The Almanac

By United Press International   |   Feb. 28, 2003 at 3:30 AM

Today is Friday, Feb. 28, the 59th day of 2003 with 306 to follow.

The moon is waning. The morning stars are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. The evening stars are Jupiter and Saturn.

Those born on this day are under the sign of Pisces. They include French essayist Michel de Montaigne in 1533; Russian ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky in 1890; American journalist and screenwriter Ben Hecht in 1893; chemist and physicist Linus Pauling, twice winner of the Nobel Prize, in 1901; movie director Vincente Minnelli in 1910; Svetlana Stalin, daughter of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, in 1926 (age 78); actors Charles Durning in 1923 (age 80) and Gavin MacLeod in 1931 (age 72); dancer Tommy Tune in 1939 (age 64); former race car driver Mario Andretti in 1940 (age 63); singer/actress Bernadette Peters in 1948 (age 55); and actors John Turturro in 1957 (age 46) and Robert Sean Leonard in 1969 (age 34).

On this date in history:

In 1844, an explosion rocked the "war steamer" USS Princeton after it test-fired one of its guns. The blast killed or wounded a number of top U.S. government officials who were aboard.

In 1849, the first shipload of gold seekers arrived in San Francisco after a five-month journey from New York City.

In 1942, Japanese forces landed in Java, the last Allied bastion in the Dutch East Indies.

In 1982, the J. Paul Getty Museum became the most richly endowed museum on earth when it received a $1.2 billion bequest left by Getty.

In 1983, the concluding episode of the long-running series "M*A*S*H" drew what was then the largest television audience in U.S. history.

In 1986, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was assassinated on a street in Stockholm.

In 1989, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company withdrew its "Premier" smokeless cigarette from the market, citing poor sales.

In 1990, the Soviet Parliament passed a law permitting the leasing of land to individuals for housing and farming. It was another radical change in the Stalinist scheme of a state-run economy.

In 1991, Iraq agreed to meet with the allies to arrange a permanent cease-fire.

In 1992, a judge in Rochester Hills, Mich., said euthanasia advocate Jack "Dr. Death" Kevorkian must stand murder trial for helping two chronically ill women commit suicide.

Also in 1992, a bomb blamed on the IRA ripped through a London railway station, injuring at least 30 people and shutting down the British capital's entire rail and subway system.

In 1993, federal agents attempting to serve warrants on the Branch Davidian religious cult's compound near Waco, Texas, were met with a hail of bullets that left at least five dead and 15 wounded and marked the start of a month-and-a-half-long standoff.

Also in 1993, actress Lillian Gish, whose career spanned more than 80 years, died at age 96. And singer-actress Ruby Keeler, the queen of dozens of movies during the 1920s, died at age 82.

In 1994, NATO was involved in actual combat for the first time in its 45-year history when four U.S. fighter planes operating under NATO auspices shot down four Serb planes that had violated the U.N. no-fly zone in central Bosnia.

Also in 1994, the PLO broke off peace talks with Israel.

In 1995, Lamar Alexander, a former governor of Tennessee and secretary of education, announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996.

In 1996, Britain's Prince Charles and Princess Diana agreed to divorce after 15 years of marriage.

In 1997, the Democratic National Committee said it would return nearly $1.5 million in contributions that may have been illegal or improper.

Also in 1997, former FBI agent Earl Pitts pleaded guilty to spying; he was only the second FBI agent ever to be convicted of espionage.

In 2000, bowing to international pressure, Jorg Haider resigned as leader of Austria's anti-immigrant Freedom Party. Haider had come under scrutiny for his reported admiration of Hitler when his party was included in a government coalition.

In 2001, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the Pacific Northwest, injuring 250 people and causing more than $1 billion damages.

A thought for the day: it was Ben Hecht who wrote, "Do it first, do it yourself, and keep on doin' it."

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