Friday, September 30, 2011

World’s largest flower

Rafflesia arnoldi - the world's largest flowerThe largest flower in the world, the rafflesia arnoldi, weighs 7 kg (15 pounds) and grows only on the Sumatra and Borneo islands of Indonesia. Its petals grow to 1.6 ft (1 metre) long and 1 inch (2,5 cm) thick.

There are 16 species of rafflesia, found in Sumatra, Malaysia, Philippines and Borneo. The species is named after the naturalist Sir Stamford Raffles, who founded the British colony of Singapore in 1819. Raffles discovered the parasitic plant with his friend Dr. Joseph Arnold during their travels in May 1818. The rafflesia arnoldi is named after the two.
However fascinating and beautiful the rafflesia arnoldi may be, it is also called “corpse flower” and really reeks, the latter to attract flies for pollination.
Of about 200,000 kinds of flowers in the world, the smallest is the duckweed, which can only be seen with a microscope.

Oldest living thing
The oldest living thing on earth is a flowering shrub called the creosote bush, found in the Mojave Desert. It is 15 metres (50 ft) in diameter. It is estimated that it started from a seed nearly 12,000 years ago. During its lifetime the last major period of glaciation in North America came to an end, the wheel and writing were invented, and the great Egyptian and Mayan pyramids were built. The shrub is still living.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Today in History

September 29: General Interest
2005: Reporter Judith Miller released from prison

On this day in 2005, New York Times reporter Judith Miller is released from a federal detention center in Alexandria, Virginia, after agreeing to testify in the investigation into the leaking of the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame. Miller had been behind bars since July 6, 2005, for refusing to reveal a confidential source and testify before a grand jury that was looking into the so-called Plame Affair. She decided to testify after the source she had been protecting, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, signed a waiver giving her permission to speak.

The Plame Affair dates back to a July 6, 2003 op-ed piece for the New York Times written by former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, Plame's husband. In it, Wilson questioned the Bush Administration's reasons for going to war in Iraq. Later that month, on July 14, undercover agent Valerie Plame's identity was revealed in a newspaper column by Robert Novak. Wilson's claim that the disclosure was retaliation by the White House for his op-ed piece sparked an investigation in December 2003 led by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. A 1982 law made it illegal to reveal information about a covert agent to anyone not authorized to receive such classified information.

Fitzgerald interviewed President George W. Bush, Vice President Cheney and other top administration officials, along with various journalists. Although Miller hadn't written an article about Plame, she did meet with Libby shortly after Wilson's op-ed piece was published and Fitzgerald believed Miller had information that was relevant to his investigation.

After 85 days in jail, Miller was released and testified before a grand jury that prior to the Novak column, she had several discussions with Scooter Libby in which he talked about Plame. On November 9 of that same year, Miller announced her retirement from the Times after a 28-year career with the newspaper.

On March 6, 2007, Scooter Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements to federal investigators in the Plame investigation. In June, he was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and fined $250,000. However, one month later, on July 2, President George W. Bush commuted Libby's prison term before the ex-White House aide served any time.

American Revolution
1780 : British spy sentenced to death

1913 : Inventor Rudolf Diesel vanishes

Civil War
1864 : Union tries to break stalemate in Virginia

Cold War
1953 : Russians want the American dream

1982 : Cyanide-laced Tylenol kills six
2006 : School principal murdered by student in Wisconsin

1957 : Trains collide in Pakistan

General Interest
1758 : Lord Nelson born

1941 : Babi Yar massacre begins

1982 : The Tylenol murders

1988 : American woman climbs Everest

1913 : "Message filmmaker" Stanley Kramer is born

1547 : Miguel de Cervantes is born

1907 : Gene Autry, "The Singing Cowboy," is born

Old West
1907 : The great singing cowboy, Gene Autry, is born in Texas

1942 : JFK thanks Clare Booth Luce for good-luck coin

1954 : Willie Mays makes catch

Vietnam War
1965 : Hanoi announces that downed pilots will be treated as war criminals
1969 : Charges dropped against Green Berets

World War I
1918 : Allied forces break through the Hindenburg Line

World War II
1939 : Nazis and communists divvy up Poland