Saturday, May 31, 2008

Michigan & Florida: Don't Worry About Ickes' Threat

The Democratic Party's Rules Committee has decreed that Michigan and Florida will each have all their delegates seated, with each getting a half a vote.

Is half a loaf better than no loaf at all?

Not according to Clintonista campaign poobah Harold Ickes, who "reserved" Hillary's right to take the fight over Michorida all the way to the convention floor in Denver at the end of August.

Relax. Calm down. Don't get all pissed off at Ickes and the Clinton campaign.

All Ickes is doing is what lawyers do. They bluff and bluster. And they do so the loudest just before they cave in and settle. Believe us--we've seen it, and we've done it over a long legal career.

Ickes is the designated bulldog. He has to do this because Hillary hasn't quite yet conceded. She can't play her own barking dog, because then it would be strange indeed for her to concede a few days later.

At this point, the Clinton campaign is holding out one last hope: that it can pull upsets in Montana and South Dakota, proving to superdelegates that Obama has indeed been weakened of late.

We're not saying it won't happen--there's always a chance. But it's not likely. If Hillary doesn't win those states, and can't claim the popular vote title, then look for her to concede by the middle of next week.

[In case you're wondering, the new delegate math is as follows:
Delegates needed to win the nomination: 2117
Obama delegates to date: 2053 Additional needed: 64
Hillary delegates to date: 1877 Additional needed: 240]

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Eat This, Not That--How To Keep Thin[ner]

As a follow-up to our recent posts on the obesity epidemic, we thought we'd point our readers to a helpful website that provides insight to proper portions and hidden calories in restaurant meals.

[We also note data released by the federal government suggesting that the rate of childhood obesity has plateaued, albeit at a Himalayan level.]

The website is sponsored by Men's Health and is called "Eat This, Not That." The editors review various chain restaurant meals, give you the gory details on how bad they are, and suggest alternatives.

What we like about this site is that they don't tell you useless things like "eat a plain turkey sandwich with no condiments in place of a double-cheeseburger." Yes, we all know that; but the plain turkey just doesn't taste that good.

Instead, they alert you to seemingly healthy dishes--such as the Cosi Signature Salad--that are in fact packed with calories, fat and sodium, and then suggest an alternative at the same restaurant that might still be tasty. (We had kind of suspected that those delicious Cosi salads weren't particularly healthy.)

They'll also send you a free weekly email newsletter with their latest tips. In today's email, we learned that the Albacore Tuna Panini Melt at Einstein's Bagels--which sounds healthy enough--has far more calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium than the Albacore Tuna Salad Sandwich on whole wheat at the same restaurant.

It's really pretty eye-opening, and sometimes shows that you'd be better off with the meal you crave than the seemingly healthier alternative.

If you're planning on a trip to a specific restaurant--say Applebee's--you can target your research to that chain's meals.

They also have some eye-popping lists of the "worst foods" in a whole lot of categories. For example, the Worst Breakfast is the Bob Evans Caramel Banana Cream Stacked and Stuffed Hotcakes (pictured here), with 1540 calories--the same as FIVE egg mcmuffins. You'd be better off with the Bob Evans Western Omelette at 654 calories.
We like the site for it's practicality--the editors know we all like food that tastes good, and realize we just need a little guidance to make better decisions, even if they aren't ideal.

Obama On The Brink

By this time next week, Senator Barack Obama will have wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination.

At present, Obama is less than 50 delegates shy of the 2025 he needs for a majority excluding any Michigan or Florida delegates. [According to Democratic Convention Watch--usually reliable--he needs 44 more as of this morning.]

Obama should reach that number by Tuesday night, after the last primaries are done in Montana and South Dakota. CCPS Blog, which has a good track record of forecasting delegates, projects that Obama will pick up an additional 41 pledged delegates between the Puerto Rico primary on Saturday, and the Montana/South Dakota primaries Tuesday. Surely, Obama will also get a handful of superdelegate endorsements in the meantime.

In any event, Politics 1 reports that the Obama campaign is stockpiling a large number of superdelegate commitments to unveil next week, presumably right after all the primary voting is done, which would put him over the top even with just about any Michigan/Florida resolution.

We've already said that we expect a gracious concession speech from Hillary next week, followed by an equally gracious--and rousing--victory speech by Obama.

For many Democrats, these events can't come soon enough. But not to worry--Obama wrapping up the nomination in June is plenty of time to bring the Democratic Party back together, let Obama get some rest, start the general election fundraising and prepare for the fall election.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Will Bob Barr's Libertarian Run Impact The Presidential Race?

Over the weekend, conservative--and occasionally colorful--former Georgia Republican representative Bob Barr earned the nomination of the Libertarian Party to run for President.

Barr has at least the potential to impact the presidential race come November, although had the Libertarians nominated Ron Paul the effect would likely be much greater.

The conventional wisdom is that Barr hurts the Republicans and John McCain more than the Democratic nominee. That's probably true. Indeed, since many Republicans seem to view McCain as nothing more than a warmed-over Democrat, a serious alternative candidate with solid libertarian value could prove quite appealing to some members of the GOP.

Will Barr run as a true Libertarian, or will he run as a true Republican? If you talk to some Republicans, they will say the real reason the party is doing so poorly is that it has abandoned it's own core principles. There's some truth to that, but that's not really why the party is doing so poorly--the real reason is incompetence, especially at the very top.

In any event, Barr--a disaffected Republican himself--may use the Libertarian platform to espouse a conservative philosophy that is more in tune with "traditional" GOP values, i.e., small government, low taxes, free markets. If he gets entangled in religious right "values" issues, however, he'll lose the support of true libertarians: yes, they believe in religious freedom, but that means not imposing evangelical beliefs on the rest of the population (which, we believe, is one reason the GOP has lost it's mojo).

There is certainly room in this country for a candidate or party that espouses reduced government spending, lower taxes, simpler regulation, extreme caution about engaging in foreign adventures, while also being relatively liberal on social issues.

Where would Barr have the biggest impact? Probably in the the mountain west, where many voters with libertarian tendencies have gone with the GOP in the past, only to be dissatisfied with the results. If Obama is the Democratic nominee, there are signs that he can make Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and perhaps a few other western states pretty competitive. If Barr siphons off 3-4% of McCain's vote in those states, things could get very interesting.

Barr might also have an impact in the upper south battleground states of Virginia and North Carolina, although the Republicans most unhappy with McCain in those states are social conservatives, not true libertarians.

For the Libertarian Party, Barr offers the potential for greater media exposure and fundraising appeal than some unknown party insider.

If we going to bet on it right now, however, we'd say Barr's impact will be pretty minimal. Now, ask us how many times we've been right this electoral season!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Government's Fattening Food Pyramid

As the Washington Post winds down its five-part series on childhood obesity, we thought we'd take a look at the U.S. government's "food pyramid" to see if it is helping--or hurting--in the fight against obesity.

From 1992 to 2005, the USDA promoted a food pyramid (at right) that showed various categories of food--grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat--and stacked them up in a way to suggest which you should get more of versus which you should get less of.

The old food pyramid, pictured here, surely contributed to obesity. If you tried to follow the guidelines for number of servings of each type of food, you'd likely eat WAY too much. For example, the food pyramid says you should have 6-11 servings of "bread, cereal, rice, pasta" and it includes photos of a loaf of bread, a plate of pasta, and bowls of rice and cereal.

Okay, so let's say you eat six bowls of cereal in one day--the low end of the scale. Whoops--you've probably already eaten too much, and that's without getting to fruit, veggies, dairy and meat. What you couldn't tell from the pyramid is that a "serving" of cereal was meant to be one cup, and that a "serving" of bread was meant to be one slice (not the bowl of cereal or loaf of bread pictured).

Similarly, many of the other food items pictured in the old pyramid constituted more than a single serving under the government's guidelines, but no one would've known that.

Another problem is that most people eat meals that combine these food elements. Let's say that I have a six inch Subway roast beef sandwich on wheat bread, with swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, and oil/vinegar. That's actually a pretty healthy meal. It should count for at least two--maybe three--"servings" of bread grains, 1-2 servings of veggies, one of dairy, and one of meat. But how many people would look at it that way? A lot would view it as, essentially, one "serving."
The new pyramid, pictured here, appears intended mainly to get you to eat a diverse diet that includes grains, fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products. The new pyramid doesn't make the mistake of including recommendations for number of "servings" of each type of food.

Still, it visually suggests that you should eat a LOT of food. At the bottom of the pyramid are pictures of all kinds of different foods. The problem here is that about 3-4 days worth of food are pictured. It certainly looks like you should be eating many portions of each of these. It's probably also no mistake that the dairy side, in particular, looks like you should be consuming quite a bit of milk, cheese and yogurt.
We wish we had some graphics arts skills here at the Curmudgeon. If we could, we'd picture some sample meals--breakfast, lunch and dinner, with maybe one midday snack, that would provide the requisite variety and balance, yet still be reasonably sized.
For example, breakfast would be a modest bowl of cereal, with skim milk, a small glass of orange juice and maybe one slice of toast. Lunch would be a small sandwich, with whole wheat bread, a small amount of meat, one thin slice of cheese and some veggies, with a piece--or couple slices--of fruit on the side and a bottle of water. And dinner could be a variety of things, but what about maybe a roasted chicken breast, side salad, small serving of rice and 2-3 strawberries. Most people--if they aren't already obese--could get by pretty nicely on meals like this. We'd show various other combinations--the point would be to keep the portion sizes reasonable.

The government should do away with the pyramid altogether. They might as well have used a sphinx for all the good it has done.

Even With Michigan And Florida Counted, Obama Has A Comfortable Margin

Honestly, the Hillary supporters need to give it up and move on.

Under any reasonable scenario, Obama has at least a hundred delegate lead over Hillary with the contest winding down.

For a neutral account of all the potential scenarios involving Michigan and Florida, take a look at Democratic Convention Watch.

The salient points are these:

If you exclude Michigan and Florida, per the DNC rules, then Obama needs just 61 votes to clinch the Democratic nomination, and he leads by 185. This is the scenario the mainstream media will most likely follow--for now. Accordingly, it won't be too long before he is "officially" declared the victor.

But, you say, Democrats ultimately won't entirely exclude Michigan and Florida, so that scenario may be wrong. True, but it won't make a difference.

There are a lot of options for dealing with Michigan and Florida. They range from seating half the delegates from both states, to seating half the pledged delegates and all the superdelegates, to seating the delegations "as is" under the votes that occurred to various other options in between. Under all but one of those options (nicely laid out by the folks at Democratic Convention Watch) Obama has a lead over Hillary of at least 120 delegates. Under all but that same outlier option, Obama needs no more than 122 delegates to clinch the nomination.

That one outlier scenario is the one under which Hillary and Obama both get delegates from the Florida and Michigan elections exactly as they voted. That would mean NO delegates from Michigan for Obama, because his name was not on the ballot. It would, however, add 55 uncommitted delegates to the Michigan delegation.

Now, if you don't count any of those 55 uncommitted delegates for Obama, then his lead is down to 70 delegates and he needs 166 more delegates (out of a total of 381 not yet allocated) to win.

Of course, the bulk of those 55 uncommitted delegates would go for Obama. Let's say he gets just 40 of them. Well, then his lead is back up to 110, and he needs only 126 delegates to clinch.

In short, the delegate math heavily favors Obama UNDER ANY SCENARIO.

The same is largely true with respect to the "popular vote." We've seen a few Clintonites still out there arguing that she leads in the popular vote. Yet, the only way you get to that conclusion is to include all of Hillary's Michigan votes and give Obama NO votes for Michigan. Talk about stacking the deck.

In short, even with Hillary's recent lopsided wins in West Virginia and Kentucky, and even if you include Florida, Hillary is still behind in the popular vote--and that's excluding all the voters who overwhelmingly favored Obama in the caucus states.

Little will be served by having the Clinton campaign engage in a "fight to the last man (and woman)" strategy all the way to the convention. We think Hillary knows this. We'll see a concession speech around June 3. We hope it will be in conjunction with a satisfactory solution to the Michigan and Florida problems as well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Rock Star Versus Rocking Chair

The stage is set for a historic battle this November, between Sen. Barack Obama--the rock star--and Sen. John McCain, in the rocking chair.

Okay, that's unfair. We actually have a lot of respect here for Senator McCain, although we expect to lose it in the next few months.

Here's some things to expect: first, Hillary Clinton will keep at it for a couple more weeks. After the final primaries in Montana and South Dakota on June 3, she will give a gracious concession speech, and Obama will formally claim the mantle of the Democratic Party nominee.

Obama will then spend the summer fence-mending and uniting his party, recruiting some new people into his campaign to help especially with (1) blue collar whites; (2) middle-aged women; (3) the elderly; and (4) Jewish voters.

Us bloggers will go into full-time speculation mode on both nominees' VP picks. At some point, Hillary will declare that she is not interested (we were intrigued by the suggestion in today's Post that she should be appointed to the Supreme Court; she'd be an excellent choice).

A bunch of irrelevant polls will be released, showing a close race. The worst of these polls will be national polls, based on phone calls to a few hundred voters, which won't really tell us anything. (Indeed, if you look at such polls now, you'll see that McCain is beating both Obama and Hillary; that Obama is beating McCain, but Hillary is not; and that Hillary is beating McCain, but Obama is not. Take your pick.)

There will be a lot of speculation about the impact of racism on the election, and the so-called "Bradley effect" (voters who tell pollsters they'll vote for Obama, but who won't vote for him because of his race). Maybe some voters will figure out that Obama is just as white as he is black.

Finally, a couple reflections on the Democratic nomination race. When the race started, Obama was questioned as not black enough for African-Americans. Hillary had significant African-American support, and many whites despised her for being part of the rich, liberal elite. Then, in the South Carolina primary, the Clintons stumbled on the race issue, allowing Obama to be viewed as sufficiently black to garner the overwhelming support of African-American voters. When that happened, Hillary suddenly became popular with blue-collar white males. Only a black man could've accomplished that!

Team Obama out-organized, out-energized, and out-strategized team Hillary. Frankly, we here at the Curmudgeon wish it had ended up the other way around, with Hillary winning by a small margin and then offering the vice presidency to Obama. That would've worked. But for all the mistakes team Hillary made, for all they got out-maneuvered, there was one mistake that was fatal: the failure to plan for and organize the caucus states.

For the all the post hoc moaning and whining of Hillary supporters about the "unfairness" of the caucus system, we should remember that when this started, Hillary assumed she'd be the beneficiary of caucuses dominated by party activists and insiders--the liberal elite. Little did she know she was going to become the NASCAR candidate. In the end, Hillary lost in the nomination in the caucus states, but not because of any unfairness. It was, instead, bad strategy. Her campaign took those states for granted and never bothered to organize them properly, leaving a huge opening for Obama. Future campaigns should take heed.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Childhood Obesity: Help Parents With Portion Sizes

The Washington Post yesterday launched a five-part series on childhood obesity in America. Although the Curmudgeon kids are skinny, this is an issue of interest to us as we see so many young children whose future is already being robbed by struggles with weight and obesity, including many of the kids in our soccer programs.

The Post series is important, but like many debates about obesity and its causes, it mixes together a lot of disparate information, much of which is mere noise. A good deal of the confusion comes from advice about what constitutes good nutrition, versus what will keep kids from getting fat.

Our youngest child undoubtedly has poor nutrition in his diet. He avoids vegetables and has a huge sweet-tooth. But he is small for his age, and skinny. That may in part be due to the struggle to get enough protein in him. But his diet is not going to make him fat, because he eats very little of anything. He's also incredibly physically active.

The point is, you can have a bad diet--nutritionally--without getting fat. Conversely, you can have good nutrition and still be overweight.

The weight issue is a function of how MUCH one eats. As the Post notes today, the difference between what an average person consumes each day and what is burned off by physical activity is about 100 calories. Doesn't sound like much, but over a year that's 36,500 calories, or about 18 days worth of excess food for an adult woman! (Adult women consume approximately 2000 calories per day on average.)

For many who are obese, that calorie gap is actually a good deal higher, too.

In today's article, the Post explored the government's failure to do much about the childhood obesity epidemic. But really, most of the potential actions mentioned in the Post wouldn't accomplish any reduction in obesity. More nutritional labelling, or eliminating trans-fats, or restricting soda machines in schools--none gets at the root problem of people simply eating too much.

What would help? We don't have all the answers, but parents desperately need some easy to use, practical guides to how much food their children should be eating, and they need help getting servings of the proper portion size.

Let's take McDonald's, ubiquitously blamed (for good reason) for America's obesity epidemic. There's no reason you couldn't take your child to McDonald's and get a reasonably sized meal that the kid would like. But the way Mickie-D's is set up, it ain't easy.

For a typical 10-year-old boy, a basic McD's single cheeseburger, with a SMALL packet of fries and a 10 oz. soda would be fine. Sure, it's nice to fantasize about having the child eat something more nutritious, with maybe fruit juice and some real vegetables, but let's start by getting the portion right and then work on the content. The government, and nutritionists, doctors, public health experts, etc., would do parents a huge favor by telling them that such a meal would be okay, instead of saying "don't eat fast food." In other words, the single cheeseburger with a few fries is MUCH better than the "value" meal with Big Mac, "medium" fries and 20 oz. drink pictured above.

Then we'd also have to get McDonald's to make that meal easily available to parents at a price competitive with their larger, calorie-packed meals. Again, if the government were in a position to identify what WOULD be appropriate for McD's (and other fast food outlets) to give a kid as a meal, then maybe they'd comply, or could be embarassed into doing the right thing.

Perhaps the government could also develop a standard system for labelling portions, with an attractive seal of approval for those approved for kids of a certain age.

It would also help to have labels that say something is NOT approved for kids of a certain age. We'd love to see labels on ALL packaged drinks--not just sodas (juice has a lot of calories too)--with more than 10 ounces saying they are inappropriate for children. Other packaged foods could earn similar labels.

You'd be surprised how many parents think they are giving their kids the right-sized portion when they aren't, just out of ignorance. (At our local Wendy's, the "small" combo meal comes with a 16 ounce drink and what used to be called a "large" fries; a lot of parents probably think that looks okay compared to the even bigger other options.)

There are probably other ways to give parents more practical advice on HOW MUCH food is appropriate for their children. We should look for opportunities to help.

Will Oregon Be An Ugly Surprise for Obama? UPDATE: Or Not!

Not too long ago, it looked (based on polls) as if Obama would crush Hillary in Oregon (while getting walloped in Kentucky) tomorrow. Now, it's not so clear.

Most voters in Oregon cast their ballots early, by mail. Accordingly, about half of the state's voters have already expressed their preferences. In other early voting states, Obama has done quite well with the folks who opt to cast ballots before election day, so you'd think by now he'd be well ahead of Hillary in Oregon.

But he's not. According to analysis of two recent polls by the CCPS blog, Obama and Hillary are dead even in the mail-in ballots. Those who say they still INTEND to vote heavily favor Obama, but with half the ballots already in, it appears his margin of victory will be fairly small, and that only IF those folks who say they still plan to vote actually do so.

Meanwhile, Kentucky clearly looks like a repeat of West Virginia, with Hillary likely to cruise to a 20+ point victory their.

It doesn't matter much in terms of whether Obama will get the nomination: after tomorrow, he will need fewer than 70 delegates to clinch the nomination (and his margin over Hillary currently stands at 182). Nonetheless, team Obama would surely like to do better than to limp across the finish line, so a strong Oregon finish is important.

We'll see what happens in this often surprising election season.
UPDATE: Two more polls out today show the opposite: Obama has a large lead in the early voting in these polls, from Public Policy Polling and Survey USA, both of whom have been pretty reliable this election season. Indeed, in the PPP poll, Obama has 59% of the early voting ballots, and they called it quite correctly in NC. So maybe Oregon will be an Obama blowout after all (consistent with his HUGE rally yesterday).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Evidence of Progress In China

Many heart-rending stories are coming out of China in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake in Sichuan province that likely killed more than 50,000.

One thing that's interesting is the relative openness of China to reporting of the disaster from the western news media. (Contrast: Myanmar.) It wasn't that long ago that the Chinese government's response to a natural disaster like this would be to clamp down on the media and try to control all reports of the catastrophe.

Today, China continues to look more and more western. The Chinese premier goes on television to discuss rescue efforts, does a few flyovers, and (unlike our President during Katrina) stays in the area to direct relief operations.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported today that ordinary Chinese citizens are opening their wallets to contribute to private relief efforts, just as Americans do when the going gets rough.

And while the Chinese government is directing search and rescue, as it should, there are reports of many volunteers, such as a doctor from Tangshan--a city destroyed in a 1976 earthquake--who decided on his own to go to the earthquake zone and provide whatever help he could.

These are all signs of an increasing "middle-class-ness" in China, especially in the more prosperous cities, with values that mirror those of the middle class in western societies.

Another value of the middle class in many nations is nationalism. In the Chinese, it manifests when westerners try to tell them what they should do with Tibet.

Will these emerging values eventually lead to a clamor for democracy, and a potential showdown with the Communist Party? Or will Party leaders who share similar values eventually allow the country to morph into a multi-party system? Those are some of the issues this massive nation will likely face in the coming decades.

Obama's Brilliant Timing?

Was it just a coincidence, or an example of brilliant timing, that the Obama campaign staged the endorsement of John Edwards at a massive rally just a day after the Illinois Senator's West Virginia debacle?

We opt for the brilliant timing theorem. Surely, the Obama campaign was aware of Edwards' decision at least a few days before they held a big rally to announce it. Since the Obamans knew they were going to get creamed in West Virginia, their strategic decision on when to drop the Edwards bomb--which more than made up for the delegates lost on Tuesday--was quite clever.

The Quick Brown Fox Sighted In Arlington?

Arlington's increasingly pedantic emergency email "Arlington Alert" system notified us today of a "rapid fox" was captured after biting a local woman, and had been found to have rabies.

Our question: is this the "quick brown fox" of typing lore?

Unfortunately, there was no indication as to whether this particular fox had jumped over the lazy dog, so we can't tell for sure.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

First Hand Account From The China Quake

Yesterday, we posted about our travels last summer through parts of Sichuan, China, not too far from the awful earthquake that occurred Monday. Below is a first-hand account from a cousin of my father-in-law (who emigrated from China immediately after WWII). The cousin lives in Sichuan, not too far from the quake, but out of the primary damage zone.

You get a good sense from this account as to how widely felt the earthquake was, and of the resolve and resiliency of the Chinese people.

We have not edited his account, other than some clarifications in brackets--we can assure you that his English is a lot better than our Chinese!

"Dear Brother Shulong,

You would have known the tragedy occurred in Sichuan . A major earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale hit Wenchuan County(汶川) in southwest China's Sichuan Province at 2:28 p.m. on Monday, Many parts of China , even the remote southern island province of Hainan , and Bangkok of Thailand, felt the quake.

Deyang [where our correspondent lives] is not far from Wenchuan—only about 100km . Mianzhu County(绵竹县), which, under the jurisdiction of Deyang City, is only 36km from the epicenter, was damaged seriously , causing heavy casualties. Shifang (什邡),another county under the jurisdiction of Deyang City, was also seriously affected, where a chemical factory collapsed ; more than thousand people were buried. As for Deyang City itself, the situation was much better.

When the quake occurred, Quanlu [his wife] was drinking wine in front of the TV set and three cleaners were cleaning my house [an apartment]. I was going to the kitchen to take dishes. I was the first one felt the floor under my feet was trembling strongly.

I immediately sensed what the matter was. I shouted “Earthquake! Run out quickly! " I dashed out of the door; the cleaners followed. Quanlu responded a little slower and was the last one running out. In a minute, lots of people rushed out from the buildings to the yard, all shocked.

The tremor lasted one or two minutes. It calmed down temporarily. I returned into my house, I saw some wine bottles fell down to the floor, broken. And the water in a bowl in the kitchen splashed on the ground. Soon I felt the aftershocks again and again, not as strong as the first one. I went out to the yard. There an old woman living in the upper part of the [apartment] building told us lots of things had fallen down to the floor, even the TV set. We’ve never experienced such a big earthquake.

Soon the water supply was stopped, the electric supply was cut off. The cleaners couldn’t finish their work, but to leave it to be done the next day. We didn’t know where the epicenter was, since we couldn’t watch TV and open the computer.

I called Zhichuan who had returned to Shenzhen on May 5. He searched websites on his computer and told me immediately that the epicenter was in Wenchuan. We heaved a sigh of relief.

After having finished the lunch, we took a nap as usually. We woke up at five o’clock and saw lots of people were still in the yard. We joined them. We felt not big aftershocks from time to time. When it was getting dark, there were still no water, no electricity.

Not a few people didn’t want to go back to their apartments; but we did. We had a calm attitude. There were two advantages we had : 1) Our building was constructed according to the standards of anti -7 earthquake; 2) We live on the first floor, so we could run out quickly if necessary.

We lit a candle and listened to the tracking reports from our battery –powered mini radio, while taking the supper. The electricity and water supply were not restored before midnight. When we could use electricity, we turned on TV immediately to get the new tracking reports with images. When there were no fresh news broadcast, we went to bed.

I was awakened by the quiver of the bed and the windows. I felt it was a little bigger aftershock than those occurred in the afternoon. I heard noise in the yard. Some of our neighbors had run out of their departments to the yard. But Quanlu was still slept sound.

Now the governments at all levels regard earthquake rescue and relief as the top priority. A large number of the army, armed police and paramilitary forces, as well as medical personnel are sent to the quake-hit areas as soon as possible, mounting all-out efforts to save the injured and reduce the impact caused by the havoc.

We are closely watching the development of the search and rescue work. And I believe Chinese people will unite closely to defeat this great natural disasters."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mourning The Sichuan Quake Victims

Less than a year ago, the Curmudgeon family enjoyed an extended vacation in Sichuan province, site of the massive earthquake that struck China two days ago.

We spent most of our time in and around Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, which has a population of more than 10 million people. Part of our travels included a trip to Mt. Emeishan, a 10,000 foot summit that houses one of China's major Buddhist shrines. (Below is one of our photos of the gold Buddha near the summit.) Mt. Emeishan is right on the edge of the mountains where the quake was centered, but probably 50-80 miles south of the epicenter.

We have many fond memories of our travels through Sichuan, especially of the hospitality shown to us by many Chinese, who, like Americans, tend mostly to be friendly toward foreigners and proud of their tourist attractions and history.

China is a real mix of the old and new these days. Chengdu is home to many modern office towers, hotels and high rise apartment buildings, most of which likely survived the shock with little or no damage.

By the same token, travelling through the Chinese countryside, one sees many old, smaller buildings that are having enough trouble just standing up on an ordinary day. Some of the smaller towns and cities have modern structures, others don't. And some of the larger buildings that are 20 or more years old probably would not withstand a large quake.
The photo below is of the Curmudgeon's father-in-law's ancestral home in China, which at one time (pre-Chinese revolution) was a magnificent estate in southeastern Sichuan, near Zigong. In the countryside, millions of Chinese still live in dwellings like this--and far worse--which could fare poorly in a large earthquake.

Thus, it is not that surprising to us that some important buildings, such as a hospital and several schools, collapsed. Sichuan Province has a population of nearly 90 million people, and it appears that tens of thousands lost their lives. Bad as that is, a 1976 quake levelled the Chinese city of Tangshan, killing more than 250,000. Very few structures in China at that time could withstand a major earthquake.

We almost took a side-trip from Chengdu to a tourist site that represents an example of ancient irrigation practices, and that is near one of China's largest panda preserves, which would have put us almost exactly at the epicenter of this recent temblor. While we didn't head in that direction, it is pretty clear based on our other road travels through the countryside that many roads would easily become blocked with fallen rocks, or made impassable by collapsed bridges and broken pavement, in any type of major earthquake, so we're not surprised by reports that rescue crews are having trouble reaching the hardest hit regions.

Our hearts go out to the victims of this most recent earthquake in China, in a region we've so recently toured, and where we were touched by the people and their hospitality toward us.

Monday, May 12, 2008

McCain v. Obama in Virginia: Statistical Tie; NC in Play, Too?

The latest Rasmussen poll of Virginia voters has John McCain leading Barack Obama by just three percentage points (47%-44%), which is a statistical tie. That's a lot better than a couple months ago, when McCain had an 11 point lead.

It's still way early, but it looks like Virginia will earn it's designation as a battleground state.

Will North Carolina also be a battle ground state? Could be. With a hot gubernatorial race, an increasinly competitive Senate race and the huge expansion of Democratic voter rolls, NC could be in play. Rasmussen reports a three-point lead there for McCain as well.

If McCain and the GOP start having to devote significant resources to previously reliably red states such as NC and Virginia, then this race will be very interesting indeed.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

More Bad News In The Senate For Republicans

Republicans are looking at a potentially awful election year in the Senate. They're playing defense everywhere, and polls show that there best shot at a pick-up--Sen. Mary Landrieu's Louisiana seat--isn't much of a chance.

Now, it looks like North Carolina could be yet another battle for the GOP. In a hard-fought battle, state Senator Kay Hagan won the Democratic nomination to face off against GOP incumbent Elizabeth Dole in November.

With the nomination in hand, a Rasmussen poll shows Hagan dead even with Dole, leading 48%-47%. Not that long ago, Dole's lead was 12% over any Democratic challenger. The poll confirms suggestions that Dole's support is soft and that the first term Senator, who's been a disappointment for her lack of impact in Washington, is vulnerable.

If African-Americans in NC turn out in November for Obama like they did this week, and Republicans, luke-warm at best to McCain, stay home, Dole will definitely be in trouble. Another fun race to keep an eye on!

Did McCain Vote For Bush, Or Did He Lie About Not Voting For Bush?

A little mini-scandal threatens to tarnish John McCain's character as the race starts to define itself into a contest between the "Straight Talker" and Sen. Barack Obama.

Recently, Arianna Huffington reported on her blog, Huffington Post, that John McCain told her and others that he didn't vote for George W. Bush in the 2000 election. McCain's statement allegedly was made at a private dinner party in Los Angeles shortly after Bush became President.

According to Huffington, both McCain and his wife, Cindy, told her they had not voted for the President (Cindy McCain wrote in her husband's name).

Back then, Huffington was a conservative; now she's a liberal. For whatever reasons, she chose now to report the story.

Naturally, McCain denies it. He says Huffington is just out to get him.

That denial could come back to haunt him, however.

Now, with McCain's denial formally in place, OTHER persons who attended the dinner party are coming forward to confirm Huffington's version of the story. According the New York Times, two other partygoers (the party was at the home of actress Candace Bergen)--"West Wing" actors Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff--have confirmed Huffington's story.

They say McCain railed about Bush's lack of competency (how true!!) and then someone asked him why, if Bush was so unqualified, had he voted for the man. McCain responded by putting a finger to his mouth and whispering "I didn't."

So, did McCain vote for Bush in 2000 and then lie about it at a party a few weeks later, or was he (of the legendary temper) so pissed at Bush that he didn't even vote for his own party's nominee, and NOW is lying about it?

Southern Opportunities For Democrats

Here's an EXCELLENT analysis of Democratic opportunities in the South from today's New York Times:

"In Dixie, Signs Of A Rising Biracial Politics"

[Note: the author is the Curmudgeon's father.]

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Happy Mother's Day to all you moms,
especially Mrs. Curmudgeon, Library Lady and Stepmom N!!

When It Rains, It Pours

Our drought in Northern Virginia, and probably most of Virginia, is over after the 2-3 additional inches of rain we had Thursday night and into Friday, with another quarter inch thrown in for good measure early this morning.

But nooooooooo, that's not enough. Now we're told another 2-3 inches of rain is on it's way tomorrow night and into Monday. We hope points south, which are still dry, will get a good deal of it.

Meanwhile, we're ready for a bit o' sunshine.

Where Do Dems Stand Now?

With most Democrats now presuming that Sen. Barack Obama will be the party's nominee, where do things stand?

First off, Democrats are now virtually assured of avoiding a bloody and divisive floor fight at the Denver convention in late August. That is certainly good news.

Second, a side benefit of the prolonged nomination fight is that millions of new Democratic voters have registered across the country.

Third, an Obama candidacy is likely to bring new voters to the polls in November and energize at least some segments of the party as never before.

But at the end of the day, is Obama the best candidate? That's a difficult question.

There's no doubt that Obama's image suffered in the long, drawn-out contest with Hillary Clinton. The Reverend Wright issue will linger on to be exploited by Republicans in the fall. Still, better that Wright's views came up during the Democratic battle, rather than later. Obama will have to continue to distance himself from Wright and prepare for the inevitable attacks.

Obama certainly needs to do extensive work with three groups of voters where Democrats should have an advantage: white women, blue collar workers and senior citizens. These are groups that, in the Democratic primaries, showed a distinct preference for Hillary Clinton over Sen. Obama.

But will those voters opt for John McCain over Barack Obama? That's the battle ahead, and we bet Obama and his strategists are well aware of the work they need to do.

We think Obama is the better candidate, but concede it's a close call. Too bad we can't combine the best qualities of both Obama and Clinton into one awesome candidate, but that's not possible.

It's also extremely unlikely that Hillary would agree to run as Obama's VP, so he needs to start looking for someone from a battleground state that appeals to Hillary's constituency.

Meanwhile, we're content to let Hillary continue on with her quest through the last contest in June. It's not that far off and she's already showing signs that she'll lay off Obama as this thing winds down. We're going to miss Hillary. We hope she'll be able to play a contructive role in trying to capture the White House in November.

Why Is The Arctic Warming Faster Than The Antarctic?

[Readers: sorry, we had a technical problem with Blogger, which has now been solved. We hope to have additional posts later today.]

Over the past couple of decades, warming in the Arctic has proceeded at an astounding pace, but the Antarctic has seen relatively little in the way of warming. Why?

It's explained here in a release from NOAA. (In large part, it has to do with the ozone hole in Antarctica.)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Quick Take on NC and Indiana

Here's a real quick take on the results tonight in North Carolina and Indiana:

--Pretty good night for Obama. Did well in NC by beating Hillary by more than 10 points. Did well enough in Indiana by keeping it close. Expanded his delegate lead by at least five delegates, maybe a couple more.

--Conversely, a tough night for Hillary. Nothing that will help her with money, nothing to give her any real momentum. The inexorable mathematics of the race start to close in.

--The Curmudgeon's predictions were pretty accurate. The early voting in North Carolina clearly signalled a significant Obama victory there.

--Zogby polling, which many had doubted, came the closest to getting it right in both states, and Public Policy Polling was spot on in NC.

--There's nothing to suggest there will be any surprises down the road. Hillary will win big in West Virginia and Kentucky, but Obama should take Oregon. Hillary gets Puerto Rico; Obama gets Montana and South Dakota.

--By tomorrow morning, Obama should have his largest delegate lead yet, at somewhere between 145-150. More importantly, he will be less than 190 delegates from clinching the nomination (subject to disputations over Florida and Michigan).

--Here's our bold prediction for the week: by next Tuesday, Obama will have overtaken Clinton in superdelegates. We expect a surge of commitments for Obama from superdelegates who want to make sure they're not too late.

Hilarious Headline of the Day

Here's today's unintentionally hilarious headline (from the Washington Post): "First Lady Condemns Junta's Response To Storm."

We would've added the following text:

"Today, First Lady Laura Bush criticized the military leadership of Myanmar for it's response to a hurricane that devastated much of the country and left more than 20,000 dead.
'We know a little about how best to cope with a hurricane,' said the First Lady, with a knowing smile on her face.
'Everyone knows,' added Mrs. Bush, 'that you shouldn't overreact initially to a hurricane. A good leader will stay on vacation for a couple of days and let things sort themselves out.'

'Also, we got an initial report that Burma had "dodged the bullet" on this hurricane, and we're still awaiting official word on the extent of the damage.'

'It's true that video from the scene shows widespread devastation and flooding, refugees trapped in places like convention centers and football stadiums, but you can't put a lot of stock in that kind of evidence.'

'It's better to wait until one has a chance to flyover at about 30,000 feet, from which you can get a much more accurate assessment and not waste precious national resources helping people who may not actually need help.'

The First Lady added that she and President Bush had spoken to Myanmar's foreign minister, Nyan Win, earlier in the day about the limited relief efforts that have occurred so far. She stated that the President had been quite supportive, saying to the minister: 'Winnie, you're doing a heckuva job.'

Just in case it turns out things are a bit worse than expected, however, the First Lady said the President stands ready to assist. 'We're prepared to open the Astrodome to any Burmese who can get there by bus. We also have some FEMA trailers we can give them. And the President is willing to go have a photo-op with any conservative white Burmese citizens whose businesses were harmed by the storm.'

She predicted that the U.S. government would make loans available to any casinos damaged by the storm, and that the Army Corps of Engineers would be happy to forward plans for building flood control dikes capable of withstanding a hurricane considerably less powerful than the one that just struck the country. She also recommended that Burmese tourism companies immediately begin planning bus tours of the devastated parts of the country. 'It's a tremendous way to capitalize on other people's misery,' she noted.

The First Lady closed her press appearance by stating 'we will rebuild Burma,' and noting that the Burmese people knew they could count on Americans because of 'our vast experience in successfully dealing with Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.'"

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Early Voting Ethical Dilemma For Pollsters

In the past couple weeks we've based a series of posts, in part, on reports from various polls of the results from so-called "early voting" in the North Carolina Democratic primary election.

Early voting is the process, now allowed in a majority of states (but not the Commonwealth of Virginny), by which voters can cast their ballots either by mail, or at designated polling places, up to a month before "election day." In essence, election day becomes the last day one can vote. It is a convenient and popular innovation in those states that have adopted it.

A number of the polls we've seen in advance of various primary elections this season have included a separate tabulation of those in the poll sample who have already voted. In most states, that percentage has been pretty low, but in North Carolina it has been as high as nearly 30 percent.

That's got us to wondering whether there isn't an ethical issue here for pollsters and the media. A poll of early voters is no different than an exit poll. Instead of sampling voters as to who they're LIKELY to vote for, the pollster is asking them who they DID vote for.

It is common practice NOT to report the results of exit polling before the election polls are closed. The reason is fear that those reports will have an impact on voters who haven't yet cast their ballots, either causing them to stay home or perhaps even to change their minds and go with whoever looks to be the winner.

With the November general election approaching and early voting being much more widespread and popular than just four years ago, pollsters and the media need to make a decision about the ethics of reporting their surveys of early voters.

Suppose, for example, we find out one week before the November general election that McCain is faring much worse (or better--take your pick, but we like worse) in early voting in a key swing state than was expected. [Technically, we wouldn't know for sure--the states won't report results before election day. But a pollster with a decent sized representative sample could get a pretty good snapshot.] Should those results be reported?

We could make a decent argument either way. On the one hand, that information would certainly be newsworthy. You can also bet that the campaigns will be doing their own polling to garner the same data, so they'll know--and be acting on that knowledge.

On the other hand, just as with exit polling, you're now reporting, before the official results are out, on how people actually voted. Such reports are bound to have an impact on the last few days of the campaign.

The one difference we see between a true exit poll and a poll of early voters is that we have no way of knowing whether early voters are representative of all voters. Most likely, they're NOT representative, so knowing how they're voting won't tell us how the vote will turn out. In time, however, pollsters will get pretty good at adjusting their samples to overcome that limitation.

A related issue has to do with the data released by state election boards. Should they say how many voters have utilized early voting? North Carolina released results each day during its early voting process, as have some other states. More significantly, NC also released some demographic data on those who'd already cast ballots, including race and gender, from which some broad generalizations could be made even without an early "exit" poll.

We think it's an interesting issue. The debate should start now--not AFTER the November election.

More NC Polls and Data--Who's Right? And An Indiana Win for Hillary is No Upset

If you look at today's polls in NC, Obama is either cruising to a comfortable victory, or he's in danger of a close call. Public Policy Polling gives Obama a satisfactory 10 point lead, Zogby says he's up by seven points, but Insider Advantage says it's a statistical dead heat, with Obama's lead down to three points.

Who to believe?

We'll put our money on Public Policy Polling because of the impact of early voting in NC. Early voting ended Saturday with roughly 400,000 Carolinians taking advantage on the Democratic side. In the PPP sample, 29% of the voters polled had already voted. Of those, Obama won handily, 63%-34%. That's a huge lead going into the voting tomorrow (it transaltes to a lead of more than 100,000 votes).

The PPP early voting percentage in this poll is similar to reports from at least two other polls a couple days earlier, so it does not appear to be an anomaly.

To be sure, Obama barely leads--47-45%--amongst those who haven't yet voted, but unless turnout on election day far exceeds expectations, his large lead in the early vote tally should propel him to a comfortable victory.

Obama needs a solid victory in NC, because he's likely to come out behind in Indiana, a state that never favored him other than being next door to Illinois. The Clintonistas will try to spin a victory for Hillary in Indiana as some sort of upset, but it's not. Indeed, Hillary has held the lead in a majority of Indiana polls since the beginning of March--see here--so this isn't some new phenomenon.

[Indiana also has early voting, but it was for a shorter period and has not been nearly as robust as in NC. In a Survey USA poll out today, 3% of the sample had already voted, and they went for Hillary by a margin of 54-35%.]

That said, we'd still give Obama an outside shot at either winning Indiana, or coming within 2-3 points of Hillary there.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

More On Obama's Lead In NC Early Voting

A couple of blogs have some good updated numbers on the massive "early vote" in North Carolina. CCPS Blog crunches the data and concludes that Obama is doing quite well in the early voting, with 40% of those voters being African-Americans. The question, of course, is whether those numbers will hold up on election day. We predict black turnout will be a bit smaller on Tuesday, but when combined with the early vote will be high by historic standards.

For a similar analysis, see dean4ever's post.

One question we have--for more analysis on another day--is whether the early voting phenomenon couldn't help Democrats in the general election, by giving them many days to run get out the vote drives, ferrying their people--especially African-Americans and senior citizens--to the polls over a period of a couple weeks.

We hope the Curmudgeon's NC kin are doing their part to add to the vote totals there.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Oguama for Obama

Obama narrowly wins Guam, splitting pledged delegates with Hillary 2-2, but also picks up a Guam superdel. Details here.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Steady Drought Progress

As the two images above show, the historic drought in the Southeast has eased dramatically over the past four months as La Nina has loosened its grip and a steady stream of storms has rumbled through the region.
The first image is the current drought map for the region; the second is from December 25, 2007--a dry Christmas indeed. Virginia is still dry, but not nearly as much so as in December. On these maps, brownish-red means "exceptional drought," red="extreme drought," brown="severe drought," light brown="moderate drought," and yellow="abnormally dry." Late last year, more than 45% of the Southeast was classified as "extreme drought" or worse; today less than 10% of the Southeast falls in the extreme drought category and none in the extraordinary drought category.

Who knows--maybe Georgia won't even have to go to war with Florida, Alabama and Tennessee so that Atlantans can water their lawns!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Obama Takes Big Lead In NC Early Voting

Some polls suggest that the NC race may be tightening up a bit. On the other hand, it appears that the early voters in NC have gone heavily for Obama, so he may already have locked in a significant advantage.

According to the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, which does some excellent number crunching, 144,000 North Carolinians had already voted on the Democratic side as of this past Tuesday. (The number came from the NC Board of Elections.)

While CCPS noted that the demographics of those early voters appeared to favor Obama, we now have further data to support that. A Survey USA poll released today includes the results from early voters--kind of an early exit poll. While the sample is quite small, Obama was leading 57%-39% amongst those who said they'd already voted.

A day or so earlier, Public Policy Polling also released a poll that included separate results for early voters. In that poll, 14% of respondents had already voted, so the sample is a bit larger. The results were even more dramatic: Obama 63% to Clinton's 31%.

If those numbers are accurate, Hillary starts in a pretty big hole on election day. We saw the inverse of this in Texas, where polls showed the race narrowing, but Hillary had a big lead in early voters. Ultimately, she won by a comfortable margin.

Meanwhile, Obama continues to outpace Hillary in new superdelegate commitments. Before the Pennsylvania primary, Obama's overall delegate lead got as high as 142. After Pennsylvania, Hillary closed the gap to about 130 delegates, but Obama's lead is now back up to 139 (we use the delegate count).

Yes, the Rev. Wright controversy has been a drag on Obama. But it doesn't appear to be enough to change the result for Democrats.