Battle of the phones. This winter Hammacher Schlemmer is offering both a “Voice-Changing Telephone” that enables you to “change the vocal pitch of your voice…from deep male to medium female or high-pitched adolescent,” and a “Clarity-Enhancing Telephone” designed to amplify high frequencies and reduce low ones for those with partial hearing loss. But when one phone calls the other, who will win the battle between clarity and disguise?

Airport fodder. From the “1991 Cook County Bird Nesting Season Highlights” by Alan Anderson and Eric Walters, published in the Chicago Audubon Society’s Compass (November): “If it weren’t for the many interesting nesting species and habitats in the Lake Calumet area, the highlight report would be much shorter!”

Invasion of the suburban body snatchers. According to Jim Nowlan in Illinois Tax Facts (October), “As a result of population loss both downstate and in Chicago during the decade, the suburban collar (including suburban Cook County outside Chicago) now comprises almost 40 percent of the state’s population. Chicago, which had half the state’s population in 1929, now accounts for slightly less than a quarter of Illinois residents; downstate has 37 percent.”

Press releases we never finished: “McCormick Place Will Serve Nutcracker Sweets.”

Get rid of those plastic letters and numbered blocks! According to U. of I. psychologist Judy S. DeLoache, toddlers may actually have more trouble learning what symbols are if they constantly play with objects that look like symbols. When she showed two-and-a-half-year-olds a model of a room with a Snoopy behind a chair, then took them into an identical full-size room, the children couldn’t correlate the model with the real thing and find the real Snoopy. (Three-year-olds, having made a key cognitive leap, were able to do so.) But when she showed the two-and-a-half-year-olds a picture of the room–something that was more clearly a symbol and not an object–they were able to use it to find the real Snoopy. Concludes DeLoache, “Contrary to a common adult intuition, symbolic functioning may not be facilitated and may even be harmed by the use of concrete symbolic objects.”

Your soaps gotten awfully dull lately? This may be why: According to Connect (Fall), newsletter of the Center for Media and Values, the Institute for Mental Health Initiatives, which is based in Washington, D.C., has been trying “to persuade soap-opera writers and producers to work nonviolent and emotionally healthy ways of managing anger into plot lines.” Gee, maybe we can get them to throw in a sympathetic social worker between the bedroom scenes.

Ethical Monopoly. The Ethics Observer (November) describes the following situation that’s taken from the board game Citibank uses to teach ethical behavior to its employees: “Suppose your company paid your dues at a club where you frequently entertain clients. You determine that the club has a strict ‘no minorities’ policy. [Evidently the game assumes that you couldn’t determine this just by walking through the doors in your own skin.] You are offered the choice of either resigning immediately, working to change the policy, paying the dues yourself and remaining a member, or doing nothing. Citibank makes the message clear–resign immediately. Trying to change the club policy from within loses you 50 points.”

Yo, guys? According to a recent survey by the Thomas J. Lipton Company, 71 percent of Chicago nonprofits report that the majority of their volunteers are female. Only 10 percent of agencies responding–among them Juvenile Court Volunteers and the United Way of Suburban Chicago–reported a majority of males.

The most important single fact about school reform, as stated by Erikson Institute president James Garbarino in Erikson (Fall/Winter): “It is tempting to think there is some cheap, magic bullet, some curriculum innovation or piece of technology that will take the place of highly motivated and well-trained teachers. There isn’t.”

“No art should be subsidized by a nation that is heavily in debt,” writes Quentin Crisp in Hungry Mind Review (Summer), reprinted in Utne Reader (November/ December). “Art we do not need; artmaking should be made so difficult an occupation that only the most dedicated practitioners would persist. As things stand at the moment, every flat surface in New York is a stage, and every incompetent waitress is a closet actress. If censorship were more strict, artists in whatever medium might work more carefully and, with luck, produce less.”

Dept. of redundancy. From the NTF’s collection of trivia: “Since 1948 the National Turkey Federation has presented a live turkey and two dressed turkeys to the President of the United States.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Carl Kock.