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N O V E M B E R   1 9 9 8

The November Almanac
Government

Douglas Brinkley November 3: Election Day. More House incumbents will be running unopposed by major-party candidates today than at any other time since 1958, in part because of decisions by both parties to focus on close races. A number of ballots will contain questions pertaining to animal rights. For example, Missouri and Arizona voters will decide whether to outlaw cockfighting. This activity is legal in only five states, although Hawaii recently considered legalizing it, as long as the roosters wore boxing leg mitts in the ring. 30: The permanent provisions of the 1993 Brady gun-control law are scheduled to take effect today, replacing interim measures in force since 1994. Buyers of all guns, not just handguns, will now undergo background checks through an FBI database. The checks will in most cases be almost instantaneous; they will replace the five-day waiting period to buy a handgun, except in states whose own laws require a waiting period. Some fear that local and state documents, such as mental-health records and restraining orders, may be overlooked, and argue that the wait may prevent some suicides and crimes of passion.

Food

Douglas Brinkley November 5: Starting today the Food and Drug Administration will require that all unpasteurized juice products bear a label warning that they may contain harmful bacteria. Although the vast majority of juice sold in the United States is pasteurized, a process that kills most pathogens, some manufacturers, especially cider makers, have resisted pasteurization, because it can alter taste. Some cider mills are exploring flash-pasteurization, which briefly exposes juice to extremely high temperatures and has less effect on flavor. Small manufacturers, ill equipped to afford pasteurization technology, fear that the rule could put them out of business. The rule comes in response to a 1996 incident in which 66 people became ill, and one died, after drinking unpasteurized cider contaminated with E. coli.

Health & Safety

Douglas Brinkley This month Medicare will begin mailing information to consumers, phasing in a toll-free information line, and providing other services to help beneficiaries understand the new Medicare+Choice program, mandated in the 1997 Balanced-Budget Act. The program is intended to expand the options of Medicare recipients and to encourage them to take greater responsibility for their health care. It represents the most comprehensive change to Medicare ever, allowing recipients to choose from many types of plans and instituting sweeping measures to protect their rights. Among the plans that will eventually be available are medical savings accounts. Those who choose an MSA will be enrolled in a plan that carries a high deductible, for which Medicare will pay the premium; Medicare will also make an annual deposit into the recipient's MSA. The deposit may be used to help pay for services provided before the deductible has been met and services not covered by the policy.

Demographics

Douglas Brinkley This month the U.S. Postal Service will begin setting up systems in 12 metropolitan areas to monitor the progress of mail with radio-transmitter tags, in the hope of increasing efficiency. Tucked inside envelopes planted among batches of letters, the tags will give information to tag readers in local and regional post offices. When "pinged" by a reader, a tag will provide the ZIP codes of a batch of mail's origin and destination, the date the mail entered the system, and its precise travel time. Systems are expected to be fully operational in New York City, Boston, Dallas, and Tampa in time for the holiday rush, and in the eight other cities by next summer. The project, expected to cost $6 million, is a prelude to nationwide implementation -- and the technology it employs could one day render obsolete that time-honored dodge "The check is in the mail."

The Skies
Related Link:

  • The Skywatcher's Diary
    Daily information on the skies posted by Michigan State University's Abrams Planetarium.


  • Douglas Brinkley November 4: Full Moon, also known this month as the Beaver Moon and the Moon When the Bucks Lose Their Horns. 17 and 18: The Leonid meteor shower peaks on these mornings, probably between 2:00 A.M. and dawn. Though notoriously unpredictable, the Leonid may be worth watching for this year. Roughly every 33 years it produces a dramatic meteor storm, with thousands of shooting stars per minute; the last big show was in 1966.

    Arts & Letters

    November 15: The first comprehensive survey of Japanese art from the Edo period (c. 1600-1868) to be shown in the United States opens at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C. The exhibit, garnered from more than 75 public and private collections, consists of nearly 300 works, including painted scrolls, porcelain, gold-leaf screens, wood-block prints, Noh and Kabuki costumes, and samurai helmets decorated with such things as a giant rabbit's ears and an upside-down rice bowl. Many of the items in the exhibit are classified as national treasures and have never before left Japan. The exhibit will run through February; the National Gallery will concurrently host a lecture series and a performing-arts festival.
    From the archives:

  • "My First Summer in the Sierra," by John Muir (January - April, 1911)
    "I was in the mood to accept work of any kind that would take me into the mountains, whose treasures I had tasted the previous summer in the Yosemite region."



  • 100 Years Ago

    Douglas Brinkley John Muir, writing in the November, 1898, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "In my first interview with a Sierra bear we were frightened and embarrassed, both of us, but the bear's behavior was better than mine. When I discovered him, he was standing in a narrow strip of meadow, and I was concealed behind a tree on the side of it. After studying his appearance as he stood at rest, I rushed toward him to frighten him, that I might study his gait in running. But, contrary to all I had heard about the shyness of bears, he did not run at all; and when I stopped short within a few steps of him, as he held his ground in a fighting attitude, my mistake was monstrously plain. I was then put on my good behavior, and never afterward forgot the right manners of the wilderness."

    Illustrations by Noah Woods
    Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
    The Atlantic Monthly; November 1998; The November Almanac; Volume 282, No. 5; page 14.

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