Friday, December 02, 2011

Soccer Ridiculousness--Part 2

In Soccer Ridculousness Part 1 we went over the absurd comments of college soccer coaches who object to any limits on current year-round training and competition for collegiate players.

Today, we cover the current push to prohibit elite players in the high school age group from competing with their schools.

In recent years, the powers that be in US youth soccer established an "academy" program for boys to supplement, compete with and generally confuse things with the existing Olympic Development Program, which was already confusing because it really has nothing to do with the Olympics.

Adding to the confusion, the girls have a different elite training program.

Putting aside, for the moment, the counterproductive effects of having multiple, overlapping and somewhat conflicting "elite" programs, let's get to what the boys Academy program is now trying to do.

Unlike ODP programs, which are run by state associations, the Academy program is run by individual soccer clubs who apply for the Academy franchise.  To get the Academy designation, they must meet certain standards and abide by certain rules that are supposed to enhance player development.

One of the rules now being proposed in the Academy is to PROHIBIT Academy players (all of whom are in high school age groups) from playing for their school teams.  This is a hugely misguided idea.

It is true that the quality of coaching at many high schools is inferior to that provided at the club level (not just the Academy clubs--almost any club).  High school seasons also conflict with club seasons; high school training conflicts with club training.  Many club teams "sit-out" the high school season to avoid conflict.

The Academy purists, however, believe that the high school season is detracting from the superior training of their young proteges, so they would simply get rid of the schools.

But that creates a huge dilemma for player who want the benefits of the Academy.  School soccer is VERY important to these kids.  In club games, the spectators are parents.  Many of those parents have been pushing their kids since kindergarten, yelling at them and countercoaching them from the sidelines.  Parents, being parents, are solely concerned about their kids, not the team.

In school, the spectators are fellow students.  They are cheering for the team--and its stars.  Being a star on the high school soccer team is a big deal for the ego of a student.  It gives the player an exalted place in the hierarchy of the school social strata.

Now, take the same kid, who everyone knows is a great soccer player, and have him (or her) suddenly NOT playing for the school team because his/her club team is so much more important.  Now that player not only loses the exposure to his/her school's cheering students, but actually becomes a traitor to the cause.  "Hey John, you're the best player at the school, how come you're not playing for the team?"

Potomac Soccer Wire recently had an excellent piece capturing just how agonizing this choice can be for players.  In this particular case, involving a girls team, the adults helped them work it out the right way--but that's getting increasingly rare.

The Academy and the various adults who rule youth soccer should not be creating this dilemma for players.  There is a better way to go:  improve high school coaching.  There is no reason that most schools cannot use club coaches for their school teams and adopt club training methods.  Some high schools already do this, and others should.  It won't be the Academy, but the Academy can easily work around the high school schedule and still give its precious charges the training and competition they need.

We'll add one more thing.  The folks behind the Academy think that they are bringing a European concept to US youth soccer.  In Europe, the professional soccer clubs run academy programs to identify and develop new talent.  But the US model is different in critical ways, and DOOMED TO FAILURE as a poor imitation of the European model. 

In Europe, the pro club academies don't charge for their programs.  As a result, they are drawing from the pool of ALL European players, and they are an attractive option for poor kids to pull themselves up.  The US academies, mostly at elite suburban clubs, do charge for their programs, and they attract a talented group of players from a limited subset of the population.  It's the exclusion of the rest of the population that makes all the difference!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Future Car Is Literally Just Around The Corner

We've previously stated that it's only a matter of time before we humans stop the activity known as driving a car.  Cars will drive themselves--doing a better job than most humans--while humans use their time in their metal exoskeletons for other purposes.

Well, Volkswagen has announced that it will make it's "follow me" technology available on certain delivery vans in Europe shortly.  This technology allows a vehicle to literally follow its driver as he/she walks down the street, or to come pick up the driver from about a block away.

This is the next logical step from automated cruise control and cars that can park themselves.  Of course, it's only a few more steps to fully automated vehicles.  We can think of some immediate good uses for such, even as many drivers cringe at the thought.  One is for blind people--what a blessing an automated car would be for them!  Likewise for others with handicaps (permanent or temporary) that prevent them from driving.

Another group is very old people who can no longer safely drive.  Just think, Florida could be the capital of automated driving.  (Come to think of it, no one in Florida drives very well.)

There's also folks who have lost their driving privileges, either temporarily or permanently.  They're a good market for the new technology because they usually have lost their right to drive due to BAD DRIVING.

Looking further down the road, so to speak, we foresee a whole new car concept.  A driverless car can be configured completely differently from today's cars.  There is no need for a steering wheel, brake pedal, accelerator and dashboard in such a car--those are for humans.  Likewise, there is no need for fixed seats that face forward.  Instead, you can have seats that swivel so a group can have a discussion while riding.  Or, seats like those in first class on international flights that can lie flat so you can go to sleep.  Leave for grandma's at midnight, take an Ambien and wake up a few hours later at your destination.

Indeed, there's no need for windows on such a car, although most people will want them.  But the windows could also be darkened, or better yet, turned into computer screens.  You could surf the web and play video games; of course, there will be those who watch porn as well.  Which leads to other things you could do while riding in an automated car with someone you love.

If all cars were automated, you could also make them a lot lighter and smaller.  Little women wouldn't insist on SUV's so they can see over traffic, and we wouldn't have to engineer massive cars of sheet metal to survive collisions with idiotic drivers of other massive piles of sheet metal.

And if all the cars are automated, they can go a lot faster, getting you to your destination more quickly.  That's because automated cars would not need, for example, the staggered start that humans take at a stop light--they could all start at the same time and pace.  You might not even need stoplights--just a system by which the vehicles yield to each other, as they could know exactly where all the cars around them are going.

You can also drink and ride--at least up to a point.

The way people interact with cars would be quite different as well.  No need to look all over for a parking spot--you'd get dropped off where you want to go, and then the car would go find it's own remote parking spot.  When you're ready to go, you just ask the latest version of the Siri app on your smart phone to have you picked up.  Like an instant cab without the smelly driver.

Furthermore, if you can summon a car to pick you up, anytime, why own a car?  Why not sign up for a car sharing service and get whatever type of vehicle you need at the time.  Driving into the office?  Order up a nifty electric one-seater.  Taking the family to the beach?  Get something more akin to an SUV, but without having to OWN one and drive it on the daily commute.

There will still be problems to work out--that smelly person who had the car before you; the people who leave their trash behind; the people who try to override whatever safety systems are in place, etc.  You can always count on a few people to do their best to ruin a good thing, but most of these obstacles will be overcome.

It'll be a good while before everything's automated--there will always be a few diehards crying out about "freedom" to drive themselves (at least until they try one of those porn trips).  But, the day is coming.  Just look down the street.

Soccer Ridiculousness--Part 1

In a belated effort to restore some semblance of balance to collegiate athletics, the NCAA is considering some significant changes to off-season training for a number of sports, including soccer.  Currently, collegiate athletes in soccer pretty much face year-round training and competition, including international tours in the off-season.

The NCAA's Resource Allocation Workgroup is proposing to ban off-season competition and international tours, and to reduce the number of games in the season by about 10 percent.  These are rational steps to reign in a sport--that like many others on college campuses--has gotten out of control.

Yet to hear the college soccer coaches yowl, you'd think the NCAA was proposing to shut soccer down.  These coaches--many of them foreigners--need to realize that college soccer is NOT PRO SOCCER, even though it may appear that way at times.

An article in last week's Potomac Soccer Wire illustrates the hysteria.  “The spring [off-season] games are critical,” noted University of Utah women’s soccer coach Rich Manning on his twitter feed. “Who would want to run, lift and train for 6 months a year with no games. And when you consider the NCAA doesn't allow players to play on outside teams, it's almost a death sentence to anyone getting better from ages 18-22."

A death sentence?  Coach, most of these players are going to have to go on to something other than soccer, or at least they should (although coaching apparently is always an option).  They ought to have some time to do something else in their lives.  They don't need to train all year either.  Yes, they need to maintain their conditioning, but that's not the same.

As for getting better (or playing all the time), if they want to go pro, go pro. 

Anyway, other sports also have only one season.  Football, basketball, baseball, to name a few.  Although it is true that some of these teams--notably basketball--do tour around the world in the off-season (remember Georgetown's brawl with a semi-pro team in China this past summer?), so we hope the rules will be enforced equitably.

Bad as the Utah coach's comments are, they pale in comparison to the utterly ridiculous statements of Rob Kehoe, Collegiate Programs Director at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.  He's quoted in Potomac Soccer Wire thusly:  “If you have players that have eight months without competition opportunities, what happens to their discipline? In a campus situation, they’re going to be bored and involved with the scourge of the college campus, which is substance abuse and relationship abuse issues. The sport serves as a deterrent from being involved in things that are irresponsible, illegal activities that are very prevalent on college campuses."

Whoa!  We had no idea that colleges were such cesspools, with soccer literally being the only thing saving these poor young men and women from a life of destitution and ruin.

Soccer is a good sport, but it's only a sport.  There are plenty of good ways of allowing college soccer athletes to maintain (and even improve) their skills without subjecting them to year-round competition.  They need an occasional break from soccer, and time to focus on what the rest of their lives will bring.

Soccer COACHES, of course, have nothing better to do, but that's exactly why they shouldn't be the ones determining what limits should be placed on the sport within colleges.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

VA GOP Takes First Step Toward Self Destruction

We knew they couldn't resist.

With its new dominance of all of Virginia's government, what's the first bill pre-filed by a GOP legislator?  Why, of course, a bill to define human life as starting at conception.

Even Mississipians rejected this really bad idea.

The question is whether Virginia's Republican legislators, needing to play to their base, will have the good sense to say "no" to this bill.  If not, they'll put Governor McDonnell in an awkward position, one that will dash any aspirations he has for higher office (Senate, GOP VP nominee)--if he vetoes such a bill, he loses the religious right; if he signs it, his moderate image (the basis for his success so far) is shattered.

Moreover, if this bill goes into law (and believe us, this one is just the tip of the iceberg--you can bet there are plenty of other religiously inspired bills to come from the same group), Republicans can kiss their majority goodbye in short order.

VA voters are concerned about the economy.  They didn't elect Republicans to institute a Taliban of state-controlled religion in the Commonwealth.

Friday, November 04, 2011

First World Problems Versus Third Word Problems

This morning my older son reminded me how trivial some of our utter frustrations can be. 

It wasn't a great morning.  The Curmudgeon is a single parent for most of this week, and it's the first hour and a half of each school day morning that is the real challenge.  The last two days were great, though, with everything running like clockwork.

Yesterday, however, unbeknownst to me, our housekeeper apparently unplugged my clock radio, then plugged it in and reset the time, but she conveniently had me "fall back" an hour just a little too soon for the switch to standard time this weekend.  As a result, my alarm would have gone off an hour late this morning, but for one of the kid's alarms waking me up only a half hour late (and quite confused as to why his alarm was going off at what seemed like 5:35 a.m.).

So this morning was a big rush, with dad grumbling quite a bit about our housekeeper's negligence.

Then older son lightens the mood on our trip to school by saying this a good example of "first world" problems and how they compare to third world problems.

First world problem:  alarm clock reset to wrong time;
Third world problem:  no electricity

First world problem:  this steak is medium, not medium rare
Third world problem:  we have no food

First world problem:  she said something mean about me on Facebook
Third world problem:  a militia group raped all the girls in our village

You get the picture.  So next time you're angry about something that has happened to you, play the first world/third world game.  You'll feel better.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Why VA Independents Should Vote Dem In State Senate Races

If you're one of Virginia's many independent voters, next Tuesday's elections--especially for state Senate races--should be of great interest to you. 

Virginia has a large group of mostly moderate independent voters.  They tend to be fiscally conservative and socially libertarian, i.e., they don't want the government telling them what to do in their bedrooms or with their guns.  Their primary interest is in getting good government services as efficiently as possible.  Not surprisingly, these sensible folks are disgusted with both major parties.

For those of you who fall into this large category of independent voters, Tuesday's election is important because if the Virginia state senate swings to a Republican majority, the Commonwealth will be--for the first time in many years--a single party state, with the GOP controlling both houses of the legislature as well as all the major constitutional offices (governor, lt. gov., AG, etc.)

That will, in turn, unleash social conservatives to push--and enact--a flurry of regulations on conduct, as well as to turn on the spigots for spending on conservative programs.  No, it turns out that Republicans are not against regulation, nor are they against welfare spending--it's just a matter of who/what they want to regulate (sexual mores) and who they want to reward (businesses, churches).

As long as Democrats continue to control the state senate, neither party can go too far off the rails with its agenda.  The current stalemate is not ideal--on some issues, particularly transportation funding, the legislature has gotten nowhere for years.  Virginians increasingly pay a higher and higher price each year for the lack of investment in transportation infrastructure.  But it's not like Gov. McDonnell's solution of sticking a tollbooth every few miles and pretending its not a tax is going to solve the problem.

In any event, independent voters have an important stake in how this election goes.  Republicans bill the election as a "referendum on Pres. Obama," but Obama's got nothing to do with it.  The real issue is whether Virginia is going to retain the balance that has served it so well over recent years.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Perfect for Halloween: Sorcerors and Apprentices

We commend to you The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices: How the Digital Magicians of the MIT Media Lab Are Creating the Innovative Technologies That Will Transform Our Lives, by Frank Moss.

Moss is the recent former director of the MIT Media Lab, and the book is an informal tour of the Lab's discovery process, which has brought us such things as digital books (where I read this one).

The MIT Media Lab is an agglomeration of scientists, engineers, artists and other experts into what Moss calls "anti-disciplinary" fields such as Kindergarten for Life, Opera of the Future and New Media Medicine. To say that the Lab is doing "cutting edge" work in science and technology would be an understatement--the folks in the lab are, in many areas, re-inventing the way things are done, from city driving to doctor's office visits.

It's a short read, less than 240 pages, and a fun one. Learning how the Lab's denizens in the City of the Future group, for example, have created a foldable car that can be stacked like luggage carts at an airport is fascinating. The technologists in the lab don't just dream up great--but perhaps impractical--ideas. They implement them by creating working prototypes and then giving the technology away to their many corporate sponsors.

While the gadgets and systems created at the Lab are mind-boggling, Moss's bigger point is the process of creation at the Lab--the antidisciplinary approach. The new "city car," for example, was created by a team that included only one automotive engineer, which gave them the freedom not only to think outside the box, but to discard the box altogether.

Some of the Lab's projects are almost magical in nature. The book highlights the roles of many of the quirky people involved in this process of creation. These are not boring people, and the book is a fun read that makes one optimistic for the futue.

The only negative is Moss's occasional myopic tendency to imply that no one else in the world is doing similar work. We doubt that's the case, but surely labs like MIT's are still pretty rare, and the approach used there could be more widely adopted in academic and corporate settings.

Who knows, maybe they'll even figure out a way to make Blogger's buttons work in Explorer 9!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

GOP--The Party of Fiscal Irresponsibility?

Here's a biting op-ed from an oldline Republican doubting the current crop of GOP presidential candidates' commitment to fiscal responsibility:

We'll just add that borrow and spend is no better--probably worse--than tax and spend.

Wish we could go back to the days of fiscally conservative, but socially liberal Bill Clinton and Al Gore!

(Hat tip to LS for the article).

Monday, September 19, 2011

How To Save The Postal Service

It's hard to believe that people are upset that the Postal Service might have to cut out Saturday mail delivery.

Really, is there anything that comes in the mail on Saturday that couldn't wait until Monday?

The fact of the matter is that NOTHING particularly time sensitive comes in the mail. Yes, we do need mail service, but why not limit it to two times a week--say Tuesday and Saturday? Would it really make a difference?

The mail is a little like human food digestion. A lot of stuff goes in, a tiny amount of with actual nutritional value is extracted, and the rest gets excreted as waste.

In our household, the Curmudgeon processes the mail. More than 90% of it gets immediately dumped into the recycling bin. The rest goes into one of two piles: stuff that needs to get filed (eventually--usually on a rainy day), and stuff that needs some kind of action (mostly, bills). The action items get addressed about once a week.

Oh, and there are the magazines, but even the so-called newsweeklies are no longer all that timely--any real news we've already gotten off the net from our smartphone. Being old-fashioned, we like having magazines around, but waiting until tuesday, or Saturday, to receive them would be no big deal.

So, to those who oppose eliminating Saturday delivery, we say fine--let's keep Saturday, and get rid of most of the rest of the days!

Memo to GOP Fatcats: Don't Block My Driveway!

This evening, one of our neighbors hosted a fundraiser for Caren Merrick, the Republican candidate for state senate in our local district.

Hey, we have no problem with that. But one of the GOP fatcats attending decided it was just too much trouble to find a legal parking space, so instead parked completely across our driveway. They're fortunate that Mrs. Curmudgeon was feeling charitable and only had them ticketed--the Curmudgeon would have had them towed (and jr. Curmudgeon wanted to put an obscene sign on their windshield).

Meanwhile, a small group of protesters gathered outside the fundraiser to urge another attendee--Congressman Frank Wolfe--to support the Jobs Bill. More than our usual level of excitement on North Edgewood St.!

Maybe we'll have a fundraiser for Merrick's opponent in November, Arlington Co. Board member Barbara Favola.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene Was A Good Warning For the Northeast

Although Hurricane Irene turned out a little weaker than many forecasts, it still caused at least $5-10 billion in damage, while serving notice to the mid-Atlantic and northeast about what a more powerful storm could do.

Some observations post-Irene.

1. Forecasting landfall for a hurricane approaching the Atlantic coast is quite difficult. As is usually the case for storms like Irene, the forecast track steadily slipped northward over a period of days, moving from the lower South Carolina coast to the middle of North Carolina. Had Irene's track been just 50 miles further east, it could have missed NC altogether (skirting the Outer Banks) and remained a stronger hurricane as it approached further north.

2. Likewise, forecasting hurricane intensity is difficult. Fortunately for NY and New England, Irene did strike NC first, taking out quite a bit of its energy. But even before it approached NC, Irene weakened a fair amount. In constrast, in 1989, Hurricane Hugo ramped up in intensity just hours before striking Charleston, SC. Better to err on the side of overpreparation, however.

3. There was more time to prepare for Irene than would be the case for some storms. Irene approached at a relatively leisurely pace for an Atlantic hurricane coming at the east coast (less than 15 miles per hour). The 1938 "Long Island Clipper" was going 60 miles per hour when it hit NY. In the future, there could easily be storms where the lead and warning time is half that of Irene.

4. A large storm like Irene is particularly dangerous. Irene was a good sized hurricane, with tropical storm force winds extending a good 200 miles from its center. A storm that size striking the east coast is always going to cause a lot of damage because there are so many people and cities concentrated in the region. Irene sent moderate storm surges over hundreds of miles of coastline; blew down trees over a huge area; and dropped flooding rains on at least ten states.

5. A slightly more powerful version of Irene could cause catastrophic damage. If, as forecast, Irene had strengthened to a Category three storm before landfall, and if it had just missed NC before turning toward the Atlantic Coast, it could have dealt a devastating blow to NY, NJ and/or New England. As it was, as a large tropical storm Irene managed to flood parts of New York City and devastate several NJ beaches. A more powerful storm on the same track could easily have upped the damage ante to $50 billion, or even $100 billion.

6. NYC is ready to take hurricanes seriously--NYC officials treated the threat soberly, as did many--but of course not all--New Yorkers. As illustrated in the Curmudgeon's novelization of a major hurricane striking NYC (Landstrike), the consequences of a major hurricane making a direct hit on the city would be devastating. We just hope there's no backlash in attitudes because the storm ended up a little weaker than advertised.

Fortunately, geography and climate make the odds of a major hurricane striking NYC at any given time quite small. Irene illustrated that point. But, when the big one does hit--and one day it will--the consequences will be devastating.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Anyone living on the east coast from North Carolina to Maine should read this excellent summary of the significant dangers from storm surge from Hurricane Irene:

(We, of course, also like and greatly appreciate the plug for Landstrike at the bottom. Irene is behaving very much like fictional hurricane Nicole in Landstrike, albeit not quite as strong--but still dangerous!)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Will Irene Follow Us To NYC?

It figures. The Curmudgeon family is headed to New York City this weekend for a show and some touristing about, but it looks like Hurricane Irene may follow us up there, Landstrike style. Irene probably won't be "the big one," and it's course is still far from certain, but we guess it would be poetic justice for the storm to ruin our weekend. (Having just survived the great Virginia Quake of '11).

The forecast track for Irene is already illustrating one of the big problems with hurricane forecasting that we tried to highlight in Landstrike: given the curvature of the Atlantic coastline and the tendency of Atlantic hurricanes to curve to the north as they approach the coast, it is very difficult to accurately predict where they'll strike (or if they will miss entirely).

In the worst case, Irene will hug the coast from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod, causing billions of dollars of coastal damage (similar to Hurricane Floyd in 1999).

If you live anywhere on the east coast north of Georgia, you should keep a close eye on this one for the next few days!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rick Perry's Porn Investment

With hat tip to Nathalie, we thought this was interesting in terms of a long line of GOP "family values" hypocrites:

Rick Perry's Hardcore History of Investment in Porn

We'd be willing to bet he's sampled the product as well.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Arlington Should Tell Motorcyclists To Take A Hike

[Note to readers: with this post we're back from a summer hiatus, hoping to resume posting regularly.]

Arlington County has announced that it will close portions of I-66 and Route 110 in the County this Friday afternoon between 2:30-4:00 pm so that Arlington police can accompany a large group of motorcycle riders coming into town to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Sorry Arlington, but this is BAD POLICY. Anyone who's ever driven I-66 on a Friday afternoon knows that rush hour starts early and it goes in BOTH directions. Likewise, Rt. 110 is a major artery.

We have no problem with motorcyclists coming to town to commemorate the 9/11 attacks, although we highly suspect this is more like a big party than any kind of solemn event. (Promotional material for the event on Friday touts a BBQ in Crystal City on yet more closed streets, along with a gun raffle to raise money. A lot of Arlingtonians on were more bent out of shape about the gun raffle, but we're not sure Arlington authorities can--or should--do much about that.)

But on a Friday afternoon?

There's a reason why marathons, walk-a-thons, bicycle events, etc, are on Sunday mornings: because the traffic disruption is minimized (it's still disruptive if you're trying to get somewhere at that time). Why cave in to these motorcyclists?

The alert from Arlington County said, in part, that it is for the protection and safety of the motorcyclists. Fine, but if they want to ride into town on a Friday afternoon, they should sit in traffic like everyone else (and NOT hot dog it around cars, driving on medians and in the middle of lanes).

Couldn't Arlington have told the cyclists that they'd be welcome to come in at say between 10:00 a.m. to noon, or after 7:00 pm? Or on the weekend? This is a bad precedent.

If the President (current or most recent) were to motorcade through at a similar time, disrupting traffic, you can believe there'd be complainers. (Indeed, a few years ago, Bush wisely opted not to motorcade to a fundraiser in NoVa during rush hour, realizing how counterproductive it would be.)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Powerful Video On Climate Change

Send this to all your Red State friends!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Johnny Reb Funds Lincoln Bio-pic?

Would Greece provide support for a Turkish filmmaker producing a film about the Ottoman empire?

Would Germany fund a movie about Stalin?

Would Israel help produce a move about Arafat?

No. But believe it or not, Virginia is going to provide Steven Spielberg with more than $4 million in tax credits and other funds to make a movie about none other than Abraham Lincoln, the very man who directed the devastation of Virginia about 150 years ago. (See Wapo story here.)

Hey, we think it shows that the Commonwealth is mature. South Carolina sure wouldn't do such a thing (they don't have the $4 million).

While we have nothing against Spielberg making his movie in Richmond and Petersburg--despite the fact that Lincoln's Union Army left both in utter devastation in 1865--we do have a problem with spending $4 million in state funds to support billionaire Spielberg and his Hollywood multi-millionaire friends in this endeavor.

For some reason, even supposedly fiscally conservative Republicans have a blind spot when it comes to spending taxpayer money on films (and sports teams). The supposed rationale is that filming in the state provides jobs. So what? Every other business in the state provides jobs, too, but they aren't getting some huge windfall from the state (okay, some are, but they shouldn't).

Film jobs, in particular, are notably temporary. Once Spielberg is finished with a few weeks of filming, everything will be shipped back to Hollywood to be finished and those "jobs" will disappear.

We'd love to know the cost per job of this corporate welfare scheme.

Presidential Apprentice

With so many Republicans--many obscure--vying for their party's presidential nomination, there just has to be a better way than slogging through a series of primaries, caucuses and "debates." And there is.

We now introduce a new system: Presidential Apprentice. Not only will this get the Republicans the best nominee, but it will be entertaining and provide a large windfall profit to one of the television networks in keeping with GOP principles.

Here's how it works. Each week, the aspiring nominees will be given a presidential task to complete. One week it might be reducing the deficit; the next it might be dealing with high gas prices, or taking out a wanted terrorist. After each task is completed, a panel of Republicans will decide which contender is fired. (Obviously, since Donald Trump is running--and believe us, he is--he can't be the one making the judgments.) The panel will be assisted by voting (a la American Idol style) of the public, with the voting counting as 50% of the score.

So then, each week the weakest contender will be eliminated. At first, the candidates will have to work as teams--this is fine: a President has to work with a team of advisors anyway. It will be easy enough to see who is working and who is sabotaging and we'll learn a lot about each contestant, er aspirant. Later in the competition, when we're down to three or four, they'll work individually.

This format will give relatively unknown candidates a chance to distinguish themselves on the merits.

Oh, and each week the candidates on the winning team will get a significant campaign donation as well.

We can't wait to tune in!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

King George III Party

The original Boston tea partiers were upset about taxation by England's King George without their representation in Parliament.

Today's misnamed Tea Partiers in Congress have--in the style of King George--imposed their own worldview on the residents of the District of Columbia, who have no representation in Congress.

Today's Tea Party should be renamed the King George party.

Bully for D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and members of the D.C. Council for holding their own true tea party protest of those actions yesterday.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

J. Edgar Hoover, Clint Eastwood, Leo DiCaprio and . . . Arlington?

A little bird (thanks CH) told us that the forthcoming Clint Eastwood directed bio-pic of J. Edgar Hoover, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was out filming in little ol' Arlington today (up near Marymount U.) So what we're wondering is "why Arlington?" Did the reputedly gay Hoover have his secret liaisons here? Or perhaps he had a source in the American Nazi party HQ here in Arlington (in the building that now houses Java Shack)? Or maybe they just needed a boring 1950's style home?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Incredible Tsunami Video Hints At Power of Hudson River Hurricane Storm Surge

Some of the most powerful scenes in the Curmudgeon's fictional book, Landstrike, depict a 20-25 foot storm surge from a category 4 hurricane raging up the Hudson River and into Manhattan.

A newly released Japanese video from the recent tsunami amply demonstrates how this might unfold. This video is shot from the side of a river that is suddenly swollen by the tsunami's massive surge, similar to what would happen with a major hurricane sending a storm surge into a river.

You will see the river quickly rising about 20 feet and cascading over its banks into the hapless Japanese town, sweeping cars and trucks away and demolishing buildings in seconds. One can easily imagine the awful effects of a similar surge up the Hudson River as it washes into NYC with massive force.

Also note, in part of the video, the large boat in the upper portion, straining at its moorings, then breaking free and adding to the carnage as it rides the wave into the town. This reminded us of the scene in Landstrike when the Norwegian cruise ship bursts free of its moorings and crashes into the Jacob Javits Center. This is an amazing video--it's hard to believe whoever shot it was brave enough to stand and keep filming while this destruction occurred!

The Importance of Tax Fairness in Virginia

Today's Washington Post has a terrific op-ed piece co-written by Virginia state representatives David Toscano (a Democrat) and R. Lee Ware (a Republican). In "Shining Some Sunlight on $200 Million In Virginia Tax Breaks," they note that "[w]ith every tax credit that is adopted, a policy decision is made about the appropriate use of public resources." The coal industry alone has an estimated $100 million in tax credits. Simply eliminating that tax preference could result in a reduction of the corporate tax rate from 6% to 5.25%, or provide a refund of $15 a year to every Virginia taxpayer. When legislators (this goes for Congress, too) talk about taxes being "too high," the answer is not always spending. A significant issue is the inequities in the tax code that favor one taxpayer over another. Why, for example, should a coal mine operator in effect pay lower taxes in Virginia than the mom and pop owners of the local Subway sandwich business? Is it only because the mine operators wield greater political clout? [Yes.] The authors suggest that, at a minimum, all such tax credits should come with an expiration date. There may, in fact, be a compelling policy (not political) reason for a tax credit, but the legislature should be forced to reconsider periodically the continued existence of that rationale. We'll just note that the problem is far greater at the federal level. Tax rates could be lowered significantly if all the preferences, credits and loopholes in the current tax code were eliminated or closed, without reducing spending on critical program.

Friday, March 25, 2011

McDonnell Vetoes Physical Education Bill--Follow-up Needed

In a recent post, we questioned the wisdom of a bill passed by the Viriginia legislature to expand the physical education requirements for elementary school children in the Commonwealth.

Governor McDonnell has now vetoed the bill, no doubt because he regularly reads and agrees with the Curmudgeon. (Or perhaps due to furious lobbying from school districts and local governments.)

We agree with the Governor's decision--the bill amounted to a very expensive unfunded mandate from Richmond.

That should not be the end of the matter, however. We would hope that the Governor would either ask the State Board of Education to study the issue, or appoint a commission to do the same. Many of Virginia's school children DO need more physical activity (although obesity is not, fundamentally, an issue of inactivity--it is primarily an issue of over-large serving portions that result in people eating too much food).

The trick is to provide more exercise to those kids who need it, without foisting it on kids who already get plenty (at the expense of other priorities). Some data gathering would be in order. Based on our experience with youth sports programs in Arlington, we'd guess that at least 50 percent of kids, maybe a bit more, are getting a fine amound of exercise, at least through elementary school, as a result of participation in various actitivies that take place outside the school day.

For those not getting enough exercise, one option may be to establish additional programs after school and require children whose parents cannot certify their participation in other sports programs to participate in appropriate activities.

The Arlington Soccer Associaton is experimenting with an after school program aimed at children who do not participate in our more traditional evening/weekend recreational soccer program, to see if we can reach kids who face barriers--such as transportation--to involvement in regular youth sports programs.

It may well be that the Commonwealth could reach those kids who need more physical activity, but at a much lower cost, by specifically identifying them and putting them into appropriate programs AFTER school.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Maybe Schiller is Right

So an NPR fundraising executive called Tea Partiers xenophobes and suggested they are anti-intellectual. Big deal. Hasn't anyone noticed that former terrorist supporter Rep. Pete King (who raised funds for and defended the Irish Republican Army) has targeted hearings at American muslims for their alleged ties to terrorism?

Schiller also said NPR might be better off without taxpayer support.

Schiller's been fired, but he's right on both counts.

NPR--and PBS--should transition to independent organizations. Both have quality programming and a loyal audience. Cutting the loose from the taxpayer teat would only make them better--they could tell the truth!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Virginia's Expanded PE Requirement--Good Policy?

Virginia's General Assembly has passed a bill that would mandate 150 minutes per week of physical education in the Commonwealth's public elementary schools. As the bill awaits Governor McDonnell's signature, school districts around the state are belatedly mobilizing to oppose it.

Is this bill a good idea?

The law was proposed by a pair of physician legislators, including state senator Ralph Northam from Norfolk, who views it as a weapon on the war against obesity, diabetes and other ailments of a sedentary lifestyle.

Regular readers of the Curmudgeon know that we're no fans of obesity (although our biggest peeve for the cause of this epidemic is oversized serving portions). While we're in favor of getting school children to be more active, we think this law, well-intentioned as it is, is the wrong way to achieve it's goals.

It is certainly true that some elementary school age children aren't getting enough physical activity. But many other school children are getting plenty of exercise. This one-size-fits-all approach will end up hurting some students by taking away time for academics, arts, music and other important subjects. There is only so much time in the school day, so more PE will result in less of something.

It appears that the General Assembly passed the bill without doing much research or study. We'd prefer that the governor send it back for more discussion, including input from schools on other possible options for giving children the physical activity they need.

Here's one possibility: allow parents to provide evidence that their children are getting the requisite exercise by certifying participation in programs outside the schools, such as soccer, basketball, gymnastics, etc. In Arlington, we have an extensive program of sports activities organized through the Parks Dept., as do most other Virginia counties, that cover thousands of school children.

For those children who AREN'T enrolled in exercise programs outside of school, the schools (or Parks Depts.) could organize AFTER SCHOOL programs. If the state wants to make sure kids are getting what they need, it can set up a commission to set standards for such programs. The schools could still be responsible for collecting the data needed to show that children are getting their needed exercise, but they would not then be spending precious school time giving extra PE to kids who don't need it.

There is some interesting data in Arlington on this score. The Arlington Soccer Association, which provides an extensive array of soccer activities for more than 6000 children, keeps tabs on the number of kids participating in its programs from each school in the district. The range is dramatic: at a couple of elementary schools, about 50% of the kids play in recreational soccer, which consists of at least one hour-long practice and rougly hour-long game per week in the Fall and Spring. At a handful of other elementary schools, however, fewer than 5% of kids participate. The average is about 30%.

The primary reason for this disparity appears to be that in many lower income families, working parents cannot provide the transportation to get their kids to and from practices and games. Arlington Soccer is beginning to experiment with after-school soccer programs, held on school grounds, as one way to bolster participation at these schools. Funding, of course, is an issue, but the state might find it much less expensive to provide supplementary after-school sports/exercise programs to those children who need it than to require more in-school programs for all children.

Arlington Soccer believes it (and other youth sports groups, coordinated through the Parks Dept.) could fill the gap for far less than it would cost to add PE teachers and facilities, without sacrificing other aspects of the school experience.

Let's send this well-intentioned, but flawed, legislation back for more study.

Crazy DC Closes All Weather Fields Due To Rain

Over the weekend, the Arlington Soccer Association hosted its misnomered "Spring" invitational soccer tournament (it's still winter folks), with all games played on synthetic turf fields to avoid cancellations due to the usual chancy weather conditions of this time of year.

Despite a rainy day on Sunday--especially in the afternoon--all the games went off. But not without a hitch--some games were played on all-weather synthetic fields in the District of Columbia, which inexplicably decided to CLOSE its fields due to the rain. Only in D.C. could this happen! Fortunately, those games were able to be relocated to Arlington, where reason and sanity prevailed. (Ok, maybe playing soccer in a cold torrential downpour isn't exactly sane, but hey, it's futbol.)

Friday, March 04, 2011

Alzheimer's Caused By The Liver?

This could be a quite a breakthrough in treating Alzheimer's:

Scripps Research Study Points To Liver, Not Brain, As Origin Of Alheimer's Plaques

Teen Talk

The great thing about texting is that we can have an almost complete record of many of our interactions with our teens. Here's the Curmudgeon's "conversation" with his teen about picking him up from the movies (said teen said the movie started at 6 pm, but it really started at 7:10, leaving the Curmudgeon to mis-underestimate when the movie would be done):

8:03 pm Curm: We're here at Ballston when you're done

8:44 pm Teen: Meet me near the parking lot entrance when I get out

8:48 pm Teen: Ok?

8:48 pm Curm: Ru out?

8:49 pm Teen: Almost but I'll meet u where I said

8:49 pm Curm: K

8:58 pm Curm (After seeing pal of teen pass by a few minutes earlier): We're waiting . . .

8:59 pm Teen: I'm in a movie so just keep waiting where I told u. Almost done.

[Mrs. Curmudgeon and antsy older teen curmudgeon depart in cab]

9:16 pm Teen: Coming

9:25 Teen arrives. "I'm hungry."

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Westboro Church--The Supremes Got It Right

The Supreme Court got it right--you can't censor speech just because it is ugly. And there's none uglier than the Westboro Baptist "Church's" protests at funerals of servicemen and women, contending that our nation's military deaths are God's punishment because we've gone soft on gays. (So what caused all those military deaths during the Civil War? Never mind.)

Once you start trying to sort out "good" free speech from "bad" free speech you've headed down the wrong path.

Of course, there'd be nothing wrong with shutting down the "church" with counter protests. (The Westboro "church" is really just an extended family of very misguided kooks.)

Who Really Supports The Troops?

For all those who believe the canard that Republicans are the ones who really "support the troops" this is must reading:

Troops Need Equipment? Let 'em Drink Beer

Monday, February 28, 2011

Federal Budget: Go After The Tax Expenditures

While Tea Partiers in Congress are having a field day attacking the budget and hoping to ax $$ for various social programs, Democrats are standing around in their usual helpless manner, whining about the cuts but not doing much of anything.

What about going after tax expenditures? In the past decade, Congress, led by Republicans, has enacted hundreds of billions of dollars in special interest tax breaks, better labeled as tax expenditures. Most of these tax breaks are distortions of the "free market" principles the GOP loves to espouse--they elevate one group over another for tax purposes.

We suggest that Democrats draw up a list of tax expenditures to repeal, focusing on those that most narrowly favor Republican interest groups. Dems can then hold a series of high profile votes on repealing these tax expenditures, highlighting the budget deficit reductions that would occur without them.

Lyon Park To County: Your Fire Trucks Are Too Fat

Here's a curious story. Arlington County told residents of a block of Edgewood St. in Lyon Park that they were going to restrict parking to one side of the street because with cars parked on both sides the street is too narrow for safe passage of fire trucks.

The Lyon Park Civic Association has objected. Ok, we were kind of sympathetic to the residents of this little block of Edgewood.

But then Lyon Park sent a letter to the County Board suggesting that the real problem is that Arlington's fire trucks are too wide. Hence, the County should get thinner fire trucks and leave the residents of Edgewood alone.

Talk about losing your audience! Hey, maybe the folks on Edgewood St. (in Lyon Park--we live on a nice wide stretch of Edgewood in Lyon Village) should get smaller cars.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Neglecting Short Children

This from today's Washington Post:

Physical Activity Bill Goes To Governor
The Virginia General Assemby is sending Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R)
a bill requiring tall children in public elementary and middle schools
to participate in at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week to
fight obesity.
Two comments: what about those short children, and what about a bill requiring newspapers to proof read their copy?
We'll have more on this misguided bill later this week.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Dead Or Alive--DOA!

If you're a Tom Clancy fan but haven't yet read his latest novel, "Dead of Alive," let us save you the trouble.

We've read most of Clancy's work over the years, and enjoyed many of his books. We wonder, however, whether major authors sometimes get to the point where they refuse to let their publishers properly edit their work. Or whether in today's publishing world editors have just become irrelevant, or too expensive to bother with.

Whatever the case may be, this is a book that could've used some major editing. The fundamental story is entertaining enough: a private clandestine intelligence agency set up by former uber-President Jack Ryan is tracking a thinly veiled Osama Bin Laden character ("the Emir") as he embarks on a set of interrelated terror attacks. When the book sticks to this storyline, it's reasonably fun.

The problem is that Clancy can't resist inserting pretty much every character he's ever created from any of his books into the story, often in some far-off tangent, side-story or backstory. There is a LOT of this in the book, and it really bogs it down.

When we started reading, the opening and the first chapter were vintage Clancy, sucking you in and getting you ready for a fast-paced thriller. Then the pace slows to a crawl as Clancy gets into all the irrelevant material. This goes on for page after page after page for pretty much the entire first half of the book. When you're in the middle of a book on Kindle and you find yourself opting to play solitaire instead of reading, you know there's a problem.

There's also an entire side-story of the former President Ryan gearing up to run again--the country having fallen into the hands of a spineless liberal President--that goes nowhere (or maybe to the next book?). Readers of Clancy books always have to put up with his right-wing leanings, and we could stomach that again here but for the seemingly endless pages of boring and confusing irrelevancies.

Clancy doesn't need to bring along all the baggage of his old books, and a good editor would tell him not to. Unfortunately, the answer to the title's question--dead or alive?--is dead on arrival. Take a pass on this clunker.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Arlington "Wins" On HOT Lanes

Arlington appears to have "won" it's battle against HOT lanes on I-395, at least for now--see here and here.

The only question, is at what cost from spiteful legislators and bureaucrats in Richmond? Instead of gloating, County officials might want to offer a few olive branches.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Richmond Hypocrisy

One of the big complaints from Tea Partiers and other conservatives is what they see as "meddling," "interference," etc. from Washington in local affairs. Keep the feds off our backs, they say.

We hear the same thing from Virginia's TP'ers. But while they want Washington out of local affaris, they evidently have no problem with imposing RICHMOND into local affairs.

Put aside that under Virginia law local governments have to get permission from the General Assembly to do just about anything, including imposing new taxes. (In contrast, the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution makes clear that the states have the right to do anything not specifically reserved to the federal government.)

We also have Delegates who like to impose their mores on jurisdictions they don't represent. The latest is a bill from Delegate David Albo, a Republican of the Tea Party ilk from Fairfax County, that would prevent Virginia localities from restricting the "enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law." Albo doesn't like the fact that Arlington briefly discussed "opting out" of the federal government's "secure communities" initiative due to strict immigration enforcement issues.

Arlington has since concluded that it cannot opt out of the secure communities program. Furthermore, Arlington cannot "restrict" the enforcement of federal laws--the federal government can enforce those laws in Arlington to its heart's delight. So Albo's proposal is superfluous.

We have a suggestion, however: the General Assembly should simply pass a law that prohibits all Virginia localities--and the STATE (including the Attorney General)--from restricting the "enforcement of [ALL] federal laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law." Somehow, we don't think that would go down with the TP'ers.

Memo to Albo and cohorts: if you don't want the feds to meddle in Virginia, then don't have the Commonwealth meddle in localities.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Memo To NHTSA: To Make Safer Cars, Get Rid of Drivers

The nation's automotive safety agency--NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to those of you living outside the beltway)--held a press briefing yesterday to tout ways it intends to make cars safer in the future.

Among the ideas bandied about were cars that can tell if you're over the legal alcohol limit, talking cars to let you know if someone ahead is braking, and various proposals to prevent distracted driving while texting, tweeting and facebooking.

Here's a better idea: get rid of human drivers. The age of the driverless robo-car is nearly upon us. The technology already exists in affordable form--it's just a matter of testing it and tweaking it for the myriad circumstances a robo-car might encounter on the road (especially as long as there are still human drivers). Indeed, Google has been testing a pair of robo-cars in various big cities with great success.

There are a lot of advantages to robo-cars. One is that a person can go partying and still get home without endangering the rest of us. Another is that everyone in the car becomes a passenger, and they can do whatever they want--text, yap on the phone, tweet, update their Facebook profile, put on make-up. If ALL cars were computer driven, they could also get us where we want to go faster, as the variability of human drivers would be taken out of the question.

We also like the idea of universal valet service--have the car drop you at the front door of wherever you're going and then find it's own place to park.

This won't happen overnight, but we think that by 2020 fully automated robo-cars will be a routine part of the transportation landscape. The Curmudgeon son is about to get his learner's permit (egads!), but we think the grandchildren will never learn to drive their own vehicles.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Arlington's Palm Reading Crisis

Lately, we've noticed a horrifying trend in Arlington: our palm readers are disappearing at an alarming rate!

We had one in Lyon Village, over on Lee Highway, but that property is now up for sale. We wonder what the market is for houses used for psychic purposes--would you pay a premium for that?

Then we saw that another palm reader, on Wilson Blvd. just west of Clarendon, had shut down, the property being redeveloped (condos, we predict, but a psychic would know for sure).

We call on the County Board to take action! Arlingtonians will be at a distinct disadvantage if they don't have professional assistance in seeing the future. Let's use some of that housing money to create a cluster of palm reading homes!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Republican Illogic On Health Reform

We couldn't say it better than Paul Krugman in today's NYT:

The War On Logic

Thursday, January 13, 2011


There's not a lot we can say about the tragedy in Tucson. True, our level of political discourse is pretty appalling, but it's been worse--much worse--at many times in U.S. history.

There's no evidence that the killer was motivated by any particular ideology, commentator or political type, and trying to assign blame in that area is simply counterproductive.

There is, however, a stark contrast in leadership styles in terms of the response to the crisis. While President Obama gave a moving speech seeking to promote healing, Sarah Palin went on a petty rant, which is no surprise because that's the type of person she's always been.

While we don't blame anyone on the right, left or middle for Jared Loughner's deranged act, it's sad that we as a society make it so easy for an unbalanced individual to inflict such devastating harm. The hardcore position of a small minority that we cannot, under any circumstances, regulate firearms is ridiculous. No one needs a 30 round clip for a pistol.

The Blessing and Curse of Constant Contact

If you've never heard of Constant Contact, just look at the bottom of any of those periodic emails you get from your school(s), church, sports groups, charities and anyone else you've given your email address to--CC is the software package powering all those updates you regularly get.

In the nonprofit world, Constant Contact is king. At the Arlington Soccer Association, where the Curmudgeon serves as President, we use the software to keep in touch with nearly 6000 families on a wide range of programs and activities.

On the other hand, as the recipient of a burgeoning in-box of quasi-legitimate, but nonetheless spammy email from all kinds of groups we're affiliated with in some manner, Constant Contact is getting to be a burden.

Lately, we've taken to unsubscribing from a few that have abused the privilege. Email is a great way to keep everyone up to date on what's going on, but there is such a thing as too much information. Maybe it's time for a new software package: "Occasional, But High Quality, Contact."

What's Ailing The Hoyas?

We usually stay away from sports topics on this blog, but with our beloved Georgetown Hoyas in freefall, we need to get this off our chest.

The Hoyas started the basketball season in fine form, going 11-1 against the toughest pre-conference schedule in the nation, then promptly went into the toilet, going 1-5 so far in the Big East. What's the problem?

When a team this good gets into a funk, it's the coach's responsibility to get them out of it. This isn't the first time it's happened to G'town--a couple years ago the Hoyas had a great start to their season, culiminating in a dramatic drubbing of UConn on the road, before going into a swoon and missing the NCAA tournament. Coach John Thompson III was not able to get his team turned around.

Can he do it this time? We'll see. The big problem is the Hoyas' offense, modeled on the so-called "Princeton offense" of swift ball movement and backdoor cuts. The other Big East teams have now seen this offense for several years, and they've figured it out defensively.

An inherent trade-off in the offense is a lack of offensive rebounding; the offensive strategy compensates for this by getting easy "backdoor" baskets that don't require rebounding. But when the offense stalls, requiring a forced shot as the time clock expires, a miss is essentially a turnover. That's exactly what we've been seeing from a team suddenly shooting quite cold from three point land. Earlier in the season, the team was getting good threes--open looks--and making them; now, they're shooting in desperation and missing.

Thompson needs to show more flexibility. Using the same offense no matter who he has on the floor makes no sense. Last year, he had big man Greg Monroe, one of the best passers in college basketball, and a threat to go to the basket himself. It was perfect for the Princeton offense. This year is much different. The Hoyas have the best guard trio in the country, but rather than turning them loose on opponents, they are forced into a slow tempo offense.

During last weekend's loss against a decidedly ordinary West Virginia team, the Hoyas showed a couple of flashes of brilliance. In both instances, Thompson uncharacteristically put his team into a full court press, with instant results. The quick Hoya guards forced turnovers and easily converted them into points with lay-ups. But the press didn't last, and the Mountaineers recovered as soon as the pressure relented.

JTIII has a talented bunch on the court. He needs to turn them loose, instead of forcing them into an offense that their opponents have completely solved.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Limits of Energy Efficiency

Ever heard of the Jevons Paradox?

Neither had we until we happened across the Dec. 20 New Yorker (thanks to Mrs. Curmudgeon) and an article by David Owen, "The Efficiency Dilemma: If Our Machines Use Less Energy, Will We Just Use Them More?"

William Stanley Jevons, an English engineer of the 19th century, postulated that the more we conserve energy, the more energy we'll use.

Recently, some scientists have returned to Jevons', wondering whether we can solve our current energy problems through increases in energy efficiency, i.e., conservation. Perhaps not.

The problem, of course, is that as a technology becomes less expensive, it becomes more widely used. Contrary to Jevons' paradox, however, it's not just the cost of the energy input that matters. It's the total cost, particularly as a proportion of one's income.

Thus, as Owens points out, while the cost of the energy needed to provide lighting has declined over time, the overall cost of all the materials needed, especially in proportion to income, has gone down dramatically. Yale economist William Nordhaus has estimated that it would have taken an ancient Babylonian 41 hours of work to acquire enough lamp oil to provide 1000 lumens of light (the equivalent of a 75-watt bulb burning for one hour). By Thomas Jefferson's time, it would take about 5 hours of work to get the same amount of light (with a tallow candle).

Today? It would take the average American less than half a second to get 1000 lumens. Pretty incredible. But, of course, our per capita use of light has exploded since Babylonian and Jeffersonian times (as I write this, I'm bathed in energy efficient light from compact fluorescent bulbs; pretty much half the lights in our house are on right now).

Another example is refrigeration. Today's refrigerator uses just 25% of the energy of its smaller counterpart in the 1950's. That's great progress, but today, refrigeration is far more widespread than it was 50 years ago. Refrigerators, freezers and coolers are ubiquitous--just about every hotel room now has a small fridge; most houses have more than one; just about every retail store has a drink cooler and supermarkets sport many square feet of refrigerated and frozen food. Most likely, we're using more energy in total today for refrigeration than we were in the 1950's. That's not just because of energy efficiency gains--the relative cost of the appliances that refrigerate has also plummeted.

We could go on and on (and Owens does, to some degree).

The big growth in energy use today is in developing countries, like China and India. The first time we went to China, in the 1980's, air conditioning was almost non-existent and refrigerators were rare. On our last trip, four years ago, our Chinese relatives were rapidly catching up with us. And there's no stopping it. We can't tell the rest of the world that they can't have the benefits of air conditioning, refrigeration and a personal automobile--they deserve to get just as obese as we are!

That's not to say we shouldn't try to achieve energy efficiency; indeed, the market will probably do this regardless of what we want. But the potential result of that efficiency may not be to "save" energy--rather, it might instead just help someone else in the world catch up to our gluttonous standard of living.