“Chicago has, and is, an environment,” insists city Department of Environment commissioner Henry Henderson in Urban Naturalist (January-February). “It may look and feel different from unpopulated wilderness, which is usually associated with ‘ecology,’ but our Urban Environment is morally, ethically and in every other way an environment, and is due no less care, respect and stewardship than a redwood forest.”

“Utility lobbyists are drooling at the possibility that the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), long a pesky thorn in their sides, will be considerably weakened” in the Republican-dominated state legislature this year, reports Rich Miller in Illinois Politics (December). “I asked several such lobbyists what they thought of CUB’s prospects in the new, potentially hostile legislative environment, and the responses were nearly identical: mischievous laughter.” One less partisan reason, according to Miller, is that CUB doesn’t do business as usual: “Legislators…prefer to let interest groups hammer out the deals on intricate subjects–that way, everyone gets something, and they don’t have to worry about one group or another targeting them for defeat. But until fairly recently, CUB all but refused to engage in the art of compromise, which meant legislators often had to stick their necks out one way or another–not their favorite pastimes.”

Who will get the middle class off welfare? Not Congress, fears Mike Males, writing in In These Times (January 9). “As former Nixon Commerce Secretary Peter Peterson exhaustively detailed in his 1993 book Facing Up, it is the exploding benefits for non-poor adults that are the true cause of the nation’s erupting deficit and entitlement crisis. ‘In 1991, about half of all federal entitlements went to households with incomes over $30,000,’ Peterson wrote…. The elderly receive three times more in local, state, and federal benefits than do children, even when schooling is added. Yet welfare to the old is so maldistributed–$75 billion in Social Security goes to seniors whose cash incomes exceed $50,000 per year–that the United States still has by far the highest elder (and child) poverty rates of any industrial nation.”

And women prime ministers never start wars. The Chicago-based Student Lawyer (December) quotes Gary Francione of the Rutgers Animal Rights Law Clinic: “How could you be a vegetarian and be in favor of animal rights and [at the same time] be a sexist, and a racist, and a homophobe, or be in favor of wars or capital punishment?”

“We are taught not to see the interrelationships between ideas, tasks, goals, struggles, history, and peoples,” writes Michael Warr of the Guild Complex in New Art Examiner (January). “I ran up against this at the first literary event I organized at the former Guild Books, over six years ago. It was a celebration of Black History Month, and in addition to inviting African-American poets to recite their work as part of the tribute, we also included poets of Jewish, Mexican, and Puerto Rican descent. There was confusion. The African-American poets wanted to know why white poets were reading during an African-American history celebration, and the white poets wanted to know what they were doing there. Our point was that African-American history cannot really be separated from American History, in fact, the role of the African American has been and remains central to the economic, social, political, and psychological makeup of the United States.”

The interstate highway wildlife system. John Schwegman of the state Department of Conservation notes in a recent press release that interstates “provide a continuous corridor of similar habitat over hundreds of miles. Probably the most striking response to these corridors by mammals is the spread of the western harvest mouse. This grassland mammal was restricted to the northwest corner of the state in 1959 when construction began on the interstate system. It has now spread throughout the northern half of Illinois, where its rapid range expansion seems to have been facilitated by the strips of grass along the interstate highway system.”

“The fatwa [against Salman Rushdie], to the degree that it succeeds, is changing and will continue to change our lives for the worse,” U. of C. professor emeritus of English Wayne Booth writes to colleagues in Profession 94. “Physical fear about speaking has entered our lives in what for most of us is unprecedented form. The sheer enormity of the physical threat and of the news about killings and attempted killings of Rushdie’s supporters has been corrupting Western speech and action. It’s not just that authors of Muslim heritage are on the whole more cautious about what they write…. We have plenty of examples by now of non-Muslims who have changed their publishing plans, and their advertising plans, and their way of displaying or not displaying The Satanic Verses in bookstores, or of carrying the book on a plane, or of talking about the case in public places–all from fear of getting on the fatwa list. What’s more, can we not predict that many novels, poems, and stories will now be precensored, either softened to avoid trouble or made more offensive to induce notoriety? Will not many a writer seeking mainly money or fame be a bit more cautious about using blasphemy against any fundamentalist religion supported by passionate defenders, and a bit more likely to shop around for some mockable group less likely to fight back?”

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