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Andrew Clem Archives

February 3, 2005 [LINK]

"Rogers Centre"

The Blue Jays' owners, Rogers Communications Inc., announced yesterday that Skydome will be renamed "Rogers Centre." This move had been rumored, and is part of the franchise's long-term program to bring back the excitement of the early 1990s. New high-tech scoreboard, new fake turf, etc. See mlb.com. If you watch the video of the news conference on that page, you'll hear the rationale for FieldTurf: It allows for greater use of the stadium for non-baseball events than grass does. (The Turf page has been updated to reflect this change.) To me it seems odd that the franchise puts accommodating non-baseball tenants ahead of its own team's interests, but they've got to pay for that white colossus somehow. "Privatizing" sports stadiums is a reversal of the trends of the last half century, SBC Park in San Francisco being one of the rare recent exceptions to the rule. I'm not disputing the owners' right to put their own name on the building, but the increasing frequency of stadium name changes is starting to get on my nerves. "Skydome" is such an established name, I'm a little hesitant to instantly adopt the new name, as I did with Dolphins Stadium. We'll see... ball It will be interesting to see how many former Expos fans in Montreal will adopt the Blue Jays as their home team, as many Washington-area fans did with the Orioles in the 1970s after the Senators left town. One problem: Montreal is over 300 miles away from Toronto. I hope the Nationals franchise makes an effort to welcome Montrealers to games in Washington, and keeps alive the history of that energetic but often-frustrated Expos team.

More on Sammy

According to the Washington Post, the Nationals came very close to signing Slammin' Sammy before the Orioles got him to come on board. Wouldn't that have been interesting? The Ivychat blog has some useful insight on the Sosa debacle, with lots of dollar amounts and this adieu: "Thanks for 12 great years Sammy. Now, get lost." No love lost among the Northside folks, it seems. And David Pinto at Baseball Musings says: "The Orioles got one sweet deal."


Andrew Clem Archives

February 3, 2005 [LINK]

Bush: On a roll, not lookin' back

If President Bush feels any sense of hesitation about his ambitious plans for the second term, he certainly didn't show it in his State of the Union address last night. (Transcript available from Washington Post) Bush really does seem to be getting the hang of speechmaking, while the Democrats in Congress seem to have lost their grip on reality, as evidenced by their atrocious boos and catcalls. Defying conventional wisdom about the politically lethal "third rail" of Social Security, Bush grappled head on with the problem. This time he avoided the term "crisis," fortunately, but left no doubt that the long-term prospects are indeed dire. (This reminds me of last year's red herring about Bush's alleged statement that Iraq posed an "imminent threat," when he in fact had said repeatedly that it was a "gathering threat.") Many Democrats booed when he said the system would be bankrupt by 2042, apparently offended by the idea of having to contemplate something so far in the future. No one can predict economic trends that far in advance, of course, but simple prudence dictates that we make allowances for variable scenarios. Step One: Remove head from sand...

To his credit, the President offered a variety of alternative approaches -- including past proposals made by Democrats Bill Clinton and the late Pat Moynihan -- oriented around the basic goal of giving individuals more choice about their retirement savings. This shows that he is not trying to impose a particular plan or serve some particular interests, but is genuinely trying to solve a national problem. Making sure that anyone born before 1951 won't have to worry about any changes is a good step toward calming nerves. As for the word game, I have shared the hesitation of some moderate Republicans such as Sen. Olympia Snowe about the term "privatizing" Social Security, which instills fear among some people. In my view, there's no need to give the Democrats any more rhetorical ammunition in their obstructionist campaign. (See below.) The proper goal should to restructure Social Security in a way that constrains the ever-inflating entitlement payouts without leaving truly needy people out in the cold. Whether or not one happens to agree with Bush, that broad objective is at least something that reasonable people can agree on.

The President also devoted a considerable amount of time to the tort reform issue, likewise eliciting partisan cheers and boos. He tied the problem of frivolous lawsuits to the rising cost of health care, small business vitality, and overall productivity. One comment seemed out of place to me: "I welcome the bipartisan enthusiasm for spending discipline." In fact, Republicans legislators last year showed an increasing fondness for old fashioned Democrat-style pork barrel projects. The FY 2005 budget was stringent in many departments, mostly because of wartime funding priorities, but taxpayer vigilance and activism from groups like the Concord Coalition will be necessary to keep a lid on things.

Bush saved the biggest parts for last, when he put "meat" on his strategy for pursuing the long-term global war against terrorism. Obviously encouraged by the successful elections in Iraq, he bluntly called on the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt to begin allowing more citizen participation in public affairs. This made my jaw drop, and must have rattled nerves across the entire Middle East. Then he turned to Syria, which has served as a refuge for terrorists operating in Iraq, and Iran, whose ruling mullahs squelched a burgeoning pro-democracy movement last year. Without making a threat, he put both those countries on notice that the United States would not be indifferent to policies that sustain hatred and violence. Not many people have taken Bush's pro-freedom rhetoric at face value, and the possibility that is really is serious poses the prospect of massive upheaval in the region. [Good upheaval, mind you -- like Eastern Europe in 1989.]

In terms of symbolism, the moment when Iraqi human rights activist Safia Taleb al-Suhail embraced the mother of fallen Marine Corps Sergeant Byron Norwood in the audience gallery was simply breathtaking. If that spontaneous gesture does not convince skeptics that our soldiers' sacrifices in Iraq are paying off, then nothing will. A cynic might ask if an American soldier's life is worth an Iraqi citizen's right to vote. If the ratio were one life to one voter, then perhaps not. But look at the big picture: We are talking about 1,400 U.S. war dead so far, as compared to 25 million newly freed Iraqis. I can't speak of the families of American soldiers killed in Iraq, but the sacrifice seems to me to be yielding benefits many times over.

In sum, Bush has seized the moment. He senses his power, he has a clear vision where to lead the country, and he can count on a large, enthusiastic base to carry forward his agenda. As long as remains focused on practical medium-term goals and doesn't fall victim to egotism or other tragic foibles, he stands a real chance of defying expectations and achieving historical greatness.

February 3, 2005 [LINK]

Are Democrats suicidal?

In the Democrats' response to the President's address, Sen. Harry Reid (who has replaced Tom Daschle as Senate Minority Leader) tried to strike a folksy note with some odd personal anecdotes. What struck me most was his call for an "American Marshall Plan," as if our country were in the throes of a deep depression. What an ironic contrast to the shining beacon of opportunity that the U.S.A. still represents to the millions of job seekers from around the world who try to cross our borders every year. (If anything, we need less opportunity!) For her part, Rep. Nancy Pelosi reiterated the negativity about Iraq that has become the dogmatic mantra of the Democratic side.

Along these lines, it is worth recalling that Sen. Ted Kennedy made an angry speech last week President Bush yesterday to begin withdrawing U.S. troops, calling the president's Iraq policy "a catastrophic failure." His view of reality is so far off it is no longer even funny. Ironically, a U.S. withdrawal at this crucial moment would be extremely "dangerous and reckless," which is how he described the present course of the Bush administration. How anyone takes him seriously any more is beyond me. See Washington Post.

As for the activist networks, MoveOn.org has begun running television spots aimed at stopping any of Bush's Social Security and tort reform proposals. Once again, their actions refute their progressive rhetoric, confirming that their real agenda is overtly status quo, if not reactionary. What seems to be happening is the converse of the old "Vietnam syndrome" -- the Democrats and most on the Left are so wrapped up in their own spin of recent events and interpretations of history that they have completely lost their political bearings. If they persist in badmouthing the accomplishments of American armed forces and strangling opportunities for financial growth in the younger generation, they will have aliented such a big portion of the American electorate that they will essentially put themselves out of business. Has a political party ever committed mass suicide before?


Andrew Clem Archives

February 3, 2005 [LINK]

War hits home

A soldier from the nearby town of Stuarts Draft was killed two days ago when his Humvee was struck by one of those "improvised explosive devices" in Babil Province, south of Baghdad. Marine Lance Cpl. Jason Redifer was 19 years old, and only had two weeks to go before his tour of duty ended. He enlisted in the Marines right after high school graduation, and was very proud of doing his duty for his country. In fact, he turned down an honor guard posting so that he could serve with a combat unit. See Staunton News Leader. I saw his mother being interviewed on TV, and she was remarkably composed as she said how proud she was of her son. It is the bravery of young men like Jason upon which our country's strength and security depend. In their selfless devotion to duty we see our highest ideals reflected. God rest his soul, and comfort his loved ones.


Andrew Clem Archives

February 3, 2005 [LINK]

Birds' brains

An article in Tuesday's Washington Post explains why George ought to get more respect for his intellectual abilities than most people give him. (!) Research scientists have recently discovered that the brains of birds, though small in absolute terms, are actually more complex than was once thought, so they have begun to revamp the system used to describe the various parts of the avian brain.

The new system, which draws upon many of the words used to describe the human brain and has broad support among scientists, acknowledges the now overwhelming evidence that avian and mammalian brains are remarkably similar -- a fact that explains why many kinds of bird are not just twitchily resourceful but able to design and manufacture tools, solve mathematical problems and, in many cases, use language in ways that even chimpanzees and other primates cannot.

In particular, it reflects a new recognition that the bulk of a bird's brain is not, as scientists once thought, mere "basal ganglia" -- the part of the brain that simply coordinates instincts. Rather, fully 75 percent of a bird's brain is an intricately wired mass that processes information in much the same way as the vaunted human cerebral cortex.

Any pet bird owner or wild bird watcher would probably not be surprised at all by this news. Our canaries, Princess and George, certainly seem to have advanced cognitive abilities, as well as complex social behavior patterns and emotional states. Frankly, I've always had the impression that pigeons and doves had below-average smarts, but the article suggests otherwise. On the very same day, coincidentally, our copy of Wild Bird magazine arrived, and it had an article on the same subject.

More snow, fewer birds

The white stuff was coming down pretty heavy for several hours today, but most of it had melted away. A Carolina wren belted out a LOUD song on our back patio, making George rather anxious, but otherwise there have been no signs of courtship behavior in the avian world. In a normal (mild) winter, we would expect to see crocuses by now. Grumble... Aside from the regular Cardinals, Titmice, Juncos, etc., there's not been much birding activity to report. I saw several Green-winged teals, Coots, and (probably) some Ring-necked ducks on Bell's Lane last week, and spotted a flock of 15 or so Meadowlarks in a field. Yesterday Jacqueline and I saw a Pileated woodpecker for the first time since October 24. Still no Yellow-rumped warblers since last November 11; they have been uncommonly scarce this winter.


Andrew Clem Archives

February 4, 2005 [LINK]

RFK renovations ahead of schedule

In a heroic effort to make of for lost time resulting from the budget deadlock on the D.C. Council in November and December, work on renovating RFK Stadium is progressing so quickly now that it is actually ahead of schedule. (Hence the increase in probability of baseball at RFK from 99.5% to 99.8%, despite the lack of any territorial compensation agreement with Peter Angelos, who may yet sue.) One of the people involved in the project credited mild weather, which was indeed the case in December, but definitely not in January, when work began. See mlb.com. The photo on that page clearly shows a thick carpet of snow next to RFK; Washington got even more snow than us folks in the hinterlands of Virginia did last week. Less than two months to go until the Nationals play their "dry run" exhibition game versus the Mets at RFK on April 3...

The Rogers Centre (ex-Skydome) page now has updated diagrams, with warning tracks and some minor corrections. [UPDATE: Mike Zurawski provides an additional reason why grass is not practical at this stadium: there is no drainage system underneath the field, and removing the concrete base would make the park unstable. Further improvements at Rogers Centre are in the works, including possible picnic areas in the outfield.] ball Also, the Cleveland Stadium page has some "new" photos (from 1993, actually) thanks to Mario Vara III. There is a new post-1970 diagram on that page as well. ball As the season approaches, I'm getting a rising volume of e-mail with tips, corrections, etc. I always appreciate it, but please be understanding if I'm unable to respond right away.

UPDATE #2: The big bucks spent by the Marlins to acquire Carlos Delgado seem to have paid off. An agreement with city of Miami and Miami-Dade County on building a new retractable roof 38,000-seat ballpark next to the Orange Bowl is apparently on the verge of being signed. See mlb.com.


Andrew Clem Archives

February 5, 2005 [LINK]

Super Bowl 2005!??

Baseball fans are probably lucky that the climax of their season doesn't escalate to such absurd proportions of glitter and hoopla as the Super Bowl. No $100 million TV ads or "wardrobe malfunctions" allowed in Our National Pastime! Which made me wonder, In how many past and present MLB stadiums has the Super Bowl been played?

I'm tempted to exclude the first one because it wasn't a baseball stadium at all, and I'm tempted to include the Superdome, which hosted six Super Bowls as well as quite a few MLB pre-season exhibition games over the years. It was the only doughnut / cookie-cutter stadium of the '60s and '70s that was home to an NFL team but never home to a major league baseball team. (I don't think that the Silverdome or the more recent football domes with an oblong layout really belong in that category, but the same could be said of the Metrodome, which doesn't fit in any of the other baseball stadium categories.) The Superdome could have become a real baseball stadium if there were enough fan support in New Orleans. ball To mark the recent successes of the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, the Fenway Park page has been updated with a new football version. That was the Boston Patriots' home from 1963 until 1968. Will Boston (broadly defined) manage to do what Pittsburgh did in 1979-1980 -- win two consecutive Super Bowls with a World Series title in between?


Andrew Clem Archives

February 5, 2005 [LINK]

Death to Mute swans?

There is a growing controversy in Maryland over the planned killing of Mute swans, which many people believe are destroying aquatic vegetation upon which fish in the Chesapeake Bay depend for reproduction. A letter to the editor in the Washington Post earlier this week claimed that a bill introduced in the Maryland General Assembly by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R) would "gut" the Migratory Bird Treaties signed with Canada and Mexico. I am skeptical of this, however. Mute swans are not migratory, and in any case the fact that they are from Europe, not North America, means they are not covered by Federal laws prohibiting hunting or killing of native birds. Starlings, House sparrows, and Rock pigeons are not protected for good reason: They enroach upon the habitat of native species, some of which -- such as Bluebirds -- suffered terrible declines for most of the 20th Century. The writer, Michael Markarian, an official of the Humane Society, claims that the question of which birds are really "native" to North America is complicated, but I am unaware of any such controversies. Mute swans are graceful creatures, but that doesn't entitle them to proliferate at the expense of other species. They can be very aggressive toward humans or smaller waterfowl. Mr. Markarian certainly has a point that a bigger threat to the Chesapeake Bay comes from waste runoff from corporate poultry farms. Gilchrest should show that his concern for the environment is sincere by pushing for tighter regulations on agricultural polluters.

Coincidentally, waste runoff has reached dangerous levels in Augusta County, where agribusiness is king. In fact, Lewis Creek, which flows through downtown Staunton, was recently deemed unsafe by state health officials.

Red-tailed hawk While driving around Augusta County after doing my recycling chores this afternoon, I saw several Red-tailed hawks (including this one, about 80 yards away), plus two Kestrels, one of which repeatedly hovered and dove toward its prey. None of the hoped-for Horned larks or American pipits previously sighted by Allen Larner were present, however. Along Bell's Lane I saw two Great blue herons, some White-crowned sparrows, and some Bluebirds. At the big pond (now half-thawed) nearby, I saw at least a thousand Canada geese and (probably) two Redheads (ducks).

UPDATE: Thanks to an e-mail message from Allen Larner to the Shenandoah Birds list serve, I can confirm that those were Redheads I saw today. My first sighting of that species was Jan. 25, 2003.



Andrew Clem Archives

February 7, 2005 [LINK]

New D.C. stadium design

Sunday's Washington Post described the process by which the new baseball stadium design will be determined. D.C. officials are eager not to follow the crowd by building a mere clone of Camden Yards, which I think is wise. Some of the neoclassical "retro" stadiums built in recent years have tended to get carried away with cliched design elements that had nothing to do with necessity or functionality.

"We do not want to see just another baseball stadium," said Allen Y. Lew, chief executive of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. "We want signature architecture. We're not looking to just mimic other cities."

One good sign is that the illustration showed a stadium pointed toward the northeast, so at least the Capitol dome would be visible to most fans, if not the Washington Monument. In all my preliminary stadium designs (unorthodox but amateurish), the diamonds are oriented straight north, so that the Capitol would be just to the left of the "batter's eye" dark background. Given that the site on which the stadium will be built provides plenty of room, with no angled streets, there is really no need to impose asymmetry on the field layout. That does not mean that the design can't be interesting, however. At least a half dozen architectural firms are preparing designs to be submitted, and the city intends to choose a firm this month. Preliminary designs would be subject to major revision, however.

According to a book he wrote which is to be published soon, titled Juiced, Jose Canseco claims to have injected Mark McGwire with steroids while they were teammates in Oakland. He says he become known among MLB players as "The Chemist." How sad that the Washington Nationals' inaugural season will be tainted by dope scandals.

¡México gana!

UPDATE: Led by slugger Vinny Castilla, soon to join the Washington Nationals in spring training, the Mexicans won the Caribbean Series being held in Mazatlan, beating the Dominican Republic Aguilas (Eagles) by 4 to 3, to take their fourth and decisive win. This was the first Caribbean Series championship ever held in Mexico. The other teams in the round-robin tournament were Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

Super Bowl? Oh, yeah: I was kind of hoping the Eagles would win, but I'll still wish "congrats to the Pats." Now will this finally ease their pain up in Boston?? smile


Andrew Clem Archives

February 7, 2005 [LINK]

Road trip to Blacksburg

White-breasted nuthatch Jacqueline and I paid a visit yesterday to Blacksburg and environs yesterday, mostly to see our visiting friends from Spain, Montserrat and Josep, as well as their daughter Laura. It was a beautiful, mild day, with clear skies -- Could it be spring at last? While chatting and strolling around the rural home of their friendly and gracious hosts, Ed and Valerie Robinson, we saw this White-breasted nuthatch, whose eyes were closed when I snapped the shutter. I saw an Eastern phoebe (pictured below) as well, which is very unusual for this time of year; it eluded the other folks, however. During the cooler months, phoebes have a yellowish tinge on their bellies, which you can see in the photo. There was also a probable young Sharp-shinned hawk screaming in a nearby tree top, but it flew away before I could get a picture.

Eastern phoebe Later in the afternoon we were treated to a fine traditional country meal at the Home Place, a farm house converted into a restaurant in the village of Catawba. Pass the biscuits and gravy, please! Yum, yum. On our way home we drove on the recently-completed Rt. 460 bypass between Blacksburg and Christiansburg. It was one of those perpetual construction projects that used to be very annoying to us when we lived there, but now that it's done, getting around is a lot easier than it was before. As far as I know, the high-tech "smart road" project that will eventually connect Blacksburg more directly to I-81 is still years from completion. It was designed to test futuristic traffic control systems and includes a very high bridge over a river valley -- a veritable monument to "some day..."



Andrew Clem Archives

February 8, 2005 [LINK]

Canseco & dope

In today's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell casts doubt on Jose Canseco's allegations about his and others' use of steroids, noting that the former All Star slugger is in a financial pinch and therefore liable to say anything to make a buck: "Whether the claims are true or not, Canseco's motives are so tainted that his charges are doubly suspect." We'll find out the truth eventually.

The Fenway Park page has been updated once again with revised text, two photos kindly shared by new visitor Howard Corday, as well as a 1934 version diagram. (The other diagrams have been tweaked slightly.) Howard told me what I had suspected, that there were temporary bleachers in left field for Patriots football games. Hence, a revised football diagram as well as a 1912 version -- based on photos sent to me from Steven Poppe -- are still pending...


February 8, 2005 [LINK]

Highway to hell?

Today's Washington Post details the proposed "Trans-Texas Corridor," a massive highway system that is estimated to cost $184 billion over a 50-year period, some parts of which would be as much as a quarter mile wide. Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, touts the plan as "visionary," but to me it has the distinct aroma of boondoggle. The first stretch of the new system will connect Dallas to San Antonio, but the entire system would amount to 4,000 miles. Most of the new roadways would be paid for by tolls, which is fine with me, but many thousands of acres of wildflower-covered prairies would be ruined in the process. Beyond the enormous scope of the project, and its likely detrimental effect on the environment, the Post article points out a problem on the financial side:

Private-public transportation contracts make some analysts wary. The Southern Environmental Law Center, which monitors transportation projects in six states, found that similar agreements in Virginia, for example, are costing taxpayers millions through the subsidies or tax-exempt bonds the state has provided to private road contractors.

In other words, the cost savings that are supposd to come from giving the private sector a greater say in implementing such transportation projects may be illusory at best. Speaking of which, the Virginia Department of Transportation has been discussing a similar public-private project to widen Interstate 81 across the entire state, which was proposed by STAR Solutions. (They are a business technology consulting firm that is apparently a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation, but no such link appears on either entity's Web site.) For the last year or two there have been preliminary public debates on the issue, and now the issue is coming to a head. The report by the Southern Environmental Law Center cited by the Post criticizes the 1995 Virginia Public-Private Transportation Act and makes these principle recommendations:

  • Provide for additional public input;
  • Require that proposals be part of normal planning processes;
  • Give the Commonwealth Transportation Board greater authority over proposals;
  • Require private entities proposing a project to invest a certain amount of capital in a project;
  • Require them to pay for independent verification of traffic and cost estimates.

SELC is a decidedly liberal organization, so their inherent skepticism of private enterprise must be taken into account. Even so, this kind of mega-project should raise the eyebrows of fiscal conservatives. As I mentioned on January 17, Delegate Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge Co.) offered a sensible compromise economy-size proposal to upgrade I-81 only at the traffic "choke points," while providing incentives to multimodal shipping via railroads. But even that is going too far for State Sen. Emmet Hanger (R-Augusta Co.), who has come out against the proposed widening of I-81 on the grounds that its costs cannot be justified. Sunday's Staunton News Leader harshly ridiculed Hanger for what they say is his tardy declaration of a position on this issue, but they really don't take issue with the merits of his argument. This bears further study... Is it really prudent for a state government to invest so much public money into an infrastructure that is geared toward 20th Century vehicles? What if the price of energy reaches the point that trucks lose their competitive edge over railways, and travel via passenger cars becomes more of a luxury than a "necessity"?

Indeed, what about the alternative 19th Century technology: are railroads the answer to our traffic woes? I'm inclined to have some sympathy for railsolution.org, and there is no question that more long-distance freight can and should be shipped via rail. We need to remember, however, that rail transportation firms tend to be bloated monopolies that resist innovation and depend on government guarantees. Reforming the way that railroads are regulated has to be part of any long-term transportation strategy. Encouraging innovative grass-roots pro-business initiatives can also yield big benefits; a prime example is the quasi-public Shenandoah Valley railway that took over the short (25-mile) rail line between Staunton and Harrisonburg which was abandoned by the CSX Corporation. And then there's AMTRAK, which is in desperate need of new thinking and flexibility, but remains shackled by its political patrons on Capitol Hill. The need for major reform there -- including the possible termination of some unprofitable long-distance routes -- should be painfully obvious to anyone who cares about rail travel.

February 8, 2005 [LINK]

No more car tax?

On a related note, the Republicans in Richmond seek to carry through on the "no car tax" pledge that was the basis for former Governor James Gilmore's victorious 1997 campaign. He called for phasing out and ultimately eliminating the property tax on passenger vehicles, which many people consider regressive in terms of its disproportionate impact on middle- and lower-income people. The reduction scheduled for last year was canceled, however, as part of the controversial budget agreement between Governor Warner and the Republicans in the General Assembly -- an agreement that we now know was based on faulty if not deceptive forecast budget data. This year the Republicans are determined to rectify that. The Washington Post recently called the GOP position "demagogic," which is a strange and inappropriate. They're just doing what they said they would! And after all, there is an expected surplus of $1 billion in the state coffers this year! To their credit, Republicans have proposed spending some of that surplus to restore the Chesapeake Bay. But can't the people get some of their own money back? There are some reasons for hesitation, such as the fact that local governments have long depended on getting a share of the car tax revenues. State legislators should help find a replacement revenue source for cities and counties. And to the extent that state revenues earmarked for transportation have been cut by the car tax reduction, there should be new taxes targeted more appropriately: on gasoline and diesel fuel consumption!


Andrew Clem Archives

February 9, 2005 [LINK]

Nats lack radio

With only a week to go before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the Nationals still have not reached a deal with any radio broadcasters, nor any television stations either. Since Peter Angelos is still haggling over compensation issues, no one knows what the Nationals will be able to pay, so why should anyone make a deal with them? This situaton is truly disgusting. "Mini"-season tickets will go on sale next week, and I'm starting to worry that there won't be enough individual game tickets for good seats left for Opening Day on April 14. See Washington Post.

Fenway finalized ! ? ($$)

The Fenway Park page has been updated with a revised football diagram, based on a photo graciously sent to me by Howard Corday, as well as a 1912 version which is still somewhat conjectural due to unclear photos. It may not be perfect, but it's probably more accurate than you're likely to find than from just about any other online or print source. So, why not do your part to promote the diffusion of historical knowledge of baseball by clicking on that PayPal button? It's safe, easy, and secure.


Andrew Clem Archives

February 10, 2005 [LINK]

Home improvement at Fenway

By amazing coincidence, just after the Fenway Park page on this site was "renovated," the Red Sox announced plans for further renovation and expansion of the real structure itself. The glass-enclosed elite "406 Club" behind home plate, built in 1989, will be opened and expanded to two tiers. Wade Boggs and other former Red Sox players believe that that structure altered wind currents in a way that made it harder to hit home runs. (I find that hard to believe.) By the 2006 season, the total capacity will be nearly 39,000, including (minimal) standing room. This does not necessarily mean the Red Sox have decided to stay at their old home indefinitely, however:

"The interim steps taken from 2002 to 2006 are not to be construed as part of a 'master plan' to renovate or redevelop Fenway Park," they wrote, "but rather are part of an ongoing commitment to improve the fan experience and neighborhood presence while evaluating the long-term options for renovation and Fenway Park's ultimate future." [SOURCE: Boston Globe]

For a more ambitious alternative, based on a solid long-term commitment to preserving the historic structure, see charleshagenah.com. Save Fenway Park! Hat tip to Bruce Orser.

"McAfee Coliseum"

Rather belatedly, yet another stadium name change has come to my attention: Oakland Coliseum, a.k.a "Network Associates Coliseum," has been renamed "McAfee Coliseum." It's an unusual circumstance in that the corporation itself was renamed, somewhat like the Pac Bell - SBC transition. This was announced last April and apparently took effect late in the year. It confirms, once again, my hesitation to adopt new stadium names, especially when they are based on deals with ephemeral, fly-by-night high-tech corporations. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.

All Star Game at SBC

Commissioner Selig appeared in San Francisco to announce that SBC Park has been awarded the 2007 All-Star Game. It's clearly among the very best of the neoclassical stadiums, and some have speculated that the delay in getting an All Star game there reflected the grumblings among MLB owners that the Giants' owners financed their new home almost entirely on their own, undercutting other owners who are seeking to get public funds for such purposes. Question: Will the stadium still be called SBC Park by then? ball Afterwards, Selig was queried about Jose Canseco's forthcoming book Juiced, about the steroid/doping plague, and the suggestion that owners -- including George W. Bush, former co-owner of the Texas Rangers -- knew about the problem back in the 1990s. Selig called the charges "nonsense." See mlb.com.


Andrew Clem Archives

February 11, 2005 [LINK]

Ward Churchill

Unlike many bigtime pundits in the "blogosphere," I generally refrain from commenting on every political controversy that comes along unless I have something special to say. The sorry case of University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill hits rather close to home for me, however. Thanks to C-SPAN, I happened to see his recent speech to a raucous crowd at UC; it was very disturbing. Also, I am familiar with the utopian community known as Boulder and have at least driven by the UC campus. Prof. Churchill, who teaches ethnic studies, specializing in American Indian culture, had been scheduled to speak at Hamilton College, near Utica, NY. Then he was disinvited after it was discovered that he had once written an abominable essay on the 9/11 attacks, saying that the financial analysts who worked in the World Trade Center were "little Eichmanns" who only got what they deserved, since they had (allegedly) prospered at the expense of millions of dead children in the Third World. In his defiant refusal to apologize for his past statements, he left no doubt that he is a dedicated enemy of capitalism and frankly sympathizes with the goals of Islamic terrorists. See usatoday.com

Obnoxious though Prof. Churchill may be, he is tenured and therefore largely immune to being dismissed on the grounds of controversial opinions he has expressed. As one who holds certain very unorthodox opinions about certain political and economic issues, I take very seriously any threat to academic freedom, and would object if the Colorado Board of Regents moves to dismiss him out of political expediency. Another reason for my hesitation about denouncing him is that Churchill's views are dreadfully commonplace in most universities these days. America-hating profs are a dime a dozen: so what? As I marveled at the mob student audience cheering him on, it occurred to me what may be the fundamental impetus behind "political correctness": the institutionalized pandering to the rebellious nature of youth. In other words, many professors may say harshly leftist things not so much because they believe it, but because that is the way to gain popularity among students. But that's just a conjecture on my part...

There may be grounds to question Churchill's tenured status, however: He somehow rose to the rank of full professor in spite of the fact that he never earned a doctoral degree. (Hmmm...) In terms of his speech and manner, Churchill just didn't strike me as a serious thinker. He's an aging activist from the 60s who apparently once pretended to have Indian blood but later retracted that claim. One member of the audience had the nerve to confront Churchill, who responded by saying that the Ninth Amendment (which reserves to the states or people any rights not specifically enumerated elsewhere) limited or offset the questioner's free speech rights under the First Amendment. That was a bizarre interpretation, casting further doubt on Churchill's qualifications as a scholar. Nevertheless, as long as Prof. Churchill confines his dissent to rhetoric and avoids any activities that overtly give aid and comfort to our enemies -- such as Lynne Stewart, the defense attorney who was just convicted for abetting terrorism -- I think he should be left alone.


Andrew Clem Archives

February 12, 2005 [LINK]

Development schemes in D.C.

The legislation authorizing funding for a new stadium on the Anacostia waterfront in D.C. stipulated that alternative private sources of capital be explored. One such proposal has come from Washington developer Herbert S. Miller, who wants to build a $1.4 billion retail-residential complex anchored by a Wal-Mart or Costco mega-store. Seven other private financing schemes were submitted to the District government in January. "You need something to make this part of town come alive," Miller said. "This can be more than just building a baseball stadium. We can create a real sense of place." See the Washington Post. Yes, but will such a project welcome existing residents of that neighborhood and help rebuild a genuine community, or will it run roughshod over them?

Also in Friday's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell waxed poetic about the imminent start of spring training for the Washington Nationals, and the team's impact on the psyche of Our Nation's Capital: "It's the Start Of a Beautiful Friendship." As he writes, "Countless people in this area have no clue what's about to arrive in their life." Boy, are they in for a a new experience!

Odds 'n Ends

At a press conference next to Yankee Stadium yesterday, a leaner and "cleaner" Jason Giambi apologized to his team and fans for the "distraction" he has caused. For obvious legal reasons, he didn't get into specifics. See mlb.com. Unlike other fallen sports heroes, including some with literary pretensions, Jason's contrition seems sincere and unreserved. He deserves a second chance. Speaking of which, I saw the movie Eight Men Out for the first time yesterday, and it really dramatizes the enormous toll on human lives when athletes cut ethical corners. "Say it ain't so, Joe!" From the arches that were visible behind the lower deck, it appeared to have been filmed in old Comiskey Park, but the movie credits did not say so. It's too bad the outfield scenes were not as realistic as they could have been. The Minnesota Twins are still pushing for public support to build a new retractable-roof stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Since the state legislature remains very reluctant, some are suggesting tapping into gambling revenues from Indian reservation. (But I thought baseball and gambling don't mix...) See mlb.com for details. I have ranked the books listed in the Sources section of the Baseball page, on a scale of one ball (fair) to four balls (excellent).


Andrew Clem Archives

February 12, 2005 [LINK]

New binoculars: great view!

In preparation for our travels to Central America, I just purchased a new pair of binoculars -- the "Raptor" 10x42 model from the Audubon line -- from the Birds I View store in downtown Staunton. I tested out my new binocs on Bell's Lane this morning (bright and sunny), and was thrilled to see such crystal clear images of distant objects. I saw Red-tailed hawks, kestrels, several hundred Canada geese, a Ruby-crowned kinglet, six or so American coots, two Gadwalls, two Ruddy ducks, and a male Redhead (duck) -- the best view of that species I have ever had. With the sun at a perfect angle behind me, I could clearly see the yellow-orange eyes, distinctive bill, and the glistening copper-colored feathers on his head. Beautiful!


Andrew Clem Archives

February 13, 2005 [LINK]

Happy Valentine's Day!

Princess laid more three eggs last week, but one of them fell out of her nest and broke. After a couple weeks of restless flying around and "flirting" in the window, she is back on her nest again. They will be under the good care of our neighbor Therese while we are away. This 96-second movie (in Apple QuickTime format) is an appropriate way to mark Valentine's Day. Here are the brief "scenes," which were shot between Christmas Day and early February:


  • Bathing -- Princess gets spiffed up and ready for romance.
  • Flirting -- Princess "shows her stuff" in the window, as George warily observes.
  • George gets bored -- Keeping watch over Princess takes a lot of energy!
  • Princess gets excited -- The quavering tone of her chirps suggest emotion.
  • Mutual affection -- Princess and George share intimate moments.
  • George sings, Princess chirps -- Love is in the air!

Andrew Clem Archives

February 13, 2005 [LINK]

Leftists gain in Mexico

In elections held last Sunday, former Acapulco Mayor Zeferino Torreblanca, of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), won the governorship in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero, thus ending 76 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party. Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, also of the PRD, announced he will run for president in next year's elections, even though he may be charged with disobeying a court order related to a land deal. He claims he is being persecuted by political opponents.

U.S.-Mexican relations have deteriorated further in recent months, as American politicians have demanded tighter policing of the border and more rigorous enforcement of immigration laws. Rep. J. D. Hayworth (R-AZ) criticized the Mexican government for publishing a comic-illustrated booklet that gives practical advice to people who are trying to cross the border into the U.S. In response, Mexico's ambassador to the U.S., Carlos Icaza, insisted in early January that his country does encourage people to respect the law, saying the booklet was misinterpreted.

On a brighter note, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza (a Tex-Mex friend of President Bush) just became engaged to Maria Asuncion Aramburuzabala. (Try saying that three times!) She is one of the richest women in Mexico, controlling the "Modelo" brewery, maker of Corona beer. They are both in their early 40s, and she has two children from an earlier marriage. It will take a lot more than a fairy tale wedding to repair U.S.-Mexican relations, however.

February 13, 2005 [LINK]

A flood of arms in Venezuela

The government rejected criticism by the United States over the decision to purchase Russian helicopters and small arms. Since the quantity of rifles (100,000) exceeds the number of regular army soldiers, it is feared that President Hugo Chavez intends to supply guerrilla movements in Colombia. Chavez and President Uribe of Colombia are scheduled to meet this week to ease tensions along their mutual border. At least 60 people have died in floods around Caracas and nearby mountain villages during the past few days. Chavez appeared at some of the relief centers to show his concern for the victims.

Peru

Five people were killed during "gang turf wars" waged by inmates at Lurigancho prison last week. In Peru and much of Latin America, there usually aren't enough guards to control what goes on inside prisons.

Argentina

Eight people were killed in a prison uprising near the city of Cordoba during visiting hours on Thursday; police regained control on Friday.

February 13, 2005 [LINK]

Floods, scandals in Costa Rica

Much of the eastern part of the country was hit hard by heavy flooding in mid-January, causing damage to some national parks. President Abel Pacheco, who is 71, was hospitalized after suffering chest pains, but it does not appear serious. Former President Jose Maria Figueres (who served from 1994 to 1998) refused to return to Costa Rica to face charges of embezzling state funds. He currently lives in Switzerland, and the Costa Rican government is threatening to have him arrested by Interpol agents. This comes only a few months after former President Miguel Angel Rodriguez was obliged to resign as secretary general of the OAS after it was revealed that he had taken bribes from the Spanish telephone company Alcatel in 2001.


Andrew Clem Archives

February 15, 2005 [LINK]

Arrival in Costa Rica

Jacqueline and I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica yesterday afternoon, and a pre-arranged taxi soon brought us to Kap's Place, a friendly, colorful, and very comfortable sort of bed and breakfast near downtown. There are several wooded parks and a river within a few blocks of here, and we soon saw Summer tanagers, Baltimore orioles, Great kiskadees, Tropical flycatchers, White-winged doves, Rufous-collared sparrows, Great-tailed grackles, and a Red-crowned ant-tanager! Today we spent most of our time walking around downtown San Jose, leaving little time for birding. Even so, we saw most of those plus several Blue-gray tanagers, a Rufous-tailed hummingbird, a Yellow warbler, an Ovenbird, and others not yet identified. Tomorrow (Wednesday) we're going to the Poas volcano, about 25 miles north from here, and expect to see many hummingbirds and other forest species. Stay tuned!.

Thanks to my brother Dan for giving me hints on how to do the necessary Web site update tasks from a foreign (non-Mac) computer. To say that updating this page on a Windows system was difficult would be an extreme understatement. Almost every minute step of the way some mind-boggling indecipherable nuisance popped up. I MISS MY MACINTOSH!


Andrew Clem Archives

February 16, 2005 [LINK]

"Backyard" bird watching

As everyone knows (or should know), Central America is the "backyard" of the good ol' U.S.A. So, when you go bird watching down here, you are in effect doing "backyard" bird watching. smile Today Jacqueline and I splurged on a "package tour," something I have rarely if ever done before. The prime birding and nature hot spots in Costa Rica are in very remote places, so I figured it would be better to start off with a guide. I almost regretted my decision after our first stop, the Poas volcano, about 25 miles NW of San Jose. It is one of a chain of volcanoes anchoring a mountain range that stretches across the middle of the country, from northwest to southeast. The higher elevations are a "cloud forest," which means that it is almost always raining or drizzling or misting. I was prepared with a proper jacket and umbrella, but the clouds and precipitation reduced visibility so much that we couldn't see anything inside the crater, which is supposed to be the second biggest one in the world. Fortunately, I saw a number of good birds, including some Sooty-capped bush tanagers, a Sooty-faced finch, a Black-cowled oriole, a Scarlet-thighed dacnis, among others. All those birds made it a worthwhile stop after all.

The we went to La Paz Waterfall, located on the eastern slope of Poas volcano. It includes an enclosed butterfly sanctuary, where we saw hundreds of chrysalises and/or cocoons. We actually saw an exotic butterfly emerge and take flight for the very first time in its life! But for me the biggest thrill was the hummingbird center, where dozens of feeders attracted a constant stream of so many different species of hummingbirds that there was no way I could hope to identify most of them. Actually, though, there was a way: our Canon DV camera! I tried my best to get as many of those tiny speedsters on tape as I could, and after further review, I would say I can probably identify at least six or seven species, maybe more. By far the best was the large Violet saber-wing. A German couple was blocking my camera angle for crucial minutes, and I almost despaired of one of the greatest bird photo-ops ever. At last, they moved, and I got some great shots. But wait, there's more! While at La Paz we also saw several Rose-breasted grosbeaks, Silver-throated tanagers (not well named, as you will soon see from the photos I took), Tennessee warblers, and others not yet identified. Finally, we walked along a precarious set of steel grate walkways to see the La Paz Waterfalls, which are awesome. The cloud forest foliage was just too thick to get good views of the many birds I heard and glimpsed.

Our final stop of the day was the Doka Estate coffee plantation, in the foothills between Poas volcano and San Jose. Just before we arrived there I spotted some kind of a hawk along the road. It was a pleasant and informative tour of the farm, the coffee bean sorting equipment, and the roasting mill. It is a modern monoculture plantation, however, which means that it is not good habitat for songbirds. Also, shade-grown coffee is better quality than coffee from trees grown in open fields, and I bought a bag of organic shade-grown coffee. Finally our tour bus brought us back to Kap's Place in San Jose. Another busy, exhausting, extremely rewarding day!

Tomorrow we may take a bus/boat trip to the Caribbean coast, or perhaps head south to the Pacific beaches. Maybe we can squeeze both in!


Andrew Clem Archives

February 18, 2005 [LINK]

Welcome to the Jungle!

I've seen and experienced so much over the past two days that I don't know if I can relate our travel adventures in a coherent fashion. But I'll try. After learning from the weather forecasts that the Caribbean coast was expected to remain rainy for the next couple days (as it has been for at least the last two months), we opted for the Pacific coast, taking a seven-hour bus ride from San Jose to the town of Golfito, not far from Panama. Along the way we crossed some very high mountains, most of which were shrouded by thick clouds. Occasionally the sun would peek through and we would get a fanastic view of distant peaks and clouds far below us. We arrived in Golfito at 10:00 PM and took a "taxi-boat" to the village of Playa Cacao, and got settled into our thatched hut cabin. "Cabinas Playa Cacao" is a splendid, beautiful place to relax and enjoy nature, and Dona Isabel is a wonderful hostess.

The next day (Thursday, I think) I got up at the crack of dawn and saw Ruddy ground doves, Scarlet-rumped tanagers, hummers, various flycatchers, among others. In the afternoon we bought supplies in town (via the taxi-boat) and basically relaxed, since it was too hot to do much else. Late in the afternoon we walked up a hill and saw a Striped-crown sparrow, an olive-colored foragers that was so big that it looked like a towhee to me. I also saw a Thick-billed seedeater, plus others. Then it started to rain so we had to hurry back.

This morning we took a hike along a stream into a genuine tropical rain forest. It was VERY dark in the dawn's early light, adding mystery to the ominous surroundings. Would we see jaguars or peccaries? Fortunately not, but we DID see two species that were at the top of our "target" list: White-faced monkeys (four or so) and Chestnut-mandilbed toucans (two). We could hardly believe our eyes, but since I had the presence of mind to turn on my video camera, there is no doubt. I got great images of those, plus many other birds.

I wish we could have stayed another day or two in Playa Cacao, but I learned that our only hope of getting into Corcovado National Park was to spend two nights in Puerto Jimenez, across the Golfo Dulce on the Osa Peninsula. So we hopped on a ferry boat, and we are now ensconced in a decent hotel in this dusty fishing village / tourist mecca. I've learned that getting around in Costa Rica is a lot harder than you might think, given the country's relative prosperity. It's a jungle out there!


Andrew Clem Archives

February [19], 2005 [LINK]

Welcome to the Jungle!

I've seen and experienced so much over the past two days that I don't know if I can relate our travel adventures in a coherent fashion. But I'll try. After learning from the weather forecasts that the Caribbean coast was expected to remain rainy for the next couple days (as it has been for at least the last two months), we opted for the Pacific coast, taking a seven-hour bus ride from San Jose to the town of Golfito, not far from Panama. Along the way we crossed some very high mountains, most of which were shrouded by thick clouds. Occasionally the sun would peek through and we would get a fanastic view of distant peaks and clouds far below us. We arrived in Golfito at 10:00 PM and took a "taxi-boat" to the village of Playa Cacao, and got settled into our thatched hut cabin. "Cabinas Playa Cacao" is a splendid, beautiful place to relax and enjoy nature, and Doña Isabel is a wonderful hostess.

The next day (Thursday, I think) I got up at the crack of dawn and saw Ruddy ground doves, Scarlet-rumped tanagers, hummers, various flycatchers, among others. In the afternoon we bought supplies in town (via the taxi-boat) and basically relaxed, since it was too hot to do much else. Late in the afternoon we walked up a hill and saw a Striped-crown sparrow, an olive-colored forager that was so big that it looked like a towhee to me. I also saw a Thick-billed seedeater, plus others. Then it started to rain so we had to hurry back.

This morning we took a hike along a stream into a genuine tropical rain forest. It was VERY dark in the dawn's early light, adding mystery to the ominous surroundings. Would we see jaguars or peccaries? Fortunately not, but we DID see two species that were at the top of our "target" list: White-faced monkeys (four or so) and Chestnut-mandibled toucans (two). We could hardly believe our eyes, but since I had the presence of mind to turn on my video camera, there is no doubt. I got great images of those, plus many other birds.

I wish we could have stayed another day or two in Playa Cacao, but I learned that our only hope of getting into Corcovado National Park was to spend two nights in Puerto Jimenez, across the Golfo Dulce on the Osa Peninsula. So we hopped on a ferry boat, and we are now ensconced in a decent hotel in this dusty fishing village / tourist mecca. I've learned that getting around in Costa Rica is a lot harder than you might think, given the country's relative prosperity. It's a jungle out there!


Andrew Clem Archives

February 21, 2005 [LINK]

Corcovado National Park *

What a trip! Words can barely begin to describe what we saw and heard at Corcovado National Park yesterday. First, I should warn would-be tourists to do their geographical homework to be able to weigh all the conflicting advice you're likely to get if you ever travel to this part of the world. Unless you've got a good sense of the lay of the land, you'll be at the mercy of hucksters and weirdos. We hopped on a Jeep-style minivan just before dawn on Sunday, and endured over two hours of bumpy, treacherous, rutted roads, fording several streams and rivers along the way. Thankfully, the driver indulged my requests to stop to take pictures of several of the amazing birds we saw on the road, including a Crested caracara, a Fasciated tiger-heron(?), a Great currasow, a Common black hawk, a White ibis, and a Green heron, among others.

When we reached the terminal point, the village of Carate, we began a 2+ mile hike along the beach to the park entry station. It was quite a struggle in the hot sun, but we were rewarded with great views of our main "target species" before we even entered the park itself: a screeching flock of Scarlet macaws landed in a palm tree nearby, and I got some decent pictures and video clips. They rarely descend below treetop level, so my photos were only so-so, but the brilliant red, green, yellow, and blue colors were quite evident. We paid $8 each at the entry station and learned that our intended destination -- a place called "Sirena" -- could not be reached within one day if we wanted to return the same day. So, we hiked about half that far, 2.5 miles.

Our first big thrill inside the park itself was seeing a group of Spider monkeys, including an infant clinging to its mother, and a toddler learning to climb along branches and vines. This time we got great video shots, since they were only 30-40 yards away. We also saw an anteater (I think) in a tree, a snake in a bush, and a huge spider. No jaguars or other feline predators, however. (A guy I met who is a fellow graduate of Virginia told me that while at Sirena he saw a puma (cougar, mountain lion) attack, kill, and devour a monkey.) Anyway, we didn't see as many birds as I anticipated, but there were some fine ones, nonetheless, most notably a pair of male Red-legged honeycreepers engaged in some sort of territorial display ritual, dancing and chirping around each other. (Non-violent conflict resolution!?) They were a gorgeous deep blue color. There were also Chestnut-backed antbirds, Riverside wrens, and others not yet identified. My feet paid a heavy price for that long beach trek (wearing only sandals), but the blisters were not as severe as I feared.

* The heading above was added retroactively, for the sake of clarity.

February 21, 2005 [LINK]

Do you know The Way to San Jose?

This morning, Monday, the 21st*, we left Puerto Jimenez on a bus shortly after 5:00. Dawn broke within an hour, and we soon saw quite a variety of birds in the farm fields. Even from a distance it was easy to identify a King vulture (white with black wings) perched on top of a dead cow. I also saw Groove-billed anis, some Yellow-bellied siskins, and a few others. Later I caught a brief glimpse of a medium-sized black and white bird perched on a wire, luckily while I was taking a video clip of the countryside. Replaying that clip helped me to confirm that it was a Great antshrike. (Why do so many tropical bird names include "ant"? I don't know.) That was just as we begin climbing from the hot, sunny valley where coffee, sugarcane, and pineapples are grown, into the cool cloud-forest mountains. After a few more hours we descended into the Central Valley, passing the city of Cartago, and finally arriving in San Jose around 3:00. Whew!

* NOTE: I realized that my last posting had the wrong date, which gives you a good idea how far out of touch with reality I am. Hence the corrected date, in [brackets]. While I'm out of the country (for the rest of the month) I can be reached at: ontheroad(AT)andrewclem.com -- replacing "(AT)" with "@" of course.


Andrew Clem Archives

February 23, 2005 [LINK]

In Venezuela's footsteps?

Jacqueline has returned to the states, sad to leave this marvelous little country but eager to see Princess and George back home. Yesterday we "shopped till we dropped" in downtown San Jose. My feet are still quite sore from all the beach hiking at Corcovado, so my mobility is below par. Otherwise, we're both in pretty good shape. It is wonderful to be able to travel in a Latin American country without constantly worrying about nasty bacteria in the tap water.

This morning I saw three more life birds, in the athletic park only two blocks from our hotel (Kap's Place): A pair of Prevost's ground sparrows, several Silvery-throated jays, and two Blue-crowned motmots! They are one of the truly dazzling tropical birds, with very long fluttering tails, and sharp green, blue, and black colors. Just awesome. I should mention that there is a lot of garbage strewn about just outside the park, which itself is decently maintained. Sadly, many "Ticos" (as Costa Ricans call themselves) lack much of a sense of personal responsibility to the community. Perhaps because of the generous welfare system here, many local folks apparently disdain manual labor, and many farm jobs and other unskilled jobs are done by Nicaraguans. Quite an ironic imitation of the United States!

It has taken a while to get a feel for the political currents in this country, and I still don't know enough to comment very intelligently on it. I am getting the sense that there is a sort of deadlock preventing further opening of the economy to the outside world. Almost every product in the stores is made right here in Costa Rica, which must be terribly inefficient for such a small market. Proposals to reduce such protection generally fail because industrial workers are quick to march in protest. Pride in the country's strong democratic tradition makes politicians loathe to do anything contrary to popular sentiment, even minority sentiment. Like the U.S. in the 1970s, Costa Rica's economic policy is stuck in the mud, and no one knows what to do about it. I have a vague but disquieting hunch that this country is so used to a high standard of living based on its agricultural exports and (more recently) tourist dollars that it is in for a rude shock not unlike what Venezuela faced in the 1990s. Next year's elections should be interesting...

Fortunately, the only indication of anti-Americanism I've seen so far is a billboard sponsored by labor unions denouncing the war in Iraq. Despite the strong American presence here, with many thousand U.S. citizens living in retirement or just hanging out, diplomatic ties between Washington and San Jose are apparently rather distant. There are many more tourists from Canada, Europe, and Japan than from the U.S., another illustration of the paradox that Americans are so ill-informed about their "back yard" neighbors.

Tomorrow I plan to leave San Jose again, heading northwest into the canton of Guanacaste, which has dry terrain along the coast, and possibly into Nicaragua. NOTE: After I return to the states I plan to split some of these travel blog posts into their respective topical sections. It's just too much of a hassle for me to manage the site the way I'm used to doing away from my own computer, so only the main blog page will include the updated entries until early March.


February 26, 2005 [LINK]

Baseball in Nicaragua

My first tourist destination in Managua was the Estadio Nacional Dennis Martinez, named for the retired pitcher who won more major league games (245) than any other pitcher from Latin America. He played for the Montreal Expos (Nationals fans, take note!), the Baltimore Orioles, the L.A. Dodgers, and other clubs. I had to use a lot of persuasion to get inside to see the field, but they would not let me take any pictures because of all the trash that had been left there by a big crowd at an evangelical revival on the previous night. So I had to make mental notes of the field dimensions, numbers of rows, etc., etc. from which I will eventually derive a diagram for that "green cathedral" -- which actually was used for religious purposes! It was 330 feet to the corners and 400 feet to center field (or so they told me; I saw no such sign). Oddly, the shape was oval, with a huge arc behind the diamond rather like the Polo Grounds, though with 12 or so extra rows squeezed in behind the dugouts. In the large empty space beyond the outfield fence you can see wooden corrals, which are used when they hold bullfights here. Now there's a unique multiple-use stadium!

Nicaragua's deep poverty makes it very hard to run a professional ball club on a profitable basis, so baseball has had a rather precarious status there is recent years. For the 2004-2005 winter season, there have been four teams in the Nicaraguan League: Managua (the "Boers"!), Leon, Chinandega, and Masaya. Somehow Granada failed to qualify for a franchise. The sports pages here are full of news about Vincente Padilla, who pitches for the Phillies. The stadium in Masaya is named for Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash while en route to Nicaragua, planning to help with the recovery efforts after the 1972 earthquake.


Andrew Clem Archives

February 26, 2005 [LINK]

From Guanacaste to Nicaragua

Once again, I'm at a loss for words to describe all I've done in the last couple days. On Thursday I took a bus from San Jose to the provincial (or cantonal, actually) capital of Liberia, in the dry ranchlands of Guanacaste. On the way we passed several volcanoes, including Arenal, perhaps the most famous in Costa Rica. It is one of the best birding locations, but because it is hard to get to (bad roads) and has similar cloud forest habitat to the Poas volcano / La Paz waterfalls we saw last week, I decided to pass it by this time.

Upon arriving in Liberia (I'm not sure if it was named after the country) I noticed that a major local festival was underway. I had the good fortune to witness an outburst of local culture, with music and dance. Also, there were very loud fireworks, launched from in front of the Catholic Church, built in the 1970s in a modern style. Anoather stroke of good fortune was meeting three local guys, Andres (!), Ralph, and (??? -- The name will come to me soon, I`m sure.) We chatted about sports, trade policy, politics, and anti-American sentiment around the world. Thankfully, nearly all "Ticos" are friendly to us gringos.

* In order to keep the content of this blog in the proper respective categories, the portion of the blog entry concerning birds that was originally posted here has been moved to: Archives/2005/02/26wb.html.

In the afternoon, I crossed the border into Nicaragua on foot, and was immediately accosted by hordes of children, money changers, and vendors. The first sign of a country in desparate economic condition, probably reflecting the failures of the Marxist Sandinista regime. Indeed, this is the first former communist country I've ever been to. (I'll comment more on that later.) After a long delay due to customs, I got on a bus at about 2:30 and soon saw the immense Lake Nicaragua with the awesome twin-volcano island. We arrived in Managua at about 5:30 and I was delighted to see a flock of at least a dozen Scissor-tailed (or perhaps Fork-tailed) flycatchers swirling around in the dusk. I then checked into a budget "hotel" that made me regret saving a few bucks. After sightseeing in the bleak, dusty capital city of Managua (largely ruined by a terrible earthquake in 1972), I took a colectivo mini-bus to the city of Granada, which has lots of beautiful colonial archtecture and is much more tourist friendly. That is where I am at the moment.


Andrew Clem Archives

February 26, 2005 [LINK]

Santa Rosa National Park *

Yesterday (Friday), I took a taxi to Santa Rosa National Park, about 15 miles NW of Liberia. My calculation that I would be more likely to see more bird species in a different habitat than we had previously seen proved 100% correct. I was lucky to meet an American biology student who was recording bird calls for a research project, and she gave me tips on where to look for birds. Among the highlights were White-throated magpie jays (big and loud), a Pacific screech owl, several Squirrel cuckoos, several Rufous-capped warblers, , and near the very end of my trek, two green and red Elegant trogons. AND MANY MORE -- Almost [15] new life birds in a single day! I thought my video camera ran out when I came across the trogons, but fortunately there was enough juice left over to get some pretty good shots. It was extremely hot, and my feet were even more sore by mid-day, with some vicious bug bites (DEET didn't work), but it was well worth it. If you're a bird fanatic, that is.

* This blog entry was originally posted along with other material at Archives/2005/02/26la.html while I was in Costa Rica, but has been retroactively renamed and placed in the Wild Birds category, where it belongs.


Andrew Clem Archives

February 27, 2005 [LINK]

Hot, hot, hot *

* In order to keep the content of this blog in the proper respective categories, the portion of the blog entry concerning birds that was originally posted here has been moved to: Archives/2005/02/27wb.html.

The temperatures here must be in the mid 90s at least, and it is hard to stay comfortable. Fortunately, there is a pool in the hotel where I'm staying in Granada, The Oasis. So I just checked the weather back in Virginia and learned they are forecasting five to ten inches of snow tonight! Maybe I should stay here...

Sandinista strife

Just after I left Managua yesterday there was a violent confrontation in the streets, as a dissident faction of the Sandinista party (FSLN) was forcibly prevented from entering a party meeting at which key resolutions were adopted. Former president and guerrilla leader Daniel Ortega prevailed in the showdown with a former mayor of Managua, a guy named Herty [Lewites]. (!) The Sandinistas won in municipal elections last year, and Ortega may just get elected for the first time since he was defeated in an upset by Violeta Chamorro in 1990. Of course, the U.S. government is not happy about political trends here. More on that later...


Andrew Clem Archives

February 27, 2005 [LINK]

Birds in Nicaragua *

This morning I took a boat ride along the shores of Lake Nicaragua to see the wildlife that abounds on "Las Isletas." It was thoroughly enjoyable, and I saw the Montezuma oropendulas that I was told were present. They are a large bird with yellow tails that built huge basket nests, much like the orioles with which they are related. I had seen oropendulas in Mexico in 1985, but I'm not certain about the exact species, so this may or may not have been a life bird. I also saw many other birds along the shore, including two life birds, Northern jacanas, colorful birds that dance on lily pads, and a Limpkin, sort of a cross between a heron and an ibis.

* This blog entry was originally posted along with other material at Archives/2005/02/27la.html while I was in Nicaragua, but has been retroactively renamed and placed in the Wild Birds category, where it belongs.


Andrew Clem Archives

February 28, 2005 [LINK]

Back in Costa Rica

Today I took a l-o-n-g bus ride from Granada, Nicaragua back to San Jose, Costa Rica. It was air conditioned, but that barely offset the stiflingly hot temperatures outside. Can you say "grungy"? Once again I had to endure all the hassles with passports at the border, which reminds me once again how irrational it is to maintain sovereignty for such small countries. These countries should follow Europe's example and Integrate Central America now!

Returning to Kap's Place, the ultra-friendly informal "hotel" where we have been staying, was an enormous relief. Clean, potable water with hot showers: ah-h-h! Back home in Virginia, meanwhile, there is a foot of snow on the ground in some places, and I just learned from Jacqueline that it is still falling.


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