The October Almanac
This month New York City and State officials will reveal details of a plan to close Staten Island's Fresh Kills landfill -- one of the world's largest man-made structures -- by 2001. The plan follows decades of debate about closing the "temporary" landfill, opened in 1948 for what was to be two or three years; at issue is where to send the 13,000 tons of garbage a day that are being deposited there. The decision to close the facility was prompted by a lawsuit threatened last spring by the president of the Staten Island borough, and filed even though the mayor and the governor had already agreed to close the site. The suit is the first ever to seek the closure of a municipal landfill for violation of the Clean Air Act (by one estimate, the 2,200-acre facility emits 5.3 million pounds of methane daily). Legal action is not the only option for dealing with the effects of landfills: the Environmental Protection Agency recently established a national program to promote the recovery, purification, and use as an energy source of landfill gas.
October 4, Venus lies very near the bright star Regulus -- part of the constellation Leo -- in the eastern sky this morning, in the year's closest conjunction of a planet and a first-magnitude star. 21, the Orionid meteor shower peaks tonight; it is best seen after the waxing Moon sets, around midnight. 26, Full Moon, also known this month as the Hunter's Moon and the Moon When Water Freezes. 27, at 2:00 A.M., Daylight Saving Time ends; turn clocks back one hour.
This month shoppers across the country will, often unknowingly, begin buying the first big batch of genetically engineered potatoes, as two varieties of tubers manipulated to manufacture their own pesticide reach supermarket shelves; a third variety has been available in small quantities since last year. The "NewLeaf" potatoes, comprising Atlantics, Superiors, and Russet Burbanks, have been genetically modified to produce a protein that kills the Colorado potato beetle -- the most destructive potato pest -- and therefore can be grown using few chemical insecticides. The FDA does not require that genetically engineered products be labeled as such (genetically altered tomatoes have been marketed since 1994) -- a policy that has drawn opposition from consumer groups (who are concerned, among other things, that people could develop allergies to new proteins), and from scientists, who worry, in the case of NewLeafs, that pesticide-resistant beetles may arise.
October 1, by today all coeducational colleges and universities that receive federal funds must release the first of what are to be annual public reports detailing their spending on men's and women's athletics during the previous academic year, and disclosing the number of students of each sex who participated in varsity sports. The specifics of the reports were mandated by the Department of Education to implement the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, passed in 1994 to bolster the 1972 legislation known as Title IX; Title IX outlaws sex-based discrimination in any education program receiving federal money. Sponsors of the act hope that the reports will make sex-based discrimination in athletics easier to prove in court and also prompt schools to remedy inequities on their own. Although Title IX has been given new life in recent years by a spate of successful lawsuits, the Women's Sports Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization, estimates that some 90 percent of schools are still not in compliance.
Testing in animals of the final design of the first completely artificial human heart is scheduled to begin this month at three university medical centers -- The Cleveland Clinic, The Pennsylvania State University, and the Texas Heart Institute. At least eight cows -- animals that were chosen because their hearts and chest cavities closely resemble those of human beings -- will be fitted with the devices. Researchers have been trying to create an artificial heart for more than 30 years, and partly artificial hearts have been used in patients who are awaiting heart transplants. This phase of the study is scheduled for completion in 2000, when clinical trials in human beings may begin. In the decade ahead, according to one estimate, as many as 50,000 people annually could require new hearts; only 2,000 or so donor hearts are available each year.
This month is Roosevelt History Month, dedicated to Franklin D. Roosevelt -- the first President to be honored in this way. The commemoration was initiated by Peter Kovler, a businessman with a keen interest in Roosevelt's life and times; it was made official by a proclamation by President Bill Clinton. (October was chosen for logistical reasons, not because it had particular significance in Roosevelt's life.) More than 20 federal agencies and departments and some 30 civic and educational groups are hosting events. Highlights will include a U.S. Supreme Court lecture series on the New Deal; descriptions on the World Wide Web of the public-works projects of the era; and an exhibit at The National Archives of FDR's First Inaugural Address.
Samuel W. McCall, writing in the October, 1921, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "There is probably nothing related to government that is advocated more and practised less than economy. . . . The party that is out is always bewailing the extravagance and criminal wastefulness of the party that is in. And when the people show themselves credulous enough to entrust the critics with power, the only difference likely to be seen is in an increased extravagance and waste. The fervor of the promise is usually found to be in inverse ratio to the amount of performance that is vouchsafed."
Illustrations by Sergio Ruzzier
The Atlantic Monthly; October 1996; The October Almanac; Volume 278, No. 4; page 18.