The Almanac

Demographics

June is the busiest month for moving companies, as many families take advantage of good weather and children's summer vacations to make the transition to new homes. Every year some 42 million Americans move, but most don't go far: two thirds stay in the same county, and only about 15 percent cross state lines. A group whose number and visibility have been increasing in recent decades is "halfbacks," or retirees who, having previously moved from the North to Florida, are now moving partway back, settling in such states as Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina. Halfbacks reflect a growing preference among retirees for areas that are more rural, less expensive, and safer than traditional retirement spots. From 1960 to 1990 North Carolina, for example, went from twenty-seventh to fifth on the list of states receiving people aged 60 and over -- and from 1970 to 1990 Florida went from eighth to third on the list of states losing senior citizens.

Food

The peach season begins in most parts of the country in June, but consumers might think twice about biting into the fruit: U.S. peaches contain more residues of pesticides than any other domestic or imported fruits or vegetables tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Although the toxins in U.S. peaches are within legal limits, they are potentially unhealthy to children: by eating a single unpeeled U.S. peach a child can ingest more pesticide residue than is deemed to be safe per day. Domestic produce in general is more contaminated than imported produce (other offenders include unpeeled apples and pears, spinach, and winter squash), news that has spurred consumer groups to push for more-stringent regulations. Ironically, USDA scientists recently announced that a compound in peach oil kills fungus and other pests and could replace one of the most toxic pesticides -- but the approval process for new pesticides can take years.

Arts & Letters

Notoriously averse to foreign influence (for example, they have formed committees to prevent the incursion of English words and phrases), the French have, not surprisingly, monopolized the art market in their country for the past 400 years, allowing auctions to be held only by French auctioneers. The situation may begin to change this month, when Sotheby's helps to organize one of the largest house sales ever conducted on French soil. The contents of the Château de Groussay, a nineteenth-century house outside Paris that is considered a showcase of twentieth-century decorative arts, will be auctioned June 2-6. Sotheby's will be paid only for organizing the event, and will not share in the proceeds. In the meantime, the French National Assembly is expected to debate the issue of foreign auctioneers. Allowing them full participation could stem the export of millions of dollars' worth of art to major international auctioneers each year; on the other hand, French auctioneers, typically trained in law rather than business, might find themselves overwhelmed by competitors with more experience.

Government

July 1: Duty-free shopping for those traveling between European countries is scheduled to be at an end by today. The change was mandated by the European Commission eight years ago, in order to promote equality among member countries; however, Britain, France, and Germany strenuously opposed the change. Their main reason was that jobs would be lost; less convincingly, perhaps, some also deplored the fact that people would be deprived of the joy of spending money to save money. Also this month, barring the unlikely event of last-minute congressional action, the Independent Counsel Act will expire, on June 30. The law, which requires the Attorney General to seek an outside investigator when there is evidence of a crime by the President or another high-ranking official, was enacted in 1978 and renewed in 1994. There have been 20 independent counsels, whose investigations have cost nearly $150 million in all.

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