Tuesday, May 27, 2008

time out

I need to re-charge my battery. I should be back the first week in June.

Friday, May 23, 2008

31,827BCE: first man to eat a lobster

During a fall harvest festival in 31,827BCE, a 22-year-old caveman named Fnork killed, cooked and ate a lobster he found crawling on a beach in southern France.

Before that meal, lobsters were considered to be spawn of the devil (and high in cholesterol), and many people praised Fnork as the bravest man in the world.

According to interpretations of a cave painting, Fnork ate the lobster boiled, with melted butter and mashed turnips. Fnork's lobster bib was made of goat hide, and he used a goat's femur bone to crack the claws. Fnork said the boiled lobster was OK, but he wanted to try one stuffed with crabmeat in the future.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Maybe not the first time, but a good story

When a parrot named Yosuke flew out of his cage and got lost, he did exactly what he had been taught - recite his name and address to a stranger willing to help.

Police rescued the African grey parrot two weeks ago from a neighbor's roof in Nagareyama, near Tokyo, Japan. After spending a night at the police station, he was transferred to a veterinary hospital while police tried to identify his owner.

Yosuke had been silent with the cops, but began chatting after a few days with the vet.

"I'm Mr. Yosuke Nakamura," the bird told the veterinarian. The parrot also provided his full home address, and sang to entertain the hospital staff.

The Nakamura family told police they had been teaching the bird its name and address for about two years.

But Yosuke apparently wasn't happy about talking to police. "I tried to be friendly and talked to him, but he completely ignored me," officer Shinjiro Uemura said. (info & photo from The Associated Press)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

1903: first teabag

Tea is one of the most widely-consumed beverages in the world, second only to water. It has been drunk worldwide for thousands of years, starting in China.

In one popular Chinese legend, Shennong, the legendary Emperor of China, inventor of agriculture and Chinese medicine, was drinking a bowl of boiling water, some time around 2737 BCE. The wind blew and a few leaves from a nearby tree fell into his water and began to change its colour. The inquisitive and curious monarch took a sip of the brew and was pleasantly surprised by its flavor and its restorative properties. A variant of the legend tells that the emperor tested the medical properties of various herbs on himself, some of them poisonous, and found tea to work as an antidote.

In 59 BCE, Wang Bao wrote the first known book providing instructions on buying and preparing tea, establishing that, at this time, tea was not only a medicine but an important part of diet.

The traditional method of making a cup of tea is to place loose tea leaves, either directly, or in a tea infuser, into a tea pot or teacup and pour hot water over the leaves. After a couple of minutes the leaves are usually removed again, either by removing the infuser, or by straining the tea while serving.

The first tea bags were made from hand-sewn silk muslin bags and tea bag patents of this sort exist dating as early as 1903. First appearing commercially around 1904, tea bags were successfully marketed by tea and coffee merchant Thomas Sullivan in New York, who shipped his tea bags around the world. Modern tea bags are usually made of paper fiber.

Tea bag paper is related to paper found in coffee filters. It is made with a blend of wood and vegetable fibers. The vegetable fiber is bleached pulp abaca hemp, a small plantation tree grown for the fiber, mostly in the Philippines and Colombia.

Traditionally, tea bags have been square or rectangular in shape. More recently circular and pyramidal bags have come on the market, and are often claimed by the manufacturers to improve the quality of the brew. This claim, however, only holds with a proper preparation. Certainly preparations of tea with a teabag in a cup often results in poor infusion time.

Tea bags have evolved from the traditional square, to the circular and finally the pyramidal shape, with less adhesive used to seal the bags in each stage. It could be surmised that the development is not to improve the quality of the brew, but to reduce the cost of producing the bags.

Empty tea bags are also available for consumers to fill with tea leaves. These are typically an open-ended pouch with a long flap. The pouch is filled and the flap is closed to retain the tea. The resulting tea bag combines the ease of use of a commercially-produced tea bag with the wider tea choice and better quality control of loose leaf tea.

Because of the convenience of tea bags, a wide variety of herbs can be purchased as "tea bag cut", a grade which is specified in terms of the particle size, typically with the bulk of the leaves around 1 - 1.5 mm.

The nylon pyramidal teabag containing tea leaf fragments instead of the tea "detritus" or dust made an appearance in the marketplace for aficionados. The pyramidal shape allows more room for the leaf to steep. Environmentalists prefer silk to nylon because of health and biodegradability issues. (info from Wikipedia)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

1963: first honorary US citizen
1981: second honorary US citizen

At the outbreak of World War II, Sir Winston Churchill became Britain’s primary political figure. He was an author, First Lord of the Admiralty, Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury, and Minister of Defense.

In World War II, Churchill distinguished himself through speeches, and found ways to motivate the people despite horrible circumstances. After the end of the Battle of Britain, Churchill thanked the Royal Air Force by uttering the immortal words, “Never have so many owed so much to so few.” Sir Winston was revered by his people, and managed to protect Britain and lead the nation on to victory.

In 1941, Churchill published Into Battle. The next year The Unrelenting Struggle was released, followed by The End of the Beginning in 1943. Churchill published Onwards to Victory in 1944, and finished The Dawn of Liberation before the war ended.

After the war, Churchill was awarded the Order of Merit and was also elected to the Leader of the Opposition until 1951, during which time he published several books. In 1946, both Victory and Secret Session Speeches. He also wrote The Sinews of Peace, Painting as a Pastime, and began work on a six volume book on World War II. The books would be published with one a year, except in 1953, until 1954. During this time, Churchill was elected to a four-year term on October 26, 1951 and was made a Knight of the Garter in 1953. Later that year, Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature after writing Stemming the Tide. Churchill resigned as the Prime Minister on April 5, 1955, but remained seated in the House of Commons for a while longer.

As soon as he finished the The Second World War Series, Churchill began work on a four volume series on A History of English-Speaking Peoples. The year after completing the book, Churchill was elected to his last term with the House of Commons, and was made an honorary citizen of the United States.

The 90 year-old Churchill died in London on January 24, 1965, and was buried near his birthplace of Blenheim Palace. With him died one of Britain’s most popular politicians, as well as one of the most talented writers. Sir Winston had written nearly 30 books, plus the separate volumes, and helped to guide his nation through the two major world wars of the 20th century. Sir Winston Churchill was also the first British citizen to become an honorary American Citizen.

Raoul Wallenberg was born in 1912 into a prominent Swedish family.

After finishing his studies in architecture at the University of Michigan and upon returning to Sweden, his grandfather sent him to Cape Town, South Africa, where Wallenberg practiced at a Swedish firm, selling building materials. After six months, his grandfather arranged a new job for him at a Dutch bank office in Haifa, then Palestine.

In 1944, Wallenberg accepted the offer of the "United States War Refugee Board" (WRB), an organization with the purpose of saving Jews from Nazi persecution, to observe the plight of Hungarian Jews in Budapest. He traveled as an envoy of the Swedish Foreign Ministry to Hungary.

Ivar Danielsson was head of the Swedish legation. His closest aide was secretary Per Anger. The Swedish legation in Budapest succeeded in negotiating with the Germans that the bearers of so-called "Schutzpässe" (protective passes, see picture at left) would be treated as Swedish citizens and exempt from wearing the yellow Star of David on their chest. It was Per Anger, who initiated the first of these Swedish protective passes.

In 1966, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem honored Raoul Wallenberg as "righteous among nations." The same honor went to Per Anger in 1982 for his heroic actions to save Jews during the war.

Wallenberg headed the department responsible for helping Jews. In the following months, he courageously succeeded in saving 100,000 Jews from being deported and killed. Within six months, he managed to issue thousands of Swedish "Schutzpässe." In addition, he helped hide Jews in 30 safe houses in the Pest part of the city, where Jews could seek refuge, and he provided food and health care.

By power of his diplomatic orders, he was even able to pull a number of Jews off the deportation trains that were headed for the concentration camps in Poland. He climbed the train wagons, stood on the tracks, ran along the wagon roofs, and stuck bunches of protective passes down to the people inside.

In 1945, after Hungary's liberation by Soviet troops, Wallenberg and members of the Swedish consulate in Budapest were arrested. All were later released—except Wallenberg. He was accused of being an "American spy."

Whether Raoul Wallenberg is alive or dead is uncertain. The Russians claim that he died in their captivity on July 17, 1947 of heart failure. A number of testimonies, as late as the 1980s, indicate, however, that he was seen alive.

On October 5, 1981, Wallenberg became an honorary American citizen. At the time, only Churchill had been made an honorary American citizen. The legislation, initiated by Congressman and Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos who owed his life to Wallenberg's deeds — sped through Congress, and President Reagan signed it into law in the Rose Garden that fall.

"Our hope was that we could save [Wallenberg] by using a tactic similar to the one Wallenberg himself had so creatively applied during the war to save us and so many others," explained Lantos. "We would create an American citizenship document to give the United States an opportunity and reason to work for his protection. Some of us in Congress continued to press the Soviets through the years, using the vehicle of Wallenberg's honorary citizenship. Unfortunately, our progress in solving this mystery has been minimal."

On October 8, 1986, the street in Washington, D.C., where the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was about to open to the public was renamed Wallenberg Place. And a bust of Raoul Wallenberg stands in the U.S. capitol.

"Many honors have been given, and will continue to be given, to preserve the memory of Wallenberg's achievements," says Lantos. "[In November], he will be made an honorary citizen of Budapest. Such honors are helpful in educating the world about Wallenberg's selfless and courageous work....The international community, and most especially the American government, must redouble their efforts to establish the facts of what happened to him. Additional pressure must be brought to bear against Russia to open all archives related to his case, even if it means unleashing embarrassing secrets of the Soviet era—or more recent secrets, and not just Russian ones."

(info from Angelfire & tekla-szymanski.com)

Monday, May 19, 2008

1968: first commercial LED

About 12 billion electric lights on the planet use "Edison" type bulbs; a third are in the US. Lighting up the world consumes about 2 trillion kilowatt-hours annually, or one-eighth of all electric power. This takes a lot of fuel: the equivalent of nearly a billion tons of coal annually. In the US, half of that is in fact coal. Or, in oil-equivalent terms, US lighting uses the equivalent of 50% of the energy used by all cars on American roads.

People crave illumination, have for centuries, and the real economic cost of illumination has utterly collapsed. It is 1,000 times cheaper to light up a room today than at the dawn of the 20th century, and 10,000 times cheaper than in 1850. Consequently, appetites have soared for the central product of illumination technology, lumens. Humans consume 40,000 trillion lumen-hours per year. Focus on the lumen, not the bulb, to understand the future.

Until now, there have been only three illumination technologies: fire, from, first, torches, tallow and wax candles and, later, whale and kerosene oil lamps; electric incandescence, famously perfected in 1879; and electric-induced fluorescence, introduced in 1938 by General Electric . In 1962, Nick Holonyak, a GE engineer, invented the LED, marking the next pivot in illumination's millennia-long march toward ever more ubiquitous, cheaper lumens. Holonyak may eventually become more famous than Edison.

LEDs are fabricated from various concoctions of "compound" semiconductors, mainly gallium and indium. All older forms of illumination use brute force to heat something till it glows. The central difference with an LED is that photons are emitted by designing precise semiconductor junctions, tuned just so to emit photons.

Commercial LEDs were quickly introduced by 1968. Early ones dribbled out pathetically small flows of lumens and were ridiculously inefficient, converting fewer watts to lumens than even the notoriously inefficient incandescent bulb. Still, they were enough to start the revolution. The tiny, solid, robust and very long-lived LED was ideal for instrument and indicator lights and digital watches).

With time, engineers rapidly refined the machinery of photonic semiconductors. Today's LEDs are 1,000 times more efficient than they were in 1968, and more colors are available -- even white, which had been though to be impossible.

Comparable efficiency gains can be found only in the semiconductor world, such as the oft-cited Moore's Law for microprocessors -- which states that information processors get twice as fast (or twice as cheap) every 18 months. LEDs have followed a lesser-known photonic equivalent, called Haitz's Law, named after the LED researcher Roland Haitz. The law says LED brightness doubles every 18 to 24 months.

By the eve of the 20th century, the first high-brightness LEDs had emerged. Measured by the key economic and enviro-metric lumens produced per electric watt, LEDs are now about to blow past all antediluvian illuminators. LEDs have already achieved 100 lumens per watt, with 200 visible. Incandescent bulbs yield some 15 lumens a watt, CFLs about 80. LED pioneer Cree passed a related milestone last September, introducing a single, tiny LED that produced 1,000 lumens, the output of a standard bulb but at almost five times the efficiency.

Applications for LEDs have followed their rising power and declining cost, from instrument displays in the early days, to traffic signals and automobile brake lights and interiors, to back-lighting mobile phones and LCD screens, decorations and chandeliers in Buckingham Palace.

Annual global sales of high-brightness LEDs already total $4 billion, even before invading the 40,000 tera-lumen market for general illumination. General illumination is currently supplied about equally by incandescent bulbs (dominant in residential markets) and fluorescents (dominant in commercial buildings).

With the lumen power in hand and costs declining, there is one last hurdle for LEDs to overcome in order to conquer general illumination. The reason most people have resisted and will resist using CFLs, and that also currently impedes LED adoption (particularly for indoor lighting) is the quality of the light. If you hadn't noticed, it's lousy. CFLs must achieve the light quality of incandescence to enjoy wider adoption. (info from Forbes, diagram from How Stuff Works))

Friday, May 16, 2008

2008: California Supreme Court approves gay marriage

Thursday, the California Supreme Court opened the door to same-sex marriages in the nation's largest state, reigniting a hot social issue amid a presidential campaign dominated by economic issues and the war in Iraq.

The ruling makes California the second state, after Massachusetts, to give gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. But lawyers said the state's national influence and size -- representing 12% of the country's population and one-fifth of the electoral vote need to win the White House -- make the decision the most important legal victory to date for proponents of same-sex marriage. The decision, coming six months before the presidential election, also could galvanize voters on a topic that in this campaign cycle has largely been on the sidelines.

A handful of states, including California, Vermont and New Jersey, allow same-sex couples to enter civil unions or domestic partnerships that afford many of the rights of marriage. But the California court, which was considering whether state law prohibiting gay marriage violates California's constitution, voted 4-3 that such protections didn't go far enough.

"Retaining the designation of marriage exclusively for opposite-sex couples and providing only a separate and distinct designation for same-sex couples may well have the effect of perpetuating a more general premise -- now emphatically rejected by this state -- that gay individuals and same-sex couples are in some respects 'second-class citizens,'" wrote the court.

Same-sex marriage is recognized only in Massachusetts, but a state Supreme Court ruling Thursday puts California on a path to become the second state to do so. Four states --Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Hampshire -- have civil unions. California has been one of five states with domestic partnership or reciprocal benefits laws that provide some marriage-like rights to same-sex couples. The others are Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.

Voters in 26 states have approved state constitutional amendments that ban gay marriage: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin. Hawaii voters approved a constitutional amendment empowering the legislature to outlaw same-sex marriage; lawmakers did so in 1998.

A proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage will be on Florida's ballot in November. Backers of a similar measure in California say they have gathered enough signatures to qualify it for the ballot; the signatures are under review. The Arizona Legislature is considering putting such an amendment on the ballot there.

Since the state has no residency requirement for marriage, out-of-state couples may also get married there, said Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. That policy would differ from the one in Massachusetts.

It's not clear whether California same-sex marriages will be honored elsewhere. States generally can either honor or reject gay marriages granted in other states. Legal experts say courts haven't yet ruled on whether a same-sex marriage from Massachusetts will have binding effect in another state.

Also unclear is what will happen to California same-sex marriages between now and the passage of any ballot initiative that would impose a constitutional ban. Jon Davidson, legal director of gay-rights group Lambda Legal, said he knows of no state that has retroactively nullified a marriage validly entered.

"We will see a lot of June weddings" in California, he said. "We believe that couples who marry before the ballot initiative, if it were to pass, will be married, but I'm sure our opponents will argue."

Stuart Gaffney, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said he felt overjoyed that he can marry his longtime partner, John Lewis. "We have waited over 21 years for this day," Gaffney said. "Today is the happiest, most romantic day of our lives."

The decision comes amid signs of a shift in public attitudes toward gay marriage. A poll from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life last year showed that 55% of Americans opposed allowing gays to marry, down from 63% in 2004.

Gay marriage was a powerful issue for conservatives in the 2004 campaign. The issue, some Democrats felt, drove conservative voters to the polls, helping to defeat Sen. John Kerry. Eleven states approved ballot proposals curbing same-sex marriage.

Even without those other issues, he said, "every year the acceptance of gays and support for gay rights increases. And that is most true among young people, including conservatives." The ruling, he said, "is at best a mixed blessing" for Republicans.

Indeed, the decision may put Republican candidate Sen. John McCain in a tough spot with social conservatives as well as independent voters and young people, who aren't as motivated by those issues and may be turned off by his positions on them.

Sen. McCain favors state amendments against same-sex marriage but opposes a federal ban, saying it would trample federalist principles against meddling in state-level issues. "John McCain supports the right of the people of California to recognize marriage as a unique institution sanctioning the union between a man and a woman, just as he did in his home state of Arizona," spokesman Tucker Bounds said Thursday. "John McCain doesn't believe judges should be making these decisions."

As for the issue of whether states can legalize gay marriage, an aide Thursday said Sen. McCain "supports the right of the voters to make that decision -- not the courts."

Sen. Barack Obama, a Democratic presidential contender, has said that while he personally believes marriage is between a man and a woman, he supports a federal civil-union law and has compared the effort to the civil-rights movement.

"I am a strong supporter not of a weak version of civil unions, but of a strong version, in which the rights that are conferred at the federal level to persons who are part of a same-sex union are compatible," Obama said last year, adding that his parents wouldn't have been permitted to marry in some states due to miscegenation laws. Thursday his campaign said he respects the decision of the court and believes states should make their own decisions.

His rival for the party's nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, supports civil unions but believes states should decide the issue of marriage, her campaign said Thursday. A campaign spokesman said, "As president, Hillary Clinton will work to ensure that same-sex couples have access to these rights and responsibilities at the federal level."

Two states besides California -- Florida, a crucial swing state, and Arizona -- may put a gay-marriage ban before voters in the fall. New Jersey's legislature is considering an initiative extending marriage to gay couples. Cases are pending before the high courts of Connecticut and Iowa.

The court's ruling is expected to become final 30 days after it issued, and it must then head back to a San Francisco trial court for further orders, said Mr. Minter, of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "But shortly, couples will be able to marry in California," he said. (info & photo from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

1939: first US woman to get jockey license

Anna Lee Aldred, the first woman in the United States to receive a jockey's license and a member of the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, was born in Montrose, Colorado in 1921. She began riding horses at an early age. The daughter of a horse trainer and racer, and sister of two famed rodeo riders, she won her first pony race at the age of six.

In 1939, when she was 18, she received her professional jockey's license. The license, a small wooden badge, is on display at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983.

Accepted into the previously all-male profession when officials couldn’t find any rules prohibiting women from racing, she also had to prove her ability to handle a horse on the racetrack. From 1939 to 1945 –- until she grew too big at five feet, five inches and 118 pounds -- she was a tough competitor who raced against both male jockeys and the women who followed her.

Aldred retired from racing by 1945 and opened a riding school in California. After leaving professional racing, she spent five years as a rodeo trick rider, sometimes standing atop the saddle or hanging by her foot from the side of a running horse. Until the age of 80 when she broke a hip, she continued to ride, often working as a “pony boy” assisting jockeys at the Montrose fairgrounds and riding at the opening of the annual fair. She died in 2006 at the age of 85.

(info from The New York Times and Colorado Women's Hall of Fame, photo from Colorado Women's Hall of Fame)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

date unknown: first salami

The origins of the pig go back to the beginning of time, and the pig is certainly one of the animals most appreciated by human beings. In Italy, the use of pork meat, especially salted and processed, goes back a long time.

Initially, animals were reared exclusively to meet the requirements of the family or of the village. It was only in Etruscan times that the first forms of non-nomadic breeding had started to develop, along with a higher degree of specialization which was also aimed at trading. A significant testimony arrives from the archeological site of Forcello (5th century BCE), in the province of Mantua, where 50,000 pieces of animal bones, of which 60% from pigs, were found.

In Roman times, the interest progressively focused on pork legs; the breeding of pigs saw an increasingly precise improvement of the raw material and of processing methods. Ham becomes the most precious product obtained from pork and the cause of innumerable social and celebrative events.

With the successive Barbarian invasions, pigs become one of the most important resources for the villages, and for the countryside, in the form of pork products and the preserved meats - hams, shoulders and pancettas - even become monetary currency. In the Middle Ages, pig grazing was so important that woods are measured according to their ability to nourish pigs, rather than to their size.

With the passing of centuries, pig breeding and the consumption of pork-related products progressively gain importance, going from the triumphs of the Renaissance period, when the art of gastronomy develops and pork appears on the most sumptuous banquet tables, up to the nineteenth century, when the first food workshops and sausage and salami shops open.

Between the 12th and the 17th centuries, Italy saw a strong development of the jobs linked to the processing of pork. This was the period when the figure of the norcino (pork butcher from Norcia) appeared and thanks to his skills, he created new charcuterie products.

These professionals started organizing themselves into guilds or confraternities and they started taking on important roles within the society. Bologna saw the establishment of the Corporazione dei Salaroli (the Guild of Salters), Florence, at the Medici epoch, saw the rise of the Confraternita dei facchini di San Giovanni (the Confraternity of Saint John’s Servants) that was initially part of an association of pork butchers and then dedicated itself also to patronage and art.

In 1615, Pope Paul V, recognised the Confraternity of Pork Butchers dedicated to the Saints Benedetto and Scolastica and, later, his successor Gregorius XV elevated it to Archconfraternity, which, in 1677, was joined also by the University of Norcia and Cascia Pork Butchers and Empirical Pork Physicians (types of sorcerers). Graduated, blessed and patented, norcinos increased their fame also outside the Papal State.

Their activity, however, was seasonal because pigs were slaughtered once a year and there were no techniques for fresh meat preservation. They used to leave their cities (Norcia, Cascia, Florence and Rome) at the beginning of October and return home at the end of March, when they would resume their normal work selling hay or gardening tools. The fame of the norcino figure remained unchanged until the aftermath of the Second World War.

Today, the heritage of norcinos has been handed down to the artisans and to the food industry world that is always ready to create innovative products, sometimes rediscovering its ancient recipes. Variations of salami are made all over the world, and some, such as Kosher salami, has no pork at all. (info from Istituto Valorizzazione Salumi Italiani transalted and adapted by aaanetserv.com)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

off-topic medical warning

A Do Not Resuscitate, or DNR, order is a written order from a doctor that resuscitation should not be attempted if a person suffers cardiac or respiratory arrest. Such an order may be instituted on the basis of an advance directive from a person, or from someone entitled to make decisions on their behalf, such as a health care proxy; in some jurisdictions, such orders can also be instituted on the basis of a physician's own initiative, usually when resuscitation would not alter the ultimate outcome of a disease, and is designed to prevent unnecessary suffering.

(Above from Wikipedia)

My wife's cousin Barbara has had a DNR order for years. She thought it made sense. She didn't want to live "like a vegetable."

She was recently hospitalized. Her heart stopped. Her regular doctor was not at the hospital, and no one at the hospital knew that there was a DNR order. She was resuscitated and is doing fine and will be coming home soon.

DNR orders may make sense in some cases, but if it was is followed in this case, Barbara would be dead. If you or a loved one has a DNR order, you should review it.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

1914: Mother's Day became an official US holiday

I'll be away on Monday, so I'm doing the Monday blog on Saturday.
Sunday, May 11, Mother's Day (or Mothers' Day, or Mothers Day), will be celebrated in the US and Canada; and the holiday is celebrated on other days in other countries. According to the National Restaurant Association, Mothers Day is the most popular day to dine out. In some parts of the United States, Mothers Day marks the beginning of the tomato planting season.

Contrary to common opinion, the holiday was not invented by the Hallmark Card company. Mothers Day goes back to an ancient Greek spring festival dedicated to Rhea, mother of many deities of Greek mythology.

Ancient Romans celebrated a spring festival called Hilaria, dedicated to Cybele, a mother goddess, starting around 250 BCE. Hilaria lasted for three days in mid-March and included parades, games and masquerades. The celebrations were so raucous that followers of Cybele were banished from Rome.

Early Christians celebrated a Mothers Day of sorts on the fourth Sunday of Lent in honor of the Virgin Mary. In England the holiday was expanded to include all mothers, and called Mothering Sunday.

The American Mothers Day was copied from England by Julia Ward Howe, an activist, writer and poet famous for her Civil War song, Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Howe suggested that June 2 be annually celebrated as Mothers Day, and be dedicated to peace. In 1870, she wrote her famous Mothers Day Proclamation, a passionate appeal to women to oppose war. She also initiated a Mothers' Peace Day observance on the second Sunday in June in Boston and held the meeting for a number of years. Howe tirelessly championed the cause of official celebration of Mothers Day and declaration of official holiday on the day, but failed in her attempt to get formal recognition of a Mothers' Day for Peace.

Anna Jarvis never married or had children, but is known as the Mother of Mothers Day.

Anna Jarvis got the inspiration of celebrating Mothers Day from her mother Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis. An activist and social worker, Mom Jarvis hoped that someday someone would honor all mothers, living and dead, and pay tribute to their contributions.

Anna never forgot her mother’s words and when her mother died in 1905, she resolved to fulfill her mother’s desire of having a mothers day. Initially, Anna supplied Carnations for a church service in West Virginia to honor her mother, who favored that flower. Later Anna and her supporters lobbied for the official declaration of Mothers Day holiday. By 1911, Mother's Day was celebrated in almost every state, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed a Joint Resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mothers Day, a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of mothers whose sons had died in war.

Just nine years after the first official Mothers Day holiday, commercialization became so rampant that Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become. Mothers Day is now one of the most commercially successful US holidays. (info from mothersdaycelebration.com and Wikipedia)

Friday, May 9, 2008

1961: first non-westerner to head an international organization

In 1961, U Thant (1909 - 1974), then Burma's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and former Secretary to the Prime Minister, was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations. He was apparently the first non-Westerner to head any international organization, and served as Secretary-General for 10 years.

Burma is now known as Myanmar, a military dictatorship in southeast Asia that has blocked international aid for survivors of a recent devastating cyclone. (info from Wikipedia, photo from the UN)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

2008: moving electron filmed

Earlier this year, scientists filmed an electron in motion for the first time, using a new technique that will allow researchers to study the tiny particle's movements directly.

Previously it was impossible to photograph electrons because of their extreme speed, so scientists had to rely on more indirect methods. These methods could only measure the effect of an electron's movement, whereas the new technique can capture the entire event.

Extremely short flashes of light are necessary to capture an electron in motion. A technology developed within the last few years can generate short pulses of intense laser light, called attosecond pulses, to get the job done.

"It takes about 150 attoseconds for an electron to circle the nucleus of an atom. An attosecond is one quintillionth (10 to the minus eighteenth power) of a second or, expressed in another way: an attosecond is related to a second as a second is related to the age of the universe," said Johan Mauritsson of Lund University in Sweden.

Using another laser, scientists can guide the motion of the electron to capture a collision between an electron and an atom on film.

The length of the film Mauritsson and his colleagues made corresponds to a single oscillation of a wave of light. The speed of the event has been slowed down for human eyes. The results are detailed in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Mauritsson says the technique could also be used to study what happens in an atom when an electron leaves its shell. (info from MSNBC)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

1902: first US postage stamp with a woman

Issued in November 1902, the 8-cent Martha Washington was the first US stamp to feature a woman.

Mrs. Washington's stamp was introduced at a time when Americans began recognizing the importance of women's contributions to society. Although women had not yet earned the right to vote, the suffrage movement was gaining momentum. Supposedly, after much squabbling over which prominent woman should be the first to grace a US stamp, Mrs. Washington's name evoked the least controversy.

Although a groundbreaking moment for the country, the historic stamp lagged 65 years behind England's 1P Queen Victoria stamp of 1837, and came 55 years after the first US postage stamp, which featured Benjamin Franklin, was issued. (info from Yahoo)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

1921: first state sales tax

Sales taxes in the United States are assessed by every state except Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon. Hawaii has a similar tax although it is charged to businesses instead of consumers. In some cases, sales taxes are also assessed at the county or municipal level.

In 1921, West Virginia became the first US state to enact a sales tax. Georgia passed legislation enacting a sales tax in 1929. 11 other states enacted sales taxes in 1933 alone. By 1940, at least 30 states had a sales tax. (info from Wikipedia)

Monday, May 5, 2008

2003: last classic VW beetle

On July 31, 2003 after 21,529,464 vehicles had been built around the world, an era came to an end at Volkswagen's factory in Puebla, Mexico.

The last classic Beetle made was the 3000th unit of a special production run named the "Sedan Última Edición" (Last Edition Sedan), and it was shipped to the place of the Beetle's germination at VW's headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, where Beetle production came to an end in 1978.

Mexico was the last country in the world where the classic Bug was produced, and it also has the distinction of being the manufacturing place for the New Beetle.

Just as in America, the "Vochito" had been a part of the lives of virtually every Mexican family, and a lot of people in that country learned to drive in one or had their first sexual experience, accident, or breakdown in one of these cars.

And it became an important part of the urban landscape, since it was preferred by cab drivers, just as Crown Victorias are in the US. In Mexico City alone there are perhaps 90,000 Bugs doing taxi duty.

Although the car had long ago become obsolete, it was appealing not only for sentimental reasons but because it was affordable, parts were cheap, and it was easy to fix. It was popular with companies that it as a fleet car. But the Bug started facing competitors that were predictably more modern, more powerful, better-handling, and roomier.

A saving grace for the Bug was the new-automobile decree by the Mexican government in 1988 that allowed a 20-percent reduction in its selling price, making it the most affordable car in Mexico. Sales of Beetles tripled the next year.

VW updated the air-cooled 1.6-liter engine of the Vochito in the early '90s with electronic ignition, a catalytic converter and fuel injection, but the output of the engine was still only 44 horsepower. The transmission remained an archaic four-speed manual.

The rest of the car was updated with three-point retractable seatbelts in front and lap belts in the rear, as well as front disc brakes and an electronic engine immobilizer. But just as in the '80s, competition again became a problem, cutting into sales, only now there was no further government help to reduce its price. The Mexico City government put the final nail in the Beetle's coffin when, in 2002, it required all taxicabs to have four doors.

The Last Edition Bug featured body-color appliqués for the glove compartment and instrument surround, upgraded velour upholstery, a rear package shelf, and a four-speaker CD radio. The glove compartment had a "Sedan Última Edición" plaque, although it is not numbered. With the departure of the classic VW Bug, the New Beetle became the only Beetle. (info & photo from Car & Driver)

Friday, May 2, 2008

1954: first color TVs sold in the US

The RCA CT-100, introduced in March 1954, was the first mass-produced all-electronic color TV receiver. Its $1,000 price tag would be equivalent to about $6,000 today -- about the price of a high definition set five years ago. It provided a rounded side image just over 11 inches wide by 8 inches high. The picture tube in this set was expensive to make, and RCA lost a considerable amount of money on each set sold.

After heavy advertising failed to sell many sets, the price was dropped to $495 by August. Shortly after that, RCA perfected its 21-inch tube, and recalled most of the CT-100s, swapping them for the new 21-inch sets at no cost.

Because they were initially so expensive and there was little color programming available, it took more than a decade for color television to become common in American homes.(info from NPR and earlytelevision.org, photo from Early Television Museum)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

2153: last American soldier leaves Korea

The Korean War was an escalation of border clashes between two rival Korean regimes, each of which was supported by external powers, with each trying to topple the other through political and military tactics.

After failing to strengthen their cause in the free elections held in South Korea during May 1950 and the refusal of South Korea to hold new elections per North Korean demands, the communist North Korean Army assaulted the South on June 25, 1950.

The conflict was expanded by the United States and the Soviet Union's involvement as part of the larger Cold War. The main hostilities were during the period from June 25, 1950 until the ceasefire agreement was signed on July 27, 1953. At the end of the war, a new border was established through the middle of the Demilitarized Zone, which cuts across the 38th parallel of lattitude.

Even after the end of the Cold War and the dismantling of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, and the reunification of North and South Korea in 2084, successive American administrations felt it necessary to keep troops in the south until 2153.

Finally, on July 27th of that year, on the 200th anniversary of the original Korean ceasefire, the last American soldier, Lt. Barby Goldberg left Korea for duty in Iraq. (some info from Wikipedia, photo from Rangermade)