1-26-2023 (issue No. 72)
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.
News and Views — on stamps, artificial intelligence, abortion imagery and a dismaying front page
On editorials — a correction and a follow-up
Land of Linkin’ — Where I tell readers where to go
Mary Schmich — Yay snow!
Re:Tweets — featuring the winner of the visual tweets poll and this week’s finalists in the conventional and special “dad tweets” poll.
Instructions on how to vote for the Picayune Sentinel, Brandon Pope’s beard and more.
Tune of the Week — the hopeful, beautiful and non-sectarian “We Shall Meet Someday.”
A few stray thoughts on the race for mayor
As I noted Tuesday, I don’t particularly trust the numerous private polls that are being fed to us as news these days, but I’ve come to suspect that the overall anti-crime message of former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas is breaking through, and that if the election were held today, he’d be in the top two and thus qualify for the anticipated runoff election April 4.
Vallas and businessman/philanthropist Willie Wilson are vying for the same conservative voters who, while small in number in the city, stand to play a pivotal role in the election. And though Wilson seems like a nice, well-meaning man who is undeniably generous, he is also plainly not ready to lead Chicago through the next challenging four years. Right-leaning voters who want change and who want to back a winner will likely realize that Wilson could never win a runoff and back Vallas in the end.
U.S. Rep. Chuy Garcia, D-Chicago, is just this week on the air with commercials that counter the beating that Lightfoot has been administering him over his connections to such sketchy characters as crypto-financier Sam Bankman-Fried and former Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. It’s probably not too late given that most voters are only now starting to evaluate the candidates and he will probably get strong backing in the Hispanic community. I would also put him in the top two if the election were held today, meaning Lightfoot would go down to an early defeat, contrary to my earlier prediction. I’m not even close to predicting who would win a Vallas/Garcia matchup.
Lightfoot has said, “I would love to have Paul Vallas as my runoff challenge. That’s an ideal matchup.” But she should be careful what she wishes for. She’ll try to paint Vallas as too sympathetic to the rascally police union — true but out of step with overall pro-police mood in a city on edge about crime — and insufficiently liberal for a city that voted overwhelmingly for President Joe Biden. But her attack on Vallas for not speaking up more quickly and forcefully in support of abortion rights last year sounded both desperate and irrelevant. And Vallas, who has three times run statewide as a Democrat, is going to be hard to paint as a wild-eyed Republican in disguise.
I was most impressed with Brandon Johnson’s overall presentation during last week’s debate at ABC-7. But the $1 billion “tax-the-rich plan to bankroll social services” he announced this week strikes me as too ambitious and progressive to be a winning message.
Early voting begins today (Thursday) in Chicago, a month and two days before the Feb. 28 election, and that’s too soon. Too much can happen that far off from Election Day, Feb. 13, when early voting expands from the two downtown supersites to locations in all wards, gives voters 15 days to cast their ballots.
Last week’s winning tweet
Here are this week’s nominees, nominees in a special dad-tweets poll and the winner of the Tuesday visual-tweets poll. Here is the direct link to the new poll.
News & Views
News: USPS Forever Stamp prices increase 3 cents
View: Before reading this news article, I could not have told you the price of postage for a first-class letter. All our stamps are “forever” stamps and we buy them in bulk. Do you know the unit price? I will put it at the end of News & Views in the form of a one-question survey.
Meanwhile, a little credit, please? In 1994, I wrote a column following the announcement that first-class postage was going to rise by 3 cents (to 32 cents from 29 cents) that made the following argument:
(It bothers me) how unnecessarily clumsy it's going to be over the next several months to add extra postage onto envelopes in order to use up the leftover 29-cent stamps.
The Postal Service has printed 2 billion "make-up rate" stamps to help us through the transition. … I collect such issues against my will. I still have a few odd-lot four-centers left over from the last rate increase, in February 1991, and it was only last Christmas that I finally divested myself of the last of my 25-cent first-class stamps, vintage 1985-88. They never come out even.
My proposed solution is for the Postal Service to sell stamps marked simply "first class" for the going first-class rate. Such stamps would be good forever on any letter weighing up to one ounce, and, when used in combination with other stamps on heavier mail, good for the first-class rate at time of use. …
Sure, people might stock up on cheap stamps, the way commuters hoarded Chicago Transit Authority tokens before the price jumped to $1.20 from 90 cents in December 1991. But it would be a silly investment. The rate of return, in this case, would be 10.3 percent (the CTA payoff was 33.3 percent), but stamps would be an awkward and illiquid commodity, and if the Postal Rate Commission made rate hikes more frequent, but just a penny at a time, the incentive would totally dry up.
The Postal Service always ignores my ideas — in the past I've suggested that it make money by deliberately producing defective stamps and then gouging collectors for them, and that it not spend $122 million to be an official sponsor of the Olympics in a year after they showed a $1.6 billion annual loss — and this time was no exception.
The officials to whom I floated my "first class" idea reacted with tolerant lack of interest even though they do use a very similar idea — non-denominated stamps that survive rate hikes — for bulk-rate mail.
They wouldn't take my two cents', and next week they'll get my three. They win again.
Some 13 years later — on April 12, 2007 — USPS began selling “forever” stamps for 41 cents.
News: Such artificial intelligence programs as ChatGPT for writing and DALL-E 2 for images are firing imaginations and sparking fears that the machines are destined to take over.
View: Maybe someday, but I found this tweet reassuring:
News: In “Early Abortion Looks Nothing Like What You’ve Been Told,” The New York Times featured photos of pregnancy tissue after an abortion at seven weeks.
View: These images might change a few minds. As the physicians who wrote the op-ed essay noted:
It’s important to us to counter medical misinformation related to early pregnancy because about 80 percent of abortions in the United States occur at nine weeks or earlier. So much of the imagery that people see about abortion comes from abortion opponents who have spent decades spreading misleading fetal imagery to further their cause. …
Many people, even those who support abortion rights, did not believe the photos were accurate. Some insisted we had deliberately removed the embryos before taking the photos. The images weren’t consistent with those often seen in embryological textbooks, magnified on ultrasounds or used in anti-abortion propaganda; these enlarged images are not what you see with the naked eye after an abortion. A Stanford gynecologic pathologist has validated our photos, but many people could not believe the pictures were presented unaltered.
Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg doubts the photos will be particularly effective:
In 40 years of writing about this issue, I’d never seen photos like the Times ran Monday. It was a welcome surprise. But what is a cotton ball of truth going to do? It can’t absorb an ocean of misinformation. Extremists are, stop the presses, extreme, and to them, every abortion is a fully formed infant, touching middle fingers to thumbs, in a gesture of benediction.
News: Faculty calls for Hamline University president to resign over religious art controversy
View: I wrote about the Hamline controversy earlier this month and am pleased to see the faculty at the small private school in St. Paul, Minnesota, standing against the nonsensical decision not to rehire an art history teacher because she showed her class a slide of a historically significant 14th-century painting depicting Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
The teacher offered numerous warnings to her global art history students that included a two-minute content advisory for those Muslims who consider images of Muhammad to be offensively sacreligious no matter their vintage or the intent of the creator of the image, but, of course, all hell broke loose, and Hamline President Fayneese Miller signed on to a statement calling the teacher’s act “Islamophobic.”
Since the controversy erupted, the largest national Muslim civil rights group issued a statement saying the use of the image in a classroom was not in and of itself Islamophobic, and the professor was not bigoted in her actions.
Turnabout would be fair play for Miller to lose her job due to the gross overreaction that cost the teacher her job, but this off-with-their-heads attitude toward missteps is unbecoming. Let the president confess error, apologize as she rehires the teacher and find a way to make something positive out of an incident that has disgraced her school in the eyes of much of the nation.
News: Congress holds hearings into problems with Ticketmaster
View: Technology has put an end to the days when die-hard fans would camp out for days by box-office windows waiting to buy concert tickets. Now we buy and resell tickets from our devices, and it’s the persistent or lucky fans who get the good seats.
Breaking up Ticketmaster’s near monopoly and requiring flat, per-ticket processing fees rather than percentage fees would be a good regulatory start. Preventing resale of tickets, as some lawmakers have proposed, would be a terrible idea.
The only way to limit the profits of scalpers is for the most popular artists to embrace dynamic pricing — charging what they believe to be market value for their tickets — even if it means pricing out fans of modest means. Then maybe hold a few hundred back for last-minute sale or distribution to selected fans.
News: The Sun-Times splashes “Baby boom in Berwyn: Five nurses at suburban birthing center expecting little ones of their own” on its front page.
View: Not news. One of the most cringeworthy front pages in memory.
On editorials, a follow-up
In response to my “News & Views” item last week about how the Sun-Times has been running guest essays in place of anonymous staff-written editorials on Fridays, I heard from Tribune Editorial Page Editor Chris Jones regarding an aside I’d made that the Tribune has been using “uncredited freelancers” to write some editorials:
Your snarky comment about "uncredited freelancers" writing Tribune editorials is not accurate. They're all written by board staffers with the exception of Greg Burns, who is a former editorial board member and very much credited right here as our freelance editorial writer. No uncredited freelancer, let alone "freelancers," has written a single editorial since I took over as editorial page editor.
Jones has a point, in that Burns — an esteemed former colleague — is as “credited” as the other men who write unsigned editorials in that if you go hunting on the website, you can get at least some idea who might have done the writing. I corrected the item on the site and here tender my regrets.
As for “snarky,” I don’t know. I do think it’s weird to have a freelance writer speaking in the institutional voice of a newspaper rather than simply for himself, but no more weird than I find the tradition of a newspaper having an institutional voice. As I wrote in October:
The idea — the conceit — is that “the institution” of the newspaper is the voice of editorials and that the writers are merely channeling that voice. … But why? Aside from tradition rooted in the days of the partisan press, why should a general audience newspaper have a set of beliefs and principles that goes beyond the core journalistic mission of finding the facts, telling the truth, exposing misdeeds and corruption, and putting the news of the day into context, in part through the publication of responsible opinion essays. After all, that’s a fair summation of exactly what respected newsrooms do. Why add an agenda on top of the basics of good journalism?
Magazines, radio stations and TV stations don’t have institutional voices. Most online journalism sites don’t have institutional voices.
Sun-Times Editorial Page Editor Lorraine Forte, also name-checked in my original item, followed up:
I have to respectfully disagree with you about the "disembodied voice" concept. I still think that having a board of journalists who have knowledge of the issues and can make substantive arguments for/against policies, laws, etc., as a group, and not just as a single voice, is valuable. The fact that readers respond and write in about our editorials, whether they agree or not, tells me they are of value to people who care about the city. Yes, there are differing opinions on this. But not everything traditional needs to be thrown out.
Earlier, I posted a lengthy dissent to my view from former Daily Herald editor John Lampinen:
As an institution, a newspaper has both a relationship with its community and a stake in its health. We don’t just publish in it. We don’t just report on it. We live in it. We are part of the community and we care about it and the people in it. That is the point of the journalism a newspaper does. That is the point of engaging with the audience. That also is the point, even the obligation, to offer a forum for public debate, and the point, even the obligation, to offer thoughtful editorials and endorsements.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Rich Miller at Capitol Fax archly took note of a Tribune flip*:
Chicago Tribune editorial headline from 2016: Say ‘no’ to more Chicago business mandates, including paid sick time
Chicago Tribune editorial headline from today: A week’s paid leave? What took Illinois so long?
This week’s editorial asks with some indignation, “What reasonable argument could be constructed against this humble and humane provision? We can’t think of one.” And maybe it’s snarky of me to point out that the ostensibly same institutional voice of the Tribune offered a raft of them less than seven years ago, and yet does not acknowledge its change of heart.
Hey, I’m all for this change and many of the other evolutions in thinking by the institutional Tribune. Under Jones, the editorials are more often in line with my thinking — consider the across-the-board endorsement of Democrats for statewide offices last November — and I’m glad for it.
*“Flip-flop” is the customary idiom, but if you flip and then flop, you are back in your original position. Barack Obama flip-flopped on gay marriage, for instance. He was for it when running for the state Senate in 1996, then against it running for U.S. Senate and president, and then for it again when he raised his moistened finger to the winds of change and completed what one wag (OK, me) called “his 15-year cycle through the wilderness of cynicism, opportunism and cowardice.”
Land of Linkin’
“Lab-grown meat moves closer to American dinner plates.” Reuters reports, “Executives at cultivated meat companies are optimistic that meat grown in massive steel vats could be on the menu within months after one company won the go-ahead from a key regulator. … Cultivated meat companies plan to pitch consumers that their product is greener and more ethical than conventional livestock, while attempting to overcome an aversion to their product among some shoppers … (but) in a 2022 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, … 35% of meat eaters and 55% of vegetarians (said they) would be too disgusted to try cultivated meat.”
In “As Deepfakes Flourish, Countries Struggle With Response,” The New York Times explores “software that allows people to swap faces, voices and other characteristics to create digital forgeries,” which I believe is a bigger threat to humanity right now than artificial intelligence. “Legal experts worry that deepfakes could be misused to erode trust in surveillance videos, body cameras and other evidence. … Digital forgeries could discredit or incite violence against police officers, or send them on wild goose chases. The Department of Homeland Security has also identified risks including cyberbullying, blackmail, stock manipulation and political instability. Some experts predict that as much as 90 percent of online content could be synthetically generated within a few years.”
Neil Steinberg looks into why restaurants are still reluctant to offer nonalcoholic wines.
Elon Musk has your free-speech absolutism right here: “Twitter and YouTube censored a report critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in coordination with the government of India. Officials called for the Big Tech companies to take action against a BBC documentary exploring Modi’s role in a genocidal 2002 massacre in the Indian state of Gujarat, which the officials deemed a ‘propaganda piece.’ … While Musk (who owns Twitter; YouTube is owned by Google) has been glad to stand up to suppression of speech against conservatives in the United States — something that he has described as nothing less than ‘a battle for the future of civilization’ — he appears to be failing at the far graver challenge of standing up to the authoritarian demands of foreign government.” (The Intercept, via Chicago Public Square)
Slate’s “Wikipedia’s Redesign Is Barely Noticeable. That’s the Point” illustrates the latest minor tweaks to the site:
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.
Why are we still saying ‘actress’?
We don’t say “stewardess” anymore. Or “mailman” or “waitress.” And it’s been decades since "comedienne," “authoress” and “aviatrix” were in common usage.
So why is “actress” still in such common use? I blame the awards industry, most prominently the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which every year hands out Oscars to “actors” and “actresses” — leading and supporting — as though there are some gendered reasons that make acting a different challenge for men than for women.
There is no category for “best directress,” if that would be the term, or “best male costume designer,” just as there aren’t separate Pulitzer or Nobel prizes for men and women.
Of course the reason for the actor/actress split is to build public interest, generate debate and hand out more meaningful statuettes during the broadcast. But the Academy could give separate, nongendered lead and supporting acting awards for drama and comedy/musical and have the same number of awards without perpetuating meaningless gender distinctions.
But isn’t it often hard to draw the line between drama and comedy/musical? Sure, but the line between lead and supporting actors is also very indistinct, and we are bound someday soon to run into award-worthy nonbinary thespians who understandably object to being placed in a binary gender category.
You say …
Along similar lines…
syndicated downstate columnist Scott Reeder posted to Facebook:
I purchased a bicycle for my daughter today and received a tongue lashing from the salesperson. He asked if she wanted a “step through” bike. I told him I didn’t know what he was referring to. He then showed me (a bicycle with a lowered crossbar). I said, “You mean a ‘girls bike?’” He then gave me a tongue lashing for ascribing a gender to an inanimate object.
He then got a column out of it, as I would have.
I would have made the same mistake Reeder did. And if the salesperson actually administered a “tongue lashing” rather than a gentle corrective (“you know, most people these days are calling these ‘step-through’ bikes because they’re used by everyone …”), he or she should be fired.
Lin to Lin
Here, in the wake of Sunday’s death of WXRT host Lin Brehmer at 68, is an example of how Twitter can be put to great use:
Monica Eng at Axios Chicago posted a very moving example of one of Brehmer’s “Lin’s Bins” essays:
What really matters?
From those mystical first moments when mute wonder at new life precedes that self-doubt that fills those first hours. Am I prepared to bring this bundle of helplessness home? Will we solve the mysteries of sniffles and fevers? Can we keep our hearts from bursting at first smiles, first words, the first time he runs to the door for no better reason than because you’re home.
And as you witness their triumphs and failures, you know all too well that they will grow up and forget to call you. And when people ask about what you hope, the world shrinks to the simplest truth. I want them to be happy.
Mary Schmich: Yay snow!
My former colleague Mary Schmich posts occasional column-like entries on Facebook. Here, reprinted with permission, is her most recent offering:
Chicago winter without snow? It wasn’t feeling right At last the weather gods obliged And paved the town with white. The snow-draped trees felt magical We cried, “This snow is nice!” So what if it’s Chicago And we’ll soon be cursing ice. But just for now let’s praise the snow Say, “Wow, this snow is fine!” Let’s wait until tomorrow to Resume our winter whine.
On the pre-show video, above, we did a deep dive on Brandon Pope’s award-nominated beard. On the podcast proper we discussed rogue county sheriffs saying they will decline to enforce Illinois’ assault weapons, the race for mayor, Ticketmaster and Chicago’s NASCARpalooza. 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.
In Tuesday’s paid-subscriber editions, I present my favorite tweets that rely on visual humor and so can’t be included in the classic Tweet of the Week contest in which the template for the poll does not allow the use of images. Subscribers vote for their favorite, and I post the winner here every Thursday:
The new nominees for Tweet of the Week:
We have no way of knowing if George Santos likes big butts or not. — @BuckyIsotope
I hate when you meet someone and everything is going great and then they ask you to answer their riddles three. — @Cpin42
Fire Marshal: There are too many kung fu fighters in here. — @Marlebean
Haiku is a cross / Between poetry and math / Satan’s handiwork. — @UnFitz
Me: Thanks for the little cup of Mountain Dew. Nurse: What Mountain Dew? Me: It was on the bathroom counter. Nurse: Oh my God! Me: What? Nurse: You drank my Mountain Dew. — @clichedout
Genie: You have three — Me: I want Tom to finally catch Jerry. Genie: YES! Me: Just choke the life out of him. Genie: Oh, I LOVE this. — @GrahamKritzer
Odysseus: We now set out on our odyssey. Sailor: [raising hand] what's an odyssey? Odysseus: A long journey named after the only survivor. Sailor: Oh, OK. Wait, what? — @mister_blank
Tip: rename your hard drive “jihad plans” for free remote backups in the U.S. and U.K. — @mattgemmel
If you ever want to avoid seeing me, just stand on the sidewalk and hold a clipboard. — Julieanne Smolinski
I'm sure it wouldn't be easy for anyone but, as a foodie, I'd have an especially hard time living on meager provisions. Foods like gruel and hardtack, while not appetizing to anyone per se, would be especially difficult for me to abide. — @camerobradford
I’ve only recently discovered Cameron Bradford, whose humor is mordant and very dry. His tweets are now likely to show up often as finalists.
The George Santos tweet is clearly the most inspired, but its reliance on the lyrics of a 31-year-old pop song will likely doom it among the electorate. Of course, the fire-marshal tweet alludes to a song that will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.
OK, now it’s time for another Dad Tweets poll — a collection that consists of groaners designed to provoke eyerolls in children. I find that so many of these are stolen jokes that trying to attribute them is a fool’s errand. So here:
If you want to set up a company and run it, that’s your business.
Small sticks made from a densely rolled paper material are for suckers.
Why is he called a stepdad and not a faux pa?
In Australia, pineapple upside down cake is called pineapple cake.
If you want to quit being a mime just say the word.
The British Prime Minister is just a British minister with free shipping.
What's the difference between a camera and a sock? A camera takes photos. A sock takes 5 toes.
I used to tell a joke about Lot’s wife. Looking back, it wasn’t a great idea.
If you've seen one indoor shopping center, you've seen a mall.
9 year old: Mom, please don't put cheese in my lunch today. Me: Too late. Havarti packed it.
Sorry, but “none of the above” is not an option.
Vote here in the regular poll. Vote here in the dad tweets poll For instructions and guidelines regarding the poll, click here.
Vote early and often
My vote for best click-bait is the Chicago Reader’s annual Best of Chicago polls. That said, I urge you to open up the City Life ballot and vote for the Picayune Sentinel under best newsletter and best blog, vote for “The Mincing Rascals” as best podcast and vote for Brandon Pope, a member of the Rascals podcast team, for best beard.
Might as well also vote for me as the best Chicagoan to follow on Twitter, though I totally don’t deserve that designation. Who does? Mark Jacob, Gregory Pratt, Heather Cherone, Ray Long and Nina Metz come quickly to mind.Who am I missing?
Tune of the Week
Texas-based evangelist and singing teacher Tillit Sidney Teddlie (1885 –1987) wrote “We Shall Meet Someday” in about 1929, and it became a bluegrass and country gospel standard. Part of its appeal, I suspect, is that it has no overt Christian references but speaks only to the comforting hope of reunion with loved ones in the afterlife. Plus it’s just a gorgeous and singable song.
My favorite version is by Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin of San Francisco:
How our heart aches with grief when we say goodbye We shall meet someday Where no sorrow or tears ever dims our eyes We shall meet someday
Consult the complete Tune of the Week archive!
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Hamline University: from "Is Hamline University a place where meatpackers are trained?" to "national disgrace" in a month.
Paul Vallas is Chicago's Harold Stassen (ask your granddad).