All In on Big, Structural Change

With local elections now passed, my attention turns to the Iowa Caucuses and the vital work of 2020.

The field of Democratic presidential candidates is deep and diverse, and people I respect are committed to many of them. We all want someone who can win.

Our country faces myriad serious issues: racial inequity, a climate crisis, income inequality, mass incarceration, Go Fund Me for healthcare debt, out-of-reach housing, childcare deserts, tax-free corporate profits, crumbling infrastructure, bought-and-paid-for politics, a hallowed-out safety net, disenfranchisement, forced childbirth, gun violence, and a world unraveled and leaders indifferent to the pain they’re inflicting on humans.

Lots of our candidates care about these issues. But that’s just table stakes.

The Iowa Caucuses, whatever their faults, operate outside of the usual choose-one-of-two of elections. It’s our chance to follow our hearts.

And my heart says Elizabeth Warren.

Warren has the skills and the plans for the desperately needed — say it with me — big, structural change.

She’s a big thinker who designed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, then ran it. She’s a hard fighter who isn’t afraid to stand up against big banks, big tech and big energy. And she’s an inspiration and a teacher who can clearly explain the plan, how it works, and why it’s important, and then lead the way.

But can she win? Yes, of course she can. If we don’t let ourselves get tied up in I-like-her-but… knots outthinking ourselves.

I hope you’ll allow yourself to dream big, follow your heart and join me in supporting Elizabeth Warren.

The Arts Will Strengthen Our Community

My first date with my wife, Laura, was a 1995 showing of Braveheart at the Englert.

A few years later, just as I was finishing high school, the Coralridge Mall opened and laid waste to Iowa City’s retail. Big department stores had either abandoned Iowa City or were getting ready to. There weren’t many decent restaurants, and the bars relied on underage drinking. And the parts of downtown that weren’t bars were rapidly being replaced by more bars.

Then the Englert, the last movie theater in downtown Iowa City, closed. It was going to become a bar.

I was in college — the downtown scene was being build for my cohort! — but I was heartened when a group of locals launched the Save the Englert campaign and managed to do just that.

Since then, the Englert has become a cultural beacon, hosting hundreds of show a year, organizing festivals and helping program arts across the community. And FilmScene has brought movies — good ones — back to the heart of Iowa City. And Saturday, they launched a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen our existing venues, grow the arts into new spaces and with new festivals and evolve our organizations with community-driven arts access and education. You can read more about it here.

Here comes the appeal. We’ve given. We’ve asked our friends to give. And I’m asking you to consider giving. These opportunities don’t come around very often.

Communications That Don’t Suck (or Cost a Buttload)

No non-profit organization exists just to do communications.

Instead, people get involved because they're interested in helping communities, advocating for change or building a needed amenity. But communications are vital to supporting these organizations’ mission by raising funds, recruiting volunteers, spreading information and inspiring action.

But I see a lot of sucky communication from scrappy organizations doing really important work, and I want to help. So I put together a guide with goal of helping organizations get on solid footing and pointed in the right direction with practical advice.

There are other, more sophisticated ways to do communications than this guide offers. You can target your ad spends using lookalike audiences to boost your ROI, if that’s your thing.

The guide, however, is geared towards people who don't have a background in communications, marketing or information technology. In fact, it's geared towards organizations that might not have a website or social media presence.

This guide is for organizations that have more enthusiasm than expertise, and more dedication than dollars.

The guide is not intended to be shared with or used by right-to-lifers, gun-rights champions, 'educational choice' advocates, pro-military chickenhawks, censors, anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, science deniers, nationalists, Nazis or libertarians.

You can get the guide with your contact information below. You can send me feedback at nick@bergus.org.


My favorite movies of last year

I watched fewer movies this year than I did at one point of my life, when I didn’t have a kid and TV shows weren’t nearly as good as they are now, but I still saw a healthy amount.

While I made it out to see Oscar contenders like Roma, my favorites of the past year were all over the place.

Here they are, in no particular order.

Saving Brinton

Saving Brinton still

A love letter to Iowa and her people disguised as documentary about saving film history. Michael Zahs, who I had the fortune hearing speak at the conclusion of my first showing, is a natural entertainer and a salt-of-the-earth type who warmed my heart. [Watch on Vimeo]

Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse

Into the Spider-verse

I loved Spider-Man when I was growing up. Then, when I tried to jump back in after a few years away, I found it incomprehensible. What they hell were all these weird contrivances? Oddly and amazingly, Into the Spider-Verse manages to tell a story far from that simple Spider-Man beats up bad guys story of my childhood — including multiple dimensions and a main character who isn’t Peter Parker — but makes it familiar and entertaining.

Black Panther

Black Panther still

I love a good superhero movie and Black Panther was exactly that. Plus: representation matters. Wakanda Forever.

Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade

Part of my love for this movie surely comes from being perfectly primed: I saw this with my daughter the summer she was getting ready to enter junior high. It offered an opportunity for us to talk about the journey ahead. The story and acting is incredibly true to life, cringey in all the right ways.

Blackkklansman

Blackkklansman

Like all Spike Lee joints, this is heavy handed at times. But we live in a time like no other and drawing a straight line from shitty cops and organized racism in the 1970s to a shitty president both-side-ing racism in 2017 requires (and resists) being heavy handed.

Minding the Gap

Minding the Gap

A fascinating exploration of three friends, including the filmmaker, bound by skateboarding, as they grow up and grapple with their childhoods and their futures. [Watch on Hulu]

Blockers

Blockers

I’m not kidding. Blockers is exactly what you think it is. Crass. Gross. Over the top. Absurd. But it’s also hilarious and touching. And it actually treats teen sexuality with respect. Blockers is also an argument for why women should helm more movies.

Resolved

The turn of the year is a natural time to look ahead, set goals and pledge to improve.

I’ve never been one for new year resolutions. They strike me as optimistic, and I’m not, as anyone who knows me can attest, not an optimist.

Still, I hope, by the end of the year, to be a better person whose done more good.

Rinse. Repeat.

15 Years

On January 9, 2003, in love since high school and just barely out of college, we met two friends at a magistrate’s office next to the courthouse. One friend was thoughtful enough to bring flowers. The other had appeared in front of the same magistrate for traffic court the day before.

Neither of us remembers the words of the stock vows, but we were told they were lovely.

At our bosses’ urging, we skipped out on work that morning. We celebrated with breakfast at Village Inn.

Within a week, we told our families. Nick’s father seemed suspicious there was a grandchild on the way. (There wasn’t.) Laura’s older brother speculated about the financial benefits and conveniences of marriage. (They were minimal.)

In truth, we had known for years we would marry, but that the wedding would be on our own terms. Eventually, we would get around to throwing a party.

Today, we gather with friends and family to celebrate the first 15 years.


From Nick, to Laura

Floating around our home — saved in boxes, tucked away in drawers, folded into books — are other notes like this.

Some are handwritten, others typed. Some dashed off in a moment, others came slowly and painstakingly. Some are declarations, some appreciations. Some apologies.

Each is a reminder of where we’ve been and a commitment to where we’re going. Each marks a moment.

And here, in the midst of a cold Midwestern winter, we mark another.

First a declaration: I love you, deeply and completely.

I’m inspired and humbled by your empathy and patience and thoughtfulness.
Your steadfastness has kept us on this track, despite my imperfections, more times than I can count.

In this moment there isn’t an apology as we trace life towards more moments.

Together we had a fire and we built a hearth where we can tend it, together, as we gray.


From Laura, to Nick

On tip-toes for our first kiss. Sneaking out all summer. We moved out to move in, together.

Guinea pigs, gerbils, finals. Bean soup and cheesesteaks. Your mohawk, and mail-order celebrity.

First careers and convenience. “Mrs. Bergus” mattered. So I became her, and they welcomed me.

Starter home. Our sweet, wild hound dog. A station wagon with heated seats. Enough.

Then, our Hazelnut. Infinitely better than the sum of our parts. She, and you, pulled me through. To sunshine, forests, cities, mountains.

Advanced degrees. Striving, pushing, saying “yes.” New careers, the next stage, our greatest opportunities.

You deliver on every promise. You hold me up and hold us together before I even know we’re drifting apart.

Calmer waters. A few quieter moments. Deeper meaning, because we’re facing each other now, holding hands.

Bad jokes. Our teenager. Middle age. This life we’ve made. The decades so far: just the beginning of our joy.


January 13, 2018
The Park Lodge at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area
Iowa City, Iowa

The best podcasts of 2016 and beyond

Everyone’s doing a podcast these days, and everyone’s always looking for new recommendations. I’ve listened to podcasts almost exclusively during my 1,000 miles of running this year, as well as during my 20-some-minute commute most weekdays and some weekends. Here are my favorites:

Intelligence Squared US Debates Intelligence Squared US Debates If there is one thing to be learned from political discourse over the past 18 months four years presidential administration decade and a half, it’s that it is often not based in facts or informed by reason. IQ2’s debates — nerd fests but in the best possible way — aim to be a bastion for opposite. While held live in New York City, these aren’t simply propping up liberal ideals (a debate over the failure of Obama’s foreign policy gave the win to the side affirming that, yes, it has been), and I learn something from the smart, expert debaters every time. The best part is the skilled moderation by John Donvan. If only we had more moderators like him.


Recode Media with Peter KafkaRecode Media with Peter Kafka It’s been many years since I was a dedicated reader of Romenesko and his coverage of media inside baseball, but I still love to listen to Kafka’s mix that’s one part media insider, one part news media moguls can use, smeared over a guide to the changing landscape of media (topped with a dash of dad humor). Kafka chats with independent tech bloggers, media critics and columnistsexecutives and others.


Reply AllReply All Nearly 90 percent of the US population uses the internet, so it’s refreshing to have media acknowledge the Internet as a driving cultural force without treating it like some bizarre niche for weirdos. Reply All’s hosts, For example, are clearly plugged into “internet culture,” but as part of the show’s occasional Yes Yes No segments, they go about explaining, digging into and demystifying internet in-jokes. But the show isn’t “about the internet”. Rather, it treats the internet as a way to explore current events and culture. Don’t miss episode #56 about Zardulu and modern myth making.


99pi99% Invisible You know about this show: the thought — the design — behind things we don’t think about: the iPhone unlocking sound, the I ❤ NY logo, the dumb names created for neighborhoods, and, of course, flags. The show has hit nearly 250 episodes, built a new podcast network and successfully collected a legion of fans because it skillfully tells stories of the built world without the use of visuals. If you want a quick introduction, consider the most recent episode of mini-stories.


workingWorking I’ve long been fascinated by skilled people doing what they do. Working talks to high-level practitioners — Stephen Colbert, a nightclub doorman in NYC, a man who’s been protesting outside the White House for three decades, the woman who selects correspondence for President Obama to read every day, and Santa — about what they do. Every episode is worth a listen, but your enjoyment will vary based on your love of the interviewer (David Plotz, Aisha Harris and Jacob Brogan were all inquisitive without stepping on the subject) and your interest in the subject (the third season about work relating the White House was both timely and interesting).


What podcasts do you love?

Parting advice from one roller derby referee

I’ve been officiating roller derby since 2011. Assuming something doesn’t happen between now and then, I’m scheduled to work my final game on Saturday. (Well, games since it’s a double header.)  I’ve had a good run, and I’m looking forward to working with a good bunch and closing out on a high note.

As I get ready to wrap up this four-year adventure, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned over my time, starting from when I fell down a lot and didn’t know what I was doing and ending when I fell down a lot and had a slightly better idea of what the hell I was doing, and what advice I might have for others. Here’s some in no particular order:

Travel
I don’t mean go to Cedar Rapids and Cedar Valley a few times a year when they’re looking for officials. I mean you should actively look for games you’re interested in working and find a contact. Apply to tournaments. Widen the radius you’re willing to travel. You’ll meet new people who offer different ways of doing things. You’ll expand the people you’re comfortable asking advice of. You’ll get new perspectives. You’ll be reassured in your skills and find things to get better at.

You need experience
There is no alternative to experience. I can feel my skills atrophying when I go even a few weeks without working a game.Reading rules is important. Thinking through wackadoo scenarios is aces. Talking with more experienced officials is key. But there is no substitute for getting out and doing it yourself. None.

Take the alt spot
It’s totally disappointing to not get the skating gig, but if you can swing it, take the alt slot. Someone always drops out, and you’ll get a chance to work. I guarantee. (BTW, you should always staff an alt.)

Look for reasons not to penalize
Our job is to keep the game fair. Sometimes that means issuing a penalty. Sometimes that means not. Sometimes the cleanest solution to a problem is to not issue a penalty.

See something, say something
Expulsion-worthy box entry? Mention it. Frantic scorekeeper not looking up as you prepare for the next jam? Don’t ignore it. Doesn’t mean you have to stop the game, but it’s easier to bring it up and let it go than to wish you’d said something earlier.

Trust each other
Everyone has a role and a job. Let them do it. You have a role and a job. Do it. Trust each other to get done what needs to get done and to communicate the information you need. Don’t second guess.

Be decisive
On the track, call the penalty or let it go. As the head referee, choose to overturn on official review or let it stand quickly. It sucks for everyone, and causes its own problems, if you hesitate or get all wishy washy.

Get fit
I wished I realized how valuable being in shape was earlier. Running, biking, cross-training or whatever will improve your stamina, flexibility, or whatever, and make you a better official since you’ll be better able to keep up, be mentally present and not wallowing in your own misery when that overtime jam hits. (Seriously, I didn’t join derby to feel unpleasant, but it pays off.)

You can always improve your skating
Always. You’ve been practicing walking since you were a baby and look at how good you are. Challenge yourself to skate better.

Be hungry
Thirst for a better understanding of the rules. Be disappointed when you don’t get the spot you want, but then go earn it. Demand opportunities and make them for yourself. Work to be the go-to for questions.

Ask questions
Ask your peers. Ask a mentor. Ask someone experienced you barely know. Ask in person. Ask on forums. Ask yourself at night. And seek the answers wherever you can.

This is more art than science
The rules may look like a set of instructions that are simple to follow (i.e., if this happens, issue this penalty), but they’re not. There is simply no way to write the rules to cover everything, and so much variation on action that simple metrics are often not possible. There is gray area that you, as an official, have to make a ruling on. At what point do two arms go from “crossed” to “linked”? How long can a player block another without moving counterclockwise before it’s sustained? Well, make a call, ref.

Dear [Elected officials who have some sway over the funding of my kid’s school],

My daughter’s school is in the middle of its annual fundraiser. I’d like to encourage you to support funding public education at a level where this is no longer necessary or to make a donation or purchase through the site yourself: [URL for fundraising site]

Respectfully,
Nick Bergus