Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 77)

The Unbearable Whiteness of Balling

Over the weekend, a carrot-topped Q-Tip named Kevin Huerter dismantled the Philadelphia 76ers, destroying their nearly decade-long “process” and catapulting the Atlanta Hawks into the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals.

The sight of a gangly caucasian torching the Eastern Conference’s number one seed caused much bemusement among NBA viewers. On Inside the NBA, TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal called Huerter “Opie Richie Cunningham.” New York Times reporter Astead Herndon, who is African-American, tweeted a photo of Huerter, saying, “imagine this guy ends your season.”

Herndon’s tweet immediately provoked the performatively offended on Twitter, who cried reverse racism for a joke about a white player in a 75 percent Black league.

“Imagine the outrage if a white man tweeted this about a black man playing a white dominated sport,” wrote one commenter. “Huh? This dude just put up 27 against the number 1 seed in the East and was seminal in winning the game. And that’s your take? Come on man,” wrote “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” actor Rob McIlhenny.

“What should the guy who ends your season look like?,” wrote another commenter, asking Herndon to explain his tweet.

L’affaire Huerter unveils an open secret in competitive basketball: White players are viewed differently than Black players. And you know what? It’s fine.

Here’s the thing that non-athletes don’t get: When your Black teammates or competitors tease you for being white, it is the ultimate honor. You are now part of the club. They are showing you respect.

As an avid basketball player growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, I always got a close-up look at how I was viewed vis-à-vis my Black teammates. At playgrounds, I was inevitably one of the last players picked. When you finally got some run and could show you had some flavor in your game, you’d start getting affectionate nicknames, always based on famous white players.

“Oh look, we got a little John Stockton here! Look at mini Bobby Hurley!”

At one point in college, playing on a court outside a dorm reserved primarily for Virginia Tech football players, a group of Black players actually stopped a game in amazement when I went between my legs and behind my back, a move the Miami Heat’s Tim Hardaway had perfected and which I had practiced hundreds of times. The move would not have gotten so many hoots and hollers had it been performed by a player who was…um…more “stereotypically” flashy.

The purpose of pointing this out is not to brag that I was really all that great – at 5’9”, I wasn’t anywhere near good enough to play in college, and these are dribbling techniques every high school player can do – but when you can do them as a white player, it gets you more attention.

As evidence, look no further than college basketball or the NBA, when announcers begin speaking in tongues when a white player throws down a vicious dunk. Pat Connaughton of the Milwaukee Bucks sports a 44-inch vertical leap – the second-highest ever measured at the NBA Draft combine – and yet even after seven years in the league, announcers are still caught off guard by his “sneaky” rise. (This is exacerbated by the fact the Bucks are well-known for their parade of white stiffs throughout the years.)

And you know what? It’s awesome.

Sports is an oasis from much of America’s performative nonsense in that it is purely a meritocracy. And when you’re part of a team, the abrupt honesty fomented by competition can provoke honest discussions of all sorts. Being in the pressure cooker of a basketball team forges friendships and trust in a way that is missing in the social media era – different players of different races can joke with each other in ways not possible among strangers. Honest conversations about race can be had without participants immediately assuming bad intentions.

(For example, my high school team’s bus rides were always accompanied by boom boxes playing Go-Go music of the late 1980s. This prompted me to ask our star player what white artists he ever listened to. “George Michael,” he told me, “because he gets all the ladies.”)

Getting teased as a white player among friends is fine, because racism is, in effect, an act of power. As a spokesman for white people, I can report that we are doing just fine. We can even storm the U.S. Capitol, live stream it, and all walk out without a bruise.

Of course, there’s always going to be the dopey “if there’s Black History Month, why isn’t there White History Month, too” brand of internet troll, and they were out in force after the Huerter game. But the reason you can make fun of white players is simple – if you joke about whiteness, you’re not making fun of something that can cause real damage to an individual. If, by contrast, you joked about a player’s “Blackness,” you would be making light of a thing that could have widespread detrimental effects on his income, educational opportunity, and way of life.

You would also be a dumb racist.

And if you are somehow offended by being taunted for being white, there is always the option of being awesome and earning the respect you think you deserve.

During one practice in high school, I dribbled the ball up the court, stopped at the three point line, and put up a shot. The coach blew the whistle and excoriated me on the spot, yelling, “you have to be a hell of a player to take that shot!”

Next time down the court, I dribbled up to the same spot, and again took another three pointer. Our coach at this point was beside himself with rage. Veins bulging, he screamed, “what did I just tell you?”

“All I heard was that you have to be a hell of a player to take that shot,” I said.

And therein lies the beauty of athletics. Want to dispel a stereotype? Do it on the court or on the field. Like Kevin Huerter, regardless of your race, you’ll always get your shot.

“Zero Star Reviews” – where history has its final say

In March 1885, a small Pennsylvania newspaper called the Valley Spirit wrote a brief editorial comment about a new book they wanted banned.

“The lines were coarse, the situations vulgar and the general style of the book too grotesque to be natural,” they said of the novel, concluding it was “trash of the veriest sort.”

Of course, that novel was “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, regarded by many as the greatest American story of all time. “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn,’” Ernest Hemingway said in 1935. “It’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”

To his credit, Twain was always willing to make fun of his bad reviews. “I like criticism,” he once said,  “but it must be my way.”

Over the past couple hundred years, American newspapers have been stuffed with similarly awful historical reviews of classic books, movies, and music, and I have set out to find them. I’ve set up a Twitter feed called @ZeroStarReviews, where I post critical reviews that have, in the subsequent years, been exposed as preposterous outliers.

Take the reviewer who said the popularity of “The Godfather” was “the sick reaction of a sick society” and compared admiration of the mafia to praise of Adolf Hitler.

Or the reviewer who couldn’t get into an HBO show called “The Wire” because the writers took too long to introduce an actual wire tap into the story. Or the New Jersey reviewer who predicted a “rank and vile” show called “The Golden Girls” wouldn’t last past one season.

In digging these gems up, I’ve wondered why it feels so good to read the musings of other people who were so catastrophically wrong. There has to be something other to it than merely feeling an adrenaline boost of temporary superiority in knowing your take has been confirmed by the history books.

One thing people have written to me is that it makes them feel impervious to criticism – that, hey, if someone was dumb enough to shred the Beatles for “Abbey Road” (and some were), surely Twitter trolls knocking your work should roll right off your back, right?

Imagine if, after a Minneapolis Star Tribune critic said Prince would be “working in a three-piece suit in a year or two” after releasing “Dirty Mind,” he threw up his hands and said, “yeah, maybe this isn’t for me.” We never would have gotten “1999,” “Purple Rain,” or the greatest Super Bowl halftime show in history.

What if the Beastie Boys had listened after a Fresno Bee critic wrote them the following rap after the release of “Paul’s Boutique?”

“Hey Beastie Boys
Don’t be fools
Quit making records
And go back to school”

Perhaps in 2021 you’d have a urologist named “Adrock.”

(Side note: If, in this scenario, your “critic” is your boss, and he or she is criticizing your enthusiasm for taking pictures of women’s feet in the office, please listen to your critic and stop immediately.)

But even more than being an inspirational tool, the feed has made me think more about time and memory, and how perceptions of each can mold what culture believes to be “true.”

For example, in May 1977, a little movie called “Star Wars” hit the theaters, to somewhat mixed reviews. A critic at the Louisville Courier-Journal called the movie “relentlessly childish,” complaining it was hard to sense any real drama in a cast that largely wore rubber alien masks.

Now, with the benefit of history, we know what Star Wars became – a franchise that pulled in billions of dollars in revenue, raised an army of dedicated fans, and spawned an entirely new cinematic universe. History has, in effect, proven the movie’s critics “wrong” – but were they? It was just a guy’s opinion – maybe he ate a bad tuna sandwich for lunch that day.

Perhaps this is a bit of late-night, dorm-room philosophizing, but it has made me wonder how many other historical concepts we now accept as “true” or “false” simply because the right people had the right opinions about them way back when they were introduced. It seems “reality” is malleable based on public opinion, and oftentimes, public opinion is influenced by critics.

And as a result, it seems jarring to go back and revisit the opinions of people who contradicted what decades of public opinion has now deemed “true.” (Put another way, if public opinion is a measure of worth, then Shania Twain would be as objectively great as Mark Twain, as her 1997 album “Come on Over” was the second-highest selling album of the 1990s.)

Or maybe it’s just funny to laugh at people who were spectacularly wrong.

Some other side notes in putting the feed together:

-At first, I thought it would be funny to include some modern Amazon user reviews of classic works. For instance, the Amazon user who read Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” and said, “This is my dad’s favorite book…without understanding fishing, I had to look a few terms up, and the story just dragged on.” (Editor’s note – the book is like 100 pages and can be read in about two hours.)

I scrapped this idea, though, thinking it was best to stick to classic, contemporaneous reviews to further make my point about the elasticity of time and memory (see above.) But I would totally read a Twitter feed featuring hilarious Amazon reviews – someone get on this.

-The review database I use is enough to make anyone wistful of the days where every little paper across America had their own reviewer, with their own opinions and axes to grind. It’s these reviewers that provide the real gold. Sure, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune are going to pan something popular every now and then, but working at one of those big papers implies a bit of worldliness and cultural taste than tiny paper critics don’t necessarily have. And the little guys often have more leeway to let it rip.

-In some cases, I have tagged artists mentioned in the reviews to see if they’ll laugh about how wrong the critic was. This has not gone well – either the famous person will ignore it, or actually get angry for mentioning them. Clearly, they don’t understand the point of the feed, which is to show how great they are by demonstrating how ridiculous criticisms of them were – typically, if they see any bad opinion of themselves in print, they will not laugh along. (Which is, in a way, refreshingly relatable.)

-There are some films and albums for which bad reviews simply don’t exist. This is especially true in the 1930s and 1940s, when local papers didn’t so much “review” movies, they simply announced a film was coming to their town and provided a plot synopsis. Presumably, people were still very excited about the prospect of going to see a moving picture, so the idea of a paper convincing them they shouldn’t leave their homes to see the miracle of projection seemed anathema. (The Holy Grail of this era, in my mind, would be a newspaper badmouthing “Singin’ in the Rain.)

And, finally:

Some people have complained that the actual reviews don’t really give a movie or album “zero stars” – for instance, a critic will give a film a “C-plus,” or some such rating. I basically go by the review itself – even reviews that moderately recommend a piece of culture can say things that look ridiculous in retrospect. So everyone relax, the “Zero Stars” title is a bit of an exaggeration – in the real world, there are zero reviews that give “zero stars.”

(Plus, “One Star Reviews” was taken.)

I Am Also Not Dating Jane Krakowski


In the past few weeks, I have had any number of insults directed at me. I have been called a “traitor,” a “liar,” and been accused of “treason.” But I want to distance myself from perhaps the most insidious calumny that may soon be hurled my way: I have never dated beloved actress Jane Krakowski.

If I were to be accused of such a misstep, it would no doubt overshadow all the good I have done for the last year, from inciting an armed insurrection against the nation’s government to spreading lies about the security of voting machines, to pitching miracle cures for the COVID-19 virus. My run of positive media coverage simply couldn’t take the hit if I were accused of once having romanced the beautiful and winsome star of such shows as “30 Rock” and “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Think of the damage such a rumor could do to my persona as the leader of unimpressive white men! Just the other day, a young man with tears in his eyes approached me and said “please tell me you haven’t been involved with the multi-talented host of “Name that Tune” airing at 9 ET/8CT on FOX.” I slapped him in the face for even making the suggestion, and he thanked me effusively, indicating he now had a reason to continue living.

I have had one acquaintance suggest to me that an unfounded accusation of being a stone cold lover that beds starlets may be a boon to my public persona. “Nonsense!” I yelled to him as he handed me a sampling of Vienna sausage on a toothpick. I didn’t care who in Costco was aware of my displeasure!

If the FAKE MEDIA is allowed to go around and destroy powerful men by accusing them of bedding starlets, will there be no end to the witch hunt? Innocent men in offices across America will no doubt be brought down for an unfounded suggestion that they once took Tootie from the “Facts of Life” to Applebee’s!

In fact, I already had to fire one employee simply for admitting he once had amorous feelings for Janice from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem band!

Clearly, being tied to a charming and funny personality would be a catastrophe for the three employees at my company, MyCravat. It’s a neckerchief, but…slightly different! And on the strength of nonstop late night television ads, we have sold almost several!

Yet for some reason, our products have recently been pulled from most big box stores, forcing me to sell MyCravats in Bed, Bloodbath and Beyond, the nation’s largest retailer of products for anti-government-based domestic terrorists. It’s your lucky day when you’ve been taken hostage using their lavender-scented zip ties!

To prove I am serious, I have sent up a charity to fend off others who may have been accused of dating Jane Krakowski. With any contribution of $100,000 or more, you will receive one free MyCravat and a complimentary visit from the FBI to search your home.

A brief note on farts

Evidently farts might be silent AND deadly.

I learned this recently coming across a piece in the New York Post detailing work done by researchers in Australia as to whether the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted through flatulence.

“Luckily, we wear a mask, which covers our farts all the time,” said Dr. Norman Swan on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Coronacast” podcast, referring to the protection pants, underwear, and other coverings provide.

In essence, we are all wearing “ass masks.”

“I think that what we should do in terms of social distancing and being safe is that … you don’t fart close to other people, and that you don’t fart with your bottom bare.”

This is a relief – presumably, most farting is now done in homes with people you know. If I find myself in a situation where someone unfamiliar to me is dropping ass while pantless, I have a lot more to worry about than catching the virus.

But the “posterior pandemic panic,” as the Post puts it, touches on one of my greatest fears – smelling anything that recently came from inside the body of another human.

If I walk into a bathroom that smells like a warthog died in it, I will immediately turn around and walk about. Because the same molecules that made the bathroom stink were only recently nestled in the anus of another human being. We try to pretend that once it escapes, it’s not as bad, because it has mixed with other air molecules and hopefully weakened. But this is a technicality – if you smell anything at all, you are ingesting molecules from a stranger’s rectum. It’s basically the same as you walking up, putting your nose right up to a stranger’s buttocks, and inhaling deeply. The only difference is the amount of their airborne fecal matter you inhale.

Backing up my point, some scientists recently said coronavirus can be transmitted through “aerosolized feces.”

This makes total sense. For example,  I have recently taken up bicycling, and I often ride past people on the bike path, which is supposedly safe. But every now and then I fly by a person who I can actually smell – whether they are wearing perfume, or cologne, or whatever.  And I know that if their smell molecules drift far enough away from them for me to notice, then their COVID particles damn sure could, as well.

This should not scare anyone into drastically changing their lifestyle. New laws are not needed, such as the lawmaker in Nairobi who suggested criminalizing farting on planes. (On the bright side, it is comforting to see the real problems of Nairobi have been completely ameliorated.)

But it is a reminder, even if you are in public and your money maker is fully covered, we are all just living in one giant Dutch oven.

My Favorite Albums of 2019

Time for the annual “favorite albums” list. Admittedly, this year’s list is heavily influenced by bands I saw at SXSW in March, but they’re all worth checking out.

10. Dehd – Water

Song: “On My Side”

A Chicago band fronted by erstwhile lovers, Dehd is perfectly melodic, stripped down guitar rock. The spareness of the sound pulls the hooks to the front where they belong.

9. King Princess – Cheap Queen

Song: “Prophet”

The only artist on my list that is currently opening worldwide for Harry Styles.

8. Cherry Glazerr – Stuffed and Ready

Song: “That’s Not My Real Life”

Was front row at one of her bigger shows at SXSW – loud and uncompromising, yet catchy and hook-laden.

7. Bleached – Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough

Song: “Somebody Dial 911”

6. Anemone – Beat my Distance

Song: “Sunshine (Back to the Start)”

Psychedelic pop from Montreal – also, their band name is pronounced “ah-ne-MOAN,” not “uh-NEM-uh-knee,” unless they are playing a joke on all of us.

5. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising

Song: “Everyday”

4. Stroppies – Whoosh

Song: “Cellophane Car”

3. Palehound – Black Friday

Song: “Aaron”

2.  Moving Panoramas – In Two

Song: “Baby Blues”

You probably won’t find this album on many Top 10 lists, but it is impossibly shimmering power pop. I listened to this song more than any other this year.

1. Fontaines D.C. – Dogrel

Song: “Boys in the Better Land”

Sensational Irish punk – in this video, take note of the guy in the plaid shirt wearing a backpack in the second row on the left hand side of the stage. For it is me.

A Letter From the Battlefield

Digging through some of my great-grandfather’s old personal belongings, I found the following note:

December 17, 1918

My dearest Mabel:

I hope this letter finds you in good spirits. For nearly a year here on the Western front, I have longed to once again gaze upon your honeyed visage. As the nights fall to below freezing in our fetid trench, my memories of you are all I have to warm my heart. And I cannot say how long that will be enough to keep me alive during this, the greatest of all wars.

As we continue to pound away at the German lines, the unmistakable specter of death has us surrounded. The food we are being fed isn’t for consumption by any living thing. My company loses a dozen men a day from German cannon fire, sniper attacks, disease, or from the cold. The only positive thing to happen in the past month was the time a barely-clothed woman leapt from our trench and defeated an entire German battalion by herself armed with only a shield, a sword, and some bullet-resistant arm cuffs.

Otherwise, the smell of corpses is beginning to overwhelm our trench. Desperation has taken hold of our men – even late at night, we can still hear the cries of our brothers left wounded on the battlefield, begging for their mothers and wives. Their final pleadings are close enough to hear, yet they are too far to attend to. It is almost enough for some healthy men to wish for a swift death themselves, rather than having to endure another day in this nightmare.

Perhaps I should provide some more clarification about my previous reference to the comely, near-naked woman who ended up killing hundreds of Germans by herself. It was a very curious event; she shed her jacket, then walked straight into no-man’s land while donning a glittering crown and some very alluring boots, all while defending herself against thousands of bullets being sprayed her way. Having drawn the attention of the Hun, we were able to then attack and defeat their heavily fortified line, providing the Allied powers with a rare victory indeed.

Yet despite this temporary victory, few men have hopes of ever winning the war. The Germans will stop at nothing to crush France, Britain and the United States on their path to world domination. To many, this was a war begun by the assassination of a worthless archduke nephew of an equally worthless emperor; and yet troops are seeing their best mates cut down in the prime of their lives. We can only hope that the Lord blesses our mission with his divine grace to stop the barbarism being inflicted on Europe by the Kaiser.

The weird thing is, why were the Germans shooting at the most beautiful woman in the world while she was completely unarmed? I mean, she’s twice as hot as any of the flamethrowers they’ve been using on us. If you looked hard enough, you could see a pretty solid side-boob – why would an entire battalion rain all their gunfire on this glorious figure while completely ignoring the hundreds of Allied troops carrying their own guns and rushing towards the German trench?

Anyway, I may have gotten sidetracked there for a moment. It is a question left only for the history books. Hopefully future volumes will tell of the heroism of the men fighting in the Great War and the blood they have shed to free the world from the shackles of imperialism. I am willing to die for our cause – with God on our side, what glory awaits!

My pencil is getting dull, so one final note – once the war is complete, my commander has commissioned me and several of my comrades on a mission to Themyscira, an island that is…um… evidently very dangerous and is of vital strategic importance. As it is the birthplace of this wondrous woman, it must be defended at all costs, as there are no men on the entire island. It is a mission of such prestige, literally every man in my battalion has volunteered for service! What a brave sacrifice we are all willing to make!

I must leave you now, dear Mabel. Please do not weep if you do not hear from me again. In my remaining days, my mind will be busy thinking of you, my own mortality, the morality of war, and what it would be like to perform battlefield CPR on literally the most unbelievable woman in the world.

U.S. Corporal S. Schneider

Veld, France

Time to Put the “Social” Back in “Social Media”

A couple years back, a liberal writer friend of mine suggested we work together on a project: we’d take a cross country trip and keep a journal of our discussions. His elevator pitch: “What would a conservative and liberal talk about in the car on a road trip?”

I told him I presumed I would talk about the usual things I discuss with my liberal friends. Sports, movies, music, sandwiches, girls, work, funny drinking stories, how I got the scars I have, why dogs are great, mustaches, World War I, Twitter, Harley Davidson motorcycles, what animals you think you can beat in a fight, etc.  All the usual stuff.

In short, everything but politics.

(Also, this “cross country, cross-ideology road trip” idea was the conceit behind Michael Ian Black and Meghan McCain’s book, “America, You Sexy Bitch,” which I keep on hand in the event I ever plunge into depression thinking nobody will ever publish my book.)

The lesson, of course, is that as regular people moving around in the world, we all have interests that may overlap or diverge, but that have nothing to do with political affiliation. It’s find to have an ideology, but honestly – people who identify themselves politically before everything else are a total bore.

I was just thinking about this in the wake of rock star Chris Cornell’s shocking and saddening suicide last week. On social media, Cornell’s fans began to emerge to express their sadness and pay tribute – and it crossed ideological and cultural lines in way few things on Twitter or Facebook do.

I was particularly struck by an ode to Cornell written by conservative Weekly Standard writer Mark Hemingway, who I’ve always enjoyed following on Twitter. On most things we align politically, but sometimes we don’t.

But aside from politics, who knew Hemingway played in a rock band in Seattle in the early 1990s, or that he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of grunge music? How many conservative writers can painstakingly break down the unique time signatures of Soundgarden’s biggest hits?

As a lifelong Cornell fan, I immediately felt a kinship with Hemingway in a way I never had before. And the same goes with progressives that began popping up on my social media timelines telling their stories about their Chris Cornell fandom. I’ve reached out to some of them and been able to talk about a common interest I never expected to share with them. (In 1992, I saw Soundgarden in Milwaukee when they shared a bill with Blind Melon and Neil Young; it was just after Cornell shaved off his famous long locks of hair, and thinking he looked awesome, I went right home and did the same thing. He looked like a badass – I looked like an eraser.)

That’s what makes Twitter and other social media venues such an odd thing; people are so desperate to lord their moral superiority over others, we miss out on the things we actually have in common. How many of the same people out there that are quick to slam my politics would have fun sitting and talking about how I think Pee Wee’s Great Adventure is the pinnacle of American movie making? Or my theories about how one day plastic surgery is going to be so good, we won’t be able to tell the young from the old, and people who look like teenagers are just going to start dropping dead in the streets? (That one’s kind of a thinker.)

I mean, I’m proud of being a libertarian-leaning conservative; but it’s really a small part of the things that comprise my brain. It seems we spend most of our time fighting over a small percentage of who we are, and we’re missing out on all the other connective tissue that makes us a society. We’re neglecting the “social” part of “social media.”

Of course, there are no people more irritating than the “can’t we all get along” hippies that complain about gridlock. It is incumbent on people who have ideas about government to fight for their convictions, and conflict is an important part of the system of checks and balances. As the saying goes, if you think government runs too slow, wait ’til you see the damage done by one that acts too fast.

But for too many people, politics is now all we know about them, and it makes them far easier to dismiss. Cardboard cutouts are easy to knock down – if you think people aren’t interested in your thoughts about culture or movies or music, you’re wrong. And you might be missing and important connection with someone who shares your thoughts, as weird as they may be. We’re all riding in cars of our own ideologies, never slowing down to meet the other travelers on the road to ask what they’re listening to.

In the early days of the internet, scientists marveled at its potential to bring people together; instead, it has fractured us over political lines. Or, as David Burge put it in a profound set of tweets in January, “10-15 years ago, the internet connected me with best friends I never knew; now it’s the least pleasant thing in my life.”

As Burge correctly counseled, “Shared politics are shitty basis for a friendship.” So stand up and fight for what you believe in, but always remember – literally the least interesting thing about you is your politics.

My Best Albums of 2016

Another year, another list of my favorite albums.  As always, these have been carefully selected through a strict scientific method; now that I have taken the lab coat off and turned off all the Bunsen burners, these are the 10 albums the formula yielded.  It’s just science.

10. Chance the Rapper, “Coloring Book”

All year, friends had been telling me to listen to this album, and I’m really happy I finally gave in.  A groundbreaking album in the “gospel hip-hop” genre, it’s steeped in the optimism America needs right now.

“Summer Friends”

9.  Laura Gibson, “Empire Builder”

My love for Laura Gibson is well documented.  Over a year ago, her New York home burned down, taking many of her valuable instruments with it.  I contributed to the fund to replace her belongings – now I’m just hoping I make her year-end Top 10 list of favorite fanboys.

“Caldera, Oregon”

8.  Mitski, “Puberty II”

This song will make you cry. That is all.

“Your Best American Girl”

7. Thee Oh Sees, “A Weird Exits”

Unapologetic psychedelic rock devoid of nuance.  They manage the rare feat of capturing the frantic energy of their live shows on their recordings.

“Gelatinous Cube”

6. Petal, “Shame”

Catchy guitar-driven pop from singer-songwriter Kiley Lotz of Scranton, PA.  Came out in January of 2016 and remained a lock for my Top 10 all year.


5. Tribe Called Quest, “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service”

Tribe has been out of the public spotlight for more than a decade, so it’s not like the public was clamoring for a new album.  But that makes “We got it from Here…” all the more impressive.  They had something to say and came back to say it – it doesn’t feel at all like a cash grab that you see from lesser acts.  Plus, the world needed to hear the late Phife Dawg one last time.

“We the People”

4. Russian Circles, “Guidance”

Instrumental, emotional nerd metal.


3. Bleached, “Welcome the Worms”

Another stellar guitar-pop album from L.A. based Bleached.  Every song an earworm, front to back.

“Wednesday Night Melody”

2. Avalanches, “Wildflower”

A sprawling album in which each song winds into the next, mixing disco, hip-hop, soul and general silliness.  While not quite as good as the Australian band’s 2000 debut, it’s great to have them back after 16 years.

“Because I’m Me”

1. Radiohead, “A Moon Shaped Pool”

I know, I know – “White Guy in 40’s Likes Radiohead Album” isn’t exactly breaking news.  But the album deserves all the praise heaped on it during the year – it checks all the boxes that make an album great. And the fact that Radiohead is still breaking new ground after two decades makes it all the more remarkable.

“Burn the Witch”

The Perils of Being “Almost Famous”


The first Sunday I appeared on television as a political commentator, I was also scheduled to attend a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game later in the day.  It was March of 2008, and the show was on in the morning, while the game was in the afternoon.

Before the game started, I wondered whether anyone would actually recognize me from the show – it was, after all, on one of the four major networks in the Milwaukee TV market.  What if I said something someone didn’t like and they took a swing at me?  What if people wanted to talk to me about politics?  I briefly considered wearing some sort of disguise.

When I got to the game, in looking for my seats, I walked from one end of the stadium to the other.  I received not a single look, not a comment.  I then retraced my steps, walking the length of the stadium and back again.  Still nothing.  It appears my instant fame had somehow gone missing.

I would soon join a small, but interesting subset of people in the media: those who work in the public eye, but aren’t actually “famous.”

Humorist John Hodgman describes himself as a “minor celebrity.”  This is apt – he has a small, but intensely loyal following (among which I count myself).  But on the rungs of fame, there are people who are even below “minor.”  They are the people who live normal lives, who have regular jobs, but whose faces are in public from time to time.  They aren’t “famous,” they are merely “recognizable.”

Until last week, I hadn’t even been in the “hey, you’re that guy from that thing” crowd.  But a dad at my daughter’s basketball game started pointing at me and saying my name over and over.  It was the first time I had ever been recognized in public, and I pray that it’s the last.

I’ve had friends point out that complaining about being noticed in public is a “humblebrag.”  But being a marginally notable person is frequently unsettling.  Before people meet you, they often have preconceived notions of what you’re like and how you think.  I’ve had total strangers recite back personal facts I’ve written in my blogs that I had forgotten I long ago disclosed.

For the few people who know who you are, your public persona always precedes you – and you never know who might admire your work and who can’t stand you.  But they’re out there in the public, walking among us, and it’s impossible to tell who they are.

I’ve had local TV reporter friends tell me horrifying stories of people approaching them in the grocery store, commenting on their appearance or on-air demeanor.  Lisa Manna, who used to be a morning anchor in Green Bay, told me she once received a manila envelope filled with pornographic pictures.  The eyes were scribbled out and her name was written on the women.  The pictures were accompanied by a letter detailing the things this man would do to her, which earned her a police escort to work. And of course, this is all for a job that doesn’t pay a great deal – working in TV news isn’t exactly a license to print money.  Stations know there’s always someone else coming up the ranks willing to do your job for cheaper.

One female reporter who does frequent live reports from downtown told me there are some people who will watch the broadcast, then rush over to where she is to confront her about something she reported.  The most annoying thing, she said, is being recognized when she’s in an awkward place – like, sick at the doctor or at the gym after working out.

And, of course, in my line of work, not everyone is favorably inclined to your work.  Small cadres of anonymous critics frequently whip up online fiction in an attempt to demean me.  The comments sections on my stories are always full of people thinking I’m corrupt, or bought and sold by this group or that group.

Would they say that to my face?  Do I actually unknowingly talk to any of these people on a regular basis in real life?  It’s entirely possible – I’ve had creepy anonymous commenters say they’ve known me from working with me in the past, before they rip me in their diatribes.  Did I ever actually really know that person? I’ll never know – but they’re using our alleged interactions to bolster their supposed knowledge of how I “really” am.

These are the times when I think it would be nice to have a job that wasn’t so public.  I’ve often dreamed of a life just making sandwiches at Cousin’s Subs, where people wouldn’t flock to the internet to deride my hoagie making skills.  Would be nice to be able to accomplish something at work without being accused of being under the influence of Big Mustard.

Typically, being a notable person is seen as a trade-off; you put up with people recognizing you in exchange for wealth or influence.  But trust me, the marginally recognizable enjoy neither of these advantages.  Surely, Leonardo DiCaprio has his critics – but he can blow them off by spending a weekend churning through a private island stocked with super models.  The merely notable are resigned to having a drink, rolling up in a blanket, and watching Leonardo DiCaprio movies, helping him in his quest to buy an extra island.

I do have several advantages, however.  The picture that accompanies my photo in the newspaper was taken before I needed glasses.  And as Superman has taught us, throw on a pair of thick rims and literally nobody – not even your love interests – can recognize you any more.  Also, I am frequently unshaven, looking as if I was off to do some modeling for the “JC Penney for Hobos” catalog.  (I also look like a lot of other people – if I ever got any public comment, I assume it would be someone saying, “man, Keanu’s really let himself go.”)

Oddly, enough, ancillary stardom is something more and more people now seek.  Young women armed with only cell phones now become “Instagram models,” which seems a little bit like being a “Twitter comedian” or “Facebook novelist.”  It used to be that one would create something worthy of notoriety, then benefit from that exposure.  Now, more people seem to believe fame is an end in itself.  Not for me.

Of course, none of this is enough to keep me from doing what I love for a living.  But being someone that other people form public opinions about is something I’m still getting used to – maybe I never will.  Until then, I’ll keep being a walking contradiction – a newspaper columnist that doesn’t particularly like attention.

A Festival of Anachronisms

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, the Wisconsin State Historical Society is one of my favorite places to hang out.  If I had the time, I could spend full days just combing through microfilm, plucking oddities from hundred year old newspapers.  In fact, when I need to scroll through old papers to do work research, I have to discipline myself to only read the stuff I absolutely need – otherwise, I could be there for hours.

The glory of old newspapers is in the shocking anachronistic language they use; their pages are replete with terms that have long been shelved in the name of political correctness.  Take, for instance, this front page headline from the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1923:


Of course, in 1923, “moron” was an actual psychological term, used to describe someone who was slightly mentally retarded.  So the headline made perfect sense.

But it isn’t just words that are out of place in 2012 America; the subject matter is often fairly shocking, as well.  Take, for example, this 1923 editorial from the Milwaukee Journal, which contests a study that argues Native Americans have no “racial odor:”

1923 was also a year when divorce was a very public act; when everyday couples divorced, it often made the front page of the newspaper, with reasons given for the split.  Here’s a pair of divorce notices from 1923: in one, the husband alleges his wife “used abusive language,” and in the other, the wife alleges the husband married her before the legal one-year waiting period had passed.  (Presumably, if the marriage was going well, she wouldn’t be as quick to seek an annulment – maybe the old wife came back around and caused trouble.)


1923 was also a time when the Klu Klux Klan was still very much a part of American life.  Apparently, many Klan members thought the KKK was missing something:  a feminine touch.

In March of 1923, a new women’s chapter of the KKK began meeting.  They called themselves “Kamelia:”


This editorial was placed on the front page of the Milwaukee Journal, and is funniest how apropos of nothing it really is:


“Try to change a woman’s mind – YOU CAN’T DO IT!  Am I right, fellas?

Given all the hand-wringing about illegal aliens in 2012, I found this picture from 1926 to be entertaining:


Another example of how certain words have changed meaning over the past 100 years: Somehow, I think this characterization of George Washington would be a little more controversial these days:


Finally, I wrestled with whether to include this one – and I won\’t post the picture here.  But while the other examples serve to show how long ago those words had different meanings, this example demonstrates how recently one specific word was still a part of acceptable American lexicon.  It appeared on the front page of the Milwaukee Sentinel on October 24 of 1926, and involves a talented dog with a curious name.


Profiles in Civility

Today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel features a story about how “civility” has been lost in Wisconsin due to the conflict over collective bargaining rights.  The article goes out of its way to show that both sides are guilty of incivility, with UW-Madison political science professor Dennis Dresang declaring that “nobody’s got a monopoly on rhetoric and threats and incendiary language.”

Of course, this attempt to find equivalency between the actions of the Right and the Left in Wisconsin is pure nonsense.  The attempt to show “both sides do it” falls apart if the reader has any recollection at all of the events of the past eight months.  Let’s take a quick look at the Democrats’ “profiles in civility:”

  • Democratic state Rep. Gordon Hintz yelling at fellow Rep. Michelle Litjens “you’re f***ing dead.”
  • Sen. Spencer Coggs said Walker’s bill was “legalized slavery” and Rep. Joe Parisi said Walker was “calling the National Guard out on the people of Wisconsin.”
  • Fourteen state senators fled the state to block passage of Walker’s collective bargaining bill (including Tim Cullen, who decries the loss of civility in the MJS article.)
  • Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched on the Capitol, many with profane signs comparing Walker to Hitler, bin Laden, etc.  (Remember this lady?  (Language Warning.) See anything like this at Tea Party rallies?)
  • Aggressive, militant activists have been following lawmakers everywhere they go, filming them, verbally harassing them, and pouring beer on one.
  • The “solidarity singers” have been yelling every day in the capitol rotunda, forcing things such as blood drives to move to places other than the Capitol.
  • The chief justice of the Supreme Court likely leaked a story to the press accusing one of her colleagues of choking another justice – a story that was completely debunked, and the accused justice was eventually exonerated.
  • Committee hearings have been disrupted, with people being dragged out by their feet – one woman chained her head to the railing of the state senate parlor with a bike lock.
  • Illegal activity has been rampant, whether it is liberal activists providing  ribs for votes doctors providing fake sick notes notes, or otherwise.
  • Protesters disrupting every Walker public speaking event, including a Special Olympics ceremony.
  •  In the most toxic campaign ad of 2011,the Left tried to make it seem like Supreme Court Justice David Prosser was the best friend of pedophiles, digging up a case Prosser prosecuted as a district attorney 30 years ago.  (There were no similar ads run by any Republicans either in the Supreme Court race or the state senate recalls.)
  • Teachers pulling their kids out of school, shutting down Madison schools for 4 days, and bringing the kids to capitol rallies.
  • The desecration of the state capitol, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in cleanup costs.
  • Marching not only at Scott Walker’s home, but at the homes of individual legislators that don’t have any police protection.
  • And probably most uncivilly, Democrats refused to participate in this year’s staff versus legislator softball game.

I am really making an honest attempt to find anything from the Right that matches anything on this list.  At one point, a friend of former State Senator Dave Zien allegedly tried to punch a solidarity singer.  The reports of collecting signatures and shredding recall petitions is merely a rumor; there’s no evidence anyone on the Right caused the “cyberattack” that liberals are complaining about.

And honestly – let’s say some right-wing hacker caused this “cyberattack.”  What’s worse – that, or the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court likely planting a fake story in the paper in an attempt to smear a fellow justice?

So the real story here isn’t that civility on both sides has been lost; it is that Walker supporters have maintained their composure amid an avalanche of poisonous actions by union loyalists.

From Each According to His Football Ability

(Warning: the following is an attempt by the author to write something free-market related on the day after his Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl.  It may be interrupted by sudden outbursts of weapons-grade joy.)

By the way, did I mention that the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl last night?

After the game, I tweeted the following:

“In all seriousness, the fact that Green Bay, WI can have a Super Bowl champion is why the NFL is now America’s pastime.”

And it’s true.  People in every corner of the U.S. are fully invested in football now, because they know if a town whose population is less than the stadium in which Super Bowl was actually played can host a champion, any city can.

Almost immediately, I received a response from someone pointing out that the cretinous Bill Maher had chalked the NFL’s success up to old-school socialism.  Because the league shares revenues between its large and small markets, it augurs well for socialism in other contexts.  See for yourself here:

Again, this clip is essentially a game of “find the hidden joke.”  But while Maher is usually a moron, in this case, here’s merely wrong.  (Actually, I just watched the clip again.  Scratch that – he’s still a moron.)

Football isn’t like socialism in any way, shape or form.  First of all, the teams aren’t funded by a group (say, a government), who forcibly takes money from people in order to pay Peyton Manning’s salary.  Football teams make a lot of money because people love to watch it – the NFL works within the market of entertainment.

Football has figured out what its product is: It sells competition.  Just like McDonald’s sells burgers and Kohler sells toilets, competition is what people buy from the NFL.  In order to make some semblance of parity happen, the league tries to make each team as equal as possible – and when fans in every city that has a team thinks their team has a chance to win, your league’s popularity will continue to grow.

This is what baseball hasn’t figured out, and why fewer people watched the last World Series than read Snooki’s autobiography.  In baseball, large-market teams spend more on players than teams in small markets.  It’s why the Brewers’ Prince Fielder is going to be playing on a team in Boston, New York, or Los Angeles in 2012.  A team’s success generally doesn’t depend on its management, it depends on how many television sets it has in its media market.  (There are, of course, outliers – big spending teams such as the Mets and… cough… the Cubs continue to reek, while teams like Tampa Bay and Minnesota occasionally sneak into the playoffs.  But those small market teams generally fight for the one playoff spot left over after the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels have secured theirs.)

Football knows that teams can’t compete against each other in the same way that Best Buy competes with Target or Macy’s competes with Nordstrom.  The NFL as a league is competing with the NBA, Major League Baseball, movies, and all other forms of entertainment for dollars.  That’s why it knows it has to sell competition as its product, and do it better than the other sports leagues.  And thus, it created the hard salary cap and revenue sharing – to make sure fans in Green Bay can be just as excited about their team as the fans in New York.

To see the contrast, just look at the Super Bowl.  The Steelers have been to three NFL championship games in five years; yet the Pittsburgh Pirates are a lifeless organization scraping by with one of baseball’s smallest payrolls.  Fans in Pittsburgh have no reason to go see their baseball team, and every reason to see their Steelers.  Same goes for Wisconsin, where the Packers are a way of life, but the Brewers have made one playoff appearance in 29 years.  In order to get more fans out to see baseball games, the league has had to build new stadiums that feature everything but baseball.  Furthermore, fans will root for their own team, but have absolutely no interest in seeing any other teams; thus, the lifeless playoff baseball ratings.

But football’s success has nothing to do with “socialism.”  (Although Roger Goodell would probably order certain people to their death, if he could.) To suggest it does, and then extrapolate that to society as a whole, is idiotic.  Football operates in a free market with all other forms of entertainment – it simply knows what product  it sells and does it better than any other league.

Everything’s Amazing, Nobody’s Happy

An old bit from Louis C.K., but seems to sum up the current climate in politics:

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Political Rhetoric, Explained by Steven Pinker

Basically, we get the political discourse we ask for.

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Then What Does a Mountain Look Like?

Via the Cato Institute blog:

President Obama says he wants to “invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt.”

Uhhhh…. here’s his plan.

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