The Almanac


Illustration by Glynis Sweeny October 1: New milk-pricing rules are scheduled to go into effect today, as the country's 60-year-old milk-pricing system -- long criticized by many producers and consumers as antiquated and unfair -- is modified to meet requirements of the 1996 Farm Bill. Over the years the government has attempted to stabilize the milk supply by establishing minimum prices within specified geographic regions (a practice that came under fire from dairy farmers in states where milk is abundant and price floors were consequently lower) and by buying surplus butter, cheese, and nonfat dry milk (a practice that will be abolished by the end of the year). Under the new system the regions will be consolidated and the price differences between them will be reduced. The reforms are expected to lower the average retail price of milk by about two cents a gallon.

Health & Safety

The first clinical trials in 20 years of a vaccine against group A Streptococcus -- the bacterium that causes strep throat -- are now under way, at the University of Maryland's Center for Vaccine Development. Tests of a group A strep vaccine ground to a halt in the 1970s, after some experimentally vaccinated children developed rheumatic fever, which often leads to heart disease. However, scientists continued investigating because of accumulating links between group A strep and pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome, and "flesh-eating" disease. Genetic engineering has now enabled them to strip from the vaccine those components thought to react with heart tissue. The first phase of the trials will involve adults only; plans call for eventually including children.


Illustration by Glynis Sweeny

Doctors disagree on what causes this phenomenon, which appears to be hereditary and goes by three clinical names: "photosternutatory reflex," "autosomal dominant compelling helio-ophthalmic outburst" (ACHOO), and, most commonly, "photic sneeze reflex." According to one theory, light stimulates the nerves in the face, which in turn irritate the mucous membranes, resulting in a sneeze; a second theory holds that the optic nerve irritates the mucous membranes. Up to a third of the population is thought to be afflicted. Military researchers, worried about the implications for combat pilots, have sought remedies, but to no avail. After subjecting pilots wearing military, designer, and ordinary sunglasses and goggles to different wavelengths and intensities of light, the researchers were able to conclude only that "the best defense appears to be education and identification of those pilots with the sneezer trait."

Arts & Letters

Illustration by Glynis Sweeny This is an eventful month for pop-culture collectors, with major auctions of the possessions of Elvis Presley (to be held in Las Vegas October 8-10) and of Marilyn Monroe (to be held in New York City by Christie's, October 27-28). Nearly 2,000 of Presley's possessions are slated to be on the block, including movie scripts, credit cards, letters, and clothing ranging from Army fatigues to pajamas. The proceeds will be used to build a housing development in Memphis for the homeless. (As a teenager Elvis lived in a federal housing project.) The auction can be seen at www.; it will be the first to be broadcast in its entirety on the Internet. Highlights of the Monroe sale will include the actress's script for the comedy Some Like It Hot, a ring given her by Joe DiMaggio, and the flesh-colored dress in which she sang "Happy Birthday" to President John F. Kennedy. Some of the proceeds will go to various charities.

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