December 31, 2012 - The Last Day of 2012

It's the last day of the year, and I'd say that it is time to take stock of all the predictions that did not come true. First of all, of course, the world did not end on or around the 21st of this month – and we all know by now that no ancient Mayan predicted the end of the world, anyway, right? – but there were lots of other firm-sounding predictions that missed the mark, as well.

So-called psychic LaMont Hamilton said that there would be an Iranian revolution that would remove either Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from power—but that didn't happen. Some of his other predictions, including a serious dispute between China and Japan, China losing its position in the world's economy, and two space disasters for Russia, fell flat—thank goodness! The predictions that Hamilton made that actually came true were either pretty good guesses or completely obvious to everyone—yes, President Obama did face Mitt Romney in an election (I noticed that Hamilton didn't predict who would win!), and yes, Israel did face some violence.

Another “psychic,” Judy Hevenly, said that Anderson Cooper would win an Emmy Award for his TV talk show. He didn't; instead, his show attracted few viewers and was cancelled. She said that Canada would be hit by major wildfires, but the nation had a normal fire season; instead, Colorado burned all summer. She guessed correctly that Barack Obama would be re-elected president, but she went along with scientists who estimated that world population totals would hit 7.5 or 7.6 billion; instead, the population is barely more than 7 billion as of today. It was a good guess on Hevenly's part that 2012 would bring a baby boy to Kate Middleton and Prince William of England—but it didn't; instead, it brought just the beginnings of a pregnancy that will hopefully result in a healthy baby (boy OR girl!) in 2013.

Nikki, “Psychic to the Stars,” said that an earthquake would destroy most of Mexico City and that there would be a giant earthquake in California. No and no. She said that animals and birds would attack people at the end of the year (one assumes more than normal), giant prehistoric sea monsters would be seen in the sea, and that there would be major UFO sightings all over the world, and maybe even an alien spacecraft landing. No, no, no, no. A plane was going to crash into the White House. No. The Holy Grail was going to be found. No. The Earth was going to “fall off its axis.” No. And, by the way, that doesn't make sense.

Nikki also made some predictions about the Hollywood stars she supposedly specializes in: Ellen De Generes would join the army for a week, Sylvester Stallone would be nominated for a Tony Award, and Madonna would break a leg. No, no, and no.

I have to say, however, that I admire the fact that Nikki really goes out on a limb and predicts things that aren't just general good guessing. She was proven super wrong in all the predictions I checked, but at least she was bold. Most psychics talk in such a general way that they could make a case that their predictions were right—but even I can predict that there will be upheaval in the Middle East, earthquakes will occur somewhere, and the economy will suffer from unemployment and stock-market shake-ups.

Here's my source for the 2012 predictions...I only dealt with the top three psychics, but I tried not to cherry-pick; they guessed right at times, but those “hits” are easily explained by the fact that they were merely intelligent guesses that followed 2011 trends, or that they were framed in general “mushy” language that is impossible to be proven wrong. The more specific and dramatic predictions all turned out to be wrong. And notice that nobody predicted shootings at a movie theater or an elementary school, nor a devastating Superstorm hitting Manhattan and New Jersey. And that's because people can make good guesses about the future based on data from the past...but apparently they can't make MAGICAL predictions.

Also on this date:

Anniversary of a window tax in England

December 30, 2012 - Ozymandias and Frankenstein

On this date in 1816, two authors married. Percy Bysshe Shelley was the Romantic poet who would later write Ozymandias, and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was the author who would later write the gothic novel Frankenstein. (At that point her name was Mary Shelley.)

The Shelleys were considered radical in their lifestyle and political views during their own lifetime, but they achieved admiration and fame for their writings since then.

It's always interesting when two famous or well-accomplished people marry. In the past such power-couple marriages were rare because women were so strongly encouraged to stay home and to focus on family matters; also, women often lacked educational opportunities.

From Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to Bill and Hilary Clinton, from Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, power couples can achieve great things together or support each other as they achieve great things separately. Power couples often stay together for years or decades, but they often break up suddenly and publicly as well.

The hubris of humankind

The word hubris means excessive pride—that is, too darned much pride. Both of the Shelleys dealt with hubris in their works I am featuring here.

Ozymandias is a short poem about a mighty king who thought he would make a giant, lasting imprint on history...Read it here, or listen to it over here.

It is hubris to assume that, no matter how much you matter to yourself, you will matter to everybody, for all time.

Frankenstein is about a scientist who tries to create life out of dead body parts and ends up creating a monster. Some people worry that science pushing into matters of life and death is another example of hubris, of people meddling with things that shouldn't be meddled with. Other people worry that these worries are exaggerated and that we shouldn't arbitrarily limit scientific experimentation.

Also on this date:

Birthday of seismograph inventor John Milne

December 29, 2012 - Happy Birthday, Andrew Johnson

He wasn't elected president—he became president when Abraham Lincoln was tragically assassinated.

He had no vice president—nobody had ever thought through what would happen if a VP had to step up to the top job, and then something had happened to him! (The Constitution has since been amended, so now there is a succession for vice presidents as well as presidents.)

Andrew Johnson was a Democrat—even though he ran for election with President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican! Lincoln was famous for consulting people with all sorts of opinions, especially those with ideas that opposed his own, but that wasn't the reason he selected a person from an opposing party as his running mate. Instead, Lincoln was looking forward to the end of the war and reunification, and he chose a running mate that would show the South that he was dedicated to welcoming Confederate states back into the nation rather than to punishing them for leaving.

Andrew Johnson was not only a Democrat, he was a Southerner—he was from the state of Tennessee, which had broken off from the Union and joined the Confederacy! At the time that Tennessee seceded (broke away), Johnson was a Senator from Tennessee—but he refused to quit his post in the Senate and join the Confederacy. He was convinced that, if the United States really did break up, there would be not just two countries, but many small countries, each with its own form of government. I guess he thought that scenario didn't lend itself to a peaceful future! So Johnson spoke up loudly against the Confederacy and for Lincoln.

Johnson was (like Lincoln) a self-educated man with a poor family and few formal schooling opportunities.

And I'm telling you all of this because today is his birthdayAndrew Johnson was born on this date in 1808.

Coincidence presented as mystery

Have you ever heard about that list of mystical connections between John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln? Both of these presidents were assassinated, and both were succeeded by Southern Democrats with the last name of Johnson. There are a lot of other similarities, as well – according to lists of 16 to 40 similarities that circulate on the internet and elsewhere.

Many people look at one of these lists and marvel at the eeriness of so many coincidences. “It can't be JUST coincidence!” they think. “There has to be some sort of weird cosmic connection between these two assassinations!”

Actually, these lists of Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences are examples of “cherry-picking” and fudging data. ANY two presidents (or anyone else, for that matter) would have as many similarities—but there are also millions of differences. For example, the fact that the names Lincoln and Kennedy have seven letters each is trivial but true; on the other hand, the two presidents' first names have different numbers of letters (Abraham has seven and John has four), their nicknames have different numbers of letters (Abe has three and Jack has four), and their middle names are a completely different situation, since Kennedy's middle name, Fitzgerald, has ten letters and Lincoln didn't even have a middle name! Furthermore, Kennedy is frequently referred to as JFK, and Lincoln is never referred to with initial letters. So the list just cherry picked the one similarity, name-wise, and didn't mention all the differences.

An example of fudging data (also known as lying) is the so-called coincidence that Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln and Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy. President Kennedy did, in fact, have a secretary named Evelyn Lincoln, but President Lincoln did not have a secretary named Kennedy. Several items on the list are either mistakes, lies, or worded so oddly (such as referring to a tobacco shed as a warehouse) that they may as well be lies.

If you want to see a thorough description of why lists of Lincoln-Kennedy similarities are flawed and misleading, check out this Snopes article

Also on this date:

Madame de Pompadour's birthday

December 28, 2012 - Anniversary of the Consecration of Westminster Abbey

That beautiful church that held Princess Diana's funeral and Prince William's wedding to Kate Middleton is also the place of coronations of British kings and queens since the 1066 coronations of both King Harold and William the Conqueror, plus many other royal weddings and funerals. Some non-royals such as author Geoffrey Chaucer and scientists Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin share the honor of being buried with royalty in or around the Abbey. There are many graves on the floor of the Abbey; the only grave upon which it is forbidden to step is the grave of The Unknown Warrior, an unidentified British soldier killed during World War I.

Westminster Abbey, the largest church in Britain, is a treasure house of stained glass and paintings, statues and replicas of crowns and scepters. I really cannot believe that in three trips to London, I've never been inside (it was closed for this, that, and the other reason—I've basically just been unlucky!). I guess I will just have to rely on video tours like this one

Why am I going on about Westminster Abbey today? This happens to be the anniversary of the consecration of this famous cathedral in 1065.

Here is a coloring page of the Abbey. 

The Anglophile has a post with two cool pictures of Westminster Abbey plus some interesting historical facts. 

Live trees—20-foot-high trees!—were brought into the Abbey for William and Kate's wedding so they could walk down an avenue of trees INSIDE the church. Kate wanted live plants rather than cut flowers for her wedding decorations. Check it out. 

Also on this date:

Anniversary of dishwasher patent

They're Always Changing the Map Day

December 27, 2012 - Anniversary of the opening of Radio City Music Hall

A long line of dancers called the Rockettes kicked high and danced in tight unison. The Flying Wallendas flew about on a trapeze. The famous dancer and choreographer Martha Graham did her thing, and actor Ray Bolger, who played the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, did his. Other acts, too, participated in the lavish opening show of Radio City Music Hall.

Billionaire John D. Rockefeller was building the Rockefeller Center in what had been a crummy part of Manhattan, and he decided to make a music hall the major attraction of the center. The theater, an Art Deco masterpiece with a 60-foot-wide and 100-foot-long stage, opened on this date in 1932, and thousands of people came to see the opening. (The theater has around 6,000 seats!)

It was, at the time, the largest indoor theater in the world.

The Rockettes do some nifty "wave" tricks
during their shows.
Apparently the variety show format was a bit of a flop—most of the acts seemed lost on that huge stage. Radio City Music Hall soon began to be used to show movies. However, large-scale stage shows are shown there, too, including the Rockettes in their famous Christmas spectacular. That show alone draws more than a million people every year.

Since opening night, Radio City Music Hall has entertained more than 300 million people!

And—guess what?—Radio City Music Hall STILL lays claim to being the largest indoor theater in the world!

Dabble in Art Deco

Find out what we mean by “Art Deco” at Fun Kids, and enjoy galleries of photos of Art Deco woodwork, glass, and architecture at DecoPix

Also on this date:


Kwanzaa (from 12/26/11 to 1/1/12)

December 26, 2012 - Anniversary of the Commissioning of a Hospital Ship

The Red Rover was a side-wheel steamer that was purchased by the Confederacy during the Civil War. She was what was called a “barracks ship,” a ship that specialized in serving as temporary housing for soldiers.

(Did you know that ships are referred to with feminine pronouns like “she” and “her”?)

The ship was seized by Union forces in 1862, and she was repaired and refitted to be a hospital ship. An operating room was installed, and there were separate kitchen facilities for the medical staff and for patients. Some rather up-to-date (for then) features included a steam boiler for the laundry, bathrooms and water closets, an elevator, and gauze window blinds to keep cinders and smoke away from patients. Separate quarters were set up on barges for those with contagious diseases.

You may be picturing Red Rover as going up and down the Atlantic Coast, but actually she steamed her way up and down the Mississippi River. The medical staff included 30 surgeons and male nurses plus four nuns, and the patients numbered more than 2,000. The ship was commissioned on this date in 1862 and was decommissioned in November of 1865.

By the way, those four nuns that served as nurses made the Red Rover the first U.S. ship to have female nurses.


One of the most interesting things about touring the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Midway was the realization that it was like a small town, with everything a town would need: restaurants and a church, recreation areas and a hospital, a laundromat and a dentist's office.

With 3 to 10 thousand aboard an aircraft carrier, there is plenty to keep the medical staff busy. The aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower has a staff of 40, and they can do everything from removing moles to doing open-chest surgeries. Even though there is plenty of danger of injury (the whole ship is made of metal, and airplanes are constantly taking off and landing, and of course it is possible for a military craft to be in or near war zones!) and of illness (in such close quarters, keeping contagious diseases from becoming epidemics is difficult), the medical staff spends most of its time with preventative care.

Also on this date:

December 25, 2012 - Christmas Day (and Coronation Day)

Christmas is so many things: a religious holiday and a secular holiday...

a time to meditate on the highest goals and aspirations, such as peace and charity, and a time to wallow in consumerism and ostentatious display...

a time of giving and a time of getting...

a special treat for kids and a great excuse for adults to party. 

Its origins are not just from the early Christian religion, but also from the Roman holiday Saturnalia and other pagan traditions.

Santa Claus may appear in a cozy, furry outfit with a sleigh and arctic reindeer, in some places, but he may appear in a red-and-white striped swimsuit, astride a surfboard, in others because Christmas occurs in the summer in the Southern Hemisphere!

For more about Christmas, check out earlier posts here, here and also here

Anniversary of important coronations

Charlemagne was King of France in the 700s, and for decades he went about Europe conquering countries and tribes and “converting” people by force to Catholicism. He also helped Pope Leo II regain power in Rome. To show his gratitude, the pope crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans during Christmas Day mass in 800 C.E. This coronation was symbolic and did not add to new powers, but it did give a sort of legitimacy to Charlemagne's rule over the lands he had conquered in northern Italy.

Flash forward 266 years and blip over to England, where William the Conquerer was crowned king at Westminster Abbey, also on Christmas Day. William had been the Duke of Normandy, in what is now northern France, and he had invaded England and challenged its King Harold. When William and his army defeated Harold's army at the Battle of Hastings (and Harold was killed by an arrow), William became king and Norman French became the language of nobility in England...for a while.

Also on this date: