Hot Air: Wonder Women

Nancy’s Day

I can’t wait for Saturday, March 25th. That’s when Nancy Hiller will be at the Book Corner, signing copies of her new book and telling a tale or two from it. Making Things Work: Tales from a Cabinetmaker’s Life is available for purchase right now on Nancy’s website. We’ll have scads of copies at the Book Corner as well.

A Nancy Hiller Kitchen

[Image: Kendall Reeves]

See you there at 3:00pm.

BTW: Nancy was on Big Talk last month, February 9th. And keep an eye out for my profile of her in Limestone Post, in this month’s edition of Big Mike’s B-town.

Back Door Woman

Speaking of Big Talk, man, I coulda taken last week off while Nicci B of the Back Door was in the studio. The co-owner and arts & entertainment director of Bloomington’s premier LGBTQ gathering place bent my ear like a champ. My interview w/ her aired Thursday. Here’s the link to the WFHB feature and here’s the link to the original, pretty-nearly-unedited original interview with her.

Nicci B

[Image: Andrew Grodner/Limestone Post]

Big Talk will indeed be taking this week off but we’ll return next week, Thursday, March 23rd. I’ll let you know who my guest will be just as soon as I nail someone down.


Perhaps the scariest thing about these Days of President Gag is what I’m going to start referring to as the Big Finale. That is, there seems to be an epidemic of thought — suffusing people of seemingly every political and philosophical stripe — that…, well, we’re all about to die.

Here It Comes!

  • Environmentalists warn us that we’re poisoning the Earth to the point that humanity can’t survive.
  • The scared bunnies on the Right tell us that Islamic terrorists are ten minutes away from acquiring a mega-nuke that’ll blow us all to smithereens.
  • Those on the Left howl that L’il Duce himself is ten minutes away from pressing the nuke button, destroying all life on this mad, mad, mad, mad world.
  • Gun nuts think hordes of black-skinned people are amassing right now on the edge of town, preparing for some kind of Great Siege.
  • Nativists believe undocumented brown-skinned people are pouring over the border by the tens of millions.
  • Fans of organics worry that GMOs’ll result in food as dangerous as a cookie made of arsenic.
  • A year and a half ago, celebrity “consumer advocate” Erin Brockovich hollered that drinking Bloomington’s water was equal to having tumors surgically implanted in our various and sundry organs.

I can go on and on, but you get the picture. Take all these disparate folk and add to the mix a certain segment of the pop. that believes we’re hurtling headlong toward a day when some defining battle between civilizations, between”winners” and “losers,” an Apocalyptic War, will rid the planet of evil and you’ve got our species’ current zeitgeist in a nutshell.

More than anything else, this Big Finale thing is terrifying. Too many people — the Right and the Left, the pious and the atheists, rich and poor, nice and not — are beginning to act as if they have nothing left to lose.

The Man Comes Around

Johnny Cash’s homage to the Book of Revelations — specifically the Apocalypse — from the Rick Rubin-produced “American IV.”

Hot Air: The Language Of The People

Well, of course they named it “The World Greatest Health Care Plan of 2017.”

It’s the only logical thing the Party of Trump could name it. You wanna know if this gambit is going to work? Just listen for the first citizen in a bar or on the bus or in the cubicle next to you to actually use the term. And they will.

When George H.W. Bush was beating the drums for war back in late 1990, he said Saddam Hussein was worse than Hitler.

I thought, “How in the world can he say that?! Fer chrissakes, he fought in World War II!”

Yet, less than a week later, I was sitting in the living room of a then-in-law. “Y’know,” this person said, “that Saddam guy is worse than Hitler.” This person, as a matter of fact, also had served in the US armed forces during World War II.

That’s the way the citizenry works. That’s their thought process. People want to think in the simplest possible terms. A catchy line carries far more weight than a well-reasoned argument. Advertising people have known this for a hundred and fifty years. A great slogan delivers on the following criteria, the four commandments of advertisers:

  • Memorable.
  • Includes a key benefit.
  • Differentiates from the competition.
  • Imparts positive feeling.

Here are a few taglines, catchphrases, and slogans that take up space in your cranium:

“Plop, plop. Fizz, fizz. Oh. what a relief it is.”

“Don’t leave home without it.”

“Mmm, mmm, good.”

“A diamond is forever.”

“Finger lickin’ good.”

“Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”

“Tastes great; less filling.”

“Just do it.”

“Be all that you can be.”

“Breakfast of champions.”

“Can you hear me now?”

“It’s the real thing.”

“Fair and balanced.”

I’ll bet you can name, at very least, three quarters of the products and/or companies referred to by the lines above. And, double or nothing says you can’t identify the speaker of this quote:

A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.

Hot Air: Ksander Knews

Perhaps the voices most familiar to me, other than those of The Loved One and Sally the Dog — who never stops yapping from the moment I let her out in the back yard first thing in the AM — are Annie Corrigan, David Brent Johnson, and Yael Ksander.

And now there’ll be a lot less of Yael’s warbling to comfort me on WFIU. (Nancy Hiller describes her voice as “voluptuous.”) She’s moving on to write speeches for Lee Feinstein, the big potato over at Indiana University’s School of Global and Int’l Studies. Her last day at the NPR affiliate will be March 31st.

Too bad for us. Good for her. She’s excited about the new challenge. But dang, mang, her still-new showgram on Saturday mornings, “Café Indiana,” is some of the best stuff on the local airwaves these days. IDK what will become of the Café but w/o her, it may well sound awfully different.

In any case, Yael will continue to do her “A Moment of Science” bits. Honestly, how much science programming is there on electronic media these days? A: Next to none at all. AMOS is a treasure we need to hold onto like a stout branch in a raging flood.

Ksander And AMOS Colleague Don Glass

[Image: Hannah Sturm]

BTW: Feinstein has quite the history. He was an arms control wonk in the early ’90s when he was was hired by Bill Clinton’s Defense Dept. to work on making sure the planet didn’t blow itself up. In 1995, he moved over to the State Dept. until the end of Clinton’s term and when the incoming Bush gang made it clear that peace and nuclear-nonproliferation would be viewed as childish frivolities he went back into private wonkdom. When Barack Obama took office, he tabbed Feinstein as his Ambassador to Poland. Feinstein ditched that position in 2012 and in 2014 he came to Bloomington to become the very first Dean of the GIS outfit.


And Yael is no slouch herself. A painter who earned her MFA after studies at IU, Columbia University and the University of Virginia, she was raised in the DC area where her daddy-o, Polish émigré Yuri Ksander, eventually settled. He’d fled Poland for what was then known as Palestine just before World War II. Old Man K earned degrees in physics and electrical engineering and then worked as a geophysicist and seismologist for the United Nations in the ’50s. He moved to Washington in 1963 to work for the likes of the fabled RAND Corp. He raised a daughter whose own science chops are impeccable. She wrote and did the voiceover for the documentary Appalachian Spring (2012) about the work of biologist and bird behaviorist Ellen Ketterson. She also VO’d for the doc Rowan and the Junco (2012). Both docs came about as a result of the Ordinary Extraordinary Junco project, funded by the National Science Foundation and IU. One undergrad chum once said of Yael: “She’s incredibly well versed in so many topics — literature, art, cinema, languages — the woman is a treasure. And she even has the nerve to be humble, in an almost Diane Keaton-esque self deprecating way.”

Hell, Yael can even vamp it up as a model. Here she is Vogue-ing in a Filiz Cicek-designed look, “Bride & Groom”:

[Image: JoAnn Latvaitis]

Good luck, YK — a little bit of you on the radio is better than none at all.

Nice Knowing You, Old Friend

She is one of the absolutely coolest, smartest, quickest, funniest, most creative human beings I’ve ever known. Or was. Amy Krouse Rosenthal is dying. For all we know, she may be dead now. Or in another minute. Or maybe tomorrow.

Cancer. Ovarian variety.

I met her at the greatest coffeehouse of all time, Urbis Orbis, in Chicago’s then-hottest, hippest ‘hood, Wicker Park, back in the early ’90s. Of all the successful folk who emerged from the Urbis scene — authors, rockers, painters, poets, hustlers, sharpies, dreamers — Amy is the one who most made this crazy, baffling, frustrating ordeal we call life bearable.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

And leave it to Amy to create, as a valediction, a call out for someone to be the next wife of her beloved husband of more than a quarter century, Jason, once she turns in her ID card. Yeah, she wrote a piece that ran in the New York Times Friday entitled “You May Want to Marry My Husband” (link below). The piece has gone viral, inspiring videos and news stories about it around the world.

She could find the humor in anything. Even her own death. I can only wish I’d be so imaginative, so, well…, funny. Here, you wanna get to know her? Read my Chicago Reader profile of her from December, 2000.

Or, if you haven’t the time or inclination to take in the whole goddamned thing, here’s a quick take:

Amy Krouse Rosenthal — book author, columnist, Yippie-yuppie prankster, and mother of three — was sitting at a table in a Wrigleyville coffeehouse when she heard from a fellow patron that Simone de Beauvoir had had her first orgasm ever in Wicker Park, one night she stayed with Nelson Algren. “They should have a bronze sign there!” Rosenthal nearly hollered. “That would be awesome. That would be the most brilliant example of insight and creativity, and they could have one of those brown highway directional signs like they have for the Children’s Museum or Navy Pier.” 

Recalling the moment, Rosenthal peers over her tortoiseshell reading glasses and sighs. “These are the ideas I get really jazzed about,” she says. Her days seem to brim with ideas too good to be true….

Longtime Chicagoans remember her famous sign, posted and taped up in taverns, coffeehouses, and other fashionable and trendy joints all around town that read, “Employees must hold hands before returning to work.” She was notorious for posting flyers and signs all around town, asking for the public’s help in finding her lost id or her dignity. She created a jacket made out of — yep — book jackets from her many titles. She gave a TED talk once outlining her Plan to Save the World.

Her project, “The Beckoning of Lovely,” was pure Amy. She put out the call for people to “make something pretty.” That’s all. The event drew an enormous crowd to Chicago’s Millennium Park. Watch the vid — I did (and I cried.)

One of my favorite stories from her: By the time she and Jason had two kids, their sex life was essentially restricted to the bathroom where they’d pile up blankets and pillows, lock the door, and enjoy their physical refreshments undisturbed. One day, they forgot to lock the door. In walked one of the kids. “Mama! Daddy! What are you doing?”

This line of inquiry was followed by the obligatory ers and ums and misdirections — “Look, honey, isn’t that a silverfish?”

Not long afterward, the kid was overheard explaining what love and sex are to another little pal. “It’s when your Mom and Dad go into the bathroom and fall down on the floor. Sometimes they put blankets down so it won’t hurt.”

Whatever made her who she was must have been in her DNA. One night at a garden party at her home, her little three-year-old daughter Paris asked me, “What if everybody’s name was Hot Dog?” Oh, the kid was her mother’s daughter. Amy might have asked the same question and then she’d follow it up with a book or a project based on that absurd premise and — you know what? — the whole thing would make perfect sense in the end!

She’s an agitator, a renegade, a subversive, but a nice one, like Erma Bombeck with tattoos and the F-bomb just waiting to escape from her lips before she breaks into her trademark grin. She’s the literary godmother of Jenny Lawson and Samantha Irby and the guys who do The Oatmeal and xkcd. That’s who she is. Or was. Peace and farewell, funny girl. I hope Jason is happy with his new wife, whoever the hell she may be. And remember to put blankets down so it won’t hurt.

Here’s a linkroll of things you should check out:

Hot Air: Don’t Be A Smart Guy

Just a little anecdote to illustrate this holy land’s weird take on smart people. Take a hike over to India, say, or France or most of the other 200 or so nations on this mad, mad, mad, mad world and you’ll find intellectuals are held in the highest esteem. Here? Nope.

Educated, well-read folk here are called nerds, eggheads, and worse. A smart American man is one who has made a billion dollars. An American woman is bright if she’s cashed in on her looks. Conversely, the 22-year-old who’s working on her PhD in English literature is a dope — how in the hell is she going to make a living on that?

In Italy, a man of intellect is called dottore (doctor), a sign of great respect. (IDK what Italians call brainy woman — feminists pretty much everywhere on this planet are, at best, tolerated.)

So, anyway, I’m reading the book Rocket Men by Craig Nelson. The 2010 New York Times bestseller recounts the story of the tens of thousands of people (women included, believe it or not) involved in the US space program from the inception of NASA in 1958 through the Apollo 11 moon landing in the summer of 1969. The original NASA astronauts, dubbed the Mercury Seven, were hailed as mythical, mystical heroes even before the first manned capsules went into space. Pix of the Seven graced the covers of dozens of the most popular magazines. Their faces were on the news seemingly night after night. Life did a series of worshipful pieces on them, turning them into such familiar figures that any grade school kid (including the one you’re reading right now) could name them.

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 12.52.17 PM


They were to Americans what Hercules, Achilles, Theseus, and Odysseus were to the Ancient Greeks. (BTW: None of them is left. The last of the original American spacemen was John Glenn who died this past December at the age of 95.)

NASA paraded the Mercury Seven around the country in the lead-up to the first Mercury manned launches. The agency’s publicists stood on their heads to portray the likes of Glenn, Wally Schirra, Gus Grissom, and the rest as regular Joes and the boys next door. The astronauts responded to questions from reporters with aw shucks, self-deprecating platitudes. The flacks figured America would take the astronauts to heart only if they were viewed as cowboys in pressure suits. Book learnin’? Puh-leaze, our boys had more important things to do than study propellants, drag, net thrust, the delta-V equation, and mass ratios. Why, they had to shoot bad guys (the Russkies) dead at high noon. They had to ride wild ponies into the heavens, thinking nothing of their own safety. Calculus? Hypergolics? That stuff was for pussies, like them damned college perfessors.

The publicists took great pains to essentially conceal from the public the fact that the Seven were really brilliant men of science. Every one of them had done extensive study in engineering, physics, aerodynamics, and the like.



Alan Shepard’s IQ, for example, was measured at 145 in naval academy prep school — genius level — when he was only 16 years old.

The American people remained blissfully unaware that their new heroes were Einsteins. Pete Conrad, in fact, one of the “New Nine,” the second wave of astronauts brought into NASA in 1962, was a student at Princeton when that institution’s most famous employee, Albert Einstein himself, died in 1955. Conrad, it has been reported, openly wept upon hearing the news.

None of this was considered necessary info for Americans to know. Then again, very little real info is necessary for Americans to know.

The Woman In The Moon

Hot Air: Don’t Laugh

“So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t forget to have fun doin’ it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth.” — Molly Ivins

It occurs to me we’ve never seen a photo of President Gag either laughing or smiling, genuinely.

I have to conclude the man has no sense of humor and no ability to feel mirth.


Attempting To Laugh; Hurting Self

And I’m not just talking about laughing at himself, which we know for a fact he cannot do. I believe he’s incapable of laughing at anything at all. Perhaps he has no capacity for feeling pleasure or lightness. He gets his kicks, apparently, only from accumulating things and triumphing over other human beings.

What psychological mis-wire or misfire can result in this? Here’s a quick online bibliography of articles dealing with the human need for laughter:

Hiller Holler

Three weeks from today, March 25th, the Book Corner will host an appearance by Nancy Hiller to celebrate the publication of her latest book, Making Things Work: Tales from A Cabinetmaker’s Life.

Hiller’s penned two books before this, The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History and A Home of Her Own. She’s also edited Historic Preservation in Indiana: Essays from the Field. She appeared on my Big Talk interview show back on February 9th and my profile of her will run in Limestone Post magazine sometime within the next couple of weeks.

Nancy’s one of our town’s definitive figures. She’s made a name for herself fashioning furniture and built-ins for homes here and in other parts of the nation. Her trademarks are faithful historical accuracy and a remarkable attention to detail and precision.


Making It Work

Her crowning literary work was A Home of Her Own. She wrote the book, working hand in hand with photographer Kendall Reeves, as a celebration of women who made their homes on their own. No, we’re not talking about pioneer log-splitters or modern day construction contractors — these women, on their own, bought and paid for and then created their own cribs. Here’s one Amazon review:

Nancy’s delightful, brave and original book… shows what comes about when women build their own homes. It breaks from the classic interior design format, so it has the missing bits included―mini-biographies of the individuals who have built against the odds….

Author Scott Russell Sanders says Nancy has “a storyteller’s feel for character. Here she offers us a gallery of women who have created distinctive homes, often in buildings that others had abandoned, sometimes after having been abandoned themselves, always with resourcefulness and imagination. As these women restore the outward fabric of houses and gardens and furnishings, they also restore the fabric of their lives.”

Making Things Work is treatise on qualities Hiller holds dear: hard work and honesty, told with an impish flair. “The title has a double meaning,” Hiller told me. “It is, of course, about the work of making things. But it is also an expression I use on an almost daily basis: Let’s just make it work.”

So, stop on by the Book Corner, 100 N. Walnut St., 812.339.1522, and get your signed copy of this or any of Hiller’s tomes. See you there.

Hot Air: Don’t Blame Me!

Did you catch the story about those dopes from Georgia who went on a two-day drunken hate-crime spree during which they waved the Confederate flag, pointed a shotgun at people of color, and threatened to kill them for…, well, for being people of color.

They yelled, among other things:

  • “We’re going to kill some niggers today.”
  • “We’ll blow the heads off the little bastards. We’ll kill all the little niggers.”
  • “I’ll kill all of you niggers.”

They’d screeched those epithets at an outdoor birthday party for an eight-year-old. Some guests video’d the event.

For expressing such promises, two of the group of 13 — the gang had gathered in a pickup truck convoy to terrorize two counties — have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms. The two, a couple who live together, exploded into tears and sobs, the poor things, when their sentences were announced.

Apparently, the woman-half of the couple, Kayla Norton, is having second thoughts about the whole incident. In fact, before she was sentenced she told the court what a silly mistake she’d made. Oops!

Kayla, poor thing, fell back on today’s go-to alibi for assholish behavior. “I want you all to know,” she told the court, “that is not me.”


Not Her

Just wondering: When did saying That’s not me become a hoped-for Get Out of Jail Free card? It doesn’t work in a court of law, of course, but drunk drivers, physical abusers, those unable to control their rage and hate, and other such slobs say it so much today that it must be fraught with some kind of magical self-excusing glitter.

Personal to all who feel compelled to say the line: It is you.

big-talk-logo-usable-screen-shot-copy Blood & Money

This week’s Big Talk might be the most important one yet. Journalist and author Doug Wissing joined me to discuss his three embeds with US Army troops in Afghanistan. Their — and Doug’s — take on this holy land’s longest war is a must-listen for anyone concerned about how we risk our soldiers’ lives, how we take the lives of Afghanis for granted, and how we’re pissing away at least hundreds of billions — Doug says it’s a trillion — bucks on a failed enterprise.


Afghani Pashtuns

[Image: Douglas Wissing]

Here’s the link to yesterday’s feature on WFHB‘s Daily Local News. And here’s the link to the almost-unedited original interview with Doug. His new book, Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in Afghanistan, is on sale at your local bookseller now.

Big Talk is a regular Thursday feature of WFHB’s Daily Local News at 5pm.

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