Thursday, July 31, 2008

Obama The Rock Star

We're happy to see John McCain wasting his money on television ads in the middle of summer.

Especially television ads that equate Obama with a rock star. While somewhat amusing, these are risky ads for McCain--while they obviously try to portray Obama as lacking in experience (and judgment by comparing him to Paris Hilton), they could backfire.

First, the comparisons are so far off the mark that even the dimmest voters can tell the difference. Obama clearly has substance compared to a Paris Hilton. If anything, they make him out to be more like Hannah Montana, i.e., the best of both worlds: a rock star WITH substance.

Second, these ads make Obama out to be a larger than life figure, and Americans LIKE larger than life figures.

Finally, McCain is spending a lot of money on television at a point when it does very little good. The real story in the press should be that McCain is so desperate to draw attention to his flagging campaign that he's having to resort to expensive summer ad buys with a risky media proposition just to get some press of his own.

Recently, Obama's campaign briefed major donors and other campaign operatives on strategy for August. They noted that McCain is spending a lot on media in battleground states, but said Obama would not try to match him at this point. Instead, the Obama campaign is investing heavily in field operations, particularly new campaign offices, in battlegroud states. This strategy is quite evident in Virginia, where Obama's campaign is opening 20 offices around the state, thus hitting every part of the Commonwealth.

As we've said before, this is wise strategy. After his nomination in 2004, John Kerry had all kinds of volunteers, but no place to put them. Obama will be in a position to use the tens of thousands of volunteers his campaign will be able to recruit, and we predict they'll be a much better investment than television ads, certainly better than television ads in August.

So go ahead McCain, keep those ads rolling.

CPSC Says Synthetic Fields Safe on Lead Issue

Awhile back we did a post on the decision by some New Jersey schools to shut down synthetic turf playing fields due to findings of elevated lead levels.

At the time, the Consumer Product Safety Commission was launching an investigation into the safety of those fields. The CPSC has completed its evaluation and concluded that the fields are safe for children to play on.

Just a brief review: the lead issue affects only a very small percentage of synthetic turf fields. They are generally older fields, where a manufacturer used lead pigments to make the synthetic blades of grass appear green. The pigments are incorporated into the synthetic fibers and don't readily come out.

After reviewing the situation, the CPSC concluded that the lead does not leach out of the fibers, although it is conceivable that a child could ingest lead if he/she were to eat some of the grass fibers, or fragments of them. The CPSC recommends that children wash their hands after playing on such fields, but even that is a pretty conservative precaution--children are not going to voluntarily ingest grass fibers from these fields (in contrast to chipping lead paint, which younger children will eat).

For the CPSC press release, click here. For the evaluation report, click here.


It Ought To Be Called Lastline Security

Thinking about signing up with ADT or Firstline Security for your home? Think again.

We have Firstline, which is part of ADT. It ought to be called Lastline, because if something goes wrong with your system you won't be able to reach them.

Here's how it works. You call their toll-free number. They're based in Utah, so they're on Mountain time and they don't open their call center until 10:00 a.m. Eastern time. (It seems to us that if you're going to sell systems on the East Coast, you should have technical support that operates on Eastern time.)

In any event, if you call during their business hours you'll never get through to an agent. Instead, you get the recording that says all agents are busy. But unlike other call centers, you aren't told to wait for the next available agent; instead, you're asked to leave a message and they'll call you back.

Okay, the first time you think "how convenient, I don't have to hold for some indeterminate amount of time." But then, when are they going to call back? Are you going to be on telephone tag for days on end?

Well, it's worse. They just don't call back. We've called three times in the past three days and no one has yet called back.

Our advice: go with a company that has people, not an answering machine.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Time To Get Serious?

We're pretty much done with travelling for the summer, so maybe it's time to get serious about the political scene. After all, the party conventions are just a few weeks away (remember all that wasted blather--including here--about deadlocked conventions?) and Veep talk fills the air.

Still, it's not even August. Everyone's leaving town. Other than trying to hit a major highway on a Friday afternoon, you can even get around the D.C. metro area without too much trouble.

So, it's difficult to get too serious about the presidential race just yet.

But we'll try. First off, there was Obama's foreign tour. Really, it was a big success, regardless of what the pundits say. You just know there are high level folks over at the McCain campaign saying "why didn't we think of that?" [Of course, McCain would look pretty silly now in Germany surrounded by 5o people--he just doesn't have Obama's drawing power.]

Indeed, it was so successful that the McCain campaign had to manufacture a fake story about Obama shunning hospitalized vets because they wouldn't let the media in. See the Washington Post story on McCain's fabrication--widely picked up by the MSM--here.

Then there's the Veepstakes. Again, just to get some space on the news, the McCain campaign kept leaking false reports last week that the former Straight Talker was about to name his Veep pick. We're still waiting.

On the Obama side, Kaine-mania is sweeping the Old Dominion. We love Tim Kaine, but we don't think Obama will make Virginia's governor his running mate. Kaine is as inexperienced as Obama, and while he's a "moderate" Democrat, his profile is far lower than that of say, Mark Warner or Jim Webb.

In any event, why speculate? August is a slow news month, and both campaigns will seek to generate some coverage by naming their VP picks pretty soon.

We also have Goodling-gate: the Justice Dept. report that it is shocked, just shocked, to learn that Monica Goodling and other Bush/Rove Kommisars were enforcing a political standard for hiring of career lawyers at DOJ. We got news for you: everyone knew this, and it wasn't limited to DOJ. Why do you think our government has been so darned incompetent for the past 7 years?

Finally, here's a little straight talking video of a double-talking John McCain, courtesy of our friend CH:

Cassique: Better Than Its Sister Course?

While at Kiawah last week, we finally got the opportunity to play Cassique, the island's newest--but private--golf course. (It was closed for maintenance during our 2007 vacation to the island.) Cassique has managed to eke into the Golf Digest 100 greatest courses in the U.S. for 2007-08, at number 98.
[See our separate post on whether mosquitoes will spoil the party when Kiawah hosts the 2012 PGA tournament at the Ocean Course.]

One question: is Cassique, designed by Tom Watson, really better than the island's other private course, the River Course, designed by Tom Fazio? (The River Course is not ranked.)

We played the River Course last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. We also thoroughly enjoyed Cassique, which takes up pretty much all of its own little island just outside the Kiawah main entrance. Cassique has some spectacular holes, including a grand par five that runs along the marsh, and a par three with tees at the highest elevation in all of Charleston County (that's not saying much, but with enough bulldozer power you can create a decent sized hill).

The consensus in our group, mirrored by some members of the Island Club we talked to (and begrudgingly conceded by our caddies) was that the River Course is tougher than Cassique. But after that, it's all a matter of opinion as to whether you like one more than the other. We're not saying Cassique doesn't belong in the Top 100; instead, we think the River Course should be there too.

We might add that the staff at Cassique was friendly and professional (as at the River Course) and that our caddies were knowledgable and experienced. (You can take a cart at Cassique, but you shouldn't--it's a terrific course to walk.)

Our conclusion: members of the private Kiawah Island Club (which owns both courses) are lucky dudes, with two fantastic courses to play. When we thanked our Washington-bound host for letting us play Cassique, he expressed only jealousy that it would be another 10 days before he could enjoy the similar pleasure!

Will Mosquitoes Steal The Show At The 2012 PGA Tournament At Kiawah's Ocean Course?

We're back from our annual excursion to Kiawah Island, always a delightful trip. (See our separate report on playing the Cassique golf course there.)

It's hard to go anywhere on the island without noticing that Kiawah's famous Ocean Course is hosting the 2012 PGA Tournament, one of golf's four "majors". If you're planning on going, bring some DEET, otherwise you'll get eaten alive by mosquitoes.

We played the Ocean Course on a Sunday morning, and we've never seen so many mosquitoes in our life. One step into the rough and they swarmed up out of the grass. At one point, we took a Curmudgeonly swipe at our leg and smashed five of the blood-sucking pests at one time (three already engorged with our life giving fluids).

The first layer of mosquito repellent barely had any effect. The second layer helped a bit, but only after three applications (of different sprays) could we stand still for a minute or two without being bitten.

With the PGA Tournament taking place in August, the skeeters can only be worse.

[They were pretty bad throughout the island this year, but nowhere worse than at the Ocean Course.]

We guess the PGA will come up with some chemical solution to the problem--Kiawah may be rendered a toxic waste dump in the process, but we doubt Tiger will have to take a DEET shower before hitting the links.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Virginia: Battlegroundest of All?

While we still caveat that summer polls are meaningless, we thought we'd nonetheless pass along the latest presidential preference poll for Virginia.

According to Rasmussen reports, likely Virginia voters are tied, at 44% apiece, as to a preference between Obama and McCain. When "leaners" are figured in, McCain leads by a statistically insignificant 48%-47%. A month ago, it was Obama leading by an also statistically insignificant one point.

So, not much movement, and Virginia is clearly up for grabs this time around. Obama recently announced the opening of 20 campaign offices in Virginia, which is terrific. The race in the Old Dominion will likely be decided by turnout at the polls.

The good news for those of us in the Commonwealth: we'll be seeing a good deal of the candidates over the next few months.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Waterboard Ashcroft

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft testified on the Hill today about the practice of "waterboarding" terrorism suspects.

According to the CNN report, Ashcroft testified that the technique, which simulates drowning, was "very valuable" and also stated that it "would not define torture."

Which brings us to this: why not waterboard Ashcroft in the hearing room? Heck, it might prove his point, as he undoubtedly would give more truthful answers and maybe even reveal some "valuable" information about the shenanigans in the Bush administration. And, since it's not "torture" there's no reason to hold back.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Juvenile Games That Republicans Play

Gamesmanship is nothing new to either--or all--sides in Washington.

But the GOP surely hit a low yesterday. We know the details thanks to Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank's canny reporting from the Hill.

The setting was the House Judiciary Committee, where one of the architects of the Iraq invasion, Douglas Feith, was scheduled to testify. Feith recently wrote a ridiculous op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal defending both the decision and the process used to make that decision, to go to war.

He certainly appears sure of himself and the rationale used by the White House, so you'd think Republicans would be delighted to hear what he had to say in his defense.

But nooooooooooooooooooooo. The GOP does not want you and I to hear what Feith has to say. Not at all. Instead, Rep. Steve King, Republican from Iowa, and Rep. Darrell Issa, Republican from California, spent most of the hearing in juvenile antics intended to delay and hold things up.

They demanded a roll call vote at the start of the proceeding. They objected to unanimous consent to proceed. Issa made a point of "parliamentary inquiry" to "summon" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the hearing.

They then insisted on strict adherence to a five minute rule for questioning by each Committee member, instead of extending the usual courtesies of extending time.
So, it's pretty obvious that, by making complete asses of themselves in the Committee hearing, King and Issa had something they wanted to hide. The question is, what is it?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mark Warner--Radical Centrist

Last night we co-hosted a fundraiser in support of Gov. Mark Warner's run for the Senate. We hope to get some photos back shortly, but for now we'll just have to do with text.

Gov. Warner did well--he even impressed the always cynical (toward politicians) Mrs. Curmudgeon, who became an enthusiastic supporter after chatting with Virginia's next Senator and hearing what he had to say to the assembled group.

Warner told us he wants to be a "radical centrist" in the Senate, doing there what he did as Virginia's governor: putting together a bipartisan coalition of moderates in both parties to get working on our nation's problems.

It's a good sentiment, but probably not as easy as it sounds.

Warner's key issues appear to be energy and health, although he's clearly ready for just about anything.

On energy, don't expect Warner to follow Democratic Party orthodoxy: he's likely to favor a mix of incentives to stimulate new domestic oil and gas production, while also supporting renewable energy and increased nuclear production.

Warner also thinks--and he's probably right--that Democrats are a little off message on energy, putting too much emphasis on global warming and not enough on energy security. Politically, his instincts are good on this. But we could've engaged the Governor all night on energy policy, had time allowed. After all, the steps needed to achieve energy security--i.e., to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil--are different in important respects from those needed to reduce greenhouse emissions, although there is, fortunately, some common ground between the two.

[Even where the ground is common, there are obstacles. Take nuclear energy: essentially no greenhouse emissions and no reliance on foreign oil (although we may have to import uranium), yet there are still many activists standing in the way, and the nuclear waste issues remains a hot potato.]

Warner made a fortune in the private sector, and he clearly believes private enterprise, with some help from the government, is in the best position to help sovle our energy woes.

And by the way, Virginia being a coal state, Warner would not freeze coal out of the picture, although he certainly understands the need for new technologies to reduce coal CO2 emissions.

Warner is also keen on health care, and all the more knowledgable from having been governor of a fairly large state for four years. (It's a shame there aren't more former governors in the Senate these days, because they know their state programs and they know what the states need from the feds--right now there are only four former governors in the Senate, whereas in the past the typical path to the Senate was through the governor's mansion.)

What we like about Mark Warner is that he is a pragmatic progressive. He's not all that different from retiring Senator John Warner--they probably agree on a lot--but J. Warner is a pragmatic conservative and, unfortunately, beholden to a Republican party mired in bad ideas and policy.

For more on Mark Warner, check out his campaign website.

Finally, don't get complacent about this campaign--two years ago, George Allen had a nearly 20 point lead over Jim Webb at this point (he didn't utter "macaca" until August).

We're hoping 2008 will be a breakthrough year for Virginia, that will see it go blue for the first time in more than 40 years in a Presidential election. With Mark Warner headlining the state ticket, with an open congressional seat in Fairfax County and a couple other competitive congressional races around the state, with conservatives disillusioned with McCain (and even Gilmore0, and with African-Americans hopefully energized by Obama, the stars appear to be aligned the right way.

Telluride In Pics

Here's some photos from our Telluride trip, courtesy of N. The three sopping wet kids had just finished the contest where they try to catch a live fish with their hands, which Mr. D, at right, managed to do (but we didn't get the pic of his accomplishment).

The photo below is at the Town Park, where the local fire dept. runs the festivities.

At left, some revelers before the big parade down Main Street. Above, right, the parade is going strong!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tell U 'Bout Telluride

One of the places we visited on our summer travels was Telluride, Colorado. It's worth a lengthy post.

Telluride is in southwestern Colorado. It's easy to get to--ha, ha. From the east coast, all you have to do is fly to Dallas or Denver, then take a smaller plane to Montrose (or Cortez), then drive another hour and fifteen minutes and voila, you're there! (Or, you can fly your Gulfstream into the Telluride Airport.)

The locals don't mind being isolated--that's part of the charm.

Telluride is also a true mountain town, nestled into a box canyon at a mere 8700 feet above sea level. Telluride's companion Mountaintop Village is at 9500 feet. That means when you get there you'll be gasping for breath for at least a day, and you won't get a good night's sleep for another couple days. Again--the charm thing. (The painting above is from the Telluride Plein Air festival, an arts festival that takes place in conjunction with the town's Independence Day celebrations--more on that below.)

Despite the altitude, Telluride is plenty comfortable in the summer, with highs generally in the low 70's and lows in the mid-50's. If the sun is out, it's strong in the thin air and will make you feel much warmer than the air temperature. But afternoon showers are frequent and can drop the temperature 10-15 degrees in a matter of minutes.

But lest you think it's not worth it, think again! Most people think of Telluride as a ski resort, and that it is. We can't comment on the ski aspect, at least not yet (although the locals say the slopes and lifts are never crowded in ski season).

As a summer destination, however, Telluride is "da bomb."

We were there for the Fourth of July. The locals advertise it as quite a bash, and that it was. On the Fourth, the town has a very all-American, super-tacky parade, with many of the townsfolk marching, biking, roller-blading, unicyling, motorcycling, horseback riding, jeeping, strolling or just floating along on a makeshift parade float. The fly-overs by vintage WWII Mustangs and modern Air Force figher jets are pretty cool, too.

Make sure to get invited to (or crash) one of the many townie parties along the parade route, where you'll get your fill of BBQ, beer and other libations.

After the parade, everyone convenes at the town park, where the fire department serves beef BBQ and all the fixin's, followed by various games and contests. We missed much of this (napping off the thin air), but we made it to the highlight: a contest where kids wade around in three foot deep makeshift pools stocked with fish, trying to catch one of the slippery critters with their hands. Catch one and you get a $. The Curmudgeon kids, initially reluctant to give this a try, soon waded in, one making a great grap and earning himself a dollar.

After that, the town settles down a bit waiting for the big fireworks celebration. This is a good time to see some of the local celebrities. We happened to see Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and daughter Suri eating ice cream on Main Street (they have a place nearby), and we didn't even disturb them. (The photo above, from some tabloid website, was taken at about the same time.)

Little did we know that TomKat was hosting the Beckhams that weekend--our little soccer maniac would've been quite interested in that info.

In any event, us jaded easterners assumed Telluride would put on a paltry little show of fireworks, certainly compared to our high class celebrations on the Mall in the Nation's Capital. Well, we were wrong. It took awhile to get started--it didn't really get dark until after 9:30. But once they got going, the show was quite spectacular. We thought the best part was the noise--the reverberations and echoes in Telluride's box canyon magnified the bombs bursting in air at a level well above what we're used to in town here.

But it wasn't just the sound. The fireworks went on, and on, and on. It was the first time we'd ever been at a fireworks display and thought "enough already." And these were good fireworks--about as good as at the Washington Monument, but without the accompaniment of the National Symphony.

There's plenty to do in Telluride in the summer, especially after you catch your breath. The four wheel drive tour of the old gold mining areas and to the summit of Tomboy mountain is well worth the price, taking you to a magnificent view at over 13,000 feet (where you can munch on fresh mustard flowers). Like fishing? A number of outfitters will be happy to provide you with everything you need. Biking? Apart from some pretty treacherous looking mountain biking, there is a perfect little trail meandering on a pretty level plane next to the river for a number of miles down the valley.

Hiking? Take the relatively easy Bear Creek trail to the falls, or try one of the more difficult treks around town. Shopping? Outdoor wear, jewelry, leather, western wear and other goods are in abundance around town.

Golf? But, of course! We played the links at the Telluride Golf Club, in Mountaintop Village. Your ball will fly quite nicely at 9500 feet, but the course is pretty tight, the fairways soft and the greens slow. Unfortunately, it was on the golf course that we learned how fast the temperature can drop if a little storm pops up in the afternoon. It was around 70 degrees when we started, but 52 degrees when we finished, wet, shivering and quite ready for a hot shower!

You can also take the free gondola ride (believe us, it's the best bargain in town--everything else costs an arm and a leg!) to Mountaintop Village and stroll around what is a lovely, but not particularly distinctive, ski village. The best part is the gondola ride itself.

If you're there for a bit longer, side trips to Moab, Indian pueblos, and other parts of the West are within easy reach.

We ought to mention that the town of Telluride, itself, is worthy of serious exploring. It's pretty compact--the main part of town is roughly 8 blocks long and four blocks wide, with many historic buildings. It's not too difficult to half close your eyes and picture it as it might have looked a hundred years ago when the Butch Cassidy robbed the local bank. Many of the old victorian houses have been painstakingly restored and maintained. (And for a mere $3-10 million, one of them could be yours to keep!)

By the way, keep an eye out for bears! According to the local, local newspaper, a black bear decided to tour the lobby of one of the downtown hotels one evening a couple days before we arrived (and was caught on the security camera). He seemed to be looking for a bathroom--maybe even bears get tired of doing it in the woods all the time. (Another bear made it's presence know to quite a few folks down at the town park while we were in town.)

Bottom line: Telluride is a bit of a hike, but once you're there you should have a great time.

Where's The Curmudgeon?

Dear Regular Readers--

You've probably been asking, "where's the Curmudgeon?"

Yes, we've been pretty spotty with our postings this summer. That will continue for another couple of weeks. The Curmudgeon has been out of town for four straight weekends, with two more to go; plus, we're busy on a soccer project (helping the Arlington Soccer Ass'n get a new Executive Director); plus, the boys' camp schedules require a lot of extra curmudgeonly taxi driving.

Besides that, we're mercifully in the summer interlude of the political season, when nothing really significant is happening, despite many a pundit's effort to make it appear otherwise. The polls are still meaningless--the real campaign will start with the two party conventions at the end of summer.

So, other than an occasional post when the mood strikes us (and time is available) don't expect to see too much here until sometime in August (when the travel schedule abates).

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Bush Tours Devastation Caused By Bush Administration

For a hilarious video spoof (from the folks at The Onion), see this report of President Bush's disaster tour of the devastation caused by his 8-year administration:

Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Happy Independence Day

We wish all our readers a Happy Fourth of July from beautiful Telluride, Colorado (pictured here in summertime).

We're being hosted in the lovely vacation home of our friends N & M, while also hanging out with our friends L & M. We arrived last night, and since Telluride is at 8700 feet our first night was a bit rough, what with the thin air and all.

But the crisp air, bright sunshine and magnificent views are quickly curing us and we hope to have weekend full of outdoor activities and feasting with friends.

Perhaps after our trip we'll give everyone a full review of Telluride and its activities.

WSJ Op-ed Page: Off The BS Meter

If the Wall Street Journal op-ed page was accompanied by a BS meter it would be completely off the charts today.

First off is a piece by Karl "I ruined the country and I don't care" Rove on whether Obama can "buy" the election with his superior fundraising ability. Someone should remind Rove's readers that the first candidate to opt out of the public financing system for presidential campaigns was "W" Bush. Who advised him on that? Rove, of course.

Not only that, but Bush was quite explicit that his purpose was to buy the GOP nomination in 2000.

It is typical in the U.S. that a man who's done as much damage as Rove gets rewarded with a sweet gig writing columns for a right wing (and getting worse) publication like the WSJ.

Next up is Douglas Feith, one of the Iraq war architects, with a self-serving piece trying, once again, to justify the basis for spending a trillion dollars and killing at least a 100,000 people going to war in Iraq.

Needless to say, Feith leaves out a lot of inconvenient facts, not the least of which include his role in completely botching the occupation.

But one can't read through Feith's piece without wondering what planet Bush and his advisers were on. Feith recounts in some detail that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was extremely worried about the ability of U.S. and British pilots to enforce the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq before Bush decided to go to war. Here's what Feith says:

"Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld worried particularly about the U.S. and British pilots enforcing the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. Iraqi forces were shooting at the U.S. and British aircraft virtually every day; if a plane went down, the pilot would likely be killed or captured. What then? Mr. Rumsfeld asked. Were the missions worth the risk? How might U.S. and British responses be intensified to deter Saddam from shooting at our planes? Would the intensification trigger a war? What would be the consequences of cutting back on the missions, or ending them?"

WTF! So what we have here is that Bush sent 250,000 troops and supporting personnel into Iraq, putting them and all of Iraq's civilians at grave risk, because Rumsfeld wasn't sure the air force and naval aviators enforcing the no-fly zone could do so without any casualties. (And despite the fact that through eight years of the Clinton administration no flyers had been shot down.)


If you wonder what's wrong with our country, and especially our government, you need go no further than today's WSJ op-ed page. These people are so out of touch with reality as to boggle the mind.