This building suitable for recycling. A new interdisciplinary operation at the University of Illinois is called the Degradable Plastics Laboratory.

“The press and the pollsters take for granted that there is a public and that it has opinions,” writes Jay Rosen in the Chicago-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (June 1989). Not true. For instance, ever since 1967 NATO has said that it might use nuclear weapons to stop a conventional Soviet invasion of western Europe. “But 81 percent of the American public believes, incorrectly, that U.S. policy prohibits the first use of nuclear weapons…. This is an example of a ‘public secret’–a fact that is publicly known but not known by the public.” Rosen also notes that in May 1982, when most people favored a nuclear freeze, “only 30 percent knew that Ronald Reagan opposed it, and 59 percent thought that the issues involved in the freeze were too complicated for the public to decide.

“A public that believes it cannot understand the issues has resigned its functions in a democracy, and a public realm that cannot even acquaint citizens with the president’s position has broken down completely. Under these conditions, the machinery of politics may continue to operate–elections are held, the press is free, polls are published–but there is little reason to call such a politics democratic.”

Mayor Daley I in a word sketch from Ward Just’s novel Jack Gance, quoted in U.S. Catholic (June 1989): “I see him now with the authority and mystery of Stalin, about whom no questions were ever asked, and no information volunteered except as to the state of his health, always excellent and improving.”

“Anyone who reads only the Chicago Tribune would barely know the Sox exist,” complains William J. Leahy in Leahy’s Corner (May/June 1989). “Channel 9 sports programs always begin with Cubs games when both teams played. The journalistic ethics of the august Tribune comes down to, ‘If we don’t own them, don’t cover them.'”

That works out to 1.3 years and 5,848 Illinoisans per mile of river. Recently, when the downstate Middle Fork of the Vermilion River near Danville had been designated a National Scenic River, the governor’s office quoted Clark Bullard of the statewide committee on the river: “It’s taken 22 years of work by at least 100,000 Illinoisans to convince 80 percent of our State lawmakers, 95 percent of our Congressional Delegation and the Secretary of the Interior that we ought to protect these 17.1 miles of our natural heritage…”

Words to teach by–an old German saying from Constantin Fasolt, a University of Chicago assistant professor of history who was recently honored for his

teaching: “Learning is what you remember after you’ve forgotten everything else you were taught in school.”

Excuse me, sir. Language police. Is this adjective properly licensed? In a new pamphlet, “Handicapping Language: A Guide for Journalists,” the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services advises the media to “use an adjective as a description, not a category or group, i.e., ‘people who are disabled,’ not ‘the disabled,’ and ‘people with visual impairments,’ not ‘the visually impaired.'” Those of us who get paid by the word won’t complain.

Trouble: The proposal to build a 125-story needle tower that would overshadow the Sears. Real trouble: The news (from Business Week’s David Greising, June 5) that its would-be developer keeps on his desk a copy of Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for a mile-high tower.

What would most deter you from committing property crimes? According to the Compiler (Winter/Spring 1989) of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, Ohio prisoners cited as the most effective deterrents “burglar alarms connected to law enforcement agencies, electronic window sensors, closed circuit television cameras, security patrols, and dogs.” No question which of the five would be most cost-effective.

English first–but you have to already know it. “One of the ironies of the campaign to make English the official language,” writes U.S. Senator Paul Simon, “is that many of those who back it are the same people who vote against funding classes to teach people how to speak English.”

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