The Almanac


Census 2000

This month the U.S. Bureau of the Census begins a rehearsal for Census 2000, which will include various new means of arriving at a count, in addition to the traditional methods of collecting forms by mail and tracking down nonresponders door to door. The new methods are intended to contain costs and improve accuracy. The rehearsal will take place in Sacramento, California; the Menominee Indian Reservation, in Wisconsin; and Columbia, South Carolina, and 11 surrounding counties. In California and Wisconsin census takers will for the first time ever employ statistical sampling -- using data about part of a population to estimate the number and characteristics of the rest -- instead of door-to-door visits. This part of the rehearsal has been hotly contested, especially by congressional Republicans, who argue that the Constitution calls for an actual head count -- and are no doubt mindful that those likely to be added by sampling are in low-income, generally Democratic neighborhoods.

Arts & Letters

April 1: "Splendors of Versailles," an exhibit of more than 140 items from the Château de Versailles, near Paris, opens today in the Mississippi Arts Pavilion, in Jackson. This is the largest collection of treasures from Versailles ever shown outside the palace itself. It joins a growing number of exhibits organized by area businesses and state and local governments in midsize U.S. cities that lack major art museums; the organizers borrow art from foreign institutions and create elaborate installations for it, generally in convention centers or buildings converted from other uses. Such shows can be extremely lucrative -- a 1996 exhibit of art and artifacts from St. Petersburg palaces brought some $61 million to Mississippi in ticket sales and in tax and tourist dollars -- and some have gone on to tour established museums. One critic has called them "a cross between an art museum and a theme-park"; organizers say they offer the closest thing to seeing art in its original settings.

The Skies

Don't forget to change your clock

April 1: The waxing crescent Moon lies near the reddish star Aldebaran in the west at sunset. 5: At 2:00 A.M. Daylight Saving Time begins. Set clocks ahead one hour. 11: Full Moon, also known this month as the Sprouting Grass Moon and the Little Frogs Croak Moon. 23: Venus appears practically on top of Jupiter in the eastern sky shortly before sunrise, with the crescent Moon very close nearby. Such a tight grouping of these three bodies has not been visible from the United States for decades.


Nuclear-energized food

This month three major U.S. food and agricultural associations begin a public-awareness campaign designed to reassure consumers about the safety of irradiated meat -- meat that has been exposed to tiny amounts of nuclear energy in order to kill pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella. The Food and Drug Administration approved the irradiation of red meat -- a process that does not make it radioactive -- last year, because of the growing number of illnesses and deaths from contaminants. Irradiation is not new: it was developed in the 1950s and has been approved for a variety of foods. However, because of the public's wariness, it has rarely been used. The process has encountered stiff opposition from consumer groups, who argue that it not only affects the taste and appearance of food but destroys minerals and vitamins, and adds trace amounts of benzene, a carcinogen. All irradiated foods, including meat, must be labeled as such.

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