Friday, February 27, 2009

George Will Just Doesn't Get It

Last week, George Will published a column on global warming in which he got a few facts wrong. Today, rather than admit any mistakes, Will published a follow-up in which he tried to defend his earlier column, which has been roundly criticized.

One of the things you have to admire about America's over lawyered culture is that no one admits a mistake! Make an error, then go on the offensive.

Speaking of offensive, Will is still quite wrong.

His basic beef on global warming seems to be that in the 1970's a number of media outlets were promoting headlines proclaiming global cooling. He particularly likes to pick on the New York Times.

So his point is that the media are a bunch of hypocrites. But the stories in the 1970's were not accompanied by the kinds of data that animate today's stories. There was no International Panel on Climate Change in the 1970's putting out detailed, consensus reports on global cooling. Instead, the media was, unfortunately, giving play to the types of junk science crackpots you find in any scientific field these days--and who appear to be working with the George Will's of the world today.

Will's secondary point is to isolate a few snippets of data about global climate change to raise doubt about the issue. This is a classic tactic in any scientific "debate"--it was the bread and butter of the Tobacco Institue in its heydey, a playbook copied often since then.

Here's where Will got particularly hung up: citing data from the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, Will stated that "the increase in sea ice has been the fastest change, either up or down, since 1979, when satellite record-keeping began." That part may well be true--it's also irrelevant. The reason for the large increase in sea ice this current winter is because the summer sea ice has gotten so small in past couple of years that when it rebounds in the winter, the increase is larger.

That hardly means there isn't warming. There will always be Arctic ice in the winter, when there is no sunlight for weeks on end at the North Pole. It appears, however, that the ice forming this winter, and in recent winters, is thinner, more fragile ice, more likely to melt in the summer.

Will also stated that Arctic sea ice this winter was at the same extent as it was in 1979. That was not correct. It is about 3% smaller. Now Will is trying to argue that the 3% difference is really so neglible that he was right. While he's wrong, it again doesn't really matter. You can't just pick one year out of the past and compare it to this year. The data is far more robust.

We urge readers to take a look at the following two charts, from the Climate Research Center. The first (actually, the one on the bottom--it's always hard to get Blogger to display them the way you want) shows the extent of Arctic sea ice over the past 365 days. The bottom of the chart shows the anomaly from the mean extent of ice from 1979-2000, i.e, whether there is more or less ice this year than in a typical year during that period.

What you see is that by as late as mid-October, 2008, Arctic sea ice was 2 million square kilometers below the mean. That's a lot of square kilometers and represents about a forty percent reduction in sea ice compared to the mean.

Then, in mid-October, ice finally started growing again. From mid-October to mid-November, the ice grew at a phenomenal rate, almost making up the 2 million square km deficit. So that was a very rapid expansion of ice, but so what. Since then, the ice has formed at about its average rate, but still well below the mean. The big question is what will happen this summer? It looks like the ice has pretty much reached its seasonal peak--below that of last year and nearly 1 million square km below the mean--and is poised for another significant decline.

The second chart below is more instructive, because it shows the long term trends, and thus eliminate peaks and valleys and irrelevant arguments over comparing one particular year to another. What you see, quite unmistakably, is that since 1950 the extent of Arctic sea ice has been declining, with the decline accelerating precipitously in the past few years.

Now maybe that's not from manmade activity--there could be other explanations. But to deny that it is taking place--which is what Will would have his readers believe with his selective citation of data--simply defies fact.

There are some decent arguments to be made against the case for manmade global warming. But George Will appears ignorant of them. As usual, he's just being a conservative blow-hard.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Did Jindal Really Say That!?

We still can't believe Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal made fun, in his GOP response speech last night, of federal expenditures for monitoring volcanoes.

Is he a total moron, or what?

Here's the governor of a state that gets BILLIONS and BILLIONS of federal dollars for hurricane protection, and he's complaining about a little bit of money going to states that don't worry about hurricanes, but do happen to have active volcanoes in their neighborhood.

How much do the feds spend on the National Hurricane Center? Maybe Louisiana should take that over.

How much do the feds pay for levees in Louisiana? For flood control? For wetland restoration?

And how much have they spent on the state to rebuild from Katrina and Wilma?

Louisiana is ADDICTED to federal money, and ALWAYS has been!

We'd like to see Obama say, "here, Jindal, tell you what--we'll cut off the federal spigot for one month and then we'll see what you have to say."

Antarctic Red Flag: Glaciers Sliding More Rapidly Than Expected

A study by a team of scientists in Antarctica suggests that a number of large glaciers on the icy continent are speeding up, risking higher sea levels sooner than expected.

According to the scientists, the ice in West Antarctica, which had been thought to be fairly stable, is showing signs of significant melting and shifting. For example, the massive Pine Island Glacier in West Antartica is moving 40 percent faster than a few decades ago, while the smaller Smith Glacier is already 83 percent faster than it was just 15 years ago.

Some of the researchers expressed surprise, as they had expected to find evidence of warming on the Antarctic Peninsula, a relatively small area, but not in the huge area represented by West Antarctica.

This is bad news indeed, as it suggests--along with other evidence of late--that time is running out faster than scientists had expected just a few years ago. While there's been a lot of talk about the extent of sea ice melting in the Arctic recently, melting sea ice doesn't raise sea levels. The Antarctic glaciers, however, are on land, so to the extent they slide into the ocean at a faster rate, they will raise sea levels.

Significantly, the most recent IPCC report on climate change (in 2007) really ignored the potential for sea rises from melting in Antarctica and Greenland because there simply wasn't enough evidence to make a valid estimate. The IPCC report forecast sea level rises of between 7-23 inches by the year 2100, but the additional melting in Antarctica could easily double that.

At the far extreme, the data from West Antarctica raises the specter of a complete collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet at some point in the future, which would raise sea levels by several feet, and which, if it occurred, could happen over a short period of time.

The good news about the global recession is that greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 will undoubtedly decrease simply due to less industrial activity. The bad news is that nations will be reluctant to make investments in somewhat more expensive alternative energy, paving the way for a rapid increase in emissions when economic expansion resumes.

One wonders whether it is already too late to stop the most significant effects of climate change. Because most of the effects will be felt gradually over the next 100 years, we doubt that it will be quite as catastrophic as some doomsayers predict; by the same token, we are confident that the impact will be quite large, and the effects unpredictable.

One U.S. state that ought to be plenty worried is Governor Bobby Jindal's Louisiana. The low-lying, marshy, swampy state could find itself in big trouble with even a modest sea level rise. There was no sign in Jindal's GOP response to Obama's speech last night that he is the least bit concerned.

The new data from Antarctica is just one more red flag.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Is Senator Shelby A U.S. Citizen?

Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican, reportedly told an Alabama newspaper over the weekend that he's not sure whether Obama is a U.S. citizen, qualified to be President.

"Well his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven't seen any birth certificate. You have to be born in America to be President. Obama could put the urban legend to rest by simply releasing his actual birth certificate, but he has declined to do so," said the Senator.

Fortunately for Senator Shelby, the Constitution doesn't disqualify him from being a Senator simply because he's a redneck dumbass.

Arlingtonians FOR Widening I-66

A vocal minority of Arlingtonians opposes widening I-66 between the beltway and D.C. and they are doing everything they can to slow the process down.

Let's hope they don't succeed.

The Curmudgeon is an Arlingtonian who favors widening I-66 and we bet many other Arlingtonians are with us. (Hear that Chris Zimmerman?)

After years of study, the Va. Dept. of Transportation came up with a plan to mostly widen I-66 to three lanes on the westbound side. This was a modest, sensible proposal that would mainly alleviate the congestion from the Glebe Road entry ramp to the Dulles Access Road exit in Falls Church. It would not encompass widening the existing I-66 right of way at all. (We would oppose any plan that would go outside the existing right of way.)

The other day, however, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government's Transportation Planning Board, led by Arlington councilman Zimmerman, voted to scrap those plans. Fortunately, two Fairfax County reps on the Board who voted for that measure have since heard from their constituents and wisely decided to change their votes at the next meeting, when the issue will come up again. Changing those two votes will reverse the Committee's decision and, we hope, put the project back on the fast track, perhaps with stimulus money.

People in Arlington who oppose the widening like to pretend that no one who lives or works in Arlington uses I-66--rather, that it is just a road link from the outer suburbs to downtown D.C. that happens to cut through our little County.

That's quite false, however, as any regular user of I-66 would know. The primary bottleneck on the highway is in the heart of Arlington, where traffic from Glebe Road and Fairfax Drive dump onto the interstate. In a clear engineering nightmare, a two lane entry ramp merges into a two lane highway, creating a back-up in even relatively light traffic.

The folks entering I-66 westbound at the Glebe Road entry are not coming from D.C.--they are coming from Arlington. Some are residents; many are workers in Arlington who support our business base.

For those of us who live in the County and regularly have business or pleasure to the west--at Tysons, Dulles, Leesburg, etc. (e.g., the Curmudgeon's golf club), I-66 is the primary means to get out of the County efficiently, without creating bottlenecks on Rt. 50, Wilson Blvd., Washington Blvd. and Lee Highway.

In case of a terrorist emergency, I-66 is also our escape route. Sadly, it would probably be a death trap for Arlingtonians because it is so grossly inadequate.

The proposed widening will really only address the congestion caused at the Glebe and Sycamore entry points. So far, nothing has been proposed to address problems with Eastbound I-66, toward the district.

The prevailing wisdom is that widening I-66 eastbound would do no good because it eventually dumps into the Teddy Roosevelt bridge, which is already a choke point. However, adding a third lane between the Sycamore entry point and the Glebe Rd. exit would immensely help with traffic problems on eastbound I-66. Why? Because those same residents and workers who clog up westbound I-66 when they get on at Glebe Rd. are also clogging up the highway before they get off at Glebe Rd. Any regular traveler on eastbound I-66 knows that once you're past the Glebe exit, you're home free.

We think its terrific that Arlington has been a pioneer in efforts to encourage mass transit, walking, biking and other alternatives to the omnipresent automobile. But cars are, at least for now, a necessary evil. Forcing them off I-66 and on to Arlington's "surface streets" is hardly a good solution for our community. It's time for Arlington's leaders to get real on I-66.

Monday, February 23, 2009

What Could You Do With $40 Trillion?

A lot, that's what. And it's why we're in such dire economic straits.

According to one reliable account we read recently, the world economy has shed $40 trillion in wealth over the past year or so. That's $40,000,000,000,000!

With that kind of cash, you could buy up quite a few countries. You could feed the world for a couple years. You could build millions of houses. You could build fabulous new cities. You could convert the entire U.S. to solar power and still have well over $39 trillion left over.

Not only that, but in spending $40 trillion, you could generate a lot of jobs. A LOT OF JOBS.

And taxes. Just 10% of $40 trillion would be $4 trillion, which would help a lot of governments do a lot of things for a lot of people.

Our point is this: an $800 billion stimulus is just a drop in the bucket after $40 trillion has been vaporized. We're not going to be out of this mess anytime soon, and it could turn into a true Depression.

Sorry to be so glum.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Save DC United From McFarlane and Co.

Major League Soccer and Washington's local soccer community should act to prevent DC United's "owners" from destroying the franchise with a selfish, poorly conceived move to Prince George's County, Md.

DC United is one of the league's most successful franchises, with consistently high attendance at games.

A couple of years ago, Victor McFarlane, a real estate investment guy from California, "bought" the team. We say "bought" in quotes because he and his partners don't actually own the team--MLS does. But by virtue of his partnership's agreements with MLS, McFarlane effectively controls the team.

Neither McFarlane, nor his primary partners, know much about soccer. The only local investor with a major stake in the franchise is Brian Davis, who is a basketball guy. (He and Christian Laettner, also an investor, played together at Duke.)

McFarlane also doesn't know much about D.C., although he thinks he does.

The reason McFarlane invested in the team was that he hoped he could leverage it to do a stadium deal where his real estate investment company would make money on some type of large, mixed-use development associated with the new stadium. And, of course, like most egotistical sports franchise owners, he hoped he could get taxpayers to finance the whole thing.

So, what we have is a guy who knows little (and apparently cares little) about soccer or D.C., who's invested in DC United only for the real estate angle. He's now threatening to destroy the franchise by moving it away from its fan base and into Prince George's County, which is probably the least soccer friendly jurisdiction in the Washington region.

Why P.G. County? Initially, McFarlane thought he could work a deal to put a new stadium at Poplar Point, in D.C., across the Anacostia River from the new baseball stadium. We're not sure that would be a particularly good location, either, but it was better than P.G. County. He wanted the deal at Poplar Point, however, as a foot in the door to developing the rest of the site, which is one of the largest available within the District of Columbia, and which--at least in the good ol' days of real estate mania--looked like a great place to make a mint.

But now the Poplar Point deal has fallen through. No one else in their right mind is going to use taxpayer money to finance a new stadium in today's economic conditions, and the real estate market is looking pretty poorly in any event.

But in comes P.G. County with an offer to finance the new stadium. We can't imagine why--P.G.'s residents are hardly soccer crazy; but fiscal responsibility has never been a hallmark of the Maryland County and if we had to guess we'd bet there's a little something on the side for everyone (except the taxpayers) involved in the deal over there.

That's nice for McFarlane and his cronies. If they make money on the real estate end, then who cares how it affects DC United. And that's our concern. Moving the franchise to P.G. County could destroy it; it certainly will devalue the team. See, 65% of United's fans are in Northern Virginia and their support will wane significantly if the team moves out of relatively convenient RFK stadium to P.G. County.

McFarlane has been quoted as dismissing the prospect of losing the team's NoVa fan base, stating that perhaps the team will tap into new fans from Maryland. Fat chance--this isn't the Redskins, with a 35,000 person waiting list for tickets. The truth is, McFarlane just doesn't care.

Major League Soccer, however, should care. They still own the franchise and it is a significant part of the success of MLS. MLS shouldn't let McFarlane destroy the club for his own selfish motives. Perhaps they could find a new owner who actually cares about soccer?

All Passengers In A Car Should Wear Seat Belts

The Curmudgeon's 14-year-old was annoyed that his father's new car so insistently beeps at him if he doesn't promptly don his seat belt.

So we told him the story from today's Washington Post.

A two-car accident on Route 50 in Maryland killed three early yesterday morning. As with many accidents, those killed were innocently minding their own business when another vehicle, speeding along, rammed the back of their car.

There were five passengers in the car that was struck. "Two people who were not wearing seat belts were thrown from the car, police said." Those two died, as did one other passenger. While others were injured, it is likely that wearing their seat belts helped them survive.

Ejection from a vehicle during a crash is one of the leading causes of auto fatalities. It almost never happens when one is wearing a seatbelt.

We only wish that the nagging beep in the Curmudgeon's new car applied to everyone, including those in the back seat, and not just to the teenager in the front passenger seat. We hope he'll get the message, not just for his benefit, but for that of his buddies, too.

Not Cute: 11 Year Old Uses "Youth" Shotgun To Shoot Woman In Back of Head

An 11-year-old boy in Pennsylvania has been charged with murder in the shooting death of his father's pregnant girlfriend.

According to news reports, the boy reportedly shot the young woman in the back of her head, killing her (and her unborn baby).

His weapon: a "youth-model 20-gauge shotgun."

What the hell is a youth model shotgun? Who would give an 11-year-old a shotgun? More insanity from the gun lobby. Why not make it legal for him to drink whiskey (a youth model) while we're at it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Check The Facts George

Earlier this week, George Will had one of his periodic global warming skeptic columns in the Washington Post.

We're slow to get on this, but better late than never. As evidence for his skepticism, Will stated:

"As global levels of sea ice declined last year, many experts said this was evidence of man-made global warming. Since September, however, the increase in sea ice has been the fastest change, either up or down, since 1979, when satellite record-keeping began. According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979."

Shortly thereafter, the folks at the University of Illinois put this up on their website:

"In an opinion piece by George Will published on February 15, 2009 in the Washington Post, George Will states 'According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.'

"We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined."

We might add that winter sea ice is not the real issue--over the years, winter sea ice has declined, but not by a whole lot. Summer sea ice, in contrast, has declined dramatically in the Arctic over the past 50 years, from a high of nearly 12 million square kilometers in 1952 to a low of less than 6 million square km in 2007.

Will's mistake, of course, was in trying to cite facts. Like the other skeptics, he should stick with innuendo.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Idol Math Doesn't Add Up

So, the first night of Idol is over and at least Tatiana is out. But so is Anoop Dawg. And seven other contestants.

Or are they?

We're not sure we like this year's format, which is different from prior years.

This time, Idol has selected 36 finalists--instead of 24--and divided them into three groups of twelve.

Each group of twelve performs in its own week. America votes and the top three go on through to the next round. The rest ostensibly go home.

The only problem is that the "next round"--according to host Ryan Seacrest--will be the Top 12, whereas the voting will result in only nine singers going through.

So where will the other three come from? So far, no one on the show has said, which, of course, makes us suspicious. Will the producers pull a fast one on us and bring back Tatiana after we thought we'd seen the last of her? Or will they make us happy and bring back a fan favorite like Anoop?

Will we get to vote on the supplemental final three, or will the judges, or the producers, make that decision?

America wants to know!

And PLEASE don't bring back Tatiana!

Good Deeds Pay Off

Creigh Deeds seems to have a good strategy going at the moment.

While Brian Moran and Terry McAuliffe snipe and throw mud at each other, Deeds is staying above the fray.

Recently, Moran and McAuliffe have crossed swords on Joe Trippi's support of Moran and the Moran campaign's alleged stalking of Terry's wife.

If Moran and McAuliffe get into a protracted battle for support in Northern Virginia--as is almost certain to happen--Deeds could sneak off with the nomination in this three way battle.

If he does, he should thank McA, as this never could've happened in a two-way with Moran.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Misplaced Priorities on Energy Grid

We were struck by a tidbit of data in Washington Post story about logistical hurdles to getting the nation wired up for alternative energy.

It seems that California ratepayers are being asked to fund a $1.9 billion electricity transmission line from the Imperial Valley to San Diego to carry new electricity from wind turbines to the energy hungry city.

We're in favor of wind energy, but this is misplaced priorities.
San Diego is one of the sunniest cities in the nation. With all the talk of solar energy and California's initiatives in that area, you'd think you'd see solar panels all over the place in San Diego. You'd be wrong. We saw very few when we visited two years ago.

Solar power is not as economical as wind power, at least at this stage of the game, and at least when you put them side by side in the same place. BUT, when it comes to electricity, you have to also factor the cost of transport. You also need to factor in the value of the electricity produced. For example, a kilowatt hour produced at 4:00 pm on a hot day in the summer is worth a lot more than one produced at 1:00 a.m. on a comfortable fall night. Demand is high on hot afternoons and low at night.

If the money being poured into new transmission lines were instead used to subsidize the cost of distributed solar power in the heart of urban areas, it would dramatically expand our use of renewable energy sources while also alleviating one of the biggest problems facing utility companies in the coming years: shortages of peak power supply.
For most homowners and businesses with reasonably sited buildings (southern exposure with no obstructions from trees, etc.), solar power would be economical if they (1) received a subsidy of 20-40% of the cost, and (2) were compensated for the electricity they generate at market costs (i.e., what the utility has to pay for such electricity at the same time of day).

If the $1.9 billion needed to build a new transmission line to San Diego was instead used to provide a one-third subsidy to homeowners and businesses to install their own solar panels, it would generate $5.7 billion in new solar installations around San Diego. Since the new solar panels would be connected directly into the grid at the source of power consumption, there would be no need to construct new power lines. Indeed, because the solar panels would reach their maximum output at periods of peak power usage, they would most likely decrease the load on the grid and reduce the need for high voltage lines in the future.
[For $6 billion, San Diegans could install 300,000 Curmudgeon sized solar arrays (we have 14 solar panels on our roof that generate roughly 3000 kwh's per year), without any savings for economies of scale, and generate more than 900 million kilowatt hours per year--and that's based on Northern Virginia sunshine. That would replace more than 1.5 million barrels of oil per year.]

A nearly $6 billion investment in solar energy in San Diego would transform the city, making it a solar mecca with easily managed peak power demands. In contrast, building $1.9 billion in transmission lines to carry windpower to the city from the Imperial Valley will do little to address San Diego's peak power needs, because wind is most reliable at night.

We need to find a way to incentivize our power companies to invest their dollars in this more optimal manner.

Obesity: Get Portions Under Control

Some interesting reading on obesity today (as we munched on some of Mrs. Curmudgeon's unfortunately all too good toll house cookies).

Popular Science reviews a number of seemingly off-the-wall theories for America's obesity epidemic, concluding that many have scientific merit. These include research on links between overweight and (a) artificial sweeteners (b) lack of sleep (c) one or more viruses, and (d) BPA and other additives in plastics.

While we agree that there is sufficient plausibility to each of these theories to merit further research, there's also a lot of data that doesn't add up.

At the other end of the spectrum, we find evidence in support of a much simpler theory: that folks are eating too much and hence getting fat. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, reported in today's Wall Street Journal, examined the number of calories in a number of classic recipes over the years and found--no surprise here--that portion sizes have grown dramatically over the years.

The survey found that the number of calories in each recipe had increased an average of 40% over the past 70 years.

Actually, it's quite an ingeniuos--and simple--study. The researches looked at the recipes in "Joy of Cooking" from 1930 to 2006, when the latest edition came out. Of 18 recipes published in all seven editions of the volume during that period, 17 increased in calories. One (for chicken gumbo) more than doubled.

Much of the increase was simply due to larger portions. For example the brownie recipe in Joy for the 1960's and 1970's remained exactly the same in 1997, but in the earlier editions it yielded 30 brownies, whereas by the more recent edition it was only 15. In other words, the brownie portion had doubled over the course of two decades.

While the theories touted by Popular Science are interesting--and expensive to pursue--we haven't seen a single bit of data that suggests that a person eating a right-sized diet in terms of calories has nonetheless grown obese due to artificial sweeteners, lack of sleep, viruses or BPA. It's possible that there is some connection between those factors and an unquenchable desire to eat more food, but other than some very rare metabolic disorders, no one is getting fat without also eating too much.

We're not sure how best to fight the issue. The entire food industry is at fault, for a fairly simple reason: they want to sell more food, and for years they've been involved in a literally unhealthy portion war, with ever-expanding portion sizes devoted to obtaining the loyalty of the most gluttonous in our society.

Should the government regulate portion sizes? Perhaps. We're not saying the government should prohibit anyone from eating larger portions--or more regular portions--than needed to keep them at an ideal weight.

But, perhaps it would be useful for the government to require labels on foods that exceed portion controls. For example, that bucket of oil-laden popcorn you get at the movie theater or a sporting event could have a prominent label saying: WARNING--this food product is X times the portion appropriate to one average sized person.

Better yet, while the movie theater could be allowed to offer the larger size, it should (1) be prohibited from labelling it as "value" product, and (2) be required to offer, at proportionate cost, a portion that is appropriate.

Yes, yes, we can see all kinds of problems with such a system. But people do need help. Most of us have forgotten what an appropriate portion is. We've said this before, but when we were children, a complete meal at McDonald's FOR OUR PARENTS would have been a regular cheeseburger, small fries (not today's "small") and a 10-oz. drink (not a "diet soda" either). That would still suffice today if it weren't for a culture that now considers that nothing more than a snack.

[Aside: a good portion of toll house cookies would be 1. We won't say how many the Curmudgeon had.]

Exotic theories of obesity are interesting, but a great deal of common sense would go much further in stopping the "epidemic".

Friday, February 13, 2009

Not Happy About D.C. United's Proposed Move To P.G. County

DC United, Washington's MLS professional soccer team, is planning to move to Prince George's County, according to the Washington Post.

We hope it won't happen. For years, United has played at old, decrepit RFK stadium in the District. While not the ideal venue, RFK is convenient, easily reached by Metro or car, with plenty of parking.

United deserves a new stadium--a facility suited to soccer, rather than built for baseball. The plan had been to build a new stadium at Poplar Point in the District, but that proposal has evidently fallen by the wayside, caught up in D.C. politics and the perils of the economy.

So now United is reportedly focused on a number of sites in P.G. County. We don't understand why. We'd bet that a relatively small proportion of United's fan base is located in P.G. County, and while some of the sites being considered are near Metro stations, they aren't particularly convenient.

Of course, the real answer is probably money--it always is. But if United picks a lousy location, it will be a long term loser for the team.

United is not the Redskins. When D.C.'s football elite decamped to Maryland a number of years ago, to a decidedly lousy location, they had the advantage of having tens of thousands of desperate fans on waiting lists for tickets. People go out to Fed-ex field not because they want to, but because they have to. And football is only 8 home games a season, usually on Sunday afternoon, so it's not as big a deal.

United's fans may not be as loyal, especially if the team plays like it did this past season.

In any event, one wonders what D.C. is planning to do with the vast tract of land on which RFK and it's parking lots sit. There's no reason why the City couldn't raze RFK, build a new soccer stadium--which would be much smaller--and add a large new mixed-use development as well by utilizing the space more efficiently.

We'll be sorry to see D.C. United become P.G. United. We hope they poll their fans before committing to a move, and hope they reconsider.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Stimulus Divide

Just about everyone agrees that when the economy is slow, the Government can help by providing a "stimulus." (In fact, agreement on this principle is so widespread that it's probably wrong!)

What the political parties don't agree on is how best to do it. Beginning in 2001, Republicans controlled the White House and Congress. The economy was slow after the "tech bubble" burst. W Bush proposed an economic "stimulus" consisting primarily of cuts in business taxes and lower rates on income taxes. (He also boosted defense spending.)

The good news was that when Bush took office, the government had a surplus, so it could easily afford a temporary stimulus.

Congress gave W what he wanted, but the "stimulus" was hardly temporary: the tax cuts were mostly in place for 8-10 years, and the Government began running large deficits every year of the Bush administration as it tried to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without taxing for them. (Most of that stimulus went abroad.)

The 2000-2002 recession was relatively mild, but the recovery was incredibly anemic. Growth never really took off and we were quickly off to the next bubble.

Now we have a deeper economic crisis, but with no surplus in place. Nor do we have as much room on taxes as in 2000 since rates never went back up.

Republicans are attacking Obama's stimulus plan, which is mostly a spending plan, rather than a tax reduction plan. And therein lies the difference between the two parties. Republicans like to stimulate with tax cuts; Democrats like to stimulate with spending increases. Both have their problems.

On the GOP side, "stimulating" with cuts in income tax rates does little for most people because the bottom 50% of the income pile don't pay income taxes. They do, however, pay a significant portion of their wages in payroll taxes--social security and Medicare--along with sales taxes, gas taxes, phone taxes, etc. Not surprisingly, the 2001 tax cuts pushed through by W Bush did little to revive the economy because most of their benefit went to less than 10% of the population.

In the long run, they did more harm than good, leading to large deficits even in relatively "good" (but not great) times.

On the Democratic side, the stimulus spending package has its own problems. It is chock full of political favorites--rural broadband, green energy, road projects, etc. A lot of this would get done anyway, and very little goes to the sector where our problems all started: housing. (We're not saying the gov't should fund housing, since there's a glut on the market.) It takes a Depression-era approach to an economy that bears no resemblance to that of the 1930's (when farming and manufacturing were the dominant economic sectors). Like the GOP stimulus of 2001, the Democratic stimulus is pretty hit or miss--many people won't get any benefit at all from it.

Furthermore, between the stimulus package and the bailout packages, we seem to be on a path of having the government borrow its way out of a mess caused by . . . yep, too much borrowing.

We hope that on the borrowing side the costs of the bailout will prove smaller than expected. If the Government can purchase "toxic" assets and stabilize the market, it may ultimately be able to sell those same assets for as much, or more, than the purchase price. The RTC did it with failed banks in the 1980's. One key is to have a professional group managing the program with minimum political interference.

We will recover, even if the Government does nothing. Or maybe even if it does something. Markets are already starting to correct for the past excesses. Housing prices will stabilize, and eventually more people will need new housing. Likewise, demand for other goods will eventually increase, particularly goods people need, as opposed to those they just want. The pain of those much needed corrections, however, will not disappear overnight.

Baseball's Hypocrisy

Now that A-Rod has admitted his use of steroids--as if we didn't know already--the powers that be in Baseball are tsk, tsk'ing.

[Aside: ESPN's SportsCenter took up nearly half its broadcast the other morning with excerpts from A-Rod's candid interview on the subject. The Curmudgeon's 11-year-old son's reaction: "who cares?" He wanted to see basketball highlights.]

[Aside II: Congress says its "too busy" with the economy to convene hearings on A-Rod and steroids. Thank goodness!!]

Oh the hypocrisy of Baseball. C'mon, do we really think that Baseball's commissioner, the owners, the managers and the others who run the game didn't know about rampant steroid use in the early part of this decade?

Let's face it: steroids were good for baseball in a business sense. More home runs, brighter stars, broken records. Baseball's leaders didn't really think all those big home runs were because players had suddenly--over the course of a year or two--gotten better. They knew something was up, but they turned a blind eye.

It's the same as lawmakers and regulators when they see a housing market artificially inflated by sub-prime "liar" loans: who wants to spoil a good party.

So don't blame the players (ok, blame them a little). They were just doing what the leaders wanted. If Baseball was serious about the scandal, it would fire the Commissioner and his entire staff and replace them. But then the owners--whom the Commissioner serves--who benefitted from the steroid use would still be in place, and their incentives would be the same, if not greater in this economic downturn.

Major league sports is about one thing and one thing only: $$$. As the boy says, "who cares?"

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Funny Side of "24"

When we're watching uber-agent Jack Bauer on "24" we never know whether to laugh, cry or worry.

Since "24" was shot in Washington this season, we get to giggle over the silly transitions that take place around town.

Last night, Jack was pursuing a rogue Secret Service agent. The agent, being tracked by his cell phone (this is something that canbe done, even if it is "off"), was reportedly on the Beltway, headed to Andrews Air Force Base. Jack was downtown, near the Capitol building. Needless to say, he was going to have a hard time catching up with this guy in D.C. traffic.

Fortunately, the FBI guy gave him a good tip: take Connecticut Ave. Only Connecticut Ave. goes in the wrong direction. Oh well. Good ol' Hollywood worked it out--Jack drove around the block and caught up with this suspect by driving the wrong direction down a one-way street.

We bet a lot of Washingtonians would like to figure out THAT shortcut to Andrews Air Force Base!

We also liked when the FBI guy insisted that Jack meet him "by the reflecting pool." To most Washingtonians, that would be the pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. But Jack met him at the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol. Now, if the writers wanted to be funny, they could kill some time by having Jack show up at one pool while the FBI guy went to the other. They could then call and yell at each other!

Last week, Jack broke up a terrorist operation in D.C. We'll bet the Canadians were surprised to learn the African terrorists were working out of the Canadian Embassy.

After the lead terrorist had his whole operation shot up, he calmly walked out onto the street. Then he took Metro home, fixed himself some tea, talked to his girlfriend and then managed to have a henchman (the rogue secret service agent) kidnap the President's husband. It all took about 13 minutes. That guy is efficient, we'll say that for him--he'd never survive at a government agency.

Last night, while the lead terrorist was in the middle of forcing the President to stop an invasion by threatening her kidnapped husband, he suddenly got a call on his cell phone. It was his girlfriend's sister, who doesn't like him. She had some info that she was going to blackmail him with. So while his guys are torturing the First Man, he LEAVES to go deal with his girlfriend situation.

Now really, couldn't he have waited another half hour to take care of the girlfriend's sister? Like we said, this is one cool customer.

He also seems to have an unlimited supply of henchmen. Bauer has already killed off at least 20-30 of them, but he's got more waiting, all over town. Again, quite the model of efficiency to manage all these henchmen so well!

The show's only one third of the way through the 24 hour day, so this terrorist is going to need about 400 men when it's all said and done.

Mrs. Curmugdeon asked a good question last night: why doesn't SNL do a parody of this show? We think the answer is that it already is a parody of itself!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Republicans Are The Taliban

GOP Congressman Pete Sessions, chairman of the Republican National Congressional Committee, linked House Republicans to the Taliban the other day.

Comparing his party members' unanimous vote against the Obama stimulus plan to an insurgency, Sessions stated: "Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban."

They're like the Taliban in more ways than one. Religiously bigoted, ethnically pure, more concerned about regulating Americans bedrooms than fixing the economy.

In 2002, W. Bush and the GOP pushed their own brand of stimulus for the economy, a massive tax cut, 90% of which went to the richest 10 percent of the country. This was no short term deal, either--it was enacted for eight years.

It didn't do much good: the U.S. economy had its worst performance since the Depression in the eight W years, barely growing at all before imploding at the end of Bush's term.

Obama doesn't need any help from the Taliban Republicans--we're happy to see them hide in their caves.

Hope For Uganda

Terrific story in today's Washington Post on the Arlington Academy of Hope, a school in Uganda founded by John and Joyce Wanda and funded largely by Arlingtonians. The Wandas moved to Arlington from Uganda after they won a government lottery for a U.S. visa. Their children attend Arlington Traditional School, which has become the "sister school" to the Ugandan school they put together. We had dinner with the Wandas not too long ago, thanks to friend CH, and learned quite a bit about their amazing project.

Read on at: "A Blessing For Teacher Grace"

Friday, February 06, 2009

Virginia To Go Smoke Free!

Change is in the air, literally.

The Virginia General Assembly is on the verge of making most of the Commonwealth's restaurants and bars smoke free (private clubs and cigar bars would be exempt).

Now, if only we could get the cigarette tax increased and close the gun show loophole, we'd be making real progress!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Donald Stalks Lowes Island

It looks like Donald Trump is prepared to invest in the Lowes Island Club, where the Curmudgeon goes to play his golf.

The Club's current owner, Chevy Chase Bank, put the place up for sale at the end of last year, asking $18 million. They had one buyer, a wealthy Californian, but that sale fell through. Meanwhile, the membership has been engaged in a lackluster effort to purchase the Club. It seems no one is really in charge, and communications have been sparse, to say the least.

We did hear that the Donald was interested. But we were a bit surprised to have to get our latest information from the gossip page of the Washington Post's Style section this morning, which had a bit on Trump's visit to the Club yesterday.

Maybe it's just as well to have Trump as the owner--there just doesn't appear to be the leadership in the Club to have the members take it over.

Will the place be re-named Trump's Island? We'll keep checking the Post to find out!

Are You A Twit?

Today's e-wired world allows us to keep in touch like never before.

We read yesterday about a Google Maps app that allows you sign up to literally see where your various friends are, at any given time, on a map.

There's also Twitter, which allows you to receive short messages from a Twitterer, who can let you know what they're doing 24/7. People who sign up to receive those messages are called "followers," but we think a better term would be "twits," or maybe "twit-nits."

The Washington Post recently had an article on Senator Mark Warner's embrace of Twitter, to send messages to his twit-nit followers on his various doings. Hey, we like Senator Warner, but honestly, we don't need to know what he's doing every moment.

We guess these are just the logical extensions of instant messaging, Facebook/My Space, blogging and other social networking tools. We imagine it won't be long before people are wearing glasses that record everything they see, so that you can sign up for their visual feed. Then we can watch each other watching each other's feeds!

Volt To Debut In D.C.

General Motors has announced that Washington will be one of two cities (the other being San Francisco) to see the debut of the new Chevy Volt, sometime in the latter part of 2010. (See "GM's Volt To Debut In Washington, Bay Area.")

Will Washingtonians embrace GM's newest "electric" car? GM had a previous program, out in California, with experimental electric cars, on which it literally pulled the plug a few years ago.

The Volt, although touted as an electric car, is really just a different kind of hybrid. It will be able to go about 40 miles on a fully charged battery, after which a conventional gas engine will kick in. Still, that's a good first step. Change is incremental. The next model will go 60 miles, then 100 and eventually we'll have true electric vehicles.

The Volt should have appeal to a significant subset of Washington drivers--those with relatively short commutes who use it as their second vehicle. One issue will be how to set up re-charging stations at work. Ideally, Volt owners would be able to re-charge while in their parking garages, perhaps using a "smart-card" device to pay for the service.

Don't expect to see too many Volts early on. GM says it will lose money on each sale (of course, that seems to be the case for ALL its vehicles these days), and it is right to view the Volt, or at least the first generation, as an experimental vehicle ultimately leading to a better mass produced car.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Main Street USA Loses Iconic Lipsitz Dept. Store

After more than 100 years in business in the heart of downtown Beaufort, S.C., our Aunt Lucille and Uncle Joe's business, Lipsitz Department Store, is closing.

Here's an article, complete with photos of the store and Lucille and Joe:

It's yet another tough blow for Main Street USA (technically, Bay Street in Beaufort), but it's not due to the tough economic times. Rather, Joe is in a nursing home and the store is just too much for Lucille to manage on her own. Lucille owes it to herself to take some time off--probably has for at least 20 years now!

The Curmudgeon's grandfather, Nathan Bass, ran a mercantile store in the cotton belt town of North, South Carolina. There were a remarkable number of Jewish merchants in southern small towns in those days.

Three of Nathan's four daughters followed suit--despite vows to the contrary when they worked in their daddy's store--and married into family clothing businesses. Aunt Ruth's husband ran the Hanes distributorship in Charleston, SC; Aunt Frances married into Ginsburg's ladies shop in Bishopville, SC; and Aunt Lucille into the Lipsitz store in Beaufort.

Of the 20+ cousins in the Curmudgeon's generation, only one--Neil Lipsitz in Beaufort--is still carrying on the tradition, with a shoe store he owns across the street from the soon to be shuttered department store. That's the way it goes in America.

The Curmudgeon spent a summer in Beaufort with the Lipsitz family, working in a vegetable packing facility to earn money for a big trip abroad. It was one of those summers that generates fond memories, and we'll never forget the warm feeling of going into Lipsitz Department Store.

We're sorry to see it go!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Fairfax County's Phantom Special Election

Tomorrow, Fairfax County has a "special" election for the position of Chairperson of the County Board of Supervisors.


This is the kind of "special" election that should never occur. It's a waste of time and money, and an imposition on voters.

Democracy is a terrific thing, but voters shouldn't have to go to the polls for a piddly vote in a single race that is practically meaningless. In Virginia, voters already have a general election EVERY year (because we do state offices in "off" years, i.e., in years with no federal election). That often means voting twice a year when you add in primaries. That should be plenty of democracy for just about everyone.

Turnout tomorrow will be miniscule, especially if it snows as some forecasters are predicting. Indeed, County Democrats are concerned that a Republican could win the race notwithstanding Fairfax's overwhelmingly Democratic electorate.

We're not sure why Fairfax has an elected chairperson--in most counties, the Board selects its chairperson, rather than voters, which makes a lot of sense. Given that, the County could easily change its law to say that an interim chairperson will serve--based on selection by the Board--until the next general election, thereby obviating such a limited special election.

Our lawmakers owe it to voters to not abuse the democratic process. Voting takes time and can be a hassle for people trying to commute to work, gets the kids to school and get on with their hectic lives. Requiring a special election for such a limited purpose is a violation of the public's trust.