Discover more from Eric Zorn: The Picayune Sentinel
Sell those paintings, Valpo!
& a grumpy reaction to being asked to vote for police oversight commissioners
2-16-2023 (issue No. 75) UPDATED
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
Really? — We’re voting for seats on the police oversight councils?
Mary Schmich — A look back at a different kind of Valentine’s Day story
“The Mincing Rascals” preview —Free-sex colonies in the sky and other topics
Re:Tweets — featuring the winner of the visual tweets poll and this week’s finalists
Word watch — “Mondegreen.”
Tune of the Week — “Stewball,” but probably not the one you’re thinking of
To serve its core mission, sure, Valparaiso University should sell its art
Much of the art world and evidently significant portions of the Valparaiso University community have been in a tizzy since the announcement last week that the school intends to sell three valuable works from the campus art museum in order to fund dorm improvements.
“Nobody thinks it’s reasonable,” Aimee Tomasek, associate professor of communication and visual arts, told the Post-Tribune.
Well, not nobody. It seems more than reasonable to me under the circumstances.
In fall 2022, the university reported a student population of 2,964. That number is down dramatically since fall 2015 when the campus boasted 4,544 students. This decline forced the university to discontinue a number of degree programs over the past several years, including its secondary education major, theater major and minor, Chinese minor, French major, Greek and Roman studies major and minor, and its entire law school. (The Times of Northwest Indiana)
News reports say the items on the block are Frederic Edwin Church’s painting “Mountain Landscape,” Childe Hassam’s “The Silver Vale and the Golden Gate” and Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Rust Red Hills,” said to be worth $15 million on its own.
University President José Padilla said the estimated $20 million proceeds from the art auction. would finance initiatives “crucial for both attracting and retaining students, as well as increasing the tuition revenue." He noted that the art collection “is not part of our strategic plan and our core mission of educating students and giving them an optimal residential life experience.”
The Association of Art Museum Directors, American Alliance of Museums, the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries and the Association of Art Museum Curators released a joint statement in protest:
College and university art museums have a long and rich history of collecting, curating, and educating in a financially and ethically responsible manner on par with the world’s most prestigious institutions. That a campus museum exists within the larger ecosystem of its parent educational institution does not exempt a university from acting ethically, nor permit them to ignore issues of public trust and use the museum’s collections as disposable financial assets.
This remains a fundamental ethical principle of the museum field, one which all institutions are obligated to respect: in no event shall funds from deaccessioned works be used for anything other than support for a museum’s collections, either through acquisitions or the direct care of works of art. … Selling the works would be to) the great detriment of current and future students and community members.
My father, a retired professor of physics and renowned sculptor whose works in metal are installed on campuses nationwide, is of the contrary view that Valpo should go ahead with the sale:
Selling the O’Keefe painting reduces Valparaiso University’s profile in the art world, but does it really matter? These days, many colleges are collapsing under financial pressures. If the school does not survive, the paintings will be sold anyway.
The opposition is not surprising given that the reputation of museums, in the opinion of the art world, is judged by the importance of their holdings. But Valparaiso is not in a position to build its art holdings to a point where it becomes an important attractor to the campus.
A piece of art is somewhat like a stock certificate in that its cash value depends on a consensus of its potential buyers. A piece of art differs from a stock certificate in aspects of uniqueness and provenance: Consider a lithographic print made in two editions of 20 prints each, the first edition done by the famous artist during their lifetime, the second edition done much later by a vastly more-skilled printmaker whose results are, if anything, technically superior to the first.
As explained so well by German philosopher, cultural critic and essayist Walter Benjamin, the invisible aesthetic aspects of an art object (its “aura”) are highly important. Prints from the first edition make them special, the aura being enhanced by provenance: For example, if print number 3 out of 20 in the above example had been owned by Jacqueline Kennedy, its price would reflect that fact.
Brancusi’s sculpture “Bird in Space”, would easily fetch $20 Million at auction. Our physics shop could make a microscopically-accurate copy of this minimalist bronze piece in a day or two, but it would lack aura — so we’d be lucky to recover our $2,000 construction costs from selling on eBay.
What matters is that it is an object that has been touched by one of the acknowledged masters of sculpture. In this sense it is very much like a holy Relic for a church.
Relics may draw pilgrims to a church, and while famous paintings may draw aficionados to the Valpo art museum, they arguably don’t attract paying students, donors or others who support the educational mission.
Of course, the same thing can be — and should be — said about nonrevenue sports teams and other non-critical drains on the budget (see my 2019 column “Admissions scandal highlights the absurdity of most team sports in higher education,” which references “Why Higher Education Should Rid Itself of College Athletics”), but that’s a debate for another day.
With luck, the Church, Hassam and O’Keeffe paintings will end up displayed in museums with more visitors so that more people will be able to enjoy them. And that could be something the art world should celebrate.
What say you?
Last week’s winning tweet
Anyone who thinks the COVID-19 vaccine is going to alter their DNA should probably welcome the opportunity. — various sources
Garry Kasparov wrote in March 2021 that a version of this joke was “going around on the Russian internet.” Tweet thieves rushed to try to pass it off as their own.
News & Views
News: Of the seven mayoral candidates questioned at the recent WBEZ/Sun-Times mayoral forum, six said they believe in ghosts.
View: Boo! Yes, it’s a silly little question, but the idea that the spirits of the dead move among us interacting with the living world is even more silly. Think about it. Well over 100 billion human beings in history have died, about 13 for every one person now alive. The planet should be crummy with them. And if they have any agency whatsoever, mysterious things should be happening to each of us dozens of times a day. Further, if they had agency, what would their agenda be?
Yet belief in ghosts is quite popular, so I give Ald. Sophia King, 4th, credit for quickly and decisively answering, “No.”
News: 34th Ward aldermanic candidate Bill Conway appears to be ducking public forum appearances with his opponent.
View: Conway, who ran a distant second to incumbent Kim Foxx in the four-candidate 2020 Democratic primary for Cook County state’s attorney, has way more campaign cash than opponent Jim Ascot and probably sees no advantage in giving him the oxygen of a joint appearance. Voters can be indignant about this and are of course entitled to hold it against Conway, but it’s quite likely that nearly all of them have, at one point or another, supported a candidate who has ducked debates and forums for strategic reasons.
News: Mayoral hopeful Brandon Johnson ducks a question on “dibs.”
View: It revealed an inauspicious lack of political courage when Johnson answered, “I have a driveway,” when Axios Chicago asked him to take a pro or con position on the practice of saving street parking places with household junk after snowstorms.
I was reminded of this passage in a recent news story that also made Johnson sound less than forthright:
Under repeated questioning by the Chicago Sun-Times, Johnson refused to say whether he would permanently eliminate the 1,600 police vacancies.
“I’m gonna invest in people. That’s my answer. ... I’m gonna invest in people because that’s what safe American cities do,” he said.
News: Sunday’s Super Bowl was the third most watched TV show in history.
View: Reports of the demise of football as fans recoil from its destructive violence are evidently premature.
News: The 411 on 411 is that it’s all but 86’d.
View: I hadn’t noticed that, as the Sun-Times reported, AT&T has ended “operator and 411 directory assistance services for all but its traditional wired landlines.” I haven’t called 411 in at least a decade — certainly not since I started carrying a smartphone — and the idea of asking another person to look up what I could easily look up myself seems very 20th century.
News: “Par Ridder, general manager of the Chicago Tribune, declined to comment“ to Tribune reporter Robert Channick for Channick’s story about how Bally’s plans to force the Tribune to vacate the Freedom Center printing plant.
View: I get it when Ridder doesn’t respond to my pesky inquiries about the Trib’s subscription practices that pique so many readers. I’m merely the publisher of a newsletter and he’s a major media titan. But he looks like a tiny weasel when he won’t even offer up the obvious quote to his own newspaper.
Try this, buddy: The Chicago Tribune is exploring options for relocation of its printing facilities and remains committed to providing uninterrupted high-quality service to its readers and advertisers.”
How freakin’ hard is that?
Checking in with Amara Enyia (and Charles Thomas)
Four years ago, Amara Enya, then 35, was among the more intriguing contenders in the 14-candidate field of mayoral candidates — holder of a Ph.D. in educational policy and a law degree, activist and public policy analyst with a savvy social media strategy and high-profile celebrity endorsements (including from the problematic Kanye West).
Ultimately her campaign was dogged by questions about her personal finances, but she finished fifth, ahead of Paul Vallas, former police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, Democratic state Rep. LaShawn Ford of Chicago and other high-profile candidates.
She came to mind the other day when a December 2018 email surfaced in my archives in which her campaign announced that “celebrated Chicago political journalist Charles Thomas,” who retired from ABC-7 in March 2017, had joined her campaign as a senior adviser.
Thomas has since become a champion of the far more conservative
Vallas Willie Wilson (corrected from earlier edition) and was seen plumping for right-wing nutball Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey last year (hold your indignant missives chiding me for name-calling; don’t embarrass yourself defending the churlish, unqualified Bailey).
So I reached out to both of them. Here are some edited excerpts from my chat with Enyia.
Was she tempted to enter the 2023 race?
I was open to it and kept checking in with myself. Did I have that compulsion that I felt last time? Is this something I have to do? Because I now know what it takes to embark on a significant political endeavor. But I didn’t get that feeling.
What’s she been up to since 2019?
I ended up going back to school and got another master’s degree at the London School of Economics, so that’s two masters degrees, two bachelor’s degrees, a Ph.D. and a J.D. Anyway, I started chairing an international working group with the United Nations. I’ve been doing policy and research for the Movement for Black Lives. And I'm an adviser to the New School Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy And I’ve maintained relationships with youth and other organizations in Chicago, where I still live.
What are her thoughts on the current mayor’s race?
The biggest issue on everyone's radar is safety, crime and policing. Voters are looking for competence and stability after these last three years. Paul Vallas didn't do well, in the last mayoral election (ninth place, roughly 14,000 votes behind Enyia) . But he’s a wonky, nuts-and-bolts kind of person who I think will appeal to a lot of people this time around.
Brandon Johnson has the platform that's very progressive and will appeal to working-class residents, and I think he’ll do well. But he and Chuy Garcia are appealing to the same base.
Which candidate appeals most to her?
There’s a lot I like about Johnson's platform that’s aimed at lifting up working-class Chicagoans. But I also see that in Kam Buckner’s and Sophia King’s platforms. I don’t like what I see in Vallas’ platform about spending more on police, but I think his ideas on investing in communities in all parts of the city are excellent.
Will she make an endorsement?
No. Not before the runoff.
What does she make of Charles Thomas’ apparent turn to the right in the four years since he praised the progressive Enyia as “the future of Chicago”?
Charles always struck me as a very practical, very rational, super-smart person. I didn't get the sense that he was right or left so much as that he was just fed up with the politics in Chicago and Illinois that he covered, and he thought I was the best person to change that.
I wrote to Thomas to ask about his seeming evolution from supporting Enya in 2019 to backing Darren Bailey in 2022. His gracious reply:
I've undergone no "evolution.” The fact is that, as a true moderate, I've always made decisions on issues and candidates "a la carte," if you will.
Amara is a personal friend of high character whose campaign motivated younger voters. Ideology aside, I wanted to be part of that effort. Darren Bailey and I share a common faith and many other values underpinning the "trust" I talked about in one of the campaign ads. Sen. Bailey and I remain prayer partners and friends.
Not all Republicans and/or conservatives are racists, as Democratic Party rhetoric attempts to characterize them. Democrats locally as well as nationally are using the race card to sow divisions that benefit their party politically. I find that strategy abhorrent and reject it wholeheartedly!
I also can recognize the obvious failures of controlling Illinois Democrats in addressing the economic, educational and social problems of their loyal Black constituency.
I remain a political independent who at this time in history is more interested in joining the Republican conversation. That debate highlights issues such as family values, public safety, school choice and economic development vs. growth of the welfare system.
Land of Linkin’
Eleven Races to Watch in the 2023 Chicago Aldermanic Elections at NBC-5 overlaps with the Sun-Times list of nine races to watch (no link) in seven wards: the 1st, 5th, 6th, 14th, 24th, 34th and 45th wards Chicago Magazine lists just six races to watch, overlapping the other two lists in just the 1st, 6th, and 14th wards.
Are Paul Vallas’ remarks 13 years ago on a local cable TV interview show being taken out of context by his current political rivals? “Public Affairs” host Jeff Berkowitz has reposted the entire interview so you can judge.
Hearing the buzz about Ozempic, the Type 2 diabetes medication now booming in popularity because of its off-label use for weight loss? For the latest episode of her “Honestly” podcast, Bari Weiss assembled a panel of three experts to debate the question, “Will Ozempic solve obesity in America?”
Speaking of body issues and podcasts, I recommend host Sarah Marshall’s two-part dive into the life and death of pop superstar Karen Carpenter on “You're Wrong About.” Carpenter died at age 32 from complications of anorexia nervosa 40 years ago this month.
Another special offer: For a free, no-strings-attached subscription to Charlie Meyerson’s valuable daily news digest “Chicago Public Square,” simply click this link to email me. I’ll get it done for you.
A recent WTTW explainer “Why You Can't Buy a Car on Sundays” does not sufficiently express how outrageous the unpopular Illinois law is and how craven our legislators are for not overturning. I criticized the law in 2013 and 60% of my readers agreed with me in a click survey. The Illinois Policy Institute branded it as absurd in 2014. The Tribune Editorial Board wrote in opposition in 2015.
Ted Gioia’s “The Honest Broker” is a Substack that covers music, books, media and culture. Last week’s post “The State of the Culture (2023) — This is the speech I really want to hear—so I'll give it myself” has a lot of facts, many of them sobering.
Politico has “55 Things You Need to Know About Nikki Haley,” the former governor of South Carolina and United Nations ambassador who has just announced that she’s challenging former President Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. This list includes the fact that she persuaded her husband-to-be to change his name from Bill to Michael, telling him, “You just don’t look like a Bill.” Evidently that’s why she goes by Nikki instead of Nimrata, her given name.
Sleeping Vibrations is a YouTube channel that features eight-hour “concerts” of soothing musical tones produced by mallets being rubbed along the rim of crystal “singing bowls” along with various subtle background sounds. A different kind of white noise, if that’s your thing.
I had to chuckle seeing Juan Rangel identified as a “school reform advocate” in “Local 1: The rise of America's most powerful teachers union,” the Illinois Policy Institute’s new critical documentary about the Chicago Teachers Union. Rangel cashed in big and spent lavishly when overseeing the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) network of Chicago charter schools. See this 2017 Sun-Times investigation. Reformer, reform thyself.
I learned a lot listening to “Contraband Tech Behind Bars,” a recent episode of host Lizzie O’Leary’s “What Next: TBD” podcast about prisoners and cellphones. If you prefer reading to listening, a rough transcript is here.
NBC sports has not aired NBA games for 20 years but is reportedly expected to bid on the rights. That brings to mind this theme song, which will cause happy flashbacks for Bulls’ fans.
Help wanted: I’m interested in an iPhone app that will allow me to keep track of the movies and streaming shows I want to watch, the books I want to read, the podcasts I want to listen to, the restaurants I want to check out and so forth, all in different, customizable categories. So far I’ve tried Sofa and Listy, and found them both only OK.
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.
Who has your vote for Chicago Police District Council?
Perhaps you are avidly following the race for seats on the police civilian oversight council in your district and have strong preferences in the Feb. 28 elections that a Tribune editorial this week* called “crucial.”
Voters will be asked to choose three candidates for each district, electing a total of 66 people to sit on the board.
What’s the job? Building stronger connections between the police and the community at the district level, according to the city. City officials expect council members to collaborate “in the development and implementation of community policing initiatives,” to work with their communities “to get input on police department policies and practices,” to ensure the commission “gets neighborhood input,” and to “develop and expand restorative justice and similar programs in the police district.” …
What’s needed here are reasonable people who want to make our city safer and better, and who are neither patsies for the Fraternal Order of Police nor defund-the-police extremists. And given the entrenched interests and points of view here, there are plenty of candidates who belong to both of those two polarizing categories. …
You, the voter, must avoid candidates who would block innovation when it comes to policing, obstruct implementation of the consent decree and refuse to recognize that policing in this city needs to change.
You also have to avoid candidates who are there to extract a political or personal agenda from their formal involvement in the policing issue, and who will refuse to support, and adequately resource, the officers on the street who risk their lives on a daily basis to protect the rest of us.
In other words, you have to find people who understand and care about this city, who have a history of reaching out beyond their own comfort zones, and who can see beyond all the divisive sloganeering.
You have to find decent, open-minded Chicagoans who know what is on the minds of their communities.
Or perhaps you’re not even sure which police district you live in (if not, go here and enter your address). Or perhaps you’re like me and just have never heard of any of the candidates in your district.
The Chicago Reader and the South Side Weekly have posted a comprehensive 2023 Chicago Police District Councils Voter Guide that may help by offering thumbnail profiles of the hopefuls but no endorsements in the 17 of 22 districts where the races are competitive. The Sun-Times voter guide offers similar information about the district council candidates. The Tribune voter guide does not provide any information on these elections the newspaper deems “crucial.”
Want to weed out the patsies and extremists? Good luck. These are the sorts of obscure races where newspaper endorsements are arguably most useful — I’d like to read a disinterested analysis of the five candidates competing in my Northwest Side district even if I didn’t choose to follow its recommendation — but the understaffed Tribune Editorial Board did not endorse in these races.
My guess is that these elections will be won by those who can get the most propaganda into mailboxes and place the most signs in windows and in front yards — the most energized and best funded, in other words, as opposed to the most thoughtful.
If district councils prove to be as important and powerful as backers of the idea are hoping, look for more money to be thrown at such races next time.
What I fear we’re seeing is a preview of the school board elections in Chicago that so many people say they’re hoping for — a raft of down-ballot races that most voters won’t have the bandwidth to study and so will be won by the better-funded candidates who are also likely to be the most ideologically driven.
As I wrote in “Nasty, expensive school board elections for Chicago? Hard pass” two years ago:
In the 2020 primary and general election cycle for just four (school board) seats in Los Angeles, the campaigns spent about $1.2 million to promote their candidates. But outside groups — largely dueling supporters of the charter school movement and of supporters of unionized teachers who tend to oppose charter schools — spent roughly $16.5 million, nearly 14 times that amount, to bombard the voters with propaganda. …
In the naive hope of giving interested local parents a “seat at the table” (Chicago) would, like Los Angeles, give special interests from coast to coast a lever to yank on without definitive proof that students are better off when school boards are elected. …
The appeal of direct democracy reaches its limit here for me. I’d rather delegate the responsibility for schools to the mayor — as we do responsibility for law enforcement, fire protection and other vital matters — and vote accordingly every four years.
*I’m never sure what date to affix to columns, editorial and articles that are posted early online but intended for print on a following day. This editorial, for instance, was posted midafternoon Tuesday and published in print for Wednesday’s editions.
Mary Schmich: A different kind of Valentine’s Day Story
My former colleague Mary Schmich posts occasional column-like entries on Facebook. Here, reprinted with permission, is her most recent offering:
One of the most unusual people I’ve ever met is a man named Bunky Cushing, and he always comes to mind on Valentine’s Day.
I was introduced to him in the 1990s by my Tribune colleague Jon Anderson, who took me to a fancy cocktail gathering Bunky was hosting for very, very rich people. A while after that, in 1998, I was invited to Bunky’s annual Valentine’s Day tea at the Ritz-Carlton. I wrote a story and periodically spoke to Bunky in the years that followed.
In 2015, I wrote about Bunky’s death and his cryptic life. He wasn’t born into money. He’d grown up surrounded by sisters and came to Chicago to work in the Ralph Lauren store, which is where he met the wealthy women who came to depend on him.
He was a “walker,” a man who could be counted on to escort women to social events if they needed a partner.
This week, in honor of Bunky and Valentine’s Days past, here’s the story I wrote about his annual tea. “A Bunky Cushing Valentine’s Day” is a slice of a vanished Chicago and a bow to the truth that love comes in many different shades:
Bunky Cushing's red swans fluttered into the Ritz-Carlton at 3 p.m. Thursday, a flaming flock of females eager to pay homage to both the patron saint of love and a man named Bunky Cushing.
"Sixty to seventy Chicago ladies attend," my unexpected invitation to Bunky Cushing's St. Valentine's Day tea had said, "all in red."
Who could turn that down?
And so they came, in red Adolfo and red Chanel, in red leather and red mink, in red stiletto heels and with red Escada handbags, each one smooching Bunky Cushing with a pair of fresh red lips.
"This is a love-in for Bunky," cooed one of the groomed and monied ladies Bunky Cushing calls his swans.
"You know you've made it when Bunky puts you on his list," said another.
"Bunky," said yet another, "is the only person who could get me to wear red."
Under the skylights of the 12th-floor lobby, they wafted in, the Junior Leaguers, the volunteer board members of cultural institutions, the fashion doyennes, dozens of women who ride Chicago's high-society circuit.
"Natasha, darling!" Smooch smooch.
"Myra, darling!" Smooch smooch.
"Bunky, sweetheart!" Smooch smooch smooch.
Bunky Cushing occasionally fished a red bandanna from his pants pocket and wiped lipstick from his cheek.
Bunky Cushing may seem an unlikely magnet for designer-label women. He is a 47-year-old balding man of modest size and means. He works in the Polo/Ralph Lauren store on Michigan Avenue. When he arrived in Chicago seven years ago, he knew no one but the local Lauren rep.
But in addition to his cherubic face, ready smile, dapper trademark bow tie and knack for making women feel both safe and charming, he had an asset more valuable than gold.
"I am," he explains, "the proverbial extra man."
Now Cushing knows everybody who's anybody--at least any society lady who's anybody--and his Valentine's Day tea is an opportunity to assemble all the swans whose arms and dinner tables he has graced. He carefully records the whereabouts of those who regretfully decline: Palm Springs, Palm Beach, Aspen, Australia, London.
When Cushing started the tea six years ago, he held it in his studio apartment. It grew so popular he moved it to the Ritz
Carlton in Water Tower Place, where on Thursday afternoon, the swans kept sailing in on the piano strains of "My Funny Valentine" and "Isn't It Romantic?"
"It's like a Hermes bag filled with Halloween candy," he said as he surveyed his swans sipping champagne and tea and nibbling salmon finger sandwiches. "All different varieties, all delicious."
He giggled--"Isn't this a riot?"--then a shadow crossed his face.
He nodded toward Sandy Kagan-Angell, fashion editor of the Lerner newspapers. "Notice how all the fashionistas are wearing black?"
"I can't wear red," protested Kagan-Angell, who got by with a red rose boutonniere. "My skin's too yellow."
But most of the swans obeyed the invitation's edict. Hazel Barr came in her full-length red sheared mink. Melissa Ehret came in a red maternity dress bought for the occasion. Zarada Gowenlock came in red with black stripes, but not before asking Cushing for a picture of last year's tea so she wouldn't repeat herself.
"The first thing people would have said to me," she explained, "is, 'You don't have another outfit?' "
In honor of Valentine's Day, I asked some of Bunky Cushing's swans for words of wisdom about love.
"Love's the most essential feeling in the world," Gowenlock said.
"Whether it's for a girlfriend," chimed in Nancy Jennings, "or for a man."
"Or for a pet," Gowenlock said.
The afternoon darkened in this way, warmed by champagne and conversation.
"I've loved parties since I was a little boy," Cushing said. "I like to stand back and watch. It makes me feel like Gatsby."
As I watched Bunky Cushing watching, flush with pride at the sight of all his red swans, I was reminded of something worth remembering on Valentine's Day, that love and friendship come in many forms and colors.
--Mary Schmich, 1998
Host John Williams is floating the idea of free-sex colonies in the stratosphere that maybe you’ll understand (I don’t) if you listen to this week’s episode of “The Mincing Rascals” podcast. Panelists Austin Berg, Jon Hansen and I otherwise make sense of the week’s news. 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.
Some things are far more important than sports rivalries.
Geoff Larcom, my friend since first grade, posted this picture from the campus of University of Michigan, our alma mater. It’s of the enormous, oft-painted boulder at the corner of Hill Street and Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor:
Meanwhile, this image is all over social media:
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:
These Super Bowl-commercial tweets aren’t in the contest, but I found them apt:
Pretty sure Jesus would have rather seen that Super Bowl ad money used to feed the hungry. — @WilliamAder
The TurboTax ad campaign where they're like "think of all the stuff you could be doing instead of your taxes" just reminds me that TurboTax lobbied to make sure the government couldn't just do our taxes for us. — @NotABigJerk
The new nominees for Tweet of the Week:
I’m superstitiously calling McDonald's "the Scottish restaurant" — @SegaCD8
If there’s a God, then explain minor inconveniences that happen to extremely whiny people. — @nahyoudoit
Mobster: Take Jack up the hill and make it look like an accident. Jill: You got it, boss. — @prufrockluvsong
Any time I sign a legal document, I still put “Stay cool” right over my name. — @benedictsred
Whether you’re heating your apartment or chaining up a hostage, you can’t beat a radiator. — @camerobradford
Why limit it to people who live in glass houses? There is virtually no scenario where throwing stones seems like a good idea. — @John_M15
The best part about vacation is that you can get an entire pizza to go and drunkenly eat it in your hotel room. It will always be the best pizza even if it’s actually terrible. — @katvonwitt
Not sure I like being the age where my charity-ask emails are a mixture of "support the museum, you love the museum!" and "put the museum in your will and support it after you die." — @mimismartypants
Get your organized crime nickname by combining the part of your body you would eat first if you were stranded on top of a mountain during a relentless storm with the name of the neighbor's pet you strangled as petty revenge for an imagined slight. Mine is Fingers Apollo. — @wildethingy
The ladies room is a special place where we whisper and summon the dark lord in groups. — @Lisabug74
To those who plan to object that “McDonald” is Irish, I say not necessarily and direct you here, where ScottishHistory.com “debunks the myth that Mac is Scottish and Mc is Irish.” I do not expect this tweet to do well since it relies on a superstition among actors, but I do expect to begin using “the Scottish restaurant” in everyday life.
Word watch: Mondegreen
My former running buddy (back when I used to run) Michael Messinger passed along this meme on Facebook:
A commenter noted that misheard lyrics are known as “mondegreens,” a word I’d never come across, though it’s been around for nearly 70 years. In 2014, Maria Konnikova explained in The New Yorker:
The term mondegreen is itself a mondegreen. In November, 1954, Sylvia Wright, an American writer, published a piece in Harper’s where she admitted to a gross childhood mishearing. When she was young, her mother would read to her from the “Reliques of Ancient English Poetry,” a 1765 book of popular poems and ballads. Her favorite verse began with the lines —
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands Oh, where hae ye been? They hae slain the Earl Amurray, And Lady Mondegreen.
— except they hadn’t. They left the poor Earl and “laid him on the green.” He was, alas, all by himself.
I wish I’d known the word in 1991 when I wrote a column on misheard lyrics:
Go away from my window. Leave! Let your own chores be.
As I understood this fragment of Bob Dylan’s ''It Ain’t Me, Babe'' in my youth, it made perfect sense: Get outta here, Dylan was saying. And don’t tarry to finish up those daily household obligations, either. Just vamoose.
So I felt like more than a slight idiot to look at the printed lyrics some years later and read, ''Go away from my window, leave at your own chosen speed.''
Now, as the meme suggests, the proliferation of lyrics sites on the web has pretty well vanquished mondegreens.
On a totally unrelated note, I see that “brusk” is now evidently an accepted spelling for “brusque.” Former Tribune publisher Robert McCormick, an advocate for simplified spelling (“frate” for “freight,” “iland” for “island” and so on) would approve. But I am aghast (or “agast,” as McCormick preferred).
Tune of the Week
The best known version of the folk song “Stewball” is the lugubrious Peter, Paul and Mary waltz-time version from their 1965 No. 1 album “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
Stewball was a race horse And I wish he were mine He never drank water He only drank wine
But my preference is for the more raucous, chain-gang version first recorded by Huddie Ledbetter (better known as Lead Belly) in 1940:
Bet on Stewball and you might win, win, win Bet on Stewball and you might win
Similar versions were recorded by Woody Guthrie and Lonnie Donegan. These and other variations derive from a ballad about Skewball — also spelled Squbal or Sku-ball — a horse in Great Britain that won a high-profile match race in 1752.
Helpful Horse Hints has this clarifying information about the name:
The piebald horse is one with large, non-uniform patches of black or white on their coats – that is, those two colors exclusively. Skewbald horses, then, encompass the rest of the spectrum, having coats of white and any other color.
About the song itself, Sing Out magazine writes:
Perhaps the song's popularity derives in part from the seeming “common” origin of Sku-ball and the elation of the ordinary folk in triumph over the thoroughbred mare. The ballad of “Skewball” … is to be found in an American songster dated 1829. At some point, the old ballad was learned by (enslaved people) in the southern United States who thoroughly overhauled the music and the story until all that remained of the original was the horse’s name.
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