Focus on relevance, not words, as Kyle goes on trial

The tangential nonsense spewing from all sides prior to the Rittenhouse trial is deeply discouraging

10-28-21 (issue No. 8)

I’m having lots of fun assembling this newsletter every week — I hope you can tell — and I’m getting far more online views than I did for most of my columns at The audience was bigger for those columns, of course, due to ink-on-paper readership, but response so far to the Picayune Sentinel has been gratifying. Thanks for reading.

I’ll probably be offering a comment section in the near future in the hopes of re-creating something like the online community I had with my old Change of Subject blog.

As always I’m glad to get your feedback and ask only that you forgive me for not keeping up with my email.

This week:

  • News & views on changes to abortion-related laws in Illinois and the upcoming trial of Kyle Rittenhouse

  • Critical riffs on recent editorials in the Tribune and the Sun-Times

  • Z-mail on dementia

  • An objection to the use of “reticent” as a synonym for “reluctant”

  • The results of the click poll on reader-suggested rule changes for sports

  • A fiddle tune by the etherially talented Anna Roberts-Gevalt

  • more…

Get the Sentinel every Thursday

Last week’s winning tweet

Scroll down for this week’s nominees or click here to vote in the poll.

News & Views

The Illinois Senate has passed a repeal of the state’s Parental Notice of Abortion Act


The act took effect in 2013 and requires that, absent a judicial waiver, an abortion provider must notify at least one parent at least 48 hours in advance when a minor is planning to get an abortion.

Ideally, sure. Parents should be involved in such a major decision in a child’s life.

But in the real world, as I wrote in 2019, "such disclosures can be complicated by the normal conflicts between adolescents and their parents that sometimes take the form of emotional and physical abuse and financial blackmail.”

That’s why —

Illinois law allows minors 12 and older to be pregnant, to give birth, to decide to put their babies up for adoption, to obtain contraceptives including the emergency “morning-after pill,” to get treated for sexually transmitted infections and substance abuse, and to enter short-term mental health counseling, all without telling their parents….

Childbirth is… about 14 times riskier than abortion. Yet minors aren’t required to inform their parents when receiving obstetric care….

The fact that (the abortion notification law) is inconsistent with other laws related to intimate sexual and reproductive activities of minors reveals that it’s not aimed at bolstering family communication or increasing support for young women, but at discouraging abortion.

This notification law has always been an attack on abortion rights thinly and crudely disguised as a family-friendly statute. With attacks on such rights mounting all across the country, it’s fitting and timely that Democrats in Illinois are leading this charge to defend those rights.

Quoting the Tribune:

The proposal, which has the support of Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, now goes to the Democratic-controlled House, where its prospects remain uncertain.

The judge in Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial says lawyers cannot call the two people he killed ‘victims

Lefty Twitter was in a snit over this pre-trial ruling because lefty Twitter has already decided that Rittenhouse committed murder when he shot and killed two people and wounded a third on the streets of Kenosha in August of last year.

How can they not be victims? They’re dead!

Colloquially, yes. We speak of victims of natural disasters, pandemics, car crashes and house fires as well as victims of unlawful violence. But, legally, a person is a victim only when he or she is a victim of a crime, and the main issue at Rittenhouse’s trial when it begins next week will be whether or not Rittenhouse committed a crime.

Referring to the deceased as “victims” begs the question. “‘Victim’ is a loaded, loaded word,” as Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder said.

Not convinced? Think of this hypothetical: A person goes to police and claims that a dating partner raped them. That partner says no, the sex was consensual. The partner is charged and put in the dock. At a trial to sort out these counterclaims, it would prejudice the jury to refer to the complaining witness as the “victim,” since the term carries with it the presumption that a crime — rape — has been committed.

And it would certainly prejudice the jury to refer to the accused person as “the rapist.” Yet this has not constrained lefty Twitter from referring to Rittenhouse as a murderer.

“Victim” and “murder” are legal terms with important and specific meanings in court. If you throw them around casually to try to score political points, you have lost your authority to issue repeated demands for “justice.”

Lefty Twitter was also wroth over the judge’s ruling that defense attorneys may be allowed to refer to the men Rittenhouse shot as "rioters," "looters" and "arsonists." Some news outlets contributed to widespread misunderstanding of the ruling by blaring headlines like this one saying that the defense attorneys can use those terms.

“May” is not “can.” Defense attorneys may be allowed to use such descriptive terms in their closing arguments, when invective is sure to fly from both sides, and only if they have established their relevance to Rittenhouse’s state of mind. Here, from the Tribune, is more detail on that ruling:

(Judge Schroeder) cautioned the defense team against using pejorative terms during opening statements, but he said they could use them in their closing arguments if the evidence suggested the men engaged in criminal acts….

Schroeder indicated he would allow evidence of bad behavior that night by the men Rittenhouse shot because it could speak to how dangerous they would have seemed to the teen.

The goal of this trial will be fairly narrow: To determine what happened in the short window of time between when Joseph Rosenbaum began chasing after Rittenhouse and the time Rittenhouse nearly blew the arm off Gaige Grosskreutz after shooting and killing Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber.

The issue is not whether Rittenhouse was a right-wing, vigilante punk who was several months too young to be carrying a rifle on the streets of Kenosha. And it’s not whether the protesters against police violence on the streets of Kenosha were wrong to be committing or attempting to commit acts of vandalism.

The issue, the only issue, is whether Rittenhouse acted in accordance with Chapter 939.48 of Wisconsin law, which says a person may “use force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm (against an assailant if they) reasonably believe that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to (themselves)”?

That’s it. That’s the only thing that is supposed to matter.

Justice is the fair, impartial application of the law to the relevant evidence, not necessarily the outcome that satisfies your politics and prejudices. Everyone — left and right — should keep that in mind as this trial unfolds.

State lawmakers seek to clamp down on abuse of the Illinois Healthcare Right of Conscience Act

I’ve never cared for the broadly worded 1998 law that bans discrimination against public and private employees “because of (their) conscientious refusal to receive...or participate in any way in any particular form of healthcare services contrary to (their) conscience."

The purpose was to allow health-care personnel and pharmacists to opt out of participating in abortions or dispensing certain contraceptives. It required the abstainer to rely on —

a sincerely held set of moral convictions arising from belief in and relation to God, or which, though not so derived, arises from a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by God among adherents to religious faiths.

This language, aside from breaching the wall separating church and state, offends because it asks the government to referee the sincerity of a person’s moral and religious beliefs.

I don’t want the government in that business and it beats me that anyone does, let alone conservatives who are so otherwise generally distrustful of government.

And those who object to certain legal health care services or pharmaceuticals ought to find another damn line of work.

Today, inevitably, the law is being abused by COVID-19 vaccine skeptics who are claiming that a “moral conviction” exempts them from workplace mandates.

A spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker noted in a statement that, obviously, the IHRCA was "never intended to allow people to avoid public health guidance and jeopardize workplace safety during a global pandemic.”

An amendment filed Monday clarifies that the act does not apply to the “provision of services by a physician or health care personnel, intended to prevent contraction or transmission of COVID-19 or any pathogens that result in COVID-19 or any of its subsequent iterations.”

Reactionaries are pitching a familiar and predictable fit.

Mark Maxwell of WCIA-TV reports:

Several Facebook groups that have rallied supporters to oppose vaccine mandates recruited their followers to fill out witness slips on the General Assembly’s website. Within 24 hours, nearly 50,000 witness slips appeared online from people claiming they opposed the House amendment to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

“It’s an organized effort of misinformation, and it’s very concerning to me,” (amendment sponsor) Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, said on Tuesday night after the committee approved her bill.

Some of the critics who opposed vaccine mandates also sent menacing threats to her office. In a Facebook message Gabel’s office sent to law enforcement, one man from the Rockford area … threatened to force a medical procedure on Gabel against her consent. Others leveled vile, sexist insults, or referred to her as “Satan,” or a “witch.”

Impressive moral convictions on display there!

Southwest Side Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, introduced a resolution calling on the city to ensure that dependents of any city employees placed on no-pay status for failing to report their vaccine status do not lose health care benefits

How is Ald. Burke still a thing? He’s been under a 14-count Federal corruption indictment since May 2019, and though of course he’s innocent unless proven guilty, he should have the good taste to shut his yap if not resign.

Also, failing to report your vaccine status under the current circumstances ought to be a decision with weighty consequences, like losing everything that comes with your paycheck.

Tell me what you think

Consumer report

Monday’s editorial in the Chicago Tribune began,

In American business, profit flows from consumer lethargy. That’s why everyone and their dog wants you to sign up for auto-renewal. Once you’re hooked into that monthly fee for your storage locker or gym membership, you’re far less likely to cancel than if you have to decide what to do every month. Most people either don’t notice or can’t deal with the bother of trying to cancel.

Good point, though “everyone and their dog” includes the Tribune, where you can sign up for a subscription online, no problem, but you cannot cancel without calling and talking to a sales representative.

I used to receive and pass along complaints about this and other circulation issues when I was a staff columnist. Such messages have become rare since I left the paper in late June, but a long-time reader wrote last week to say this:

The Trib just snuck an email to me saying I'd be paying $27.72 every four weeks, for a digital subscription. That is like a $12 increase in what I had been paying. And it's considerably more than I pay for the NY Times or Washington Post! I called, and they were "kind enough" to take me back down to 15 bucks or so, but… I am sure in 6 months they will try the same thing.

I know what the subscriber means by “snuck an email to me.” Email is a firehose of communication for many of us, much of it designed to appear urgent. So it’s easy to overlook even a note with the subject header “important account information.”

For reference, by the way, $27.72 every four weeks is $360 a year. New York Times digital access is $221 a year. Washington Post digital access is $100 a year. The Chicago Sun-Times is $30 a year.

What am I paying? About $16 every four weeks, but I had to go to my credit card statement to check. The My Account page at doesn’t say.

Do you wonder why? I don’t.

“Subscriber inertia” — a known and lucrative form of the consumer lethargy to which the editorial writer referred — is enhanced when transparency is minimized.

The note to the reader, referenced above, said only “As your renewal date approaches, please be advised that your credit/debit card will automatically be charged $27.72 on approximately 11/06/2021 for 4 weeks of service – just 99¢ a day” without indicating that this marked a more than 70% price increase.

That this customer was able, he says, to negotiate the price back down to the roughly $4/ week rate advertised here online—

— kinda makes it worse, don’t you think? Especially since all I had to do Wednesday was call, ask for a better price and get it knocked down to $1 a week.

But of course this isn’t particularly a Chicago Tribune thing — the Sun-Times “my account” page doesn’t say how much my subscription is costing me either — as it is an “American business” thing, to use the term in the editorial.

But how can institutions that pound the table and demand transparency from others be so opaque when it comes to dealing with their own customers? How can institutions ostensibly devoted to presenting clear, factual and complete information offer such murky, misleading and incomplete information when it comes to subscriptions?

I’ve reached out to the Trib for comment on this and will let you know if I get a response.

Panic at the Sun-Times, by Jove!

In “Don’t speed recklessly to create digital driver’s licenses,” the Sun-Times editorial board is in full Halloween fright mode imagining all the things that could go wrong with allowing Illinois drivers the option of storing their driver’s license data on their smartphones:

Could a police officer ask for a driver’s license as a pretext for scrolling through texts or other personal information on someone’s device? It could happen…. Under some systems, police use a special scanner to get just the driver’s license information without grabbing the driver’s phone. But what if police officers ask a motorist to hand over a phone because their scanners aren’t working or they don’t have one?…Could scanning an electronic driver’s license create a permanent record that is captured when someone flashes a plastic license to, say, buy alcohol, enter a casino or go to a nightclub with an age requirement? What if a state government, through one of the usual bureaucratic mix-ups, mistakenly revokes your digital ID from your phone?…. In theory, people who don’t like the idea of putting their driver’s licenses on their phones could continue to use their plastic counterparts. It’s possible, though, that businesses and others might find the electronic versions to be preferable for their own reasons. Try to display a plastic driver’s license, and you might be shunted to the slow line while others hurry through, or find you can’t use it all.


My college friends and I referred to such frenzied hypotheticals as “apples the size of Jupiter.” The name comes from the exasperated remark one of us made to a series of panicky what-ifs, “yeah, yeah, what if apples the size of Jupiter started falling on the car?”

Sure, rogue police officers could confiscate phones and start searching through text messages in pretty clear violation of the 4th Amendment, but rogue officers could do that now. To put a fine point on it, Louisiana has had a law since 2016 noting, just to be sure, that “the display of a digitized driver's license shall not serve as consent or authorization for a law enforcement officer, or any other person, to search, view, or access any other data or application on the mobile device.”

It’s a belt-and-suspenders statute, if you ask me, but totally uncontroversial.

And as for the creation of the dreaded “permanent record,” well, we’re all leaving digital breadcrumbs everywhere we go when we carry our phones anyway. But, as the Washington Post reports, many of the digital license apps offer the option of generating a “Privacy View” QR code that shares only the information pertinent to the person scanning the code — age to a bouncer at a bar, for instance, but not home address.

What if the state “mistakenly revokes your digital ID from your phone?” Well, what if the state mistakenly removes your name from the driver’s license database so when you hand over your conventional ID the officer busts you for forgery so you have to spend a night in jail? “It could happen,” right?

What if businesses put you in a “slow line” if you’re among the 15% of those who don’t carry smart phones or if you’re in the ranks of the nervous Nelsons who eschew digital IDs? Been to the theater or a ballgame lately? Boarded a plane recently?

Get a grip, Sun-Times!

Digital IDs are a great idea with many benefits — more secure, less likely to be left at home, harder to counterfeit. And those who tremble at the thought will always be able to use old-school paper or laminated licenses, which will always be an option because smartphones will never reach 100% market penetration.

Should an editorial acknowledge potential downsides and urge lawmakers to follow best practices to avoid problems? Of course. In a paragraph or two.

Land of Linkin’

Word Court

“The (Bears organization has) been reticent to share its vision for the (Arlington Park) property.” … Tribune article, 10-25

But with a 32-22 tally in favor of repeal, the count fell short of approval of all who make up the Democrats’ 41-18 advantage, showing the reticence among moderate Democrats on a law whose proposed repeal now moves to the House… Associated Press article 10-26

The objection to “reticent” as a synonym for “reluctant” or “hesitant” is sustained!

Yes, the usage is common. The descriptivists at Merriam-Webster give it their OK. But to me, using “reticent” when you mean “reluctant” or “hesitant” is merely a misguided effort to deploy a slightly less common synonym in order to make yourself sound smarter.

My fellow grouches at Grammarphobia concur:

It’s important to preserve the distinction. ….“Reluctant” means unwilling while “reticent” means silent. “Reluctant” comes from a Latin word that means to struggle. “Reticent” comes from a Latin word meaning to keep silent; the same Latin word gives us “taciturn” (uncommunicative) and “tacit” (unspoken).

Those of us who are more in the prescriptive camp think it’s important to fight for certain distinctions even when the meaning is clear — sure, “I could care less” reads as "I couldn't care less," and “the lion’s share” is understood to mean “the majority,” but come on! I could make every “your” a “you’re” in my writing and vice versa, and my meaning would be clear. Would that make it right?

After I posted a link last week to Tom Fowler’s “whitelisting instructions” for Gmail users, reader Joe Kukec wrote to advise me that the terms “whitelist” and “blacklist” for filtering email are now considered culturally inappropriate. “The new preferred terms are Allowlist or Passlist, and Denylist or Blocklist.”

That objection is also sustained. Yes, the designations do not refer to skin color, but the black=bad, white=good paradigm feels insidious enough to me that we should avoid it when we easily can.

I received many letters and short notes this week from readers who are caring for or have cared for loved ones with dementia. They were responding to the item last week in which I described my mother’s grim situation.

I answered as many as I could and will try to get to the rest. It really helps for all of us in this situation to know how very much not alone we are, and it’s sobering to think of what an enormous problem this is going to be as we Boomers move into senescence with lives extended by breakthroughs in cardiac and cancer care.

This message from my good friend Ken Davis and posted to Facebook moved me deeply:

Your wish for ten minutes with your "former" mom caused a wave of emotion to slosh over me. I know that feeling so well.

Just ten minutes, please, please. I wanted to know - mom, are you still in there somewhere? Are you aware enough to be frightened? Can I do anything - anything- to give you comfort? I know you don't remember my name, but do you remember that I was your son for forty-some years?

She died alone in a sterile, uncaring hospital after, yes, a fall. I'd been with her an hour before, but the pressures of work took me away as she fell off to sleep, and, as I was grabbing a very-fast sandwich, a doctor I didn't know called to say she was dead. I'll always fear that in her final seconds she looked around the room for me and I wasn't there.

Alzheimer's is so cruel. You have my sympathies.

Related to that topic:

  • Something’s not right with mom . . . and now dad is a 2008 Tribune magazine story by Melissa Isaacson about her family’s struggles with dementia.

  • Several readers called my attention to Elvis Costello’s “Veronica,” (video; lyrics) a bouncy but very touching song about his grandmother’s dementia: “She used to have a carefree mind of her own and a delicate look in her eye / These days I'm afraid she's not even sure if her name is Veronica.”

  • The Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association maintains a 24-hour help line (800-272-3900) offering “confidential support and information to people living with dementia, caregivers, families and the public.”

Send me Z-mail

Rulings on the new rules

In last week’s Picayune Sentinel I reported the results of the reader poll on my 10 great ideas for revising the rules of sports and announced a follow-up poll asking for an up or down vote on 10 reader suggestions.

Just over half of the suggestions received majority support. Here are the results in order of approval (185 respondents)

  • Eject every knucklehead fan at major golf tournament who shouts “Get in the hole! , “You da man!”or “Ba-ba Booey!” right after a player hits the ball. 77% approval

  • Put RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips into footballs to instantly award first downs and determine the spot of the ball. 72% approval

  • In the last two minutes of a basketball game, when a player is fouled, his or her team can either shoot two free throws or choose to shoot one free throw and keep the ball. 72% approval

  • Standardize the designated-hitter rule across Major League Baseball. 70% approval

  • To slightly increase the penalty of hitting a batter with a pitch, the batter can be replaced by a pinch runner for the duration of that inning, but then return to the game. 58% approval

  • Eliminate shootouts in hockey and soccer in favor of overtimes in which the number of participating players gradually shrinks until one team scores. 57% approval

  • Once a batter steps into the batter’s box, he should incur an automatic strike if he steps out before completing the at bat. 49% approval

  • Eliminate the extra point kick in favor of a three yard play for one point, a six yard play for two points and a nine yard play for three points. 42% approval

  • Get rid of the “break the plane of the goal-line” touchdown and require players to literally touch a part of their body down in the end-zone while in possession of the ball to be awarded six points. 39% approval

  • Turn off the clock with four minutes left in basketball games and have the teams play to a certain point total. 10% approval

I’m disappointed by the lack of support for the idea of making a wholesale change in how basketball games conclude, as it’s a serious proposal with serious advantages.

It’s called “The Elam Ending” and the formal description of the change, which was adopted for the NBA All-Star game in 2020 and is used for overtime games in New Zealand’s National Basketball League, reads like this:

Designed to preserve a more natural end of game finish, the Elam Ending calls for the game clock to be shut off at the first dead ball under four minutes in the fourth quarter or second half. A target score is then established by adding eight points to the leading team’s score. For example, if the score is 80-72, the two teams will play until someone reaches 88. With no game clock in play, trailing teams are allowed to focus on getting stops and buckets, rather than intentionally fouling.

Ball State University education professor Nick Elam, who devised the rule —

— DVR’d over 2,000 NBA and NCAA basketball games over a ten-year period and found that the trailing team resorted to intentional fouling at the end of the game in roughly half of all games. Furthermore, he noted it was only an effective strategy for the trailing team 1.5% of the time.

Yes, his ending scheme eliminates “buzzer beaters,” those exciting, game-winning shots as time expires. But it also eliminates deliberate fouling at the ends of games and stalling, and it assures teams will play hard right until the end.

Elam Endings would also bring organized basketball into conformity with 99.9% of all basketball games ever played — the pick-up games to 11 or 15 or 21 or 25 points in parks and rec gyms all over the country all the time.

I’m genuinely curious why this change was viewed negatively by 9 in 10 respondents. Write and tell me:

I don't like the Elam Ending because

Reader Dominic Tunzi offered an intriguing idea for soccer overtimes: “Toss in a second soccer ball. Next goal wins.”

My former colleague John Keilman sent me a proposal from ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry

What if every team in the NBA could draw the 3-point line wherever they wanted?

Ever since the inception of the sport, basketball courts have been the same shape with equal dimensions no matter what city you played in. This consistency separates the sport from baseball and soccer, which both have different dimensions in different arenas.….What if every season each NBA team delineated its own 3-point line based on the strengths and weaknesses of its roster? Where would Golden State put its line? What about Houston?

And a further note here that the Savannah (Ga.) Bananas, a summer team of college baseball players, have come up with some amusing and potentially revolutionary rule changes for baseball, including a match-play scoring system in which the winner of each inning gets a point and the first team to five points wins.

Minced words

Only three panelists were available this week for the Mincing Rascals podcast, so there was more time for my tedious filibustering! Topics covered:

  • The fallout from the Blackhawks sex scandal

  • The upcoming trial of Kyle Rittenhouse

  • Congressional remaps and the prospects for a faceoff between incumbent Republican U.S. Reps. Darin LaHood and Adam Kinzinger that might include Cult 45 member Catalina Lauf

  • Vaccine mandates for public employees (again!)

  • The ball with which Tom Brady threw his 600th touchdown pass. Should the fan have given it back? Would you?

Subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. Or bookmark this page.

A word from our founding grandfather

This masthead from the March 9, 1979 issue of the Piccayune Sentinel shows that this publication’s first editor and publisher, my grandfather and noted mathematician Max A. Zorn, did not always use the unconventional spelling of picayune and indeed occasionally featured a masthead quite similar to the one I recently created.

I can’t understand much in the text, though I appreciate its saucy tone. The lead story in this issue ran under the headline “Lawvere priority disestablished daughter violates father’s sacred principle,” a reference to mathematician William Lawvere, I guess.

There is a review of the collected works of Brouwer in JSL ending on the note (or not): Discontinuous intuitionistic function of a real variable. A full account is needed. We cannot accept the hypothesis that Brouwer got scared by the remarks of the editor of the (opportunistic?) paper by Christoffel … (To our knowledge, nobody has gone that far.)

Brouwer is Dutch mathematician and philosopher L. E. J. Brouwer. JSL is the Journal of Symbolic Logic. And Christoffel is German mathematician and physicist Bruno Christoffel, near as I can tell. Nothing else here makes any sense to me. Does anyone speak Zorn?

Re: Tweets

This week’s nominees for Tweet of the Week:

  • For Halloween, my wife is going as “Woman with Lowered Standards” and I'm going as "Guy She Settled For." … @RodLacroix

  • I enjoy Halloween as much as anyone. But did you know you can knock on a random door and ask for candy, then toilet paper the house if they refuse any day of the year? … @SvnSxty

  •  Annual reminder that the fake spider webs you stretch across your front porch look nothing like spider webs and instead just look like you murdered a sweater and have hung up its dismembered corpse as a grim warning to all other knitwear … @ghweldon

  • The downside of being dumped before Halloween is how lame Sonny Bono is as a costume … @kipconlon

  • So what, we just have to keep giving away free candy EVERY year? Is anyone working on an exit strategy? … @IamJackBoot

  • Just helped my neighbor bury a rolled up carpet in the woods.  Her boyfriend would have helped, but he was out of town …. @mariana057

  • Sir Mix-a-lot likes big butts and cannot lie. His twin brother does not like big butts and cannot tell the truth. You may ask one question ... @ranjit

  • “You need to get over this January 6th incident” say the people who still aren’t over the Civil War. … @OhNoSheTwitnt

  • If the enemy of my enemy is my friend and I am my own worst enemy,  then I am also my own best friend … @HMittelmark

  • Party going on too long? Go up to your guests and whisper, “I hope you’ll stay for my dream-journal reading.”... @ConanOBrien

Vote in the poll by clicking here.

For poll instructions and guidelines if you need them, click here.

And I’d like the input of my discerning readers in a comedy court question. Here are two versions of a tweet by Rick Aaron:

I was shocked by how much you can save by doing your own wiring.


I was shocked by how much you can save by doing your own wiring. Several times.

Which one works better for you? I’m genuinely curious and will discuss the results next week. Take the one-question auxiliary poll.

Today’s Tune

One of the few times in my life I’ve been star struck was when I went to music camp in West Virginia in 2017 and Anna Roberts-Gevalt was on the teaching staff. Viral YouTube videos of her joyous, luminous fiddle playing had entranced and inspired me for years, and I fluttered inside like a fan boy in starting a conversation with her in the cafeteria one day.

I mentioned her playing in “The Cat Came Back” video in particular — the tune is not related to the children’s folk song you may remember —

— and she seemed a little tired of all the attention given to that 2010 field recording as well as to her popular takes on Boatin’ Up Sandy (2010) and Greasy Coat (2008). With her musical partner Elizabeth LaPrelle, ARG has since been “moving outwards from her immersion in traditional music” as her online bio puts it. Their NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert gives a bit of the flavor of that direction. More recently she was dealing with symptoms of long COVID. I didn’t hear back when reaching out to her on Facebook to see how she’s doing today.

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