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October 2005
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October 1, 2005 [LINK]

Fierce final-weekend competition

It was not John Patterson's best day, but he refused to give up after the Phillies scored four runs on him in the first inning. Like a trooper, he hung in there until the sixth inning, but it didn't really matter because the Nationals could never get a rally going. Meanwhile, Chase Utley hit two homers, rookie phenom Ryan Howard hit another one, plus a three-RBI double that hit the fence in left center field. Brett Meyers threw 12 strikeouts, the most in his career, and the Phillies' relievers threw five more. Final score, 8-4. In their final game tomorrow, the Nats will be playing for pure pride, hoping to finish above .500, while the Phillies will be scrambling for a shot at the wild card spot. Ryan Zimmerman is batting exactly .400 (22 of 55); will he take the chance that Ted Williams did and risk dropping below that magic plateau?

The game in Boston happened to end with the same score, 8-4, and the visiting team likewise won. Few would have expected it early in the season, or even late in the season, but the Yankees won the AL East for the eighth year in a row. Since Cleveland fell to the White Sox again, however, Boston still has an inside track in the wild card race, so get ready, folks: Here we go again!

Roger Clemens performed impeccably as usual, and the Astros' 3-1 win over the Cubs gives them at least a tie for the NL wild card spot. In a game that was meaningless for most of the country, the Marlins took advantage of the Braves' weak bullpen and scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, to win 6-4. That puts the Nationals all alone in last place.

With multiple decisive games being played this afternoon, it would have been nice to kick back and enjoy it all on the tube. David Pinto complained that FOX didn't broadcast a double-header, and I wondered about that myself. In the NFL, double-headers are broadcast every Sunday, so why not baseball? In this case, however, I don't think we can blame Peter Angelos for the lack of TV coverage. [I'm just thankful I got one more chance to see the Nationals on TV before the season ended. Some of the new faces, like Ryan Zimmerman and Brandon Watson, are still unfamiliar to me.]

Thumbnail progress

All of the thumbnail diagrams of stadiums currently in use have now been "upgraded," so you can make quick comparisons between them on the Baseball sitemap page. They are a taste of what's to come as the full-sized versions of those diagrams gradually get polished up over the next few months.


October 1, 2005 [LINK]

Rice visits Haiti

Condi Rice made a trip to Haiti on Tuesday, urging all parties to abide by democratic norms as the November 20 elections approach. As a precaution against violence, her trip was not announced until the day before she left. The question is whether any leader can take the place of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who lives in exile in South Africa. He claims that the U.S. government forced him out of office in February 2004, and most of his followers believe it. The interim government has little authority, as warlords rule the streets at night. Without the presence of occupation forces from various Latin American countries, there might be a civil war. This, in turn, highlights the stiff challenge to the Bush strategy of promoting democratization as an antidote to extremism and terror. One wonders what combination of inducements and threats Secretary Rice made on the Haitian leaders, should they fail to carry out peaceful, free elections.


October 1, 2005 [LINK]

Bennett on aborting black babies

No one in his or her right mind could possibly think that Bill Bennett believes that "abort[ing] every black baby in this country" would be a good way to fight crime. He has a long, solid record on civil rights, and there is no reason whatsoever to think that he is racist. Nevertheless, the usual critics jumped all over the remark he made on his radio program earlier this week, taking pains to misconstrue the point that he was, rather clumsily, trying to make. Media Matters is a good example, gleefully "exposing" the broadcast remarks as though they were a secret. Much like Trent Lott's praise of Strom Thurmond nearly three years ago, a Republican leader once again makes a gaffe that gives ammunition to political opponents. Bennett explained it all on his Web site. He was citing a point made by Steven D. Levitt, co-author of the popular new book Freakonomics, that the national crime rate has declined in part because there are fewer unwanted babies than in the past, thanks to easy-access abortion. (See Phil Faranda's comments on that book as it relates to real estate.) Bennett clearly meant to minimize the validity of that line of argument, but many people chose to interpret his words as if he were lending support to it. Those people are either too lazy to make an effort to understand what Bennett was saying, or just plain dishonest. There is a huge irony in the fact that Bennett made explicit what many abortion advocates would rather not admit: terminated pregnancies are disproportionately high among women of color. Suffice it to say that, when it comes to making excuses for racial genocide, abortion advocates have a lot to answer for. On Sean Hannity's show on Friday, James Carville agreed that Bennett is not racist, but said that Bennett should have known better than to risk offending someone. Even White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that President Bush felt the comments were "not appropriate." (The President has been on the defensive lately, and therefore must abide by the sensibilities of the mainstream media.) Generally speaking, I would agree, but I refuse to jump on the bandwagon of pious condemnation in a case where erring too far on the side of sensitivity comes at the expense of candid and honest discourse.

So what was the point Bennett was trying to make? Simply that there are certain unconditional moral imperatives that make certain public policy measures which are rationalized on the basis of purely utilitarian, rational arguments (such as the putative correlation between abortions and crime reduction) unacceptable. It is a familiar theme in conservative philosophy, as a rebuttal to the "progressive" agendas that rely heavily on expert-driven statist intervention into society. To make his case, Bennett used the rhetorical technique of outlandish counterfactual made famous in Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal" -- suggesting that surplus babies be slaughtered to feed the poor, as a means of calling attention to the severity of poverty in 18th-Century Ireland. It is supposed to grab people's attention in a way that dreadfully earnest arguments (such as mine) simply cannot do. There is a place for such hyperbole, but it depends on who is engaging in the discourse. In a conversation among people who share some broad premises, there is a degree of trust that prevents the kind of egregious misinterpretation to which Bennett was subjected. Though he has certain vices that have become public knowledge, Bill Bennett is a decent, morally sound, intellectually honest public figure who deserves respect and the benefit of the doubt. Personally, I would not have bothered to rebut the "far-reaching, extensive extrapolations" (as he described the abortion-effect hypothesis), but in exposing himself to being misconstrued, Bennett unintentionally baited his critics into revealing their own closed-mindedness and propensity to indulge in race baiting. For a thoughtful interpretation of all this, see proteinwisdom.com

In sum, this episode tells us much less about Bennett's sense of discretion than it does about the jaded perception of leftist critics, and the poor overall state of political discourse in our country right now. To me, there are few things more important than maintaining high, dignified standards of public discourse, and if I thought that Bennett was guilty of something truly serious, I would not hesitate to say so. This hubbub is a mere matter of rhetorical style: "to each his own." If you don't like it, change the channel. (I happen to like gruff, no-nonsense conservatives like Bennett, Dick Cheney, Bob Dole, or Phil Gramm, but that's just me.) In the end, this is much ado about nothing, but at least it provides good fodder for blogospheric pontification.


October 2, 2005 [LINK]

Season ends on sour note

If you're a Nationals fan, you're mad about getting swept by the Phillies (at home, no less!) and finishing the season with a dead even .500 record -- in last place.

If you're a Phillies fan, you're mad that winning the last four games of the season wasn't good enough to qualify for the wild card spot.

If you're a Yankees fan, you're mad that Boston took two out of three games at Fenway, putting the Yanks behind Anaheim in the rankings, thereby losing home-field advantage.

If you're a Red Sox fan, you're mad that finishing the season with the same win-loss record as the Yankees did not entitle your team to a chance to claim the AL East title. (Perhaps the head-to-head record should not by itself be the tie-breaking criterion, but merely decide which team gets home field advantage in a one-game playoff.)

But let's look at the bright side, folks: At least baseball is back in Our Nation's Capital!!!

Let the battle begin!

It seems like every October for the past three years has been more dramatic, more unpredictable, and more amazing than the previous year. Can the baseball championship series this year possibly top what happened last last year??? There is a new separate Postseason scoreboard page, including this year's teams and all the ones for the three previous years. Each year's baseball archives page still has the respective postseason scoreboard at the bottom.

UPDATE: Farewell to Busch (II)

Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, and Mark McGwire* were among the former St. Louis Cardinals players who came to bid adieu to what many people believe to be the most attractive of all the doughnut/cookie cutter-era stadiums, Busch Stadium (the second of three venues to bear that name). Deceased former Cardinal players such as Curt Flood, Roger Maris, Darryl Kile were also honored, as was long-time Cards' announcer Jack Buck. The oval palace will see at least a few more games played in it before it is finally torn down next month. See MLB.com.


October 2, 2005 [LINK]

Fall colors (drab)

Goldfinch, window 3 I took this photo of a female (or juvenile?) goldfinch at the feeder outside one of our windows yesterday, and was pleased to finally get so much detail in the eyes and plumage. If only I had been able to get such a shot when the males still had their bright yellow colors!


 

"Whadda you lookin' at?"


 

Augusta Springs

Yet another clear, mild day beckoned me outside this morning, so I went to Augusta Springs and did a real hike for the first time in several weeks. Since it hasn't rained significantly since early August, the pond was nearly dry, and no ducks or other water birds were present. There were a lot of butterflies and spiders, of which photos will be posted soon. Today's bird highlights:


  • Chipping sparrow
  • Phoebes
  • E. wood pewee
  • Indigo bunting (F/J)
  • N. flicker (M)
  • Hairy woodpeckers (M, F)
  • Northern waterthrush
  • Pine warbler
  • Tennessee warbler (FOS)
  • White-breasted nuthatches
  • Ruby-crowned kinglet
  • Golden-crowned kinglet (or Yellow-rumped warbler?)
  • Blue-headed vireos
  • Red-tailed hawk (J)
  • Palm warbler
  • Towhee (M, JM)

October 3, 2005 [LINK]

Bush picks Harriet Miers

My first reaction to the nomination of Harriet Miers as associate Supreme Court justice was wondering about her lack of judicial experience. On NBC's Today show, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley -- who is not one of Bush's liberal critics -- cited that reason to call this an "extraordinarily bad" choice. Is she a conservative? Probably, but her record on policy issues is pretty thin. Her current position as White House counsel also raises questions about judicial independence from political leaders. Coming so soon after the Hurricane Katrina disaster shed bad light on the Bush administrtion's fondness for old pals and cronies (i.e., Michael Brown at FEMA), it does seem to be a strange choice. The Washington Post has her dossier, and MSNBC has some initial reactions from key senators and assorted experts.

Critical reflection for GOP

Forget about all this scandal-mongering; the ethical lapses of Rove, DeLay, and (possibly*) Frist are not at the heart of the Republicans' troubles, complacency is. John Fund writes in the Wall Street Journal that the Republicans may lose the 2006 midterm elections if they don't wake up to voter discontent immediately. He quotes Newt Gingrich as saying the Party now stands at a crossroads and must decide whether to pursue fundamental reforms or merely preside over the status quo. (via Instapundit) An analogy from the sports world is appropriate here: You don't win games by playing it safe and avoiding defeat, you win by playing with guts and accepting the risk of failure.

* According to Saturday's Washington Post, Sen. Frist began thinking about selling stock in the HCA hospital chain in April, months before the price started to slide. This lessens the likelihood that he was pulling out based on insider information, a la Martha Stewart.


October 4, 2005 [LINK]

And what a year it was!

Nationals logo Why can't every month be June? If I had to choose, I would much rather have the Nationals soar to first place at mid-season and then fall back, than the alternative of playing poorly early on and then recovering toward the end. Sure, Washington fans were disappointed by the second half of the season, but our new home team gave us plenty to cheer about from beginning to end, and at least showed occasional bursts of excellence through September, remaining in the hunt for the wild card spot. Here are the "Top Ten" games of the year, in terms of excitement, historical significance, and/or setting trends in the divisional race, in chronological order: (Dates are links to the respective blog posts.)

  • Apr. 4 -- Phillies 8, Nats 4. The Nationals' very first game; I was there! [changed, 1/13/06]
  • Apr. 6 -- Nats 7, Phillies 3. The first win, sparked by Brad Wilkerson's "cycle."
  • Apr. 14 -- Nats 5, Diamondbacks 3. The first home game; sunny skies, sold-out crowd.
  • May 30 -- Nats 5, Braves 4. Close score, tense finish, perfect weather. (I was there.)
  • June 5 -- Nats 6, Marlins 3. Ryan Church home run keys Nats' surge to first place.
  • June 14 -- Nats 6, Angels 3. Frank Robinson complains about pine tar, benches clear, Nats rally.
  • July 4 -- Mets 5, Nats 2. RFK nearly full, but 4th of July spoiled, beginning of the awful downturn.
  • July 15 -- Brewers 4, Nats 3. Game decided by Mike Stanton's balk (?!) in 10th inning.
  • Aug. 4 -- Nats 7, Dodgers 0. Grand slam by Wilkerson, 13 Ks by Patterson; are bad days over?
  • Sept. 17 -- Padres 8, Nats 5. 12 innings; Cordero blows 5-0 lead in 9th. Ouch!
  • Sept. 21 -- Giants 5, Nats 1. Another HR by Barry Bonds ends Nats' postseason hopes.
Washington Nationals: 2005 summary
Month Wins Losses NL East place
(at end)
Number of
home games
Total
attendance
Average
attendance
April 13 11 3 12 371,408 30,951
May 14 14 3 10 333,284 33,328
June 20 6 1 17 562,951 33,115
July 9 18 2 11 412,001 37,455
August 13 15 5 12 439,619 36,635
Sept. - Oct. 12 17 5 19 601,059 31,635
TOTAL 81 81 5 81 2,720,322 33,584

SOURCE: My unofficial daily tabulations from MLB Gameday stats and Washington Post.


Fan support: HUGE!

There is no question that baseball was a smash hit in Washington, and the regular big crowds played a big part in the team's success, at least through mid-season. It was a mutual love affair between players and fans. The 2.7 million total attendance at games in RFK Stadium this year exceeded their target by 300,000, and their 33,584 average attendance was more than 3 ½ times the tickets sold for Expos games in Montreal and San Juan last year. (Because of the phenomenon of tax-subsidized "phantom fans," the number of people who actually showed up for games at RFK Stadium was probably about 10-15 percent less than that; let's say 28,000 real live fans.) In terms of "announced" attendance, the smallest crowd was 23,332 on April 26 against the Phillies; in only three other games was attendance below 25,000. In contrast, there were eleven games in which attendance was over 40,000! Meanwhile, the Orioles' 2005 total attendance of 2.6 million was only slightly below last year's total, providing undisputable proof that the effect on the Orioles' attendance from a team in Washington was much less than owner Peter Angelos had claimed it would be. (Indeed, the decline was even less than I expected.)

Divisional series begin

For most of the summer, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox totally dominated their respective leagues, and it is no surprise that they dealt roughly with, respectively, the Padres and the Red Sox in this afternoon's games. The Cardinals built an 8-0 lead by the fifth inning, but then got complacent, as the Padres staged a three-run rally in the top of the ninth, loading the bases before the final out was made. Final score: 8-5. We later learned why Padres' starter Jake Peavy's pitching was off today: He had fractured his rib while celebrating his team winning the NL West last week. In Chicago, the five runs they scored in the first inning were all the the White Sox needed. A.J. Pierzynski hit two homers and a double, and was also hit by a pitch, as were two of his team mates, in that big first inning! Poor Matt Clement. The White Sox piled on additional runs in the later innings, clearly lusting for a trip to the World Series. Final score: 14-2. You may recall, however, that the Red Sox got some experience in rebounding from huge defeats last year, so they're not necessarily doomed. Now the Yankees and Angels are warming up in "LAnaheim." Presumably the Yanks will not be as complacent as they were three years ago!

UPDATE: Rookie 2B Robinson Cano knocked in three runs with a double in the first inning, getting things off on the right foot. The extra room in Angels Stadium's left field worked to the visiting team's advantage in this instance. The Angels would have scored a run in the second inning but for the low fence in the right field corner, as the ground rule double hit by Steve Finley forced Juan Rivera to stop at third, and the next batter, Adam Kennedy, flew out. The rest of the game was a pitcher's duel, as Bartolo Colon pitched for five scoreless innings, but could not get run support. There were several long fly balls to the warning track, but only one home run, by Bengie Molina. The Angels made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth as Vlad Guerrero walked, stole a base, and made it to home on a high-bouncing single by Darin Erstad, but that was the end of it. Final score: 4-2.

Here's an interesting factoid: Of the 24 teams that played in the first round divisional series over the past three years (including many "duplicates," of course), only three of the higher-seeded teams with the initial home-field advantage -- 12.5 percent -- went on to the next round! To me, that is clear indication that the present format does not sufficiently reward teams with a better regular season record. Once again, I say: Wild card teams should face a higher postseason "hurdle." You can keep track of all the playoff game scores, for this year, and for the last three years, on the Postseason scores page.


October 4, 2005 [LINK]

First sapsucker of season

A quick stroll along the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning yielded the following highlights:

  • Yellow-bellied sapsucker (F) (FOS)
  • Hairy woodpecker (F)
  • Downy woodpecker (F)
  • Phoebe
  • E. wood pewee
  • Palm warbler
  • Magnolia warbler (prob.; or else Cape May or prairie warbler)
  • Cooper's hawk, chasing flock of starlings

That makes four years in a row that I first saw a Yellow-bellied sapsucker on either October 3 or 4! I also heard some kinglets, but did not see any. Butterfly numbers are declining day by day, as the temperatures drop.


October 5, 2005 [LINK]

Red Sox in dire straits

Boston was ahead 4-0, but then David Wells gave up five runs in the fifth, including a three-run homer by Tadahito Iguchi. (!?) Down two games to none against the White Sox, the 2004 World Champions return to Fenway Park with no margin for error. Will David, Johnny, or Manny come through with clutch hits like did last year? Will Curt Schilling perform another magic act just in time? The other team that used to play in Boston, the Braves, choked badly as Houston trounced them this afternoon 10-5. John Smoltz has had a great year, returning to his former role as starter, but he may be showing his age. After a year of injury, Andy Petitte really got in the groove in the second half of this year, and has been a main reason for the Astros' success. The Yanks and Angels are in another close, low-scoring game in LAnaheim...

Feud over lawsuit in Maryland

Another front in the prolonged battle waged by the Baltimore Orioles to try to keep baseball out of Washington has come to light in the past few days. The Maryland Stadium Authority is accused of wrongly paying over $100,000 to the Baltimore law firm of William H. Murphy (who happens to be a pal of Governor Bob Ehrlich) in an attempt to block the arrival of the Washington Nationals. These payments continued through March, when most people thought baseball in Washington was a 100 percent certainty. Adding to the intrigue is the political rivalry between Republican Ehrlich and long-time Attorney General Joseph Curran, a Democrat whose daughter is married to Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who is running against Ehrlich next year. The dispute is not over the propriety of the last-ditch legal maneuver, but centers around whether pricey ($685 per hour) outside lawyers should have been hired for the task, rather than the state's own legal staff. See Washington Post. This case illustrates the moral hazard that arises whenever the government embarks on a quasi-commercial development project (such as a stadium) in which projected revenues are subject to great uncertainty. It also makes me wonder why overburdened Maryland taxpayers are so apathetic about the dubious purposes toward which their tax dollars are spent.

Brew crew surges

One of the success stories of the 2005 season was the Milwaukee Brewers, who managed an even .500 season, after 12 consecutive losing seasons. Some think that the new ownership of Mark Attanasio deserves much of the credit for this. In an interview with jsonline.com, he lays out his plans for the future, including the possible addition of a picnic area in Miller Park, which would necessitate moving the right field fence in by about ten feet. I'm not so sure I like that idea; it's already a slugger-friendly park. (hat tip to Mike Zurawski)


October 5, 2005 [LINK]

Princess resumes flirting

Princess, goldfinches Another sign of Princess's progress toward full recovery from the wing injury she suffered in early August: She's starting to chirp and flap her wings on the perch in front of the window whenever the goldfinches show up at the thistle seed feeder. She sometimes pulls at loose threads, as if contemplating building a new nest. Not having a nest, she has no regular place to sleep at night, and being lame, she has difficulty sleeping on a perch. Meanwhile, George is singing more loudly and frequently than he has in more than a year.

We have had as many as 15 or 20 goldfinches in our back yard, but the numbers of cardinals, titmice, and chickadees has declined, as a result of the construction-related "defoliation." I did see a male Downy woodpecker out back today, and a phoebe yesterday.



October 5, 2005 [LINK]

Conservatives rebel against Bush

The surprisingly sharp negative reaction among conservative legislators and pundits toward Harriet Miers as Supreme Court nominee heralds a veritable rebellion against the Bush administration from within his own party. In today's Washington Post, a clearly exasperated George Will calls attention to the nominee's lack of credentials for the nation's highest court, and heaps scorn upon Bush's plea to "trust me." In unusually strong language, he writes,

"the president has forfeited his right to be trusted as a custodian of the Constitution. The forfeiture occurred March 27, 2002, when, in a private act betokening an uneasy conscience, he signed the McCain-Feingold law."

I too opposed the McCain-Feingold law, but mainly on grounds of its unenforceability and wrong-headed attempt to insulate voters from their responsability to monitor candidates. (Speaking of which, the dubious indictment of Tom DeLay is a good illustration of how such contrived "reform" laws generally backfire.) Finally, Will ridicules the way Bush paid lip service to "diversity," the holy grail of contemporary mindless blather.

But that's not all! On the same Post op-ed page, economics writer Robert Samuelson bitterly rips into Bush's "compassionate conservative" approach to governance, calling it "Cynical Conservatism":

"Compassion" for Bush has consisted mostly of distributing new benefits to large constituencies in the hope of purchasing their gratitude and support.
...
Spend more, tax less. That's a brazen political strategy, not a serious governing philosophy.
...
Just what conservative values Bush's approach embodies is unclear. He has not tried to purge government of ineffective or unneeded programs. He has not laid a foundation for permanent tax reductions. He has not been straightforward with the public. He has not shown a true regard for the future. He has mostly been expedient or, more pointedly, cynical.

That reminds me of what one-time Bush speechwriter John DiIulio called his former White House colleagues back in 2002: "Mayberry Machiavellis." It's times like this when I'm glad I've made known my concerns about the direction the Bush administration has been heading. He has not addressed any of the market-oriented policy initiatives I suggested ten months ago, and instead, he has largely squandered the precious post-election "window of opportunity for reform." (I'm well aware that not many conservatives view the link between economics and security the way I do, but that is bound to change as the global political-economic landscape shifts.) I'm inclined to judge Bush leniently when it comes to his lack of rhetorical skills, possibly a genetic defect, but there can be no excuse for continuing to ignore the warning signals from conservative intellectuals on vital issues such as the budget or national security. What can Bush do to pull out of his recent political tailspin before his presidency crashes and burns? Last week Jim Hoagland wrote in the Washington Post that Bush is in desperate need of a special adviser and confidant with the wisdom and courage to tell Bush the things he doesn't want to hear, much like when LBJ tapped Clark Clifford to serve in such a role during his final, disastrous year in office. As long as Karl Rove stays in the White House, however, I'm afraid the likelihood of that is extremely low.


October 6, 2005 [LINK]

U.S. warns Nicaraguan opposition

While visiting Nicaragua, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told the leaders of the opposition coalition in Nicaragua -- consisting of the left-wing Sandinistas and the right-wing "Arnulfistas," who support disgraced ex-president Arnulfo Aleman -- to stop their campaign to oust President Enrique Bolaños, or else "There will be consequences in terms of their relations with the United States." This odd alliance of ideological opposites has been waging a "creeping coup" for the past few months, blatantly subverting democratic institutions. See CNN.com and Washington Post Zoellick also met with former Managua mayor Herty Lewites, who lost in a bloody power struggle with Daniel Ortega for control of the Sandinista party when I was visiting Managua in February. (See my Feb. 27 post from Granada.) Zoellick's uncharacteristically blunt language risks offending nationalistic sentiment, and raises the stakes in this showdown as Bolivia and other parts of Latin America have come under the shadow of insurrectionist-style politics, usually inspired by leftists. If Zoellick's trip is part of a serious effort by the U.S. government to engage in policy dialogue with Latin America, finding ways to collaborate on problems of mutual concern, it is a very good sign. If it is mostly for show, however, the initiative may backfire badly.

Lula stays on top in Brazil

In Brazil, President da Silva barely prevailed in a showdown with opponents as the Chamber of Delegates voted to choose one of his key allies as its new speaker. Aldo Rebelo, a former minister in Lula's cabinet and member of the Communist Party, narrowly defeated Jose Thomaz Nono, who had been the interim speaker. Lula thus managed to hold together a parliamentary coalition, as the fallout from the recent bribery scandals continues. See Washington Post. This represents a dramatic confrontation that may end up redefining the respective prerogatives of the executive branch and traditionally subordinate legislative branch in Brazil. If Congress gains the upper hand, however, the result may be policy incoherence unless the fractious political parties pull themselves together and enforce discipline on their members in the legislature.

Floods, volcanoes in Central America

A volcano erupted near the city of Santa Ana in northwestern El Salvador last week, and floods spawned by Hurricane Stan (originating in the Pacific) compounded the misery. Guatemala and the Chiapas region of southern Mexico also suffered terrible flooding as the storm headed north.


October 7, 2005 [LINK]

Missing baseball

Being at the Rolling Stones concert in Charlottesville last night, I did not know the scores from the ball games until this morning. Beating Roger Clemens was a huge accomplishment for the Braves, but they will have to play hard to beat the Astros, and getting past the Cardinals in the next round will be an even more daunting task.

New owners for D-Rays

Stuart Sternberg recently acquired the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from Vince Naimoli, who had failed to accomplish much since the franchise was born in 1998. See sptimes.com. (hat tip to Mike Zurawski)


October 7, 2005 [LINK]

Does GOP shun bloggers?

That's what Professor Bainbridge thinks. (via Instapundit) If so, it would be a spectacularly foolish squandering of what should be one of the Republicans' most vital strategic assets: A veritable army of highly motivated conservative thinkers who are ready, willing, and able to promote the party's message. My impression is that virtually all of the party's incremental resources are devoted to yard signs (useless eyesores that keep getting bigger every year) and "dumbed-down" television ads that appeal to less-attentive prospective voters. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the inept political management in the White House is related to the lack of attention to grass-roots voices by the national party leaders, yet another symptom of complacency.


October 9, 2005 [LINK]

Braves, Red Sox, Padres go home

There haven't been any huge surprises in the first-round playoffs thus far, and this may turn out to be one of the most "normal" postseasons in several years. Once again, the Braves failed to make it to the second round, but this afternoon's game was perhaps the one truly extraordinary showdown of the first round. Two grand slams in a single playoff game for the first time ever, and at 18 innings, it was the longest playoff game ever. Surprisingly, the often-shaky Atlanta bullpen performed magnificently (in the ten innings after Kyle Farnsworth gave up the grand slam by Lance Berkman, that is), but the Jones brothers and the various newer sluggers just could not come through in the clutch at Minute Maid Park. Suffering such heartbreaking twists of fate as the game-tying bottom-of-the-ninth-inning home run by Brad Ausmus (which cleared the yellow line in left center by only an inch or two), the Braves are in danger of feeling as hopelessly jinxed as the Red Sox once thought they were.

It was no surprise that the top-seeded Cardinals swept the Padres, who won only two more games than they lost this season, but one would have expected the Red Sox to win at least one or two home games against the top-seeded White Sox. Indeed, the Red Sox themselves seemed to expect it. Were they counting on the Fenway Park magic of last year to save them this year? At least they've got proud memories of 2004 to keep them happy through the off-season. This was the first time since 2001 that both wild card teams did not make it to the second round.

Yankees hang in there

The LAnaheim Angels surprised the Yankees by winning games two and three (the latter at Yankee Stadium!), and took an early lead in game four tonight, but the Bronx Bombers eked out a victory by uncharacteristic "small ball" tactics of good base running. Jorge Posada's extra hustle in throwing out would-be base stealers and sliding into home made the difference. It was nice to see the ovation for Bernie Williams, who may have played his last game at Yankee Stadium tonight. Mike Mussina wisely stayed behind in the L.A. area when the rest of his team went back to New York on Friday, and will be well rested to start tomorrow night's deciding game.

D.C. baseball news

The D.C. government estimates it has brought in about $500,000 less tax revenue than it had projected, because so many of the tickets sold to Nationals games this summer were no-shows, a.k.a., "phantom fans." Whereas about 10-15 percent of the tickets most teams sell are no-shows, for Washington, the figure was over 25 percent, meaning that the average "turnstile" attendance at RFK Stadium was probably about 25,000, compared to nearly 34,000 tickets sold per game. This revenue shortfall may affect the scheduled construction of the new stadium. See Washington Post. A recent change in city personnel may end up having the same delaying effect: Andrew Altman has resigned as head of the public/private Anacostia Waterfront Development Corporation, leaving that institution without a strong driving force at the top. This may make it easier for bureaucrats and various parochial interest groups to hold things up as that stadium project trudges forward. Three more years at RFK!?


October 10, 2005 [LINK]

Angels beat the Yanks

I must say, the way the Yankees were playing last month as they overtook the Red Sox, just like their old champion selves again, I thought they were going to find a way to win tonight. The collision between Gary Sheffield and Bubba Crosby at the wall in right field in the second inning was a bad sign, as the Angels went ahead 3-2, but the Yankees kept getting hits in later innings, and eventually some of them would have to score. A bad call by the ump in the fifth inning was the second momentum-killer. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how Robinson Cano was called out for allegedly stepping outside the base path, after catcher Bengie Molina dropped the third strike. Even to the announcers Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, it was clear that Cano ran straight down the baseline, and the dubious call put an end to a rally. Derek Jeter's seventh-inning homer closed the gap to two runs, and when he came up again in the ninth, I was certain the Yankees' best players were going to stage a comeback. Inded, Jeter led off with a single, but A-Rod grounded into a double play. (He looked safe at first to me.) With the Yankees hanging by their fingernails, the next two batters managed to get hits, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, but Hideki Matsui was just barely thrown out at first on a grounder, and that was it. Given their lousy first two months, it was good that the Yankees came this close to the ALCS, but by their standards, not good enough.

The next round

One thing is certain: All four teams in the league championship series are of excellent quality, and deserve to be there. Without either the Yankees or Red Sox playing for the rest of this postseason, however, it will be hard to maintain television viewership. Having had three days' rest, while the Angels battled with the Yankees, the White Sox now have a perfect opportunity to redefine themselves as winners after so many frustrating decades. The last time they played in the World Series (1959), it was in Los Angeles -- in Memorial Coliseum, in fact. White Sox in six. Meanwhile, the NLCS is the same matchup as last year, though with a few new players on both teams. Houston has great hitting, and (now that Andy Petitte is healthy) pitching, but St. Louis matches them in every category, and has the postseason experience to know how to win. Cardinals in five.


October 10, 2005 [LINK]

The Kilgore-Kaine debate: a gas!

The two main candidates for the Virginia governor's race engaged in the only debate that will be broadcast statewide during this campaign last night. Since I was just returning from a trip out of town, I only caught the tail end of it, plus a snippet after midnight on C-SPAN. My previous impressions of Kaine as a slick, fast-talking, two-faced professional, and of Kilgore as a competent "semi-pro" whose sincere personal convictions are often diluted by excessive coaching, were both reinforced. From news reports (see Washington Post and/or Richmond Times-Dispatch), the event consisted mostly of rehearsed answers to questions that were submitted in advance, and therefore lacked the basic attributes of a real "debate." (Par for the course these days.) So many questions were asked that there was no time to address the major issues in a serious way. That seems like a major flaw to me; I would like to know if the moderator, Larry Sabato, had any control over the debate format. Instead, both candidates painted their opponents in a caricatured, negative light on hot-button issues such as abortion. Kaine danced around that issue very cleverly, saying that as a Catholic, he would not oppose the Church's position on that issue, or the death penalty. The formerly anonymous Chad Dotson thinks that Kilgore exceeded expectations, putting Kaine on the defensive in an arena in which the latter was supposed to excel. See Commonwealth Conservative; Chad also has a roundup of other Virginia bloggers' reactions.

I am solidly in the Kilgore camp, and not just because of my party affiliation, but I feel compelled to voice dissent on Kilgore's high-profile opposition to any hike in the gasoline tax. This is obviously not an appropriate moment to raise the gas tax, but if such a measure had been enacted back when gas was cheap, say two years ago, it just might have encouraged American consumers to face up to the reality of global energy scarcity in time to make the necessary lifestyle adjustments, without the need for silly Carteresque appeals to altruistic conservation. Rush Limbaugh often says that gasoline is "the life blood of democracy," exposing the Republicans' unique vulnerability to popular discontent whenever the economy slows down, since the easy remedies to recession run counter to GOP basic principles. I hate to say it, but Kilgore's anti-gas-tax position looks to me like pandering to uninformed populist impulses, setting a dangerous precedent. I see the present energy crunch in much the same way as the preventable flooding of New Orleans, as the consequence of failing to anticipate adverse future conditions. Conservative leaders are supposed to make prudence the supreme virtue, but too many Republican office holders these days just want to keep their heads buried in the sand and "let the good times roll." How long can this go on?

The Potts non-factor

State Senator Russell Potts, a moderate Republican who is running as an independent, was excluded from the big debate because he has not reached 15 percent in the polls, the standard that the Kilgore camp insisted upon. Potts initially appealed to economic conservatives (like me), but he let slip the opportunity to be taken seriously when he resorted to crowd-pleasing cheap shots against Kilgore. He may still attract enough voters from Kilgore to tip the election in Kaine's favor, which would be a disaster for those of us who are worried about wasteful government spending at the state level. On the plus side, Kilgore is far more dynamic than the last Republican nominee for governor, Mark Earley. If Kilgore keeps hammering Kaine on the cultural-values and spending issues, he stands a very good chance of winning, in spite of Potts.


October 11, 2005 [LINK]

Angels beat White Sox

To my surprise, the LAnaheim Angels beat the Chicago White Sox in the first game of the ALCS. I thought A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko were supposed to be good in clutch situations. Not tonight. Borne on wings of shiny aluminum, the Angels traveled across the country and halfway back again over the last 48 hours (is that a record?), and yet somehow had enough energy to edge the White Sox. The home team's fans were quite spirited, but somehow it didn't seem to motivate the players. Angels pitcher Paul Byrd proved very effective, putting his team in command of the situation. Vlad Guerrero really crushed the ball in the eighth inning, but the famous Chicago wind kept it inside the park, for a long out.

Three of the last four World Series were won by teams either for the first time ever, or for the first time in practically everyone's lifetime. It would be nice for that to happen again this year. If the Astros and White Sox win their leagues' pennants, such an outcome would be guaranteed. The only time in modern baseball history when neither team in a World Series had previously been world champions was in 1980, when the Phillies beat the Royals. The last time that both pennant winners were from the central region of the country (in terms of geography, not divisional groupings) was in 1987, when the Twins beat the Cardinals. It also happened in 1982 (Cardinals-Brewers) and 1985 (Royals-Cardinals).

Devil Rays to stay in the dome

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays' new owner, Stuart Sternberg, says that it is far too early to think about building a new stadium for his team. Tropicana Field may be lackluster, he admits, but that doesn't mean it will hurt the team in terms of winning or attendance. A retractable-roof stadium such as the one being considered for Miami would be ideal, but those things are very costly. See sptimes.com (Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.) The oddly tilted dome has only been in (baseball) use for eight years, and asking for public funding to replace it would surely spark a taxpayers' revolt. If they go ahead with major renovations, I think building new seating sections around the right and left field corners that would be pointed toward the infield and inclined at a steeper angle would create much better sightlines for fans. With a modest population base consisting of many older folks, the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg area will have a hard time supporting a successful baseball franchise. Baseball was just not meant for Florida in the summer; they should work out a "migrating" franchise deal with Montreal.

Turner Field update

It's too late for the Braves this year, but I've created a new version of the Turner Field diagram to conform to the new standard. The old "sideways" diagrams, including the 1996 Olympics version, are still there to facilitate comparisons. Handling those very large stadiums, such as Memorial Coliseum or Dolphins Stadium, is awkward, but I will probably use the same approach (i.e., both vertical and sideways orientations) for them in the future.


October 12, 2005 [LINK]

White Sox even it up; Angels fume

This otherwise normal postseason had a second memorable game this evening, as a questionable umpire call allowed White Sock (?) A.J. Pierzynski to run to first after Angels catcher Bengie Molina trapped the ball on the third strike and then tossed it away. FOX commentator Kevin Kennedy said it was clear that Molina caught it before it hit the ground, but I don't think many umpires would call a line drive caught that way an out. True, the home plate umpire did not make a clear enough indication that the ball was in play after he called strike three, and if I were Mike Scoscia, I'd be pretty furious, too. The fans at The Cell were ecstatic when Joe Crede lined a double into the left field corner, allowing the pinch runner to score. The White Sox probably wish they hadn't won that way, because the Angels will be fightin' mad when the series resumes in Anaheim on Friday. But if your team hasn't won a championship since before your grandfather was born, you're probably thinking, "A win's a win!"

Cardinals take game one

In St. Louis, the superlative Cardinals dominated the Astros for most of the game, handing Andy Pettitte (note: FOUR T's) his first loss in his last seven starts. Veteran Reggie Sanders got the momentum going in favor of the home team when he blasted a towering homer over the left field bull pen in the [first] inning. The rest of the Cardinals' sluggers (with the notable exception of Jim Edmonds) got hits at crucial moments as the game progressed, enabling them to score five runs on just eight total hits. [Houston made comeback attempts, scoring in the seventh and ninth innings, but came up short, 5-3.] I've always had a mildly favorable view of the Cardinals, in spite of 1964, and I was happy when they managed to beat the Astros last year, but now I'm thinking it's time that frustrated bunch of space cowboys from way down south caught a break and won the NL pennant for the first time.

After getting hardly any e-mail messages from baseball fans last week, I've received quite a few in the past couple days, some of which will require a thoughtful response. Thanks for your patience.


October 12, 2005 [LINK]

Mudslides in Guatemala

While U.S. media attention has focused on the terrible earthquake in Kashmir, another disaster closer to home has become progressively worse over the last few days. After the floods caused by Hurricane Stan last week, an earthquake in Guatemala on Friday triggered mudslides that killed over a thousand people, and possibly many more than that. The death toll is certain to exceed the number of American lives lost to Hurricane Katrina. The town of Panabaj near Lake Atitlan (a major tourist center) was completely wiped out, and rescue efforts have been abandoned. As a tragic legacy of the deep social distrust engendered by the long civil war, many Mayan Indians shunned Army troops that were on relief missions. Guatemala Today's Washington Post includes a dramatic photograph of devastating erosion in in hilly farmlands, illustrating how bad the situation is.

Nicaragua approves CAFTA

On Monday, the congress of Nicaragua voted 49-37 in favor of the Central America Free Trade Agreement, one of the few political victories that President Bolaños has won in recent months. His government has been besieged by a coalition of Sandinistas and a faction of Liberal Party members loyal to former President Aleman, and some call the present circumstances a "creeping coup." Several independent legislators joined with the pro-Bolaños faction to ratify the treaty. In order for this measure to have the intended positive effect on exports and employment, it is imperative for the U.S. Congress to follow through by passing legislation that slashes restrictions on imports from countries in that region. Will that cost U.S. jobs? Probably, but the alternative is increased illegal immigration.

Drought in Brazil

Several cities in the Amazon Basin have been declared disaster areas because of a severe drought that has made several tributaries unnavigable because the water level is so shallow. Supplies of fresh water and food have become scarce in many towns, because nearly all transportation in that region is by river boats. It is said to be the worst drought in 60 years.

Gas takeover in Bolivia

Army and police forces peacefully retook control of a natural gas installation in eastern Bolivia. Peasants had seized it to back up demands for road paving and land redistribution, interrupting gas shipments to Argentina for two days. Meanwhile, the government has decreed that private firms must increase their output of natural gas, which had been curtailed by some producers after they were subjected to special emergency taxes earlier this year.


October 12, 2005 [LINK]

Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib

Recent reports that soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division substantiate some of the charges about mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq by U.S. military personnel. Andrew Sullivan, who generally supports the war against terrorism but has been highly critical of the treatment of prisoners by American soldiers, has more on this. He calls particular attention to "Major General Geoffrey Miller, the commander ordered by Rumsfeld to transfer the torture and abuse techniques developed at Gitmo to Abu Ghraib." I remain attentive to such accusations but maintain a touch of skepticism, pending further reports. Ultimately, the verdict on the overall conduct of U.S. forces will be rendered by the Iraqi people themselves. If the overwhelming majority of troops are treating Iraqi people well, that will be reflected in the degree of support for the new democratic government. The next big test will be when the referendum on the proposed constitution is held this weekend. Terrorist bomb attacks are all but certain, so the main question is what the turnout rate will be, especially among the Sunnis.

Sunday's Washington Post had a profile on Captain James Yee, the Muslim Army chaplain who was accused of passing secrets to the enemy, charges that were later reduced and replaced by morals charges, and finally dropped. His parents are Chinese immigrants who took him to church in suburban New Jersey, but he only went grudgingly. He graduated from West Point in 1990, and converted to Islam after becoming an Army officer. He left active duty after his three-year commitment was over, went to Syria to study Islam, and returned to active duty as a chaplain in 2000. He ministered to Muslim detainees at Guantanamo, and was arrested in September 2003, accused of spying and aiding the enemy. His family life suffered terribly, both emotionally and financially, and he is now promoting a book he wrote about his experiences in the Army and at Guantanamo. He seems to fit the profile of an gifted and sensitive but alienated immigrant child, but in any event he deserves to be heard. As with all such tell-all books written by disgruntled misfits, the charges he makes must be taken with a grain of salt.

Jihadists in the Old Dominion

An enterprising blogger named Baron Bodissey went to scope out the compound operated by the Muslim extremist group Jamaat ul-Fuqra, located east of Lynchburg, Virginia. He only managed to get a few blurry photos before he was scared off, but his findings and analysis are worth reading. (via Instapundit) This illustrates once again, the need for this country to get serious about immigration reform, in terms of both policy consistency and providing sufficient resources to guard our borders and enforce the laws.

UPDATE: Mr. Bodissey contacted me to point out that immigration reform would have little effect on Jamaat ul-Fuqra, most of whose members are African-American U.S. citizens, typically "former inmates radicalized in prison by Saudi-funded chaplains." As he explains today (on his Gates of Vienna blog), the real problem highlighted by that group is "the omnipresent cultural poison that has infused every nook and cranny of American life: the PC desire to avoid being labeled a 'racist.'"


October 12, 2005 [LINK]

First Yellow-rumped warblers

It was a dark and gloomy morning, not encouraging for bird watching, but I needed the exercise. Before I even got out of the parking lot on my morning stroll, however, I heard an oddly familiar "chip, chip" call in the trees, and within a couple minutes some Yellow-rumped warblers popped into view, the first ones of the season for me. It was virtually the same arrival date as in the past two years, amazingly consistent. They are the only warblers found in most of Virginia during the winter months, and happened to be in my former neighbor YuLee Larner's back yard, probably wondering where YuLee was... Today's highlights from the (recent) birding "hot spot" behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad:

  • Yellow-rumped warblers (M, F/J)
  • Common yellowthroat (young male; close, but no camera!)
  • Red-winged blackbirds (high)
  • Red-bellied woodpecker (F)
  • Hairy woodpecker (F)
  • Downy woodpecker (M)
  • Catbirds (a few still lingering)
  • Wood thrush (latest date: Oct. 12!)
  • Phoebe
  • Goldfinches
  • Rose-breasted grosbeak (young male; latest date: Oct. 13!)
  • Cedar waxwings (10+)
  • Yellow-bellied sapsucker (M)

Note that the latest date two of these species have ever been seen in Augusta County are October 12 and 13, according to Birds of Augusta County, which YuLee edited. (A grosbeak was once seen in mid-November, but that was probably a sick or lost vagrant.) I saw some Chimney swifts flying around yesterday, but none today. If their migration timing of past years is any guide, those were probably the last ones of the year.


October 13, 2005 [LINK]

Astros even it up

It's sad when superhuman defensive efforts by outfielders such as Jim Edmunds and Reggie Sanders come to nothing. Edmunds' diving catch showed once again why he's the real anchor of the team, even as others such as Albert Pujols rack up even higher batting records. At the plate, however, Edmunds wasted two RBI opportunities, getting the third out both times. Sanders' missed catch in the eighth inning was scary the way he landed on the warning track, but apparently he's OK. But the real story tonight was the Astros, especially the batting of Chris Burke and pitching of Roy Oswalt, who once again performed amazingly well. Final score, 4-1.

More stalling on stadium in D.C.

The D.C. council may reconsider the agreement it reached by which the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals. Vincent Orange submitted a resolution to review the private stadium financing agreement with Deutsche Bank, which was supposed to save the city money. So what else is new? Maybe if this thing drags on, the Nationals will stay in RFK Stadium for four more years, rather than just two or three. See Washington Post It is uncertain whether the recent tax evasion charges against council member Marion Barry, or council member Jack Evans' political fundraising irregularities, will affect this decision. "It's a Capital City!"

New stadium in K.C.?

The Barrett Sports Group proposes to build a new baseball stadium to replace Kauffman Stadium, to be located in downtown Kansas City. It would cost $357 million, of which the Royals' owners would pay $41 million. See Kansas City Business Journal. (Hat tip to Mike Zurawski) This all sounds pretty dubious to me. Kauffman Stadium is just too beautiful to throw away. Kansas City does not need a bigger or fancier stadium, and the one they already have could be upgraded in any number of ways to appease to the fat cats.


October 13, 2005 [LINK]

Germany & Poland turn right

Parliamentary elections in the two biggest countries of Central Europe last month both resulted in a shift in favor of the conservative parties. Until this week, however, the final outcome was yet undecided, for different reasons.

In the German elections three weeks ago, the Christian Democratic / Christian Social Union won a plurality of seats in the Bundestag, but not much more than the Social Democratic Party, which has held power since 1998. A stalemate ensued, and no one knew who would lead the country. This is the kind of situation in which the president often steps in to resolve intractable quarrels in parliamentary governments, but that didn't happen this time; President Horst Koehler remained a mere figurehead. After tough negotiations with the incumbent Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, by which his Social Democratic Party will receive several key cabinet positions, a "grand coalition" government was formed on Monday, and Angela Merkel will become the first woman chancellor of Germany. She grew up in East Germany, and never became involved in politics until after the Berlin Wall fell. She has a very aloof, reserved personality, making it difficult to discern her intentions about policy sometimes, and she is known to be suspcious of rivals. She aims to reform the German economy by cutting workers' health care benefits as a first step toward reducing Germany's ultra-cushy entitlements, and she wants better relations with the United States, which would certainly be very welcome in Washington. Without a majority in the legislature, however, Merkel probably won't accomplish much. The loss by Schroeder stems from his failure to reinvigorate the German economy, as well as voter anger over some belated cuts in government spending he was forced to make.

In Poland, Donald Tusk of the free-market Civic Platform won 36 percent in the first-round presidential elections, and Warsaw mayor Lech Kaczynski of the populist, socially conservative Law and Justice Party won 33 percent. Since neither won received a majority of votes, there will be a runoff between those two later this month. In the late September parliamentary elections, the incumbent governing Democratic Left Alliance was ousted, and the Law and Justice Party came in just ahead of the Civic Platform Party. The two will form a conservative coalition, and some tax cuts are certain, although exactly which kinds of people will benefit most is yet undecided. The Economist magazine mused at the paradox that, since 1989, Poland has emerged as a model of stable democratic capitalism when viewed from outside, but the internal reality is one of policy incoherence, corruption, and foot-dragging. Well, that's democracy for ya! It is striking that Poland has played a high-profile role in supporting the U.S.-led war on terrorism, deploying significant armed forces to Iraq, even though the government has been under leftist control in recent years. The new president may review Polish foreign policy, and it will be interesting to see the connection between foreign policy and economic policy. As Mexico and France have shown, even conservative presidents sometimes appeal to nationalism by acting in ways contrary to U.S. interests.

What's interesting is that in both the German and Polish cases, the economic conservatives and social conservatives recognized their common long-term objectives, and have found a way to cooperate with each other. Meanwhile, Republicans in the U.S.A. are up in arms over, on one hand, Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, and on the other hand, the runaway spending spree by the GOP Congress and the consequent soaring deficits. I'm one of those for whom the latter is a much bigger problem. Rush Limbaugh has bravely talked of how the conservative movement is undergoing a healthy debate and mobilization, but I still hear a lot of sneers about "Republicans in name only," an example of the unhealthy attitude that if you're not an evangelical Christian dogmatic tax-cut advocate, you don't belong. That kind of talk has to stop, or else Rush's upbeat spin will be nothing more than whistling in the dark.


October 14, 2005 [LINK]

Boswell: Give RFK a "facelift"

In today's Washington Post (print edition only), Thomas Boswell suggests several modifications that could greatly enhance the aesthetics of RFK Stadium, based on the renovations to (soon-to-disappear) Busch Stadium that were made in 1996. To wit:

  • Add four rows of box seats to reduce the excessive foul territory.
  • Move the bullpens from the corners toward the power alleys, and fill in that space with added grandstand seats.
  • Install true bench-type bleacher sections in deep left- and right-center fields.
  • Tear out the upper level seats in the outfield upper deck, and put in a big wooden manual scoreboard and historical D.C. baseball display.
  • Put in a grass slope ("sward"?) in center field, as a batter's backdrop.

He's definitely on the right track, especially with lower-level bleachers, but I don't think putting in seats around the foul corners would work. For one thing, it would make reconfiguring RFK for soccer games next to impossible. Since the front-row box seats are already fairly low, I think adding two rows along the foul lines is about as much as can be done without having to lower the field level, which would be very costly and difficult. Nonetheless, I agree wholeheartedly with his conclusion:

If the aesthetics of RFK can be improved half as much as the '96-to'97 transformation of Busch Stadium, the long-term value to the Washington francise and its owners may be huge.

White Sox win again

Even though I'm rooting for them to go all the way, I was kind of hoping the White Sox would lose tonight's game so that the Angels wouldn't be able to complain that the rather bogus way that Game 2 was won shifted the momentum in Chicago's favor. Paul Konerko is back in the hitting groove, but Vlad Guerrero and the other Angel sluggers were totally stymied by John Garland, who gave up only four hits in a complete game. Final score: 5-2.

Instant replay?

The controversial bumbled call in Chicago Wednesday night by umpire Doug Eddings has sparked renewed interest in this idea. Just say no! Read about it at MLB.com, and cast your vote at foxsports.com. Right now, it's running
46% NO,
31% ALL THE TIME, and
23% IN PLAYOFFS ONLY.

To follow along with the heated argument over that bumbled call, see David Pinto's blog post at Baseball Musings.

Wrigley photos

Speaking of Chicago, thanks to Mario Vara for sending some great photos of a game between the Cubs and Cardinals at Wrigley Field from last August; I've added two of them to that page, and touched up the old ones. His photos can also be seen on the Cleveland Stadium page.


October 14, 2005 [LINK]

Mudslide: Tourists stranded at Machu Picchu

Heavy rains in the Andes Mountains caused mudslides that buried a section of railroad track near Machu Picchu, thereby stranding 1,400 tourists in the town of Aguas Calientes, located along the Vilcanota River about 3,000 feet below the archeological mecca. That train is the only way to get to the isolated site, as the steep mountain gorges make road building prohibitively difficult. The government hopes to evacuate some of the tourists with helicopters, and the track will probably be repaired within a week or two. The same thing happened just two weeks after Jacqueline and I went there in March 2004.

Floods in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has also been hit hard by flooding, though not as severely as in Guatemala or Mexico. Several towns near the Pacific coast have been evacuated, and even the provincial capital of Liberia, in the northwestern canton of Guanacaste, is on alert for possible flooding. When I was there in late February, it was extremely hot and dry.

In politics, former president Miguel Angel Rodriguez was released from house arrest after nearly a year. He has been charged with accepting bribes from the French telecommunications company Alcatel. It is remarkable that former presidents in the neighboring countries of Costa Rica and Nicaragua are both accused of corruption.

The recent heavy rains in the northeast U.S.A., Central America, and Peru, and the severe drought in the normally lush Amazon basin, make one wonder what's up with our terrestial atmosphere. Here in Virginia it was dry as a bone from late July until early October, and ever since the Rolling Stones came to town, it's been rainy, drizzly, or cloudy. What's up with that?


October 14, 2005 [LINK]

American golden plover

A walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning yielded a few woodpeckers (Hairy, Downy, Red-bellied, and a Flicker) and some Cedar waxwings, but none of the lingering migrants seen on Wednesday. No records today. Late this afternoon, I decided to try my luck at Leonard's Pond where a rare American golden plover has been seen by local birders, and to my delight I spotted it almost a soon as I got there. It was only about 50 yards away, and I got good views of its distinct white eyebrow, dark crown, a white speckled back, and a black tail. That makes only my third U.S.A. life bird of the year. (I saw 70 new ones in Costa Rica and Nicaragua in February and March.) There were also dozens of Tree swallows, at least 50 Killdeers, 20 or so Canada geese, several mallards, and two Least sandpipers.


October 15, 2005 [LINK]

War by other means in Iraq

Today the Iraqi people went to vote on whether to approve the draft constitution. The only major disruption was an electrical blackout in Baghdad, and hardly any bomb attacks were carried out. I'm confident that most Iraqis know what kind of future they want for their country, and it does not include murderous thugs from the Ba'ath Party or Al Qaeda. Sunday's Washington Post has the reactions of various Sunni people, many of whom fear the proposed constitution will leave their country divided. Au contraire. Even if the constitution does not receive strong popular support, the fact that the Iraqi people are getting used to expressing their will in a peaceful way constitutes, ipso facto, a major victory in the long-term war against Islamo-fascism. Ironically, the armed might of the United States is of secondary concern right now, as Iraq tries to substantiate the age-old liberal (!) hope that "the pen is mightier than the sword." The sight of brave Iraqi citizens proudly showing their ink-stained fingers after casting their ballots is one of those special heart-warming occasions that remind us what all the sacrifices have been for. Any comment from Cindy Sheehan?

Offensive in west Iraq

U.S. Army forces launched an offensive in western Iraq two weeks ago, and the Iraqi government has now established firm control over the towns of Haditha, Haqlaniyah, and Barwana. The name "Operation River Gate" refers to the Euphrates River, which is apparently being used as a covert conduit. See Belmont Club for more.

It is no coincidence that this offensive, like the one in Tall Afar last month, took place very close to the Syrian border. I would bet that U.S. agents and/or Special Forces teams are already operating across the border in Syria, disrupting the flow of supplies and recruits to the resistance forces. Syria has already been identified as a rogue regime, and we are at war against fascism in the region, so it makes perfect sense. The suicide committed by the Syrian interior minister, who was implicated in the assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri back in February, is a sign that the regime of Bashar Al-Asad may be beginning to crack.

Bush talks to troops

The television news reporters jumped all over the rehearsed responses by U.S. soldiers in preparation for their chat on Friday with the Commander-in-Chief, but there is no indication that they were coached on what to say. It's amusing, because The Today Show, GMA, and the CBS Morning Show all routinely let their guests rehearse, which is obvious from the rapid, to the point delivery they universally give in response to questions. For the perspective of an Army medic who was there (in Iraq), see: 278medic. (via Instapundit) Read it, and you'll agree, Katie Couric should be ashamed of herself.

Is Al Qaeda failing?

A letter purportedly from Al Qaeda's number two man, Ayman Zawahiri, criticized Iraqi terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi for alienating the Islamic world by engaging in gruesome mass murder against other Muslims. It was intercepted by U.S. agents. Zawahiri expresses frustration that Al Qaeda's strategic goals are being thwarted by inappropriate tactics by insurgents in Iraq who are beyond his control. That is one of the downsides of resorting to terrorism: Like nuclear weapons, it is an extreme measure that can easily get out of hand without achieving the desired objectives. See Washington Post.


October 15, 2005 [LINK]

I brake for turtles

As the nights grow chillier, our friends from the cold-blooded reptilian branch of the evolutionary tree find it necessary to grab every ounce of sunlight they can during the days. That means we all have to pay extra attention whenever an odd round bump appears on the road ahead, because it just might be a turtle catching some rays. I saved this guy from almost certain death on Bell's Lane this afternoon. He snorted softly as I examined him and put him back off the edge of the road. The only bird of note I saw in the Bell's Lane area was a Great blue heron.

"No, I do NOT want to come out and play!"



October 17, 2005 [LINK]

Pujols' "bigger bang" saves Cards

Totally unbelievable! After Lance Berkman's dramatic go-ahead home run in the seventh inning, it looked like the Astros had a lock on the National League pennant, which would have meant that no more games would ever be played at Busch Stadium (the current one). Houston fans were delirious at the prospect of a World Series in Texas for the first time. Instead, with two outs in the top of the ninth, David Eckstein singled, Jim Edmunds walked, and then the amazing Albert Pujols launched that horsehide sphere into earth orbit, striking the glass pane above the railroad track in left field. (Estimated distance pending.) There was no doubt about it, and Minute Maid Park fell deathly silent as Pujols calmly jogged around the bases. Talk about an emotional let-down! As if Sunday afternoon's game didn't end on a dramatic enough basis (an amazing double play ended a Cardinals rally in the top of the ninth), what happened tonight was the stuff of baseball legend. Back to St. Louis!

White Sox win pennant

After a clumsy start in Game 1, the White Sox went on to beat the Angels in the next four games (including three games on the road), thus winning the series in five games, not six, as I had predicted. Who would have thought that the White Sox pitching would be so superlative? Well, they did tie with the Indians for the third-lowest team ERA in 2005, even though Buehrle, Garica, Garland, and Contreras are not exactly household names -- yet. The last time four consecutive postseason complete games were pitched was by the Yankees in 1956. (Remember Don Larsen?) Shouldn't someone tell manager Ozzie Guillen that there's no crying or kissing of players in baseball? Even though Latin culture is more fixated on traditional gender roles than is the case in North America, most of those macho men from south of the border are less hung up about not being called a sissy than us gringos. Interestingly, the White Sox manager last time they were in the World Series (Al Lopez, in 1959) was also of Hispanic origin. Back then it was still a rarity. Just a thought: As Chicagoans prepare for their first World Series since Dwight Eisenhower was president, I wonder if the White Sox regret trimming the size of the upper deck in U.S. Cellular Field?

D.C. stadium? More confusion...

Even though the D.C. Council has decided to reexamine the terms of the stadium construction financial arrangement with Deutsch Bank, in part to ensure that the project earns an "investment quality" bond rating, Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp now says she favors building the stadium on the Anacostia site. Ten months ago she was pushing for the new stadium to be build next to RFK Stadium, in order to save construction costs. For more than a year now, MLB and D.C. officials have been manuevering and posturing to get the best possible terms, and neither side trusted the other enough to make a 100-percent commitment. When will this farce ever end? See Washington Post.

Random notes on the Nationals

Since the regular season ended, or perhaps since the Nationals fell out of postaseason contention on September 21, the zombie-like "spell" of fan zealotry has been lifted from my consciousness, and I've been able to pay attention to the rest of the major leagues (and even the real non-baseball world) with a bit more fairness and balance. There will be plenty of time to speculate on Washington's 2006 prospects after the World Series is over.

As the process of finalizing stadium construction plans and selling the Nationals franchise drag on, it is good to remember a telling comment made by Commissioner Bud Selig, as published in the inaugural edition of the Nationals' souvenir program. When asked by the interviewer why he finally relented and allowed the Expos to move, he said, "There weren't any alternatives. This was a last resort." Remember those words well. Washington was not at the top of the list of possible new cities for the Expos franchise, as any reasonable analysis would have concluded, it was at the bottom.

Washington Nationals Tony Tavares was interviewed about his team's performance this year, and its prospects for the future. To my delight, he brushed aside complaints of certain sluggers that the outfield at RFK Stadium is too big. Notably, he put the blame on the lack of leadership by players and coaches. To me, that just goes to show the ultimate result of the absence of any strong direction at the top -- There's no owner, for crying out loud! Until that changes, squabbling and lack of focus are bound to continue. See MLB.com. With regard to front office personnel moves, Tavares says, "Nobody has made any promises. If you get a job opportunity, you should pursue it, because I can't guarantee anything." Ouch. Tavares said if he is rehired, he would offer a job to General Manager Jim Bowden (whose contract expires at the end of the month), but he demurred about Frank Robinson's job. Tavares, Bowden, and Robinson all deserve another year in Washington, working in a normal situation under a real owner, where they just might have a chance at a championship bid.

I had meant to make note of the fact that the Washington Post (print edition only) had a list of "top ten" Washington Nationals inaugural year games on October 5, one day later than I did. Theirs was quite different than mine, however, coinciding only on April 14 (obviously), June 14, and September 17. They omitted April 6, May 30, July 4, July 15, July 26, September 15, and September 21, and included May 7, June 6, July 3, July 5, July 26, September 15, and September 25. Also, it is worthwhile to call attention to Barry Svrluga's prescient words about the Nationals' prospects in the "Baseball '05" special section last March 30:

But look at the rest of the [NL East] division, probably the deepest and most competitive in baseball, and it's easy to see how the Nationals could scratch their way to .500 -- and still finish last.

Well, the Nationals didn't exactly "scratch their way to .500," but it's still a pretty astute forecast of the final outcome.


October 17, 2005 [LINK]

Local soldier is heading to Iraq

Yesterday I attended a dinner in honor of Herb Harman, a U.S. Army NCO from this area who is about to report for training duty at Fort Dix in New Jersey, after which he is heading to Iraq. I met Herb about a year ago while working on the Republican campaign, and he is an enthusiastic, unabashed patriot who puts his life where his mouth is. He served at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and can attest to the humane treatment given to the detainees there, contrary to what many journalists and critics claim. Herb's son is already serving in Iraq, and is about to complete his rotation there. The event was reported by WHSV-TV3 in Harrisonburg and by the Waynesboro News-Virginian [updated link], but there was nothing in the Staunton News Leader. We all wish Herb the very best as he takes on this big challenge of standing up against the forces of terror in the Middle East. His wife Jan deserves huge appreciation and support for the sacrifices she makes while Herb serves his country -- and the cause of freedom.

This dinner came at a fortuitous moment, as the results of the Iraqi referendum on the draft constitution seems to be very positive.


October 18, 2005 [LINK]

Wrigley Field begins overhaul

While the ecstatic fans on the South Side of Chicago get ready for the Main Event this weekend, construction on the beloved North Side ballpark is already underway. I had been very worried about what the final result of that expansion would look like, but the artists renderings indicate that the New, Improved bleachers aren't too much different from the old ones. It would appear that only about eight rows of seats are being added along the left and right field sides, while the central part of the bleachers will remain pretty much the way they are. Fair enough. Also, there will be a multi-story parking garage in the triangular parcel of land on the west side of the ballpark. (Will they still tow the cars of hapless out-of-town visitors on non-game days?) See the Cubs Web site.

For some photos of the Wrigley Field bleachers being torn out, see Scott Derenger's shaveyourhead.com. (That page has dozens of photos, and may take a while to load completely; via Temporary Bleachers blog, via Technorati.)

Perhaps as part of the bleachers enlargement project, the Cubs have formalized an arrangement with the owners of most of the condo buildings with rooftop bleachers across Waveland Avenue and Sheffield Street. It's "Endorsed by the Chicago Cubs," so the Cubs presumably get some kind of consideration in return, which would be a reasonable accommodation to the erstwhile "freeloaders." It's about time! See ballparkrooftops.com.


October 18, 2005 [LINK]

Fiscal conservatives take charge

Who knows, maybe it was all for the best that Tom DeLay got tripped up in this (rather dubious) fund-raising scandal in Texas. (From what we now know about "shopping" for a friendly grand jury to get an indictment against DeLay, and having had to amend his indictment almost immediately as it was presented, there is no longer any doubt that Texas district attorney Ronnie Earle is a partisan hack.) Since DeLay has stepped aside as House Majority Leader, the long-marginalized deficit hawks within the Republican party are starting to throw their weight around on Capitol Hill once again, demanding faithfulness to core conservative principles. This effort is being spearheaded by the "Republican Study Committee," chaired by Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana. See Washington Post. Hoo-ray!

This kind of grass-roots initiative does not usually last long, however, and as Brendan Miniter at opinionjournal.com warns, the next Congress could easily undo any belt-tightening moves by the present one. There is indeed a long way to go yet before we can feel sure that the overriding objective of shrinking the government will be carried out. If the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill cannot figure out how to govern and enact coherent legislative programs without resorting to the Democrats' old pork barrel tricks, as Tom DeLay was fond of doing, then what is the point of supporting the Republican party? The big test will be whether Bush sees the light and either cuts back, revises, or abandons the ill-considered Medicare prescription drug benefit.


October 19, 2005 [LINK]

Take two: Astros win pennant

Once again, the Astros' pitching was dominant, but this time there was no heroic ninth-inning comeback by the Cardinals. With Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte both pitching at or near top form, who would have thought that the NLCS MVP Award would go to Roy Oswalt? And what's his secret, anyway? His pitches all look like well-placed fastballs to me, nothin' really fancy or tricky. It gives one a warm, fuzzy feeling that the original "Killer Bees," Bagwell and Biggio, will finally get to play in the World Series, reminding me of when the Padres' veteran Tony Gwynn got that long-dreamed-of chance in 1998. It is too bad that bad umpiring calls played a part in yet another postseason game this year, this time a missed tag at second base that was wrongly called out. That stopped a potential Cardinals rally in the fifth inning. Few can deny that the Astros outplayed the Cardinals, though, and fully deserve a shot at the World Championship. (Part of me cringes at the prospect of yet another wild card team going all the way.) With neither of this year's pennant-winning teams having played in the World Series in most of our memories, this one has the potential to be even more exciting than last year. Anything can happen.

Whereas both league championship series went a full seven games in 2003 and 2004, this year neither one did. It was also striking how little home field advantage mattered; seven out of 11 ALCS and NLCS games this year were won by the visiting team. In last year's NLCS, the home teams won all seven games. Another difference is that only one postseason game so far has gone into extra innings (Braves fans would just as soon forget that one), whereas there were seven such games last year.

Bye-bye to Busch

History will record that the Cardinals lost the last two games they ever played at Busch Stadium (II). Likewise, the Braves lost their final game in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in the 1996 World Series, and the Astros lost their final game in the Astrodome in 1999. Over the course of Busch Stadium's 40-year history, however, there were more than enough playoff and World Series game victories to make St. Louisians happy. Among all the doughnut/cookie-cutter stadiums of the 1960s and 1970s, this one will probably be remembered most fondly.

Fenway renovations continue

Being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs gave the Red Sox extra time to finish the next phase of the multi-year renovation of Fenway Park. The big glass panes enclosing the elite "406 Club" in Fenway Park have been smashed and/or removed, as the first step toward installing new club seats all along the upper level. This will add 1,100 seats to Fenway Park, which will still be the smallest capacity ballpark in the majors. See MLB.com. It's clearly a step forward, but they eventually ought expand the upper level into a normal size deck, with 15 or more rows.

Here's a thought: Many folks blithely assume that the Yankees or Red Sox will routinely make it to at least the league championship series, but that did not happen this year. With the persistent torrential rains suffered by New Yorkers and New Englanders last week, any postseason games up there would have been postponed by several days anyway, throwing the entire postseason schedule into turmoil.


October 19, 2005 [LINK]

More class baiting by the Left

One sure sign that the good guys in Washington are starting to have some effect is that the dinosaurs on the Left have stopped gloating over Bush's missteps and are back to howling at the moon once again. For an exquisitely awful take on efforts by conservative Republicans to restrain and monitor spending on Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, see Harold Meyerson in today's Washington Post. In his view, "Congress is ... gunning for the American poor." His column is full of such distortions, but what really galls me is the way he lumps together under the "right-wing" rubric two separate tendencies within the Republican party: the traditional no-nonsense fiscal conservatives, and the new breed of cynical, dogmatic tax-cutters. Meyerson's all-too-common mode of thinking is what poses the biggest obstacle to achieving true market-oriented socio-economic reform in this country. Sadly, I fear that the rhetoric of "compassionate conservtism" voiced by President Bush is backfiring by playing into the hands of leftist cynics. The rebuilding New Orleans should be an opportunity to promote private-sector development and the associated values of free enterprise, freeing the city's poor residents from decades of soul-deadening dependency on welfare checks. Meyerson wants to keep those folks tied to the Democratic "plantation," it would seem.

Virginia's Sixth District Congressman Bob Goodlatte is currently touring the disaster area, and has taken a firm stand in favor of caution in spending on Hurricane Katrina recovery; see his Web site. He deserves high praise for doing so.

UPDATE: The Coburn Amendment. I saw Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn speaking to a group of young Republicans on C-SPAN the other day, and was really impressed. He is definitely one of the "good guys" on the Republican side, sincerely and deeply committed to fiscal prudence and reform. He recently introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill that would "transfer funding from a wasteful pork project in Alaska to the much-needed repair and reconstruction of the 'Twin Spans' bridge in Louisiana." See his Web site, via Instapundit. Hear, hear!


October 19, 2005 [LINK]

Second area soldier killed

Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Bubb, of Grottoes, VA, was killed in combat on Monday, on the day before his 20th birthday. For details, see newsleader.com. This comes nine months after the first area youth, Jason Redifer, also a Marine Lance Corporal, was killed in Iraq; see Feb. 3 and Aug. 27 blog posts. May God comfort the families of both fallen heroes, and may all Americans pay honor to their sacrifices.

The total number of American military personnel who have been killed in action in Iraq is approaching 2,000. Reaching that landmark figure will be another occasion for questioning war objectives, testing the ability and willingness of both war opponents and the Bush administration to engage in constructive discourse about "what we are fighting for."


October 20, 2005 [LINK]

All politics WAR is local

When it comes to following politics, the closer it is to home, the less I seem to understand it. Here in the friendly, peaceful town of Staunton, a veritable war broke out earlier this year between the City Council and two elected constitutional officers. Why? Don't ask me, I haven't a clue. The two incumbents, Commissioner of Revenue Ray Ergenbright and Treasurer Elnora Hazlett (both Republicans) were blamed for a major computer snafu, and are being challenged in the upcoming elections by, respectively, Maggie Ragon and Dolores Duncan. (There is a third candidate, Rick Johnson I believe, in the former race.) From what I can tell, it all started a few years ago when some unelected official in city hall made a huge goof, and he is now trying to pin the blame elsewhere. The city's Information Technology director, Kurt Plowman, recommended the purchase of a tax revenue collecting software package called R-MASS, even though it was only in the development stage, and had not been certified as ready to use.

When the system's performance failed to improve in spite of many months of data conversion efforts, citizens started complaining about delays, and the News Leader published a series of articles highly critical of Ergenbright, and to a lesser extent, Hazlett. Just before I went to Costa Rica in February I attended a City Council meeting at which it was decided (in the name of "efficiency") to transfer certain functions and staffers from the Treasurer's office to a different part of City Hall, even though at least ten people spoke out strongly against making such a change. The News Leader editorials scoffed at the citizen complaints about this shift, which was obviously political in nature, and a cartoon portrayed those who objected (quite earnestly and respectfully, as I can attest) as an ignorant mob. Staunton and the surrounding area of the Shenandoah Valley are strongly conservative, but for some reason, only one member of the City Council is close to the Republicans. My sense is that the majority of the City Council, as well as the News Leader editors, hold an elitist disdain for public opinion, and believe that the city's interests are best served by letting experts make all the big decisions.

I happen to know both Ergenbright and Hazlett fairly well from working with the Republican party. They are decent, competent folks committed to serving the public good, and they are as honest as the day is long. If all you knew was what was written in the local newspaper, however, you would think they were totally at fault for the computer system breakdown. Today's Staunton News Leader for the first time paid some attention to both sides in this dispute, which is at least a step in the right direction. It also brought to light a critical fact of which I was not aware at all:

[IT Director Kurt] Plowman, the project manager for the conversion to R-MASS, ... is a partner in Ragon's business, The Wine Cellar.

That's it, just one innocuous sentence, with no elaboration. The very same municipal employee who set out to tear down Ray Ergenbright has a business relationship with Ergenbright's political opponent! Now, this whole political battle is starting to make sense, as the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Does it not even dawn on the editors that this constitutes a huge potential conflict of interest, and at the very least merits a bit more fact checking? Some investigative reporting! Woodward and Bernstein? Sorry, not here in Staunton.

In sum, unless the voters in Staunton get the full picture about what really happened in the R-MASS fiasco, which will only happen if our local newspaper lives up to its journalistic responsibility to present all sides of a story as important as this one, so that voters will make a well-informed choice on November 8, there is a very real possibility that the city council members who are behind the campaign to unseat Ergenbright and Hazlett will succeed in eliminating all opposition to their finance and development plans. (Chopping down the rest of the trees on Betsy Bell Hill, perhaps?) For anyone who believes in a system of government based on checks and balances, and democratic accountability of public officials, such an outcome would be an utter travesty. Since politics can be understood as "war by other means," and since the extreme partisanship and polarization such as we have observed in recent years tends to filter down from Washington to the state and local level, perhaps this conflict should not be surprising. It doesn't have to be that way, however. Come on, Staunton, wake up!


October 20, 2005 [LINK]

Yellow(ish) birds everywhere

In terms of both weather and bird abundance, it was yet another very good morning behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, including the first Swamp sparrow of the season. I realized that most of the bird species I saw had at least some yellow plumage, indicated below with asterisks. Here are the highlights of what I saw:

  • * Cedar waxwing (50+)
  • Robins (30+)
  • * Yellow-bellied sapsucker (F)
  • * Red-winged blackbirds (15+)
  • * White-throated sparrows (I coaxed one to sing.)
  • E. towhees (JM)
  • * Blue-headed vireo
  • * Ruby-crowned kinglets (6+)
  • * Yellow-rumped warblers (6+)
  • Field sparrow (prob.)
  • House finches
  • Swamp sparrow (FOS)
  • * N. flicker
  • * Goldfinches
  • Red-eyed vireo

There was also a White-breasted nuthatch in our back yard, for the first time in a few weeks. Two mornings ago, I caught a glimpse of a Dark-eyed junco out back for the first time this fall. About 10:30 or so at night, I heard a flock of Canada geese honking as they took advantage of the full moon on their southbound migration.


October 21, 2005 [LINK]

New D.C. stadium design

For once, the Washington Post let itself get scooped on a major baseball story. Washington's free tabloid City Paper took a peek at what the HOK architectural firm has been working on, and they're not happy. According to author Josh Levin,

Once a stadium innovator, the District has become the ultimate follower. If you thought Mayor Anthony A. Williams rolled over for Major League Baseball when the Expos relocated, you ain't seen nothing yet. The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, the mayor's office, the Nationals, and Major League Baseball have chosen to kill off the league's last ugly duckling and replace it with yet another shiny baseball jukebox.

They go on to critique in lurid detail various faults of the tentative design, which is aimed primarily at maximizing revenue from upper-crust patrons, leaving second-class facilities and uncomfortably tight seats for average folks. As far as the playing area at "Linda Cropp Field" (!) goes,

The new field's contrived distances will try to summon the old parks' essence: 340 feet down the left-field line, 385 in the left-field power alley, 413 at a sharply angled outcropping just left of center field, 400 feet to straightaway center, 380 in the right-field power alley, 368 on the short side of a protuberance in right-center field, and 330 to the foul line in right. The manufactured quirkiness evinces Major League Baseball conformity: The outfields in the newish parks in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and San Diego, with their jutting corners and acute angles, look identically asymmetrical.

That's certainly not very encouraging. Whatever happened to the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission's insistence on a unique, signature architectural design? When an artist's rendering is released, I guess we'll be in a better position to judge. And what about the whole idea of integrating the ballpark into the surrounding neighborhood, making it a sports palace for all the people? Are the K Street lobbyists already swarming through the HOK designers' offices, corrupting the creative process? (Major league hat tip to Mike Zurawski for bringing this story to my attention.)

Dodger Stadium

The Dodgers are replacing all of the 1970s-era plastic seats in their stadium with new, more brightly colored ones. The close-in sections that were added last year and in 1999 will have real, old-fashioned box seats, "enhanced by an integrated table amenity." Ugh. About 500 seats from these sections will be removed to create additional legroom. See Dodgers Web site. (Hat tip to Mike Zurawski)

Fenway Park

The scaffolding in front of the former "406 Club" suites at Fenway Park collapsed on Friday afternoon. For details, see thebostonchannel.com; hat tip to Maury Brown, of SABR. Well, as long as the main roof and support beams hold up... The Sept. 22 issue of Rolling Stone magazine had a feature story on the Rolling Stones concert tour of North America. It included a photo of Mick and the other "lads" on stage before the inaugural show at Fenway Park in August.


October 21, 2005 [LINK]

Referendum in Ecuador?

The Supreme Court of Ecuador is reviewing President Alfredo Palacio's proposed referendum for a constitutional assembly, as a means for bypassing the legislative branch, which has stymied his initiatives. Since taking office after President Lucio Gutierrez was voted out of office by the Congress in the midst of a popular uprising in April, the new leader has been frustrated by opposition, and several of the cabinet officers he appointed have had to resign after being implicated in scandals. See CNN.com. Prospects for reestablishing political stability and advancing a coherent national development strategy seem farther away than ever. It's quite ironic for a country that used to export petroleum, but doesn't even have a national currency any more.

Mexico fears U.S. border patrols

The Mexican government expressed alarm over Texas Gov. Rick Perry's effort to tighten security along the border with Mexico, code-named "Operation Linebacker." It is feared that U.S. border patrols will lead to the militarization of the otherwise friendly border, and will violate the human rights of (undocumented) Mexican immigrants. The Foreign Relations Ministry said that Mexico "takes any threat to its national security or the region of North America with the greatest seriousness." See CNN.com.

Hurricane Wilma made a direct hit on Cozumel, the Caribbean paradise island that I visited with my late friend Joe Cash in 1985, when it was still mostly pristine and undeveloped. In Cancun, the overdeveloped coastal resort just to the north, thousands of tourists are seeking shelter in safe ground-level ballrooms.

Chavez "cries wolf" again

Speaking to a group of businessmen in Paris Thursday, Venezuelan President-for-life Hugo Chavez warned again that the United States is preparing to invade his country, in which case crude oil prices would soar, he said. He recently declared his desire to acquire nuclear technology, notwithstanding the fact that Venezuela is already a major energy exporter. See CNN.com. It's almost as though he wants to raise tensions in the region, practically begging for American aircraft carriers to sail toward Venezuelan shores just to rally popular support.


October 21, 2005 [LINK]

Republicans under heavy fire

There are so challenges facing Republican leaders lately, it's like the whole party is shooting white water rapids in a leaky rubber raft. On one hand, it's almost fun to watch various Republican honchos squirm on the hot seat, as many of them had become much too smug and complacent after winning consecutive elections in recent years. The strong leaders among them will survive and become even stronger, while the "chaff" will be winnowed away. I thought it would be helpful to offer a sampling without going into detail. Bear with me as I try to assess things objectively.

Tom DeLay on trial

Democrats were gleeful at the sight of Tom DeLay having his mug shot taken after being arrested and arraigned, though the Texan grinned at the camera to show that he's not worried. Ironically, he objected to having a Democrat serve as judge in his case, just as Saddam Hussein was denying the legitimacy of his criminal trial in Baghdad. DeLay can handle himself just fine, and this will be a test to see whether his political-survival smarts will prevail over his pugnacious instincts. If he did indeed violate campaign finance laws, I'm sure he can avoid jail time by plea bargaining. His future role in the party will depend on whether he can wake up to the discontent of economic conservatives and join the movement toward true reform that Gingrich pioneered, and Oklahoma's Tom Coburn has resurrected. I think he has a pretty good shot at that; he's certainly young enough to shift policy course.

CIA leak indictments?

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is reportedly focusing his investigation of the Valerie Plame leak on Vice President Dick Cheney's office (see Washington Post), prompting some to speculate that Cheney will step down, in favor of Condoleeza Rice. Fitzgerald's grand jury term expires next week, meaning that it will be make-or-break time for any indictments, but another extension is also possible. Andrew Sullivan has been following this case closely, and thinks Cheney is cornered: "Condi for Veep?" Combined with the recent disclosures about mistreatment of Muslim prisoners by American soldiers, which he has been harping on for months, his opinion once again counts highly with me. (See my May 18 post.)

Cheney and Rumsfeld

In a speech to the New America Foundation in Washington, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, an aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, declared that there was a "cabal" between the Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, which "hijacked the government's foreign policy apparatus." Those are extremely strong words, even for a discontented policy thinker, and he's better have evidence to back up his case. In his view, Condoleezza Rice was "part of the problem" because she wanted above all to keep Bush's confidence. See Financial Times. I certainly hope that is not the case.

Coat-tails for Kilgore?

One can't help but notice that all of these challenges are reaching a climax just as the off-year elections in Virginia and New Jersey are about to be held. Jerry Kilgore has fallen behind Tim Kaine according to the latest poll, no doubt reflecting the decline in Bush's approval ratings, to some extent. Kilgore is drawing heavy criticism for the barrage of negative ads attacking Kaine, mostly over the death penalty. I think that's a perfectly valid issue, but Kilgore and his advisers are overplaying it, and it may backfire.

Norquist and gays

Tax-cut zealot Grover Norquist met with a group of Log Cabin Republicans recently, angering the Religious Right which objects to any accommodation with gays. See gopusa.com [and The Carpetbagger Report]. Andrew Sullivan is understandably annoyed by the reaction to Norquist's "big tent" outreach effort. One again, this illustrates the failure of economic and social conservatives to see that their long-term objectives coincide, as long as traditional small-government conservatism is emphasized.

GOP as populists?

The conservative uproar over the nomination of Harriet Miers raises the question once again of the Republican party's identity in this moment of flux and turbulence. Jonah Goldberg writes of this situation in the National Review Online (via Instapundit),

I actually think this is a profoundly significant signal in the ongoing -- and at times somewhat lamentable -- transformation of the GOP into a populist party.

There is a small but vital streak of prairie populism in me, but I agree that pandering to populist tendencies is a risky maneuver. The big danger for the Republicans is that they may abandon their historical and intellectual roots in a short-sighted pursuit of votes in a socio-economic system that is unstable, and may even shift dramatically in an unfavorable direction, depending on future global events. The key to success for a party that is in flux is to maintain a healthy, creative balance between elite-intellectual and populist dynamics.


October 23, 2005 [LINK]

White Sox vs. Astros: Close match

After yet another questionable call by an umpire tonight -- when Jermaine Dye was ["hit by a pitch" and] given a free base -- followed by Paul Konernko's grand slam, I was relieved that the Astros tied the game in the top of the ninth, thus erasing any possible stigma about the final outcome. When Scott Podsednik hit the game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth, it made everything perfect. "And the crowd went wild!" Indeed, the fans were jumping up and down like a swarm of bees. It was Podsednik's second postseason homer, after hitting zero four-baggers during the regular season! Forty five degrees and steady light rain: Br-r-r-r-r! Maybe a dome would have been more appropriate for Chicago after all. I was afraid they were going to call the game after the sixth inning, but there probably would have been a riot. The two teams this year's Fall Classic appear to be almost evenly matched. One good thing about this World Series is that whoever wins, nearly everyone will be happy about it. After the desperate, high-stakes shootouts of the last few years, this year we can just sit back and relax to enjoy it. The White Sox have won all four of their road games so far this postseason. Nevertheless, I'm pretty sure that Houston will win at least two of their home games, and that the White Sox will get to celebrate their long-awaited triumph at home in Chicago. A full seven-game series would not surprise me at all.

UPDATE: I updated the text of the U.S. Cellular Field page, mentioning the White Sox successes in the 2005 season. I've also bumped up my rating of its aesthetics, based on seeing several games there on the tube, pushing its overall rating from 4.8 to 5.0.


October 23, 2005 [LINK]

Will vs. Bush: It's war!

George Will, clearly exasperated after years of giving Bush the Younger the benefit of the doubt on a variety of major issues, escalated his campaign against Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers in today's Washington Post. To say that he was burning his bridges would be putting it mildly. His core argument calls into question the conservative credentials of the people who oversee policy formation in the White House:

In their unseemly eagerness to assure Miers's conservative detractors that she will reach the "right" results, her advocates betray complete incomprehension of this: Thoughtful conservatives' highest aim is not to achieve this or that particular outcome concerning this or that controversy. Rather, their aim for the Supreme Court is to replace semi-legislative reasoning with genuine constitutional reasoning about the Constitution's meaning as derived from close consideration of its text and structure. Such conservatives understand that how you get to a result is as important as the result. Indeed, in an important sense, the path that the Supreme Court takes to the result often is the result.

It seems to me that many who occupy the populist flank of the right wing have fallen into such a blind rage against all the mischief wrought by left-leaning judges since the 1960s that they have forgotten that the fundamental standard of justice is precisely that it be -- blind.

My feelings about the Miers nomination aren't as strong as Will's, but I am worried about whether the Republican elitists and (Bushophile) populists can avoid a major schism. The latter faction's credibility is on the line in the upcoming Virginia elections. It will be a test of the Rovian strategy of "deepening" GOP voter turnout by focusing on social conservatives who are often apolitical, rather than "broadening" the vote by appealing to moderates and/or independents. (I would have favored the latter course.)


October 23, 2005 [LINK]

Afternoon on Bell's Lane

Yellow-rumped Warbler On a drive out to Bell's Lane on a mostly sunny afternoon, I saw several White-crowned sparrows and Ruddy ducks for the first time this season, right on schedule. I also saw at least a dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers and took video and still photos of them; note a trace of yellow under wing in photo. I also got photos of a Palm warbler and a Savannah sparrow, which resembles the Song sparrow. Palm warblers retain much more yellow plumage than Yellow-rumped warblers do during the non-breeding season, and will soon head to the southern U.S.A. [not the tropics] for the winter. Local bird expert Allen Larner happened to cross paths with me. Today's highlights:


  • White-crowned sparrows (FOS)
  • Field sparrows
  • Chipping sparrows (12+)
  • [Phoebes]
  • Bluebirds
  • Ruddy ducks (FOS)
  • Great blue heron
  • Flickers
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Yellow-rumped warblers (12+)
  • Palm warblers
  • Savannah sparrow
  • E. meadowlark
  • Red-tailed hawk (on fence post)

I also took good closeup photos of a Praying mantis on the side of a wooden fence, and one of several Woolly bear caterpillars that I saw crossing the road. They have been added to the Butterflies, spiders, and insects page. For the inside scoop on the legend about using the Woolly bear's to predict winter weather, see noaa.gov. Upshot: NOT!


October 24, 2005 [LINK]

NOTE: This post was inadvertently omitted until November 1. My apologies.

Pinto on heroes

David Pinto's thoughts on Game 2 last night reminds us why baseball is the greatest sport of all, providing "equal opportunity" for becoming a hero:

Jose Vizcaino proved once again that if you put the ball in play, good things happen (although I still have not seen a report of Garner's reasoning in that situation). His hit along with Podsednik's home run demonstrate something else I love about baseball: Anyone can be the hero. In football and basketball, there are designated heroes. Joe Montana throws to Jerry Rice. Bird or Johnson or Jordan gets the last shot. But in baseball, Podsednik and Vizcaino get the chance to be the hero and sometimes succeed.

More ballpark links

The indefatigable Bruce Orser is hunting for ballpark information sources in cyberspace once again, and sends me a list of links to satellite maps of ballpark neighborhoods (courtesy of maps.google.com) can be found at at mlbroadtrip.com, plus an intriguing set of ancient ballpark images with crude diagrams at seasonspastbaseball.com. Bruce also raises a conjecture

that left handed pitchers, or at least some of them, may be able to put more movement on their pitches than right-handers. Did you ever make an observation like that?

Anybody?


October 24, 2005 [LINK]

Bolivians demand free trade

In one of those unusual twists, thousands of Bolivian workers marched to the U.S. embassy to demand, of all things, a free trade agreement! See the pro-democracy Publius Pundit blog (via Instapundit). The current U.S. law that exempts Andean countries from normal tariffs expires at the end of next year, and that would throw many Bolivians who work in textile and other manufacturing industries out of work. Earlier this month, State Department official Charles Shapiro urged that "Bolivia should resolve its internal problems prior to negotiating a free trade agreement." (See redbolivia.com.) He was referring to the impending elections, which many fear will be won by leftist coca-trafficking booster Evo Morales, who played a leading role in the downfall of the last two presidents of Bolivia. (Shapiro was U.S. ambassador to Venezuela until a year ago, and warned of a coup plot against Hugo Chavez earlier this year.) President Rodriguez declared today that he will not permit the electoral process to fail. The National Electoral Court set this Friday, the 28th, as the deadline for resolving the issue of how many seats each department (province) will have in the constitutional assembly.

Some people argue that the United States should not make domestic stability a condition for a free trade agreement, but should give encouragement to the pro-democracy forces by taking the risk and exhibiting confidence in Bolivia's ability to overcome the current crisis. Others argue that free trade agreements invariably benefit the wealthy, powerful countries more than the poor, weak ones. These two opposing arguments ironically reinforce each other. What very few people understand is that free trade yields the greatest benefits when countries embark upon that path of their own free will. Elections are one of the only means by which such popular will can be manifested, but ironically, foreign monitors aiming to ensure clean voting can undermine the legitimacy of such elections, as seen by populists.

Brazil rejects ban on guns

Brazilian voters decisively defeated a proposed law that would prohibit individuals from carrying firearms. The country has suffered a sharp increase in crime over the past year or two, and just like in the United States, many Brazilians think that restricting access to guns would curtail that trend. Many people have lost confidence that police can protect them. The police forces in Brazil have been overwhelmed by the outlaws, who have used automatic weapons and even rocket launchers in some bold robberies. "About 39,000 people in Brazil are killed by guns each year, compared with about 30,000 people in the United States..." See Washington Post and newsmax.com [updated links]. In most of Brazil's Spanish-speaking neighbors, gun ownership is severely restricted, or banned altogether.

Reelection in Colombia

The Constitutional Court gave preliminary approval to a constitutional amendment that would allow President Uribe to run for reelection next May. One member of that court accused another one of taking money in exchange for a vote of approval, sparking a fierce argument. Another ruling next month may block Uribe's bid for reelection, but he is very popular and is widely expected to sail through to victory. See CNN.com Many Latin American countries have lifted the ban on consecutive presidential terms in the last decade or so, with varying results. In some cases the incumbents abused their power and punished opponents; Argentina's Carlos Menem and Peru's Alberto Fujimori are two prime examples. In Brazil, the two terms of Fernando Henrique Cardoso were relatively free of corruption, and the country's institutons were strengthened.

Arms sales to Venezuela?

The U.S. government pressured Spanish aircraft company into halting the sale of C-295 aircraft to Venezuela, on the grounds that it contained sensitive U.S.-made technology. Recently, the U.S. persuaded Israel to halt the planned upgrading of the electronics in Venezuela's F-16 fighter jets, which are among the most capable in South America. See strategypage.com


October 25, 2005 [LINK]

World Series at Minute Maid Park

In an unusual display of executive discretion, Commissioner Selig pressured the Astros into keeping Minute Maid Park's roof open for tonight's game, thereby negating one of the Astros' major advantages: N-O-I-S-E!!! Nearly all World Series games played indoors (Minnesota in 1987 and 1991, Toronto in 1992 and 1993, and Arizona in 2001) have been won by the home team. I still think the Astros will be hard to beat in Houston.

Just in time for the very first World Series game ever played deep in the heart of Texas, or in any other part of the Lone Star state, for that matter, the Minute Maid Park page has been revised with a new diagram that conforms to the new standard. (It is still "under construction" as of game time, and hopefully will be completed by the end of the game, between innings.)


October 25, 2005 [LINK]

Back to nest building

Princess pulling sofa After an extended period of "flirting" with the goldfinches outside her window, Princess is now focusing her attention on courtship rituals with George. She has built a new nest, for the first time in several months, and we expect her to start laying eggs any day now. She will stop at nothing, even pulling threads from the corner of our sofa, to get the necessary construction materials. Now that's determination!



October 25, 2005 [LINK]

Tick, tock... Will Fitzgerald indict?

The stakes are escalating in the Plame-CIA leak case, as the climactic moment of truth approaches. It is now rumored that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is investigating the allegedly forged documents concerning Iraq's attempt to purchase uranium ore from Niger, linked to the Italian intelligence services. See truthout.org. The possibility that Fitzgerald's legal case concerns not just a breach of security, but is at the very center of the fundamental policy dispute over the war against terrorism is troubling. If there is substantial truth to those allegations, it would be a "whole new ball game," on par with Watergate. In a radio interview yesterday, meanwhile, Michael Barone noted, "Karl Rove and Scooter Libby are apparently in trouble because they told the truth about somebody who was telling lies." (See radioblogger.com, via Instapundit.) Barone predicts that Fitzgerald will not indict anyone this week.

So, is it all a bluff? Today's Washington Post scrutinizes the partisan machinations of Plame's flamboyant husband Joseph Wilson, whose credibility continues to erode. It also includes an op-ed piece by Robert Kagan, who explains why the left's line of argument against Bush and against the war is so absurd: Editorials in the New York Times and Washington Post during the latter years of the Clinton administration explicitly declared that Iraq was on the verge of deploying weapons of mass destruction, and had to be stopped. (To anyone who has been paying attention, this is hardly news, but it is worth repeating, anyway.) Kagan concludes:

As we wage what the Times now calls "the continuing battle over the Bush administration's justification for the war in Iraq," we will have to grapple with the stubborn fact that the underlying rationale for the war was already in place when this administration arrived.

Three-way race in Staunton

CORRECTION: In my October 20 piece on the commissioner of revenue race in the upcoming Staunton elections I focused on the contest between incumbent Ray Ergenbright and challenger Maggie Ragon, noting in passing, "There is a third candidate, Rick Johnson I believe, in the former race." Mr. Johnson contacted me to make sure that everyone knows that there is a third alternative in the [race for treasurer -- not the commissioner of revenue race. I was confused by the fact that there were originally three candidates in the commissioner of revenue race, but one of them dropped out.] See Mr. Johnson's campaign Web site at johnsontreasurer.com


October 26, 2005 [LINK]

Houston Marathon

What a test of endurance that was last night! You could say it proved me right that "the Astros will be hard to beat in Houston," because it sure can't get much harder than five hours and 41 minutes! The only previous World Series game to go 14 innings was in 1916, when the Red Sox beat the Dodgers (or Robins?), 2-1; see MLB.com The Astros seemed in control for most of last night's game, except for the five-run hemmorhage in the fifth inning. Giving up that many runs was uncharacteristic of Roy Oswalt, but he bore down and hung in there until the top of the seventh. First Clemens, then Pettitte... Geoff Blum, the humble utility player who hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the 14th inning, reminded us once again of what David Pinto wrote earlier this week: In baseball, any member of the team can be the big hero. (But what's up with that guy's hair, anyway?) As we all know, of course, coming back from a three-games-to-none deficit in a postseason series is virtually impossible. The last 21 teams with a 3-0 lead in the World Series went on to win, and we may see consecutive Fall Classic sweeps for the first time since 1998-1999: the Yankees (twice) vs. Padres and Braves.

UPDATE: Just for fun, here's a quickie "side-by-side" comparison between the two ballparks in this World Series. Click on either of the thumbnail images to toggle back and forth:

USCellularField MinuteMaidPark
ball

UPDATE #2: After both teams failed repeatedly to capitalize on runners in scoring position, Jermaine Dye just knocked in a run in the top of the eighth, to take a 1-0 lead. The Astros are now facing doom, with just two innings to go. Even though I'm rooting for the White Sox, I was hoping (and expecting, frankly) that Houston would put their competitiveness on display and win at least one or two games at home.

Leyendas Latinas

The "Latin Legends" were presented before Game 4 tonight. As usual, the Dominican Republic dominated the other countries, while Venezuela struck out completely, making one wonder if some adjustment formula might have been more appropriate. The "starting lineup" (from MLB.com):

  • Ivan Rodriguez (PR)
  • Albert Pujols (DR)
  • Rod Carew (PAN)
  • Edgar Martinez (PR)
  • Alex Rodriguez (DR)
  • Roberto Clemente (PR)
  • Manny Ramirez (DR)
  • Vladimir Guerrero (DR)
  • Pedro Martinez (DR)
  • Juan Marichal (DR)
  • Fernando Valenzuela (MEX)
  • Mariano Rivera (PAN)

"Tear the roof off the sucka"

Bill Blake alerted me to the fact that the roof of Bank One Ballpark (as it was then called) was open during three games of the 2001 World Series in Phoenix, and therefore did not serve to raise the noise level. He's a White Sox fan (his photos grace the U.S. Cellular Field page), but I agree with him that baseball ought to be an outdoor sport, without artificial noise amplification. Speaking of the great outdoors, it snowed in the mountains of Virginia yesterday, so it must be freezing up in Chicago! To me this is another indication that the lords of baseball have pushed the playoffs too late into the fall season over the past two decades. They should compress the playoff schedule (three-game series in the first round, and no travel days), and finish up by mid-month at the latest.


October 27, 2005 [LINK]

WS 2005: Ozzie triumphs

Just like that, a thoroughly enjoyable World Series matchup has been wrapped up ahead of schedule, leaving die-hard baseball fans short-changed of the October entertainment that is their due. Congratulations to the world champion Chicago White Sox, and especially their long-suffering fans! For two years in a row, ancient curses have been reversed, and Shoeless Joe Jackson can finally Rest In Peace. "Ease his pain!" Now, can the other Chicago team finally get a shot at ending their 97-year drought next year? The Cubs' last World Series appearance was 60 years ago. Later on we can get to the Indians and the Giants, who have had World Series appearances in recent years, but without success. That will leave eight expansion franchises that are still waiting for their first world championship. (Six of them have won already.)

The Astros failed to score any runs at all in Game 4, or in the last six innings of Game 3. Houston fans probably deserved better than that, but starting pitcher Freddy Garcia and big rookie closer Bobby Jenks were just too good, giving up only five hits total. As for the White Sox offense, talk about a no-name team! Does Joe Crede eat Wheaties? Does Scott Podsednik have an iPod? Collective star performance in the absence of individual star talent usually reflects well on the manager's abilities, so here's to the all-too-modest Manager Ozzie Guillen! (Too bad about Harriet, though! )

In five of the seven postseason series this year, the final game was won by the visiting team, so there weren't many jubilant crowd scenes. This somewhat melancholy conclusion to the 2005 season was a consequence of the dominance by the White Sox during the regular season (except September), which earned them a top seed, and going 11-1 in the playoffs, easily winning three of those series. Street celebrations in Chicago last night (early morning) demonstrated sheer joy, and [aside from some gunshots] were notably free of the destructive mayhem seen in cities such as Denver following championship victories in recent years. See the Chicago Sun Times.

Today's Washington Post sports section (print edition) headline was "Houston Marathon," the same as the title of my post yesterday. Hmmm... The Washington Nationals have extended the contract of General Manager Jim Bowden through next April. See Washington Post. Hooray!


October 27, 2005 [LINK]

Harriet drops out

This morning's bombshell announcement by the White House that Harriet Miers wants her nomination to be withdrawn will take some pressure off the Bush administration, and hopefully signifies the low point of the recent downward spiral. If Bush had persisted in promoting her nomination, he would have wasted precious political capital (much of which was squandered earlier this year on an ill-considered proposal to privatize Social Security), and undermined his rhetoric about "staying the course" in Iraq. The President was correct to say that "disclosures [of internal White House documents requested by several senators] would undermine a President's ability to receive candid counsel" (see whitehouse.gov), but that just goes to show why a White House official should not have been nominated for a high judicial post in the first place. Now the question is, Can Ms. Miers continue to serve the president effectively in her present position as White House counsel? No.

Great debate in Staunton

Nearly 200 people attended last night's "debate" (actually a "forum," sponsored by the Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce) between the candidates running for commissioner of revenue in Staunton. It was a startling display of public interest in an office that seldom arouses much passion. Incumbent Ray Ergenbright made his points about the need to maintain checks and balances in city government, and to ensure democratic accountability for municipal functions. He calmly explained that he had only limited involvement in the choice of the faulty R-MASS system, and assured voters that the transition to the new MUNIS system is succeeding. Challenger Maggie Ragon blamed Ergenbright for the money that was wasted on the software snafu, but did not provide any evidence for this accusation. She made much of the alleged "communication breakdown" between the Commissioner and other city offices, but did not even attempt to explain what that might have to do with the software snafu. She also highlighted her experience in business, saying she is not "a politician" (gasp!), but the issue of her business partnership with the city official who originally pinned the blame on Ergenbright did not even come up. Ergenbright, who is too decent and civil to call an opponent's motives into question, declined the opportunity to raise this conflict-of-interest issue. Neither the Waynesboro News Virginian nor the Augusta Free Press mentioned the very telling, awkward moment toward the end of the debate when Ms. Ragon declined to state whether she favors maintaining the commissioner of revenue office as an elected position; [the Staunton News Leader alluded to it briefly]. Her strained hesitation in that response left little doubt that she shares the City Council majority's desire not to maintain that constitutional elected office for which she is running. How ironic, and how intriguing!


October 28, 2005 [LINK]

"Scooter" Libby is indicted

A federal grand jury indicted Lewis "Scooter" Libby on five felony counts, which could add up to 30 years of prison time, but none of the charges involve the alleged* leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA agent. For details, see tomorrow's The Washington Post. Libby alleged lied to the grand jury about when he learned of Ms. Plame's identity, which would indeed be a crime if it was a willful misrepresentation of significant facts. As most Americans came to agree during the Clinton scandals, there can be no excuse for lying in a court of law. Based on what we know at this point, however, the discrepancy over facts could also be nothing more than someone's fallible memory about the chronology of events. We'll see. Patrick Fitzgerald's office has set up a Web site to disseminate information about the investigation.

* I say "alleged" because it is not clear that the information conveyed by any one official to any reporter or reporters on its own sufficed to pinpoint her identity. It may have been bits and pieces of information, innocuously relayed or not, that were subsequently put together by reporters to "solve the puzzle."

What about Karl Rove? He was the original prime suspect in all this, but may get off scot free. Dick Cheney may be subpoened to testify in Libby's trial, but there is no indication that he is himself a target. NBC's Pete Williams expressed doubt on PBS's "Washington Week" that there will be further indictments. Somehow, Robert Novak's name has vanished from this controversy without a trace.

The press conference this afternoon was the first chance most of us had to hear Patrick Fitzgerald speak. I was glad that he emphasized that his investigation is not connected to the war in Iraq, or the Bush administration's rationale for it. Fitzgerald had a reputation as a very bright, devoted, and ethical prosecutor, and comes across as one of those caricatured straight-laced, slightly nerdy characters, like the Sprint trench-coat guy. In fact, he reminds me a lot of Ken Starr in terms of both personality and professionalism. mediamatters.org offers a premature "preemptive refutation" of the myth that "Fitzgerald is an overzealous prosecutor who was out to get the Bush administration," but no such suggestions appear at gopusa.com or rushlimbaugh.com. The comments I've heard Rush make about Fitzgerald have been very guarded and reasonable in tone. Aside from Tom DeLay's complaint about the "criminalization of conservatism" and some sniping by the uppity Sean Hannity, there has been hardly any besmirching of Fitzgerald by conservative pundits or activists, which is quite a contrast to the hysteria that was directed toward Ken Starr during the investigation of Bill Clinton and his staff in 1998. It is also instructive to note the (literally) snotty remarks on leftist blogs such as Daily Kos and chortling, presumptuous tones on Web sites such as truthout.org. There may be further damage to the Bush White House, but I'm confident that Fitzgerald will wrap up his inquiry in a fair and professional way. I would almost wager that if there is any anger over the way this investigation concludes, it will be on the part of Bush critics.

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall is hot on the trail of the Italian connection to the Niger uranium ore forged (?) documents story. One of those involved is the current Italian ambassador in Washington. Wherever that may lead, it is important to recall that the reason why this scandal erupted in the first place was Joseph Wilson's high-profile campaign, beginning with the early 2003 article in The Nation and subsequent television appearances, to undermine the Bush administration's rationale for the war. Don't forget, folks, it was Wilson who invited the scrutiny and publicity in the first place. That doesn't excuse deliberate leaking, but it did make the revelation of his wife's identity almost inevitable. The original facts in this complex, obscure case may have long since been forgotten by most people, but fortunately, I'm one of those who keeps facts on file like a pack rat. Wilson's version of events was contradicted by the July 9, 2004 Washington Post. [See my original blog post.] According to an AP story dated July 18, 2004, furthermore,

Though Wilson reported to U.S. officials there was 'nothing to the story' that Niger sold uranium to Iraq, the CIA and DIA were intrigued by one element of his trip. Wilson had said a former prime minister of Niger, Ibrahim Mayaki, mentioned a visit from an Iraqi delegation in 1999 that expressed interest in expanding commercial ties with Niger, the world's third largest producer of mined uranium. Mayaki believed this meant they were interested in buying uranium.

Uranium accounts for the vast majority of Niger's exports, and most of it goes to France, which relies heavily on nuclear power to generate electricity. It doesn't mean that Iraq necessarily did purchase uranium ore from Niger, but it does provide a solid basis for believing that such was the case. In any event, we will all eventually have to live with the fact that full truth about this whole, comlicated mess may not become publicly known for many years, if ever. That is the nature of intelligence gathering.


October 29, 2005 [LINK]

Field of Dreams

Since the White Sox at long last erased the stigma of the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal and "eased the pain" of "Shoeless Joe Jackson," I thought it would be appropriate to revise the Field of Dreams diagram. Likewise, it seems fitting to put Comiskey Park in the "on deck circle." Depending on fan interest and sponsorship support, I plan to revise all of the "classic era" stadium diagrams to conform to the new standard in the next few months. Almost all of them will have "dynamic diagrams" to let you see how they were expanded or modified over the years. Admit it, you just can't wait! smile

The mail bag

Now that the World Series is over, I'm trying to get caught up with e-mail inquiries that have been piling up lately. Mr. Jean-Paul Lidén, who is from Sweden (though he spent his childhood years in Los Angeles and saw ball games in L.A.'s Wrigley Field), expressed interest in seeing a Forbes Field football version diagram. I certainly would have included one if I had had sufficient information to do it accurately. If anyone has an old photo of a Steelers game there, or has actually seen a football game in Forbes Field, I would appreciate any input.

Jeff Gordon tells me that the big scoreboard in right field was installed in RFK Stadium prior to the beginning of the inaugural 1962 season, contrary to what is implied by the outfield dimensions in Philip Lowry's Green Cathedrals. He also says that the football press box was originally in the upper rows of the first-base-side upper deck, as well. More fact checking...

Steven Poppe is striving to avoid baseball withdrawal pains by looking on the bright side of the next five long months: "The end of the World Series does not mean the end of baseball for the year: The next five months will have Hot Stove League action, more new diagrams on your website, and the first World Baseball Classic in March (the WBC championship game will be held at Petco Park)." It will not be a shoo-in, I'm afraid; U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Bruce Orser has sent me more photos of Braves Field and other ballparks, as well as a map of the neighborhood around Fenway Park when it was originally built, indicating that the bleachers in my 1912 version diagram are slightly off.

Random news

Seeking to capitalize on the economic spinoff potential of Fenway Park, The Red Sox are in the process of buying the aging Howard Johnson's motel on the south side of the ballpark, and plan to replace it with a fancy hotel that would cost about $140 million. See boston.com. (Hat tip to Maury Brown, of SABR)

SBC Park (formerly Pac Bell Park) may be renamed once again, since SBC purchased AT&T. See sfgate.com (Hat tip to Mike Zurawski)

Seven Washington Nationals players opted for free agency this week: Esteban Loaiza, Tony Armas Jr., Carlos Baerga, Gary Bennett, Preston Wilson, Joey Eischen, and Deivi Cruz. Without an owner, it is very hard for General Manager Jim Bowden to negotiate effectively. Holding onto good talent, much less acquiring new talent, will be a challenge.

The Yankees decided to keep General Manager Brian Cashman, in spite of the fifth consecutive year without a world championship. Mr. Steinbrenner must have been in a good mood this week.


October 29, 2005 [LINK]

Mehlman at GOP "Family Picnic"

Ken Mehlman, Andrew Clem Local Republican Party members and candidates gathered this afternoon at the rural home of Kevin and Vonda Lacey, just west of Staunton. It was a blindlingly bright day, just perfect for taking pictures. The featured attraction was Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who graciously consented to pose with me twice. (My camera's memory card was full the first time; D'oh! Thanks to Chris Green for taking this photo.) In his pep talk to the "troops," Mehlman drove home the importance of the Virginia statewide races in setting national political trends as we head into the 2006 congressional midterm elections. Indeed, both parties have invested considerable resources and deployed a number of staff members to Virginia for this campaign. Jerry Kilgore pulled slightly ahead of Tim Kaine in one of the latest polls, but it is still too close to call. Mehlman countered the worries about President Bush's recent political setbacks by pointing to recent major steps forward in the nascent democratic regimes of Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the rising pressure on the teetering dictatorship of Bashar Assad in Syria, which has been linked by U.N. investigators to the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

Other GOP candidates present today included the GOP nominee for Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, for Attorney General, Bob McDonnell, as well as incumbent Delegates Steve Landes, Chris Saxman, and Ben Cline, as well as incumbent Staunton Commissioner of Revenue, Ray Ergenbright. Several photos I took at the event can be seen at swacgop.org. Congressman Bob Goodlatte could not attend because he was in Grottoes, Virginia at the funeral for Marine Corps Lance Corporal Daniel Bubb, who was killed in action recently in Iraq.

UPDATE: The Post's biased election forecasts

Chad Dotson, at Commonwealth Conservative, observes that in the last three election campaigns, the Washington Post has consistently underestimated the actual votes received by the Republican candidates for governor in Virginia by 4 to 6 percent. The fact that I rely so heavily on the Post for their coverage of national and world news does not mean that I'm unware of their editorial bias, which occasionally seeps into their news reporting. Nobody's perfect, and I just take that for granted. It was certainly no surprise to me that the Post endorsed all three Democrat candidates for statewide races in Virginia. At least they're not as far off center as the New York Times!

Bay on Scooter Libby

Austin Bay wisely cautions President Bush against either defending Scooter Libby too strongly, or attacking Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. He notes that one of Libby's former legal clients was Marc Rich, "the mega-felon pardoned by Clinton in the waning days of Clinton's administration." Libby represented Rich from 1985 to 2000; see CNN. Sounds like bad company.


October 29, 2005 [LINK]

Purple finch

Among the dozens of goldfinches, house sparrows, chipping sparrows, and juncos in our back yard this morning, I saw a male Purple finch for the first time this season. He appeared just a few feet in front of me for a few seconds, and then flew off. While driving around the Swoope area in western Augusta County late this afternoon, I saw a two kestrels and a meadowlark.


October 31, 2005 [LINK]

Citizens Bank Park: more outfield

In response to complaints from pitchers, the Phillies management announced they will take out a few rows of seats in Citizens Bank Park's left field next year, to create more reasonable outfield dimensions. There were 201 home runs there in 2005, the fifth most in the majors. See MLB.com. The article states that the actual power alley distances are 350 feet, but I think they are actually right about 355 feet [following the angular midsections of 337.5 and 22.5 degrees]. After they move the wall back, the distance to true left center field will be about what the current marked distance is, 369 feet, but that is at a point 20 or so feet toward center field. (via Mike Zurawski) As an added bonus from moving the wall back, there will be a new angled section at the left foul pole, and the angled seating section just left of center field will now have a more pronounced protrusion than before.

Forbes Field, RFK

Many thanks to Patrick Schroeder for bringing to my attention some excellent photos of a Pittsburgh Steelers game at Forbes Field in 1949. See them HERE. Accordingly, there is a new football version diagram on the Forbes Field page. By amazing coincidence, the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing on Monday Night Football at this very moment!

Jeff Gordon sent me a photo he took, showing that the big scoreboard in right field at RFK Stadium was already there in April 1962. As Gomer Pyle used to say, "Surprise, surprise, surprise!" Speaking of RFK Stadium, D.C. United was eliminated from the Major League Soccer playoffs yesterday, losing to the Chicago Fire, 4-0. The team that formerly resided in RFK suffered an even worse defeat at the hands of the New York Giants.

White Sox, Red Sox

Al Lopez, who managed the Chicago White Sox the last time they went to the World Series in 1959, died of a heart attack this weekend. His career as a catcher spanned 18 seasons, beginning in 1930. He was the oldest living Hall of Famer, at 97 years. See MLB.com. At least he died a happy man.

Daniel Drezner, a blogger who teaches at the University of Chicago, refers to a fake weeklystandard.com story about how conservative political philosopher Leo Strauss supposedly influenced the White Sox in the 1950s. Hmmmm.... I wonder what teams the other top Chicago academicians of that era -- Hans Morgenthau and Milton Friedman -- rooted for?

According to MLB.com, the Red Sox apparently will retain the services of General Manager Theo Epstein, who has been credited with building a winning lineup since he took over in 2002. Daniel Drezner was anxious about what Epstein's departure would have meant for the Bosox.


October 31, 2005 [LINK]

Bush nominates Alito

President Bush's nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court was a very pleasant surprise for weary conservatives, and a rude shock to the partisan wing of the Democrats, who thought they had Bush on the ropes. Now, will the Senate confirm him? One good sign today was the Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of the seven centrist Republicans on the "Gang of 15" who reached a compromise that prevented the "nuclear option" (see my May 24 post), said that Alito was a good choice. Meanwhile, NARAL, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and the other usual suspects bewailed caving in to the "far right wing," see Washington Post. How absurd. Every time I start to worry that Republican candidates are going a bit too far with their campaign rhetoric, somebody on the Left comes along to say something utterly preposterous. I guess "far right wing" means someone who adheres closely to the U.S. Constitution. As I stressed in my October 23 post, however, the point is not to ram through a judge who adheres to right-wing dogma, but to win broad acceptance of a sensible conservative who has independence, integrity, and a deep respect for the constitution's original meaning.

Last Friday Bush in dire straits, and today he's back in command. Was the Miers nomination just a tactical "feint," maneuvering to get into a more favorable psychological position for the nomination battle? If so, perhaps Karl Rove deserves more credit than some of us often give him.

GOP picnic video

Today I edited and posted on the swacgop.org Web site a video of the GOP picnic that was held on Saturday, which featured RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, and the Virginia candidates for Lieutenant Governor, Bill Bolling, and Attorney General, Bob McDonnell. What would I do without Apple's iMovie program?


October 31, 2005 [LINK]

Fall in Montgomery Hall Park

I was lured outside by yet another gorgeous fall day, and took several pictures of the fall foliage, which is quickly passing the peak phase. The best one was of the "flaming" multi-hued tree (red oak, I believe) in front of Stuart Hall, a private boarding school across the street from, and affiliated with, Emmanuel Episcopal Church. I also went for a walk on YuLee's Trail at Montgomery Hall Park, where I saw a Hermit thrush for the first time this season. Since they are reclusive by habit, it's hard to keep close tabs on when they arrive and leave every year. Today's highlights:

  • Cedar waxwings (40+)
  • Robins
  • Red-bellied woodpeckers
  • Hairy woodpecker
  • Hermit thrush (FOS)
  • Ruby-crowned kinglet
  • Downy woodpeckers
  • Yellow-bellied sapsucker
  • Yellow-rumped warbler
  • Purple finch (M)

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