The Almanac

By United Press International  |  Dec. 22, 2004 at 3:30 AM
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Today is Wednesday, Dec. 22, the 357th day of 2004 with nine to follow.

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

Those born on this date are under the sign of Capricorn. They include opera composer Giacomo Puccini in 1858; Philadelphia A's manager Connie Mack, the "Dean of Baseball," in 1862; former first lady Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson in 1912 (age 92); TV game show host Gene Rayburn in 1917; actress Barbara Billingsley in 1922 (age 82); actor Hector Elizondo in 1936 (age 68); TV journalist Diane Sawyer in 1946 (age 58); Robin Gibb (age 55) and brother Maurice Gibb in 1949, members of the Bee Gees pop group; and actor Ralph Fiennes in 1962 (age 42).

On this date in history:

In 1785, the American Continental Navy fleet was organized, consisting of two frigates, two brigs and three schooners. Sailors were paid $8 a month.

In 1864, Union Gen. William T. Sherman sent President Abraham Lincoln this message: "I beg to present you as a Christmas present the city of Savannah."

In 1894, French artillery Captain Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason by a military court-martial on flimsy evidence in a highly irregular trial and sentenced to life in prison for his alleged crime of passing military secrets to the Germans.

In 1944, ordered to surrender by Nazi troops who had his unit trapped during the Battle of the Bulge, Gen. Anthony McAuliffe of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division replied with one word: "Nuts!"

In 1956, the first gorilla to be born in captivity arrived into the world at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio.

In 1971, the United Nations General Assembly chose Austrian diplomat Kurt Waldheim to lead the U.N. Waldheim went on to serve two terms as head of the world body, leaving the post in 1982.

In 1972, 5,000 people died when a series of earthquakes left the Nicaraguan capital of Managua in ruins.

In 1984, "subway vigilante" Bernard Goetz shot and wounded four would-be hold-up men on a New York City subway. He ended up serving eight months in prison for carrying an illegal weapon but was cleared of assault and attempted murder charges.

In 1986, political dissident and Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov and his wife, Yelena Bonner, were allowed to return to Moscow after seven years of internal exile.

In 1989, Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu, the last hard-line communist holdout against East Bloc reforms, fell from power in the face of continuing massive demonstrations.

In 1991, remains believed to be that of slain U.S. hostage Lt. Col. William Higgins were delivered to American University Hospital in Beirut.

In 1992, all 158 people aboard a Libyan Boeing 727 died when the jetliner crashed, apparently following a mid-air collision with a military plane.

In 1993, the daughter of Cuban President Fidel Castro was granted political asylum in the United States.

Also in 1993, South Africa's Parliament gave a strong endorsement to an interim Constitution that ended centuries of white-minority rule.

In 1994, North Korea released the body of the slain U.S. helicopter pilot it had shot down five days earlier.

Also in 1994, Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resigned after only seven months in office, following corruption charges against him.

In 1996, the hostage standoff at the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru, continued, although 200 hostages were released.

In 1997, members of a pro-government militia attacked the village of Chenalh, Mexico, killing 45 people, including a number of children.

In 2001, American Airlines passengers and attendants overpowered a man trying to light a match to detonate powerful explosives hidden in his sneakers on a flight from Paris to Miami.

In 2003, the White House urged Americans to be vigilant over the holidays but not to curtail travel or other plans because of the high-risk terrorist threat.

A thought for the day: Sir James Dewar has been quoted as saying, "Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open."

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