Almanac -- September 1996
The September Almanac
Arts & LettersThis month Russian children will meet Vlas and Yenik, Znak, and Korzhik -- that is, Bert and Ernie, the Count, and the Cookie Monster -- as the first of 52 episodes of Ulitsa Sezam ("Sesame Street") airs on Russian TV. The program is the result of a collaboration between indigenous filmmakers and the Children's Television Workshop, in New York. Although the show will consist partly of dubbed segments from Sesame Street's archives, at least 40 percent of its content will be new: for example, Va-Bank, one of Russia's leading heavy-metal bands, will sing about washing hands. This is the 15th international co-production of Sesame Street and the first in a formerly Communist country.
GovernmentSeptember 30, by today the government will make its final farm-subsidy payments for the year; for the first time in more than 60 years the payments are divorced from market prices and production controls. Farm policy has long followed the model set under the Depression-era New Deal, one of whose aims was to manage the country's food supply: Farmers who agreed to plant specific crops were guaranteed a certain price for them, with subsidies making up the difference when market prices were low. They were also sometimes required to leave part of their land idle. However, according to the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996, participating farmers will receive fixed per-bushel payments for a variety of crops of their choosing (with limitations on fruits and vegetables), and may plant as many acres as they like. The payments will decline over a seven-year period and then stop -- a schedule intended to usher in a free-market farm economy.
The SkiesVenus, which shines high and bright in the predawn sky this month, is joined on several mornings by the much dimmer Mars, most closely on September 4. 22, at 2:00 P.M. EDT, the Autumnal Equinox occurs: summer ends in the Northern Hemisphere. 26, Full Moon, also known this month as the Harvest or Dying Grass Moon. Tonight brings a total lunar eclipse as well, visible everywhere in the United States except the western edge of Alaska. Totality will begin at about 10:20 P.M. EDT and last about 70 minutes. This will be the last total lunar eclipse visible in North America until the year 2000.
Health & SafetyThis month Canada's health ministers are scheduled to decide on a plan to overhaul the country's blood system, responsibility for which is currently divided among the Canadian Red Cross and the federal and provincial governments. Tainted blood is believed to have caused 1,200 cases of HIV infection and 12,000 of hepatitis C during the 1980s; there have been no documented cases of infection by this route in the past few years, but public confidence in the system remains low. Reforms are apt to center on the creation of a single agency to administer the blood supply on a national level.
FoodAs of this month the free or subsidized school lunches served to 25 million children -- roughly half the children in the United States -- will become more healthful, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program makes its meals compatible with the government's 1995 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Lunches will henceforth provide a third of the recommended daily allowances of protein, calories, and various nutrients, and will comply with suggested limits on cholesterol and fat. The USDA plans to increase the variety of foods it buys and distributes to participating schools, adding more fruit, vegetables, and grains. It has also developed 53 new recipes, primarily more-healthful versions of such old standbys as spaghetti with meat sauce and macaroni and cheese.
Q&AWhy do letters as well as numbers appear on telephone buttons -- and why do the letters usually begin on the second button?
Early telephones had no buttons or dials; callers would simply tell the operator the number of the party they wanted. Telephone "numbers" actually started with letters -- generally, the first few letters of the street, neighborhood, or town where the local telephone office was found. When AT&T first started using dials, in 1919, the equipment available could not differentiate between the single pulse of a one being dialed and the sound of the telephone being hung up, unless the phone was already in "dialing mode"; if the first digit dialed was a one, the call would disconnect. As a result, letters could not be assigned to the first space on the dial. When all-digit telephone numbers came into being, in the 1960s, letters were kept on the dial so that people would not have to relearn existing numbers. In recent years technology has revived and even expanded the need for letters on the "dial." Because many voice-mail systems require callers to punch in the first few letters of their party's last name, Q and Z -- originally omitted because few place names begin with them -- are now sometimes included on business phones.
75 Years AgoCornelia J. Cannon, writing in the September, 1921, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "The major indictment against philanthropy is that it has ignored the opportunities democracy offers for reforms from within. It has distracted our minds and attention from community responsibility for the removal of social defects.... Its reforms have tended to be superficial, because it has everywhere selected for its leaders those interested in philanthropy, but not in democracy. The typical lover of his kind will pour out money for the starving Chinese though he may hesitate to contribute to campaign expenses for public-school associations. The novice can catch the thrill of teaching folk-dancing to the tenement-house child or distributing bread tickets to the poor; but an offer to pay the expenses of a board of health 'clean-up campaign' requires imagination of a different order."
Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; September 1996; The September Almanac; Volume 278, No. 3; page 14.