Monday, August 31, 2009

Will The Real Bob McDonnell Please Stand Up

Finally, we are getting a better picture of the real Bob McDonnell, courtesy of the Washington Post (where's the Deeds campaign?). Yesterday's Post has a must-read on McDonnell's master's thesis when he attended evangelical Christian Regent University in 1989, shortly before being elected to the General Assembly.

For anyone in Northern Virginia that might be fooled by McDonnell's "Nova's own" yard signs, his master's thesis shows him to be more along the lines of the "Christian right's own."

In his thesis, McDonnell laid out a 15 point action plan he thought the Republican Party should follow to protect American families. It was anti-working woman and sounded like something that far right Delegate Bob "Taliban" Marshall would eagerly embrace. Jerry Falwell would be proud.

For his part, McDonnell says his "views on many issues have changed as I have gotten older." Well, we'd like to know just which views from that thesis have changed.

George Allen liked to portray himself as some kind of moderate, too, until the inner George Allen got the better of him and exposed the real man with his "maccaca" gaffe. The thing about the maccaca comment is that it fit perfectly well with a number of other hints we had that he was a racist.

We don't believe for a second that McDonnell has changed his stripes. Rather, he's clever enough to see that the overt appeal to the GOP right by other candidates has cost the party the middle--the moderate independent voters who decide Virginia elections.

While the revelations about McDonnell's thesis will give some of those voters pause, the Deeds campaign still needs to give those same voters a reason to come out and vote FOR him. So far, Deeds' campaign has been pretty anemic, perhaps in part because he has had to build up a war chest following the primary battle.

Post Labor Day, we hope to see Deeds kick into a new gear!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It Takes Balls

Mrs. Curmudgeon has rounded up a number of stray soccer balls in our house to donate to a group that gives them to poor kids around the world. She collected about 20, and that still leaves us with AT LEAST 10 more that we couldn't part with for various reasons.

That got us looking around, and we realized that our house is just full of balls of various types. It would be an interesting contest to guess just how many we have--my guess is around 350, maybe as many as 500.

In addition to the soccer balls, we have various basketballs, mini-basketballs, mini-soccer balls, baseballs, softballs, footballs (are footballs really balls?), super balls and rubber balls. Then there's Mrs. Curmudgeon's collection of tennis balls, which somehow find their way all over the house, and my collection of old, used and discarded golf balls, which occupy two bins in a corner of the basement.
You've heard of yard sales, garage sales, rummage sales, etc. We're going to have a ball sale.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What Hurricane Bill Tells Us

Hurricane Bill should be a wake-up call to everyone on the Eastern Seaboard. Although Bill is likely to miss the continental U.S., it illustrates the potential for a major hurricane to strike the mid-Atlantic, NY or New England, and the problems with forecasting where it would hit.

Hurricane Bill is what is called a "Cape Verde" hurricane because it formed near the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa. Cape Verde storms are particularly dangerous because they can get quite powerful in the open Atlantic Ocean if conditions are right (Bill made it to the cusp of Category 4 intensity at its peak), and because they often curve northward as they cross the Atlantic, putting the U.S. east coast at risk.

In 1938, a classic Cape Verde storm struck eastern Long Island, killing 700 and destroying or damaging more than 55,000 structures.

One of the features of these hurricanes, seen with Bill, is the tendency to pick up speed as they turn north. Currently, Bill is off the Virginia coast moving at 24 mph. That's three times as fast as Katrina's approach to New Orleans, meaning there's one third the time to react. The 1938 storm was moving at an incredible speed of nearly 60 mph, meaning it could cover the distance from Cape Hatteras, NC to Long Island in a mere 12 hours.

Although Bill will miss the U.S. east coast, a turn of just a few degrees more to the west could easily have put it ashore anywhere between North Carolina and Maine. If the storm was curving as it approached the coast, the best the National Hurricane Center could probably do would be to issue a warning for several hundred miles of coastline, with relatively little time to prepare.

Needless to say, it's impossible to evacuate all coastal areas between Wilmington and Boston, or even half of that, so such forecasts are of limited utility.

If a category 3 or stronger storm like Bill--which is also quite large--were to approach the New York area (as happens with fictional Hurricane Nicole in my book Landstrike), it could wreak havoc, especially if it struck south of the city and sent a large storm surge up the Hudson River.

Sadly, most people along the Atlantic seaboard are ill-prepared for a major hurricane. Emergency management planners are well aware of the danger, and have made some plans, but their resources are quite limited in the face of apathy and ignorance among most residents, few of whom have ever faced a major hurricane.

While Bill will miss us, eventually one of Bill's siblings will strike. We should bolster the resources used to plan for such an eventuality now, before it's too late.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Arlington's HOT Lawsuit: Counterproductive

Arlington County has filed suit to delay the construction of HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes on I-395 thru our little jurisdiction. (Guess Arlington didn't notice that construction on I-395 is delayed anyway, because the commonwealth doesn't think it can sell the necessary bonds.)

Arlington is requesting that the HOT lane project undergo a full environmental review (it had been granted an exemption). The County contends that HOT lanes will increase air pollution here.

We think Arlington officials need to get out of their cubbies over at the Courthouse plaza offices and try driving around the County sometime. What they'll find, especially between 7-9:30 a.m. and 3-7 pm is a lot of vehicles idling in heavy, stop and go traffic, especially on I-395 and I-66, along with a lot of secondary traffic on Arlington's other roadways.

As one of our readers pointed out the other day, all those idling cars and trucks are generating a lot more pollution than if they were zipping quickly through our County. Throwing up roadblocks to HOT lane and other road construction projects is not going to reduce pollution here--instead, it's going to make it worse.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bill To Clip Cape Cod, Maine?

Hurricane Bill, currently a strong Cat 3 and likely to get stronger tomorrow, could cause significant problems in New England by this weekend.

Although the official guidance from the National Hurricane Center still suggests Bill will turn out to sea, missing the U.S. coast (but not the Canadian maritime provinces), there is enough uncertainty to suggest that Cape Cod, the Maine coast, and perhaps more of New England could get swiped by Bill.

Furthermore, if Bill (by the way, we hate single syllable hurricane names--they just don't sound right) trends just a little bit further to the west before turning, New England could be facing a significant impact by late Sat. or early Sun.

Not quite up to the level of fictional Hurricane Nicole's onslaught against NYC in Landstrike, but certainly a major event that could cause grave damage, especially if Bill makes landfall on Cape Cod.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Gym Without Towels?

We went to our friendly neighborhood Gold's Gym in Clarendon today only to get a rude surprise: they don't have towels anymore! We're not talking about one day without towels--they've gotten rid of their towel service entirely.

Mind you, Gold's Gym towels have never been an item of luxury. They're more like large old washcloths your grandma might have lying around.

But NO towels? We can't think of a gym we've encountered where they had no towels, unless they just simply happened to run out one day.

The guy at the counter--looking and sounding quite sheepish about it and giving us that "don't shoot me, I'm only the messenger" look--said it was because the lint from the towels was causing problems with the air conditioning system. Bet he's REAL happy spouting that line of obvious corporate doublespeak BS.

Obviously, it's a cost-cutting move. They did give us a towel "to keep"--i.e., to try to remember to bring back and forth to the gym. Guess if it's brought from outside, it doesn't contribute any lint to the ol' A/C system.

We wish Gold's would be more honest and admit it's an economic thing. Then they could at least offer us the option of paying a little extra for a towel. We'd grumble about it, but that's still better than no towel at all. Heck, the airlines have gotten away with a lot worse.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Deeds Speeds--Needs a Driver?

Perhaps Creigh Deeds needs a driver. Deeds likes to drive himself all over the state, but like DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, whose self-driving has gotten him into trouble of late, it seems Deeds may need some help at the wheel.

In May, Deeds was driving when he rear-ended another car in Louisa County, and ended up getting ticketed for following too closely. The two female passengers in the other car were treated and released from a local hospital with minor injuries.

Then, on July 4, Deeds was ticketed for speeding in Albemarle County, doing 76 in a 65 zone. (We haven't seen this reported anywhere, but we have a good source on it.)

We'd hope by now that Deeds, as the official nominee of the Democratic party, and the recipient of significant campaign funds, would have himself a driver. It's not that we don't appreciate public officials driving themselves around; but surely he has some important things to do--like calling bloggers and donors--while canvassing the state.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Virginia Transportation: Pay For Roads The Old-Fashioned Way

Traditionally, the primary source of funds for transportation projects in Virginia, and throughout the U.S., has been a tax on gasoline. Raising that tax is the most logical and equitable way to fund additional transportation projects, particularly road improvements and maintenance.

So why isn't anyone proposing just that?

Bob McDonnell has proposed privatizing Virginia's state-owned liquor stores to raise money for transportation. Interesting idea--we favor privatizing them as there's no need these days for the state to be in that business. But it's a one-time deal that would raise a few hundred million, not the billions needed over a long period of time. Furthermore, the state would lose the stream of revenue it currently receives from the liquor stores, so all McDonnell is really doing is taking in upfront cash in place of the steady revenue. More an accounting trick than anything else.

Creigh Deeds? We don't know what he proposes. He invokes former Gov. Baliles, who brokered a transportation funding deal in the 1980's, but doesn't say how he's going to do it.

Our suggestion: raise the gas tax. As a percentage of gasoline costs, the tax has gone down considerably as the overall price of gasoline has risen. Compared to the cost of gasoline last year, a nickel increase in the gas tax is not going to significantly impact motorists. Indeed, the cost of gas fluctuates that much over a period of a week or two these days.

Indeed, Virginia's current gas tax ranks about 40th in the country. That's nice, but Virginia's road needs rank much higher.

Raising the gasoline tax also encourages conservation and discourages sprawl (a little) by making it a bit more expensive to drive.

Of course, there's a chorus ready to howl at the very thought of a gas tax hike--generally, a bunch of yahoos driving around in big ol' gas-sucking SUV's with hypocritical "we support our troops" ribbons on them, tailgating you and me and they barrel down Virginia's crowded highways.

Virginians need to make the choice to pay for the roads they need. If not, the state's economy will grow at a slower rate than it otherwise would, gradually choking off economic opportunities as businesses and people avoid our inadequate highways.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Deeds Continues To Trail In Polls

Whatever post-primary bounce he enjoyed, Creigh Deeds has slipped seriously in the polls as the summer has progressed.

We now have three fairly recent polls where Deeds trails significantly.

Survey USA has McDonnell ahead 55%-40% as of late July.
Public Policy Polling had McDonnell with a similar lead of 51%-37% as of early August.
Daily Kos has the race narrower, with McDonnell leading by 51%-43%.

Clearly, Deeds has some work to do. He might want to start with transportation. McDonnell put out a transportation proposal that looks good on its face, but in reality would continue to starve Northern Virginia for road funds. Deeds needs to respond with something that not only reveals the flaws in McDonnell's plans, but proposes an alternative. Otherwise, he may well find a lot of apathy amongst NoVa independents. (We suggest Deeds not cater to the anti-I-66 crowd in Arlington--we hardly think they're going to vote for McDonnell.)

Is The GOP Turning Into A Religion?

A couple recent polls showed that a significant percentage of Republicans--on the order of 30-40%--don't believe President Obama was born in the U.S. The evidence to support that view is scant, practically non-existent, based mainly on wishful thinking.

That got us to thinking: is the Republican party turning into a religion, where belief trumps fact?

Trying to define the difference between a religion and a political philosophy isn't easy. Political ideologies are often based on beliefs in the unprovable, just as are religious theologies. Theology may just be a subset of ideology: a theology concerns mankind's "conception of god" whereas an ideology is broader, concerning mankind's conception of rules to govern people.

There are times when we wish we had an alternative to the Democratic party. We tend to be more fiscally conservative than many Democrats, preferring to pay for government services rather than borrowing money or printing currency to do so. (Mind you, under W. Bush, Republicans were perfectly happy to borrow money and print currency to further their goals as well.) And we don't see gov't as the best solution to all problems.

Unfortunately, the GOP isn't a viable alternative these days, at least not for us and many moderate independent voters. The party seems filled with birthers, creationists, goldbugs and supremacists; is anti-science, hypocritical on issues of marriage, adultery and sexuality; and represents an ideology mired in theology. Remarkably, a party that once featured many strong intellectual thinkers, like William F. Buckley, has become a party of anti-intellectuallism, with blow-hards like Limbaugh and O'Reilly resembling modern-day No-Nothings.

Is there room in the U.S. for a new, third political party? Probably not. We've been a dual-party nation for too long a time to make that likely.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Klunker Kash

Here at the Curmudgeon, we're not all that wild about the "cash for clunkers" program. Why not cash for Curmudgeons?

Really, it would be useful to see some data. Most people, when they purchase a new car, get one with better fuel economy, so we'd think that regardless of the program we'd see an improvement in overall gas mileage. And, the economy appears to be improving--certainly if the stock market is any indication--so its not that big a surprise that car sales are up, again, regardless of the program.

It would be one thing if everything else was down, with car sales up. But that's not the case.

So it appears the government is just giving huge scads of cash to a select group of people with older cars to help them do what they were going to do anyway.

On the other hand, it may be better than some of the other stimuli going on. We'd certainly rather see a few billion go into retiring clunkers, and thus indirectly helping Detroit, as opposed to just flushing billions more down the General Motors toilet hole.

What's galling, however, is the GOP's cynical opposition to the program as some kind of government "giveaway." As you may recall, we had a recession when George W. Bush took office and the GOP took control of the entire government. They had a stimulus program, too. Should've been called "cash for millionaires," as it was an enormous tax cut, the largest part of which went to the wealthiest 1% of Americans.

If Congress wants to put a little more money into the Clunkers program, ok. But this is a program that needs to sunset real soon!