Discover more from Eric Zorn: The Picayune Sentinel
Thanks to 'big babies,' the U.S. is likely to avoid an economic meltdown
& we're now on 'worst-baseball-team-ever' watch
5-25-2023 (issue No. 89)
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 — The National Enquirer turns on Donald Trump; The Triibe is killin’ it!; The “human composting” bill in Springfield is dead; Activists fighting for a different school-board districts map.
Land of Linkin’ — Where I tell readers where to go
Race to the slop — The 2023 Oakland A’s are on track to be the worst team in baseball’s modern era. And I’m there for it.
Mary Schmich — On newspapers at kitschy deli wrap
“The Mincing Rascals” preview — Monica Eng of Axios Chicago joined the small panel this week to talk about her series on property tax appeals.
Re:Tweets — Featuring the winner of the visual tweets poll and this week’s finalists.
Word court — Your verdict, please, on “lie” and “lay” and “theater” vs. “theatre.” Plus an rumination on “accident” and a look at one of the strangest sentences you’ll ever see.
Polling position: How readers rated the best months in Chicago an a question about banana splits.
Tune of the Week — “Mighty Mighty” as nominated by my Songs of Good Cheer bandmate Jim Wynton
Relax! The big chickens are too scared of the big babies to put the nation into default
All the posturing attending the deadline next Thursday to raise the federal debt ceiling seems to overlook a key fact about government spending:
People tend to hate it generally, but like it specifically.
Results from an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll taken in March underscore this point: Sixty percent of morew than 1000 respondents said government spending is too high, but when it comes to major areas of expenditures:
65% said the government spends too little on education (while just 12% said it spends too much).
63% said the government spends too little on health care (whie just 16% said it spends too much).
62% said the government spends too little on Social Security (while just 7% said it spends too much).
58% said the government spends too little on Medicare (while just 10% said it spends too much).
53% said the government spends too little on border security (while just 23% said it spends too much.)
35% said the government spends too little on the military, and another 34% said it spends just the right amount (just 29% said it spends too much)
From the AP story:
By comparison, a wide majority — 69% — say the U.S. is spending too much on assistance to other countries. But slashing foreign aid would have almost no impact on the overall size of the government, as it accounts for less than 1% of all federal spending. … Most Republicans say too much is spent on assistance to big cities (65% vs. just 19% of Democrats), and about half say too much is spent on the environment (51% vs. just 6% of Democrats). … By comparison, far more Democrats say too little is spent on aid for the poor (80% vs. 38% of Republicans), the environment (73% vs. 21% of Republicans), child care assistance (71% vs. 34% of Republicans), drug rehabilitation (67% vs. 36% of Republicans), and scientific research (54% vs. 24% of Republicans).
A 2010 poll taken in the southern Illinois by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute showed similar results:
87% said no to cutting primary education funding
79% said no to cutting funding for "public safety, such as state police and prison operations”
58% said no to cutting funding for "natural resources, such as state parks or environmental regulation."
Meanwhile, majorities opposed every suggested way to increase revenue, including not just additional taxes but expanding legalized gambling. In short, they told pollsters they wanted services but didn’t want to pay for them.
Our elected officials know that when it comes to government, most people are what Michael Kinsley called “big babies” in the introduction to his 1995 book of that name.
Voters make flagrantly incompatible demands — cut my taxes, preserve my benefits, balance the budget — and then explode in self-righteous outrage when politicians fail to deliver.
Princeton University political scientist Lloyd A. Free and psychologist Hadley Cantril identified this phenomenon in their 1968 book, "The Political Beliefs of Americans."
They asked research subjects a variety of general questions about the proper role of government in order to place them left or right on the ideological spectrum. Then the professors asked about specific existing and proposed government programs in order to place these same subjects on what they called the "operational" spectrum.
Free and Cantril found that nearly half of those who professed a generally conservative, abstract belief in small government and low taxes also, when pressed, expressed specific support for many liberal, big government programs.
But politicians deserve a huge share of the blame too. Voters may be big babies — needy, irrational, demanding — but lawmakers are big chickens — so afraid of voter tantrums when popular programs and services are trimmed that they tremble at the idea of cutting anything.
Paradoxically, it may be that fear that inspires them to compromise in the next week and avoid a disastrous government default. High spending and debt may make people mad, but nothing will provoke a voter tantrum quite like an economic catastrophe.
Last week’s winning tweet
There’s an old tale that Keith Urban and John Legend once formed a duo. Not sure how true it is. — @craiguito
Here are this week’s nominees and the winner of the Tuesday visual-tweets poll. Here is the direct link to the new poll.
News & Views
News: The National Enquirer has turned against Donald Trump
View: I hope President Joe Biden adopts “Sex Creep Trump” from the tabloid’s current front page as a way to refer to the former president and his likely 2024 Republican rival. And I hope this sort of coverage in the low-brow press inspires Republican-minded voters to look for more upstanding standard bearer in 2024.
The article itself refers to Trump as a “sex fiend,” a “beleaguered businessman,” a “prickly ex-POTUS,” a “skirt-chasing husband” and a “handsy creep.”
I don’t regularly look at the magazine racks when in a checkout line so I don’t know how recent this development is. My face is usually buried in my phone as I wait for the cashier (I wonder if the fact that everyone is always looking at their phones has dampened point-of-purchase sales for publications). But the cover image above marks an evolution from 2019 when I wrote a column arguing it had become immoral for merchants to sell the Enquirer:
This has been true since long before the Florida-based supermarket tabloid began churning out poisonously and deliberately false propaganda during the 2016 presidential campaign season — “Hillary (Clinton): 6 months to live!”; “Bill (Clinton) caught in teen sex ring!”; “Hillary hitman tells all!”; “Hillary and Huma (Abedin) going to jail!”; and on and on and on.
But it’s especially true now that news events have shown the depths to which the Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc., appear to have gone to distort, mangle and conceal the truth in pursuit of political goals.
Now I hope every shopper in American sees it.
View: This terrific scoop from Jim Daley at The Triibe, posted Sunday, is yet another illustration of the value of having multiple aggressive news shops in town: “The morning of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s inauguration, ‘Fox and Friends’ aired a live segment from a Naperville diner featuring two Black men who Fox’s correspondent said happened to be from Chicago. The correspondent, Gianno Caldwell, presented the segment as a spontaneous interview about Johnson being sworn in as mayor.” In fact Caldwell had invited them to drive out from Chicago that morning. The stunt was fodder for Mayor Johnson’s opening quip at his first Chicago City Council meeting Wednesday, “This City Council meeting is being recorded live from Naperville.”
Speaking of The Triibe, “Hundreds of Chicago cops can’t testify in court” by Max Blaisdell, posted Tuesday, is another excellent scoop: “Hundreds of current and former Chicago police officers can never be called to testify by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) because they have histories of misconduct or untruthfulness that would undermine their credibility on the stand.”
News: The “human composting” bill is dead for now.
View: I remain appalled by lawmakers who preen about freedom but then fail to expand perfectly harmless freedoms when the opportunity arises. Chicago Democratic State Rep. Kelly Cassidy’s bill to allow for an alternative burial method known colloquially as “human composting” will not advance this legislative session, evidently because too many members of the state Senate are offended or grossed out by the idea, even though it’s already legal in half a dozen states.
Cassidy told me she and state Senator Mike Simmons, D. Chicago, will bring the proposal back during the fall veto session and work between now and then to change a few minds.
News: Ald Daniel La Spata, 1st, told city officials that he does not support allowing Satanists to deliver the invocation at City Council meetings because it “would be a betrayal of my personal faith.”
View: Of course the “personal faith” of lawmakers ultimately helps guide the initiatives they make and the votes they cast. But explicitly citing faith concerns in explaining the reason for an official action — or inaction, as the case is here — is a betrayal of the First Amendment and of the idea that religion and government are both better off when kept as separate as possible.
I find religious invocations at the start of government functions to be ostentatious and inappropriate, aimed at sending a message to non-believers and adherents to unconventional faith systems that they are not truly members of society.
Here, as the Block Club Chicago story explains, members of the Satanic Temple of Illinois have long been asking to deliver the City Council invocation but been denied, clearly because their belief system is unpopular and invokes a being widely considered to represent evil.
The Satanic Temple is a federally recognized religion with congregations across the United States and more than 14,000 members in Illinois — and it should be allowed to solemnize City Council just like any other religion, (Minister of Satan Adam) Vavrick said.
Members do not worship Satan or any higher — or lower — power, but they reclaim the symbolism of Satan as a “rejection of arbitrary authority” imposed on people with identities marginalized by other cultures and religions, Vavrick said.
“This religion is an affirmation that you cannot touch me, because I’m happy with who I am,” Vavrick said. “To embrace Satan is to say, ‘I’m the other, and I’m fucking proud of it.'”
News: Certain interest groups have rejected Illinois lawmakers’ revised draft map for elected school board because the results are unlikely to yield a body whose ethnic makeup mirrors the ethnic makeup of the school population.
View: I am all for striving to have representative legislative bodies reflect the makeup of the electorate, but it’s a tricky business to try to gerrymander districts in order to carve out extra representation for groups most impacted by the work of the legislative body. As the Chalkbeat Chicago story notes, “Chicago’s population is 33% white, 29% Latino, and 29% Black, but the school district’s student population is 46.5% Latino, 36% Black, 11% white, and 4% Asian American” so some activists argue that the school board ought to reflect that enrollment data.
But a major animating idea behind public education is that we all must help pay for it because we all benefit from it, and we all suffer when it’s operated poorly. We are all stakeholders. Pollute that idea with an attempt to draw boundaries that minimize the voice of certain voters because of their race and you begin to sever an essential connection implicit in democracy.
Land of Linkin’
Favorable health news from Streetsblog Chicago co-founder and editor in chief John Greenfield: He is back in Chicago, recovering at home from injuries he suffered while on a bicycle trip last month that put him in a coma for a week in a Carbondale hospital.
“We were the danced upon,” concludes the sharply observed Tribune editorial on the death of self-styled “grave dancer” Sam Zell. Zell, who in 2007 bought the company where I worked, died earlier this month at 81. He brought extra calamity to the Tribune during calamitous times, though even without his crude, toxic, arrogant reign, times would still be tough today at the Tribune as it is in the newspaper industry in general. He had contempt for the staff and the staff returned the sentiment. Zell loved to flout the rules, and since one of those rules is not to speak ill of the dead, his departed spirit ought to appreciate this send off.
The property taxes on Axios columnist Monica Eng’s Chicago condo shot up 71% recently due to an assessor’s error, and her appeal initially failed. In “The headache of appealing Cook County property tax assessments” and subsequent installments in a series, she explains what she went through to correct the ridiculous mistake, and gives readers instructions on what to do if they suffer similar fate.
Plenty of good reader letters about the Adam Toledo case and other matters can be found in the Picayune Plus that came out Tuesday.
Sun-Times sports columnist Rick Telander cautions against the hype surrounding the NBA draft in “Nothing really a sure thing with Victor Wembanyama.” The track record of freakishly tall basketball players is not great, Telander points out, so the French phenom, who is said to stand 7-feet 5-inches in his shoes, could easily be a disappointment. “The NBA has had lots of players 7-3 or taller,” he writes. “Mark Eaton (7-4) was a good shot-blocker and Ralph Sampson and Rik Smits (both 7-4) were good men in the middle, but they never won anything. Careers ended early for Sampson, Yao Ming (7-6), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (7-3) and Shawn Bradley (7-6) largely because of foot injuries.” Telander also mentions Manute Bol (7-7), who averaged more blocked shots per game (3.3) than points (2.6) in 12 NBA seasons.
Rich Miller’s syndicated column in the Sun-Times, “Financial transaction tax for Chicago? Forget it,” underscores the political futility of one of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s plans to raise revenue. Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker has already indicated his opposition to Johnson’s hopes of imposing a “Big Banks Securities and Speculation Tax” that would raise $100 million for the city each year. Miller writes,“I reached out to the two legislative leaders to see where they stood on allowing home rule units like Chicago impose a tax on electronic transactions. Spokespersons for both (Democratic) Senate President Don Harmon and (Democratic) House Speaker Chris Welch said their bosses opposed the idea.” Now what, your honor?
The Daily Signal reports: “Fox News employees are allowed to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, rather than their biological sex, and permitted to dress in alignment with their preferred gender. They must also be addressed by their preferred name and pronouns in the workplace” according to the company handbook.
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.
Race to the slop
After Wednesday night’s sixth straight loss, the execrable Oakland Athletics stand at 10-41 — a winning percentage of .196. In big-league baseball’s modern era (since 1900) the benchmark for worst team has long been the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics, who finished 36-117 — a winning percentage of .235.
It may be too early to get caught up in the worst-season-ever hype. Last year the Cincinnati Reds stumbled out of the gate at 3-18 (.142) but by May 25 they were 13-30 (.302) and finished the season at 62-100 (.382).
But this portentous futility has my attention! Last week, Al Yellon at Bleed Cubbie Blue posted “Are the 2023 Oakland Athletics going to be the worst team in MLB history?” in which he wrote:
The A’s team ERA is 7.18. That’s about a third of a run worse than the worst in MLB history, 6.80, set by the 1930 Phillies. … In recent times, the worst team ERA for an entire season was 6.38, by the 1996 Tigers. … The A’s issues stem from the fact that they’ve already traded away pretty much everyone who was a good player for that team over the last two or three years. … Their entire pitching staff looks like a waiver wire list, and that’s because many of them were acquired that way. They have already used 25 different pitchers (plus position players Carlos Perez and Jace Peterson as pitchers) this year. It’s like putting a Triple-A (or even Double-A, for some of these guys) team on a MLB schedule as an experiment to see what happens. Well, now we know.
Side note: The Philadelphia Athletics moved to Kansas City in 1955 and then to Oakland in 1968. Owners now want to move the team to Las Vegas.
And speaking of sports, I’ve got to root for Denver in the NBA Finals. My friend Tim Roznowski of Richmond, Illinois, makes a persuasive argument: “Fifty-six years of existence and the Nuggets have never been to the NBA finals, let alone won a title. They made the last ABA finals in 1976 only to lose to the New York Nets and Dr. J.”
Of the teams Denver still might face, the Boston Celtics have 17 NBA titles and the Miami Heat have 3 since joining the league in 1988. Time to give another city a banner to raise.
Mary Schmich: It’s a wrap!
My former colleague Mary Schmich posts occasional column-like entries or observations on Facebook. Here, reprinted with permission, is her most recent offering:
For the second time in two weeks, at different places, I've ordered a sandwich that arrived in newspaper deli wrap.
I know this is called newspaper deli wrap because I Googled "sandwiches wrapped in newspaper."
I learned that newspaper deli wrap is available at the Webstaurant Store for $38.49 for a case of 1,000 sheets. It has a rating of 4.9. It is out of stock. Clearly, popular!
Has this been a thing for a long time? Have I only now noticed? Or are "newspapers" in this form cool only now that real newsprint newspapers are waning? — Mary Schmich
Monica Eng of Axios Chicago joined me and Austin Berg (who looks like someone is strangling him in the preview image from the pre-show video posted above) partway through the latest episode of “The Mincing Rascals” podcast to talk about her series of articles on property tax assessments mentioned above in Land of Linkin’. Before she clicked in, Austin and I talked about the debt ceiling fight and a balanced budget amendment. He’s in favor. I’m opposed. I served as guest host because our regular host, WGN-AM 720 midday host John Williams, was off — maybe because the writers who compose all his quips and witty asides for the podcast are on strike, but I’m not sure.
Subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. Or bookmark this page. If you’re not a podcast listener, you can 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:
When I’m mad at my husband, I put the toilet seat up right before he gets home so he thinks I’m having an affair. — @sixfootcandy
Is it weird how saying sentences backwards creates backwards sentences saying how weird it is? — @shivillex
Russell Crowe and Sheryl Crow walks into a bar. The bartender calls 911 and says, "I'd like to report an attempted murder." — various sources
A guy sat next to me on the train today and pulled out a picture of his girlfriend. He said, “Ain’t she beautiful?”I told him, “If you think she’s beautiful, you should see my wife.”“Why? Is she a stunner as well?” “No, she’s an optician.” — @Groovyhoovy
A week ago my mother-in-law began reading “The Exorcist.” She said it was the most evil book she ever read. So evil she couldn’t finish it. She took it to the beach and threw it off the pier. I went and bought another copy, ran it under the tap and left it on the bedside table in her room. — various sources
[Father and son looking up at the night sky and observing starlight from millions of years ago] “Son, the most important thing in this world is money.” — @AbrasiveGhost
Staying at the Quantity Inn. They gave me six rooms. — @bazecraze
Gravy boats are the opposite of boats. — @pantless_papple
I’ve developed a new AI that mimics my teenage daughter. I call it Artificial Insolence. — @OakHill_
When life gives you lemons, shed your mortal skin and devour the flesh of your neighbors, ingesting their soul for the glory of Satan, our Lord and master. And then wash it down with a refreshing lemonade. — @wildethingy
I know there are many variations of the “Quantity Inn” joke. I like the one by @bazecraze. Vote here and check the current results in the poll. For instructions and guidelines regarding the poll, click here.
Polling position: How readers rated the best months in Chicago
Last week I posted WGN-AM 720, WCUI-TV personality Jon Hansen’s rankings of the months in Chicago from best to worst. He didn’t specify what he meant by “best,” though weather figured heavily into it. More than 400 readers responded to my call to offer their own rankings, and here is the consensus list, with Hansen’s rankings in parenthesis.
WGN-AM 720 and “Mincing Rascals” podcast host John Williams argues for December to be ranked second because the pre-holiday vibe in the city is glorious and the weather usually ain’t that bad. I agree on the vibe, but December weather is often gloomy and, of course, in the air there’s a feeling that three worst months of the year are nigh.
Meanwhile, another survey for you. A Tribune/Aurora Beacon article this week by Steve Lord hailed the 40th anniversary of Banana Split, an ice cream and frozen treat store in Aurora. And the headline alone caused me to remember how deeply disappointing I have always found banana splits — wretched excess and an often strange combination of flavors. Every 10 years or so I forget and order one and then vow never again. I am almost certainly in the minority, but:
Laying out the case for lying out
I cringed at the Sun-Times photo caption above. The verb should be “lie,” not lay. Grammatically, “Lay” requires an object. You lay something down. “Lie” does not take an object. You lie down.
The easiest way to remember this is to think of the vowel sounds in this mnemonic phrase: “Lay/place; lie/recline.” And of course this distinction is complicated because the past tense of “lie” is “lay,” as in “I lay down for a nap yesterday morning.”
The past tense of “lay” is “laid,” as in “I laid my book down on the coffee table before I took that nap.
I posted this pedantic observation to Facebook and received well over 100 responses, some saying I was a crusty fusspot who needs to relax about grammar, others saying I am noble defender of standards and proper usage, and still others saying that “lay out” as a term for sunbathing is so common as to be idiomatically correct.
So I put it a jury of readers:
Oh, you’re going to the ‘theatre’ are you? Well la-di-da
Presenters of, venues for and attendees at live entertainment who use the British spelling “theatre” instead of the American spelling “theater” have long struck me as affected and pretentious. Like developers who spell “center” as “centre” in an effort to class a place up. We’re ‘murricans, dang it. We have neighbors, not neighbours and at night we wear pajamas, not pyjamas.
The word comes from the Greek “theatron” or “place of seeing,” so the French spelled it “theatre,” giving that spelling more historical heft. But what’s your preference?
I’ve taken more care as a writer in how I use the word “accident” to describe a auto or bicycle crash since a few readers upbraided me several years ago for referring to a “drunk-driving accident.” “Accident,” they wrote, implies an unpredictable unfortunate and random event event with no fault or intention behind it. But there was nothing “accidental” about the drunk driver getting intoxicated or the speeder running a traffic light. Most collisions are caused by glaring irresponsibility that the word “accident” suggests was, at worst, a mere whoopsie.
It turns out there is a website devoted to this cause, https://crashnotaccident.com/
Yes, ‘Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo’ is a sentence
I came across this assertion the other day and, yes, it’s true. Buffalo functions as a place name (the city in New York state, most commonly), a regular noun (the animal) and a verb (to intimidate or bully).
So the above sentence restated for clarity would read
Certain buffalos from the city of Buffalo that that buffalos from the city Buffalo bully also bully buffalos from the city of Buffalo.
Breaking it down:
Buffalo buffalo [Certain buffalos from the city of Buffalo]
Buffalo buffalo buffalo [that buffalos from Buffalo bully]
buffalo Buffalo buffalo [also bully Buffalos from the city of Buffalo.]
You might be able to win a bar bet with the claim that you can generate a sentence that repeats the same three-syllable sound eight times. And if you do, please use your winnings to buy a friend or loved one a gift subscription to the Picayune Sentinel.
Tune of the Week
I asked baritone soul singer Jim Wynton to nominate this week’s tune. Jim joined the “Songs of Good Cheer” cast last fall for our annual winter holiday singalong at the Old Town School of Folk Music, where he is on staff. With luck he’ll join us again this year for the 25th annual program. He wrote:
These past few months, starting mid February through April, I was an understudy in Black Ensemble Theatre's musical production, "Reasons: A Tribute to Earth, Wind, and Fire."Although I didn't perform during the two month run, I was in the audience for almost every show. Wow! I was exposed to alot of touching music, "Mighty Mighty" being my favorite.
I felt a deep connection to the lyrics...
We are people of the mighty, Mighty people of the sun, In our heart lies all the answers, To the truth you can't run from
In my junior year of college I visited Accra Ghana to study African philosophy and learn more about the African part of my heritage. The sun, dancing, culture, music and spiritual tradition that I experienced in Ghana reasonated deep within me. It was home. Hearing Earth Wind and Fire's "Mighty Mighty" takes me back to that place. I feel empowered and proud of who I am as an African-American.
The Picayune Sentinel is a reader-supported publication. Browse and search back issues here. Simply subscribe to receive new posts each Thursday. To support my work, receive bonus issues on Tuesdays and join the zesty commenting community, become a paid subscriber. Thanks for reading!