Friday, March 30, 2012

On This Day: United States Purchases Alaska

The signing of the Alaska Treaty of Cessation on March 30, 1867. L-R: Robert S. Chew, Secretary of State William H. Seward, William Hunter, Mr. Bodisco, Russian Ambassador Baron de Stoeckl, Charles Sumner and Frederick W. Seward.

On This Day: United States Purchases Alaska

March 30, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff

On March 30, 1867, U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward paid Russia $7.2 million for the 586,412-square mile territory of Alaska.

Seward Buys Alaska From Russia

Russia set up a presence in Alaska in the 18th century,when Danish explorer Vitus Bering, with the backing of Russian Czar Peter the Great, surveyed the region. The territory was wild and inhospitable, but it was rich in natural resources, attracting Russian explorers and traders.

Russia did not have the money to establish permanent settlements, however, and its position was further weakened by their defeat in the Crimean War. By the mid-19th century, it was looking to sell off the land.

It offered Alaska to the United States, which was in the midst of a steady march westward, in 1859, but the threat of Civil War put off the sale. After the war, Secretary of State William Seward, a strong proponent of expansion, reopened talks with Russia, and agreed on March 30, 1867, to buy Alaska for $7.2 million, less than 2 cents per acre.

Many in the U.S. criticized Seward’s purchase. “Critics attacked him for the secrecy surrounding the deal with Russia, which came to be known as ‘Seward's folly,’” writes the Library of Congress. “They mocked his willingness to spend so much on ‘Seward's icebox’ or President Andrew Johnson’s ‘polar bear garden.’”

The Senate passed the treaty to buy Alaska by just one vote. The Alaskan territory was officially transferred to the U.S. on Oct. 18, 1867.

Settlement and Statehood

The U.S. did almost nothing to settle or explore Alaska for decades, and the majority of Americans believed the purchase was indeed a folly. This perception changed in 1896, when gold when discovered in Canada’s Yukon territory, sparking a gold rush in and around Alaska.

The U.S. government granted Alaska territorial status in 1912. During World War II, Japan invaded Alaskan islands, prompting the U.S. to establish military bases and build a major highway.

Alaskans appealed for statehood and received approval from Congress in  1946. It adopted a state constitution in 1955. And in 1959, President Eisenhower formally recognized Alaska as the 49th state. 
Since achieving statehood, Alaska has developed a reputation as a rugged, hard-nosed land, inhabited largely by blue-collar Americans. It has also garnered a reputation for tremendous oil production.

“Oil brought Alaska its statehoodand later its low taxes, schools, roads, theaters, jobs, a vibrant economy and an annual dividend check of more than $800 for each citizen,” said The New York Times, in a 1989 article.

But in the same year, one of the worst environmental disasters in world history took place off the coast of Alaska when oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground of a reef in Prince William Sound, spilling 11 million gallons oil into the sound.

Biography: William H. Seward

William Henry Seward was born in Florida in 1801. After graduating from Union College, he was admitted to the bar in 1822. After a term in the New York state Senate, he was elected governor of New York in 1838, resuming legal practice in 1842.

In 1849, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. During his term, he launched an unsuccessful bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 1860. President Abraham Lincoln named Seward secretary of state on March 5, 1861. During his term he managed Civil War-era foreign relations and negotiated the purchase of Alaska.

After finishing his term under President Andrew Johnson on March 4, 1869, he made a two-year trip around the world. He died in Auburn, N.Y., in 1872.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

March 30, 1848: Niagara Falls Runs Dry

1848: Niagara Falls stops. No water flows over the great cataract for 30 or 40 hours. People freak out.

The falls were already a tourist attraction by 1848, and villages had grown up on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the river to accommodate the sightseeing throngs. Residents also built waterwheels to harness the Niagara River’s power to run mills and drive machinery in factories.
An American farmer out for a stroll shortly before midnight on March 29 was the first to notice something. Actually, he noticed the absence of something: the thundering roar of the falls. When he went to the river’s edge, he saw hardly any water.
Came the dawn of March 30, people awoke to an unaccustomed silence. The mighty Niagara was a mere trickle. Mills and factories had to shut down, because the waterwheels had stopped.
The bed of the river was exposed. Fish died. Turtles floundered about. Brave — or foolish — people walked on the river bottom, picking up exposed guns, bayonets and tomahawks as souvenirs.
Was it the end of the world? Divine retribution for what some folks thought was a U.S. war of aggression against Mexico? Theological explanations abounded, because western New York state had been aBurned-Over District for half a century, with recurring waves of religious revivals and the rise of several new denominations and religions.
Thousands of people filled the churches to attend special services. They prayed for the falls to start flowing and the world to continue, or for salvation and forgiveness of their sins as the Last Judgment approached.
No one knew why the falls had stopped. The telegraph was still a new invention. Railroads served towns on both sides of the river, but the tracks were unreliable, and Buffalo — the nearest big city — was three hours away even when the trains ran on schedule.
But it was from Buffalo that word eventually arrived that explained the bare falls and dry riverbed. Strong southwest gale winds had pushed huge chunks of lake ice to the extreme northeastern tip of Lake Erie, blocking the lake’s outlet into the head of the Niagara River. The ice jam had become an ice dam.
And just as news traveled inward, news also traveled outward. Thousands came from nearby cities and towns to look at the spectacle of Niagara Falls without water. People crossed the riverbed on foot, on horseback and in horse-drawn buggies. Mounted U.S. Army cavalry soldiers paraded up and down the empty Niagara River.
Dangerous as that all may sound, for there was no telling when the rushing waters might return, one entrepreneur used the hiatus to do some safety work. The Maid of the Mist sightseeing boat had been taking tourists on river rides below the falls since 1846, and there were some dangerous rocks it always had to avoid, Now that the river was not running and the rocks were in plain sight, the boat’s owner sent workers out to blast the rocks away with explosives.
March 30 was not the only dry day. No water flowed over the falls throughout the daylight hours of March 31.
But that night, a distant rumble came from upriver. The low-pitched noise drew nearer and louder. Suddenly, a wall of water came roaring down the upper Niagara River and over the falls with a giant thunder.
The ice jam had cleared, and river was running again. Nothing like it would ever happen again.
The Army Corp of Engineers turned off the American Falls (the U.S. side of the river) in 1969. They built cofferdams above the falls to divert all the water to the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. (Well, it was all the water not already diverted for hydroelectric generation.)
The corps was looking for a way to remove the rocks that have piled up at the base of the American Falls, threatening some day to turn the waterfall into rapids. Nothing doing: The engineers decided it just wouldn’t be practical, and that removing the accumulated talus could undermine the cliff behind it and even speed the crumbling process.
They turned the river back on.
Photo: The United States is on the left, Canada on the right in this satellite image. The Niagara River flows from the left over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls (top center) and American Falls (bottom center) and then downstream to the bottom of the photo. The top of the image is south, the bottom north.
Courtesy GeoEye

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On This Day: Nuclear Meltdown Occurs at Three Mile Island

Carolyn Kaster/AP
The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant pictured in 2005.

March 28, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff

On March 28, 1979, the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant experienced a partial meltdown. It was the worst-ever commercial nuclear accident in U.S. history.

Meltdown in Pennsylvania

The Unit Two reactor at the Three Mile Island nuclear facility near near Middletown, Pa., had a unstable operating history. Even during construction there were delays, and unscheduled shutdowns persisted after the reactor began operating in 1978. Operators compensated for these deficiencies by falsifying data to avoid reporting to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

At about 4:00 a.m. on March 28, 1979, a pump failure in a secondary (non-nuclear) system of the reactorstopped steam generators from removing heat from the unit, increasing the pressure in the primary (nuclear) portion. 

A relief valve was opened to release the pressure, but the valve stuck and didn't close. There were no warning alarms indicating that something was wrong with the valve. As a result, vital cooling water was released while the reactor began to overheat. Other warnings lights and alarms signaled that the reactor was not running correctly, but operators were getting confusing messages and they had experienced false alarms before.

It was hours before they acknowledged that there was a problem and even longer before they alerted the public. In the hours that followed, radiation was released from the plant, sparking concern from public officials that residents near the plant might have to be evacuated.

The full damage to the reactor remained unknown until years later when television cameras and a special ultrasonic imaging system provided the first pictures from inside the structure. Cleanup of the accident required $1 billion and longer than 10 years to complete,according to The Washington Post. Officials believed the plant would be repaired and put back into service, but some features of the reactor couldn't be repaired because they had melted.

Following the accident, President Carter commissioned an investigation headed by Dartmouth College president John Kemeny. The President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island released its report in October 1979. It was highly critical of the plant’s management and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

It concluded, “It is further concluded that the management utility joined the narrow and confined view on the safety items and virtually ignored other vital parts of plant operation. … This illustrated that the utility management had not exhibited the desire or capacity to go beyond the NRC requirements to provide a well-designed, maintained, and staffed plant capable of reliable performance that would not jeopardize the health and safety of the public and its own workers.”

The NRC also conducted an investigation and released a report in 1980. It found that the plant equipment was generally sound, and placed blame for the accident primarily on human error.

“If this system had been allowed to function automatically, as intended, it would have mitigated the effects of the loss-of- coolant and cooled the core,” it stated. “The operators’ actions, which led to the severe core damage that characterized the TMI accident, resulted from their failure to understand basic plant conditions that were indicated to them, or to follow appropriate procedures or prudent operating practices, any one of which could have prevented the severe core damage. This demonstrated a deep and significant weakness of the operating crew on shift.”

The NRC also released a fact sheet in 2004 that summarized its findings. Three Mile Island Alert, a central Pennsylvania-based citizens watchdog group founded in 1977, offers a point-by-point criticism of the NRC report.

Radiation Release and Health Risks

Studies by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Energy and the State of Pennsylvania found that the radiation released from the plant was not significant enough to threaten human health.

Despite the results of studies that called the radiation release negligible, some disagreed with the findings. Rates of certain cancers did increase after the accident, but researchers did not consider the increase statistically significant, The New York Times wrote in 1990. Three Mile Island Alert, a nonprofit citizens' organization, said research didn't consider the physical and psychological effects felt by residents living close to the reactor.

Reference: Documents and News Stories

Dickinson College features a large collection of documents and multimedia content related to Three Mile Island, including government reports, newspaper stories and witness interviews.

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On This Day: 583 Killed As 747s Collide On Tenerife Runway

Associated Press
The remains of the KLM 747 at Los Rodeos Airport, Santa Cruz de Tenrife, March 27, 1977.

On This Day: 583 Killed as 747s Collide on Tenerife Runway

March 27, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On March 27, 1977, two 747 airliners collided on a runway in the Canary Island of Tenerife, killing 583 people, more than any plane crash in history.

Deadly Plane Crash Occurs on Tenerife

Pan Am Flight 1736 from Los Angeles via New York and KLM Flight 4805 from Amsterdam had been scheduled to land at Las Palmas, the capital of the Canary Islands, on the afternoon of March 27, 1977. However, Canary independence group Fuerzas Armadas Guanches set off a bomb at the Los Palmas airport, forcing incoming flights to land at the much smaller Los Rodeos Airport in Tenerife, the largest island of the Canaries.

The two 747s waited at Los Rodeos along with several other large planes until Las Palmas was reopened. The airport’s taxiways were overcrowded, forcing airporrt officials to use the lone runway as both a runway and a taxiway.

After several hours, Los Palmas was reopened, and the Pan Am and KLM planes prepared to take off. KLM 4805 went first, taxiing up the runway and turning around to take off. Pan Am 1736, meanwhile, was instructed to taxi halfway down the runway and park at a taxiway; however, pilot Victor Grubbs missed the intended taxiway and continued down the runway toward the next one.

Due to a misunderstanding with flight control, KLM pilot Jacob Veldhuyzen van Zanten decided to takeoff before receiving proper clearance. In a heavy fog, he was unable to see that Pan Am 1736 was still turning left into the taxiway.

Seeing the KLM barreling down the runway at his plane, Grubbs exclaimed, “There he is! Look at him! Goddam, that son of a bitch is coming!” He tried to race his plane off the runway as co-pilot Robert Bragg repeatedly shouted, “Get off!” Van Zanten made a last-second attempt to turn his plane upward, but it clipped the top of the Pan Am.

Roaring at full power, the KLM's hot engines (2000° F.) and massive landing gear crunched through the Pan Am's fuselage with such impact and explosive fire that aluminum and steel parts of both planes were vaporized,” wrote Time. “The KLM’s giant engine airlets sucked fragments of the Pan Am jet into its innards before crumpling into a molten mass 1,500 ft. past the point of impact.”

All 248 people aboard the KLM were killed, as were 335 of the 396 people aboard the Pan Am. With 583 fatalities, the Tenerife crash is the deadliest plane crash in history.

After Tenerife, changes were made to communication protocolsbetween pilots and flight control to avoid the kind of miscommunication that led to the KLM plane taking off without clearance. 

Since 1977, technological developments have also improved aircraft safety. Pilot Patrick Smith writes that most airports now have radar that allow controllers to see where planes are on the runways at all times, while some planes have satellite technology that enables them to see surrounding traffic. Lighting has also improved, which improves visibility and lessens the chance that a pilot would miss a turn as Grubbs did.

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Monday, March 26, 2012


American Students Studying Abroad
Compiled by: Online Colleges Resource

For more than two decades, Michael Keathley has been an active writer, editor, and educator. After completing a Master of Arts in Classics, additional graduate work in English and education, and overseas study in Macedonia, Italy, Greece, and Pakistan, he authored several monthly columns in international newspapers. He also wrote three books under the pseudonym Michael A. Dimitri, as well as several hundred articles while working as a faculty member and administrator at various postsecondary institutions both on ground and online. His research interests include Macedonian Studies, Composition/Rhetoric, and online pedagogy. He is a frequent lecturer and presenter at national and international conferences. Join him on Twitter for more discussion at @MichaelKeathley or reach him on Google+. 

At, we’re excited about guiding you toward challenging, satisfying academic programs that will propel your career into the future. We know that competition for exciting careers is tough, which is why we provide the most current guides, news, tips, and rankings to prepare you for college and the job search after graduation.
To help you keep up with the latest trends in higher education, Michael Keathley reports onEDU News, which brings you news from around college campuses and academia, surveying national reports and opinion, school-specific news items, and current college trends.
To learn more about specific online colleges and universities, visit our College Guide. If you’re not sure what subject you want to study, head over to our Rankings section to learn about the top online programs in business, education, health care, criminal justice, and more.
Check out our Career Guides to learn about specific job titles. Learn how to prepare for the job you want, what that job entails, and how much you’ll earn once you get there. We’ve covered virtually every job within industries like health care, teaching, real estate, art and design, communications, the sciences, community outreach, business, the performing arts, computer science, and more.
If you’re ready to get back into the classroom but are new to online learning, check out the Ask Our Advisor section. It breaks down the essentials of paying for school, communicating with professors, finding high-quality online colleges, buying supplies, picking a degree program, and getting support as you earn your degree.
Visit the Blog to read posts about higher education, succeeding in the job market, feature stories on college culture, and even more tips for online learning.
You can also find us on Facebook for more news and conversation about the online college experience!

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

On This Day: Elvis Presley Joins the Army

Elvis Presley poses at the Army barracks area in Friedberg, Germany, 1958. 

March 24, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff

Elvis Presley, the “undisputed King of Rock and Roll,” according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, began his career in 1954 and became a national sensation in 1956 with the release of “Heartbreak Hotel.” He went on to captivate audiences with his unique musical style, provocative hip gyrations and electric personality, producing such hits as “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog,” “Love Me Tender,” “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

Presley was drafted into the United States Army in December 1957; on March 24, 1958, he entered the Army at the Memphis draft board. Presley was filmed as he was given an Army haircut and fitted for his uniform.

Serving as a member of the 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32nd Armor Regiment, Presley was stationed in Germany from Oct. 1, 1958, to March 2, 1960. He was released from active duty on March 5 and honorably discharged from the Army Reserve four years later.

Presley resumed his musical career in 1960, but he found a rock n’ roll scene that had been transformed by the British Invasion.

“Presley returned from the Army to find that rock ‘n’ roll tastes had changed dramatically in his absence,” wrote Larry Rohter and Tom Zito in The Washington Post. “Presley himself underwent a drastic change of style, eschewing his trademark sideburns and hip-shaking music in favor of romantic, dramatic ballads.”

Video: Elvis Joining the Army

newsreel from March 25, 1958, depicts Presley being sworn in as a private at the Memphis Draft Board. “Elvis Presley no longer has that rock and roll beat,” says the narrator. “The tempo is hup, two, three, four for Private Presley.”

Biography: Elvis “The King” Presley

Elvis Aaron Presley was born Jan. 8, 1935, in a two-room house in Tupelo, Miss. Growing up, his “musical influences were the pop and country music of the time, the gospel music he heard in church and at the all-night gospel sings he frequently attended, and the black R&B he absorbed on historic Beale Street as a Memphis teenager,” according to his official site.

His career began in 1954 after arecording session at the Sun Studio in Memphis. Under the tutelage of Sun Records producer Sam Phillips, he released “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” creating “the blueprint for rock and roll,” says the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Presley’s musical career declined after his release from the Army, as he began devoting most of his time to making movies, including “Fun in Acapulco” and “Girls! Girls! Girls!” He stopped performing concerts and his popularity slowly waned.

He made a singing comeback in 1968 and toured the country throughout the 1970s, but he struggled with the demands of his taxing concert schedule. “By the beginning of 1977, when he turned 42, Elvis Presley had become a grotesque caricature of his sleek, energetic former self. Hugely overweight, his mind dulled by the pharmacopoeia he daily ingested, he was barely able to pull himself through his abbreviated concerts,” writes Tony Scherman in American Heritage.

Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977, of a heart attack. He is regarded asone of the greatest musicians of all-time. U2 frontman Bono, writing for Rolling Stone, says, “In Elvis, you have the blueprint for rock & roll: The highness—the gospel highs. The mud—the Delta mud, the blues. Sexual liberation. Controversy. Changing the way people feel about the world. It's all there with Elvis.” 

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