“Those ethnic and religious groups that relied the least on government progressed the fastest and farthest,” argues Joseph Bast of the Heartland Institute in the “Heartlander” (November). “Jews, Mormons, Chinese, and Japanese have been successful in the U.S. even

though they have faced fierce discrimination. Irish-, Italian-, and African-Americans, on the other hand, have been more closely involved with politics and have tended to do less well.”

Word of the week. From a November National Bureau of Economic Research paper on “Urban Decline and Durable Housing” by Edward Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko: “Urban growth rates are leptokurtotic–cities grow more quickly than they decline.”

“More like a sieve than a safety net” is how the Institute of Medicine characterizes America’s jumble of insurance programs in a recent report summarized by Brian Vastag in the Journal of the American Medical Association (November 14). “Transition periods–during divorce, job loss, job change, or the start and end of college–pose particular risk. Small businesses frequently fail to offer coverage. And over the past 20 years, private-sector employers have covered fewer and fewer new and part-time workers.”

The odds. According to University of Wisconsin emeritus professor Michael Rothschild, quoted in the “Progressive Review” (November 26), the odds of dying from heart disease are 1 in 400. Of dying in an auto accident, 1 in 7,000. Of dying in a terrorist-caused plane disaster if you flew once a month and terrorists hijacked one plane a week, 1 in 135,000.

The real congestion problem, according to John McCarron of the Metropolitan Planning Council, writing in the council’s newsletter the “Regional Connection” (Fall): “Surface freight transportation, the daily business of moving cargo by road and rail, has been slowing to a crawl across the Chicago region. The average freight train speed is down to 2.7 m.p.h.”

Let’s stop kidding ourselves about farming. “Were the market left free by Congress to do its worst, Illinois between the interstates would teem with satellite-guided tractors trundling back and forth across massive corporate grain factories half a county in size,” writes James Krohe Jr. in Illinois Issues (November). “This may not be the calamity everyone assumes. Thus shorn of its symbolic cap and overalls, Illinois grain farms and hog operations would be recognized for what they have been for a long time: factories. No longer vulnerable to charges that they are strangling family farming, lawmakers at every level might well feel free to regulate agriculture like any other industry. Pollution standards may be imposed, scenic buffers demanded, wildlife habitat insisted upon as a condition of farming permits, the way we demand new stoplights from subdivision developers.”

In a sentence. “In most academic areas, there is no one best program,” writes Linda Lenz in Catalyst (November), in an essay on the state of bilingual education in the Chicago Public Schools. “Quality of implementation matters more.”

Eugenics the second time around. “Is society’s interest in familial genetic decisions entirely bad?” asks philosopher Carol Tauer in Second Opinion (October), published by the Chicago-based Park Ridge Center. “In most areas of human life, a responsible ethical stance requires attention to the broader consequences of one’s choices. Why not here?…’Old’ eugenics is assumed to be ‘bad’ because it reflected social interests, while a ‘new’ eugenics is regarded as at least potentially good as long as its interests are private and individual. But in [Diane] Paul’s words: ‘Private acts do have social effects. And it at least requires argument to show why social consequences should not be a matter of social concern….It is not so clear that all good is on the side of the individual.'”

Could fighting sprawl make segregation worse? Cornell University planning professor Rolf Pendall studied population density in 320 U.S. metropolitan areas in 1982 and 1992 and found that it might. In a draft paper presented at a conference in July (on the Web at www.lincolninst.edu/main.html), he writes, “Far from alleviating segregation, increasing density exacerbates economic segregation among all households….High-density neighborhoods, especially in newly developing parts of metropolitan America, are often highly segregated by housing type and thus by class. Zoning laws, the building industry, lenders, and infrastructure policy all favor large uniform tracts of apartments or single family houses.”