Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. According to a recently released report by the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (“Water Quality Activities 2000-2001”), last summer the EPA-sponsored Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program determined that you could see an eight-inch dinner plate through 183 inches (more than 15 feet) of water at Virginia Lake in Cook County. The runner-up in northeastern Illinois was Deep Lake in Lake County, at 173 inches.

Things we need to be told these days. Warning on the label of an automotive sunshade: “Never drive your vehicle with a sunshade in your windshield.”

We’re approximately number 19! That’s where the University of Chicago finished in the second annual “Top American Research Universities” report from the University of Florida. The report first ranks universities according to nine criteria (such as total funding devoted to research and number of faculty honors), then it groups them by the number of criteria on which they scored in the top 25. Five schools–Cornell, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania–made the top 25 all nine times. Top in the midwest was the University of Wisconsin at Madison, with seven scores in the top 25. The U. of C. made the top 25 five times and the top 50 three more times; it tied with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and just edged out the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University. Specific scores: the U. of C. ranked 8th in number of faculty awards (35), 10th in endowment assets ($3.8 billion), 16th in median SAT score (1390), 17th in members of the National Academy (60), 21st in annual giving ($178 million), 28th in number of doctorates granted (391), 29th in number of postdocs (348), 33rd in federal research funding ($136 million), and 52nd in total research funding ($163 million).

New England–a nation in its own mind. An “Environment News Service” dispatch from Westbrook, Connecticut, on August 30: “New England governors and Canadian premiers have adopted a Climate Change Action Plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the region shared by the two nations.”

Questions you won’t hear on the nightly news. “Most would agree that a Palestinian strapping a bomb to himself and blowing up a night club or a demonstrator throwing a rock at a cop is engaged in a violent act,” writes Sam Smith in the “Progressive Review” (August 31). “But what about a country that locks up nearly ten percent of its twentysomething black men, many for doing nothing worse than choosing to use a milder drug than vodka? Or killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis while enforcing a futile embargo?…And who has killed more of whom in the recent Middle East conflict, albeit with government-supplied arms rather than home-made explosives?”

Beware the devout bohemian. Martin Marty (“Context,” September 15) quotes Peter Schwendener: “Bohemias and religions are alike in two ways: They thrive on exclusivity, on scorning the squares or the unsaved, and they entail what [author Ann] Powers calls a ‘critique’ of one’s biological origins. (‘If any man come to me,’ says Jesus less delicately, ‘and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.’)”

Every six seconds, lift! “Today, Chicago is not only the nation’s most important hub for rail-to-rail transfers; it is also the nation’s most important rail/truck intermodal center, accounting for about 5 million lifts (intermodal exchanges of containers and trailers) between rail and truck,” writes Elmer Johnson in Chicago Metropolis 2020: The Chicago Plan for the Twenty-first Century. “This number is expected to grow to 12 million by the year 2020. To put these numbers in perspective, the next most important rail/truck hub in the country is the Los Angeles-Long Beach region with about 3 million such lifts per year.”