Perfect for someone on your list. The Illinois Natural History Survey (“Reports,” Autumn) has just published the 501-page book The Chewing Lice: World Checklist and Biological Overview, available for $35.

Senator Obama? Salim Muwakkil reports in the November 10 In These Times that “Chicago’s substantial Black Nationalist community” has problems with Barack Obama, now running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate. “This discomfort stems from a perpetual dynamic within progressive Chicago politics that finds the city’s Black Nationalist activists and theorists often in opposition to integrated activists. Harold Washington was such a pivotal figure because he was able to fuse the interests of Chicago’s influential nationalists with the city’s progressives. The inability to forge such a coalition since Washington’s death is the primary reason Richard Daley has won every election….Within the Black Nationalist community some are now urging all-out support for Obama. In addition to lauding his legislative record during his seven years as senator from Illinois’ 13th District, they argue that it’s perverse for black nationalists to reject the son of a Kenyan for not being black enough.”

It’s not just asthma. “Incidence and prevalence of some children’s illnesses have increased substantially in the past two to three decades,” according to a September report from Rachel Massey and Frank Ackerman of Tufts University (“Costs of Preventable Childhood Illness: The Price We Pay for Pollution”). “For example, from 1975 to 2000, cancer incidence increased 31.7% nationwide in children under the age of 15,” the largest increases being in acute lymphocytic leukemia, brain and other nervous-system cancers, and cancers of the kidney and renal pelvis. “In 1987, 2,778 California children had full-spectrum autism (a severe and comparatively easily diagnosed form of autism)….As of July 2002, the number had risen to 18,460.”

A mummified man in Moscow is keeping me from thinking straight. “If today we face a world in which there is no grand narrative of social progress, no politically plausible project of social justice, it is in large measure because Lenin and his heirs poisoned the well,” writes Tony Judt in the New York Review of Books (November 20), reviewing the autobiography of unrepentant communist historian Eric Hobsbawm. “The values and institutions that have mattered to the left–from equality before the law to the provision of public services as a matter of right–and that are now under assault–owed nothing to communism. Seventy years of ‘real existing Socialism’ contributed nothing to the sum of human welfare. Nothing.”

We’re number one. “On June 30, 2002, the five Illinois state pension funds had, in aggregate, assets of $40.3 billion and liabilities of $75.2 billion, for an unfunded liability of $34.9 billion,” write Kevin Ahlgrim and Stephen D’Arcy in Illinois Tax Facts (October). “Based on a national comparison of state retirement systems conducted by Wilshire Associates, this value was the largest unfunded liability in the country,” well ahead of the state with the second largest unfunded liability, Ohio ($22 billion). Five small states–Nevada, Oregon, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and West Virginia–have unfunded liabilities that represent a greater proportion of their state budgets.

The CHA: no longer the last resort. “Very few families displaced from public housing will qualify under the proposed screening criteria to return to the developments from which they are displaced,” warned William Wilen of the National Center on Poverty Law at a November 10 hearing. “As proposed, families will be barred from returning to public housing if they fail to meet any of the following criteria: they cannot have a felony criminal record in the last 10 years; all adult members of their family must pass a drug test; they must not have a bad credit history; they cannot have filed for bankruptcy in the last 5 years; and they must even prove that they work 30 hours per week.”

The last word on traditional Episcopalians. Owen Keavney writes in the Los Angeles Times (August 16): “I am just thankful that the church’s founder, Henry VIII, and his wife Catherine of Aragon, his wife Anne Boleyn, his wife Jane Seymour, his wife Anne of Cleves, his wife Catherine Howard and his wife Catherine Parr are no longer here to suffer through this assault on our ‘traditional Christian marriage.'”