“America has become to the rest of the world as Israel is to the Middle East,” writes Sam Smith in his daily online compendium “Undernews” (September 11), “a moated castle massively armed, ready for vengeance, suppression, and revenge, yet incapable of defending itself against shoe bombs and box cutters, or the lone attacker to whom suicide seems the only option. This irony is not only without resolution, it is driving us mad. Like Israel, we have traded our ideals, our decency, and our raison d’etre for the illusion of safety and the transitory satisfaction of retribution. We are destroying ourselves rather than admit we have been wrong and must now try another way.”

Where the wild things are. In a letter to Chicago Wilderness (Fall), a Montrose Harbor security guard recalls a fox that “ran right past my car….First I saw the big fat rat, so fat it could not run or even walk very fast, and then, a few minutes later, I saw that same rat hanging out of that fox’s mouth as it ran past me.”

Much ado about very little. The magazine Organic Style (September/October) went to a lot of trouble to rank 125 U.S. cities on the healthiness of their environments, using a mysterious rating scale that reckons residents of Chicago are more exposed to farm chemicals than residents of the downstate factory-farm belt. Top finishers in the midwest: Rapid City, South Dakota; Columbia, Missouri; Iowa City, Iowa; Bloomington, Indiana; Lawrence, Kansas; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Champaign, Illinois.

“Fear of flying and fear of working or living in very tall buildings continue to slow recovery in the nation’s largest downtowns two years after 9/11,” writes local urbanologist Pierre deVise in a Chicago Regional Inventory working paper released September 11. “Since June 2001, air travel jobs tumbled by 17% in Chicago and by 12% in the nation. Chicago-based United Airlines lost 24% of its capacity and sought bankruptcy protection in December 2001. Trizec Properties, owners of Sears Tower, the nation’s tallest building, faced mortgage default in June 2003 and sold their equity for $9 million to MetLife, the mortgagee. Chicago has yet to recover the full complement of its hotel jobs, down 6% since June 2001.”

One more thing Europeans do better. Therapist Esther Perel writes in the September-October Utne: “Ironically, some of America’s best features–the belief in equality, consensus-building, fairness, and tolerance–can, in the bedroom, result in very boring sex.”

Don’t expect an inner-city retail miracle, say real estate consultants Kenneth Rosen and colleagues in a July Brookings Institution discussion paper (“Shopping the City: Real Estate Finance and Urban Retail Development”). “National retail chains are opening new stores very selectively and are less able to [take] the risk on an untested location….In times of economic uncertainty, less money is likely to go towards high-risk investments such as urban infill retail.” They recommend fast-track permitting, tax incentives, and subsidies if governments want to spur inner-city retail investments.

The hazmat state? Well, sort of. According to an August 25 report on stateline.org (“Hazmat Incidents Show Downward Trend”), Illinois had more hazardous materials spills in 2002 than any other state–1,324, nearly 9 percent of the nationwide total. But that number may be an artifact of strict reporting policies: the fine print from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows that Illinois ranked 14th in the cost of damages from these spills ($1.4 million), behind Texas ($4.6 million), Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Virginia, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, North Carolina, Alabama, Ohio, Colorado, and California.

It’s not a war against drugs. It’s a war against blacks. That’s the obvious conclusion to be drawn from a front-page article in the summer issue of the Compiler, journal of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. According to data from various state government agencies, black people make up 28 percent of drug users, 70 percent of those arrested for drug use, and 86 percent of those imprisoned for drug use.