The Almanac


Holiday shopping is in full swing this month -- and so is theft. In 1998 retailers lost more than $15 billion to shoplifters. Even more "inventory shrinkage" -- nearly $19 billion worth in 1998 -- is caused by employee theft, a problem exacerbated by the hiring of temporary workers for the holiday rush. To foil shoplifters, stores have begun using electronic tags that are attached during the manufacturing or packaging process, rather than at the store. The tags, which may be tiny and can be woven into apparel, are much more difficult than conventional electronic tags for shoplifters to locate and remove. To combat employee theft, many stores have turned to computerized "exception reporting," which monitors various aspects of an employee's behavior -- for example, how often a salesperson opens the cash register -- and flags anything out of the ordinary.

The Skies

December 11: Full Moon, also known this month as the Yule Moon and the Big Freezing Moon. All month long Mars and the bright white star Spica lie near each other high in the southeast before dawn. They will be at their closest on the 13th, and will be joined by the waning quarter Moon on the 20th. December 21: At 8:37 A.M. EST, the Winter Solstice. 25: A partial eclipse of the Sun occurs, visible in much of continental North America. The moment of greatest darkness will be 12:35 P.M. EST.

Health & Safety

December 2: As of today the Food and Drug Administration will require companies seeking approval of new drugs likely to be prescribed for children -- even if intended for adults -- to conduct pediatric clinical trials. Historically, most companies have tested drugs only on adults: three quarters of the drugs prescribed for children, including medications for asthma and epilepsy, have never been tested on them. The subject of pediatric studies has generated considerable controversy. Some researchers who oppose the use of placebos if an effective remedy exists are particularly concerned about their use in pediatric trials. Obtaining informed consent from children is another nettlesome issue -- those aged seven to 18 are asked to add their "assent" to their parents' consent. And the reported practice of some researchers of paying hefty sums to parents who enroll their children in trials, and offering the children themselves Toys "R" Us gift certificates, has generated concern.

Expiring Patent

No. 4,422,634. Waterless Swimming Machine. "A swimming simulator for providing a user with the exercise typically produced by swimming, comprising: support frame ... resting on a foundation and supporting the torso of the user in a horizontal position ... a pair of arm levers [with] grip handles being movable along a circular path against a first predetermined resistance; a pair of leg levers ... movable in an arc about a rear pivot point at the other end, such movement being against a second predetermined resistance; and at least one air pump [for providing] predetermined resistances."

Arts & Letters

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