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CONNECTCARE-LESS: Maybe the mayor's crackerjack staff should have started to worry when Ald. Fred Heitert (R-12th) got up not once but twice to speak against the bill that would have put a sales-tax hike for ConnectCare on the April ballot. Heitert can go weeks without speaking publicly at board meetings. Certainly it was no surprise that the board's only Republican opposed the tax, but here was Heitert saying the bill as written didn't make sense. Imagine. The bill asked for a city sales tax of "one-fourth percent." One-fourth percent of what, Heitert wanted to know. Well, as aldermen and mayoral staff huddled to clarify, members of the august deliberative body drifted off. When the vote was taken, it failed 14-10, one vote short. With Martie Aboussie retired and two other aldermen out with excused absences, Ald. Paul Beckerle (D-25th) and Ald. Marit Clark (D-6th) were missing in action. ConnectCare, which was welded together to fill the breach when Regional Hospital closed, still will be administered by BJC Health System, but it looks as if the estimated $5 million a year will come out of general revenue until further notice. Ald. Fred Wessels (D- 13th) spoke against the sales tax, saying the windfall from the tobacco-settlement suit should fund ConnectCare. Sounds fine, but the city will have to stand in line for that cash. (DJW)

MEAT ME IN ST. LOUIS: The pope will see more than a few interesting St. Louis sites on his two-day visit here, including "Jesus" following him around with a sign stating that "Jesus was a vegetarian" and "Thou Shalt Not Kill -- Go Veg." The pope is being asked to convert to vegetarianism by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and according to press releases sent out by PETA, the group "has enlisted 'Jesus' as its newest Vegetarian Campaign spokesperson." Apparently, some scholars believe Jesus was part of a Jewish sect that ate no meat; PETA says the pope should follow in his footsteps by doing the same. For more information, try www.jesus-online.com. (MR)

THEN THERE WERE TWO: Last year, much fanfare accompanied the announcement that an independent minor-league baseball team, the River City Rascals, was coming to the St. Charles area. This interest stemmed partially from the vocal role of Ken Wilson, one of the team's lead investors and the voice of Blues hockey, among other broadcast duties. Now comes word that a team with some of the same ownership, the Gateway Grizzlies, is locating in O'Fallon, Ill. The teams will both be part of the Midwest-based Frontier League, and organizers are already trying to get the teams to play one another more than the 12 times that the league would normally suggest, figuring that crowds will eat up the ready-made rivalry.

Although it's fine to welcome affordable, small-scale sports to the area, maybe there's a bigger-picture issue at play here. Large tracts of land are available in the city (the Arena, anyone?) and surrounding inner-ring suburbs, but new teams are following the action, moving into growth areas, with brand-new ministadiums being built for them. The region may very well enjoy this interesting twist on the American pastime -- two teams playing home-and-away series within driving range -- but the notion of a Suburban Sprawl Series may strike some preservationists as curious, especially when prime sites sit in urban-planning limbo. Just a thought. (MG)

MOTHERS' MILK WAR: Moms have a tendency to raise their voice until you listen. In the case of Monsanto's genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (BGH), the strategy seems to be working. For a long time, moms (and a few concerned scientists) were the only ones worried about the milk from cows injected with recombinant BGH. But when Canadian scientists recently reviewed Monsanto's crucial rat study, they found that 20-30 percent of the rats that ingested high doses of the hormone developed antibodies to it, and in some of the male rats, cysts and prostate abnormalities occurred. According to the Jan. 19 New York Times, the Food and Drug Administration considered the data "biologically meaningless" because the effects did not increase with higher doses. Furthermore, the amounts of hormone a human being would ingest in milk are minuscule, as are the possible risks. Still, for a mom, minuscule's too big. Organic-milk sales nearly doubled between 1996 and 1997. (JB)

TUNNEL VISION: No one could have reasonably expected The Tunnel, the magnum opus by St. Louis literary eminence William Gass, to become a bestseller. Gass is not the maker of the kind of everyday word fodder that makes its way onto the wide avenues of public opinion. The Tunnel, which was some 30 years in the making, comes out of a modernist sensibility that includes works such as Ulysses and The Recognitions -- titles that don't sit cozily beside The Pelican Brief. The Tunnel belongs in a much narrower but exalted category, that of literary landmark -- a work to be read, studied, loved, hated and talked about over time by those serious few who still believe such things matter. "Art lives upon discussion," Henry James said. If not for the Dalkey Archive Press, an intrepid small publisher in Normal, Ill., that specializes in unashamedly literary titles, the artistic life of The Tunnel might be lost. Less than two years since the paperback edition was published by HarperCollins, Gass' life's work went out of print. Mayonnaise has a longer shelf life. Dalkey Archive is notorious for reviving great neglected works by writers such as Djuna Barnes and Louis-Ferdinand Celine, but it's distressing that a work such as The Tunnel is in need of rediscovery so close to its first edition. (ES)

Contributors: Jeannette Batz, Morris Graham, Melinda Roth, Eddie Silva, D.J. Wilson

 
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