Thursday, May 31, 2007

Boys Will Be Boys

We don't usually agree with much on the op-ed page of the conservative New York Post, but we did like today's piece from Christina Hoff Summers, author of "The War Against Boys," in which she promotes the a new publication from England, "The Dangerous Book For Boys."

In "Snips and Snails, A Book For Real Boys," Summers describes the obvious appeal to the male of the species of the runaway bestseller from two British authors:

"The Dangerous Book for Boys" is all about Swiss Army knives, compasses, tying knots and starting fires with a magnifying glass. It includes adventure stories with male heroes, vivid descriptions of battles and a history of artillery. Readers learn how to make their own magnets, periscopes and bows and arrows. It gives rules and tactics for poker and marbles - and secret moves for coin tricks.

Summers goes on to discuss the sorry state of education of boys today in American public schools, something that, sadly, we have witnessed first hand. Schools want boys to act like girls and learn like girls, but for some reason the boys just aren't taking to it. More boys are failing and fewer are going on to college--indeed, nearly 60 percent of today's college undergrads are women.

At our son's middle school, teachers assign all kinds of "projects" in which more points are given for form than substance. A neatly done project, with nice little labels, that precisely follows the stifling "rubric" handed out by the teacher (the principal, assistant principal, counselors and 90 percent of the teachers are, of course, women), will score far more points than something that creatively--but maybe with some mess, and maybe not on the schedule laid out--gets across the point being taught. Most projects end with an oral presentation, a skill at which girls of this age are far more accomplished. So, guess who does well on these projects?

In the fifth grade, our son was required to read a bizarre book about a girl who goes into some kind of space time warp. The Curmudgeon helped him get through literally weeks of vocabulary assignments based on this book, which could be described as nothing other than young chick lit. Imagine the howls of protest if the school made the girls learn vocabulary based on "The Battle of Midway" or "Disaster At Johnstown"--the Curmudgeon's two favorite books in elementary school.

We've tried, of course, to get our son to see it all as a game--score as many points as you can, just like a videogame. But it's not working, not for him, and not for most of the other boys in school either.

We realize some of this comes from our well-meaning lefty colleagues. Summers describes how the National PTA urges schools to replace the competitive "tug of war" with a cooperative "tug of peace"--which is pure nonsense.

It's time to wake up to the fact that our schools are failing boys.

Thompson Entry Temporarily Riles GOP Side of Race

Actor/Senator Fred Thompson's signal that he will run for the GOP presidential nomination was surely not unexpected, but it does cement one more piece of the 2008 electoral puzzle.

We previously predicted that both Thompson and, later this year, Newt Gingrich, will run on the Republican side, while we continue to believe that Thompson's Tennessee colleague Al Gore will not run on the Democratic side.

Thompson will get a temporary boost in the polls from making it clear he really intends to run. Right now, he polls at about 10 percent nationally amongst likely Republican primary voters and caucus goers, and at about 7-9 percent in Iowa and New Hampshire, and the low teens in South Carolina and Florida. We think he'll go as high as 15 percent nationally in some polls, and he may break out in South Carolina and/or Florida as a top two candidate.

But then, folks will get to know more about him and he'll fade back into the high single digits. Thompson's biggest problem is laziness. Not lazy like the Curmudgeon, who likes to play a round of golf every now and then, and thinks of blogging as "work", but lazy compared to the other candidates who are running.

Thompson has hinted that he'll run a more national campaign, utilizing the internet, rather than engaging in the exhausting process of "retail" politics in places like Iowa and New Hampshire. He also shows some disdain for flying about doing fundraisers, which just happens to be a great way to motivate your supporters. In other words, Thompson wants to sit around HQ and direct his campaign, rather than hang out in the field. We doubt that's a recipe for success, but who knows--with the primary schedule so front-loaded, maybe it will work.

Republicans will also see that Thompson isn't Ronald Reagan (indeed, Ronald Reagan wasn't Ronald Reagan, just like JFK wasn't JFK--they get bigger in death) and he really isn't all that different from the other candidates. Nor is he likely to break out in national head-to-head polls as someone who can beat the leading Democrats.

Right now, the Republicans remind us of where the Dems were in 2003--facing a mushy field of uninspiring candidates, with the mainstream trying to pick someone who could win, while the not insignificant fringe looks for someone given to the cause.

Once Gingrich joins the race this fall, it will be even more muddled, to the point that we wonder if this will be the first year since 1952 when Republicans show up at their national convention without a nominee locked into place. That would certainly be exciting--indeed, in '52 Ike made a deal with California Governor Earl Warren to get his delegates, which put Ike over the top and put Warren in as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Practically anything can happen at a deadlocked convention. (It could happen on the Dem side, too, but we'd lay greater odds, at least for now, on the GOP side.)

Kudos For Curmudgeon

The Curmudgeon learned, courtesy of a post on VB Dems, that we were recently featured in an editorial page feature in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper down in Hampton Roads.

We couldn't find the V-P article online, but here's the relevant excerpt from VB Dems (i.e., Virginia Beach Democrats--they have a nice blog and website):

"Today’s [May 13, 2007] Virginian-Pilot has in its editorial section (page B13), a column entitled “Blogs”. In it are portions of two blog posts: 1) “Embarrassing Virginia challenges NY to a duel” from XCurmudgeon and 2) “Virginia ignoring threat of ‘climate snap’” from Raising Kaine. . . .

I’m thrilled for XCurmudgeon and Raising Kaine coz #1 they’re liberal Democrat blogs and #2 their posts are excellent reads."

Thanks to both the Virginian Pilot and the VB Dems for the compliments--keeps us going when we're down in the dumps!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Crazy World of Travel Soccer

When the Curmudgeon was a kid, we spent Memorial Day weekend in lazy pursuits. Back then, school was over, or just about over, youth baseball season had wound down and we were most likely eating hot dogs and drinking iced tea at some neighbor's house each day between barefooted trips to the local creek.

This weekend, we spent most of our time with the youngest Curmudgeon child (a 9-year-old third grader) at a travel soccer tournament.

We don't know who invented travel soccer, but they should be tried for crimes against humanity.

Our youngest loves soccer. He'll play as much as he can. Since travel soccer exists, and offers the greatest opportunity for more playing, that's what he wants to do.

And so, we found ourselves getting up early Saturday morning for the hour-long drive to western Manassas, where some genius of park planning has placed an enormous soccer and baseball complex in the middle of nowhere, with no trees and no shade, with no shops nearby and nothing to do in that interminable three to four hour period between games.

The sun was blistering, the humidity out in full force. The third grade boys stormed the field, losing a squeaker. The loss seemed to matter more to the parents than to the boys. Then it was off to find some way to kill four hours before the second game of the day, which would REALLY be hot and humid. As we found, it's not easy to kill time in Manassas. The smartest parents--not us--took a group of kids to see Shrek at an early matinee in the darkened, air-conditioned comfort of a movie theater.

The unluckiest parents--those with MULTIPLE children in travel soccer--shuttled back and forth between different venues, trading their kids like baseball cards to various other parents so they could all make their various overlapping games.

We're actually quite fortunate. Our little one trains with his travel team, but is not officially on the squad, so we don't spend our regular, non-holiday weekends--yet--bounding around Northern Virginia in search of a game. But, he does play as a guest player in tournaments, which is certainly exciting for him. Of course, he aspires to be a full-fledged participant and that may be in our future. Thank goodness our older son has taken up an interest in tennis.

We're not against travel soccer, but really, does it have to be this way? We're talking about third graders, here, after all. Sure, it makes sense for older boys to seek out more competitive games. In high school, the Curmudgeon rode a bus around town as we played other high schools, and we even took some out of town trips.

But there ought to be a better way for elementary school kids. Indeed, the whole process is probably harmful to soccer in America. Here's how it works: at the end of second grade--SECOND GRADE!--they have "travel try-outs." In Arlington, about 80-100 enthusiastic boys (and about half that many girls) show up. Then about 25-35 are selected (depending on how many teams are formed). The rest--the rejects--rarely try out again. The lucky ones selected then go into intensive training with paid coaches. It costs over $1000 for the parents and it pretty much excludes participation in any other sport. And it goes on all year--a fall season and a Spring season, with soccer camp in the summer and indoor soccer training in the winter.

The reason it's bad for soccer in general is that those little travel players really form the pool from which American soccer will henceforth draw its talent. Yet, that pool was established in the SECOND GRADE. Many of those rejected kids will turn out to be more athletic by high school, or more focused, or more whatever. Meanwhile, some of those second grade stars will fade. No other sport does this, and it's really insane.

A better way would be to allow for greater competition within local recreational youth soccer programs, with broader training, by paid coaches who know what they're doing, for the more talented kids (the 100 who show up for tryouts, not the 30 who get selected). Let the kids who are most enthusiastic have opportunities to play in tournaments (smaller tournaments close by) and let them have a high level of competition within the recreational league (form a division with teams made up of the motivated players).

Then, when the kids reach middle school--preferably seventh grade or older, when they really start to develop physically--select out the very best for a higher level of play, something like the travel soccer that exists now, while continuing to keep those other players engaged.

The Curmudgeon is now on the Board of Directors of the Arlington Soccer Assn, so he'll have an opportunity to push for some changes. But change comes slowly, and travel soccer has become a behemoth, a monster of its own. Huge money is behind it, and many people now make a living off it. Who knows--maybe they'll push tryouts to kindergarten. Meanwhile, we're swept up in the insanity, much to the delight of our third grader.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Men Are Pigs

(The National Pig Anti-Defamation League demands that we apologize for that headline. We're sorry.)

Today's Washington Post has an interesting story on what happens when the internet meets a pretty girl.

Unfortunately, it's not a nice outcome.

The story focuses on an 18-year-old female high school track star in California who happens to be pretty as well as athletic. A photographer snapped an innocent photo of her resting with her pole vault one day at a track meet. Nothing lewd, just a nice photo.

Then someone emailed the photo to a sports blogger of the Howard Stern variety (i.e., appealing to juvenile young males, ages 15-50, with prurient humor), who posted it on his blog accompanied by the erudite writing "hubba, hubba and other grunting sounds."

Next thing you know, a whole bunch of other bloggers, with nothing original to say, had linked to the first blog and the young lady's photo was all over the internet. Followed by a large volume of emails to the young lady, many lewd. Now she stays close to home while her family worries about stalkers, etc.

All of which reflects badly on humankind, especially the man part of mankind.

What can be done? Not much. In an ideal world, the bloggers who posted the young woman's photo would at least have to cough up some of their advertising profits to her--after all, they're using her image to make a buck. But that really isn't very practical, especially with the speed with which an image can travel all over the web.

Nor is this an isolated event. A few months ago, the Post reported on a website run by a couple of male law students, ostensibly to gossip about law school matters, which had degenerated into a forum for lewd comments about various women in law school. Again, not a very nice reflection on law students, especially of the male variety.

Similar stories have circulated of harassment of female bloggers by men, some threatening rape, others just being nasty.

And, we'd have to confess that when the Curmudgeon was a 20-something young male, he didn't exactly shy away from some of these types of male juvenility.

We think this probably explains why women are taking over the world, accounting for nearly 60 percent of college students and a majority of students in professions--such as law--where they were heavily discriminated against just two or three decades ago.

We hope that for the young lady from California, all the hullabaloo will die down as the boys train their sights on some other poor girl.

In the meantime, it's useful to remember an age old adage, which we're pretty sure goes back to Adam and Eve, and certainly to our caveman days: MEN ARE PIGS.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Cape Cod Windbags

A new book, Cape Wind, details the battle between wealthy, well-connected and mostly liberal New Englanders to prevent construction of an offshore wind-energy farm near Cape Cod.

The biggest windbag in the story is Senator Ted Kennedy, with nephew Robert Kennedy, Jr., presidential candidate flip-flopper extraordinaire Mitt Romney, and historian David McCullough not too far behind.

Energy entrepeneur Jim Gordon has been trying for six years now to put 130 large wind turbines on Horseshoe Shoal, off Nantucket Sound, to provide about 420 megawatts of clean energy--75% of Cape Cod's annual consumption--to Massachusetts. The wind turbines would be about five miles from the Kennedy compound, nine miles from Martha's Vineyard and 14 miles from Nantucket (a distance at which they'd barely be visible).

So, have the Kennedy's, and Romney--all of whom profess to be for energy independence, renewable energy, clean energy and effors to reduce global warming--used their considerable influence to get this worthy project on the fast track?

Nope. They've done everything they can to stop it, citing everything from "visual pollution" (wait until you see the visual pollution of a major hurricane bearing down on the Cape) to a presumed decline in property values along the shore (evidently, being able to point proudly to the clean energy being produced just offshore doesn't help one's property values in stodgy Massachusetts).

We say, a pox on Cape Cod and its wealthy limousine liberals. Poetic justice would be a major hurricane, inflamed by warm ocean waters from global warming, sending a 20 foot storm surge across the Cape, wiping it clean for new development. More likely, your tax dollars will go to shoring up the Cape as gradually rising oceans lap ever higher on its shores. Maybe in 50 years, when the Cape is gone, someone will put an offshore wind farm right on top of what had beenTed Kennedy's old homestead.

Lawsuit USA

Josh Hancock was a terrific young relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, with a bright future ahead of him.

Sadly, Josh died in a car crash on April 29 when he slammed into a flat-bed tow truck in the wee hours of the morning.

According to police reports, Josh had twice the legally allowed limit of alcohol in his blood; he wasn't wearing a seat belt; he was speeding; and he was on his cell phone at the time of the accident.

Sounds to us like it was Josh's fault.

Aahhh, but we live in the U.S. It's always someone else's fault, and that's why we have our vaunted court system and our pricey lawyers.

Josh's dad, Dean Hancock, has, in the classic fashion that lawyers advocate, sued everyone in sight. He sued the restaurant where Josh was drinking; he sued the restaurant's manager; he sued the tow truck driver; and GET THIS: he even sued the driver whose stalled car on the highway resulted in calling the tow truck!!!!

Imagine that. It's late at night. Your car breaks down. You're tired, a bit scared, terribly worried. Finally, relief is in sight--the tow truck has arrived. But then a speeding drunk yakking on a cell phone, without the good sense to wear a seatbelt, slams into the tow truck, killing himself--but fortunately not hurting anyone else--and next thing you know you're a defendant in a friggin' lawsuit brought by, of all people, the dad who instilled such great values in the kid who ran into the tow truck!

Some country, eh?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Democrats Cave As Surge Fails

Even as Democrats cave-in to President Bush on war funding, new evidence shows the surge ain't working.

First off, yesterday was a brutal day in Iraq, with nine U.S. soldiers killed while "about 100 Iraqis were killed and 130 injured in mortar strikes, suicide attacks, car bombings, drive-by shootings and other violence across the country." (Post story here.)

You can't tell much from just one day, other than that things still look extraordinarily grim in Iraq. The longer term data, however, is just as bad.

Data is hard to come by in Iraq. The Post did an analysis, however, comparing data from morgues in Iraq during the months before the "surge" and after it began. (See "Morgue Data Show Recent Increase In Sectarian Killings in Iraq") What the Post found was that after a brief reduction in the number of "unidentified bodies" found in Baghdad after the surge began, this month has now already exceeded deaths in January 2007, before the surge began.

Moreover, if you look at the number of unidentified bodies found around the country--remember, the main focus of the surge has been in Baghdad--the number has actually been higher in EVERY month since the surge began.

Likewise, the number of deaths from "mass-casualty bombings" has also been much higher since the surge began (although a good deal lower so far in May).

The one place you won't find objective data like this is from the Bush Administration, living as it is in denial land.

It's pretty clear what's going on here: after the U.S. announced the beginning of the "surge," Shi'ite militias, mostly responsible for the sectarian killings that result in unidentified bodies, decided to lay low and take stock of the situation.

Now they've figured out how to evade U.S. troops and keep up their dirty work. Expect the toll to grow worse, even as the surge peaks. Sunni fighters--who favor indiscriminate mass bombings--of course never let up.

So, the civil war goes on. Meanwhile, millions of Iraqis have fled, living in exile. How many of those refugees did the U.S. admit this month? One. Some ally, eh?

Blame OPEC, Blame Exxon; Blame Bush, Blame Pelosi; Blame Iraq, Blame Iran; Just Don't Blame Me

Americans are fed up with high gas prices, but they aren't prepared to do anything about it.

According to a Washington Post survey ("Tipping Point Shock"), gas prices would have to rise another buck, to $4.38 ($5.12 out West) before a majority of motorists would change their driving habits.

Instead, Americans prefer the blame game, ascribing "fault" for high gas prices to oil companies, the Iraq war, politics, OPEC, etc.

Only two percent of drivers in the Post survey blamed "market forces."

In other words, blame anyone else, just don't blame me.

Yet the fault lies at home. Americans love their big SUV's, complete with the smug little "support the troops" yellow ribbon. They love their exurban homes. They love their summer driving vacations.

They don't love mass transit. They don't love trains. They don't love hybrid cars. They say they want good mileage, but what they really mean is they want a vehicle that will defy physics--a monster truck that will get 50 mpg.

The fact of the matter is that despite the higher gas prices, consumption of gasoline in the U.S. was about 2 percent higher last week than the same week a year ago. That's supply and demand.

Until people begin to change, expect prices to continue to rise. And don't expect change to come quickly--the blame game is much easier to play.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

How Long Will EPA Take?

Now it's just a waiting game. The EPA has held a hearing on California's request to grant a waiver allowing it to institute rules much tougher than EPA's on auto emissions, in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases. (See, e.g., "Battle Heats Up Over Emissions" in the Post.)

Now the question is whether EPA will simply sit on the decision until the Bush administration ends, essentially running out the clock. We hope not, but fear so.

Fearless Hurricane Forecasters Try To Get It Right

We like to make fun of all the hurricane forecasts breathlessly reported in the media because it usually turns out they're wrong. Sometimes way wrong--like last year where everyone said it would be an unusually active season, but turned out to be not much of anything (due to an "unforeseen" El Nino--well, we expect to forecasters to foresee these things).

So we were quite surprised today to see the Post's story, reporting predictions of an active hurricane season, accompanied by a chart comparing NOAA's past predictions with what actually happened. (We'd show you the chart, but we couldn't find it in the online version of the story.)

Since 1999, NOAA's fearless forecasters have been on the money only once--in 2003. (They were only one off in 2000 as well.) In 2005--the year of Katrina and a year that broke many hurricane records--NOAA was way off, underpredicting the number of storms; then, in 2006, they were way off in the other direction, overpredicting.

All of which is to say that our best weather minds--our most expert hurricane forecasters--really don't have a clue. They were smart enough this year to broaden their range, predicting between 7-10 hurricanes, which gives them a greater opportunity to be correct, even if by chance.

Will it be a busy year? Probably--the regions of the Atlantic responsible for producing hurricanes are unusually warm. In fact, the folks in southern Florida wouldn't mind a smaller tropical storm or hurricane right about now, to end, or at least mitigate, the drought they've been through. Problem is, it's hard to get a little hurricane when you need one!

Delaware Wind Farm Approved

Following up on one of our earlier reports, Delaware authorities have now approved construction of a wind farm off the Delaware coast. According to the Post article, the wind energy complex may be a bit smaller than the original proposal, but it is likely to be built.

This is a great step forward. If the backers of the Delaware project are successful in getting clean, carbon free kilowatts flowing onshore, more similar projects are likely to crop up along the Atlantic coast, perhaps, even, in Virginia.

Curmudgeonly Idol Battle

We predict Jordin will win American Idol tonight.

Last night, the Curmudgeon and Mrs. Curmudgeon furiously dialed for their favorites (Curmudgeon=Jordin; Mrs. Curmudgeon=Blake). Did we cancel each other out? The Curmudgeon thinks he won, using the landline phone, which somehow seems to get through more often.

We'll see in a little bit.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Spineless Republican Presidential Candidates Howl At Immigration Bill

It's a good bet that the immigration bill "compromise" hammered out in the Senate won't survive, leaving us with a continued immigration mess.

Nonetheless, the debate is revealing, especially on the GOP side. What we're seeing, among the announced GOP presidential candidates, is a terrific display of spinelessness, other than John McCain, who long ago proved that, if nothing else, he's his own man.

For most gutless wonder, just look at Mitt Romney, a man who now believes nothing he formerly believed, and who, if he were to become the Republican nominee, would turn around and probably repudiate a goodly number of his current positions.

Romney is now Mr. anti-immigration, demogaguing up a storm. We think he'll enjoy a surge for awhile, but then he'll fade as his act gets old and people wonder if he really stands for anything other than getting himself elected.

Meanwhile, we'd like to know what the immigration hawks propose to do. They denounce the immigration bill's plan to naturalize many illegal aliens as a form of "amnesty," which it both is and is not. It is amnesty in the sense that it allows someone in the country illegally to nonetheless become a citizen without leaving and returning lawfully. It's not, in the sense that it in no way automatically grants citizenship to illegal aliens--they still have to jump through some serious hurdles. Yes, that's a compromise.

The immigration hawks, however, are mostly just tough talk. We couldn't deport 12 million illegal aliens--or even a fraction of that number--without completely militarizing the country, running massive concentration camps and destroying some pretty major segments of our economy.

The Curmudgeon does favor tougher enforcement of existing laws, including beefed up border security, to reduce the number of new illegals. And the immigration bill calls for just that. But, at the same time, we need to deal with reality.

Unfortunately, much of the anti-immigration rhetoric is just thinly-disguised bigotry. It's too bad that formerly "moderate" Republican presidential candidates are stumbling all over themselves to embrace that rhetoric.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ahnold To EPA: Get Out (Of My Way)

Just to show that there is, in fact, still a progressive wing of the Republican Party (or perhaps a refuge for somewhat conservative Democrats), today's Post features an op-ed piece by Republican governors Arnold Swarzenegger and Jodi Rell (Connecticut) decrying the EPA's continued interference with state efforts to combat global warming.

Lead or Step Aside, EPA; States Can't Wait on Global Warming

Maybe there's still hope for the center in American politics, at least if the GOP doesn't completely melt down over immigration.

Bill Richardson--The Unknown Hispanic

If presidential candidate Bill Richardson had the family name of his Mexican mother--Maria Luisa Lopez-Collada--voters would certainly know he was Hispanic. But with the undistinguished waspy name Bill Richardson, many Latino voters have no idea that New Mexico's governor was raised in Mexico City until the eighth grade, is fluent in Spanish and has a mom who still lives in Mexico.

Today's Post has a little piece ("Pro-Familia Candidate"), in the Style section, delving into Richardson's complicated family background, including the difficult relationship he had with his taskmaster father (a Boston brahmin who moved to Mexico to set up offices for Citibank), and how the baseball skills he developed with barrio children in Mexico City helped him overcome the shock of being transferred to preppy Middlesex School in Connecticut as an eighth grader.

Perhaps Richardson, who will be making his "official" declaration as a presidential candidate today in heavily Latino Los Angeles, should campaign as Governor Guillermo Lopez-Collada Richardson.

Clarendon In The Spotlight

Today's Post has a front page story highlighting life in Clarendon (the Curmudgeon's Arlington neighborhood). The Post's thesis is that Clarendon has become a haven for single baby-boomers (mostly divorcee's) and empty nesters.

"Clarendon Area's Urban Energy Helps Melt Midlife Ordeals Away"

Fortunately, we can say that a good deal of Clarendon's charm is that it has something for everyone--young, mid-life and older singles, empty nesters, young couples, young families, tweens and teens--as well as a terrific mix of ethnicities and styles. (Although housing costs are pricing out those without extensive means.)

We welcome you to try out Clarendon's charms--all we ask is that if you have to park in front of our house, use only one of the two parking spaces instead of parking right in the middle like the bozo yesterday.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Friday, May 18, 2007

Richardson's "Job Interview" Campaign Ads

Here's a link to Bill Richardson's campaign ads in which he is "interviewing" for the job of President.

(If we were competent, we'd be able to put the video in here, but we're not.)

Webb's Wan Warming Vote

According to a post we just saw over at Raising Kaine, Sen. Jim Webb recently voted against an amendment, sponsored by Sens. Kerry, Feingold and Collins, to require the Army Corps of Engineers to consider the effect of climate change when planning water projects.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Warner voted FOR the Amendment.

We agree with Lowell at RK--what's going on here?

We won't always agree with Webb, but in case he hasn't noticed, Virginia has a long, vulnerable coastline where a goodly portion of its population resides and where a goodly portion of its economy is based. We can't afford to take global climate change lightly.

Webb could have some good reason for voting against this legislation--some technical flaw or whatever--but we want to hear loud and clear from him that he supports aggressive policies to limit global warming.

What Will The 2008 Presidential Election Look Like?

What the heck, let's make some early prognostications here today.

Herewith, the Curmudgeon's crystal ball as to the 2008 Presidential race (hey, we called the American Idol final four correctly).

1. Al Gore will not enter the race.

2. Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich will enter the GOP race. Thompson will flop; Gingrich will be a real factor.

3. The Dems will nominate either Hillary, Obama or Richardson.

4. The Repubs will not nominate Guiliani. We still can't say who they will nominate.

5. Bloomberg will run as a well-financed independent, perhaps with Hagel as his VP nominee, but he'd be better off getting a moderate Dem. on the ticket.

6. A fairly popular right wing Republican will run as an independent.

7. A "Green" party will field a credible candidate.

8. The new President will win with a plurality, under 45% of the vote. (Maybe closer to 40%.)

Remember, you heard it here first.

Richardson On The Upswing

New Mexico Governor and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson continues on the upswing as a result of his good debate performance and stellar fundraising effort.

The most recent New Hampshire poll, from Zogby, has Richardson surging to 10 percent from just 2% a month ago. In his commentary on the poll, John Zogby says: "Of greatest significance is the move of Bill Richardson into double-digits from merely a blip on the screen. He is now a player in all this.

Gov. Richardson is also on the move in Iowa, jumping to 7% in a Research 2000 poll of likely Iowa caucus attendees.

Clearly, as we predicted a few months ago, Richardson has broken from the lower tier pack and is showing signs of momentum that could propel him into the first tier. For now, his improved poll standing alone will be a story in an otherwise static race, enough to create some buzz and propel him higher.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Don't "Do" Anything About High Gasoline Prices

With gas prices creeping up again, politicians of all stripes--especially Democrats--are proposing to "do" something about it.

Last time gas prices spiked, after Katrina, it was the Republicans making silly proposals, including one to send $100 to every American family, like some kind of holiday bonus from Congress.

Now Speaker Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are the one demogaguing gas prices, raising their typical bogeyman, the big bad oil companies.

While it's true that oil companies benefit from the high prices, we don't see any evidence that they've engineered it this way. The real culprits are tight refinery capacity, increased global oil demand and, despite higher gas prices, increased U.S. demand for gasoline. If Democrats are serious about the price issue, they'll figure out a way to get some new refineries built.

In the meantime, higher gasoline prices are a good thing. Americans still guzzle gas like there's no tomorrow, and if we keep doing so, there really won't be a tomorrow. At some point, higher prices will stifle demand, and, at a minimum cause more and more Americans to switch to vehicles with greater fuel efficiency.

Sustained higher prices will also light a fire under Detroit's automakers to get going on better models. For years, GM and Ford, in particular, have complained about proposals to raise fuel economy standards while they built an unsustainable business model around selling gi-normous SUV's and pick-up trucks. Now, they'll have to scramble regardless of what our ineffectual Congress does.

Higher prices will also encourage entrepeneurs, who have some great ideas about alternative ways to make cars run, and help them attract capital. (We read recently about one inventor who's come up with an ingenious way to use steam to boost the output of the standard four-stroke auto engine by nearly 40 percent.)

Ultimately, the challenge for congressional Democrats is not to bring gas prices down--not that they can anyway. Rather, it is to craft a truly comprehensive energy/environmental bill that will get us on the right path. We're waiting.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Iraq Universities Near Collapse

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Iraq's universities are "near collapse" as a result of sectarian violence that has intimidated and killed faculty and students alike.

"Hundreds of professors and students have been killed or kidnapped, hundreds more have fled, and those who remain face daily threats of violence," reports the Chronicle.

At the University of Baghdad alone, 78 professors have been killed since 2003. Professors get threats with bullets sent through internal university mail and notes tacked to office doors. The Wall Street Journal reports an incident in which "gun-toting young men walked into a professor's office and demanded that she add the works of a Shiite cleric to the reading for a humanities class, alongside Heidegger and Kant."

This is just one example of how religious extremists in Iraq have systematically targeted that country's elites--doctors, lawyers, engineers, academics, schoolteachers--forcing many to flee as refugees to other countries. Without these more highly educated Iraqis, the future of the country is bleak, indeed.

More On The "Bloomberg Gun Giveaway"

We reported the other day, with dismay, on the controversy brewing over a so-called "gun rights" group that plans to give away a couple weapons, including a semi-automatic pistol, and a lot of ammunition this week in Fairfax County to raise money for the legal defense of some gun shops targeted with civil suits by New York City.

It's an interesting, and growing, controversy. The latest is in today's Washington Post, which reports that Fairfax County prosecutors are looking into the possibility that the giveaway is an unlawful lottery.

Ah, lawyers and politics--nothing like it!

Here's some additional thoughts on the matter. First, in a Post story earlier this week, the president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, Philip Van Cleave, reportedly said "[t]hese guns are going to law-abiding, decent people who won't hurt anyone with them."

We think that would be cold-comfort to the families of Detective Vicki Armel (pictured here) and Officer Michael Gabarino, two Fairfax County police officers gunned down just over a year ago. Their assailant was Michael Kennedy, a mentally disturbed 18-year-old who literally outgunned police with semi-automatic weapons he took from his father.

Now we assume that Brian Kennedy, the gunman's father, was the kind of upstanding citizen, meaning no harm to anyone, that Van Cleave is referring to. Nonetheless, his heavy weapons--hardly necessary for typical hunting--fell into the hands of a deranged family member, resulting in three needless deaths (young Michael Kennedy was finally killed by police in the incident, resulting in a tragedy for the Kennedy family as well).

So, regardless on the Citizens Defense League's intent, Fairfax police and citizens have good reason to be alarmed about their handing out weapons in Fairfax County, especially a semi-automatic handgun. Police ought to stop by the League's meeting and let them know what they think.

A couple other things. Our original post generated a few comments, including from Van Cleave, intimating that New York City's undercover sting operations in Virginia were some kind of "vigilante justice" or (from another commenter) constituted "Bloomberg conspiring with private individuals . . . to violate federal statutes against purchasing firearms by prohibited individuals." (And a less helpful comment calling us an "idiot.")

In the end, a court will have to determine, in the context of a civil lawsuit, whether any gun shop owner acted unlawfully. However, the premise that there is something wrong with having NY conduct a "sting" operation in a Virginia store strikes us as baloney.

First off, New York did not send its own law enforcement officers to Virginia to go after anyone for a criminal violation. That would clearly be a breach of jurisdiction, one we would not support. Any criminal prosecution of a Virginia gun dealer will have to come from Virginia police or federal authorities.

Instead, New York utilized Virginia citizens to gather evidence for a civil lawsuit. They started by identifying gun shops that were the source of the weapons in multiple murders in NYC. They then asked Virginia citizens to cooperate in conducting an operation to see if those gun dealers would make unlawful straw purchase sales (the fear being that straw purchasers are running guns from Virginia to NYC). This is a fairly common technique --the use of private investigators--to gather evidence for civil cases, and there is nothing wrong with it.

If New York was dumping hazardous materials unlawfully in Virginia, and Virginia responded by using investigators from New York to generate evidence for a civil suit here, no one would think that was strange.

But when it comes to guns, there is an element that thinks anything goes. If the NRA and its allies treated cars the way they do guns, no one would need a license; anyone, any age could drive; drunk driving would be ok; cars wouldn't need inspections; they couldn't be taxed; and no one could be sued just because they had an accident driving one.

Personally, we support the right of adults to own firearms. But firearms are dangerous and we support meaningful regulation of firearms, and firearms dealers, just as we do of other dangerous instruments.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bush Auto Mileage Rules--Too Little, Too Late

Well, here we are six years into George W. Bush's presidency, and at least two or three years after he first promised in his State of the Union to raise mileage standards so as to wean Americans of their "addiction" to foreign oil, and Bush has finally done something.

Really putting their feet to the fire, the President has ordered four federal agencies to submit new regulations to reduce greenhouse gases from cars and trucks--and, by golly, get them to him pronto--no later than 30 days before his term ends. In other words, despite bold phrases and gestures from the Decider-in-Chief, we won't even get a proposed rule until he is--thankfully--about out the door.

Fortunately, this lame gesture at appearing to do something while actually doing nothing is of little moment because events have overtaken the President. Record-high gasoline prices practically ensure that Americans will continue to ditch their SUV's in favor of smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles over the next couple of years.

Yes, GM and Ford (and whatever's left of Chrysler) will be hurt, losing additional market share to their more nimble competitors, but we will have a more fuel efficient fleet despite the government's foot dragging.

That's not to say the government shouldn't act--fuel prices are notoriously volatile and Americans may yet get used to the higher prices without making significant enough changes. A broader program of either a "cap and trade" system for carbon emissions, or a carbon tax, however, will, in the long run, accomplish far more than simply mandating higher mileage on U.S. cars.

Will Congress act? We'll see.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Southeastern Drought, Fires--Just The Beginning?

As we finished our last post about the perverse incentives Congress is giving for rural electric cooperatives to build nasty coal-fired power plants, we thought about the wildfires in Georgia and Florida that have disrupted travel and burned more than 385 square miles(!) of forest and swampland.

For those who don't know, the Southeastern U.S. has been experiencing unusually dry weather for a number of years now. Southern Georgia, northern Florida, central Florida, most of Alabama and parts of Mississippi and Tennessee are currently classified as in "extreme drought." All of Georgia is and much of the rest of the Southeast is in a "severe drought" and practically all of the Southeast from North Carolina to Louisiana is "abnormally dry." (See the National Weather Service map, above).

The long-term outlook is for more of the same. (See NWS long-term drought map forecast here.)

Meanwhile, a recent NASA study predicts that summertime temperatures by the end of this century cold average as high as 100-110 degrees in Southeastern cities such as Atlanta (and even Washington). We can easily envision Florida becoming a practically uninhabitable dried out desert, occasionally pummeled by massive hurricanes inducing hellish flash-flooding, while the much of the rest of the region becomes increasingly uncomfortable.

Those fires--which are adding large amounts of carbon to the atmosphere as they burn through some magnificent old-growth forests of the Okeefenokee Swamp--are yet another wake-up call. George Bush reminds us of Pharoah as the Ten Plagues sweep across Egypt, blithely ignoring the warning signs of impending doom.

End Federal Welfare Payments For Coal Electric Plants

It's bad enough that we let utilities build and operate massive coal-fired electric plants without paying the costs of the enormous quantities of carbon they're spewing into the atmosphere.

Worse yet, the federal government is actually subsidizing coal plants with low interest loans to so-called rural electric cooperatives. (See Washington Post story here.)

We say "so-called" rural co-ops because many of these formerly rural areas are now in booming suburbs and exurbs of major cities.

The U.S. long ago accomplished the mission of the Rural Electrification Act, to provide electricity to hard to reach rural areas where transmission costs made it un-economical to string power lines. Yet Congress continues to appropriate billions of dollars in loan subsidies to rural electric co-ops, which have become politically powerful. (The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association has a lavish headquarters here in Arlington.)

Put aside for a moment the corporate welfare aspects of the rural electrification program, however. (For more on that, see this Heritage Foundation report.) At the very least, Congress could prohibit the co-ops from using those loans to build coal-fired plants. Indeed, if politics dictate keeping the program around, the least Congress could do with those massive subsidies is direct the co-ops toward renewable energy sources, which are more suitable to rural areas anyway.

Why not let the Rural Cooperatives, which are owned by their customers, become models of distributed generation of renewable energy? (A handful are moving in that direction, but most are definitively not.) Imagine driving through those farmlands and exurbs and seeing homes and businesses plastered with solar cells and surrounded by wind micro-turbines (reducing the need for all those expensive, unsightly transmission lines.)

If Congress can't do away with this wasteful program, the least it can do is make sure the subsidies are used to move us in the right direction on global warming.

Cheesecake Factory Offers Smaller Portions

Some long while back we pilloried the Cheesecake Factory--giving it one of our "Gluttony" awards for purveyors of obesity.

We're not ready to take it back, but we have noticed that the CF, along with other mega-portion size chains such as Ruby Tuesday and Friday's, are now offering smaller portion sizes as an option, with CF even cutting the price on the smaller meals (unlike some of the others).

It's a small--really, tiny--step in the right direction. As we've said before, much of the obesity epidemic can be traced to Americans' infatuation with enormous portion sizes for meals, snacks, drinks, etc., much of which is driven by the food industry. (A restaurant can essentially double your portion of food for a few pennies, reaping a larger profit by charging a few extra dollars. The soon to be fat diner thinks he's getting a bargain--twice the food for just 20-30% the extra cost.)

Part of the problem, of course, is that there is no standard for what constitutes a "normal" sized serving. Believe it or not, when I was young, most people were perfectly satisfied with a meal consisting of a single patty cheeseburger, a small bag of fries and a 12 ounce soda. Today, that would barely pass muster as a kids meal.

We need some standards. Perhaps a threat of such from government would encourage food industry groups to come up with something on their own. Then, we might be in the position where, instead of offering a "smaller" portion--which is really a right-sized portion for most people--you might have a regular portion, with the option to pay more if you really need something outsized.

Sadly, even the small portions at many places are still far too large. Wendy's, for example, simply relabelled it's 20 ounce drink and medium fries with any combo meal as a "small", while making its "medium" into a gargantuan obesity-inducing calorie fest.
For now, the best thing you can do, especially with kids, is encourage leaving some food behind, or sharing some of those huge portions (kids don't like to share food with their siblings, but they will share with their parents).

Hillary's Got It Right On Iraq

Time Magazine political columnist Joe Klein recently called Hillary Clinton the most knowledgable Democrat when it comes to national security.

He's probably right.

He noted that when asked how she would disengage from Iraq, Sen. Clinton "gave a precise, nuanced and up-to-the-minute answer." As Klein paraphrased it, Hillary would "withdraw the troops from the areas of sectarian conflict like Bahgdad, keep a small force fighting al-Qaeda in al-Anbar province, move some troops to the Turkish border, protect the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and other civilian facilities, maintain a special operations capability" and perhaps leave some forces for training "if there seems a chance this Iraqi government will get any better."

We think that's about right. As we've said before, we favor starting a drawdown of forces immediately, and we oppose getting in the middle of an Iraqi civil war. But we don't think the U.S. can get completely out of Iraq for a number of years, unfortunately. What we can do is get to something more like our presence in Afghanistan.

We respect Hillary for not simply pandering to the Democratic left wing "completely out of Iraq now, regardless of the cost" mentality.

We're also encouraged that head-to-head polls of Sen. Clinton and Barack Obama against Guiliani and McCain are now favoring the Democratic candidates.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Happy Mother's Day, Mom (Wherever You Are!)

Here it is Mother's Day and we're not exactly sure where Mom is. We're pretty sure she's having fun, however.

A few weeks ago, Mom and her husband Jim left on one of their periodic adventures, taking the RV all over the country with a rather vague itinerary. They're travelling with another couple (in their own RV) and last we heard they'd made it out to Oregon and were thinking maybe at some point they'd have to turn back east. (The photos here are from their trip, sent out when they get a good wireless computer signal.) But there's no hurry!

[Mom always could read minds--right after we drafted this last night, we got an email from Mom--they've made the turn, heading back home, with a recent pass through Vegas, and should be home in another week or so.]

Mom, of course, was one of first regular readers, and still is. Occasionally, she'll leave a comment under the moniker "Library Lady"--that's what the kids at Hand Middle School in Columbia, SC called her over the many years she was the head librarian there.

Recently, Mom read our post comparing the violence today's kids are exposed to in the media--post Virginia Tech massacre--to the violence our generation faced (Vietnam, Civil Rights marches, protests, campus shootings, assassinations, etc.). She said it sparked a lively discussion around their campfire one night.

Mom then sent me one of those email strings you've probably all seen before, but a good one worth continuing to spread around. Since it's Mother's Day and since Mom sent it to me, and since it's a good one, we thought we'd post it here, below in blue.

Meantime, Mom: Happy Mother's Day, wherever you are!!

TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED the 1930's, 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's!!

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant.They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes.

Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-based paints.We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking.

As infants & children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, booster seats, seat belts or air bags.Riding in the back of a pick up on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank Kool-aid made with sugar, but we weren't overweight because,WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K.We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVD's, no surround-sound or CD's, no cell phones, no personal computer! s, no Internet or chat rooms........

WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.

We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them!

Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever!The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!

If YOU are one of them…CONGRATULATIONS!

You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated so much of our lives for our own good .While you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave (and lucky) their parents were.Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn't it?!

The quote of the month is by Jay Leno:"With hurricanes, tornados, fires out of control, mud slides, flooding, severe thunderstorms tearing up the country from one end to another, and with the threat of bird flu and terrorist attacks, are we sure this is a good time to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance?"

Friday, May 11, 2007

Iraqi Parliament To US: Adopt Withdrawal Timetable

Finally, something Iraqis and Americans agree upon.

A majority of members of Iraq's Parliament have signed a draft bill that would require a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from their occupation of Iraq, while also freezing current troop levels. (Story here.)

We don't know why this isn't the lead story in today's newspapers. Heck, if Iraq's Parliament wants us out, let's go.

By the way, no one is talking about packing up and leaving tomorrow. What we need is a carefully phased pullout over the next year, with Iraqi forces taking over security duties. Will they do as good a job as us? Probably not in the short term. But it's their country, and in the long term, without the U.S. there, they will work it out.

Cigs Get R Rating

The Motion Picture Association of America has announced that movies that glamorize cigarette smoking risk getting an "R" rating even if they otherwise would qualify for a PG-13 rating.

That's a good decision. And we wouldn't advocate applying it retroactively. Writers and directors should have the artistic license to include smoking in movies--indeed, some historical stories would look silly without an occasional cigarette. By the same toke-n (get it?), many movies today unnecessarily glamorize cigarettes.

Sadly, they also unnecessarily glamorize teen alcohol use, teen sex, drugs, bad language, bad behavior, racial and ethnic stereotypes and violence of all kinds. But we'll settle for one step at a time.

Ken Burns, Latinos, Announce Victory In The War

Last week we commented on the dispute between documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and a number of Latino organizations who contend that Burns slighted Hispanic-American soldiers of WWII in his upcoming PBS documentary "The War."

The Washington Post reports that Burns has now made peace with the most powerful of those groups, who had begun targeting Burns' corporate sponsors.

As best we can tell, the new agreement is simply the old--and we thought quite gracious--offer by Burns: that to add balance to the documentary, he would interview some Hispanic-American war veterans and include their stories within the bounds of the documentary. He won't re-edit the documentary to splice them in--indeed, it wouldn't make sense to do so since the documentary focuses on veterans from just four towns--but he will include them "before the credits". In other words, at the beginning or end of at least some episodes, their will be additional interviews of Hispanic (and Native American) vets.

As we said before, this is reasonable. Burns did not set out to slight anyone, and he certainly is no bigot. We're glad the Latino interest groups have reached satisfaction on the issue.

Kaine Weighs In On Anti-Bloomberg Gun Law

Yesterday we reported on the dispute between Va. AG Bob McDonnell and New York City regarding NY sting operations aimed at Virginia gun dealers. McDonnell said he would enforce a silly Virginia law that makes it a felony to engage in a sting operation without state police or federal law enforcement authorities present.

We were happy to see that Gov. Kaine--who should have had the spine to veto this special interest legislation that makes his state look like a bunch of redneck gun nuts--has at least said Virginia should take its own steps to enforce its own gun laws. (See Washington Post story here.)

We think Governor Kaine should go further--he should designate a State Police task force to work in COOPERATION with NYC officials to investigate Virginia gun dealers suspected of illegally selling firearms that wind up involved in NYC murders. By the same token, if NY has info concerning laws broken here, it should have someone trustworthy to share that info with.

By the way, that someone is NOT Bob McDonnell. We would be shocked to see McDonnell do anything at all to curb illegal gun sales in Virginia, as he is completely in the hip pocket of the gun dealers and their allies.

What about it Governor Kaine--let's see action, not just words.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Embarrassing Virginia Challenges New York To A Duel

Will Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell challenge New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to a duel? Seems like the right way to work this one out.

It seems that McDonnell has written a letter to Bloomberg threatening legal action if New York City does not cease and desist from conducting "sting" operations at Virginia gun dealers. (See Washington Post story here.)

How embarassing for us progressive Virginians!

All this stems from a series of stings New York conducted awhile back, in which some Virginia gun dealers (picked because firearms from their shops were used repeatedly in NYC murders) illegally sold guns to buyers posing as straw purchasers.

After New York brought legal proceedings against some of the dealers, what did Virginia do? Did it say, "oh my, we ought to be the ones enforcing these guns laws, and shame on you dealers"? Of course not.
Instead, the dealers went to the NRA and other gun groups and got the ever cowardly Virginia legislature to pass a law saying that another state cannot conduct a sting operation in Va. without a Virginia or federal law enforcement official present.
Of course, that's about as useful as requiring that Shi'ite police officers in Iraq accompany US forces on any operation against the Mahdi Army. Somehow, the Mahdi Army just happens to always be tipped off.

To its credit, New York gave Virginia the figurative finger and said "fugheddaboutit". New York shouldn't be intimidated. The law--which sadly a number of Democrats in Va. also voted for, and even more sadly, Gov. Kaine signed--is probably unconstitutional. We'd like to see NY press the issue and force a court confrontation, in which we think McDonnell will be smacked down.

One thing the law does show, however, is that the NRA is not at all serious when it says we don't need more gun control laws, we just need better enforcement of existing laws. BS. The NRA, whose Board of Directors includes at least one gun dealer cited numerous times for unlawful sales, has gone out of its way to protect and immunize gun dealers, rather than work on enforcement. They don't give a darn about safety--all they care about is arming the citizenry to the teeth.

And by the way, to add insult to injury, the Virginia Citizens Defense League (which sounds like a place OK City bomber Timothy McVeigh would have been welcome) is, according to the Post, holding a "Bloomberg Gun Giveaway" in Fairfax County next week--barely a year past the tragedy at the Sully police station that took two police officers' lives--to give away "a handgun, a long gun, lots of ammunition, and other prizes.

Wouldn't it be nice if Fairfax police officers turned out in force at this event to protest the obvious insult to their comrades' deaths? (It's next Thursday, 7:30 pm, at the Mason Government Center in Annandale.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

PS3 Bombs, As We Forecast

Way back in October, we ventured that the Sony Playstation 3 would prove to be a dud in the marketplace, because it was too expensive and tried to be too many things at once.

We were right.

Today's WSJ reports that: "Sales [of the PS3] have paled compared with Nintendo's Wii and Microsoft's Xbox 360 consoles. Sony's videogame unit is expected to produce about $2 billion in losses for the year that ended March 31."

This confirms the results of our own informal market research at Best Buy a month ago. While shopping for new games for the Curmudgeonly kids' new Wii--which they lobbied hard for--we noticed boxes of unsold PS3's sitting on the shelf. Nearby, a lady desperate to get a Wii--which wasn't in stock--begged a salesman to let her know when the next shipment would arrive. The Curmudgeon kids have disdained any interest in the PS3.

The problem with the PS3 is that Sony used it to try to get consumers to buy its high definition blu-ray DVD player, a bauble many consumers don't need, or might prefer to deal with separately. At the same time, that raised the game console price well above that of the competition, a serious miscalculation. (Sony could more effectively have brought out a less expensive upgraded PS3 for the average gamer while offering an upscale version with all the blu-ray bells and whistles.)
So much for market savvy.

Wind Energy Moves Forward In Delaware

As we reported the other day, Delaware regulators are considering a proposal to build a large wind energy farm off the First State's coast.

That proposal took a big step forward yesterday, as the Delaware Public Service Commission voted 5-0 in favor of preliminary approval of the proposal. Three other state agencies involved in the decision, however, opted to defer their votes on the proposal, saying they needed more time to study the issue. Let's hope they don't need too much more time.

Meanwhile, Virginia is getting yet MORE high voltage power lines--now Dominion is proposing one for the Hampton Roads area. And while Delaware puts wind turbines off its coast, it looks like Virginia will be getting drilling rigs, to explore for oil and natural gas. (Our understanding is that an estimated 50 million barrels of oil lie off the Virginia coast--that's about two days of U.S. oil consumption; apparently there is a much larger potential natural gas deposit.)

How Jamestown Changed The New World's Ecology

Here are some interesting facts we gleaned from a revealing National Geographic piece on Jamestown:

--Before European settlers came over, there were no earthworms in North America!

--There also were no honeybees. Without them, Virginia probably wouldn't be a major apple producer today.

--And this was a big surprise: the malaria parasite was introduced to the New World by settlers from swampy southern England, then picked up by native mosquitoes and spread through the natives. (Nat'l Geo speculates that one reason the natives didn't rise up and drive the famine-stricken English settlers away was that they severely weakened by a malaria outbreak.)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Virginia At 500--What Will The 2107 Jamestown Quincentennial Look Like?

As we celebrate Jamestown’s 400th birthday, it’s worth considering what Virginia’s Quincentennial—it’s 500th birthday—will be like.

History is a helpful guide. When the first English settlers arrived at the mouth of the James River in three small, rickety wooden sailing ships in 1607, there were approximately 13 million people living on the North American continent, mostly in tribal units, some of which had formed impressive federations covering thousands of square miles of territory. Those North American natives had been here for the better part of 12,000 years, gradually spreading across the continent in self-sustaining enclaves that sometimes prospered and traded with each other, and other times fought and clung to survival.

Who would’ve thought that a couple hundred pallid, ill-clothed English people who could barely feed themselves—three quarters died of illness and starvation—would displace those native masses in a matter of only a few decades.

A hundred years can make a big difference.

At Jamestown’s tricentennial, in 1907, most Virginians had never seen an airplane or automobile. Electronic communication was virtually unheard of, apart from the occasional telegram. Approximately 1.9 million citizens lived in the state, and they were lucky to reach a 50th birthday, the average life expectancy at birth being about 48 years.

In 1907, Virginia’s economy, centered in the state capital at Richmond, was still reeling from the effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Jim Crow laws assured that Negroes, as former slaves and their descendants were called in polite company, could not vote and had little role in the economy and commerce of the state. The races were strictly segregated in all aspects of life.

A lot can change in a century.

By 2007, the biggest political issue in the state had become what to do with all those automobiles clogging the state’s roads. The electronic revolution and the massive growth of the federal government had turned Northern Virginia into the state’s economic engine. And the Civil Rights revolution had freed African-Americans to become full participants in the state’s political, economic and commercial life.

So what will Virginia look like in 2107? No one can say for sure—could anyone in 1907 have predicted where we’d be today? Still, making a guess is fun, if for no other reason than to see (when our great-grandchildren read this—if people still read then, rather than simply absorb information) how far off we are.

Today’s population of 7.5 million will have grown to 20 million, of which 5 million—25 percent—will be of Latino heritage (most, however, will be of mixed race and ethnicity, reflecting the continued melding of American ethnic identity). The oldest citizen is 141 years old, and 15 percent of the state’s population is more than 90 years old. Many of those older citizens still remember the intensely unpopular President of the United States from 100 years ago, still regarded as the worst in history.

The original Jamestown settlement—and the visitor center, and Yorktown, and Williamsburg—have long been underwater, victims of the global warming crisis that peaked in about 2060 before the nations of the world finally stabilized the environment.

The Hampton Roads region, vibrant in the early part of the century, has never fully recovered from the effects of the four mega-hurricanes that struck between 2020 and 2045, which, combined with rising sea levels, left the region devastated. With the new floodgates and the offshore wind and wave energy facilities, the region is starting what is likely to be a long road to a comeback.

Northern Virginia, with 9 million residents, is also struggling. Life is not safe outside the Washington Security Zone, which encompasses what used to be known as Arlington and the remnants of Alexandria (after the Great Chesapeake Floods). Residents are generally constricted to the 80-140 story high-rise enclaves that dot the region, it being too dangerous and time-consuming to travel much beyond those crowded self-contained cities.

Western Virginia is booming, although it is fighting sprawl. The million residents of Roanoke are proud of their model city, where one and two person robotic electric vehicles zoom quietly along carefully engineered thoroughfares. The cities of Charlottesville, Blacksburg, Lexington and Harrisonburg—with a combined 2 million residents—are hubs of modern commerce in the new industry that uses molecular building to create customized items of every shape, size and description.

In Richmond, state political leaders are preparing to welcome the Premier of China, leader of the world’s largest and most powerful nation, to the Quincentennial celebration. Recent archaeological evidence that an ancient Chinese treasure fleet visited the Virginia coast and explored the Chesapeake Bay in 1421, possibly interbreeding with some of the natives, has fueled speculation that Virginia shares a special bond with China.

As the Governor prepares his speech, to be beamed directly into the chip implants in most Virginians’ brains, he thinks about his great-grandfather, a “blogger” who, it was reported, had to use his fingers to input letters into one of those ancient devices known as a “computer.” Thank goodness, the Governor thinks, we are not so backward in this modern day and age of May 2107.

Delaware's Energy No-Brainer

Delaware needs to decide what type of fuel it will use to run its next large power plant. It's considering three proposals: a coal plant that eliminates "some" carbon dioxide; a natural gas plant; or a large windmill farm in the Atlantic Ocean. (See Washington Post story here.)

This one's a no-brainer. Delaware is a low-lying state with a long ocean-front. Beach tourism plays a major role in its economy. Yet, if global warming goes unchecked, the "First State" will become the "Underwater State." Those great vacation resorts at Rehoboth, Bethany and Dewey Beaches will become distant memories as the state fights a losing battle over the next 50 years to contain a surging Atlantic Ocean.

Wind should be the easy winner here. Delaware has lots of wind, just offshore. It has no coal to speak of, nor is it a natural gas producer, so its economy does not depend on the fate of those fossil fuels. Thus, becoming a leader in offshore wind energy is a natural for Delaware.

Some folks around the beaches worry that the giant windmills will spoil their ocean views. That's nonsense--the turbines will be sufficiently far offshore that they'll be barely visible. And, let's face it, how many people really go there to just stare at the ocean? Not that it will matter if their homes and resorts are underwater.

If Delaware can't get this easy call right, then the rest of us should be VERY worried about our fate down the road.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

What Cost Carbon?

The cost to control carbon emissions is manageable--that's the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In IPCC's latest report, the authoritative panel estimates that we could stabilize the level of greenhouse carbon emissions by 2030 at a cost of roughly $100 per ton of carbon. To translate that into a meaningful figure, it would add about a $1 to the price of a gallon of gas. (See Washington Post story here.)

Of course, the Bush administration immediately reacted in knee-jerk fashion, declaring that such a cost "would of course cause a global recession."

What are these guys (i.e., the Bushies) smoking? The price of gas already went up a $1 a gallon in the past couple of years and guess what--no recession. Moreover, IPCC calculates the cost of the $100/ton of carbon as equating only 0.12 percent annually of global output.

Let's compare that to say, the cost of the War in Iraq, or the cost of rebuilding New Orleans (which will only flood again).

If anything, the Bush administration should hail the IPCC report as good news, declaring that "yes, this is something the U.S., at least, can and should afford."

In related news, the Senate Energy Committee is considering a new lighting standard, as part of a broader energy bill to be pushed by Democrats, that would effectively phase-out the standard incandescent light bulb in about 10 years. This would be a welcome development.

Philips Electronics, the largest European light bulb manufacturer, estimates that replacing all the incandescent bulbs in the U.S. would eliminate the need for 23 electric power plants of 1000 megawatts each, while saving $14 billion in electric bills.

(Some reports state that compact fluorescent bulbs cost more than incandescent bulbs. That's really not true. They cost more at the check-out counter, but the fluorescents last 5-8 times as long and recoup their cost in saved electricity, so they actually cost a LOT less than incandescent bulbs.)

Let's hope this measure--still being hammered out between environmental groups and bulb manufacturers--passes this year. It will then give builders of the millions of new homes, condos and apartments over the next decade a powerful incentive to install the right kind of lighting and bulbs, while everyone else retrofits.

Coming Next Week: Jamestown at 800--what will Virginia look like in 400 more years (feel free to comment with your suggestions).

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Latinos Give Ken Burns A Raw Deal

Latino interest groups are unfairly castigating documentary maker Ken Burns (pictured here), to the point of portraying him as some sort of bigot, which he surely is not.

Here's the background: Burns, whose Civil War documentary has long been among the best content on public television, has produced a WWII documentary, called "The War." Despite the sweeping title, the documentary actually focuses only on the wartime stories of four towns--a small way of telling a large story. (The four towns are Sacramento, California; Mobile, Alabama; Waterbury, Connecticut; and the rural small town of Luverne, Minnesota.)

Now, after Burns finished the documentary, which was financed largely by PBS, he screened it to various people, including Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, a Univ. of Texas journalism professor who directs the U.S. Latino and Latina WWII Oral History Project. Ms. Rivas-Rodriguez protested that Latinos were not represented in the documentary and started a nationwide campaign by Latino groups against Burns' documentary.

(The film does include Japanese-Americans from Sacramento and a number of African-Americans.)

After some meetings, Burns agreed to interview some Latino veterans and add their stories in between episodes of the documentary, which had already been completed. (He also planned to add interviews with Native American veterans, too.)

While some Latino groups thought that was a reasonable compromise--they had raised the issue and Burns had graciously and thoughtfully responded--others are still out for blood. In their view, the Latino contribution would be marginalized unless Burns re-edits the entire documentary to incorporate the Hispanic soldiers. (We don't know if these groups have suggested Latinos from the four towns involved in the project--it would equally marginalize them if for some reason Burns had to include a Hispanic veteran from, say, Mesa, Arizona.)

Most recently, an umbrella group of Latino organizations (the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility) has intimidated General Motors and Anheuser-Busch into disavowing their corporate sponsorships of the Burns documentary. (See Washington Post story here.)

Furthermore, they're now off and running on a campaign to demonize Burns. This is unfair.

Burns did not set out to exclude Hispanics or anyone else from his documentary. He took on a large subject in a small way, selecting four typical small U.S. towns and following their contributions to the war. Yes, we suppose he could've selected a Hispanic town in the Southwest, an Indian Reservation, an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, an African-American town in Mississippi, a Polish section of Chicago, and on and on, making sure to get a slice of every ethnic and racial pie in the U.S. But he didn't, and if he had it really would not have been representative, either.

Furthermore, the point of Burns' documentary is not that people of any one particular heritage or ethnicity were any braver or more patriotic than anyone else. The point, based on descriptions of the film, is to illustrate the bravery and sacrifice of very ordinary people. And its the ordinariness of the people from across the country that is the unifying principle of the documentary.

That said, when the Latino groups raised the issue, Burns was willing to listen and try to accommodate them. We don't think anyone could fairly accuse Burns of being some kind of bigot. The fact of the matter is that WWII was a very big war and one documentary cannot cover the whole thing--not even close. If anything, Burns has bent over backward here.

We're sympathetic to the Latino groups who want to make sure that their contribution to WWII gets recognized. This is not a good way to do it, however. One better way would be to use their leverage to get PBS to produce a separate documentary on the Latino contribution to the war--perhaps funding an up and coming Hispanic director to do the job.

We're sorry to see GM and Anheuser-Busch caving in so quickly, but that's the state of politics and commerce these days.

What will be the bottom line? The bottom line will be the end of good, quality documentaries on PBS, replaced, instead, with crummy pieces of work geared entirely to political correctness, catering to every interest group capable of phoning a Congressperson and making their gripes known.