The Almanac

Illustrations by Aaron Meshon


Those celebrating birthdays this month might wish they'd been born at a different time of year: according to a study by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, in Germany, Austrians aged 50 and older who were born in April through June lived, on average, 0.28 years less than people born in other months. The researchers also examined Danish statistics, and found a similar pattern. The optimal birthday season, in terms of longevity, appears to run from October through December: Austrians born in those months lived 0.32 years longer than average. These findings have been corrected for the fact that mortality rates usually peak in late winter and drop in summer, and they appear to override the so-called birthday effect -- the tendency of people to die shortly after their birthdays. One hypothesis about the pattern points to the increased probability of acquiring certain viral infections during the spring and early summer: newborns who get these infections, the theory goes, may be more susceptible to disease later in life.

Health & Safety

This month Japan levies a tax designed to help cope with a problem that is bearing down on the United States as well: an acute crisis in care for the elderly. All Japanese citizens aged 40 and older will be required to pay the equivalent of about $25 a month into a pool that will be used to subsidize nursing-home and home-care costs arising from aging-related diseases. This year 22 million Japanese (17 percent of the population) are 65 or older, and the figure is expected to reach 32 million (27 percent) by 2025. There are currently 35 million U.S. senior citizens, who make up 13 percent of the population; according to projections, there could be nearly 70 million, or 20 percent of the total, by 2030. The Japanese plan is intended to provide care for more people while reducing the financial burden on individual patients and the government. However, some fear that patients could be disqualified from services they need, and that the plan could bankrupt those whose care has hitherto been entirely subsidized by the government.

Illustrations by Aaron MeshonArts & Letters

April 1: Today is the deadline to register for the design competition for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, in Washington, D.C. The King Memorial will be located between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, a site that was chosen only after 15 years of disputes. It will be paid for with private donations. 24: The Library of Congress -- the nation's oldest federal cultural institution and the world's largest library -- celebrates its bicentennial. Commemorative coins and a stamp will be issued, a history of the library will be published, a time capsule containing items representing the bicentennial will be sealed, and books, documents, and prints that belonged to Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the library, will go on exhibit. Other bicentennial projects will come to fruition this year. Most notable is the Local Legacies project, a compilation of significant cultural and historical events in each state, which is being added to the archives of the Library's American Folklife Center and posted online. More than 1,100 events have been compiled so far, covering such topics as Paul Revere's ride, in Massachusetts; the Chandler Ostrich Festival, in Arizona; the Athens Fiddlers' Contest, in Texas; and the National Hollerin' Contest, in North Carolina.


April 7: The California Holocaust Registry Law takes effect today. All insurance companies that do business in California, whether directly or through a subsidiary, must publish information about policies sold in Europe from 1920 to 1945. The state will search an international registry of Holocaust victims for the names of unpaid policyholders, in order to expedite the settlement of outstanding claims. Relatives of Holocaust victims have testified that insurers have refused to honor claims on grounds ranging from the absence of a death certificate -- a document that was not, of course, issued at concentration camps -- to the fact that families lost their copies of their policies during the war. California is the first state to pass such a law; some fear that the law will undermine federal attempts to help in settling Holocaust-related claims.

Illustrations by Aaron Meshon

Expiring Patent

No. 4,379,532. Wearable Aircraft. "A winged aircraft comprising a saddle form aircraft body ... to be mounted upon and secured to the back of a pilot; multiple engines ... having exhaust tubes opening through the rear of the aircraft body for issuing propulsive streams to propel and sustain the aircraft in flight; angularly adjustable fins ... for effecting selectable flight patterns ... [and] pilot operable control[s]...."

The Skies

April 2: At 2:00 A.M. local time, Daylight Saving Time begins. Turn clocks ahead one hour. 6: Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars, which all winter drew closer together in the evening sky, form a tight group with the crescent Moon at dusk. Over the next week Jupiter and Saturn will drop past Mars; by the end of the month all three planets will be too close to the setting Sun to be easily seen. 18: Full Moon, also known this month as the Egg, Planting, or Deep Water Moon.

Illustrations by Aaron Meshon 125 Years Ago

Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing in the April, 1875, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "We must remember that anthropology is in its infancy, in spite of the heaven-descended precept of antiquity and the copy-book pentameter line of Pope. Instinct still moves in us as it did in Cain and those relatives of his who he was afraid would lynch him. Law comes to us from a set of marauders who cased themselves in iron, and the possessions they had won by conquest in edicts as little human in their features as the barred visors that covered their faces. Poor fantastic Dr. Robert Knox [a Scottish race theorist] was still groaning in 1850 over the battle of Hastings; not quite ineptly, it may be. Our most widely accepted theologies owe their dogmas to a few majority votes passed by men who would have hanged our grandmothers as witches and burned our ministers as heretics."

Illustrations by Aaron Meshon.

The Atlantic Monthly; April 2000; The Almanac - 00.04; Volume 285, No. 4; page 24.