October 2, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Wild & crazy game in Denver
And to think I missed the dramatic finale last night: D'oh! I was tired enough already as the game stretched into the thirteenth inning of the NL Wild Card tie-breaking game, and when Scott Hairston hit a home run that gave the Padres an 8-6 lead, I figured that the long see-saw battle was finally over. In the eighth inning, Matt Holliday had midjudged a fly ball on what should have been the final out, allowing Brian Giles to reach second and later score the tying run. I went to bed thinking that Matt Holliday would end up as the goat, remembered in Denver in much the same way that Bill Buckner is in Boston. But instead, he came through in the bottom of the "lucky" thirteenth with a game-tying triple and then scored the winning run. Some argued with the ump's call, and even Holliday himself seemed less than certain, but the Padres' catcher Michael Barrett had no argument. On the other hand, a possible home run by in the inning was ruled a double, so the questionable calls in effect offset each other; see MLB.com. In any case, he is certainly a "happy Holliday." It was Trevor Hoffman's second blown save in the last three games, and now the Padres know what the distraught Mets feel like. But don't anyone doubt that the Rockies earned their place in the postseason. Very few teams have ever won 14 of the last 15 games in the season, and facing down starting pitcher Jake Peavy shows they are ready for anything. Tomorrow they'll take on the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park.
The Rockies were not the only "dark horse" team to make the 2007 postseason; not many people picked the Phillies and the Cubs to win their division titles, either, and back in June few would have expected the Indians to overtake the Tigers. On April 1, I made my picks for the eight slots for the 2007 postseason, and only got two of them right; four if you switch the Yankees (wild card) and Red Sox (AL East champ). Well, I never claimed to be an expert on the game of baseball, but at least I correctly picked the Cubs to win the NL Central Division.
October 3, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Hollywood swoons over Hugo
Few things make Hollywood liberal hearts flutter like a foreign leader who bashes Uncle Sam, so it is no surprise that Hugo Chavez has friends in Tinsel Town. Among the top stars who have become close aquaintances with the despot from Caracas are Danny Glover, who thanked Venezuela for an $17.8 million contribution for a movie he made about Toussaint L'Ouverture, leader of the the Haitian revolution. Other admirers who have visited Chavez recently include Sean Penn, who tried to stop the U.S. liberation of Iraq, and Kevin Spacey, who said every country should have a government-funded film program like Venezuela. Or the Soviet Union. See the Washington Post.
President-for-Life Chavez declined to grace the Global Community with his presence at the opening of the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly this year. Last year, you may recall, he created quite a commotion by referring to President Bush as "The Devil." At the session last week, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad played the role of anti-imperialistic buffoon, after which he traveled to Venezuela to discuss matters with his ally. Chavez praised Ahmadinejad as "one of the greatest fighters for true peace." See BBC. As opposed to false peace, I guess.
UPDATE: I learned from Dave Letterman this evening that El Presidente has released his own musical CD: Canciones para Siempre (Songs for Always). See Yahoo News. This reminds of the similarly wacky former president of Ecuador, Abdala Bucaram, who fancied himself a salsa singer.
October 3, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Fall birding at Sweet Briar
I arrived early at Sweet Briar College on Monday morning, so I spent a half hour or so exploring some of the trails around the pond. Almost as soon as I got out of my car, to my surprise, I saw two species of winter birds for the first time this season (excluding those seen in highlands, where they breed): Red-breasted nuthatches and Yellow-rumped warblers. But that wasn't all! This is the times of year when you see summer birds intermingled with winter birds. The highlights:
- Red-breasted nuthatches (FOS)
- Yellow-rumped warblers (FOS)
- Common yellowthroat
- Downy woodpecker
- Kingfishers (2)
- Wood ducks (M)
- House finches
- Black-throated green warblers (M, F/J)
- Magnolia warbler (prob.)
I also saw Great blue herons flying both on the way there, and on the way back.
On Tuesday a confused [Downy] woodpecker (female) showed up at the thistle seed bag, which is intended for Goldfinches, and stayed long enough for me to record the amusing moment for posterity. We've seen a lot more Goldfinches feeding out back lately, and they have almost finished molting into their dull winter plumage.
October 4, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Ecuador's democracy in peril
The brash young president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, keeps pushing for a showdown with opposition forces in his bid to remake Ecuador in the image of Venezuela. Last Sunday the people voted for delegates to a rubber stamp "constituent assembly" that Correa hopes will replace the existing Congress. About 3,200 candidates were on the ballot across the country, including a large number of eccentrics and members of fringe groups. Correa claimed a mandate from the elections, and declared his intention to dissolve Congress, which he considers inept, corrupt, and inattentive to the needs of poor people. His candidates seem to have a strong majority so far, but it is uncertain whether he will have the two-thirds supermajority necessary to undertake fundamental changes in the constitution. See BBC. Correa is a well educated man, with a degree in economics, and it is striking that he seems totally unaware of the risks he is taking by unleashing the forces of class resentment while trashing constitutional norms. It's a recipe for chaos and even deeper poverty.
October 5, 2007 [LINK / comment]
First-round playoffs: one sided?
In the years leading up to 2006, the first two playoff gamees were split most of the time. Since last year, most of the series started off with one team taking a two-games-to-none lead, and at least three of them have so far this year. We could see multiple sweeps, and several days of no baseball as we wait for the league championship series. From the Washington Post, I learned an odd fact about the Yankees in the postseason: Seven times in the last ten years, including each of the last five years, whichever team won the first game in the first-round playoff series in which the Yankees were playing ended up losing the series! See Postseason scores. In none of those series did the Yankees lose the first two games, however, so that pattern may be broken this year.
Cleveland rocks Yanks
Before last night, J.R. Tabathia was just a name to me, a good pitcher with a bright future. Now I know what he is capable of: shutting down the most powerful offense in baseball. The Indians overwhelmed Chien Ming-wang, racking up 12 runs altogether, and tonight they finally converted in a bases-loaded situation in their third attempt, in the eleventh inning. easing the pain of aging veteran Kenny Lofton, who came oh-h, so close to getting a World Series ring in 1997.
Rockies roll the Phils
The miracle team from Denver is on a roll, and the Phillies haven't figured out how to stop them, wasting their initial home field advantage. Anything can happen with "streaky" teams, however, so even though the Rockies have a huge advantage as they host the next two games, the Phillies are by no means a lost cause. Another veteran with frustrated championship dreams, just may see his wish come true: Todd Helton.
D-backs rattle Cubs
With a season-ending winning percentage of only 52%, the Cubs were not exactly a leading candidate to reach the World Series. So it wasn't a huge surprise that the Diamondbacks beat them handily in the first two games, held in Phoenix. The Cubs still need to break through that psychological barrier of superstition if they are to avoid going a full one hundred years without a world championship.
Red Sox fit Angels
(Sorry, I ran out of appropriate puns.) Boston has been dominant for most of the season, and they've got plenty of veterans who know how to win postseason games, so I figure they will probably sweep the Angels. Their late-season slump they suffered, almost giving up first place to the Yankees, may have been enough to scare them out of their complacency.
Dmitri Young: comeback kid
As expected, the Nationals' replacement first baseman this year, Dmitri Young, was named National League comeback player of the year. At age 33, he was washed up until Nats GM Jim Bowden gave him a call, offering him a chance in the lineup, as long as he shaped up. Well, he did, and he came close to winning the NL batting title, ending the season with a .320 batting average, eighth in the National League. Not too shabby. There is the awkward question about next year, when the reliable slugger Nick Johnson is expected to return to first base. Showing the grace that comes with maturity, Young says he plans to lose 20 pounds and move to the outfield so that Nick can have his old job back once his leg heals. See MLB.com.
October 6, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Warner checks in, weighs in
Sen. John Warner received hosptial treatment for an irregular heartbeat this week, and he seems to be doing fine. He said that his heart condition, for which he has been taking medications for five years, was not the reason for his decision not to run for reelection next year. I'd bet that health concerns in general played a big part, however, as he has hinted that fatigue was wearing him down. Get well soon, Senator! Your country, and your party, need you.
Upon his release, Sen. Warner took the opportunity to voice his opinion to reporters on what qualifications his successor should have:
Warner stressed the need for Republicans to nominate a solid contender to face Mark R. Warner (D), the popular former governor.
The senator emphasized the need for prior legislative experience, with which I wholeheartedly agree, and which suggests that Rep. Tom Davis (Fairfax County) would be better suited than former Governor Jim Gilmore. But then, James Webb never had any legislative experience before running for the U.S. Senate last year, so perhaps Gilmore will cite that example. What struck me about the Washington Post article was the possibility that our congressman, Bob Goodlatte, might be a candidate for Sen. Warner's seat. No one I've talked to has mentioned that, and it seems unlikely Goodlatte would give up a safe seat in the House for a chance to win the Senate seat. It makes me wonder who is spreading rumors about Goodlatte as a Senate candidate, and why. Whoever is nominated by the GOP next spring, it will be a difficult contest in the fall.
My ever-alert brother Dan brought to my attention to this Candidate Calculator, which picks your "ideal" candidate based entirely on your policy preferences, and the results for me were interesting:
You planned to vote for Fred Thompson. Based on your responses, your top candidate for 2008 is below.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R)
Actually, Fred Thompson and one other guy (Tom Tancredo?) scored exactly the same for me. In any case, I've bumped up Huckabee one notch (to #4) on my list of possible GOP 2008 candidates and have taken Newt Gingrich off my list, since he recently said he won't run for president next year.
October 6, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Fall birds at McCormick's Mill
I wasn't able to join the Augusta Bird Club field trip to McCormick's Mill on Thursday, but Jacqueline and I had a pleasant time there ourselves today. By chance, there was an artisans' fair, with young alpacas, an iron forge, and a woman playing a hammer dulcimer, which sounded beautiful. Finally, we got around to the main order of business, which was bird watching, and I was pleased to see four migratory birds for the first time this season.
- House finches
- Chipping sparrows
- Yellow-bellied sapsucker (J, FOS)
- Purple finch (F, FOS)
- Indigo buntings
- Yellow-rumped warblers
- Palm warbler (FOS)
- Hairy woodpecker
- Downy woodpecker
- Ruby-crowned kinglet (FOS)
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Towhee (M)
On my way to Sweet Briar College yesterday morning, I saw a small bump in the road up ahead, and as I feared, it turned out to be a turtle trying to cross the road. The driver up ahead didn't notice or didn't care, and the hapless reptile was nicked by one of the tires and cast off the side of the road. I pulled over and stopped to check, and found that the Eastern Box turtle was completely closed up, with no sign of life, but no sign of damage to the shell, either. So, I took it to campus, and after detecting some motion after a while, I set the traumatized creature free in the wetland area by the pond.
October should be designated "National Be Careful of Turtles Month," because this is when the days shorten and they are in need of all the sunlight energy they can get before going into hibernation. That's why so many turtles are "on the road" this month. In 2005 I came across a road-side Painted turtle, moving it to safer ground, and in 2006 I did likewise for an Eastern Box turtle.
October 8, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Morning at Sweet Briar College
Not a bad way to start one's work week! No birds to speak of, however. No sign of the Box turtle that I rescued and released near the pond on Friday either, but that's good news, as I assume it has survived and moved on.
The lower pond and boat house at Sweet Briar College. In the afternoon it was so warm that some people went swimming!
Leucocoprinus fragilissimus mushrooms, on the wetland trail at Sweet Briar College; slightly larger than life size. The caps are about 3/4 inch in diameter.
October 8, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Costa Rica approves CAFTA
On Sunday, the people of Costa Rica approved the Central American (and Caribbean) Free Trade Agreement, by a 52%-48% margin. It was the first time such a national referendum had ever been held in Costa Rica, and turnout was fairly high. Many people had expected the measure to be defeated because of opposition by leftists, workers, and some farmers, so it is welcome news to those of us who hold out hope for economic cooperation between the United States and its near-neighbors to the south. President Oscar Arias worked hard on behalf of the trade agreement, saying that his country needed the economic stimulus, and that the opportunites from expanded export markets would more than offset losses to farmers who might be hurt by increased foreign competition. He is almost certainly correct. Bush administration officials lobbied intensively to make sure that the last "hold-out" country would join with the rest of the countries in the region. See Washington Post and Tico Times. The political arm-twisting by both sides in this debate is par for the course in these sorts of high-stakes decisions. There will be winners and losers in Costa Rica, but their economy has grown "soft" over the years because of government protectionist policies and a relatively welfare system, so the competitive forces will have a healthy effect in improving efficiency.
Costa Rica & China
When Jacqueline and I visited Costa Rica two years ago, I noticed an unusual flag flying above one of the buildings in San Jose's embassy district: that of Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China. That was a reflection of the fact that Costa Rica was one of the few countries in the world that still maintained official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which for many years showed its appreciation by providing various forms of economic aid. That situation was reversed four months ago, when President Oscar Arias recognized the government in Beijing, saying that it would bring in much needed investment. In return, the government of the People's Republic of China is now urging its citizens to travel to Costa Rica, a veritable paradise for eco-tourism. See BBC.
Fujimori's court date
The trial of Peru's former president Alberto Fujimori will begin next month, and he faces a sentence of up to 30 years if convicted on murder and kidnapping charges. It all depends on whether any first-hand witnesses can link him to the death squads that hounded terrorists in Peru during the early 1990s. See BBC.
October 8, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Transitional fall birding
Early on Sunday morning, I took a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, and saw an interesting mixture of summer and winter birds, including the first White-throated sparrow of the season. Toward the end, I got a good closeup video of a Magnolia warbler, from which this freeze-frame image was taken. The current "transitional" period will be largely over in the next week or two -- unless this odd heat wave continues, that is.
- Blackpoll warbler
- White-throated sparrow (FOS)
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Downy woodpecker
- Red-bellied woodpecker
- Purple finch (F)
- Towhee (F/J)
- Magnolia warbler
October 9, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Yankees avoid being swept...
... which is at least better than the Angels, the Phillies, or the Cubs managed to do. This was by far the most lopsided first round in MLB postseason history, with a cumulative win-loss record of 12 to 1, and a cumulative score of 69 to 34. What does it all mean? I'm not sure if there are any general lessons. The Red Sox were simply dominant, as they have been for most of the season, so their easy win against the Angels was no surprise. The Rockies and the Indians showed competitive "fire in the belly" as well as under-appreciated playing excellence, while the Diamondbacks were fortunate to face a relatively weak foe in the Cubs. It's a tossup for the next round on the National League side, while the Red Sox have a clear edge over the Indians on the American League side.
Back to the woe-befallen Yankees, on the theme of looking on the bright side:
- At least Alex Rodriguez hit a home run, breaking a long postseason hitless streak.
- At least the New York fans got to see one more postseason game victory in Yankee Stadium, which has only one more year to go, and no guarantee of a postseason berth in 2008.
- At least Bobby Abreu kept hopes alive in the bottom of the ninth with a home run into the right field corner upper deck. (Jorge Posada almost repeated the feat, but it was a foul.)
- At least Roger Clemens won't get any of the blame for the loss, after leaving early in what will probably be his final major league game.
- At least they made it to the postseason in the first place, which is no easy feat -- for the 13th year in a row.
- At least they lost the ALDS to a team that is worthy to be a champion: Congratulations to the Indians!
Sadly, it seems all but certain that manager Joe Torre is about to get the boot from Mr. Steinbrenner, whose expectations are insanely high, as Tyler Kepner of the New York Times wrote; hat tip to David Pinto.) Steinbrenner keeps forgetting that baseball is just a sport, and that putting more money into it doesn't guarantee you a successful outcome. Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera's contract probably won't be renewed, and A-Rod is expected to opt out of his contract with the Yankees. His comments, though a bit confused, aptly convey the emotions of a frustrated star-crossed star:
I will tell you one thing about this team, ... We left our hearts and souls out there and we can't look in the mirror and say we left anything behind. We left it all out there and I think the city of New York, for that, should be proud. (MLB.com)
MLB on TBS
Millions of baseball fans were "blacked out" from watching the first round series because TBS bought the "broadcasting" rights. (Actually, they are cablecasters, and the B in TBS really should be a C.) I think it was a dumb move by MLB to allow bidding by a television company with limited coverage. I'm sure most folks can watch TBS, but for something as important as the baseball playoffs, nearly everyone ought to have access. Otherwise, the sport will continue to became an elitist fancy, losing its grass roots appeal to Average Joes. Anyway, I thought the TBS crew did a fairly good job, with Don Sutton in the lead play-by-play role. I always enjoy listening to Tony Gwynn, who has such a funny accent, but Cal Ripken's speaking style is about as dull as Cal Coolidge's. Speaking of which, Skip Caray was not exactly the most colorful of commentators either, but that wasn't his main job, so his recent dismissal by the honchos in Atlanta was uncalled for, I thought; see lindyssports.com.
October 9, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Party switch on trade policy?
Daniel Drezner is increasingly worried about the Republican Party's weakening support for free trade: "Now we live in a world where Obama's chief economic advisor is making more sense on the trade issue than rank-and-file Republicans." That's a scary thought. I am by no means a dogmatic free-trade advocate, but it is obvious that trade is generally beneficial to most people. The only question is whether we will strike good bilateral trade bargains, exerting leverage to force countries like Mexico and China to live up to higher labor and environmental standards. Some of the populists in the GOP, such as Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA), are so fearful of security threats from overseas that they are blind to vast economic opportunities offered by the global economy. It is difficult to do in practice, but we simply must keep a cool head and strike a reasonable balance between U.S. national security and economic goals.
R.I.P. Jo Ann Davis
Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis, who represented Virginia's First District, along the Chesapeake Bay, passed away over the weekend after a long battle with breast cancer. The Washington Post recounted some of her main accomplishments. She was solidly conservative and yet very concerned about working people who deserve fair treatment. She had served in the House since 1997, and was highly respected by her colleagues. The Republican Party needs more leaders like her.
October 9, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Magnolia warbler encore
There wasn't much bird activity behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad on this warm morning, mostly woodpeckers and a Phoebe, but I got my best photo yet of a Magnolia warbler, so it was time well spent:
October 10, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Done molting, back to flirting
After more than three months (see June 27), Princess and George have finally stopped molting, which means their new coats of feathers are fully grown in. It also means they now have enough spare energy to engage in window-flirting (in the case of Princess) or singing loud and proud (in the case of George). It's good to see them back to their usual, perky selves again. Princess has been spending more time gnawing on the calcium-rich cuttlebone lately, a sign that she may be preparing to lay an egg or two for the first time in nearly a year. Perhaps it's just an old habit, or perhaps her hormones have begun to trigger reproductive instincts once again. So far, she hasn't shown much interest in nest refurbishing.
Here Princess is nibbling on a basil flower, a favorite treat that she and George often fight over, unless we bring each of them a separate flower. (Photo taken in late September.)
October 14, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Red Sox trip and stumble
Even though Curt Schilling had a disappointing outing, the Red Sox seemed to be in control on Saturday night, and when in the bottom of the ninth the mighty Manny Ramirez stepped up to the plate, the conclusion of the game seemed predestined. Not! Even though he had set the major league record for most number of career postseason home runs (23) earlier in the game, Ramirez failed to deliver when his bat was most needed, and the game went into extra innings. The vulnerability of the Red Sox was exposed for all to see when the once-dominant and now-shaky Eric Gagne allowed two base runners. Ironically, Sunday's Washington Post had a story titled "Red Sox Still Have Confidence in Gagne." Not after Saturday night's game. The five-hour marathon in Boston lasted past midnight, into Sunday morning. There must be some cosmic significance to the fact that the former Red Sock Trot Nixon hit the go-ahead RBI in the top of the eleventh to begin a historic seven-run inning, the most in an extra inning in postseason play. See MLB.com. It was an emotional setback for the Red Sox, but not necessarily a fatal one. The Indians now have an even shot at the AL pennant, while the streaking Rockies are unexpectedly in position to grab their first league title ever.
Kudos to Willy Taveras of the Colorado Rockies for making a great diving catch that probably made the difference in Game 2 with the Diamondbacks, as Colorado won 3-2 in extra innings.
October 14, 2007 [LINK / comment]
La bella quinceanera *
My niece Cathy turned fifteen this week, and her proud parents Walter and Gloria threw a big quinceanera party in her honor. In Latin America, the fifteenth birthday is the equivalent of the "sweet sixteen" parties sometimes celebrated for girls in North America, or like the Jewish Bat Mitzvahs -- a rite of passage into womanhood. They are sometimes very extravagant, rivaling wedding receptions. (Basically, they are a dry run for Wedding Day.) Cathy is a very smart, talented, and pretty girl who is becoming very good on the piano, and Jacqueline and I are proud to be her aunt and uncle.
* Any Spanish-speaking person knows that there should be a tilde (squiggle) above the second n in quinceanera. Several months ago, however, I learned that using non-standard ASCII characters messes up my RSS feeds, so until I can fix that glitch, I have to avoid using such characters and accents in Spanish words in my blog posts. Deadline for doing so: New Year's Day! (Spanish-speakers will know what I mean by that. )
Left to right: Shary, Walter, and Cathy, who was treated like a princess for her fifteenth birthday.
October 15, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Fujimori trial begins
A Peruvian judge questioned former president Alberto Fujimori, as the long-anticipated trial gets underway not long after he returned to Peru from Chile, via extradition. The issue of the blackmail videos compiled by Fujimori's former right-hand man, Vladimiro Montesinos, was at the main topic of interest. Dozens of top Peruvian politicians were implicated in some way, and the possibility that some videos remain unseen probably intimidates potential witnesses for the prosecution. The big question is whether Fujimori will be directly linked to the murder of students suspected of terrorist ties. "If convicted on these charges, the 69-year-old could face up to 30 years in prison." See BBC.
In Latin American countries, criminal proceedings differ greatly from the ones we are familiar with. Judges in Latin America play a much more active role in the courtroom compared to the Anglo-American system. The trial may be over within a month, some say, but it could easily drag on longer if the prosecutors so desire. It remains to be seen whether the prosecution will be truly impartial, or will be more a vengeful "witch hunt."
October 17, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Can anyone beat the Rockies?
Out west where the purple mountains rise majestically from the Great Plains, one of the most awe-inspiring stories in the annals of baseball history is being written. The Colorado Rockies have not only made it to the postseason by rising from fourth place, they have grabbed the NL pennant in stunningly dominant fashion. They have now won an unbelievable 21 of their last 22 games, and you wonder if they can keep up the momentum next week in the Final Round. (See MLB.com.) The fact that they will have eight days of rest, much more than whoever wins on the AL side, makes that a very real possibility. It seems like almost every October for the past few years, there is a new Cinderella story in Major League Baseball. I love it!
Indians take commanding lead
I think stretching out the postseason schedule is pointless and counterproductive, and thanks to the sweep by the Rockies, there will be no baseball games tomorrow, as the ALCS takes a one-day hiatus. It's like dead air time, which risks losing the channel-switching audience. In this situation, however, it's probably fortunate for the Red Sox that they get a day to regroup after losing three straight to the Indians. Tim Wakefield was pitching superbly for five innings Tuesday night, but left one of his knuckle balls hanging too high in the strike zone, and [Casey Blake] smashed it over the left field fence. That started a six-run rally that was too much for the Red Sox to overcome, as all their runs came on three consecutive homers in the sixth inning, by Youkilis, Ortiz, and Ramirez. That had only happened once before in the postseason (1997 Yankees!), but it was all for nought. Too bad the Red Sox couldn't spread that offensive firepower around a little and get more RBIs. So now the Indians are ahead 3-1 in the series, poised to go to the World Series for the first time since 1997. Indeed, they may even win, for the fist time since 1948. Some day, this decade may be seen as the era of championship redemption for long-suffering "also-ran" teams. The Angels, the Red Sox, the White Sox...
Thanks for support
I would like to acknowledge a contribution to this Web site from Edward Spirito. It's those expressions of support that keep me "in the game," even if time constraints sometimes slow me down somewhat. Many thanks to Edward and all those other big-hearted fans out there!
October 18, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Nationals 2007: Year in review
The Washington Nationals began their third year with decidedly lower expectations, as the new owners made it clear that they were devoting most of their resources to rebuilding the franchise's decrepit farm system. Yet against all odds, the motley crew of nobodies, has-beens, and wanna-be's finished the 2007 season with a better win-loss record than eight other teams. The biggest surprise was that the pitching rotation performed quite well for the most part, as Jason Bergman, Matt Chico, and even Jason Simontacchi earned plaudits. (Some of the rookies will need more practice in the minors.) Dmitri Young, signed as an (unwanted) free agent to fill in for first baseman Nick Johnson (recovering from a broken leg), was leading in the NL batting race for several weeks, and was the sole National chosen for the 2007 All Star Game. At the end of the season he was named the NL Comeback Player of the Year. It was pretty ugly early in the season, however, as the Nationals lost nine of their first ten games, and then lost the first eight games in May. It appeared that the worst-case scenario was coming to pass, with the Nationals doing even worse than the 2003 Tigers (43-119). But from May 11 on, they played very respectably, for the most part, winning exactly half of their games for the rest of the season (64-64). The high point was in early August, when they had a six-game winning streak. The road trip at the end of that month was brutal, however, as they got swept by the Rockies and then the Dodgers. In late September the Nats played the role of spoiler in several key games with the Mets and Phillies, having the final say in who won the National League East divisional title. It brought them a lot of favorable attention, and for the first time they ended up the season out of the cellar, taking fourth place, three games ahead of the Marlins. All in all, not too shabby.
- Apr. 4 -- Dmitri Young game-winning RBI, as Marlins left fielder lets the ball drop; Nats' only win of the of the first ten games.
- May 12 -- Ryan Zimmerman grand slam in bottom of 9th; Nats beat Marlins 7-3.
- May 14 -- Jason Bergman allowed no hits for 7 innings; Nats beat Braves 2-1.
- May 23 -- Ryan Church 2 home runs, 6 RBI; Nats beat Red 12-7. (away)
- July 4 -- Dmitri Young grand slam; Nats beat Cubs 6-0.
- Aug. 4 -- Ryan Zimmerman two upper-deck home runs; Nats beat Cards 12-1. (I was there!)
- Aug. 7 -- Barry Bonds 756th home run off Scott Bacsik; Nats beat Giants 8-6. (away)
- Aug. 11 -- Nats hit 3 home runs in 6th inning, but lose to D-backs 11-4. (away)
- Sep. 23 -- 40,519 (-) fans attend last game in RFK Stadium; Nats beat Phillies, 5-3.
- Sep. 26 -- Nats complete 3-game sweep of Mets, who fall into 2nd place. (away)
(Home games unless indicated by "away.") Other moments we would just as soon forget. The following summary table has been included on the new Washington Nationals page, and can also be compared to the table I compiled last year. While I was at it, I also revised the Baseball in D.C. and Baseball in D.C. news chronology pages.
Washington Nationals: 2007 summary
||NL East place
Red Sox in peril
The Cleveland Indians will try to nail down the AL pennant at home in Jacobs Field this evening, and it's a do-or-die situation for the Red Sox. Is Manny Ramirez worried? Not a bit. In fact, he is acting quite nonchalant about the prospect of elimination. See MLB.com.
Hunter to D.C.?
Minnesota Twins star Torii Hunter said he wouldn't mind playing for the Washington Nationals next year, partly because Dmitri Young is a good friend of his. The problem is, the Nationals owners would be reluctant to pay him as much as he could get from other teams. See MLB.com.
October 19, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Torre says adios to Yankees
Ever since the Cleveland Indians eliminated the New York Yankees from the 2007 playoffs, the real question was not whether Joe Torre would leaves the Yankees, but rather on what terms. In the end, the front office decided to make him an offer that he could refuse: a higher base salary ($5 million) than almost any other team would be willing to pay, but not enough for the world class Yankees. Bonuses or not, it would have been a pay cut, which is more than a man who has led four World Series champion teams should have to accept. See MLB.com. Some fans of Torre took heart from George Steinbrenner's recent announcement that he would step aside from personnel management decisions, but whether the lowball offer to Torre was was his doing, or his son-in-law's, or Brian Cashman's, really doesn't matter. It's a sad outcome, but it's what you have to expect. Torre leaves with 1,773 wins as manager for the Yankees, ranking second behind Joe McCarthy and ahead of Casey Stengel in the team's history. This coming year will be one of big transitions in the Bronx, with a new manager (Mattingly or Girardi?) and a revamped lineup, as Yankee Stadium enters its final year of service.
Red Sox hang in there
Whoever runs the entertainment program at Jacobs Field must have thought he was being clever to invite Josh Beckett's former girlfriend Danielle Peck to sing the National Anthem last night. The stunt failed to have the intended demoralization effect, however, as Beckett pitched eight superb innings, and got plenty of run support. Manny Ramirez came as close to hitting a home run as anyone possibly could, as the ball bounced off the yellow stripe at the top of the right field wall. He paid for his habitual grandstanding at the plate, admiring the long ball for a couple seconds before starting to run, as he only got a single out of it. Will he learn a lesson? Anyway, the Red Sox won easily, 7-1, so it's back to Fenway Park for Game 6 tomorrow night, where the Red Sox stand an even chance of making it to Game 7 and pulling out a pennant win. Whoever wins will be at a serious disadvantage to the Rockies in terms of rest...
October 19, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Lula travels to Africa
Brazil's president "Lula" da Silva is visiting several African countries, mainly to promote Brazil's biofuels program. He began his trip in Burkina Faso. The last sentence from the BBC article shows why many people are skeptical of biofuels as a panacea for energy scarcity:
Some environmental groups in Brazil fear the rapid expansion of sugar cane plantations to grow ethanol could threaten sensitive ecosystems such as the Brazilian Savannah and indirectly the Amazon as cattle are displaced from other regions.
"Genocide" in Bolivia?
The definition of genocide has become so diluted in recent years that it is now almost meaningless. Former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada is being charged with genocide for the killing of 60 or so protesters during his final months in office, in 2003. Sanchez de Lozada currently resides in the United States, and Bolivia plans to present extradition papers to the U.S.government. The political motivations of current president Evo Morales, who is trying to ram through constitutional changes mimicking the march toward authoritarianism in Venezuela, are all too obvious. See BBC.
Costa Rica rain forest aid
Various international conservation groups are donating $26 million to Costa Rica to preserve their precious rain forests. The money will be disbursed over the next 16 years. The Talamanca Highland area is one of the priority habitats where many rare species are found. See BBC. Jacqueline and I passed through that area on the way from San Jose to the Pacific port town of Golfito in 2005, but the bus didn't stop for long enough for us to enjoy the scenery or wildlife.
October 19, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Immigration battle in PWC
In spite of impassioned pleas, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors voted late on Tuesday night to "crack down" on illegal immigrants. This will oblige government workers to verify the legal status of those who seek public services, and obliges police officers do such checks every time a suspected illegal immigrant is detained. See Washington Post. It may seem like a draconian measure, but something along those lines will be necessary for local budgetary reasons alone. The broader reason why it became necessary is that the Federal Government, and the Executive Branch in particular, has failed miserably in its duty to enforce the laws and police our borders.
While I was in the Manassas area last weekend, I saw a huge number of road-side campaign signs, many of which spotlighted the immigration problem. The ones that stood out were the big pale blue signs for Corey Stewart, a Republican who is running for re-election as chairman of the PWC Board of Supervisors. I'm clearly sympathetic to his goal of addressing an urgent issue, but I am not sure I am entirely comfortable with his campaign approach. From his blog I learned that his Democratic opponent Sharon Pandak's biggest campaign donor is the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association, which has grown accustomed to relying on a cheap illegal workforce. Businesses supporting Democrats: what a role reversal! Hat tip to Greg (Black Velvet Bruce Li) for that link.
Immigration has been a hot issue in several campaigns across Virginia this fall, but not in our part of the state, thankfully. Several Republican candidates are taking a very sharp stand on the issue, seeming to pander to nativist anti-immigrant sentiment. Such grandstanding is by no means indicative of the party's stance overall, however, and I am proud that the 24th District Senate candidate Emmett Hanger has taken a reasonable, problem-solving approach to the issue. In the News Leader last week, columnist Al Dahler painted the Republican Party in general with a broad brush of xenophobia, which I think is unfair. Indeed, many of us took strong exception to former Senator George Allen's use of the macaca epithet on the campaign trail last year.
Making it clear how strong is the opposition to any reform to the status quo, a federal judge in California recently ruled that President Bush's modest, belated measures to punish firms that hire illegal workers was unconstitutional. What is interesting is that the judge did not cite the law as his primary justification, but rather the practical effect such a policy move would have on the economy. See Washington Post. We can't afford to enforce the law??? God help us.
October 19, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Staph infection from hell
The latest contagious disease scare raises questions about whether the seriousness of the problem has been magnified by news reports. A student in Bedford County died of the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), but it may be that it was only reported nationally because of recent articles in medical journals. Now there are many reports from other states along the East Coast, but is unclear whether this indicates that the disease is actually spreading or not. Hospitals have been known as a breeding ground for germs for many years, and this outbreak may force some of them to finally open up their records on infectiousness, so that people will know which ones to avoid. (That's the only way the hospitals will ever shape up.) In any case, many schools across the region are being closed while janitors scrub and disinfect floors and exposed surfaces. See Washington Post . In any case, we had all better read up on MRSA and take the necessary precautions when we go out into the public. In a situation like this, ignorance can easily lead to panic. The Centers for Disease Control explains what the bacteria is, and how to avoid catching it. (I put that link on the Red Cross of the Blue Ridge Web site yesterday.) Antimicrobial resistance stems from from the overuse of antibiotics, which allows bacteria to evolve and become immune to standard treatments. In much of Latin America, people can easily obtain antibiotics and other drugs that are only available by prescription in the United States. Doctors are often too expensive, and people get used to self-prescribing with antibiotics, and it is possible that that custom has been brought here by Latin American immigrants.
October 20, 2007 [LINK / comment]
New stadium in D.C.
Now that the 2007 regular season is over for the Washington Nationals, we can look ahead to what's in store for the "D.C. 9" in 2008. Accordingly, I've finished preliminary work on the new D.C. stadium diagram, which will probably be revised a few more more times before it officially opens next spring, as new photographs and information become available. What is striking about the new ballpark is the virtual lack of overhang between the first and second decks, whereas the second deck is almost entirely covered by the third deck. I don't know why they didn't extend the second deck forward by about 20 feet. For the time being, I've decided to treat the split-level upper deck as a single deck, but I may reconsider later on. (It's the same ambiguous configuration as in the upper decks of Great American Ballpark and Citizens Bank Park.) I'll wait until later before adding the warning track and the various accouterments beyond the outfield. In 2009, the cherry trees behind the left field fence should be well enough established to begin blooming, which will be a wonderful sight on Opening Day. It will be very interesting to see all the details fit into place as construction of the new stadium nears completion.
Labor unions in the Washington area are filing a grievance against the city government for failing to live up to the local-labor provisions of the stadium funding agreement. No doubt, many of the workers at the construction site are, ahem, less than fully "documented."
Teaching duties and other responsibilities have kept me from doing as much diagram work as I would like, but I will continue, little by little, until all the stadiums are fully revised, corrected, and standardized. Thanks again for your patience.
I took this photo on August 7, when I was visiting the Washington area. It was a very hot and hazy day.
I've been wondering when they are going to name the new stadium, and it looks like it might not happen until 2009. Apparently, the Nationals owners are hoping they can get a higher bid after the new stadium proves itself to be a success in drawing fans. See sportsbusinessjournal.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. I'm betting it will be called "GEICO Park."
October 20, 2007 [LINK / comment]
More avian autumn arrivals
October is zipping by at lightning speed, it seems, and the days are quickly growing shorter. Here is a quick roundup of birds I've seen for the first time this season recently:
- Brown creeper -- behind S.A.R.S., Oct. 11
- Dark-eyed junco -- back yard, Oct. 14
- Pied-bill grebe -- Sweet Briar College, Oct. 19
I have also caught a few more glimpses of Red-breasted nuthatches at Sweet Briar. There seems to be a major "irruption" of northerly species into the middle latitudes of the U.S.A. this year. That means we should expect more Pine siskins, Evening grosbeaks, and Red crossbills than usual. See the Winter finch forecast compiled by Ron Pittaway; hat tip to Jay Keller of Arlington, who alerted the ShenValBirds e-mail group.
On my way to pick up bird seed at the annual Augusta Bird Club sale this morning, I stopped at a few places along Bell's Lane, where I saw several interesting birds. I even got a couple good photos. The highlights:
- Palm warblers
- Yellow-rumped warblers
- Brown creeper
- Downy woodpecker
- Red-tailed hawk
- Great blue heron (in a tree -- see photo below)
October 22, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Red Sox do it once again
Ever since 2004, everyone knows that the Boston Red Sox are capable of amazing series comebacks, so it wasn't a big surprise that they just did the same thing to the Cleveland Indians, who blew a 3-1 series lead. Since Boston already had a nine-run lead, Coco Crisp didn't have to chase down that long fly ball into the 420-foot triangle in the top of the ninth inning, but his spectacular catch made for an appropriate dramatic final out to end the series. Boston scored thirty (30) runs in the last three games, compared to just five by the Indians. What the heck happened? Some people have compared the overpowering Red Sox of today to Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" of the mid-1970s. Here's another comparison: The Red Sox are starting to look like the Yankees of the late 1990s, with a cadre of solid veterans and a steady inflow of high-priced talent such as J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell. Then there is Daisuke Matsuzaka; if "Dice-K" had not won Sunday night's game, that $100+ million deal would have looked pretty stupid. Manny Ramirez's nonchalance about winning or losing must have been very galling to Cleveland fans. But was he being cocky or sincerely unworried? Anyway, congratulations to the Red Sox, who on Wednesday will welcome the Rockies to town for the second time this year. Are the Red Sox ready to play in the snow at Coors Field?
October 22, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Separatist violence in Bolivia
Opposition to leftist president Evo Morales is growing stronger in Bolivia, or at least in the eastern region of Santa Cruz. Over the weekend, protesters who are demanding greater local control over the province's energy resources occupied the city airport at Santa Cruz. Morales ordered Bolivian Army troops to remove the protesters, but they soon withdrew in the face of overwhelming numbers, not wanting to unleash a bloodbath. See BBC. Thus far, Morales doesn't seem to grasp how intense is the rejection of his agenda by many people in Bolivia, and his detachment from reality adds a dangerous element to the equation. The possibility of civil war or a violent secessionist movement remains very serious.
Mexicans tear down Fox statue
A mob in the town of Boca del Rio, Mexico, tore down a newly installed bronze statue of former president Vicente Fox, expressing their disgust with his lavish retirement lifestyle. Washington Post. My initial assumption was that members of the leftist PRD party were primarily to blame for this disgrace. After losing in last year's election, they accused the government of vote fraud, and both that episode and this more recent one, call into question Mexico's degree of democratization. After reading more closely, it seems that Fox has earned some of the public rebuke, behaving in an imperious, often erratic way for the past several months. He is currently on a tour in the United States, promoting his new autobiographical book.
October 24, 2007 [LINK / comment]
"Beauty and Brains" at SBC
That's how today's Washington Post (Style section) characterized Sweet Briar College, and I couldn't agree more. The writer noted that the Princeton Review recently ranked the SBC campus as the most beautiful in the United States, both for the landscape and the architecture. The article calls attention to the equestrian program, for which the women's college is best known, and describes what it's like to enter the campus:
Driving up the long, heavily forested road that led us finally to the back of the quad, it was hard to avoid the sense that we'd glided into another world. Because we had.
Welcome to the Pink Bubble.
That refers to the school colors, pink and green, and to the sense of isolation from the outside world. That is a mixed blessing, to be sure, and one problem I have encountered is that many students don't have a clue about what is happening in Washington or in other countries. The same thing could be said of students at just about any college or university these days, however, and all in all I think the SBC "sanctuary" is a very positive atmosphere for learning and reflecting. It is also a perfect setting for appreciating the natural world, and for a bird watcher like me, it's a bit of a shame that their biology department lacks an ornithologist.
That Washington Post article is great publicity for a fine institution.
October 25, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Red Sox halt Rockies' streak
The Red Sox have a clear edge in this World Series, and last night's game erased any doubt about that. Josh Beckett started off the game with three strikeouts, and Dustin Bedroia set the tone for the Red Sox awesome offensive power with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first. Nevertheless, it was a close game until the fifth inning, when the Red Sox batters exploded, setting a variety of records. Final score: 13-1. Thus, the Rockies' amazing ten-game winning streak came to an abrupt end. So much for the "advantage" of eight days rest! Now comes the true test of character: Will the Rockies bounce back and make it a competitive series, or will they wilt under the pressure?
The Great American Ballpark diagram has been revised to include the new "Riverboat deck" club section in center field, plus a few minor corrections. Thanks to Mike Zurawski for pointing that out to me.
Free parking at RFK?
The Washington Nationals apparently jumped the gun in announcing that fans will be able to park free at the RFK Stadium parking lots next year, with free shuttle buses to the new stadium. Negotiations are still underway with D.C. officials, who are not too happy about this. As the harsh reality of parking shortages around the new stadium becomes evident early next year, there will be angry recriminations and loud complaints from fans. See Washington Post.
October 25, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Argentine inflation in dispute
While watching Spanish-language news in Northern Virginia two weekends ago, I saw a report about Argentina, where it seems that the government is manipulating statistics to keep the inflation rate down. This is important because the country is about to hold a presidential election, and many suspect that the government of Nestor Kirchner is using statistical fraud to maintain its hold on power. (See item on Cristina below.) The BBC reports that a number of top officials at the national statistics institute (INDEC) have been replaced by political appointees over the past several months, which is a gross violation of professional norms.
According to the government - using INDEC figures - annual inflation is just a little under 9%. But others claim it is actually running as high as 15% or 20%.
This issue is near and dear to my heart, because I used to work as an economist in the Bureau of Labor Statistics, writing press releases, etc. for the Producer Price Index. I also used to lecture to foreign economists, including many from Latin America, and the issue of political neutrality of statistical agencies came up more than once. Yet even in the United States, our government bureaucrats are not above suspicion: In 1980, a few weeks before he was elected president, Ronald Reagan accused our agency of "jimmying the figures" (alluding to President Jimmy Carter), which we did not take well.
Cristina: like Hillary or Evita?
The leading candidate for president in this Sunday's elections is none other than the current First Lady of Argentina, Cristina Kirchner, who has served as a senator for the past decade. Statistical fraud or not, she is widely expected to succeed her husband Nestor in that post. She is smart and glamorous without question, and some have compared her to other powerful women leaders such as Hillary Clinton or Evita Peron, the extremely popular First Lady of the late 1940s and early 1950s. What does Cristina think about such comparisons? It's hard to say. Either she has contradicted herself, or some journalists are in big trouble for misquoting her. According to the BBC, "Mrs Kirchner herself has welcomed the comparisons with Mrs. Clinton, who she has praised as an 'intelligent and modern woman.'" However, CNN, reported that "doesn't want to be compared to Hillary Clinton or Eva Peron." I have no idea which report is more accurate, but it may simply be that the Kirchners are habitual double-talkers.
October 25, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Augusta County Campaign 2007
Four seats on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors are being contested in the November 6 elections, and the opposing candidates in each race appeared in a series of forums sponsored by the Augusta Free Press this week. Two vacancies were created when Supervisors Kay Frye (Middle River) and Jim Bailey (Beverley Manor) decided not to seek reelection; both are Republicans. The big issue seems to be over the proposed "mega-site," the industrial park that would have housed a large Toyota manufacturing plant near Weyer's Cave. On Sunday, the News Leader highlighted that issue, which cuts across party lines. Basically, all the male incumbents were in favor of a feasibility study without divulging the details to the public, while females wanted the process to be open to the public. (See my blog post of May 15, 2006.)
The mega-site is a key issue in the North River district race between Republican incumbent Larry Howdyshell and challenger [Charles] Curry, who used to serve on the board. Curry said he is running because many people in the district expressed displeasure with the way the mega-site issue was handled. Howdyshell favored the study of the plan but was non-committal on whether the mega-site itself was a good idea. (It doesn't matter, as Toyota got a better deal in Mississippi.) Howdyshell is a farmer who emphasizes his desire to "preserve the rural essence of Augusta County."
Perhaps the most interesting race is between Jeremy Shifflett, a young farmer and business owner, and Lee Godfrey, a Democrat who has organized protest rallies in this area that were associated with MoveOn.org. Shifflett has lived in Augusta County his whole life, while Godfrey moved to the area three years ago. She touts her experience in planning while residing in Colorado, and praised outgoing Board member Jim Bailey for getting funds for a planned recreation center in Verona, the only town of its size in the county without a school or playground. She also favors "purchased development rights" (PDRs) as a tool to preserve farmland, but is not so sure about increased funds for law enforcement. Shifflett isn't sure about PDRs but definitely favors more money for law enforcement. He knows what he is talking about, and is mature beyond his years.
Campaign signs in Verona, near the Augusta County Government Center.
In the Riverheads district, Republican Michael Shull, a farmer, is challenging independent incumbent Nancy Sorrells, a writer and publisher who is active in nature conservation. She favors more cooperation between the county government and the city governments of Staunton and Waynesboro. She also stressed the importance of having county government be open to the public -- referring to the mega-site issue, which she opposed. Shull takes a balanced position on development issues, and wants to make sure that new houses are only built where there are existing water and sewer lines. He stresses the need to plan for future needs and to control growth.
In the Pastures district, Republican Travis Smithdeal, a commercial pilot with a military background, is challenging Democratic incumbent Tracy Pyles, who spoke at length of various achievements for which he took credit during his 12 years in office. Pyles seemed to express support for the mega-site, claiming that most residents supported it, and he made a point to say that he is not getting rich under the table. He also criticized Sheriff Randy Fisher for refusing to assign a deputy sheriff to the Pastures district, supposedly for political reasons. It was the first time I had seen Mr. Pyles, and he came across as brash and unapologetic. Smithdeal, in contrast, is a mild-mannered man who is a strong conservative in both economic and social terms. He opposes the Verona rec center, saying that entertainment is not a proper function of government.
All the Republican candidates agree on the need to keep a tight lid on general spending by the County, while making sure that critical functions such as law enforcement and education are given adequate resources. The Republicans face a stiff challenge, however, in trying to maintain a majority (currently four out of seven) of seats on the Board. Indeed, the four contested seats could go either way. Given the inherent advantage they have in this strongly conservative part of the state, it's a bit puzzling that the party is not in a better shape to win elections at the local level.
||[Charles] Curry (I)
||Wendell Coleman (I)
||Lee Godfrey (D)
||Nancy Sorrells (I)
||Tracy Pyles (D)
NOTE: Underlines indicate incumbents.
In addition, the Republican incumbents Treasurer Rick Homes, Commissioner of Revenue Jean Shrewsbury, and Sheriff Randy Fisher are running unopposed -- though I did see a sign for a write-in candidate for sheriff this evening.
[WEEKEND UPDATE: I saw an ad for the write-in sheriff candidate in the News Leader on Friday; his name is Ed Carter. Also, I neglected to mention another local Republican Augusta County candidate, Mr. John Davis, who is running for reelection as clerk of courts, without opposition. Finally, I had the wrong first name for the challenging candidate for the North River district, which should be Charles Curry, not Wayne, so I corrected that in the above table and text. Thanks to David Beyeler for bringing those things to my attention. I will cover separately the race for the state Senate 24th District seat, where incumbent Emmett Hanger (R) is opposed by David Cox (D) and Arin Sime (L). The three local House of Delegates seats currently held by Republicans Steve Landes, Chris Saxman, and Ben Cline are all uncontested.]
New Web site
Full disclosure: I was asked by the Augusta County Republican candidates to put together a campaign Web site, and after a brief trial run, it "went public" a couple weeks ago: www.augustarepublicans.com features campaign statements, endorsements, contact information, maps, and a number of photographs taken by various people, including Steve Kijak ("RightsideVA") and me.
October 26, 2007 [LINK / comment]
World Series 2007: ballparks!
Just like I did last year, here's a quickie "side-by-side" comparison between the home fields of the two contending teams, as a special World Series treat. And what a contrast there is this year! Roll your mouse over the thumbnail images to toggle back and forth between Fenway Park and Coors Field:
Boston wins Game 2
It was quite a different game than on Wednesday night, with a much lower score (2-1), but the final result was the same: the Red Sox won. Curt Schilling displayed his typical cool professionalism in shutting down the formerly red-hot Rockies. Things aren't as bleak for Colorado as one might think, however. They have been every bit as successful as the Red Sox in home games this year (51-31 record), and the Red Sox have virtually no experience playing at the mile-high altitude. That novelty adds an unpredictable twist to this year's Fall Classic, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Rockies win all three games in Denver.
October 27, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Winter ducks have arrived
With that much-needed three-day deluge of rain finally behind us, I took a quick trip to Bell's Lane late this afternoon, and saw three first-of-season birds, as well as a few other interesting ones:
- Ruddy ducks (50+, FOS)
- Ring-necked ducks (20+, FOS)
- Pied-bill grebes (2)
- Starlings (100+)
- Song sparrows (10+)
- Robins (5+)
- Common yellowthroat (M)
- Field sparrow
- White-throated sparrows
- White-crowned sparrow (FOS)
It is unusually late in the season for a yellowthroat to be hanging around these parts. I also spotted a Red fox only 50 or so feet away, and got some pretty decent video images as it lurked in the undergrowth.
Juncos and Purple finches have been showing up in our back yard fairly regularly, and that "weird" Downy woodpecker is still pecking away at the Goldfinches' thistle seed bags.
October 28, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Venezuela: cocaine traffic hub
As if we didn't have enough reasons to beware of Venezuela already, the Washington Post reports that over the past three years, Venezuela has become the primary route through which cocaine is smuggled into North America. It is said that corrupt military officers are the main reason for this. There is another, more basic explanation: that the rogue republic of Hugo Chavez is deliberately encouraging drug traffic as a way to undermine U.S. society. The communist side did so during the Vietnam War, and Fidel Castro did so during the Cold War. It shouldn't surprise anyone at all. But of course this is a mere conjecture on my part, and not yet proven.
Litigation scams go global
A recurrent theme in Third World countries is a populist backlash against multinational corporations, as evidenced in recent years by the new leftist governments of Bolivia and Ecuador. For example, in May 2006, the Ecuadoran government canceled its contract with Occidental Petroleum on dubious grounds that served primarily as an excuse for indulging in populist politics. One of the main grievances is that the operations of foreign companies have allegedly caused environmental destruction or harm to workers' health. Some of the accusations are true, without a doubt. In recent years, activists have been resorting more and more often to the Alien Tort Claims Act, under which foreign individuals and corporations can be sued in U.S. courts. Walter Olson, at pointoflaw.com (via InstaPundit), profiles the case of liberal legal eagle Terry Collingsworth, who has filed tort claims against Chevron in U.S. courts for having (allegedly) committed human rights abuses, without bothering to check the facts.
This is a perfect example of "juridical imperialism," the unilateral arrogation of legal jurisdiction by one country into the sovereign domain of another; left-liberal globalization, if you wish.
Argentines go to vote today
The people of Argentinia will choose their next president today, and it seems all but certain that First Lady Cristina Kirchner will win, in spite of probable fraud with the government's inflation statistics. Just imagine if Hillary Clinton had been elected president in 2000, or if Nancy Reagan had been elected president in 1988. The Washington Post
October 29, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Red Sox sweep Rockies; Dynasty?
Unless you're a big fan of the winning team, series sweeps in the postseason leave most of us feeling a little shortchanged. The baseball season is over already?? * This year, five of the seven postseason series were swept, and only the ALCS went the whole seven games. I said before that I wouldn't be surprised if Colorado won all three games in Denver, but I'm not surprised either that the Red Sox swept the Rockies to take the World Series title once again. Boston is dominant in almost every aspect of the game, and even though the Rockies fought back to within one run on Sunday night, they could not even it up. The fans in Denver were cheering loudly to the very end, which was nice to see. After that historic winning streak by the Rockies, destiny was just not on their side this year. In any event, Boston Manager Terry Francona and the whole Red Sox team deserve a lot of credit for being champions, and for acting like champions should act.
As for the future, there are big questions about free agents such as Mike Lowell and Curt Schilling, who may be ready to retire, but there is plenty of reserve depth on the roster. The superb rookies Dustin Bedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, plus young closer Jonathan Papelbon give Boston the assurance of having a highly competitive lineup for years to come. Is this the dawn of a new dynasty?
* And as for the unduly fast conclusion to this year's baseball season, at least they finished before Halloween. Playing on October 31 would have been very strange.
Coors Field: "unfair"?
WaPo columnist Thomas Boswell recounts the standard gripes about the way baseball performance is distorted in the mile-high Coors Field, and then reminds us that Fenway Park has its own "unfair" conditions with the quirky angles and unbalanced outfield dimensions: "That's life. Get over it."
After Joe Torre was in effect let go by the Yankee front office, the departure of Alex Rodriguez is a logical consequence. The only question is, what other team has deep enough pockets to be able to afford him? Well, there is one located about 200 miles northeast of the Bronx...
The mail bag
Both Mike Zurawski and Mark London alerted me to the replacement of the turf that just got underway at Wrigley Field. Despite its aesthetic charms, the "Friendly Confines" have earned a lousy reputation among players for the bumpy, uneven surface. So, they are installing a modern drainage system and reducing the field level by a foot or two, which may allow for another row or two of seats. That would shrink the already-tight foul territory to absurdly tiny proportions, however, and I hope they think twice about that. See Chicago Tribune. That story reveals an interesting bit of trivia: The bulldozers uncovered the concrete base of the goal posts that the Chicago Bears used to use before they left Wrigley Field in 1970. It was approximately one third of the way down the first base line.
October 30, 2007 [LINK / comment]
"Task force" on alien crime
Three Republican U.S. Representatives from Virginia, Eric Cantor, Thelma Drake, and Randy Forbes, are taking the lead in an "Alien Criminal Enforcement Task Force" that is intended to expedite deportation of illegal immigrants who commit crimes. It's an outgrowth of controversies in Prince William County (see Oct. 19) and other parts of the state. See Washington Post. From what I cant tell, it is an appropriate initiative by lawmakers to address a critical failure on the part of the Federal Government, and does not seem to be geared toward electoral politics. (I tend to be wary of policy moves on sensitive issues such as immigration just before election day.) Coincidentally, a human rights delegation from Mexico canceled a planned visit to Prince William County because they did not want to be used for political advantage by incumbent Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, whose main campaign platform is getting tough on illegal immigrants. That story was also in the Post Metro section. It is striking how a country that is so hyper-sensitive about defending its own sovereignty -- for example, refusing to consider selling the PEMEX state oil monopoly to privatize investors -- sees no problem in intruding upon the internal affairs of its neighbors. The idea that an American delegation would meddle in Mexican local politics is almost unthinkable.
Davis to stay put
As expected, Rep. Tom Davis announced he will not run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by John Warner next year. See Washington Post. It's a bit disappointing since I admire Davis, but given the bleak prospects of any Republican overcoming Mark Warner's huge lead in the polls, I suppose it's all for the best. Rep. Davis has his hands full trying to help his wife Jeannemarie Devolites Davis keep her job in the Virginia State Senate. Her district is becoming more Democratic in terms of demography, forcing her to appeal to new constituent groups. She was caught in a big flip-flop on the issue of taxes last month, and mistakes like that one cold cost the GOP control of the upper chamber in Richmond. The ads put out by her campaign and by her opponent "Chap" Peterson on the Washington-area TV stations are getting pretty ugly...
October 30, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Comet Holmes: cute fuzz ball
But is it lovable? One week ago, an otherwise ordinary comet named Holmes suddenly became much brighter, and I can confirm that it is visible with the naked eye. As reported by space.com, "But sometime late last Tuesday, Oct. 23, this comet underwent an explosive outburst and within just 24 hours increased its brightness almost a million-fold." That Web page includes a link to a star map to help in locating it. Comet Holmes can presently be found just southeast of the familiar "W"-shaped constellation Cassiopeia. As seen from Virginia at 8:00 PM, it is fairly close to the ground, so trees or buildings may obscure it unless you go out into a field. You will need binoculars to see how clearly it stands out from the sharp pinpoints of lights that are the stars, and then you will appreciate how special it really is.
Happy Birthday, Connie!
October 30, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Little bird, big bird
I took a brief afternoon break at the pond at Sweet Briar College yesterday, and saw my first Golden-crowned kinglet of the season. Kinglets are the smallest birds we get in the winter. No further sign of any Red-breasted nuthatches, however. On the way home late in the afternoon, I saw a majestic Bald eagle flying above the Tye River, heading northwest. That was pretty inspiring! Highlights of the day:
- Downy woodpeckers (M, F)
- Yellow-bellied sapsucker (F)
- Golden-crowned kinglet (FOS)
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Bald eagle
Speaking of little birds, in mid-September I used a remote control device to take this photo of a Hummingbird at our feeder out back. Unfortunately, my hopes that I would get another chance to take a photo that would be aimed properly did not pan out. Now that we've had our first freeze of the autumn, the likelihood of seeing any more hummingbirds is almost zero.
October 31, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Cristina is elected presidenta
As expected, the First Lady of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner won the presidential election on Sunday by a large margin, receiving 45% of the vote, more than 20 points higher than Elisa Carrio, who finished in second place. What accounts for this decisive victory? In brief, "it's the economy, stupid." For the past five years, Argentina has recovered from an awful panic and is now among the fastest-growing countries in the region. Aside from saying she wanted to "deepen the changes" brought about by her husband, Ms. Fernandez de Kirchner managed to avoid specific policy questions during the campaign, taking advantage of her husband Nestor Kirchner's huge popularity. As of December 10, the neighboring countries of Chile and Argentina will both have women serving as president, which is an astounding leap forward in Latin American social norms. (What about Hillary next year??) See Washington Post. This marks the second time in Argentine history that a woman will serve as president. The first time was in 1974, when Isabel Peron succeeded her husband Juan Peron after he died. A little over two years later, Isabel was overthrown by a military coup. Cristina will be the first Argentine woman elected to the presidency.
As for her plans once she takes office, BBC quoted Ms. Fernandez de Kirchner as emphasizing poverty reduction and economic integration among Latin American countries. Perhaps she should also work to make the inflation statistics more trustworthy and reliable. I am curious to see whether she will try to repair the breach in the Peronista political movement for which her husband bears a heavy responsibility.
Personally, I am appalled that the Kirchner's have gotten away with their irresponsible economic policies, including a default on loans to commercial lenders after the 2001 economic crisis. Argentina in effect "forced" the international financial system to lend it money to restart its economy, gambling that the IMF and other multilateral lending agencies would blink rather than suspend financial ties. That would have precipitated a continent-wide financial panic, and Argentina knew that the IMF was not willing to risk that. It was a lot like the way President Clinton faced down Newt Gingrich and the Republicans in the fall of 1995 over the budget. But I have a feeling that the underlying distortion's in Argentina's economy (currently masked by manipulated government data) will become all too obvious in the near future. If so, Cristina will find herself in a difficult position, and Argentina will probably veer toward ungovernability once again.