Hey, Governor Jim, didja hear the one about the Czech politician? “I think a lot of Republicans look at me as an eccentric, an aberration–the king’s fool,” says west suburban Republican, Czech American, and new state treasurer Judy Baar Topinka to Jennifer Halperin in Illinois Issues (March). “What people forget is that the king’s fool used to have a major role in making policy. But he was never the one who lost his head afterward.”

Daddy, what did you do at work all day? Illinois State Geological Survey scientists aren’t sure whether farm pesticides leach into groundwater when they’re accidentally spilled in rural parking lots and loading areas. “So,” says geochemist William Roy in GeoNews (Winter), “we decided to build our own parking lot–complete with instruments, then spill atrazine on it and observe the results.” The experiment is set for this spring.

“There is a cultural dissonance between Newt the visionary futurist and Newt the conservative politician,” writes Garry Wills in the New York Review of Books (March 23). “This leads to bizarre oscillations between the radical and the reactionary. In Lesson Six of his television history course, he is describing beneficial changes brought about by technology. Discussing the introduction of the bicycle, he gives an idea of its impact by saying people feared it would destroy morals, carrying young people far from the supervising eye of chaperons. He cannot resist getting in a dig at the surgeon general then in office: ‘If Joycelyn Elders had been around, she would have been racing beside the bicycles handing out condoms.’ The students laughed–Elders was a butt of repeated conservative attack at the time–but in a puzzled, hesitating way. As well they might….Gingrich and the students are politically programmed to mock her for introducing changes like condoms in the schools. According to the Tofflers (Gingrich’s visionary-futurist mentors), who praise the freedom that comes not only from contraception and abortion but from genetically engineered child-planning, she should be a heroine. But Newt had dragged her in as the villain-of-the-moment where that reference made absolutely no sense at all.”

Can’t get enough at twice the price. According to a suburban real estate firm’s survey of North Michigan Avenue, the average rent for retail space on the Magnificent Mile has risen from $33.02 per square foot in 1993 to $64.19 now–while total retail space there has increased by almost 100,000 square feet, and the vacancy rate has dropped to just 2.8 percent (compared to 12.5 percent in the State-Wabash corridor).

“There is a division in the African American working class that we didn’t have before,” author and activist Nelson Peery (Black Fire) tells Lew Rosenbaum in the People’s Tribune (February 13). “The black community–to the extent you can use this term–is no longer what it was in the 1930s. The relatively well-to-do black workers often do not live in the same areas as the poverty-stricken. In the 1930s, the entire black community suffered the same level of political oppression. That’s not true today.”

Do you think the University of Chicago is elitist, arrogant, or just plain reactionary? Don’t bother to complain. W. F. Cooling, an adviser to Governor John P. Altgeld, said it all for you in 1899 (as quoted in the new book Experts and Politicians): “It was to be expected that the big Standard Oil university at Chicago, founded by Rockefeller, would soon begin to bear fruit after its kind….This so-called university is but an outpost of plutocracy, scientific humbuggery and general total depravity. Its main business is to send forth shafts of impenetrable darkness and to obscure and to blot out the few Jeffersonian stars which still twinkle, during the eclipse of democracy, in our intellectual firmament.”

“Chess has done marvels for my special ed kids,” says James Malles, principal of Medill intermediate school on the near west side, in Catalyst (March). “Some of my best players are special ed children or children who have been identified as [having] behavioral problems. It gives them a great ‘out.’ Instead of trying to beat other kids up physically, they try to beat them intellectually.”

Sounds like a plan to me. Managing director Nicholas de Wolff of the Greenview Arts Center, writing in its newsletter Viewpoint (March), tells about a speaker who “made a novel analogy at one point: to those who called for the complete dissolution of the [National Endowment for the Arts]–in response to a few admittedly arguable funding choices–he asked whether they were taking these blots on an otherwise rich landscape as true representations of the complete picture. When the response was affirmative, he strongly suggested that, as soon as they had completed their annihilation of the N.E.A., they turn their attention to the obliteration of the U.S. Navy, in the ‘wake’ of the undoubtedly negative Tailhook incident.”

Why am I not reassured? The Chechnya attack has not quelled U. of I. Soviet law specialist Peter Maggs’s optimism that the USSR’s successor, the Commonwealth of Independent States, can develop into a market-oriented, law-abiding society. He is quoted in a recent university newsletter: “We should remember that in the 19th century, we were developing a legal and economic system while the cavalry was out massacring Indians.”

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