Up the Amazon with Henry Hyde. The hype: Just before Workers Party leader Luis Inacio Lula da Silva was elected president of Brazil in a landslide, House International Relations Committee chairman Henry Hyde wrote to President Bush describing Lula as a “pro-Castro radical who for electoral purposes had posed as a moderate,” someone who might form “an axis of evil in the Americas” with Castro and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and who might achieve a Brazilian “30-kiloton nuclear bomb” and the missiles to deliver it (New York Review of Books, December 5). The facts: Kenneth Maxwell, director of Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says, “No one I met in Brazil [in October] thinks that Lula would see Cuba, let alone Venezuela, as a model. Brazil in any case is far too complex, diverse, and sophisticated a society to take such a direction…. And the charge about nuclear weapons is absurd on its face. Both Argentina and Brazil after their return to democracy closed down their nuclear programs and signed an international treaty making Latin America a nuclear-free zone.”

War fever–as long as someone else goes. Percentage of undergraduates surveyed by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics who favor going to war with Iraq: 69. Percentage who would serve if the draft were reinstated and they were drafted: 52 (Washington Post National Weekly Edition, December 2-8).

Forest and grassland birds need big areas to nest successfully, but birds of shrubs and grasslands–red-headed woodpeckers, yellow-breasted chats, blue-winged warblers, orchard orioles–can get along with patches as small as two acres, reports Peter Friederici in Chicago Wilderness (Winter). “Recent research by Jeffrey Brawn of the University of Illinois in the Palos Hills area and elsewhere has shown that a savanna patch of as little as two acres will attract some of these species and one of ten acres will support quite a few.” Moral: other things being equal, a ten-acre savanna may do more good for savanna species than a ten-acre woodland would do for woodland species.

High-stakes testing has helped Chicago students–up to a point, according to a study of test scores by Harvard’s Brian Jacob (Education Next, Winter). Once high-stakes testing was adopted in 1996, reading and math scores for third, sixth, and eighth graders taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills rose faster and higher than the city’s or other urban school districts’ past performance would have predicted. But Jacob’s detailed analysis suggests that there may be a long way to go: In math, “students improved 7.1 percentage points on items involving number concepts and 6.8 percentage points on items involving computation. By contrast, students gained only 4.3 percentage points on problem-solving items and roughly 5.5 percentage points on data interpretation and estimation questions. Overall, these results suggest that math teachers may have focused on specific content areas in response to the accountability policy…. In reading, students made comparable improvement (roughly 5 percentage points) across question type, suggesting that test preparation may have played a larger role in math than in reading.”

The typical midwestern city is hollowing out, say Brookings Institution researchers Alan Berube and Benjamin Forman in their October report on the nation’s 100 largest cities, “Living on the Edge.” Even within the city limits of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Kansas City, and Columbus, core neighborhoods lost population during the 1990s, while the city edges boomed. In Columbus, for instance, the inner core lost 9 percent of its population, the middle ring of neighborhoods gained 7 percent, while the outer ring within the city limits grew 40 percent. Exceptions to this hollowing-out pattern are Des Moines, Grand Rapids, Lincoln, Saint Paul–and Chicago, which had 1.9 percent population growth in the inner core, 4.5 percent in the middle ring, and 4.7 percent in the outer ring.