September 13: Privacy gets a boost today, as federal regulations restricting the availability of personal information from state motor-vehicle records go into effect. According to the Driver's Privacy Protection Act, access to information such as a driver's name, address, and telephone number will be limited to those seeking it for government, judicial, insurance, or other "legitimate" purposes. In many states this information was obtainable by anyone for a small fee. Those who have availed themselves of it include journalists, marketers, and stalkers. The bill taking effect today is part of the 1994 Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act; it was prompted in part by the murder of an actress whose killer obtained her address from her record at the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Arts & Letters
September 28: The first retrospective of the works of the American landscape painter Thomas Moran opens today at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C. It will include some 100 paintings, among them watercolors of Yellowstone that were instrumental in Congress's decision to make that site the country's first national park. The opening marks the 125th anniversary of the creation of the park. 30: The Pompidou Center, in Paris, closes for two years of renovations. The center, which houses a reference library, a music institute, and a modern-art museum, was intended to receive perhaps 5,000 visitors a day but instead has typically hosted about 25,000 a day -- more than the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower combined.
September 1: The 2.2-square-mile ocean dump off the coast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, which has been the primary repository for some 4 million tons of contaminated mud dredged from New York Harbor each year to keep the harbor open to shipping, closes today by order of the federal government, leaving New York and New Jersey officials in search of other means of disposal. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has proposed 53 options, including burying the mud on land or in underwater pits, but has incurred opposition from environmentalists, who favor decontamination of the mud, a costly and lengthy process. The Army argues that its solutions are environmentally sound and that halting the dredging of the harbor carries its own environmental risks -- for instance, oil tankers could run aground in narrow channels, and air pollution results when ships are diverted to other ports and their contents trucked to New York.
According to last year's Immigration Reform Act, immigrants who have been in the United States illegally for more than 180 days as of September 28 and who leave the country are ineligible for re-entry for at least three years. And on September 30 a 1994 law that allowed illegal immigrants to pay $1,000 to stay here while their applications for legal status were processed is due to expire. Together these changes amount to a Catch-22: immigrants applying for legal status must go to their native countries for visas allowing them to stay in the United States while their paperwork is processed -- but they cannot return for at least three years if they do. Also this month an international tribunal is expected to finish adjudicating compensation claims brought by those who were interned in Nazi concentration camps while they were U.S. citizens. The claims program grew out of an agreement between the German and U.S. governments. According to one estimate, successful claimants may get $10,000 for each month of internment.
The Moon has several partners this month: on September 5 it lies just above Venus and the bright star Spica; on the 6th it lies close to Mars in the early evening; and on the 14th it lies just above Jupiter. September 16: Full Moon, also known this month as the Harvest, Cool, or Black Calves Moon. 21: The waning Moon lies near the reddish star Aldebaran early this morning. 22: At 7:56 P.M. EDT the Autumnal Equinox, marking summer's end.
Health & Safety
Most automobile dealerships will be rolling out 1998 models this month. The cars will incorporate two features required by federal regulations that take effect on September 1: driver's-side and passenger-side airbags in all new passenger cars, and improved locks on the back doors of all new hatchbacks, sport-utility vehicles, minivans, and station wagons. Airbags have been credited with saving some 2,000 lives in the past decade. However, because they inflate with great force, they have killed roughly 70 people, primarily children and short adults, in low-speed or otherwise low-risk crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now allows lower-powered airbags, and at this writing is considering proposals that would enable consumers to have airbags deactivated. As for the locks on back doors, the need for standards (which have long pertained to side-door locks) was demonstrated by an increasing number of injuries and deaths among unbelted passengers thrown from poorly secured back doors.
100 Years Ago
Woodrow Wilson, writing in the September, 1897, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "[Genuineness] is a quality that goes with good sense and self-respect.... Laughter is genuine which has in it neither the shrill, hysterical note of mere excitement nor the hard metallic twang of the cynic's sneer, -- which rings in the honest voice of gracious good humor, which is innocent and unsatirical. Speech is genuine which is without silliness, affectation, or pretense. That character is genuine which seems built by nature rather than by convention, which is stuff of independence and of good courage. Nothing spurious ... nothing adulterated and seeming to be what it is not; nothing unreal, can ever get place among the nobility of things genuine, natural, of pure stock and unmistakable lineage."
Illustrations by Eric Hanson
The Atlantic Monthly; September 1997; The September Almanac; Volume 280, No. 3; page 14.