The October Almanac

ARTS & LETTERS

October 1, Ted Turner launches his fifth national cable television channel, the Cartoon Network. (His four other channels are the TBS Superstation, TNT, CNN, and CNN Headline News. Turner also owns a big regional sports channel, Sports South, and TNT/Latin America.) The Cartoon Network will offer 24-hour-a-day programming selected from Turner’s burgeoning cartoon library, which includes the work of Hanna-Barbera (The Flintstones, The Jetsons), of MGM/UA (Tom & Jerry), and of Warner Bros. prior to 1948 (Bugs Bunny). Because Turner Entertainment Corp. owns the distribution rights to these cartoons, independent stations and national networks will need to apply to Turner for permission to show them. 15, applications are due for the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which is held every four years in Fort Worth, Texas. This year, for the first time, pianists in the competition will be allowed to choose their own repertoire, with no restrictions on period or composer.

THE SKIES

October 11, Full Moon, also known this month as the Hunter’s or Dying Grass Moon. 21, the Orionid meteor showers peak tonight, as Earth crosses the orbital path of Halley’s Comet. Look for them just before moonrise in all parts of the sky. 25, New Moon; Daylight Saving Time ends at 2:00 A.M.

GOVERNMENT

October 1, the 1993 fiscal year begins. The caps on spending required under the five-year federal budget agreement of 1990 grow progressively stricter; the increase in domestic outlays in 1993 will probably be less than 5 percent. Earlier this year Congress rejected a proposal to break down the “wall” between defense and domestic spending erected in the budget deal; this would have allowed savings from defense spending to be applied to domestic programs. 5, the Supreme Court convenes. In an unexpected move last June, the Court put off until this term its decision on Bray v. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic. At issue is whether court injunctions against antiabortion protesters who block access to abortion clinics are legal under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which outlaws conspiracies to deprive people of their civil rights.

ENVIRONMENT

One species of tree will carry the idea of “fall” to an extreme this month. In temperate climes the ginkgo, a non-native tree widely planted around the country, usually drops virtually all its leaves on a single day in October. Predicting the day has become a sport in some locales. The leaves are of more than passing interest to medical researchers: numerous clinical trials have suggested that an extract of the tree’s leaves has great potential for treating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, hearing loss, vertigo, sluggish circulation, gangrene, and hemorrhoids. The ancient ginkgo, which Darwin and many after him have termed a “living fossil,” is originally from China, where it has been regarded as a sacred healing plant for centuries.

FOOD

The Defense Department’s Global Positioning System became generally available this year as an aid to farmers, and this month, with the corn, soybean, and grain harvests under way, it is being used by some 150 farmers in all parts of the country. The GPS is a network of navigational satellites that allows users to pinpoint their location on Earth with a high degree of accuracy. Farmers can use small receivers mounted on their combines to receive readouts of their location which are accurate to about three feet. Computers combine that information with crop-yield data from sensors on board the combines to create a complex map of the productivity of each section of land. The map will become the key to “farming by the foot,” guiding the farmers’ allocation next year of seeds, water, fertilizers, and pesticides. The precision farming that GPS makes possible can cut chemical inputs by as much as a third; the necessary equipment costs about $10,000. The Defense Department does not charge for the service.

Q & A

Why are some surnames deriving from colors (Brown, White, Green) extremely common, while others (Red, Yellow) are quite rare?

The disparity originated in medieval custom. Some 10 percent of English-language surnames began as nicknames, generally relating to physical appearance or personality; included in this category are color names, which as a rule referred to complexion or hair. The ubiquitousness of Brown —the fourth most common surname in the United States, after Smith and various forms of Johnson and Williams, according to 1974 data collected by the Social Security Administration—is thus explained by the frequency of dark hair and swarthy complexions. The colors red and yellow did give rise to their share of names, but in forms that may not be immediately recognizable: Reed, Russell, and Kilroy are among the many surnames derived from the Old English root read, for “red,” and Blount, Blondel, and Golden come from roots for “blond” or “yellow.” Green is in a different class: it did not, of course, describe a person’s skin or hair, but denoted someone who lived at or near the village green.

25 YEARS AGO