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January 1, 2012 [LINK / comment]

H a p p y
N e w
Y e a r !!!

Jacqueline and I went downtown to see the renowned local rock group Findells play at Baja Bean, but alas, "there was no room at the inn." We saw them perform two years ago at the same location. This reminded me of something I've been meaning to discuss:

Seventies rock is back!

Yes, it's true: From the Eagles to the Police to Alice Cooper, more and more rock groups from the 1970s are coming out of retirement to perform. Last year Jacqueline and I saw two (2) rock concerts, setting a personal best as far as I can recall. Besides the Kansas concert we saw in October, Jacqueline and I went to see the iconic early 70s rock band the Doobie Brothers at the nTelos Pavilion in downtown Charlottesville last May. I was very impressed, and we had a great time. The group currently features four core players: Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons (the original founding members), as well as John McFee and Michael Hossack (long-time backup musicians). Here is a semi-complete play list, based on notes I was taking at the show:

  • World Gone Crazy
  • Jesus Is Just Alright
  • China Grove
  • Long Train Runnin'
  • Nobody
  • Far From Home
  • Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)
  • Rockin' Down the Highway
  • Black Water
  • Without You
  • Listen to the Music

(I have been saving up the preceding blog text for an appropriate festive occasion.) See the all-new Music page, which shows a decade-by-decade chronology of my favorite rock groups, as well as a few concert photos. No photos of the Doobies, however. Evidently I took the "no cameras" policy at the nTelos Pavilion too seriously, as we noticed many other fans snapping pictures with their cell phones or compact cameras.

What about other decades?

I just found out yesterday that Van Halen is going on concert this year, with their original lead singer David Lee Roth. I hope they come to Virginia. They actually reached their peak in the early eighties, however. For those who prefer the dressed-up, slick electronic pop music of the eighties, you might enjoy The Legwarmers, whom Jacqueline I saw perform in Falls Church a few years ago. And for the nineties, check out White Ford Bronco, who performed at Nationals Park when we were there in August 2010, and at least once this past summer as well.


January 2, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Are you ready for some hockey?

The annual National Hockey League Winter Classic is half way into the third period right now, with the New York Rangers leading the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2. You know what that means:

Citizens Bank Park

Yes, baseball fans, I had to update the Citizens Bank Park page with a hockey version diagram. As you can see, they built a temporary bleacher section in what would be deep center field. They should have built such bleachers a lot closer to the ice, I think. The Flyers' usual home ice is Wells Fargo Center, formerly known as Wachovia Center. At least that's what my 2012 World Almanac says. Back in June 2009 I learned better than to express opinions or facts about hockey, so that's all I'll say for now. smile

I also learned from long-time fan Matt Ereth that an outdoor college hockey match between Ohio State and Michigan will be held at Progressive Field in Cleveland on January 15. I suppose I'll have to do that one as well.

At some point I plan to do a historical chronology of pro sports franchises, comparing which cities had how many pro teams from the four major sports on a decade by decade basis. Stay tuned...


January 3, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Campaign 2012: All eyes are on Iowa

In a presidential nomination race that was even remotely rational, the Iowa caucuses would not be such a big deal. Unfortunately, in the crazy but all-too-real world in which we live, the selection process quickly degenerates into a farcical spectacle. And so tonight the big questions are, Will Rick Santorum's recent "surge" lift him into the Top Three? And, will Ron Paul's fervent base of supporters translate into an upset victory? I must confess that I am not exactly enthralled by the "drama," but there are definitely some candidates I favor more than others.

My candidate rankings

My opinion of the Republican candidates hasn't really changed much since I discussed each of them on November 21, but I guess I'd better weigh in before the Iowa caucuses get underway. Note that neither Herman Cain nor Gary Johnson are in the race any more, but their names are still on the Iowa caucus ballots.

  1. Unspecified Republican*
  2. Newt Gingrich
  3. Mitt Romney
  4. Jon Huntsman
  5. Ron Paul
  6. Michele Bachmann
  7. Rick Santorum
  8. Rick Perry

* I still wish Chris Christie were among the alternatives, though he is clearly not yet "ready for prime time." Veep? Johnson plans to run as a Libertarian in the general election, and depending on whom the Republicans nominate, I just might vote for him. If it's one of the lower-ranked candidates below, it's more likely I would do so.

I checked my blog archives, and noticed that I put Romney in last place as of November 2, 2007. His climb to the #2 spot does not mean I think that much better of him, but rather that I'm not very impressed by the alternatives. On some days I would probably pick him over the unpredictable Gingrich. Regarding the intriguing yet often-disquieting Ron Paul "insurgency," I noted on December 10, 2007 that his supporters "created a big ruckus at the GOP 'Advance' in Arlington."

I am especially wary of Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator known for being very conservative on social issues. I recently heard about a gay activist named Dan Savage who launched a cybernetic attack on Santorum, and I just Googled "Santorum" for the first time, out of curiousity. I really wish I hadn't. I recently applauded his observation that widespread obesity raises doubts about whether there is a hunger problem in America, but for the most part I find his political moralizing offensive and counterproductive. But since he may become a front-runner (ugh), it's a good idea to find out more about him at ricksantorum.com.

While watching C-SPAN on Sunday, I saw Michele Bachmann speaking at the Jubilee Family Church in Oskaloosa, Iowa. I was appalled, for multiple reasons. In the first place, using the House of God for blatant political purposes is just plain disgusting, under any circumstances. But when she started to lead a prayer, addressing God the Father, it got even worse. I'm sure she is sincere, but she really ought to know better than that.

Grover Norquist update

So what does anti-tax kingpin Grover Norquist think? His Web site has a comparison of the presidential candidates' tax plans: atr.org. I was disappointed that Jon Huntsman is the only GOP candidate not to have signed The Pledge.

Last October, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) made a speech on the House floor in which he bewailed Grover Norquist's undue political power, and his association with various unsavory characters, foreign and domestic. For example, Norquist is an old pal of convicted felon Jack Abramoff and terrorist financiers Abdurahman Alamoudi and Sami Al-Arian. See wolf.house.gov.

Virginia primary: choice of two

Only two of the Republican candidates qualified for the Virginia primary, to be held on March 6, which is "Super Tuesday." As a consequence, the primary election is Virginia will receive very little national attention. What's more, according to Ford O'Connell & Matt Mackowiak at dailycaller.com (link via Facebook), the likely low turnout will make it harder to identify Republican-leaning voters, which in turn will make it harder for the GOP to take the state back from Obama in November. If the Republicans don't win Virginia, it will be extremely hard to defeat Obama.

This situation has precipitated numerous debates on Facebook, in blogs, etc. I pointed out something that seems obvious to me:

Need I remind everyone that this whole stupid issue would not even exist were it not for the fact that the state-funded primary elections in effect create two established parties? The subtle distortions that arise from this custom gradually accumulate to the point that voters are left with no good choices. Think outside the box, and you'll see that many of our most vexing political problems would quickly solve themselves.

Shaun Kenney spoke in (implicit) defense of Cuccinelli, wondering why it's such a bad thing for a politician to change his mind. My comment:

The problem is not so much that Cuccinelli changed his mind, but rather that his initial statement calls into question the laws that he is obligated to defend as attorney general. He is in a delicate position, being involved with the legal challenge to Obamacare and now planning to run for governor. I hope he is more careful about what he says in the future.

[And then in response to another comment:]

I fully agree the law needs to be changed, but the Attorney General should NOT express such an opinion. It's like when Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would not defend the Defense of Marriage Act if it were challenged in court -- a flagrant subversion of constitutional principles. Whatever one's opinion on any given law, it's the responsibility of the executive branch in general to uphold and enforce the law, and the Attorney General in particular is obligated to defend it.

House GOP gives in

As if they were deliberately trying to alienate every single independent-minded voter in America, the Republicans in the House of Representatives botched yet another big showdown on Capitol Hill just before Christmas. After first taking a defiant stand, voting against the Senate-amended bill (which provided for just two months of extended benefits, as opposed to the one-year extension ), the Republican-led House of Representatives conceded to reality and handed President Obama and the Democrats a great big Christmas present. My December 20 observation on Facebook:

Kudos to Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) for candidly declaring on the House floor today that the payroll tax relief measure was wrong in the first place, and it's wrong to extend it now -- whether for two months OR for one year. Too bad so few Republicans are willing to risk their political careers by saying unpopular things like that. As for the Democrats, I'm even more disgusted than usual by their demagoguery. flake.house.gov

In a similar vein, I wrote on the same day:

I think I'll be using the Dec. 14 "Non-Sequitur" comic strip in my Spring semester syllabus: "Government of a myopic extremist base, by a myopic extremist base, for a myopic extremist base." If Honest Abe Lincoln could hear the polarized, disingenuous, demagogic debate going on in the House chambers right now, he would be rolling over in his grave.

See the strip for yourself at gocomics.com.

Then when the House Republicans finally gave up on December 24 I wrote:

I sure hope the disaster which the Republicans inflicted upon themselves on Capitol Hill this week isn't a foretaste of Campaign 2012. What were those people thinking of??! Does anyone really believe that the Republicans wanted to extend the payroll tax reduction more than the Democrats, as Speaker Boehner suggested? They must have a very low opinion of voters' intelligence. The truth is, they were trapped by their no-tax-hike-no-matter-what pledge to Grover, and couldn't figure a way to get out of it.

Happy Holidays? NOT!


January 7, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Cubs "give" Zambrano to Marlins

The Chicago Cubs were so completely fed up with the rude and violent antics of Carlos Zambrano that they were willing to absorb $16 million of the $18.5 million remaining on his contract, trading him to the Miami Marlins. In return, the Cubs get pitcher Chris Volstad, who had a 5-13 record last year, but was a first-round draft pick in 2005 and apparently still holds some promise for improvement. The new manager of the "Fish," Ozzie Guillen, strongly pushed for that trade. The Marlins' president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said he was aware of Zambrano's "questionable" behavior, rationalizing that "A lot of it comes from competitive fire." See MLB.com. Zambrano has a 125-81 career record with a 3.61 ERA, so there is a big potential up side, but the Marlins better hope he settles down. I can imagine the Cubs are saying,

"Don't let the door hit you on the way out!"

Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium update

Even with a relatively plain and ordinary structure like Safeco Field Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, I sometimes come across new information that leads to significant improvements in my diagrams. I finally figured out what accounted for the 2,000-seat capacity gain in 1974: six additional rows of seats were installed around the infield, except for behind home plate, thus creating a "notch" there for the first time. Prior to 1974, the front edge of the grandstand formed a circle, albeit with varying radii. The other changes are mostly in the details, such as the exact placement of the lights or the dugouts (which were rebuilt closer to the diamond in [1974]). Apparently, fans ascended to the upper level via stairwells that led to the front edge of the second deck. That was the same manner of upper-deck access that was used at Oakland Coliseum, built just a couple years later.

One thing I learned is that Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was one of only two stadiums whose team went to the World Series in four of the six final years it was in operation: Ebbets Field was the other one. Not a bad way to finish! The stadium in Atlanta is distinguished by the fact that no World Series games were played there for the first 25 years it served as the Braves' home. But at least that wasn't as frustrating as when they played in Braves Field, in Boston!

Since this is college bowl season (more on that topic soon), I should mention that Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was the home of the Peach Bowl from 1971 until 1991. Since then that annual event has been played at the Georgia Dome. The Peach Bowl was more or less "bought" by the Chick-Fil-A restaurant chain, and is now known simply as the "Chick-Fil-A Bowl."

Welcome back, Bob!

The Washington Nationals extended the contract of their TV play-by-play announcer on MASN, Bob Carpenter. He practically exudes professionalism and enthusiasm, and I look forward to watching him narrate as the Nats begin play this spring. (Only three months away...) It's Carpenter's seventh year with the Nationals, and it's hard to believe it's been that long. Joining him in the booth high atop the Shirley Povich Press Box will be F.P. Santangelo, in his second year. See MLB.com.

Apparently, the Nationals are still negotiating with Prince Fielder. Maybe the lack of interested teams has brought the asking price down a bit. He's probably worth $25 million over three years. I wonder what Nats GM Mike Rizzo thinks?


January 9, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Superdome (name and diagram) update

Superdome All across America this evening, fans will be watching the BCS Championship Game being played in beautiful downtown New Orleans, Louisiana. The Louisiana State University Tigers (who play in another "Tiger Stadium" -- located in Baton Rouge, not Detroit) face the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. Being in close proximity to the Big Easy, both teams will have home field advantage, in effect.

And so, I took the opportunity to finish long-overdue revisions to the Superdome diagrams. I added a new lower-deck version, showing more clearly how the reconfiguration from football to baseball was done. As of last year, such a change is no longer possible, because they have totally rebuilt the lower deck (which no longer retracts), along with a much bigger main concourse, etc. While I was at it, I also added a hypothetical suggested alternative baseball configuration, in which home plate would be on the southwest side of the field, rather than in the south corner, as before.

And by the way, what was once called the Louisiana Superdome is now called the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Presumably that's where some of the money for the renovation came from. The name change formally took place back in October, actually.

I was reminded of the Superdome name change during the Sugar Bowl last Tuesday night, as Michigan Wolverines edged the Virginia Tech Hokies 33-30 in overtime. A few days before that, the U.Va. Cavaliers were trounced by Auburn in the "Chick-Fil-A Bowl," and Clemson was crushed by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. frown Wake Forest and Georgia Tech also lost, and the only Atlantic Coast Conference team to win a bowl game this year was Florida State. Not a good year for ACC football.

Bowl championship madness

Speaking of bowls, in case I haven't made this clear enough before, I have very little interest in the controversy over the Bowl Championship System. In a sport with so many potentially contending teams (over a hundred), and only about a dozen games played per year, there is simply no way that any playoff system can yield a clear-cut Number One team. Nevertheless, every year I hear more people whining about the alleged arbitrary or unfair manner in which teams are chosen to participate in the Big Four Bowls: Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta. (The Cotton Bowl used to be in the Big Four.) If you're really curious about the rationale behind the current BCS system, see bcsfootball.org. But it won't change my mind:

There is no such thing as a "national champion" college football team.

[UPDATE: Alabama thoroughly dominated the line of scrimmage throughout the evening, and won rather handily, 21-0. Oddly, however, they didn't score any touchdowns until the last few minutes, and then they missed the extra point, or else it would have been 22-0. Meanwhile, Louisiana State barely got the ball to midfield, and didn't make a single third-down conversion until the fourth quarter. In this case, there's not much room for disputing who's the "top dog," so congratulations to the Crimson Tide.]

College bowls in baseball parks

I am in the midst of updating all of the baseball stadiums pages in which college bowls were played; The links can be found on the Football use page. The truly significant bowls (basically, those which were in existence prior to the 1990s) are listed at the top of the text portion of each respective page, along with the All-Star Games (if any) and other major sporting events. The following table is ranked in rough order of importance:

Current name Old name Baseball stadium name When there?
Orange Bowl (same) Sun Life (Dolphin) Stadium 1996 - present
Chick-Fil-A Bowl Peach Bowl Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium 1971-1991
Holiday Bowl (same) Jack Murphy (QualComm) Stadium 1978 - present*
Military Bowl Eagle Bank Bowl RFK Stadium 2008 - present
Insight Bowl Copper Bowl Chase Field 2001 - 2005
Seattle Bowl (defunct) Hula Bowl Safeco Field 2001 only
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Emerald Bowl AT&T Park 2002 - present
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg Bowl Tropicana Field 2008 - present

As of this year, of course, the stadium at the top of that list (Sun Life / Dolphin Stadium) no longer serves as a baseball stadium.

Bowl naming confusion

It makes my head spin trying to keep up with all the name changes for various bowl games, sponsors, etc., and I don't plan to make much effort to keep up with those changes. The table above barely scratches the surface. Some of these changes stretch the limits of credulity, such as the last two listed above. The now-defunct Seattle Bowl, which was played at Safeco Field in 2001 and had been the Oahu Bowl before that, was the subject of a legal dispute that was resolved last September; see ESPN. Also note that some of those stadiums host more than one bowl game. For example, QualComm Stadium also hosts the Poinsettia Bowl.

One aspect of the confusion is that some of the bowls have left the stadiums that were originally named for those events. I hope this clears up some of the confusion:

The (AT&T) Cotton Bowl Classic was played at Cotton Bowl Stadium from 1937 until 2009, after which it moved to Cowboys Stadium in suburban Arlington, Texas, the new home of the "Dallas" Cowboys. Ironically, in 2008 a major renovation to Cotton Bowl Stadium was completed, raising its seating capacity to 92,158. It is now double-decked all the way around the oval. Apparently, some big shots in Dallas were mad that the Cowboys were abandoning their city and were frantically trying to keep the Cotton Bowl there, but from what I can tell, this expansion was a complete waste of money. Now the only bowl played there is the TicketCity Bowl. See cottonbowlstadium.com and ticketcitybowl.com.

The (Discover, formerly FedEx) Orange Bowl was played in the Orange Bowl from 1935 until 1995, after which it moved to Sun Life Stadium. For the next 15 years, the Orange Bowl lingered semi-vacant in a state of "limbo." The new home of the Miami Marlins is being built on that same plot of land.

As for the (Allstate, formerly Nokia) Sugar Bowl, there never was a "Sugar Bowl Stadium" -- From 1935 until 1974, the Sugar Bowl was held in Tulane Stadium, which was demolished in 1980.

The only major bowl game that retains its historical name untainted by commercial sponsorship, is the Rose Bowl, which is played in the (eponymous) Rose Bowl. Good for them!

[UPDATE: The (Tostitos) Fiesta Bowl got underway in 1971, and was played in Sun Devil Stadium until 2006, when the University of Phoenix Stadium became the new home of the Arizona Cardinals. That stadium is notable in being the only university in America that has a football stadium but no football team. For more on the history of some of these bowls, see my blog post from Dec. 22, 2008. As I wrote then of the Bowl Championship System, "I think it's all a farce, and should be junked."]


January 9, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Who can stop Mitt Romney?

On the eve of the New Hampshire primaries, the emergence of Rick Santorum as the leading conservative (? -- see below) challenger to moderate Republican Mitt Romney changes the complexion of the 2012 campaign. As the candidate most closely aligned with the Christian Right, Santorum will turn the spotlight on the uneasy issue of religion and politics once again. Are Americans ready for a Mormon president? That is exactly the kind of thing that could widen divisions within the Republican Party, just when they need so desperately to find something they can all rally behind to stop Barack Obama from "transforming" this nation.

Santorum has the advantage of a pleasant, sincere nature, whereas Romney remains uptight. Santorum speaks very well off the cuff, and thus far is not known for committing verbal gaffes. But the fact that he was a lower-tier relative unknown until recently means that he has a very thin pocketbook with which to wage a successful primary campaign. He will need endorsements from at least one or two other candidates (Perry? Cain?) in the near future, if he is to raise the necessary funds.

Can Newt Gingrich rebound? First it was Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain, and then Newt. In each case a conservative candidate emerged to excite The Base, and then he (or she) quickly got shot down, due to self-inflicted flubs and/or negative attack ads by rivals. (Or by one of those new anonymous "Super PACs" tacitly operating on behalf of a candidate.) Newt's well-known personality shortcomings were on display on the night of the Iowa caucuses, as he barely contained his rage at Ron Paul and Mitt Romney for going negative and/or (he says) twisting the truth. I think he still has plenty of opportunity to prove himself as the most worthy and electable candidate, but his margin for error is shrinking rapidly.

Romney is widely expected to win New Hampshire, and the only question is by how big of a margin. Perry has bypassed the Granite state, and putting all his marbles in South Carolina. It's probably just a show, to use up the accumulated campaign donations.

Santorum's upset in Iowa

To paraphrase Thomas Frank's Book (What's the Matter With Kansas), I am tempted to ask "What's the matter with Iowa?" Obviously, there is a strong social conservative component in the Hawkeye State, but I tend to think Rick Santorum's surge was more of a reflection of his tireless campaign efforts there, as well as the yearning among Republicans for "someone else." (See below.)* Here are the totals, courtesy of CNN.com.

Candidate Votes Percent Delegates
Mitt Romney 30,015 24.6% 7
Santorum 30,007 24.6% 7
Paul 26,219 21.5% 7
Gingrich 16,251 13.3% 2
Perry 12,604 10.3% 2
Bachmann 6,073 5.0% 0
Huntsman 745 0.6% 0

For some reason, each of the top five candidates picked up one or two delegates since the preliminary caucus vote totals were announced last week.

Is Santorum conservative?

Definitions of words change over the years, so that question is in a sense rhetorical. The following article reinforces my impression that the Pennsylvanian is just like "Dubya" in many ways. Michael Tanner writes on "Santorum's Big-Government Conservatism" at cato.org; hat tip to Doug Mataconis.

* Are there more choices?

According to a Pew Research Center poll, 44 percent of likely Republican voters said the field of candidates is fair or poor, while 51 percent of them said the candidates are excellent or good, See politico.com.


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