The Almanac

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The February Almanac

Arts & Letters

February 28: today is the last day that libraries can place orders for catalogue cards with the Library of Congress, which is halting production of the cards. Libraries wishing to maintain card catalogues will have to turn to commercial suppliers. The Library of Congress has since 1902 sold duplicates of its three-by-five-inch cards to libraries around the world. However, card sales have declined since 1968, when cataloguing information became available in an automated format; they fell to 579,879 last year, from a peak of 78 million in 1968. Critics of automated systems point out that errors in conversion have led to books' being lost and have limited cross-referencing options, and that the cards themselves -- many of which are being discarded -- have inherent historical value.


February 22: as of today many people who have been receiving federal food stamps are no longer eligible for this form of assistance. According to a provision of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act -- the sweeping welfare-reform bill signed by President Bill Clinton last August -- childless able-bodied adults aged 18 to 50 cannot collect food stamps for more than three months of any three-year period unless they have part-time jobs or are in employment-training or workfare programs. When the provision took effect, last November 22, states were required to give three months' notice to recipients who stood to lose their food stamps unless they met the new requirements. State and local governments can apply for waivers for residents of areas where the unemployment rate is 10 percent or more or where it is deemed that appropriate jobs are lacking. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the provision could mean that a million fewer people at a time receive food stamps, at savings to the federal budget of $5.1 billion over six years. Soup kitchens, shelters, and food banks are gearing up for an increase in demand for their services.


This month the Water Environment Federation, a nonprofit educational and technical organization, will report the final results of a survey commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency on the state of the nation's sewage sludge, or the residue left behind after sewage has been treated. This is the first comprehensive inventory of the methods by which wastewater-treatment plants use and dispose of sludge. It is intended to assess compliance with regulations issued in 1993. Among the topics the survey will address is public acceptance of the use of sludge as both agricultural and nonagricultural fertilizer, a frequent but controversial practice. Opponents argue that toxins that may remain in treated sewage pose health risks to grazing animals and nearby human populations. As part of its efforts to emphasize the positive qualities of the substance, the EPA has recently abandoned the term "sludge" in favor of "biosolids."


Making Chocolate

February 14: Valentine's Day; Americans will buy some 30 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolates today. Many recipients may puzzle over the contents, however, since few chocolate assortments come with "maps." Some general guidelines: Round or oval pieces are likely to be creams (before being coated with chocolate, cream centers are usually forced through a funnel, resulting in a dome shape). Square pieces probably contain some sort of nougat or caramel (hard or chewy centers are usually cut from large slabs into small squares). Thin rectangular pieces are probably brittles. There are exceptions, of course: some top-of-the-line chocolates are manufactured in a more complicated and delicate process involving molds of varying shapes.

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Saving the Bees

Honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. A short documentary considers how desperate beekeepers are trying to keep their hives alive.

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