“Chicago has become the de facto center of the slavery reparations movement,” writes Salim Muwakkil in In These Times (February 2), citing the work of Alderman Dorothy Tillman and Conrad Worrill and two lawsuits on the subject. This once untouchable issue, he goes on, “has arrived. And that’s a good thing. Our slavery-tainted past prevents us from coming to grips with our racially divided present. How else can we explain our nation’s wide racial disparities without factoring in the legacy of slavery?”

Conservative evangelical Christians obsess about maintaining at least the appearance of traditional gender norms in which straight men are in charge, writes Margaret Bendroth of Calvin College in Michigan (“Evangelical Studies Bulletin,” Summer 2003, reprinted in Martin Marty’s “Context,” February). But in the process they lose “the chance to be separate from the world in ways that really matter. Conceivably, evangelicals could decide to be embattled by putting their cars up on blocks and demanding better public transportation, they could boycott Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, or throw their television sets out the window. They could decide that racism was a sin that demanded immediate repentance and reconciliation. The list of possibilities is well-nigh endless.”

Labor pains. In the nine years since John Sweeney became AFL-CIO president and said organizing would be his top priority, the unionized portion of the American workforce has dropped from 14.9 percent to 12.9 percent, reports Harry Kelber in the Labor Educator (January 28). He argues that the AFL-CIO is irrelevant to nonunion workers and an increasingly closed club even to its own members. “Its leaders…have the power and resources to help the jobless to organize themselves for public works jobs and extended unemployment insurance benefits. They haven’t….More than 40 million people are without health insurance, while health care costs are rising at an astronomical rate. Yet the AFL-CIO won’t fight for universal health care and hasn’t even endorsed the long-overdue idea….In 1997, Sweeney and the Executive Council increased their term of office from two years to four years. In 2001, they decreed that AFL-CIO conventions would be held every four years instead of every two….The AFL-CIO’s Web site does not have a bulletin board or forum where members can exchange opinions and experiences.”

“About 18,000 Chicagoans are currently so far behind in payments that they’ve lost their gas service,” writes Angela Caputo in the Chicago Reporter (January). “This winter, $40 million is available to help struggling Chicago families pay down mounting bills, about the same as last year. But federal funding specifically for emergency reconnections has been slashed, leaving $5 million for Chicago–far short of what is needed, local program administrators say. As a result, they have already had to shift some of the $40 million, which has helped families keep their balances low enough to avoid cutoffs.”

Feng shui versus the environment. From E Magazine (January/February): “A popular feng shui belief is that planting bamboo is a sure-fire way to ‘cure’ a negative flow of energy. In many ecosystems, however, non-native bamboo is incredibly invasive and difficult to eradicate. Indiscriminate siting of a plant that can travel 25 feet in three years, throwing out new shoots as it goes, has proven so disastrous that some local governments (such as Smyrna, Delaware) have outlawed planting it.”

Boasts you won’t hear from just any state’s university press. Press release for More Amazing Tales From Indiana, published recently by Indiana University Press: “Three Hoosiers…played Tarzan in the movies, a record no state is ever likely to surpass. Nobody knows why Indiana produced so many Tarzans.”