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