Illustration by John Segal August is the busiest time of year at Yosemite National Park: some 700,000 visitors are expected this month. The number of "human-bear incidents" -- aggressive acts by bears toward human beings or property -- also generally peaks in August. Last year bears in Yosemite caused more than $630,000 in property damage and broke into more than 1,300 cars -- some 350 during August alone. Several factors contribute to the problem. From the 1920s through the 1960s park officials fed bears restaurant scraps, unwittingly encouraging an appetite for human food. In addition, the fact that only black bears, which are less dangerous than grizzlies, remain in Yosemite may have led the public to be overly complacent. Although until recent decades human-bear incidents were dealt with only reactively -- offending bears were relocated or killed -- efforts now also include prevention, and focus more on the behavior of human beings than on that of bears. Park funds are increasingly used to build bear-proof food lockers and to get visitors to take precautions.

Expiring Patent

Illustration by John Segal No. 4,346,772. Power assisting device for a bicycle. "A power assisting assembly for said vehicle comprising ... a motor; a driving wheel rotatably driven by said motor, said driving wheel being longitudinally spaced rearwardly of [the bicycle's back] wheel ... [and] connected to a linkage assembly ... connected to [the bicycle's] frame."


August 21: According to the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, today is the deadline for Congress to pass legislation to protect individual electronic medical records. If Congress fails to do so, the Health and Human Services Department has until next February to issue regulations to this end. Only a handful of states have passed comprehensive laws guaranteeing the confidentiality of hospital and medical records. Concern over the issue has grown as records and lab results have been increasingly computerized, and thus are potentially subject to wider access. Another of the act's requirements, which directs the federal government to issue every citizen a "health identifier" -- a code that would allow the person' s entire medical history to be accessed electronically -- has been put on hold owing to privacy concerns. The identifiers could permit better medical care in emergencies; however, many fear that they could be abused by, for example, employers, who might obtain the medical and psychological histories of potential employees and discriminate on the basis of them.

Health & Safety

New regulations to protect health-care workers against needle-stick injuries and exposure to blood-borne pathogens have now gone into effect in California. The rules require the use, whenever possible, of "needleless" intravenous systems -- devices that do not use needles after the initial puncture -- or of devices that blunt sharp ends after use or that encapsulate fluids. This is the first law in the country to mandate safer needle systems. About a half-million accidental needle-sticks are reported each year, and it is estimated that 1,000 health-care workers contract HIV or hepatitis B or C as a result. At least 250 types of safer needle systems have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Most hospitals do not use them, however, presumably because they are more expensive than conventional needles and because of long-standing contracts between hospitals and needle manufacturers. Plans are under way in more than 15 other states to develop similar needle-safety regulations.


August 27: The chances of contracting poisoning should lessen after today, when new refrigeration and labeling rules for fresh eggs take effect. The regulations, issued by the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, require that eggs be kept at or below 45 degrees during transport from farms to stores, and that egg cartons carry labels stating that eggs must be refrigerated at all times. Studies suggest that these steps could result in an 8 percent decrease in Salmonella-poisoning cases, because the bacteria cannot grow at low temperatures. The USDA has estimated that one in 20,000 eggs contains Salmonella; according to the Centers for Disease Control, as many as 4 million people are infected each year. Outbreaks have been traced to raw and undercooked eggs in Caesar salad, French toast, and hollandaise sauce, among other things. Some believe that today's regulations do not go far enough: expiration dates are still not required for eggs.

The Skies

August 1: Venus sits about 8 degrees above the horizon at sunset. Over the course of the month it will go from being the "evening star" to being the "morning star," by month's end rising in the east more than an hour before the Sun. 12: The Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight. Because the Moon is new, observers with clear skies overhead should have an excellent view of these unusually fast, bright meteors. 26: Full Moon, also known this month as the Green Corn or Sturgeon Moon.

50 Years Ago

Illustration by John Segal Ann Leighton, writing in the August, 1949, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "Conversation, like sex, is a universal human need commonly treated as a recreation. A life force without which civilization would perish, it is classed as a subject for serious discussion with remote elegancies like wines and manners. Essential to the well-being and sanity of mankind, it is dealt with in books -- not on medicine or religion or sociology but on etiquette. Never practiced, seldom taught, it is required of everyone. Prohibited only to certain monks, it is demanded of young girls in finishing schools who confuse it forever with balls and rapiers. As with cooking and the investing of money, it is made a cult whose initiates seek to terrify outsiders. Revered chiefly in its maimed form, the monologue, it is usually declared dead by those who think they know. Disjointed, denied, buried ... the miracle of conversation is that it goes on."

Illustrations by John Segal.

The Atlantic Monthly; August 1999; The August Almanac - 99.08; Volume 284, No. 2; page 14.

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