The following questions were asked recently on the Wonderline:

Q: Who is responsible for maintaining the bypass around York?

A: Highway 81 is the responsibility of the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

Q: What have the speed limits been on Interstate 80 through Nebraska over the years? I remember when it was a lot slower.

A: In 1960, the speed limit on Interstate 80 through Nebraska was 70 mph.

In 1964, it was changed to 75 mph for cars and 65 mph for trucks.

In 1974, it was changed to 55 mph.

In 1987, it was increased to 65 mph.

And in 1995, it was changed to 75 mph.

Q: Is it true that the plastic garbage in the oceans could double in just 10 years? I didn’t know if this is a credible claim or if it is just something that is floating around the internet.

A: According to the Bloomberg new agency, “The International Energy Agency has a sobering warning about the health of the world's oceans.

“The total amount of oceanic plastic waste is likely to more than double by 2030, and then keep getting worse, if action isn't taken now, according to projections by the Paris-based organization in a report published Friday.

“Arresting images of strangled turtles and tropical waves clogged with garbage have helped raise awareness about the threat to oceans from plastic waste. But the IEA's projections suggest that efforts to curb that pollution -- such as the movement to ban plastic straws -- may prove futile unless there's a global revolution in recycling and waste management.

“It's estimated that around 100 million metric tons of plastic waste has already ‘leaked’ into oceans, an amount that's increasing annually by 5 million to 15 million tons, according to research cited by the IEA,” as cited by Bloomberg. “The infamous Pacific garbage patch, which covers an area three times the size of France and holds the equivalent of 250 pieces of plastic for each person on earth, may only contain as much as 79,000 tons, the IEA said.

“The problem is that recycling and waste management efforts aren't keeping pace with the massive growth in plastic production and consumption. Less than 20 percent of plastic waste is currently collected for recycling, according to the IEA.

"’Although substantial increases in recycling and efforts to curb single-use plastics take place, especially led by Europe, Japan and Korea, these efforts will be far outweighed by the sharp increase in developing economies of plastic consumption (as well as its disposal)," the agency wrote in its report on the petrochemical industry.’

“Global plastics production has increased by more than 10-fold since 1970, faster than any other group of bulk materials, according to the IEA. And demand has nearly doubled since the start of the millennium.

“The agency projects that by 2050 production of a group of key thermoplastics including polyethylene terephthalate (used to make plastic bottles), polyethylene and PVC could grow almost 70 percent from 2017 levels. Global production would increase almost 30 percent to more than 60 kilograms (about 132 pounds) per capita.

“The U.S., Europe, and other developed economies currently use as much as 20 times more plastic per capita than emerging economies, according to the IEA. Developing nations will increase their share of global consumption as their populations get bigger and wealthier, while use by developed countries remains stable or declines.

"’Without ambitious action being taken globally, particularly in regions in which plastic demand is growing rapidly, current trends of plastic leakage are unlikely even to slow, let alone reverse,’ the IEA said” according to Bloomberg.

Q: Why is Jan. 1 considered the beginning of the new year?

A: The date of New Year’s Day is a civil event – its date isn’t precisely fixed on any natural seasonal marker.

The modern celebration of New Year’s Day stems from an ancient Roman custom, the feast of the Roman god Janus – god of doorways and beginnings. The name for the month of January also comes from Janus, who was depicted as having two faces – one looking to the past, the other peering into the future.

In the Northern Hemisphere, early January is a logical time for new beginnings. At the December solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, it was the shortest day of the year. By early January, the days obviously lengthen again. This return of longer hours of daylight had a profound effect on cultures that were tied to agricultural cycles, according to EarthSky.

“The early calendar-makers didn’t know it, but today we know there is another bit of astronomical logical behind beginning the year on Jan. 1,” as written on the science-based website. “Earth is always closest to the sun in its yearly orbit around this time.

“People didn’t always celebrate the new year on Jan. 1. The earliest recording of a new year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, circa 2000 B.C. That celebration was celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox, around March 20. Meanwhile, the ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians and Persians began their new year with the autumnal equinox around Sept. 20. And the ancient Greeks celebrated on the winter solstice, around Dec. 20.

“Around the 16th Century, a movement developed to restore Jan. 1 as New Year’s Day. In the New Style or Gregorian calendar, the New Year begins on the first of January.”

Q: What is the New Year's tradition that has to do with grapes in Spain? Years ago, we had an exchange student from Spain, and I remember her talking about this thing with grapes, but we can't remember what it was.

A: Apparently, for a very long time, Spanish people have had a traditional custom to celebrate New Year's Eve. On the last day of the year, the 31st of December, they wait until midnight. Everybody has to have 12 grapes ready to eat when the clock starts to chime. Eating the grapes is apparently very funny because everyone starts the New Year with a full mouthful of grapes.

Q: Why do people drink champagne on New Year’s Eve? Where did that tradition come from?

A: The answer dates back at least 1,500 years. And it involves a mix of history, location and -- not least -- skillful marketing.

We found this information from the Bloomberg news service, written by Becky Sue Epstein who investigated the matter.

“In the late fifth century, King Clovis, the reigning monarch of northern France, was fighting to defend his territory. Legend has it that he promised his wife, the Burgundian princess Clotilde, that if he won his next battle, he would convert to Christianity. He won, and in 496 he was baptized in a church in the city of Reims, in the heart of France’s Champagne region.

“For centuries afterward, kings of France were crowned in Reims, eventually at a great cathedral built there. Before trains and cars, trekking out to Reims was a major undertaking. So, after a coronation, the royal court would linger in the Champagne region for a while, and partake of the local wines.

“In the Middle Ages, the wine world was very different from what it is today. Like other agricultural products, wine was commonly consumed within a year after it was produced. Grapes were harvested and fermented for a few weeks, then exported during the fall and winter, usually shipped in barrels. The wines of Champagne at the time were ‘still,’ not effervescent as champagne is today.

“As the trade picked up over the centuries, and more and more wine was exported, sometimes new barrels weren’t opened until spring -- when the wine inside would be fizzy. This happened because the yeasts that had been fermenting the wine went dormant when the cold weather arrived in the fall. As the weather warmed, the yeasts ‘woke up’ and started consuming the grape sugars left in the wine. Alcohol is one of the byproducts of yeasts fermenting grape juice. Another is carbon dioxide, the same stuff that carbonates soda. When fermentation occurs in a closed container, the carbon dioxide infuses the liquid and forms sparkling wine.

“Although this process was happening in other wine regions, Champagne had several advantages. Its major towns were located on rivers at a time when water was the shipping highway of the world. And the region supplied wine not only to the French court in Paris but also to England and Holland -- coastal areas too far north to grow their own grapes -- where sparkling wine was gaining in popularity.

“Enter the famous monk Dom Perignon, at the end of the 17th century. Perignon didn’t actually ‘invent’ champagne, but he improved the quality of his abbey’s vineyards and its wine. As demand for effervescent wine grew, he began packaging the product in bottles, helping to maintain its sparkle. He also figured out how to stopper the bottles with corks, and how to secure the corks with string.

“In 1728, King Louis XV, a champagne fan, decreed that only Champagne’s wines could be shipped in bottles; other French wines were to be shipped in barrels. This made it possible for Champagne’s merchants to reliably deliver sparkling wine to their customers. At the time, quite a bit of champagne was consumed at the French court. In addition to being fun, it was considered a light and beneficial beverage.

“Seeing a ready market, merchants in Champagne began switching over from wool, cloth and other local commodities to sparkling wine.

“It wasn’t easy. Champagne’s complicated production and aging methods, along with variable glass quality, meant that a great deal of wine was often wasted. Many cellar workers also suffered injuries or even death when they were hit by exploding bottles, or slipped on the rivers of champagne created when blocks of stacked bottles shattered in underground aging caverns. The early producers who succeeded probably were more lucky than careful.

“They were also relentless marketers. With champagne known to please the courts of France and England, producers began promoting their sparkling wines in the other major cities of Europe -- even going as far as Russia and the U.S.

“At first, royal favor made champagne an easy sell to the nobility. But with the rise of industrialization in the 19th century, the nobles were no longer guaranteed to be the wealthiest consumers. Champagne producers dangled their products in front of the newly rich merchant class: an aspirational beverage. Of course, these new customers couldn’t afford to drink champagne every day, but they could afford it on special occasions. Soon they began ordering it for all celebrations. Champagne became de rigueur at festivities from weddings to ship christenings -- to ringing in the New Year.

“New Year’s Eve celebrations probably originated millennia ago as religious ceremonies, part of solstice rituals. And associating drink with religious observances has endured as a tradition since pagans made offerings to their gods with a special mead or wine. Over the ensuing centuries, as New Year’s Eve evolved from a religious festivity to a secular one, the concept of a fine drink fine became intertwined with champagne’s reputation as a celebratory extravagance. And that reputation is what champagne marketers continue to offer. The drink’s status has been maintained for centuries by intentional association with opulence.”

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