Discover more from Eric Zorn: The Picayune Sentinel
‘Legitimate’ comment or an ugly, malicious and false cartoon in the Trib?
& gathering shtring on "shtr" for "str."
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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. Become a paid subscriber to receive each Picayune Plus in your email inbox each Tuesday and join our civil and productive commenting community.
‘Legitimate’ comment or an ugly, malicious and false cartoon?
I was disgusted by this cartoon on the editorial page of Monday’s Tribune:
So I wrote a note to editorial-page editor Chris Jones:
Serious question: Are you under some obligation to run Steve Kelley's cartoons? I ask because Monday's, in which a woman says that President Joe Biden is slightly less coherent than California Sen. Dianne Feinstein strikes me as ugly, malicious and false.
The "ha-ha, Joe Biden is old and senile" taunt from the right is hypocritical -- former President Donald Trump certainly had his share of verbal stumbles and gaffes -- and unsupported by serious medical or journalistic analysis.
To compare Biden unfavorably to an obviously ailing Sen. Feinstein poisons rather than enhances the public discourse, discourse that to my mind a robust opinion section ought to foster.
Perhaps you had no choice in the matter. Or perhaps you can defend this (and so many other nasty Kelley cartoons) as enlightening fair comment.
I’m genuinely curious.
Jones, whom I respect and who, unlike some in Tribune Publishing management, does not shy from engaging criticism, responded:
We sometimes get complaints from conservatives when Luckovich runs and from liberals when Kelley runs. I'd argue the issues in the cartoon you reference are legitimate fodder for a cartoonist, and the same applies to tomorrow's Luckovich cartoon portraying DeSantis as a babbling fool.
Here is that cartoon, for comparison and reference purposes:
I don’t see this as mocking DeSantis’ intellect, but rather his obsession with battling progressive “wokeness,” which he has defined as cultural Marxism and a war on truth that undermines intellectual freedom. His focus on this issue has seemingly become the overriding theme of his presidential aspirations.
I see a difference.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to see a variety of views in the opinion pages of any newspaper. But Kelley wasn’t advancing a view Monday. He was throwing shit. The paper would never print a letter to the editor that said, “Joe Biden is suffering from dementia more profound that Dianne Feinstein’s,” because it would rightly be seen as a toxic, ageist calumny and hideous trollish nonsense.
Notes and comments from readers —lightly edited —- along with my responses
Don B— You wrote, “businesses that knuckle under to anti-LGBTQ protests don’t deserve your patronage."
I agree, but the law of unintended consequences never sleeps. A boycott of Target because it moved a pro-LGBT+ display from the entrance of its stores to a less prominent location in the wake of protests from anti-LGBT+ people may tell Target as well as other businesses that wish to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community that next Pride Month it might be better to just do nothing.
Zorn — You might be right. I’m no marketing expert, but it seems to me that brands and stores that want to signal they are allies in the struggle for LGBTQ+ equality and dignity yet not alienate their customers who aren’t there yet and may never be there would want to carefully calibrate how they sent that signal. Subtlety goes a long way/
Skeptic — I was surprised that 78% of the nearly 400 readers who answered your click poll were in favor of allocating street parking spaces for the exclusive use of public school staff. Which other employee groups should the public set aside street parking for? Should staff at private schools get it? They are doing the same job as public school employees. What about college and university staff on campuses in densely populated areas? Firefighters who don’t have access to a free parking lot?
School districts can buy land and/or build parking garages just like everyone else who needs a place for their employees to park.
What logic makes public school teachers different from anyone else?
Zorn — Well, yes, and health care professionals and all first responders. I ended up feeling fairly torn on this question and will leave it to others to explain why they voted as they did.
Pete P. — I expect that the first music genre AI will excel at is old-time folk music. Most songs sound like you've already heard them. The chord structure is usually simple. And at each point in the melody, there are usually only one or two next notes that could be used. It will be easy for AI to pass the Turing test in this domain: Can anyone reliably tell if a song is AI or not?
Zorn — Though I don’t agree with your oversimplification of traditional American folk music I do agree that it’s in many ways among the simpler genres and may well be the first to fall to the wiles of AI. If there aren’t already AI generated fiddle tunes or waltzes I expect there will be soon.
But other genres — more popular genres — won’t be far behind.
Rick W. — Regarding Camouflaged Insults : My brother (also a subscriber), when asked his reaction to the implementation of a particularly brain-dead office space reorganization, said “It met my expectations. “
Carolyn G. — Regarding your plea for journalists to stop writing such sentences as “Joe Btfsplk could not immediately be reached for comment:” As a communications practitioner, I'd like to see an occasional story add, "Joe Btfsplk was not immediately available for comment, which is understandable because I wrote the story and posted it while calling his cell."
Zorn — Or, even more accurately, “I waited to try to reach out until such time as he didn’t have a good chance to respond, because that might have ruined my story.”
Marc M. — Regarding the cancellation of certain suburban festivals in the face of the threats of flash mobs, I agree with you that this cedes power and authority to the mob. It extends and amplifies the effects of civil disorder.
But the solution is more than better security at the venues. We need a more robust enforcement of the mob action laws and charges of disturbing the peace. See Mob Action Illinois Felony Offense and Disturbing the Peace in Illinois: Legal Definition, Things to Know.
The police need to apprehend and prosecute as many of the mob participants as possible and also ensure broad publication of arrests and punishments. We may need to add a clause to the mob action laws that specifically references and punishes the use of social media to organize flash mobs organized for illicit purposes.
But the media, activists and some the general public have come to accept and defend significant levels of disorder and mayhem. They would likely oppose such enforcement actions.
Zorn — You don’t want to saddle someone with a burdensome criminal record for doing dumb, destructive things while part of a boisterous mob, but you also, I hope, don’t want to allow such actions to carry on without consequence. I’m guessing there would be more buy-in for a form of your idea than you imagine.
Bill B. — Thanks for bright, informative and amusing Thursday mornings. I dedicate the early part of the day Thursday to the Picayune Sentinel — no TV, no radio, no phone or email until I have perused the PS thoroughly. Your musical selections have really been impressively moving, especially the last two weeks. Keep up the excellent work and Go Blue!!
Zorn — Thanks! Really glad you enjoy it. Tell your friends. And yes, Go Blue. The Michigan football team is shaping up to be a national contender this season, and the less said about the basketball team the better.
A shtray thought
Christine P — I hear many TV personalities say words with that begin with "str" such as in the word street or stretch say in as if it is "shtreet or schtrech."
Zorn— I hear it all the time and have for years. In 2011 I wrote this:
My wife insists she isn't crazy, that more and more often lately she's been hearing people insert a tiny "h" sound in between the S and the TR in such words as "strategy" and "street" (said as "shtrategy" and "shtreet").
Those who study such things agree with her:
Shtraight Talk, a blog post by linguist Neal Whitman points to a 2007 research paper on this topic (pdf) from Ohio State University and a 2008 Grammarphobia blog post (which in turn cites a 1995 article in the journal American Speech saying that shtr... “seems to be neither dialectal nor regional”).
In 2016 I wrote about it again:
Once you begin hearing people throwing extra h's into "str-" words, you can't stop hearing it.
"Shtrong" for "strong." "Deshtroy" for "destroy" and so on.
It's not a sign of ignorance. Nor is it a regionalism or part of an ethnic or cultural dialect.
It's not easier, faster or smoother to inject a gratuitous "h" into "str" words. It's not a hoity-toity affectation or social signifier. It doesn't make the speaker sound extra-casual or friendly.
Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten’s 2016 Washington Post column, “The Shtruggle is real,” went hard at the development:
Around 2001 or thereabouts, I began hearing politicians talk about the need for “shtrength against terrorism.” We launched “air shtrikes.” This linguistic hiccup was particularly rancid to my ears. For one thing, it sounds shtupid. But there is also a faint echo of … Hitler. In German, words beginning with str- are always pronounced shtr-. …
I like Bernie Sanders, but he just said the Panama free-trade agreement “is something I very shtrongly oppose.” Bernie, it turns out, is a recidivist shtr-flinger. But there is someone worse, someone whose use of shtr- is so flagrant, so crystal clear, and so consistent in her speech that it actually caught the attention of the linguists, who have declared her the worst violator of all. This happens to be someone whom most reasonable people respect and admire, a National Treasure whom I am now obliged to smear: … She’s incorrigible. Michelle Obama. This has me all shtressed out.
Some linguists seem to think “shtr—” is simply the tongue adapting to the shape the mouth is taking as it anticipates the “r,” but that shtrains credulity: If this were anything other than imitative faddishness we would have heard it often in voice recordings over the last 100 years
In the Montgomery Advertiser: “'Where was the Lord?': On Jefferson Davis' birthday, 9 slave testimonies; The voices of five men and four women, once held in human bondage, interviewed in Alabama in 1937.”
(Monday), the state of Alabama marks the birthday of Jefferson Davis, who served as president of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865. A state holiday, state offices are closed throughout Alabama. Davis, who at one point owned more than 100 slaves, led a government resting on the principle of white supremacy. The Confederate Constitution contained a provision explicitly prohibiting any law "impairing the right of property in negro slaves," and his vice president, Alexander Stephens, said the "cornerstone" of the new government "rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition."
Lost cause? I think we’ve found it! Alabama actually has three state holidays honoring Confederate figures: Confederate Memorial Day, Davis’ birthday and Robert E. Lee's birthday (which, strangely, gets observed simultaneously with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Ya gotta see these tweets!
I often run across tweets that rely on visual humor and so can’t be included in the Tweet of the Week contest (the template I use for that poll does not allow me to include images). Here are a few good ones I’ve come across recently:
Which of the above visual tweets is the best?
Vote for your favorite. I will disqualify any tweets I later find out used digitally altered photos. I’ll share the winner in Thursday’s main edition.
Note: Google’s autofill has changed its predictive text model since 2014 when Bucky Isotope posted the above tweet. Now there is a certain interconnected logic to the first three anticipated searches:
I mean that could be overwhelming.
There’s still time to vote in the conventional Tweet of the Week poll!
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