Hot Air: Quick Hits

I voted yesterday — and the joint was packed! The county’s early voting polling place on 7th St. had a line snaking out the door. But I’ll tell you this, they’ve got the operation down. From getting in line to attaching the “I Voted, Have You?” sticker to my shirt, a total of a mere 15 minutes elapsed. They’re running an assembly line, babies.

So what can I conclude from this experience? Well, we need some more data points:

  • I’ve been hearing this time and again since early voting started this time around: the polling place has been crowded every day
  • Women came out in droves for the May primary
  • Taylor Swift gave the pop music crowd a…, well, swift kick in the pants the other day and there ensued a significant bump in millennials’ voter registrations

That enough for you? We’ll see in 20 days. The Pollyanna in me sez scads of voters from sea to shining…, or should I say non-voters; those who went AWOL in 2016, opening the door for this holy land’s first Jerk Presidency, are suffering from well-deserved senses of humiliation and shame and are eager to atone for their mortal sin.

Women are more enraged than ever now that President Gag’s second Supreme Court nominee — that’s right, the Wannabe Corporate Fascist has installed two associate justices on this nation’s highest bench — skated through sexual assault charges and got hisself confirmed by a bunch of alabaster he-men.

For the most part, Hillary Clinton, the greatest lightning rod for borderline psychotic hatred in American history, is pretty much sitting this campaign out. Natch, she’s not running but, thankfully, she’s also largely keeping her mouth shut, giving the hate-mongers little ammo on that front.

In any case, maybe — just maybe — there will be a Blue Wave next mo.

Then again, I should have learned two years ago never again to make election predictions.

A Brainy Pol

Loyal Pencillistas are well aware that I’ve rarely dodged an opp. to lambaste our town’s reigning mayor. For chrissakes, I’ve practically begged a certain county official to throw her hat into next year’s mayoral race.

Nevertheless, I’ve got to say this about the Honorable John Hamilton: the dude is a reader, kids. F’rinstance, he’s devouring a biography of the Hoosier State’s own Wendell Willkie, and if you don’t know who that cat was, y’all oughtta at least look him up on Wikipedia. He ran for president in 1940 against two-time incumbent Franklin Roosevelt and then tried to run for the Republican nomination in ’44 but fell embarrassingly short. He was what we in a later day might have called a Rockefeller Republican, meaning he was rather progressive on social issues. Almost alone among GOP-ers in the days leading up to America’s entry in WWII, he was a strong proponent for our land’s international involvement.

Mayor Hamilton eats that kind of stuff up as well as some of the most important and compelling fiction, both classic and modern. Hell, he’s almost as well-read as his bride, law school prof. and former Clinton and Obama administration shingle Dawn Johnsen. The two of them bounce into the Book Corner on any given Saturday and chatter about all the impressive tomes they’ve read.

In the long run, I want my public officials to be readers rather than barely functionally literate louts like, well, you know who.

Barely Functionally Literate Lout.

Gas Money Guzzlers

I dunno if the laws have been changed recently but I notice a disturbing new trend at gas stations. Seems a lot of them are posting phony prices on their signs.

Like you, I’m an inveterate gas shopper. By & large, I stop at the cheapest station so long as it’s not some cut-rate purveyor of rubbing alcohol. Finding the best deal on motor juice ought to be a simple procedure — simply find the lowest price posted. But some stations these days are pulling a fast one. A few months ago when gas prices topped $3.00 hereabouts, I saw one sign proclaiming the fuel’s availability for $2.65. Bingo — I squealed into the joint and stuck the nozzle in my gas hole. Lo and behold, the price registered as $3.05. Some quick detective work revealed that the $2.65 quote was for “Members Only,” a caveat in the smallest possible type on the station’s main sign. Now that’s fraudulent kids, no matter what the law says.

When I’m careening down the boulevard at 53 mph, I ain’t got time to read the fine print.

There ought to be a law.

My KInd Of Town

Spent the afternoon in Indy yesterday after dropping off The Loved One at a downtown hotel for some professional conference or another.

Make no mistake, Indy — for a big city — is awfully nice and awfully manageable.

First off, this state’s capital missed the building boom of the 1980s and ’90s, meaning all its old, quaint, pretty structures from the later years of the 19th Century and the opening anni of the 20th, weren’t yanked down, higgledy-piggledy, to be replaced by soulless glass and steel boxes. So when Indy’s downtown renaissance finally did come, it was at a time when we all were attuned to the historic and esthetic values of heretofore underused Art Deco structures, modernist towers, neo-classical public buildings, and even Palladian cultural centers.

Then there’s Indianapolis’s refreshing dearth of crowds. Like the town’s award-winning airport, the city is fabulous because, in the main, nobody’s around mucking up the place. There’s everything you can want in a big city: live theater, museums, monuments, tall buildings, fine restaurants, and the one or two hundred people who do traverse downtown Indy’s streets are representative of many of the world’s races, creeds, colors, and toupee styles. Traffic moves swiftly, there’s rarely a tie-up, thousands upon thousands of pedestrians aren’t converging on your hot rod the nanosecond the light turns yellow, and so motoring through the central city is a dream.

Now get this, I had to pick up TLO at five o’clock, normally an apocalyptic hour in any other big city. Somehow, though, I knew that if I drove directly up to the big downtown hotel where her meeting was, I’d be able to stow my iron remarkably close to my destination.

Y’know what? I found a parking space half a block from the hotel and, to top it all off, there was an hour and a half left on the meter!

That’s a city I can love.

Hot Air: How We Think

I want to throw this out there for discussion.

In this day and age of gender fluidity, we’re realizing that much of what Identifies us as either female or male is imposed on us by conventional cultural “wisdom.” There’s no reason why females should prefer pink and males blue other than some stale traditional lore. Girls who excel in math, say, or chemistry are breaking a mold created by elders from the distant past for no good reason other than to aggrandize themselves. A lot of the ways our binary gender system makes us think and feel are no more valid than the societal commandment that females use one toilet and males another.

That said, we still do, in more ways than we can count, think like women or men.

For instance, when Christine Ford told the tale of her alleged encounter with then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, she said he tried to rape her. The incident, she implied, scarred her for life. The memory of it haunted her, adversely affected her attitude and behavior, sabotaged her relationships with men, and drove her to enroll in intensive psychological counseling sessions.

Women around the country — hell, around the world — embraced her. They sympathized. They empathized. Even if they hadn’t experienced such a trauma themselves, many females knew that’s precisely how it would have marked them.

The key concept in Ford’s testimony was Kavanaugh tried. He — or whoever her assailant(s) was/were — didn’t rape her. She got away. She pushed and shoved and strained and struggled and through will, muscle power, and wile, got away from her attacker(s). My own first reaction was to think, Man, if I’d dodged that bullet, I’d have been strutting around telling myself how strong, how smart, how lucky I was.

In other words, it wouldn’t have been a trauma. It wouldn’t have left a scar. It’d be a badge, a reminder of what a potent agent I could be. Hell, I’d think, one or two guys tried to harm me — and I beat them! I won!

I’d brag about the story for the rest of my life. I have no doubt most of the other males I’ve known well might very well react the same way.

So, why the disconnect? Is this discrepancy hard-wired in our brains or is it an artificial construct of our patriarchy?

I’m eager to hear what you think.


BTW, today is You Go Girl Day.

Oh, and it’s National Sausage Pizza Day.


Hot Air: You Say You Want A Revolution?

Ben Fountain is an author whom Malcolm Gladwell has declared a genius. Fountain wrote the short story collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, his first book, published when he was 48 years old. He followed that up with the novel, Billy Lynn’s Long halftime Walk, that was made into an Ang Lee blockbuster.

Ben Fountain

Now he’s recently released a non-fiction work entitled Beautiful Country Burn Again, in which he states that this Trump era is just about as much a crisis for our holy land as was the Great Depression or even the Civil War. I agree with him. The perfect storm election of Li’l Duce, his victory on a technicality, is the result of an unholy alliance between greedists, the Taliban-like Christian fundamentalists, the Rand-ian corporatists, and white nationalists. It’s a repudiation of all the progressive advances this country has made since, oh, the Trust-Busters and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, through the New Deal, integration and voting rights, the Great Society, the women’s movement, gay liberation, and all the things I’ve held near and dear that occurred both before I was born and while I’ve inhabited this mad, mad, mad, mad world.

Now that the Republicans have hijacked the United States Supreme Court, accomplished by staging a junta-lite with the Senate’s refusal to vote on Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland in 2016, the laws of this country will be interpreted by a gang of scary ideologues for decades. With the ever-growing gap between rich and poor, the transformation of our universities into vocational training centers whose products are millions of malleable, debt-ridden consumerists, the modern-day concentration camps that our privately-run prisons are becoming, and the coming climate change-spurred catastrophes, the wealthy had ought to build their gates and walls high and strong between now and, say, 2050.

In any case, Fountain has succinctly described where we are today — and perhaps where we were always headed for decades, nay, centuries prior:

Profit proportionate to freedom; plunder correlative to subjugation.

Sorry kiddies, that’s America today. And maybe that’s been America forever but at least we tried — or pretended to try — that we had higher goals and loftier aspirations. No more.

All In Lear’s Head

I heard an interview with Norman Lear on the NPR program Here and Now this afternoon. Those of us d’un certain âge remember Lear, now 96, as the brains behind the cultural landmark that was the sitcom All in the Family. Honestly, those born after AITF can have no idea how huge the show was, both as a ratings bonanza for CBS and as a mirror held up to our American society. Hell, the first time the sound of a toilet flushing ever emanated from our living room TVs, it was on All in the Family.

Carrol O’Connor as Archie Bunker.

Me? I detested All in the Family. Why? Shoot, if I wanted to see that kind of polarized, family drama all I had to do was sit down to dinner with my own nuclear kin. My old man, in fact, had the exact job Archie Bunker did — shipping and receiving dock manager. Oh, and Daddy-o and Archie saw about as eye to eye as any two humans possibly could on things like race relations, women, gays, Vietnam, and any of the other American cultural flashpoints of the early 1970s.

My father loved Archie Bunker. Loved him.

My old man on my sister Charlotte’s wedding day, 1960.

The Here and Now interviewer asked Lear how he managed to portray Archie Bunker as the narrow-minded, incurious, frightened, gleefully ignorant lout he was, spewing out pejoratives like coon, chink, spic, and fag, and have the TV audience get the joke and understand such verbal daggers were weren’t meant to be blessed for general public use by their RCAs and Zeniths.

INTERVIEWER: When you dealt so openly, through Archie Bunker in All in the Family, with racism, there’s racist utterances coming from him in every program, obviously you trusted the audience would get that, that the audience would react appropriately.

LEAR: I had no doubt the audience would get that.

Norman Lear is full of shit.

Keep in mind, AITF premiered in January, 1971. By that fall, it had rocketed to No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings and remained atop the heap for the next five seasons. It would never finish lower than twelfth in the ratings by the time it went off the air in 1979. Everybody watched AITF (‘cept me, natch).

Make no mistake: a huge percentage of its audience, perhaps even a majority of it, loved Archie as much as my father did. They didn’t “get that.” They, too, tossed word bombs like coon (or, even more likely, the N-word), chink, spic, and fag. They loved Archie because he was them. And even though Archie regularly got his comeuppance in each episode, they dug that too because it fed into their nascent sense of aggrievement, a sense that has become paramount in American life these days.

Look, a mere year and a half after AITF premiered, the American electorate reelected one Richard Milhouse Nixon president by the greatest landslide in American history to that point. The Nixon voter was Archie Bunker.

Archie’s president.

It wasn’t just liberals chuckling about the benighted Bunker that made AITF the number one show on television. It was my Dad, along with a few tens of millions of like-minded souls, saying, Look, that’s me on the TV screen!

BTW: Lear’s original intent was for the Mike Stivic character, played by Rob Reiner, to be the centerpiece of the show. It was only when Lear started getting sacks for of mail telling him how much viewers dug Archie that he switched the show’s focus to the Bunker dad.

Have I mentioned Norman Lear is full of shit?


Hot Air: God, Guns & Money

After all that, it looks like Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed by the United States Senate and will take a seat on the Supreme Court of this holy land.

And, yeah, this land has gotten that much holier since the unholy Li’lDuce has taken over. Of course, I’m using the term holy in a couple of different and contradictory ways here. The American Christian Taliban finally has achieved its version of nirvana — it has, through the ballot box, the idiot box, and a little bit of hook and/or crook, become the ruling party of the United States. It’s got most of the statehouses, most of the governors’ mansions, the House of Representatives, the Senate, the White House, and the highest court in America.

Wanna bet they’re still going to be running around crying about how they’re so all put-upon and discriminated against and everybody from feminists, blacks, drug-running Mexicans, transexual bathroom-goers, and, for chrissakes, everybody who is not precisely they, is getting their way and boo-hoo-hoo, poor us?

My take? Good old RBG had better stay alive for at least the next two years and possible even the next six.

Hot Air: The Indescribably Tiny God

I can’t let this person’s passing…, um, pass without comment.

Nobel Prize winning physicist Leon Lederman died Wednesday at the age of 96.

It was his book, The God Particle, that got me fascinated with the questions Why Are We Here? and What Really Is This Thing We Call Reality?

Lederman studied some of the smallest possible things we humans know to exist: quarks, leptons, and neutrinos. He was, in fact, the person who brought to the general public’s attention the Higgs Boson. The Higgs, back in the early 1990s, was thought to be the one as-yet undiscovered bit of matter that would explain everything. It was finally observed in tests at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in 2013. The Higgs Boson is the unimaginably tiny pellet created by a certain stimulation of the Higgs Field (the molasses-like stuff that fills every inch of the known universe). The Boson then attaches itself to other elementary particles, giving them mass. In other words, the Higgs is the reason there is tangible stuff.

A physicist named Peter Higgs, among others, proposed in 1964 the existence of the particle that would come to bear his name. In the ensuing years, lots of people took to thinking once the existence of his eponymous little grain was verified, well, we’d know all there is the know about existence. It would be the missing link in what has become known as the Theory of Everything (TOE).

Now, this is tough stuff to wrap your brain around. I’ve read dozens of books geared to the general public about particle physics and I still don’t get it all. Or even a very significant part of it all. Hell, I understand it the way I understand Japanese: I know hai means yes, and that pretty much covers it. When we’re getting down to this minute level of existence, nobody really knows anything; as Richard Feynman famously said regarding his chosen field of expertise: “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”

The smart human being, ergo, knows what s/he doesn’t know.

Not being a physicist, a mathematician, a cosmologist, or even an engineer, I’m smart enough to know I don’t know a goddamned thing. When I happened upon Lederman’s book back in the mid-90’s I was hooked. I realized at that moment I would never, ever fully understand what in the hell he was talking about. I could read about the Higgs Boson and the rest of the particles that make up reality until the day I would die and still not come within a light year of grasping any of it. That was perfectly fine by me. Curiosity ends when the mystery is unravelled. If curiosity is a primary reason to go on living — and I believe it is — then to be guaranteed I’ll never know the answer means I’ll never have to stop being curious.

Since I don’t believe in god, it remains imperative for me to acknowledge something greater than myself. Hell, if you can’t surrender to the fact that you are not the biggest and/or only thing in this life, well, you’ll end up a heartless, soulless bastard like…, oh, I needn’t hit you over the head with that hammer again.

In any case, The God Particle — maybe because the mythical creator of the universe is mentioned in the title — struck a nerve in me and millions of others.

Here’s a part of the beauty to be found in Lederman’s book: he writes of “the invisible soccer ball.” Imagine, Lederman asks us, a group of extraterrestrials coming to Earth and being shown around. They go to a soccer game. Thousands of people in the stands watch two teams of eleven players each running around on the field below. Only the visitors somehow are unable to see the soccer ball. They see everything else: the green of the grass, the colorful jerseys of the players, the cheering fans, the nets, the referees, the scoreboard, and so on. They see the players seemingly chasing something all around the pitch. Every once in a while, the crowd goes wild and the players on one side embrace each other in near-ecstasy. One of the more observant of the ETs notices that immediately preceding these outbursts of sheer delirium, the netting behind one of the goals is momentarily distorted. This ET tells her friends, “There must be something we can’t see that is being chased around and occasionally directed into the goal.”

That, Lederman explained, is how a certain few physicists concluded there must be a boson that would bear Higgs’ name, even though they’d never seen it and so could not say for sure whether it existed or not. What would become known as the Higgs Boson had distorted the physicists’ nets enough times to convince them it really was something, even though it was, at the time, invisible to them.

We mere human beings will never attain a Theory of Everything. The only conclusion I can come to, after reading all my books and pondering the findings of Leon Lederman and Peter Higgs and Richard Feynman and all the rest, is to truly understand the mechanics of the universe, one would have to be the universe. If that’s what people who believe in god mean by god, then I suppose I believe in god. Although, there’s hardly any evidence that the majority of people who believe in god are thinking — or have ever thought — in precisely those terms.

I haven’t seen their invisible soccer ball distort the net yet.

BTW: the subtitle of Lederman’s book was If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?

That’s something I and the rest of us will ask, unrequitedly, for the rest of our lives. We’ll never get the satisfaction of knowing — and that’s okay by me.

A Big List Of Big Talk Links

I’d been letting my Big Talk page go un-updated for quite a while now so here are the latest episode links, for your consideration:

▶︎ Sarah Perfetti — co-founder, Be Golden Women’s Empowerment Conference: October 4, 2018

▶︎ Marc Haggerty — community activist: September 27, 2018

▶︎ Chad Rabinovitz & Simon Coronel — Bloomington Playwrights Project artistic director & internationally-renowned illusionist: September 20, 2018:

▶︎ Christian Medina — community volunteer: September 13, 2018

▶︎ Amanda Barge & Shelli Yoder — co-founders, South Central Indiana Opioid Summit: September 6, 2018

▶︎ Vince (Carlos) Gaitani — head of Monroe County Sheriff’s Reserve: August 30, 2018

▶︎ Cindy Beaulé — WFHB fundraiser: August 23, 2018

▶︎ Hoagy Bix Carmichael — son of composer/songwriter/actor Hoagy Carmichael: August 16, 2018

▶︎ Feliz Çiçek — feminist artist: August 2, 2018

▶︎ Troy Maynard — humorist, author: July 26, 2018

▶︎ Chris Mattingly & Dave Torneo — poet & publisher: July 19, 2018

▶︎ Darran Mosley — DJ, karaoke host: July 12, 2018

▶︎ Paula Chambers — Flow Arts entertainer: July 5, 2018

▶︎ Amanda Biggs — actor: June 28, 2018

▶︎ Sam Stephenson — author, historian: June 21, 2018

Tune in every Thursday, 5:30pm, for Big Talk on WFHB, 91.3 FM. And don’t sweat if you miss an episode: you can listen to the podcast any time.

Hot Air: Baking & Burning


The great pleasure of doing Big Talk is meeting some of the most wonderful and fascinating people in town. Cristian Medina is one of them. He’s a research scientist at the Indiana Geological and Water Survey where he and his colleagues are trying to figure out ways to lasso the carbon dioxide gas produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Medina et al hope to scrub the gas, turn it into a pure stream and maybe — just maybe — inject it into the subsurface of the Earth where it can be stored in reservoirs in sedimentary rock layers.

Cristian Medina

Medina admits this solution isn’t the best one — hell, there may be unforeseen side effects should the scheme ever go into practice — but, for pity’s sake, something’s got to be done to stop the ongoing baking of the atmosphere. An even better solution, Medina says, would be an all-out effort to get our energy fix from renewable sources like the sun, the wind, and geothermal. But even a dreamer like Medina is savvy enough to know we’re not going to make that commitment any time soon so we’d better figure out an alternative remedy now, before St. Paul, Minnesota, turns into Nairobi, Kenya.

Besides trying to save the rest of us from cooking ourselves to death, Medina, a native of Chile, is a tireless volunteer around town, pitching in at WFHB where he used to be host of ¡Hola Bloomington!; showing up weekly at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, and serving as president of the Bloomington Indiana Scholastic Chess Club. Dang mang, he even used to cook up big pots of food and lug them over to People’s Park and Seminary Square to help feed the homeless. And that ain’t all he’s been up to hereabouts since his arrival a little more than ten years ago.

My advice to you is click on over to the podcast of yesterday’s Big Talk for my interview with him. I’m telling you, these Big Talks are just the tonic to counteract all the bad news  we who haven’t drunk the Li’l Duce Kool-Aid™ have had to endure the last couple of years. Even better, click on this link for my written profile of him in the Limestone Post.

And why should I even be telling you about the Post piece? You oughtta be reading the online mag regularly in the first place, dig?

Hacking Their Way To Freedom

Did you catch this one the other day?

The guy who came up with the old Virginia Slims ad slogan, You’ve come a long way, baby!, died last month. Those of us of d’un certain âge remember those hip, kicky cigarette ads celebrating the modern female who, by golly, could smoke as many daily packs as any man, damn it!

The adman’s name was Pat Martin and he worked for the Leo Burnett agency in Chicago. He penned the line 50 years ago, in 1968, that landmark year. The message may seem weirdly antediluvian today but you have to keep in mind that women, even well into the 20th Century, could be jailed for dragging on a square in public.

Adman Pat Martin

Considering the fact that our traditionally male-dominated society has, for millennia, relegated females to one of two categories — mother or whore — breaking rules and having sex long have been two prime avenues for our sisters to demonstrate something akin to self-determination. And puffing on a slender smoke from a pastel pack surely was a liberating experience, a breaking of the rules, for many women in those benighted times.

Sure, yeah, we now know cig smoking is one of the worst sins a human can commit against her/himself. That fact was sort-of known back in ’68; the Surgeon General’s Warning was only four years old at that point. Common sense will tell you that inhaling the smoke from a burning substance on an hourly-or-more basis will surely bode ill for your overall health but smoking was still seen as a statement of adulthood, of legal majority, a half century ago. Women rightly figured if it was okay for men to walk around all day enshrouded in a nicotine fog why couldn’t they?

Not all assertions of personhood or liberty are pure and above critique. My sis, for one, took to dragging on a Virginia Slim now and again around 1970, a time when she was discovering her own independence, her own agency. I wouldn’t say the act turned her into an Eleanor Roosevelt or Malala Yousafzai but the Slim and the puffing thereon were things she could call her own. Prior to that, she neither owned nor was anything other than what a certain patriarchy had conferred upon her.

Hot Air: Outs & Ins


Shocker: Rahm Emanuel opts out of the 2019 mayoral election in Chicago.

Non-shocker: A “senior official” in President Gag’s admin. penned an anonymous op/ed in the New York Times this week revealing many high-ranking people working for the current president are standing on their heads trying to protect our holy land from…, well, him.

Emanuel (with wife Amy Rule) announces he’s out.

Then again: Emanuel had to realize he was dead, politically, when he screwed up the city’s response to the Laquan McDonald execution. By stonewalling and obfuscating he lost in the snap of a finger the black vote in my beloved hometown. Nobody becomes mayor in The Third City w/o the black vote.

“Coward” or selfless protector of the nation?

Then again, Deux: Some people are saying the anonymous “senior official” should have the gumption and moral center simply to quit. The op/ed writer wants to remain incognito, presumably, because s/he wants to keep her/his job. Perhaps I’m Pollyanna but isn’t it possible that this person honestly and truly wants to do some little bit to hold the crumbling democratic/republic together? Simply quitting just means Li’l Duce can fill the vacancy with someone who doesn’t care about trivialities like the rule of law, diplomacy, prudence, decency, America’s highest aspirations, etc. — in other words, someone just like himself.


I detest it when people say all politicians are crooked or self-centered. That’s a self-aggrandizing statement. See, the person’s really saying: I’m on to them and I’m so much better than they are.

To which I respond: No you’re not and no you’re not.

I’ve met too many pols in my day who truly want to serve the public and whose grounding is both ethical and compassionate.

Barge (L) & Yoder.

I had a couple of them on Big Talk yesterday — Monroe County Commissioner Amanda Barge and Monroe County Council member Shelli Yoder. They’re the founders of the now-annual Opioid Summit here in Monroe County. They’ve been bending over backward for several months putting this years gathering together. Barge & Yoder claim a significant triumph already in the wake of last year’s inaugural event: thanks to the the 2017 Summit call for easier access to naloxone in Monroe County, they say, the number of overdose deaths hereabouts has dropped dramatically.

Click on over to hear my chat with Barge & Yoder.

Hot Air: Fewer & Further Between

I still don’t know precisely how I feel right now, having begun to pull away from (mostly-)daily posting on this global communications colossus. A brief glance at my menu of past posts shows I only chimed in four times in August. It’s not exactly a divorce, so let’s call it a trial separation.

I’m not looking for any long-term relationships with other websites right now. In fact, I’m not even considering casual encounters with other blogs at the moment.

So, whither The Pencil? Search me. I just know I was getting burned out on the political civil war of words that public discourse has become in this second decade of the 21st Cent. And how many ways can I express my sheer bafflement over the election of a crass, disturbed, unlikeable, nativist, supremacist, greed monkey, reality game show host-emeritus as our Dear Leader?


I do find I have tons o’time to do other penning these days and that’s good. And Charlotte Zietlow and I are making bang-up progress on the book of her life we’ve been slaving over for four years now. We may actually publish an honest-to-gosh hard copy sometime before the the USA goes the way of the old USSR, which eventuality may or may not be right around the corner, historically speaking.

Big Talk is still happening, of course. Matter of fact, a fellow of impeccable rep. around these parts — a litterateur and man-who-knows-others — yesterday AM compared me as an interviewer to Charlie Rose (to my great advantage, I’ll have you know). Make sure to tune in to WFHB, 91.3 FM, every Thursday at 5:30pm or come here every Friday for the link to the previous day’s podcast.

The Loved One and I are soldiering our individual ways through a series of annoying and almost-debilitating aches and pains these days, proving once again that as we Homo Sapiens age we may become more comfortable with our hearts and minds but our bodies sure go all to hell.

Times change. F’rinstance, one of the eternal standbys of my youth, a cultural and economic touchstone of this great nation, Sears, is for all intents and purposes lying on its death bed, what with last month’s announced closing of the co.’s last store in Chicagoland. Sears, when I was about 11 or so, was essentially the center of the universe. Except for gasoline, prescription drugs, and one or two other things, every single solitary thing an American citizen (or even a temporary visitor from the likes of Uganda) could need could be gotten at Sears. Mine was located at North and Harlem, at the extreme western edge of Chi. The old Mercury Theater was just half a block to the west, the place where I saw my first film breast — that of actress Carrie Snodgrass (whose then-promising career, apparently, was cut short by the birth of a son  who had cerebral palsy; the kid’s father was Neil Young) in the otherwise forgettable Diary of a Mad Housewife. At the time the external gland in question made its appearance, I fretted mightily that the rest of the audience (ten, maybe 11 people at most) could hear my heavy breathing so I stifled my respirations to the point, I then worried, I might pass out.

The North & Harlem Store.

But, yeah, Sears. Everybody and her/his sib. bought jeans there, and dress pants, shoes, socks, slips, wigs, cosmetics, tools, washing machines, furs, vacuum cleaners, Cub Power bumper stickers (I copped a good half dozen of them with my saved allowance in the summer of 1969) and even records. I bought, IIRC, my first album there, the “Hair” original Broadway cast soundtrack. My mother went to work at that Sears in about 1967. She sold wigs and then furs — or was is vice versa? In any case, for the next decade and a half, pretty much every Xmas and b-day gift given by her to my daddy-o, me and my bro. & sis.’s, and one of her many grandkids came in a Sears box. She got a 25 percent discount, so natch.

Now, Sears stores are mostly gone.

Not that The Pencil, like Sears, is going under. Let’s look at the unfolding events herein as an evolution. Who knows what this rant machine can become? Time, as Jeeves so often counseled Bertie, will tell.

Wise Words.

Read, Right?

Books I’m reading right now, have just finished, or are on the nightstand waiting for me to finish reading something else:

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil de Grasse Tyson

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari

Our Kind of Traitor, by John le Carré

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus, by Bill Wasik & Monica Murphy

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It occurs to me: I used to read a heck of a lot more when I was riding the el or bus downtown a few days a week. Public transportation just might have been one of the publishing industry’s greatest boons beginning in the late 19th Century and extending well into the last one.

The Blue Line Stop at Damen.

Hot Air: Extinct

Hah! Those lazy bums.

Apparently, our foreparents, the gang scientists like to refer to as Homo Erectus, went extinct because they weren’t Rand-ians — as in followers of Ayn Rand‘s model of success. The Erectus — that’s right; the plural’s the same as the singular — weren’t hard charging, tireless, aggressive, impatient, no time for reflection or unnecessary compassion, John Galt-like heroes of achievement.


Acc’d’g to recent research, Homo Erectus went extinct because they were too complacent to even climb the nearest hill to see what was beyond it. They weren’t prone to go looking for new territories, new sources of tools, new horizons to conquer and so, well, they just died off.

Not only that, Homo Erectus went kaput because they were incapable of dealing with the climate change that swept the world at the time they were plodding along, not pushing themselves to the extreme.

I’m willing to bet that some blogging member of a future primate species will be writing pretty much the same post with us, Home Sapiens, as the subject.

Funny thing about history. It always repeats.

Show Time

A couple of Big Talk notes.

Last week’s show featured WFHB volunteer coordinator Cindy Beaulé. She’ll be hosting her own birthday bash tonight at the Players Pub, with the likes of the Uke Tones, Bob Lucas, Opal Fly and Kapow!, and Mercury Johnson & the Evinrudes (search me; I couldn’t find a link for them) providing the music. The festivities begin at 5pm.

Don’t think Cindy’s simply screeching Whee! Me! The bash is really a benefit for WFHB, with the gate going to the station. BTW, WFHB’s fall fund drive begins Friday, September 7th and runs through…, well, there is no end date this time around. The big potatoes at the community radio station are bound and determined to make goal this season no matter how long it takes. And keep in mind you can donate to WFHB any day — hell, any hour of the day — simply by going to its website and clicking on the big red Donate now button.

Go Ahead; You Know You Wanna!

The second Big Talk note concerns today’s show. My guest at 5:30pm will be Vince (Carlos) Gaitani, president of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Reserve. For the life of me, I had no idea his group existed. The Sheriff’s Reserves are volunteers — fully trained, armed, fully-authroized law enforcement officers — who help the paid deputies in a pinch and who hire themselves out for crowd control at big events like Indiana University football games and so on. So, yeah, there are right now 11 badge-wearing members of the Reserve, one of whom just might be the cop in the squad car pulling you over for going 83 mph down SR 446.

Many thanks to Jan Walker for turning me on to the Sheriff’s Reserve.

Tune in at 5:30pm every Thursday for Big Talk on WFHB, 91.3 FM and come back here each Friday for a link to the podcast.


Hot Air: The Pope, The Crank & The Screwballs

I notice the Pope has announced his opposition to the death penalty, period. The boss of the Roman Catholic Church and political head of the tiny but influential nation called The Holy See has essentially made it the entire faith’s tenet that capital punishment is an evil.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, AKA Francis I

Well, at long goddamned last. For all the “pro-life” bluster the Christianists have spouted in the last half century, few of them have made the logical leap to recognizing the supposed sacredness of life across the board. When I hear pro life I think only of anti-abortion; that’s been the rhetoric and the activism since abortion became big news in the mid- and late-1960s. Oh sure, there’ve been a scant few priests and nuns who’ve called for a ban on state killings and war, but they’ve been such outliers that, statistically, they don’t exist.

I’m under no illusion that the world wouldn’t be better off without broken human beings like Charles Manson or John Wayne Gacy. My own opposition to the death penalty is based on a widely-shared mistrust of elected or appointed politicians and jurists to do the right thing in all cases. Look, we don’t trust our leaders to fix potholes the right way. We don’t believe they have the ability to end homelessness. They’re helpless in the face of drug addiction. And we expect them to be able to carry out executions fairly and justly?

Now, if only Francis can do something about the child molestation problem bedeviling the Church. One suggestion: How about putting an end to the boys-only club that is the priesthood.

ET Romeos

I try to respect another’s argument or stance as much as prudence will allow. Hell, I’ve got Republican friends. And I’ve had heated debates with people on my side of the fence about how the world needs conservatives to balance off the liberals like me and them. But sometimes I just have to hear a guy out and nod non-commitally because, man, he’s not stating a thesis, he’s just crying out that he’s cracked.

Case in point: A guy comes into the bookstore early Saturday morning. Very chatty. Opens the conversation…, no, wait, let me emend that — opens the soliloquy by positing that our two-party political system  is woefully inadequate in this day and age of multiple points along the poli-philo spectrum. The Republicans, said he, are the party of the stern Dad — there’s a right way and a wrong way and we all had better toe the line. The Dems, on the other hand, are the Mom party, cosseting the populace, forgiving, rescuing, accepting all manner of deviations and eccentricities.

As a simplistic rendering of the parties, an explication of the extremes of both sides, his analysis can stand w/o me jumping on him with both feet. As long as we weren’t concerned with subtlety and nuance, I didn’t feel the need to quibble with him.

After a while, he drifted toward the rear of the store where Margaret, the owner, holds sway. He bent her ear for a good 15 minutes on politics before I noticed the discussion — oops, sorry, the monologue — turned to hard science. He touched on fossil fuels and geology and archaeology and one or two other topics. One thing he said caught my ear: Those in charge, he stated, are in possession of scads of technologies that they’re not telling the rest of us about, mainly because we, the unwashed mob, wouldn’t be able to deal with the knowledge. The implication, of course, was that well-informed, sophisticated fellows like himself surely can. Immediately my mind flashed to things like invisible death rays and time travel and other scifi chestnuts.

Then he drifted off into genetics. The researchers working on mapping the human genome, he said, have found there are 62 strains of alien DNA in our genes. That is, some 62 different expeditions of beings from other planets have come to Earth, mated with proto- or fully-humans, altering our branch of the genetic tree.

Old Granddad.

Margaret, to her credit, said, “Oh, is that so?” And then she quickly added, “You know, I’ve got to get back to this project I’ve been working on.” I heard his footsteps coming back toward me. I buried my head in the New York Times book review, peering so hard at the computer screen it’s a wonder I didn’t burn holes into it. I read this headline a good half dozen times in succession:

Two New Novels Expose the Fracturing of the American Nuclear Family, From Midcentury to Today

Funny thing is that very headline or a reasonable variation thereof has run approximately 728,000 times in the NYT book section since the term nuclear family gained currency in the 1950s. (BTW, acc’d’g to Wikipedia, Merriam-Webster puts its origin at 1947 while the Oxford English Dictionary finds a reference to it in 1925. Who knew?)

Anyway, the guy took the hint and passed me by on the way to the door. I sighed, gratefully.

Funny thing is, back when he was pontificating at me he’d said the internet was both a blessing and a curse, seeing as how it is the portal to so much human knowledge as well as a cesspool of misinformation. I have to imagine this fellow found out about the 62 alien visits from — where else? — the internet.

It’s our age’s curse that few, if any, of us can distinguish between the portal and the cesspool when we’re online.

Mad, Man

I’ve finally gotten around to reading A First-Rate Madness. Subtitled Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness, it was written by Nassir Ghaemi, professor of psychiatry at Tufts University. The book argues that an unusual number of notable world leaders throughout history have been, well, loco. He cites as examples — pretty much a chapter for each — the likes of Lincoln, Gen. Sherman, Gandhi, Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and others. Each of them, acc’d’g to Ghaemi, was mentally ill. Not as in, say, Charles Manson, but more along the lines of people who’d been laid low by deep clinical depression or who were bipolar yet somehow achieved a high station in life. They were highly functional even though they carried with them psychological burdens that could well have caused them to commit suicide or self-medicate their way to skid row.

For contrast, Ghaemi cites perfectly sane leaders like Neville Chamberlain or George W. Bush who lacked the depressive’s enhanced empathy or the hyperthymic personality’s willingness to take huge risks. These sane people might be perfectly fine leaders in times of peace and harmony but when the global house of cards looks about to collapse, they’re virtually helpless.

Ghaemi writes:

The best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal; the worst crisis leaders are mentally healthy.

Me? I’ve always held that anyone who wants to be President of the United States has to be somewhat off her or his rocker. I mean, what sane person would want to be the human whose finger hovers over the red button that just might trigger a planet-wide nuclear inferno? Who wants to be the person who’ll never again be able to go for a quick walk in the park or run down to the convenience store for an ice cream sandwich on a whim? Who’s got the crust to say, Y’know, I wanna be in charge of 330 million people? The answer: a nut.

So, yeah, the sane Bush fils really is a few degrees off kilter — but not as awry as JFK was, what with his sexual voraciousness and his mind-altering Addison’s Disease. And not as mentally fragile as MLK, who jumped out a window in hopes of killing himself not once but twice as a teen. Sherman was crazy. Churchill was whacked out. Lincoln was as depressed as a human could get and still find a way to get out of bed in the morning.

It’s these more loony than the average loon kinds of people who’ve excelled as leaders in scary times. And then there’s the likes of A. Hitler, whose madness transcended that of Churchill or Roosevelt. His was another story entirely.

Unfortunately, Ghaemi’s book was written before the unlikely victory of President Gag in 2016 so we don’t know what the prof. might think about our current screwy leader. My take is Li’l Duce‘s madness obliterates the boundary of how daft a person can be and still run a huge government. Then again, it looks as though the US Gov’t right now is really running itself despite the March hare atop it.

What happens if and when P. Gag is faced with a real crisis? Will his psychopathy play well? I wouldn’t bet the mortgage payment on it. See, I wouldn’t want Charles Manson as my dear leader either.


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