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March 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Fujimori accuser recants

At the continuing trial of Peru's former president Alberto Fujimori, who is accused of corruption and human rights abuses, a former army major named Santiago Martin Rivas has changed his story. He now says Fujimori never gave orders to have suspected subversives killed, and also denies that the infamous "Colina" death squad even existed. That group is believed to have been responsible for the deaths or disappearances of dozens of Peruvians during the 1990s. Many Peruvians refuse to believe Rivas, who is currently serving a 20-year jail sentence for his involvement in the killings. See BBC. It may be that someone has put pressure on Rivas to change his story, or that someone had previously put pressure on him before to "finger" the former president. In any case, the testimony by Rivas may make it harder to get a conviction of Fujimori, who has already been found guilty of ordering an illegal search; see December 12. This latest development has caused a sensation in the Peruvian press, which is mostly anti-Fujimori these days.


March 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]

"Hi-def TV on steroids"?

That's what today's Washington Post called the brand-new scoreboard at Nationals Park. (An unfortunate reference.) At 101 feet long and 47 feet high, it is not the biggest scoreboard in the big leagues; Turner Field's is now, and Royals Stadium's will be soon. Nevertheless, the one in D.C. is unparalleled in terms of the latest high-tech gimmickry, and if it does generate fan enthusiasm like it's supposed to do, I suppose that's OK.

Nats at spring training

As the players warm up down in Viera, Florida, hopes are rising among Washington fans for an even better season than last year. Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes are supposed to be the outfield slugging stars of the future, but just in case there are three veterans to back them up: Austin Kearns, Ryan Langerhans, and Wily Mo Pena. As he begins his third full year in the majors, young third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is expected to be the team leader. He didn't get the multi-year contract he was hoping for, apparently because the front office thinks he will be patient "team player." Nick Johnson has played in some practice games, and seems ready to rejoin as the starting first baseman. If so, the Nats may have to trade away Dmitri Young, which would be a shame, since he was the team's only All-Star last year. The big question mark, as usual, is whether the starting pitching rotation will stay healthy. John Patterson's arm is in fine shape thus far, but Shawn Hill needs further rest and treatment, so we'll see.

Close, but no cigar

Right after 9:00 A.M. this morning, I got into "cyberspace line" to buy a ticket for the official Opening Day game with the Braves at Nationals Park on March 30. I expected the high-traffic delays, and for a minute I thought I had cleared the hurdle and had my big chance to snarf up a ticket. (See screen grab below.) No pairs of seats were left by then, so I tried to grab a single seat. I patiently clicked over and over to retry at several-second intervals, but alas, some glitch arose and I was forced to the back of the line. Too late, they were sold old. Ar-r-r-g-h-h-h! Well, I'm sure there will be seats available at one of the games in April. Comcast recently announced that they will carry all of the games on MASN this year, so we will finally get to see live Nationals games on a regular basis. About $#%&!@ time!

Nats ticketing 30 Mar 2008

March 6, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Digging through the mail bag

Mike Zurawski sends another big, juicy batch of ballpark news. In Our Nation's Capital, first of all, new photo gallery of Nationals Park can be seen at jdland.com. It looks very close to completion to me.

Up on the North Side of Chicago, where snow still covers the ground, the Cubs have added extra rows of box seats on the left side of the home team dugout on the third base side. Tight squeeze! Also, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority is expected to offer to buy Wrigley Field from the Tribune Company (which owns the Cubs) any day now. See suntimes.com. Walgreens has been mentioned as a possible buyer, but it is doubtful that the "Wrigley" name would be taken away, regardless of who buys the rights.

Finally, the Red Sox have built a new section of 412 seats on the upper level of Fenway Park, on the left end of the grandstand; it will be called "Coca-Cola Corner." As a result of this addition, as well as other modifications, the maximum (night-time) capacity will rise to 38,888. Meanwhile, the giant Coke bottles have been removed from the light tower behind the Green Monster. See boston.com

In the History Department, Bruce Orser sent me an article from The Sporting News dated May 30, 1956, indicating that the right and center field fences at Municipal Stadium (Kansas City) were 40 feet high. According to Green Cathedrals and all the other sources I've seen, the fence on that side was no more than 10-12 feet high until 1966. Does anyone know about this for sure?

Tom Koch-Weser has talked with some people who work with the Brewers, and they say the distance down the right field line still is 345 feet, even though they moved the fence in several feet two years ago. The foul pole never moved from the original position, apparently, so I'll have to revise that diagram...

Finally, I've been tweaking the Yankee Stadium and Polo Grounds diagrams over the past several days, having realized that the profiles were in need of correction or clarification. Stay tuned...


March 8, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Colombia's civil war spills over

Those who have been observing Hugo Chavez for the past few years knew that the day would come when he would seek to escalate an international crisis to the brink of war. Fantasizing about reliving the glory of Simon Bolivar, "El Libertador," Chavez has been spoiling for a fight. Likewise, it seemed inevitable that the narco-terrorist insurgency known as FARC would spread beyond Colombia's borders eventually. Nevertheless, the armed confrontation between Colombia and two of its neighbors this past week came as a bit of a shock.

It all started one week ago when Colombia launched an air strike on a FARC guerrilla base located across the border with Ecuador. Taking advantage of information gathered from a captured rebel leader in December, Colombia located a key rebel leader, Luis Edgar Devia, a.k.a. Raul Reyes, and successfully eliminated him. Colombian troops then moved in to recover the bodies and gather whatever intelligence they could find at the rebel base camp. This action took place just across the border with Ecuador, however, sparking outrage in that country and in Venezuela. (Well, what did they expect from hosting a rebel army?) Hugo Chavez sent thousands of troops and tanks to the Colombian border, briefly raising fears that Colombia's interminable civil war might spread to other countries. Daniel Ortega, the former rebel leader and current president of Nicaragua, declared he was cutting off diplomatic relations with Bogota. His accusation that President Alvaro Uribe committed "political terrorism" (see BBC) was quite ironic, given his own past.

At a summit meeting of the Organization of American States members in the Dominican Republic yesterday, the three leaders agreed to back off before a full-scale war erupts. Apparently, Colombia's president Alvaro Uribe blinked first, promising never again to violate another nation's border. See Washington Post. By doing so, without evident reciprocity by Chavez or Correa, he seems to be tying his own hands, giving the rebels much wider freedom of action in future confrontations. (That Post article also mentions that a second FARC commander, Manuel Jesus Muñoz, was apparently killed by his own men this week, a possible sign of worsening morale among the rebels.)

What is a bit odd about Uribe's apology is that it comes on the heels of evidence showing just how overtly Hugo Chavez has been supporting the FARC rebels. As reported in Friday's Washington Post, the captured documents provided ample evidence to show that Colombia's neighbors are hardly innocent bystanders in the "civil" war, so why on earth forfeit the righteous indignation? The timing of the attack, just before the summit meeting was scheduled to begin, was also a bit strange, but it may have been impromptu, taking advantage of a fleeting window of opportunity. CNN.com reported that President Rafael Correa of Ecuador claimed that Reyes was negotiating on behalf of FARC for the release of twelve captives, including Ingrid Betancourt, who ran for president in 2000. If so, that would cast doubt on Colombia's actions, but that is a very big if. It is fitting that Uribe should express regrets for having taken the precipitous action, but he should make it clear that it was made necessary by Ecuador's own failures to police its own territory. Future restraint by Colombia should be contingent upon future cooperation in fighting guerrilla movements. After all, how would we feel if Mexico or Canada harbored rebels or terrorists near our border? Would we stand idly by indefinitely?

In sum, the notion that Colombia is the real trouble-maker in the northern reaches of South America is simply too absurd to be taken seriously. Chavez has repeatedly voiced support and admiration for the FARC rebels, while denouncing Uribe as a "puppet" of the United States. In the six years since he was first inaugurated, Uribe has done more to pacify Colombia's rural areas and to subdue the subversive threat than any other president in modern history. He has strong support of his own people who are weary of the forty-year civil war and have become extremely dubious of the stated goals of FARC, which has evolved into a narco-mafia. Colombia deserves unwavering support by the United States, and President Bush is to be commended for speaking out strongly on behalf of one of our last remaining allies in Latin America. It would help matters greatly if Congress were to move ahead and pass the free trade agreement with Colombia, a reward they amply deserve. It would be a sign that our two countries share strong economic interests, as well as common long-term goals in fighting terrorism.

The balance of power

Washington Post summarized the military forces wielded by the three countries. None is prepared for a major land conflict, although Venezuela has purchased a large quantity of weapons from Russia in recent years -- Cold War nostalgia. (See February 2005.) President Chavez also sparked controversy by a large purchase of naval vessels from Spain, whose government has turned unfriendly toward the United States ever since the Socialists won control in March 2004. Venezuela's 21 U.S.-built F-16 fighters are the state of the art in Latin America, but they are in bad condition because of the refusal of the U.S. government to allow sales of spare parts. Spain also has F-16s in its inventory, and has supplied Venezuela with some key parts. (See May 2006.) On the other hand, purges of top officers suspected of disloyalty to Chavez has undermined the combat effectiveness of that country's armed forces. It is a persistent syndrome that whenever the military takes over a government, which is in effect what happened with Chavez in Venezuela, that the politicization of the officer corps tends to cripple their fighting ability. Venezuela was deploying ten battalions to the border, including a number of tanks, but the likelihood that they could sustain offensive operations in remote jungle terrain is very small. That is the main reason why most knowledgable observers are not terribly worried about a full-scale war breaking out -- it would be a logistical nightmare.

For its part, Ecuador has a substantial land and air force for a country its size, stemming from its border clashes with Peru in 1995. They are amply equipped with armored vehicles, surface-to-air missiles, attack helicopters, and fighter jets -- French Mirages and Israeli Kfirs.

Colombia's military is focused on counter-insurgency operations, with Black Hawk helicopters and light armored vehicles. The total manpower is 208,000, more than twice that of Venezuela, and that is what you would expect in a country in the midst of civil war. Like Ecuador, Colombia has purchased Mirage jet fighters from France, and Kfirs from Israel.


March 8, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Shovelers on Bell's Lane

No, not construction workers, but colorful long-billed ducks. We've had more than the usual number of Northern shovelers on ponds in the Bell's Lane area this winter, and today I got close enough to one of them to snap this picture. I learned from a field guide that their very large bills are used for less for digging through mud, as one would expect, than for skimming and straining food at the surface of the water. Today's highlights:

  • Northern shovelers (3)
  • American coots (2)
  • Hooded mergansers (2)
  • Ruddy ducks (2)
  • Redheads (3)
  • Kestrel
  • Robins (20+)
  • Red-winged blackbirds (20+)
Northern Shoveler

Northern shoveler (male)

In the Rockfish Valley on Wednesday I caught a glimpse of a Tree swallow, which would be the first of the year for me. Yesterday I came close to running over a Killdeer that was loitering in the middle of Route 29 near Lovingston. That species certainly does exhibit odd behavior!

The number of birds out back has declined noticeably this winter. There are fewer chickadees, titmice, Carolina wrens, woodpeckers, House finches, and almost no Goldfinches at all. I can't even remember the last time I saw a Purple finch or a Pine siskin; so much for this year being a "major northern irruption."


March 10, 2008 [LINK / comment]

The Spitzer sex scandal

Since news came out around 3:00 this afternoon that New York Governor Elliott Spitzer was involved as a client with a prostitution ring we have learned ... virtually nothing. We don't know if he will resign or even if he will be indicted, as some sources initially reported had already happened. What we do know is that an unsealed court affidavit refers to a "Client 9," who was identified as Spitzer. His very brief statement to the press made clear that he regards this as an entirely private matter between him and his family ... as if his duty to uphold the law or his former duty to prosecute corruption cases were entirely irrelevant. As CNN reports:

Spitzer, who built his career on rooting out public corruption as New York attorney general, became a national figure with a series of high-profile Wall Street investigations. He is also known for prosecuting prostitution rings.

(Ouch!) It's a truly bizarre, shocking development that makes you wonder how many other top officials are equally culpable. What does this case say about fair treatment by the media? Well, it's certainly a relief that a Democrat got caught, for once. Carnal sleaziness is bipartisan! What about Barney Frank, Larry Craig, Ted Haggard, and all the other morally frail men from the distant past like Gary Hart or Wilbur Mills? We should note that Larry Craig still has not resigned from the U.S. Senate, six months after promising his Republican colleagues he would do so in order to spare the party any further embarrassment. Never mind! Perhaps this latest episode will provide Craig the political cover to resign at last; Spitzer certainly should do so, immediately.

Why do so many politicians, star athletes, and celebrities engage in risky behavior that could ruin their careers? Mainly because the power they wield (or the glamour they possess) inflates their ego to the point where they think they can get away with anything, and indeed that they are entitled to such indulgence. It's called hubris.

The Spitzer scandal should also remind us of the inherent risk of hypocrisy whenever we apply puritanical standards of morality to public officials. (The French are giggling hysterically at us right now, without a doubt.) You never know who is being naughty behind closed doors, and prudence dictates that politicians refrain from pontificating about morality when someone in their own party might get caught tomorrow.

Hillary Clinton: Comeback Gal

Hillary Clinton's big wins in Texas and Ohio last week were good news for John McCain and Republicans in general. It gave her the opportunity to raise once again the possibility that Barack Obama could serve as her vice president. How generous of her! It's true that getting both Hillary and Barack on the ballot this November would be a "dream ticket" for the Dems, but there is little chance that either one of them is humble enough to take the number two spot. Hillary's continued presumptive attitude, spoofed by the fake 3:00 A.M. phone call TV campaign ad on Saturday Night Live, is startlingly out of step with the actual political situation. Unless, that is, she plans to use her bag of dirty tricks to pressure or even blackmail superdelegates to pick her instead of the candidate who will almost certainly end up with more delegates and more total votes. How un-democratic that would be! On CNN, Dick Morris said that if Hillary resorts to such measures, it would cause a civil war to break out within the Democratic Party that would last 20 years.

Huckabee bows out

In contrast, Mike Huckabee conceded to John McCain in a very gracious way. He might actually get the veep offer, which would raise hopes that the Republican factions might pull together in November.


March 11, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Yankee Stadiums: new and old

Based on what I have learned from a variety of sources, I have finished (I hope) corrections and minor enhancements to the Yankee Stadium diagrams. They now include light towers and a more accurate profile of the grandstand.

Yankee Stadium II

new While I was at it, I came up with a preliminary, very rough sketch diagram of Yankee Stadium II, construction of which is now over half completed. Like all the revised stadium pages, it is now very easy to compare the "before" and "after" ballparks. You can see that the new stadium is drastically altered from the original, most notably in terms of the huge "footprint," i.e., the total area covered by the field and the structure. (Bruce Orser commented that it looks like it ate too many doughnuts. smile) On both that page and the "real" Yankee Stadium page, there is an alternate design I created, using the expanded grandstand of 1976 but with dimensions closer to the classic version (1937-1973), which sadly is gone forever.

Coincidentally, Bruce called my attention to a detailed 3-D digital model (under construction) of the classic Yankee Stadium, as well as a series of photos of baseball stadiums used for football games. Both of those sets of images can be seen at baseball-fever.com. I used the latter to redo the football gridiron of Yankee Stadium, former home of the (NFL) Giants.

Big bird = good luck

Back in the real world of baseball, less than three weeks remain before the Grand Opening of Nationals Park. (Note that I just recalibrated the Opening Day "countdown clock," which now refers to the March 30 Nats vs. Braves game, rather than the first games of most other teams on March 31.) During the first inning of a split-squad practice game on Sunday, a Sandhill crane landed on the field at Space Coast Stadium, and then walked calmly toward the dugout. Some nerve! The tall migratory bird finally got tired of the game and flew away during the fifth inning, and the Nats went on to beat the Indians, 9-0. See MLB.com.


March 11, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Rock and Roll? Not!

Among the new inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year were John Mellencamp, who is as deserving as anyone, and Madonna, a.k.a. Louise Ciccone, who is most definitely not. It didn't help matters when she mentioned the "naysayers" in her acceptance speech. She is talented, contrary to what some think, and she deserves admiration for achieving pop music success, but we shouldn't get confused about musical genres.

As for Mellencamp, someone gave me the premier "John Cougar" album way back when "Jack and Diane" was his biggest hit. It took a while for me to really appreciate his style, his rebel attitude, and his growing sense of purpose and devotion to preserving rural / small-town America. "Pink Houses" ranks high on my list of favorite rock tunes.

The other inductees this year were The Dave Clark Five, The Ventures, and Leonard Cohen, a beatnik songwriter whom I had never heard of, but who sounds fully legit. Some other "dubious" R&RHOF inductees of the past include Herb Alpert, Parliament-Funkadelic, James Taylor, and Michael Jackson. Some of those artists are fine musicians and/or entertainers, but they are just not true rockers.

I took a quick look at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. It is located on the Cleveland waterfront, not far from the new Browns football stadium.


March 13, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Noise politics in the Valley

For the past couple months, a fierce debate has arisen over a proposed motocross/Xtreme sports complex at the Augusta Expoland complex near Fishersville. The developer, Terry Argenbright, applied for a special use permit and held a demonstration at the site a few weeks ago, hoping to convince neighbors that the noise wouldn't be too bad. Some pro-motocross advocates argued that the noise wouldn't be much different than the Pegasus ambulance helicopters that often land at Augusta Medical Center, just across I-64. Former Augusta County Supervisor Tom Sikes made a strong endorsement of the proposal, saying that the County-owned Expoland needs the money and might have to sold to private investors otherwise, in which case the County would have less control over it. Last Thursday, the Augusta County Zoning Board approved Argenbright's request by a vote of 3-2. According to the News Virginian , "Zoning board members were evently split in their vote. Chairman Steve Shreckhise and member George Coyner III voted against the permit, while Charles Swortzel, Daisy Brown and J.W. Callison, Jr. voted in favor." Hat tip to Beth Lumadue, who wrote a letter to the editor of the News Leader opposing the motocross track on January 29.

Then at a secret meeting on Monday, the Expoland board of directors shocked everyone by voting against the proposal, leaving the Argenbrights feeling "blindsided." See the News Leader. This was a huge relief to the local residents who treasure their relative tranquility, but this story is not over yet -- not by a long shot.

Even though I'm not a fan of motor sports, I think there ought to be a suitable venue for that sort of thing somewhere in Augusta County. It has many square miles of remote land where the only beings affected by the noise would be livestock, but such a location might not draw enough customers to be commercially viable. Perhaps in one of the industrial areas near Waynesboro or Stuarts Draft...

Even right here in Staunton, the noise created by off-trail recreational vehicles on certain large private tracts of land has caused annoyance. It reduces our quality of life, and may even disrupt the breeding cycle of birds and other wild animals. We ought to find a compromise where everyone's rights get due respect.

DEEP THOUGHT: When teenage kids are zooming about in gasoline-powered dirt bikes for the sheer fun of it, can anyone really say that the price of gasoline is too high to afford?

Goodlatte campaigns

Facing a serious challenge from Democrat Sam Rasoul this year, Congressman Bob Goodlatte is gearing up for the fall campaign. He spoke at the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport earlier this week, but only a few reporters and one blogger (Steve Kijak) were there. See Augusta 4 Goodlatte. Goodlatte is a very solid conservative and is highly respected for being decent and attentive to his constituents' concerns. The local Democratic blogger "Kestrel" (Cobalt 6) has been harshly mocking Goodlatte for his strong stand on Iraq and other things, but that rhetorical approach is not likely to win many votes for Rasoul. To me, nevertheless, it's a good thing that the Sixth District seat is at least being contested by the Democrats. Because of redistricting gimmicks, too many House seats have been made non-competitive, which undermines voter interest in our political process. Any capitalist would agree that competition is a healthy thing!


March 14, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Is this a great city, or what?

I was snooping around a brand-new retirement housing development near Montgomery Hall Park recently, and discovered a spectacular vantage point from which this panorama was taken. I spliced together four separate images, and it was a challenge to get the colors to blend properly. A close inspection will reveal multiple retouching attempts.

Staunton panorama

Staunton, Virginia, from the southwest side, March 14, 2008. Downtown is on the left, and Betsy Bell Hill is on the right.
(Click on the image to see a full-size version.)


March 14, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Do Dems do do-over elections?

Many Democrats, and even some Republicans, have a shaky grasp of the need for political organizations to abide by the rules for the sake of unity and integrity. In particular, when the national party organizations set explicit rules in advance and then the states flaunt those rules, someone will end up suffering. Hillary Clinton is lobbying hard to get a full slate of delegates seated from Michigan (where she was the only candidate who ran) and Florida, both of whose primary elections have been voided by the Democratic National Committee, because they were held earlier than party rules allowed. (I think they have pills to control "premature elections" nowadays. smile)

It is total chaos, and one can only imagine what kind of brouhaha may erupt at the convention in Denver this August 25-28. This situation could not be sweeter for Republicans, as the economy tanks and McCain tries to get caught up with remedial reading of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations.

The Washington Post reports that Florida Democrats have called for a mail-in "do-over primary" in June. I can't believe how brazen many Democrats in Florida have been in blaming the Republican-controlled legislature for their predicament, even though the early date was originally proposed by a Democrat, and a large majority of them voted for the measure last year. The question of who is going to pay for it validates my point that the general public should not shoulder the burden of paying for the nomination process of political parties -- period.

Moral of the story: Do-over elections are inherently problematic and never resolve the underlying dispute over fairness.

My hat's in the ring

According to the News Virginian, I am challenging incumbent Staunton Republican Committee chairwoman Anne Taetzsch in the upcoming mass meeting elections to be held on March 29. Yes, it is true. (There was a potential scheduling conflict with Opening Day in D.C. that weekend, but I couldn't get tickets.)

Can we all get along?

~ Rodney King

March 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Upgrading Wrigley Field

Lots of things have been happening in Wrigleyville over the winter. The Cubs are trying to sell their beloved home to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority in order to raise capital to pay for a pennant-contending team, and it appears likely that the name rights to Wrigley Field will be sold this year. (Sacrilege!) Also, the proposed "Triangle Building" to be built on the west side of the stadium has been postponed for the time being. They are also squeezing in another 70 seats along the third base line, to be called the "Chicago Board Options Exchange" seats. One positive note: "The Cubs will not add a video scoreboard or Jumbotron to the existing scoreboard." See MLB.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.

On a similar note, the Tribune Company, which owns the Cubs (for now) is considering a ticket tax to help finance renovations of Wrigley Field, possibly including a totally rebuilt upper deck. See Chicago Sun Times; hat tip to Bruce Orser.

So, with all those things in mind, I've updated my Wrigley Field diagrams, with a few additional details and a proposed alternative future design that may be fairly close to what is being planned. After thinking it over, I've decided to put the distance markers on the inside of the outfield fences, so as not to obstruct details in the outfield seating areas, etc.

Wrigley Field

Ticket prices in D.C.

In Thursday's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell gave a detailed assessment of the complicated ticket pricing structure at Nationals Park. Seats in the "bleacher" areas (there are no bench seats) cost a surprisingly steep $20 and up, whereas much of the upper deck is relatively affordable, in the $10-$17 range, with a limited number of $5 game day seats in the north end. Perhaps the outfield seats will cost more because D.C. baseball fans have never had decent views from the outfield: All the outfield seats at RFK were in the upper deck, and all the outfield seats at Griffith Stadium were 400 or more feet from home plate.


March 16, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Palm Sunday in Staunton, 2008

As is the custom in Staunton, four of the downtown congregations held a joint Palm Sunday street procession this morning. Just like last year, the ecumenical march began at Trinity Episcopal Church and ended at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, and a quintet of Dixieland-style musicians played "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Lord of the Dance." This year I took some photos (including four of the churches in the montage below), and a video, which I may post on YouTube in the next day or two.

Sugar Grove gap

Clockwise, from top left: Emmanuel Episcopal, Second Presbyterian, Trinity Episcopal, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic, Ebenezer Baptist, Augusta Street Methodist, and Central United Methodist. All of these churches are located in downtown Staunton.

Maple Festival: 50th year

After church, Jacqueline and I drove out to Highland County, where the 50th annual Maple Festival was being held. It was bright and sunny but very chilly, having snowed the night before. (But not as much as last year!) We bought the standard maple donuts, maple popcorn, and an assortment of arts and crafts. We took the long way back home, heading north into Pendleton County, West Virginia, which is sparsely settled but very scenic. All in all, it was a busy, rewarding day.

Sugar Grove gap

The town of Sugar Grove, West Virginia, lies just beyond the gap. The mountain ridge in the background is the Virginia state line, and that white stuff around the top is snow!


March 20, 2008 [LINK / comment]

The Yankees come to Virginia

Ah, if I had only known about it in advance... As an expression of support for Virginia Tech students and families as the first anniversary of the infamous massacre approaches, the New York Yankees paid a good-will visit to Blacksburg, Virginia on Tuesday, playing an exhibition game against the Virginia Tech Hokies. I was impressed that Jeter, A-Rod, Posada, and most other star players made the trip, which no doubt greatly raised morale on campus. Final score: Yankees 11, Hokies 0. See MLB.com.

American baseball "invades" Asia

In the early twentieth century, the U.S. Marines introduced baseball to Cuba, the Dominican Republic and other "unruly" places in the Caribbean Basin. Remarkably, our National Pastime was eagerly accepted by the local people, in spite of the rather imperialistic manner in which it arrived. In recent years, Major League Baseball has renewed effort so expand its market to Asia. Earlier this week the Dodgers and Padres played an exhibition game in China, where most people have never heard of the sport, and next Monday and Tuesday, the Boston Red Sox and Oakland A's will play real games in Tokyo, Japan. See MLB.com. This will be the third time that official Major League ball games have been played in the Tokyo Dome; the earlier occasions were in 2000 and 2004.

Construction snafus in D.C.

I recently got an "insider's tip" about some goofs that are holding up completion of Nationals Park. Earlier this week several workers were instructed to power-wash the stadium interior, which is still full of sawdust and debris. Not knowing how to read English labels on the containers, however, they mistakenly used 500 gallons of refrigerator coolant instead of detergent. Oops! As a result, the refrigerators could not be turned on in time for the delivery of perishable food items, some of which which may go to waste. Only ten more days to go... ¡Apúrense, carajo!


March 21, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nats relase Patterson

The Nationals released their right-hand would-be star pitcher, John Patterson, one of the last team players who used to wear an Expos uniform. This sad news is a real shame. Apparently, team co-owner Mark Lerner saw Patterson give up several runs against the Orioles last week and said enough's enough. See MLB.com. Well, I guess Patterson's had enough chances, but I was still hoping he might finally overcome his persistent arm problems and live up the the high hopes we had for him when the Nationals began playing nearly three years ago. Meanwhile, the Nationals have signed veteran lefty Odalis Perez to a one-year contact, and reassigned aging second baseman Bret Boone to the team's Triple-A affiliate in Columbus.


March 21, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Peru to Venezuela: Butt out!

In the wake of the recent saber rattling by Hugo Chavez against Colombia, the prime minister of Peru, Jorge del Castillo, warned Venezuela against providing "under the table" funding for leftist groups in Peru. See CNN. To emphasize the point, Peru has announced that it will intensify cooperation with Colombia in the struggle against terrorism. Two presumed rebels belonging to FARC were = detained in the northeastern jungle city of Iquitos two weeks ago, but Defense Minister Antero Flores-Araoz asssured Peruvians that no infiltration by any armed FARC rebels has been detected thus far. (Is that a relief?) See El Comercio Peru (in Spanish). There is little doubt that further incursions will take place, and one might expect that Hugo Chavez will run interference for such subversion, blocking coordinated efforts to contain the menace.

NOTE: Peru is the only country in Latin America with a prime minister, but the title does not carry very much power beyond coordinating the legislative agenda. Peru's constitution is modeled in part on that of France, which has a "semi-presidential" system in which the prime minister plays a secondary role.

Conserving Mexico's biodiversity

It is always gratifying to learn that Latin American countries are taking strong steps to preserve their biodiversity, even though they have pressing social problems. In Mexico, the non-profit organization Pronatura selected six species that are in particular danger. Among the most familiar to Americans is the Monarch Butterfly camera, which spends the winter in a highly specialized forest zone in the mountains west of the capital. The other endangered species are: Golden Eagle, Gray Whale, Jaguar, Mexican Prairie Dog, and the "Vaquita," a small relative of the porpoise that is found exclusively near the Colorado River delta, in the Gulf of California. See CNN.com.

Bolivia referendum

The date for Bolivia's constitutional referendum has been set: May 4. See CNN.com.


March 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Spring has sprung ... at last

The vernal equinox this year (March 20) coincided with a marked mild turn in the weather, beckoning nature lovers outdoors. I took this photo of a yellow crocus flower in the garden in front of Emmanuel Episcopal Church this afternoon. (I helped out for a while with a cleanup crew this morning.) I distinctly recall that crocuses often bloom as early as February or even January, but this year the winter seems to have dragged on longer than usual, perhaps because of that groundhog in Punxatawney, PA.

Yellow crocus

Tonight is the first full moon this spring, which is why tomorrow will be Easter -- the earliest Easter in our entire lives, in fact. According to my brother Chris,

1) The next time Easter will be this early (March 23) will be the year 2228 (220 years from now). The last time it was this early was 1913 (so if you're 95 or older, you are the only ones that were around for that!).

2) The next time it will be a day earlier, March 22, will be in the year 2285 (277 years from now). The last time it was on March 22 was 1818. So, no one alive today has or will ever see it any earlier than this year!

March 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Can Obama triangulate on race?

I heard the latter portion of Barack Obama's vaunted speech on racial issues as it was being broadcast live from Philadelphia on Tuesday morning, and like most people I was fairly impressed. The Senator sounded thoughtful, candid, and forthright, seeing both sides of this highly sensitive issue, and it seemed he was living up to sky-high hopes he has raised for racial harmony. After I read the whole speech, however, I realized that he blew his big chance. He was trying to contain the damage stemming from the release of the video of his former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright two weeks ago, sparking a multicultural free-for-all. Obama dithered for several days while the controversy heated up, and finally gave a speech laying out his vision for America. This was the key passage:

I can no more disown him [Rev. Wright] than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother, a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe. (SOURCE: washingtonpost.com.)

It is perfectly understandably that Sen. Obama would want to show loyalty to his church and its ministers, and that he would want to reaffirm his standing among Black Americans. After all, he is in the awkward position of being an African-American with no slave ancestors, as far as anyone knows. We must also recognize that Obama took pains to criticize the Rev. Wright's sermons in detail, making good points about the changing nature of American society. He made a huge, regrettable error, however: He wrongly asserted a moral equivalence between ordinary racial stereotyping, which is nearly universal to some degree,* and overt hate speech, which has the potential to incite people to commit acts of violence. If you think about it, there isn't much difference between what Rev. Wright was saying ("God #@&$ America") and what radical Islamic militants are saying. Likewise, his comparison what Rev. Wright said to what Geraldine Ferraro recently said is ridiculous. By downplaying the meaning of those words, Sen. Obama has greatly weakened his moral authority.

* When Obama said in a later interview that his grandmother was a "typical white person," he showed that he too engages in racial stereotyping, just like the rest of us.

Andrew Sullivan tried valiantly to defend Obama, but I'm afraid his enthusiasm for the candidate will wane.

Obama is graceful and resilient enought to recover from this setback, but even if he is nominated, and even if he wins the White House, he will still face nagging questions for years to come. Even with his eloquent profession of "faith in the decency and generosity of the American people," it reinforces the suspicion that, deep inside, he shares his wife Michelle's being "ashamed of America." We don't need a leader who carries such a heavy burden. If he does lose by a close margin, his failure to distance himself from hate-mongers may be judged to be one of the decisive factors. If so, the frustrations felt by African-Americans in this country might be too much to bear, and that would be a tragedy for all of us.

Is Obama a Muslim?

Given the latest controversy, such a question on religious identity may seem moot. Sen. Hillary Clinton said in a TV interview that Barack Obama was not a Muslim, but then added "as far as I know." Guilt by (off-handedly suggestive) association: What a perfect example of Clintonian double-talk!


March 23, 2008 [LINK / comment]

First game at Nationals Park!

The first-ever baseball game at Nationals Park was played yesterday, and the George Washington University defeated St. Joseph's University, 9-4. The Washington Post reports that the stadium is just about "ready for prime time," so I have upped its completion status from 98% to 99%.

The Post also published a "love letter to RFK Stadium" from Rocco Zappone, an old Senators (II) fan who was traumatized by the 1971 relocation to Texas. For decades, he held out hopes for a new team in Washington, only to be disappointed each time, so that by the time the relocation of the Expos was announced in September 2004, he "felt an odd sense of detachment." Nevertheless, the experience of attending Nationals games as 2005 progressed gradually brought back his feeling for "frumpy, dumpy old RFK Stadium." So now, he has mixed feelings about the impending opening of the new ballpark on the Anacostia: "The real measure of Nationals Park will be whether boys and girls who see their first games here come to feel the same affection for this place that I now feel for RFK."

The mail bag

I've had some thoughtful messages in the last week or so, but unfortunately I haven't been able to respond as of yet. However, I did get a neat tip from Bruce Orser: A youtube.com video excerpt from the Buster Keaton (silent) movie The Cameraman (1928) in which he performed a scene in Yankee Stadium. It is a sight to behold, live and in living black and white. For more info on the movie, see imdb.com.


March 23, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Easter Sunday 2008

Hope for eternal life: That's what Easter is all about. Victory over death, and death to sin. The more you study religion, the more you become aware of your own moral failings. What makes it so hard for many unchurched people to accept religion is believing that God could ever be so merciful as to forgive us for some of the rotten things we have done in our lives. But He really is that great of a God, capable of more mercy than we could ever imagine. Taking that to heart is what changes people's lives, casting out the bitterness many of us feel, and learning to wholeheartedly love Our Creator, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son, to the end that all who believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Palm Sunday video

Just in time for Easter, I finished editing the video I took at the March 16 Palm Sunday procession through downtown Staunton, and I posted it on YouTube:

I put the video link on the Emmanuel Episcopal Church Web site as well.


March 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Goldfinches have returned

For the first time in months, we've been seeing Goldfinches out back at our feeders, and their plumage is starting to turn brighter yellow. White-breasted nuthatches and House finches are also showing up fairly regularly, along with the more abundant bird species.

Yesterday we drove through the country, stopping at the big pond near Bell's Lane, among other places. Here are the highlights, including the first Cowbirds of the season:

  • Ruddy ducks (1M, 2F)
  • Coots (2)
  • Redheads (3M, 2F)
  • Pied-billed grebe
  • Killdeers (2)
  • Great blue herons (2)
  • Cowbirds (2, FOS)
  • Flicker
  • Bluebirds

March 25, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Opening Day (?) in Japan

Waking up to watch a baseball game on TV: What an oddly pleasant way to start the day! For a traditionalist, it's hard to accept the idea of an Opening Day game being played in a foreign country, but the precedent has already been set, so it's not such a big deal any more. Anyway, it was a thrilling game to watch, with multiple lead changes and going into extra innings. Oakland got on the scoreboard in the first inning, thanks to a home run by Ellis, but the next four innings were scoreless. Starting pitcher (and national hero) Daisuke Matsuzaka left the game with a 3-2 lead thanks to a Red Sox rally in the top of the sixth, but ended up with no decision. Manny Ramirez got four RBIs altogether, while David Ortiz went hitless. The real hero for the Red Sox was probably Brandon Moss, however, as his ninth-inning home run is what saved Boston from defeat. Both teams scored in the tenth, and if it weren't for the base-running goof by Brown, the Athletics just might have won. Final score: Red Sox 6, A's 5. See MLB.com. It just doesn't get any better than this, sports fans!

While watching, I was paying close attention to the Tokyo Dome, and noticed that the bullpens are under the grandstand, not in foul territory as I had thought. (That seems unfair to fans who want to see who is warming up.) Also, foul territory seemed larger than I had estimated, even with the extra rows of box seats that have been added along the first and third base sides. So, I'll probably make a couple minor modifications to that diagram soon.

The "real" opening day, in Our Nation's Capital (!), is still five days away...

The mail bag

Mike Zurawski sent another boatload of ballpark news that is too much for me digest in one sitting. For now, here is the first item: The Giants have added a balcony hanging over the right field wall. It is called "McCovey Cove Loft," and holds 40 box seats. They are also building a "Legends" luxury suite that will cost about $17,000 a game. (No thanks!) See ktvu.com. Stay tuned for much more...


March 25, 2008 [LINK / comment]

New male canary has spunk

The male canary we bought in January, Luciano, has proven to be not only a robust, hearty singer (hence his name), but behaves rather aggressively as well. As the birds outside begin preliminary spring courtship rituals, Luciano too is getting increasingly "amorous" toward, and protective of, Princess. In fact, if we approach Princess too closely, he will fly over to "defend" her, and he sometimes even buzzes our heads when we intrude upon "his" territory. I don't think George was ever that aggressive. Perhaps it's just an adolescent phase that Luciano is going through. We'll see...

For the enjoyment of the general public, I now present Luciano's song:


March 25, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Is Hillary Clinton a liar?

That is what is known as a rhetorical question. Of course she's a liar! After all, everybody lies, right? So what?

Very few of us tell such bald-faced whoppers about very important factual matters, however. In the mendacity department, Hillary and Bill are truly in a league of their own.

On the CBS Evening news last night, there was an extraordinarily candid piece by a reporter who was with Hillary and Chelsea Clinton when they visited Bosnia in 1995. The video clips and first-hand recollections of the reporter left no doubt that Hillary's claims about being shot at as the plane landed were 100% bogus. (Let's hear it for the mainstream media! smile) Later that evening, Sen. Clinton admitted the false statement, and today she lamely explained that it was "a mistake." Her grim, contorted face revealed that she knew what an awful mistake she had really made, for it may just have ruined her chances for good. See Washington Post. I think this just goes to show how power and self-righteousness tend to cloud one's own perception and recollection so heavily that truth and fiction become hopelessly mixed up. Hillary probably wishes she had been shot at.

Well, so much for Hillary's brief upward bounce in the polls following the outrageous news about Barack Obama's former preacher, the Rev. Wright. (Or is it Rev. Wrong?)

Is Richardson "Judas"?

Meanwhile, James Carville says he won't back down from his comparison of Bill Richardson to Judas, just because he (Richardson) decided to endorse Barack Obama, despite his close ties to the Clintons. See New York Times; via InstaPundit. Since when does an honest change of opinion signify betrayal?? Sometimes we learn things that cause us to change our mind. Carville's rabid zealotry really showed through this time, and it's not a pretty sight. [It was also very unseemly of Carville to exploit Good Friday and the image of Christ's crucifixion for political purposes.]

News Leader on local GOP races

On Saturday I was interviewed at length about the upcoming GOP party elections by Lauren Fulbright, a reporter for the News Leader. [In the Sunday paper,] Easter Sunday no less, there were two big articles that emphasized the rifts in the party. As for the article on the Staunton race, in which I am a candidate, I was accurately quoted for the most part, though the chronology of the April and May meetings last year was a little mixed up.

The article on the Augusta County race mentioned an incident at the Belle Grae Inn on Saturday morning, when the Mountain Valley Republicans (including me) were meeting for breakfast. There was an unfriendly uninvited "guest" who rebuffed repeated polite requests to leave the premises until the owner of the establishment asked him to. I didn't see any physical contact or rudeness.

Finally, I have prepared some "campaign literature" in preparation for the mass meeting on Saturday (?)*:

* NOTE: According to the RPV State Party Plan,

All calls for Mass Meetings or Party Canvasses shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the Election District not less than seven (7) days nor more than thirty (30) days, except those calls for special elections, prior to the Mass Meeting or Party Canvass and except calls published in any presidential election year, in which case the call shall be published at least fifteen (15) days in advance.

As far as I know, the meeting call has not yet been published in the News Leader, which is the only newspaper in this election district (City of Staunton). Inquiries to local party officials have not been answered thus far...


March 27, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nationals Park countdown: D-3

And they said it couldn't be done! (Hey, I was one of them.) Construction of Nationals Park is on time and within budget, as the team flies home to Washington from Viera, Florida. The Washington Post notes that former Mayor Anthony Williams was a key proponent of the Anacostia River stadium site, for which he deserves great credit. For Saturday night's exhibition game against the Orioles, 25,000 fans with season tickets (or other elite status) will be admitted. The stadium's official capacity has been raised from 41,222 to 41,888; see MLB.com.

Mike Zurawski came across a new batch of photos of the George Washington University's game at at Nationals Park on March 22 at jdland.com. It looks fantastic, all gleaming and bright, though it's kind of eerie with all those empty seats. I can hardly wait until Sunday night, when we will all get to see the new ballpark's official debut broadcast on ESPN. Indeed, I will probably get a little "verklempt."

As for the team, it looks like Nick Johnson has his old job back, and the portly All Star Dmitri Young may be traded before long. That would be too bad, but quite understandable. As with Alfonso Soriano, he (will / would) be missed fondly and respectfully.

Nostalgia in L.A.

Across the continent, meanwhile, the Dodgers will host the Red Sox at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday against, in a 50th anniversary relocation commemoration. Duke Snider and Don Newcombe are among the 50s-era Dodgers who will be present. See MLb.com; thanks to Jeff for reminding me about this. (How will Brooklynites mark this occasion?) Also, another phase of renovations at Dodger Stadium is being wrapped up, but it's mostly interior enhancements such as new restaurants, etc.


UPDATE: Jeff found a Memorial Coliseum baseball seating diagram at bizofbaseball.com, and learned that "the left field fence will be 192 feet away from home plate March 29" from wbztv.com. Thanks, Jeff! I can pat myself on the back for having written when the news first broke in November, "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."


March 27, 2008 [LINK / comment]

News Leader stresses conscience

The editorial in today's News Leader discussed the upcoming Staunton Republican mass meeting, refraining from taking sides and simply urging party members to "vote their conscience." Indeed. They hit the nail on the head with these observations about the Staunton and Augusta County GOP units, recalling what happened last year's Hanger vs. Sayre primary race:

The division, it seems, is between the membership of these local parties and their leadership.

...

Until strong leaders take control of the committees and answer to the membership, these rifts will continue.

As I keep saying, as long as we listen to each other and follow the rules in resolving differences of opinion, everything will work out fine. That is my firm and earnest pledge to the Republicans of this fine city.

As for the required published meeting call, one of our members finally tracked down when and where it appeared in print: March 3 in the News Leader. I wasn't even looking for it that early, and I seriously doubt many people in the public noticed it either. But it seems to have met the letter of the RPV provisions, if not the spirit. Oddly, however, the ad was not paid for with committee funds, which makes you wonder who is bankrolling us, and why. Ads aren't cheap; this one was going to cost a few hundred dollars, as I recall. That is only one of many such irregularities over the past two years...

Elsewhere on that page was a letter endorsing the incumbent candidate, but the staccato gibberish in it left me bewildered. Redefining the word "conservative," indeed!

Todos se fueron

Translation: "Everybody has left." Well, that's the way it seems lately in in Prince William County, where the "crackdown" on illegal immigrants has caused a number of Latino businesses to shut down. It's not quite like the movie A Day Without A Mexican Yet, however, not by any means! See Washington Post. If local leaders handle this the right way, PWC Board Chairman Corey Stewart could get a huge career boost.

COMMENT by: Carl Kilo, of Wise, VA on Mar 29, 2008 18:30 PM
Looks like the people voted their conscience by a 3 to 1 margin. It should be clear to you and the News Leader.

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Mar 30, 2008 18:46 PM
Somehow I doubt that most of the folks on the other side take their cues on how to cast their votes from the "Slantin' Misleader," but anything is possible. In any case, the results are very clear to me.


March 27, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Purple finches everywhere

I went for a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning, and the sound of all the birds singing was like a symphony. Purple finches were in abundance nearly everywhere I went, nibbling on buds high in the tree tops. Even with the overcast skies, the air was mild and full of floral fragrance. Today's highlights:

  • Purple finches (50+)
  • Goldfinches (15+)
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Golden-crowned kinglet (F)
  • Ruby-crowned kinglet (M)

Also, I heard a Phoebe in the distance.

Horseshoe crabs

New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine signed a bill imposing a halt on harvesting Horseshoe crabs, upon which the sandpiper species known as Red knots depends during its northward spring migration. (Hat tip to Charles Ziegenfus.)

I previously wrote about Horseshoe crabs and Red knots in Feb. 2006.


March 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Opening Night* at Nationals Park

The first-ever pitch at Nationals Park (in a real game) was a foul tip by Kelly Johnson, pitched by Odalis Perez. The first-ever hit at said ballpark was by shortstop Cristian Guzman, on the first pitch in the bottom of the first inning. The first run was scored two batters later when Nick Johnson hit a double to right field, and Guzman was first to cross the plate. Austin Kearns followed up immediately thereafter with an RBI base hit. What a fanstastic way to inaugurate the new era of baseball in Our Nation's Capital. (For the next five innings, however, no Nats reached first base.) In the fourth inning, Chipper Jones hit the first home run, which just made it into the "Red Porch" seats in left center. Game updates to follow...

President Bush's ceremonial first pitch was way high, but it's hard to throw accurately when you're wearing a heavy vest. He seemed slightly uneasy in the press box with ESPN's Joe Morgan and Jon Miller, but still made a few insightful remarks. We at least have to give him credit for being ahead of the curve on the steroid/dope issue, which he raised in his 2004 State of the Union address. At the time, many people had no idea it was such a big deal.

My initial impressions of Nationals Park were very good (of course), and the first fly ball to the outfield in last night's exhibition game against the Orioles revealed how close the power alley fences are. (The Nats won the game, 3-0.) The corner in center field seemed sharper than I expected. The high-definition video screen / scoreboard looks great on definition TV!

* (Opening Day is pretty much a thing of the past, sadly.)

Roll your mouse over this image to compare the new ballpark to the old one (RFK).

Nationals Park

UPDATE: It was quite a pitcher's duel during the latter innings, with the score remaining 2-1 until the top of the ninth. Then Jon Rauch came in as closer instead of Chad Cordero (stiffness?), and [Mark Teixeira -- oops!] got a double off the top of the right field wall, advanced to third on a ground out, and a passed ball allowed him to tie the game. D'oh!

As for the ballpark, I've found the TV camera perspective of the infield from the high-altitude press box to be very interesting -- another aspect of the new stadium that will take some getting used to. I noticed that the official distance to center field is 402 feet, not 403 as previously indicated.

FINAL UPDATE: How's this for a storybook ending to the first-ever regulation game in Nationals Park: With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, future All Star Ryan Zimmerman hits a line-drive walk-off home run to the power alley in left center. And the crowd went wild!!! (Zimmerman's homer was even shorter than the one Chipper Jones hit.) And so, the Nationals win their first game in their new home, 3-2. Jon Rauch got credit as the winning pitcher, even though he blew the save. You know, sports fans, it just doesn't get any better than this!

The mail bag

A record baseball crowd of 115,300 saw the Red Sox beat Dodgers in the exhibition game at Memorial Coliseum last night. Given the extremely short left-field dimension (192 feet), I was surprised that the final score was only 7-4. See Yahoo Sports; hat tip to Bruce Orser.

Also from Bruce: All traces of Barry Bonds have been removed from AT&T Park, according to ESPN. The Giants' front office has indicated that there are no circumstances under which he will be brought back to San Francisco.


UPDATE: T.J. Zmina really likes Nationals Park, saying it's like a hybrid of Comerica and PNC Parks: "One thing I find interesting is the lighting, the lights are not mounted on towers like in most current stadiums, however they're not quite on the 'rim' either as is popular in many football venues. Also not an aberration like at RFK, where the lights almost appear as an afterthought." Indeed.


March 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Taetzsch wins in a landslide

In spite of rumors that a holy war was brewing, the Staunton Republican Committee's 2008 mass meeting went fairly smoothly. Just in case, two members of the Staunton Police Department were there to maintain order. The City Council chambers [were] filled to capacity with eighty three residents of Staunton identifying themselves as Republicans, with a large contingent of outside visitors and reporters. Bath County GOP Chairman Andy Jones chaired the mass meeting, and a series of three-minute speeches on behalf of various party and government candidates ensued. The most notable speaker was Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who happened to sit next to me. In his speech he reminded everyone of the continuing threat of terrorism. He is aware that whichever Democratic candidate wins the nomination this summer, he will face a serious challenge for the first time in years.

Incumbent GOP Sixth District Chairman Fred Anderson was among the visiting party leaders who was "pressing the flesh," as was the man who is challenging him, Jim Crosby of Botetourt (rhymes with Hottentot) County. Mr. Crosby was present as an observer at our April 2007 meeting at which State Senator Emmett Hanger spoke to us. Others in the party later claimed that that meeting was "illegal," but neither Crosby nor the other two observers gave any hint at the time that anything was amiss.

In my speech to the assembled gathering, I tried to emphasize my long record of promoting dialogue and open communication among party members, and the need to hold the incumbent accountable for the mishaps of the past year. I also sharply differentiated my preference for campaign strategies that target non-ideological results-oriented voters, on one hand, to Ms. Taetzsch's desire to "energize the base." I wish I had been given enough time to talk about Web sites, blogs, etc., But none of that really mattered, because nearly everyone came already committed, and very few people bothered to look at my brochure. The Sunday News Leader accurately quoted me making what I considered to be the central point:

It's really a question of who is best equipped to lead this committee in a way that unifies the party, that reaches out to all factions and emphasizes what unites us. That is where I believe my strong point is."

What follows is an audio recording of my (ultra-condensed) speech, lasting three minutes:

In her speech, incumbent candidate Anne Taetzsch explained her reasons for being a Republican: "I'm pro-family, I'm pro-life, and I'm pro-defense." Her main emphasis was the "wedge" issues aimed at "energizing the base," such as fighting pornography and local tax hikes. She did not talk about the need to unify diverse factions of the party. As for John McCain, the GOP nominee who has often been described by some as a "RINO," Taetzsch said he is much better than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. "If we can't rally people around the candidate, we will rally them around the issues."

Afterwards, Taetzsch told Bob Stuart of the News Virginian what she thought about the Staunton GOP election: "It's a clear mandate. ... The people had a choice, and now we move forward." On that point, I would strongly agree. In my speech I made it crystal clear what the choice was, and the people spoke.

I was impressed with the careful planning for the event, including laptop computers to verify voter registration status. (Or screen out "RINOs," perhaps? ) They even brought donuts and coffee, but I was too stuffed from having eaten a hearty pancake breakfast. Some attendees were taken aback that Augusta County Chairman Kurt Michael was coordinating the event. I was not surprised. Extreme care was taken in giving the ballots to each participant, and in counting the votes. In the end, it wasn't even close: Taetzsch 58, Clem 20. Afterwards, we shook hands and both assured everyone that we would work together in the fall campaign. Congratulations to Ms. Taetzsch.

Toward the end of the meeting, however, a controversy erupted when Nominations Committee Chairman Alex Davis (!) reported back a slate of committee member nominees that excluded the Ergenbrights and the Fretwells, who are among the most active, loyal, and longest-tenured members of the Staunton Republican Committee. That was too much even for the meeting participants who are largely "innocent" of all the recent intrigues and backbiting. So, the Nominations Committee went back to the drawing board a couple more times before a list was submitted that did not exclude the long-standing members, but it did not allocate members by ward, as is required by the state party plan. [Because the Nominations Committee] failed to carry out its task in due form, the [Staunton Republican] committee will be faced with the awkward predicament of how to reapportion itself at the next monthly meeting.

Alex, a.k.a. "Johnathan Maxfield," recently raised false alarms about the supposed intention of local Democrats to "stack" our meeting. Such unfounded rumor-mongering was part of a long-standing campaign to portray the more pragmatically-minded Republicans such as Emmett Hanger as being disloyal to the party, or even collaborating in secret with the Democrats. Such statements cannot help but further divide the party.

On a more upbeat note, Scott Sayre came up to me after the mass meeting and offered his services to help reunify the party. That would certainly be nice.

Another nice thing was that many people truly appreciated the fact that there was a contested race this [year] with a real choice to make. Usually, party mass meetings are dull, pointless routines. I was gratified that several people who voted for Ms. Taetzsch thanked me for the polite, dignified way that I campaigned.

Augusta County

Outside the city limits, meanwhile, Kurt Michael faces five (5) putative challengers for his position as Augusta County GOP chairman: Sharon Hanger, David Beyeler, Larry Roller, Steve Kijak, and Vickie Parkinson. I assume one of those five will emerge as the lone opposing candidate on the day of the mass meeting, April 10. "SWAC Girl", who recently came all the way out of the closet and identified herself openly as Lynn Mitchell, took note of that odd multiple-challenge situation. She referred to those the above-named people as "five of Emmett Hanger's most trustworthy supporters," which seemed like a misleading characterization to me. So, I tried to post a comment on her blog, but it was not accepted, apparently. Here it is:

FACT CHECK: One of those five was part of "Bloggers 4 Sayre," not exactly one of "Emmett Hanger's most trustworthy supporters." (But you knew that.) Besides, I thought YOU were a Hanger supporter now (since the $3,000 pledge, anyway), so what's the problem? "We are Republicans and we ... work ... together."

The sardonic reference to $3,000 concerns a patently phony gesture of support for Senator Hanger made by local Republican committee leaders last September, and the last sentence is a quote from Lynn's blog last June.

NOTE: Since the extreme discord of last summer and subsequent "mediation efforts," I have made it a point to avoid blogging about local politics, not wanting to "air dirty laundry" or further inflame tensions with people with whom I used to be closely associated. After today, at least for the time being, I intend to resume my general policy of discretion.


An even bigger tent?

I got a tip from the "phriendly pholks" at Daily Whack Job. Tell me it isn't so! smile


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