The February Almanac

Q & A

How did the months of the year come to be their present lengths? The roots of our calendar are too lengthy and tangled to permit a definitive explanation as to why, for example, July has 31 days and September only 30. According to one account, Julius Caesar decreed that the odd-numbered months (including the one subsequently named in his honor) should be the longer ones; the Emperor Augustus, not to be outdone, later added a day to the month named after him. It can be said with more confidence that February is the shortest month because the calendar of the early Romans began with March; January and February were added later to round out the year. The vagaries of our calendar continue to prompt efforts at reform. In the 1920s a number of companies, including Eastman Kodak and Fuller Brush, adopted for accounting purposes a calendar based on thirteen 28-day months; Kodak returned to a twelve-month calendar only last year.

ENVIRONMENT

February 2-5, in Washington, D.C., veterans of the nineyear struggle to win passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which put 104 million acres of Alaskan territory under federal protection, will celebrate the legislation’s 10th anniversary. Celebrate Wild Alaska, the group that is organizing the festivities, intends to use the occasion to publicize what it believes to be shortcomings in the original legislation— most notably, a loophole that leaves the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge open to gas and oil development.

GOVERNMENT

February 4 is the deadline for the President to send a budget for fiscal year 1992 to Capitol Hill. 19, in the town of Salamanca, New York, which occupies land belonging to the Allegany Indian Reservation, the last extension of a 99-year lease expires. Under the terms of the lease townspeople rented land for as little as $1 an acre per year. Now the rents will rise to market rates. The Indians on the reservation (they happen to be Seneca Indians) will also receive $60 million from the state and federal governments in compensation for a century of diminished income. Also in February first-class postage rates are scheduled to rise, although the amount of the increase will not be announced until shortly before new stamps go on sale. The U.S. Postal Service this month will unveil the new first-class domestic-rate stamp, known as the “F” stamp, featuring a tulip, along with another undenominated stamp, which will fill the price gap between the current 25-cent first-class stamp and whatever the new rate turns out to be.

HEALTH & SAFETY

The winter travel season in the Caribbean begins to peak this month, and so, consequently, does the season for emergency evacuations by air. There are roughly a dozen air-ambulance services based in Florida, each of them doing a brisk business (150—200 evacuations a year) in the Caribbean. According to a spokesperson for National Air Ambulance, a company based in Fort Lauderdale, the most frequent causes of evacuation from land are moped accidents and scuba-diving injuries; the most frequent causes of evacuation from cruise ships are broken bones, heart attacks, and strokes. During the peak season National Air Ambulance employs four full-time medical and flight crews and three part-time crews. Air evacuation is usually not covered by health insurance, and it is very expensive. Evacuation from Nassau to Miami costs about $3,500, from Montego Bay to Miami about $5,000.

FOOD

Although Americans watch more television in February than in any other month, they nibble fewer potato chips, corn chips, and other snack foods, the consumption of which drops to its annual low (a mere 326 million pounds). The reason is probably not self-restraint. February simply lacks the kinds of occasions (the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Christmas, televised football games) that bring families and friends together for snack-consuming frenzies. It is no coincidence that the Snack Food Association has chosen February to be National Snack Food Month, and has chosen February 16—19 as the dates for its annual convention. New Englanders lead the country in per capita snacking—by far—eating 26.7 pounds of snack food a year. The industry’s weakest market is the South Atlantic region (from Maryland to Florida); there are few snack-food companies based in the region, and consequently a reduced variety of brands displayed on fewer shelves.

THE SKIES

February 2, Groundhog Day, on which we unwittingly commemorate the astronomical cross-quarter day that the ancient Celts celebrated as the festival Imbolg, when the sun is midway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox. The medieval church Christianized this celebration, calling it Candlemas. 14, New Moon. 28, Full Moon, also known this month as the Snow, Hunger, or Trapper’s Moon. All month long Jupiter rises around sunset and sets around sunrise.

50 YEARS AGO