The March Almanac
Stutterers have a genetic predisposition to focus tension in their vocal cords, which may lock; stuttering is the attempt to unlock them. A singer's vocal cords are in constant motion, without the chance to tense up. In addition, singing, in which syllables are more elongated than in speech, moves the vocal cords differently. The anticipatory stress that exacerbates stuttering is less likely to occur during singing, because people tend to focus on the music more than on the words. And finally, music originates in the right side of the brain, and speech in the left; there may be little neurological connection between speaking and singing. At least one well-known figure used music to avert stuttering: Winston Churchill would hum before making speeches. [Hear a sound clip from Churchill's Battle of Britain speech (148K .wav).]
EnvironmentMarch 1, Californians may literally breathe a bit easier after today, the deadline by which the state's oil refineries must produce a cleaner-burning reformulated gasoline (RFG). By June 1 this will be the only gasoline sold at California's pumps. The new fuel will reduce emissions of toxic compounds by 30 to 40 percent and emissions of smog-forming compounds by 15 percent, making it twice as clean as an RFG that, owing to an Environmental Protection Agency mandate, has been in use in the nation's most polluted areas since January of last year. California's Air Resources Board estimates that introducing the new gasoline will have the same effect as removing 3.5 million vehicles from the state's roads.
Sea turtles begin nesting along the country's southeast coast this month, which means poachers will be combing the beaches in search of turtle eggs. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 bans the possession and sale of sea-turtle eggs; nonetheless, a lucrative trade persists. The eggs, considered a delicacy and believed by some to be an aphrodisiac, sell for up to $3 apiece on the black market; a single nest may contain as many as 150. Sea-turtle eggs have long been part of the Caribbean diet, and some immigrants from the region and from Central America still enjoy eating them; in some Florida bars and restaurants the eggs are served in shot glasses with liquor and Tabasco sauce, or as an off-the-menu special. They have long been used in southern cooking as well, especially in soups and baked goods. Poaching is not the only human hazard to threaten sea turtles and their eggs; pollution, shrimp nets, and coastal development also pose problems.
GovernmentThis year's presidential candidates have a lot at stake this month, when some 60 percent of Republican delegates and 70 percent of Democratic ones will be chosen. Primaries or caucuses will be held on March 2 (South Carolina, for Republicans only); 5 (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont--New England is trying to increase its political influence--and also Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, and, for Democrats only, Idaho, South Carolina, and Washington); 7 (New York and, for Democrats only, Missouri); 9 (Alaska, Arizona, and South Dakota, all for Democrats only); 10 (Nevada, for Democrats only); 12 "Super Tuesday" (Florida; for Democrats only, Hawaii and Louisiana; Mississippi; Oklahoma; Oregon, which will become the first state to conduct its primary by mail; Tennessee; and Texas); 16 (Michigan, for Democrats only); 19 (Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, and, for Republicans only, Michigan); 23 (Wyoming, for Democrats only); 25 (Utah, for Democrats only); and 26 (California and, for Republicans only, Washington and Nevada; Nevada's primary will also be conducted by mail).
Health & SafetyMarch ushers in spring and with it an active breeding season for many rabies hosts, including raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and skunks; as a result, the infection rate among these animals begins to surge. The disease has been rampant in U.S. wildlife since the late 1970s; however, the number of reported cases dipped by more than 10 percent in 1994, the last year for which figures have been tallied. State-run rabies-control programs and a new practice of scattering edible rabies vaccinations may be partly responsible for the decline. Raccoon rabies, the most notorious strain, has been making its way north from Florida for nearly 50 years; it reached Maine in 1994. However, in the past three years only 13 people in the United States have died of rabies, and most of these deaths have been attributed to bat strains of the virus.
The SkiesMarch 5, Full Moon, also known this month as the Lenten, Sap, and Crow Moon. 20, at 3:03 A.M. EST the Vernal Equinox occurs, marking the start of spring. Wise gardeners sow their peas. 22, Venus, which appears as the bright evening star all month, lies north of the waxing crescent Moon and to the east of the Pleiades star cluster high in the western skies after sundown.
75 Years AgoGeorge M. Stratton, writing in the March, 1921, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "For, if there is anything upon which psychologists are agreed, it is that the mind is active; not indifferent, but selective, forever choosing and rejecting. Even its humblest experiences, the colors and sounds by which the world is known, are not given us, but are the mind's unique and mysterious response to external stimulation. Hue and tone, the students of physics and of psychology are agreed, do not exist in the external world. They are our reaction; and with them we create for ourselves a strange counterpart of the reality without. And for one object awakening enough interest to be noticed, ten have vainly assailed our eyes and ears and have been ignored. These acts of notice and selection do not seem acts, being without effort, without strain of will. But action is not always marked by effort: a child at play is as active as a child at some deadening task."
Illustrations by Linda Davick
The Atlantic Monthly; March 1996; The March Almanac; Volume 277, No. 3; page 20.