Thursday, September 27, 2007

Judge Skeptical of Larry Craig's Unguilty Plea; Spector Mistrial

Today's Judicial Report

Larry Craig

Based on the reports we read, it doesn't sound like the Minnesota judge hearing Larry "Wide Stance" Craig's effort to plead unguilty is very sympathetic to his case.

The Judge, Charles Porter, questioned Craig's high powered D.C. counsel, Billy Martin, carefully about the move to withdraw the guilty plea to disorderly conduct in the Minnesota airport men's room.

The judge easily dispensed with the claim that if Craig would have appeared in Court, he may have plead differently because a judge would have asked him questions. "If he intended to plead guilty, he would have said 'yes' to questions about whether he knew he had committed a crime," said the judge. (He might have added that the whole reason Craig would have voluntarily MAILED in his guilty plea was precisely to avoid answering those questions in an open public forum attended by the press!! Which, by the way, is a very knowing--and wise--waiver of the right to appear in court.)

Porter also dispensed with Martin's claim that Craig's actions did not constitute a crime. Perhaps that's true, but there's enough for a jury to make that determination.

The judge had only one question for the prosecution, which was procedural.

As we've said before, Craig has not demonstrated a basis for withdrawing his guilty plea. But we'd still like to see him have a chance to go to trial on the merits, for its entertainment value.

Phil Spector

The spectre of Los Angeles juries being willing to suspend disbelief to exonerate Hollywood celebrities remains alive. An hung jury was unable to convict record producer Phil Spector, who has a sordid past of threatening women with firearms and other bizarre conduct, in the shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson.

At least it was 10-2 in favor of conviction. Can you actually get 12 people in Los Angeles who can follow a set of real facts?

One of the two holdouts criticized the prosecution for not putting on evidence that Clarkson was not suicidal. Guess they weren't impressed with the testimony of Spector's driver, who testified that, after a loud "bang", Spector appeared at his front door, HOLDING A GUN, and said "I THINK I JUST SHOT SOMEONE."

It must be easy being a criminal defense lawyer in California.

Too Much "The War"

Have you been watching Ken Burns' "The War" on PBS? We have. It's terrific, what more can we say.

Burns even did a nice job interweaving the stories of Hispanic WWII vets after Hispanic groups complained that they were not represented in the series. (Their complaints had some justification, but their attacks on Burns did not; fortunately, he and PBS were able to rise above that.)

Still, we wonder why PBS decided the run the whole 14 plus hour series in one week. Really, it's too much. It's a little like going to dinner and having nothing but five buffet tables of dessert available. Yes, dessert is nice, but too much, all at once, makes you feel bad.

Moreover, The War is a lot to take in and absorb. A lot of it is disturbing. War is hell, after all. A full week of this is enough to disrupt anyone's sleep.

We don't think too many Americans can just carve out 14 hours of TV time in one week for a special, especially one so deep and moving. Thank goodness for TiVo and its imitators!

Is this so hard for the "suits" at PBS (do they wear suits at PBS?) to figure out? Two hours each week over seven weeks or so would've been terrific. Something to look forward to while the networks dribble out their inevitably disappointing new fare. And, of course, the way PBS stations run their shows, they might well have aired the same episode on two or three different nights each week, at different times, to maximize exposure for the recording impaired amongst us.

Unfortunately, by throwing the entire series on us in one week, the PBS ratings are likely to be lower than if they had stretched it out over a few weeks. That, in turn, will incorrectly lead PBS "suits" to think that similar projects are not as financially worthwhile as if it had been a ratings hit.

We applaud Burns--another masterpiece on another war. Too bad PBS didn't have the good sense to showcase it optimally.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Larry Craig Hearing Today

The Curmudgeon's favorite Senator--Larry "Wide Stance" Craig--has his hearing today on whether he should be able to withdraw his guilty plea for his men's room exploits in the Minneapolis airport.

Craig says he's been "advised not to" attend the hearing. Evidently, his lawyers fear someone might just be tempted to put the Senator on the stand and cross-examine him, which is exactly what should happen.

In any event, we always love the desperate creativity of lawyers in cases like this one. Craig's lawyers have argued that because the Senator mailed in his guilty plea (the same way you do for a routine traffic offense), he did not have the benefit of a judge explaining the exact consequences of the plea before accepting it. (See CNN story here.)

That's a particularly stupid argument--and the lawyers know it, but have no shame. First, since millions of guilty pleas to misdemeanors are mailed in across the country every year, ruling in Craig's favor on that basis would mean that ANY citizen could invalidate a mailed guilty plea on the same ground. Second, WHO IN THE WORLD WOULD ELECT AS THEIR SENATOR AN IMBECILE WHO CLAIMS THAT HE DIDN'T KNOW THE CONSEQUENCES OF PLEADING GUILTY ABSENT A JUDGE PATIENTLY EXPLAINING IT TO HIM? Honestly, Craig just looks sillier and sillier in this.

The judge shouldn't let Craig withdraw his plea, but we wouldn't bet against it. If the prosecutor will promise to file new charges and go to trial, however, then we hope the judge lets Craig have his wish. What fun that trial would be (even if he wins).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Big East Gets Last Laugh On ACC

In 2003, the Atlantic Coast Conference made a widely publicized raid on the Big East Conference, stealing three ostensible football powers from the Big East in what was supposed to turn the ACC into a pigskin powerhouse.

At the time, many sports commentators speculated on the imminent demise of the Big East, while predicting national titles for the ACC.

So, what happened to this genius move?

Like many genius moves by men and women filled with hubris, it turned into a bust for the ACC. Meanwhile, the Big East recovered by taking five schools from Conference USA and turning itself into a good football conference and a great basketball conference.

So far this football season, the ACC has NO schools ranked in the top 10, with three schools ranked in the top 20. The Big East has two schools in the top 10, three in the top 20.

The ACC has turned into a decidedly mediocre football conference. (Hey, when even the 'Hoos at UVa can start out 4-0, it's a sissy conference.) Indeed, the ACC's weakness threatens to upset the always controversial BCS applecart since the ACC, as a BCS "powerconference" should have at least one or two powerhouse teams. Instead, it looks like--once again--the BCS will feature a big time bowl match-up with a weak ACC team while leaving out some much more deserving school from some other conference.

In the 2003 raid, the ACC acquired Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami. Those school, with relatively weak basketball teams, have diluted the ACC's vaunted status as the premier basketball conference. In contrast, the Big East, by bringing in perennial basketball powerhouses Louisville and Marquette, strengthened its resume.

Miami has been a real stinker for the ACC, drifting downward in football and adding nothing in basketball. We bet the ACC'd love to give Miami back!

We'd like to see all those hucksters and boosters who pushed for the ACC raid come on out and admit they were wrong (not quite as wrong as South Carolina was when it bolted from the ACC in the early 70's and spent the next 25 years in the athletic wilderness)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Is Newt Running? We Doubt It.

Awhile back we forecast that Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich would both enter the Republican presidential nomination contest, while Al Gore would stay out on the Democratic side.

Thompson is in, with as good a chance as anyone else at this point.

What about Newt? We sense he's conflicted. On the one hand, there's clearly no front-runner for the GOP nomination. Newt would probably initially show up in the low teens in polls and have about as good a chance--at least on paper--as anyone else. But we just don't see him winning.

On the other hand, it's going to be an expensive, grueling race, and maybe not that much fun. So much time will have to be spent on fund-raising that it really begins to look ugly.

So what Newt has done is to set a very high bar: he says he wants to run, but he'll only do so if he can obtain $30 million in pledges before the end of October. Well, since his PAC has about $3 million already, he's a good 10 percent of the way home.

We now think he won't run, at least if he means what he says (and who in this particular crowd does?). There's no way Newt is going to round up that kind of money in a few weeks. In the good ol' days--think Nixon and Bebe Rebozo--it would have been a cinch. Go to a few rich, crooked cronies and you're all set. But to get to $30 million, Newt will need pledges of the maximum contribution from roughly 13,000 donors. He'll need to round up about 400 such pledges per day between now and Halloween to pull that off.

Of course, Newt knows $30 million is just about impossible--no one else has pulled that off in a single quarter so far, and it's getting late. So we figure he put the bar high to give him an excuse not to run, while at the same time reasoning that if he somehow could reach that Andean plateau then, by golly, he ought to run.

Stay tuned for the late October announcement that Newt has decided to sit it out (and, eventually, endorse his pal Fred Thompson).

Those Florida Voters, At It Again

Florida Democrats have rejected a compromise with the national party under which Florida could hold its early primary, but treat it as a "beauty contest" with delegates to be awarded later.

Indeed, the Florida Democrats were quite defiant. Our favorite portion of their statement taking umbrage at the very thought that they should compromise: "Florida Democrats will have a major impact in determining who the next President of the United States will be."

Well, yeah. They did it before by golly--totally bollixed up the 2000 election and gave us the worst President ever. So we should, like, be soooo pleased that they're going to do it again.

Of course, politics are at work here. On the Democratic side, the big beneficiary is none other than Hillary Clinton. If all the candidates abide by their pledges not to campaign in Florida, then, by default, Hillary will win by a pretty comfortable margin simply because she's the best known candidate.

That is, unless voters get confused by the ballot. It's certainly possible that Florida Democrats could accidentally end up giving all their convention delegates--if they have any--to Sam Brownback or Mike Huckabee.

Meanwhile, some in the party are threatening a "civil rights" lawsuit against the national party. Give us a break. The claim is that because Florida is a voting rights state, it deserves to horn in on the early primary festival. This is utter nonsense. No one is depriving Floridians of anything. They just want to cut in line and make another mess of another election, something they're very good at. The national parties--both of them--should have adequate leeway to sanction state parties that refuse to toe the line. We don't see any such lawsuit having merit or really going anywhere.

Anyway, thanks a bunch Florida. We're really happy that you're going to have a "major impact" on the election again!

Deadskins Fall To Earth

The aliens have retreated.

That's right. For the past couple of weeks--indeed, right through the first half of yesterday's game between the Redskins and Giants--aliens had been inhabiting the Redskins' uniforms, taking them to a 2-0, and what looked sure to be 3-0, start for the season.

However, the aliens' mother ship beamed them back up from the locker room at halftime yesterday (sadly, leaving behind the yellow and red McDonald's tribute uniforms--"Hey, Jason, can I get some fries with that incomplete pass?"). Worse yet, the aliens sent back the real Redskins whom they had abducted.

And so it was no surprise that, with the real Redskins on the field, they reverted to form. The real coach, Joe Gibbs, helped call lame plays. The real quarterback, Jason Campbell, threw lame passes. The real running backs ran lamely. The real defense played lamely. The special teams played especially lamely. And we had the predictable result: despite the aliens giving them a two-touchdown lead, the Redskins lost to an 0-2 team that had allowed an average 44 points per game to be scored in its first two games.

Please aliens, come back. And while you're at it, can you also abduct and replace the Nationals, Wizards and Capitals?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Microsoft Conspiracy or Office Depot Idiocy?

Today we finally gave in and decided we needed Microsoft Excel on our computer since people keep sending us Excel files. Should be pretty simple, right?

Not really. Microsoft has more pricing tiers than the airlines.

We went to our local Office Depot store, the prime advantage of which is we can walk there. The helpful lady at the store pointed us to the software and suggested we get the Microsoft "Home and Student" 2007 edition, which has Excel, Powerpoint, Word and OneNote, at a cost of $149.99 less a $30 mail-in rebate (why not a $29.99 rebate?). Seemed reasonable since a copy of Excel by itself was $229, and the various Office suites with Excel were even more.

But when we went to purchase it, we were asked for a student i.d. Why, we asked. Because Microsoft requires it, the fellow responded. But it says "Home" and student, we retorted. Also, we have a student at home. Sorry, he said, have to have an i.d.

Well, that is certainly ridiculous. Nothing anywhere on the package or the promotional material for this product says anything about having to be a student, much less producing a student i.d. So we demanded the Manager, who happened to be out of the store. Well, call him, we said. The call was made and the Manager relented. But, we were warned darkly, you'll have to register the product with Microsoft as a student.

Now we're not sure who's wrong here--Microsoft, or Office Depot. If that really is Microsoft's policy, i.e., requiring a student i.d. to make the purchase, then it is WRONG. The product is clearly labelled for home use, not just for students. Also, someone could easily be purchasing it FOR a student. (We offered to give the store clerk a sworn statement that our purchase was limited to both home and student uses.)

We wonder whether that really is Microsoft policy, however, because when we installed this one, we actually read the friggin' license. It clearly states that certain products for military members require showing a valid military i.d. But nothing about any such limitation as to students.

By the same token, we are limited to just making one copy, solely for back-up purposes, whereas an Office Suite product allows extra copies or adding licenses.

As for Office Depot, if they are enforcing some rule that is not required by Microsoft--which would have forced us to buy a more expensive product--then they are in the WRONG. Either way, something is WRONG here.

We think Microsoft and Office Depot should get together, have a little chat and clarify their rules. And, if Microsoft is going to insist on student i.d., then they need to rename the product--take out "home."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Support Our Troops? Riiiggghhht!

Oops. The Republican Emperor has no clothes. All those gigantic gas-guzzling SUV's you see on the highway with the "W 04" or "Re-elect Bush/Cheney" bumper stickers just below that nice little yellow ribbon with the "Support Our Troops"?

Well, yesterday we found out how much they really support the troops. Republican Senators stood shoulder-to-shoulder in voting to defeat an amendment that would truly support our troops, rather than support the Chicken-Hawk in Chief. The bill would have required that our men and women in uniform get a 1:1 ratio of "deployment to dwell." In other words, the military would be required to give a soldier at least the same amount of time back home as each of his or her deployments to Iraq (or another theater).

The military's historic ratio has been 1:2--twice the time at home as on the front--so a 1:1 ratio is simply a floor. But even that protection--to truly "support the troops"--was too much for the GOP to stomach, lest it somehow prevent Bush from yet another troop surge.

The sponsors of the amendment, including Senator Jim Webb, whose son IS serving as a Marine in Iraq (in contrast to all those who voted against it, who have no children in Iraq), felt it was vital to the morale and effectiveness of our soldiers, to keep them from breaking from the ever greater strain of a very few doing the dirty work of the very many.

We'd like to see Bush send the twins--Jenna and Barbara--to Iraq. Then he might have a little more than his typical faux sympathy for "the troops." You knew these people really didn't care. Now you've got the proof.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Misguided Conservative Attack On China's One-Child Policy

Today's WSJ op-ed page features a piece attacking China's "one-child" policy as a "tragic and historic mistake." The author, Nicholas Eberstadt, is a "resident scholar" at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, of which the Journal is a regular outlet.

Eberstadt's argument is that China will, in about 25 years, face a crisis because it will have too many old people and not enough young.

Let's examine the argument, which we suspect is really a front for conservatives who object to China's policy because it includes abortion as a component and doesn't sit well with libertarian ideals.

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich wrote a bestseller, The Population Bomb, predicting impending doom for mankind if it didn't stop out of control human procreation. Ehrlich's gloom and doom proved wrong because mankind adapted by initiating the green revolution--a massive expansion of food productivity.

Still, there is an outer limit to human population expansion on this earth, especially if you want humans to live in the lifestyle to which we Westerners, and especially we Americans, have become accustomed.

A good microcosm of what happens when there are too many people and not enough resources is Rwanda, where ethnic warfare between Hutus and Tutsis took over a million lives in a short period of time, most killed by very simple weapons such as machetes. While on the surface the senseless slaughter looks like ethnic tension, it was, in fact, brought on by years of population growth that steadily decreased the average size of Rwandan farm plots to the point that there was not nearly enough food and land for everyone. That then sparked the reprisals that escalated quickly into civil war.

Today, the world has roughly 6.7 billion people, with projections of 9 billion by 2050. Can we get to 15 billion, or 20 billion, without destroying the planet? Not likely, especially if most of those people live like we do: drive personal cars, live in fossil-fuel heated and cooled abodes, consume massive quantities (per capita) of steel, minerals and wood products, etc.

Now, let's look at what Eberstadt has to say. He really makes the same mistake as Ehrlich, which is not to give humans credit for adapting. China is hardly the only society that is aging rapidly and that will have to face the demographics of a large gray population supported by a smaller youth population. Japan is the starkest example of this, and it is likely that Japan will show the way in innovation that makes just such a society possible--even successful.

Eberstadt worries about the social fabric of a future China: "It is no secret that China is already a 'low trust society': Personal and business transactions still rely heavily upon guanxi, the network of personal relations largely demarcated by family ties. What exactly will provide the 'social capital' to undergird commercial and economic development in a future China where 'families' are, increasingly, little more than atomized households and isolated individuals?"

The answer is pretty simple. Most Western nations have already evolved family oriented networks to successful models of growth and economic development in societies of small households and "isolated individuals." China has plenty of models for this transition, which will be facilitated by modern telecommunications and the internet. There is no evidence that China is having difficulty with this transition--quite the contrary, younger and middle-age Chinese (those future old people) in the cities are adapting quite nicely to the modern age.

Eberstadt also points to the large disparity in Chinese birthrates between boys and girls. This is a problem, in both China and India, and it will have some adverse effects down the road. But Eberstadt should read his own prose here: "the Chinese people, like people elsewhere, are rational, calculating actors." This imbalance will correct itself over the long run, because eventually girls, in short supply, will be highly valued and Chinese society will adjust its views.

Eberstadt worries that the older Chinese will have no one to take care of them because there will be four grandparents for every grandchild, and some of those grandparents won't even have a patriarchal grandson to take care of them. Chinese society has already evolved past the point of expecting that only a son can take care of the grandparents. Women in China--freed from constant childbearing--are as involved in the economy as in many Western nations. Furthermore, China will realize that it needs to put in place systems that take care of the elderly, and the elderly will, of course, demand just such.

We don't see the Chinese government simply walking all their elderly out to the frozen tundra and leaving them there to starve.

So, yes, China has some issues to work through. And the Chinese have, indeed, begun to gradually relax the one-child rules. As the Chinese population stabilizes, more liberalization can be expected such that China eventually reaches a plateau of sorts.

Eberstadt's solution--just scrap one-child--would be extremely risky for China. China is trying not just to grow for growth's sake, but to raise the standard of living of it's people to that of other advanced societies in our world. The Chinese government, unlike governments in many other developing countries, is not trying to make an elite few rich at the expense of the many.

But for China to be able to raise the living standard across the board, it has to stabilize it's population, otherwise it will always be playing catch-up. Conversely, the AEI model of economic growth based on an ever-expanding population of younger people to support an ever-larger group of older people is nothing but a population pyramid scheme. And we all know how those schemes ultimately end.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Modest Fed-Ex Cup Success

The PGA Tour's much-hyped Fed-Ex Cup golf playoffs have ended with modest success. As anyone would have predicted at the beginning of the season, Tiger Woods walked away with the inaugural Cup, along with the $10 million prize deposited into his "retirement" account, which the 31-year-old can tap into when he reaches age 45.

On the good side, the Fed-ex Cup successfully replaced a series of humdrum fall golf tournaments in years past with a somewhat exciting line-up of four consecutive tournaments that, at a minimum, attracted a top-flight field. At least one of those tournaments managed to feature a head-to-head match-up between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, although the rest lacked much drama.

Also on the good side, we can now declare the golf season over, except for the President's Cup in two weeks. It will be good for golf to put away the clubs for a couple of months. (Yes, of course, the Golf Channel will still manage to come up with tournaments to cover, but you'd have to be either related to one of the contestants or simply have nothing to do in your life to be watching.)

On the bad side, the race for the Fed-Ex Cup itself turned out not to have any drama at all. Indeed, if Tiger hadn't skipped the first of the four "playoff" tourneys, he might have had a mathematical lock on the Cup before the last of the playoffs--the Tour Championship--even got started. And, as it turned out, he would have won the Cup (and the moola) even if he'd stayed at home with daughter Sam this weekend. Kind of like New England winning the Superbowl two weeks before the Superbowl.

We have some suggestions for improving this new system, which clearly beats the old one. First, the 144 golfers who qualify for the playoffs based on their Fed-Ex Cup rankings at the end of the season certainly deserve a week off after the PGA Tournament played in mid-August. Tiger Woods, leading in Fed-Ex points, could afford to take a break then, but many others couldn't. For those playing in the PGA, a Major usually played in stifling heat, it's not fair to expect them to then play four more consecutive tournaments without a break.

We also think there ought to be a week off before the season-ending Tour Championship. Hey, everyone gets two weeks before the Superbowl, right?

Another problem is keeping suspense in the Fed-Ex Cup race. Wouldn't it be nice if, come the final round of "playoffs," all 30 qualifiers for the final round had at least a theoretical chance at the Cup if they won the Tour Championship. This time, only 5 out of the 30 had any chance at all. There are ways to adjust the points at each stage of the playoffs so that those who do well move up, but no one can put the Cup away. The PGA should tinker with the points system to make this work.

Finally, there was the problem, in the last two weeks of the playoffs, of the birdie barrage. It looked like the old Disney Classic, or one of the other season opening tournaments where it takes a -25 to win. In the playoffs, the golf should get progressively tougher each week. Some of that, of course, depends on Mother Nature, but the PGA could at least try to make it difficult.

Personally, we find it boring when every player is seemingly making birdie on every hole. To maintain drama, there needs to be realistic possibilities of bogey and double bogey on just about every hole. It needs to look like the Majors, not the Bob Hope. So grow the rough, put the tees back, make the greens nice and slick and put the pins where they're hard to hit.

We still think that after 10 years of this Tiger will have collected $100 million for his retirement fund. We just hope the PGA can pull it off in a way that it will look challenging, and be entertaining.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Instant Hurricane: Humberto

Speaking of climate, did you notice Humberto, the instant hurricane that formed in the Gulf of Mexico yesterday?

Not too long ago, after category five Hurricane Dean slammed Mexico, we noted that the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are so warm that any tropical system that works its way into that body of water is going to be rapidly energized. We were right. After Dean, we had Felix, another cat 5 that bashed Central America. Both of those storms rapidly blossomed into ferocious major hurricanes on the jet fuel of the Gulf.

Then yesterday a little low pressure system off the Texas coast turned into a hurricane in a matter of a few hours. Fortunately, it was close enough to shore already that it hit before having time to turn into yet another major hurricane. (It was a category one when it went ashore last night.)

If I was a Gulf Coast resident, I'd be pretty worried. It may not be this season. It may not be next. But as long as the Gulf stays so warm, we're likely to have a series of very nasty, Katrina-esque, hurricanes over the coming years. It's just a matter of time.

Antarctic Freeze-up

Well now, while the Arctic is melting, it seems the South Pole is freezing up. Of course, you say--it's winter down south. But that's not what we mean.

Interestingly (hat tip to Mattnoyes for this), while the Arctic Ocean set a record for least ice cover this week, the Antarctic set a record for maximum ice cover. For complete information on both the Arctic and Antarctic, check out The Cryosphere Today (you'll probably want to bookmark this site to make sure you don't miss a thing on the cryosphere!)

What does this all mean? Not clear. Certainly, there is clear evidence of dramatic, sustained warming at the North Pole, and we're likely to see more of the same. The Southern Hemisphere is a bit different, however.

Global warming skeptics will no doubt pounce on the Antarctic news to bolster their claims. But no one expects the effects of warming to be uniform across the globe. Indeed, even in the Antarctic there is variation, and there is evidence that some of the large glaciers that form the southern ice cap are accelerating.

It is also certainly possible that more than one thing is going on at a time--normal weather cycles that are still poorly understood may account for both the Arctic warming and Antarctic cooling, while global warming could well be exacerbating the trend in the north, and perhaps ameliorating it in the south (we don't have many years of data on the Antarctic).

We agree with MattNoyes on one thing: the media shouldn't report on warming in the north and then simply ignore the news from the south.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Go, Mark, Go!

We're amused by our fellow Virginia bloggers on the right who are putting a brave face on this. Go ahead, throw Car Tax Jim Gilmore at us.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I'm Melting--The Incredible Shrinking Polar Ice Cap

Like the Wicked Witch, sprayed with water by Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, our polar ice cap is melting fast (but not into a yucky puddle of green with a hat on top).

The National Snow and Ice Center in Boulder, Colorado, reports that arctic sea ice is at a record low right now, shattering the previous record, set in 2005, with a 20 percent greater reduction. See "Actic Sea Ice Cover At Record Low." (The satellite photo to the right here shows quite a bit of open ocean at the North Pole. If you really zoomed in, you might see Santa sun-bathing.)

Based on this data, scientists are now saying we may have an ice free North Pole (at the end of summer)by as early as 2030.

Wow, that was fast! It was only a week ago that we passed on new research predicting an ice free arctic by 2050, which moved up earlier predictions from the year 2100.

The good news is that melting of the arctic ice cap does not raise sea levels appreciably. Indeed, it could open up the fabled "Northwest Passage" for ship transit from the Atlantic to the Pacific, making a lot of Panamanians very unhappy about the sudden reduced relevance of their canal.

Unfortunately, the bad news is a lot worse. If the Arctic Ocean is melting much, much faster than most computer models projected, then it is likely that other melting--the kind that does raise sea levels--is also accelerating faster than expected. The big ones are the Greenland ice sheet and Antarctica. If the Arctic ice is melting at a record pace, then Greenland is probably not far behind. (It's more difficult to measure Greenland--we'll see those reports later in the year after more data is crunched.) Antarctica doesn't necessarily follow what's going on in the Arctic, but it stands to reason that warming is accelerating at the South Pole too.

We expect that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to significantly revise--upward--its projections of sea level rise over the next century. A more rapid rise in sea levels has a number of very serious implications. For one, we'd be foolish to invest billions in trying to protect all of existing New Orleans if it's just going to be a losing battle. Instead, we need to give serious consideration to other at risk cities, such as New York, Norfolk, Baltimore, Miami, Tampa and quite a few others.

Now THAT's Expensive Electricity!

Today's Wall Street Journal has a chart showing how much a $15/ton carbon emissions tax would add to various energy costs. According to the Journal, such a tax would boost electricity costs by $1.63 per kilowatt hour!

Since we pay roughly 8 cents per kilowatt hour here in Virginny, that would be quite a boost, raising our electric bill for the month of August to $2994 (from $172). The only good news is that at that rate our solar panels would pay for themselves in less than two years.

The Journal made an error. One of our readers was kind enough to point us to the Journal's original source, a policy paper from the American Enterprise Institute, which calculates the rise in electricity costs from a $15/ton carbon tax at 1.63 cents per kilowatt hour, not $1.63. (We don't often agree with AEI, but it makes a compelling case for a carbon tax versus cap-and-trade.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

We Remember!

Today, the sixth anniversary of 9/11, we remember.

Six years ago, I went in early to work. It was a gorgeous September morning, with a clear, bright blue sky. My younger son was off to his first day of Montessori pre-school at our nearby elementary school. At 8:55 a.m., the teacher snapped a photo of him smiling happily, sporting his brand new backpack, as his mother crouched next to him. Little did they know, it was the end of innocence.

As I sat in my office on Fifteenth Street, overlooking the White House, with a terrific view of the monuments, the Potomac, Arlington Cemetary and northern Virginia beyond, an associate came by to tell me a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. I assumed it was a small plane--a Cessna or something like it. After a few minutes of work I wandered over to the next office, where another lawyer had a television, to see what was up. It looked pretty bad--smoke and flames pouring out of a WTC tower.

While we watched, the second plane hit, with instant, awful consequences. We were horrified. Obviously, this was deliberate. Still, it seemed to be an attack on New York.

After a few minutes of stunned viewing, watching the images again and again, I returned to my office, figuring it would be awhile before there was any real news as to why this had happened. I tried to concentrate on a legal brief. While sitting at my desk, I noticed an odd sound, like a firm puff of breeze on the window, on a day with no breeze whatsoever. I ignored it for about 15 seconds, but it still bothered me, so I got up and walked to the window.

What I saw was a massive column of thick, dark smoke boiling up from the far side of the Pentagon. Something big had just happened. I grabbed binoculars, but couldn't tell much more--just that a very large explosion had occurred just across the river. I ran into the neighboring office, where three other attorneys were still glued to the television. "Forget the TV!" I screamed, as they looked at me like they would a madman. "Look out the window!" The closest to the window, still thinking me crazy, turned to look, then said "Holy shit."

We still didn't know it was another plane--we thought it might be a truck bomb. Whatever, Washington was clearly also under attack. There we were, right next to the White House, next to windows that could easily be blown in by the concussion of a large explosion. Rumors were already swirling of an attack at the State Dept. (we could see Foggy Bottom--no smoke) and the Capitol (which we couldn't see). Time to get out.

Everyone said Metro was closed, so I thought I'd walk home to Arlington. On the way, I discovered that Metro was still running, so I made the tensest underground ride of my life--mercifully only 10 minutes long--back to Clarendon in Arlington. As I walked the four blocks home from the Metro station, an F-16 screamed overhead, causing everyone on the sidewalk instinctively to drop. In the distance, sirens wailed as more emergency vehicles headed to the Pentagon. We could still see the plume of smoke.

I don't intend to ever forget that day. I don't doubt that Bin Laden's true targets that day in Washington were the White House and the Capitol, and he almost succeeded. No telling what would have happened to me, one block away, if a large jet had slammed into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

I know people who lost loved ones on 9/11. And we all lost our sense of security.

I have to go on with everyday life, but today I take the occasion to be furious at President Bush and his administration, for their utter failure to make us safer, and for their utter failure to punish the men who did this to us. It pisses me off that Bin Laden is still at large, six years later, while we went to war in the wrong place, against the wrong people, for the wrong reasons.

Today, when we should be remembering 9/11 and re-dedicating ourselves to making sure it never happens again, we are instead debating details of a troop reduction in . . . Iraq. Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. That's all it's been for nearly five years. Not Bin Laden. We created a haven for Al Queda in Iraq, and now we're bragging about reducing it. That's nothing to crow about. When Bush says we're fighting Al Queda in Iraq, I want to strangle him--he's a dope.

So what does the Wall Street Journal have for us on this day of rememberance of 9/11? They have a full half page screed by Norman Podhoretz--one of the misguided neo-cons who got us into Iraq--attacking the "left" in American politics. "Six years after 9/11 it's notable how little the politics of the left have changed." Boy does this guy need a lobotomy. Let's be perfectly clear about this: for the ENTIRE time since the 9/11 attacks, the man in charge of responding has been George W. Bush and he has botched it just as badly as everything else in his incompetent administration. For the WSJ to be sitting around promoting attacks on the "the left" is just preposterous. In contrast, the Post has a column by George Will, with whom we rarely agree, noting quite correctly that we still have no mission in Iraq.

Mainstream America does get it--in a recent poll 61 percent said they were not satisfied with the way things were going in the war on terror. They know that Bush is a failure. Millions regret ever voting for the guy; they're embarassed, as they should be. In running for re-election, Bush leaned heavily on the national security angle, warning darkly that turning him out of office would be a victory for the terrorists. How wrong that was.

Unfortunately, we saw the true Bush on 9/11, before the political makeover artists could intervene. That was the Bush who retreated in fear, flying AWAY from Washington. We only wish he'd stayed away and let someone competent take on the job of avenging the awful tragedy that struck our nation that day.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Not Everybody Is An XL

We may be the X-Curmudgeon, but we're not an XL, as in extra large. Indeed, we're a "medium," a term that, sadly, has lost it's meaning.

Medium is supposed to mean "middle." When we were young, fries and drinks came in small, medium and large. Now, they come in "medium"--which is really large, large (really, extra large) and "super-size" (which means "I'm deliberately killing myself young").

But here we're talking about clothing sizes. There again, you can hardly find anything that is "small," and "medium" isn't too easy to find either. There are plenty of XL's and even XXL's, however.

Oftentimes we receive "free" shirts, either T-shirts or polo shirts. Of course, they're not free, because we either paid for some service to get it (like a seminar), or we made a donation to some organization, presumably without regard to getting something back. They're also not free because they advertise their sponsor. Invariably, the "free" shirt we get is an XL, meaning we're getting a shirt that we paid for (indirectly) that doesn't fit.

Well, we're certain that administratively it makes sense to just give everyone one size of shirt. And smaller people can always wear an oversized shirt, whereas someone who is truly an XL simply can't put on an M shirt. Still, what's the point of giving away something that's not going to fit most people?

Frankly, we'd just as soon not get the "free" shirt and instead either (1) pay less, or (2) have our charitable contribution, or campaign contribution or whatever go fully to whatever we contributed it to rather than getting back an overlarge piece of clothing that will find its way to the back of the closet.

Here's an idea: maybe those charities that collect used clothing--where all our unused XL shirts wind up eventually (after we realize we're never going to wear them)--should give out free XL shirts to their contributors. That would make for a nice, tight circle.

Anyway, we suppose there is one other solution: keep eating those "medium" fries and cokes, and pretty soon all those XL shirts will fit just fine.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Pennsylvania Avenue: The New Mason-Dixon Line?

Here's something most folks in the Washington area probably don't know: in the event of a major terror attack (or other event requiring evacuation of downtown D.C.), Pennsylvania Avenue will serve as the artificial dividing line between North and South.

Yes, take a look at the map in today's Post. No vehicles will be allowed to cross Pennsylvania Avenue. If you are south of the famous road, you'll be directed to evacuation routes south, east and west. If you find yourself on the northern side--where most of downtown Washington happens to be--then you'll be directed northward.

For Virginians who work downtown, this could be a real problem. Mrs. Curmudgeon parks in the garage of her building on K Street, north of Pa. Ave. So, if something happens, she's going to be forced into Maryland? (Fortunately, since we live in Arlington, she could walk home in about an hour, which will undoubtedly be faster than she could drive--anywhere--in a real evacuation. Other Virginians, however, don't live quite so close to downtown.)

[Query: since K Street goes UNDER Pennsylvania Ave. toward Georgetown, will there be an exception? Technically, that's not crossing over Pennsylvania Avenue.]

Of course, these evacuation plans are about as sound as those drawn up by New Orleans in advance of Hurricane Katrina. A few bureaucrats are forced to put something down on paper. They know it's not practical, but then practicality is "not their job." The roads leading out of downtown Washington cannot possibly accommodate an instant, massive evacuation on a regular workday. We learned that on 9/11 and the situation has only gotten worse since then (more cars, same roads).

True, planners did a "test" on the Fourth of July, concluding that it was possible to move hundreds of thousands out of downtown in a fairly short period of time. But that's not the way it works on a regular day in D.C. Most of the Independence Day revelers came in by Metro and left the same way. Many walked from nearby neighborhoods, like G'town, Foggy Bottom, Capitol Hill and the many new apartments in downtown. Relatively few drive in from the far 'burbs because there's little parking available.

In a real emergency, daily commuters would get into their cars in hundreds of parking garages around town and flood the streets--if they could get out of the garages, which aren't designed for everyone leaving all at once. In addition, those local residents who can walk to fireworks in July would suddenly be joining the outflow, adding to the vehicular burden.

Metro could handle pretty large crowds, but only if it was given some advance notice. Will Al Queda give them a courtesy call, telling Metro to get some extra trains ready? (You see, Metro knows that the fireworks will be done at 9:15 pm on July 4, and it has large trains ready to service just the right stations. That doesn't work in the middle of a regular workday.)

The biggest problem in most terror scenarios for Washington is panic. Most people will not be in danger and should simply stay put. That was certainly the case during 9/11, but there was sufficient misinformation that many felt in danger anyway. Yet, when everyone leaves in a blind panic, they are more likely to strand those few who may actually be in danger. A better "evacuation" plan would be one that allows emergency responders to PREVENT evacuation by those who don't need to, leaving routes open for those who do need to. Not easy, but a better goal than a plan on paper that has no possibility of working.

Here's our advice: unless danger is imminent, i.e., a toxic cloud is headed your way, stay put. Wait a couple hours and then leave, after the chaos is over.

Arctic Melting Faster

Here's some cheery news: "NOAA Scientists Say Arctic Ice Is Melting Faster Than Expected."

According to the Post's story, most of the north pole will be ice free in summer by 2050, instead of 2100. And, there's nothing we can do about it, because that's based on the current levels of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere.

The good news: the Curmudgeon may be able to take a polar cruise in his rapidly approaching old age.

Other good news: "This [the melting] will open up vast waters for fishermen and give easier access to new areas for oil and gas exploration." Goody--more greenhouse gases, so we can melt the South Pole too!

Bush Should Get His Ass Kicked

Let's see if we can sort out some fact from some fiction on the President's recent visit to Iraq.

Fiction: "We're kicking ass" in Iraq. This is what Bush reportedly told Australian Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile on his visit to the island continent immediately after visiting Iraq. This should rank right up there with "mission accomplished." (By the way, who do you mean "we" kemosabe?)

Fiction: "Progress toward a more secure Iraq has now reached a point where the President of the United States and his Secretaries of State and Defense can make a visit to Anbar Province and meet with Sunni tribal chieftains once allied with al Queda." That's the Wall Street Journal in today's lead editorial.

Fact: The security situation in Iraq remains so grave that the President, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense are forced to make secret, surprise visits to the country.

Fact: When entering Iraqi airspace, their planes are forced to make elaborate evasive maneuvers before making a hair-raising plunge for a landing.

Fact: The President did not go meet any tribal chieftains in their towns or villages in Anbar. Instead, the President--this is the guy who evaded Vietnam service, remember--spent ALL of his time in Anbar at the enormous (17 miles in circumference) Al Asad Air Base, which houses more than 10,000 U.S. troops. He was in as much danger as if he was at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C.

Fact: Al Asad Air Base is called "Camp Cupcake" by soldiers there because of the relative cushiness of its facilities.

Fact: Camp Cupcake is nowhere near any Iraqi population center, and no Iraqi is allowed within miles of the base.

Fact: Camp Cupcake is the largest Marine base in Iraq.

Fact: While Bush declares progress with security in Baghdad, he went nowhere near Baghdad on this trip. At least John McCain walked around a market in Baghdad, even if it was while surrounded by 100 plus troops with helicopters thundering overhead.

Fact: The Sunni tribal leaders that Bush met with were carefully screened and then brought to Camp Cupcake for their photo-op.

Now, to be sure, we have made some "progress" in Iraq. Of course we have! We sent in an additional 30,000 troops and concentrated them in Baghdad, so we ought to expect at least some difference. Nonetheless, while the level of violence is "down," it's still extraordinarily high. The U.S. military can't be everywhere, and wherever it isn't, there's still an incredible amount of sectarian violence.

Nor can we keep it up. Next year, we will begin troop drawdowns regardless of what either Bush, or Congress, wants to do. We'll have to because we simply cannot sustain the current level of troop rotations. Everyone acknowledges that.

The plain fact is that as soon as we start drawing our troops down, the violence will increase again. Iraqi "security" forces--goons who want to carry out ethnic cleaning and promote rival militias--are never going to be able to do what American troops are doing. So all we're doing now is playing an expensive, deadly (to hundreds of U.S. soldiers) holding game.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Larry Craig Really Doesn't Get It

Eventually we'll move on to something else, but we're still having fun with Larry Craig.

Now, Craig says he won't resign pending a determination of whether he can withdraw his guilty plea. He says that's because Republican Sen. Arlen Spector called and said he should fight this thing. We bet Arlen's regretting that call now.

In any event, it's not just the guilty plea that is causing Craig's problem.

Let's suppose for a moment that a Minnesota judge decides to entertain Craig's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The hearing will be a media circus. The judge will want to hear from Craig himself. He ought to be put under oath and swear to the facts that suddenly make his formerly knowing guilty plea untenable as a matter of law.

Then the local prosecutor will get to cross examine him. That will be fun. He'll point out that Craig is certainly more knowledgable, as a lawmaker, about the law than the average citizen. He'll point out that Craig was offered the opportunity to confer with counsel and turned it down. A number of other facts may also come out.

We're not sure what Craig's theory for overturning the guilty plea will be, but his lawyer said something about a deprivation of constitutional rights. Could Craig seriously argue that he was "coerced" into pleading guilty because the threat of prosecution and trial was so embarassing? That would be rich, since if his guilty plea is overturned, he'll still have to face trial. (More on that in a minute.) It's even richer because he'd practically be making the argument that ALL men arrested on charges implying they are gay are being coerced into guilty pleas because of the embarassment. Why, Larry Craig, homophobe from Idaho, could suddenly find himself the champion of gay rights!

Anyway, that's just step one. IF the judge was charitable enough to let Craig withdraw his guilty plea, then Craig will have to go to trial on the original charge. Flash: another, even larger, media circus, with many stories following each step of the way. Each time, every voter in Idaho will be reminded of the charges pending and the facts alleged--the foot touching, the foot tapping, the hand under the toilet divider, etc.

And, of course, the late night TV comedians will continue to have a field day with the whole thing.

Now, at trial, Craig won't have to testify. And maybe he won't. A good lawyer could pretty easily make a good case that the actions cited by the cop who arrested Craig could be consistent with innocent activity. We could get some interesting "expert" witnesses, too. So the argument will simply be that the state of Minnesota simply lacks sufficient evidence to convict Craig. And that might hold up.

All of this, of course, will play out over many months. Now, if Craig simply wants to serve out his term until the end of 2008, fine--he just has to ignore everything and serve it out. But if he really intends to run for re-election?! All this might serve as a bit of a distraction.

We think Craig's pretty stupid, but not so crazy that he really thinks he could be re-elected, regardless of whether he ultimately beats the rap. Let's say he goes to trial and is found "not guilty." Most Idaho voters probably still would think a guy who has such a wide stance as to touch other people's feet in the toilet is just too weird to be in the Senate.

By staying on to the end of his term, however, Craig creates all kinds of headaches for his Republican Party. And THAT is what we're hoping for. That, and the ability to keep blogging and flogging this fun story.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Sensible Advice On A Global Global Warming Pact

Former Secretary of State George Schultz has some sensible advice in today's Post on how to achieve a viable global warming pact amongst all the countries of the world.

In "How To Gain A Climate Consensus," Schultz draws on experience with the Montreal Protocol, successfully used to address the ozone depletion issue. There's no rocket science here. Achieving a meaningful consensus on climate change will require some give and take, some compromise, and some hard bargaining.

No treaty will be perfect--we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We need to get something started, and over time we can make it better.

Incidentally, Schultz argues that "a straight-out carbon tax is simpler and likelier to produce the desired result" than a complicated cap and trade system. We've previously argued for cap and trade, but mainly on political grounds--that irresponsible Republicans in the U.S. will argue for political gain against anything that is labelled a "tax." We do agree, however, that a carbon tax is far more efficient and likely to be more effective.

It would be nice to see the U.S. take the lead on climate change, rather than be dragged along kicking and screaming. For that to happen, however, we'll have to wait about another year and a half.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Craig To Unresign?

It just keeps getting better and better. Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig now says he might not resign his Senate seat after all. He's hired big shot lawyer Billy Martin and some other legal and PR heavyweights and thinks maybe he can successfully challenge his guilty plea.

We love this story, so we hope Craig decides to fight. He's obviously not too bright, and certainly not principled. Keeping this thing going can only hurt the GOP. It's bad enough that the Senator with a perfect voting record of homophobia turns out to be gay, now he's going to try to turn the legal system on its head and once more prove that justice is hardly blind--the rich and powerful can always pay to get something everyone else can't.

In the end, we think it will just cost him a lot of money, cast him in a harsh spotlight, and damage his party; we don't think he'll get his guilty plea overturned. But it sure could be fun to watch!

Banqueting Through China

In our continuing series of posts from our recent trip to China, today's focus is Chinese banquets and eating.

(But first, if you happen to be a Washington Post reader, check out Kidspost, on the back page of yesterday's (Monday, September 3) Style section, which periodically features photos of D.C. area children holding up a copy of Kidspost at some farflung or interesting vacation spot. Yesterday, the Curmudgeon's children were featured in photo # 1, standing next to a giant panda at the panda breeding center in Chengdu, China.)

In China, it is customary to mark a special occasion with a banquet. One special occasion is having friends or relatives from the United States make a visit. For us, that meant a series of banquets in Beijing, Chengdu and Zigong, where we caught up with a number of friends and relatives. We also had an extra special day of banquets while in Beijing to commemorate the 80th birthday of Mrs. Curmudgeon's aunt, as well as our visit.

Chinese banquets involve much ceremony and tradition. A typical banquet table is round, seats 8-10 people and has a revolving "lazy susan" apparatus in the middle. Many Chinese restaurants in China--like the ones here--have private banquet rooms of various sizes to accommodate the banquet trade. A proper banquent room will be nicely decorated and furnished, with bright red or gold table cloths and other ornaments.

Chinese etiquette dictates that during a banquet, a guest will partake of all dishes served. Fortunately, our hosts were a bit forgiving of us barbaric westerners, not insisting that we try everything. Occasionally, our translator, when asked what a particular dish was, would politely tell us "better that you not know."

The thing about a Chinese banquet is that most dishes are served family style, rotated around the table so that everyone can get a taste. There is no menu announcing what will be coming. The one thing you can be sure of is that your hosts will not let you starve. You can be assured that there will be a LOT of food. You have to pace yourself, because there is no way of knowing how many dishes will be served, or even when you're getting near the end.

We can't remember any banquet that had less than 15 dishes (some are relatively small appetizer dishes). Our record was 32 dishes. That's a lot of food when put on a table with 8-10 people, some of whom are kids! The Chinese--all rail thin--somehow seem to negotiate this without looking full or tired. Us Americans, used to taking large portions of everything, invariably got stuffed about halfway through and then had to simply smile and keep forking it down as new dish after new dish after yet another new dish arrived.

About 20 dishes through one banquet the Curmudgeon noted the arrival of a sweet pastry-like dish and a soup, which surely signalled we were near the end. Wrong--eight more dishes were still to arrive.

Every now and then, you get to a banquet where there's just not much that looks very appetizing. Your host, of course, is trying to impress you and the other guests with his/her culinary tastes by combining just the right foods, textures, colors and smells, which, to a western palette, may not be all that appealing. Nonetheless, it would be rude to suggest to your host that they avoid certain foods, like turtle, frog (any reptile, really) sea cucumber, seahorse, etc. So you grin and bear it, and hope your host doesn't catch you in McDonalds across the street later in the day. (You can always blame it on the kids.)

And then there's the dish you just really love, but that comes out so late in the banquet you barely have room for it. At one of our repasts, we were on about the 25th course when some delicious dumplings arrived. The Curmudgeon and his sister-in-law wolfed down a few, somehow finding room for them in our stuffed tummies. Then, out comes yet more, and even better dumplings. Why couldn't they have been first?

At times, a banquet may even remind the Curmudgeon of a family reunion dinner while growing up down south. Fried chicken, watermelon, boiled peanuts, pulled pork, something resembling okra (but no iced tea, lemonade or fudge brownies!)

During the banquet, toasts will be made. If the hosts are really splurging, they'll include a bottle of a fierce Chinese licquer called mou-tai. It's served in tiny glasses to shouts of "Gambai!" Don't let that fool you--two or three shots of mou-tai and you'll soon be downing sheep's tongue and making your own toasts--in your own language.

After the banquet is over, and you're looking for a place to take a nice long nap, someone will box up the mass of leftover food. We suspect it will feed the host's family for the next week or so, if not more.

One day, on one of our long bus rides, we speculated on what an equivalent American banquet would consist of. Let's keep it small--20 dishes. We came up with: drummettes, mini-bagel pizzas, spring rolls, sushi, tacos, crab cakes, mini-dogs, mini-burgers, mozarella sticks, beef skewers, chicken kabobs, hummus, french fries, ceasar salad, carrots and dip, nachos, bacon wrapped scallops, shrimp, chicken fingers and chili. Would we find our Chinese guests at the local Chinese takeout later in the day?

Mark Warner for Senate

Now that John Warner has announced his retirement from the Senate, after 30 years of good service to Virginia and the nation, we hope that the other Warner--Mark--will run for the open seat.

We should be hearing from the former Governor before the end of the month. What's his calculus? On the one hand, Mark Warner seems to feel he is positioned as a potential Democratic VP candidate. We think that's an iffy proposition, at best.

[Of course, he may know a lot more than we do. Did Hillary cut some kind of back room deal with Warner many months ago, promising him the Veep slot if he dropped his presidential bid, which, at the time, appeared to be the most credible threat to Hillary's coronation? Would she keep that deal, even if she had made it? ]

Assuming there is no secret deal, then Warner still would be on any Democratic nominee's short list of potential running mates. But those "short" lists will be pretty long. In the end, the decision will be made on who can best complement the ticket or bring in a state that otherwise would be difficult to carry. We don't think any of the Democrats are going to be counting on carrying Virginia, with or without Warner on the ticket. He'll be in the ballgame, but ultimately won't get picked.

Now, let's look at his chances in a Senate race. Presumably, the Republicans will either (1) have a knock-down, drag-out battle between Jim Gilmore, of the conservative wing, and Tom Davis, of the "moderate" wing, further splitting an already divided state GOP, or (2) nominate Gilmore if Davis decides not to run. Either way, the Republicans will probably end up with Gilmore, who will be mostly remembered in Northern Virginia, at least, as the Governor who promised to end the car tax--but didn't.

Warner is a popular ex-governor who has plenty of personal money to augment his campaign. But he won't need it--he's already got a decent national fundraising base and will be able to raise millions without too much trouble, helped by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and by Jim Webb's base. Warner will do extremely well in Northern Virginia, without doing too poorly anywhere else in the state. Absent some awful "macaca" moment, he should win comfortably, with 52-54 percent of the vote.

Ironically, having Mark Warner run for Senate in 2008 would also improve the national ticket's chances in Virginia, especially if the race is against Gilmore. Warner should improve Democratic turnout in the state, especially in Northern Virginia, and if Republicans are even a little apathetic it might just be enough to swing Virginia to the Democratic side for the first time in decades.
Unfortunately, if Warner declines to run, the Democrats don't have anyone who stands out as an alternative.

To us, it boils down to this: Mark Warner should go for the surer thing. Yes, nothing is for sure in politics. But right now, the soon to be vacant Senate seat looks like Mark Warner's for the taking, whereas the VP slot is a total wildcard. If elected to the Senate, Warner will be respected by his colleagues and earn terrific committee assignments, like his colleague, Jim Webb.

Go for it, Mark!