The World Almanac E-Newsletter

Volume 06, Number 08 — August 2006

What's in this issue?

August Events
August — National and International
This Day In History — August
August Birthdays
Travel - A Different Kind of Spa
Obituaries - July 2006
Special Feature: The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall
Chronology - July 2006
Sports Feature
Science in the News: Hard as Silk
Offbeat News Stories
Links of the Month
Quote of the Month
How to reach us


August Events

August 2-13 - Ohio State Fair (Columbus, OH)
August 3 - Ribfest (Kalamazoo, MI)
August 4-6 - National Czechoslovakian Festival (Wilber, NE)
August 5 - Fancy Farm Picnic (Fancy Farm, KY)
August 6 - Burro Race (Leadville, CO)
August 7-13 - Sturgis Rally (Sturgis, SD)
August 8-16 - Elvis Week (Memphis, TN)
August 9-13 - Perseid Meteor Showers
August 10-13 - Amish Acres Arts & Crafts Festival (Nappanee, IN)
August 11-20 - West Virginia State Fair (Lewisburg WV)
August 13-September 3 - Edinburgh International Festival (Edinburgh, Scotland)
August 14- 20 - PGA Championship (Allegen, MI)
August 16-20 - Michigan Fiber Festival
August 18-27 - Little League Baseball World Series (Williamsport, PA)
August 19 - Sandcastle & Sculpture Day (Nantucket, MA)
August 24 - Alaska State Fair (Palmer, AK)
August 25-27 - Mexican Fiesta Internacional (Milwaukee, WI)
August 26 - Ho Sheep Market (Ho, Denmark)
August 28 - Pony Express Festival (Hanover, KS)
August 30 - Corn Palace Festival (Mitchell, SD)
August 31 - September 4 - Blue Hill Fair (Blue Hill, ME)


August Holidays — National and International

August 2 - Feast of Our Lady of Angels (Costa Rica)
August 5 - Bank Holiday (Ireland)
August 6 - Peace Festival (Japan)
August 9 - National Women’s Day (South Africa)
August 11 - Independence Day (Chad)
August 12 - United Nations International Youth Day
August 15 - Assumption
August 28 - Summer Bank Holiday (United Kingdom)
August 31 - Independence Day (Kyrgyzstan)


A World Almanac Book of Records Fact

SMALLEST COUNTRY

The world's smallest country in both area and population is Vatican City, which covers only 108.7 acres and had a population of 921 in 2005

This Day In History — August

Day Year Event
Day Year Event
01 1876 Colorado is admitted to the Union as the 38th state.
02 1990 Saddam Hussein orders the Iraqi army to invade Kuwait, sparking an international crisis and Operation Desert Storm.
03 1914 In World War I, Germany and France declare war on each other.
04 2003 The first West African peacekeepers arrive in Liberia's capital to quell two months of continuous civil war, days after Pres. Charles Taylor announces he will step down.
05 1861 Pres. Abraham Lincoln signs a measure creating the first federal income tax as an emergency wartime measure.
06 1926 Gertrude Ederle, 19, becomes the first woman to swim the English Channel.
07 1942 In World War II, the Marines land on Guadalcanal, an island in the South Pacific.
08 1900 The first Davis Cup tennis tournament begins; the United States defeats Britain after the 2-day match.
09 1945 During World War II, the 2nd atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, killing some 40,000 people.
10 1993 Ruth Bader Ginsburg is sworn in as the 2nd female Supreme Court justice.
11 1972 The last U.S. combat troops leave Vietnam.
12 2000 A Russian nuclear submarine, the Kursk, plunges to the bottom of the Barents Sea, killing all 118 on board.
13 1961 The East and West sectors of Berlin are divided by a barbed wire fence (the Berlin Wall), which is soon replaced by an actual concrete wall.
14 2003 A blackout leaves 50 million people without electrical power for up to 2 days in Ohio, Michigan, and the northeastern U.S., as well as eastern Canada.
15 1914 The Panama Canal opens.
16 1948 Baseball great Babe Ruth dies of cancer at the age of 53.
17 1987 The last surviving Nazi convicted at Nuremberg, Rudolf Hess, commits suicide in a Berlin prison.
18 1963 James Meredith graduates from the Univ. of Mississippi, becoming the first black to do so.
19 1991 Hard-line Communists stage a coup while Pres. Mikhail Gorbachev is away from Moscow on vacation; they give up 3 days later.
20 1968 Czechoslovakia is invaded and occupied by Warsaw Pact troops.
21 1983 Benigno Aquino, the Philippine opposition leader, is shot and killed at the airport in Manila when he returns home after 3 years.
22 1911 Authorities announce in Paris that Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa has been stolen; it is recovered 2 years later in Italy.
23 1914 In World War I, Japan declares war on Germany.
24 1949 NATO is established by the United States, Canada, and 10 Western European nations for mutual defense.
25 1944 In World War II, Paris is liberated, and Charles de Gaulle leads a parade down the Champs Elysées.
26 1883 Krakatau (Krakatoa) erupts in Indonesia, causing huge tidal waves and killing some 36,000 people.
27 1859 The first commercially productive oil well is drilled near Titusville, PA.
28 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his "I have a dream" speech as some 200,000 people march on Washington in support of black demands for equal rights.
29 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastates the U.S. Gulf Coast and floods New Orleans, killing more than 1,000 and becoming the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
30 1856 John Brown leads antislavery fighters against Missourians at Osawatomie, KS.
31 1980 The Solidarity labor movement is born in Poland under an agreement reached with striking shipyard workers in Gdansk.

August Birthdays

Day Year  
Day Year  
01 1936 Yves Saint Laurent, fashion designer (Oran, Algeria)
02 1942 Isabel Allende, writer (Lima, Peru)
03 1926 Tony Bennett, singer (New York, NY)
04 1956 Meg Whitman, eBay president and CEO (Cold Spring Harbor, NY)
05 1946 Erika Slezak, actress (Hollywood, CA)
06 1970 M. Night Shyamalan, film director (Pondicherry, India)
07 1942 B. J. Thomas, singer (Houston, TX)
08 1923 Esther Williams, swimmer and actress (Los Angeles, CA)
09 1928 Bob Cousy, basketball player/coach (New York, NY)
10 1911 Jane Wyatt, actress (Campgaw, NJ)
11 1946 Marilyn vos Savant, columnist who claims to have the world's highest IQ (St. Louis, MO)
12 1976 Antoine Walker, basketball player (Chicago, IL)
13 1926 Fidel Castro, Cuban president (Mayari, Oriente Province, Cuba)
14 1941 Lynne Cheney, political commentator, wife of Dick Cheney (Casper, WY)
15 1950 Princess Anne, British princess and equestrian, daughter of Queen Elizabeth (London, England)
16 1958 Madonna (Ciccone), singer/actress (Bay City, MI)
17 1926 Jiang Zemin, Chinese President (Yangzhou, China)
18 1937 Robert Redford, actor/director (Santa Monica, CA
19 1946 Bill Clinton, 42d president of the United States (Hope, AR)
20 1946 Connie Chung, TV journalist (Washington, D.C)
21 1936 Wilt Chamberlain, basketball player (Philadelphia, PA; died 1999)
22 1920 Ray Bradbury, science fiction writer (Waukegan, IL)
23 1943 Nelson DeMille, writer (New York, NY)
24 1936 A. S. Byatt, writer (Sheffield, England)
25 1946 Rollie Fingers, baseball pitcher (Steubensville, OH)
26 1960 Branford Marsalis, musician (New Orleans, LA)
27 1976 Sarah Chalke, actress (Ottawa, Canada)
28 1965 Shania Twain, country singer (Windsor, Ontario, Canada)
29 1936 John McCain III, AZ senator and presidential aspirant (Panama Canal Zone)
30 1930 Warren Buffett, investor (Omaha, NE)
31 1949 Richard Gere, actor (Philadelphia, PA)

Travel - A Different Kind of Spa

Two of the Czech Republic's best-known claims to fame are liquid. The tiny country brews nearly 500 types of beer and is said to lead the world in per capita consumption of the sudsy beverage. It also is celebrated for its mineral springs. The rich and famous flocked to the region for centuries to take the waters at luxurious spas such as Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary) and Marienbad (Mariánské Lázne). Why not combine the two, you might ask, and make. . . a beer spa? In March 2006 the Chodovar brewery in Chodová Planá, a small town situated about 100 mi (160 km) west of Prague at the edge of the Bohemian Forest, did just that. It opened a health center at the Hotel U Sládka, offering beer baths, beer massages, beer wraps, and beer cosmetics.

Beer spa

Using beer for bathing or washing your hair is nothing new, at least in central Europe, and a few facilities in Austria and Germany already had pools or basins where you could sink your body into beer or beer by-products. But the Chodová Planá center was the first genuine beer spa in the Czech Republic, and perhaps even the world, or so maintains co-owner Jirí Plevka: "I have heard of some places in other countries where people can swim in beer but it's just a gimmick. We believe in the healing properties of beer and we offer the full range of treatments. We are a fully-fledged beer spa."

The beer bath is taken in a metal rehabilitation tub containing a half-and-half mixture of Chodovar dark beer and Il-Sano mineral water (another Chodovar product), enhanced with beer yeast and herbs. The air in the bathing area smells of freshly brewed beer. When you enter the bath, the "bathwater" in the basin is covered with a caramel-colored beer foam. The beer/water mixture is heated to a temperature of about 93°F (34°C). A typical bath lasts 20 minutes. The spa says the treatment can stimulate blood circulation. It also opens up the pores in the skin, supposedly making it possible for the body to shed "unhealthy substances." And the beer yeast in the bath is said to supply the skin with several B vitamins as well as proteins and saccharides. The bather has the option of also drinking a glass of Chodovar's nonpasteurized Rock (Skalní) Lager beer with active yeast, which is believed heighten the treatment's relaxing effects and also help digestion.

More in Chodová Planá

The brewery itself is tourist attraction. A family operation, it produces a range of beers and mineral waters. You can sample traditional Bohemian fare in Chodovar's restaurant/pub Ve Skále, located in the old brewery cellars cut centuries ago out of the granite bedrock. Also located there is the brewery's museum.

There are various special events in the course of the year . In spring there is the festive opening of Beer Season and the Chodovar Cup, a national drink-mixing competition for bartenders (with beer included of course). Summer brings the European barrel-rolling championship, as well as Chodovar's traditional beer feast, slated for August 26 in 2006.

Exploring the Western Bohemia region

Spa aficionados may want to visit Carlsbad and Marienbad, whose facilities for rest and relaxation are far more extensive than those at Chodová Planá. Another key attraction in the region is the (primarily) Romanesque-Gothic Teplá Monastery, noted for its huge library, including over a thousand manuscripts.

The region has a number of remarkable chateaus and castles, among them the chateau at Kynžvart, which was the summer residence of the famous 19th century Austrian statesman Prince Klemens von Metternich; the chateau at Becov, featuring a 13th-century reliquary of St. Moor that is one of the Czech Republic's most valuable works of art; the picturesque 12th-century castle at Loket, equipped with a museum; and the magnificent 12th-century Romanesque castle at Cheb. The large city of Plzen (Pilsen) is also reasonably close.

Nature preserves or conservation areas in the region include the Bohemian and Bavarian forests as well as Slavkovský Les, where you can visit the Swiss-mountain-style village of Kladska.

Websites:
Association of the Spa Places of the Czech Republic, http://www.spas.cz/indexen.php
Beer Me!, http://beerme.com/breweries/ez/1325.shtml
Chodovar, http://www.chodovar.cz/real-beer-baths
Czech Republic, Tourism, http://www.czechtourism.com


A World Almanac Book of Records Fact

HAND-SHAKING

U.S. President William McKinley (1897-1901) is believed to hold the record for presidential hand-shaking, having been informally tired at a rate of 1,800 per hour. The "McKinley grip" consisted of squeezing with his right hand and holding the elbow with his left. Shortly after his election in Nov. 1897, a reporter watched McKinley shake hands with 504 people in 17 minutes, or about one handshake every two seconds.

Obituaries in July 2006

Allyson, June, 88, Hollywood leading lady of the 1940s and 1950s, who was first an ideal girlfriend in musicals and then a dutiful wife in dramatic films; Ojai, CA, July 8, 2006.

Barrett, Syd, 60, co-founder of the British psychedelic rock group Pink Floyd, who wrote most of the songs on their first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), but left the group before it really became famous and became a hermit; Cambridge, England, July 7, 2006.

Brooks, Robert H., 69, businessman who, from the mid-1980s on, oversaw the expansion of Hooters, the bar-and-restaurant chain known for its spicy chicken wings and skimpily dressed waitresses, both nationally and internationally; Myrtle Beach, SC, July 16, 2006.

Buttons, Red, 87, puckish red-haired comedian who got started in burlesque, won national recognition as the host of a 1950s TV variety show, and went on to make many films, notably Sayonara (1959), for which he won an Oscar; Los Angeles, CA, July 13, 2006.

Church, Dorothea, 83, first black woman to break through as a fashion model in Paris, in the early 1950s and under her maiden name, Dorothea Towles; New York, NY, July 7, 2006.

Hrawi, Elias, 80, president of Lebanon, 1989-98, who helped his nation recover from 15 years of civil war; Beirut, Lebanon, July 7, 2006.

Lay, Kenneth, 64, former chief executive of Enron Corp., the high-flying, Houston, TX-based gas-pipeline and energy-trading firm brought down by a slew of accounting scandals in 2001; convicted of fraud and conspiracy in May 2006, he was awaiting sentencing at the time of his death; near Aspen, CO, July 5, 2006.

Murray, Jan, 89, TV personality who hosted nine game shows in the 1950s and into the early 1960s, including "Songs for Sale" and "Treasure Hunt"; Beverly Hills, CA, July 2, 2006.

Spillane, Mickey, 88, crime novelist who was the creator of the hard-fisted detective Mike Hammer and one of the best-selling authors of all time; Murrells Inlet, SC, July 17, 2006.

Warden, Jack, 85, veteran stage, screen and TV actor often cast in tough-guy roles; he won an Emmy for playing football coach George Halas in the made-for-TV movie "Brian’s Song" (1971); New York, NY, July 19, 2006.


Special Feature: The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall

Mary Funchion

In the early morning of August 13, 1961 - 45 years ago - East German officials began building a barbed wire fence between the East and West sectors of Berlin, Germany. The fence, which would later be replaced by a concrete wall, would become one of the most notorious symbols of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall effectively divided the citizens of East and West Germany for a little more than 28 years until the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe led to its destruction in November 1989.

Cold War Tension

Years of tension had preceded the building of the Berlin Wall. The tension grew out of political differences among the Allied powers after their victory over Germany in World War II. The Yalta agreement, signed in February 1945, stated that each of the Allied powers--the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union--and France would occupy a separate zone of Germany following the defeat of the Nazis. The United States, Great Britain, and France each occupied a sector in the western part of the country while the Soviet Union occupied the East. The German capital Berlin, chosen as the location for the headquarters of the four-power Allied Control Council, was also divided into four sectors. The divided city was completely within the Soviet sector.

After the Allied occupation of Germany, tension escalated between the western powers and the Soviet Union. Despite an earlier agreement, the United States refused to allow the Soviet Union to collect war reparations from the U.S. zone. Conflict also arose when it became apparent that Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin did not intend to abide by the call for free elections in Eastern Europe. Relations were strained even further when, in March 1948, the Western allies met in London to discuss establishing a Western Trizone. At that meeting, the representatives also agreed that Germany must be granted "a federal form of government, adequately protecting the rights of the respective states but at the same time providing for adequate central authority." Later that month, Marshal Vassily D. Sokolovsky and his Soviet delegation, angered by the refusal of the Western allies to discuss the London conference, walked out of the Allied Control Council meeting in Berlin. Before leaving, he read from a prepared statement, which said that the Council "no longer exists as an organ of government."

In June 1948, following disagreement regarding a common currency for Berlin, the Soviet Union banned shipments of any kind from West Germany to Berlin and cut off electricity to the western sectors of the city. (It stated that both actions were necessary because of "damaged railroad beds" and faulty power stations.) In retaliation, the Western allies extended an embargo on all shipments from the U.S. and British zones to the Soviet sector. The Soviet Union responded by barring all food and fuel deliveries from the Soviet zone to West Berlin. West Berlin, an island surrounded by Soviet territory, was in a precarious position.

To many it appeared that the Berlin blockade was an attempt by the Soviet Union to force the Western allies from Berlin. Determined to protect the West Berliners, the United States and Great Britain began a large-scale airlift of food, fuel, medicine, and even mail for those affected by the blockade. On July 1, Soviet Colonel Boris Kalinin announced that "Soviet representatives will no longer participate" in governing Berlin; the three remaining powers controlled the western zones. Meanwhile, the Allies were urging the western German provinces to forge themselves into a nation.

On July 14, the Soviet Union announced to the Western allies that they had no right to be in Berlin because of alleged violations regarding Germany and Berlin agreements, and that the city was "in the center of the Soviet zone and is part of that zone." The blockade continued until May 1949 when the Soviet Union agreed to end it. The deep rift between the Western and Eastern sectors of Germany was affirmed with the ratification of the Federal Republic of Germany's constitution on May 23, 1949, which marked the nationhood of the three former western sectors. The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was established on October 7, 1949.

A Mass Exodus

In June 1953, a demonstration in East Berlin against labor conditions in East Germany quickly turned into an anti-Communist riot. The riot appeared to reflect East Germans' growing dissatisfaction with their government. Although East Germany would eventually become the richest country in the Eastern bloc, it had suffered very heavily during the war and was obliged to pay substantial war reparations to the Soviet Union. Its economy was dominated by the state, and, although the government stated that industrial and agricultural production had increased substantially, it did not state that work standards had deteriorated or that it had a rising foreign debt. In comparison, West Germany's economy soared, benefiting from Marshall Plan funds received after the war.

In 1949, East Germans first began to migrate to the West, not just for its economic opportunities, but also for its political freedoms. The East German government soon became concerned over the effects that this mass exodus of skilled workers would have on the economy. In response, East German Communist Party leader Walter Ulbricht set up a police-guarded corridor along the border between West and East Germany, but could do little to prevent thousands of East Germans from traveling to the West through Berlin. In November 1958, in an attempt to prevent further emigration, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev called on the Western allies to withdraw from Berlin and allow it to become a "free city" independent of both West and East Germany. Khrushchev also threatened to turn the Soviet sector over to the East German government at the end of six months if the Western allies did not accept his proposal. Two years later, in June 1961, Khrushchev issued a second ultimatum. Addressing himself to U.S. President John F. Kennedy, he again proposed that Berlin be recognized as a free city and that a German peace treaty should be finalized. The Western allies again refused his call, stating that they would defend their rights in Berlin, with force if necessary.

Building the Wall

By August 1961, more than two million East Germans had escaped to the West, many through Berlin. On the afternoon of August 12, Ulbricht signed orders for a barricade to be built between East and West Berlin. In the early morning of August 13, East German police and troops arrived at the border and began digging up roads and erecting barricades under the command of Erich Honecker. All traffic between the sectors of the city was halted and the U-Bahn (underground railway) and S-Bahn (elevated railway) lines linking the cities were stopped. The Warsaw Pact issued a statement, which read that the barriers were necessary in order to "securely block the way for the subversive activity against the Socialist...countries." Later, East German authorities would state it was necessary as an "anti-fascist protection barrier."

Although West Germans, West Berliners, foreign citizens, and Allied military personnel could enter East Berlin, East Berliners needed a special pass in order to leave. The East Berlin City Council also cancelled the passes held by the 53,000 East Berliners who worked in West Berlin. The true purpose of the barricade, to halt the escape of East German refugees, was fulfilled. Between 1962 and 1989 only about 11,000 people succeeded in escaping. Families were separated overnight and West Berliners demanded retaliation.

The following day, telephone lines were cut between East Berlin and West Germany and all postal and telegraph services were interrupted. On August 15, the first concrete barrier was erected and some families living along the border were forced to leave their homes in order to prevent their houses being used as an escape route to the West. Eight days later, West Berliners without permits were banned from entering East Berlin. Both West and East Berliners were also ordered to stay at least 100 meters (328 feet) away from either side of the border.

The Western allies criticized the Soviet Union for the restrictions placed on Berliners stating that such action was "a flagrant, and particularly serious, violation of the quadripartite status of Berlin." On August 18, U.S. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and General Lucius Clay flew to Berlin to assure West Germany and West Berlin that the U.S. would guarantee their continued freedom. Two days later, the first of 1,500 U.S. troops arrived in West Berlin in order to bolster the U.S. garrison there. In October, in protest of an East German rule that ordered all foreigners to show identity papers when entering East Berlin, U.S. tanks were brought to the border. In response, Soviet tanks appeared on the Eastern side. However, no shots were fired, and both sides removed the tanks several months later. In general, Western opposition to the Berlin Wall was not particularly strong, and some saw it as being a much better alternative to war.

A Divided City

The wall, more than 11 feet high, cut through almost 200 streets, about 30 railway lines, U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines, as well as several rivers and canals. In October 1961, additional walls and concrete barriers were installed behind 4 of the 7 crossing points. Any buildings behind the barriers were torn down, creating a no-man's-land, which was often referred to as the "death strip." The surface of the strip was covered with sand, making it easy to spot the footprints of would-be escapees. Mines and wire entanglements were often buried underneath the sand to further hamper escape attempts. The following month, anti-tank barriers and deep ditches were dug behind the wall. With the construction of watch towers in 1966 and further fortification of the wall in 1968 (including the addition of pipes atop the wall to prevent it from being scaled), escape became virtually impossible. When it was breached in 1989, the Berlin Wall also featured an anti-vehicle ditch, an electric fence, and guard dogs, belying East Germany's claim that the wall's purpose was solely to keep the West out.

The wall and a shoot-to-kill order for any escapees could not block all escape attempts. During the first days of the barrier, some people escaped to freedom merely by cutting through the barbed wire. Others slid down ropes from apartments facing West Berlin, drove trucks through barriers, climbed through sewers, and swam across canals and rivers. West Germany reported in August 1963 that in the two years the barrier had been there, 16,456 people had successfully escaped East Germany. But many escape attempts failed. On August 24, 1961, Günter Litwin became the first East German to be killed while attempting to escape to the West. He was shot dead by East German police. In August 1962, Peter Fechter, an East German who had managed to scale the wall, was left to bleed to death in no-man's-land after being shot by East German officers, much to the horror of watching Western Berliners. In total, about 200 people were killed while trying to escape and thousands more arrested for attempting to do so. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many East German officers who had shot escapees were tried for manslaughter.

By the early 1960s, despite discussion between the East and West, no agreement had been reached. In June 1963, President Kennedy traveled to West Berlin and again promised that the U.S. would defend the city's freedom. Kennedy emphasized the symbolic importance of Berlin in the East-West dispute stating that "Today in the world of freedom the proudest boast is 'Ich bin ein Berliner (I am a Berliner)... All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner'."

Some restrictions began to be loosened. In December 1963, more than 500,000 West Berliners were granted holiday passes allowing them to visit family in East Berlin. It was the first time, since August 1961, that West Berliners were permitted to enter East Berlin. A year later, the East Government announced that it would allow elderly East Germans to visit West Berlin and West Germany. In September 1971, a Berlin agreement was negotiated, which allowed West Berliners more access to East Berlin and also allowed for the import and export of goods to and from Berlin. In return, the West Germans formally recognized that West Berlin was not "a constituent part of" West Germany. A year later, direct telephone dialing was established between West Berlin and East Germany for the first time since 1952.

The Wall Falls

Although not completely smooth, relations between East and West Germany continued to improve. In December 1972, Egon Bahr of West Germany and Michael Kohl of East Germany signed a treaty preparing the way for diplomatic relations between both countries and for their eventual admission to the United Nations. In 1984, new travel and trade agreements were signed. Three years later, Honecker, who had become the Communist Party leader in 1971, became the first East German head of state to pay an official visit to West Germany. In June 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan urged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, claiming it was necessary if he wished to "seek peace... prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, [and] liberalization." Many East Berliners shared Reagan's opinion. However, the desire of many East Germans to escape had in no way diminished. In January 1984, six East Germans who had taken refuge in the American embassy in East Berlin were permitted to emigrate. In May 1989, Hungary opened its border with Austria, allowing hundreds of vacationing East Berliners to illegally cross the border from Hungary to Austria. Others, fearing that they would be caught and stopped, took refuge in the West German embassy in Budapest. Hundreds more encamped at the West German embassies in Prague and Warsaw, refusing to return to East Germany. The encamped people were given permission to emigrate, but as soon as they did, more East Germans arrived at the embassies, also determined to escape. In mid-September, more than 13,000 left for West Germany via Austria and Hungary.

In October 1989, East Germany marked its fortieth anniversary. Gorbachev, who had been invited to speak, encouraged East German authorities to adopt Soviet-style political and economic liberalizations in an attempt to quell the mass emigration of recent weeks. The anniversary also marked significant unrest, with more than 50,000 people taking part in a pro-democracy march in Leipzig. In East Berlin, protestors holding a peaceful candlelight vigil near Gethsemane Church, a center of the pro-democracy movement, were attacked by police. Other marches held in East Berlin and Dresden were broken up by security forces. On October 16, 100,000 protestors chanting "We want new leaders!" took part in a pro-democracy march in Leipzig. Two days later, Erich Honecker was removed from his position as Communist Party leader and replaced by Politburo member Egon Krenz. Although the government stated that Honecker had resigned because of poor health, many believed that he had been forced from power because of his resistance to change.

The week of November 2-8 saw monumental change for East Germany. More than half a million people staged a pro-democracy protest, the East German government resigned, a new premier was named, and the regime suggested it would soon hold free elections. On November 9, at a press conference in East Berlin, Politburo member Guenter Schabowski told reporters that all East Germans could "leave the country through East German border crossing points" effective immediately. Thousands of East Germans rushed to the wall and passed into West Berlin, where they were greeted with flowers, champagne, candy, and the sounds of ringing church bells and singing. Hundreds of people danced atop the wall without interference from East Germany's border guards, while others chipped at the barrier with hammers and chisels. The wall was eventually almost entirely knocked; only small sections were retained as a memento. Parts of the Berlin Wall were sold or donated to various organizations around the world. Today, sections of the wall can be seen in places such as the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, NATO headquarters in Belgium, a factory in Osaka, Japan, the main offices of Microsoft in Washington, and a street in midtown Manhattan. In Berlin, a double row of cobblestones or a red line marks where the wall once stood.

In March 1990, the Alliance for Germany, a conservative grouping of three parties that favored reunification with West Germany, won a majority of seats in East German general elections. By August, the East German parliament had voted to reunify with West Germany, and a month later the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, East Germany, and West Germany signed a treaty agreeing on the unification. On October 3, 1990, the two countries joined to form the Federal Republic of Germany, the formal name of the old West Germany.

Aftermath

The process toward a united Germany was not entirely trouble free. On October 3, 1990, anti-unity marchers clashed with police in Berlin. The financial costs of absorbing East Germany were much higher than expected, and some West Germans resented the consequent raising of taxes and cutting of social welfare payments. Many East Germans found it difficult to adjust to Western society and a capitalist economy, and unemployment remained much higher in the East. In 1993, about 15.3% of the East German work force was unemployed whereas in the West about 7.5% were unemployed. Between 1990 and 1995, Germany also witnessed a series of violent outbursts by neo-Nazi right-wing groups aimed at foreigners. The violence, which followed a huge increase in the number of Eastern European asylum seekers admitted to Germany, was fueled in part by the troubled economy.

The fall of the Berlin Wall signaled a historic change in German society. But it spurred changes far beyond Germany as well. It marked the beginning of the end of Communist regimes in Romania and Czechoslovakia, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the end of the Cold War.

A World Almanac Book of Records Fact

LARGEST MONEY

The Pacific island of Yap in Micronesia still recognizes giant stone disks as legal currency. Some disks are as big as 12 feet in diameter, making them the world's largest known coins. The stones are rare because they are quarried about 400 miles away on the island of Palau. The big ones are more valuable because they are harder to transport on canoes. They are seldom actually used in trade.


Chronology — Events of July 2006

National

     Record Award in Tobacco Lawsuit Overturned - Upholding a lower court decision, the Florida Supreme Court July 6 rejected a $145 bil class-action judgment (the largest punitive award ever) against 5 tobacco companies. The Supreme Court found that in the case of Engle v. Liggett Group, the award was excessive and that plaintiffs whose health was affected by cigarette smoking could not pursue class action suits against tobacco companies. However, the Court did agree that tobacco companies misled the public and upheld judgments in favor of 2 individual plaintiffs, potentially opening the door to hundreds of individual lawsuits.

     3 Held in Alleged Plot to Bomb New York Tunnel - FBI and New York City police officials said July 7 that 3 men accused of plotting to bomb a commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey had been taken into custody overseas. The suspects were believed to have had connections to global terrorist networks.

     Heat Breaks Records Across U.S.; Severe Weather in Midwest - Very high temperatures were recorded across the U.S. throughout July; the need for air conditioning drove demand for power in California to a record high July 17, and by July 28, 126 deaths had been blamed on the heat in California alone. In Death Valley, CA, the mercury hit 125 degrees on July 17. A damaging thunderstorm July 20 left half a million homes and businesses in the St. Louis area without electricity. On July 30, the heatwave reached as far north as Bismarck, ND, where temperatures hit 112 degrees. By mid-July, a European heat wave was also beginning to take a human toll. France reported 64 deaths as of July 27. In Britain July 19 the temperature reached 97.3 degrees F, the hottest July day ever in Britain’s history.

     Bush’s First Veto, on Stem Cell Research, Upheld - For the first time in his presidency, Pres. George W. Bush July 19 vetoed a bill passed by Congress. The Senate July 18 had approved a bill, 63-37, that would have ended restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research. The House had already passed the bill in 2005. Supporters of the bill said greater funding for research on new stem cell lines was needed to study their possible usefulness in medicine. But Bush agreed with research opponents who claim that stem cell research destroys human lives. A July 19 House vote fell far short (235-193) of the two-thirds majority required to override the veto.

International

     After Kidnapping, Israel Pounds Gaza - The late-June abduction of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants brought a ferocious Israeli response. The militant groups demanded July 1 that Israel free 1,000 prisoners and stop attacks in Gaza. Israeli bombs July 2 destroyed the Gaza City offices of Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Min. Ismail Haniya. Two Palestinian rockets hit the city of Ashkelon, Israel, July 4 and 5. Israel July 5 bombed the PA interior ministry building for the 2nd time. In the Gaza Strip July 6 ground fighting reportedly resulted in the deaths of 16 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier. An air strike July 13 badly damaged the foreign ministry building of the PA in Gaza City. Israel bombed Palestinian legislative offices July 14, the PA economy ministry July 15, and the foreign ministry July 17. The PA said July 26 that 155 Palestinians had been killed and 623 wounded in the conflict.

     Conservative Wins Close Race for Mexican Presidency - Felipe Calderon, candidate of the ruling conservative National Action Party (PAN), was elected president of Mexico July 2 by a very small margin. In official results announced July 6, Calderon took 35.9% of the vote to 35.1% for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, candidate of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party and a former mayor of Mexico City. The PAN also won a plurality in both houses of Congress. International observers said that the election was legitimate, but Obrador July 9 filed a legal challenge.

     North Korea Launches Long-Range Missile, 6 Others - North Korea test-launched 7 missiles July 5. One of the missiles, a Taepodong-2 believed to be capable of reaching Alaska, failed within 2 minutes of its launch. North Korea also launched 6 medium- and short-range missiles that fell into the Sea of Japan. North Korea called the launches "routine military exercises." The U.S. joined North Korea’s neighbors - China, Japan, and South Korea - in criticizing these exercises. The UN Security Council July 15 unanimously voted to impose limited sanctions on North Korea in response to the launches, and demanded that the ballistic missile program end immediately. North Korea ignored this decree and has said it will continue these missile launches.

     Polish President’s Twin Brother Named Premier - Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the twin brother of Pres. Lech Kaczynski of Poland (elected in Oct. 2005), was approved as the country’s premier on July 10. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the successor to Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz who resigned July 7, was active in the anti-Soviet Solidarity labor movement in the 1970s, and has served in parliament and as minister of state. His conservative party, Law and Justice, had won a majority of parliamentary seats in the September 2005 election.

     Russians Kill Chechen Terror Leader - Russian special forces July 10 killed Shamil Basayev, a Chechen rebel leader. Basayev and several other guerrillas were killed in Ekazhevo when a truck laden with dynamite exploded in their convoy. Rebel leader Basayev had claimed responsibility for many terror attacks, including the 2004 seizure of a school in Beslan which resulted in the deaths of 331 civilians and security personnel, as well as all 31 rebel attackers.

     Rush Hour Bombings Kill 207 in India - A coordinated terror attack during the evening rush hour in Mumbai, India, July 11 killed 207 people and left 700 wounded. Explosions occurred on 7 commuter trains and in one station. On July 15 a Muslim extremist group calling itself Lashkar-e-Qahhar (Army of Terror) claimed responsibility. Indian police July 21 arrested 3 Muslim men in connection with the attacks.

     Israel Battles Hezbollah Forces Based in Lebanon - Long-simmering tensions between Israel and the militant Shiite Muslim organization Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, erupted into violence in July. On July 12, Hezbollah fired rockets into northern Israel and also attacked 2 military vehicles inside Israel; 8 Israeli soldiers were killed and 2 captured. Israel responded with air, naval, and artillery bombardments on southern Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold.
     Hezbollah began a rocket barrage on northern Israel July 13, which included strikes on Haifa, Israel’s 3rd-largest city. Israel July 13 widened its bombing in Lebanon, pounding airports and other transportation hubs in and around Beirut, and imposed a naval blockade on Lebanese ports. Israel’s aim was to thwart the resupply of Hezbollah by Iran, through Syria. Israel also insisted that Lebanon implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which urged Lebanon to disarm Hezbollah. The U.S. July 13 denounced Hezbollah for its "unprovoked act of terrorism" and blamed Iran and Syria for their support of the organization.
     The European Union July 13 criticized Israel’s "disproportionate use of force." Israeli ground forces crossed into Lebanon July 19, and bloody fighting raged for the rest of the month along the border. From July 16-25, victims of Israeli bombs included 8 Canadians, 11 Lebanese soldiers, and 4 UN observers from 4 countries. Jan Egeland, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in Beirut July 23, called the Israeli attacks a violation of humanitarian law, but also denounced Hezbollah for mixing its fighters with civilians. Israel estimated July 26 that its forces had killed 200 Hezbollah fighters. Longer-range and heavier rockets fired by Hezbollah beginning July 28 struck deeper into Israel. Israeli missiles July 30 hit several buildings in the southern Lebanon town of Qana, killing about 50, of whom at least 34 were children. By month’s end, according to Lebanese officials, a total of some 600 people had been killed in Lebanon. Israeli deaths as of July 30 stood at 33 soldiers and 18 civilians. Many on both sides became refugees, with 120,000 Lebanese reported in Syria on July 24. By July 31, Lebanese refugees totaled 750,000.
     Saudi Arabia July 25 pledged $1 bil in reconstruction aid to Lebanon, in addition to $500 mil already promised. The U.S promised $30 mil.
     With the destruction of roads and bridges, escape from Lebanon was difficult. There were about 25,000 Americans in Lebanon when the fighting broke out. After a slow start, 1,059 citizens were rescued and taken to Cyprus on a cruise ship, July 19. The next day, 1,052 followed on the USS Nashville. About 40 U.S. Marines landed in Beirut July 20 to assist the evacuation. By July 28, 15,000 Americans had fled the country.
     In diplomatic efforts, Pres. Bush and the other leaders of the Group of Eight (G-8) major economic powers, meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, issued a statement July 16 criticizing both Israel and Hezbollah and urged an end to the fighting. UN Sec. Gen. Kofi Annan called for an immediate cease-fire July 20. Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice said July 21 that she did not want "a cease-fire that I know isn’t going to last." This met with widespread international criticism. Rice also stated that Hezbollah must be disarmed. In a series of diplomatic meetings, Rice met with Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora in Beirut July 24 and with Israeli and Palestinian leaders July 24 and 25. Diplomats from 18 countries and international organizations met in Rome July 26, and supported the deployment of an international peacekeeping force along the border. On July 31, Israeli Prime Min. Ehud Olmert said there was no cease-fire foreseeable in the immediate future.

     Civilian Death Toll Climbs in Iraq - A July 18 UN report said that 14,338 Iraqi civilians had died in violent acts from January to June 2006. Monthly death tolls had risen sharply over this period, from 1,778 in January to 3,149 in June.
     On July 1, a car bomb killed 62 in a Shiite area of Baghdad. Gunmen killed 42 in a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad July 9. At least 50 died in Baghdad July 11. Northeast of Baghdad July 12, gunmen kidnapped 24 people and killed 20 who were Shiites. Forty people, mostly Shiites, were killed south of the capital July 17. In Kufa, July 18, 53 died in a suicide bombing that targeted laborers. Bombings in Baghdad and Kirkuk July 23 killed 57.
     In a sign of progress, Iraq July 13 assumed full responsibility for Muthanna, the first of the country’s 18 provinces to pass from coalition to local control since the 2003 invasion. Ex-Pres. Saddam Hussein, who was on a hunger strike, was hospitalized July 23, but he appeared at his trial July 26.
     Premier Nuri Kamal al-Maliki met with Pres. Bush in Washington, DC July 25. Bush pledged to move more U.S. troops into Baghdad to increase security there.

General

     Space Shuttle Flight Is First in Nearly a Year - The shuttle Discovery launched from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, FL, July 4. Nearly a year had passed since the previous flight, as technicians focused on safety concerns, notably potential damage caused by liftoff debris. Discovery docked July 6 with the International Space Station, and returned to Cape Canaveral on July 17 after a successful flight.

     Tour de France Battered by Drug Scandals - The Tour de France was shaken by an investigation into illicit drug use that cast a shadow over the winner, American Floyd Landis. The Amaury Sport Organisation, which ran the Tour, said June 30 it had documents from the Spanish Cycling Federation that implicated 50 riders and other persons. Thirteen riders were banned from the event, which got underway July 1 with 176 contestants. Landis won the race on July 23, but on July 27 his Swiss-based team announced that he had tested positive for an unnaturally high level of testosterone, a banned steroid. Landis July 27 denied the allegations.

     Italy Wins Soccer’s World Cup for 4th Time - Italy beat France, 5-3, on penalty kicks to win its 4th FIFA World Cup Championship July 9 at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in Germany. The 2 teams had battled to a 1-1 tie at the end of regulation and overtime play. Marcello Lippi coached the Italians.
     French midfielder Zinedine Zidane, who had led France to the 1998 title, was given the red card and tossed out of the game after delivering a vicious head-butt to the chest of Italian midfielder Marco Materazzi - who, according to Zidane, said something inappropriate. Nevertheless, Zidane, who announced he would retire after the competition, received the Golden Bull award (voted on by journalists) as the best player in the competition.

     Federer Wins 4th Straight Men’s Wimbledon title - Roger Federer of Switzerland won his 4th straight men’s tennis single title at Wimbledon, England, July 9, defeating Rafael Nadal of Spain, 6-0, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3. On July 8, the women’s singles title went to Amelie Mauresmo of France. She defeated Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

     Deadly Tsunami in Indonesia - A July 17 earthquake under the Indian Ocean triggered a tsunami that killed 668 people on the Indonesian island of Java. Hardest hit was Pangandaran, a coastal town 110 miles northeast of the quake’s epicenter. Some 280 people were reported missing and 74,100 have been displaced from their homes. The quake, measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale, was followed by a 6.2 jolt in the same area on July 19.

     Woods Wins British Open Golf Title - Tiger Woods, posting an 18-under-par total of 270, won the British Open golf tournament for the 3d time in his career July 23. This was his 11th victory in one of the 4 major tournaments.


Sports Feature — Vincent G. Spadafora

The Basic 4-3 Defense

The 32 teams of the NFL are now in summer training camp where they will spend the next few weeks getting in shape for the 2006 season. Along with getting in shape and fighting each other for a spot on the roster, players are also learning the plays and schemes they will be using in the coming season. That’s no easy task considering how difficult pro playbooks are.

American football is one of the most complicated professional sports in the world. It is loaded with hundreds of rules and technical terms. Of course, every sport has its own jargon, football seems to have more of it. Even a longtime fanatic will tell you that there are certain aspects of the game that they do not completely understand (I’ve been asked to explain the "west coast offense" and the role of the nickleback many times). Over the course of the coming season, we’re going to shed some light on some of the finer points of football.

Before we get started, a few things you need to know:

Typical offensive line formation:

   Tight end   Tackle   Guard   Center   Guard   Tackle

Quarterback stands behind the center to start the play.

Strong side - normally refers to the side that the tight end lines up on. There are instances where it doesn’t, but we won’t get into that now. The weak side is the opposite side where there is no tight end.

The 4-3 defense is the more popular of the two basic defenses played in the NFL (the other is the 3-4). The scheme was developed back in the 1940s and 50s, and has been the preferred defense of most college and pro teams since. Probably the best team to run it was the 1986 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears, who many say had the greatest defensive unit of all time. The numbers 4 and 3 refer to the number of down linemen and the number of linebackers. In a 4-3 there are 4 down linemen and 3 linebackers. The 4 down linemen are composed of 2 huge defensive tackles and 2 athletic defensive ends. The basic idea is for the defensive tackles to cover "gaps," that is, once the ball is hiked, these gigantic tackles are to rush into the gaps between the offensive linemen in the hopes of tackling somebody. If they do their job properly, they’ll get into the backfield and sack the quarterback or slam into a halfback carrying the ball. More likely though, they’ll clog their gap, take on multiple offensive linemen, and create lanes for the linebackers to run in and make a tackle. Sometimes you may hear an announcer refer to a defensive tackle as a "3-technique tackle." That refers to a tackle who lines up between the tackle and guard, normally on the weak side of the line. The reason why it is called a "3-technique" is because the gap between the tackle and guard is known as the 3 gap in football-speak (coaches number the gaps so that when they write up a playbook, the defensive guys can know which gap they are to cover). There are other variations of defensive tackle, but we won’t get into that now.

As for the defensive ends, they are typically smaller and more athletic, try to run past the offensive tackles and get into the offensive backfield. They tend to sack the quarterback a lot in a 4-3.

Behind linemen are three linebackers. Depending on the defensive scheme, they are referred to as middle, left, and right linebackers, or (in football jargon) the mike, sam, and will linebackers. A mike linebacker is a middle linebacker; a sam linebacker is a strong side linebacker; and a will linebacker is a weakside linebacker. You may wonder why they call them mike, sam, and will instead of strong, middle, and weak. It is a sort of shorthand code and little more.

The sam linebacker normally has the job of covering the tight end (remember, the tight end is on the "strong side" of the offensive line and can both block and catch passes). The mike linebacker, who lines up a few yards back from the gap between the two defensive tackles, can cover the run or drop back into pass coverage, depending on the play and the scheme. Mike linebackers are normally very strong, very athletic, rather intelligent, and extremely fierce. The will linebacker covers the backside of the play. His job is to contain the run or drop back into pass coverage. Typically, they focus their attention on the offensive fullback or halfback. Will linebackers sometimes blitz from the blind side of the quarterback.

Next we get into the defensive secondary. This is composed of two cornerbacks, one on each side of the field, a strong safety, and a free safety. Cornerbacks are normally the fastest guys on defense because they have to cover the wide receivers, which are also fast. Mostly, cornerbacks are there to break up pass plays and make interceptions.

The two safeties, strong safety and free safety, are the last line of defense. Nowadays in the NFL strong and free safeties on most teams are interchangeable and will often switch defensive responsibilities depending on the scheme being run. Typically though, a strong safety covers the tight end, looks to stop the run, and generally tries to worry about the play in front of him. Strong safeties are normally the most aggressive guys in the backfield and will often deliver punishing blows to receivers and tight ends. On the other hand, free safeties worry less about the run, but instead help in preventing the deep pass. As a general rule, a free safety should never allow any offensive player get past him.

So there you have it. The base 4-3 defense. Here are a few teams that are known for running an effective 4-3 defense:

Philadelphia Eagles
Carolina Panthers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Indianapolis Colts

Next month we’ll examine the 3-4 alignment.

Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee: Bruce Sutter

Relief pitcher Bruce Sutter was an early pioneer of the split fingered, which came into greater fashion in the 80s. The split-fingered fastball, or splitter, is a devastating pitch that when it first came onto the scene in the 70s, it baffled hitters to no end. The pitcher holds the ball between his index and middle fingers (hence the name split finger). When throwing, the pitcher uses his thumb to push the ball out from between his fingers. If done correctly, the ball will travel toward the plate with a peculiar spin and blazing speed only to drop down at the last minute, causing even the most seasoned of batters to miss the ball when swinging. Sutter was a master of this pitch.

Over his 13-year career, Sutter used his deadly splitter to rack up 300 saves and an incredible 2.84 ERA over 1042.3 innings pitched. Keep in mind that back then, relief pitchers normally earned their saves over two or three innings, unlike today where the closer normally comes in for the last 3 outs. For more information, check out Sutter’s hall of fame site at: http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/hofers_and_honorees/hofer_bios/Sutter_Bruce.htm.

Here are some more Bruce Sutter facts:
Teams played for: Chicago Cubs (1976-1980), St. Louis Cardinals (1981-1984), Atlanta Braves (1985-1986, 1988)
His lowest single season ERA: 1.34 (1977)
His best year for saves: 1984 (45 saves)
Years as an All-Star: 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1984


Science in the News: Hard as Silk - Michal Cohen

When you hear "spider," what words come to mind? Maybe "web" or "bugs" or simply "yikes!" Probably not "nanotechnology" and "artificial bones."

But those high-tech associations are exactly the ones that David Kaplan and colleagues from Tufts University (near Boston, Mass.) and elsewhere are seeking to foster. In a report published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers describe their creation of a new family of "fusion proteins" - proteins that bring together spider silk and biosilica, a glass-like compound. (Fusion proteins are also called chimeric proteins - they are human-created proteins produced by combining two or more genes.)

The combination - spider and glass - may sound bizarre, but there’s more to the science than simply doing it to show that it can be done. The researchers hope that blending the strength of spider silk with the sturdiness of silica could lead to the development of new biomedical technologies, such as better artificial bones. Sounds like the makings of the next Peter Parker (aka Spider Man)? Read on, and decide for yourself.

Recipe for Success

First, let’s get the background on silk and silica. Silk, the highly prized stuff of which scarves and fancy shirts are made, is composed of biologically derived proteins that form into fibers. The proteins come from spiders and silkworms. And however delicate spider webs may look, the silk that these bugs produce is extremely strong. Silks can also assemble themselves into sheet structures in nature. In labs, scientists can turn silk proteins into fiber through various artificial means.

Meanwhile, biosilica is based on composites of organic (living) and inorganic (non-living) materials. Composites in nature include seashells and the exoskeletons of insects. Silica in particular can be found throughout the biological world: from single-celled diatoms (a common type of algae found in water) to very complex plants and animals. Lots of these organisms have silica skeletons for protection. The organic part, usually made of proteins, is important in holding up the structure as well as forming new silica. This way the silica can keep its strength and toughness, while constantly fine-tuning its shape.

In these nanostructures (the 'nano' prefix refers to nanometers, or billionths of a meter), you can see crazy psychedelic shapes. These shapes are often too complicated and tiny to be produced artificially. And nature has another advantage over existing manufacturing methods when it comes to such nanostructures: spiders, diatoms and other creatures produce these structures without requiring the environmentally taxing conditions of high acidity and temperature typically involved in laboratory synthesis.

Unnatural Nature

Combining the qualities of silk and silica is clearly desirable; it is also clear that producing such a material via natural processes offers significant environmental benefits, and may in any case be the only possible route. But spiders do not spin glassy webs, nor do silkworms produce silica-laden cocoons. Kaplan and his team approached the challenge via genetic engineering, producing a new chimeric or fusion protein that is basically a marriage of silk and silica. The silica piece is actually the R5 peptide, which plays a role in developing silica shapes. The silk piece comes from the major ampullate spidroin protein 1 (MaSp1), a protein of Nephila clavipes spider dragline silk. That protein is important in forming the stable sheet structures of spider silk. The scientists used cloning strategies to develop a spider silk gene with an R5-encoding gene. Then they tested the properties of the chimeric proteins, not only by observing how the silk assembled itself into nanocomposites (films and fibers) with silica but also by forming fibers artificially with a technique called electrospinning. All the experiments took place in watery, mild conditions.

Results, and the Next Step

The researchers found that the silk-silica fusion could self-assemble composites in films and fibers. Since the elliptical silica particles became "sticky," they were able to attach themselves to the silk. Through different processing conditions, the scientists could change the size, shape and chemistry of the composites. This also gave the scientists unprecedented control in designing silica. One major finding is that the fusion created materials with silica particles much narrower than normal. The particles made by the fusion were 0.5-2 microns in diameter; particles found in nature are 0.5-10 microns wide.

The new material is special for two main reasons. First, it combines the strength, flexibility and self-assembly of spider silk with the rigidity of silica. Second, it gives the scientists lots of control over the material, at very mild conditions. Without using extreme temperatures or harsh chemical solutions, the scientists could change the shape, structure and chemistry of the compound.

Given that amount of control, the researchers envision using silica-silk material to create artificial bone for people who have lost a limb. Artificial bone needs a frame that’s stiff, strong and safe. As Kaplan explained to Scientific American, spider silk alone "just doesn't have the stiffness you want, that’s why you need the glass." This material seems to combine the best of both.

A World Almanac Book of Records Fact

1215: MAGNA CARTA

The Magna Carta (Great Charter), often described as the basis of liberty in England, was accepted by King John on June 15, 1215. It established a legal relationship between the king and barons.


Offbeat News Stories — Sarah Janssen

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $3.75 Million Dollars

Hasbro’s classic Monopoly board game has been upgraded for the new millennium - complete with a system that runs financial transactions via debit card. The limited edition Monopoly Here & Now, available only at British retailers, substitutes familiar pastel play money with plastic charge cards. And players get a lot more ‘cash’ to play with. A complete trip around the board, once worth a meager $200, now cashes in at 2 million pounds (about $3.75 million). Arguments over who gets to be the racecar have also likely gone the way of play money: the new version has tokens in the shape of cheeseburgers, cell phones, skateboards, and roller blades. The version of Monopoly Here & Now currently available substitutes London locations for traditional Atlantic City addresses like Boardwalk and Park Place, but Monopoly fans were given a chance to vote on locations for the U.S. edition of Monopoly Here & Now, which will likely be launched by the end of the summer.

Petting Zoos at Risk of Attack?

Apparently zoos, parades, and flea markets should be elevated to Orange Alert. An inspector general’s audit of the Department of Homeland Security database of potential terrorist targets found a number "unusual or out of place" sites. These included businesses, locations, and events such as Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo, the Mule Day Parade, the Sweetwater Flea Market, and the vague "Beach at End of a Street."

The inspector general’s report questions whether whole categories on the 77,069-site list need to be revised or eliminated altogether - such as the 1,305 casinos, 163 water parks, 244 jails, 718 mortuaries, and 3,773 malls - and also notes "too few assets in essential areas."

While the inventory may seem like a typical bureaucratic mix-up or so-called "pork-barrel politics," representatives of states whose antiterrorism funding was slashed see a ‘smoking gun,’ because it was used, in part, to figure funding shares.

Even people connected to some sites or businesses in the inventory question their place on the list. "I don’t know where they get their information. We’re talking about a flea market here," said Angela McNabb, manager of the Sweetwater Flea Market.

"I am out in the middle of nowhere. We are a bunch of Amish buggies and tractors out here," said Brian Lehman, who seemed puzzled to learn Amish Country Popcorn, his company in Berne, IN, was on the Homeland Security list. "Maybe because popcorn explodes?"


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

Having been with my company many year, I get lots of vacation time, and this summer I'm using those days up, so here's my July travelogue.

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LOC P&P Rep# LC-DIG-ggbain-19757

Rolling chairs on the Boardwalk of Atlantic City

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(c) Fred Thomas

Mr. Peanut & I, 1970.

Last month I had an overnighter in Atlantic City, New Jersey, a place that was a special treat to visit as a child. When I was younger, my family headed to the Jersey shore for summer vacation, first to Brigantine, the town north of Atlantic City, and then Long Beach Island. The Miss America Pageant no longer takes place at the convention center, you can't meet Mr. Peanut on the Boardwalk anymore (you can see a statue commemorating the 100th anniversary of Planters Peanuts), and casinos have replaced the grand old hotels, but other elements of the "old" Atlantic City still exist. The wicker rolling chairs (pushed by attendants), introduced in 1887, are still gliding along the Boardwalk, and you can catch a jitney (13 seat minibuses) to get around town (the streets running parallel to the Atlantic Ocean are known by ocean or sea names and streets running perpendicular bear states' names). Entertainment related piers still exist; the Steel Pier in its heyday offered thousands of visitors the opportunity to see entertainers - I saw comedienne Totie Field there as well as the famous High Diving Horses (women on horses took a 40 foot dive into a pool). And what would a trip to Atlantic City (the salt water taffy capital of the world) be, without purchasing a box of James' chocolate covered taffy? And let's not forget the 1930s game Monopoly, created by Charles B. Darrow, in which you can purchase properties from and around Atlantic City. Learn more about the history of Atlantic City at http://www.cityofatlanticcity.org/historical/historic.html and http://www.acmuseum.org/. Other websites: Miss America http://www.missamerica.org/, Planter's Peanuts http://www.planters.com/, James' Salt Water Taffy http://www.seashoretaffy.com/history.aspand Monopoly at http://www.hasbro.com/monopoly/.

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(c) Edward A. Thomas

Lucy, the Margate Elephant

On our way out of Atlantic City we visited my friends Ruth and Walter, who live in nearby Margate, New Jersey (which was once called South Atlantic City). They live a block away from Lucy, the 125 year old elephant. Lucy was built in 1881 to attract tourists and potential buyers for real estate. She is 65 feet high and is made of wood and tin. Other elephant shaped buildings were built in the 1880s - including an 12 story hotel in Coney Island - but Lucy is the only survivor. Learn more about Lucy at http://www.lucytheelephant.org/indexlow.html. When Ruth is on her computer, she enjoys listening to opera music and she recommended a 24 hour internet radio station, Viva La Voce http://www.vivalavoce.com/, which presents classical vocal music.

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(c) Edward A. Thomas

Thomas Wolfe Memorial

I finally made it to Asheville, North Carolina in July, and visited the famous Biltmore Estate. It is the largest house ever built in the United States, and I recommend it as a place to visit. Asheville is an interesting city in the northwest part of the state, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's a real funky town, with great restaurants, interesting bronze statues, art deco architecture, Thomas Wolfe's (the writer of "Look Homeward, Angel") boyhood home, the famous Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa, as well as the Blue Ridge Parkway the 469 mile roadway that runs from Virginia to North Carolina. Learn more about Asheville at http://www.exploreasheville.com/ and http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/asheville/architecture.htm. Other websites: Thomas Wolfe Memorial http://www.wolfememorial.com/, Grove Park Inn http://www.groveparkinn.com/ and the Blue Ridge Parkway http://www.nps.gov/blri/.

While in Asheville, I didn't go hungry with regard to eating great food. One of my favorite desserts of the trip were churros which could be dipped in caramel. What's a churro? It is a Mexican specialty made of a sweet-dough spiral, deep-fried (like a donut), coated with cinnamon and sugar and sometimes served with hot chocolate. For a recipe for churros and other great baked goods, visit the Cupcake Bakeshop blog http://chockylit.blogspot.com/2005/08/churros-and-chocolate-cupcake.html.

Two one-day trips included trips to the beach, on which I walked and tanned a bit on very different sand. Sand is a loose granular material that results from the disintegration of rocks, usually consisting of quartz (silica), with a small proportion of mica, feldspar, magnetite, and other resistant minerals. The study of sand is called Arenology. Sand has many purposes including its use as a major ingredient in glassmaking, in different ceramics, plasters and cements, and as an abrasive material (such as sandpaper). Learn more about sand and see close-up pictures of different types at. http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/indexmag.html?http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artjun01/clsand.html.

A helpful website from my co-worker Sarah: Americans love their cars, but hate to pay for the gas that keeps them going. Like it or not, gas prices are probably going to get worse in the next few months, since U.S. demand for gasoline increases by about 5% every summer. You can track regional gas prices at the Department of Energy website http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/oog/info/gdu/gasdiesel.asp, which also explains where your gas dollars go and what factors cause prices to rise and fall. Before you fill your tank, check http://www.GasBuddy.com, a user-maintained directory of low gas prices across the country; if nothing else, it can help you avoid the awful experience of discovering that you could have paid 10 cents less per gallon by driving down the block.

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Carolyn Hooper/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Loggerhead Turtle

I just finished "Beach Music" by Pat Conroy, and one of the back stories involves loggerhead turtles. Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) spend most of their lives swimming and drifting on the open ocean. In order to lay their eggs, the turtles return to the same beach on which they were born. Once the loggerhead eggs hatch, the tiny hatchlings scramble out to sea. The turtles are listed as threatened, one step short of endangered. Learn more about loggerhead turtles at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/turtles/loggerhead.html.

Even though it's been a hot summer here in New York City, I like to go sit in the sauna after I work out at the gym. It doesn't quite make sense since the temperature inside sometimes seems to be about the same as it is outside, but it helps me relax before I go back to work. The first wooden saunas were built in Finland about 2000 years ago. Average air temperatures in a "Finnish" sauna range from around 160-180 degrees Fahrenheit (70-80 °C). Some believe that there is a health benefit to this hot air, suggesting that it raises your heart rate by 50%-70%, thus creating a result like physical activity. The Finns take their saunaing seriously and hold World Sauna Championships in Heinola during the month of August. The temperature is set at 230 degrees F at the beginning of the contest, and water is poured on the coals every 30 seconds. The last person left in the sauna wins the title provided he or she can walk out without assistance. Learn more about Finnish saunas at http://cankar.org/sauna/index.html.


Quote of the Month

While we have the gift of life, it seems to me the only tragedy is to allow part of us to die -- whether it is our spirit, our creativity, or our glorious uniqueness."
     - Gilda Radner (1946-1989), American actress and comedienne


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