The Almanac

Health & Safety

Alternative medicine takes another step toward the mainstream this month, as clinical licensing exams in naturopathic medicine -- a discipline that emphasizes prevention and avoids pharmaceutical drugs -- begin to be administered by the newly formed North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners. The board will also be responsible for determining who is eligible to take the exams and for sending the results to the jurisdictions where the candidates hope to be licensed. Previously these duties were assumed by the exam's producers. With the restructuring, the exam and the licensing process now follow the model used by many other health-care professionals, including physicians and chiropractors. A growing acceptance of naturopathy is reflected in recent decisions by some health-care plans to cover naturopathic treatment.


Dentists' waiting rooms may be unusually crowded this month: August is the peak time for dental visits, largely because of back-to-school checkups. Emergency visits to pediatric dentists are said to spike twice a year: after Halloween (owing to candy-related toothaches and injuries), and in early summer (when rough outdoor play often results in tooth injuries). In spite of an increase in preventive measures, four out of five children wind up with at least one cavity by age 17, and some of them have considerably more: 25 percent of children account for 80 percent of all childhood cavities. The misery involved, at least, should start to lessen: in 1997 the Food and Drug Administration approved the dental use of laser tools, which can repair cavities virtually without pain.

Illustration by Melinda Beck

The Skies

August 10: This evening the constellation Sagittarius, which is actually shaped like a teapot even though it is named for an archer, lies below the waxing Moon. During the second half of the month, when the Moon sets early, a thick star cloud -- the center of the Milky Way -- can be seen, in the words of one observer, "like a puff of steam just above the Teapot's spout." 15: Full Moon, also known this month as the Green Corn Moon and the Sturgeon Moon. 21-22: Jupiter, Saturn, and the waning Moon rise together in a line in the east around midnight.

Q & A

Paradoxically, the annoyance we feel when we realize we have been humming, say, "If I Only Had a Brain" for three days on end is exactly why we hum it in the first place. Daniel Wegner, a psychologist and the author of White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts, has coined the phrase "the ironic process" to describe the psychological mechanism that is responsible. The mind searches, consciously and unconsciously, for undesirable thoughts so that it can avoid them, much the way that a ship uses sonar to avoid rocks. However, this activity tends to foster those very thoughts. The phenomenon has been tested many times in the laboratory. For example, researchers have shown that people who are trying not to think about sex experience the same physiological response as those who are trying to think about sex. According to Wegner, the best way to rid yourself of oppressive tunes is, well, to face the music: hum or sing the song repeatedly. Herewith an exercise: "I would not be just a nuffin' / My head all full of stuffin' / My heart all full of pain / I would dance and be merry / Life would be a ding-a-derry / If I only had a brain."

Arts & Letters

August 22: The most extensive exhibit ever of the papers of the expatriate American writer, composer, and translator Paul Bowles opens today at the University of Delaware Library. "Paul Bowles: 1910-1999" will include troves of material taken from more than 50 boxes of papers that Bowles transferred to the library shortly before his death, last November. Born to a middle-class family on Long Island, Bowles settled in Tangier in 1947. He wrote 11 short-story collections and four novels, among them The Sheltering Sky, and composed numerous pieces for ballet, opera, film, and plays. His translation of Sartre's No Exit -- a title Bowles came up with -- became the standard text for English-language productions. Bowles's friends included Aaron Copland, Tennessee Williams, Orson Welles, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Truman Capote. The show will contain collaborations and correspondence with them, along with photographs, artwork, travel diaries, and recordings Bowles made of rare Berber folk music. It will run through December; all of the new material will be available to researchers this fall.

Expiring Patent

No. 4,396,089. Shout-Muffling Cup. "Cup into which an enraged person can shout to release tension while avoiding disturbing other persons, comprising an elongated body having a closed end, ... an open mouthpiece, ... and four rib-baffles ... whereby sound waves are trapped and compressed ... so that they are hardly audible at close range."

100 Years Ago

Arthur Twining Hadley, writing in the August, 1900, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "If a large number of people want a thing, we not infrequently hear it said that there is a public sentiment in its favor. It would be much more correct to say that there is a widespread personal interest in securing it. The term public sentiment can only be applied to those feelings and demands which people are willing to enforce at their own cost, as well as at that of others. The desire for better municipal government on the part of the man who is not willing to labor for that end, the effusive patriotism of the man who hopes thereby to lead other people to enter upon a war of which he may celebrate the glories and enjoy the fruits, the denunciation of trusts by the man who has tried to do what they do and has not succeeded, can never be regarded as expressions of public sentiment in any true sense. They are but instances of the selfishness, the vaingloriousness, and even the envy of large sections of the community."

Illustrations by Melinda Beck.

The Atlantic Monthly; August 2000; The Almanac - 00.08; Volume 286, No. 2; page 14.