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November 2007
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November 1, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Turbulent times in Yankeeland

The selection of Joe Girardi as the Yankees' new manager makes a lot of sense, given his past work with the team as a player and a coach, as well as his success while managing the Florida Marlins. He will wear the No. 27 jersey, hoping the Yankees will win the World Series for the 27th time. General Manager Brian Cashman said Girardi met the primary criterion of understanding the complexity of the Yankees'situation, whatever that means. See MLB.com.

Andy Petitte says he wants to stay with the Yankees, which is where he belongs, of course. No word yet from his buddy Roger. See MLB.com.

Alex Rodriguez caught some criticism for letting the world know he was available while the World Series was still on. I guess future Hall of Famers think they don't have to follow the same rules of etiquette as mere mortals.

Torre to manage Dodgers

Meanwhile, Joe Torre signed a three-year contract to manage the Dodgers, taking a pay cut for the sake of pride. And why the hell not? Every baseball fan on Earth ought to wish him all the luck in the world. See MLB.com. Maybe he will replace the aging Bobby Cox and rejoin the Braves, for whom he used to play catcher.

Green grass in D.C.

On WUSA TV-9 this evening, I saw a brief time-elapse clip of the grass sod being installed at the new baseball stadium in Washington. What a delight! I knew they were almost finished with the structure, but I was surprised they were ready to prepare the field itself.

The mail bag

Now that the World Series is over, it's time to get caught up with my e-mail. (Yeah, right...)

Athletics' owner Lew Wolff says there is no way his team will stay in Oakland, as he moves ahead with plans to build a new high-tech ballpark in Fremont. I still cringe at the mini-relocation planned for 2012, but at least his rationale of not wanting cities to bid against each other makes sense. At ESPN, Mark Kreidler expresses the view that, from the very beginning, the A's and the Coliseum were never a very good match; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.

Also from Mike: The Red Sox are putting a new restaurant under the center field bleachers at Fenway Park, to be called "The Bleacher Bar." Further renovations are urgently needed: "The club with the most expensive ticket prices, on average, in the majors has old, wooden grandstand seats that, if left at a Goodwill box, likely would not be accepted." The good news is that the Red Sox are committed to doing the necessary upkeep so that Fenway will remain their home for at least another generation. See Boston Globe.

Brian Hughes noticed that ESPN was covering a bowling tournament in -- of all places -- Miller Park! No, Brian, I have no intention of adding a bowling-alley version diagram of Miller Park.


November 1, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Student protest in Venezuela

Thousands of students marched in Caracas, Venezuela, to protest Hugo Chavez's proposed constitutional changes that would, among other things, abolish term limits and allow him to stay in power forever. Army soldiers were called in to disperse them, using tear gas and water cannons. It is the biggest escalation of violence in that country in The rubber-stamp assembly passed all the measures recently, and if voters approve them in a December referendum, the dictatorship will be firmly entrenched, with the blessing of the people. See BBC. Well, what did they expect? It won't take long before all those starry-eyed leftists realize that they've been had by a vainglorious dictator who cares nothing for what anyone else thinks.

Mexican irrendentism

Anti-immigrant activists often warn that immigrant rights groups such as "Mexicans Without Borders" are really pursuing a much bolder long-term agenda: recovering the territories lost to the United States in the 1848 Mexican-American War. That is made quite explicit by The Unapologetic Mexican blog, which I found thanks to "Zen" at Daily Whack Job. (How do you say "Yikes!" in Spanish?)


November 1, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Baby Whack Job!

Congratulations to Myron "Republitarian" and Megan "Whackette" of the Daily Whack Job on the birth of their new baby boy Gregory Isaac Rhodes. I noticed that some of those folks have been paying more attention to recent political events down in these parts.


November 2, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Mukasey nears confirmation

As the 2007 election in Virginia approaches, it's time to get caught up on sundry political matters:

Now that the very partisan senators Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein said that they will vote in favor of Michael Mukasey as the next attorney general, his confirmation is assured. See Washington Post. Mukasey was originally presumed to be a cinch for the nomination, but then he raised hackles by declining to state a legal opinion on the "waterboarding" method of interrogating terrorist suspects. Andrew Sullivan, who has been railing against the Bush administrations' use of harsh interrogation methods for many months, rued the Democrats for being "spineless." From what I can tell, Mukasey's demurral about whether "waterboarding" is legal or not was appropriate, because the law is not clear. If Congress believes that such a practice is illegal, all it has to do is pass a law against it.

Stewart is cleared

A special prosecutor has determined that there was no violation of the law by Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, who had sent a mailer informing residents of a meeting in October about the immigration issue. It could be construed as a campaign statement since he is a candidate, but it was ruled that the matter is of general public interest. Indeed it is. See BVBL.

GOP "horse race"

Sam Brownback pulled out of the presidential race last week, so I have removed him from my list of GOP 2008 candidates. Also, I've been impressed with some of what Ron Paul has been saying, so I moved him ahead of Mitt Romney, who now occupies last place. Even though the primaries are only a couple months away, or perhaps even sooner, depending on what states like New Hampshire do, I still have a hard time focusing on those silly "debates."

Shifflett endorsement

To my surprise, Jeremy Shifflett, candidate for the Augusta County Board of Supervisors from Beverley Manor, was given a "rather lukewarm endorsement" by the News Leader today. The editorial board members were miffed that Shifflett passed up the opportunity to meet with them, but they feel that he has a much stronger connection to local issues than his opponent Lee Godfrey, a relatively recent arrival.

Virginia legislature

Since I have started to pay more attention to state-level politics in recent months, I added a table showing the leaders of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates on the Politics blog page. The Republicans may lose two or three Senate and Delegate seats in Northern Virginia, but unless there is a widespread last-minute defection, it looks like they will cling to a thin majority in Richmond.


November 3, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Blog archive fixup

I have finally gotten around to reorganizing the Blog archive pages for the years beginning in 2005. For each category, only one month at a time is loaded, thus saving bandwidth and precious time. See the Central archives (search) page. I may get around to doing likewise with the pre-2005 blog archives in the next few weeks.

Comet still there

I checked last night, and Comet Holmes still glowing brightly enough to see with the naked eye.


November 5, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Huge flood in Mexico

Heavy rains have created the biggest flood in Mexico in many decades, and the dislocation of humanity is comparable in scale to that caused by Hurricane Katrina two years ago. The reported death toll is light so far, fewer than ten, but about 300,000 people remain trapped in their homes awaiting rescue. The city of Villahermosa in the state of Tabasco is almost entirely submerged, creating a huge health hazard. Mass hunger and thirst are creating severe social tensions, putting the government of president Felipe Gonzalez under heavy pressure. Villahermosa is one of the main centers of Mexico's petroleum industry, and the flood has crippled Mexico's oil output. See BBC

I spent a couple days in Villahermosa during my first trip to Mexico in 1985, with my friend Joe Cash. It was a staging area for a day trip we took to the Mayan ruins at Palenque, in the state of Chiapas near the border with Guatemala.


November 5, 2007 [LINK / comment]

"Auto-coup" in Pakistan

To a Western person, the idea of a military leader declaring emergency rule and suspending the constitution seems a little strange. (Doesn't he already have the power?) But that's precisely what Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf did on Saturday, in effect launching a "coup" against the other branches of government. (It's basically the same thing that Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori did in April 1992: the "auto-golpe." Musharraf defended his actions on the grounds that the Islamic extremists were getting out of control, but most of the people who are protesting against him are middle class lawyers and other professionals. See BBC.

President Bush and other administration officials have condemned Musharraf's takeover, urging a quick return to democratic constitutional rule, but their opinions are not likely to sway him very much. Musharraf sees himself caught between a rock and a hard place, and his choice to use brute force may backfire badly if Pakistan's armed forces get bogged down in the strife between political factions. Pakistan has seldom enjoyed much stability or progress in its 60-year history, lagging well behind its bigger neighbor India in several respects. If the government fails to restore order soon, it will call into question the (tacit) reason why many countries are trying to acquire nukes: It supposed makes the incumbent government look much stronger. But this added prestige tends to wear off quickly.

What should the U.S. government do about the situation in Pakistan? For the time being, not very much. If we cut back on foreign aid to Pakistan, Musharraf's moderate government would probably fall very quickly. (Forget Sen. Barack Obama's idea of sending troops into Pakistan.) U.S. diplomatic leverage has declined in recent years, and if we try but fail to pressure President Musharraf to make substantial concessions, we will lose prestige. What is called for in a situation like this is slow, steady pressure.

Poor Condi Rice

The possible breakdown of order in a nuclear-armed country that has long been one of our allies (even if not a very reliable once) raises questions about the Bush administration's overly idealistic and sentimental approach to foreign policy. (When is the last time you heard a top official speaking candidly about U.S. national interests? In the Post Sunday Outlook section, Fred Kaplan digs into the tragic failure of Condoloeeza Rice's tenure as Secretary of State. He concludes that Condi got caught up in the post-9/11 frenzy and abandoned her realist intellectual roots. That is a syndrome I can identify with, I'm sorry to say.

Illegal alien driver licenses

That's what New York Attorney General Elliott Spitzer wants, and apparently Hillary Clinton agrees. The argument is that giving driver licenses to illegal aliens would help the federal government keep tabs on people who are currently living underground. See FOXNews.com. Well, that is certainly a pragmatic step forward, but will ultimately be futile unless complementary reform programs are enacted. But the short-term political advantages pale in comparison to the savings that could be realized if entitlements programs were radically scaled back, which would dry up demand for illegal laborers.

Voters to Stop Sprawl - Prince William County has endorsed Corey Stewart for reelection, but the low traffic numbers on their Web page make one wonder how influential that group is. In any case, it illustrates the connection between uncontrolled immigration and uncontrolled suburban sprawl. "Green" activists should favor getting a handle on the immigration situation in this country.

Sunday's Washington Post explained why the protests by the "immigrant rights" activists in Prince William County backfired: "Clash of Cultures," in which the Latino side unwittingly frightened native-born Americans half to death with their intimidating tactics. I think exposure to other cultures and social customs is a very healthy thing, in most cases, but I'm pretty sure that most Americans don't want our country to follow in the political footsteps of often-unstable Latin American countries such as Colombia or Argentna.


November 6, 2007 [LINK / comment]

The 24th District Senate race

As the folks at Daily Whack Job recently said, the campaign for the 24th District Senate seat currently held by Emmett Hanger has been quite anti-climactic compared to the bruising primary battle between Hanger and Scott Sayre. That is only because Senator Hanger has campaigned in a very cautious, low-key way this fall, striving above all to avoid doing anything that might provoke defections by those who voted for Sayre to the Libertarian candidate Arin Sime. It's also because Hanger's supporters have been biting their lips about the recent behind-the-scenes maneuvers of the folks who tried so hard to unseat Hanger in the primary campaign. Yes, sports fans, the Hanger-vs.-Sayre battle rages on five months after we thought the issue had been decided. Day after day we see TV news reports and articles in the local papers that simply do not seem to grasp the situation. Well, they'll figure things out before long, I suppose.

As for the election, most people assume that Hanger will end up on top, but his margin of victory won't be as big as it would have been if he had campaigned more actively. That's just Emmett's style as an "un-politician." It's too bad, as it may detract from Senator Hanger's perceived influence when the General Assembly convenes in Richmond in January. In a two-way race, Hanger would expect to get 60% or more of the vote, but in this three-way race, he will be lucky to get 45%. The late-campaign surge of advertising by David Cox and Arin Sime may close the gap, but since neither one seems to have generated much more momentum than the other, they will probaly finish within ten percent of each other in the final vote tally. Cox's slogan of "Because he'll actually do something" comes across to me as a little sarcastic. The Dems need to come up with a serious alternative budget, or else pay attention to smarter campaign consultants. If Sime can get at least 25% of the vote, he may just earn a reputation as a serious figure in Virginia politics.


Election Day update: Br-r-r-r!

I spent all morning and part of the afternoon working the polls for the GOP, but turnout here in Staunton has been low because there is only one contested race. A cold front came through last night, and as the wind picked up, it became very uncomfortable standing outside. I was surprised by the absence of Democratic poll workers, and by the presence of poll workers for Arin Sime, the Libertarian candidate. It just so happened that Mr. Sime and his wife Lauren showed up at the first polling station where I worked this morning, the National Guard Armory. It was the first time I had met him, and he impressed me for being courteous and intelligent. Then after I left for a quick lunch break they showed up at the second polling station, R.E. Lee High School. It was like he was following me around or something! At both places I had a chance to talk to the candidate and his supporters, who are friendly and thoughtful. We chatted about property rights, eminent domain, rural conservation, and about pornography, which has grabbed people's attention here in Staunton lately. (The Libertarian solution? Don't buy it!) We agreed that if Scott Sayre had won the GOP primary in June, the Democratic candidate would have had a better chance to win the general election, since many of Sayre's supporters identify with Sime's position. I told Arin he would be a strong second preference for me, since there are several important issues on which Republicans and Libertarians see eye to eye, but that if he ended up causing Cox to win this election, I would wring his neck!

Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend the victory celebration of the Augusta County Republicans tonight because my lovely wife and I bought tickets to The Police concert, at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville.

Arin Sime, Andrew

Arin Sime, candidate for the 24th district senate seat, and yours truly in front of R.E. Lee High School. Senator Hanger called me later in the afternoon to see how things were going, and I told him I hoped he wouldn't take offense by having this photo taken.


November 7, 2007 [LINK / comment]

The Police raid Charlottesville

Last night's Police concert in Charlottesville was simply wonderful. The Police Tour started in Europe earlier this year, then came to America and passed through Washington on Monday night. Next they will head south, eventually toward Mexico, South America, New Zealand and Australia. Jacqueline and I had great seats within fairly close range of the right side of the stage. It was the first time I had been inside John Paul Jones Arena, which was voted (by whom?) the best new concert venue of 2006. Of course, we bought T-shirts and the new double-CD compilation entitled simply The Police. First was the opening act by FictionPlane, a trio that sounded like U2 or The Police that was actually very good. (During intermission I made a quick phone call to Verona, whereupon I learned that Emmett Hanger had won the state senate race in a landslide, and that two of the four Republicans in contested races for the Board of Supervisors had won as well. ) Then the Main Act walked onto the stage: Sting (bass, vocals), Andy Summers (guitar), and Stewart Copeland (drums). They opened with "Message in a Bottle," one of their old classics, and followed that with "Synchronicity II," a haunting song with eclectic blend of rock and other styles. Those are two of my favorites, and put a big smile on my face for the rest of the evening. There were no side musicians or recorded effects during the show: Those three guys did it all, and did it well. Of course, "Every Breath You Take" was part of the encore. About the only big hit that was missing was "Spirits in the Material World," but they did a few other songs from that album [Ghost In the Machine].

After the final bow, Stewart Copeland came back on the stage to tell everybody that he comes from Virginia, which drew loud cheers. I'll have more to say about the concert later this evening, including a provisional song list, and possibly a photo.


UPDATE: The three veteran musicians performed with the requisite youthful vigor, and Sting seems not to have aged at all. Stewart Copeland still looks like a rock star, while Andy Summers could stand to lose a few pounds. Summers only switched guitars once or twice, whereas Copeland shifted back and forth among different percussion / chime sets. Those various drums and bells really are a key part of the trademark Police sound. Sting's bass guitar was really beat up, almost reminding me of Willie Nelson's acoustic guitar. Some songs could have used a piano or keyboard, or even a horn back-up, but the simple approach they chose worked quite well overall.

Concert song list:*

  • Message in a Bottle
  • Synchronicity II
  • Driven to Tears
  • Don't Stand So Close To Me
  • Voices Inside My Head
  • Roxanne
  • Wrapped Around Your Finger
  • Invisible Sun
  • Walking In Your Footsteps
  • De Doo Doo Doo, De Da Da Da
  • Regatta de Blanc
  • Demolition Man
  • Every Breath You Take
  • Can't Stand Losing You

* Subject to revision, and probably incomplete.


November 7, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Democrats win Virginia Senate

Most of the close Senate races went the Democrats way, so they will control the Virginia Senate when the General Assembly opens in January. Governor Kaine will no doubt claim credit for securing a 21-19 majority, and perhaps some of that is justified. In the 1st District (Tidewater), Tricia Stall lost to John Miller after ousting incumbent (and alleged "RINO") Martin Williams in the June primaries, while in the 22nd District (Highlands/New River) Ralph Smith won a narrow victory after defeating Brandon Bell ("RINO") in the primary. Another "RINO," Walter Stosch, likewise had to overcome a stiff primary battle but faced no serious opposition in the general election. It was no surprise that Jeannemarie Devolites Davis lost her bid for reelection, even though her husband Rep. Thomas Davis spent hundreds of thousands of his own campaign money on her behalf, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed her, a very unusual gesture of out-of-state support. In spite of much criticism and legal controversy surrounding the primary campaign, Jill Holtzman Vogel (27th District: Winchester, Loudoun) won the seat that has been held by retiring Sen. Russ Potts, an undisputed "RINO." The real surprises that ended up tipping the balance were in the 6th District (Tidewater), where Ralph Northam defeated Nick Rerras, and in the 39th District (N. Virginia), where George Barker defeated Jay O'Brien; both losing candidates were incumbent Republicans. See Washington Post.

One of the biggest exceptions to the adverse (to the Republicans) statewide trend was right here in the Shenandoah Valley. Emmett Hanger won in a landslide, receiving nearly two-thirds of the vote against two opponents, even after surviving a challenge from Scott Sayre in the June primary. I had expected Hanger to get about 45% of the vote, figuring that the Democrats would be working hard to get their voters to the polls, and that Arin Sime would attract votes from many of those who voted for Sayre in the primaries. I was clearly wrong on both counts: The Democrats were conspicuous by their absence on Election Day, and Sime just couldn't get many voters to switch party allegiance. Whether that says more about the respect and affection most voters have for Emmett Hanger, or about the degree of party loyalty in the 24th senate district, remains to be seen. But it clearly shows that Hanger has strong enough backing among his own constituents to qualify as a leader in Richmond. It's just too bad that the Republicans lost their senate majority, thereby depriving Sen. Hanger of his committee chairmanships.

Stewart wins in PWC

In Prince William County, board chairman Corey Stewart (GOP) defeated Sharon Pandak by a 55%-45% margin, a vindication for his strong stand against illegal immigration. That election result is heartening for me, but I just hope that Stewart and his colleagues keep focused on implementing policy issues and try to avoid getting emotions stirred up.

Augusta area GOP holds on

In local races around this area, Republicans did fairly well overall. Of the four contested seats on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, Republicans won two: In North River, incumbent Larry Howdyshell narrowly withstood a challenge by Charles Curry, while in Beverley Manor, novice Jeremy Shifflett prevailed over Lee Godfrey by 16 votes. Republican incumbent David Beyeler of South River ran unopposed, as did Gerald Garber of Middle River. He will replace Kay Frye in that seat. Mrs. Frye, a conservation-minded Republican, surprised some people by writing a letter endorsing her party's opponents in each of the four contested seats. That was primarily motivated by her displeasure over the way the "mega-site" study was handled by the Board last year.

There was no drama among the races for constitutional offices in Augusta County, as only one of the four GOP incumbents faced real opposition. Ed Carter had placed several newspaper ads criticizing Sheriff Randy Fisher, but he only receieved 222 write-in votes, about 2%.

For me, it was a pleasure helping out with the county elected officials and new candidates during this fall's campaign. After the hard battles earlier this year, the party needs to rebuild communications among members in various jurisdictions, concentrating first and foremost on getting Republicans elected. I intend to post the election results on the Augusta Republicans Web site in the next day or two.


November 8, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Peru-U.S. free trade advances

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Peru-U.S. free trade agreement by a vote of 285-132 today, as many Democrats joined the Republicans. According to the Washington Post, "The accord with Peru would eliminate duties immediately on some 80 percent of U.S. industrial exports and two-thirds of farm exports. It could increase American exports by $1 billion a year." This was a gratifying gesture of friendship to Latin America at a time when antipathy toward immigrants by some Americans is stirring up resentment toward the U.S. in some countries. Indeed, anyone who is concerned about illegal immigration in this country should be happy that we are taking measures that will reduce the incentive for people to cross our border illegally in search of work. Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) argued in favor of free trade, saying that "Latin America is at a crossroads." Either we work to enhance economic opportunities for Latin American people, or the influence of Hugo Chavez becomes stronger. Of the Democrats who voted in favor of the measure, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said "I don't want this party to be viewed as an anti-trade party." It may take several more weeks before the Senate takes up the matter, however.

Colom wins in Guatemala

Alvaro Colom, a moderate left businessman, won the presidential election in Guatemala on Sunday. This was two months after the first round election in which no candidate received a majority. Colom pledged to fight police corruption and expand social services during his campaign, while the conservative candidate, former general Otto Perez Molina, emphasized cracking down on crime. Guatemala remains one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, a reflection of the enduring class and ethnic divisions. See BBC.

VP geography flub

Vice President Dick Cheney recently talked about the menace of Hugo Chavez, saying that the people of Peru (!) don't really support him. Chavez is actually the president of Venezuela. What-ever! See BBC.


November 8, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Sen. Warner reflects on GOP loss

Senator John Warner used the Republicans' loss in the election on Tuesday as an opportunity to heap criticism on the party leaders around the Commonwealth:

The rigidity of this outfit is going to keep taking it down until they hit bottom. And I don't know when that will be. ... And I find it quite distressing. (SOURCE: Richmond Times-Dispatch)

He hit the nail on the head, of course, but these days there just are't many Republican Party leaders who are likely to listen. Most of them pay lip service to the "big-tent" idea, but in practice they attack as a "RINO" anyone who doesn't abide by standards of ideological purity. Sen. Warner has been noticeably cool to the idea of former Gov. Jim Gilmore running for the Senate seat he presently occupies. What a pity that after Warner steps off the national stage, there won't be any prudent-minded senior Republican leader from Virginia left to fill his shoes. Will the GOP even bother to contest the Senate seat, or will Mark Warner win it by default? And how low will the Party of Lincoln sink in the Old Dominion before enough people wake up to reality and start appealing to voters in the middle of the political spectrum?

New GOP blog

One of the major league honchos of the Republican Party in Washington started a new blog a few months ago: Fred Malek. I was taken aback to see who is listed at the top of his blogroll: Moi! Perhaps he took note of all the favorable posts I made about him when he was bidding to buy the Washington Nationals franchise. See Aug. 14, 2005 and Nov. 3, 2005, for example.


November 11, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Little action at GM conclave

Overall, there wasn't much "hot stove" news from last week's meeting of baseball general managers in Orlando. One interesting thing is that MLB will explore ways of using instant replay cameras for plays at the fence. See MLB.com. As in past years, I will try to refrain from rumor-mongering. It appears that both Andy Pettitte and Mike Lowell would just as soon stay with their current teams (the Yankees and the Red Sox) next year, and the free agency filings are just pro forma. The Yankees need some continuity in the midst of the new manager and new stadium built built, so I hope Pettitte stays in the Bronx for the final years of his career. Roger Clemens is expected to work for the Astros as a coach or in some equivalent staff position next year, but who knows? The Marlins' Miguel Cabrera is the hottest free agent property right now.

Meanwhile, the Nationals are putting out feelers to Andruw Jones, but Stan Kasten denies his recent get-together with him involved any negotiating. Kasten used to work for the Braves, which would facilitate trades or acquisitions of Atlanta players, just as GM Jim Bowden's past work with the Reds does for Cincinnati players. After a career-best offensive year in 2006, Jones batted only .222 this year, and therefore may command less than expected on the market for veteran outfielders. See MLB.com. Also, Ryan Zimmerman suffered a minor wrist fracture last week, but it should be healed in plenty of time for spring training.

New home for Devil Rays?

The Tampa Bay Rays (note new name) came out with a plan to build a new, much smaller ballpark (35,000 seats) on the St. Petersburg waterfront, where Al Lang Field is presently located. The rigft field fence would be right along the waterline, as at AT&T Park. They may use a retractable canvas roof to keep out the rain, but not in stormy conditions. Sounds pretty reasonable to me. See sptimes.com, which has a great photo showing Al Lang Field and Tropicana Field in the distance; hat tip to Mike Zurawski

Perhaps out of sensitivity to religious folks, the team formerly known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays renamed itself simply the "Rays," exorcising the "demons" of their frustrating first decade in the MLB. They also came up with a new team logo and changed their basic uniform colors from green to blue. See MLB.com. Their marked improvement at the end of the 2007 season, climbing above .400, is a good indication that they are determined to stay competitive, even though they are located in a small market, and even though they are handicapped with a grim home ballpark.

Adios to the Orange Bowl

Further south in the Sunshine State, the University of Miami played its 468th and final game at the Orange Bowl last night, and the University of Virginia Cavaliers rudely spoiled the occasion by whomping the Hurricanes 48-0. It was one of the worst defeats they had ever suffered. Actually, it wasn't the last football game ever played at the Orange Bowl, as Florida International University has a couple more home games there this season. The City of Miami plans to demolish the fabled stadium some time next year. I still think the Marlins should have explored the possibility of incorporating parts of the Orange Bowl into a new baseball stadium on that site, at least as an economical expedient.

The Marlins are reluctantly going along with the Orange Bowl site for their new stadium, but they won't pay as much rent because a ballpark there would generate less revenues than one in downtown Miami. Tense negotiations continue, and continue, and continue... See palmbeachpost.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.


November 11, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Ibero-American summit discord

Regional summit meetings are supposed to be occasions for smoothing over relations between neighboring countries, but such was not the case at the Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile last week.

As usual, Hugo Chavez is gleefully grabbing the international limelight in a diplomatic row between Venezuela and Spain. He had called the former prime minister of Spain, Jose Maria Aznar, a fascist, to which King Juan Carlos told Mr Chavez to "shut up." Chavez upped the trash-talk ante by asking the king if he knew in advance about the attempted coup against Chavez in 2002, noting that Spain's ambassador met with the usurper Pedro Carmona before the armed forces rallied to Chavez's defense and arrested Carmona. The king's actions were widely applauded back home in Spain, but he probably wishes he had stayed out of the shouting match with the Clown from Caracas. To his credit, Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (a leftist who has said nice things about Chavez) affirmed that his predecessor was duly elected and represented the people of Spain. See BBC.

Last week Chavez met with a representative of Colombian rebel leader Manuel Marulanda in Caracas, with the objective of arranging an exchange of prisoners. The most famous hostage of the rebels is Ingrid Betancourt, who ran for president several years ago. Surprisingly, the Colombian government approved this meeting. With the holiday season fast approaching, such a humanitarian gesture would garner public goodwill for both the government of Colombia and the FARC guerrillas. See BBC.

Once again, Argentina and Uruguay are mad at each other because of the foreign-owned paper mill that is being built on the Uruguayan side of the Uruguay River, which divides the two countries. Argentine people have gathered in large demonstrations after Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez issued his approval for the mill to start operations. The decision seemed timed to coincide with the summit, and could be considered somewhat provocative. See BBC.

And finally, some smart aleck hacked into the Web site of the President of Chile last week, putting a Peruvian flag and the words "Viva Peru!" and an expletive on it. Chileans had to close the site for a day before they could get it fixed and upgrade their security. See washingtonpost.com. Tensions between Peru and Chile rose earlier this year over the issue of maritime territorial rights; see August 15.

"Ouro preto" in Brazil

That means "black gold" in Portuguese. Brazilian scientists announced the discovery of a major undersea oil field off the coast of Brazil, and the preliminary estimates are that Brazil could rank as one of the top petroleum exporters in the world within 20 years. It all depends on whether they will solve the technological challenge of deep-see drilling, which would probably require foreign (U.S.) investment participation, which would be hard for the nationalistic Brazilians to swallow. See CNN.com.


November 11, 2007 [LINK / comment]

France & Germany (heart) U.S.A.???

What a change from two years ago! The relatively unheralded visits by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week suggest a favorable strategic shift in favor of the United States. It couldn't happen at a better time for our beleaguered Chief Executive, who needs all the foreign friends he can get. The Washington Post noted that ex-SecDef Donald Rumsfeld's haughty dismissal of "Old Europe" is a thing of the past, and we can count on increased cooperation in a number of fields. True, there isn't much of a concrete military nature that France and Germany can offer us right now, but their diplomatic support will be crucial as Russian President Vladimir Putin adopts an increasingly belligerent stance. One big difference between Germany and France is that Merkel has expressed strong caution about confronting Iran over its nuclear program, whereas Sarkozy has issued frantic alarms, even suggesting that war may be necessary in the near future. The German people are getting tired of maintaining a 3,000-strong force in the remote wilds of Afghanistan, and they have no appetite for taking on new adversaries.

The Post also showed a photo of Sarkozy addressing a joint session of Congress, warmly praising President Bush while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi forced a smile in the background. Another Post article about Bush and Sarkozy's meeting had a wry headline: "A Fraternite party" -- as in Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, the guiding ideals of the French Revolution.

This diplomatic turnabout will leave right-wing pundits in a quandary about whether to cease and desist mocking the French for being defeatist turncoats. It reminds us that in international relations, there is no such thing as permanent friends. Countries act in pursuit of what they conceive to be their own best interests, and neither the unconditional, true-blue loyalty to President Bush shown by former P.M. Tony Blair nor the stubborn rejection of all things American by the former leaders in France and Germany (Chirac and Schroeder) could be sustained indefinitely. There are some clear converging interests between the United States and Europe (both "New" and "Old"), and there are some clashing interests as well. Occasional adjustments in diplomatic relations make perfect sense from a realist point of view.

It is also important to remember that not all of Europe loves us (or Bush), however. Britain's new prime minister Gordon Brown is scaling back his country's involvement in the Middle East, but at least the Brits aren't bugging out completely. Also, Spain is now led by an avowed Socialist who is friends with Hugo Chavez: Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. His election after the Madrid bombing in March 2004 was a big setback for U.S. foreign policy.


November 12, 2007 [LINK / comment]

"New blood" for Virginia GOP?

Today's Washington Post sought out the opinions of various Republican leaders in Virginia about what to make of the recent electoral defeats. Not surprisingly, there are sharp differences of opinion. Among them was our own Chris Saxman, who sounded an upbeat note about the party's future prospects:

"A lot of activists say we need new blood. We need someone else to carry the message," said Del. Christopher B. Saxman (R-Staunton), who some analysts say is a possible future statewide candidate.

Well, I would certainly agree that it is time to look to leaders other than Jim Gilmore and George Allen. But even with new leaders, if the "new wine" is sold to the voters in the stale old "bottles" of lame cliches about "values" that serve as divisive wedge issues, it won't do much good as far as attracting moderate voters. That is the sine qua non of electoral success.

In contrast to Saxman, Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart said "I think the state Republican Party is in shambles and frankly deserves to be." Stewart, a leader of the crackdown on illegal immigration, was just elected to his first full term. Based on what I've observed, I would tend to agree with Stewart. He called attention to the refusal of the right-leaning Republicans in the House of Delegates to provide major state funds for suburban transportation projects as a primary cause of the GOP defeat. That was one of the relatively few issues where I sided with that GOP faction (see March 1), and in retrospect, I may have erred -- in strictly political terms, at least. (I still think such funding was wrong in principle.)

An outsider's perspective on what ails the Virginia Republican Party was provided by Post columnist Marc Fisher, who thinks that the GOP will self-destruct unless it addresses the serious problems of suburban sprawl and other issues of concern to moderates. (He forgets that loose immigration enforcement and rising state subsidies for highways are two of the main factors that drive sprawl in the first place!) He quotes outgoing State Senator Russ Potts, the "RINO's RINO."

This is a change in the face of Virginia politics for the next 20 years. This business of no-tax pledges and no-abortions, no-exceptions is not going to fly. The party desperately needs to widen the circle.

Indeed. It's just too bad that he didn't resist the party's rightward lurch in a more effective, prudent way during his last years in the state senate. Grabbing headlines is not the best way to persuade colleagues to see the light of day.


November 14, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Pope to visit new D.C. ballpark

Pope Benedict XVI plans to say Mass at the newest of the "green cathedrals" during a three-day visit to Washington next April. "[Archbishop Donald] Wuerl said he expects that all 41,000 seats will be filled but said he did not yet know how admission will be handled." See Washington Post. (Will there be scalpers? Holy water on tap in the luxury suites, perhaps? ) Seriously, I think the Pope's visit will be a perfect occasion to Christen the new stadium.

Twins' stadium design OK'd

Hennepin County officials have approved the design of the Twins' future stadium, as construction has already begun. The modernistic glass and limestone exterior will become quite a landmark in Minneapolis three years from now. See MLB.com.


November 14, 2007 [LINK / comment]

"RINO" alert: Rob Wittman

From a quick (and long-overdue) scan of the Virginia blogosphere, I must say, the reaction to the recent elections does not bode well for rebuilding unity in the Republican Party. "RINO" this, "RINO" that. Enough with the sour faces and grade-school name-calling, already!

In particular, the nomination of (moderate) Del. Rob Wittman in the First Congressional District (the seat held by the late Joann Davis) has provoked unseemly outrage among "The Base." D.J. Maguire lamented "I cannot describe what a colossal mistake my fellow convention delegates made." Personally, I don't have the foggiest idea who is who in that district, but I do agree wholeheartedly with the commenter who wrote, "Republicans fail because we eat our own!"

Leslie Carbone had a similar take on Wittman, ruefully recalling the nomination of Gerald Ford over Ronald Reagan in 1976: "GOODBYE REPUBLICANS. YOU PICKED THE WRONG MAN." Maybe yes, maybe no. Given the low prestige of the GOP after Nixon and Watergate, it's entirely possible that Reagan would have lost to Jimmy Carter that year, making it very difficult for Reagan to get nominated in 1980. That would have changed the course of history -- in the wrong direction! As for Carbone's generalization that "conservative Republicans beat Democratics [sic], but Democratics [sic] beat RINOs," I would need to see a lot more than anecdotal evidence. Her contention was certainly not borne out by last week's landslide victory of State Senator Emmett Hanger, whom she once called "a liberal."

J.R. Hoeft had a milder, more rational reaction to the nomination, merely noting that Wittman will have to build some bridges within the party. To me, the Wittman episode illustrates once again the severe handicap that ideologues (right or left) have in trying to do objective analyses of electoral prospects and outcomes.


November 15, 2007 [LINK / comment]

The indictment of Barry Bonds

Does this mean he really may go to jail? It's hard to believe, and frankly it's a little scary to contemplate what precedent this may set for the future. Well, maybe that's what the professional sports world needs: a good swift kick in the rear. Enough with superstar impunity! Bonds stands accused not of using dope per se, but rather of lying in his testimony to a federal grand jury. (It's like many corrupt political figures and mafia bosses who were convicted of minor technicalities when the Big Crime couldn't be proven.) As ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski wrote, "Bonds all but dared the government to indict him." A jury trial is almost unthinkable, so it will all come down to bargaining between the federal attorney and his defense lawyer. One thing is for sure: he's going to pay a very dear price for having such an over-inflated ego. The indictment will also help stiffen Commissioner Bud Selig's spine in terms of disciplinary powers.

Nationals Park opening

The Washington Nationals's first game in their new home will be an exhibition event against the Baltimore Orioles on March 29, and they are trying to get an evening time slot for a national broadcast on Opening Day: March 30, 2008. (The Red Sox and Athletics will play a two-game series in Japan, the actual first regulation games of the season.) Apparently, the provisional name "Nationals Park" will be in use throughout the inaugural season of the new stadium, after which the Nationals will presumably be able to secure a higher corporate bid for the naming rights. See Washington Post. They finished laying the sod in the outfield a couple days ago, just in time for the cold front, which will inhibit grass-roots growth.


November 15, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Big earthquake in Chile

The good news is that only two people were killed, and injuries were relatively light compared to the number of homes that were destroyed: 4,000. Yesterday's earthquake in the northern desert region of Chile measured 7.7 magnitude on the Richter scale, and it was felt as far away as Sao Paulo, Brazil. Tall buildings in the capital city Santiago were evacuated. President Michelle Bachelet paid a visit to the disaster zone near Antofagasta, where a state of emergency has been declared. As is usually the case, there were several aftershocks, including two today that exceeded 6.0 in magnitude. See BBC.


November 16, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Spitzer gives up on illegal IDs

New York Attorney General Elliott Spitzer has backed down on his flabbergasting proposal to grant driver's licenses to illegal aliens, as a "practical way to increase security and make roads safer." See Washington Post. As we all know, in many parts of the country that would be sufficient proof of legal status to register to vote. (Maybe that's the point.) Spitzer had originally justified this measure on the grounds that the Feds were failing to police the borders, so the state had no choice. In other words, he would match national-level irresponsibility with state-level irresponsibility. I'll bet Hillary Clinton would pay $100,000 to retract her endorsement of that goofball idea.

Is Senator Warner a "RINO"?

You know the Republican Party is in big trouble when one of its (presumed) leaders slams one of the party's most respected elder statesmen, who will leave the U.S. Senate next year: "John Warner is the figurehead of the Moderate wing of the party in VA--a wing that thinks that pandering to Democrats will actually garner votes." (Since when did Warner pander to Democrats?) "Elle" thanks Warner for stepping down, the effect of which will be to hand the Democrats an easy seat in the Senate next year. (Is that what she wants?) She then goes on to disparage two "RINO" state senators who "barely squeaked by in their respective (open) primary contests in which they can be grateful that Democrats voted." (That would be Walter Stosch and Emmett Hanger.) Remember Reagan's Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. In contrast, an editorial in Wednesday's News Leader (hardly conservative) praised Warner for telling it like it is to the Virginia Republican leaders, most of whom seem blissfully ignorant of political reality. (See Nov. 8.) It prompted me to update my "Talk Back" user profile ("Cholo1"), which has lain dormant for many months, but not in time to post a comment there. Stay tuned...

Mukasey: new A.G.

Michael Mukasey was sworn in as attorney general earlier this week.


November 17, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Municipal Stadium update

K.C. Municipal Stadium The Municipal Stadium (Kansas City) diagrams have been revised, with new additions for the mid-1960s, when Charley Finley put a 40-foot fence and a miniature zoo in right field, and the 1920s, when it was called Muehlebach Field. That was one of those odd ballparks where they kept making minor adjustments to the outfield fence, year after year. As usual, I learned a lot in the process of trying to clear up the confusion. For one thing, I am fairly sure that when Municipal Stadium was upgraded to major league status in 1955, the diamond was moved forward by considerably less than the 25 feet that Phil Lowry indicates in his book Green Cathedrals. Speaking of which, I'm getting closer to finishing a critique of the latest edition of that masterpiece.

The Fremont A's?

And speaking of the (former) home of the Athletics, this ballpark reminds us that the team has a long history of turbulent migration from city to city. The planned move from Oakland to Fremont is only the latest chapter of this long saga. Mike Zurawski informs me that the A's have submitted formal plans for their $1.8 billion "ballpark village" complex. Cisco Field itself would cost about $500 million, which would be privately financed. I'm still skeptical of such a remote location, but I guess we can give credit to Mr. Wolff for not extorting money from local governments, at least. See sfgate.com.

A-Rod the Yankees

It looks like Alex Rodriguez is going to stay with the Bronx Bombers after all, as his agent Scott Boras and Yankees GM Brian Cashman have agreed to "the outline" of a ten-year contract worth $275 million. Details to be ironed out later. Both player and team have reason to be wary of each other, because of A-Rod's below-par postseason record with the Yankees, so this renewed relationship is a rather unexpected gesture of mutual confidence and respect. See MLB.com.

More seats at Fenway

The Red Sox plan to squeeze another 800 or so seats into Fenway Park before next spring, extending the third level (pavilion down both the first and third base sides. See Gloucester Times, which has additional details; hat tip to Bruce Orser.


November 20, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Reading is so-o 20th Century

With all the emphasis on "reading is FUNdamental" and "standards of learning" over the past decade or two, you would think that most high school graduates would have well developed reading skills. You would be wrong. Actually, most elementary school students are doing well in reading, according to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts, but as today's Washington Post reports, "once they enter adolescence, they fall victim to a general culture which does not encourage or reinforce reading." The study focused on reading literature for enjoyment, but the same trend is observed for reading in general.

That NEA study confirms my general impression of many college students these days, sad to say. Many of them do not seem to be able to grasp the main point of text passages they are assigned, getting lost in the minutiae of sundry isolated facts. Reading newspapers is hopelessly out of style for most of them, and not many of them even bother to read news stories on the Internet. The result is that a huge proportion of young adults today are simply unable to keep abreast with important public issues. They are "civic dropouts," you might say.

Can our precious democratic republic survive for long without a strong majority of reasonably well-informed citizens?


November 20, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Virginia Senate race heats up

Former Governor Jim Gilmore's declaration that he will run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by John Warner next year is hardly unexpected, but it does raise interesting questions. The Washington Post put it this way: "Do [voters] prefer a social conservative who cut taxes but left a deficit, or a centrist businessman who balanced the budget but raised taxes?" Gilmore has a clear advantage over Warner in terms of national security issues and involvement in national-level politics, but his strong affiliation with the Republican (anti-tax) "Base" limits his potential appeal to results-oriented centrist voters. Today's Times Dispatch cartoon by Gary Brookins suggested that Gilmore has a "snowball's chance in hell" of beating Mark Warner, so you have to wonder what incentive he has to make such a sacrifice. If Gilmore fails to at least make a strong showing against Warner (45%?), it might be the end of his career in electoral politics.

The Post article mentioned that Delegate Chris Saxman is considering entering that race as well. Yesterday's News Leader reported that Saxman said that several of his legislative colleagues have asked him to enter the race. It seems a bit premature for a junior member of the House of Delegates (first elected in 2001), but Saxman has earned respect during his time in Richmond. Like Gilmore, he is closely associated with the anti-tax faction of the GOP. In contrast to Gilmore, Saxman has little to lose and would stand to gain lots of publicity from embarking on such a campaign. Indeed, many political leaders got their start by taking on impossible odds, and later went on to stellar heights. (Remember Bill Clinton in 1991?)

Faith & Politics

Here is an interesting interactive graphic chart showing a Percentage Breakdown Of Faith & Political Affiliation. (Hat tip to Connie.)

(NOTE: Technical glitch corrected on Dec. 4; text was unaltered.)


November 21, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Maneuverings in Florida

The Tampa Bay Rays (no longer Devils) are getting ready to unveil their waterfront stadium proposal, and "the Rays might contribute as much as $150 million -- to cover one-third of the costs..." This is just the first stage in what will surely be a long, difficult series of negotiations, as area taxpayers are likely to be skeptical at junking a stadium that has been in use (in its intended baseball setup) for only a decade. Al Lang Field is prime real estate, and somebody is likely to make out like a bandit unless the deal is done right. See MLB.com.

Further south, the Marlins are exploring the possibility of playing some games in San Juan, Puerto Rico next year. See MLB.com. Just like the former Montreal Expos -- not a very auspicious precedent... Could this be a negotiating gambit to put pressure on government officials to cough up more money to build the Marlins' future stadium at the Orange Bowl?

November news roundup

Alex Rodriguez won the American League MVP award, to no one's surprise. On the National League side, Jimmy Rollins was named MVP, making it two years in a row that a Phillies player grabbed that honor. (Last year it was Ryan Howard.) Rollins edged Matt Holliday by a thin margin in the vote tabulation, 353 to 336 points. Toward the end of the season, Philadelphia fans held up "Rollins for MVP" banners, and he played a big role in the Phillies' surprising NL East title. Rollins set a record for most number of runs by a National League shortstop (380, breaking Ernie Banks' old record), and he was one of only three National League players to have started in all 162 games during the regular season; the other two were Ryan Zimmerman (Washington) and Jeff Francoeur (Atlanta). See MLB.com.

Mariano Rivera will stay with the Yankees, who need his services desperately, and Mike Lowell will stay with the Red Sox. Stability in team rosters is good, if you ask me.

Soccer at RFK on TV

I enjoyed watching the Major League Soccer championship game at RFK Stadium on Sunday afternoon, and it is strange to think that no more baseball will be played there. The Houston Dynamo defeated the New England Revolution in the title match for the second year in a row. See mlsnet.com. Those Boston-area fans have been getting spoiled, with the Red Sox, the NFL Patriots, Boston College, and the Boston Celtics all dominating their respective sports.


November 22, 2007 [LINK / comment]

The "Washington Nationals" at 3

Washington Nationals logo It was exactly three years ago today that then-Mayor Anthony Williams announced that Washington's new baseball team would be named the "Nationals." The ceremony unveiling the team name and logo was one of several landmark events concerning the relocation of the former Montreal Expos in the fall of 2004 that stirred the hearts of long-suffering baseball fans in the Washington, D.C. - Virginia region. It seems like only yesterday...

Baseball in Our Nation's Capital: One more thing to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day!


November 22, 2007 [LINK / comment]

A day for giving thanks

For a country that has been as blessed as the United States, it is quite fitting that we have a national holiday devoted to thanking God for all that we have. (Otherwise, some of us might forget!*) Thanksgiving should serve to instill in all of us a sense not just gratitude to Our Creator, but also a sense of obligation to share -- voluntarily! -- our blessings with those who are less fortunate than us, especially those in countries afflicted by poverty and oppression.

Thanksgiving is unique in being a religious holiday that is inter-faith: You can observe it just as well, whether you are a Christian or a Jew -- or even a Buddhist, Muslim, or Hindu. In Emmanuel Episcopal Church, we had our annual Harvest Breakfast two Sundays ago, an occasion for expressing thanks and stewardship. During the service, I joined several other musicians in performing a series of bluegrass/folk songs, including the classic "Bringing in the Sheaves" and two songs from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? My contribution was "Fly Away Home," by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. (!) Later it occurred to me how appropriate it is for this time of year: millions of Americans are flying home for the holiday.

* Here's a provocative thought: In an age in which the dominant political discourse centers around various people's claims on public resources as a birthright (health care, highways, etc.), perhaps we should have a national holiday to celebrate our culture of dependency: Entitlements Day! (Just kidding. )

(Late) fall foliage

Is this a great state, or what?

Fall 2007 montage, Bald Cypress closeup

A few random images from last month. Clockwise, from top left: Pumpkin patch east of Afton, the Industrial park north of Staunton, a Baldcypress tree at Sweet Briar College, and the pastures along Bell's Lane. Roll mouse over image to see a close-up of the Baldcypress tree, one of the very few conifers that is deciduous; the needles fall off in the winter.


November 22, 2007 [LINK / comment]

November bird update

I've been under the weather for the past few days, and therefore have not spent much time outside. Earlier in the month, I was just too busy to do much birding, though I did join an Augusta Bird Club field trip at McCormick's Mill led by Jo King last week. I'm probably missing lots of interesting migratory ducks and whatnot. Recent first-of-season sightings include:

  • Northern harrier*, Nov. 1, Bell's Lane
  • Fox sparrow, Nov. 4, behind SARS
  • Pine siskin, Nov. 15, back yard
  • Winter wren, Nov. 21, behind SARS

* I'm pretty sure I saw a Harrier flying over a reservoir near Big Levels in the Blue Ridge in late September.

Sharp-shinned hawks have been menacing our back yard fairly regularly for the past few weeks. In the last three days, I've seen both an adult and a juvenile. We also had a White-crowned sparrow, a winter species that only rarely comes inside the city limits. None of the pictures I've taken turned out very well.


November 23, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Colombia nixes Chavez mediation

Offended by Hugo Chavez's direct communication with one of its army commanders, the government of Colombia withdrew its consent for Chavez to serve as a go-between with the FARC guerrillas in hopes of securing a prisoner exchange before Christmas. Chavez had met with one of the rebel leaders last week. Former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt (who holds dual Colombian-French citizenship) is the most well known of the hostages. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is very busy dealing with a transportation strike in France right now, is trying to keep the mediation initiative alive. That's an unusual degree of French involvement in Latin American affairs. See Washington Post.


November 24, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Tumult at Bolivian assembly

After several months of delay and confusion, the constituent assembly which was convened at the urging of President Evo Morales has resumed meeting, in the central city of Sucre. In hopes of avoiding disruptive protesters and finishing their work on a new national charter by the end of the year, they are using a secure military base to hold their meetings. Opposition leaders are boycotting the proceedings, however. Some of the President's opponents are pushing to move the national capital from La Paz, the western highland city in which Indian people and customs predominate, to Sucre, which was the capital until the end of the 19th Century. Ever since then, Sucre has been the seat of the country's Supreme Court, and La Paz has been the seat of the legislative and executive branches. See BBC. Divisions within the country are so deep right now that the prospects for drafting and ratifying a new constitution as President Morales wants seem virtually nil. If he is anything like his mentor, Hugo Chavez, such political stalemate might provide an excuse for declaring a state of emergency and then issuing authoritarian decrees. Democracy was not very strong in Bolivia to begin with, and it may not last until the end of Morales' term in 2010.

Ecuador assembly is chosen

Meanwhile in Ecuador, a similar scenario is playing out. The composition of Ecuador's new constituent assembly has finally been determined by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, nearly two months after the election was held. Of the 130 seats in the assembly, the president's party "Acuerdo Pais" (Country Accord) won a large majority with 80 seats, followed by the "Patriotic Society Party" (PSP) with 18, "Prian" (led by former president Alvaro Noboa) with 9; the "Social Christan Party" (PSC, which is conserative) with 5, and the Indian rights party "Pachakutik" with 4. A few other parties won three or fewer seats. See El Comercio (in Spanish).

One of the populist initiatives of President Rafael Correa is providing free cell phone service to poor people; see washingtonpost.com. It is hard to maintain old-fashioned telephone booths in many parts of Latin America, in large part because of vandalism.


November 26, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Republicans act like Democrats?

It's a distressing suggestion, but that's what Jim Hoagland writes in Sunday's Outlook section of the Washington Post. He says Republican presidential candidates are behaving in the same way that Democrats used to: trashing each other in debates and sucking up to activist fringe groups in order to get their party's nomination. "That is what happens to a party that lacks a core consensus on priorities and navigates between sheer opportunism and survival." Ouch! Hoagland makes some very good observations about what ails the Republican Party, but most of his column is devoted to bashing Rudolph Giuliani (for fear-mongering on national security issues) and praising John McCain (for becoming a high-minded statesman who distinguishes patriotism from partisanship). Unfortunately, it's probably too late for McCain to rebound in this campaign.

One of Rudy Giuliani's biggest strengths is his experience as a top government executive, especially one who responded superbly to a crisis situation. (9/11, remember? Of course you do.) In recent weeks, however, a variety of people have voiced doubts about Giuliani's managerial fitness, suggesting that he is domineering, intolerant of criticism, and prone to playing favorites, a.k.a., cronyism. As the Washington Post pointed out, the indictment of Bernard Kerik, the man Giuliani appointed as New York police commissioner, is a blemish on Rudy's leadership credentials. How big of a blemish depends on how the trial turns out. In any event, Giuliani needs to grow thicker skin and/or make more frequent use of his big grin to fend off criticism.

Fred Thompson's campaign got off to a slow start in September, but he is sounding more impressive every day. I greatly appreciated his candid talk on the need to reform Social Security, i.e., cut back benefits to those who don't need it. Otherwise, we'll be back in crisis mode on this vital issue within another few years. His "Fred 08" Web site opens with a video clip in which Fred talks about the illegal immigration: police the borders, and enforce the laws. As he says, granting amnesty won't do any good, and indeed it would create immense anger by cheating the law-abiding people. This is one of the biggest issues that unites a broad range of Republicans, and Thompson makes the point without any hint of anger or resentment: fair is fair, period. On the other hand, some of Thompson's supporters in the House of Representatives are getting tired of Thompson's low-key approach to campaigning. To me that's not a problem, but for some people, Fred's lack of "fire in the belly" is a fatal flaw. See CQ Politics; hat tip to Josh Marshall.

Mike Huckabee has grabbed a lot of attention lately, and is giving Mitt Romney a run for his money in the upcoming Iowa caucuses. I like Huckabee's calm, straight-talking appeal to reason, and think he would make a great veep candidate. One major downside is his avowed religious belief the Biblical version of Creation in the Book of Genesis, which rules out the theory of evolution which was first advanced by Charles Darwin. (See, for example, Ross Douthat in The Atlantic Monthly.) I think it would be hard for a national leader with such beliefs to carry out public policy duties. Nevertheless, Huckabee seems 100% sincere and is not pandering to the Christian Right.


November 27, 2007 [LINK / comment]

A Lott to be desired

Trent Lott sure picked a strange time to announce his resignation from the U.S. Senate, given that he just won his bid for reelection last year and his term won't end until 2012. Or maybe it's not so strange ... if what he is doing is putting his own ambitions first. Having painstakingly rehabilitated his image after his infamous gaffe regarding Strom Thurmond in 2002, he can now command a higher consulting fee in the juicy D.C. lobbying "industry," for which he is quite well suited. He cited his desire to get full funding for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts in southern Mississippi, which may be part of it as well. But that doesn't explain why someone would leave the Senate with 5/6 of his term yet to go.

It was nearly five years ago that he praised Sen. Strom Thurmond, implying that American would have been better off if we had remained a segregated society. Back then, I was mad at Lott for his apparently tactlessness, but the more I think about it, I think his gesture to Thurmond was essentially an earnest (if misguided) attempt to reconcile ancient divisions in the South. If there is one thing he was good at, it was back-slapping, good-ole-boy smooth-talking, a sort of countryfied version of the hippie ideal of "peace, love, and understanding." In some circumstances, such an attempt at bridging divisions is perfectly appropriate. Nevertheless, it's one thing to forgive enemies who have trespassed against oneself, and quite another thing to let someone off the hook for an offense committed against a third party. Lott should have known better than to do that.

Even though Mississippi is reliably Republican, so there is little chance of losing that Senate seat to the Democrats, Lott's departure is seen as a setback for the Party of Lincoln. (!) In the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza observes that this announcement comes in the midst of a wave of similar retirements or "career switches" by GOP legislators on Capitol Hill. Why the exodus? Is faith in the Republican Party and/or conservative agenda really that weak these days? Time will tell.


November 27, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Terror alert: Hungry hawks!

As usual for this time of year, we have had Sharp-shinned hawks out back almost every day, on the prowl for the tasty sparrows, juncos, and goldfinches that come to our feeders, no doubt. For these and other small songbirds, there is no more terrifying sight than a diving hawk. Princess and George were badly frightened by something outside yesterday morning, and George took refuge under the bedroom dresser. That could only mean one thing: a hawk was lurking somewhere out back. Indeed, I spotted a juvenile Sharp-shinned hawk perched in a tree branch, and managed to take a photo before it flew off:

Sharp-shinned Hawk juvenile

Roll mouse over the above image to compare this juvenile Sharp-shinned hawk to an adult of the same species that landed in the grass three years ago. The difference in the plumage is striking.

While driving out to the recycling center today, I passed by a Kingfisher, some Bluebirds, a Black vulture, a Red-tailed hawk, and a probable Pileated woodpecker in the distance.


November 29, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Rays unveil new stadium plan

The newly-renamed Tampa Bay Rays* made public their plans for a new stadium on the St. Petersburg waterfront, where Al Lang Field is presently located. The 34,000 seat, retractable-roof ballpark would have "the smallest upper deck in baseball." As reported by MLB.com,

The ballpark design also includes a unique retractable roof which will shield the playing field and fans from the elements yet still maintain an intimate environment. The roof will be comprised of a light weatherproof fabric that will be pulled along cables that are suspended between arches on one end and a central mast structure on the other. It will take approximately 8 minutes to open or close the roof, and, even when the roof is deployed, the feel of an open-air ballpark will be maintained. The Rays have worked closely with a team of architects and engineers, led by HOK Sport, on the design. The total cost for the ballpark is estimated to be $450 million.

Hat tip to Adam Shane. If the City Council approves, a referendum on public funding will be placed on the November 2008 ballot. This is an encouraging development, but the fact that anyone in the Tampa Bay area might be willing to fork over more taxpayer money so soon after the Sundome / Tropicana Field fiasco is rather remarkable. Here's an idea: Instead of spending an extra $100 million for a retractable roof, why don't they just play their rainy-day games in Tropicana Field for the next ten years or so? After that, they can add their fancy-shmancy retractable roof. Bruce Orser informs me that the proposed site was once the location of Waterfront Park, where the Braves as well as the Yankees used to hold spring training.

* ("You can call me 'Ray,' you can call me 'Bill,' you can call me 'Fred,' ..." )

Return to Memorial Coliseum

The Dodgers plan to mark the 50th anniversary of their move to Los Angeles by holding an exhibition game on March 29 with the Red Sox in Memorial Coliseum, as part of a charity drive. Part of the nostalgia is that former Milwaukee Brave Joe Torre, who is now managing the Dodgers, once played baseball games there. "It's estimated that the Dodgers will spend around $250,000 to build temporary dugouts for the game as well as erect a longer and larger metal curtain in left field..." See MLB.com. A quarter million bucks for an exhibition game? They must have money to burn! Given that the size of the playing field was significantly reduced when they added extra rows of seats in 1993, I estimate that the distance to left field would be less than 200 feet. What a joke!

The mail bag

Thanks to Jeff Stark for sending some great photos of Turner Field. I didn't realize they had added a new video scoreboard in center field.


November 29, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Allies turn against Chavez

Perhaps Hugo Chavez's path to absolute power won't be as easy as he thought. Several leftist leaders who used to be allied with him now realize that he is on the verge of becoming a dictator and no longer has much need for their support. Accordingly, some of them have joined the (mostly) conservative opposition, trying to persuade Venezuelans to vote "no" in the referendum that will be held on Sunday. The governor of the coastal state of Sucre, Ramon Martinez, says the proposed constitutional revision would amount to a coup d'etat. The recent "defection" of retired General Raul Baduel, another ex-supporter, was another big setback for Chavez, who accuses his opponents of collaborating with the Bush administration. See Washington Post. It is hard to imagine that Chavez would admit electoral defeat, so the question is whether the vote will be close enough to prompt his minions to tamper with the vote count.

More tumult in Bolivia

Protests continue against President Evo Morales's push for constitutional changes that would follow in the authoritarian footsteps of Hugo Chavez. Four people were killed over the weekend, and banks and various businesses around the country closed in a peaceful "strike" yesterday. The leader of the opposition in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, Branko Marinkovic, announced that a hunger strike will begin next week. Morales responded by blaming the strike on defenders of "the neoliberal model that has done so much harm to the country." His support is strongest in the cities of Cochabamba and La Paz, the capital. See BBC. Ah yes, those "evil capitalists"...

Peruvian rebel killed

Fifteen years after their leader Abimael Guzman was captured, the threat from the terrorist-rebels in Peru continues in a sporadic fashion. Epifanio Espiritu Acosta, one of the few remaining Shining Path guerrilla leaders, was killed in Aucayacu, in central Peru. Interior Minister Luis Alva Castro (whom I once interviewed) said the security forces are now "very close to Artemio [and] getting closer". Rebels in Peru can finance their operations through the drug trade, and are therefore less likely to depend on help from trouble-makers like Hugo Chavez. See BBC.


November 29, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Republican "debate" turns nasty

The Republican candidates really went at each other in St. Petersburg, Florida last night, and immigration was at the center of the sharp exchange between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. Both of them have a blemish or two on their record, and if they were smart they would not have made that issue such a big deal. Only 35 days till the Iowa caucuses!

Today Rush Limbaugh pointed out that several of the questioners were not average citizens but highly placed campaign operatives for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, etc. CNN's Anderson Cooper admitted as much today, saying they should have screened those who submitted video questions, but it's too late now. "Clinton News Network," indeed!

Beyond the media bias, which is par for the course, the format of these presidential "debates" almost guarantees that cheap-shot jabs will prevail over thoughtful discourse over the issues. The YouTube video stunts in particular make a complete mockery of the whole process of presidential selection. To me, these wide-open free-for-alls do not deserve the dignified name of "debate." But in our society today, that's as close as most people will ever get to seeing a real debate. (I was a high school geek debater and member of the National Forensic Society, so I have a clue about what constitutes a proper debate.)

UPDATE: I found Mike Huckabee's flippant remark, "Jesus was far too smart to seek public office" to be quite tacky, bordering on asinine, and Andrew Sullivan agrees.

No "RINOs" in GOP primary!

The Virginia State Board of Elections has agreed to require all voters in next year's primary elections sign a loyalty oath, to minimize the likelihood that Democrats might try to mess things up. See Washington Post. Well, that ought to scare off any moderate who has been flirting with the idea of voting with the GOP! Actually, the proposal doesn't bother me too much, and as some say, it probably does signify a step toward registration by party in the Old Dominion. Selection of candidates should be the exclusive domain of party organizations themselves, and the less interference from non-members (and the government), the better. Ideally, the parties themselves should bear most or all of the cost of holding primary elections, perhaps funded by a poll tax. You heard it here first! *

I was intrigued that "Cat" has a different take on this action, angered by what she perceives to be a lack of faith by the GOP leaders toward The Base. She wonders, "Have they lost their minds?"

* UPDATE: OK, I didn't realize the 24th Amendment covered primary elections as well as general elections. So maybe they could charge a nominal one-time administrative fee for those who want to register as a party member. Nah, that probably wouldn't work either.

GOP senators meet in Richmond

Earlier this week, Republican state senators huddled in Richmond to choose their leaders for the next legislative session [in which they will have to get used to being a minority like in the old days]. The changes signify a shift toward the right, but not a decisive one. Sen. Thomas Norment (Williamsburg) will become minority leader, taking the place of Sen. Walter Stosch (Henrico), who will become the Republican "leader emeritus" -- a meaningless title for the sake of dignity. (He's one of the so-called "RINOs.") Sen. Kenneth Stolle (Virginia Beach) will become Republican leader pro tempore, and Sen. Stephen Newman, of Lynchburg, will become Republican caucus chairman. Finally, Sen. Mark Obenshain (Harrisonburg) and Sen. Frank Wagner (Virginia Beach) were assigned "whips" as well; these were symbolic gestures aimed at placating the right-leaning faction. See Washington Times. Senator Emmett Hanger (Augusta) will remain in his position as the Chairman of the Policy Committee of the Senate Republican Caucus.

GOP fear mongering?

David Brooks (via InstaPundit) took aim at the fear-mongering of many politicians on the Right, but I think he went a bit overboard. I agree that some people oversell the threat of uncontrolled immigration or Third World imports, but it is foolish to ignore the serious problem that exists. Perhaps Brooks is one of those "complacency mongerers."


November 29, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Long-eared Owl

A number of Augusta Bird Club members have reported hearing owls at night in and around Staunton lately, but thus far I have not heard any -- even though I am often awake into the wee hours of the morning! Anyway, it seemed like an appropriate excuse for showing off one of the latest bird photos sent to me by my brother John just a couple days ago:

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared owl, near Freeman, South Dakota, courtesy of John D. Clem.

UPDATE: I had put that photo in the wrong place, so it wasn't appearing until I rectified the matter. Thanks to Beth Lumadue for alerting me to that goof.

Birding locations

I have updated the Augusta County Birding locations page, in which the map now stays fixed in position as you scroll up and down, and with the detailed text descriptions now toggling open and closed. Further testing pending...


November 30, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Corruption and emigration

If you lived in a country where most cops and judges are on the take, you'd probably get fed up with being cheated all the time and leave at your first opportunity. Sadly, that's the situation in much of Latin America and the Third World in general. Jim Patrick, a member of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors, made this point to bring attention to one of the basic reasons why people from Mexico and further south are so desperate to come to the United States. He includes a chart that compares corruption in various regions around the world, based on data from Transparency International. Patrick raised this point at a forum on immigration in Harrisonburg which I attended back in June, and moderator Chris Graham brusquely ruled it out of order.


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