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Almanac -- May 1996

The May Almanac

Government

Tax Freedom Day--the day by which the average American would have paid his tax bill for the year if all income initially went toward taxes--will almost certainly fall in May, as it has for the past 10 years. The precise date is not available as of this writing; however, according to the Tax Foundation, the research organization that calculates the date each year, this could be the latest Tax Freedom Day yet, because of the country's economic growth: higher incomes mean higher tax brackets. Tax Freedom Day has gradually slipped from January 31 (1902) to May 6 (1994 and 1995). Americans seeking consolation might consider that Canada, Germany, and France usually reach Tax Freedom Day in late June.

Health & Safety

ticks picture Deer ticks become active this month; as a result, the risk of contracting tick-borne diseases rises. The most notorious of these is Lyme disease, which typically manifests itself as a rash and fever and may go on to cause chronic joint and muscle pain and neurological damage. However, doctors have identified two other tick-borne diseases, which produce symptoms similar to, but usually more severe than, those of Lyme disease. There have been some 100 cases of human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE) and more than 400 of human monocytic ehrlichiosis (HME), with more than 10 fatalities, since the diseases were recognized, in 1993 and 1985. The overlap in symptoms among the three diseases can create treatment problems, because they do not all respond to the same antibiotics.

Environment

pineco picture Fires will be burning this month in at least two of the nation's nature preserves: the Indian Boundary Prairies, in Illinois, and the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, in New York. The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that manages the tracts, will be setting the blazes in an effort to limit the risk of wildfires and to maintain healthy and diverse plant life. Prescribed burning--the setting of controlled fires--is not a new practice; however, it may be on the rise. Prompted in large part by the unusually severe wildfire season of 1994, the U.S. Forest Service is aiming to increase the area it burns--now some 350,000 acres annually--by 30 percent a year for the next three years. If it does (weather, among other things, could change its plans), it may run afoul of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is concerned that the resulting soot and smoke could violate the 1990 Clean Air Act.

Arts & Letters

books picture May 1, The book publisher Scribner begins reaping the benefits of a 60-year-old option clause today, as Lost Laysen, the only other known work of fiction by Margaret Mitchell--who wrote Gone With the Wind--appears in bookstores across the country. Lost Laysen, a love story set in the South Pacific, was written in 1916, when Mitchell was 16 years old. It surfaced last year among the papers of one of her friends. The Mitchell estate had planned to auction the work, but Scribner found that Mitchell's contract with Macmillan, Scribner's predecessor, gave the company an option on future books. Although Scribner has released only a few pages from the novel's preface in advance of publication, certain similarities to Gone With the Wind are apparent: the protagonists of Lost Laysen, a missionary woman and a ship's first mate, are "a strong-willed woman who places her honor above her life" and "a man who desires this woman with all his heart but who can never obtain her."

The Skies

moon picture May 3, Full Moon, also known this month as the Planting or Milk Moon. 5, Venus reaches its greatest brilliance for the year and its highest elevation in the sky for the rest of the century. Alert observers may spot it during daylight hours as well as during the early evening; late in the month it may even be possible to discern that it is crescent-shaped. 13, the waning Moon lies close to Saturn in the predawn sky.

Food

shrimp picture May 1, as of today no shrimp may be imported from nations that fail to use "turtle-safe" shrimping nets--those from which sea turtles can escape. The ban is the result of a ruling last December by a federal judge who found that the U.S. Commerce Department, among others, had not fully implemented a 1989 law that required countries that export shrimp to the United States to reduce accidental sea-turtle deaths. For the past six years the United States has applied the law only to those countries that fish in the Caribbean and the western Atlantic. The comprehensive ban will affect 44 additional countries and imports of shrimp worth more than a billion dollars. Also this month the season for fiddleheads--the edible shoots of ostrich ferns--begins. Found in the Northeast and along the Canadian coast, fiddleheads have for centuries been eaten safely both cooked and raw. However, some recent outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness following the ingestion of al dente fiddleheads have led scientists to speculate that a new strain of the ferns may be mildly toxic, and the Centers for Disease Control now recommends that fiddleheads be boiled thoroughly for at least 20 minutes.

50 Years Ago

billb picture Jacques Barzun, writing in the May, 1946, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "Advertisers have much to answer for. No doubt the world will soon forget, among worse atrocities, that a wartime invention was sold as a 'Black-out safety luminous gardenia,' but I wonder whether posterity will overlook the debased verbal instincts that allowed us to turn two admirable words--collaboration (which means working together) and appeasement (which means bringing peace into the heart)--into marks of opprobrium. We can blame the newspapers, but they act on prepared minds, and it is often a step upwards from billboard vulgarity to journalese."

Illustrations by Bachrun Lomele
Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; May 1996; The May Almanac; Volume 277, No. 5; page 18.

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