The World Almanac E-Newsletter

Volume 06, Number 02 — February 2006

What's in this issue?

February Events
February Holidays — National and International
This Day In History — February
February Birthdays
Travel—Atlanta, Georgia
Obituaries—January 2006
Special Feature: Fighting Heart Disease
Chronology—Events of January 2006
**NEW** Sports Feature
Science in the News: The Clean Air Paradox
Offbeat News Stories
Links of the Month
Quote of the Month
How to reach us

February Events

February is National Black History Month and American Heart Month

February 3-5—MooseStompers Weekend (Houlton, ME)
February 4—Einstein on Wine (Tampa, FL)
February 5—Super Bowl XL (Detroit, MI)
February 8—Grammy Awards (Los Angeles, CA)
February 10-26—2006 Winter Olympic Games (Turin, Italy)
February 12—NFL Pro Bowl (Honolulu, HI)
February 13-14—Westminster Dog Show
February 15-16—Texoma Farm and Ranch Show (Wichita Falls, TX)
February 17-19—Longhorn World Championship Rodeo (Auburn Hills, MI)
February 17-26—National Date Festival (Indio, CA)
February 18—New England Mid-Winter Surfing Championship (Narrangansett, RI)
February 19—Daytona 500; NBA All-Star Game (Houston, TX)
February 23-26—Charro Days Fiesta (Brownsville, TX)
February 24-26—Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering (Alpine, TX); Longhorn World Championship Rodeo (Winston-Salem, NC)
February 25—Clam Chowder Cookoff (Santa Cruz, CA)
February 28—Spay Day USA


February Holidays — National and International

February 2—Groundhog Day
February 3—Setsubun or Bean-Throwing Festival (Japan)
February 5—Constitution Day (Mexico)
February 14—Valentine’s Day
February 20—President’s Day
February 25-28—Carnival (Brazil)
February 28—Mardi Gras


A World Almanac Book of Records Fact

The first couple to marry on the summit of Mount Everest are Pem Dorjee Sherpa and Moni Mulepati (both Nepalese). On May 30, 2005, the happy pair stood atop the world and exchanged vows. Each put red powder on the other's forehead a sacred ritual sealing their marriage.

This Day In History — February

Day Year Event
Day Year Event
01 1893 Thomas Edison completes the first moving picture studio, in West Orange, NJ.
02 1936 The 5 charter members of the Baseball Hall of Fame are announced: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner.
03 1959 Rock and roll singer Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and "The Big Bopper" die in a plane crash in an Iowa cornfield.
04 1899 Unable to get recognition of independence from the United States, Filipino insurgents start a guerrilla war.
05 1983 Klaus Barbie, the World War II Gestapo chief in Lyon, is arrested by French officials after his extradition from Bolivia.
06 1778 Britain declares war on France, and France signs a treaty of alliance with the United States.
07 1984 Using jet thrusters attached to their backpacks, Bruce McCandless and Robert Stewart become the first men to fly free of a spacecraft, during a space shuttle Challenger mission.
08 1986 A woman in New York dies after taking Tylenol capsules found to be laced with cyanide.
09 1984 Soviet leader Yuri Andropov dies after only 15 months in power.
10 1763 A peace treaty is signed ending the French and Indian War, with France losing Canada and the Midwest.
11 1945 The Yalta Conference ends in the Crimea, with Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin agreeing on occupying Germany.
12 1909 The NAACP is founded by W. E. B. DuBois and others to fight against lynching and other types of racial oppression.
13 1795 The first state university in the United States, the University of North Carolina, opens.
14 1989 Union Carbide is ordered by India's Supreme Court to pay $470 million to victims of the 1984 toxic gas leak at Bhopal.
15 1965 Canada officially adopts a new flag, with the maple leaf replacing the Union Jack.
16 1923 The burial chamber of King Tutankhamen's tomb, which was recently discovered, is unsealed in Egypt by archaeologists.
17 1913 Modern art is brought to America by the opening of the New York Armory Show.
18 2001 Dale Earnhardt, the most popular and successful driver in stock-car racing, is killed in a crash on the final turn of the final lap of the Daytona 500.
19 1987 The United States lifts economic sanctions against Poland in place since 1981 and 1982.
20 1986 The Soviets launch the space station Mir.
21 1916 The Battle of Verdun begins in World War I when the Germans launch an offensive against France.
22 1956 Eighty of the people boycotting buses in Montgomery, AL--including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.--give themselves up for arrest, after white city leaders had threatened to begin making arrests.
23 1836 Mexico under Santa Anna begins a siege of Texans in the Alamo in San Antonio.
24 1868 The U.S. House of Representatives votes to impeach Pres. Andrew Johnson.
25 1986 In the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos flees the country as Corazon Aquino is inaugurated president.
26 1919 Congress establishes the Grand Canyon National Park.
27 1973 Members of the American Indian Movement occupy the reservation of Wounded Knee, SD, demanding an investigation of federal treatment of Native Americans.
28 1986 Swedish Prime Min. Olof Palme is shot and killed while walking down a Stockholm street.

February Birthdays

Day Year  
Day Year  
01 1918 Muriel Spark, novelist (Edinburgh, Scotland)
02 1926 Elaine Stritch, actress (Detroit, MI)
03 1940 Fran Tarkenton, football quarterback (Richmond, VA)
04 1948 Alice Cooper, singer/songwriter (Detroit, MI)
05 1966 Rick Astley, singer (Warrington, Cheshire, England)
06 1942 Sarah Brady, gun control activist (Alexandria, VA)
07 1966 Chris Rock, comedian/actor (South Carolina)
08 1932 John Williams, composer/conductor/pianist (New York, NY)
09 1932 Gerhard Richter, artist (Dresden, Germany)
10 1946 Donovan (Leitch), singer/songwriter (Glasgow, Scotland)
11 1962 Sheryl Crow, singer/musician (Kennett, MO)
12 1938 Judy Blume, children's author (Elizabeth, NJ)
13 1923 Chuck Yeager, pilot who broke the sound barrier (Myra, WV)
14 1942 Michael Bloomberg, New York City Mayor, financial information/media entrepreneur (Medford, MA)
15 1935 Susan Brownmiller, feminist author (Brooklyn, NY)
16 1904 George F. Kennan, historian and diplomat (Milwaukee, WI)
17 1930 Ruth Rendell, mystery writer (England)
18 1931 Toni Morrison, novelist (Lorain, OH)
19 1960 Prince Andrew, Duke of York (London, England)
20 1924 Gloria Vanderbilt, fashion designer (New York, NY)
21 1936 Rue McClanahan, actress (Healdton, OH)
22 1950 Julius Erving, basketball player (Roosevelt, NY)
23 1943 Julio Iglesias, singer (Madrid, Spain)
24 1921 Abe Vigoda, actor (New York, NY)
25 1971 Sean Astin, actor (Santa Monica, CA)
26 1973 Marshall Faulk, football player (New Orleans, LA)
27 1981 Josh Groban, singer (Los Angeles, CA)
28 1940 Mario Andretti, auto racer (Montona, Italy)

Travel—Atlanta, Georgia

Georgia's capital carries the rep of an economic powerhouse. The whole Atlanta metropolitan area covers more than 6000 sq mi (15,000 sq km) and has over 4 million residents. It’s considered the commercial center of the Southeast United States, hosting such major companies as CNN, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, and United Parcel Service. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport is a perennial contender for the title of worlds busiest.

This key city of the New South also has an array of striking buildings designed by such architects as Marcel Breuer, Philip Johnson, Richard Meier, and I. M. Pei, and in late 2005 a substantial expansion of Meier’s much praised High Museum of Art was completed, by fellow Pritzker Prize-laureate Renzo Piano.

All this urban glitz notwithstanding, visitors can still find traces of an older, more genteel South. A drive through leafy upscale suburbs offers a quiet treat, especially when dogwoods and azaleas are in bloom. The city's spring arts fair known as the Dogwood Festival attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, mixing a high-profile arts market with such down-to-earth pleasures as a canine Frisbee contest. The 2006 festival was scheduled for April 7-9.

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Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Reproduction #LC-USZ62-124541

Atlanta Capitol Building, 1929

By and large, Atlanta has the look of a young city. Although it was founded before the Civil War, and rebounded after its destruction by General William T. Sherman in 1864, little of significance remains from the 19th century, aside from the Renaissance-style golden-domed Georgia State Capitol (1889). But museums and monuments offer a good look at the city’s history and traditions.

The Atlanta History Center, located on a 33-acre (13-ha) site in the northern Buckhead district, includes a museum with exhibits ranging from local history to the Civil War to Southern folk arts, as well as the classical-style Swan House (1928) and the Tullie Smith Farm (1845). The center also has research libraries specializing in such areas as Southern gardening and agriculture; architecture, decorative arts and design; the Civil War and military ordnance; and genealogy. The woods and gardens reflect the region's horticultural heritage. An outpost of the center in Midtown is the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum; there you can see the apartment where the writer lived in 1925-32 and wrote the bulk of her epochal Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gone With the Wind. The museum focuses especially on the classic 1939 movie made from her book.

The 131-acre (53-ha) Grant Park contains remnants of the old Civil War fortifications, along with the Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum; its immense circular depiction of the Battle of Atlanta has been billed as the largest painting in the world. The park is also the site of Atlanta's zoo.

The 20th-century civil rights movement is also memorialized in Atlanta. The Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site includes the house where the Nobel Peace Prize winner was born; Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached; his tomb; and a visitor center with exhibits. Also located here is the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change, founded by King's widow after his 1968 assassination.

The High Museum of Art is a component of Atlanta's Woodruff Arts Center, which is also the home of the Alliance Theatre Company, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the 14th Street Playhouse, and the Atlanta College of Art.

The High is widely regarded as the foremost art museum of the Southeast U.S. It has a strong collection of 19th- and 20th-century U.S. works, with a special focus on Southern artists, and a growing African-American collection. It also has noteworthy holdings of European paintings and decorative art, and has been acquiring increasing numbers of modern works and works of African art. And it claims to be the only major general museum in North America with a curatorial department for folk and self-taught art.

The High's Meier-designed building (1983), a modernist structure with a white-enamel facade and curves reminiscent of a grand piano, won recognition from the American Institute of Architects as one of the "ten best works of American architecture of the 1980s" and was depicted on a 2005 U.S. stamp in the Masterworks of Modern Architecture series. However, it only provided a fraction of the exhibition space needed. Hence Piano's expansion, which added three new structures, linked by glass pedestrian bridges, and grouped around a public piazza, in what the architect called a "village for the arts." Piano sheathed his buildings with aluminum panels so they would harmonize with Meier's white enamel. Perhaps their most distinctive feature is the clever employment of light. Hundreds of cone-shaped miniature skylights (he called them vele, Italian for "sails") let soft northern light into the galleries.

Among other area museums worth a visit are Emory University's Michael C. Carlos Museum, with more than 16,000 items, from Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Near East, the Americas, and Africa, along with European and American prints and drawings from the Middle Ages virtually up to modern times; SciTrek, The Science and Technology Museum of Atlanta, located near the Civic Center, which offers about 150 hands-on exhibits; and Atlanta's Center for Puppetry Arts in Midtown, a museum and more with puppets from past and present, among them Muppets and a gigantic interactive praying mantis.

Visitors looking for a refreshing change of pace, and a chance to sample the “real thing,” might stop by the World of Coca-Cola Pavilion. A three-story facility about a block from the State Capitol, it offers an opportunity to sample Coca-Cola Company products from around the world and view artifacts and memorabilia from Coca-Cola history.

Website
Find out more about Atlanta at: http://www.atlanta.net/visitors/index.html.


A World Almanac Book of Records Fact

Fastest Snake—The black mamba, Dendroaspis polylepis has been clocked at speeds of 14 miles per hour for short distances, and is considered the fastest-moving land snake. The name for this aggressive, venomous snake actually comes from the purplish-black color inside its mouth.

Obituaries in January 2006

Franciosa, Anthony, 77, Method actor, famously difficult to work with, whose heyday in Hollywood was in the 1950s and 1960s; Los Angeles, CA, Jan. 19, 2006.

Harrer, Heinrich, 93, Austrian mountaineer and adventurer who once tutored the Dalai Lama and whose 1953 memoir, Seven Years in Tibet, became an international best-seller; Friesach, Austria, Jan. 7, 2006.

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Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C, Reproduction #LC-DIG-ppmsca-09731

Coretta Scott King at the Democratic National Convention, New York City, 1976

King, Coretta Scott, 78, widow of slain U.S. civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who strove to preserve his legacy; Rosarito Beach, Mexico, Jan. 31, 2005.

Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Sheik, 62, emir of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, since 1990; Main Beach, Queensland, Australia, Jan. 4, 2006.

Nicholas, Fayard, 91, elder of the Nicholas Brothers, a tap dancing duo who appeared in 1930s and 1940s movie musicals and became world-famous; his younger brother, Harold, died in 2000; Toluca Lake, CA, Jan. 24, 2006,

Nilsson, Birgit, 87, Swedish opera singer who was the preeminent Wagnerian soprano of her time; Vastra Karup, Sweden, Dec. 25, 2005.

Paik, Nam June, 73, Korean-born video art pioneer; Miami Beach, FL, Jan. 29, 2006.

Pickett, Wilson, 64, dynamic soul singer who recorded such classic 1960s songs as "Mustang Sally" and "In the Midnight Hour"; Reston, VA, Jan. 19, 2006.

Rau, Johannes, 75, president of Germany, 1999-2004, who in 2000 addressed the Israeli Parliament in German (the first person to do so), asking for forgiveness for the Holocaust; Berlin, Germany, Jan. 27, 2006.

Rawls, Lou, 72, leading pop vocalist in a variety of genres who, as host of an annual telethon for the United Negro College Fund, raised more than $200 million; Los Angeles, CA, Jan. 6, 2006.

Rugova, Ibrahim, 61, ethnic Albanian who had been leader of the United Nations-administered Serbian province of Kosovo since 2002; Pristina, Kosovo, Jan. 21, 2006.

Sabah, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-, 79, emir of Kuwait since 1977, and before then its premier for a dozen years; Kuwait City, Kuwait, Jan. 15, 2006.

Shearer, Moira, 80, British ballerina and actress who made an indelible impression as the ill-fated heroine of the film The Red Shoes (1948); Oxford, England, Jan. 31, 2006.

Wasserstein, Wendy, 55, playwright who, in works like The Heidi Chronicles—for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989—addressed women’s issues both wittily and provocatively; New York, NY, Jan. 30, 2006.

Winters, Shelley, 83, down-to-earth actress who appeared in well over a 100 films, won two Oscars, and was a frequent guest on TV talk shows, where she discussed the men in her life (among them Anthony Franciosa, to whom she was married in the late 1950s) with great gusto; Beverly Hills, CA, Jan. 14, 2006.


Special Feature: Fighting Heart Disease

Joe Gustaitis

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Dwight D. Eisenhower Library

A gaunt President Eisenhower leaves Walter Reed Hospital, 30 June 1956.

Fifty years ago—in February 1956—one of the biggest news stories in the U.S. was heart disease. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had suffered a heart attack the previous September, and on February 11, 1956, the country was informed that their president had been given a complete cardiovascular check-up and that there was no "medical" reason why he should not be able to serve a second term as president. Coincidentally, exactly one week later the American Heart Association (AHA) reported that heart ailments caused about 800,000 adult deaths (more than half the total) and afflicted 10,000,000 persons a year in the U.S. It also cited Eisenhower's recovery as "dramatic" evidence that "a heart attack need not prevent a return to productive activity." At that time, evidence that a heart attack did not cripple a person for life was revolutionary.

Today, much has changed. In the 1950s, a heart attack meant a recuperation period of three weeks to a month in the hospital (Eisenhower spent almost seven weeks in the hospital). After that, the standard advice was "take it easy," and patients were told to avoid strenuous activities or at least to do them with great restraint. Today, heart attack survivors run marathons, climb mountains, and go skydiving. Some heart patients even accomplish all these strenuous tasks with pacemakers implanted in their chests. The various cardiological discoveries that have occurred in the half century since Eisenhower’s long stay in the hospital have amounted to something of a revolution in the understanding of heart disease--its prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation.

Medical Breakthroughs

One of the most spectacular developments in the treatment of heart disease has been heart transplantation. The first human heart transplant took place in Cape Town, South Africa on December 3, 1967, when a team of surgeons headed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard gave a new heart to Louis Washkansky, 55, a businessman who was dying of an irreparably damaged heart. The organ had come from 25-year-old Denise Ann Darvall, who had died because of an automobile accident. Washkansky died of pneumonia just 18 days later, but the effort heralded a breakthrough in medical science. In January 1968, Dr. Barnard performed a second heart transplant on a retired dentist, Dr. Philip Blaiberg. Blaiberg lived for 19 months and 15 days, and during that time was able to live almost completely normally at home. Today, more than 2,000 heart transplants are performed in the U.S. every year, and, according to the American Heart Association, as of July 15, 2005, the one-year survival rate was 86.4 percent for males and 84.6 percent for females. The three-year survival rate was about 78.9 percent for males and 76.1 percent for females.

Although 2,000 heart transplants are performed each year, a further 35,000 Americans are in need of one. Because of this shortage, and in order to help those patients that are not eligible for a human heart transplant, the artificial heart was designed. The first artificial heart transplant, using a device designed by Dr. Robert K. Jarvik, was performed in December 1982. The recipient, Barney B. Clark, had been near death because of a condition called cardiomyopathy, a disease where the heart muscle deteriorates until it can no longer properly function. Clark was not a suitable candidate for bypass surgery and was not eligible for a human heart transplant because at 61 he was considered too old (60 is usually considered the age limit for heart transplant surgery). Clark died because of complications on March 23, 1983. Between 1983 and 1985, five other patients also received an artificial heart, but all died from complications.

A breakthrough occurred in the artificial heart program in June 2000 with the successful implantation of an electric heart called the Jarvik 2000. The patient, Peter Houghton, had suffered major coronary damage because of a massive heart attack and had just six weeks to live at the time of his surgery. The device did not completely replace Houghton’s heart, but instead took the burden of constant pumping off the heart muscle, which allowed it to rest and repair itself. Today, almost 6 years later, Houghton continues to use the electric heart. The following year, doctors in Louisville, Kentucky, placed the first fully implantable artificial heart, called AbioCor, into Robert Tools, who had severe heart disease. Tools died 5 months after the heart was implanted from multiple organ failure. Much has yet to be discovered about the use of the artificial heart, but it holds much promise in the fight against heart disease.

The pacemaker, another critical invention, has a somewhat older history than the heart transplant. As early as 1950, researchers from the University of Toronto reported to the clinical congress of the American College of Surgeons the development of an "electrical artificial pacemaker" that had been used to revive animal hearts after they stopped beating. The early pacemakers were not entirely implanted in the body; a wire connected the heart to an external device. The first use of a totally implantable wearable pacemaker occurred in 1958, and in the 1970s a programmable pacemaker was invented that could sense and pace the heart’s upper and lower chambers. "Rate responsive" pacemakers were introduced in the 1980s, and today’s much smaller devices can respond to the wearer’s activity and adjust the heart rate accordingly. Some pacemakers do not operate continuously but are activated only when they detect they are needed. Modern pacemakers also have lithium batteries that can last for as long as ten years. Another interesting new device is a pacemaker that allows information about the user's heart to be automatically monitored by a doctor without the user having to leave home. Today, the number of pacemaker procedures in the U.S. every year is about 200,000. One of the best-known wearers is U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who had a pacemaker implanted in 2001. His case illustrates just how routine the procedure has become. Cheney, who had already had four heart attacks, did not even stay in the hospital overnight and was back in his office two days later.

In January 1992 a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that angioplasty or percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA)—a surgical procedure in which a tiny balloon is used to force open a clogged heart artery—was more effective than standard medications at curing chest pain (angina). This finding verified the value of a procedure that had been in development for some time. Angioplasty was pioneered chiefly by Charles T. Dotter, who was chairman of the Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine’s Department of Diagnostic Radiology for 33 years, from 1952 until he died in 1985. Dotter coined the word "angioplasty" and first used the technique in 1964. It did not, however, meet with widespread acclaim in the U.S. and was not commonly used there. However, several European physicians recognized its worth and even referred to it as "Dottering." In 1977, Andreas Gruentzig, a physician working at a hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, eventually perfected the balloon catheter technique used during an angioplasty procedure. In PTCA, a catheter is threaded from an artery in the arm or, more commonly, the groin to a blockage in a coronary artery. A balloon is passed through the catheter and inflated at the blockage. Although the procedure does not rid the artery of plaque (a collection of fats, cholesterol, and other substances from the blood), it reduces the blockage by compressing the fatty deposits against the artery wall and widening the narrowed artery.

Today, angioplasty provides an effective alternative to coronary bypass surgery, which was introduced in the mid-1960s. In bypass surgery, blood vessels taken from an arm or leg are transplanted to the coronary arteries to circumvent blocked heart vessels. Once considered a technique on the frontiers of science, bypass surgery is now so common that some 500,000 patients undergo the procedure every year in the U.S. One well-known recent patient was former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who underwent a quadruple bypass in September 2004.

Heart transplants, pacemakers, and the various treatments for heart disease, are all exciting and life-saving procedures. However, there also have been some remarkable discoveries in the prevention of heart disease. One of the best-known discoveries has to do with our knowledge of cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all cells of the body. It is both produced by the body and found in some foods. We need some cholesterol in order to make cell membranes and for the absorption of vitamin D and some hormones, but too much can increase the risk of heart disease.

As recently as 1980, a National Academy of Sciences food and nutrition panel reported that it had found no evidence to recommend that healthy persons should reduce the consumption of cholesterol or fat. Much has changed since then. Less than a year after that controversial report, the New England Journal of Medicine released the results of a 20-year study of 1900 men that found a definite link between consumption of large amounts of cholesterol and an increased risk of early coronary death. This was the first major American study to verify that lowering the intake of cholesterol and saturated fats in the diet would lead to long-term health advantages.

More recently, the development of drugs known as "statins" have given physicians a potent weapon in the battle against cholesterol. Statins are drugs that lower the level of cholesterol in the blood by blocking the enzyme, 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase. HMG-CoA reductase is produced in the liver and is responsible for making cholesterol. Statins are relatively new; the first approval of a statin drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was as recent as 1987. In November 2001, British scientists reported, in what was the largest study to track the effects of statins on people with increased predisposition to heart disease, that those drugs reduced the risk of heart attack in a far wider range of patients than previously assumed. At the time some 25 million people worldwide were taking statins, but the study’s lead author said that the findings indicated that 200 million people could benefit from them.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is another major risk factor in the development of heart disease. In the 1950s and 1960s, advice to "take it easy" (which was also recommended after a heart attack) and cut down on salt was about all doctors could muster, but since the early 1980s many drugs have been approved that lower blood pressure, among them beta blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, diuretics, and calcium channel blockers.

Lifestyle changes are as important in fighting heart disease as any drugs or surgical procedures. This is why dietary changes, and not statins, are the first strategy in lowering cholesterol and why exercise is highly recommended for hypertension.

Quitting smoking is another big step towards a healthy heart. In 1983, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop reported that smoking caused even more deaths from heart disease than from all forms of associated cancers, and cited government research that found smoking responsible for up to 30 percent of all heart disease deaths in the U.S. each year. At the time, some 36 percent of Americans were smokers. Today, however, the figure is about 21 percent and declining. By 2002 annual U.S. per capita adult consumption of cigarettes had fallen to 1979, down from a peak of 4345 in 1963. This trend has been another encouraging development in the war against heart disease.

The Obesity Epidemic

In 1970 about 40 percent of adults aged 20 to 74 had hypertension; today the figure is about 26 percent. The rate of Americans with high blood cholesterol has dropped from 29 percent to 18 percent. In early 2005 the National Center for Health Statistics reported that the average life expectancy at birth in the U.S. was at its highest level ever--77.6 years--and that the death rates for the three leading killers--heart disease, cancer, and stroke--had declined between 2.2 percent and 4.6 percent from 2002 levels. However, the report also noted what might be called the unignorable elephant in the room--the obesity epidemic.

In March 2005, an article entitled "A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century," which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, warned that obesity and being overweight now affect nearly two-thirds of U.S. residents and rank as the second cause of preventable death. The researchers also noted that the rise in obesity has been especially high among children and minorities. As one of the researchers put it, "If the clock starts ticking at age 12 or 14, the consequences to public health are potentially disastrous--imagine heart attack or kidney failure becoming a relatively common condition of young adulthood. Obesity is such that this generation of children could be the first basically in the history of the United States to live less healthful and shorter lives than their parents."

The news has been remarkably good since Eisenhower was discharged from Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Denver and went on to win the 1956 election--serving a second term with no ill effects (he lived for another 13 years and died at age 78). However, heart disease is still the number one killer in the U.S., and much remains to be done to combat this.

A World Almanac Book of Records Fact

Most Land Telephones—As of 2003, China had the most telephone land lines in the world-263 million. Next came the U.S. (181,599,900), Japan (71,149,000), Germany (54,350,000), and India (48,917,000).


Chronology — Events of January 2006

National

     14 Die in West Virginia Coal Mines—Twelve miners lost their lives after a methane gas explosion in the Sago coal mine in Tallmansville, WV, Jan. 2. Although the men were only about 260 feet below ground level, rescuers had to travel about 2 miles through gas-filled tunnels to reach them. One miner was found dead Jan. 3. The next day 11 miners initially reported to have survived were found dead; a 12th, Randal McCloy Jr., was found alive after 41 hours, but critically injured.
     In a separate incident, a fire in a mine in Melville, WV, Jan. 19 took the lives of 2 more miners.

     Lobbyist Pleads Guilty, Agrees to Help Investigation—A powerful and well-connected lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, struck a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, Jan. 3 to fraud, tax evasion, and conspiring to bribe public officials; he agreed to cooperate in the investigation. Prosecutors recommended that he be imprisoned about 10 years and be ordered to pay $25 million in restitution to Indian tribes that he had defrauded and $1.7 mil to the IRS.
     On Jan. 4, in Miami, in a separate case, Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy. He admitted faking a $23 mil wire transfer as part of a 2000 deal to buy SunCruz Casinos.
     The text of the Washington plea agreement made it clear that prosecutors would move against some as yet unknown members of Congress and others for lobbying abuses. Most of Abramoff’s clients were Republicans, and some had received money from him. Many members of Congress hastened to return money to Abramoff or donate the money to charity.
     Tom DeLay (R, TX), who had stepped down as House Majority Leader after being indicted in a separate case, said Jan. 7 that he would not seek to return to that post.
     On Jan. 15, Rep. Robert Ney (R, OH), who had been alluded to in the Abramoff indictment, temporarily resigned as chairman of the House Administration Committee. Congressional Republicans Jan. 17 and Democrats Jan. 18 both presented legislative proposals to deal with abuses being exposed by the investigation.

     Debate Continues Over Surveillance Without Warrants—Former Vice Pres. Al Gore Jan. 16 strongly denounced Pres. Bush’s approval of domestic surveillance, without court authorizations, of U.S. citizens communicating with persons abroad alleged to have ties to al-Qaeda and called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate. On Jan. 17, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed suits against the National Security Agency, which was conducting the surveillance. On Jan. 19, the Justice Dept. asserted in a 42-page legal analysis that both the U.S. Constitution and a resolution by Congress permitted the surveillance, which was aimed at thwarting terror plots before they could be carried out.

     Supreme Court Upholds Assisted-Suicide Law—The U.S. Supreme Court Jan. 17 upheld, 6-3, Oregon’s assisted-suicide law, permitting doctors to help mentally competent terminally ill patients end their lives. The court majority found that the federal Controlled Substances Act did not permit the U.S. attorney general to punish doctors who acted under the state’s Death With Dignity Act.

     Ford to Cut up to 30,000 Jobs—Continuing a trend in the downsizing of the U.S. auto industry, the Ford Motor Co. announced Jan. 23 that over the next 6 years it would close as many as 14 factories and reduce its work force by up to 30,000 employees. Ford had posted a loss of $1.6 bil in North America in 2005.

     Judge Alito Confirmed to Supreme Court—Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. was confirmed Jan. 31 by the Senate as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Alito, a judge on the 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals, was approved by a vote of 58-42. All except one Republican voted for confirmation, and all but 4 Democrats, along with the 1 independent, voted against. Alito was sworn in the same day.
     During confirmation hearings Jan. 9-12, he had faced tough questions from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Several focused on what they considered an excessive deference to presidential power and on his abortion views. In a 1985 application for a legal post in the Reagan administration, Alito had maintained that the U.S. Constitution does not provide a right to an abortion. He said that statement reflected his views at the time but that he would approach abortion and other cases with an open mind based upon the Constitution and the specifics of each case. He declined to say whether he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision upholding widescale abortion rights, though he did say he recognized a constitutional right to privacy.
     In his 1985 job application, Alito had cited his membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, known for criticizing the school’s admission of women and affirmative action programs. At the hearings, he said he had not been an active member and had probably joined because he opposed expulsion of the ROTC from the campus.
     The Judiciary Committee Jan. 24 approved Alito’s nomination 10-8, voting along party lines. A last-ditch effort by some Democrats to derail the nomination fizzled when the full Senate, Jan. 30, voted 72-25 to end debate and allow an up or down vote; 24 of the 45 Democrats, and 1 independent, joined in the filibuster attempt.

     Bush Defends Policies, Denounces "Isolationism," Calls for Less Energy Dependence, in State of the Union Speech—Pres. Bush, in his fifth State of the Union address, Jan 31, continued to defend the Iraq war and denounced "isolationism and protectionism." Saying America was "addicted to oil," he called for reducing U.S. dependence on Mideast oil by 75% and promised more funding of alternative fuel research; he also promised more funding for high school math and science teaching to help the U.S. better compete globally. The president defended his policy of warrantless surveillance of those with suspected terrorist ties and called on Congress to renew elements of the Patriot Act. He acknowledged the defeat of his Social Security plan, drawing applause from Democrats.
     The Democratic response, delivered by Gov. Timothy Kaine (VA), derided many of Bush’s proposals as recycled. He said Democrats were committed to fighting terrorism, but criticized the president’s methods.
     Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, invited by a House member, was arrested and detained for a time by Capitol police, after showing up in a t-shirt with an anti-war slogan.

International

     Monitors Find Fraud in Iraq Election but Reject a Revote—The International Mission for Iraqi Elections reported Jan. 19 that fraud and other violations had occurred during the Iraqi election, but rejected demands that the election be rerun since votes were cancelled in only 227 of nearly 32,000 polling stations. Official results were announced Jan. 20. The Shiite alliance fell just 10 votes short of an absolute majority, raising the question as to whether some Sunnis would be invited to participate in a coalition.

     Prime Minister of Israel Suffers Serious Stroke—Prime Min. Ariel Sharon suffered a major stroke Jan. 4 and remained hospitalized throughout the month. His powers were transferred to Deputy Prime Min. Ehud Olmert.
      Sharon, 77, had previously suffered a mild stroke in December. In November he had formed a new party, Kadima, with the goal of reaching a peace settlement with the Palestinians. With a national election coming up in March, the future of the party appeared uncertain. Kadima Jan. 16 named Olmert its interim leader.

     Insurgent Attacks Continue in Iraq—At least 30 Iraqis were killed in a suicide bomb attack at a Shiite Muslim funeral north of Baghdad, Jan. 4, and more than 100 died in bombings Jan. 5 in Karbala and Ramadi. Eleven U.S. military personnel were killed Jan. 5. A helicopter crash in northern Iraq Jan. 7 killed 8 U.S. service members and 4 American civilians. Suicide bombers killed at least 18 people in the Interior Ministry compound in Baghdad Jan. 9.
     Jill Carroll, an American freelance journalist on assignment for the Christian Science Monitor, was abducted Jan. 7 in Baghdad and her interpreter was killed. In a videotape made public Jan. 17, Carroll’s captors threatened to kill her unless the U.S. freed all the women it held captive. The demands were refused, although 5 of the 9 women were released. A second video aired Jan. 30 but her fate remained uncertain.
     ABC news co-anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt were seriously injured Jan. 29 after their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Iraq. The two were airlifted to the U.S. military hospital in Germany and then to the U.S. for continued treatment.
     Italy said Jan. 19 that it would pull its 2,600 troops out of Iraq by the end of 2006.

     Iran Resumes Nuclear Activity; Other Nations Support Security Council Action—Continuing to defy international pressure, Iran Jan. 10 resumed research at its nuclear facilities, for what it claimed were peaceful purposes. The work at its plant at Natanz could lead to the generation of nuclear fuel or weapons-grade uranium. After negotiations with Iran that produced no result, foreign ministers of Russia and China Jan. 30 went along with a move by the U.S., Britain, and France to have the International Atomic Energy Agency take Iran to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions. Russia and China agreed to the move after it was established that no Security Council action would be taken until after an IEAE meeting in March.

     U.S. Launches Missile Attack on al-Qaeda Leader—Using an air-fired missile, the U.S. military Jan. 13 tried to kill Ayman al-Zawahiri, believed to be the No. 2 leader in the al-Qaeda terror network. The missile destroyed 3 houses in the Pakistani town of Damadola, where al-Zawahiri had been believed to be having dinner. Pakistan’s provincial government said Jan. 17 that up to 18 people were killed, including some militants. Two Pakistani officials said Jan. 18 that 2 top al-Qaeda members and Zawahiri’s son-in-law were among the dead.
     Earlier, Zawahiri appeared in a videotape, broadcast Jan. 6 by the Arabic television network Al Jazeera. He claimed that by indicating a planned reduction in U.S. troops, Pres. Bush had admitted defeat in Iraq.

     Conservatives Oust Ruling Liberals in Canadian Election—In a national parliamentary election on Jan. 23, the Conservative Party returned to power after 13 years of Liberal Party rule. The Conservative leader, Stephen Harper, succeeded Prime Min. Paul Martin. The election was precipitated by a November no-confidence vote in the House of Commons. The Conservatives fell short of an outright majority, receiving 124 out of 308 seats, and would need to govern in a coalition.      Scandals involving kickbacks and insider trading had prompted the no-confidence vote, and integrity in government became a major campaign issue. Harper had said he would focus on the economy and corruption, rather than pursuing controversial social initiatives. He has supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but said he would not send Canadian troops there.

     Woman Elected President of Chile—In a Jan. 15 runoff, Chile elected its first female president. The winner was Michelle Bachelet, who will succeed Pres. Ricardo Lagos. Both are members of the Socialist Party. In the 1970s Bachelet and her parents were imprisoned by the Pinochet regime, and her father died after torture. After medical training at Berlin’s Humboldt University, Bachelet returned to Chile and pursued political studies there and in the U.S. She was health minister and defense minister under Lagos.

     Leaders of Al-Qaeda Heard on Tapes—In an audiotape, made public by Al Jazeera Jan. 19, No.1 al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden warned that new attacks on the U.S. would occur as soon as preparations were complete. He proposed a truce contingent on a total U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Zawahiri chastised Pres, Bush in a videotape aired Jan. 30.

     Hamas Wins Palestinian Election—In a stunning surprise, the radical Islamic party Hamas, which has opposed Israel’s right to exist, won the Palestinian parliamentary election Jan. 25. Hamas secured 74 seats in the 132-member legislature of the Palestinian Authority. Fatah, the faction founded by the late Yasir Arafat that had dominated Palestinian politics for decades, won only 45. Prime Min. Ahmed Qurei announced his resignation Jan. 26, but Pres. Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, remained in office and called for continuing negotiations with Israel. Acting Israeli Prime Min. Ehud Olmert Jan. 26 said talks were not possible until Hamas recognized Israel’s right to exist.
     The Hamas victory was aided by the widespread belief among Palestinians that the Fatah leadership was corrupt and incompetent. The U.S. and the European Union called on Hamas to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel.

General

     Texas Ends Southern California’s Reign as Football Champs—The Univ. of Texas Longhorns defeated the Univ. of Southern California Trojans, 41-38, Jan. 4, to take the NCAA Division I-A football title in Pasadena, CA. USC had shared the title for the 2003 season and won it outright in 2004. The Trojans had won 34 straight games, and prior to their defeat had been ranked first in the polls, with the Longhorns second. Both had posted 12-0 regular season records. With less than 7 minutes to play in the title game, USC led 38-26, but Longhorn quarterback Vince Young ran for 2 touchdowns to put his team ahead.

     Avian Influenza Claims 4 Lives in Turkey—The bird flu virus took its first lives outside of Eastern Asia when, in early January, a brother and his 2 sisters from a town in eastern Turkey died of the disease. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization warned Jan. 11 that bird flu could become endemic in Turkey. A 4th child from the same town died Jan. 15. In all, Turkey was reporting 21 cases of the H5N1 flu, the dangerous strain of the disease.
     Preliminary reports Jan. 30 indicated that bird flu had also killed a teenage girl near Sulaimaniya, Iraq.

     345 Killed in Stampede During Pilgrimage—On a pilgrimage to holy sites in Saudi Arabia, at least 345 people were crushed to death Jan. 12 during a stampede in Mina, near Mecca. As many as 1,000 people were injured.

     Academy Award Nominations—Nominees for the 78th Annual Academy Awards were announced Jan. 31 by Academy President Sid Ganis and Oscar-winning actress and Academy member Mira Sorvino. "Brokeback Mountain," a gay love story starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal earned a leading eight nominations. Other multiple nominations went to "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Memoirs of a Geisha," with six nomations each, and five to the Johnny Cash biopic "Walk the Line." George Clooney garnered four nominations—director, screenwriter, supporting actor and producer of a best picture—tying a record with Orson Welles (Clooney received nominations for his Edward R. Murrow drama, "Good Night, and Good Luck" and a supporting actor nod for the Middle East spy thriller, "Syriana.") . Some of the nominees include:

Best Picture: "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote," "Crash," "Good Night, and Good Luck," "Munich."

Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Capote"; Terrence Howard, "Hustle & Flow"; Heath Ledger, "Brokeback Mountain"; Joaquin Phoenix, "Walk the Line"; David Strathairn, "Good Night, and Good Luck."

Actress: Judi Dench, "Mrs. Henderson Presents"; Felicity Huffman, "Transamerica"; Keira Knightley, "Pride & Prejudice"; Charlize Theron, "North Country"; Reese Witherspoon, "Walk the Line."

Supporting Actor: George Clooney, "Syriana"; Matt Dillon, "Crash"; Paul Giamatti, "Cinderella Man"; Jake Gyllenhaal, "Brokeback Mountain"; William Hurt, "A History of Violence."

Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, "Junebug"; Catherine Keener, "Capote"; Frances McDormand, "North Country"; Rachel Weisz, "The Constant Gardener"; Michelle Williams, "Brokeback Mountain."

Director: Ang Lee, "Brokeback Mountain"; Bennett Miller, "Capote"; Paul Haggis, "Crash"; George Clooney, "Good Night, and Good Luck"; Steven Spielberg, "Munich."

Foreign Film: "Don't Tell," Italy; "Joyeux Noel," France; "Paradise Now," Palestine; "Sophie Scholl—The Final Days," Germany; "Tsotsi," South Africa.

Countdown to the Oscars

February 4: Writers Guild of America Awards
February 11: Art Directors Guild Awards
February 18: Scientific and Technical Academy Awards
February 19: British Academy and Film and Television Arts Awards
February 26: American Society of Cinematographers Awards


Sports Feature

Vincent G. Spadafora

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Photos.com

Mario Lemieux Calls it Quits
One of the greatest hockey players ever to take to the ice, "Super" Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins, announced Jan. 24 that he will be retiring, again. The 40-year old Lemieux learned in Dec. 2005 that he had an atrial fibrillation, which is a condition where the heart suddenly begins beating irregularly, or flutters. Episodes can be controlled with medication and breathing exercises, but between his age, the condition, and previous injuries catching up with him, Lemieux rightfully decided it was time to call it quits. During his 915-game career, Mario Lemieux scored 690 goals, and had 1,033 assists for a career total of 1,723 career points—seventh all-time.
     The Canadian-born center was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1984. Back then, the Penguins were absolutely terrible; their combined record for the two seasons before Lemieux showed up was 34-111-15. But once he hit the ice, the rookie went right to work scoring goals and racking up assists, leading the team in each category for the next six years. By his fourth season, 1987-88, the Penguins posted their first winning record, at 36-35-9, in almost nine years. After that, they became more of a constant force in the league, winning back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships in ‘92 and ‘93. By then Lemieux had established himself as a scoring machine and one of the best ever to play.
     As the years went by, injuries and other health problems began to hamper Lemieux. Beginning in the 1989-90 season, he had a series of back problems that caused him to miss some games. The next year, Lemieux missed 50 games following back surgery. But the real scare came during the middle of the 1992-93 season when he was diagnosed with a form of Hodgkin’s disease. Lemieux started radiation therapy to fight the disease on Feb. 1, 1993.
     Incredibly, on the night of March 2, 1993, having just finished a month of being blasted by therapeutic radiation, Super Mario returned to the ice in a game at Philadelphia, and in a display of physical and mental toughness, he scored a goal and recorded an assist. After that, he went on a tear scoring a club-record 18 goals throughout the rest of March. That year he was named to the all-star team and won the Hart Trophy (league MVP).
     Two seasons later, Lemieux decided to take a medical leave of absence to let his body heal from the beating it took over the years. He ended up sitting out the 1994-95 season. But once again showing his toughness and skill, Lemieux returned for the 1995-96 season, won another Hart Trophy, led the league in scoring, and again was named to the all-star team. Already known for his resiliency, he was beginning to look indestructible.
     Lemieux retired from the sport in 1997, but it didn’t last long. After almost 4 years away from the rink, Lemieux returned to the Penguins in 2000 (as both a player and owner), and re-established himself as a force on the ice, finishing second in MVP voting that year to Joe Sakic. Over the next 5 seasons, Lemieux performed well but he was hampered by back problems, hip problems that required surgery, and finally, heart problems. Saying that he could no longer perform at the level he used to (despite many opinions to the contrary), Mario Lemieux finally hung up the skates.
     For more information on Mario Lemieux’s brilliant hockey career, check out the web site of the Pittsburgh Penguins at http://www.pittsburghpenguins.com.

Some other Lemieux facts:
Awards
Mario Lemieux won the Calder Trophe for rookie of the year. He also won six Art Ross awards (leading points scorer in a season), three Hart Trophies (most valuable player in the regular season), and two Conn Smythe awards (Stanley Cup MVP award). In 1997, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

First Goal
Lemieux’s first goal came on Oct. 11, 1984, at the Boston Garden in a game against the Bruins. It was his first NHL shift on the ice, and, even more impressive, it was his first shot. Pete Peeters was in goal for the Bruins.

Owner
Mario Lemieux led a group of investors who bought the Penguins in 1999 in federal bankruptcy court.

NFL HISTORY MADE IN 2005
The 2005 NFL regular season ended January 1. Like other NFL seasons, some records were broken, new ones were set, but in historical context, two events took place that seemed to particularly stand out.

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Photos.com

The longest play in NFL history—Chicago Bears cornerback Nathan Vasher and the team’s field goal defense unit set the record for the longest play in NFL history, Nov. 13, in a game at home against the San Francisco 49ers.
     Winds at Soldier Field were gusting up to 47 mph when Joe Nedney, 49ers place kicker, lined up for a 52-yard field-goal attempt. Vasher lined up in the end zone to field a possible miss. Nedney got off a good kick, but the wind took it wide and short to the far left of the goal post. Vasher fielded the ball 8 yards deep into his own end zone, and after a brief pause to assess his situation, he ran out to about the 15-yard line, cut to his right, and bolted up the sideline, past the bewildered 49ers special teams unit, for a 108-yard touchdown.
     In an interview after the game, Vasher said, "I was hoping they would call it 109 yards, so that nobody could ever break it."
     The Bears ended up beating the 49ers, 17-9.

Dropkick PAT—New England Patriots back-up quarterback Doug Flutie Jan. 1 became the first NFL player in 64 years to successfully dropkick a PAT (Point After Touchdown). In a meaningless game against the Miami Dophins (the Patriots had already qualified for the playoffs and were resting many starters; the Dolphins had already failed to make the playoffs), the Patriots lined up for a two-point conversion after a touchdown. But before the ball was hiked, the Patriots changed formation, and the 43-year-old Flutie set up farther back from the line of scrimmage. Not knowing what was going on, Dolphins coach Nick Saban called a timeout. When play resumed, the Patriots set up in a modified shotgun formation. The ball was hiked, and in a play that seemed more suited to 1906 rather than 2006, Flutie dropkicked it through the uprights for the PAT.
     According to official NFL rules, a dropkick is "a kick by a kicker who drops the ball and kicks it as, or immediately after, it touches the ground." The dropkick is a leftover from the old days of football when the ball was rounder, weighted differently, and the maneuver was easier to execute. Nowadays, the ball is more pointed at its ends making its bounce far more unpredictable. If the ball doesn’t hit the ground first during a kick, it would be a punt and the other team would get possession of the ball.
     Before Flutie’s kick, according to NFL records, the last dropkick for points in an NFL game was performed by Ray McLean of the Chicago Bears on Dec. 21, 1941 (two weeks after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor) during an NFL Championship game between the Bears and the New York Giants. The Bears ended up pummeling of the Giants, 37-9. However, according to a Jan. 29 article in the Boston Globe, the last time a player dropkicked for points in a professional football game, rather than just an NFL game, was in 1948 when Joe Ventrano of the San Francisco 49ers drop-kicked an extra point in a game against the Cleveland Browns. At the time, both teams were in the All-American Football Conference (AAFC), and not the NFL. The AAFC, a short-lived rival football league to the NFL through the 1940s, merged with the NFL in 1950; most AAFC teams were disbanded except for the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Colts, and San Francisco 49ers, which were merged into the NFL (the Baltimore team failed, but a new franchise was established in the city in 1953, also called the Colts, who later went on to become today’s Indianapolis Colts).
     In the end, one can make the argument that either McLean or Ventrano was the last to dropkick a football before Flutie. But in the eyes of the NFL, the last dropkick for points occurred in 1941. Whatever the case, Flutie’s dropkick was just as impressive, rare, and weird whether it was the first in 64 years, or 57 years.

One more thing about dropkicks...According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the last NFL player to dropkick for a field goal (3 pts.) was Earl "Dutch" Clark. He dropkicked a 17-yarder for the Detroit Lions in a game against the Chicago Cardinals on September 19, 1937. The Lions won 16-7.


Science in the News — The Clean Air Paradox

Elisheva Coleman

Air pollution is a bad thing . . . right? Scientists and public health experts agree that it is, but a new study published in the December 22, 2005 issue of Nature indicates that some junk in the air actually has a beneficial side. Particles called aerosols, which are released from burning fossil fuels and other human activities, reflect and absorb heat from the sun. By directing the sun's rays away from Earth's surface, these tiny bits of dirt partially counteract the effects of global warming. As initiatives to clean up the atmosphere gain strength, some experts worry that reducing the level of aerosols floating around will speed up climate change.

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Photos.com

From Europe to Asia and from Australia to the Americas, particles of smoke, soot, smog, sea salt, dust and ash pollute the air with tiny airborne particles, called aerosols.

Defined as airborne particles smaller than one hundredth of a millimeter in diameter, aerosols are, for the most part, soot—infinitesimal bits of ash. Factories burning fossil fuels spew them out, as do farmers burning biomass (such as forests) to clear land for planting. Not all aerosols are human-produced; natural aerosols include sea salt that is pulverized and swept into the atmosphere, dust from desert storms and ash from naturally occurring forest fires. Anthropogenic aerosols (those derived from human activity) have skyrocketed with industrialization, however, and created blankets of smog that loom over many large cities. This air pollution poses a serious health hazard—inhaling aerosol-dense air can damage lungs, and is linked to an epidemic rise in asthma among urban children. Beginning in the 1970s, governments began to address air quality, and aerosol emissions have been falling in the U.S. and Europe for the last 15 years. (Global aerosol emissions have continued to rise slightly due to industrialization in Asia, but conversion to cleaner energy in parts of China is slowing that trend as well.)

Victory on the public health front, however, may have adverse consequences for climate change. Climate scientists have long known that aerosols have a cooling effect, because they both scatter and absorb sunlight. While greenhouse gases trap solar energy in the atmosphere, aerosols radiate a portion of that energy back out into space. What has remained a big unknown, however, is the extent of the aerosol cooling effect.

Until now, scientists relied entirely on modeling—computer-generated estimates—to gauge the quantity of human-generated aerosols in the atmosphere and the degree of heat absorption and deflection they provide. Nicolas Bellouin, a researcher with the United Kingdom Meteorological Office, led a team that changed the face of aerosol studies by collecting actual data, based on readings from instruments, rather than constructing models. The team relied mostly on satellites, which measured sunlight beamed back out to space by aerosol reflection. Using finely tuned instruments on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Terra and Aqua satellites (as their names imply, these satellites take readings over land and water, respectively), the researchers first measured the effects of all aerosols in Earth's atmosphere. Then they used the NASA satellites' (MODIS) to differentiate between the contributions of natural and anthropogenic aerosols. Natural aerosols tend to be smaller than manmade particles and therefore have different refractive properties; MODIS is able to detect the optical signatures of each aerosol variety. In addition to getting readings from orbiting satellites, Bellouin's team obtained atmospheric data from probes aboard aircraft and on the ground.

Observational data, according to the team's paper in Nature, showed that even the most conservative models severely underestimated the cooling effects of manmade aerosols. "We found that aerosols actually have twice the cooling effect we [had previously] thought," Bellouin told the Guardian. According to the team's calculations, without aerosols, the planet would have warmed a full degree Celsius over the last century, instead of the 0.7 C rise that actually occurred. Furthermore, Bellouin believes that his team still underestimated the overall cooling effect of aerosols, because it did not consider secondary effects of the particles, such as cloud cover. High aerosol concentrations lead to brighter clouds, made of smaller water droplets, which, like aerosols themselves, reflect sunlight. Altogether, Bellouin remarked, "the discrepancy between the models and our observations is not good news."

Unfortunately, Bellouin's discovery leaves environmental policymakers stuck between a rock and a hard place. Peter Cox, a researcher at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Dorset, England, who has worked on aerosol modeling, spoke to the Guardian about the tension between health and climate concerns. "It's a bizarre thing," he remarked, "because the last thing you want to suggest to people is that it would be a good idea to have dirty air, but as far as climate change is concerned, that's right. Everyone would be getting asthma, but the environment would be cooler."

Of course, no one is suggesting that countries attempt to beef up their levels of air pollutants. The danger of dirty air is so direct and so extreme that "it would be crazy to think of anything other than health damage," Cox said. What the new information means, therefore, is that forecasts of future global warming trends probably need to be revised upwards. If we want to breathe clean air—and we do—we may have to inhale and exhale on a warmer planet.

A World Almanac Book of Records Fact

Greer Garson won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in "Mrs. Miniver" (1942). Her acceptance speech lasted 5 minutes, 30 seconds. Oscar watchers believe it to be the longest thank-you speech in Awards history.


Offbeat News Stories

Sarah Janssen

Soap Opera
Current students and alumni of Yale University are no longer in a lather—because lathering up is finally free. For the first time in its history, the 305-year-old university is supplying hand soap to dormitory bathrooms. Previously, cash-strapped students had to buy their own soap or suffer the consequences. But in January 2006, after nearly a decade of lobbying, the student government’s Yale College Council—and its "Soap Committee"—persuaded the administration to commit to an experimental soap dispensing program. Generations of Yalies have gone without free suds and administrators saw no reason to alter tradition until recently. "I think the main reason there aren’t soap dispensers is because there never have been soap dispensers," observed the Dean of Administrative Affairs a few years back. The school, which has a $15.7 billion endowment, had maintained that the $100,000 annual cost of stocking soap in bathrooms was too great, even after student lobbying secured bathroom gains of shelves and two-ply toilet paper in the mid-1990s.

Super Bowl Name Swap
A town 15,000 strong in western Pennsylvania is thinking outside the box and showing its home-team spirit in a measure that has little to do with team colors, face painting, or pennant-waving. The mayor and city council of Washington, PA, voted unanimously to change the town name to Steeler, PA, in the run-up to Super Bowl XL, between the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers. The town leadership was moved to alter the name because of potential confusion over where Washington’s loyalties might lie. "I know the folks in the state of Washington are rooting for the Seahawks, so we wanted to make sure everyone knows the city of Washington is fully in support of the Steelers," said Mayor Kenneth J. Westcott. The change is merely symbolic—all mail will still be addressed to Washington—and will remain in effect until after the gridiron battle, which was scheduled to take place in Detroit, MI, on February 5.


Links of the Month — Edward A. Thomas, Editor in Chief

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Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Reproduction #LC-USZ62-25166

John Wilkes Booth

I'm reading a fascinating book, American Brutus, about John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracy. It wades through the multi-layered story of Abraham Lincoln's assassination and presents a clear, fast paced story. Learn more about the assassination at the National Park Service's Ford's Theatre website at http://www.nps.gov/foth/index2.htm. To see photographs related to the assasination, and the participants, visit The George Eastman House collection at http://www.geh.org/ne/str115/htmlsrc/lincoln_sld00001.html. I've often been moved by Lincoln's eloquent words, and he's my favorite President; in fact, I have a bust of Lincoln in my living room. The Library of Congress has many of his letters scanned, so check them out at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/alhtml/malhome.html.

Coworker website of the month: Zo: One of my favorite sites that I recently discovered is Cute Overload, http://www.cuteoverload.com, the perfect antidote to the not-cute overload we get in our daily news. Confused and saddened by the war in Iraq? Maybe you need to browse through pictures of bunny babies no bigger than the palm of your hand. Dispirited by the genocide in Darfur? Perhaps you would like to take a break by examining a picture of a dog that’s adopted an orphaned baby chipmunk. In addition to the cutest pictures on the web (animal babies dominate), this site also offers "Rules for Cuteness" to help you refine your own cute aesthetic. This site was also nominated for a 2006 "Bloggie", an award given to the best weblog.

They say that "diamonds are a girls best friend," but I know some men who think the taste for ice cuts both ways. A diamond is composed of pure, crystallized carbon that are cut and polished. The American Museum of Natural History ran an exhibition on Diamonds several years back, and it provides a good source on the subject. Visit the exhibition at: http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/diamonds/. You can see twelve of the world's largest diamonds at http://www.diamondtrade.com/basics/famous.cfm.

While doing some research online, I found Softpedia, a website which contains information about free software, a virtual software encyclopedia, for different platforms. Visit the site at http://softpedia.com/.

I'd say that it might just be worth a trip to Palermo (Sicily), Italy, to see the Capuchins' Catacombs. A catacomb is an underground tunnel with recesses where bodies are buried. I saw one in Rome many years ago, it remains an unforgettable sight. The religious order of Capuchins mummified the body of the holy monk Brother Silvestro in 1599, as a way to preserve his body so they could pray to him after his death. These catacombs hold over 8,000 bodies, including priests & monks, men, women, children and professionals. Learn more about these catacombs at http://members.tripod.com/~Motomom/index-3.html. I've seen the mummy of Ramses II, the Egyptian pharaoh, which is on display at Valley of the Kings. Want to see his picture? See it at: http://www.aegypten-fotos.de/luxor/ramses_e.htm. Learn more about Ramses II at http://www.touregypt.net/19dyn03.htm. The last death-related site (for this issue), relates to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who died in 1791 at age 35 and was buried in a pauper's grave in Vienna. The location of the grave was initially unknown, but a likely location was found in 1855. DNA tests recently run on a skull thought to be Mozart's— in conjunction with the 250th anniversary of his birth Jan. 27, 2006—proved to be inconclusive in establishing that it was in fact Mozart's. Learn more about the life and times of Mozart at http://www.mozartproject.org/.

Have you ever received a beautiful bouquet of flowers that you didn't want to part with? In my apartment, I have various bunches that have been dried and preserved. There are actually flowers that you can microwave dry. Learn various methods of drying at http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/HGIC1151.htm.

Useful website of the month: Multimap.com provides online maps to everywhere http://www.multimap.com/.

Unusual website of the month: Toast Art http://www.mauricebennett.co.nz/tportraits.htm/.


Quote of the Month

"Stand with anybody that stands right. Stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong."
     - Abraham Lincoln (1809-65), president of the U.S.


© World Almanac Education Group

World Almanac E-Newsletter
Edward A. Thomas, Editor in Chief

Newsletter Contributors:
Louise Bloomfield, Jennifer Dunham, Jane Hogan, Zo Kashner, Walter Kronenberg, and Bill McGeveran.

Comments and suggestions can be sent to: editorinchief@waegroup.com

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