Wednesday, October 29, 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)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2008: first World Series game suspended

A city that has waited a quarter-century for a major professional sports championship will have to wait even longer. The fifth game of the World Series was suspended in the middle of the sixth inning at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night, with the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays tied, 2-2.

The Phillies, who lead the series by three games to one, were 10 outs from clinching a title in a driving rain. But the Rays tied the score in the top of the sixth, and before the bottom of the inning, the tarp was finally pulled over the infield.

The game was suspended at 11:10 p.m., after a 30-minute delay, making it the first World Series game to start and not last at least nine innings. The game was scheduled to be resumed Tuesday at 8 p.m., picking up where it left off on Monday.

Commissioner Bud Selig said that under no circumstances would the Phillies have won the game — and the Series — before the completion of nine innings. He also did not want the game or the Series decided in dangerous playing conditions, even though the game had started and the forecast calls for rain — and even snow — until Thursday.

“I would not have allowed a World Series to end this way,” Selig said.

The Phillies did not want to win the championship with a five-inning victory, either. “I truly think that would have been the worst World Series win in the face of baseball,” said Phillies starter Cole Hamels, who threw just 75 pitches over six innings. “I would not pride myself on being a world champion with a called game.”

Selig met before the game with umpires and team execs. He blamed a faulty forecast for the decision to play the game. “We were told about 7:45 that there’d only be about a tenth of an inch of rain between then and midnight or after,” Selig said. “So everybody in the room wanted to play. Given the weather forecast that we had — and I had monitored it over and over again — it was a decision that we made. I made it with some significant trepidation, but had the forecast held, we’d have been OK.”

There is precedent for teams waiting days to play a World Series game. The famed Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, won on a homer by Boston’s Carlton Fisk against Cincinnati, was played after three days of rainouts at Fenway Park.

Some players wore caps with thermal earflaps. Hitters stopped in the middle of their at-bat to dry off their bat handle. The Rays’ pitching coach, Jim Hickey, brought a tongue depressor to the mound for Kazmir to clean his spikes with.

The grounds crew worked vigorously in the middle innings, spreading fresh dirt — called Diamond Dust — around an infield that was more like a reflecting pool. (info & photo from the NY Times)

Monday, October 27, 2008

1987: Sarah Palin had her first abortion

Maybe Governor Sarah Palin had an abortion the first time she got pregnant, and then got married after the second time she got pregnant. Maybe Governor Sarah Palin had her first abortion in 1995. Maybe she never had one.

She is the only one of the four major political candidates who has refused to release medical records. Maybe Governor Sarah Palin is hiding an abortion or two.

Maybe Governor Sarah Palin was born a man. Maybe Governor Sarah Palin had a sex change operation. Maybe Trig and Piper and Flog and Gort and Phlegm and Snowball and Brittny and LaKeisha Palin were all adopted.

Maybe Bristol Palin was impregnated by a Martian. Maybe Governor Sarah Palin is going to have a half-green grandchild with a strange name instead of a half-redneck child with a strange name whose father said he doesn't want any kids.

(By the way, compared to Track and Trig, Barack seems like a perfectly normal name.)

Since the Moose Mama has demonstrated so little regard for the truth in the current political campaign, I see no reason not to have a little fun at her expense. Google usually picks up this blog pretty fast, so let's see where the alleged news goes.

UPDATE: Five hours after I posted this, if you Google the phrase: "Governor Sarah Palin had her first abortion in 1995" you'll get a link to this blog. If you read it on the Internet, it must be true.

Friday, October 24, 2008

September 2008: first house sales increase since 2005

More existing homes were sold last month than had been sold a year earlier, the National Association of Realtors reported this morning. It’s the first such increase since late 2005. (An “existing home” is one that was previously owned by someone else — as opposed to a newly built home.)

This doesn’t mean the housing slump is over, or even close to being over. In fact, more than a third of last month’s home sales were part of a foreclosure process.

By many measures — like house prices relative to incomes — prices still have another 5 percent or 10 percent to fall, before they have reached a historically normal value. And it’s possible that they will overshoot their normal values, as prices often do in the aftermath of a bubble. (info from The New York Times)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

2007: first country allows online voting in national election

On March 4, 2007 Estonia became the world's first country to allow voters in a national parliamentary election to cast their ballots over the Internet. Estonia has gained a reputation for computer literacy since it left the Soviet Union in 1991 and allowed Internet voting in local elections in 2005.

The nationwide e-voting system was tried out a month earier. One test involved the chance to choose the "king of the forest," with voters picking one animal from among 10 candidates, including moose, deer and boars.

To vote, Estonians put their state-issued identification card, which has an electronic chip on it, into a reader attached to a computer and then enter two passwords. The readers sell for between 100 and 200 krooni, or $8.40 to $16.80, and more than one million chip-enabled ID cards have been issued in this country of 1.3 million people.

Estonians already use ID cards to produce digital "signatures" to conduct business online without the need to sign paper documents.

One of the most common explanations as to why Estonians have taken to new technology "is that everything had to be done new here," after independence, said Jaan Tallinn, a senior programmer involved in the development of Skype. "There were no legacies to deal with, like with bank checks, which were already obsolete. So companies could create new systems and people just used them."

Estonian banks have offered online banking services since 1997, and every move by the private sector has been matched with laws to support e-commerce and e-services, including access to government information. Estonians can also use cellphones to pay for parking or buy bus tickets using wireless Internet points scattered across the country.

Security issues related to voting on the Internet raised few concerns. "E-voting is not so difficult to think about here," Jann Murumets, a computer systems and security specialist, said. "We are used to using the Internet for business and for almost 10 years we have been using the Internet for banking."

But the winner of the "king of the forest" vote remained a mystery, because no count was done following the tests. "In the end, only the animals in the forest know," said Arne Koitmae, an official with the state electoral commission. (info from The International Herald Tribune)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

2007: first female gondola paddler in Venice

For more than a thousand years, Venice has had gondolas but never a female gondolier until last year.

As Alexandra Hai paddles through the canals, many people shout encouragement. She won the right to run a hotel gondola but not to be called a gondolier. After a decade of struggle, Hai has won the right to be a gondolier — sort of. A court allowed her to paddle around the canals of Venice, but only for the residents of one of the city’s hotels.

The 425 gondoliers of Venice, who practice a traditional, all-male craft, and who often hand down their jobs from father to son, are opposed to her.

Roberto Luppi, president of the gondoliers’ association, said that Hai, a 40-year-old of German and Algerian descent, had been proven incapable of the complicated duties of handling a 35-foot-long gondola, having failed four tests, and that she used the fact that she is a woman to whip up interest in the news media.

When asked about Hai’s accusations that gondoliers had physically threatened her, he reacted with scorn. “After a person accuses gondoliers of being racists and sexists, what does she expect?” he said. “That they are supposed to give her kisses?”

The dispute is playing out in a graceful, decaying, threatened city that resists change and survives on tourism. In the past half-century, Venice has experienced an exodus of residents. Its population, which stood at 184,000 in 1950, is now a third of that. Recurring flooding and rising tides have left many palazzos decrepit and uninhabitable. At night parts of the historical center are as deserted as an abandoned movie set.

A pioneering forerunner to Hai was Ljubica Gunj, who eight years ago became the first woman permitted to wait on customers at tables on St. Mark’s Square. “I think it is chauvinism,” she said of the opposition to Hai. While Gunj tends tables at the Aurora Café, the Florian Café next door — in business since 1720 — lets women wait on tables only indoors, not on the piazza.

Hai is the center of a story that includes charges of sexism, reverse sexism, mastery of the waterways and bias against foreigners.

She contends that she has clearly been discriminated against. She says that the city of Venice and the gondoliers rigged the last three of the four failed tests against her. She says that she has been the target of insults and threats and that her boat has been repeatedly vandalized.

She also contends that the gondoliers’ association, despite warm overtures at the outset, never wanted a woman or a foreigner among their ranks. (She holds a German passport and has been here for 11 years.)

Hai rattled off her suspicions, which are provocative but unproven: that in one test, she was forced to use an oar that was as “light as a cigarette” and that in another, her route was littered by an unusually high number of moored motorboats. After the Locanda Art Deco hotel hired her privately, she was regularly pulled over by the police to make sure her passengers were from that hotel, she said.

To gondoliers, the job is fit only for a man, since it involves strength, ability to navigate currents and paddle in reverse, and even the aesthetics of the gondoliers of yore in their black-and-white striped shirts.

Despite her marathon to win acceptance from the gondoliers, Hai says she is not exactly a fierce warrior. Indeed, she finds herself miscast for the role. “There is nothing worse than to do something like this,” she said in a chat at a cafe in the Piazza St. Angelo, describing the decade she spent pressing for limited acceptance. “It is sad to waste my entire life like this. I would have preferred to do something more useful in life, like helping save the rain forests.” (info & photo from The New York Times)

Monday, October 20, 2008

1533: first high-heeled shoes

While high heels today are mostly associated with women's shoes, many shoe designs worn by both genders have elevated heels, including cowboy boots and cuban heels.

Raised heels may have been a response to the problem of a horse rider's foot slipping forward in stirrups. The "rider's heel," about 1-1/2" high, appeared around 1500. The leading edge was canted forward to help grip the stirrup, and the trailing edge was canted forward to prevent the elongated heel from catching on underbrush or rock while backing up, such as in on-foot combat. These features are evident today in riding boots, notably cowboy boots.

In 1533, Catherine de Medici, the diminutive wife of the Duke of Orleans, commissioned a cobbler to fashion her a pair of heels, both for fashion, and to increase her stature. They were an adaptation of chopines (elevated wooden soles with both heel and toe raised not unlike modern platform shoes), but unlike chopines the heel was higher than the toe and the "platform" was made to bend in the middle with the foot.

The simple riding heel gave way to a more stylized heel over its first three decades. Beginning with the French, heel heights among men crept up, often becoming higher and thinner, until they were no longer useful while riding, but were relegated to "court-only" wear. By the late 1600s men's heels were commonly between three and four inches in height.

France's King Louis XIV (1638-1715) was only five feet, three inches tall until he grew five inches wearing shoes with curved heels constructed of cork and covered with red-dyed leather symbolizing nobility. On special occasions, his high heels were ornamented with hand-painted scenes of his military victories. Today, curved heels preserve his legacy and are known as Louis or French heels. Other heel-wearers used their footwear to boast of their wealth; the heels were so high that servants had to break them in, so to wear high heels also proved one could afford servants.

High-heeled shoes quickly caught on with the fashion-conscious men and women of the French court, and spread to pockets of nobility in other countries. The term "well-heeled" became synonymous with opulent wealth. Both men and women continued wearing heels as a matter of noble fashion throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When the French Revolution drew near, in the late 1700s, the practice of wearing heels fell into decline in France due to its associations with wealth and aristocracy. Throughout most of the 1800s, flat shoes and sandals were usual for both sexes, but the heel resurfaced in fashion during the late 1800s, almost exclusively among women. (Photo from Wikipedia) (Info from Wikipedia and

Thursday, October 16, 2008

1870: first flat-bottom paper bag

Before Margaret Smith got involved, paper bags were like giant envelopes. Knight was an employee in a paper bag factory when she invented a device that would automatically fold and glue paper bags with square bottoms, so they'd hold more and stand up by themselves.

Male co-workers reportedly refused her advice when installing the equipment because they thought a woman couldn't know anything about machines. Knight can be considered the mother of the grocery bag, and founded the Eastern Paper Bag Company in 1870.

Knight was born in 1838. She received her first patent at the age of 30, but inventing was always part of her life. She made sleds and kites for her brothers while growing up in Maine. She went to work in the Amoskeag cotton mills when she was nine years old. When, at the age of twelve, she saw a fellow worker badly injured, she invented a device to quickly stop the machinery; and the owner put it to use.

Knight is considered a "female Edison," and received some 26 patents for such diverse items as a window frame and sash, machinery for cutting shoe soles, and improvements to internal combustion engines. She is believed to have made twice as many other inventions that were not patented. Margaret Knight's paper bag machine design is still in use, and her original machine is in the Smithsonian. Info from and the University of Houston)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

1935: Hollywood's last silent film

The first commercial screening of movies with fully synchronized sound took place in 1923, and the first feature-length movie originally presented as a talkie was The Jazz Singer, released in 1927; but silent films continued to be made into the next decade.

The last silent film ever produced in Hollywood was released by Paramount International in 1935. Legong: Dance of the Virgins, was originally shown only outside the US due to concerns about female nudity in the film and the uproar it would cause. It was fiilmed in Bali, Indonesia.

The movie is a tragic tale of love denied. Poutou, a young girl who is a respected Legong dancer, falls in love with young musician Nyoung. Her father is delighted with Poutou's choice and wants to help her to conquer Nyoung's heart. But Poutou's half sister Saplak also wants Nyoung, and when he chooses Saplak, Poutou drowns herself. The movie displays Balinese culture including frenetic dances, mystical parades, the local marketplace, a cockfight and a mass cremation.

Finally in the late 1930's it was shown in theaters in Hollywood and New York City attracting thousands to see bare-breasted native girls. (info from, Milestone Films and Wikipedia)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

1928: First blind girl received masters degree in New York

Mary Bierman, apparently the first blind girl to receive a master's degree fom a New York college, graduated from Teachers College at Columbia University on June 5, 1928 with high honors.

She received her bachelor's degree a year earlier.

She is a musician and helped pay for college by teaching dancing. She specialized in speech education. (info from The New York Times)

Monday, October 13, 2008

1901: US president's house named The White House

The White House, formerly known as the Executive Mansion, is the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., it was built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the late Georgian style and has been the executive residence of every US President since John Adams. When Thomas Jefferson moved into the home in 1801, he, with architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, expanded the building outward, creating two colonnades which were meant to conceal stables and storage.

In 1814, during the War of 1812, the mansion was set ablaze by the British Army in the Burning of Washington, destroying the interior and charring much of the exterior walls. Reconstruction began almost immediately, and President James Monroe moved into the partially reconstructed house in October 1817.

Construction continued with the addition of the South Portico in 1824 and the North in 1829. Due to crowding within the executive mansion itself, President Theodore Roosevelt had nearly all work offices relocated to the newly-constructed West Wing in 1901.

Eight years later, President William Howard Taft expanded the West Wing and created the first Oval Office which was eventually moved as the section was expanded. The third-floor attic was converted to living quarters in 1927 by augmenting the existing hip roof with long shed dormers. A newly constructed East Wing was used as a reception area for social events; both new wings were connected by Jefferson's colonnades.

East Wing alterations were completed in 1946 creating additional office space. By 1948, the house's load-bearing exterior walls and internal wood beams were found to be close to failure. Under Harry S. Truman, the interior rooms were completely dismantled, resulting in the construction of a new internal load-bearing steel framework and the reassembly of the interior rooms.

Today, the White House Complex includes the Executive Residence (in which the First Family resides), the West Wing (the location of the Oval Office, Cabinet Room, and Roosevelt Room), and the East Wing (the location of the office of the First Lady and White House Social Secretary), as well as the Old Executive Office Building, which houses the executive offices of the President and Vice President.

The White House is made up of six stories: the Ground Floor, State Floor, Second Floor, and Third Floor, as well as a two-story basement. The term White House is regularly used to imply the Executive Office of the President of the United States and for the president's administration and advisors in general. The property is owned by the National Park Service and is part of the President's Park.

The building was originally referred to variously as the "President's Palace", "Presidential Mansion", or "President's House". The earliest evidence of the public calling it the "White House" was recorded in 1811. A legend emerged that during the rebuilding of the structure white paint was applied to mask the burn damage it had suffered, giving the building its namesake color; this is unfounded as the building had been painted white since its construction in 1798.

The name "Executive Mansion" was used in official contexts until President Theodore Roosevelt established the formal name by having the de facto name "White House–Washington" engraved on the stationery in 1901. The current letterhead wording and arrangement "The White House" with the word "Washington" centered beneath goes back to the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (info from Wikipedia)

Friday, October 10, 2008

1391?: first toilet paper

Behinds have needed to be cleaned since human beings started living in groups. Our ancestors used grass, leaves, fur, moss, seashells, corncobs, stones and pieces of clay. Ancient Roman public toilets had a stick with a sponge attached to its end that soaked in a bucket of brine.

Using a wet hand is common in India and Muslim countries, where people use their left hand to clean themselves and their right hand for eating or greeting. In parts of Africa, though, the reverse is true, and a right-handed handshake could be considered rude. Some Indians and Middle Eastern people are disgusted by dry toilet paper because they feel washing is absolutely necessary.
  • In the court of Henry VII of England, the Groom of the Stool was given the job of cleaning the royal anus by hand.
  • Real toilet paper, made specifically for butt wiping, goes back at least to the late 14th Century, when Chinese emperors ordered it in large sheets.
  • Pages torn from newspapers and magazines were commonly used in outhouses in the early American West. The Sears catalogue was well-known for this purpose, and the Farmer's Almanac had a hole in it so it could be hung on a hook and the pages torn off easily.
  • Joseph C. Gayetty of New York started producing the first packaged toilet paper in the U.S. in 1857. It consisted of pre-moistened flat sheets medicated with aloe.
  • Modern rolled and perforated toilet paper was invented around 1880. Various sources attribute it to the Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company in 1877, and to the Scott Paper company in 1879 or 1890. Scott was too embarrassed to put their name on their product, as the concept of toilet paper was a sensitive subject at the time; so they customized it for their customers. Waldorf (Hotel) became a big name in toilet paper.
  • In 1935, Northern Tissue advertised "splinter-free" toilet paper. Early paper production techniques sometimes left splinters embedded in the paper.
  • In 1942, St. Andrew's Paper Mill in Great Britain introduced two-ply toilet paper.
  • The Great Toilet Paper Shortage occurred in 1973 after Tonight Show host Johnny Carson joked that there was an acute shortage in the US. The next morning, 20 million people bought all the toilet paper they could find. By noon, most stores were sold out. (info from Great Northern, Wikipedia, Nobody's Perfect)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

1938: Kristallnacht, the beginning of the Holocaust

70 years ago, Kristallnacht (literally "Crystal night" or the Night of Broken Glass) was a pogrom in Nazi Germany on November 9–10, 1938. On a single night, 92 Jews were murdered and 25,000–30,000 were arrested and deported to concentration camps.

On November 7, 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year old German Jew enraged by his family's expulsion from Germany, walked into the German Embassy in Paris and fired five shots at a junior diplomat, Ernst vom Rath. Two days later, the diplomat died and Germany was in the grip of skillfully orchestrated anti-Jewish violence. In the early hours of November 10, coordinated destruction broke out in cities, towns and villages throughout the Third Reich.

The consequences of this violence were disastrous for the Jews of the Third Reich. In a single night, Kristallnacht saw the destruction of more than 200 Synagogues, and the ransacking of tens of thousands of Jewish businesses and homes. It marked the beginning of the systematic eradication of a people who could trace their ancestry in Germany to Roman times, and served as a prelude to the Holocaust that was to follow. (Info from Wikipedia. Photo shows a synagogue destroyed on Kristallnacht)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

2008: first space walk by Chinese spaceman, as US space program fades away

On September 28 astronaut Zhai Zhigang became the first Chinese man to walk in space.

But in a week where China blasted men into orbit -- and launched an ambitious project that could see them on the moon by 2017 -- American space scientists were fearing they could be left behind in the space race with the news NASA is being hit hard by the credit crunch.

The US space agency, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, is short of funds and, with little hope of more government money, experts warn it will be stuck in a five-year time warp without a spaceship to take astronauts into space.

The ageing, accident prone space shuttles are to be retired in 2010 -- but the next US space vehicle, a traditional rocket called Orion, will not be ready until 2015.
Meanwhile there were happy scenes in China as Zhai clambered out of China's Shenzhou VII space craft and waved to the camera.

"I'm feeling quite well. I greet the Chinese people and the people of the world," Zhai said as he climbed out of the craft, his historic achievement carried live on state television.

The 41-year-old son of a snack-seller chosen for the first extra-vehicular activity, unveiled a small Chinese flag, helped by colleague Liu Boming, who also briefly popped his head out of the capsule. The third crew member, Jing Haipeng, monitored the ship from inside the re-entry module.

Zhai safely returned inside the craft after about 13 minutes. The walk marked the highpoint of China's third manned space journey, which has received blanket media coverage.

The fast-growing Asian power wants to be sure of a say in how space and its potential resources are used. But for NASA the future does not look so bright.
Even to get to the orbiting International Space Station in the intervening years, the US must rely on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for transport, at a time when relations are rapidly deteriorating as the Kremlin flexes its muscles in areas like Georgia and Venezuela.

Joseph Alexander, of the respected Space Studies Board of the US National Academy of Sciences, said he worries that NASA is being set up to fail.

Dr Alexander said, "The program is in danger of completely running aground at this point. Within the constraints that this administration has put on NASA's budget, you can't get anywhere."

Alarmed members of Congress, and Republican candidate John McCain, have asked President Bush to keep the shuttle flying. But that would cost nearly $2 billion a year, so beleaguered Presidet Bush will leave the expensive decision to his successor.

Things were vastly different on October 1, 1958, when President Eisenhower created NASA on a wave of patriotic enthusiasm to take on the Soviet Union in the space race.

Since then NASA has put the first man on the moon, and there have been successful robotic probes to Venus, Mars and other planets.

The agency built the enormously successful Hubble telescope, and repaired it in space when things went wrong. It also helped build the International Space Station, although nobody knows what to do with it now that it is nearly finished.

It has been expensive in human lives. The US and Russia together have had 30 astronauts and more than 70 ground crew killed in space-related accidents. The financial cost is literally out of this world, although no one has any real idea how much has been spent on space programs.

NASA still has ambitious plans. Griffin said, "What we've put in place is a system capable of taking human beings around the inner solar system. One day, I have no doubt, you'll see people a million miles from home, exploring the final frontier. Fundamentally, it's about long-term human survival. If we believe that human life is worth preserving, then we have to face the fact that the history of life on Earth is the history of extinction. To survive, mankind must find other planets to live on."

He was, hopefully, talking thousands of years in the future. But experts say more immediately, NASA will have to abandon its traditional "do it our way" approach and co-operate with more foreign partners, and private enterprise, if it wants to stay in the space race.

Meanwhile China's Communist Party leaders are celebrating the latest space mission, hailing the country's achievements in a year in which Beijing has staged a successful Olympics and coped with a devastating earthquake in Sichuan.

China's first manned spaceflight was in 2003. A second, two-manned flight followed in 2005. The only other countries that have sent people into space are Russia and the United States. (info from The Daily Mail)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

1996: man begins perpetual erection

Charles "Chick" Lennon received a Dura-II penile implant in 1996, about two years before Viagra went on the market. The implant is designed to allow impotent men to position the penis upward for sex, then lower it. It consists of a series of plastic plates strung together with steel surgical wire, almost like a roll of wrapped coins. Springs press against the plates, creating enough surface tension to simulate an erection.

But Lennon could not position his penis downward. He said that because of a defective implant, he could no longer hug people, ride a bike, swim or wear bathing trunks because of the pain and embarrassment. He became a recluse and was uncomfortable being around his grandchildren, said his attorney Jules D'Alessandro. "I don't know any man who for any amount of money would want to trade and take my client's life. He's not a whole person."

Lennon cannot get the implant removed because of health problems, including open-heart surgery, the lawyer said. Impotence drugs could not help Lennon even if he were able to have the device taken out, because tissue had be to removed for it to be implanted.

In 2004, a jury awarded him $750,000. A judge called that excessive and reduced it to $400,000. Later the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed that award in a ruling that turned on a procedural matter.

Dacomed maintained that nothing was wrong with the implant. Dacomed was later acquired by a California company whose sales dropped when Viagra was introduced. The company filed for bankruptcy the following year. The medical device maker's insurance company argued that since the device's now-defunct manufacturer, Dacomed Corp., can't be held liable for the device, it can't be either.

In a recent interview, Lennon said "I'm suffering with it right now", he said. "It never stops. It's like a constant headache." (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, October 6, 2008

1869: first transcontinental railroad in the US

The First Transcontinental Railroad was completed on May 10, 1869, with a ceremonial golden spike driven at Promontory, Utah, after track was laid over a 1,756 mile gap between Sacramento and Omaha by the Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad.

Friday, October 3, 2008

1907: Last state makes Christmas a holiday

During the first two centuries after the death of Jesus, Christmas was not celebrated. In 245, when a group of scholars attempted to determine the exact date of his birth, a church council denounced the endeavor, declaring it would be wrong to celebrate the birthday "as though he were a King Pharaoh."

Still, attempts were made to pinpoint Jesus' birthday. The result was multiple dates: January 1, January 6, March 25, and May 20. Initially, the May date was favored because the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2:8) reports that the shepherds who received the announcement of the birth were watching their sheep by night. Shepherds guarded their flocks day and night only during lambing time, which was in the spring. In winter, the animals were generally enclosed in corrals, unwatched.

In 349 Pope Julius formally selected December 25 as the day for Christmas. This date was already widely celebrated in the Roman world as citizens observed the Natalis Solis Invicti (the Birthday of the Inconquerable Sun) in honor of the sun god, Mithras. The festival took place just after the winter solstice, when the days become longer.

Many modern Christmas customs such as decorating a house with greenery, exchanging gifts, and enjoying festive meals originated with this pagan celebration. Scholars believe that Pope Julius selected December 25 as the date of the Nativity to win over followers of Mithras as well as to give Christians an opportunity to honor Christ's birth.

In seventeenth century England, the Puritans objected to Christian celebrations that had no clear biblical basis (the Bible does not tell us to celebrate Jesus' birthday). As a result, the English Parliament in 1643 outlawed Christmas, Easter, and other Christian holidays. However, December 25 as a festive day was so popular that by 1660 the citizens reclaimed it.

When the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620 they also brought with them a distrust of Christmas. A 1659 Massachusetts law fined people for celebrating on December 25. But again, the day was so popular thatthe law was repealed in 1681, although strong religious opposition lasted into the next century.

Christmas is the only religious holiday in America that is also a national legal holiday. In 1836, Alabama became the first state to declare Christmas an official holiday. Oklahoma was the last, in 1907. (adapted from info posted by Victor M. Parachin)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

1810: first Oktoberfest

The Oktoberfest is a sixteen-day festival held each year in Munich, Bavaria, Germany during late September and early October). It is one of the most famous events in the city and the world's largest fair, with some six million people attending every year, and is an enjoyable event with an important part of Bavarian culture. Other cities across the world also hold Oktoberfest celebrations, modeled after the Munich event.

The original Oktoberfest occurred in Munich, on October 12, 1810. For the commemoration of their marriage, Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen (namesake of the Theresienwiese festival grounds) organized a great horse race (the marriage took place on October 12; the horse race on October 17 — therefore, there are different dates named as being the first Oktoberfest).

Oktoberfestbiers are the beers that have been served at the event in Munich since 1818, and are supplied by 6 breweries known as the Big Six: Spaten, Löwenbräu, Augustiner, Hofbräu, Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr.

Traditionally Oktoberfestbiers were lagers called Märzen -- brewed in March and allowed to ferment slowly during the summer months. Originally these would have been dark lagers, but from 1872 a strong March brewed version of an amber-red Vienna lager made by Josef Sedlmayr became the favourite Oktoberfestbier.

The Munich Oktoberfest, traditionally, takes place during the sixteen days up to and including the first Sunday in October. In 1990, the schedule was modified in response to German reunification so that if the first Sunday in October falls on the 1st or 2nd, then the festival will go on until October 3rd (German Unity Day). Thus, the festival is now 17 days when the 1st Sunday is October 2nd and 18 days when it is October 1st. The festival is held on an area named the Theresienwiese (field, or meadow, of Therese), often called d’ Wiesn for short.

Visitors also eat huge amounts of food, most of it traditional hearty fare such as Hendl (chicken), Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Haxn (knuckle of pork), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Würstel (sausages) along with Brezel (Pretzel)), Knödeln (potato or bread dumplings), Käsespätzle (cheese noodles), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), Sauerkraut or Blaukraut (red cabbage) along with such Bavarian delicacies as Obatzda (a fatty, spiced cheese-butter concoction) and Weisswurst (a white sausage).

The list of lost items collected is a good indication of how intense the partying can get -- last year it included four sets of false teeth, 1,600 pieces of clothing, 600 identity cards and credit cards, and one complete Dirndl dress. (info from Wikipedia and Harry Newton)