December 1999 or bust! “To [Chicago School Reform Board president Gery] Chico’s mind, the test of the new board’s success will be if reading scores of the 109 schools in probation climb 5 percent to 10 percent within three years,” writes Grant Pick in Catalyst (December). “You can hold me accountable if we’re not making progress,” Chico says. “If we lose, the [decentralization-minded] reform people can come back in, and we’ll hold them accountable.”

The soggy side of ethnic traditions. From a recent press release announcing Christmas celebrations at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore: “Typical Swedish customs will be demonstrated in the restored historic farmhouse,” among them “apple cider and popcorn made the old fashioned way in a huge pot.”

“No city clerk has ever become mayor,” writes Russ Stewart in Illinois Politics (November), speculating on the post-Daley succession in 2003 or 2007, when the city will have nonpartisan mayoral elections. Current city clerk James Laski “makes no secret about his desire to be mayor. He fully understands that he will never beat Daley, but he is also keenly aware that Daley has not–and never will–groom a successor….Being a scrapper and a fighter–who is willing to take on Daley–is what boosted [city treasurer Miriam] Santos to the heights of popularity. Laski is following the same script. In a Daley-less mayoral race, with several Hispanics running, and one or more blacks, Laski should get enough votes to secure a place for himself in the runoff.”

Reduction in U.S. military spending since the end of the cold war: 10 percent. Reduction in foundation support for disarmament and peace activists: 90 percent (Joel Bleifuss, In These Times, December 9).

All those years in med school were worth it after all. Dr. Marco De La Cruz, director of behavioral medicine at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center, on holiday stress: “If you’re not having fun, that’s the first sign you’re getting stressed out.”

Things anticorporate activists don’t want to know. “Larger employers have been shown to employ African-Americans at higher rates than smaller firms,” reports the Woodstock Institute in its recent report “Breaking Down Barriers: Prospects and Policies for Linking Jobs and Residents in the Chicago Empowerment Zone”–explaining why active enforcement of antidiscrimination law is “critical” to the employment prospects of empowerment-zone residents. “Small firms, which constitute a larger base of jobs than in earlier decades, are more prone to discriminate.”

Very, very unique. “There are catalogs for chocolate and for embroidery, catalogs for horse lovers and for gardeners,” says U. of C. anthropologist Arjun Appadurai in the University of Chicago Chronicle (December 5). “Each catalog wants you to think they are selling unique gifts–but they are selling them to millions of people. But if they really succeeded, they would fail. If they only carried unique gifts, they couldn’t sell as many, and they’d go out of business.”

Sorry, we haven’t decided which is the tail and which is the dog yet. “We have struggled to keep up with the demands of our two Web sites, Digital Chicago and Mac/Chicago,” writes Jennifer Dees in the print version of Digital Chicago (November/December). “Because the Web is so compelling, it makes it hard to pay attention to working on the print version–we’ve been there and done that. There’s just this one small problem, which is that for us, anyway, it’s still the print magazine that pays the bills.”

“It is an open secret that the labor of undocumented Mexicans subsidizes the economy of the U.S. Southwest, as well as the service sectors of Chicago and New York City,” writes Carlos Heredia in NACLA Report on the Americas (November/December). Nor is any legislation likely to change that fact soon. “The relevant variable for migrants is the wage disparity between the two countries….As of October 1996, for example, the minimum wage was almost 12 times higher in the United States ($4.75 an hour) than in Mexico ($0.41 an hour).”

“Many obscure or moribund Christmas customs were revived in America in the 1960s as part of the new interest in ethnic consciousness,” according to a recent University of Illinois release. For instance, the festival of Santa Lucia, a day traditionally devoted to drunken revelry in western Sweden, was rarely celebrated in the U.S. until Lindsborg, Kansas, began using it to increase Christmas business in 1962. “Local girls, dressed in white robes and crowned with candle-lit evergreen wreaths, served cookies and coffee to holiday shoppers. With the addition of food and art sales, musicians and folk dances, the program attracted tourists and caught on in the Midwest, especially in Bishop Hill, Ill., the Andersonville section of Chicago, and St. Paul, Minn. ‘There was a charming irony, of course,’ [U. of I. history professor Elizabeth] Pleck said: ‘The desire to escape from the commercialism and homogeneity of the American shopping mall led tourists to an ersatz presentation intended to encourage Christmas shopping.'” And a heterogeneous new year to all.