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The January Almanac

Illustration by Aaron MeshonDemographics

The busy season for alcohol-abuse counselors and treatment centers begins this month, according to The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers. A number of factors contribute to the spike. Many who enter programs voluntarily prefer to wait until after the holidays or are acting on New Year's resolutions. Holiday gatherings can reveal troubling behavior, leading relatives to arrange for the treatment of a family member. And drunk-driving arrests, which often result in court-ordered treatment, peak around the holidays. One group that has not added much to counselors' workloads is the elderly, among whom alcoholism appears to go largely untreated, though it is relatively common: a quarter of those aged 60 or older who are hospitalized for other reasons are found to suffer from the disease. Many communities have begun training postal workers, bank tellers, and others who deal with the elderly on a regular basis to recognize signs of alcohol abuse and contact authorized social workers.

Illustration by Aaron MeshonGovernment

January 1: Today California inaugurates the country's most comprehensive college financial-aid program, one that is being touted as the greatest education-assistance plan since the 1944 G.I. Bill. Its Cal Grants -- an expansion of a program established in 1956 -- will recognize both merit and need. For example, a high school senior with at least a B average from a family of four whose annual income is $64,000 or less will qualify for full tuition at state universities or $9,700 toward tuition at a private college in-state. It is estimated that the plan will cost California more than $1 billion a year and will result in awards of some sort to nearly a third of all graduating high school seniors. Also today Suffolk County, New York, becomes the first county in the nation to ban drivers from using hand-held cellular phones except to call 911 (headsets and speakerphones are still permitted). A small number of municipalities around the country have already adopted similar safety measures.

Illustration by Aaron MeshonQ & A

Is it true that male athletes should refrain from sexual intercourse prior to a game, to avoid losing their edge?

The advice on this subject long given by coaches and trainers may have been a mistake. According to recent findings by researchers at the University of L'Aquila, in Italy, athletes playing sports in which it is best to be highly aggressive -- football, soccer, basketball -- may perform better if they have sex before they play. The reason is that intercourse boosts testosterone levels, and high levels in turn boost aggression. One caveat: pre-game sex can diminish the performance of athletes in a few sports -- for example, golf -- that don't call for physical aggression, because high testosterone levels can impair one's ability to focus. Some corroborating anecdotal evidence for the overall findings: the late basketball player Wilt Chamberlain, who still holds the record for the most points scored in a game, claimed in 1991 to have had sex with some 20,000 women in his life -- on average, he wrote, "1.2 women a day, every day since I was 15 years old."

Illustration by Aaron MeshonEnvironment

This month may mark the beginning of the end of a British institution: the ubiquitous siphon toilet, developed in the 1890s by Thomas Crapper. On January 1, as part of broad water-conservation measures, Britain will lift its ban on the so-called Euro-loo -- a valve toilet popular on the Continent, which uses 6.0 liters (1.6 gallons) per flush, as compared with the siphon toilet's current 7.5 (2.0 gallons) -- and will require that new toilets use no more than 6.0 liters per flush. Valve toilets of any sort have been illegal in Britain since the late nineteenth century, precisely for reasons of water conservation: a bit of sand in a valve can cause uncontrolled flushes and leaking, whereas the mechanism in a siphon toilet is not subject to leaks. Critics claim that the valve toilets may, over the long term, leak more water than they save.

Elsewhere on the Web
Links to related material on other Web sites.

The Skywatcher's Diary
Daily information on the skies posted by Michigan State University's Abrams Planetarium.

Illustration by Aaron MeshonThe Skies

January 3-4: The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks tonight. It should be visible by about 1:30 A.M. 5-6: The Moon passes below Jupiter and Saturn and above the red star Aldebaran tonight, with the constellation Orion beneath them all. 9: Full Moon, also known this month as the Wolf Moon, the Winter Moon, and the Yule Moon. 15: Tonight and for the next few nights observers out before moonrise can spot the constellation Pegasus high in the southwest. It looks like a baseball diamond, with a "catcher" and two "umpires" just behind the home-plate star, the northwest point of the diamond.

Arts & Letters

January 28: "Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries" opens today at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C. Stieglitz, who ran three art galleries from 1905 to 1946, was the first American to exhibit works by Matisse, CÚzanne, and Picasso. He is credited with leading the United States into the world of twentieth-century art. He was also a passionate advocate for the notion that photography is art. The exhibit opening today is the first ever to explore Stieglitz's role in the development of modern art in America. It will include more than 190 paintings, sculptures, and photographs, and will run through April.

Illustration by Aaron Meshon75 Years Ago

E. M. Forster, writing on the English character in the January, 1926, issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "Many men look back on their school days as the happiest of their lives. They remember with regret that golden time when life, though hard, was not yet complex; when they all worked together and played together and thought together, so far as they thought at all; when they were taught that school is the world in miniature, and believed that no one can love his country who does not love his school.... They quote the remark that 'the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton.' It is nothing to them that the remark is inapplicable historically and was never made by the Duke of Wellington, and that the Duke of Wellington was an Irishman. They go on quoting it because it expresses their sentiments; they feel that if the Duke of Wellington didn't make it he ought to have, and if he wasn't an Englishman he ought to have been."

Illustrations by Aaron Meshon.

Copyright © 2001 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; January 2001; The Almanac - 01.01; Volume 287, No. 1; page 14.