Today is Wednesday, Dec. 30, the 364th day of 2009 with one to follow.
The moon is waxing. The morning stars are Venus, Saturn and Mars. The evening stars are Mercury, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.
Those born on this date are under the sign of Capricorn. They include British author Rudyard Kipling in 1865; Canadian economist and humorist Stephen Leacock in 1869; Japan's World War II Prime Minister Hideki Tojo in 1884; TV personality Bert Parks in 1914; rock 'n' roll pioneer Bo Diddley in 1928; actor Jack Lord in 1920; Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax in 1935 (age 74); actor/dancer Russ Tamblyn in 1934 (age 75); actor Joseph Bologna in 1934 (age 75); two members of the pop group The Monkees, Mike Nesmith in 1942 (age 67) and Davy Jones in 1945 (age 64); "Today" co-hosts Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira both in 1957 (age 52); actress Tracey Ullman in 1959 (age 50); golfer Tiger Woods in 1975 (age 34); and basketball player LaBron James in 1984 (age 25).
On this date in history:
In 1853, the United States bought 45,000 square miles of land along the Gila River from Mexico for $10 million. The area is now southern Arizona and New Mexico.
In 1862, the Union ironclad ship USS Monitor sank off Cape Hatteras, N.C., during a storm. Sixteen members of the crew were lost.
In 1903, flames swept the Iroquois Theater in Chicago, killing 602 people. The fire led to safety regulations for theaters around the world.
In 1916, Grigori Rasputin, a self-fashioned Russian holy man, was killed by Russian nobles eager to end his influence over the royal family.
In 1922, at the first Soviet Congress, Russia, Ukraine and two other Soviet republics signed a treaty, creating the Soviet Union.
In 1965, former Philippines Senate President Ferdinand Marcos was inaugurated president of the Southeast Asian archipelago nation.
In 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered a halt in the bombing of North Vietnam and announced that peace talks with the Hanoi government would resume in Paris in January.
In 1979, Broadway composer Richard Rodgers died in New York City at age 77. He first collaborated with lyricist Lorenz Hart and later with Oscar Hammerstein II in a string of memorable musicals ("Oklahoma," "South Pacific," "Sound of Music.").
In 1986, Exxon Corp. became the first major international oil company to withdraw from South Africa because of that nation's racial policies.
In 1992, Ling-Ling, the giant female panda who delighted visitors to Washington's National Zoo for more than two decades, died of heart failure.
In 1993, Israel and the Vatican signed an agreement to establish diplomatic relations.
In 1995, North Korea released a U.S. Army pilot whose helicopter had been shot down 13 days earlier over North Korean territory.
In 1999, a mentally ill man broke into George Harrison's mansion and attacked the former Beatle and his wife. Harrison suffered serious stab wounds but recovered.
In 2002, a university student, thought to be linked to a terrorist group, allegedly killed three U.S. missionaries working at a Baptist hospital in Yemen.
In 2003, the Bush administration said it would ban the use of Ephedra, a popular herbal supplement taken by millions to lose weight or enhance athletic performance. The drug had been linked to heart attacks, strokes and sudden deaths.
In 2004, the official death toll from the 11-country Asian earthquake and tsunami soared to 123,000. Indonesia was the hardest hit by the magnitude 9 quake and counted 80,000 dead.
Also in 2004, Artie Shaw, the clarinet virtuoso and leader of one of the biggest of the Swing Era big bands, died at age 94.
In 2006, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging in Baghdad before sunrise. He had been convicted of the 1982 massacre of 148 Shiite men and boys in Dujail and sentenced to death.
Also in 2006, car bombs struck markets in a Shiite area of Baghdad and in a southern Shiite town, killing at least 68 people.
In 2008, Illinois Gov. Ron Blagojevich, facing possible impeachment on accusations of trying to sell the vacant U.S. Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama, named Roland Burris, the 71-year-old former state attorney general, as Obama's successor.
A thought for the day: poet Robert Browning wrote, "'Tis not what man does which exalts him, but what man would do!"