Category Archives: Writing

A Cap Collection: 1986-99

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I’m enjoying the Medium.com format so far. It’s got the cleanest writing interface I’ve ever used — the em-dashes look like em-dashes! — and the community there is quite active when it comes to commenting and collaboration.

I wrote my second thing over there and it’s on a project I’ve been thinking about for a while: documenting my childhood baseball cap collection.

You can see the full collection over on my Flickr page, and read the story, “The Sad and Rapid Decline of the Ball Cap,” at Medium.

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I Only Want to Read Reviews Written by Lou Reed

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…Eventually I left, went to college, moved to the East Coast for grad school. I went to the world I’d been reading about and the reading became less vital. Read music reviews—or anything for that matter—long enough and you’ll start to notice the patterns, the same turns of phrase, the common syntax, the shortcuts taken to meet expectations of how a music review should read.

Once you notice these things, there’s no forgetting. Every album review started to sound the same. Reading them became unbearable. Despite the carefully wrangled and wrought efforts of reviewers trying to describe a sound—“gone are the cheap garage guitars of Band X’s debut album, traded in for a synthesizer and a Swollen Pickle resulting in a sweaty stew of New Gaze/Shoe Wave anthems”—the discussion of music didn’t resemble the experience of listening to music at all.

Until Lou Reed decided to write about Yeezus. Allow me to be the 10,000th person in the past two days to tell you to go read it.

Read the rest at Medium.com.

(Image via yeezygraffiti.com)

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What do champions have in common?

Stretching the limits of my statistical prowess here, but I decided to use standard deviation to examine what modern day national champions in college football have in common. A short excerpt below:

If we were to write out those results in plain English, the profile of a national champion over the past six years would read something like this: The last six national champions have consistently ran the ball well (rushing YPG and YPC), pressured the quarterback (sacks/g), stopped the run (rushing YPG and YPC allowed), scored enough points to rank in the top 25 (PPG) because they get to the red zone frequently (red zone attempts) and convert those attempts (red zone scoring percentage), had a merely adequate passing game (passing YPG), and got off the field on third down (opponent third down conversion percentage).

You can read the whole thing at HailVarsity.com.

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The Cost of Being Cool

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You can buy selvage denim at J.C. Penney now. The jeans cost $35.

Pick them up and they feel a little light but that’s what you get for the nearly $100 price difference from most competitors. Roll up the cuff and there’s the telltale self-edge–where the jeans get their name–running up the outside seam. Turn them over and that same red and white seam is on the top of the back pocket, an ugly and extraneous bit of adornment. But, in this case, it serves a purpose.

It says: Look at the damn miracle we’ve created. You can now buy the jeans denim-heads covet in the same place where your father once bought a poly-blend suit and a clip-on tie for special occasions. Never mind that the traditional Penney customer never knew he wanted selvage jeans, much less the difference between those and regular jeans. The point seems to be that it can be done.

So maybe it’s not a miracle, but rather an experiment. An experiment that’s failing.

Read the rest of the entry over at COOP

An Interview with Chuck Hagel

With former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel assuming  the  office of Secretary of Defense today, it seemed like a good time to take a look back at an interview I did with Hagel at the end of 2010. At the time, Hagel said he “wasn’t looking for work” but there were plenty of hints in there that a move such as the one he made today wouldn’t have been unwelcome.

Originally published in The Reader on Nov. 17, 2010

FINDING MIDDLE GROUND

Ask Chuck Hagel where American politics is headed and he’ll tell you to forget all the party rhetoric, all the headlines touting a fierce red-blue divide, and focus on the middle.

It’s a spot the former Nebraska senator knows well. In the waning years of his two-term Senate career, Hagel was rumored first as a 2008 Republican presidential candidate, then as a potential running mate for President Barack Obama. His reputation is not of crossing the aisle so much as occupying it.The America he sees today isn’t as polarized as TV talking heads make it seem.

“Registered Independents are, and have been the past few years, the plurality of registered voters in America,” Hagel says in an interview following his speech in the Collaborating Commons room in the College of Public Affairs and Community Service building at the University of Nebraska at Omaha on Nov. 11. “What’s that tell you? We’re not going out toward more partisanship in the populace — just the opposite. People are going more inward, toward the center.”

While Republicans rode a powerful anti-incumbent backlash to take control of the House on Nov. 2, the center isn’t where Hagel sees his party headed. He says the emergence of far-right groups like the Tea Party could make things difficult for the GOP.

“It’s the extremes of both parties that control the parties, and now the Republican Party is really controlled by the extreme,” he says. “The next Republican presidential candidate is going to have to run that gauntlet tougher than anyone’s ever had to run it.

“Republicans are fighting Republicans. Conservatives are fighting conservatives. These are going to be tough times over the next two years.”

Seems like the perfect time for a candidate with a proven appeal to both parties: Is that candidate Hagel? He says he frequently talks with members of the Obama administration, but he’s happy serving as chair of the public policy think tank the Atlantic Corporation. Hagel continues to contribute politically as a member of the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board and the Secretary of Defense’s Policy Board.

“I’m not looking for work. I’m not looking for government work. I’m not looking for a new job,” says the 64-year-old, who looks young and fit in his charcoal suit and bright-blue tie.

His work as an Army sergeant in the Vietnam War brings Hagel to Omaha. In his speech to more than 100 people gathered at UNO for the school’s Veteran’s Day ceremony, he cautioned attendees about the growing disconnect he sees between the armed services and the public.

“We are unfortunately evolving into a country — not unlike Rome and some of the other great republics — where you’ve got a warrior class and then the rest of society,” he says. “You just buy the services.”

While American taxpayers foot the bill for defense spending, Hagel says that’s still not enough to keep them engaged with the 1 percent of the populace that does all of the fighting and dying. He says our all-volunteer service “means, for example, that 99 percent of America is not connected either directly or indirectly to any kind of service.

“If you disconnect society too much from those who serve, then you get kind of a fat, lazy, uninformed public that says, ‘I don’t know about that war in Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever it may be, but the people fighting it? That’s their choice.’”

In 2004, Hagel stood before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and called for reinstating the military draft. He backed off those comments on Veteran’s Day but says mandatory service could’ve shortened the lengthy wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Inheriting those two wars is a major reason Hagel says he’s still bullish on Obama, despite the president’s approval rating falling to its lowest point 10 days before the midterms.

“Everything is relative,” Hagel says. “Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan — Barack Obama was higher than all of them at the same time in their presidency.”

Add it all up — the wars, the recession, the Republican-controlled House — and Hagel sees a country searching for a new “center of gravity.”

“Politics reflects society. It doesn’t lead society, it doesn’t change society,” he says. “Politicians reflect who they represent. If they’re not responding, then there’s going to be something happening. “We are seeing a new governing coalition being built in this country — that’s what’s going on right now.”

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The New Issue of Hail Varsity in 6 Seconds

 

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Brooklyn Brewery

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Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, wrote the book (twice) on the craft beer movement. When it comes to beer geek royalty, he ranks right up there with anyone.

I got the chance to interview Oliver or a feature in the Holiday issue of Food Loves Beer.

Read it here.

Beer Geeks and Foodies Unite

You know the story. Beer geek meets foodie. They fall in love. They can never go out anywhere because most of the truly great beer joints fail to deliver on the eats while most of the fun food spots are pouring little more than Chimay and that local beer that you have all the time.

Washington D.C.’s Birch and Barley was created to bridge that gap and, after a visit last summer that resulted in perhaps the best brunch I’ve ever had, I’m of the opinion that it succeeds better than most. If you’re going to D.C. please go there.

I had the opportunity to interview executive chef Kyle Bailey for the latest edition of Food Loves Beer magazine. Here’s what he had to say on the challenge of changing expectations for what a “beer bar” can be:

That was our number one challenge. We opened Birch and Barley and Churchkey the same day. The day we opened there was a line down the block and I was extremely frightened. People wanted this place open for a long time. Churchkey was always going to be about a good time, but B&B was yet to be defined. Everybody expected us to serve, I hate saying it, gastro-pub food. For the first month we sold nothing but burgers and I was afraid. I thought “this is the end of my career.” I spent a decade in the best restaurants in New York just killing myself to learn how to cook. And then all I was cooking was burgers. But after the first month, the foodies started coming in. One of the things I wanted to do was to bridge that gap between foodies and beer geeks. Why not? Beer is a cooked product. You have to cook it to make beer and you have to cook food. Why can’t you have an awesome meal, paired with awesome beer? It was a big challenge and there’s some places that try to do what we do but the food isn’t there.
Read the full interview here.
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The Derby from the Downs

Revisiting old writing is a very humbling experience. I was sorting through old grad school papers a few weeks ago and had to toss most of them out of sheer embarassment. That said, this piece has its moments so I’m reposting it out of some archivist’s impulse. Also, due to unforeseen circumstances, I’m woefully under-prepared for this year’s Derby, so this is my contribution. Here’s how the Kentucky Derby was in Boston in 2006.

It’s racing biggest day and everything smells like vomit. I stepped off the Blue Line at the Sufflok Downs T stop and almost directly into a pile of someone’s Cinco de Mayo celebration. Before I even feel the juice of my first wager of the season, I’m already a bit depressed. We couldn’t be further from the big hats and bigger cigars of Louisville, but that’s the Derby via simulcast: some of the excitement, none of the decadence.

I shared the five minute walk to the track with a guy wearing a personalized New York Giants away jersey. There was no greeting, no pleasantries, he simply asked the question Kid Rock had been asking me all week in those NTRA commercials, “Who do you like?” It’s racing’s version of “how you doing” and I’m relieved to be back at the track.

Continue reading

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The best sports story of 2012

I know we’re only 11 days in but the best sports story of 2012 has already been written. It’s Thomas Lake’s profile of Clifton ‘Pop’ Herring for Sports Illustrated. Who is Pop Herring? The Wilmington, N.C. high school basketball coach who famously “cut” Michael Jordan as a sophomore at Laney High.

I, like Lake in the story, use “cut” because, as a child who was infatuated with Jordan and reading, I never really bought the story of how Michael Jordan didn’t end up on varsity as a 5-10 sophomore. He was a sophomore. He  did grow eight inches by the time he went to college. There are any number of strategic decisions that would’ve made cutting Jordan feasible. I knew all of these things as a 12-year-old who adored “Come Fly With Me” and would regularly watch 70-plus NBA games a year, but needing a big man — the actual explanation — will never trump cutting the eventual best basketball player in the world.  That’s a hook that will grab even non-sports fans’ interest.

That Jordan, the most ruthlessly competitive athlete we’ve ever seen, used the snub to become the greatest basketball player in the world also made for a convenient backstory. But thirty years on from when Jordan first emerged on the national scene as a freshman at North Carolina, nobody had ever stopped to ask one simple question: Was it actually true? That led to a better question: What ever happened to Pop Herring b.k.a. “The Man Who Cut Michael Jordan?”

It’s not a story, like so many sports stories, of an extraordinary triumph over unbelievable odds. It’s an ordinary story of an ordinary life the was, to this point, known only as a plot point in the vast machine-made mythos of Michael Jordan. That’s why it’s the best sports story of the year.