Saturday, January 31, 2009

Farewell Rosalie and Honda; Hello Toyota

This weekend will be our last with Rosalie, the name the boys gave our Acura RL. It's a great car and we're gonna miss her.

Rosalie was the first car--and maybe the last--we ever leased. Leasing is ok, but when the lease is up, you artificially have to get a new car. We weren't really ready, but then we were.

Anyway, the Curmudgeon decided this next vehicle has to be much greener--low emissions, high mileage. It's not just global warming--it's also petrodictatorship. We can't justify paying for oil from Middle Eastern autocracies so they can give rockets to Hamas so Hamas can terrorize Israel, so Israel has to terrorize Palestinians, so the endless cycle goes on.

We would've stayed with Acura--we've been with the brand for nearly 20 years, and were with Honda (Acura's parent) before that. Surprisingly, however, Acura offered nothing "green" or even faux green (a la the "hybrid" Escalade). When we leased the RL four years ago, the dealer said they expected an Acura hybrid soon. Nothing doing. All the emphasis at Acura has been on performance, not mpg.
So we went off to look for something else. The Civic hybrid was an option--the top of the line has many nice features found in an Acura, it's just a bit small. We drove the Civic, found it a bit underpowered, very small trunk, but good price (yes, with low gas prices, dealers are having trouble moving the hybrids, which makes NOW the time to buy one).

Then we went across the street to the Toyota dealer and drove a Camry hybrid and the Prius. The Camry was nice, but a few thousand more than the Prius, not much bigger, and considerably lower gas mileage. We weren't so sure about the Prius at first--it's not the best looking car on the road, to say the least!

But driving was believing. It's a bit bigger than the Civic, with many more configuration options for carrying "stuff." It's the granddaddy of hybrids, now quite reliable. We got about 50 mpg driving around the streets of Arlington, as opposed to about 15 mpg in the Acura (which gets good highway mileage).

One thing we are going to miss: the new Acura RL integrates weather into the onboard navigation system, a feature we were looking forward to. It's still not what we'd really like, which would be doppler radar integrated into the street maps, a technical feat that may have to wait another generation.

In any event, we're now a Prius family. Goodbye Rosalie, and goodbye Acura.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Recession's Silver Lining

The economic recession, which is looking more and more like a depression, really sucks.

But it does have at least one silver lining: significantly lower construction costs.

Arlington County, which has a number of capital improvement projects pending, most notably the rebuilding of a number of ancient schools, is seeing new bids come in considerably lower than projected just a few months ago.

For example, a $100 million plus project to replace one of Arlington's high schools was recently put out to bid, with the winning bid about 25% lower--that's $25 million!--than had been anticipated.

So, if you've got any money left (ha!), now's the time to build.

House Says No To DTV Delay

While we're on the subject of wimpiness (see post below), we were happy to see the House of Representatives get a spine and put a stop to the effort to delay the digital television (DTV) transition.

Pres. Obama asked for a delay after reports surfaced that millions of people with older televisions aren't ready for the transition and hence will lose their television signal when the transition occurs in mid-February. The Senate obliged him with a unanimous vote in favor of pushing the transition back by six months.

The House, however, balked. That's brave, because House members, who are pretty much up for election all the time, will be the first to hear from their constituents when the televisions go to static next month.

The House made the right call. The only way many of the stragglers are going to get the message on DTV is to have their TV screens go blank. Whether it occurs next month, or in six months, there will still be a large number of folks who just haven't bothered to get going, so why wait? Meanwhile, huge investments have been made in the transition, and they shouldn't be delayed.

Some people who DO make the conversion will be in for a rude shock, however. DTV signals do not travel as far as analog signals. So some viewers who are on the margins of analog signals will find they get nothing--nada--in the DTV world.

Obama Mostly Right About Wimpy Washington Response To Flakes

Bravo for President Obama, giving it to wimpy Washington school systems shutting down in the face of two inches of snow.

In case you missed it, Obama took a time-out from a press conference on the economy to wonder aloud as to why his daughters' school was closed in the face of "a little ice." He pointed out that in Chicago schools rarely close for "winter weather conditions" and went on to state that his seven-year-old had even noted that in Chicago they would've had outdoor recess in the conditions we had the past two days.

Some bloggers and commentators have taken Obama to task, noting that Washington isn't Chicago. Here at the Curmudgeon, where the kids were hanging around most of Tuesday, all of yesterday and a good chunk of this morning, we're happy to hear Obama's comments. It's about time!

Tuesday was particularly pathetic. Many school systems cancelled classes in the morning in the face of a dusting of snow that later grew to 1-3 inches. In Arlington, they got all the kids to school in the morning, but then released them early--at about the same time it stopped snowing. Really, if the kids are already at school, why close early--you're going to send them home in the snow either way!

(Our 11-year-old did proudly note, however, that his school had outdoor recess in the snow on Tuesday, which, of course, was a lot of fun for him.)

Yesterday (Wednesday) was a closer call. Ice is more dangerous than snow, and the region had a solid half inch coating of ice. But proper treatment of roads, sidewalks, etc. would make even that manageable. Indeed, D.C. schools managed to stay open, albeit with a delayed start. Good for D.C.!

Arlington, which is very much like D.C., only smaller, closed its schools even though the main roads were passable. Yes, some side streets were iced up. The solution is to have alternative bus routes that stick to primary roads, which can be used in winter weather.

In Washington, people act like they've never seen snow before, notwithstanding that we average 15 inches per year of the stuff. People to the north of Washington routinely go to school while dealing with a lot more than that, so why can't Washington?

The real answer: wimpiness!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

DTV Delay

Congress is about to delay the conversion from analog to digital television by six months because millions of analog TV viewers still haven't figured out they need to make a switch. Wonder why? These two (hilarious) videos will give you all the answers (hat tip to JK).

McAuliffe's TV Strategery

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe is up and running with the first television ads in the Virginia governor's race. (See "Va. Governor's Race Up, Running On TV.")

Is it a good strategy?

Perhaps. But it's not an effective expenditure of campaign funds. If the strategy is to use television to get Democratic voters to support McAuliffe in the June primary, then it's a total waste of money. The average voter is not thinking about that election now, indeed doesn't even WANT to think about it.

Furthermore, television has waned significantly as an influence in political elections, in part because the television audience has become so fragmented. Many viewers fast forward through ads on their DVR's, and in any event political ads have become so predictable and hackneyed that they are about as effective as those GM ads for bland Chevy products.

In the presidential race, the candidates' television ads basically cancelled each other out. The big difference--apart from history--was in field organization and message/theme control.

That said, it could make strategic sense for McAuliffe to start some limited television advertising, if only to rattle his opponents and signal confidence to the "money people"--the more sophisticated political insiders who will finance the race.

One strategist, quoted in the Washington Post story on the advertising, said McAuliffe needed to run ads to "define himself" before his opponents defined him. That's typical political strategist BS, usually uttered by someone who stands to make a bundle helping buy and/or make television ads. McAuliffe's opponents are in no position to "define" him at this point, and in any event, running ads that no one pays attention to are hardly going to define Mr. M.

Whatever McAuliffe's strategy, his opponents should ignore him; at a minimum they certainly shouldn't waste their own money on television this early. We thought Creigh Deeds hit the right note, saying "if this campaign is about money, it ain't about me," a recognition that he won't be able to keep pace with McAuliffe in fundraising.

Meanwhile, Bob McDonnell, the presumptive Republican nominee, should resist the temptation of his own strategists to run ads before the Democratic primary in June. To what end? McCain wasted a ton of money running ads early last summer, to no effect whatsoever. McDonnell should adhere to the old military adages: "keep your powder dry" and "wait until you see the white's of their eyes."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Why Look--It's My Large Intestine On TV!

Ah, the joys of turning 50!

Joining AARP, playing in senior golf tournaments and our first colonoscopy.

Today, the Curmudgeon had the pleasure of seeing the inside of his large intestine, a.k.a.: colon (get it?) on television for the first time. Now that's one modern convenience our grandparents didn't get to enjoy.

We'd write something long and funny about it, but Dave Barry already did it. (If you're about to have one yourself, check out Dave's column--do it before you start pooping your guts out in the pre-colonoscopy prep, as you won't want to laugh that hard then.)

We've got our fingers crossed--they found a polyp, and if it's pre-cancerous it means we'll be headed back for another round in just a year, whereas if it's benign we won't have to take another look at our colon on TV for at least 3 years.

If your teenager is being gross and you want him to stop, just try telling him about your colonoscopy. We think that'll shut him up for at least a day or two!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Israel: A Three State Solution

Favorite Uncle Dave has an idea for dealing with the Israeli/Palestinian situation that we think has serious merit.

He suggests a three state solution to the crisis, rather than the two-state solution typically bandied about. Under the two-state solution, Palestinians would be allowed to have their own sovereign state in exchange for recognizing Israel and attempting to live in peace with the Israelis. (The two states are thus Israel and Palestine.)

The Palestinian state would consist of the West Bank and Gaza in the two-state solution. Of late, the West Bank has been relatively quiet, under the leadership of Fatah, while Gaza has been restive under the militant thumb of Hamas. With Fatah and Hamas battling each other for power, it's practically impossible for the Israelis to negotiate with the Palestinians in the "two-state" scenario. Another problem is that Gaza and the West Bank are physically separated from each other.

Under the three-state proposal, Israel would offer to recognize two different Palestinian states: one on the West Bank and one in Gaza. The process with the West Bank could get underway now, and serve as a positive example for Gazans. Eventually, if the two Palestinian states wanted to merge under one government, they could. On the other hand, if the physical separation between the two made it more convenient and sensible to remain apart, they would.

Each of the Palestinian states in the three state scenario would have greater flexibility and autonomy to address their own unique problems and issues.

With two separate states, the Palestinians might avoid the problems that caused "East Pakistan" to revolt from "West Pakistan" in the early 1970's to form Bangladesh. When British India was first partitioned in 1947, the territory now known as Bangladesh decided to join with what is now known as Pakistan to form one country, with territories separated by 1000 miles of India. The eastern Muslims, however, chafed at a ruling party based primarily in the western part of the country and eventually broke away after a bloody war.

While Gaza and the West Bank are much closer, physically, than the two Pakistans were, the physical separation is likely to lead to a divergence of economic development and other strategies over time.

We urge the new Obama administration to think creatively in trying to solve the intractable dispute in the Middle East, including consideration of the three-state proposal.

"24" Jumps The Shark

We occasionally like mindless entertainment, so we've been fans of the television drama "24" ever since our friend L.S. introduced it to us in season three.

Now in its seventh season, the franchise seriously needs to be killed off. Early reviews this year suggested that the new season would cure the ills of seasons past, making the show more plausible and relevant.

Well, those reviews were wrong.

As far as we're concerned, 24 is worse than ever. This year, agent extraordinaire Jack Bauer finds himself in Washington, D.C., rather than Los Angeles, where he'd been the previous six seasons. Washington is certainly more plausible.

Jack's also working with the FBI--ok, he started out working with them, now the FBI thinks he's gone rogue--which is also more plausible than the fictional "Counter-terrorism Unit" (CTU) of seasons past.

But for some reason the writers, based in L.A., have decided that the FBI will work out of a "field office" in Washington. Memo to 24's creative staff: the FBI's headquarters is right here in Washington. Agents don't work out of a "field office" off in some suburb. It doesn't take an FBI swat team 20 minutes to get to a critical location near downtown D.C. (as it did on the last episode). We also think that if the FBI was warned of an imminent kidnapping of a diplomat, it would involve local police in sealing off the area, rather than waiting 20 minutes for a lone swat team to arrive, only to be too late.

What's really got us bothered, though, is the silly internal conspiracies in the government. In past seasons these intrigues became ridiculous, climaxing with the President's chief of staff conspiring with Russian terrorists while the President himself was involved with a group of super-patriots using terrorism to alert the country to the need to do something about terrorism.

We thought maybe this season the show would get a little more serious, but no. The primary threat is a tin-pot dictator from Africa who's managed to obtain a device that will allow his henchmen to pierce the government's computer firewalls and bring down airplanes, poison water supplies and whatever else the "24" writers deem terror-worthy. The reality, of course, is that the government's computers are so poorly interconnected and coordinated that they barely speak to each other--the idea of one device breaching them is pretty lame.

Meanwhile, this African dictator has managed to infiltrate the government at the "highest levels," so he can thwart the FBI from within.

Of course, "24" also has to have subplots to fill up the required 60 minutes per episode of non-stop action. So this season's primary subplot is that the female President's husband is off on a secret investigation of his son's death, which had been labelled a suicide. After stumbling on evidence that his son was, in reality, murdered, the President's husband is being set up by his Secret Service protective agent, all as part of a scheme to protect some other vague financial interests.

The President herself is so enamored of saving lives in the fictional African country of Saangala that she is willing to risk American lives to terrorism rather than wait a few hours to delay an invasion. The real question is why she doesn't just launch a few missiles into his palace when he makes the threat.

We were also told that this season torture wouldn't be used to extract information from suspects, but torture is still the tool du jour not only of Jack Bauer, but now of a female FBI agent infected with Bauer's fervor.

The legal system works fast in 24-land too. In the time it takes the FBI to dispatch a swat team, lawyers for a tortured terrorist manage to issue a subpoena to the feds (the 24 writers like to use subpoenas for many purposes--they used one to get Bauer released from a Senate committee to the FBI; we had no idea subpoenas were so versatile, powerful and quick), and the Justice Dept. manages to dispatch a senior lawyer to the FBI "field office" to start an investigation. Just think: if the FBI had issued a subpoena, instead of sending a swat team, it could've acted fast enough to prevent that kidnapping!

We're not too sure we'll get to the end of this season. Even if we do, it's time to end this franchise.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

2008: Cool By Recent Standards

If you thought 2008 was a bit cooler than recent years, you were right.

But not much cooler. One of the problems with the recent spate of extremely warm years is that most of us have forgotten what a "normal" year feels like. (Hint: it feels like the temperatures we've had since November: relatively cold.)

2008 was only a bit cooler--according to the folks over at Capital Weather Gang, 2008 was the 8th, 9th or 10th warmest year on record, depending on who's keeping score, although it was the coolest year of the recent decade. That's still pretty warm. In fact, if 2008 had occurred in 1996, it would be the warmest year on record.

So ignore the climate change deniers who are running around declaring that the era of global warming has come to an end.

Inaugural Success

Many thoughts on the inaugural, which we witnessed from afar--we caught part of the festivities on television while taking a break from skiing at Wisp.

First off, somehow, it all worked. Everyone we talked to who stayed in town went to one, two or more events and all had generally good experiences. Everyone we talked to said the same thing--the crowd was large, but friendly, patient and cheerful.
Although the Curmudgeon made fun, last week, of the security and transportation plans, those who wanted to were able to make it, be safe and enjoy their experiences. The city managed to host a throng almost three times D.C.'s population without major incident, so that's saying something. Kudos to our friend K.W., at DHS, who had the thankless job of coordinating much of the planning (and, we hope, is enjoying a day off today!)

Indeed, things went so well we think D.C. should declare every Friday a "car-free day," closing the bridges to private vehicles and restricting traffic in all of downtown and the monument core. Think of all the exercise everyone would get! (Somehow, we don't think Mrs. Curmudgeon would be too enamored of this idea.)

As for us, we were happy to return to Washington around 8:00 pm last night and find no problem at all getting home. The Beltway was fine, the GW Parkway had opened back up and it was smoother sailing than on a typical day.

Papa Curmudgeon ("dad") and his wife N., who camped out in our home for the weekend, had a great time. They saw friends, went to a dinner at the British Embassy, visited the Newseum, wandered through the inaugural throng and finished off with the "Grits and Granite" ball (SC and NH) over here in Arlington last night.

They didn't have too much trouble taking Metro from Clarendon yesterday morning--the key was that they forgot to set the alarm, so got a late start, which meant they missed the worst crowds. It did take them awhile to get out of the L'Enfant Plaza station, but on their way home they--get this--saw a cab, hailed it and were back at the Curmudgeon residence 10 minutes later. How's that for luck!

Several friends took their kids to the concert Sunday, and all said it was relatively easy and a good deal of fun.

C.H., with a large Minnesota contingent in town, managed to make the most of it despite not getting to their ticketed spot on the Capitol grounds. (They had cursed tickets--although they were obtained from MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office, they originally belonged to Norm Coleman (or Al Franken), and were reassigned after no winner emerged in that race.)

The highlight for C.H.'s group: seeing the Obama motorcade and then seeing the Obamas, and Bidens, at the Midwest ball last night, which (sort of) made up for the ticket debacle earlier in the day.

We're sorta sorry we missed it all, but not really. It was a terrific long weekend for skiing--we received nearly a foot of fresh new powder over three days and had the slopes to ourselves yesterday. We taped the swearing in and speech, and enjoyed watching the spectacle later from the warm comfort of our home.

We do worry, though. What will our chidren tell their children when asked, "where were you when Pres. Obama had his first inaugural?" I'm sure they'll make up something good!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Oh, Is There An Inauguration Going On?

We wish the Curmudgeon was going to be bringing you photos and instant updates from the inaugural festivities this weekend, but we won't.

Instead, we'll be skiing at Wisp, in western Maryland, adjacent to Deep Creek Lake. If you're staying here, or coming into town, all we can say is GOOD LUCK!

Let us know how it goes!

McAuliffe Off To A Good Start

Although we've been a bit dubious about former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe's run for Virginia governor, we have to say he's off to a good start--in sharp contrast to the other candidate from Northern Virginia, Brian Moran.

According to the Washington Post, McAuliffe has already caught up to Moran, as well as to Sen. Creigh Deeds, the other candidate for the Democratic nomination.

McAuliffe is also working the "netroots"--politically active bloggers (but not the Curmudgeon, so far--we did dodge a call from Moran the other day) who help shape the early part of the campaign. Whether it's true or not, McAuliffe's campaign managed to get a Huffington Post piece proclaiming, at least, that their man is "winning over" the Virginia netroots.

Moran, as we noted earlier this week, has made missteps. Not Larry Sabato has more on Moran's troubles of late.

There's no question that McAuliffe can win this race--both the nomination and the general election. Mark Warner had served in no elective or political office before becoming Virginia's governor. Likewise, Jim Webb had never held elective office in the Commonwealth before becoming senator.

The biggest problem for McAuliffe may be a perception that he's "too liberal" for Virginia. Can he come up with a strategy--like Warner did--for getting more moderate and conservative Democratic and independent voters in southwest Virginia? If so, he can win.

Indeed, what we're seeing in Virginia--and it mirrors trends in the rest of the country--is that working through the political ranks may not be the best route to statewide or federal office. Virginia--especially Northern Virginia--is filled with very smart, very talented, quite ambitious people who would not burden themselves with local political office, but who might make excellent governors, senators and congresspeople.

Moran has already lined up most of Arlington's Democratic politicos in his camp. We wonder who'll be the first to desert if Moran's ship keeps sinking while McAuliffe's star rises?

While the Dems slug it out, the presumptive Republican nominee, Attorney General Bob McDonnell, is building up a big warchest of money--$2 million so far. His campaign manager says the Democrats "are going to be tired and broke on June 9" while McDonnell will have "several million dollars" in the bank.

We're not worried. Often, a good primary contest gives tremendous publicity to the eventual winner, gets his/her campaign organization in shape and energizes his/her supporters. McCain had all summer to raise money and get organized while Obama and Hillary slugged it out, but look who won. McDonnell will have difficulty getting much of a spotlight over the next few months, while all three Democrats will constantly be in the news. Once the Democratic nominee emerges, he won't have too much difficulty raising enough money to at least be competitive with McDonnell.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Brian Moran Blunder Nearly Gives Safe Democratic Seat To GOP

A few months ago, we would've said the smart money was on Brian Moran to win the Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia.

Now, we're not so sure. Moran has been stumbling of late, partly because the entry of former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe has put a major monkey wrench in Moran's plans.

But that's not all. Back in December, Moran suddenly resigned his House of Delegates seat to concentrate on his gubernatorial bid. Nothing wrong with that, except the timing. Moran's move forced a very quick and ill-timed special election.

Although just about everyone figured Moran's seat was safe for Democrats--his district went for Obama by about 75%--it turned out he almost gave the seat away to Republicans do to the extraordinarily low turnout. The Democrat, Charnielle Herring, won yesterday by just 16 votes, with turnout about as low as it could possibly be.

There's likely to be a recount, so Republicans in the General Assembly would not seat Herring today, but we predict she'll be seated soon.

Nice going, Brian. The smart money's starting to wonder.

Health Care Help For Families With Children

Our friend CH, who works on health care policy issues, helped get the Washington Post to focus, today, on the growing problem of families who lose health insurance for their kids when a parent loses a job.

See "Families Seeking Insurance for Kids."

States provide health insurance assistance for many lower middle and middle income families that don't otherwise qualify for assistance, through a federal program known as State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). In the past couple of years, Congress has twice voted to expand SCHIP, which is a cost-effective program limited solely to children, only to have Pres. Bush exercise his veto.

With Obama coming in, Congress is preparing, once again, to expand the program, this time with the expectation that our new President will sign the bill.

It's just in time, because, as today's Post article aptly illustrates, the number of families and children in need is growing rapidly.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Inauguration: The Terrorists Have Already Won

The ridiculous "security" pronouncements on the inaugural continue to pile up. Today, the folks running the show--and wouldn't we like to know who's really in charge?--have said that two more downtown Metro stations will be closed for much of the day.

One, the Mount Vernon Square station, is the closest to the D.C. Convention Center, which will host eight out of the ten "official" inaugural parties to be attended by the Obamas and Bidens Tuesday night. Now that makes a lot of sense--tens of thousands of sharply dressed ball-goers will be flocking to the Convention Center in what are expected to be near-freezing temperatures, with no way to get there other than Metro, so why not close the nearest station? And how are the folks working at those parties supposed to get there?

Let's face it, the terrorists have already won, without doing a damn thing. They've turned our nation's biggest quadrennial celebration of our democracy into a security nightmare than only a brutal dictator could appreciate.

It all started four years ago, with the first post-9/11 inaugural. The Bush/Cheney crew used the terror threat as an excuse to turn that inaugural into a private party for Republicans--getting into the downtown security corridor was by invitation only.

This time around, while the Obamans have done away with the elitist invitation-only structure, they've nonetheless succumbed to a hysterical security mind-set that's threatens to turn much of official Washington into another Green Zone. Who knows, will blast walls be next?

We urge Obama to appoint someone--a reasonable civilian--to study the security situation, not only for the inaugural, but in general, with an eye toward recommendations for restoring our democracy and opening Washington back up to the people. A good place to begin would be with vehicle traffic around the White House, where restrictions instituted in the Clinton years have virtually split the western half of downtown D.C. from the eastern half.

We were in China when it celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Communist revolution, and not even that great repressive state engaged in the mind numbing security measures adopted in Washington these days.

Security is important. But so is the openness of democracy. Let there be more light.

Top 25 Bushisms

Courtesy of Jacob Weisberg at Slate, here's the top 25 Bushisms generated in eight long years in office:

1. "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."—Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

2. "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family."—Greater Nashua, N.H., Chamber of Commerce, Jan. 27, 2000

3. "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"—Florence, S.C., Jan. 11, 2000

4. "Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across the country."—Poplar Bluff, Mo., Sept. 6, 2004

5. "Neither in French nor in English nor in Mexican."—declining to answer reporters' questions at the Summit of the Americas, Quebec City, Canada, April 21, 2001

6. "You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.''—Townsend, Tenn., Feb. 21, 2001

7. "I'm the decider, and I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense."—Washington, D.C., April 18, 2006

8. "See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda."—Greece, N.Y., May 24, 2005

9. "I've heard he's been called Bush's poodle. He's bigger than that."—discussing former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as quoted by the Sun newspaper, June 27, 2007

10. "And so, General, I want to thank you for your service. And I appreciate the fact that you really snatched defeat out of the jaws of those who are trying to defeat us in Iraq."—meeting with Army Gen. Ray Odierno, Washington, D.C., March 3, 2008

11. "We ought to make the pie higher."—South Carolina Republican debate, Feb. 15, 2000

12. "There's an old saying in Tennessee—I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can't get fooled again."—Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002

13. "And there is distrust in Washington. I am surprised, frankly, at the amount of distrust that exists in this town. And I'm sorry it's the case, and I'll work hard to try to elevate it."—speaking on National Public Radio, Jan. 29, 2007

14. "We'll let our friends be the peacekeepers and the great country called America will be the pacemakers."—Houston, Sept. 6, 2000

15. "It's important for us to explain to our nation that life is important. It's not only life of babies, but it's life of children living in, you know, the dark dungeons of the Internet."—Arlington Heights, Ill., Oct. 24, 2000

16. "One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures."—U.S. News & World Report, Jan. 3, 2000

17. "People say, 'How can I help on this war against terror? How can I fight evil?' You can do so by mentoring a child; by going into a shut-in's house and say I love you."—Washington, D.C., Sept. 19, 2002

18. "Well, I think if you say you're going to do something and don't do it, that's trustworthiness."—CNN online chat, Aug. 30, 2000

19. "I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep on the soil of a friend."—on the prospect of visiting Denmark, Washington, D.C., June 29, 2005

20. "I think it's really important for this great state of baseball to reach out to people of all walks of life to make sure that the sport is inclusive. The best way to do it is to convince little kids how to—the beauty of playing baseball."—Washington, D.C., Feb. 13, 2006

21. "Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream."—LaCrosse, Wis., Oct. 18, 2000

22. "You know, when I campaigned here in 2000, I said, I want to be a war president. No president wants to be a war president, but I am one."—Des Moines, Iowa, Oct. 26, 2006

23. "There's a huge trust. I see it all the time when people come up to me and say, 'I don't want you to let me down again.' "—Boston, Oct. 3, 2000

24. "They misunderestimated me."—Bentonville, Ark., Nov. 6, 2000

25. "I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office."—Washington, D.C., May 12, 2008

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Suppose They Gave An Inauguration And No One Could Get There

The Curmudgeon and family are fleeing town for the Obama inauguration, and not a moment too soon. (And no, you can't stay in our home--it's already taken.)

Yes, we're proud of Obama's election. But the predicted crowds for his inauguration are ridiculous, and when combined with the security measures being taken by authorities guarantee a very unhappy mess.

Today's Washington Post reports that ALL bridges from Virginia into D.C. will be closed to private automobile traffic. And, for good measure, the George Washington Parkway will be closed between the 14th Street bridge and the Beltway, which means further gridlock on the Virginia side.

Even if you could sneak into D.C.--say by going around and coming in from Maryland, you'll get nowhere because the entire downtown and mall area are closed to all private vehicles. In short, you can't get anywhere close to the inauguration, the parade and most inaugural balls in your own car. (This despite the fact that D.C. has tens of thousands of parking spaces downtown and can handle quite a few people on a normal day via car.)

That means the only realistic options are (1) Metro--which can handle, at most, 1 million people THROUGHOUT THE DAY (not all at once); (2) walk or bike; and (3) a tour bus (which can't park anywhere close by either). And, for good measure, a number of Metro parking lots will be closed, and the closest Metro stations to the events will also be closed.

As a practical matter, this all means that probably not much more than 1 million people can get into D.C. for the festivities. Of course, if the Secret Service had its way, NO ONE could get in, thereby making things quite secure.

The arrangements for getting about are pretty impractical. Suppose you live (or are staying) in Fairfax County and you want to go to the inauguration and then later to a ball. How do you get back and forth? You probably can't. As one friend suggested, "you can change in the port-a-potty."

In any event, predictions that 2-5 million people will attend are vastly inflated because IT SIMPLY CAN'T HAPPEN.

We do have a suggestion: it's time to change the way the inauguration is handled. The current practice of being sworn in on the west front of the Capitol goes back many years, to a time when the crowds of onlookers were in the thousands, not millions. Today, security, crowd control, transportation are all a nightmare.

If you've ever been to the inauguration, you know that, at most, about 10,000 people can actually see it in person on the grounds of the Capitol. (In the photo above, the people on the other side of the pool can't see much of anything; nor can those at the bottom of the hill.)

So why not move the inauguration to a place designed for thousands of onlookers: Fed-Ex Field (where the Redskins play). That venue can be set up to host about 100,000 (including on field seating), with reasonable parking and transportation and security. All in attendance would be able to see (and hear) what's going on, and it wouldn't require building out an elaborate inaugural stand every four years.

True, it would lack the backdrop of the Capitol, but it was never designed to host something so big. It would also lack "tradition," but then before this "tradition" dictated that the major party nominees accept their nominations in the convention hall where their party was meeting. Not Obama: he went to the Denver Broncos' stadium for his acceptance speech so he could properly accommodate the expected crowd.

We could still have an inaugural parade in downtown D.C., and fit more people in because the space around the Capitol would be freed up.

Tradition is great. But most traditions made sense when they started. Time for a new tradition.

As for us, we'll be swooshing down the ski slopes, while our DVR captures the action on television for later viewing.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Let's Hear It For Bacon!

The Curmudgeon loves bacon, and is eternally grateful he wasn't raised in a kosher home. So we were quite delighted to learn that the world's oldest living person attributes her longevity, in part, to the "occasional piece of crispy bacon."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Global Warming Deniers: Doubt Is Our Product

In one of the most infamous tobacco company documents unveiled in litigation, one of the Tobacco Institute's paid cancer deniers stated "doubt is our product."

Taking a page from that book, the global warming deniers jostle facts, cherry pick data and work off the same talking points in an incessant drumbeat intended to create just enough doubt to hinder or thwart policy initiatives that just might prove inconvenient to Dirty Coal and Big Oil.

One we saw today was an editorial in Investors Business Daily arguing that because winter sea ice levels have not declined significantly over the past four decades, there must not really be global warming. The conservative British Guardian carried a similar piece not too long ago, and for some reason the RealClearPolitics and RealClearMarkets folks love to highlight these on their front pages.

Global warming, of course, does not occur in a straight line. Some years are quite warm, others less warm, and some downright cool. A few months, a year, or even several years, of cooler weather doesn't negate the warming data. Nor can you point to a single data point and say "aha"--there's your doubt.

The extent of WINTER sea ice has not varied significantly over the past 40 years, but summer sea ice is a different story. In the northern hemisphere, summer sea ice has declined significantly over the past 100 years, as shown in the chart below, from Cryosphere Today, a website maintained by the Polar Research Group at the Univ. of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

If all we had to go on was a decline in summer sea ice in the northern hemisphere, it would indeed be a close question. But there are tons of other data that global warming deniers simply ignore. Investors Business Daily, for example, made no mention of recently reported findings, from satellite measurements, that the ice cap covering Greenland is thinning at an alarming rate.

Melting sea ice does not raise sea levels. But melting ice covering Greenland does, and is a cause for real concern.

In any event, regardless of global warming, moving away from fossil fuels--especially oil--is a win-win for Americans as it lessens our dependence on oil from politically unstable regimes, and helps move us closer to the day when these fuels (particularly oil) will be sufficiently scarce that alternatives will be quite necessary.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Gone Fishing In Georgia

Although Georgians face a bad economy, disproportionate bank failures, massive foreclosures, a big state government deficit, a stubborn drought and other problems, they can rest easy in the knowledge that their Republican Governor, "Sonny" Perdue, is on the case.

Amidst all the state's troubles, Perdue has championed a proposal--backed by nearly $20 million in state funds evidently immune from budget cuts--to make Georgia the bass fishing capital of the free world. Today's Wall Street Journal has the story HERE.

Maybe Perdue could be the GOP presidential standard-bearer in 2012: citing the parable of Jesus and the fish (give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime), Perdue could lead the country back to prosperity on a "Gone Fishing" platform.

Coleman Should Concede

Republican Senator Norm Coleman, from Minnesota, is promising a protracted court battle to retain his seat after the Minnesota Election Board declared his challenger, Al Franken, the winner in their closely contested election battle.

Coleman ought to concede. At best, if he won his various challenges, he would win, literally, by a handful of votes. That's not likely to happen. In any event, an incumbent senator who gets less than 42% of the vote (remember, there was a third party candidate who got about 15% of the vote) and whose margin is too small to declare a victory deserves to lose. He hardly got a ringing endorsement from Minnesota voters!

Big Beast Conference

In today's AP Top 25 Men's College Basketball poll, the Big East Conference has an incredible nine teams listed. (Hoyas #9)

That won't last long, as they have begun the process of beating the crap out of each other!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Tough Choices For Israel

Faced with a terrorist organization, masquerading as a legitimate governmental authority, routinely firing deadly rockets randomly at civilian targets, Israel had little choice but to do something about Hamas in Gaza.

Unfortunately, there's no easy way to stop the rain of terror rockets from Gaza. Israel has now launched a ground operation into Gaza, a territory about the size of Washington, D.C., in an effort to remove the rockets, the rocket launchers and the Hamas militants responsible for them.

But since Hamas has firmly embedded its terror rockets within the civilian Palestinian population of Gaza, there's virtually no way that Israel can proceed without "collateral" damage and the appearance of a "disproportionate" response. Yet, if Israel could successfully stop the terror rockets with a smaller, more targeted response, it would.

If there is to be peace in Gaza, and Israel, then the Arab world will need to reign in Hamas. Most Palestinians, no doubt, would prefer peace, would prefer to have their own state, and would prefer to get on with their own lives. Unless they can find a way, such as how the Sunni Iraqi tribal leaders united to oust Al Queada from their midst, to rid themselves of the Hamas militants, however, war and bombs are inevitable.

No nation would put up with what Israel has endured in terms of rocket attacks. The rest of the world should not condemn Israel, but rather should condemn Hamas and endorse the right of a sovereign nation, such as Israel, to respond to provocations such as terror rockets.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Brian Moran Gets Silly

It's only the second day of 2009 and already Virginia gubernatorial hopeful Brian Moran has made a major strategic miscue.

Today, on radio, Moran called upon the other candidates for the Democratic nomination to join him in a pledge to accept campaign contributions only from Virginians. It's a silly pledge and not worthy of Moran.

Obviously, Moran's worried about the fundraising prowess of former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, who's also running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. McAuliffe's got a nationwide list of contacts and is expected to out-raise both Moran and the other announced candidate, state Sen. Creigh Deeds.

The last thing Moran should do is start the year projecting fear and weakness, and throwing out a silly pledge that no one could take seriously. Indeed, we'd like to know how much money Moran has ALREADY raised from out of state donors.

Moran would be better off, at least in public, disdaining McAuliffe's dollars and focusing on achievements in the Old Dominion.

Project strength, Brian.

A couple more missteps like this one and some of us who are still pretty dubious about McAuliffe may change our minds.