Friday, June 30, 2006

Have An Interacted Fourth of July!

Yesterday, W stood up for globalism: "We shouldn't fear a world that is more interacted."

(We're not making this up.)


(And remember, 1776's right wingers were all tories.)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bravest Vote on the First Amendment Desecration Bill; Net Non-Neutrality

The bravest vote on the so-called Flag Desecration amendment in the Senate earlier this week was probably that of Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell.

McConnell is a died-in-the-wool conservative who I doubt the Curmudgeon has much in common with. But darned if he didn't vote against the flag amendment--and since it failed by just one vote, McConnell's may have been the most important.

Better yet was McConnell's reasoning, which is the best the Curmudgeon heard from anyone. "The First Amendment has served us well for over 200 years. I don't think it needs to be altered," said McConnell. "Our Founding Fathers wrote the first amendment because they believed that, even with all the excesses and offenses that freedom of speech would undoubtedly allow, truth and reason would triumph in the end," he added.

Of course, for voicing those thoughts he will earn the ire of right wing excrement such as Coulter and her fellow travellers (some of whom have already announced a campaign to "target" McConnell and a few others).

In the end, it is precisely the freedom to express ourselves, even in such a dramatic fashion as flag-burning, that make this country so special.

And what about George Bush Allen? He says our flag "signifies the valor of those who have gone before us and those who are fighting for our freedoms even today." Yep, and one of those freedoms is the First Amendment. So what Allen is saying is that all those who fought in the past for our freedoms today--most notably, the First Amendment--should have their memories desecrated by a bunch of legislators who really don't give a damn about the grunts they're sending over to Iraq to fight for those "freedoms."

Allen, who has never served his country in uniform (unless a football uniform counts), also took the opportunity to criticize his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb--who served many long year in uniform and distinguished combat--for opposing the amendment. While Allen tried to lump Webb in with various "liberal Democrats", we'll point out that Webb's reasoning was just about identical to that of McConnell.

If Allen really cared about the valor of our troops, he'd lambaste Bush and start seriously working on getting them home.

Net Neutrality--Which Part of "Big Telecom" Don't You Get?

Yesterday, the Seanate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted down a bill to assure "net neutrality", i.e., to make sure Big Telecom can't charge some internet service providers more than others to use the internet infrastructure.

Republicans, who opposed the net neutrality amendment, were typically disengenuous about it. Our favorite was Sen. Ensign, from Nevada, who must not watch the evening news. He said, "[w]e're attempting to legislate on a problem that doesn't exist and potentially make other problems in the process." He added that if the telecom companies do start charging higher fees, "I'd be the first to stand up and do something about it."

Yeah, right. Gee, Senator Ensign, have you noticed all those ads on television every night from the giant telcos where they defame Google and say that net neutrality is intended to prevent telecom companies from charging for use of the internet? Exactly what do you think they plan to do? My guess--just a hunch--is that they're spending millions on this enormous lobbying campaign so they can charge the heck out of internet users.

George Bush Allen, of course, voted against the net neutrality provision.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Northern Virginia GOP Road Plan: Pay For Your Own Darn Roads, And Everyone Else's Too

The latest salvo in the budgetary impasse in Richmond over funding new roads/transit for Northern Virginia is a plan being floated by some highly endangered NoVa Republicans. Under the plan, as reported by the Washington Post yesterday, lawmakers would raise about $500 million in new funds by assessing various fees on residents of northern Virginia, thus avoiding any statewide tax increase.

What should Democrats make of this?

Not much. The Curmudgeon is all for letting northern Virginians pay for their own transportation improvements. The problem is, we're already paying for them, without getting our money's worth. The GOP dominated legislature has been perfectly willing to fund projects in redder parts of the state with the geld collected up here.

Indeed, the Curmudgeon passed through Richmond twice in recent weeks, and one of the things we noticed is that they have a lot of brand-spanking new roads. How nice for them.

We're willing to pay higher fees than other denizens of the state for transportation projects, but only if the legislature matches those fees with a significant portion of general revenues, which, after all, come disproportionately from our neck of the woods.

Perhaps the solution is to make legislators meet for several weeks up here, say a couple weeks in Woodbridge and a couple weeks in Manassas. Since legislators would find it difficult to make their sessions, they wouldn get much done, but hey, that wouldn't be any different from what we have now, would it?

Of course, the only thing that will really work is to start throwing the bums out. Republicans in NoVa have good reason to worry, and it's nice to see they're running scared. Whether their House colleagues in the rest of the state care is another matter.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Poor Prognosis For The Long Range Forecast

Well, with it still raining like crazy, what better time than this to evaluate our little experiment on long range weather forecasting.

(Here in Washington, we broke the record for single day precipitation twice in two days. We suspect that by the end of the day we will have broken the record for monthly precipitation as well. We hope our golf course doesn't get flooded!)

For those who are just tuning in, a brief recap. A couple weeks ago (June 9, to be precise) we started a little experiment on the accuracy of those long range weather forecasts. In our case, we used's 10-day and 5-day forecasts for Arlington, Virginia and compared them to the actual weather on the forecast days.

For purposes of our experiment, we asked the question: What if I want to plan an outdoor activity in Arlington between 1-6 pm on the day in question? If the forecast was for a 50% or greater chance of rain, we would plan to stay indoors. If less than 50%, we'd plan for outdoors. We also gave a generous +/- 5 degrees on the temperature forecast before we'd say the forecast was wrong. (I.e., if the actual temperature was within 5 degrees of the forecast temp., we said the forecast was accurate.)

For those days where the forecast was accurate, by our definition, we assigned a green Y (meaning, "Yes, the forecast was useful"; otherwise, we assigned a red N, meaning the forecast was "Not useful").

So, how did the experiment turn out?

Five Day Okay

Well, the 5-day forecast did okay, if you don't mind being wrong 39% of the time. Over an 18 day period, the 5-day forecast earned a Y 11 times, and an N 7 times. It was slightly better than simply flipping a coin. Still, if you were planning something important you might not take too much comfort in the 5-day forecast.

Ten Day No Way

The 10-day forecast, however, was much worse. As we anticipated, the 10-day forecast is worse than flipping a coin. In fact, the 10-day forecast was considered accurate only 6 out of 14 days, an accuracy rate of only 43%. Indeed, if you assume the opposite of the 10-day forecast, you will be better off.

Granted, the experiment didn't go on very long, and we've had some unusually unstable weather during this period. So, to be fair, the Curmudgeon will continue the experiment (without boring you daily with the results) for a couple months to see if things change.

It would be interesting to see someone do a more sophisticated version of this experiment. For example, one could look at the data over an entire year for each of the 10 days of the long range forecast and generate some interesting statistics. Presumably, the shortest range forecast--that for the next day--would be most accurate, with a curve of less accuracy as one got to the 10 day forecast.

Here's the real rub: we suspect that The Weather Channel folks, as well as those at the National Weather Service, Weather Underground, Accuweather and all those other fun weather sites know full well that the longer range forecasts are less accurate than a coin toss. The question then, is this: why issue forecasts that you know are, more likely than not, MIS-leading?

We suspect that someday in the future, everyone will know weeks or even months in advance exactly what the weather will be on a given day at a given time in a given location. Then, what will we have to talk about?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Rainy Days and Mondays

The Curmudgeon is back with a series of random thoughts and observations.

Key Recovery

We were in Williamsburg, Virginia this weekend, but we didn't spend any time at the Big Three of history there (Jamestown, Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg). Instead, we were at the Big Two of kid fun: Busch Gardens and Water Country USA.

It's best to go to Water Country in a bathing suit, T-shirt and flip-flops, taking a credit card and just enough money to feed the kids and buy them the stuff they want (i.e., a lot of money). Of course, you'll need your car keys as well. Put 'em all in a plastic baggie and you're all set.

Or so I thought. While on one of the many water slides I lost the baggie with the aforesaid items. It wouldn't be a big deal but for the car key--kinda need that to leave the park.

Well, we were in panic mode, to be sure. Weren't sure whether it came out at Wild Thang, Atomic Breakers, Rampage or the Hubba Hubba Highway. Ran around the park checking with the lifeguards at each one, with no luck. And let's face it, we weren't optimistic!

Well, lo and behold if we didn't hear the Curmudgeon's name shouted out over the loudspeaker to report to Guest Services. Sure enough, the offending baggie had been found!! Thank goodness--vacation saved. For now on, the car keys go in a locker. (Hmm, just like Mrs. Curmudgeon had suggested . . .)

Why Do People Drive Through Flooded Roadways?

You've all heard it before: don't drive through standing water on a flooded roadway. We all know it's the leading cause of death in flash floods. Every year, especially in summer, we see a report of someone who ignored the warning and had to be rescued. Tsk, tsk we say.

Certainly, the Curmudgeon is a smart guy and is well aware of the risks.

Yet, there we were last night, driving through a torrential downpour that brought Washington to a standstill, trying to get home from Williamsburg (having gotten that darn key back). Sure enough, just two miles from home, we ran into a flooded stretch of I-395. We were in the express lane and essentially trapped between the barriers as muddy water surged over the roadway.

Some cars in front of us were backing up, away from the rising water, while traffic behind piled up. There was no way out. So we followed an SUV into the murky water, at least 3 feet deep, probably a bit more. Halfway through, we could see quite a few cars that hadn't made it--one lady was climbing out the window of her Ford.

What could we do? We plowed on. The Curmudgeon's heart was pounding. His brain was saying, "dude, haven't you seen those videos on the The Weather Channel--you're not supposed to do this." Fortunately, the kids were asleep in the back seat.

Somehow, we made it through. Someone was definitely looking out for us this weekend!

Net Neutrality

I hope that those of you in the rest of the country don't have to put up with the ads we get here in Washington on the legislative debate over "net neutrality." They gunk up the news and they're awful. (And we get to suffer through George Allen's feel-good campaign ads as well--talk about a guy who's worried about the November election!)

The big telco's sponsor one bunch of ads, under the phony banner "Hands Off The Internet," without disclosing the real source of their funding. My favorite: an ad that "congratulates" the House of Representatives for passing a bill that supposedly protects consumers' interests.

Hey, all the Curmudgeon needs to know is that the House passed a bill to know that it sucks. With this House, anything that gets through is bound to have been bought and paid for by a bevy of lobbyists in the pockets of big business.

Then there's the opposite side, sailing behind the "It's Our Net" smokescreen--these are the big internet online firms, such as Google, Amazon, etc. They favor "net neutrality," i.e., they believe that big internet users should pay the same as little internet users.

ALL the ads are misleading--hey, what'd you expect--they're made by the same people who make negative campaign ads.

Weather Curmudgeon

Here's how the long range forecasts held up over the weekend:

Friday, June 23:

10-day forecast: hi 88, scattered T-storms, 60% rain. Rating: Y
5-day forecast: hi 90, isolated T-storms, 30% rain. Rating: N
Actual: hi 86, rainy.

Comment: The longer range forecast was pretty accurate. The shorter range wasn't very useful.

Saturday, June 24:

10-day forecast: hi 84, am clouds/pm sun, 10% rain. Rating: N
5-day forecast: hi 81, scattered T-storms, 30% rain. Rating: Y
Actual: hi 85, tad of rain, but mostly a decent day.

Comment: The five day forecast was pretty realistic.--a little rain, but mostly a good day; the 10-day forecast was too rosy.

Sunday, June 25:

10-day forecast: hi 84, scattered T-storms, 60% rain. Rating: Y
5-day forecast: hi 81, scattered T-storms, 30% rain. Rating: N
Actual: hi 80, torrential downpours.

Comment: The longer range forecast put us on notice--tough day to plan outdoor activities. The five day forecast was not useful.


10-day forecast: hi 84, scattered T-storms, 30% rain. Rating: N
5-day forecast: hi 81, scattered T-storms, 40% rain. Rating: N
Actual: hi 78, mostly rainy.

Comment: Granted, the 5-day forecast was close, with a 40% chance of rain, but compare that to the forecast last night, which was for 80-100% chance of rain today.

In the end, there was nothing in any of the long-range forecasts to predict record rainfall over the past two days (yesterday set the all-time record for single day precipitation at National Airport, where records date back to the 1880's).

Tomorrow (we hope): an analysis of our little experiment.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Curmudgeonly Break

School's out, so the Curmudgeon is taking a few days off. We'll be back early next week.

A few brief observations:

Today's Washington Post has an excellent analysis of the problems facing Northern Virginia's Republican office holders. If the GOP leadership in Richmond doesn't seriously address the transportation issues up here, and soon, expect a wave of blue in NoVa.

Our graduation was great. One of the highlights was the class speech given by a boy who came to our Spanish immersion school from Bolivia in the first grade, not knowing a stitch of English. He gave a fine speech, in English, to complement the fine speech given in Spanish by his classmate who knew not a stitch of Spanish before she started kindergarten.

When we return, we'll summarize the data on our test of long-range weather forecasts and see if we can draw any conclusions.

Speaking of which . . .

Weather Curmudgeon

Today's 10 day forecast: Hi 85, scattered T-storms, 60% rain. Rating: N
Today's 5 day forecast: Hi 93, sunny, 20% rain. Rating: Y
Today's actual weather: Hi 91, sunny, no rain.

Comment: As of last night, the forecasts for today were for a high probability of thunderstorms, but nothing really developed anywhere east of the Shenandoah Valley. Good pool day!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Graduation Day

Today, our 11-year-old son "graduates" from elementary school. This is a special occasion for us because the little curmudgeon has been at this same school since he was a 3-year old. That's eight years in all, which is more than 70% of his life. The little tyke started in the montessori preschool program at this school in September 1998 (it's a public school; since then Arlington County has expanded montessori to some of the other elementary schools).

At the time, the school was under renovation--really reconstruction. So everyone was at a temporary school, with the montessorians in a portable classroom that occasionally leaked in a heavy rain. It was worth it, though--after that first year, our son got seven years in an essentially brand new school.

[Aside: our youngest son started the same montessori program on September 11, 2001. Mrs. C. dropped him off, then as she headed to work across the Roosevelt Bridge, she saw thick black smoke billowing out of the Pentagon, and of course soon heard the awful news on the radio. Pretty soon we were both back at the school picking the kids up, like everyone else.]

When our son started first grade, he entered the Spanish immersion program at our school: children get half their day in English, and half in Spanish; the student body is roughly 50/50 native English and native Spanish speakers. It's a great program, but it's been a real challenge over the years trying to figure out math and science homework that's in Spanish. We're surprised that the boy hasn't gotten smart-alecky enough to speak Spanish with his brother behind our backs. Surely, that day will come.

The programs at our school are a good example of why Arlington County has such a great school system: parents/students get a wide range of choices. For example, at the elementary level, you are zoned into a group of four elementary schools, each of which has different programs (same core curriculum). One of those schools is your "home school," which you're guaranteed to get into. So, in our group, there is the Spanish immersion school (also our home school, and also a magnet school outside the group), a "science focus" school, a kind of funky 1970's "open school", and a very traditional school (with, unfortunately, little diversity). All four of the schools have excellent test scores.

There are also several magnet schools outside the group--to which one can apply for admission--with various other programs as well. With all the choices, most parents/students end up happy with where they are--they don't feel forced into something simply by virtue of the neighborhood they chose to live in.

Next year, it's off to middle school--we're sticking with the Spanish immersion program. Again, there were quite a few options. Since middle school starts an hour and 10 minutes earlier than elementary school, we'll all have to make some adjustments next fall.

But that's for later. Now, it's time to enjoy summer!

Weather Curmudgeon

Today's 10 day forecast: Hi 86, isolated T-storms, 30% rain. Rating: Y
Today's 5 day forecast: Hi 92, mostly sunny, 20% rain. Rating Y
Today's actual weather: Hi 89, mostly sunny, no rain.

Comment: The five day forecast was quite accurate--we don't even have any isolated T-storms in the region today (that will change tomorrow).

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Low Primary Turnout Should Be Expected

Virginia Primary Turnout

A lot has been made of the low turnout (3-4%) in the recent Virginia Democratic Primary. The concerns are largely unfounded.

First, the alternative is to select a nominee at a party convention, which would involve at most a few thousand participants, who also happen to be "party activists." An advantage of the party convention route is that it is less expensive, both for the party and the candidates. A big disadvantage--at least if you're nominating someone to run against an incumbent of the opposing party--is that there is less opportunity to attack that incumbent in the media, etc., thus generating early interest in the November election.

Second, as some astute observers have noted, turnout in last week's statewide senate primary should be judged as a percentage of Democratic voters in the state, not all voters. On that basis, turnout was roughly 10% (plus or minus 2 percent depending on assumptions you make) of the "eligible" voters. Still small, but better than a convention.

Third, for all the sound and fury generated by the campaigns, media, bloggers, etc., the Curmudgeon's gotta believe that the attitude of many Democrats (as we heard on several occasions) was something along the lines of "Hey, in a race against George Allen, I'm going to vote for either Webb or Miller and I'm happy with either one."

Fourth, you can't compare the turnout in recent Democratic primaries to that in the Democratic primary 30-40 years ago. In those days Virginia was a one-party state, and, hard as it is to believe, that party was the Democrats. More often than not, the real election--the one that would decide who would hold office--was the Democratic Primary. In reality, it was the General Election. So, of course, turnout was larger. (And a greater percentage of voters at the time were Democrats.)

Finally, you can hardly expect a lot of people to vote in an election with only one statewide contest--and in most instances nothing else. In the old days of one-party politics, there would be primary contests for a whole slate of federal, state and local offices, all at one time. These days, seriously contested primaries are unusual.

It is, however, too bad that Virginia has its elections for state office in the "off" years for federal elections. Having many offices decided in the same election usually boosts turnout for the simple reason that it's a lot more efficient (certainly from the voter's perspective) and interesting. Since 2006 is also a non-presidential election year, and since many Congressional elections are no longer competitive, it is that much harder to motivate voters, even in the general election.

The Curmudgeon forecasts pretty light turnout in November as well, with neither party likely to have much to rally their troops with (unless polls show a dead heat). Usually a lower turnout favors the GOP--in this case George Allen. We'll see if Webb can tap into some new voters and generate a little enthusiasm for change.

Sexy Health

Here's some good news for men, courtesy of Parade Magazine: "In a study at Queen's University in Belfast, the mortality of about 1000 middle-aged men of comparable health was tracked over the course of a decade. The men who had sex three or more times a week had a 50% reduced risk of heart attack or stroke. And those who reported the most frequent orgasms had a death rate one-half that of the less sexually active men."

Come to think of it, maybe that's not such great news.

Weather Curmudgeon

Today's 10 day forecast: Hi 87, mostly sunny, 20% chance rain. Rating: Y
Today's 5 day forecast: Hi 87, Isolated T-storms, 30% chance rain. Rating Y
Today's actual weather: Hi 89, mostly sunny, no rain.

The 10-day forecast was right on the mark.

Monday, June 19, 2006

GOP To Consumer: ID Theft? What ID Theft?

Dad's Day

The Curmudgeon ended up having an excellent Father's Day, including catching up with his dad, watching the amazing finish to the U.S. Open with his brother, hanging out with friends by their pool, chowing down on Mrs. Curmudgeon's excellent lemon pound cake and getting a nifty new watch from the kids (with a little help from their mom).

Hope all you other dads had as good a day!

GOP Effort to Gut State Laws Protecting YOU Against Identity Theft

As just about everyone knows now, identity theft is running rampant. As we reported here recently, one reason is that the financial services industry really just doesn't give a darn! How else can you explain a system under which all someone needs to steal your identity is your social security number? If the banks etc. wanted a better system, they could easily implement one--but it might cost THEM money.

So what are our good friends in Congress doing about this? As usual, they're shilling for the Big Banks that created the problem in the first place.

Here's what's up: so far, 23 states have passed "security freeze" laws that allow consumers to prevent anyone from issuing credit in their name indefinitely, regardless of whether ID theft is suspected. (Virginia ain't one of them.) Several other states allow such a freeze only to ID theft victims.

In addition, a growing number of states are passing laws forcing businesses to alert consumers about potential data losses. If a consumer knows his or her data is potentially compromised, he/she can take steps with credit agencies to prevent fraud.

And that's where our helpful GOP Congressmen (and quite a few Democratic allies, unfortunately) come in. Why surely, you say, they are also taking steps to help prevent this rampant fraud from spreading, aren't they?

Nope, far from it. The House Financial Services Committee recently approved a bill--sponsored, of course, by the major financial institutions who are large benefactors of the GOP--that would preempt the state laws referenced above. Of course, like all bad laws passed by Congress, this law has a deceptive title: the "Financial Data Protection Act" (HR 3997).

It ought to be called the "Cover the Banks' Behinds Act." The law would exempt companies from alerting consumers about data thefts or losses unless the company knows the loss places the consumer at a direct risk of identity theft. In other words, a complete cop-out!

Furthermore, the House bill would limit credit freezes to only those who are already victims of ID theft. In other words, you get no help until you've already been victimized. It's a bit like saying the police will no longer try to prevent crimes before they happen!

Stronger state laws would be "preempted"--meaning the weaker federal legislation would prevail.

Of course, you can bet that, behind the scenes, there are huge campaign contributions being made to a few key members of the House Financial Services Committee--Chaired by Ohio Republican Michael Oxley--as well as furious lobbying by well-heeled GOP connected K Street firms, all working to screw you, the consumer, so the banks don't have to do anything.

Weather Curmudgeon:

Yesterday's 10 day forecast: Hi 85, scattered T-storms, 60% rain. Rating: N
Yesterday's 5 day forecast: Hi 93, partly cloudy, 20% rain. Rating Y
Yesterday's actual weather: Hi 93, mostly sunny, no rain.

The 10 day forecast was way off, the five day forecast was right on the money.


Today's 10 day forecast: Hi 86, mostly cloudy, 10% rain. Rating: N
Today's 5 day forecast: Hi 90, partly cloudy, 20% rain. Rating: N
Today's actual weather: Hi 89, brief, intense thundershower.

Both forecasts missed the thunderstorm, which at least brought much needed rain!

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Hope all you dads are having a great day! (The Curmudgeon is still waiting for someone in the household to say "Happy Father's Day." Guess that's what happens to curmudgeons.)

Weather Curmudgeon

Yesterday's 10 day forecast: Hi 83, partly cloudy, 10% rain. Rating: Y
Yesterday's 5 day forecast: Hi 83, partly cloudy, 20% rain. Rating: Y
Yesterday's actual weather: Hi 88, sunny, no rain.

Both forecasts were pretty accurate for yesterday, which was good since it was our last soccer game of the season. The forecasts were right on the borderline for temperature, however.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Curmudgeon Alert--Truthout

Tomorrow's Washington Post has a detailed article on Truthout's botched report by lapsed "journalist" Jason Leopold claiming that Karl Rove was to be indicted. (Previously discussed here on the Curmudgeon--see Truthout's Credibility Problem--May 22, 2006). The article is already on the Post's website:

Incredibly, Truthout's Executive Director, Marc Ash, still stands by Leopold.

Here's a hint Marc: ditch Leopold while you still have a shred of credibility.

Friday, June 16, 2006

What Jim Webb Needs To Do Next

Phew! After a hard fought contest, Jim Webb has earned the right to challenge incumbent Senator George Allen this fall. The good news is that Webb matches up well against Allen. The bad news is that Webb has a LOT of work to do in a fairly short amount of time to mount a serious challenge to the popular and well-financed Allen.

Here's what Webb needs to do now:

1. Raise a lot of money. The best way to do that is (a) to prove he can raise money on his own, and (2) get some poll results showing that Allen is, indeed, vulnerable. (Good news on that score already--a Rasmussen Poll shows Webb behind Allen by only 10 points, which is fantastic at this point.) If he can do both those things, money will flow in from around the country from Democrats eager to take back the Senate.

How much money does Webb need? Probably at least $5 million, which will be about half to a third what Allen will be able to raise and spend.

It's likely that Tim Kaine and Mark Warner will help out--that's big time support!

2. Continue to grow as a campaigner. Webb is a novice politician and it shows. Fortunately, this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, he can be a bit awkward in public appearances, particularly when it comes to just mingling with folks. (That's never been a problem for Allen.) On the other hand, he can be refreshingly candid and direct, a trait that appeals in particular to independent voters.

Because Webb is so candid, however, he occasionally alienates this or that interest group that wants him to toe their particular party line. The Curmdugeon's recommendation: ignore most of those little interest groups. Their leaders love to get in the limelight, but remarkably few voters have such narrow views, and in any event those on the left aren't going to vote for Allen (although they might stay home, or vote for the Green candidate [gee, that worked out well for Naderites in 2000]).

3. Issues. In the primary, many Miller supporters, including the Washington Post, criticized Webb for being shallow on the issues other than Iraq. The criticism was not undeserved. Webb needs to broaden his issue base considerably, something he conceded in a telephonic press conference yesterday.

What should be his key issues, besides Iraq? For starters, the three E's: energy, environment and education. We don't have room, at least today, to flesh out positions on all of these, but here's a nutshell. Energy--we have a serious problem that will only get worse; we need to encourage conservation, invest in new technology and get realistic about domestic drilling. Environment: global warming is here, the issues are difficult, we need to start dealing with them. Education: Virginia has some fine public schools that can serve as models for good education; we need to invest in our public schools.

The fourth E is, of course, the Economy. Webb should support an increase in the minimum wage--we haven't had one in years. He should also stress fiscal responsibility--attack earmarks (hear that, Jim Moran?); support a balanced budget; adjust the most egregious tax cuts for the rich; and it's time to get serious about entitlements--call for bipartisan solutions to the social security/medicare problems we'll soon face.

Finally, Iraq. It's great that Webb opposed the war for all the right reasons, but we went to war nonetheless, so the question now is what do we do? Webb opposes setting a date for a pullout, which is fine. But he needs to articulate a more proactive position, otherwise he just plays into Allen's hands.

3. Campaign focus. Don't spend too much time in Northern Virginia, where his support is solid; recruit some key African-American leaders to help his standing in the black community, but don't expect a big turnout there (it won't happen, no matter who runs). Concentrate on Norfolk and southwest Virginia, where he has a good chance to sway voters only weakly committed to Allen.

4. Born Fighting. Attack Allen mercilessly, especially for being a Bush stooge.

If you want to make a campaign contribution, go to

Don't Cry For O'Melveny & Myers

The Los Angeles based mega-firm O'Melveny & Myers LLP reportedly is in the hole by $25 million (and counting) for its representation of convicted Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling.

According to the Washington Post, O'Melveny collected $40 million from Skilling and Enron's insurers, but still managed to "spend" $65 million on Skilling's defense, with appeals still to go.

This is a good example of the profligacy of large law firms when it comes to major trials. O'Melveny devoted more than 20 lawyers, including three leading partners, to the case. Granted, it was a five-month trial, but Skilling could've gotten just as effective--maybe more effective--representation from a smaller shop specializing in white collar criminal defense.

When it comes to large law firms, all they really know is how to overstaff the big cases. Often, you get a large number of younger associate lawyers who really don't know much about anything, but who get billed out a rates of $200-$400 an hour, or more. Much of their work is spent sifting through documents.

The rationale is that the client needs someone with the experience and training of these young lawyers to spot the important documents among the millions of pages of chaff. Reality is that young law grads are poorly trained for such work, which could easily be done by smart college students or good legal assistants for less than $50 an hour.

Worse, though, is the communications issues created by having all those warm bodies working on a case. Just to keep in touch, they generate thousands of emails to each other, require hundreds of meetings and conference calls, exchange dozens of memos, and spend countless hours just keeping up with each other. Partners have to coordinate all those moving parts, taking away from their time and focus on the key aspects of the case.

Of course, if you have a paying client, it's worthwhile, especially since the profit margin in a well-managed large law firm should be between 30-35%. (In other words, for every $3 billed, the partners make $1 in profit.)

Applying this rule of thumb to O'Melveny, they're a little in the hole on the Skilling case, but they certainly haven't "lost" $25 million. In any event, any "loss" is the fault of the people running the case--they could've given Skilling first rate representation for a "mere" $40 million. Indeed, with more efficiency Skilling might even have gotten better representation, although he still would have been convicted.

The real problem is that lawyers are about the most overcompensated people in America. (Yes, the Curmudgeon was one and he was definitely overcompensated.)

Imagine if O'Melveny had taken a pass on Skilling and instead donated $25 million to charity. Now that would be news!

Weather Curmudgeon

10-day forecast for today: Hi 83, Scattered T-storms, 60% rain. Rating: N
5-day forecast for today: Hi 83, Sunny, 20% rain. Rating: Y
Actual: Hi 85, sunny, no rain.

The 10 day forecast was no good; the five day forecast was pretty much on the mark.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Jay Leno Sponsors Terrorism; Dumb Dem; Sprint, Ticketron=Bad Service

Give Us A Break Jay!

Last night Jay Leno had known terrorist Ann Coulter (a name we try to avoid in this blog) on his show. The Curmudgeon does not support anyone who harbors terrorists, so we're boycotting Leno.

Why does the media give this person a platform to spew her hateful views?

Stupid Democrat File

The Curmudgeon's local congressman, Democrat James Moran, recently told an Arlington gathering of Democrats that if the party takes over the House in November and he (Moran) becomes an Appropriations Subcommittee chairman, he will "earmark the shit out of it" for his home district.

Jim has never been known around here as "the smart one."

Here's some advice Jim, if you want to get that Appropriations gig: keep your mouth shut.

Consumer File

Two items from the crummy service consumer file courtesy of Mrs. Curmudgeon and brother curmudgeon.

1. Ticketron. Who doesn't hate them? Always wondered when they say those crappy seats they're offering you are the "best available"? Turns out they aren't. Our source called for tix to the tennis U.S. Open in NYC. She was offered the ol' "best available", which happened to be the top row of the stadium (well, it does have a nice view--of Manhattan!). But before she completed the transaction, she got cut off. When she called back, she was offered tickets in the same section, but several rows further down--closer to the action. ("Oh, you wanted to see the tennis; why didn't you say so.")

2. Sprint. Our caller wanted to order a new battery charger for his phone. The Sprint representative insisted our caller had to give his "security code" before the order could be placed. Our caller wasn't doing anything involving his Sprint account and he didn't have his code handy. "Can't I just order the battery charger?" "Sorry sir, not without your security code."


Memo to customer service: make life easier for your customers, not stupid.

Weather File

10 day forecast for today: Hi 83, scattered T-storms, 30% rain. Rating: Y (yes--useful forecast)
5 day forecast for today: Hi 82, scattered T-storms, 40% rain. Rating: Y

Actual: Hi 84, sunny, no rain

We could have relied on the long-range forecasts for today, although they overestimated the likelihood of rain (there are no thundershowers within 200 miles of here today).

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Webb Wins; Lovelace's Message; Bad Weather Forecast

The Curmdudgeon got sidetracked today, so we'll just do a short post tonight.


It's official: Jim Webb will face off against Sen. George Allen in November, thanks in large part to overwhelming support (if you can call it that with 3% turnout) in northern Virginia, including Arlington (68% Webb v. 32% Miller). Harris Miller was very gracious in his concession speech and Webb was equally gracious in thanking Miller--all a good start for the fall campaign.

At some point soon we'll do a piece on what Webb needs to do next--besides raise a boatload of money!

One thought for the stump speech: "If you think nothing's wrong with our country--if you think everything is just peachy-kean, then vote for George Allen. He sure doesn't think anything is wrong. Otherwise, vote for me (Jim Webb)."

Allen is beatable, but it sure won't be easy.

Lovelace Sends A Message

A few weeks ago, the Curmudgeon posted about the South Carolina GOP gubernatorial primary between incumbent governor Mark Sanford and challenger Oscar Lovelace. We indicated that Lovelace didn't have much chance of winning, but that he might do well enough to send a message about Sanford's waning popularity.

Well, Lovelace did just that, garnering 35% of the vote on a shoestring campaign. Don't know if Sanford got the message--one of his big problems is a failure to listen.

Weather Curmudgeon

10 day forecast for today: 87 degrees, scattered T-storms, 60% rain Rating: N (not useful)
5 day forecast for today: 82 degrees, scattered T-storms, 40% rain Rating: N
Actual today: 72 degrees, cloudy/hazy, no rain

This is one of those days we're glad the forecast was wrong--it was pretty nice out. But, had we relied on the forecast for planning purposes, we would've missed out.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Zinsmeister, You're Doing A Heckuva Job; The Other Karl

A New Karl In The West Wing

President Bush's new Domestic Policy Advisor, Karl Zinsmeister, started work in the West Wing this week.

This guy is typical of what ails the W administration.

The Z-man has spent years editing a journal for the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, where he was free to spout whatever came to mind, pretty much like all us bloggers out here, except that he's been at it longer with a bigger platform.

The New Republic, Washington Post and dozens of other news organizations have done a nice job of unearthing just a few of his many offensive posts, things like Al Gore is a "mad dog" known to "foam at the mouth".

But here's the real problem, a chronic one in this administration. At a time when Bush desperately needs help on a wide array of domestic policy issues ranging from gas prices to education to the recent spike in violent crime rates, he chooses an advisor who has absolutely NO real life experience with any of those issues.

Anyone can sit in an ivory tower and spout off about what's wrong or what he or she would do if he were dictator of the world (just check out some prior posts on this blog!). And that's just about all Zinsmeister has done with his life.

Furthermore, Zins is clearly a contrarian in everything he does. In an interview with the Syracuse Post-Standard (he's from Syracuse), he bragged about not having a phone for years while living in Washington, and never having owned a television as an adult. And THIS is the guy who's going to advise on domestic policy?

He also shows a lack of judgment that, if exercised by anyone on the left who he happened not to like, would no doubt earn excoriation in The American Enterprise. For example, after being named to his position by the White House, Z tried to alter a quote from another Syracuse press article, in which he said that "people in Washington are morally repugnant, cheating, shifty human beings." (Hmm, he must've hung out with DeLay, Abramoff, Cunningham and that crowd.) When called on the quote altering, he said he had been "foolish".

Well, yeah!

Anyway, Zinsmeister says he didn't apply for the job--instead, someone in the Bush administration, familiar with and impressed by his writings, tracked him down and had him come in to interview for the position. Again, why would W reach out to someone with such meager qualifications and a bit of a crackpot attitude, and offer him such an important position?

Who knows, maybe they'll draft Ann Coulter to head up the NSA.

Truthout v. The Other Karl

Karl Rove's lawyer announced he won't be indicted in Plamegate. That leaves the question, raised here a few weeks ago: how did Truthout, which breathlessly reported Rove's imminent indictment, get it so wrong?

There's a story behind the story here--we'd like to learn how Jason Leopold (the Truthout correspondent) got away with such a fabrication.

Weather Curmudgeon

Today's predicted weather:

10 days ago: 86 degrees, scattered T-storms, 60% chance of rain
5 days ago: 82 degrees, mostly sunny, 20% chance of rain

Actual: 81 degrees, mostly sunny, no rain

Ten day forecast gets a N--not useful; five day forecast gets a Y--useful (in fact, right on the mark!)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Miscellaneous Curmudgeon

Here's some miscellaneous items we didn't get to this morning in our rush to post on the Virginia Senate primary.

Dangerous Minivans?

The Washington Post recently reported a study that purports to show that minivans (and to a lesser extend, SUV's) are more dangerous than smaller cars because they are involved in a higher rate of incidents of backing into a child in a driveway.

This is a pretty bad study. Our guess is that owners of minivans are more likely to have small children than owners of cars. So all the study really shows is that owners of minivans are more likely to have children playing in their driveways. Did someone really need to figure that out?

School Gender Gap

The Curmudgeon has commented before on the growing gap between young men and young women going to college (today, only about 42% of college undergrads are men). This alarming trend is the basis for our "looser" award to advertisers who portray young men as doltish losers.

Now this: today, men make up a smaller percentage of teachers than at any point in the past 40 years.

The Curmudgeon doesn't have any easy solutions to this problem, although we would like to see our male children assigned books in school that appeal to their little boy brains (instead of the chick lit book my older son struggled through for several weeks earlier this year).

Weather Curmudgeon

The Curmudgeon didn't post yesterday. Here's how the long range weather forecast fared both yesterday and today:

Sunday, June 11, 2006

TWC forecast five days ago: Sunny, 80 degrees, 20% chance of rain.
Actual: Sunny, 77 degrees, no rain.
Curmudgeon mark: Y

Monday, June 12, 2006

TWC forecast five days ago: Partly cloudy, 80 degrees, 20% chance of rain
Actual: Rainy, 73 degrees.
Curmudgeon mark: N

Tomorrow--our first test of the 10-day forecast!

Virginia Senate Primary: VOTE FOR WEBB (It's Important!)

Tomorrow is the Democratic Primary election in Virginia. The main card is the square-off between James Webb and Harris Miller for the party's nomination to run against incumbent GOP Senator George Allen in November.

The Curmudgeon heartily endorses Jim Webb and urges Democrats who want to defeat Allen to get out and vote in this primary. The Curmudgeon has summarized our reasons before, but for those who are new, here's the scoop:

Jim Webb is a former Marine, who fought in Vietnam, served as Secretary of the Navy under Reagan (for a year) and has spent the latter part of his career as a writer of both fiction and nonfiction. His works include a history of the Scots-Irish in America (the red-haired Webb has a classic Scots-Irish appearance), entitled "Born Fighting", which he has used as his campaign motto.

Harris Miller is a longtime resident of Northern Virginia who has been active in local Democratic party politics for many years, giving generously of his time, energy and money. Miller is a Washington lawyer who in recent years served as Executive Director of a telecommunications association. He's a smart, loyal Democrat.

In the Curmudgeon's view, both Webb and Miller are good men, either of whom would make a fine Senator from Virginia.

The problem is that neither will be Senator unless he can first defeat George Allen, a lightweight empty suit who panders to conservatives and has never once challenged George Bush's disastrous policies and incompetent administration. Despite those glaring shortcomings, Allen remains a popular figure in Virginia, has a large war chest for the election, and harbors Presidential aspirations (gag!) that would be boosted by a big win in November.

The Curmudgeon supports Webb because he is the candidate with the best opportunity to beat Allen. Why is that?

First, Webb is a true independent, a Democrat who defected to Reagan, but who has now returned to the fold after the Bush fiasco. He will have genuine appeal to Virginia's independent voters, who traditionally split their votes depending on their perception of the candidates running. (In the last two statewide elections, moderate Democrats won the Governor's race while Republicans took the Attorney General's spot and some other key statewide posts.)

Miller, unfortunately, will easily be painted by Allen as a Democratic party apparatchik and an inside-the-beltway lawyer-lobbyist. While I like Miller's well thought out "positions" on many issues, they are worthless if he can't get elected.

Second, Webb is a veteran in a state full of veterans who vote. Unlike John Kerry, he never came home and criticized the Vietnam war, so he can't be attacked like Kerry was. He is a genuine "war hero" who Allen will find difficult to smear (oh, but believe me, they will try!). Miller has no such background.

Third, Webb came out early, in writing, against the war in Iraq (before we invaded). Imagine if his voice had been heard in the Senate when W was propagandizing the war! Miller supported the war, but now says he was "misled." Sorry--too lame.

Fourth, Webb is a bit of a populist in a state where that helps with independents and some Republicans. He supports a more progressive tax system and is blunt in his criticisms of GOP tax policies that overwhelmingly favor the rich. Miller's positions are heavily nuanced, and ring false from a guy who lobbied for big telecoms.

Finally, Webb inspires some intense loyalty and heddy enthusiasm that should translate well in a campaign against lackadaisacal Allen. More importantly, he is likely to attract the kind of national money that will be needed to unseat Allen, as evidenced by the unusual number of national Democrats, particularly Senators, who have endorsed him in the primary. Miller, by contrast, can expect little national money, and unfortunately, he has already shot his wad in terms of any personal money he might put in the campaign (Miller has lent his campaign nearly $1 million in personal funds, which is about as much as he can afford.)

So, please go out to vote tomorrow. Turnout will be low (at least you won't have to wait in any line) and the race will probably be fairly close. Your vote WILL count. Please take the time and vote for Jim Webb--so we have a shot at Allen in November!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Red Card for Wendy's; Weather Update; Webb Report

Biggie Size This, Wendy's

With the World Cup in full swing, the Curmudgeon thought it appropriate to assess burger giant Wendy's with a red card for its just announced decision to do away with the term "Biggie Size" in connection with its meals.

At first glance, the Curmudgeon thought Wendy's was doing something good--getting rid of the oversized portion associated with "Biggie Size", which would be a step in the right direction. (At least the name is truthful--order it and you will soon be a biggie sized person.)

But no, that's not what Wendy's is doing--not even close. And this was just when the Curmudgeon was about to give Wendy's credit for a new ad promoting it's alternatives to french fries as a side order.

So what is Wendy's doing?

Currently, Wendy's has three soft drink sizes--16 oz., 20 oz. and a 32 oz. tub that it appropriately calls a "Biggie." Under a new regime, Wendy's will simply use the terms "small", "medium" and "large."

But WAIT--get this sleight of hand: now a "small" will be a 20 oz. drink; a "medium" will be a 32 oz. drink, and a "large" will be a whole new size, a 42 oz. drink the size of 3 and half cans of soda!

In other words, what used to be a 32 oz. "Biggie" drink will now be a 32 oz. "medium" drink. And for now on, the Curmudgeon is going to call this "medium" type.

So now, if some unwitting person goes into Wendy's and says to himself or herself, "I think I'll restrain myself today--I'll order a small soda" (or a "medium"--that sounds restrained, right?), he or she will get a 20 oz. monster drink, or worse.

Wendy's will still have a 16 oz. drink (which is still ridiculously large for a soda), but you'll have to find it on the "Value Menu." And they'll still have a 12 oz. kid's drink, but good luck getting that for anyone over the age of 5!

So how did Wendy's explain the move? "We felt like the Biggie designation is not what most customers were used to. Most people were used to small, medium and large," a spokesman said.

Yeah, right. Except that most people expect a small to be, well, small; and a medium to be, well, medium--not three cans of soda!

Frankly, what Wendy's is doing is downright misleading.

Shame on you Wendy's.

Weather Report:

Continuing the Curmudgeon's experiment in evaluating long-range weather forecasts. Five days ago, The Weather Channel forecast that today in Arlington would be sunny, hi of 80 degrees, with only a 20% chance of rain.

Today was sunny and it didn't rain; but the high was only 74. Had the Curmudgeon used the forecast to plan a pool party this afternoon, the kids would have been pretty cold. Based on our criteria, TWC's forecast gets an N, meaning it was not a useful long-range forecast.

Webb Report:

The Virginia Democratic Senate primary race is, as it should be, getting hot and heavy in the press and the blogosphere (although few voters show much interest). My informal poll of neighbors in my very Democratic neighborhood shows them overwhelmingly supporting Webb--for the same reason as the Curmudgeon: they want to beat George Allen in November. But, will they take the time to vote on Tuesday? We hope so.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Curmudgeonly Weather

Today, the Curmudgeon launches a new service aimed at keeping the weather guys (and gals) honest.

This comes from a friend's challenge to the weather nerd in the Curmudgeon (hey, who else would look up the National Hurricane Center's forecast from last year to show how worthless it's forecast is for this year?).

Anyway, we'll just do this for just two weeks, at the bottom of each post. Our thesis is that the 10-day forecast is useless--not much better than random--and that the five day forecast is pretty marginal.

Here's how we'll do it: each day, we'll ask the question--what if I want to plan an afternoon outdoor activity from 1 pm to 6 pm in Arlington, Virginia in five days (inclusive of the current day) and in 10 days? If I relied on The Weather Channel's forecast, would I be disappointed?

If TWC forecasts a 50% or greater chance of rain for the date in question, the Curmudgeon will not schedule his activity; if it DOESN'T rain, then the forecast let us down. Conversely, if TWC forecasts less than a 50% chance of rain, we're going to schedule our outing; if it rains between 1-6, then the forecast let us down.

We'll also see if the temperature forecast is within =/- 5 degrees of the actual temperature for the date.

Each day will be rated as to whether the forecast was useful: Y=useful forecast; N=useless forecast.

Admittedly not all that scientific, but a realistic experiment on how people presumably use (or could use) long term forecasts.

So, how'd TWC do for today? We can only give you the five-day report. On Monday, June 5, TWC forecast a high of 83 today, with a 30% chance of scattered T-storms. Turns out that was pretty accurate. It reached 82 degrees today, and while we did get 1/100 inch of rain it wasn't enough to ruin any outdoor event between 1-6 pm. (It will be a few more days before we can give results for 10 days forecasts.)

Today's rating: Y.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Looser Award: ESPN Mobile

Today the Curmudgeon presents its periodic "Looser" award--for an advertiser that portrays men as losers, misspelled "looser" as only a loser would--to sports giant ESPN for an ad promoting the "ESPN Phone."

The ESPN phone itself looks to be a losing proposition. Trumpeted last fall by ESPN executives as one of the company's big new initiatives, the phone, introduced right after the Superbowl, has been panned. Sales reportedly are poor.

In an effort to get things going, ESPN recently has used a loser promo on its broadcasts. The ad features a tall white dude, blonde hair, bad haircut, in an off-white sports jacket. He's holding a goofy microphone (with a red fuzzy top) as well as the ESPN phone. "This is ESPN," he shouts, pointing to the building. (He's supposed to remind you of Will Ferrell, but he isn't funny.) "This is mobile ESPN," he says, waving the phone and touting its features.

Then loony guy spots Sports Center anchorman Neil Everett getting out of his car in the parking lot and begins shouting at him, asking if there are any openings for an anchorman. "Put in a good word for your buddy," he yells. As Everett walks away, looking embarassed, loony guy says "Cool, just call me."

Embarassed Everett should be! Is this any way to market what is supposed to be cool phone for sports fanatics? It simply reinforces the notion of sports junkies as losers--the kind who still live with their parents at age 30, etc. Worst of all, this is supposed to be a Father's Day promotion! Gee, ESPN, thanks for the plug for us dads!

Frankly, the Curmudgeon is surprised that ESPN can't come up with something better. (Indeed, ESPN has--it had a great ad for the phone, called "Sports Heaven" during and after the Super Bowl. Most people probably thought it was a Nike ad.)

The problem, of course, is that no ad is likely help sales of ESPN mobile--it's overpriced, something few people really need, and probably an embarassment to pull out anywhere outside a sports bar.

ESPN: we men count on you. No more Loser ads!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Tobacco Policy: Bad Politics for Dems

Today the Curmudgeon talks about an admittedly "old" issue, tobacco policy.

[We do note that today's Washington Post has a positive story on Harris Miller to balance its negative story of yesterday on Jim Webb. But we expected that.]

During the Clinton years, the war on Big Tobacco was in full swing, with both federal and state governments taking many active steps to combat tobacco use in the United States.

The Curmudgeon, which is dubious about most "tobacco control" policies--other than increased taxes on tobacco, which are proven to reduce consumption--won't debate the wisdom of those policies.

However, one of the Curmudgeon's observations during that period was that political proponents of tobacco control couldn't translate their activism into favorable results in the political arena.

In particular, a number of state politicos who made a big name for themselves promoting tobacco litigation and related policies either failed when they tried to move up in the elective ranks, or retired when it became obvious their future political prospects were limited.

These included Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, who championed that state's successful "cost-recovery" lawsuit against the industry, but who subsequently retired without running for higher office. In Minnesota, both attorney general Hubert "Skip" Humphrey III and lead tobacco trial lawyer Mike Ciresi--who together pursued another successful lawsuit against the industry--failed in their bids to advance to, respectively, the Governor's Mansion and the U.S. Senate, despite being in a heavily Democratic state.

In Massachusetts, attorney general Scott Harshbarger failed to advance his career, again in a friendly Democratic state.

Texas AG Dan Morales also went nowhere (ok, he plead guilty to mail fraud in connection with a tax evasion case) despite a very successful settlement for his state (which ultimately got mired in very ugly litigation among the various trial lawyers, and even Morales himself, over the spoils of victory). Florida's AG suffered similarly.

And in Washington (state), former AG Christine Gregoire, a lead negotiator on the national tobacco settlement, barely eked out a victory--by a couple hundred votes--as a Democratic Governor in a state that John Kerry carried by more than 200,000 votes.

(Al Gore also championed the tobacco fight--it may have contributed to his problems at the polls.)

(An interesting project for an aspiring young political scientist would be to analyze some of these elections to determine how big the "tobacco effect" was--Minnesota would be a particularly good test.)

Guess What? Smokers Vote Too!

Why doesn't activism on the tobacco issue translate into votes at the polls?

The reason is pretty simple. Tobacco users--mostly cigarette smokers--make up about 20-25 percent of the electorate. They are not organized in any kind of political bloc, and apart from the cigarette manufacturers have never had any kind of lobbying organization, so lawmakers don't hear much from them.

Smokers, however, do vote. In most parts of the country they are more likely to be white, independent, and blue collar and somewhat less likely to vote or be active in politics.

Smokers know that cigarettes are bad for them. Most want to quit. But more than anything, they want people--especially people they don't even know--to leave them alone about it. And, they know that no matter what solution some policy maker comes up with to reduce tobacco consumption, it's going to be paid for out of their pockets.

(Indeed, smokers have had to pony up billions of dollars just to pay the plaintiffs' lawyers who were the real beneficiaries of all that litigation in the 1990's).

So when some politician goes on an anti-tobacco crusade, they're turning off a significant block of mostly silent voters. They won't hear a lot from these voters, but when it comes election time they'll be disappointed when the votes are counted.

On the other side of the equation, precious few voters really care all that much about tobacco policy. It certainly isn't--and hasn't ever been--one of the top issues in any poll, and only a handful of small interest groups really care.

Tobacco's not a hot issue today and certainly won't figure in the fall elections. But as Democrats make inroads, the temptation will be there. Resist it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Fear And Loathing At the Washington Post

I love the Washington Post. After endorsing Harris Miller over Jim Webb in next Tuesday's Virginia Democratic Senate Primary, the Post can't help but try to tip the scales a bit, in the guise of "news".

So today the Post headlines an otherwise very positive Marc Fisher column on Webb--much more positive than his column on Harris Miller a week ago--with the subtle title: "A Reagan Man Reaches Out to Virginia Democrats." Clever, Posties.

Then, just to be sure the black community didn't miss the dig, the Post's editors conveniently placed a "news" story right above Fisher's column, headlined "Webb Is Scrutinized On Affirmative Action."

Scrutinized by who? Such "news" stories don't just materialize on their own; nor are the timing and placement of such articles random--the Post's editors decide all that, in this case no doubt in cahoots with an all too eager Miller campaign. The point of all this, of course, is to mobilize African-American voters in Virginia to turn out against Webb (which effectively means cementing six more years of George Allen, unless, god forbid, he becomes President!)

To be sure, the Post did try to be "fair and balanced" in its story on affirmative action. Why, if you just read all the way to the very last three (out of 22) paragraphs, you will finally learn that Webb has been endorsed by two very prominent African-American Virginians--Del. Donald McEachin of Richmond and civil rights leader Milton Reid.

Oh, and did this lengthy Post news story say anything about Harris Miller's position on affirmative action? No. But don't worry, if he wins the primary you can be sure George Allen will clobber him with the issue among Virginia's independent voters.

(The Curmudgeon was grateful to Marc Fisher for explaining the origin of Webb's "born fighting" campaign slogan--it's the title of his best-selling book on the Scots-Irish [sorry Marc, not Scotch--you drink that]. Unfortunately, a lot of folks find the slogan a bit obscure.)

By the way, here's a nice little unauthorized Webb flyer put together by one of my fellow Arlingtonians:

Monday, June 05, 2006

Warner, Allen Share Hotel; Big Tobacco Ruling Soon; College Students Earn Darwin Award

Today, a few miscellaneous posts.

Richmond's Jefferson Hotel Center of '08 Presidential Campaign Universe

We Virginians can't be faulted for dreaming, just a bit and for just awhile, of a return to the hey dey of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and all those other Virginia patriots of old. Yesterday, the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond hosted back-to-back political events for aspiring presidential contenders Mark Warner and George Allen.

Warner's group--200 big time early supporters--whooped it up in the afternoon before going off to the local NASCAR track for BBQ and racin'. Darned if they aren't good ol' boys!

Warner's crowd was followed that night at the hotel by a black tie fundraiser for Allen. Darned if ol' bubba Allen can't fit in with the country club set when it comes to money.

Warner and Allen missed bumping into each other later in the evening. Warner did spend a few moments schmoozing with the Allen Youth on his return to the hotel that night.

Fortunately, Allen will have a lot more time for these events (but not too many participants) after he loses the general election to Jim Webb in November.

Big Tobacco Update

Come the end of this week it will have been one year since the Government's racketeering trial against Big Tobacco came to a conclusion in the courtroom of federal judge Gladys Kessler in Washington. (The Curmudgeon knows because he was a member of Tobacco's defense team.)

Insiders predict a ruling sometime this week, perhaps on Friday afternoon so as not to rile the financial markets.

The Curmudgeon thinks a ruling will issue soon, but not quite this week. The Judge is likely to side with the Government in large part, but expect that to be just the first step in a lengthy appeal process that likely will end up in the Supreme Court on some key legal weaknesses in the Government's case.

In a couple days the Curmudgeon will post on why good tobacco policy translates into bad political results for Democrats.

Darwin Award For These Students

Two college students--a male and a female--were found dead inside a large deflated helium balloon (used to attract attention to a gas station), after they evidently suffocated trying to inhale the helium. Need we say more?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

How The Average Iraqi Must Feel

A friend was telling me about his Iraqi friend, whose family was no fan of Saddam's and was happy to see him go. But this Iraqi family is distraught over what has happened to their country and would like to see the Americans go to.

It got me thinking. Suppose we had a leader who had access to weapons of mass destruction, repeatedly threatened neighboring nations and other countries with whose policies he disagreed; who got into office in rigged elections; who was extremely unpopular with a majority of the country, but enjoyed rabid support from a small group of loyalists rewarded with government jobs and party positions; and who used the government to spy on his own citizens.

And just suppose that after years of this, the Chinese led a coalition of armed forces in invading our country to force a regime change and rid the country of this despiccable leader.

But, despite successfully removing the offending leader here, the Chinese coalition, unfamiliar with American culture, was ill-prepared to occupy the country while a new government was formed (in the Chinese fashion, which they viewed as superior). An insurgency arose (centered in Utah, where the former leader's base was strongest); the country's social, political and economic fabric was sundered; and just about everyone was worse off.

We wouldn't be too happy. In fact, even if all those bad things didn't occur, we still wouldn't be too happy as long as the occupation lasted. Even people who had been the most vocal critics of the deposed leader would denounce the Chinese occupiers, who would be miffed that they weren't seen as "liberators."

So now you know how the average Iraqi feels.

Friday, June 02, 2006

No Surprise In Post's Endorsement of Miller

Today's Washington Post endorsement of Harris Miller in the Virginia Democratic Senate primary hardly comes as a surprise.

Conceding that it's "an inopportune year for a candidate to have the word 'lobbyist' appended to one's name" the Post went ahead and endorsed former lobbyist Harris Miller as the "better-briefed, better-focused and more thoughtful" candidate.

Of course, the Post's editors are far more comfortable with the erudite, wonky Miller, a consummate Washington insider and Democratic Party activist, than they are with Webb.

Yet, what good is all that well-briefed, focused thoughtfulness if you're on the losing side of a race against Senator George Allen, who has none of those traits?

Miller has tried to pass himself off as "a shorter, poorer version" of popular former Virginia Governor Mark Warner. To paraphrase the late Lloyd Bentsen: "Harris Miller, you're no Mark Warner." Allen would have no trouble painting Miller as a carpetbagging liberal. If nominated, Miller will be lucky to get 45% of the vote against Allen.

If Democrats want to win in states like Virginia, they're going to have to broaden their appeal. Jim Webb offers a fine opportunity to do so.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Gluttony Award: Frito-Lay

This week's Gluttony--the Curmudgeon's award to a purveyor of obesity--goes to snack food giant Frito-Lay.

Recently, a commenter on another blog accused the Curmudgeon of being a "food nazi." Let's be precise: the Curmudgeon is a portion nazi, not a food nazi. We like all kinds of "junk food"--we enjoy ice cream (small bowl) just about nightly; we love Krispy Kreme doughnuts (limit--one); we eat pizza, fries, chips. We just don't overdo it.

And that brings us to Frito-Lay. The maker of Lays, Doritos, Tostitos, Ruffles, Cracker Jack, and so much more isn't getting a Gluttony because it makes snacks full of empty calories. Instead, the award goes to king of snacks for its "Big Grab"--the oversize bags of chips that have practically replaced the "regular" size at most convenience stores, gas stations and sandwich shops.

Just how much bigger is the Big Grab? About 50%. For example, a "small bag" of Ruffles Cheddar & Sour Cream flavored potato chips (they're pretty disgusting if you ask us) has 160 calories and 10 g of fat; the Big Grab version has 260 calories and 15 g of fat. That all adds up fast. Substitute the Big Grab for lunch each day of the work week and you've piled on an additional 400 calories per week without even breaking a sweat. What about some truth in advertising--call it the "Big Fat Slob" and see if anyone wants to buy it.

When the "Big Grab" was introduced a few years ago, it was clearly a larger version of Frito- Lay's single serving snacks. For a time, you could usually find it next to the regular single serving size, which of course made it pretty obvious that is was a much larger serving, i.e., a lot more fat, calories and carbs than the normal portion.

But over time those "regular" sizes have disappeared. Imagine that. It appears that the name "big grab" is disappearing too.

Just think: our kids will grow up thinking an enormous bag of potato chips (or other snack) is a normal single serving. And people will wonder why their kids are the size of hot air balloons!

So Frito-Lay: great snacks, but really, how 'bout keeping it real with the portion sizes!