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"The estate tax is the only tax in Illinois paid by the wealthy but not by low- and moderate-income working families," according to an April 23 press release from the Chicago-based Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. "Only the wealthiest 2% of Illinois estates, those with an average value of more than $2 million, paid any state or Federal estate taxes in 1999." CTBA's conclusion: even if the feds phase out this so-called "death tax," Illinois should keep it.

Middle in all things. "In the Midwest, educational attainment is concentrated more in the middle ranges," according to the Chicago Fed Letter (May), "with both fewer high school dropouts and fewer college graduates than in the nation."

South vs. north. Mystery writer and University of Chicago alum Sara Paretsky, on her semester as a visiting professor there (University of Chicago Chronicle, April 17): "The students are a very widely and deeply reading group of young people. How seriously they read for their own interest really impressed me. Northwestern, the other place I taught, the students there were prepared in terms of basic writing skills but didn't read the way the kids here did. Of course a lot of the kids there came out of the journalism school, so that may account for it, but they just weren't readers the way these kids were."

Twice as safe. The Government Accounting Office ("Highway Safety: Research Continues on a Variety of Factors That Contribute to Motor Vehicle Crashes," March) notes that "from 1975 through 2001, fatalities [in automobile accidents] decreased from 44,525 to 42,116 [per year], while the rate of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled decreased from 3.35 to 1.51. However, the decline in fatalities has leveled off in recent years."

"Many failed and forgotten innovations continue to live in schools where they were introduced with great fanfare and subsequently forgotten," education researcher Diane Ravitch told the Innovations in Education conference April 15 (education "I have often heard it said that some schools are like archeological digs; one can dig down and find layer after layer of school reforms and obsolete programs. New ones get added, but old ones do not get subtracted."

A ratio guys would have killed for 60 years earlier. The census bureau, in an April 25 press release on Older Americans Month, reports that among people aged 85 and over, there are 42 men for every 100 women.

Land of the free. "The United States not only imprisons more people than any other nation [over 2 million as of last June 30], our incarceration rate of 702 inmates per 100,000 residents is also the highest in the world," reports Salim Muwakkil in In These Times (April 29). Drug offenses account for nearly 60 percent of this figure. Among black men aged 25 to 29, 13 percent are in prison, compared to less than 2 percent of white men. And when inmates get out, "their records pretty much disqualify them from anything but a job in the underground economy. In Illinois, for example, citizens convicted of felonies are barred from 57 occupations, including hospital workers, barbers, beauticians, nail technicians and many other jobs that don't require the high school diplomas most inmates never received."

Um, sir, please don't spit on the sidewalk. "The postwar suburban ideal caters to the illusion that unpleasantness in life can be avoided," writes Philip Bess of Thursday Architects in the Christian Century (April 19). "In contrast to suburbia, the traditional city is a complex institution designed to address and transform the unpleasant aspects of human life by means of community, culture and civil society."

The Middle East by the numbers. "Since the current upsurge in violence--the second intifada--began in 2000, 528 children have been killed," reports Martin Lumb in BBC News Online (May 2). "Of those, 436 were Palestinian and 92 Israeli, according to the United Nations children's agency, UNICEF."

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