Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Insane Energy Policies

Here's a decent column from the NYT's Thomas Friedman on some of the inanities of our current energy policy and the insanity of McCain and Clinton's pandering call for a suspension of the gas tax this summer:

We might add that our national policy of converting corn into ethanol at a subsidy of $.51/gallon is just mind-bogglingly bad.

Obama Can Run Out The Clock

With Guam, North Carolina and Indiana looming, it looks like Obama will be able to run out the clock on Hillary.

As we bounce along through the nomination turbulence, both Obama and Hillary are picking up 1-2 superdelegates per day. Obama can easily afford to match Hillary 1-for-1 in this process, which is about what he's been doing of late.

By next Wednesday, it's likely that Obama will have roughly 1840-1850 delegates. (Right now he has 1732; he should pick up about 68-70 in NC; 32-34 in Indiana; 2-4 in Guam; and another 10 or so superdelegates.) That would put him within 175-185 delegates of the nomination, with a lead over Hillary of 140+ delegates.

The math gets pretty compelling at that point. And no superdelegate wants to jump on board too late. So despite all the Wright wringing, look for this thing to wind down before too long.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wrong About Wright

Last time we looked, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright was not running for President, or anything else. Yet, to look at today's punditocracy, you'd think he was.

Yes, Barack Obama went to Wright's church, and was married by Wright. But he isn't Wright. Maybe someone should look at every writing and sermon of McCain and Clinton's pastors--if they've never said anything controversial, then what good are they?

The Republican party is full of pastors who've said all kinds of stupid things, but for some reason that doesn't count against McCain; it didn't count against Bush; and it won't count against anyone else.

Yet for Barack Obama, the black man, it's suddenly as if his pastor is him. Why is that? Is it "all blacks are alike"? Sure looks like it.

Here's just a sampling of today's commentary on Wright's reappearance in the public eye:

A Pastor At Center Stage (George "Whiter Than White" Will)

The Wrong Stuff (Weakly Standard)

We're tired already. We've all seen and heard Barack Obama for many, many months now and it's plain as day that the doesn't embody the attitudes, opinions or beliefs of the Rev. Wright.

For one thing, Wright is an out and out racist, making broad generalizations about both black and white people (e.g., saying black children are right-brained (creative) while white children are left-brained (analytical and logical).

Yet that's not the message the media are passing along. Instead--egged on by the Clinton campaign--they're equating Wright with Obama, or saying Wright is Obama's problem because he was his pastor.

The planet is warming at grave peril to it's inhabitants; world food prices are skyrocketing due in part to some awful policy choices in the U.S.; more U.S. soldiers died in Iraq this month than at any time since last September; inflation has reared it's ugly head at a time of recession; the credit crisis grows worse each day; George W. Bush is as incompetent as ever.

Can't we talk about something relevant?

John McCain Is Older Than . . .

You know John McCain is old, but just how old is he? Check out this video to find out (hat tip to our friend Mr. Cugl for this one):

Monday, April 28, 2008

DNC To Hear Michigan and Florida Challenges

The Rules and By-Laws Committee of the Democratic National Committee will meet on May 31 to hear challenges to the decision not to seat the Michigan and Florida delegations. For some more information, see the Democratic Convention Watch website, which has the Committee's notice of its meeting.

The Rules and By-Laws Committee is stacked in Hillary Clinton's favor. The Committee has 30 members, of whom 12 are committed to Hillary, 8 to Obama and the rest uncommitted. One of Obama's supporters on the Committee is from Florida, so he may not be allowed to vote on the Florida challenge. (This info is also from DemConWatch) Obama would need to get seven of the 10 uncommitted members to force a tie, so Clinton obviously has a big advantage.

The co-chairs of the Committee are Alexis Herman, who resides in Virginia, and James Roosevelt of Massachusetts. (Virginian Jerome Wiley Segovia is also on the Committee.)
Obama could still capture a majority of the Committee. Of the 10 "uncommitted" delegates on the Rules Committee, seven are projected to eventually go for Obama by a stastical model created by the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, while the other three are not included in the projection.
Of course, being committed to a candidate doesn't mean a committee member won't "do the right thing" in any event, but it will color their views.
In any event don't expect whole Michigan/Florida issue to somehow magically be resolved on May 31. This is just the first step. Most likely, the next step will be an appeal to the Credentials Committee. If Obama hasn't clinched the nomination before the convention, then the committees' decisions would probably be challenged on the convention floor.

While we'd rather not see the nomination come down to a floor fight and dramatic up or down vote at the Denver convention, we did talk to one astute friend this weekend who pointed out--and we agree with this--that such a finish would focus all media energy on the Democratic Party and it's right on through August, sucking the wind out of anything McCain would try to do.

[Our friend had a funny story. He was in India (no, not Indiana) and talking to a businessman about the US election. The businessman said he thought either Clinton or Obama would be a big improvement over Bush. "What about McCain?" our friend asked. "Who's McCain?" said the Indian businessman.]

If the nominee who emerged from such a dramatic process could then get up and make an impassioned and effective acceptance speech--with the whole world literally watching--it could touch off a final 10-week push to the general election with tremendous momentum.

While we're intrigued by that scenario, it's obviously risky, as a summer of bickering between supporters of both candidates could create dangerous party divisions that might not be healable in the short time after the convention.

NC Early Voting Cements Obama Advantage

North Carolina now has early voting, like many other states (but alas, not us Virginians, stuck in our agrarian past). Voters are taking advantage in the Tar Heel state, with 100,000 ballots already cast in the upcoming Democratic primary according to this story from the Raleigh newspaper.

We think that's an advantage for Obama, who has had a large lead in NC polls. It also gives him yet another good reason to spurn Hillary's call for a NC debate: a lot of people have already voted.

NC is certainly not the first state this year to have widespread early voting. The spread of this phenomenon, however, does pose challenges to candidates for elective office--not just for President, but for everything, because it changes the campaign dynamic.

Just as an example, the NC Republican Party is wasting it's money running ads this week criticizing Democratic ties to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright--ads that the national GOP, McCain and NC Sen. Libby Dole are all running away from. But if large numbers of voters have already cast their ballots, the impact of television ads late in a campaign is clearly mitigated.

We like the concept of early voting and hope it will continue to spread. Most people have their minds firmly made up long before election day, and there's no need to make voters stand in line on a single day, or find time on a Tuesday that may be inconvenient, to cast their ballots.

It's also a tremendous boon to any campaign that's really got it's act together in terms of getting out the vote. Many campaigns have all kinds of volunteers who are underutilized. As election day grows closer, they are typically out canvassing neighborhoods, making telephone calls and littering public rights of way with ineffective yard signs. What if, instead, they were actually ferrying voters to the polls for two whole weeks, instead of on just one day? Far better use of resources.

The early voting phenomenon is clearly worth watching. Some good young political scientists will do well to research the issue and publish some useful data on how its working out.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hillary Math Doesn't Add Up

Increasingly desperate as it becomes more and more obvious that Senator Barack Obama has a virtual mathematical lock on the nomination, Hillary's supporters are resorting to some awfully dubious math to say that she is still in the picture--or even in the lead!

One of the more fascinating aspects of these mathematical gyrations is that both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are giving them favorable play. The Times, of course, placed only the thinnest of veils on its endorsement of Hillary for President. The WSJ, on the other hand, only wants Hillary as the Democratic nominee, in the clear hope that she will make it easier for John McCain to be elected President in November.

So what of Hillary math? One good example can be found on Not Larry Sabato, the entertaining, often newsworthy, and widely read blog of Virginian Ben Tribbett, a prominent Hillary supporter in the Commonwealth. NLS has a Democratic Delegate Count on its website that might surprise those who rely on the Mainstream Media for their information.

According to NLS, it is a very tight race indeed! Obama has 1794 delegates, just 8 ahead of Hillary, who has 1786. And both have a long way to go, needing 2208 delegates to win--not the 2025 you'll see on most delegate counter websites.

How does NLS get these numbers? It's not really explained, at least in an easily accessible manner, but you can figure it out. NLS includes Michigan and Florida in the totals. Well, kind of. You see, NLS gives Hillary full credit for the delegates she would have won based on her showing in the Michigan and Florida primaries. But since Obama wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan, his supporters had to vote for "uncommitted." NLS doesn't credit Obama with those "uncommitted" delegates however. Instead, they are in a separate "uncommitted" category.

Add the 55 uncommitted Michigan delegates to Obama's total, however, and he now has a 63 delegate lead over Hillary, even with her getting the full benefit of both those contests. Now, here at the Curmudgeon, we've said all along that we'd be willing to seat the full Florida delegation based on the outcome there--we doubt a new primary would alter the result at all.

Michigan is a different story, however. Hillary cheated. She had her name on the ballot, the others didn't. It wasn't a valid election in any sense--many of Obama's people clearly stayed home--the turnout proves it. Yes, Hillary would probably win Michigan--it's like Ohio and Pennsylvania. But we doubt if her margin would be as large.

In any event, the NLS numbers, which aren't explained (at least in any easily accesible manner, such as clicking on the delegate table) seem to be a bit optimistic even with the various assumptions NLS has made.

We looked at a website that's pretty good--and neutral--with numbers: Democratic Convention Watch. They list the numbers with all kinds of options for Florida and Michigan, and in the one that gives both candidates the Michigan and Florida results (as is, but with Obama getting the 55 uncommitted Michigan delegates) he has an overall lead of 67, probably because he's picked up a few more superdelegates than NLS is willing to give him credit for.

Every day it seems, Obama picks up one or two more uncommitted superdelegates--he's certainly been racking them up at a greater clip than Hillary for the past two months. So after North Carolina and Indiana, his lead will still be quite sufficient, regardless of Michigan and Florida.

Bear in mind also that the ultimate decider of whether and to what degree the Michigan and Florida delegations get seated is the convention as a whole (excluding the challenged delegations). In such a showdown--we shiver at the prospect and hope it will never occur--Obama's fairly large lead in pledged delegates from states excluding Michigan and Florida should be enough to put him over the top in terms of any floor challenge.

So, Hillarymath or not, Obama still leads. And that will be enough to sway the majority of remaining uncomitted superdelegates his way, and to make sure that any floor fights over Michigan and Florida work out in his favor as well.

Indeed, Hillarymath is just about as good as McCainmath, under which it is now okay to cut taxes to the point they bear no relationship to expenditures. Evidently, McCain, like W Bush, has no objection to China and a bunch of Arab oil states owning the United States via its debt.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Too Little, Too Late for Hillary

Here's Dick Morris saying the same thing we did in our earlier post: Hillary's win in PA isn't enough to alter the dynamic of this race:

"Too Little, Too Late"

We might add that adjustments to the delegate totals since this morning have favored Obama a bit, so that his lead stands at 130--just one less than where he was on April 2.

Obama Inches Closer To The Nomination

Although Hillary had her expected day in Pennsylvania (with the margin predicted by the Curmudgeon), the inexorable delegate math still points heavily to Obama.

In the all important delegate count, Hillary shaved 15 off Obama's lead, which now stands at 127 (in the count, which we use). But Obama got himself 63 delegates closer to clinching the nomination, reducing his magic number to 312.

As the remaining contests wind down, Obama will need to sway fewer and fewer superdelegates to get himself over the top, whereas Hillary will have to win over something like 75% of those who haven't yet committed.

Here's the math. There are 408 pledged delegates yet to be selected. They will be allocated over the next six weeks in the following order (numbers in parentheses are unpledged delegates available in each remaining contest):

Guam (4)

Indiana (72)

North Carolina (115)

West Virginia (28)


Oregon (52)

Puerto Rico (55)

Montana (16)

South Dakota (15)

So far, neither Hillary nor Obama has been able to produce much of an "upset," i.e., winning a state that demographically favored the other. Furthermore, with the Democratic Party's proportional delegate allocation rules, neither candidate is going to run away with the rest of the delegates.

Obama should win NC, Oregon, Montana and South Dakota; Hillary should win W.Va., Kentucky, and Puerto Rico; and Indiana is a toss-up. So they're likely to roughly split the remaining delegates evenly. If that happens, Obama needs just 108 more of the roughly 300 remaining uncommitted super-D's. But Hillary would need 235 of them. It's not at all clear how she'd persuade that many superdelegates to go her way.

At this point, Hillary really does need a miracle. Money talks, and that's what the money is saying these days as well--Obama is continuing to raise record amounts, while Hillary's campaign is severely flagging on the financial front.

So, while Hillary's Pennsylvania victory earned her the right to continue her quest, the odds become longer every day. We don't think she should quit--let the voters in the remaining states have their say. But she should think twice about going negative. It's one thing to have fought the good fight and lost; it's another to have fought a nasty fight and cost the party the White House in November.

Please Hillary, go out on a high note.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Swift Boat the Swift Boaters

You can bet that the folks behind the "Swift Boat" attacks on John Kerry, and their erstwhile imitators, will be back in full force this electoral season to go after the Democratic nominee, whoever that is.

Indeed, the current issue of Newsweek has a story on how Sen. Barack Obama is prepared to respond rapidly to any Swift Boat style attacks on him if he is the Democratic standard-bearer, as looks increasingly likely. [This morning Obama's delegate lead was up to 142--its largest yet--in advance of the Pa. primary where Hillary will no doubt close the gap just a bit.]

Newsweek reports that various members of the vast right-wing conspiracy are already hard at work dreaming up "independent" ad campaigns against the Illinois Senator (and yes, the left is also planning such attacks on John McCain), who they expect to be the nominee. Obama's campaign people say they'll repel such attacks with a "rapid-response" force, unlike John Kerry who tried ignoring the Swift Boat ads until it was too late.

At present, likely sources of ammo for a swifting of Obama include his ties to indicted Chicago developer Antoin Rezko and '60's radical William Ayers. We're not so sure "rapid-response" will be enough.

Here's what Obama's (or Hillary's, if nominated) team should do when these attacks invariably launch: swiftboat the swiftboaters. Instead of responding on the issue raised--which only gives it more airplay--expose the folks behind the ads. These are all shadowy Republican operatives with sleazy pasts and ugly agendas. If the voters learn more about those behind the slick ads, they are likely to be repulsed. There may even be a backlash effect.
Something like this should work: "Hi, I'm Senator Barack Obama and I'm running for President because we need change in our political system. Some people don't like change. Recently, you may have seen a television ad like this (showing a still image from an attack ad). What you won't see is anything about the people who paid for it and why they don't want change."

"Let me tell you about these people. This ad was paid for by a group called 'Citizens United' [or whoever it is]. Citizens United is not about uniting the citizens of our great nation for change. It is a very small group of very rich people, most of whom insist on being anonymous, who like things just the way they are. One of the leaders of this group is a man named David Bossie [here, show a grainy black and white of Bossie, just like in the swifting ads]. Although Mr. Bossie is a conservative, his tactics are so repulsive that former President George Bush urged Republicans not to support his group and even filed a complaint against him with the Federal Election Commission. Bossie was fired from one job for leaking misleading and inaccurate information."
[Our facts on Bossie are from his Wikipedia entry.]

"Although we live in a free and open society, you won't be able to find out who funds Bossie's group because these shadowy figures don't want you to know who they are."

"Are these the types of people you want to rely upon for your information on who to vote for in this important election? It is precisely because of these secretive individuals who try to influence our election system that I'm running for change."

[The segue into something positive.]

THAT'S the way to go after the putative swiftboaters.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Deal or No Deal Lawsuit Tossed

The Georgia Supreme Court has tossed out a lawsuit that we've mentioned here before, challenging NBC's "Lucky Case" promotion on its "Deal or No Deal" program. See story here.

We never thought the lawsuit had much merit, despite the fact that we've always viewed the misnomered "Lucky Case" (lucky for NBC, maybe) game as a complete rip-off of gullible viewers.

In the Lucky Case promotion, at-home viewers can send a $.99 premium text message to NBC for a shot at winning $10,000 (sometimes more, as above) in a lottery with other viewers. Small text on the screen also advises that you can play for free on NBC's website. The network has made hundreds of millions of dollars on the game, which explains why it was fully willing to devote several minutes of presumably valuable commercial time to the promotion on each segment of the show.

Some of our readers have commented that the folks playing the game presumably know they are paying $.99 per text message to play the silly promotion, and we agree, at least after they get one bill from the phone company.

Still, the game is a lottery. If NBC wants to run a lottery on the air, it ought to post the odds of winning as part of its promotion. Clearly, those odds are low--they certainly aren't worth spending nearly $1 per entry. At some point, the show becomes an excuse for the promotion, rather than the promotion being for the show.

Perhaps NBC should let the pot reflect the number of entrants. Then at least the clearly lucky winning schmo would get a nice big pile of cash.

The Election Hiatus Is Over

Finally, the long hiatus in the primary election season is over. Pennsylvania votes tomorrow, with Hillary Clinton highly likely to win comfortably (we expect something like 55%-45% or better for Hillary, despite polls suggesting it is closer).

Then come Guam caucuses on May 3 followed by North Carolina and Indiana on May 6, with Indiana probably the only remaining contest with any real suspense in it. (Obama has a huge lead in NC.)

After that, it's a quick run through West Virginia (Hillary will win), Kentucky (Hillary will win), Oregon (Obama will win), Puerto Rico (Hillary), Montana (Obama) and South Dakota (Obama), with it all done by June 3.

And guess what? At that point Obama should have a lead of at least 100 delegates and he should be within less than 100 delegates of clinching the nomination (one pretty persuasive projection we saw put him within 70 delegates by June 3). So by that point the remaining uncommitted superdelegates will be under intense pressure to commit, especially to Obama if it looks like he's inevitable by then.

It's the home stretch of the marathon (or the marathon leg of the triathalon?). Obama has a decent lead. Hillary is hoping he'll stumble and trip. We're comfortable letting it play out into the middle of June--we see very little likelihood at this point that the race will be undecided all the way to the late August convention.

Let the final sprint begin!

Condi Rice: No Second Amendment for Iraqis

Maybe the jerkweeds at the National Rifle Association should set up a branch in Baghdad.

Yesterday, Condi Rice was there on a surprise visit, during which she praised Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki's ongoing clampdown against the Mahdi Army and other militias and criminal elements in Iraq. In her statement, Rice made the following comment:

“[T]he prime minister has laid down some ground rules which any functioning democratic state would insist on, having to do with, you know, arms belonging to the state, not to – not in private hands.” (Italics added.)

(Hat tip to brother curmudgeon for the quote.)

Does this mean Secretary of State Rice disagrees with our Second Amendment, or believes in a very restrictive view of that portion of the Bill of Rights?

Will the NRA go ape over this? Why shouldn't Iraqis have the same god-given rights as bitter small town Americans?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sorting Out The Health Claims Over Synthetic Turf Fields

A decision by New Jersey health officials to close two synthetic turf fields over concerns of high lead levels has sparked a spate of news coverage raising fears about the safety of these increasingly popular sports venues.

For example, today's Washington Post has a story (Metro section p.4) on the potential hazard: "U.S. Investigates Artificial Turf's Lead Levels." The other night ABC News ran a more inflammatory piece typical of television news coverage, featuring a couple of activists who make it sound like artificial turf fields are nothing more than toxic waste dumps.

The Curmudgeon has some familiarity with these issues. As a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington Soccer Association, which plays many games on artificial turf fields, he has looked into the issue. (The photo here is of the beautiful synthetic field at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington.)

Here's some reassuring news: the likelihood of any significant health hazard from articifial turf fields is quite low. That's not to say the risks shouldn't be investigated and quantified. But you certainly shouldn't worry too much if your children are playing on one of these fields.

Synthetic turf fields are becoming increasingly popular, especially in densely populated urban areas. The reasons are pretty obvious. Today's artificial turf is far more user-friendly than the old "astro-turf"--it's softer and less abrasive. Arlington recreation officials tell us that a typical lighted synthetic field in the County will get five times the usage of a "grass" field. We put grass in quotation marks for a reason: most grass fields quickly turn into dirt fields, with a few uneven clumps of grass, due to overuse.

One reason you get more usage from a synthetic field is that it doesn't have to be closed when it rains or when the field is wet. A week ago, after just one day of moderately heavy rain, Arlington's grass fields were closed for four days because they were wet and thus subject to damage if used. Another reason for more usage is year-round use. Grass fields typically need to be covered and off-limits in the winter. Also, synthetic fields don't need to be taken out of use for rehabilitation and rest every three of four years. Even after taking precautions to limit damage to grass fields, most still get destroyed by overuse.

In a dense urban area like Arlington, where land is at a premium, being able to quintuple the use of a given area by installing artificial turf makes the decision a practical no-brainer. The fields are expensive--between $500,000-$1 million, depending on the infrastructure needs at a given site--but over the long term they are less expensive given the greater use and lower maintenance. That's why Arlington, which has already installed seven synthetic fields, is busily planning three more, and we hope, more after that.

So, barring some serious health issue, artificial turf fields are here to stay and you'll see many more of them in the years to come. The current estimate is that there are 3500 in the U.S. today, a number that could easily double in just a few years.

What of the health issues? First off, you need to understand that grass fields have health issues too. It is true than nothing, including synthetic turf, beats playing on a well-maintained grass field. But few grass fields are in such condition, nor can they be kept in such condition unless play on them is severely constrained. Most are rutted, uneven, lumpy, bumpy surfaces, often with low spots that accumulate water and leave muddy areas days after the last rain. Running and playing on such a surface significantly raises the potential for many injuries.

Also, while people like to think of grass fields as some kind of organic commutation with nature, there's nothing natural about most grass fields. To grow grass in an urban environment requires chemicals--fertilizers, weed killers, insecticides. (It also requires a lot of fresh water.)

In the Washington Post story today, one New York lady who is on a mission against synthetic fields complained: "If I put a piece of synthetic turf on your desk, then I take it away, these pieces of recycled tires will be sitting on your desk. The question is, how does that pose a health risk to young children? Kids are bringing this into their homes. It's on their sneakers."

That's nice, but the same thing happens on a grass field. Kids bring home the chemicals used to treat the fields on their sneakers--and their clothes, their skin, their hair, etc. The difference is that you can't even see these chemicals and you generally don't know how much is there or when the chemicals were applied. (Kids also bring home mud, sand and grass clippings from such fields, which any soccer dad knows will have to be cleaned up if not intercepted at the front door.)

So in a sense this debate is little like the surreal debate surrounding nuclear power. Activists get all up in arms about nuclear power, with its fairly limited risks, while ignoring the enormous health and environmental damage done by a similarly sized coal-powered plant. For some reason coal and grass are "safe" simply because they are familiar.

As for synthetic turf fields, the primary worry has been with the ground up recycled tires that provide the "fill" for the green plastic fibers that make up the field. These black particles essentially take the place of dirt. They perform an environmental service as well, by providing a nifty use for old tires that otherwise would have to be difficult to dispose of.

The rubber in tires, however, is not exactly free of chemicals. There's no question that if you were to burn the tires, the fumes would be fairly toxic. Some researchers have raised an issue as to whether simply heating the black tire particles in a synthetic field can also release toxic fumes. One disadvantage of such a field is that on a hot, sunny day, it will get quite warm at the field surface. To date, however, no one has shown that at the temperatures occurring on even the hottest day, any concentration of fumes from tire rubber on an artificial field would accumulate and be inhaled by players.

(In one laboratory experiment, researchers found some potentially toxic fumes when heating tire rubber in an enclosed environment, but the test was far from any real-life situation. You could just as easily use the results to argue that children should not be allowed to play near any high-speed roadway on a hot day, which could keep kids off many grass fields too.)

Another concern was that players on synthetic fields could more easily get staph infections because the fibers on the fields can cause a minor burn-like scrape if slid upon, and the plastic allegedly harbors the staph bacteria more readily than grass. Suffice it to say that this theory has not been proven at all.

The latest concern is about lead. The frustrating thing about reading and viewing news articles on the issue is that they are long on nifty opposing quotes from activists on both sides and short on facts. We still can't tell from these stories whether the lead issue is associated with the tire particles or the plastic fibers, or both. For example, today's WaPo story focused on the tire particles, but a WaPo online story yesterday (from the Associated Press) strongly suggested that the lead issue is associated with the fake grass fibers, and may apply only to older fields made of nylon fibers as opposed to polyethylene. See "Feds Are Looking Into The Dangers of Lead In Artificial Turf."
[Yesteday's story sounded more authoritative. It pointed to the use of pigment containing lead chromate, used to make the field look green, in nylon fibers used by the manufacturer of Astroturf, and noted that 10 other NJ fields, made of polyethylene fibers, had tested negative for lead.]
Let's say, however, that there is at least a potential for some lead exposure from the tire particles. No need to panic. Lead is a known toxin if ingested. Hence, living in a home with lead paint is not much of a hazard in and of itself, but it can be a hazard if young children eat chips of lead paint or inhale lead fumes when the paint is sanded or blasted.

On a playing field, the issue would be whether the tire particles (or plastic grass) emit lead, and if so where it is. If it's just on the playing surface, it's not likely to be inhaled or ingested, and it will periodically be washed (or blown) away so that it won't accumulate. If' it is in dust that comes up above the field, then we need to know whether it is above background levels of lead, and whether it is at a level that is hazardous. Very few people spend a lot of time on artificial turf fields, so it is not like lead in a workplace with someone being exposed eight hours a day, five days a week.

For lead to be toxic, one needs to have a fairly significant exposure. Indeed, we all have lead in our bodies and get exposed to a certain amount of background lead. So a slight elevation in lead on a playing field that someone is on a couple times a week for a couple of hours is not going to be particularly hazardous. (Although we'd agree that hazard should be abated, within reason.)

The bottom line is that synthetic turf fields, like grass fields, probably have some hazards associated with them. Those risks are pretty small, however, and not unreasonable. And they may be more easily managed than those associated with grass fields. Our advice is not to worry. Let little Johnny (or Susie, or Omar, or Ivan or LaToya) play on that nice green, level artificial turf field, and let him/her have fun!
UPDATE: We learned one "hazard" of synthetic fields this afternoon: you may just find yourself spectating at a game played in a torrential downpour, whereas you'd be snugly at home with the game cancelled if it was on a grass field!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Two Specious Arguments From Camps Hillary and Obama: One Red and One Blue

If you're following the daily debate between the Hillary and Obama camps on who should be the nominee and why, you'll frequently see the following two arguments, both of which are specious.

Camp Obama says that the fact that Obama has overwhelmingly won Democratic caucuses and primaries in a number of "red" states proves that he's the candidate who can expand the Democratic base in November and carry states Democrats have never carried before.

There's a grain of truth to that, but not much. For example, Obama beat Hillary by a whopping 57%-39% in the Utah Democratic caucus. But there's no chance in heck that Obama is going to carry Utah in November. All he proved is that among the tiny percentage of Utahans who happen to be Democrats, he is the favorite.

He also had large margins in places like Idaho, Wyoming, and North Dakota, but he's not going to carry any of them either.

The grain of truth is that Democrats in red states do judge Obama as more likely to be able to broaden the party's appeal and bring in new voters in those states. In some place--Virginia for one--that just might make enough difference to swing the state. But it's not like Democrats in those states wouldn't vote for Hillary.

The Hillary camp has the opposite argument. They argue that Hillary's strong showings in the larger industrial states, many of which are blue, show that she will be the stronger candidate in November. Again, this is specious. It's not like most Democrats in traditionally blue states--like California, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey--WOULDN'T vote for Obama in November. If anything, polls in those states show both candidates with about the same percentage in head-to-head match-ups against McCain.

Nor does Hillary's stronger showing in a swing state such as Florida show that she has the ability to win Florida in November. It's hard to believe that Hillary Clinton, who is viewed and defined as a "traditional" Democrat, will do much better than either Al Gore in 2000 or John Kerry in 2004 in a state like Florida (or Ohio).

The arguments--and they're aimed largely at superdelegates--will keep coming, but it's worth seeing through the BS. Of which there is much, on both sides.

My Dinner With Howard Dean II

A couple years ago we reported on a relatively small dinner gathering we'd had with then new DNC chair Howard Dean.

Last night our host reprised the event, so we had an opportunity to hear from Governor Dean at a particularly important point in the Democratic Party political process. (Unfortunately for both the Governor and his audience--about 50 good Democrats--Pope Benedict was nearby, such that helicopters were buzzing overhead, making it more difficult to hear.)

It was an interesting discussion, with a lot of questions. Here's the highlights:

First off, Governor Dean was quite firm in his conviction that the Democratic nominee should be known by no later than July 1. He pledged to put pressure on the remaining uncommitted superdelegates to publicly state a position shortly after the last primary contest ends on June 3. [Note: Dean himself is a superdelegate. He and a small number of other DNC officials are prohibited by party rules--and good sense--from stating their preferences before the primaries are all done. Accordingly, he will announce his position in early June.]

Dean also noted that there are certain advantages to having an extended Democratic nominating process. Clearly, the biggest of those is the huge number of new voter registrants in states with upcoming primaries (and to a lesser degree in caucus states). We've seen suggestions of upwards of more than a hundred thousand new registrants in both Pennsylvania and North Carolina, so that's nothing to sneeze at. The DNC puts all those new voters directly into it's computer databases.

The Governor was also quite clear that the Florida and Michigan delegations will be seated at the convention. While he couldn't give any details--noting they still need to be worked out--he said it was obvious for a number of good reasons that those delegations should be seated. At the same time, he said Florida and Michigan did break the rules and that there have to be consequences for that, so they will be penalized in some form.

Dean noted that the role of the DNC in the ongoing process is that of a "referee," with him feeling that in such an extended, and at times bitter, contest it was extremely important that everyone view the process as a fair one. He believes that if the nominee is known by the end of June, the party will have time to heal itself by the late August convention, as assessment we share here at the Curmudgeon.

In discussions not directly related to the presidential nominating contest, Dean talked about the DNC's sophisticated computer tracking systems, based largely on credit card data that's available for purchase from private vendors and that let's the DNC use the same micro-targeting strategies as the GOP has been using for a number of years.

He also spoke at some length on the issue of health care reform, an issue that Dean, as an M.D., holds near and dear to his heart and also happens to be knowledgeable of. He allowed, however, that health care reform is something that needs to occur in increments (start by extending Medicaid to everyone under age 25; then extend Medicare to everyone over 55; then fill in the rest; and private insurance should have an important role). Dr. Dean also said he would advise the next president to largely leave it to Congress to put together the details.

After the dinner, the Curmudgeon spent a few minutes talking to Governor Dean one-on-one about Virginia and the prospects for the Commonwealth to go Blue in the November presidential election. Not surprisingly, Dean was upbeat about the possibility, noting the likelihood of picking up Sen. John Warner's open seat along with Rep. Tom Davis's open seat along the way.

He turned the question around on the Curmudgeon and asked what we thought, including which presidential candidate we thought would be better for capturing Virginia (and noting that he would offer no comment one way or the other on that issue). We said that while we wouldn't bet the ranch on Virginia going blue in November, we thought the prospect was good for the following reasons:

--Mark Warner will bring out Northern Virginia Democrats

--the race for Tom Davis's open seat will energize Fairfax Democrats

--the state's demographics have continued to shift in a favorable direction

--McCain is not popular amongst the downstate's more conservative Republicans

On the other hand, McCain will have some appeal to the state's middle of the road independent voters.

As to which candidate would do better in Virginia, we said all you have to do is look at our primary returns, where Obama trounced Hillary. In our view, one reason Obama does well with Democrats in red states is that they want to see their states go blue, and they see Obama as offering a much better opportunity to expand the party's base in such states--including Virginia--than Hillary.

Dean capped his talk off with a rousing call to take back our country from the right wing ideologues who have done so much damage to our nation in the past eight years. Not surprisingly, it earned him a standing ovation from the assembled group.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Obama's Gaffe Not Slowing Him Down

It appears that Sen. Barack Obama's gaffe last week with respect to rural voters and their guns and religion hasn't hurt him too much.

Recent Pennsylvania polls continue to show a tightening race with just a few days to go. One poll (Public Policy Polling) yesterday had Obama ahead, albeit by a statistically insignicant margin, while another pollster--Zogby--has the race in a dead heat.

Others, of course, show Hillary Clinton still in the lead, by as much as 10 points, and if we were betting real money we'd still bet on Hillary to take the state. However, her margin of delegates could be pretty small based on an analysis of congressional district in the Keystone State and how they are likely to vote.

Likewise, polls in North Carolina still show Obama with a wide lead, and his standing in Indiana has improved.

On the delegate front, Obama also continues to pad his lead, which is now up to 139--his biggest lead in at least the past five weeks--after a series of superdelegate endorsements this week.

In short, it appears that Obama has weathered the storm, at least for the time being. We'll have a better idea by late next Tuesday night, when the Pa. results are in, but the Obama bandwagon appears to be chugging along just fine.

Trapster: A New Way To Calm Traffic On Your Street

On the radio today, we heard a report on a relatively new website called, which pinpoints police speed traps, speed cameras and red light cameras on a map. If you have a GPS-enabled phone, you can also sign up for a service that will alert you when you are approaching a known speed trap in your car (and some GPS navigation devices evidently also can utilize the service).

That got us thinking. We don't like folks speeding down our little street. So why not notify trapster that our street is a notorious speed trap? Now maybe just one notice won't be enough, so we'd want to enlist our neighbors, and maybe combine our notice with some legitimate ones in Arlington of which we are aware.

That way, those speed devils who think they're so smart by using trapster will get an alert as they head down our street, and will slow down. We'll see how it works.

Of course, if everyone does this, it will defeat the purpose of trapster--you won't know where the real speed traps are because there are so many fake ones from people just wanting you to slow down. So what? It just means some entrepeneur hoping to get rich quick won't be able to, and that your local speed demons will have a higher risk of getting caught.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Landrieu Poll Results Spur Further Optimism For Dem Senate Gains

A couple of polls out of Louisiana show incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu with a surprisingly comfortable lead over her presumed challenger in a race where Republicans thought they had a decent shot at picking up a Senate seat.

The Landrieu polls have further spurred Democratic optimism at picking up a number of Senate seats this fall, including this piece from Markos "Daily Kos" Molitsas in the Hill: "GOP Facing Senate Doom."

The Kos predicts Democrats could control as many as 60 seats in the senior chamber by the time the dust settles. Still, it's a bit early, and the resolution of the Democratic presidential nominating contest will certainly have an impact. As of now, however, there are no endangered Democrats, and that's a good sign.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Predicting the Superdelegates

One of our readers (thanks Andy) pointed us to a pretty darn good website for those following the twists and turns of the roughly 300 uncommitted Democratic superdelegates who will end up deciding for the rest of us who the party's nominee will be this fall.

It's the blog of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, and they have a lot of neat stuff there, not the least of which is a statistical model that predicts how each of the remaining uncommitted superdelegates will vote. (For the current iteration of the model, see here.)

Based on the model, Obama is highly likely to get the votes of most of the remaining superdelegates, including an 80% probability that Virginia superdelegates Jim Webb, Joe Johnson and Jerome Wiley-Segovia will go with the Illinois senator.

Indeed, the CCPS model predicts that 171 delegates are at least 60% likely to go for Obama, compared to just 19 for Clinton, with 78 superdelegates in the "too close to call" mid-range.

It will be interesting to see how this model works in the coming weeks. We hope they'll update the predictions soon.

The site contains a wealth of other interesting statistical information, such as comparisons of Pennsylvania to various other states on measures such as gun ownership, Walmart shopping, pick-up truck use and PBS watching, in an effort to see which states Pennsylvania most mirrors for electoral purposes. There are also analyses of anomalies in polls and other tidbits of wisdom, so if you're a numbers junkie like the Curmudgeon, check it out!

Who You Callin' Boy, Boy?

It happens with unfortunate regularity: some Republican office holder accidentally slips the covers off the latent racism fomenting throughout the party, then quickly tries to apologize and pass it off as an "unwise choice of words."

Which it isn't. Instead, it's an ugly truth.

The latest is GOP Rep. Geoff Davis, from Kentucky, who called Barack Obama "boy" at a fundraiser. "That boy's finger does not need to be on the button," said Davis to his donors, referring to concerns he had about Obama as commander-in-chief with the authority to launch nuclear weapons.

In his "apology," Davis said “[m]y comment… in no way reflects the personal and professional respect I have for you.”

Well, we reckon that's right. Davis's comment instead reflects a rather vicious attitude toward ALL African-Americans, not just Barack Obama. You see, when he's around his GOP buddies and thinks no one is paying attention, Davis evidently feels at liberty to refer to even the most distinguished of African-Americans as a "boy," feeling that his fellow party members will be perfectly comfortable with such talk.

It's one of the reasons Republicans repeatedly fail in their efforts to recruit African-Americans to the GOP, despite some pretty good reasons for many blacks to be disenchanted with the Democrats.

So Davis reminds us of former Senator George Allen and his infamous "macacca" moment, which damaged Allen so badly precisely because it fit perfectly well with what everyone suspected about Allen all along--that he was a blatant racist who generally tried to hide it in his public personna.

For the time being, however, the media still seems far more fascinated with Obama's own slip of the tongue a few days ago, which appears to reveal an elitist tendency in Obama that we all suspected was there despite his roots.

Both incidents offer a cautionary tale to all politicians, who tend to be more relaxed and less careful when addressing a smaller group of their harder-core supporters in a fund-raising setting. Turns out, someone is always listening, waiting for that slip of the tongue that reveals the real person under that big smile and warm handshake.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Intrepid, Inaccurate Hurricane Forecasters Try Again

Once again, it's that time of year when the "experts" try to forecast hurricane activity for the coming season.

One of those experts, who's been at it for a number of years, is Colorado State meteorologist William Gray. His forecast for this season, which starts in June: "a well above-average Atlantic basin tropical cyclone season in 2008" with "an above-average probability of United States major hurricane landfall." The details are here.

Okay, but don't rush out to Home Depot for plywood, bottled water, a generator and a chain saw just yet.

These were the same guys who told us the past two years that we would also have "above-average" hurricane seasons, only to have us end up (thankfully) with well BELOW the average for Atlantic tropical activity. Nor did they hit the mark--or even come close--in 2005 when we had a whopper of a season that broke numerous records and included Katrina.

No doubt, just by the luck of the draw, these guys will eventually come close. After all, there's really only three forecasts: below average, average and above average. Surely, after two below average years, the chances of a more active season this year are pretty good. But then, you hardly needed an "expert"--especially one who's been notably unreliable in the past--to tell you that.

Who Are Virginia's Uncommitted Democratic Superdelegates?

Last week we reported that Virginia is home to a handful of so-called Democratic superdelegates who have yet to commit to a candidate. Yesterday, a large contingent of Obama supporters across the state urged those superdelegates to support the Barack-meister inasmuch as Virginia overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Senator from Illinois.

Here at the Curmudgeon we're more interested in simply getting those superdelegates to commit promptly than who they go for, although given Virginia's primary vote, Obama would be a good choice. (By the way, if you think we've listed any of these superdelegates erroneously--i.e., they have committed to a candidate, let us know!)

So who are these superdelegates?

One is Jim Leaman, who is the president of the Virginia AFL-CIO. For an interesting little piece on Leaman and his views on the race, see "Adventures of Superdelegate" over at New Dominion. One of Leaman's opinions is that there's nothing wrong with spreading out the nomination process through June as "it helps the candidates sharpen their skills for what they’ll need for the general election."

That's fine, but we sure don't see any advantage in stretching things out to the convention in August, so Jim, we'll be looking to you to make up your mind pretty soon.

Another is Alexis Herman, who served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. An African-American, Herman may be quite conflicted in this race, although we would've thought she'd have thrown her support to Hillary some time ago. Here's the deal Alexis: it doesn't get any easier the longer this goes on, so make a decision for the good of everyone involved!

Next up is C. Richard Cranwell. He's a 65-year-old trial lawyer from Roanoke, Virginia who also happens to be the Chairperson of the Virginia Democratic Party. Now it's not unusual for party officials like him to want to appear neutral for a good while, but now that Virginians have voted it's time for him to declare. And frankly, as the official chairman of the state party, we think he ought to go with Obama since his people have spoken loudly and clearly. C'mon Richard, what are you waiting for?

Another undeclared superdelegate is Jerome Wiley-Segovia, born in Paraguay and working now for Casa Blanca, a Latino voting advocacy group. Wiley-Segovia got involved in Howard Dean's 2004 campaign, which helped him win a spot as a Democratic National Committee at-large member when Dean became head of the DNC. For a profile on Wiley-Segovia, click here. He lives in Arlington, but doesn't see himself as a Virginia representative; rather, he sees himself as an advocate for the Hispanic community. So why, we might ask, hasn't he endorsed Hillary? Again, we urge him to make up his mind soon--the rest of the voters deserve to know.

We also have Joe Johnson, an African-American superdelegate from Chantilly, who like Wiley-Segovia is an at-large representative to the DNC. Huffington-Post has suggested that Johnson may be using his status as a superdelegate for personal profit, which, if true, would be the surest fire basis for revamping the superdelegate system. Johnson reportedly is leaning to Hillary Clinton, but if he's an "operator" then all he wants is to make sure he's with the winning team. Something tells us Johnson will hold out as long as he can, which is unfortunate for the rest of us.

Finally, there's Senator Jim Webb. We all know who he is. We're wondering what he's waiting for. His constituents voted 2-1 in favor of Obama, which gives him some pretty easy cover to make a difficult decision between two fellow senators. What may be giving him pause is that Hillary carried most of Southwestern Virginia, which was an important source of strength for Webb in his victory over George Allen. In any event, nothing good will come from further delay Mr. Webb, other than you may really start to piss people off (not that he's afraid to do that), so let's hear from you very soon.

There may be a couple others from Virginia who are still uncommitted--we'll let you know.

Obama's Delegate Lead Continues To Widen

Interestingly, Obama's lead in delegates continues to inch up day by day as uncommitted superdelegates, in onesies and twosies, break his way.

A month ago, the tally of delegates had Obama up by 119 (1589 to 1470). Since then, Obama's lead has stretched to 137, with him leading by 1640 to Hillary's 1503. Not all of the difference since then is superdelegates--some represent the Mississippi primary and additional delegates awarded in Texas caucuses, as well as a handful from other states as they've held county and state conventions.

We wonder whether Hillary has much room to maneuver at this point. Presumably, her core supporters amongst superdelegates have already committed to her. Indeed, how much of a Hillary supporter could you be if you're still holding out at a time when she needs to prove she can overcome the gap?

In the meantime, Hillary's lead in Pennsylvania polls continues to shrink to as small as just two points in one poll (Public Policy Polling) released yesterday. We'd still bet on Hillary winning Pennsylvania, probably by at least 5 or more points. But we had thought the long break between primaries, along with the Rev. Wright albatross, would have weighed Obama down during this period, which clearly hasn't been the case.

Of course, every time Hillary has been on the brink, she's come back to fight for a few more weeks, so we're not ready to write her off just yet!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Democratic Presidential Race: Spare Us The Tibet Political Correctness

Good lord. Hillary has gone and urged President Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics this summer.

Given Dubya's popularity around the world, it may be a good idea, but we're pretty sure Hillary meant it as a protest against Chinese actions in Tibet.

Sadly, we'll probably hear Obama make a similar statement before too long.

Yet, if either one of them was the actual President, we doubt they'd boycott the opening ceremonies, as it would be silly to do so. We certainly HOPE they wouldn't do so.

Yes, China's record on human rights leaves much to be desired, and it's policies in Tibet are not exactly progressive. Likewise, the U.S. doesn't exactly shine like a beacon to the world either.

China is a huge, and important, nation. It has about 1.2 billion people, and despite its problems, it has come a long way over the past 30 years. Furthermore, China shows every sign of evolving in the right direction. While the political system in China is wanting, many Chinese have unprecedented economic freedom.

As a nation, the U.S. gains nothing by being petty and petulant toward the Chinese, as we would by having our head-of-state snub the Olympic games in Beijing. Indeed, we'd only encourage the Chinese leadership to dig in its heels, while once again demeaning the message the Olympics are intended to convey. We can attend the opening ceremonies and still register our issues with Chinese policy toward Tibet. Not that the Chinese might legitimately view us as complete hypocrites.

In any event, Hillary's boycott call appears motivated by a certain knee-jerk political correctness aimed at pleasing a small number of activists. We'd like to see a more mature response.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Will Bob Barr Hurt--or Help--McCain?

Former very conservative GOP Georgia congressman Bob Barr has announced his intention to run for President on the Libertarian Party ticket.

At least one pundit is out there wondering if Barr's run will hurt John McCain by giving disaffected Republican conservatives an alternative to the heresies of the straight-talking Senator from Arizona. (See "Barr Fight" in The American Spectator.)

But maybe Barr ends up HELPING McCain. (This all assumes that Barr obtains the Libertarian Party nomination, which is no sure thing--for our purposes here, however, let's assume he gets it.)

Yes, it's true that many in the conservative wing of the GOP don't really like McCain, viewing him as far too moderate and accommodationist. But let's face it, once the Democrats nominate either Hillary or Obama, McCain will look plenty conservative. Are there really that many Republicans who will throw away their votes--especially in key swing states--on the Libertarian nominee?

On the other hand, many independent voters like McCain precisely because he's not afraid to thumb his nose at GOP idealogues. To attract those voters, it may be useful to McCain to have someone running to his right, just to remind them of his more moderate views. The battle this Fall will certainly be in the middle, not on the fringes, especially in battleground states like Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Colorado.

We're not saying Barr's candidacy doesn't pose risks for McCain. Certainly, if he's forced to tack right, it will hurt him. Furthermore, if Barr's candidacy were to inspire some other fairly well-known conservatives (say a Tom Tancredo) to mount independent campaigns, the effect could be significant. McCain's strategists will be well aware of the Nader effect in 2000, where Nader's votes exceeded the margin of Al Gore's "defeat" in Florida.

If nothing else, we welcome Barr's entry into the race because it gives us political bloggers yet one more item to speculate upon rampantly.

April: The Most Disappointing Month

Is April the worst month of the year?

Here in the D.C. area it just could be. Sure, the weather is colder and the days are shorter in December, January and February, but that's to be expected. And who knows, during winter we might just get a big snowstorm (didn't happen this year, though) for a change of pace.

March is pretty bad, too, but at least we have March Madness.

But April? According to the meteorologists, the average high temperature this time of year is around 65 degrees. Yet so often--like today--it seems to we WELL below that. April is just plain disappointing. We want it to be warm and sunny, but it's often chilly and damp.

Despite the old saying about April showers, it turns out that the average April in these parts has less precipitation than either March or May. Perhaps that's just because it doesn't rain all that hard--instead, we get days of cool, misty, drizzly, dank Seattle-winter-like weather, perfect for Starbucks, but not much else.

Another problem with April is that we start to have numerous outdoor activities scheduled. It's one thing to sit in a nice warm basketball gym in February; quite another to spend two hours at the soccer pitch, or the baseball field, on a chilly April afternoon or evening.

It's also the point at which we desperately want a change of pace in our clothing. The sun shines and bit and you go out in your golf shirt, but darned if it's just a bit too cool on your pale white skin.

And then there's the allergies. Pollen everywhere! And all of a sudden, the grass needs to be mowed every week.
Not to mention taxes.
Ok, but April doesn't totally suck. The Masters is this weekend. The days are noticeably longer. Flowers add much-needed color to a dreary landscape. Birds flit about (or attack our house, as the case may be). Our ant friends invade the kitchen, the surest sign that Spring is really here. And, of course, the golf clubs come out of the basement and into the car trunk for regular use.

April brings promise. But it's still a disappointing month. (We'll take its autumn counterpart, October, anytime!)

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Angry Robin

You know how sometimes people get really angry or worked-up about something, to the point of obsession? Like when someone just goes off on a one-person crusade on some little (or big) issue, to the point of camping out in Lafayette Park to point a sign at the White House, or writing letters to every member of Congress about some obscure issue. (Or they blog about silly little things?)

Maybe birds are like people that way.

We seem to have an angry robin on our hands. For the past three days, this little robin has been attacking our house, repeatedly flitting at and banging into two of our windows. When not attacking, he (she?) sits on a branch a few feet away, glaring at us.

What did we do? Is it our cat, who certainly finds this robin's behavior provacative. The other morning we heard a loud crash downstairs, finding that the cat had gotten her claws caught in a screen above the stove and pulled it down on top of her.

Or did we put our house where the robin planned to build a nest? Did we chop down her favorite bush, did the boys accidentally break one of her eggs while striking soccer balls in the back yard, did our Verizon Fios installer do something objectionalbe? We don't know.

We wonder, will some other birds intervene for the robin's own good? Will they urge this robin to "give it up" or "move on" or "let it go and open a new chapter in your life?" Worse yet, will other robins have to take this little fellow off to the bird equivalent of a mental hospital?

For the record, we deny any wrongdoing. In fact, we feel harassed, stalked. The robin should leave us alone. Especially at 6:30 a.m. on a weekend!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Plug For The Home Plug

Frustrated with your home wireless internet network? Worried about wireless security?

There is a decent alternative, albeit more expensive (but so easy a caveman can set it up!)

That alternative is the "homeplug," or "wall-plugged ethernet switch." The Homeplug converts the copper wires in you home into high speed internet lines, making it possible for you to use any electrical outlet in the house to access high speed internet via your cable or fiber-optic modem.

The Homeplug device we are using is manufactured by Netgear. It's about the size of a Blackberry (see photo above), but twice as thick, and plugs into any standard electrical outlet. It has four ports--two on each side, each of which can handle an ethernet cable.

We've been using the Homeplug for about a month now, with no problems. We get good high-speed connections throughout the house, whereas our wireless system definitely had some bad spots. We also don't get the variability in speeds we had with wireless, and we don't get the technical glitches that require reading through a mountain of technical gibberish to solve.

We also aren't broadcasting our information to the entire neighborhood. Yes, of course, we had all the security features enabled for the wireless system, but some friends who are quite knowledgable about these things are adamant that they can still be hacked, pretty easily. And they know folks who do that, just for kicks.

Now, a Homeplug can also be hacked, but only by tapping into your electrical system, which is dicier than sitting in a car parked by the curb. (And the homeplug data can be encrypted pretty easily.)

One drawback, however, is price: the Netgear Homeplug we're using costs about $100 from Radio Shack, and you'll need at least two to get started (one at your modem or router to direct your internet into the electrical wires, and one for wherever you want to sit down and access the net). You'll probably want three if you have--as we do--internet users all over the house.

You'll also have to put up with having an ethernet cable linked to your laptop, which you don't need with the wireless connection.

The Homeplug is extremely easy to use: it's basically "plug and play"--no programming, no looking up arcane numbers, such as your SSID or WEP key.

So, if you're frustrated with your wireless system, consider the Homeplug.

Pennsylvania Democratic Primary: Definitely Tightening

With still quite awhile to go (more than three weeks--an eternity in this political season), the Pennsylvania Democratic presidential primary race is definitely getting tighter.

A couple weeks ago, Hillary Clinton maintained a comfy double digit lead over Barack Obama in all the Pennsylvania polls. That's no longer true. The five most recent polls have Hillary's lead down to less than 6 points, on average:

Insider Advantage: Hillary 45% Obama 42%
Public Policy Polling: Obama 45% Hillary 43%
Rasmussen: Hillary 47% Obama 42%
Insider Advantage: Hillary 53% Obama 41%
Quinnipiac: Hillary 50% Obama 41%

Nonetheless, once burned, twice shy. Polls before Ohio and Texas showed a dramatic narrowing, with Obama leading in Texas, only to have Hillary comfortably take both primaries that day.

Still, it's a dangerous moment for Hillary. She's expected to win Pennsylvania. If she doesn't, it will be a major blow to her campaign, especially if followed by a likely loss in North Carolina a couple weeks ago. [The Curmudgeon's brother and sister, living in Raleigh, NC, are still stunned that their votes will actually matter at such a late date.]

One possible motivation for swing/undecided voters to break toward Obama: to end this impasse and avoid a convention mess.

As we said, however, there's still a long way to go until April 22!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Great Website To Monitor Superdelegates

A little bit ago we posted on the need to pressure uncommitted Democratic superdelegates to make a commitment so this thing doesn't go all the way to August without a nominee.

Here's a website where you can track all the uncommitted superdelegates, including ones from your state, and put some heat on them to make up their minds for the good of us all:

2008 Democratic Convention Watch

These guys are doing a tremendous public service!

Note: Here's the superdelegates from Virginia who need to get off the dime:

Senator Jim Webb (c'mon Jim, get going!)
Jim Leaman (DNC member)
C. Richard Cranwell (DNC member)
Alexis Herman (At-large DNC member)
Joe Johnson (At-large DNC member)
Jerome Wiley-Segovia (At-large DNC member)

[FYI: it appears that 10 Virginia superdelegates have declared for a candidate--six for Clinton and four for Obama, notwithstanding Obama's landslide victory in the state.]

What Obama Needs To Do

Here's what Obama needs to do to sew up the Democratic nomination before the August convention.

FIRST, he needs to put forward a plan to enfranchise Florida and Michigan voters. Obama needs to take the high road, once again demonstrating an ability to rise above petty politics. He can afford to let Hillary come out ahead in delegates from both of those states, especially if he gets credit for breaking the logjam.

In Florida, Obama should signal a willingness to live with the results, as is. It's not likely that the result would have been significantly different if the primary had been held later, or if there were to be a re-vote. Both names were on the ballot, the turnout approximated what it would've been, and neither candidate had an unfair advantage. So accept the result, but get credit for resolving the problem.

Michigan is tougher. It's clear from turnout figures that a lot of people stayed home. And Obama's name wasn't on the ballot. Obama shouldn't just accept a solution that locks in the results of that primary, BUT he should push for a solution that recognizes Hillary would probably come out with more delegates. It's frankly more important to get the issue resolved than to fight it out over every delegate.

So far, the candidates themselves have been mum on Florida and Michigan, leaving it to their campaigns and surrogates to address the issues. Obama can change that by speaking out himself, declaring, first and foremost, that the Florida and Michigan voters' voices must be heard, and advocating for a fair and quick resolution.

SECOND, Obama must start putting pressure on the undeclared Superdelegates to declare. In this, he can--and should--be aided by Democratic activists and party officials, including us bloggers. Of course, the Obama campaign is wooing those Superdelegates in private. But if he can get Florida and Michigan solved--or at least pulbicly declare his support for seating those states' delegates, then he can turn to the Superdelegates.

The key, and this should come from bloggers and others, is to publicly name all undecided Superdelegates and start shaming them into making decisions. We would focus especially on those Superdelegates from states that have already voted. A Superdelegate is not required to support whoever won his/her state or congressional district; but, we think once they have that piece of information they ought to make their decisions.

In any event, all Superdelegates should be forced to declare their choice by early June, when the last nominating contests will be done. We don't think the Democratic Party needs to--or can--force that issue; but the Democratic Party's activists can do it. (There are 795 Superdelegates; according to, 469 of them have declared a preference so far, leaving 326 who need to be pressured into making a decision.)

If this all happens, Obama is likely to have the nomination in the bag by June, which gives him some time to mend fences and start after McCain before the August convention.

Otherwise, Obama is in for a long, hot summer with things hanging in the air. He's especially vulnerable if Michigan and Florida aren't decided and it's going to go down to a nasty floor fight at the convention.

Pennsylvania Narrowing A Bit

A couple polls from Pennsylvania suggest that the Democratic primary race there is narrowing a bit.

Rasmussen has Hillary up by only 5 points, 47%-42%, whereas Survey USA gives Clinton a more comfortable 12 point lead, 53%-41%.

We're not too impressed. The polling in Ohio showed a similar narrowing before Hillary blew Obama away on primary day. Apparently Obama has been spending a lot on television in the Keystone State of late. Our observation in this campaign has been that television hasn't made much of a change in voters' attitudes.

We still expect Hillary to win Pennsylvania fairly comfortably, but then lose North Carolina by a similar margin. (Polls in NC give Obama a 15-18 point edge.)

If it works out that way, Hillary will barely gain anything on Obama, so we'll be right where we are now.

Warner Up Over Gilmore: 55%-39%

The Rasmussen Poll reports that Mark Warner continues to maintain a wide lead over former Governor Jim Gilmore, 55%-39%. While that's not quite as big as the 20 point lead Warner had in Rasmussen's poll a month ago, it's still a comfortable lead.

Will Gilmore even get the GOP nomination? We'll know in a couple months--there's still an outside chance Bob "Taliban" Marshall will pull an upset at the GOP state convention.