The January Almanac
January 1, by today most commercial broadcast television and radio stations must have digital computer equipment capable of automatically receiving and transmitting emergency messages about natural disasters, such as earthquakes, storms, and floods, and man-made crises, such as civil disorders and toxic spills. Cable stations must have the new equipment by July. The requirement is part of a federal overhaul of the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS), starting with its name: the system will now be known as the Emergency Alert System (EAS). Lacking the automatic capabilities of the EAS, the EBS relied on human operators -- a pitfall especially in rural areas, where stations often operate with little staff. Weaknesses in the warning system are believed to have contributed to 40 deaths that were caused by tornadoes in Alabama and Georgia in March of 1994.
January 3, the Quadrantid meteor shower, one of the year's most reliable displays, peaks tonight. During the second half of the month Comet Hale-Bopp can be seen low in the east about an hour before sunrise. The comet will be around for several months, but devoted observers may wish to start looking now: after April it will be out of view for several thousand years. 23, Full Moon, also known this month as the Wolf or Winter Moon.
To see daily entries of what to look for in the sky, visit the Skywatcher's Diary of Michigan State University's Abrams Planetarium.
January 1, today President Bill Clinton acquires the right to use the line-item veto: he can strip specific spending items (those that provide dollar figures) from appropriations bills that he signs into law. He can also cancel any new entitlement programs, expansions to existing benefits, or narrowly targeted tax breaks. Previously the President was obliged to sign or veto all bills in their entirety. The line-item veto was passed by Congress last spring. It will be in effect for eight years, after which Congress will vote on whether or not to extend it. The breadth of its reach remains to be seen: two thirds of federal spending is for items, such as established entitlement programs, that fall outside its purview.
Parents should have an easier time in the new year locating quality television programs for their children. Starting January 2, commercial broadcast television stations must, in information provided for program listings and at the time of airing, identify "core" programs -- those specifically designed to serve "the educational and informational needs of children." This requirement is one of several adopted by the Federal Communications Commission last summer to strengthen its implementation of the 1990 Children's Television Act, which ruled that broadcasters must serve the interests of children but did not specify how. (As a result, some stations considered their obligation met by shows like America's Funniest Home Videos and The Jetsons.) Although the new rules leave it to stations to determine what constitutes educational fare, advocates argue that the public nature of the labeling system is likely to ensure compliance.
The Atlantic Monthly; January 1997; The January Almanac; Volume 279, No. 1; page 12.