If you’ve tried and failed to wrap your mind around the “repeal” of the federal estate tax, here’s one reason it’s so complicated. Chicago attorney Susan Bart writes in the January issue of the Illinois Bar Journal, “Congress wanted to take credit for ‘repealing’ the ‘death tax,’ but did not want to make the spending cuts to replace the decreased revenues that would result. Thus we ended up with absurd legislation that, if not amended, will repeal the estate tax only for 2010.”

Want to make it shorter? According to its spring catalog, the University of Wisconsin Press is publishing a 328-page book entitled The Gendering of Men, 1600-1750: The English Phallus, in which author Thomas King “proposes that the male body is a performative production marking men’s resistance to their subjection within patriarchy and sovereignty.”

Basic comparisons. Of the ten urban school districts included in a 2003 federal study of children’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, “Boston is the best point of comparison for Chicago,” writes Linda Lenz in Catalyst Chicago (February). And “compared with Boston, Chicago is doing very poorly by its black students. For example: The percentage of black 4th-graders who scored ‘below basic,’ the lowest achievement level, in math was 61 percent in Chicago but only 45 percent in Boston….In reading, the percentage of black 4th-graders who scored below basic was 67 percent in Chicago and 57 percent in Boston.”

Martin, we hardly know ye. In his review of David Chappell’s book A Stone of Hope in the November Atlantic (quoted in “Context,” February), Benjamin Schwartz writes, “Martin Luther King’s often fundamentalist religious views and his excoriation of such elements of secular culture as rock and roll were positions foreign to his liberal sometime allies.”

One region, one card. State representative Julie Hamos of Evanston has introduced legislation that would order the Regional Transportation Authority to get regional, by moving toward a single “smart card” that “would be usable for all 21 different fare structures to create seamless travel on buses, rapid transit, commuter rail and paratransit services throughout the region.” In a January 21 release Hamos noted that more than 100 agencies in Hong Kong have been linked with one card.

The ongoing horror of patriarchy. According to a Census Bureau press release for Women’s History Month, in 2002, 32 percent of women aged 25 to 29 had completed college, while only 27 percent of men that age had done so. “Women have constituted the majority of college students since 1979.”

“It remains to be seen in the coming election whether Democrats have the imagination or courage to run against Bush on the issue of terrorism from the right, as John Kennedy did against Richard Nixon in 1960 on the issue of the Cold War,” writes Steve Erickson in the LA Weekly (February 13-19). “They would need to mount a major argument that secularism…is better suited to defeat radical theologism, given how the president’s theocratic psyche . . . alienate[s] those in and out of the Islamic world who might otherwise be on our side. To credibly make such an argument, the Democratic Party has to admit what the reflexively pacifist ideology of its own base ignores: that terrorism is not common revolutionary warfare simply seen from another perspective, that what distinguishes terrorism from other warfare is the targeting of people not in spite of their innocence but because of it, and that in practical terms the real problem with the Iraq war is that it hasn’t enhanced American security but diminished it,” by taking troops and resources away from the fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.