The July Almanac


July 21-24, the American School Food Service Association (ASFSA) holds its annual convention, which will be conspicuously light on pennypinching advice. Although stare education budgets are tight, the school cafeteria remains sacrosanct: Washington has not cut funding for schoollunch programs in 10 years. “Feeding kids is good policy,” says the ASFSA’s Kevin Dando. Indeed, this year government backing for school food programs will increase, in the form of cheese, milk, and butter that the U.S. Department of Agriculture bought from farmers in an effort to soak up the current large dairy surpluses. (Last year there were no surpluses to distribute.)

Q & A

Why do men’s shirts button from the right, women’s from the left? According to one school of thought, the difference stems from the fact that while men in centuries past typically dressed themselves, women — at any rate, those who could afford buttons, a status symbol—were dressed by maids. Most men, being right-handed, preferred buttons on the right; maids, who faced the garments to be fastened, had the opposite preference. A second theory holds that everyone buttoned from the left until the 17th century, when the fastening of men’s jackets was reversed, perhaps so that right-handers could draw their swords without snagging overlapping fabric.


Summer heat begins in earnest this month; if 1991 is a typical year, some 1,000 people will die in the nation’s 15 largest cities during the course of the season from complications caused by excessive heat. A recent study by Laurence S. Kalkstein, of the University of Delaware’s Center for Climatic Research, reveals that heat begins killing people in northern cities at lower temperatures than it does in southern or southwestern ones, probably because people in the North are less acclimated to high temperatures. Kalkstein has identified temperature thresholds, at which heat-related fatalities jump dramatically, for major American cities. In New York the threshold is 92°; in Dallas it is 103°. Also because of acclimation, high temperatures late in the summer are less lethal than they are early in the summer.


July 1, in Idaho today it becomes legal to transport peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus, to Indian reservations to be used for sacramental purposes by permit-holding members of the Native American Church, a national organization. Some 20 other states (most of them in the West, where the Native American Church is concentrated) have already permitted peyote use for religious purposes. Also starting today, in California, a mandatory surcharge ranging from $12 to $60 will be levied on all premiums paid on homeowner’s insurance for singlefamily dwellings. The monies will go into a new California Earthquake Recovery Fund, which will pay policyholders up to $15,000 in the event of structural damage to their homes.


Botanists from the Nature Conservancy will soon reveal their picks for the plant kingdom’s winners and losers in the event that significant global warming comes to pass; their two-year study is to be completed this month. The researchers’ model predicts the effects of both a 3° and a 5° increase in the earth’s mean annual temperature on 14,000 native vascular plant species in America north of Mexico. Plants with slow growth rates, isolated habitats, and poor ability to disperse—many of which are already rare—will probably become rarer or disappear altogether. Many of the widespread, hardy, and intrusive plants expected to do well are, like the dandelion and the purple loosestrife, among the several thousand exotic species in North America—that is, species not native to the continent. Rather than a desert, global warming may give us a rank growth of weeds.


A phenomenon known in academe as the domino effect makes its appearance this month. College acceptances typically are sent out in April, and before long institutions know from the response whether they must begin accepting students from the waiting list. There is, of course, a pecking order. Ivy League and other extremely competitive schools try to advise waiting-list students by the end of June; those students who get word of acceptance will leave empty the spots they were holding with deposits at their secondchoice schools. This second tier of schools will need to fill those spots with students from their waiting lists, thus affecting schools on the next tier, and so on. July, therefore, sees a lot of students happy and a lot of schools scrambling. This year’s competition is particularly intense. Although the proportion of high school students going on to college is now 60 percent—up from 49 percent in 1980—the number of high school graduates has been decreasing.


July 11, New Moon. The Moon completely eclipses the Sun today. The eclipse will be visible in its totality from portions of the Pacific Ocean (including Hawaii) and parts of Mexico and Central and South America. The eclipse will last about seven minutes—a duration that will not be exceeded in any other solar eclipse for more than 150 years. 26, Full Moon, also known this month as the Thunder, Hay, or Mead Moon.