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Almanac -- August 1996

The August Almanac


Environment

Peak hurricane season begins this month; areas in the paths of storms may be better prepared this year than in the past, owing to the introduction of a new jet aircraft to help forecast the track and landfall of hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration--the government agency responsible for issuing public wind picture warnings about hurricanes--will be using a specially modified business jet, a high-tech supplement to the agency's other two hurricane-surveillance planes. Able to survey a wider area and gather information from the periphery of storms, the new jet will focus on the "steering currents" of hurricanes--the forces around them that determine how they will move. Officials predict that the accuracy of 24- to 48-hour hurricane-track predictions will improve by 20 percent. More-accurate forecasts should not only save lives and property but also reduce the tens of millions of dollars spent each year as a result of exaggerated hurricane warnings.

Arts & Letters

August 10, the Smithsonian Institution celebrates its 150th anniversary today with a festival of fireworks, music, and crafts on the Washington Mall. The festival is the centerpiece of a yearlong commemoration that includes a lincoln picturetraveling exhibit of more than 300 items from the Smithsonian's collection--ranging from a top hat worn by Abraham Lincoln to the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. 21, London's new Globe Theatre--a replica of the 1599 structure where Shakespeare launched many of his plays opens its doors today for a three-week run of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, intended to test the stage design in preparation for the theater's first full season next year. The new Globe, which is 200 yards from the original site, is the result of efforts by the late American actor Sam Wanamaker. An international company dedicated to re-creating Shakespeare's plays as they were originally presented--in daylight and with sparse sets--will take up residence under the first thatched roof in central London since the Great Fire of 1666.

Food

This month fishermen and divers off the coast of Maine will begin gathering the season's yield of sea urchins. They face fewer harvesting days than in previous years, owing to conservation measures enacted by the state last April. Urchiners will urchin picture be limited to 150 or 170 gathering days a year, depending on their location. Urchin roe is a delicacy in Japan, where it sells for as much as $100 a pound; however, urchins were considered merely a nuisance by Maine fishermen until overfishing depleted stocks in Japan and California a decade ago. They are now the state's second most lucrative catch (after lobster), but overfishing is already taking a toll: the yield dropped from 41 million pounds in 1993 to 32 million last year. And as urchins become scarcer, divers are descending to more dangerous depths to retrieve them, increasing the potential for diving injuries and deaths.


The Skies

fish picture August 3, Saturn lies below the waning Moon, which rises about an hour before midnight. 10, Venus, Mars, and the crescent Moon shine together in the eastern sky before sunrise. 12, the Perseid meteor shower peaks in the early morning hours, and observers today will experience little interference from the nearly new Moon. The Perseids can be seen for several weeks, however, so looking for them on any clear, dark night is worth a try. 24, the waxing Moon lies just above Jupiter. 28, Full Moon, also known this month as the Green Corn or Sturgeon Moon.

Government

Both parties hold their nominating conventions this month, later than usual in deference to the summer Olympics. The Republican Convention will take place August 12-15 in San Diego; the Democrats snowman picture will meet August 26-29 in Chicago. Also this month the Prime Time Access Rule--a Federal Communications Commission regulation that prohibited NBC, ABC, and CBS affiliates in the nation's 50 largest television markets from broadcasting network programs for more than three of the four prime evening viewing hours--expires on August 30, after 26 years. The rule was intended to encourage creative programming from local stations and independent producers. In reality, however, it gave rise chiefly to non-network syndicated game shows and tabloid magazine shows. The FCC concluded last year that the networks no longer dominate television to such an extent that the rule has merit. Viewers may notice few changes in the short term, because of existing contracts and the popularity of much syndicated fare. In the long term there is likely to be an increase in reruns of network situation comedies and a growth in network-produced shows for syndication.

Expiring Patent

No. 4,164,341. Snowman Mold. "A hollow mold assembly for the forming of large figures from snow comprising at least two mold sections, each . . . being substantially a mirror image of the other and . . . including a base portion, a body portion and a head portion, and at least three large openings . . . for the easy admission of snow."

25 Years Ago

Elizabeth Janeway, writing in the August, 1971, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "Our current religion--reason, science and technology--has had remarkable success in remaking the external world. It has come close to fulfilling promises of material comfort for all instead of luxury for a tiny élite which, two hundred years ago, must have seemed mythically unreal. But our progress toward this goal has shown that, like any single vision, such an aim leaves too much out; in this case, the emotional satisfaction of the congregation of the Church of Reason. Result: the upspringing of alternative patterns of belief whose nuttiness survives reasoned argument because reason itself has come to seem irreparably nutty."

Illustrations by Amy Ning
Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; August 1996; The August Almanac; Volume 278, No. 2; page 14.

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