Why do we always get historic preservation when we don’t want it? Looking for information about current “temporary” Chicago Public School structures, Jim O’Rourke found eight “Willis Wagons” lined up on the playground of the Yates School. He writes in Substance (January), “Since making this discovery and discussing it with others, Substance has learned that there are in fact other ‘Willis Wagons’ scattered across the city. Willis Wagons, which were named by Civil Rights activists in the 1960’s after Supt. Ben Willis, were used back then to segregate and overcrowd Black schools. A ‘temporary’ solution from the 1960’s is still in use.”

If Lake Michigan won’t support perch anymore, can I grow them in a barrel? According to the Helm (Fall/Winter), the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant program is funding researchers who hope to find out whether yellow perch can be raised by aquaculturists.

Let’s see–in the cabinet we’ve got one woman, one black, one Daley … Northwestern’s Adolph Reed on identity politics (Progressive, February): “The simplistic belief that any credible member of a group can automatically represent that group’s interests feeds a tendency to reduce political objectives to a plea for group representation on decision-making bodies….That’s the Clinton trick: to accept pleas for group representation or ‘access’ while repudiating demands for an issue-based program.”

One question from the California teacher competency test that was challenged in federal court for being too hard: “Of the following fractions, which is closest in value to 0.35?” The multiple-choice answers, according to the Palatine-based School Reform News (February): A. Three fifths B. One half C. One fifth D. One fourth E. One third.”

Garry Wills wrote a book about who? John Wayne, that’s who. “It is a very narrow definition of politics that would deny John Wayne political importance,” he explains. “The proof of that is Richard Nixon’s appeal to Wayne’s movie Chisum when he wanted to explain his own views on law and order. Nixon had policies, but beneath those positions were the values Wayne exemplified. All those values were created on the screen.”

What management consultants told the CTA, as reported in the Fast Mail (January): It “shouldn’t be doing business with 11,000 different vendors during a year’s time (304 for office supplies alone!). According to Mercer [Management Consulting], CTA generates twice as many single-item purchase orders as would a well-run private company. CTA often pays far too much for supplies because it insists on long-term, yet low-volume contracts.” But when it reorders an item its purchasing system has no way of recalling the previous low bidder. Now for the bad news: “Even when CTA tries to be innovative, it can’t win. For example, a trial program has 15-20 inmates of Cook County Jail cleaning buses at turnaround points during their runs. Normally, buses are cleaned only after the day’s run, and the new program seems like a step in the right direction toward increasing rider satisfaction. Surprise!–the Amalgamated Transit Union is against it, claiming the convicts will take jobs away from union members (a claim CTA denies), and plans to file an unfair labor practice charge with federal officials.”

White evangelicals’ attempts at racial reconciliation have a way to go yet, writes Andres Tapia in the suburban-based Christianity Today (February 3). “For example, a large, white church in Chicago was surprised when their conciliatory efforts backfired. The church had bought large blocks of tickets to give to black and Latino churches so their members could attend the summer 1996 PK [Promise Keepers] rally at Soldier Field. At a prerally meeting, several black pastors angrily denounced the move as patronizing. ‘We can buy our own tickets!’ one said.” Concludes Tapia, “If whites do learn from minority Christians, this will enrich, embolden, and strengthen the whole church. The shift from whites saying, ‘What can I do for you?’ to ‘I need you’ would signal that perhaps words and deeds are starting to come together.”

“Chicago has always been full of clever people, but it has never been an especially creative place,” writes James Krohe Jr. in Illinois Issues (February). “The publishing market is bent toward professional journals and textbook publishing. Since its heyday in the 1920s, Chicago’s contribution to national journalism was printing it. As for advertising, the town is dominated by big dull ad agencies that work for big dull companies that want safe dull ads; if you want a hot shop, you have to go to Portland or (believe it) Minneapolis. And the fine arts?

…Chicago today is a place where world-class art is consumed, not where it is created. Its theater is adolescent, its dance is borrowed, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is as much a museum as the Art Institute. Only the Lyric Opera seems intent on creating art rather than recreating it.”