“Gays and lesbians have nothing in common,” writes Paul Varnell in the Chicago Free Press (August 21). “Gay men like men. Lesbians like women. What could be more different? That whole notion that we share a common ‘homosexual orientation’ is just semantic fraud. You might as well say that atheists and Christians are just alike because they both have opinions about the existence of God. Or: If you buy lots of clothes and I buy lots of books, do we have a ‘purchasing orientation’ in common?” Maybe you do if millions of people hate you for it.

Primitive creeds. Market liberalism equals Marxism, argues John Gray in Harper’s (December), quoted by Martin Marty in “Context” (February 15): “Both are essentially secular religions, in which the eschatological hopes and fantasies of Christianity are given an Enlightenment twist. In both, history is understood as the progress of the species, powered by growing knowledge and wealth, and culminating in a universal civilization. Human beings are viewed primarily in economic terms, as producers or consumers, with–at bottom–the same values and needs. Religion of the old-fashioned sort is seen as peripheral, destined soon to disappear or to shrink into the private sphere, where it can no longer convulse politics or inflame war…. History’s crimes and tragedies are not thought to have their roots in human nature: They are errors, mistakes that can be corrected by more education, better political institutions, higher living standards. Marxists and market liberals may differ on what is the best economic system, but, for both, vested interests and human irrationality alone stand between humankind and a radiant future. In holding to this primitive Enlightenment creed, they are at one.”

New this fall–the double-wide desk. “Between 1986 and 1998, overweight increased significantly and steadily among African American, Hispanic, and white children,” according to Richard Strauss and Harold Pollack, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (December 12). Over one in five African-American and Hispanic children were overweight in 1998, and about one in eight white children. On average the overweight children also were heavier than in the past, and “overweight increased fastest among minorities and southerners.”

Let’s see–is “529” the savings plan, or the Nigerian scam? The popular 529 college-savings plans, run by the states, were intended to offer a tax-free vehicle for parents to save for their kids’ educations. Unfortunately, writes University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee in Slate (August 23), they are “seriously compromised by excessive ‘management’ fees that states have added to these plans” and by the monopolistic management of them. The result is a needless federal subsidy to the states and to financial-service companies as well as to higher education. “Of the 45 states that have established plans, 27 of them charge expenses of more than 1 percent per year…. These state fees make it easy to understand why every state either has a 529 plan or is developing one. The maintenance fees are a regular cash stream for them. The financial companies, too, are clamoring for the exclusive 529 franchises because they provide such huge fees. In Illinois, for example, where the exclusive provider is Salomon Smith Barney, the state treasurer has appeared in a series of statewide ads promoting the 529–paid for by Salomon Smith Barney.”

Progress is where you find it. Conscious Choice (August) quotes Natural Needs general manager Sonya Kugler on the June visit of the Rolling Thunder “democracy tour” to Chicago: “The highlight of my day was seeing Tom Hayden and one of Chicago’s finest seated at side-by-side tables in our dining area eating veggie dogs!”