Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gustav--Watch for Flooding in East Texas

We'll go out on a limb now: Gustav will largely spare New Orleans from major damage, only to create massive flooding in East Texas by the end of the week.

The five-day forecast from the National Hurricane Center (below) has Gustav stalling once it goes ashore. By Friday it has barely moved for nearly three days, which raises the possibility of devastating flooding from heavy tropical rains parked over east Texas and much of Louisiana.

Maybe George Bush's Crawford, TX ranch will be washed away in the process.

Gustav, Hanna Steal Show From GOP

So where are all those right wing evangelicals who think everything is a sign from God? What do they make of not one, but two, hurricanes bearing down on the U.S. as the GOP begins its quadrennial convention?

This is, of course, a nightmare for John McCain and the former mayor of Wasila, Alaska. Not only does it look bad for the Republicans to be celebrating in Minneapolis while a massive hurricane once again devastates the Gulf Coast, but the news cycle for the convention will be entirely disrupted.

Indeed, it is possible that McCain's planned speech on Thursday will be overshadowed by a combination of images of destruction from Gustav (the remnants of which are expected to still be hanging around dropping heavy rain on the Louisiana by late in the week) and the approach of Hanna to the southeastern coastline.

On the other hand, maybe it will give McCain something to talk about.

Not to mention Sarah Palin--maybe she can relate her experiences with nuisance caribou in Wasila, and her terrific work making sure that Alaska state police authorities are responsive to her family, to the crisis on the Gulf Coast.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Obama Delivers!!!

Obama did it!

He delivered a big speech, flawlessly, in front of a huge audience, in a stadium filled with the perfect imagery.

The fact the the press was carping and wondering all week if he could pull it off only made it better. (CNN still managed to have as its "fact" as Obama took the stage a statement about Geraldine Ferraro being the only woman on a major party ticket; perhaps when McCain takes the stage they'll have as their "fact" that the GOP has never nominated anyone who wasn't a white man, and indeed hasn't even had anyone else come close.)

Our hats are off the Barack: he'll get a big bounce out of this one. McCain's plan to unveil his veep tomorrow may even backfire.

Next week, the Democrats get to play the little game the Republicans have been playing this week of trying to make news during the other guy's convention. We'll bet Obama will do a pretty good job playing that game.

McCain will have his day, but we hope the media will contrast his nearly all-white, largely male audience of 10,000 or so to Obama's true big tent outdoor speech in front of 75,000.

Looking Forward To Obama

We missed a good chunk of last night's convention, but we liked what we saw!

Hillary interrupting the roll call to request unanimous consent was terrific stagecraft.

Bill Clinton's speech was wonderful. Our correspondent at the convention confirmed that Bill's speech was "hugely well-received" on the convention floor by delegates of all stripes.

We missed a speech that John Kerry gave, but our correspondent said it was probably one of Kerry's best ever. (Despite Kerry's evident pre-speech nervousness--he said it was easier to come up with a speech when he was the nominee.)

We did watch all of Joe Biden's speech and it made us feel a lot better about his selection as the Veep candidate. Biden's mom was terrific on television. We loved when she was caught on camera mouthing "that's true" to her seatmate when Biden spoke of being sent back out, after being beat up by an older kid, to "bloody his nose."

Our correspondent also had the good fortune to be talking to Biden, at a post-speech party, when Michelle Obama walked up. "She's quite tall," our correspondent tells us. Interesting--we couldn't tell that on television. Mrs. Obama told Senator Biden that she, too, was impressed with his mom and wanted to meet her, so off they went to find her.

As for the continued media fascination with disaffected Clinton supporters, our correspondent suggests it is way overblown, certainly based on what he's seen on site. At the outset, there was some visible tension, but by the end, he says, most delegates had seen the wisdom of being united against the common foe: McCain and the GOP.

He noted Maureen Dowd's column yesterday focusing on alleged continued infighting between the Obama campaign and Clinton loyalists, and said that while some of that is just natural and to be expected in any campaign, it's more in the nature of legitimate disagreements than any kind of mean-spiritedness.

We're confident that divisions lurk in the Republican Party too. No doubt, many evangelical leaders are disappointed with McCain's selection, and there are surely campaign staffers from Romney, Giuliani and other 40 candidates who disagree with some of McCain's strategic calls, but evidently the media has no interest in this.

Tonight, it's Obama's turn, and he'll have a huge crowd. It should be a good show.

North Polar Ice Cap: Another Record Low in Store?

One more weather post while we're on the topic. Last year, the north polar ice cap made news when it shrunk to the smallest it's been since modern measurements have been taken.

It looks like this summer will be a repeat, or at least close. Here's the data:

By this point last summer there was slightly less sea ice in the northern hemisphere than this year, then it leveled out. If September is unusually warm (or sunny), this year could still break the record. In any event, the older, thicker sea ice is rapidly disappearing, being replaced by thinner new ice.

The melting sea ice has negligible impact on ocean sea levels, but could be a harbinger of things to come if melting of the Greenland ice sheet also accelerates.

By the way, last summer the Global Warming Deniers could at least point to Antarctica to offset alarm over the melting north pole, as the extent of southern hemisphere sea ice reached a record high (it's winter down there, so the ice is going in the opposite direction). But that's not the case this summer. Instead, southern sea ice is significantly below last year's pace, and for the first time in the past 12 months is below the average (technically, mean) level of the past 20 years.

We're sure the GWD's, aided by a few Exxon dollars, will come up with something, however.

The Good Side of Fay

Tropical Storm Fay's remants have slowly been moving through the Southeast all week, bringing much needed rain to a number of parched locales.

As we had predicted, Fay's made a big dent in the long-running Southeast drought, although it would take a couple more storms like it to really put an end to problem.

Above is the latest from the U.S. Drought Monitor. Be mindful that this only includes rainfall through 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday, so next week's report will show an even further shrinking of the drought, especially in SC, NC and southwestern Va.
Nonetheless, we see that for the first time in more than a year, Florida is drought-free. At the start of this year, more than 90% of Florida was in some stage of drought. Likewise, the rest of the Southeast showed a dramatic week-to-week decrease in all categories of drought.
Hurricanes and tropical storms can cause a lot of damage and disruption, but when you hear scientists discuss various schemes to steer such storms away from the U.S. mainland, just remember there is another side to these monsters of nature--they are a major source of fresh water in many parts of the country.

Memo To New Orleans: Get Out!

Does New Orleans have a realistic evacuation plan this time?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Gag Us! The Mainstream Media's Convention Coverage Sucks

We doubt if we need to make this point, since you can see it for yourself, but doesn't the media coverage of the Democratic Convention just suck?

Granted, we can only watch a small slice at a time. Last night, we were watching NBC. While they carried Hillary's speech without interruption, the rest of the time it was all about NBC, not the convention.

Get this: we have three men--Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw and political analyst Chuck Todd--yacking on and on about Hillary and the glass ceiling, and how long it's been since Geraldine Ferraro and how much longer it will be. We bet all the women correspondents at NBC were thinking the same thing about THEIR employer.

[Note: they could have had the same conversation four years ago about a black man being a major party's nominee and no one would've mentioned Barack Obama. A woman will get the nomination some day--relatively soon--and it will be someone who comes out of nowhere, with a brilliant campaign, just as Obama did. Somehow these brilliant political analysts missed that point.]

The we have the endless yabbering about disaffected Hillary supporters and the divisions in the Democratic Party.

Remember when half the GOP was saying there was no way they'd support John McCain? Pathological liars like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh were saying they'd campaign for the Democratic nominee if McCain won. Where's the press on that story?

Worst of all, however, is that it's just a bunch of talking media heads and talking to, and interviewing, each other. Tonight we'll try some of the cable coverage, but we don't expect it to be much better.

Hillary Delivers; Warner Disappoints

At first, last night, we thought it a shame that NBC would deem it more important to air it's summer reality trash series "America's Got Talent" rather than the Democratic keynote address by Mark Warner. (The other networks also opted out of the keynote speech, although you could catch it on the cable news channels.)

After seeing Mark Warner's speech, however, we were just as glad it wasn't on primetime TV. We like Warner, and he'll make a terrific Senator. But it was a disappointing speech.

We wondered whether it was different at the convention, but alas, no. Our Denver correspondent reported: "Warner, unfortunately, disappointed. He looked great and had a good message, but delivered it less well than he is capable of doing. He lost folks in the hall midway through with his fairly slow and stolid cadence."

We didn't catch much of another speech, given by Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, but what we saw we liked (by this time, we were watching NBC primetime coverage, which appears to be all about NBC--more on that in a separate post.)

Again, our Denver correspondent agreed: "Contrast [Warner] with Brian Schweitzer, who was a little cornpone but really got the crowd going - and I suspect looked okay on TV as well." Hey, a bit of cornpone is fine--especially after folks have been watching "America's Got Talent" and its ilk.

Anyway, the big moment--the critical speech--was Hillary's, and she did a brilliant job. As our man in Denver put it: "The universal buzz as we left the hall was how terrifically Hillary hit all the right notes in her speech. It went a huge way toward driving the nail in the 'angry Hillary voter' coffin."
She really couldn't have done any better. The mainstream media, of course, is still running around digging up sourpuss Hillary supporters because, after all, they need a story.

But Hillary's supporters need to listen to her most important point: she didn't spend all that time, money and effort running for President just so we could end up with four more years of Republican rule out of spite.

Note to disaffected Hillary supporters: grow up and get over it.

See our other post on the media's convention coverage.

Gustav = Katrina?

Will Hurricane Gustav pull a Katrina on New Orleans in a few days?

Possibly. We were going to pull it all together after looking at the National Hurricane Center's five-day forecast track for Gustav, but then we came across this post from the Capital Weather Gang over at the Washington Post, which says all we need say at this point.

Our one caution is that the NHC's five day forecast is more likely to be wrong than right, especially five days out, so the likelihood of Gustav finishing off New Orleans is still pretty small.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Packed House For Warner

Our Denver correspondent reports that he attended an "overflow event" this afternoon featuring Mark Warner, with folks "spilling out the door."

"Warner broke off from his [keynote] speech prep to address us, saying among his brief comments, 'I've kept my remarks to 15 or 16 minutes because I've learned it's hard to mess up too badly in that length of time.'"

Of course, Mark W.'s got some big shoes to fill after what's-his-name's keynote address four years ago.

Fay The Drought-buster

Back when Tropical Storm Fay was still in the Caribbean, we speculated that it could bring much-needed drought relief to parched areas of the Southeast, based on a forecast track that would have taken it straight across Florida and up through Georgia.

Fay ended up taking a much more convoluted path, but it has turned out to be a real drought-buster. We'll have the hard data when the U.S. Drought Monitor releases its latest map on Thursday morning, but with rainfall totals in much of Florida, Georgia and the mountain areas of North and South Carolina in the multiple inches (the map above is for the past 24 hours), Fay is bringing some relief.

Of course, it comes at a steep price with all the flooding in Florida. And, it's not the kind of rain that helps farmers. The Drought Monitor distinguishes between an agricultural drought and a hydrological drought. A lot of rain in a short time will raise river and stream levels, fill reservoirs, ponds and lakes, and replenish the water table, thus taking care of the hydrological side of things.

But for farmers, too much rain is as bad as too little, and one after the other just makes the disaster complete. A decidedly mixed bag, but for municipal water systems throughout the Southeast, Fay's remnants will be a godsend.

Denver Convention: It'll Take More Than The Goo-Goo Dolls To Unite Democrats

Our intrepid correspondent from Denver has checked in:

"The press is of course playing up the Clinton vs Obama aspects of the convention. I thought these were largely overblown until last night at the DNC “Party with Your Party” bash featuring the Goo-Goo Dolls (who had the under 30-crowd tapping their feet and those over 30 shouting over the music “the who dolls?). I found myself in a bit of crossfire between some Obama supporters and some Clinton supporters (yes, who did happen to be women of a certain age) who are each plainly still stinging from wounds experienced during the long primary.

Having said that, I know the Clintons and know that they are superb role-players (and I don’t mean that in a negative way at all). Their job this week in their speeches will be to rally their supporters and enthusiastically support Obama – and I believe they will play those roles superbly, and predict that by Friday all the “ Clinton vs Obama” noise will have dwindled to nothing.

We think our correspondent is correct--both Clintons will do a bang-up job. We're glad the press has set up such low expectations.

Marathoning: The Quickest Way Through Beijing

While watching the Olympics, we noticed how quickly the men's marathoners managed to get around Beijing. They got from Tianamen Square to Peking University a lot faster than we did on our last trip, Beijing traffic being what it is.

(And yes, they still call it Peking University, not Beijing U.--don't ask us why!)

We Were Wrong

Yes, it's true, the Curmudgeon is occasionally wrong. We're man enough to fess up.

A couple weeks ago we said that NBC's monopoly on Olympic coverage would prevent Americans from seeing many Olympic events, and suggested that it would be better to sell television rights to categories of sports (gymnastics, track & field, bicycling, equestrian, etc.) to maximize exposure on various cable networks.

We were largely wrong. NBC owns a number of cable stations now, including MSNBC, CNBC, USA and Telemundo, and it made the most of those additional outlets to provide broad coverage, much of it live, of many Olympic sporting events.

In addition, NBC made available just about every competition on its special Olympics website. We enjoyed, a couple of evenings, streaming the women's archery competition on our laptop while watching the main NBC coverage on television.

Indeed, if anything, NBC has undercommercialized its web opportunities in connection with the Olympics. There wasn't much advertising accompanying the webcasts, and what there was tended to be generic--the same advertisers as on its television broadcasts.

If we were NBC, we'd create a separate webpage for each category of sports and open it to advertising from companies that can't afford television, but that have a connection to the sport and would love the specific audience. For example, the archery page could have a lot of useful info about archery, and be sponsored by various manufacturers of equipment, or archery clubs, or whatever.

Anyway, we were wrong. The Olympics were fun, and well-covered.

Maryland Roads Six Times As Deadly As Virginia?

The Washington Post had an interesting article today about a study linking increased fuel costs to a steep drop in traffic fatalities.

The study noted that while increased gasoline costs had caused Americans to drive less--up to five percent less in recent months compared to a year ago--fatal traffic accidents were way down, by as much as 22 percent in March compared to last year.

But here's what got us. According to the Post, in July Virginia reported 78 traffic fatalities (down from 102 last year), while Maryland had 347 deadly accidents (up from 331 last year).

That's quite an astounding difference, especially given that Virginia has 2 million more residents than Maryland. Indeed, Maryland had one fatal accident for each 16,000 residents, compared to Virginia's one fatal accident for each 97,000 residents, a difference of more than 6 to 1.

Are Maryland's roads really six times more deadly than Virginia's? If so, why? And why isn't this a priority?

[One possible reason: it's impossible to go more than 20 mph for much of the day in most of northern Virginia, so no one can go fast enough to kill anyone.]

Monday, August 25, 2008

It's Showtime!

Okay. The Olympics are over. They were a lot of fun, and quite memorable.

But now it's time for the two parties' political conventions, with the Democrats coming first, starting tonight. (By the way, the Democrats were foolish to schedule their convention the day after the Olympics ended--it's hard to top that spectacle, and a lot of Americans are exhausted from watching.)

For the Democrats, as it almost always is, a primary task is uniting the party. The convention should do a pretty good job of accomplishing unity. But what about going after McCain? Americans need to realize that, whatever they think of John McCain as a person, he also brings considerable baggage with him, i.e., the Republican Party that brought us George W. Bush.

Bush didn't get to be the worst President all by himself. He had a lot of help from a party that sought to politicize even the most mundane of government operations, a large cause of the administration's incompetency. McCain shouldn't be allowed to get away from his own party's legacy that easily.

That said, middle of the road Americans have some fears about Obama and the Democratic Party as well. Democrats seem to like to raise taxes to pay for all kinds of goody-two-shoes programs that don't quite work out the way they were supposed to.

Obama/Biden could effectively deal with this fear by focusing on the GOP's horrible fiscal irresponsibility and the need to get our financial house in order.

A second big fear of the independent voters who will decide the election is that Democrats are soft when it comes to foreign policy. Republicans are always creating bogeymen to rant and rave against (like Saddam Hussein, Iran, North Korea). In 1960, JFK talked tough about the Soviet Union and Cuba. Why not have Obama unleash some heavy duty rhetoric on Iran and Venezuela? It's not like he's going to have to attack them if he wins--even W hasn't done anything that stupid (yet).

Also, there's one very large piece of unfinished business out there: Osama Bin Laden. After eight years in office, Bush still hasn't rounded up this criminal murderer of more than 3000 Americans. Let's promise to get the bastard!

We hope to have some guest blogging this week from one of the Curmudgeon's friends who's at the convention. We're sure our readers will appreciate a different viewpoint for a change!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Boring Biden

Obama's made his decision: Joe Biden.

Boring Biden.

Safe Biden.

We're disappointed. But maybe Uncle Joe will exceed our expectations.

Friday, August 22, 2008

McCain Is In The House(s)

Whoops! John "Maverick" McCain forgot how many homes he owns. While McCain's allies have been busily painting Barack Obama as an "elitist," they forgot that their own man is married to a wealthy beer heiress and owns SEVEN (maybe eight--who can keep track!) homes around the country. (One of his condos is in the building at right, here.)

Wake up Americans. The same people who made you think that draft-dodging, 9/11 hiding, drug-taking incompetent wuss "W" Bush was some kind of patriotic superman are now trying to make you think that John McCain is an "everyman" who'll feel you're economic pain, while the black guy is some kind of elitist.

For you moral crusaders out there, let's review: when McCain returned home from imprisonment in Vietnam, he found that his wife had been in a horrific car accident. In 1980, he dumped wife number one and promptly married a wealthy 25-year-old socialite, Cindy Hensley. McCain no doubt had an adulterous affair with Cindy before divorcing his first wife.

So now McCain is a wealthy man, able to afford seven homes.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama has had only one wife. He has a nice family. He goes to church. He may have had a pastor who turns out to be a nutjob, but that doesn't mean Obama's not a moral man.

What the heck--let's just take the gloves off and make this as ugly a contest as can be. It's what the Republican attack machine wants, anyway.

Beating The Energy Crunch With Personal Windpower

We've previously written about Southwest Windpower's personal wind turbine, suitable for many homes in appropriate wind zones and priced economically (roughly $10,000--but with installation, etc. it will cost you a bit more).

We're happy to see that a small number of folks in the D.C. metropolitan region are starting to install these to provide themselves with renewable energy and reduce their dependence on huge cental generating plants.

Here's a story from today's Washington Post profiling one such couple (assuming they get the rest of the clearances they need to proceed): "Windpower's Energetic Fans." The story also mentions a Maryland man who already has one of the microturbines and who's been selling a handful of them to others.

By the way, if you want to see one of Southwest's Skystream microturbines in action, get over to the U.S. Botanic Garden, at the base of Capitol Hill, where one is in action as part of

It's a small trend, but a good one. (We might add that when homeowners install their own wind turbines or solar cells, tied into the electric grid, they reduce the need for additional high voltage power lines to transmit electricity from some enormous, but remote, power plant to your flat screen television.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Will Hillary's Supporters Bring Us Four More Years of Misguided GOP Rule?

Some polling data suggests that as many as half of Hillary Clinton's supporters in the primaries are still sufficiently disaffected as to say either they won't vote for Obama in November, or worse yet, they'll vote for McCain.

(In contrast, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter haven't yet followed through on their promises to campaign for McCain's opponent. Of course, that's no surprise because both of them are pathological liars.)

There's no question that some of Hillary's supporters remain quite bitter. Anecdotally, the problem appears greatest with middle-aged and older white women in the Democratic Party.

We still think most of them will come around, and the upcoming Democratic convention is an opportunity to reach out to many of them.

But honestly, are these disaffected Hillary supporters going to do for the country what Ralph Nader's Florida supporters did in 2000, and give us another disastrous Republican administration? Talk about cutting off one's nose to spite her face!

Someday--and not that far off--we will have a woman President. Let's just hope we've still got a country worth governing. Electing an old Republican who will continue the vast majority of W. Bush's misguided policies is not a good way to work off the disappointment over Hillary's campaign.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Please--Not Biden For VP

We ran across a story on the CNN political ticker saying "Obama VP Buzz Squarely on Biden."

Puhleeze--say it isn't so.

Biden is being touted for his foreign policy credentials.

Yes, Biden has a decent grounding in foreign policy, but he brings nothing to the table politically as a VP nominee. Delaware is solidly blue and Biden doesn't really bring to fore any important constituency. And he's probably said some things on foreign policy that would come back to haunt him.

Nor does Biden really toughen up Obama's image.

If Obama wants someone to bolster him on foreign policy, go with someone tough, like Marine General James Jones.

Jones has served as the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, the Commander of the United States European Command, and Commandant of the Marine Corps. He also served as Chairman of the Congressional Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, which investigated the capabilities of the Iraqi police and armed forces. In November 2007, he was appointed by the United States Secretary of State as special envoy for Middle East Security.
He is currently the Chairman of the
Atlantic Council of the United States.

He would certainly help Obama in Virginia (Biden wouldn't) and in some western red states that may now be in play.

Biden personifies Washington politics as usual. He didn't excite Democrats at all in the primaries. Naming him as the veep nominee would be a huge mistake.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Virginia's Still a Dead Heat

It's still the doldrums of the political season, especially with the Olympics in their full glory. Whoever thought of pairing the Olympics with the U.S. presidential election years was a genius.

When the Olympics finish at the end of this week, we'll start blogging frequently on the political scene.

For now, we pass along--for what they're worth, which isn't much--the most recent presidential election preference polls for Virginia (three of them, taken between Aug. 8-12), which continue to show a dead heat between Obama and McCain:

1. Rasmussen has McCain up by 1, 48%-47% (but if you take out "leaners" Obama leads by 1, 46%-45%);

2. Insider Advantage has the to candidates tied, with 43% apiece;

3. Survey USA has McCain up by 1, 48%-47%.

What's nice is the remarkable consistency between these three polls. We'll use this as our baseline for future polling. The next round of polls from these three reputable pollsters should be quite interesting as the campaign for the Old Dominion heats up.

Fay To The Rescue

Hurricanes are not all bad--in fact, hurricanes and their more benign remnants can account for a significant portion of rainfall in some areas, especially the southeastern U.S., which currently is in the grip of prolonged drought.

Tropical Storm Fay, which is expected to become a minimal (Category 1) hurricane before making landfall on Florida's west coast in a couple of days, could be a godsend to parched southerners.
If Fay sticks to the National Hurricane Center's current forecast track, it could bring a good drenching to just those areas that need it the most.
Here's the current U.S. drought monitor map for the the Southeast and the current forecast track for Fay. Let's hope Fay is a wet one and that the Hurricane Center's current track is accurate.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mark Warner To Give Democratic Convention Keynote Address

He's not even a sitting Senator (yet), but Democrats have selected former Virginia Governor Mark Warner to give the keynote address at their rapidly approaching convention.

Way to go Mark!

Here's the campaign's announcement from late last night (if we'd had our blackberry on while watching the women's gymnastics, we could've beat everyone to the punch on this one!):

It's late, but I couldn't wait to share with you some exciting news. Governor Warner has been asked to address this year's Democratic National Convention in Denver as the primetime keynote speaker on Tuesday night.

According to Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, "Mark Warner is not afraid to challenge the status quo to bring people together and get things moving. It's that kind of spirit and innovation that resulted in his selection as keynote speaker on a night when the Convention program will focus on renewing America's economy."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Too Much Soccer

Yes, there can be too much of a good thing.

Soccer is a terrific sport, especially for kids, and it plays a big role in our family, especially for our youngest child, who loves the game and is a terrific competitor.

A piece in today's Washington Post, however, reminded us that there can be too much soccer. What it didn't say is that too much soccer can be a bad thing.

This particular article was on the KidsPost page, on the back page of the Style section. In keeping with the Olympic theme of the moment, it was profiling kids who hope to be future Olympic competitors. Under soccer, there was is a family from Bethesda with three kids, ages 12-15, who collectively are playing on 12(!) soccer teams.

Sure, it's insane for the parents to get those kids to all those practices and games, but if you pay any attention at all to the Olympics, you realize that parental insanity is standard fare for the young Olympians. Unfortunately, it's also insane--and dangerous--for the kids. A lot of research has shown that too much soccer, especially for adolescent girls, puts their ACL's (the anterior cruciate ligament that holds your knee together) at especially high risk of injury.

In the KidsPost, the oldest of these three children, a 15-year-old girl, is playing on FIVE teams, including her varsity high school team (presumably she is a freshman, or at most a sophomore) and the U.S. women's national team in her age group. She's presumably also playing on a top travel team that competes in the State Cup and a number of other tournaments, and is part of the Maryland state Olympic Development team. (We're not sure where a fifth team comes in.) Certainly, to be involved with all those teams at her age means she's a terrific player.

But what use will she be to the Olympic squad, or the U.S. national team, if she blows out both ACL's--believe us, this happens with sickening regularity in soccer--by the time she's 18?

The problem is entirely with the adults involved here: The parents, of course, who are flattered as she gets invited to play at ever higher levels, and who have trouble seeing past those big Division I college scholarships they foresee down the road; the coaches, all of whom, of course, want her to help their teams to various championships and glory; and the U.S. soccer establishment, which keeps setting up new levels of "elite" soccer without putting any rational limits on kids' play.

The U.S. soccer establishment is especially blameworthy. It's not enough that children start trying out for hyper-competitive travel soccer in the second grade (with many desperate parents throwing their first graders into the try-out mill). Kids are soon playing in multiple tournaments (which are huge money $$ makers), then trying out for more competitive Division 1 teams that compete in State Cup tournaments (more $$), then going out for state Olympic Development Program teams (subsidized by all those $$$). Meanwhile, schools have their own soccer teams, and their rules don't always mesh with those governing club teams.

And as if that weren't all enough, the soccer powers that be recently created yet another elite program, the Academy, where super competitive teams get even more play. The men's and women's national teams also have various age levels. Why anyone would think it wise to have a 15-year-old girl playing on any kind of "national" soccer team is beyond us, but at the rate things are going they'll soon have a national Pre-K team.

All of which adds up to WAY TOO MUCH soccer for the most competitive kids.

The soccer establishment has so many rules it will make your head spin. "Sign player cards in black ink only." "Freeze state cup rosters on such and such date." Yet they have no rules limiting the number of teams, games, and tournaments in which a child can play, all while serious injuries pile up.

It's time for the soccer adults to begin acting like adults. [But don't hold your breath.]

Monday, August 11, 2008

Gas: More Affordable Than You Think

Will this year's presidential election be decided entirely by the price of a gallon of gasoline?

Possibly. Americans sometimes get obsessed over the little things and ignore the really big issues. Just about every voter drives, and hence purchases gasoline. They don't like the large increase in gas prices the past couple of years, and they want somebody easy to blame.

In the larger scheme of things, however, gas prices are not as high as everyone thinks. In "A Big Surprise On Gas Prices" a couple of economists note that gas today is still more affordable than it was in 1960, the era of gas-guzzling muscle cars.

Affordability is different than either the posted price, which is obviously higher than in 1960, or the inflation-adjusted price, which is also higher. Affordability takes into account increases in disposable income, which has risen faster than inflation since the 1960's. Hence, the cost of gasoline as a percentage of one's overall income has gone down.

The problem, of course, is that the cost of gasoline as a percentage of income was much lower a few years ago. Probably too low. Americans purchased ginormous SUV's, moved way out into the suburbs and cruised around as if oil would last another few millennia.

At the same time, China and India--and much of the rest of the developing world--began gobbling up cheap oil as well. Only western Europe and Japan, where prices remained high, kept the lid on oil-fueled expansion, for which they will benefit now.

In any event, don't expect Americans to be swayed that gas prices today are really affordable. The political pandering will continue.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Paris Hilton For President? We Need A Centrist Energy Plan

Paris Hilton is out with a spoof of John McCain's campaign ad likening Barack Obama to Paris Hilton.

It's a good one--she refers to McCain as the "white-haired guy." She then goes on to announce her own candidacy and sets forth an energy policy that is remarkably coherent--a combination of the policies currently being put forth by McCain and Obama.

The people behind the Paris Hilton spoof know what they're doing. Her mock energy policy is not too far off what we really need.

When Bush and Cheney took office, they got a bunch of energy company executives together in secret to draw up a "national energy plan." No surprise, it emphasized production, shortchanged conservation and renewables, and completely ignored global warming. It has also been a complete disaster.

In the meantime, Congressional Democrats and Republicans are in an energy stalemate. Republicans still want to emphasize production, while Dems focus on renewables and conservation.

Paris sort of has it right: we need both. Limited offshore drilling with appropriate safeguards and regulation is not going to destroy the earth, or the U.S. At the same time, we need to plan NOW for as rapid a transition as possible away from an oil-based economy, especially in the transportation sector.

The "experts" have all kinds of schemes: T. Boone Pickens and his wind farms on the plains (diminished by Mr. Pickens' statement that he, himself, would not put wind turbines in his ranch because they are "ugly.") Some scientists claim we can get all our power from solar cells in the desert. Others think we can instantly replace more than 100 million gas-powered vehicles with electric cars. But no one of these schemes is a realistic energy plan.

Democrats need to give on drilling; Republicans need to give on conservation and renewables. Americans want both, for good reason: energy is a significant cost, and those costs heavily impact our lifestyles.

If we set reasonable goals for a transition away from hydrocarbons and towards renewables, using government policies to smooth out some of the price shocks (both up and down) along the way, we can make that transition over the next 20 years.

Fortunately, if oil prices remain high--of which there is no assurance--much of this transition will occur regardless of what Congress does. The question is whether the government will help, or just get in the way.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Obama and Oil Drilling

It was inevitable that Obama would have to come out in support of increased domestic oil drilling.

Gas prices are high, dang it, and fat Americans want to ride in air-conditioned comfort in big ol' SUV's. If you don't get that, then you're not going to be the next President.

Additional drilling will take some of the edge off high oil prices, but it won't change the fundamental dynamic: as more people around the world achieve western living standards, the competion for oil will go up, along with the price.

This is a good thing, because much higher oil/energy prices is about the only thing that can save the planet from humankind.

We Need A New Model For Olympic Coverage

The Olympics need to catch up with the times.

Here's what you're going to get with this year's Olympics from Beijing on NBC: gymnastics, track and field, swimming, diving, basketball, a little baseball, a little soccer, a smattering of other activities.

What if you're into: yachting, kayaking, horseback riding, bicycling, distance running, badminton, wrestling, martial arts and a half dozen other Olympic competitions that NBC doesn't care to cover? Well, you're out of luck, because NBC has a monopoly on U.S. broadcast coverage.

The problem with that monopoly is that NBC has no incentive to bring you coverage of anything but the most popular events. That's a shame, because if the Olympics sold broadcast rights by the event you'd get a lot more choice in the matter.

Or, the IOC could give NBC exclusive rights to certain events--gymnastics, swimming, track & field, etc. (sort of an Olympic glamor package), but then sell rights to events that NBC declines to cover, or that are outside the core package.

In the old days, it made sense to sell rights to one network for exclusive coverage since there were only three networks and the losing networks had no interest in the more marginal events.

But today we have hundreds of cable networks, all with lots of programming space to fill. So, the Outdoor Life Network would probably be quite happy to air bicycling and kayaking events. OLN could sell advertising space to companies that specialize in equipment for these sports, and the small number of enthusiasts of those sports would tune in.

Likewise, other cable networks could do well airing yachting events, or horseback riding events, again tailoring their coverage and attracting advertisers for those niches.

The various soccer channels could vie to air ALL, or MOST, of the Olympic soccer matches, instead of the snippets you'll see of ONLY the U.S. matches.

ESPN might well want to air the softball contests. And so on.

Would all that competing coverage really detract from NBC's audience? We doubt it--it would attract small audiences of folks highly interested in those events, who likely aren't all that interested in NBC's events.

(GASP! You mean not everyone is enamored of gymnastics and swimming?!)

The IOC could also probably make more money this way as well.

The one other piece is having the opportunity to view all Olympic events, or at least all the finals, REGARDLESS of whether there is an American competing. Maybe the IOC could license someone with a global presence--dare we say Rupert Murdoch and FOX, much as we despise their political views--to let those of us who are more interested in the overall competition than the American jingoism ("USA! USA!") on NBC have an opportunity to watch the Olympics, not just Americans competing in the Olympics.

It's sad that with the Olympics upon us the one thing we can count on is that we will miss most of the Olympics.