Be Patient

It’s Alive!

Ave. I want you to know The Pencil’s still alive, albeit in a state of suspended animation.

Suspended Animation

[From “The Stars Are Ours,” Andre Norton, 1954]

All my keyboard clackings these days are focused on writing — yes, actually writing, not just researching, woohoo! — the Charlotte Zietlow book. Damn, it’s fun! Sometimes I think the reason I’m alive is simply to get inside people’s heads and help them them tell their stories. That’s basically what I did at the Chicago Reader for some 20 years.

Anyway, I’ll get back to The Pencil as soon as I’m finished with the Charlotte project. BTW: Don’t ask me when that’ll be.

Okay. Carry on.

Hot Air

Bloomington’s Armistice Day

Here I am again, temporarily, the day after the biggest, baddest, bloodiest election some peeps around this here town have ever seen. The bent hatbrims and torn hankies! Oh, the humanity!

Anyway, John Hamilton and Darryl Neher somehow emerged with their lives as well as all five limbs each. Oh, and Hamilton came out of the carnage with the mayor’s sash about to be draped around his torso. Only he must go through the formalities of a general “election” in Nov. Wake me when it’s over.


Meet The New Boss

BTW: John Turnbull claimed victory in the Republican primary with a scant 344 vote edge over his opponent. Who was no one. Literally.

Ah, democracy in a one-party town.

So, here are a few thoughts about yesterday’s struggle-to-the-death:

☐ As time went by, it became clear that Darryl Neher wanted to be the mayor but John Hamilton needed to be the mayor. Call it mid-life panic or the burden of coming from a storied political family or even a desire to hold up his end of a power marriage, Hamilton fought like a tiger and took no naps during the campaign. Let’s hope that kind of single-minded determination can benefit our war-torn town.

Acc’d’g to the Herald Times, some 6641 citizens voted in the Democratic primary for mayor. So, where in the hell were the rest of the Dems in this overwhelmingly Dem burgh?

☐ Even though Neher lost, he’s got the brightest future in town. It takes a loss, sometimes, to focus a candidate, to teach him lessons, to help him crystallize his message and turn his next campaign army into a lean, mean, fighting force.

☐ Yesterday’s vote was as close as it could be to a numerical reversal of the 2011 primary that Hamilton lost to Mark Kruzan. Hmm. In the space of four short years, Kruzan went from powerhouse to liability. This politics game is not for the weak at heart, that’s for sure.

☐ That said, here’s another reason Darryl Neher’s future looks rosy: He won’t have the Kruzan millstone around his neck next time. Funny thing is, the Hamilton camp knew months ago that, contrary to certain charges and slurs bandied about in public, Neher’s biggest drawback was his bed-sharing with the outgoing mayor.

☐ The Bloomington Alternative provided in-depth coverage of the candidates’ positions better than anyone else in town. The Herald Times and WFIU/WTIU should take that as a challenge. They probably won’t, though.

☐ In other races, I still can’t fathom how it can be possible in this Democratic Party stronghold that no one in District VI can be found to challenge Steve Volan. Not that I necessarily want to see him ousted, but jeez….

☐ Dave Rollo faced a stiff challenge in District IV, edging Phillipa Guthrie by a mere 85 votes. No other city council race was that close. Deer, amiright?

So, that’s that. I’m going back to writing the Zietlow book now. See you later.

Hot Air






Hot Air


Pencillistas, tragically, have been clutching their throats and gasping for oxygen the way proto-land animals did a billion or two years ago when they first emerged from the primordial soup. That’s because this beacon of knowledge and yuks has been silent since last week.


[Image: Chris Smith]

I’m on a real writing bender these days, pounding out the first draft of the Charlotte Zietlow book.

Truth be told, despite rioting in Baltimore, the US Supreme Court mulling the future of same-sex marriage, a devastating earthquake in Nepal, refugee boats overturning, and sundry other traumas and sadnesses, I’ll be absent from these precincts for the very foreseeable future, clacking away at my keyboard while the clacking is good.

Natch, I’ve got plenty to pontificate about right now but I’ve gotta be somewhat disciplined, elsewise I’ll never get the Zietlow tale committed to this 13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen display with support for millions of colors.

So, loyal followers of this nonsense’ll just have to get along w/o me for the nonce. [Hah.]

BTW: As long as you’re a subscriber to this communications colossus you’ll never miss the next post, whenever it may be. [And, hey, it could be tomorrow — although I doubt it, but still.] An enquiring mind might wonder: How does one subscribe? Simple. Lookit this graphic:


Click This And Never Worry Again

Can you follow directions? Cool.

Don’t Miss This

Here’s yet another direction to follow. Tomorrow night head straight to Bear’s Place at 7 o’clock to catch the next installment of Nell Weatherwax’s Storyzilla shebang.

N.W. is the master-ess — Mistress? Nah, that sounds weird — of the story performance genre in these parts. You say you’ve never been to one of her monthly extravaganzas? Then you can get in for half-price (tix are $10.00 — $5.00 for -Zilla-virgins).


Weatherwax (L) And January Storyteller Carrie Newcomer

What a lineup this Nell-dame has assembled for this month’s Work It!-themed show. Labor guy Joe Varga, fashionista McKee Woods, and canary Krista Detor will share their stories, as will — as always — Weatherwax herself. And if that isn’t enow,  how’s about some music by singer w/ a guitar Rikki Jean as well as the terpischoral stylings of Darrelyn Valdez and the Triple Threat Dancers?

Go to Bear’s Place. Have fun.

Hot Air

Howard Dean, John Hamilton & Baron Hill Day

Wednesday, Earth Day, 2015. A glorious day. Brilliant sunshine. High cottony, Georgia O’Keeffe clouds. Blustery. An early spring nip in the air.

Speaking of bluster, the lawn outside Monroe County Courthouse is filled with politicians. Here, too, are their supporters, a reporter here and there, a television camera, some curious onlookers, perhaps a hundred, a hundred-twenty-five people all told. The event? Democratic Party big shot Howard Dean has come to town to stump for mayoral candidate John Hamilton.

This Hamilton camp, it appears, is dead set on winning the May Democratic primary — which in Bloomington is the coronation. As I walk up the concrete steps, past the cannon and the statue of the Civil War soldier, I think of Hamilton’s rival for the Dem nod, Darryl Neher.

What are his thoughts when a party pol of national repute comes to town to endorse the opposition? Does he feel discouraged? Does he whisper to his wife how unfair life is at pillow talk time? Or does he pretend none of it means anything?

Oh, it means something. Loads of local big names here: former Congressdude Baron Hill, former mayor Tomi Allison and her husband, County Commissioner Julie Thomas, head of Democracy for Monroe County Rob Deppert, firefighters union local chief Bob Loviscek, former Ivy Tech-Bloomington chancellor and former deputy mayor John Whikehart. And, of course, former acting White House Counsel Dawn Johnsen and her special man, John Hamilton.

Lots of formers here, all muscling up to flog for a wannabe. With big guns like this, Hamilton looks serious about taking this thing. Early voting has begun; election day is in a mere 13 days.

Johnsen takes the podium first. “It’s a little personal,” she says, “but John and I started dating 25 years ago.” She recounts how she and he met in Washington at some political get-together or another. Hamilton, apparently, was very interested — in the get-together, maybe, but definitely in her. He got her phone number. One day not long after, he left a message on her answering machine (such things existed at the time). Johnsen says she listened to it again and again, committing it to memory.

“I don’t know what the future holds for this Indiana boy and a New York girl but I’d sure like to find out,” she says he said.

An aw moment. And why not? The pear and redbud blossoms are out. It’s April. Doesn’t hurt a bit to dream about love. And to dream about winning an election.

Johnsen introduces Tomi Allison, a three-time mayoral winner herself. Lots of folks around town are engaging in conversations about politics these days, she says. She’s right; this is the first contested mayoral election in 12 years. A good horserace always gets people talking. Allison, though, wants more.

“I don’t think conversations are enough,” she says. “John has done things.” This gets a good cheer from the crowd. Before she wraps up, she issues a warning: “Don’t be fooled by pixie dust!” The crowd is delighted.

Pixie dust? Hmm. A cryptic reference to Darryl Neher’s relatively recent party switch?

Johnsen intro’s firefighters union guy Loviscek. A big, burly man with a mustache, natch, Loviscek talks like the union guys of old at political rallies. Hamilton’s his guy, he says, because he’s been there, done that, serving as a department head under the last Democratic Indiana governor, Frank O’Bannon. “He made tough choices to make state government better for Indiana,” Loviscek says.

Hamilton sits between his bride and Howard Dean, looking proud as a high school valedictorian.

Next up, Rob Deppert. His org. is the local branch of Dean’s national Democracy for America outfit. “We’ve got to get big money out of government,” Deppert says. He refers to the local branch’s deliberations on whom to endorse in the mayoral primary. When it came time for DMC to vote, there wasn’t much doubt where its backing would go. “To tell the truth,” Deppert says, “it wasn’t that close.”

And now it’s time for the star of the show. Well, one of the stars. Deppert welcomes Howard Dean to the podium. Dean is wearing a black, pin-striped suit, with a tan V-necked sweater underneath, and a red tie. His hair blows around in the stiff breeze. He squints against the bright sun. Dean, a family practice doctor, got involved in politics back in 1980. He opposed a condominium project on Lake Champlain, near where he lived. Instead, he suggested a picturesque bike trail be built on the site. (It must have been a hell of a big condo development.) When the condo plan was nixed, Dean found himself a political following.

Dean volunteered for the Jimmy Carter reelection campaign and a couple of years later won election to the Vermont House. Four years after that, he ran in and won the Lieutenant Governor’s race. Meanwhile, he was able to continue working as a doctor. In the summer of 1991, Vermont’s governor dropped dead of a heart attack and Dean had to give up his practice to run the state.

Dean gained national attention when he called for same-sex civil unions in the state in 2000. The decision made him a darling of progressives and liberal Dems around the country but also led to the loss of Democratic control of the statehouse.

Nevertheless, Dean ran for president against 11 other Dems during the 2004 primaries. His campaign balloon burst when he…, aw, I’m not even going to mention it. Nor will I link to it. Dean wasn’t about to win the Dem nomination but his downfall was over the silliest thing imaginable.

Dean went on to become chair of the Democratic National Committee where, hewing to his “50-state strategy” the party gained control of the US Senate and the House. In 2008, using Dean’s template, Barack Obama gained the White House. Dean now runs Democracy for America.

Snagging Dean’s endorsement is so far the biggest coup of the Hamilton campaign.

Dean, squinting out at the chilly crowd, makes the requisite joke about the weather and then launches into his spiel. Dean’s nothing if not direct. “You have the power!” he barks, pointing out at the crowd.

“This country is going to be changed by what’s going on in Bloomington,” he says.

He speaks in clipped sentences:

“We aren’t Mike Pence.”

“Mayors make a difference.”

“I would like someone from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party to be the mayor of Bloomington, Indiana.” At this, the crowd laughs and cheers. Yeah, the Hamilton camp is going to continue hammering Neher on his party switch.

Dean refers to Gov. Mike Pence’s “RFRA fiasco.” Pence, Dean posits, allowed the bill to go through the statehouse because he was pressured by the anti-gay, religious-fundamentalistsff   in the Republican Party.

“The Republicans,” Dean says, “are afraid of the extremists in the own party!”

Cheers. Dean waits. Then: “Do not be afraid…. Elect a guy who is not afraid!”

With that Hamilton bounds up to the podium and Dean holds up the candidate’s arm like a boxing champ.

Hamilton, in sports jacket and no tie, runs his hand through his wind-blown hair ala Bobby Kennedy.”I am proud to have the support of organized labor,” he says, gesturing toward the firefighters union guy.

He, too, speaks in short, sharp sentences: “We don’t leave people behind,” he says. But he’s also a talker: Making mention of his “lifelong” progressive bona fides, he tells the crowd that progressives are just waiting to come out of their cocoons all over America. “We have brothers and sisters in cities all across the county,” he says. “Some of them don’t even know they’re progressives yet!” The crowd roars; they love this stuff. Hell, it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement. Maybe there are indeed tens of millions of progressives around this holy land just waiting for someone to carry the banner for them.

And maybe not. That’s why there are horseraces and elections.

Hamilton closes with the usual call for volunteers and help (read: money.) He implores people to vote. In fact, Hamilton points out, the whole lot of the people on stage will walk over to the early voting center on Sixth Street to vote. And for those who can’t make the hike, there’s a van waiting to transport people to the polling place.

In practical terms, that might be the second-most important thing I’ve learned here today. Hamilton seems to know how to get voters, physically, to the polls.

So, the formal stage of the love-fest breaks up. The pols fall into a hugging, hand-shaking, back-slapping orgy. My own back is pounded more times than I can remember as I snake my way through the pols and their supporters.

One guy I know stops me. “Do you think Baron Hill is going to run for governor?” I shrug. We’re swept in different directions by the crowd. A few moments later, the guy and I are face to face again. “I just asked Baron Hill if he’ll run against Mike Pence,” he says, excitedly. “He said, ‘I think I might’!”

Well, I’ll have to see about this myself. I make a beeline for Hill. I wait patiently as supporter after supporter pumps his hand. Finally, he turns to me. I introduce myself. “Are you going to run for governor,” I ask.

Hill doesn’t miss a beat. “I’ll tell you,” he says, “I’ve never been more on the fence in my life. A lot of people have been asking me to run for governor. A lot of people have been asking me to run for senator. Well, I’m gonna do something. I’ve got the urge.”

“So,” I press, “you’re definitely going to run either for governor or senator — is that what you’re saying?”


Now we know. Sorta.

Hot Air

A Perfect Corporate World — Without People

Here’s a little something I heard on American Public Media’s Marketplace program yesterday evening that burned my generously-proportioned derriere.

Halliburton, the Dick Cheney-affiliated oil services and war profiteering outfit, has lost scads of dough of late. I don’t know precisely why — nor do I care. Perhaps Satan has been too busy elsewhere (Ukraine? Northeast Nigeria? Chicago’s secret Black Site?) and has been lax in manipulating earthly events to his fave multi-national corp.’s advantage.


Too Busy For Halliburton?

Anyway, Helliburt…, er, Halliburton lost a half a billion bucks in its most recent fiscal quarter. Yeesh! Half a bill, babies! Think of the things actual human beings could do with scratch like that. Of course, you’d think investors would be scared off by this news. After all, isn’t it the job of investors to, y’know, make money?

Mirabile dictu, as Kai Ryssdal reported, shares of H. were up yesterday. Up! They went from 46.80 at the opening bell to 48.87 a little over an hour later. What in the hell ever that means. I only know enough to understand that share prices going up causes tumescence in all those ADHD trader characters.

Ryssdal sez a significant reason H-burton’s shares have gone up is that the co. laid off some 9,000 human beings this past quarter.

Methinks we’re entering a bizarro world here. Taking a cue from Right Wingers whose hatred of one Barack Hussein Obama trumps all other considerations, big-money guys seem to be flocking around a single knee-jerk issue to the exclusion of any previously predominant heeds. The Greed Set used to be singularly focused on making dough. Now, their loathing of labor has forced money-making to take a back seat. It’s more important to slice jobs than to see their bread grow. And, if you hate labor, aren’t you really hating humanity?

No Humans

As if we needed any more proof that Free Marketeers and unfettered capitalists despise people.

Alyce’s Animals

Alyce Miller teaches creative writing at Indiana University. She’s also a Flannery O’Connor Award-winning fiction writer.

Her novel and short stories are about people, natch, but I get the feeling she’s as sweet on critters as she is on her species-mates. She’s an outspoken critic of Bloomington’s deer kill plan. She’s big on veganism as well.

To that end, she highly recommends the documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.


“Veganism is still a bad word,” Miller says, “even here in ‘progressive’ Bloomington, but if more people ate a broad-based vegan diet, or at least reduced their meat and dairy consumption, we’d do the planet a huge favor.”

Fair enough. I agree, in large part, because the beef industry in this holy land has done everything it could to convince us that an exclusive diet of steaks and roasts is the greatest thing since sliced bread (and, BTW, hold that bread and munch instead on a hamburger patty). Not only that but it takes some 21 pounds of grain to produce a single pound of cattle protein. In other words, that Big Mac you’re eating came about largely through clear-cutting enough land to grow the corn to feed the cow to allow McDonald’s to pay its employees a substandard living wage.

Our beef (and other meats) addiction means the livestock industry has pretty much taken over the planet. Acc’d’g to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, livestock grazing takes up 26 percent of the globe’s surface. A third of the world’s agricultural land is given over to producing livestock feed. In Brazil, where Amazon rainforest destruction has reached crisis proportions, some 70 percent of the cleared jungle is now grazing land with the vast majority of the rest devoted to growing feed for the animals.

Amazon Deforestation

Amazon Deforestation

[Photo: Alberto César/Greenpeace]

I’m not now nor do I plan ever to become a vegetarian. I love my homemade Italian meatballs too much. And a day without cheese is wasted as far as I’m concerned. Still, I’ve drastically cut my meat intake since becoming an adult. My mother served meat almost every single day of the year, save Fridays (we were Catholics) and those odd days when we had chicken or pork. At the time, eating scads of red meat was seen as the key to health — a conceit propagated by the red meat racket.

We know better now. We’re omnivores so the idea that eating meat is somehow “not right” doesn’t wash but to paraphrase a line from Groucho Marx, I like my bottom round roast but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.

Cowspiracy will be shown tonight, 6:30pm, at the Monroe County Public Library. To be sure, the auditorium will be filled with vegetarians and vegans. That choir doesn’t need to be preached to. But we meat-eaters can gain a lot from viewing the doc.

Homan In A Truck

Allison Homan had a dream. Any day now she’ll wake up and find that’s it’s come true.

She’s building a home in a truck. It’s a fairly new hot thing these days. It’s called box-trucking. The 29-year-old singer/barista/social mutineer who grew up in New Albany, Indiana, just across the Ohio River from Louisville, revels in her non-compliance with expectations.


Allison Homan

And few things on this mad planet are more non-compliant that wanting to live in an old work truck for a laminated top company. But that’s what Homan wants and with drips and drabs of help, she’s building her palace in just such a vehicle. With her own hands. And lots of borrowed power tools.

Homan, who lives in Bloomington now, publishes a blog on which she has documented the arduous process of turning a truck into a home. Here’s a taste from a video she made last fall:

These dames, man, they can do anything!

Hot Air

Foods Facts

In case you missed it, here’s the WFHB podcast featuring an interview with Keith Taylor, a co-op governance researcher who works at Indiana University’s Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis. Taylor started a petition calling on the Board of Directors of Bloomingfoods to come up with a clear and public plan to address some of the issues that are making B-foods employees, shoppers, and co-op members nervous these days.



Taylor was grilled by News Director Joe Crawford last week about goings on at the local co-op grocer. Among other things, B-foods faces a potential union vote by its employees and must find a way to compete with two new natural and organic grocers coming to town within the next couple of years. Both Lucky’s Market and Whole Foods Market have announced plans to hit Bloomington. Lucky’s on South Walnut Street is due to open by the end of May.

Friday, the B-foods Board announced its decision to ask for help from the National Co+Op Grocers (NCG) in resolving its financial picture. At the same time the Board revealed that its president, Tim Clougher, has stepped down.

The NCG move will entail volunteer managers from other member grocery stores coming in and observing B-foods’ operations, doing an audit of its books, and making recommendations for repairs.

If Bloomingfoods pulls through the next couple of years in decent shape, it’ll be a testament to the loyalty of its customer base and the buy-local philosophy. B-foods not only faces competition from Lucky’s and WFM but mega-grocer Kroger has gone all in on natural and organic, especially at its newly remodeled Kroger Theme Park store on the east side.

The NCG request indicates that the B-foods brain trust is serious about the co-op’s future.

Shouting Out For Hamilton

Congrats to Rob Deppert for landing the plum task of intro’ing Howard Dean when the lobbyist/Dem Party sachem comes to town to flog for mayoral candidate John Hamilton.

Dean will spiel for Hamilton at the Monroe County Courthouse Wednesday at 1:00pm. The former Vermont governor and chair of the Democratic National Committee is credited with implementing the party’s “50-state strategy” that loaded both the US Senate and House of Representatives in its favor in the 2006 elections. In 2008, Barack Obama used the same strategy win election as president. Under the strategy, the Dems fought hard in what had previously been regarded as hopeless states and districts. Voters who’d considered themselves outnumbered in those places were targeted and energized, leading to numerous Democratic upsets.


Howard Dean

Most Murricans only know of Dean through a video of him hollering to rouse the troops at post-election rally the evening of the Iowa Caucuses in 2004. Known as the “Dean Scream,” video of the outburst was aired endlessly that month and was the final nail in the coffin of Dean’s presidential aspirations. Fox News pretty much ran all-scream, all the time for a good four weeks.

Me? I thought he got a raw deal from the get-go. So he hollered. So his voice was hoarse and cracked. It was a pep rally, for pity’s sake.

Truth is, Dean is a top-notch political strategist and certainly would have been my guy for president over both incumbent George W. Bush (duh!) and even eventual Dem nominee John Kerry.

Happy Days Here Again?

Speaking of politics, the folks who run my back office — AKA Soma Coffee — just got in a new shipment of mugs. Said mugs, natch, aren’t really new; Soma’s famed for its retro inventory. Take the mug I got today — on it was a repro of the New York Times front page the day after Barack Obama was elected prez in 2008.


Of course, I got to reading the impossibly tiny print. I was reminded that the election had produced a Democratic majority in the Senate of 59-41 as well as a 257-178 plurality in the House that happy November day.

All I can wonder is how in the goddamned hell the Dems pissed that advantage away.

OTOH: It looks like presumptive Dem nominee for prez in 2016, Hillary Clinton, is harkening back to those cheery times with her recent moves to the Left. Mebbe the party has learned a thing or two over the last couple of elections.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 276 other followers

%d bloggers like this: