The Almanac

Illustration by Mike Rooth

Health & Safety

Men who suffer from low testosterone levels gain a new therapeutic option this month, as topical testosterone gel becomes widely available by prescription. Up to 5 million American men are affected by low testosterone, which can diminish libido, reduce musculature, decrease bone density, and cause impotence and depression. The treatments available to date have drawbacks: oral testosterone has been linked to liver damage; injections can be painful and result in fluctuating testosterone levels; and the adhesive patches can irritate the skin. The new medication, Androgel, is applied daily to the shoulders, upper arms, and/or abdomen, from where it is gradually released into the bloodstream. It has its own drawbacks: studies have shown that the gel can be transferred from patients to their partners during "vigorous skin to skin contact," causing the partners' testosterone levels to rise.

Arts & Letters

July 6: The most important early Italian painting to be offered for sale since the 1970s will be auctioned by Sotheby's in London today. The Madonna and Child Enthroned With Angels, a 10-inch-by-eight-inch wood panel by the 13th-century Italian artist known as Cimabue (born Bencivieni di Pepo), was discovered last year in a Suffolk manor during preparations for an estate sale. It had been hanging there for 150 years. It is believed to be part of a tabernacle depicting scenes from Jesus' life. The painting is expected to sell for at least $3.2 million. It is one of only about a dozen existing works credited to Cimabue, who was a pivotal figure in the development of the Italian Renaissance. One reason for the scarcity could relate to the temperament of the artist, whose nickname means "Bullheaded": he is said to have destroyed those of his works with which he or others found fault.


July 1: Today suspensions of federal financial aid begin for college students who have been convicted of selling or possessing illegal drugs. The suspensions are mandated by the 1998 re-authorization of the 1965 Higher Education Act. They can last a year or longer, depending on the number and kind of convictions, though students can shorten their suspensions if they complete a rehabilitation program and pass two random drug tests. Although the provision met with little opposition in Congress, it has generated campus protests across the country. Critics argue that it singles out low- and moderate-income students, fails to address drug education and intervention, and, by denying money to troubled students when they may need it most, will cause more problems than it solves. They also point out that the act does not disqualify students convicted of other crimes, including theft, rape, and murder. Also as of today, gay couples in Vermont can form civil unions entitling them to virtually all the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage. This is the first law of its kind in the nation; it was passed last spring.


The peak season for air travel begins this month. Last summer was the worst to date in terms of weather-related delays, largely because of a spate of thunderstorms and hurricanes. This summer's travelers may fare better in the event of storms, owing to a new system for gathering and responding to information about weather conditions. For the first time ever, the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines will rely on a single, continually updated forecast. Previously they all employed their own meteorologists, a system that engendered confusion and disagreement over FAA-proposed flight routings, which the airlines claimed were often based on outdated forecasts. Planes that need to be re-routed to avoid storms can now make more frequent use of low-altitude routes and military and Canadian airspace, which should also shorten delays.

Illustration by Mike Rooth

Q & A

It depends on how the coin is flipped. Mathematicians advise that the only way to ensure a fair toss is to catch a coin cleanly in the air. If the coin is allowed to land on a flat surface and roll around before coming to rest, variables such as weight and contour will bias the outcome. For example, the heads side of a penny, which depicts Lincoln's profile, is slightly more hollowed out, and therefore lighter, than the tails side, which depicts the Lincoln Memorial; consequently, a penny rolling on its edge is more likely to land heads up. Wear and tear can also affect the outcome of a toss: a coin whose edge is more heavily worn on one side will tend to fall toward that side.

Illustration by Mike Rooth

The Skies

July 16: Full Moon, also known as the Thunder Moon, the Hay Moon, and the Killer Whale Moon. A lunar eclipse occurs tonight, visible in the western states and in Hawaii and western Alaska before dawn. 26-27: Jupiter, Saturn, the waning crescent Moon, and the bright star Aldebaran are grouped together in the eastern sky just before dawn. 30: Observers in the northwestern United States can see a partial solar eclipse as the Sun is setting.

Illustration by Mike Rooth100 Years Ago

Martha Baker Dunn, writing in the July, 1900, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "[A] modern notion which helps to make the path of the school-teacher a thorny one is the theory that a child ought to be putting out simultaneously and in every direction as many feelers as a centipede has legs. As a matter of fact, a pupil who has learned thoroughness and application has acquired something, even if he cannot explain the precession of the equinoxes or tell how many feathers there are in a hen. There used ... to be a good many poetic similes in which the unfolding of a child's mind was likened to the gradual opening of a flower, leaf by leaf. The revised plan admits of no such sentimental and slow-moving processes. A child's mind is now opened like an umbrella, expanding equally and instantaneously at all points, and, fortunately for the child, it also resembles the umbrella in that it sheds a good deal more than it retains."

Illustrations by Mike Rooth.

The Atlantic Monthly; July 2000; The Almanac - 00.07; Volume 286, No. 1; page 12.