“Meteor watchers this year are in for a bonus” the night of August 11-12, writes William A. Becker in the Chicago Astronomical Society’s Cosmic Quarterly (July, August, and September). “The parent comet believed to have spawned the debris trail that crosses our planet’s orbit in space has revisited the inner Solar System again after more than a century (last time was 1862, the year of our Society’s founding)….This translates into a freshly enriched and denser field of meteors. If you can get outside the light-polluted urban and inner suburban landscape to watch this shower [known as the Perseids], I strongly urge you to do so.”

Damage control. Percentage of Sears workers who used public transportation to get to Sears Tower: 92. Percentage of Sears workers who use public transportation to get to Prairie Stone in Hoffman Estates, after Pace spent three years and $750,000 to establish 14 bus routes, 45 van pools, and a transit center: 30.

New dimensions in ethnic stereotyping, from the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, Ltd., on North Michigan: “Caucasians and African-Americans have about the same abilities to smell, while Korean-Americans have greater and Japanese-Americans possess diminished olfactory abilities.”

“The United States spends billions of dollars on supermax prisons in order to achieve the same results that Third World dictatorships attain for a pittance,” writes Thomas Atkins in Illinois Times (June 24-30), citing Joanna Weschler of Human Rights Watch. “In some impoverished police states, prison conditions are abominable–inmates starved, brutally punished, crammed into stockades–because the government lacks the money or knowledge to do otherwise. In the United States, supermax prison conditions [as in Marion, Illinois, and Westville, Indiana] are abominable because architects have painstakingly designed them and the states have lavishly financed them. ‘It’s a very sophisticated cruelty,’ she said. ‘Someone has put a lot of thought into it.'”

“Is Illinois a high tax or a low tax state? It depends,” according to Illinois Tax Facts (May-June). “Illinois is a relatively high tax state when its 1991 state and local taxes of $2,116 per person are compared with the national average of $2,059”–15th highest. “However, Illinois ranks relatively low in tax burden when its 1991 state and local taxes of $103 per $1,000 of personal income are compared with a national average of $109 per $1,000 of income”– 32nd highest. ITF says that most economists prefer the latter measure.

“Even in the heyday of Chicago building what was built was almost always less than what was proposed, not to mention what was possible. Why?” asks James Krohe Jr. in Inland Architect (May/June). “Certainly the city has endured a real economic decline since the 1920s and, with it, a social decline, as well. Today’s footloose corporate execs are less committed to the city, but so are ordinary people who are unwilling to tax themselves for the sake of a city from which they plan to escape as soon as possible. What Chicago lacks in the 1990s is not a Burnham but the wealth, the political consensus, and the civic confidence that Burnham had at his disposal.”

Apocalypse some other time. Climatologist Patrick Michaels summarizes the observed results of “global warming” to date, in a June report published by the Saint Louis-based Center for the Study of American Business: “A warming so small, that the Northern Hemisphere– predicted to suffer the most–in fact shows no significant change in the last 55 years…a warming which is confined primarily to nights and winter, therefore lengthening the growing season…and a lack of summer daytime warming, which precludes negative effects on agriculture and melting of large areas of high-latitude land ice. Actual cooling of summer days has been observed across the Northern Hemisphere.” Why all the flap, then? “The rush to judgment resulted from a correlation of interests between politicians, scientists in need of funding, environmental organizations seeking a global cause, and media needing to sell a story that borders on the sensational. I refer to this unhappy correlation as ‘The Apocalypse Machine.'”

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