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  • Political Predictions for 2012
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  • Handicapping the 2011 NFL MVP Race, 2.0

     

  • October 29, 2009

    Wisconsin vs. Minnesota

    [Posted by ]

    Back in the day, before a big Wisconsin/Illinois basketball game, we ran a post comparing the relative merits of Wisconsin & Illinois. With another Packers/Vikings tilt on tap for Sunday, it seemed like a great time to compare the Badger State to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

    Category
    What We Say
    Advantage
    State AnimalThe American Badger eats gophers for breakfast (and probably other meals too - although our sources cannot confirm this).
    LakesAlthough Wisconsin claims to have over 11,000 lakes, most of them are small and unnamed. In other words, the pond in my Mom's backyard might be counted as a "lake". If Minnesota used the same standards, they'd actually be the land of 20,000 lakes.
    Great LakesMinnesota has access to Lake Superior, but Wisconsin trumps that with both Superior and Lake Michigan.
    Access to alcoholIn Wisconsin, you can buy alcohol on Sundays. In Minnesota, you can sample free booze in liquor stores.Push
    FishMinnesota has lutefisk while Wisconsin has Friday night fish fry. I mean, seriously.
    Iconic football coachDennis Green vs. Vince Lombardi. Humor counts for something, but not that much.
    Attractiveness of liberal SenatorsMinnesota has Al Franken, while Wisconsin has the Senate's resident hottie, Russ Feingold
    Statues based on fictional sitcom charactersIt's hard to choose between the Fonz and Mary Tyler Moore.Push
    FoodWisconsin is known for its cheese and brats, while Minnesota gave the world the hot dish. This is probably going to shock many readers, but please keep in mind that you could make a brat & cheese hot dish. Just sayin'...
    Super Bowl VictoriesAh, ha ha ha.

    So there you have it - at the end of the day, even a Favreless Wisconsin still beats out Minnesota.

    Posted by at 12:35 PM | Comments (3)     
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    October 28, 2009

    Lessons from the Cold War

    [Posted by ]

    I just finished reading James Mann's new book, The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War, and it naturally made me think about how to use our history to approach our present international conflicts.

    Mann's basic thesis is that while Reagan & Gorbachev were able to shift with the times, their opponents were caught in the thinking that the status quo was both permanent & acceptable.

    Ironically enough, today's neoconservatives were firmly behind that status quo in the 1980s and yet their approach to the War on Terror was basically that Islamic terrorism was unacceptable, was not something the U.S. was going to learn to live with and that we were going to change the world to try get rid of it. It's almost as if, gasp! they learned something from the Cold War.

    Obama, on the other hand, seems to be about guiding the U.S. to live in a world of Islamic fundamentalism, much like Reagan's opponents were focused on coexisting with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. We're not really going to do anything other than try to be nice so they won't bug us. If we have to debase ourselves to make that happen, so be it.

    What's missing, at least to me, is the idea that there's something fundamentally wrong with that - that we have a moral obligation to stand up for freedom and for what's right. Reagan's stance towards the Soviet Union shifted with the times, but his ideals didn't. He was always a champion for freedom and only started to soften towards the Soviets when they proved they had made a commitment to greater freedom too.

    So, to me, the sad thing about these comparisons are that it seems like both approaches are flawed today. I think Obama's foreign policy is morally flawed and short sighted. I think the neocons tried to change the world and build nations without partners in the Muslim world - like if Reagan tried to free Eastern Europe without a willing Gorbachev on the other side.

    I know that no one in Washington really cares about foreign policy right now, but I do find it disheartening that for all of his talk about diplomacy and engagement, I hear absolutely nothing about Obama talking to moderates in the Arab world. Shouldn't he be seeking the Muslim Gorbachev, or at least the Muslim Lech Walesa or Vaclav Havel? We had to wait for a Gorbachev to reach the top of the Soviet monolith, but the Muslim world is luckily more diverse - they've gotta be out there somewhere.

    Or maybe that's not the real missing link. What's missing is that we don't have a Reagan.

    Posted by at 12:49 PM | Comments (0)     
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    October 25, 2009

    25 Essential Winter Songs

    [Posted by ]

    A couple of our most popular posts are our lists of essential summer songs. With another gloomy day on tap and winter looming just around the corner, it got me to thinking about essential winter songs. What makes a great winter song? To me, it's not about obviously being set in winter (although some songs are), it's a song that, in direct contrast to a summer song, makes me actively listen to it, savor it and let it sink in. A great summer song is sometimes just background music, while a great winter song is more substantial - it makes you think. It's hard for me to imagine just sitting and listening to music on a beautiful summer day, while cozying up to music is perfect in winter. It's almost like the difference between and easy-drinking summer wheat beer and a Guinness or a glass of red wine.

    As an aside, just writing that makes me realize how much I can't even fathom living somewhere without seasons. I have absolutely no idea how you'd mark the passage of time without seasons, although people obviously have for eons.

    Anyway, here are my 25 Essential Winter Songs

    1. Piano Concerto No. 2 - Moderato, by Rachmaninoff: Since we're going for complex, why not start out with some dramatic classical music? Who better than Rachmaninoff, if for no other reason than he's the undisputed king of figure skating music.

    2. Fallen Angel, by Robbie Robertson: This song was written as a tribute to Robertson's fellow member of The Band, Richard Manuel. These lines paint such an evocative winter picture:

    All the tears
    All the rage
    All the blues in the night
    If my eyes could see
    You kneeling in the silver light

    If you're out there can you touch me
    Can you see me I don't know
    If you're out there can you reach me
    Lay a flower in the snow

    3. The Ocean, by Dar Williams: I thought about choosing "February" by Williams, but this song brings the cold & rocky winter ocean to life.


    4. Overkill, by Colin Hay: A solemn winter song of self reflection.

    5. New Year's Day, by U2: Besides the obvious title, I associate this song with its snow-filled video and Poland (how come in my imagination it's always winter in Poland?).

    6. Seasons, by Chris Cornell: Cornell's song song comes from the "Singles" soundtrack and therefore is burned into my memory as a song of gray & flannel - in other words, the winters of my youth.

    7. Diamond Mine, by Blue Rodeo: This might be the perfect winter song as it's depressing, musically complex and from Canada.

    8. You've Got To Hide Your Love Away, by The Beatles: Maybe I'm being both naive and overly romantic, but I always think of this song as hiding your love away in a cozy cabin with a fireplace and bearskin rugs. Knowing The Beatles, that's probably not exactly what they were thinking.

    9. Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime, by Beck: This choice is obviously influenced by the fact that this song is from the "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" soundtrack and that listening to it makes me imagine Montauk in the winter or an iced over Charles River.

    10. Ain't Understanding Mellow, by Jerry Butler: This is the perfect song to listen to with a glass of wine and somebody to love (or a Snuggie, whatever). At first you just kind of groove along to it, but then, like the wine, it spreads through you and warms you up and you want to just listen to it again.

    11. Say When, by The Fray: The Fray have a knack for creating beautifully dark and dramatic music that's too good for a party or a crappy TV show.

    12. The Immigrant Song, by Led Zeppelin: Honestly, I had no idea this song was about Vikings. Apparently the whole "we come from the land of the ice and snow" was completely lost on me. Now that I get it, it gets on the list.

    13. Mind Flood, by Sam Roberts: Another long, complex song from Canada. This isn't as depressing as "Diamond Mine". Instead of conjuring up the sadness of winter, I feel like it brings to mind the majesty of winter and our small place in it all.

    14. White Winter Hymnal, by Fleet Foxes: As close to a Christmas song as you're going to find on this list.

    15. Wisconsin, by Bon Iver: Not only was this written in a cabin in Northern Wisconsin, it's also the murkiest song since the heyday of R.E.M. Listening to it is like being inside of a blizzard.

    16. In A Lifetime, by Clannad & Bono: This song is a cold, Irish storm - to save yourself perhaps you should just stay inside the pub and have another pint.

    17. Smoke, by Ben Folds Five: I think of the smoke literally like a typical autumn bonfire and after it's over you're left at the end with the dead of winter.

    18. Pass In Time, by Beth Orton: After that depressing Ben Folds Five song, here's a song with a more positive message - whatever it is, good times or the dark winter of the soul, it will all pass in time.

    19. Write It All Down For You, by Elliott Brood: Here's another happier winter song - in the sense that the crowd participation and inclusiveness of the music is like what might happen at a really cool family gathering (which, by the way, I'm totally going to suggest that we record a bluegrass song this Thanksgiving :).

    20. The Way You Look Tonight, by Frank Sinatra: This is a city-in-the-winter song. I picture him singing it to a woman in fabulous faux fur.

    21. Don't Forget Me When I'm Gone, by Glass Tiger: More Canadians! But really, if you're ever in a bad mood after dealing with the snow and cold, just watch the video. It's so full of ridiculously cheesy 80s goodness that it's sure to put you in a better mood, no matter the weather.

    22. Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot: This song speaks to my Upper Midwestern soul, but even if you're not from around here, you can still almost feel the cold waters of Lake Superior, can't you?

    23. Blue Monday, by New Order: I don't think winter songs need to be downbeat - this is a great example of a dance song that has so much more lurking beneath the surface than just a good beat.

    24. Skyway, by The Replacements: Another sad winter song about missed connections (pre Craigslist), isolation and stupid hats & gloves.

    25. Ice Ice Baby, by Vanilla Ice: Yo, I couldn't resist.

    Posted by at 10:43 PM | Comments (2)     
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    October 22, 2009

    Can Oregon destroy the BCS?

    [Posted by ]

    Bitching about the BCS has become a rite of fall, right up there with pumpkin carving, apple picking & Oktoberfest. While there are so many things that are unfair, stupid and just plain wrong about the BCS, for this bitch session, I want to focus on Boise State and Iowa. Now, Boise State and/or Iowa might very well lose a game or two this season. I don't necessarily think that either is the best team in the country. But that's not the point. The point is that these teams, along with countless others, are being cheated out of a chance to prove themselves because they either weren't supposed to be that good or because of how good sportswriters think they are.

    From the beginning of the season, the pundits have told us that the five best teams in the country are Florida, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma and USC. Coincidentally, four of those teams still occupy the top four spots in the polls. Aren't you amazed at how right the pundits are? I mean, you'd think that their initial perceptions might be wrong, but nope, except for Oklahoma (and really, it's not their fault - they couldn't have known Sam Bradford would get injured), the season has gone down exactly like the pundits expected. Amazing.

    The problem with this fairy tale is that major college football rankings are just self-fulfilling prophecies. If a team is supposed to be good (i.e. USC) then they're forgiven for a loss they weren't supposed to have. If a team isn't supposed to be good, they have to somehow prove to the pundits that they were wrong. Think about that. Teams like Iowa, Boise State, TCU, Cincinnati, etc. don't just have to beat teams on the field, they actually have to somehow make a bunch of self important voters admit that they were wrong. That's at least 3 to 4 times harder than beating Northwestern. Really.

    Sometimes, however, reality delightfully gets in the way of college football's predetermined path to glory. Oklahoma is a good example this year and Oregon might be another. Ah, Oregon. BCS haters should root root root for the Ducks to beat beat Washington this weekend and then defeat USC on Halloween. If that happens - it'll scare the BCS more than Sarah Palin scares liberals. You see, the better Oregon does, the harder it gets for the BCS to denigrate Boise State.

    The college football powers that be would like you to kindly forget that Boise State defeated Oregon the first week of the season. Part of their strategy to help you forget was to bury Oregon in the rankings. Don't believe me? Look at this spreadsheet. Poor Oregon lost on the road to a ranked team and was completely dropped from the rankings. That's unheard of. Hell, Oklahoma is still in the AP poll. Then, Oregon beat a ranked Utah team and still didn't get ranked. They had to crush the then #6 team in the country to get back into the poll. By comparison, Wisconsin got ranked for, uh, beating Wofford and Michigan State and having really cool fans. Were the voters trying to hold Oregon down so as to make Boise State's best win less impressive? Well, it's certainly in the BCS's best interests to do so, isn't it? It'll be awfully hard to jump a one loss team over Boise State if a team like Oregon is sitting at number 5 or 6 and playing in the Rose Bowl. I'm sure that's exactly what would happen in such a scenario, so I'm rooting for maximum outrage. Go Ducks!

    Posted by at 09:12 AM | Comments (4)     
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    October 20, 2009

    My favorite Obama story so far

    [Posted by ]

    In today's Washington Post, Ben Pershing has what is perhaps my favorite Obama story so far. With missile-like precision, Pershing gets the Obama narrative exactly right, but not in the way I suspect he wants to. Pershing writes:

    It's increasingly possible that we will look back and see that August 2009 was this election cycle's height of Republicans' optimism over their political fortunes, and the depth of Democrats' despair.

    By the time the midterm elections reach a fever pitch next year, President Obama may well have passed health-care reform, his signature domestic initiative, if not with overwhelming public support then at least with the backing of a solid majority of voters. The now common criticism that he hasn't accomplished anything will have been blunted. And while a high joblessness rate may persist, the narrative will have taken hold that the economy has either recovered or is well on its way.

    In other words, although President Obama hasn't actually done anything yet, Pershing is quite sure that he's going to do something sometime and it'll all turn out okay. Heck, we might not even have to worry about paying our gas and mortgage bills!

    In some ways, having a President who doesn't actually do anything is perfect. So I'm not complaining, just observing. The less Obama does, the less he'll screw up, right? If only more of our public servants were so dedicated.

    Posted by at 10:52 AM | Comments (1)     
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    October 19, 2009

    The yummy earth

    [Posted by ]

    I came across Yummy Earth organic candy today. Reading their ingredients FAQ was pretty enlightening. Here's a partial list of things their candy doesn't have:

    • gluten
    • eggs
    • dairy
    • peanuts
    • tree nuts
    • high fructose corn syrup
    • wheat
    • soy
    • chemical dyes

    Now, I agree that our food is over-processed, but this seems a bit extreme. I mean, people did actually die back in the old non-processed food days too.

    There's a bit on the site about how the FDA determines if something is, for example, soy or corn-free:

    By way of example, if the FDA acknowledges that today’s testing for soy can only go down to 35ppm, then it appears that any manufacturer can claim “soy-free” even if soy exists in the product at levels of 3ppm (which may not even be able to harm anyone).

    Yeah, I'm pretty sure that 3 parts per million of soy isn't going to hurt you. Your tap water can have up to .01 ppm of arsenic and more of fun stuff like lead, nitrates, etc.

    I don't think there's anything wrong with organic candy (well, other than handing it out to innocent children on Halloween who might mistake for actual candy and turning "real" candy into this awesome forbidden fruit that kids are going to eat by the handful when they get away from their organic-obsessed parents), but this demonizing of one food or ingredient is just another way that we silly Americans get away from the kind of moderation that's probably the best for us in the long run.

    Posted by at 01:06 PM | Comments (0)     
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    October 12, 2009

    Global warming

    [Posted by ]

    It's October 12th. October 12th!!!

    Posted by at 08:54 AM | Comments (1)     
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    October 09, 2009

    Nobel, not noble

    [Posted by ]

    On a day like today, when an unaccomplished lightweight like President Obama receives the same Nobel Peace Prize as giants like Mother Teresa, George Marshall, Norman Borlaug, Martin Luther King, Jr., Doctors Without Borders and Lech Walesa, it's good to remember that he's also receiving the same Nobel Peace Prize as folks like Yassar Arafat, Kofi Annan & Algore.

    The Norwegian Nobel Committee said Obama won for "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." But really, he won for not being George W. Bush. With that as the criteria, the Committee should have just randomly drawn a name from the 6,788,999,999 of us that also are not George W. Bush. Wait, let's make that number 6,788,999,993 because I'm sure they wouldn't want to award the prize to George H.W. Bush, Barbara Bush, Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney or the Bush twins either (I think they'd be fine with Laura because they'd assume she'd lord it over W. for the rest of their lives).

    Posted by at 09:24 AM | Comments (1)     
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    October 05, 2009

    Favregeddon II - Electric Boogaloo

    [Posted by ]

    From Madison.com.

    Posted by at 02:36 PM | Comments (1)     
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    Favregeddon

    [Posted by ]

    Some may think this is merely a statue atop Minnesota's Capitol. It's not. These are clearly the four horsemen of the Favregeddon.

    Posted by at 08:41 AM | Comments (1)     
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