The Almanac


Census 2000

This month the U.S. Bureau of the Census begins a rehearsal for Census 2000, which will include various new means of arriving at a count, in addition to the traditional methods of collecting forms by mail and tracking down nonresponders door to door. The new methods are intended to contain costs and improve accuracy. The rehearsal will take place in Sacramento, California; the Menominee Indian Reservation, in Wisconsin; and Columbia, South Carolina, and 11 surrounding counties. In California and Wisconsin census takers will for the first time ever employ statistical sampling -- using data about part of a population to estimate the number and characteristics of the rest -- instead of door-to-door visits. This part of the rehearsal has been hotly contested, especially by congressional Republicans, who argue that the Constitution calls for an actual head count -- and are no doubt mindful that those likely to be added by sampling are in low-income, generally Democratic neighborhoods.

Arts & Letters

April 1: "Splendors of Versailles," an exhibit of more than 140 items from the Château de Versailles, near Paris, opens today in the Mississippi Arts Pavilion, in Jackson. This is the largest collection of treasures from Versailles ever shown outside the palace itself. It joins a growing number of exhibits organized by area businesses and state and local governments in midsize U.S. cities that lack major art museums; the organizers borrow art from foreign institutions and create elaborate installations for it, generally in convention centers or buildings converted from other uses. Such shows can be extremely lucrative -- a 1996 exhibit of art and artifacts from St. Petersburg palaces brought some $61 million to Mississippi in ticket sales and in tax and tourist dollars -- and some have gone on to tour established museums. One critic has called them "a cross between an art museum and a theme-park"; organizers say they offer the closest thing to seeing art in its original settings.

The Skies

Don't forget to change your clock

April 1: The waxing crescent Moon lies near the reddish star Aldebaran in the west at sunset. 5: At 2:00 A.M. Daylight Saving Time begins. Set clocks ahead one hour. 11: Full Moon, also known this month as the Sprouting Grass Moon and the Little Frogs Croak Moon. 23: Venus appears practically on top of Jupiter in the eastern sky shortly before sunrise, with the crescent Moon very close nearby. Such a tight grouping of these three bodies has not been visible from the United States for decades.


Nuclear-energized food

This month three major U.S. food and agricultural associations begin a public-awareness campaign designed to reassure consumers about the safety of irradiated meat -- meat that has been exposed to tiny amounts of nuclear energy in order to kill pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella. The Food and Drug Administration approved the irradiation of red meat -- a process that does not make it radioactive -- last year, because of the growing number of illnesses and deaths from contaminants. Irradiation is not new: it was developed in the 1950s and has been approved for a variety of foods. However, because of the public's wariness, it has rarely been used. The process has encountered stiff opposition from consumer groups, who argue that it not only affects the taste and appearance of food but destroys minerals and vitamins, and adds trace amounts of benzene, a carcinogen. All irradiated foods, including meat, must be labeled as such.

Health & Safety

A number of studies of alternative therapies for breast cancer begin this month in Canada. They will be funded by the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative, a partnership of several major health organizations. Therapies that may be examined include relaxation exercises; Reiki, a Tibetan energy-channeling healing technique; and substances thought to affect cancer cells or the immune system, such as soy milk, vitamin A, C, and E supplements, flaxseed, green tea, and Iscador, a kind of mistletoe. Researchers will be evaluating such things as the safety and effectiveness of these therapies along with their interactions with conventional treatments. Although alternative therapies have been tried by large numbers of breast-cancer patients, the Canadian studies constitute one of the first large-scale attempts to assess their value.


This month the 29 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, along with five others, will ask their legislatures to ratify a treaty outlawing the bribing of foreign officials. This action marks a victory for the United States, which outlawed foreign bribery in 1978 but has up to now failed to persuade others to follow suit; until recently about half the nations in the OECD, including France, Germany, and Greece, even considered foreign bribes to be a tax-deductible business expense. U.S. companies have long complained that they lose billions of dollars annually in contracts to overseas rivals who engage in bribery.

50 Years Ago

Giles Playfair, writing in the April, 1948, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "The stage (or screen) aspirant whose ... zest to learn how to act ... is slight ... may take heart.... For today, if one may judge from the exquisitely natural performances that are the fashion, there is hardly an emotion that cannot be portrayed ... by an appropriate use of tobacco....

"Concentration (especially after moment of creative inspiration): Put aside a lighted pipe absentmindedly....

"Acute distress or shock on receiving bad news: Crush out a half-smoked cigarette with awful finality. Stand quite still, keeping hand on butt of cigarette and head lowered, thus obviating need to reveal facial expression to audience....

"Courage: Light a cigarette at every moment of danger.... Male characters of the Tough American Hero school ... should take cigarette directly with mouth from a pack of cigarettes."

Illustrations by Chris Sharp

The Atlantic Monthly; April 1998; The April Almanac; Volume 281, No. 4; page 14.