The World Almanac E-Newsletter

Volume 06, Number 05

What's in this issue?

May Events
May Holidays — National and International
This Day In History — May
May Birthdays
Travel - Baltimore, Maryland
Obituaries - April 2006
Special Feature: Making Cars Safer
Chronology - Events of April 2006
Sports Feature
Science in the News: Coffee Conundrum
Offbeat News Stories
Links of the Month
Quote of the Month
How to reach us

May Events

May is Get Caught Reading Month, National Arthritis Month, and National Hamburger Month

May 3-7 - SunFest (West Palm Beach, FL)
May 4 - International Respect for Chickens Day
May 5-6 - Emmett Kelly Clown Festival (Houston, MO)
May 5-7 - Toad Suck Daze (Conway, AR)
May 6 - Kentucky Derby (Louisville, KY); Doo Dah Day (Birmingham, AL)
May 6-15 - Holland Tulip Time Festival (Holland, MI)
May 8 - World Red Cross Day
May 12 - Limerick Day
May 12-13 - Electra Goat BBQ Cook-off and Arts & Crafts Show (Electra, TX)
May 12-14 - Red, White, and Bluegrass (Hollywood, FL)
May 12 -21 - Lilac Festival (Rochester, NY)
May 13-14 - You Gotta Have Park (Brooklyn, NY)
May 17-28 - Cannes Film Festival (Cannes, France)
May 19-21 - Bay to Breakers Race (San Francisco, CA)
May 20 - Preakness Stakes (Baltimore, MD); O. Henry Pun-Off (Austin, TX)
May 23-24 - National Geographic Bee (Washington, DC)
May 23-27 - Chelsea Flower Show (London, England)
May 25-28 - Mudbug Madness (Shreveport, LA)
May 26-28 - Guthrie Jazz Banjo Festival (Guthrie, OK)
May 28 - Indianapolis 500 (Indianapolis, IN)
May 29-June 11 - French Open tennis tournament (Paris, France)
May 31-June 1 - National Spelling Bee Finals (Washington, DC)

May Holidays — National and International

May 1 - May Day
May 3 - United Nations World Press Freedom Day
May 5 - Cinco de Mayo (Mexico); Buddha’s Birthday (China, Hong Kong, Korea); Children’s Day (Japan)
May 9 - National Teacher Day (U.S.)
May 14 - Mother’s Day
May 16 - Lag B’Omer
May 20 - Armed Forces Day
May 22 - Victoria Day (Canada)
May 29 - Memorial Day
May 31 - Dragon Boat Festival (China)

A World Almanac Book of Records Fact


The National Institute of Standards and Technology built the smallest atomic clock in the world in August 2004. This tiny ticker is about the size of a rice grain, and does not gain or lose more than a second in 300 years.

This Day In History — Current Month

Day Year Event
Day Year Event
01 1931 The Empire State Building opens in New York City.
02 1939 NY Yankees great Lou Gehrig ends his playing streak of 2,130 consecutive baseball games.
03 1979 Margaret Thatcher becomes the first female prime minister of Britain.
04 1886 Following bitter labor unrest, a riot and bombing occur in Chicago's Haymarket Square, leaving 7 police and 4 workers dead.
05 1862 The Mexican army defeated the French army in the battle of Puebla; this day later became the "Cinco de Mayo" holiday.
06 1954 Roger Bannister runs the first sub-4 minute mile.
07 2000 Acting Pres. Vladimir Putin is sworn in for a full term as Russian president.
08 1886 The first Coca-Cola is sold in Atlanta.
09 1907 Mother's Day is unofficially observed for the first time.
10 1869 The transcontinental railroad is completed as a golden spike is driven at Promontory, UT, marking the junction of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific.
11 1997 World chess champion Garry Kasparov is defeated by a computer, IBM's Deep Blue, in a 6-game match.
12 1949 The Soviet blockade of West Berlin, begun in June 1948, is lifted.
13 1981 Pope John Paul II is seriously wounded by an escaped Turkish murderer, Mehmet Ali Agca, while riding in an open vehicle through Rome's St. Peter's Square.
14 1607 Jamestown, VA, is founded, becoming the first permanent English settlement in America.
15 1918 The U.S. launched its first regular airmail service.
16 1974 Helmut Schmidt becomes chancellor of West Germany.
17 1792 The New York Stock Exchange was formed.
18 1980 Mount St. Helens erupts in Washington after lying dormant for 123 years.
19 1536 Anne Boleyn, the 2d wife of England's King Henry VIII, is beheaded.
20 1932 Amelia Earhart leaves Newfoundland, Canada, for Ireland to begin the first solo transatlantic flight by a woman.
21 1991 Former Indian Prime Min. Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated by a bomb during a campaign rally.
22 1807 Former vice president Aaron Burr was indicted for treason.
23 1846 Mexico declares war on the United States.
24 1844 Samuel Morse sends the first official message over a telegraph line-"What hath God wrought?"-from Washington, DC, to Baltimore.
25 1961 President John F. Kennedy announced his goal to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
26 1865 The last rebel troops fighting the Civil War surrender.
27 1937 The Golden Gate Bridge is opened in San Francisco.
28 1588 The first of 130 ships in the Spanish Armada set sail from Lisbon bound for the English Channel.
29 1453 In a battle that marks the end of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople falls to the Turks, who rename it Istanbul.
30 1922 The Lincoln Memorial is dedicated in Washington, DC.
31 1889 After heavy rains cause the Connemaugh River Dam to burst, a huge flood engulfs Johnstown, PA, killing 2,200.

Current Month Birthdays

Day Year  
Day Year  
01 1916 Glenn Ford, actor (Quebec, Canada)
02 1946 Lesley Gore, singer (Tenafly, NJ)
03 1936 Engelbert Humperdinck, singer (Madras, India)
04 1928 Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian president (Kafr-el Meselha, Egypt)
05 1926 Ann B. Davis, actress (Schenectady, NY)
06 1953 Tony Blair, British prime minister (Edinburgh, Scotland)
07 1950 Tim Russert, TV journalist (Buffalo, NY)
08 1926 David Attenborough, author/naturalist (London, England)
09 1946 Candice Bergen, actress (Beverly Hills, CA)
10 1944 Judith Jamison, dancer/choreographer (Philadelphia, PA)
11 1946 Robert Jarvik, physician and inventor of the artificial heart (Midland, MI)
12 1971 Sofia Coppola, director (New York, NY)
13 1961 Dennis Rodman, basketball player (Trenton, NJ)
14 1925 Patrice Munsel, opera singer (Spokane, WA)
15 1969 Emmitt Smith, football player (Pensacola, FL)
16 1912 Studs Terkel, author/journalist (New York, NY)
17 1961 Enya, singer (Gweedore, Ireland)
18 1946 Reggie Jackson, baseball player (Wyncote, PA)
19 1952 Grace Jones, model/actress/singer (Spanishtown, Jamaica)
20 1946 Cher, singer/actress (El Centro, CA)
21 1952 Mr. T (Lawrence Tero), actor (Chicago, IL)
22 1922 Judith Crist, film critic (New York, NY)
23 1966 Helena Bonham Carter, actress (London, England)
24 1979 Tracy McGrady, basketball player (Bartow, FL)
25 1971 Sheryl Swoopes, basketball player (Brownfield, TX)
26 1951 Sally Ride, astronaut and first U.S. woman in space (Encino, CA)
27 1915 Herman Wouk, novelist (New York, NY)
28 1925 Bulent Ecevit, former Turkish premier (Constantinople [Istanbul], Turkey)
29 1961 Melissa Etheridge, rock singer (Leavenworth, KS)
30 1963 Lisa Kudrow, actress (Encino, CA)
31 1930 Clint Eastwood, actor/director (San Francisco, CA)

Travel - Baltimore, Maryland

Founded in 1729, Baltimore has always been a major seaport. For a time in the 19th century, it was the second most populous city in the U.S. (after New York). Its population slipped in the latter part of the 20th century, but Baltimore remains Maryland's chief cultural and industrial center. The city features ethnically diverse neighborhoods filled with marble-stooped row houses and is especially known for its historic attractions and its crab and seafood restaurants. Baltimore has undergone massive urban renewal in recent decades, particularly in the Inner Harbor area, and visitors will find not only the kinds of sights one might expect of a port city that has played a long and important role in U.S. history but also a slew of modern buildings and an extraordinary range of attractions running the gamut from the Baltimore Tattoo Museum ("a museum of all things tattoo") to the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry, which was slated to crown a yearlong celebration of its tenth anniversary with a gala weekend of events on June 23-24, 2006.


LOL P&P Rep#LC-DIG-ggbain-32385

Babe Ruth

You can literally get a superb overview of Baltimore and the harbor from the World Trade Center, a 32-story waterfront tower designed by I. M. Pei that is the world's tallest building with five equal sides. The Top of the World observation deck on the 27th floor affords a full 360-degree vista. Also in the Inner Harbor are such attractions as the U.S.S. Constellation, an all-sail warship dating from the Civil War period; the Baltimore Maritime Museum; the Pier Six Concert Pavilion, which reopened in mid-April 2006 after remodeling; the Maryland Science Center, featuring interactive exhibits, an IMAX theater, and a planetarium; and the surprising American Visionary Art Museum, devoted to self-taught artists. The celebrated National Aquarium in Baltimore sits on a couple of piers in the harbor. Hundreds of species of marine animals can be seen there, among them birds and mammals as well as fish and amphibians. Major focuses of current exhibits include Australia, frogs, and dolphins (with daily shows).

Located close to the Inner Harbor, and a major component of the reconstruction of the central city, is the classically beautiful baseball stadium known as Oriole Park at Camden Yards. A museum called Sports Legends at Camden Yards opened in May 2005 right by the stadium, in a former railroad depot known as Camden Station. It ranges over Baltimore and Maryland sports from baseball to football (Johnny Unitas et al.) to lacrosse. One of the most famous local sports heroes was baseball hyperstar Babe Ruth, who got his start in Baltimore, and it’s a short walk from Camden Yards to the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum.

Baltimore's reputation as a major sports town is broad and possesses deep roots. The first U.S. professional sports organization, the Maryland Jockey Club, was founded in the city in 1743. Another, more recent first came in 1995 when the Baltimore Stallions became the first (and, to date, only) U.S. team to win a Canadian Football League championship. Baltimore is also the site of the second leg of Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown: the Preakness Stakes, held at Pimlico Race Course. The days leading up to the Preakness, scheduled in 2006 for May 20, feature one of Baltimore's biggest annual festivals, the Preakness Celebration, which includes such activities as a parade, a hot-air balloon fest, foot racing, and a concert series.

A different sort of sporting event - the Volvo Ocean Race, a round-the-world yacht race - was the centerpiece of the 2006 edition of another of Baltimore's major events, the Waterfront Festival in late April. The city marked the end of Leg 5 of the race, which began in November 2005.

The city's best-known historical landmark, the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, is located a few miles from downtown but is an easy shuttle-boat ride from the Inner Harbor. The British fleet's unsuccessful attack on Fort McHenry in the War of 1812 was the inspiration for Francis Scott Key's lyrics to the U.S. national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, and the Battle Monument appears on the Baltimore city seal.


National Park Service

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historical Shrine

The Baltimore Civil War Museum is in the 1849 President Street train station at the eastern edge of the Inner Harbor, and the Baltimore Museum of Industry lies on the harbor's south side. But many other notable history-related sites are situated outside the Inner Harbor area proper, among them the Maryland Historical Society; the nearby Washington Monument, a 178-ft (54-m) column topped by a 30-ton statue of George Washington (completed in 1829, the structure was the first large-scale monument to the first U.S. president); the prerevolutionary Mount Clare Museum House; and the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. Train buffs will want to visit the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum and the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.

The city's best-known art museums, both with wide-ranging collections, are the Walters Museum of Art, a couple of blocks from the Washington Monument, and the larger Baltimore Museum of Art, near Johns Hopkins University.

The National Museum of Dentistry is located just blocks from Camden Yards, on the campus of the University of Maryland at Baltimore. An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the museum is named after a Michigan pediatric dentist who was a chief benefactor. Among its extensive holdings are major collections of dental posters and of 18th- and 19th-century extraction instruments. Exhibition highlights include George Washington's denture, the gilded dental instruments of Queen Victoria, silk-screen Andy Warhol prints of Saint Apollonia (dentistry's patron saint), and the world's only "tooth jukebox," which plays vintage TV commercials for dental products.

Websites - The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association:, Fort McHenry National Monument and Historical Shrine:, and the National Museum of Dentistry:

A World Almanac Book of Records Fact


The oldest person to complete a full marathon race is Dimitrion Yordanidis of Greece. He ran the Athens Marathon on Oct. 10, 1976, his 98th birthday. The nonagenarian completed the course in 7 hours, 33 minutes.

Obituaries in Past Month 2006

Coffin Jr., William Sloane, 81, Protestant minister who while serving as Yale University chaplain, became a leading opponent of the Vietnam War; Strafford, VT, April 12, 2006.

Davis, Ed, 89, high-profile Los Angeles police chief who pioneered community-based policing in the 1970s and who later belied his conservative image by supporting gay rights, environmental protections and other liberal causes as a California state senator; San Luis Obispo, CA, April 22, 2006.

Galbraith, John Kenneth, 97, liberal economist, best-selling author, social critic, Harvard University professor, Democratic presidential adviser, and U.S. ambassador to India (1961-63); Cambridge, MA, April 29, 2006.

Hertzberg, Arthur, 84, Conservative Jewish rabbi, scholar and social activist; near Westwood, NJ, April 17, 2006.

Jacobs, Jane, 89, influential author on cities, urban-planning critic and community activist who rose to fame in the U.S. but eventually became a national institution in Canada, her home since the late 1960s; Toronto, ON, April 25, 2006.

Pitney, Gene, 66, strikingly high-voiced singer who was a mainstay of U.S. pop culture in the 1960s but who later became more popular in Britain and elsewhere in Europe; Cardiff, Wales, April 5, 2006.

Pointer, June, 52, youngest of the Pointer Sisters singing group and the lead singer in many of their songs, including "Jump (For My Love)" (1984), one of their biggest hits; Santa Monica, CA, April 11, 2006.

Sjoman, Vilgot, 81, Swedish director of such sexual-taboo-shattering films as I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967) and I Am Curious (Blue) (1968); Stockholm, Sweden, April 9, 2006.

Spark, Dame Muriel, 88, Scottish author, long resident in Italy, known for such terse, witty and darkly satirical novels as Memento Mori (1959) and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961); Florence, Italy, April 13, 2006.

Valli, Alida, 84, Italian actress, deemed one of the great beauties of her age, who made more than 100 movies, of which perhaps the most notable was The Third Man (1949); Rome, Italy, April 22, 2006.

Special Feature: Making Cars Safer

Joe Gustaitis

In May 1966--forty years ago this month--automobile safety was becoming quite a popular topic in the United States. On May 13, 1966, the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee concluded four days of car-safety hearings, during which the members heard a great deal of edifying testimony on the issue of whether the federal government should become involved in the establishment of automobile safety regulations. As is the case today, there were worries then about how to balance two competing interests: that of the driving public, which deserved protection from dangerous vehicles, and the auto industry, which fretted that overregulation would lead to escalating costs.

Walter P. Reuther, president of the powerful United Automobile Workers, testified before the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, stating that he backed federal safety standards and that car makers could afford from their "excessive" prices to install safety features on new cars. Howard Pyle, president of the National Safety Council, also endorsed federal standards and explained his council's plan for a car-safety advisory board comprising representatives of the auto and insurance industries, consumers, commercial vehicle users, federal, state and local governments, safety groups, and university researchers.

However, not everyone agreed with the establishment of such car-safety standards. Governor George W. Romney (R) of Michigan, the state at the heart of the U.S. auto industry, testified that although he supported the establishment of federal safety standards, he was "fearful it will be done in a way to set back both traffic safety and our economy." "Consumer uncertainty" and the potential "political expansion of motor vehicle safety standards authority," he averred, could cause economic distress. Probably the sourest note of all was sounded by William B. Murphy, president of the Business Council, who said at a meeting of his group that the automobile "safety kick" was "a fad, on the order of a hula hoop," and that the publicity given to it was "unfair" and "harmful" and had caused a drop in car sales.

In the late 1960s, the United States did not yet have a Department of Transportation, a National Transportation Safety Board, or a National Highway Safety Administration. However, it did have a best-selling book titled Unsafe at Any Speed. This work, published in 1965 by a lawyer named Ralph Nader, the 31-year-old son of Lebanese immigrants, was a stinging indictment of the automobile industry's unwillingness to include safety features in its designs. In particular, it focused its criticism on the Chevrolet Corvair. It quickly became one of the classics of American muckraking journalism, worthy of standing alongside The Jungle (1906), Upton Sinclair's stomach-turning exposé of the Chicago stockyards, and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962), which became a pillar of modern environmentalism.

Unsafe at Any Speed received so much attention that Nader was invited to appear as an opening-day witness at a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on February 10, 1966. Nader's book also attracted the attention of auto maker General Motors (GM), the maker of Chevrolets, who hired a law firm to conduct an "investigation" of Nader. Eventually, it was discovered that private detectives had interviewed at least 50 of Nader's friends and family members, who were asked about the lawyer’s sex habits, political beliefs and attitude toward Jews. Nader also spoke of two encounters with young women who had asked him to their apartments, invitations he had turned down. To many, including the Commerce Subcommittee Chairman, Abraham A. Ribicoff (D, CT), it appeared that GM's investigations were simply "an apparent attempt to harass and intimidate a subcommittee witness." Seven months later, Nader sued GM for invasion of privacy and in 1970 received $425,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

Nader was a convincing witness. On one occasion a committee member remarked that Nader might in a "clever way...[be] representing trial lawyers, so-called ambulance chasers, by picking on big industry," to which Nader retorted, "I am not concerned with ambulance chasers. I am concerned with people in the ambulances." Urging public disclosure of car-safety data by the manufacturers, Nader remarked: "If 20 years ago the public knew that the so-called safety windshield in their cars could be penetrated at an impact as low as 12 miles an hour, which was true through 1965, it might not have taken two decades for improvements to be made." He also reported unpublicized instances in which cars had been recalled by the manufacturers for mechanical corrections. Not only U.S. auto makers came under his scrutiny. He roundly criticized foreign-built cars such as the English-built Rolls-Royce, citing evidence that a "Rolls-Royce's doors, hood and trunk will come open" in a 20-mph. impact, and charged that "it is hard to find a more dangerous car than the [German-built] Volkswagen," which allegedly had unsafe door latches and was unstable in high-speed traffic. The automobile industry, Nader concluded, ignored safety while engaging in "stylistic orgies."

Auto-Safety Bills


Lyndon B. Johnson Library

Lyndon B. Johnson

Pressure on Congress to enact federal automobile safety standards was coming not only from critics like Nader, but also from the highest seat in government. On April 22, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson designated the week of May 15 as National Transportation Week and commented that it was time to establish "strict safety standards for automobiles" and that the industry should stop raising "picayunish" objections to federal standards. "We can no longer tolerate unsafe automobiles," he said. "The alternative to federal standards is unthinkable: 50 different sets of standards for 50 different states."

Meanwhile, Senator Ribicoff revealed that between 1960 and 1966, the four major auto makers in the U.S. (GM, Ford, Chrysler, and American Motors) had conducted 426 recall campaigns involving 8,700,225 cars, or no fewer than 18.5 percent of the more than 47 million cars built in the previous six years. The reports he had obtained from the auto makers listed 66 defects involving brakes, 33 in suspension systems, 28 steering defects, and 28 defects in hood and door latches, wheels, tires, and gearshifting controls. Ribicoff stated that he was "startled" by the large number of cars recalled and that the data "shatters once and for all the myth that accidents are invariably caused by bad driving; from now on we must be concerned--not just with the 'nut behind the wheel' but with the nut in the wheel itself, with all the parts of the car and its design."

Such information and commentary made automobile safety legislation one of the most widely supported measures ever voted on in Congress. On August 31, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 was passed by a 365-0 House vote and by a Senate voice vote. Under the legislation a National Traffic Safety Agency would be created, the Commerce Secretary would set interim federal safety standards for new motor vehicles, and standards would also be set for trucks, buses, used cars, and tires. In addition, auto makers would be required to notify new-car buyers of safety defects discovered after sales. A complementary bill, the Highway Safety Act of 1966, which provided funds for a highway safety program, was approved by the House, 360-3, on August 31 and by voice vote in the Senate on September 1. A state that did not follow the federal requirements detailed in the Highway Safety Act, including features such as keeping an effective record of accidents, highway design and maintenance, traffic surveillance, and emergency services could lose 10 percent of its federal highway funds. On September 9, while signing both measures at a White House ceremony attended by about 200 people, including Nader, President Johnson declared that safety was "no luxury item, no optional extra."

Car-Safety Regulations

Dr. William Haddon Jr., the first head of the National Traffic Safety Agency, a predecessor of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), chose the Detroit Automobile Show to reveal the first 23 proposed car-safety regulations on November 29, 1966. Among them were more lights and reflective devices to make cars more visible at night, head rests to guard against "whip-lash" injuries, glazing materials to minimize cuts and to prevent passengers from crashing through windows, the redesigning of instrument panels and interior projections for greater cushioning, and the elimination of wheel nuts, discs and hub caps that were hazardous to pedestrians and cyclists. Although Haddon noted that "many of the standards" "are already met by most of the vehicles to which they would apply," he added that "others might be difficult to meet in some cases." The major auto makers unanimously protested that not every proposal was feasible, and three of the proposals, including the head rests regulation, were dropped.

On January 31, 1967, the National Traffic Safety Agency issued the remaining 20 safety standards; most of them were to become effective January 1, 1968. Features that were mandated included seat belts for all forward-facing seats; energy-absorbing steering systems; rupture-resistant fuel tanks; shatter-resistant windshields; interior padding; windshield defrosters, 2-speed wipers, and washers; outside rearview mirrors; parking brakes and warning lights to indicate brake failure; and a P-R-N-D-L sequence for automatic transmission levers--all features that are simply assumed as standard equipment today.


Seat belts, shatter-resistant windshields, rearview mirrors, and parking brakes are features assumed as standard equipment today, but the earliest cars did not have any of these features.

A decade after the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act was passed, Nader, in an analysis reported by the Wall Street Journal on February 23, 1976, noted a decrease in the highway death rate between 1966 and 1973 from 5.7 to 4.2 fatalities for each 100 million miles of vehicle travel and estimated a figure of 19,102 fewer highway deaths as "directly attributable" to the new car-safety standards. He expressed regret, however, that the White House was delaying the introduction of air bags. Fifteen years later, in 1991, a law fixing deadlines for automakers to include air bags in all new passenger cars was signed by President George H.W. Bush.

Other car-safety rules followed soon after the federal government became involved in the process of mandating safety features on cars. Head rests became a required feature in 1969, three-point lap-shoulder belts with inertia reels in 1973, high mounted center stop lights in 1985, and passive restraints in 1990. In 1974 a law was passed requiring all vehicles to have a seat belt interlock system that kept the engine from starting unless the driver and the passengers had fastened their seatbelts, but it was quickly repealed due to its unpopularity.

One of the most prominent pieces of auto-safety legislation of recent years was signed by President Bill Clinton on November 1, 2000. The law authorized stronger penalties for car manufacturers that failed to report defects and bolstered oversight of the auto industry by the NHTSA, letting it set stricter standards and tests, including the establishment of standardized rollover ratings. The bill was easily by Congress because the nation had recently been shocked by the recall of millions of tires made by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. The allegedly defective tires had been blamed for the deaths of more than 100 people in the United States. In recent years the widening popularity of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and heavy pick-up trucks brought attention to the peril of rollover crashes, which kill more than 10,000 people every year and which are more common in vehicles with high centers of gravity. Consequently, in August 2005, since the standards had not been updated since 1971, NHTSA proposed new federal standards for the strength of automobile roofs.

As it turned out, car safety standards were hardly a "fad." Although it is continually difficult for the government to regulate the products of any industry without jeopardizing that industry’s profitability and, perhaps, survival, auto safety standards are widely accepted. A September 1999 Louis Harris poll, for example, reported that almost 70 percent of respondents agreed that safety standards for cars and trucks needed to be revamped and that some 77 percent said they supported increasing federal spending on auto safety. It is also acknowledged that automobiles today are much safer than they were 40 years ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has even stated that the lowering of rates of motor vehicle deaths and injuries that has taken place since 1966 "represents the successful public health response to a great technological advance of the 20th century--the motorization of America."

A World Almanac Book of Records Fact


At 32 days, William Henry Harrison served the shortest term as president. The aristocratic Harrison had defeated Martin Van Buren in the 1840 campaign, running as a humble farmer who had put down an Indian uprising at Tippecanoe.

Chronology — Events of Past Month 2006


     Eight Retired Generals Call for Rumsfeld Resignation - Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld faced growing pressure in April to resign. Beginning Mar. 19, eight retired Army and Marine Corps generals had urged him to quit his cabinet post. On Apr. 2, retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni said that Rumsfeld and other civilian and military officials involved in planning the Iraq war should resign. In the Apr. 17 Time magazine, Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, who had directed operations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until his 2002 retirement, criticized the "casualness and swagger" of civilians who had ordered the invasion. On Apr. 12, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who had commanded the lst Infantry Division in Iraq (2004-2005), said, "We need a fresh start in the Pentagon." Pres. George W. Bush declared Apr. 14 that Rumsfeld had his full support.

     Former House Majority Leader to Leave Congress - Rep. Tom DeLay (R, TX), who had resigned as House majority leader in September after being indicted for conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme, said Apr. 4 that he would not seek re-election in November 2006 and that he would resign from the House before then. On Mar. 31, his former deputy chief of staff, Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Washington to accepting gifts and favors from former lobbyist Jack Abramoff in return for using his influence as a member of DeLay’s staff on behalf of Abramoff and his clients.

     Court Filing Brings Bush Into CIA Leak Case - Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor investigating the leak of the name of an undercover CIA agent, submitted a filing to the U.S. District Court in Washington Apr. 5 that drew President Bush into the investigation. Fitzgerald said in the filing that I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, then an aide to Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney and now under indictment, had testified to a grand jury that in 2003 Bush had authorized him to leak to the press part of a then-classified intelligence report that claimed Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Niger for use in a nuclear weapons program. The Iraq-Niger connection was now widely regarded as a fabrication. Fitzgerald, in his filing, contended that the purpose of the leak was to strengthen the administration’s case for invading Iraq. On Apr. 26, Bush adviser Karl Rove testified before the grand jury for the fifth time.

     Immigration Bill Stalls in Senate - The Senate Apr. 7 rejected an immigration reform bill that had been crafted in a bipartisan compromise. The bill, endorsed by the Judiciary Committee, was designed to strengthen border security and create a guest-worker program. Some Republicans sought to introduce amendments that were opposed by Democrats. The bill failed when each party refused the other’s requests to vote for cloture and allow voting to go forward. Echoing the huge turnouts of late March, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators rallied Apr. 9 and 10 in several U.S. cities including Washington, DC, New York City, and Phoenix in protest against any bill that would take punitive action against immigrants. Renewed debate continued on Apr. 27 after a two-week spring recess.

     Former Governor of Illinois Convicted - A U.S. District Court jury in Chicago Apr. 17 convicted ex-Governor George Ryan (R) of 18 felony counts, including racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, tax fraud, and lying to the FBI. Ryan’s co-defendant Lawrence Warner, a lobbyist, was convicted on 12 counts. The jury concluded that Ryan steered contracts to Warner and others in return for vacations and gifts. Ryan said he would appeal.

     U.S. Gasoline Prices Rise to a Record High - The price of a barrel of oil hit record highs in April, and the cost of gasoline at the pump in the U.S. was also at an all-time peak. The price of a barrel of light crude oil closed at a record $70.40 on Apr. 17. On Apr. 21 the price peaked at $75.35 a barrel. Gasoline cost an average of $2.93 per gallon on Apr. 28, up about 60 cents over the past year. On Apr. 25 Pres. Bush said he would suspend government purchases for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help curb the rising prices. He also called for investigations into corporate price-gouging and price fixing. At the height of the national protest over gas prices, some oil companies were reporting record profits. Senate Republicans Apr. 28 proposed a measure that would increase taxes on oil industry profits and would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The latter proposal was met with criticism by Senate Democrats. Another proposal by Senator Robert Menendez (D, NJ) called for a 60-day suspension of the federal tax on gasoline and diesel to help ease the burden on motorists.

     Jury Considers Death Penalty for Convicted Terrorist - A federal court jury in Alexandria, VA, began deliberating Apr. 24 whether to imprison for life or execute Zacharias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
     Previously on Apr. 3, the jury found that Moussaoui had lied to government agents about the attacks, was responsible for some of the deaths on Sept. 11, and was eligible for the death penalty.

     President of China Visits U.S. - Pres. Hu Jintao of China visited the U.S. in April. On his first stop Apr. 18 Hu met with business and political leaders in Washington state, including Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. In Seattle Apr. 19, Hu said that the U.S. and China could avoid problems by not politicizing issues on which they disagreed.
     At a meeting with Pres. Bush in Washington, DC, Apr. 20, the two leaders pledged to work together against nuclear proliferation and to reduce the trade imbalance, which strongly favored China. However, Hu and Bush failed to come to any agreements on these issues or others including human rights problems in China or Iran’s nuclear ambitions. On Apr. 21, Hu spoke at Yale University.

     More Personnel Changes in the White House - Pres. Bush said Apr. 18 that he would nominate Rob Portman to be director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Portman would succeed Joshua Bolten, the new White House chief of staff.
     Bolten Apr. 19 named Joel Kaplan, who had been his deputy at OMB, as deputy chief of staff. Kaplan would take over authority for policy from Karl Rove, Bush’s top political adviser, who would concentrate on maintaining GOP control of Congress in the 2006 elections. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan announced his resignation Apr. 19. Bush announced Apr. 26 that McClellan would be succeeded by Fox News commentator Tony Snow.

     CIA Officer Fired After Leak Investigation - On Apr. 20, the Central Intelligence Agency dismissed Mary McCarthy, a career officer whose past positions included senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council, after conducting an internal investigation concerning classified information that had been leaked to a reporter for the Washington Post. McCarthy reportedly failed a lie-detector test. The classified information was a primary basis for an article by Dana Priest in the Nov. 2, 2005, issue of the Post where she reported that the CIA was sending terror suspects to secret detention centers in several countries. Priest had received a Pulitzer Prize Apr. 17 for her articles on the prisons. A lawyer for McCarthy said she denied having leaked classified information.

     Protesters Rally Against Genocide in Darfur - Thousands of protestors gathered outside the U.S. Capitol and in 18 other U.S. cities Apr. 30, urging political leaders to take action to stop the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region. In 2004 the United States had officially labeled the violence a genocide, perpetrated by government-backed Arab militias against predominantly African Muslim tribes; by 2006 at least 180,000 people had been killed and 2 million more driven into refugee camps.


     Avian Influenza Virus Spreads - The H5N1 strain of avian flu was reported for the first time in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, Apr. 3, and in the U.K., Apr. 6. The virus was found on a poultry farm in Burkina Faso and in a dead swan in eastern Scotland. The World Health Organization Apr. 12 said that there have been 194 human infections worldwide, of which 109 had been fatal.

     Genocide Added to Charges Against Hussein - Ex-President of Iraq Saddam Hussein Apr. 4 was charged with genocide by the Iraqi tribunal trying him for war crimes. He was accused in connection with the so-called Anfal campaign of the late 1980s, during which at least 50,000 Iraqi Kurds had been killed. The tribunal called the campaign a systematic effort to persecute the Kurds, who represented about one-fifth of the Iraqi population. In a separate incident involving an attempt on Hussein’s life in the village of Dujail in 1982, Hussein Apr. 5 admitted that he had signed the death warrants for 148 Shiites in the village, claiming that it was the right of the head of state to do so.

     EU and U.S. Cut Off Financial Aid to Palestinians - Both the U.S. and the European Union (EU) Apr. 7 suspended financial aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), led by the militant Hamas party, over the Authority’s refusal to recognize Israel. The UN continued their financial aid funding. Israel Apr. 9 ended its relations with the PA. A suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv restaurant Apr. 17 killed 10 and wounded about 60.

     Italian Premier Narrowly Loses Bid for Re-election - Unofficial results announced Apr. 11 showed that Premier Silvio Berlusconi had narrowly lost his bid for another term. The apparent winner in the Apr. 9-10 voting was Romano Prodi, a former premier. The tally for the lower house of Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, gave Prodi’s center-left coalition 49.8% of the vote, and Berlusconi’s conservative coalition 49.7%. Because additional seats would be awarded to the winning party, Prodi’s coalition would have 348 seats, while 281 would support Berlusconi, with 1 independent. The division of seats in the Senate appeared to be virtually even. Italy’s highest judicial body confirmed Apr. 19 that Prodi’s coalition had won the Chamber of Deputies by 24,755 votes out of 38 million, and had narrowly won the Senate.

     Iran Describes Its Uranium-Enrichment Program - Iranian Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Apr. 11 that Iran had nuclear technology and was able to enrich uranium. He also said Iran’s nuclear program would focus exclusively on energy generation for peaceful purposes. The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, said Apr. 11 that the level of enrichment in Iran’s program fell far short of the level required for nuclear weapons. On Apr. 13 Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, urged Iranian officials to suspend uranium enrichment.
     Diplomats from the U.K., China, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.S. met in Moscow Apr. 18-19 but were unable to agree on a response to Iran’s nuclear program. China and Russia opposed a U.S. call for sanctions.

     Israel Brings Sharon’s Prime Ministry to a Formal End - The prime ministry of Ariel Sharon was brought to a formal conclusion in Israel Apr. 11 when the cabinet declared that he was permanently incapacitated. The acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, whose Kadima Party had finished first in March parliamentary elections, began seeking to form a government.

     Iraqi Leaders Make New Choice for Prime Minister - Prime Min. Ibrahim al-Jaafari of Iraq Apr. 20 abandoned his hopes of continuing in office in the new permanent government that was being formed. Although the dominant Shiite faction in parliament had chosen him in February to be its candidate for prime minister, Sunnis and Kurds had refused to support him. Many leaders thought he had been ineffectual in curbing sectarian violence and in improving the country’s essential services. Shiite leaders Apr. 21 announced that they would support Jawad al-Maliki, an ally of Jaafari, who had taken tough stands against terrorism and the influence of ex-Pres. Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. Iraqi leaders agreed on Maliki and 6 other top officials Apr. 22, but completing a full lineup of cabinet ministers was expected to take another month. Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice and Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Iraq Apr. 26 and urged leaders there to speed the process of forming the new government and to take steps to restore order and public confidence.
     At least 90 died and 175 were injured Apr. 7 when 3 suicide bombers set off explosives at the Baratha Mosque in Baghdad, which was affiliated with a Shiite Muslim political party. A car bomb in Huwaider, north of Baghdad, killed 26 on Apr. 12. In 2 attacks north of Baghdad Apr. 13, gunmen killed 17 police officers and a bomb killed 15. On Apr. 24, 7 bombs in Baghdad killed 10 and wounded 76. In a video posted on a web site Apr. 25, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of the al-Qaeda terror organization in Iraq, urged insurgents there to press on with the fight against the U.S. forces.

     3 Bombs Explode at Seaside Resort in Egypt - Three bombs exploded within about 15 seconds of each other near a restaurant and supermarket at the small Egyptian seaside resort of Dahab on Apr. 24. The death toll in the explosions was at least 23. This was the third terror attack on a Sinai resort in 2 years. No group claimed responsibility. Two suicide bombers unsuccessfully targeted international peacekeepers on Apr. 26 in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.


     Florida Wins Its First Men’s NCAA Basketball Title - The Florida Gators led by coach Billy Donovan won their first men’s NCAA Division I basketball championship April 3, defeating UCLA, 73-57, in Indianapolis. Gator center, Joakim Noah, who scored 16 points in the title game, was named the outstanding player of the Final Four.

     Maryland Wins Women’s NCAA Title - The Maryland Terrapins led by coach Brenda Frese won the Division I NCAA women’s basketball title Apr. 4 in Boston, defeating the Duke Blue Devils, 78-75, in overtime. Maryland’s Laura Harper was named the outstanding player of the Final Four.

     2 Duke Athletes Charged With Rape - Two members of the Duke University lacrosse team were arrested Apr. 18 and charged with raping a dancer who had performed at a team party Mar. 13 in an off-campus house in Durham, NC. The case heightened local racial and class tensions. The accuser, a student at North Carolina Central University in Durham, was black, and the students arrested, as well as most team members, were white. All 46 white team members submitted DNA samples to the police but none of it matched evidence taken from the woman. On April 5, Duke University Pres. Richard Brodhead canceled the lacrosse team’s season, and coach Mike Pressler resigned.

Sports Feature — Vincent G. Spadafora

Sammy Retires

     Back in 1998, baseball fans were only 4 years removed from one of, if not the worst season in Major League Baseball history, the year without a World Series. There were still fewer fans at games, many of whom were still angry that a World Series didn’t happen because of a dispute between a group of millionaires and a group of billionaires. Baseball in 1998 needed a catalyst in the same way the NBA did in the 70s before Larry Bird and Magic Johnson came along, and it got one with the home run race between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs. At first, it seemed like any other season with a couple of the big sluggers putting a few "dingers" into the bleachers. Spring turned into summer and those dingers began to add up. Sometime during that summer, the casual fans took notice along with the reluctant masses still smarting from ‘94.

     Baseball couldn’t have asked for two better people for a home run race. Mark McGwire had been a known slugger since his early days with the A’s, and was a seemingly nice guy. Sammy Sosa showed an enthusiasm for the game that made him fun to watch. In the end, McGwire won the race to 70 and became the new single-season home run king (a record later broken by Barry Bonds in 2001). But Sosa was still as charismatic and fun to watch as ever.

     This past February, Sosa turned down a non-guaranteed, one-year contract from the Washington Nationals. Soon after, his agent cryptically said that we’ve probably seen Sosa in a uniform for the last time. Though not an official retirement, it is safe to say now a month into the season that Sammy Sosa has very very very quietly called it quits.

     Reaction to his announcement may have turned out differently had his last few years been pleasant ones. Allegations of steroid use surrounded Sosa (and many others) since 1998. Then came a series of incidents including: the corked bat incident in 2003; his clashes with Cubs manager Dusty Baker; Sosa leaving the Cubs dugout before the end of the last game of the 2004 season; his almost incriminating testimony before Congress over steroids in baseball in 2005; his terrible last season. All in all, Sosa came to be viewed by many as a cheater.

Sosa retires just 12 home runs shy of 600 for his career - a milestone which would have put him in an elite club with Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, and Willie Mays. Unfortunately, the era in which Sosa played will always be known as the "steroid era," and it is something that the PR people of MLB will have to work hard to live down. So for the good of baseball, perhaps it is best that Sosa never reached 600. It’s a bad ending for a guy who helped to bring so many fans back to baseball. Career stats: 17 seasons; 8,401 at-bats; 1,422 runs; 2,304 hits; 588 home runs; 1,575 RBIs. Teams: Texas Rangers 1989, Chicago White Sox 1989-91, Chicago Cubs 1992-2004, Baltimore Orioles 2005.

Can of Corn

Baseball stirs up the creative instincts of those who play and watch the sport and causes people to come up with some marvelously clever, albeit sometimes weird, slang phrases. Below are a few terms you may have heard, but had no idea where they came from or what they meant. If you’re ever looking for a good reference book of baseball slang, its meanings and origins, check out The New Dickson’s Baseball Dictionary by Paul Dickson. There are also a few good online sources including the National Baseball Hall of Fame web site.

Can of corn - This is used to describe an easy catch for a fielder and came into use around the early 20th century. Back in those days in grocery stores, if a grocer needed to get something such as a can of corn from a high shelf but didn’t have anything to stand on, he’d hold a long stick or broom handle in one hand to knock the can off the shelf. With his other hand, he’d catch the can. Somehow, it worked its way into baseball slang.

Southpaw - Many people know that this refers to a left-handed pitcher, but not many know why. Back in the day, baseball parks were aligned so that the pitcher faced west and players up to bat faced east so that the batters wouldn’t be blinded by the setting sun (nobody seemed to care that the pitcher couldn’t see). If a pitcher facing home plate looked to his right, he was facing north, and to his left, south. Thus we have the "southpaw."

Baltimore chop - This is a ground ball that hits off home plate or close in front of it. If hit hard enough, the ball will bounce over the infielder’s heads allowing the runner to get on base. The Baltimore Orioles back in the 1890s used to do this as part of their hitting strategy. It didn’t take long for the term to develop. Today, you’ll still hear announcers say it sometimes when a batter hits a "chopper" into the dirt.

Yellow hammer - It is another term for a curveball pitch, specifically one that drops sharply out of the strike zone, and it dates back to the early 1900s. Off the diamond, a yellow hammer is a type of bird that while flying along in a relatively straight line will all of a sudden drop quickly (most likely to catch an insect that is on the ground). A good curveball will do just that. (Note to reader: I find that this is a particularly good term to drop when watching a game with others. Blurting out, "Wow, that was a nice-lookin’ yellow hammer he threw," can often cause all conversation to come to a screeching halt.)

Worm burner - This is a very colorful way to describe a hard-hit ground ball. It’s a funny little overstatement meaning that the ball is traveling so fast, its friction would ignite any worms unlucky enough to be near it.

Science in the News: Coffee Conundrum — Elisheva Coleman

Humans have been drinking coffee for over 1,000 years, ever since Arab traders brought back beans from Ethiopia and brewed the first cups of Joe. In the 21st century, with Starbucks franchises mushrooming all over America and the globe, it is clear that humans’ reliance on a morning pick-me-up is stronger than ever. Caffeine, a chemical that occurs naturally in coffee beans, is responsible for the drink’s energizing effects. A central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, caffeine has long been suspected of carrying health risks, especially for heart disease and blood pressure, but past studies of caffeine’s effect on blood pressure and heart attack have been contradictory and inconclusive. Recently, a study in the March 8, 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) presented a new twist on the question of coffee's risk, which may help explain the contradictions seen in the past. Apparently, the way that caffeine is handled in the body differs significantly between individuals, depending on their genetic makeup. Whether or not coffee harms your heart, the researchers conclude, depends on your DNA.


Cup of coffee

Java Gene
Caffeine is broken down in the liver by an enzyme called cytochrome P450 1A2, which is encoded by a gene called CYP1A2. In the human population, CYP1A2 comes in two flavors, or alleles—one that metabolizes caffeine quickly, and one that processes the chemical far more slowly. A single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) is all that separates the slow gene from the fast one, but that one base pair makes a big difference. Individuals who carry the slow allele (CYP1A2*1F) take about four times as long to clear caffeine out of the body as those with the fast allele (CYP1A2*1A). The slow allele is dominant, so people with even one copy of it are slow metabolizers, while fast metabolizers are homozygous for the CYP1A2*1A allele.

Researchers studied a population to see if the effect of caffeine on heart health differed between slow and fast metabolizers. They examined two groups: 2,014 people who had suffered a non-fatal heart attack between 1994 and 2004, and 2,014 healthy people. To minimize other variations between members of the two groups, the researchers confined the study to a specific population, native Costa Ricans.

To test the hypothesis that the CYP1A2 gene influences how people’s hearts react to coffee, the researchers collected two sets of data. First, they ran a DNA test on all participants to see which alleles they carried. Then they administered a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ), a research tool specially designed for collecting data on diet, which asked participants to describe their coffee-drinking habits. Possible answers ranged from a cup or less per month to 6 or more cups a day, but to streamline the data, researchers wound up consolidating it into four categories: less than 1 cup per day, 1 cup, 2-3 cups, or 4 or more cups daily.

One Drink, Two Reactions
After 10 years of accumulating data, when the researchers finally sat down to crunch the numbers they were richly rewarded. Among slow metabolizers, they found, people who downed 4 or more cups of coffee everyday had a significantly higher incidence of heart attack than did those who drank moderately. This relationship between coffee consumption and heart attack, however, existed only in people who carried the slow-acting CYP1A2*1F allele. Fast metabolizers appeared able to drink all the coffee they liked without suffering any ill effects.

The two versions of the caffeine gene are about equally common in Costa Ricans, with the slow-metabolizing phenotype making up 55% of the "case" population (people who had had heart attacks) and 54% of the control group. When the researchers compared coffee intake of healthy people and heart attack victims, however, they found that the numbers stacked up very differently for CYP1A2*1F carriers than for those with CYP1A2*1A genes. Among slow metabolizers, drinking 2-3 cups of coffee a day increased the rate of non-fatal heart attack by 36%, as compared to the baseline rate among non-coffee drinkers. Drinking four or more cups a day shot the rate up to a whopping 64% above the baseline.

Statistics on fast metabolizers painted a completely different picture. For these individuals, drinking between 1 and 3 cups of coffee a day appeared to lower the risk of heart attack by about 20%, while drinking 4 or more cups had no effect, positive or negative. Ahmed El-Sohemy, the lead author of the study, stated that while the researchers are not sure how coffee might protect against heart disease, "We do know that coffee contains a number of different chemicals, including antioxidants," which are thought to be beneficial for heart health. By clearing caffeine out of the body quickly enough to prevent it from doing damage, fast metabolizers may be able to "unmask" these beneficial aspects of coffee, El-Sohemy theorized.

Caffeine Convicted
One of the most important implications of the new study is its compelling evidence that caffeine, and not some other chemical, is the coffee’s heart-menacing component. In most populations, caffeine consumption comes overwhelmingly from coffee, so separating out the effects of caffeine itself is very difficult. Coffee, meanwhile, contains a slew of chemicals that have various known and unknown effects on the body; a class of compounds called diterpines, for example, has been suspected of elevating cholesterol levels and increasing heart attacks in coffee drinkers. But diterpines are removed from coffee when it is filtered, and Costa Ricans drink almost exclusively filtered coffee, so the chemicals cannot be responsible for the effects El-Sohemy’s team observed. More importantly, the fact that heart attack risk was linked so strongly to the caffeine-metabolizing gene left the researchers confident that they could proclaim caffeine as the culprit. If a person whose body rids itself of caffeine quickly is immune to coffee’s bad effects while a person in whom caffeine lingers is more likely to suffer a heart attack, it is a pretty safe bet that caffeine is responsible.

El-Sohemy’s study may also explain why results of coffee studies have varied so widely in the past. While Costa Ricans are split about 50/50 for the two CYP1A2 phenotypes, in some populations, one or the other version is more common. If researchers happened to be dealing with a study population skewed towards the slow allele, they would likely detect a strong link between coffee and heart problems. But if, on the other hand, their population happened to be long on fast metabolizers, researchers might find that coffee was beneficial rather than harmful. The revelation that different people react to caffeine differently means that two coffee studies could both be completely sound, and yet produce seemingly contradictory results.

Wake-Up Call
For El-Sohemy, the most exciting thing about the study is its demonstration that genetic differences cause people to handle a dietary staple in vastly different ways. A specialist in nutrigenomics, a branch of genomics that investigates the interplay between genetic profile and dietary factors, El-Sohemy believes that scientists and physicians need to take a more individualized approach to diet. The coffee study, he told the Wall Street Journal, "clearly illustrates that one size does not fit all." To CBC News he said, "We are approaching the era of personalized dietary advice, where genetic tests may help determine what’s good and bad for you."

Coffee addicts can find good and bad news in the study’s conclusions. At the moment, there is no commercial version of the genetic test for the CYP1A2 allele, so coffee drinkers have no way to find out whether their morning brew is harming or helping them. There is no connection, El-Sohemy cautions, between the CYP1A2 gene and a person’s sensitivity to caffeine, so you can't tell whether you're a fast or slow metabolizer by how wired you get. Caffeine’s stimulant effects have to do with the way it interacts with the nervous system, not with how fast it’s metabolized, so a person who gets jittery after one cup might still be a fast metabolizer, for whom caffeine is beneficial. El-Sohemy and his colleagues hope that one day genetic testing for the caffeine gene, as well as for other genes that affect diet, will be widely available. In the meantime, they recommend that everyone keep their coffee habit under 4 cups a day. Starbucks Corporation need not get too worried, though - the study also showed that a single cup of coffee every day was totally safe for everybody, regardless of their genes. And for some, a tall non-fat vanilla latte a day may keep the doctor away!

A World Almanac Book of Records Fact


According to the National Coffee Association, almost 80% of American adults drink coffee at least on occasion, and more than half drink it every day. The Finnish consume the most coffee per capita though, averaging 24.7 pounds a year between 2000 and 2003; almost 95% of Finnish adults drink coffee.

Offbeat News Stories — Sarah Janssen

Trading Up, Online
The age-old bartering system, with a high-tech boost, enabled a man to spin a giant, novelty red paperclip into a duplex apartment, rent-free for one year - until he traded it away. Canadian Kyle MacDonald set out to achieve his dream of home ownership by using a bartering website on the Internet. The 26-year-old initially traded the paperclip for a fish-shaped pen, which was exchanged for a ceramic doorknob, then a camping stove. The stove begot a small generator, which in turn was bartered for a "party package," including an empty beer keg (and a promise to fill it) and neon beer sign. A DJ in Montreal swapped his snowmobile for the party package. After being interviewed on Canadian TV, MacDonald was given a trip to Yahk, a remote location in the Canadian Rockies for the snowmobile by a snowmobiling magazine. In exchange for the trip, he was given a van, which he traded to a musician for a recording contract. A Phoenix-area singer who owned a duplex bartered a year of free rent for the contract. But MacDonald has refused to stop the swap before he owns a house free and clear, so the Net-generation entrepreneur traded the year’s free rent to the duplex’s other inhabitant. In return, he gets the promise of an afternoon spent with her boss, rock legend Alice Cooper. The bartering continues. You can keep track of MacDonald’s progress - or make him an offer - by visiting his website:

Best-Dressed Chicks
This fashion line is for the birds - literally. A group of designers operating well outside of the world of haute couture has released a clothing line designed exclusively for chickens. The ChickensSuit® was displayed for the first time in Nagoya, Japan, where 20 chickens strutted down a runway to strains of Mozart. Five of the designs - in varieties of camouflage, faux fur, knit, and red-and-white patterns inspired by the Japanese and Austrian flags - were made available for purchase at the website A DVD is included with the purchase, and even at a price of 199 euro (about 250 dollars), the Website reports that all designs are already sold out. Several farmers have had the suits made with their farms’ names custom embroidered, and reports surfaced that advertisers have expressed interest in using the outfits to advertise everything from chicken soup to KFC. But even the designers admit that the ChickensSuit® "is a gadget that no one needs but everyone wants to have."

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

I don't want you to think I procrastinate. Okay, it's 7:30 pm EST on the Sunday night before this E-Newsletter is going out, and I'm just writing this Links column. And I just made air reservations for a trip I'm taking on Tuesday. Okay, well, perhaps I do procrastinate a little bit. So, what do I write about this month? Well, as the e-mail you got earlier this month indicated, World Almanac has just come out with a new book, The World Almanac Book of Records and I'm going to cover some of the range of subjects discussed in the book.

On May 25, 2001, Erik Weihenmayer from Golden, CO, became the first blind person to conquer Mount Everest. The 32-year-old who had lost his sight at 13 due to a rare hereditary disease of the retina, took up rock climbing at 16 and before Everest had climbed Mount McKinley in Alaska, Mount Aconcaguq in Argentina, and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Learn more about Weinhenmayer at his website (ADVENTURE: Mount Everest)

The world's oldest known primate is Cheeta, the chimpanzee that starred in 12 Tarzan movies in the 1930s and 1940s. While most chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, live about 45 years in the wild and up to 60 years in captivity, Cheeta turned 74 on April 2006. Cheeta is retired these days but enjoys painting (hey, I don't make this stuff up), and you can see some of these paintings and learn more about Cheeta at By the way, there's a color picture of Cheeta in the book holding a photograph of his former co-star, the late Johnny Weissmuller. (ANIMALS: Mammals)

Electronics didn't start in the 20th century in fact, the Croatian-born American electrical engineer Nikola Tesla was the first to implement wireless remote control, applying the then-new technology of radio. He used this technology to steer a boat in a demonstration in May 1898 at New York City's Madison Square Garden. Learn more about Tesla at http:// (COMPUTERS & ELECTRONICS: Robotics)

The oldest ruling family, or house, is the Japanese imperial family. Japan's royalty traces its roots to the nation's first emperor, Jimmu, who began his rule around 660 BC. The present emperor, Akihito, is the 125th successor to the first emperor. Emperor Akihito ascended to the throne on Jan. 7, 1989. His reign is called Heisei, which translates to "the achievement of complete peace on earth and in the heavens." To learn more about the Japanese imperial family visit (EVERYDAY LIFE: Monarchs)



Alan B. Shepard golfing on the Moon.

The Eden Project, which opened on March 17, 2001, in Cornwall, Great Britain, houses the largest greenhouse in the world. The Humid Tropics Biome, the larger of its two greenhouses, is a geodesic dome measuring 787 feet long, 361 feet wide, and 164 feet high (11,657,724.6 cubic feet). It replicates four types of tropical rainforest and has an 82 foot high waterfall. The two biomes house over 100,000 plants. Learn more about the Eden Project at (NATURE: Plants & Garden)

The first, and so far only, lunar golf shots were made by Alan B. Shepard on Feb. 6, 1971. Shepard had stashed a makeshift six-iron on board Apollo 14. Like a typical duffer on the first tee with the world watching, he whiffed on his first swing, but he made contact after that. Despite the fun-loving astronaut's later claims, he didn't hit a ball into orbit, just into the history books. Check out some video footage at (SPACE: Human Spaceflight)

The first intercollegiate women's basketball game was played between Stamford and the University of California, Berkeley, on April 4, 1896, at the Page Street Armory in San Francisco, CA. Stamford won, 2-1. They played a nine-player, three-zone game in front of 700 enthusiastic spectators. Only women were allowed to watch the game, which was such a novelty that San Francisco papers sent female reporters and illustrators to get the story. Learn more about Women's NCAA Division 1 Basketball at (SPORTS: College Basketball)


The festival of La Tomatina, celebrated the last Wednesday in August in the town of Buñol, Spain, is world-famous for its hour-long tomato fight in the town square at high noon. According to the most reliable accounts, the first tomato fight started in 1945 as a mishap at a parade honoring the town's patron saint. It has evolved into an organized event, with trucks dumping crushed red tomatoes on the streets an hour before bombardment commences. Learn more at (SPANNING THE WORLD: Spain)

Students currently enrolled in grades 5-12 can enter our World Almanac Book of Records Contest at Students must be between 10 and 18 years of age as of the date of entry and must reside within the 50 United States, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia to be eligible to enter. Please read all official rules.

Quote of the Month

Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.
     - Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), American clergyman and civil-rights leader

© World Almanac Education Group

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

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Louise Bloomfield, Jane Hogan, C. Alan Joyce, and Walter Kronenberg.

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