The September Almanac


Sales of the drug Ritalin—a stimulant that for reasons unknown has a calming effect on children — and its generic equivalents will rise sharply this month, as the 750,000 children in this country who have been diagnosed as hyperactive end their summer vacations and return to the classroom. The majority of children who are being treated for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (as hyperactivity is technically known) take medication only on school days. Hyperactivity, which is variously characterized by restlessness, a short attention span, poor impulse control, and learning difficulties, is the most common childhood behavioral disorder. It is also among the most controversial; in the view of many specialists, large numbers of children are being misdiagnosed as hyperactive, and Ritalin is being widely overprescribed.


Can animals be allergic to people? Animals have allergies, but hypersensitivity to Homo sapiens is not thought to be among them. Allergies occur with the same frequency in the human and dog populations, afflicting about one creature out of six, and human beings and dogs arc allergic to many of the same things, including pollen and dust. Unlike human beings, however, dogs rarely sneeze or get a runny nose (they do get itchy skin), and don’t ever become allergic to one another.


The soybean harvest begins this month in the United States, the largest producer of soybeans in the world. The U.S. soybean industry is in a state of high activity these days, pressing to expand markets at home and abroad. The American Soybean Association has used aggressive advertising to exploit consumer concern about imported tropical oils that are high in saturated fats; imports of palm oil have dropped 35 percent in the past two years, with soy-based vegetable oils taking up some of the slack. Abroad, U.S. soybean producers recently cracked one promising new market: the Soviet Union. The Soviets have gone from importing no U.S. soybean meal to importing more ($321 million worth from last October to last April) than any other country.


September 8, International Literacy Day. 9, the premiere of the new weekly television series American Gladiators, in which average citizens from across the country—provided they are physically fit, personable, and “can think on their feet,” according to a spokesperson for the show—will have an opportunity to battle gladiators of both sexes in a variety of presumably astonishing contests. Culled from a Los Angeles casting call, the gladiators will project specific characters. Some examples: Zap, “the prototypical girl next door,” and Willie, “a streetwise tomboy.” Under the Roman Republic, according to Harper’s Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities, “the profession [of gladiator] was considered degrading . . . though to some it had many attractions.”


This month woodlands and meadows in the Rocky Mountains will ring with the weird bugling call of the male elk, signaling that another rutting season has begun. For the next several weeks frenzied bulls will bugle, wallow in mud, rip at plants and the ground with their antlers, and engage in ritual combat with other bulls, all in order to advertise their presence, dominance, and readiness to breed. The successful ones will collect a large enough harem that servicing and protecting it may prevent them from eating and sleeping much; mature bulls can easily lose a hundred of their 700 or 800 pounds during the fall rut.


September 1, employers must be in compliance with some 2,100 pages of new U.S. labor regulations governing the safe use of chemicals. 5, by this date the President must submit to Congress a report from the nation’s top drug fighter, William Bennett, outlining a plan for curbing drug abuse. Bennett has already suggested fining the parents of young offenders, impounding the cars of offenders, and sending convicted felons in drug cases to prisons run like boot camps. 6, Congress reconvenes; in Chelsea, Massachusetts, in an experiment that may have national implications, the troubled public schools reopen under a controversial contract that places the school system in the hands of Boston University.


September 10, National Grandparents Day. Of the 72 million Americans over the age of 45, some 50 million are grandparents; half of all Americans over age 65 are great-grandparents. Owing to increasing longevity and rising rates of divorce and remarriage, some 8 percent of American children today have more than four living grandparents and step-grandparents. The average American 40-year-old married couple today has more living parents (2.6) than children (2.2).


September 5, Pluto reaches its perihelion, or point closest to the sun; it will not reach perihelion again until 2236. 15, Full Moon. 22, the Vernal Equinox, marking the beginning of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. Jupiter and Saturn are the only planets visible with the naked eye this month, the one high in the south at sunrise, the other towin the southwest at sunset. 29, New Moon.