The Almanac


March 1: By today, according to the Violent Offender Incarceration and Truth-in-Sentencing Incentive Grant Program, all participating states must submit to the federal Corrections Program Office plans for testing prisoners and parolees for drug use. The plans must cover how inmates will be selected for testing, how frequently random testing will occur, and what the "escalating range of responses" will be for those who test positive repeatedly. The plans may be modified after review by the CPO, and must be in effect by September 1. States that do not meet these requirements will be ineligible for federal prison funds. Although many states are already testing prisoners and parolees for drug use, this is the first time they have been required by Congress to do so.


Bad mushrooms

Wild-mushroom season begins this month, and record numbers of mushroom hunters are likely to be on the trail: according to a recent poll of chefs, exotic mushrooms are the "hottest" food in the country. Per capita consumption of fresh mushrooms has increased sixfold since 1970. Mushroom-related poisonings are also on the rise (last year more than a dozen people died or were hospitalized after eating uncultivated mushrooms). Serious poisonings are most likely to result from eating raw mushrooms; cooking neutralizes the toxins in some varieties. There are those who go so far as to advise against eating any mushrooms raw, even the familiar white cultivated ones: all mushrooms contain a known carcinogen, albeit in minute amounts.

Arts & Letters

Dusting off the sculptures

March 29: A major retrospective of the American sculptor Alexander Calder opens today at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the centenary of his birth. Calder, who had a degree in mechanical engineering, is perhaps best known for his hanging and movable sculptures, which brought the words "mobile" and "stabile" into parlance in the art world; his 10-foot-high Steel Fish (1934) was one of the first "wind-driven" sculptures ever made. Other works in the exhibit are Dog and Duck (both 1909), completed when he was 11; his crank-driven Goldfish Bowl (1929), in which the fish "swim"; International Mobile (1949), made for the Third International Exhibition of Sculpture; and Southern Cross (1963). Many have not been shown publicly since a 1943 retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art. This exhibit will run in Washington until July 12 and travel to San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art in September.


Springtime greening is expected to start sooner than usual in the northern high latitudes this year. Data from satellite observations made since 1981 show that vegetation above about 45° N has been appearing earlier and earlier each spring. This spring's "green-up" is expected to occur roughly a week ahead of last year's. The phenomenon is part of a cycle known as the "temperature/snow cover feedback effect," whereby bare ground, having absorbed more of the sun's radiation than snow-covered ground, grows warmer, causing nearby snow to melt; this in turn raises air temperatures and encourages plant growth. Because temperatures have been gradually increasing, the effect has become more pronounced each year. Responses to the progressively earlier springs in recent years include earlier nesting among birds in the United Kingdom, changes in some migratory patterns, earlier thawing of some Canadian lakes, and increased calving among caribou in the Arctic.

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