Discover more from Eric Zorn: The Picayune Sentinel
It's not too late for Kim Foxx to revise her obituary
& a fond farewell to a fellow word nerd
4-27-2023 (issue No. 85)
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.
Word Watch — A farewell salute to a fellow language lover
Land of Linkin’ — Where I tell readers where to go
Homeless advocate on housing asylum seekers in Chicago — ‘What’s going on here?’
Mary Schmich — A skyline photo of our wondrous city
Re:Tweets — Featuring the winner of the visual tweets poll and this week’s finalists
Tune of the Week — Picking just one Harry Belafonte song as a valedictory was a challenge!
Tuesday’s announcement by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx that she will not seek a third term next year was surprising —
— this was the first I’d heard that she’d promised her family she’d serve only two terms — and I hope it doesn’t signal the end of the idea that justice is always about convictions.
On balance, she’s been doing a good job during challenging times to marshal the resources of the prosecutor’s office in a constructive fashion. She’s been far more thoughtful than her predecessors in considering claims of wrongful convictions, she’s been a leader in the push to abolish a cash-bail system that effectively criminalized poverty and her office has expunged more than 15,000 marijuana convictions.
Yes, she has made some debatable decisions — her critics question the wisdom of raising the threshold for prosecuting shoplifting as a felony to $1,000 from $500, and her office’s failure to come down hard (if at all) in certain cases often provoked anger. (To wit, “Chicago family rips Kim Foxx after teens accused of deadly car crash get misdemeanors: 'Blood on her hands'“ in Tuesday’s news.)
But in the long run it will not be anecdotes that will define her eight years in office, but statistics comparing Cook County to similar urban jurisdictions.
Speaking of anecdotes, however, Foxx noted bitterly in her speech Tuesday that she keeps getting asked about her handling of the 2019 Jussie Smollett case — a “Class 4 nonviolent felony (charge) against a D-list actor actor who committed a crime against himself,” as she described it — and that the story will no doubt feature prominently in her obituary.
Foxx and her more staunch defenders have long tried to downplay the significance of the Smollett story by focusing on the triviality of one false police report in a year in which the city saw 500 homicides.
But as the Tribune’s Thursday morning editorial “Why Jussie Smollett must be part of the legacy of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx” reminds us, the case was always about more than a vain little hoax. It was about trust — shattered trust between the police and Foxx’s office and between the public and Foxx herself.
Many of us were confused and angry when Foxx abruptly and without explanation dropped all charges against Smollett just 18 days after a Cook County grand jury indicted him.
Her precipitous surrender — after a peculiar announcement that she was informally recusing herself from the case — allowed Smollett to stand in front of a bouquet of microphones at the courthouse and proclaim his innocence.
Justice demanded resolution and accountability. An admission, a rebuke, a minor punishment and … scene!
Yet Foxx appeared oblivious to this imperative as she made the media rounds attempting to explain why her office hadn’t extracted a guilty plea or at least a public apology for all the hullabaloo that his claim had provoked.
She said those outraged by the outcome were "people who don't understand the intricacies of the justice system."
But as I’ve written before, what she didn’t seem to understand is that high-profile criminal cases — even fundamentally insignificant ones — are the lens through which the public sees and evaluates the administration of justice as a whole.
Are investigations thorough and honest? Is the process of obtaining an outcome transparent and fair? Does the result give us confidence that all the low-profile cases most of us never hear of are being handled with consistency and integrity?
Foxx kept this story alive with her persistent and still ongoing failure to offer a coherent and regretful explanation of what happened in those 18 days. Instead she has decided to stick with the indignant, poor-me narrative (she wrote that the special prosecution that ultimately resulted in Smollett’s conviction was part of an effort to “attack and marginalize anyone fighting to create a more just system, one that recognizes the rule of law”) and with the false claim that her office routinely dismissed similar offenders.
The story will always figure in her obituary, hopefully many decades from now. But it’s not too late for her to finally and without bitterness explain just what happened and why, a mea culpa that would move Smollett from the third paragraph in her life story to the 13th.
Last week’s winning tweet
Unlike a good neighbor, State Farm drops a longtime customer over storm damage
On Facebook, my friend Jim Strickler of Evanston has been posting about his experiences with his home insurance company. I asked him to distill the matter for Picayune Sentinel readers:
When is a good neighbor not a good neighbor? When it’s State Farm. They decided not to renew our homeowners insurance when it came up for renewal on April 1. Their reason? Our “overall claim activity.” In our 35 years as customers, we made five claims. One in 1997, one in 1999 and three in the last five years—2019, 2020 and 2022. The latter two were for storm damage.
We never realized that State Farm had a “three strikes (in five years) and you’re out” policy. If our agent had made sure we understood this after our 2020 claim, we would not have filed the 2022 claim, which was for $2,146 to repair our roof and gutters when a tree branch fell on a windy day. Without that claim, we would still be contented State Farm customers.
We tried to get insurance from another company. We couldn’t. When we mentioned that State Farm had dropped us, others were not interested. All companies seemed to use similar guidelines in writing policies.
So we turned to the Illinois FAIR Plan, a state-mandated insurance pool for people who can’t get insurance elsewhere. We did get insurance. The kicker? The cost is more than triple that of our State Farm policy—an extra $4,500 a year. We will probably be on the FAIR Plan for three years. So that $2,146 claim in 2022 will cost us approximately $13,500.
We contacted our state representative, Robyn Gabel, asking if we had any recourse. With her office’s help, we filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Insurance. The IDI saw enough validity in our case to grant us an administrative hearing.
This hearing focused solely on whether State Farm followed the state-required procedures for non-renewal, which are very vague and allow the companies quite a bit of latitude. What does “overall claim activity” mean?
We argued that because the financial consequences of non-renewal are so hefty, the state should require companies to notify customers in clear language—and confirm that they grasp—the risks of filing a claim.
Regardless of the result of the hearing, we want to alert others: don’t make the mistake we did of relying on an agent and a company you think you can trust.
I think of our insurance agent as one of many people in our lives—the lawyer who helped us write our will, the mechanic who tells us when to change our flux capacitor, the computer folks who do whatever they do—who have expertise in a specialized field and who I rely on to help me make decisions.
Our agent let us down. This mess could all have been avoided with a quick phone call: “Jim, if you file this claim, we will not renew your policy. Probably nobody will give you insurance except the FAIR Plan, where your premiums will skyrocket. Do you understand?” Actually, such a call would take only one minute—and a good neighbor would have made it.
Illinois Insurance Association spokeswoman Janet Patrick responded for the industry with a note that read, “An insurance company is obligated to investigate and adjust each loss submitted by the policyholder and cannot suggest rethinking a claim submission.”
Caron Brookens, communications director for the Illinois Department of Insurance, the state regulatory agency, responded that she could offer no comment on a specific case, but directed me to “If Your Homeowners Insurance Policy is Non-Renewed,” a document that gives companies considerable leeway in cutting off customers.
But whether or not the state hearing officer rules that State Farm followed the rules, given the dreadfully costly consequences of filing that last claim, shouldn’t agents at least have to advise their customers of those consequences before such claims are filed?
And how does it make sense to punish individuals for weather-related damage at a time when we’re seeing more and more extreme weather events?
News & Views
View: The investor panic is unwarranted. It’s not the messenger that sells, but the message. Carlson was good at sowing paranoia and promoting grievances based on what I’d seen of his show, but not irreplaceably good. Another cultural arsonist with no shame and a talent for hyperbole will soon take his place. The stock will rebound.
News: Chicago’s Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson disappoints some of his base with his enthusiastic endorsement of President Joe Biden’s reelection
View: It’s a good sign that Johnson knows the importance of powerful alliances and isn’t going to pick fights rooted in minor differences. “President Joe Biden has delivered for working families across the country,” he tweeted Tuesday. “That's why I'm honored to support him in his bid for reelection. Chicago has your back, Mr. President. #BidenHarris2024.”
Sample responses from the far left,
Wow I thought you were a progressive. No progressive supports war mongers and monopoly enablers. — @Maluminse
You’re for working families Brandon and I don’t think blocking a union strike is very pro working families. — @gay_ginger1
Working families are suffering under the Biden Economy. Are you not aware of this ? — @Grolier1
Not really. He gave up on increasing the minimum wage, he gave up on passing voting rights, he gave up on significant climate change policy and now he basically is going to run on doing nothing and protecting the status quo. As a progressive I would not be very enthusiastic. — @singularity59
Several commenters suggested Johnson get behind new-age self-help guru Marianne Williamson who is mounting yet another fringe campaign. But Sen. Bernie Sanders’ nod to Biden Tuesday might help bring them around:
“The last thing this country needs is a Donald Trump or some other right-wing demagogue who is going to try to undermine American democracy or take away a woman’s right to choose, or not address the crisis of gun violence, or racism, sexism or homophobia,” Sanders said in an interview. “So, I’m in to do what I can to make sure that the president is reelected.”
News: John Greenfield, Cycling Advocate And Streetsblog Editor, Making ‘Great’ Progress After Crash Downstate
View: Greenfield is an intriguing and passionate voice in the local journalism community. Here’s hoping for a speedy and full recovery from what looks like to have been a freak accident.
News: Former alder and perennial candidate Bob Fioretti tells the Sun-Times that he has “a lot people” urging him to run for Cook County state’s attorney
View: I call shenanigans.. Unless and until I get email from anyone who is seriously urging Fioretti to wage an utterly futile campaign for state’s attorney (and is not a consultant looking to make a buck from him), I won’t believe this claim.
View: In her transition, Mulvaney, whose partnership with Bud Light has also provoked outrage on the right, has embraced numerous offensive stereotypes about women. For example, this early post:
Day one of being a girl and I have already cried three times. I wrote a scathing email that I did not send. I ordered dresses online that I couldn't afford. and then when someone asked me how I was I said I'm fine when I wasn't fine.
Her campy, alienating caricature of womanhood ought to disgust activists seeking dignity, respect and acceptance for trans people.
I dedicate this item to language lover Perry Fisher, formerly of Park Ridge, who died April 17 at age 83. For the last 20 years or so, once or twice a month, he emailed me and about 50 other recipients an informative missive he called “The Sesquipedalian Word List.”
Sesquipedalian refers to words with many syllables or to speakers and writers who use long and unfamiliar words. But Fisher’s definition was looser and encompassed all manner of phrases and expressions that he’d encountered and wanted to pass along. His final email arrived at the end of January and included:
Lie doggo: To keep still and hide so that you cannot be found. British slang. (Example: “Nuclear submarines can lie doggo for a month on the ocean floor.”)
Imbrue: To wet, soak, or stain. (Example: “Since the fabric has a white color, it was difficult for the active boy to not imbrue his clothing with grass stains.”)
Kedge: To move (a ship) by means of a line attached to a small anchor dropped at the distance and in the direction desired. (Example: “Just don't lose the parts, as a boat in Chagos did at a critical moment when Jamie was trying to help them kedge off a reef.”)
Floof: A long-haired dog, cat, or similar furry pet animal; a fluffy and aloof cat. (Example: “The Rose City Classic Dog Show is a chance to meet fabulous floofs.”)
Fisher, who moved with his wife, Claire, to Oregon last year, had a Ph.D. in meteorology from the University of Michigan and was an air pollution expert and partner in the international consulting firm of Dames & Moore. His vocabulary updates began as photocopied lists that he distributed to colleagues around the office.
His daughter, Gwen Cawdron, wrote the following to those of us on her father’s mailing list:
Dad loved to learn, and was ever curious. He loved words — the bigger and more obscure, the better! … He stored old words on typed-out index cards in long shoe boxes in his office — we estimate he had over 3,000. I gave him Word-a-Day calendars for Christmas every year from when I was about 10. We regularly reviewed weekly vocabulary words when passing down-time at restaurants, and he would leave pages from the Word-a-Day calendars as gifts to the waiters on the table along with the tip.
So as a grateful, farewell salute to Perry Fisher, here are a few new ones on me:
A certain workplace supervisory style described as “fly in, make a lot of noise, drop shit on everyone, fly out.”
“The wholehearted participation in the happiness of other” is the definition offered in Greater Good Magazine. Compersion “includes the positive thoughts, emotions, and sensations derived from knowing of another person’s gratifying experience, even when this experience does not involve or benefit us directly. In that sense, compersion is the direct antonym of jealousy.” The person who masters it enjoys these positive thoughts even when his or her “romantic partner experiences pleasure from an intimate relationship with somebody else.”
As you might guess, this term has its roots in polyamory and, as the article notes, cuts against the grain of the romantic jealously instinct that’s been “a vital evolutionary mechanism—and thus a deeply ingrained, often subconscious, emotional habit” in humans for literally millions of years. So good luck with that.
“Drip is your attire, the clothes you wear.” Atlanta rapper Gunna explained to Billboard. The Sun notes that, in TikTok slang, “the word is often used as a compliment. If someone says you've 'got the drip', they think you look cool.”
“Drip appears to be a metaphor,” adds Dictionary.com. “You’re dripping with money, designer clothes, or confidence. Or as Bruno Mars sang on his January 2018 ‘Finesse (Remix)’ with Cardi B: ‘We out here drippin’ in finesse / It don’t make no sense.’ … You wouldn’t really say that an event was so drip. Better to use another slang word, like lit, for those situations.”
Usage note: If you are of a certain age, you may deploy “drip” and “lit” only ironically.
A person who consciously participates in and guides his or her dreaming experience.
“What if you knew you were dreaming, and could do whatever you wanted, safe in the knowledge that you could always wake up?” asked Brian D. Buckley in his blog post “How to be an Oneironaut.” “It’s possible. Difficult, but possible. … The state of being aware that you’re dreaming is called lucid dreaming. It’s pretty hard for most people to reach this state, but it gets much easier with practice, and with the right technique. And once you’re lucid, the only limits are what you can imagine.”
In “Are You an Oneironaut?” MindAwake.com explains, “Oneironaut is a combination of the Greek word for dream (oneiro) and the Greek word for sailor (naut, as in nautical), also voyager or explorer.”
Online consensus seems to be that the word is pronounced “Oh-NEER-uh-not,” though you’ll hear “un-EYE-ruh-not.”
An inaudible but highly malodorous passage of intestinal gas.
Somewhat related: Is “wussy” a vulgar term?
Land of Linkin’
In “My White Privilege Is That You Won’t Notice Me,” Chicago Magazine’s Edward Robert McClelland writes, “The people most likely to vote for tough-on-crime candidates and write letters to the editor declaring they will never again ride the L or venture onto the Magnificent Mile or eat at the ice cream parlor they loved so much as a child when it was still safe to go there — are the people least likely to experience crime in Chicago. White people. White people aren’t just safer in our wealthy, low-crime enclaves, we’re safer everywhere in the city.”
“Conservatives Are Coming for No-Fault Divorce” warned an article last summer in Jezebel. That should work out well for them politically.
“I would gladly pay $8 a month for Twitter, but ...” from Tuesday’s Picayune Plus.
Another horrifying dispatch from the no-heart land: “In Oklahoma, a woman was told to wait until she's 'crashing' for abortion care.”
Politifact lists the most consequential lies of Tucker Carlson.
“Human composting raised in Illinois legislative debate: ‘People should become part of the earth’” was a front-page story by Jeremy Gorner in Monday’s Tribune.
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.
Homeless advocate on housing asylum seekers in Chicago: ‘What’s going on here?’
I recently again filled in for afternoon host Joan Esposito on WCPT-AM 820 and again invited on as a guest my good friend and neighbor Douglas Fraser. He’s the executive director of Chicago Help Initiative, a not-for-profit that addresses the needs and concerns of those without housing, and I wanted to continue a conversation we’d had at dinner a few days earlier about how the addition of several thousand asylum-seekers from Central America is, adding to the challenges of homelessness in Chicago. Here is an edited transcript of our on-air discussion:
Eric Zorn: When you and I last talked on the air, it was mainly about the alarming shortage of shelter beds in Chicago. But let’s start today by discussing the situation of asylum seekers here. Now, technically, many of them have shelter -- indoor places to sleep — but as I understand it, the situation isn’t good. Can you fill us in on that?
Douglas Fraser: Sure. About a month ago, other downtown meal providers and I began seeing asylum seekers showing up at our meals. We serve an evening supper for the homeless and those in need at 721 N. LaSalle every Wednesday night. There are community meals served at that location five nights a week, and providers include 4th Presbyterian Church, Catholic Charities and Holy Name Cathedral.
We has been serving about 130 people at a sitting. Then we saw a rapid increase to about 270. And it turned out that most of that increase was women and children coming from the Inn of Chicago — a 22-story, 340-room hotel at 163 E. Ohio St. that the city has leased to asylum seekers.
So we started looking at both what’s going on at the Inn of Chicago and what’s going on, generally with asylum seekers in relation to the homeless in Chicago. This affects us directly. Because we feed people and everybody is welcome. That’s what we do. But we have to think about our budget.
The Inn of Chicago now houses over 950 people, and about 400 of those are children. In conversations with the asylum seekers, they’ve told me they are housed two families in a room in many cases. That is an odd statement on the surface – are all 340 rooms being used? What is the standard for how many people to what space? And who is paying attention to that and checking?
Are the claims by the asylum seekers correct? We don’t know – no one else is allowed to enter the building.
On March 28, I posed the question to the mayor’s office. I said, ”OK, now, if we’ve got issues or if things come up with this population, who do we talk to? Who do we call? What’s going on here?”
Continue reading here.
(NOTE— I sought a response to this entire interview Wednesday from city officials but did not get an answer. If I receive a response, I’ll print it)
Mary Schmich: ‘Our wondrous city. The wondrous sky’
My former colleague Mary Schmich posts occasional column-like entries on Facebook. Here, reprinted with permission, is a skyline photo she took and posted last week:
The Mincing Rascals panel — guest host Jon Hansen, Brandon Pope, Austin Berg and I — discussed Kim Foxx, Brandon Johnson and Joe Biden, in that order. Plus a lighting-round debate over waffles vs. pancakes. Subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. Or bookmark this page. If you’re not a podcast listener, you can hear an edited version of the show at 8 p.m. most Saturday evenings on WGN-AM 720.
And help us settle this:
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 in which the template for the poll does not allow the use of images. Subscribers vote for their favorite, and I post the winner here every Thursday:
The new nominees for Tweet of the Week:
“Hey mommy look, a bone! Just like we have in our bodies.” …. my 5-year-old eating fried chicken and dangerously close to connecting some dots. — @oneawkwardmom
Why is time Irish? — @thesulk
If you ever forget a girl’s name on a date, just call her Muhammad. It’s statistically the most popular name in the world. So you’ll more than likely be right. No need to thank me for the life hack. — @wildtiktokss
The good thing about leading a dull life is that all entertainment seems exciting by comparison. I consider any film where people leave the house after 6 p.m. to be an action film. — @MartinPilgrim1
Whoever named couscous should get to name more things. — @prufrockluvsong
Rage Against the Machine never specified which type of machine they were furious with. But I reckon it was a printer. — @JohnMoynes
Marriage is basically one person buying the ice cream and the other person finishing the ice cream and the first person saying, “Who ate all the ice cream?” like they don’t know. — @lloydrang
If you made a documentary of me putting this duvet cover on, the narration would be Werner Herzog saying, “Existence is suffering.” — @sween
I love to take a book and go sit in the park. That way the trees know what happens to them if they try anything. — @TheAndrewNadeau
Do you think Tickle-Me Elmo ever prays to god to let him die? — @jzux
Tune of the Week
I grew up on these three Harry Belafonte albums —
— along with others from the midcentury folk revival. So I was sad to learn of Belafonte’s death Tuesday from congestive heart failure at age 96. He had an amazing and long life as not just a singer but also an actor and civil rights activist, so my sorrow was mixed with wonder and gratitude. (Read “Top 10 Crazy Stories About Harry Belafonte.”)
“Day-o,” also known as “The Banana Boat Song,” (1956) is his best known hit. But the toe-tapping exuberance of calypso music is best represented by his 1961 recording of “Jump in the Line,” which was featured in the 1988 movie “Beetlejuice.”
Belafonte reportedly adapted it from a 1957 recording by Lord Flea and His Calypsonians, which itself borrowed from a 1946 song by Lord Kitchener and his Steel Band Chorus and a 1955 take by Lord Invader.
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