Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Category: Collection (page 2 of 3)

2010: The Year America Chose… An Ideology

america_choosesBy 10:00 PM on the night of November 7, 2006, every drop of blood had run from my head. A sickly pallor had fallen over me. The look of shock on my face resembled one of the teenage boys in “Sixteen Candles” who had just gotten a first look at Molly Ringwald’s underwear.

During the 2006 election cycle, I served as a lead staffer for the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate (CERS.) We were charged, obviously, with retaining the 18-15 Republican advantage in the Wisconsin State Senate – and, until the results came pouring in from all over the state, fully expected to do so.

But election night was a bloodbath. Republicans all over the state were being violently cast from office. It was as if the entire state had just come home to find the Republican Party in bed with its wife.

All of our preliminary polling said GOP candidates would be just fine. The public wildly supported many of the initiatives our candidates were pitching – spending more money in classrooms and less on bureaucracy; eliminating income taxes on Social Security income; freezing property taxes. Our head-to-head polls showed us ahead in each of our close races.*

But in losing four previously-Republican seats, it became clear that they were caught up in a national tidal wave – one that swept the GOP out of office in the U.S. House and Senate. (At least that’s what I tell myself in order to sleep soundly. As Mark Twain said, “no one is willing to acknowledge a fault in himself when a more agreeable motive can be found for the estrangement of his acquaintances.”)

In retrospect, it appears that there really wasn’t anything local Republicans could have done. By 2006, the American public was tired of seeing daily reports of American casualties in Iraq. The one GOP legislative achievement of note was expanding Medicare prescription drug coverage, a plan that even senior citizens met with a collective “meh.” By election time in 2006, George W. Bush’s approval rating was slightly below “slamming your head repeatedly in a car door.”

In 2010, polls strongly suggest that Democrats are facing the same national tidal wave. In many cases, incumbent Democrats may just have to board up their windows and hope for the best.

But there is one fundamental difference between the previous two election cycles, in which Democrats swept the nation, and the election of 2010. In 2006 and 2008, voters rejected a person; in 2010, they are poised to reject an ideology.

Just think – in 2006, it was the war. In 2008, it was the economy. In both cases, George W. Bush was at the helm. Bush’s unpopularity made John Edwards look like “Sully” Sullenberger by comparison.

(Ironically, it can be argued Bush was elected based on President Clinton’s priapic misadventures, not necessarily on any ideological basis.)

But in both the 2006 and 2008 elections, voters weren’t reacting to phenomena that were necessarily “conservative.” There was nothing inherently “conservative” about the War in Iraq – it was simply a noble war fought execrably in its pre-surge years. It was completely untethered to the fundamental principles of smaller government, individual liberty, and free markets. (If anything, the GOP strayed so far from those principles, they rendered themselves indistinguishable from Democrats.)

And such was the case with the 2008 election, where Republicans were actually humming along comfortably until the economy collapsed. Again, while many people retroactively blame Bush for the collapse, nobody can really name a single thing Bush actually did to send the economy into a tailspin. He just happened to be President when the nation’s largest banks decided it was a good bet to push all their chips into the middle of the mortgage table while holding a two-six off-suit.

On the other hand, 2010 is a direct rejection of the incumbent ideology. Voters are going to punish liberal politicians for carrying through on what they actually believe.

Voters are tired of paying higher taxes for lower quality government. They’re fed up with the underhanded way in which policy is made by buying votes with pork projects.
They strongly reject the notion that government has the wherewithal to manage their health care. (In a Rasmussen poll out this week, 61% of Americans believe ObamaCare should be repealed.) Voters recognize that putting government in charge of making something cheaper is a little like putting Roger Clemens in charge of baseball’s steroid policy.

The upcoming voter revolt isn’t going to happen because of superfluous issues. It’s not going to happen because people think Barack Obama was born in Stankonia. Or because Nancy Pelosi has had enough skin removed from her lips to create a spare Justin Bieber. It’s going to happen because liberals did exactly what they said they were going to do; and the results, as predicted by conservatives, have been disastrous.

Someday, Republicans are going to re-take the presidency and perhaps even both houses of Congress. They will then forget the conservative stances they took to regain the voters’ trust and be cast aside once again in favor of a liberal politician promising “change.”

And when that happens, you will find me at the same place I was in November of 2006. On a barstool, attempting to explain what went wrong to the congregation of empty Heineken bottles in front of me.

-September 22, 2010

(* – Unrelated Side Note: The high point of the 2006 elections was when one of our competitors issued a press release claiming that the “Winds of Change” were upon us. We countered with a release claiming that our candidate would “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” Amazing we lost, huh?)

Please Vote Against This Cantaloupe

You’ve already heard 2010 is going to be a terrible year for incumbents.  Due to the disastrous policies of the Bush administration (and not Congress, where I have sat for 18 years, the last two with my party in complete control), the American public is upset.

And despite my best efforts to pass a law keeping produce from running against me, here I am – stuck with a melon beating me in the polls.

Just look at it – it looks like the kind of cantaloupe that would support the same policies as NEWT GINGRICH and SARAH PALIN.  Rumor has it this cantaloupe’s name has even been mentioned by the likes of GLENN BECK and RUSH LIMBAUGH.  And if I think of any other unpopular names that I can mention in the same sentence with the cantaloupe, I’ll get back to you.

In fact, it was just a few months ago that Kentucky senate candidate Rand Paul mentioned that he’d like to roll back elements of the Civil Rights Act.  And the cantaloupe just STOOD BY and said NOTHING.  In fact, I can’t remember this melon explicitly saying anything supporting the Civil Rights Act, which of course was passed 45 years ago.

Come to think of it, I never recall the cantaloupe ever saying explicitly he opposed drilling for oil in the great lakes.  And since my campaign is desperate enough to spend millions of dollars on ads decrying things the melon didn’t say, I should accuse it of wanting a BP-style oil spill on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Why even stop there?  I never heard the cantaloupe say it opposed ripping up your kitchen floor and drilling for oil there.  That’ll be a real vote mover.

Part two of my strategy will be to hurl epithets at the cantaloupe, knowing that most press outfits will dutifully start incorporating them into their stories if I say them enough.  If I repeatedly call the cantaloupe an “out of touch millionaire,” the Associated Press will begin referring to the melon in that manner.  (After making a salary of over $150,000 for 18 years, I am only worth $165,000, which I think actually makes people more likely to want me manage their tax money.) If I falsely accuse the cantaloupe of benefiting from a government agriculture subsidy, the media will run with it – even after some television stations ask me to pull a misleading ad I’m running using their footage.

Who knows – maybe I can go on national television and accuse the cantaloupe of being a communist sympathizer.  (This would be particularly ironic if I currently held the seat of the Senate’s most notorious red-baiter.) Who’s going to stop me?  The press?  They’re the ones trying to use the cantaloupe as a springboard to get their own names on the national news wires.  If I got caught buying a bag of crack in the inner city, they’d write a glowing article about how I’m getting drugs off the streets.

There are dozens of time-tested strategies I can use.  I can offer to debate the cantaloupe 24 times (a common trick of candidates behind in the polls), then express outrage when it agrees to any number less than the one I have capriciously picked.  I can express outrage any time the cantaloupe mentions my name in an ad, saying it’s “mudslinging.”  I can try to tie the cantaloupe to any intemperate thing said by any member of an organization that normally supports produce.

Clearly, the cantaloupe has picked up momentum by merely not being me.  And that hurts my feelings.  So I will continue to run a dual campaign – on the one hand, trying to convince people I have the dignity associated with an 18-year veteran of the Senate, while also making mind-numbing charges that even the cast members of “Jersey Shore” would consider beneath them.

And, of course, if the cantaloupe doesn’t respond, it means it is probably a communist.

The Crazy World of Independent Candidates

Since the recent news cycle has birthed us the gift of Ieshuh Griffin (aka, “Not the whiteman’s bitch), I thought I’d pass on a magazine piece I wrote about some of Wisconsin’s other more colorful independent candidates.

Read it here.

An excerpt:

[Ed] Thompson was also joined as a third party gubernatorial candidate by Mike Mangan, who campaigned wearing a gorilla suit. Mangan, a self-employed energy consultant from Waukesha, waged what he called a “guerilla attack against state spending.” Mangan criticized the state’s “King Kong deficit,” which is quite a coincidence since he happened to own a gorilla mask. (Fortunately for Mangan, the deficit wasn’t the size of a turtle, as he would have had to scramble for a new costume.) Mangan was actually a fan of Ed Thompson’s run, seeing it as a breakthrough for third parties in future races, saying, “I think he’s opening doors.”

These independent candidates represent only a small sliver of the colorful history of third party politicians in Wisconsin. In 1974, flamboyant West Milwaukee used car dealer James Groh legally changed his name to “Crazy Jim” to run for governor as an independent. Crazy Jim was a staunch advocate of legalized gambling, and frequently spun a tale of how he once played cards with Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas. At the time, the concept of legal gambling in Wisconsin seemed to be far-fetched—yet Crazy Jim turned out to be a visionary, as Wisconsin adopted a state lottery and welcomed almost unlimited Indian casino gambling by the 1990s. Crazy Jim lost to incumbent Patrick Lucey 629,000 votes to 12,100; but his family said he took solace throughout his life in the fact that he carried Waushara County. (Although he did not—records show he only garnered 47 votes in Waushara County, which placed him a distant fifth.) Crazy Jim died in 2002 of a heart attack.

In Madison, self-described “futurist” Richard H. Anderson has run for numerous offices, including state assembly, mayor, and city council. Anderson routinely ran on an “anti-mind control” platform, believing the government had planted a cybernetic chip in his brain. A self-described bisexual, Anderson fought for better treatment of minorities and, as a surprise to exactly no one, for legalized marijuana. “Just because I’m a pot head doesn’t mean I’m not qualified to hold office,” he once said. Unfortunately, the government rarely used mind control to direct voters to vote for him, as he once mustered a scant six votes in a race for the state Assembly against now-Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin. Naturally, the Progressive Capital Times newspaper said Anderson had “made a good impression.”

(One has to wonder what a debate between a “pro-mind control” and “anti-mind control” candidate is like. Presumably, the “anti” candidate would get up to speak, the “pro” candidate would glare and point his finger at them, and the “anti” candidate would sheepishly sit back down without saying a word.)

Read more here.

As a bonus gift, here’s proof that Tennessee is in good hands, courtesy of gubernatorial candidate Basil Marceaux:

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Rebel Without a Pause: Behind the Scenes With Paul Ryan

Here at WPRI, we seem to be writing about Paul Ryan a lot.  People are probably starting to wonder if our acronym stands for the “Wisconsin Paul Ryan Institute.”

But much like Ron Burgundy, Ryan is kind of a big deal.  People know him.  (I was unable to determine whether his apartment smells of rich mahogany.)  So I was enlisted to write a lengthy article about his life in Washington, D.C. – which required me to make a trip out there in May to follow him around.

On May 4th, I showed up at Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee, ready for my flight out to D.C.  I was dressed as I normally am when I fly – jeans, untucked shirt, baseball cap, and about a week’s worth of beard.  Sitting in the airport, I noticed then-U.S. Senate candidate Dick Leinenkugel walk up to the gate.  A few minutes later, I saw gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker settle in nearby.  Shortly thereafter, Ryan himself joined Walker.  It then dawned on me that I was on the Tuesday morning flight that all the politicians take to get to D.C.

I walked up to Walker (who was heading to D.C. for a campaign event) and mentioned what a star-studded flight this was.  I told him I fully expected Lady Gaga to show up in the airport.  (He laughed, although I would think more highly of him if he didn’t know who Lady Gaga was.)

Despite being in the same place dozens of times, I’d never actually spoken to Ryan.  I started making small talk with him, then mentioned that I thought we were scheduled to have dinner together that night.  Suddenly, he looked concerned that this guy dressed like a hobo talking to him might be crazy.  He started frantically scrolling through his schedule on his phone, and said “oh yeah, I guess we are…  Not dressed like that, I hope.”

(I was thinking that when I showed up at his office, I should actually wear two suits at one time, just to show him how committed I was to dressing respectably.)

My time at the Capitol with Ryan is pretty well detailed in the article.  When we first met, I asked him if he even knew who I was – he said he had read some of my commentaries.  I actually felt bad about this – he should be busy fixing the world, not reading my ribald blog posts.  (Among the ones I guarantee he never read is this one featuring Ryan, in which I speculate as to what it would be like today if congressmen were allowed to endorse products, as they did in the old days.)

When Ryan was in closed door meetings, I went out and wandered around the Capitol and the Longworth House Office Building.  The building is triangular, with high ceilings, long halls and green marble floors.  On a few occasions, I spotted lobbyists standing outside congressional offices staring at the floor, muttering to themselves.  They were no doubt practicing what they were going to say during their meeting in order to convince the attending congressperson to spend my money.  I’d actually almost prefer the lobbyist just punch me in the face and take my wallet on the spot.  Then at least the feds wouldn’t get their cut off the top.

The halls of Longworth are also populated with a bloused armada of comely young women, hired no doubt because of their detailed knowledge of economics and foreign affairs.  Usually not far behind one of these women is a member of Congress, working hard to make it look like wherever they’re going, it’s really important.  Male congressmen are usually easy to spot – they’re the ones whose hair color would be laughed at if they worked anywhere but at the U.S. Capitol.  I’m convinced that if male members of Congress stopped buying men’s hair coloring products, the American economy would suffer a housing market-style collapse.

Some of the faces of these Congress members are vaguely familiar; ironic, since somewhere out there in a small slice of America, each one of them are famous.  It’s hard to believe that each one of these congressmen are actually 600,000 people looking to have their voices heard in Washington. (Although not literally, as they would need bigger pants.)

I stopped at the Longworth cafeteria to buy a soda, and when the portly African-American woman working the register rang me up, she told me it’ll be “150 dollars.”  Then she chortled heartily, and said she’s just kidding – it’s only a dollar fifty.  It’s a good joke – I felt like I was the first one she’s ever used it on – and it immediately made her a lock for the title of “friendliest federal employee in America.”

As I sat and sipped my Diet Coke, I saw Democratic Wisconsin Representative Steve Kagen, from the Green Bay area.  For the record, we did not speak – in case he goes back home and brags to his constituents that he insulted me, as he is wont to do.  (In 2006, Kagen claims he personally insulted President and First Lady Bush at a meeting for freshman members of Congress. In a strange twist, the fact that the story was false made him look even more like a classless jerk.)

Oddly, a few minutes later, I just happened to stumble upon an outdoor press conference given by Democratic Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind.  The Wisconsin legislators appeared to be everywhere.  Kind was speaking to the media, pushing a “keeping kids from being fatties” bill.  Since Washington is essentially a swamp (both figuratively and literally), Kind was clearly wilting in his suit under the heat and humidity.

At other points during the day, I was escorted around by Ryan’s Budget Committee press secretary, 25-year old Marquette University grad Conor Sweeney.  Sweeney took me down to the Budget Committee office, which is tucked into a dark corner in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building.  As ranking member of the House Budget Committee, Ryan essentially has two offices – his eight-person member office, and another 15-person budget office, which resides in a dank dungeon in the bowels of a different office building.  The cramped office is missing ceiling tiles, and rusted pipes jut out from the walls.  It resembles a crack den.  A television above Sweeney’s desk flickers on and off as the reception fades into fuzz and pops back.  Sweeney proudly declared this office “the birthplace of the roadmap.”  I took a picture for the Smithsonian.

Later, we had to go find out where the new House media room was, in advance of Ryan’s interview with MSNBC later in the day.  Brightly colored Media Room A has been recently renovated – a podium stands atop a stage in front of American flags; about 50 media chairs sit in front.  It makes sense that Congress would revamp their media room – they need to spend money to allow them to go on television to convince the American people that they need to spend more money.

Sweeney mentions that Ryan is conducting an interview with Fox Business Channel’s John Stossel in one of the side rooms on Thursday.  The best thing about doing an interview with Stossel is that you never have to worry about him being late – his gigantic mustache gets there ten minutes before he does.

As I mentioned in the story, I was actually at the Capitol the very day that a Wisconsin political giant, liberal Congressman Dave Obey, announced his retirement.  As a political observer in Wisconsin, I felt like I should attend, just to say I was there.  But I also felt somewhat guilty – I have plenty of Democrat friends back in Wisconsin who would have killed to be there to see this – and yet it’s me, a conservative who opposes pretty much everything Dave Obey stands for, who gets to see the announcement in person.  (At the press conference, I saw my own congresswoman, Tammy Baldwin, which made it a clean sweep as far as me seeing Wisconsin Democrats.  Granted, I’m not a mind reader, but Baldwin seemed shocked and a little disoriented at the news that Obey was stepping down.)

In the piece, I mention that late in the day, we made our way to a speech Ryan was giving to a group of investment bankers at the Newseum.  Ryan drove himself, Seifert and me to the speech in his green 2003 Chevy Tahoe (built in Janesville, of course).  The power locks are broken, and Ryan complained that it would cost $400 to fix them.  (Which, even if it wasn’t true, kind of seems like a story a congressman would want told about himself.)  He is an extraordinarily adept District of Columbia driver, darting in and out of traffic as if he drove a cab. (Incidentally, the only people that love America more than Paul Ryan are Washington D.C. cab drivers.)

During the ride, we discuss baseball.  Ryan mentions that his dad was in the same University of Wisconsin-Madison fraternity as former one-legged Milwaukee Brewer manager Harvey Kuenn. Ryan says he’s only thrown out one ceremonial first pitch – at an American Legion game (it was a little high, but over the plate), but he has an encyclopedic knowledge of other famous politician first pitches.  And he is bipartisan in his criticism of awkward politician throwing motions.

In order to get an opposing view on Ryan, I made a few calls to Democrats – and actually landed an interview with Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (who happens to be the second most powerful member of Congress at the moment.)  His staffer, former Wisconsin native Stephanie Lundberg, graciously set up ten minutes for me to talk to him by phone.  (I opened the discussion by thanking him for hiring Wisconsinites in his office – it’s helping keep our unemployment rate down.)

Sadly, my interview with Hoyer didn’t make the final cut (it was essentially replaced by my discussion of Peter Orszag, White House Budget Director.)  But here’s what appeared in the original piece:

Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who considers himself to be a Paul Ryan fan, disagrees with this approach.  While Hoyer told me Ryan was “bright, principled, and effective,” he also questioned whether a “supply side” proposal like Ryan’s would work.  “It’s been proven that supply-side economics don’t work,” said Hoyer, adding that “Reagan and Bush supply-side policies got us into a $4.86 billion deficit.” Hoyer did praise Ryan for his “courageous” stand, saying, he respected Ryan’s “intellectual integrity in putting forth his solutions and directions with are intellectually honest.”

I finished my final exit interview with Ryan on the morning of Thursday, May 6th, at 9:00 AM.  While I talked to him, a security guy came through his office, checking things out.  I asked Ryan what that was all about.  He mentions that his next meeting is with the head of the World Bank.  This blew my mind.  So at some point, Ryan’s schedule looked like this:

9:00 to 9:30 – Christian Schneider, lover of pizza

9:30 to 10:00 – Head of World Bank

Keep in mind – at this point, Greece was literally in flames.  The European economy was imploding – and I blame myself.  I took too long asking Ryan about what his favorite Wisconsin Dells water park was.

I had to be out of my hotel room at noon, but my flight home didn’t leave until 4:00 or so.  So I just decided to hang out in the airport all day and begin writing the story.  As I sat there with my giant headphones on, I saw a tall figure walk up next to me – I looked up, and it was Ryan, once again on my flight.  Seeing I was dressed the same way I had been on the flight out, he shook his head at me.  “At least you shaved,” he said.


In closing, I wanted to thank Ryan and his staff – Kevin Seifert, Conor Sweeney, Sarah Peer, and Andy Speth among them – for helping me out with the story.  Couldn’t have done it without you folks.

Also, the magazine cover painting of Ryan was done by Nathaniel Gold, whose outstanding work can be found here at his website.

Here’s one of our rejected caricatures of Ryan:

Consider the Humble Candidates: Who cares if they grew up eating dirt sandwiches?

dirt_sandwichIn an online ad, Republican congressional candidate Dan Kapanke wants you to know he’s a real guy. “Having been born and raised on a dairy farm, I have a pretty good idea of what Wisconsin people value,” says Democrat Ron Kind’s challenger for the 3rd District seat.

While it’s a nice sentiment, it’s meaningless. Growing up on a dairy farm doesn’t teach anyone anything I value. It teaches a person to milk cows and shovel manure.

This is perhaps the most annoying aspect of campaign commercials by candidates of both parties — the “I’m from humble beginnings” talking point.

Of course, the second most annoying campaign commercial stunt is the “candidate walking through a factory wearing goggles and a hard hat” shot. It’s meant to convey the candidate’s connection to the hard-working commoner — as if the only jobs that really mean anything are jobs in factories.

But you know what a really hard job is? Being a stripper. Just once, I’d like to see a Russ Feingold for Senate commercial where an adult dancer on a pole works out her frustration with the bad economy to Mötley Crüe’s “Kickstart My Heart,” while Feingold stands nearby, looking concerned (and wearing a hard hat and goggles, of course).

Even more ridiculous than the “I feel the pain of the working man” candidates are the ones who pretend they grew up poor. You know, their parents took them to McDonald’s, and all they could order was a large napkin and a small straw.

Now it’s true that there are things to be admired in coming from humble beginnings. It teaches some people to value simple pleasures, and it gives them a sense of what manual labor is really like.

But let’s face it, among people who grow up in trailer parks, the number who end up taking paternity tests on the “Maury Povich Show” outstrips congressmen by about 1.2 million to one. Yet voters seem to associate growing up poor as evidence of character and accomplishment.

I, for one, don’t really care about a candidate’s life story. I care what’s in his or her future. If a rich kid goes to really great schools, takes advantage of learning from the best teachers, and emerges a bright and energetic adult, that’s a thing to be admired.

Yet you never see a campaign ad that begins with the words, “I overcame growing up rich….”

Should we discount Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin because she was raised in a well-educated household with two UW-Madison faculty grandparents? Should we think any less of Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner because his great-grandfather founded Kimberly-Clark? Is Sen. Russ Feingold any less electable because his father was a big-shot attorney?

Of course, the answer is no. In fact, the inverse is true, as well. When I drive by a house with a car up on blocks in the front yard, it doesn’t compel me to walk up to the guy in the wife-beater t-shirt on the front porch, hand him my wallet, and trust him to spend my money wisely.

Here’s a message to candidates: We don’t care if you grew up eating dirt sandwiches. We do, however, care if you understand economics, foreign policy and the limits of do-goodism.

If all else fails, candidates should consider the fearsome lesson of John Edwards, whose treacly claim of moral and political goodness because he grew up poor as “the son of a mill worker” was not exactly convincing.

The millionaire trial attorney proved himself to be a world-class scumbag when he fathered a child out of wedlock while his wife, Elizabeth, was battling breast cancer.

Maybe someday his fatherless two-year-old daughter can use her story of overcoming adversity to run for Congress herself. Or she could end up in a Russ Feingold stripper commercial. Let’s hope she chooses the more admirable career path — and decides to strap on the heels and work the pole.

My Day as a Celebrity

Some of you might remember this post from last year, when I jokingly suggested I should be a “celebrity” cashier at Bratfest.  (For those of you not from Wisconsin, “Bratfest” is a giant festival where residents of nearby Madison risk their lives by ingesting hundreds of thousands of sausages in unison.)

Long story short (too late, I know) I actually got an e-mail from the Bratfest people this year, asking me if I would be a “celebrity” cashier.  I explained to them that my post was actually tongue-in-cheek, but they insisted that I met whatever the nearly nonexistent bar for whatever a  “celebrity” is these days.  (I am on TV sometimes, but it’s usually in Milwaukee.  However, my blog gets hundreds of readers a day from people searching for pictures of Valerie Bertinelli, so I assume that counts for something.)

So I agreed to serve as a cashier on Memorial Day of this year, from 1:00 to 3:00.  This was a strategic move on my part.  Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk were going to be there at the same time – so I figured that everyone would go stand in the lines of the real celebrities, and fewer people would stand in line to see me.  (As it turns out, if I am actually famous for anything, it is my legendary ability to avoid actual work.)

As the days drew closer, I started to dread my upcoming cashiering shift.  Sometimes the lines at Bratfest get really long – just imagine someone who stands in line for 20 minutes hoping to meet a genuine celebrity, and they end up meeting me.  I legitimately started having panic attacks.

I tried to think of things I could say if people asked me who the hell I was.  If someone gave me a hard time for being a nobody, I would just apologize and promise to be famouser next year.  If someone asked me where they might have seen me, I figured I\’d tell them they may know me from any number of Amber Alerts.

I also tried to think of what I would say to Tammy Baldwin if we actually met beforehand (despite being in politics for over a decade, I have never met her.)  I generally try to have entertaining stories on hand just in case I meet actual famous people – just so I don’t sound like an idiot. (Still working on my story for if I meet Sinbad.)   At first, I was going to joke that she was killing more people in one day with bratwurst than she was going to save in a decade with the health care bill that just passed.  (I scrapped this one.)  I then decided to relay a story told to me by a friend about her almost Rain Man-like ability to remember faces and names.  Figured that was safer.

I showed up for my shift hungry, thinking I\’d be able to down a brat beforehand.  I was wrong.  I went to the volunteer tent and picked the charity I would be cashiering for (Hospice Care of Dane County), got my XXL t-shirt (it was all they had left), and they threw me right in to the cashiering.


Fortunately for me, they adjusted the prices this year – rather than having different prices for hot dogs, brats, and drinks, everything\’s $1.50.  Want a brat?  $1.50.  Drink?  $1.50.  Want me to dance like a robot?  $1.50.  (Nobody took me up on this offer.)

The system they have is really slick – to your left, they have someone to run and get drinks.  To your right, someone to go get the food.  All you have to do is count how many total individual items someone gets, look at the handy pricing cheat sheet, and come up with the price.  The only challenge was when someone ordered the “Double Johnny” (two brats on one bun), which cost $3.  Fortunately, having worked several cashiering jobs in the past, I was adept at making change.  I actually felt sorry for the politicians who are asked to cashier, because it seems few of them are good with numbers.  (Although many of them are skilled at delivering pork.)

As it turns out, all my customers were great, as were my drink and food getters.  It was a good thing it was so busy, since I probably would have gotten in trouble if I had ample time to crack wise.  (There was one large teenage girl who proudly featured a giant hickey all over her neck – I literally had to bite down on my tongue from commenting.)

Sadly, with all the commotion, I wasn’t able to meet any of the other celebrities.  (I spoke briefly beforehand with NBC 15’s Chris Woodard, who said this was his second year doing it.)  Every now and then, I snuck a glance down the row and saw Baldwin’s somewhat-unruly mass of blonde hair at the end of the line.  And it’s true – her line always had the most people in it.  But by the time my shift was done, she and everyone else were long gone.  And thus ended my dream of one day befriending Tammy, and going canoeing with her as we laughed uncontrollably about old movies while the setting sun served as a backdrop. 

While my shift was tiring, I was really glad I did it.  It appears when Wisconsinites get in line to get a sausage, the person serving them is actually superfluous.  Nobody asked me anything about what I did or who I was – they just wanted to get their hands on some meat.  And it appears record numbers of people did so – the final count of brats sold was 209,376, eclipsing the previous record by around a thousand sausages.

So thanks to the folks at Bratfest for allowing me to crash the party, Salahi-style.  Next year, maybe Tammy Baldwin will be sitting in her office thinking about what she’s going to say to me.  Although if I’m any more famous, it will probably be for my ability to do the robot.

How Eric Davis can Save America

davis1987 was a big year for the Cincinnati Reds’ athletic young star Eric Davis. The graceful, lithe outfielder was coming off a breakout season in which he hit 27 home runs and stole 80 bases. He was a combination of power and speed the league hadn’t seen in some time (and wouldn’t see for at least one more year, when a skinny rookie named Barry Bonds would make his debut.) In their 1987 season preview, Sports Illustrated called Davis “the Michael Jordan of baseball.”

It just so happened that Eric Davis’ emergence coincided with the explosion of the baseball card industry in the late 1980s. Baseball cards had been around in some form for over a century; but a variety of factors (most notably the loosening of the Topps card company’s monopoly on card production) propelled baseball card trading into a lucrative investment opportunity for kids and adults alike. By 1987, a Don Mattingly rookie card, issued only three years earlier, could fetch $90. After his historic 49 home run rookie season, Mark McGwire’s 1985 Topps Olympic rookie card shot up to 30 bucks apiece.

This is why, in 1987, I went to a baseball card show and shelled out $13 for a 1985 Topps Eric Davis rookie card. I checked the card’s value religiously from month to month. The value continued to climb as Davis hit 37 home runs and drove in 100 runs in 1987 – MVP-type numbers in the pre-steroid era. I felt I was sitting on a gold mine. I was already planning what type of Porsche I would buy on my 30th birthday and Davis was on his way to the Hall of Fame.

Full of pride at my purchase, I sought out my Dad, in order to brag. I told him I had a card that was worth twenty bucks. It was then he said something that would remain with me for the rest of my life:

“It’s only a piece of cardboard until someone’s willing to pay you 20 bucks for it.”

And there you have it – market economics summed up in one sentence. You can spend a lifetime reading Friedman, Hayek, or Von Mises; but if you want to save yourself days off your life, just heed my Dad’s advice. Nothing has an economic value beyond what someone is willing to pay for it. “Value” is simply an implicit contract between the buyer and seller. The same holds true for employment – nobody is really “underpaid.” You either work for what your boss is willing to pay you, or you don’t. That’s your “value.”

(Comedian George Carlin summed this up nicely when he observed that most people “do just enough work so they don’t get fired, and get paid just enough so they don’t quit.”)

I suppose it could be argued that everything I know about markets and economics came from baseball card collecting. At age 14, I had a massive collection, complete with card value spreadsheets and the like. My card trading negotiations with my friends likely resembled the Iranian hostage negotiations. They often dragged on for days, and involved insults, flattery, and every other negotiating tactic one can invoke. Thank God I hadn’t heard of waterboarding.

I bought Mike Greenwell rookie cards in the way Warren Buffett snatches up undervalued stocks. I tucked them all away, waiting for them to appreciate in value, as they almost certainly had to. When I finally took a class in college on investing in stocks, I just said “ooooh, it’s just like baseball cards.” Only a little less cutthroat.
In the late 1980s, major newspapers noticed the link between stocks and baseball cards. As documented in Dave Jamieson’s excellent book Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession, newspapers ran stories like “Turning Cardboard into Cash: These are Boom Days for Baseball Cards (The Washington Post), “A Grand Slam Profit May Be in the Cards” (The New York Times), and “Cards Put Gold, Stocks to Shame as Investment” (The Orange County Register).

Unfortunately, as happens in the stock market, baseball cards in the 1980s were riding a wave of irrational exuberance. The values were inflated well beyond a level that could be sustained – by 1991, an industry researcher estimated that $1.4 billion was spent on wholesale sports cards for the year ending in June.

But soon, it all came crashing down. The number of new card companies that flooded the market severely depressed the value of existing cards. The cost of card packs soared from around fifty cents per pack to over four dollars a pack in many cases, leaving young boys in the cold. Plus, as Jamieson notes, the 1994 Major League Baseball strike left a lot of uncertainty in the card market, and a lot of animosity towards baseball in general.

As unthinkable as it was just five years before, baseball card dealers couldn’t move any of their product. Card stores went out of business en masse – they are exceedingly difficult to find to this day, and when they exist, they deal primarily in memorabilia. Stock in the Topps company quickly dropped from its high of over $20 per share in 1992 to $4.25 in 1996.

As it turns out, the cards were just cardboard – when the desire of purchasers to pay $50 for a 1987 Fleer Barry Bonds rookie card (which I own) disappeared, the industry came crashing down, leaving many investors broke. (Current listed value of the Bonds card: $12.00)

This is not at all unlike the crashes suffered by the U.S. stock market in 2001 when the tech bubble burst, or in 2008 when the U.S. housing market deflated. In each instance, a crippling downturn was preceded by the same kind of irrational short-term thinking. Greed and myopic thinking caused investors to be overextended and caused them to expose themselves to an inordinate amount of risk. If only Wall Street bankers had collected baseball cards as children – they’d have learned their lessons.

A quick eBay check shows me that my Eric Davis card is selling these days for a cool $2.00. But the lesson Eric Davis taught me in investing is worth at least an extra fifty cents. Maybe one of these days, Congress will get around to having a hearing.

So go ahead, make an offer.

Ten Tips for a Better Tea Party

Let me go on record. The Tea Party movement is wonderful.  It gets people involved in the political process who normally never would.  It forces viewpoints into the public that are sometimes hard to find.  And Tea Parties irritate just the right people.  They are on their way to being the most important movement for conservatism (or libertarianism, in some cases) in the past twenty years.

I attended the Tea Party at the Wisconsin State Capitol last weekend, and filed this video report.  It was a great event – as I documented, plenty of colorful people showed up.  It was funny – many of my liberal friends e-mailed me to express shock that I was “hard” on the Tea Partiers, while my conservative friends universally liked the friendly jabs I took.  (My goal is to one day have an obituary headline like H.L. Mencken’s: “Mencken, Critic of All, Dies.”)  I figured these are my people – I can kid with them a little, right?

In any event, despite the steaming bowl of wonderfulness that Tea Parties bring to American political discourse, there are always ways to improve them.  As I walked around and observed the festivities, I jotted down a few things I think could help build on the great event that the organizers put together this year:


I hate paying taxes.  You hate paying taxes.  But several of the speakers took this meme to the next level, saying taxpayers are being “raped” and that taxpayers have become “slaves.”  And they said it over and over and over.

Let’s be clear: paying exorbitant taxes is not like being raped.  And the government taking more of your income, as damaging to your wallet and the economy as it is, is not akin to slavery.  (Nobody on a boat headed to America from Africa in the 1800s was saying “boy, I hope they don’t tax my capital gains.”)

There are plenty of reasons to be irate about paying high taxes in order to fund wasteful government spending.  But a truly skilled speakers can relay that outrage without slipping into offensive hyperbole.  Using words like “rape” and “slavery” only serve to marginalize the great movement that has been built to this point.


In years past, it seems like a conscious effort has been made to keep elected officials and candidates from speaking at the Tea Party rallies.  But every now and then, one will slip into the mix.  This year, Ron Johnson, who is thinking about taking on U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, was given a platform to speak, while other candidates were left off the docket. (Johnson’s speech was really good, incidentally.)  Last year, fiscal dreamboat Paul Ryan spoke to the crowd, but other elected officials fighting for conservatism at the state level weren’t allowed to speak.

It seems one of the themes of the Tea Parties is that they aren’t connected to specific candidates or political parties.  Sure, they’ll get behind candidates with whom they agree (they are in the process of endorsing candidates all over the country), but many of their members have just as much animosity towards Republicans as they do Democrats.  Tea Party organizers should make it more clear what the standard is for allowing current elected officials to speak – there are plenty of state officials that would be really good.


Not all conservatives like country music.  Just stop it.  It’s almost like the musical selection is being written by what Keith Olbermann thinks right wingers would want to hear.


Much has been made of former Governor Tommy Thompson’s appearance at the Tea Party in Wisconsin last week, where he announced he would not be running against Democratic U.S. Senator Russ Feingold.  In some respects, Tommy injected free-market conservatism into areas of state government that badly needed it (school choice, welfare reform, etc.)  But in other areas, Thompson represents exactly the type of politician that Tea Partiers despise.  Even Thompson’s staunchest defenders wouldn’t necessarily consider him thrifty with taxpayers’ money.

But when Tommy wanted to speak at the Tea Party, the organizers were stuck with a quandary: Do we exclude the most popular politician in the state, even if he’s only there to serve his own purposes?

Thompson’s appearance weakened the message of the Tea Party – it told attendees that the event was more about personalities than ideas.  Tommy’s announcement sucked media attention away from the people who had traveled to Madison from all over the state to be there, and focused it all on himself.  And the fact that his speech led people to believe he was going to run, then pulled the rug out from under them, just discouraged the crowd.

In the future, organizers should reconsider if they’re going to allow their well-meaning event to be the host for individuals to latch on to serve their own purposes.  It happened this year, and damaged the event.


Nothing gets a crowd of conservatives riled up (and rightfully so) than speakers slamming the liberal media.  And speaker after speaker did just that.  It was ironic, however, that they did so while dozens of media cameras were right there at stage side, and while just as many nattily-attired reporters were roasting under the hot sun all day covering the event.  We can rip them all we want when they pass on lefty talking points (and I will continue to do so), but on this day, they deserved credit for being there.  Chastising the media when they’re right there in front of the stage covering you looks self-defeating. (Samuel Alito just mouthed the words, “I agree.”)


Seriously – who’s ever heard of a Wisconsin event where thousands of people get together and there’s no tailgating?  Someone figure out the grilling rules for the Capitol lawn and let’s fire up the bratwurst.


Last week, speaker after speaker strode to the stage, veins bulging, demanding we take our country back.  (By the way, the new Tea Party Drinking Game involves taking a drink any time any speaker says “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  You’d be drunk in 15 minutes.)

It might be a nice change to have some speakers that can use a little humor to make their points.  The stereotype of conservatives is that they are angry and humorless.  While there’s plenty of reason to be angry, there’s also enough reason to laugh at what’s been going on in America.  It disarms people and makes the speaker seem smarter than they probably are.  Plus, it would be a nice change of pace from the apocalyptic rhetoric we get from the rest of the speaking lineup.


While some of the speakers mentioned some specific issues (Apostle David King, for instance, denounced the “ding dongs” in the Legislature about to pass a bill making it easier to commit vote fraud), many of them discuss conservatism and limited government in the abstract.  Many of them go on at length about the Founding Fathers (including an interminable speech by a guy dressed like Thomas Jefferson) and recite passages from the U.S. Constitution.  (Rule of thumb in politics: 90% of people who start talking to you about the true meaning of the Constitution are lunatics.)

More emphasis should be given to what people can do RIGHT NOW.  The Founding Fathers are great, but Ben Franklin isn’t crawling out of his crypt to stop the global warming bill in the Wisconsin State Legislature.  The people in the crowd on the capitol lawn have to do that.  Immediately.

It would be helpful if the groups organizing the Tea Party had a framework for taking action on important bills right away.  Schedule visits to legislator offices.  Form a Political Action Committee and get people to donate to it while they’re all standing right there.  Give them the tools they need to go back home and start making a difference.


It seemed like there were a dozen speakers on the docket last Thursday. (I’m not sure how many there ended up being, but it was in that area.)  The crowd seemed like it would have been just as happy with maybe five or six high-caliber speakers, as opposed to a dozen speakers of varying quality.


This one is self-explanatory.  I would pay cash money for people to avoid providing me with this visual.


The Tea Parties are on a roll – and getting people involved in spreading the message of limited government is always a good thing.  But they could certainly build on those successes, and focus that discontent into actual change.  And I’ll certainly be there next year to help.  Until then, we should all be grateful we live in a country where we can go buy a sandwich that uses two fried chicken patties as buns.

God bless you, Founding Fathers.

Did I Play Against Allen Iverson?

I just watched \No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson,” ESPN’s outstanding “30 for 30” documentary.  It’s truly an example of what can happen when a network gives a great director the freedom to make the movie he wants.  Iverson has always been one of my favorite players – if you can stomach the multiple arrests, he’s one of the baddest men on the planet.  I wish I was as good at my job as he was at his (and had as many neck tattoos in the process).  Plus, I was living in Blacksburg, Virginia at the time of the bowling alley incident featured in the documentary – so I recall the controversy going on at the time.

But during his whole college and pro career, one question has always been nagging at me:  Did I play against Allen Iverson?

A bit of an explanation of my limited basketball career is warranted here.  I was always short and hopelessly skinny.  When I graduated high school, I weighed maybe 135 pounds.  (A television station in Ethiopia actually had a telethon for me.)

\"\"After playing ball my entire childhood, I was cut from my high school’s freshman team.  I was so angry, I signed up to play on a church league team where I vowed to take it out on the other kids that weren’t good enough to make their freshman teams, either.  My signature play was to bring the ball up and shoot it.  When the other team caught on, I’d switch it up and let someone else bring the ball up and pass it to me.  Then I’d shoot it.

As it turns out shooting was the one thing I could do.  As my dad always told me, “there’s always a spot on a team for a guy who can shoot.”  I spent almost every waking moment at the court by my house, heaving up one three pointer after another.  I always envisioned whatever girl wasn’t talking to me at the time sitting in the front row as I drained a long game winner.  And since no girls ever talked to me, that amounted to about 1.3 million game winners in the span of four years.  (Occasionally, I was joined in one-on-one games by a former Milwaukee prep star known as My Dad, whose rough old man play left me with loose front teeth more than once.)

My sophomore year, I made the junior varsity team, but rarely played.  I was, as is known in the business, the “human victory cigar” – when I came into the game, it was likely already decided.  But that didn\’t shake my confidence.  I recall one time in practice, I dribbled the ball from end to end on a fast break and jacked up a three-pointer.  My coach blew the whistle and chastised me for not letting the defense we were working on set up.  “You’d have to be a hell of a player to take that shot, anyway,\” he yelled, sarcastically.  Next time down the court, I stopped at the top of the three-point circle and heaved up another shot.  “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING, SCHNEIDER?” he barked.  “I just heard the part about you having to be a hell of a player to take that shot,” I said.  He smiled.  And I still never played.

The competition in Northern Virginia at the time was pretty good.  We played Grant Hill, who was starring at South Lakes high school (he’s a year older than me.)  Current ESPN analyst, North Carolina Tarheel and longtime NBA player Hubert Davis often played pickup games at a court near my house.  The scene was sprinkled with other guys who went on to play Division I ball (we played some 6 foot 9 guy that went to Stanford, but I can’t remember his name.  Stanford probably can’t, either.)

But it wasn’t until a trip down to Virginia Beach after my sophomore year that my eyes were opened as to what competitive basketball really was.  Old Dominion University has a team basketball camp every summer, where high school teams travel down together to the campus for a week of instruction.  Most of the teams there were from the Hampton/Virginia Beach/Norfolk area, which is one of the most fertile athletic areas in the United States.  Michael Vick is from there.  Bruce Smith is from there.  Lawrence Taylor.  Alonzo Mourning (who set the state record for blocked shots against my school when I was in 8th grade.)  Golfer Curtis Strange.  (It’s true.  Meant to be funny, but still true.)

\"\"It should also be noted that of the twelve teams in attendance, there were five white guys – total – at the camp.  And three of them were on our team.  Now, I was certainly no newcomer to the racial realities of basketball.  My school is currently 37% white and 26% African-American, due to a large number of middle class black military families that lived nearby. (I also have my school’s racial makeup to thank for introducing me to Go-Go music, a unique D.C. style that gives the people more bongos than they can handle.)

At courts near my house, I was often the last one picked based almost exclusively on my skin hue.  Our team had traveled into Washington, D.C. to play some of the schools in the city, where the stands featured exactly zero white faces.  Our biggest rival, T.C. Williams High School (of “Remember the Titans” fame) had become a majority black school by 1990, with a large percentage of their students living in tough economic circumstances.  When we played them, be actually had to be accompanied to the locker room by hired guards. (T.C. Williams also had to move their football games from Friday night to Saturday afternoon, as their fans occasionally got a little trigger happy during the night games.)

But once we stepped on the court with some of these teams that came from areas like Hampton and Norfolk, it was a completely different story.  We weren’t playing rich-boy Northern Virginia basketball anymore.  We lost our first game by something like 80-20.  By our third game, we ended up passing the ball back and forth for minutes at a time to avoid being completely blown out.

But then there was one game that I can’t forget.  I was guarding a point guard who was probably my height at the time (about 5 foot 7).  He had a bandage wrapped around his shooting hand.  At one point in the game, he dribbled the ball up and passed it off.  I felt a screen hit me from behind.  When I wheeled my head around to look at where he should have gone, he wasn’t there.  He had completely disappeared.  A fraction of a second later, I turned all the way around and looked at the rim.  I saw his bandaged hand six inches over the rim, catching an alley-oop and dunking it.  I must have stood there, stunned, for what felt like 10 minutes.  I\’ve never seen anything like it before or since.  It was a world-class athletic move from a guy not old enough to drive a car.

It was only a few years later that it occurred to me that it’s possible I was playing against a future NBA hall of famer that day.  (And it wasn’t future Milwaukee Buck Joe Smith, who was there with his Maury High School team.)  After all, almost all the teams there were from Iverson’s area.  On the negative side –  I’m 3 years older than The Answer, so if it was him, he was 13 or 14 years old at the time – which makes the athletic feat I witnessed even more implausible.

The real answer is that I’ll never know if I played against Allen Iverson.  Maybe he was at the camp but on a different team altogether.  Maybe he was back in Hampton, playing on an asphalt court.  But I have to admit, I kind of like not knowing whether he was there.  So at least I know there was at least a chance.

Incidentally, our team actually went on to the state tournament the next season.  I even managed to get into a game, get fouled a few times, hit 5 of 6 free throws, and get mentioned in the Washington Post.  So we were actually a good team – just not Virginia Beach good.

(SIDE NOTE: Rather than actually going on dates and stuff, my friends and I spent an inordinate amount of time filming ourselves dunking on a hoop outside my friend Dennis’ house.  Please, come bask in the awkwardness with me:)

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Youthful Indiscretions: Our Politicians are Both Juvenile and Delinquent

babyThe ubiquitous television commercial plays nonstop, making it the aural wallpaper of our lives: Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” remixed over modern beats, reminds us that the fountain of youth can be found in a sweet carbonated beverage.

It’s not the first marketing campaign to promise us eternal youth, and it won’t be the last. In fact, as we get older, commercials sell us on being even younger-in 10 years, Pepsi is probably going to promise me I can enjoy life once again as a fetus.

But these marketing campaigns bring up an interesting question that filters beyond culture, into the way we’re governed: Is the world really short on people who are acting too grown-up?

When I was a kid, it used to be that we were always in a rush to grow up. Someone’s older brother always had an awesome new R.E.M. tape that gave us a window into what college life was like-and we’d do anything to get a piece of it. At age 16, my friends and I sneaked into a Washington, D.C., bar, and I sat stunned, enjoying poetry readings next to a guy with a beard.

Today, our feelings on age seem to be the exact opposite. People my age are now obsessed with youth culture. Grown men measure their cultural status based on whether they’re beating 16-year-olds in online Xbox games. Women in their 30s and 40s giggle about the Jonas Brothers and seek refuge from real life in tales written for teenage girls about nubile young vampires.

Ask any woman, and she’ll tell you she’d rather be Megan Fox than Margaret Thatcher. (Although in college, I found out you can quickly turn the latter into the former with a bottle of Bacardi and a light switch.)

Our government leaders have caught on to the juvenalization of the American public. If there are any two personality traits that characterize young people, it is their avarice and their inability to think long term. And there is no better way to describe today’s elected leaders.

Politicians on the national level promise us universal health care while ignoring how they’re going to pay for it. They run up trillions of dollars of debt, selling our future to China. They spend billions of dollars on farcical economic “stimulus” efforts that seem to only benefit political cronies, while America continues to hemorrhage jobs. As if children on a playground, they hurl puerile epithets like “racist” and “teabagger” to impugn their ideological opponents.

Wisconsin’s leaders on the state level aren’t any better. Despite being required to pass a balanced budget, the state currently faces a $2.7 billion deficit. Wisconsin’s governor and Legislature simply can’t resist the urge to buy more government than it can pay for. This isn’t at all unlike what would happen if I let my 6-year-old daughter loose in Toys R’ Us with a credit card.

All of this, of course, reflects a society that doesn’t mind being lectured on the environment by the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio. Or having Jessica Alba tell them who to vote for in a presidential election. Or being told not to wear fur by Pamela Anderson.

I, for one, have come to grips with getting older. I wouldn’t trade the life experiences I’ve had, people I’ve met, books I’ve read, food I’ve tasted, for anything. Sure, I could do without my belly button sagging sadly over my belt, and I’d prefer it if my nose hair didn’t look like two hamsters were having a boxing match in my nostrils.

But with age comes experience, and I’m hopeful I’ve translated what I’ve learned into being a more responsible adult.

This is a lesson our political leaders need to take to heart. As Flannery O’Connor implored, we need to start “pushing as hard as the age that pushes against you.” On both the national and state level, we need adult supervision. The issues of our day will remain intractable until the people we choose to represent us just…grow up.

Why Congress is Wigging Out

wiggingWhen men start to go bald, they basically have two options: they can man up, accept their fate and buy an expensive car, or they can try wearing a ridiculous toupee.

(I guess a third option is to get hair plugs – like they do in the Hair Club for Men. I love their ads, because they promise that I can go jet-skiing with my new hair – which is awesome, because I didn’t know how to jet ski before.)*

The thought process behind men wearing wigs is fascinating. They recognize that it looks ridiculous – there isn’t a person they pass on the street that doesn’t go “whoa – look at that rug!” But they do the internal calculus and determine that the fact they’re obviously wearing a toupee is preferable to the horrors of seeing the top of their scalp.

The examples of this are myriad. Everyone knows Elton John is a member of the Bald Brotherhood; yet he still shows up in concert wearing wigs that look like they formerly belonged to a cast member of “High School Musical.” Everyone seems to have forgotten that Jeremy Piven had less hair at age 28 than he does at age 43. And John Travolta’s ridiculous hairline goes up and down more often than John Edwards’ zipper. Yet all of them have determined that this is a better look than going natural.

(Incidentally, this is comparable to women who think having obvious plastic surgery is preferable to the horrors of aging naturally. Poor Meg Ryan, formerly as beautiful as the Mona Lisa, now looks like a Picasso.)

Members of Congress seem to be picking up on this meme. Congress’ favorability ratings barely hover above “having your lips stapled to a gorilla.” The American public is now fully aware Congress is incapable of creating jobs. Voters know that the House and Senate are going to raise their taxes and at the same time create government deficits as far as the eye can see, at the same time unemployment is in the double digits. (The chance that we all speak Chinese in 20 years currently stands at about 35%.)

And yet they have taken this dead animal carcass known as “health care” and stapled it securely to their heads. They think ramming through a government takeover of sixteen percent of the American economy is preferable to the way the public sees them now. Democrats in Congress honestly believe passing a partisan bill crafted in secret will give them the image makeover they need to maintain their large margins come election time.

When the health care takeover bill passes, your congressperson is going to come back to you brandishing their vote as if they’re a co-worker who magically gained a full head of hair overnight. They’re going to tell you that doing something was better than letting nature take its course. Yet unbeknownst to them, they will become even more of a laughingstock than when they started. Sadly, the cover Steve in human resources seeks only hurts him; the cover Congress is looking for could bring down the American economy.

So say it loud, my bald brothers – it’s nobody’s first choice to lose your hair, but trying to rectify it can make it worse. A lesson Congress should learn before they creep out voters for good.

NOTE: Be looking for the second portion of this series, “Why global warming is like a mustache.”

(Incidentally, when Congress does decide to purchase their toupee, I demand they do it at Morrie’s Wigs.)

* – Other popular strategies include “bald guy who grows a beard,” “bald guy who works out a lot,” “bald guy who wears sunglasses on the top of his head,” “bald guy who wears stylish hats,” “bald guy with lots of tattoos,” and “Michael Stipe.”

An Evening With Wilco. And Stuff.

OK, first thing’s first – here’s our podcast for this week, where we discuss Saturday night’s Wilco show here in Madison, and review the album “Teen Dream” from the band Beach House.


Or download directly here.

The Wilco show was at the Overture Center, the fancy arts center here in Madison that went from “cultural center” to “taxpayer boondoggle” with breakneck speed.  But it’s good to see them booking shows that sell out – they seem to be turning the place around by offering more high-demand artists.  Anyway:

We thought we got downtown in time to have dinner at Cooper’s, the new place on Capitol square.  But naturally, it was packed, with an hour wait.  People inside were jammed up against the window.  As we stood outside to plan our next move, I got a call that I saw was from an old fraternity buddy of mine.  We were still haggling on where to go eat, so I hit “ignore” on the phone, and saw that he left a message.  I put the phone back in my pocket, and felt it buzz again.  It was him again, so again, I hit “ignore.”  Again, he left a voice mail.  (I checked the voice mails, and it cut in and out, so I couldn’t tell what he wanted.)

Of course, two minutes later, I feel a tap on my shoulder – and it’s him.  He was a foot away from me, but inside and pressed up against the glass.  He was trying to call me to get me to turn around, where he was watching me ignore his calls.  Awesome.  I told him I really was going to call him back, but I think he wasn’t buying it.  So my bad, Pete.

After dinner, I split off and met some friends at Paul’s Club for a couple pre-show drinks.  While lounging on the couches there, we met some wildly entertaining gay dudes who were down from the Twin Cities for some kind of bar crawl.  They were a riot – so I slipped some money to my neighbor to go buy them some drinks.  Of course, she announces to them that it was me that purchased their stoli and cranberries.  So one guy complimented me on my Doc Martens – which I thought he was being sarcastic.  (I’m a little touchy ever since a girl at a concert a couple months ago called me “90’s Guy” – and she didn’t mean it as a compliment.  I was so mad, I threw my beeper at her.)

So this guy playfully told me I was cute – which I thought was awesome – I don’t get many compliments, so why not take the ones I can get, right?  But then later, I found out he said the same thing about another guy that was in our group.  And in a weird way, I kind of got mad – I thought I WAS THE SPECIAL ONE.  I felt like I had been cheated on.  Anyway.

We got to the show, and bought the child proof sippy cups of beer they make you use at the Overture center.  It didn’t take long for us to realize that we were sitting in front of the world’s biggest Wilco fan.  He knew every word to every song and was singing them at the top of his lungs.  Finally, I got up the nerve (a couple sippy cups later) to turn around and ask him to stop.  I said “I’m sure you’re a wonderful singer, but I didn’t pay $40 to hear you sing.”  He then reached toward me, stuck up his fingers and gave me the “talk to the hand” dismissive wave.  And I’d like to say there was more to it, but that was about it.  I shook my head and rolled my eyes, and went back to focusing on the show.  Oddly, he disappeared a few songs later.

All in all, a good night out for the old folks.  Nothing a few Advil and about four Eggo Waffles couldn’t cure.

The Day Milwaukee Almost Killed the NFL

These days, it seems like an impossibility.  NFL teams in both Green Bay and Milwaukee?  But in the league’s nascent years, it actually happened.  And the NFL’s Milwaukee Badgers almost killed the league by participating in one of the NFL’s most notorious scandals.

This weekend, NFL fans were treated to the sight of the Tennessee Titans being destroyed by the New England Patriots by a 59-0 score.  Yet on December 10,  1925, the Milwaukee Badgers took part in a 59-0 pounding that historians say corrupted the league, and cost Milwaukee their NFL franchise.

In 1925, the NFL was a very different league.  Teams such as the Pottsville Maroons, Akron Pros, Frankford Yellow Jackets, Canton Bulldogs, Hammond Pros, and Duluth Kelleys dotted the Midwestern landscape.  Early versions of the league also featured teams in Racine and Kenosha. (In 1921, the Twin Cities hosted the Minneapolis Marines, which is fitting given the Vikings\’ future love of boats.)  In many cases, games in these middle-sized cities outdrew matches in cities like Detroit and Chicago, where professional football remained a fringe sport.  (Football would soon see an explosion in popularity with the Chicago Bears’ signing of Red Grange out of the University of Illinois.)

In addition to the league being geographically smaller, the way the game was played was also very different than the game we know today.  Teams had sixteen players, most of whom played both ways.  There were no hash marks on the field, so the next play began wherever the last play ended – if the runner went out of bounds, the ball was placed adjacent to the out of bounds line, and the team usually had to waste a play just to move it back into the middle of the field.

Incomplete passes into the endzone were ruled touchbacks, with the team on defense receiving the ball.  Yards were often so hard to come by, teams would often punt on second and third down when backed up in their own territory.  In fact, if a punt returner fielded a punt near his own end zone, he would often just turn around and punt the ball back to the other team rather than attempt a return.  Coaching from the sideline was forbidden (a strategy employed by the Packers during Ray Rhodes’ season as coach.)  The forward pass was seen as a desperation move.

Since many teams operated either at a loss or with a very small profit margin, the league allowed teams to discontinue play in the middle of the season if things weren’t going well.  This was the case in 1925 for the ragtag Milwaukee Badgers, who began the season 0-5 and were outscored 132-7, which forced them to fold up shop for the remainder of the season.  Playing at Borchert Field, this Badger team featured future Packer NFL Hall of Famer (and River Falls native) Johnny “Blood” McNally.  The team was barely newsworthy in Milwaukee, with most of the sports section headlines granted to either Marquette men’s basketball or Red Grange’s 1925 barnstorming tour with the Chicago Bears.

As the season came to a close, the Chicago Cardinals trailed the Pottsville Maroons in the standings by mere percentage points.  The Maroons finished the season 10-2, capping the season with a 21-7 win on December 6th against the Cardinals, who dropped to 9-2, with one tie.  The game, which was presumed to be the league championship game, barely warranted a mention in the Milwaukee Sentinel.

(And if you want a wildly entertaining look at how sports stories were written in 1925, read the actual story here.  The article ends with: “There is a peculiar paradox in the final summing up of the game.  The defeated Cardinals scored the most first downs, counting seventeen to the Miners’ eleven.  The Chicagoans also completed sixteen forward passes from a total of thirty-five attempts, while the Pottsvillers scored only five out of ten attempts.  But that is football!”)

But the Cardinals weren’t about to accept defeat.  Instead, their owner, Chris O’Brien, scheduled two more games at the end of the season in order to push their record ahead of the Maroons.  One of these games was scheduled against the Milwaukee Badgers, whose players had quit mid-season.  Since many of the Badgers’ players weren’t available to play in the game, the team recruited four high school boys, gave them fake names, and sent them out to the field.  In fact, it was Art Foltz, a Cardinal player, who recruited the high schoolers from his old school, Englewood High.

Naturally, the Cardinals pounded the Badgers, winning 59-0.  The local newspaper made no mention of the game before it was played, and no admission fee was charged to fans.  According to the report, “a few hundred” fans took advantage.  The write-up in the Milwaukee Sentinel barely measured two column inches:

The Cardinals also went on to beat the Hammond Pros 13-0 two days later, at which point they declared themselves league champions after going 11-2-1.  During the time the Cardinals were lining up those two games to pad their record, Pottsville played a game against a team of Notre Dame all stars, which the league strictly forbade.

Soon, League Commissioner Joe Carr learned of the use of high school players for the Badger-Cardinal game and sternly punished the team and its owner.  The team was fined $500 (the entry fee for teams was only $50 at the time), and the owner, Ambrose McGurk, was ordered to sell the team within 90 days.  McGurk was also banned from any further association with the NFL for the rest of his life.  (The Cardinals’ Foltz was also banned for life, and O’Brien was fined $1,000, despite claiming he didn’t know about the high schoolers.  The boys were barred from participation in Big Ten College football.)

Yet despite all the penalties handed down by the league, the Cardinals were declared league champions, and all the records from that year have stood.  The Badgers attempted to field a team in 1926, but the $500 fine for the Cardinal game nearly wiped them out.  They did win two games in 1926, but quickly disbanded – many of their players went to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates football team, leading many to mistakenly think the Badgers eventually became the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the meantime, their cousins to the north, the Green Bay Packers, flourished in a much smaller town.  (In the 1925 season, the Badgers, coached by Johnny Bryan, went 0-2 against the Packers, losing by scores of 31-0 and 6-0.)  The only touchdown the team scored all season was on a fumble recovery by left end Clem Neacy, against the Rock Island Independents.

Perhaps one of the Badgers’ most notable accomplishments was employing one of the first two African-American players in NFL history.  In 1922, after one season with the Akron Pros, Fritz Pollard came to Milwaukee, scoring three touchdowns and kicking two extra points on his way to leading the team with 20 points.  Pollard was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.


In fact, the Green Bay Packers themselves didn’t have the smoothest of entries into the NFL, either.  In 1921, Commissioner Carr found out that the Packers had actually been recruiting college students, giving them fake names, and allowing them to play in games.  (Incidentally, it is believed that this was Brett Favre’s first season in the league.)

Carr ordered the Packers to disband as a franchise as punishment.  But Coach Curly Lambeau desperately wanted back in, pointing out that he had the $50 necessary to purchase a new franchise.  But he couldn’t make it to Canton, Ohio for the league owners’ meeting.

Lambeau mentioned his problem to Don Murphy, the son of a Green Bay lumberman, who offered to make the trip down to Canton on behalf of Lambeau in exchange for one thing: he wanted to be on the team the next year.  Despite Murphy clearly not being a football player, Lambeau acquiesced, and Murphy went to Ohio and bought the team back.

In 1922, in the first game of the year, Murphy played tackle for the Green Bay Packers for one minute.  He then walked off the field and “retired” from football forever.


It bears repeating that the NFL was a wild, loosely organized gang of misfits in its first years.  Probably the most entertaining team in the league at the time was the Oorang Indians, who called LaRue, Ohio their home (pop. 900.)

Many of the NFL teams at the time were formed strictly as advertisements for certain companies – The Acme Packers, the Decatur Staleys (after the A.E. Staley Company, later the Chicago Bears), etc.  But the Oorang Indians were formed to advertise the Oorang Airedale puppy breeding business in the village.

The owner, Walter Lingo, was also a fan of Native Americans – so he staffed the team completely with Indians, who would have the job of advertising his Airedale puppies.  As such, he utilized the team extensively during pre-game and halftime shows, which served to promote his breeding business.  At several points, Lingo would pluck one of his players from the bench and have him wrestle a bear at mid-field.  Other times, there would be Indian shooting exhibitions, with Airedales fetching the marks.  The high point, according to historians, was the time Indians were used in a World War I re-enactment against the Germans, with Airedales providing first aid to the fallen soldiers.

Not surprisingly, the team was terrible, finishing 3-6 in 1922.

For more wildly entertaining stories about the early days of the NFL, pick up “Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football by Robert W. Peterson.


One of the benefits of poring over newspapers from 1925 is finding gems like this.  Here’s an actual headline from the Milwaukee Sentinel on December 18, 1925:

Today’s melancholy song: Nick Drake (who killed himself before he gained any notoriety for beautiful songs like this one.)

So You Think You Can Be a Sports Reporter? (Nov. 12, 2009)

Admit it.  You do it.  I do it.  Everyone does.  We all complain about our favorite team’s beat writer.  Either they’re not giving us enough information, or they’re not being hard enough on the team, or they’re not praising the right players.  We all know better than they do.

I decided to put this theory to the test.  The folks at Sportsbubbler were kind enough to furnish me with a press pass for the Bucks-Nuggets game on Wednesday night at the Bradley Center, so I went undercover to see what being a major sports beat writer was all about.  (This was fortuitous, since Denver happens to be my 4-year old son’s favorite team.  He absolutely cannot believe an NBA team is named after chicken nuggets.)

The first thing I did in preparation for this test was to e-mail a friend of mine who’s a beat reporter for a major league baseball team.  I told him that I had no clue what I was doing, and asked him for tips.  He said I should definitely go to the morning shoot-around to get the feel for the place first.

So there I was, at 10:45 AM, wandering around an empty Bradley Center.  As it turns out, shoot-around had ended ten minutes earlier, and all the coaches and players had gone back into the locker room.  So it was just me and the ghost of Paul Mokeski in the whole building.  It was completely empty – a spooky sight, given that in just a few hours, literally dozens of people would be in the stands watching the Bucks play.

Not wanting to waste the opportunity, I just started walking through the “House that Herb Built But Now Wants to Remodel,” gazing at the sights.  In one of the hallways, there’s a giant poster of Brian Winters with the NBA’s “Where Amazing Happens” tagline.  There’s 50 dollars in it for anyone who can get the team to change that poster to “Where Amazing Beards Happen.”  Mostly, I just walked around the court, staring at the banners and retired numbers, with my mouth open.  If someone saw me walking around by myself in there, I wanted to project an aura of wonderment, and not an aura of “I wonder where the best place to hide the explosives would be?”

Finally, I ran into the Bucks’ Director of Media Relations, Dan Smyczek.  I explained what I was doing there, and he couldn’t have been nicer.  He gave me a quick guided tour of the stadium’s underbelly.  He said the Nuggets hadn’t shown yet, since teams that play the night before generally don’t have a shoot-around the next morning.  (The Nuggets had barely beaten the Bulls in a nailbiter on Tuesday night.)  He pointed out where the locker room was, where the media room was, and generally when and where interviews take place before and after the game.  He said that it’s not so bad that I missed shoot-around, since it’s hard to really get any in-depth material there anyway. (So my story on “What Makes Luc Richard Mbah a Moute Cry Himself to Sleep?” will have to wait.)

He then sent me on my way, telling me to return at 5:00.  On the way out, I passed a very weary-looking Joe Alexander, and walked out the door about the same time he did.  For some reason, I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the bolted exit door, so I stood there, pulling on it for a good 30 seconds.  I finally gave up and exited through the players’ parking lot, almost getting run over by Alexander.  Admittedly, that would have made for a better column.

When I get back to the Bradley Center at 5, it’s bustling with activity behind the scenes.  While the stands are still fairly empty, the tunnels under the seats are full of people with walkie talkies every 10 feet.  Everyone seems to be in a hurry, scurrying to get to whatever it is they do.

I find press row down on the floor and meet up with a guy named Adam, who takes me into the Press Room.  This is where all the media members can stuff their faces and shoot the breeze before game time.  I spot Craig Coshun, Jon McGlockin, Tony Smith, and other “celebrities” in the room. (Although, admittedly, these guys are “celebrities” in much the same way that Levi Johnston is a “celebrity.”)  This also happens to be the room where media members get their wireless internet password.  I get mine and return to my seat.

(Important note: For the people reading this 30 years from now, Levi Johnston was a young man who has gained national prominence by vaguely insulting a major presidential candidate, then proving he should be taken seriously by allowing magazines to photograph his wiener.)

It comes time to conduct the pregame interviews with the head coaches.  Apparently, the visiting coach is supposed to go first, but Denver’s George Karl is twenty minutes late.  When he appears from the locker room, he backs up against a brick wall, giving his interview the look of a hostage video.  Karl answers some fairly tepid questions.  He thinks Carmelo Anthony needs to win more playoff games before he’s considered an elite player.  He supports instant replay in some cases, but doesn’t think it should take so long.  Many of his answers are drowned out by the stadium’s PA system, which appears to be playing some hip-hop version of a Bob Dylan song.  Karl seems very comfortable with the Milwaukee media (as he coached in Milwaukee for five years), and he graciously stays until the very last media member is done asking questions.

By then, the small throng of reporters has moved down the hall to where Bucks coach Scott Skiles has begun giving interviews.  Skiles has a reputation for being a Grade A red ass – cranky, irascible, and short with the media.  On TV, you get the idea that he’d one day pull the spine out of a reporter if it were only legal.

But in person, Skiles was actually very calm and kind and answered questions as they came.  Sure, he’s not going to win “America’s Funniest Comic” any time soon, but even when he got a question he didn’t like, he politely declined to answer.  Still dressed in his black Bucks t-shirt and warmup pants, his demeanor and candor were impressive.

I worked my way back to my seat following the coach interviews.  By the stickers on our seats, I saw I was seated between a writer for the Spanish Journal and the Sports Bubbler’s own Bucks guru, Paul Imig.

About ten minutes before the game started, I was sitting at my laptop at courtside, when I felt a tap on my shoulder.  It was a man I didn’t know, who said he had a nephew that just graduated from the University of Missouri, and who was looking to get into sports journalism.  He asked me, thinking I was a sports writer, what the best way to break into sports media was.  I explained to him that I normally write about politics, and that I was just there for that one night covering the game.  So I guess my only advice to his nephew would be, “write about politics.” (In actuality, his nephew better be willing to write a lot.  For free.)

And it’s tip off time!

Before the game, the most appealing storyline dealt with how the Bucks’ young rookie point guard, Brandon Jennings, would fare against the Nuggets’ cagey veteran, Chauncey Billups.  But for all the talk of Jennings vs. Billups, the real test early in the game was how well Jennings got the ball down low.  Bucks center Andrew Bogut scored 11 of the team’s first 19 points, with Jennings assisting on 3 of them.  It was clear from the outset that the plan was to pound the Nuggets underneath the hoop with the Bucks’ big guys. (Bogut and forward Hakim Warrick took 15 of the Bucks’ first 25 shots.)

And this is why I believe Scott Skiles is a good coach.  From a fan’s perspective, it would seem that the Nuggets’ big guys, Kenyon Martin and Nene (a 6-foot-11 Brazilian who changed his name early in his career – it used to be “Dick Whitman,”) would be a tough matchup for Bogut.  Anyone who watched the Nuggets’ blood war with the Lakers in the playoffs last year knows that Denver’s big bodies deliver plenty of bruises.

Yet Skiles clearly saw something that us fans didn’t.  Maybe Bogut’s strengths played into specific weaknesses in Martin or Nene.  Or maybe Skiles knows that big men have a harder time recovering from back to back games. (The Nuggets are finishing up the last game of a six game road trip.)  But whatever it was, Skiles saw it, and I clearly didn’t.  And that’s why he’s a coach and I’m sitting here scarfing down a hot dog.

On comes the ENERGEE dance team, dressed in Veterans’ Day outfits that have about as much fabric in them as one of my socks.  Nothing says “thank you for your service and sorry about losing that arm” better than killer abs.

I am of several minds regarding the whole “dance team” phenomenon.  First, I would love to meet the guy who first convinced women that they should dance half naked in front of big crowds at sporting events.  And actually get them to enjoy doing so.  It’s a crime that Milwaukee has a statue of the Fonz, but none commemorating the inventor of the sports bra, the first guy to put mayonnaise on a hamburger, or the inventor of cheerleaders.  Let’s correct this.

On the other hand, I have to say that I’ve never actually been watching a game and said to myself “boy, I’m really not enjoying this competitive athletic match – what it really needs is some near-nude women!”  (Although I have said that about going to the grocery store.)

Anyway, they’re right in front of us here in press row, and they have provided us all with an angle that I will not soon un-see.  I’m pretty sure I can see what they had for lunch.  Back to the game.

The game stays close early, with the first quarter ending tied at 27.  I read Imig’s column online, where he quotes Brandon Jennings as saying Chauncey Billups is a Hall of Famer.  In order to ensure Billups’ place in the hall, Jennings exercised his option to not defend him, and Billups drains two three pointers on him in the span of two minutes.

One of the first things that’s noticeable from up close in press row is how fast Brandon Jennings actually is.  This gives me much consternation, as my wife has always told me I was the fastest man in Wisconsin.

Hey, wait…

And by the way, as long as we’re here, what is it with Wisconsin excellence and the name “Jennings?”  Greg Jennings of the Packers makes the Pro Bowl.  Brandon Jennings becomes an immediate rookie sensation.  If I were the Brewers, I would make sure I drafted any high school player in America with the last name “Jennings,” just to ride the wave.  Somewhere in Southeast Wisconsin, there’s a dentist named “Ernie Jennings” that gives fillings that make all your food taste like lobster.  There’s a garbage man named “Buford Jennings” that cleans the whole block in half the time.  You get the idea.

Being a beat writer is clearly much different now than it has been traditionally.  In days of yore, fans had very limited access to information about their teams – in some cases, the only way you could see your team on television was if they were playing a national game on a major network.  But now, with every game on television and a preponderance of websites, daily game recaps are almost superfluous.  Who wants to read about something they already watched with their own eyes?  And if they want to read about it, why don’t they just go to one of the blogs that likely has already broken down each player’s performance within 3 minutes of game’s end?

This is what makes the job so difficult – finding new and interesting ways to inform people about something they’ve already witnessed.  And it’s why sports writers take such a beating.  Gone are the days of Grantland Rice banging out erudite verbal masterpieces on a daily basis, composing orchestras of words to inform the public.  Now, the deadlines are seconds, not hours.  And everyone has an opinion – and if it doesn’t measure up to what the reader thinks, the reporter can expect to see their name disparaged on a blog somewhere.  (Although some of them are jerks, so they deserve it.)

One of the first things that you notice sitting next to the Nuggets bench are all the tattoos they have.  This has to be the most inked team in sports history.  Chris “Birdman” Anderson has completely run out of skin on his body to tattoo – he might have to start renting space on other people’s arms.  (As Steven Wright once joked, I’m looking into getting a full body tattoo of myself, only taller.)

And yes, it looks horrible – but I kind of appreciate it from a motivational perspective.  It really is kind of like going “all in” in poker.  Basically, he has to hustle his tail off in basketball now, because he is virtually unemployable in the real world.  It’s not like his fallback job is working at H&R Block or something.  He’s got to make a go of hoops.  Anyway.

(Later in the game, Birdman throws a towel to a little kid sitting in the stands.  As Imig remarked, it’s really easy to root for a guy who seems to appreciate the position he has.)

Following a blocking call on Ersan Ilyasova that would embarrass Tim Donaghy, the Bucks lead at the half 53-47.  Near the end of the half, Jennings makes a long pull-back jumper that has the Nuggets bench glancing at each other with incredulity.  Nuggets reserve forward Malik Allen, sitting three feet from us, looks over and says “If Jennings makes a shot, the next time the Bucks have the ball, he comes down and shoots it automatically.”  This is called foreshadowing.

One of the most noticeable things in the Bradley Center tonight is the section of 100 tickets purchased by Andrew Bogut that he has dubbed “Squad6.”  For each home game this year, Bogut has bought tickets and given them away to the most boisterous Bucks fans he could find.  I decide that after the game, I will suggest to Bogut that he instead give away his 100 tickets per game to homeless people.  How great would that be, to essentially have a soup kitchen in the middle of the arena?  Plus, it would save the Bucks money, as they wouldn’t have to hire anyone to clean up the Bradley Center after games.  You think there would be any curly fries, popcorn, or half-eaten hot dogs laying around after SquadHomeless exits the building?  The Bucks are free to send me a check for all the money I save them.  I have a million of \’em.

The second half begins, and it’s immediately a stark contrast to the first.  Jennings appears to be rolling, hitting a layup and two jumpers.  Things get testy under the Nuggets’ basket as Bogut and Carmelo Anthony get tied up, leading to a double technical foul.  Yet it’s Jennings that’s the first one to go over and make peace with Anthony.  In his sixth game in the league, he already appears to be a leader.  He should probably go ahead and file the restraining order paperwork against me now.

After the third quarter, the ENERGEE dancers walk right next to me to go throw junk into the stands.  I almost pass out from sucking in my gut for 3 straight minutes.

By the fourth quarter, the Bucks have built a lead as large as 12, but the Nuggets come roaring back to make it close. However, with just under four minutes left, with Denver appearing to have seized momentum, Jennings works his way off a screen and hits a big three pointer.  I remember Malik Allen’s cursory scouting report on Jennings – and sure enough, the next time down the floor, he hits another backbreaking three pointer to crush the Nuggets.  Even if you know it’s coming, you can’t stop it.  The Nuggets keep fighting, but Bogut hits a floater in the lane and Jennings knocks down six consecutive free throws to seal the 108-102 win, moving the Bucks’ record to 4-2.

After all the excitement, it seems to dawn on the crowd what had just happened.  They just saw a wispy point guard go for 32 points and nine assists in his sixth game in the NBA. And it’s not like those 32 points were an Allen Iverson-style 32 – Jennings shot 11 of 19 from the field.  And he didn’t score them in a lopsided game – he scored them when his team needed them the most, against a team who had been 6-2 before tonight.

For so long, the Bucks have been marketing their past in order to get fans interested.  They even changed their uniform colors back to the original red and green in order to reconnect with days of glory.  (In a truly retro move, the team has decided women shouldn’t be allowed to vote for the NBA all star teams.) But now, with this one performance, Brandon Jennings has given Bucks fans a reason to look to the future.  No longer do fans have to reminisce about the Junior Bridgeman era – there might actually be a reason to come see this new phenomenon.

And it was at this moment that I realized why I could never be a good sports beat writer.  I simply can’t extricate myself from the game going on, in order to provide a balanced account of the game.  I’m just too much of a fan.  People seeing me on press row probably noticed the occasional fist pump or shout “yes!”  Being a beat writer for one day is like being a gynecologist for a day – you haven’t had enough practice to be dispassionate about what you’re viewing.

After the game, I fought the crowd to go see if I could get in on a couple interviews.  You almost have to pick one side or the other to cover, since the teams are fairly separate.  I see a group of reporters by the Nuggets locker room, waiting for Karl to come out to talk.  As I’m standing there, I see the same reporters I saw before the game, and… Greg Jennings?  Green Bay Packer Greg Jennings holding a microphone?  Here he is, standing three feet from me, ready to start interviewing George Karl?  What in the hell is going on here?  Did I hit my head on the way out?

As it turns out, it appears Jennings, a Bucks season ticket holder, has signed on to do post-game interviews with the Milwaukee Fox affiliate.  For five minutes, I just stood there next to him, as he read the box score.  I wanted so badly to have him sign something for my son, but I was there as a reporter, not for personal reasons.  I thought I would be breaking reporter etiquette to ask for an autograph.  Plus, I am chicken.

It appears Karl left the locker room through a different door, as he actually walks up behind the throng of reporters, startling them.  He’s wearing the beleaguered look of a coach who has lost 645 professional games, and he moves slowly into place.  Six-foot-eleven Nuggets broadcaster Scott Hastings offers to lend Karl his sport coat, to cover up the green golf shirt Karl has changed into.  Karl demurs.  Then the interviews go on.  You can barely hear the coach’s voice, so everyone’s shoving their microphones as close to his face as possible.  Behind the coach, Nene destroys some of the pizza left out for the players.  The television lights seem like they’re roasting the top of Karl’s bald head.  And he does this 82 times a season.

I expected the mood to be much better in the Bucks’ locker room, and it was.  The room is bright, with high ceilings and wooden lockers – although it seems smaller than I expected.  All the players are there, in various stages of undress, with many of them talking to reporters while completely naked.  (Let’s just say if you wanted, you could see plenty of Mbah a Booty.)

Andrew Bogut stood in the right of the room, wearing nothing but a towel around his waist and two giant ice bags strapped to his knees.  There was also an ice-filled yellow janitor’s bucket in front of his locker, presumably to soak his feet.  He answered question after question, then eventually crept away to hit the showers.

On the other hand, Brandon Jennings was leaning up against a corner of the locker room, fully dressed.  He seemed to be answering questions almost sheepishly, as if he were embarrassed about what he just accomplished.  Up close, it’s easy to see that he just turned 20 years old.  He talked with his chin down, hands fidgeting with things in his locker.  When asked whether Billups gave him any pre-game advice, he chuckled and said no.  “Just go slow for me, young fella,” is all Billups said to him before the game, according to Jennings.

By that time, ace reporter Greg Jennings had made his way into the locker room, and he was interviewing Charlie Bell.  Both guys are from Michigan (although Bell is 4 years older), so it seemed like they knew each other.  When the cameras stopped rolling, Bell asked Jennings if he was going out on the town – Jennings said no, since he had to get back to the wife.  So it’s nice to see Jennings and I have more in common than our selections as alternates to the 2008 Pro Bowl.

My work having been done, I wandered out into the night air at about 10:00.  By that time, the Nuggets were loading up onto the team bus, which was presumably taking them back to the hotel.  Had I been a real reporter, I would have been back in the press room, furiously banging out my story.  I’m just guessing that at some point, that story would have included Brandon Jennings.  Perhaps in sonnet form, professing my eternal love for him.

A Day at Lambeau: Playoff Bound Edition (Dec. 28, 2009)

Some buddies and I made the frigid jaunt to Lambeau Field yesterday to watch the Packers catapult themselves into the playoffs with a 48-10 beatdown of the hapless Seattle Seahawks. It appears I still have all my toes – and I may have even picked one or two up from someone else.  Not sure how that happened.

The first thing I noticed was that there were entirely too many Favre jerseys still being worn at Lambeau Field.  I know that in the past 20 years, most Packer fans only owned one jersey, and it was usually Favre (I owned one myself.)  But for the love of God, what exactly is Favre going to have to do to get Packer fans to stop wearing his jersey?  Go on a shooting spree through Brookfield Square Mall?  Get caught urinating on the statue of Vince Lombardi?  (Even then, people would blame Ted Thompson for putting the statue in the way of Favre\’s stream.)

But here’s what I have come up with to fix this problem.  Remember those stories about how they take all the pre-printed Super Bowl champion t-shirts from the losing teams and send them to impoverished nations in Africa so the kids have something to wear?  (For instance, the kids in Nigeria are all running around in Chicago Bears 2006 World Champions t-shirts and hats.)

I say we start a foundation where Packer fans can donate their Favre jerseys, and have them shipped off to poor African nations, so the kids there have something to wear.  We’ll airlift them thousands of Packer #4 jerseys, along with some granola bars.  Then, on the next flight, we’ll airlift them some DVDs of the 1996 Super Bowl win against the Patriots.  It’s perfect – in some little Sudanese villages, the reputation of the ‘Ol Gunslinger will live on intact, untouched by the recent self-inflicted stains on his reputation.  Then we can send all the Favre jock-sniffers over there as aid workers to tell the kids stories about Favre’s glory years and how the evil Ted Thompson cast him aside in favor of… another pro bowl quarterback who is going to be around for a decade longer.

(This idea is almost as foolproof as my idea to create facemasks that stick out like three feet, and extend down to the player’s waist – then, it would be impossible to tackle them without being called for a facemask.  The Packers would just march down the field, 15 penalty yards at a time.  It’s an airtight strategy, if you ask me.  Here’s a prototype that I’ve developed:)

As always, much of the fun of going to Lambeau is seeing all the obscure Packer jerseys on display.  But yesterday, we saw a feat that may never be matched – three guys walking together wearing the jerseys of Chris Jacke (#13), Don Majikowski, (#7), and… Jeff Query (#85.)  Let me repeat that – a guy was wearing a JEFF QUERY jersey.  You may recall Query being drafted in the 5th round of the 1989 NFL draft, then starting zero games for the Packers in his three years on the team.  In 1990, Query caught 34 passes, although he was used primarily as a kick returner.  He moved on to the Bengals in 1992, played three more seasons, then called it a career.  Yet he lives on in Lambeau thanks to the young man wearing his digits.

Before the game, naturally, we tailgated in balmy 20 degree weather.  By the time I hit the port a potty and got back to the tailgate, my friend had put down four beers.  I had been fighting a cold for a full week, and decided to not drink at all – and it was the best decision I could have made.  I have a Dimaggio-like streak of drinking in the afternoon and things going badly.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I don’t understand the idea of getting completely hammered before a sporting event.  Not to get all philosophical, but once the game is over, aren’t our memories of it all we really have to keep?  And if you’re plastered, don’t you lose your memory of the game?  So what’s the point?

Try this – imagine two scenarios:

1.    You get to make sweet, sweet love to Jessica Alba for three hours, although once you’re done, you don’t get to remember any aspect of it for the rest of your life; or
2.    You don’t get to touch Jessica Alba, but you think you did, and you get to carry that memory with you for the rest of your life.

Which one would you choose?  I’d take the lifetime memories, for sure.  What good would options number one be if you can’t remember anything?  (Other than the three hours at the time – or in my case, the sixty seconds of pleasure, and two hours and 59 minutes of crying.)

In any event, I was happy I didn’t drink.

Perhaps the best non-football highlight of the day occurred when American Idol finalist (and Milwaukee native) Danny Gokey showed up to sing “Roll Out the Barrel.”  He showed up on the jumbotron, to milquetoast applause.  Then, before he started singing, he invited the audience to purchase his new album, coming out this week.  At that point, he was serenaded by cascading boos from the crowd.  “BOOO!  BOOOOOOOO!”  The Lambeau faithful weren’t there to be sold a bunch of junk – which is ironic, since there appears to be no fan consternation about having to pay $6 for a bottle of Miller Lite. (Gokey was also flanked by SIX security guards – which is reason #6,983 the terrorists hate us.)  Later in the game, with the Packers blowing out the Seahawks, my buddy Jay suggested they put Gokey back to return punts.  I can’t think of any reason why this wouldn’t have been a good idea.

At some point during the game, after another shanked punt, my buddies deemed Jeremy Kapinos “The Greek God of Feminine Hygiene Products.”  I don’t even really know what this meant, but it made me laugh.

After the game, we stood down near the tunnel where the players exit the field.  Several players – led by Charles Woodson –  ran around the field, hi-fiving fans in the stands.  When Woodson made his way back around our way, we started a chant of “MVP!  MVP!”  When Greg Jennings came our way, the chant changed to “YOU’RE PRETTY GOOD!  YOU’RE PRETTY GOOD!”

The ride back to Madison was rough – especially on Highway 41 heading South.  I’m generally fairly sympathetic to people who get in car accidents, but I swear to God we should fine anyone $5,000 that spins off the road after a Packer game.  It costs thousands of people 45 minutes of their lives while traffic grinds to a complete halt.  Someone call the Legislature.

So while we were stuck in the car for hours, we listened to the Packer postgame show on the radio.  This is one of those things that I find highly entertaining about Wisconsin life, but sincerely hope nobody outside the state can hear.  For instance, about 10 years ago, I remember listening to people call in to a Packer post game show, and one guy said the following:

“I think if he stays healthy… and only if he stays healthy… Billy Schroeder could put up Jerry Rice-type numbers.”

He was, of course, referring to Bill Schroeder the white Packer wide receiver, and not the large-domed former Brewer catcher and current baseball announcer.

But what blew me away about this guy was that he thought he was being reasonable by throwing in the caveat – “If he stays healthy.” He thought he was downplaying his statement by adding qualifiers.  He didn’t realize that even with his attempt at reasonableness, what he was saying was clinically insane.  Such are Packer post-game callers.

Anyway, so this guy calls in yesterday to talk to ‘The Big Unit” Bill Michaels, and the caller’s fumbling around, not making any sense.  So in order to get out of the conversation, he just yells “GO PACK” and hangs up.

This got me thinking – I think Wisconsin is the only place where “GO PACK” is actually used as a punctuation mark.  You can end any sentence with it, and it makes total sense to people.  It doesn’t make any difference what news the preceding sentence delivered – if you slap on a “GO PACK” at the end, you can say pretty much anything.

Here’s a sampling of sentences that could easily be softened with a well placed Packer cheer:

Judge: “Mr. Smith, how do you plead in the twenty six counts of touching little boys for which you are charged?”

Mr. Smith: “Not guilty, your honor.  GO PACK!” (Jury nods in approval.)


Doctor: “Mr. Gallagher, I have some bad news – it’s inoperable.  You have three months to live.  GO PACK!”

Mr. Gallagher:  “That is bad news – but Aaron Rodgers is really coming around, huh?”

I finally arrived back in Madison around 8:15 PM – which made for a long day, considering I had left my house at 6:30 that morning to pick up friends and get to the game.  Granted, not everyone is coming from Madison, but you have to wonder whether there will ever be a tipping point where fans like me decide it just isn’t worth it to make the trip to Green Bay.  On the one hand, you get to experience an event unlike any other in sports – a Packer game in Lambeau.  But on the other hand, it’s become an all day affair – and with ticket prices going up as fast as they are, and with high definition televisions bringing you closer to the game, aren’t a lot of people going to decide that watching the game at home is just as enjoyable as freezing to death all day in December?  (The answer to my question, of course, is that if people decide to stop going, there are only about 60,000 people on the waiting list that would happily grab those tickets.)

Finally, one thing that’s worth noting that I haven’t seen covered, is that yesterday may very well have been Mark Tauscher’s last game in Lambeau.  It’s a great story for a Wisconsin kid to live out his dream by playing for both the Badgers and the Packers, and now it might be over.  So we should all be thankful for the time we had him.

Finally finally, my favorite Facebook status update of the week, from my friend Ryan:

[My son] is two years old. he’s watching my father-in-law and me fry perch and we are teaching him how. We are the Wisconsin equivalent of “Jersey Shores.”


Oh, and I should mention – after the Packers lost to the Steelers, I sent an angry tweet to Greg Bedard at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who had pointed out that Mason Crosby’s missed field goal ended up being the difference.  I generally dislike saying things like that, because had Crosby made it, the game would have played out completely differently – you can’t just plug in his three points and say the game would have been identical.  Anyway, I should institute a post-Packer loss cooling off period before I approach my computer.  So my bad. (Not that anyone really cares.)

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