The World Almanac E-Newsletter

Volume 06, Number 07 — July 2006

What's in this issue?

July Events
July — National and International
This Day In History — July
July Birthdays
Travel - Stuttgart, Germany
Obituaries - June 2006
Special Feature: The Death Penalty: Thirty Years of Gregg v. Georgia
Chronology - June 2006
Sports Feature
Science in the News: Bird Flu Cluster Causes Concern
Offbeat News Stories
Links of the Month
Quote of the Month
How to reach us

July Events

July 1 - Yukon Gold Panning Championships (Dawson City, Yukon Territory)
July 1-4 - Spamtown USA Freedom Fest (Austin, MN)
July 1-23 - Tour de France
July 2 - Ducktona 500 (Sheboygan Falls, WI)
July 4 - Boom Box Parade (Willimantic, CT)
July 7-8 - Wayne Chicken Days (Wayne, NE)
July 7-14 - Running of the Bulls (Pamplona, Spain)
July 7-30 - AFRMA Fancy Rat and Mouse Display and Show (Costa Mesa, CA)
July 8-16 - Three Rivers Festival (Fort Wayne, IN)
July 11 - Major League Baseball All-Star Game (Pittsburgh)
July 11-17 - Jyvaskyla Arts Festival (Finland)
July 13-15 - Turkey Rama (McMinnville, OR)
July 13-23 - Just For Laughs: The Montreal International Comedy Festival (Quebec, Canada)
July 15 - Cow Appreciation Day (Woodstock, VT)
July 15-22 - Gay Games VII (Chicago)
July 17-30 - Folkmoot USA: The North Carolina International Folk Festival (Waynesville)
July 18-19 - Prospect Park Fishing Contest (Brooklyn, NY)
July 18-22 - National Baby Food Festival (Fremont, MI)
July 20-22 - Fargo’s Downtown Street Fair (Fargo, ND)
July 20-23 - British Open golf tournament (Royal Liverpool, Hoylake, England)
July 23-29 - W.C. Handy Music Festival (Florence, AL)
July 27-29 - Great Texas Mosquito Festival (Clute, TX)
July 27-30 - Rockhound Gemboree (Bancroft, Ontario)
July 28-31 - Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend (Cooperstown, NY)

July Holidays — National and International

July 1 - Canada Day, Half-Year Day (China), Midyear Day (Thailand)
July 4 - Independence Day
July 7 - Tanabata (Star Festival) (Japan)
July 14 - Bastille Day (France)

A World Almanac Book of Records Fact


The world's smelliest flower, Amorphophallus titanium, or Titan Arum, also known as corpse flower, looks spectacular but smells horrible. The giant plant emits the smell of rotting flesh so as to attract the insects that pollinate it; it can be detected from half a mile away.

This Day In History — July

Day Year Event
Day Year Event
01 1863 In the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg begins in Pennsylvania; Union forces win a major victory over the Confederates after 3 days of brutal fighting.
02 2001 59-year-old Robert Tools receives the world's first fully implantable artificial heart after a 7-hour surgery.
03 1976 At Entebbe airport in Uganda, an Israeli commando unit stages a raid on an Air France airliner that was hijacked en route from Tel Aviv to Paris; 103 hostages are rescued, while 3 hostages, 7 hijackers, and 20 Ugandan soldiers are killed.
04 1946 The United States gives the Philippines its independence.
05 1811 Venezuela's independence is formally proclaimed.
06 1885 Louis Pasteur successfully tests his vaccine against rabies.
07 1981 Pres. Ronald Reagan announces the nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court, the first woman ever named to the Court.
08 1889 The Wall Street Journal publishes its first issue.
09 1386 Swiss win a decisive battle in the struggle for independence from Austrian rule at Sempach.
10 1931 Death Valley, California, temperatures reach a whopping 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.7 Celsius), the hottest on U.S. record.
11 1995 The United States announces it is reestablishing diplomatic relations with Vietnam.
12 1690 In the Battle of the Boyne, William III, recently named king of England and Ireland in the Glorious Revolution, defeats the exiled former king James II.
13 1863 Draft riots begin in New York City; by July 16, some 1,000 people are killed or wounded and some blacks are hanged by mobs.
14 1881 Outlaw William H. Bonney Jr., better known as Billy the Kid, is shot and killed in Fort Sumter, NM, by Sheriff Pat Garrett.
15 1410 Poles and Lithuanians inflict a decisive defeat on the Teutonic Knights at Tannenberg (Stebark, Poland), marking the beginning of the decline of that order.
16 1918 In Russia, Czar Nicholas II and his family are executed by a firing squad on the order of the Bolsheviks.
17 1945 The Potsdam Conference begins, with the leaders of the United States, the Soviet Union, and Britain agreeing on the disarmament of Germany, occupation zones, and war crimes trials.
18 1993 Japan's Liberal Democratic Party, in office since 1955, loses its majority in parliament in general elections.
19 1848 A seminal women’s rights convention opens in Seneca Falls, NY.
20 1971 British Columbia becomes part of the Confederation of Canada as the sixth province.
21 1976 Over a 3-day period until July 24, what comes to be known as "Legionnaires' disease" strikes people attending an American Legion convention in Philadelphia, eventually killing 29.
22 1991 Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is arrested.
23 1952 Army officers launch a revolution in Egypt, transforming the country from a monarchy to a republic.
24 1704 During the War of the Spanish Succession, Gibraltar is captured by combined English and Dutch forces.
25 1909 French engineer Louis Blériot flies across the English Channel in a monoplane that he has designed and built.
26 1956 Egypt seizes control of the Suez Canal and is subsequently invaded by Israel, France, and Great Britain.
27 1866 A telegraph cable across the Atlantic is completed, establishing communication between the United States and England.
28 1821 South American revolutionary José de San Martín proclaims the independence of Peru.
29 1981 Watched by an estimated 750 million TV viewers, Britain's Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer are married in London's St. Paul Cathedral.
30 1974 The House of Representatives votes to recommend the third article of impeachment against President Nixon, charging him with defiance of committee subpoenas.
31 1556 Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), dies in Rome.

July Birthdays

Day Year  
Day Year  
01 1941 Twyla Tharp, dancer/choreographer (Portland, IN)
02 1956 Jerry Hall, actress-model (Gonzalez, TX)
03 1930 Pete Fountain, jazz musician (New Orleans, LA)
04 1911 Mitch Miller, musician (Rochester, NY)
05 1951 Goose Gossage, baseball pitcher (Colorado Springs, CO)
06 1946 Sylvester Stallone, actor/director (New York, NY)
07 1972 Lisa Leslie, basketball player (Inglewood, CA)
08 1946 Cynthia Gregory, ballerina (Los Angeles, CA)
09 1956 Tom Hanks, actor (Oakland, CA)
10 1956 Anita Hill, legal scholar and sexual harassment complainant against Clarence Thomas (Morris, OK)
11 1931 Tab Hunter, actor (New York, NY)
12 1971 Kristi Yamaguchi, Olympic champion figure skater (Hayward, CA)
13 1946 Cheech Marin, actor and writer (Los Angeles, CA)
14 1930 Polly Bergen, actress (Knoxville, TN)
15 1946 Linda Ronstadt, singer/songwriter (Tucson, AZ)
16 1948 Pinchas Zukerman, violinist (Tel Aviv, Israel)
17 1912 Art Linkletter, TV personality (Saskatchewan, Canada)
18 1918 Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist/political prisoner and South African president (Gunu, Transkei, South Africa)
19 1946 Ilie Nastase, tennis player (Bucharest, Romania)
20 1919 Sir Edmund Hillary, explorer/mountaineer and first to reach the summit of Mount Everest (Auckland, New Zealand)
21 1926 Norman Jewison, producer/director (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
22 1923 Robert Dole, former KS senator, Senate majority leader, and presidential candidate (Russell, KS)
23 1936 Anthony Kennedy, Supreme Court justice (Sacramento, CA)
24 1936 Ruth Buzzi, actress/comedian (Westerly, RI)
25 1925 Estelle Getty, actress (New York, NY)
26 1956 Dorothy Hamill, Olympic champion figure skater (Chicago, IL)
27 1922 Norman Lear, TV writer/producer and political activist (New Haven, CT)
28 1943 Bill Bradley, basketball player, former NJ senator, presidential aspirant, and writer (Crystal City, MO)
29 1936 Elizabeth Hanford Dole, former Red Cross president, cabinet member, and presidential aspirant (Salisbury, NC)
30 1941 Paul Anka, singer/songwriter (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)
31 1951 Evonne Goolagong, tennis champion (Griffith, Australia)

Travel - Stuttgart, Germany

Soccer fans found Stuttgart especially enticing in June 2006. It was one of the dozen venues in Germany where World Cup matches were held. Stuttgart was also slated to host the match for third place in early July. But this southern German city offers a multitude of attractions throughout the year, for travelers of all ilks. A leading industrial and business center and the capital of Baden-Württemberg State, it played a key role in the development of the automobile, and remains a base of operations for both Mercedes-Benz and Porsche (whose logo includes the city's name plus a representation of the rearing horse in the Stuttgart coat of arms). Stuttgart also has its cultural attractions, including celebrated opera and ballet companies, and offers superb shopping opportunities. A number of vineyards and mineral spas can be found nearby, and the legendary Black Forest is not far off. There also are some interesting castles and fortresses in the region.

Far and near
In keeping with Stuttgart's reputation as a technology nexus, a good way to start a tour of the town is to visit the city's television tower. Built in the 1950s and standing 712 ft (217 m) high, it provided a model for TV towers around the globe. Some of its progeny are much taller, but the Stuttgart tower (which was renovated in 2005) nonetheless affords a marvelous view of the surrounding landscape, including the vineyards of the Neckar River valley and an array of woodlands and mountains.

In the city proper a central focal point is the Palace Square. During the World Cup huge screens were set up there, showing all the matches taking place in the tournament. The area surrounding the Schlossplatz houses a number of cultural attractions, including the city and state libraries, the Collegiate Church (Stiftskirche), the Stuttgart Art Museum (Kunstmuseum), the State Gallery, and the State Theater.

Old and new
The ancient Romanesque/Gothic Collegiate Church was the site, in 1534, of the first Protestant sermon ever preached in Württemberg. It was substantially remodeled in the past few years, with significant acoustic improvements. Close by, seemingly floating above the Palace Square, is the Kunstmuseum, a striking glass cube by the Berlin architects Hascher and Jehle that opened in March 2005. It hosts temporary shows in addition to exhibiting its own holdings, which are particularly strong in Swabian and other German artists, notably Otto Dix, along with works of concrete art.

The State Gallery all by itself offers a mixture of old and new. In addition to the classicist old building, erected in the early 19th century, it has a postmodern expansion building, which was designed by British architect James Stirling and opened in 1984. The old building houses the museum's graphics collection and art works from the 14th to the 19th century. The new building, a remarkable blending of geometric abstraction with classical allusions, focuses on works from the 20th century and later, including ones by such masters as Giacometti, Klee, and Picasso. A highlight of 2006 is the exhibition "Claude Monet - Fields in Spring," slated to remain on view until September.

The State Theater, originally a royal court theater built in the early 20th century, now encompasses an opera house plus three smaller theaters, and provides a venue for ballet, concerts, and theater, as well as opera.

Science and technology
The city's planetarium is a star attraction. Located not far from the Palace Square, this pyramid-shaped sky theater is said to be the best planetarium in Germany and one of the most technically advanced in the world. Since 2001 it has used a high-tech Carl Zeiss projector called the Universarium, Model IX.

For visitors more attuned to living things there is the famous combination zoo and botanical garden known as the Wilhelma, located at a Moorish-style complex that was built as a summer palace for Württemberg's King Wilhelm I. It features animals from all the earth's climate zones - some 10,000, representing nearly 1000 species - and plants from more than 5,000 species. There is an exotic orchid collection and an impressive magnolia grove.

Lovers of motor cars will find Stuttgart something akin to paradise. Mercedes Benz has run an automotive-history museum there since the 1920s. In May 2006 it opened a spectacular new facility by the DaimlerChrysler plant in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim. The new museum provides 178,000 sq ft (16,500 sq m) of exhibition space, accommodating about 180 vehicles. It is built in the shape of a huge double helix. Visitors start at the top and can choose from two different tours through the exhibition halls - Legend (exemplary vehicles from 120 years of Mercedes-Benz history) or Collection (vehicles from the company collection, with frequent change of exhibits). One of the treasures on exhibit is a Mercedes-Benz owned by Japanese Emperor Hirohito in the 1930s.

The Mercedes-Benz Museum is probably unparalleled anywhere in the world. But Porsche also operates a smaller museum, where you can see some 20 historic models. The company has a much bigger museum in the works, with space up to 80 vehicles; it is expected to open in 2007.

City Panoramas
Mercedes-Benz Museum
Planetarium Stuttgart

A World Almanac Book of Records Fact


Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital, is a modern city in which all the houses are heated by hot water from geothermal springs. Even the snow on parking lots and sidewalks is melted by underground hot water pipes.

Obituaries in June 2006

Cameron, James, 92, survivor of a 1930 lynching attempt who went on to found a Milwaukee museum, America’s Black Holocaust Museum, documenting the long history of racially motivated attacks on African Americans; Milwaukee, WI, June 11, 2006.

Epstein, Barbara, 77, one of the founders (1963) of the major intellectual journal the New York Review of Books and the publication’s co-editor throughout its history; New York, NY, June 16, 2006.

Haughey, Charles, 80, prime minister of Ireland for much of the period between 1979 and 1992, when he quit amid allegations of financial corruption; Kinsealy, Ireland, June 13, 2006.

Ligeti, Gyorgy, 83, Hungarian-Jewish composer whose dense, experimental music gained its widest exposure when director Stanley Kubrick used some of it in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); Vienna, Austria, June 12, 2006.

Newman, Arnold, 88, portrait photographer known for capturing his subjects - who included every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton - in environments reflective of their personalities or working habits; New York, NY, June 6, 2006.

Preston, Billy, 59, keyboard player, singer and songwriter who collaborated with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and made a number of solo recordings as well; Scottsdale, AZ, June 6, 2006.

Ramsey, Patricia, 49, onetime Miss West Virginia whose six-year-old beauty-contestant daughter, JonBenet Ramsey, was murdered in 1996 at the family’s Colorado home; the highly publicized crime, which some suspected her of having committed, remained unsolved; Roswell, GA, Jun 24, 2006.

Richards, Lloyd, 87, stage director who first exposed Broadway audiences to the work of black playwrights Lorraine Hansberry and August Wilson; New York, NY, June 29, 2006.

Ruiz, Hilton, 54, jazz pianist and composer, equally adept at Latin jazz and bebop, who recorded more than a dozen albums; New Orleans, LA, June 6, 2006.

Sherman, Vincent, 99, Hollywood film director who flourished at Warner Bros. during the heyday of the studio system in the 1940s and 1950s; he became known as a director of "women’s pictures;" Los Angeles, CA, June 18, 2006.

Spelling, Aaron, 83, prolific producer of some of the most widely watched shows in TV history, including "Charlie’s Angels" (1976-81), "The Love Boat" (1977-86), "Dynasty" (1981-89) and "Melrose Place" (1992-99); Los Angeles, CA, June 23, 2006.

Thomson, Kenneth, 82, Canadian media magnate whose properties included the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper and who had long been ranked as Canada’s richest man; Toronto, ON, June 12, 2006.

Special Feature: The Death Penalty: Thirty Years of Gregg v. Georgia

Joe Gustaitis

Thirty years ago - on July 2, 1976 - the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision in the case of Gregg v. Georgia stating that the death penalty did not violate the Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual" punishment. At the time, capital punishment was a contentious issue in the U.S. Today, it remains a hotly debated issue - perhaps even more so now because, through statistics and science, much more has been learned about how the death penalty does and does not work. Amid continuing controversy surrounding capital punishment, the Supreme Court has revisited the issue often since 1976, when its ruling allowed individual states to either adopt or reject the death penalty. Today capital punishment is legal in 38 states, and can also be administered by both the federal government and the military.

Capital Punishment Statutes

Four years before Gregg v. Georgia, in the June 1972 case of Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, had found that the death penalty as usually enforced was a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. At that time, no states had laws regulating when juries could or could not issue the death penalty. Because of this, death sentences were often issued inconsistently and unpredictably. This inconsistency not only violated the Eighth Amendment, but was also found to violate the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees all U.S. citizens a fair trial and equal protection under the law. Justices Thurgood Marshall and William J. Brennan, Jr. were completely opposed to the death penalty, commenting that any form of capital punishment must be considered cruel and unusual punishment under current moral standards. Potter Stewart and Byron R. White based their opposition on the arbitrary manner in which the death penalty was imposed, and William O. Douglas said that application of the death penalty was clearly discriminatory, given that it was imposed on a disproportionate number of minority group or lower-class people.

The ruling, however, did not ban the death penalty outright as it only overturned current capital punishment statutes, but still allowed for state legislatures and Congress to write and enact new capital punishment laws. Because the justices in the majority had given various reasons for ruling against the death penalty, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger commented that "the future of capital punishment in this country has been left in an uncertain limbo," but suggested that Congress and state legislatures might comply with the court's ruling by "more narrowly defining the crimes for which the penalty is to be imposed" and by setting precise standards for judges and juries to follow in enforcing the laws. In fact, many states acted quickly to do just that. By June 15 of the following year, fourteen states had restored the death penalty and four others had passed bills that awaited only signatures by their governors. (Eventually, 38 states reinstated capital punishment.) At the time, a Harris poll showed that 59% of those polled supported the death penalty and 31% did not. Almost four years later, in January 1977, a Utah firing squad executed convicted murderer Gary Gilmore, ending a ten-year moratorium on executions in the United States.

In an important case in 1977, the Supreme Court ruled that a man could not be sentenced to death for the rape of an adult woman. Justice White wrote in the majority opinion, "Rape is without doubt deserving of serious punishment, but in terms of moral depravity and of the injury to the person and to the public, it does not compare with murder, which does involve the unjustified taking of human life." This ruling, however, did not mark a trend toward further restrictions on the death penalty, and subsequent Supreme Court decisions eased its use. For example, in 1986, in the case of Lockhart v. McCree, the Court ruled that resolute opponents of the death penalty could be barred from juries in capital cases.

A significant widening of the use of the death penalty came with the Court's 1987 decision in the case of Tison v. Arizona. That case concerned two brothers, Ricky and Raymond Tison, who had helped their father, a convicted murderer, to escape from prison. During their flight, the father flagged down a car. While his sons went to get water, the elder Tison, along with an escaped cellmate, murdered the four passengers. The Tison brothers were eventually convicted on felony-murder charges and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court upheld that sentence, ruling that defendants who played a major role in a crime that resulted in murder may be sentenced to death if they displayed a "reckless indifference" to life - whether or not the defendants had intended to kill anyone.

The Death Penalty Debate

For a long time, the debate surrounding the death penalty was framed in terms of its value as a deterrent. Supporters argued that the threat of death prevented people from committing capital crimes, and opponents contended that the evidence was not persuasive. In the 1970s, however, an argument against the death penalty was built on possible racial bias in sentencing, which Justice Douglas had articulated in 1972. In 1978, Dr. William J. Bowers of Northeastern University published a study that showed that murderers of blacks were far less likely to be sentenced to death than murderers of whites even though the rates at which whites and blacks were victimized were almost the same. The survey, based on a study of the death rows of Georgia, Florida, and Texas, found that 45% of the condemned prisoners were blacks who had killed whites, 50% were whites who had killed whites and 5% were blacks who had killed blacks. Bowers’s study, which appeared to confirm the findings of a similar report issued two years earlier, also found that no white inmates were on death row in any of the three states for killing blacks.

A later study conducted by Professors David C. Baldus, George Woodworth, and Charles Pulanski, which was based on a review of more than 2,000 murder cases that occurred in Georgia, indicated that murderers of whites were four times more likely to receive death sentences than murderers of blacks. This report became the basis of another important Supreme Court decision on the death penalty in the 1987 case of McCleskey v. Kemp. McCleskey v. Kemp dealt with the case of a black man, Warren McCleskey, who had been convicted of killing a white policeman in Georgia. McCleskey, who had been sentenced to death, charged that the Georgia capital punishment system was tainted by racism in its sentencing procedures and offered the Baldus Study as evidence. However, the court rejected McCleskey’s racial challenge to the death penalty, saying that although it did not dispute the Baldus report, it did not prove discrimination in McCleskey's specific case. In the court’s majority opinion, Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. wrote, a generalized study showing "a discrepancy that appears to correlate with race" was not enough to overturn this specific ruling. In April 1991, McCleskey filed a second challenge to the constitutionality of his conviction. The Supreme Court denied his appeal, stating that his second petition did not meet the court’s new standards, which limited the number of times death-row inmates and other state prisoners could file appeals. About five months later, McCleskey was put to death in the electric chair in Jackson, Georgia.

The race issue was not the only one that spurred doubts about the death penalty - there was also the matter of adequate representation. The American Bar Association (ABA) examined this issue in the late 1990s, and in 1997 voted to seek a moratorium on executions until the federal government and the states with the death penalty could ensure greater fairness and due process for defendants. Two groups within the ABA labeled the administration of the death penalty "a haphazard maze of unfair practices." Supporters of the measure said that hundreds of the more than 3,000 inmates on death row had no lawyer to handle their appeals and that many defendants facing the death penalty were represented by underpaid or incompetent lawyers.

In the 1990s science, in the form of DNA testing, began to play a role in the debate. Supporters of the death penalty claim that DNA testing can prove the guilt of an inmate beyond a doubt. On the other hand, death-penalty opponents claim that DNA testing can be used to exonerate inmates who were convicted before DNA testing was introduced. In 1988, Timothy W. Spencer became the first person to be convicted of a capital crime in the United States based on DNA testing. Six years later, he also became the first person to be executed based on such evidence. In 2000, convicted murderer Ricky McGinn had his death sentence upheld after DNA testing corroborated a Texas jury's verdict that he had raped and killed his stepdaughter in 1995.

However, in October 2000, a little over a month after the McGinn ruling, Virginia Governor James Gilmore granted convicted murderer and death-row inmate Earl Washington Jr. an "absolute pardon," after DNA tests proved that he had not committed the rape and murder for which he was to be executed. In August 1999, following DNA tests, death-row inmate Ronald Jones was cleared of all charges, and became the 12th person in 12 years to be freed from death row in Illinois because of wrongful conviction.

Seven years before, Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld established at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York what is called the Innocence Project. This nonprofit legal clinic handles only cases where postconviction DNA testing of evidence can yield conclusive proof of a person's innocence. As of mid-June 2006, they claimed to have, by the use of DNA testing, exonerated 180 wrongfully convicted inmates. Their success, as well as that of others, began to cast serious doubt on the fairness of the death penalty. Although polls continued to show that most Americans still supported capital punishment in murder cases, more and more began to accept the likelihood that an innocent person might already have been executed - or would be likely to in the future.

Arguments surrounding the constitutionality of execution methods have also long surrounded the death penalty debate. In 1994, a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco, California found the use of the gas chamber as a method of execution "inhumane" and ruled that it violated the Eight Amendment. Six years later, after its electric chair malfunctioned during several executions, the Florida legislature approved the use of lethal injection as the state's primary method of execution. In 2001, Georgia's Supreme Court banned electrocution, stating that it violated the state constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Similar arguments surround the use of lethal injection today - the primary method of execution in 37 of the 38 states that allow the death penalty. A report published in April 2005 in the British medical journal The Lancet suggested that the anesthetic used during the lethal injection procedure was not enough to prevent excruciating pain from the drugs pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the muscles, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

In 2006, a Californian inmate, Michael Morales, had his execution indefinitely postponed because prison authorities were unable to follow a judge's order on the lethal injection procedure. Two months later, North Carolina prison authorities used a brain-wave monitoring device to ensure that the inmate was unconscious as he received injections of the potentially painful drugs pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. In June 2006, the Supreme Court voted to allow a Florida death-row inmate, Clarence Hill, to challenge the use of lethal injection under the Civil Rights Act of 1871. Hill filed a suit claiming that the lethal injection procedure could cause undue pain and suffering. If Hill's suit is successful, it could lead to major changes in the use of the death penalty in the United States.

Fraught with Error?

One of the most widely publicized episodes in the capital punishment controversy took place in early 2000, when George H. Ryan, the governor of Illinois, announced that he was suspending further executions until his state's administration of capital punishment could be examined. Ryan, a Republican who had been a longtime supporter of the death penalty, said the system was "fraught with error" and that he could not permit executions until he was certain that all persons on death row were "truly guilty." He pointed out that 13 inmates on death row had had their sentences overturned since Illinois had reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Three years later, just before leaving office, Ryan caused even more controversy when he resolved all of the state's remaining death-row cases in the largest mass commutation in U.S. history. He effectively emptied death row by pardoning four inmates, reducing three death sentences to 40 years in prison, and reducing the sentences of 164 convicts to life imprisonment without parole.

Meanwhile, a comprehensive survey of U.S. capital punishment cases released on June 12, 2000 found that between 1973 and 1995, more than two-thirds of death sentences had been overturned on appeal due to procedural flaws or unsound evidence. The study, directed by James Liebman of Columbia University Law School in New York City, looked at every death-penalty appeal during the study period and concluded that the U.S.'s capital punishment system was "collapsing under the weight of its own mistakes," and, using the same phrase employed by Ryan, was "fraught with error."

Perhaps in response to such revelations as uncovered by Ryan and Liebman, and in what appeared to be a shift in public opinion regarding the death penalty, the Supreme Court began adjusting its views. In 2002, the Court reversed a 1989 ruling that had upheld the execution of mentally retarded murderers. In the case of Atkins v. Virginia the Court held, 6-3, that the execution of mentally retarded criminals violated the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. That same month, the Court ruled in Ring v. Arizona that a jury, not a judge, had to determine whether to impose the death penalty. Legal experts predicted that this decision would result in fewer death penalty verdicts because juries were less likely than judges to impose capital punishment. In 2003 the Court threw out a death sentence imposed on Kevin Wiggins, a convicted murderer, on the grounds that his court-appointed lawyers, who had never before worked on a capital case and had waived his rights to a jury trial, had not provided him with adequate representation. Finally, in a landmark 2005 decision, the Court ruled, 5-4, in the case of Roper v. Simmons that the Eighth Amendment barred the executions of inmates who committed their crimes before age 18.

In November 2005 the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 59 inmates had been executed in the U.S. in 2004, down from 65 in 2003, and that 125 people had received death sentences in 2004, a drop from 152 in 2003 and the fourth straight annual decline. The annual average for death sentences during the 1990s was 290, and the 2004 figure was the smallest since 1973 (that year 44 people entered prison with death sentences). A drop in violent crime was a factor in this trend, along with the growing availability of life in prison without parole as a sentencing option. However, the Supreme Court rulings certainly had an effect, as did the exonerations of death-row inmates by means of DNA testing. Finally, in 1995, Pope John Paul II had issued an encyclical entitled Evangelium Vitae, in which he wrote that cases in which the death penalty should be implemented were "very rare, if not practically nonexistent." In response to his message, four years later the administrative board of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued an appeal calling for the public, especially Roman Catholics, to seek an end to capital punishment.

According to Amnesty International, more than 40 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes since 1990. In Europe, abolition of the death penalty is a requirement for any country seeking to become a member of the European Union (EU). Today, well over half the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, leaving the U.S. part of a distinct minority. Among the countries that use it the most are China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, all nations that the U.S. would probably not like to be compared to when it comes to human rights. In 2004, the United States ranked fourth in the number of executions carried out, just behind China, Iran, and Vietnam. Does this mean that capital punishment might be coming to an end in the U.S.?

In 2005, a Gallup poll indicated that 64% of Americans favored the death penalty, down from a high of 80% in 1994. A Gallup poll released in May 2006 found that when respondents were given a choice between the options of life without parole and the death penalty, only 47% of respondents chose capital punishment - the lowest percentage in 20 years. Only 34% of those polled opined that the death penalty deters murder, and 63% believed that an innocent person had been executed in the past five years. Nevertheless, although the margin of support is shrinking, overall support for the capital punishment is 65% and few politicians with national aspirations appear eager to run on a platform of ending it.

A World Almanac Book of Records Fact


Figure skating as an Olympic sport dates to 1908, when it was included in the London Summer Games. Ice hockey made its debut in the summer too, at the 1920 Antwerp program.

Chronology — Events of June 2006


     Republicans Keep California House Seat - In a runoff election to fill a vacant U.S. House seat in CA, Republican Brian Bilbray prevailed June 6 by a margin of 4% over Democrat Francine Busby. Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham (R) had resigned the seat in 2005 after pleading guilty to taking bribes. Bilbray’s narrow margin in what is considered a strong Republican district was seen as evidence that the GOP may face some difficult challenges in the November 2006 congressional elections.

     Senate Rejects 2 Proposed Constitutional Amendments - The Senate June 7 voted 49-48 to cut off debate on an amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. Sixty votes were needed to end debate. Pres. George W. Bush had backed the ban on same-sex marriage. On June 27, the Senate voted 66-34 for an amendment to give Congress power to prohibit the desecration of the flag, just one vote short of the required two-thirds.

     3 Detainees Commit Suicide at U.S. Prison - Three prisoners being held at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, hanged themselves June 10. Their suicides were the first reported prisoner deaths at the facility. The incident fueled further international debate over the legality of holding prisoners there without trial as pressure mounted for the U.S. to close the prison.

     Top Bush Aide Won’t Be Indicted In CIA Leak Case - Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who was investigating the leak of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, June 12 notified the attorney for Karl Rove, Pres. Bush’s top political strategist, that Rove did not face indictment. Rove had testified before a grand jury 5 times.

     Congress Opposes Timetable for Iraq Withdrawal - Members of Congress, mostly Democrats, who favored setting a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, were rebuffed in the House and Senate on June 16 and 22, respectively. Pres. Bush vigorously opposed such moves on the grounds that it could incite further insurgent activity in Iraq. The House approved, 256-153, a resolution saying that the U.S. would complete its mission without setting a timetable for withdrawal. The Senate later defeated, 86-13, a resolution introduced by John Kerry (D, MA) and Russ Feingold (D, WI) that called for pulling out most troops by July 2007. A second resolution, which urged Bush to begin a withdrawal but set no timetable for completing it, failed 60-39.

     Ex-White House Official Convicted of Perjury and Obstruction - David Safavian, a former Bush administration official, was found guilty June 20 of 4 of 5 counts of lying to investigators and obstruction of justice. Safavian had been chief of staff at the General Services Administration and chief procurement officer at the Office of Management and Budget. A witness had testified that Safavian had given inside information to lobbyist Jack Abramoff on 2 real estate parcels that Abramoff wanted to buy. Safavian and others had gone on an expensive golf junket to Scotland on a chartered jet plane, and Safavian acknowledged paying Abramoff only a small portion of his share of the cost.

     U.S. Examines World Bank Data in Pursuit of Terrorists - An article in the New York Times reported June 23 that the Bush administration had been scouring international financial transactions in order to identify the sources of financing for terror organizations. The government relied on administrative subpoenas to obtain millions of records from the Society for Worldwide International Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), based in Brussels, Belgium. The Bush administration, which did not seek court-appointed warrants to examine individual transactions, initiated the secret program within weeks of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Wire transfers, a principal means of moving money from one country to another, came under scrutiny.
     Vice Pres. Dick Cheney June 23 charged that revelations about the program in the media "were making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks." Pres. Bush June 26 called the disclosure "disgraceful."

     Supreme Court Keeps Most of Texas Redistricting Map - The Supreme Court in a June 28 ruling said that a U.S. House redistricting map for Texas that had been redrawn by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2004 was done legally, although parts of the map had to be redrawn. The new map superseded one drawn by the legislature after the 2000 census, and favored Republicans, who ousted 4 incumbent Texas House Democrats in the November 2004 election. The remapping had been orchestrated by Tom DeLay, a Republican and then the majority leader of the U.S. House. In the complex case, the high court issued 5 separate opinions with shifting coalitions. In one, the majority held that part of the redrawing was in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was designed to protect minority voters. The court decreed that one redrawn district weakened the voting strength of Latinos in 2 districts and must be redrawn; however, no timetable was given.

     Supreme Court Rebuffs Bush on Guantanamo Detainees - The Supreme Court ruled June 29 that Pres. Bush had overstepped his authority in ordering military war crimes trials for detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison. It held 5-3 that the trials for 10 foreign terror suspects violated U.S. law and the Geneva conventions.
     Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, said the administration lacked the authority to take the "extraordinary measure" of scheduling special military trials for inmates, in which defendants have fewer legal protections than in civilian U.S. courts. The ruling left in limbo the legal status of 450 men still being held at the prison.


     West Offers Iran a Package of Incentives - Pres. Bush June 1 warned that Iran could face UN sanctions if it did not stop enriching uranium and enter negotiations aimed at stopping the Iranian nuclear program. Also on June 1, the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany agreed to a package of incentives for Iran if it stopped enriching uranium and accepted outside supplies of nuclear fuel. This package, which included light-water nuclear reactors to generate electricity, was presented to Iran June 6 by the EU.

     Canada Arrests 17 for Alleged Terrorist Plot - During the night of June 2-3, Canadian authorities arrested 12 men and 5 teenage boys who had allegedly plotted terror attacks in Canada. The 17 were picked up in Toronto and its suburbs. All the adults were charged June 5 with conspiracy. Charges against the juveniles were not made public.

     Former President Returns to Power in Peru - lan Garcia, who was president of Peru from 1985 to 1990, regained that office June 4 in a runoff election, prevailing by 5%. His first term had been plagued by inflation, insurgency, and corruption. Pres. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela had intervened in the current Peru election, endorsing the populist Ollanta Humala for president and calling Garcia a crook.

     Islamic Militia Gains Ground in Somalia - The Islamic Courts Union, an Islamic militia in Somalia that supports the imposition of Islamic law, said June 5 that it had gained control of Mogadishu, the capital. The militia was opposed by secular warlords who had reportedly been partially financed by the U.S. CIA. Islamist leaders met in Mogadishu June 24 and chose Hassan Dahir Aweys to head the newly formed Council of Islamic Courts. He had been vice chairman of al-Itihaad, which the Bush administration had labeled a terrorist group.

     U.S. Air Attack Kills al-Qaeda Leader in Iraq - Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of the al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq, was killed June 7 by a U.S. air strike on a house in Hibhib near Baqubah. He was thought to have been responsible for many acts of terror, including hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan in 2005, and the beheading of U.S. citizen Nicholas Berg in 2004. In all, 6 people were killed in the strike on the house, where Zarqawi was meeting with other terrorist leaders. Once U.S. coalition forces gained access to the site of the bombing, Zarqawi was positively identified by fingerprints and scars. A statement on an Islamic web site June 12 said he had been replaced by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. The U.S. military said June 15 that since Zarqawi’s death U.S. and Iraqi forces had conducted 452 raids, killing 104 insurgents and arresting 759 suspects and seizing 28 arms caches.
     In other Iraq news, the new Iraqi cabinet was completed June 8 with the appointment of ministers of defense, interior, and national security. On June 13, to show his support for the new government, Pres. Bush flew to Baghdad and met with Premier Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and 12 cabinet ministers during a 5-hour visit. Bush said U.S. military forces would not leave until the Iraqi government could stand on its own. Premier Junichiro Koizumi announced June 20 that Japan would withdraw its 550 troops from Iraq.
     In major acts of violence, a suicide bomber killed 27 in Basra June 3, gunmen killed at least 19 bus passengers north of Baghdad June 4, 6 bombs killed at least 25 in Kirkuk June 13, bombings and a mortar attack killed at least 35 in Baghdad June 17, and on June 23 a bomb killed 12 at a Sunni mosque in Hibhib, near where Zarqawi was killed. At a U.S. traffic checkpoint south of Baghdad, June 16, insurgents killed one U.S. soldier and captured 2 others. Both were found dead June 19. Khamis al-Obeidi June 21 became the third lawyer on ex-Pres. Saddam Hussein’s defense team to be assassinated.

     Death of 8 Palestinians Ignites New Mideast Crisis - An Israeli shell, aimed at a distant target, went astray and struck and killed 8 Palestinians and wounded 30 on a beach in Gaza June 9. The dead included 7 members of one family. Hamas, the ruling Palestinian faction, warned, "We will respond at the appropriate place and time." Hamas, ending a 15-month truce, fired 15 rockets from Gaza into Israel June 10. Hamas supporters also clashed, June 12, with their Fatah adversaries, who set fire to the parliament building in Ramallah. Ten Palestinians were killed and 40 wounded June 13 in an Israeli missile strike on a van in Gaza. Another Israeli strike June 20 killed 3 children.
     Eight Palestinian militants June 25 killed 2 Israeli soldiers, wounded 3, and kidnapped another whom they brought back to Gaza. . Two of the Palestinians were killed. Israel demanded the captive’s return. On June 28 the Israelis sent troops into Gaza, bombed a Hamas training camp, and arrested several Hamas cabinet ministers and parliament members. Israeli warplanes June 28 buzzed the seaside home of Pres. Bashar Assad of Syria in a show of force. Militants said June 28 that they had also kidnapped a Jewish settler, whom they then executed.

     North Korean Missile Draws Criticism - Japan and the U.S. strongly opposed North Korea’s intention to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile. The range of the missile was thought to be about 3,750 miles. North Korea had observed a launch moratorium since 1999. Japan said June 18 that in the event of a launch it would invoke economic penalties against North Korea and ask for UN sanctions. Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice said June 19 that the test firing would be "a very serious matter." In the wake of the controversy, no test launch had been reported.


     Gates to Gradually Step Down from Microsoft - Bill Gates, o-founder and head of software giant Microsoft and the wealthiest person in the world, said June 15 he would gradually retire from Microsoft Corp and over the next few years would take more of a part-time role in the company’s operation. Gates had stepped down as chief executive officer in 2002, but still maintained a presence in Microsoft’s day to day business. He plans to retire fully in 2008 in order to focus completely on the charitable Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

     Australian Wins U.S. Open as Others Fade - Geoff Ogilvy of Australia won the U.S. Open golf tournament June 18 after 2 close rivals each double-bogeyed the final hole. Ogilvy finished at 285, 5 over par, on the daunting Winged Foot Golf Club course in Mamaroneck, NY. After stumbling on the 18th hole, Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie ended at 286, along with Jim Furyk. For the first time in his professional career, Tiger Woods missed the cut, having shot 12 over par in 2 rounds.

     Miami Heat Win 1st NBA Title - The NBA powerhouse Miami Heat won their first title June 20, defeating the Dallas Mavericks 95-92 in Dallas to take the championship series 4 games to 2. Series MVP Dwayne Wade and veteran superstar Shaquille O’Neal led the Heat. Winning coach Pat Riley had also coached the championship L.A. Lakers teams in the 1980s.

     Buffett Gives $31 Bil to Gates Foundation - Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., made known June 25 that he would give $37.4 bil, or 85% of his wealth, to philanthropic organizations. Of that, $31 bil would go to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - already by far the largest U.S. philanthropic organization - which focuses primarily on improving health and education in poor nations.

Sports Feature — Vincent G. Spadafora

Agassi and Navratilova at Wimbledon

Tennis superstar Andre Agassi announced June 24, 2006, that this year’s Wimbledon will be his last. The 36-year-old who has been battling back problems, said he will retire later in the summer after the U.S. Open. However, depending how his body reacts, Wimbledon could possibly be his last major competition. Here are a few of Agassi’s achievements:

* 60 career singles titles
* 8 Grand Slam titles - Wimbledon in 1992, U.S. Open in 1994 and 1999, French Open in 1999, Australian Open in 1995, 2000, 2001, 2003.
* Agassi was one of only five men in history to win a career Grand Slam. The others were Roy Emerson, Rod Laver, Fred Perry and Don Budge.
* 864-270 career record
* $31,043,450 career prize money

Ageless legend Martina Navratilova, on the other hand is still going strong at age 49. Not only is she still playing some top-notch tennis, she will attempt to break the record for most Wimbledon tennis titles (singles and doubles combined). At 20 wins, she is currently tied for the record with Billie Jean King. That Navratilova can still compete at the pro level at her age goes to show what an incredible athlete she is and what a brilliant career she’s had.

Below is a list of Navratilova’s career Wimbledon achievements.

* Singles Champion:1978, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990
* Singles Runner-up: 1988, 1989, 1994
* Doubles Champion: 1976, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986
* Doubles Runner-up: 1977, 1985
* Mixed Doubles Runner-up: 1986

Science in the News: Bird Flu Cluster Causes Concern — Elisheva Coleman

This year spring brought sorrow, not cheer, to Kubu Sembelang, a tiny village on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Between May 4 and May 22, seven members of one family succumbed to avian flu, and an eighth relative fell ill but is recovering. World Health Organization (WHO) workers have rushed to the scene to investigate the outbreak, which is the largest cluster of human cases on record. Though they do not believe that the incident represents the start of a pandemic, it has renewed concerns about containing the disease if the H5N1 virus does mutate to an easily transmissible form.

Human to Human . . . to Human?
Health workers strongly suspect that avian flu passed from one or more original victims to others in Kubu Sembelang. The cluster is not the first example of human-to-human transmission between family members; there are at least two other cases, one in Thailand and one in Vietnam, in which a person seems to have caught the disease from a relative with whom they had close contact. What makes the Indonesian case stand out is the number of people stricken, which is considerably larger than in either of the earlier suspected human-to-human events.

Another disturbing aspect of the Kubu Sembelang cluster is that the virus may have passed from a secondary victim - an individual infected by a human rather than a bird - to a tertiary victim. In the past, H5N1 never jumped more than one step away from a bird host. In order to spark a pandemic, the virus would have to be able to move between people far removed from sick birds. Though it is not confirmed, the possibility that human-to-human-to-human transmission occurred in Indonesia has health workers fretting.

A Family Decimated
In Kubu Sembelang, WHO officials are playing detective and trying to retrace the deadly virus’s path. The first person to get sick was a 37-year-old woman, who showed initial symptoms on April 27 and died May 4. Because she was buried before health workers could take tissue samples they cannot confirm that she died of bird flu, but her symptoms fit the disease’s profile. Within a week of her death, 6 more members of her extended family were critically ill. Three of the victims - the woman’s two sons and one of her brothers - had spent the night in a small room with her when she was at the height of the illness and was coughing profusely. That brother is the only member of the cluster who recovered; the two boys died about a week later in a hospital. Laboratory tests confirmed that they died of H5N1.

Try as they might, WHO workers have not been able to identify the original source of infection. Some members of the family regularly sold fruit and vegetables at a local market, where live poultry was also slaughtered and sold. Live poultry markets have been identified as a major transmission route of the virus into humans, but WHO tests of birds from the market, as well as samples of bird feces from the surrounding countryside, were all negative for H5N1. Indonesia’s agriculture minister, on the other hand, reported that ducks, chickens and pigs in the area had tested positive for the virus. When the confusion is sorted out, an avian source for the virus will almost certainly be found, but it is pretty clear that, unlike in many other cases, the 8 victims did not all share a single exposure to sick birds.

Even if, as some workers have speculated, the entire family dined on infected poultry at a shared feast on April 29, the timing of the infections makes human-to-human transmission a near certainty. The last victim, a 32-year-old brother of the original woman, became ill on May 15. Influenza has an incubation period (the time between infection and onset of symptoms) of about a week, and this final victim is outside of that window. This means that he must have been infected after the rest of the family. The man tended to his 10-year-old son as the boy was dying, and probably caught the disease from him.

Same Old Genes
WHO workers collected samples from all the stricken family members except for the initial victim. After verifying that H5N1 was present in all of them, health officials sent virus samples to a lab for sequencing, to analyze how and if the viral genome had changed from previous human cases. Specifically, scientists were looking for mutations that would better equip H5N1 for human-to-human transmission, which could mark the onset of a pandemic.

Thankfully, news out of the lab was good. Technicians sequenced all 8 of the virus’s gene segments (influenza virus stores its genetic material in an unusual manner, on 8 separate RNA threads), and found, according to the WHO, "no evidence of genetic reassortment with human or pig influenza viruses and no evidence of significant mutations." Greater transmissibility among humans is not the only concern; epidemiologists also worry that the virus will mutate to become resistant to antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu, which is considered the best weapon for combating the disease once people are infected. To health officials’ relief, the Sumatran H5N1 strain showed no signs of improved human-to-human transmission or drug resistance. "It’s still a purely avian virus without significant mutations that would make it better adapted to humans," WHO spokesman Dick Thompson told the New York Times.

Considering the fact that, in the words of Guan Yi, an avian flu expert at the University of Hong Kong, "the virus looks pretty much the same as other cases," why did it prove so devastating to the afflicted Indonesian family? Experts think that the answer lies, not in the virus’s genes, but in those of its human victims. The family probably shares a genetic quirk that made them particularly susceptible to influenza infection, explained Nur Rasyid Lubis, an avian flu specialist at the North Sumatran hospital where five of the victims died. All eight of the victims, Lubis noted, were related by blood, not by marriage. Several spouses were in equally close contact with the sick relatives, but none of them showed any sign of infection. The fact that the disease struck only genetically related individuals - but struck them with unusual force - strongly suggests that the family was genetically susceptible to the virus.

Still a Step Behind
Flu experts are nearly ready to declare the Kubu Sembelang outbreak officially contained, meaning that, for the time being, human cases of avian flu remain rare and isolated incidents. Experts who participated in or followed the course of the investigation, however, found the course of events in Sumatra sobering. In rural, underdeveloped regions, where most bird flu cases occur, outbreaks can stay under the radar for a long time. The first victims of the recent outbreak got sick in late April, but the WHO did not become aware of the situation until mid-May. Had the virus in fact mutated to become highly virulent, hundreds or even thousands of people could have been infected within that time.

Once authorities become aware of an outbreak, it still takes about a week to sequence the entire flu genome. During that time, health workers are in the dark about the character of the virus they are treating. Eric Toner, an emergency medicine specialist at the University of Pittsburgh, says ruefully that the first sign that a dangerous form of the virus has emerged will be large numbers of deaths. "We’re not going to know it until a lot of people are infected," he told Reuters. A red flag will be health workers, who are exposed to the virus in the course of treating the sick. "If it [were] being transmitted efficiently, we would see health care workers being sick," Toner said.

Complicating containment efforts even further, the shell-shocked villagers of Kubu Sembelang did not cooperate with WHO workers. Fear and superstition mixed with overwhelming grief, leaving the victims’ surviving relatives and neighbors unwilling to discuss the events or provide workers with crucial bird and pig samples. The WHO was forced to set up headquarters 5 miles away from the village, and the lack of cooperation slowed their efforts considerably.

Bird flu experts are constantly modeling how the virus would spread in the case of a pandemic strain, but their computer models fail to account for social and cultural realities that will undoubtedly hinder containment efforts. For Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), events in Kubu Sembelang have reinforced a conviction that these models are insufficient. "One of the problems models can't address," he told the Canadian news service Canoe Live, "is the impact of politics, fear, panic and lack of compliance on written guidelines for public health actions." Kubu Sembelang was a family tragedy, not a global catastrophe, but it was a real-world example of the limitations of disease containment. To ensure that a pandemic never sweeps the globe, health workers are going to have to rethink their strategies on the ground.

A World Almanac Book of Records Fact


The first meal eaten on the Moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin consisted of four bacon squares, three sugar cookies, peaches, pineapple-grape fruit drink, and coffee.

Offbeat News Stories — Sarah Janssen

Marshmallow Madness
A fight over Fluff - literally - is brewing in the Massachusetts legislature. Upset about school cafeterias serving less-than-nutritious Fluffernutter sandwiches as the main course at lunch, State Sen. Jarrett Barrios announced plans to propose an amendment to a bill on junk food in schools that would limit the meal’s frequency to not more than once a week.

The sandwich - made of Marshmallow Fluff, peanut butter, and white bread - is considered a local delicacy of sorts, especially by State Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein, whose district is near Fluff’s longtime manufacturing facility. "I’m going to fight to the death for Fluff," Reinstein said. Rep. Reinstein plans to sponsor a bill that would make the Fluffernutter the "official sandwich of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

Barrios’s aides insist that the senator is "not anti-Fluff" as the sticky situation snowballs, adding that he would even co-sponsor Reinstein’s bill. "He loves Fluff as much as the next legislator," one said.

On Your Mark, Get Set, Mow!
Even as NASCAR and Indy League racing surge in popularity, another motor sport is finding itself in the spotlight. What used to seem a chore on a hot summer afternoon is becoming a recreational activity for competitive lawn mower racers across the country, attracting crowds as large as 5,000.

The sport has been regulated by the United States Lawn Mower Racing Association since 1992; the first official race was held on April Fools Day that year. The association sets rules for races on suburban warriors’ souped-up riding mowers, which can reach speeds over 60 mph. Blades are removed and "kill switches" are installed to prevent injury in case a driver falls. And "paint-trading" (intentionally bumping into an opponent) is forbidden.

The races average about two miles in length and are conducted in a series, similar to a NASCAR-style point system. Though there is no prize money involved, Bruce Kaufman, the racing association’s founder and president, insists that "It’s every bit as intense as NASCAR."

Lawn mower racing even has its own celebrities. Georgian Bobby Cleveland has won 69 races and eight national titles and now has a squadron of "10 mowers that won’t cut grass." The master mower got his start as a testing technician for mower manufacturer Snapper in 1976. "I’ve been going fast on a lawn mower for a long time," Cleveland said.

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


(c) Edward A. Thomas

The Pantheon, Rome, Italy

Last month I mentioned an upcoming trip to Europe, which I have since been on, and had a wonderful time. This month's column will serve as a travelogue of my trip. I arrived in Rome, Italy on May 31st, and quickly met up with my sister Marie. We immediately began walking that great city. I saw more of the tourist sights on this part of our trip, including the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon. The Pantheon is absolutely fascinating because it is the best preserved of all ancient Roman buildings. Originally built as a temple, it has been in continuous use its entire history. Get a visual tour at A new museum on the banks of the Tiber River houses the Ara Pacis Augustae. This finely sculptured white marble altar was built to commemorate the peace established by Augustus, after the Emperor's victories with Gaul and Spain. The building itself has been in the center of a controversy because it is the first "modern architecture" building built in historic Rome since the 1930s. The museum sits across from the poorly cared for Mausoleum of Augustus, begun in 28 BC. To learn more about architect Richard Meier's new structure visit


(c) Edward A. Thomas

A Venetian gondola

We then took the train to Venice, and upon arrival in the city, took a vaporetto, the water buses that take you around this city of canals. Venice is situated on 120 islands formed by 177 canals in the lagoon between the mouths of the Po and Piave rivers. Venice is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The city buildings and decorations, from Byzantine to Renaissance styles, show great artistic achievement. For centuries the most common method of transportation in the city was by gondola, a flat-bottomed boat propelled by a single oar. Today the gondolas are used mainly by tourists; motor launches carry almost all the freight and passenger traffic in Venice. To learn more about gondolas visit


(c)Edward A. Thomas

Longarone, Italy

We next rented a car and drove towards the snow capped Dolomites, ending up in Longarone, the birthplace of my mother's parents. We spent a delightful weekend meeting many cousins for the first time and visiting neighboring towns. Being the family genealogist, it was a dream come true to visit this town and see a farm that has been in the family for 5 generations and to stand at the gravesite of my great-great grandparents. Although my family tree for this side of the family was greatly helped with the assistance of a cousin in Spain, I have used to find relatives. I only have a few more countries to visit to meet the rest of my family! We also visited Belluno a city where I saw the beautiful Palazzo dei Rettori (late 14 cent.-early 15th cent.), which serves as the seat of the Prefectus, the office of the representative of the Italian government. Learn more about the history of Belluno at


(c) Edward A. Thomas

Corniglia in Cinque Terre

We then embarked on a long drive to Cinque Terre, five charming coastal villages built on the cliffs over the Mediterranean, in the province of La Spezia. The towns are carfree, and connected by a railway and hiking trails. We stayed in rented rooms in the smallest of the towns, Corniglia, which is surrounded by vineyards. While the other towns are built right on the water, this one is on top of a promontory and can be reached by road, or a 33 flight staircase. I cannot recommend a visit to these sea towns highly enough. Learn more about Cinque Terre at


(c)Edward A. Thomas

Fields of poppies in Tuscany

Within a few days, my sister was espousing the virtues of Rick Steves. Rick Steves is an American travel writer, who writes guidebooks and hosts a radio, and television program. I'd have to say that Marie has become a "Ricknik" (devotee of Rick), and that we met many others throughout Italy, who proudly held their blue books up. With Rick's help, we got a free glass of strawberry wine at a Rome cafe, had a great hotel in Venice, knew what to look for in museums, and enjoyed several superb meals. Learn more about Rick Steves and his travels at


(c)Edward A. Thomas

Piazza del Campo from atop the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena.

Our next six days were spent in Tuscany. I have to say, those calendars that show the fields of wild flowers are a reality! Lucca, which was founded by the Etruscans, is a walled mediaeval city, which is explored on foot or by bicycle. It is the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini. Learn more about Lucca at http On our way to Volterra, we stopped to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and I walked the tower which afforded great views of Pisa. This bell tower, begun in 1173, began to incline during its construction. Recent efforts have stabilized the tower, and it has long captured the attention of tourists. Learn more about the tower at Volterra is another walled city, built by the Etruscans, which is built on top of a mountain. It offers spectacular views of the Tuscan countryside. You can go on a virtual tour of this city at

After departing Volterra, where we'd crossed roads with five cousins from Brazil, we headed to Siena, where my sister's best friend from college lives. Siena is another walled city. It has a cathedral (11th-14th cent.), that is considered one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Italy. Twice a year, the city hosts a historic horse race (The Palio) that is put on by the city's seventeen "contradas" or sections. Each contrada has its own flag with an animal. Learn more about the Siena Palio horse race at


(c)Edward A. Thomas

The Duomo in Florence

We made a day trip to Florence, the capital of the Tuscany region, and were met by large crowds of tourists. One thing a tourist to Italy should know in advance of a visit is that it's extremely difficult to get into many of the museums these days. You can however make reservations in advance at sites like Florence is considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and was long ruled by the Medici family. I visited the Galleria dell'Accademia and saw Michelangelo's masterpiece, David, and the Duomo, with the remarkable dome built by Filippo Brunelleschi. Rather than a hemisphere, Brunelleschi's dome is conical and high, and was built using a unique technique, the creation of an inner and outer dome. Learn more about Brunelleschi and his dome at


(c)Edward A. Thomas

The Swiss Guard at the Vatican

We then returned to Rome by bus, and saw more of the countryside on our way. In Rome, we waited on line to enter the Vatican Museum to see Michelangelo's masterpiece, the Sistine Chapel. We also visited Saint Peter's Basilica and saw the Pieta. Get a tour of the Sistine Chapel and other parts of the Vatican Museum at The Papal Swiss Guard is celebrating its 500th anniversary of protecting the Pope. Each recruit must be Swiss Catholic, between the ages of 19 and 30, who is unmarried and at least five feet eight inches (174 cm) tall. While serving a ceremonial role, they are also a carefully trained security force. Learn more about the Swiss Guard at:


(c)Edward A. Thomas


Gelato. Ah, the gelato. Practically a day did not go by when I did not have gelato at least once. My family in Spain are in the business of making this delicious frozen treat. Gelato machinery whips almost no air into the gelato, resulting in a dense and extremely flavorful product. The flavors ranged from green apple to Torrone (that Italian nut candy). To learn more about the history of gelato visit

It's very unusual for me, but after a 9 hour flight back from Rome, and returning to work the next day, I suffered a bad case of jet lag. Jet lag is a temporary disorder that causes fatigue, insomnia, and other symptoms as a result of rapid air travel across time zones. If you need some helpful hints at avoiding jet lag, visit:

Quote of the Month

"Be the change you want to see in the world."
     - Mahatma Gandhi, Indian nationalist leader (1869 - 1948)

© World Almanac Education Group

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

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