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10 Quirky Things Politicians Do

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We elect our Senators and Representatives with the expectation that they'll bring our interests to the legislative process and work to bettering the country. But the truth is, they're not always the most normal people themselves. Here are 10 of the quirkiest current Congressmen—be sure to chime in with your own legislator stories in the comments.

1. Collin Peterson (and his bandmates)

Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota may lead the House Agriculture Committee, but he may be better known for his musical career. His first Congressional band, The Amendments, broke up in a political dispute after some members wanted to play at the Republican National Convention. But Peterson found a new group of bipartisan musicians and formed The Second Amendments. The band features Peterson on lead guitar and vocals, Thaddeus McCotter on guitar, Dave Weldon on bass, Jon Porter on keyboards and Kenny Hulshof on drums. They play anything from rock to country (check out their gig at Farm Aid) and say political differences haven’t gotten in their way yet.

They’re not the first Congressional band either – four former Republican senators sang in a barbershop quartet known as the Singing Senators.

2. Kent Conrad

Kent Conrad knows a thing or two about an engaging presentation, especially with his fondness for visual aids. He was so well-known for printing poster-sized charts that when he became chairman of the Budget Committee in 2001, he was given his own printing machine for his office. Among his notable charts was one where he illustrated the debt under each President. Of course, Conrad isn’t the only Congressman to rely on catchy charts – many his colleagues are known for their elaborate charts, especially Rep. Kevin Brady's visual mess attacking the bureaucracy in the health care bill.

3. Al Franken

As a former SNL comedian, it’s probably not surprising to see Al Franken on this list. After all, the Minnesota Democrat famously cracked the chamber up during his opening statement during the Sonia Sotomayor hearings. But his real talent may be when he’s not talking – photographers snapped him doing some impressive sketches of Sen. Jeff Sessions during the confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan. And that’s not to mention his famous party trick: drawing a freehand map of the United States from memory.

4. Amy Klobuchar

Franken wasn’t the only one to bring levity to the Kagan hearings. Fellow Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar asked a bizarre question of the prospective justice the day after Eclipse, the third Twilight movie, debuted. “I keep wanting to ask you about the famous case of Edward vs. Jacob, or the vampire vs. the werewolf,” she said. To her credit, Kagan responded appropriately, telling the senator, “I wish you wouldn’t.”

5. Nancy Pelosi

A show embracing drug use, free love and plentiful nudity might not seem like the place you’d expect to see the Speaker of the House. But Nancy Pelosi is said to love Hair and checks out the musical every chance she gets. She’s even been spotted dancing on the stage at the end of the show.

6. Patty Murray

Patty Murray successfully ran a number of her early campaigns as “a mom in tennis shoes,” since she was just a regular person, not a career politician. Now that she’s serving her third term in the Senate, that image has carried her far and she’s not ready to give it up. Now a “grandmother in tennis shoes,” she’s given to wearing sneakers while conducting official business.

7. Jon Tester

Jon Tester is known for giving friends and colleagues a thumb-and-pinkie hook ‘em horns sign for motivation. But he doesn’t have much of a choice – Tester lost the three middle fingers on his right hand in a meat grinder accident when he was nine.

8. Kit Bond

Kit Bond's dog Tiger (named after the University of Missouri mascot) isn't what you'd expect to see from the Republican Senator. Tiger, a furry Havanese, is the Senator's first "fufu dog." A frequent visitor to Conrad's office, Tiger is famous for destroying Kansas Jayhawks toys. Others also bring their dogs to work - the late Robert Byrd was known for praising his dogs in floor speeches and this picture shows Kent Conrad walking his dog Dakota through the halls of the Capitol.

9. John Kerry

John Kerry is an avid biker, so much so that he requires a bike even when he’s traveling. According to a memo obtained by The Smoking Gun, Kerry asked for a recumbent (not a stationary) bike in his hotel room. That’s on top of bottled water, Boost shakes and a television where he could order movies.

10. Earl Blumenauer

Rep. Earl Blumenauer paints an impressive picture, with his fondness for bow ties and the constant presence of a bicycle pin on his shirt. The pin represents his love for bicycling – not only is he known for biking into work, he is also the founding member of the Congressional Bike Caucus, a 160-member group working to promote biking through legislation.

Today is October 10, 2010—10.10.10! To celebrate, we've got all our writers working on 10 lists, which we'll be posting throughout the day and night. To see all the lists we've published so far, click here.

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Why America Has So Many Empty Parking Spaces
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When you’re driving around looking for a spot to park on tight downtown streets, you’re probably not cursing city planners for mandating too much parking space. (You’re probably thinking the opposite.) But while some areas, depending on the time of day, are inundated with more cars than spaces, for the most part Americans lead lives of parking privilege, surrounded by empty spaces they don’t need to use. By one estimate, there are eight parking spots for every car in the U.S. (Others say it's more like three, which is still a lot considering that number doesn't take into account home parking.)

Why does the U.S. have so much extra parking? A new video explainer from Vox (spotted by Arch Daily) has the answer. It’s because laws mandate it.

In the video, Will Chilton and Paul Mackie of the transportation research initiative Mobility Lab explain the rise of the parking meter, which was invented in the 1930s, and the regulations that soon followed, called mandatory parking minimums. These city laws require that those building an apartment complex or shopping center or store have to provide a minimum number of spaces in off-street parking for customers to use. The cost of providing this service is carried by building developers—giving the city a free way to get new parking without having to manage their street parking situation closely. Go to any suburb in America, and the parking lots you leave your car in are probably the result of these parking minimum rules.

The ease of parking in America isn’t a good thing—though it may feel like it when you slide into an open spot right in front of the grocery store. Experts have been calling for an end to zoning laws like these for years, arguing that excess parking encourages unnecessary driving (why take the bus or carpool if it’s easy to drive yourself and park for free?) while simultaneously making it harder to walk around a city, since parking takes up a ton of land that’s difficult to traverse on foot, interrupting the urban fabric.

These parking minimum regulations take very specific forms by building type, including number of spaces required per hole at a golf course, per gallons of water in a public pool, and per beds in a nursing home. Before you cheer for free, plentiful parking, let the experts at Vox explain just why this is a problem for cities:

[h/t Arch Daily]

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A Microsoft Font Might Have Revealed Political Corruption in Pakistan
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Note to wrongdoers: Check your fonts. Right now in Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family are in legal hot water over what might be falsified government disclosures, according to Slate. The proof? The typeface used in the documents, as the investigative report submitted to Pakistan's Supreme Court notes.

Calibri, the sans-serif typeface that serves as the default for Microsoft applications, was designed in the early 2000s. But it didn't become widely available to the public until Microsoft Vista and its accompanying Office update were released in 2007.

This is where things have gotten tricky for the prime minister. His daughter may have fabricated documents that would show that she and her family had made the proper official disclosures on their finances. The documents, which were supposedly signed in 2006, were written with Calibri—a year before it was released to the public.

Defense lawyers argue, of course, that Maryam Nawaz Sharif could have just had access to Calibri before Windows Vista came out, since it was designed before 2007. The typeface's designer, Lucas de Groot, has said that the very first release he was aware of came out in 2006 as part of beta testing for the Vista operating system. But based on the sheer size of the files involved in such a beta product, it would have required "serious effort to get," a representative for LucasFonts told the Pakistani news outlet Dawn. And that would have been a super early test version, since the first public beta didn't come out until June 2006, four months after the documents were supposedly signed. Unless she was a huge computer nerd, Maryam probably didn't have access to Calibri back in early 2006, indicating the documents were faked. 

Whether you're turning in a term paper or falsifying legal documents, you're always better off going with Times New Roman.

[h/t Slate]

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