The Almanac

Almanac --

The February Almanac


Republican legislators may be enviously looking north this month, as Canada issues a $2.00 coin and begins phasing out its $2.00 bill: the Republicans' Contract With America calls for replacing the dollar bill with a coin, but efforts to this effect in Congress have failed. Estimates of savings to taxpayers from such a substitution--the life-span of a coin is 20 times that of a bill--range from $100 million to $400 million a year. Opponents include the Clinton Administration, which cites public sentiment (three quarters of those polled last year did not want the dollar bill eliminated, in part because coins are bulkier); the U.S. Mint (which has a stash of the unpopular Susan B. Anthony dollar coins, from 1979 and 1980, in its vaults); and the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, which object to the added strip-mining a dollar coin would require.


The figure is specious on several counts. The only authentic record of the sale appears in a 1626 letter by an official of the Dutch West India Company, who writes of a vessel recently returned from New Netherland with news that settlers there had made a trade: "they have bought the island Manhattes from the wild men for the value of sixty guilders. . . ." When the letter--itself only a secondhand report--was translated into English in the 1870s, 60 guilders was converted to $24 on the basis of nineteenth-century exchange rates, and this figure has never been adjusted for inflation. Even a corrected dollar amount would be largely meaningless, however, because the Dutch paid not in cash or even in trinkets but in manufactured metal goods such as knives and ax heads--implements that were of little worth to the Dutch but of immeasurable value to Native Americans who were lacking the technology to produce such tools themselves.


This month Florida decides whether to try to buy a 32,000-acre sugar plantation between Lake Okeechobee and Everglades National Park. If the sale is concluded, the land will be converted to marsh, thus bolstering the area's natural water-storage and filtration capacity--a key to preserving the fragile ecosystem of the Everglades. In addition, the decline in sugar production will reduce the flow of pollutants into the park. The purchase is a major goal of Florida's Everglades Forever restoration project; the federal government may also get involved, by taxing sugar production nationwide to help fund the purchase. Predictably, the sugar industry--which benefits from a controversial price-support program and is widely blamed for much of the degradation of the Everglades--opposes the sale and the tax proposal, citing a potential loss of jobs on the plantation and the need to compete with heavily subsidized foreign sugar companies.

Health & Safety

Nervous flyers can perhaps take heart this month, as the Federal Aviation Administration inaugurates a national electronic database for monitoring air-transportation safety. The Safety Performance Analysis System (SPAS) will help FAA inspectors quickly detect problems in particular aircraft and airlines as well as industry-wide. SPAS can compare a given craft's performance with that of similar-sized planes. It can also examine repair stations, training programs, and personnel in all organizations under FAA surveillance. The system was designed in collaboration with the Department of Defense, which hopes to use it to evaluate its own planes. Also this month, a national toll-free 24-hour hot line to counsel victims of domestic violence is scheduled to begin operation in Austin, Texas. The hot line is funded by a $1 million federal grant authorized by the 1994 crime bill.

Arts & Letters

Some of the nation's museums will get a boost this month, as the Knight Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts award the first grants from their jointly run national Museum Loan Network, designed to facilitate the sharing of museum collections. Some 15 to 20 grants, ranging from $5,000 to $30,000, will be given this year to help institutions pay for various aspects of the borrowing and lending process. The network is also planning to establish a database that will provide all museums with information about objects available for loan. The escalating costs of mounting exhibits have kept an increasing number of objects from public view, a situation that the network is hoping to help remedy: one prominent curator estimates that up to 90 percent of the country's museum holdings currently languish in storage.

The Skies

February 2, Venus, which is brilliant in the southwestern sky just after sunset for much of the month, tonight is joined by Saturn. 4, Full Moon, also known this month as the Hunger, Trapper's, and Frightened Coyote Moon. 21, Venus lies just above the upper horn of the crescent Moon just after sunset. 29, Leap Day.

75 Years Ago

Agnes Repplier, writing in the February, 1921, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "There are, indeed, devout Christian communities which expend their time, money, and energy in extinguishing in the breasts of other Christians the faith which has sufficed and supported them. The methods of these propagandists are more genial than were those of the Inquisition; but their temerity is no less, and their animating principle is the same. They proffer their competing set of dogmas with absolute assurance, forgetting that man does not live by fractions of theology, but by the correspondence of his nature with spiritual influences moulded through the centuries to meet his needs. To counsel the doubtful is a Christian duty; but to create the doubts we counsel is nowhere recommended. It savors too closely of omniscience."

Illustrations by John Ursino

The Atlantic Monthly; February 1996; The February Almanac; Volume 272, No. 2; page 14.