How could a study on obesity be so thin? Smart Growth America and the Surface Transportation Policy Project have found that fat is correlated with sprawl–well, sort of. Two of their researchers, Barbara McCann and Reid Ewing, write in “Measuring the Health Effects of Sprawl” (September): “The people living in the most sprawling areas are likely to weigh six pounds more than people in the most compact county.” Even more underwhelming are the extremes in northeastern Illinois, where the expected average weight of a person who’s five foot seven is 165.54 pounds in Cook County (least sprawling) and 166.91 pounds in Grundy County (most sprawling).

Of 400 Illinois prisoners surveyed before they returned to Chicago, two-thirds reported using drugs before they were incarcerated, yet at most one-fifth had received any kind of drug or alcohol treatment while in prison. So says the Urban Institute report “Illinois Prisoners’ Reflections on Returning Home” (September), which also notes that 12 percent of the prisoners said they would use drugs after their release even if they were likely to get caught and 3 percent said they expected to make money illegally.

There is no such thing as wilderness, and we should preserve more of it. “Should Apostle Islands National Lakeshore [in northern Wisconsin] become part of the National Wilderness Preservation System? Emphatically yes,” writes University of Wisconsin historian William Cronon in Orion (May/June), reprinted in Utne (September/October). But the islands are anything but untrammeled nature, as he explains. More than 70 people lived on Sand Island in 1910, where they fished, farmed, quarried, lumbered, hosted tourists, and had a post office, general store, and a one-room school. “Few who hike this ‘pristine wilderness’ today will recognize that the lands are old farm fields, but they are. Indeed, look closely at the encroaching forest that was once Burt and Anna Mae Hill’s homestead and you’ll realize that the trees are not much more than half a century old. Indeed, some of the oldest are apple trees, offering mute evidence–like the lilacs and rose bushes that grow amid ruins of old foundations elsewhere on the island–of past human efforts to yield bounty and beauty from this soil.”

Illinois has the second best campaign-finance-disclosure system in the country, according to a new survey by UCLA’s law school, the Center for Governmental Studies, and the California Voter Foundation (from the September 17 “Spotcheck,” newsletter of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform). The state scored an A+ for electronic filing and an A for accessibility and usability. No word on a scoring system for public corruption.

“It is sometimes said that the left won the culture war of the late 1960s and the right won the political war,” writes David Bromwich in the New Republic (August 18 & 25), reviewing Diane Ravitch’s new book, The Language Police. “Things would be better now if it had been the other way around. Our lawmakers have become less liberal than our institutions and laws. Our culture has become more libertine than its consumers…. The left-wing personality of our time, a loser in politics but a winner in culture, is guilty and satisfied. The right-wing personality, a winner in politics and a loser in culture, is angry and resentful even at its moment of triumph.”

Clerics without a clue. Writing in the Chicago-based Christian Century (September 6), Patricia M.Y. Chang recalls what a Pakistani cleric asked her during a State Department-sponsored study program for Muslim scholars: “If you believe your religion to be true, and you believe it is your duty to share this truth with others, then why would you think that religious pluralism is a good thing?”

Still the capital of black America. The Census Bureau reports in a September 18 press release that as of July 1, 2002, Cook County had the largest population of black people in any county in the country–1.4 million. The top county for Native Americans, Asians, and Hispanics was Los Angeles.