Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nathalie Dupree For Senate

The Curmudgeon's stepmom, Nathalie Dupree, is announcing a write-in bid for the U.S. Senate in South Carolina today.

Nathalie will be challenging incumbent Senator Jim Demint, the overwhelming favorite after Democrats nominated Alvin Greene, an unemployed novice who has been charged with showing pornographic pictures to a college student.

Nathalie, who is a renowned chef, with many cookbooks and television cooking shows to her credit, also happens to be quite politically active and astute. We're pretty sure Nathalie doesn't expect to be moving to Washington after the November election (although we've told her she's welcome in the Curmudgeon guest quarters), but she did feel that Greene's flagging campaign was failing to raise certain issues about Demint that ought to be aired.

Demint, for his part, is so confident of victory that he's barnstorming around the country trying to help various highly unqualified Tea Party candidates elected to they can wreck our government.

We'll try to get a link for Nathalie's campaign website in here soon--not sure it's gone live yet.

Arlington Goes Crosswalk Happy

Maybe Remy (of "Arlington Rap" fame) should do a rap on Arlington's penchant for putting crosswalks every 10 feet.

Really, the County has gone crazy with crosswalks. We're all in favor of well-marked pedestrian crossings, especially at intersections controlled by traffic lights or stop signs. In those cases, the walks discourage drivers from creeping into the pedestrian crossing, while the traffic signals let everyone know when they can walk--or not.

But Arlington has added quite a few crosswalks in fairly busy roads where these is no intersection. The County is also fond of signs reminding drivers that "state law" requires yielding the right of way to a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk.

We sometimes wonder about that state law. If Arlington marks a crosswalk on I-395, does everyone have to stop? Could be a less expensive way to derail HOT lanes than the County's silly lawsuit.

In any event, some of the crosswalks the County has laid out are downright dangerous, and could get a pedestrian killed. The worst is one on Wilson Blvd., at the Gold's Gym in Ballston. This crosswalk is not at an intersection; it's across a four lane road; it's at a curve in the road; and it's in a part of the road that demands extreme concentration from drivers on the other cars--there are parking lanes and a lot of people turning here with no turn lane. Some places were not meant for pedestrians to cross, and this is one of them.

Then there's the silly crosswalks. At the Powhatan skateboard park on upper Wilson Blvd., there are three crosswalks controlled by traffic signals, including one traffic signal solely for pedestrians. Yet, that didn't stop the County from adding a fourth crosswalk between these, with no traffic signal. As if skateboarders are going to use a crosswalk!!
Another problem is road markings that look like crosswalks, but aren't. Arlington loves "traffic calming" speed humps, but paints them with white markings to alert drivers. Some of those markings look a little like crosswalks, but they aren't. We have seen pedestrians standing at these, scratching their heads, wondering if they should blandly walk out into traffic with that "state law" protecting them like some kind of fake force field.
Pedestrian safety is important, but giving pedestrians a false sense of security with badly placed crosswalks, or faux crosswalks, only increases the danger. Fortunately for pedestrians, Arlington has engineered most of its roads so you can't really get over 25-30 mph, even if you wanted to.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tropical Storm Nicole Takes Dead Aim At Curmudgeon

Does Mother Nature have a sense of humor--or irony--or maybe just revenge? A year ago, the Curmudgeon released Landstrike, his book in which fictional Hurricane Nicole slams into New York City as a major, category four, storm, wreaking havoc and spreading devastation far and wide.

Now we have Tropical Storm Nicole about to cross Florida. It has little chance of becoming a hurricane, or devastating New York, but it does appear to have the Curmudgeon in it's cross-hairs. Nicole is forecast to race directly across D.C. tomorrow, bringing torrential rain and the prospect of postponing the first round of the golf tournament the Curmudgeon is playing in this weekend.

We know that you all share our pain!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Do We Need Refrigerators That Tell Us When We're Out of Milk?

Yesterday's Post, reporting on an impending FCC decision to free up some unused TV broadcast spectrum for new wireless applications, speculated that as a result we could see "internet connected refrigerators that monitor when it's time to get more milk and eggs."

Huh? Is this something people are dying to get? The Curmudgeon gets enough junk emails without having his refrigerator nag him for more milk.

Or worse yet, asking to be cleaned; or wondering if anyone's really going to eat those Noodles & Co. leftovers that have been sitting in the back for a week; or questioning the need for five different kinds of mustard; or suggesting something healthier than Stouffer's frozen lasagna.

If this is all we're going to get from a "new generation" of wireless, why bother?

Let us know when you come out with a refrigerator that will go to the store and get the milk. Then we'll take interest!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Random Thoughts on Rosh Hoshanah

Sitting in temple for two and a half hours of Rosh Hoshanah services gives one's mind plenty of time to wander, especially when the cantor's belting out several minutes of some incomprehensible Hebrew tune.

So here's some of those thoughts:

--Why is the service so long? Hasn't anyone ever heard of editing? Wouldn't it be great if the college of rabbis, or whatever they're called, used some modern techniques to determine ideal human attention span and designed a service that people would enjoy?

--Why is so much of the service in Hebrew? The Jews who started these services spoke Hebrew, so it made sense to them. But as a reform Jew, who like most reform Jews learned how to read Hebrew for bar mitzvah purposes, but certainly never learned to understand it, why stick with the old language?

--Why is so much of the service meaningless. Most of the blessings are about the greatness of God, or some event that took place 5000 years ago. Why not craft blessings that would make modern Jews think about their role in the modern world? And why not incorporate more recent events? Yes, the exodus was great. But so was the 6-day war.

--One prayer repeated throughout the high holy days talks about how it is written on Rosh Hoshonah, then sealed on Yom Kippur, who shall die by various means--fire, water, sword, etc. Again, that made sense when the Hebrews wrote the prayer--that's what killed them then. Why not update it: who shall die by heart attack, who by stroke; who by diabetes and who by cancer; who by auto accident and who by gunshot.

--The weird thing about religions is that the people who start them don't glom on to the past to create them, but the people who perpetuate them feel a need to stick with the past after it no longer makes sense. Orthodox Jews wont' drive on the sabbath because that would be "work". The only reason for this is that before cars, people used horses. For a horse, it is work. Cars are inanimate. Anyway, religion ought to try to stay relevant.

--Is there really a point to having someone sing a long song in a language no one understands? This is when the mind really starts to wander. I like a little music in the service, but we could cut out a lot of the mind-wandering time.

--The story of Abraham and Isaac. What's up with that? What if the Bible told the story from Isaac's perspective? "Ok dad, first, you lied to me. You said god would provide a sacrifice when, in fact, you crazy coot, you were planning on sacrificing me!" We'd especially like to know what Isaac thought when Abraham tied him up and put in on the altar. Did Isaac go on any more trips with his dad after that?

--Why aren't there very many young people at the service? Oh yeah--see above.

P.S.--I remembered one more after posting this: why is Rosh Hoshonah called the "new year"? The Bible says that it is to occur on the 1st day of the seventh month--hardly the beginning of the year!

McDonnell's Liquor Privatization Plan

Guv McDonnell has finally unveiled his plan to privatize Virginia's liquor stores, a centerpiece of his campaign platform.

The plan illustrates the problem. On the one hand, there is no particularly good reason for Virginia to have socialized liquor. The state's ownership of all liquor stores is an artifact of post-prohibition era efforts to control hard liquor sales. Certainly, the private sector can handle liquor sales with appropriate regulation, while improving service to customers (there are too few liquor stores and their hours are not always convenient).

On the other hand, state ownership of ABC stores brings in more than $250 million a year in revenue. We can't just sell off the stores for a one-time short-term windfall while losing that revenue stream.

So, to keep the revenue while getting the one time benefit--estimated at about $500 million--from privatizing the stores, McDonnell has proposed a series of new taxes. He says they aren't taxes, but they are. That said, they are pretty reasonable taxes--they're basically designed so that liquor sales in Virginia bring in revenue at about the same rate as in other states.

On balance, we like the idea--get the money without losing the revenue stream. But we think that McDonnell's Republican colleagues in the legislature will kill the idea. Anything that reeks of "tax" is anathema to them, no matter how much sense it makes. After all, this isn't a bunch that's really interested in making government work better.

Democrats in the legislature may also make trouble, for political and other reasons. And if the GOP isn't going to support the Governor, why let them label Dems as "tax and spend" even if the plan does make sense.

So most likely another good idea will go down the drain, sacrificed to the gods of politics.

A couple other points on McDonnell's plan. He says he'll use most of the $500 million windfall from privatization to pay for transportation improvements. That's nice--the money is really needed. But it's a drop in the bucket--the Commonwealth needs billions of dollars for transportation, and it needs a dedicated funding source, not a one time benefit, to secure those improvements. Having motorists pay a modestly higher gas tax would do the trick. As a proportion of the price of gas, the tax is less than half what it once was. But those "no tax" Republicans would rather have you sit in traffic than work out a reasonable financing plan. If they ran businesses the same way, they'd be bankrupt.

Also, some Dems are saying that McDonnell's plan to sell about 1000 new liquor licenses may bring liquor close to schools and into low income neighborhoods. We don't think so--most of those licenses are intended to go to outlets that already sell beer and wine. Virginia has too few liquor stores to serve it's growing population now. While 1000 sounds like a lot, it's really not.

Will the plan succeed? Probably not--seems voters don't want "change" after all.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Could Earl Surprise The East Coast With The Landstrike Scenario?

In Landstrike (the Curmudgeon's hurricane novel), fictional hurricane Nicole forms out of a tropical wave as it passes the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa, and eventually strikes New York City as a major hurricane, devastating a region with 25 million people in it.

Could Earl follow the Landstrike scenario? The answer is yes, but it probably will be a near miss instead.

Earl's path has been similar to that of fictional Nicole, but just a little further to the east. In Landstrike, Nicole's powerful eye just brushes by Cape Hatteras, N.C., then, carried by the jet stream, races up the coast and turns right up the Hudson River, delivering a catastrophic storm surge into New York City.

Earl, too, is expected to brush by N.C.'s outer banks, but curve away from New York before turning back to the west and slamming northern New England or Nova Scotia.

But forecasting the track of these storms is tricky. In Landstrike, officials at the National Hurricane Center furiosly debate whether to issue a hurricane warning to New York. One faction believes the storm will curve out to sea, as they usually do. The other believes the weather system that's supposed to push Nicole out to sea will arrive too late.

That very debate may be going on now at the NHC. Weather models forecast that a powerful low pressure system will arrive just in time to bounce Earl away from the coast, but not enough to keep it out of Maine or Nova Scotia. Timing is everything, however. If that low pressure system slows down just a little bit, New York--or maybe more likely, Boston--could get a direct hit.
In fact, one widely used computer model (NGFDL) has Earl striking right around Providence/Boston, while others have it moving a further to the east. Trying to make sense of these conflicting computer models is one of the main challenges for human hurricane forecasters.

One of the main points of Landstrike was that forecasting the landfall of hurricanes along the U.S. Atlantic coastline is far more difficult than on the Gulf Coast. The angle at which storms approach the East Coast, and their typically greater speed, give residents of Atlantic communities much less time to prepare. (Forecasters were able to predict Hurricane Katrina's landfall near New Orleans nearly four days in advance--not that New Orleanians took advantage of the notice.)

If Earl does take a slightly more westerly turn, it's likely that the communities most directly affected will have, at most, 36 hours notice, and even then the likely target area will be huge, containing many millions of people. Evacuation, other than from literally beachfront communities, is not a viable option (imagine trying to evacuate New York or Boston on 36 hours notice).

Keep an eye on Earl. Hurricanes like this have a habit of surprising us in real life, not just in entertaining fiction!