Category Archives: Iran

Hot Air

Machine Politics

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

Voting – The American Way

June 20th, 2009

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

Like ours.

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

Voting Machine

Vintage Voting Machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bah, coffee. It’s poison.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Democrats, as expected, won big that day.

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:


“Biggest ‘Brown-Noser’: Paul Ryan” — From the Joseph A. Craig (Janesville, Wisconsin) High School 1988 yearbook


Lake Monroe was the place to be last night at midnight.

The middle of Lake Monroe to be a bit more precise.

The Loved One and I lolled on a pontoon boat with friends, all of us craning our necks, watching nature’s spectacular light show, the Perseids meteor shower.

The Perseids

We were not at all disappointed.

We sat around in a circle, covering a 360-degree visual range, and let the streaks and flashes evoke involuntary oohs and aahs from us. It was 47 times better than a fireworks show.

At one point a massive meteor lit up the sky in the southeast, behind me. I couldn’t see the meteor’s arc myself but I saw the faces of the people facing me illuminated by its glow. Fantastic, I tell you.

Just to show you I’m not a complete religious bigot, I can understand why some might conclude after watching such a display that there must an uber-mighty fellow who put this whole shebang together just for our pleasure.

Many thanks to Hondo Thompson and his saintly bride Les for the invite. And listen to Hondo every Friday afternoon on WFHB from 1 to 3.


IU Kelley School of Business Dean Dan Smith is back in town after traipsing around the country this summer.


He’s only going to be the big man at Kelley for another couple of months. He’s been named the new prez of the Indiana University Foundation.

He raised plenty of dough for the Kelley so the U figured, hell, let’s let him raise cash for everybody.


Paul Ryan is a Roman Catholic.

Not This Jesus — The White One!

Willard’s moment of praise for his new bottom: “A faithful Catholic, Paul believes in the worth and dignity of every human life.”

What that’s code for: Ryan’s anti-abortion.


That skull found in the White River in Indy a month ago?

It’s not Lauren Speirer’s.

And the wait goes on for her mother.

In related news, some chucklehead was found in the public parking garage across Walnut Street from Kilroy’s Sports Bar where the missing IU student partied the night she disappeared. The guy was carrying two loaded semi-automatic pistols and had a loaded shotgun in the trunk of his car. He also carried a digital rangefinder, according to the IDS.


So the cops hauled him in and questioned him about Lauren Spierer. Turns out he met her once. When the cops determined he had nothing new to add to the missing person investigation, they turned him over to the psych ward at Bloomington Hospital.

The shrinks there gave him a clean bill of mental health and turned him loose within hours.


Carrying all that artillery is no crime in this state.

People, we are fked up.


How do you feel about the earthquakes that hit Iran, killing some 250 and injuring more than 2000?

And be honest with yourself.

How many American deaths in a weather-related event or some other natural catastrophe equal 250 dead Iranians?

Two? Maybe three.

Iranian People

That’s the way we think.

That’s the way people all over the world think.


Click For Entire Article

Here’s how I waste my time. How about you? Share your fave sites with us via the comments section. Just type in the name of the site, not the url; we’ll find them. If we like them, we’ll include them — if not, we’ll ignore them.

I Love ChartsLife as seen through charts.

I Love Charts

XKCD — “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.”

SkepchickWomen scientists look at the world and the universe.

IndexedAll the answers in graph form, on index cards.

I Fucking Love ScienceA Facebook community of science geeks.

Present & CorrectFun, compelling, gorgeous and/or scary graphic designs and visual creations throughout the years and from all over the world.

Flip Flop Fly BallBaseball as seen through infographics, haikus, song lyrics, and other odd communications devices.

Mental FlossFacts.

Click For Entire Article

Caps Off PleaseComics & fun.

SodaplayCreate your own models or play with other people’s models.

Eat Sleep DrawAn endless stream of artwork submitted by an endless stream of people.

Big ThinkTapping the brains of notable intellectuals for their opinions, predictions, and diagnoses.

The Daily PuppySo shoot me.

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

Max’s PlaceKid Kazooey, children-friendly tunes; 3-5pm

Bryan ParkYoung Professionals of Bloomington mac n’cheese bakeoff, free tasting; 4-6pm

Muddy Boots Cafe, Nashville — Creek Dogs; 5-7pm

Bryan ParkKrista Detor outdoor concert; 6:30pm

Bear’s PlaceRyder Film Series: “The Pigeoneers”; 7pm


◗ Ivy Tech Waldron CenterExhibits:

  • “40 Years of Artists from Pygmalion’s”; through September 1st

◗ IU Art MuseumExhibits:

  • Qiao Xiaoguang, “Urban Landscape: A Selection of Papercuts” ; through August 12th
  • “A Tribute to William Zimmerman,” wildlife artist; through September 9th
  • Willi Baumeister, “Baumeister in Print”; through September 9th
  • Annibale and Agostino Carracci, “The Bolognese School”; through September 16th
  • “Contemporary Explorations: Paintings by Contemporary Native American Artists”; through October 14th
  • David Hockney, “New Acquisitions”; through October 21st
  • Utagawa Kuniyoshi, “Paragons of Filial Piety”; through fall semester 2012
  • Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Weston, & Harry Callahan, “Intimate Models: Photographs of Husbands, Wives, and Lovers”; through December 31st
  • “French Printmaking in the Seventeenth Century”; through December 31st

◗ IU SoFA Grunwald GalleryExhibits:

  • Coming — Media Life; August 24th through September 15th
  • Coming — Axe of Vengeance: Ghanaian Film Posters and Film Viewing Culture; August 24th through September 15th

◗ IU Kinsey Institute Gallery“Ephemeral Ink: Selections of Tattoo Art from the Kinsey Institute Collection”; through September 21st

◗ IU Lilly LibraryExhibit, “Translating the Canon: Building Special Collections in the 21st Century”; through September 1st

◗ IU Mathers Museum of World CulturesClosed for semester break, reopens Tuesday, August 21st

Monroe County History CenterPhoto exhibit, “Bloomington: Then and Now” by Bloomington Fading; through October 27th

The Pencil Today:


“The world is not divided between East and West. You are American, I am Iranian, we don’t know each other, but we talk and we understand each other perfectly. The difference between you and your government is much bigger than the difference between you and me. And the difference between me and my government is much bigger than the difference between me and you.

“And our governments are very much the same.” — Marjane Satrapi


WFHB moves glacially when it comes to hiring people. Sheez, it took the board six months to figure out Chad Carrothers was the person for the job of General Manager, even as he was whipping the station into shape operationally and financially as the Acting Boss.

So, the two-month wait to give the News Director position to Alycin Bektesh doesn’t seem so, well, endless.

Bektesh & Pal

Yep, the former Assistant News Director/Acting News Director now gets to print up permanent business cards and I can’t think of a more deserving soul in the industry.

I wrote the news with Bektesh when she first joined the station as a volunteer a year ago. I thought I was the hottest pepper in the salad until she sat next to me. Alycin was aggressive, confident, knowledgeable, and damned good.

Perhaps most amazing of all was her ability to endure my incessant chatter and ribbing. Not only that, she gave it all back and then some.

Look out Chicago and New York. This chick’ll be nosing around Bloomington only for a precious short time.


Correct me if I’m wrong but is this not the year 2012?

The IDS reports this morning that an Indiana University junior named Brianna McClellan was tabbed Miss IU Saturday night.

The campus pageant is one of the stepping stones to the Miss Indiana and Miss America contests.

Miss America?

Miss America: A Crowning Intellectual And Public Service Achievement

I mean, there are a lot of dumbass things going on in this holy land — the Republican primary reality show for one — but I had no idea we still had beauty pageants.

Oh, the participants in these things caution us not to call them beauty pageants anymore. Heavens no.

If not, then why can’t I compete in them?

I’ll tell you why: The sight of me in an evening gown would sour the audience on life permanently.

Anyway, last year’s Miss Indiana University, Jaclyn Fenwick, turned over her tiara, sash, bouquet of flowers, riding crop, and velvet handcuffs to Brianna, at which point the new Miss IU held her hand to her cheek in shock, which, if I’m not mistaken, is a gesture mandated by law in such cases.

McClellan, Shocked (photo by Kirsten Clark/IDS)

Fenwick told the IDS that the Miss America thing is important because it provides scholarships to young women.

McClellan said, “I just want it to be known that it’s not a pageant. It’s not a thing about beauty…. It’s the inner beauty and scholarship.”

McClellan added that it’s really volunteerism and community service that count most in the competition.

I suppose it’s only a coincidence that McClellan and Fenwick and the runners up all possess extraordinary conventional physical attributes.

I’ll believe McClellan’s and Fenwick’s unsolicited protestations the day a 250-pound woman who wears horn-rimmed glasses and who volunteers at the Hoosier Hills Food Bank or Boxcar Books wins the title.


This feature has been absent in recent weeks mainly because FB-ers have been unimaginative.

They sure made up for lost time last night and this morning.

So let’s see what the social media’s brightest minds are up to — and remember, this is a no spamily, no brattle zone.

Rich Lloyd, professor of complicated stuff at Vanderbilt University, read an op/ed piece in the New York Times that’s relevant to the above discussion on beauty pageants.

The author of the piece, historian Stephanie Coontz, points out that women today earn nearly 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, leading some observers to wonder if they’ll have a hard time finding husbands.

After all, men don’t make passes at women who wear glasses, right?

Wrong, Coontz says. That’s old hat. Read the piece and find out why.

◗ Radical lawyer Jerry Boyle, whose hands are going to be filled when the G-8 and NATO big boys visit Chicago this spring, found the fabulous quote that appears at the top of this page. It’s from graphic novel author Marjane Satrapi.

I can’t stress enough how cool Satrapi is. Her breakthrough work was the double-volume “Persepolis” saga, detailing her upbringing in Iran in the 1970s and ’80s. She personally witnessed two sets of iron hands — those of both the shah and the ayatollahs’ theocracy — squeeze the life out of that nation.

Satrapi suspects that the Iranians and Americans have a lot more in common than we’d care to admit.

Rainbo Club big shot Ken Ellis reminds us that today is Peter Tork‘s birthday.

If you have to ask who Peter Tork is, you’ll never understand.

◗ And Bloomington’s own Betty Greenwell features a pic of the best Valentine’s Day treat yet on her FB home page.


Okay, the spelling’s wrong and the lyrics have nothing to do with her, but this song is for Alycin Bektesh. And you, reader.



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