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"You are probably not a liberal anymore," writes Sam Smith in the "Progressive Review" (October), if you "consider a 5% wage increase in an industry to be inflationary but a 5% return on your stocks in that industry to be inadequate," or if you "know what NARAL stands for but not SEIU," or if you "have a piercing alarm system on your Lexus but think gun owners are paranoid."

Suburban "impact fees" on new housing developments cost home buyers money, according to a report by Don Coursey, Brett Baden, and Jeannine Kannegiesser of the University of Chicago and published by the Heartland Institute ("Effects of Impact Fees on the Suburban Chicago Housing Market," November 19). The study of Aurora, Bolingbrook, Burr Ridge, Darien, Downers Grove, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, and Wheaton found that the fees--which cities charge on new homes to cover costs of new schools, parks, and other public services--run as high as $8,942 for a four-bedroom home. They make housing less affordable and probably result in fewer houses being sold. "This result...may be viewed as desirable by current home owners concerned by rising congestion, obstructed views, etc."

"There are all different kinds of poor person," says Susan Mayer of the University of Chicago, whose research has found that once poor families can meet basic material standards of living, more money doesn't enable their kids to turn out better. (She's quoted in a story by Jonathan Rauch in the November 22 National Journal.) "So thinking that there's going to be one big national policy that does X and solves the problem just isn't the way to think about it."

Too much Protestantism is our national cultural problem, according to Robert Bellah, writing in America (July 31) and quoted by Martin Marty in "Context" (December 1). Bellah says it makes Americans unable to think clearly about the common good. "Just when we are in many ways moving to an ever greater validation of the sacredness of the individual person, our capacity to imagine a social fabric that would hold individuals together is vanishing. This is in part because of the fact that our ethical individualism, deriving from the Protestant religious tradition in America, is linked to an economic individualism that, ironically, knows nothing of the sacredness of the individual. Its only standard is money, and the only thing more sacred than money is more money."

"The decline in AIDS-related mortality...means that a record number of people are now living with AIDS in Chicago," reports the city Department of Public Health in a November 17 press release. The 346 AIDS-related deaths in the city in 1998 were the lowest in the 1990s; meanwhile 5,693 Chicagoans are living with AIDS, an increase of 3.5 percent over 1997.

The Nonfarm Bureau. Number of farms in the United States in 1997, according to the Census of Agriculture (www.nass.usda.gov/ census/census97/highlights/usasum/us.txt): 1,911,859 (almost half of the people working those farms say their principal occupation isn't farming). Number of families claimed as members of the American Farm Bureau Federation, "the nation's largest farm organization" on its Web site: more than 4,700,000.

Three of Illinois' four worst mercury-emitting power plants are upwind of Chicago: the former Com Ed plants in Joliet, Waukegan, and Romeoville, according to a November 17 press release from the Environmental Law & Policy Center. They are also among the 50 worst such plants out of 1,200 in the U.S.

Does Chicago have "an overall problem with print media coverage of the arts"? According to a recent report from the National Arts Journalism Program, "Few of the major publications pay living wages to arts critics and feature writers. Most employ freelancers who write for four or five publications at a time, making reviews and arts features in many publications interchangeable."

Schools as equalizers. According to an October Census Bureau report, in October 1997, 62 percent of white children (ages 3 to 17) had a computer at home, compared to 24 percent of black children and 23 percent of Hispanic children. The gap is much narrower at school, where 74 percent of whites, 66 percent of blacks, and 62 percent of Hispanics use the machines.

Saint Rudolph. Advice from Catherine O'Connell-Cahill to Catholic families in the Chicago-based newsletter "At Home With Our Faith" (December): "Help your kids see how Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, It's a Wonderful Life, and the rest reflect the essence of Christmas. They need not be 'competitors' with the story of Jesus' birth; instead, 'baptize' them and press them into the service of the Christmas story."

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