Friday, November 28, 2008

1692: last execution for witchcraft in the US

The majority of witch trials in the US took place in New England, mostly in Massachusetts. The most famous trials were in Salem, MA in 1692.

The last witchcraft trial in Massachusetts was in 1693. The defendant was found Not Guilty. There were witching accusations in the South until 1709.

The last execution for witchcraft in the United States was in 1692. Witches were hanged, stoned, or crushed to death, not burned at the stake.

The last witch executions in European countries were:
Holland 1610
England 1684
Scotland 1727
France 1745
Germany 1775
Switzerland 1782
Poland 1793

(Info from The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology by Rossell Robbins

Wednesday, November 26, 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)

Tuesday, November 25, 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)

Monday, November 24, 2008

1898: first use of hospital ship during wartime

In 1898, during the Spanish-American war, the US was the first country to dispatch a specialized hospital ship into a battle zone.

The hospital ship Solace remained with the battleships that were sent to Key West and Cuba. Solace was equipped and manned to care for sick or wounded sailors and soldiers.

Originally constructed in 1896 as the Creole for the Cromwell Steamship Lines, the vessel was acquired in 1898 by the Navy. Within 16 days, she was renamed Solace and fitted out as an "ambulance ship," complete with a large operating room, steam disinfecting apparatus, ice machine, steam laundry plant, cold storage rooms, and an elevator.

She could accommodate two hundred patients in her berths, swinging cots and staterooms. Her hurricane deck was enclosed with canvas to be used as a contagious disease ward. The vessel's fresh water tanks held 37,000 gallons of fresh water, and her system of evaporators and distillers maintained the supply.

She was given gifts of supplies and equipment from groups such as the Rhode Island Sanitary and Relief Association and the National Society of Colonial Dames, gaining an X-ray machine, a carbonating machine, etc.

Solace's crew included a surgeon, three assistant surgeons, three hospital stewards (one of which was a skilled embalmer) eight trained nurses, a cook, four messmen and two laundrymen. The ship and her crew had "the honor of inaugurating antiseptic surgery at sea.

The vessel was commissioned on April 14, 1898 and placed under the command of Commander A. Dunlap. Her first trip took her out to the Cuban and Puerto Rican blockading squadrons where she collected the few men wounded in the bombardment of San Juan, and other sick or wounded among the fleet.

On June 5, she arrived in New York with 57 sick and wounded men. She returned to the vicinity of Cuba in time take aboard the Marines wounded in the capture of Guantanamo, and then many Spanish wounded who had been taken aboard the Brooklyn after the Spanish loss in the naval Battle of Santiago. She also took aboard an additional 44 army personnel at Siboney. On July 16, she landed the 44 army personnel, 48 wounded Spanish navymen and an additional 55 sick navymen at Hampton Roads, Virginia.

After being resupplied and outfitted with an additional ice machine in New York, she again steamed south to the war zone. She picked up the navy sick from the waters aroound Cuba and those injured and wounded brought by the Gloucester from Puerto Rico. After transporting these men to Boston, she underwent some repairs and then went back to Cuban waters.

By now it was September and the fighting was over, but the need for Solace was greater than ever. With the outbreak of yellow fever and malaria among the troops in Cuba, the situation was quite grave. Solace was under orders bring home as many of the sick as she could accommodate.

In February of 1899, she steamed for California, going by way of Europe, the Middle East, Far East, and Hawaii, reaching Mare Island on May 27, where she was overhauled. From July of 1899 until October of 1905, she sailed the Pacific, carrying mail, passengers and provisions. In 1905 Solace was decommissioned at Mare Island.

Recommissioned on June 3, 1908, the vessel traveled in the Pacific, before steaming to Charleston, South Carolina to be decommissioned again on April 14, 1909. Recommissioned the following November, she served off the east coast of the US for the remainder of her career, with the single exception being a 1913 trip to France.

On Jannuary 1, 1919. the vessel aided in rescuing the crew of the Northern Pacific off Fire Island, New York, which was returning from Europe with wounded World War One veterans. Despite heavy seas, after several days the Solace removed 504 men and took them to safety at Hoboken, New Jesey.

The ship was 377 feet long, 44 feet wide, had a crew of 270, and one 3200 HP engine. It was unarmed and was the first US Naval vessel to be fitted out to the requirements of the Geneva Convention and to fly the Red Cross flag. Other countries including England and Italy, followed the American example and used hospital ships in other wars.

Solace was sold for scrapping to Boston Metals Co. in Baltimore in November, 1930. (info from The New York Times, and the US Navy.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

1907: first country let women run for office

According to Madeleine Kunin, a former governor of Vermont, 16% is the percentage of women in the U.S. Congress, a record high. Sixteen percent is also the percentage of women in top corporate positions as board members and vice presidents, despite the fact that women have comprised 50 percent of middle management positions for fifteen years.

The 16% figure emerged a third time, according to a 2007 U.N. study of the percentage of women in the lower houses of Parliaments around the world. In that same study the United States ranked 71st, out of more than 140 countries.

Even Iraq and Afghanistan have more women in their Parliaments. At the urging of the United States, their constitutions include a 25 percent quota for women - Iraq met it and Afghanistan exceeded it. The country with the highest percentage of women in its Parliament - 48.8% - is Rwanda.

Three countries have elected female presidents in recent years: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia, Michele Bechelet in Chile, and Angela Merkel in Germany. None of these women were expected to win; all were a sharp contrast to the men who had preceded them.

Finland was the first country to permit women to run for political office in 1907. It has consistently ranked near the top in women's political participation and has a female president. Finland was recently lauded for having the best education test scores of 51 countries. (info from Vermont Public Radio)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

1983: first Missing Children's Day

In 1983 President Ronald Reagan proclaimed May 25 as National Missing Children’s Day. Each administration since has honored this annual reminder to renew efforts to reunite missing children with their families and make child protection a national priority.

On May 25, 2006, Missing Children's Day was commemorated by the US Postal Service with the issuance of the AMBER Alert Stamp.

The date marks the anniversary of the 1979 abduction of six-year-old Etan Patz from Manhattan. Etan was the first child to be pictured on the back of a milk carton. His case remains unsolved. Etan is still categorized as missing.

On the morning of Friday, May 25, 1979, Etan left his apartment by himself -- for the first time -- to walk the two blocks to catch the school bus. He did not reach the bus stop.

When he didn't return home from school that afternoon, his mother reported him missing. An intense search, with nearly 100 police officers and a team of bloodhounds, began that evening and continued for weeks.

In 1991, jailhouse informants claimed that Jose Ramos, a convicted child sexual abuser imprisoned in Pennsylvania, admitted to his murder. Ramos had been a friend of Etan's one-time babysitter. He promised that no body would be found, saying "It's too horrible. No one would ever represent me". The New York Post reported on October 23, 1999, that Ramos was the prime suspect in Etan's disappearance.

Etan was declared legally dead in 2001. His parents, Stanley and Julie Patz, pursued a civil case against Ramos, who was found liable for Patz's wrongful death in May 2004. They were awarded a sum of $2 million, which they have never collected because Ramos is serving a prison term for molesting boys in Pennsylvania. He will have served his full sentence in 2014. Without evidence, a body or a crime scene, some investigators do not believe they will ever be able to convict Ramos for Patz's death.

In the 1983 movie Without a Trace, starring Kate Nelligan and Judd Hirsch, a six year old boy disappears while walking to school in Manhattan. The Stanley Jaffe film was loosely based on the Patz case. (info from Wikipedia. and North Carolina Dep't of Crime Control)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

2008: first American reached South Pole via historic route

Adventurer Alison Levine has become the first American to follow a remote route to the geographic South Pole pioneered by Italian explorer Reinhold Messner. Levine left in early December 2007 for the Ronne Ice Shelf in west Antarctica and finished the arduous 574-mile journey in just 38 days. Since Messner's expedition in 1989, only two Norwegian teams had completed this route - until Levine's trek.

Levine endured some of the harshest conditions known to man including -50 degree F temperatures, icy winds and dangerous crevasse fields covered with snow bridges that have been known to collapse under pressure. The extreme weather made the trip especially hard for Levine because she suffers from Raynaud's Disease, a neurological
disorder that affects her extremities in cold weather. As a result, she often lost the use of her hands and was forced to ski without poles because she could not grip the handles. In addition, she was born with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a life-threatening heart condition and had two surgeries to correct the problem.

"Antarctica definitely showed us her teeth," said Levine. "The wind and the cold really beat us up at times. My hands would freeze whenever I stopped for a short break which meant I would have to ski and haul all of my gear without using my poles, and that was pretty tough. In these kinds of situations, you have to keep pushing day after day. You have no choice. It's not like you can just pop into a ski lodge for a cup of hot cocoa. There is no escape. It's just you against the elements - but that's how I like it."

At 5'4, 112-pounds, Levine skied 10 hours a day with a sled containing 150 pounds of her own gear and supplies harnessed to her waist. Despite eating 5,000-6,000 calories a day, Levine lost 15 percent of her body weight due to the physical demands of the journey.

Levine retraced Messner's traverse to the South Pole as part of an international five-person team that included an Australian, who led the group along with adventurers from Canada, Norway and Holland. A record of her blog and pictures is here.

Alison Levine has climbed peaks on every continent, served as team captain of the first American Women's Everest Expedition and skied across the Arctic Circle to the geographic North Pole. She founded Daredevil Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in organizational effectiveness, leadership development and team dynamics. Levine is also the founder of the Climb High Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps women in western Uganda.

Levine earned her MBA from Duke University. During her 20-year business career, she held positions in healthcare, technology and investment banking. She is said to be the most requested female business speaker in the US.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

2008: first time a company lost DSL customers

The battle between cable and phone companies to sign up new customers for high-speed Internet service is heating up. Customers can save money and get faster service, and what used to be considered fast is now not so fast.

Earlier this year Verizon Communications became the first company ever to see a drop in DSL subscribers -- some of whom switched to its faster FiOS service. Verizon is now offering customers six months of DSL service free to people who sign up for the company's phone and Internet package. That makes the bundled package $45 a month, vs. $65 prior to the offer. AT&T is now guaranteeing its current prices, ranging from $20 to $55 a month, for two years.

Cable and phone companies have competed for broadband customers for more than a decade, but discounts have been relatively modest, mainly because the companies continued to add new customers at a healthy clip. Now the market is maturing quickly; some 60% of US households currently have a high-speed Internet connection.

Cable and phone companies added 887,000 new broadband customers during the second quarter of 2008 -- half the number they added a year earlier.

And while the new additions were long split roughly evenly between the two camps, the tide turned dramatically in cable's favor for the first time in 2008. Cable companies picked up 75% of the new customers, sending the phone companies into a scramble. As bandwidth-hungry applications like video downloads grow, customers prefer the generally faster speeds cable offers. Cable companies have also been marketing more aggressively in recent months.

Winning broadband customers has enormous strategic consequences for both cable and phone companies. It gives them a foot in the door to sell other services, such as TV and phone service. People prefer to get phone and TV services from the same company that provides them with their broadband connection. And broadband services are also the most profitable of the bundled services. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Time Out

I'm taking a few days off

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

1999: first state makes it legal to grow "grass"

North Dakota Governor Ed Schafer signed legislation in 1999 allowing local farmers to "plant, grow, harvest, possess, sell, and buy industrial hemp." North Dakota was the first state to remove criminal penalties for hemp cultivation.

House Bill 1428 reclassifies hemp containing no more than three-tenths of one percent THC as a legal commercial crop, and allows licensed farmers to grow it. The House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure before the governor signed it. The Legislature commissioned that determined locally grown hemp could yield profits as high as $141 per acre.

North Dakota's new regulations are modeled closely after Canada's, which legalized commercial hemp in 1998. Bill sponsor David Monson said that local farmers are eager to grow hemp after seeing the crop's economic success north of the border.

Farmers who wish to grow hemp must have no prior criminal history, use certified seeds, and allow random inspections of their crop for THC content. Farmers must pay a minimum $150 fee to apply for a hemp license.

John Howell, CEO of New York City's Hemp Company of America and a plaintiff in a 1998 federal lawsuit to legalize hemp cultivation, said that "the future of hemp in America now looks much, much brighter." He noted that federal permits to grow hemp require applicants to answer whether cultivation is legal in their state. "Until now, every applicant had to check 'no' and applications were denied. Now that Catch-22 cycle has been broken by North Dakota's action."

The Legislature also approved measures allowing university researchers who have federal permission to grow small quantities of hemp, and urging Congress to acknowledge legal distinctions between hemp and marijuana. About 30 nations, including France, England, Germany, Japan, and Australia allow farmers to grow non-psychoactive hemp for its fiber content. (info from

Monday, November 10, 2008

1961: first TV news stand-up in front of the White House

A television reporter standing in front of the White House is a familiar image, and the location is used almost every day.

In the early 1960s, television crews filmed reports inside the press briefing room, said Bob Asman, who worked for NBC News for 32 years. Not long after he arrived at the White House in 1961, someone at NBC had the idea to move outside.

"We found a spot near a tree on the North Lawn," Bob said. "It gives you a beautiful shot of the North Portico, which is a good shot day or night."

The other networks followed suit. Over time, however, the weight of all those journalists and their equipment started to damage the tree's roots and the press corps was asked to move a little west, to the other side of a driveway.

Here, the problem was mud. During the Monica Lewinsky saga, some camera operators wore boots to keep from sinking into the mire. The area was neatened up with crushed bluestone, prompting the nickname Pebble Beach. In 2002, the Park Service upgraded the area with paving stones, inspiring a new nickname: "Stonehenge."

Craig Allen, a University of Arizona journalism professor, is fed up with the clichéd White House stand-up. "The stand-up gives the impression that reporters are there ceaselessly digging out news when in reality they're there to get the next news release, pretty much," he said. "They have no access to the president."

Additionally, Craig thinks the North Lawn stand-ups can damage the reputation of US journalists abroad.

"You can imagine when [foreign viewers] tune into CNN and see the CNN correspondent standing in front of the White House, what the effect of that is," he said. "It makes it look like the reporter is a shill for the US government and is basically touting the party line. . . . It looks like the networks are part of the government and are espousing what the government wants as news." (info & photo from The Washington Post)

Friday, November 7, 2008

2010: first US president visits Cuba

Following the normalization of US-Cuban relations in 2009, US President Barack Obama visited Cuba in August, 2010. Obama met with new Cuban President Nicholas Santiago, the first non-Castro to head Cuba in 50 years, and was warmly greeted by the Cuban people in several public appearances.

President Obama was in Cuba with his wife and daughters for three days. They stayed at the US Naval base in Guantanamo, but visited Havana and several other cities. They even swam at the Playa Girón beach that was the site of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion during the Kennedy administration.

During a 2008 campaign speech in Miami, Obama promised to lift restrictions on family visits and remittances by Cuban-Americans seeking to help relatives on the island. He got 35% of the Cuban-American vote in Florida. Cuban-Americans' tough attitude toward their former homeland has gradually eased, in recognition that the hard line accomplished nothing to remove the Castros from power, and had hurt relatives still living in Cuba.

There is a generational divide among Cuban-Americans. Many older people were born in Cuba and came in the 1960s as political refugees in the early years of Fidel Castro's rule. Their American-born children, as well as refugees who came more recently for economic reasons, were more likely to support easing of sanctions.

A general trade embargo had been in effect since the Cold War in 1962. It was imposed after Cuba siezed properties of American people and businesses, particularly United Fruit and ITT.

The embargo was codified into law in 1992 with the stated purpose of "bringing democracy to the Cuban people", and is entitled the Cuban Democracy Act. In 1996 Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act which further restricted US citizens from doing business in or with Cuba, and mandated restrictions on giving public or private assistance to any successor regime in Havana unless and until certain claims against the Cuban government were met.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton expanded the trade embargo even further by ending the practice of foreign subsidiaries of US companies trading with Cuba in dollar amounts totaling more than $700 million a year.

The embargo was one of the few times in history that US citizens were restricted from doing business abroad, and was the most enduring trade embargo in modern history. Despite the existence of the embargo, the US is the seventh largest exporter to Cuba

The US relaxed sanctions during the Clinton administration, only to see relations become tense again in 1996 when Cuba shot down two unarmed planes flown by members of Brothers to the Rescue, a Cuban-exile organization. It was after that incident that the embargo became law rather than longstanding presidential policy.

President George W. Bush backed sanctions in 2004 and 2005 that restricted Cuban-Americans from visiting family on the island more than once every three years, and narrowed the list of family members to whom they can send remittances.

During the Spanish Ameircan War in 1898, Theodore Roosevelt was in Cuba fighting with the "Rough Riders" calvary regiment to help Cuba win indepedence from Spain, but this was before Roosevelt was president. In 2002, Jimmy Carter visited Cuba, but this was after he was president. (some info from Wikipedia and The Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

2008: first time Democrats gather in Chicago without being attacked by police

During the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, a peace rally in Grant Park ended when the police clubbed a teenager who was lowering an American flag, and others who tried to protect him.

Mayor Richard Daley called out 7,500 members of the Illinois National Guard to reinforce 12,000 police officers. They tried to remove everyone -- mostly party volunteers, candidate supporters and tourists -- from Michigan Avenue in front of the Hilton hotel, which was the convention headquarters. While the nominating speeches were being given at the amphitheater several miles away, people were pushed through plate glass windows when caught between Guard and police as they dispersed the crowd.

An official report later described the event as a "police riot."

In 2008, an estimated 120,000 supporters of Barak Obama gathered at the same park to await election results and cheer the president-elect. The cops didn't beat up anyone this time. (info & photo from

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

2008: assorted Obama election firsts & facts

First black man elected US president.

First multi-racial man elected US president.

First president born in Hawaii.

First defeated candidate born in Panama Canal Zone.

First Democrat to receive more than 50 percent of the popular vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Obama replaces president with least favorable rating since ????

First time a Democratic candidate won in Virginia since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

First time there won't be a Dole or a Bush in office in Washington since 1961.

Longest and most expensive presidential campaign in US history.

First senator elected to the White House since John F. Kennedy in 1960.

First presidential election with a female Republican candidate.

60% of voters said Palin isn't qualified to be president.

Highest voter turnout rate (64.1%) since 1908 (65.7%).

First election since 19?? without a former president or VP running for office.

No Republican ousted a Senate Democrat.

First time in 75 years that Democrats won major House gains in back-to-back elections.

Democrat Beverly Perdue became the first woman governor of North Carolina.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

2008: Barack Obama elected 44th president of the USA

2008: FL school board votes to keep mostly black school named to honor Klan leader

A Florida school board voted late Monday night to keep the name of a Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader at a majority black high school, despite opposition from a black board member who said the school's namesake was a "terrorist and racist."

After hearing about three hours of public comments, Duval County School Board members voted 5-2 to the retain the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. The board's two black members cast the only votes to change the name.

"(Forrest) was a terrorist and a racist," argued board member Brenda Priestly Jackson, who is black. Betty Burney, the board chairman and the board's other black member, also voted against retaining the name. "It is time to turn the page and get beyond where we are," she said.

Board member Tommy Hazouri voted to keep the name and said it is difficult to know "who the real Forrest is."

The board listened to passionate arguments from those on both sides. More than 140 people crowded into the meeting room, with another 20 watching the meeting on a television in the lobby.

Many urged a name change, saying the Forrest name was an insult.

"Nathan Bedford Forrest was part of the Ku Klux Klan, no matter how you put it. Nathan Bedford Forrest needs to be changed," said Stanley Scott, who is black.

But several spoke favorably of the general, saying the perceptions that Forrest was an evil man who ordered the massacre of Union troops were incorrect.

Some had suggested naming the school after the street it sits on, or honoring a graduate whose plane was shot down in 1991 over Iraq on the first night of Operation Desert Storm.

Forrest High School, which has received two consecutive "F" grades on state assessment tests, opened as an all-white school in the 1950s. Its name was suggested by the Daughters of the Confederacy, who saw it as a protest to the US Supreme Court ruling that eventually integrated the nation's public schools.

But now more than half Forrest High's students are black.

Born poor in Tennessee in 1821, Forrest amassed a fortune as a plantation owner and slave trader, importing Africans long after the practice had been made illegal. At 40, he enlisted in the Confederate army at the outset of the Civil War, rising to general in a year.

Some accounts accused Forrest of ordering black prisoners to be massacred after a victory at Tennessee's Fort Pillow in 1864, though historians question the validity of the claims. In 1867, the newly formed Klan elected Forrest its honorary Grand Wizard or national leader, but he publicly denied being involved. In 1869, he ordered the Klan to disband because of the members' increasing violence. Two years later, a congressional investigation concluded his involvement had been limited to his attempt to disband it. (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, November 3, 2008

1986: first president to remove solar panels from the White House

In 1979 President Jimmy Carter proposed a "new solar strategy" to "move our Nation toward true energy security and abundant, readily available energy supplies." In an effort to set an example for the country, Carter had solar panels installed on the roof of the White House West Wing. The panels were used to heat water.

At the time, Carter warned "a generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people; harnessing the power of the Sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil."

President Ronald Reagan had the solar panels taken down in 1986 when the White House roof was being repaired. They are still working at Unity College in Maine.

Sixteen years after the panels were removed, two solar water heating systems and a solar electricity system have returned to the White House.

Since September 2002, a grid of 167 solar panels on the roof of a maintenance shed has been delivering electricity to the White House grounds. Another solar installation has been providing hot water.

A roof on the White House grounds had to be replaced anyway, and it made economical as well as environmental sense to incorporate solar energy. It was time to replace the roof on "The Pony Shed", a maintenance building that replaced the stable that once housed Macaroni, a pony owned by President Kennedy's daughter, Caroline.

It was the National Park Service's decision to install a solar energy system on the White House grounds, similar to other solar installations made by the Park Service elsewhere. The Service, which is responsible for the building, had already mandated that any refurbishments of its facilities should incorporate environmentally-friendly design whenever possible. (info from and