Category Archives: Walmart

Hot Air

Walmart Wants You Poor

This is no breaking news (The Pencil is not CNN talking incessantly about a missing jetliner) but Walmart’s business model has been found to depend on an expanding population in poverty so that its shareholders and execs can amass gobs of cash.

In other words, it’s in Walmart’s best interests for you to collapse, financially. Isn’t the free market a delight?

Great Depression

Walmart’s Preferred Customer Base

As I say, we’re not stopping the presses to get this news out. Only that the Walton family, the members of which rank among the richest humans in the universe, has now confirmed what those of us who aren’t snoozing through life have known for years. In the company’s latest annual report, Walmart comes out and says, unapologetically, that it needs people receiving SNAP benefits and other public assistance programs in order for its wealthy bosses to become even more wealthy.

Everybody’s On The Spectrum

And I will be condemned to death by stoning by many in this holy land, but I’ve been talking about this for years:


The author’s suspicion? There is no patented autism drug that the obsessive anti-Big Pharma people can jump on — the idea being that all drug companies are run by amoral fiends who force doctors to diagnose diseases and prescribe drugs solely to bolster bottom lines.

But first, let’s whip on the author: He’s wrong. There’ve been plenty of pieces in mainstream and scientific media about overdiagnosis of Asperger’s and other autism spectrum maladies. Nevertheless, the point still holds. If everyone and his brother has autism, then nobody has autism. One observer has hit the nail quite nicely on the head: It’s a spectrum, and we’re all on it.

[h/t to Jerry Boyle.]

Stupid Talent

Finally, oh golly gee, I love this! First, a caveat. You may not care for sports, and that’s cool. You may also think long profiles of professional athletes are about as fascinating as watching the person in front of you in the checkout line look for his preferred customer discount card for about an hour and a half. Most times you’re right.

The New York Times yesterday ran a super-long thesis on the life and times of erstwhile Japanese pitching star Masahiro Tanaka, who’ll be flinging the horsehide for the Evil Empire this annum. Trust me, I’m a baseball geek and even I couldn’t slog through all the Tanaka minutiae. But I did learn one fabulous thing. Tanaka’s wife is known as an o-baka tarrento. That’s Japanese for stupid talent. Literally!

Game Show Girl

A Typical O-baka Tarrento

Yeah, the Japanese have an actual term for silly, cute girls who have achieved some level of fame on, say, game shows, reality shows, or other high water marks of culture. Often they’re clueless about the world and their flamboyant dingbat-ism is so over the top that their very idiocy alone propels them to the top of the Q-ratings.

Acc’d’ng to the NYT, many Japanese consider such o-baka tarrentos to be “nonthreatening and adorable.”

Of course, we revere such inane human beings in this holy land as well. Only we call them Fox News personalities.

Fox Blondes

Megyn Kelly, Martha McCallum, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, And Gretchen Carlson

The Pencil Today:


“It’s much harder to be a liberal than a conservative. Why? Because it’s easier to give someone the finger than a helping hand.” — Mike Royko


Death Panels. Sharks. Tom and Katie’s divorce.

These are merely three of the most-followed stories of the last couple of years, brought to you by a fantastically wired, ultra hi-tech, 24-hour-a-day news media. We have the potential to be the most informed society in the history of the human race.

And we are — at least when it comes to things like death panels, sharks, and Tom and Katie’s divorce.

I don’t believe in conspiracies and secret cabals who force legislation and information upon us to satisfy their nefarious ends.

Nope. I believe we get precisely what we want.

And we want death panels, sharks, and Tom and Katie’s divorce.

To wit: runs a little list of headlines on the upper right of their site. They call it “This Just In.” Clearly, the editors believe this is what you and I want to know about right now. Today at 7:00am, for example, there were 24 headlines in the list.

In a world of seven billion souls, there must be enough news to fill hundreds or even thousands of such lists. War. Plague. Revolution. Disease. Floods. Scientific advances. Innovative cures. Spectacular achievements.

Man, I don’t know how’s editors do it. But they do and here’s how they did it today:

  • Heiress found dead; husband arrested
  • Denise Rich renounces US citizenship

Denise Rich Doesn’t Want To Be One Of Us Anymore

  • Police: Mom dumps disabled daughter
  • She sneaks off to get contraception
  • Japan’s rare baby panda dies
  • Wild raccoons attack dog-walker

Take Cover!

  • Odor diverts flight, sickens plane crew
  • Usher’s former stepson seriously hurt
  • Sexual predators on cruise ships?
  • He lost 200 lbs. to join the Army
  • Woodchuck steals cemetery flag

So, of the two dozen most important up-to-the-minute developments in the endeavors of the species Homo Sapiens sapiens, fully eleven of them — or 46 percent –are blather.

You want it? You got it.


Let’s stay on a roll. Consider some of the biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs penned about celebrities of late.

Keep in mind that writers had to be hired and trees felled so that these literary gems could come into being. Fleets of trucks and ships were chartered to transport these weighty tomes to the racks of your fave Walmart.

Millions — nay, billions — of dollars, euros, pesos, yuans etc. were spent so that our brothers and sisters around the world might know the truths contained within these books.

And now, the list:

  • “Losing It: And Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time” by Valerie Bertinelli
  • “Wake Up, I’m Fat!” by Camryn Manheim

  • “Goldie” A Lotus Grows in the Mud” by Goldie Hawn
  • “Chyna: If Only They Knew” by Chyna and Michael Angeli
  • “Up Till Now” by William Shatner and David Fisher
  • “On the Couch” by Lorraine Bracco
  • “Pam: The Life Loves of Pamela Anderson” by the National Enquirer
  • “Kenny & Julia Loggins’ Recipe for Lasting Love (and Summer Salad)” by Suzanne Gerber

BTW: They’re Now Divorced

  • “By All Means Keep on Moving” by Marilu Henner
  • “There and Back Again: An Actor’s Tale” by Sean Astin and Joe Layden
  • “The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes from More Than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen” by Frank DeCaro
  • “Johnny Depp: The Illustrated Biography” by Nick Johnstone
  • “Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir” by Steven Tyler
  • “The Long Hard Road Out of Hell” by Marilyn Manson
  • “How I Got This Way” by Regis Philbin


  • “Wrestling the Hulk: My Life Against the Ropes” by Linda Hogan
  • “Never Say Never: Finding a Life That Fits” by Ricki Lake
  • “No Regrets” by Ace Frehley
  • “Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss” by Peter Criss and Larry Sloman
  • “Gene Simmons: A Rock ‘Roll Journey in the Shadow of the Holocaust” by Ross Berg
  • “The Eric Carr Story” by Greg Prato

Literary Lions

And what better way to conclude this august list than with four — count ’em, four! — bios of all the members of Kiss.

Happy reading!

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

◗ IU Dowling International CenterEnglish Conversation Club, for non-native speakers of American English; 1pm

◗ IU Musical Arts Center Lawn — Summer Music Series: band concert with David C. Woodley & Stephen W. Pratt, conductors (if rain, concert will be moved indoors); 7pm

Max’s PlaceOpen mic; 7:30pm

The Comedy AtticBloomington Comedy Festival; 8pm

Boys & Girls Club of BloomingtonContra dancing; 8-10:30pm

◗ IU Auer HallSummer Music Series: Festival Chamber Players, works by Moszkowski, Turina, and Brahms; 8pm

The BishopVonVolsung Sisters; 9pm

The VonVolsung Sisters

The BluebirdAlmost Famous; 9pm

◗ IU Kirkwood ObservatoryOpen house, public viewing through the main telescope; 10pm

Uncle Elizabeth’sBoys on Poles, male exotic dancers; 10pm & midnight


◗ Ivy Tech Waldron CenterExhibits:

  • John D. Shearer, “I’m Too Young For This  @#!%”; through July 30th
  • Claire Swallow, ‘Memoir”; through July 28th
  • Dale Gardner, “Time Machine”; through July 28th
  • Sarah Wain, “That Takes the Cake”; through July 28th
  • Jessica Lucas & Alex Straiker, “Life Under the Lens — The Art of Microscopy”; through July 28th

◗ IU Art MuseumExhibits:

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

◗ IU SoFA Grunwald GalleryExhibits:

  • Kinsey Institute Juried Art Show; through July 21st
  • Bloomington Photography Club Annual Exhibition; July 27th through August 3rd

◗ 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 Cultures — Closed for semester break

Monroe County History Center Exhibits:

  • “What Is Your Quilting Story?”; through July 31st
  • Photo exhibit, “Bloomington: Then and Now” by Bloomington Fading; through October 27th

The Pencil Today:


My idol, Mike Royko: “It has been my policy to view the Internet not as an ‘information highway,’ but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies.”



At long last, I can throw my enthusiastic support behind the Occupy Movement.

I’ve been fairly tepid in my backing of the three-month-old grass-roots protest. Staging a Boy Scout Jamboree in People’s Park won’t do the job when the corporate and legislative forces of the mightiest nation in the history of the Earth are aligned against you.

Occupy Bloomington

Yesterday, things changed.

Women’s defense courses teach a few tricks when a person faces a much stronger foe. A man may menace a woman, towering over her, possessing twice her brawn, but if she carefully aims a knee or a toe at those little ovoid organs dangling between his thighs, the contest will suddenly — seemingly magically —  be evened.

Occupiers aimed a swift kick at the balls Monday. Protesters tried to shut down ports in Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, and Portland with varying degrees of success. Others tried to interfere with operations at Walmart distribution centers in Salt Lake City and Denver.

“The Man” isn’t writhing on the ground just yet. He may never. But yesterday was a nice start.

Occupy Protesters Block The Port Of Oakland


So, having spent Sunday night writing up my Top Ten Local Political Stories in 2011 article for the Ryder magazine, I felt awfully smug and snarky.

I chided both parties, wondered when there’d be a funeral for the local Republican party, gave a justifiable raspberry to the entire Indiana General Assembly, guessed that a certain elected official had nightmares about wearing a county correctional center jumpsuit, and repeated unflattering speculation about how an unsuccessful mayoral candidate raised his hefty war chest this past spring.

Heading Out To Pasture

In fact, I fairly bullied that candidate, a harmless fellow named John Hamilton. His wife, it so happens, is a fairly well-known former Washington appointee, Dawn Johnsen.

Johnsen, you may recall, served under Bill Clinton in the Office of Legal Counsel. When Barack Obama took office, he nominated her to be the head of that office. The Republicans dug into her past and discovered that she’d once or twice uttered a sentence about abortion that didn’t conclude with her demanding that women who’d had one ought to be horsewhipped.

Naturally, GOP Senators tripped all over themselves trying to paint her as something akin to a blood-soaked abortionist herself. They held up her appointment in 2009, then adjourned. Obama renominated her in 2010 and, yup, the Republicans held it up again. Finally, after months of sitting around and waiting, Johnsen stuck her tongue out at the whole of Washington, withdrew her name from consideration, and came back home to Bloomington.

She seems happy enough teaching constitutional law here at Indiana University.

Johnsen At Her Nomination Hearing

Hamilton, on the other hand, has led a less headline-worthy life. Were it not for his fortuitous taste in brides, I implied, he might not be given a second thought as a mayoral candidate.

I echoed the oft-repeated whisper that his campaign contribution pot of gold might have been the result of Maurer School of Law faculty members feeling compelled to write generous checks to him as a way of currying favor with their esteemed colleague, his wife.

I even referred to him as Mr. Dawn Johnsen.

It was 21st Century journalism at its finest. I proved myself to be witty, bold, sassy, and ready at the drop of a hat to point and gawk at people in power and those who want to be. And hidden somewhere among all that brilliant verbiage might even have been an atom of truth.

Okay, maybe an electron.

Hell, Bloomington’s a small town, really, and everybody knows everybody else’s gossip. Especially politicians and IU faculty members.

Hamilton might even be the next Congressman from the great state o’Indiana’s 9th District. That’s part of the gossip, too — that his mayoral tilt was really a test run for a bigger prize.

Hamilton’s Real Goal?

One of the hazards of being a professional smart-ass is the fear that one day one of my subjects might walk up and jab me one in the nose. Worry not, though. I figure that John Hamilton is too much of a refined gentleman to flatten my snout. Plus, it’d look bad for a guy trying to run for Congress having to explain why he assaulted and battered a beloved blogger.

Everybody’s happy, right?

I thought so until yesterday afternoon. I was blissfully peddling tomes at the Book Corner at about 2:30 when who walks in but Dawn Johnson herself.

My body froze but my mind raced. Oh sweet Jesus! She’s here to tear my head off. Oh holy god, here she comes!

But Johnsen strode past me. I exhaled. What am I worried about? She’s a big time lawyer. She’s too smart to bloody up some knuckleheaded snark-meister.

Probably Some Journalist

She headed for the back of the store where Margaret, the boss, holds forth.

Oh no. No, no. She’s gonna demand that I be fired. I love this job. I get to hang out among books and readers and meet everybody in town. I even get paid a couple of pennies a week to do it. Oh, what an idiot I am! Why do I have to be such a smart-ass?

I watched as Johnsen conferred earnestly with Margaret. They took an awfully long time, talking about my future. Jeez, I thought, let’s get it over with.

I figured, All you gotta do is tell Margaret that nobody in town’ll ever shop in her store again as long as she keeps that no-good, insulting, smart-aleck, so-called journalist in her employ.

But then I shook my head clear. What the hell am I thinking? The piece hasn’t run yet for pity’s sake! I haven’t turned it in. I haven’t even finished it!

Hahahaha! What a dope I am. I felt like dancing among the stacks.

Johnsen came up to the checkout counter and placed a kid’s book down. “Everything alright?” I asked, my voice cracking the tiniest bit.

Oh sure, she said. She added that she’d ordered another children’s book from Margaret. That’s what had taken so long.

I snorted. Johnsen looked at me, puzzled.

I couldn’t stop myself. “I gotta tell ya…,” I began. I told her the whole story of my little panic attack moments before. Well, not exactly the whole story; I left out the Mr. Dawn Johnsen part.

“And, I swear to god, I thought you were gonna clunk me on the head,” I concluded.

Johnsen laughed. “Oh,” she said, “I’d never do that!”

I handed her the kid’s book in a bag. “Thanks a lot,” I said. “You’re a great sport.”

“I can’t wait to read your piece,” she said. And then she was gone.

I smiled as she went out the door. I watched her walk down Walnut Street, the smile still plastered on my face. For at that moment it occurred to me: Dawn Johnsen and her husband, John Hamilton, are going to read my story.

Sure, she’d never clunk me on the head. But is John Hamilton really all that harmless?

Yeesh. The things you have to worry about when you’re a crusading, smart-assed blogger and so-called journalist.

Does He Pack A Punch?

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