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  • June 29, 2010

    Best songs of 2010 so far

    [Posted by kris]

    It's almost time for me to flip my Island-A-Day calendar, and so, predictably, it's also time for a "best music of the year so far" list. Here are NPR's listener picks. Here's my personal top 11 (old school Big Ten style!).

    11. Little Lion Man, by Mumford & Sons: In the true tradition of a bonus track, here's one extra song from the incomparable Mumford & Sons record. I will be absolutely shocked if something I like better comes out this year.

    10. When You Walk In The Room, by Fyfe Dangerfield: Just a fun, upbeat, happy song. It's a nice change of pace from the rest of my female-driven list here.

    9. The Gaudy Side of Town, by Gayngs: I like this dreamy song from the Minnesconsin supergroup. It works more as something to get lost into rather than to just listen to, if that makes sense.

    8. When I'm Small, by Phantogram: I love this song's deep, driving rhythm.

    7. Working This Job, by Drive-By Truckers: The Drive-By Truckers are everything the more highly regarded The Hold Steady want to be, with the added bonus that Drive-By Truckers can actually write songs with melodies.

    6. Answer In One Of These Bottles, by Caitlin Rose: It's a country song about drinking, but from the female perspective!

    5. Crash Years, by The New Pornographers: I like most of The New Pornographers' songs, but had to pick this one since it features the wonderful Neko Case the most.

    4. Tightrope, by Janelle Monae: This isn't normally my type of music, but I absolutely love this song, especially the way she says the word "scene".

    3. Dixon's Girl, by Dessa: Another cool, kinda old school song. I always get the "It's not much, but my money's on you" part stuck in my head.

    2. Sara Smile, by The Bird & The Bee: A lovely song from The Bird & The Bee's Hall & Oates cover record. I never liked Hall & Oates (Oates bugged me for some reason), but I love every song on this record. I guess I need a more open mind.

    1. The Cave, by Mumford & Sons: Finally, it's the perfect song. Seriously. It's just completely perfect.

    Posted by kris at 12:47 PM | Comments (9)     
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    June 28, 2010

    The internet is full of asshats

    [Posted by kris]

    I'm a fan of the Couch-to-5K Running Plan on Facebook. They typically post check ins so people can talk about how they're doing, ask for help and encouragement, etc. They also posts links to articles about diet and exercise like this one.

    Overall, it's a pretty cool page and most of the people following it are genuinely helpful to their fellow beginning runners. However, some people are just out-and-out asses. One woman, we'll call her Tamara Cohen, because that's her name, got bent out of shape (pardon the pun) over this passage in today's article:

    Exercise can boost metabolism for a few hours, but burning more calories can increase your appetite. To avoid the munchies after exercising (and eating back the calories you just burned), try to schedule workouts so that you have a meal within an hour afterward. Or save part of an earlier meal to eat during that time, says Fernstrom. Snacks combining carbohydrates and protein—like a fig bar and fat-free milk, or cantaloupe and yogurt—are best to refuel muscles and keep you from feeling ravenous later on.

    Ms. Cohen decided that this heinous suggestion was reason enough to bombard the C25K page with her own special brand of nutritional nazism. A few choice bits (and here's the whole thread)

    "Snacks combining carbohydrates and protein—like a fig bar and fat-free milk, or cantaloupe and yogurt." A fig bar and fat-free milk? Really? Um, eat REAL FOOD.
    I didn't say milk wasn't a real food. Fat-free milk isn't real food. How on earth is a fig bar real food?
    Well, I stated that making your own would be real food. I don't eat any processed sugar, so I sweeten things with dates and figs all the time also. But, seriously, that is NOT what this article was saying to do, nor is the average American going to do that. If the average American did that, he woudn't be fat.
    Last time I checked, milk didn't come out of a cow without fat in it. Therefore, not real food. Raw milk = real food. Whole, non-raw milk = closer to real food than skim milk.
    I don't even drink milk, hahaha. Milk is for baby cows, and I'm not a cow. But, if I was going to drink milk, it would be RAW, unpasteurized milk, which is readily available through my local, raw milk cooperative from cows that are grass fed and hormone free. I clearly stated that raw milk = real food and whole milk = closer to real food than skim ... See Moremilk. People can make their own food choices. All I said was that a store bought fig bar and skim milk are not real food. If people get into the habit of grabbing the "easiest" available food option, then they will do that again and again and then wonder why their "diet" isn't working.
    Sarah, you can call me a jackass all you want. I criticized the article, not an individual person. People on this site are generally already trying to make changes. We can't forget that most people in this country need serious help with their diet and exercise routine (or lack thereof). Giving people an easy out is not the way. Excuses only breed ... See Moremore excuses. Helping people get off their asses and change their eating habits is what I do, and I do it well. My style may not be for everyone, but that's why I'm not the only person out there who does this. If one person takes what I have to say and uses it to make a positive change, then my time was well spent.

    While people like Tamara have a point in that we should eat less processed food, cook more, etc., her entire holier-than-thou food luddite attitude is going to turn off far more people than it's going to help. Extremism in the defense of "real" food is no virtue. Really!

    So what is it about the internet that makes people think it's okay to behave like this - to treat each conversation as an opportunity to get up on their own personal pulpit? I used to think it was the anonymity of the internet, but on something like Facebook, you really do have to put your name next to your words. Could it be the lack of fear of retribution? In real life, someone like Tamara would likely get her ass kicked. Or maybe that's not it at all. Maybe someone like Tamara would be a bully regardless of the situation and all the internet does is let more of us be a witness to it.

    Lucky us!

    Posted by kris at 02:43 PM | Comments (8)     
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    June 27, 2010

    World Cup 2010: your rooting guide

    [Posted by kris]

    With the U.S. out of the World Cup now, we can all go back to not caring about soccer. But, the World Cup is pretty fun. It's a big event and with America out, why not just find another country to root for? Here's a breakdown of the remaining teams and my own personal "who to root for" rankings.

    For: Team manager Diego Maradona led Argentina to glory in the 1986 World Cup. Now he's kind of an embarrassing paunchy loon. Basically, he's the Argentinian William Shatner. We all love Shatner, right? Argentina has also been noted for playing a more fun, attacking style of soccer (i.e. they score).

    Against: Well, they won in 1986 because of the whole Hand of God goal and you may not want to root for one of the favorites.

    American sports equivalent: Dennis Green-era Arizona Cardinals

    For: Brazil has beautiful people, a cool flag, Samba baby and relatively exciting soccer players like the brilliantly named Kaka.

    Against: Again, you may not want to root for the favorites and/or you may still be upset that Rio was awarded the 2016 Olympics, screwing Chicago.

    Personal Note: If Brazil goes far, I'll be able to bust out my super cool green, Brazilian flag Havaiana flip flops. Brazil also reminds me of the incredible movie City of God, which is about 20 times more exciting than any soccer match.

    American sports equivalent: Los Angeles Lakers.

    For: Chile is playing with a tattered flag found in the wreckage of this year's earthquake and tsunami as inspiration. You gotta like that. You also probably enjoy some lovely Chilean wines, right?

    Against: Perhaps you're troubled by the fact that a country named Chile doesn't make Chili? Or maybe you're a snob who only likes old world wines?

    American sports equivalent: New Orleans Saints.

    For: We share a language, laws and history with the English people. The further the English go, the more insane their tabloids will get and that's always fun.

    Against: That Wayne Rooney character just has one of those faces you want to punch. Also, you almost have to root for an eventual English flameout because a horrifying loss will make for far more sensational tabloid coverage. In many ways, the English seem like Cubs or Red Sox fans - they're just waiting for something awful to happen so they can revel in their own misery.

    American sports equivalent: Chicago Cubs.

    For: Germany has given us Oktoberfest, fast cars and the tennis genius of Steffi Graf. Their black uniforms are by far the coolest left in the tourney. If you have German heritage they're probably an easy pick for you.

    Against: Well there's Hitler and WWI and WWII, we probably don't need much more, right?

    American sports equivalent: Indianapolis Colts.

    For: They're the only African team left. Plus, they beat the U.S. and you always kind of want the team that beat you to do well. Their success reflects back on you.

    Against: The player who faked an injury against the U.S. to waste time was just absolutely ridiculous.

    Personal Note: My Mom's church had a priest from Ghana for awhile. I went to his Christmas Eve mass and it was just wonderful and delightful - everything that I'd think church should be. He made me like Ghana by extension.

    American sports equivalent: Ohio State Buckeyes.

    For: They have a cool team name (Blue Samurai) and their best player is named Keisuke Honda, so if you love your Honda, this team is probably for you.

    Against: If you have a Toyota, maybe you're still a little ticked though. Also, you're allowed to still root against them just because of WWII.

    American sports equivalent: Boise State Broncos.

    For: It's the neighborly thing to do. Again, if you have Mexican heritage, it's an easy choice.

    Against: Besides being ticked off over the whole border situation, Mexican fans are huge asshats to Americans - they've thrown bottles of urine on American fans and have been known to chant "Osama" at games against the U.S. Stay classy, Mexico.

    American sports equivalent: Oakland Raiders.

    For: The whole orange thing is pretty cool. Per "Band of Brothers, U.S. troops absolutely loved the Dutch above all people in Europe and god knows Americans still love Amsterdam.

    Against: Netherlands is pretty much an underachiever in the World Cup. They're supposed to be really good, but their best finish is a 4th place in 1998. They're not a flashy favorite or a shocking upset - they're just kinda there in the middle. Ho hum.

    Personal Note: Besides the English, the Dutch are my personal last ethnic connection in the Cup.

    American sports equivalent: Cleveland Cavaliers.

    For: Paraguay is one of only two entirely landlocked countries in the Western Hemisphere, which is an interesting geographical fact.

    Against: Chalk it up to typical American ignorance, but Paraguay just seems like it's there rather than that it's something special.

    American sports equivalent: Jacksonville Jaguars.

    For: Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in continental Europe, is stunningly beautiful. I also fondly recall that Portugal was the scene of the classic diesel incident on season three of the Amazing Race.

    Against: I'm not at all a fan of port wine. Also, doesn't Portugal just seem like the Jan to Spain's Marcia?

    American sports equivalent: Chicago White Sox.

    For: Slovakia is the biggest longshot on the board and they qualified with a victory over Poland in the snow. Snow! That's like real football. They're the only eastern and/or central European team left in the Cup, so they're a natural for all those of you of that descent.

    Against: They knocked Italy out of the World Cup, which probably ticked off a lot of people. They really are a huge longshot, so if you decide to root for them, you'll probably have to quickly find a new team.

    American sports equivalent: Milwaukee Brewers.

    For: They're one of the favorites, but they've never done that well at the World Cup, so it wouldn't be the same old, same old like it might for Argentina, Germany or Brazil. Spanish wine is absolutely wonderful and how can you root against a country that gave the world sangria?

    Against: They are one of the favorites, so if you're looking for a Cinderella team, they're not it.

    Personal Note: My nephew is in Spain for the summer, so it'd probably be really fun for him if they won it all.

    American sports equivalent: Miami Dolphins.

    For: Uruguay was the first true international soccer power, so they're the hip, retro pick. Also, let's not forget that the kids from Alive were Uruguayan rugby players who would probably greatly enjoy a Uruguay victory. And since they had to eat their friends wouldn't you agree that deserve some happiness later in life?

    Against: They have won two World Cups, so maybe you'd prefer to root for a team that has never won instead.

    American sports equivalent: Chicago Blackhawks.

    So, with all of that in mind, here's my personal rooting order:

    1. Germany
    2. Uruguay
    3. Netherlands
    4. Chile
    5. Slovakia
    6. Brazil
    7. Japan
    8. Argentina
    9. Ghana
    10. Spain
    11. England
    12. Portugal
    13. Paraguay
    14. Mexico

    (note - rankings changed to reflect the surprising hotness & panache of the Germans)

    (note - rankings changed again as I can't possibly be expected to root against Germany. Seriously, the U.S. was lucky to have played Ghana. How badly would we have lost to the Germans? 8-0?)

    Posted by kris at 08:45 AM | Comments (4)     
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    June 26, 2010

    A modest proposal for five more holidays

    [Posted by kris]

    I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that I have to work July 5th. Because Independence Day falls on a Sunday, my employer decided that instead of giving us Friday or Monday off, we'll just get 8 hours added to our vacation bank for the year. That's okay until you realize that everyone else has a three-day weekend and things like the post office, bus routes, etc. are closed that day. Basically, it sucks.

    Real holidays in America are far too precious and few. I've long advocated for an expansion of national holidays, but I've finally come to a more complete proposal. And seriously America, why aren't we trying to get this done? We can ask for lower taxes and/or more benefits, but why aren't we asking for more vacation? As anyone who's negotiated a job offer can tell you, you can almost always get more vacation.

    I'm not sure how this can be made official, but I figure that if the federal government can create a minimum wage, they can also can also create a minimum holiday schedule to cover non-retail, non-essential services workers too, right?

    So anyway, here's my plan for five additional national holidays, which would still put America way behind the rest of the world.

    1. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15th and his national holiday is, I think, the third Monday in January. That's just stupid. No one wants a day off in the middle of January after they've just had time off for Christmas and New Year's Day. If we're not going to have the holiday on King's actual birthday then it makes far more sense to move it to February (which is also Black History Month) and celebrate his birthday on the Monday after the Super Bowl. This gives us about six weeks from New Year's Day, which is enough time to want a day off and lets us properly celebrate our biggest sporting event of the year.

    2 and 3. I know I've mentioned this before, but it's such a good idea that I'll repeat myself. We need "March Madness Days" to coincide with the first Thursday & Friday of the NCAA tournament. Besides the fact that nobody does any work those days anyway, a four-day weekend would fall a nice six weeks from Martin Luther King/Super Bowl weekend and would further break up the long, long, long stretch of holiday-less drudgery from New Years to Memorial Day. Imagine how the four day weekend would benefit retailers and tourism. It'd be a boon.

    4. I figure the summer is pretty well covered with a holiday every six weeks or so. But then again we have a long stretch from Labor Day to Thanksgiving. It's nearly three months without a break. That's too long. What we need is to make up a holiday for either the second or third Friday of October. Something like Park Day or Nature Day, with the idea being that this is a day set aside to celebrate the natural beauty of our great land during the beautiful autumn season. There will also be football.

    5. Finally, I figure that some miserly employers will use these new federally mandated holidays to try to take away the day after Thanksgiving which so many of them have just started included in the holiday calendar. We can't let this happen. So, we're going to make it a holiday and call it Black Friday and celebrate shopping. And, there will also be football. And pie.

    How can we make this happen? Is it so ridiculous that we should want five more national holidays? I think it's ridiculous that we don't have them. I think this is a pretty simple way to make most Americans a hell of a lot happier.

    Posted by kris at 11:46 AM | Comments (3)     
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    June 23, 2010

    Give it up soccerphiles, it ain't gonna happen

    [Posted by kris]

    With the U.S.'s glorious last-minute victory in the World Cup today, they're at it again. You know them, the folks who came that at last America is ready to embrace soccer. Really. They mean it this time.

    I'm here to again say that it's not going to happen. Oh sure, we're all excited about the World Cup. It's a big event and that's exciting. But, it's like the Olympics. We care about soccer in the way we care about swimming, downhill skiing and track and field. That is to say, that we don't really care about it at all, especially if Americans aren't doing well. Other than a small hardcore following, the rest of us will only pay attention every few years and shout "USA!" when appropriate, but we're certainly not going to care on a day to day basis.

    Don't believe me? I'll run this poll again (I ran a similar poll last World Cup) and we'll see:

    You can either...
    Watch the United States win the World Cup
    Give your favorite NFL team one extra first down, to be used when you choose
  free polls

    Posted by kris at 07:30 PM | Comments (4)     
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    June 21, 2010

    The quiet life

    [Posted by kris]

    Despite its many historical inaccuracies, I've been a big fan of the recently ended series The Tudors. Besides enjoying the dramatizations of historical figures I've read about for years, I've also loved getting introduced to new characters, like Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey. Surrey was a passionate, arrogant man who eventually lost his head. But before that, he was famed as a soldier/poet who helped introduce the sonnet to English. One of his translated works was The Things That Cause a Quiet Life:

    My friend, the things that do attain
    The happy life be these, I find:
    The riches left, not got with pain,
    The fruitful ground; the quiet mind;

    The equal friend; no grudge, no strife;
    No charge of rule nor governance;
    Without disease the healthy life;
    The household of continuance;

    The mean diet, no dainty fare;
    True wisdom joined with simpleness;
    The night discharged of all care,
    Where wine the wit may not oppress;

    The faithful wife, without debate;
    Such sleeps as may beguile the night:
    Content thyself with thine estate,
    Neither wish death, nor fear his might.

    I'm drawn to that first stanza again and again. I very much like the idea of the "quiet mind", even if I don't know how to achieve it.

    But something nags at me - are those of us who strive for the quiet life just free riders? Are we achieving peacefulness on the backs of the thinkers and doers that are striving for greatness? I suppose that's okay, but would society advance if everyone was satisfied? If there was no necessity, wouldn't we lack invention?

    I saw an exhibit at the Mill City Museum last week that featured art by Native American artists relating their relationship to the land around the museum. One artist (I don't remember who) basically presented their work as showing the perfection of the world before the white man and how their life's work was to "bear witness" to how awful we are now. I can't tell you how much that attitude annoys me, but also makes me wonder if I'm right and a society has to trade progress for the quiet life.

    Of course, on the individual level it's different, I think. It's not so much making a choice between progress and satisfaction as it is in being thoughtful about what makes you happy. But if you're thoughtful is your mind quiet? Argh, I'm thinking about this all too much already! Damn you, Henry Howard!

    Posted by kris at 09:29 PM | Comments (0)     
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    What is sport (baby don't hurt me)

    [Posted by kris]

    As is often the case, the best stuff in this Tiger Woods article was in the comments. Specifically this:

    Watching professional sports is a method used by the elites to keep the masses humble and submissive. (Similar to religion.) All of you sports watchers have weak minds. Get off the sofa and accomplish something with your dwindling lives.

    On one hand this smacks of one of my least favorite attitudes, the old "You care about something I don't - therefore your life isn't as awesome as mine". On the other hand, I know that sports have been used to both distract and unite the population, so maybe there's something to it.

    So, are we all fools to care about sports? No, of course not. I don't know about you, but sometimes I really do need a distraction. I want to sit on my sofa and accomplish absolutely nothing with my dwindling life. Some days, that's awesome. Have you ever been around someone who has to be doing something meaningful and important every second of their life. Of course you haven't, because a person like that would literally not have a single friend. Sports are a way to give our brains some badly needed time off. That's not a sign of a weak mind, it's a sign of a mind well tended to.

    Sports also gives us badly needed camaraderie. People don't live in such closely knit groups anymore and sports give us a way to connect with our neighbors as well as thousands of anonymous strangers. Seeing, for example, a Green Bay Packers hat on a stranger in a California airport gives us an instant connection that nothing else can. When you get down to it, isn't a huge part of life about making connections. Sure the most important connections are love & friendship, but there's certainly something to be said for that kind of passing kinship too.

    Finally, I think that commenter ignores sport as a celebration. People used to love watching Tiger Woods because he was brilliant. He could do something better than anyone else in the world. It's the same reason Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps were such hits at the Olympics. There's a joy to seeing mankind at its best. Sports is one of the few ways we can celebrate ourselves like that. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think there's something very wrong with a person who can't appreciate that and can't look beyond their own self to revel in the accomplishments of others.

    Posted by kris at 12:06 PM | Comments (0)     
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    June 17, 2010

    As the politicians tweet

    [Posted by kris]

    I was logging in to Twitter today and one of the highlighted tweets was this from SpeakerPelosi:

    Americans are suffering in the Gulf while Republicans apologize to Big Oil. We need clean energy now. #BPhearing

    The idea that the Speaker of the House, an alleged "leader" would take the time to tweet something so relentlessly political rather than, you know, talking about what we're going to do to fix the problem pissed me off enough that I had to respond to her.

    And, I wasn't the only one. Politicians don't get it yet - the internet really isn't a forum for them to spit out their talking points anymore. People are sick of it. Pelosi, like so many others, however, is tone deaf. But the good people let her have it:

    @SpeakerPelosi When you talk negatively about "Republicans" you are alienating Americans. QUIT being divisive, we are tired of that
    And what are #Congress & #POTUS doing, beside slinging mud?
    @SpeakerPelosi how will clean energy help us clean up the Gulf exactly? I mean, its not like ignoring the real issue will make it go away.
    @SpeakerPelosi Way to spend time doing that rather than fixing America
    @SpeakerPelosi oh blow it out your ass. you don't have any solutions either so until you can think of something PRODUCTIVE stop bitching
    I would advise @SpeakerPelosi to stop tweeting negatively about Repubs and DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE OIL SPILL! People are SUFFERING down here.

    See a full screenshot here.

    Right now, Democrats and Republicans alike seem to view the "solution" to the oil spill as being not blamed for it. So, the problem isn't oil spilling, the problem is how it affects their party in the elections. Awesome. While that image above has its share of whackjobs and retweeters, it's mostly full of people reminding these "leaders" that their job isn't to get themselves reelected. How refreshing!

    Posted by kris at 01:46 PM | Comments (16)     
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    June 15, 2010

    Nine American sports traditions more annoying than a vuvuzela

    [Posted by kris]

    South Africa's vuvuzelas have gotten a lot of flack in the past week due to their loud, annoying, incessant BBBBBBBBBBBZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. However, it doesn't look like they're going to banned from the World Cup anytime soon. The message from soccer's organizing body, FIFA, is that we've gotta respect this South African fan tradition.

    As an American, I think we should understand this perfectly well. We have plenty of annoying and offensive traditions of our own. Here are my top nine.

    9. Minnesota chant. Amazingly enough, the University of Minnesota teaches its students how to spell their state's name. See, they may be at the bottom of the Big Ten, but they're not SEC stupid. The only redeeming feature of the Minnesota chant is that it's only done when their team scores, which isn't often.

    8. Florida State War Chant This one is worse than Minnesota in that it's more droning, repetitive and slightly racist. Oh, and there are arm motions.

    7. Take Me Out To The Ballgame. Be honest, isn't a typical Cubs' "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" far worse for your ears than the white noise of the vuvuzelas? Plus, it's the Cubs. Ick.

    6. The Wave. With the exception of the Camp Randall slow wave, waves basically consist of drunk people spilling stuff, shouting "WOOOO!" and not paying attention to the game they're supposed to be watching. America, what hast thou wrought?

    5. Sausage Race. Besides the vaguely offensive ethnic stereotypes, what about the vegetarians!?!

    4. The Victors. Michigan's fight song isn't bad, but they just play it too often. You've gotta either choose your moment or be like the vuvuzelas and be on all the time.

    3. White Outs. Don't you think the rest of the non-white world is a little freaked out by this?

    2. Eat Sh*t.... Seriously, Wisconsin fans...we don't have a leg to stand on when it comes to the vuvuzelas.

    1. Detroit Octopus. Would you rather hear some buzzing or would you rather see slimy dead animals on the ice? I say BBBBBZZZZZZZZZZ all the way!

    Posted by kris at 11:37 AM | Comments (14)     
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    June 14, 2010

    Reagan on immigration

    [Posted by kris]

    One of the most frustrating things about being a conservative today are the policies promoted in the name of the conservative movement that are pretty much the opposite of what I believe conservatives should theoretically stand for. The first obvious example is gay marriage and adoption (why should a conservative advocate that government care about your sexual orientation?), but a second example is immigration.

    Ronald Reagan is the undisputed king of the modern conservative movement in America. So, looking at conservative policies today you'd probably assume that Reagan wanted to round up all of the illegal aliens, erect a huge wall and said something about wanting to keep America for Americans.

    You'd be wrong.

    In the late 1970s, Reagan proposed a treaty that would have allowed full freedom of movement for workers throughout North America. He signed the 1986 immigration reform act that gave over amnesty to over 3 million illegal immigrants. In his farewell address he again shared his vision of America:

    I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.

    You see that? I don't notice anything that says "unless you're unskilled and/or Mexican".

    To be fair, Reagan also advocated heavy fines for employers that still hired illegal immigrants, but he was pushing for a humane solution that punished people trying to exploit illegal immigrants, rather than punishing illegal immigrants for trying to better their lives.

    To me, that's a very conservative response - one that is optimistic and assumes the best of the individual and one that believes in the importance of opportunity and the enduring American dream.

    Ilya Somin at Volokh has it exactly right when he says:

    The fact that Reagan supported something does not by itself prove that it is right, or even that it is the right position for conservatives. Reagan certainly made his share of mistakes, such as the extremely grave error of trading arms for hostages with Iran. But as Cannon notes, Reagan's positive attitude towards immigration was not just an isolated issue position, but was integrally linked to his generally optimistic and open vision of America. I would add that it also drew on his understanding that America is not a zero-sum game between immigrants and natives - just as he also recognized that it is not a zero-sum game between the rich and the poor. Immigration could promote prosperity and advancement for both groups in much the same way that free trade benefits both Americans and foreigners. Reagan probably did not have a detailed understanding of the economics of comparative advantage which underpins this conclusion. But he surely understood it intuitively. Those who reject Reagan's position on immigration must, if they are to be consistent, also reject much of the rest of his approach to economic and social policy. Today's conservatives can argue for immigration restrictions if they so choose. But they should not claim the mantle of Reagan in doing so.

    Sadly, I think the new modern conservative movement is more literal. It's social movement about "family values" rather than an economic or social movement about freedom.

    Reagan used to be a Democrat. I don't think he'd be a Democrat today, but I have my doubts that he'd be a Republican.

    Posted by kris at 09:23 AM | Comments (23)     
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    June 11, 2010

    Brush piles & straw men

    [Posted by kris]

    I enjoy reading about the city of Madison government. It's a government that can't afford to salt its streets, but can send its leadership to Amsterdam to learn about European bike culture. In Madison, the city can afford a shiny new downtown homeless shelter library, but can't afford timely brush pickup.

    This is a predictable predicament for Madison. And, as such, the article's comments follow the usual pattern: taxes, Bush, Cheney, Obama, liberals, tea baggers. And, then, of course, there's this:

    where are the tea-baggers who bitch about big government/municipal services?

    Nice argument, but only a few fringers truly equate big government with municipal services. Small government doesn't mean no government and even wacky libertarians are mostly content to pay taxes for services rendered. The problem, which comments like this try to skate by, is where government reaches down too far into its citizens lives - whether it's their sex lives, their speech or their ability to run a business. No one is bitching about government abuse of snow plowing.

    Posted by kris at 09:05 AM | Comments (1)     
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    June 10, 2010

    Gimme just one reason

    [Posted by kris]

    Sometimes when I'm searching for inspiration I like to go to Soul Pancake. Usually, I'll find a thought or question that'll provoke a response that'll end up being the spark for something.

    Today it's this question: Does there have to be a reason for everything?

    Is it necessary for everything within a belief system to fundamentally trace back to a creator or a genesis or even a big bang, a huge raison d'etre for everything? Or can we handle the idea that some things might exist independently of an owner and a cause?

    I was thinking about this in tandem with this story about a woman who was killed by lightning just minutes before her boyfriend was going to propose to her on a beloved mountaintop.

    When something like that, or really nearly any other tragedy, happens, the overwhelming urge is to try to console the person with the thought that there's a reason behind it. That there's a greater good working behind the scenes of the terrible tragedy.

    I don't know about that. I mean, I really want to believe in fate and that things happen for a reason and there's a pattern, or at least karma, in the world, but all evidence points to the contrary.

    But there's comfort in those concepts, which must by why we keep coming back to them and why our belief systems are built around them. But really, shouldn't there be equal comfort in abandoning those ideas? How free would you feel if you weren't worried about karma biting you in the ass? If we were less concerned with fate would we live more in the moment? Heck, if we just stop analyzing everything for its fit in the patterns we created wouldn't that be liberating?

    Of course, it's probably all easier said than done. If you see an old friend it's more fun to think that there's a higher power directing your encounter than to realize that the only direction involved are the ones you both took to that particular destination. That's boring. Meaning is food for thought.

    Or maybe fate & karma are more like cliches? We use those concepts to tell a story and tie it up with a neat bow. Maybe without that it'd free us creatively to come up the conclusions we want, patterns be damned?

    Posted by kris at 02:29 PM | Comments (0)     
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    June 08, 2010

    Peeking through the veil of ignorance again

    [Posted by kris]

    I read a lot of political philosophy back in college. I distinctly remember disliking the work of John Rawls mostly because I thought it created a society that was basically unfair in the name of social justice. But, that was years ago. When I come across things like this I always wonder if time has changed my opinion.

    Rawls' philosophy is based on the idea of the veil of ignorance, which says that if you didn't know what role you'd have in society and whether you'd be rich, poor, smart, dumb, etc. you'd choose a society that provided most equally for everyone regardless of your advantages or disadvantages.

    Rawls' idea of an original position also goes on to state:

    Rawls specifies that the parties in the original position are concerned only with citizens' share of what he calls primary social goods, which include basic rights as well as economic and social advantages. Rawls also argues that the representatives in the original position would adopt the maximin rule as their principle for evaluating the choices before them. Borrowed from game theory, maximin stands for maximizing the minimum, i.e. making the choice that produces the highest payoff for the least advantaged position. Thus, maximin in the original position represents a formulation of social equality.

    I think this all sounds well and good, except for two things:

    1. People don't make choices with the assumption that they'll be the loser. They choose thinking they'll be the fortunate one. See: the lottery.

    2. Making the highest payoff for the least advantaged position is not necessarily to the advantage of society at large. See: the progressive income tax.

    To me, I still think Rawls' political philosophy crushes the individual and mires a society in sluggish mediocrity. It implies that all advantages or disadvantages within society can be somehow quantified and are unearned. It implies that all benefits are derived from the government rather than derived from nature. It implies that people are completely self-interested and society has to be built to force a charitable nature. I see in Rawls the genesis of things like affirmative action and the cult of the victim that violate my basic sense of fairness.

    So, yeah, in review, still not a fan of Rawls. I do hope that I find my opinion changed about a few political philosophers.

    Posted by kris at 08:55 AM | Comments (22)     
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    June 07, 2010

    How to 'fix' the Triple Crown

    [Posted by kris]

    A lot of ABC's Belmont Stakes coverage centered around how horse racing can "fix" the Triple Crown, presumably since it's a bad thing that it hasn't been won in 32 years.

    Most proposals raise two issues: first, the size of the Derby field and second, the space between the three races.

    I would wholeheartedly support limiting the Kentucky Derby to 14 starters. A field of 14 provides a better chance for a real horse race rather than a roller derby on hooves.

    However, adding more space between the races simply exacerbates one of the worst trends in racing, which is the treatment of racehorses as hothouse flowers. It seems like the top horses almost never run anymore. Zenyatta will only have her third race of the year this weekend and top older horse Quality Road raced over Memorial Day and will now get a break until August. While it'd be nice to have a Triple Crown winner, it'd be even nicer to see top horses on the track more often. We shouldn't adjust the Triple Crown in a way that discourages that kind of training behavior.

    Of course, these are all moot points because horse racing has no central authority that can make these changes. Maryland can change the date of the Preakness and there's nothing Kentucky can do about it. Limiting the Derby field might help NYRA because there might be more horses going for the Triple Crown, but doing so might cost Churchill Downs money, so they're not going to do it. Unfortunately, the biggest problem in thoroughbred racing isn't the lack of a Triple Crown winner, it's the lack of any powerful entity that has a long-term interest in the health of the sport.

    Horse racing might still luck its way into a Triple Crown winner, but they're not going to luck their way into any lasting relevance on the American sports calendar.

    Posted by kris at 11:41 AM | Comments (1)     
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    June 06, 2010

    Press One for English

    [Posted by kris]

    One of my Facebook friends posted this video yesterday:

    Besides being a terrible song, it's seems terribly mean-spirited, doesn't it? It's one thing to say or think that recent immigrants and their kids should learn English as soon as possible because it's economically and socially essential, but it's another to say, as this song does, that once you get here you should stop speaking your native tongue.

    So basically, the song says that immigrants to America you should stop having your culture and adopt American culture. Isn't that completely backwards? I thought America was a melting pot that absorbed the best of the world, rather than a hammer stamping out non-conformity?

    I'll admit it. I'm annoyed by having the press "1" for English. But I'm annoyed by a lot of things. As a country, I think we're far better off with an annoyed me and native-Spanish speaker who can better understand what she's doing on the IVR. And you know, even if every recent immigrant immediately took ESL classes, wouldn't they still need lots of initial help? Are subtitles really that big of a deal?

    I was getting a pedicure yesterday and the Thai woman next to me was telling her girl about how her daughter was raising money to go to a cheerleading competition in Florida. She was struggling with the word "competition" and apologized rather self-consciously a couple of times for her English. At that point I inserted myself into the conversation to just tell her that, my God, her English was great. She had only been in America for four years, she told me. I told her that if were living in Thailand for four years I'd probably still be lost. Most Americans would be. We're spoiled because English is an international language. But the kicker is that part of the reason that it's so widely used is because it's flexible - new words are easily absorbed into it. Salsa, karaoke, schadenfreude, namaste & ennui are all "English" words now too. I have high hopes that one day we'll answer the phone with "moshi, moshi".

    Should we really try to stop this kind of evolution of our country and our language? I mean, isn't that part of what made America great? Does the Spanish language or Southeast Asian culture threaten our American ideals of "life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness" or does it just make us uncomfortable because it's different?

    Posted by kris at 10:59 AM | Comments (28)     
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    June 04, 2010

    Gulf oil spill worst case scenario

    [Posted by kris]

    I haven't really posted or written anything about the gulf oil spill because, frankly, the whole thing is just too depressing. However, this cartoon from is a) funny as hell and b) makes a good point about how journalists obsess about the sensational and the political.

    Posted by kris at 09:27 AM | Comments (0)     
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    2010 Belmont Stakes - Picks

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our Belmont coverage)

    My brother has been waiting to pick Ice Box in the Belmont Stakes for five weeks now. For that same five weeks, I've been waiting to point out that the Belmont is not necessarily won by a flashy closer. Then, however, I looked at my chart of past winners and realized just how few front runners really do win the Belmont. In my chart, I define stalkers as horses who had the lead by the top of the stretch and closers as horses who took the lead in the stretch. Since 1979, stalkers and closers have each won 45% of Belmonts.

    Knowing that, I can't so easily pooh pooh Ice Box. Drat.

    Personally, I think the race comes down to three horses: Ice Box, Preakness runner up First Dude and impressive Dwyer Stakes winner Fly Down. I think all three colts should be able to get the distance and all three have run similar figures. In the end, it'll come down to how the race is run.

    First Dude is literally the only speed in the race and I think he'll take the lead and attempt to wire the field. But keep in mind that this doesn't mean he's going to go speed crazy on the front end. Nope, he's going to go exactly as fast as he needs to stay in front. I suspect that that won't be very fast. First Dude is a huge horse - he's not the type to make a bold move, but rather the type to set a fast rhythm and keep going. Ice Box and Fly Down, on the other hand, are going to want to come from behind. However, given the likely slow pace scenario, they can't be too far behind as First Dude isn't likely to just collapse on the lead. But given that jockeys are typically kind of dumb, I suspect that both colts will be too far off the lead and will have too much to do in the stretch.

    The picks:

    First Dude
    Fly Down
    Ice Box

    Who do you like?

    Who will win the Belmont Stakes
    Dave In Dixie
    Spangled Star
    Make Music For Me
    Fly Down
    Ice Box
    Game On Dude
    Stately Victor
    Stay Put
    First Dude
  free polls
    Posted by kris at 08:52 AM | Comments (2)     
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    June 03, 2010

    Obit modifiers

    [Posted by kris]

    I was struck by how similar the headlines were announcing the recent deaths of Dennis Hopper and Gary Coleman:

    "Hollywood hellraiser Dennis Hopper dead at 74"
    "Former child star Gary Coleman dead at 42"

    I didn't realize there was such a strict format, but clearly there is: modifiers - name - age.

    As with any pattern, my first instinct is to think about how to apply it going forward. So, for example, what two or three word phrase would be used to describe other notables when they pass on?

    Some are pretty obvious, like "Troubled starlet Lindsay Lohan" or "'Pretty Woman' Julia Roberts" or "Material Girl Madonna", so that's no fun. So, I looked at the list of Greatest Americans to find some more subjects for modification:

    "Miserable Failure George W. Bush"
    "Cigar Lover Bill Clinton"
    "Internet inventor Al Gore"
    "Successful Nerd Bill Gates"
    "Cycling Fraud Lance Armstrong"
    "Sweater-Wearing Comedian Bill Cosby"
    "Top Scientologist Tom Cruise"
    "Yooge Real Estate Tycoon Donald Trump"
    "Lions QB Brett Favre"

    You get the idea. So how would you succinctly describe famous folks? How would you describe yourself? Personally, I'm rooting for "Gun-toting granny".

    Posted by kris at 07:07 AM | Comments (3)     
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    June 02, 2010

    2010 Belmont - Pedigree Profiles

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our Belmont coverage)

    The Belmont Stakes, run at 1 1/2 miles, is a rarity in American thoroughbred racing. None of the horses in the race have ever run this far before and very few will ever run this far again. Horses today are typically bred to excel up to a mile or 1 1/8. Every once in awhile we get a true stayer, but often times the Belmont is won in staggering fashion by the horse who is simply the least tired.

    While precocity is a key to the Kentucky Derby and class crucial in the Preakness, I think the Belmont comes down to pedigree. Who has the best chance to stay the distance. As is my custom, I've put together spreadsheet detailing past Belmont winners and this year's field. One of the first factors I want to take a look at is pedigree.

    Right off of the bat, if you look at Belmont winners since Affirmed, you'll see the sire power just leap off of your screen: Majestic Prince, Mr. Prospector, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Pleasant Colony, Storm Cat, Kingmambo, Unbridled, Deputy Minister, A.P. Indy & Tiznow. These are the elite sires of the breed. One thing to remember is that elite sires are bred to elite mares (think Tom Brady & Gisele Bundchen), so our Belmont winners have breeding to spare.

    But that's just half of the story. Even elite sires don't necessarily guarantee that a horse is capable of getting the Belmont distance. In addition to top sire power, a Belmont winner needs stamina influences. While some stamina influences are obvious (I'm looking at you, Princequillo), others are subjective - sure, Mr. Prospector sired Belmont winners, but he's not really a stamina influence. To take away some of that confusion, I looked at how many Belmont winners were in a typical Belmont winner's 5 generation pedigree. On average, it's a little over 3 - although some horses have far more. In fact, the remarkable Easy Goer, has 8 in his five generation pedigree.

    Among this year's field, note that Fly Down has 11 Belmont winners in his pedigree (although, to be fair, it's really only 7 different horses as he has multiple strains of Native Dancer & Nashua). Likely favorite Ice Box has 8 Belmont winners. So, let's take a closer look at the field.

    Dave In Dixie: is by an okay, not elite sire, Dixie Union and to me anyway, nothing in his pedigree shouts "stayer" to me.

    Spangled Star: is by the fast miler Distorted Humor, but his broodmare sire is the stamina influence Kris S. and he's got Alysheba up close in his pedigree too. This one could go either way. If he's like his sire, I wouldn't expect much, but if he takes after his mom's side of the family, he could have a shot.

    Uptowncharlybrown: has a pedigree with way more speed than stamina (and only 1 Belmont winner in the bunch). I wouldn't like him at 10 furlongs, much less 12.

    Make Music For Me: has lots of Belmont winners back in his pedigree, but both his sire and broodmare sire are speedier types. He did rally well to finish 4th in the Kentucky Derby, but there's nothing, at least on paper, that makes me think he wants the Belmont distance.

    Fly Down: is by A.P. Indy's Horse of the Year son Mineshaft and out of a Fly So Free mare. He's got 11 Belmont winners in his pedigree, so it's probably pretty foolish to think he couldn't duplicate their accomplishments. As a caveat though, let me point out that he comes from the speedier descendants of those Belmont winners. For example, he has Damascus in his pedigree, but it's through his speediest sons and grandsons. I'm just not sure how much real Belmontishness he has.

    Ice Box: is the likely favorite. I loved his pedigree for the Kentucky Derby and while his sire Pulpit is one of the speedier sons of A.P. Indy, you can't deny a horse that a horse has stamina coming out of his ears when both of his grandsires won the Belmont and that that's just the tip of the iceberg (or Ice Box). I see no reason he can't go the distance.

    Drosselmeyer: is another son of the quick Distorted Humor and like Spangled Star, he's got a lot of stamina influences on his dam's side. He's got Nijinsky, Princequillo and Seattle Slew through his excellent son Slew O'Gold. It's a solid B-.

    Game On Dude: is by the good sire Awesome Again and even though there's only one Belmont winner in his pedigree, it's just full of good, honest horses. I doubt that Game On Dude is good enough to win, but I wouldn't blame his breeding for that.

    Stately Victor: is by Horse of the Year Ghostzapper and out of a Dynaformer mare. Dynaformer is an excellent stamina influence, as is Relaunch, but overall I don't see a lot of reason to expect Stately Victor to get the distance.

    Stay Put: is a grandson of Unbridled. Even though Unbridled didn't win his Belmont, he's certainly put his own stamp on the race as 3 of the last 7 winners descend from him in male line. Besides Unbridled, Stay Put has Le Fabuleaux, Nijinsky and Prince John in his pedigree. Again, he might not be good enough, but it's not his ancestors' fault!

    First Dude: is a grandson of Belmont winner A.P. Indy and has 6 total Belmont winners in his pedigree, as well as other horses like Relaunch, Seattle Slew, Secretariat and Nodouble. I really like this pedigree for the Belmont.

    Interactif: is another grandson of Unbridled and in addition to that one he's got horses like the tough Broad Brush, the great Personal Ensign and Damascus in his pedigree. This is another one should be able to get the distance.

    Top three:
    1. First Dude
    2. Ice Box
    3. Stay Put

    Posted by kris at 05:22 PM | Comments (2)     
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    Five years later: the internet & our common culture

    [Posted by kris]

    I was cruising through our archives and came across this post from 2005 about an art critic's claim that blogging was destroying our common culture:

    The common culture of widely shared values and knowledge that once helped to unite Americans of all creeds, colors, and classes no longer exists. In its place, we now have a “balkanized” group of subcultures whose members pursue their separate, unshared interests in an unprecedented variety of ways.

    At the time, my response was that:

    A common culture doesn't require Americans to have similiar political or religious beliefs. This country has, with a few exceptions in times of crisis, always been divided politically. I think it's a mistake to define our commonality through our beliefs. America was founded on an idea that men and women could be free regardless of their political or religious beliefs...

    I contend that America isn't what it is because of Life Magazine or The Book of the Month Club. American culture is best defined by the concept of the American Dream, which is, of course, derived from the simple concept of "Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness". What binds us together isn't what we read, watch or listen to, it's our common goal to live the American Dream. People don't (and never did) risk their lives to come to America to drink Coca-Cola or watch MTV. They come here for freedom and opportunity. They want to speak their minds without fear of a knock on the door in the middle of the night. They want to enjoy a sunny day with a brat and a beer. They want their children to have a chance at a better life than they themselves had. That is what makes us Americans.

    So five years later, where are we? People still blog, but social media has exploded. Instead of splintering into narrow interest groups that never meet, we've congregated at Facebook. It's the complete opposite of what this art critic expected. Social media is the water cooler, and people are actually crediting it with increasing the audience of broad, mainstream events like the Super Bowl and the Grammys.

    It turns out that people don't want to just talk to people with the exact same interests. We want to share ourselves with a much bigger social circle. It's actually kind of a nice thing, don't you think?

    On the other hand, my response that we're bound together by our common idea of the American Dream was probably far too rose colored. I don't think we all necessarily get the whole "life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness" thing. Whether it's from people who strive for equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity or whether it's from people who would deny others liberty based on color or creed, we still have work to do.

    I think our pop culture is coming together, but our culture is coming apart. I guess we were worried about the wrong things.

    Posted by kris at 11:03 AM | Comments (0)     
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    June 01, 2010

    It's Belmont Week!

    [Posted by kris]

    I almost forgot that the Belmont Stakes is this weekend! Now sure, without the Kentucky Derby or Preakness winners, it's kind of a crappy race. But, it's still a major horse race on TV, and to me, that's just like pizza and sex.

    Anyway, to kick off Belmont week here are five great Belmont Stakes.

    First, let's get rid of the obvious. This is Secretariat's other worldly Belmont victory. This is an alternate view and I love it up until the stretch run because it gives a great view of the incredible interior fractions Secretariat ran in order to utterly crush the hapless Sham. It's true horse power.

    Next up is Rags To Riches' historic 2007 Belmont Stakes. She's such a tough filly. It's pretty amazing to realize that she and Zenyatta come from the same crop. Too bad their careers didn't overlap.

    Now here's the classic 1978 Belmont Stakes pitting Affirmed and Alydar. Common wisdom said that Affirmed might be beat if a horse could just look him in the eye. The problem was that Affirmed was so fast that only an extraordinary horse could match strides with him. In his Belmont, his great rival Alydar finally got a head in front of him. "Test these two to the wire" to see how Affirmed responded.

    Real Quiet's 1998 Belmont is memorable for the sheer, breathtaking drama of his Triple Crown try and for Tom Durkin's great call. The last 15 or so seconds of the race are unforgettable.

    Finally, a personal favorite, the 1989 Belmont Stakes. Sunday Silence was going for the Triple Crown and Easy Goer was going for vindication. Sweet, sweet vindication.

    Posted by kris at 10:03 PM | Comments (1)     
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    A quick guide to our political parties

    [Posted by kris]

    James was wondering what the GOP even stands for anymore, so I thought I'd make this handy chart that covers each of our major political parties.

    Favorite Constitutional Amendment2nd1st
    Least Favorite Constitutional Amendment4th2nd
    Big BusinessBig business are good, but small businesses are better.Big businesses are bad, unless they support our campaigns, in which case they're good. In all cases, small businesses are better.
    TaxesTaxes are too high. Taxes should be lower.Your taxes are too high. Other people should pay higher taxes.
    SpendingWe spend too much, we should cut back on government waste.We spend too much, we should cut back on defense and government waste.
    National DefenseThe best defense is a good offenseThe best defense is not needing a defense
    Foreign RelationsIt's better to be feared than loved.It's better to be loved than feared
    EntitlementsWe will never touch entitlementsWe will never touch entitlements
    Government InterventionThe government shouldn't interfere with the individual, unless that individual wants gay marriage or abortionThe government shouldn't interfere with the individual, unless that individual wants to own a gun or not carry health insurance
    Special InterestsGovernment shouldn't be beholden to special interest groups unless they're oil companies, huge financial institutions or defense contractorsGovernment shouldn't be beholden to special interest groups unless they're insurance companies, huge financial institutions, teachers or unions
    GodAmerica is a Christian nationAmerica is a Christian nation, unless we're talking to non-Christians, in that case we're all about diversity
    ImmigrationDoing something about the border is too hard, but illegals are bad. Bad!Doing something about the border is too hard, but illegals are kinda bad.
    Family ValuesUnderratedOverrated
    General view of AmericaAmerica: F*ck YeahAmerica: The slouching tall girl

    I hope this helps.

    Posted by kris at 03:40 PM | Comments (3)     
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    Wisconsin: A Peninsula of Awesome

    [Posted by kris]

    I was traveling north along the Great River Road yesterday from Prairie du Chien to LaCrosse (by the way, for your next country road trip I can't recommend Mumford & Sons enough). I was again struck by the incredible beauty of my homeland. The Great River Road curves between the big, blue waters of the Mississippi and lush, tree-covered green bluffs. If you squint you can imagine that you're in some tropical paradise (Really! I swear to God that wasn't just a Summer Shandy-soaked vision). Wisconsin doesn't have spectacular sites like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, but we are blessed with an abundance of everyday natural beauty from the Great Lakes coasts to gems like Devil's Lake to the only buttes east of the Mississippi.

    The other thing Wisconsin has in abundance is pride. We love our state and we're frankly kind of obnoxious about it. We're like Texans. I've often wondered why we're so different from Iowans, Minnesotans, FIBs and whatever you call people from Michigan. Driving along the river while listening to British bluegrass it dawned on me that maybe it has something to do with our borders. Except for our southern border with Illinois (or Baja Wisconsin, if you prefer) and the sliver of a border with Michigan, Wisconsin ends with big water. We're a peninsula of awesome in a sea of pretty good. Maybe because leaving Wisconsin is so physically obvious, we've made it mentally obvious too. When you cross the Mississippi, you're not just leaving a state, you're leaving a state of mind.

    Posted by kris at 08:35 AM | Comments (0)     
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