Wednesday, July 26, 2006

So Long, Iowa Chops

This is the end of the road for the Iowa Chops blog. I have decided to make a new blog called Biscuits and Gravy. Ok, 0k, so I like food! Anyway, I hope you enjoy the new blog. I won't be posting on this one anymore. It's time to put Iowa Chops out to pasture.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Money Magazine Calls CR Da Bomb

Ok, so that headline is probably misleading, perhaps even a downright lie. But hey, that's what headlines are for now, right? The whole point is to get lazy readers who won't actually read the article to think what you want them to by writing eye-catching, deceitful headlines. Ah, the spiraling shape!

Back to Money Magazine. While they did not exactly call Cedar Rapids "da Bomb," they did rank it the 64th best place to live in the nation (small cities category). Three Iowa towns made the list: CR, Iowa City, and West Des Moines. Iowa City and WDM were 74th and 71st. Cedar Rapids moved up from 87th in last year's list. Topping the list this year were Fort Collins, Colorado and Naperville, Illinois. What was striking to me was how many cities on the list were suburbs - which makes cities like Fort Collins and Cedar Rapids' achievements that much more important. They don't get to piggy-back off of major cities' recreational opportunities, nor are they as wealthy as posh suburbs, making it more difficult to get good education scores (both education and entertainment are categories on which the cities are judged for the rankings). Hopefully, Money's list will help such smaller yet vibrant and livable cities gain more attention and attract more people, businesses, and investments.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A few nights ago, my lovely wife and I had the opportunity to take a stroll around downtown CR during a beautiful sunset / moonrise. Here are a few pictures from the walk:

Moonrise over the Great America Building, Science Station, and Third Avenue Bridge.

The top of Vets Memorial and City Hall with the eternal flame a-glow.

Looking northwest at the Tree of Five Seasons.

Ah.. summer evenings in my home city!

Insights from Democracy in America

Thanks mostly to Kyle's prodding, I have been reading Alexis de Tocqueville's classic Democracy in America. While I am not far along in the book, I came across an interesting passage this morning and thought it might provide some thought-fodder for the day. This section also refers to a topic that has been on my mind for the past week and a half: the proper interaction between the religious and the political. This topic can be viewed from the perspective of the Christian's interaction with the state and the state's acceptance/rejection of religious influences. Anyway, I hope to post on the issue as soon as figure out what I want to say about it. Back to Tocqueville; he writes some valuable observations about religion and the political development of democratic procedures and a democratic culture in pre-revolution New England. The Puritan religion and democratic politics go together, he says, even though the seem to be in conflict (the strict legal code of the Puritans enforced by the state going along with the civil liberity of democratic procedures). Liberty and religion are mutually enforcing, says Tocqueville, because:

"Religion perceives that civil liberty affords a noble exercise to the faculties of man and that the political world is a field prepared by the Creator for the efforts of mind. Free and powerful in its own sphere, satisfied with the place reserved for it, religion never more surely establishes its empire than when it reigns in the hearts of men unsupported by aught beside its native strength.

"Liberty regards religion as its companion in all its battles and its triumphs, as the cradle of its infancy and the divine source of its claims. It considers religion as the safeguard of morality, and morality as the best security of law and the surest pledge of the duration of freedom" (Everyman's Library, Alfred A. Knopf published version, p. 44).

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sounds Like Espionage to Me...

The blogosphere, at least the on the right, is up in arms about the NY Times' publication of this story about efforts of the Treasury Department and the CIA to track the flow of money to terrorists. And with good reason. If you have time, read the article. Through it, the authors (Eric Lichtblau and James Risen) repeatedly report on administration and banking officials who "expressed reservations about the program." Yet not one source told the Times that he or she thought program was illegal. The Times, it seems, is grasping for straws - trying to catch the Bush administration in some sort of scandal instead of focusing on reporting the news.

Michael Barone poses the obvious question "Why do they hate us?" about the Times in this Real Clear Politics post. Everything I could say about this leak Barone says more elegantly and clearly. And frankly, the more I think about this the more upset it makes me, which usually results in a rather unfocused and confusing rant. So I'll let Barone talk for me.

What do you all think? Does the Times really see the administration as a bigger threat than the terrorists? Should the Times' decision makers face charges under the Espionage act or hearlded as defenders of America's rich tradition of freedom of speech?

Oh, and before I forget: shame on the LA Times and the Wall Street Journal for following in the Times' footsteps by leaking this story.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"In-State Tuition" Takes on a Whole New Meaning?

Republican Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Jim Nussle released a sketch of his education proposal yesterday. The most interesting and controversial aspect of the plan is to give free tuition to Iowa students who get a 23 or higher on their ACT, come from households that make less than $52,000 per year, have a 3.0 or higher GPA in high school and throughout college, and agree to live in Iowa for up to seven years after graduation. Nussle also is calling for an increase in teachers' pay and in increase in the tuition tax credit.

The big question, of course, is how such a proposal would be funded. I guess we'll have to wait and see for more details.

It seems to me that by giving making tuition free for some students, Nussle is attempting to kill two birds with one stone. First, Nussle is trying to increase the accessibility of higher education for low-income Iowans. But secondly, and probably more importantly for Nussle, he is trying to halt the supposed "brain drain" - where the best and brightest Iowa youngsters are leaving the state and heading to other Midwestern cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, and St. Louis. A Des Moines Register article out today bemoans the loss of 20-34 year olds from rural Iowa, based on just-released Census data. Nussle's plan targets that exact age group by granting high-performing students free tuition if they agree to stay in the state until they reach the ripe old age of 28 or 29. This makes sense; by that age, many graduates would have started a family and be well on their way to a successful career. Staying in Iowa would then be an attractive option, with Iowa's safe cities and good schools.

This is somewhat bothersome to me. This proposal is something close to paying graduates not to leave the state. Has it really come to that? But on the other hand, I understand that the state needs to be aggressive and compete for new workers or be left behind by an increasingly advanced and complex economy. Would it work? I don't know - but it is nice to see some new ideas and a fresh attempt at solving some of Iowa's biggest challenges.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Morning Has Broken

About six years ago I came across a band called The Normals. My sister at the time was editor of a Christian college newspaper, and bands used to send her free copies of their cds. She, in turn, passed the cd on to me. I was immediately drawn to The Normals. The music was a folk-rock mix, mostly acoustic guitar with a little electric dabbling on the side. But it was the lyrics that really got me. Andrew Osenga, the lead singer and lyricist for the band, crafted lyrics that quickly became the soundtrack for my lonely and pensive late high school / early college years. Osenga always stayed close to two all-important topics: the depravity of man and the unconditional acceptance of God's children. I needed both of those messages; it was easy for me to get either preoccupied with myself and become apathetic with my own sinfulness or get so engulfed by the guilt that comes with self-knowledge that I forgot about the most important part: God has accepted me and forgiven me despite my sin.

Six years later, I still consider Osenga as my favorite artist and one of the best lyricists in Christian music. Though The Normals (sadly) are no more, Osenga is still making great music both as a member of Caedmon's Call and as a solo artist. Two weeks ago, I purchased his newest solo effort, The Morning.

The album is a definite shift from his earlier solo releases. The music is much more accessible with some catchy riffs and upbeat tunes. Lyrically, it is apparent that Osenga too has changed. While still concerned with sanctification and God's grace, Osenga has incorporated those themes (and others) into story-telling songs. Osenga in the last few years got married and became a father; those experiences seem to have opened him up to new topics about which to sing. At the worst parts of the cd, the lyrics are a little confusing and vague; at the brightest points, the lyrics subtly leads the listener to deep insights - a lesser songwriter would have preached the insights at the listener.

Here are some snippets:

From "Santa Barbara"

cause I left for Steinbeck country
when things started to fall apart,
see, I've been running since the day I found my legs,
now I'm back here in my city
I hear a trumpet on Canyon Perdido
singing all my sorrow and my shame

but tonight the moon is preaching his revival
and I'm breaking like the tide to make a change
so I'm going to the ocean
I'm swimming past the pier
praying, Lord, to wash my sins away

From "New Beginning"

and I can feel a prayer rising
and I don't even know the words
still the groaning is the postage
and it will not be returned.
though we're living in this rubble
of our reckless plans and games
we are reaching for the promise
that we will not stay the same

The general theme is renewal - starting over and renewing a healthy relationship with God and others. I highly recommend this cd. Give it a listen. To my knowledge, you can only purchase the cd from Osenga's website. If you do, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Suing Michael Moore

It looks like Michael Moore's penchant for falsehood is catching up to him. According to this AP story, a disabled Iraqi war veteran, who lost both arms in Iraq, is suing Moore for $85 million in damages due to a "loss of reputation, emotional distress, embarrassment, and personal humiliation," that came from being portrayed as anti-war. Sergeant Peter Damon says the problem in Moore's Fahrenheit 911 was the editing - placing pictures of Damon on a gurney complaining about the pain caused by his injury right after a Democratic congressman argued that the president has "left behind" veterans. Sgt. Damon, however, "says he 'agrees with and supports the President and the United States' war effort, and he was not left behind.'"

$85 million? Yeah, that's ridiculous. No embarrassment or loss of reputation is worth $85 million. But America does have a long history of libel lawsuits. Due to the New York Times Co. vs Sullivan case Damon should have to show "actual malice" - meaning that Moore "knew that the statement was false or acted in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity." This is not an easy task, especially since the alleged defamation occurred by inference due to insidious editing.

In general, I am opposed to frivolous lawsuits. They cost taxpayers money, clog up the courts, and rewards Me-thinking behavior in our culture. However, in this case, I hope Damon's attempt to show Moore's willingness to distort the truth in order to make a political propaganda film in election year is clear and cogent.