I was wrong about ...
But I'm right about the title of the funniest song ever
7-28-2022 (issue No. 46)
Eric Zorn is a former opinion columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Find a longer bio and contact information here. This issue exceeds in size the maximum length for a standard email. To read the entire issue in your browser, click on the headline link above.
Columnists at The New York Times confess error (and so do I)
News & Views on Darren Bailey, Soldier Field, Donald Trump, dynamic ticket pricing and Hoosier hothead John Kass
The Land of Linkin' lovingly curated, elegantly presented references
A promo for this week's episode of “The Mincing Rascals"
Re:Tweets Explanations of some of last week's confusing tweets and a presentation of the new nominees
The funniest song in the history of music, revealed!
Mary Schmich is working on another project, but her Tuesday posts will return!
Eight columnists at The New York Times confessed their errors last week in an intriguing joint presentation under the rubric “I was wrong about,” the introduction to which read:
In our age of hyperpartisanship and polarization, when social media echo chambers incentivize digging in and doubling down, it’s not easy to admit you got something wrong. But here at Times Opinion, we still hold on to the idea that good-faith intellectual debate is possible, that we should all be able to rethink our positions on issues, from the most serious to the most trivial. It’s not necessarily easy for Times Opinion columnists to engage in public self-reproach, but we hope that in doing so, they can be models of how valuable it can be to admit when you get things wrong
Here are links and excerpts:
I could have thought a little harder about the fact that, in my dripping condescension toward (Trump) supporters, I was also confirming their suspicions about people like me.
The most educated Americans were amassing more and more wealth, dominating the best living areas, pouring advantages into their kids. A highly unequal caste system was forming. Bit by bit it dawned on me that the government would have to get much more active if every child was going to have an open field and a fair chance.
Due process is important whether or not a person did what he or she is accused of, and the absence of it in this case has left lasting wounds.
In the aftermath of the 2008 crisis standard economic models performed pretty well, and I felt comfortable applying those models in 2021. But in retrospect I should have realized that, in the face of the new world created by Covid-19, that kind of extrapolation wasn’t a safe bet.
My optimism about the power of our protest had been colored by my inability to recognize that the rules of the game had changed with the changing environment.
I brazenly wrote in my 1999 book, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree,” that “China’s going to have a free press. … Oh, China’s leaders don’t know it yet, but they are being pushed straight in that direction.” … (But) there has been a pronounced reversal in trajectory ever since Xi Jinping became head of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012 and then president in 2013.
(In 2009) I all but reached through the screen, grabbed Facebook skeptics by the lapels and scolded them for being pompous, mirthless Luddites. … My argument suffered from the same flaws I regularly climb up on my mainstream-media soapbox to denounce. … I should have known better.
When Romney was running for president, I tried to see how many times I could find a way to mention that the candidate once drove to Canada with a dog named Seamus strapped to the roof of his car. … Romney is now in the Senate, where he was the only Republican who voted to remove Trump from office during both of his impeachments and, recently, was the only Republican to vote against repealing Joe Biden’s mask mandate.
This array of remorseful offerings in the Times set me thinking what I would write in response to such an assignment.
Like many of the Times writers, I would have to begin by admitting there’s more than one column or series of columns I’d retract if I could — my early support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, for instance, my facile dismissal of the problem of adult attention-deficit disorder or, yes, my hasty decision to pile on Al Franken: “If the Democrats want to try to claim any high ground … they ought to exercise independent moral judgment and demand Franken’s resignation.”
If I had to choose just one, though, it would be my post-election column after Joe Biden prevailed headlined, “Trump’s tantrum injects some badly needed comedy into a tragic 2020.” Here are a few now mortifyingly glib passages:
President Donald Trump’s epic, infantile post-election hissy fit strikes me as one of the funniest chapters in American political history. … Folks! This is comedy gold! It’s a caper. It’s farce.
The clown in the starring role appears to be plotting a coup, unaware that he’s being humored, not actually supported, by those with actual power who are currently standing with him.
Years from now, historians will look back on Trump’s lame-duck flailing about as the most sidesplitting era in the annals of the presidency, a period in which each new delusion and each mendacious claim ended up deepening the shame in which posterity regards him. … The damage from Trump’s stubborn refusal to cooperate is likely to be minimal. … There are too many principled Republicans out there to allow an authoritarian takeover of our democracy for the temporary gain of reinstalling their grotesque jester as president.
It may look like bedlam right now, but trust me. It’s a riot.
Well, at least the word “riot” was prescient. The rest was pure, blithe ignorance of the dead serious machinations of Trump and his enablers, and of the lack of principle and courage among so many leading Republicans.
I’m hereby putting out the call to columnists past and present to offer their mea culpas. I’ll link to them when you publish or post your letters to me.
Commenters: Use the thread below to tell me what you were once wrong about. And please, no smug self-congratulatory blather along the lines of, “I was a young and foolish (liberal/conservative), but now that I am older and wiser I have become a (conservative/liberal).”
Last week’s winning tweet
Scroll down to read this week’s nominees or click here to vote in the new poll.
In a July 17 post about changes in The New York Times opinion offerings, Kate Elazegui, the design director for that part of the paper, said:
It’s important online and in print to try to make the divide between news and opinion transparent, as well as who represents the voice of the institution: These are our columnists, these are our editorial-board members, these are our contributors. In print, we moved the author bios up to the top of each story so the reader isn’t hunting for the information about who wrote it. It’s small design things we can do to be as clear as possible. For instance, editorials are labeled explicitly with the editorial board, and we use headlines and all caps. It feels, visually, like a different kind of voice.
This came a little less than two weeks after I launched the “Sez Who? initiative” in a post arguing that placing an op-ed contributor’s credentials at the bottom of opinion essays in what’s known as an italic shirttail is “a bizarre, reader unfriendly convention, and the only excuse for it I can think of is that, well, just about every newspaper has just about always done it that way.”
Tribune Editorial Page Editor Chris Jones told me by email that “moving the shirttail is an interesting idea … that we should think about.”
News & Views
News: Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey is shying away from questions about former President Donald Trump in an apparent effort to tack to the political center.
The homina-homina-homina act didn’t work for Bailey’s vanquished primary rival Richard Irvin, who at least seemed to be authentically conflicted when he ducked and dodged questions about Trump, and it’s really not going to work for Bailey. The Tribune’s Rick Pearson reported:
(Bailey) appeared indignant when asked if he agreed with a group of ultraconservative downstate allies who have called the House committee hearings a “sham” and called on the state GOP to censure one of its members, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Channahon. Bailey called the question “completely inappropriate” because he said his press availability was called to talk about what he sees as the shortcomings of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services under Pritzker. …
Bailey’s attempts to avoid talking about Trump are a departure from his approach before the primary, when he declared there was literally “no distance” between his views and those of the former president. … Earlier this year (he) called for rioters who broke into the Capitol to be “tried or should be punished” but on Tuesday he denied that his evasiveness on the topic was aimed at making himself more amenable to mainstream Republicans.
“Illinois has real problems. I’m not running for Congress. I’m running for the governor of the great state of Illinois. And I’m running to represent everyone in this state and I am laser-focused on the problems that we have here in Illinois.”
The “I’m ignoring your question because I want to talk about the issues I think are relevant” is the signature response of political scoundrels. So in that sense I do give Bailey some credit for his weird declaration, “I don’t agree with anything that Adam Kinzinger stands for.”
It’s a harsh, obtuse, ignorant, churlish statement — Bailey and Kinzinger are almost certainly aligned on at least 85% of public policy issues — but perfectly on-brand for the harsh, obtuse, ignorant and churlish Bailey. However, his refusal to parrot Trump in every way is off-brand and feels inauthentic. And authenticity was one thing Bailey seemed to have going for him.
News: Mayor Lori Lightfoot unveils a plan to put a dome over Soldier Field in an effort to get the Bears to stay in Chicago.
View: “Plan” probably overstates the case. “Notion” or “fantasy” is probably the better word to describe the up to $2.2 billion proposed facelift for the stadium and lakefront campus outlined in a document released this week. I will simply add my voice to those telling Lightfoot not to invest another dime of taxpayer money into trying to placate this perennially mediocre franchise. Let them move to Arlington Heights and be done with it.
I will never not be angry about the 2003 renovation, an ill-conceived redesign that left the Bears with the smallest stadium in the NFL and which still leaves the city owing a reported $440 million in bond payments. A dome would have at least created a venue for other major events such as the NCAA Final Four. But the wacky notion that fans enjoy “Bears weather” — snow, freezing temperatures, ugly wind gusts — inspired the park district to keep Soldier Field open to the elements.
As a Chicagoan, I don’t want to have to pay twice for this mistake. And I don’t care which glorified TV studio the Bears end up playing in.
News: Former President Donald Trump lashed out at “Fox and Friends” for referencing several Republican presidential primary polls showing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ahead of him in some demographics, saying the show “has been terrible — gone to the ‘dark side.’”
View: The "Fox and Friends" story as well as the story of how the New York Post and Wall Street Journal editorial pages seem to have soured on Trump gives me a glimmer of hope that he won’t run again or, if he does, this time he will fracture rather than unite the cultish Republican party.
Still, I would even pay a bit extra if Dish Network offered me the option of a package that didn’t include Fox News. The idea that even a small amount of my money is going to fund that ugly, dangerous fount of white-nationalist claptrap sickens me more and more each day. And Fox viewers should have the opportunity to subscribe to an MSNBC-free package as well.
News: Some Bruce Springsteen fans are outraged that Ticketmaster is using “dynamic pricing” to sell seats to his shows, which are going for more than $5,000.
View: It seems fair that profit from the actual value of tickets to Springsteen’s shows goes to him, not the scalpers when the box-office prices fluctuate wildly with demand. The New York Times story paraphrased Michael Rapino, the chief executive of Ticketmaster’s parent company, Live Nation Entertainment:
Many tickets for the best concerts and other events have a much higher street value the moment Ticketmaster sells them. Why shouldn’t an artist capture most of that excess? Prices that are too low open the door for scalpers to make more money — via the profit they gain from selling at the true market price — than performers make themselves.
People of modest means will no longer have a chance at getting lucky and scoring great seats at comparatively low prices, but that’s capitalism for you.
News: Former Tribune columnist John Kass is wroth that the Tribune reported that he’d moved to Northwest Indiana.
I’d be flattered if the Tribune — also my former employer — considered me important enough that my real estate transactions deserved the minimal, matter-of-fact coverage recently given Kass’ relocation. It was the second of three items in a column at the bottom of the seventh section last Sunday.
But you’d have thought the paper (or “the paper,” as Kass sneeringly calls the publication that launched his career and gave him top-pundit billing for decades) had put his phone number and home address above the fold on Page One from the way he carried on in a column posted Wednesday to his website.
I see the woke media for what it is, what it’s done to the city, how they’ve avoided the truth of what’s happened to Chicago. And the left hates my guts. … So to get at me, they targeted our modest home in Indiana — still just barely in the Chicago metro area where they still sell “the paper” at the local stores — and wrote a story about it. …
There were other stories more important to the Tribune’s readers than vengeance on me.
They could have written about the continued rise in violent crime and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s pathetic administration of the overworked and understaffed police department, where there aren’t enough cops to handle 9/11 emergency calls.
Or they could have fully explored the abysmal news that many cheerleading press agents ignore amid all their forced happy talk: Downtown commercial office vacancy rates have hit record highs.
… whines the guy who regularly wrote about how and why to shove beer cans up the asses of chickens before throwing them on the grill. Kass often let readers into certain corners of his personal life, including — you guessed it — in the May 2020 account of his decision to move from the suburbs back into the city.
And good for him! A column — like a newspaper itself, like Kass’ new venture and like this Substack — contains a mix of light and heavy, serious and frivolous, urgent and timeless. Nearly every newspaper has sections devoted to sports and to entertainment in an effort to satisfy the wide-ranging interests of readers and offer a break from scandal and mayhem.
Fact is, readers were interested in Kass’ decision to leave Illinois, whether or not he or anyone else considered it a proper story. Chicago Public Square daily newsletter editor Charlie Meyerson told me that a link to the online version of freelance reporter Robert Goldsborough’s item on Kass’ new home was by far the most clicked on of the 38 links that appeared in his July 14 news roundup, even though it came near the bottom of the newsletter.
Vengeance? Not from me. I applauded Kass’ decision in a recent issue, writing, “I’ve got to respect that, unlike most of those who complain endlessly about Illinois, he suited his actions to his words and summoned the movers.”
What made this story all the more intriguing was how he was clearly trying to keep his status as a new Hoosier a secret, making the home purchase “through an opaque Indiana land trust,” as Goldsborough reported, and declining to answer queries about the move, including one in an email from me.
In his 1,500-word tantrum over this everyday item — the Tribune regularly reports on the real estate transactions of Chicago media personalities, including ones less well known than Kass — he wrote:
A weird angry troll on social media then documented, publicly, a full day of his travels from Chicago via bicycle and public transportation, traveling to my home. Our home. This is what “the paper” triggered.
Nope. The “weird angry troll on social media” was John Greenfield, co-editor of Streetsblog Chicago and a columnist for the Chicago Reader. He was not traveling to Kass’ “home,” and indeed the first entry in the Twitter thread that chronicled his trip to St. John contained the assurance, “No, I won't identify or visit Kass' house.”
And he didn’t.
Further, “the paper” didn’t trigger Greenfield’s excursion. He’s a longtime vocal critic of Kass’ writing and started tweaking him about the then-rumored move long before before Goldsborough nailed down the details and published them.
Rather than be amused and flattered that some still consider him important enough to tweak, Kass rose to the bait and gnawed on it furiously, not just in the essay posted to his website but also on his podcast and in a radio appearance.
He ended his self-pitying rant with this: “But really, I don’t give two figs.”
So one fig equals 750 indignant words. Do the math.
Land of Linkin’
“Can You Get Monkeypox from Trying on Clothes? Experts Answer Biggest Questions” Unlikely is the verdict. Here are the other modes of transmission the report deems unlikely: Touching a doorknob; shopping, dining or riding public transportation; using public restrooms or shared gym equipment; swimming in a pool or bathing in a hot tub and mingling with co-workers who have been exposed. Under possibly risky activities, the article lists kissing; sharing towels, linens or drinks and dancing on a crowded dance floor. The only risk deemed “likely” is intimate sexual contact. Takeaway: “There is no current evidence to suggest the virus is airborne.”
… though Bloomberg notes, “Monkeypox mutates, like any other virus. … Without swift action to stop this outbreak, the virus will only get more chances to morph into an ever-more formidable threat.”
The best part of this vintage video of the Bay City Rollers singing their 1976 hit “Saturday Night” with Ann-Margret are the pans to the studio audience of seniors, especially the ones who are not having it (the knitter is unforgettable). Also, an ear trumpet is not something you see every day.
“Police say people pretending to play violin for money is a 'nationwide issue.'” So step off, Monkeypox.
“‘Nobody would choose this’: A turnpike rest area and a van become home for one Maine family.” Phenomenal, heartbreaking reporting and photography from the Portland (Maine) Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.
Delaney King offers a hyperliteral analysis and reimagination of the “Jack and the Beanstalk” fairytale: “Grinding the bones of an average modern Englishman yields approximately 15 pounds of flour. As a loaf of bread requires around 1 pound of flour, so taking into account Jack was young and most likely suffering from malnutrition, he would make 10-12 loaves.”
There is nothing new about Hollywood bloopers. Here is a reel from vintage movies.
Ben Mathis-Lilley puts Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker third in his rankings of the top 10 Democrats best suited to head the party’s ticket in 2024. Pritzker is just behind New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Mathis-Lilley’s top choice, Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock. The writer does admit that when he penned a similar list in 2018, he had Beto O’Rourke in first place. O’Rourke ended up suspending his campaign three months prior to the Iowa caucuses.
The Picayune Sentinel on the air: On Thursdays at 4:30 p.m., WCPT-AM 820 host Joan Esposito and I chat about ideas raised in the new issue. The listen-live link is here.
The Picayune Sentinel preview: Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. I talk with WGN-AM 720 host John Williams about what’s making news and likely to be grist for the PS mill. The WGN listen-live link is here.
“The Mincing Rascals” panel dove into the race for governor this week, as well as into the Soldier Field controversy, the wisdom of term limits and more. A bitter schism has opened up among regular panelists about the 1981 movie “Thief” starring James Caan. Some love it. Some hate it. It looks like it’s going to be up to me to watch it and then break the deadlock using my usual diplomatic skills.
In the beginning, host John Williams passed along the suggestion that I should change the name of this newsletter because “Picayune” is hard for many people to spell. But Google searches using “Pickayune” “Piccayune” and “Pickayoon” all lead back here (“Pikayoon” does not, alas), and I’m attached to the name for family historical reasons.
Subscribe to the weekly Rascals gaggle wherever you get your podcasts. Or bookmark this page. If you’re not a podcast listener, you can now hear an edited version of the show at 8 p.m. most Saturday evenings on WGN-AM 720.
First, some Zmail from Frank S.:
For some time, now, I have found that I just don't get a fair number of your tweet nominees. Two examples in the July 21st issue: I had no idea “Calling pizza ‘‘za’ is a form of birth control,” by @topaz_kell was supposed to mean.
And about this one — “[On set of the hit Swedish TV show ‘So You Think You Can Flørgën’]. Contestant: *Begins to flärgën* Judge: It's a no from me”. — I haven't a clue.
Too many entries reek of a display of how smart or cool somebody is, to us too dumb, or not clever enough, to get it. Since I've never been part of the in crowd, and never cared to be, when I find myself in such a situation I usually just quit paying attention, as a waste of my time, as if I would be watching somebody masturbate — almost never wasting it by doing something like writing this.
Well, you took it to 11 there at the end (pardon my pop culture reference!). Referring to pizza as “‘za” is very 1980s, very lame, very cringe. Therefore, someone using that slang term renders himself or herself sexually undesirable in the comic exaggeration of the joke.
The flørgën/flärgën joke is really just a bit of weirdness that plays off the long-running Fox TV reality show “So You Think You Can Dance” and the fact that many Scandinavian words look so unfamiliar to us that they appear to be invented. We don’t know what flørgën means (it is, in fact, a nonsense word that one commenter noted would be Norwegian or Danish, not Swedish), but we get the idea that flørgëning is meant to be close enough to flärgëning that a contestant might be confused and a judge might be inspired to dryly reject the effort.
The names of Ikea products inspire similar jokes on Twitter, such as:
Was the flørgën/flärgën variant funny? Only 49 voters thought so. You are not alone, Frank.
In Tuesday’s paid-subscriber editions , I present my favorite tweets that rely on visual humor and so can’t be included in the classic Tweet of the Week contest where the template for the poll does not allow the use of images. Subscribers vote up their favorite, which I now include in Thursday’s main issue.
The new nominees for Tweet of the Week include the taco-truck tweet that 2 out of 3 readers voted belonged in the contest:
My husband made it clear years ago he has no interest in assembling anything, but I really wanted a hammock for the backyard. Guys, I put it together myself! It was so easy. And it came with all these extra parts! — @smiles_and_nods
Sometimes I order from the taco truck in Spanish. One of these times they are gonna give me what I actually asked for, to teach me a lesson. — @perlhack
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on you. Fool me three times, I'm clearly not going to catch on. Why is this fun for you? — @UnFitz
People who stand on moving walkways don’t love themselves. — @rn_murse
I tell all three of my kids that they are the password child. — @OMGSoOverIt
I want to make some strangers on the internet unreasonably mad today, but first I need to put my cast iron skillet in the dishwasher. — @jordan_stratton
Popular culture was invented to distract the working class from coming together to overthrow the rich. Instead we spend our time reading about the Kardashians, splitting into factions and arguing about which is our favorite. Mine is Kourtney. — @wildethingy
If someone has upset you, write a message about how you feel, put it in a bottle and hit them over the head with it. — @topaz_kell
Remember, kids are given six weeks off school each summer so they can help with the harvest. Don’t let them give you any shit. — @tobestewart
Someday, God willing, I will attend my children’s weddings, refuse to eat what they serve and demand butter noodles and nuggets.— @mollymcnearney
We the people beg to differ
Spicer is running for the U.S. Congress as a Republican in Florida. She does not seem to know what a pronoun and/or she has never actually read the Constitution, which begins with a pronoun.
Tune of the Week
The Tweet of the Week poll on July 14 included a finalist by @blainecapatch that the vast majority of voters did not find amusing — “Doctor: You should go see Pagliacci. Me: The clown? Doctor: No, the oncologist.”
It’s a grim twist on an already grim joke, which KnowYourMeme.com renders this way:
Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor…I am Pagliacci.”
This ended up putting me in mind of the funniest song I have ever heard — “Pal-Yat-Chee,” a 1953 release by Spike Jones and His City Slickers with vocals by the comedy-country duo Homer & Jethro.
The lyrics tell the tale of a couple of bumpkins in the city who buy tickets to a performance of the 19th century Italian opera “Pagliacci” assuming, for some reason, that it’s a Western. A reader has suggested that the syllable “Pal” echoed of such country songs as “My Old Pal” (Jimmie Rodgers, 1928) and “Come Back Little Pal,” (Roy Acuff, 1941), which is as plausible an explanation as any.
They describe their confusion and boredom as the show drags on:
Seven hours later, we're still in the durn the-a-ter, Takin' turns at nappin', a-waitin' for somethin' to happen.
(Note that the actual running time of the opera is just a little over three hours.)
When the tenor launches into the famous aria, “Vesti la giubba" (Italian idiom for “the show must go on”) the bumpkins hear it as “Invest in a tuba.” They also hear the lyrics referencing “somethin’ or other about Cuba,” but I don’t know what that alludes to. Anyone?
Lindley Armstrong "Spike" Jones, who died at 53 in 1965, was in part the Weird Al Yankovic of his time — riffing on popular music, and in part the P.D.Q. Bach— using classical music themes as a springboard for comedy. Wikipedia describes performances as “punctuated with gunshots, whistles, cowbells, hiccups, burps and outlandish and comedic vocals,” and notes how he used “pots and pans, forks, knives and spoons as musical instruments.”
Most of that is on display here:
TV Tropes notes that:
Technically, most of (Jones’) music isn't so much parody as it is travesty (in the technical definition of the word, without the modern connotation of meanness or butchery). He would play the tune with the correct notes and the original lyrics, but in such an out-of-left-field musical style that the music itself was the joke. …
He is perhaps best known for performing a Breakaway Pop Hit cover of the song "Der Fuehrer's Face," featured in the Disney Wartime Cartoon of the same name. …
Another famous routine is "William Tell Overture," featuring a horse race commentary by fellow comedian Doodles Weaver (Sigourney's uncle) stacked with jokes about the horses' names and ending in a surprise win for The Alleged Steed Feetlebaum.
And around Christmas, you've probably heard "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth."
If you can incorporate the phrase “‘tain’t very sanitary” into your lexicon, we will be friends.
Meanwhile, regarding my view that this is the funniest song ever, I realize there are plenty of strong contenders for that honor. I’m a fan of Tom Lehrer, Lou & Peter Berryman, Garfunkel and Oats, Flight of the Conchords, Spinal Tap, Monty Python, SNL parodies and others, and I suspect some of you can think of songs you consider more amusing than “Pal-yat-chee.” Let me know. I might change my mind.
The Picayune Sentinel is a reader-supported publication. Simply subscribe to receive new posts each Thursday. To support my work, receive bonus issues on Tuesdays and join the zesty commenting community, become a paid subscriber. Thanks for reading!