Was the Uvalde massacre part of God’s plan?
Primary predictions, a suggestion to ditch "senior quotes" in yearbooks and more
6-23-2022 (issue No. 41)
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In a recent radio interview, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “If I had the opportunity to talk to the (parents and relatives of the 21 murdered May 24th at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas) I’d have to say, look, there’s always a plan. I believe God always has a plan.”
You may see this sentiment as comforting or repellent. But it is certainly logical from the point of view of many people of faith. Tragedy and evil are the consequences of an all-powerful, all-knowing God having granted us free will.
But if God is going to let the world spin like a top on which he yanked the string eons ago and not intervene in our affairs, what possible purpose is there in dwelling on God, appealing to God, praying to God, trying to read God's will in between the lines and comporting oneself accordingly?
If God wouldn't do any one of a thousand little things that would have stopped the slaughtering and metastatic suffering in Uvalde — if he wouldn't jam the AR-15-style rifle, afflict the would-be killer with a debilitating ailment and so forth because human free will is a paramount value, then why bother to hope for his intervention in far lesser matters? What else are rational people to do other than live their lives according to exemplary human values?
I wrestled with a version of this question — the age-old problem of evil — in a lengthy correspondence with former Benedictine monk Bill Love, a novelist, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The resulting email exchange with him and with our readers covers a lot of theological and philosophical ground. It’s 32,000 words, so I encourage you to skim.
Franklin Graham @Franklin_GrahamA fire broke out at the Balsora Baptist Church in Bridgeport, TX, & quickly consumed the building & everything in it. Only one thing was left standing—the cross! https://t.co/BuF0HuYgbp
Related: Gallup reported last week that the percentage of Americans who say they believe in God has dipped to a new low of 81%, down from 87% in the 2017 poll. It was 98% through most of the 1950s and 1960s.
The greatest drop-off from the most recent poll in 2017 was seen among Democrats (84% to 72%), liberals (73% to 62%) and 18-to-29 year olds (78% to 68%).
Asked if God is able to intervene in human affairs in response to prayers, only 52% of believers said yes. Overall, just 42% said yes.
Interesting wrinkle: Gallup also found 88% of 50-64-year-olds believe in God, slightly higher than both younger and older cohorts and, as noted, significantly higher than 18-29-year=olds (68%). Question for the comment thread: Has your religious outlook changed as you age? How and why?
Stay cool, Yearbook editors. Ditch senior quotes 4 ever
An unidentified recent graduate of Chicago’s Jones College Prep offered this for his senior quote in the school yearbook: “Build The Wall! Yes We Can! — Bob The Builder.”
This created “a firestorm” at the school, according to reporting by Block Club Chicago’s Jamie Nesbitt Golden. Officials blacked out the quote with Sharpie pens in undistributed copies of the book and released a statement saying it had slipped by a peer review panel and was “inappropriate and ... harmful to some people.”
Officials at Jones did not respond to several requests for additional information, but outgoing Local School Council chair Cassie Cresswell told Block Club that she considered the publication of the quote to be a racist incident and that she had reported it to Chicago Public Schools officials.
Another outgoing member of the LSC, Roberto Menjivar told Block Club that the quote was “hateful and unwelcoming. It denies our struggles and our existence. … ‘Bob the Builder’ is an immigrant stereotype about day laborers.” Menjivar accused the student of “co-opting” sí se puede — “yes, we can” — a phrase popular with Hispanics in the United Farm Workers union beginning in the 1970s.
But “Bob the Builder” is a white general contractor in a popular animated children’s TV show produced in Great Britain. And his catchphrase — “Can we build/fix it? Yes, we can!” — is unrelated to the UFW rallying cry.
“Build the wall!” was of course, one of the main slogans of Donald Trump’s successful 2016 presidential campaign. And it expressed a belief — shared by more than 40% of American voters in a series of polls — that constructing a stouter barrier along our southern border would be a good way to prevent the crossing of immigrants who lack proper documentation.
I don’t like or agree with the slogan, but I also don’t like or agree with a public school censoring the expression of students’ mainstream political views. Drawing the line between appropriate mainstream views and inappropriate extreme views is difficult, particularly in these fraught times when so many political statements are considered “hateful.”
Can schools avoid this difficult and divisive issue by ditching the tradition of senior quotes in yearbooks? Yes, they can!
Last week’s winning tweet
Scroll down to read this week’s nominees or click here to vote in the new poll.
The fault in our stars (and celebrity soothsayers)
In doing a deep dive into my archives the other day, I found this passage from a 2001 speech:
Years ago, the Chicago Sun-Times printed this correction:
The Sydney Omarr horoscopes in Thursday's editions of the Sun-Times were incorrect, The horoscopes Friday were correct.
My column, in response, said that in the spirit of accuracy, the paper should have said,
The Sydney Omarr horoscopes in Thursday's editions of the Sun-Times were incorrect. The horoscopes Wednesday were incorrect, too, actually, as have been Omarr's horoscopes every day for many, many years. The forecasts were equally valid for both days or for any other day of any other year, which is to say not valid at all.
I went on to point out that astrologers fail in simple laboratory experiments. For instance, they can't do any better than random guessers in blind attempts to match astrological charts with people.
Omarr wrote me a blistering, indignant letter and enclosed two of his books. I posted these letters to the internet along with my response to Omarr’s testy screed: I’ll tell you what, Mr. Omarr, I'll give you the time, date and place of the birth of 10 people, then you try to match their horoscopes with their identities. Then we can all have a good laugh at how astrologers can't tell the charts of serial killers from the charts of social workers.
I must be clairvoyant, because I predicted he wouldn't write back, and he never did.
News & Views
News: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot goes all in to defend issuing speed camera tickets for minor infractions.
View: Lightfoot is making a high-stakes political gamble that voters will come to appreciate her stout defense of a program that sends roughly 160,000 $35 tickets a month to those detected driving 6 to 10 mph over the speed limit.
The lower threshold, enacted last year, brings in tens of millions of dollars of badly needed revenue and, Lightfoot argues, makes us safer.
“It seems that every day there is another traffic fatality because of speeding and reckless drivers,” she said this week in criticizing aldermen who voted in committee to repeal the lower fine threshold. “It is simply unconscionable that, after losing 173 Chicagoans to speed-related traffic fatalities in 2021, some aldermen are acting with so little regard for public safety.”
Such fatalities actually rose in 2021, the first year the lower ticketing limit was in effect, and it’s unclear how many of the 173 deaths were connected to those driving just 6 to 10 mph over the limit.
In some cases, the cameras seem placed along thoroughfares or next to parks where 6 mph over the posted limit feels quite safe and quite reasonable, leading to the widespread sense that they’re “gotcha!” devices similar to those that issue tickets to those who turn right on red without coming to a dead stop even though no other cars are around.
Supporters of the repeal also note that such fines fall particularly heavily on poor people of color and that Lightfoot campaigned in 2019 on a pledge to rid the city of its addiction to fines and fees.
Lightfoot’s allies delayed a vote on the repeal this week, though she’s almost certain to veto it if it passes. Those lining up to run against her in 2023 are no doubt licking their chops at the prospect of running against Mayor Speed Cameras.
News: The Illinois Fuel and Retail Association says that if the courts force gas stations to post signs at the pump telling customers that the state has suspended the inflation adjustment to the motor fuel tax, owners will enhance the mandated sign like this —
View: Zing! The mandated signage is preposterous and insulting, alluding to a savings of roughly 2 cents a gallon.
Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook … has paid average annual fees of more than $15 million to the Washington Post, just over $20 million to the New York Times, and more than $10 million to The Wall Street Journal … to feature their content without a paywall. … (Now) the company is looking to shift its investments away from news and toward products that attract creators such as short-form video producers to compete with ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok."
The summary also quotes The Verge:
Facebook employees were recently given a new directive with sweeping implications: make the app’s feed more like TikTok. … The main tab will become a mix of Stories and Reels at the top, followed by posts its discovery engine recommends from across both Facebook and Instagram. It’ll be a more visual, video-heavy experience.
Meta (Facebook) reports that just 16% of news feed items now contain external links, and just half of one percent link to news sites. Nieman Labs:
Facebook doesn’t need news. It’s a tiny fraction of what people see on its platform, and many more of its users would rather see less of it than more. And yet news and news-like content generate a large share of its PR headaches and negative headlines. Is it any surprise it’s on the verge of snuffing it out entirely?
I have found in recent years that I usually don’t get many clicks when I post links to my written work on Facebook, even when the topic is one that has already generated lots of comment traffic on Facebook.
The latest developments strengthen my suspicion that Facebook’s algorithm downplays posts that include links, and that I would have more success if I posted “Happy anniversary and happy birthday and graduation day to my son, who I hope will enjoy this week’s issue of the Sentinel with his sweet kitty Audrey,” add some pictures food and animals, then drop a link to this newsletter into comments.
I’m annoyed by the new direction for Facebook because I’m one of those who looks to the platform in part for news. And my friend group reliably links to interesting, accurate material I might otherwise miss. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy banal, holiday card-like updates from my friends on Facebook — they can build meaningful connections — but it’s vital to the health of our society that we continue to be confronted with news about issues of public concern. Facebook’s withdrawal of support to news organizations will weaken their ability to keep sounding alarms and keep us distracted rather than focused.
Meanwhile, Twitter is experimenting with allowing “notes” posts of up to 2,500 words in order to replace the cumbersome, multi-post threads that now feature lengthy essays broken up into 256-character chunks.
View: Plant-based milk costs coffee shops more than cow’s milk so they charge the customer more for it — 50 cents to a dollar extra for oat, soy, almond and coconut milk, according to The Associated Press — because that’s how retail pricing works. But the counterargument, so to speak, makes some good points, according to a summary in The Guardian:
(Protesters) say that dairy milk is far worse for the climate, and that because rates of lactose intolerance are higher among people of color, the alternative milk surcharge also perpetuates unfairness.
The Guardian also notes that the playing field isn’t level because the U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes the dairy industry and that Starbucks has bent to pressure and eliminated the upcharge in the United Kingdom. The company’s news release doesn’t say if it hiked other prices slightly to compensate or if the chain is eating — er, drinking — the additional cost. But just so we’re clear, someone has to pay.
News: A new University of New Hampshire Granite State Poll released Wednesday found Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis receiving 39% support from likely Republican primary voters compared to 37% for former President Trump.
View: This statistical tie represents the first real glimmer of hope I’ve seen that the Republican rank and file may be ready to move on from the erratic, narcissistic, dangerous Trump and get behind a more conventional hard-right conservative.
News: Local political analyst Russ Stewart of Nadig Newspapers predicts that next Tuesday’s primary election winners will be Darren Bailey (for the Republican gubernatorial nomination), Alexi Giannoulias (for the Democratic secretary of state nomination), Fritz Kaegi (for the Democratic Cook County assessor nomination) and Democratic U.S. congressional candidates Jonathan Jackson, Gilbert Villegas and Sean Casten.
View: Sounds about right to me, though my crystal ball is so clouded these days my predictions feel more like wild guesses. Props to Stewart who has the courage to publish his predictions whereas so many other political pundits don’t like to risk being wrong. In a downstate race that Stewart doesn’t mention, I predict ultra-Trumpy Republican U.S. Rep. Mary Miller will beat plain old Trumpy U.S. Rep Rodney Davis in the newly redrawn 15th district.
If democracy dies in the United States, and anybody in the future cares about how it happens, they should understand the role its supposed defenders played. While the Republicans were carefully erecting the scaffold to hang American democracy in 2024, the Democrats were collecting old splinters and trying to reconstruct the gallows that almost worked in 2020. These hearings are like doing a credit check on a crook while he’s beating you with a pipe. Totalitarians cannot be persuaded. They can only be defeated. — Neil Steinberg
Land of Linkin’
“He used to edit political stories at the Chicago Tribune. Now he says the press is failing our democracy." Jay Rosen’s Press Think interview with my former colleague Mark Jacob, whom you really should follow on Twitter.
ProPublica: “Meet the Billionaire and Rising GOP Mega-Donor Who’s Gaming the Tax System.” “Jeff Yass has avoided $1 billion in taxes while largely escaping public scrutiny. He’s now pouring his money into campaigns to cut taxes and support election deniers.”
Media industry Substacker Simon Owens throws cold water on the micro-payment model for online reading: “Wouldn’t it be better if we had a pay-as-you-go model, one where you land on an article, decide if you want to read it, and then cough up 50 cents or a dollar for the privilege? That would allow you to diversify your reading diet while eliminating the winner-take-all subscription model that makes it so difficult for small publishers to compete with The New York Times. … And yet no such utopia has ever emerged. … Here are the four reasons why.”
In “How sensitivity readers corrupt literature,” author Kate Clanchy describes the suggestions/demands of the sensitivity police who screened her memoir, “Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me.” “I am enjoined not to quote from ‘My Ántonia’ by Willa Cather, as it is ‘an old novel’; nor to state that homosexuality has historically been taboo in Nepal, as homophobia comes from colonialism; nor to mention that the Taliban were terrorists. … Nor should I say that … Fetal Alcohol Syndrome leaves children unable to progress; nor that a long tight dress restricts movement. All of these things are, for my readers, ‘hurtful’ notions of mine, not unfortunate facts. Writing, they imply, should represent the world as it ought to be, not as it is.”
In “The casino may actually be worse for Chicago than the dreaded parking meter deal," the Reader’s Ben Joravsky writes, “A casino is set up to make sure its patrons lose. The more money they lose, the more money the casino takes. And ultimately the more money gets paid to the city. So we’ve linked our economic future to soaking the saps who throw away their money at a casino.”
Steve Chapman asks, “Will Trump’s voters ever get tired of his lies?” “A central theme of Trump’s 2016 campaign was the promise to build a wall on our southern border and make Mexico pay for it. … In four years, Trump built only a tiny portion of his wall, and Mexico didn’t pay for it. But the failure didn’t matter to Trump’s followers. His presidency was a nonstop parade of lies, beginning on Inauguration Day, when he sent his press secretary out to make false claims about the size of the crowd at his swearing-in.” So the answer is no.
The Picayune Sentinel preview: Mondays 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.
Mary Schmich: Cat trouble
My former colleague Mary Schmich posts column-like thoughts most Tuesdays on Facebook. Here is this week’s offering:
A little after 3 a.m. Saturday I was startled awake by the sound of sawing. Electric sawing, it seemed, on what sounded like metal.
“Who the hell is sawing at 3 a.m.?” I wondered, cursing the neighbor I had a hunch would do exactly that.
I know what time it was because I reached for my phone to check, wondering if maybe it was daytime even though it was still dark. It was not daytime, and after a few fretful minutes, I went back to sleep.
Around 9 on Saturday morning — the kind of beautiful, summer morning that keeps us living in Chicago — I went out to my car, which was parked on the street. I pushed the ignition. Pressed the accelerator. And heard a screech from the depths of hell. I inched forward. The screech resumed. I heard something metal clang to the ground.
A couple of workers who were parked in front of me gave me a sympathetic but slightly amused look.
“They got your catalytic converter,” one said.
Ah, yes. The stolen catalytic converter craze had finally hit me and my 2013 Prius. I’d read about this nationwide plague but never worried about it.
After a few stunned minutes — what to do? — I drove the screeching jalopy to the car shop, where a woman with a clipboard walked over and shook her head sadly. She didn’t even need to investigate. She sees it all the time.
“They got your cat,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
Catalytic converter thefts are so common, she said, that getting a new one could take four months. After more discussion and sighs, I bid my car farewell for now and walked home.
In times of trouble, some people mollify themselves with food or alcohol, and while I’m not opposed to those therapies (in moderation) my preferred sedative is often information. So I’ve spent a lot of time reading about catalytic converters, which I knew nothing about before.
I now know that cats are a kind of filter. They contain precious metals like platinum, rhodium and palladium, all of which are very pricey these days, meaning they’re hot, hot, hot on the resale black market.
According to one story I read, rhodium sold for $640 an ounce five years ago. As of today, it costs $18,600 per ounce. In 2018, the story said, 1,298 Americans reported their cats stolen. In the first six months of 2021, the number was 25,969.
The good news is that my insurance will pay for the new converter, whenever it arrives, and for a rental car for a while, though nowhere near four months.
And now it's summer, which, even when it swelters, is a great time in Chicago.
Meanwhile, I was out walking and saw this turtle trudging across the grass in Lincoln Park, not far from the lagoon at the boardwalk. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a turtle on the grass. Look at the beauty of that shell.
Feel free to share tales of your own cat troubles here. — Mary Schmich
Up to 90 percent of a car’s most problematic exhaust emissions can be neutralized by a catalytic converter, with unburned fuel, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide being converted into less harmful nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water vapor. … (The precious) metals are the actual catalysts, the part of the device that initiates the chemical transformation of the exhaust gas. Nitric oxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and unburned hydrocarbons — be they petrol, diesel or engine oil — all react with the metals inside a catalytic converter, and are quickly turned into other gases: principally nitrogen and carbon dioxide, but also water.
Car owners can buy cat theft protection devices for a couple of hundred dollars, but manufacturers ought to make such shields standard, and laws discouraging such thefts need to be stronger. KSDK in St. Louis reports:
This year alone, 150 catalytic converter (anti-theft) bills have been introduced, including 15 in Missouri and Illinois. Illinois is one of 19 states to pass legislation. Many of them enforce harsher penalties on people who steal and limit where people can sell. States with catalytic converter legislation, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, are Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Iowa, Connecticut, Maryland, Oklahoma, Arizona, Delaware, Maine, Mississippi, Virginia, Kentucky, Washington, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, Alabama, and Indiana.
Laura S. Washington of ABC-7 and the Tribune joined host John Williams, Austin Berg and me on the new episode of “The Mincing Rascals” podcast to talk about shenanigans in the City Council regarding speed cameras, the upcoming primary races, what we’re learning from the January 6 hearings and much more.
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.
This week’s nominees for Tweet of the Week:
My wife’s upset at me. I’m going to cheer her up and ask our 9-year-old to play “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder. — @Chhapiness
No word’s meaning changes more as you age than the word “party.” — @TheBoydP
Everything's bigger in Texas. Especially the fear of the 21st century. —
Whenever I don’t want to listen to a song in the car with my wife I just lean over and whisper “my ex loved this song” — @Tbone7219
If any one of the hundreds of things that happen to James Bond in literally every fight scene happened to me, the resulting injury would become the thing I bitch about every day forever. — @portmanteauface
Your rapper name is your real name plus nothing because why would you have a rapper name, you're not a rapper, you dummy. — @Havish_AF
The trick to parenting is appearing to present a united front with your partner while subtly implying that the other one is really the villain. — @UncleDuke1969
To be fair, a Dumpster is like one of the safest places to have a fire. —
I may have bought too many Forever Stamps. — @WendyLiebman
Actually, Satan, today is the perfect day. — @DeathBecumsMe
My father and I differ on “Beulah.” I think it’s due for a revival along with “Clara,” “Agnes,” “Arthur,” “Walter” and other vintage names gaining traction with a new generation of parents. He thinks it belongs in the “Bertha,” “Ethel” “Myrtle” and “Gertrude” category of fossilized names that time is unlikely to rehabilitate.
This subject came up after my friend Mitzi Lebensorger sent me a link to Helen Bonchek Schneyer’s somewhat daffy but very memorable rendition of the 1911 gospel hymn, “Dwelling in Beulah Land.”
The mouth-sounds orchestra accompanying her in this 1974 recording includes John Roberts and Tony Barrand.
Shneyer, who worked as a psychotherapist, died at 84 in 2005. Her obituary in The Washington Post said, “With her booming contralto voice and imposing stage presence, she belted out songs about the human condition with such power that people felt compelled either to sing along or to flee the performance.”
“Beulah” is a Hebrew name meaning “married woman,” and “Beulah Land” is a reference to the promised land — Israel — in the Old Testament book of Isaiah:
Thou shalt no more be termed forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.
But in Christian hymns — “Dwelling in Beulah Land,” “Sweet Beulah Land,” “The Land of Beulah” (better known as “Angel Band”) and others — the reference is clearly to heaven.
Some trivia for the next cocktail party you attend: The greeting “bula!” — wishing someone a long life and good health — is so popular on the Fiji islands that the composer of the country’s national anthem, “God Bless Fiji,” simply swiped the tune to “Dwelling in Beulah Land.”
The name “Beulah” does not appear on such online lists as “Old-fashioned baby names that are new again,” “200 old fashioned baby names that are making a comeback” or “100 vintage baby names coming back into style.” Cosmo doesn’t even have “Beulah” on the list of 60 “Old fashioned girl names that haven't made a comeback yet.” (Though it does make the list of “101 Old-fashioned dog names for girl puppy cuteness.”)
The most famous person named Beulah, according to PlaybackFM, is retired studio wrestling star Beulah McGillicutty whose real name isn’t even Beulah! Her real name is Trisa Laughlin.
Expectant parents (or new pet owners) looking for a unique and pretty name need look no further than “Beulah.”
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