A Republican with a brain. “Ten years ago, in 1994, Republicans won control of both houses of Congress,” Senator John McCain told a Washington, D.C., forum on May 18 (ndol.org). “For one brief shining moment, we employed true fiscal restraint and eventually managed to balance the budget and even attain that which had seemed unattainable–a surplus! Now, at a time of national crisis, we have thrown caution to the wind and continue to spend, and spend, and spend–all the while cutting taxes…. Thousands of miles from here young men and women are putting everything on the line so we can be free. And what have we sacrificed? Seriously, think about it carefully. Name one thing that Congress has told the special interests and their fat-cat lobbyists to do without since this war began?”

Who knew the Chicago River could be a wildlife refuge? “The lake mussels have been extirpated since the 1990’s by competition from the exotic zebra mussel,” write Roger Klocek of the Shedd Aquarium and Kelli Krueger of Friends of the Chicago River in Chicago Wilderness Journal (March). “Now the river serves as a refuge for the last remnant of the genetic heritage of lake mussels. With sound management, the river may stay free of the explosive growth of zebra mussels that the lake has endured.”

The wages of whiteness, continued. Sociologist Devah Pager of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research sent matched pairs of young black and white men to apply for entry-level jobs in Milwaukee. One result, published in the American Journal of Sociology (and quoted in a recent university press release): “Employers were more likely to call back whites with criminal records for interviews than black applicants with no criminal history.”

“Reversing sprawl would create both civic benefits and civic costs,” argues Harvard doctoral student Thad Williamson in the 2004 Taubman Center Report. He analyzed census data and results of the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey and found that central-city residents, those living in areas with high pedestrian traffic and mass-transit use, and residents of areas built before 1950 are all more likely to be active in politics, seen in their willingness to do things such as sign petitions, join organizations, or attend rallies. But they’re much less likely to trust their neighbors “a lot” than are residents of new, sprawling outlying suburbs. “These findings suggest that New Urbanists must think more carefully about whether their primary goal is to foster communities marked by robust political engagement–which implies more social and political conflict–or to foster tranquility and trust.”

The dwindling list of activities considered “sustainable.” Writing in Conscious Choice (May) about the difficulties of finding a diamond whose mining didn’t involve exploiting workers or polluting the environment, Mandy Burrell suggests as a model suburban Leber Jeweler, which purchases diamonds exclusively from Canada–and then she quotes Kevin O’Reilly of the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, for whom that isn’t good enough. “It still involves digging holes in the ground. And digging holes in the ground in and of itself is not a sustainable venture.”

World’s shortest commencement speech. The late Alfred Caldwell in his 1987 interview for the Chicago Architects Oral History Project (www.artic.edu/aic/collections): “I tell the students…they cannot be educated until they try to learn something for the sake of the learning, not for the job.”

What were they thinking? “The United States doesn’t have an exclusive interest in opposing and containing the forces of intolerance, superstition, and fanaticism,” writes Louis Menand in the New Yorker (May 17). “The whole world has an interest in opposing and containing those things. On September 12, 2001, the world was with us. Because of our government’s mad conviction that it was our way of life that was under attack, not the way of life of civilized human beings everywhere, and that only we knew what was best to do about it, we squandered our chance to be with the world.”