A Friday sermon inspired by Shahab Ahmed’s “What is Islam?” here at The Khutbah Project.


Spouse Prospectus

Dearest Child,

Choosing the right partner or spouse is one of the most challenging decisions you will face in life. To make it a bit easier for you, we have decided to provide you with some guidance.

First of all, choose someone who belongs to an enemy clan. You might be surprised at this advice but it is grounded in solid science. By choosing a partner from a family that we consider to be our sworn enemies, there is very little chance that any of your ancestors will have consorted with this person’s ancestors. Hence, your offspring will benefit from maximal genetic diversity.

In terms of her physical appearance, we suggest that she should

A) look like a winged messenger of the heavens,

B) appear like the sun who kills the envious moon and

C) have eyes like the stars in the heavens.

We recommend that you create a Venn diagram of potential partners who belong to A, B) and C). There will be very few who represent an intersection of all three so this will really help you narrow down your choices.

However, genetic lineage and physical appearance are not as important as her character and behavior. We believe that it would be ideal if your partner were somebody who loved you so much that she would undertake extraordinary efforts in order to secure a happy life for you. For example, she would be willing imbibe potions that would induce a comatose state and feign death, just to escape peer pressures in order to be with you. A true sign of her love would be that she would undergo this risky procedure without any clear backup plan, merely banking on the ability of a clergyman to verbally convey a message to you without considering the need for a second route of communication in matters of life and death.

But perhaps the most important proof that you have found the right mate is that you will be so madly in love with her that you would liberate yourself from the chains of reason and science. Upon hearing that she might have passed away in her youth, your love for her and grief over her purported demise would cloud your judgment so severely that you would commit suicide without checking her pulse or respiration or demanding an autopsy to understand the cause of her premature death.

We hope that this advice will provide you with the happiness you deserve.

Abu and Amma

Chicago Science March 2017

My daughter and I participated in the science march on Saturday with three of our friends. There were a lot of people, mostly young and white, quite a few baby strollers and a few dogs. Everyone was pretty quiet- scientists aren’t chanters? At one point someone even chanted “Somebody start a chant!”

So we tried, “Who speaks for the trees? WE SPEAK FOR THE TREES!”

and  “Who speaks for the bees? WE SPEAK FOR THE BEES!”

and “Any thing you do SCIENCE AFFECTS YOU!”


and “TURTLE! TURTLE! TURTLE!” which was in response to a “Yertle the Turtle” sign with the heads of the turtles as Trump and his advisers, with “GRAVITY” written on the back.

There were a lot of signs, but many I expect will be recycled to next week’s “People for Climate” march next week, examples “There is no Planet B”, and a picture of the earth with an arrow pointing to the planet saying, “I’m with her!”

I couldn’t get an idea of how many people there were because where we were marching (along Columbus Ave) was flat. There were a few helicopters overhead. Afterwards, when I tried to find footage from the Chicago march, all they would show was the helicopter footage of the  marchers for Chicago. There were marches all over the world, but since we were walking through a big park (three city blocks long) and they could get the helicopters in to film us, that was all that was shown for Chicago. I am one of those blips down there. The police estimated there were 40,000 who marched. I don’t think anyone was arrested. We were described as “cheerful”.

These are some pictures from the march at the STREET level:

Some additional signage that didn’t take good pictures:

“So bad even the introverts are here.”

“There is no vaccine for stupidity.”

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate”

“I’m just here to study the effects of clever signs on the science community.”

And our sign:


Chicago Science March

Sorry readers, if there are any of you out there. It has been a while. March was a bad month for me. Trying to get back into the swing of things. Jolts of spring sunshine and tulip color blossoms are helping the process.

I said I would write about the science march. It is coming this Saturday, April 22. You can read about the route, how to get involved etc, via this link:

March for Science Chicago

The march is not without controversy. People of color say they have not been properly included in the conversation and planning. The subtext here seems to be, “where were you for the Black Lives Matter march?” Also, some scientists do not want science politicized and “taking sides”. They argue that science and technology are for everyone and one should not put science as a pawn in the political fray. My husband is one of these kinds of scientists, and as a result, he is taking the kids to the FASEB meeting on Saturday morning because kids (with their school id’s) get in for free.

I am going to march with my friend. I didn’t march with her during the Women’s march, so I feel I ought to do at least one march this year. We’ll see how it goes. I will try and take pictures- and then post them on this blog.


Baking in the Time of Political Turmoil

Seems the current commander-in-chief wants to test how hot the stove is.

Thought we could be more productive in the kitchen.

Happy to report the oven is in good working condition

If we could, my kids and I would have given a heart cookie to each and every one of those protesters who turned out at airports across the country to demonstrate against the Muslim Ban/Extreme Vetting. They risked imprisonment to show that they cared. We love you.

Artists, Collectors, and the Art World, Oh My!

This past year I tried to watch movies about artists, the collectors who purchase their work, and the art world (gallery dealers, museum curators, restorers, insurers, etc). The following represents a synopsis of my viewing history + pithy observations.


It is very difficult to make a balanced film or documentary about a currently living artist. If the artist (or the artist’s estate) is going to cooperate with the filmmaker, then usually the film dips into hagiography. On the plus side, you get to see the artist’s original work in the film. The downside is the sugar-coated story leaves a lot of unexplained questions because the answers might damage the legacy that is so stridently being preserved. The better artist films are typically those where the artist has been long dead and there is no estate to contend with. Unfortunately, most of these artists had a huge factory of workers and assistants helping them with their work, and you never see these people being mentioned, which I find frustrating. Nevertheless, the artist bio films do provide a good introduction to many artists I had never heard of before.

  1. Goya’s Ghosts (2006) Drama. Points out Goya’s importance in the transition from the traditional age into modern. Unfortunately, film gets bogged down on the soap-opera-esque side stories.
  2. Bomb It (2007) Documentary. History of graffiti art (using spray cans) in USA and around the world. Interesting to see how culture affects presentation (ie. NYC vs. Berlin vs. Cape Town vs. Barcelona)
  3. The Time Being (2012) Drama. Artist does commissioned work to gather source material for dying artist.
  4. Cutie and the Boxer (2013) Documentary. The complex and competitive world of two artists married to one another.
  5. My Kid Could Paint That (2007) Documentary. Art fraud or child prodigy? You be the judge.
  6. Beautiful Losers (2008) Documentary. Street artists and graphic designers of the 1990s, the importance of having a sympathetic gallery for artistic synergy
  7. The Universe of Keith Haring (2008) Documentary. Mostly hagiography, but lots of his original art. I found it interesting that they wanted him to paint LESS so that his art would increase in value!
  8. Little Ashes (2008) Drama. The early years of Federico Garcia Lorca, Salvador Dali, and Luis Brunel and their complex relationships- not much art work shown.
  9. The Mill and the Cross (2011) Drama. Multiple re-enactments of Bruegel’s most famous works- nearly no talking.
  10. Love is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (1998) Drama. The life of Francis Bacon, not flattering, NONE of his original artwork shown, although models and inspirational reflections are in abundance.
  11. Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World (2014) Documentary. Giger looks very frail throughout, lots of his artwork and domicile shown.
  12. Big Eyes (2014) Drama. Tim Burton’s tribute to one of his favorite artists, Margaret Keane and her bug eyed waifs.
  13. Our City Dreams (2008 ) Documentary. Mini bios of five different women artists (Caledonia Curry, Ghadee Amer, Kiki Smith, Marina Abramovic, and Nancy Spero) at very different points in their lives.
  14. One Bad Cat: The Reverend Albert Wagner Story (2008 ) Documentary. Life of Albert Wagner, but like Giger, he is very frail and old in the movie in contrast to the majority of his controversial working life.
  15. Turner (2014 ) Drama. Life of the British father of impressionism.
  16. In the Realms of the Unreal (2004) Documentary. Chicago recluse Henry Darger provides the definition of “outsider art”, but fortunately for him, his landlord had connections to the art world.
  17. Rivers and Tides (2001) Documentary. A look at the environmentally ephemeral art of Andy Goldsworthy. Absolutely beautiful, with interesting observations on the impact of sheep on the environment.
  18. Manufactured Landscapes (2006) Documentary. A look at the locales (mostly Asia) and philosophy of photographer Edward Burtynsky.
  19. Here is Always Somewhere Else (2007) Documentary. The enigmatic life of conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader. Also a good lesson on ‘curating’ someone else’s work.
  20. Guest of Cindy Sherman (2008) Documentary. Cindy Sherman’s boyfriend comes to grips with the housewife’s reality of being the person in the room no one wants to talk to. Features the celebrated photographer’s many shows.
  21. Helvetica (2007) Documentary. The birth of a type face in excruciating detail. With critique, also excruciating.
  22. Ai Weiwei Never Sorry (2012) Documentary. The controversial Chinese artist, his shows, and his run-ins with Chinese political leaders and police chiefs.
  23. Finding Vivian Maier (2013) Documentary. Chicago recluse photographer Vivian Maier who spent her life snapping photos while earning a living as a nanny. “Discovered” after she died. Had me wondering about the nature of art- she herself never edited her work- she just hoarded it and her ‘discoverer’ was the one who decided what’s what.


Who are the people who purchase (or steal) art? Well, they are an unusual bunch. In watching these movies, I began to seriously question the dogma that viewing art makes you a “better” person.

  1. The Best Offer (2013) Drama. An art auctioneer has his own way of amassing a collection of female portraiture until he meets his match.
  2. Herb & Dorothy (2008) Documentary. DIY collecting- he is a postal worker and she is a teacher. One salary is for living expenses, the other salary is for collecting art. Wait until you see how they store their collection.
  3. Art of the Steal (2009) Documentary. Despite the best laid legal documents of collector Dr. Albert C. Barnes, he could not control the destiny of his post-impressionist and modern art masterpieces after his demise.
  4. Woman in Gold (2015) Drama. What happens when a country steals your family art collection and markets it as a national treasure/tourist attraction?
  5. Rape of Europa (2006) Documentary. How the Nazis collected art, particularly Goering.


Art World

The movies about the museums are ok, but most movies about the art world generally portray the major players as unsavory, money-grubbing, unscrupulous, immoral manipulators. Sigh.

  1. Boogie Woogie (2009) Drama. Highly disturbing view of London art scene complete with gallery owners, collectors, and artists.
  2. Mickey Blue Eyes (1999) Comedy. This is a great comedy which features a mob intrusion into the art auction market. Hilarious- watch for the Chinese restaurant scene!
  3. Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock (2006) Documentary. A truck driver buys a painting from a thrift store and tries to prove it was painted by Jackson Pollock.
  4. Russian Ark (2002) Drama. If you have ever wondered what these European palaces turned into art galleries might have looked like in their heyday as actual working spaces, then this is the movie for you. Filmed in the Winter Palace of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersberg.
  5. National Gallery (2014) Documentary. Behind the scenes look at the National Gallery in London- but it is 3 HOURS LONG!

A Squirrel Ate My Internet

Got back from running errands late Friday morning and when I logged onto my computer, soon saw the internet connection was not available. Grumbling, I proceeded upstairs to our modem and noticed something new- a bright red light on the control panel. Usually if our internet goes out, there is a blinking yellow light. Solid red was something new.

After confirming that our land line, cable television and Alexa-cloud-stereo system were down, I called my husband on the cell. “Do you want to walk me through re-booting the system?” I asked him.

“No, it’s too complicated. I’ll do it myself when I come home this evening.”

But after following the usual protocol, and being put on hold for twenty minutes by AT&T and again going through the usual protocol, my husband was forced to make an appointment with a cable technician for the next day.

When the kids asked Alexa to play a song, she sadly replied, “I don’t understand the question. Please ask again later.” Cloud disconnection leads to device dementia.

That night my 16 year old stayed up and read an entire book. He couldn’t cruise YouTube videos.

The cable guy came the next morning, and after he confirmed that there was nothing wrong with the modem nor on the property connection (relieved exhale, we weren’t responsible for footing the bill on this repair call), he would have to look for culprits further down the line.  He said the problem was likely a case of ‘new-guy-itis’.

“Some new guy is adding another customer and forgets to plug back in the old customers.”

Forty-five minutes later, the diagnosis of newguyitis was incorrect. Something else was going on but a second cable repairman would have to be called.

We were going on 24 hours without internet service. My daughter peered over her book. “Mom? Was it like this when you were growing up?” Indeed.

Two hours later, the second cable guy knocked on our door. My husband went to answer, I ran up to the modem and saw all the yellow lights turned on. Our internet was restored!

The cable repairman explained that squirrels had made a nest in the foam insulator surrounding the internet relay station two blocks away. Apparently, they selectively chewed through our fiber optic connector to build their winter retreat.

It sounds like a bad homework excuse, “the squirrels ate my internet”, but we survived. Somehow. Just like the pioneers, but with electricity, running water, central heat, and plumbing.

Lifestyles of the 1%

My new idea for a tv show: Take a city in America and show the lifestyle of a top 1% family and a bottom 1% family. Show their home, the neighborhood where they live, what they do in their leisure time. Ask each family what their biggest problem is for that week. Ask the top 1% what charity they support, ask the bottom 1% if they have ever received help from that charity. Go to every major city in the USA and burst open these bubbles.