Friday, February 26, 2010

Vermont's Black Energy Decision

Gotta love the lefties in Vermont. They have a perfectly fine nuclear power plant, which provides 30% of the state's electricity without emitting any significant carbon emissions. In the grand scheme of things, nuclear power is actually pretty green.

But not green enough for Vermont, where nucular is a bad word. The Vermont state senate has voted overwhelmingly to deny the plant operator's application to renew its license, which expires in 2012.

We're betting that all that electricity is not going to be replaced--certainly by 2012--by solar and wind power. Instead, while a perfectly good nuclear plant lies in mothballs, Vermonters will have to get their electricity from some carbon-emitting source (not to mention the carbon emissions from simply building a replacement plant).

Great move Vermont!

Washington Post To Shut Down

Now that's an attention grabbing headline. And it's true: at some point, they'll shut down their printing press for maintenance.

Evidently, the Post is not above similar tactics to bring readers to its stories. Today's WAPO caught our attention with this story: "Empty Vehicle Left Near White House For Days." Well, it certainly looks from the headline like law enforcement is falling down on the job and endangering the life of the First Family in the process.

Only it turns out the vehicle in question was at 15th and M Streets. That's about a block from the Washington Post's headquarters, so maybe a danger to their intrepid reporters. But it's nowhere near the White House, at least in terms of some kind of car bomb danger.

Our guess is that "Empty Vehicle Left Near Washington Post For Days" just didn't have the same ring of a serious news story.

The story itself is not too interesting either, unless it's a really slow news day--the car was stolen and police ticketed it three times, instead of figuring out that it belonged to a military student. Indeed, it sounds more some of the satire we'd expect to see in the Onion.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Two Good Reasons To Avoid NBC After The Olympics

Other than that we aren't getting enough sleep, there's nothing like the two weeks of Olympic coverage to improve one's TV viewing. Quite a few programs are piling up on our DVR as we opt for ice and snow (away from here, thank goodness) over Bauer and Idol.

The Olympics are good for NBC, too. For the first time in six years, they were able to dethrone Idol as the ratings king, at least for one fine day last week.

Unfortunately, after the Olympics NBC is giving us two good reasons to turn the channel (actually, a lot more since most of their regular fare is pretty lackluster). The first is the return of Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice, which will feature disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojovich as a contestant. Revealing our trashy tastes in television, the Curmudgeon has enjoyed Apprentice in prior years. But we'll boycott this season. There's no reason for NBC to give this man--who is still facing serious criminal charges--a frivolous platform to repair his image. Being a famous criminal should not make one a "celebrity."

As nauseating as having Blago on NBC is, even worse is Jay Leno's selection of Sarah Palin to appear on his opening week of reclaiming The Tonight Show from Conan. We have no desire to see Palin--remember, she resigned as governor of Alaska before her job was done--ANYWHERE. (Our one caveat is that we'd like to see Palin on a segment of Leno's "Jaywalking" series, where clueless Americans show off their ignorance.)

We'd call for a boycott of Leno on this one, but we sense that a much wider boycott will already be underway in any event. We used to like Leno. Now we think his best act might be as an also-ran "celebrity" on Apprentice.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Just Because It's Cold In D.C. Doesn't Mean Global Warming Has Gone Away

It's been a cold and snowy winter in Washington, that's for sure. Record snow. And we haven't had a single day in February where the temperature has gotten above the average for that day (and not likely to get there anytime soon).

The cold winter has given global warming skeptics ammo for their relentless, well-financed (by the carbon industry) public relations campaign to turn public opinion their way.

It appears that the skeptics are winning, at least for now, as U.S. public opinion has shifted fairly sharply on the issue.

Part of the problem also has to do with the economy. With jobs still scarce and money tight, people aren't interested in fighting global warming if it means higher prices for energy, which is the only strategy likely to succeed.

While the skeptics are winning the battle--mainly a delaying action--they will lose the war, but unfortunately at great cost to the rest of us. While it's been cold here in Washington, the data continues to pile up, month after month, that the earth continues to heat up.

Global warming is not a linear phenomenon. We're not going to see it get warmer each month, each year. But the trend is unmistakable. Depending on who's keeping score, January was either the second or fourth warmest January on record at the surface; in the bottom 8 km of the atmosphere, it was the warmest. This, all in a year when we're at a solar minimum--i.e., the sun is at it's lowest output on a cycle that spans roughly a dozen years. (For more, go to Dr. Jeff Masters' Wunderblog at Weather Underground.)

The 1980's were warmer than the 1970's; the '90's were warmer yet, and the first decade of the new millenium was even warmer. The global warming skeptics have all kinds of darts they throw at the data, but most have been refuted. It's just that the scientists on the other side don't have the oil lobby, Faux "News" and the Wall Street Journal to publicize the real data.

Each year we go on without strong government action to slow carbon emissions just makes it that much more difficult down the road. Will it take another decade of overwhelming data before the public really gets it? Or will we just have to wait for an unusally warm winter, or massive summer heat wave, instead?

Robot Skies

A rather remarkable thing is happening in our skies without too much fuss or notice: robotic vehicles are multiplying like rabbits.

According to Popular Science, 44 countries now fly as many as 7000 aerial robots, or UAV's (for "unmanned aerial vehicle"). New models are being developed by dozens of companies. Last year, the U.S. Air Force trained more UAV operators than it did fighter and bomber pilots.

Is this a good trend? Whether it is or not, there's probably no stopping it.

On the good side, UAV's can inexpensively accomplish many missions that would be difficult, dangerous or too costly to do with human operated aircraft. Taking out the human means UAV's can be much smaller, and can assume odd shapes that wouldn't necessarily accommodate a person.

UAV's also don't need food, sleep and bathroom breaks. Some new designs are intended to stay aloft for days, weeks, months and even years (using solar power).

While initial designs were exclusively military, many newer models have civilian uses, such as traffic monitoring, weather, assisting farmers and fighting crime.

On the down side, UAV's can be quite dangerous. Their low expense and small size makes them a significant security risk. Even a small UAV can carry a quite deadly payload. While we think it's great that Predator drones are taking out Al Queda and Taliban leadership without risking our soldiers' lives, we won't be too happy when a terrorist uses a similar tactic to fire a missile at the White House or some other target. We're sure this has given security experts many a nightmare.

Furthermore, scientists and engineers are making great strides in developing insect sized robotic flyers, which could easily avoid detection and be used for all sorts of mischief (and good, too).

Just about any weekend hobbyist could put together a decent UAV for just a few thousand dollars, and right now it's not clear how well regulated they are.

One role for UAV's, apparently, will be scanning the skies for other UAV "bad guys."

The proliferation of UAV's is an extension of another phenomenon: as a practical matter, for most flying we don't even need pilots anymore. With modern computers and electronics, a jumbo jet can virtually fly itself, often better than a human pilot can. We're not likely to board a pilotless jumbo jet anytime soon--people just aren't ready for that.

But cargo planes may be a different matter. Our guess is that we could well see UPS, Fed-ex and other carriers moving to unmanned cargo planes by the end of this decade.

Mama's, don't let your babies grow up to be pilots--the job may be becoming extinct.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Arlington Could Do Better On Snow With A Couple Simple Measures

Yesterday, the Curmudgeon traipsed past the dirty mounds of ice and snow remnants to the Arlington County government complex to hear the Acting County Manager present a preliminary outline of the fiscal 2011 budget.

At the end of that presentation, the County Board and Manager spent a little time patting themselves on the back for a job well done in dealing with last week's twin blizzards.

Compared to other local jurisdictions, Arlington did, in fact, do pretty well. But it could do better if the County Board would adopt a couple of ordinances that apply in most communities that regularly deal with snow (as we do, despite pretenses to the contrary).

The first is a requirement, subject to fine, that property owners clear the public sidewalks abutting their property. While most Arlingtonians do this anyway, out of civic duty and common courtesy, a significant minority don't. The result is quite dangerous for pedestrians, and can slow the re-opening of schools.

For example, we noticed today a church on Arlington Ridge Rd. that had managed to clear its driveway and parking area, but not the sidewalks adjacent to its property, which happen to lead to Oak Ridge Elementary School and Gunston Middle School. In fact, whoever cleared the church's property dumped quite a bit of snow onto the sidewalk, which otherwise was clear for a couple blocks around.

Likewise, we encountered a couple sidewalks in Clarendon, abutting businesses, that were still not cleared (one was around a used car dealership, which, of course, had cleared its sales lot).

There's no excuse for letting these folks shirk their obligations. If you talk to a County Board member about the issue, they'll usually cite some bafflegab about old people who aren't able to shovel their walks. That's lame--old people can hire someone to do the job, or get a neighbor to do it for them (as happens on our street). Thousands of communities in the northeastern U.S. require property owners to clear their walks within 24 hours of a storm--somehow the old people have managed to survive (or is that why they move to Florida?).

The second measure that would help would be to designate certain streets as snow emergency streets, subject to parking restrictions when a snow emergency is declared. This would allow rapid clearance of parking lanes on those roads during the routine plowing that occurs while a storm is dumping snow on us.

Instead, the County had to go back, probably at a large cost in overtime, and clear those parking lanes well after the fact. The logical roads for these restrictions are Wilson Blvd., Clarendon Blvd., Washington Blvd., Columbia Pike and perhaps a few others.

Instead of enacting these logical--and time tested--measures, the County Board acts each year like snow is so unusual here that we don't need them. Now, with the recent storms still fresh in everyone's minds, would be a fine time to act.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snowiest Winter Ever In D.C.

With a month of winter left to go (and another storm lurking early next week), it appears that the blizzard raging outside has put us over the top for snowiest winter ever in Washington, D.C., just barely (so far) surpassing the winter of 1898-99. At least we have indoor toilets now!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Snowmageddon Rescue!

C'mon, admit it--you're jealous!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Arlington Schools Need To Get Their Storm Priorities Straight

Memo to Dr. Patrick Murphy, Superintendent, Arlington Public Schools:

Today is the sixth day of school missed SO FAR due to this winter's storms. DC schools, in contrast, have missed only ONE full day of school (today).

We're not upset about today, but most of the rest of those missed days are inexcusable. Arlington in not Fairfax, where you came from. Arlington is a compact geographical area; the major roads in Arlington have been clear and passable on most of the days you closed our schools. The most inexcusable was last Wedesday (Feb. 3) when a short delay in school start times would've easily gotten everyone to school with little trouble (and you knew a big storm was headed here at the end of the week).

We could easily have had a half-day of school on Friday, too--which is what DC schools did.

You need to take a page from Michelle Rhee's book, and make it a PRIORITY to have kids in school, instead of making excuses to keep them out.

We fear that, with another storm headed this way, Arlington's schools will be closed all this week. There's simply no excuse. It's a lot of snow, but many parts of the world get far worse, yet still manage to get their kids to school.

Schools Need To Help Prevent Boys From Failing

Here's an interesting report, from today's Wash. Post, on a new book called "Why Boys Fail," which explores a theory on the growing achievement gap between boys and girls in school.

The stats are depressing--for boys. Women now account for 57% of bachelor's degrees in college (62% of two-year associate degrees). Among high school seniors, 23% of sons of white, college-educated parents scored "below basic" in reading skills (compared to 7% of daughters). The Curmudgeon sons appear headed to join this group.

Author Richard Whitmire argues that the problem is teaching of literacy skills in school, which have been pushed down to as early as kindergarten. Because boys develop literacy skills later than girls (a fact that has long been known), this push has put the boys at a disadvantage; whereas boys used to catch up by fourth or fifth grade, that is no longer the case.

Even classes such as math have shifted to more word-based problems, making literacy skills more important than ever.

We can attest to some of this. We've noted in our boys' math textbooks that the problems--and the ways of approaching them--are much more word oriented than when we were growing up.

We also face frustrations of teachers trying to impose girl-like organizational skills on boys. One of our younger son's 6th grade teachers--in history--has made 40% of his class's grade dependent on keeping a journal with all the papers handed out in class. Little guidance is provided on what the journal should look like. We have no doubt that the girls in class are much better able to master this skill than the boys--and we're not sure what it has to do with their learning (tests count for less than 40%).

Kids need some help with organizational skills, but there's no "one size fits all" approach, and it certainly shouldn't penalize a kid who otherwise learns the material.

In any event, we think it's high time that our leading educators get together and figure out what's going on with boys in our education system. It's not the boys who are failing--it's the system.

Storm Saver: Washington Post on Kindle

With Snowmageddon still crippling Washington and environs--and another storm on the way tomorrow night (!)--our trusty Washington Post delivery boy hasn't made it down the rutted single snow/ice lane of North Edgewood Street since Friday.

Fortunately, our Amazon Kindle (allegedly soon to be outmoded by the Apple Ipad) allows us to download the Post and keep up with the world in warm coziness.

In our reading, we saw that Sarah Palin (the lady who prematurely quit as Governor of Alaska for reasons that were incoherent) addressed the Tea Baggers (for $100 Grand) and said she's not ruling our running for President. Our only thought: why couldn't Snowmageddon have obliterated the Tea Party idiots who think this woman has anything worthwhile to offer to our country.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Early Spring?

If robins are a sign of spring, then it must be near! Notwithstanding our 4 inches of additional, very wet, snow last night, today felt more like spring than most days the past few weeks. Punctuating that feeling, our neighborhood was visited by several hundred robins this morning, all feasting on the berries on our across-the-street neighbor's tree (which they stripped clean). (You can see a few of them in these photos.)

Once again, the school system got it wrong. Last night, when Alexandria schools announced they would open two hours late, we figured Arlington would follow suit. But then both decided to close today, even though it was a relatively warm morning and the snow quickly melted from roadways. If they're going to make bad decisions, we wish they'd make them the night before--what's the point of waking up at 6:00 a.m. to find out school is closed!

Even more bizarre, our religious school cancelled classes tonight--their policy is to follow whatever Fairfax schools do, but sometimes that policy makes no sense, as in when EVERYTHING HAS MELTED. (Not that we're unhappy about religious school--no one likes Wed. night classes.)

The weather prognosticators tell us that more snow--quite possibly a LOT of snow--is on the way this weekend. All the more reason to keep things open when possible. Our northern neighbors would--and do--laugh at us for our penchant to shut down everything the moment it starts to snow.

In any event, as our photos attest, it was a beautiful morning!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Snow Panic In Arlington!

It's 4:30 pm, 40 degrees and still not a drop of precipitation, but Arlington County has already shut down everything in anticipation of a snowstorm not likely to get underway (at least in frozen form) until late tonight.

Why do they do these things? Is it all the hype the weather forecasters are giving the storm?

If anyone had consulted an expert (or even the weather radar and a thermometer) they would know that (1) it's way too warm for snow right now; (2) the roads are quite warm; and (3) the roads are all already covered with salt from the last storm. Therefore, it's quite unlikely that there will be any accumulation on road surfaces before much later tonight--probably after 10 p.m., or more likely, midnight.

Why not go ahead with scheduled INDOOR activities? Too cautious.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Miss Arlington is New Miss USA!

Congrats to Caressa Cameron (great name!), who went from Miss Arlington to Miss Virginia to Miss USA!