The Almanac


Illustration by Glynis Sweeny October 1: New milk-pricing rules are scheduled to go into effect today, as the country's 60-year-old milk-pricing system -- long criticized by many producers and consumers as antiquated and unfair -- is modified to meet requirements of the 1996 Farm Bill. Over the years the government has attempted to stabilize the milk supply by establishing minimum prices within specified geographic regions (a practice that came under fire from dairy farmers in states where milk is abundant and price floors were consequently lower) and by buying surplus butter, cheese, and nonfat dry milk (a practice that will be abolished by the end of the year). Under the new system the regions will be consolidated and the price differences between them will be reduced. The reforms are expected to lower the average retail price of milk by about two cents a gallon.

Health & Safety

The first clinical trials in 20 years of a vaccine against group A Streptococcus -- the bacterium that causes strep throat -- are now under way, at the University of Maryland's Center for Vaccine Development. Tests of a group A strep vaccine ground to a halt in the 1970s, after some experimentally vaccinated children developed rheumatic fever, which often leads to heart disease. However, scientists continued investigating because of accumulating links between group A strep and pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome, and "flesh-eating" disease. Genetic engineering has now enabled them to strip from the vaccine those components thought to react with heart tissue. The first phase of the trials will involve adults only; plans call for eventually including children.


Illustration by Glynis Sweeny

Doctors disagree on what causes this phenomenon, which appears to be hereditary and goes by three clinical names: "photosternutatory reflex," "autosomal dominant compelling helio-ophthalmic outburst" (ACHOO), and, most commonly, "photic sneeze reflex." According to one theory, light stimulates the nerves in the face, which in turn irritate the mucous membranes, resulting in a sneeze; a second theory holds that the optic nerve irritates the mucous membranes. Up to a third of the population is thought to be afflicted. Military researchers, worried about the implications for combat pilots, have sought remedies, but to no avail. After subjecting pilots wearing military, designer, and ordinary sunglasses and goggles to different wavelengths and intensities of light, the researchers were able to conclude only that "the best defense appears to be education and identification of those pilots with the sneezer trait."

Arts & Letters

Illustration by Glynis Sweeny This is an eventful month for pop-culture collectors, with major auctions of the possessions of Elvis Presley (to be held in Las Vegas October 8-10) and of Marilyn Monroe (to be held in New York City by Christie's, October 27-28). Nearly 2,000 of Presley's possessions are slated to be on the block, including movie scripts, credit cards, letters, and clothing ranging from Army fatigues to pajamas. The proceeds will be used to build a housing development in Memphis for the homeless. (As a teenager Elvis lived in a federal housing project.) The auction can be seen at www.; it will be the first to be broadcast in its entirety on the Internet. Highlights of the Monroe sale will include the actress's script for the comedy Some Like It Hot, a ring given her by Joe DiMaggio, and the flesh-colored dress in which she sang "Happy Birthday" to President John F. Kennedy. Some of the proceeds will go to various charities.


Illustration by Glynis Sweeny This month, as grazing season comes to a close in the Northwest, researchers will determine how many of the cattle in a 60,000-acre region in central Idaho were killed this year by wolves. They will do so by analyzing the information collected in response to signals from radio transmitters that were attached to the ears of 230 calves last May. The transmitters, dubbed "death sensors," alerted scientists whenever a calf died, allowing them to locate the animal and determine the cause of death. The study is a cooperative effort by several groups affected by wolf-cattle interaction, including ranchers, conservationists, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It represents the first time that radio transmitters have been used this way to monitor wolf predation. Cattle deaths have been a growing problem in Idaho: last year nearly 16 percent of all the cattle under study in the region died. Ranchers charge that most of the cattle were killed by wolves reintroduced to Idaho by the federal Wolf Recovery Program. Defenders of Wildlife, a group dedicated to the conservation of endangered species, compensates ranchers found to have lost cattle to the wolves.

The Skies

October 5: Venus, the waning crescent Moon, and the bright star Regulus make a tight triangle in the east just before dawn. Venus has just passed its maximum brilliance for the year. 23: Jupiter is at opposition -- it rises as the sun sets and stays in the sky all night long. It is also at its brightest since 1987. 24: Full Moon, also known this month as the Hunter's Moon and the Moon of the Freezing Water. 31: At 2:00 A.M., Daylight Saving Time gives way to Standard Time. Turn clocks back one hour.

25 Years Ago

Edwin Newman, writing in the October, 1974, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "[The expression] eyeball-to-eyeball, though it came close to burlesque even at the beginning (for example, when hard-nosed private eyes are private-eyeball-to-private-eyeball, does an eye or nose prevail?), was once a fairly graphic phrase. Because of overuse, it has been devalued. American journalism has a way of seeing to that, of fastening on words and sucking them dry. Controversial is such a word, because it is applied to almost every issue that arises in politics, and because reporters feel obliged to tell us that issues that are resolved in the Senate by votes of fifty-one to forty-nine are controversial. Again, as anyone can discern from book jackets, scarcely a book appears that is not controversial, even when it is also witty, warm, and wise."

Illustrations by Glynis Sweeny.

The Atlantic Monthly; October 1999; The Almanac - 99.10; Volume 284, No. 4; page 16.