May 5: Some 28 million avocados, mostly in the form of guacamole, will be eaten in the United States today -- more than on any other day of the year. The reason: today is Cinco de Mayo, which commemorates a Mexican victory over the armies of Napoleon III. The biggest celebrations will be in places like California, Texas, and Chicago, where Mexican-American culture mixes with American culture and where the day is seen as an occasion for a party even by many who have no Mexican roots. An irony that celebrants may be unaware of: none of the avocados eaten here today will come from Mexico. In 1914 the U.S. Department of Agriculture banned Mexican avocados because of a seed weevil known to infest Mexican groves. In 1997 the USDA agreed to allow avocados from Michoacan into 19 northeastern states from November to February, on the rationale that the cold should kill any accompanying pests, and that if any did survive, they would not pose a threat to the crops grown in those states.
Northeasterners may notice clearer skies this spring and summer, because the first phase of a program designed to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide -- a pollutant that reacts with hydrocarbons and strong sunlight to produce ground-level ozone, the main component of smog -- takes effect this month. The Nitrogen Oxide Budget Program will issue a fixed number of "emissions allowances" to the states in the region. Each state can decide how to distribute its allowances among producers, such as coal-fired electric utilities and industrial plants; the allowances can be used, traded, or sold. Many states are choosing to reward already-efficient plants by awarding allowances based on good performance. The program was developed in 1995 through the collaboration of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Ozone Transport Commission, and industry and environmental groups. It aims to reduce NOx emissions in the Northeast by more than 75 percent by 2003.
Arts & Letters
Those seeking respite from Star Wars mania -- the long-awaited prequel to the space trilogy has its premiere this month -- might consider visiting the Library of Congress, where the first posthumous retrospective of the work of the American designers Charles and Ray Eames will open on May 20. A husband-and-wife team, the Eameses were best known for elegant but economical furniture, especially form-fitting plywood and plastic chairs. They were leaders in the postwar movement to couple basic human needs -- for example, shelter -- with comfort, beauty, and affordability. They also designed buildings, toys, books, and corporate projects (IBM's pavilion for the 1964 World's Fair, for example), and they helped the U.S. Information Service to produce films intended to influence America's image abroad. The exhibit will include more than 500 items. It will close in Washington in September and travel to museums in New York, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Seattle, and abroad.
May 1: The ocean-shipping industry becomes partly deregulated today, as last year's Ocean Shipping Reform Act takes effect. The legislation, which is intended to give importers and exporters more choice and flexibility, permits many aspects of contracts between carriers and their clients to remain confidential: such details as rates, terms of service, and damages no longer need be made public. The act brings the ocean-shipping industry in line with truck, rail, and air shipping, which were deregulated in the early 1980s. It took Congress four years to pass the bill; opponents included small shipping firms, which fear that carriers may begin secretly giving volume discounts to large shippers and force smaller companies out of business.