The Almanac

Art & Letters

In a boon for art-lovers in America's heartland, exhibits showcasing two remarkable new acquisitions open this month -- one at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the other at the Blanton Museum of Art, at the University of Texas at Austin. Both acquisitions resulted from combinations of gifts and purchases, and each was designated for a relatively low-profile institution largely so that it would be a central, and well-displayed, part of the museum's holdings. The IMA acquired 101 paintings and prints by Paul Gauguin and his Brittany-based Pont-Aven School from the Swiss collector Samuel Josefowitz. With them the museum, which has a significant collection of works by Georges Seurat and other neo-Impressionists, becomes one of the leading U.S. repositories of post-Impressionist art. The Blanton Museum acquired one of the largest private collections of Old Master paintings and drawings, consisting of nearly 700 works by such artists as Rubens, Poussin, and Correggio. The collection was assembled over two generations by the art historians William Suida and Robert and Bertina Suida Manning.

Health & Safety

March 10: The first mandatory standards for bicycle helmets go into effect today. The standards, set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, include provisions to ensure that helmets stay on, and require that helmets for children under the age of five cover more of the head than most previous helmets have. And starting this month most pills, powders, and other products containing vitamins, minerals, herbs, or other substances intended to supplement the diet must carry a "Supplement Facts" panel similar to the "Nutrition Facts" panels on most processed foods. This requirement, spurred by a 1994 law, stipulates that labels must give a breakdown of active ingredients and suggest appropriate amounts to take. It also sets parameters for the kinds of health and nutrition claims that may be made. Americans spend more than $6 billion annually on dietary supplements.


Mexican border

March is the peak month for illegal attempts to cross the U.S.-Mexican border, judging by the number of people apprehended . The agency makes, on average, nearly 125,000 apprehensions each March; the average in other months is fewer than 100,000. The peak is attributed largely to the approach of the growing season, which brings thousands of migrant workers north. Because of the sheer number of attempts, March is a bad month for crossing-related deaths; however, most deaths occur during the summer, because of the heat. Recent efforts to tighten border security have resulted mainly in rechanneling, rather than reducing, illegal immigrant flows. For example, over the past several years the Border Patrol's Operation Gatekeeper, based in San Diego, has virtually eliminated traffic deaths among migrants trying to cross the area's highways -- but the number of drownings in the fast-moving All-American Irrigation Canal, 100 miles to the east, soared.


Heart-healthy shopping

This month the first line of foods designed to actively lower cholesterol will appear on supermarket shelves. "Ensemble" products, made by Kellogg's, include pasta, frozen entrees, and cakes; they will make their debut in the Midwest. Most will carry a label, approved by the Food and Drug Administration, stating that they may reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten "as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol" -- a caveat that many consumers, pleasantly surprised to find scientifically sanctioned snacks and microwave-ready meals, may be tempted to ignore. Ensemble foods are the latest in a growing number of "functional foods" -- foods enriched with special-purpose nutrients and marketed to health-conscious consumers. In 1993 the FDA ruled that the manufacturers of such foods may make clinically proven health claims. Ensemble's claim is based on the soluble fiber its products contain. Soluble fiber is, of course, also available in grains, fruits, and beans.

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