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July 21, 1861: The First Battle of Bull Run

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 11:00pm

In the first major land battle of the Civil War, a large Union force under General Irvin McDowell is routed by a Confederate army under General Pierre G.T. Beauregard.

Three months after the Civil War erupted at Fort Sumter, Union military command still believed that the Confederacy could be crushed quickly and with little loss of life. In July, this overconfidence led to a premature offensive into northern Virginia by General McDowell. Searching out the Confederate forces, McDowell led 34,000 troops--mostly inexperienced and poorly trained militiamen--toward the railroad junction of Manassas, located just 30 miles from Washington, D.C. Alerted to the Union advance, General Beauregard massed some 20,000 troops there and was soon joined by General Joseph Johnston, who brought some 9,000 more troops by railroad.

On the morning of July 21, hearing of the proximity of the two opposing forces, hundreds of civilians--men, women, and children--turned out to watch the first major battle of the Civil War. The fighting commenced with three Union divisions crossing the Bull Run stream, and the Confederate flank was driven back to Henry House Hill. However, at this strategic location, Beauregard had fashioned a strong defensive line anchored by a brigade of Virginia infantry under General Thomas J. Jackson. Firing from a concealed slope, Jackson's men repulsed a series of Federal charges, winning Jackson his famous nickname "Stonewall."

Meanwhile, Confederate cavalry under J.E.B. Stuart captured the Union artillery, and Beauregard ordered a counterattack on the exposed Union right flank. The rebels came charging down the hill, yelling furiously, and McDowell's line was broken, forcing his troops in a hasty retreat across Bull Run. The retreat soon became an unorganized flight, and supplies littered the road back to Washington. Union forces endured a loss of 3,000 men killed, wounded, or missing in action while the Confederates suffered 2,000 casualties. The scale of this bloodshed horrified not only the frightened spectators at Bull Run but also the U.S. government in Washington, which was faced with an uncertain military strategy in quelling the "Southern insurrection."

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July 20, 1969: Armstrong walks on moon

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 11:00pm

At 10:56 p.m. EDT, American astronaut Neil Armstrong, 240,000 miles from Earth, speaks these words to more than a billion people listening at home: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Stepping off the lunar landing module Eagle, Armstrong became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.

The American effort to send astronauts to the moon has its origins in a famous appeal President John F. Kennedy made to a special joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961: "I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth." At the time, the United States was still trailing the Soviet Union in space developments, and Cold War-era America welcomed Kennedy's bold proposal.

In 1966, after five years of work by an international team of scientists and engineers, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducted the first unmanned Apollo mission, testing the structural integrity of the proposed launch vehicle and spacecraft combination. Then, on January 27, 1967, tragedy struck at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, when a fire broke out during a manned launch-pad test of the Apollo spacecraft and Saturn rocket. Three astronauts were killed in the fire.

Despite the setback, NASA and its thousands of employees forged ahead, and in October 1968, Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, orbited Earth and successfully tested many of the sophisticated systems needed to conduct a moon journey and landing. In December of the same year, Apollo 8 took three astronauts to the dark side of the moon and back, and in March 1969 Apollo 9 tested the lunar module for the first time while in Earth orbit. Then in May, the three astronauts of Apollo 10 took the first complete Apollo spacecraft around the moon in a dry run for the scheduled July landing mission.

At 9:32 a.m. on July 16, with the world watching, Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins aboard. Armstrong, a 38-year-old civilian research pilot, was the commander of the mission. After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hours, Apollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19. The next day, at 1:46 p.m., the lunar module Eagle, manned by Armstrong and Aldrin, separated from the command module, where Collins remained. Two hours later, the Eagle began its descent to the lunar surface, and at 4:18 p.m. the craft touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong immediately radioed to Mission Control in Houston, Texas, a famous message: "The Eagle has landed."

At 10:39 p.m., five hours ahead of the original schedule, Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module. As he made his way down the lunar module's ladder, a television camera attached to the craft recorded his progress and beamed the signal back to Earth, where hundreds of millions watched in great anticipation. At 10:56 p.m., Armstrong spoke his famous quote, which he later contended was slightly garbled by his microphone and meant to be "that's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." He then planted his left foot on the gray, powdery surface, took a cautious step forward, and humanity had walked on the moon.

"Buzz" Aldrin joined him on the moon's surface at 11:11 p.m., and together they took photographs of the terrain, planted a U.S. flag, ran a few simple scientific tests, and spoke with President Richard M. Nixon via Houston. By 1:11 a.m. on July 21, both astronauts were back in the lunar module and the hatch was closed. The two men slept that night on the surface of the moon, and at 1:54 p.m. the Eagle began its ascent back to the command module. Among the items left on the surface of the moon was a plaque that read: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon--July 1969 A.D--We came in peace for all mankind."

At 5:35 p.m., Armstrong and Aldrin successfully docked and rejoined Collins, and at 12:56 a.m. on July 22 Apollo 11 began its journey home, safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:51 p.m. on July 24.

There would be five more successful lunar landing missions, and one unplanned lunar swing-by, Apollo 13. The last men to walk on the moon, astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of the Apollo 17 mission, left the lunar surface on December 14, 1972. The Apollo program was a costly and labor intensive endeavor, involving an estimated 400,000 engineers, technicians, and scientists, and costing $24 billion (close to $100 billion in today's dollars). The expense was justified by Kennedy's 1961 mandate to beat the Soviets to the moon, and after the feat was accomplished ongoing missions lost their viability.

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July 19, 1799: Rosetta Stone found

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1799, during Napoleon Bonaparte's Egyptian campaign, a French soldier discovers a black basalt slab inscribed with ancient writing near the town of Rosetta, about 35 miles north of Alexandria. The irregularly shaped stone contained fragments of passages written in three different scripts: Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphics and Egyptian demotic. The ancient Greek on the Rosetta Stone told archaeologists that it was inscribed by priests honoring the king of Egypt, Ptolemy V, in the second century B.C. More startlingly, the Greek passage announced that the three scripts were all of identical meaning. The artifact thus held the key to solving the riddle of hieroglyphics, a written language that had been "dead" for nearly 2,000 years.

When Napoleon, an emperor known for his enlightened view of education, art and culture, invaded Egypt in 1798, he took along a group of scholars and told them to seize all important cultural artifacts for France. Pierre Bouchard, one of Napoleon's soldiers, was aware of this order when he found the basalt stone, which was almost four feet long and two-and-a-half feet wide, at a fort near Rosetta. When the British defeated Napoleon in 1801, they took possession of the Rosetta Stone.

Several scholars, including Englishman Thomas Young made progress with the initial hieroglyphics analysis of the Rosetta Stone. French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832), who had taught himself ancient languages, ultimately cracked the code and deciphered the hieroglyphics using his knowledge of Greek as a guide. Hieroglyphics used pictures to represent objects, sounds and groups of sounds. Once the Rosetta Stone inscriptions were translated, the language and culture of ancient Egypt was suddenly open to scientists as never before.

The Rosetta Stone has been housed at the British Museum in London since 1802, except for a brief period during World War I. At that time, museum officials moved it to a separate underground location, along with other irreplaceable items from the museum's collection, to protect it from the threat of bombs.

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July 18, 1940: FDR nominated for unprecedented third term

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who first took office in 1933 as America's 32nd president, is nominated for an unprecedented third term. Roosevelt, a Democrat, would eventually be elected to a record four terms in office, the only U.S. president to serve more than two terms.

Roosevelt was born January 30, 1882, in Hyde Park, New York, and went on to serve as a New York state senator from 1911 to 1913, assistant secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920 and governor of New York from 1929 to 1932. In 1932, he defeated incumbent Herbert Hoover to be elected president for the first time. During his first term, Roosevelt enacted his New Deal social programs, which were aimed at lifting America out of the Great Depression. In 1936, he won his second term in office by defeating Kansas governor Alf Landon in a landslide.

On July 18, 1940, Roosevelt was nominated for a third presidential term at the Democratic Party convention in Chicago. The president received some criticism for running again because there was an unwritten rule in American politics that no U.S. president should serve more than two terms. The custom dated back to the country's first president, George Washington, who in 1796 declined to run for a third term in office. Nevertheless, Roosevelt believed it was his duty to continue serving and lead his country through the mounting crisis in Europe, where Hitler's Nazi Germany was on the rise. The president went on to defeat Republican Wendell Wilkie in the general election, and his third term in office was dominated by America's involvement in World War II.

In 1944, with the war still in progress, Roosevelt defeated New York governor Thomas Dewey for a fourth term in office. However, the president was unable to complete the full term. On April 12, 1945, Roosevelt, who had suffered from various health problems for years, died at age 63 in Warm Springs, Georgia. He was succeeded by Vice President Harry S. Truman. On March 21, 1947, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which stated that no person could be elected to the office of president more than twice. The amendment was ratified by the required number of states in 1951.

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July 17, 1955: Disneyland opens

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 11:00pm

Disneyland, Walt Disney's metropolis of nostalgia, fantasy, and futurism, opens on July 17, 1955. The $17 million theme park was built on 160 acres of former orange groves in Anaheim, California, and soon brought in staggering profits. Today, Disneyland hosts more than 14 million visitors a year, who spend close to $3 billion.

Walt Disney, born in Chicago in 1901, worked as a commercial artist before setting up a small studio in Los Angeles to produce animated cartoons. In 1928, his short film Steamboat Willy, starring the character "Mickey Mouse," was a national sensation. It was the first animated film to use sound, and Disney provided the voice for Mickey. From there on, Disney cartoons were in heavy demand, but the company struggled financially because of Disney's insistence on ever-improving artistic and technical quality. His first feature-length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1938), took three years to complete and was a great commercial success.

Snow White was followed by other feature-length classics for children, such as Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942). Fantasia (1940), which coordinated animated segments with famous classical music pieces, was an artistic and technical achievement. In Song of the South (1946), Disney combined live actors with animated figures, and beginning with Treasure Island in 1950 the company added live-action movies to its repertoire. Disney was also one of the first movie studios to produce film directly for television, and its Zorro and Davy Crockett series were very popular with children.

In the early 1950s, Walt Disney began designing a huge amusement park to be built near Los Angeles. He intended Disneyland to have educational as well as amusement value and to entertain adults and their children. Land was bought in the farming community of Anaheim, about 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and construction began in 1954. In the summer of 1955, special invitations were sent out for the opening of Disneyland on July 17. Unfortunately, the pass was counterfeited and thousands of uninvited people were admitted into Disneyland on opening day. The park was not ready for the public: food and drink ran out, a women's high-heel shoe got stuck in the wet asphalt of Main Street USA, and the Mark Twain Steamboat nearly capsized from too many passengers.

Disneyland soon recovered, however, and attractions such as the Castle, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Snow White's Adventures, Space Station X-1, Jungle Cruise, and Stage Coach drew countless children and their parents. Special events and the continual building of new state-of-the-art attractions encouraged them to visit again. In 1965, work began on an even bigger Disney theme park and resort near Orlando, Florida. Walt Disney died in 1966, and Walt Disney World was opened in his honor on October 1, 1971. Epcot Center, Disney-MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom were later added to Walt Disney World, and it remains Florida's premier tourist attraction. In 1983, Disneyland Tokyo opened in Japan, and in 1992 Disneyland Paris--or "EuroDisney"--opened to a mixed reaction in Marne-la-Vallee. The newest Disneyland, in Hong Kong, opened its doors in September 2005.

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July 16, 1945: Atom bomb successfully tested

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1945, at 5:29:45 a.m., the Manhattan Project comes to an explosive end as the first atom bomb is successfully tested in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Plans for the creation of a uranium bomb by the Allies were established as early as 1939, when Italian emigre physicist Enrico Fermi met with U.S. Navy department officials at Columbia University to discuss the use of fissionable materials for military purposes. That same year, Albert Einstein wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt supporting the theory that an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction had great potential as a basis for a weapon of mass destruction. In February 1940, the federal government granted a total of $6,000 for research. But in early 1942, with the United States now at war with the Axis powers, and fear mounting that Germany was working on its own uranium bomb, the War Department took a more active interest, and limits on resources for the project were removed.

Brigadier-General Leslie R. Groves, himself an engineer, was now in complete charge of a project to assemble the greatest minds in science and discover how to harness the power of the atom as a means of bringing the war to a decisive end. The Manhattan Project (so-called because of where the research began) would wind its way through many locations during the early period of theoretical exploration, most importantly, the University of Chicago, where Enrico Fermi successfully set off the first fission chain reaction. But the Project took final form in the desert of New Mexico, where, in 1943, Robert J. Oppenheimer began directing Project Y at a laboratory at Los Alamos, along with such minds as Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, and Fermi. Here theory and practice came together, as the problems of achieving critical mass-a nuclear explosion-and the construction of a deliverable bomb were worked out.

Finally, on the morning of July 16, in the New Mexico desert 120 miles south of Santa Fe, the first atomic bomb was detonated. The scientists and a few dignitaries had removed themselves 10,000 yards away to observe as the first mushroom cloud of searing light stretched 40,000 feet into the air and generated the destructive power of 15,000 to 20,000 tons of TNT. The tower on which the bomb sat when detonated was vaporized.

The question now became-on whom was the bomb to be dropped? Germany was the original target, but the Germans had already surrendered. The only belligerent remaining was Japan.

A footnote: The original $6,000 budget for the Manhattan Project finally ballooned to a total cost of $2 billion.

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July 15, 1971: Nixon announces visit to communist China

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 11:00pm

During a live television and radio broadcast, President Richard Nixon stuns the nation by announcing that he will visit communist China the following year. The statement marked a dramatic turning point in U.S.-China relations, as well as a major shift in American foreign policy.

Nixon was not always so eager to reach out to China. Since the Communists came to power in China in 1949, Nixon had been one of the most vociferous critics of American efforts to establish diplomatic relations with the Chinese. His political reputation was built on being strongly anti-communist, and he was a major figure in the post-World War II Red Scare, during which the U.S. government launched massive investigations into possible communist subversion in America.

By 1971, a number of factors pushed Nixon to reverse his stance on China. First and foremost was the Vietnam War. Two years after promising the American people "peace with honor," Nixon was as entrenched in Vietnam as ever. His national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, saw a way out: Since China's break with the Soviet Union in the mid-1960s, the Chinese were desperate for new allies and trade partners. Kissinger aimed to use the promise of closer relations and increased trade possibilities with China as a way to put increased pressure on North Vietnam--a Chinese ally--to reach an acceptable peace settlement. Also, more importantly in the long run, Kissinger thought the Chinese might become a powerful ally against the Soviet Union, America’s Cold War enemy. Kissinger called such foreign policy 'realpolitik,' or politics that favored dealing with other powerful nations in a practical manner rather than on the basis of political doctrine or ethics.

Nixon undertook his historic "journey for peace" in 1972, beginning a long and gradual process of normalizing relations between the People's Republic of China and the United States. Though this move helped revive Nixon’s sagging popularity, and contributed to his win in the 1972 election, it did not produce the short-term results for which Kissinger had hoped. The Chinese seemed to have little influence on North Vietnam's negotiating stance, and the Vietnam War continued to drag on until U.S. withdrawal in 1973. Further, the budding U.S.-China alliance had no measurable impact on U.S.-Soviet relations. But, Nixon's visit did prove to be a watershed moment in American foreign policy--it paved the way for future U.S. presidents to apply the principle of realpolitik to their own international dealings.

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July 14, 1789: French revolutionaries storm Bastille

Sun, 07/13/2014 - 11:00pm

Parisian revolutionaries and mutinous troops storm and dismantle the Bastille, a royal fortress that had come to symbolize the tyranny of the Bourbon monarchs. This dramatic action signaled the beginning of the French Revolution, a decade of political turmoil and terror in which King Louis XVI was overthrown and tens of thousands of people, including the king and his wife Marie Antoinette, were executed.

The Bastille was originally constructed in 1370 as a bastide, or "fortification," to protect the walled city of Paris from English attack. It was later made into an independent stronghold, and its name--bastide--was corrupted to Bastille. The Bastille was first used as a state prison in the 17th century, and its cells were reserved for upper-class felons, political troublemakers, and spies. Most prisoners there were imprisoned without a trial under direct orders of the king. Standing 100 feet tall and surrounded by a moat more than 80 feet wide, the Bastille was an imposing structure in the Parisian landscape.

By the summer of 1789, France was moving quickly toward revolution. There were severe food shortages in France that year, and popular resentment against the rule of King Louis XVI was turning to fury. In June, the Third Estate, which represented commoners and the lower clergy, declared itself the National Assembly and called for the drafting of a constitution. Initially seeming to yield, Louis legalized the National Assembly but then surrounded Paris with troops and dismissed Jacques Necker, a popular minister of state who had supported reforms. In response, mobs began rioting in Paris at the instigation of revolutionary leaders.

Bernard-Jordan de Launay, the military governor of the Bastille, feared that his fortress would be a target for the revolutionaries and so requested reinforcements. A company of Swiss mercenary soldiers arrived on July 7 to bolster his garrison of 82 soldiers. The Marquis de Sade, one of the few prisoners in the Bastille at the time, was transferred to an insane asylum after he attempted to incite a crowd outside his window by yelling: "They are massacring the prisoners; you must come and free them." On July 12, royal authorities transferred 250 barrels of gunpowder to the Bastille from the Paris Arsenal, which was more vulnerable to attack. Launay brought his men into the Bastille and raised its two drawbridges.

On July 13, revolutionaries with muskets began firing at soldiers standing guard on the Bastille's towers and then took cover in the Bastille's courtyard when Launay's men fired back. That evening, mobs stormed the Paris Arsenal and another armory and acquired thousands of muskets. At dawn on July 14, a great crowd armed with muskets, swords, and various makeshift weapons began to gather around the Bastille.

Launay received a delegation of revolutionary leaders but refused to surrender the fortress and its munitions as they requested. He later received a second delegation and promised he would not open fire on the crowd. To convince the revolutionaries, he showed them that his cannons were not loaded. Instead of calming the agitated crowd, news of the unloaded cannons emboldened a group of men to climb over the outer wall of the courtyard and lower a drawbridge. Three hundred revolutionaries rushed in, and Launay's men took up a defensive position. When the mob outside began trying to lower the second drawbridge, Launay ordered his men to open fire. One hundred rioters were killed or wounded.

Launay's men were able to hold the mob back, but more and more Parisians were converging on the Bastille. Around 3 p.m., a company of deserters from the French army arrived. The soldiers, hidden by smoke from fires set by the mob, dragged five cannons into the courtyard and aimed them at the Bastille. Launay raised a white flag of surrender over the fortress. Launay and his men were taken into custody, the gunpowder and cannons were seized, and the seven prisoners of the Bastille were freed. Upon arriving at the Hotel de Ville, where Launay was to be arrested by a revolutionary council, the governor was pulled away from his escort by a mob and murdered.

The capture of the Bastille symbolized the end of the ancien regime and provided the French revolutionary cause with an irresistible momentum. Joined by four-fifths of the French army, the revolutionaries seized control of Paris and then the French countryside, forcing King Louis XVI to accept a constitutional government. In 1792, the monarchy was abolished and Louis and his wife Marie-Antoinette were sent to the guillotine for treason in 1793.

By order of the new revolutionary government, the Bastille was torn down. On February 6, 1790, the last stone of the hated prison-fortress was presented to the National Assembly. Today, July 14--Bastille Day--is celebrated as a national holiday in France.

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July 13, 1985: Live Aid concert

Sat, 07/12/2014 - 11:00pm

On July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium in London, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially open Live Aid, a worldwide rock concert organized to raise money for the relief of famine-stricken Africans. Continued at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia and at other arenas around the world, the 16-hour "superconcert" was globally linked by satellite to more than a billion viewers in 110 nations. In a triumph of technology and good will, the event raised more than $125 million in famine relief for Africa.

Live Aid was the brainchild of Bob Geldof, the singer of an Irish rock group called the Boomtown Rats. In 1984, Geldof traveled to Ethiopia after hearing news reports of a horrific famine that had killed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians and threatened to kill millions more. After returning to London, he called Britain's and Ireland's top pop artists together to record a single to benefit Ethiopian famine relief. "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was written by Geldof and Ultravox singer Midge Ure and performed by "Band Aid," an ensemble that featured Culture Club, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, U2, Wham!, and others. It was the best-selling single in Britain to that date and raised more than $10 million.

"Do They Know It's Christmas?" was also a No. 1 hit in the United States and inspired U.S. pop artists to come together and perform "We Are the World," a song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie. "USA for Africa," as the U.S. ensemble was known, featured Jackson, Ritchie, Geldof, Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, and many others. The single went to the top of the charts and eventually raised $44 million.

With the crisis continuing in Ethiopia, and the neighboring Sudan also stricken with famine, Geldof proposed Live Aid, an ambitious global charity concert aimed at raising more funds and increasing awareness of the plight of many Africans. Organized in just 10 weeks, Live Aid was staged on Saturday, July 13, 1985. More than 75 acts performed, including Elton John, Madonna, Santana, Run DMC, Sade, Sting, Bryan Adams, the Beach Boys, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Queen, Duran Duran, U2, the Who, Tom Petty, Neil Young, and Eric Clapton. The majority of these artists performed at either Wembley Stadium in London, where a crowd of 70,000 turned out, or at Philadelphia's JFK Stadium, where 100,000 watched. Thirteen satellites beamed a live television broadcast of the event to more than one billion viewers in 110 countries. More than 40 of these nations held telethons for African famine relief during the broadcast.

A memorable moment of the concert was Phil Collins' performance in Philadelphia after flying by Concorde from London, where he performed at Wembley earlier in the day. He later played drums in a reunion of the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. Beatle Paul McCartney and the Who's Pete Townsend held Bob Geldof aloft on their shoulders during the London finale, which featured a collective performance of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Six hours later, the U.S. concert ended with "We Are the World."

Live Aid eventually raised $127 million in famine relief for African nations, and the publicity it generated encouraged Western nations to make available enough surplus grain to end the immediate hunger crisis in Africa. Geldof was later knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his efforts.

In early July 2005, Geldof staged a series of "Live 8" concerts in 11 countries around the world to help raise awareness of global poverty. Organizers, led by Geldof, purposely scheduled the concert days before the annual G8 summit in an effort to increase political pressure on G8 nations to address issues facing the extremely poor around the world. Live 8 claims that an estimated 3 billion people watched 1,000 musicians perform in 11 shows, which were broadcast on 182 television networks and by 2,000 radio stations. Unlike Live Aid, Live 8 was intentionally not billed as a fundraiser--Geldof's slogan was, "We don't want your money, we want your voice." Perhaps in part because of the spotlight brought to such issues by Live 8, the G8 subsequently voted to cancel the debt of 18 of the world's poorest nations, make AIDS drugs more accessible, and double levels of annual aid to Africa, to $50 billion by 2010.

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July 12, 1984: Ferraro named vice presidential candidate

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 11:00pm

Walter Mondale, the leading Democratic presidential candidate, announces that he has chosen Representative Geraldine Ferraro of New York as his running mate. Ferraro, a daughter of Italian immigrants, had previously gained notoriety as a vocal advocate of women's rights in Congress.

Four days after Ferraro was named vice presidential candidate, Governor Mario Cuomo of New York opened the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco with an impassioned retort to Republican President Ronald Reagan's contention that the United States was a "shining city on a hill." Citing widespread poverty and racial strife, Cuomo derided President Reagan as oblivious to the needs and problems of many of America's citizens. His enthusiastic keynote address inaugurated a convention that saw Ferraro become the first woman nominated by a major party for the vice presidency. However, Mondale, the former U.S. vice president under Jimmy Carter, proved a lackluster choice for the Democratic presidential nominee.

On November 6, President Reagan and Vice President George Bush defeated the Mondale-Ferraro ticket in the greatest Republican landslide in U.S. history. The Republicans carried every state but Minnesota--Mondale's home state.

Ferraro left Congress in 1985. In 1992 and 1998, she made unsuccessful bids for a U.S. Senate seat. During President Bill Clinton's administration, she was a permanent member on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

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July 11, 1804: Burr slays Hamilton in duel

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 11:00pm

In a duel held in Weehawken, New Jersey, Vice President Aaron Burr fatally shoots his long-time political antagonist Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton, a leading Federalist and the chief architect of America's political economy, died the following day.

Alexander Hamilton, born on the Caribbean island of Nevis, came to the American colonies in 1773 as a poor immigrant. (There is some controversy as to the year of his birth, but it was either 1755 or 1757.) In 1776, he joined the Continental Army in the American Revolution, and his relentless energy and remarkable intelligence brought him to the attention of General George Washington, who took him on as an aid. Ten years later, Hamilton served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and he led the fight to win ratification of the final document, which created the kind of strong, centralized government that he favored. In 1789, he was appointed the first secretary of the treasury by President Washington, and during the next six years he crafted a sophisticated monetary policy that saved the young U.S. government from collapse. With the emergence of political parties, Hamilton was regarded as a leader of the Federalists.

Aaron Burr, born into a prestigious New Jersey family in 1756, was also intellectually gifted, and he graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) at the age of 17. He joined the Continental Army in 1775 and distinguished himself during the Patriot attack on Quebec. A masterful politician, he was elected to the New State Assembly in 1783 and later served as state attorney. In 1790, he defeated Alexander Hamilton's father-in-law in a race for the U.S. Senate.

Hamilton came to detest Burr, whom he regarded as a dangerous opportunist, and he often spoke ill of him. When Burr ran for the vice presidency in 1796 on Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republican ticket (the forerunner of the Democratic Party), Hamilton launched a series of public attacks against Burr, stating, "I feel it is a religious duty to oppose his career." John Adams won the presidency, and in 1797 Burr left the Senate and returned to the New York Assembly.

In 1800, Jefferson chose Burr again as his running mate. Burr aided the Democratic-Republican ticket by publishing a confidential document that Hamilton had written criticizing his fellow Federalist President John Adams. This caused a rift in the Federalists and helped Jefferson and Burr win the election with 73 electoral votes each.

Under the electoral procedure then prevailing, president and vice president were not voted for separately; the candidate who received the most votes was elected president, and the second in line, vice president. The vote then went to the House of Representatives. What at first seemed but an electoral technicality--handing Jefferson victory over his running mate--developed into a major constitutional crisis when Federalists in the lame-duck Congress threw their support behind Burr. After a remarkable 35 tie votes, a small group of Federalists changed sides and voted in Jefferson's favor. Alexander Hamilton, who had supported Jefferson as the lesser of two evils, was instrumental in breaking the deadlock.

Burr became vice president, but Jefferson grew apart from him, and he did not support Burr's renomination to a second term in 1804. That year, a faction of New York Federalists, who had found their fortunes drastically diminished after the ascendance of Jefferson, sought to enlist the disgruntled Burr into their party and elect him governor. Hamilton campaigned against Burr with great fervor, and Burr lost the Federalist nomination and then, running as an independent for governor, the election. In the campaign, Burr's character was savagely attacked by Hamilton and others, and after the election he resolved to restore his reputation by challenging Hamilton to a duel, or an "affair of honor," as they were known.

Affairs of honor were commonplace in America at the time, and the complex rules governing them usually led to an honorable resolution before any actual firing of weapons. In fact, the outspoken Hamilton had been involved in several affairs of honor in his life, and he had resolved most of them peaceably. No such recourse was found with Burr, however, and on July 11, 1804, the enemies met at 7 a.m. at the dueling grounds near Weehawken, New Jersey. It was the same spot where Hamilton's son had died defending his father's honor two years before.

There are conflicting accounts of what happened next. According to Hamilton's "second"--his assistant and witness in the duel--Hamilton decided the duel was morally wrong and deliberately fired into the air. Burr's second claimed that Hamilton fired at Burr and missed. What happened next is agreed upon: Burr shot Hamilton in the stomach, and the bullet lodged next to his spine. Hamilton was taken back to New York, and he died the next afternoon.

Few affairs of honor actually resulted in deaths, and the nation was outraged by the killing of a man as eminent as Alexander Hamilton. Charged with murder in New York and New Jersey, Burr, still vice president, returned to Washington, D.C., where he finished his term immune from prosecution.

In 1805, Burr, thoroughly discredited, concocted a plot with James Wilkinson, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Army, to seize the Louisiana Territory and establish an independent empire, which Burr, presumably, would lead. He contacted the British government and unsuccessfully pleaded for assistance in the scheme. Later, when border trouble with Spanish Mexico heated up, Burr and Wilkinson conspired to seize territory in Spanish America for the same purpose.

In the fall of 1806, Burr led a group of well-armed colonists toward New Orleans, prompting an immediate U.S. investigation. General Wilkinson, in an effort to save himself, turned against Burr and sent dispatches to Washington accusing Burr of treason. In February 1807, Burr was arrested in Louisiana for treason and sent to Virginia to be tried in a U.S. court. In September, he was acquitted on a technicality. Nevertheless, public opinion condemned him as a traitor, and he fled to Europe. He later returned to private life in New York, the murder charges against him forgotten. He died in 1836.

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July 10, 1925: Monkey Trial begins

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 11:00pm

In Dayton, Tennessee, the so-called "Monkey Trial" begins with John Thomas Scopes, a young high school science teacher, accused of teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee state law.

The law, which had been passed in March, made it a misdemeanor punishable by fine to "teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals." With local businessman George Rappalyea, Scopes had conspired to get charged with this violation, and after his arrest the pair enlisted the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to organize a defense. Hearing of this coordinated attack on Christian fundamentalism, William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential candidate and a fundamentalist hero, volunteered to assist the prosecution. Soon after, the great attorney Clarence Darrow agreed to join the ACLU in the defense, and the stage was set for one of the most famous trials in U.S. history.

On July 10, the Monkey Trial got underway, and within a few days hordes of spectators and reporters had descended on Dayton as preachers set up revival tents along the city's main street to keep the faithful stirred up. Inside the Rhea County Courthouse, the defense suffered early setbacks when Judge John Raulston ruled against their attempt to prove the law unconstitutional and then refused to end his practice of opening each day's proceeding with prayer.

Outside, Dayton took on a carnival-like atmosphere as an exhibit featuring two chimpanzees and a supposed "missing link" opened in town, and vendors sold Bibles, toy monkeys, hot dogs, and lemonade. The missing link was in fact Jo Viens of Burlington, Vermont, a 51-year-old man who was of short stature and possessed a receding forehead and a protruding jaw. One of the chimpanzees--named Joe Mendi--wore a plaid suit, a brown fedora, and white spats, and entertained Dayton's citizens by monkeying around on the courthouse lawn.

In the courtroom, Judge Raulston destroyed the defense's strategy by ruling that expert scientific testimony on evolution was inadmissible--on the grounds that it was Scopes who was on trial, not the law he had violated. The next day, Raulston ordered the trial moved to the courthouse lawn, fearing that the weight of the crowd inside was in danger of collapsing the floor.

In front of several thousand spectators in the open air, Darrow changed his tactics and as his sole witness called Bryan in an attempt to discredit his literal interpretation of the Bible. In a searching examination, Bryan was subjected to severe ridicule and forced to make ignorant and contradictory statements to the amusement of the crowd. On July 21, in his closing speech, Darrow asked the jury to return a verdict of guilty in order that the case might be appealed. Under Tennessee law, Bryan was thereby denied the opportunity to deliver the closing speech he had been preparing for weeks. After eight minutes of deliberation, the jury returned with a guilty verdict, and Raulston ordered Scopes to pay a fine of $100, the minimum the law allowed. Although Bryan had won the case, he had been publicly humiliated and his fundamentalist beliefs had been disgraced. Five days later, on July 26, he lay down for a Sunday afternoon nap and never woke up.

In 1927, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the Monkey Trial verdict on a technicality but left the constitutional issues unresolved until 1968, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a similar Arkansas law on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment.

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July 9, 1877: Wimbledon tournament begins

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 11:00pm

On July 9, 1877, the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club begins its first lawn tennis tournament at Wimbledon, then an outer-suburb of London. Twenty-one amateurs showed up to compete in the Gentlemen's Singles tournament, the only event at the first Wimbledon. The winner was to take home a 25-guinea trophy.

Tennis has its origins in a 13th-century French handball game called jeu de paume, or "game of the palm," from which developed an indoor racket-and-ball game called real, or "royal," tennis. Real tennis grew into lawn tennis, which was played outside on grass and enjoyed a surge of popularity in the late 19th century.

In 1868, the All England Club was established on four acres of meadowland outside London. The club was originally founded to promote croquet, another lawn sport, but the growing popularity of tennis led it to incorporate tennis lawns into its facilities. In 1877, the All England Club published an announcement in the weekly sporting magazine The Field that read: "The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, propose [sic] to hold a lawn tennis meeting open to all amateurs, on Monday, July 9, and following days. Entrance fee, one pound, one shilling."

The All English Club purchased a 25-guinea trophy and drew up formal rules for tennis. It decided on a rectangular court 78 feet long by 27 feet wide; adapted the real tennis method of scoring based on a clock face—i.e., 15, 30, 40, game; established that the first to win six games wins a set; and allowed the server one fault. These decisions, largely the work of club member Dr. Henry Jones, remain part of the modern rules.

Twenty-two men registered for the tournament, but only 21 showed up on July 9 for its first day. The 11 survivors were reduced to six the next day, and then to three. Semifinals were held on July 12, but then the tournament was suspended to leave the London sporting scene free for the Eton vs. Harrow cricket match played on Friday and Saturday. The final was scheduled for Monday, July 16, but, in what would become a common occurrence in future Wimbledon tournaments, the match was rained out.

It was rescheduled for July 19, and on that day some 200 spectators paid a shilling each to see William Marshall, a Cambridge tennis "Blue," battle W. Spencer Gore, an Old Harrovian racket player. In a final that lasted only 48 minutes, the 27-year-old Gore dominated with his strong volleying game, crushing Marshall, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. At the second Wimbledon in 1878, however, Gore lost his title when his net-heavy game fell prey to a innovative stroke developed by challenger Frank Hadow: the lob.

In 1884, the Lady's Singles was introduced at Wimbledon, and Maud Watson won the first championship. That year, the national men's doubles championship was also played at Wimbledon for the first time after several years at Oxford. Mixed doubles and women's doubles were inaugurated in 1913. By the early 1900s, Wimbledon had graduated from all-England to all-world status, and in 1922 the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, as it was then known, moved to a large stadium on Church Road. In the 1950s, many tennis stars turned professional while Wimbledon struggled to remain an amateur tournament. However, in 1968 Wimbledon welcomed the pros and quickly regained its status as the world's top tennis tournament.

The Wimbledon Championships, the only major tennis event still played on grass, is held annually in late June and early July.

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July 8, 1951: Paris celebrates 2,000th birthday

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 11:00pm

On this day in 1951, Paris, the capital city of France, celebrates turning 2,000 years old. In fact, a few more candles would've technically been required on the birthday cake, as the City of Lights was most likely founded around 250 B.C.

The history of Paris can be traced back to a Gallic tribe known as the Parisii, who sometime around 250 B.C. settled an island (known today as Ile de la Cite) in the Seine River, which runs through present-day Paris. By 52 B.C., Julius Caesar and the Romans had taken over the area, which eventually became Christianized and known as Lutetia, Latin for "midwater dwelling." The settlement later spread to both the left and right banks of the Seine and the name Lutetia was replaced with "Paris." In 987 A.D., Paris became the capital of France. As the city grew, the Left Bank earned a reputation as the intellectual district while the Right Bank became known for business.

During the French Renaissance period, from the late 15th century to the early 17th century, Paris became a center of art, architecture and science. In the mid-1800s, Napoleon III hired civic planner Georges-Eugene Hausmann to modernize Paris. Hausmann's designs gave the city wide, tree-lined boulevards, large public parks, a new sewer system and other public works projects. The city continued to develop as an important hub for the arts and culture. In the 1860s, an artistic movement known as French Impression emerged, featuring the work of a group of Paris-based artists that included Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Today, Paris is home to some 2 million residents, with an additional 10 million people living in the surrounding metropolitan area. The city retains its reputation as a center for food, fashion, commerce and culture. Paris also continues to be one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, renowned for such sights as the Eiffel Tower (built in 1889 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution), the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Elysees, Notre Dame Cathedral (built in 1163), Luxembourg Gardens and the Louvre Museum, home to Leonardo da Vinci's painting "Mona Lisa."

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