World Almanac Newsletter Archive
January 2008 Newsletter
Volume 08, Number 01 — January 2008
What's in this issue?
January Holidays — National and International
This Day In History — January
Travel - Liverpool
Obituaries - December 2007
The Best of the World Almanac Blog
Chronology - December 2007
It's All in the Numbers
Offbeat News Stories
Links of the Month
Quote of the Month
How to reach us
January 1 - Rose Bowl (Pasadena, CA); Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, LA)
January 2 - Fiesta Bowl (Phoenix, AZ)
January 3 - Orange Bowl (Miami, FL)
January 5 - Great Fruitcake Toss (Manitou Springs, CO)
January 5-20 - Dakar Rally 2008 (Lisbon, Portugal, to Dakar, Senegal)
January 7 - BCS Championship (New Orleans, LA)
January 7-20 - KidFilm Festival (Dallas, TX)
January 12 - Welcome Back Snowbirds Pancake Breakfast (El Centro, CA)
January 13 - Houston Marathon (Texas)
January 13 - 65th Annual Golden Globe Awards announced (no ceremony)
January 13-27 - North American International Auto Show (Detroit, MI)
January 14-27 - Australian Open tennis tournament (Melbourne)
January 17-25 - Slamdance (Park City, UT)
January 17-27 - Sundance Film Festival (Park City, UT)
January 19-20 - Model Railroad Show (Wheeling, WV)
January 23-27 - St. Paul Winter Carnival (Minnesota)
January 23-February 6 - South Florida Senior Games (Hollywood, FL)
January 26 - AFRMA Fancy Rat and Mouse Annual Show (Riverside, CA)
January 26-February 2 - National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (Elko, NV)
January 27 - Groundhog Run (Kansas City, MO)
January 28-February 1 - International Hoof Care Summit (Cincinnati, OH)
January 1 - New Year's Day
January 10 - Islamic New Year (Muharram 1)
January 17 - Liberation Day (Poland)
January 19 - Ashura (Muharram 10)
January 21 - Martin Luther King Jr. Day
January 26 - Australia Day
It's a Fact!
The first Social Security check, issued in 1940, was for $22.54 and went to Ida May Fuller, who lived on a Vermont farm. Having worked less than three years under Social Security, she only paid $24.75, but had collected $ 22,888.92 by the time of her death in 1975.
|01||1959||In Cuba, the government of Fulgencio Batista is overthrown by the rebel forces of Fidel Castro.|
|02||1492||Spanish forces capture the city of Granada from the Moors, ending 700 years of Muslim rule in Spain.|
|03||1959||Alaska is admitted to the Union as the 49th state.|
|04||1964||Pope Paul VI becomes the first pope to leave Italy since 1809 when he flies to Jordan and Israel.|
|05||1914||The Ford Motor Co. raises basic wages so that all workers will receive $5 for an 8-hour day.|
|06||1941||In a speech to Congress, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promulgates the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and religion and freedom from want and fear.|
|07||1989||Japan's Emperor Hirohito dies after ruling 62 years; he is succeeded by his son, Prince Akihito.|
|08||1959||In France, Charles de Gaulle takes office as the president of the newly created Fifth Republic.|
|09||1793||French aeronaut Jean Pierre Blanchard makes the first balloon ascent in America at Philadelphia.|
|10||1946||The UN General Assembly meets for the first time.|
|11||1935||Aviator Amelia Earhart begins a flight from Honolulu to Oakland, CA, becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean.|
|12||1932||Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas becomes the first woman elected to the Senate.|
|13||1990||Douglas Wilder is inaugurated in Virginia, becoming the nation's first African-American governor.|
|14||1784||The Continental Congress ratifies the Treaty of Paris, officially ending the American Revolution.|
|15||1559||Queen Elizabeth I is crowned in England.|
|16||1979||The Shah of Iran, who has ruled for 37 years, goes into exile.|
|17||1893||Hawaii's last monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, is deposed and the monarchy abolished by U.S. settlers.|
|18||1912||The expedition of England's Robert F. Scott reaches the South Pole, then discovers that Roald Amundsen got there first.|
|19||1966||Indira Gandhi is elected prime minister of India.|
|20||1981||Minutes after Ronald Reagan's inauguration, the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days are released.|
|21||1793||During the French Revolution, King Louis XVI is executed.|
|22||1901||Britain's Queen Victoria dies after ruling for more than 63 years.|
|23||1849||Elizabeth Blackwell becomes the first woman to receive an MD degree.|
|24||1848||Gold is discovered at John Sutter's mill in California.|
|25||1915||Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson complete the first transcontinental telephone call, between New York and San Francisco.|
|26||1939||At the end of the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona falls to the Nationalist forces of Gen. Francisco Franco.|
|27||1973||The Vietnam War officially ends when the United States, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the Viet Cong sign a peace pact in Paris.|
|28||1547||England's King Henry VIII dies and is succeeded by his 9-year-old son, Edward VI.|
|29||1936||The Baseball Hall of Fame is founded in Cooperstown, NY.|
|30||1948||Mohandas Gandhi is assassinated by a Hindu fanatic in New Delhi, India.|
|31||1943||The Battle of Stalingrad in the USSR ends with a German surrender.|
|01||1919||J. D. Salinger, author (New York, NY)|
|02||1915||John Hope Franklin, historian (Rentisville, OK)|
|03||1969||Michael Schumacher, race car driver (Hurth, Germany)|
|04||1960||Michael Stipe, singer (Decatur, GA)|
|05||1946||Diane Keaton, actress (Los Angeles, CA)|
|06||1957||Nancy Lopez, golfer (Torrance, CA)|
|07||1957||Katie Couric, TV anchor (Washington, D.C.)|
|08||1942||Stephen Hawking, physicist (Oxford, England)|
|09||1951||Crystal Gayle, country singer (Paintsville, KY)|
|10||1949||George Foreman, champion boxer (Marshall, TX)|
|11||1970||Mary J. Blige, singer (New York, NY)|
|12||1910||Luise Rainer, actress (Vienna, Austria)|
|13||1961||Julia Louis-Dreyfus, actress (New York, NY)|
|14||1940||Julian Bond, civil rights leader (Nashville, TN)|
|15||1951||Charo, singer/actress (Murcia, Spain)|
|16||1928||William Kennedy, author (Albany, NY)|
|17||1942||Muhammad Ali, champion boxer (Louisville, KY)|
|18||1933||Ray Dolby, inventor of the Dolby Sound System (Portland, OR)|
|19||1923||Jean Stapleton, actress (New York, NY)|
|20||1956||Bill Maher, TV personality (Rivervale, NJ)|
|21||1941||Richie Havens, musician (Brooklyn, NY)|
|22||1932||Piper Laurie, actress (Detroit, MI)|
|23||1928||Jeanne Moreau, actress (Paris, France)|
|24||1918||Oral Roberts, evangelist and educator (near Ada, OK)|
|25||1928||Eduard Shevardnadze, last foreign minister of the Soviet Union, head of state of Georgia (Mamati, Georgia)|
|26||1944||Angela Davis, political activist (Birmingham, AL)|
|27||1955||John G. Roberts, 17th chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (Buffalo, NY)|
|28||1977||Daunte Culpepper, football player (Ocala, FL)|
|29||1954||Oprah Winfrey, TV personality (Kosciusko, MS)|
|30||1968||Prince Felipe, heir to the Spanish throne|
|31||1923||Carol Channing, actress (Seattle, WA)|
Chances are, if someone says "Liverpool," you'll think "Beatles." As everybody knows, this English metropolis on the Mersey River was the stomping ground of the Fab Four who, with similar "Merseybeat" and other groups, once ruled pop music. (According to a 2002 tally, Liverpool ranks as Britain's leading pop music city, with 53 chart-topping hits by more than 20 bands and soloists over the preceding half-century.) But in earlier days the city enjoyed renown as one of the world's major seaports. And sports fans know it as the home of two of the greatest soccer teams - Everton and Liverpool - in history and the site of one of the world's biggest annual horse races - the Grand National. Today's Liverpool has a raft of cultural attractions as well. The city celebrated its 800th birthday in 2007, and (along with Norway's Stavanger) was designated by the European Union as the European Capital of Culture for 2008.
Library of Congress
Visitors will find reminders all over Liverpool of the city's glorious musical, maritime, and economic past. First and foremost are legacies of the Beatles themselves. Travelers coming by plane will likely land at the Liverpool John Lennon Airport, where a 7-ft (2.1-m) bronze statute of the murdered Beatle stands above the check-in counters, and a 51-ft (15.5-m) yellow submarine lies in front of the terminal building. The city's most popular museum, located in the historic Albert Dock area on the waterfront, is the Beatles Story, filled with Fab Four memorabilia. Fans can tour Penny Lane and Strawberry Field. They can also visit Paul McCartney's former home, 20 Forthlin Road, as well as Lennon's, Mendips; both have been restored to the way they looked in the 1950s. The Casbah Coffee Club, a major early venue of the band, remains pretty much as it was. Another early Beatles venue, a jazz club known as the Cavern, now stands in reconstructed form on the original site.
In the heyday of the British Empire, Liverpool was a nexus of world trade. "Nothing gives one so vivid an idea of the vast commerce of the country as these docks, quays and immense warehouses, piled and cumbered with hides and merchandises of all kinds from all corners of the world," wrote the 19th-century diarist Reverend Francis Kilvert. Part of this enormous vista was the Albert Dock. Its splendid brick, stone, and cast-iron buildings are now home to stores, restaurants, cafes, and pubs, and also museums, among them the Merseyside Maritime Museum.
Current exhibits at the Maritime Museum include a "Magical History Tour," portraying the city's development; it is slated to remain in place until September 2009. An International Slavery Museum opened on the third floor of the Maritime Museum in 2007, a year that marked the bicentennial of the abolition of the British slave trade.
Also located at the Albert Dock is the showplace for modern and contemporary art known as Tate Liverpool. It is said to be the most-visited art gallery in Britain outside London. The Tate's contributions to the Cultural Capital year include Britain's first comprehensive show devoted to Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, slated to run from May though August.
The Albert Dock is one of six areas lying along or not far from the waterfront - dubbed Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City - that were approved by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage Site in 2004. Included in the heritage site is the "Cultural Quarter" in the vicinity of William Brown Street, highlighted by a group of neoclassical structures, notably the Walker Art Gallery, the World Museum Liverpool, and St. George's Hall. St George's Hall, dating to 1854 and originally designed to encompass both a concert hall and law courts, is regarded by some as one of the world's finest examples of neoclassical architecture.
The Walker boasts rich holdings of European art, especially works by British artists, from 1300 to today. In the Cultural Capital Year, from mid-April to early August, it will stage a show called "Art in the Age of Steam," exploring artists' response to steam locomotion and featuring such artists as Edward Hopper, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Vincent van Gogh.
The World Museum Liverpool covers natural history, science, and technology, with exhibits divided into four main "worlds": the Human World, the Natural World (featuring an aquarium and live insect colonies), Earth, and Space & Time (with a planetarium). The museum, which just a couple of years ago doubled its exhibit space, is planning to open a new gallery in 2008 devoted to its sizable Egyptian collection. Plans for the Cultural Capital Year include a special exhibition, "The Beat Goes On," dealing with the city's vigorous pop music scene over the past six decades. It is expected to run from mid-July 2008 to early November 2009.
Liverpool boasts two huge cathedrals, situated about half a mile apart at opposite ends of Hope Street. The soaring, funnel-shaped Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, completed in 1967, can seat more than 2000 people. A kaleidoscopically colored 2000-ton lantern over the altar reaches a height of 290 ft (88 m) above street level.
The Anglican Cathedral, begun in the early 20th century and dedicated in 1978, is executed in a more traditional style. It's the world's newest Gothic cathedral. It also is the biggest church in England, and has the country's largest church organ (9765 pipes). Its Gothic arches are the tallest in the world, and the bells in its tower the highest and heaviest.
There once was a quick way to get acquainted with all things Liverpudlian: just drop by the Museum of Liverpool Life on Albert Dock. But it closed in 2006, in preparation for creation of a new, improved Museum of Liverpool Life, on Mann Island at the heart of the World Heritage Site. Ground was broken in April 2007, and construction is expected to be finished by the end of 2008, with the museum opening in 2010.
Another big new project, the Arena and Convention Centre Liverpool, is scheduled to open sooner, in January 2008, in time for the launching of the Cultural Capital Year. Regarded as one of the "greenest" structures of its type in Europe, it includes a 1350-seat auditorium, a 10,600-seat arena, and up to 75,000 sq ft (7000 sq m) of exhibition space.
Among the many events planned for the Cultural Capital Year is a June superconcert: "Liverpool Sound," highlighting Liverpool's role in world pop music. To be held at the Liverpool Football Club's Anfield stadium, it will be televised around the world and will feature former Beatle Paul McCartney as headliner.
2008 also happens to be the year for the next edition of Britain's largest international contemporary arts festival, the Liverpool Biennial; it will run from late September to the end of November.
It's a Fact!
A ranch owner in Fort Keogh, Montana, discovered the largest reported snowflake on January 28, 1887. It measured 15 inches wide and 8 inches thick.
Byrne, Tommy (Thomas), 87, left handed starting pitcher in Major League Baseball in the 1940s and 50s, called "The Wild Man," for how he threw the ball; Wake Forest, NC, Dec. 20, 2007.
U.S. House of Reprentatives
Carson, Julia, 69, Indiana Democrat who had been a member of the United States House of Representatives since 1997, only the second black congresswoman from that state; Louisville, KY, Dec. 15, 2007.
Fogelberg, Dan(iel), 56, singer-songwriter in the 1970s and 80s; among his best-known songs were "Same Old Lang Syne" (1980) and "Leader of the Band" (1981); Maine, Dec. 16, 2007.
Kidd, Michael, 92, film and stage choreographer, best-known for Finian's Rainbow (1947), Guys and Dolls (1950), and Can-Can (1953), and the film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954); Los Angeles, CA, Dec. 23, 2007.
Peterson, Oscar, 82, Canadian jazz singer, pianist and composer called the "Maharajah of the keyboard," by Duke Ellington; Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, Dec. 23, 2007.
Turner, Ike, 76, musician, songwriter, bandleader, producer, and talent scout whose 1951 song "Rocket 88" is considered by some to be the first rock and roll song; he discovered, married and had a tumultuous relationship with Anna Mae Bullock, who became famous as Tina Turner; San Marcos, CA, Dec. 12, 2007.
We've Been YouTubed - C. Alan Joyce
I get a Google Alert every day for new online appearances of the phrase "World Almanac," but yesterday was the first time that a link took me to YouTube. The video I landed on (at right) didn't seem to have any connection, at first, but it all became clear at the one-minute mark...
I wrote a quick note to Patrick Butler, the video's creator, to let him know that he had the dubious honor of creating the first known World Almanac fan video on YouTube - and it turns out that his connection to our little book is quite a bit deeper than I could have suspected. He gave us permission to post this brief explanation on our blog.
"I have been a World Almanac fan since 1994 and it got me into learning when I didn't like learning and turned my life around. It helped me get my GED since I was in special school and they don't give you high school diplomas. I had problems with my behavior also and it got me in trouble a lot even after I got into The World Almanac. I was in a special school because I had autism and had behavior problems. I did do better when I got my first almanac. I am from Oswego New York and I was in special schools by the Oswego County BOCES Special Education Program until I was 20."
Patrick also recorded several new videos including "How Did I Become a World Almanac Fan?", and "My World Almanac Collection." Please check them out, and leave the guy a few words of support if you're as touched by his story as I was.
Florida's New Song - Andy Steinitz
When I first came across the state song of Florida, "Old Folks at Home," I thought it had to be a prank - Florida is, after all, the state with the largest percentage of residents age 65 or older (17% in 2006). But it's true. The ballad, also known as "Swanee River," was chosen by the legislature in 1935.
But it might not be the state song for much longer. Florida is searching for a new anthem, and it wants its residents to choose from three finalists. What caught my eye is that Carl Ashley, the co-composer of one of those finalists, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper that The World Almanac was one of his sources. "We studied a world almanac and read about Florida history, trying to put as much as we could into the song."
Just Sing Florida, where residents can vote, has recordings and sheet music for each of the three finalists. Voting ends at midnight on January 10.
Good luck to Carl Ashley and Betsy Dixon, as well as the other finalists.
In addition to official songs, our chapter on States and Other Areas of the U.S. includes state mottos, flowers, birds, and trees, as well as lots of population, economic, geographic, and historical information. There really is a lot packed into a little space.
You Have Been Warned - Sarah Janssen
Another year, another group of winners in M-LAW's "Wacky Warning Label" Contest, which we featured in the The World Almanac 2008. The contest, which is sponsored by a Michigan anti-lawsuit group, highlights the questionable advice amending the labels or instruction manuals of consumer products. Last year's group of dubious winners, for instance, featured the instruction manual for a personal watercraft, with the following sage advice on its gas tank: "Warning: Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level."
This year's winners include:
* On a small tractor: "DANGER Avoid Death" (Complete with requisite cartoonish illustration.)
* On a stroller's storage bag: "Do not put child in bag."
* On a letter opener: "Safety goggles recommended."
* On a vanishing ink pen: "Should not be used for signing checks or legal documents."
It's a Fact!
The composer Mozart was an accomplished player on the clavier, violin, and organ by the age of six, and at that age composed five short pieces that are still played today on the piano.
Mass Shootings in Nebraska and Colorado - Eight people were fatally shot at Westroads Mall in Omaha, NE, Dec. 5 when a man carrying a semiautomatic assault rifle opened fire inside a Von Maur department store before shooting himself. The 19-year-old assailant, Robert A. Hawkins, had a history of legal and psychiatric problems, for which he had received treatment. In two suicide notes released by police Dec. 7, he wrote about the fame the shootings would bring him and called himself a "constant disappointment" to his family.
At 12:30 A.M. on Sunday, Dec. 9, a heavily armed gunman killed two people at Youth With a Mission, a Christian missionary training center in Arvada, a suburb of Denver, CO. About 12 hours later, the same gunman - identified by police as 24-year-old Matthew Murray - killed two teenage sisters in the parking lot of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Inside the church he was shot in the thigh and wrist by Jeanne Assam, a former police officer who was serving as a volunteer security guard. According to an autopsy, he then killed himself with a shot to the head. In the hours between the two assaults, Murray had posted anti-Christian writings to an online forum.
CIA Destroyed Videotapes Showing Interrogation of Terror Suspects - In a Dec. 6 statement to Central Intelligence Agency employees, CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden acknowledged that the agency had videotaped the interrogation of terror suspects in 2002 and had destroyed the tapes in 2005. Hayden issued the statement a day after the New York Times had informed CIA officials that it planned to publish an article about the destruction. One of the suspects mentioned in Hayden's statement was Abu Zubaydah, a high-level al-Qaeda operative who had been captured in March 2002. In an interview published Dec. 11, John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who took part in the capture and questioning of Zubaydah, told the Washington Post that he learned from fellow team members that Zubaydah had been waterboarded - a controversial interrogation technique that critics allege qualifies as torture and should be banned. Kiriakou told the Post that he now considered waterboarding to be torture, although the information extracted from Zubaydah disrupted several planned attacks and had "probably saved lives."
The New York Times reported Dec. 11 that the decision to destroy the tapes had been taken in Nov. 2005 by Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr., then chief of the CIA's clandestine branch, in consultation with agency lawyers. At the time, the CIA had not disclosed the existence of the videos either to the 9-11 Commission or to lawyers representing defendants in terror cases. U.S. Attorney Gen. Michael B. Mukasey announced Jan. 2, 2008, that the Justice Dept. had launched a formal criminal investigation into the CIA's handling of the evidence.
Pace of Presidential Campaign Intensifies - Challenged in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination from Baptist pastor and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee , former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gave a long-awaited speech Dec. 6 on his Mormon faith and the role of religion in politics. In the address, which he delivered at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, TX, Romney said, "A person should not be elected because of his faith nor rejected because of his faith." On Dec. 20, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R, CO), who had been running for the Republican nomination, dropped out of the race and endorsed Romney. Tancredo's tough stance on illegal immigration had helped make it a defining issue in the Republican field. On Dec. 16, supporters of Rep. Ron Paul (R, TX) set another single-day campaign fundraising record for 2007, collecting more than $6 mil.
Popular television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey campaigned Dec. 8-10 with Sen. Barack Obama (D, IL) in Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire; a Dec. 9 rally in Columbia, SC, attracted an estimated 29,000 people. Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY), made multiple campaign appearances with her husband, former Pres. Bill Clinton, as well as her mother Dorothy Rodham and her daughter Chelsea. The Obama and Clinton campaigns confirmed Dec. 31 that each had raised more than $100 mil in 2007. Another leading Democrat, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, had raised about $44 mil, including $8.8 million in federal matching funds.
Pres. Bush Unveils Plan to Ease Impact of Subprime Mortgage Crisis - On Dec. 6, Pres. George W. Bush announced an accord among major mortgage lenders to assist hard-pressed homeowners who took out adjustable-rate subprime mortgages between Jan. 1, 2005, and July 31, 2007. The plan would impose a five-year freeze on interest rates for some mortgage holders facing a steep rate hike before July 31, 2010. The program would also provide options for homeowners in good standing to refinance their mortgages through the Federal Housing Administration.
The plan's announcement came the same day the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that the mortgage delinquency rate on one- to four-unit residential properties in the third quarter of 2007 had risen to 5.59% of all loans outstanding, the highest percentage since 1986; another 1.69% of all loans were in process of foreclosure. The mortgage meltdown continued to make waves in global markets, as Swiss bank UBS declared Dec. 10 that it was taking a $10 bil write-down in subprime mortgage assets, and investment giant Morgan Stanley announced a $9.4 bil write-down Dec. 19. The U.S. Commerce Dept. reported Dec. 28 that sales of new homes in November had fallen to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 647,000, a 12-year low.
Supreme Court Relaxes Sentencing Guidelines - In two separate 7-2 rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court held Dec. 10 that federal district judges had reasonable latitude to depart from federal guidelines in sentencing defendants in crack cocaine cases. In her majority opinion in Kimbrough vs. United States, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg upheld the decision of the trial judge to impose the statutory minimum sentence of 15 years on a defendant convicted on crack cocaine and gun-related charges, rather than the sentence called for by the federal guidelines. In his opinion in the second case, Gall v. United States, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, "The guidelines should be the starting point and initial benchmark."
Tough drug laws in the 1980s had mandated much stiffer penalties for possession and sale of crack cocaine than powdered cocaine. Critics of the laws alleged that they were racially biased, as a 2002 report to Congress by the U.S. Sentencing Commission had found that about 85% of defendants convicted of crack cocaine offenses in federal court were black. The U.S. Sentencing Commission took the additional step Dec. 11 of making more lenient penalties, in effect since Nov. 1, 2007, retroactive. That decision could affect up to 19,500 federal inmates.
Republicans Retain Two House Seats in Special Elections; Other Congressional Membership Changes - In special elections Dec. 11 for the U.S. House of Representatives, Robert J. Wittman (R) won the Virginia seat vacated by the death Oct. 6 of Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R), and Robert E. Latta (R) took the Ohio seat left empty when another Republican, Paul E. Gillmor, was found dead Sept. 5. Two more House seats were vacated when Rep. Julia Carson (D, IN) died Dec. 15 and Rep. Roger Wicker (R, MS) was appointed Dec. 31 to fill the Senate seat of Trent Lott, who had retired Dec. 18, until a special election scheduled for Nov. 4, 2008.
NJ Governor Jon Corzine
New Jersey Abolishes Death Penalty - Gov. Jon Corzine (D, NJ) signed Dec. 17 a law abolishing capital punishment and replacing it with a sentence of life imprisonment without parole; the state senate had passed the measure Dec. 10, and the general assembly followed suit Dec. 13. New Jersey thus became the first state to repeal the death penalty since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. No executions had actually been carried out in the state since 1963. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit group based in Washington, DC, the number of executions throughout the U.S. declined to 42 in 2007, the lowest annual total since 1994. Texas conducted 26 of the executions; no other state accounted for more than three. A de facto moratorium on capital punishment in the U.S. had been in effect since the Supreme Court accepted a case Sept. 25 challenging the constitutionality of current methods of execution by lethal injection.
Congress Passes Major Legislation Before Holiday Recess - An energy bill mandating an increase in automobile fuel-economy standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2030 received final approval from Congress Dec. 18, passing the House by a 314-100 vote. The bill was signed into law by Pres. Bush the following day. The measure also set a timetable for the replacement of traditional incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient bulbs and required a major increase in the use of biofuels.
On Dec. 26, Bush signed two other bills passed by Congress: a $555 bil omnibus spending measure to fund most federal departments and agencies for the 2008 fiscal year, and a one-year fix to the alternative minimum tax (AMT), preventing an estimated 19 mil taxpayers from having to pay higher federal income taxes in 2007. A bill funding the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) gained final congressional approval Dec. 19 and was signed by Pres. Bush Dec. 29. Pres. Bush had vetoed two earlier versions of the bill that would have expanded the program's coverage and paid for the increase with higher taxes on tobacco products.
Markets End Roller Coaster Year - The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed Dec. 31 at 13,264.82, up 6.4% for 2007 despite the poorest fourth-quarter performance in 20 years. Although the technology and energy sectors showed strength, the mortgage crisis weighed heavily on the market, with financial stocks down by more than 20% since the end of 2006. On a more positive note, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index finished the year at 2,652.28, for a gain of 9.8% in 2007. The closing price on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) for a barrel of light, sweet crude oil, which had dropped to $50.48 on Jan. 18, rose to $95.98 by Dec. 31. The value of the U.S. dollar declined in 2007 by 9.5% against the euro and 6.3% against the Japanese yen.
Department of Energy
Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and US Secretary of Energy Bodman, March 2006
Putin's Power Grows in Russia - In Dec. 2 elections, Pres. Vladimir Putin's United Russia party won more than 64% of the popular vote and captured 315 of 450 seats in the Duma, the lower house of parliament. In a statement issued Dec. 3, an observer mission from the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe concluded that Russia's voting process had failed to meet democratic standards. The group noted "widespread reports of harassment of opposition parties" and cited "strong bias" in favor of Putin and his party by Russian media. Opposition leader Garry Kasparov, who would withdraw as the "Other Russia" party's candidate for the presidency Dec. 12, called the election the "dirtiest in the history of modern Russia."
With his second term nearing its end, Putin Dec. 10 endorsed his 42-year-old protégé, First Deputy Prime Min. Dmitri Medvedev, in the presidential election scheduled for Mar. 2, 2008. Medvedev said Dec. 11 that, if elected president, he would choose Putin as prime minister, and Putin confirmed Dec. 17 that if offered that opportunity to continue in power, he would accept. Time, a U.S. newsweekly, named Putin its "Person of the Year" Dec. 19.
Chávez Loses Referendum in Venezuela - Pres. Hugo Chávez suffered a blow when Venezuelan voters Dec. 2 rejected constitutional changes that would have expanded his powers and abolished presidential term limits. The referendum, which covered a package of 69 amendments, failed narrowly, 51-49 percent. In the run-up to the vote, critics of Chávez had called the proposals a "coup," while he had labeled the opponents "traitors." Only about 56 percent of registered voters turned out to vote on the referendum.
U.S. Intelligence Agencies Conclude Iran Halted Nuclear Weapons Program in 2003 - A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released Dec. 3 reported with "high confidence" that Iran had halted work on its nuclear weapons program in Fall 2003. The NIE, which represented a consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, judged with "moderate confidence" that Iran had not restarted its program as of mid-2007. Pres. Bush responded to the NIE Dec. 4 by saying, "Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous, if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."
Conferees at Bali Agree on "Road Map" for Climate Change Treaty - Meeting Dec. 3-15 at Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, delegates from 187 countries agreed on a two-year framework for negotiating a treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The new accord, set to be finalized late in 2009, would replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which expires in 2012. A key provision of the Bali "road map" was a commitment by industrialized nations to provide financial and technical aid to help developing countries reduce their emissions. Some delegates booed chief U.S. negotiator, undersecretary of state Paula Dobriansky Dec. 15 when she initially said the U.S. could not support the provision; facing opposition on the issue from many of its allies in the industrialized world, the U.S. later relented. Several nations classified as developing, including China and Brazil, agreed to quantifiable emissions reductions for the first time.
Taliban Ousted from Stronghold, as Afghan Violence Escalates - NATO and Afghan troops Dec. 10 recaptured the town of Musa Qala, a Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province. The town is located in southern Afghanistan's main poppy-growing region, which provides an important source of revenue to the Islamic insurgents. The Associated Press reported Dec. 31 that 110 U.S. troops had died in Afghanistan during 2007, the highest annual total since the U.S.-led invasion of Oct. 2001. Nearly 4,500 militants were killed in 2007, and more than 925 Afghan police had died in Taliban ambushes.
Former President of Peru Gets 6-Year Prison Sentence - On Dec. 11, Peru's Supreme Court sentenced former Pres. Alberto Fujimori to 6 years in prison and fined him $135,000 for ordering the illegal search of an apartment belonging to the wife of his intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos. The search was carried out in Nov. 2000, as Fujimori's presidency was collapsing. A separate trial, in which Fujimori faced charges of human rights violations - including murder and "forced disappearance" had begun Dec. 10.
Car Bombs Kill UN Workers in Algeria - At least 37 people, including 17 United Nations staff members, were killed Dec. 11 when two car bombs exploded in Algiers. The first suicide bomb occurred outside the government building that housed Algeria's Constitutional Council; many of those injured were university students aboard a nearby bus. The second bomb, which detonated about 10 minutes later, struck UN offices in the Algerian capital. The terrorist group Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the bombings.
Presidential Election, Major Oil Spill in South Korea - Lee Myung-bak, 66, a former Hyundai construction executive nicknamed "The Bulldozer," won the South Korean presidential election held Dec. 19; he had served as mayor of Seoul from 2002 to 2006. Lee, the candidate of the conservative Grand National Party, took about 49% of the vote; his closest rival, United New Democratic Party candidate Chung Dong-young, won 26%. Voter turnout was at a record low 63 percent. Lee's victory was clouded by a continuing probe of his financial dealings, which was scheduled to conclude by inauguration day, Feb. 25, 2008.
The election campaign took place as South Korea was dealing with the worst oil spill in its history. On Dec. 7, near the port of Daesan, a barge had crashed into the single-hulled supertanker Hebei Spirit, which then leaked more than 10,000 tons of oil into the Yellow Sea.
Security Situation in Iraq Continues to Improve - In a Dec. 29 briefing, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, reported that violent attacks since June had fallen by more than 60 percent. Among the reasons credited for the improved security situation were shifts in U.S. tactics and troop numbers, the increased willingness of Sunni fighters to work with U.S. forces against al-Qaeda in Iraq (also known as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia), and the ceasefire observed by the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. U.S. military deaths in December dropped to 23, the lowest monthly total since Feb. 2004. According to the Iraqi government, about 480 civilians were killed in December, an estimated 70 percent decrease from the same month in 2006. The decline in U.S. military deaths came at the end of a year that had been the U.S.'s deadliest during the conflict; the military had sustained 899 fatalities during 2007.
Coalition strength in Iraq included about 160,000 Americans and nearly 11,000 troops of other countries. British forces Dec. 16 formally transferred responsibility for security in Basra to Iraqi authorities; about 4,500 UK troops remained in Iraq. Basra's police commander, Maj. Gen. Jalil Khalaf, complained to British reporters about conditions in the city after the UK pullout. "They left me militia, they left me gangsters, and they left me all the troubles in the world," he said.
Turkish forces attacked Kurds accused of mounting cross-border raids against Turkey from northern Iraq. The Turkish military said its air strikes on 22 targets Dec. 16 and 22 had killed more than 150 Kurdish rebels.
Benazir Bhutto Killed in Pakistan - Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), was killed Dec. 27 as she left a political rally in Rawalpindi. The 54-year-old former prime minister, who had narrowly escaped assassination in suicide bombings Oct. 18, died during a combined shooting and bomb attack while her head protruded through the sunroof of her bulletproof vehicle; the blast killed at least 21 people and injured more than 50. In the days following the attack, Pakistani government officials provided divergent theories about the actual cause of Bhutto's death. Other witnesses said she was killed by gunfire, and private television stations aired video that appeared to show a gunman targeting her car.
Meeting Dec. 30, the PPP Central Executive Committee named her 19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, an Oxford University student, as party chairman. Benazir Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who was named as co-chairman, said he would manage the party until Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had finished school. The elder Zardari had been called "Mr. 10 Percent" while Bhutto held power because of his reported demands for kickbacks on government contracts. Citing riots that had killed over 60 people following Bhutto's death, election officials announced Jan. 2 that the voting would be postponed to Feb. 18. Both the PPP and another leading opposition party, a faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) led by former Prime Min Nawaz Sharif, denounced the delay.
The Toronto Star reported Jan. 5, 2008, that 56 suicide bombings had claimed a total of 618 lives during 2007. A bomb attack Dec. 21 at a mosque in the town of Charsadda, in northwest Pakistan, killed at least 57 people and wounded 114.
Riots Follow Disputed Presidential Election in Kenya - At least 486 people died in tribally based violence following the announcement Dec. 30 that incumbent Pres. Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, had defeated his principal challenger, Raila Odinga, a Luo, by more than 230,000 votes. Odinga had led in the ballot counting since the Dec. 27 election by as many as 1 mil votes, but had been overtaken by a late Kibaki surge. European and Kenyan monitors criticized the Electoral Commission of Kenya for failing to heed evidence of vote rigging. Kibaki was sworn in for a second 5-year term about an hour after the results were announced. Violence erupted as outraged Luos and other Odinga supporters clashed with government troops and with Kikuyu civilians; 59 Kikuyus were burned alive in a church in Eldoret, central Kenya, on Jan. 1, 2008.
U.S. Captures Davis Cup - The U.S. clinched its first Davis Cup tennis championship in 12 years on Dec. 1, as the doubles team of identical twins Bob and Mike Bryan defeated Russians Nikolay Davydenko and Igor Andreev in straight sets, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-2. In singles matches a day earlier, Andy Roddick had overwhelmed his Russian opponent, Dmitry Tursunov, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, and James Blake had bested Mikhail Youzhny, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (3). Two reverse singles matches Dec. 2 completed the U.S.'s 4-1 victory, though the three earlier wins had guaranteed the U.S. a victory over Russia, the defending champion in the five-match competition.
Sudan Frees British Teacher in Teddy Bear Blasphemy Case - A British schoolteacher who was jailed by Sudan on a charge that sparked international controversy was pardoned Dec. 3 and allowed to return to the U.K. The teacher, Gillian Gibbons, 54, who had arrived in Sudan in August, was accused of insulting Islam for allowing her 7-year-old pupils in Khartoum to name a class teddy bear after the prophet Muhammad. Under Sudanese law, conviction called for a punishment of up to 40 lashes and up to 6 months in prison, but on Nov. 29 she instead received a sentence of 15 days in jail and deportation. With tempers rising in both Sudan and the U.K., two Muslim members of the British House of Lords interceded on her behalf, and she was freed by Sudan's Pres. Omar al-Bashir.
Sophomore QB Tebow Wins College Football Awards - University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy Dec. 8. The Gators' star, who in 12 regular-season games passed for 29 touchdowns and ran for 22, was the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman and the first major-college player to score at least 20 running TDs and 20 passing TDs in the same season. During the month, Tebow also received the Maxwell Award as Collegiate Player of the Year, the Davey O'Brien Award as the nation's top college quarterback, and AP Player of the Year honors from the Associated Press. University of Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, a junior, was runner-up in the Heisman voting for the second consecutive year.
Mitchell Report Documents Baseball's "Steroids Era" - In a report that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig described as "a call to action," former U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell (D, ME) presented evidence Dec. 13 concerning the alleged use of banned performance-enhancing drugs, including anabolic steroids and human growth hormone (HGH), by 86 current and former players. The inquiry into what Mitchell portrayed as baseball's "steroids era" drew on multiple sources, including previously undisclosed interviews with former New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski and former New York Yankees strength coach Brian McNamee. Radomski had pleaded guilty in April to supplying steroids to baseball players, and McNamee had signed a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors under which the testimony he provided could not be used as evidence against him.
Seven MVPs and 31 All-Stars were named in the report; home-run record holder Barry Bonds (who had been indicted Nov. 15 by a federal grand jury), former home-run record holder Mark McGwire, and seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens were among the high-profile players mentioned. In a statement Dec. 18, Clemens said he had never taken any banned substances.
Calling the drug problem a "collective failure," Mitchell urged baseball authorities not to waste time and money on "contentious disciplinary proceedings." Selig said he would review each case individually to determine whether disciplinary action was needed.
Favre, Brady Set Passing Records - Playing his 16th full season with the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League, quarterback Brett Favre Dec. 16 broke the career passing mark of 61,361 yards set by Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins during his 17-year pro career (1983-99). Favre was making his 251st consecutive regular-season start at QB, also a pro football record. Favre had eclipsed Marino's career mark of 420 touchdowns Sept. 30.
Two regular-season records fell Dec. 29 on a TD pass thrown by New England Patriots QB Tom Brady to wide receiver Randy Moss. The completion was Brady's 50th TD pass of the season, eclipsing the mark of 49 set three seasons earlier by Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts. On the same play, Moss caught his 23rd TD of the season, eclipsing the previous record of 22 set by Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers during the strike-shortened 1987 season. New England's 38-35 victory over the New York Giants boosted the team's record to 16-0, making the Patriots the first NFL franchise to complete the regular-season schedule without a loss since the Dolphins did it in 1972.
Samuel F. B. Morse
Library of Congress
530,000,000 - $ estimated amount of John D. Rockefeller's philanthropy at the time of his death in 1937, which would now equal about $7.7 billion.
44,300,000 - estimated Hispanic population of the U.S. as of July 1, 2006.
670,053 - estimated population of the state of Alaska in July 2006 - about triple its population at the time it attained statehood.
30,000 - $ amount Congress appropriated in 1843 for Samuel F. B. Morse to construct the first experimental telegraph line between Washington, DC, and Baltimore, MD.
1,672 - number of performances of "The Wiz," Broadway's musical adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, at the Majestic Theatre in New York, after premiering in 1975.
466 - number of books written by Isaac Asimov, according to his memoir.
17 - number of Negro League and pre-Negro League members inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
2.5 - length in hours of the first balloon trip across the English Channel (at its narrowest point of 21 miles).
New Year, New Rules
Thirty-one states rang in the New Year with new laws in 2008, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. January 1, 2008, marked the date that many of the laws passed in 2007 go into effect: everything from an air-passenger Bill of Rights in New York (passed unanimously) to voting reform in Colorado, Florida, and Washington.
Most of the new laws understandably connect to issues that made the news in 2007: Illinois now requires public buildings of 1,000 square feet or more use Energy Star-labeled light bulbs (unless the building is on the Historic Register). Washington is banning texting and emailing while driving, while Oregon is simply banning cell phone use altogether for drivers under 18. And a strict Arizona law makes it legal for the state to strip a business of its license if the business knowingly hires illegal workers.
Some of the new laws are a little quirkier, though. Consider the following, from the NCSL website:
* A home seller in Texas must disclose whether the home was used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. (Texas 80th Legislature, HB 271)
* American flags sold in Minnesota must be manufactured in the United States. (Minnesota 85th Regular Session, HB 122)
* Illinois will amend its Domestic Violence Act of 1986 to protect pets. Under the provision, the court can grant a petitioner exclusive care and custody of a pet or animal. (Illinois 95th General Assembly, HB 9)
New Year, New Waistline
Perhaps feeling the pain of too many holiday cocktail parties and dinners, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett put his city on a diet Jan. 3, challenging residents to lose one million pounds together as their New Year's resolutions. "It's always easier if you're doing something hard if you have other people to do it with," Cornett said. The mayor's initiative includes a website, www.thiscityisgoingonadiet.com, which provides local resources for weight loss.
Oklahoma City ranked 15th on a 2007 survey of "America's Fattest Cities" conducted by Men's Fitness magazine. "I can't tell you exactly where you rank in our 2008 survey, but I can tell you that Oklahoma City is in the top ten," said magazine spokesperson Jennifer Krosche.
According to the Trust for America's health, Oklahoma City has the 9th highest adult obesity rate in the nation. Another dubious honor: Oklahoma City consistently places near the top of a list that measures cities with the highest number of so-called "heavy users" of fast food. (A heavy user is defined as a person who eats fast food a dozen or more times per month.)
The official Oklahoma state meal might have to be avoided while the city gets to work on its collective waistline. Officially designated in 1988, the calorie-heavy spread consists of chicken fried steak, fried okra, barbecue pork, biscuits, sausage and gravy, squash, cornbread, grits, corn, strawberries, pecan pie, and black-eyed peas.
Library of Congress
Alice Roosevelt in 1904
New Year's Eve marked the 100th anniversary of the ball dropping in Times Square. The square named for the building that housed The New York Times, between 7th Avenue and Broadway at 42nd Street, began attracting crowds in 1904, when publisher Adolph Ochs initiated a celebration. Then in 1907, a ball was first lowered to signify the New Year. The ball was constructed of iron and wood, weighing 700 pounds (318 kg), measuring 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter and including 100 25-watt bulbs. This tradition has continued for one hundred years, with the exception of 1942 and 1943, when it was suspended because of wartime lighting restrictions.
I just finished reading a book about Alice Roosevelt Longsworth (1884-1980). "Princess Alice," as she was known during her reign as the "First daughter" in Theodore Roosevelt's two administrations, was born in 1884. She never knew her mother or grandmother, since they died within two days of Alice's birth; TR was so distraught by this event that he never spoke of Alice's mother again. Alice married Nicholas Longsworth, and was renowned for her beauty, charm, wit and influential connections. A staunch isolationist, she battled the Hyde Park Roosevelts (Franklin & Eleanor) through the 1930s and 40s. Known as Washington's other monument, she was a fixture on the Washington scene for 80 years.
Here in the U.S. the presidential primary season has begun and with two primaries down (Iowa and New Hampshire), it's clear that it's going to be an interesting year. This will be the first year since 1952 that there will be no sitting or former president or vice president running on either party's ticket. Be sure to check out your World Almanac 2008 Election Guide which includes a guide to key domestic and international issues. The Washington Post has provided a look at the leading presidential candidates, which may help guide you towards your decision as to who to vote for.
Attorney General Kennedy and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 22 June 1963.
1968 was a monumental year in U.S. history. The year started off with Communist forces launching the Tet offensive, which was unexpectedly strong, nearly cutting South Vietnam in half. U.S. optimism at winning the war quickly disappeared, and in March, Pres. Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek reelection. On April 4th, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee, which lead to riots in a number of cities. June brought the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the former U.S. attorney general and U.S. senator, who was campaigning for the Democratic Presidential nomination. The Democratic convention in Chicago is remembered for the Vietnam War protesters and the police, under Mayor Richard Daley. Then in November, Richard Nixon was elected president, which showed an amazing political comeback.
Interesting collection of the month: Mini erasers
I don't know about you, but I must use the Google search engine at least ten times a day. It seems like we've always been online, and that Google has been by our side, but in reality, Google began as a research project by Stanford Ph.D. student Larry Page in 1996! He and Sergey Brin created a search engine that they called BackRub, which analyzed the "back links" pointing to a given website. The domain name came in 1997, and the business was incorporated in 1998. A decade ago the site was handling 10,000 search queries a day, and in 2006 that number was 9,000,000!
Did you make any New Year's Resolutions? The U.S. Government has a list of popular New Year's Resolutions (bingo, I hit #1 - lose weight), as well as some suggestions as to how to attain your goals.
"It's easy to do anything in victory. It's in defeat that a man reveals himself."
- Floyd Patterson., (1936-2006), heavyweight boxing champion
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