The birth of V.I. Warshawski, as told by Sara Paretsky to Maggie Garb in In These Times (Oct. 24-30): “I was sitting in this meeting with my boss [at CNB Insurance Corporation], and you know how big corporations work–when you’re in middle management, you’re kind of the baloney in the sandwich. My boss was saying something asinine, and I was sitting there nodding and saying, ‘Great idea, go for it.’ And in my head, I was thinking, ‘What a stupid jackass.’ That’s when V.I. came to me. You know those thought bubbles that hang over cartoon characters. She’s the one who gets to say what’s in the bubble.” No wonder she’s always getting into fights.

Dept. of attitude adjustment. An independent lender in Schaumburg recently changed its name from the Mortgage Baron to the Money Store.

Still crazy after all these years. Ed Zotti promotes the nearly laughed-to-death idea of a new ornamental canal from the Chicago River at 19th Street (about 400 West) to Lake Michigan in Chicago Enterprise (November 1990): “There’s no question that at a time when Chicago has as many problems as it does, it’s a little crazy to talk about investing in a canal. But lots of things are crazy. Investing in swamp land by the shore of Lake Michigan 160 years ago was crazy. Why should we start being sensible now?”

Affordable? Yes. Gentrified? No (not yet). David K. Fremon in Illinois Issues (November 1990): “According to the Illinois Arts Council, one-tenth of the state’s visual artists live in zip codes 60640 and 60660 (Uptown and Edgewater).”

At last, a worthy hero for political consultants. University of Chicago humanities professor J. Paul Hunter retells the story of an exchange between guitarist Pete Townshend and a BBC interviewer (University of Chicago Record, October 25): Townshend said, “‘I don’t think it matters whether people in your own time follow you or not. It’s the long run, you know. I mean, look at Jesus. He didn’t have any followers in his own time, and look at him now!’ There was a pause. ‘Now wait a minute,’ said the interviewer. ‘What do you mean he had no followers in his own time. There was the Apostle Paul, Mary Magdalene, the twelve disciples, lots and lots of people.’ Another pause, and then Townshend replied disdainfully, ‘I’m not into facts, man.'”

“Sometimes blacks get the impression that we’ve been organized for years, since the civil rights movements,” says Emmett Mosley, director of the United Citizens Organization of East Chicago, Indiana. “But we truly haven’t been organized, we have been led by some dominant figure” (The Neighborhood Works, October-November 1990).

“I’ve been working with children for 18 years, and nothing has changed in terms of how few men there are basically because the financial situation hasn’t changed,” social worker Mark Podolner tells Erikson (Fall/Winter 1990), newsletter of the Erikson Institute on West Chicago. “And there’s even more financial pressure on people today. It’s harder to get quality people in child care, men or women.”

The War on Tiny Little Transactions. Presiding criminal judge Thomas Fitzgerald of the Circuit Court of Cook County, quoted in the Compiler (Fall 1990): “In 1989, Cook County trial courts had more drug cases than they had cases in 1982. I would suggest to you that a disproportionate number were for the delivery or possession of amounts of a gram or less–the size of the contents of a packet of Sweet ‘n Low.”

Fruits of reform. A typical portion of the nationwide report card on school reform presented in ETS Developments (Summer 1990): “The 17-year-old students assessed in 1988 read significantly better than their counterparts assessed in either 1971 or 1975, but only their basic skills improved; the proportion of 17-year-olds who display advanced reading skills has actually declined.”

Who–told–you–that–you–could–play–this–game? Hammacher Schlemmer now offers the ultimate masochistic nerd toy, a computer that both plays chess “with more skill than 95% of the world’s population” and makes “humorous remarks about your moves.”

Self-knowledge made easy. Among the stories offered by a popular free-lance magazine service: “What the Message on Your Telephone Answering Machine Reveals About You,” “What Your Bedroom Reveals About Your Love Life,” and–our favorite–“What the Christmas Carol You Like Best Reveals About You.”

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