The September Almanac


Military reunion

September is the busiest month of the year for military reunions, largely because hotel rooms are widely available at off-season rates (many veterans are retired and have limited incomes) and yet the weather is still generally clement. Such gatherings, however, appear to be a fading tradition: whereas there were some 6,000 across the country in 1992, only about half that number are expected this year. The aging and deaths of veterans -- particularly veterans of the Second World War, who hold the great majority of reunions -- and the modest U.S. military involvement in armed conflicts of recent decades are the chief reasons for the decline. In addition, several significant anniversaries -- for example, the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War -- have now passed. Finally, the largest group of living veterans -- the more than 8 million veterans of the Vietnam War -- are markedly less enthusiastic about reunions than other veterans have been, presumably because of negative experiences both during combat and after their return home.


Clean-fuel taxi

September 1: The federal Clean Fuel Fleet Program (CFFP) begins today, as 1999 vehicles start rolling off assembly lines. Under amendments to the 1990 Clean Air Act some of the metropolitan areas that have been classified as "serious," "severe," or "extreme" in terms of ozone pollution must require, with some exceptions, operators of fleets of 10 or more vehicles to include a set percentage (initially, 30 percent for light-duty vehicles and 50 percent for heavy-duty vehicles) of "clean-fuel vehicles" in their annual purchases over the next few years. Manufacturers may use any fuel that enables the vehicles to meet stringent tailpipe-emissions standards. Among the areas affected are Atlanta, Denver-Boulder, and Washington, D.C. The Environmental Protection Agency hopes that the CFFP will encourage the development of a clean-fuel infrastructure.

Health & Safety

Testing newborns

This month the Institute of Medicine will release the results of a two-year study of states' efforts to reduce HIV transmission from mothers to newborns. The study was required under 1996 legislation that also requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to determine this fall whether the testing of newborns of untested mothers, along with follow-up measures, has become routine. If so, in order to receive federal funding in 2000, states will have to meet one of the following general conditions: a reduction in new pediatric AIDS cases from perinatal transmission to half the number recorded in 1993, a voluntary-prenatal-testing rate of at least 95 percent, or the implementation of mandatory testing for all babies born to untested mothers. If not, paradoxically, funding will not be contingent on such conditions. Some argue that mandatory testing could drive women from the health-care system. However, there is no evidence that this has happened in New York, which has a successful mandatory newborn-testing program.

Arts & Leisure

Opera in China

September 5-13: Puccini's opera will be performed for the first time in the locale in which it is set -- Beijing's Forbidden City. The opera, about a Chinese princess and the tests she devises for her suitors, will involve more than 1,000 singers and musicians and be conducted . Its Beijing premiere is the result of years of work by the organization Opera on Original Site, known for the 1987 production of Aïda in Luxor, Egypt. The opera and related festivities are expected to contribute at least $100 million to the local economy. Because even the cheapest regular ticket, at $150, is several times the average monthly salary in China, two performances will be given for Beijing residents at drastically reduced prices.


Patrol robot

September 30: Unless a request for an extension is granted, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service will begin using an automated system to register all noncitizens entering and leaving the country. The measure, mandated by the 1996 immigration-reform act, is intended to crack down on drug smugglers and those who overstay their visas. Opponents argue that the provision will create undue delays, especially at the Canadian border (Canadians have long been exempted from having to present identification), and thereby discourage tourists from entering the United States. The INS has asked for more time to address this concern.

The Skies

September 6: Venus lies close to Mercury and the bright star Regulus in the east an hour before sunrise. Binoculars may be needed to view the two latter bodies. This morning brings the Full Moon, also known this month as the Cool Moon or the Harvest Moon. It will be dimmed by a penumbral eclipse, best seen in the central and western states; the eclipse's midpoint will be at 6:10 A.M. CDT. 7: The Moon passes close to Jupiter, which will be high and bright in the night sky all month and is at opposition on the 15th. 23: At 1:38 A.M. EDT, the Autumnal Equinox.

100 Years Ago

All-American bicycle

W. J. McGee, writing in the September, 1898, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "A typical American device is the bicycle. Invented in France, it long remained a toy or a vain luxury. Redevised in this country, it inspired inventors and captivated manufacturers, and native genius made it a practical machine for the multitude; now its users number millions.... Typical, too, is the bicycle in its effect on national character. It first aroused invention, next stimulated commerce, and then developed individuality, judgment, and prompt decision on the part of its users.... Better than other results is this: that the bicycle has broken the barrier of pernicious differentiation of the sexes and rent the bonds of fashion, and is daily impressing Spartan strength and grace, and more than Spartan intelligence, on the mothers of coming generations. So, weighed by its effect on body and mind as well as on material progress, this device must be classed as one of the world's great inventions."

Illustrations by Mark Todd

The Atlantic Monthly; September 1998; The September Almanac; Volume 282, No. 3; page 22.