You know Chicago is prospering when new construction can be called a disease. Two surveyors for the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois recently examined construction activity in an 18-square-block section of East Village and a 17-block stretch of Damen between Waveland and Diversey (the “Cornerstone,” January). In both areas they found that “more than 20 percent of the structures had been built in the past 10 years. In most cases, the new structures were three-to-four story condominium towers. The replaced buildings were one-to-two story, turn-of-the-century frame or brick cottages. The surveyors also noted the unusual pattern of the teardowns. In one three-block stretch of Damen, for example, more than half the buildings were new, while other blocks saw only one or two new structures. ‘It’s as if the entire block caught the disease,’ noted [surveyor Julie] Brown. ‘Apparently there’s a domino effect at work, as the existing residents quickly are overwhelmed by the scale of the new buildings–their yards in the shadow of the new condo towers and the new backyards paved over for parking.'” In East Village the “disease” reportedly has affected mainly vacant lots, and only 7 of 104 new buildings replaced structures that had been previously identified as “significant to the community.”

Something in common. IBM, NEC, Canon Kabushiki Kaisha, Micron Technology, Samsung Electronics, Matsushita Electrical Industrial, Sony, Hitachi, Mitsbushi Denki Kabushiki Kaisha, and Fujitsu were, in order, the ten companies with the largest number of patents registered in the U.S. in 2001, according to the preliminary figures released January 10 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Karl Marx, call your office. University of Chicago economist Robert Fogel in American Heritage (July/August): “We’ve become so rich that the material goods that were decisive in 1900 are less and less relevant to politics now. Eighty percent of all consumption 120 years ago was food, clothing, and shelter. Nowadays, that’s down to 15 percent.”

“Today, the pressure felt by reactor owners from electricity deregulation works against nuclear safety,” argues Robert Alvarez in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (January/February). Almost all used nuclear-reactor fuel is stored in “swimming pools” near the reactor and is vulnerable to leakage or terrorism. “According to a report on utility deregulation and nuclear power by the Nukem Corporation, ‘In an era of deregulation there will be no pool of captive customers to shoulder uneconomic operating costs or massive capital additions.’ Because of deregulation, the owners of many reactors are limited liability companies with little or no cash reserves. There is no financial incentive to move wastes to safer dry storage.”

“An arkful of nonnative animals and plants have been introduced into the [upper Des Plaines River] basin, often with unintended ecological effects,” according to the state Department of Natural Resources publication “Critical Trends in Illinois Ecosystems”( “The rusty crayfish (used as bait) has been dumped into the water and its survivors outcompete the native clearwater crayfish. Ten percent of the vascular plant species now found in the basin are not native to it. Several species of exotic turtles as well as two caimans have been reported in the Des Plaines River–probably discarded pets.” The analysis also noted that “construction of roads, fields, and houses divides forests, wetlands, or prairies into small habitat ‘islands.’ Forested wetlands in the basin consist of 390 separate tracts, the mean size of which is 7.5 acres. Research suggests that many forest birds need the protection of at least 500 acres of woods to breed successfully.” The largest forested tract on the Des Plaines is only 239 acres.

The terrorists hate us because, er–remind me again. “Journalists have been denied access to American troops in the field in Afghanistan to a greater degree than in any previous war,” writes Neil Hickey in the Columbia Journalism Review (January/February). He quotes the Associated Press’s Washington bureau chief Sandy Johnson: “We have access to the Northern Alliance, we have access to the Taliban, we have practically zero access to American forces in the theater.”