The Almanac

Illustration by Ed Briant

The Environment

September 15: The Olympic Games open today in Sydney, Australia. They have been dubbed "The Green Games": Sydney is the first city to have offered a comprehensive commitment to environmental issues as part of its bid to host the competition. The Olympic Park was built on landfill, next to reclaimed grassland, wetland, and salt-marsh areas. The Olympic Village will get nearly all its energy from solar panels, making it one of the world's largest solar-powered communities (it will have as much generating capacity as a small power plant). In addition, water-conserving fixtures have been installed in all the buildings. Even the Olympic torch has been rendered environmentally correct: it will incorporate recycled metal and is more fuel-efficient than past torches. In putting together an environmentally focused bid Sydney set a precedent. According to the Olympic Committee, all cities bidding to host the competition must henceforth address environmental concerns -- a criterion that may not be universally welcomed.


The country's 1,300 certified chimney sweeps will be out in force this month, as homeowners in many regions begin preparing for cold weather. The number of chimney fires occurring annually in the United States has plummeted, from 66,100 in 1980 to 9,900 in 1997. The drop may be the result of educational efforts and of a decrease in the number of homes in which fireplaces are a main source of heat. Many sweeps will be working in homes that have no chimneys: they are increasingly called on to clean clothes-dryer vents. Fires from clogged vents are on the rise and now outnumber chimney fires: they went from 13,700 in 1991 to 15,500 in 1996. The problem is thought to relate to an increase in the number of homeowners who situate their dryers according to convenience rather than accessibility to outside walls.

Illustration by Ed BriantGovernment

September 1: As of today packages of cigars sold in California must carry warning labels similar to those on cigarette packs. This is the first law of its kind in the nation. It was prompted in part by a dramatic increase in cigar use among young adults: the proportion of California men aged 18 to 24 who smoke cigars tripled from 1990 to 1996. According to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, regular cigar smokers who inhale can face nearly the same risks as cigarette smokers; those who don't inhale are three times as likely as nonsmokers to get lung cancer and up to 10 times as likely to die of mouth and throat cancers.

The Skies

September 7: Jupiter rises late in the evening and lies just above the bright reddish star Aldebaran. 13: Full Moon, also known this month as the Fruit Moon and the Harvest Moon. 19: The waning Moon forms a tight group with Jupiter, Saturn, and Aldebaran in the hours after midnight. 22: At 1:27 P.M. EDT, the Autumnal Equinox. 25: Mars lies close to the waning crescent Moon and the star Regulus just before sunrise.

Illustration by Ed BriantArts & Letters

September 29: The nation's first museum devoted to a comprehensive exploration of women's history opens today, in Dallas. The Women's Museum: An Institute for the Future will contain exhibits about women's achievements since the 16th century. It will benefit from an affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution, which will lend artifacts such as Amelia Earhart's leather flight suit from her days as a postal pilot and various pieces of Native American women's clothing, and also some 40 paintings from the National Portrait Gallery. The Dallas museum is the first of six major national women's museums expected to open in the next several years. The others are the Museum of Women -- The Leadership Center, in Manhattan; the Women of the West Museum, in Denver; the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, in Fort Worth; the International Museum of Women, in San Francisco; and the National Women's History Museum, in Washington, D.C.

Q & A

According to graphologists, the angular, energetic style of script exhibited by many men is typically associated with such frequently male character traits as aggression and a reticence about showing emotion, whereas the more rounded script exhibited by many women is generally linked to a less aggressive, more emotionally expressive personality. Of course, the differences in style, and their associations with these traits, are not absolute -- and the exceptions can be striking. Consider, in the sample to the right, the curved, lilting "S" and "C," the expressive, swooping "J," the playful heart-shaped "O." The author is Junior Bryant, 6'4", 278 lbs., a defensive lineman with the San Francisco Forty-Niners.

Illustration by Ed Briant50 Years Ago

Carl Sandburg, writing in the September, 1950, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "At the age of six, as my fingers first found how to shape the alphabet, I decided to become a person of letters. At the age of ten I had scrawled letters on slates, on paper, on boxes and walls, and I formed an ambition to become a sign-painter.... At twenty-three I edited a college paper and wrote many a paragraph that after a lapse of fifty years still seems funny.... At fifty I had published a two-volume biography and The American Songbag, and there was puzzlement as to whether I was a poet, a biographer, a wandering troubadour with a guitar, a Midwest Hans Christian Andersen, or a historian of current events.... All my life I have been trying to learn to read, to see and hear, and to write.... It could be, in the grace of God, I shall live to be eighty-nine, as did Hokusai, and speaking my farewell to earthly scenes, I might paraphrase: 'If God had let me live five years longer I should have been a writer.'"

Illustrations by Ed Briant.

The Atlantic Monthly; September 2000; The Almanac - 00.09; Volume 286, No. 3; page 10.