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Almanac -- January 1996

The January Almanac

Health & Safety

January 1, standards requiring abortion training in obstetrics-and-gynecology residency programs come into effect today. The requirements--issued by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education--are the first to mention abortion rather than simply "family planning." There are alternatives: the ACGME will allow residents and institutions opposed to abortion to learn and teach only the management of abortion-related complications, provided that interested residents are allowed to train elsewhere in the practice of abortion. Programs that refuse to adopt the new standards could lose their accreditation. The proportion of OB-GYN residency programs that routinely provide first-trimester abortion training dropped to 12 percent in 1992--half of what it was in 1985.

Demographics

passport picture January begins the busy season for U.S. passport offices, and this year is expected to be particularly active, for two reasons. First, a record number of passports--those issued in 1985--expired last year. Second, the number of new passports issued has been growing, in large part because of a surge in the number of naturalization ceremonies. Officials estimate that 35 million U.S. passports are currently in circulation, and well over 5 million are likely to be issued or renewed this year. The government is introducing innovative technology to meet the demand: soon all passports issued domestically will use digitized photographs, a step that will also make it nearly impossible for criminals to forge passports.

Food

sherry picture January 1, starting today the European Union grants vintners in the Jerez region of southern Spain the exclusive right to call their wine "sherry." The EU handed down this ruling in 1992 on the grounds that the term derives from a place-name: "sherry" (originally "sherris") is a transliteration of Seris, the Arabic name for the Andalusian town now known as Jerez de la Frontera. Spanish sherry, a fortified white wine made mainly from Palomino Fino grapes and aged in oak casks, is battling a prissy image and has suffered on the world market in recent years. The new regulations should boost sales; impostor sherries made from grape concentrates, such as British ones (which have outsold Spanish sherries at Christmastime), will have to be renamed. Enforcement of the law is likely to be difficult outside the EU: French producers of genuine champagne spend more than $3 million each year to protect their name but have been unable to prevent some American companies from calling sparkling wines "champagne."

Government

capitol picture January 23, the first item from the Republicans' Contract With America to pass the House and Senate takes effect today. The Congressional Accountability Act removes the exemption from 11 workplace laws (including the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993) which had applied to 23,000 congressional employees. The judiciary is now the only branch of the federal government that is not covered by these laws. Also this month, a new spouse-abuse law takes effect in California, replacing regulations that had made it possible for first-time misdemeanor offenders to avoid a trial or a guilty plea--and a criminal record--by successfully completing counseling. The new law requires defendants either to stand trial or to admit guilt; those convicted or pleading guilty will receive mandatory counseling that will not clear their records.

Environment

eagle picture January 3, the U.S. Department of the Interior begins its annual midwinter bald-eagle survey. Numbers should be up; the national bird's status was upgraded from "endangered" to "threatened" last year. For two weeks bald eagles will be counted in traditional wintering areas, which include the Chesapeake Bay, the upper Mississippi, and the Columbia River watershed. In danger of extinction a generation ago, bald eagles have made a remarkable comeback, thanks in large part to the 1972 ban on DDTand the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The number of nesting pairs has reached about 4,500 (not counting those in Alaska, where bald eagles thrive), up from 417 only 30 years ago. Bald eagles occupy a shrinking natural habitat, however: people, too, enjoy perching at the water's edge. Naturalists note that the bird remains on the Endangered Species List--"threatened" simply means that the risk of extinction is less immediate.

The Skies

meteor picture January 4, the Quadrantid meteor shower, which is ordinarily a good display, is somewhat obscured even at its peak tonight by the gibbous Moon. 5, Full Moon, also known this month as the Wolf Moon and--among the Oto Sioux--the Little Young Bear Comes Down the Tree Moon. 18, in the predawn southeastern skies, the waning Moon passes close by Jupiter, which is visible all month long in the early morning. 22 and 23, the crescent Moon lies close to Venus and Saturn in the early evening.

125 Years Ago

flag picture Stuart P. Sherman, writing in the January, 1921, Atlantic Monthly: "Among builders of American civilization, many means are now discussed for awakening national pride and attaching the affections of the people to the state; conspicuous among them are, or were, Liberty Bonds, nationalization of the railroads, and universal military service. Robert Burns and Sir Walter did the work more simply and cheaply for Scotland. It has never been hard for the native-born American to hold America 'first' in political affairs; but musicians as such, painters as such, men of letters as such, cannot, without straining the meaning of the word, hold her first till her national genius expresses itself as adequately, as nobly, in music, painting, and literature, as it has, on the whole, in the great political crises."

Illustration by Mike Lee
Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; January 1996; The January Almanac; Volume 277, No.1; page 18.

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