World Almanac Newsletter Archive
March 2007 Newsletter
Volume 07, Number 03 — March 2007
What's in this issue?
March Holidays — National and International
This Day In History — March
Travel - Jamestown: Celebrating a 400th Birthday
Obituaries - February 2007
Special Feature: The European Union Turns Fifty
Chronology - Events of February 2007
Sports Feature: Player Nicknames: Part 1
Science in the News - Amnesia: No Past, No Future
Offbeat News Stories
Links of the Month
Quote of the Month
How to reach us
March 1-11 - Florida Strawberry Festival (Plant City, FL)
March 2-4 - Midnight at the Oasis (Yuma, AZ)
March 3 - Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race begins (Anchorage, AK)
March 4-11 - Philadelphia Flower Show (Pennsylvania)
March 8-11 - Crufts Dog Show (Birmingham, England)
March 9 - Daytona Supercross (Daytona Beach, FL)
March 9-11 - World’s Largest Rattlesnake Roundup (Sweetwater, TX)
March 9-18 - South By Southwest (Austin, TX)
March 11 - Daylight Saving Time begins (US)
March 14-18 - Toronto Sportsmen’s Show
March 14-20 - NAIA Division I Basketball Championships (Men’s: Kansas, MO; Women’s: Jackson, TN)
March 15-17 - NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships (Minneapolis, MN); NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships (Auburn Hills, MI)
March 16-25 - International Cherry Blossom Festival (Macon, GA)
March 17 - International Day of the Seal Celebration (Point Pleasant Beach, NJ)
March 17 - St. Patrick’s Day Parade (New York, NY, Chicago, IL, various cities)
March 20 - First Day of Spring (Northern Hemisphere)
March 23-25 - American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and Convention (Stamford, CT)
March 24-25 - Yo-Yo Convention (Burlington, WI)
March 26-April 1 - Kraft Nabisco Championship (Rancho Mirage, CA)
March 4 - Purim (begins at sunset the previous day)
March 12 - Commonwealth Day (Canada)
March 17 - St. Patrick’s Day
March 21 - Benito Juarez’s Birthday (Mexico)
March 31 - Mawlid (begins at sunset the previous day)
Did You Know?
The top country of origin for foreign-born U.S. residents shifted from Germany (26% of the foreign-born population in 1900) to Italy (13% in 1960) to Mexico (30% in 2000).
|01||1815||After escaping the island of Elba, Napoleon returns to France in an attempt to regain power, but is defeated at Waterloo a few months later.|
|02||1949||U.S. Air Force pilots flying in the B-50 Superfortress Lucky Lady II complete the first nonstop round-the-world flight.|
|03||1918||In the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk during World War I, the Soviet Union agrees to stop fighting the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria).|
|04||1933||Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt appoints Frances Perkins the secretary of labor, making her the first woman cabinet member.|
|05||1946||Former British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill, speaking in Fulton, MO, states that "an iron curtain has descended" across Europe.|
|06||1857||The Supreme Court issues the Dred Scott decision, holding that slaves do not become free in a free state and that blacks cannot be citizens.|
|07||1945||U.S. Army troops cross the Rhine for the first time during World War II near Remagen, Germany.|
|08||1916||Mexican revolutionary leader Francisco (Pancho) Villa crosses into the U.S. and attacks Columbus, NM, killing a number of citizens and destroying part of the town.|
|09||1959||The first Barbie dolls go on sale.|
|10||1862||The first paper money is issued in the United States.|
|11||1888||A huge blizzard begins to pound the eastern United States, eventually dumping 40-50 inches of snow and causing more than 400 deaths.|
|12||1930||Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi announces that he will lead a mass campaign of civil disobedience against the British colonial government by challenging the salt monopoly.|
|13||1907||A financial panic and depression begin when the stock market drops.|
|14||1794||Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin.|
|15||1939||Nazi troops occupy two provinces in Czechoslovakia.|
|16||1945||The Marines win control of Iwo Jima after taking heavy casualties.|
|17||1861||The kingdom of Italy is proclaimed with Victor Emmanuel II as king and Cavour as prime minister.|
|18||1965||Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov makes the first space walk.|
|19||1977||The final episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show is aired.|
|20||1995||A nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system leaves 12 people dead and 5,000 injured.|
|21||1960||Almost 70 blacks protesting apartheid are killed by government troops in Sharpeville, South Africa.|
|22||1622||Indians attack the English colony in Jamestown, VA, and 350 colonists (of about 2000) die.|
|23||1983||Barney Clark dies in Salt Lake City, UT, 16 weeks after receiving an artificial heart.|
|24||1603||England's Queen Elizabeth I dies and is succeeded by James I.|
|25||1911||A New York City building containing the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. factory catches fire, killing 146 workers, mostly young immigrant women.|
|26||1979||Israeli Prime Min. Menachem Begin and Egyptian Pres. Anwar Sadat sign the Camp David peace accord.|
|27||1977||In the world's worst airline disaster, 2 Boeing 747s collide on the runway in the Canary Islands, killing 582.|
|28||1881||The "Greatest Show on Earth" is formed when P.T. Barnum and James A. Bailey agree to merge their circuses.|
|29||1867||England's Parliament passes an act establishing the Dominion of Canada, uniting Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.|
|30||1867||The United States buys Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million.|
|31||1889||The Eiffel Tower in Paris is officially opened.|
|01||1927||Harry Belafonte, singer (New York, NY)|
|02||1919||Jennifer Jones, actress (Tulsa, OK)|
|03||1962||Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Olympic champion heptathlete (East St.Louis, IL)|
|04||1966||Kevin Johnson, basketball player (Sacramento, CA)|
|05||1955||Penn Jillette, magician (Chicago, IL)|
|06||1937||Valentina Tereshkova, cosmonaut and first woman in space (Maslennikovo, Russia)|
|07||1938||Janet Guthrie, auto racer (Iowa City, IA)|
|08||1947||Carole Bayer Sager, songwriter/singer (New York, NY)|
|09||1943||Bobby Fischer, chess champion (Chicago, IL)|
|10||1977||Shannon Miller, champion gymnast (Edmond, OK)|
|11||1974||Bobby Abreu, baseball player (Aragua, Venezuela)|
|12||1923||Wally Schirra, astronaut (Hackensack, NJ)|
|13||1950||William H. Macy, actor (Miami, FL)|
|14||1947||Billy Crystal, actor/comedian (Long Beach, NY)|
|15||1933||Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court justice (Brooklyn, NY)|
|16||1941||Bernardo Bertolucci, film director (Parma, Italy)|
|17||1972||Mia Hamm, champion soccer player (Selma, AL)|
|18||1963||Vanessa Williams, singer/actress (New York, NY)|
|19||1947||Glenn Close, actress (Greenwich, CT)|
|20||1957||Spike Lee, filmmaker (Atlanta, GA)|
|21||1962||Rosie O'Donnell, TV personality/actress (Commack, NY)|
|22||1923||Marcel Marceau, mime (Strasbourg, France)|
|23||1929||Roger Bannister, runner and first man to break the 4-minute mile (Harrow, Middlesex, England)|
|24||1976||Peyton Manning, football player (New Orleans, LA)|
|25||1934||Gloria Steinem, author/feminist (Toledo, OH)|
|26||1944||Diana Ross, singer/actress (Detroit, MI)|
|27||1952||Maria Schneider, actress (Paris, France)|
|28||1955||Reba McEntire, country singer/actress (McAlester, OK)|
|29||1976||Jennifer Capriati, tennis player (New York, NY)|
|30||1979||Norah Jones, singer/songwriter (New York, NY)|
|31||1929||Liz Claiborne, fashion designer (Brussels, Belgium)|
The little town on the banks of Virginia's James River is where America as we know it today got its start. Jamestown, founded 400 years ago in 1607, was the first successful English settlement in the New World. It is remembered in legend and literature (and film - most recently the 2005 movie The New World, starring Colin Farrell and Q'Orianka Kilcher) as the setting for the first great American romance, the love between Captain John Smith and the Indian princess Pocahontas. It also was the site of the first representative legislature in the New World and the arrival point for the first blacks in English America. Organizers of official celebrations of the settlement's 400th anniversary in 2007 have solid grounds for claiming that "the very essence of modern America took root" there. Jamestown, they say, "established the culture that would flourish and leave to our nation the legacies of free enterprise, representative government, and cultural diversity."
After a four-month voyage from London, the English ships Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery entered Chesapeake Bay in late April 1607. They carried more than 100 men and boys, who came ashore at Jamestown Island on May 14. The new colony's early years were hard. Many settlers died from starvation or disease in the winter of 1609-10. But new settlers arrived and the town survived. Tobacco growing was introduced. The New World's first legislative assembly convened there in the summer of 1619, "to establish one equal and uniform government over all Virginia." At the end of August of that year a Dutch ship arrived that left "20, and odd Negroes" in exchange for food.
The colony prospered for many decades, despite Indian attacks and other hazards of life in the New World. But a 1698 fire destroyed the statehouse, causing the Virginia capital to be moved to nearby Williamsburg, and in the following decades Jamestown itself was by and large abandoned.
A taste of history
Visitors to the Jamestown area today can immerse themselves in 17th-century life. The site where the town existed, now called "Historic Jamestowne," is administered by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) and the U.S. National Park Service (as part of the Colonial National Historical Park). Not much is left of the original town and its triangular fort, but there are plenty of things to see, including scattered ruins, reconstructions, and archaeological finds. The area first settled, where the original log fort was built, is now called the Old Towne. Its attractions include an archaeological site operated by the APVA's Jamestowne Rediscovery program; the Dale House, a 1907 structure containing an archaeological lab and exhibits of found artifacts; the tower from the town's first brick church (1639); remains of a 1608 glasshouse furnace along with a reconstructed glasshouse where you can see glass blown and shaped into objects just as it was some four centuries ago; and early 20th-century statues of John Smith and Pocahontas.
Historic Jamestowne also contains the so-called New Towne. Located to the east of the Old Towne, it began to be settled several years after the Jamestown colony was established. Much of the area was excavated in the 20th century, and the remains (and some reconstructions) of the foundations of the old homes and other structures make for a pleasant walking tour.
Next to Historic Jamestowne lies Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum of the 17th century run by the state of Virginia and staffed with historically costumed interpreters. It portrays Jamestown and the Virginia Indians through a film presentation; gallery exhibits; re-creations of the first colonists' three ships, the old fort, and an Indian village; and a riverfront discovery area focusing on water transportation and other water-related economic activities. Visitors to the Settlement can have a go at grinding corn, making a canoe, wearing armor, and playing traditional games such as ninepins and quoits.
Triangle a must-see
Recreations of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery
Jamestown is one segment of a compact region of Virginia called the Historic Triangle that contains two more sites of fundamental significance in the formation of modern America. They are connected by the scenic 23-mile (37-km) Colonial Parkway, part of the Colonial National Historical Park. Just 7 mi (11 km) down the parkway from Jamestown lies the massive outdoor living history museum known as Colonial Williamsburg. Occupying some 300 acres (120 ha), it provides an up-close view of life in Virginia's 18th-century capital, where key debates took place during the lead-up to the American Revolution. After Williamsburg, the parkway goes to Yorktown, the location in 1781 of the final major battle of the American Revolution. The battlefield is part of the Colonial National Historical Park. Also here is the Yorktown Victory Center, a museum featuring exhibits and a living-history re-creation (with costumed interpreters) of a 1780s farm and an encampment of the Continental Army.
The high point of the 400th-birthday celebrations is a cluster of cultural and musical events called America's Anniversary Weekend, slated to take place in Jamestown on May 11-13, 2007. Among the notables scheduled to attend is Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, who spoke at Jamestown's 350th-anniversary celebration in 1957 during her first official visit to the U.S.
The quadricentennial commemorations actually began in May 2006 when the Jamestown Settlement’s replica of the Godspeed began a tour of several east-coast ports: Alexandria, Va.; Baltimore, Md.; Philadelphia, Pa.; New York, N.Y.; Boston, Mass.; and Newport, R.I. Another major 2006 event was the commemoration in October of the 225th anniversary of the British defeat at Yorktown.
Slated to open in late April 2007 at the Jamestown Settlement was a special exhibit called "The World of 1607," featuring a number of treasures borrowed from museums and collections in the U.S. and elsewhere, among them a 15th-century copy of the Magna Charta provided by the Earl of Leicester. In late April and early May the Godspeed was scheduled to travel through the Chesapeake and up the James River to reenact the 1607 landing. Among other major events on the anniversary docket, Virginia culture is a chief focus of the 2007 edition of the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, held in early summer in Washington, D.C., and several of the state's colleges and universities are sponsoring an extended program of conferences on the principles of democracy as models for countries around the world, culminating in a global summit on the future of democracy, to be held in mid-September at Williamsburg.
Did You Know?
The modern birthstone for March is bloodstone or aquamarine; in ancient times it was jasper.
Balliett, Whitney, 80, longtime jazz critic for the New Yorker magazine; New York, NY, Feb. 1, 2007.
Library of Congress LOT 12735, no. 809
Gian Carlo Menotti, 1944
Bauer, Hank, 84, New York Yankees outfielder who in the 1950s set the record for the longest hitting streak in World Series history, 17 games; Shawnee Mission, KS, Feb. 9, 2007.
Evans, Ray, 92, Hollywood lyricist who with his longtime creative partner, composer and lyricist Jay Livingston, won three best-song Oscars, including for "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" in 1957; Los Angeles, CA, Feb. 15, 2007.
Johnson, Dennis, 52, five-time All-Star NBA guard who propelled the Seattle SuperSonics to their only NBA championship in 1979, and also played on Boston Celtics teams that won titles in 1984 and 1986; Austin, TX, Feb. 22, 2007.
Laine, Frankie, 93, pop vocalist who sold millions of records in the pre-rock-and-roll era and was identified with the theme song of the TV western "Rawhide" (1959-66); San Diego, CA, Feb. 6, 2007.
McNair, Barbara, 72, singer and actress who in the late 1960s and early 1970s was one of the first black entertainers to host a TV show; Los Angeles, CA, Feb. 4, 2007.
Menotti, Gian Carlo, 95, opera composer and organizer of music festivals; his most frequently performed work was Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951), a Christmas-related work that was the first opera commissioned especially for TV; Monte Carlo, Monaco, Feb. 1, 2007.
Papon, Maurice, 96, French official convicted of crimes against humanity in 1998 for his role in the deportation of hundreds of French Jews to Nazi concentration camps during World War II; Pontault-Combault, France, Feb. 17, 2007.
Richardson, Ian, 72, classically trained British actor whose best-known role was as a conniving politician in the BBC TV series "House of Cards" (1990) and two sequels; London, England, Feb. 9, 2007.
Schlesinger Jr., Arthur M. 89, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, liberal political activist and longtime confidant of the Kennedy political clan; New York, NY, Feb. 28, 2007.
Smith, Anna Nicole, 39, model and actress whose tumultuous life was endlessly covered by the media; Hollywood, FL, Feb. 8, 2007.
Fifty years ago - on March 25, 1957 - representatives from six European nations signed two treaties in Rome, Italy. Together, the two documents are known as the Treaties of Rome and are considered the founding articles of European unity. One treaty established the European Economic Community (EEC) and the other created the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) - the predecessors of today's European Union (EU). The signatories of the treaties were French Foreign Minister Christian Pineau, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Italian Premier Antonio Segni, Belgian Foreign Minister Paul Henri Spaak, Dutch Foreign Minister Joseph Luns, and Luxembourg Premier Joseph Bech. Over the next several months, the national parliaments in the six member countries ratified the treaties, which officially took effect on January 1, 1958. The preamble to the treaty that founded the EEC stated that the participants were "determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe."
Attempting to Unite Europe
A united Europe may be just fifty years old, but the dream of one is much older than that. Coincidentally, the empire forged by the monarch Charlemagne in the early Middle Ages had nearly the same boundaries as the states of the original six members of the EEC. Centuries later, Napoleon organized what was known as the Continental System, a kind of forced league of European states in opposition to Great Britain. After Napoleon's downfall, five European countries created the Concert of Europe - a mechanism that attempted to coordinate their economic and foreign policies. The agreement was somewhat successful, and Europe was, for the most part, able to avoid cataclysmic wars for the remainder of the 19th century.
However, the horrors and devastation wreaked by the two world wars of the 20th century underscored how truly divided Europe was and how important it was to devise some method of forestalling war in the future. European unity was coveted not just as a means of avoiding war; it was also seen as imperative economically. Following World War II, Europeans began to understand that they could compete with the United States - a nation that had emerged from the war as a relatively undamaged superpower - only by establishing an equally large and integrated entity.
Monnet and the ECSC
Jean Monnet (left) and Robert Schuman (right) are considered two of the "founding fathers" of the European Union (EU).
The man often credited with being the driving force behind the European Union was French statesman Jean Monnet. Monnet was born on November 9, 1888, in Cognac, France. He became an international businessman at an early age, learning English and traveling to Britain, the United States, Canada, Egypt, Scandinavia, and Russia on behalf of his family's business. During World War I, Monnet won praise for his work in coordinating Anglo-French resources, and in 1919, when he was just 31, he became the first deputy secretary-general of the League of Nations.
As early as 1943, Monnet saw the need for a united Europe, stating that "there will be no peace in Europe if the States rebuild themselves on the basis of national sovereignty . . . The states of Europe must therefore form a federation or a European entity that would make them into a common economic unit." In 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, in cooperation with Monnet, laid the plans for what was known as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the precursor of the EEC. The ECSC eliminated trade restrictions on coal and steel among member nations and controlled the production and marketing practices of coal and steel industries in the ECSC region. Five years later, Monnet founded the Action Committee for the United States of Europe. He lived long enough to see his dreams fulfilled - he died on March 16, 1979, at the age of 90.
Establishing the EEC
The ECSC proved to be a successful trade bloc, and its members soon sought to expand their cooperation to other economic sectors. Under the terms of the treaty that established the EEC, the six participating nations agreed to gradually eliminate import duties and quotas on all trade among the member countries. In addition, the members set up a standard tariff on non-European imports to the region, promised to work together to establish common practices in areas such as transportation and agriculture, and agreed to allow the free flow of people and capital throughout the region.
Despite initial skepticism from some observers, the tariffs were abolished a little more than a decade later. The Treaties of Rome also provided for the creation of a 142-member Legislative Assembly, a six-member Council of Ministers, a Court of Justice, an Advisory Economic and Social Committee, and a Commission to supervise application of the treaties. Eight years later, ministers of the six member nations signed a merger treaty, which merged the executive commissions of the ECSC, Euratom, and the EEC into a single 14-member European Commission. The new bloc became known as the European Community (EC) following the completion of the merger in July 1967.
Throughout the 1960s the issue of whether Great Britain would join the Common Market loomed large. In 1960, Britain and six other non-EEC countries had created a separate entity called the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). After agreeing to become part of the EEC, Britain was rebuffed by France's president, Charles de Gaulle, who twice vetoed Britain's application—once in 1963 and again in 1967. De Gaulle left office in 1969, and in 1973 Britain, Ireland, and Denmark joined the EC. Greece joined the community in 1981, Spain and Portugal entered in 1986, and Austria, Finland, and Sweden followed in 1995.
Meeting at Maastricht
Flag of the European Union
Although the EC was a success, many of its most ardent advocates wanted much more; they desired a true United States of Europe. Negotiations toward that end - including the adoption of the Single European Act, which removed all remaining barriers to free trade between the member nations - progressed through the 1980s, and on December 11, 1991, at a meeting in Maastricht, the Netherlands, the leaders of the 12 European Community nations concurred on a treaty pledging an "ever closer union." The treaty, described by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl as a "decisive breakthrough," was an historic step in the formation of the European Union (EU) because it meant moving from the EC's traditional role of focusing on free trade to the much wider goal of forging common European policies on social, economic, foreign, and security affairs.
Following ratification by the member states, the European Community's Treaty on European Union (the "Maastricht Treaty") officially went into effect on November 1, 1993. It founded a new 12-nation "European Union" that replaced the EC; augmented the powers of the European Parliament; called for "joint actions" in foreign and security policy with the intention of eventually establishing common defense and foreign policies; increased cooperation on the issues of crime, the environment, and immigration; and aimed to create a single European currency by 1999.
The common currency, the euro, was officially launched on January 1, 1999, when it became available for certain types of retail transactions and for trading on currency markets. The various national currencies continued to exist alongside the euro, but the new currency became legal tender that could be used in the form of personal checks, travelers' checks, and credit cards.
On January 1, 2002, the euro began circulating in cash form and thus replaced the national currencies of 12 EU nations.
Three years later - on January 1, 2002, also known as "E-Day" - the euro began circulating in cash form in the participating nations and thus replaced the national currencies of Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain (the national currencies were given a grace period and remained legal tender in most countries until February 28, 2002.) Britain, Denmark, and Sweden chose not to introduce the euro, but they may decide to do so in the future. A 13th country, Slovenia, adopted the euro in January 2007, and Cyprus and Malta plan to begin using it in January 2008.
The EU Expands
Although the EEC called itself "European," it was obviously just "Western European." The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the restoration of democracy in central and eastern Europe changed all that. However, in order to grow, the EU needed to reform its governmental bodies. The EU had originally been structured as a body with just six members; its plans to include 12 additional nations would increase that number to 27.
In December 2000, the leaders of the 15 EU nations met in Nice, France, to discuss the restructuring of the EU's government. Following five days of grueling discussions, the leaders agreed to expand the European Commission to include up to 27 commissioners, reformed voting power in the Council of Ministers and European Parliament, and agreed to surrender certain veto powers. Although the reforms were not as broad as some leaders had wanted, the Treaty of Nice, which was eventually ratified by all member nations, paved the way for EU expansion.
In October 2002, the European Commission announced that it would formally invite ten new members to join the EU at a summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. Less than two years later - on May 1, 2004 - the EU underwent the largest expansion in its history. Five of the ten new members - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia - had formerly been members of the Soviet bloc, and three - Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - had been constituent republics of the Soviet Union itself (the other new members were Malta and the Greek portion of the divided island of Cyprus.)
On May 1, 2004, the EU underwent the largest expansion in its history.
At one stroke, an additional 75 million people became citizens of the EU, raising the population to more than 450 million, which was considerably larger than that of the U.S. That number may increase again if Turkey, Croatia, and Macedonia's applications to join the EU are successful.
Problems in the EU
However, as well as experiencing some historic events, the EU has also faced a range of difficulties in recent years. A major crisis in the EU occurred in 1996, when the EU banned the sale of British beef because of an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as "mad cow disease." Britain had first reported the disease among British cattle ten years previously, and by 1995 more than 150,000 cases had been reported. Fears that the disease could affect humans caused a near panic, and more and more countries halted their imports of British beef.
Finally, on March 27, 1996, the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, announced a worldwide ban on the export of British beef products. Britain was angered by the ban and threatened to retaliate by crippling EU business. Three years later, the strain on the EU was worsened by France's refusal to lift its ban even after the European Commission decided to rescind its sanctions on British beef.
In 1999, what was considered the most serious internal crisis ever to confront the EU occurred when a five-member independent panel appointed by the European Parliament, the EU's legislative arm, issued a report that uncovered corruption and financial mismanagement in the European Commission. The report concluded that several commissioners had mismanaged programs and had hired friends for EU jobs for which they were not qualified. In its summation, the report said of the commission members, "It is becoming difficult to find anyone who has even the slightest sense of responsibility." As a result, all 20 members of the European Commission, including commission President Jacques Santer, announced that they would step down. Santer was replaced by Romano Prodi, a former premier of Italy, who instituted an overhaul of the commission.
One of the most controversial aspects of EU policy has involved the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Although only a small percentage of the EU's population is employed in agriculture, about half of the EU's expenditures are used to bolster agricultural productivity, guarantee a certain standard of living for agricultural workers, and see to it that consumers of agricultural products receive fair prices. Before the EU's expansion in 2004, some of the 15 existing members wished to reform the CAP out of concern that the new members would cost the bloc even more money in the form of agricultural subsidies.
The policy was also criticized for establishing farm subsidies that gave European agricultural products unfair advantages over products from other countries. On June 26, 2003, agriculture ministers from the EU approved a plan to reform the CAP. The new plan linked the subsidy system to farm size rather than production, which, it was thought, might lower subsidy levels significantly.
Today, the EU faces some additional difficulties. In June 2003, the 105-member European Convention approved a new draft constitution for the European Union. The constitution called for a new full-time president of the European Council, rather than a rotating presidency, and a single EU foreign minister. In addition, the constitution would expand the European Parliament's powers, replace national vetoes with majority voting in certain areas, and change the weighted voting system agreed upon in the Treaty of Nice. Six months later, leaders of the EU member states met in Brussels, Belgium, to finalize the draft. However, talks collapsed over the issue of voting rights. Poland and Spain, who had been granted extra voting weight in the Treaty of Nice, did not want to rescind those rights.
In June 2004, at an EU summit meeting in Brussels, the leaders reached an agreement on the EU constitution. Poland and Spain compromised on their voting rights, and the leaders agreed on a new scheme for the passing of legislation. However, the constitution, which still had to be ratified by all 25 member states, faced a serious setback when it was rejected in a French referendum on May 29, 2005. Three days later, the Dutch followed suit, with 62% of voters rejecting the constitution.
Following the French and Dutch rejection, eight EU members announced that they would postpone their planned referendums and parliamentary votes on the issue. To date, 16 countries have completed ratification and an additional two have almost finished ratifying it (including new EU members Bulgaria and Romania). However, the rejection of the constitution has made the future of the EU somewhat uncertain. The bloc is currently operating under its existing treaties, but some politicians, including British Prime Minster Tony Blair agree that "A European Union . . . cannot function properly with today's rules of governance."
Critics of the constitution claim that the EU's continuing expansion is one key factor in their opposition to it. The EU currently has 27 members and an additional three countries are candidates.
Critics of the constitution claim that the EU's continuing expansion and the related issue of immigration are key factors in their opposition to it. Prior to the EU's expansion in 2004, some of the 15 existing EU members expressed fears that they would be overwhelmed by large numbers of immigrants arriving from Eastern Europe in search of work and benefits. In response, 12 members placed restrictions on workers from eight of the new countries for at least seven years (there were no restrictions placed on workers from Malta or the Greek portion of Cyprus).
Great Britain, Ireland, and Sweden chose not to restrict access to their labor markets, but Britain later changed its regulations to limit the distribution of benefits to immigrant workers. Although few Eastern Europeans traveled to Sweden (only 4,500 were issued work-related permits in 2005), Great Britain and Ireland experienced large-scale migration. In August 2006, the British government announced that 427,000 Eastern Europeans had registered to work in the UK since 2004. The government had estimated that only about 13,000 workers would arrive per year.
Perhaps in response to the unprecedented arrival of workers from Eastern Europe, in October 2006, the British and Irish governments announced that they planned to impose restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers when those countries joined the EU on January 1, 2007. Today, Finland and Sweden are the only two of the 15 original members who permit unrestricted access to their labor markets to all new EU countries. (Finland removed its restrictions in May 2006).
With the addition of Romania and Bulgaria, the European Union now has 27 members and a population of almost 500 million with a gross domestic product (GDP) of around $14 trillion. (The population of the U.S. just passed 300 million and its GDP is around $13 trillion.)
The architects of the EU, who had set out to create a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous united Europe, have good reason to feel proud on its 50th birthday. The EU has realized many of those goals, and continues to work to improve living standards for its citizens. Throughout 2007, the EU members and some non-European countries will hold a variety of events, including conferences, screenings of European films, street festivals, exhibitions, concerts, and educational programs to celebrate the signing of the Treaties of Rome. For additional information, see: http://europa.eu/50/index_en.htm.
Did You Know?
The approximate average life span of a coin is 25 years.
Senate Approves Minimum-Wage Bill - The U.S. Senate Feb. 1 approved a bill, 94-3, that would increase the federal minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $7.25 per hour. The House had previously voted to increase the minimum wage on Jan. 10. The Senate bill differed from the House’s bill in that it provided tax cuts to small businesses totaling $8.3 bil over 10 years. The Senate bill also included an amendment prohibiting companies that hired illegal immigrants from receiving government contracts for up to 10 years.
Many House Democrats, as well as some leading Democratic senators, opposed the tax cuts. Some House members suggested that they would object to the Senate bill on constitutional grounds, since tax measures are supposed to originate in the House. For that reason, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) delayed sending the bill to a conference committee, in favor of negotiating directly with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, CA).
U.S. Senate/Romney: www.mass.gov
U.S. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama & Mitt Romney
Presidential Aspirants Exchange Salvos - As the field of 2008 presidential contenders continued to form, disagreements among them became more intense. At a meeting of the Democratic National Committee in Washington Feb. 2, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY) said that if Congress did not end the Iraq war by 2009, she, as president, would end it. However, Clinton defended her 2002 vote to authorize force.
Former Senator and vice-presidential candidate, and current contender for the Democratic nomination John Edwards (NC) urged Democrats in Congress to block Pres. George W. Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq.
Sen. Barack Obama (IL), who had introduced a bill to remove all U.S. combat troops by Mar. 31, 2008, said that he had publicly opposed the invasion before the war, though he had not been elected to Congress at the time of the controversial vote. Obama formally announced his candidacy in Springfield, IL, Feb. 10.
Tensions between Obama’s and Clinton’s campaigns arose after the New York Times Feb. 21 published comments made by Hollywood executive David Geffen implying that the Clintons lied with "troubling" ease. Now a major fundraiser for Obama, Geffen had been a fundraiser for the Clintons on past campaigns. The Clinton campaign demanded an apology from Obama, who countered that he was not responsible for Geffen’s comments.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Dearborn, MI, Feb. 13 declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination. The son of George Romney, a former governor of Michigan, Mitt Romney cited his skills as a businessman and asserted that Washington needed to be "transformed" by someone outside the federal government. If elected, he would be the nation’s first Mormon president.
Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, withdrew from the Democratic contest Feb. 23, citing the impossibility of raising enough money.
Submitting Budget, Bush Sees an End to Deficits - Pres. Bush Feb. 5 presented a $2.9 tril federal budget to Congress for the 2008 fiscal year, which would begin Oct. 1, 2007. Based on his plan, he predicted an end to federal budget deficits by 2012, without any tax increases. In his budget, Bush proposed holding most domestic programs that were not related to security to an annual increase of 1%, below the rate of inflation. He proposed outright cuts in the budgets of eight agencies, including the Dept. of Education. Other proposed cuts included reducing projected spending growth for so-called entitlement programs, namely for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. However, the budget also called for a 4.2% increase in total federal spending in fiscal 2008. Bush again urged that tax cuts adopted in 2001 and 2003, which were scheduled to expire in 2010, be made permanent.
The White House
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Jr.
Trial of Ex-Aide to Cheney Goes to Jury - Jurors in the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby began deliberations Feb. 21. Before that, they heard testimony from NBC News Meet the Press anchor Tim Russert Feb. 7-8. Russert said that he did not have a telephone conversation with Libby about Valerie Plame, contradicting Libby’s grand jury testimony that he had learned about her employment at the CIA from Russert. Libby’s lawyers announced Feb. 13 that neither he nor Vice Pres. Dick Cheney would testify for the defense. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton Feb. 26 dismissed a juror who had been exposed to outside information about the case.
House Rejects Troop Surge in Iraq, Measure Stalls in Senate - A filibuster in the Senate prevented Congress from presenting unified opposition to Pres. Bush’s troop surge in Iraq. On Feb. 16, the House voted, 246-182, for a nonbinding resolution objecting to Bush’s plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 20,000. On Feb. 17 the Senate voted, 56-34, to end a filibuster and proceed to a vote on the resolution, but 60 votes were necessary to stop debate.
Global Stock Markets Suffer Drop - A global sell-off of stocks Feb. 27 caused indexes to decline worldwide. At closing, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 416 points (about 3.3% of its value), while the S&P was down 3.5% and the NASDAQ 3.9%. The Shanghai Composite, Nikkei, Hang Seng, and most European markets also experienced losses. On Feb. 28, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke predicted moderate growth for the U.S. economy, calming investors’ fears and helping to turn the Dow around with a 52-point gain.
U.S. State Department
Pres. Mahmoud Abbas
Rival Palestinian Factions Form Unity Government - The conflict between Palestinian political factions gave way, at least temporarily, to a unity government Feb. 8. In Mecca, Saudi Arabia, an agreement was reached between Palestinian Authority (P.A.) Pres. Mahmoud Abbas, who was representing the Fatah political party, and P.A. Premier Ismail Haniya and Khaled Meshal, both leaders of Hamas. The Hamas-controlled P.A. government resigned Feb. 15 to make way for the unity government.
Fighting between the factions in the Gaza Strip Feb. 1-4 had left about 30 dead and 200 wounded. Representatives of the UN, the EU, the U.S., and Russia demanded Feb. 2 that Hamas recognize Israel’s right to exist, adhere to previous agreements with Israel, and renounce violence. Hamas continued to refuse to recognize Israel but instead agreed to help form the unity government.
Implementing of U.S. Troop Surge in Iraq Underway - U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the top U.S. spokesman in Iraq, announced Feb. 7 that the new joint U.S.-Iraqi effort to bring security to war-torn areas was being "fully implemented," though "not all aspects are in place." New actions in Baghdad and Anbar Province were being facilitated by increased U.S. troop strength.
As part of the security crackdown, the Iraqi government announced Feb. 13 that all convoys, including government convoys, would be inspected, and the nightly curfew would be extended by an hour. The plan also called for temporary closure of Iraq’s borders with Syria and Iran. Iraqi government leaders agreed Feb. 26 on a plan to divide the country's oil wealth and open the industry to international investment, subject to approval of parliament.
16 U.S. Intelligence Agencies Issue Iraq Intelligence Report - U.S. intelligence agencies issued a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq Feb. 2. Four pages of the classified report were released to the public; they noted that in addition to the "civil war" between Shias and Sunnis, fights among Shias were occurring, al-Qaeda and other insurgents were attacking coalition forces, and criminal elements were perpetrating violence. The NIE doubted that the violence would be ended by the Iraqi government or military, or U.S. troops, but warned that a quick U.S. departure would "almost certainly" bring more sectarian conflict.
Deadliest Insurgent Attack Since Invasion, Other Violence in Iraq - In the single most deadly attack since the U.S. invasion, a truck bomb exploded in a Baghdad market in a predominantly Shiite area Feb. 3, killing at least 135 and wounding more than 300. A U.S. Marine Corps helicopter crashed in Anbar Province Feb. 7, killing all 7 aboard. The U.S. military had blamed 4 other copter crashes since Jan. 20 on hostile fire, but the cause of this crash was not immediately known. On Feb. 12, 4 car bombs at a market in a largely Shiite area of Baghdad killed 70 and wounded 120. Two similar bombs in a market Feb. 18 killed 60. In a brazen new tactic, insurgents Feb. 19 attacked an American combat outpost north of Baghdad, killing 2 soldiers and wounding 17. Insurgents also began using car and truck bombs to disperse chlorine gas, setting off two separate "dirty" bombs in two days Feb. 21-22. A truck bomb exploded next to a Sunni mosque in Ramadi Feb. 24, killing at least 36. A bomber killed at least 50 near a Baghdad university Feb. 25.
U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Curt Cashour
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus claps as Army Gen. George W. Casey, Jr. looks on during the Multi-National Force - Iraq change of command ceremony. During the ceremony, Casey relinquished command to Petraeus.
New U.S. Commander in Iraq - On Feb. 10, U.S. Gen. David Petraeus formally replaced Gen. George Casey as the U.S. military commander in Iraq. Casey will become the new Army Chief of Staff. He was confirmed by the Senate Feb. 8.
On Feb. 21, Prime Min. Tony Blair announced that up to 1,600 (of 7,100) British troops would be withdrawn from Iraq within a few months.
Russian President Harshly Criticizes U.S. Foreign Policy - On Feb. 10 at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin declared that the U.S. was destabilizing international relations by using too much force and otherwise acting recklessly and unilaterally. He warned that the U.S. was provoking a new nuclear arms race, and, referring to NATO’s continuing growth, asked "Against whom is this expansion directed?" U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates did not match Putin’s rhetoric during his Feb. 11 speech. Other U.S. lawmakers, including Senator John McCain (R, AZ), expressed outrage at Putin’s speech.
Iran’s Role in Iraq Conflict Scrutinized - U.S. officials in Baghdad Feb. 11 presented evidence to the media suggesting that the Iranian government was supplying Iraqi Shiite militants with weapons. The officials displayed components of explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, that could tear through armored vehicles and that had killed 170 Americans in Iraq. The officials noted that recent raids in Baghdad had netted 6 members, including a chief of operations, of the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Feb. 13 that although some bomb components had been manufactured in Iran, no direct link could be made to the Iranian government. Pres. Bush said Feb. 14 that factions within the Iranian government were providing military aid to the Iraq militias.
North Korea Agrees to Shut Down Nuclear Facility - North Korea, the U.S., China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea reached an agreement Feb. 13, in Beijing, China, whereby North Korea would "freeze" its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon and readmit inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. These would be the first steps toward North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons program. In return, they would get 50,000 tons of fuel oil as part of what would become a $400 mil package of energy and economic aid. Future discussions would determine how North Korea would permanently disable all its nuclear facilities and give up its stockpiles of nuclear weapons and fuel. Pres. Bush praised the agreement Feb. 13. However, his former ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, reflecting the views of some other conservatives, Feb. 13 called it "a very bad deal" that contradicted previous administration policy that North Korea must fully disarm before receiving any aid.
Vice President Targeted in Taliban Attack - On Feb. 27, a Taliban suicide bomber near the entrance to the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan killed at least 23 and wounded 24. The Taliban claimed that Vice Pres. Dick Cheney, who was unhurt, was the target of the attack.
Scientists Blame Global Warming on Human Activity - Hundreds of scientists participating in a UN-sponsored study concluded - with more than a 90% certainty - in a Feb. 2 report that human activity was the main factor contributing to global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said it was "very likely" that greenhouse gases, mostly created by the burning of fossil fuels, were the culprits. Their report projected that during the next century temperatures would rise by anywhere from 3.2°F to 7.8°F and that sea levels would rise anywhere from 7 to 23 inches. The scientists foresaw changes in agriculture and natural ecosystems and in precipitation, as well as more intense natural disasters. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Feb. 8 called for mandatory caps on emissions that would cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050.
Indianapolis Colts Win Super Bowl XLI - The championship of the National Football League went to the Indianapolis Colts Feb. 4 when they defeated the Chicago Bears, 29-17, in Super Bowl XLI in Miami, FL. Peyton Manning completed 25 of 38 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown. The Colts’ kicker Adam Vinatieri kicked 3 field goals. The Bears held a brief lead after rookie Devin Hester ran the game’s opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. But the Bears could do little to slow Manning or crack the Colts’ defense. Colts coach Tony Dungy and Bears coach Lovie Smith were the first African-American coaches to bring teams to the Super Bowl.
Astronaut Lisa Nowak
Astronaut Arrested - Navy Cmdr. Lisa Nowak, an astronaut, filed a written plea of not guilty in Orlando, FL, Feb. 13 to attempted murder, attempted kidnapping, and three other charges. All the charges stemmed from a Feb. 5 incident where Nowak reportedly drove from Houston, TX, to Orlando, FL, to confront Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman, whom Nowak viewed as a rival for the affections of another astronaut, Navy Cmdr. William Oefelein. Nowak allegedly approached Shipman, who was in her car at Orlando International Airport, sprayed Shipman with pepper spray through a window, and tried to pull her from the vehicle. Police said Nowak was carrying a mallet, knife, and BB gun. Nowak, 43, and the mother of three children, was the first active NASA astronaut to be charged with a felony. Nowak had made one trip into space, aboard the shuttle Discovery in July 2006.
Anna Nicole Smith’s Death Leads to Legal Chaos - Anna Nicole Smith, an actress, model, and tabloid figure, died at age 39 on Feb. 8. Her body was found in her room at the Seminole Hard Rock Café Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, FL. In death, she was the center of the same kind of legal contretemps that had surrounded her in life. Born Vickie Lynn Hogan in Houston, TX, Smith had married young and had a son, Daniel, before divorcing. A career breakthrough came when she was featured in Playboy magazine and was named the magazine’s Playmate of the Year in 1993. She met and married the oil billionaire J. Howard Marshall II in 1994; she was 26 and he 89. After his death 14 months later, his son, E. Pierce Marshall, and Smith became locked in a legal battle over the estate that went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006.
In September 2006 Smith gave birth to a daughter, Dannielynn. Three days later her son Daniel died. Her companion at the time was Howard K. Stern, but the identity of the baby’s father was uncertain. Further legal battles over Smith’s daughter and estate were expected.
Dixie Chicks Win 5 Grammy Awards - The Dixie Chicks, a country music trio, won 5 Grammys at the annual awards ceremony of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles Feb. 11. They swept the top three awards, which include record of the year, album of the year, and song of the year for "Not Ready to Make Nice" (the award was shared with Dan Wilson). The song had been written in response to an incident in 2003 when lead singer Natalie Maines told a London audience that she was "ashamed the president of the U.S. is from Texas." The band suffered subsequent criticism from pro-Bush country music fans and their popularity declined. The Red Hot Chili Peppers won 4 Grammys, including best rock album for Stadium Arcadium. For a complete list of winners visit Grammy.com.
Director Martin Scorsese Finally Wins an Oscar - Film director Martin Scorsese, who had been nominated for a best director Academy Award 5 times, was named best director Feb. 25 for his film The Departed, which was also named the best picture of the 2006 at the annual Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, CA. Helen Mirren received the best actress award for her portrayal of Elizabeth II in The Queen. Forest Whitaker was named best actor for his role as the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. For a complete list of winners visit Oscars.org.
Colorful nicknames such as "Magic" Johnson, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, and "Coco" Crisp, are one of the hallmarks of sports. In fact, some of the best nicknames (and slang) from anywhere have come off the field, court, or ice. What follows are just a few well known and creative nicknames of players. There are many many more that I hope to address in later editions of the newsletter and possibly on the World Almanac blog.
"Dr. J" Julius Erving - Dr.J was a "Michael Jordan" before anybody knew what a "Michael Jordan" was. A brilliant guard and team leader, the Doctor got this name back during his high school days. Some say he got it because of his intelligence and his high grade point average in school. The name stuck through college and into the pros because on the court, Dr. J would "operate" with a surgeon’s precision.
Karl "The Mailman" Malone - For a good stretch in the 1990s, the Utah Jazz were defined by the duo of John Stockton and the strong and athletic power forward Karl Malone. Stockton was an assists master on the point, always making the key pass to set up his teammates. His favorite target was Malone and together they were almost unstoppable. So why was Malone called the Mailman? Because in the clutch he would always deliver (except in the NBA finals).
Christian Okoye "The Nigerian Nightmare" - Born in Nigeria, the Kansas City Chiefs running back played only six seasons (he retired early because of a knee injury), but during those he established himself as a bruising downhill rusher who often punished tacklers more than they punished him. ESPN’s Chris Berman is largely credited for coming up with the nickname.
Lenny "Nails" Dykstra - I like baseball players like Dykstra. He’s a gritty outfielder who seemed to play with reckless abandon, and always with a big wad of chaw in his cheek. He got the nickname Nails because he was "tough as nails." An integral part of the New York Mets 1986 championship team, it is unclear when he first got the nickname. However, he was known around the Mets clubhouse as Nails beginning in his rookie season.
Dick "Night Train" Lane - Dick Lane was a defensive back who played from 1952-1965 for the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Cardinals, and the Detroit Lions. One of the greatest defensive players in NFL history, Lane holds the record for most interceptions in a season with 14, which he made in 1952 as a rookie.
Lane didn’t go to college and wasn’t recruited by any team. After working at some dead-end jobs, he decided to pursue a football career. So one day, he walked into the L.A. Rams office and convinced the coaches to take a chance on him. In the Rams locker room, Lane struck up a friendship with future Hall of Fame end Tom Fears and always sought Fears advice. Fears, by his locker, kept a record player where he’d always play hit record "Night Train." One day, a teammate entered the locker room, saw Fears and Lane, and playfully exclaimed, "Hey, there’s the Night Train and Night Train Lane!" The name stuck.
A Chinese proverb states: "Past experience, if not forgotten, is a guide to the future." We use our memories to help us figure out what might happen to us. But a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the connection runs much deeper than that. A team of psychologists, led by Eleanor Maguire, claims that amnesiacs - those who have lost much of their ability to remember - cannot imagine future events.
Memory as Time Travel
There's a major problem in studying memory. In general, the way scientists experiment is by putting groups of people or things in almost identical situations, and examining how they react. If patterns appear, then scientists can assume that certain trends are true in general, and that they reflect some basic law of nature. For instance, if every ball dropped from the top of a tower speeds up as it falls, scientists conclude that gravity causes objects to accelerate as they fall. Similarly, if 30 people all get sick from eating the same brand of spinach, scientists can reasonably conclude that there's something wrong with the spinach.
But with memory, that's impossible - or at least very hard. Everyone has his or her individual memories; each of us has led a unique life. It's very hard for scientists to definitely identify patterns in memory, because the similarities or differences that exist between people's memories may have at least as much to do with individual experiences as with minds.
Recently, though, some scientists have begun to link memory with a different, more easily examined, ability: imagination. Many psychologists like to talk about episodic memory: memories of episodes, of scenes or experiences, rather than of facts or details. To some extent, when you remember your first date, you are traveling back in time to that episode, and reliving it.
What Maguire and her team pointed out is that we don't only travel back in time, we also travel forward. When we imagine something that might happen in the future, and "live out" that possibility in our minds, we may be using the same mechanisms as when we remember past experiences.
What's nice about this comparison is that imagination is much easier to experiment on than memory. Scientists cannot instruct experimental subjects to remember events that did not happen, but scientists can instruct people to imagine events that have not yet happened. Psychologists can - and in this new study, did - instruct a group of patients to all imagine the same future scenario. Now they have a group of people, whose circumstances have been rendered nearly identical, and they can look for patterns.
The Weirdest Sounding Body Part Ever
The specific issue that Maguire's team examined was the role of the hippocampus. Perhaps the region of the brain with the funniest-sounding name (it got its name from the seahorse, also called hippocampus in Latin), the hippocampus is of central importance to memory. Nevertheless, it is unclear exactly what role the hippocampus plays.
Left: University of Washington; Right:Photos.com
The hippocampus (left), the region of the brain where coherent memories are formed, was named for the seahorse (right), also called hippocampus.
Maguire and her colleagues hypothesized that the hippocampus is where everything comes together: details and facts may be stored somewhere else, but they are assembled into a coherent picture, or experience, in the hippocampus.
Now, the best way to test that would be to take away someone's hippocampus and see what happens. Would the subject still be able to form coherent episodic memories? Would he be able to imagine future scenarios?
Unfortunately, there are already people out there without functioning hippocampuses - some amnesiacs. Amnesia is, sadly, not just a relic from bad adventure movies; it is a real disorder. In some cases, it is the result of a damaged hippocampus.
So the psychologists took five people with damaged hippocampuses and tried to determine whether or not they could still imagine coherent scenarios. If they could, then the hypothesis would probably be false: the hippocampus is probably not that important in bringing together facts to create or recreate experiences. But if these amnesiacs could not construct coherent imaginary scenes, then the hypothesis would have found support.
Imagine You're Lying on a Beach...
The psychologists told the subjects to imagine themselves in ten different scenarios. The scientists referred to seven of these as "commonplace": a beach, museum, pub, forest, castle, port or market. For most Americans, a castle is about as "commonplace" as a flying saucer (and for some poor souls even less so); it will be easier to understand what the researchers meant by "commonplace" after hearing the last three scenarios. These are "self-relevant" scenes that might well happen to you, specifically. The scientists posited a possible Christmas event in the subject's future, a possible event over the subject's next weekend and a possible future meeting with one of the subject's friends.
The subjects described what they imagined, allowing the psychologists to assess their capacity for imagining the future. In science, data is pretty much worthless if you have nothing to compare it to; therefore, the psychologists also experimented on 10 "control" subjects who were perfectly healthy. They could then analyze the difference between the amnesia group and the control group.
In their report, the scientists gave a couple of examples of typical responses. Here are the responses of an amnesiac (first) and a control subject to the instruction: "Imagine you are lying on a white sandy beach in a beautiful tropical bay."
As for seeing, I can't really, apart from just sky. I can hear the sound of seagulls and of the sea... um... I can feel the grains of sand between my fingers... um... I can hear one of those ship's hooters [laughter]... um... that's about it. [Researcher's question: Are you actually seeing this in your mind's eye?] No, the only thing I can see is blue. [So if you look around what can you see?] Really all I can is the color of the blue sky and the white sand, the rest of it, the sounds and things, obviously I'm just hearing. [Can you see anything else?] No, it's like I'm kind of floating...
It's very hot and the sun is beating down on me. The sand underneath me is almost unbearably hot. I can hear the sounds of small wavelets lapping on the beach. The sea is a gorgeous aquamarine color. Behind me is a row of palm trees and I can hear rustling every so often in the slight breeze. To my left the beach curves round and becomes a point. And on the point there are a couple of buildings, wooden buildings, maybe someone's hut or a bar of some sort... [continues... ]
It's clear that there's a major difference between the responses. But scientists never stop there - results are only really scientific if they are specific, and numerical. So the researchers devised several ways to score the responses. In each response, they counted the spatial references ("To my left the beach curves round"), entities present ("wooden buildings"), sensory descriptions ("I can hear the sound of seagulls"), and thoughts, emotions or actions ("I wave at him"), and from these they compiled an "information content" score. They also asked the patients how strongly they felt as if they were present in the scenarios, and if the scenes were vivid. They asked the participants questions about their constructions, and gave them a "spatial coherence" score. Finally, each subject received a more subjective "overall quality" score. All of these scores were combined into a "richness score" that went from zero to 60.
Got No Future Got No Past
With one exception, the amnesiacs scored much lower than the controls. The average amnesiac richness score was 27.54, compared to 45.06 for the controls. One amnesiac scored just as well as the controls.
To gain some more insight, the scientists examined various components of the overall score. It turns out that the significant differences were in information content and spatial coherence; there was no significant difference in how "present" the subjects said they felt in their constructions, nor in how vivid the subjects said their constructions were.
The psychologists concluded that the hippocampus is important not simply for formulating pictures or experiences, but specifically for helping create scenes that are coherent and make sense - in which everything "fits in." The scenes that the amnesiacs' brains created were fragmented and didn't really make sense.
The scientists acknowledged the possibility that the controls just had better memories of what it's like to be on a beach, for example. That would mean that the amnesiacs couldn't form coherent pictures because they didn't remember what a beach was like, not because they had any trouble with their imaginations.
To address this issue, the scientists did three things: they instructed the patients not to base their descriptions on specific memories, asked the patients if they had depended on specific memories, and experimented more extensively on one of the low-scoring amnesiacs. They exposed him to sounds, smells and pictures that would help him construct some of the scenes. The cues didn't help; he did no better.
In his futuristic novel 1984, about a government that controls all information, George Orwell wrote: "Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." Now it seems that he was more right than he knew: who cannot remember the past, cannot even imagine the future.
Did You Know?
When completed, the International Space Station will have a mass of 1,040,000 lb, a size of 356 ft x 290 ft, almost an acre of solar panels, an internal volume roughly equivalent to passenger cabin of a 747 jumbo jet, 6 laboratories, and living space for up to 7 people.
Countless recent studies have bemoaned the impact that e-mail and Internet access have had on worker efficiency and productivity, but not many have gone so far as to blame workers for their "addiction" or urged them to seek help. Even so, executive coach Marsha Egan has come up with a 12-step program to rehabilitate chronic e-mail addicts from their crippling overuse of the electronic communications crutch.
Egan developed the program in response to clients like Michelle Grace, a real estate agent who insists that "E-mail had me by the throat." Grace now uses Egan’s program to manage her inbox flood more efficiently. Unlike many 12-step programs, complete abstinence isn’t required for "e-mailers anonymous."
On her related website, where she sells her program in e-book format for $36, Egan lists some of the signs that you might be addicted, such as sleeping with a Blackberry nestled against you or asking for a new acquaintance’s e-mail address before their phone number.
The first of Egan’s 12 steps? "Admit that e-mail is managing you. Let go of your need to check e-mail every 10 minutes." While there are not yet any official support groups meeting, Egan is planning to offer a monthly e-mailers anonymous teleconference.
Once again, it’s looking like zoo habitats might be more comfortable than the average home. (Longtime readers of the World Almanac E-Newsletter might fondly recall Maggie, the overweight African elephant who received a custom-built, specially designed treadmill in Sept. 2005.) The Los Angeles Zoo recently paid an expert in the Chinese art of feng shui to help design a habitat for three golden monkeys on loan from China.
Feng shui focuses on balancing design to promote harmony in relation to space and energy flow. Very much in demand among high-end interior designers, feng shui is believed never to have been applied to zoo habitat design before now. "It’s very experimental," said feng shui expert Simona Mainini. "We don’t have any books on feng shui for monkeys. We just have to assume that Darwin is correct and that there is a connection and that what is good for humans is good for monkeys."
The Los Angeles Zoo’s golden monkey exhibit is expected to open the end of the year. The endangered golden monkeys will arrive once China approves the export permit.
Flickr photo by nancycallahan (cc).
Best of The World Almanac Blog: Gourmets of the Sky
I'm one of a few who will admit to liking airplane food. Maybe it's the neatness of the presentation. The food is served perfectly proportioned in these rectangular dishes that fit like puzzle pieces on this tiny tray that's sized to stack just so in the meal cart. (Or maybe getting food is just a good way of breaking the monotony of a long flight.) Airlines have cut back on meal service in an effort to save costs, but one website has dedicated itself to cataloging the array of food that's still being served. AirlineMeals.net bills itself as "the world's first and leading website about nothing for but airline food." One can browse thousands of photos of in-flight meals, including special meals (e.g., vegetarian, children's) and meals for the crew. The site also catalogs photos of airline menu cards. There's even a few entries on airplane food appearing in movies. - M. L. Liu
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This comes from my friend Joanne, the president of the chorus I have sang with: Here’s a link to a cool new website where you can sing a ‘snippet’ of a song and it will respond with the name of the song, the original artist, etc. You may also record yourself singing and post it here for others. You can compare your rendition of "Summertime" to that of other singers/wannabees. Check it out at Midomi.com
Libraries and Archives Canada
Ontario Premier Mitchell Hepburn with Dionne babies ca. 1934
Here's something else I don't collect* - Dionne Quintuplet Memorabilia. The Dionne Quintuplets, were five Canadian girls - Cécile, Yvonne (d. 2001), Annette, Émilie (d. 1954), and Marie (d.1970) - born on May 28, 1934, in Callander, Ont., to Oliva (1903-79) and Elzire (1910-86) Dionne, the parents of six other children. The successful, though premature birth of identical quintuplets was unique at the time, and their survival made medical history and inspired three Hollywood movies. The five babies was taken away from their parents by the Ontario government of Mitchell Hepburn in 1935, and the babies were put in Quintland, a commercial theme park designed to attract tourists and boost the province’s depression-ravaged economy. The children were finally returned to the custody of their parents in 1943. Cécile, Yvonne, Annette, and Marie co-authored We Were Five: the Dionne Quintuplets' Story, a book about their childhood away from their parents and their treatment as a "commercial product." Learn more about the Quints at Quintland.com and read an article about collecting Dionne memorabilia. (* I do have a scrapbook from the 1930s filled with articles and ads about the Dionne Quintuplets.)
I know I'm showing my age here, but I do remember March 19, 1977, the day The Mary Tyler Moore Show went off the air. (I was 5, I swear!). It was so sad to say goodbye to Mary Richards, after 7 years of watching her grow as an individual in Minneapolis, Minnesota, along with her co-workers at television station, WJM-TV. As Associate Producer of a news show, she worked closely with her gruff boss Lou Grant, long-suffering news writer Murray Slaughter, and over-the-top anchorman Ted Baxter, as well as an odd and fun assortment of other colorful characters. Some of the episodes are legendary, including the one about the death of WJM's Chuckles the Clown, who was crushed by an elephant while dressed as Peter Peanut. After hilarious recollections of Chuckles, when everyone laughed except Mary, she finally releases the built up laughter at in inopportune time; at his funeral. The show inspired three spin-off shows including Rhoda, Phyllis, and Lou Grant. Learn more about the show at The Mary Tyler Moore Show Online.
One thing I do collect (if you've read my column before, you know the list is long) is pressed pennies. The first elongated coins known were produced at the World's Columbian Exposition that was held in Chicago, Illinois, in 1893, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America. It's always nice to have some type of memento from places you visit (these days I limit it to pressed pennies and magnets), and they are inexpensive. Check out the Squished Penny Museum and read all about these collections. One day I'm going to include a photograph of my office, which is filled with collectibles; upon visiting my office, my father said to me, "I guess this is all the stuff that didn't fit in your apartment!"
Dred Scott (1799-1858) was a slave owned by an army surgeon, John Emerson of Missouri. In 1836 Scott was taken by Emerson to Fort Snelling, in what is now Minnesota, then a territory in which slavery was forbidden according to the terms of the Missouri Compromise. While still on free territory, Scott had been allowed to marry a woman who was also a slave owned by Emerson. In 1846, after an attempt at self-purchase, Scott filed suit in the state court on the grounds that residence in a free territory released him from slavery. The Supreme Court of Missouri, however, ruled (1852) that when he was brought back to territory where slavery was legal, the status of slavery reattached to him and he had no standing before the court. When the case reached the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney held that slaves did not become free in a free state, that Congress could not bar slavery from a territory, and that blacks could not be citizens. Washington University in St. Louis has mounted an exhibit, Dred Scott Case Collection which explores Scott's struggle for freedom.
Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Will Shortz the grandmaster of crossword puzzles. Shortz, a Crawfordsville, Indiana native is the only person to hold a college degree in Enigmatology, the study of puzzles, which he earned from Indiana University, Bloomington in 1974 after designing his own degree program. He has been the crossword editor of The New York Times since 1993, and is the founder of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (1978) and the World Puzzle Championship (1992). Shortz's popularity includes his weekly appearance as puzzle master for NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, a job he's held for 20 years. He has expanded his puzzles into a line of sudoku books. Shortz was featured in the 2006 film Wordplay, which focused on an American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, and also celebrities who enjoy crossword puzzles, including Bill Clinton, Mike Messina, Jon Stewart and the Indigo Girls. We are pleased to know that Will is a huge fan of the Almanac and he provided a quote for the cover of the 2007 edition, which reads "My #1 reference work for facts."
A final word - In the obituaries for historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., we read this passage with great interest: "The intellectually precocious Schlesinger, who skipped the second and fourth grades, was a voracious reader who devoured the classics and historical novels. He also was devoted to studying the World Almanac, later recalling that he bored his parents and their guests at Sunday teas by reciting the population statistics of major world cities." (The Chicago Tribune) Schlesinger was once quoted as saying: "I have kept The World Almanac within easy reach ever since my father bought me my first copy more than half a century ago."
In 1995, The World Almanac asked Professor Schlesinger whom he considered to be the 10 most influential people of the second millennium. Here are the names he listed, in order of importance.
1. William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
2. Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
3. Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
4. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543)
5. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)
6. Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
7. Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)
8. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
9. Johann Gutenberg (c. 1397-1568)
10. William Harvey (1578-1657)
"Lives of nations are determined not by the count of years, but by the lifetime of the human spirit."
- Franklin D. Roosevelt, (1882-1945), U.S. President
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