Monday, December 09, 2013
Dec 9, 1992:
U.S Marines Storm Mogadishu, Somalia
~~"On this day in 1992, 1,800 United States Marines arrive in Mogadishu, Somalia, to spearhead a multinational force aimed at restoring order in the conflict-ridden country.
Following centuries of colonial rule by countries including Portugal, Britain and Italy, Mogadishu became the capital of an independent Somalia in 1960. Less than 10 years later, a military group led by Major General Muhammad Siad Barre seized power and declared Somalia a socialist state. A drought in the mid-1970s combined with an unsuccessful rebellion by ethnic Somalis in a neighboring province of Ethiopia to deprive many of food and shelter. By 1981, close to 2 million of the country's inhabitants were homeless. Though a peace accord was signed with Ethiopia in 1988, fighting increased between rival clans within Somalia, and in January 1991 Barre was forced to flee the capital. Over the next 23 months, Somalia's civil war killed some 50,000 people; another 300,000 died of starvation as United Nations peacekeeping forces struggled in vain to restore order and provide relief amid the chaos of war.
In early December 1992, outgoing U.S. President George H.W. Bush sent the contingent of Marines to Mogadishu as part of a mission dubbed Operation Restore Hope. Backed by the U.S. troops, international aid workers were soon able to restore food distribution and other humanitarian aid operations. Sporadic violence continued, including the murder of 24 U.N. soldiers from Pakistan in 1993. As a result, the U.N. authorized the arrest of General Mohammed Farah Aidid, leader of one of the rebel clans. On October 3, 1993, during an attempt to make the arrest, rebels shot down two of the U.S. Army's Black Hawk helicopters and killed 18 American soldiers.
As horrified TV viewers watched images of the bloodshed—-including footage of Aidid's supporters dragging the body of one dead soldier through the streets of Mogadishu, cheering—-President Bill Clinton immediately gave the order for all American soldiers to withdraw from Somalia by March 31, 1994. Other Western nations followed suit. When the last U.N. peacekeepers left in 1995, ending a mission that had cost more than $2 billion, Mogadishu still lacked a functioning government. A ceasefire accord signed in Kenya in 2002 failed to put a stop to the violence, and though a new parliament was convened in 2004, rival factions in various regions of Somalia continue to struggle for control of the troubled nation."
Dec 9, 1921:
GM Engineers Discover That Leaded Gas Reduces "Knock" In Auto Engines
~~"On this day, a young engineer at General Motors named Thomas Midgeley Jr. discovers that when he adds a compound called tetraethyl lead (TEL) to gasoline, he eliminates the unpleasant noises (known as "knock" or "pinging") that internal-combustion engines make when they run. Midgeley could scarcely have imagined the consequences of his discovery: For more than five decades, oil companies would saturate the gasoline they sold with lead--a deadly poison.
In 1911, a scientist named Charles Kettering, Midgeley's boss at GM, invented an electric ignition system for internal-combustion cars that made their old-fashioned hand-cranked starters obsolete. Now, driving a gas-fueled auto was no trouble at all. Unfortunately, as more and more people bought GM cars, more and more people noticed a problem: When they heated up, their engines made an alarming racket, banging and clattering as though their metal parts were loose under the hood.
The problem, Kettering and Midgeley eventually figured out, was that ordinary gasoline was much too explosive for spark-ignited car engines: that is, what we now call its octane (a measure of its resistance to detonation) was too low. To raise the fuel's octane level and make it less prone to detonation and knocking, Midgeley wrote later, he mixed it with almost anything he could think of, from "melted butter and camphor to ethyl acetate and aluminum chloride...[but] most of these had no more effect than spitting in the Great Lakes."
He found a couple of additives that did work, however, and lead was just one of them. Iodine worked, but producing it was much too complicated. Ethyl alcohol also worked, and it was cheap--however, anyone with an ordinary still could make it, which meant that GM could not patent it or profit from it. Thus, from a corporate point of view, lead was the best anti-knock additive there was.
In February 1923, a Dayton filling station sold the first tankful of leaded gasoline. A few GM engineers witnessed this big moment, but Midgeley did not, because he was in bed with severe lead poisoning. He recovered; however, in April 1924, lead poisoning killed two of his unluckier colleagues, and in October, five workers at a Standard Oil lead plant died too, after what one reporter called "wrenching fits of violent insanity." (Almost 40 of the plant's workers suffered severe neurological symptoms like hallucinations and seizures.)
Still, for decades auto and oil companies denied that lead posed any health risks. Finally, in the 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency required that carmakers phase out lead-compatible engines in the cars they sold in the United States. Today, leaded gasoline is still in use in some parts of Eastern Europe, South America and the Middle East."
Dec 9, 1972:
"I Am Woman" By Helen Reddy Tops the U.S. Pop Charts
~~"Nothing in her professional credentials suggested the Australian pop singer Helen Reddy as a feminist icon prior to 1972. She'd made her way to the United States from her native Australia on her own to pursue stardom, and she'd paid her dues working on the periphery of the music business for a number of years before making a breakthrough. Yet when that breakthrough came, it was in the form of a 1971 cover version of "I Don't Know How To Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar—hardly a song about women's liberation. But a feminist icon is exactly what Helen Reddy would become the very next year, when the anthem-to-be "I Am Woman" charged up the pop charts, reaching the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 on this day in 1972.
With lyrics that could have been lifted straight from the pages of the recently launched Ms. magazine, "I Am Woman" took the message of personal empowerment being espoused by the second-wave feminists of the early 1970s and put it out where it could do some real consciousness-raising—on the same AM airwaves that had been sending out very different messages about gender relations for many years. For a generation of American women raised on songs like "Johnny Angel," "It's My Party" and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "I Am Woman" represented something almost entirely new in mainstream pop: A song about female identity that made virtually no reference to men.
Helen Reddy wrote the lyrics to "I Am Woman" out of frustration. "I was looking for songs that reflected the positive sense of self that I felt I'd gained from the women's movement," she told Billboard magazine, "[but] I couldn't find any." True to the message of the hit song she would eventually write, "I realized that the song I was looking for didn't exist, and I was going to have to write it myself."
Released as a single in the spring of 1972, "I Am Woman" initially sputtered in its attempt to gain a foothold on the pop charts. It had fallen completely off the charts by late that summer, in fact, before re-entering the Hot 100 in September and beginning a steady climb upward thanks to Reddy's frequent appearances on television that fall and to the volume of call-in radio requests those appearances generated—mainly from women.
Helen Reddy would have two further #1 hits in the 1970s with "Delta Dawn" and "Angie Baby," but "I Am Woman"—the only hit song that Reddy penned herself—remains her signature achievement."
Sunday, December 08, 2013
Dec 8, 1980:
John Lennon Shot
~~"John Lennon, a former member of the Beatles, the rock group that transformed popular music in the 1960s, is shot and killed by an obsessed fan in New York City. The 40-year-old artist was entering his luxury Manhattan apartment building when Mark David Chapman shot him four times at close range with a .38-caliber revolver. Lennon, bleeding profusely, was rushed to the hospital but died en route. Chapman had received an autograph from Lennon earlier in the day and voluntarily remained at the scene of the shooting until he was arrested by police. For a week, hundreds of bereaved fans kept a vigil outside the Dakota--Lennon's apartment building--and demonstrations of mourning were held around the world.
John Lennon was one half of the singing-songwriting team that made the Beatles the most popular musical group of the 20th century. The other band leader was Paul McCartney, but the rest of the quartet--George Harrison and Ringo Starr--sometimes penned and sang their own songs as well. Hailing from Liverpool, England, and influenced by early American rock and roll, the Beatles took Britain by storm in 1963 with the single "Please Please Me." "Beatlemania" spread to the United States in 1964 with the release of "I Want to Hold Your Hand," followed by a sensational U.S. tour. With youth poised to break away from the culturally rigid landscape of the 1950s, the "Fab Four," with their exuberant music and good-natured rebellion, were the perfect catalyst for the shift.
The Beatles sold millions of records and starred in hit movies such as A Hard Day's Night (1964). Their live performances were near riots, with teenage girls screaming and fainting as their boyfriends nodded along to the catchy pop songs. In 1966, the Beatles gave up touring to concentrate on their innovative studio recordings, such as 1967's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, a psychedelic concept album that is regarded as a masterpiece of popular music. The Beatles' music remained relevant to youth throughout the great cultural shifts of the 1960s, and critics of all ages acknowledged the songwriting genius of the Lennon-McCartney team.
Lennon was considered the intellectual Beatle and certainly was the most outspoken of the four. He caused a major controversy in 1966 when he declared that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus," prompting mass burnings of Beatles' records in the American Bible Belt. He later became an anti-war activist and flirted with communism in the lyrics of solo hits like "Imagine," recorded after the Beatles disbanded in 1970. In 1975, Lennon dropped out of the music business to spend more time with his Japanese-born wife, Yoko Ono, and their son, Sean. In 1980, he made a comeback with Double-Fantasy, a critically acclaimed album that celebrated his love for Yoko and featured songs written by her.
On December 8, 1980, their peaceful domestic life on New York's Upper West Side was shattered by 25-year-old Mark David Chapman. Psychiatrists deemed Chapman a borderline psychotic. He was instructed to plead insanity, but instead he pleaded guilty to murder. He was sentenced to 20 years to life. In 2000, New York State prison officials denied Chapman a parole hearing, telling him that his "vicious and violent act was apparently fueled by your need to be acknowledged." He remains behind bars at Attica Prison in New York State.
John Lennon is memorialized in "Strawberry Fields," a section of Central Park across the street from the Dakota that Yoko Ono landscaped in honor of her husband."
Dec 8, 1775:
Americans Begin Siege of Quebec
~~"Beginning on this day in 1775, Colonel Benedict Arnold and General Richard Montgomery lead an American force in the siege of Quebec. The Americans hoped to capture the British-occupied city and with it win support for the American cause in Canada.
In June, Congress decided to send two columns of 1,000 men each towards Canada. General Richard Montgomery proceeded up Lake Champlain and successfully captured Montreal in November before reaching Quebec City. Colonel Benedict Arnold led his men through the woods of Maine, approaching the city directly. On November 14, Arnold arrived on the Plains of Abraham outside the city of Quebec; his men sustained themselves upon dog meat and leather in the cold winter. The 100 men defending the city refused to either surrender to Arnold or leave their defenses to fight them on open plains, so Arnold waited for Montgomery to join him with his troops and supplies at the beginning of December.
The royal governor general of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton, had managed to escape Montgomery's early successful attacks. He snuck into Quebec, organized 1,800 men for the city's defense, and prepared to wait out the Patriots' siege. But Arnold and Montgomery faced a deadline as their troops' enlistments expired at the end of the year. On December 7, Montgomery fired arrows over the city walls bearing letters demanding Carleton's surrender. When Carleton did not acquiesce, the Americans began a bombardment of the city with Montgomery's cannon on December 8. They then attempted a disastrous failed assault on December 31, in which Montgomery was killed and Arnold seriously wounded."
Dec 8, 1941:
Roosevelt Asks Congress To Declare War on Japan
~~"On this day in 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt asks Congress to declare war on Japan in perhaps the most memorable speech of his career. The speech, in which he called Japan's act a "deliberate deception," received thunderous applause from Congress and, soon after, the United States officially entered the Second World War.
The day before, Japanese pilots had bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, decimating the majority of U.S. warships in the Pacific Fleet along with most of the Air Corps and Navy aircraft stationed on the island of Oahu. The bombing raids killed 2,403 people, including 68 civilians, and wounded almost 1,200.
Although Roosevelt and his advisors had received intelligence reports indicating an imminent attack by Japan days before, he had hoped that Japanese and American diplomats, then negotiating in Washington, would come to a peaceful solution. He was incensed to realize that while American and Japanese diplomats engaged in negotiations (over Japan's recent military actions in China and elsewhere in the Pacific), Japanese aircraft carriers had been steaming toward Hawaii intent on attack. His words on December 8 relayed his personal indignation and fury.
Roosevelt had already proven his oratorical skills during the Great Depression when his "fireside chats" rallied the nation's morale. The same president who once said "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" declared with equal conviction that the nation "would never forget the character of [Japan's] onslaught against us" and vowed that the "unbounding determination of our people... will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God."
The stirring speech was hardly necessary—Congress and millions of Americans, who had been hearing details of the attack in the news, shared the president's outrage and commitment to defending the nation. Young men flocked to armed forces recruiting stations the next day and both houses of Congress quickly voted to declare war on Japan, with only one dissenting vote."
Saturday, December 07, 2013
Dec 7, 1941:
Pearl Harbor Bombed
~~"At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appears out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II.
With diplomatic negotiations with Japan breaking down, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisers knew that an imminent Japanese attack was probable, but nothing had been done to increase security at the important naval base at Pearl Harbor. It was Sunday morning, and many military personnel had been given passes to attend religious services off base. At 7:02 a.m., two radar operators spotted large groups of aircraft in flight toward the island from the north, but, with a flight of B-17s expected from the United States at the time, they were told to sound no alarm. Thus, the Japanese air assault came as a devastating surprise to the naval base.
Much of the Pacific fleet was rendered useless: Five of eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk or severely damaged, and more than 200 aircraft were destroyed. A total of 2,400 Americans were killed and 1,200 were wounded, many while valiantly attempting to repulse the attack. Japan's losses were some 30 planes, five midget submarines, and fewer than 100 men. Fortunately for the United States, all three Pacific fleet carriers were out at sea on training maneuvers. These giant aircraft carriers would have their revenge against Japan six months later at the Battle of Midway, reversing the tide against the previously invincible Japanese navy in a spectacular victory.
The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and declared, "Yesterday, December 7, 1941--a date which will live in infamy--the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." After a brief and forceful speech, he asked Congress to approve a resolution recognizing the state of war between the United States and Japan. The Senate voted for war against Japan by 82 to 0, and the House of Representatives approved the resolution by a vote of 388 to 1. The sole dissenter was Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a devout pacifist who had also cast a dissenting vote against the U.S. entrance into World War I. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States, and the U.S. government responded in kind.
The American contribution to the successful Allied war effort spanned four long years and cost more than 400,000 American lives."
Dec 7, 1993:
Commute of Terror
~~'Colin Ferguson opens fire on a Long Island Rail Road commuter train from New York City, killing 6 and injuring 19. Other train passengers stopped the perpetrator by tackling and holding him down. Ferguson later attributed the shooting spree to his deep-seated hatred of white people.
Colin Ferguson was a mentally unbalanced man from Jamaica who spent years on the West Coast before coming to New York in 1993. On December 7, he boarded a 5:33 p.m. train out of Penn Station carrying an automatic pistol, and as the train pulled into Garden City, Ferguson began running down the aisle and shooting passengers at random.
Famous defense attorney William Kunstler initially represented Ferguson, but his strategy of arguing that Ferguson was not responsible due to "black rage" infuriated even Ferguson himself. After firing Kunstler, Ferguson decided to act as his own lawyer.
In the resulting trial, which took place in January and February 1996, Ferguson opened by claiming that he was not the shooter. He argued that a white man had stolen his gun and shot the commuters, then pinned the crime on Ferguson. But he later changed his story, stating that a man who shared Ferguson's name and facial features was the real killer.
When Ferguson asked nearly all of the surviving victims, in turn, to identify the killer under oath, they each pinned the blame squarely on him. After the judge denied Ferguson's request that President Clinton and Governor Cuomo testify, Ferguson decided to forego his own right to testify. On February 17, 1996, the jury convicted Ferguson of 6 counts of murder and 22 counts of attempted murder. He received six life terms and will not be eligible for parole."
Dec 7, 1787:
The First State
~~"In Dover, Delaware, the U.S. Constitution is unanimously ratified by all 30 delegates to the Delaware Constitutional Convention, making Delaware the first state of the modern United States.
Less than four months before, the Constitution was signed by 37 of the original 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention meeting in Philadelphia. The Constitution was sent to the states for ratification, and, by the terms of the document, the Constitution would become binding once nine of the former 13 colonies had ratified the document. Delaware led the process, and on June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, making federal democracy the law of the land. Government under the U.S. Constitution took effect on March 4, 1789."
Dec 7, 1941:
FDR reacts to news of Pearl Harbor bombing
~~"On this day in 1941, at around 1:30 p.m., President Franklin Roosevelt is conferring with advisor Harry Hopkins in his study when Navy Secretary Frank Knox bursts in and announces that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. The attack killed more than 2,400 naval and military personnel.
For weeks, a war with Japan had appeared likely since negotiations had deteriorated over the subject of Japan's military forays into China and elsewhere in the Pacific during World War II. FDR and his advisors knew that an attack on the U.S. fleet at the Philippines was possible, but few suspected the naval base at Pearl Harbor would be a target.
In her account of Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor during the years of the Second World War, No Ordinary Time, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin recounts the scene at the White House on that tragic and pivotal day: Eleanor had just finished hosting a luncheon and walked into FDR's study just as he received confirmation of the attack via telephone. While aides and secretaries scurried around the room, Eleanor overheard some of her husband's conversation and knew that, in her words, "the final blow had fallen and we had been attacked."
Although Eleanor, who knew Roosevelt best, later recalled her husband's demeanor on that day as "deadly calm," she knew that he was incensed by the attacks. He was concerned that it might only be a matter of time until Germany, too, would officially declare war on the United States and that, at that moment, U.S. forces would be hard-pressed to fight a war on two fronts. According to Goodwin, he told Eleanor that it would take time for the United States to build up its military and that he feared the nation would "have to take a good many defeats before we can have a victory." Indeed, FDR and his advisors had discussed the possibility that the Japanese were already planning an invasion of the mainland somewhere on the West Coast.
As the day wore on, Roosevelt displayed a calm and steady efficiency: He consulted with military advisors, enlisted his son James' help to work with the media and spoke by telephone with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who told him "we are all in the same boat now." Early that evening, Roosevelt dictated a speech to his secretary, Grace Tully, which he planned to deliver to Congress the next day. (Eleanor actually addressed the nation on the subject of war before her husband. That evening she delivered a scheduled weekly radio broadcast in which she told listeners that although the United States had been thrust reluctantly into the war she was confident that "whatever is asked of [America] we shall accomplish it; we are the free and unconquerable people of the U.S.A.") Late that night, Roosevelt updated his cabinet and Congressional members on the situation: "this is probably the most serious crisis any Cabinet has confronted since the Civil War." One cabinet member later noted that the president, a former Navy man, was visibly distraught while recounting what he had been told of the strafing of sailors and the destruction of most of the Pacific fleet. After the meeting, Roosevelt went to bed.
The next day, Roosevelt addressed Congress and the nation with a somber yet stirring speech in which he swore that America would never forget December 7, 1941, as a "date that would live in infamy."
Friday, December 06, 2013
December 5, 2013
Remembering Nelson Mandela
~~"Nelson Mandela, the former South African president and anti-apartheid icon, died on Thursday following the latest in a series of lung infections. He was 95 years old. Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) party in the 1940s and would go on to lead protests against the ruling apartheid regime, which restricted the basic rights of South Africa’s nonwhite population and barred their participation in government. His resistance to such oppressive policies earned him nearly three decades in prison, during which he became an international symbol of the anti-apartheid movement. Upon his release in 1990, Mandela helped negotiate an end to the apartheid system, and four years later he won election as the the first black president of South Africa. He retired from politics in 1999, but remained a global advocate for peace and social justice.
He was born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918, into a royal family of the Xhosa-speaking Thembu tribe in the South African village of Mvezo. (In South Africa, Mandela is often called by his clan name, Madiba.) His father, who was Mvezo’s chief, died when he was nine, and the young Mandela was adopted by a high-ranking Thembu regent who groomed the boy for tribal leadership. It was while studying at a local missionary school that he was dubbed Nelson by a teacher, according to the then-common practice of giving African students English names.
At the elite Western-style University of Fort Hare (the only such institution for South African blacks at the time), Mandela was sent home for participating in a boycott of university policies, along with future friend and activist Oliver Tambo and other students. Fleeing a marriage arranged by his guardian, Mandela headed to Johannesburg and worked as a night watchman and a law clerk while completing his bachelor’s degree via correspondence. He then studied law at the University of Witwatersrand, where he became active in the movement against racial discrimination. In 1944, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944 and helped established its youth league (ANCYL). That same year, he met and married his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, with whom he had four children before their marriage ended in divorce in 1957. (Mandela married his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, in 1958; they would have two daughters.)
In 1948, the Afrikaner-dominated National Party won control of South Africa’s government, and began introducing the formal system of racial classification and segregation that would become known as apartheid. The new regime restricted nonwhite South Africans’ basic rights and barred them from government while maintaining white minority rule. In response, the ANC adopted the ANCYL’s plan to achieve full citizenship for all South Africans through a non-violent campaign of boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience and other methods. In 1952, Mandela traveled around the country as leader of the party’s Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws, promoting a manifesto known as the Freedom Charter. With Tambo, he also started South Africa’s first black law firm, offering legal services to victims of apartheid.
On December 5, 1956, Mandela and 155 other activists were arrested and went on trial for treason for their resistance to the apartheid regime. All were acquitted in 1961, but not before tensions within the ANC led a militant faction leaving the party in 1959 to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). In 1960, police opened fire on a peaceful black protest in Sharpeville, killing 69 people. After the Sharpeville massacre and the bloody riots that followed, Mandela was forced to go underground to avoid governmental persecution; he subsequently decided that more aggressive methods were needed to confront apartheid’s oppression of nonwhite South Africans. In 1961, he co-founded and became the first leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”), also known as MK, a new armed wing of the ANC. As he later said of this transition: “It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle.”
In January 1962, Mandela traveled abroad illegally, attending a conference of African nationalist leaders in Ethiopia and undergoing guerrilla training in Algeria. Upon his return, he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for leaving the country and inciting a 1961 workers’ strike. Things got even worse after a police raid in July 1962 of an ANC hideout in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia found evidence implicating Mandela and other activists in the planning of a guerrilla uprising against the government. After an eight-month trial for sabotage, treason and violent conspiracy captured the attention of the world, Mandela and seven other defendants avoided the gallows but were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years of his imprisonment at the notorious Robben Island Prison, a former leper colony off the coast of Cape Town. During his time there, he endured hard labor in a lime quarry, inadequate rations and inhumane punishment for even the slightest of offenses. Despite these travails, he was able to earn a bachelor of law degree from University of London and to smuggle out political statements, as well as a draft of his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom” (which would be published five years after his release). While in prison, he remained the symbolic leader of the anti-apartheid movement and became its most visible face within South Africa and throughout the world.
In 1982, Mandela was moved to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland; six years later, he was placed under house arrest at a minimum-security facility. Finally, in 1989, newly elected President F.W. de Clerk broke with the conservatives in the National Party and lifted the government’s ban on ANC, calling for a non-racist South Africa. On February 11, 1990, de Clerk ordered Mandela’s release. Mandela proceeded to lead the ANC in negotiating an end to apartheid with the ruling National Party government, efforts for which he and de Klerk earned the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1993. In April 1994, in the first multiracial parliamentary elections in the nation’s history, Mandela was elected South Africa’s first black president.
With de Klerk as his first deputy, Mandela formed a multiracial “Government of National Unity” to manage the transition to a post-apartheid national government. He established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights and political violations committed by both supporters and opponents of apartheid between 1960 and 1994, and introduced numerous social and economic programs designed to improve the living standards of South Africa’s black population. In 1996, Mandela presided over the enactment of a new South African constitution, which established a strong central government based on majority rule and prohibited discrimination against minorities, including whites. As president, Mandela resisted calls by some black South Africans by to punish whites for apartheid, instead setting an example of forgiveness and reconciliation, combined with hope for the nation’s future.
His marriage to Winnie Mandela ended in divorce in 1996, and in 1998 Mandela wed the politician and humanitarian Graça Machel, widow of the former president of Mozambique. He served only one term as president before stepping aside in 1999, when he was succeeded by his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, of the ANC. Though officially retired from politics, Mandela remained a leading voice for peace and social justice in Africa and throughout the world. He also embraced the cause of awareness and treatment programs for AIDS, the disease that would claim the life of his son Makgatho in 2005.
Mandela was treated for prostate cancer in 2001 and suffered from other ailments, including chronic lung problems caused by contracting tuberculosis during his 27-year imprisonment. He had scaled back his public appearances in recent years, prompting fears of his weakening health. Mandela was last seen publicly in 2010 during the World Cup soccer championship, which South Africa hosted.
On June 8, 2013, the 94-year-old Mandela entered Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria in order to be treated for a recurring lung infection. It was the fourth time in less than a year that he had been hospitalized, and comments from South African officials immediately suggested the situation was more serious than with previous hospitalizations. Over the next three weeks, Mandela’s condition deteriorated and he was put on life-support. ANC supporters gathered outside the hospital as Mandela’s relatives, clergy and senior government officials visited the ailing leader.
After a three-month stay, Mandela was released from the hospital in September, but continued to receive around-the-clock medical care at his home in Houghton, a suburb of Johannesburg. In recent days, friends and family began to gather at Mandela’s side, even as a new motion picture celebrating his life, “Long Walk to Freedom,” opened to positive reviews. In announcing Mandela’s death, South African President Jacob Zuma said, “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.” Zuma ordered South Africa’s flags to be flown at half-staff and announced plans for a state funeral."
Dec 6, 1884:
Washington Monument Completed
~~"On this day in 1884, in Washington, D.C., workers place a nine-inch aluminum pyramid atop a tower of white marble, completing the construction of an impressive monument to the city's namesake and the nation's first president, George Washington. As early as 1783, the infant U.S. Congress decided that a statue of George Washington, the great Revolutionary War general, should be placed near the site of the new Congressional building, wherever it might be. After then-President Washington asked him to lay out a new federal capital on the Potomac River in 1791, architect Pierre L'Enfant left a place for the statue at the western end of the sweeping National Mall (near the monument's present location).
It wasn't until 1832, however--33 years after Washington's death--that anyone really did anything about the monument. That year, a private Washington National Monument Society was formed. After holding a design competition and choosing an elaborate Greek temple-like design by architect Robert Mills, the society began a fundraising drive to raise money for the statue's construction. These efforts--including appeals to the nation's schoolchildren--raised some $230,000, far short of the $1 million needed. Construction began anyway, on July 4, 1848, as representatives of the society laid the cornerstone of the monument: a 24,500-pound block of pure white marble.
Six years later, with funds running low, construction was halted. Around the time the Civil War began in 1861, author Mark Twain described the unfinished monument as looking like a "hollow, oversized chimney." No further progress was made until 1876--the centennial of American independence--when President Ulysses S. Grant authorized construction to be completed.
Made of some 36,000 blocks of marble and granite stacked 555 feet in the air, the monument was the tallest structure in the world at the time of its completion in December 1884. In the six months following the dedication ceremony, over 10,000 people climbed the nearly 900 steps to the top of the Washington Monument. Today, an elevator makes the trip far easier, and more than 800,000 people visit the monument each year. A city law passed in 1910 restricted the height of new buildings to ensure that the monument will remain the tallest structure in Washington, D.C.--a fitting tribute to the man known as the "Father of His Country."
Dec 6, 1865:
The 13th Amendment Is Ratified
~~"On this day in 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, officially ending the institution of slavery, is ratified. "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." With these words, the single greatest change wrought by the Civil War was officially noted in the Constitution.
The ratification came eight months after the end of the war, but it represented the culmination of the struggle against slavery. When the war began, some in the North were against fighting what they saw as a crusade to end slavery. Although many northern Democrats and conservative Republicans were opposed to slavery's expansion, they were ambivalent about outlawing the institution entirely. The war's escalation after the First Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, in July 1861 caused many to rethink the role that slavery played in creating the conflict. By 1862, Lincoln realized that it was folly to wage such a bloody war without plans to eliminate slavery. In September 1862, following the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all slaves in territory still in rebellion on January 1, 1863, would be declared forever free. The move was largely symbolic, as it only freed slaves in areas outside of Union control, but it changed the conlfict from a war for the reunification of the states to a war whose objectives included the destruction of slavery.
Lincoln believed that a constitutional amendment was necessary to ensure the end of slavery. In 1864, Congress debated several proposals. Some insisted on including provisions to prevent discrimination against blacks, but the Senate Judiciary Committee provided the eventual language. It borrowed from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, when slavery was banned from the area north of the Ohio River. The Senate passed the amendment in April 1864.
A Republican victory in the 1864 presidential election would guarantee the success of the amendment. The Republican platform called for the "utter and complete destruction" of slavery, while the Democrats favored restoration of states' rights, which would include at least the possibility for the states to maintain slavery. Lincoln's overwhelming victory set in motion the events leading to ratification of the amendment. The House passed the measure in January 1865 and it was sent to the states for ratification. When Georgia ratified it on December 6, 1865, the institution of slavery officially ceased to exist in the United States."
Dec 6, 1917:
The Great Halifax Explosion
~~"At 9:05 a.m., in the harbor of Halifax in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, the most devastating manmade explosion in the pre-atomic age occurs when the Mont Blanc, a French munitions ship, explodes 20 minutes after colliding with another vessel.
As World War I raged in Europe, the port city of Halifax bustled with ships carrying troops, relief supplies, and munitions across the Atlantic Ocean. On the morning of December 6, the Norwegian vessel Imo left its mooring in Halifax harbor for New York City. At the same time, the French freighter Mont Blanc, its cargo hold packed with highly explosive munitions--2,300 tons of picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 35 tons of high-octane gasoline, and 10 tons of gun cotton--was forging through the harbor's narrows to join a military convoy that would escort it across the Atlantic.
At approximately 8:45 a.m., the two ships collided, setting the picric acid ablaze. The Mont Blanc was propelled toward the shore by its collision with the Imo, and the crew rapidly abandoned the ship, attempting without success to alert the harbor of the peril of the burning ship. Spectators gathered along the waterfront to witness the spectacle of the blazing ship, and minutes later it brushed by a harbor pier, setting it ablaze. The Halifax Fire Department responded quickly and was positioning its engine next to the nearest hydrant when the Mont Blanc exploded at 9:05 a.m. in a blinding white flash.
The massive explosion killed more than 1,800 people, injured another 9,000--including blinding 200--and destroyed almost the entire north end of the city of Halifax, including more than 1,600 homes. The resulting shock wave shattered windows 50 miles away, and the sound of the explosion could be heard hundreds of miles away."
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Dec 5, 1945:
Aircraft Squadron Lost In The Bermuda Triangle
~~"At 2:10 p.m., five U.S. Navy Avenger torpedo-bombers comprising Flight 19 take off from the Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station in Florida on a routine three-hour training mission. Flight 19 was scheduled to take them due east for 120 miles, north for 73 miles, and then back over a final 120-mile leg that would return them to the naval base. They never returned.
Two hours after the flight began, the leader of the squadron, who had been flying in the area for more than six months, reported that his compass and back-up compass had failed and that his position was unknown. The other planes experienced similar instrument malfunctions. Radio facilities on land were contacted to find the location of the lost squadron, but none were successful. After two more hours of confused messages from the fliers, a distorted radio transmission from the squadron leader was heard at 6:20 p.m., apparently calling for his men to prepare to ditch their aircraft simultaneously because of lack of fuel.
By this time, several land radar stations finally determined that Flight 19 was somewhere north of the Bahamas and east of the Florida coast, and at 7:27 p.m. a search and rescue Mariner aircraft took off with a 13-man crew. Three minutes later, the Mariner aircraft radioed to its home base that its mission was underway. The Mariner was never heard from again. Later, there was a report from a tanker cruising off the coast of Florida of a visible explosion seen at 7:50 p.m.
The disappearance of the 14 men of Flight 19 and the 13 men of the Mariner led to one of the largest air and seas searches to that date, and hundreds of ships and aircraft combed thousands of square miles of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and remote locations within the interior of Florida. No trace of the bodies or aircraft was ever found.
Although naval officials maintained that the remains of the six aircraft and 27 men were not found because stormy weather destroyed the evidence, the story of the "Lost Squadron" helped cement the legend of the Bermuda Triangle, an area of the Atlantic Ocean where ships and aircraft are said to disappear without a trace. The Bermuda Triangle is said to stretch from the southern U.S. coast across to Bermuda and down to the Atlantic coast of Cuba and Santo Domingo."
Dec 5, 1876:
Hundreds Die In Brooklyn Theater Fire
~~"A fire at the Brooklyn Theater in New York kills nearly 300 people and injures hundreds more on this day in 1876. Some victims perished from a combination of burns and smoke inhalation; others were trampled to death in the general panic that ensued.
The play The Two Orphans starring Harry S. Murdock and Kate Claxton was showing at the Brooklyn Theater on the night of December 5. The theater, built five years earlier at the corner of Johnson and Washington streets, was very popular at the time and all 900 seats were filled. Sometime near the start of the performance, a gas light ignited some extra scenery stored in the fly space behind the stage. It wasn't until midway through the play that stagehands noticed the quickly spreading flames. Unfortunately, there were no fire hoses or water buckets at hand and the fire spread, unbeknownst to the cast and audience.
Finally, someone shouted "FIRE" and despite Murdock's best attempt to calm the crowd, bedlam ensued, particularly in the balcony and rear of the theater. A narrow staircase was the only the exit from the balcony (there were no fire escapes) and panic resulted in a stampede in which many were crushed and others remained trapped. Meanwhile, the fire grew out of control. Witnesses saw Murdock return to the dressing room to change clothes; he then tried to wiggle out of a small window. He couldn't get through, and died when the floor gave way and he fell to the basement.
By the time firefighters arrived it was too late for hundreds of people. The fire raged through the night and destroyed nearly the entire building. When would-be rescuers were finally able to get in, all they found were bodies melted together. Up to 100 of the victims were burned beyond recognition and could not be identified. A mass grave was set up at the Green-Wood Cemetery. In all, approximately 295 people died. A 30-foot-high granite memorial was later erected in their honor by the city of Brooklyn."
Dec 5, 1933:
~~"The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, repealing the 18th Amendment and bringing an end to the era of national prohibition of alcohol in America. At 5:32 p.m. EST, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, achieving the requisite three-fourths majority of states' approval. Pennsylvania and Ohio had ratified it earlier in the day.
The movement for the prohibition of alcohol began in the early 19th century, when Americans concerned about the adverse effects of drinking began forming temperance societies. By the late 19th century, these groups had become a powerful political force, campaigning on the state level and calling for national liquor abstinence. Several states outlawed the manufacture or sale of alcohol within their own borders. In December 1917, the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes," was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. On January 29, 1919, the 18th Amendment achieved the necessary three-fourths majority of state ratification. Prohibition essentially began in June of that year, but the amendment did not officially take effect until January 29, 1920.
In the meantime, Congress passed the Volstead Act on October 28, 1919, over President Woodrow Wilson's veto. The Volstead Act provided for the enforcement of Prohibition, including the creation of a special Prohibition unit of the Treasury Department. In its first six months, the unit destroyed thousands of illicit stills run by bootleggers. However, federal agents and police did little more than slow the flow of booze, and organized crime flourished in America. Large-scale bootleggers like Al Capone of Chicago built criminal empires out of illegal distribution efforts, and federal and state governments lost billions in tax revenue. In most urban areas, the individual consumption of alcohol was largely tolerated and drinkers gathered at "speakeasies," the Prohibition-era term for saloons.
Prohibition, failing fully to enforce sobriety and costing billions, rapidly lost popular support in the early 1930s. In 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was passed and ratified, ending national Prohibition. After the repeal of the 18th Amendment, some states continued Prohibition by maintaining statewide temperance laws. Mississippi, the last dry state in the Union, ended Prohibition in 1966."
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