Today is Saturday, Dec. 20, the 355th day of 2008 with 11 to follow.
The moon is waning. The morning stars are Saturn and Mars. The evening stars are Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.
Those born on this date are under the sign of Sagittarius. They include author and decorator Elsie de Wolfe (Lady Mendl) in 1865; industrialist Harvey Firestone in 1868; philosopher Susanne K. Langer in 1895; U.S. actress Irene Dunne in 1898; nuclear physicist Robert Van de Graaff in 1901; movie director George Roy Hill ("Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Sting") in 1921; actor John Hillerman in 1932 (age 76); psychic Uri Geller in 1946 (age 62); and actress Jenny Agutter in 1952 (age 56).
On this date in history:
In 1803, the United States formally took over territory acquired from France in the Louisiana Purchase.
In 1812, Sacagawea, the young Indian woman who guided the Lewis and Clark Expedition, died.
In 1864, Union Gen. William T. Sherman completed his Civil War "march to the sea" across the South and arrived in Savannah, Ga.
In 1946 the first Indochina war began with Vietnamese troops under Ho Chi Minh clashing with the French at Hanoi.
In 1956, the Montgomery, Ala., public bus boycott officially ended but not until it had given a major boost to the civil rights struggle in the South. The boycott had been called in reaction to the Dec. 1, 1955, arrest of Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man.
In 1987, nearly 1,600 people died in the Philippines when a passenger ferry was struck by an oil tanker and sank. It was the century's worst peacetime maritime disaster.
In 1989, the United States invaded Panama to oust Manuel Noriega and install the duly elected civilian government. Twenty-three U.S. troops were killed.
In 1990, Eduard Shevardnadze abruptly resigned as Soviet foreign minister, warning against a dictatorship of hard-liners.
In 1991, Philippines prosecutors filed nine counts of graft against former first lady Imelda Marcos, charging she used bogus front companies to bilk millions of dollars from the nation.
In 1993, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's governing Socialist Party claimed victory in parliamentary elections held the day before.
In 1995, 160 people were killed when an American Airlines 757 crashed into a mountain shortly before it was scheduled to land in Cali, Colombia.
Also in 1995, Buckingham Palace confirmed that Queen Elizabeth II had sent letters to her son, Prince Charles, and his estranged wife, Princess Diana, urging them to seek a divorce as quickly as possible.
Further in 1995, NATO assumed peacekeeping duties in Bosnia from the United Nations.
In 1996, guerrillas in Peru took an estimated 380 hostages at the Japanese ambassador's residence.
In 1998, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein declared that the four-night U.S.-British bombing campaign of his country was a victory for Iraq over the "enemies of God and humanity."
Also in 1998, a Houston woman gave birth to seven more babies after delivering the first infant 12 days earlier. They were the only known set of octuplets to be born alive in the United States. The smallest baby died a week later.
In 1999, Macau reverted to Chinese rule.
In 2001, Argentine President Fernando de la Rua resigned amid mass protest demonstrations but chaos continued in his troubled country.
In 2002, U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., resigned as Senate majority leader amid an intense furor growing from remarks that seemed to praise the 1948 segregationist presidential candidacy of Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C.
In 2004, the United Nations said sub-Saharan Africa, ravaged by drought, civil strife and swarms of crop-devouring locusts, faced a worsening food crisis.
In 2005, a three-day transit strike idled New York City's 6,300 subway cars and 4,600 buses and hampered the 7 million people who ride on the system every weekday.
Also in 2005, a judge in Harrisburg, Pa., ruled the concept of "intelligent design" cannot be taught in Pennsylvania public high school science classes.
In 2006, U.S. Army Gen. John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command and the main military architect of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, submitted his letter of resignation.
Also in 2006, Sudan's Darfur conflict was reported spreading to Chad with untold numbers of ethnic killings and more than 90,000 Chadians fleeing their villages.
In 2007, with the 2008 U.S. presidential run about to shift into high gear with the first test, the Iowa caucuses, only two weeks away, two major polls indicated a close battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama among the Democrats and a wide open field on the Republican side.
A thought for the day: Bertrand Russell said, "To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom."