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The City File 

By Harold Henderson

The uses of illiteracy. Steve Totura, farm foreman of UIC's Pharmacognosy Field Station in Downers Grove, in UIC News (April 3): "The facility used to be called the Drug and Horticultural Experiment Station, but we took the word 'drug' out because we got robbed so many times. Nobody knows what pharmacognosy means."

"When I brought my first novel to a publisher, I was told to make the characters Jewish because there's no Italian-American market," says Columbia College professor Fred Gardaphe, author of Italian Signs, American Streets. "I've since realized they do buy books, they just don't go to bookstores. They'd rather meet the author before they see his work. They don't purchase books, they acquire people."

Chicago, child of politics. "These new western towns depended on government assistance for their very survival--no place more so than Chicago," writes Donald Miller in City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America. "The federal government had removed the Indians from the area and given land to the state of Illinois to dig a canal. For a time the sale of government lots along the canal was the only business in town, while Chicago's hopes for developing active commerce with the East were based on continuing harbor improvements undertaken and paid for by Washington....In 1830 state canal commissioners laid out two towns at the expected termini of the canal, Ottawa and Chicago....In this way, modern Chicago was born, the creation not of the forces of the private market, as some historians claim, but of state planners."

Whether it's the 70s or the 90s, there's just no such thing as legitimate authority. From Leora Tanenbaum's review of Laura Kaplan's The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service in In These Times (April 15): "Although the group was supposedly run as a collective, Kaplan admits that a core group of several women who learned the abortion procedure held most of the power and made most of the decisions. This intrusion of hierarchy caused endless tension."

"To a large extent, [Swift Elementary School first-grade teacher Kara] Staggs is flying blind with her new [transferred-in] charges because none of their school records have arrived," writes Debra Williams in Catalyst (April); "records typically trail a child by several months, she explains. With records, she notes, a new teacher might learn 'if the child has special needs or something important going on that would be helpful for a teacher to know.' Even so, Staggs reports that records often come up wanting because principals have removed material that they think might bias the new teacher."

Hey, Com Ed, my toaster isn't toasting. Did you send me day-old electricity? "In a competitive retail market, there have to be mechanisms to ensure that small-use and low-income customers are served at affordable rates," Citizens Utility Board executive director Martin Cohen tells The Neighborhood Works (May/June). "In a worst-case scenario, low-income neighborhoods may be underserved the way they sometimes are by grocery stores in those areas. They may get the electricity equivalent of day-old meat."

OK, kid, now this is what work will be like when you grow up. From Hammacher Schlemmer's catalog (Spring): "Toddler's treadmill walker...designed to keep infants out of harm's way by letting them walk in one place on a treadmill surface....minimizes the need for constant adult supervision since it remains stationary during use."

Would poor families' children really be better off in orphanages once welfare cuts make their parents unable to care for them? Not according to a review of "a century of pediatric and child psychiatry research" just published in the suburban-based journal Pediatrics (April). "Scientific experience consistently shows that, in the short term, orphanage placement puts young children at increased risk of serious infectious illness and delayed language development. In the long term, institutionalization in early childhood increases the likelihood that impoverished children will grow into psychiatrically impaired and economically unproductive adults." Maybe those last three words will get the Newtsters' attention.

Who went to school the longest? Percentage of neighborhood residents over 25 with four or more years of college: In Lincoln Park, 68. In West Garfield Park and South Lawndale, 3. Most educated suburb? Lake Forest, 66. Least educated? Lake Station, Indiana, 4 (Local Community Fact Book, Chicago Metropolitan Area 1990).

"How would you define the music you play?" Adam Langer asks veteran jazz tenor saxophonist Von Freeman in The Madness of Art: A Guide to Living and Working in Chicago. Replies Freeman, "I've seen guys who haven't been around half as long and they've got the answers, but I really do not. I have no idea what jazz is. I have no idea where it comes from. All I know is that I'm on the train and I can't seem to get off."

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

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