“The goal of welfare reform is not to cut off benefits to a small group of welfare recipients,” writes Katherine Sciacchitano in In These Times (February 3), “but to reshape the whole market for unskilled labor. Any hopes that the law can be patched or ‘fixed’ are illusory. The reform’s basic mechanism is simple: Create a captive labor force that must work or lose benefits….Like similar measures from the 19th century, the law will channel welfare recipients into low-wage jobs, where they will drive down wages even further.” She quotes John Milkint, a Milwaukee temp-agency executive: “People won’t work [for minimum wage] because their benefits are too high. Benefits are too high because they are pegged to union wages that prevent us from competing internationally. They both must fall.”

Things pacifists don’t want to know. Veronica Anderson, writing in Catalyst (February) about Manley High School’s freshman academy: “In September 1995, Manley freshmen racked up 18 arrests for mob action. At about the same time, a school policy kicked in that requires all 9th-graders to register for ROTC, a program that teaches self-control and promotes student comradery. Since then, freshman student arrests have fallen off dramatically. This September, there were only two.”

“Consider a period of fasting from your TV this Lent,” suggests Cathy O’Connell-Cahill in the Chicago-based newsletter “Bringing Religion Home” (February). “The cautious might try a one-day fast (Good Friday, perhaps); the more adventurous could attempt TV-free Holy Week or even a 40-day fast.” Gosh, I didn’t realize I could get spiritual credit for abstaining from things that make me nauseous.

“Tribune Media Services, the syndication unit of the Chicago-based Tribune Company, is seeking freelance writers for a syndicated World Wide Web site on state lotteries,” according to a notice posted in the on-line “NBNews Daily Electronic Journal” (January 28). “We’re particularly looking for folks with backgrounds in financial writing and/or who have a good grasp of mathematics.” Next posting: PhD astronomer wanted to do horoscopes.

Does Chicago need another airport? The Metropolitan Planning Council (which has taken no position on the issue) explains that it depends on whether the city objects to losing some passengers who use O’Hare simply to transfer from one flight to another. If American and United divert such connecting passengers to less busy hubs, leaving O’Hare to passengers who are actually coming here, then Chicago needs no new airport. “All of the consultants who have done recent studies for the Chicago area agree that, with this shift, there is sufficient capacity at existing airports to accommodate growing O/D [origin-destination] travel through 2020,” states an article on the issue in the MPC’s “Aviation Fact Sheet #5” (October). Would this hurt the city? Maybe not, since the average connecting passenger spends only about $7 here, while each O/D passenger feeds hundreds of dollars into the local economy.

Lest we forget. Leading cause of death for Illinoisans age 25 to 44: unintentional injuries (1,253 in 1995). Second leading cause: HIV infection (1,072).

One more incentive for urban sprawl. U. of I. economist Shane Greenstein headed a study that found that access to computer networks in rural counties grew between 1986 and 1992. “The argument that telecommunications has been concentrating in urban areas cannot be sustained by our data. Access to digital information has, in fact, become more widely dispersed,” as measured by miles of fiber-optic cables and processing capacity and number of computer users.

Radioactive decay. Commonwealth Edison has now been fined a cumulative total of more than $6.3 million for mismanaging its nuclear reactors, reports the Evanston-based Nuclear Energy Information Service. (Sounds like a lot, until you learn that Edison’s parent, Unicom, earned $666 million in profits in 1996.) NEIS’s Dave Kraft worries that the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission isn’t taking Edison’s problems seriously enough when it suggests that Edison might consider “perhaps shutting yourselves down.” Says Kraft, “Who is regulating whom?…Do we allow repeated drunk drivers themselves to decide how drunk is enough for them to get off the road?”

Minority asthmatics in Chicago don’t get very good care, according to a study published in the Journal of Medical Systems (October) conducted by Cook County Hospital’s Michael McDermott and eight colleagues at County and UIC. Compared to federal guidelines, “the process of care for African-Americans and Latinos was substantially deficient and varied between the ethnic groups. For example, a written crisis management plan is a standard of care in the guidelines, because a patient may become confused and unable to remember oral instructions in a crisis. The majority of African-Americans and Latinos were not provided the written crisis management plans.”

Department of Social Justice and Envy Studies. Reynolds Farley in The New American Reality: Who We Are, How We Got Here, Where We Are Going: “Those in the bottom quintile [fifth] of the income distribution might rejoice in the fact that their average purchasing power went up 9 percent during the prosperous 1980s. However, the purchasing power of those in the top quintile went up much faster–24 percent–so the poor might feel they fell deeper into the well since they dropped quite a bit further behind those at the top.”