Friday, December 30, 2016

These Past Eight Years, Part 1

In about three weeks, the 44th President of the United States will leave office, by virtue of the 22nd Amendment. Over this past eight years, Barack Hussein Obama has held a steady hand, but in these increasingly polarizing times he (depending on who you ask) steered America back in the right direction or further into the abyss.  From a historical perspective, however President Obama will ultimately rank somewhere in the middle of the pack. There is such a compelling case for his strengths and weaknesses, from his liberal champions to his right-wing detractors, that they nearly cancel each other out. The general consensus --if there is one-- suggests that Obama was a weaker president than Bill Clinton but stronger than George W. Bush. For myriad reasons, that is reasonable opinion on the surface but substantially not so cut and dry.

Indeed, the most divisive president of our time may have been a victim of circumstance. Just before taking office, conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh openly and infamously wished that Obama would fail, and most right-wing pundits never gave the man the chance. If you were compelled to vote for Obama in 2008 on the oversimplified promise of "hope" and "change," then there is no doubt that you were underwhelmed. The reality was more pragmatism than cynicism, and even if there was only a sprinkle of hope and a spoonful of change, President Obama made a conscious effort to avoid the mistakes of his embattled predecessor.

After an embarrassing showing by Republicans in the 2008 elections, the Tea Party movement rose out of thin air, created internal strife within the GOP and proved rather persistent in their criticism and obstruction of the president. Moderates in the ranks, anyone who could've potentially agreed or compromised with Obama, either retired or fell victim to this pesky grass-roots movement. The failure to capitalize on the super-majority of 2009-10 led to one filibuster after another, the Democrats lost the House of Representatives in the midterms that year, then lost the U.S. Senate four years after that. Arguably, President Obama's repeated inability to connect with voters outside of urban areas and Democratic safe spots may have played a part in Donald Trump's victory last month. Even when Obama tried to play the middle, wins did not come easy. The vision of post-partisanship remains a pipe dream.

If there is one thing that truly bothered me about President Obama, it was his timid, wait-and-see approach to foreign policy. That is not to say Obama was a complete milquetoast: he was very cooperative with our allies and encouraged multilateral thought, he ended the Iraq war, and bolstered our presence in Afghanistan. At the very least, Obama deserves partial credit for the death of Osama bin Laden. Still, his handling of Syria was oddly meek, and his rapid pullout of American troops may have contributed to the rise of ISIS. (Bibi isn't happy, but then again, it takes a lot to please the guy.) The impact of the Iran nuclear arms deal and resuming trade with Cuba, like a certain grandiose piece of legislation of his, will take years to unfurl and truly understand.

This is in relative contrast to to how President Obama handled domestic affairs, which was both effective and with an even keel. Amid layers of hearsy and legal prattle, the actual substance of Obama's domestic policies and their impact on the country remains poorly understood. I will elaborate more upon this with part two, sometime in January.


Monday, December 26, 2016

That Wonderful Year in Music... 2016

If there is a scientific correlation between trying times and excellent music, then let 2016 be a case example. This was the year where we were frequently reminded of our mortality (RIP David Bowie, Prince, Phife Dawg, Leon Russell and Leonard Cohen) and that R&B and hip-hop were socially conscious again (Beyonce, John Legend, Chance the Rapper, the surviving members of A Tribe Called Quest). Even if Ms. Knowles and the Thin White Duke were dominating the music conversation, there was an abundance of essential music released in the last 12 months.

1. Blackstar, David Bowie. What does it mean when the best album of the year was released on January 8th? As inauspicious as that may seem, it meant that all the artistic pinnacles of 2016 were edged out by one last masterpiece by an all-time great. Initially heralded as Bowie's best work since 1983's Let's Dance, the subtext of death and finality became context three days after its release, when the Thin White Duke left this mortal coil. Whether Bowie's decade-long hiatus prior to 2013's The Next Day was due to burnout or the feeling that his audience was taking him for granted, we'll never know, but tracks like "Lazarus" assured us that the man was at peace.
2. Lemonade, Beyonce. 2016 was a trying year, especially if you were a young woman named Becky with good hair. Queen Bey's sixth solo album was a multi-platform, multi-platinum declaration, both an artistic statement and a call-your-s***-out diatribe. She both demands contrition from her adulterous partner (come on, Hova) and reevaluates the relationships in her life: men and women, romantic and platonic. The three-quarters of Lemonade are dark and cathartic yet compellingly erratic; the last three songs, "Freedom," "All Night," and the single "Formation," makes for a torrid and focused hydra.
3. Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper. Coincidentally called "Three" in some circles, this Chicago-based rhymer spent Spring 2016 inadvertently teaching white kids lyrics from '90s gospel tunes. Technically an album-length mixtape rather than a proper album, Chance is compellingly fun and rambunctious; he is spiritual and humble in contrast to Yeezy's doubting swagger (he cameos on "All We Got"). This combination of skill, charisma, and quality control is both unique and astonishing, especially so early in an artist's career. Chance's voice is an iconoclastic one, and could very well be the bellringer for hip-hop in the next half-decade.
4. A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead
5. The Life of Pablo, Kayne West
6. Emily's D-Evolution, Esperanza Spaulding
7. Teens of Denial, Car Seat Headrest
8. Wildflower, The Avalanches
9. Blond, Frank Ocean
10. You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen. In some ways, Bowie's death was bookended by the less startling passing of Field Commander Cohen. The legendary poet and troubadour had been in poor health for some time, and like Blackstar his dwindling time on Earth is largely implied but never directly addressed. The title track, doubling as a sly epitaph, is easily his last great song; Cohen has made his peace with God, and now he awaits his fate.

11. Malibu, Anderson.Paak
12. Untitled Unmastered, Kendrick Lamar
13. We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service, A Tribe Called Quest
14. Puberty 2, Mitski
15. A Sailor's Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson. Rooted in outlaw country and drenched in old-school virility, Simpsons fancies himself as a Millennial answer to Waylon Jennings. This is all on display on Sailor's Guide, a concept album written for his infant son. The one cover on the album, an inexplicable take on Nirvana's "In Bloom," is effortlessly connected back to Glen Campbell's collaborations with Jimmy Webb. Simpson makes clear that even if you don't achieve goals the way you set out to, the real story is in the journey.
16. Ouroboros, Ray LaMontagne
17. Stranger to Stranger, Paul Simon
18. Love You to Death, Tegan & Sara
19. The Colour in Anything, James Blake
20. Schmilco, Wilco. Written and recorded at the same time as 2015's Star Wars, Schmilco is both its predecessor's companion piece and the Abel to its Cain. Trading ramshackle noise-pop for caustic introspection, Jeff Tweedy's knack for melody carries the proceedings, with the rest of the band painting the corners and building texture.

1. Arclight, Julian Lage. A onetime guitar prodigy now in the prime of his career, Lage blurs genres and demonstrates almost freakish dexterity in this solo effort. Joined by bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen, Lage works with his rhythm section in natural simpatico rather than forcing them to keep pace. The opening track "Fortune Teller" is mesmerizing in both presence and magnitude, and everything after that is both eclectic and convivial.
2. Chulca Vulcha, Snarky Puppy
3. Perfection, Murray Allen Carrington Power Trio
4. Birdwatching, Anat Fort Trio
5. Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny, Cuong Vu & Pat Metheny

Honorable Mention: Krokofant II, Krokofant.

Best Album That Missed My 2015 List Cutoff: King Push - The Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, Pusha T. Released just days before Christmas last year, this ten-track effort is both a teaser for an as-yet-released magnum opus and a dense, hard to navigate, standalone piece of art. Pusha writes a killer lyric, and the production crew assembled here is airtight. I just wish music critics (professional, amateur, or otherwise) had a little more notice.

"Born Again Teen," Lucius
"Dangerous," Big Data feat. Joywave
"Wish I Knew You," The Revivalists
"Cold Light," Operators
"Off the Ground," The Record Company

"Casual Party," Band of Horses
"Deadbeat Girl," Day Wave
"Telomere," Mystery Jets
"One More Night," Michael Kiwanuka
"Fall On Me," Kitten

"Cleopatra," The Lumineers
"TV Queen," Wild Nothing
"So Down," Martha Wainwright
"Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)," White Denim
"Walk To the One You Love," Twin Peaks

1. "Lemonade," Beyonce. The only entry on this list to get an Emmy nomination. Just buy the DVD. It's unforgettable.
2. "Burn the Witch," Radiohead. The beloved British childrens' series "Camberwick Green" mashes up with "The Wicker Man" in a visual experience that is both whimsical and disturbing. It took me awhile to realize the whole thing was a metaphor for European nationalism.
3. "Gosh," Jamie xx. I don't know if there is any singular director that is dominating the music video scene in the 2010s, but Romain Gavras is certainly a contender. Gavras is more inclined to make musical short films that are meticulous in concept, though this time he trades in his usual violent themes for a different fear: that the dystopian future we all fear is going on right now.
4. "Subways," The Avalanches. It antagonizes me that this Australian electro-pop collective went 16 years between their first and second albums, because they're denying us both great music and clips. This trippy, scatological cartoon merits all sorts of repeat viewings.
5. "Angels," Chance the Rapper feat. Saba. Christianity and goodwill permeates through Chance's rhymes, and its rarely more evident in this clip, shot mostly around Chicago's Loop. Whether he's a superhero, an angel or simply a flying Ghostbuster, he doesn't ignore the grim realities of his upbringing but always maintains a positive outlook.
6. "Conceptual Romance," Jenny Hval. The third short-form collaboration between art-pop renegade Hval and filmmaker Zia Anger isn't terribly pleasant, and its not intended to be. (I might as well tell you now, its NSFW.) The commodification of women's bodies is displayed in griping fashion; canvas, fake blood, and plastic buffers us from our most basic instincts.
7. "Wide Open," The Chemical Brothers feat. Beck. A simple but mesmerizing idea: a woman dances (and strips) to reveal the lack of humanity within.
8. "The One Moment," Ok Go. Because of course Ok Go would make the list.
9. "Your Best American Girl," Mitski. Another Zia Anger-directed clip with more feminist subtext. Mitski herself plays the protagonist in a meet-cute scenario; a male model reciprocates her flirting until she's pushed aside by a Coachella reject. They snog and she shreds the guitar.
10. "Elevator Operator," Courtney Barnett. After a plethora of downer videos, this clip is a goofy little charmer. Cameos and slapstick abound as Barnett plays a well-meaning operator in a very surreal office building.

Honorable Mentions: "Easy," Hinds; "Lazarus," David Bowie.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Random Notes, December 2016

Some hot takes from all around:

+ So far the cabinet choices of President-Elect Trump have been, to no liberal's or moderate's surprise, an ongoing nightmare. With the possible exception of Bush 43 reheat Elaine Chao, each appointee has been subject to controversy, either because of a lack of qualifications or they inherently oppose whatever department they were chosen to lead. Gov. Rick Perry, the new Secretary of Energy, famously forgot that he wanted to abolish that position in a debate five years ago. Fingers crossed, he'll forget to show up for work.

+ Why was Kimberly Peirce booed and heckled? The students that organized this protest likely don't understand that "Boys Don't Cry" wouldn't have been made if the lead actor was trans; the very idea of a movie about a person transitioning in the late 1990s was very daring, thought-provoking stuff. The far-left undergrads likely don't understand (or remember) that the LGBTQ movement was in a more nascent place in 1999 then it is now. Its still new for a lot of people. She deserves an apology.

+ Well, I somehow survived my first semester of grad school. On to the next one.

+ For the first time since 2005 (the year I started blogging) I will not be posting my annual Best of TV list. My hectic schedule prevents me from watching television live, unless its a sporting event, awards show, or SNL. Thank goodness for DVRs, except when they automatically delete older shows to make space for new stuff. Allow me the mulligan while I catch up.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

My Toxic College Relationship, Conclusion

After graduating from college, I drove straight back to the west suburbs. What was supposed to be a three-month layover has dragged on more or less for nine years. Regardless, after that last encounter with Babs returning home felt cathartic; I knew our friendship was strained, and she wouldn't bother me in a part of the suburbs that she detested for vague reasons. (Her July 2006 visit was a disaster, but she already had a preexisting bone to pick with Downers Grove and Westmont.) We were still Facebook friends, but I felt no inclination to drop a private message, or leave a wall post, or even a solitary poke. The distance was geographical and emotional, palpable yet comfortable.

Babs reached out by DM in March 2008, three months after I graduated. It was a sincere apology but also a belated one; it seemed like she was finally doing something about her hair-trigger temper. She suggested meeting up over summer break, but with my work schedule and general lack of interest, I didn't take her up on the offer. Communication after this point was sporadic, the occasional email or Facebook message, and just that.

Even though I felt cool and collected, I was still struggling to move on. My inherent social awkwardness and lack of dating experience made asking women out a landmine of failure, and the handful of dates I went on went nowhere. I created an account on POF, but that was also a dead end. Babs continued her pattern of meeting guys of her particular type, getting bored and cheating on them, then dumping the cuckolded guy for the new slab of meat. Then this happened.

I was lethargic for days, and a phone conversation with Babs a few days later did little to console me. I thought it was strange that she would get engaged less than five months after meeting this guy, but knowing Babs' tendency to act on impulse and not thinking things out, I was almost certain the engagement would fail. Did she even know the guy? Indeed, it did fall apart and for a lot of the same reasons she dumped me: she clashed with her would-be mother-in-law, religious differences, her fickle tendencies. In our next Facebook chat, Babs implied that he was verbally abusive, and legal action was taken to prevent the two from ever encountering each other again.

Professionally, Babs was also fledgling. Her lifelong dream was to be a park ranger, or at least work in the U.S. Park Service in some capacity. Apparently, she had a job interview for a ranger position, but lost the job to a woman of color. Not only did Babs complain about affirmative action to me, but she also complained to the woman who conducted the interview... in person. (She was escorted out of the building.) Ultimately, she landed a gig working in a rehab facility for troubled teens, which was demanding and only sporadically fulfilling. From a distance, I worried if her temperament would be her undoing again.

I continued to maintain a distance. Our last real conversation was in July 2011; she wrapped up the late night chat by saying she wanted to see one of my improv shows someday. She loathed city driving, or being in urban areas in general, but I knew in that instance she meant well. At the same time, her hair-trigger temper was starting to spill into social media. On three occasions, I commented on a status update she posted, and she called my response pointless and idiotic. On the last of those occasions, she posted something about a sick grandmother, though it was unclear if she was talking about her own grandma or someone else's. She left a terse wall post clarifying that it wasn't her grandma, then unfriended me. I replied in defense, but I knew she wouldn't have read it. It was the last time I attempted to contact Babs. I knew she was overreacting (again) but this was the final straw. It was March 2012, six years and two months after we first met.

For some inexplicable reason, my sister is still in touch with Babs on Facebook. She claims they only talk about dogs, and only every now and then. I have asked my sister to sever ties with Babs, to no avail. On the one occasion when I dared to ask about her current whereabouts, my sister told me she moved to Dallas in 2014. Babs and I one had a dozen mutual friends; when I last looked at her profile two years ago, we were down to three. I was still friends with most of these people, and I wasn't the only one that get fed up with Babs. Maybe she was projecting her insecurities, maybe she had an as-yet-diagnosed case of borderline personality disorder. I'll never know and quite frankly, I don't care. It goes without saying that I have no intention to reconnect on my own volition.

So why am I sharing this story? In some ways, Babs is a cautionary tale; it took a lot of growing up and introspection to realize that abusive relationships may not necessarily be rotten at the surface. It was my first relationship and the one that provided the harshest learning experience. There is something cathartic about excising toxic people from your life, a person who may seem sweet or wayward on the surface who gradually exposes the worst attributes of their personality. I've moved on; I've been in relationships with other women, and I'm content without Babs in my life.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Morning(s) After

Over a week later, I'm still a little gobsmacked. The man who hijacked the Republican Party will become our 45th president. A man who ran for president for his own personal gain got what he wanted. Any speculation of a schism within the GOP was quashed by a conscious effort from former chair/new chief of staff Reince Preibus. Top Democrats weren't able to do the same, crippled by the Schultz-Sanders affair and their own aloofness. Bigotry, bloviating, and opportunism won. I think this essay by comedian/writer Dana Gould sums up my thoughts to a tee. (Yes, you can still read it if you don't have a Facebook profile.)

I want to end this post on a positive note, so I'm sharing (and tweaking) my 12th annual "thanks/no thanks" list. I don't think I need to elaborate further upon what I'm not grateful for, so I'll accentuate the positive: my family, my friends, my Facebook page, and having a car that runs without problems.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Some Final Thoughts on the 2016 Presidential Election

This year, I saw America. This wasn't a specific goal, but the circumstance and result of doing some long-awaited traveling. I spent quality time in seven different states, including a part of my home state of Illinois that I hadn't visited in some time. I nonchalantly interacted with locals, tried things I had never previously experienced, met the spouses and family of good friends, and generally tried to appreciate the atmosphere of an unfamiliar terrain. I connected with some wonderful people and created memories that I'll always treasure, in an attempt to temporarily bridge a gap between age, religion, and culture.

I mention age, religion, and culture because I spent of this time in what would be considered "red state" territory. The atmosphere was humble and relatively speaking, socially conservative. I largely avoided talking politics, even though this brutal election was on nearly everyone's minds. I came to realize that Donald Trump, the multimillionaire who finagled his way to the Republican presidential nomination, represented none of these people.

In the early days of the 2016 presidential campaign, I was baffled by how Trump and his incendiary, nationalist rhetoric was polling ahead of the perceived GOP front-runner, Gov. Jeb Bush. As it turned out his anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim, and mostly meninist platform catered to an ignored demographic, a new silent majority of sorts: social conservatives that didn't identify as Republicans. They were on the fringes of society and politics itself: bigots, rubes, conspiracy theorists. The type of people that make the most appalling hashtags trend on Twitter, who only listen to conservative news-talk pundits like Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, and Alex Jones and perceive them as beacons and not bilious entertainers. In other words, people who think mainstream conservatism is too out of touch with their toxic beliefs.

Indeed, Trump took advantage of this silent majority, and made Twitter his playground. If the election was limited to one social media outlet, then the New York real estate mogul would be winning decisively. He ran laps around Sec. Clinton, demonstrating a lack of filter and tact not previously seen by a presidential candidate. The woman who would become the Democratic candidate did her best to take the high road until she finally told Trump off. She tweeted "Delete your account," a succinct but oddly flaccid retort. Where Clinton emphasized her many qualifications (and Trump's lack thereof), Trump just kept attacking anything and everything without remorse. The pandering and flame-throwing was incessant, and his status as the fringe right's patron saint was solidified. Clinton knew better than to add gasoline to a flame war, and stayed on the high road instead.

I grew up around mostly Republicans in a shallow-red Chicago suburb. I was raised to not judge a person by their gender or race or faith or creed, even though my hometown circa 1991 was overwhelmingly white and Catholic. That wasn't something to came to me innately; I remember my first grade teacher, a woman of Greek descent, struggling to explain why Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks were so important to American history to a classroom that was over 90% white. I had two minority classmates, a third-generation Mexican-American and a girl who was half-Haitian, half-African American. The Latinx classmate was extroverted and well-liked, but the other girl was awkward, timid, and a bully target. My teacher failed to make her (and our class in general) understand what King and Parks sacrificed to give her the right to be as equal as everyone else. It was until she moved away, about a year later, that my classmates and I realized how awful we were.

When I see the childish antics of Trump's most ardent supporters, I think back to that first grade classroom. They all had something in common: they were rural or suburban and overwhelmingly white, but also left behind in the new economy, expect easy answers to hard questions, and worst of all reluctant to accept that America is more multicultural and diverse than its ever been. They see Muslims, blacks, and the LGBTQ community as threats, but their real-life interaction with them is minimal and they base their fear out of stereotype. As a result white supremacy, anti-Semitism and sexism have shifted from the fringes to the middle of the discussion. Moderate conservatives, or at least Republicans that supported minimally more palatable candidates like Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson, begrudgingly joined the frenetic Trump bandwagon because, well, who else was going to beat Hillary?

Even though the Democrats have labeled itself as the "party for women," there was a time in the early-to-mid 1980s when the GOP headquarters staffed more women than men. Where Democrats have more or less embraced feminism (with some qualms), Republicans have largely been either ambivalent or oblivious. Where the women of the GOP mostly stayed in low-level administrative roles, women in the opposing party ran for office and inspired the next generation to follow their footsteps. The backward legacy of Phyllis Schlafly, the face of anti-feminism, lingers in the GOP months after his death and will likely do so for years to come. If the 2012 election was a deliberation on women's health rights, then 2016 is about what it means to be an American woman, period.

This is the sixth election, presidential or midterm, that I've covered in this blog. I usually end each pre-election missive with a nonpartisan plea to vote, to demonstrate the most basic tenet of democracy. This year, I can't bring myself to play my intercession down the middle. Where Hillary Clinton has many flaws, Donald Trump has proven repeatedly that he is vile and shortsighted beyond redemption. He is shameless opportunist that will break every campaign promise the moment he enters the White House, then blame his failures on everyone except himself.  Trump was overexposed as a reality star 10-plus years ago and exhaustively omnipresent now. Say all you want about decades of unproven rumors and right-wing vilification, Hillary Clinton is the only logical choice to be our next president. Someone will bring up Benghazi and the private emails, but someone else will retort with at least 20 things that Trump did. This election is about a leader against a demagogue. Beyond the former first lady, there is no other viable option.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

North Side Confessional

Welp, they did it. The Chicago Cubs are playing in the World Series for the first time in over seven decades. They were on the precipice in 2015, and this year they finally connected the dots. So far things haven't totally worked in their direction; they won Game 2, but now it looks like the Cleveland Indians --another team with a historical schneid-- has the upper hand in the series.

This might sound cavalier for a Chicago native, but I am neither a Cubs or White Sox fan. I've never related to the south siders, but Cubs fans can be insufferable. I've been in and around Wrigleyville enough times, game day or not, to know how cloying their presence can be. Bros and alpha males rule the roost. The playoff atmosphere in the neighborhood has been akin to a zombie movie, albeit with the stench of Axe body spray. I am perfectly oblivious to the fact that the Cubs haven't won a championship in over a century, or that this is their first Fall Classic appearance since Harry Truman was president.

A rational person would blame the Cubs' woes on astonishingly poor management and scouting, with maybe a scintilla of bad luck. Any die-hard fan would tell you that the Cubs are cursed. The 1969 Cubs, the most discussed and hallowed second place team of all time, weren't running on fumes as the season was winding down. The fans blamed a black cat. The 1945 squad, the last to win a pennant until 2016, apparently weren't outmatched by an almost flawless Detroit Tigers team. The fans chose to blame an ornery Greek immigrant and his pet goat. The 2003 Cubs' collapse in the NLCS was fueled by hubris, triggered by Moises Alou's diminishing defensive skills. The fans found a scapegoat in Steve Bartman. Its a giant mess of superstition and false tradition.

So why have the Cubs gone over a century without a title, and endured seven decades without contending for a championship? Look no further than P.K. Wrigley. Upon inheriting the organization in 1932, this scion of a gum empire often let his own personal interests trump most baseball matters. He refused to install lights in the ballpark when night games were more convenient for burgeoning TV audiences. Wrigley was reluctant to sign players of color, and its no coincidence that the Cubs were the last original National League team to integrate. He had a reputation for being frugal, reticent, and petty. Wrigley's damage to the organization was so thorough, it took four decades after his death for the Cubs organization to make a complete recovery.

For all the progress that Theo Epstein has made in the organization these last five years, the Cubs are still another year away from winning a title. For once, they had management that knew what they were doing, and with the Ricketts family, they have ownership that makes an effort. What this collective group is doing is light years ahead of what the Tribune Company did in their 27 years of ownership, and they pulled the seemingly impossible feat of getting the Cubs back in the playoffs. Still, the majority of the Cubs faithful are a shortsighted yet steadfast group, both deserving of some success yet they still stand in their own way.

Next Week: My final thoughts on the 2016 election.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It's Over

It's over.

I wondered if sharing this Roy Orbison song was too on the nose, but it ran through my head as I forced myself to watch these last two weeks of election coverage. The temptation was too much.
As a presidential candidate, and the likely instigator of what must be the ugliest election I've ever seen, Donald Trump has been able to persist through one perceived miscue and campaign faux pas after another. Now it appears that the meltdown is all but complete. Leaked video footage of Trump making lewd and beyond appalling remarks in a 2005 "Access Hollywood" appearance cemented the floating perception that he was a hopeless misogynist. After a succinct apology in the second presidential debate, at least a half-dozen women have stepped forward to accuse Trump of lewd behavior. His foothold with woman voters, shaky as it already was, has collapsed. Just about every demographic except white males have abandoned Trump as this point, if they were ever on board to begin with. Worse yet, it reinvigorated the national discussion on sexual assault that hurt the Republican Party as a whole in the 2012 election.

One might wonder why these women haven't stepped forward until now. I suppose my response to that is why does timing matter? The women that have accused Trump of sexual harassment have their entire livelihoods at stake; the man being accused could let these accusations bounce off like Teflon. The man is a multi-millionaire and a presidential candidate, after all. There are parallels here to the downfall of comedian Bill Cosby; where the sitcom star was a serial date-rapist, Trump has a history of inappropriately touching fully conscious women. There are vast differences, overly simplified in some people's eyes, but both are appalling and reprehensible behaviors regardless.

Regardless of your opinion of Sec. Hillary Clinton --and yes, she has plenty of detractors-- we have to accept that she will be the next President of the United States. Her campaign has been at times uninspiring and perhaps even clumsy, but it never sank to the incompetence, bloviating, and pandering of the Trump campaign. (I will spare you the "Pretty Woman" reference.) It will not be a canonization or a coronation, but a reminder that most of the time, the bad guy loses.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

My Toxic College Relationship, Part 3

Even though Babs was no longer dating Zak, she wanted to stay friends with the big doofus. This was much to the chagrin of her social circle as well as our mutual friends, who justifiably disdained the guy. Babs took it upon herself to organize Zak's birthday party; she corralled me, a friend visiting from home, and two friends that were local into taking Zak to the Bloomington Hooters. At his core, however Zak was a Christian and not a very worldly one; at the very last minute, he begged Babs to not at a risque restaurant that he knew next to nothing about. Our party ended up going to the Chuck E. Cheese's across the street. I was annoyed by the 11th hour change as everyone else, and implied to Babs that I never wanted to hang out with Zak again.

When I was dating Babs, we bonded over our mutual appreciation for the TV show "24." I had been watching almost from the beginning, but she jumped in at the start of Season/Day 4. We watched nearly all of Day 5 together, and didn't see any reason why not to do the same for Day 6. One night later in the season, we both had obligations on Monday and I agreed to record the show on my VCR. (It was 2007, and most college kids didn't have Tivo or a DVR.) To my chagrin, my roommate confused the VCR remote with the TV remote --he was trying to watch the Bulls game-- and it didn't record. I left the voice mail on Babs' phone, and ten minutes later she called back to tell me I was an idiot. Before I could defend myself, she hung up. Another ten minutes after that, she instant messaged me to apologize for overreacting. We watched "24" together a couple of times after that, but ended up watching the rest of the season separately.

In March 2007, I went on my first date since breaking up with Babs. I was training a new DJ at my college radio station, we struck up a conversation, and we agreed to meet for coffee. She wasn't interested in dating, but we ended up staying friends and we're still in touch. (I have a habit of staying friends with one-and-dones.) It was a dead end, but at least I was finally moving on. At that same time, to my secret relief Babs and I were finally starting to drift apart. She started dating another guy, and our schedules kept clashing. We both had summer jobs, and I had summer school as well, so we didn't see each other for several months. As summer transitioned into fall semester, we never hung out and our encounters grew more sporadic. Babs was dating yet another guy, and I felt no inclination to entertain her in my new dorm room. The temptation to tell her off was too much.

Even though Babs was fading from sight, what she left in her path still lingered around. One girl, a mutual friend that eventually got fed up with Babs, worked at the same college radio station that I did. I still ran into Lola and one of her other roommates on the quad. One day at the station, Zak called out of nowhere asking for help with a move. He wasn't the bullying Zak that I knew, but slightly defeated and still rather persistent. I said I would get back to him, and shortly afterwards I did something I should have a lot sooner: ask for the advice of my peers. I explained that he was the guy my ex dumped me for, and that he could be insufferable to be around, but seemed desperate to have someone help him move. The consensus of my co-workers was a resounding "hell no," and I left a voice mail telling him I was busy that Saturday.

The day before I graduated from ISU, I ran into Babs on the elevator at Watterson Towers. I was cleaning out my dorm room and carrying items down to my car, and she was going downstairs to get a snack. She informed me that she'd had a falling out with her latest roommate, a mutual friend of ours named Allison. For reasons unclear, Allison made Babs uncomfortable, so Babs decided to move into a single-bed room on the other side of campus. I blurted out "oh well, its not like you got along with any of your other roommates" (which was true), and when we got down to the lobby she bolted out of the elevator in a fury. A few minutes later, I was able to find to her in the lobby talking to some girl, but she was snappish and refused to accept my apology.

As of this writing, it was the last time I saw Babs in person.

(Part four next month.)


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Random Notes, September 2016

The first presidential debate of 2016 reminded me of a boxing match. Donald Trump may have thrown more punches --an insult here and there, on top of a zillion interruptions-- but maybe half of them landed. However, Hillary Clinton simultaneously kept her cool yet knew exactly how to provoke (and expose) Trump. The GOP candidate's remark on stamina, and Clinton's clever response, ending up being the knockout punch.  Trump didn't seem to take a big plunge in the polls --you have to admit, the hayseeds that have hijacked the GOP are fiercely loyal to the guy-- but his first head-to-head match-up was by no means a success.

Besides talking about this blasted election, what else is going on?

+ My Royals are not going to the playoffs this year. I've done my best to not whine about our erratic pitching and the various key injuries we've had this year, but I will readily admit that another postseason wasn't in the cards for 2016. Right now, a .500 record for a fourth consecutive year is a more attainable goal. This roster probably has another year left before the economics of the game eats the organization alive (i.e. free agency) so I'm already looking forward to next year.

+ On the home front, I started grad school in late August. I'm going for a masters in secondary education, with a focus on English and language arts. So far things are going okay, it's been a matter of keeping up with the coursework. Still, I'm giving myself one semester just to see if this is going to work out, and the program takes 2 1/2 years.

+ Happy belated third anniversary to Stu News!


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sudden Resurgence

What a difference a month makes. Since the wonks first wrote off the Trump campaign, the polarizing real estate magnate has made an effort of sorts to "sound" presidential while not necessarily overhauling his platform or agenda. At the same time, despite what conservative critics would call miscues --the pneumonia situation was blown way out of proportion-- Hillary Clinton's campaign hasn't seemed very inspiring. As a result, the knee-slapper from mid-August is a tight race again.

If name-calling, xenophobia, and outright falsehoods drove new faces into the Republican tent, then I'm sure that particular part of Donald Trump's rhetoric can't be forgotten as this sordid election zooms past third base. Perhaps the most blatant about-face was Trump's announcement that he believed the incumbent president was born in Hawaii and not Kenya, ending 5 1/2 years of conspiracy theorizing. (I'll well aware that this sad "birther" phenomenon started well before that.) I suppose he can use that bizarre about-face to his leverage, as many Americans can't get past that whole e-mail thing, but it's a still a admission of Trump's blatant opportunism.

*sigh* Only six more weeks...


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

My Toxic College Relationship, Part 2

A week or so ago, I wrote started writing a personal essay about "Babs," my college girlfriend. (To read part one before going forward, click here.)

A few hours after our one-on-one sitdown, Babs dropped a line on Yahoo Messenger to ask if I wanted to grab some ice cream. I agreed, not really knowing what to expect. However, I made the fatal mistake of misreading her last dispatch as "see you at five" instead of "see you in five." For once her quick temper was justified, and we did not speak to each other for about three weeks.

I figured the healthy thing to do was to not focus on our failed relationship. I went about my business with school and finding a job as if nothing happened. Out of the blue, I ran into Babs and her new paramour Zak --yes, no C in his first name-- waiting for an elevator at Watterson Towers. We first encountered Zak a few months earlier on Normal public transit; she randomly struck up a conversation with the guy, and I guess they had stayed in touch. I didn't think, however that he would be her rebound.

Babs had a history of dating guys that were the same physical type: north of six feet tall, pasty and paunchy. Growing up rural and an affinity for cowboy hats were a plus. I was well aware that I was an exception, because she said she was going through a "nerdy boy" phase. The guy she two-timed me with had a build similar to mine (slight and gawky) but her preference was big and lumbering.

After our five-second encounter in the lobby, Babs messaged me on YIM that night. She wanted to talk things out, but it became a rehash of her previous bullet points: she hated my mom, she judged my religious beliefs (or lack thereof), I was weak and immature. And yet, she still wanted to be friends. Since I thought there was an outside chance we might become friends with benefits --again, I was thinking with my pants-- I decided to give it a shot.

Two nights later, I was awoken by the landline in our dorm room. (Keep in mind, it was 2006.) Babs was in hysterics. Apparently, she was not getting along with her new roommate, a woman named Lola. The roommate was a Black Studies major and very independent, and as far as politics and personality went she was the total opposite of Babs. Apparently, they nearly came to blows late one Saturday, and Babs asked if she could sleep at my dorm. Again, I begrudgingly agreed.

Babs grew up in Park Forest, a diverse, blue-collar suburb just south of Chicago. In a town that was about 40% white, 30% black, and 30 % Latino, Babs had a unjustified contempt for the 60% of the population that wasn't "her kind." One time when we were dating, we took a day trip to Starved Rock National Park. As we were leaving, I had to stop her from running over to a Mexican family because they weren't "speaking American." There was another time we were watching the 6 o'clock news at her house, and upon watching a news story about a 12-year-old African-American had been murdered, Babs said the middle schooler was "probably asking for it." Deciding to live with someone as headstrong as Lola was an attempt to show people she wasn't a bigot, but her true colors showed almost immediately. Within two weeks, Brit had moved into a new dorm room with a Jewish roommate. (As near as I can tell, she was not anti-Semetic.)

I volunteered to help out with this awkward, uncomfortable move-out, and it was there that I met a girl named Kathleen. She was a friend of a friend who was also free that afternoon; we struck up a conversation, became Facebook friends, and we agreed to meet for lunch the next day. It ultimately didn't work out, but it was my first earnest attempt at moving on from Babs. (Kathleen is married now, but we've stayed in touch.)

I thought the fact that we were no longer dating would discourage Babs from trying to "convert" me, but if anything else it made her --and her doofus paramour Zak-- double down. I was dragged into attending more campus ministry events, where they and some other born-again types tried to "convert" me. Where Babs used a passive-aggressive approach, Zak was a straight-up bully. I tried to make the most of my time there, but almost everyone I encountered acted like they were brainwashed. After two weeks of that nonsense, I kept telling Brit I was busy on those particular nights.

It was apparent after attempting to hang out with Babs and Zak a few times that he didn't seem to have any real friends. I don't think he was self-aware enough to know his approach to people was bullying, or at the very least condescending. He was a poseur, too; he claimed he was from Texas, but grew up 45 minutes from Normal. Not only was Zak annoying me about accepting Christ as my lord and savior, but he was starting to badger some of the guys on my dorm floor.

I guess at some point even Babs grew tired of his schtick, because their relationship ended after about four months. Over winter break, Brit called to apologize for being so pushy. She knew she was alienating people, and wanted to make amends. One night after the next semester started, I met with Babs and Zak for dinner; Zak was making me uncomfortable again, and I left early because I thought I had food poisoning. Babs dumped Zak the next day.

(Part three next month.)


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

32 Teams, 32 Haiku: My 2016 NFL Preview

With bated breath, the 2016 NFL season kicks off on Thursday, September 8th with a Super Bowl 50 rematch of the Broncos and Panthers. This year should be a fun with one; its fairly obvious who will be the last four teams in the NFC playoffs, but a Manning-less Denver team and a suspended Tom Brady makes for (at least, in September) a wide open AFC. We Beloveds fans are keeping expectations modest; the last two Bears teams to start the preseason 0-3 made the playoffs, so we'll believe what comes out of this bunch when we see it.

The biggest change in the NFL this offseason --at least, in my opinion-- was Panini America's exclusive trading card deal. Topps' six-decade association with the league, which almost mirrors the entire modern history of football cards, ended with all the randomness of a coin flip. Panini (which bought out Donruss in 2009) puts out a quality product, but it just won't be the same.

Digressions aside, here's my annual team-by-team breakdown, 17 soma at a time. (Asterisks note wild card teams.)

1. Packers (11-5): High-flying offense/back in shape; still, they're fourth-best/in this conference.
2. Vikings (8-8): I expected more/Teddy's ACL, Blair Walsh/and that bird problem.
3. Bears (6-10): Solid front seven/carries weak secondary/oh yeah, and Cutler.
4. Lions (5-11): Farewell, Megatron/not awful, but a little/Cooter does the trick.
1. Giants (10-6): An impressive draft/and Eli has one more good/year left in the tank.
2. Redskins (9-7)*: A good team, really/Snyder is kissin' Cousins/Norman was a steal.
3. Eagles (6-10): Kelly? Good riddance!/Bradford to Mathews might be/potent if healthy.
4. Cowboys (5-11): Little Dak Prescott/wee rookie among giants/Elliott, though? Damn!
1. Panthers (13-3): Benjamin is back/young Cam, miracle worker/they dab with their claws.
2. Buccaneers (7-9): Jameis improving/these soggy pirates have hope/but playoffs? Not yet.
3. Saints (6-10): Brees, passing machine/but with same porous defense/high-scoring fan angst.
4. Falcons (4-12): Blackbirds heading south/Matty Ice, underrated/but no O-line help.
1. Seahawks (13-3): Quirky yet intense/scoring on both sides of the/ball is (Puget) sound.
2. Cardinals (12-4)*: Palmer, Fitz, aging/beasts; window of victory/is shutting slowly.
3. Rams (8-8): Goodbye, Gateway Arch/new locale, QB hides lack/of offense upgrades.
4. 49ers (4-12): Atrocious offense/won't click; if I were Colin/I would sit down, too.

1. Steelers (12-4): Big Ben on the clock/the rush suffers without Bell/still, stealth contenders.
2. Bengals (9-7): Tempers cost them big/the running scheme needs blinders/or they'll choke again.
3. Ravens (5-11): Flacco, Smith, Forsett/are dangerous when healthy/no fullback depth hurts.
4. Browns (3-13): RG3, upgrade/(not a joke); proud Clevelanders/wish LeBron took snaps.
1. Patriots (12-4): Belichick: "Tom who?"/no real divisional threats/best of a flawed bunch.
2. Dolphins (8-8): Tannehill, due for/a breakout; still too many/questions for playoffs.
4. Jets (7-9): Needs more depth, even/with great receiver combo/young, but not too Green.
4. Bills (6-10): Your Stanley Cup champs/training camp injuries, yikes/Taylor needs targets!
1. Colts (11-5): Struggles last year were/Luck or just coincidence?/Also, where's the sacks?
2. Texans (10-6)*: Offensive upgrades/Hopkins no longer Lone Star/And defense? Watt's good.
3. Titans (6-10): Young, hard to forecast/Mariota racks up points/for roto rosters.
4. Jaguars (4-12): Not quite laughingstocks/promising but unproven/chiefly on defense.
1. Broncos (11-5): That lock-down defense/does the heavy lifting, and/Siemian's no ape.
2. Raiders (10-6)*: The playoffs loom near/but they need one more wideout/to be contenders.
3. Chiefs (7-9): A Lazarus act/is nothing new; to win now/they'll walk on water.
4. Chargers (5-11): Defense overhaul/underway; Rivers wasted/by shallow talent.

NFL MVP: Cam Newton, Panthers
Offensive ROY: Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
Defensive ROY: Joey Bosa, Chargers
First Head Coach Fired: Jim Caldwell, Lions
Super Bowl LI: Panthers 29, Patriots 17


Friday, August 26, 2016

My Toxic College Relationship, Part 1

This week marks two anniversaries for me, one external and one deeply personal. On August 21st, 2006 Facebook introduced the news feed to its home page; rather than have to go from one friend's profile to another to get updates, they were now all in one convenient location. It was polarizing and divisive at first --I can think of at least two Facebook friends that deleted their profiles because of the innovation, and never came back-- but now you can't imagine Facebook without it.

On the same day, sometime around 9 AM, I changed my relationship status from "in a relationship" to "single" and haven't changed it since. That is not to say I haven't been dating in ten years, I simply haven't changed my status. It was the first thing I contributed to anyone of my then 100-plus Facebook friends' news feeds, and that is a rather ignoble thing to admit. At the same time, this anomaly on my profile is a stark reminder of the first and most dysfunctional relationship I've ever been in.

I first met "Babs" on my third day on campus. I had just transferred from College of DuPage to Illinois State University, spending the long weekend getting acclimated to my new surroundings. She found me standing in line in the commons at Watterson Towers, and invited me over to sit with her and some of her dorm neighbors. Brit seemed interested in getting to know me better; I gave her my phone number, but forgot to ask for hers. Luckily, she called during the week, and we arranged to hang out the next Saturday.

I really didn't have much luck with dating in high school or community college, so I kept my expectations low. We walked around the quad for awhile, then did brunch on the opposite end of campus. Since I had nothing better to do that afternoon (or evening), I also followed her to the Miller Park Zoo, Eastland Mall, and back to her dorm. All in all, it was a memorable first date. After hanging out with her again for a movie night the next evening, and to watch "24" the evening after that, we officially announced we were dating by that Wednesday.

After my past failures with women, it was a relief of sorts to be in a relationship. However, one major red flag that came up on our first date proved to be our undoing: Babs was a born-again Christian. She asked me what my thoughts were on religion between brunch and the zoo, and kept insisting on taking me to faith-based events on or near campus. She also admitted that she cheated on every guy she had dated, but wanted to make an effort to be in a monogamous relationship.  I also realized she had a quick temper, and often made cutting comments about her dorm neighbors and people that I assumed were her friends.

Having never been serious with a woman before, I was inherently trying to keep things afloat, circumnavigating the loaded discussions about God and her frequent flirting with other guys by playing to our strengths and mutual interests. We were physically compatible, and maybe in hindsight we got physical too early in the relationship. We kissed on our first date, and things escalated after that, though we never had sex. If Babs said something I found offense or was throwing shade at one of her neighbors (which happened a lot), my instinct was to start a make-out session. I felt like the archetype of a horndog college student, putting my carnal urges above common sense.

One night, we were walking around downtown Normal (now Uptown Normal, long story) and Babs said she had something to tell me. Rather than be direct about it, she kept teasing the bombshell and kept making me guess. When we finally got back to her dorm room, she made me sit in a chair, she dimmed the lights, and she pulled out a bible. It turned out to be her most direct overture to converting me to born-again Christianity. It came from a sincere place, but I still wasn't aboard. If anything, the whole tease and reveal just made me uncomfortable.

The facade would keep cracking, but we would try to find ways to reconcile and compromise. One weekend, a movie night at her dorm came to abrupt halt when for no discernible reason, Brit started joking about a friend's eating disorder to her face. The girl ran out of the room in tears, the other partygoers left soon after, and just as I was about to leave, Babs begged me to stay and spend the night. Babs would insist I come along to run errands with her, even though I had plans that day, then get upset when I told her I needed to finish a paper or something. Toward the end of the semester, she needed help disassembling the loft for her bed, and I was the only person who showed up to help her. The physical duress of removing the loft, my inability to lift more than 60 lbs, and the humidity of an unusually warm early May day resulted in an excruciating afternoon.

A week or so later, I snapped. It was my turn to clean out and pack my dorm room for the semester, and even though I gave specific instructions on how to pack my clothes, she threw my clean shirts in with my dirty laundry. In hindsight it was a minuscule but in context I was livid. We proceeded to scream at each other for a solid ten minutes. Inexplicably, we reconciled that evening, but after that point it was pretty clear that we were treading on thin ice.

We both speculated that maybe we were spending too much time together, and since I lived in Downers Grove and she was from Park Forest (a one-hour drive, give or take) we could use the distance to our benefit. Any time we spent together during the Summer of 2006 was an event of sorts; we took two camping trips, one that went moderately well, the other cut short when Babs complained of stomach cramps (it turned out to be severe acid reflux). She spent Memorial Day weekend at my dorm during summer school, and I drove to her place at least three times.

When it was Babs' turn to crash at my parents' house in DG, the shit hit the fan. It turned out that her acid reflux was serious enough to prohibit certain foods from her diet, which turned an otherwise unexceptional home-cooked meal into a landmine. She clashed with everyone in the house except my sister; we argued, she argued with my mom over something I don't recall, and my father asked indignantly about her reading the Bible in the kitchen. A trip to Brookfield Zoo (her idea) was a miserable slog. She threatened to cut the trip short, but I persuaded her to stay a second night as planned. I drove her back to Park Forest the following evening feeling oddly relieved.

A week or two later, Babs called me in a slight panic. A few months earlier I met Dave, an old friend that she admitted to having a slight crush on. Feeling spiteful and perhaps a little confused, she kissed Dave that evening and decided it was best to confess right away. Not knowing how to react, I forgave her almost immediately. In reality, however I was annoyed that was falling back into old habits, and I probably should have ended the relationship right then and there.

Babs and I hung out at her mother's house the week after that, where we made an attempt to talk things out. The undercurrent of tension ebbed and flowed but never dissipated; I also noticed that she was making overtures with a second high school classmate.  The week after that, the day after my 22nd birthday, she dumped me. Babs cited my mother, my immaturity, and my noted reluctance to become a devout Christian. I spent that weekend sulking in my dorm room, pondering my next move. It could have been my opportunity to break free, but Babs wasn't out of my life for long.

(Part two next month.)


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Thoughts on an Imploding Candidacy

Midway through the first week of August, what appeared to be a close race for president suddenly became a knee-slapper. Fresh off a strong convention performance, Secretary Clinton took a double-digit lead in the national polls; a series of miscues by the always polarizing Donald Trump further augmented Clinton's lead. Between waffling on endorsing three high-ranking Republicans (later rectified), allegedly kicking a crying baby out of a rally (seemingly misconstrued, then blamed on "the liberal media"), and demonizing a Muslim-American casualty of war and his family (no apology yet), the Trump campaign is looking rather wobbly. I'm probably understating that, but at least liberals and conservatives alike realize his candidacy is even more toxic than it was at face value. This latest idiotic remark could be a death knell for an otherwise teflon candidacy... or not.

For now, Trump's departure from the presidential race is simply wishful thinking. He has proven, however what many Republican insiders have worried about: that he is simply too oderous and temperamental for the constant scrutiny of the Oval Office. If Hillary Clinton is leading in the polls in Ohio and Florida by at least 5% on Labor Day, then consider this election over. Trump's insane rhetoric brought the fringe right back into the GOP, but with the party struggling to find its identity (to put it mildly) it likely won't be enough to win the Oval Office.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Finding the Gooey Center

Maybe this election wasn't meant for liberals. The announcement Friday night of Sen. Tim Kaine as Hillary Clinton's running mate was notably not a surprise and admittedly a slight letdown. In a contested primary season where self-admitted "Democratic Socialist" Bernie Sanders went toe-to-toe with the embattled former Secretary of State, what mattered more was appealing to centrists and jaded moderates. Kaine's supporters will attest that he has more liberal credentials than what appears at face value, but anyone expecting Sanders or Liz Warren or anything further left will have to bite the bullet. Kaine is very compatible with Clinton politically, only slightly left-leaning but pragmatic and malleable, almost as if Hillary had chosen a second husband. (Yes, go ahead and put your Clinton sex joke here.) The only thing for certain here is that a Pence-Kaine Vice Presidential debate will be a partisan snooze-fest.

Arguably the most grotesque presidential race in recent memory is circling third and heading home. Some polls would indicate that Donald Trump holds an advantage over Clinton in the polls, but the Kaine pick likely throws it back to 50/50. Secretary Clinton, for all of her flaws, is the only viable alternative to Trump's insult-throwing circus act. (I can only hope Gary Johnson will eat away at the conservative core.) Trump's acceptance speech this past Thursday may have looked and felt more presidential that what we've seen in the previous 13 months of his campaign, but I saw through the veneer.

Speaking of which, from a satirical perspective, the Republican National Convention was almost like manna. It was a mass menagerie of easy targets, some you saw coming (Chris Christie) and others you didn't quite expect (Melania Trump). The fringe loonies have taken over the GOP, the sane Republicans stayed home, and inexplicably Ted Cruz was the sole voice of reason.

If there is any condolence to what may happen in November, keep in mind that in 2012 we reelected a third consecutive president; that has only happened once before in American history (Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe). The possibility of a fourth straight president getting a second term, regardless of how speculative that would be at this point, is unlikely. Both of these candidates look and feel like one-term presidents at this point, potential placeholders for something better.


Monday, July 18, 2016

The Next Voice You Hear

As some of you know, I worked for the Chicago branch of Salem Communications from May 2008 to April 2010. As a recent college graduate pursuing a career in the radio industry, I perceived my part-time traffic assistant (i.e. accounts receivable) position as a foot in the door to bigger things. That was ultimately not the case, as I was replaced less than two years on the job. My departure was the first of several moves made after a major management change, and with flagship AM 560 WIND still struggling to get into the top 25 among Chicago radio stations, there is little to indicate things are moving in the right direction.

One of the many changes that occurred these last six years was the addition of former Congressman Joe Walsh (R-IL) as an on-air personality. Walsh set up an arrangement where he would host a drive-time show from 5 to 7pm on WIND and do the same thing all over again via satellite on a New York, Salem-owned station from 8 to 10pm EST. Walsh was commenting on a whirlwind week in early July: where an unarmed African-American man was killed in Minnesota, followed by a similar incident in Dallas, then a "retaliation" by a lone gunman that killed five Dallas police officers.

I imagine Walsh was a little more tactful on the air, but what he tweeted in the wake of the Dallas shootings was reprehensible: "3 Dallas Cops killed, 7 wounded. This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you." The tweet was deleted within an hour, but once again Walsh was fanning the flames of controversy. It's one thing to criticize the president but another to threaten him. What made it even more appalling was that it was almost certainly staged.

A couple of years, Walsh was (allegedly) removed from the air following a discussion of racial epithets, during which he said the N-word at least once. It was a publicity stunt, and a rather clueless one at that. Whether Walsh was encouraged by my old managers or action on his own is irrelevant; it was very much in bad taste. What transpired nearly weeks ago was cut from the same cloth.

I feel even more embarrassed to have been part of that organization. Given how long it took me to compose my thoughts on this hot mess, the media has moved on the next round of tragedies. The cycle of gun violence in America is spinning faster than ever, and I can't imagine that I'm the only American that is growing numb to the pain. Mercifully, a loose cannon like Walsh was not meant to be a long-timer in Congress, but his mouth and his chutzpah lingers, and his enforcers at WIND-AM couldn't be more pleased.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Bunny Hop II: The 'Boy in the Bubble

About 4 1/2 years ago, after inheriting it from my dead uncle, I schlepped four decades' worth of Playboy magazines into my parents' basement. I blogged about it, blurring the magazine and its semi-sophisticated aesthetic with my uncle's underachieving, too-brief life. The delicate dance of obsolescence and objectifying women came rushing back to context when The House That Hef Built turned a new leaf.

Earlier this year, "The 'Boy" underwent an overdue makeover. A lot of the magazine's decades-old fixtures were excised: the mostly unfunny, panel and page-size cartoons; the Party Jokes page behind the centerfold, featuring excerpts from the unpublished Unabashed Dictionary; the annoying "jump copy" that was standard in most monthly periodicals in the 1950s and '60s. (The back section that featured paparazzi photos and new gadgets was dropped about ten years ago.) Most crucially, however was the disappearance of full-frontal nudity; in a time and age where naked women can be easily accessed on the internet (and in most cases, for free) why spend five dollars to see three or four monthly pictorials?

That's not to say, however, that barely-dressed women have disappeared from Playboy altogether. The centerfold is still there, but the naughty bits are covered up in clever ways. There is a newfound, harder emphasis on fiction and journalism, and there's even a column from a feminist perspective. The Playboy lifestyle is still elite and debonair but far more enlightened. The goal is to compete with Esquire, not Maxim.

So where's ol' Hef in all of this? Still schlepping around, taking on possible roommates, and largely letting others take the rein of his creation. According to reports, Hugh Hefner was more than willing to drop the cartoons, but had to be persuaded to tweak his creation's most noted content. Even in old age, America's best-known pajama-clad party animal had fought tooth and nail to cantilever a mindset that withered away decades ago.

Change is inevitable, and with Playboy reinventing itself after six-plus decades of great prose, swingin' cocktails, and bogus boobies they might prove there is still life in the brand. Had my uncle lived to see this, I'm sure he would've been annoyed by the lack of full-frontal nudity but would have kept reading out of habit. For now, Playboy has taken a behindhand step forward, a curious but righteous leap into the 21st century.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Which CFL Team Are You?

Last week, the 2016 Canadian Football League season began. For many Americans, the CFL is somewhere between a quirky parallel world and a bizarre afterthought. To others, it’s a desperate stopgap when their baseball team is foundering and there’s no other team sports to watch. I’m not a die-hard CFL fan per se, but if there’s a game on TV (thanks, ESPN!) I’ll tune in.

If you are among the minority of NFL fans that need a desperate pigskin fix, you might be surprised to know that the CFL draws some interesting parallels.

BC Lions: If any CFL team adopted and embraced the over-hyped “west coast offense” of the 1980s, look no further than Vancouver. The Lions are also a team that was very good in the 2000s but are now in rebuilding mode. Compares to: 49ers, Seahawks, Rams, Chargers
Calgary Stampeders: They have a stifling pass-rush defense, but their run-to-set-up-the-pass offense doesn’t really compare to anyone in particular. At the same time, they’ve had a lot of alumni that used to play for Bears, Vikings, and Chiefs’ secondary and practice squads.
Edmonton Eskimos: The offense finally clicked last year, giving the Esks their first title in over a decade. They don’t seem to have a lot of personality, though. Compares to: Colts, Panthers, Broncos
Saskatchewan Roughriders: The green and silver play in Regina, arguably the most rural and socially conservative city in Canada. Deep south football fans might relate to that. They’re also the only major sports team in the entire province. Compares to: Titans, Bucs, Falcons, Saints
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: At 22 seasons and counting, the Bombers have the longest Grey Cup drought in the league. Their fans are loyal, if not grumpy and self-deprecating. Compares to: Jets, Cardinals, Lions, Bills

Hamilton Tiger-Cats: These longtime also-rans lost the Grey Cup in 2013 and 2014, so hope springs eternal. Historically a bridesmaid, rarely a bride. They have the same colors as the Steelers, and Hamilton is also a steel town, but they also compare to the Bengals, Dolphins, and Redskins.
Montreal Alouettes: The most dominant team of the past decade or so might mesh well with New England football fans, but Larks fans don’t treat this as a religious experience. Plus, the core of those championship teams is starting to age. Compares to: Eagles, Ravens, Giants
Ottawa Redblacks: There is a history of football in Canada’s capital city, but it came to a halt when the Renegades folded in the mid-2000s. An expansion team with the same colors (but not the same name) emerged in 2013, going through most of the same growing pains new franchises go through. Compares to: Jaguars, Browns, Texans, Raiders
Toronto Argonauts: The team with a tradition of winning, and the team everyone else in the league hates. “They don’t rebuild, they reload.” Enough said. Compares to: Packers, Patriots, Cowboys

Happy Canada Day!


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Precedent for President

It may surprise some people that this year's wacky presidential race may have some historical precedent. The rules that outline how a national election can be organized have not changed much since the U.S. Constitution was written nearly 230 years ago, which has made for drama and high tension. The 2000 race, determined by the U.S. Supreme Court, was the most recent example of a presidential race reaching an photo finish, to put it mildly. The election of 1824, much like today, was the culmination of years of unsettled tension reaching an ugly crescendo.

To set the scene: leading up to 1824, the original two-party system that emerged in the early days of the republic had disintegrated. The Federalist Party collapsed, leaving the Democratic Republicans (today's Democrats, more or less) without a viable opponent. The Dem-Reps controlled all three branches of government, with laws and legislation being passed without much opposition. In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars and the crushing defeat following the War of 1812, Americans sought unity. This time period of unilateralism became known as "The Era of Good Feelings." It was pleasant enough on the surface, but unsustainable and rotting from within.

President James Monroe strove to downplay partisan affiliation, with the ultimate goal of national unity and eliminating parties altogether from national politics. For that reason, his agenda and The Era of Good Feelings are almost synonymous with each other. To prevent upheaval and discourage rivalries, political opponents like John C. Calhoun and John Quincy Adams were given high-ranking positions in Monroe's cabinet.  On the national level, Monroe was well-liked enough to be reelected in 1820 with all but one electoral vote; William Plumer, an elector from New Hampshire, thought Monroe was incompetent and put his support behind the younger Adams.

When Monroe chose not to seek a third term in 1824, all the delicate alliances our fifth president had built slowly came crashing down. His heir apparent, Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins was not only unpopular but also in poor health (indeed, Tompkins died three months after leaving office). The Democratic-Republicans were faced with a wide-open race; the traditional Congressional caucus, the precursor to today's conventions, chose Treasury Sec. William H. Crawford to succeed Monroe. However, the caucus was sparsely attended and perceived as undemocratic. Crawford stayed in the race, but he quickly found himself lagging behind three upstarts: Secretary Adams, General Andrew Jackson, and Speaker of the House Henry Clay.

John Quincy Adams, the son of a former president, was well liked by the last vestiges of the Federalist Party but mostly aligned with the Democratic-Republicans. Rep. Clay, a populist rabble-rouser, made Appalachia (then the U.S. west) his stronghold. General Jackson, the one non-politician in the race, was a respected war hero with a strong following in rural areas, especially in the South and mid-Atlantic states. Adams and Crawford split the east, with Adams holding a narrow advantage in New England. They all conflicted over policy, especially in regard to tariffs, but this would be a race of both favorite sons as well as geography.

There is no provision in the U.S. Constitution that enables a two-party system; historically, most of our federal elections have been set by two semi-rigid party platforms, but it has been largely happenstance. Third parties have come and gone with a short wave of momentum but limited long-term impact. For its time, an election with four viable presidential candidates was unprecedented. Secretary of War John C. Calhoun was briefly a fifth option, but opted to seek the vice presidential nomination; his political beliefs were more aligned with Jackson's, but he made no effort to distance himself from Adams.

Once all the votes were tallied in December 1824 (there was no consensus election day at the time), none of the four candidates got the 50% of the popular vote needed to win. Andrew Jackson carried 41.4% of the vote, hardly a majority. Because of a provision in the 12th Amendment, the top three candidates would have to be elected in a special vote my Congress. Clay, who finished fourth, was eliminated but opted to endorse Adams. It was enough to sway Congress to vote narrowly in favor Adams' presidency. In return, Adams made the controversial choice to appoint Clay his Secretary of State. The Democratic-Republicans ceased to be shortly after.

For the first time in American history, a candidate that won the popular vote failed to get enough electoral votes to win the presidency. The election of 1828 was not only a rematch, but a moratorium of sorts for Adams' middling term in office. The pulse of the nation was still polarized, but Jackson had more popular support --and the electoral votes necessary-- to quash Adams' quest for reelection.

I suppose in this convoluted analogy, Hillary Clinton is Adams, Donald Trump is Jackson, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is Crawford, and Bernie Sanders is Clay. The former two make far more sense than the latter two; Clinton is the safe establishment candidate, while Trump is the known brand with the mix of outsider appeal and worrisome baggage. Maybe Sanders' supporters will come around to vote for Hillary, but there is a long road ahead and many compromises to be made. For disenfranchised Republicans, Gary Johnson might actually make more sense than the bloviating, opportunistic Trump. In spite of the circus atmosphere, there is a unique precedent.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

My 11th Annual Fantasy Emmy Ballot

Emmy time again? Not quite, as the nominations won't be announced for a few weeks. However, the 2015-16 TV season is for all intents and purposes over; with a dramatic amount of turnover from last year (especially in the Best Drama and Best Variety categories) there is a slew of fresh faces and familiar faces in new locales alike to make anyone's prognostication look valid. At the same time, where there are several returning shows that are practically locks for a nomination, there are various upstarts and overlooked talents that could make their case.

With that said, here is my 2016 Fantasy Emmy Ballot:

Supporting Actress, Drama: Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black; Christine Baranski, The Good Wife; Joanne Froggett, Downtown Abbey; Lena Headey, Game of Thrones; Regina King, The Leftovers; Constance Zimmer, UnREAL.
Supporting Actor, Drama: Jim Carter, Downton Abbey; Alan Cumming, The Good Wife; Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones; Michael Kelly, House of Cards; Damien Lewis, Billions; Christian Slater, Mr. Robot.
Supporting Actress, Comedy: Julie Bowen, Modern Family; Anna Chlumsky, Veep; Allison Janney, Mom; Jane Krakowski, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Judith Light, Transparent; Kate McKinnon, SNL.
Supporting Actror, Comedy: Louie Anderson, Buckets; Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Adam Driver, Girls; Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family; Tony Hale, Veep.

Leading Actress, Drama: Claire Danes, Homeland; Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder; Taraji P. Henson, Empire; Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black; Maura Tierney, The Affair; Robin Wright, House of Cards.
Leading Actor, Drama: Bobby Cannavale, Vinyl; Kyle Chandler, Bloodline; Rami Malek, Mr. Robot; Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul; Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan; Kevin Spacey, House of Cards.
Leading Actress, Comedy: Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep; Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer; Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie; Michaela Watkins, Casual; Constance Wu, Fresh Off the Boat.
Leading Actor, Comedy: Anthony Anderson, Black-ish; Aziz Ansari, Master of None; Don Cheadle, House of Lies; Will Forte, The Last Man on Earth; William H. Macy, Shameless; Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent.

Best Variety Talk Series: "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee," TBS; "Jimmy Kimmel Live," ABC; "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver," HBO; "Late Show with Stephen Colbert," CBS; "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," NBC.
Best Variety Sketch Series: "Drunk History," Comedy Central; "Inside Amy Schumer," Comedy Central; "Key & Peele," Comedy Central; "Portlandia," IFC; "Saturday Night Live," NBC.
Best Limited Series: "11.22.63," Netflix; "American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson," FX; "American Horror Story: Hotel," FX; "Fargo," FX; "The Night Manager," AMC; "Show Me a Hero," HBO.
Best Dramatic Series: "Better Call Saul," AMC; "Downton Abbey," BBC/PBS; "Game of Thrones," HBO; "The Good Wife," CBS; "House of Cards," Netflix; "Orange is the New Black," Netflix.
Best Comedy Series: "Broad City," Comedy Central; "The Last Man on Earth," Fox; "Silicon Valley," HBO; "Transparent," Amazon Prime; "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," Netflix; "Veep," HBO.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Cheery Traveler

One of my goals for 2016 was to travel. Family obligations had kept me from going anywhere the previous two or three years, and before that I simply couldn't budget a road trip. (I don't count my frequent commutes to Chicago.) This year, I'm making up for lost time. In mid-April, I parlayed my semi-annual drive down to Normal into a three-day stay in the Houston suburbs. My college radio station was celebrating its 35th anniversary, but I was only able to hang out for the first day of the reunion. A former improv teammate of mine was getting married the same weekend, and I rarely turn down a wedding invitation.  Splitting the difference more or less worked; by flying from central Illinois to Houston (with a layover in Atlanta) I avoided long security lines and saved on airfare. On top of that, I only had to spend money on one night in a hotel; I crashed at the groom's father's house up in Willis for most of the trip. In short, this was the type of "lone wolf" trip that I'd been wanting for years.

A week or so ago, my improv/business partner Dan and I drove out to the Omaha Improv Festival. Even though I've been studying and performing improv for seven years now, I've never done so outside of the state of Illinois. Dan had been submitting to festivals across the country for almost three years now, and we were sort of bemused that Omaha had accepted us. Neither of us knew anyone from the Cornhusker State, nor were we aware of any improv community in the United States' 60th largest city. The whole road trip was a pleasant surprise; the Omaha improv scene is small but burgeoning, the festival was a blast, and above all Omaha is a lovely little city. (Our show was just okay, but we still had fun.) I can't really budget any other adventures at the moment, but I'm glad I've been able to explore the world outside Chicago for a little while.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Through a Sixth Freshman's Eyes

This week and next, millions of high school seniors will be graduating. Some will take a summer off before starting college, while others might take a semester or a whole year to contemplate their options. In any case, they were all born between late 1997 and mid-1998, offering a different perspective of the world than someone who vividly remembers the end of the 20th century (i.e. someone who is now old). With that said, and with all due apologies to Beloit College, here is my sixth annual homemade "Memory List":

...Google has always been a presence on the internet.
...Apple has always had the upper hand on Microsoft.
...if you're into right-wing conspiracies, you haven't had to look much further than the Drudge Report.
...if you're right-wing but not into conspiracies, you haven't had to look much further than Fox News Channel.
...Monica Lewinsky has always been a household name, and for all the wrong reasons.
...the highest-grossing movie of all time was always a film directed by James Cameron (at least, until a few months ago).
...Animal Kingdom has always been an attraction at Disney World.
...there has always been at least one Harry Potter title available in American bookstores...
...or you could just buy a book on Amazon.
...the Chicago Bulls have never won an NBA title.
...Tim Duncan has always played in the NBA.
...Bartolo Colon has always been a Major League pitcher.
...Roger Maris has never owned the Major League single-season home run record.
...NHL players have always been a presence in the Winter Olympics.
..."Seinfeld" has existed only in repeats.
...CBS has never aired "The Wizard of Oz" during May sweeps. never saw Norm Macdonald anchor Weekend Update on SNL.
...Burgess Meredith, Red Skelton, Toshiro Mifune, Chris Farley, Phil Hartman, Lloyd Bridges, Alan Shepard, Dr. Spock, Bella Abzug, Pol Pot, Shari Lewis, Harry Carey, Jack Brickhouse, Sonny Bono, Carl Wilson, Tammy Wynette and Frank Sinatra have always been dead.

Did I forget anything? If so, feel free to mention it in the comments below. (Here's last year's list.) If this post was too much of a gut-punch, I respect that too.


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Rhapsody in Tan/Orange

Last week I wondered if Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner could already be written off as a failure. Now I wonder if the GOP has conjointly lost its soul. Death notices aside, it was the abject failure of Republican Party leaders to acknowledge and tamp down the grass-roots momentum of Donald Trump that caused this presidential race to turn into a mud-slinging train wreck. The rich oligarchy that almost unilaterally dominated sustained the GOP until the Tea Party movement has let that power slip through their fingers. They underestimated the number of Americans that are both conservative and poor, and embraced an unpredictable candidate that didn't want or need their campaign money.

In spite of Donald Trump's polarizing presence, his ability to galvanize social conservatives and libertarians alike does not ensure an easy victory for whomever wins the Democratic nomination come November. Trump's campaign hit a sweet spot for a portion of the populace that leans right but never votes. Common sense aside, the "Trumpeters" will come out en masse in November, ensuring only a close race against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Perhaps its the fault of party leaders, the "mainstream" conservatives that didn't anticipate --or vastly underestimated-- the anti-establishment ruminations of the past decade. (The Democrats have a similar issue.) In any case, the people have chosen their candidates, and now this three-ring circus is consolidating into its final act.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

The New Springfield Stalemate

Is Bruce Rauner a failure?

This loaded question was raised by an op-ed the Chicago Tribune, who suggested that the current Governor of Illinois was ineffectual beyond redemption, a mere 15 months into his first term. Succeeding the doddering Pat Quinn was one thing; to make Illinois forget their two immediate predecessors, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, is another. And yet, Rauner's strategy of running the state into the ground in order to build it from the ground up might be too daring a strategy to work.

Let's start with Rauner's alleged "turnaround agenda." In order to bring business back to Illinois, it seems that he wants to make companies that are already in-state even richer, while also filling the coffers of the super wealthy. Unfortunately, in order to justify this late-arriving attempt at trickle-down economics, Rauner has blocked any reasonable state budget, holding hostage contractors and state universities that rely on public money. Rauner conjures images of people (and businesses) bolting Illinois for greener pastures, but statistics say that's utterly false. It would be easy to blame the dictatorial State Speaker Michael Madigan, but in this case the fiscal crisis is not the fault of a calculating career politician.

In an election year where a shrewd, eccentric businessman is turning the GOP upside down, a multi-millionaire in Illinois is proving you can't run government like a business. Bruce Rauner could be a case example of putting hubris over responsibility, but the Republicans (and the country) are distracted by a primary race gone haywire. The word "failure" may linger over Rauner's head, but the window of opportunity to prove his brinkmanship right is shutting fast.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Somewhere Over the (Partisan) Rainbow

I don't believe I've ever intentionally spoken ill will of the dead. When Justice Antonin Scalia passed away a few weeks ago, rather than just say "RIP" on social media, I admittedly deferred the idea of criticizing a polarizing figure in American politics. I still received some flack from my Facebook friends, even though I didn't say anything specific about Justice Scalia. (I had my qualms, but so did a lot of other people.) One could argue, however that the Republicans that control both houses of Congress may have overreacted the most.

Judge Merrick Garland, a fellow Chicago native, is the third and likely last person that President Obama has nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court. His first two appointees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, were left-leaning justices replacing fellow liberals on a court that tilted right. Garland's potential appointment will allegedly tip the scale to the left, or at least that's what the GOP fears; Garland has a history of being a moderate/centrist, a swing vote on a court that is now deadlocked at four and four.  In any other era of American politics, Garland would be a model nominee and have a swift confirmation. In a polarized Washington during an election year, he might not even get a hearing.

As of this writing, the only elected Republican to meet with Judge Garland is Sen. Mark Kirk, a fellow Illinoisan. It's an election year, and I can see why the GOP is trying to save face; they want to wait until Obama is out of office in nine months, apparently in total disregard of who might succeed him. At the same time, this group of senators was elected by their constituents to serve their country, and by refusing to give Judge Garland a hearing indicates a refusal to do their jobs. There is nothing to indicate that Garland is a liberal firebrand or would have any detrimental value to the nation's highest court, the GOP is simply being obstructive. A political party that is trying to vain to prove that they have ideas is doing everything but that. Whether they confirm or reject Garland, I'm not spending my tax money on a group of old men sitting on their hands because it allegedly compromises their principles.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Random Notes, April 2016

On the election beat:

+ At this rate, a brokered GOP convention this summer is inevitable. Years of subtext have become context; the Republican Party, which promoted itself as the "big tent" party in the Reagan era, is as splintered as its ever been. The last of the mainline, old school conservatives, the party members that have either survived or narrowly dodged the Tea Party movement of the past decade, are hoping by default that John Kasich comes from behind to take the party's presidential nomination. It's one thing that Donald Trump's momentum has barely wavered, it's another that Ted Cruz is a palatable nominee in comparison. (Head-to-head polls aren't that favorable, either.) They might still control both houses of Congress after November 8th, but between this ungainly primary race and their holding the U.S. Supreme Court hostage, the GOP has more to lose than they think.

+ Speaking of fractured political parties, the Democrats will likely figure things out between Sec. Clinton and Sen. Sanders by August, but it's not a sure shot. Two brokered conventions would be ripe for drama but would ultimately benefit no one; it would only serve to prove political scientists right that the two-party system is outmoded and unwieldy. Where Sanders' supporters have youth and diversity to their disposal, Clinton is more appealing to moderates, independents, and (dare I say it) deep pockets. A George Soros type would have Bernie in the heart but Hillary in the brain. It would make for strange bedfellows, but a Clinton-Sanders ticket would be the Dems' best shot against Trump and the unfortunate patsy that would be his running mate.

+ I'm finally doing some traveling! Over a decade after the last time I set foot on an airplane, and four years since my last real vacation, I'm going to Houston for a few days. A good friend of mine is getting married, so I'm spending a three-day weekend in southeast Texas. After that, my duo Flower Shop Bangers will be playing the Omaha Improv Festival in mid-May. To all my far-flung readers: let me know if you're nearby, I wouldn't mind meeting up.