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November 1, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Let Kerry be Kerry!

When Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Kerry's remarks were "inappropriate," there was no longer any choice: John Kerry had to apologize. His statement today could have been more direct, without complaints about Bush, but at least it's something. It would mean a lot more if he had not cancelled all his scheduled appearances. (See Washington Post.) Let's see if any Democrat senatorial candidates have enough guts to invite Kerry to join them at a campaign event before the November 7 election. Please come to Virginia on behalf of Jim Webb, Sen. Kerry!

UPDATE: On the ABC World News Tonight, I saw the U.S. troops in Iraq holding up a banner mocking John Kerry, and Glenn Reynolds provides a link to it: nashvilleistalking.com. Not only do our men and women in uniform have the finest technical training of any armed forces on Earth, they've got a damned good sense of humor!

Will on Campaign 2008

In today's Washington Post, George Will finds reason for conservatives to be encouraged by George Allen's unexpectedly tough reelection bid. It means that the conservative vote will not be divided among so many rival candidates in the 2008 GOP primaries, which is what moderate John McCain has been counting on. Will believes that Allen's recent "fumbles" (a pointed allusion to his father the Redskins coach) will end up boosting the prospects of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Rudy Giuliani has been out of sight lately, so there are only two major candidates at this point. The erudite, bow-tied pundit is evidently not impressed by Allen's "dabbling in literary criticism" regarding the sex scenes in Jim Webb's fictional works.


November 2, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Miami (baseball) vice

Mike Zurawski has been following the intrigues in South Florida concerning a new baseball stadium for the Marlins, and thinks the city of Hileah "is being used" by MLB officials who seem intent on getting a deal for a downtown Miami ballpark, taking advantage of the construction boom there before it's too late. MLB President Bob DuPuy visited with several officials in Miami recently, and says he will devote much more of his attention to this matter during the next two months. See sun-sentinel.com.I can hardly imagine all the sneaky deals being worked out between developers and the city of Miami. Oddly, though, fieldofschemes.com has been silent on this matter since August. Also, it is rumored that MLB officials are going to put pressure on Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to sell a 51 percent stake in the franchise so that they will have a big enough capital base to build a first-class team. As if two World Series wins was not enough!

Construction progress

I see from the D.C. stadium construction Webcam that the concrete work on the main concourse level has been completed all along the south and southeast sides, and the steel girders for the second deck are being installed.

Ortiz a free agent

Washington Nationals pitcher Ramon Ortiz has filed for free agency. He signed a one-year contract last December, and went 11-16 this year, with a 5.57 ERA. And he was their best starter! He says he loves Washington and wants to come back. See MLB.com


November 2, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Panama to join Security Council

After 47 rounds of voting by the General Assembly in which neither country managed to get the required two-thirds majority, Guatemala and Venezuela reached a mutual agreement to support Panama for the Latin American rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council. See CNN.com. Given that Hugo Chavez had made this a high-stakes bid, vowing never to concede to the Yankees, it would appear to be a diplomatic setback for Venezuela. The compromise of Bolivia proposed by Venezuela last week apparently went nowhere. Panama is currently led by a moderate leftist, Martin Torrijos, and his country has already drawn much global attention by voting to expand the canal.

Campaign ends in Nicaragua

All indications are that former president Daniel Ortega will be elected president in two more days. The United States has played a very detached, low-key role, not wanting to give the slightest hint of interference. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack refused to comment about how U.S.-Nicaraguan relations might change if Ortega were to become president. (via C-SPAN) Now we will find out whether the Sandinista leader really has matured and become responsible and market-savvy, like Brazil's Lula da Silva or Peru's Alan Garcia.


November 2, 2006 [LINK / comment]

"Congressional countdown"

According to the Washington Post, six of the nine competitive U.S. Senate races are leaning Democratic, with three too close to call, while 13 of the 35 competitive House races are leaning Democratic, 18 are a toss-up, and four are leaning toward the GOP. That would be just barely enough to regain control of the Senate, and assuming the toss-ups are evenly split, would give the Dems control of the House as well. Post political editor Dan Balz appeared on C-SPAN today, and he has always impressed me as professional and impartial, but the onslaught of front-page stories slamming the Republicans for the last month or two really makes me wonder. The huge uproar over John Kerry's "stuck in Iraq" gaffe? That got buried on page A6, and Balz was not very convincing about why it didn't make the front page. So, the possibility of media bias in campaign coverage cannot be denied, and it would be prudent to take all these polls cum granis salis.* As for all the glumness among conservatives and talk of boycotting the vote to protest GOP ineffectiveness, I would heartily agree with Mr. Roderick Edwards, who contacted me from Greenwood, Indiana:

We are told that Republican voters need to send a message to their representatives this November by either staying away from the polls or voting for the Democrats. Indeed we should send a message but it needs to be a strong & clear message to the Democrats & to the complicit media that thinks we are so dumb that we can be easily manipulated. What would really send a message is if we make sure we vote in force like never before.

It would send the message that we can't be swayed by the transparent "October Surprises" of the Democrats such as the Mark Foley flap, just like we didn't buy the CBS faked documents story when they tried to get us to not vote for George W. Bush last time.

I say, let the Democrats have their "October Surprises", let's send them a November Surprise by overwhelmingly electing Republicans on November 7th.

* For you folks in Rio Linda, that's "with a grain of salt" in Latin.

Money talks at the U.N.

The recent sharp debate in the U.N. over whether to choose Venezuela or Guatemala for the Security Council makes one wonder if the seat really worth it. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported on a Harvard study which found that the United States gives more foreign aid money to those countries that currently hold rotating seats on the Security Council. On average, since 1946, developing countries on the Security Council have received $16 million more per year from the United States compared to the years before and after they served. The most notable recent cases included Angola and Guinea. Part of this funding comes through UNICEF (trick or treat!) and the IMF. Buying influence in the United Nations? I am shocked ... shocked!


November 3, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Police retreat in Oaxaca

The Mexican government's belated effort to pacify the city of Oaxaca has backfired badly thus far. After six hours of fighting with protesters earlier today, federal police retreated from the gates of the Autonomous University of Oaxaca. The protesters had taken refuge there after being dislodged by police from the main plaza, taking advantage of Mexico's custom by which police are not permitted to enter university grounds without permission from the rector. See CNN.com and El Universal. During today's street battle, a newspaper photographer was wounded by a large bottle rocket loaded with nails. So much for the protesters' claims of being unarmed. Talk about vicious tactics... Now that they are safely ensconced in a sanctuary and have drawn wide attention to their revolt, there is a serious likelihood that the protesters will maintain a base of resistance for the indefinite future, casting a pall over the inaugration ceremonies on December 1. "The whole world is watching."

The divisions in Mexico revealed by the virtual tie election results and the accusations of vote fraud by the leftist PRD means that President-elect Calderon (of the conservative PAN) will have his hands tied in trying to reach a peaceful settlement with the rebels in Oaxaca. The Congress of Mexico recently passed a resolution urging Oaxaca Governor Ulises Ruiz to resign, but he refused. He belongs to the PRI, which used to dominate Mexico. He seems to be putting his own interests over the best interests of the country.

Will Nicaragua elect Ortega?

At CNN.com, Aneesh Raman wrote an unusually detailed background story on Daniel Ortega, the once- and likely next president of Nicaragua. The main rival candidates are Eduardo Montealegre, a banker who went to Harvard, and Edmundo Jarquin, an economist. Ortega is definitely talking out of both sides of his mouth, wooing poor voters with angry, populist rhetoric one minute (he "will bury savage capitalism") and sounding more serious the next. Most people think he is getting major funding from Hugo Chavez. About 70 percent of Nicaraguans sharply oppose Ortega, fearing he will ruin the burgeoning economy and eco-tourist trade. Surprisingly, however, a candidate only needs 40 percent to be elected in the first round in Nicaragua, and if the second-place candidate is more than five percent behind, then 35 percent is enough.


November 4, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Venezuela oil workers dissent

As the "democratic" elections in Venezuela approach, the pressure on the country's citizens to Obey The Authorities is building. Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez, who also serves as the head of the national oil company PDVSA demanded that the oil workers back President Hugo Chavez and his "revolution" or else quit. It seems that many of workers are refusing to grant unconditional loyalty to the jefe máximo. This speech was caught on amateur video, and it may boost the fortunes of opposition candidate Manuel Rosales, but probably not enough to win in the stacked electoral process. See BBC.

In case you've forgotten, PDVSA owns CITGO, which operates gasoline stations across the United States. CITGO recently placed a full-page ad in the Washington Post denouncing what they consider inaccurate criticisms, but they obliquely acknowledged their awkward situation by stating that "as a corporation, we cannot always control the environment in which we operate..." In other words, please don't pay attention to our idiot clown president!

Novak on Nicaragua

In Monday's Washington Post, Robert Novak heaped criticism on the U.S. State Department for clumsily giving tacit support to Liberal Party candidate Eduardo Montealegre rather than Jose Rizo. He thinks this will tip the electoral balance in the Sandinistas' favor, "losing" Nicaragua once again. One of Novak's sources was Adolfo Calero, a former Contra leader who is associated with Ollie North, who recently visited Nicaragua to try to stop Daniel Ortega's comeback. How intriguing! (The Liberal Party became sharply divided over corruption charges leveled against former President Aleman; see Oct. 2005.)


November 4, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Surprise! Another pastor strays

On the weekend just before an election, a "surprise" like this one is hardly a surprise. The likelihood that the disgraceful "outing" of Colorado televangelist Ted Haggard was not politically motivated seems just about zero. Well, what did we expect? The perfect scandal: illicit sex and drugs! (What about rock and roll?) Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert, ... In the Protestant branch of Christiandom, "pastors" are supposed to keep their flock from straying, but sometimes they themselves stray. That is why the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches have bishops to oversee the ministry of local clergymen. (At least they're supposed to.) The unsavory details about Haggard are in the Washington Post.

Not surprisingly, Andrew Sullivan is all over this story, focusing on Haggard's strong ties to "the Bush-Rove Machine." Haggard has been at the center of promoting laws and state constitutional amendments against gay marriage, and using that issue to advance Republican Party candidates. Wouldn't it be something if this made the difference in some of the congressional elections or the marriage amendment referendums! Why do so many in-the-closet gays, especially Republican ones, take an active (public) role against homosexuals? Is it simple self-loathing? Self-deception? Haggard's excruciatingly forced grin speaks volumes about the inner turmoil he must feel.

Minutemen endorse Allen

The Allen's A-team blog claims this as a big plus for the senator's reelection bid. For those of us who strive to make a sharp distinction between honest immigration reform and nativist xenophobia, however, that endorsement was not necessarily a good thing. As long as the Federal government was grossly negligent in policing our southern border, one could make an argument in favor of self-starter citizen initiatives such as the Minutemen. (see Nov. 2005.) Since Bush got serious about stopping illegal immigration last summer, however, I think that group's purpose has already been served. See Washington Post.

Over the last few days, the campaign ads have gotten nastier, of course, but it seems that both Allen and Webb are determined to close things on a positive note. Webb's personal appeal came across quite well, stylistically, but I take sharp exception to the way he frames the issues. Down ... to ... the ... wire !!!


November 4, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Straight Talk from the general

Dissent among upper-level military officers over Iraq war policy has become widespread over the past few months, and a few retired generals have written books sharply critical of the Bush administration. Another one spoke at the University of Virginia's Miller Center (where I used to work) last week: Gen. Paul Van Riper (Ret.), USMC. He is the author of Straight Talk: An Obligation. He is probably in his 70s, so has not had close contact with active duty generals lately, but his observations are very honest and should be taken seriously. He is deeply troubled by what he believes to be the neglect of strategic planning by the Bush administration, and refusal to heed the opinions of military officers. Gen. Van Riper made it clear that he does not favor a precipitous withdrawal, which would be contrary to our national interests and prestige. He just thinks it's time to cut our losses and make the best of a bad situation. Toward the end, he said he just doesn't trust what Bush says anymore, and received a standing ovation from the audience. It is not the first time such words have been spoken, but it was a chilling presentation, nonetheless. His forum was broadcast on WVPT on Friday evening and will be rebroadcast on Sunday at 2:00 PM.

The mounting toll

One hundred eight American service men and women died in Iraq last month, including ten whose names have not yet been released pending notification of next of kin.

Military info update

The War introduction page has been thoroughly revised and now includes more detailed data on U.S. ground, naval, and air forces, including the names of all U.S. aircraft carriers and the numbers of various types of combat aircraft.


November 4, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Frigid morn on Bells Lane

Ruby-crowned kinglet I won't be able to attend tomorrow's Augusta Bird Club field trip on Bell's Lane, but I thought I would scout it out anyway this morning. Boy was it cold! This Ruby-crowned kinglet was hopping around in a bush right next to my car, but I couldn't quite get him to pose out in the open. The highlights:

  • Red-tailed hawk (chased by:
  • Blue jays!)
  • Killdeers
  • Canada geese
  • Bluebirds
  • Yellow-rumped warblers
  • Savannah sparrow
  • Juncos
  • Ruby-crowned kinglet
  • Ruddy ducks (12)
  • Amerian coots (2)
  • Pied-billed grebe

New book: YuLee

On Friday evening, the local public television show "Consider This" (on WVPT) featured local bird expert (and former dear neighbor) YuLee Larner and Mary Wiersema Vermeulen, the author of the newly published biography of YuLee, titled YuLee. (What else?) It is an inspiring story of a life well spent by a person of deep character and limitless energy, but it is also a rich cultural history of Augusta County and the families who made it. The book is professionally written and produced, which is very fitting. It is available from the Bookstack and the Birds I View store [link added] in downtown Staunton, and I highly recommend it.


November 6, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Ortega triumphs in Nicaragua

With 40 percent of the votes counted, Daniel Ortega appears certain to win the presidential election without going to a second round, a historic comeback for the Sandinista leader. He presently has 40.1 percent of the vote, while second-place candidate Eduardo Montealegre has 32.7 percent. See La Prensa (in Spanish); CNN.com had a preliminary report yesterday, noting that the U.S. embassy's "concerns" about possible voting irregularities were dismissed by local authorities. As noted on Nov. 3, Nicaragua's electoral laws have a very low threshold for determining the winner, which makes it possible for leaders to take office without a solid popular mandate.

Bomb blasts in Mexico City

Homemade bombs exploded at three different locations in Mexico City today: the Federal Electoral Tribunal, a bank, and the Revolutionary Institutional Party headquarters. It is no doubt linked to the ongoing political violence in Oaxaca, where 20,000 leftists marched yesterday. As Inauguration Day approaches, there is a distinct possibility that Mexico will descend into further turmoil. See CNN.com. I'd like to see how the "pacifist" folks at Indymedia are going to explain this; so far, they've been silent on the matter.


November 6, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Stark raving idiots harrass Allen

I wasn't able to attend Allen's brief visit at the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport on Saturday, and it seems I missed quite a circus instigated by Michael Stark. He is the U.Va. law student and ex-Marine who was manhandled by Allen supporters after pushing people out of the way to shout an impertinent question at George Allen during a campaign stop in Charlottesville last week. I found it laughable that he thought the First Amendment's right to petition the government applied to his rude queries about Allen's first marriage. Chris Green has a confusing video clip of yesterday's close encounter, during which Stark was arrested by sheriff's deputies. Stark was purportedly working as a reporter for The Young Turks, an affiliate of Al Franken's (bankrupt) Air America radio network. He also runs a blog with the ironic name Calling all wingnuts. It is basically a "how-to" manual for all the "seminar callers" who call Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talk radio hosts. He does, however, provide a useful link to a list of live talk-radio Webcasts: streamingradioguide.com

UPDATE: Steve Kijak was at the airport rally as well, and has a thorough first-hand account of Michael Stark's rude, provocative behavior, along with some photos.

At a campaign stop at the Vienna Metro station this morning, meanwhile, George Allen was trying to talk to a Channel 9 TV reporter, but his words were drowned out by rude and noisy pro-Webb protesters. How typical.

As the campaign closes, most polls seem to indicate the Dems' apparent edge over the Republicans is narrowing, for whatever that's worth. One big exception is WUSA TV-9 in Washington, which released a poll showing that Jim Webb has a 52-44 percent lead over George Allen. That's called going out on a limb! In the Maryland Senate race, Michael Steele is within a hair's breadth of overtaking Ben Cardin, which would be tremendously gratifying. I'll be crossing my finger hoping that former Pittsburgh Steeler Lynn Swann gets elected as Pennsylvania's next governor.

Allen blacked out

I was getting ready to watch George Allen's final televised message at 7:58 this evening, but the only station it was on in this area was blacked out because of some kind of FCC regulation aimed at protecting small TV stations. Several months ago, Harrisonburg's WHSV-TV3 managed to have rival ABC affiliate WRIC-TV8 in Richmond blacked out from the Adelphia cable service whenever their programming is duplicated. (We get three NBC stations, two CBS stations, and supposedly two ABC stations.) Basically, the only time we get Channel 8 is during the local news programs. Someone's head should roll for this omission.

Count every vote! (over and over)

As we might expect, some Democrats have already launched a preemptive attack on the validity of the 2006 elections. Michelle Malkin provides a quick summary of some of the shenanigans being cooked up. Hat tip to Michael Oliver, a.k.a. : Dogwood Pundit." For you folks in Rio Linda, the Dogwood is our state tree ! Michael commented favorably on George Will's piece on the 2008 GOP presidential race which I discussed on Wednesday.

Malkin's piece reminds me of the massive demonstrations by immigrants rights groups last summer, one of the main purposes of which was to get people to register to vote. The problem, of course, is that many if not most of those people are not even here legally. Are voter registrars bothering to scrutinize drivers' licenses, or are they afraid of being tagged as "racists"? We already know there are many thousands of counterfeit ID cards in use across the country. I think casting a vote using fraudulent identification should be grounds for immediate deportation. gopusa.com reports that Republicans plan to aggressively monitor voting in Maryland, but that does not seem to be the case here in Virginia. I should know, I asked...

Unity Petition

High school students will be passing a "Unity Petition" at voting places all across the country (hat tip to Connie):

To the Congress of the United States: As We the People vote today, we are asking you to do your part and end the blame-game politics of Washington. Partisan bickering cannot solve the crucial issues we face. America deserves better.

It's a nice sentiment, but it's too vague of a commitment to uphold or be enforced.


November 7, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Should Yankees trade A-Rod?

To keep or not to keep Alex Rodriguez? That is the question facing Brian Cashman. In the New York Times (registration required), Tom Peyer and Hart Seely debate the pros and cons of trading Alex Rodriguez, with hilarious allusions to the debate over Iraq war policy. "Stay the course" with A-Rod or "cut and run"? (Hat tip to Daniel Drezner.) It basically comes down to whether you think sustained excellent performance is more important than coming through in clutch situations. Generally speaking, I'm inclined toward the former side, but in this case letting A-Rod go might send a signal to other teams to be wary of overpaying superstars.

Crosley Field (partial) update

Crosley FieldBased on the excellent photos in John Pastier's book Historic Ballparks, the Crosley Field diagram has been revised. Basically, the whole thing has been rotated about two degrees, so the center field fence is not perpendicular to the home-plate-through-second-base line. That alone helps reconcile various anomalies. Additional "dynamic" diagram versions are pending arrival of the new edition of Philip Lowry's Green Cathedrals.

Also, I corrected the distance markers in right side of the scoreboard in Ebbets Field, which were 318 feet from home plate, not 315 feet. Thanks to John Pastier for calling this to my attention. I'm still not sure about the precise configuration of center field prior to 1932, however.

More "agony of defeat" at RFK

The D.C. United soccer team had the best record in all of MLS going into the playoffs, but they choked at on their home turf on Sunday as the New England Revolution prevailed, 1-0. Once again, RFK Stadium was the scene of grim frustration after an early season of high expectations. A few miles to the east in FedEx Field, meanwhile, the Redskins pulled off one of the most bizarre last-second miraculous victories I had ever seen. It's about time Washington area fans got a break!


November 7, 2006 [LINK / comment]

The people render their verdict

What will be the dominant narrative that best explains Decision 2006? Will voters affirm national unity in time of war, or will they repudiate President Bush and his "stay-the-course" policy in Iraq? Will they kick the corrupt rascals out of Capitol Hill, much as they did to the Democrats in 1994? Or will they hold their noses and excuse Republican foibles, reasoning that the Democrats have nothing better to offer? I don't pretend to have any special insight as to electoral behavior, but I tend to think the voters' "message" this year will be more muddled. Most Americans would probably like to express displeasure with [the Republicans] but stopping short of a clear endorsement of the Democrats' agenda. (What is the Democrats' agenda, by the way?) Much depends on how many people know who Nancy Pelosi and Ron Dellums are, and just what is at stake in this pivotal election. The fact that so many of the Senate races are so close is what makes any predictions subject to great uncertainty.

Rain is traditionally supposed to be good for Republicans, but that was not the sense I got as I stood outside R.E. Lee High School today. True, I live in the part of Staunton that is relatively upscale and therefore more Democrat-leaning, so I wouldn't expect it to be friendly. Still, it seemed to me that the Dems had more signs and more workers. People need to put this all in perspective and remember that the party of the incumbent president almost always loses seats in the midterm elections. The fact that Bush foiled the predictions of conventional wisdom in 2002 has in a sense artificially "raised the bar," making people expect he can continue to defy historical patterns. Politics, like life, tends to move in rough up-and-down cycles, with occasional abrupt, corrective jolts that simply cannot be predicted -- much like a "strange attractor." (See Chaos theory.)

And now for a roundup of pundit predictions and reflections:

Hugh Hewitt, who used to boast about a "permanent Republican majority," reminds us that Gerald Ford was closing the gap in the final days of Campaign 1976 but still lost. "The result was Jimmy Carter and Carter's legacies in Iran and North Korea." (Could Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid do that much damage?) Hewitt interviewed Karl Rove, who is confident "there will be a Republican Senate. I feel very good about Arizona, ... Tennessee, ... Missouri, ... [and] Virginia."

Andrew Sullivan is of course gleefully anticipating a Republican rout, and offers some advice to bring about that objective:

But in this election, I think it's vital if you're a true conservative or independent to grit your teeth and vote Democratic. This White House does not respond to measured or reasoned criticism. They need a metaphorical two-by-four in the face.

That's the classic "cut and run Republican/conservative" rationale, of course, and it is a very risky move. What if the Democrats do what Rove and DeLay did, changing the rules and gerrymandering districts so as to guarantee they'll maintain control of Congress?

Daniel Drezner is relatively detached from the dramatic showdown, declining to endorse anyone this time. (He voted for Kerry as a protest in 2004.) He does, however, draw attention to a novel form of dirty tricks practiced mainly by Democrats: "Google bombing," i.e., contriving to force search engines to list targeted candidates names near the top of search lists with negative terms.

As for Virginia bloggers, "Hanging" Chad Dotson expects the Republicans will retain control of the Senate (as I do), but he thinks they may even keep the House, which is being very optimistic, I think.

I tend to agree with Norman Leahy's glum prediction, and with his expectation of the fallout:

that divided government will return to Washington.
...
Will the Republicans learn anything if they are swept into the minority? Hopefully yes. Hopefully, they will rediscover the principles that brought them to power 12 years ago. But I'm not exactly optimistic.

Regardless of who wins tonight, I think it is safe to say that the Bush-Rove-DeLay style of "faith-based" Machiavellian governance is on its last legs. If the honchos in the GOP don't at least get that figured out, there is a risk that the party could return to semi-permanent minority status. Year after year, the GOP keeps straining to "mobilize its base" while ignoring the center of the political spectrum. How many times will they persist with this futile strategy? We will now find out if the Republican leaders and office holders are so complacent that they will ignore grass-roots complaints.

Gay marriage myths

In Virginia, the marriage amendment was probably the biggest factor in driving up turnout, on both the pro- and con- sides. That's what hot-button issues do, of course. I would like to know whether the emphasis on this issue helped or hurt Sen. Allen's campaign; I suspect it hurt him somewhat. I found much of the debate on both sides of the issue rather unsatisfactory and often misleading, but I am glad that it has at least prompted some serious reflection about a serious moral issue. The National Catholic Register stressed "three myths that dominate the marriage debate":

  1. Same-sex couples who want to marry simply want the same rights as others.
  2. Religious beliefs and human traditions make people uncomfortable with homosexuality, but there's no real difference between homosexual and heterosexual couples.
  3. Homosexual marriage is inevitable, so we might as well make the best of it.

I don't agree with all of the points in that article, but it does serve to get people to question the bland, conformist assumptions that most people make in public discourse. Hat tip to Rev. Kendall Harmon, who argues that marriage by its very nature as a social institution is discriminatory. (That parallels the point I made.) The marriage amendment in Virginia would no doubt pass with ease if it weren't for the additional prohibitions on civil unions. I heard outside the polls today that if this amendment fails, the General Assembly will pass a milder version in its next session.


Update: Early returns

So far the Democrats have gained three of the six Senate seats they need to regain control of the Upper Chamber: Lincoln Chafee lost in Rhode Island, Mike Dewine lost in Ohio, and Rick Santorum lost in Pennsylvania. The first two were expected, but Santorum's large margin of defeat is a big disappointment. For "Crunchy Con" Ron Dreher, he was the ideal sort of sincere, forward-thinking social conservative. (Dreher appeared on C-SPAN a few days ago.) It was nice that Joe Lieberman held on to his seat, getting sweet revenge on the anti-war Democrats, but as an Independent, he won't help the Republicans very much. Here in Virginia, the big news is that with [99] percent of the precincts reporting, George Allen has a 30,000+ vote lead over [is, as of 11:57 PM, in a virtual tie with] James "Born Fighting" Webb, so Republicans can rest a little easier [will be up all night biting their fingernails. That was quite a large last-minute shift!] It all depends on the Senate races in Tennessee (where Republican Corker leads Ford), Missouri (where incumbent Republican Talent leads McCaskill), Arizona, and Montana (both too early to call).

It will be quite a while before we know much about the House races nationwide, but the Democrats are picking up several seats at least, and NBC projects that they will take a majority. Speaker Pelosi ... Speaker Pelosi ... Speaker Pelosi ... Poor Sean Hannity must be having nightmares.

Update: More pundits

In his last "Crystal Ball" of the campaign, Larry Sabato forecast that the Democrats would pick up exactly the six Senate seats they needed for a majority. On the House side, he expected a 29-seat net gain for the Democrats, which would give them a 232 - 203 seat advantage over the Republicans. One House race he missed was in Kentucky, where Rep. Anne Northup (R) lost her reelection bid to John Yarmuth. Sabato noted the extreme fluidity of the electoral dynamics, with two big events in the last few days: the exposure of Ted Haggard's hypocrisy and the conviction and death sentence for Saddam Hussein. Neither seems to have had much effect, however, or else they offset each other.

In today's Washington Post, E. J. Dionne "predicted" that whatever the exact outcome, it would become manifest to all that "The Republican Party no longer has a coherent governing philosophy." I think he overstates the amount of division in the party, but perhaps not by much. He brings up the various issues such as Iraq, immigration, and fiscal policy, and indeed there are sharp differences of opinion on all three. He was quite right to say that the tax issue has become "unhinged" from putting together a sensible budget. Indeed, tax cuts are now a stale mantra that doesn't attract votes like it used to, and serves primarily to undercut the Republicans' traditional advantage in fiscal responsibility. We'll have plenty of time to talk about that between now and January...

Dionne mocks the Republicans' dearth of ideas, which is ironic since that is how they tagged the Democrats during the 1990s, but we may be in the midst of another role reversal. What Dionne doesn't mention explicitly, is the simple fact that there is a terrible shortage of articulate, sincere, creative-thinking leaders in the Republican Party today. The typical House Republican these days is an ambitious, wealthy professional whose idea of economic progress is to cook up some kind of government-business partnership, especially in defense, education, or other high-tech sector. Pushing for a level playing field in which small businesses can thrive just isn't as popular as it used to be. Where are the conservative leaders with Big Ideas, like Newt Gingrich and John Kasich? Well, we've got John Shadegg from Arizona, for starters. Any others?


November 8, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Republicans lose big time

As I expected, the Democrats won a majority in the House of Representatives, but contrary to my expectations, they are close to doing likewise in the Senate, according to the most recent reports. Since it is not clear what the Democrats stand for, however, it would be hard to call this a "victory" for them. It was certainly a major defeat for the current leadership of the Republican Party, and especially President Bush and Karl Rove. Whether RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman will keep his job remains to be seen. It is likewise too early to say what this means for the country, and for the future course of the war against Islamo-fascism.

Senatorial races

The Democrats have gained at least four Senate seats, and they will probably win two more, giving them an outright majority. With all but three of the 2443 precincts in Virginia reporting, Jim Webb has a lead of 7,000 votes over George Allen. Unless there is a huge shift due to military absentee ballots or massive irregularities are uncovered in the probable recount, it looks like it's all over. The (unofficial) local and statewide results from the State Board of Elections:

U.S. Senate
Locality G F Allen
(R)
J H Webb Jr
(D)
G G Parker
(IG)
Write Ins
Votes Cast Precincts
Reporting
AUGUSTA COUNTY 16,084
68.70%
7,086
30.27%
234
1.00%
9
0.04%
23,413 26 of 26
100.00%
STAUNTON CITY 3,779
51.82%
3,429
47.02%
83
1.14%
1
0.01%
7,292 6 of 6
100.00%
WAYNESBORO CITY 3,374
56.28%
2,546
42.47%
70
1.17%
5
0.08%
5,995 5 of 5
100.00%
Totals 1,165,019
49.25%
1,172,151
49.55%
26,169
1.11%
2,332
0.10%
2,365,671 2440 of
2443

Even worse for the Republicans, Claire McCaskill pulled ahead of incumbent Jim Talent in Missouri overnight, and has been declared the victor. That race, of course, was heavily influenced by the stem cell research debate, in which Michael J. Fox and Rush Limbaugh were the main protagonists. Montana was hanging in the balance until this morning, but Conrad Burns has fallen behind Tester, so the last hope for the GOP has come crashing down. There will probably be recounts there and in Virginia, but it would take a miracle to change the results. Who would have thought that a single offhand comment last August would have had such profound historical implications?

House races

Democrats are expected to gain at least 27 seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans lost three seats in Indiana, where they have enjoyed a rock-solid majority status for many years; this was a catastrophe. To her credit, the next Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, pledged to operate in a "bipartisan" manner, reaching out to moderate Republicans. She will need those folks in order to pass laws and funding measures that are acceptable to President Bush (and possibly the Senate). While I would like to believe her, I think her past record of razor-sharp rhetoric justifies an attitude of wait-and-see skepticism. For the post of Majority Leader, long-time insider Steny Hoyer appears to have an edge over John Murtha.

Gubernatorial races

Democrats made solid gains in governorships across the country, taking Republican posts in Colorado, Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio. The Republicans were on the defensive, trying to hold on to governorships in a political climate filled with vague discontent. One of the few pieces of good news was in Minnesota, as Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty was re-elected. He took a lot of heat for pushing state funding for a new baseball stadium for the Minnesota Twins, and barely held onto office. See cqpolitics.com.

What to make of this?

Andrew Sullivan says Bush should heed the voice of the people by firing SecDef Rumsfeld immediately. (President Bush has just announced exactly that, a stunning reversal after years of stubborn persistence. Is Karl Rove next?) Sullivan takes unabashed joy in the defeat of "Christianists," but how does he account for the fact that anti-gay marriage amendments carried in seven of eight states? Arizona was the sole exception. It will take a leader with far more rhetorical talent than George W. Bush to articulate a compelling vision of national purpose that encompasses strong national defense and "traditional family values." Thanks to Mark Foley, that latter phrase is fast becoming a lame cliche, and evangelical Christians are likely to give up on the Republicans.

Rush Limbaugh blames the loss on the failure of the Republicans to hold true to their professed conservative principles, citing Bush's Medicare drug benefit program as a disastrous sell-out. No doubt that is a big part of the reason, but we must also examine why Bush and the Republicans leadership abandoned the party's ideological roots. Was it nothing more than too-clever short-term electoral politics? Another question is whether there is a long-term shift in voter sentiment from the right back toward the center. If so, then Rush's derision of "squishy, moderate country club" Republicans may be way off the mark. Conservatives have been in tune with the mainstream of American public for so long that they have gotten spoiled and complacent. Conservatism is no different than any other ideology: It faces constant challenges from newly emerging social, economic, and political circumstances, and if it fails to adapt in creative ways (like Reaganism), it will wither and fade.

If the Bush cabinet undergoes further purges, I hope Bush takes the advice of WaPo columnist David Broder by naming a special "wise elder" adviser to lay the foundation for his last two years in office. Bush will be a "lame duck" earlier than most presidents, but if he get the right advice, he can still exercise his power and influence in constructive ways.

If we could summarize the reasons for defeat in one word, it would be hubris. Lust for power, and the blindness to the consequences of disregarding it, has been at the heart of human failure from the beginning of history. ("What chapter was that in?") Hopefully some conservative activists will go back to the drawing board by doing a little reading of the Classics.


November 8, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Goodness gracious: Rummy is fired!

The first casualty of the pivotal battle of November 7 was none other than Donald Rumsfeld. Talk about a vindication for Andrew Sullivan! To my surprise, military-religious blogger Donald Sensing was not particularly surprised by this move. Frankly, I thought Bush was serious about sticking with Rummy till the bitter end as a sign of his determination to persevere against all adversity. Rumsfeld had some positive attributes, but his usefulness to the war effort ended long ago. After an about face like this, what's next -- negotiations with Osama bin Laden, or telling us there never were any WMDs? The timing of this announcement buys Bush some precious leeway in domestic politics, throwing the Dems some red meat, but on the international level, it accentuates the loss of his government's prestige occasioned by the election results. As I noted with respect to Rumsfeld's responsibility for Abu Ghraib almost two years ago:

[He] has a lot to answer for, in my view. The fact that he is one of the few cabinet officials being kept on into the second term, while others who have performed their jobs perfectly well are leaving, concerns me.

Rumsfeld's replacement will be former CIA chief Bob Gates. He is a competent, low-profile expert in security matters who worked for Bush the Elder. He is ideally suited for the SecDef job at a time when partisan divisions threaten to undermine our nation's ability to project force in defense of its national interests.

UPDATE: Austin Bay downplays the political rationale for booting Rummy, and cites a military officer to the effect that "the resignation is political prep for prosecuting the war even more vociferously." Possibly, but I wouldn't bet on it. They have a 60-day "window of opportunity" to accomplish something significant before Nancy Pelosi and Ron Dellums start issuing subpoenas. There was certainly no way that a renewed major offensive against insurgents would have happened with Rumsfeld still in charge.

Guilty verdict for Saddam

Some say that the murder of three of his defense lawyers taints the conviction, but it's hard to apply U.S. standards in a country that is being torn apart by civil conflict. If the Sunnis who look to Saddam as their champion had only come to reconcile themselves to their loss of privilege in the new democratic regime, those murders probably would not have happened. The point is, he is as guilty of mass murder as any dictator or former dictator ever has been, and as they say, "No justice, no peace." Things being the way the are in Iraq right now, however, the Sunnis will wreak grim revenge if Saddam is indeed executed. Unfortunately, there is just no way of getting around this one: As long as he lives, the Sunnis can hope to regain their former dominant position. This will be a supreme test of the will power of the new Iraqi government. If Iraq is to have any chance at resolving its ethnic tensions some day, Saddam must die.

This is a perfect illustration of the motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which appears on our state's flag: Sic Semper Tyrannis! (Thus always to tyrants!)


November 8, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Black swan in Augusta County

Black swan I got a phone call this afternoon from a Mr. Starke Smith alerting me to the presence of a Black swan on Goose Creek Road west of Waynesboro. The weather was rather bleak, with steady drizzle, but I rushed on over as quickly as possible. It didn't take long before the long-necked bird popped into view. After a few minutes, another Augusta Bird Club member showed up, Elaine Carwile. Not until I arrived did I take the time to check my field guide, learning that the Black swan is a non-native domesticated species, possibly belonging to the farm owners, or else it escaped from somewhere else. No matter; it still counts as a life bird for me! Black swans come from Australia.

Elaine and I also saw a Downy woodpecker and White-breasted nuthatch nearby, as well as thousands of Starlings across the fields, and we also heard a kinglet.

By amazing coincidence, another black Swann (Lynn) has been seen in many cities across Pennsylvania recently, but he lost in the gubernatorial election yesterday.



November 9, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Nats recruiting new talent

The Washington Nationals have signed 21 minor league free agents, including 13 pitchers. It won't have much effect on the Nationals for the 2007 season, but it's a big first step toward rebuilding the franchise's weak farm system, and plugging a gaping hole in their roster. They have also hired ten new scouts. Meanwhile, the search continues for a new manager. Joe Girardi may still be interested, though his agent denies it. Other new candidates are Yankees coach Tony Peña and Mets coach Manny Acta, who used to play for the Expos. See Washington Post. (I wonder if Frank Robinson is still available, you know, just in case...)

Tiger Stadium: Going, going, ...

Neal Rubin provides a critical perspective on why the city of Detroit declined to work with developers who offered various proposals to keep Tiger Stadium intact. (Hat tip to Bruce Orser.) His column mentions a new film dedicated to the perservation of that lovable old hulk of a ballpark: Stranded at the Corner; video clips can be viewed at that site. They leave no doubt that the main obstacle to preserving Tiger Stadium is the Ilich family, which owns the Tigers and views the old stadium as a threat to their commercial interests. Boo-oo!

The mail bag

The Athletics and Cisco have reached a tentative deal on building a new stadium in the city of Fremont, at a site about three times as far from Oakland as from San Jose. Formal announcement may take place next week, after the details are ironed out. It would have 35,000 or fewer seats, by far the smallest of all the "Retro-era" ballparks, and may be completed as early as 2011, depending on environmental studies, municipal funding approval, etc. Franchise owner Lew Wolff said the team may be called the "Fremont A's" or the "Silicon Valley A's." See ESPN. (Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.)

The Arizona Diamondbacks unveiled the team's new uniforms, which are "Sedona" red, with just a hint of dark orange. I agree a change was a good idea, since there are too many teams with pinstripes alreday. At first glance, however, I wasn't too impressed; I was expecting more of a desert beige, and possibly a logo with an actual snake. See MLB.com. Anyway, it's hard to think of a more radical change in color theme since the Athletics went green and yellow in 1963, or the Astros adopted those garish stripes in 1975. (Hat tip to "Mustang Danny.")

UPDATE: Here is an intriguing bit of political-baseball trivia I just received via a member of SABR: Soon-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is the daughter of former Baltimore mayor Thomas D'Alessandro, who played a key role in the relocation of the St. Louis Browns to Baltimore in 1954.


November 9, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Latin America election roundup

Speaking to reporters in Washington prior to a meeting with President Bush, Mexican president-elect Felipe Calderon, who belongs to the conservative National Action Party, expressed hope that bilateral relations will improve now that the conservative Republican Party has lost control of the U.S. Congress. Now there's a paradox that cries out to be explained... Obviously, he wants looser U.S. immigration policies, to take the heat off his government. See Washington Post. When you read "between the lines" you will realize that conservative leaders in both countries are operating in a hostile ideological climate, forcing them to make painful compromises on major issues. At least there are no armed insurrections or cities in flames on our side of the border, so far...

In Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega's electoral victory has been confirmed. Even though he received only about 38 percent of the vote, the fact that he had more than a five-percent edge over the second-place candidate Eduardo Montealegre was enough to qualify for a victory without going to a second round. Remarkably, there were no charges of fraud from the conservative candidates or their staffs. The former (?) Marxist-Leninist Ortega will have to make solid commitments to the private sector if he wants to maintain the economic progress his country has experienced recent years.

As expected, the U.N. General Assembly approved Panama as a member of the Security Council for the 2007-2008 term. See CNN.com. It remains to be seen whether Venezuela will mount another high-profile campaign to gain a seat next year, or if Guatemala will. See the U.N. Security Council chronology.


November 9, 2006 [LINK / comment]

George Allen concedes defeat

There being no serious likelihood of any major upward revisions in his vote totals, Sen. George Allen gracefully conceded defeat this afternoon. Jim Webb now has a margin of about 9,000 votes, 2,000 more than yesterday, but the difference is still only 0.38%. Democrats won by similarly tiny margins in Missouri and Montana. As noted by the Washington Post, "The concession spared the country from a recount that could have left control of the U.S. Senate in limbo for weeks." Remarkably (not!), there were no charges of fraud from the conservative candidates or their staffs. Let's hope the Republican Party's members heed Allen's advice to stand strong and not be blown over by the gale force winds of adversity.

I expected this race to be very close, but I was still genuinely taken aback by Webb's victory. Who the heck is this guy? * Apparently, voters were not swayed by all those Republican-sponsored negative TV ads about Webb's opposition to the marriage amendment, or about the sexist attitudes revealed by his novels and articles. Perhaps such messages would have resonated better if Allen had not said early on that he was "going to run this campaign on positive, constructive ideas." These days, it's hard to abide by such a commitment.

This means the Democrats will take control of the Senate as well as the House, unless Sean Hannity can prevail upon Sen. Joe Lieberman to "jump ship" like Jim Jeffords did in 2001. I wouldn't count on it. Maybe the other new Independent in the Senate, Bernie Sanders!

* One final thought on the upset win by the outsider Webb: Before the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913, senators were typically chosen by state legislatures, under the assumption that selecting elder wise men to sit in the Upper Chamber was a task best left up to political experts, not the masses. After all, you never know who The People are going to choose. Perhaps there should be some restriction on who is eligible to run for the U.S. Senate, such as past legislative service.

Election 2006 post-mortem

Pundit / blogger reactions to the electoral debacle on Tuesday have varied widely. Most of the thoughtful conservatives have shown equanimity, while the more acerbic partisan hacks are either furious or sullenly silent on the matter. I won't name the latter, but you can tell who I'm talking about by checking whether they posted anything yesterday. So, let's concentrate on the former:

The usually-dour George Will sees a "silver lining" in the historic defeat. Voters did not reject conservatism, he writes, they rejected candidates who strayed from conservatism. (That has been Rush Limbaugh's main point.) Will also points to signs of enduring conservative strength, even among some Democrats. Nancy Pelosi will have to respect the large number of pro-Second Amendment folks on her side of the aisle. One of them is former Redskins quarterback Heath Shuler, who just won a seat in North Carolina.

Robert Novak is deeply annoyed that Republicans in Congress ignored clear warning signs several months in advance, and refused to make the necessary changes in time. He cites (as did I yesterday) the bellwether race in Kentucky, where incumbent Anne Northup lost even though she did nothing wrong. Voters simply refused to be "bribed" by pork barrel spending on local projects, and their anger over corruption and Iraq boiled over, blaming Republicans in general.

Ever the ornery-but-gentle contrarian, James Lileks put in a good word for Donald Rumsfeld and aptly expressed the long-stifled sense of outrage among mainstream conservatives:

I'm serious: no one said as much, but I have the feeling that many on the right & center-right are relieved to have this Congress repudiated, as much as they dislike the potential effect of the alternative. Two more years of the same would have been two more years of tentative dithering, culminating in another appeal to hit the polls lest the Republic crumble.

Exactly. All that nonsense had to end eventually, so we might as well get it over with and "reboot." He also expressed a more nuanced traditionalist view of the gay marriage issue, closely paralleling my position.

Linda Chavez notes that the immigration issue failed to attract votes to the Republican side, and probably cost at least two House members their jobs: J.D. Hayworth and Randy Graf, both of Arizona. She was right to ridicule Hayworth's call for a three-year ban on legal immigration from Mexico, but her hopes for passing "comprehensive immigration reform" are extremely unrealistic. On thorny issues like this, incremental measures are the best we can hope for. She cites other examples, including Indiana's Rep. John Hostettler, chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee. He made some off-the-wall comments and proposals that probably undermined the cause of honest immigration reform. As our own Sen. George Allen learned too late, failure to avoid the minefield of anti-immigrant sentiment can be very costly.

Andrew Sullivan proclaims, "The GOP is now very much the party of Dixie," thanks to "Nixon's cynical ploy - played beyond the extreme by Rove..." To the extent that the Dixie states are on the forefront of social and economic progress (think "Sun Belt"), that is a good thing, and Sullivan would be well advised to ease up on his implied anti-southern bigotry. Still, one can detect occasional dark shadows of the bad old days of "massive resistance" among some of the hardline social conservatives, and his point is well taken.

Radley Balko dares to suggest that libertarians should be pleased with a victory by Democrats. Well, he might have a point if it arouses the attention of complacent Republican legislators, but not otherwise. It would be hard to deny this trenchant observation, however: "Republicans seem to rediscover their limited-government principles when they're out of power." Ouch! (via Michael Oliver)

Is Michael Steele a possible replacement for Ken Mehlman as Republican National Chairman? That's the rumor from Chris Cillizza at washingtonpost.com. Mehlman is without a doubt a good guy (after all, he posed with me ), but he is too closely associated with the current Republican leadership on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.


November 10, 2006 [LINK / comment]

49ers to leave Candlestick Park

The San Francisco 49ers announced their intention to leave the city and build a new stadium in Santa Clara, in the heart of Silicon Valley about 30 miles south of Candlestick Park. The franchise owner, John York, said he told Mayor Gavin Newsome that he is giving up on plans to remain in the city. Only four months ago, York had declared he was committed to building a new stadium / entertainment complex on Candlestick Point, but now he says the necessary infrastructure improvements in that area would cost more than the stadium itself. They hope to finish the new stadium by 2012. See Washington Post. Replacing The Stick is certainly long overdue, especially since it was damaged in the 1989 earthquake. Only two NFL Stadiums are older: Green Bay's Lambeau Field (1958) and Chicago's Soldier Field (1924, but totally rebuilt in [2003]). I hope fans who live in San Francisco don't mind the extra money for gasoline they'll have to spend. I suppose most of them have deep enough pockets so that it's not even a consideration.

UPDATE: It is worth mentioning that Candlestick is one of the few dual-use stadiums in which pro football continued to be played after the baseball team left. The others were Memorial Coliseum (1962-1979, 1982-1994); Cleveland Municipal Stadium (1994-1995); Memorial Stadium (1996-1997); Mile High Stadium (1995-2000); and QualComm (Jack Murphy) Stadium (2004- ). See the Football use of baseball stadiums page.

It's ironic that this news coincides with reports that the Oakland A's are on the verge of moving south to Fremont, on the other side of San Jose from Santa Clara. The official announcement is expected on Tuesday. There is more on that story at MLB.com. Having relocated twice already (in 1955 and 1968), the A's will have a hard time facing yet another identity crisis -- much like the "LAnaheim" Angels. The (probable) future ballpark will be close enough to San Jose to make that city the logical choice of affiliation.

The mail bag

Bruce Orser called my attention to a Web page for Ray Winder Field, built in 1932 in Little Rock, Arkansas. That page includes a list of minor league ballparks even older than that.


November 10, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Gay civil unions in Mexico City?

The Mexico City assembly has passed by a vote of 43-17 a measure that would allow "same-sex couples to register their union with civil authorities, granting them inheritance rights and other benefits typically given to spouses." It does not sanction gay marriage, however. Mayor Alejandro Encinas is expected to sign it, but there are sure to be legal challenges. See CNN.com. Mexico has a much more secular tradition than most other Latin American countries, so the opposition of the Catholic Church in this matter is not necessarily decisive. It is quite a contrast to the constitutional amendment just passed in Virginia, which would forbid recognition of any such civil union. It will be fascinating to hear debates on which of our two countries is more socially progressive!


Calderon visits Bush

UPDATE: President-elect Felipe Calderon of Mexico met with President Bush today, and both men agreed on the need to cooperate on border issues. See BBC. The sad reality is that effective action by the two neighbors depends on the extent to which each president has "breathing room" on the domestic front. The fact that both presidents are under extreme pressure from political opponents makes it unlikely that the leaky border problem will be fixed any time soon. Why should leftist parties in Mexico agree to market-oriented reforms that would undermine their political power when they know that unemployed Mexicans can get jobs in the United States? And why should Democrats in this country agree to urgently needed reforms in labor laws when they know that illegal alien workers who are exempt from such laws can pick up the slack?

Toledo faces probe

Former President Alejandro Toledo is being investigated on possible corruption charges, and his wife Eliane Karp is a prime suspect. Toledo entered office with very high approval ratings, but he ruined it by feckless administrative practices and rampant nepotism, appointing several of his relatives to government positions. See BBC. Many Latin American presidents divert public attention from their own problems by charging their predecessors with corruption, and unfortunately they are guilty as often as not. In this case, the initiative seems to come from Congress, not from President Garcia's office. Toledo was a huge disappointment, but I tend to think he was not particularly corrupt, just weak and naive.

Arias cheers Dem win

According to the Tico Times, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias was pleased by the Democrats' electoral victory, saying it shows the American people are against the war in Iraq and against the proposed wall on the Mexican border. Perhaps the United States should offer to help build a wall on Costa Rica's northern border to keep out all the illegal immigrants from Nicaragua! After Daniel Ortega takes over the government again, the number of people leaving the country in search of jobs is sure to increase.


November 10, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Mehlman to leave RNC post

As has been rumored, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman announced he will not seek another term. The Washington Post notes that he won praise (and even grudging admiration from Democrats) for strengthening the computer-based system that identified and turned out (conservative) voters, which has been at the center of recent campaigns here in Virginia. In my opinion, that strategy is well past the point of diminishing returns, and is just about exhausted. Is it time to try a different approach?

Losing with dignity

Peggy Noonan lauds Rep. Harold Ford (D) and Senators Lincoln Chafee, Rick Santorum, and George Allen (all R) for their classy concession speeches. (Hat tip to Michael Oliver.) Indeed, they provided a fine example for the members of their respective parties to follow. The election is over, now let's move on and try to make democracy work. How ironic would it be if Republicans fell into the same fit of hysteria, paranoia, and bitter sarcasm that the Democrats did after Bush was reelected two years ago?

Dems adapt to win

Speaking of hard feelings, you have to give credit to the Dems for setting aside their vitriolic hatred of Bush & Co. for just long enough to win the election. I was checking my archives and found a post from Apr. 15 in which I expressed doubt that they could take advantage of divisions within the Republican Party. I stand corrected.

Virginia blogger quits

Chad Dotson announced he is "closing up shop" at Commonwealth Conservative, which leaves a huge void in the Virginia blogosphere. I will dearly miss his news and commentary.


Howard Dean: genius?

UPDATE: Following up on the "Dems adapt" theme, I have to give credit to Howard Dean for shutting his big trap and getting down to business with a "50-state" full-court-press strategy that paid off big time. Who would have thought they had a chance in the Virginia Senate race? I wouldn't say Howard Dean qualifies as a genius, but he may well be smarter than Karl Rove. Thanks to Rudy Riet for pointing that out. He says that James Carville and other Democrat insiders "think that Dean has ruined their party..." Sounds like jealousy to me.

Larry Sabato: genius?

UPDATE: I also have to give credit to U.Va.'s Larry Sabato, whose "Crystal Ball" predictions of the election results were almost perfect:

. Governor House Senate
Crystal Ball Predictions +7 Dems +29 Dems +6 Dems
Election Results as of Nov. 9 +6 Dems +29 Dems +6 Dems

November 10, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Gen. Myers praises Rumsfeld

At a lecture given at Kansas State University yesterday, retired Gen. Richard Myers, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, introduced his former boss, Donald Rumsfeld, paying special tribute to Rummy's reform initiatives:

in his tenure as Secretary of Defense, that the Department has undergone more profound change in the last six years than in any time in its history since the National Security Act of 1947...

(SOURCE: defenselink.mil, via Instapundit) He also rebutted accusations that Rumsfeld ignored military advice:

I have worked with several secretaries of defense. I have never worked with one that has spent more time with the senior military leadership than this Secretary of Defense.

It is good to have a balanced perspective on this, so we don't go overboard in blaming scapegoats when things go wrong. Just as the war in Iraq is complex, making it hard to figure out who is winning, so too our Secretary of Defense is a complex man, and it will take years to sort out the good from the bad.

Al Qaeda gloats at SecDef's exit

Far, far from Kansas, meanwhile, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, exulted in this week's electoral outcome and the consequent firing of Donald Rumsfeld. Somehow, though, the prospects of a change in U.S. strategy has not led then toward a more friendly disposition. Indeed, the guy actually threatened to blow up the White House. See Reuters. (via Drudge)

It would be easy to make too much of that statement, but it shouldn't be ignored, either. At one of his campaign stops last month, President Bush said that a victory by the Democrats in Congress would mean a victory for the terrorists. An editorial in today's News Leader took umbrage at that suggestion by Bush, who wishes he could take that back, I'll bet. It's obvious that enemy forces will be encouraged when our leaders stumble, but that doesn't mean that the President's opponents are, generally speaking, sympathetic to the enemy. When our leaders leave that impression, it only serves to divide our nation, which is the worst thing that can happen in time of war.


November 11, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Manny Acta to manage the Nats

Manny Acta is expected to be named the manager of the Washington Nationals on Tuesday. It will be a two-year contract. He is 37 years old and has experience coaching for the Mets and the Expos, where he worked with some current Nationals players. He comes from the Dominican Republic and managed their team in the World Baseball Classic this year, but he had a hard time learning English when he first came to the United States. Some Latino players like Vladimir Guerrero don't put much effort into learning English, which is too bad. Acta started out with the Astros minor league clubs, and even though his batting fell short of expectations, he earned a reputation for being talented, hard working, and enthusiastic. He sounds just right for the job. See MLB.com.

Sheffield is traded to Detroit

After all the rumors about his discontent in The Bronx, it was no surprise that Gary Sheffield was traded to Detroit. The Tigers could certainly use a veteran player, and the Yankees could certainly use the three young pitchers. Sheffield is not shedding any tears over leaving New York, and the feelings are mutual. Indeed, he said he is "ecstatic" at being reunited with Jim Leyland who managed the Florida Marlins in 1997. With the contract extension through 2009, Sheff will probably end his career in Detroit, since he is 38 years old. See MLB.com. "Reunited, and it feels so good..."

Fremont A's ballpark

Barry Witt has further details on the possible future home of the Athletics in Fremont, CA at contracostatimes.com. The big emphasis is on making it a technological wonder, with fancy graphical displays and the like. One big problem is the lack of rapid transit access, which would be essential for drawing fans from the Oakland area. It all depends on the ability of municipal leaders to work out a mutually-advantageous development scheme plan. (via David Pinto)

The mail bag

Chris Kassulke reminded me that the renovations at Soldier Field were completed in 2003, not 2005. How time flies.


November 11, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Peru aims to regulate NGOs

The Congress of Peru has passed a bill that would subject international nongovernmental organizations to tight regulation by the Peruvian government. The ostensible purpose is to assert national sovereignty in an age where transnational influences tend to erode government authority, but there is no doubt more to it than that. One effect might be to undermine human rights, just as happened in Russia after a similar law was enacted there earlier this year. The bill was passed by a coalition consisting of Garcia's APRA party and supporters of former President Fujimori, two factions that ordinarily regard each other mortal enemies. Jose Miguel Vivanco, of Human Rights Watch, urged President Garcia to reconsider the measure. (Hat tip to Randy Paul.)


November 11, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Veterans Day parade 2006

Just like last year, the Veterans Day parade in Staunton was blessed with bright, sunny skies, perfect for taking photographs. There is a big difference, however, in light of the increasingly difficult situation in Iraq, and the question of how much more effort the United States should make there. This day should serve to remind us never to take lightly the sacrifices and devotion to our country shown by service men and women, and of the need for all of us to stand together in time of war or national peril. As we debate the best future course to take in Iraq, and in the broader war in defense against Arab-Islamic extremism, we must keep in mind how important it is that all of us express our deep appreciation to our soldiers, past and present. The freedom and security we enjoy thanks to them should never be taken for granted.

Some of the military veterans on parade in downtown Staunton today, most of whom belong to "The Greatest Generation." City Councilman Dickie Bell is third from the left in the second row. Roll mouse over image to see an Army band.

Additional photos, new and recent, can be seen on the new Fall 2006 photo gallery page.

Those wreaths at Arlington

Did you ever wonder where those wreaths at Arlington National Cemetary come from? The Worcester Wreath Co., an unusually patriotic enterprise that deserves wider public recognition. Hat tip to Stacey Morris, who forwarded this background info:

Readers may be interested to know that these wreaths -- some 5,000 -- are donated by the Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington, Maine. The owner, Merrill Worcester, not only provides the wreaths, but covers the trucking expense as well. He's done this since 1992. A wonderful guy. Also, most years, groups of Maineschool kids combine an educational trip to DC with this event to help out. Making this even more remarkable is the fact that Harrington is in one the poorest parts of the state.

November 12, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Another good Republican loses

As a matter of principle, Iowa Rep. Jim Leach refused to accept negative TV advertisements sponsored by the National Republican Congressional Committee and disavowed mailings from the state Republican Party that attacked his opponent David Loebsack. He stated, "Negative campaigning is a cancer on the body politic. We are all obligated to do better by being better." jimleach.com. He paid very dearly for this noble stand, however, losing his bid for reelection by a narrow 51%-49% margin. In politics, as in life, "no good deed goes unpunished." In Saturday's Washington Post (no permalink), Mark Shields paid tribute to Leach as a "class act caught in the landslide." As with the case of (defeated) Rep. Ann Northup in Kentucky, most voters paid more attention to the Iraq war and the questionable conduct of certain Republicans in Washington than to their own representatives. Unlike some other independent-minded Republicans (or former Republicans) such as Lincoln Chafee or Jim Jeffords, Leach was never a publicity hound. He simply spoke his mind and obeyed his conscience. It is an enormous pity that the Congress has lost a voice of moderation who resisted the forces of polarization.

Pelosi backs Murtha

This isn't very encouraging: Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has written a letter in support of Rep. John Murtha for the position of Majority Leader in the 110th Congress. Steny Hoyer has been considered the favorite, closer to the mainstream, and the choice of outspoken war critic Murtha may suggest that Pelosi may be disregarding advice to hew toward the center as she takes the helm. Or it may be nothing more than a matter of personal friendships, since she did not explicitly urge her colleagues to vote for Murtha. See washingtonpost.com


November 12, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Gadwalls and late Swallows

I did a quick check of the big farm pond on Bell's Lane early this afternoon, and had a couple big surprises. Of course the usual Coots and Ruddy ducks (8 - 10 of each) were there, but I also saw two Gadwalls (male and female) for the first time this season. (They are rather plain ducks with dark rumps and a pronounced forehead.) Then I was stunned to see a Swallow skimming along the water, climbing to join another one circling the pond 100 or so feet up. It was all brown on top with a white belly, dusky upper breast, and dark, square-tip tail. I was almost certain it was a Northern Rough-winged swallow until I checked with YuLee and Allen Larner after I got home, and learned that young Tree swallows are almost identical. Tree swallows migrate south much later than other swallows (and return north earlier), so that's what they probably were. Even so, it is very late in the season! The latest date that species has ever been seen in this area was November 15, in 2002.

On Friday morning behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, I spotted a Golden-crowned kinglet for the first time this season.


November 13, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Mets break ground on "Citi Field"

The New York Mets broke ground on their future home today, announcing that it will be called "Citi Field," after CitiBank. The naming rights contract extends for 20 years, at over $20 million per year. Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg were among those who attended the ceremonies. The stadium will hold about 45,000 fans, and should be completed by Opening Day 2009. Outfield dimensions will be almost the same as at Turner Field: LF - 335; LC - 379; CF - 408; RC - 391; RF - 330. Two of the design features are blatant appeals to nostalgia: the upper deck will extend eight feet over the playing area in right field, just like at Tiger Stadium and the Polo Grounds (where the overhang was in left field). Also, there will be a fancy rotunda entrance behind home plate that will be a virtual carbon copy of Ebbets Field. See MLB.com. I don't really mind such obvious aesthetic emulations, but I am a little perturbed by the overall layout, which differs little from Busch Stadium III, as far as I can tell. Also, I see no point to the left field wall being slightly askew from the adjacent grandstand; to me, it looks like "arbitrary asymmetry."

I will be creating new pages for the three under-construction stadiums (Yankees, Mets, and Nationals) in the near future, but with only rough sketch diagrams. Likewise for the Twins' future stadium after they break ground in Minneapolis.

Rookies of the Year are named

Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins won the NL Rookie of Year award with 14 first-place votes to Ryan Zimmerman's 10 first-place votes. The total number of points was 105 to 101 -- "the closest NL vote since 1980." The MLB.com article cited all sorts of combinations of "first since" feats by Ramirez, but in the head-to-head matchups on major statistical categories, it was basically a tossup. Darn, I was really hoping the Washington Nationals' third baseman would get the recognition he was due. The many superb fielding plays he made and the game-winning home run against the Yankees on June 18 leave no doubt he will be a star for years to come. In the American League, Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander received the Rookies of Year honors hands down, getting 26 of 28 first-place votes.

Trades and non-trades

The Yankees traded Jaret Wright to Baltimore for rookie reliever Chris Britton, agreeing to pay Baltimore $4 million of his $7 million salary contract obligation. See MLB.com. Frankly, I don't get it. Wright performed OK this year, at least compared to other Yankee pitchers. It must be one of those personality issues.

The Cubs reached terms with two of their most important free agents: Aramis Ramirez (who signed a five-year contract) and Kerry Wood (one year). The Chicago franchise is doing well financially, but still I worry about whether the owners might react to the disappointments of recent years by cutting corners on payroll so as to "rebuild" for the future. It looks like they are going to keep striving for a pennant, hoping that injuries don't trip them up once again.


November 13, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Toward consensus on Iraq?

It would have had a better chance to succeed a year or more ago, but the convening of the Iraq Study Group offers hope of approaching a broad agreement on how to proceed in Iraq. The group's co-chairmen, James Baker (former secretary of state) and Lee Hamilton (former Democratic congressman from Indiana), are highly respected in foreign policy, and are not considered highly partisan. They expect to release a report with policy recommendations by the end of the year, but no one expects any brilliant solutions to our predicament. The purpose of the Study Group is to give various groups in this country a voice in setting a new policy direction, i.e., it's more about policy process than substance.

After a preliminary meeting with them this morning, President Bush says that his objective is to have an Iraqi government that can "sustain, govern and defend itself, and will serve as an ally in this war on terror." See Washington Post. That is indeed a proper objective, but such an outcome is only partly within our ability to bring about. It depends primarily upon the Iraqi leaders themselves. Likewise, Bush was correct to reject the suggestion of Sen. Carl Levin that we begin a phased withdrawal of troops -- just like in Vietnam. Any such exit should be discretional, not on a fixed timetable, so as to maximize our leverage vis-à-vis the government of Iraq.

What is particularly encouraging is the increased influence of foreign policy realists, and the corresponding diminution of the ideologically-driven neoconservatives. For whatever reason, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration fell prey to the temptation to pursue a messianic foreign policy with limitless global ambitions. Those of us who had hoped that Bush would heed the prudent counsel of Colin Powell were disappointed, time and again. Likewise, the influence on policy of Condoleeza Rice, who has strong realist credentials in academia, has been difficult to ascertain. Since her last trip to the Middle East, she has had a very low profile. I do give credit to Bush for earnest perseverance in waging war against our enemies, but he simply did not give adequate consideration to formulating a strategy with objectives tailored to our available resources. That is what realism is all about: achieving a balance in the pursuit of our national interests.

That is where the irony of Sen. John McCain's position stands out so starkly. Considered a moderate in domestic affairs, McCain is among the biggest hawks on Iraq, calling for a substantial increase in the number of troops there. I would agree if I thought such a commitment could be sustained, but after the Democrats take control of Congress in January, the President will be severely hamstrung. Perhaps we can still manage to turn the tables and regain the momentum in Iraq, easing tensions and restoring central government authority. But I think it is more likely that we will achieve only partial success, acquiescing in some kind of partition, so that the end result of the war would be something of a stalemate, as in Korea.

It is now clear that our armed forces are stretched to the limit in terms of material resources, and last week's election indicates quite clearly that we have reached the psychological limit as well. As I have repeatedly emphasized, this war against those in the Arab-Islamic who have sworn to destroy us is above all a matter of exerting national willpower. Since last Tuesday, that willpower has evidently diminished, though not on the catastrophic scale of the Spanish elections of March 2004. I wish it were not the case, but I see no other way to interpret it. Those patriotic Americans who still hold out hope for a decisive victory must remember that firepower and technology are no substitute for the willingness of Americans to put their lives on the line in defense of our interests and values. We should all refrain from casting aspersions on those who have different opinions in this matter. After all, we are a democratic nation, and we simply must stand united lest our enemies exploit our internal divisions.

We have to remember that, whatever happens in Iraq, the broader war against Arab-Islamic extremism will continue for several more years, and possibly decades. These will be trying times for our soldiers in Iraq, who may start wondering what they are fighting for unless clear, achievable military objectives are articulated for them. President Bush bears an enormous burden in conveying to them a more realistic set of goals. There is also an enormous task facing him on the home front: the President must take special care not to say anything that might inflame passions on either the strongly pro-war or the anti-war sides. Bush must try to persuade moderate anti-war people to ease up on their demands to bring the troops back home immediately, while trying to assuage the fears of pro-war people that scaling back our objectives does not mean we are running up the white flag. Trying to do both at the same time will be his greatest test yet as president.


November 14, 2006 [LINK / comment]

A's, Cisco reach stadium deal

After months of rumors, the actual announcement was a little anticlimactic. The Oakland Athletics have agreed to purchase a 143 acres of land from Cisco Systems on which to build their future home. The new stadium will be called "Cisco Field" under a 30-year naming rights agreement, with payments of about $4 million per year. (Thirty years? In the high-tech sector, the likelihood that even a solid company like Cisco will keep the same name for three full decades is just about zero.) The A's will continue to play at Oakland (McAfee) Coliseum through at least 2010, with an option to play through 2013. See MLB.com. Note the words "with the intent of constructing..." The important thing to remember is, this is not a done deal. The A's could sell that parcel of land, possibly making a profit, if San Jose or Oakland (hey, anything's possible) come up with better deals. I admit I've been skeptical about this project all along, but I really don't think the A's would go this far on a major deal with a mega-corporation like Cisco unless they were serious about seeing it through.

I think it's a shame that Oakland, Berkeley, and other cities on the north east side of the Bay could not support a successful franchise like the A's. Moving south toward Silicon Valley makes economic sense, but the idea of building a new ballpark in the suburban wilderness is highly questionable. It reminds me of the failed proposal to build a baseball stadium next to Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia, which would have been a disaster for the Montreal-Washington franchise. If it weren't for MLB's dumb, short-sighted territorial monopolies (which have hamstrung the Washington Nationals, thanks to Peter Angelos, as we all know), the A's could simply move straight to San Jose without a hitch.

Mike Purdy, of the San Jose Mercury News, suggests that the team be called the "San Jose A's of Fremont." (That story includes a photo of the stadium site; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.) If they are going to hype their new high-tech association, then "Athletics" isn't as appropriate as it used to be. How about the "Silicon Valley Techno-Geeks"?

Manny Acta: Nats' new manager

As expected, Manny Acta was officially named as the new manager of the Washington Nationals today. General Manager Jim Bowden said, "It was evident to me that Manny has a tremendous blend of intellect, motivational skills and discipline." That combination of attributes would seem to make him an ideal candidate for the position. See MLB.com or Washington Post. The fact that Acta worked under Frank Robinson in Montreal is an additional plus. That makes me wonder, is there any chance that Frank will be asked to serve in a semi-official transitional capacity between now and spring training?

I'm familiar with a lot of Spanish surnames, but I've never heard of the Acta family before. I did once purchase an outliner software program called "Acta," however.

I really think this marks the first major landmark of the Washington Nationals as a truly independent, competitive franchise. Until the sale was completed in June, all personnel decisions were constrained by the lack of a solid long-term commitment. The trading decisions in July and since then were mainly of a short-term, maintenance character. Now the Nationals are moving ahead with a clear plan of action and the means to put together a winning team. Look out Mets, here we come! (OK, maybe not until 2008, but we're on our way!)

Bare bones parking option

Mayor-elect Adrian Fenty is pushing the City Council to pass a scaled-down stadium parking plan. Instead of the fancy retail/high-rise complex outgoing Mayor Tony Williams wanted, Fenty wants to build two plan garages north of the stadium. Time is of the essence if the city is to finish the stipulated parking facilities by April 2008, but there are sharply different estimates on how much the fine would be. Herbert Miller, who was going to build the cancelled mixed-use project, is suing the city for $40 million, alleging breach of contract. See Washington Post. For many fans in Maryland and Virginia, it will be easier to get to the stadium from the south, crossing the Frederick Douglass Bridge which spans the Anacostia River. It is aging rapidly, however, as is Route 295 that connects with the Beltway further south. I expect there to be a lot of heated debate on rebuilding those road connections in the next five or so years.


November 14, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Martinez to head RNC

Sen. Mel Martinez, of Florida, will replace Ken Mehlman as Republican National Committee Chairman in January. He is a Cuban-American who is on good terms with President Bush. He will continue to serve in the Senate while carrying out the duties on behalf of the party. Can he really fulfill both functions? The Washington Post notes that he was involved with the Elian Gonzalez and Terri Schiavo controversies. Oddly, there is no official announcement yet at gopusa.com.

Although it is too bad that Maryland's Michael Steele did not get the job, this comes as welcome news for those of us who want to broaden the Republican Party's base of support to include Latino voters. Immigration reform remains the big stumbling block, however. With the Democrats poised to take power, the likelihood of honest, comprehensive immigration reform -- or indeed any serious reform -- has diminished considerably. As they go ahead with their pledge to raise the minimum wage by two dollars an hour, they need illegal workers to do the jobs that no employers will pay the minimum wage for.

Griffin to leave RPV

Kate Obenshain Griffin has agreed to take the position of chief of staff in Sen. George Allen's office for the last two months of his term, a graceful way for her to step down as Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia. Ms. Griffin has appeared on national television and is an articulate spokesperson for the party. Her departure is an appropriate gesture of accountability in light of the electoral defeat of Sen. Allen, and the miserable state of intra-party relations in the Old Dominion. (Republicans in the State Senate are at loggerheads with Republicans in the House of Delegates.) Oddly, there is no official announcement yet at rpv.org.

Barone on political prospects

Michael Barone looks forward to Washington politics in the wake of the "thumpin" that Bush received last week. "House Republicans, with little chance to affect outcomes, will be mostly ignored, as House Democrats were under Clinton." (Link via Instapundit.) Generally speaking, political landscape has been fairly evenly divided between the two parties in recent years, in spite of determined efforts by Presidents Clinton and Bush to achieve hegemony. In both cases, the attempt backfired, and the presidents were bewildered that their opponents reviled them so much.

For a dozen years, our politics has been bitterly polarized, dominated by two baby boomer presidents who happen to have personal characteristics that people on the other side of the cultural divide absolutely loathe. Clinton in 1992 and Bush in 2000 both made genuine efforts to run as unifiers, but once in office proved to be dividers.

Ironic, indeed. It's an example of the rule that those who possess power seldom comprehend how much envy and resentment is directed at them by those who lack power. Hence all the anti-imperialist spasms in the Third World, by Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, et al. As the debates in Washington over the war, the budget, and other policy issues proceeds, Barone expects that presidential campaign politics will be largely separate from all that.


November 16, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Jack Murphy Stadium

Jack Murphy Stadium The diagrams on the Jack Murphy Stadium page have been revised, earlier than previously scheduled. The reason is that I was informed by Ed Early that the upper decks of Jack Murphy Stadium originally extended much further toward the northeast (right field) than had been indicated on the previous 1969 diagram version. Another visitor to this site once told me the same thing, but I didn't know of any evidence contrary to what was implied in Phil Lowry's Green Cathedrals. (I just peeked at the new edition for the first time.) "After further review" of various photographs, it turns out that the expansion of the two wings of the upper decks in 1984 was relatively minor in scale. Ed provided me with lots of details on the ongoing efforts by the Chargers to build a new football stadium, which would almost certainly not be within the San Diego city limits, because recent scandals there have poisoned the atmosphere for public funding. He also explained why they can't lower the playing field at QualComm Field so as to increase the number of seats with good sight lines for football games: The stadium rests in a former river basin, and any excavation would come dangerously close to the water table.

Cisco Field images

Artists' renderings of the Oakland Athletics' planned future ballpark in Fremont, along with a boatland of Fun Facts, and a letter from the owner, Lew Wolff, can be seen at MLB.com. They've obviously put a huge amount of effort into "selling" this project.

Parking plan passes

The D.C. Council approved the scaled-down parking garage proposal on Tuesday night. It's looking more like they may have the new stadium ready to go by April 2008 after all. [See Washington Post.]


UPDATES:

Whither Alfonso Soriano?

Alfonso Soriano made a courtesy telephone call to Manny Acta last week, but the fact that they both come from the Dominican Republic doesn't mean there is any more chance Soriano will return to the Nationals next year. (See MLB.com.) On the other hand, both the team's front office and its biggest star may just be playing coy, secretly hoping that the often-rocky romance will continue... If as rumored Soriano signs with the Phillies, whose home at Citizens Bank Park is a slugger's paradise, I predict he will hit at least 60 home runs next year, and possibly 70.

Whither Daisuke Matsuzaka?

What in the world can explain the enormous $51.1 million bid by the Red Sox for Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka? Bob DuPuy said he was "not concerned that the package would knock baseball's delicate economic and competitive balance out of whack." (See MLB.com.) David Pinto plays down the rumors that the Bosox are negotiating in bad faith, just to spite the Yankees. He does "agree with the speculation that Boston is using this money to buy into the Japanese market." That's what's bound to happen as our "national pastime" becomes ever-more globalized.

Twins ballpark blog

Bruce Orser brought to my attention a new blog, twinsballpark2010.com, which scorns the use of "fake history" in designing baseball stadiums. Agreed.


November 16, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Back to school in Oaxaca

It would appear that life is gradually returning to normal in Oaxaca, as most students are returning to school after a teachers' strike that lasted several months. See CNN.com. I just hope that the specter of full-blown civil strife spooked the leftist opposition into facing reality and opting for peaceful means of political change.


November 16, 2006 [LINK / comment]

More conservative laments

So Trent Lott is really going to be the next Minority Whip? Has he really learned since that gaffe praising Strom Thurmond four years ago? Somehow, I doubt it. Robert Novak is also very upset with keeping the same GOP leadership, noting that "For good reason, the GOP often is called 'the stupid party.'" He takes particular criticism of Virginia's ambitious young Rep. Eric Cantor, who ought to know better than to "stay the course" in the wake of a historic defeat:

Bright and able though he is, Cantor has drunk the Kool-Aid in viewing the Republican Party as a private club where personal loyalties must transcend all else.

Novak is among the best-informed pundits in Washington, and while his opinions are often a little on the strident side, his observations are usually pretty accurate. I think he hit the bullseye with this one.

On the general theme of policy and philosophical position versus party loyalty, I have to agree with what Andrew Sullivan wrote:

in most periods, this finessing between party and principle is a difficult task. But today, when the GOP has abandoned the most basic conservative principles, it's impossible.

But do you think very many Republicans are actually engaging in thoughtful debate over what direction to take in coming years? Not from what I've seen. Along the same lines, Sullivan writes, "

There is something deeply Orwellian about the current state of the right. If you ask them what they're for, you tend to get platitudes. But ask them what they're against and their eyes and keyboards light up

More RPV resignations

Shawn Smith, executive director of Republican Party of Virginia, will be leaving his post. Former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie is rumored to be the next chairman of the RPF, replacing Kate Obenshain Griffin. Will the change of personnel matter?

Much-needed chuckles

Guns n Butter: "Dems divided: Is Bush anti-Christ or bumbling oaf?"


November 28, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Late fall birds in South Dakota

I just got back from an extended Thanksgiving visit to see my family in South Dakota, and the weather was surprisingly mild for most of the time. I even managed to get in a couple rounds of golf on days when the temps reached the 60s, while the Eastern Seaboard was getting soaked. Ha! Here are the birds of note I saw during the various outdoor excursions I made with my father, brothers, and nieces:

    Various places

  • Red-tailed hawks
  • Robins (surprisingly common)
  • Juncos
  • Harriers
  • Kestrels
  • Goldfinches
  • White-breasted nuthatches
  • Black-capped chickadees
  • Gavins Point Dam *

  • Pied-bill grebes (5+)
  • Coots (100+)
  • Redheads (FOS, 8+)
  • Common goldeneyes (FOS, 5+)
  • Wigeons (FOS, 5+)
  • Buffleheads (FOS, 5+)
  • Ring-billed gulls (8+)
  • Green-winged teals (10+, prob.)
  • Bald eagle
  • Other specific places

  • Red-bellied woodpecker -- Mulberry Bend, NE
  • Sharp-shinned hawk -- Mulberry Bend, NE
  • Tree sparrow (FOS) -- Bluffs golf course
  • Cooper's hawk -- Bluffs golf course
  • Cedar waxwings -- Bluffs golf course
  • Flicker -- E of St. James, NE
  • Hairy woodpecker -- Crawford Road ravine **
  • Brown creeper (FOS) -- Crawford Road ravine **
  • Snow geese (FOS; 10,000+, incl. Blue morph) -- Silver Lake, Freeman
  • Horned larks (FOS)-- Silver Lake, Freeman
  • Short-eared owl?? -- S of Freeman

The Snow geese I saw at Silver Lake were truly spectacular, like what you see on those CBS Sunday Morning nature scenes. They were interspersed with many ducks, but they were too far away to identify. Several of the birds listed above were the first sightings of the season for me, but since they are in another part of the country, they don't really count for that purpose.

* For information on the Gavins Point Dam, see the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Web site, or else lewisandclarktrail.com.

** In the November election, voters in Vermillion approved a referendum to extend Crawford Road through a ravine to the road leading out of town on the southeast side. For residents on the east side of town, it would save one or two miles, and I think it's long overdue. A group organized to stop the project, however, citing the value of the woods as a nature preserve. They suggested building a bicycle / nature trail, which would have been a good idea ten or twenty years ago. Such a last-minute proposal gave me the impression that it was little more than typical "NIMBY" sentiment.


November 29, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Old Minnesota ballparks

While in South Dakota last week, I found a new book in the local library: Baseball in Minnesota: The Definitive History, by Stew Thornley. It has a number of fine old photos of The Met, Nicollet Park, Lexington Park, and other old ballparks in the Twin Cities. Most of it is devoted to retelling the ups and downs of various minor league teams from the mid-19th Century on, and about the deal-making involved in building new stadiums. For example, when Hubert H. Humphrey was mayor of Minneapolis in 1948, he came out strongly in favor of a new publicly-financed baseball stadium. It is fascinating to read about how the rivalry between Minneapolis and St. Paul undermined the effort to bring a major league team to Minnesota. In 1954, St. Paul had already committed to building a stadium that was explicitly designed to be expanded with a second deck for major league use. "Midway Stadium" (home of the St. Paul Saints) was not finished until 1957; it had a single deck with no roof, much like Colt Stadium. This is what spurred Minneapolis leaders to hastily get a new stadium built on their side of the Mississippi River, although the Bloomington site they eventually chose was less than satisfactory. Metropolitan Stadium was home of the Minneapolis Millers for five years, before the Senators/Twins arrived. As the ill-fated Continental League was getting organized in 1959, St. Paul leaders circulated a petition demanding that half of any games in the Twin Cities area should be played at Midway Stadium. Just think: two stadiums built "on speculation" almost simultaneously! (By way of comparison, the author claims that County Stadium in Milwaukee was built without the intention of attracting a major league team, but I'm a little dubious of that.) The book also details the escape clause in the Metrodome lease agreement, under which the Twins could leave if annual attendance was below 1.4 million. To prevent that from happening, local businesses bought many thousands of tickets for "phantom fans." On May 16, 1984, paid attendance was 51,863, but the turnstile count was only 8,700 or so. Those were the bleak circumstances that led Calvin Griffith to sell the Twins to Carol Pohlad the very next month. Things improved quickly after that...

Adios Alfonso; (We hardly knew ya)

The Nationals had offered in the neighborhood of $10 million a year to Alfonso Soriano, and last week he signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs by which he will get paid nearly twice that: $136 million over eight years. S-weet! No one was surprised that Soriano signed with another team, but I was caught off guard by the team that won in the bidding frenzy. The Phillies were rumored to be the most likely destination; is it possible that Soriano was looking for a team whose ballpark has homer-friendly dimensions? Anyway, very best wishes to a real superstar who brought excitement to an otherwise glum year of baseball in Washington -- even though he didn't play in either of the games I saw! I certainly hope that the Cubs get their money's worth from this deal, as they sure need a break. Fred Claire analyzes the market trends for high-value free agent players at MLB.com. Clearly, things have changed since Charley Finley's stubborness unleashed the free market era.

Speaking of which, Thomas Boswell sees the Soriano deal, the $51 million bid by the Red Sox for Daisuke Matsuzaka, and the signing of Manny Acta to be the Nationals' new manager as part of the same scramble to compete in the newly globalized marketplace that baseball has become. Frankly, I'm dubious of any such speculative bidding wars. What did the Rangers ever get for the $100+ million they paid for Alex Rodriguez?

The mail bag

By amazing coincidence, Bruce Orser came across a Web page full of old photos of some of the same ballparks as in the book cited above, as well as artists' conceptions of the future home of the Twins. See: edinarealty.com.

Mike Sommer pointed out that the 1937 version Yankee Stadium diagram is not quite right because only one of the three monuments was built prior to then. "The Huggins monument went up in 1932, the Gehrig in 1941 and the Ruth in 1949." True, but my diagrams are intended to represent the entire historical period in question (in this case, 1937-1973), which may or may not be the same as the "labeled" year. See the FAQs for more.

I've got several more e-mails to catch up on, and more diagrams to finalize. Thanks for your patience!


November 30, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Bronx construction goes ahead

The last (?) legal challenge to the future Yankee Stadium has ended, thanks to a federal judge who dismissed a lawsuit filed by Save Our Parks and the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality. See USA Today. So, the Yankees can proceed full steam ahead, and you can see a photo of the construction site at: villagevoice.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. Seeing the project actually getting underway next to the House that Ruth Built brings on a melancholy mood...

Another Miami stadium site?

Officials in Miami have proposed yet another possible site for a new ballpark for the Marlins, who will be evicted from Dolphins Stadium after the 2010 season. It would be on the west edge of downtown Miami north of the Clark Government Center. The advantages are that the land is already owned by the government, and it has excellent parking and transportation access. The main obstacle is that a new juvenile courthouse had already been planned for that site, so an alternative site for that would have to be found first. See Miami Herald; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. The other prospective downtown stadium site is several blocks to the northeast, next to the American Airlines Arena.

Naming the stadium in D.C.

The Washington Nationals are expected to choose the L.A. advisory firm Wasserman Media to auction the stadium naming rights, which may bring as much as $6 million a year to the team. Capital One, GEICO, and XM Radio are among the leading candidates. Ugh. See Washington Post. In a fairer world, the D.C. government would get the prerogative to name the stadium, since it's bearing the entire financial burden. Apparently, the idea that a sports palace in Our Nation's Capital should have a name befitting due dignity and public purpose has not occurred to anyone in the team's front office, or to leaders in Congress. "Show me the money" indeed. Let's just hope the new stadium makes ample room for the Common People, and doesn't become an exclusive playpen for sleazy lobbyists and government contractors, like a casino or a whorehouse.


November 30, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Correa wins big in Ecuador

Ecuador flag Leftist candidate Rafael Correa easily won the second round presidential election in Ecuador, with a two-to-one margin over the wealthy conservative populist Alvaro Noboa. Correa has promised sweeping reforms, but he would need a majority in congress, which is fractured among several political parties, making compromise extremely difficult. He dismisses the country's political establishment as a "partidocracia," alienating the very people whose support he needs. See CNN.com. Correa's derisive attitude toward political parties is perhaps understandable given Ecuador's history, but anyone familiar with how politics works know that the only alternative is a direct democracy based on mass mobilization, in which minority interests would get trampled upon. If Correa is serious about his agenda, he must be contemplating some kind of emergency decree powers along the lines of other presidents in Latin American countries, such as Peru's Fujimori or Venezuela's Chavez. From what I've seen of him, I just don't think he is up to it.

It is worth noting that only four years ago, the Ecuadoran people elected another political outsider who promised radical reforms: retired Col. Luis Gutierrez. To the surprise of many people, he become moderate and pragmatic after his inauguration, and built friendly ties with the United States. This turnabout was one of the main reasons why the people turned against him and forced him out of office in April 2005.

Legislative chaos in Mexico

As preparations for tomorrow's inauguration of Felipe Calderon are finalized, leftist opposition legislators have registered their protest of alleged electoral fraud by shutting down Congress. The have camped out in the legislative chambers, vowing to prevent the swearing-in ceremony from taking place in the traditional site. The fierce rejectionist attitude of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, in spite of the lack of any significant support from international election monitoring organizations, is a truly frightening gesture that undermines democracy in Mexico. See CNN.com.


November 30, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Webb: mean streak, hot head

The United States Senate is regarded as "the greatest deliberative body on Earth," and is renowned as a forum in which differences of opinion can be expressed in a polite way. Consensus is the supreme value, which is why there are so many procedural rules requiring a supermajority (usually 60 out of 100 votes) to pass a given measure. Dignified statesmen of both parties have thrived here, from Everett Dirksen and John Warner on the Republican side, to Sam Ervin and Pat Moynihan on the Democratic side. The norm of mutual respect has been sorely tested by the raging fires of partisanship in recent years, however, and come January it will be put under even more stress as Virginia's new senator Jim "Born Fighting" Webb is sworn in. At a reception for new senators at the White House last week, Webb rudely rebuffed a friendly greeting from President Bush. The Washington Post story on that incident raises big doubts about the hot-tempered Webb's fitness to serve in the U.S. Senate. What's more, the prolific author has made a series of statements on the war and other policy issues that are breathtakingly hyperbolic, if not false. George Will noted in his column today, Webb "has become a pompous poseur and abuser of the English language before actually becoming a senator." I have a feeling many Virginians are going to regret sending this guy to Washington, replacing George Allen. As our nation strives to overcome the daunting challenge of the difficult war in Iraq, we need senators and representatives who are committed to national unity, not a bunch of prima donnas with chips on their shoulders.

Ironically, Webb defeated Allen in Buchanan County, on the border with Kentucky where Allen made his infamous "macaca" gaffe back in August, "welcoming" Webb campaign aide S.R. Sidarth to America and the "real world of Virginia." Allen won in nearly all of the other counties outside of metropolitan areas.


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