Category Archives: Book Corner

Hot Air: What Does a Pencil Look Like?

A Different Direction

Join me in something new here.

For the last year or more, I’ve been averaging only a post a month on this global communications colossus. When I started The Electron Pencil back in 2012 and running through 2019 or so, I was striving — and mostly succeeding — in putting up a post a day herein. For the last couple of years of that run, I wrote about the 45th President of the United States more than any other topic. Much more. The truth is, what in the hell else was there to write about starting in the summer of 2016? What had once been a Simpsons cartoon joke had become — improbably, alarmingly, disturbingly — serious business. The joke was on us.

Funny-Not Funny.

So, as I say, I wrote, angrily for the most part, about President Gag. And, truth be told, it eventually became a millstone. Thinking and writing about Trump, that is. By ’19, I was sick to death of him and the country that had elected him on a technicality. Next thing I knew, i was going weeks at a time without putting up a Pencil post.

Even though this Holy Land has had a new president for some five months now, I’ve not yet got back into the groove of posting regularly, much less daily. And for that period of time I’ve been wondering what to do with this tool I have at my fingertips and that I pay for, I might add. I subscribe to the WordPress Business package, an option that allows me to put up podcasts and get all sorts of analytics and bells and whistles that the WP free basic package lacks. I pondered long and hard about simply going back to basic and saving the yearly premium subscription fee. Hell, I even tossed around the idea of closing down this shop altogether, but I abhor that option most of all.

Back at the beginning (the year 1 AP, or Anno Penicillum * ) I did a lot of local news coverage and opinionating here, another thing I lost pretty much all my ardor for as Bloomington, like the rest of the country, became a soap opera of antagonists snarling at each other, righteous brothers- and sisters-in-arms convinced everyone on the other side of even the most innocuous issue was in league with Satan, or at least an aspiring child pornographer. I eventually lost any desire to continue wading into the cesspool of local news and issues as well.

[ * Some sources have the word penicillum as the Latin translation for the American English pencil. Those sources go on to assert the Latin word actually meant small penis back in the days of Cicero and Augustus Caesar. I suppose I get the connection, pencils and penises sort of resemble each other — emphasis on sort of. Once I learned this, though, I was hooked. Yep, I’m definitely denoting each year of the Pencil era as an Anno Penicillum.]

Bill Bryson

In any case, I’ve considered any number of different ways I could go with this blog and website. The one, though, that keeps popping back into mind has to do with science. Loyal Pencillistas know I’m a voracious reader. I purchase books the way some people buy cars or wine or Hummels. That is, obsessively. At the Book Corner, where I still work a few hours each week, when people ask me what I like to read, I tell them history and science. Hell, my favorite living author is Bill Bryson, who writes about both topics (as well as language and travel).

So, yeah, science. I love science. Or shall I say sciences? Every single one of them. Astronomy, particle physics, engineering, medicine, biology, geology, archeology, anthropology, mathematics. Name a hard science and I’m in on it, as much as an unlettered layperson can be. The soft sciences — psychology, sociology, and political science — you can keep. I mean, I’ll converse with anybody about those topics; for pity’s sake, I’ll converse with anybody about anything. But I’m fairly averse to accumulating books on those subjects and I take the pronouncements emanating from mavens in those soft sciences with a grain of salt. But the sciences that traffic in testable, demonstrable, observable principles? Friends, count me in.

Ergo (don’t you just love Latin?), I want to turn this Pencil thing into a fun science reader. Sure, why not? The idea being in each post I’ll ruminate * on a specific science or topic, illuminating it with a light, hopefully witty, touch. Let’s look at it as a digest of Things Every Adult Ought to Know. Every adult and a goodly number of exceptional kids, too.

[ * Most dictionaries define ruminating as 1) thinking deeply about a subject and 2) chewing cud. Don’t you just love American English?]

What’s She Thinking About?

Don’t you agree there is a floor-level of knowledge the grown-up human beings of the 21st Century ought to possess? We don’t necessarily have to be on intimate terms with quantum electrodynamics (the daddy-o of which, Richard Feynman, once famously said

Richard Feynman

anyone who purports to truly understand that particular science simply doesn’t) but, dang mang, we should by all rights know the difference between tensile, torque, shear, and compressive strength (we’d like to feel safe and secure when driving across big, high bridges) or what the four macronutrients are for human beings (water, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins). We don’t need to be PhD candidates in any of these sciences but, golly, we’d better know a little something about all of them.

For that matter, each and every one of us should know who Rosalind Franklin, Cecilia Payne, and Loney Clinton Gordon were. BTW: I’m not linking to their names here because I want to do future posts on each of them and more.

I’m going to start up this new Pencil push sometime within the next few days. If you dig it, keep coming back. If not, there are plenty of other ways for you to occupy your time in this world. Speaking of the world, did you know a University of Texas researcher determined that if everybody alive on Earth today hoped to enjoy a lifestyle similar to the average American, we’d need the resources of ten planet Earths.

See what I mean? That’s the kind of thing I’ll traffic in when this new Things-Every-Adult-Ought-to-Know phase of the Pencil kicks off.

See you soon.

Does This Look Like a Bunch of Penises to You?

Hot Air: Melange, Olio, Medley, Miscellany…

And The Answer Is

In the wake* of the death of host Alex Trebek, I’ve learned the correct Jeopardy! answer is, “What is robbing the cradle?”

Jean Currivan (L) and Her Husband, Alex Trebek.

[ * You’ll pardon the pun.]

Customer Service

When I worked as a bartender for Club Lago, a delightful Italian family restaurant in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, one of the owners, Guido Nardini, said to me one night, “There’s a reward beyond money in serving people.”

Now, a cynic might respond that’s a boss’s way of saying “You should learn to be happy with the peanuts I’m paying you,” but, no, I earned a nice chunk of change pouring drinks at Lago. No complaints there; from the sheer volume of customers to the fact that a lot of people used to love to throw c-notes around as tips, I was able to stash big piles o’cash in my home safe.

Guido meant what he said because he and his co-owner bro., Giancarlo, loved to serve customers well. And, yes, it did please me to please my customers. I treated everybody with great respect and care regardless of what I thought their largesse capacities were.

At the Book Corner ( ✯ more on that later) I continue to take great pride in going out of my way to satisfy customers and nobody (except for one guy — I’m looking at you, J.D.) tips me. I like to call myself “the book detective,” often standing on my head to find something rare or out of print or unheard of for customers. When they tell me they appreciate my efforts and I see the looks on their faces, that’s a reward in and of itself.

So, I’m particularly attuned to people’s customer service skills. The following are some encounters I’ve had recently. I’m not complaining or indicting, simply observing.

“COME HERE OFTEN?”

I saw my oncologist last week. As an aside, I’m right at the time when I should be declared cancer-free. It’s been five years since my bout with squamous cell cancer leading to malignant lymph nodes. You may recall my long series herein called My Olive Pits™. For five years I’ve existed in a limbo the docs call remission. Once my latest PET scan results are in, it is to be dearly hoped, I’ll get my parole. Anyway, there’s an impromptu check-in desk positioned down the hall from the oncologist’s lair where a masked receptionist takes patients’ temperatures and grills them about possible COVID symptoms. I wheeled up (Aside #2: Yes, I use one of these⬇︎ now because my hip arthritis has reached crippling dimensions)…

…and presented myself to the woman at the desk. The first thing she said was, “Do you come here often?”

Well, jeez, that’s a straight line if I’ve ever heard one. Besides, I’m always nervous as hell when I visit either my oncologist or my ENT doctor so I look for any excuse to lighten the mood. I responded, “Ha! Is that a pickup line?”

The woman stared at me.

Being met with a stony face is the ultimate negative feedback when delivering a joke. And, sure, the joke was lame and predictable. I wasn’t looking for reassurance that I’m the liveliest wit in South Central Indiana, just an acknowledgement, a sign of bonhomie, I guess. So I doubled down.

“That was a joke,” I said.

The woman continued to stare at me.

Rather than retreat then and there, I pushed further into the realm of red-faced-ness.

“Which you didn’t get,” I said, nearly sotto voce but not quite.

Her stared bored a hole through me.

Somehow we got on to the business at hand. My temperature was normal and I swore I had no coronavirus symptoms, so she passed me through.

In her defense, I’ll admit it’s a little more difficult these days to tell if a person is smiling or grimacing under the mask. But a smile is as readable in the eyes as it is by bared teeth. The woman’s eyes were not smiling.

Someone might say, “Well, maybe she thought it inappropriate that you were coming on to her.” Which is utter nonsense. I’m a crippled old goat with hernias galore, a bald head, barnacles on my scalp, and an implanted defibrillator in my chest. Only the most neurotically sensitive 20-something could interpret the joke as a come-on from the likes of me. Here’s a bit from Curb Your Enthusiasm, where Larry tells an attractive receptionist he’s talking to her because human-to-human contact is the goal, not because he’s hitting on her. (Go to the 1:30 mark of the clip for the exchange.)

Have I ever mentioned I believe Larry David is a dybbuk that resides in me and that my growth as a human depends on expelling said dybbuk?

On to the next encounter.

GO WHEREVER YOU WANT

Last week was an orgy of doctors for me. I’ve finally been okayed to go into surgery for my right hip total replacement. I’d originally been scheduled for surgery on June 8th, only a cancer-related CT scan the week before revealed I was suffering from pulmonary emboli. These obstructions in lung arteries usually are caused by clot particles that travel up from the legs. They are life threatening and usually cause breathing distress and syncope. Sometimes the first symptom is the sufferer simply drops dead. Serious stuff. Mine apparently were caused by my inability to walk much anymore so clots formed in my legs. That’s all cleared up now, thanks to a daily regimen of an anticoagulant that has turned my blood into something more akin to a fine mist. At this point I begin to bleed simply by thinking about blowing my nose.

So, I visited my orthopedic surgeon last week to get the ball rolling again. He turned me into a pretzel to see where things hurt the most (answer: everywhere) and then brought out a model of the hip joint as well as the prosthetic ball and socket joint he’d be hammering into me. His nurse then came in and gave me a new date for surgery (December 21st) and told me about all the things I’d have to do before and after. Included is a month or two of intensive physical therapy with my new hip in place.

“You can do your physical therapy here,” she said. The IU Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine complex just off Sare Rd. on the south side has a big gym/PT center. The she added that if this particularly facility was too far away from my home I could do my PT elsewhere.

“Well,” I asked, “what are my alternatives.”

“You can go anywhere,” she said.

I resisted the urge to quip, “So, can I do it at the library?” I’d already struck out once with mild humor in a medical setting. Still, I pressed on.

“Where are other facilities?”

“They’re everywhere.”

“Okay, I live off SR 446. Which one would be closest to that?”

“Oh, they’re all around. Go wherever you want”

We were getting no place fast. “Fine, I’ll do it here,” I said, and she duly marked that down in her notes.

All the way home, I fixated on the exchange. Why wouldn’t she tell me where another gym/PT center was?

I chewed over this for a few days until it occurred to me that all these different IU Health facilities are run as discreet little revenue centers. Individual doctors, or groups of them, have ownership stakes in their facilities. In the interest of fairness and convenience for the patient, the nurse felt compelled to tell me I could get my physical therapy anywhere but she really, really, really wanted me to do it at her place because that’s where the insurance payments would be sent.

Okay, fair enough. But it wouldn’t have hurt for her to say, “Y’know, we like to keep everything in-house. It’s easier for insurance and for record-keeping.” She might even have admitted her facility had an interest in getting the insurance payments. I’m an adult; I know how business works, even if that business calls itself nonprofit.

Instead, I was left wondering why she couldn’t tell me where other gym/PT centers are. Like Larry David, I obsessed over that question for far too long. I told you he’s a dybbuk inside me.

✯ Farewell, Book Corner–For Now

I’m taking a leave of absence from the Book Corner because 1) the pain in my hip has become unbearable and 2) I don’t want to catch COVID and have to reschedule surgery again — or die.

Both The Loved One  and Patty, the manager, have told me time and again I’m deranged for going in to work three times a week with this hip. TLO has shared horror stories about people suffering from the coronavirus with me in an effort to scare me off going in. At last I’m listening to them.

You won’t see me at the store until February at the earliest. I’ll miss the hell out of the books and the people. I’ll also miss the rush and madness of Christmas there. A big family comes in every Christmas Eve. Each member, from grandma and grandpa to the littlest arrival, gets to pick out a number of books as their Christmas present for the year. It’s become a tradition. And grandma always brings in a huge stash of holiday sweets and treats that I do my best to take an unfair share of home with me. I’ll miss the hell out of them, too.

But, truth is, I won’t cry too many tears over it all because by the 24th, I’ll be sitting on a brand new hip and I won’t be a crippled old goat anymore.

Hot Air: Rising From The Ashes…

… Or at least from the stinky, oily soot.

Yep, The Book Corner is scheduled to be back in business in about two weeks. Target date for us to throw the doors open for real, if all goes well, is Friday, December 2nd. Who knows? Perhaps if the book gods smile upon us, we may even re-open a day or two sooner. Stay tuned here for breaking news on that front.

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-3-30-17-pm

It turns out proprietor Margaret Taylor carried a sweet insurance policy as a hedge against a catastrophe — or a near-one like the overnight electrical fire that put us out of business Monday evening or Tuesday morning. No one knows exactly when it happened but sometime after the store was closed Monday at 8:00pm and when Margaret showed up for work the next AM at about 7:30, an oscillating fan had burst into flames, tumbled to the floor, burned through the tile flooring and substrate, and ignited a few greeting card spinners before it magically went out.

The mini-blaze did produce an ungodly amount of smoke-stink and sticky black soot that covered virtually all our inventory — books, magazines, calendars, day planners, greeting cards, blank journals, and all the rest. Acc’d’g to Margaret’s insurance company, we’ll be rebuilt (we’ll need a new floor; it’ll be hardwood, I understand, woo-hoo!), repainted, fire-damage restored, and completely restocked over this week and next.

So don’t shed any tears for us, Bloomingtina. Just sock some dollars away from your Black Friday budget — better yet, don’t even honor that silly “tradition” — and do your early Christmas shopping with us, starting — fingers crossed — the first Friday in December.

Nice to know not all news these days is bad, isn’t it?

Tell It, Jackson!

It’s not unusual to see on our fair megalopolis’s sidewalks IU Maurer School of Law professor Christie Ochoa dragging in tow her three fast-growing young lads. All of them love to read books and one of them, Jackson, even made a little video love letter to the Book Corner a couple of years ago.

Here, groove on it again and again as you sit in your darkened cubbyhole, waiting for us to reopen in two weeks.

 

Sad

I had a nice, compelling, mildly controversial post all ready to go but I spiked it. Bigger news prevails.

The Book Corner, one of my beloved homes away from home, will be closed until further notice. An electrical fire has damaged virtually all our inventory.

1526798_752391704790797_1005421304_n

Better Days

As I type this, Margaret Taylor sits in her soot-covered, smoke-infused captain’s chair waiting for the insurance adjusters to arrive. She and manager Patty Wong Swei San chased me out of the place for fear I’d inhale the particulate matter still hovering in the air.

No telling how long we’ll be closed. Stayed tuned for further news.

 

Hot Air

What To Do? What To Do?

Lots going on around town these days, as always in the fall. Here are a few things you oughtta do:

Bloom Magazine Book Club — This issue’s selection is Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. The Book Corner has tons o’copies and they’re 20 percent off for book club folk. All ya gotta do is say, “I’m getting this for the book club.” How much simpler can we make it? Bloom honcho Malcolm Abrams has set up Indiana University English prof. emeritus Don Gray to talk about the controversial novel, Tuesday, October 6, 2015, 5:30pm, at Topo’s 403 Restaurant, 403 N. Walnut St.

Lee

Alabama’s Nelle Harper Lee

Just in case you were wondering, there’s no club member card and you don’t have to pass through any kind of initiation. Just read the book and come listen to Don Gray talk about it. He’ll take Qs from the crowd, too.

Send Shelli Yoder to Congress — Currently a member of the Monroe County Council, Yoder jumped late into the Democratic primary for Indiana’s 9th US Congress District in 2012. In a shocker, she clobbered Bob Winningham and Gen. Jonathan George, who’d been certain he was the anointed party candidate. (BTW, loyal Pencillista Col. John Tilford also ran in that primary. Yoder kicked the bejesus out of him as well.) Yoder went on that fall to get walloped herself by incumbent Todd Young, losing 55-45 percent. She was then selected by party caucus to fill the term of departing county council member Vic Kelson. She ran for reelection in 2014 and easily retained her seat. Now that Todd Young is gunning for the US Senate, Yoder’s jumping back into the congressional fray. The Friends of Shelli Yoder is throwing a fundraising bash at the Fountain Square Ballroom, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015, from 5:30-7:30pm. All the local party big shots’ll be there. I’ll be there with on the spot coverage should any of our Dems trip over the carpeting.

Yoder

Indiana’s Shelli Renee Yoder (L)

Monroe County Book Fair — This year’s annual tome orgy benefits the Hoosier Hills Food Bank. The Book Corner will be there Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, 10am-1pm, with New York Times bestselling author Michael Koryta, signing his latest, Last Words. Koryta mixes crime, suspense, mystery and throws in a dash of woo in his compelling volumes. A percentage of the Book Corner’s proceeds will go to the Food Bank. This is the first year the Book Fair benefits HHFB. The fair runs Oct. 8-13 at the Monroe County Fairgrounds. I’ll be there peddling Koryta’s books.

Koryta

Florida & Indiana’s Michael Koryta

Do any or all of these things and you’ll surely earn your Pencillista stripes.

Hot Air

Sympathy For The Devil

How scared do you want to be this AM? Plenty scared? Okay, Click on over to the weblog, Second City Cop. It’s an anonymous clearinghouse for the opinions, beliefs, and rants of some Chicago police officers.

Natch, since no one’s name is attached, the true and unadulterated feelings of the blog’s author as well as commenters come through loud and clear.

CPD 1968

Not Much Has Changed In 45 Years

What do we learn by reading Second City Cop? A significant number of sworn officers of the law in the nation’s third largest city:

  • Are chronically aggrieved
  • Exist in a state of permanent rage
  • Consider themselves persecuted
  • Are contemptuous and insulting of those they disagree with
  • Despise protesters
  • Deny or minimize the existence of police misbehavior
  • Are homophobic
  • Are misogynist
  • Are adept at concealing their racism with weasel words and code
  • Are xenophobic
  • Disdain everything from simple altruism to government programs designed to help the less fortunate among us
  • Are four-square against minimum wage
  • Hate the NFL as a result of five St. Louis Rams players protesting the decision not to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson
  • Believe that FEMA concentration camps will be established soon

I can go on and on but I won’t. Read for yourself and weep. Chicago has a total of some 13,000 police officers. They carry deadly weapons. They are authorized to take your freedom away for probable cause or on a true bill of indictment. They work hand in hand with prosecutors and the courts against the accused in our adversarial system of justice. Under these simple, basic criteria they can be described as the most powerful members of our society.

If a mere eight percent or so of those 13,000 hold any fraction of the above-mentioned feelings, then a thousand of them are F-U’d and dangerous bastards whom you’d be loath to want to sit next to at Thanksgiving dinner. But they have guns and badges.

Now, try to breathe.

[h/t to Neil Steinberg.]

Art Sells

A huge slap on the back for the son of one of Bloomington’s most beloved citizens, Jack Dopp.

Jack’s been delivering newspapers in our town for decades now through his Bloomington News operation. He’s the guy who makes sure the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Indy Star get to your doorstep or your neighborhood merchant every single day, regardless of the weather. Pushing 70 but still wiry and quick on his feet, he continues to play for several local slow-pitch softball teams.

His son Michael is an artist based in the Los Angeles area. Michael teaches art at Chapman University in the town of Orange. He also produces scads of paintings and is represented by LA’s Roberts & Tilton Gallery.

Michael Dopp

Dopp Art

Jack tells The Pencil that Michael’s work was exhibited in the big-time Art/Basel show in Miami Beach last week. Art/Basel is an annual series of international contemporary and Modern Art exhibits held in south Florida, Hong Kong, and Basel, Switzerland. This year, the Miami Beach exhibit featured several hundred artists from our hemisphere.

The big news is Michael sold a painting on the first day of the show. Jack whispered a figure in my ear; suffice it to say loads of folks in this holy land would be able to live for a year on the check Michael pocketed.

Who sez all artists are starving?

Smart Kid

Have you been worrying about kids today not reading?

Stop.

Working at the Book Corner, I know that countless imps are gobbling up books even in this age of smartphones and dumbing down. For instance, Indiana University Maurer School of Law  professor Christiana Ochoa tows her three sons into the Book Corner with some regularity. She tells me if it were up to the boys, they’d park themselves at the shop twice or three times as much as they do already.

The lads dig the BC so much that one of them, Jackson, the oldest at 12, created a video love letter the other day. Watch:

My fave line: “From the outside, it may look small. But inside, it opens up entirely new universes.”

And this kid is only 12?

The future, babies, is in good hands.

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.

Rage

Islam?

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 adherents.com, 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

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.

Dismal

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.

Capital

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

Bang

“I don’t want to sugarcoat it,” attorney Benjamin Crump said yesterday, “[Michael Brown] was executed in broad daylight.”

The only issue I’ll take with Crump is that an execution, by definition, takes place as a penalty for a capital crime, at least in this holy land. Michael Brown not only had committed no capital crime, he’d done nothing wrong at all save for walking in the street and not immediately scooting onto the the sidewalk before his killer opened fire.

In general, we don’t take the lives of jaywalkers in this great democracy.

Noose

We give cops guns and badges but we can’t give them brains no matter how much funding we allocate for our police departments. The cop who whacked Michael Brown didn’t use his fully human brain when he pumped the kid full of lead Saturday afternoon; no, he used the ancient, paleo-evolutionary part of it, the part “involved in aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays” [thanks, Wikipedia,] the part called by some the reptilian brain.

The cop who killed Michael Brown employed no more reasoning power and compassion than a crocodile.

The only question left is how many more cops are there like him?

Hoteliers

A couple of nice young women came into the Book Corner yesterday. They were from Nashville, Tennessee. One of them told me she was a devotee of the Brothers Grimm. She found a colorful, richly illustrated, cloth-bound compendium of their best known tales. She was overjoyed.

The two told me they were in town to train the staff at the new Hyatt hotel on Kirkwood Avenue.

I wished them well. Their hotel, on the other hand? Ick.

Hyatt Place Bloomington

[Side note: As I write this I’m eavesdropping on a tale being told by a property owner near the hotel construction site. This property owner says heavy trucks crushed decorative lighting fixtures and much of a perennial garden she had installed outside her building. When she and her people complained to the contractor, the fellow essentially shrugged and said, Whaddya gonna do?]

Bang, II

The American Bar Association last week released a report finding that killings have actually increased in states that have Stand Your Ground laws.

Imagine that!

Al Jazeera America reports on that report, the product of a 2013 National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws set up by the ABA. The report recommends states ditch their SYG laws forthwith.

Figures. Liberal lawyers and socialist task forces — of course they’re going to be against laws that virtually declare states in which they’ve been enacted the Wild West.

From "The Wild Bunch"

Standing Their Ground

And that is the Wild West of a Sam Peckinpah movie. In other words, a load of bullshit.

Iconography

Writer Miriam Krule points out in Slate magazine that with the death yesterday of Lauren Bacall, “all 16 of the 20th-century stars immortalized in Madonna’s Vogue are now dead.”

In case you’ve forgotten, here the others:

  • Greta Garbo
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Marlene Dietrich
  • Joe DiMaggio
  • Marlon Brando
  • James Dean
  • Grace Kelly
  • Jean Harlow
  • Gene Kelly
  • Fred Astaire
  • Ginger Rogers
  • Rita Hayworth
  • Katharine Hepburn
  • Lana Turner
  • Bette Davis

 

Hot Air

Just The Facts, Ma’am

Loyal Pencillistas know I’m a defender of Genetically Modified Organisms, AKA GMOs. That puts me in a distinct minority in this food fetishist town. People here know me as a liberal-bordering-on-radical and so are aghast when they discover I don’t see GMOs as the tools of the devil.

They say: But what about Monsanto? To which I reply: Sure, Monsanto’s about as evil as, say, Halliburton or Academi (the former Blackwater.) Monsanto makes tons of dough on its patented GMO seeds and uses the most bullying tactics possible to make certain every farmer, every gardener, hell, every kid who plays in the dirt buys its product. Plus, Monsanto actively squashes competition, infringes on free speech, impedes investigations, harasses critics, and literally writes laws that legislators on its payroll can then obediently introduce and pass.

Monsanto is, in short, a bad guy.

Newcomb/Reuters

A Monsanto Corn Sprout [photo by Peter Newcomb/Reuters]

The ways Monsanto is forcing GMOs upon the world may be despicable but that that doesn’t mean their new species per se necessarily spell the end of civilization. That’s my position.

That said, it was my good fortune to meet Dr. Martha Crouch, better known as Marti, at the Book Corner Monday. “Hey,” I nearly shouted as I read the name on her credit card, “you’re you!”

“Indeed I am,” she replied, smartly.

Crouch

Marti Crouch, Surrounded By Green, Naturally

I explained how I’ve heard about her through countless folks who’ve taken me to task for defending GMOs. I then asked her to educate me. “I’d be more than happy,” I said, “to change my mind if you’d take the trouble to persuade me — and I buy your argument.”

Marti Crouch is the “real thing” — so sez Pencillista Nancy Hiller. She’s earned herself a national rep. Here, for instance, is a description from a short piece about her appearing in Mother Jones magazine back in 2000:

Martha Crouch, a biology professor at Indiana University in Bloomington and once a pioneering biotechnologist, studied her entire life to reach the pinnacle of her profession. She earned a Ph.D. in developmental biology at Yale before landing at Indiana University, where she teaches and once ran a lab dedicated to cutting edge plant research. In 1990, her lab made the cover of The Plant Cell, the leading journal in the field of plant molecular biology. Instead of launching Crouch into professional nirvana, however, the article marked the end of her research career.

Crouch had tenure and was well-known in her field. But she had awakened one day to the realization that her research was being co-opted by corporations which hoped to apply the science for profit. Further, the manner in which those firms used her discoveries was destroying the natural processes that attracted Crouch to the study of biology in the first place.

In the piece, Crouch is quoted as saying, “You are basically treating the agricultural environment as if it was a factory where you are making televisions or VCRs.”

She’s no longer teaching science because she stopped doing research (IU looked askance at her public denigration of the commercial exploitation of her research.) If anyone can sway me, she’ll be the one.

Marti Crouch has sent me the first of what promises to be a long series of info-packed articles and tracts. It’s an excellent introduction to GMOs from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Consider it GMOs 101. Here it is.

UCS

Click Image For Full Article

Even if you think you know all you need to know about GMOs, you should read these pieces. Hey, you may learn something! I know I’m hoping to.

Let the conversation begin.

White Fright

h/t to both Chuck Rogers and Jerry Boyle for this one:

From ValleyWag/Gawker

Click Image For Full Story

Need I even tell you how much this disgusts me?

Wahoo, Drew & Cool Kat

Congrats to Drew Daudelin, the new news reader/producer over at WFIU.

Teller/Daudelin

Daudelin (r) With Teller of Penn & Teller

I met Drew at WFHB where he volunteered five days a week to edit each Daily Local News script. The kid was good, I’m telling’ ya. He brought the writing level up dramatically while he was there.

Now, apparently, he’s making real dough. Good for him.

You may also have caught Kat Carlton reading the news during local breaks on Morning Edition the last few months as well. She, too, prepped at WFHB, in fact writing up news stories right next to me on several occasions. Just watching the way she carried herself, I could tell she was going places.

Carlton/IPM

Carlton

That Alycin Bektesh, WFHB’s redoubtable News Director, she’s got a nose for talent, no? A thought: Maybe WFIU should become a major contributor to WFHB, considering the latter is now the talent pool for the former.

Criminally Cynical

Remember the teenaged girl in Texas who survived the massacre of her family a few weeks ago? The one who gave a heartfelt speech at her family’s memorial? The latest poster child for gun sanity?

Stay Funeral

Cassidy Stay (center) At Her Family’s Funeral

Her name was (and is) Cassidy Stay. The shooter, if you don’t recall, was searching for his ex-wife and held her sister’s family hostage until they told him where she was. They refused to and as a result were executed, Nazi-style, with bullets to the backs of their heads. Cassidy survived the carnage.

At the memorial Cassidy (who played dead during the gunman’s rampage) said:

I really like Harry Potter. In “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” Dumbledore says, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times.” I know that my mom, dad, Bryan, Emily, Becca and Zach are in a much better place and that I’ll be able to see them again one day. Thank you all for coming and for showing support for me and my family. Stay strong.

Gun control advocates, naturally, lauded Cassidy to the skies and asked, for the zillionth time, why we have to endure yet another firearms atrocity.

Just as naturally, gun nuts on the far end of that particular spectrum didn’t look as kindly upon the teen girl and those who hero-ized her. In fact, a certain number of people believe Cassidy never was shot at all and that her family was killed in that old reliable trick of the jack-booted gov’t, the false flag job. Not only that, the gun control crowd, acc’d’g to this train of “thought,” works hand in hand with purported “victims” of gun crimes merely to make money. Want detail? Check this vid out. It just may be the most cynical thing you’ve ever seen or heard:

A reminder, kids: There aren’t two sides to every question.

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