9-23-2021 (issue No. 3)
Welcome back. I’m still refining the concept of The Picayune Sentinel and am grateful for your readership and your feedback.
Tweet of the Week
Last week’s winner:
This week’s finalists
If you’re a baby, don’t even think about playing peek-a-boo with me. You will lose … @Cpin42
Donald Trump suffers from insurrectile dysfunction … @GianDoh
If someone was trying and failing to break my bones with words, I probably wouldn’t let them know my real weakness was sticks and stones … @TheAndrewNadeau
I hadn’t been listening when I responded “but what’s the larger story?” and I feel guilty how well that worked…. @HatfieldAnne
When a dog licks you it means it likes you. When a cat licks you it means it wants to know if you’ll be tasty should an unfortunate accident befall you. … @OhNoSheTwitnt
The New York Jets visited a children's hospital: "It's sad to see those downtrodden faces knowing they have no future," said 11-year-old Justin … @CooperLawrence
If you refuse the vaccine for religious purposes, when you catch the virus, please go to your church for help instead of your local hospital … @AmishPornStar1
By definition, an Everything Bagel includes racism. Not so delicious now, is it? ….@SortaBad
We're only a few years away from being arrested for crimes we haven't yet committed based solely on an analysis of our Google search history. Or at least I am. … @wildethingy
If you're happy and you know it, just you wait … @ozzyunc
Follow this link for instructions and other information about the poll.
In this week’s poll I did not include one of my favorite recent tweets — “We don’t want nobody nobody vaxxed” by @DanVock — because it’s too parochial for what has become an international constituency for Tweet of the Week (votes from Thailand, France, the U.K. and elsewhere last week). Only Chicagoans with long memories are likely to get the allusion to the anecdote retold here by the Sun-Times:
One day in 1948, energized by the candidacy of Paul Douglas, Abner Mikva presented himself at the 8th Ward Regular Democratic Organization headquarters.
“I came in and said I wanted to help,” Mikva told historian Milton Rakove. “Dead silence. ‘Who sent you?’ the committeeman said. I said, ‘Nobody.’ He said, ‘We don’t want nobody nobody sent,’ a phrase Rakove took for the title of his oral history of Chicago politics.
When does a protest become newsworthy?
Ariel Parrella @ArielParrellaDozens of people are gathered here at Ald. Gardiner’s office in Jefferson Park. They are calling on him to resign amid recent scandals. “Boo Gardiner. Don’t vote for him…. Whose ward? Our ward.” #OnAssignment for @BlockClubCHI https://t.co/OL2ju5a6CW
A couple of dozen people showing up to voice their views shows depth of feeling, but not necessarily breadth. Yet such gatherings routinely get more media coverage than, say, a petition drive that has gathered 500 signatures advancing a cause.
What is the news consumer to glean from the fact that there was a protest and (only?) dozens of people showed up? It sometimes seems as though we are supposed to infer that each person energized to show up in person represents, oh, say, 100 people who really do care but couldn’t fit the protest into their schedules.
This is similar to the inference that newspaper editors make when receiving, say, 10 harshly critical letters about a column, story, editorial or cartoon. When an infinitesimally small portion of the readership weighs in, they’ll reflexively amplify this sentiment into a groundswell.
But, of course, virtually every successful movement for change starts off small and gathers supporters and adherents by prominently carrying forth their message. A few brave people on a street corner can turn into a rally in the park can turn into a march on City Hall that shuts down part of downtown if enough people notice and decide to join in.
We saw an illustration of the effectiveness of protest this week when Benet Academy, a Catholic high school in west suburban Lisle, surrendered in the face of public outcry after administrators rescinded a job offer to a prospective lacrosse coach when she told them she was in a same-sex marriage.
The Tribune story also supported the 1-to-100 theory by noting that 40 demonstrators rallied at the school, but 4,000 people signed the petition demanding the job offer be reinstated.
Another recent successful local protest that started small was the citizen demand in response to a drowning for the Chicago Park District to install life rings where swimming is forbidden along Lake Michigan.
But neither story answers the question of what role of the media should play in publicizing protests when they’re still small. Is amplifying such an action a tacit signal of support for that cause? Perhaps it suffices to report accurately and without judgment on the size of the gatherings and to let the news consumers assess the significance.
This topic reminds me of the question of how much coverage journalists should give to random acts of hateful vandalism — swastikas Sharpied in dorm stairwells or nooses draped on doorknobs. Attention is what the haters want. Attention helps the haters sow fear.
Z-mail: Rethinking Reagan
For now, instead of opening up a comment forum, I’ll answer letters from readers on topics that drew comment/concern/outrage. Last week, my aside that former President Ronald “Reagan ain’t looking so bad lately” drew sharp rebukes like this:
Hang on, hang on. Let me remind you of how many gay/bi Americans died of AIDS while Reagan and his administration fiddled (figuratively speaking). They had to fight so hard to get federal funding for the research that has now saved millions of lives around the world. Making it cool to talk loudly about "welfare queens" is one way he coarsened the American dialogue, and having let that rabbit out of the hat, the racist/classist rabbits have only multiplied in the years since. Please, let us not see positive takes on Reagan from you! Trump let people die indiscriminately of COVID. Reagan sat by because it was primarily gay and Black men who were sick and dying. Is it worse to target a group with your disregard, or to have no regard for anyone at all? A philosophical question I can't answer. — Amy R.
These points and others raised by readers were well taken. Reagan’s fans and champions have a lot to answer for, including his coziness with brutal repressive regimes in Central America, his use of racist dog-whistles, his overspending on the military and his adherence to what George H.W. Bush aptly dubbed “voodoo economics.”
My observation was that, for all that Reagan did and didn’t do that I objected to, he compares well to former President Donald Trump, for whom all the pejoratives in my thesaurus are inadequate.
The “Reagan amnesty” of 1986 granted legal status to nearly 3 million people living in the United States without documentation. He was able to cut deals with leading Democrats in Congress And, further, as Washington Monthly’s Markos Kounalakis wrote
The federal government expanded on (Reagan’s) watch. The conservative desire to outlaw abortion was never seriously pursued. Reagan broke with the hardliners in his administration and compromised with the Soviets on arms control. His assault on entitlements never materialized; instead he saved Social Security in 1983. And he repeatedly ignored the fundamental conservative dogma that taxes should never be raised.
Those of us who hated and feared Reagan in the 1980s had no idea how loathsome and frightening a U.S. president could be. And I’d take a Reagan-style Republican over four more years of Trump or a Trumpian demagogue any day.
Yet I remain opposed to the idea under consideration by the General Assembly of a statue honoring him on the grounds of the state Capitol in Springfield. Statues suggest a quasi-religious admiration that goes beyond simple recognition of historical significance.
A friend enthusiastically recommended YouTube TV, the $65 a month streaming alternative to cable/satellite services, so I signed up for a free two-week trial.
It’s half the price of my basic Dish service and offers most of the same channels as well as unlimited cloud DVR storage (the Dish DVR is always close to being full) and the ability to watch on numerous devices nearly anywhere. I was particularly intrigued by the prospect of watching certain talk shows in up to 2x speed — the way I listen to most podcasts, to Johanna’s dismay — as you can do with conventional YouTube videos.
Unfortunately, only the computer desktop version of YouTube TV allows for adjustable speed playback. And I was underwhelmed by the viewer controls when watching on other devices. Since YouTube TV doesn’t have a dedicated remote, users have access to only a few features, and I’m a heavy user of the instant 30-second advance/10-second rewind on my Dish remote, as well as the ability to slow playback to 1/4 or even 1/15th speed.
Here’s a snippet of video illustrating how I watch football games after joining the action about two hours after kickoff:
Skipping the between-snaps blather (usually at least 30 seconds during which nothing is happening), the commercials and halftime, I’m able to catch up to live action with a few minutes left in the game.
Some of you will be aghast at this, I know. But others will join me in wondering why DVR viewers don’t have more one-button time-shifting options.
In the end I concluded that having the controls that Dish affords me was worth the extra cost, at least during football season, and I dropped YouTube TV after the trial period.
Land of Linkin’
From the Associated Press: Some abortion foes question tactical wisdom of new Texas ban. Gee, ya think? I’m struck by a quote from an anti-abortion theologian who says, “Because it appears to be playing legal games to get around rulings of federal courts, the (new Texas) law feeds the false narrative that pro-lifers don’t have public opinion on our side.” False narrative? No. The aggregation site Polling Report has a page on abortion and public opinion is decidedly not on their side.
In Revolt of the delivery workers, Josh Dziez of The Verge exposes the hardships of those who bring food to your door after you order from DoorDash, UberEats or other popular services. These woes include “the fluctuating pay, the lengthening routes, the relentless time pressure enforced by mercurial software … and the indignity of pissing behind a dumpster because the restaurant that depends on you refuses to let you use its restroom.” Those who rely on e-bikes endure “the deadly carelessness of drivers, the pouring rain and brutal heat” plus theft and the difficulty of finding places to recharge their machines.
Bemoaning the suffocating influence of lobbyists from the American Optometric Association, Atlantic writer Yascha Mounk writes in The Great American Eye-Exam Scam that “Like the citizens of virtually every other country around the world, Americans should be allowed to buy any pair of glasses or set of contact lenses at a moment’s notice. While the requirement to get a medical exam from an optometrist who has spent a minimum of seven years in higher education may have good effects in some cases, it also creates unreasonable costs—and unjustifiable suffering.”
CBS-2: City Not Issuing Timely Speed Cam Warning Tickets, Costing Drivers: ‘No Time For Me To Change My Behavior.’ Mayor Lightfoot’s campaign pledge to break the city of its “addiction” to “regressive fines and fees” ain’t going so well.
I was obsessed with Roger Brown’s weight when I was a kid in in the 1960s and he played tackle for the Detroit Lions. Three hundred pounds! It said so right on his football card. That seemed enormous to me because, for its time, it was. Many of the obituaries written after Brown died this month at age 84 noted that he was among the first NFL players to tip the scales at that weight. Now roughly a quarter of the players weigh that much, and a handful have topped out over 400 pounds. It’s time for the league to impose weight limits for the short- and long-term health of all concerned.
The tone of this headline on a Sun-Times editorial — “Ald. Jim Gardiner should think really hard about resigning.” — reminds me of the reproachful phraseology parents and teachers use to scold/shame children: “I want you to go stand in that corner and think hard about what you’ve done!” I guess “Gardiner, GTFO” would violate the newspapers’ standards. Gardiner strikes me as rather shameless, though.
Jon Hansen, Brandon Pope and I joined host John Williams for the “John is Obnoxious” episode of the Mincing Rascals podcast Wednesday afternoon. Topics included:
The Benet Academy controversy.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposals for progressive fines and a trial guaranteed basic income program.
The prospect of the Bears leaving Soldier Field for Arlington Heights.
The media/public obsession with missing and slain white women.
The demand from some patients hospitalized with COVID-19 to receive ivermectin anti-parasite medication even though the FDA and most doctors advise against it.
The debut this week of Axios Chicago by Justin Kaufmann and Monica Eng marks the latest entry into the crowded local email newsletter field. AC is a snappy digest rendered in talking-points format (Axios calls it “smart brevity”), and at the top it estimates the time it will take you to finish if you read at about 260 words per minute. They seem to be shooting for under four minutes; this issue of the Picayune Sentinel in contrast, is a 12 minute read. I call it “smart verbosity.”
An eye-opening fact from their first issue of Axios Chicago was that the city’s highest COVID-19 infection rates and lowest vaccination rates are in “the only two Chicago ZIP codes to post strong showings for former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.” Eye opening fact from the second issue on Tuesday: Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been paid $310,472 to be an occasional talking head for ABC News over the past two years.
Lynn Sweet had a longer look at Emanuel’s disclosures (3.5 minute read for one story!) in Wednesday’s Sun-Times.
For local news I’m already receiving the diligently curated, impressively thorough Illinois Playbook and Chicago Public Square as well as digests sent out by the Tribune, Sun-Times, WBEZ-FM, Crain’s and Block Club Chicago. These complement an array of similar offerings in my daily in-box sent out by nationally oriented publications. And though the newsletters are free, they often link to subscriber-only content. Which is fair enough, right?
The thought that we might have reached peak newsletter is one that caused me to hesitate before starting the Picayune Sentinel. There is already such a strong demand for readers’ attention, what hope is there of moving to the top of the “must open” list?
I wish there were a way to create anchor tags on this platform so I could create a clickable table of contents at the top. That might ease the complaints of those who have told me this newsletter is too long. All I can say for now is that I’ll try to make it easy to scroll through, so those who aren’t interested in, say, “Songs of Good Cheer” updates can whip right past, say “Cheer Chat.” Speaking of which….
The early days of rehearsal for “Songs of Good Cheer” are often taken up with discussions of piano and guitar chords that sound something like the above, only much longer. I don’t usually participate because my ear for chords is comparatively primitive.
Band member Paul Tyler then synthesizes all the input and renders updated chord charts so that when the full band gets together a few weeks later it’s able to play through the show without a ton of fuss.
Our 23rd annual run of shows is still set for December 10th through 12th at the Old Town School of Folk Music’s main auditorium in Lincoln Square, and we’re on track to create a video version that we’ll record a few weeks earlier.
Lines in the news like this — “We really are looking like we’re coming down the other side of this,” city Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. “Broadly, things are going quite well, honestly, in Chicago at this point.” — and this — “The delta surge appears to be peaking nationally, and cases and deaths will likely decline steadily” — are increasing our optimism that we’ll be able to hold live shows.
On the common-decency front, we’ve changed a word in the “Winter Wonderland” lyrics. “We’ll frolic and play the Eskimo way” will be “We’ll frolic and play the Inuit way” in our songbook. NPR explains why this is a good idea:
People in many parts of the Arctic consider Eskimo a derogatory term because it was widely used by racist, non-native colonizers….(therefore) most people in Canada and Greenland still prefer other terms. The most widespread is Inuit, which means simply, "people."
Does this mean people of good will should no longer refer to “Eskimo kisses,” and that “Eskimo Pie” should lose its trademark?
I don’t apologize for my weakness for corny country songs, particularly when rendered in perfect harmony. “Why Don’t You Introduce Me As Your Darlin’?” owes a conceptual debt to David Allan Coe’s hit “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” (written by Steve Goodman and John Prine), and sounds as though it could be an old classic. But it’s a new song (2018), written (and sung here) by Vivian Leva with her partner Riley Calcagno.
They are both members of The Onlies, a quartet of old-time musicians in their early 20s that can really tear it up. For the shaggy-dog-like story of the connection between Vivian Leva, her mother Carol Elizabeth Jones, her grandfather and my family, click here .
Thanks for reading. Look for the Picayune Sentinel — maybe shunted into an email subfolder? — next Thursday morning. Tell your friends to sign up!