomas (for now). Strange things pop in and out each month." I think that's been a pretty good description of what I've written here during the past 7-1/2 years, and today I'm breaking the links into two categories - Themes and Random. Enjoy!


Make a difference in someone's life. The sufferings of other people have been in the news on a daily basis as of late. Starting with the devastating cyclone in Myanmar, the deadly earthquake in China, and tornadoes in the Midwest, we are reminded that there are people who need our help, and at this point, money is the best way to assist. Organizations like The American Red Cross and Feed the Children let you select where your funds will go. There's also a list of Disaster relief agencies which tells you about individual relief organizations and has links to them. Volunteer. Many non-profit organizations need help and you can probably find some volunteer opportunities in your own neighborhood. Idealist.org is another resource for volunteer positions, offering them internationally. Brighten someone's day. Making a connection with someone else can be so easy - a simple smile or hello is often all it takes to brighten someone's day. Remember that some day you're going to be old, so offer your seat to the elderly on public transportation, hold a door for them, or help shop for your neighbors. Give thanks to soldiers. Each year I attend the Memorial Day ceremony in my town. It's good to pause and recognize the sacrifices of others. You can make a difference in a soldiers life by sending a letter or care package as instructed by AnySoldier.com, thanking them on an army blog, or just saying "thank you" the next time you see one. Say you're sorry. I spent 13 years searching for a former friend of mine to apologize for something that I'd wrongly done to him. I made an error in judgment, and I needed to get it off my chest. I did find him, and we met after a 24-year separation.



Jimmy Carter and his mother Miss Lillian Carter (1977)

Read. I've mentioned before that I was 11 before my mother found something that "sparked" my interest in reading. Read anything - books, magazines, newspapers, or blogs. My early readings had me soaring with Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, sailing on the Titanic, and tinkering with Thomas Alva Edison (yes, I read mainly biographies back then). Avid reading has life-long benefits: reading expands your vocabulary, it opens up your imagination, increases your knowledge, and it works out your brain! Some doctors even think that exercising your mind can help prevent dementia. My friend Ruth is a voracious reader, at 91, and my Dad pores over the newspaper daily at 90. So, what should you read next? There are a multitude of ways to find new books to read; go to your library and ask the librarian for a suggestion (that's how I found the much talked about book club selection "We Need to Talk About Kevin," read the book review section of your favorite newspaper, or join a book club. I hope I always have the desire to read, and hopefully I'll hit more than the 39 books on Dr. Peter Boxall's 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. I just finished reading two books; Jodi Picoult's Plain Truth, involving the mysterious death of a baby in Lancaster, PA, on an Amish farm, and A Remarkable Mother, a portrait of Miss Lillian, President Jimmy Carter's colorful mother.

Keep your body and mind healthy. Okay, I'll admit that I have a sweet tooth and do love chocolate (dark chocolate has been shown to be healthy), and red licorice, and when I eat these treats I fully understand the calories and fat content I'm taking on. At the same time, on a daily basis I have yogurt in the morning, eat a salad with a variety of vegetables, and eat several portions of fruit. I, by the way, was hungry the other morning and while pancakes were certainly alluring, I went for my first-ever bowl of oatmeal, and with some blueberries in it, it was quite tasty, and I've already checked out the health benefits from eating it. It's important to maintain a healthy diet, along with exercising. Exercise provides many benefits, including improving your mood, helping you manage your weight, and helping combat chronic diseases. Keep active - on Memorial Day weekend I spent parts of each day biking on a great path near my house. Your mental health is equally important, and it is important to reduce stress in your life.

Continue making friends. I like to make new friends, and don't consider age a determining factor. I find that twenty-somethings are a very accepting group of people, and I enjoy spending time with them, as much as with those who are 90+ and have a lifetime of stories to share with me. I've found Facebook, and other social network websites, a good way to communicate with my younger cousins, plus I'm hooked on playing Scrabulous. Friendships can be in real-time, or by mail or e-mail. Consider getting a pen pal, locally, internationally, young or old, or even a prisoner. And these days, there should be no problem finding old friends. Websites like Classmates.com (for former school friends), Switchboard.com (directory listings), LinkedIn (business listings), and ZabaSearch would be good places to start.


(c) Edward A. Thomas

Architecture of Crawfordsville, Indiana

Travel. Traveling the world can mean exploring your own small town - perhaps it's Crawfordsville, Indiana - or visiting Cairo. Every place you travel has something unique to offer; big cities like Chicago have a variety of things to see, from the top of the 110 story Sears Tower to homes built by Frank Lloyd Wright. At Roadside America you'll find a multitude of places to visit with lesser-known sites to visit, such as Hartsdale, NY, where you'll find the country's oldest pet cemetery (and my sister's dog Spencer); Burlingame, California's Museum Of Pez Memorabilia; or Philadelphia's Mütter Museum filled with medical curiosities. Make sure you talk to the people, experience the culture, and taste the food of whatever locale you visit. Once in your life, come to New York City during the holiday season. If you need a good website to compare prices of hotels, flights, and cars, check out kayak.com. Oh, and don't forget to take PeeWee with you!

Laugh. My friends have told me that I'm a good storyteller, and many of the stories I tell include the humor I see in different situations. Humor and laughter are important ingredients of my life. I love to laugh. One website that always gives me a chuckle is watching the videos at JibJab.

See, hear, and experience it live. Nothing can beat the experience of sitting in a theater and seeing a live performance. Unlike film, performers in a live setting sense how the crowd is reacting to their work and it shades how they perform it. Granted, it can be an expensive venture, but websites like Theatermania and BroadwayBox offer discounts nationally, and sometimes internationally. Hearing music live is also a wonderful experience and you can find out who's performing where this summer at Zvents (just change location to one near you). I'm hoping to attend at least one baseball game at each of New York's stadiums - Yankee and Shea , before they close the old and move into new stadiums next season. Need to find a sporting event near you? Check out SportsEvents365.


Courtesy of Edward A. Thomas

My great-great grandfather Marco Bez (1830-1919) and his cow; Longarone, Italy 1914

Discover who you are. The Internet has made discovery of who you are, and who your ancestors were, a great deal easier. Genealogy has been one of my passions for the last 25 years, and in that time I've accumulated quite a number of documents related to several generations of my family. The best place to start a search is to ask your older living relatives for names, birth, marriage and death dates, birthplaces, burial locations, etc. and then move on to online resources such as the Social Security Death Index (death certificates are rich with information), Census databases, military records, and birth and death records, in the U.S. and internationally. There are a great many tools at your fingertips, and sometimes you can just get lucky. I did when I sent a blanket e-mail to various people I found with my grandparents surname. Through various connections I made, I was able to discover and contact family members, both in Lebanon and here in the U.S., who had no idea of my existence.


I can't deny it, I watch reality shows, and if you want to be up-to-date on the latest dish concerning your favorite show, make sure you visit Reality News Online. On another website I found out that many of the participants of Big Brother 9 have been selling their clothes on ebay, as well as autographs and phone calls. Wow. Why would anyone want this stuff? Another one of my favorite shows is Lost, and the Lostpedia gives episode synopses, and lots more, to help you to try and figure out what's going on.

Have you ever tried the The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia game? This game is based upon the career of film actor Kevin Bacon, and the aim is to find an actor/actress who is up to 8 generations away from Bacon. For example, Lillian Gish (1893-1993) Lillian Gish has a Bacon number of 2; Lillian Gish was in Sweet Liberty (1986) with Lynne Thigpen (1948- ), and Lynne Thigpen was in Novocaine (2001) with Kevin Bacon. Getting a 2 is easy, finding someone who is an 8, is a lot tougher. The best I've ever done is a 4 with Helen Keller.


Library of Congress

Coney Island circa 1910

I'm thinking of heading out to Coney Island (Brooklyn) on June 21st to see the Mermaid Parade, an annual event since 1983 that is part Mardi Gras, part celebration of the ocean. Coney Island, was once an island but is now a small peninsula at the southernmost edge of Brooklyn. I haven't been there since I was a child, when I visited the New York Aquarium, and I've long had the desire to ride the Cyclone rollercoaster. There are other colorful things to do in Coney Island including visiting a circus sideshow of human curiosities and walking on the 3-mile boardwalk, and then of course there is the beach and ocean to dip your feet in.

It's Gay Pride Month here in the U.S., a movement that gained momentum after the Stonewall Riots of 1969. While the country debates the issue of same-sex marriage, gays stop and recognize the contributions of figures from the past who fought battles for recognition of their community. This November will mark the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk, who Time magazine says was "the first openly gay man elected to any substantial political office in the history of the planet".

At a choral concert I attended on Saturday night I was introduced to the music of a composer I had never heard of before - Louis Vierne (1870-1937). Vierne's Messe Solennelle, is a great piece of music, written for chorus and two organs. Nearly blind at birth, Vierne went on to become one of the greatest French composers, and was the principal organist at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris from 1900 until his death in 1937.

Quote of the Month

"To give without any reward, or any notice, has a special quality of its own."
     - Anne Morrow Lindbergh, (1906-2001), aviator and author

© 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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