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

Before/After

April ’12

 

March ’13

 

Sorta changes the look of Memorial Stadium a bit, no?

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Goodbye, Bob

Great ending for the last Nebraska basketball game at the Bob Devaney Center. My game story is here.

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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

 

Want a longer look? Subscribe here.

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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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Field Notes’ Memo Book Archive

Aaron Draplin might be crazy, but he’s the kind of crazy I love. My dad still carries these little freebie notebooks around and they were always lying around in the various farm trucks and tractors growing up. Now there’s an online gallery of Draplin’s collection and that’s important.

For a few years now, I’ve had the idea to do something similar, photograph and catalog the large “gimme cap” collection taking up a dusty old cabinet in the shop at home. It’s essentially from the same place, but for your head rather than your pocket. Looks like a trip home is in order.

You can check out Field Notes new limited release, the National Crop edition, here.

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A new cocktail column for Omaha


The food beat in Omaha is pretty well covered, but one thing that’s always surprised me is the relative lack of coverage cocktails get in our fair city. “The Old Fashioned Files,” my new column for Omahype, is an effort to change that.

The fantastic, hand-lettered logo you see above is courtesy of Ellen Wilde at Secret Penguin. My hope is that the column itself is good enough to stand up to the nice graphic lead-in it gets each week, but I’ll let you judge for yourself. The introductory column, which explains the whole approach, is here and the first real bar visit can be found here.

Cheers or slainte or salud or something.


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