Wednesday, October 31, 2007

2007: death of Monster Masher


Bobby "Boris" Pickett, whose Boris Karloff impression propelled his Halloween anthem Monster Mash to the top of the charts in 1962, died of leukemia on April 25, 2007 at the age of 69.

Pickett was one of pop music's most enduring one-hit wonders, and has been called "The Guy Lombardo of Halloween" because of his brief annual bursts of fame.

Monster Mash hit the Billboard chart three times: when it debuted in 1962, selling a million copies and reaching No. 1 the week before Halloween; again in August 1970, and for a third time in May 1973. The resurrections were appropriate for a song where Pickett gravely intoned the forever-stuck-in-your-head chorus: "He did the monster mash. ... It was a graveyard smash."

The novelty hit's fans included Bob Dylan, who played the single on his XM Satellite Radio program in October of 2006. "Our next artist is considered a one-hit wonder, but his one hit comes back year after year," Dylan noted.

The hit single ensured Pickett's place in the pantheon of pop music obscurities, said syndicated radio host Dr. Demento, whose long-running program celebrates offbeat tunes.

"It's certainly the biggest Halloween song of all time," said Demento. The DJ, who interviewed Pickett last year, said he maintained a sense of humor about his singular success: "As he loved to say at oldies shows, `And now I'm going to do a medley of my hit.'"

Pickett's impression of Karloff (who despite his name was an Englishman, born William Henry Pratt) was forged in Somerville, Mass., where the boy watched horror films in a theater managed by his father.

Pickett used the impersonation in a nightclub act and when performing with his band the Cordials. A bandmate convinced Pickett they needed to do a song to showcase the Karloff voice, and "Monster Mash" was born, "written in about a half-hour," said Dr. Demento. The song also includes a line that Pickett delivered in a Bela Lugosi voice: "Whatever happened to my Transylvania Twist?"

The recording, done in a couple of hours, featured a then-unknown piano player named Leon Russell and a backing band christened The Crypt-Kickers. It was rejected by four major labels before Gary Paxton, lead singer on the Hollywood Argyles' novelty hit Alley Oop, released Monster Mash on his own label.

The instant smash became a sort-of Christmas carol for the pumpkin and ghoul set, with spurts in air play and record sales every fall. In a 1996 interview with People magazine, Pickett said he never grew tired of the song: "When I hear it, I hear a cash register ringing."

While Pickett never re-created its success, his Monster's Holiday, a Christmas follow-up, reached No. 30 in December 1962. And Graduation Day hit No. 80 in June 1963. In October 2005, Pickett protested inaction on global warming by releasing Climate Mash, a new version of his hit single. Pickett also recorded a novelty spoof on "Star Trek" called Star Drek, again performing the various voices, which has been played on Dr. Demento's radio show.

He continued performing through his final gig in November. He remained in demand for Halloween performances, including a memorable 1973 show where his bus broke down outside Frankenstein, Mo. (info from The Assocated Press & Wikipedia; photo from

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

2005: first woman drives on Mars

If it weren't for severe motion sickness, Dr. Ashley Stroupe might already have several space shuttle flights under her belt. The child of a NASA engineer, Stroupe devoured all things space-related during her childhood. Her higher education path literally led to the stars; astronomy was her first choice as an undergraduate, but the solitude of that profession lost out to the lure of robotics, where she would have the opportunity to help build and operate spacecraft that might one day visit the planets she studied through telescopes.

Right before the Mars Rovers made history, Stroupe joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at Caltech. While the rovers were getting their "land legs," Stroupe was getting used to working in an oversized sandbox, where young robots train for possible future missions. Intended to precede humans to Mars, these petite teams carry and integrate structural components, simulating remote habitat building.

"We want to send robots ahead of astronauts to build a safe habitat that's already there when they arrive," said Stroupe. "Especially for Mars, if you have to wait six months for a rescue, you want to make sure it's safe when you go."

Giving robots the ability to build habitats and search for resources takes work. Rovers need a very specific set of instructions. "A robot doesn't make assumptions," Stroupe explained. The real challenge is figuring out how to translate what we want it to do into step-by-step instructions, then run the commands and see what it does. It's what I imagine it would be like to watch a child take its first step or go off to school. You get personal satisfaction from having caused that."

As the promise of the two veteran rover explorers on Mars grew, Earthlings who worked on the project were called to work on different missions. Just a few hundred feet down from the sandbox, Stroupe switched from prototypes to actual rovers on Mars.

Initially, Stroupe was among a team of experts who interpreted data sent back by the rovers, analyzing the machines' movements and activities. When still more engineers moved on to other projects, the mission team began to recruit new drivers; experience driving on Mars wasn't necessary. Training would be provided. Stroupe was accepted and driving school began.

As with any driver's education class, you don't just hop into the driver's seat at JPL. Stroupe shadowed a team of eight expert rover drivers. Like responsible parents, skilled drivers hand down knowledge to the newbies, including certain tricks and styles suited to the distinct personalities and unique environments of each rover.

"It's like trying to drive a car by writing a computer program," Stroupe said. "We have to tell it to turn a certain amount, drive a defined distance, take a picture or use its autonavigation function that allows it to reach goals on its own, all while ensuring its safety."

Training with robotics experts at Carnegie Mellon University, Stroupe was well prepared to take on the hefty job of handling the rovers. Still, realizing the enormity of actually controlling a rover on Mars is nothing less than awe-inspiring to her.

When someone casually mentioned to her that she was the first woman to drive a rover on Mars, it came as a surprise to Stroupe. After all, nearly half of the rover team is made up of women. Still, the title makes her proud and she hopes it will be inspiring to other people who want to be "firsts" in their fields.

"The most personal satisfaction is getting to work with these rovers and this incredible team. You can't do a project with just one or two people. It's such a rare opportunity for me as an engineer to work with scientists and engineers and feel like I'm making a real, significant contribution to forwarding science and our understanding of our solar system and universe. It's incredibly rewarding," she beamed. "And whether anybody ever knows my name or not, they'll see my [rover] tracks. I guess I have made my mark on Mars!" (photo from NASA, info from MarsDaily)

Monday, October 29, 2007

1918: Red Sox win their 5th World Series
2004: Red Sox win their 6th World Series
2007: Red Sox win their 7th World Series

It's official: the Curse of the Bambino is now over.

The Curse of the Bambino was a superstition cited, often jokingly, as a reason for the failure of the Boston Red Sox baseball team to win the World Series in the 86 year period from 1918 until 2004.

Prior to the Curse, the Boston Red Sox was one of the most successful professional baseball franchises, winning the first ever World Series in 1903, and amassing five World Series titles by 1918.

The Curse was said to have begun after the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth, sometimes called The Bambino, to the New York Yankees at the end of 1919. The flip side of the Curse was New York's success after the sale, the once-lackluster Yankees became one of the most successful franchises in North American professional sports. While some fans took the Curse seriously, most used the expression in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

Talk of the Curse as an ongoing phenomenon ended in 2004, at the 100th World Series, when the Red Sox came back from an 0-3 best-in-seven deficit to beat the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series and then went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals to win the 2004 World Series and the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 World Series.

It was such a part of Boston culture that when a road sign on the city's much-used Storrow Drive was vandalized from "Reverse Curve" to "Reverse The Curse", officials left it in place until after the Red Sox won the Series.

Although the title drought dates back to 1918, the sale of Ruth to the Yankees was completed January 3, 1920. In standard Curse lore, Red Sox owner and theatrical producer Harry Frazee used the proceeds from the sale to finance the production of a Broadway musical, usually specified as No, No, Nanette. In fact, Frazee backed many productions before and after Ruth's sale, and "Nanette" did not debut until five years after the Ruth sale and two years after Frazee sold the Red Sox. In 1921, Red Sox manager Ed Barrow left to take over as GM of the Yankees. Other Red Sox players were later sold or traded to the Yankees as well.

Prior to Ruth leaving Boston, the Red Sox had won five of the first fifteen World Series, with Ruth pitching for the 1916 and 1918 championship teams. (He was with the Sox in the Series in 1915 but the manager used him only once, as a pinch-hitter; he did not pitch in that Series.) The Yankees did not play in any World Series up to that time. In the ensuing 84 years after the sale, the Yankees played in 39 World Series, winning 26 of them, twice as many as any other team in Major League Baseball. Meanwhile, over the same time span, the Red Sox played in only four World Series and lost each in seven games.

Red Sox fans attempted various methods over the years to exorcise their famous Curse. These included placing a Boston cap atop Mt. Everest and burning a Yankees cap at its base camp; hiring professional exorcists and Father Guido Sarducci to "purify" Fenway Park; and finding a piano owned by Ruth that he had supposedly pushed into a pond near his Home Plate Farm in Sudbury, MA.

Some declared the Curse broken in 2004 when a foul ball hit by Manny Ramirez struck a boy's face, knocking out two teeth. The boy (16-year-old Lee Gavin, a Boston fan whose favorite player was and remains Ramirez) lives on the Sudbury farm once owned by Ruth.

That same day, the Yankees suffered their worst loss in team history, a 22-0 clobbering at home against the Cleveland Indians.

Some fans also cite a comedy Curse-breaking ceremony performed by musician Jimmy Buffett and his warm-up team (one dressed as Ruth and one dressed as a witch doctor) at a Fenway concert in September 2004.

Some believe the Curse was transfered to the Yankees when it was decided to tear down Yankee Stadium, "The House that Ruth Built." The Yankees officially announced the New Yankee Stadium in June 2005. (info from Wikipedia)

Friday, October 26, 2007

1992: Taco Bell tries selling tacos in Mexico
2007: Taco Bell tries again
(Won't offer corn fungus or cow eyes)

It sounds like a fast-food grudge match, or selling ice to the Eskimos: Taco Bell is taking on the homeland of its namesake by reopening in Mexico after a 15 year absence. Defenders of Mexican culture see the chain's re-entry as a crowning insult to a society already overrun by US chains - from Starbucks and Subway to KFC.

The company's advertising - "Taco Bell is something else" - is an attempt to distance itself from any comparison to Mexico's beloved taquerias, which sell traditional corn tortillas stuffed with an endless variety of fillings, from spicy beef to corn fungus and cow eyes.

Taco Bell made its name promoting its menu to Americans as something straight out of Mexico. But it's a very different dynamic south of the border. There, the company is projecting a more "American" fast-food image by adding french fries - some topped with cheese, cream, ground meat and tomatoes - to the menu at its first store, which opened in late September in the northern city of Monterrey. Other than the fries and soft-serve ice cream, the menu comes almost directly from the US menu.

Some of the names have been changed to protect the sacred: the hard-shelled items sold as "tacos" in the U.S. have been renamed "tacostadas." This made-up word is a play on "tostada," which for Mexicans is a hard, fried disk of cornmeal that is always served flat, with toppings.

But while Mexicans eagerly buy many American brands, the taco holds a place of honor in the national cuisine. Mexicans eat them everywhere, anytime of day, buying them from basket-toting street vendors in the morning or slathering them in salsa at brightly lit taquerias to wrap up a night on the town.

Taco Bell has taken pains to say that it's not trying to masquerade as a Mexican tradition. "One look alone is enough to tell that Taco Bell is not a 'taqueria,'" the company said in an ad. "It is a new fast-food alternative that does not pretend to be Mexican food."

It's still a mixed message for Mexicans, such as Marco Fragoso, a 39-year-old office worker sitting down for lunch at a traditional taqueria in Mexico City, because the US chain uses traditional Mexican names for its burritos, gorditas and chalupas. "They're not tacos," Fragoso said. "They're folded tostadas. They're very ugly."

Taco Bell failed with an earlier launch in Mexico City in 1992. Mexicans were less familiar with foreign chains back then and the economy was in trouble. The North American Free Trade Agreement had not yet been signed.

Those restaurants didn't even last two years. Since then, free trade and growing migration have made US brands ubiquitous in Mexico, influencing how people dress, talk, and eat. (info from The Associated Press)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

2003: more than half of Americans have cellphones

The cellular population exceeded half of the number of men, women and children living in the United States for the first time at the end of June 2003, when the penetration rate hit 50.9 percent.

The cellular penetration rate at the end of June 2007 hit 80.5 percent of the 302.2 million US resident population. That’s up from 73.4 percent at the end of June 2006, 65.6 percent at the end of June 2005, and 57.7 percent at the end of June 2004. (info from CTIA-The Wireless Association)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

2034: last California resident leaves

With the "Great Fire of 2007" now in its 27th year, 84-year-old Andrew "The Last Californian" Goldberg has packed up his clothing in San Bernardino, and is headed to Tucson to live with his sister.

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, interviewed in the Las Vegas nursing home where he moved in 2025, said "it's very sad to see our once beautiful state abandoned; but the fires, land slides and earthquakes make it unfit for human habitation. Back in 1851, a newspaper writer in Indiana urged 'Go West, young man,' but the Pacific coast was just too far west. People should have stopped at Salt Lake City or Phoenix or Boise."

Evacuation of Southern California was ordered in 2009 by President Barack Obama, and other parts of the state were gradually emptied in later years. A few hold-outs hid in cabins and tents in the Napa Valley, and in caves in Death Valley, but were eventually hunted down and forced to move by National Guard troops after the end of the Iraq War in 2031. Andrew Goldberg was a Federal employee who supervised the cataloging and packing of municipal archives, and his work just finished.

Fire-fighting efforts, and Social Security benefits, were terminated in 2012 when their daily cost equalled the cost of the Iraq War. Congress acknowledged that "we must fight the Shi'ites, but we can't fight Mother Nature," and stopped funding FEMA and Federal insurance programs.

Also in 2012, the government re-opened several detention camps that were used for Japanese-Americans during World War 2, to provide temporary housing for former Californians until they could arrange for permanent housing. Californians were granted a one-time payment of $250,000 per family for re-location in the US, or $1,000,000 for re-location in other countries.

Osama Bin Laden was found hiding in the charred remains of the Armani boutique on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills last year.

The US Coast Guard maintains rescue stations on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, and on Catalina Island near the former city of Long Beach, and there are several robotic light houses and weather stations along the coast.

California was settled by the Spanish, and became the nation's 31st state in 1850. At one time it held more people than any other state (over 36,000,000 people -- 12% of the US total) and had important economic and political influence in the country. It was the third largest state, with 163,707 square miles.

The state's physical and economic infrastructures were dismantled and re-located. Wine makers moved to Australia and Bosnia. Hollywood was re-constructed in Toronto, Canada. Silicon Valley was re-constituted up the coast near Redmond, Washington. Surfing moved south, to Baja California (part of Mexico). Orange growers moved to Florida and Israel. Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm are now in Bangalore, India. The Golden Gate Bridge now spans the Jordan River. San Francisco's cable cars are in Nepal. Television production moved to Las Vegas. Several historic missions and forts from California's time as a Spanish colony were dismantled and reconstructed on the campus of Bob Jones University in South Carolina.

Colleges, universities, libraries and museums were dispersed nationwide and worldwide. Large percentages of San Francisco's Chinatown and Los Angeles's Iranian Jewish populations -- even people born in the US -- moved to China and Iran. Most Californians of Mexican ancestry moved to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas or Mexico. Small "California Town" neighborhoods have sprouted up around the US, as havens for refugees, and sources for West Coast foods and fashions.

In 2025, when the known population of the former "Golden State" dropped below 1,000, it lost its statehood, and was re-labeled "The Western Territory." For two years, the US had just 49 states, but got back to 50 when Puerto Rico was granted statehood in 2027, and reached 53 states with the admission of Cuba, Bermuda and Israel in 2029.

The number of states may change several times in the near future. Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, the Cayman Islands, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Macao, Monaco, Vatican City, Uzbekistan, Palestine, Sicily, and the Republic of Suriname are seeking American statehood. Maine has voted to leave the US and become part of Canada. Hawaii wants to become an independent kingdom, and North and South Dakota are expected to merge.

President Romney is pursuing a growth by annexation program, and said in last year's State of the Union Address, "Baskin-Robbins has made over 1,000 ice cream flavors, and I see no reason why the USA can't have 1,000 states. It's a little sad to lose Hawaii and Maine, but most of the people in Hawaii are Japanese tourists, and Maine has more moose than people anyway, so it's no big deal. To keep growing our GNP and assets, we need to consider lots of potential states, and different kinds of states. Why can't we buy Greenland, or grab the Moon and the Sun?"

China, Mexico, Dubai, Apple-Micro-Google-Sony-AT&T, and the Walt Disney Corp. have expressed interest in purchasing the former California, and Congress is expected to begin considering an auction in the near future, to help pay for the Iraq War debt. (photo from the Associated Press)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

2007: Microsoft ends 9-year legal battle in Europe, will cooperate with competitors

Microsoft dropped a nearly decade-long legal battle with European regulators Monday, agreeing to key parts of an antitrust ruling that has already led to hundreds of millions in fines.

The world's largest software company will slash the royalties it charges rivals for interoperability information needed to make programs that work smoothly with Microsoft's ubiquitous Windows operating system. It will make access to the data easier for open source developers.

Microsoft said it would not appeal a EU Court of First Instance decision on Sept. 17 that turned down its challenge to a 2004 European Commission order that found it guilty of monopoly abuse.

The major issues with Microsoft have been resolved, but Microsoft could still face penalties for overcharging royalties on interoperability information. Backdated daily fines would stop as of Oct. 22.

EU officials last year cited possible problems with Vista's integrated security software, Internet search, digital rights management tools for copyright protection and software for creating documents in a format similar to Adobe Systems Inc. (ADBE)'s Portable Document Format, or PDF.

Microsoft has now agreed to substantial changes for server software, the EU said, giving greater access to data it previously said was secret and valuable.

The company will now charge a one-time fee of $14,310 to any developer - including those working on open source systems such as Linux - for "complete and accurate" technical information to help make software compatible with Windows. It had previously demanded a percentage of future sales.

Developers - such as IBM and Sun, which sell software based on Linux - will pay a worldwide patent fee of 0.4 percent of revenues for Microsoft's data. Microsoft's original rate was 5.95 percent.

Microsoft will now charge for only 31 server protocols under patent instead of the 154 originally offered for licensing.

Following the Court of First Instance's ruling in September, the company "had no reason to believe that they would get anything different from appellate court," said Keith Hylton, a professor at Boston University School of Law. "Even a deep-pocketed firm like Microsoft has to stop spending money on litigation at some point," he said, noting that the software company also recently withdrew its appeal of a South Korean antitrust decision.

If the software maker does not keep to the terms of the deal, competitors will be able to take the company to Britain's High Court to seek damages.

Regulators warned that Microsoft had "ongoing obligations to continue to comply" with the 2004 ruling that found it guilty of monopoly abuse, ordering it to share information with rivals, market a version of Windows without a media player and pay a fine of $613 million. (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, October 22, 2007

2003, or 2005, or 2007: laptops outsell desktops

Sales of laptop computers in stores in the United States outpaced those of desktop computers for the first time in 2003, according to research firm NPD Group. Laptops accounted for more than 54 percent of the nearly $500 million in retail computer sales in May 2003, the company said. That contrasts with January 2000, when laptops represented less than 25 percent of sales volume.

Strangely, the laptop victory happened in 2005, according to research firm Current Analysis. They said sales of laptops accounted for 53 percent of the total PC market in May 2005, up from 46 percent a year earlier.

An finally, today the New York Times said "this is the first year that laptops have made up more than 50 percent of computer sales in this country."

Friday, October 19, 2007

748: first newspaper in Asia
1605: first newspaper in Europe
1690: first newspaper in North America

According to the World Association of Newspapers, Johann Carolus (1575 - 1634) was the publisher of the first newspaper, called Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien (Collection of all distinguished and commemorable news). The Relation was first published in Strassburg, Germany, in 1605.

However, there are other possible first newspapers, depending on how the term is defined. Pre-history "newspapers" were one-to-one in nature. The earliest variation on a newspaper was a hand-scribed daily sheet published in 59 BC in Rome called Acta Diurna (Daily Events), which Julius Caesar ordered posted throughout the city. The earliest known printed newspaper was in Beijing in 748.

Zeitung (newspaper) is a news report published in Germany in 1502, while Trewe Encountre becomes the earliest known English-language news sheet in 1513. Germany's Avisa Relation oder Zeitung, in 1605, was the first regularly published newspaper in Europe. Forty-four years after the first newspaper in England, the Oxford Gazette is published, utilizing double columns for the first time; the Oxford/London Gazette is considered the first true newspaper. The first North American newspaper, Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick, was published in 1690 in Boston.

(info from wikipedia,,

Thursday, October 18, 2007

1954: first "Tonight" show

The Tonight Show is NBC's long-running late-night talk and variety show, now in its 52nd season. It's the second longest-running entertainment program in US television history (after soap opera Guiding Light). Its roots date back to a local New York program called Broadway Open House in the early 1950s.

"Tonight!" was originally hosted by Steve Allen in 1954. Allen’s regular side-kick was Ernie Kovacs. Kovacs became known as "the first commercial tonight show tv television artist." Ernie Kovacs alternated hosting the show with Steve Allen. However, it was Steve Allen who established many of the standards of late night television, introducing the desk and couch and an emphasis on conversations with guests.

While NBC executive Pat Weaver is credited as the Tonight Show creator (he created its morning companion, Today), Allen had already created much of the structure of Tonight with his local New York late-night Steve Allen Show, which premiered in 1953 on WNBT-TV, now WNBC-TV. The announcer was Gene Rayburn. The show's orchestra was first conducted by Bobby Byrne and then Skitch Henderson.

Among the regular features that became classics were Steve’s passionate readings of “Letters to the Editor,” adlib interviews of his audience, and mock Man-on-the-Street interviews. Regular characters included Tom Poston, Louis Nye, and Don Knotts.

Poston earned an Emmy award for his work with Paar, and played numerous characters, typically the befuddled common man on the street.

Nye primarily played urbane, wealthy bon vivant types (in contrast, his parents were both Yiddish speaking Jews born in Russia). His characterization of the delightfully pretentious country-club braggart Gordon Hathaway, his catchphrase, "Hi, ho, Steve-a-reeno," and Allen's inability to resist bursting into hysterical laughter at Nye's ad-libs during gags, made Nye one of the favorites on Allen's show.

Knotts always played a man obviously very nervous and breathing heavily about being on camera. The humor in the interviews would be increased when Knotts stated his occupation -- always one that wouldn't be appropriate for such a nervous, shaking person, such as a surgeon or explosives expert.

Crazy Shots was an original idea setting eccentric sight gags to music that later was used on such shows as Laugh-In.

Steve writes in his book, Hi-Ho Steverino!, "The program appealed to TV viewers tired of a diet of old Charlie Chan movies and the frenetic tempo of Broadway Open House, which it replaced, and it enjoyed popularity from the start. For the first time since coming to New York I felt completely in my element in television, partly because the new program was much like my old Hollywood radio show, only instead of a table I now sat at a desk. There was very little script, mostly ad-lib chatter, questions from the audience, guest and audience interviews, piano music, and songs from Steve and Eydie, the band and myself.”

"When we first started the show, I had no writers at all; none were needed. Occasionally I would write a comic monologue or a simple sketch for a guest and myself, but all I actually required on a typical night was a piano, a couple of amusing letters form viewers, a newspaper article that had caught my fancy, an unusual toy that a member of my staff had picked up, a guest or two to chat with, and an audience to interview."

He hosted other comedy and variety shows on various networks from the 1950s through the 1980s, and emceed the game show I've Got A Secret. From 1977-81 he wrote and starred in A Meeting of Minds, a fictional talk show starring famous figures from history. On film he played jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman in the 1955 movie The Benny Goodman Story. Allen also claimed to have composed more than 7900 songs; in one famous stunt he dashed off 400 quickie tunes in one day. His best-known song is probably This Could Be The Start of Something Big, and his Gravy Waltz won a 1963 Grammy as best jazz composition. He was the author of over 50 books, including The Talk Show Murders (1982). An autopsy after Allen's death revealed that his fatal heart failure was likely caused by a minor traffic accident earlier the same day.

Allen's second wife was the actress Jayne Meadows, sister of The Honeymooners star Audrey Meadows.

In 1957, Jack Paar took over as host from Steve Allen. "The Jack Paar Tonight Show" ran for almost five years and ended in 1962.

It was during Paar's stint as host that The Tonight Show became the entertainment juggernaut that it remained for the next five decades. No other host generated the degree of obsessive fascination in the press or the public that Paar did, partly because his version of the television talk show was so amazingly unpredictable, with memorable occurrences like a slurring drunk Judy Garland talking about her rival Marlene Dietrich. Both John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon appeared separately on the show when they were running against each other for president in 1960, and Robert F. Kennedy later granted Paar the first interview after his brother's assassination.

The Tonight focus was always on compelling conversation and Paar's guests tended to be literate raconteurs such as Peter Ustinov rather than actors promoting their current films, while Paar himself was a superb storyteller. Further, Paar surrounded himself with a memorable group of regulars and semi-regulars, including Cliff Arquette (as the homespun "Charlie Weaver"), author-illustrator Alexander King, Tedi Thurman (NBC's sultry "Miss Monitor") and comedy actresses Peggy Cass and Dody Goodman. In 1959, Paar's gagwriter Jack Douglas became a bestselling author (My Brother Was an Only Child, A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Grave: An Autobiography) after his regular appearances with Paar.

During this time, Paar also made occasional appearances on the television game shows Password and What's My Line? On episode 215 of the latter, Paar filled in as guest panelist for Steve Allen, his predecessor at The Tonight Show.

In 1959, Paar was criticized for his interview with Fidel Castro. Two years later, he broadcast his show from Berlin just as the Berlin Wall was going up. He also sustained numerous cancellations from sponsors of the show, when he would make ad-libs during live commercials for that sponsor's product, such as once describing a brand of men's underwear that sponsored his show as "fitting so tight, it's like being hugged by a midget." Paar also engaged in a number of public feuds, one of them with CBS luminary Ed Sullivan.

Paar was often unpredictable and emotional. The most salient example of this kind of on-screen behavior was demonstrated in 1960. One of his jokes was cut from a broadcast by studio censors. The joke in question involved a woman writing to a vacation resort and inquiring about the availability of a "W.C." The woman used that term to mean "water closet" (i.e., bathroom), but the gentleman who received the letter misunderstood "W.C." to mean "wayside chapel" (i.e., church). The full text of the joke reveals multiple double entendres that are tame by today's standards, but too much for the network to bear in 1960. NBC replaced that section of the show with news coverage and failed to inform Paar of their decision.

The decision to censor the joke so angered Paar that the next night, February 11, he announced on the air that he was leaving the show, saying "I've made a decision about what I'm going to do. I'm leaving The Tonight Show. There must be a better way to make a living than this, a way of entertaining people without being constantly involved in some form of controversy. I love NBC [...] But they let me down." After finishing this monologue, Paar abruptly walked offstage, leaving his flustered announcer Hugh Downs to finish the show for him.

Less than a month later, Paar was convinced to return; on March 7 he opened his monologue with the now-famous line, "As I was saying before I was interrupted...I believe the last thing I said was 'There must be a better way to make a living than this.' Well, I've looked...and there isn't." He then went on to explain his departure with typical frankness: "Leaving the show was a childish and perhaps emotional thing. I have been guilty of such action in the past and will perhaps be again. I'm totally unable to hide what I feel. It is not an asset in show business, but I shall do the best I can to amuse and entertain you and let other people speak freely, as I have in the past."

In 1962, Johnny Carson became the host of The Tonight Show.

Johnny began his career at age 14 with a magic act called "The Great Carsoni" in Norfolk, NE, where he grew up. As a Navy ensign aboard the USS Pennsylvania in 1945, he was the only officer to consciously entertain enlisted men during shows on the ship. While a student at the University of Nebraska, he was allowed to be late for his first class so that he could work at a local radio station, KFAB and then worked at WOW in Omaha, where he wrote comedy and announced commercials for a 15-minute program.

Deciding that his future was in California, he landed a job in 1950 as staff announcer for KNXT (now KCBS-TV) in Los Angeles, where he soon hosted his own program, "Carson's Cellar." It ran until mid 1953.

He temporarily stopped his on-camera appearances to write material for Red Skelton's TV program. One night, just before air time, Skelton ran into a break-away door and suffered a concussion. On short notice, Johnny went on in Red Skelton's place, opening the show with a monologue he had put together while driving to the studio. Jack Benny's reactions: "The kid is great, just great," and "You better watch that Carson kid."

At 29, Carson became host of his own network show, "Earn Your Vacation," while also appearing as a substitute host for Jack Paar, on CBS's "The Morning Show." Carson continued to appear on CBS until 1956.

In 1957 he moved to ABC as host of a new daytime game show, "Who Do You Trust?." It was his first teaming with his future "Tonight" announcer, Ed McMahon. In 1958 he was again asked to fill in for Paar, this time on NBC's "The Tonight Show." On October 1, 1962, Groucho Marx introduced Carson to the nation's late-night television audience as the new host of "The Tonight Show." Johnny's first words, reacting to applause as he walked onstage for the first time: "Boy, you would think it was Vice President Nixon."

When Johnny started, the show was originating from New York and was taped on the same evening that it aired. Johnny was on all five nights and began his monologue when the show began at 11:15 pm.

In February 1965 the 11:15-11:30 pm. segment was turned over to Ed McMahon and Skitch Henderson. On January 2, 1967 this first fifteen minutes was dropped from the show, leaving the show at 90 minutes.

Recurring bits included "Stump the Band," "Carnac the Magnificent," with Carson as a bad psychic; "Aunt Blabby," with Carson as a gossiping little old lady; "The Mighty Carson Art Players," spoofing movies, commercials, TV shows, and events in the news; "Floyd R. Turbo," with Carson as a "not so bright" super-patriot; and "The Art Fern Tea Time Movie," with Carol Wayne as the original "Matinee Lady."

The show would remain at 90 minutes in length until 1980 when it was cut back to one hour.

In May 1972 the show permanently moved from New York to Burbank, California. It was then that Johnny began offering the Monday nights to a guest host. The most frequent guest hosts were:

Joey Bishop (177 times)
Joan Rivers (93 times)
Bob Newhart (87 times)
John Davidson (87 times)
David Brenner (70 times)
McLean Stevenson (58 times)
Jerry Lewis (52 times)
David Letterman (51 times)

Joan Rivers was the "permanent" guest host from September 1983 until 1986. The Tonight Show reverted to various guest hosts after Joan left, with Jay Leno the most frequent. Leno then became the exclusive guest host in the fall of 1987, a position he held for the remainder of Johnny's reign.

Johnny's final telecast on May 22 1992 was a national event. A quiet reminiscence about the show's golden moments over the past 30 years. Johnny avoided show business after leaving the show. He won six Emmy Awards, received the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' prestigious Governors' Award and a George Foster Peabody Award. In 1987 he was inducted into the ATAS Hall of Fame. And for his humanitarian efforts, the American Friends of Hebrew University honored him with the Scopus Award. In 1992, Johnny won the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the American Comedy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1993 he received the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award. Johnny passed away peacefully January 23, 2005

Johnny was succeeded in 1992 by Jay Leno (after a sometimes-vicious competition with David Letterman). Leno has announced that he will step down as host in 2009, and has named current Late Night host Conan O'Brien as his successor. The studio in "beautiful downtown Burbank" (as Carson called it) will be sold in 2009, and the show will move to the Universal Studio outside of LA.

The Tonight Show became the first American television show to broadcast with stereo sound in 1984. On April 26, 1999, it became the first American nightly talk show to be shot in HD.

A kinescope film exists of the very first broadcast of The Tonight Show (then called simply, Tonight). Steve Allen welcomed viewers with the warning, "This show is going to last forever", referring to the running time. He has yet to be proven wrong. (info from, Steve, and Wikipedia) (photo from shows Zsa Zsa Gabor with Steve Allen)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

1977: US Supreme Court changes the phone business, and my life

Today, the telephone is just another consumer electronics product. It's not much different from a television or a PC or stereo system. You can choose from hundreds of models sold by thousands of dealers, buy it, open the box, plug it in, and use it.

It wasn't always that way.

For about a hundred years, people rented phones from their local phone companies.

Most Americans were served by AT&T-owned phone companies, and rented phones that were made in AT&T's Western Electric factories.

Many others were served by GT&E-owned phone companies, and rented phones made in GT&E's Automatic Electric factories.

Customers of smaller "independent" phone companies rented phones made by IT&T, Stromberg-Carlson, Northern Electric, and sometimes by GT&E or AT&T or tiny companies that are long gone.

A phone's rental fee included on-premises repairs, and phones were built to work for decades. Some 50-year-old phones still work fine.

Led by AT&T, the nation's phone companies had very restictive rules ("tarrifs") that dictated what customers could do and could not do. These tarrifs were approved by federal and state governments, and functioned like federal and state laws. Some tariffs made sense. Some didn't. Obfuscation was common, and tariffs were generally approved with little debate by the governing bodies.

For most people, the most annoying, restrictive, and costly tarrifs were those that prohibited "foreign attachments" to phone company property.

The phone companies tried to scare their customers with bogus warnings about dangers to the national communications network. They implied that if someone plugged an IT&T phone into an AT&T phone jack (or an AT&T phone into a GT&E phone jack), satellites would fall from the sky, radar would fail to sense incoming Russian bombers, and lineman would get electrocuted on the telephone poles. Theoretically, if you put a plastic cover on a phone book -- which was phone company property -- you could get arrested by a state trooper.

In reality, most phone equipment was quite safe, reliable, and compatible. Out of public view, AT&T phone companies bought central office switches from Northern Telecom, and GT&E supplied phones made by IT&T, and IT&T sold phone systems made by Fujitsu... and the phones kept ringing just fine. Lots of people used "illegal" phones without causing harm -- except to the phone companies' profits.

Gradually, the Feds forced the phone companies to be less restrictive.

Hush-a-Phone v. FCC was a ground-breaking ruling in telecommunications law, decided by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in 1956. Hush-a-Phone was a small, cup-like device which mounted over the transmitting end of a telephone handset, reducing the risk of conversations being overheard, and decreasing the transmission of noise.

AT&T, citing the Communications Act of 1934, claimed the right to forbid attachment to the telephone of any device not furnished by the telephone company. Initially, the FCC found that the device was a "foreign attachment" subject to AT&T control and that unrestricted use of the device could, in the commission's opinion, result in a general deterioration of the quality of telephone service.

The court's decision, which exonerated Hush-a-Phone Co. and prohibited further interference by AT&T toward Hush-a-Phone users, stated that AT&T's prohibition of the device was not "just, fair, and reasonable", as required under the Communications Act of 1934, as the device "does not physically impair any of the facilities of the telephone companies", nor did it "affect more than the conversation of the user".

In 1968, the FCC allowed the Carterfone to be connected directly to the AT&T network. The Carterphone provided a connection between two-way radio and telephone. When someone on the radio neededed to speak to someone on the "landline" phone, the station operator at the Carterfone base would dial the number. When callers on the radio and on the telephone were both in contact with the base station operator, the handset of the operator's telephone was placed on a cradle in the Carterfone to enable a conversation.

Later on, the Feds forced the telcos to allow businesses to connect actual phone systems -- not just gadgets --, but they had to be connected through a complex "registered protective coupler" that theoretically would keep a privately-owned phone system from damaging the public phone network, and causing the satellites to fall and allow Russian bombers to approach un-detected.

The couplers had to be rented from the local phone companies, at a cost of about $10 per line per month. This was not a big deal for a company with a large PBX system, with perhaps a hundred phones sharing a dozen phone lines, but it didn't make sense for small businesses and residential customers.

It was no good to buy three phones to save $9 in monthly phone rental, and then pay $10 per month to rent the coupler.

The coupler rental program was supported by the FCC, but on October 17, 1977, the US Supreme Court overruled the FCC and slammed the phone companies and changed my life.

Operating under the premise that any phone device that is privately beneficial without being publicly harmful, the Supremes dictated that people could connect phones directly to the network, without renting that stupid coupler, as long as the phones met certain technical standards (basically, the same AT&T-dictated standards that phones already met).

Phone equipment makers and refurbishers had to test their products, and label them to assure buyers and the phone companies that the equipment met the Federal standards. Each item had an FCC registration number, and consumers and phone installers had to contact the phone companies and tell them the registration numbers prior to plugging in.

A new bureaucracy appeared at the Bell companies -- the Centralized Operations Group ("COG") -- that handled installation requests from phone system sellers. These businesses were known as "interconnect companies," because they supplied products that interconnected with the public telephone network.

For several years, interconnect companies had to submit a notarized "notice of intent to interconnect," that detailed the equipment to be installed and the services needed from the telcos. By the mid-1980s, the COGs and notarized forms largely disappeared, and people plugged in whatever they wanted to. Some stupid rules lingered. At one time, New York Telephone (later NYNEX, Bell Atlantic, and Verizon) allowed connection of privately-owned one-line phones, or 29-line phones, but not 2-line phones.

At the time of the Supreme Court ruling, your humble editor was an advertising copywriter, with a long history of installing illegal phones. I hereby confess to my many crimes; but I'm proud to declare that my work never caused radar failure at the DEW Line ("Distant Early Warning" system). No Russian bombers reached the US because of a phone I installed, or because my mother put a vinyl cover on the phone book in our kitchen.

I sensed that the new legal environment provided a big business opportunity, and considered making the phone business my daytime job, and switching my writing to the dark hours. Starting a new business is risky, but my father told me that if I didn't try it, I could regret it for the rest of my life.

After 30 years, I'm still in the phone business during the day, and writing when it's dark out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

2007: first baby boomer
applies for Social Security

The nation's "first" baby boomer, a retired teacher from New Jersey, applied for Social Security retirement benefits Monday, signaling the start of an avalanche of applications from the post World War II generation.

Kathleen Casey-Kirschling applied for benefits over the Internet at an event hosted by Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue.

Casey-Kirschling was born one second after midnight on Jan. 1, 1946, gaining her recognition as the first baby boomer — a generation of nearly 80 million born from 1946 to 1964.

Your humble editor is a proud member of the first cohort of the baby boom, born a few months after Kathleen. Other '46 boomers who can file for Social Security retirement money soon include Donny Trump, Billy Clinton, Georgie Bush, Laura Bush, Tricia Nixon, Ted Bundy, Howard Shrobe, Strobe Talbott, Uri Geller, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Dick Wolf, John Waters, Michael Ovitz, Jann Wenner, Karen Silkwood, Gianni Versace, Diane von Furstenberg, Bob Vila, Gene Siskel, Dolly Parton, Candy Bergen, Loni Anderson, Tommy Lee Jones, Liza Minnelli, Cher, Donovan, Billy Preston, Edgar Winter, Marianne Faithfull, Linda Ronstadt, Barry Gibb, Leslie Gore, Al Green, Mean Joe Greene, Danny Glover, Demond Wilson, Vincent Pastore, Tommy Lee Jones, Sylvester Stallone, Susan Lucci, Michael Tucci, Cheech Marin, Diane Keaton, Duane Allman, Patti Smith, Jimmy Buffett, Jimmy Webb, Freddy Mercury, Naiomi Judd, Deepak Chopra, Connie Chung, Patty Duke, Suzanne Somers, Susan Sarandon, Carrie Snodgress, Jill Eikenberry, Gilda Radner, Ed O'Neill, Talia Shire, Sally Field, Victoria Principal, Eugene Levy, Craig T. Nelson, Sandy Duncan, Emerson Fittipaldi, Andre The Giant, Ilie Nastase, Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson. (Yes, I know that a few of the '46ers above have died, and some are not Americans, but they are still part of the club.)

Casey-Kirschling will be eligible for benefits after she turns 62 next year. She taught seventh graders for 14 years at a school near Camden, N.J., before retiring and volunteering for the Red Cross in Gulf Coast areas hit by Hurricane Katrina.

An estimated 10,000 people a day will become eligible for Social Security benefits over the next two decades, Astrue said. The Social Security trust fund, if left alone, is projected to go broke in 2041.

But Astrue said he is optimistic that Congress will address the issue, perhaps after the 2008 presidential election. President Bush had proposed changes in Social Security to create private accounts, but the proposal went nowhere in Congress.

Last week, Bush's budget director called the growth in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid a "fiscal train wreck." The three entitlement programs make up nearly half of all federal spending, a share that is expected to grow.

A report issued last month by the Treasury Department said that some combination of benefit cuts and tax increases will need to be considered to permanently fix the Social Security shortfall. But White House officials stressed that Bush remains opposed to raising taxes.

Casey-Kirschling said her generation won't let Social Security fail.

"I think the baby boomers will want to get this fixed," she said. "They're going to want to take care of their children and their grandchildren." (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, October 15, 2007

1865: invention of petroleum jelly

The raw material for petroleum jelly (also known as petrolatum or soft paraffin) was discovered in 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania where it was stuck to some of the first oil rigs in the US. Oil workers disliked the goo because it caused oil rigs to jam, but they used it on cuts and burns because it hastened healing.

Robert Chesebrough, a young chemist whose previous work of distilling fuel from the oil of sperm whales had been rendered obsolete by petroleum, went to Titusville to see what new materials had commercial potential. Chesebrough took the unrefined black "rod wax", as the drillers called it, back to his laboratory to refine it and explore potential uses. In 1865, Chesebrough discovered that by distilling the lighter, thinner oil products from the rod wax, he could create a light-colored gel.

By 1870, Chesebrough was marketing his petroleum jelly product as Vaseline (claimed to be from the German word for water (wasser -- pronounced vahser), and the Greek word for oil (elaion), but this is unconfirmed). He patented the process in 1872.

Chesebrough traveled around New York State demonstrating the product to encourage sales by burning his skin with acid or an open flame, then spreading the ointment on his injuries and showing his past injuries healed, he claimed, by his miracle product. He opened his first factory in 1870 in Brooklyn, and within ten years, the product's increased exposure and popularity meant that almost every household in America had a jar of Vaseline.

Chesebrough expanded his business to Canada, the United Kingdom and British colonies around the world. New mothers used it as an absorbent shield for diaper rash. People working in extreme cold weather used it to relieve dry chapped skin. Commander Robert Peary took Vaseline with him when he became (as is generally accepted) the first man to reach the North Pole, because it wouldn't freeze.

By the late 1880s, Chesebrough was selling Vaseline nationwide at the rate of one jar per minute, and most medical professionals recognized Vaseline as the standard remedy for skin complaints.

By 1911, the company began opening operation plants and factories in Europe, Canada, and Africa in order to facilitate the manufacture and distribution of the product.

During the First World War, Vaseline had been used by US soldiers for cuts and bruises and to prevent sunburn. And many medical officers carried tubes of Vaseline® with them to treat minor cuts or burns. During the Second World War, Vaseline was commissioned to produce a sterile antiseptic wound dressing containing petroleum jelly.

In 1955, Chesebrough Manufacturing Co. merged with Pond's Extract Company (known for Pond’s cold cream) to form Chesebrough-Ponds, Inc. During the 1960s, the company continued to expand to locales such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and India.
1970 brought with it Vaseline®'s 100th Anniversary, and to mark the occasion, a major new product, Vaseline® Intensive Care Lotion. The brand was later extended to include hand and nail moisturizers and deodorants for men and women.

In 1987, Chesebrough-Ponds was purchased by consumer products giant Unilever, which began as soap maker Lever Bros. in the 1890s.

Chesebrough originally promoted Vaseline primarily as an ointment for scrapes, burns, and cuts, but physicians have shown that Vaseline has no medicinal effect or any effect on the blistering process, nor is it absorbed by the skin. Vaseline’s effectiveness in accelerating wound healing stems from its sealing effect on cuts and burns, which inhibits germs from getting into the wound and keeps the injured area supple by preventing the skin's moisture from evaporating.

However, after becoming a medicine chest staple, consumers began to use Vaseline for a myriad of ailments and cosmetic uses including chapped hands or lips, toenail fungus, nosebleeds, diaper rash, chest colds, and even to remove makeup or stains from furniture.

It is even used as trout bait.

There are uses for it for pets including stopping fungi from developing on aquatic turtles' shells and to keep cats from making messes when they cough up furballs.

In the early 20th century, petroleum jelly, either pure or as an ingredient, was popular as a hair pomade. When used in a 50/50 mixture with pure beeswax, it makes an effective mustache wax.

Petroleum jelly was formerly used to help pitch a spitball in baseball. Although the pitch was banned in 1920, pitchers sometimes throw "the spitter" surreptitiously.

It can also be used as tinder when coated on cotton balls. The combination can easily be ignited by a fire starter, burning hot and long, and the petroleum keeps the cotton from getting wet. Petroleum jelly is a useful addition to a survival kit: cotton balls saturated with petroleum jelly, packed into a plastic 35mm film canister make excellent fire-starters, taking a spark readily and burning fiercely for several minutes.

It can be used as a quick method of shining shoes, when spread evenly onto the surface to create a shiny layer.

Petroleum jelly is commonly used as a sex lubricant. (Not recommended)

Dangerous uses to avoid:

* It should not be used on fresh burns of any kind, including sunburn. It traps heat inside, worsening burns. After heat has dissipated, it can serve as a dressing for minor burns to soothe pain.

* Nasal congestion or dryness. It may immobilize the cilia in the nose, impeding its ability to clean incoming air. If small particles are inhaled, they may deposit in the lungs and lead to a form of pneumonia.

* Sex with latex condoms. Petroleum weakens latex, increasing the chance of rupture, and the chance of pregnancy, or spreading infections such as HIV.

(Info from Wikipedia and Unilever)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

NEVER: last accounting by Feds on US Indian money

When the US government took control of Indians’ property rights in 1887, they were assured they would receive all the income from their land. They never did, and now they’re fighting for it.

According to accounts from whistle-blowers, money belonging to individual Indians was pilfered, skimmed, redirected, or thrown in with general government funds by the Department of the Interior or its representatives. Yet, the Interior Department has not accounted for or repaid losses of trust resources, proceeds, or royalties. After struggling for decades to receive a hearing, American Indian families went to federal court in 1996 to plead their case.


1887 – Passage of the General Allotment Act (the Dawes Act) which divided a great deal of tribal lands, especially in the Midwest, into parcels of 40, 80, or 160 acres which were conveyed in trust to individual Indians. The federal government retained management of all natural resources on those lands, and encouraged the Indians to take up farming. The rest of the lands were made available in 1889 for homesteading by settlers coming from the East. Prior to the Allotment Act, tribal land holdings totaled 138 million acres. By 1934, the American Indians had lost almost 90 million of those lands to non-Indian owners. Today, even with more money, tribes have been able to buy back only 8 percent of land they lost in 1887.

1915 – The Report of the Joint Commission of the Congress of the United States described the "great wealth in the form of Indian funds" [derived from lands held in trust] as "an inducement to fraud, corruption, and institutional incompetence almost beyond the possibility of comprehension."

1934 – The Indian Reorganization Act was passed. It stopped all further allotments of portions of tribal reservations to individual owners. It also made perpetual the special trust arrangements which had been created for the lands deeded or allotted to individual Indian owners.

1955 – A U.S. General Accounting Office report stated, "The deficiencies [in trust management] include disbursements of individual Indian moneys without adequate support, deficiencies in accounting for cash and bonds and in computation and distribution of interests income and other weaknesses in internal procedures."

1986 – David Henry, an accountant with BIA, became a prime whistle-blower on the fraud and mismanagement which he witnessed was taking place within the Bureau of Indian Affairs regarding funds held by BIA for tribes and individual Indian owners/allottees.

1990 – During oversight hearings, then-Rep. Albert Bustamante (TX) reportedly stated, "I have a tribe that I represent in my district, but throughout the years, most of these people have been abused by many, and you in the BIA ought to be the ones that really look after them. If this happened in Social Security, I tell you there would be a war. If we can manage Social Security, we ought to be able to manage this."

1991 – Secretary of the Interior's Annual Statement and Report to Congress stated, "The Bureau’s management of Individual Indian Monies (IIM) [accounts] and Tribal trust funds is inadequate to properly maintain and administer the $2 billion dollar fund for which it has responsibility. The BIA’s management of tribal and Individual Indian Trust Funds lacks effective management/internal controls, reliable systems and management information. Tribal and individual accounts lack credibility and have never been reconciled in the entire history of the trust fund."

1992 – The House Committee on Government Operations published its report entitled "Misplaced Trust: The Bureau of Indian Affairs' Mismanagement of the Indian Trust Fund." It contained serious accusations of malfeasance, and called for significant changes in the Department of Interior’s handling of IIM and tribal trust funds.

1994 – The Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act of 1994 was enacted which made significant changes in the Department of Interior organization and its administration of the trust funds. Its passage came despite the vigorous opposition of the Department of Interior. Under the act, a Special Trustee was appointed to serve directly under the Secretary of Interior, and separate from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in an effort to remedy the problems in both tribal accounts and IIM accounts.

June, 1996 – The Native American Rights Fund and attorney Dennis Gingold filed Cobell v. Babbitt in U.S. District Court on behalf of five named individual Indian account holders as a class action to compel an accounting and adjustment of accounts. It also sought to establish better policies for appropriate future management of the Indian trust funds.

June, 1996 – The BIA created a new officer, The Special Trustee, who testified to Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that the IIM account system was "as bad or worse" than the system used for tribal accounts. During the hearing, Sen. McCain (AZ) stated, "Trustees receive and disburse funds all the time for other Americans, and if they blow it they pay. In this case it's the Native Americans who are rightfully owed the money and the federal government who will be forced to compensate for their loss."

November, 1996 – The first of several judicial orders was entered in Cobell v. Babbitt requiring that the government produce and give to the plaintiffs’ attorneys all records of accounts relating to the five individual plaintiffs.

February, 1997 – The case was certified as a class action lawsuit by Judge Royce Lamberth, meaning all orders entered for the benefit of the five named plaintiffs (such as the order to produce records of account) would also relate to all members of the class. It was estimated at that time that 300,000 individual Indians and their descendants were members of that class, but that estimate has since been increased to about 500,000.

November 1998 – Judge Lamberth issued an important ruling, over strenuous objections of lawyers for Department of Interior, that in managing IIM accounts the federal government would be held to the same account management standards as any other trustee such as a bank, rather than to the less strict statutory governmental standards. One major consequence of this ruling is that the burden of proof (that there had been appropriate management of funds and proper payments from the accounts to the beneficiaries) became the responsibility of the Department of Interior, rather than that of the plaintiffs.

February, 1999 – Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover, and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin were all found to be in contempt for failure to produce records as required by court orders.

May, 1999 – The government acknowledged in writing that while the case was pending, the Department of Treasury had destroyed 162 boxes of relevant documents.

June, 1999 – A seven-week trial was held. During his testimony, Secretary Babbitt admitted that the fiduciary responsibilities of the U.S. were "not being fulfilled."

Spring and summer, 1999 – Settlement discussions between the parties with the help of mediators were undertaken but were unsuccessful.

December, 1999 – Judge Lamberth held that the United States had breached its fiduciary duties and had "unreasonably delayed" trust reform efforts; and he ordered continued judicial oversight for at least five years. The government appealed this order.

November, 2000 – The Department of Treasury admitted destruction of substantial numbers of additional records which were under its control.

Early 2001 – The case became renamed Cobell v. Norton, to reflect the change of identity of the new Secretary of Interior.

February 2001– The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed the major findings of Judge Lamberth. "Not only does the 1994 Act plainly reaffirm the government’s preexisting duty to provide an accounting to IIM trust beneficiaries, but it is plain that such an obligation inheres in the trust relationship itself." At another point in the decision the court stated, "...the magnitude of the government’s malfeasance and potential prejudice to the plaintiff's class" justified great latitude in the judge’s continuing oversight.

June 2001 – The Senate Government Affairs Committee issued a report in which it described the handling of these funds as one of the 10 worst examples of federal government mismanagement, second only to the Big Dig in Boston.

October 2001 – Government lawyers revealed to the district court that Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs Neal McCaleb had erased his electronic communications relating to Indian trust funds for a period of 10 months, despite court orders and internal policy to the contrary. Those communications reportedly included figures on the amounts of money going in and out of Indian trust fund accounts.

November 2001 – Judge Lamberth ordered Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb to stand trial for being in contempt of court. McCaleb resigned shortly thereafter, and as a consequence he did not have to stand trial. The hearing took place several months later, and Norton was found by the judge to be in contempt.

This pattern of battles in court between the parties has continued ever since then. The Department of Interior has appealed on three separate occasions to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. In every instance the appeals court has affirmed the important findings and legal rulings of the district court, but has also criticized the judge's orders as calling for inappropriately detailed court supervision of Interior's procedures. Also, the plaintiffs have on at least two occasions asked that access via the Internet to Department of Interior files be terminated because of concerns that hackers could access and alter existing records. At one point, all of Interior's computer access was ended by the judge, and at other points certain portions of Interior's operations were taken off-line in accordance with orders from the judge. Later, the judge required the government to notify any American Indian landowner before selling property from the trust it manages. (info from Friends Committee on National Legislation)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

1935: last $10,000 bill printed

The denominations of US currency in production are $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100.

The largest denomination ever printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was the $100,000 Series 1934 Gold Certificate featuring the portrait of President Woodrow Wilson. They were printed from December 18, 1934 through January 9, 1935 and were issued by the Treasurer of the United States to Federal Reserve Banks only against an equal amount of gold bullion held by the Treasury Department. The notes were used for official transactions between Federal Reserve Banks and were not circulated among the general public.

On July 14, 1969 the Federal Reserve Board announced they would immediately stop distributing currency in denominations of $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000. Production of these denominations stopped during World War II. Their main purpose was for bank transfer payments. With the arrival of more secure transfer technologies, however, they were no longer needed for that purpose. While these notes are legal tender and may still be found in circulation today, the Federal Reserve Banks remove them from circulation and destroy them as they are received.

The $2 bill has not been removed from circulation. The Federal Reserve System does not, however, request the printing of that denomination as often as the others. The Series 2003 $2 bill was the last printed, and bears the names of former Secretary of the Treasury John W. Snow and Treasurer Rosario Marin. As of April 30, 2007 there were $1,549,052,714 worth of $2 bills in circulation worldwide. (info from the US Treasury)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

1995: first factory-equipped satellite radio
in a motorcycle

XM Satellite Radio entered the motorcycle market with Harley-Davidson’s 2006 Screamin’ Eagle Ultra Classic Electra Glide (FLHTCUSE model), the first motorcycle ever equipped with a standard satellite radio. The XM-equipped Harley made its debut at the annual Sturgis Rally in South Dakota in August 2005, where 800,000 motorcycle enthusiasts converge every summer.

Since that time, Harley has offered XM on other models, and Kawasaki announced optional XM on their Vulcan 1600 Nomad touring bike. Sirius apparently is not a factory option on any motorcycles, but you can get it in a Winnebago or Aston-Marton.


Monday, October 8, 2007

1924: first facial tissue

Kimberly, Clark and Co. was founded in 1872 by John A. Kimberly, Havilah Babcock, Charles B. Clark, and Frank C. Shattuck in Neenah, Wisconsin with $30,000 capitalization. Their first business was running paper mills.

In 1914 the company developed cellu-cotton, a cotton substitute used by the US Army for gas mask filters during World War I. Army nurses used cellu-cotton pads as disposable sanitary napkins, and six years later the company introduced Kotex, the first disposable feminine hygiene product.

Kleenex, the first throwaway handkerchief, followed in 1924, originally marketed to remove cold cream. A few years after the introduction of Kleenex, the company began receiving a large number of letters from customers suggesting its use for colds and hay fever. By the 1930s, Kleenex was being marketed with the slogan “Don’t Carry a Cold in Your Pocket” and its utilization as a disposable handkerchief replacement became important.

The popularity of the product has led to the use of its name to refer to any facial tissue, regardless of the brand. (info from Wikipedia)

Friday, October 5, 2007

1991: first website

Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee is one of the inventers of the World Wide Web, and created the first Website.

Tim Berners-Lee was born in London in 1955, the son of mathematicians who helped build the Manchester Mark I, one of the earliest computers. They taught Berners-Lee to use mathematics everywhere, even at the dinner table.

He is an alumnus Oxford where he played tiddlywinks against rival Cambridge. While at Oxford, Berners-Lee built a computer using an old television. During his time at Oxford, he was caught hacking and was banned from using the university computer. He graduated in 1976 with a degree in physics.

In 1980, while at CERN (the world's largest particle physics laboratory based in Switzerland) Berners-Lee proposed a project based on the concept of hypertext, to facilitate sharing and updating information among researchers. He built a prototype system named ENQUIRE.

In 1989, CERN was the largest Internet node in Europe, and Berners-Lee saw an opportunity to join hypertext with the Internet: "I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the TCP and DNS ideas and — ta-da! — the World Wide Web."

He wrote his initial proposal in March of 1989, and in 1990, with the help of Robert Cailliau, produced a revision which was accepted by his manager, Mike Sendall. He used similar ideas to those underlying the Enquire system to create the World Wide Web, for which he designed and built the first web browser and editor (called WorldWideWeb and developed on NEXTSTEP) and the first Web server called httpd (short for HyperText Transfer Protocol daemon).

The first Website built was at CERN, put online on August 6, 1991. It provided an explanation about what the World Wide Web was, how one could own a browser and how to set up a Web server. It was also the world's first Web directory, since Berners-Lee maintained a list of other Websites apart from his own.

In 1994, Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at MIT. It included several companies that were willing to create standards and recommendations to improve the quality of the Web. The World Wide Web Consortium decided that their standards must be based on royalty-free technology, so they can be easily adopted by anyone.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

1875: first private pension plan in the US

Pensions, originally thought of as charity, are now viewed as an essential part of the social responsibility of employers or of the government.

In the Roman Empire there was a well-established pension system to care for soldiers who were disabled or had grown old. In the early 19th century, the French and British governments made provisions to aid elderly public servants.

In the United States, pensions in various forms have been given to veterans of all wars since the Revolution; military pensions are now covered by the Servicemen's and Veterans' Survivor Benefits Act (1957). Retired servicemen and servicewomen receive, after 20 years of service, 50% of their base pay at time of retirement, with automatic increases as indicated by the Consumer Price Index.

The first non-government pension plan in the United States was created by the American Express Company in 1875. A few labor unions and state and local governments began to offer pension plans shortly thereafter, and by 1935 governments in half the states and many businesses were offering pension plans. In 1997 about half of all U.S. workers had pension plans.

Civil-service pensions were developed later in the United States than in Western Europe. Old-age pension plans were drawn up by cities for certain groups of public employees—firefighters, police officers, and teachers—which provided for compulsory contributions from the employee. Pensions for federal employees were authorized in 1920.

The idea of extending such protection to all citizens also appeared earlier in Europe (notably in Germany) than in the United States, where it was a 20th-century development (see social security). Many corporations and groups (such as labor unions, professional associations, and colleges) had made provision for pensions before the social security legislation was passed in 1935, and many groups now have pension plans that supplement social security.

Until the 1940s, pension plans in private industry were set up primarily on the initiative of the employer. As workers gained the right to submit pension plans to collective bargaining, the number of people covered in the United States by pensions grew from 4.1 million in 1940 to 65.6 million in 1999, about 44% of all workers. With more than $6.9 trillion in assets in 1997 (up from only $2.4 billion in 1940), these plans exert a major impact on the economy because the money is invested in stocks, bonds, and real estate. At the same time, the financial health of pension plans can be adversely affected by drops in the value of their investments, as happened after the late 1990s stock market bubble burst. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (1974) established regulations to protect pensions from mismanagement and created a federal agency, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, to insure them.

During the 1990s there was a shift in the type of pension plan that employees were covered by. The number of people covered by defined benefit pension plans leveled off as companies attempted to reduce costs by forcing employees to contribute to their own plans, such as 401(k) plans (defined contribution plans), or by terminating the plans. Under a defined-contribution plan, contributions are made to an account for an individual employee, but no specific income is guaranteed at retirement. In a 401(k) plan, the most common type of defined contribution plan, income that would have been paid to the employee is deposited pretax in an account and invested; it may be matched to some degree by a contribution from the employer. Such plans also differ from traditional defined benefit plans in that the contributions are voluntary, and as a result employees are only covered if they choose to contribute to an account. Under a 401(k) plan employees also may be allowed some degree of control over how the contributions are invested. (info from

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

1970: first strike by US postal workers

The American Postal Workers Union is the world's largest postal union, representing approximately 330,000 employees of the US Postal Service.

Postal unions date back to the 19th Century, but early unions had essentially no bargaining rights. They existed largely as lobbying organizations that otherwise had no say about their working conditions. Wage increases depended on the whim of Congress.

As a result, postal workers were chronically underpaid. In March 1970, full-time employees earned about $6,200 to start, and workers with 21 years of service averaged only $8,440 — barely enough to make ends meet at that time. In fact, many postal workers qualified for food stamps.

The sporadic raises they did receive never seemed to amount to much, particularly in high-cost urban areas. From 1967 to 1969, postal wages were not increased at all, although Congress did raise its own pay 41 percent during that time.

In 1968, the Kappel Commission, a special panel that had been studying postal reform during President Johnson's administration, concluded that postal workers deserved the same collective bargaining rights afforded to private-sector workers under the National Labor Relations Act. Congress failed to act on the commission's recommendation.

Workers grew increasingly frustrated with Congress's inaction, and on March 18, 1970, thousands of New York City postal workers walked off the job. Within days, they were joined by 200,000 others in 30 major cities. President Nixon appeared on national television and ordered the employees back to work, but his address only stiffened the resolve of the existing strikers and angered workers in 671 other locations in other cities into walking out as well. Workers in other government agencies also announced they would strike if Nixon pursued legal action against the postal employees.

Mail service ground to a halt and the plight of postal workers was brought to the public's attention. Nixon spoke to the nation again and ordered 24,000 Army, Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Air National Guard, Navy Reserve, Air Force Reserve, and Marine Corps Reserve forces to begin distributing the mail and break the strike. The military proved ineffective at the task, and the strike was soon settled, with Congress approving a 6 percent wage increase, retroactive to the previous December.

The strike served as an impetus for the enactment of the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, which granted unions the right to negotiate with management over their wages, benefits and working conditions. In lieu of the right to strike, a binding arbitration process was established for resolving contract disputes. The law granted postal workers an additional 8 percent raise and enabled them to advance more quickly to higher-paying positions.

In the first contract, a starting postal worker's salary was raised to $8,488: slightly more than a 21-year veteran of the Post Office Department had been getting just three years earlier. (info from APWU and Wikipedia)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

1975: end of 5-cent fare on Staten Island Ferry
1997: end of 50-cent fare

The Staten Island Ferry is a passenger ferry operated by the New York City Department of Transportation between Whitehall Street at the southernmost tip of Manhattan and St. George Ferry Terminal in Staten Island. The ride takes about 25 minutes each way.

For most of the 20th century, the ferry was famed as the biggest bargain in New York City. It charged the same five cent fare as the New York Subway but the ferry fare remained a nickel when the subway fare increased to 10 cents in 1948. In 1970, then-Mayor John V. Lindsay proposed that the fare be raised to 25 cents, pointing out that the cost for each ride was 50 cents, or ten times what the fare brought in. On August 4, 1975, the nickel fare ended and the charge became 25 cents for a round trip, the quarter being collected in one direction only.

The round trip increased to 50 cents in 1990, but then was eliminated altogether in 1997. Riders must disembark at each terminal and reenter through the terminal building for a round trip. Bicycles may also be taken on the lowest deck of the ferry without charge. In the past, ferries were equipped for vehicle transport, at a charge of $3 per automobile. Vehicles have not been allowed on the ferry since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The ferry ride is a favorite of tourists as it provides excellent views of the Lower Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty. (Info and photo from Wikipedia. Photo taken by Kmf164 on July 26, 2004.)

Monday, October 1, 2007

1957: first artificial earth satellite

The Sputnik program was a series of unmanned space missions by the Soviet Union in the late 1950s to demonstrate the viability of artificial satellites. It included Sputnik 1, the first man-made object to orbit earth. The Russian name "Спутник" means literally "co-traveler" or "traveling companion" or "satellite".

Sputnik 1 was launched on October 4, 1957. The satellite was about 24 inches in diameter and weighed approximately 184 lbs. Each of its elliptical orbits around the Earth took about 96 minutes.

The surprise launch of Sputnik 1, coupled with the spectacular failure of the United States' first two Project Vanguard launch attempts, shocked the United States, which responded with a number of early satellite launches, including Explorer I, Project SCORE, and Courier 1B. The Sputnik crisis also led to the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency and NASA, and to major increases in US government spending on scientific research and education. (info from Wikipedia)