The Almanac

Health & Safety

Alternative medicine takes another step toward the mainstream this month, as clinical licensing exams in naturopathic medicine -- a discipline that emphasizes prevention and avoids pharmaceutical drugs -- begin to be administered by the newly formed North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners. The board will also be responsible for determining who is eligible to take the exams and for sending the results to the jurisdictions where the candidates hope to be licensed. Previously these duties were assumed by the exam's producers. With the restructuring, the exam and the licensing process now follow the model used by many other health-care professionals, including physicians and chiropractors. A growing acceptance of naturopathy is reflected in recent decisions by some health-care plans to cover naturopathic treatment.


Dentists' waiting rooms may be unusually crowded this month: August is the peak time for dental visits, largely because of back-to-school checkups. Emergency visits to pediatric dentists are said to spike twice a year: after Halloween (owing to candy-related toothaches and injuries), and in early summer (when rough outdoor play often results in tooth injuries). In spite of an increase in preventive measures, four out of five children wind up with at least one cavity by age 17, and some of them have considerably more: 25 percent of children account for 80 percent of all childhood cavities. The misery involved, at least, should start to lessen: in 1997 the Food and Drug Administration approved the dental use of laser tools, which can repair cavities virtually without pain.

Illustration by Melinda Beck

The Skies

August 10: This evening the constellation Sagittarius, which is actually shaped like a teapot even though it is named for an archer, lies below the waxing Moon. During the second half of the month, when the Moon sets early, a thick star cloud -- the center of the Milky Way -- can be seen, in the words of one observer, "like a puff of steam just above the Teapot's spout." 15: Full Moon, also known this month as the Green Corn Moon and the Sturgeon Moon. 21-22: Jupiter, Saturn, and the waning Moon rise together in a line in the east around midnight.

Q & A

Paradoxically, the annoyance we feel when we realize we have been humming, say, "If I Only Had a Brain" for three days on end is exactly why we hum it in the first place. Daniel Wegner, a psychologist and the author of White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts, has coined the phrase "the ironic process" to describe the psychological mechanism that is responsible. The mind searches, consciously and unconsciously, for undesirable thoughts so that it can avoid them, much the way that a ship uses sonar to avoid rocks. However, this activity tends to foster those very thoughts. The phenomenon has been tested many times in the laboratory. For example, researchers have shown that people who are trying not to think about sex experience the same physiological response as those who are trying to think about sex. According to Wegner, the best way to rid yourself of oppressive tunes is, well, to face the music: hum or sing the song repeatedly. Herewith an exercise: "I would not be just a nuffin' / My head all full of stuffin' / My heart all full of pain / I would dance and be merry / Life would be a ding-a-derry / If I only had a brain."

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