Monday, November 30, 2009

See The Blind Side

If you haven't seen "The Blind Side," yet, go see it! Blind is the true story (not "based on a true story" or "inspired by a true story") of how NFL pro football player Michael Oher--a very large black man who plays tackle for the Baltimore Ravens--was adopted, for practical purposes, by a wealthy white family in Memphis while he was in high school and living on the streets in a housing project. (That's Michael and his real-life adoptive parents to the right.)

The Curmudgeon got dragged to the movie by the rest of the family over the holiday weekend and is glad of it. It's a terrific story. Sandra Bullock is great as Leigh Ann Tuohy, the real-life petite, blonde, strong-willed mother who took in Michael as a boy and helped nurture him to success.

It's a good movie to drag the kids to as well. Our 14-year-old even conceded that he liked the flick!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Post Goes Rogue

It's no wonder newspapers are going down the toilet. The Washington Post is covering Sarah Palin's "rogue" book tour like it was the New Hampshire primary, with stories--sometimes multiple--every day.

Dear Post: please get this straight. Book tours are for the purpose of selling books and making money. If Ms. Palin wants coverage in your rag for her book, she (or her publisher--also going down the toilet) should PAY YOU in the form of taking out an ad.

There's nothing newsworthy about her book tour, unless you're also going to include articles about every speech and public appearance made by Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich and the half dozen or so other potential GOP candidates for Prez in 2012.

Please, give it a rest. Who cares if a line of brain-dead Palin adorers lined up at Ft. Bragg--or anywhere else--to have her sign their books. Give us a Palin-free newspaper, at least for a few weeks, and stop promoting her book for her.

Manufacturing Doubt on Global Climate Change

Dr. Jeff Masters, at Weather Underground, has a terrific--if lengthy--piece comparing today's global warming deniers (or "skeptics") to the "scientists" funded by yesteryear's tobacco industry to contest the causal connection between smoking and disease. It's worth a read on a slow day before Thanksgiving:

The Manufactured Doubt Industry

Monday, November 23, 2009

California To Set Television Energy Standard

A few days ago, the California Energy Commission voted to set standards for electricity consumption by large, flat screen televisions. (See HERE.)

The Consumer Electronics Association, which represents television manufacturers, predictably attacked the decision, saying the industry could regulate itself.

Of course, the industry hasn't done so. Thank goodness California is stepping in.

We purchased our nice big flat screen about a year ago. We love the crisp, clear hi-def images, but we're not too keen on the power usage. Since purchasing our new television, our power bill has increased by about 10%. There's no question that our wonderful new television is using electrons like crazy.

Not surprisingly, as more and more households make the switch to more and more of these energy hogs, our efforts to curb carbon emissions, reduce oil imports from politically hostile or unstable regimes, and avoid construction of new power plants are thwarted.

The California standards are likely to be followed for televisions manufactured for sale throughout the U.S., so they will effectively set a national standard.

As for the CEA--well, you've had several years to do something and you didn't. And wouldn't. We're glad someone's stepping up.

Soccer Championships Should Be Decided By Playing Soccer, Not Kicking PK's

If the barons of Major League Soccer want to know why the game isn't more popular in the U.S., all they have to do is look at how the MLS championship was decided yesterday.

After a full season of games and play-offs, the two contenders--Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake--battled to a 1-1 tie in regulation. They were still tied after another 30 minutes of extra time. So, rather than continue playing SOCCER until a winner emerged, the entire season came down to a round of penalty kicks.

It would be like deciding the World Series with a home-run derby; the NBA championship with a 3-pt contest; or the Superbowl with a series of ever longer alternating field goal kicks.

Penalty kicks are not soccer. They don't even require all that much skill. Some people think it's a "dramatic" way to finish games (Real Salt Lake made the championship game by winning it's division in yet another PK finish), but if that's so, why not just create a game based around shooting PK's?

The problem, of course, is that modern soccer has evolved into a defensive struggle in which teams seldom dare to take chances in order to score. A ridiculous number of games end in 0-0 and 1-1 ties, and the concept of "sudden death" overtime has never caught on.

Because the game is difficult to resolve within the game format, modern soccer has devolved into PK contests that demean the sport.

MLS should ban the PK as a means of deciding games that require a decision. Such games should be decided on the field, in a sudden death format, with no limit on the time to be played until the game is finished. Those games will have dramatic finishes, you can be sure.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fun At The Miami Book Fair

We had a great time at the Miami Book Fair International this past weekend. The photo is of our Landstrike booth in the heart of the street fair--a four block area of downtown closed off for nothing but books!

Vendors who'd been there many years said the crowds were down this year. That may be so, but there were plenty of people strolling through, especially Saturday afternoon. And why not--we had three straight days of outstanding weather--sunny, blue sky, low humidity, temps in the upper 70's, low 80's.

We learned a little about Landstrike too. Turns out it's a big hit with teen boys, some of whom evidently were in disaster mode due to the release of the mega-disaster movie "2012." We had plenty of interest from all ages, races, creeds and sexes, but the teen boys were drawn to our booth like flies to honey.

Our favorite was a sixth grade Latino boy who dragged his mom all the way back from the fair exit, as they were leaving, so he could purchase the book. When it turned out mom didn't have any cash--and so had to call dad to come over as well--the boy started reading the book while waiting. By the time the transaction was done, he was well into chapter one and looked like he'd be reading it every step of the way as his family left the fair.

We were pleased to see so many boys interested because it's a difficult group to get to read anything!

So, if you've got a teen boy on your holiday gift list, and he's a reader of action-adventure books, consider Landstrike (the paperback is available on and for about $15).
[We also found that quite a few adults preferred to download the book to their Kindle readers--they took our card, and sure enough we had a nice little spike in Kindle downloads over the weekend.]
Overall, we enjoyed the fair. Our neighbors, all selling their books, were a terrific group, and helped each other out when they could.

One downer, however, was the five Author Solutions ("ASs") booths around the corner from us. Author Solutions is the parent for a group of self-publishing companies, including our publisher, Xlibris. As we discussed in a prior post, Xlibris (and other ASs companies) pushed some of their authors into ridiculous packages, costing $4000-$10,000, in which they were required to purchase a couple hundred books and then give them away at the fair.

Not only were these packages huge rip-offs for the authors, but they pissed off just about every other legitimate seller at the fair. Many fairgoers suddenly thought they were going to get free books from everyone! Unfortunately, for the most part you got what you paid for at the ASs booths--we picked up some of the free books, and while a couple were not too bad, several were completely unreadable.

If the Miami Book Fair is going to attract quality exhibitors in the future, it will need to make a choice: ban ASs's free book scam that rips off unsuspecting authors, or turn the whole thing into a freebie fest and just forget about the fair's reputation.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Montgomery Co. Gets Smart

Turns out there is some good news out there. Montgomery County has adopted a plan to encourage denser "car-free" growth along it's mass transit corridors, reversing a long-standing policy that has contributed to sprawl and intensified traffic problems there.

As the Washington Post explained in its story on the matter: "Most suburban growth plans--including Montgomery's, until Tuesday--discourage development in congested areas, including those near public transit, and encourage construction in more sparsely populated communities, on the theory that new developments should arise where traffic is still tolerable."

Anyone who's lived in the Washington, D.C. metro area for the past 25 years can tell you how poorly that theory has turned out. Washington is a sprawling city, with developments stretching in all directions over a radius of at least 30 miles. Traffic is worse than ever, with little prospect of improving, and open farmland and forest around the city has all but disappeared.

Arlington County, which has the advantage of being small and having NO large open space to speak of, has pioneered smarter development of denser projects near mass transit hubs. We can't say it's exactly "car-free" over here, but Arlington has grown, and continues to grow, more smartly.

When we moved to the Washington area in 1980, Montgomery County--and Fairfax, too--had quite a bit of open farmland. Now the largest crop in both those counties is townhomes. Much of the development in both those counties has been done in a way that they feed into major highways, without creating the necessary connections for local residents on short trips to by-pass those thorofares, thereby contributing to congestion.

It's interesting to visit Europe, where many cities and towns have very strict zoning regulations that prevent sprawl and preserve the countryside. Those towns and cities seem to end abruptly, unlike American cities, which seem to go on forever, gradually diminishing to smaller developments that sooner or later get absorbed by larger ones. If Europe had American style development laws, there'd be no countryside left.

Montgomery's decision is a good step in the right direction. Washington's outer rim of counties need to consider some similar steps to rein in unmitigated sprawl.

Off To Miami

With the off-year elections over (and depressing), with the days getting shorter, and the weather getting crappy, we haven't been inspired to write much of late.

This weekend, however, we'll be in warm, sunny Miami, promoting our book Landstrike at the Miami Book Fair International.

We'll have a full report when we return, or maybe while we're there. If you're in South Florida, come see us!

Wish we could also report on one or two golf courses down that way, but we'll be working all weekend. Maybe next trip!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Thank You Indeed!

Now GOP Has To Solve Intractable Problems

Republicans in Virginia cruised to a big victory last night after a decade long losing streak. It was a bad night for Democrats, erasing several years of hard fought gains in the House of Delegates and giving Republicans control of the coming reapportionment process.

While part of the blame goes to Creigh Deeds for running a poor campaign, there is plenty of blame to go around. First, history was never on the Democrats' side this time around: not since 1973 has the party in power in the Presidency won the Virginia governor's mansion. Still, that's not enough to explain a landslide 59-41% drubbing.

"Governor" Tim Kaine--who's real job of late has been DNC chairman--can take part of the blame. Democrats have held the governor's mansion for the past 8 years, yet Virginia's main problems have been pretty much the same, especially for the past 4 years. True, those problems are largely in the domain of the legislature, but try telling that to voters.

Another factor is exhaustion after the Obama victory in Virginia. Democrats worked hard for Obama to carry Virginia and give it two Democratic senators and a majority Democratic delegation to the U.S. Congress. With George Bush gone, there just wasn't the enthusiasm among Democratic voters this time around, as reflected by turnout. Meanwhile, conservatives who were lukeward to John McCain last year are now energized, while McDonnell & Co. managed to avoid the kind of divisive campaigns that their predecessors have waged (i.e., appealing to hard core conservatives at the expense of moderate independents).

Nonetheless, Deeds was a big factor, as evidenced by his loss even of Democratic leaning Fairfax County. It was clear throughout the campaign that Deeds had no real understanding of Northern Virginia. He lacked the sophistication of a Mark Warner, or Jim Webb, or Tim Kaine, whereas McDonnell, for all his truly conservative views, still projected that sophistication.

You can blame Terry McAuliffe in part for this. Had he not jumped into the race (and yes, we did support him in the primary, although we always had big reservations) Brian Moran would have won and done much better in NoVa (probably preventing the loss of at least three legislative seats).

There is a silver lining in all this, however. With their sweep of statewide offices and their large majority in the House of Delegates, Republicans now have to prove they can govern. It won't be easy. Their party is still badly divided between myopic small-county cultural conservatives who could give a damn about Northern Virginia's growth problems, and more practically minded pols who realize they have to solve problems if they want to continue in office.

With the far right punishing anyone who even thinks about raising taxes, McDonnell will find his options severely limited. The logical way to fund transportation improvements is to raise gasoline taxes. Those taxes are low in Virginia and have not kept up with the inflation of gas prices. McDonnell says he has a plan to improve roads without raising taxes, but his plan won't work. The bottom line is that it takes revenue to build roads.

Apart from transportation, the Commonwealth faces a dire budget situation that will be painful to resolve. Although an improving economy nationwide will help, McDonnell will again face tough choices with very limited options.

Finally, the culture warriors on the right will no doubt push McDonnell, Cuccinelli and their brethren in the general assembly to enact unpopular laws that will reignite the left.

Unfortunately, Democrats are still faced with the nasty prospect that McDonnell and his cronies will control the upcoming reapportionment process, which will make all that more difficult for Democrats to gain legislative seats in the coming decade.

Democrats now need to find some new leadership at the statewide level. We hope that out of chaos, strong new leaders will emerge!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Terrible Night For Dems In Virginia

Pretty disastrous night for the Democratic Party in Virginia, although it doesn't look like the GOP will pick up as many House of Delegate seats as they might have. More a reflection on the top of the ticket.

Tomorrow: we'll analyze the silver lining in this election.

Monday, November 02, 2009

NFL Should Boost Prostate Cancer Research And Awareness

Now that October's over, we miss all those splotches of pink in NFL football broadcasts.

You see, October is breast cancer awareness month. Pink, of course, is the breast cancer ribbon color, and those breast cancer folks really know how to do up publicity. They had NFL players wearing pink shoes, hats, ribbons, patches; they had refs wearing pink stripes, looking just like the candy-stripers of yore at hospitals. They even had the White House adorned with a huge pink ribbon.

You'd think breast cancer was the only one with a month, ribbon and color. But it's not. It's just that the other cancers haven't caught up in the market for attention.

Now we have nothing against raising awareness of and research on breast cancer. But we think the NFL's priority on pink was a bit misplaced.

You wouldn't know it, but September--also a big month for professional football--was prostate cancer awareness month. Prostate cancer has a ribbon, too--it's sky blue.

You'd think pro football would get on the prostate cancer bandwagon AT LEAST as much as for breast cancer. After all, the NFL is, quite literally, sponsored in large part by the penis. Viagra and Cialis ads compete for attention for men with "erectile dysfunction," which can be caused or contributed to by prostate problems. Then there's all the ads for Flomax, for men who have trouble peeing because of a benign enlarged prostate.

Not to mention that the audience for pro football is just a little skewed toward MEN, and all the players are men.

Prostate cancer is pretty deadly, killing an estimated 28,000 men each year (breast cancer deaths among women are higher, at about 45,000).

So where was all the sky blue and prostate cancer awareness in the NFL in September? There wasn't any (unless you're a Carolina Panthers fan, whose colors include sky blue).

Pink in October is fine. But if the NFL is going to promote breast cancer awareness, it ought to at least put prostate cancer on the same footing!