The Almanac

Almanac --

The April Almanac


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Money laundering--the use of financial transactions to hide illegal profits, such as drug money--could become more difficult this month; new regulations governing record-keeping by financial institutions may take effect as early as April 1. Written by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Board, the rules require institutions to collect and keep for five years information about electronic transfers of $3,000 or more--thus applying a scrutiny similar to that already given to cash transactions. Each business day more than $2 trillion worldwide is moved electronically. 15, the deadline for filing tax returns. This year taxpayers may make use of two innovations. Single taxpayers who meet income and other qualifications may file wholly by telephone; and all taxpayers (except, for security reasons, those now filing by phone) may opt to have refunds paid by direct deposit (previously only those filing by personal computer could do so).

Q & A

Time zones were introduced in the United States in 1883 at the instigation of railway owners, who were frustrated by the scheduling problems created because stations across the country observed some 100 different local times, determined by the location of the sun overhead. "Railroad Time" divided the country into zones based on meridians 15 degrees apart and then adjusted to accommodate such factors as the locations of train stations and of the ends of railway lines. In 1918 the government redrew the boundaries to avoid dividing densely populated areas and to keep proximate commercial centers in the same zone; it paid more heed to the requests of cities and states than to the convenience of railroads. There have been dozens of boundary changes since. In most cases the lines have been moved westward, reflecting the East's traditional predominance in commerce and communities' consequent desire to be part of or closer to the Eastern time zone. For example, the line separating the Eastern and Central time zones originally ran through Ohio, but was shifted westward many times until it reached its present position, on and near the Indiana-Illinois border.


This month brings some reason for hope concerning Eastern Europe's beleaguered environment: Switzerland forgives 20 percent of Bulgaria's Swiss-franc debt in return for Bulgaria's commitment to invest an equal sum--about $18 million--in domestic environmental projects. Debt-for-environmental-action swaps originated in 1987, when a nonprofit organization, Conservation International, bought $650,000 of Bolivia's foreign debt in exchange for Bolivia's promise to establish a national park. Since then at least 16 debtor countries--in the Caribbean, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America--have made similar deals with official and nongovernmental organizations in the United States.

The Skies

April 2, Venus lies on the edge of the Pleiades, a compact star cluster, high in the western skies after sunset. 3, Full Moon, also known this month as the Sprouting Grass and Little Frogs Croak Moon. Also tonight a lunar eclipse will reach totality at 6:26 P.M. EST--during moonrise in the eastern United States. By the time the Moon rises in the Rocky Mountain states and westward, the eclipse will be mostly over. 7, at 2:00 A.M. Daylight Saving Time begins; turn clocks ahead one hour.

Arts & Letters

Poetry gets a boost in schools, libraries, and bookstores across the country this month with the celebration of the first annual National Poetry Month. Initiated by the Academy of American Poets, the commemoration will include readings, workshops, and book displays. Also this month Sotheby's auctions some 1,200 lots of art, furniture, jewelry, books, and memorabilia from the estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Items featured on the block April 23-26 will include a 1960 drawing by Robert Rauschenberg with images of John and Jacqueline Kennedy; a ring whose stone was cut from the 601-carat Lesotho diamond (a gift from Aristotle Onassis); and the Louis XVI desk on which President Kennedy signed the nuclear-test-ban treaty. The proceeds are expected to exceed $5 million; they will go toward Onassis's estate taxes.

Health & Safety

April 29, working conditions into the next century could be affected by a report released today, as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health announces its research agenda for the coming decade. Although NIOSH--an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services--is a nonregulatory body, its findings often influence rulings of the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The institute also makes science-based recommendations to employers. Its concerns in the coming years are likely to include occupational asthma, the quality of indoor environments, and violence and assaults in the workplace. Among the reports NIOSH has released in recent years are one, in 1994, challenging claims that back-support belts help prevent injury and one, in 1991, disputing the notion that frequent exposure to computer screens increases the risk of miscarriage.

50 Years Ago

Bergen Evans, writing in the April, 1946, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "Irrationality must come close to being the largest single vested interest in the world. It has a dozen service stations in every town. There are twenty-five thousand practicing astrologers in America who disseminate their lore through a hundred daily columns, fifteen monthly and two annual publications. . . . It is even said that there is a movement on foot to have a Federal astrologer appointed as an officer of the government, and considering the official recognition given to other forms of clairvoyance, the movement may succeed."

The Atlantic Monthly; April 1996; The April Almanac; Volume 277, No. 4; page 18.