We’re kicking off Giving Tuesday early this year! Your donation today will be matched up to $10K, doubling your impact! If you donate $50 today, the Reader will receive $100.

The Reader is now a community-funded nonprofit newsroom. Can we count on your support to help keep us publishing?

“A great chance to educate the public has been botched in Chicago,” fumes Jed Perl in the New Republic (July 26), panning the video-intensive Art Institute exhibit “Seurat and the Making of La Grande Jatte.” He blames marketing. “The video screens, the digitalized rehashings of the painting, the photo murals, the jazzed-up gallery architecture, and the inclusion of what are believed to be easy-looking interludes of Renoir and Monet: all this is meant to make visitors feel at home. You go to the museum and discover that you could just as well have booted up your Mac.”

Salvation inflation. That’s how sociologist Alan Wolfe describes some of today’s allegedly conservative churches’ spirituality in an interview published in Books and Culture (March/April) and reprinted in Martin Marty’s “Context” (June): “I define grade inflation by the fact that over the 30 years I’ve been teaching, every year I assign less and less, and every year the grades get higher and higher…. To some degree we’ve seen that with salvation as well. People confess fewer and fewer sins, and are rewarded with more and more.”

Chicago Wilderness’s “Mighty Acorns” youth education program brings more than 8,000 children to natural areas three times a year for three consecutive years. The children are in fourth through sixth grade, and most of them come from schools in poverty-stricken areas. As Colleen Kulesza of the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation explains it in CW Journal (July), the cooperative program continues despite a drop in the annual budget, from $75,000 in 1998 to $20,000 today. “Money to bus school children to natural areas has become the biggest need overall,” she writes. “Each agency has found grants or sponsors and some have had to start charging for the program.”

“SBC has won the latest battle in the great phone wars,” acknowledges Martin Cohen of the Citizens Utility Board (“Cub Voice,” Summer). “But after extracting a 30 percent increase from the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) in ‘wholesale’ rates–the amount that other phone companies pay to use SBC’s network–the company is still complaining. Though the hike was double the amount recommended by the commission’s own judges, it was less than half of what the company asked for.” He warns that if the company succeeds in getting itself deregulated when the Illinois Telecommunications Act comes up for review next spring, “the worst-case scenario for consumers is an unregulated SBC that can raise prices at will with little competition to keep them in check.”

Protecting the environment with sprawl? Writing in Environment (May), Harvard’s Richard T.T. Foreman notes that “the percent of hard-surface cover (due to roads, sidewalks, parking areas, driveways, and roofs) is a useful indicator of many environmental conditions in a built area. Planners consider overall stream quality and fish populations to be ‘good’ with 0-10 percent hard cover, ‘impacted’ with 10-30 percent, and ‘degraded’ with more than 30 percent.” As a rule, coverage above 30 percent occurs whenever residential house lots are smaller than a third of an acre.

By the numbers. Justina Wang writes in the June Chicago Reporter that the percentage of blacks and Latinos in Chicago’s population is 46. The percentage of these students at the city’s 10 largest universities is 23. The percentage of them at the city’s medical schools is 10.

The hype: Big drug companies need to make a lot of money to pay for the development of innovative drugs. The facts: From Dr. Marcia Angell of Harvard Medical School in the New York Review of Books (July 15): “Of the seventy-eight drugs approved by the FDA in 2002, only seventeen contained new active ingredients, and only seven of these were classified by the FDA as improvements over older drugs. The other seventy-one drugs approved that year were variations of old drugs or deemed no better than drugs already on the market. In other words, they were me-too drugs. Seven of seventy-eight is not much of a yield. Furthermore, of those seven, not one came from a major US drug company.”