That would be the “bureaucracy” merit badge? The Nature of Illinois Foundation recently honored a downstate Boy Scout who created a 3.1-acre wetland in Harrisburg “in cooperation with over 40 private, corporate and governmental agencies.”

“At the far southern tip of Illinois, a community of 40 million animals waits for death from smothering and starvation,” reports state Department of Conservation biologist John Schwegman. They’re not butterflies or deer. The’re native clams, “slowly being smothered and starved by a dense coating of alien zebra mussels that developed in the [Ohio River] this summer.” However, the vast number of zebras “have filtered so much of the river’s water that they have increased its clarity….I grew up along the Ohio and had never seen it so clear.”

That’s “expanded” from 1,100 spaces to 450. Alderman Ted Mazola of the First Ward, who’s retiring only in the literal sense, in an October 21 fax summing up his record: “Other community meetings have resulted in the relocation and the expansion of the Maxwell Street Market.”

“Recruiting new members is much more difficult than it was during the Reagan/Bush years,” according the the Illinois ACLU’s 1993-1994 annual report. “Total membership in Illinois has dropped 17 percent since 1989,” from about 15,000 to under 13,000. “Some of the decline may be attributed to the recession, as well as the less-threatening Clinton administration–even though the administrations has not been as friendly to civil liberties as we had hoped.” ACLU fund-raisers did manage to raise 9 percent more money from individuals in 1993 than in 1992.

“Least likely of all is an American Pope,” writes David Remnick, discussing possible successors to John Paul II in the New Yorker (October 17). “Of the Americans, the most highly regarded seems to be Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, the Archbishop of Chicago, but the perceived unreliability of American Catholics and their dissident, ‘cafeteria’ quality, as well as Washington’s status as the remaining superpower, make an American pope impossible for most churchemn to imagine. None of the Vaticanisti are betting on it.”

Everyone’s a media critic. According to the secretary of the antigang group Take Our Neighborhood Back, “When WMAQ-TV’s Mary Ann Ahern was interviewing President Mary Boyd at the [gang-infested] 2805 [N. Lawndale] property, a boy came out to tell them that if they did not stop the taping, that he would go inside to get a gun and shoot them.”

I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is what we have come to think of as good news. Hermene Hartman: “In an article elsewhere in this issue of N’Digo [October 13-26], public school superintendent Argie Johnson says with some trace of pride that not one child was killed inside the public schools last year. As though that’s something to be thankful for.”

Learning from multiculturalism. “In less than ten years, given extremely conservative assumptions, the typical Chilean worker’s pension account will be worth $40,000 in today’s dollars. As a result, at some point in the next decade it is highly likely that the typical Chilean worker will be wealthier than his or her American counterpart,” writes Chicago consulting economist Robert Genetski, who predicts that the American social security system will soon be privatized, as Chile’s has been. “In the end, opposition to privitizing social security is doomed to fail. The prospect of a typical worker in an underdeveloped country having more wealth than his American counterpart will be simply too much to bear.”

Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. A reader of the Chicago-based U.S. Catholic (November) writes, “The dilmemma with our health-care system is really one of fear–the fear of dying. It’s surprising to me that a Christian country like the U.S. spends most of its health-care dollars on the last ten days of people’s lives. This is a serious moral issue, which everyone is shying away from. Do we believe in an afterlife or not?”

The case of the missing lawsuit crisis, as presented by Curt Rodin of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association: “The total number of civil lawsuits filed in 1992 was down 13% from 1991….And the number of $15,000-and-over suits, small to begin with, is falling rapidly. They’re down 17% from 1991, and fully 30% below the 1985 peak.”

Bad news, good news. Percentage change, since 1988, in U. S. book sales to white households: -3. Percentage change since then in U.S. book sales to black households: +26″ (Harper’s “Index,” November).

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Carl Kock.