Monday, September 29, 2008

A Picture of Scale

One of the coolest comics yet. XKCD's "Height."

Two CNN Observations

CNN was on a lot on Sunday. Mostly as background for hanging out with my baby and doing some things around the house. I have two quick observations, one about an ad and the other about a sponsorship.
  • Isn't running reverse mortgage ads a little bit in appropriate in light of the current foreclosure crisis? And CNN has a history of basically promoting reverse mortgages, check out this from April, and this from February. After a financial meltdown brought on by predatory lending to people trying to buy their first home, aggressively promoting people to sell the equity in the last homes (a "reverse mortgage") seems equally predatory.

  • ExxonMobil sponsored CNN's debate coverage, just like they sponsored CNN's convention coverage. Given the fact that the media is already being criticized for bias it is probably a bad idea the most profitable company in American history (and this in a time of collapsing American financial giants) sponsor your election coverage. Never mind the issue of whether election coverage should be sponsored at all. Can't we have news that doesn't come bought and paid for, if only for our Presidential elections?
Of course, this all seems very moot in light of today's financial news, but it was on my mind.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Young People Get It

I had to share this quote.
My point is this–the dearth of huge protests doesn’t mean that activism is dead. It just means that we’re finally figuring out that protests don’t work anymore. It’s a new century, and we’re using new tactics. Don’t mistake the lack of picket signs and giant Bush puppets for apathy. - Pushback
It's from a young voter, one of the millions who are energized and engaged, but because it doesn't look like the energy and engagement that the dominant generation remembers, sometimes gets discounted and disregarded.

That's alright. It just means the other side won't see what hit them.

Voter Registration Deadline Approaching

The Virginia voter registration deadline is October 6th, and that date is fast approaching, it is only a week from tomorrow. If you live here in Virginia, and aren't sure whether you are registered to vote or not, you can check that online. Loudoun County's website has a lot of great information about voting and the upcoming election. If you want to know about the voting machines, absentee ballots or what ballot measures will be in the booth this year, the site will tell you.

If you aren't registered, the Obama Campaign will help you get registered.

While my friend and I were canvassing yesterday, we ran into a gentleman from Gainesville who had recently moved to Leesburg. He had not yet registered to vote locally, so we had him fill out a registration form. If not for that door knock, it is highly likely he would not have registered in time, and not had the opportunity to vote in November.

Don't take a chance, make sure you're registered today, and if you're not, get registered.

A Thought on McCain-Palin

Another informed opinion on the Republican ticket.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Leesburg Voters On The Today Show

You might have seen these two Leesburg families on the Today show this week.


The Today Show was highlighting the importance of Loudoun County to Virginia, and Virginia to the national election.

I know both of the families interviewed. Liz and Ed Burns live on my street. I've campaigned with Ann Jansen. In fact, I was working a back to school night with Ann on Wednesday and talked to Ed on Thursday while walking our dog. It is a sad fact that a short national TV story cannot do justice to the full stories these families tell.

The Today Show could not tell the story of the sheer betrayal Ed and Liz felt when Sen. Clinton lost the nomination. Liz sacrificed an amazing amount of energy and money, from a very tight family budget, working to get Hillary Clinton nominated. She took her kids out of school to go meet the Senator. Liz is and unbelievably patriotic and hardworking American. Her husband, Ed, actually helped me fix my AC this summer. Ed always has five minutes and a kind word for a neighbor, no matter the situation. It truly saddens me that Ed and Liz have chosen to vote for Sen. McCain. They are the kinds of neighbors one is truly lucky to have.

And Ann Jansen is an inspiration. She has been a tireless campaigner for Senator Obama. Standing in front of Smarts Mill Middle School this week, you could hear her telling the parents entering for Back to School Night, "Vote for Obama, your only choice for real Education policy." Ann is inspired this year, she came out for Obama and has become engaged in the process because of our candidate.

There's another thing the Today Show story can't tell you. It cannot tell you that at that Back To School Night this past week, there were no fewer than five volunteers for our side, handing out materials and talking to voters, promoting Senator Obama, Governor Warner and Judy Feder. And there was no Republican opposition to be seen. Five Democratic volunteers talking to the ultimate Loudoun swing vote: parents of school aged children. And no opposition in sight.

The media wants to show balance. But it is interesting that the only McCain people they found to interview were Democrats who cannot support someone other than Sen. Clinton. It is interesting there were no Republicans in sight at the seminal voter outreach event of the political season.

The Today Show interviewed my neighbors this week, as if 30 seconds on a national morning show were some kind of prism through which to see and understand our national election. In some ways, it may be the best that can be done. But the Liz and Ed and Ann that I know are much more than thirty seconds on TV. And that's why knocking on doors counts. That's why neighbor-to-neighbor counts. That's why I will be out there tomorrow. Because I still have hope that maybe, just maybe, talking to Ed while walking my dog each day might change his mind. No matter what the Today show says.

An Arts Center in Leesburg?

Leesburg is the largest municipality in Virginia without its own public arts center. (It's also one of the largest Towns in Virginia not to be an independent city.) It has been a point of great debate on the Council whether the Town should sponsor and help build such a center to help spur activity Downtown. Now, the Town is asking the citizens of Leesburg their opinion on the matter.
According to Louise Stevens, president of ArtsMarket, the results of the survey will be used to help determine the size and type of facility that the community can support and the community’s attitude towards how a center should be funded. “An on-line survey is the most efficient and effective way to ensure that every resident has the opportunity to provide input into this study,” she stated. “We want and need resident input.” - Leesburg Press Release
You can take the survey here: Leesburg Performing Arts Center Public Survey.A Performing Arts Center in Leesburg is worthwhile to explore, though I am of two minds as to whether it's a valuable idea. There are many facilities in the area, though there does appear to be more than enough demand for arts to support a locally dedicated facility in Leesburg itself. Such a center would complement the Town's character and combined with a concerted effort to reinvigorate Leesburg's downtown activity at night make Leesburg a "go to" location.

The Town deserves commendation for the careful consideration being given to this idea, and for the use of technology to facilitate feedback. So go take the survey, and have your say.

Mr. McCain Bungles A Bailout

So if I understand this correctly, yesterday afternoon, before Sen. McCain came to town, the main principles of an agreement on how to fix the mess in our financial industry were in place.
We've reached a fundamental agreement on a set of principles. One, for taxpayers, which is tremendously important. We're giving the Secretary the authority he will need in order to act and the funding that he will need. We also have dealt, I think, effectively with the issue of effective oversight, with home ownership, of preservation, as well as executive compensation. - Sen. Christopher Dodd, September 24, 2008
Then, Senator McCain arrives in town and suddenly the intransigent House Republicans have an "alternative proposal" they want to discuss. This alternative proposal amounts to nothing more than the same ideological policies that got us into this mess in the first place.
The stripped-down plan advocates a two-year suspension of the capital gains tax and calls for pull privatization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which were taken over by the federal government earlier this month. - TPM Muckracker
So, because of a relaxation of regulation, our financial system gets into a huge mess requiring the government to go deeper into debt to bail out the system. Yet the Republican's answer, with McCain's tacit approval, is to reward the architects of financial anarchy by cutting capital gain taxes and allowing them the opportunity to take over the two institutions undergirding the mortgage market. That's like saying the way to solve a murder is to give the killer a bigger gun with more bullets.

Republicans like Sen. McCain like saying that it is not the Government's job to pick winners. But that doesn't change the fact that the government has been picking winners for the past six months. The biggest winner, of course, is JPMorganChase, who has been chosen by the government to receive valuable financial assets and lines of business at cut rate prices. This is not to criticize JPMorganChase or to even say they're not the right organization to get these assets. On the contrary, it seems fitting to allow strong banks to take over the assets of weak banks. However, it is disingenuous at best to assert the superiority of an unfettered free market philosophy - the basis of the "alternative plan" - while selectively selling assets of one bank to another and nationalizing one of the largest insurers in the world. Even today, in the middle of the biggest financial crisis of our lifetimes, the NRCC's website asserts, "Thanks to Republican economic policies, the U.S. economy is robust and job creation is strong." There is a cynical hypocrisy in the Republican's moves that is unworthy of a great nation in a time of turmoil.

Sen. McCain has shown a stunning lack of leadership on the critical issue of the day, the fix of the financial industry. Instead of helping resolve the crisis, his arrival and interference with very delicate negotiations merely stalled and extended it. If he were a true leader, he would get the House Republicans in a room and force them to sign on to a bipartisan deal. He would demonstrate that "mavericky" ability to spurn his own party for the good of the nation. Instead, he quibbles and prevaricates, he fiddles while Wall Street burns. And he fiddles from Washington DC, in an attempt to be near the action, in the hopes that he can claim ownership of any progress without being responsible for ensuring it.

And he is attempting to use this bungling as a reason to avoid a debate with Sen. Obama.

At this critical time in our nation's history, it is irresponsible to avoid a debate about the issues of the day. The American people need to hear what Sen. McCain will say in an unscripted forum with his opponent across the stage. To skip a debate is to skip a job interview.

We should not give the most important job in the country to a man willing to skip the interview. We should not give the most important job in the country to a man who exacerbates, rather than solves problems.

We must work, work tirelessly and unflinchingly, to elect Barack Obama President of the United States, because Sen. McCain has conclusively demonstrated himself unfit to lead.

(With a tip-o-the-hat to DailyKos and MyDD.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

LEED Bank In Leesburg

Last night the Leesburg Town Council recognized the good corporate citizenship of Middleburg Bank, whose new bank is the first LEED certified building in Leesburg.
In an effort to be more environmentally responsible, Middleburg Bank has designed it latest branch – and will build all future buildings – for certification by the United States Green Building Council’s LEED program. The LEED system uses points to rate a building’s energy efficiency and overall impact on the environment. The Fort Evans Branch is striving for the Gold Standard as established by the USGBC, although it appears the office will receive 38 points, which is one short of the Gold Standard. - Middleburg Bank Press Release
Those of us who advocate smart growth aren't against all development, we are against bad development. The people of Middleburg Bank deserve credit for setting an example for others to follow.

Some Thoughts on BPA

This blog post was written by my wife, a researcher at the NIH who knows a thing or two about hormones.

I don't know how many of you may have heard about the debate over Bisphenol-A (BPA) that's currently in the news. Essentially, BPA is a chemical found in certain types of plastics (5 & 7) that is similar in makeup to estrogen, and therefore can attach to the estrogen receptors. This is potentially a problem, particularly during development, as any extra hormone exposure can severely affect later reproductive health. While the FDA still says that the plastics containing BPA are safe, there is a growing amount of scientific evidence that it isn't.

1. Recently, there was this report on NBC nightly news.

2. In a recent study, monkeys exposed to BPA exhibited problems with brain function, particularly in connectivity between neurons. Specifically, when primates were given a daily dose of BPA equal to the current EPA/FDA safe daily limit (i.e. this is the dose the government says is safe for us!), there were severe changes in synapse formation in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex of the brain, both regions involved in memory formation and mood. This is the first study to show adverse reactions in the primate brain to BPA, and makes me worry about the possibilities of intake. Also, it was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which is a VERY highly esteemed journal. And, on a personal note, the work was done in Neil MacLusky's lab; he's a colleague of my doctoral advisor's and was a co-author on one of my papers. He knows his stuff.

3. A study that just came out in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA; another highly respected journal) reports that higher levels of BPA in human urine are associated with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver enzyme abnormalities. Again, this is a correlation, not causation, but it's still indicative of a possible problem.

The FDA does have a review panel currently with many experts discussing both sides of the issues (this was mentioned in the NBC news story, I believe). I hope that they will make the appropriate decision and more rigorously regulate BPA in plastics. I don't necessarily think that it should be taken out of plastic completely; as one of the experts on the panel (Dr. Gail Carver) has mentioned, some uses of BPA, such as in children's bicycle helmets, are beneficial and likely have no harmful effect on children. The negative side effects of BPA are more likely to occur when ingested through food.

Our daughter has had BPA free bottles almost since birth. I know that some of you thought I was a little crazy for insisting that she use BPA free plastics. However, I knew about this research and thought it was a good idea to limit her exposure. All of her bottles, sippy cups, utensils, plates, are from BPA free plastic. Additionally, I don't give her food from plastic containers, only from jars (which is hard, as Gerber puts all of their interesting food combos in the plastic containers, but those are 7 plastics which contain BPA - I'm planning a letter to Gerber complaining about this). (We heard back, and the "7" plastic that Gerber uses does not contain BPA. The "7" designation is a catch-all designation.)

Evan has even gotten rid of his plastic coffee containers, and is using stainless steel, which is what more people are doing in regard to this scientific evidence. BPA is leached into water, coffee, food etc particularly when heated, so hot coffee would definitely cause it to leach from the plastic. And in men, or developing boys, I would seriously question the effects of exposure to a chemical that attaches to estrogen receptors (which yes, men have), as who knows what effecst that could have on reproductive/prostate health.

I'm not saying all of you have to stop using BPA products. I'm just here to give the info out, not to make judgments. This is simply something that we have chosen to do, as we think it's safest for all of us.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Vote From Abroad

To any readers who might be American citizens living abroad (and didn't see this already on DailyKos), you can download the necessary form to get your absentee ballot etc. from VoteFromAbroad.org. They'll help you fill out the necessary forms, and let you know where to mail them once you've downloaded and signed them.

[update] And if you still need to register to vote and live here in the U.S., the Obama campaign has a helpful website: Vote For Change. You can go there and go through a process to register to vote.

If you live here in Virginia, and aren't sure whether you are registered to vote or not, you can check that online too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Biofuel That Cleans The Soil

In the market for a win-win on fuel and environmental clean-up? How about a source of biodiesel that also cleans heavy metals from the soil.
Oil seed rape grown for biofuel in Ireland could help clean up contaminated soils, scientists heard at the Society for General Microbiology's Autumn meeting being held this week at Trinity College, Dublin.

Using plants to help clean up heavily polluted soils has been successfully tested for many years and shown to be a cheap and environmentally friendly way to clear heavy metals such as arsenic, copper, zinc and chromium from contaminated land. The main problem with the method has been the amount of time it takes to grow successive crops of plants to clean up an area. Now scientists may have come up with a solution by combining heavy metal tolerant bacteria with plants used to make biofuels such as oil seed rape. - ScienceDaily
This is a great innovation, considering the prevalence of heavy metals and toxins on some land in Virginia. For example, many of the former and current military facilities in the commonwealth are sources of heavy metals contamination. But the fastest growing source of heavy metal contamination is actually our cars and their infrastructure.
About half of the zinc and copper contribution to the environment from urbanization is from automobiles. Brakes release copper, while tire wear releases zinc. Motor oil also tends to accumulate metals as it comes into contact with surrounding parts as the engine runs, so oil leaks become another pathway by which metals enter the environment.

On the road surface, most heavy metals become bound to the surfaces of road dust or other particulates. During precipitation, the bound metals will either become soluble (dissolved) or be swept off the roadway with the dust. In either case, the metals enter the soil or are channeled into a storm drain. - Conservation Currents, courtesy of Fairfaxcounty.gov
Given the need for alternative fuels, and the acres of grassy berms, medians and rights of way on our roadways, it may make sense, in the future, to plant rapeseed on our roadsides, to clean the results of our driving, and grow some fuel for the future in the process.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Broken Windows, Stolen Things

My wife's car was broken into last night and her iPod was stolen. A large number of cars were broken into in and around our neighborhood, and the police said the juveniles they suspected were responsible for these break-ins were caught. So, there's some hope that our property will be recovered.

The frustrating thing is that this has happened in our neighborhood before. On the night of July 28/29, four or five cars in my neighborhood were broken into and our next-door neighbor had a GPS unit stolen from their vehicle. From what I understand, those people were caught as well.

It isn't even the property loss which is the difficult thing. It is the violence and violation involved with smashing a window to grab the iPod that is shocking. Leesburg, and my neighborhood, are places I think of as friendly and peaceful. This petty crime is disconcerting.

I do want to say a public thank you to the Leesburg Police Department, who responded quickly and made us feel like the Town Police were interested in our problem and looking to help. We're hopeful they'll help us get our property back and prosecute the offenders.

Lock your doors folks, it's just good sense.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Loudoun's Tough 2009 Budget

The pages of our newspapers are filled with news of declining revenues for local and state governments, and officials struggling to determine how to fund needed public services. The revenue shortfalls in Loudoun reflect the revenue shortfalls in Richmond. And unlike the Federal Government, which can run a deficit and print its own money, Richmond and Loudoun have to find the missing money, or do without.
While no official numbers have been released, County Chairman Scott K. York (I-At Large) is anticipating a large gap between where the county is financially and where it ideally needs to be.

"We're looking at a $100 million gap as we approach into that budget season and, with the values down, it's going to make things even more difficult," he said Tuesday.

The 2009 budget will be the 14th that Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) has worked on since being elected first in 1995, and he said the picture is indeed grim.

"This will be probably the most difficult budget that we've had in a couple of decades," he said. - Leesburg Today
Last year, the fight over a single penny in the County tax rate (between $1.14 and $1.15) was furious. Even in a year when Loudoun regained its position as the highest-income county in America, one cent more for more secure county finances was one cent too many for a majority of the Board. This year, the Board is the same, and the problem is the same (if not worse). The majority of the county's income is from property taxes, which are subject to variances in home values.

LoudounStats has a great illustration of the changes in home prices just over the past year.



Remember that the 1.14 rate was set in April of last year. That county budget was based on then-current house prices. With prices dropping even further, the revenue base for our county continues to shrink, even as demand for services increases. Witness, for example, the massive increase in ridership on Loudoun County's commuter bus services.

Our Board of Supervisors is doing all it can to keep property taxes reasonable. Indeed, this Board has done more than the previous Board to control costs and find creative sources of revenue. Witness, for example, the nearly $1M the Board saved by examining and better managing its use of power and renegotiating its contracts with utilities. Before asking the citizens of Loudoun for more, the Board has sought to do what it can to have our county government lead by example. That being said, the choices the Board will face this year will be more difficult, and more politically challenging, than the choices faced last year. Doubtless, the Supervisors who step up to the challenge and make the hard decisions to prune costs and find revenues will be attacked and vilified for doing the difficult job of governing. And there will be Supervisors who vote against whatever eventually passes, giving them the opportunity to say "I told you so" when citizens complain, as they chose to be part of the problem instead of the solution.

We can only hope that the people of Loudoun will treat the 2009 budget debate with the understanding and seriousness it deserves, and not resort to name calling ("tax and spend!") and counter-productive suggestions ("no more money for kids and schools!"). We can hope for leadership from the Chair of the Board, who has himself acknowledged the need for more taxes as part of any eventual solution. And we can all have patience with each other, and our leaders. After all, we face the difficult budget and its consequences together, and will all pay the price when the final result comes in.

2008 Election Information

From a friend who works as a volunteer on Election Day.
Election Information 2008

Following is recent information I received for the November 4, General and Special Election:

Voters will be selecting the President (actually electors) and members of the US Senate and House of Representatives. There will also be four questions on the ballot.
Polls will be open in Virginia from 6AM to 7PM.

Last day to register to vote is OCTOBER 6.

Absentee ballots applications are available at (www.loudoun.gov/voting)

Applications for Absentee Ballot must be received by 5PM OCTOBER 28.

The last day to vote by Absentee Ballot in person is Sunday NOVEMBER 1.

Where and when to vote by Absentee Ballots in person:

Registrar’s Office: 801 Sycolin road, ste 102 in Leesburg (on way to Leesburg Executive Airport)
October 1 (date approximate) to October 17 M-F 8:30AM to 5PM.

October 20-24 M-F 8:30AM to 8PM

October 25 Saturday 8:30AM to 5PM

October 27-31 M-F 8:30AM to 8PM

November 1, Saturday 8:30AM to 5PM

Cascades Senior Center 21060 Whitfield Place, Sterling 201665 (off Palisades Parkway, next to library)
October 20-24 M-F 4PM to 8PM

October 25, Saturday 9AM to 5PM

October 27 to 31 M-F 4PM to 8PM

November 1, Saturday 9AM to 5PM

There is always a need for poll workers, especially during a presidential election. Contact Election Officer hotline 703-777-0548, ext. 5 or send an email to elections@loudoun.gov. You get paid for training and for working the polls on election day for the Loudoun County Electoral Board.
If you have time to be an election volunteer, it's a great non-partisan way to get involved with our system!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Loudoun's Persistent Wealth

In spite of economic uncertainty, layoffs and community changes resulting from the mortgage crisis, Loudoun remains one of the most well-to-do counties in America.
Loudoun had the highest median income last year among counties with 250,000 residents or more, with the average Loudoun household making about $107,000 a year, according to numbers released last month.

Loudoun first earned that distinction in 2005 and was overtaken by Fairfax County in 2006. In 2007, Loudoun was about on par with Fairfax, where the median income was about $105,000. The numbers are not statistically different, according to the Census Bureau analysis, which is based on a sample. - LoudounExtra
It is a remarkable testament to the people and reiliency of our county that we retain our lofty position in such a survey. So many of our fellow Americans and Virginians are losing their job, and their houses. We would be wise to consider our good fortune even as we consider the important questions of how to secure our county's financial stability.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Thought On Vetting

A friend at the RNC last night told me that he does three interviews just to hire a $15/hour intern; he couldn't believe McCain interviewed this woman once. - Matt Stoller
I know at my company, we do at least two, often three interviews before hiring anyone. And those interviews involve more than 70 questions when all is said and done.

Isn't the Republican party supposed to be the party of management and business? So far, they're not showing too many management skills this season.