History just isn’t what it used to be. The Neighborhood Works (January/February) refers to Harold Washington as “the city’s first and only black mayor,” which will come as big news to Eugene Sawyer. And on January 15, New City reported that “President Gerald Ford pardoned [“Tokyo Rose” Iva] Toguri in his last official act in office on July 19, 1977,” an amazing feat considering that July 19 would have been six months into the presidency of his successor, Jimmy Carter.

Why doesn’t a rising economic tide lift all boats the way it did in the 1960s? asks Northwestern economist Rebecca Blank in her chapter of the new book Poverty and Inequality. It’s not that public assistance has been cut (it never was enough to get people out of poverty anyway). And it’s not that more single mothers are poor (they respond as much as anyone to better opportunities). Economic growth no longer helps people out of poverty because “Employer demand for less-skilled labor has been falling over the last fifteen years, and this is driving down wages among this group.” In practice this means that merely putting people to work won’t necessarily get them above the poverty line. It’s going to take either a guaranteed income or targeted-help programs.

Early in this century “governments were consistently the enemy of gay people,” writes Paul Varnell in Windy City Times (January 15), summarizing one aspect of the book Gay New York 1890-1940, “but business entrepreneurs were often much friendlier. This should not be surprising. Governments tend to impose the opinions and prejudices of the majority. By contrast, the free market is where people have an incentive to suspend their prejudices and simply try to make money from every available source.”

“It is possible to take a hard-line stance on the institution of gangs without turning my back on kids who are gang members,” writes Chicago teacher Greg Michie in Rethinking Schools magazine (Winter). “Acknowledging them and giving them opportunities to thoughtfully reflect on their experiences in the classroom may help them become equipped to make better choices. It can enable them to see alternative realities, to envision other futures for themselves. It can present possibilities for growth, for change–a process that Father Bruce Wellems, a neighborhood priest who has worked extensively with the Latin Jesters, understands well. ‘Everybody wants a rule book on how to relate to gangbangers,’ Wellems says. ‘But nobody wants to relate to them.'”

“Are we at the beginning of a new Dark Age?” asks Frank Zindler in American Atheist (Winter) as he meditates gloomily on the millennium. “Fifteen hundred years ago, Christianity snuffed out the lamps of learning in the Western European world, and darkness, ignorance, and superstition reigned for nearly a thousand years. Despite the miracle of the period known as the Enlightenment–an Age of Reason that gave rise not only to modern science as we know it, but also to America’s Founding Fathers and their grand experiment in popular, secular government–despite the fact of the Enlightenment, one might argue that the Dark Ages never ended completely. The light of reason and learning illuminated much of the world. But there have always remained large regions of shadow, regions where light has never penetrated fully….As we approach the year 2000, we must look around us to inquire whether or not the shadows are getting longer or shorter; whether the light will last, or whether the saprophytic fungi of fanatical religion shall grow where once reason’s bright flowers flourished.”

Soldiers aren’t interchangeable, insists Northwestern sociologist Charles Moskos in the Washington Post National Weekly (January 12). “The situations of blacks and women in the military are not comparable. Let us start with the most obvious. Between the races, physiological differences are not an issue, but between the sexes they are. All the talk of how modern warfare is high-tech and push-button is off the mark. Ground combat in any setting involves the most physically demanding endurance imaginable. Even in the Persian Gulf War, where the media highlighted the efficacy of stand-off weapons, large numbers of men were involved in physically grueling armored assaults….Efforts to hold women to the same physical standards as men are deluded. Rather than trying to raise female standards to abnormal levels, or lower standards for men, much better to admit the differences and be done with it. It is worth noting that surveys show that women soldiers are quite realistic on this score: 84 percent do not favor requiring the same physical standards for men and women.”