The July Almanac


Unhealthy burger

July 4: Barbecue season peaks today -- some 80 percent of Americans will celebrate the holiday at a cookout -- and the season for food-borne illnesses is in full swing as well (hot weather and outdoor dining provide prime conditions for bacteria to multiply). This year some consumer groups are urging the public to consider a new issue: whether to buy beef that has been mechanically deboned. The most common method squeezes meat scraps from a carcass, supposedly leaving the bones intact. However, a U.S. Department of Agriculture study has found that pieces of bone, bone marrow, and spinal cord sometimes get into the meat. This may be cause for
Unhealthy burger
particular concern in that spinal cords can carry bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, which has been tentatively linked to several deaths in Britain. Concerned consumers will need to ask about processing methods: mechanically deboned beef is not labeled as such. At least two U.S. fast-food chains, McDonald's and Burger King, do not use meat processed in this way.
The Skies
Mars is in the southwest sky at nightfall this month, and on July 11 will be below the waxing Moon. July 19: Full Moon, also known this month as the Thunder, Hay, and Giant Cactus Moon. 25: The Moon approaches Saturn in the predawn sky.

Health & Safety

July 1: After today purse strings will tighten for the families of some disabled children, as children with disabilities must meet stricter standards in order to qualify for Supplemental Security Income. Under the terms of the welfare-reform bill enacted last summer a child's disability must now meet narrower criteria in terms of severity. In addition, individualized assessments of how well children function will no longer be a routine part of the evaluation process, as they were in the past. According to the Children's Defense Fund, the children who are most likely to be affected are those with hard-to-quantify developmental disabilities, such as autism and mental-health problems, and those with some forms of cerebral palsy and respiratory problems. Opponents of the measure argue that disabled children seeking SSI will now be held to stricter standards than adults.


July 1: Parts of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 take effect today. Among them is a provision limiting the circumstances under which insurers can deny coverage for pre-existing health conditions, such as pregnancy and cancer, to subscribers who are new to their plans because they changed or lost their jobs, as long as those subscribers enroll promptly. In the past insurers could deny coverage for a pre-existing condition for 12 months. Now they must in effect credit prior coverage for that condition: for example, someone covered for eight months under previous insurance can be denied coverage for only four months. Someone covered for 12 months or longer will face no wait. Also today, according to last year's welfare-reform bill, states must submit comprehensive welfare plans to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, based on receiving block grants rather than on participating in the federal program Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which has been eliminated after more than 60 years.

Arts & Letters

July 1: The publication day of Baroque Art in the Seventeenth Century -- the first of 22 volumes of art history for the blind and visually impaired. Each title in the series Art History Through Touch and Sound will contain tactile diagrams, an audio text, photographs with large-print and Braille captions, and "sound-compositions" meant to recast visual images for the ear. For Jan Davidsz de Heem's painting Still Life With Parrots, for example, the tinkling of silver and crystal is used to evoke a party; similarly, the echoes of footfalls help give a sense of the spatial dynamics of St. Peter's piazza, in Rome. The series will span prehistoric through contemporary art; it was developed by a nonprofit organization, Art Education for the Blind.


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