The almanac

By United Press International  |  Dec. 22, 2010 at 3:30 AM
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Today is Wednesday, Dec. 22, the 356th day of 2010 with nine to follow.

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

Those born on this date are under the sign of Capricorn. They include Nobel Peace Prize laureate Frank Kellogg in 1856; opera composer Giacomo Puccini in 1858; former Philadelphia Athletics' Manager Connie Mack, the "Dean of Baseball," in 1862; former first lady Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson, wife of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, in 1912; TV game show host Gene Rayburn in 1917; actors Barbara Billingsley in 1915 and Hector Elizondo in 1936 (age 74); baseball Hall of Fame member Steve Carlton in 1944 (age 66); TV news anchor Diane Sawyer in 1945 (age 65); Robin Gibb (age 61) and twin brother Maurice Gibb in 1949, members of the Bee Gees pop group; and actor Ralph Fiennes in 1962 (age 48).

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, after his Civil War march across Georgia, Union Gen. William T. Sherman sent U.S. President Abraham Lincoln this message: "I beg to present you as a Christmas present the city of Savannah."

In 1894, French Capt. 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 U.N. General Assembly chose Austrian diplomat Kurt Waldheim to lead the United Nations.

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 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 1992, all 158 people aboard a Libyan Boeing 727 died when the jetliner crashed, apparently following an in-flight 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, Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resigned after seven months in office, following corruption charges against him.

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 2004, 13 U.S. soldiers and nine others were killed in a suicide bomber attack on a U.S. military dining hall near Mosul, Iraq.

In 2005, Wal-Mart was ordered to pay more than 100,000 California employees $172 million for depriving them of breaks to eat.

In 2006, rape charges against three former members of the Duke University lacrosse team were dropped after the alleged victim said she couldn't be sure she had been raped.

In 2007, the U.S. Air Force reported finding major structural flaws in eight models of its F-15 fighter jets, grounding some U.S. air defense capabilities.

Also in 2007, 2 million children in Iraq faced malnutrition, lack of education and threats of disease and violence, the U.N. Children's Fund said in a report.

In 2008, a federal jury in New Jersey convicted five Muslim men of plotting to attack soldiers at Fort Dix, a plot prosecutors say was inspired by al-Qaida. The defendants were acquitted of attempted murder.

Also in 2008, an earthen retraining wall ruptured at a Kingston, Tenn., power plant, allowing 5.4 million cubic yards of coal and sludge to spill from a storage pond, blocking roads and rail lines, polluting 500 acres of land and contaminating the Emory River.

In 2009, Iranian security forces and anti-government protesters clashed in the holy city of Qom at the funeral of a founder of the Islamic revolution 30 years earlier. Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, who died at 87, became a prominent critic of June's disputed presidential voting that re-elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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

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