The Almanac


March 1: By today, according to the Violent Offender Incarceration and Truth-in-Sentencing Incentive Grant Program, all participating states must submit to the federal Corrections Program Office plans for testing prisoners and parolees for drug use. The plans must cover how inmates will be selected for testing, how frequently random testing will occur, and what the "escalating range of responses" will be for those who test positive repeatedly. The plans may be modified after review by the CPO, and must be in effect by September 1. States that do not meet these requirements will be ineligible for federal prison funds. Although many states are already testing prisoners and parolees for drug use, this is the first time they have been required by Congress to do so.


Bad mushrooms

Wild-mushroom season begins this month, and record numbers of mushroom hunters are likely to be on the trail: according to a recent poll of chefs, exotic mushrooms are the "hottest" food in the country. Per capita consumption of fresh mushrooms has increased sixfold since 1970. Mushroom-related poisonings are also on the rise (last year more than a dozen people died or were hospitalized after eating uncultivated mushrooms). Serious poisonings are most likely to result from eating raw mushrooms; cooking neutralizes the toxins in some varieties. There are those who go so far as to advise against eating any mushrooms raw, even the familiar white cultivated ones: all mushrooms contain a known carcinogen, albeit in minute amounts.

Arts & Letters

Dusting off the sculptures

March 29: A major retrospective of the American sculptor Alexander Calder opens today at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the centenary of his birth. Calder, who had a degree in mechanical engineering, is perhaps best known for his hanging and movable sculptures, which brought the words "mobile" and "stabile" into parlance in the art world; his 10-foot-high Steel Fish (1934) was one of the first "wind-driven" sculptures ever made. Other works in the exhibit are Dog and Duck (both 1909), completed when he was 11; his crank-driven Goldfish Bowl (1929), in which the fish "swim"; International Mobile (1949), made for the Third International Exhibition of Sculpture; and Southern Cross (1963). Many have not been shown publicly since a 1943 retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art. This exhibit will run in Washington until July 12 and travel to San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art in September.


Springtime greening is expected to start sooner than usual in the northern high latitudes this year. Data from satellite observations made since 1981 show that vegetation above about 45° N has been appearing earlier and earlier each spring. This spring's "green-up" is expected to occur roughly a week ahead of last year's. The phenomenon is part of a cycle known as the "temperature/snow cover feedback effect," whereby bare ground, having absorbed more of the sun's radiation than snow-covered ground, grows warmer, causing nearby snow to melt; this in turn raises air temperatures and encourages plant growth. Because temperatures have been gradually increasing, the effect has become more pronounced each year. Responses to the progressively earlier springs in recent years include earlier nesting among birds in the United Kingdom, changes in some migratory patterns, earlier thawing of some Canadian lakes, and increased calving among caribou in the Arctic.


This month residents of a community that has been called "the town of the future" will become, in a sense, consumers of the future. Citizens of the technology-focused planned community of Celebration, Florida--a town built by the Walt Disney Company--will begin carrying virtual cash in the form of "stored-value cards" issued by Visa and SunTrust Banks. The cards, also called "chip cards" and "smart cards," are embedded with computer chips that keep a record of monetary sums. Unlike conventional bank or credit cards, stored-value cards do not require connections to a network; instead, when purchases are made, the amounts are deducted from the card itself and transferred to the merchant. In addition, the cards can or may soon be used to feed parking meters and vending machines and to store information ranging from frequent-flyer miles to fingerprints and medical histories. This month's trial is the first to take place in a planned community.

The Skies


March 1: The slim crescent Moon is visible above Saturn in the west at dusk. 4: The half Moon passes in front of the red star Aldebaran early this evening. 10: Mercury and the much dimmer Mars lie close together on the western horizon at dusk. 12: Full Moon, also known this month as the Lizard, Sap, and Awakening Moon and the Moon of Snow Blindness. 20: At 2:55 P.M. EST, the Vernal Equinox; winter ends. 24: Venus lies to the left of the slim crescent Moon about an hour before sunrise.

75 Years Ago

Carl Sandburg, writing in the March, 1923, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "Poetry is an art practised with the terribly plastic material of human language.... Poetry is a puppet-show, where riders of skyrockets and divers of sea fathoms gossip about the sixth sense and the fourth dimension.... Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly the air.... Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable.... Poetry is the cipher key to the five mystic wishes packed in a hollow silver bullet fed to a flying fish.... Poetry is a fresh morning spider-web telling a story of moonlit hours, of weaving and waiting during a night.... Poetry is a pack-sack of invisible keepsakes.... Poetry is the capture of a picture, a song, or a flair, in a deliberate prism of words."

Illustrations by Laurent Cilluffo

The Atlantic Monthly; March 1998; The March Almanac; Volume 281, No. 3; page 14.