Naming and shaming the worst person in Chicago

Plus some great ideas for improving sports

10-14-21 (issue No. 6)

I’m in the process of writing direct emails to the more than 4,000 people who responded over the summer when I asked for the addresses of those who wanted to be included on my post-Tribune email list. Many of the notes, I regret to admit, are just form letters. But they’re an effort both to express my gratitude and to help readers subvert the filters that cause some email programs to consign Substack newsletters to spam folders or into such sub-categories as “promotions” or “updates” where they’re not often seen.

I understand why the email programs try to serve as gatekeepers. I’m inundated by newsletters I didn’t sign up for and I’m glad they don’t appear in the same queue as personal and urgent correspondence. Still, it’s been frustrating to hear back from so many people who are on my mailing list saying they haven’t found the Picayune Sentinel in their in-boxes.

I’ve been suggesting that readers send a quick message to ericzorn@substack.com, which usually causes e-mail services to recognize me as a contact and prioritize the newsletter.

Enough housekeeping!

Down below this week you’ll find the top tweets (I’m thinking of moving them down in the newsletter…thoughts?), a meditation on the curse of waiting-room TVs, a News & Views section that reveals my nomination for the worst public figure in Chicago, a Z-mail back and forth about the Kyle Rittenhouse case, a list of proposed rule changes for sports (that I want you to vote on) and more.

Tweet of the Week

The winner of last week’s poll:

Friday morning Johanna was on a work-related Zoom call and during the chit-chat near the end I heard her mention to one the participants that she was “also a Sagittarius.”

Gun to my head I could not have told you the star sign of the woman to whom I’ve been married for nearly 36 years. I know my own sign — Capricorn — because that’s somehow ingrained. And I know our twins are Geminis because people have remarked over the years that the constellation Gemini from which that sign takes its name supposedly outlines the Greek mythological twins Castor and Pollux.

Other than that I have paid no attention whatsoever to astrology other than a brief period in the summer of 1982 , when I wrote a story for the Tribune’s Tempo section on a convention of the American Federation of Astrologers. Weeks of research persuaded me that astrology — all of it, from silly horoscopes to ostensibly serious readings involving exact time and place of birth — is utter bunk. Astrology has failed every controlled laboratory test of its predictive or descriptive powers and always will.

What’s not bunk is that we have 10 new finalists for Tweet of the Week:

  • I’m still waiting for life to get to the “merrily, merrily, merrily” part. ….@ddsmidt

  • The female version of manscaping is vagriculture …@ThatSwampWitch1

  • One of the best decisions I ever made was to get fit. Would have been even better if I'd done anything about it. …@wildethingy

  • If I ran a newspaper, basically every story would end: "Somebody should really do something about this." … @joshgondelman

  • [Werner Herzog voice] He is monstrous, but in a more profound sense, Cookie Monster is also a victim ….@Cpin42

  • Jimmy: Hey check it out *cracks corn* Me: Whatever dude ….@SortaBad

  • The good thing about having a husband who never listens is being able to say “I already told you that.” Whether you did or not, he’ll never know the difference. …@ddsmidt

  • A colleague sent me an email ending with “DTM” and I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out what this internet acronym stands for until I realized it was his initials … @UnFitz

  • So, if I don’t go big I can go home? …@ShaeAaron

  • Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times and I'm not sure if the shame alternates or if it's still me…. @GlennyRodge

Vote now!

For poll instructions and guidelines, click here.

Just about anything in the Werner Herzog voice is funny in my opinion. Werner Herzog Reads Madeline is a YouTube classic. And speaking of grim cultural references, I curated these for a tweet:

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Death to waiting room TVs!

Bliss.

I entered a medical waiting room last week and saw on the wall the blank, silent television pictured above. No annoying game show, distracting talk program, nattering news report or other bothersome broadcast to make it more difficult for me to do what what nearly everyone now does in such waiting rooms — consult my smart phone.

Check email. Surf social media. Dig into my Instapaper archive. Text with friends. Eighty-five percent of us now carry smart phones and the entertainment desires of the other 15% should not hold the rest of us hostage (assuming there is any real agreement among that 15% what channel the TV should be tuned to).

The presumption that most us are delighted rather than irked by TVs in lobbies, waiting rooms, terminals, restaurants and so on might have been valid before the nearly 9 in 10 of us began carrying internet connected devices in our pockets. I always hated it myself and brought along reading matter, but hoping for silence seemed futile.

When I posted about this peeve of mine on Facebook in August, most of the comments were supportive. Opponents pointed out that many waiting rooms no longer offer a selection of old magazines due to COVID-19 concerns and that sometimes insipid TV is the best way to take your mind off a potentially fraught medical appointment. Others said taking in small doses of trashy daytime TV is a good way to keep up with what the masses are watching.

A surprising number of commenters suggested carrying a universal remote control to disable such TVs or simply unplugging them.

Those are good short term solutions, but I’d like to see an emerging consensus that waiting areas should be no-TV, no music zones.

Is this a minor issue in the Grand Scheme of Things? Yes! But deep dives into trifling matters is one of my specialties. I might have named this newsletter “Let’s Make Too Much of Things, Shall We?” had the delightful Paige Wiser not come up with that columnists’ motto first. And “Damn Those Little Stickers on Fruit” was a close runner up to “The Picayune Sentinel.”

News & Views

Chicago's Marist High School Investigating Allegations of Racist Protest

When a DJ at last Friday’s school homecoming dance at Marist High School played a Spanish-language song, a group of students, all apparently white, knelt in protest in the middle of the dance floor.

Officials at the Southwest Side Catholic prep school said that teens kneeling or otherwise protesting during songs they don’t like is a thing these days at dances. The company that supplied the DJ confirmed this. Such protests, they said, have nothing to do with race or ethnicity, despite the claim of the student who shot the video from which I grabbed the above image that she heard “really disrespectful things about Mexicans.”

So, according to the school, it was just rudeness on display, not racism.

At best, protesting a song by disrupting people who want to dance to it is a dick move. Not everyone likes the same tunes you do and simply, quietly leaving the dance floor is a fine way of demonstrating your pique to the DJ.

At worst, given the racial associations that many artists and songs have, such disruptions risk creating painful misunderstandings that create the impression of significant intolerance.

Learn to dance to other people’s music, or your life will be full of disappointments.

Lightfoot Sees Gender Bias In Lack Of Media Love For Chicago Sky

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot as quoted at Patch.com:

"The lack of media coverage of the Chicago Sky is yet another frustrating example of gender bias in the sports world. The simple reality is this: If this was a men's team in the playoffs, there is no way there would only be one full-time Chicago Sky beat reporter present. The Chicago Sky being on the cusp of making it to the finals, following a number of significant wins, should be a big Chicago story —not mere paragraphs relegated to the interior of sports pages."

In an interview Monday on WGN-AM, Cheryl Cooky, professor of American and Gender and Sexuality Studies at Purdue University, reiterated the familiar chicken/egg argument similar to the one heard from so many soccer fans and members of third parties over the years — that the reason women’s sports aren’t more popular is that the media doesn’t cover women’s sports.

There is certainly some truth to that. If the newspapers and TV stations had been giving the Sky equal billing all season with major men’s teams, more people would have attended the games, more people would be watching the team’s exciting run through the WNBA tournament, headlines would be bigger, league salaries would be higher and so on.

Fans can be made to care about nearly anything, a truth best illustrated by how the up-close-and-personal athlete profiles during TV coverage of the Olympic Games make people care deeply about who can best perform some astonishing but otherwise totally pointless stunt.

But there’s a limit to that. Feedback loops develop between assignment editors and members of the media-consuming public. The Sky is getting getting good coverage now because their success has made following the team rewarding. But if news organizations find that readers and viewers aren’t really all that interested in off-season stories, reports from training camp and coverage of early games next year, it won’t be “gender bias” if they allocate coverage resources to those sports that do get clicks and eyeballs. It will be the market at work.

Don’t hate me for suggesting this, but it might be that fans prefer the NBA over the WNBA because the players in the NBA are so much better, so much more amazing to watch than the stars in the WNBA who with rare exception play below the rim. It’s not “gender bias” to say that a WNBA all-star team would not beat any NCAA Division I men’s basketball team, any more than it’s “gender bias” to point out that at least 20 Illinois high school boys have run 400 meters faster than any woman anywhere ever has.

And it’s not because of “aquatic sports bias” that swimming and diving get almost no media coverage outside of the Olympics.

The mayor’s complaint raises two bigger questions.

One is, should the media should try to influence public preferences or simply try to reflect them?

The multi-channel, internet age does not suffer from shortages of information for those who want it. Curious about the Sky, Chicago Fire FC, the Green Party or just about any other concern that feels overlooked? All you want to know is a click or two away.

In 2004, when more than a dozen candidates were vying for the Illinois U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, I conducted in-depth interviews with many of the lesser known candidates, posted lengthy transcripts to my personal website and promoted those interviews in my Chicago Tribune column.

Approximately zero readers clicked on those transcripts. The project was a huge but illustrative waste of my time.

The other big question is, why do we like what we like as fans?

You can argue the merits of individual sports all day long. But whether a contest is boring or thrilling to watch is often just a matter of taste.

And most tastes — like preferences and allegiances — are rooted in a complicated blend of exposure, associations, aptitudes. Where taste leaves off and bias begins sounds like the subject of a PhD thesis in psychology.

You’ll never be able to argue me into thinking soccer is fun to watch, just as I’ll never be able to argue most of you into thinking that viewing golf tournaments on TV is a blast.

You’ll never find me rooting for both the Cubs and the Sox — I believe one must pick a side and I switched several years ago to the Sox — but you won’t catch me hassling those who do root for both the way a Barstool Chicago reporter hassled actor John Cusack at Sunday’s Sox game.

In the end, most fans will probably always find women’s basketball comparatively dull and will glaze over WNBA coverage. They’ll be missing out. But that doesn’t make them sexist.

Chicago Police Union Boss Urges Officers Not To Tell City If They’re Vaccinated, Predicts 50% Drop In Cops

On the very same day that one his predecessors died of COVID-19, Chicago Fraternal Order of Police president John Catanzara, released a video urging his members to reject Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s looming requirement that all city workers either be vaccinated against the pandemic or submit to testing twice a week.

The Trumpian blowhard Catanzara, who tops my list of worst public figures in Chicago, blasted the requirement as an “overreach” and predicted that half of the city’s officers would walk off the job at Friday’s deadline rather than comply. “Whatever happens because of the manpower issue, that falls at the mayor’s doorstep,” he said.

This is both infuriating and self-destructive. “More than 460 American law enforcement officers have died from COVID-19 infections tied to their work since the start of the pandemic,” reports the New York Times. This makes “the coronavirus by far the most common cause of duty-related deaths in 2020 and 2021. “

Dean Angelo Sr., who led the police union from 2014 to 2017, died Tuesday at age 67 from complications of COVID-19. His family declined to comment on his vaccination status.

Unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who are fully vaccinated, new research has found…vaccinated people were nearly five times less likely to get infected and 10 times less likely to get so sick they ended up in the hospital. (NPR)

Unvaccinated cops put themselves and the citizens they interact with at greater peril. And the union’s defiance poisons the already shaky relationship officers have with the public.

“Protect and serve”? How about “infect and serve your selfish, paranoia.”

E-mail the proprietor with your views

Extra! Extra!

I was tickled by the opening sentence in “Who Is the Bad Art Friend?”, the recent New York Times magazine article that so many people are chattering about:

There is a sunny earnestness to Dawn Dorland, an un-self-conscious openness that endears her to some people and that others have found to be a little extra.

I hadn’t come across that use of the word “extra,” and it struck me as an advance on the vague description of a high-maintenance person as “a lot,” as in, “I like him, but he’s a lot.”

As for the article, I credit writer Robert Kolker with whipsawing the reader’s sympathies, at first portraying Dawn Dorland as disagreeably needy and irritating, but then gradually revealing that her nemesis, short-story writer Sonya Larson — who cribbed Dorland’s experience as a kidney donor as well as Dorland’s own words — is a far more dislikable and unethical figure.

I say this in full awareness that certain corners of Twitter are aflame with the contention that criticism of Larson or of her fiction is racist because her mother is Chinese American.

Read the story and join millions of others with strong opinions about both women.

Land of Linkin’

  • I asked for it last week and then found it — a lengthy video recap of Season 1 of “The Morning Show. It comes from The Recaps, a YouTube channel that uses still photos rather than video clips in an apparent effort to avoid copyright violations.

  • Though we’re not still in quarantine, the National Museum of Mathematics urges us to “sign up now for Mind-Benders for the Quarantined and each Sunday, MoMath will send you a challenging mathematical puzzle from the collection of our own puzzle master.”

  • At his new site Caropop, Mark Caro offers some thoughts on the “Ted Lasso” Season Two, including this: “I feel like this show doesn’t know what to do about Rebecca and Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) despite the actors' great charm and intelligence. It strikes a swoony, romantic tone and dances around not only the age disparity—she’s in her mid-40s, he’s 21—but also the power disparity—she owns the team on which he plays.”

  • Two eye-opening articles about online shopping by Amanda Mull in the Atlantic: What Really Happens When You Return an Online Purchase (spoiler, it’s almost never re-stocked and is often simply discarded) and Stop Believing in Free Shipping.

  • Use Reusable K-Cups to Save the Earth and Brew Better Coffee (Daily Beast) And save a ton of money. We’ve had a Keurig for at least five years and use almost exclusively refillable K-cups (I have a small stock of single-use decaf cups for guests who eschew caffeine). It’s a small extra bother for a significant benefit.

  • Chicago Journalist Cancels Appearance With Blistering Response to DePaul’s Student Editors and Faculty Advisor is an online posting by Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School. Turley, a quirky libertarian who frequently testifies before Congress and is a regular legal pundit on Fox News, mounts a robust defense of me in the story I wrote about in Issue 4 and Issue 5 of the Picayune Sentinel. My gratitude is tempered by Turley’s support of Bill Clinton’s impeachment, his opposition to Trump’s impeachment and other views from which I would like to distance myself. I feel more vindicated by this report from Injustice Watch that underscores how my take on the Adam Toledo story wasn’t that different from the take of many residents of his own neighborhood.

  • Mary Schmich visited the South Shore Nature Sanctuary for her Tuesday Post: “Going out and visiting unfamiliar places is one way--just one--to help us understand both the struggle and the beauty. Imagining you know the city based only on the news—- and the doomsday commentators who rarely leave home but use crime and violence as a political weapon — is not a sufficient way.”

  • Google tuner is an easily searchable way to to tune your stringed instruments online. Clip-on tuners remain superior, but in a pinch…

  • The lengthy rundown of prospective running mates for Illinois Republican gubernatorial hopefuls at the Illinoize Substack has only one glancing mention of Erika Harold, the Harvard-educated former Miss America whom I once thought was the future of the state GOP. The most entertaining prospective team floated by Illinoize proprietor Patrick Pfingsten is rascally populist state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia for governor paired with conservative radio provocateur Amy Jacobson of WIND-AM.

  • Book burning is not just for conservative crazies anymore! “We bury the ashes of racism, discrimination and stereotypes in the hope that we will grow up in an inclusive country where all can live in prosperity and security.”

  • Below is the trailer for “The Beatles: Get Back,” an upcoming Disney+ documentary “made entirely from never-before-seen, restored footage. It provides the most intimate and honest glimpse into the creative process and relationship between John, Paul, George, and Ringo ever filmed.” I can’t wait.

  • Listen to The Turning: The Sisters Who Left, a 10-part podcast series that tells the stories of some of the nuns who left the cultish Missionaries of Charity, and you’ll never use “Mother Teresa” as a synonym for saintly kindness again.

  • Cheer Chat (no separate item this week): Tickets still available for Songs of Good Cheer shows Friday, Dec. 10 through Sunday, Dec. 12. Click here. Our new cast member Zarah Glenda Baker is auditioning a swingin’ version of a kid’s Christmas song we’ve never done and, somehow, I’ve never heard — “Ten Little Angels.”

Z-mail

A reader wrote to challenge the originality of one of the tweets in the poll last week, citing several previous variations on a similar idea, I replied:

This complaint comes up fairly often since literally thousands of people on Twitter are cracking wise on the same subjects. The same basic idea gets shaped dozens of ways, often but not always independently. There are straight-up thieves who cynically want to take credit for jokes, there are people who feel they are just passing along a joke they heard and feel no need to supply attribution (as you would while telling a joke at a party), and there are people who genuinely think their variation is different enough that it's OK to pass it off as original.  Plus there's always the great-minds-think-alike phenomenon. Further, it's also sometimes hard to tell who first came up with a joke concept, since occasionally the first person to tweet it actually stole it from a funny T-shirt, poster or other offline source. I often change the attributions on disputed tweets to "unknown."

Last week’s item on why I believe Kenosha killer Kyle Rittenhouse will be acquitted of the most serious charges against him drew many responses, including this one:

Rittenhouse is a public danger - he needs jail time. Would you enjoy having him walking your neighborhood with an assault rifle?

So I expect the prosecution to acknowledge the self defense aspect of the case - but provide the jury with other lesser charges to put him away for a short time.

Inciting a riot? He did not legally purchase that rifle. He assaulted folks as well as defend himself. Was he violating a curfew?

I think a jury would be very sympathetic to the suggestion - release him and he can visit your neighborhood next time.

Including - we don't need violent flatlanders coming to our state and killing people.

So self defense may work on some issues - but throw a bunch of stuff at him - a Wisconsin Jury just might nail his butt.— Peter Z.

I would not enjoy having anyone of any age or political persuasion walking my neighborhood with a semi-automatic rifle strapped to his chest. I am opposed to open carry as I think it's provocative by its nature.

Wisconsin law, however, has a different take. It does not consider the carrying of such a weapon in public to be an incitement to anything, which is why no charges were filed against the other citizen-militia types who were ostensibly protecting property by standing guard by downtown Kenosha businesses that night.

Yes, Rittenhouse was four months too young to be legally in possession of such a gun and so a misdemeanor conviction on the charge of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 seems likely. He was also violating curfew, but so were hundreds of others that night and he was not charged with that.

You write that "he assaulted folks," but this is not one of the charges and I don't know what you're basing that on given the definition of assault.

The question for the jury is likely to come down to what can and should they infer about the moments off camera when the pursuing Joseph Rosenbaum caught up to Rittenhouse in that car lot. Rittenhouse shot and killed him. That's not in dispute. But never mind Rittenhouse’s age, his politics, his status as an out-of-towners, the curfew or any of that and ask yourself if it's likely that he was in fear of great bodily harm at the moment he fired and was therefore exercising his right to self defense.

My guess is that the jury will say yes.

I could be wrong. There could be more evidence and more witness testimony that will cause them to conclude that such a belief was unreasonable and that Rittenhouse should have considered the possibility that the larger, enraged man who was sprinting after him merely wanted to catch up for vigorous debate on the issue of police violence.

The response from Peter Z:

The prosecutor needs to revise the charges to include lesser crimes and throw up a bunch of stuff at him. I think the jury will want to convict him of something,

If this guy pointed a loaded rifle at you and said “freeze liberal scum!” it might put you in fear of great bodily harm and perhaps be considered an assault,

I think Rittenhouse may have been doing that to people , so charge him with assault. Let's find out.

It comes down to this: If I can scare you, enrage you, maybe assault you to where you attack, I should not be able to then kill you and claim self defense.

Can we let people get away with this? I say no. It may not be murder, but it is behavior we must control under the law. — Peter Z.

I’m not a prosecutor, but my intuition is that if you give jurors a set of lighter options you simply encourage them to split some sort of difference and convict on lesser charges so the defendant doesn’t totally get off. In other words, throwing “a bunch of stuff at him” might backfire if your goal is see him do serious prison time.

I know of no evidence that Rittenhouse was pointing his rifle at protesters and insulting them. Such evidence might change things if such threats and provocations were coincident with Rosenbaum chasing after him. What I have read is that Rosenbaum was angry because he thought (or knew) that Rittenhouse had used a fire extinguisher to put out a blaze that protesters had set in a dumpster.

My question for those who seem to disagree instinctively with my take on this is how much of their desire to see Rittenhouse convicted of the most serious charges is based on revulsion with his politics and with Wisconsin’s open-carry laws — a revulsion I share! — and how much of it is based on a blind application of justice?

Reverse the situation. Let’s say Rosenbaum had been able to safely wrest Rittenhouse’s gun from him, and then was the subject of a foot chase by an unarmed member of the vigilante group — make him physically larger — and that vigilante had cornered Rosenbaum and grabbed for his gun. My analysis of the situation would be the same. Would yours?

The last word goes to Peter Z:

To your last point on reversing the actors, I agree with you. I also agree that adding charges will dilute the possible outcome. But that is what I want.

I do not want Rittenhouse to get off scot free (and visit my neighborhood if he feels like it), nor do I want him found guilty of murder and becoming a martyr for the far right. I don't think Rittenhouse had the requisite evil intent to be found guilty of murder anyway.

I want him to be punished for reckless behavior that resulted in death - some short jail time and long probation period.

An outcome that nobody wants, including Rittenhouse.

This will stop Rittenhouse in his tracks — allow him to change (if he wants) but also punish him for his endangering people.

I am a Vietnam Vet - the thought of an untrained young goof ball with a semi automatic assault rifle walking around in an emotional situation scares me big time. — Peter Z.

Ten notions to spark debate at sports bars

It’s high time for robots to call balls and strikes. Football teams should not be able to punt after they cross the 50. Check out these and eight other radical proposals at EricZorn.com.

I’ve created an online survey for you to register your agreement or disagreement and will publish the results and some of your ideas for rule changes next week.

Survey: About those proposed rules....

Send me your ideas

Minced Words

Topics masticated thoroughly on Wednesday’s episode of “The Mincing Rascals” podcast, guest hosted this week by Jon Hansen who begins the show by misidentifying himself.

  • Students kneel in protest during songs played at the Marist High School homecoming dance

  • The Chicago Police Union head warns of a mass walkout over Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s vaccination/testing mandate

  • The City Council advances an expansion of the rent-a-scooter program in Chicago

  • Mayor Lightfoot complains that gender bias in the media hurts the Chicago Sky (seen in my Zoom background above)

Subscribe to the Rascals on iTunes

Today’s Tune

Meet Kaia Kater, one of the still-too-small number of young musicians who are exploring and celebrating the contributions of their Black ancestors to the old-time string band genre. Kater is less well known than MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Rhiannon Giddens, to whom some compare her, but I’m highlighting her because she and my son were in the Davis & Elkins College Appalachian Ensemble together for a year and she deserves your attention.

The style she’s playing here is called clawhammer or frailing, which tends to be more rhythmic and better for solo presentations than the three-finger, bluegrass style picking you are probably more familiar with.

While many people think of the banjo as an instrument of white rural America, historians tell us that enslaved people brought prototypical banjos over from Africa. This realization has given rise to the Black Banjo Reclamation Project:

The legacy of 400 years of colonization, slavery, and white supremacy has resulted in most banjos today being in the hands of white people of European descent, with little thought or solidarity to the people who gave the world its sounds. The Black Banjo Reclamation Project reverses this legacy, building and redistributing donated banjos to Black folks eager to continue their healing path of reconnecting to the land and culture that was historically and traumatically stolen from them.

A particularly thoughtful voice on the African influences in old time music is multi-instrumentalist Jake Blount, whom Mother Jones profiled last December.

Please help me get the word out and increase the subscriber and readership numbers by sharing the PS on social media and pestering your friends until they sign up. Be extra, if need be.

Thanks for reading and see you next week.