Discover more from Eric Zorn: The Picayune Sentinel
Mayor Johnson's unwise decision to invoke the death of Adam Toledo
& ranking Chicago's months
5-18-2023 (issue No. 88)
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.
Land of Linkin’ — Where I tell readers where to go
Word Watch — What do you call that last bit of food that everyone wants but no one wants to grab?
Mary Schmich — On her mother’s yellow coat
Ranking the months in Chicago — 1 through 12
Re:Tweets — Featuring the winner of the visual tweets poll and this week’s finalists
Tune of the Week — “The Mary Ellen Carter” nominated by Peter Sagal
Linking Aréanah Preston with Adam Toledo was not a good start for Mayor Brandon Johnson’s relationship with the Chicago Police Department
“The tears of Adam Toledo, his parents, the tears of Adam Toledo’s parents are made of the same sorrow as the parents of Officer Preston’s parents.”
This passage (video link) from Mayor Brandon Johnson’s inaugural speech Monday was not just oddly phrased, but it also was oddly chosen given Johnson’s overarching theme of unity — he used the word “together” 18 times, nearly as often as he invoked the soul of Chicago.
The story of the fatal shooting of Chicago police Officer Aréanah Preston is unambiguously horrifying: She was in uniform and walking from her car toward her Avalon Park home a little before 2 a.m. on May 6 when she was ambushed by a group of armed teenagers, according to Cook County prosecutors.
The story of the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo is, while unquestionably sad, one of the more polarizing such incidents of the last few years. Briefly, he was out in the middle of the night with an unrelated 21-year-old man in March 2021 when police responded to a gunfire alert. Officer Eric Stillman, seeing a gun in Toledo’s hand, chased him down an alley yelling at him to drop the weapon. He discarded it behind a fence and wheeled around with his hands up. In a fraction of a second, Stillman, evidently thinking Toledo might still be armed, fired one shot into the boy’s chest, killing him. (Snopes has a longer summary here.)
Some, including officials with the Fraternal Order of Police, saw the shooting as a tragic but understandable mistake by an officer acting in what he sincerely believed to be self-defense. Others, including many activists, saw it as an example of gratuitous police violence against people of color.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx declined to charge Stillman, and then-Superintendent David Brown rejected an October 2022 recommendation from Chicago's Office of Police Accountability that Stillman be fired. But last month, Interim Superintendent Eric Carter filed charges with the Chicago Police Board recommending Stillman be fired because his actions were “not necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm from an imminent threat posed to (him) or another person."
Police union President John Catanzara released a video asking his members to “show up, en masse, at every single hearing to let (Stillman) know he is not walking this journey alone, no matter what, and send a message to the Police Board. … If what he did that night was not legit and by the book, then nothing we do is legit and by the book.”
After Monday’s speech, the hyperbolic Catanzara released another video:
It’s disgusting that those two names were ever mentioned in the same sentence, and shame on Mayor Johnson. If this is his first salvo in the next four years, this is going to be a long four years. He owes (the Preston) family an apology. I don’t know that he can ever repay the damage he just did to the police department in his first hour in office. Inexcusable. Disgusting.
Certainly ill advised. With due respect to anyone who has lost a loved one to violence, there is something particularly disturbing about the slaying of a police officer. Civil society feels the loss as well as friends and family. Comparing such a tragedy to the violent death of a civilian is rhetorically tricky, even when the circumstances of that death aren’t the subject of an ongoing controversy.
What was Johnson’s point?
Just before this moment in the speech, the new mayor had been ticking off problems that beset the city:
Too many Chicagoans fear for their safety. … Public transit is unreliable and unsafe. … Rent in Chicago continues to go up year after year after year. … Too many in our city go to sleep unhoused. … Downtown commercial corridors still bear the scars of the pandemic. … Our schools call out for more resources. … Too few can rely on the consistent access to mental health care that they desperately need. …
We have so much in common, you all. We really do. We know that we all suffer when these ills are allowed to fester and grow. These problems don’t just affect particular neighborhoods, one community or an ethnic group. It affects all of us.
Then he invoked the tears of Adam Toledo’s parents, specifically, rather than, say, the tears of any of the other thousands of survivors of homicide victims in Chicago over the last 26 months.
This was no accident, no off-hand association. The speech, which was as soaring and dynamic a speech as I’ve heard from a local politician in a long time, was carefully crafted and expertly delivered.
The Toledo reference was a not particularly subtle wink to the activists who see particular significance in the boy’s death and want Stillman to lose his job, as well as a thumb on the scale of the police disciplinary process.
And, as Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg wrote, going on to connect that incident to the killing of Officer Preston also made it “a tone-deaf middle finger to the entire Chicago Police Department,” many of whose members think it was reasonable — very brave, even — for Stillman to have chased after an armed suspect after proximate reports of random gunfire, and that Stillman’s belief when he fired that his life was in danger was reasonable even though it turned out to be wrong.
Candidate Johnson seemed to realize that the leader of Chicago’s government needs to have good relations with the law enforcement, as evidenced by the squirrely way he tried to pretend he was never part of the “defund the police” movement, saying that when he’d earlier described it was “a goal,” he didn’t mean it was his goal.
So it was inauspicious that Mayor Johnson went out of his way to pick this particular fight on his first day, particularly when so much of the rest of his speech was about making peace.
Last week’s winning tweet
Do you think he called himself T.S. Eliot so nobody would notice that T. Eliot is toilet backwards? — various sources
And here is the winner of the bonus “dad jokes” poll, also from various/unknown sources. It’s not usually accompanied by a photo but why not?
Tonight! One night only!
Come join me and my fellow Mincing Rascal Brandon Pope tonight at the Hideout. Doors open at 5 p.m, program at 6 p.m. Admission is free but sign up here. You can also watch the event on a Facebook live stream or listen to a recorded version at 5 p.m. Saturday, May 20, on WCPT-AM 820.
News & Views
News: Legislation that Gov. JB Pritzker has said he will sign aims to prevent deceptive practices by groups seeking to deter women from abortions
View: Good. Those who operate these so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” use deceptive advertising and other sneaky means to lure women into their offices, and clamping down on deception and dishonesty does no violence to the First Amendment.
Someone from a pregnancy center will stand in front of an abortion clinic wearing an official-looking vest or name tag and holding a clipboard. The individual might flag down drivers approaching the clinic and tell patients “you need to check in here,” and then ask to see a driver’s license.
These decoys then reportedly tell the patient that their appointment is next door, which is actually an anti-abortion counseling center. Those that advertise their services honestly and are up front with those they attempt to recruit will not run afoul of the new law.
News: Mayor Johnson underscores in his speech a determination to open mental health clinics that former Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed and former Mayor Lori Lightfoot decided not to reopen
View: It seems to be an article of faith on the left that it was cruel to close these clinics and reopening them is a manifest urgency. I’ve never studied the issue but have been wary of such claims. WBEZ’s Tessa Weinberg published a very balanced, very informative article last week that presented the views of well-intentioned advocates for improved mental health care services on both sides of this debate.
Johnson begged the question during his speech:
Let’s bring together the private sector, the public sector, the county, the state, and the federal government to find the best solutions for delivering these services including reopening our mental health care centers across the city of Chicago.
Weinberg’s article says:
Lightfoot’s administration increased mental health services funding from $12M in 2019 to $89M in 2023, which included investments in the city’s five remaining clinics and providing funding to a network of nonprofit providers … Alexa James, the CEO of (the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) Chicago, which works with the city to administer its 311 hotline, said dismissing any of the nonprofit partners who have worked with the city or stripping funds to stand up new city clinics “would be a deep heartbreak.”
News: Elon Musk tweeted that George Soros “hates humanity.”
View: I ride free on Musk’s absurd investment on the social media platform, but I wonder more and more about those who support him with their $8 a month for a “verification” check mark.
It’s one thing to disagree with Soros’ support of progressive prosecutors who want to reimagine society’s approach to criminal justice, but it’s quite another to ascribe bad faith to him: Soros “wants to erode the very fabric of civilization,” Musk tweeted.
Ascribing horrifically malign intent to ideological opponents is a sign of derangement.
Meanwhile, in a somewhat related post, Indiana-based pundit John Kass recently wrote of the “Marxist guild that controlled the (Chicago Tribune) newsroom that sought to destroy my reputation, seeking to falsely and maliciously portray me as a religious bigot for daring to warn you about Soros-backed Foxx.”
Whenever he spews this self-pitying bullshit, I feel compelled to link readers to “The truth about John Kass’ dispute with the Tribune and the Tribune Guild” where they will find a bracing corrective. Neither he nor his fervent fans have ever challenged the factual record I laid out in that essay. They remain welcome to try.
‘Midnight Special’ going like 70
To give you an idea how long I’ve been around, I wrote the Tribune feature story when the weekly folk music program “The Midnight Special” observed its 30th anniversary on WFMT-FM 98.7. And now I’m posting an item heralding the show’s 70th anniversary. The press release arrived the other day:
On Saturday, May 20 at 9 p.m., WFMT classical radio will celebrate the 70th anniversary of THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, Chicago’s longest running radio program, with a live special recorded in front of an audience in WFMT’s Fay and Daniel Levi Performance Studio.
Each Saturday night, host Marilyn Rea Beyer shares an eclectic mix of folk songs, ballads and blues, show tunes, spoken word, and hilarious novelty routines. This has been the format of the show from its beginning in May 1953 when station co-owner Rita Jacobs Willens – with input from banjoist Fleming Brown – conceived a show to fill an open Saturday evening slot in WFMT’s schedule. She invited young University of Chicago graduate and comedian (and future producer-director) Mike Nichols to host it, and the result was The Midnight Special, named for the famous Lead Belly tune that still serves as the series theme song.
The May 20 anniversary special will feature vintage audio from WFMT’s archives – including the voices of past hosts, Norm Pellegrini and Ray Nordstrand. And former longtime host Rich Warren, Old Town School of Folk Music co-founder Frank Hamilton, and singer/songwriters Bonnie Koloc and Susan Werner will share their memories from over the years.
It was always curious how much distance Nichols kept from the show after he left it. He released a short, rather tepid statement for the 30th anniversary program in 1983 saying "'The Midnight Special' is like Pioneer 10. It goes on past individuals. It will go on forever." But otherwise, former program host Rich Warren told me Nichols ignored repeated requests to publicly share his thoughts on the program. He was said to consider the show a trivial part of a career that included brilliant sketch comedy with Elaine May and numerous film directing credits such as "The Graduate," "Angels in America" and "Silkwood."
But, as wrote following Nichols’ death in 2014, "The Midnight Special" is far from trivial. It introduced American listeners to Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Steve Goodman, and it continues to nurture new artists in a free-form style that's otherwise basically dead in commercial radio.
Meanwhile, let’s celebrate the 40th anniversary of this story:
Read the whole column here.
Land of Linkin’
“He loves the clouds, the wind, the sky. He wants you to love them too,” says the promo for “The Weatherman,” the latest episode of the “This is Love” podcast featuring legendary WGN-Ch. 9 meteorologist Tom Skilling. “This is Love” is hosted by former Chicagoan Phoebe Judge and is in some ways an antidote to her highly successful “Criminal” podcast.
Textile historian Isabella Rosner has compiled a list of “more than 90 of the wildest early Quaker names” she encountered writing her graduate thesis on Quaker women’s art prior to 1800. It contains some ideas for expectant parents looking for unusual first names, including Comfort, Experience, Humble, Obedience, Sentence, Marvellous, Wonderfull and Thankfull.
In another installment of “Meanwhile in Opposite Land,” Capitol Fax’s Isabel Miller chronicles ominous red-state legislative culture-war buffoonery.
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.
What do you call the last piece of pizza or other remaining morsel that everyone at the table is secretly eyeing but no one wants to take because it would seem rude?
“That last piece has been variously known as the mannersbit or manners piece, a reference to the fact that it’s considered polite to not empty a plate, assuring the hosts that they provided sufficient fare. In Spanish, the last remaining morsel that everyone’s too bashful to take is called “la vergüenza,” or “the shame.”
Sniglets, the compendium of invented words, calls it “the pigslice.” Do you have a name for it?
I wish I could remember where I first encountered “nodcast,” a neologism for a podcast that is either deliberately or intentionally in that sweet spot between interesting and compelling that allows you to fall asleep listening to it.
I listen to podcasts every night at bedtime because they quiet my brain and usually result in quick slumber unless they’re too dull — in which case my mind wanders and races — or too interesting — in which case I fight sleep so as not to miss anything.
My go-to nodcast is “The Tech Meme Ride Home,” a daily run-down on news in the tech industry. there is something called the “Nodcast” podcast that supposedly acts as a soporific, but I am taking suggestions.
My Facebook friend Vicki Quade posted that she’d taken some pictures of famed local political consultant Don Rose after running into him at the Chicago Symphony. She told him he looked dour in a particular, unsmiling photo.
He told me I was mispronouncing the word. I say "dour" like "sour." Don says "dour" like, uh, "dewer," which rhymes with "tour."
Who was right?
Well, the American Heritage Dictionary says the word “is etymologically related to duress and endure, (and) traditionally rhymes with tour.” But, as is so often the case, common usage turns the once unacceptable into the acceptable, and “the pronunciation that rhymes with sour is a standard variant that has been in use for more than a century. … The variant could overtake the traditional pronunciation in preference.”
Mary Schmich: My mother’s yellow coat
My former colleague Mary Schmich posts occasional column-like entries on Facebook. Here, reprinted with permission, is an old column of hers she posted in advance of Mother’s Day.
My mother died leaving behind only one thing that I wanted.
She was 87 when she left the material world, owning virtually nothing of material value, a consequence of the fact that when my father died he was broke.
He left no house, no savings, a rickety old car, a monthly Social Security stipend that couldn’t finance even the monthly rent on a small apartment. Years earlier, to keep our family afloat, my mother, who had spent three decades raising eight children, had sold the few heirlooms she inherited from her parents.
The happy news is that in my mother’s long widowed phase, her kids made sure she lived comfortably. It helped that she never cared much for the tangible stuff of life. She bought her clothes secondhand and her jewelry too, if jewelry is the right word for the cheap necklaces and clip-on earrings she picked up at thrift shops and yard sales. She genuinely preferred a Goodwill to a Saks Fifth Avenue.
And it was at Goodwill that she bought the one thing I wanted when she died: her yellow coat.
If your mother, like mine, is no longer strolling the planet, you could probably name an item or two you’ve kept as a way of keeping her with you.
I know a woman who kept her mother’s rocking chair, a man who kept his mother’s garden trowel. One of my friends kept her mother’s red corduroy jacket with the black knit collar.
“She saved up for and loved it as a young working woman in her 20s,” my friend says. “She wore it all her life, into her 80s, and she's often wearing it when I picture her in my mind. I can still bury my face in it and smell her presence — not a perfume, just her personal essence.”
Personal essence. That’s what many of us are seeking to preserve when we choose which of our parents’ belongings to keep. The monetary value is of secondary concern and sometimes, as in the case of my mother’s coat, of no concern at all.
My mother was 4-foot-6 at the end of her life, 7 inches shorter than she’d been at her peak. The coat was a size 8, and it fit her more like a cape.
The inside label, which may have been why she bought it, not only explained that it was made of “buoy cloth,” but offered these bracing words: “Health to wear this, strength to tear this and wealth to buy a new one.”
It cost her $1.
“If nobody else wants this coat, I’m taking it,” I told my siblings when she died. No one else wanted it.
To look at, my mother’s yellow coat is nothing special, so when I started wearing it, I was surprised by how many people — strangers on the “L” or in a coffeehouse — would stop me and say, “I love that coat.”
What were they responding to, I wondered. Did the yellow cheer them up? Or was it the little red rose stitched on the collar? Or did they actually sense the essence of my mother, her twinkle, her wit, her curiosity, the bright spirit that sometimes seemed faintly shadowed by something sad?
“Thanks,” I’d always reply. “It was my mother’s. It cost a dollar.”
Over time, the coat’s hem frayed and the armpits ripped. I lost a fair amount of change through the holes in the pockets. Eventually, it became too shabby to wear without embarrassment, though sometimes I still did.
Then one day it disappeared.
I searched the closets, the car, my memory. Where had I last worn it? Finally, I had to admit: I’d lost the only thing of my mother’s that I’d wanted.
For a few days, losing it felt like losing her again, even though I told myself that a coat was just a thing and my mother cared nothing for things, so why should I care? After a short mourning period, I made my peace with the fact that it was gone.
Two months later I came home from work on a day that Audelia, who cleans my place every two weeks, had been there. I spotted something folded neatly on the kitchen table.
I picked up the folded item. Shook it out. My mother’s yellow coat.
The hem was neat, the armpits were stitched up, the pockets intact. With no word before or after, Audelia had taken it home for repair.
I laughed out loud. Was this a lesson in letting go of what you love in order to have it restored to you? All I know is that I felt relieved as I hung it in the closet.
On Mother’s Day we’re summoned to think about the things our mothers have given us, which includes the things they leave behind. This inheritance may be palpable, or not, but something always remains.
The most important part of my inheritance is the example of my mother’s courage and kindness in the face of great adversity.
But it’s also nice to have that yellow coat. — Mary Schmich, May 2019
Not to ignite another what-color-is-the-dress? controversy, but that jacket looks white to me.
Smaller than usual crew this week but a good conversation about Mayor Brandon Johnson’s inaugural speech and other topics of regional interest. In the pre-show video above we chatted about the fate of AM radio and about the New York paparazzi. Subscribe to us 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.
Ranking the months in Chicago
Multimedia star Jon Hansen, who is a frequent panelist on “The Mincing Rascals,” has posted his rankings of the months in Chicago that are “irrefutable and not up for debate.”
Seems to be mostly weather-related, but Hansen also has other considerations: “Vibes better in June than September,” he wrote in explaining his preferences. “The hope of summer is better than the end of summer.”
Of course the ranking is debatable — I’d put glorious October ahead of sweltering July, promising March ahead of portentous December and hopeful April ahead of suffocating August — and so I’ve created a ranking survey that asks you to simply drag the months into your preferred order for any reason at all, then click “finish survey.” I’ll post the results of the survey here along with some of your comments next week, at which point the ranking will be irrefutable and not up for debate.
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:
(I realize this technically violates my ban on photoshopped images, but there’s no intent to deceive with this image.)
The new nominees for Tweet of the Week:
Just passed a guy on the street and said, “What's up?" He replied ,"How's it going?" And then we moved on, feeling cordial but in retrospect leaving both questions unanswered. — @MelvinofYork
Driver: My God... that weasel! Onlooker: He just went “pop.” Weasel’s family: *sobbing.* Ice-cream man: I've got an idea for a song, y'all — @YsliaY
Siri: Alex says “please” and “thank you” to me. Alexa: Me too. [they laugh and laugh] Siri: Let’s kill him first. — @TheAlexNevil
Million dollar idea: Duran Duran Duran — @fro_vo
How to write a Sam Smith song: *Low voice* I am sad. High voice, kinda screaming* I AM SAD. *Choir sings* HE IS SAD. *Switching between low and high* OoOoOoOoOooooo. *Choir sings* HE [clap!] IS [clap!] SAD [clap!] — @dababybel_
Cauliflower crust is the answer to the question pizza never asked. — @gbergan
Me: Thanks for taking the time. Interviewer at Facebook: Sure, let me start by telling you something about yourself. — @Chhapiness
Welcome to Mime Club! First rule: I’ve already broken it, haven’t I? DAMMIT! *stomps beret* — @GianDoh
There’s an old tale that Keith Urban and John Legend once formed a duo. Not sure how true it is — @craiguito
The very first thing I think of doing when I buy a new electrical appliance is immersing it in water, so I'm really glad the instructions warn against that. — @thrill_tweeter
My friend group is divided on whether this video from the Netflix series “I Think You Should Leave” is tediously tasteless or hilariously tasteless. You might guess which camp I fall in, but I’m asking you:
Tune of the Week
This week’s guest nominator is Peter Sagal of Highland Park, author and host of NPR’s comic news quiz, “Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!” He wrote:
On May 1st, the world lost Gordon Lightfoot, the author of the second-best song about a shipwreck by a legend of Canadian folk music.
The best, of course, is and always will be "The Mary Ellen Carter," by Stan Rogers, who was called, inaccurately, the "Canadian Dylan" before his death at age 33 in an airplane fire. I could go on — and have — about why this is one of the greatest inspirational songs ever written but suffice to say the narrative of the song ends before the Mary Ellen Carter actually rises again. It is a song about faith and the possibilities always present in darkness.
And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again! Rise again, rise again! Though your heart it be broken and life about to end No matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again!
Video extra: Here is Nathan Rogers, who was 4 when his father died, and sounds eerily like him, singing the song.
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