The Almanac


Government

March 27: as of today female circumcision, or female genital mutilation, becomes illegal in the United States, according to measures included in a congressional spending bill last fall. Anyone who performs or arranges for FGM on girls under the age of 18 will be fined, or face up to five years in prison, or both. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 150,000 women and girls in the United States have had FGM performed on them or are at risk. Another of the bill's provisions, which takes effect next September, requires U.S. representatives to international financial institutions to oppose most loans to countries where FGM is common unless those countries have instituted educational programs aimed at eradicating the practice.


The Skies

March 14: the first-quarter Moon sits close to the red star Aldebaran, in the constellation Taurus, in the southwestern sky after sundown. 17: Mars reaches opposition -- it is on the far side of Earth from the Sun -- and so is in the sky all night long. 20: at 8:57 A.M. EST the Vernal Equinox occurs. 22: Comet Hale-Bopp is expected to make its closest approach to Earth today -- although, because of interference from the Moon, the month's best evening viewing will not begin until the 25th. The best predawn viewing occurs early in the month. 23: Full Moon, also known this month as the Chaste, Sap, and Awakening Moon. A partial lunar eclipse, reaching its maximum at about 11:40 P.M. EST, is visible across much of the country tonight.

[For daily information on the skies, visit the Skywatcher's Diary of Michigan State University's Abrams Planetarium.]


Q&A


nasal mucous velocity

It appears to, according to a study conducted at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach. Researchers compared the effects of chicken soup and other liquids on "nasal mucus velocity" and found, for reasons they could not determine, that chicken soup increases the flow of mucus, thereby shortening the time that germs are in the body. Another researcher has theorized that this effect is partly due to the amino acid cysteine, which is found in chicken skin and feathers and which he postulates is released from the skin when chicken soup is heated. Cysteine is chemically very similar to the drug acetylcysteine, a mucus-loosening agent commonly prescribed for patients with bronchitis and other respiratory disorders. It is also an antioxidant, and may have a protective effect on the delicate tissues of the lungs.


Environment

This month the Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to propose a rule that would require certain states to revise their emission-reduction plans in an effort to address the movement of ozone pollution, or smog, from one state to another. "Ozone transport," which results when emissions from industrial areas are carried long distances downwind, is a particular problem for the Northeast, where some states have been unable to attain ozone levels in compliance with 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act despite having reduced local emissions. The new rule will be based on recommendations from the Ozone Transport Assessment Group, which includes representatives of various industry and environmental groups from the 37 easternmost states; it is likely to become final next summer. Opposition to the rule is expected from states, especially in the Midwest and South, that meet current standards for ozone levels but may have to adopt stricter controls to help other states meet the standards.

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