Oh, say, can you tree? American Christmas tree traditions

December 17, 2013

Victorian German style Christmas Xmas tree1899To anyone who enjoys Christmas trees, we say “Wie treu sind deine Blätter!” This means “how faithful are your branches”, a line from “O Tannenbaum,” the German Christmas carol. “O Tannenbaum” (Oh Christmas Tree)* was originally a folk song from Germany that’s been translated to English and sung here in the United States for years. In fact, Nat King Cole sang a classic version in German if you’re ever interested in hearing the original version. A bit of trivia: *The tune for “O Tannenbaum” is also used for the state song of Maryland—if you’re from there, or went to university there, you might have heard the state song if you haven’t heard the holiday version! Just like they got us hooked on the song about evergreens, Germany was instrumental in getting us hooked on the decorated Christmas tree tradition as well.

German immigrants really started the modern craze for Christmas trees that came to the United States in the early 1800s. Queen Victoria, who helped set fashions for the Western world in the mid to late 1800s, helped the trend along with her family Christmas tree (which she may have learned about from her German husband, Albert). (Image above depicts a Victorian era Christmas celebration.)

The evergreen tree is likely a Yule custom carried over and remade from Celtic and/or Scandinavian pagans. Regardless of the origins of the custom of bringing an evergreen into your dwelling place during the year’s darkest days, this much is for sure: having a Christmas tree is now a tried and true American holiday tradition.

Since Christmas trees have become more secular and are so popular, the Christmas tree industry is a huge business in the United States. In 2007, Americans spent over $460 million on cut trees. The Federal government wants to support this industry, and people’s holiday happiness.

TREE AND FIRE SAFETY

To help people keep their holidays safe, the Federal government publishes a number of Christmas tree fire safety publications, such as the U.S. Fire Safety Administration’s (USFA) Christmas/Christmas Tree Fires and December and Holiday Fires.

FEMA-USFA-holiday-fire-safety-infographicImage: US Fire Safety Administration’s Winter Holiday Fire Safety infographic.

According to the USFA, fire deaths increase by 50% between December 24 and 26, and injuries during that period increase by 61%.  As the USFA pointed out, “In residential structure fires where the ignition point is a Christmas tree or other holiday decoration, the fire is typically more severe in every measurable way (p.2)”. For tips on avoiding Christmas tree fires, and to view a video on proper Christmas tree safety, take a look at USFA’s Holiday & Christmas Tree Fire Safety Outreach Materials. You’ll be able to increase your awareness and look out for your family’s welfare while continuing to enjoy your household decorations.

CUTTING YOUR OWN TREE FROM A NATIONAL FOREST

If you and/or your family enjoy going out to pick a tree and cut it, you might be able to pick one up from a national forest. For example, the Federal government has harvested all of the Capitol Christmas trees from national forests. In fact, the 2009 tree was a blue spruce that came from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

Certain forests have designated areas where it is possible to cut Christmas trees, once you have paid for your cutting permit. Contact your local national forest for its policies; you’re especially likely to find Christmas tree cutting areas in the West. Some national forests post their Christmas tree maps online. You can download Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Soldotna, Alaska: Christmas Tree Cutting Areas and Maps of 2013 Cutting Areas in the Apache and Sitgreaves National Forests. You’ll be pulling your tree from a prestigious tree-growing area, if you do decide to get a permit from a national forest.

The trees are for personal use only, and Forest Service allows only one tree per household. Permits for the trees are quite cheap, compared to what I paid at my local Washington, DC, area hardware store. You do have to factor into the cost a bit more money for the gas it takes to haul a tree out of the forest and get it home. However, some experiences, such as holiday traditions spent together with family and friends, are priceless.

PLANTING AND CARING FOR YOUR LIVE TREE

Why-would-anyone-cut-a-tree-down? by US Forest Service ISBN: 9780160916267Some families buy live Christmas trees then plant them when the holidays are over, while others use a cut tree for the holidays then plant a new tree in the spring as a symbol of renewal.

To explain to children the need for cutting trees as well as the value of this renewable resource, the Forest Service has published the best-selling publication “Why Would Anyone Cut a Tree Down?” It is full of explanations of need to remove trees for fire management and helping prevent overcrowding, and gives instructions on how to plant a tree as well.

How-to-Prune-Trees How-to-Recognize-Defects-in-TreesTo care for your live tree once it’s planted, be sure to check out How to Prune Trees to keep your tree looking and growing its best.

And the useful How To Recognize Hazardous Defects in Trees will help you identify problems in a tree that could be detrimental to its health.

FAMOUS WASHINGTON, DC AREA CHRISTMAS TREES

Here in the Nation’s capital, there are a number of famous Christmas trees.

National Christmas Tree and the Pathway of Peace

Since 1923, the United States has held a tradition of having a National Christmas Tree lighting in Washington, DC, starting with President Coolidge lighting the “First National Christmas Tree.” Starting in 1954, a “Pathway of Peace,” 56 smaller, decorated trees representing all 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia were planted surrounding the National Christmas Tree. They stay decorated through New Year’s Day.

2012-National-Tree_Pathway-of-PeaceImage: 2012 National Christmas Tree and Pathway of Peace on Ellipse behind the White House. Credit: National Park Service

Today, the annual lighting ceremony on the Ellipse—the grassy area south of the White House— is usually televised with tickets given by lottery in advance, with celebrities and the President and First Family doing the honors of lighting the National Christmas Tree and kicking off the season.

The Capitol Christmas Tree

The annual Capitol Christmas Tree lighting held on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol has been an American tradition since 1964 and is a great holiday event that you don’t want to miss. However, the official practice of lighting the “Capitol Christmas Tree” did not start until 1968 according to the Architect of the Capitol.

2013-Capitol-Xmas-TreeImage: 2013 Capitol Christmas Tree. Image source: Architect of the Capitol.

The Capitol Christmas Tree should not to be confused with the National Christmas Tree, which is planted near the White House and lighted every year by the President and First Lady. The Speaker of the House officially lights the Capitol Christmas Tree.

“Yule” Scream for the Norwegian Embassy Tree

A lesser known but charming Capital City tradition comes from Norway. Since 1996, the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C. has given a Christmas tree to the American people as a symbol of friendship between the United States and Norway. The lighted tree is usually decorated with both U.S. and Norwegian flags, and can be found in DC’s Union Station train station. As explained by the Norwegian ambassador in the annual lighting ceremony attended by high-level U.S. military  and Government officials as guests, the gift of the Norway-US friendship tree also express Norway’s gratitude for the assistance received from the United States during and after World War II.

Tusen-takk-Amerika or Thank you, America banner from the Norwegian Embassy's 2013 Friendship Christmas Tree at Union Station in Washington, DC. Photo copyright: Michele BartramImage: Norwegian Embassy’s “Thank you, America” (Tusen Takk, Amerika!) banner at base of the Norwegian-US Friendship Xmas tree at Washington, DC’s Union Station in 2013. Image credit: Michele Bartram

From a distance, all you see are the 20,000 lights and the American and Norwegian flags cascading up the 32-foot tree. Upon closer inspection, this year’s visitors found 700 little reflective screaming faces on ornaments Norwegian-Embassy-Tree-Edvard-Munch-Scream-ornament-2013 from the Norwegian Embassy's 2013 Friendship Christmas Tree at Union Station in Washington, DC. Photo copyright: Michele Bartramdepicting Norwegian artist Edward Munch’s infamous “Scream” painting—placed on the tree by the humorous Norwegians in honor of 2013’s 150th anniversary of Munch’s birth.

In a way, [the “Scream”] symbolizes all the angst in preparing for an excellent Christmas,” said Norwegian Ambassador Kare Aas to the Washington Post with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Image: Edvard Munch “Scream” 2013 ornament and flag of Norway on the Norwegian Embassy Friendship Christmas Tree. Image credit: Michele Bartram

Just taking a drive around the National Mall on a December night, seeing the National Christmas Tree and the Pathway of Peace, the national menorah, the Capitol Christmas Tree, and the Norway-US Friendship Tree can put you in more of a holiday mood.

GIFTS FOR UNDER YOUR TREE

Incidentally, if you’re still looking for holiday gifts to go under your tree, GPO’s U.S. Government Bookstore has loads of gift suggestions on their Gift Guides & Calendars page. Or give an eBook for a great last-minute gift to anyone around the world.

Hanukkah is past this year and there are only a few days left before Christmas day, but then again, there are always gift opportunities on Hogmanay, New Year’s Day, and Three King’s Day (Los Reyes Magos)/ Epiphany, too!

HOW CAN YOU GET THE PUBLICATIONS LISTED HERE?

And remember, worldwide standard SHIPPING IS FREE on the U.S. Government Bookstore website, so shop away!

  • Shop Online: Download the free publications listed by clicking on the links in the article above.
    You can purchase the print and ebook publications mentioned from the U.S. Government Online Bookstore at http://bookstore.gpo.gov by clicking on the individual links above in this blog post or the links below:

  • Order by Phone: Call our Customer Contact Center Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5:30 pm Eastern (except US Federal holidays). From US and Canada, call toll-free 1.866.512.1800. DC or International customers call +1.202.512.1800.
  • Shop our Retail Store: Buy a copy of any print editions from this collection at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, Call (202) 512-0132 for information or to arrange in-store pick-up.
  • Visit a Federal Depository Library: Search for one of these publications in a nearby Federal depository library.

About the author(s): Adapted and expanded by Government Book Talk Editor-in-Chief and the US Government Printing Office (GPO) Promotions & Ecommerce Manager, Michele Bartram, from an original blog post by Jennifer K. Davis from GPO’s Library Services & Content Management Division that supports the Federal Depository Libraries Program (FDLP). Happy holidays from us both!


Talking Turkey: the American Thanksgiving and Turkey

November 27, 2013

TurkeyFDR1935

The unique American holiday, Thanksgiving, brings everyone together—it’s no coincidence it’s the biggest travel day of the year in the United States. People gather for a number of reasons beyond thankfulness– reconnecting with family and friends, to watch and play football, to relax for a day and get ready for the Christmas holidays, and for a lot of people, to celebrate our lucky abundance by eating a feast.

 So many Americans refer to Thanksgiving as “Turkey Day”, since the turkey is traditionally the centerpiece of that big feast. Weeks before the holiday arrives, fliers for turkey sales are everywhere; recipes pop up in your email inbox; cooking shows run hour-long specials the turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and news outlets start talking about turkey shortages. There are so many decisions to make when choosing a turkey. Do you buy a frozen or fresh bird? Do you choose a heritage breed or factory-raised? Do you buy a breast or do you need a whole turkey? How many pounds to feed everyone? You need to get answers for all of those questions before you even get to the cooking. The cooking raises an even larger round of questions, and if you’re like me, a round of obsessive research. Cooking poultry requires smart handling. Not only do you want your bird to be delicious, you want it to be contamination- and germ-free.

In your quest to find answers to these questions, no doubt you’ll turn to family and friends. You may even dial a local extension service or talk to the source from which you bought the bird—the supermarket, the turkey company or the farmer.  The Federal government is another excellent source you shouldn’t forget. Your best friend may be busy driving to his mother’s house, but you can call the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline all Thanksgiving morning, or link to Ask Karen on the Web.  Ask Karen is the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) Web chat page to answer all of your food safety questions at any time.

You should check their Common questions section first, which FSIS has conveniently organized by topic and product. So you can pick turkey from the products list, and choose all, and enter the word “smoking” to find information about how to smoke a turkey. If you click on the question,

“Do you need a thermometer when smoking meat?” you get the answer,

“Yes. To ensure meat and poultry are smoked safely, you’ll need two types of thermometers: one for the food and one for the smoker. A thermometer is needed to monitor the air temperature in the smoker or grill to be sure the heat stays between 225 °F (107.2°C) and 300 °F (148.8°C) throughout the cooking process. For more information, please visit  Smoking Meat and Poultry “

I tested the Ask Karen site on a couple of topics: cooking stuffing in the turkey cavity, brining, deep frying, marinating, and thawing. There are hit results for all of the topics other than deep frying; I found no information on that topic. When you have questions on deep frying, you could proceed to the Live Chat section of Ask Karen.

If you’re cooking your Thanksgiving turkey for the first time, and just want a basic overview of the whole process, start with Safe and Easy Thanksgiving Dinner. This short two-minute video, narrated by USDA, starts by telling you when to thaw the turkey. It’s not too late for you to start thawing now if you thaw it in cold water. The video also tells you to be sure to cook stuffing outside the bird, and how to store your leftovers. It also reminds you about the USDA’s hotline help service at 1-888-MPHotline. The Hotline is open on Thanksgiving Day from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p. m., Eastern Time, so you can call while you’re getting ready to cook. It’s hard to imagine a country that takes its turkey more seriously than the United States; it’s the ultimate family meal.

Don’t take your meal too seriously, though. Loads of folks have their very own turkey disaster story, and this year may be the one for you to collect your own story. If you’ve accidentally cooked the giblets in your turkey’s cavity, or left on the plastic bits that wind the turkey’s legs together, the USDA has answers for your questions on those topics too. Hock Locks and Other Accoutrements will tell you what to do to resolve these conundrums, and like another famous volume, should come with the cover label: “Don’t panic!” Hock locks is the turkey producer’s name for the plastic bits that lock together the turkey legs, and according to the document, the hock locks are made of nylon or metal, and while it’s generally safe to cook your turkey with them on, the turkey legs will be more evenly cooked if you remove the locks before cooking. With reassurance like this document offers, you can manage a stress-free meal, even if you wind up fighting with your family over the Thanksgiving bowl games.

Want to serve the perfect bird this Thanksgiving? Want some more tips on brining? Make this Thanksgiving a safe and tasty one; try reading some of these documents before you turn on the oven or fire up the grill. There are records for Ask Karen, Safe and Easy Thanksgiving Dinner, and Hock Locks and Other Accoutrements in the Catalog of Government Publications. You can finish the meal with a recipe for pumpkin pie from the USDA’s National Agriculture Library Web site.

How can I access these publications?

Guest Blogger Jennifer Davis is Manager of the Bibliographic Control Section of GPO’s Library Services and Content Management Division


The Financial Crisis Revisited

September 16, 2013

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. It was the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history, and was a key event leading to the global financial crisis.

This creates a good opportunity to revisit blogger Jim Cameron’s review of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Report from January 28th, 2011 – JET

I recently read a book about Ivar Kreuger, the famed “Match King” of the 1920s. Kreuger attempted to monopolize the match manufacturing industry on an international scale by obtaining state monopolies from national governments in exchange for large loans. His amazing financial record got him on the cover of Time magazine in October 1929, just as the stock market crash was beginning. Less than three years later, his companies teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and his crude forgeries of Italian bonds coming to light, he shot himself. Yet the author concludes that, for most of his career, his companies produced real profits and excellent returns for investors – he wasn’t simply a world-class swindler who single-handedly brought on a world crisis. It brings home the fact that great financial crises and collapses are not usually tied to a single individual or industry – the blame tends to be more widespread. It takes much more than a Kreuger or Madoff to light the fuse.

All of this comes to mind when perusing the official edition of The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report, the final report of the National Commission on the Causes of the Financial and Economic Crisis in the United States. Note: This official edition is complete, including all 129 pages of dissenting views. I’m no economist, but it seems clear that a series of interlocking corporate and government practices and missteps, extending far beyond any one person, company or sector, caused the economy to tank.

It’s also interesting to see how quickly events recede in the mind. When was the last time you heard about the downfall of Lehman Brothers? Reading this report transports me back to those very scary weeks a little more than two years ago, when everything that had seemed so secure in the economy suddenly displayed all of the characteristics of a wooden skyscraper full of termites.

This book is no easy read, but its subject is compelling, faced as we are with the aftermath of the crisis. It’s a serious report for serious times, and the voluminous dissenting views show how uncertain root causes can be, accept them or not as you will. You can find The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report here, http://cybercemetery.unt.edu/archive/fcic/20110310173538/http://www.fcic.gov/report buy a copy of the official edition, including all of the text of the dissenting views, here: http://bookstore.gpo.gov/search/apachesolr_search/financial%20crisis , or get it at a library http://www.worldcat.org/search?qt=worldcat_org_all&q=financial+crisis+inquiry+report  .


“Confronted with the Fierce Urgency of Now”: 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

August 27, 2013

march on washingtonRiding for twenty hours on a bus, with no access to motels, public bathrooms, and restaurants, is a trip daunting enough to put most people off it. Privations like those were not enough to hold back the attendees of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, held August 28, 1963. Approximately 250,000 people participated, and most of the African Americans who came to Washington, D.C. had journeys just like that. Of all the convulsive events of the 1960s, the March on Washington was the most determinedly hopeful.

The organizers of the original March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, also known as “the Great March on Washington”, intended the march to call for civil and economic rights for African Americans. The march culminated in a program featuring a cast of celebrated singers, religious leaders, and civil rights leaders chosen for their significance to the movement and its cause. Marian Anderson reprised her famous 1939 concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by singing the National Anthem. Mahalia Jackson, the famed gospel singer, delivered/sang the apt selections “How I Got Over”, and “I’ve Been ‘Buked, and I’ve Been Scorned”. Myrlie Evers, the recent widow of murdered civil rights activist Medgar Evers, gave a tribute to the “Negro Women Fighters for Freedom”: Rosa Parks, Daisy Bates, Diane Nash, Mrs. Herbert (Prince) Lee, and Gloria Richardson. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King said, “There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights”, but he also said,

“…in the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.”

His listeners heeded his words. Prior to the march, many politicians (including President Kennedy) and potential participants feared it would end in violence. The event took place peacefully, in a joyful spirit, according to accounts of marchers recorded afterwards.  You can learn more about the march and the Civil Rights movement in Free at Last: the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.

This speech and the event itself have become cultural icons in American history, and both are attributed responsibility for helping with the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Fair Housing Act (1968), and the now-defunct Voting Rights Act (1965). People’s hopes for the outcome for the March were ultimately rewarded, although it took years to see those hopes come to fruition.

As the fiftieth anniversary of this event approaches, organizers have planned a number of celebrations to honor both the veterans of the march and the march’s historical significance. Volunteers will ring bells from the places Dr. King mentioned in his “I Have a Dream” speech on the day as well: Stone Mountain, Georgia; Lookout Mountain, Tennessee; Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado; as well as other locations. The organization “50th Anniversary March on Washington” is holding a conference regarding civil rights on August 27, and leading a recreation of the march to the National Mall on August 28, 2013. At the end of the march, President Obama will give a speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King spoke so movingly. Hopefully he’ll stand near the plaque marking Dr. King’s speech, that Congress arranged in An Act to Provide for the Placement at the Lincoln Memorial of a Plaque Commemorating the Speech of Martin Luther King, Jr., Known as the “I Have a Dream” Speech.

You can find out more about this period in our history by reading Free at Last: the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, and An Act to Provide for the Placement at the Lincoln Memorial of a Plaque Commemorating the Speech of Martin Luther King, Jr., Known as the “I Have a Dream” Speech.  There are records available for the electronic versions of both works in the Catalog of Government Publications.

How can I access these publications?

Guest Blogger Jennifer Davis works for GPO’s Library Services and Content Management Division, which supports the Federal Depository Library Program. She is a frequent contributor to this blog.


Radio 101: Operating Two-Way Radios Every Day and in Emergencies

July 10, 2013

When-all-else-fails-amateur-radioTwo-way radio communication may seem like a thing of the past with smart phones and the availability of more advanced technology. However, with the recent frequency of natural disasters, storms, and other emergency situations, more attention is being paid to radios as a reliable form of communication and a possible back-up communication option, including amateur radio operators.

Image courtesy: Decatur County Amateur Radio Club

For example, the Times of India reports that the recent monsoon flooding disaster in the northern India state of Uttarakhand in July 2013 has prompted officials in other flood-prone regions to establish Amateur Radio facilities to provide emergency communication.

What are two-way radios and how do they work?

Two-way-radioImage: Amateur radio equipment. Image courtesy of the American Radio Relay League.

According to Wikipedia,

A two-way radio is a radio that can both transmit and receive (a transceiver), unlike a broadcast receiver which only receives content. A two-way radio (transceiver) allows the operator to have a conversation with other similar radios operating on the same radio frequency (channel).

Two-way radios are available in mobile, stationary base and hand-held portable configurations. Hand-held radios are often called walkie-talkies or handie-talkies.

Radio 101

9780160910012A recent training publication produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health called Radio 101: Operating Two-Way Radios Every Day and in Emergencies provides training materials on how to operate two-way radios. Included are an instructor’s guide, a DVD with a power point presentation and a student handbook. These training materials practice what they preach, in that they are brief, straightforward and concise– just as two-way radio conversations need to be.

While many of the scenarios used throughout the training materials apply to miners and situations where miners would need to use two-way radios, the information is generic enough that it is applicable to any emergency.

Two-way Tips

The information provided in the training materials seems like common sense, but there are a few important tips to consider when using two-way radio communication in an emergency situation:

  • Less is more. Be brief and efficient; know what you are going to say before using the radio so you do not tie up the channel while you are thinking of what to say.
  • Don’t mind your manners.  It is not necessary to be polite, saying “please” and “thank you.”
  • Repetition rocks. Repeat back information you receive to confirm that you heard the correct information.
  • No privacy policy. Be aware that conversations are not private on these open channels and may be heard by others picking up your frequency. However, this downside is a big plus in emergency broadcasts and SOS situations where the operator wants as many people possible to be listening in to be able to pick up and relay his message.

License to Help

To operate an amateur two-way radio in the United States requires taking a test and obtaining a license from the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is the national association for amateur radio (also called ham radio with operators being called “hams”) in the US and “provides hams and non-hams the resources to learn, get licensed, and help others on the air.

Amateur-Radio-Emergency-ServiceAlready have your amateur radio license and want to help your community? Check out the ARRL’s Public Service page for training, resources, manuals and more. The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) consists of licensed amateurs who have voluntarily registered their qualifications and equipment for communications duty in the public service when disaster strikes.

Recently, the American Radio Relay League hosted their national Field Day where amateur radio clubs across the country gathered locally to test their radio equipment and practice communication strategies in the event of an emergency. Learn more about Field Day.

Rules of the Radio

Together with the Radio 101 training guide, two-way radio operators who want to learn the “rules of the radio” often buy the latest United States Frequency Allocations: The Radio Spectrum Chart (shown below). This poster shows through color codes the parts of the radio spectrum that are allocated to each type of radio service, including amateur (ham) radio, commercial radio and television broadcasting, radio navigation, mobile, satellite, and others.

9780160908958Finally, the definitive sources of radio regulations, frequencies and procedures can be found in the Manual of Regulations and Procedures for Federal Radio Frequency Management and the Code of Federal Regulations Title 47 (FCC Rules and Regulations).

It is important to be prepared in any situation and not rely on only one form of communication. Thus, it is comforting to know that amateur radio operators are working on behalf of their communities to help during emergency situations.

HOW DO I OBTAIN these radio-related publications?

About the Authors: Our guest blogger is Emma Wojtowicz, Public Relations Specialist in GPO’s Office of Public Affairs. Additional content was provided by Government Book Talk Editor Michele Bartram, Promotions & eCommerce Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division.


BP in Hot Water over Deepwater

February 25, 2013

As the BP Oil Spill civil trial begins this week, the Federal Government will attempt to prove whether British Petroleum (BP) and/or any of its contractors such as Transocean (RIG), the owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and Halliburton (HAL), which was responsible for pouring the cement plugs in the well, were “grossly negligent” and thus financially liable in causing the deadly BP Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig explosion on April 10, 2010, and the blowout of the Macondo well.

BP-Deep-Water-Explosion-April-20-2010

Image: Explosion of the BP Deepwater Horizon rig at the Macondo prospect well. Photo credit: Associated Press.

The initial explosion killed 11 oil rig workers and triggered a subsequent oil spill which dumped millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, with the full extent of the long-term ecological and economic damage to the Gulf states and aquatic and wildlife still unknown.  With tar balls linked to the BP oil spill still washing ashore from Louisiana and Alabama to as far away as Australia, if BP is found “grossly negligent” instead of “simply negligent,” it will be on the hook for $17.6 billion in additional clean-up costs on top of the $4.5 billion fine for the criminal case settled in November 2012.

The National Commission on the BP Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling produced two landmark and controversial reports about the oil spill causes and consequences that are critical in understanding the Government’s case against BP:

1)      Macondo: The Gulf Oil Disaster. Chief Counsel’s Report 2011, and

2)      Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling, Report to the President, January 2011.

THE MISSION

Established by Executive Order 13543 on May 21, 2010 by President Barack Obama, the mission of the National Commission on the BP Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission was to examine the relevant facts and circumstances concerning the root causes of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and develop options to guard against, and mitigate the impact of, any oil spills associated with offshore drilling in the future.

BP-Deep-Water-CommissionIn addition, they were to recommend any needed improvements to Federal laws, regulations, and industry practices concerning the oil and gas industry.

Image: Commissioners of the National Commission on the BP Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. Image credit: C-SPAN

Key areas of inquiry for the Commission included:

  • The Macondo Well Explosion and Drilling Safety
  • The Role of Offshore Oil Drilling in Domestic Energy Policy
  • Regulatory Oversight of Offshore Drilling
  • Oil Spill Response
  • Spill Impacts and Assessment
  • Restoration Approaches and Options

THE INVESTIGATION

Macondo-Oil-Spill-Report-9780160879630The first order of business for the Commission was to carry out the directive in the Executive Order to “examine the relevant facts and circumstances concerning the root causes of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.” They instructed the Commission‘s Chief Counsel Fred Bartlit and his investigative team to provide “the most comprehensive, coherent, and detailed account of the events leading up to the blowout and explosion” of Macondo, the name of BP’s offshore prospect in the Gulf of Mexico in the sector called the Mississippi Canyon Block 252, or MC252 where BP was drilling at the time of the accident.

The result was this report, Macondo: The Gulf Oil Disaster. Chief Counsel’s Report 2011, which provides additional details and documentation supporting the findings in the Commission’s final report.

The respected Library Journal, in selecting the Macondo report as one of its “Notable Government Documents” for 2011, said:

“The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill was created by President Obama and charged with investigating the root causes of the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. The committee concluded that the cause of the blowout was not mechanical. Instead, a number of poor management decisions, combined with an inadequate regulatory structure and an indifferent regulatory agency, overwhelmed the safeguards designed to prevent such disasters. Plenty of illustrations and photographs offer a glimpse into the technology of offshore oil rigs.” – LJ

For trial watchers, this publication is a must-read as much of the initial documentary evidence is included.

THE FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Deep-Water-Report-9780160873713The second and final report is the best-selling Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling, Report to the President, January 2011. It not only offers the full account of what happened in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010 and why, but also offers recommendations on proposed actions, changes in company behavior, reform of government oversight, and investments in research and technology that will be required to avert future disasters.

In Part I: The Path to Tragedy, “Chapters 1 through 3 describe the events of April 20th on the Deepwater Horizon, and, more important, the events leading up to it in the preceding decades—especially how the dramatic expansion of deepwater drilling in the Gulf was not met by regulatory oversight capable of ensuring the safety of those drilling operations.

In Part II: Explosion and Aftermath:  The Causes and Consequences of the Disaster, Chapters 4 through 7 lay out the results of the Commission’s investigation in detail, highlighting the crucial policy-related issues: the specific engineering and operating choices made in drilling the Macondo well, the attempts to contain and respond to the oil spill, and the impacts of the spill on the region’s natural resources, economy, and people—in the context of the progressive degradation of the Mississippi Delta environment.

BP-deepwater-2-yr-impact

Image: Chart illustrating some of the ongoing effects of the BP Macondo well oil spill two years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Infographic credit: ColorLines.com

In the final section, Part III: Lessons Learned: Industry, Government, Energy Policy, Chapters 8 through 10 present the Commission’s recommendations for reforms in business practices, regulatory oversight, and broader policy concerns.

Throughout the book, the Commission makes the case that outlines a number of primary conclusions, including these unsettling findings:

  • The explosive loss of the Macondo well could have been prevented.
  • The immediate causes of the Macondo well blowout can be traced to a series of identifiable mistakes made by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean that reveal such systematic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry.
  • Deepwater energy exploration and production, particularly at the frontiers of experience, involve risks for which neither industry nor government has been adequately prepared…
  • To assure human safety and environmental protection, regulatory oversight of leasing, energy exploration, and production require reforms even beyond those significant reforms already initiated…to ensure [the regulators'] political autonomy, technical expertise, and their full consideration of environmental protection concerns.
  • Because regulatory oversight alone will not be sufficient to ensure adequate safety, the oil and gas industry will need to take its own, unilateral steps to dramatically increase safety…
  • The technology, laws and regulations, and practices for containing, responding to, and cleaning up spills lag behind the real risks associated with deepwater drilling…
  • Scientific understanding of environmental conditions in sensitive environments in deep Gulf waters, along the region’s coastal habitats, and in areas proposed for more drilling, such as the Arctic, is inadequate. The same is true of the human and natural impacts of oil spills.

Delivered to the President on January 2011, the final report starts with a poignant dedication “to the 11 men who lost their lives on the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, 2010 and to their families, in hope that this report will help minimize the chance of another such disaster ever happening again.”

Will it help prevent another such disaster? Read these publications and decide for yourself.


How can I buy these BP oil spill publications?

  • Buy them at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find them in a federal depository library.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


Four Decades since Détente and SALT

May 18, 2012

Forty years ago next week marked a historic point in Soviet-American relations. On May 22, 1972, President Richard Nixon landed in Moscow for an unprecedented week-long summit with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, Premier Alexei Kosygin and other Soviet officials that culminated in the SALT I Treaty and marked the height of the détente era.

In honor of this four decade anniversary, I thought I’d write about an insightful publication by the State Department entitled “Soviet-American Relations: The Détente Years, 1969-1972 that covers this important period that marked a détente or a “thawing” of Cold War relations between the two superpowers.

Extremely interesting are the forewords by both Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. In them, they talk about their personal relationship that forged “The Channel” of communications between the two governments that finally led to the breakthrough in negotiations.

Kissinger reminisces:

On March 25, 1971, according to the transcript of a telephone conversation with Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, I remarked: “When we are both out of government service, which will be a lot later for you than for me, I hope you will let me read the reports you send in on me.” … My remark to Dobrynin was an interlude in what evolved into almost daily exchanges. What was later named “The Channel” began as a general exchange of views. Starting in 1971, the Channel became the principal venue for U.S.-Soviet relations.

Don’t change “The Channel”  

According to Kissinger in “The Détente Years”, “The Channel” became one of the pathways of change, and “produced a number of significant agreements”, including:

  • an agreed approach on Strategic Arms Limitation (May 1971);
  • the conclusion of an agreement regarding access to Berlin (September 1971);
  • the announcement of a Soviet-American summit agreement (October 1971); and
  • President Nixon’s visit to Moscow (May 1972), at which agreements, the most important of which were a treaty regulating Ballistic Missile Defense and a five-year freeze on deploying additional offensive strategic weapons, were concluded. The two sides also published an agreed statement on principles of international conduct.

Image: Nixon and Brezhnev shake after signing the SALT treaty on May 26, 1972 (Source: Corbis Images).

Pass the SALT, please

The highlight of the publication is the discussion about the lead-up and issues during the Moscow Summit and the final negotiations of the SALT I Treaty.

SALT I, the first series of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, had begun in November 1969 to explore ways to halt or reduce the arms race, particularly nuclear weapon proliferation. This week of meetings from May 22 to 26, was set up after those years of negotiations to finalize and sign a number of agreements that increased cooperation and reduced the mutual nuclear threat between the two nations.

Image: Nuclear Limits. (Source: Time Magazine, 1972)

On May 26, Nixon and Brezhnev signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), the most significant of the multiple agreements reached during the Moscow summit. The terms of the SALT treaty limited the USSR and the United States to only 200 anti-ballistic missiles each, which had to be split between two defensive systems.

One good (hand)shake leads to another

Among all the handshakes at this Moscow summit was another for the “Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on Cooperation in the Fields of Science and Technology” which laid the groundwork for the first joint Soviet-US space flight. Called the Apollo Soyuz Test Project or ASTP, the ASTP flight lasted only nine days from July 15-24, 1975, but led to another famous handshake… this time in space.

Image: Photo of the famous handshake between Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford (f.g.) and cosmonaut Aleksei A. Leonov after a successful linkup in space of the Americans’ Apollo and the Soviets’ Soyuz spacecrafts on July 17, 1975  (Source: NASA ASTP gallery).

Innovation = Bureaucratic dismay

All in all, this publication provides unique insights from the players involved about the diplomatic communications and procedural changes and innovations that were put in place on both sides to eliminate the logjam in relations between Soviets and American administrations since the end of World War II. And sometimes these changes were done “outside” the normal processes.

As Kissinger explains in the book:

Paradoxically, the Channel worked best so long as the bureaucracy did not know of its existence. While that was the case, the participants in the interdepartmental machinery had an incentive to adjust their positions toward what they thought was feasible; in general, no one wanted to assume responsibility for failure by inflexibility…

For all the bureaucratic dismay it caused, the Channel was an innovative attempt to transcend the formalities of an increasingly bureaucratized diplomacy. It helped contain crises, saw America through a period of domestic divisions and sketched prospects for a more peaceful world.

HOW DO I OBTAIN “Soviet-American Relations: The Détente Years, 1969-1972”?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


War Games

May 11, 2012

Our Guest Blogger—GPO’s Public Relations Specialist  Emma Wojtowicz—takes a look at the U.S. Naval War College publication on war gaming.

This recently reprinted publication from 1966 has not only been reborn, but has also received a face lift to make it look like the relevant book it still is today. Do not let its age fool you.

Fundamentals of War Gaming is a third edition reprinted publication by the United States Naval War College that explores the history and practice of war gaming.

To put it simply, war gaming is like the game of chess. This book applies the chess board to war scenarios exposing readers to the fundamentals of war gaming. Chess pros learn how their skills can be adapted to conceptualize military operations and novices receive an introduction on the theories and practice of war gaming.

War gaming is more prevalent in today’s society than one might think and I am not talking about war-related video games.

A few examples include:

  • The recent one year anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden reminds us of the news coverage from last year that detailed the way Navy Seals prepared for the mission. Creating a replica of bin Laden’s compound and practicing and simulating different scenarios is the practice of war gaming.
  • For fans of the Hunger Games books and movie, the hunger games tributes strategize how to use the skills to eliminate their opponents and the game makers use their futuristic technology to manipulate the tributes to do and go where they want them and that is war gaming.
  • Perhaps the best example of war gaming is in an episode of the television series the West Wing. President Bartlett is playing chess with Sam Seaborn and he equates the game of chess to a military situation that he is confronting in the Taiwan Strait. President Bartlett repeats, “see the whole board,” “look at the whole board” which is crucial when playing the game of chess and when strategizing for diplomatic and military situations or war gaming.

Figure: 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in Iraq with giant chess set. — 8 October 2005. Source: SoldierChess.org, a charity that sends free chess sets to deployed troops

History and popular culture has familiarized us with the concept of war gaming, but the publication Fundamentals of War Gaming provides a broader picture. Before World War II, the Naval War College relied on manual games such as chess and other board games to train and prepare officers.

One chapter in the book is dedicated to the history of chess and war gaming focusing on the use of war gaming by individual countries as well as the Naval War College. World War II and the various types of warfare used during the war led to the need for more sophisticated ways of training.

The development of computers, in as early as the 1950s, changed the war gaming methods from manual to simulated gaming using NEWS, or the Navy Electronic Warfare Simulator.


Image: NEWS or Navy Electronic War Simulator. Source: Defence Talk

Fundamentals of War Gaming contains various charts and graphs depicting the statistical methods of war gaming and also historic photographs showing the evolution of war gaming from life-size chess boards to giant computer simulators.

This well-rounded portrayal of war gaming appeals to a large audience from math-oriented chess fans to history buffs. It may be an older publication, but it is still an interesting read and relevant today. Like I said, don’t let its age fool you.

HOW DO I OBTAIN THIS “The United States Naval War College Fundamentals of War Gaming”?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

Uncle Sam wants to help you… get a job

May 4, 2012

If you are one of the millions of Americans hunting for a job, the U.S. Government wants you… to be prepared for the job search.

According to figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on April 10, 2012, called “Job Openings and Labor Turnover – February 2012”, the number of job openings has been climbing:

The number of job openings in the United States in February 2012 was 3.5 million…  Although the number of job openings remained below the 4.3 million openings when the recession began in December 2007, the number of job openings has increased 46 percent since the end of the recession in June 2009.

Image: Uncle Sam: “I want you to get a real job” poster. Source: SF Weekly

And today’s numbers from the Labor Department showed that the U.S. economy added 115,000 jobs in April while the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent.

Together with graduating college and high school seniors, this makes this a prime time for many Americans to start or re-start their job search.

Fortunately, the Federal Government has produced a number of helpful job and employment publications and resources to help you find that job, from researching careers, industries and salaries, to preparing resumes, writing cover letters and honing your interviewing skills.

Step 1: Identify the Right Career for You

Many job hunters have had to leave their original profession due to changes in the marketplace. To help them identify what types of jobs are out there and what skills are needed, here are some Federal publications:

  Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 (Paperback)
The must-have book for every career counselor, The Occupational Outlook Handbook is exceedingly useful for job hunters, particularly those who are changing careers or in an industry that is undergoing transition. It describes about 250 occupations in detail, covering what the types of tasks workers do on a particular type of job, the working conditions, the training and education needed, earnings, and expected job prospects.
  High-Earning Workers Who Don’t Have A Bachelor’s Degree
This publication is still valid today, as it reviews occupations that earn relatively high salaries without requiring expensive college degrees. Ranges from accountants, to plumbers and electricians, repair people and mechanics, registered nurses and health technicians, managers and supervisors of all types, and more. Gives percentages of these that do not have bachelor’s degrees and typical weekly earnings (circa 1999).

Additional information on job training can be found at CareerOneStop’s Explore Careers section.

Step 2:  Determine Whether You Should Get Additional Education and Training

Many job seekers need to acquire new skills or update their existing skills to become or stay competitive. These publications talk about the value of training

  What It’s Worth: Field of Training and Economic Status in 2001
If you’ve ever doubted the value of education on your earning potential, the Census Bureau assembled these figures on what additional training is worth to one’s economic status and earnings.
  Apprenticeships: Career Training, Credentials, and a Paycheck in Your Pocket
Some professions require going through apprenticeship training. This publication explains how apprenticeship works, listing apprenticeable occupations, and the years of training estimated for each occupation.

Additional information and resources about job-related education and training can be found at CareerOneStop’s Education & Training section.

Step 3: Preparing Your Work Credentials and Interviewing Skills

The next step is to hone your credentials and interviewing skills for the active job search. The following excellent publications and resources will help you ensure you put your best foot forward.

  Resumes, Applications, and Cover Letters
With this update of a popular publication, you will find out the best ways to present your credentials to prospective employers. Illustrations include a sample chronological resume, a sample functional resume, and a sample cover letter. The ‘for more information’ section lists some useful, established websites that contain advice about 21st century job hunting and resume writing.
  Getting Back to Work: Returning to the Labor Force After an Absence
Many job seekers today have what is called an imperfect employment history due to layoffs, underemployment or other career gaps. This publication helps these returning workers know what to do and what to expect when returning to the labor force can help ease the transition back to work. Part 1 offers tips on how to identify, and prepare for, your ideal job. Part 2 helps you get set for the workforce. Part 3 suggests ways to maintain work-life balance. In sidebars throughout the article, you’ll find suggestions for some special re-entry situations as well as lists of additional resources.
  Employment Interviewing: Seizing the Opportunity and the Job
This booklet gives useful advice on what to do before, during, and after a job interview to help you get that job. It also includes tips about job fairs.

Additional information and resources about resumes, interviewing and job-related education and training can be found at CareerOneStop’s Resumes + Interviews section.

Step 4: Start Your Job Search

Federal Government Jobs:

A useful publication for anyone seeking to apply for a Federal government job is “How to Get a Job in the Federal Government”. Read our previous blog post about this publication, entitled “Information about Getting a Federal Government Job”.

Once you are ready to apply, you can find all current Federal jobs openings on the Federal job site, USAJobs.gov.

Private Sector and State Government Jobs:

Information and resources about where and how to conduct your job hunt can be found at CareerOneStop’s Job Search section.

Step 5:  Research Typical Salary and Benefits

Hopefully, at this point you are receiving job offers and negotiating salary and benefits. These Federal publications can give you some ballpark figures of salaries for various occupations as well as unemployment laws in different states.

  National Compensation Survey: Occupational Earnings in the United States, 2006
This Multimedia booklet and CD-ROM report on earnings for occupations common to a wide variety of establishments. Coverage includes office clerical, professional and technical, maintenance, custodial and material movement occupations.
  Occupational Employment and Wages, 2006
This guide provides occupational employment and wage data from across the United States.
  Employment and Wages Annual Averages, 2005
This Multimedia booklet and CD-ROM present 2005 employment and wages data as defined in the North American Industry Classification System. Data pertain to workers covered by State unemployment insurance laws and the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) program in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
  Comparison of State Unemployment Insurance Laws, 2005
This valuable publication provides state-by-state information on workers covered by unemployment insurance, benefit eligibility, methods of financing, and other areas of interest in the unemployment insurance program

More information and resources about salary and benefits can be found at CareerOneStop’s Salary + Benefits section and the Publications section of the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

Other Federal Job Hunting Resources:

  • Occupational Outlook Quarterly – This periodical subscription service offered by the Government Printing Office is issued quarterly by the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics and provides current information on employment trends and outlook, supplementing and bringing up to date information in Occupational Outlook Handbook.
  • CareerOneStop: The Labor Department has created an excellent website for American job seekers. Called CareerOneStop.org, this job hunting portal helps you find the information and resources you need about careers, training, educational financial aid, job banks and more.
    • It also has a Service Locator to help all job seekers and the unemployed find Federal, state and local employment resources in your area.
    • Veterans now can find job-hunting help at their Veterans ReEmployment initiatives section.

How Can I Obtain the Publications Mentioned in this Post?  

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


Goodbye GPO Access, Hello FDsys

March 16, 2012

Guest blogger Kelly Seifert, Lead Planning Specialist for GPO’s Library Services & Content Management Division, writes about the final switchover from GPO Access to FDsys, GPO’s state-of-the-art digital database of Federal information.

Farewell, GPO Access! GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) is here to stay and is better than ever.

Today, March 16, 2012, marks a momentous occasion for the Government Printing Office and its groundbreaking service, GPO Access. After 16 years of keeping America informed, the GPO Access website is shutting down and been replaced by its successor, GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys).

Image: Switchover notice from GPO Access to FDsys

All of the information the public had access to on GPO Access and more is available through FDsys (pronounced by “those in the know” as “F – D – sis”).

While not the traditional “Government book” discussed on this blog, we at GPO thought it only appropriate to blog about a service that provides free access to a vast number of Federal Government publications. FDsys provides the American public with free online access to about 50 different collections of U.S. Government information ranging from the Code of Federal Regulations to the U.S. Government Manual to the U.S. Budget.

Image: GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) home page, www.FDsys.gov

GPO Access introduced electronic access to Government information

In 1993, Congress passed the U.S. Government Printing Office Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act (Public Law 103-40), which expanded GPO’s mission to provide access to Federal Government information not only in print, but also electronically. In June 1994, in response to that legislation, GPO launched GPO Access.

FDsys takes electronic access to new levels

Even the best of information systems have to evolve. Thus it was in January 2009 that GPO unveiled the next generation of Government information online with FDsys. The countdown to the shut-down of GPO Access began on December 20, 2010, when FDsys became GPO’s official system of record for free access to information and publications from all three branches of the Federal Government. In November 2011, GPO Access entered its “archive only” state and transitioned its status to historical reference archive. From that point forward, FDsys was GPO’s only resource for access to current, updated information, and now, GPO Access has shut down for good.

Image: FDSys Advanced Search results page

FDsys offers new, improved features to find Government publications

FDsys boasts key enhancements to GPO Access that allow users from librarians to scholars, researchers, lawyers and the public to:

  • Easily search across multiple Government publications;
  • Perform advanced searches against robust metadata about each publication;
  • Construct complex search queries;
  • Refine and narrow searches;
  • Retrieve individual Government documents and publications in seconds directly from each search result;
  • View more information about a publication and access multiple file formats for each search result;
  • Access metadata in standard XML formats;
  • Download content and metadata packaged together as a single ZIP file;
  • Browse FDsys alphabetically by collection, by Congressional committee, by date, and by Government author; and
  • Utilize extensive help tools and tutorials.

Image: List of collections of Federal Government publications available on FDSys

Links to printed versions of Government publications

In addition to providing free access to almost 50 different Government publications online, FDsys also directs you to GPO’s Online Bookstore, where you can buy those same publications, if you wish to have a bound and printed official copy.

As a GPO employee who has worked extensively with FDsys, I think you will really enjoy it and the new, enhanced features that are provided by FDsys for navigating Government information.

How do I find Federal Government publications?

  • Search GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) at www.FDsys.gov.
  • Search GPO’s Catalog of Government Publications (CGP) at http://catalog.gpo.gov.
  • Shop GPO’s Online Bookstore at http://bookstore.gpo.gov/, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.
  • Visit GPO’s Retail Bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday through Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays. Call (202) 512-0132 for more information.

CIA’s World Factbook: Global intelligence for every thinker, traveler, soldier, spy

January 27, 2012

A great publication not only provides timely and valuable information, but it also allows us a glimpse into the times and events that necessitated its production.

Such is the case with the CIA’s World Factbook—which marks its 50th anniversary in 2012 for the classified version and over 40 years for the public version described here— and shows us a glimpse into how Pearl Harbor and the Cold War changed the way America began to gather information about all corners of the globe.

The Factbook has its origins in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the realization by Congress and the White House that lack of coordinated intelligence across all Governmental departments had left the United States woefully unprepared for the attack, and determined to correct this as a national security necessity and priority.  According to the CIA historians:

During World War II, intelligence consumers realized that the production of basic intelligence by different components of the US Government resulted in a great duplication of effort and conflicting information.

Detailed and coordinated information was needed not only on such major powers as Germany and Japan, but also on places of little previous interest. In the Pacific Theater, for example, the Navy and Marines had to launch amphibious operations against many islands about which information was unconfirmed or nonexistent.

Image above: During WWII, OSS intelligence reviewed existing maps with the military. Source: Top Secret Writers

JANIS Drops In

To correct this deficiency, in 1943, General George B. Strong (G-2), Admiral H. C. Train (Office of Naval Intelligence – known as ONI), and General William J. Donovan (Director of the Office of Strategic Services – known as OSS, the precursor of the CIA) oversaw the formation of a Joint Intelligence Study Publishing Board to assemble, edit, coordinate, and publish the Joint Army Navy Intelligence Studies (JANIS).

JANIS was the first cross-departmental basic intelligence program to fulfill the needs of the US Government for an authoritative and coordinated appraisal of strategic basic intelligence.

All groups involved in the war agreed that finished basic intelligence was required that covered territories around the world where the war was being fought. They needed detailed, up-to-date maps and geography; basic understanding of the cultural, economical, political and historical issues of the people and the region.

Compiling and publishing this information for the Allied intelligence needs, JANIS became an indispensable reference for war planning and execution.

The Cold War Gives Birth to the CIA… and the National Intelligence Survey

But the Cold War that immediately followed World War II showed that there was just as much need for continued intelligence gathering as ever. In the 1946 publication “The Future of American Secret Intelligence,” national security author George S. Petee wrote: “The conduct of peace involves all countries, all human activities – not just the enemy and his war production.”

In acknowledgement of this, the Congress established the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947 which immediately took over responsibility for JANIS. The next year, the National Security Council authorized the National Intelligence Survey program as a peacetime replacement for the wartime JANIS program. By 1955, the Hoover Commission evaluating the CIA advised Congress that: “The National Intelligence Survey [NIS] is an invaluable publication which provides the essential elements of basic intelligence on all areas of the world. There will always be a continuing requirement for keeping the Survey up-to-date.

The Sum of All Facts: The World Factbook

Subsequently, the World Factbook was created as an “annual summary and update to the encyclopedic NIS studies.

Originally published only as a classified publication starting a half century ago in August 1962 (just prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962), the World Factbook was first published in its declassified version for public consumption in June 1971, 40 years ago.

Image: CIA map produced for President Kennedy’s team estimating the range of Soviet missiles being set up in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Source: Canadian History Portal

Today’s World Factbook is the declassified version of the finished basic intelligence compiled by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and coordinated across all the U.S. intelligence community. It uses only recognized, authoritative sources, not only CIA-gathered intelligence, but also a wide variety of U.S. Government agencies from the National Security Agency, Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Agriculture, Defense Intelligence Agency, and hundreds of other published sources around the world.

Printed Version Provides an Annual Snapshot

Once a year, the Government Printing Office takes a snapshot of this information from the CIA as of January 1 and produces a printed version of the World Factbook. It provides unparalleled and succinct information about hundreds of countries in a format that provides an easy-to-use comparison.The Factbook has been available from GPO since 1975.

The 2011 version just published provides a two- to three-page summary of the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities, including U.S.-recognized countries, dependencies, and other areas in the world.

Each country has its own basic map and shows its flag, but of particular interest are the maps of the major world regions, as well three pull-out maps included in the publication: Physical Map of the World, Political Map of the World, and Standard Time Zones of the World Map, all of which can be used as wall maps.

Who Can Benefit from the World Factbook?

A perennial best seller in the GPO bookstore, The World Factbook is used by not only US Government officials, but is a must-have reference for researchers, news organizations, businesses, geographers, international travelers, teachers, professors, librarians, and students.

In short, after 40 years, the World Factbook is still the best source of  up-to-date, summarized intelligence about the world for any “thinker, traveler, soldier, or spy” of any age!

Image: Pupils at Crosby’s Valewood Primary School near Liverpool, England, dress up as ‘Spies’ as part of a creative project. Photographer: Andrew Teebay. Source: Liverpool Echo

To gather your own up-to-date intelligence about the world we live in, you can obtain the World Factbook 2011 at one of these locations:

How can you get this publication?

  • Buy the current version of the World Factbook and selected previous editions online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

Some Interesting “DID YOU KNOW?” Facts related to the CIA’s World Factbook:

  • Question: What separates “intelligence” from “information”?
    • Answer: According to the CIA: The Intelligence Cycle is the process by which information is acquired, converted into intelligence, and made available to policymakers. Information is raw data from any source, data that may be fragmentary, contradictory, unreliable, ambiguous, deceptive, or wrong. Intelligence is information that has been collected, integrated, evaluated, analyzed, and interpreted. Finished intelligence is the final product of the Intelligence Cycle ready to be delivered to the policymaker.

The three types of finished intelligence are: basic, current, and estimative. Basic intelligence provides the fundamental and factual reference material on a country or issue.

  • Question: “Why is the British Labour Party misspelled?”
    • Answer: When American and British spellings of common English words differ, The World Factbook always uses the American spelling, even when these common words form part of a proper name in British English.
  • Question: “What is a ‘doubly landlocked’ country and which are the only two in the world?”
    • Answer: A doubly landlocked country is one that is separated from an ocean or an ocean-accessible sea by two intervening countries. Uzbekistan and Liechtenstein are the only countries that fit this definition.
  • Question: “Why does the Factbook use metric units, even though Americans still use traditional units of measure like feet, pounds, and Fahrenheit?”
    • Answer: US Federal agencies are required by the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-168) and by Executive Order 12770 of July 1991 to use the International System of Units, commonly referred to as the metric system or SI. In addition, the metric system is used by over 95 percent of the world’s population.
  • Question: “Why is the European Union listed at the end of the Factbook entries? It’s not a country!”
    • Answer:  The European Union (EU) is not a country, but it has taken on many nation-like attributes and these may be expanded in the future. A more complete explanation on the inclusion of the EU into the Factbook can be found in the Preliminary statement.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (Bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public. She’s a big fan of the National Spy Museum and of spy movies, which she is going to enjoy for her birthday tomorrow.


Beauty and the Best- Two calendars inspire New Year’s resolutions

January 18, 2012

In January of every year, people around the world find themselves making their New Year’s resolution. However, resolutions that come from the Government tend to be about serious topics like laws or declaring war. Case in point: George Washington himself famously said in a letter in 1775 justifying the American colony’s inevitable steps toward declaring independence: “We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or die.”

Thus, you will be pleasantly surprised to know that the Federal Government can also help us with some of our personal resolutions as well. The most popular personal resolutions tend to be about getting fit, or finding more time to “stop and smell the roses” by relaxing and enjoying the beauty around us.

With their decorative and inspiring calendars for 2012, the National Park Service and the Marine Corps are ensuring that we can meet both these New Year’s resolutions with showing us both “Beauty” and “The Best”.


The National Historic Landmark 2012 Event Planner Calendar

This 12-month wall calendar / event planner from The National Park Service features the winning photographs from their Twelfth Annual National Historic Landmarks (NHL) Photo Contest.

According to the contest rules, these original photos have to be “fantastic photographs that illustrate the significance of any of the over 2,500 National Historic Landmarks, our nation’s most significant treasures”.  One beautiful image from each National Park Service region and a stunning national winner were all chosen last fall from thousands of submissions for inclusion in this 2012 calendar, with the winning photograph gracing the cover.

The winning cover photo (shown above) by photographer Eric Vondy was of National Historic Landmark Pecos Pueblo, in South of Pecos, New Mexico. Park Service judges described it:

This evocative photograph inspires the imagination, yet this site’s real history is legendary. Led by an Indian guide called “The Turk,” famous Spanish explorer Coronado and his men set out from this pueblo to search for Quivira, one of the legendary “Seven Cities of Gold.” Abandoned in 1838, today the site, east of Santa Fe, is managed by Pecos National Historical Park.

   

Calendar Images: (Left) 1895 lumber schooner C.A. Thayer, San Francisco, California. Photographer: John Conway.  (Right) Missouri Botanical Gardens, St. Louis, Missouri. Photographer: Judy Hitzeman.

Want to see your photo win next year? If you’re a photographer, amateur or professional, you can participate in their next annual National Park Service photo contest. Read the details on their  Annual National Historic Landmarks (NHL) Photo Contest web site.

How do I get this 2012 National Historic Landmarks Photo Contest event planner calendar?

  • UPDATE AS OF 1/19/2012:  Due to the overwhelming customer response to this blog post, unfortunately GPO has sold out of its remaining stock of this calendar! If more should become available, we will update this post.

However, feel free to enjoy the beautiful images from the calendar on the National Park Service’s FlickR page for the National Historic Landmarks 2011 Photo Contest Winners.


Marine Corps Special Issue Semper Fit Sports Calendar 2011-2012

The second wall calendar is even more surprising and very inspiring as well to those who are resolved to living a healthier lifestyle through fitness.

Issued by Marines Magazine, the Marine Corps’ Official Magazine, this colorful 17-month Sports Calendar (August 2011 – December 2012) recognizes some of the outstanding athlete “leathernecks” who participate in the Marine Corps’ “Semper Fit” sports, recreation and fitness program worldwide.  (“Semper Fit” is a nod to the Marine Corps motto of “Semper Fi” short for “Semper Fidelis” which is Latin for “Always Faithful” or “Always Loyal”).

One Marine base describes the Semper Fit program:

The mission at Semper Fit is to conduct, encourage and inspire the quality of life programs for that promote Healthy Lifestyles through recreation, athletics, physical fitness, the Single Marine Program and other health and wellness activities for Marine Corps active and retired members, their families and civilian workers.

The photographs on this calendar depict everything from individual sports such as the famous Marine Corps Marathon held annually in Washington, DC, and aerial motorcycle tricks…

   

Calendar Images: (Left) Start of the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. (Right) Motorbike aerialist and member of the “Metal Mulisha Troops” Marine stunt team.

…to intramural and varsity sports like baseball, basketball, wrestling, tug-of-war, the Dragon Boat Race, and the Warrior Games.

 

Calendar Images: (Left) Tug-of-war competition at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. (Right) All-Marine team of active duty and veteran “wounded warriors” at opening ceremony of the all Armed Forces Warrior Games.

Many of the athletes included are recognized globally for their athletic ability, and others are Marines who stay at the top of their game no matter their age or disability, maintaining the extremely high physical fitness standards of the Corps.

The calendar also includes Federal holidays and key dates of significance to the Corps.

The Father of Semper Fit retires

Ironically, last month after nearly 36 years of service as a Marine officer and a civilian whose final role was as Quantico’s head of recreation, Chris D’Orazio, the founder of the Semper Fit program retired.

Image: Col. Dan Choike, base commander, presents Chris D’Orazio, head of recreation, a challenge coin during D’Orazio’s retirement ceremony in the Main Ballroom at the Clubs of Quantico on Dec. 5, 2011. Source: Quantico Sentry newspaper

In an interview for the Quantico Sentry, D’Orazio explained how the Semper Fit program concept came to him back in 1985, D’Orazio when he read an article about the low life expectancy of retired Marines, whether officer or enlisted:

 “Marines, especially back then, played hard, worked hard, drank hard and smoked hard,” said D’Orazio. “I looked out the window and saw a young Marine put out a cigarette, finish a can of beer, then walk back inside the building.”

“I look down and thought to myself, based on this article, this guy’s going to live less than five years after he retires,” D’Orazio said. “After a career and everything they’ve worked for, they are probably going to die that soon; that’s terrible. That was pretty much the genesis of the word ‘Semper Fit.’”

In addition to the “Semper Fit” program for USMC, D’Orazio started the “Getting Stronger, Now” fitness program for the state of Maryland, both of which were pilot fitness programs under the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

This 2012 Semper Fit calendar is a fitting tribute to a man who dedicated his life to, well, fitness!

And the photos are pretty inspiring to hang on anyone’s wall, too!

Calendar Image: Marines compete in the 37th annual Naha Dragon Boat Race in Naha, Japan.

How do I get this Marine Corps 2012 Semper Fit Sports calendar?

  • Buy it online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.

So whether you aspire to find more beauty in the world around you or to be the best you can be, the Government is here to help you out!

Resolve to have a safe and happy 2012, America!


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