Today is Friday, Dec. 18, the 352nd day of 2009 with 13 to go.
The moon is waxing. The morning stars are Venus, Mars, Saturn and Mercury. The evening stars are Neptune, Jupiter and Uranus.
Those born on this date are under the sign of Sagittarius. They include Joseph Grimaldi, known as the "greatest clown in history," in 1778; English physicist Joseph Thompson, discoverer of the electron, in 1856; British short story writer Saki (H.H. Munro) in 1870; Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1879; Swiss modernist painter Paul Klee in 1879; baseball star Tyrus "Ty" Cobb in 1886; film director George Stevens ("Shane," "A Place in the Sun," "Giant") in 1904; actress Betty Grable in 1916; West German statesman Willy Brandt in 1913; actor Ossie Davis in 1917; Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards in 1943 (age 66); film director Steven Spielberg ("Jaws," "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," "Schindler's List") in 1946 (age 63); movie critic/historian Leonard Maltin in 1950 (age 59); actors Ray Liotta in 1954 (age 55), Brad Pitt in 1963 (age 46) and Katie Holmes in 1978 (age 31); and singer Christina Aguilera in 1980 (age 29).
On this date in history:
In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in the United States.
In 1912, after three years of digging in the Piltdown gravel pit in Sussex, England, amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson announced the discovery of two skulls that appeared to belong to a primitive hominid and ancestor of man. The find turned out to be a hoax.
In 1915, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, a widower for one year, married Edith Bolling Galt.
In 1985, the U.S. Congress approved the biggest overhaul of farm legislation since the Depression, trimming price supports.
In 1989, a pipe bomb killed Savannah, Ga., City Councilman Robert Robinson, hours after a bomb was discovered at the Atlanta federal courthouse. A racial motive was cited in a rash of bomb incidents.
Also in 1989, the Romanian government sealed the borders amid reports of a deadly crackdown on dissidents.
In 1990, Moldavia became the sixth Soviet republic to refuse to participate in a 10-day meeting in a mounting affront to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
In 1991, General Motors announced it would close 21 plants and eliminate 74,000 jobs in four years to offset record losses.
In 1997, South Koreans elected longtime leftist opposition leader Kim Dae-jong president, marking the first time in the nation's history that a member of the opposition had defeated a candidate of the New Korea Party and its predecessors.
Also in 1997, the 6-mile-long Tokyo Bay tunnel connecting the cities of Kawasaki and Kisarazu opened. The project took 8 1/2 years to complete and cost $17 billion.
In 2003, teenager Lee Malvo was convicted of murder in the Washington area sniper attacks. His adult companion, John Muhammad, was convicted earlier by a jury that recommended the death penalty.
In 2004, the United States officially forgave all of the $4.1 billion owed the government by Iraq and urged other creditors to do the same.
Also in 2004, Britain's Prince Charles was reported leading efforts to end the death penalty imposed in some cases under Islamic law for Muslims who convert to other religions.
In 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, 77, was hospitalized after suffering what was described as a mild stroke.
And, in 2005, Bolivia elected Eso Morales as its first Indian president.
In 2006, Robert Gates was sworn in as the U.S. Defense secretary. Two days later he flew to Iraq to assess the situation.
In 2007, at least four White House lawyers met with the CIA between 2003 and 2005 to discuss whether to destroy video tapes of secret questioning of two al-Qaida operatives, The New York Times reported.
Also in 2007, African National Congress delegates chose Jacob Zuma as their leader, ousting South African president Thabo Mbeki who had controlled the party for 10 years.
In 2008, Rwandan Col. Theoneste Bagosora was convicted of genocide by a U.N. court for his involvement in the 1994 massacre of 800,000 people.
A thought for the day: Anatole France said, "To know is nothing at all; to imagine is everything."