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The City File 

By Harold Henderson

Advice that didn't cheer me up all that much, from a recent press release from the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago: "Some not trigger allergies or asthma: tropical fish, turtles, lizards, snakes, toads, frogs, salamanders and...ants."

Things campaign-finance reformers don't want to know. Why has 20 years of campaign finance reform succeeded in many specific goals (limiting individual and PAC giving, banning corporate giving) yet failed in its main goal--ending candidates' need to raise money by kowtowing to special interests? Because, writes Norman Ornstein in the New Republic (June 10), "Reducing the supply of money without addressing the demand for money is a recipe for disaster. In a large, diverse and cacophonous society where the costs of effective communication are rising rapidly, campaigns for political office, like campaigns for any other product, cost a lot of money....If the latest effort bans PACs, caps spending and requires that candidates raise 50 percent or more of their money will make matters worse. Temptations to corruption will increase--hitting up business and labor officials and their families one by one to replace PAC contributions (in a fashion much less amenable to disclosure), laundering out-of-state funds into the state, finding 'in-kind' ways to spread the message without directly spending money....Rather than trying, quixotically, to drive money out of politics, campaign laws should create incentives for candidates to raise the right kinds of money--money from individual small donors rather than interest groups seeking influence and money that makes it easier for challengers to take on entrenched incumbents." For instance: give individuals 100 percent tax credits for contributions up to $100 and make up the revenue by taxing PAC contributions 50 percent.

"In many industrialized countries, medicine has partly filled the void created by the decline of organized religion over the past century or so," writes Cecil Helman, quoted in Martin Marty's Chicago-based newsletter Context (May 15). "Much of the moral discourse of the age is now couched in medical (or rather pseudomedical) terms. Sickness, for many people, has replaced sin. In the late twentieth century, the 'sinful life' has been supplanted by the 'unhealthy lifestyle': gluttony and sloth by over-eating and lack of exercise. In social terms, deviant behavior is increasingly defined as mad rather than bad."

You've come a short way, baby. Harper's Index (June) reports, "Number of last year's newsweekly magazine covers featuring women who are not princesses, murderers, or models: 0."

Illinois state and local taxes per $1,000 of personal income ($103.54) are below average compared to averages for industrial states ($113.37), midwestern states ($108.73), and the U.S. overall ($110.59), reports the Taxpayers' Federation of Illinois in Illinois Tax Facts (May).

Bambi bites. The conservation of the large and beautiful trillium wildflowers "presents special challenges due to the plant's unique vulnerability to browsing by deer," writes John Schwegman of the state Department of Natural Resources in a recent press release. "Deer find them very tasty and the entire cluster of leaves, flowers and fruits crowded at the top of the stem is eaten in a single bite. Trilliums do not sprout new stems or grow new leaves in a given year once they are eaten. Therefore, the loss of the leaves prevents the plant from making and storing food in the root for the next year's growth. This results in smaller plants each year and their eventual death in areas subject to heavy deer browsing."

People who believe they have been abducted by space aliens have many traits in common with masochists, according to UIC psychologist Leonard Newman. Why would they willingly "remember" being kidnapped, probed, prodded, and tagged? Well, why not? Quoted in a recent university press release, Newman says, "There are people out there who pay good money to have such experiences. In a world in which we are under constant pressure to be successful, esteemed and in control, an experience that makes those things beside-the-point can be appealing."

"Another element of Union Park's historical significance," according to Marie Doorey in Prairie Spirit (Spring), newsletter of the Friends of Jens Jensen, "derives from recently located pictures, dating to 1912, which show black and white children playing together. This is the earliest documented racially integrated park in Chicago."

PC to the max. The Chicago-based biweekly In These Times (May 27) quotes Barbara Epstein, a longtime left activist and academic at University of California, Santa Cruz, on a public lecture given by Gender Trouble author Judith Butler at Berkeley a few years ago. Butler argues that the physical differences between the sexes are socially constructed and "started the lecture off by asking, is there anyone here who thinks she is a woman? Not one hand went up," although the audience was composed almost entirely of female intellectuals. "Because they all knew enough [about Butler's work] to know it was not hip to think you were a woman. So they knew that...anybody who put her hand up would be offering herself up for ridicule....Therefore, you get 400 people in a room, none of whom is willing to say she is a woman."

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

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