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The December Almanac
EnvironmentDecember 31, as of today U.S. and Canadian companies must stop producing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), ozone-depleting chemicals contained in industrial solvents, air-conditioners, and refrigeration systems (equipment already containing CFCs may still be used, and small amounts may be produced for the Space Shuttle and for asthma inhalers). The ban is mandated by amendments to the 1990 Clean Air Act and to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, an international environmental agreement. It has necessitated the overhaul of America's $135 billion cooling infrastructure, resulting in added costs for industry and in price jumps for consumers. The Environmental Protection Agency expects that ridding the country of CFCs will cost $45 billion through 2075, but will save as much as $32 trillion during that time from reduced rates of skin cancer, crop damage, and other CFC-related problems.
The SkiesDecember 6, Full Moon, also known this month as the Moon Before Yule or Big Freezing Moon. 14, the Geminid meteor shower peaks at 5:00 A.M. EST. Because of interference at this time from the waning but still-large Moon, observers will probably see more shooting stars--and lose less sleep--by scanning the heavens during the evenings of the 13th and the 14th. 22, at 3:20 A.M. EST, the Winter Solstice. Daylight hours slowly begin to increase. 31, a leap second will be added to the U.S. Master Clock in Washington, D.C., between the last second of 1995 and the first of 1996.
GovernmentDecember 5, primaries will be held in Oregon for a replacement for the former senator Bob Packwood. There will be no lines at polling places: both the primaries and the general election, on January 30, will be conducted by mail, making this the first statewide election handled wholly in this way. Ballots will be sent to all registered voters; they must be returned by 8:00 P.M. on the day of the election, either by mail or at designated drop-off sites. Proponents believe that this method saves money and increases participation. 31, the Resolution Trust Corporation--a temporary entity established by Congress in 1989 to manage and resolve failed savings-and-loan institutions--goes out of existence today, a year earlier than initially anticipated, its mission essentially completed. All the 747 failed institutions for which the RTC had been appointed receiver have been sold or their insured depositors paid off. Savings-and-loans that became insolvent after June 30 of this year will be handled by the FDIC-administered Savings Association Insurance Fund.
Health & SafetyDecember 31, those whose New Year's resolutions involve shedding excess pounds may find the task ahead especially daunting in view of new U.S. Department of Agriculture weight guidelines, due for release by today. The updated guidelines retract previous allowances for a 10-to-15-pound weight gain after the age of 35; for example, a 36-year-old five-foot-eight-inch man will now be deemed overweight at 165 pounds, whereas previously he would have been considered of appropriate weight even at 178 pounds. One third of American adults qualify as overweight under the old guidelines; half will do so under the new ones. Nearly 300,000 deaths a year are attributed to overweight, which is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, pulmonary problems, increased LDL (harmful) cholesterol, decreased HDL (beneficial) cholesterol, and certain types of cancer.
FoodDecember 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to publish new rules for meat and poultry inspection by today. The current system has relied primarily on inspectors' sight, touch, and smell; although modifications have been made in the interim, the system dates from meat-inspection regulations passed in 1906. The new rules will emphasize scientific testing and the prevention, rather than the mere detection, of contamination. They are likely to call for plantwide sanitary safeguards and daily testing for bacteria, and to spell out procedures for protecting meat and poultry at various critical points in production. Some 5 million Americans suffer each year from the results of eating contaminated meat and poultry. Undercooked hamburgers contaminated with E. coli bacteria and sold at fast-food restaurants in California and Washington in 1993 were blamed for the deaths of four customers--an incident that helped to spark the USDA's re-evaluation of its inspection system.
Arts & LettersDecember 11, in New York the New Victory Theater opens its doors today, launching a new era on 42nd Street. This refurbishment of the 95-year-old Victory Theater--New York's oldest surviving playhouse, which hosted stage legends like Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish--will operate as a nonprofit venture featuring theater, music, and films for youths and families. The New Victory's opening follows more than a decade of efforts to rejuvenate a district long characterized by vacant buildings and pornographic fare. Plans are under way for the restoration of eight other theaters. The new 42nd Street will have a distinctly conglomerate quality: other projects in the works include a Disney-owned musical theater and a movie-theater complex.
125 Years AgoSamuel McChord Crothers, writing in the December, 1920, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "It is the boast of the literary artist that he holds the mirror up to Nature. But the mirror is nothing more or less than his own mind, and the reflection must depend upon the qualities of that mind. The mirror may be cracked, it may have all sorts of convexities and concavities, its original brightness may have been lost. All kinds of distortions and flatteries are possible. Some minds are capable only of caricature, and every object reflected becomes amusing. Others invest the most trifling circumstance with mystery and dignity."
Illustration by Kari Alberg