The Almanac

Illustration by Michael Klein


In much of the country the peak season for rodent infestations begins this month, with the first cold snap of autumn; some 21 million homes are afflicted each year. Suburbanites are increasingly faced with a pest usually associated with urban living: the rat. Three consecutive mild winters have led rat populations in many cities to explode, causing the animals to migrate to the suburbs (just like people). Rats can gain entry into even seemingly secure homes: they have collapsible skeletons, and can therefore squeeze through dime-sized gaps around plumbing and telephone lines. Reviled for their tendency to carry fleas and viruses, rats may pose an even greater threat: house fires. With jaws capable of exerting up to 24,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, rats chew through electrical cables, starting an undetermined number of fires each year. Although federal aid for residential rat control was eliminated in the 1980s, affordable relief can still be found: Ratbusters, a nationwide organization of air-gun target shooters, will take on the rodents free.

Illustration by Michael KleinExpiring Patent

No. 4,408,884. Eyeglass Frame With Built-In Spare Key. "An eyeglass frame structure [including an earpiece] in the form of a key member; said key member includes thereon suitable ridges and grooves mateable with tumbler pins of an associated lock so as to allow said key member to be utilized to unlock such a lock."

The Skies

October's skies are host this year to a close pairing of Jupiter and Saturn. The planets will rise at about 10:00 P.M. at the beginning of the month and appear soon after dusk by the end, with Jupiter -- the brighter of the two -- on the left. October 13: Full Moon, also known this month as the Hunter's Moon and the Moon of the Freezing Water. 15: The Moon passes by Saturn. It forms a triangle with Jupiter and the bright reddish star Aldebaran on the following night. 22: The crescent Moon and Mars lie close together above the eastern horizon in the hour before sunrise.

Illustration by Michael KleinGovernment

October 1: A federal law giving electronic signatures the same legal force as pen-and-ink ones takes effect today. The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act was passed by an overwhelming majority in Congress and was signed into law in June. It is expected to save billions of dollars in travel, paper-processing, and express-delivery expenses, because customers will be able to open brokerage accounts, sign insurance contracts, and complete mortgages and other loans online. The law does not specify what forms electronic signatures may take; computer-security companies are exploring scanned versions of handwritten signatures, coded numbers and letters, digitized thumbprints, and images of users' faces or eyes. Electronic signatures of various kinds are already valid in most states and many foreign countries. 3: The first of three debates between the major presidential candidates takes place today. The subsequent debates will be held on October 11 and 17.

Illustration by Michael KleinHealth & Safety

The largest clinical study of the treatment of depression ever conducted in the United States gets under way this month, as doctors at 12 medical institutions around the country begin to investigate therapeutic options for "treatment-resistant" depression. The study is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and is being overseen by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; it will involve 4,000 patients and last for five years. Researchers will evaluate the efficacy of various combinations of medication and psychotherapy in patients who fail to benefit from an initial course of an antidepressant. Also this month revelers at the Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, who participate in the tradition of dancing atop beer-garden tables should watch their step: another festival tradition is calf-biting. Two years ago a festivalgoer was hospitalized with necrotizing fasciitis, an infection caused by so-called flesh-eating bacteria, after being bitten on the leg by a woman he had never met; he required a skin transplant.

Illustration by Michael KleinArts & Letters

Viewers of public television's ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theatre may be surprised by the accents that greet them this month: after 30 years of importing British dramas, the program is turning to American literary classics. Its American Collection makes its debut this month with an adaptation of the short story "Cora Unashamed," by the Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes. Other works in the series will include by Henry James; by Willa Cather; The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams; by James Agee; and by Esmeralda Santiago. Also this month Sotheby's will auction the contents of Savannah's Mercer House -- the site of the best-selling book and the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which recounted the suspicious shooting of the owner's lover. The items to be auctioned include a 19th-century leather desk folio made for Czar Nicholas II and a collection of more than 100 pieces of Chinese porcelain shipwrecked in the South China Sea in 1752, called the Nanking Cargo. The auction is expected to bring in about $1.5 million; the house itself has been for sale for more than a year.

Illustration by Michael Klein50 Years Ago

Gilbert Seldes, writing in the October, 1950, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "The alert Mr. Goldwyn has discussed ... the changes the movies must make in themselves if they are to be good television fare. The movies, he said, must go in for a broader style of acting because the subtle and delicate points now brought out on the screen would be lost on the small home receiver.... The argument reverses the truth; Mr. Goldwyn is like Mayor La Guardia: when he makes a mistake, it's a beaut. The style of acting in television is determined by the conditions of reception; there is simply no place for the florid gesture, the overprojection of emotion, the exaggeration of voice or grimace or movement, inside the average American living room."

Illustrations by Michael Klein.

The Atlantic Monthly; October 2000; The Almanac - 00.10; Volume 286, No. 4; page 14.