Category Archives: Ernie Banks

Hot Air


The Bloomington Science Cafe gang will gather once again tomorrow eve at Finch’s Brasserie to hash over another hot topic. This time, Dr. Russell Lyons of Indiana University’s Math Dept. will talk about how we use statistics and numbers to fool each other.


From xkcd

Lyons is a big-time debunker, and you all know how I love debunking nonsense. He’ll use a specific case study — a highly-flawed research paper asserting that obesity is contagious — to illustrate how even supposedly respected scientists can flim-flam their way to notoriety through the use of sloppy statistical practices and outright numerical falsehoods. The paper in Q. actually contained the line: “You may not know him personally, but your friend’s husband’s co-worker can make you fat.”

The argument — and the whole paper, for that matter — was wrong and later discredited. Lyons decided that not only the general public but mass media reporters as well as reputable scientific journal editors needed refresher courses on good statistical methods. “Top journals,” Lyons says, “do not serve as the rigorous judges of quality that the public often assumes.”



The idea being we should all look at studies, papers, news stories about science, and the like with a critical, analytical eye. But before we can do that, we have to know what makes a set of numbers right or true.

Lyons’ll speak at 6:30pm in Finch’s upstairs events room. Questions will follow. Admission, natch, is free and open to the public. Such a deal: You get smarter while simultaneously eating and drinking. Sounds like heaven to me.

Civil Rights Slugger

You may think I’m getting all Ernie Banks-fixated but I ask you to try to understand how important Mr. Cub was to millions of native Chi-towners like me.

Anyway, WGN radio’s Patti Vazquez points out that Ernie persuaded the Cubs five years ago to sponsor a float in Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade held every June in the Boys Town n-hood. Thanks to Ern, the Cubs did indeed participate and, in fact, Mr. Cub himself rode on the float.

Gay Pride 2010

The Chicago Cubs Float Before The 2010 Pride Parade

(Photo: Cheryl Adams)

(Of course, it helped that the Cubs’ Laura Ricketts is herself the first openly lesbian major pro sports team owner in this holy land.)

The Cubs thereby became the first major American sports franchise to participate in a Pride Parade.

Can Ernie Banks’ rep get any more golden?

[h/t to Rick Perlstein]

Woo? Boo!

Thanks to our friends over at Wonkette, we learn that one of the Huffington Post‘s “medical” contributors who calls herself a “doctor” is really no doctor at all.

Lots o’folks on my side of the fence love, love, love HuffPo even though founder Arianna Huffington was able to rake in $315 MM selling the Left-leaning online news service after utilizing brilliant business practices like not paying her writers. HuffPo also panders to the soft-skull wing of the White Liberal Party by running scads of articles and opinion pieces touting woo medicines and diets.

F’rinstance, “Dr.” Sherri Tenpenny — the non-medico in question, has penned a couple of HuffPo articles on how childhood vaccinations are the bunk. That and a piece on Novartis, the uber-pharma outfit that she uses to frame her argument that prescription drugs and vaccines are poisons worse than all the Big Macs and Drano in the world put together.



In the fallout from the Disneyland measles outbreak, Tenpenny has found all her speaking engagements cancelled these days. She blames “the extremists” who are insisting that kids get innoculated against catastrophic diseases. Wonkette‘s Fare la Volpe writes:

Those extremists are quite difficult, what with their unreasonable demands that children not catch polio in the 21st Century. It was good enough for FDR, wasn’t it?

Just another little reminder that anencephaly does not only strike Fox News hosts and those on the Right.

Hot Air

Bim Bam Boom

Quickies today because I’m running late.

Hot Breakfast — Real Hot!

Because I was running late, I squealed out of the Soma Coffee parking lot but before I could burn rubber on Grant St. who should I see but Bob Costello, owner of the same as well as the Laughing Planet and the Village Deli.

The V.D., as all Bloomington knows by now, suffered an almost catastrophic fire yesterday at about noon. The thick black smoke emanating from the rear of the joint indicated to some that the B-ton institution would be a total loss, with neighboring businesses like Cafe Pizzaria (sic) perhaps suffering severe damage as well.

Appearances, natch, can be deceiving. The recycling and trash area of the restaurant was fairly well destroyed as was, apparently, the big walk-in cooler — which, thus far, seems to have been the origin point of the blaze.

Anyway, Costello was walking from the Deli to Soma, speaking meaningfully on the phone and carrying a sheaf of official looking papers — insurance docs, maybe. In any case, I honked and waved and Bob flashed a brilliant smile. I yelled out “Good luck” and he responded with a thumbs up.

So, either Bob feels he’s dodged a life-changing bullet or he’s the most sanguine guy in town. Here’s hoping the Deli reopens soon.

Old Man Music

I don’t know about you but I had the time of my life last night at Jeff Morris’s 70th birthday party, held at the Player’s Pub.

The old bird danced like a 69-year-old to some mighty fine music. Morris founded Bloomington’s community radio station, WFHB, back in the early ’90s. He’s still the guy who shinnies up the tower to tweak the station’s antenna. Shoot, he’s got 21 years on me yet he makes me look like his granddaddy.

Now then, it must be said: one of the acts, an ad hoc band comprised of, among others, Jeff Isaac on keyboards, Dave Baas on rhythm guitar, and Emily Jackson pounding the drums just might be, for my money, the best thing making noise in this town. Trust me, if you hear of them playing around anywhere again, catch ’em.


The bitter party had themselves a confab in corn heaven this past weekend under the risible moniker the Iowa Freedom Summit. A passel of contenders and pretenders for the 2016 Republican nomination for president squawked at the crowd. Even Donald Trump was there, ensuring that no sentient person can take the GOP seriously just yet — even if the party is indeed in charge of Congress.

Anyhow, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who fancies herself presidential timber mainly because she’s anointed herself the Hillary Clinton Critic-in-Chief, wowed the crowd with these words:

Like Hillary Clinton, I too have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe. But unlike her, I have actually accomplished something. Mrs. Clinton, flying is an activity not an accomplishment.

Personal to Carly: I don’t think you fully grasp what it is the Secretary of State of the United States of America does. Until you do, you really aren’t prez timber yet. Maybe never.

A Man Of Joy & A Man Of Peace

Alright, kiddies, I heard this morning what just may be the greatest quote ever uttered by a professional athlete. NPR’s Steve Inskeep had interviewed baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks back in 2009. Here’s part of the exchange:

Banks: And my life is like a miracle. I mean, I don’t even know how I got into baseball. And I always felt bad about attention coming my way, for some reason. Something happened to me, I do something pretty exciting, and I didn’t want the spot light on me. I got an award the other day, at the Library of Congress, and I said, gosh, I’m getting an award for doing nothing. I haven’t done anything yet. Nothing.

Inskeep: Well, I think that record book would dispute you there.

Banks: No, but me personally, I mean. I always had a bigger goal, when I was 15, and that was to win the Nobel Peace Prize. And I think about that a lot. I dream about it. I see myself in Stockholm. That has been my journey. I mean I’ve been chasing the footsteps of my life to do something worthwhile. I haven’t done anything yet. I have not done anything yet.

Imagine that! His goal in life from the time he was a (not-so) dopey teenager was to win the Nobel Peace Prize. And because he never did that, he felt he’d not accomplished anything worthwhile.

Again, a pro athlete said that.

How could you not love Ernie?

Hot Air

Let’s Play Two!

A Cubs giant is now playing with the angels.


Ernie Banks, January 31, 1931 — January 23, 2015

Givin’ ‘Em What They Want

Funny, I just happened to glance at the numbers for this global communications colossus and whaddya think I found? Yeah, the Pencil in recent weeks has garnered some of its biggest daily unique visitors stats since its inception.



For those of you unhip to the jargon of the interwebs, unique visitors are individual people who request to view pages within a given period. The number is much more indicative of a site’s or a blog’s popularity than simply the number of hits it gets. If I, f’rinstance, visit the website for the North American Nude Motorcycle Riders Association I’m a unique visitor. But if I visit the site, say, 23 times in a day, each visit counts as a hit. Then NANMRA can brag it got 23 hits out of me when in reality I’m just one guy doing, um, research.

So, yeah, I’ve been drawing unique visitors by the bushelful of late. Only I’ve hardly been posting at all since the first week of December.

The conclusion? The populace of this holy land prefers looking at a blank page than actually reading a Pencil post. Thanks, America!

Meet The New Boss

So, while I’ve been busy transcribing interview tapes for Charlotte Zietlow’s memoir, Bloomington’s 2015 mayoral race has begun to take shape. The front runners right now appear to be City Council member Darryl Neher and 2011 mayoral bridesmaid John Hamilton. Both, naturally, are Democrats.


Neher (L) & Hamilton

There are, to be sure, a couple of Republicans who’ve declared their candidacies. If you want to know who they are or what they look like, check the milk carton in your refrigerator.

Unless some surprise Dem candidate jumps into the fray, this town’s next mayor will be Neher or Hamilton. I can live with either. Neher has been blessed by outgoing Mayor Mark Kruzan. Hamilton’s the darling of Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law where his bride, Dawn Johnsen, is a prof.

Whoever cops the big office, he (or she, should a woman opt in and win) will be in charge of an historically small town that has designs on big city-ness. Hotels are sprouting up like fungi. Tallish apartment developments have turned College Avenue near Courthouse Square into a mini canyon. Quaint shops and Mom & Pop stores have been replaced by glitzy sports and wine bars downtown. Moneyed students from around the country and, for that matter, around the world are tooling down Kirkwood Avenue in shiny luxury SUVs and even Maseratis.

Townies loathe the new Bloomington. IU digs it the most. Hamilton, as mentioned, has an IU connection — his campaign once again will be raising scads of cash from law school instructors. Neher is a senior lecturer at IU’s Kelley School of Business. Loads o’folks are going moan that either candidate will be doing the dirty work of the archcriminal Michael McRobbie. Problem is, that’s a facile charge. IU Prez McRobbie’s wishes by and large would be granted no matter who claims the mayor’s chair, even if it were someone like a young, contrarian, Charlotte Zietlow.

With Citizens Like These, Who Needs….

“Citizens United” may be two of the dirtiest words in the English language these days.

That’s the moniker attached to the landmark US Supreme Court decision allowing corporations and large organizations to send dump trucks full of cash to political candidates despite legislation and regulations designed to minimize the effect of money on the electoral process. Citizens United, the group, argued that money is speech and the Reagan/Bush/Bush court gleefully agreed.

As a result, elections today give us the finest candidates money can buy.

Citizens United is a Right Wing gang that screeches for our holy land to withdraw from the United Nations, considers the ACLU to be at war with America, has worked hand in hand with the thankfully dead Andrew Brietbart to portray the Occupy movement as a mob of rapists and drugged-up vandals, and even characterized John McCain as a dangerous liberal. In short, it’s a club for lunatics.

The club is holding its annual Iowa Freedom Summit this weekend, wherein bitter, suspicious, xenophobic sociopaths can gather and tell each other how saintly and patriotic they are. Speakers this year include:


Joni Ernst: Leading America Into The 1950s

Attendees will fall all over themselves cheering for these rage monkeys. Ayn Rand’s and Ronald Reagan’s names are sure to be strewn about like pocket candy at a child molesters convention. Oh, and Jesus Christ himself is sure to be welcomed in spirit. Not, of course, the spirit the “son of god” intended but, y’know.

Hot Air Today

Barack & Me

Here’s a chuckle: Yesterday I portrayed Barack Obama as a paper tyrant. This morning I checked my email and — whaddya know?! — I got a message from none other than the President of these United States.

Yup. The sender line read Barack Obama. And the first sentence of the message was Michael: I wanted to talk to you directly.

Now, don’t get your shorts in a bunch over this, natch. He didn’t go on to say, Listen here, jerk, if I were wearing jackboots, I’d plant one right in your vast ass.


I assume. I didn’t read the missive. I’ve been getting emails from the Leader of the Free World ever since he began running for prez back in 2007.

The funny thing about getting so many campaign beggings and exhortations from the Obama camp, many of which are purportedly signed by the Kenyan-in-Chief, is that if the man himself ever did really send me a personal email, I’d ignore it out of hand.

So, personal to Barack Obama: If you need to contact me, call me. You’ll have to leave a message because I never answer calls from numbers I don’t recognize.

Forgotten Fact: Ernie Banks Was Black

The single greatest Chicago Cub of all time is being honored at the White House this afternoon.

Ernie Banks — originator of the sobriquet, The Friendly Confines, the poet who sang, Let’s play two! — will receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I loved Ernie Banks almost as much as I loved Ron Santo. He was the personification of optimism itself. Before his 15th season in the big leagues, he announced, “The Cubs will be in heaven in 1967.” The next season, he predicted, “The Cubs will be great in 1968.” The season after that, he said, “The Cubs will be fine in 1969.”


Ernie Banks

These pollyannish pronouncements, mind you, came after a two-decade run of utter incompetence by his beloved employer, the Chicago Cubs. Hell, the city would have thrown a parade down Michigan Avenue if the Cubs had even achieved mediocrity.

Ernie’s spirit was never broken, though. Playing baseball even for a lousy team and earning a hefty paycheck for doing so must have seemed as sweet a deal as any kid who grew up in the Jim Crow South could have imagined.

Ernest Banks was born January 31st, 1931, in Dallas, Texas. His hometown was ruthlessly segregated in those days and for many, many days thereafter.

Dallas Morning News columnist Kevin Sherrington has a nice piece this morning about what Ernie Banks meant to Dallas, and what Dallas meant to Ernie Banks. On the one hand, neither meant much to the other. Then again, Dallas and Ernie meant everything to each other. Read it to get a little picture of Dallas’s — and Texas’s — enduring relationships with its black daughters and sons.

By the time Ernie was 24 years old, of course, he’d become the toast of the nation’s second city. He never spoke about the prejudice and bias he experienced in Dallas. Then again, he never spoke much about anything negatively.

Banks preferred to look on the bright side. He might have been characterized as an Uncle Tom in the strife-ridden ’60s, if only the militants and radicals who threw around labels like that had thought for a moment about him. Ernie never really was seen a a black man in baseball. Bob Gibson was black. So was Curt Flood. Roberto Clemente. Even Willie Mays.


Curt Flood

Ernie? He was Mr. Cub.

No, he wasn’t a civil rights trailblazer. No one ever knew where Ernie stood on issues like voting rights, open housing, integration, and so on. No one ever asked him. He lived in a world that seemed to be higher than that, a world where blacks and whites played a kid’s game together in the sunshine.

The rules were the same for a cracker from the South and a skinny but supremely powerful Negro from Dallas.

For a few hours each summer afternoon, Ernie made us forget about racial bigotry, interposition and nullification, law and order, poverty, and cities on fire.

I idolized the militants and the radicals, sure. But Ernie provided me a regular, albeit brief, respite from all that was ugly in a very ugly time.

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.

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