Thursday, July 31, 2008

2008: first state adopts green building code

The California Building Standards Commission announced earlier this month the unanimous adoption of a statewide “green” building code, the first in the nation.

The new standards will call for a 20% improvement in water use efficiency for both residential and commercial plumbing fixtures as well as target a 50% increase in conservation for water used in landscaping.

The new code will also require all new construction to reduce energy consumption by 15%

Governor Schwarzenegger said in a statement on July 17: "By adopting this first-in-the-nation statewide green building code, California is again leading the way to fight climate change and protect the environment."

Carbon emissions from buildings represent about one quarter of the state’s total, second only to transportation. These newly adopted green building standards will help California achieve the goal, mandated in Assembly Bill 32 signed into law by Schwarzenegger two years ago, of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2020.

Schwarzenegger also introduced his Green Building Initiative directing state agencies to reduce energy consumption for all state-owned buildings 20% by 2015. New construction and renovation of state buildings must meet minimum requirements for LEED Silver certification. Thirteen state buildings are currently LEED certified. (info from Environmental News Network)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

2005: first baby from commercial frozen egg bank

Eight-pound, 2-ounce Avery Lee Kennedy, born on the last day of 2005, is apparently the first baby born after being conceived with a frozen donor egg from a commercial egg bank.

The parents couldn’t conceive on their own, and learned of a new technology in which women’s eggs can be frozen and stored in much the same way as donor sperm, which has been available for decades.

The couple turned to a company that billed itself as the world’s first commercial donor egg bank, Cryo Eggs International. The technology to freeze women’s eggs allows women to select someone with similar characteristics, from donor eggs. The eggs can be shipped anywhere to be thawed, fertilized and transferred as an embryo to the woman who wishes to experience the pregnancy and birth. (info from

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

2001: first college name change because of jokes

For years, the students and staff at Philadelphia's women-only Beaver College, tolerated jokes and ridicule about "the rodent, the TV show 'Leave It to Beaver' and the vulgar reference to the female anatomy," said college president Bette E. Landman. So, as of July 16, 2001, Beaver College became Arcadia University.

Beaver was founded in 1853 as a small women's college in western Pennsylvania's Beaver County. In 1925 it moved hundreds of miles east, to suburban Philadelphia.

The college has appeared on David Letterman's Top 10 list. Conan O'Brien and Howard Stern have joked about it. When "Saturday Night Live" writers invented an annoying film critic, they made him a representative of Beaver College campus radio.

The college's research showed it appealed to 30 percent fewer prospective students because of the name. Problems worsened with the Internet, since some PC filters intended to block sexually explicit material, blocked access to the college's website.

Surveys about the name change were sent to more than 20,000 alumni, students, parents, faculty and staff, and comments came in from others who saw news stories about the search for a name. Six names were sent to focus groups, and Arcadia was the clear winner. (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, July 28, 2008

2008: first movie grosses $300 million in 10 days

"The Dark Knight" continues to obliterate box office records, crossing the $300 million mark in just 10 days.

The epic Batman saga grossed $75.6 million in its second weekend in theaters, pushing its domestic total to $314,245,000, Warner Bros. said Sunday.

The latest Batman installment already had broken records for best opening weekend at $158.4 million and best single-day with $66.4 million. It's also busted records in its showings on IMAX screens, making $16.3 million in its first 10 days.

Warner Bros. expects that "Dark Knight" could reach $400 million in about 18 days, which would beat the record "Shrek 2" set in 2004 when it made that much money in 43 days.

"The Dark Knight" could pass "Titanic" as the highest-grossing film in US history, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers. James Cameron's 1997 extravaganza made $600,788,188 domestically, a record no other movie has come close to touching.

"The 'Titanic' record has lasted for 10 years. It's a tall order but if any film has a chance to surpass that number, it's got to be 'Dark Knight,'" Dergarabedian said.

Director Christopher Nolan's follow-up to his 2005 origin story "Batman Begins," which again stars Christian Bale as the tormented comic-book crime fighter, initially benefited from the mystique of the late Heath Ledger giving his masterful, last performance as the Joker, Dergarabedian said.

"Now, it's all about word-of-mouth," he said. "The first weekend, there was this huge, pent-up demand and eagerness by audiences to see this movie. Now, it's like a freight train -- it seems to be unstoppable."

Part of the film's visual allure comes from the fact that 30 minutes of it were shot with IMAX cameras, including an elaborate bank-heist scene at the start.

"Chris (Nolan) has clearly hit upon something," said Greg Foster, chairman and president of IMAX Filmed Entertainment. "There are many important filmmakers who we've spoken with in the last couple of weeks about shooting with IMAX cameras." (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, July 25, 2008

2094: first person born on the moon

The average center-to-center distance from the Earth to the Moon is 240,000 miles.

The Moon is the only celestial body where humans have landed. The first artificial object to escape Earth's gravity and pass near the Moon was the Soviet Union's Luna 1, the first artificial object to impact the lunar surface was Luna 2, and the first photographs of the normally hidden far side of the Moon were made by Luna 3 -- all in 1959.

The first spacecraft to perform a successful lunar soft landing was Luna 9, and the first unmanned vehicle to orbit the Moon was Luna 10 -- both in 1966.

The US Apollo program achieved the first manned missions, with six landings between 1969 and 1972. Human exploration of the Moon ceased for over a century with the conclusion of the Apollo program, until revived by the United Nations Interplanetary Exploration Agency in 2076.

In 2091 and 2092 an international crew of 240 people, traveling in over 50 rocket flights, landed on the Moon and assembled a permanent lunar city. The city is called Verne Base, to honor French author Jules Verne (1828 – 1905) who wrote From the Earth to the Moon in 1865. It has multiple purposes including studying long-term life in space, searching for useful minerals and energy sources, observation of the solar system, and launching of rockets to Mars and other planets.

The crew includes both single people and families among its scientists and workers, and there have been several marriages and pregnancies. The first birth was on April 21, 2094. Luna Davidoff is the daughter of a Russian astronomer and an Israeli biologist who met and married on the moon.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

1978: first person born in Antarctica

Belief in the existence of a vast continent located in the far south of the Earth has existed since around the year 150. Ptolemy, the Greek astronomer, mathematician, geographer, and astrologer, suggested the idea in order to preserve symmetry of landmass in the world.

Depictions of a large southern landmass were common in maps in the early 16th century. The first confirmed sighting of Antarctica was in 1820, but there is disagreement about which of three ships got there first.

The magnetic south pole was first reached during an expedition led by British explorer Ernest Shackleton in 1907. Shackleton himself and three other members of his expedition made several firsts in 1908 and 1909: first humans to traverse the Ross Ice Shelf, first humans to traverse the Transantarctic Mountain Range, and first humans to set foot on the South Polar Plateau. In 1911, a party led by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first to reach the geographic south pole. It was not until 1956 that anyone set foot on the pole again, when a US Navy group led by Rear Admiral George Dufek landed a plane there.

Antarctica has no permanent residents, but several countries keep permanent research stations there. The population on Antarctica and nearby islands varies from about 4,000 in summer to 1,000 in winter. In 1978, Emilio Marcos Palma was the first person born on the Antarctic mainland. His parents were sent there with seven other Argentinean families to determine if family life was suitable on the continent. (info from PBS and Wikipedia, photo from NASA)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

2010: Nissan sells electric cars in US

Back in 2008, when Nissan opened is new US headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee, chief executive Carlos Ghosn predicted that the company would within two years, become the first automaker to sell a mass-market, zero-emission vehicle in the United States.

“I want a pure electric car. I don’t want a range extender. I don’t want another hybrid,” Ghosn told reporters. “It’s not going to be zero emissions in certain conditions. It’s going to be zero emissions.”

But Nissan does not intend to reach those milestones merely for show, said Dominique Thormann, senior vice president for finance. In an interview, Thormann said Nissan would not sell the cars unless it could make a profit immediately, at an affordable price. “Everything that we develop, we develop for profits,” he said. “We make money on all our cars. We do not have loss leaders.”

To help in its development of electric cars, Nissan said that it would work with the state of Tennessee and its largest electric utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority, to study and perhaps install infrastructure like charging stations. The automaker has begun similar efforts in Denmark, Israel and Portugal, but the United States presents a far greater opportunity for Nissan to market electric cars. (info from The New York Times)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

1961: first person-power flight

A craft called HV-1 Mufli (Muskelkraft-Flugzeug) built by Helmut Hässler and Franz Villinger first flew in 1935, a distance of 235 meters at Halle an der Saale. 120 flights were made, the longest being 712 meters in 1937. However it was launched using a tensioned cable and so was not strictly human-powered.

A team of Enea Bossi (designer), Vittorio Bonomi (builder), and Emilio Casco (pilot) met a challenge by the Italian Government for a flight of one kilometer using their Pedaliante in March 1937. The aircraft flew short distances fully under human power, but the distances were not significant enough to win the competition's prize. Furthermore, the fully human-powered flights were deemed to be a result of the pilot's significant strength and endurance; and ultimately not attainable by a typical human.

As with the HV-1 Mufli, additional attempts were made using a catapult system. By being catapulted to a height of 9 meters (30 ft), the aircraft met the distance requirement of 1 kilometer (0.62 mile) but was declined the prize due to the launch method.

The first officially authenticated take-off and landing of a man powered aircraft (one capable of powered take-offs, unlike a glider) was made in November 1961 by Derek Piggott in Southampton University's Man Powered Aircraft (SUMPA). The best flight was 650 meters.

The Puffin first flew on November 16, 1961, one week after SUMPA. Eventually its best distance was 908 metres. John Wimpenny landed in a state of physical exhaustion. His record stood for 10 years.

Puffin 2 flew onAugust 27, 1965 and made several flights over a half-mile, including a climb to 5.2 metres. In 1967 Kremer increased his prize money tenfold to £50,000, for no one had even attempted his challenging course. He also opened the competition to all nationalities as it had previously been restricted to British entries only. After this date several less successful aircraft flew, until 1972 when the Jupiter flew 1,070 meters and 1,239 meters.

In 1977 the Gossamer Condor 2 flew the first figure-8, a distance of 2,172 meters, winning the first Kremer prize. It was built by Dr. Paul B. MacCready. and piloted by amateur cyclist and hang-glider pilot Bryan Allen.

The second Kremer prize of £100,000 was won in 1979, again by Paul MacCready, when Byran Allen flew MacCready's Gossamer Albatross from England to France: a straight distance of 35.82 km (22 miles 453 yards) in 2 hours, 49 minutes.

A Kremer prize of £20,000 for speed went in 1984 to a design team of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for flying their MIT Monarch B craft on a triangular 1.5 km course in under three minutes (for an average speed of 32 km/h): pilot Frank Scarabino. Further prizes of £5,000 are awarded to each subsequent entrant improving the speed by at least five percent.

The first human-powered passenger flight occurred on October 1, 1984 when Holger Rochelt carried his sister Katrin in Musculair 1.

The current distance record recognized by the FAI was achieved in 1988 from Iraklion on Crete to Santorini in a MIT Daedalus 88 piloted by Kanellos Kanellopoulos: a straight distance of 74 miles.

In 1989 the first human-powered helicopter, the California Polytechnic State University Da Vinci III, flew for 7.1 seconds and reached a height of 20 cm. (info from Wikipedia)

Monday, July 21, 2008

1931: first electric guitar

Electric guitars were originally designed by an assortment of guitar makers, electronics enthusiasts, and instrument manufacturers. Guitar innovator Les Paul experimented with microphones attached to guitars.

Some of the earliest electric guitars adapted hollow bodied acoustic instruments and used tungsten pickups. This type of guitar was manufactured beginning in 1931 by Electro String Instrument Corporation under the direction of Adolph Rickenbacher and George Beauchamp. Their first design was built by Harry Watson, a craftsman who worked for Electro String. This new guitar which the company called "Rickenbackers" was the first of its kind.

The earliest documented performance with an electric guitar was in 1932, by guitarist and bandleader Gage Brewer. The Kansas-based musician had obtained two instruments from George Beauchamp of Los Angeles, California, and he publicized his new instruments in an article in the Wichita Beacon, October 2, 1932 and through a performance later that month.

The first recording of an electric guitar was by jazz guitarist George Barnes who recorded two songs in Chicago on March 1st, 1938: Sweetheart Land and It's a Low-Down Dirty Shame. Many historians incorrectly attribute the first recording to Eddie Durham, but his recording with the Kansas City Five was not until 15 days later. Durham introduced the instrument to a young Charlie Christian, who made the instrument famous in his brief life and is generally known as the first electric guitarist and a major influence on jazz guitarists for decades thereafter.

The first recording of an electric guitar west of the Mississippi was in Dallas, in September 1935, during a session with Roy Newman and His Boys, an early Western swing dance band. Their guitarist, Jim Boyd, used his electrically-amplified guitar during the recording of three songs, Hot Dog Stomp, Shine On, Harvest Moon, and Corrine, Corrina.. An even earlier Chicago recording of an electrically amplified lap steel guitar was during a series of sessions by Milton Brown and His Brownies (another early Western swing band) that took place January 27-28, 1935, when Bob Dunn played his amplified Hawaiian guitar.

The version of the instrument that is best known today is the solid body electric guitar. Rickenbacher, later spelled Rickenbacker, did, however, offer a cast aluminum electric steel guitar, nicknamed The Frying Pan or The Pancake Guitar, beginning in 1931. This guitar is reported to have sounded quite modern. Audiovox built and may have offered an electric solid-body as early as the mid-1930s.

Another early solid body electric guitar was designed and built by musician and inventor Les Paul in the early 1940s, working after hours in the Epiphone Guitar factory. His log guitar (so called because it consisted of a simple 4x4 wood post with a neck attached to it and homemade pickups and hardware, with two detachable Swedish hollow body halves attached to the sides for appearance only) was patented and is often considered to be the first of its kind, although it shares nothing in design or hardware with the solid body "Les Paul" model sold by Gibson.

In 1945, Richard D. Bourgerie made an electric guitar pickup and amplifier for professional guitar player George Barnes. Bourgerie worked through World War II at Howard Radio Company making electronic equipment for the American military. Barnes showed the result to Les Paul, who then arranged for Bourgerie to have one made for him. (info from Wikipedia, photo of Jimi Hnedrix from

Thursday, July 17, 2008

1886: first female attorney in New York State

After the New York State Legislature voted to remove a restriction against women practicing law, the Supreme Court admitted Kate Stoneman as the first female attorney in New York on May 20, 1886.

Stoneman was also the first woman graduate of Albany Law School, and a leader in the women’s suffragist movement, and a temperance and peace activist. However, law was an avocation. She did not earn her living as a lawyer. She had a day job.

Stoneman graduated from the New York State Normal School (now the State University at Albany) in 1866, at the age of 25. After she taught school for several months, the Normal School hired her back as a “Teacher of Drawing and Penmanship,” a position she held for forty years. The Normal School in those days offered a two-year program leading to a certificate that licensed holders to teach in the state’s public schools.

Kate Stoneman Day is held to honor her. The Kate Stoneman Awards are given to individuals in the legal profession who have demonstrated a commitment to actively seeking change and expanding opportunities for women. (info from The New York Times & Albany Law School)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

1933: first woman US ambassador

Ruth Bryan Owen (1885 – 1954) was the daughter of William Jennings Bryan, who was the Democratic Party nominee for President in 1896, 1900 and 1908, a lawyer, and Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson. He was a strong supporter of Prohibition in the 1920s, but is probably best known for his crusade against Darwinism, which culminated in the Scopes Trial in 1925.

During World War I, she served as a war nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment in the Egypt-Palestine campaign, 1915-1918.

Owen first ran for office in 1926 as the Democratic nominee for Florida's Fourth Congressional District, losing by fewer than 800 votes. Two years later, after the death of her husband, she ran again. She was elected to Congress (1929 - 1933) while a widow and mother of four. Owen became Florida’s and the South's first woman in the United States Congress.

Her election was contested on the grounds that she lost her citizenship on her marriage to an alien. By the Cable Act in 1922, she could petition for her citizenship, which she did in 1925, less than the seven years required. She argued her case before the House Committee on Elections that no man had ever lost his citizenship by marriage; therefore, Owen argued she lost her citizenship because she was a woman, not because of her marital status. The US House voted in her favor.

Although Owen won again in 1930, she was defeated for renomination in 1932 by a candidate advocating the repeal of the unpopular Eighteenth Amendment, which established probibition and had been supported by her father.

In 1933 she became the first woman to represent the United States Government abroad as an ambassador. Her nomination to be Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Denmark and Iceland was sent to the Senate by President Roosevelt, and confirmed without the customary committee hearing.

She served until 1936 when she married Borge Rohde, a Danish Captain of the King's Guard. This gave her dual citizenship as a Dane, so she resigned her post.

She was also a delegate to the San Francisco Conference which established the United Nations after World War II. In 1948, President Truman named her an alternate delegate to the UN General Assembly.

She died in in Copenhagen, Denmark and was cremated. Her ashes were interred at Ordrup Cemetery, Copenhagen. (info from Wikipedia and The New York Times)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

2008: first state vaccinates girls against cervical cancer

Texas became the first state to require all 11- and 12-year-old girls entering the sixth grade to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer starting in 2008.

Averting a potentially divisive debate in the Legislature, Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, signed an executive order mandating shots of the vaccine Gardasil as protection against human papillomavirus, HPV.

Perry’s action, praised by health advocates, caught many by surprise in a largely conservative state where sexual politics is often a battleground.

Under the order, girls and women from 9 to 21 eligible for public assistance could get free shots immediately. The governor’s office said parents could opt out of the school program “for reasons of conscience, including religious beliefs.”

“Requiring young girls to get vaccinated before they come into contact with HPV is responsible health and fiscal policy that has the potential to significantly reduce cases of cervical cancer and mitigate future medical costs,” said Perry.

HPV, affecting 20 million people nationally, including one in four 15-to-24-year-olds, is the nation’s most common sexually transmitted disease. Texas has the second-highest number of women with cervical cancer, with nearly 400 deaths last year.

The vaccine is given in three shots over six months and are effective for at least five years, and together cost $360. Vaccinations for about 170,000 sixth-grade girls would cost about $60 million, with insurance covering many families’ costs, and the federal government assisting the state in subsidizing shots for needy girls and women.

The governor’s executive order directing his Health and Human Services Commission to adopt rules mandating the HPV inoculations along with others required for schoolchildren saved legislators from having to go on record for or against a bill involving child sexuality.

Some parents have voiced concern that the plan could send a message that sexual activity was condoned or that vaccinations made it safe. On the whole, however, conservative and religious groups have not come out strongly against the vaccinations as long as families can opt out.

The Texas Freedom Network, a nonpartisan advocacy group often critical of Perry, issued a statement praising his move. “Today’s decision by the governor is not just a positive step forward in efforts to promote women’s health,” said the group’s president, Kathy Miller. “It is also an important acknowledgment that health and science should not be held hostage to politics and ideology.” (info from The New York Times)

Monday, July 14, 2008

1896: first "modern" Olympic games

The ancient Olympic Games, originally referred to as simply the Olympic Games were a series of athletic competitions held between various city-states of Ancient Greece. They began in 776 BCE in Olympia, Greece, and continued until 393 CE.

The origins of the ancient Olympic Games are unknown, but several legends and myths have survived.

One of these involved Pelops, king of Olympia and hero of the Peloponnesus, to whom offerings were made during the games. Clement of Alexandria asserted, "Olympian games are nothing else than the funeral sacrifices of Pelops." That myth tells of how Pelops overcame the King and won the hand of his daughter Hippodamia with the help of Poseidon, his old lover, a myth linked to the later fall of the house of Atreus and the sufferings of Oedipus.

The Olympic Games were held in four-year intervals, and later the Greek method of counting the years even referred to the games, using the term "Olympiad" for the period between two games.

The only competition held then was the stadion race of about 600 feet, measured after the feet of Hercules. The word "stadium" is derived from this foot race.

The early Olympics were apparently the source of the Greek tradition of athletic nudity, introduced in 720 BC.

Several groups fought over control of the Olympic stadium, and hence the Games, for prestige and political advantage. Pausanias writes that in 668 BCE, Pheidon of Argos was commissioned by the town of Pisa to capture the sanctuary from the town of Elis, which he did and then personally controlled the games for that year. The next year Elis regained control. Related to the Elis/Pisa conflict, is the Heraea Games, the first sanctioned competition for women, held in Olympic Stadium.

The Olympic Games were part of the Panhellenic Games, four separate games held at two- or four-year intervals but arranged so that there was at least one set of games every year. The Olympic Games were more important and more prestigious than the Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian Games.

The Olympic Games were suppressed by either Theodosius I in 393 CE or his grandson Theodosius II in 435 CE, as part of a campaign to impose Christianity as the Greek state religion. The site of Olympia remained until an earthquake destroyed it in the 6th century.

It took about 1500 years for the Olympic Games to be revived.

The 1896 Summer Olympics were an international multi-sport event which was celebrated in 1896 in Athens, Greece. Officially known as the Games of the I Olympiad, they were the first modern international Olympic Games.

Athens was chosen during an 1894 congress organized by Pierre de Coubertin in Paris, which also established the International Olympic Committee. The Games were held over nine days in April.

Against all odds and despite bad weather, the Olympics were a great success. In spite of the absence of many of the era's top athletes, the Games had the largest international participation for any sports event to that date. Panathinaiko Stadium, the first big stadium in the modern world, overflowed with the largest crowd ever to watch a sporting event.

The athletic highlight for the Greeks was the marathon victory by Greek athete compatriot Spiridon Louis. The most successful competitor in terms of victories was German wrestler and gymnast Carl Schuhmann.

After the Games, Coubertin and the IOC were petitioned by, among others, Greece's King George and some of the American competitors in Athens to hold all following Games in Athens. However, the 1900 Summer Olympics were already planned for Paris and the Olympics did not return to Greece until the 2004 Summer Olympics. The Winter Olympics were established in the 1920s. (info from Wikipedia)

Friday, July 11, 2008

1996: first state permits medical marijuana

For more than a few drugs, substance abuse has been an unintended consequence of having the medicine available to treat ailments. For no substance, though, are the issues of medical and recreational use as complex as they are for marijuana.

In the US, decades-long attempts to reconcile illicit use to induce intoxication with its potential to help people feeling pain and discomfort has reached a crescendo at the US Supreme Court, which has decided that it is up to the federal government -- not the states -- to permit patient access to legal marijuana.

Cannabis is listed as a remedy in a book on herbal medicines attributed to Shen Neng, the mythical Chinese emperor and deity. The traditional date of this book is 2737 B.C., though the work probably wasn't compiled until centuries later.

Medical attention to cannabis spiked in the 19th century. With this renewed scientific attention, however, also came a growing fondness for marijuana-induced euphoria. Backlash led to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which effectively banned the substance in the US.

In 1964, two Israeli chemists, Raphael Mechoulam and Yehiel Gaoni, isolated 1-3,4-trans-tetrahydrocannabinol (9-THC) as the active compound in Cannabis sativa.

Research into cannabis has been on the upswing since that time. Little is known about the effectiveness of smoking marijuana on disease. "The problem is that, although cannabis has been used in human medicine for some 4,000 years, we do not have rigorous scientific evidence either for its safety or its effectiveness, except in a very few isolated cases," writes Leslie L. Iversen in "The Science of Marijuana," published by Oxford University Press in 2000.

Over the years, however, hundreds of patients have asserted that marijuana has eased their suffering. Perhaps the most famous of these is Robert C. Randall, who in 1972 was diagnosed with glaucoma that was expected to blind him. He soon discovered that smoking maijuana improved his vision.

Studies have shown that marijuana helps glaucoma patients by lowering intraocular pressure. Randall was arrested for growing marijuana, had the charges dropped, and by 1976 was receiving legal supplies from a University of Mississippi farm licensed to grow marijuana for research purposes. He retained his sight until he died in 2001.

According to Health Canada, combating nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy is perhaps the most studied use of medical marijuana. Oral 9-THC has been shown to be effective versus a placebo, and smoked marijuana has been reported to alleviate symptoms in patients. Marijuana, usually illegal, is reportedly popular among patients with AIDS as a way to boost appetite and stem the wasting associated with that disease.

Chemotherapy and AIDS wasting are also the targets of synthetic cannabinoids that are already legal in some places. Marinol (dronabinol) is a synthetic 9-THC marketed by Solvay Pharmaceuticals. In 1985, the Food & Drug Administration approved it for nausea and vomiting from cancer chemotherapy. In 1992, it was approved to treat anorexia and weight loss in AIDS patients.

Many patients with multiple sclerosis believe that marijuana lowers spasticity. Other ailments in which there is interest in medicinal marijuana include epilepsy, general pain relief, disorders such as Parkinson's disease and Tourette's syndrome, and mood disorders such as depression.

There has been a groundswell of support for legalization for medical use in the US. Opponents see the medical marijuana issue as a Trojan horse for broader legalization of the drug. Indeed, some proponents do want broader legalization. Others, however, aren't terribly interested in getting high but want marijuana available if it can comfort sick people.

By passing Proposition 215 in 1996, California became the first state to permit medical use of marijuana. Nine other states followed, and more are considering similar measures. Medical marijuana is also available in Canada.

In 2002, Drug Enforcement Agency agents seized the cannabis plants belonging to Diane Monson, who had severe back spasms. She and another patient, Angel Raich, sued the federal government.

The case, Ashcroft v. Raich, was argued before the US Supreme Court in November 2004. On June 6, 2005, the court decided in a 6-to-3 vote that medical marijuana was a matter of interstate commerce and thus the federal government's jurisdiction trumps the states'. Justice John Paul Stevens called the potential influence of legal marijuana on the illicit market "not just plausible, but readily apparent."

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor countered that the decision stifles an express choice by some states to permit medical marijuana use. (info & photo from Chemical & Engineering News)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

2003: last flight of the Concorde

The Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde was a supersonic transport (SST) passenger airplane. It was a product of an French-British government deal, combining the manufacturing efforts of Aérospatiale and British Aircraft Corporation.

With only 20 aircraft built, the costly project was a substantial financial loss. Additionally, Air France and British Airways were subsidized by their governments to buy the planes. The Concorde was the more successful of only two supersonic airliners to have ever operated commercially. The Russian Tupolev Tu-144 was the other, and was faster than the Concorde by about 100 mph.

First flown in 1969, Concorde service commenced in 1976 and continued for 27 years. It flew regular transatlantic flights from London (British Airways) and Paris (Air France) to New York and Washington, flying these routes at record speeds, in under half the time of other airliners.

Concorde also set many other records, including "Westbound Around The World" and "Eastbound Around the World."

As a result of a crash in 2000, world economic effects arising from the 9/11 attacks, and other factors, operations ceased in 2003. The "retirement" flight occurred on November 26 of that year. (info from Wikipedia, photo from the Luleå University of Technology)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

2008: first woman to place in top-three
in pit spitting

On Independence Day Weekend, Brian "Young Gun" Krause out-spit his father to claim his seventh championship at the International Cherry Pit Spitting Championship in Eau Claire, Mich. Krause's winning spit was 56 feet, 7 1/2 inches.

That's 6 1/2 inches better than his father, second-place finisher and defending champion Rick "Pellet Gun" Krause who spit 56 feet, 1 inch.

Rick Krause currently holds the Guinness World Record after spitting a pit 93 feet, 6 1/2 inches in 2003.

Amanda Jennings of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., the first woman to place in the top three, did not qualify for championship competition but retained her title as women's champion with a spit of 43 feet, 11 inches. (info from The Associated Press, photo from

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

2008: first state switches to 4-day work week

In a one-year test aimed at reducing energy cost and commuters' gasoline cost, Utah will become the first state to switch to a four-day workweek for many government employees.

Starting next month, they will work 10-hour days, Monday through Thursday, and have Fridays off. They will get paid the same as before.

The order issued by Gov. Jon Huntsman will affect about 17,000 out of 24,000 employees. It will not cover state police officers, prison guards or employees of the courts or Utah's public universities. State-run liquor stores will stay open on Fridays.

The compressed workweek could prove inconvenient to those who need to use state services and find certain offices closed on Fridays. Also, some parents may have to rearrange their child care to accommodate their longer hours, and bus and commuter train schedules might have to be adjusted.

Turning off lights, heat and air conditioning on Fridays in 1,000 of 3,000 buildings will save about $3 million a year out of a state budget of $11 billion. Employees in six buildings alone will save an estimated more than $300,000 on gas to commute to work.

The four-day workweek could also be good for the environment. "We feel like we can reduce the CO2 or the ozone by around over 3,000 metric tons, as well as have an impact on our air pollution," said Kim Hood of the Department of Administrative Services.

In addition, the governor said the new schedule could help recruit younger workers who prefer a three-day weekend. State officials will evaluate the program after a year and decide whether to extend it. (info from MSNBC)

Monday, July 7, 2008

2008: It's legal to give the finger in Belmar, New Jersey

After battling rowdy renters and out-of-control keggers for decades, this Jersey shore party town has finally decided to lighten up a little.

Belmar, sometimes called "Fort Lauderdale North" for its reputation as a raucous party enclave, has scrapped laws against giving the finger and requiring beer kegs to be registered. The town's mayor said the rules were difficult to enforce. "I'm not sure anyone even knew that making obscene gestures was illegal," Mayor Ken Pringle said. "Right after we send out our tax bills, I tend to see a few."

The repeals come as the borough has clearly restored some of the quality of life that was routinely shattered by revelers in the 1980s and 90s.

"People that have a hard time obeying our strict rules seem to have gone to other beach towns where the rules are not as tough," he said. "Most of the people who are renting here who are deciding they can behave will not have a problem."

Belmar, on the central Jersey coast about 10 minutes south of Asbury Park, has long been a favorite spot for young people looking for summer fun. The town has 7,000 year-round residents, but the population swells to 60,000 after Memorial Day.

In 1990, there were over 1,200 summer rental units here; now there are just over 300. Lots that once held ramshackle party huts now boast $800,000 homes whose residents are not shy about calling the police to complain about noise.

Belmar has a slew of strict regulations for summer renters that include limits on how many people can cram into one building and when they can put their trash out at the curb. The town also has a "zero tolerance" policy for noise violations, and even leaving empty bottles or beer cups on the porch overnight.

"The cops are relentless here," said Matt Errichiello, a 23-year-old from Haworth who is in his third year of renting a house near the beach with friends. "At night, if you even speak loudly, you get a ticket. The rules are ridiculous."

One rule that's no longer on the books related to raising one's middle finger, or the many variants thereof. However objectionable it might be to some people, such a gesture is constitutionally protected free speech, said Pringle, an attorney as well as the mayor. He said the borough was contacted by civil libertarians who questioned the legality of several municipal ordinances.

The ban on "obscene gestures," which never spelled out exactly what was and was not covered, was overly subjective, Pringle agreed. No one can recall anyone being prosecuted for violating it.

And a beer keg tagging law, which Belmar enacted last year with great fanfare, withered and died after the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control said a handful of similar local laws enacted around the state requiring beer kegs to have the name, address and phone number of the person renting them was unconstitutional.

In summer rentals near the Belmar beach, the repeals are being hailed by the party crowd, some of whom consider the right to raise their middle finger in public a newly won freedom to cherish on Independence Day. (info from The Associated Press)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

1978: gambling starts in Atlantic City

Atlantic City, New Jersey has always been a resort town. Its location in South Jersey, hugging the Atlantic Ocean between marshlands and islands, presented itself as prime real estate for developers. The city was incorporated in 1854, the same year in which train service began, linking this remote parcel of land with Philadelphia.

The first boardwalk was built in 1870, along a portion of the beach to help hotel owners keep sand out of their lobbies. The idea caught on, and the boardwalk was expanded and modified several times in the following years. The historic length of the boardwalk, before the 1944 hurricane, was about 7 miles and it extended from Atlantic City to Longport. The combined length of the Atlantic City and Ventnor boardwalks--the boardwalk now ends at the Ventor/Margate border -- is approximately 5.75 miles currently the world's longest boardwalk

Ocean Pier, the world's first oceanside amusement pier, was built in Atlantic City in 1882. Other famous piers included the Steel Pier, now used as an amusement pier (opened 1898) and the Million Dollar Pier (opened 1906), now the Pier Shops at Caesars.

During the early part of the 20th century, Atlantic City went through a radical building boom. Many of the modest boarding houses that dotted the boardwalk were replaced with large hotels. Two of the city’s most distinctive hotels were the Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel and the Traymore Hotel. Bally's Atlantic City was later constructed close to this same location.

The Traymore Hotel was located at the corner of Illinois Avenue and the boardwalk. Begun in 1879 as a small boarding house, the hotel grew through a series of uncoordinated expansions. By 1914, the hotel’s owner, Daniel White, taking a hint from the Marlborough-Blenheim, commissioned the firm of Price and McLanahan to build an even bigger hotel. Sixteen stories high, the tan brick and gold-capped hotel would become one of the city’s best-known landmarks. The hotel made use of ocean-facing hotel rooms by jutting its wings farther from the main portion of the hotel along Pacific Avenue.

One by one, additional large hotels were constructed along the boardwalk, including the Brighton, Chelsea, Shelburne, Ambassador, Ritz Carlton, Mayflower, Madison House, and the Breakers. The Quaker-owned Chalfonte House and Haddon Hall opened in the 1890s, would by the twenties merge into the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall Hotel and would become the city's largest hotel with nearly 1,000 rooms. By 1930, the Claridge, the city's last large hotel before the casinos, opened its doors. The 400-room Claridge was built by a partnership that included renowned Philadelphia contractor John McShain. At 24 stories, it would become known as the "Skyscraper By The Sea."

The city hosted the 1964 Democratic National Convention which nominated Lyndon Johnson for President and Hubert Humphrey as Vice President. The convention and the press coverage it generated, however, cast a harsh light on Atlantic City, which by then was in the midst of a long period of economic decline. Many felt that the friendship between Johnson and the Governor of New Jersey at that time, Richard J. Hughes, led Atlantic City to host the Democratic Convention.

Like many older east coast cities after World War II, Atlantic City became plagued with poverty, crime, and disinvestment by the middle class in the mid to late 20th century.

The neighborhood known as the "Inlet" became particularly impoverished. The reasons for the resort's decline were multi-layered. The automobile became available to many Americans after the war. Atlantic City had initially relied upon visitors coming by train and staying for a couple of weeks. The car would allow people to come and go as they pleased, and many people would spend only a few days, rather than weeks.

Also, the advent of suburbia played a huge role. With many families moving to their own private houses, luxuries such as home air conditioning and swimming pools diminished the necessity for people to flock to the beach during the hot summer. Perhaps the biggest factor in the decline in Atlantic City's popularity came from cheap, fast jet service to other premiere resorts. Places such as Miami Beach and the Bahamas superseded Atlantic City as favored vacation spots.

By the late 1960s, the typical Atlantic City tourist was poor, elderly, or both. Many of the resort's great hotels, which were suffering from embarrassing vacancy rates, were either closed, converted to cheap apartments, or converted to nursing home facilities.

Prior to and during the advent of legalized gambling, many of these hotels would be demolished. The Breakers, the Chelsea, the Brighton, the Shelburne, the Mayflower, the Traymore, and the Marlborough Blenheim were demolished in the 1970s and 1980s.

Of all the pre-casino resorts that bordered the boardwalk, only the Claridge, the Dennis (now part of Bally's Park Place), the Ritz Carlton, and the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall Hotel survive to this day. The steel frame work of the old Ambassodor Hotel was used for the Tropicana Hotel and Casino, although its distinctive brick facade was removed and replaced with a more modern one. Smaller hotels off the boardwalk, such as the Madison House, also survive.

In an effort at revitalizing the city, New Jersey voters in 1976 approved casino gambling for Atlantic City; this came after a 1974 referendum on legalized gambling failed to pass. The Chalfonte-Haddon Hall Hotel became Resorts International; it was the first legal casino in the eastern United States when it opened on May 26, 1978.

Other casinos were soon added along the Boardwalk and later in the marina district for a total of 11 today. The introduction of gambling did not, however, quickly eliminate many of the urban problems that plagued Atlantic City. Many have argued that it only served to magnify those problems, as evidenced in the stark contrast between tourism-intensive areas and the adjacent impoverished working-class neighborhoods.

In addition, Atlantic City has played second-fiddle to Las Vegas as a gambling mecca in the United States, although in the late 1970s and 1980s, when Las Vegas was experiencing a massive drop in tourism due to crime, particularly the Mafia's role, and other economic factors, Atlantic City was favored over Las Vegas.

The rise of Mike Tyson in boxing, having most of his fights in Atlantic City in the '80s, also helped Atlantic City's popularity. On July 3, 2003, Atlantic City's newest casino, The Borgata, opened with much success. Another major attraction is the oldest remaining Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium in the world

Facing stiff competition for the city's bread-and-butter day-trippers, developers are betting billions on new hotel rooms, hoping that the resort can bring in more overnight visitors.

Among the new or revamped properties is the $400 million Water Club. The city's first luxury noncasino hotel opened its doors and five pools last month in the marina district. Like its neighbor, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, the Water Club was developed by a joint venture of Boyd Gaming Corp. and MGM Mirage.

Revel is a roughly $2 billion beachfront casino by Revel Entertainment Group under construction and targeted to open in 2010. Meanwhile, Coastal Marina LLC agreed to buy the Trump Marina Hotel Casino in May for $316 million. Coastal plans to breathe new life into the property with a Jimmy Buffett-inspired Margaritaville theme.

In all, as many as 3,000 hotel rooms are expected to be added this year, expanding the seaside resort's room inventory by about 20% and more are on the way.

Boosters say the additional rooms and new offerings, including spas, restaurants and designer stores, are part of the city's bid to remake itself as a destination that appeals to visitors looking to do more than gamble. Restaurateur Stephen Starr's Buddakan and stores like Tiffany & Co. are already located in Pier Shops at Caesars, a retail complex opened in 2006.

The pressure is on. With the national economy slowing and Pennsylvania casinos cutting into Atlantic City's customer base, casino revenue from slot machines and table games fell 5.7% last year, marking the city's first annual decline. Casino revenue through May of this year was down 5% from the year-earlier period. (info from Wikipedia & The Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

1977: first TV show jumps the shark

"Jumping the shark" is a colloquialism used by TV critics and fans to denote the point in a TV or movie series when the characters or plot veer into a ridiculous, out-of-the-ordinary storyline.

Shows that have "jumped the shark" are deemed to have passed their peak, since they have undergone too many changes to retain their original appeal, and after this point fans often notice a decline in quality.

The term refers to a scene in a 1977 episode of Happy Days when Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli literally jumps over a shark while water skiing. The scene was considered so preposterous that many believed it to be an attempt at reviving the declining ratings of the flagging show. Ironically, not only was Happy Days reflecting the superstardom of real-life shark-jumper Evel Knievel in the episode, but the series was wildly successful in 1977. Happy Days was the second most popular show on television that year, second only to spin-off, Laverne & Shirley.

Jump-the-shark moments may be viewed as a desperate and futile attempt to keep a series fresh in declining ratings. In other cases the departure or replacement of a main cast member or character or a significant change in setting changes a critical dynamic of the show. These changes are often attempts to attract their fans' waning attention with over-the-top statements or increasingly overt appeals to sex or violence.

The term has also evolved to describe other areas of pop culture including movie series, musicians, actors or authors for whom a drastic change was seen as the beginning of the end or marking the moment the subject is "past its peak." When referring to celebrities, the related term "jumping the couch" is often used if the moment is a personal act of "going off the deep end".

Even before "jumping the shark" was employed as a pop culture term, the episode in question was cited many times as an example of what can happen to otherwise high-quality shows when they stay on the air too long in the face of waning interest. The infamous scene was seen by many as betraying the Happy Days' 1950s setting by cashing in on 1970s fads of Evel Knievel and Jaws.

Producer Garry Marshall later admitted that he knew the show had lost something as the crew prepared to shoot the scene. As Marshall pointed out in the reunion special that aired in 2005, however, Happy Days went on to produce approximately 100 more episodes after the "shark" episode. During the special, question, Marshall introduced the notorious clip and noted that the show had inspired the term.

The first public use of the phrase as a direct metaphor is reported to have been in 1997, when the website was launched by Jon Hein. According to the site, the phrase was first coined by Hein's college roommate, Sean Connolly in 1985. The term first appeared in print in the May 29, 1998, Jerusalem Post newspaper article, "It's All Downhill," written by Jeff Abramowitz.

The phrase has been used more recently outside the realm of popular culture, representing anything that has reached its peak and has turned mediocre, such as a stock or a sports team.

Arrested Development has a character played by Henry Winkler, who played the Fonz in Happy Days. In the episode "Motherboy XXX", while conversing with other characters on a dock, he remarks, "I missed breakfast, so I’m on my way to Burger King," and then hops over a shark that's in his path.

That '70s Show had an episode in which Fez imagines jumping over a shark, thinking how cool it would be to be the Fonz. Hyde comments that not only is it the worst idea ever, but that it also was the worst moment in television history. Fez then says he never really watched the show after that episode. In another episode, Eric asks Pastor Dave how cool Jesus is compared to Fonzie, and asks if he can jump over a shark. The series often utilized 1990s points of view rather than reflect the actual 1970s view where the episode was a huge ratings success.

Mad TV reenacted a skit in which the infamous "jump the shark" episode was partially redone in mock Spanish, featuring dialogue such as Laverne saying "Aww, Shirl, Fonzie es jumpo el sharko!" (info from Wikipedia)