Clout rules the schools. Dan Weissmann of Catalyst (June) ranked Chicago’s 50 wards, first according to how badly their schools need repairs (according to an independent survey in 1995) and then according to how much the School Reform Board is actually spending per square foot of school space. “Of the five wards with the greatest need per square foot, only one–the 18th Ward–also was a leader in repair spending. The other four neediest wards ranked no higher than 19th place in spending.”

Hello, young lawyers, whoever you are. Bart Schorsch’s advice to law-firm clerks, from the Chicago-based Student Lawyer (May): “Just because you may have a few years of law school under your belt, you don’t know everything about the law. Odds are, the secretaries (or secretary) at your firm probably knows more about how the law works on a day-to-day basis than you will learn in your tenure at the firm. Be nice to them. They will have a fantastic amount to teach you.”

“The food exemption [from the state sales tax] benefits Illinois households in all income categories, not just those with lower incomes,” according to a study by University of Illinois economists J. Fred Giertz and Therese McGuire, reported in “Fiscal Focus” (April). Households with incomes over $50,000 a year, for instance, save more than $300 million a year. “If the purpose is to benefit poor families, then the exemption is far more costly to the state treasury than if the benefit were more narrowly focused. Thus, the state provides a benefit worth $124.5 million to households below $25,000 in income through the sales tax exemption on food, at a cost to the state treasury of $700 million.”

“A clear factor that helps adolescents to stay out of trouble is living in more residentially stable communities,” according to Lori Kowaleski-Jones in “Working Papers” (Spring) published by Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research. “Residential stability decreases both adolescent risk-taking attitudes and aggressive behavior,” even if the neighborhood is poor.

Not the Second City anymore. Title of a recent lecture at Northbrook’s public library: “Chicago: Coin Machine Capitol of the World.”

“Reporters too often seek out people who fit preconceived ideas about welfare or narrowly defined themes and just plop them, like a cherry, atop 15 inches of policy and statistics,” writes the Tribune’s Louise Kiernan in “Children’s Beat” (Spring), newsletter of the Casey Journalism Center for Children and Families. “‘They’ll call and say “Get me a cycler” (someone who cycles on and off welfare),’ says Toby Herr, founder and director of Project Match, a welfare-to-work program that has been operating in Chicago since 1985. ‘They want people who fit a category, and no one exactly fits a category.'”

“Who came up with this design, a bunch of drunk smurfs?” grouches Michael Beaumier in Windy City Times (June 12). “The Rainbow flag is so damn colorful, so eager to please–excuse me, but where’s the sarcasm? Who left out the irony? It doesn’t say a thing about freedom or liberation; it seems to scream ‘I got dumped by my boyfriend but now I’m on Prozac, and I’m really, really happy!'” And that makes him worry about community participation in improving Lakeview. “Left to their own devices, the gay men who’ve made Boys Town the neighborhood it is today will only make things that much worse. I’m talking yellow brick roads, building facades the color of Pepto-Bismol, and mandatory skipping.”

Not to mention the winters. “At the University of Chicago ideas are taken seriously,” says economist Gary Becker in a convocation address reprinted in the University of Chicago Record (May 29), “and open discussion of ideas is often blunt and fierce. Statements are not accepted simply because they are made by a distinguished faculty member who has won many prizes….As a result, the University of Chicago is not an attractive environment for faculty who want to retire intellectually–the younger faculty and the students are unmerciful, and that is the way it should be.”

Happy Fourth of July. “I think of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died because of failed government expertise in political science,” writes Vietnam vet Joel Alfassa in StreetWise (June 1-15). “To my fellow vets who have been ordered to kill in the name of our country by our commander-in-chief, I want you to know that if you can’t find the time to cry, I will do it for you, out loud and for a long time. Our government stripped us of our innocence and taught us how to kill someone, but there was no de-programming going on when you came home.”