Thursday, December 28, 2006

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus: Va. GOP Gift To Dems

We must have missed the memo in Richmond. Turns out the Virginia House Democrats secret Santa was none other than the House Republican leadership.

Yes, Santa was a couple days late, but a gift like this one is worth waiting for: the House Republican leadership has, after an exhaustive search, found the real grinch (like OJ's search for the real killers) who stole Virginia's roads. Surprise: it's not Tim Kaine, Mark Warner or the state's Democrats.

No. Turns out it's . . . (drum roll please): the County Supervisors!

Seriously. Admittedly, after returning from holiday, the Curmudgeon had to read the Washington Post's story on this one twice to make sure it wasn't a joke. Yet, according to the Post, the GOP house leadership in Richmond has decided it's the county supervisors, particularly those in Northern Virginia, who are to blame for the state's transportation crisis, because they've approved all those big subdivisions without taking care of the roads.

Democrats in the legislature must be laughing up their sleeves.

First, most of those county supervisors, in burgeoning Stafford, Prince William and Loudon counties, are Republicans (that didn't stop the GOP leadership from singling out Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald Connolly by name).

Second, the Republican controlled legislature has refused to give county supervisors the powers they need to control unfettered development.

Third, the transportation problem in Northern Virginia is not the roads within subdivisions. Rather, it is a multi-county problem with primary roads that connect to Washington, Tyson's Corner and other regional hubs, as well as rail and other forms of transit. In short, it's a state problem.

We're delighted to see that the geniuses who run the Virginia House of Delegates still just don't get it. Perhaps voters will help them figure it out in the '07 elections, just as they did at the national level in '06.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Holidays!

Absent some compelling item over the next few days, the Curmudgeon is taking a holiday break. We'll be back before the New Year to do a wrap (or maybe a rap) on the old year. (And our thanks to the creator of the cute little holiday penguin above.)

Curmudgeon Potpourri

We're just about in Holiday mode, as the kids wrap up school and the Curmudgeon wraps up presents. Here's some thoughts on today's news:

  • The FCC voted, along party lines, for a rule that would trump local governments in their negotiations with phone companies over new cable television services (the Republican reps voted for the new rule). Sure lets you know where the GOP is when it comes to big business versus local government rule. Next time someone tells you the Dems are the party of "big government" point them to this little tidbit.

  • Senator Warner is considering whether to run for a sixth term in 2008, when he'll be 81 years old. Evidently, he's concerned that the Old Dominion is starting to tilt Democratic. We like Senator Warner for his independence (which is not to say we wouldn't support a decent Democratic challenger). We doubt he'd lose. But, we hope he'll retire--he's spry now, but a lot can happen in six year when you're 81. We don't need a Strom Thurmond. Go out on a high note Sen. Warner!

  • Metro has gotten the greenlight to issue $15 million in renewable energy bonds to fund installation of solar panels on a six of its buildings in Maryland and Virginia. Bravo!

  • The Washington Post reports that the D.C. region is steadily moving south, climatewise. Today, in terms of plants that will thrive here, we're where North Carolina was about 15 years ago. Will we get to Florida in the next 30 years? And if so, will the Atlantic Ocean be lapping at the aptly named tidal basin?

  • Researchers report that obesity may be linked to certain bacteria in the gut. Interesting theory--not really new and still not proven to be the cause of our current epidemic (no one has shown that humans somehow have a different mix of these gut bacteria than 30 years ago.) We think the problem is still the same: many people eat far more than they should, abetted by a greedy food and restaurant industry that has made us think a normal portion is twice what it was 30 years ago.

  • George Bush says "we" need to make "additional sacrifices" for the war in Iraq. What do you mean "we" kemosabe? The only people making sacrifices right now are the soldiers stationed in Iraq, and their families. In the GOP, Wall Streeters are spending their record bonus checks and the entire country is obsessing over Britney, Paris and Lindsey. How 'bout it's time to make "sacrifices" period. Maybe it's time for the Republicans who still support this abomination to pay for it.

  • Add to our list of things that make it hard to give up swearing: driving in Tysons Corner during the Holiday season. Oy vey!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Gilmore For President?!

Now here's a big Election '08 story: former (way former) Virginia Governor James Gilmore has formed an exploratory committee and plans to run for the GOP nomination for President.

We wonder how many voters will confuse Gov. Gilmore with Gary Gilmore, the murderer executed by Utah in 1977 after telling his lawyers to drop all appeals on his behalf. (Guess which is which above!)

"Well, I'll be, Alma. That Gary Gilmore fella's running for President. I thought they'd executed him. He could be just what the country's looking for. Think I'll vote for 'im."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Our New Year's Resolutions

So far we have two New Year's resolutions for 2007:

1. We resolve to stop using swear words. After hearing the kids use some particularly inappropriate words recently, we realized we weren't setting a very good example. Mrs. Curmudgeon swore off curse words (sorry, couldn't resist the pun) a few months ago, so its up to the Curmudgeon to likewise set a good example.

So far, in our preliminary efforts to lose the cursing habit we're finding it *!#&*!'g hard! Especially on the golf course and while driving. (Let's face it, DC traffic makes it tough to give up cursing; we thought about exempting instances of bad word use when no one else is in the car, but decided we need to go cold turkey.)

2. We resolve to further reduce our carbon footprint on the face of our earth. This year we've made good progress reducing our electicity consumption and using solar energy, but we've still got a long way to go!

We hope our readers will join us in taking the carbon reduction pledge. We'll continue to post tips for doing so as we go through the year. And we'll also let you know how we're doing.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Better Way: Require Dominion Power To Invest In Alternative Energy

Dominion Power, which serves all of Northern Virginia, plans to construct a new 40 mile long high voltage power line, at an estimated cost of $300 million, to prevent possible power blackouts in the region by 2011.

Because the new power line will cut a swath across some of the most scenic land in the region, while skirting Civil War battlefields and nature conservation areas, it is generating a fair amount of controversy. Some of the proposed routes also cross through, or near, new upscale residential communities in the outer exurbs, where wealthy folks in gated communities with nicely landscaped golf courses are horrified that they, of all people, would have to look at the unsightly lines that bring electricity to their mega-mansions.

Not surprisingly, opposition is brewing. For example, the all-Republican Prince William Board of Supervisors, who you'd normally associate with pro-growth, pro-business, and pro-local utility monopoly, has unanimously voted to oppose the new line, not that they have any official say-so in the matter. (If they did have regulatory authority, and had to worry about a potential black-out in their communities, it wouldn't be quite so easy for them to just say no to Dominion.)

We think the debate over the new power line will be useful, as it will finally awaken Northern Virginia residents to a host of energy development issues they need to face in the coming years.

Here's some facts from Dominion: the NoVa region currently consumes 6700 megawatts of electricity, with that number steadily increasing with the region's growth. Only 2900 megawatts of that electricity is generated within the region, so the rest has to be shipped in from somewhere else. Electricity is shipped on high voltage transmission lines. Like NoVa's roads, its transmission lines are congested, so we need more.

Of course, we could build more electrical generating facilities in the region, but you can bet that each of those would also get the NIMBY (not in my back yard) treatment. In any event, building new central generation facilities takes a lot of lead time and is quite expensive.

In the short run, the new hgih voltage line is probably inevitable. In the long run, however, we need a much better solution than importing electricity to NoVa.

Fortunately, there is a better solution, which is to require Dominion to invest in low impact alternative energy, particularly wind and solar, in NoVa to deal with the growth in demand.

The most expensive electricity is that on the margin, i.e., new electricity to power new homes and businesses, and peak electricity to deal with peak demand on hot days with the air conditioners blazing away. That's because building a new power plant--or building new power lines and paying to import electricity from somewhere else--costs a lot more than simply fueling and running existing plants.

An alternative to building expensive new central generation plants is to invest in distributed energy--smaller sources of electricity that are distributed throughout the region and plugged into the grid. Solar energy from photovoltaic cells, wind energy from wind turbines, bio-diesel generators, and other small energy sources easily fit the distributed energy model.

In theory, anyone can invest in alternative distributed energy systems, plug them into the grid and reduce their own electric consumption, saving money. However, for most homeowners and businesses, it is not economical to do so. (See our discussion of the Curmudgeon's own experience with installing a solar electric array:

But for Dominion, it IS economical. Here's why:

A homeowner or businessperson gets charged the average cost of all the electricity Dominion produces, which is well below the marginal cost of a new kilowatt of electricity, or a kilowatt of peak electricity. If that homeowner/businessperson pays to install, for example, a solar electric system (as the Curmudgeon did recently), he will have to pay for it, upfront, at the cost of installing marginal or peak electricity. Under that model, it will be a long time before Joe Q homeowner is going to find it economical to invest in his own generation of electricity.

But what if Dominion were to make that investment instead? What Dominion could do is seek out the homes, businesses and properties that are most suited for alternative energy generation and offer to install and maintain it, while giving the property owner an incentive (reduced electricity rate) for agreeing. Under this arrangement, all ratepayers would share the costs and benefits of the new installations, which would be economical, because they would be in lieu of the massive costs of new central generating plants and power lines.

Here's an example of how it could work. My neighbor down the street has a perfect roof for solar electric cells. It faces south, is unobstructed by trees and has a nice pitch to it. Dominion could approach my neighbor and offer to install solar panels on his roof, which Dominion would own and maintain. Dominion could offer my neighbor a discount on his electricity in exchange for agreeing to let his roof become an electrical generator.

In this way, Dominion would have an incentive to go out and find the most ideal properties for installation of solar, wind or other technologies. At the same time, Dominion could develop economies of scale that individuals lack, thereby further reducing costs.

Our rough back of the envelope calculation is that Dominion could install 400MW of new capacity in NoVa for the $300 million it will spend on the new high voltage line. Dominion could also begin investing in renewable energy some of the billions of dollars it will need in new generating capacity over the coming decade, thereby transforming NoVa into an energy leader.

The sooner we get started, the better.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Oops! McCain's Hopes Suddenly Ride on Bush's War Strategery

We think Sen. John McCain is pretty sincere when he says he wants MORE troops sent to Iraq.

We also believe, however, that McCain didn't seriously think The Decider would follow such advice, and so figured he was pretty safe for the next two years as things inevitably continue to deteriorate in Iraq.

Now it looks like there's a good chance W will "go big" by sending an additional 15,000-30,000 troops to Baghdad next year. It's a risky gambit--if things don't get better, or if American casualties start to increase, Bush's popularity will sink ever lower. Yet, since voters won't be able to take out their frustrations on Bush, McCain (and congressional Republicans in general) could become the lightning rod for voter anger.

The problem for McCain is that, having called for more troops, he lacks control over how they are used and managed. He certainly won't be sleeping well knowing that Bush the Incompetent is calling the strategy if more troops are sent over. Nor will anyone give McCain a free pass if he argues, after things go further south, that he would have handled the details differently.

Of course, there is an upside. Maybe the plan will work. We're not holding our breath, and we're not looking forward to paying for it (ok, borrowing against our kids' futures to pay for it) either.

We hope Bush will spare McCain the embarassment, by coming to his senses and realizing that the folks pushing for more troops are the same ones that pushed him into this mess in the first place.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Flurry of Polls: Good News for Edwards, Guiliani

Today is poll day, as new polls from ABC/Washington Post, NBC/Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg/LA Times plumb the depths of Americans' views on the War in Iraq, Bush's still declining approval ratings and the early, early show on the '08 presidential primaries.

We won't dwell too long on Iraq: it's pretty obvious from all the polls that Americans are completely fed up with the war and they don't trust the fellow--President Bush--who screwed up everything in the first place to somehow turn it around. Resoundingly, they want our troops home, the sooner, the better.

Iraq could continue to be an albatross for all Republican office holders, not just the President, which explains why folks like GOP Senator Gordon Smith from moderate Oregon, hearing from their constituents, are abandoning ship.

As for the President's approval ratings, they're just about as low as they could go absent a sex scandal. And for good reason--these polls were taken in the days after the President politely received the Iraq Study Group report and promptly signalled, mostly by body language, that he wasn't too interested in the ISG's primary recommendations.

But none of that is really new. What is interesting are the poll numbers on the '08 presidential election, which, let's face it, will be a dominant topic of news coverage for the next 22 months whether we like it or not.

On the GOP side, the news is good for Guiliani and bad for McCain. Every poll is now consistently showing Guiliani ahead of McCain among Republican voters, with Rudy G. expanding a small lead he'd had in a couple polls before the November elections. Despite Bob Novak's prediction today that "McCain Inc." will be hard to beat because Republicans don't like internecine fights and therefore prefer to crown their nominees by implied consensus, we expect a bloody, hard fought battle on the GOP side.

Indeed, the Republicans could use a good airing out of differences in the party after getting thumped in November. McCain's problem is that a lot of party conservatives are still pissed off at him for all kinds of things, and these are folks who don't easily forgive and forget. Despite Guiliani's more unconventional stands on some important social issues, he hasn't done much to make anyone in the party mad at him.

The biggest thing Guiliani has going for him: the aura of competence. Most Republicans will tell you, at least in private, that they are sorely disappointed in George W. Bush because he's turned out to be just darned incompetent. They don't want to make that mistake again. Some pundits will say that the polls don't really reflect the tenor of the party activists most likely to vote in the primaries, but we discount that view. Many of the Republican primaries are also open to independents, who adore Guiliani.

And the bad news for McCain--his efforts to woo conservatives, which don't appear to be working, have clearly lost him much of his former independent base--the ABC/Post poll reports that McCain has dropped 15 percentage points in favorability ratings among independents since March.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney seems poised as a possible alternative if McCain and Guiliani beat each other up so badly that voters want someone else. But, Romney's past support for gay rights has been much more vocal than Guiliani's, and many voters voice suspicion of his mormon faith. We think Romney has the time and charisma to overcome both those challenges.

Now, to the Democrats. The candidate we think is sitting pretty is former North Carolina Senator John Edwards. It appears that Edwards, who polls third among Democrats, in the low double digits, has benefitted from former Virginia Governor Mark Warner's decision not to run. Edwards certainly gets a boost from the NBC/WSJ finding that he--unlike either Hillary or Barack--beats McCain in a head-to-head race due to strong support from independents. (We have long believed that one of the many ways Kerry blew the '04 election was by not turning Edwards loose to campaign in a number of more conservative swing states.)

Hillary, of course, continues to lead the field, and she's also got a big lead in money and organization. If she were a Republican with all those advantages, she would get the nomination for the reasons outlined by Bob Novak. But Democrats are more contentious and, more importantly, desperate for a win. Hillary's high negatives continue to worry many party activists.

While that obviously leaves the door open for Senator Barack Obama, we have to wonder how long the Obama media lovefest will last. Pretty soon Hillary's forces will start going after him, and his proxies will then go after her, which is more likely to tarnish Obama than Hillary's attacks. He'll look like just another politician then. We won't rule out a Kennedy-esque groundswell for Obama that propels him to the nomination, but for now we're skeptical.

That's why Edwards looks so good. He can spend the next year rising above the fray and playing non-politician, hoping to burnish his credentials with independents to prove that he, and not Hillary or Barack, is the one who can actually win. Whether that would work in a race against Rudy G., we don't know--he's also very popular among independents.

We note that Gore scores about 10% in the polls--if Gore doesn't run (and we hope he doesn't), we think it will help Edwards most, especially if Edwards is smart enough to jump on the green bandwagon. We think Americans overwhelmingly favor a more active government approach on energy and the environment, and the NBC/WSJ poll backs us up: 80% favor forcing more fuel efficient cars even if it costs more, and 59% favor eliminating tax breaks for oil companies.

So, who will be the next President? Sorry, we're not ready to make that bold prediction. We'd be the first to say it could easily be someone whose name is not even mentioned above. There's still a long way to go.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Oil Crisis? Yes. Energy Crisis, No.

The United States and the rest of the developed world do not have an "energy crisis." What we do have is an "oil crisis," or perhaps more accurately, a "hydrocarbon crisis," or maybe just a "carbon crisis."

First the good news. The developed world has the technology, resources and economic might to develop essentially unlimited energy for electricity generation and transportation. Let's start with electricity. In his excellent book, "Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble," Lester Brown tells us that the U.S. has enough wind power to easily supply ALL our electricity demand by using the latest ultra-efficient wind turbines. (We commend Brown's book to anyone wanting a brief, easy to read summary of the world's environmental problems and how to fix them.)

On top of all that wind power, we also have enormous capability to tap solar power, especially in sunnier southern climes. We can also tap wave energy from the ocean and geothermal energy from underground (on the west coast). And get this: we can even make electricity from the tiny vibrations caused by our feet as we walk--engineers in the U.K. have announced a pilot project to generate electricity in a London subway station from the vibrations of 30,000 patrons per day walking across a springy floor.

As for transportation, the technology exists for hydrogen powered fuel cell automobiles--Honda's FCX concept car, to debut in 2008 with a 210 mile per hydrogen tank driving range, is an exciting example. We can also easily extend the range of fairly conventional automobiles by using existing hybrid technology with an additional electric battery to get 70 miles to a gallon. If we did that, we might reasonably get most of the fuel from ethanol.

If we, as a society, can waste $400 billion on a pointless war in Iraq, then we surely can easily afford the conversions to these new technologies over a 10-15 year period.

Now, the bad news, and why we need to get going (having lost several years in the do-nothing on energy Bush administration). If we, especially the United States (and China, which is dubiously catching up to us), continue to emit carbon into the atmosphere at the same current rate, we will accelerate global climate change to the point that our grandchildren will live in a much different world than we do.

The Curmudgeon is not as gloom and doomy on climate change as some folks. There are good sides to climate change (milder winters=more golf; some regions will have better agricultural conditions) and there are some bad sides (more and stronger storms, rising oceans, larger deserts). On balance, however, we think climate change will be more harmful than good, and it's also very risky--we really don't know how bad it might turn out.

In any event, sooner or later we have to reduce our reliance on oil and natural gas, because demand is now rising faster than new supplies can be found. (Coal is a different story--we have plenty, but it would be a huge eco-catastrophe to go all out on coal.) And we ought to do it sooner because it will be good for our environment, our economy and our security.

Consider this: the U.S. spends about $100 billion per year on imported oil. That money does little to create jobs and economic opportunities at home, and much of it goes to enrich countries that are enemies of the U.S. Diverting that $100 billion to the U.S. to build a new energy infrastructure would reduce our trade deficit and create jobs and investment at home.

Europe and Japan are already well on their way down this road. It's time the U.S. gets going, too.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Holiday Tips? Bah, Humbug.

Why how nice! Both my Washington Post distributor (a Mr. Iqbal) and my Wall Street Journal distributor (a Mr. Mejia) included holiday cards with the newspapers they delivered to my door this past weekend.

Oh, but wait, what's this? They also included envelopes addressed to themselves. And just in case we didn't quite understand, Mr. Mejia's card says "thanks for your tips," right below "May your Christmas be filled with laughter and fun!" (Hmm, nothing about our Chanuka.)

Now, it's true that if we had a freckle-faced old-fashioned paper-boy who we saw pedalling his bike past our house on an occasional afternoon, and who happened by to collect our subscription fee every now and again, we'd probably give him a little holiday tip.

But, we've never seen or met either Mr. Iqbal or Mr. Mejia. We know that both are businessmen, independent distributors who, presumably, do this for a living. We're no more inclined to give them a "tip", or a cash holiday payment, than we are to give one to all those reporters, editors, photographers, copysetters and everyone else who makes sure the Post and WSJ gets to our house each day.

And, frankly, we resent the way our newspaper distributors so brazenly stick their hands out expecting a "tip". Do these guys report those to the IRS? We doubt it. They're not tipped employees in the traditional sense, and they're not service workers with whom we have personal interaction.

We're sure they're perfectly nice folks, just doing their jobs. So, to Mr. Iqbal and Mr. Mejia: Happy Holidays!

(Remember, we are the Curmudgeon.)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Neo-Cons Want To Burn Bush Twice

Now that the Iraq Study Group's report has been out for a few days and everyone is getting their say, the only true consensus is among the neo-cons, who got us into this war, who are uniformly demanding that Bush ignore the ISG's recommendations and move on to "victory" in Iraq.

As the Decider-in-Chief himself would say, "fool me once, shame on . . . shame on--a fooled man can't get fooled again."

No, Mr. President, don't let the Neo-Cons fool you again. And don't be so intimidated by Vice President Cheney. Yes, Cheney and the other hard core hawks may call you a "wus" (use a more colorful term, no doubt), but don't fall for that old trick. A true wus is someone who gives in to the bullies.

Look carefully at what the neo-cons are saying. Do they offer a way out of Iraq via the route of "victory"? Not from what we've seen. It's easy for the Wall Street Journal, American Spectator, Weekly Standard editorial crowd--who, we'd bet, don't have a single son or daughter fighting for "freedom" in Iraq, and who'd eviscerate you for raising their taxes to pay for this disastrous war--to criticize the ISG report. Anyone can do that. But they're not offering any solutions, either.

Indeed, some of the neo-cons are either offering a revisionist history of why they got us into this war in the first place, or simply showing their true colors. Here's one we liked today, from Jed Babbin, an undersecretary of Defense in the Bush I admin, and a contributing editor to American Spectator, who has this gem, under a predictable headline of "Don't Give In To Defeat In Iraq": "We didn't go into Iraq to create democracy there, but to begin draining the terrorist swamp that extends from Cairo to Tehran, from Riyadh to Damascus."

Well, that's news to us. If that's true, then we're going to need a few more soldiers and a much better strategy. In any event, all we've accomplished so far is to flood the swamp with new terrorists and vastly complicate our real war on terrorism.

When it comes to offering a positive program for "victory" the closest we come is Sen. John McCain, who really isn't a neo-con, insisting that we send more troops. We think that's more political posturing than anything else: McCain knows that's not going to happen and he knows Iraq will get worse, whatever course we follow. This way, he can safely say, oh, in about another year as he's running for President, "hey, you should've followed my advice."

We will say this. If, Mr. President, you are going to reject the ISG recommendations and continue to insist on achieving "victory," then, at the very least, you SHOULD order in more troops. We oppose that, because we don't think more troops will do the trick. But, if you're serious, Mr. President, at least put your money where your mouth is. (And also help derail McCain's candidacy when all that happens is more needless U.S. troop deaths and more death and destruction in Iraq.)

If you do listen to the neo-cons, then, for god's sake, at least define what "victory" is so we'll have an objective to meet. And insist on a plan to achieve it. For example, if the goal is to achieve a multi-ethnic democracy in Iraq, then our military will have to confront and dismantle the Shi'ite militias, as well as the consequences of doing so.

And stop pretending there's no civil war. Today's Washington Post contains a small snapshot of the sectarian violence that couldn't be a clearer indication of a fairly traditional civil war. In "For Iraq's Sunnis, Conflict Closes In" (, reporter Sudarsan Raghavan, describes how Shi'ite militias have steadily encroached closer and closer to one mixed Sunni/Shi'ite neighborhood, expelling Sunni families, taking over their homes and killing many Sunni men.

This is classic civil war. An armed faction is steadily pushing forward into new territory, expelling its enemies and consolidating its gains. It may be difficult for Americans to see the front lines in this civil war, since to us all Iraqis look alike and no one's wearing uniforms (other than the police uniforms misappropriated by the Shi'ite militias), but to Iraqis the front lines are pretty clear as denoted by militia checkpoints, graffiti scrawled walls and steady encroachment by Shi'ites into western Baghdad.
We ought to get out now. And when we do, it will get really ugly. We shouldn't go too far, because we'll probably be back soon, but, we hope, with a real plan and a real objective.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Miscellaneous Curmudgeon: Football Polls Revisited; The Imams; Power Line Woes; "Victory" in Iraq

Today will be a miscellaneous Curmudgeon day to follow-up on some recent posts.

College Football Rumble

Today's Washington Post sports section has an article on the voters in the Harris Interactive Poll, one of two "human" polls included in the complex and controversial BCS ratings formula for determining which college football teams get to play for the "national championship."

The Post story notes that a few of the Harris voters made what the Post evidently thinks are unusual selections by not including both Florida and Michigan in the #2 and #3 spots. Give us a break--there are a lot of reasons why someone could logically vote another team into one or both of those slots since the criteria are purely subjective.
For example, Boise State was undefeated. Why not rank the Rams #2? Wisconsin, playing in the Big Ten, had only one loss--why can't the Wolverines be in the top 3? Louisville had only one loss, to Rutgers, on the road. The Cardinals have a case for being in the top 3.
The Post doesn't say how the voters in the other poll, of college coaches, came out, but we'd bet that a few of them also put teams other than Michigan and Florida in the top 3. And the Post should have pointed out that the computer polls didn't all rank Ohio State, Michigan and Florida as #'s 1-3.
There's an easy way to avoid all the ruckus: have a playoff for the national title. And don't wait six weeks after the football season ends to do so.
The Imams

Earlier this week, we noted an important op-ed piece in the WSJ detailing why six Muslim imams were booted off a US Airways flight. The imams and various Islamic groups are continuing to use the occasion to claim they were removed from the flight because they were praying openly in the terminal before leaving.

False, false, false. It is not uncommon for Muslims to pray in the Minneapolis terminal before boarding flights. Not a one has been barred from a flight for doing so. Instead, the imams engaged in provacative behavior that justifiably caused their removal: they refused to go to their assigned seats, instead seating themselves in the configuration of the 9/11 terrorists; they asked for seat belt extensions, which can be used as weapons, but then did not use them--instead placing them rolled up under their seats; and they were overheard making anti-American statements in Arabic.
One of the Islamic groups in Minneapolis supporting the imams said, "well, Christians pray in the Mall of America all the time, but they aren't prevented from shopping." Nor, we believe, would Muslims. But if the same Muslim then walked about the mall with his hand on what appeared to be a trigger device attached to what appeared to be a suicide belt, he would be arrested, even if it turned out if wasn't really a suicide belt. And if he shouted "death to America" we'd hope he'd be removed, too.
Power Line Politics

Dominion Power, in the planning stages to build a new high voltage transmission line to Northern Virginia, is holding citizens meetings to discuss its proposals. Not surprisingly, this is bringing out the NIMBY crowd--folks who don't want the line in their backyard. But it goes further. Folks also don't want the line going through any civil war battle sites, or through woods, or through any scenic area, or through their golf courses.
Here's an idea: let the folks who don't want a new power line go without electricity. We wonder how many of these NIMBY's have done the least little thing to curb their electricity consumption of late.
Yes, high voltage lines are ugly. Yes, it would be nice if we didn't need a new one. But as the population of Northern Virginia continues to grow, the infrastructure to sustain it must keep pace. Perhaps policy makers in NoVa could use this as an opportunity to get real about conservation and alternative energy measures.

What is Victory in Iraq?

If we've said it once, we've said it a thousand times: before you can seek "victory" in Iraq, you have to know what victory is. We're glad to see a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece saying the same thing. See Shelby Steele's piece at:

And by the way, if all we mean by "victory" is a stable government, then why'd we go to war in the first place? Iraq had a stable government before we destroyed the country.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Will Virginia Republicans Take A "Thumpin'" In '07?

It looks like Virginia's Republicans are destined to duplicate the feats of their national brethren in the upcoming 2007 elections for the General Assembly. Will they lose one or both houses? It's certainly possible.

While its still early, recent events point to Democratic gains in the '07 races, when all seats in the General Assembly will be up for grabs with no statewide or national races in play.

First up in the bad news for Republicans is the vote of the Prince William Board of Supervisors--mostly Republicans, mind you--to impose a one year moratorium on new home construction in the county. The vote is intended to send a message to Richmond to get something done on the transportation front.

Prince William has been tending more Democratic in recent elections, and will continue in that direction, especially if the conservative GOP block in the state House continues to frustrate a comprehensive transportation bill.

Second up in the bad news is Loudon County's similar approval of a measure significantly restricting new development in that jurisdiction. While Loudon's problems are a bit different than those of Prince William, the transportation gridlock in Northern Virginia has certainly contributed to the thinking about restricting growth there. Loudon also has been tending more Democratic of late.

One other piece of bad news for Republicans: a federal court in Richmond has thrown out a law requiring open primaries in Virginia, meaning that Republicans likely will hold closed primary contests to nominate some of their candidates next fall. Why is that bad news? Because it means the Republicans will likely field more conservative candidates--no one in the primaries will be playing to independent voters--with a tin ear to the emerging politics of the Commonwealth.

Here's what's most likely to happen IF the conservative idealogues in the party again defeat any comprehensive transportation measure (we'd say there's a pretty good chance they'll wise up and compromise): just as in the national elections this fall, it will be the more moderate Republicans in swing districts who will lose, with Democrats making big gains in Fairfax, Prince William and Loudon counties (think of them as the Connecticut/Ohio/Indiana of the national race this year) and smaller gains in other parts of the state.

To take control of the Virginia Senate, Democrats would need to capture a net of 4 seats; in the House, Democrats would need to net 8 seats to take the majority. A tall task, but well within reach, as shown by the swing at the national level this year.

Democrats should make transportation THE issue for the coming election. They should get behind Governor Kaine and all support one measure. Transportation is the Virginia GOP's Iraq. If they insist on staying the course, they will lose.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

US Airways and the Six Imams: The Real Story

Right before Thanksgiving, six Islamic imams were booted off a US Airways flight out of Minneapolis in what the media portrayed as a gross instance of ugly American religious profiling.

Subsequently, a Muslim group staged a "pray-in" at Reagan National Airport in Washington as a protest and vowed to take US Airways to court over the incident.

Today, we thank Debra Burlingame for her thorough and insightful piece on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal (a page we rarely find favor with) for setting the facts straight on this incident. Burlingame is a director of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation and sister of the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77 that was crashed into the Pentagon by Islamic terrorists on 9/11.

Here's a link to the Burlingame's important article:

Some highlights: Before boarding US Airways Flight 300, the six bearded imams shouted out "Allahu Akbar" several times as they offered prayers while nearly 150 other passengers waited to board the flight.

Of course, that's just what the terrorists who hijacked United Flight 93 shouted into the cockpit voice recorder before slamming into the ground in Pennsylvania, killing all aboard.

But the imams were not ejected for praying in the terminal, no matter how chilling their words might have been to the passengers standing around them. (For the record, the Curmudgeon has nothing against people praying before a flight--we certainly do it. But we're not particularly comfortable getting on board a plane with anybody, of any religion, who is shouting "god is great" before they board. Silent or quiet prayers will do just fine, thank you.)

Instead, after they boarded the flight, the imams refused to take their assigned seats, instead dispersing to seats in the first row of first class, the midcabin exit rows and rear. As Burlingame points out, this is the exact configuration taken by the 9/11 terrorists.

Three of the imams requested seatbelt extensions, which are provided to obese passengers, but can be used as a weapon because they have a heavy metal buckle on the end of a long strap. Each of them placed the rolled up extensions under their seats.

In addition, an arabic speaking passenger pulled aside a crew member to relate translations of the imams suspicious conversations, which had frightened the passenger. Those conversations included furious denunciations of U.S. foreign policy and angry proclamations about Americans in general.

Sorry folks, but while the Curmudgeon believes in civil liberties, those imams deserved the boot. Their actions were provocative--especially the seats they took, which they surely knew, and the crew surely knew, had 9/11 significance.

We're kidding ourselves if we don't realize that there are, in fact, large numbers of Islamic radicals who would love nothing better than to kill and terrorize Americans, and that one of their favorite tactics still involves using airplanes as their instruments of terror.

Burlingame also does an excellent job of taking apart the misleading post-incident protests orchestrated by a group called the Muslim American Society.

We hope US Airways sticks to its guns on this one. The airline and crew did the right thing.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bio-fuels Can Only Take Us So Far

There's a lot of excitement out there about bio-fuels, which is also spurring considerable investment.

The exuberance needs to be tempered.

Bio-fuels fall into two categories: ethanol, which is fuel oil produced from plant matter that can be mixed with gasoline, and bio-diesel, which is diesel fuel produced from plant matter.

The big advantage of both is that they are "renewable" fuels, i.e., the crops used to make them can be regrown, and they emit far less carbon into the atmosphere than oil-based fuels. Another advantage is that they can be produced in the U.S., reducing reliance on imported fuels from politically unstable parts of the world.

Congress has decided to provide heavy subsidies for bio-fuels, on the order of more than $.50/gallon.

Some countries are going further. For example, Brazil intends to supply 100% of its auto-fuel needs from bio-fuels and already is half-way there.

For the U.S., however, it is not likely that bio-fuels can provide more than 20% of our gas-guzzling requirements, and even that is a stretch. First, in the U.S., most of our bio-fuels are coming from corn, which is not a very efficient crop for producing such fuels. Sugar cane (Brazil) and palm oil (Indonesia) produce far more energy units for each unit of energy invested than corn.
(In fact, some scientists have argued that producing fuel from corn may be a net energy loser. Consider the fertilizer and pesticide inputs, as well as tractors used for plowing and harvesting, etc.)

Second, converting cropland to fuel production is likely to drive up food costs if done on a large enough scale. Not really a good trade-off.

Third, in many parts of the world, including parts of the U.S., growing crops for fuel requires using up precious fresh water resources. Again, not a good trade-off.

All of which is a good way of saying that in the bio-fuels gold-rush, we need to have better oversight of what is going on. For example, we should discourage any scheme that involves irrigating fields to produce bio-fuels. Likewise, we should encourage development of bio-fuels from sources, such as switch-grass, that don't compete with foodstuffs and that can be grown on land that otherwise likely would not be productive.

And while we're at it, we should make sure that subsidies for bio-fuels are not more generous than they are for other renewable forms of energy, while also rationalizing subsidies for conservation measures that may save more energy. It makes no sense to convert vast tracts of land to bio-fuel production simply to power behemoth SUV's carrying a single person apiece on their long commutes to work each day.

Perhaps the next Congress could tackle these issues in a true comprehensive energy bill, instead of the bastardized piece of legislation that Dick Cheney and the oil companies drew up in private a few years ago.

Monday, December 04, 2006

John Badham Directs "Heroes"

We're a fan of NBC's new series "Heroes." It's great that a show with no established stars (yet) can do so well and be so original.

We noticed tonight that big-time movie director John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, War Games, Point of No Return) directed the most recent episode. Seems we're not the only fan!

Greedy Yale Can't Get Enough $$$

The Curmudgeon truly loves his alma mater, Yale University. Why, if it weren't for Yale, we might still have to work for a living!

Yale, however, has become a greedy little pigmeister. (Or maybe it always was.)

Recently, we received word through various alumni communications that Yale has launched a five year, $3 billion "Yale Tomorrow" campaign. The purpose of the campaign is "to expand [Yale's] capacity to contribute to a global society through its scholarship and graduates" and to make Yale an "international university."

The problem we have with this is that Yale already has an $18 billion endowment, second among universities only to Harvard's $29 billion fund. In the past year, Yale earned a tidy 22.9% return on its endowment, which we can ensure you is more than the Curmudgeon earned on its investments.

While Yale has done an outstanding job investing its endowment, it's pretty cheap when it comes to putting that money to work, spending something less than 4% a year (like most colleges, we might add) to support the University.

In contrast, most tax-exempt foundations are required by law to spend at least 5% of their funds each year on the programs they support. If Yale were to spend five percent of its endowment on the University, that would be $900 million per year, and with investment returns consistently exceeding 10%, it would still see its endowment grow at a hefty rate.

(This isn't a Yale only problem. It seems that many large private colleges have become so enamored with endowment envy--"ours is bigger than yours"--that they've lost focus on what to do with all those piles of money. Changing the law to govern them under the same standards as large foundations might help them get better focused.)

Each year, the Curmudgeon dutifully cuts a decent-sized check to Yale, and we'll continue to do so. But, over time we've started to wonder whether Yale is really worthy as it hordes its billions. There are plenty of needy organizations out there whose budgets are stretched to the breaking point as they do their good deeds (many of whom we also support with annual checks).

We're not convinced by the Yale Tomorrow campaign. Sure, Yale would like to catch Harvard, just because its Harvard. But Harvard is a bigger school, and Yale is still far out in front of the rest of the pack in terms of endowments.

We'll keep giving to Yale--for now. But we're not planning on giving any more than we have in the past. We're certainly not going to give something extra simply because Yale suddenly says it needs another $3 billion. We'd urge our fellow alumni to exercise restraint as well--consider all the other needy organizations that are out there doing good work.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Reaping What They Sow: Global Warming Catches Up To Beachfront Property Owners

Not to pick on them, but, as reported in the Washington Post, it seems that Peg and Ronald Buchanan, from the Washington area, built a mega-beach house in North Carolina's outer banks with eight bedrooms, 5000 square feet of living space, a heated pool and a kiddie pool. The house, right on the beach front, sits just a few feet above sea level.

We figure the carbon footprint for this big ol' beach house with its two pools has gotta be huge--we're talking way beyond Bigfoot.

Now, the Buchanans have a problem. They can't get insurance on the home, valued--at least until the insurance problem--at $2 million. It seems the federal government has reclassified the beachfront area where their home is located as a high risk flood area. In other words, the rest of us are no longer going to be required to subsidize the risk that a hurricane will wash the Buchanans' home into the sea.

We feel sorry for the Buchanans, since they did invest a significant portion of their life's savings into this home. And certainly the Buchanans are not unique--a lot of folks in the U.S. have large carbon footprints.

Still, there's a poetic justice in all this: global warming coming back to haunt the folks causing global warming instead of poor folks in third world countries.

[We'll post some more on this next week--the Buchanans' story appears as part of an in-depth report on the Post on how insurers are pulling back from various coastal areas--and even metropolitan New York--due to worries about the increasing toll of global warming. It's an important story, yet the Post for some reason put it on the front of the Style section on a Saturday morning, rather than page one on a weekday, where it belongs.]

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Civil Debate Over "Civil War"

Various pundits are now debating whether Iraq has fallen into a state of "civil war", arguing in the process over various definitions of the term.

We like the definition in our 30 year old Merrian-Webster Collegiate Dictionary:


That's a pretty useful general definition. We guess the only issue we have under this definition is whether the fighting between different geographical sections (Sunni north versus Shi'ite south) and different political factions (Sunni ba'athists, Sadr militia, other Shi'ite militias) amounts to a "war."

Among the definitions of war in our dictionary is this: "open armed conflict between . . . factions within the same country."

We'd say that conflict between armed Sunni insurgents and armed Shi'ite militias killing about 100 people a day constitutes open armed conflict.

So, for better or worse, it's pretty clear that Iraq is, and has been for some time, in a state of civil war.

Of course, the fact that some parts of the country are relatively free of conflict and fairly stable on a day-to-day basis doesn't change the fundamental conclusion. During the American civil war there was never any fighting north of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, meaning that for the entire war the states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Delaware--to name just a few--saw no fighting (other than an occasional draft riot). Even in the South there was little conflict outside Virginia and a few coastal outposts for the first couple of years.

So, the fact that Kurdish territory, or majority Shi'ite cities like Basra have seen little of the carnage afflicting the rest of the country hardly means there's no civil war. Quite the contrary. The Kurds have reportedly built up a standing militia of nearly 100,000 troops to defend their territory if it becomes necessary.

Nor does the fact that a lot of the mayhem in Iraq is perpetrated by criminal gangs change the conclusion that Iraq is in a state of civil war. Criminals almost alway take advantage of civil strife and breakdowns in societal order to ply their trade. Civil wars are almost always accompanied by criminal activity in war torn regions. And, it appears that much of the criminal activity in Iraq is actually aligned with various militias to help fund their operations.

The problem for American forces is that we're stuck in a civil war that we accidentally caused (although it was clearly foreseeable), with no real policy or strategy other than, in a sense, to tamp down the war and curb more extreme fighting. All that accomplishes, however, is to let the embers of war burn ever more brightly just below the surface.

We're also stuck with a war strategist--our President--who refuses to concede reality, who made blunder after blunder in getting us into the war and prosecuting it, and who appears uniquely unqualified to get us out of it.

Unless we're willing to enter the war on one side--not a real option--we ought to largely withdraw. Yes, there will be chaos, but eventually the Iraqis will settle their differences, both militarily and politically. (Look at Viet Nam.) We should maintain a sufficient force to prevent overt meddling by any other local military force (Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey).

The sooner we go, however, the sooner the Iraqis will be able to resolve their problems.