Category Archives: Islam

Hot Air


From John Steinbeck:

Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.


Bektesh Boffo

My old pal and colleague Alycin Bektesh has been named Bloomington’s 2015 Emerging Leader as part of the city’s Women’s History Month festivities in March.

Hard to believe the old girl is now 30 y.o., considering I recall her years ago sitting next to me for the first time one afternoon in the WFHB newsroom, fresh out of J-school, as well-scrubbed as any neophyte can be.

Hah — neophyte! She showed me. Alycin hit the ground running and didn’t stop until she left her latest post as News Director earlier this year. Believe me, the dame showed the entire news op. how a young, serious, dedicated reporter should act. She served as a role model not only to young women, sure, but to young men like WFIU voice Drew Daudelin and new WFHB News Director Joe Crawford, and — yeah, I’ll admit it — to an old bastard like me.


Alycin Bektesh

Alycin will grab her award at city hall, Tuesday, March 3rd, at 5pm. The event is free and open to the public. Oh, I’ll be there, just to hear her say, “Hey, Glab,” one last time. Alycin tells me she has no definitive work plans at this time but with nearly a thousand NPR stations and better than 220 community radio stations pumping out news in the US, it’s almost a sure bet someone’s gonna grab her from us. I get the feeling she has the itch to do some creative and important reporting after spending the last few years cracking the whip at ‘FHB.

Of course, she’ll tell you ‘FHB cracked the whip on her — and she’d be right, too. It’s good to see her step away from that grind and breathe again.

Excuses, Excuses

Scads o’folks are taking to the interwebs these days to lay a big guilt trip on this holy land for making it possible for ISIS to exist.

The idea being, our benighted leaders have so horribly mangled and mauled various precincts of the Middle East that, by golly, what else can you expect but for good, decent young Muslim men to chop people’s heads off?

And burn one or two hostages at the stake.

And videotape the festivities.

Make no mistake, it’s easy as pie to hate empire, any empire, and we — these United States of Murrica — are the empire du siècle.

Many of the same tut-tutters decry outraged criticism of ISIS as so much Islamophobia. These sensitive souls like to say the ISIS guys are not really Muslims at all, not like the peace-loving, vast majority of Muslims on this otherwise mad planet.

All told, a certain number of hand-wringers and pontificators hold that we’ve got ISIS all wrong and, even if we don’t, we — the USA — are jerks anyway so who are we to be outraged?

The truth is the ISIS gang is really more interested than anything else in time-machining the world to the Seventh Century. That would be when Islam’s founder, fella named Muhammad, decided to incorporate his god myth. The way the ISIS boys (and they are exclusively males, natch) look at it, every single thing that’s happened since the good old Six Hundreds has been an utter and brazen violation of god’s want.

Don’t ask me how they know this. I’m perplexed by all god-believers and their cock-suredness of what the putative creator of the Universe is thinking. Hey, Christianist peeps here think god becomes sick to his stomach at the very thought of two men passionately kissing. Then again, the ISIS boys think the same thing so, hell, who knows? Maybe they’re both right — although it seems far-fetched that the super supreme being who created all 118 elements as well as Katy Perry and Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, would be so skittish.



Nevertheless, the ISIS-ers are dead set upon regressing this world some 1400 years. And should they fail in that quest, apparently, they would be more than happy to see this planet roasted. Yep, acc’d’g to Yale U. poli-sci lecturer Graeme Wood, writing in the most recent issue of The Atlantic, ISIS makes no bones about that either-or position. Either we go back to those rollicking pre-A/C, frozen pizza-less, women-are-chattel, no-one’s-ever-heard-of-the-Chicago-Cubs days or they’ll do what they can to make an apocalypse happen.

As in a biblical Apocalypse. Capital A.

And guess what — should they get their hands on some nukes and some matches, it wouldn’t be a jaw-dropping shock to see ISIS torch, say, Cairo, Tel Aviv, or even New York City.

See, the roster of ISIS is not comprised of hail-well-met fellows who’d be Quakers or volunteers for Habitat for Humanity were it not for the USA’s missteps and atrocities. They’re cut-throats. They’re end-times believers. They hate the world. They hate life itself.

And their vision of Islam is the most pure and unadulterated there is. As Graeme Wood writes:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

I know many good people who practice the Islamic faith. But like Christians and Jews, they cherry-pick their scriptural guidelines and commandments. All faiths today are pale imitations of the holy — and monumentally violent — ideals of their denominations’ original charters.

And today, only the ISIS guys are following the rules as originally laid down by Muhammad and his PR men.

Fundamentalists, man. We’re going to be fighting them for a long time to come. As we should.

Hot Air

Hey God, Look At Me!

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

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

Book Cover

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

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

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

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

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

From "Annie Hall"

Click Image For Full Scene

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

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

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

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

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

Whaddya know?

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muslim Dress Code

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

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

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

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

All they wanted to do was buy a book.

Hot Air

Simple Math

One thing we’ve learned from the mass kidnapping news to come out of Nigeria: In the perverse math practiced by this holy land’s corporate media, 230 missing little dark-skinned African girls still does not equal one single blonde girl anywhere in the world.

Perverse Math

There will be a pop quiz tomorrow.

More Fun With Numbers

Hehe, you had to figure this: A careful check of the Fox News website this morning reveals absolutely zero reference to the mass kidnapping in Nigeria.

Media Statistic

A kidnapping, BTW, that was ordered by one of the major gods to rule over human affairs. Funny thing is, only Right Wing online sites are highlighting the quote by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau that his Big Daddy-o in the Sky told him to snatch the little ones.

Natch, that’s because whenever the god of Islam acts like a jerk, the Wingnut Right is on it like yellow on Velveeta. When the Judeo-Christian capo commits a crime against humanity, of course, that’s because we simply cannot grasp the complexities of the mind of god.

Not to let the rest of our news and gossip purveyors off the hook. CNN, the New York Times, and all the other news outlets that don’t tout climate change as a hoax or are fixated upon a selective interpretation of the 2nd Amendment are suspiciously circumspect about Shekau’s claim. Oh sure, they include his god quote in their all-too-infrequent stories, but they don’t headline it. They’re afraid, presumably, of insulting Islam.

Too late; Islam has insulted itself.

You Are Mine Until I Give You Away

Let’s all agree on one thing: These Purity Balls are deranged.

Want proof? Dig the pix of participants in this medieval charade, as published in Flavorwire. Here’s one example:

Photo/David Magnusson

Photo/David Magnusson

I don’t know about you but I have a sudden urgent need to go scrub myself in scalding water.

Taking It Easy

That’s it for today. I’m still on the weak side from getting an electronic gizmo implanted in my chest. It ain’t the slicing and dicing, necessarily, but the dope they used to send me to dreamland for the procedure. I think my bod is still trying to expel the last vestiges of the junk.

R. Crumb

Be patient; more tomorrow.

The Pencil Today:


“There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.” — Oscar Levant


It’s over, hallelujah.

Chicago Teachers Union Boss Karen Lewis With The Good News

So what have we learned?

  • Chicago’s teachers get paid well
  • They deserve every penny of it
  • They were willing to sacrifice precious days and even weeks of earning to fight for better classrooms
  • They’ll fight privatization

Bloomington’s teacher’s deserve a hell of a lot more money than they’re getting now. Too bad Indiana state law bans teacher strikes.


I took a pummeling yesterday from a trio of women.

As I was exiting the back door of the Book Corner, the front door of Hidden Closet — which faces it — swung open dramatically and I was confronted by the scarlet face of boss lady Brynda Forgas. I knew I was in for it. The only question was, What the hell had I done?

“I’m so mad at you!” Brynda hissed, her eyes wide.

I mentally checked off a list of possible offenses:

  • We aren’t having an affair
  • I hadn’t sneaked into her shop and grabbed cash from the register
  • I haven’t told people to stay away from the Hidden Closet
  • We both are moved to shuddering at the sound of the words Mitt Romney

So what did I do? I felt like a ten-year-old.

Forgas In A Less Inflamed Moment

It should be noted that the above inventory of misdeeds took place within a fraction of a second because Brynda launched into her tirade without prompting.

“You mean to tell me you had Richard Thompson in your store yesterday and you didn’t even have the decency to run over here immediately and tell me?!”

Brynda’s face inched closer to mine. I flinch-blinked. Was a jab to the nose in the offing?

She opened her door wider so I could see two cohorts holding cups of tea fortified with what, I don’t know, staring at me through narrowed eyes. One of them was another usually amicable soul, Kathy Loser, chief book pusher at Bloomington High School North. I didn’t recognize the other woman. For all I knew, she was an imported thumb-breaker.

Brynda continued: “I would have dropped everything and come right over! I’d have left a customer standing there!” There was more — much more — but the sound of her voice had become a machine gun.

The women were preparing themselves for the big show at the Buskirk Chumley Theater across the street. Richard Thompson’s show was scheduled to begin in an hour and a half.

As I suffered this verbal onslaught, The Loved One waited patiently in the car for me and watched as the Man of Brynda et al’s Dreams actually came out the front door of the venue and signed posters for some adoring fans.

Now, I like Richard Thompson but I had no idea he was such a MILF-idol. Color me educated as of now.

Sexy Daddy

I was able to discern one bit of info from Brynda’s tirade — she had front row center seats for Thompson. I wonder if we’ll see her at her shop this morning.


We’ve been having trouble with our Comcast broadband service here at The Pencil’s World Headquarters just east of Beautiful Bloomington.

Every night, The Loved One asks, Did you call Comcast?


And every night I snap my fingers and say, “Damn! I forgot. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

It’s become a ritual.

Last night, TLO gave me an explicit instruction: “Make sure we get a credit. We shouldn’t have to pay the full amount for this.”

“This” being repeated signal outages that constantly interrupt our Netflix viewing as well as my regular sessions of trance-like admiration for my brilliant work on this site.

Funny, then, that the site I Fucking Love Science, via XKCD, posted this image yesterday:

The caption read: “For when you really, really MUST piss someone off.”

Trust me — I really, really want to piss Comcast off.


Uh oh. Here we go again.

A French magazine has just printed a cartoon making fun of Islam’s big cheese, Muhammad.

Al Jazeera English reports that France is actually shutting down its embassies in 20 countries for fear that Muslim extremists might attack.

French Mag Charlie Hebdo Offices Were Attacked in November, 2011


Enough of trying to understand how precious Muhammad is to the Muslim world. We get it. What the sane among us don’t get is the psychotic reaction.

The nations where these violent outbursts have taken place in recent weeks had better start taking responsibility for the loons carrying them out.

It’s A Guy Thing

The extremists may revere Muhammad. I, for one, revere free speech and respect for human lives.


By the Count Five. It charted in 1966.

The Pencil Today:


“I look at an ant and I see myself: a native South African, endowed by nature with a strength much greater than my size so I might cope with the weight of a racism that crushes my spirit.” — Miriam Makeba


NPR’s Linda Wertheimer this morning on Weekend Edition Sunday pointed out that this year’s presidential election will be the first in our history in which no one on the major parties’ tickets is a WASP.

Perhaps that explains why so many people are freaked out — still — about Barack Obama.

See? See? That’s The Nazi Salute!

The world that every American once knew and too many are terrified to leave, is gone.

And speaking of terrifying, yet another music star has blown verbal chunks about the Prez. Hank Williams, Jr., who last year compared Barack Obama to Hitler (natch, they were both half-black men who studied at Harvard Law), now ups the ante. Yesterday, the man who once asked Are you ready for some football?, declared the President of the United States to be a Muslim who not only hates the military but the rest of the nation, for good measure.


Williams, Jr. sings something called “Take Back Our Country.” He needn’t add, …From all those scary brown people.


Lauren Spierer’s disappearance last year raised a puzzler.

Why do so many Indiana University students come from suburban New York City?

IU’s Prep School Attendance Boundaries

With a record 7590 freshmen expected to attend IU this semester, many of them will come from  the tri-state area including New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The Spierer family hails from Edgemont, north of the big city.

Edgemont is a part of the town of Greenville in Westchester County, a tony enclave that through the years has been home to the likes of Linda McCartney, Bugsy Seigel, Walter Winchell, and Billy Collins, the former US poet laureate.

It’s funny how certain campuses become desirable destinations for specific matriculate populations. For instance, it was well-known in my old Chicago area that the University of Wisconsin in Madison drew a disproportionate number of northwest suburban Jewish kids.

I suppose the Madison thing makes sense because it falls into that Goldilocks zone for college students: far enough away from mom and dad to not worry that they can drop in at a moment’s notice but near enough to dash back home for a laundry run and a good warm meal, PRN.

Bloomington, Indiana seems an odd choice for Eastern Seaboard kids and their megalopolis classmates who might want to run back home in a six-hour or less drive.

Any ideas?


Indulge me for a moment. Today is the 43rd anniversary of the most exciting moment I’ve ever experienced as a rabid Chicago Cubs fan.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, August 19th, 1969, my fave Cubs pitcher, Kenny Holtzman, tossed a no-hitter against the mighty Atlanta Braves.


The Braves that afternoon were led by one Henry Louis Aaron, who’d go on to become baseball’s all-time home run king.

The sun was bright, a pleasant lake wind blew in from the northeast, and the Cubs were in first place, on their way to their first World Series since World War II and — fingers crossed — their first championship since the Peloponnesian War.

In a summer during which two human beings had stepped on the moon and nearly half a million people jammed Max Yasgur’s farm just to be able to brag to their grandchildren that they’d attended Woodstock, the Cubs racing for a World Series was the most jaw-dropping miracle yet.

And the high point of the season was Kenny’s gem.

Basking In The Glory

I watched that game from a bleacher seat under the centerfield scoreboard at Wrigley Field.

I was 13 years old.

Even now, nearly half a century later, I still believe had I died that afternoon, I’d have gone happy.

Have pity on this aching soul: don’t ask me to recount the ensuing weeks. Nor, for that matter, the ensuing decades.

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.

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.

Click Image For Full Article:

Present/&/Correct: 44 Old Typewriter Instruction Manuals

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

Mental FlossFacts.

The UniverseA Facebook community of astrophysics and astronomy geeks.

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.

Eat Sleep Draw: Illustration by Rachel Sanson

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.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Oliver WineryCreekbend Vineyard tour; Noon-2pm

Monroe County Public Library — Basic Literacy Tutor Training, session 2 of 4; 1:30-5pm

◗ IU Wells-Metz TheatreDrama, “Solana”; 2pm

◗ IU Bill Armstrong StadiumHoosier women’s soccer vs. Ohio; 2pm

Bryan ParkOutdoor concert: O2R Blues Band; 6:30pm

Bear’s PlaceRyder Film Series: “The Well Digger’s Daughter”; 7pm

◗ IU CinemaFilm: “Beasts of the Southern Wild”; 7pm

The BluebirdBoDeans; 8pm

The BishopJamaican Queens, Fly Painted Feathers; 9pm


◗ Ivy Tech Waldron CenterExhibits:

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

◗ IU Art MuseumExhibits:

  • “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

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