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The March Almanac

Illustrations by Kelly AlderQ & A

Why does it always seem to rain on the weekend, rather than during the workweek?

A 1998 study by climatologists at Arizona State University suggests that this is more than just a matter of perception. Precipitation levels on the East Coast, they found, are 22 percent higher on Saturdays than on Mondays. Evidently the culprit is not Murphy's Law but the pollution produced in big cities. Factories and commuters' cars begin spewing out carbon monoxide each Monday, and emissions build throughout the week; by Saturday, emissions levels are often high enough to trigger the formation of rain clouds. After a low-pollution weekend the cycle begins anew. Something to take comfort from on yet another rainy Saturday: high pollution levels may diminish the potential force of hurricanes. Hot air trapped by the pollution causes more rain to fall along a hurricane's edges; this in turn weakens the storm's center.

Related link:

Gallery of Obscure Patents
An archive highlighting bizarre and unusual patents, posted by IBM's Intellectual Property Network.

Illustrations by Kelly AlderExpiring Patent

No. 4,375,881. Portable desk for use with automobile steering wheel. "A portable reversible desk for detachable mounting on and support by the steering wheel of a motor vehicle comprising ... smooth, planar surfaces for the support of writing material ... a pocket ... for the holding of writing materials; and [clips] for detachably holding the desk to the rim of the steering wheel...."

Arts & Letters

More than 200 objects from Istanbul's Topkapi Palace -- the political and cultural center of the Ottoman Empire -- go on exhibit this month at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C. The Topkapi was home to the empire's sultans from the 15th century through the 19th, and at any given point employed hundreds of artisans. A number of the objects in the exhibit have never before left the palace; some are the oldest pieces of Ottoman art ever to leave Turkey. Among the items on display are the well-nicked battle sword of Sultan Mehmed II (ruler from 1444-1446 and 1451-1481); the ebony-and-ivory throne of Sultan Süleyman I (1520-1566); the Topkapi dagger, showcased in the 1964 film Topkapi; and a variety of illuminated manuscripts. Also included are objects from outside the Ottoman Empire, acquired through its far-flung trade; these range from English clocks to the most extensive collection of Chinese porcelain anywhere but China. The show will close in Washington in June, and will travel to San Diego and Fort Lauderdale.

Illustrations by Kelly Alder Government

This is the last month in which pets coming into Great Britain from most Western European countries will face a six-month quarantine. In the future animals with "pet passports" documenting effective rabies vaccinations, among other things, will be granted immediate entry. This is one of several phases in ending Britain's 100-year-old quarantine rule, the toughest in the world. The quarantine rule has attracted vehement protest over the years and inspired some unusual measures: in the 1960s Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton housed their four dogs on a yacht moored in the Thames, in order to avoid being separated from them. Also this month primaries or caucuses occur in 31 states. The nominees may be apparent after March 7, when both parties hold contests in California, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Washington, and five New England states (whose contests make up the Yankee Primary), and Democrats hold caucuses in Hawaii, Idaho, and North Dakota.

Illustrations by Kelly Alder Demographics

March is the peak month for indoor tanning, according to an industry survey of tanning salons. Students preparing for April proms or spring-break beach vacations and travelers preparing for resort visits account for the spike in business. It is estimated that more than 28 million Americans tan indoors each year, and that more than a million of them make daily visits, in spite of the widely publicized, and increasing, health risks of exposure to ultraviolet light (the typical American now has a one in 79 chance of developing malignant melanoma sometime during his or her life). Some tanning salons have added non-UV light-therapy rooms, which expose the eyes to high-intensity artificial light but do not promote tanning, in a bid to build a clientele among sufferers of seasonal affective disorder, a depressive condition caused by the low levels of daylight from October through March. Those using the herbal remedy St. John's wort to alleviate winter depression should avoid tanning and light therapy, though: both can cause cataracts in people taking the herb.

Related link:

The Skywatcher's Diary
Daily information on the skies posted by Michigan State University's Abrams Planetarium.

Illustrations by Kelly AlderThe Skies

This month the crescent Moon passes by three planets in turn at dusk in the southwestern sky: Mars on March 8th, Jupiter on the 9th, and Saturn on the 10th. March 17: The gibbous Moon passes just above the bright star Regulus in the west after sundown. 19: Full Moon, also known this month as the Lizard, Sap, and Awakening Moon. 20: At 2:35 A.M. EST, the Vernal Equinox. Spring begins. 31: Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn lie in a close grouping low in the west at sunset.

Illustrations by Kelly Alder25 Years Ago

Larry McMurtry, writing in the March, 1975, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "Throughout most of this century, two figures have stood opposed to one another in the legends of Texas: they are the cowboy and the multimillionaire. The figures represent two styles and two ideals, and the most basic of the many differences between them is that one style is essentially accumulative, while the other style is not. No cowboy ever had much -- his claim was to grace, not goods. All millionaires have a lot, though what they have seldom instructs them in what to do with themselves. Scores of oil millionaires have spent their first surplus cash on a ranch, some cows, and, when possible, a cowboy or two, in the rather touching hope of being able to buy into an enterprise and a way of life that seems legitimate to them: such has been the force of the myth of the cowboy, even to this late date."


Illustrations by Kelly Alder.

Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; March 2000; The Almanac - 00.03; Volume 285, No. 3; page 16.