Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Is The Boy Crisis A Myth?

Periodically we post something on the crisis among American boys, our most recent a couple months ago (Boys Will Be Boys) when we plugged a delightful new tome, "The Dangerous Book For Boys."

Now, along comes Time Magazine with a cover story titled "The Myth About Boys," in which reporterd David Von Drehle argues that, at most, the boy crisis is quite exaggerated.

Well, we like to present two sides to a good debate. Time's story has a few good points--a good chunk of Von Drehle's argument is that today's boys are better off than yesterday's boys, but relative to girls they've slipped. It certainly appears true that both boys and girls are better off in many areas, especially compared to the 1980's.

The percentage of drop-outs of both sexes is lower, while the percentage of high schoolers enrolled in college immediately after graduation is higher. Fewer boys--and girls--are doing drugs and binge drinking, and more are using birth control, resulting in a lower teen birthrate.

On the other hand, men make up an declining percentage of college students, down to not much more than 40%. To say that means men are doing fine, but women are doing even better is quite a stretch.

Boys are far more likely than girls to take mood-managing drugs, mainly to overcome their "deficits" of attention, which is a different way of saying they'd rather pay attention to something besides a boring lesson about fancy words.

It's a good debate to have, however, and we hope more serious research will be done.

Meanwhile, our boys are having a terrific boy summer: soccer camp, basketball camp, tennis camp, adventure camp (rock climbing, cave exploring, rafting), a long weekend of roller coasters and water rides, a bit of golf with the old man, a week of carousing at the beach, and soon, a couple weeks exploring the inner reaches of China (which our oldest will declare "boring"--an overused word of his these days; but he will secretly enjoy it).

Too bad summer has to end!

War in Waziristan

The recent National Intelligence Estimate stating that Al Qaida had largely reconstituted itself in tribal areas of Pakistan, where it poses a menace to the United States, raises serious questions about the Bush administration's efforts to prevent another 9/11 style attack here.

Even the most die hard apologists for Bush/Cheney have to be a little daunted at the prospect that after spending a trillion dollars on the "War on Terror," Al Quaida is as strong as ever.

So what should we do? Here's one answer, from Washington Post columnist David Ignatius: use our early Afghanistan strategy again. (Ignatius gives credit to former CIA operative and now consultant Henry Crumpton.) Arm friendly Pakistani tribal groups, give them economic aid, and use CIA and Special Forces operatives to help them tactically in disrupting and driving out Al Qaida. See "Sept. 10 in Waziristan: What Will Be Done About al-Qaeda's Camps?"

Ignatius is correct that a large scale military operation in Pakistan would be folly. "The lesson of Iraq is that unwise actions can make the terrorism problem worse."

We'd better do something, soon. Al Qaida no doubt is plotting to strike America hard and in spectacular fashion. If only we could count on the competence of the Bush administration to get this one right.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Fred Thompson's Disappointing Fundraising Numbers: Is He Toast Already?

The Politico is reporting that Fred Thompson's June fundraising total of just $3 million is raising speculation that his nascent campaign is already in trouble.

In Fred's Funds Raise Fear of Flop, Politico correspondent Mike Allen reports:

"[M]any Republicans have turned queasy as Thompson has ousted part of his original brain trust and repeatedly delayed his official announcement, which is now planned for shortly after Labor Day, in the first two weeks of September.

Some are already saying a prospective Thompson run is a flop. “I just don’t see it anymore,” said a key Republican who had been extremely enthusiastic about a Thompson candidacy.

"That number [his $3 million in fundraising] is really underwhelming. There were indications it could be double that. They've been saying that people were waiting for Fred, and the money was going to pour in. He looks like he's already losing momentum."

My, my. Fred was to be the GOP's salvation, and now he's already yesterday's news. Will the Republicans really nominate Rudy Giuliani?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Right Wing Blather On Iraq Troop Withdrawal

As the Democratic led Congress gets ready to increase the pressure on President Bush to begin a troop drawdown from Iraq, the right wingers who got us into this mess are maneuvering to blame Democrats for whatever carnage ensues.

For a good preview of what's to come, check out this piece of drivel in the Washington Post op-ed page from Peter W. Rodman, "a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution [who] served most recently as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs." (See: "Political cover for Whom?") (Using his Brookings affiliation makes Rodman look a bit liberal; in fact he served in the Reagan and Bush I administrations and then sat out the Clinton administration as an editor at the National Review, before joining the Bush II administration.)

Rodman starts out with a Vietnam analogy, but not the one you'd be expecting. Instead, he argues that in the early 1970's Congress forced Nixon to withdraw from Vietnam just when things were getting better for the U.S. Wow! That's news to us--we had no idea that America was on the cusp of winning the Vietnam war when Congress suddenly "forced" Nixon to do what he had promised repeatedly in his campaign.

It reads even better in Rodman's words, because he says this is now some kind of historical "consensus":

"In 1973, 1974 and 1975, Congress undoubtedly felt it was reflecting the country's disillusionment with the Vietnam War, and it forced a disengagement over the Nixon administration's strong objection. Yet military historians are coming to a consensus that by the end of 1972, there was a much-improved balance of forces in Vietnam, reflected in the 1973 Paris agreement, and that Congress subsequently pulled the props out from under that balance of forces--dooming Indochina to a bloodbath. This is now a widely accepted narrative of the endgame in Vietnam, and it has haunted the Democrats for a generation."

Like we said--wow! We'd like to smoke what this guy is smoking. With folks like that advising "W", it's no wonder we got into a disastrous war in Iraq. Why the Brookings Institution would let Rodman despoil it's good name with this type of blather is beyond us.

Of course, the historical reality is a bit different from Rodman's "consensus" of an "accepted narrative." Nixon promised to withdraw our forces in both his campaigns, and his speeches to the public after being re-elected are filled with those promises. Furthermore, the idea that America was somehow about to win the Vietnam War--or whatever Rodman means by his veiled "much-improved balance of forces" (academic double-talk)--is ridiculous. And the U.S. withdrawal did not "doom[] Indochina to a bloodbath." It had been in a bloodbath for 15 years, first under the French, then under the U.S., and it had only been getting worse, for example, when Nixon bombed Cambodia. Yes, after we withdrew, there was certainly further fighting, including horrific genocide in Cambodia (exacerbated by Nixon's policies--not caused by Congress) but it wasn't long before the region achieved peace and stability for the first time in two decades. That never would have happened if we had stayed.

So, with Rodman's delusional Vietnam analogy out of the way, we then see his argument on Iraq, the one the right wing hopes to use in the future. As Rodman puts it, "will tomorrow's narrative be that the strategic military situation in Iraq was starting to improve in 2007 but Congress pulled the plug anyway--emboldening Islamist extremists throughout the region and demoralizing all our friends?"

Well, it's news to us that Islamic extremists aren't already emboldened. And, it's news to us that our friends aren't already demoralized. It's also news to us that the military situation is starting to improve. It's slightly better, but that's only because the Sunnis and Shi'ites, sensing that a drawdown is nigh, are holding back, waiting for their opportunity to get at each other. If we suddenly announced, "hey, guess what, we're staying for the next five years after all," the next thing that would happen would be resumption of full scale sectarian violence, regardless of how many tens of thousands of troops we send over.

Let's be crystal clear about what the historical narrative should be: delusional pinheads like Rodman and many of his right wing cronies pushed us into a war they thought would be so easy it required little planning or foresight; they ignored experts on the region who said all we'd do by taking out Saddam is create a vacuum in which old sectarian hatreds would blossom into civil war, while also carving out a new haven for Al Qaida; after screwing our troops with bad planning, they derided war opponents for "undermining" our troops; when it all finally ended they claimed that after six years of ineptitude and incompetence, they were somehow just on the verge of turning it all around when Congress intervened and brought the troops home; and that the bloodbath that ensued was somehow different than the bloodbath that was going on all along.

(If you're not sure about this narrative, go see "No End In Sight," the documentary directed by another Brookings Institution Senior Fellow, Charles Ferguson. While we haven't yet seen No End, it has gotten rave reviews. Here's an excellent trailer:

It's nice to see that the folks who got us into this mess are already trying to blame the folks trying to get us out of it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Viral Obesity: Your Friends Could Make You Fat

Hanging out with fat people could make you fat concludes a study just released in the New England Journal of Medicine. (See Obesity Spreads In Social Circles As Trends Do, Study Indicates.)

Apparently, obesity is like a fad, spreading socially. Actually, this research makes a lot of sense, and goes a long way to explaining the obesity epidemic in America.

Part of what has happened is that obesity has become socially acceptable, at least among friends. In the study, your likelihood of becoming obese rises 171% if you are mutual friends with someone else who is obese (i.e., both you and that other person described each other as friends).

The relationship also works among relatives, but is not nearly as strong. Intuitively, we all know why that is: we have plenty of relatives we don't really like. But friends, hey, you choose them because you like them, and you often emulate them, apparently to the point of getting fat.

Evidently, it doesn't work the other way around--obese people don't decide to get thin by hanging around with thin friends. That's no surprise: hanging out with a friend and eating whatever and however much you want is FUN! (The same relationship probably works in terms of alcoholism; if your friend drinks, so do you.) It's just too bad that it leads to serious health problems.

If only life could be like that Albert Brooks movie, Defending Your Life, where Meryl Streep informs him that in heaven (or the world in between heaven and hell) you can eat whatever you want without gaining weight. Alas, real life isn't like that. So, if you want to stay thin, avoid making friends with someone on the large side.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Richardson Scores In Debate

While we don't think anyone put a dent in Hillary's armor in the wacky (we mean that in a good way) You Tube Democratic debate this week, we do think New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson did well. Here's someone who agrees: "Richardson, Edwards Look Upwardly Mobile."

The difference, we think, is that Edwards is headed downhill overall. When we were in Raleigh with relatives last week, we were reminded of one reason why: despite all his talk of two Americas, Edwards has clearly opted for the upper upper tier of rich America, building a 28,000 square foot home near Raleigh (pictured below). That's just crass and is, alone, enough to turn us off of Edwards forever. In any event, Edwards' Iowa-only strategy is faltering fast and we don't see him making it much beyond Iowa.

Richardson, on the other hand, continues to gain, slowly. We still don't think he'll knock off Hillary, but we've got a long way to go.

Bush Popular At Being Unpopular

W's negative approval rating is near record territory, at 65% (i.e., 65% of poll respondents state that they do not approve of the job Bush is doing as President). According to the Washington Post, only one President in the modern era of opinion poll approval ratings (going back to 1938--so we don't know what folks thought of Calvin Coolidge or Millard Fillmore) has gone lower, and that was Richard Nixon on the eve of his resignation. (See "Disfavor For Bush Hits Rare Heights"). (Truman also got up to 65% in his presidency.)

Bush is also closing in on another record for unpopularity: longest period of time with a disapproval rating exceeding 50%. Bush has been there for two years now and only Truman has him beat--but not for much longer.

Perhaps Bush was thinking about his place in the record books yesterday--i.e., hoping to set the record--when he used his typically convoluted "logic" to argue that al-Queda in Iraq is as big a threat to the U.S. as Bin Laden's main group. (See "Al-Qaeda in Iraq is Part of Network, Bush Says.") Let's see, which is more dangerous: the Al Qaeda group that launched 9/11 and has established a haven in Pakistan because Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. decided that the "War on Terror" didn't require devoting sufficient military resources to eradicate them; or the Sunni Iraqi group that didn't even exist until we invaded Iraq, and which is focused on restoring Sunni power in Iraq?

Here's hoping Bush sets the record.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Diet Soda Obesity Link?

We've long had our suspicions about so-called "diet soda." Put aside the issue of whether massive amounts of some kind of artificial sweetener are really good for you. It just seems that the more diet soda Americans drink, the fatter they get.

When the Curmudgeon was a kid, the only diet sodas out there were specialty drinks like Tab and Fresca. Back then, folks were still reasonably thin. Then, along came Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi and diet everything else. In larger, and larger, and larger sizes.

Now comes a new report from the widely respected Framingham Study, finding that diet soda drinkers are more likely than non-soda drinkers to have "metabolic sydrome," be obese, have high blood sugar and have high blood pressure.

Now, we'd be the first to tell you that association does not mean causation. Indeed, the authors of the report were not willing to say that their data supports a claim that drinking diet soda causes obesity. Some critics of the study--many funded by the soft drink industry--are quick to point out that it may well be that people who are more unhealthy to begin with are more likely to have switched to diet soda.

Perhaps. But maybe diet soda isn't so benign after all. We can say this for sure: water would be better. (And no, we don't endorse substituting "all natural" juice, or some kind of organic drink as "more healthy"--those have tons of empty calories.)

One problem with diet drinks is that their sweet taste encourages simply drinking too much liquid. You'll see folks--often quite large ones--downing 24 oz., 36 oz., and, gracious me, 64 oz. "diet" drinks at your local fast food joint or "convenience" store, but you won't see anyone drinking that much water in a similar setting. Some scientists theorize that while the diet soda has no calories, drinking all that sweet tasting carbonated beverage leads one to crave more of other sweet foods. We think there could be merit to that.

Of course, drinking the occasional 12 oz. diet soda--everything in moderation we say--isn't going to hurt you. (Nor will drinking sugared soda in moderation hurt you, either.) But we would counsel against drinking anything--whether "diet" or not--in massive quantities. We'd sure like to see the return of the 12 oz. soda as the norm--a "regular" drink--at fast food restaurants.

My Name Is Vitter

Last week, while we were on vacation, Senator David Vitter came out of hiding and apologized to his supporters for his indiscretion in visiting with one the "D.C. Madam's" call girls.

That's not enough.

We could care less if Vitter consorted with prostitutes. (It is illegal, however, and should subject him to criminal prosecution.)

The problem is his hypocrisy. Indeed, with full knowledge that he was out there sinning away, Vitter made a public spectacle of attacking the morality of other individuals.

Like the feature character in the NBC television series "My Name Is Earl," Senator Vitter needs to go and individually apologize to each and every person whose morality he attacked. Only then does he begin to deserve the atonement Republicans already seem all too anxious to give him.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Kiawah Island--Still A Terrific Family Resort

Every summer we haul off to Kiawah Island, South Carolina for a weeklong mini-reunion with the Curmudgeon's brother's and sister's families, and every year we have a terrific time. Last year, we posted on why Kiawah, which bills itself as a golf destination, really ought to play itself up as a family resort. To see why, read our post, "Kiawah, The Perfect Family Resort."

Not much changed this year. The weather, although a bit sticky, was still terrific, with only a couple of very late, and quite brief, afternoon thundershowers to force the kids out of the surf and pool. We did the usual things--swimming, boogie boarding, sand castle building, biking, tennis, golf, a big poker game, margarita night, banana daiquiries, a big dinner at SNOB (Slightly North of Broad) in Charleston.

One thing we did new this year was to rent a motorboat at nearby Bohicket Marina. For roughly $450 (including gas) we were able to get a boat for the whole day that would comfortably hold eight passengers. Captain Joel, our brother-in-law, took two shifts out on the water for a few hours of cruising, dolphin watching and tube riding. With the wide, uncrowded, undeveloped Edisto River within easy range, it was a lot of fun. One could easily add fishing and crabbing to the itenerary.

Another new thing--for us--was to take some of the younger kids out on tandem sit-on-top kayaks. Kiawah's regular guided family kayaking trips were sold out--an indication of how popular these activities are--but in the afternoons you can rent the kayaks (roughly same cost as the guided trips) and go at whatever pace and for however far you want. About 200 yards from where we put in, we encountered three dolphins frolicking in the Kiawah River, no more than 20-30 feet from us. We could've stayed there with them for hours, but for a nasty wind blowing us in the wrong direction. It was a delightfully nice little paddle, despite the wind, and the Kiawah naturalists who helped us were terrific.

Kiawah is also still a fabulous golf resort. One improvement this year is that Kiawah moved up the start time for its popular "family golf" program to 5:00 pm (used to be 6:00). In family golf, the adults pay $45 apiece, the kids are free. You play nine holes from tees well out into the fairway--essentially a pitch and putt for the adults. Tee times are 15 minutes apart, so you aren't rushed. It's a great way to let the kids--even pretty small ones--get out and have some unpressured golf. (It's also a good way to work on your concentration--trying to hit a shot while several kids run around making a racket.)

For us golfers, the highlight of the week, however, was the opportunity to play on the River Course, one of two spectacular private golf courses available to members of the Kiawah Island Club. We've been wanting to play both courses--the other, newer, one is Cassique (pictured here)--for years. When we realized that one of Mrs. Curmudgeon's partners owns property at Kiawah and is a member of the club, our opportunity arose.

The River Course was designed by famed golf course architect Tom Fazio, who also designed the stunningly beautiful, public, Osprey Point links at Kiawah. It is a beautiful, challenging track in pristine condition. Enormous waste bunker await your wayward shot, along with dozens of alligator infested ponds and lagoons. Lightning fast greens test your putting skills, and a series of holes along the Kiawah River--with panoramic views of Kiawah's well-preserved marshlands--require negotiation of tricky cross winds. Guests unaccompanied by a member are required to take caddies and it's a good thing--we needed every bit of their help. We were quite impressed with what we saw of the Kiawah Island Club--terrific facilities and friendly staff.

So, if you're at Kiawah and get offered the opportunity to play the River Course--or Cassique, which we hear is just as fabulous--don't turn it down!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Mea Culpa; Guiliani's Kinky Supporters; McCain--Can He Recover; Al Queda "Stronger"

Our regular readers will realize that we've been posting only intermittently of late. We're sorry--we want to do more, indeed, we have much to say. But who knew--with the kids out of school and shuttling to various day camps, and with vacations, etc., we've gotten quite busy. In any event, we'll be out for the next 10 days, so take a Curmudgeon break and--please--check back in with us around July 23.

Now, about some of those things we've had on our mind.

Have you noticed that Rudy Guiliani's campaign has attracted all the GOP hypocrites in the South? First it was South Carolina state co-chair Thomas Ravenel, indicted for dealing crack cocaine (will Republicans suddenly sympathize with him when the federal sentencing guidelines mandate a much stiffer sentence than if he were a regular white guy just dealing powdered coke?). Now it's Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, caught up in a prostitution sex scandal.

Then there's John McCain, whose campaign is melting down faster the Arctic ice cap. Can McCain recover? We doubt it, but there is precedent. We can recall sitting around the Capitol Hilton in December 2003, prematurely mourning the evident implosion of John Kerry's campaign. It was a sad night, a dour fundraiser punctuated with various supporters whispering amongst each other over who they'd support next. A few weeks later, Kerry surprised many by turning the corner with a good showing in Iowa and beginning to show some real momentum. We don't think the situation's the same now for McCain--for one thing, there's no imminent primary or other event that can give him a real lift. But there's still a long way to go, and we don't think McCain's a quitter.

Now what about this Washington Post headline today: "U.S. Warns of Stronger Al-Queda"? Yes, an intelligence estimate presented to the White House today reports that, six years after we declared war on terror, the terrorists who brazenly attacked our country on 9/11 have established a "safe haven" in remote Pakistan and are "better-positioned" to attack the west.

How did that happen? Easy. The country re-elected (after his appointment by the Supreme Court) a President who ran on an anti-terror campaign, but whose policies in fact were to expend the bulk of our military strength getting bogged down in the wrong war with a country that posed no real threat, while at the same time downplaying the real war, i.e., against Al Queda. If someone wanted to impeach Bush AND Cheney, it should be for simple malfeasance!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Hersheypark: Pure Family Fun

A few years ago, the Curmudgeon's older son was into a computer game called Roller Coaster Tycoon, a Sim City type of game in which you would try to create various successful amusement parks. The Curmudgeon enjoyed this game as well, and we quickly learned that it was the little things--nice walkways, trees, park benches, trash cans, good security--as much as the big roller coasters that gave you a high score.

Walking around Hersheypark--the large amusement park in the chocolate capital of America, Hershey, Pennsylvania--this weekend, we noticed just how important those small touches can be.

It had been two years since we were last at Hershey--we went to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg last summer--but since it was the 100th anniversary of Hersheypark, how could we resist?

In our humble opinion, Hershey is by far the best amusement park in the Washington, D.C. region--better than King's Dominion, Busch Gardens or our lame local Six Flags outpost. Hershey is bigger than any of these others, with more roller coasters, more kiddie rides, more variety and just more fun. (We like the photo above, which shows how three of Hershey's roller coasters, along with its log flume ride, intertwine with each other in a maze of twisted steel, wood and hurtling coaster cars.)

One of the things we noticed, however, is that Hersheypark is clean. There are trash bins just about every 10 yards throughout the park. There are also plenty of spotless benches for sitting, many in the plentiful shade that covers much of the park. There are also lots of bathrooms. There are tons of places to eat (and eat, and eat, and eat, but hey, it's Hershey). And there are considerable diversions from the rides if you're so inclined to part with your money for gee-gaws, knick-knacks and games.

If you have younger children, Hershey is a great place because it has lots of rides suitable for kiddies age 3-7 throughout the park. If you have kids of mixed ages--like most families--you can take a tike on a series of little rides while the older child waits in line at a nearby coaster or water ride. We've found other amusement parks wanting in this respect, either having too few rides for kiddies, or relegating them to some far outpost.

The newest thing at Hershey is a waterpark. Hershey's always had a series of good water rides--we especially like Tidal Force, a ride designed to do one and only one thing: get you soaked in a huge spray of water. It does that exceedingly well. The addition of a waterpark area--called The Boardwalk--helps round out the selections at Hershey. Since its new, and since it was quite hot this weekend, the Boardwalk was pretty crowded. But when we finally made our way there on Sunday morning, it was certainly refreshing.

The features in the water park that our kids--between us and another family we had boys aged 4-12--liked most were (1) a series of enormous buckets that fill with water and tip over periodically, unleashing a torrent of water on the guests arrayed below (we sampled this, once--a bit like getting hit with a fire hose), and (2) a pair of raft rides that end in a circular vortex that must be something like what happens to a bug when you flush it down your toilet. The lines for the raft rides were a bit slow, but having been in a few water parks, we thought these were the niftiest raft rides we've seen yet.

If you're tired and hot, think about taking a respite in Chocolate World, which is essentially an enormous Hershey's gift shop with a gimmicky "chocolate factory" tour. Not worth tearing the kids away from their roller coasters if they're having fun, but a decent way to wind down the day.

Hershey is about a two and half hour drive from Washington, and Gettysburg is on the way if you want the children to take in a bit of history. The park is hilly and can be a challenge for those out of shape--although the Hershey name attracts plenty of oversized people who seem to somehow manage to chug up and down those hills. Parking is plentiful, and even when the park is crowded it's still pretty pleasant.

If you have younger kids, stay overnight at the Hershey Lodge--the staff is incredibly cheerful and tolerant of the screaming youngsters (of course, you may not be so tolerant of everyone else's little rugrats!) There's several pools, free mini-golf, games and lots of other activities at the Lodge. For more upscale, go to the Hershey Hotel, slightly closer to the park. Plenty of restaurants in the area cater to families. Saturdays are the busiest days--Sundays, particularly in the afternoons, are surprisingly uncrowded.

And if you have older teens, check out the concert schedule, as a number of top popular acts make stops at Hershey stadium (along with a fair number of geezer bands for us boomers).

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Stress = Obesity?

Perhaps you saw the articles earlier this week on studies that purport to show that stress combined with a junk food diet may be the "cause" of obesity. For example, the Washington Post had a front page story headlined "Way to Shrink, Grow Fat Is Found."

Stories like this belong in a little box in the Style section, somewhere close to the latest "news" on Paris, Britney, Lindsay and Nicole. The key passage in the story is this: "The researchers have applied for a patent and have begun negotiating with drug companies to license the technology." In other words, this is from a group of folks who are hoping to get rich quick.

Haven't we heard this all before--some new magic bullet cure for obesity?

This time, the researchers--using mice, not humans--say they've found a biochemical pathway that creates obesity in stressed out animals fed a high fat diet of "junk food." The key is supposedly a substance called "neuropeptide Y" and a receptor for it, the "neuropeptide Y2R receptor." (From the Y2K scare to the Y2R hope!). The theory is that people with too much neuropeptide Y get fat when also subjected to "stress"; block the neuropeptide Y and they won't.

As one scientist explained it in a commentary that accompanied publication of the research: "There is a lot of uncontrollable stress right now in our societies. There's also a lot of inexpensive high-fat food. This could help explain the obesity epidemic."

The problem with such blather is that humans have ALWAYS been subjected to uncontrollable stress. Indeed, for the first six million years of human existence--until about 40 years ago--much of that stress centered around "where's my next meal going to come from?" All in all, one can hardly say that life today is MORE stressful for most humans than it was at any other time in history. The difference may only be that the stress has shifted from worrying about survival to being concerned about trivial things such as what television channel will get Paris's first post-jail interview.

Since stress is nothing new, then that leaves "a lot of inexpensive high-fat food" as the possible culprit in the obesity epidemic. Bingo. But did we need scientists to figure that one out? Not really--all they're saying is that fat people are eating too much junk food. Duh. Perhaps the easier solution--rather than blocking a neuropeptide that probably does some useful things in the body--would simply be to eat less crappy food.

Do we really need a pill that will allow people to go into the Cheesecake Factory and stuff their faces with impunity? Will we have to double our output of food--and the attendant drain on world resources--just to keep feeding those people?

Scooter Libby and the State of Political Blogging

As we relaxed and truly enjoyed the Fourth in very traditional style--hot dogs, hamburgers, a little parade, and, of course, the fireworks--with friends and family, we spent a little time surfing the net to see what was up.

Not much: political blogs were flooded with opinion on the commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence. That's a lot of bloviational energy fixated on what, in the larger scheme of things, is really a pretty trivial issue.

Democrats are, of course, predictably outraged. How dare President Bush commute Libby's sentence! They've come up with a number of other cases to show that persons convicted of similarly serious crimes have done jail time, although the facts of each case are difficult to compare.

On the conservative side, bloggers have filled their pages with rationalizations for Libby to skate, while further urging a full pardon. This weekend we met one of those conservative bloggers, Tom Maguire, a Connecticut conservative who writes the popular Just One Minute blog. A likeable fellow who is certainly fun to debate over politics, Tom couldn't resist posting something on the Libby matter yesterday while the rest of us sipped margaritas and watched tornado warnings scrawl across the television screen.

We should've asked him, "hey, Tom, what's the big deal on Libby?" but we didn't.

To us, a bigger story is the British terrorism scare. This should certainly be a big story for Muslims living in the U.S. and Europe. It's one thing for radical young Saudis, Yemenis and Pakistanis to enter a Western country and commit acts of terrorism, but quite another when seemingly respectable, westernized physicians start plotting mass mayhem in the name of their religion. That type of activity casts suspicion on all Muslims living in the West, and can eventually lead to even more serious persecution of even the most westernized of Muslims. There can be no "religious tolerance" for a religion that preaches "death to all infidels."

Going back to Libby, here's the key point: he was convicted of lying to the grand jury. Nothing, including a pardon by the man he lied for, will change that. His career is ruined. True, he could, like his near namesake, Gordon Liddy, turn up as a successful conservative radio host, but his professional reputation is toast. Whether he serves time in jail or not doesn't change anything. Moreover, the truth of the matter is that it was a pretty severe sentence. Putting Scooter in jail doesn't change the fact that "W" and Cheney are still in power, destroying our country, for another year and a half.

Perhaps even more importantly, the Libby trial revealed just how desperate the administration was to mislead Americans on the War in Iraq, and the obsessiveness, particularly of the Vice President's office, in going after anyone who threatened to expose those lies. The right can blog all they want about some perceived miscarriage of justice in the Libby case (the same right wing that fanned Whitewater and the Starr investigation for years) but it won't change the big picture: Bush lied to get us into an absolutely disastrous war that has cost a trillion dollars, killed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, made us less secure than before 9/11 and tarnished our image in world relations.

(And now we've added to all the wasted bloviational energy on the Libby topic.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Successful McDonald's McSoccerfest

A year ago we posted about how much fun we had at the McDonald's McSoccerfest, a huge 4 v 4 soccer festival in Maryland. (See "McSoccerfest: Simple Soccer For The Masses")

So we're delighted to tell you we went again this year and had even MORE FUN! Part of the fun was that it was such a beautiful weekend, especially Sunday, a cool, dry, sunny day more like late September than early July.

The best fun of all, however, was our older boys team winning the championship of their division. Last year this same group came in a disappointing third, but learned a lot. They put their education to good use this time, playing four really solid games and winning a thrilling 3-2 victory on a last second strike in the final game.

The great thing about the McSoccerfest is that, win or lose, the kids will have a good time and the parents don't have to give up their entire weekend for it. (Ok, we did give up the weekend, because we had two teams, one that played Saturday, and one on Sunday.) The games are short--just 20 minutes--and fast, which allows teams to play three or four games in a matter of just four hours. After 20 minutes of play, you can't believe it wasn't longer!

We also took our little guys--third graders--to play. They ended up playing mostly fourth graders (because one of our third graders has a birthday that's puts him up a year) and had a tougher time of it, but still did a good job.

One of the things we like about the McSoccerfest format is that there is little downtime between games (and plenty to divert the kids during that downtime), so you don't find yourself trying to kill three or four (or five!) hours between games as is the case at a typical two-day travel soccer tourney.

If you happen to have an interest in a future McSoccerfest, here's their website.
Below: The Champs!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Scooter Libby Sentence Commuted

Now really, you aren't surprised are you?

I can't wait to hear the howling on the right about how he should've been pardoned, not just had his jail time waived!

Bush is Chamberlain, Not Churchill

Such a nice day--so sunny and clear we broke our record for solar output, exceeding 16 kwh today--that it's been hard to get to the ol' computer.

However, if you don't get the Washington Post, or missed it yesterday, there was an insigtful piece in the Outlook section titled, "Why Winston Wouldn't Stand For W." The author, Lynne Olson, a former White House correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, has recently completed a book, titled "Troublesome Young Men," detailing "the small group of conservative members of Parliament who defied Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasing Adolf Hitler, forced Chamberlain to resign in May 1940 and helped make Churchill his successor."

Olson notes that President Bush is a big fan of Winston Churchill, apparently fancying himself a Churchillian dogmatist. Not so, says Olson--if anything, Bush is Chamberlain. Sample: "Like Bush and unlike Churchill, Chamberlain came to office with almost no understanding of foreign affairs or experience in dealing with international leaders. Nonetheless, he was convinced that he alone could bring Hitler and Benito Mussolini to heel. He surrounded himself with like-minded advisers and refused to heed anyone who told him otherwise."

It's a good read.