Hot Air

Believe And It Is So

[Big Mike Note: Here's another blast from the past. This post originally ran in my old blog, The Third City, three years ago. Do we know precisely what belief is? Enjoy.]

July 30th, 2011

Belief, as always, has been in the news.

Many economists and government officials believe that if the debt ceiling is not raised, the American economy will be profoundly damaged.

Bye Bye, Nest Egg

Many Me Party-ists believe that’s an exaggeration.

That’s only the latest conflict of belief in the news the last few years. The vast majority of climatologists believe the burning of fossil fuels by humans for the last couple of hundred years has caused the Earth’s weather to begin to go haywire.

Many oil company executives, oil-producing state officials, and Me Party-ists believe that’s an exaggeration.

“Oh, Be Serious — How Can This Harm The Environment?”

Most people believe President Barack Hussein Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Some people — and many Me Party-ists — believe he was not.

There are those Me Party-ists again. They seem to relish swimming upstream.

Many people believe former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is charming, ambitious, and outspoken but she’s a tad shy in the book-larnin’ department.

Some people — predominantly Me Party-ists — believe she possesses a razor-sharp intelligence.

The Me Party may be the first major political party in this holy land whose existence has come about because its adherents…, well, believe certain things.

Not believe as in, “I think the federal government ought to spend less money,” or “I believe the U.S. should go and help our British friends in their battle with Nazi Germany,” or even, “I believe that dark skinned people who had been kidnapped from their African homelands and forced to labor on plantations in the southern United States are less than human.”

No major political parties actually arose because a large group of people came together over those beliefs. But the Me Party seems to have arisen out of a set of beliefs millions of people shared over the Internet and by watching a certain cable news channel.

Guess Which

What is belief? says it is “something believed.” Gee, thanks. The well-worn New Oxford American Dictionary I keep in the bathroom (you never know when you might need a quick definition) isn’t any help either.

I can’t tell you precisely what belief is. Not only that, I can’t really figure out what makes a believer.

For instance, I know a guy who believes either Jack or Bobby Kennedy smothered Marilyn Monroe to death with a pillow because one of the brothers might have blurted out some national secrets during sex with her.

Citizens Help Apprehend The Suspected Murderer

He also believes that a crashed extraterrestrial space craft is being kept in a well-guarded hangar in Area 51.

And this fellow is certain Barack Hussein Obama was born in Kenya.

He also believes Saddam Hussein had a stash of nuclear weapons that has now been scattered throughout Iraq in the wake of the US invasion. He says he still believes every word George W. Bush said in the lead up to that operation.

This same guy also advises anybody within earshot not to believe a thing politicians tell you.

So, is he a believer or not?

I don’t know.

What is a believer? What is belief?

Little kids believe in Santa Claus. Lots of people believe in ghosts and angels. When I was six, I believed a devil paced back and forth near my bedroom door in the middle of the night. He was a strange looking chap, reddish from head to toe, with cloven feet and a tail with a black arrow-like tip. Oddly, he walked much like Groucho Marx did.

The Murder Victim And Satan

He scared the living hell out of me night after night until…, oh, I’m embarrassed to admit how long he scared me.

Since 1967 I have believed that the Chicago Cubs will win a World Series before I die. At this rate, I’d better pray I live to the ripe old age of 143.

Prayer. Isn’t that the ultimate expression of belief?

Dear god, please don’t let the repo guy find my Infiniti G35.

Dear god, don’t let me be pregnant.

Dear god, please let me be pregnant.

Dear god, I agree with you that homosexuals ought to be denied all rights available to heterosexual couples.

Dear god, I know you love peace; help us end all wars.

USA Today conducted a poll last year that revealed 83 percent of Americans believe god answers prayers. In raw numbers, this means that of the 308,745,538 people living in this country according to the 2010 Census, some 256,258,797 people believe not only that there’s a god (the number of believers is actually higher) but that he (she? it?) will either make them pregnant or cause the repo man to look on the wrong block for that Infiniti.

“Hey Pal, Leave That Guy’s Infiniti Alone, See?”

Let’s go back to baseball. Not too long ago, Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols hit game-ending home runs in consecutive games to beat the Cubs. Both times he pointed up to the sky, presumably toward his god. As in, “Thanks, Big Man, for giving me the ability to hit a baseball a long way.”

Similarly, every time Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano pitches his way out of a jam, he does the same thing — he points toward heaven.

“Thanks, God, For Turning That Nifty Double Play For Me!”

Are there two gods? One for the Cardinals and one for the Cubs?

I don’t know what I believe.

And speaking of superstars, arguably the world’s most powerful female, Oprah Winfrey, recently retired from her TV group-thinkfest. One of the enduring legacies her show has left us is her book club. One of the books Oprah insisted her viewers buy, read, and believe with all their hearts was The Secret, a self-help tome by someone named Rhonda Byrne.

The gist of The Secret is if you think positively, good things will naturally occur in your life; if you believe, it will be so. (It’s a shame Rhonda Byrne was born too late to be of assistance to the millions of people who didn’t know they could believe their way out of Hitler’s concentration camps.)

All They Had To Do Was Believe

Anyway, The Secret is still listed on the New York Times Hardcover Advice best seller list. It stands at No. 6 this week, its 184th on the list.

That’s a lot of believers.

I readily admit that my belief in the Cubs is deranged. On the other hand, the vast majority of people on this planet believe their beliefs are rock-solid, sane, and well-reasoned.

Come to think of it, I may be the only one around here who really does understand what belief is.

Hot Air

The Biggest Daddy-o Of Them All

[Big Mike Note: Here's another blast from the past. This post originally ran in my old blog, The Third City, some four years ago. Sure, I'm an atheist; but I'm not a fanatic about it. Enjoy.]

November 23rd, 2010

I was sitting in a church pew on a March Sunday in 1998.

Imagine: Me, writing that line.

But it’s true. It was a rough time for me, the late winter and spring of ’98. My marriage was finished. For the past 12 years I’d been dealing with panic disorder, agoraphobia, and two or three other coconut maladies. I’d reached the end of my rope.  My twin hobbies of drinking and chasing women were proving to be slightly less than fulfilling. So, I figured I might try something crazy. Prayer.

As far back as age seven, when my second grade teacher, Sister Caelin, told us that we must love god, I’d been skeptical of this whole prayer and creator and piety business. First of all, I kept myself awake half the night for the next three months trying to figure out what the nun meant. How does one love god? I saw g. as some ancient, teed-off crank with a long white beard, a long white robe and sandals, sitting on a cloud-throne somewhere past Orion. I forced myself to imagine showering his cheek with kisses. I figured it was the least I could do, considering he’d snapped his fingers and created the Earth, Europe, the USA, rocks, dinosaurs, Adam & Eve, and the Cubs. I patterned my g.-loving after that which I bestowed upon my own Daddy-o, a similarly distant crank who sat in a recliner with his socks rolled up around his toes. “Kiss your father goodnight,” Ma would command me, so I approached him as if he were a hydrogen bomb that’d just happened to be left in the living room. I brushed my itty-bitty tender lips on his porcupine cheek. He would grunt. I understood that to be how a little kid loved an inscrutable, all-powerful figure. So, in my mind as I lay in bed each night, I’d drag my poor lips over g.’s scratchy beard, squeezing my eyes shut as if to demonstrate how serious I was about this loving god stuff, Sister Caelin’s specter floating overhead, watching me through slitted eyes to make certain not a single cell of my being wasn’t focused on love-love-love-loving the biggest Daddy-o of them all.


Always Mad

Finally, by the time that Thanksgiving rolled around, I said to myself, This is stupid. I have no idea how to love god. In fact, the day before the holiday I’d asked Sister Caelin point blank: “How do you love god?” She gave out one of those patented, mouth-open gasps that nuns loved to do when they were trying to convey to certain kids that they’re rotten and ought to burn in hell. And, I most assuredly, was rotten. She immediately turned her attention to the rest of the class and proclaimed that the love of god was a mystery and only a sinner would question how or why. There was no instruction booklet on how to do it, no secret formula, you just knew it when you were loving god. Great, I thought, you’re a big help.

Sister Caelin turned back to me and ordered me to go to the blackboard at the back of the class and write one hundred times, “I must love god” (with a capital G, of course.) That pretty much cracked it for me with god (little g.)


So for the next 35 or so years I thumbed my nose at the Big Daddy-o and all his fans down here on Earth. But, as I say, things had gotten awfully miserable for me for about a dozen years. I tried every remedy I could think of until in desperation I turned to the putative guy who one day sat there and said to himself, I’m bored; I think I’ll create a Universe.

If you’ve been reading these posts for the last couple of years you know my god-thing didn’t take. To tell the truth, I’m even more anti-Big Daddy-o than ever before. But I do have to concede I got one really fantastic gift from my foray into prayer. That brings us back to that March Sunday in 1998.

The priest was giving his sermon that morning. He seemed a likable guy. Didn’t rail against the filth in the world or tell us we were a bunch of jerks. This priest, whose name I’ve forgotten,  was upbeat — not like a game show host but like the best high school teacher you ever had. And like that one-in-a-million teacher, he left me with something that has stayed with me the rest of my life so far. He said life is good and we were a well-fed, lucky congregation. The vast majority of us didn’t need to worry about the next meal or any predators or whether we were going to freeze that night. That left us only to do that which makes us human, our defining duties in life. “We’re here,” he said, “to love and to hope.”

The minute those words came out of his mouth, I thought, Motherfucker, I’m done. I gotta go. There was, I realized, nothing more that anybody could say or do for me in that place. The rest was all ritual and incense and harridan nuns and big, colorful extravaganzas.

We’re here to love and to hope. I’ve tried to live my life according to those seven words every day since.


I Tried It

I tell this story to illustrate that I’m not so cynical that I believe nobody can get anything of value from the Catholic Church. Even I, the world’s most irreligious human, became a better Homo Sapiens sapiens thanks to a moment spent in a church pew. Some people who read this blog are devoted Catholics. I don’t want to tell them I think their faith is bullshit. It’s getting them through this crazy, mixed-up life. And if they believe a guy threw out some lightning bolts and said Let there be a world with Kim Kardashian and Halliburton and Dancing with the Stars, I won’t quibble with them.

Hot Air

Machine Politics

[Big Mike Note: A blast from the past. This post originally ran in my old blog, The Third City, more than five years ago. It's fitting to reprise it right about now, considering we're a scant nine days away from what might be a landmark election day. Enjoy.]

Voting – The American Way

June 20th, 2009

The electoral hijinks in Iran have caused politicians here to wring their hands. Americans are howling for a simon-pure democracy in that Middle East theocracy. If only, we cry, the Iranians could have an honest vote.

Like ours.

My parents hosted our precinct’s polling place a few times in the early- and mid-60s. Several weeks before each election, a gang of 36th Ward patronage workers would dolly heavy, dark green voting machines into our basement. They were pot-bellied, grunting brutes who pushed and shoved the contraptions as if they were made of granite. The workers raised a frightful racket, slamming the machines into door jambs and walls. Watching this, I figured the machines could withstand a direct hit from the nuclear missiles President Kennedy had recently forced out of Cuba.

Voting Machine

Vintage Voting Machine

“Mike,” Ma warned in her gravest tone, “stay away from those machines! Don’t touch any buttons or levers. Don’t monkey around with the innards. If they find anything wrong with those machines, they’ll press charges against us!”

Ma, for most of her life, lived in constant fear that someone, somewhere, would press charges against us. This despite the fact that her scrupulous honesty would have made a young Abe Lincoln look like a chiseler. Plus, she believed with all her heart that elections in the United States, in Illinois, in Cook County — in Chicago, for christ’s sake! — were as pure as new fallen snow. Heaven forbid her son would muck up the machinery of democracy.

Invariably, election day was overcast and bone-chilling cold. Ma would get up long before the sun rose to let 36th Ward sachems in. Within minutes, our entire house was would be redolent of strong coffee and precinct captain Barney Potenzo‘s cigar smoke.

“Mrs. Glab, I dunno howta t’ank you fer d’is,” Barney would holler as he pumped my mother’s hand. He knew no way to communicate other than to holler. He wore a narrow-brimmed fedora and horn-rimmed spectacles as big as picture windows and thick as bullet-proof glass. “I mean it. Any time you need anyt’ing from us, you just ask. Louie really appreciates it.” Louie was Louis B. Garippo, the Democratic ward committeeman and, as such, the most powerful man in the neighborhood (other than the Outfit bosses, of course.) “He’ll be here later, after he goes to the other polling places. D’is is his fav’rite place!”

Ma would swoon. For years afterward, she’d tell relatives, neighbors — even the checkout lady at Dominick’s grocery — that Louie Garippo liked the Glabs better than any other polling place hosts.

I’d watch from the basement stairway as neighbors, cops, men in suits and more pot-bellied patronage workers passed through our basement door. One time, our neighbor from across the alley, Joe Martin, staggered in, drunk, and promptly fell face-down next to the washing machine, bloodying his nose and the front of his jacket. Barney and a cop helped him to his feet. “What the hell’s goin’ on?” Joe Martin yelled. He was a hard man who, I was told, worked for the unions. Only later I’d learn that he was really a thumb-breaker, dispensing justice to scabs and malcontents.

“Yer awright, Joe,” Barney said, brushing him off.

“I gotta vote,” Joe Martin said. He took a step forward but his legs buckled beneath him again. Barney and the cop caught him and started walking him to the door. “But I gotta vote!” Joe protested.

“Doan worry,” Barney said, “we’ll take care of it. Ya wanna cup’a coffee to go?”

“Bah, coffee. It’s poison.”

Barney instructed the cop to walk Joe Martin home, then he turned around and directed one of the judges to pull Joe’s voter card out and mark it. “He’s fer us,” Barney explained. “We’ll put his vote in.”

Our basement door would slam a thousand times on those election days. Once, though, the slamming stopped for an uncomfortable few moments. A little old Italian lady shuffled in and spoke broken English. The judges and poll watchers looked at each other and shrugged. Barney dashed up and asked her, “Nonna, che cosa e il problema? (What’s wrong?)”

The old lady told him she didn’t know how to use the voting machine.

O, Madonna! Quello e niente! Mostrero (Oh, mother of god! That’s nothing! I’ll show you,)” Barney said, laughing. He led her to the machine and pulled the straight Democratic ticket for her. Seeing this, an unfamiliar cop who’d just arrived for duty grabbed Barney by the arm.

“Lock that door!” the cop ordered the judges. “This polling place is closed until further notice.” He turned back to Barney. “I’m sorry, sir, you can’t do that. You’ll have to come with me.” He slapped the handcuffs on Barney and led him out to the squad car. As the cop pulled away, Louie Garippo arrived. The judges quickly filled him in on the incident.

“The son of a bitch!” Louie hissed. “Mrs. Glab, pardon my French. Can I use your phone?” Ma led him upstairs. He dailed a number and spoke. “Commander? we got a problem….”

Fewer than 15 minutes later, Barney was back and the basement door was unlocked again. The cop, I would hear later, was subsequently assigned to the paddy wagon detail, hauling dead bodies and drunks. The last I heard, he’d left the force and had become a barber.

The Democrats, as expected, won big that day.

Hot Air

Hey God, Look At Me!

The bi-annual trek of foreign students to the Book Corner for their copies of Flowers for Algernon and other semi-classics has begun again in earnest this week.

Indiana University, like many such institutions of higher educ., attracts scads of students from around the world. Most international students learned English in their elementary or equivalent schools. Think for a moment about how adept you are at whatever second language you learned in seventh grade and you’ll realize many of these students may need some brushing up before they can attend regular classes here. So IU makes foreign students take a proficiency test and those who come up lacking are assigned to the Intensive English Program, a sort of boot camp to get them up to speed in this holy land’s native tongue.

Book Cover

The IEP instructors assign books to the students and then direct them to come to our town’s downtown to buy their copies. The trip, it is hoped, forces the students to navigate unfamiliar territory and speak the language. One of the mainstay IEP reading assignments is the aforementioned 1958 scifi novel by Daniel Keyes. The book is relatively short and is written in a straightforward style, the better to immerse new-ish speakers in the language.

I always get a kick out of taking care of the IEP students. They generally step tentatively into the store and immediately whip out their smartphones to pull up an image of the book’s cover. Usually I spot them well before they can stumble their way through asking for the book. I preempt them by saying, “You’re here for Flowers for Algernon, right?” Occasionally, though, they’ll catch me unaware and start making halting requests, the words of which I recognize might be anything from floors to Algeria mixed in with so much unintelligible verbiage from their homelands.

Most speak English surprisingly well, though. We usually end up chatting about where they come from and what they hope to study here. I’ve met students from Colombia, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Yemen, Portugal, and all points in between. I don’t know how I’d feel if I were, say, 20 years old and in a foreign country with a somewhat passable grasp of the language, but the students I talk with seem eager to burst out into grins when I engage them.  It’s as though they’re thankful I’m not going to call the authorities on them for having the thick accents of terrorists.

Monday a Middle East couple walked in. The young man led the way, his partner trailing behind. She wore a niqab, part of the fundamentalist Muslim uniform code that demands women be dressed “modestly.” As in Dress like you’re not there.

I’m no fan of demonstrative religious displays. People who plaster Jesus bumper stickers all over the rear ends of the cars give me the shivers. I saw a lot of  Hasidic Jews up on the Far North Side of Chicago when I lived there — you know, those fellows who dress like Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer eating Easter dinner at his shikse girlfriend’s family’s house in Annie Hall? I never could understand why people feel compelled to scream to the world how much they love, love, love their god. Maybe their god is hard of hearing.

From "Annie Hall"

Click Image For Full Scene

Anyway, the Middle Eastern couple. The book, it turns out, would be for her. He did the talking. Which I found extremely uncomfortable.

I figured, as long as the book would be for her, I should be talking to her. Yet the man stood nearer to me and the woman seemed to want to step back. I wanted to make eye contact with her but I thought, Isn’t it against the rules to look a woman in the eye? I dunno.

See, there’s tons of restrictions and proscriptions on interactions between the sexes in the Middle East Muslim world. Which ones, I wondered, are real and which are ignorant stereotypes I’ve bought into?

If I do insist on addressing the woman, will the man get mad? And whom will he be mad at? Will she pay some price when the two get home? Later, will he tell all his Muslim friends not to go to that Book Corner store because the stupid American there insulted his masculinity?

All these thoughts ran through my mind. Still, that troublemaking part of me insisted I speak with her. I did and — you know what? — she looked me right back in the eye and was engaging and charming.

Whaddya know?

Like the Jews and the Christians, the Muslims have different little sects that rank 1-10, say, in hard-assed-ness. Like the Hasidic Jew and the Reformed Jew or the holy roller Southern Baptist and the United Methodist.

When far too many Americans think Muslim, they think wild-eyed rock-throwing, suicide-bombing, woman-stoning, bearded lunatic. Near Eastern Studies scholar and Israeli Martin Kramer wrote in Middle East Quarterly some years ago, “To all intents and purposes, Islamic fundamentalism and Islamism have become synonyms in contemporary American usage.” I’ve never wanted to be one of those Americans.

And yet here I was, always busting my fellow homelanders for their willful ignorance, but as ignorant about Muslims as anyone.



Here’s a fascinating site for you to peruse: Islam’s Women: Jewels of Islam seems at times as progressive as any American feminist organization. In fact, an article entitled “Women’s Rights in Islam” opens, “The issue of women in Islam is topic of great misunderstanding and distortion due partly to a lack of understanding, but also partly due to misbehavior of some Muslims which has been taken to represent the teachings of Islam.” Later, the article explains, “According to the Quran, men and women have the same spirit, there is no superiority in the spiritual sense between men and women. [Noble Quran 4:1, 7:189, 42:11]“

Hmm. The site adds, “In the area of economic rights, we have to remember that in Europe until the 19th century, women did not have the right to own their own property. When they were married, either it would transfer to the husband or she would not be able to dispense of it without permission of her husband. In Britain, perhaps the first country to give women some property rights, laws were passed in the 1860’s known as ‘Married Women Property Act.’ More than 1300 years earlier, that right was clearly established in Islamic law.”

Then again, in a section explaining women’s appearance, the site states:

“Why do Muslim women have to cover their heads?” This question is one which is asked by Muslim and non-Muslim alike. For many women it is the truest test of being a Muslim.

The answer to the question is very simple — Muslim women observe HIJAB (covering the head and the body) because Allah has told them to do so.

Which brings us back to the seed of this sermon: The belief in god and the all-too-common compulsion to let the world know about it. The Amish wear their uniforms. The Muslims insist that faithful women cover themselves either from head to toe or in some slightly less demonstrative way. Christians dangle crucifixes around their necks. Jews nail mezuzah cases onto their door jambs.

All of them want you — and me — to know something about them: I dig god and he digs me.

Yet, there’s always a little bit more to the message: My god is not your god (unless you’re part of my club.)

It is, when all is said and done, an ID card. Considering the fact that, acc’d’g to, a survey of the planet’s religious populations, there may be up to 4200 different religions right now in this crazy, mixed-up world, it begins to get a tad difficult keeping up with everybody’s mores, folkways, and taboos.

But by wearing what amounts to a religious ID card, the world’s faithful not only want the rest of us to know who they are but also to respect their faith’s traditions. Of course, such sensitivity can become onerous. For instance, the French have thrown up their hands and decided they don’t want to have to deal with the ID card that is the hijab. Covering the face and body in this way is now against the law in that nation, earning a faithful Muslim woman who wears a burqa in public — with or without the niqab — a stiff €150 fine.

Muslim Dress Code

(From Left) The Hijab, The Niqab, The Burqa

Being faceless, in other words, is too in your face in France.

Back to the Middle East couple at the Book Corner. We ended up having a pleasant conversation. They were Saudi Arabians who grew up in the same small town of fewer than a thousand people. They’re both studying business of one form or another. Their English, by the way, was superb even though they both apologized profusely for not speaking it well. I wished them great luck. As I do with all IEP students, I welcomed them to this country. They left happy, I hope, with me as I was with them.

All’s well that ends well, natch, but I’m left with a certain feeling of discomfort. Why, I wonder, did I have to put myself through all those mental gymnastics when I first laid eyes on the couple?

All they wanted to do was buy a book.

Hot Air

The Richard Thompson Hangover

So, if any of you out there has a trace of vim and vigor left after last night’s Richard Thompson show at the Buskirk Chumley Theater you just might be able to, y’know, do another thing or two in Bloomington over the next couple of weeks or so. It’s a long shot, but it may be possible.

To wit:

1) You may rouse yourself from your post-bliss stupor and take in An Evening with the Creator of Gasland: Josh Fox. He ain’t no R. Thompson but he’s creative, serious, an intellectual, and an activist for all the right causes. His documentary, Gasland, was nominated for an Academy Award® in 2011. It deals with the effects of natural gas drilling and fracking in this holy land. Fox’s film will be shown at 6pm Saturday, October 25th, at the Unitarian Universalist Church. At 8pm Fox himself will discuss all the issues involved with the audience. The cost? Free.


Josh Fox Is Sorta Sexy, Too

2) If you can bear to reenter the Buskirk Chumley Theater so soon after last evening’s rapture, you can catch a mixed-media presentation by Bloomington’s own Tim Bagwell entitled Stop War! An Anti-war Observance of Veterans’ Day. It’s another free dealio that begins at 8pm, Monday, November 10th. Bagwell served as a Marine in the Vietnam War and is now a poet. He has rented out the Buskirk on his own dime to put on this presentation.

Of course, it’s understood that our town’s population of women of a certain age need some time to recuperate from their collective experience last night. That Richard Thompson fellow — I dunno what it is, but he’s got it. I’d pay a few tens of thousands of dollars for a small vial of the stuff.

Marti Crouch On Interchange

Whatever you do, don’t miss tonight’s installment of Doug Storm’s Interchange on WFHB radio. His guest will be former Indiana University instructor and researcher Marti Crouch. They’ll talk about GMOs, natch, among other biotechnology hot topics.


Nobody Ever Learns Nuthin’

Hot shot bassist Gordon Patriarca of Chicago shares a quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt. The line is shocking in that it perfectly describes what this holy land has become even though the President said his piece some three quarters of a century ago!

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.


Eleanor & Franklin

They had begun to consider the United States as a a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.

“We know now….” Do we?


Hot Air

Music & Chemicals

I’m feeling fairly lazy this AM so I’m only going to point out a couple of things:

● 1) Acc’d’g to the music/snark website Death and Taxes as well as Forbes online, 2014 will be the first year since the designation was first announced that no album will be named a platinum record. The Recording Industry Association of America first designated gold records in 1958, signifying one million dollars in sales. By 1976, the RIAA had come up with the platinum record, meaning an artist had sold one million units of a particular recording. Eventually (1999), the RIAA started passing out diamond records for recording sales of 10 million. And you may not believe this but the RIAA now gives out separate gold and platinum records for ringtones based on hit songs.

Gold Record

The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” Gold Record

Anyway, pop music geeks are split over the reasons for this phenomenon. One group says, See? Music today is so horrible that business is falling off. The other group says, You’re nuts. It’s just that people are buying their music as singles online now so naturally album sales have fallen off.

I’m not being a curmudgeonly old bastard when I say pop music in 2014 is desperately, depressingly sucky. I mean, sure, we had the likes of the Starland Vocal Band (don’t click unless you want to kill yourself) and Tony Orlando and Dawn (if you click this, you should kill yourself) back when I was a teenager with a transistor radio surgically attached to my ear. Even so, we could still also listen to the likes of Stevie Wonder, the Isley Brothers, Paul Simon, and even a youngish David Bowie just to take our minds off the horrible sounds the former acts spit out. Today, though, teens listen to Justin Beiber and Nicki Minaj with no hope at all of hearing anything to counterbalance those screechings.


Minaj Got A Platinum Record, Then Ebola Happened — Coincidence?

It’s no wonder, therefore, that many young kids now more than ever hark back to their Daddy-os’ and Mammas’ heyday and listen to Bob Dylan or Neil Young.

So, yeah, I’m a curmudgeonly old bastard, but simply telling it like it is about the abominably bad music of 2014 isn’t why.

[BTW: Michael Jackson's 1982 release, Thriller, is the top-selling album of all time. Acc'd'g to the RIAA it has sold 42.5 million units. In other words, it's now platinum 42 times over.]

● 2) Live better through chemistry. When I was a propagandist for Whole Foods Market back in the ‘Aughts, we liked to tell our customers, casually, that our foods and body products were chemical-free. We lied.

[And it wasn't the only time we lied: we sold scads of homeopathic "remedies," too.]

A Universe that’s chemical-free would be…, well, nothing. It wouldn’t exist. Similarly, a soup that’s chemical-free would be a bowl-ful of emptiness.

Empty Bowl

Chemical-free Soup

Chemicals was the dirtiest word in the food fetishist industry as recently as 10 years ago. Now it’s GMOs. BTW: Martha Crouch has sent me some new material on GMOs to study up on. I’ll let you know what I’ve learned here in this space sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, IFLS provides a nice primer on “Five Myths About Chemicals You Breathe, Eat and Drink.”


Click Image For Full Story

Okay, kids, that’s it for today. I’m going to lie down and take a 12-hour or so nap, then make a huge pot of chili. Autumn, no?


Hot Air

We’re all gonna die!

Like the headline sez, but it ain’t gonna be ebola that gets us.

This is not West Africa. We’re turning ourselves inside out over the fact that one guy has died (and he was recently arrived from West Africa.) Now two other people have it.

The populace of this holy land is having conniption fits over this non-epidemic, thanks mainly to a corporate media whose most precious talent is the ability to scare the poo out of us. They’re doing so.

Anyway, let’s turn to a little science. Have you caught this piece in the Washington Post?

From WaPo

Click Image For Full Story

Each of the grid charts illustrates how a specific disease spreads and kills (if at all). Ebola may be a killer but it ain’t a spreader. At least not a fast one. It simply does not jump from body to body easily.

An alert medical system and educated populace can stem the disease relatively quickly.

So, no, Centers for Disease Control head Dr. Thomas Frieden does not need to resign, despite the demands he do so by that noted epidemiologist Bill O’Reilly and the learned experts at See, Frieden does not think ebola is gonna kill us all, nor does he want to seal our borders against the even more terrifying and dangerous natives of Africa.

Almost as perilous is what fear of ebola is turning us into. Andy Borowitz of The New Yorker states the case clearly and firmly (satire alert, natch):

From The New Yorker

You Know The Drill — Click For Full Story

And, of course, since we live in a nation awash in grievances, some among us consider themselves victims even though they haven’t got a fever. For instance, I know a nurse who is loudly proclaiming on the interwebs that nurses, as always, take the blame for everything. She’s referring to suggestions that the nurse who caught ebola from the Liberian man in Dallas may have employed faulty personal protection practices while caring for him.

The idea being, she might have touched her eyelid or mouth with a contaminated glove finger, a simple mistake that any human can make. But, naturally, chronically aggrieved parties interpret any criticism as the moral equivalent of slavery.


Nah, Don’t Click The Image

This is the first time I’ve ever heard that nurses are being blamed for anything. They, like teachers, are the Virgin Marys of our society, above reproach, free of sin, spotless vessels. Now, suddenly, they’re the fall guys for everything?

We Americans are weird.

Big City Blues

The Herald Times reports this morning (paywall) that Monroe County is going full steam ahead with plans for a 220-spot parking garage next to the Zietlow Justice Center and jail. Only “The full cost of the project is not known.” and “A construction date has not been set.”

So scotch the full and the steam. The ahead while you’re at it, too.

All I know is the county and the city had better get cracking on throwing up some parking garages quickly, what with hotels springing up everywhere near the formerly quaint Courthouse Square. Hell, no fewer than three developments are in the planning stages for the intersection of Lincoln and Kirkwood avenues alone. And another is planned for the bank property at Washington and Kirkwood.

Hong Kong

Bloomington’s Future?

It’ll be easier to catch ebola in Bloomington than find a parking space once all these structures go up. To steal and mangle a line from Jerry Seinfeld, They’re gonna be building hotels inside of hotels soon.

Anyway, here’s my suggestion. Let’s build a nice round number of parking facilities spaced out to ring the downtown area. Say six of them. The existing parking facilities — on 4th Street, on Walnut and 7th, and behind the Buskirk Chumley Theater will give us a total of nine. (Let’s leave the Monroe County Municipal Library lot for library patrons, shall we?) Eliminate street parking for a two or three block radius around the Square, maybe more. Contract with a private company to run regular trolley service between all the lots, the Courthouse, the Zietlow facility, the hotels, the library, the Buskirk Chumley, the Sample Gates, City Hall, and whatever other attractions and municipal service centers there are in the vicinity.


Catch The Trolley

How do we pay for it all? Slap a room tax on all the new hotels going up. Add a food and beverage tax to all appropriate places within the service area. Hell, a five-dollar surcharge on a hotel room isn’t going to kill anybody. And adding 50 cents to a dollar to everybody’s grub and booze tab isn’t going to stop people from stuffing their faces and getting sloshed.

If Bloomington wants to pretend it’s a big city, it’s going to have to act like one.

The Haircuts Of Kim Jong-Un

As a public service, I’m providing a photographic timeline of the North Korean Dear Leader’s coifs. Historians and researchers will benefit greatly from this.


A Very Young KJU With His Daddy-o, KJI


KJU Adopts The Adolph Look


KJU Opts For The Collegiate Crew Cut


KJU Shaves The Sides


KJU Ditches The Part


KGU Sprouts Speed Racer Villain Horns


KJU’s Pompadour/Fade Begins To Attain Towering Heights

You’re welcome

Hot Air

Another Reason To Go On Living

Happy National Red Wine Day! [h/t to Jan Takehara.]

Coppola Rosso

My Personal Fave

BTW: Here’s a list of 10 Red Wines for Life’s Biggest Problems. And you thought there was no hope left.


Perhaps the biggest deal in book publishing this year was the release of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century.

Being a study of economics, it normally wouldn’t have been read by any more than, oh, seven or eight people on the planet — that is, until Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman raved about it. Next thing you know, every liberal worth her or his Prius was dashing down to the bookstore to cop a copy.

Me? I haven’t read the thing. It’s economics, right? I’d rather sear the jelly in my eyeballs with a red hot ice pick than read an economics tome. Loyal Pencillista David Paglis once insisted I read a book by the conservative economist Friedrich Hayek. I tried — I swear — I tried. If I say I got through 50 pages I’ll burn in hell for crossing the 9th Commandment. Economics is not known as the Dismal Science for nothing. Besides, Hayek is a darling of Randists and free marketeers who worship elegant theory and formula and rarely, if ever, concern themselves with trivial things like the needs of human beings.

In any case, Piketty argues that the world’s dough is being hoarded by a tiny fraction of its population. Not only that, uber-rich folk are passing their cash down to their kids, thereby insuring that it won’t find its way into the hands of starving kids in west Africa and other unfortunates in the foreseeable future. Piketty also throws in piles of mathematical equations like r > g, which means…, um, hell, I have no goddamned idea what it means.

More important: I don’t care.

Anyway, we could hardly keep Capital… in stock at the Book Corner, so eager were customers to get their hands on it. My educated guess is not five percent of purchasers actually read the book. Like Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, it’s the bestseller that nobody read and now serves only as an interior design accoutrement.


Obviously A Staged Photo

Of course, that was then. We now are stuck with four big copies of Piketty’s 700-page epic. They are collecting dust some seven months after it was published.

Piketty’s ponderings, natch, generated about as much criticism as love. In fact, richer-than-god Bill Gates penned a review on his blog the other day. He says he agrees with much of P.’s argument. But, acc’d’g to Bill, wealth inequality is not necessarily the worst thing in the world. It’s a nuanced argument and worth a read, even if Gates does make mention of the dreaded r > g equation. Ugh.

Once you’re finished with that, scoot over to Al Jazeera America for a rebuttal. It’s all a rollicking good time.

Fitting brain candy, I might say, for such a gray day. Just hide the razor blades and don’t turn the oven gas on.

Logical Leaps

Speaking of wealth, Jimmy John Liautaud seems to be the poster boy for the evil rich these days on the interwebs. Folks probably are getting bored with hating on the Koch Bros. — even if they are among the most odious life forms in this solar system. Liautaud’s the boss over at Jimmy John’s Franchise LLC system of sandwich joints. His mug has been all over laptop screens of late for his co.’s ridiculous employee non-compete agreement as well as his propensity to blow the brains out of magnificent critters.

Jimmy John Safari


Jimmy John

Jimmy John

Jimmy John


Jimmy John And Some Formerly Living Creatures

Little known is the fact that Liautaud has been a big contributor to scary Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The Phoenix New Times a few years ago ran a story about a questionably-legal soft money organization that bankrolled a mean-spirited and disingenuous ad campaign against a challenger to the popular-but-lunatic sheriff. Liautaud gave $10,000 to the org.

Funny, isn’t it, how you can make certain assumptions about folks based on just one of their actions? Like it makes tons o’sense that a guy who digs posing proudly with the corpses of elephants, elk, and tigers might be a financial backer of a law enforcement official who makes Charles Bronson in the Death Wish series look milquetoast-y.

Or that he’d try to screw over his own employees (not that non-compete agreements are worth the paper they’re printed on, but still….)

Or even that his products are to submarine sandwiches as Domino’s is to pizza.


Hot Air


When I’m angry, I don’t post.

Hot Air

The Bloom Is Off The Foods Store?

Here’s some alleged inside dope about the air that Bloomingfoods workers breathe. I caution you to take it with a grain of salt. It’s one person’s observation. I’ll continue canvassing other insiders at the five-store co-op, some of whose employees are making union noises these days.


Acc’d’g to this B-foods employee — let’s call him Joe Doe — morale at the stores has been sinking for a good long time. There are several reasons for this:

  • Newer employees must obey the rules and do the dirty work while older, entrenched employees tend to take these things a bit less seriously
  • B-foods is bruised and bloodied, thanks to competition from the likes of Kroger which is now selling many of the same natural and certified organic products at better prices
  • Management seems slow to respond to the competition — B-foods’ merchandising, inventory, and retail strategies are the same ones the co-op has depended on since its inception 38 years ago
  • Those sweet employee benefits linked to here yesterday? They’re available to full-timers but — here’s the rub — try getting F-T hours

Again, this is one Bloomingfoods worker’s testimony. If there’s any truth to it, though, it would indicate the co-op just might be suffering through a mid-life crisis. Most companies go through it. Brilliant, ambitious, visionary entrepreneurs start businesses that take off like rockets. For years these operations are model wealth generators, their set-ups sleek and enviable. After a couple of decades of robust growth, the ideas that put these cos. ahead of the pack have been co-opted by everybody else in the industry. Those one-time visionaries eventually find themselves incapable or unwilling to adopt newer ideas in their fields. They’ve become hidebound and cocksure.

Hell, even Apple kicked Steve Jobs out the door at one point. Every company needs a shake-out at the top at some point in time.

Is this Bloomingfoods’ time?

Maybe, maybe not. Stayed tuned here for more testimony from insiders who may or may not buy into this theory.

Ebola Causes Insanity

And now a new flood of crazy has begun. This time the topic is ebola.

You had to figure that would happen, no? First, batshit paranoia emanated from the cakehole of that deep thinker, Phyllis Schlafly (who, unaccountably, is still alive and being interviewed). Schlafly sez Prez Obama, natch, not only is responsible for ebola coming into this holy land, he wants it here. The reason? So’s we can become just like the rest of the planet’s cool kids.

He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too.



So says the woman whose greatest accomplishment in life was to lead the battle against the passage of an amendment to the US Constitution that would guarantee civil rights for half its citizens. Thanks, Phyll.

Anyway, pop star, noted domestic abuser, and serial violent tantrum-thrower Chris Brown has now weighed in on the greatest threat to America since the last one. He tweeted yesterday:

I don’t know … But I think this Ebola epidemic is a form of population control. … getting crazy bruh.



Laugh if you want, but his tweet contains an unassailable truth: he doesn’t know.

Whee, Me!

Scads o’thanks to writer David Brent Johnson and publisher Malcolm Abrams for the neat profile of this scribe in the October/November edition of Bloom magazine.


Johnson (L) & Abrams

Somehow, Johnson succeeded in catching the gist of The Pencil and me in only 400 words. That’s writing, babies. And Abrams had the good sense to recognize that the founder of this communications colossus must be immortalized in his mag.

Honestly, boys, I appreciate it. Now, let’s see some good Bloom ink translate into a gazillion page views here!


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