Category Archives: Albert Einstein

Hot Air

The Smart Set

So, Albert Einstein was a smart guy, no?

That’s a tongue-in-cheek line, natch. From the 1920s through 1950s and even into the ’60s a bit, people used to call smart guys Einsteins. Conversely, when someone did something mind-bogglingly stupid, people might say, “Nice goin’, Einstein.”

I’m thinking about AE because yesterday a college-aged woman and her parents came into the Book Corner, browsed for a while, and then the young woman came up to the counter to buy the Penguin Classics edition of Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and the General Theory.

Book Corner

Neat, I thought. I told the young woman I’d read once that you really need to have studied about fifteen years of advanced math in order to fully comprehend Relativity. She smiled, shrugged, and said, “Well, I’m going to give it my best shot.”

“That’s precisely what I did,” I told her.

And then I wondered why it’s so odd that a young woman would be buying a copy of Einstein’s magnum opus. The answer is simple: We live in a weird world where the genitalia you possess dictate how smart you should allow yourself to be.

Then again, we seem to be sliding into an age wherein even people with penises thumb their noses at brains. At least in this holy land.

For instance, we have no commonly-used nickname for smart folks. When’s the last time you heard somebody call another a Hawking or a de Grasse Tyson?


Nice Goin’, Hawking!

Matter of fact, I think I’m gonna start that trend.

Anyway, here’s as neat a quote as I can imagine, spoken by Einstein to the noted theological scholar Thomas Merton [pointed out by a former member of the Ever-So Secret Order of the Lamprey, Michael Bulka]:

My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I am truly a “lone traveller” and have never belonged to my country, my house, my friends, or even my immediate family with my whole heart; in the face of these ties I have never lost a sense of distance and need for solitude — feelings which increase with the years. One becomes sharply aware, but without regret, of the limits of mutual understanding and consonance with other people. No doubt such a person loses some of his innocence and unconcern; on the other hand he is largely independent of the opinions, habits, and judgements of his fellows and avoids the temptations to build his inner equilibrium on such insecure foundations.

I hope I’m not being presumptuous when I say I want that to describe me in some small way.


Einstein & Merton

As a coda to the story of the young woman, I told her I was happy she was reading Einstein. I learned she’s not studying physics or any other hard science; she just wants to learn about Relativity. For the hell of it.

I said: Wow!

Her mother, taking note of my amazement, piped up: “Hey, that’s why we sent her to college; so she can read books like that!”

That’s rare. And it’s too bad that’s rare.

Lotus Fest Sked

That’s it, kiddies. Lotus Fest 2014 wraps up today with one final performance.

Sunday, September 21st

● 3pm: World Spirit Concert: Arga Bileg & Derek Gripper Buskirk Chumley Theater, 114 E. Kirkwood Ave.


Derek Gripper

The Pencil Today:

HotAirLogoFinal Tuesday


“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” — Albert Einstein



Things I hope for this year:

◗ Barack Obama makes it through all 365 days without a serious attempt on his life.

◗ The gamesmanship between Iran and the West peters out.

◗ Someone (besides me) comes up with the bright idea of imposing an embargo on gun manufacturing for at least a year. We’ve got plenty o’guns already; let’s chill on making new ones for a while, no?



◗ The Loved One continues on in sterling health.

◗ My faulty cardiac cellular structure does not betray me and go haywire just yet.

◗ Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, et al continue to make positive strides in their remaking of the entire Chicago Cubs organization.

Image by Kyle Terada/US Presswire

Hoyer (L) & Eptsein: My Happiness Is In Their Hands

◗ Certain friends who suffer right now from mental and emotional distress can find relief.

◗ We move significant steps closer to:

  • Universal affordable health care
  • Universal affordable safe, secure housing
  • Universal affordable access to education, including colleges and universities

◗ Thousands — nay, hundreds of thousands — of new visitors to this communications colossus.

Multi-cast Tower

The Electron Pencil Tower, Outside Beautiful Bloomington


How cool was 2012? I’ll tell you how cool.

The Electron Pencil drew readers from 176 countries on this mad, mad planet. I mean, we even got readers from such exotic outposts as Suriname, Cameroon, Tajikistan, Papua New Guinea, and Moldova. Truth. That’s what WordPress tells us.

TajikistanOur Most Loyal Tajikistani Reader

Whoever you people are, thanks.

Our next goal? Mars.


The hell of professional sports is that the best people are far too often the worst coaches.

For instance, Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith was fired yesterday after leading the team to an overall winning record of 81-63 in his nine years at the helm. He even led the Bears to a Super Bowl, where they were demolished by some guys wearing blue from Indy in 2007.

From all accounts, Lovie Smith is one of the calmest, most compassionate, most dignified men in the entire sports world. That’s quite an accomplishment when one considers the typical NFL field boss has the morals and character of a mafia don.

From the Boston Globe

“Good” Isn’t Good Enough

But poor Lovie apparently lacked the cutthroat necessities to push his players and entire organization past the point of fairly good to that of dominant. He wasn’t a killer, as the term is defined in the uber-biz of games for pay.

Lots of folks who cheerlead for high school and college sports programs claim that participating in the games is great for the moral and character development of young men and women. Team play, they say, prepares youngsters for success in life.

My response? Man, I hope not.

Amateur sports have bought into the win-at-all-costs mentality of the pro games. Most states’ highest paid employees are the coaches of their university football or basketball programs. Character? Hah! Just win, baby.

Scene from "The Godfather: Part II"

The Next Bears’ Head Coach?

I don’t feel sorry for Lovie Smith, the man. He made a pile of dough disappointing the very demanding Chicago football fans. Neither he nor his children will have to worry about their next meals for the rest of their lives.

Our mania for sports (of which I, a live-and-die Cubs fan, am all too much a part) teaches us too often that good, civilized men are failures. I feel sorry for us.


When I was a kid, my Uncle Vince and his family lived in the tony Chicago suburb of Northbrook.

Uncle Vince (who’s still alive and kicking at the age of 96, BTW) bought his home in the late 1950s when Northbrook was still ringed by farmland. He got in when the getting was good. Within 25 years, Northbrook had become one of the meccas to which extremely comfortable white families could escape from the big, bad, scary (read, increasingly black) city.

My own family was still in the city — admittedly on the outskirts, but, nonetheless, my suburban aunts and uncles would constantly pepper my parents with pleadings to “get the hell out of that shithole where people live on top of each other.”

Uncle Vince’s Northbrook house was straight out of a real estate man’s wet dream. It had a broad front lawn. A garage door that opened at the click of a button from inside the car (a wonder in that day and age.) An automatic dishwasher. Air conditioning (we had windows.) A chime doorbell, as opposed to our raucous buzzer. Uncle Vince’s backyard was more than an acre which, in my neighborhood, would have covered some half dozen homes and yards.

Seemingly every time we visited Uncle Vince, my cousin Tony would be washing his brand new Pontiac Grand Prix on the big driveway in front of the house.

Pontiac Grand Prix

A Rich Kids’ Car

I always thought that Uncle Vince was as rich as the Rockefellers. At the age of seven, I figured his home was a mansion.

The one thing folks in Northbrook didn’t have was black neighbors.

This fact was brought home to me one day when I overheard Uncle Vince telling my father about a horrible, alarming incident that’d happened on the block the previous week. Uncle Vince spoke in hushed tones, as if loath to shake up the women and the kids.

A black man had been seen walking down the street.

Pete Seeger & Friends

Someplace Other Than Northbrook

Neighbor had consulted with neighbor. Certain high-ranking municipal officials had been notified.

Uncle Vince tried to put a good spin on the incident. Perhaps the black man was in Northbrook to do some menial labor. Or maybe he was lost.

Then Uncle Vince and my father fell silent, as if in contemplation of a too-horrible alternative.

Not that my family’s Chicago neighborhood was an integrationist’s dream, mind you. One day, a couple of years earlier, while I was walking to the grocery store with my mother, a black man had passed us by, the first I’d ever seen in the flesh.

I gaped at him as he passed. Ma clunked me on the side of the head and hissed, “Don’t stare!”

Still, the man fascinated me. “Ma,” I asked once I was certain he was out of earshot, “what’s wrong with that guy?”

BB King's Hand Photo by Mike McGregor


“He’s just going to work somewhere, I guess,” she said.

“Oh.” I pondered the situation and then came to a conclusion. The man had a job that made him extremely dirty. Perhaps he dug holes somewhere nearby. Why else would his skin be black?


“What?” she said, edgy, aware of the Pandora’s box lid being lifted.

“Why doesn’t he just take a bath?”

She clunked me on the side of the head again.

Only later, when I was eight, did I learn what the man’s problem was. Mr. Mitchell, our neighbor from across the alley explained it. The man, he said, was a nigger.

I went inside. “Ma,” I said, “what’s a nigger?”

She clunked me on the side of the head.

Eventually, I learned to duck when asking tough questions. I also learned that black men stayed out of places like Northbrook and Highland Park and Palatine and Glenview. It was no more likely that a black family would live in any of those places than they would on the moon.

Times change, though.

Michael Jordan lived in Highland Park when he was the toast of the town. When I was small and Ernie Banks was Chicago’s favorite black man, he had to live in the South Side neighborhood of Chatham, which was black. Progress.

Ernie Banks

Not A Good Neighbor?

Today, I learn that the rapper Chief Keef has bought a big, comfortable home in Northbrook. Chief Keef is not white Chicago’s favorite black man. His first album, “Finally Rich,” debuted a couple of weeks ago on the Interscope Records label.

The album includes the songs “No Tomorrow,” “Hate Bein’ Sober,” “Laughin’ to the Bank,” and “Ballin’.”

Chief Keef won’t be 18 years old until August yet he’s already gained a startling reputation. He’s been busted on a weapons charge and is being investigated in connection with the shooting death of rapper “Lil Jo Jo” Coleman — a homicide which Chief Keef mocked on his Twitter page. He has posted a video of himself firing a gun at a shooting range, a violation of his juvenile court probation. He has threatened critics with violence. He has also posted an Instagram video showing him getting a blow job.

Chief Keef

Northbrook’s Very Own, Chief Keef

No, Chief Keef is not Chicago favorite black man. He’s not even a man yet.

He owns a home in Northbrook, though.

He’s made a lot of money in his short life so far. Money absolves a lot of sins.

The Pencil Today:


“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice.” — Albert Einstein


A woman I know was thumbing through the Indiana Daily Student yesterday when suddenly she stopped, jerked the paper closed, and shuddered.

Ugh. Not for me,” she said.

“What is it?” I had to ask, because clearly she wanted me to.

She reopened the paper and showed me a story about the big new public art exhibition that’ll be taking place in our bustling metrop through the fall.

That is, Jill Bolte Taylor‘s brainchild (sorry), “The Brain Extravaganza!” It features 22 five-feet tall fiberglass brains, parked here and there around town. The hunks of gray matter were designed by her and sculptor Joe LaMantia.

Jill Bolte Taylor Loves Brains

Artists have adopted the brains and gussied them up to their creative hearts’ desire. People will be able to buy the oversized organs, thus raising dough for the Jill Bolte Taylor Brains non-profit org that, in her words, supports “brain awareness, appreciation, exploration, education, injury prevention, neurological recovery, and the value of movement on mental and physical health.”


Brain In A Jar

(Note for our Bloomington readers: The following three paragraphs are written for the benefit of non-Bloomingtonians who aren’t as intimately familiar with JBT’s story as we are.)

Bolte Taylor, of course, is a world-renowned brain on two legs. She was already a respected neuroanatomist when, at the tender age of 37, she woke up one morning and found her thinking and motor processes bizarrely jumbled. Thanks to her brain expertise, she knew she was suffering a stroke.

She eventually had a golfball-sized blood clot removed from her brain. Her language center, among other structures, were profoundly affected. Her recover continues to this day.

She gave a hugely compelling TED talk about her experience, the response to which inspired her to write a book, called “My Stroke of Insight.” It became a New York Times Bestseller and Bolte Taylor went on to be fawned over by Oprah Winfrey. Her story is now the basis for a planned Ron Howard film.

Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED Talk

Anyway, Bolte Taylor and LaMantia’s fiberglass brains will be dedicated today. Here’s Bolte Taylor describing them: “Big beautiful anatomically correct brains with 12 pairs of cranial nerves and all the gyri and sulci a girl could want on a brain.”

Surely, such visual exactitude is what caused my friend’s stomach to churn yesterday morning. For the less squeamish among us, they’ll be objects of celebration.

Local husband and wife artists Patricia and Jon Hecker have done a brain. See a series of pictures of their work-in-progress on Patricia’s Facebook page.

Brains In The Brawn Room At BHSS

Get on over to the Bloomington High School South gym for a launch party today, noon to 2:00pm. Bolte Taylor and LaMantia will be there as will all 22 artist-decorated brains. It’s the only chance you’ll have to see them all in one place. The brains will be carted off to their display sites after the party.

I can’t think of a better organ to celebrate in these benighted days than the brain.

Electron Pencil event listings: Music, art, movies, lectures, parties, receptions, benefits, plays, meetings, fairs, conspiracies, rituals, etc.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

City Hall, Showers PlazaFarmer’s Market; 8am-1pm

Razors Image BarbershopFree blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, HIV, BMI screenings & nutrition counseling; 9am-6pm

IU Gladstein Fieldhouse, Indoor Track FacilityRedsteppers dance unit auditions; 10am

Upland Brewing CompanyMaifest, “Rock Out with Your Bock Out”; 11a-1a

Trained Eye Arts CenterWomen Exposed 7; Noon

Story Inn, Brown CountyIndiana Wine Fair; Noon-7pm

IU Grunwald (SOFA) GalleryBFA & MFA Thesis 3 Exhibitions; Noon-4pm, through May 5th

Mathers Museum of World CulturesExhibit, “Picturing Archeology”; 1-5pm, through July 1st

IU CinemaFilm, Orson Welles’ “Chimes at Midnight”; 3pm


AmVets Post 2000Benefit dinner & silent auction for Special Olympics Indiana; 5pm

Twin Lakes Recreation CenterBleeding Heartland Rollergirls vs. Brew City Bruisers; 6pm

Bloomington High School North AuditoriumBloomington Symphony Orchestra, “Finale Fantastique”; 7:30-10pm

IU Memorial Union, Whittenberger Auditorium — Film, “The Artist”; 8 & 11pm

Buskirk-Chumley TheaterIU Soul Revue; 8pm

IU AuditoriumIU Straight No Chaser; 8pm

The Player’s PubSheila Stephen; 8pm

The Palace TheatreCowboy Sweethearts; 8pm

Comedy AtticJeremy Essig; 8 & 10:30pm

Max’s PlaceGlenn Furr Agency; 9pm — Perfunctory This Band; 11pm

Bear’s PlaceCooked Books, Crys, Kam Kama; 9pm

The BluebirdThe Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band; 9pm

The BishopSoul in the Hole with the Vallures; 10pm

The Pencil Today:


“Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity — and I’m not sure about the former.” — Albert Einstein


Bloomington’s own Camilla Williams, international opera star and professor emeritus at IU, died Sunday. She was 92.


Williams was thought to be the first black woman to appear with a major US opera company, the New York City Opera in 1946. Her late husband, Charles Beavers, was an attorney for Malcolm X.


Philip Glass is 75 today. He is also still very, very cool.


Do yourself a favor and download the documentary, “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance.” It is a gloriously beautiful and ugly examination of life on late 20th Century Earth. It has no narrator; no human’s voice is heard throughout. The only sound you’ll hear is Glass’s musical score.

Glass presaged trance music by decades. And the composer certainly influenced Brian Eno, whose ambient forms beginning in the mid-1970s helped save the world from the navel-gazing pap of the likes of Kansas and other uber-pretentious prog rockers.


Glass may well be the composer music students in the year 2512 revere as they do Bach or Wagner today.


Now that the great state o’Indiana is considering teaching the myth of Intelligent Design in our public schools, it’s worth keeping in mind that our fair fiftieth of this holy land once before attempted to throw a caveman’s club into the gears of intellectual progress.

Mental Floss points out that in the 1890s, an Indiana chucklehead by the name of Edward J. Goodwin fantasized that he’d discovered a method to “square the circle,” a long disproved mathematical exercise. Goodwin was convinced that by equating the circle with a square, one could easily find its area.

Part of Goodwin’s fever dream was to jigger with the value of pi, the constant that allows the sane among us to calculate a circle’s area. It was the equivalent of NASA navigators saying, “Aw, what the hell, let’s just call the distance to the moon 240,000 miles — what’s a couple thousand miles one way or another?”

Given that attitude, the mummified corpses of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin might today be floating several billion miles outside our Solar System.

Just Point That Thing Toward The Moon, Boys

Goodwin — from the town of Solitude, appropriately enough — told the world in the 1890s that he’d found the secret to squaring the circle. In the grand tradition of many another snake oil salesman, Goodwin was more than willing to let mathematicians and educators use his secret formula — for a price.

But he had a soft spot for Indiana and offered to let Hoosier State schools teach his method for free as long as the state legislature would enact a statute declaring his crackpot idea the real thing.

And guess what — several Indiana House committees studied his equations, including his insistence that pi should be 3.2 (as opposed to the accurate constant 3.141592653589793….) The committees approved Goodwin’s methods and wrote up a bill declaring pi to be 3.2 and the circle, legally, squared.

And then the full House approved the bill unanimously! By the time the nation’s newspapers got hold of this news and began to bray with laughter at Indiana, the state Senate defeated the bill. Even that vote was iffy after a Senate committee passed it onto the floor.

Science and Indiana — I wonder if this is the first time the two words have ever appeared together in print.


Another chestnut from my college radio years, by Bram Tchiakovsky.

Pure power pop poetry:

Judy was an American girl/

She came in the morning/

With the US Mail.

Enjoy the soaring melody, goosebump harmony, and bell-ringing rhythm chord progressions.