“Churches are not transforming people but rather servicing them,” says Sylvia Ronsvalle of Empty Tomb, Inc., in Champaign (www.pnnonline.org). She’s coauthor of a new study, “The State of Church Giving Through 2000,” which found that benevolent giving–contributions that support the broader mission of the church–reached its lowest point since 1968 in 2000, while giving for internal operations of the congregation remained strong. “People are concerned about keeping the lights on and the staff paid at their churches, which are valid needs. But those activities ought to be the platform from which to reach out to a hurting world as Christians practice their religion. Instead, congregation members appear to be emphasizing their own comfort over the needs of their local and international neighbors.”

Square miles urbanized in the Chicago and northwest Indiana area, 1970-’90, according to U.S. census figures (www.sprawlcity.org): 307.3. The Chicago area ranks 13th in the country by this measure of sprawl, behind Atlanta (702), Houston (639), New York (541), and even Oklahoma City (307.7). Adding more than 300 square miles of city in 20 years sounds pretty dire unless you know one fact not mentioned on the Web site: the state of Illinois contains 55,593 square miles of land.

“In every sphere of life, the trend has been to shift increasing amounts of risk to the average American,” writes David Moberg in the August 16 issue of In These Times. “Although sold under the attractive names of ‘choice,’ ‘freedom’ and ‘flexibility,’ the typical result has been to threaten their livelihoods. For example, riskier defined-contribution pension plans–like 401(k)s, which Congress still hasn’t protected and regulated–have been replacing defined-benefit pension plans. Growing numbers have no pension plan at all….Safety nets are diminishing: While the boom economy in the late ’90s reduced poverty somewhat, the numbers of people in ‘extreme poverty’ actually increased, as welfare and other assistance was cut. Fewer families have health insurance, and the insurance they do have covers less.”

My Mastercard was maxed out, so I paid it off with my Visa. In the October issue of the “Illinois State Comptroller’s Quarterly” comptroller Daniel Hynes reports that “$1.220 billion of fiscal year 2003 revenues were used to pay 2002 bills.”

And she’s just getting ready to talk about the pollution. “Nobody cares about rural people,” writes Becky Bradway, a native of downstate Buffalo (E Magazine, September/October). “Let’s be real about that. They’re the butt of jokes; they have no power. A friend who teaches in Illiopolis joked that everyone in the town is inbred. They all have the same last names. Uh-huh, I said. Tell me about it. Feuding strands of my cousins’ family, the Pattons, wind all over Central Illinois. The inbreeding isn’t a matter of genetics, but of attitudes and ideas and career options and life choices that limit them to a 10-mile radius. Kids look to the chemical plant, figuring they can get a job there after they get married. They marry soon after they graduate high school, or even before. Some want to leave but lack opportunity or nerve, so they stay stoned, vandalize, fight, or maybe kill themselves driving too fast on the curving country roads.”

From another city’s file. According to a Graham Foundation summary of Charles Waldheim’s October 2 lecture here, Detroit is now so emptied out that “the city will loan tractors to residents so they can farm the vacant land next to their houses.”

“The real ethical challenge in Chicago journalism today isn’t some uncool ’70s holdover with a bad rug chasing young chicks. It’s at the very top,” opines Substance (October). “There, op ed and Power Point propaganda has replaced reporting as the basic source for ‘news.’ Of course, it’s cheaper to let a guy like Paul Vallas (backed by a few quotes from selected talking heads, all saying the same things) be the sole sources for a news story. The ‘editorial board briefing’ is certainly easier on a newspaper’s ‘bottom line’ than to send a couple of reporters out chasing down every lie and double-checking every ‘fact’ for weeks

or months.”