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"Why not a day soon when we can surf the world-wide web for the best buys in citizenship?" asks Paula DiPerna, president of the Joyce Foundation, in the foundation's 1999 annual report. She's not advocating such a thing, just wondering what it might mean. "If government evolves into simple consumer service, nations could compete for e-citizens by offering more efficient services in return for taxes, or even political allegiance. For example, why couldn't Americans pay taxes to the Swedish government in order to buy comprehensive health insurance benefits through the same system that operates in Sweden? Physicians, nurses, hospitals, and drugstores in the U.S. who would be delivering the health care services locally could receive their payments overnight through international electronic transfer; patients would flash an international identification card; and claims could be processed digitally. For that matter, why couldn't residents in other nations pay the American government for coverage under the Bill of Rights or take the oath of citizenship through a virtual ceremony?"

Maybe those standardized tests would be more educational if they had different questions. Derrick Jackson proposed such a question in the "Poverty & Race" newsletter (September/October): "One result of post-slavery discrimination is that the average white baby boomer and the average black baby boomer will respectively inherit: (a) $50,000 and $42,000 (b) $80,000 and $50,000 (c) $20,000 and $15,000 (d) $65,000 and $8,000." (The answer is d.)

It's not sprawl--I ride the train. According to the "Fast Mail" (October), newsletter of the 20th Century Railroad Club, "Five separate studies of potential commuter-rail lines are under way or close to it in southern Wisconsin: extending Metra service from Kenosha to Racine and Milwaukee, from Antioch to Burlington, from Fox Lake to Walworth, and from Harvard to Clinton; and establishing commuter rail of some kind in the Madison area."

More guns, more crime. That's the verdict from an innovative study by University of Chicago economist Mark Duggan (National Bureau of Economic Research working paper number 7967, October). He found that state- and county-level sales of the magazine Guns & Ammo correlated strongly with gun-ownership data where that data existed. He then used the magazine sales from the past 20 years to determine that across the country "a ten percent increase in gun ownership in the current year is associated with a 2.14 percent increase in the homicide rate in the following year." He also determined that gun ownership did not correlate with reduced rates of other crimes such as robberies, aggravated assaults, or rapes, as those opposed to gun control have argued. "From 1993 to 1998," Duggan concludes, "the number of gun homicides declined by 36% while the number of non-gun homicides declined by only 18%. During that same time period, national survey estimates suggest that the fraction of households with at least one gun fell from more than 42% to less than 35%.... This decline in gun ownership can explain approximately one-third of the differential decline in gun homicides during this time period, with the largest declines occurring in areas with the largest reductions in firearms ownership."

And you were wasting your time reading Plato and Kierkegaard. Among the workshop sessions offered at the November 19 Men's Day at Oakton Community College in suburban Des Plaines is this one, which, according to the brochure, lasts an hour and 15 minutes: "The Healing Power of the Native Flute. Explore the healing forces of music through the native flute. Learn how to set boundaries and thereby establish your identity. The workshop answers the question, 'Who am I?'"

Chicago, where politics still ain't beanbag. Karen Hawkins writes in Windy City Times (October 18) that north-side state representative Larry McKeon "fended off a physical attack from a constituent who, he said, 'tried to remove my head' with a two-by-two. The man was subsequently arrested, and it was discovered that there was a felony warrant outstanding against him for threatening to kill the mayor. 'That's the life of an elected official,' he said."

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