The May Almanac


May 1: New Federal Aviation Administration regulations aimed at reducing noise pollution in the Grand Canyon go into effect today. Among them is a rule that tour flights over the canyon may operate only between 8:00 A.M. and 6:00 P.M. from May through September, and between 9:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. during the rest of the year. The regulations are part of an ongoing effort to restore quiet to the canyon. By next January some 80 percent of the canyon will be designated a "no-fly" zone for tour flights; this is twice the area that is now restricted. Further plans call for phasing out the "noisiest" aircraft -- a classification that includes most of the aircraft currently in use over the canyon&nbsp-- by 2008. 25: Today Strom Thurmond, Republican of South Carolina, becomes the longest-serving senator in U.S. history, as his tenure reaches 41 years and 10 months. The record was previously held by Carl Hayden, Democrat of Arizona. Thurmond was first elected to the Senate in 1954 as a Democrat in a write-in campaign.

The Skies

Comet Hale-Bopp should still be visible to the naked eye for observers in the Northern Hemisphere at the beginning of the month, before dropping out of view in this hemisphere for a couple thousand years; look west-northwest at twilight. May 6: The Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks. The Moon is new and so will not interfere with viewing. 16: Mars lies just above the waxing Moon. 22: Full Moon, also known this month as the Milk, Mother's, or Planting Moon.

[For daily information on the skies, visit the Skywatcher's Diary of Michigan State University's Abrams Planetarium.]


May is the peak breeding month for frogs. This year's frog eggs and population will come under intense scrutiny, as researchers seek explanations for the deformities that have recently been observed in disproportionate numbers of frogs. The problem came to light two years ago, when a group of Minnesota middle school students on a hike noticed that half the frogs they saw had deformed legs. Since then scientists have discovered large numbers of deformed frogs in at least eight other states across the country.


The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey will establish a nationwide reporting center for studies to be conducted this summer, and they plan to hold a meeting of experts in November to discuss research findings. Among the causes postulated for the deformities are parasites, toxic chemicals, and increased ultraviolet radiation resulting from damage to the earth's ozone layer.


May 2: Starting today, according to a new Food and Drug Administration regulation, restaurants are accountable for all health and nutrition claims, such as "low fat," "light," and "heart healthy," made on their menus. Although restaurateurs, unlike the manufacturers of packaged foods, are not obligated to supply complete nutritional information about their products, they must be able to demonstrate a "reasonable basis" for any health and nutrition claims made about them, consistent with the definitions in the FDA's Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990. In the case of a menu item labeled "low fat," a restaurant could, for example, show that the recipe came from a low-fat cookbook. The new rule was prompted by a class-action suit brought by consumer groups against a number of restaurants alleged to be making unsubstantiated health or nutrition claims about their food.

Expiring Patent

Attachable Wearable Umbrella

No. 4,203,457. Attachable Wearable Umbrella. "A collapsible umbrella which is detachably mounted to a garment of a wearer so as to be supported . . . in the opened position of the umbrella above the head of the wearer, comprising an umbrella assembly [attached to] a pair of . . . brackets each adaptable for mounting externally on the shoulder section of a coat."

Health & Safety

Starting this month patients in Massachusetts who are curious about the malpractice histories of their physicians should be able to find this information on the Internet and on CD-ROMs at public and hospital libraries (an 800 number has been available since November). Last year Massachusetts enacted a bill mandating public access to the malpractice awards, lawsuit settlements, and felony and serious misdemeanor convictions of all its doctors; previously records of court actions could be obtained only by scouring courthouse files, and information on out-of-court settlements was not available at all. Massachusetts is the first state to require that malpractice histories be made available. Also this month researchers funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Nursing Research plan to begin a five-year, six-state trial to investigate whether basic cognitive training can bolster seniors' everyday skills such as balancing a checkbook and managing medication, and ultimately lead to greater and longer independence in old age.

75 Years Ago

The salt of conversation

Robert M. Gay, writing in the May, 1922, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "General information is ... the salt of conversation, because, when the facts exchanged are all useless, one is as good as another, there is no chilly atmosphere of shop, and talk circulates freely; but special information is always aristocratical and hierarchical. A mind that is full of the data of ethics, for example, is supercilious toward one that is full of the data of millinery; but, as general information, fashions in hats may be even more significant than fashions in morals. It should be remembered, too, that a man who is rich in general information is not at all the same as a 'well-informed person.' The latter always fills us with alarm, outside the classroom or lecture-hall, because he has never admitted anything to his mind without first testing its validity and timeliness, and then connecting it with matters already there.... He has attempted to carry over into general information the rules that govern special. This will never do."

Illustrations by Chris Lensch