The Almanac

Health & Safety

November ushers in the peak season for meningococcal meningitis -- inflammation of the lining of the spinal cord and brain that spreads through the exchange of saliva and mucus, and can result in brain damage, coma, and death. A vaccine against the illness has been given to military recruits for 30 years; this year one will also be offered to college freshmen -- a group that, like military recruits, typically lives together in close quarters. College students account for about 100 of the country's 3,000 or so meningococcal-meningitis cases each year, a figure that has increased by 50 percent since 1991. Most college cases involve freshmen; presumably upperclassmen develop immunity. The increase led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that the vaccine be offered to freshmen this fall. It will be available through the clinics of nearly 500 colleges and universities.


The nation's plumbers will be out in force on November 24, the day after Thanksgiving: the Friday after the holiday is typically one of their busiest days of the year and begins a holiday-related spike in plumbing emergencies. Most of the problems stem from food waste that ends up in kitchen pipes during meal preparation and cleanup. The traditional Thanksgiving feast might as well have been designed to cause plumbing distress: along with turkey bones and congealed grease, potato peels pose particular difficulties for household pipes (the peels swell when wet), and strands from celery (often an ingredient of stuffing) may wind around and jam the blades of in-sink garbage disposals.

Illustration by Led PantsEnvironment

November 1: An indefinite ban on longline fishing in the Gulf of Mexico's DeSoto Canyon -- a 43,540-square-mile swordfish nursery ground -- begins today, by order of the National Marine Fisheries Service. It will be followed in February by bans in areas off the coasts of South Carolina and eastern Florida. Longline fishing, which uses lines that stretch for dozens of miles and have hundreds of hooks, indiscriminately snares both marketable fish and "bycatch" -- generally, fish that must be discarded at sea because they are too small to be sold legally. It is the predominant commercial means of catching swordfish. A particular problem has been the destruction of swordfish that are too young to breed. The Fisheries Service expects the bans to reduce by a third or more juvenile swordfish discards by U.S. fishermen. Commercial fishing organizations argue that the bans will take an unfair toll on area fishermen. They also point out that most of the swordfish harvested in the Atlantic are caught in international waters by foreign vessels, and maintain that reductions in international quotas, adopted last year, should be given more time.


November 7: Election Day. For the first time ever in a presidential contest, some of the voting will be conducted on the Internet: in a pilot project some 250 members of the military overseas will cast their ballots online. Proponents of Internet voting argue that it could help solve the much decried problem of low voter turnout; they point to Arizona, which allowed online voting in last March's Democratic primary and experienced an almost sixfold increase in participation over the 1996 level. They also point out that under the current system absentee ballots do not always reach the United States in time. Critics maintain that online voting discriminates against minority voters, who are less likely than whites to have easy access to the Internet. They also cite fears that hackers could type their way to the President of their choice.

The Skies

November 11: Full Moon, also known this month as the Beaver Moon and the Moon of the Falling Leaves. 12: Tonight the gibbous Moon passes just above the bright red star Aldebaran and just below Saturn and then Jupiter, with the Pleiades star cluster above them all. 19: Tonight Saturn is at its brightest in more than 25 years. 29: Venus lies just below the crescent Moon at dusk.

Arts & Letters

November 15: A permanent exhibit titled "The American Presidency" -- the first comprehensive view of that office -- opens today at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, in Washington, D.C. The exhibit will contain more than 900 objects, including the desk on which Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, the top hat worn by Abraham Lincoln on the night of his assassination, a pair of pajamas belonging to Warren Harding, and a set of Dwight D. Eisenhower's golf clubs. Also today the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, in New York City, announces the winners of the first annual National Design Awards, for product design, communications (including graphic and multimedia design), and environmental design (including architecture and landscape and interior design). In September the museum gave two special awards: to the architect Frank Gehry, for lifetime achievement, and to Apple Computers, for corporate achievement.

75 Years Ago

E. M. Forster, writing in the November, 1925, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "There is a word that is sometimes hung up at the edge of a tram line: the word 'Stop.' Written on a metal label by the side of the line, it means that a tram will stop here presently. It is an example of pure information.... Compare it with another public notice which is sometimes exhibited in the darker cities of England: 'Beware of pickpockets, male and female.' Here again there is information. A pickpocket may come along presently, just like a tram, and we take our measures accordingly. But there is something else besides.... We have been reminded of several disquieting truths -- the general insecurity of life, human frailty, the violence of the poor, and the fatuous trustfulness of the rich, who always expect to be popular without having done anything to deserve it.... By taking the form of a warning it has made us afraid.... Besides conveying information it has created an atmosphere, and to that extent it is literature."

Illustrations by Led Pants.

The Atlantic Monthly; November 2000; The Almanac - 00.11; Volume 286, No. 5; page 14.