Discover more from Eric Zorn: The Picayune Sentinel
They'll be back! Burning Man refugees remain psyched for 2024
& what have you never, ever done in Chicago?
9-7-2023 (issue No. 104)
News and Views — On Melissa Conyears-Ervin, Lori Lightfoot, Hunter Biden and more
Land of Linkin’ — Where I tell readers where to go
Squaring up the news — Where Charlie Meyerson tells readers where to go
“The Mincing Rascals” preview —Includes another come-on for our live show at The Second City
Re:Tweets — Featuring the winner of the visual tweets poll and this week’s finalists
Tune of the Week — “Volcano” by Jimmy Buffett
Mary Schmich is traveling.
Saturday marks two years since the first issue of the Picayune Sentinel, which would be a collectors item if I’d only thought to make an NFT of it!
Escape from Black Rock
In Tuesday’s Picayune Plus, I printed a joke referencing the travails of the tens of thousands of people then stranded in the muck at the Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert (it’s in the Tweet of the Week contest below), and noted that I was entitled to this bit of insensitivity because my eldest son, Alex, 33, was among those enduring the reportedly hellish conditions and looking to escape.
I was confident that he and his girlfriend, Devon Clement, would not die of hunger or thirst in the usually desolate expanse close to 100 miles north of Reno. And indeed even as I was typing those words, they were inching their way along the one road out of Burning Man on what turned out to be an all-night odyssey.
They’d arrived on Sunday, Aug. 27, having flown in from New York City where they live, and had four days in the semi-utopian, cashless temporary city before hell broke loose. When I reached them by phone Wednesday in their Reno hotel, they described a downpour Friday afternoon that quickly turned the desert floor “to mud, but not the kind of mud you usually imagine,” Devon said. “It’s much more like clay … extremely thick and sticky.“
“In your camp, you don't really have a floor,” Alex said. “Your floor is the ground, sometimes with some carpets over it. And when it becomes mud, all of these spaces become pretty unpleasant to be in.”
“The mud gets on your shoes,” said Devon. “And I don't just mean your shoes get muddy. You're carrying two or three pounds of mud attached to the bottom of your shoes. And you're suddenly three inches taller. By Friday evening, it was pretty awful.”
But their group was comfortably stocked with food and water and was able to wait out the trouble.
“The worst thing about it was that from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, you couldn't really go anywhere,” Devon said. “And there was almost nothing to do. And Saturday is usually the main event when everybody comes together and they burn the man and have a fireworks show. But they couldn't do that, so Saturday night I basically just went in the tent and went to bed at 9 p.m. and was sort of bored and sad.”
By Sunday, trucks were able to get in and service the portable toilets, which had become a concern. Monday evening, they packed up their rental truck and sat in a line of cars for seven hours, inching their way back to civilization.
So, never again?
Alex said no, they’re already planning to go back.
“It was actually kind of an amazing time, even with the rain. We made some new friends at our camp,” he said. “And also we kind of missed out on the main event. They burned the man and set off the fireworks while we were in that exiting line. So we were at least able to see it from our car, but yeah, we'll be back! We have a lot of equipment now, we have a lot of experience, I think it'll be a little bit easier next time. The experience kind of gets to you. We're trying to convince some of our friends back home to go, too.”
They will store some of their gear in Nevada and ship the rest home.
“I'm concerned that the rain was in part due to climate change, “ Devon said, “And if it's going to keep doing that, they're going to need a new location.”
Last week’s winning tweet
My new weight loss plan is to get booked at the Fulton County Jail. — @RickAaron
Here are this week’s nominees, the winner of the Tuesday visual-tweets poll and a special second edition of my“Bleak Peanuts” poll.
Here is the direct link to the new poll.
The ultimate “Never have I ever …” survey
For two weeks, I asked readers to vote on what they considered to be quintessential Chicago experiences. This week, I’m asking readers to confess, via their anonymous click votes, which of these experiences they have not done.
Never have I ever …
... toured the Art Institute of Chicago
... eaten a deep-dish pizza
... toured the Museum of Science and Industry
... ridden the “L” through the Loop
... driven on Lower Wacker Drive
... taken an architectural boat tour
... gone to Millennium Park
... gone to Lincoln Park Zoo
... attended a Cubs game at Wrigley Field
... been to the top of the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower)
... eaten an Italian beef sangwich*
... attended either major St. Patrick's Day parade
The survey also allows you to answer: “I have done all these things!”
*Not a typo. I considered “sammich,” as well.
News & Views
News: Whistleblowers’ letter that Mayor Lori Lightfoot tried to cover up surfaces to allege serious misconduct by city Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin.
View: I can’t decide who looks worse in this story, which was broken Tuesday by Tribune City Hall reporter Gregory Royal Pratt. Conyears-Ervin, the city treasurer accused by whistleblowers who had been high up in her office of using “government workers to plan her daughter’s birthday party and be her personal bodyguard while she also pressured public employees to hold events benefiting political allies and repeatedly misused taxpayer resources.” Or former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who long fought Pratt’s Freedom of Information Act requests to see the allegations that had been leveled against her political ally.
In the run-down of alleged offenses, Ervin comes off as a classic, self-important grifter who doesn’t think the rules apply to her. But in fighting to keep those allegations secret, Lightfoot, whose campaign slogan in 2019 was “Bring in the Light” to symbolize her putative commitment to transparency, looks like an enabling hypocrite.
I commend readers to the Tribune editorial on this story.
View: If the president’s troubled son broke the law, I have no problem if he pays the price of crime. This is a key distinction between me and the Republican cultists and the conspiracy crazed pundits who egg them on. These deluded hypocrites once preened about their fidelity to the rule of law but now whine piteously about political persecution because their Dear Leader is in the dock for a variety of brazen alleged criminal offenses.
News: Lori Lightfoot is teaching a class at Harvard on how to run a city in a pandemic.
View: Lightfoot’s graduate-level class on “health policy and leadership” that started last week will be both valuable and interesting if the prickly, defensive former mayor reflects with some humility about how and why she fell short as well as the ways in which she succeeded.
Lightfoot told WBEZ she wants to teach “how you bring people together in a moment of crisis, how you get things done, how you build lasting foundations to build on to address other issues that come up,” and I give her relatively high marks for her leadership during the confusing, frightening early days of the pandemic. But she was not, in the end, a unifying figure who built lasting foundations, and if she can’t explain why, then the students should get their tuition back.
News: Crystal Cooper, Chicago Public Schools’ $220,000-a-year chief operating officer, has resigned after the school inspector general claimed she allegedly received a fraudulent federal Paycheck Protection Program payment of $15,625.
View: Good lord the alleged venality! I pray this deception, to which she reportedly admitted to, results in criminal charges and a trial.
View: Art on the Mart will always be less than satisfying until they figure out a way to turn off the lights or shut the blinds on the windows in the Merchandise Mart that continue to emit light on the “screen” on the side of the building.
News: “Mayor Brandon Johnson lambasted critics who have said he’s off to slow start as mayor, arguing that he’s being held to a ‘different standard’ as a Black man.”
View: Whether or not this is true, I doubt it’s smart politics for the mayor to invoke race as a response to fair criticism and tough questions From Alice Yin’s Tribune story:
During Tuesday’s event, Johnson was asked to address beliefs from moderates and those on the political right that he is being influenced by (Chicago Teachers Union president Stacy) Davis Gates. Johnson previously was a political organizer with CTU, which helped jump-start his once-longshot mayoral bid that culminated in his election as Chicago’s most progressive mayor in generations.
“You think I’m going to suddenly be surprised or get upset because now all of a sudden, oh my goodness, the world is oppositional to a Black man on the left who leads with love?” Johnson responded. “And that the only rationale that can be possible for any of my decisions is that somehow a Black man is being controlled?”
On the notion that his recent decision to fire Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s public health commissioner during the pandemic who at times clashed with the CTU, was at all tied to his allegiance to Davis Gates, Johnson gave a fiery rebuttal.
“Perhaps things should go without saying, but as far as this dynamic that a Black man executive can’t make decisions on his own,” Johnson said
Land of Linkin’
In “The New York Times Has a Serious Headline Problem,” former Tribune metro editor Mark Jacob offers numerous examples to underscore his argument that “the Times’ timid approach to headlines is a gift to corrupt politicians.”
Disney tickets, PS5s, and big-screen TVs: Florida parents exploit DeSantis' school vouchers” by Judd Legum. “Parents are using the new Personalized Education Program (PEP), which provides about $8,000 annually to thousands of homeschooled students to get taxpayer-funded theme park passes, big-screen TVs, and other items with an attenuated connection to education. … Step Up for Students permits all voucher recipients to spend up to $400 annually on Legos.”
“Family” group posts bail for Orland Park Pastor indicted in Trump election interference case in Georgia. “Prosecutors allege that (Living Word Lutheran Church pastor Stephen) Lee went to the home of a Georgia election worker in an attempt to sway her testimony.” He is supported by “the Illinois Family Institute, which set up a legal defense fund to help cover 10 percent of his $75,000 bond for release.” Because nothing says “family values” like attempting to overturn an election result, what?
Vivek Ramaswamy is Ron Paul 2.0, only better attuned to the prevailing Republican ideology. Steve Chapman makes the case.
“Who Is CAN TV For? Employees and community producers at the public-access station say managers reduced programming made by Chicago residents and mistreated staff.” (Jason Flynn, South Side Weekly). “CAN TV representatives did not reply to requests for comment.”
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.
Squaring up the news
This is a bonus supplement to the Land of Linkin’ from veteran radio, internet and newspaper journalist Charlie Meyerson. Each week, he offers a selection of intriguing links from his daily email news briefing Chicago Public Square:
■ The New York Times’ obituary for “singer, songwriter, author, sailor and entrepreneur” Jimmy Buffett set off Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg.
■ A joint Better Government Association/Block Club Chicago/WGN-TV investigation introduces you to a north suburban woman whose real estate empire has racked up $15 million in unpaid rat-related tickets for South and West Side properties.
■ The Guardian: A bogus “university” is spreading climate lies on reactionary donors’ dollar.
■ Your Local Epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina finds comfort in the latest round of lab and epidemiological data on the BA.2.86 COVID-19 variant.
■ CNN says this COVID wave is probably worse than statistics make it look.
■ Advisorator has tips for amusing yourself with smart plugs (an exclusive link for Square readers).
You can (and should) subscribe to Chicago Public Square free here.
Ray Long of the Tribune joined the panel — of Austin Berg, John Williams, Jon Hansen and me — for a segment on the recent perjury conviction of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s chief of staff Timothy Mapes. Other topics on this week’s episode of “The Mincing Rascals” podcast include the timing of Trump’s trials and whether it’s hypocritical for a public school teachers union leader to send a child to a private school.
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.
And a reminder from WGN-AM:
The Mincing Rascals are taking their podcast on the road for a live taping at The Second City’s UP Theatre (230 W. North Ave.) on Tuesday, September 26, 6pm to 8pm. Tickets are $45. This live taping of “The Mincing Rascals” is sponsored by Allied First Bank. Come join the Rascals for the insight and humor this award-winning panel delivers every week. This is a rare chance to see the gang do their thing – which is a witty, snappy, smart conversation about the day’s major news. The episode will be taped for a Saturday night broadcast on WGN Radio.
The featured Rascals at this live taping will be John Williams, WGN Radio host heard 10am to 2pm weekdays; Eric Zorn, publisher of The Picayune Sentinel; Jon Hansen, WGN Radio host also with WCIU-TV, Block Club Chicago and Chicago Blackhawks; Austin Berg of the Illinois Policy Institute; and Brandon Pope, host of ‘On The Block’ on WCIU-TV.
In Tuesday’s paid-subscriber editions, I present my favorite tweets that rely on visual humor. Subscribers vote for their favorite, and I post the winner here every Thursday:
The new nominees for Tweet of the Week:
Mary’s “Virgin” Explanation Made Joseph Suspect Upstairs Neighbor — @xkcd’s mnemonic for remembering the order of the planets.
Once you hit a certain age, life is just a delicate balance of trying to stay awake and trying to fall asleep while slowly getting worse at both — unknown
Pro revenge tip: Paint a Jesus-shaped stain on your hated neighbor's driveway, then alert local churches. — @edfoxcomedy
One day we will tell our grandkids how far we had to scroll to get to the recipe. — @mommajessiec
I found my first grey pubic hair today, but I didn't freak out; unlike everyone else in the Zoom meeting. — @thDRAGnrebOrN
“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” = Saddest six-word story. “For sale, baby: Shoes never worn.” = A lesson in comma placement and how I sell feet pics — @TheAndrewNadeau
I always wear a puka shell choker to a job interview. It's my subliminal way to let them know I've got a relaxed vibe and probably won't do much work. — @Lisabug74
Olive Garden would be a beautiful name for a baby. — @ErinChack
It looks like the war on Christmas has started early this year. I went to the grocery store today and the cashier said "Good afternoon." — @camerobradford
Being trapped at Burning Man seems almost as bad as being trapped in a conversation with someone who went to Burning Man — @sammorril
Vote here and check the current results in the poll.
I have also created a special second edition of the “Bleak Peanuts” poll consisting only of gloomy variations on “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and other perky titles in the official collections by Charles Schulz. Review the first poll, from May 2022, here.
It’s A Pyramid Scheme, Charlie Brown. — @huntergraybeal
"Yes, I'm Pregnant, Charlie Brown."— @AndyJokedAgain
Blow Into the Breathalyzer, Charlie Brown. — @gunthotron
You Ruined Bingo Night, Charlie Brown. — @ln0217
Tonight the Dark Ones Arise and Feast on the Souls of the Damned, Charlie Brown. — @PopeAwesomeXIII
It’s the Great Convergence of Stupidity and Cruelty, Charlie Brown. — @pimecorp
The First Taste is Free, Charlie Brown. — @eleniZarro
The Handcuffs Are Too Tight, Charlie Brown. — @eleniZarro
If You’re a Cop You Have to Tell Me, Charlie Brown. — @eleniZarro
Make It Look Like an Accident, Charlie Brown. — Unknown
Vote here in the Peanuts poll.
Meanwhile, though I have not entered it in the contest, I wish to associate myself with this tweet:
I have a strong aversion to the expression “the wife” that I can’t fully justify. I know several uxorious husbands who use it, but it nevertheless grates on me
For instructions and guidelines regarding the poll, click here.
Tune of the Week
“Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” are better known songs from Jimmy Buffet, who died Friday at 76 of a rare form of skin cancer. But I’ve long been partial to the sing-along friendly “Volcano.”
He was known for adapting the lyrics in concert, and in this live performance, he doesn’t sing what might be considered a resonant verse from the original recording upon his death:
No time to count what I'm worth Cause I just left the planet Earth Where I go I hope there's rum Not to worry, monsoon come
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