January 1, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Happy New Year!
2007: the year in photos
In spite of the relative lack of travel, I managed to take a fair number of interesting photos in the year that just ended, with plenty of flowers among them. (I still haven't determined the species names of all those lily flowers from Kenilworth Water Gardens, which are at the top of the list.) I'm getting a little anxious, however, about the inherent limitations of my Canon digital video camera with which nearly all of my Web photos were taken. Maybe Santa will smile on me next December! To see the respective photos, just roll your mouse over the links below, and click on them to go to the blog post in question:
- Lilies at Kenilworth Water Gardens (Sept.)
- Miscellaneous wild birds, 2007 (var.)
- Farewell to RFK Stadium (Sept.)
- Flags at Sweet Briar College (Sept.)
- Mimosas in bloom! (July)
- Gray Hall at Sweet Briar College (Sept.)
- Orchid (R.I.P. Richard Rorty) (June)
- Stars shine for Sen. Hanger (fundraiser, June)
- National Guard heads to Iraq (May)
- Wade's Mill (May)
January 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Did Hugo Chavez buy the recent election in Argentina, hoping to spread his influence in Latin America? It's a strong possibility, as a businessman named Guido Alejandro Antonini Wilson was recently indicted in a federal court in Miami after being detained in Buenos Aires with a suitcase containing $800,000 in cash. The indictment alleges that Wilson received the money from three Venezuelan men in Fort Lauderdale on August 23, with the instructions that it be transfered to the presidential campaign of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who won handily in October. She denies everything, of course: Argentine officials are shocked -- shocked! -- at the allegations of bribery. Given what is known about her husband (and predecessor) Fernando Kirchner, however, it wouldn't surprise me at all that the powerful duo are caught up in a nefarious transnational conspiracy with Chavez. As the Washington Post noted, however, that there is a risk to U.S. prestige in the region if the charges cannot be proven. I must say, it's a strange situation when U.S. criminal courts deal with foreign affairs.
Meanwhile, Joe Kennedy Jr. is serving as pitchman for Hugo Chavez and CITGO for a second year. Are you shivering this winter? "Call Joe for oil!"
January 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Politics 2007: Year in Review
And what a year it was! At the national, statewide, and local levels, the Republican Party started coming apart at the seams, as the very notion of fiscal responsibility, which used to be a GOP core value, was either mocked or redefined by anti-tax advocates so as to become meaningless. The Christian Right ignored signs of trouble (moralistic hypocrisy à la Larry Craig) and went ahead flexing its muscles in the campaign of Mike Huckabee, in preparation for the Iowa caucuses. Impassioned calls for a narrow (and rather bizarre) version of ideological purity drowned out the reasoned plea to find common cause with moderates and maintain a "big tent" approach in the GOP. Meanwhile, a faction of self-styled "grassroots" campaign activists turned the truth on its head with Orwellian rhetoric, while raising the art of partisan cronyism to new heights. Yes, folks, the Party of Lincoln is in the midst of a kamikaze dive, and Honest Abe must be rolling over in his grave. As esteemed Senator John Warner said of the people who are currently running the Republican Party in Virginia, "The rigidity of this outfit is going to keep taking it down until they hit bottom."
So, for what it is worth, here is my (highly biased) ranking of the Top Ten stories in politics this past year, with links to the blog posts in question. The first item, regarding the acrimonious Hanger-Sayre GOP primary race, encompasses so many blog posts that I created a special archive page just for it.
- The reelection of State Senator Emmett Hanger, 2007
- What are the Russians up to? (Aug.)
- The death of Benazir Bhutto (Dec.)
- France & Germany (heart) U.S.A.???
- Democrats win Virginia Senate (Nov.)
- The State of the Union, 2007 (Jan.)
- Dubious deal on immigration (May)
- Hasta la vista, Karl Rove (Aug.)
- Virginia blogosphere flap (Jan. -- when the "meltdown" started)
- Augusta County Campaign 2007 (Oct.)
Other key political blog posts not related to current news:
News Leader's Top 10
The News Leader's ranking of top local news events for 2007 put the Hanger-Sayre race (and related strife within the Republican party) as Number 5. For the record, the meeting we held in June was not by "invitation-only," though it is true that its legality was challenged by other party members. I'm still not clear why that was, however. We did everything by the books.
I would like to take this opportunity to bid a respectful farewell to former News Leader Opinion Editor Dennis Neal. I strongly disagreed with him on a several issues, but I know he was sincere, well-informed, and above all, a man of professional integrity. I wish him the best as he takes on a new journalistic job with the U.S. Marine Corps.
Resting in peace...
January 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Iraq: No news is good news
After all the flurry about "the surge" in mid-summer, Iraq seems to have faded from the public's attention, which in one sense is good news. Only 21 American servicemen died in Iraq last month, the lowest number since February 2004. The number of U.S. fatalities in Iraq has been declining each month since it hit a peak of 121 in May. The downside of the good news is that the ongoing sacrifices of the soldiers who are still fighting in Iraq are not getting adequate attention. I hope this hasn't diminished contributions to the USO and other organizations that are devoted to supporting our military personnel.
Even many war opponents have begun to grudgingly admit that the surge policy has paid off in terms of stabilizing Iraq -- at least for the time being. As one would expect, the military situation in Iraq has improved noticeably over the last several months, thanks to the 25,000+ reinforcements sent by our Commander In Chief. If the situation had not improved after making such a big effort, critics would be correct to say that the war is lost. As of now, all we can say for sure is that we stand a very good chance of achieving our long-term security objectives -- as long as our leaders in Washington do not flinch under pressure. That is why the real battlefield in this struggle is not in the alleys of Baghdad or in Anbar Province, but on Capitol Hill. President Bush's gamble that he could achieve concrete results in Iraq without having to confront a security challenge elsewhere in the world appears to have paid off. Successful? Yes. Prudent? No. It is obvious that we can't keep this up this level of military commitment forever, and regardless of who is elected president, most of the burden of security will be shifted to the Iraqis themselves after January 2009.
When General Petraeus began to testify to Congress in September, many war opponents scoffed at what they perceived as a "whitewash." Since then, there is no question that Iraq has become much more secure overall. True, the terrorist threat posed by the Kurdish PPK has created a border conflict with Turkey, which may destabilize the region. Also, the withdrawal of most British combat troops from the Basra area in the south has left a power vacuum which has yet to be resolved. Finally, there remains a possibility that the terrorist insurgents are taking a breather and preparing for a "Tet" style offensive just before the 2008 presidential elections, hoping to put a pacifist president in the White House. So, even though this war is going well for the moment, it is far from being won.
January 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Nationals Park update
The Nationals Park page (which I formerly called "New DC Stadium") has been updated with a revised diagram based on closer inspection of the Web cam photos. Outside the temperatures are dropping into the teens, but Opening Day is less than three months away! Fear not, sports fans, after another brief hiatus, more updates are to come...
The mail bag
Charles Dodds related to me some interesting details on Sportsman's Park (older diagram versions pending), and wants to know if any photos of the concourse of the old St. Louis ballpark are available. I found some very good photographs by Bernard M. Waxman (via Wikipedia, I must confess), but that's about it. Anyone else?
(Preposted to maintain desired sequence.)
January 13, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Goodbye, George (2000-2008)
January 20, 2001 was a happy day for the Clem household. It was on that cold, snowy day that we bought a young male canary to serve as a companion to our first canary, "Goldie." Since it was Inauguration Day, it seemed logical to name the new guy in our home after the new president, hence "George." Less than two months later, Goldie died, after which we bought a female canary we named "Princess." She and George got along wonderfully over the next few years, and their "romantic liaisons" were a delight. Even though I haven't had any blog posts about Princess and George over the last few months, they have been happy and content, as Princess flirted [in the window] with the outside birds and George sang occasionally.
I should say, rather, that Princess and George had been happy and content. While I was out of town last week, I am sorry to say, George passed away quite suddenly. For our family, January 2008 will be remembered with great sadness and mourning.
George lived with us for nearly seven years, which is a full life by canary standards. He was in fine health, and I really thought he was going to live through the end of his namesake's term. Unlike his namesake's father, he loved broccoli. Like Princess, he eagerly munched on basil flowers and cabbage flowers like we would eat chocolate candy. He took full advantage of his "cageless" freedom to fly around our home, and we had to duck so many times that I put up a traffic sign. He was always quite a show-off, singing loudly and hogging the limelight. His vocal abilities were astounding, as he would often sing his intricate, varied repertoire for several minutes almost without interruption. Jacqueline called him "my Bocelli," as in Andrea Bocelli, the Italian tenor. George was also quite the explorer, which is why we called him "Curious George." He would often fly into my office and watch me work, especially when I played bird songs or his own voice on the computer. Once he even posed in front of my RFK Stadium poster. Two years ago, he got into the habit of flying into our bathroom and perching on the shower curtain rod, where he could doze off in seclusion. Though perhaps less concerned with hygiene than Princess is, he nevertheless took a bath almost every day. During the summer molting season, he would often sit in the sun and fluff up his feathers. Year after year, George maintained a romantic attachment to Princess, and no one would doubt that he was handsome indeed. I could go on and on about all the amusing things he would do, but it would probably bore a non-pet owner, so I won't. You would have had to have met him to appreciate what a character he was. Believe me, birds do have unique personalities.
In church today when we sang "Praise God from whom all blessings flow," I thought about George and what a wonderful blessing he was to our lives. He brought great happiness to Jacqueline and me, and he leaves us with many, many warm memories of delightful companionship. To say that we will miss him very much is quite an understatement. Princess continues to call for him, apparently not yet understanding or accepting that George is not going to come back. It is poignant beyond description.
The last photo I ever took of George, on December 14, alongside Princess (facing the other way) in the "spotlight."
January 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Oil politics in South Dakota
One of the things that I learned while visiting South Dakota last week is that a major environmental controversy is brewing out there on the Great Plains. Because of the rising price of crude petroleum on world market, there is a big push to build an oil pipeline from western Canada into the Midwest U.S.A. Hardly anyone would quarrel with the need for that. The proposed pipeline route would roughly parallel U.S. Route 81 through the Dakotas, crossing the Missouri River into Nebraska. A company named Hyperion, headquartered in Dallas, is making a further proposal, however, that a new oil refinery be built in Union County, South Dakota, about 20 miles northwest of Sioux City, Iowa. The company bills the $10 billion project as a "green refinery" and promises to meet the highest environmental standards. Company representatives are putting heavy pressure on Union County officials to grant the necessary zoning changes so that the refinery can be built. It would take 3,800 acres; that's almost six square miles, for you folks in Rio Linda.) After the various regulatory permits are obtained, construction would take about four years, with several thousand workers during the construction phase. More details are in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
Aside from the inevitable pollution (even with high-tech smoke mitigation devices), the influx of so many workers would have a major disrupting effect on the rural communities in the southeastern part of the state. Young women at the nearby University of South Dakota would no doubt be preyed upon by restless, lonely workers with fat paychecks in their wallets. (The issue is getting heavy play in various USD blogs.) It is also one of the most fertile parts of the Midwest, and is the "gateway" through which most out-of-state visitors pass on their way to the Black Hills and other tourist destinations. (That is how Gateway Computers got their name, by the way.) In response, an organization has formed to oppose the project: Save Union County. They challenged the county planning commission's public hearing on January 16 on the grounds that the required ten-day advance notice was not given, but the meeting went ahead anyway.
This issue bears many similarities to the "megasite" issue that Augusta County leaders have wrestled with. In both cases, many of those who ordinarily favor policies to encourage economic growth are reluctant to let untrammeled development take place. Is the money really worth it? On one hand, many local residents are eager to cash in on the windfall from the land purchase, and government officials would love to have the extra tax revenue. On the other hand, there is genuine, widespread concern for preservation of the quality of life, which of course is the very reason people choose to live in bucolic (or semi-bucolic) places like Augusta County or South Dakota. Some of this may reflect the typical "NIMBY" (Not In My Back Yard) attitude that opposes any and all kinds of development. South Dakota's economy could certainly use a boost, and I wouldn't want to reject the proposal outright. I would feel much better about Hyperion's proposed refinery if alternative sites in less populated parts of the state were given serious consideration.
January 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Winter birds in South Dakota
While I was visiting my family in South Dakota last week (br-r-r-r!), I went birding a couple times -- once along the Vermillion River and once at the Gavins Point Dam on the Missouri River, west of Yankton. I didn't realize it at the time, but on the latter occasion I saw three life birds. The Trumpeter swan, which was standing on the ice about 1000 yards away, was identified by another birder who filed a report on the same day. The last time I saw three life birds on the same day in the United States was June 1, 2002, doing the Breeding Bird Survey with the Augusta Bird Club.[**] Two eagles were near the dam, and the third was in a tree east of Gayville. The following is a fairly complete list, in rough order of appearance. Exclamation marks indicate unusual sightings, for birds that were out of their normal range.
- Red-tailed hawks
- House sparrows
- Black-capped chickadees
- Downy woodpeckers
- Red-bellied woodpeckers
- Brown creepers
- White-breasted nuthatches
- Kingfisher (!)
- Turkey vulture (!)
- Sharp-shinned hawk
- Bald eagles
- Common goldeneye (LIFE BIRD)
- Common merganser (LIFE BIRD)
- Trumpeter swan (LIFE BIRD!)
- Kestrels (Iowa)
- Canada geese (Iowa)
Yesterday Jacqueline and I paid a quick visit to the home where the Painted bunting has taken up winter quarters. Chris Waldrop told us that it had been there in the morning, but we missed it. We did see, however, a Yellow-bellied sapsucker, a White-breasted nuthatch, a Field sparrow, a Purple finch, and many House finches, White-throated sparrows, Chickadees, and Titmice, as well as an attacking Sharp-shinned hawk.
[** NOTE: My trips to Latin America have yielded much greater birding successes. On February 19, 2005 I saw 15 life birds in and around Playa de Cacao, in Costa Rica. See my Life bird list, newly updated. Grand total: 372.]
January 17, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Riverfront Stadium update
On my way back from South Dakota last weekend, I stopped at the Cincinnati airport for the first time, catching a glimpse of Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ballpark prior to landing. So, it seemed logical for me to update the Riverfront Stadium diagrams based on an aerial photo in the latest edition of Green Cathedrals. Contrary to my previous assumption, the outfield fence was not parallel to the curvature of the surrounding grandstand, but was slightly compressed in the power alleys. I also realized from a photo at www.ebaseballparks.com that during the final two seasons while "GABP" was under construction (2001 and 2002), the bullpens were moved from foul territory to behind the right field fence. To finish up with Cincinnati, Crosley Field is "on deck!"
The plane I was on passed near Indianapolis, and I saw the future home of the Colts for the first time. It is quite a striking structure, with a brick exterior and a slanted roof (not yet finished), looking rather like a church. This was just before the Chargers' surprise victory over the Colts at the RCA Dome next door. In Texas, meanwhile, the Cowboys, who are building a new home stadium in Arlington near Ameriquest Field, lost in an upset to the Giants. What does all this say about teams that abandon stadiums that have at least ten more years of usable service?
I have replaced the "Stadium propects" table on the right side of the Baseball blog page with a new "Stadium construction" table. Four major league baseball stadiums are currently under construction, and two more may get started by the end of this year.
On Bud, dope, etc.
How's this for a meaningful coincidence? Within a day of news that the World Anti-Doping Agency [link fixed] has criricized MLB for failing to ensure adequate drug testing procedures, the guy who looked the other way for the last decade just got an extension on his contract through . When will those owners learn that baseball fans' patience is wearing thin? Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that the number of exemptions given to players more than tripled last year, mostly for (ahem) "Attention Deficit Disorder."
While we ponder the meaning of only one player getting nominated to the Hall of Fame this year ("Goose" Gossage), we can think about some of the best Negro League players. A roster can be seen at Diamond Mine; hat tip to Bruce Orser.
Richmond Braves: NOT
Shocking news from the capital city of the Old Dominion: the "R-Braves" will leave Richmond after next season and move to Gwinnett County, Georgia, located just north of Atlanta. This is totally nuts. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, "The Braves' announcement came days after the city unveiled a consultant's plan to redevelop the Boulevard, including building a new ballpark." Apparently, the honchos in Atlanta got fed up with delays over making a final decision and just bailed out.
January 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]
First snow day of 2008!
Thursday was our first snowfall of the year in Virginia, and we had about five inches of wet stuff in the Shenandoah Valley. The cold spell we're having makes it seem more like South Dakota! By the time I got to Sweet Briar College yesterday, some of the snow had already melted, but it still made for a nice photo:
The eastern side of Sweet Briar College, the view one sees upon entering the campus. Memorial Chapel in the center is flanked by two residence halls on either side.
Click on the image to see the full-size version.
January 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Renewed Peru-Chile tensions
The Chilean ambassador to Peru was recalled for consultations as the long-simmering dispute over maritime territorial rights has intensified once again. The hostile gesture was in response to Peru's request that the World Court resolve the issue, which Chile considers a closed matter. The fundamental issue seems trivial: whether the line demarcating the two countries' respective Exclusive Economic Zones should be perpendicular to the coastline (roughly 45 degrees) or straight east-west. The stakes are more than mere prestige, however, because the waters off the Pacific coast of South America abound in fish, a major economic resource for both countries. This controversy flared up most recently last August, about the same time that a major earthquake hit Peru. See BBC.
For me there are two major questions: Whether Peru can demonstrate that a loophole exists in the previous treaties on this subject, and whether there is any evidence that Peru's President Alan Garcia is trying to take advantage of this dispute for domestic political purposes. If this were 20 years ago, when he was brash and young, that wouldn't surprise me at all, but he seems to be acting much more maturely and responsibly this time around, and it would contradict other elements of his foreign policy.
FARC lets hostages go free
It was too late for Christmas, but the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels did in fact release a number of high-profile hostages ten days ago, including [Clara Rojas, an aide to] former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. She and other ex-captives thanked Hugo Chavez for his efforts. See Washington Post and BBC. Well, it's about time those vicious brutes did something humane. Perhaps now they can begin a serious peace dialogue. (Hey, anything's possible.) As for Chavez's boasting of his influence and praise for the FARC movement as a "true army," leftist blogger Randy Paul writes that Chavez "manages to make himself look like an ass again." As if Chavez might not be an ass...
January 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]
McCain wins South Carolina
Ah, sweet revenge! It was eight years ago that John McCain, the Democrats' favorite Republican, got savaged at the hands of George W. Bush's brass-knuckled campaigners, losing the South Carolina primary and with it his hopes for nomination. Tonight he won in that GOP bellwether state, edging Mike Huckabee, 33% to 30%. These days, winning in South Carolina is almost a prerequisite for getting the Republican nomination. (Quite a contrast from 1861! ) Chris Cilizza at the Washington Post noted that "Independents made up a smaller share of the electorate in today's vote than they did in 2000," which should allay any suspicions that McCain is just a "RINO." After what Bush did to him in 2000, it's quite commandable that he has remained a loyal party stalwart. He may be shaky on immigration and other domestic issues, but he has paid he political dues, and is (like Rudy Giuliani) rock solid on national security issues. That is what counts most for me. As the economy heads into recession, however, voters will be more likely to make their choices on the basis of which candidates promise them the most quick cash. (Hence the stupid "stimulus" package that everyone in Washington is blathering about...)
My favorite, Fred Thompson, managed a third-place finish, just barely staying in the race for the time being. If Romney had beat him in South Carolina, he would have been toast. Fred will need a minor miracle on Super Tuesday, something like a gaffe by one of his rivals. His down-home, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is speeches are music to my ears, but these days not many voters are attracted to candidates who are actually candid. (!) Thompson is a mediocre campaigner, and thus doesn't do very well in primary elections. He does, however, command the respect of policy-making elites and a wide range of party members (the "base" and the moderates), and he is probably the second choice of many people. In a caucus situation, where minor candidates are weeded out and their supporters switch to the bigger names, he would fare much better, I think.
A lot of pundits are delighted that this is one of the most interesting primary races in memory, but if you think about it, it's a bit silly that anyone would marvel at the fact that the contest is still still wide open with seven months to go until the conventions. Whoopee, there is actually a bit of suspense!
I think a bigger lesson from Nevada (where Hillary won the popular vote) and South Carolina today is that the establishment in both parties is lining up with the candidates they feel are most electable and least troublesome. Obama and Huckabee may fire up their respective bases, and both of them make sincere, compelling arguments designed to attract moderate voters, but neither one of them is a reliable national figure. These days, the lack of experience can cost one dearly, as even a small, innocuous gaffe can wreck a campaign. Party leaders need someone they can depend on, and if you ask me, there's nothing wrong with that. Call me nostalgic, but even with all the cronyism and corruption, I still say this country was better off when party leaders chose their presidential nominees in smoke-filled rooms.
January 21, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Ballpark construction news
Mike Zurawski has sent me another batch of links on ballpark renovation and construction projects. First, a long series of photos of the Nationals Park construction, including many before-and-after views of the surrounding are at jdland.com. They are high quality, and very useful, with some showing angles that I hadn't seen before. For example, one of them shows the northern ramp of the Frederick Douglass Bridge, which was lowered to street level last summer to make for a nicer stadium entrance.
More photos of construction at the New Yankee Stadium are at baseball-fever.com. They are making a lot of progress, and most of the concrete in the three decks has been poured. (Sigh...) It is pointed out that the second deck will be much bigger than at other ballparks, and will be covered almost entirely by the third deck. Also, the roof will be very large, with a correspondingly large frieze along the front edge much like the original. For what it's worth, I'm working on a proposed renovation of the old stadium to make it more like the original. Stay tuned...
In Kansas City, renovation on Royals Stadium is well under way, with the big old crown-topped scoreboard in center field already taken down, making room for an even bigger replacement; see the Royals Web site. This will be a multi-year project.
Likewise, the concourses at Dodger Stadium are being enlarged and modernized, with new dining facilities and other fan amenities; see the Dodgers Web site ; thanks again to Mike. I'll get to more such news items soon.
January 23, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Fred Thompson wins in Staunton
Fred Thompson was the winner of a straw poll taken at the Staunton Republican Committee on the evening of January 15. See the Staunton GOP Web site for detailed results.
Sadly, it's a moot point, as Thompson withdrew from the Republican primary race yesterday. (The news didn't even make the front page of today's Washington Post.) Coming on the heels of Duncan Hunter's withdrawal, this is another big disappointment for those of us on the right. Thompson was a solid conservative, but was not rigid or dogmatic. For example, he favored campaign finance reform, about which I am very dubious. (Mitch McConnell!) I always thought Fred was uniquely capable of keeping the Republican mainstream (moderate) and right-wing (The Base) elements united, and it will be very hard for any of the other candiates to do that. But at least Hillary and Barack are still at each others' throats, so there is still plenty of hope for November.
So, I've taken two more names off my ranking of GOP presdential candidates, without changing the order of the rest. Unless Giuliani catches fire soon, it looks like I'll be supporting McCain. Please, someone, talk some sense into him about the need for reforming immigration and entitlements programs!
Brooks vs. Limbaugh
Speaking of disappointed conservatives, Rush Limbaugh was in a grumpy mood yesterday. He blasted David Brooks for a New York Times column that lamented the "great tightening" that has afflicted the Republican Party since the Reagan administration. Ironically, a "conservative correctness" has taken hold, rivaling left-wing "political correctness." (Ever hear the expression "RINO"? Bingo.) In his broadcast retorts, to my surprise, Rush used the term pseudo-conservative, coined by political scientist Richard Hofstadter to describe a pathological tendency in the American right wing in the 1950s. I first mentioned this in October 2006. In essence, pseudo-conservatives are right-wing people with a deranged, paranoid view of reality that condemns them to repreated failure. Rush means the opposite of the academic sense of the term, however. Is Rush losing it? Is he a "pseudo-conservative"?
UPDATE: Michelle Malkin reminds us of just how weak McCain has been on the immigration issue, calling him "The Geraldo Rivera Republican" for being such an aggressive panderer: "Like the ethnocentric cable TV host who can't string a sentence about immigration together without drowning in demagoguery, McCain naturally resorts to open-borders platitudes when pressed for enforcement specifics." Ouch!! Hat tip to Stacey Morris.
January 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Designing Nationals Park
As the countdown to Opening Day nears the 60-day mark, anticipation of D.C.-area sports fans is building steadily. Yesterday's Washington Post had a background article on the process by which Nationals Park was designed, including the original crude sketch. I have to give a lot of credit to the lead architects Marshall Purnell and Joseph Spear for making the stadium a perfect fit to the surrounding street grid. It takes a while to appreciate some of those subtle design features. Students from Cardoso High School were recently given an exclusive tour of the ballpark, which is almost finished. Lucky kids! Based on the photos shown at jdland.com, which I mentioned previously, I've tweaked the Nationals Park diagram. It occurred to me that with the scoreboard and right field wall angled the way they are, they could put a football gridiron in there, and most seats would have very good sight lines. Was it done that way intentionally, in case of some emergency faced by the Redskins at FedEx Field?
Bosox vs. A's in Tokyo
The 2008 schedules were released today, and it was confirmed that the Boston Red Sox will play a series in Japan, against the Oakland Athletics. The March 25 date will be the earliest "Opening Day" in MLB history, but for purists, only games in North America really count. The real "Opening Day" will be in Our Nation's Capital on March 30, with the Nats against the Braves. See MLB.com
The mail bag
Jacobs Field no more: The Cleveland Indians have sold the rights to their ballpark for $58 million; Jacobs Field will henceforth be called "Progressive Field." See ESPN. Groan... Orlando Rays? Also, the Tampa Bay Rays hope to expand their fan base by playing a series in the Disney Company's "Wide World of Sports" ballpark in Orlando in April, like they did last year. It will depend on approval from St. Petersburg officials; see ESPN also. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski for both stories.
Bronx construction update: Some more great photos of the future Yankee Stadium are at Sliding In To Home; hat; tip to Bruce Orser.
January 27, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Crosley Field update
The Crosley Field page has been updated with corrected diagrams as well as additional diagrams for 1912, 1927, and 1938. There are still a few inconsistencies, and I came up with a few slightly different estimates than what are published in Phil Lowry's Green Cathedrals. (The previous edition gave the left field and right field dimensions as 360 feet, which I knew was utterly impossible!) I learned a lot in the process of doing research, such as the fact that until late 1935, the famous outfield slope was only in left field. Because the light towers were a crucial feature, I included them in the Crosley Field diagrams, and will do likewise in future diagram updates.
Stadium page upgrades
The Crosley Field page is the first one to feature some aesthetic and functional enhancements that I have been planning for some time. For one thing, the layout of the dynamic diagram interface has been integrated with links to other stadiums (prior and subsequent), as well as the diagram key. What is especially cool is being able to compare the stadium with the prior one used by the team (if any), as well as the subsequent one (if any). The links to other stadiums will no longer appear on the bottom of the stadium pages. Within the next week or so, all stadium pages will adhere to this new standard, which should make it easier and more pleasant to navigate from one page to another. Until I get all that finished, there are bound to be a number of minor formatting glitches in the baseball pages, so please pardon the "construction mess."
While I was at it, I redid the Baseball banner image.
Marlins keep hoping
I've heard this one many times before, but the Marlins are getting desperate, and everyone knows that if they don't get a stadium deal soon, they will be forced to move out of the Miami area. The Marlins will pay at least $150 million toward the half-billion dollar retractable-roof stadium project. Negotiations are nearing a critical phase, and I hope they finally succeed in "getting to yes." See MLB.com.
January 28, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Episcopal Diocesan council
For the first time, I attended the annual council of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia in Roanoke on Saturday. My main reason for going was wanting to see Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. She was indeed an impressive speaker, with a sincere bearing and a clear, resonant voice. The main theme of her keynote address was explaining the Millennium Development Goals, a program of Episcopal Relief and Development. The eight goals are as follows:
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- Achieve universal primary education for children
- Promote gender equality and empower women
- Reduce child mortality
- Improve maternal health
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, etc.
- Ensure environmental sustainability
- Create a global partnership for development
Overall, the goals seem either too vague or too ambitious (from my rational perspective as a policy wonk with an economics backgrouind), but setting sights high may be the only way to motivate people to take real action. I strongly agree with Bishop Schori that the United States and European countries must sharply cut agricultural subsidies if farmers in the Third World are to have any chance at competing in the global market and thereby lifting themselves out of poverty. That reform measure alone would yield as much effect as half the annual U.S. foreign aid budget. She also rightly called attention to the need to liquidate a large portion of the outstanding debt owed by Third World countries, though she did not address the nagging complexities that make that issue so hard to resolve. On the other hand, I disagree with Bishop Schori's insistence that only the government can shoulder the burden of funding the needed development programs. The government can play a supporting role, but should never take the lead in charitable operations. Any time the government gets involved in transfers of wealth, there is an inherent tendency toward corruption and inefficiency. Voluntary contributions by individuals and organizations have the unique quality of being well targeted and accountable to those who truly care.
Later that day, I participated in a roundtable on "Fair Trade and EcoJustice" led by Dr. Jim Bier, who teaches at Ferrum College. He and other church members have been visiting small-scale eco-friendly coffee farms in Nicaragua for the past several years. I'm not sure that the current aid efforts are as efficient or business-wise as they could be, but it is at least a good start. I mentioned that such small-scale coffee coops need to make a bigger publicity effort so that tourists will know where to go when they visit their countries. I had a hard time locating such coffee producers when I visited Costa Rica and Nicaragua in 2005.
I enjoyed meeting other Episcopalians at the council, which was held at the historic Hotel Roanoke, where I attended a scholarly conference about ten years ago. One of the people I met was Rev. David Cox, who ran as a Democratic candidate for the 24th District Virginia Senate seat last fall. (It's a small world!) I told him that I appreciated the fact that the fall campaign was very civil, in contrast to the nastiness of the spring primary campaign when Scott Sayre tried (and failed) to unseat incumbent Senator Emmett Hanger.
I did not hear any talk of the divisive issues (such as the ordination of gay clergy and bishops) that arose when Bishop Schori was elected Presiding Bishop in June 2006, which led in turn to the "secession" of several congregations in December 2006. There was much emphasis on unity, however, which is of course desperately needed.
January 29, 2008 [LINK / comment]
State of the Union, 2008
There wasn't much surprise in George W. Bush's last State of the Union address last night. Last year he still had hope for getting something done, but since then he has become acutely aware of his lame duck status. Now the name of the game is bowing out gracefully. Accordingly, it was fitting that he began on a note of seeking bipartisan cooperation. (See transcript in the Washington Post.) Unfortunately, the specific measure of cooperation that he cited -- the "stimulus" package -- does nothing to address the underlying structural distortions that gave rise to the current economic slowdown. Lacking in a broad consensus about the nature of the problem, there isn't much reason to hope for much more. Perhaps the next president will be more inclined to face up to the glaring defects in our economic system and launch some honest reforms. But with the most likely presidential nominees being McCain, Obama, and Hillary Clinton, that is not very likely.
Likewise, I'm not convinced that making the Bush tax cuts permanent is a good idea, especially given the lack of spending discipline on the part of the White House and the (formerly) GOP-led Congress. Now that the Democrats are in control of Congress, it's true any additional revenue is likely to be spent, but given their recent record on the budget, it will be hard for the Republicans to criticize them for this. Thus, Bush's threat to veto any bill "that does not cut the number and cost of earmarks in half" rang just a little hollow. Some Democrats have sensed the great opportunity that they have with voters who prioritize fiscal responsibility, and it may be the case that new leaders will emerge who actually want to restrain spending. But in a recession year, as this one seems to be, probably not.
While I strongly support his desire to do away with the "bias in the tax code against those who do not get their health insurance through their employer," I'm not sure that his proposed remedies go far enough. The simplest way to do that would be to tax employer contributions just like regular income. (I know: not bloody likely.)
As for his "No Child Left Behind Act," Bush declared that "no one can deny its results," referring to test scores. It's too bad First Lady Laura Bush, a teacher, didn't set her husband straight on that matter. The more you emphasize test scores, the more that education degenerates into a sterile quest to memorize bits of information, while critical thinking and creativity are steadily degraded. NCLB is a huge waste, and an unwarranted intrusion by the Federal government into state matters.
Bush rightly extolled the virtues of free trade, particularly the social and political benefits on countries like Colombia, which remains in peril of narco-terrorism. Unfortunately, he failed to link that issue to immigration reform, which he seems to think can be addressed by an earnest appeal to "uphold both our laws and our highest ideals." Good luck.
On foreign policy, Bush proudly hailed the progress achieved thanks to the U.S. troop surge in Iraq, but also noted new challenges in Afghanistan and elsewhere. He was upbeat on prospects for democracy, even though there isn't much good news to report on that front lately, at least not in the Middle East. Understandably, the President said nothing about the potential for a major decline in U.S. global prestige if the current economic turmoil (mortgage defaults, rising energy prices) turns into a real crisis. The inability of Bush or any leader in Washington right now to effectively address the immigration issue, and more importantly to recognize the ugly truth that our economy today depends to a large extent on illegal activity, raises the possibility that the U.S. economy and the global economy are in a more precarious position than most people realize.
Bush's Mideast trip
It's hard to know what to make of President Bush's recent trip to the Middle East. I know it's one of those rituals that presidents have to do, like touring Latin America every so often, just to show we haven't forgotten that they exist. Admirable it may be, but Bush's defiantly optimistic outlook on the Mideast is getting harder and harder to reconcile with reality. (Within days of his departure, the standoff between the Israelis and Palestinians erupted into violence, as the wall between Gaza and Egypt was breached by a series of explosions.) Given the attitude of the two sides right now, Bush's declaration that a peace settlement is possible by the end of his term puts the U.S. in a bad bargaining position; Uncle Sam will get the old foreign aid "shake-down" as the price to be paid for a peace settlement. He also lobbied hard for democracy, at least for the sake of appearance.
In this context, it is appropriate to mention the documentary video called to my attention by Connie: The World Without US. It's a fictional account of a president who gets elected on a pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat forces from overseas, sort of an isolationist utopia...
January 31, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Bogus stadium names
As part of my general upgrade of baseball reference pages, I have revised the Stadium names page. This was prompted by the news that Jacobs Field will be renamed "Progressive Field." Also, Stephen Poppe recently reminded me that the Texas Rangers renamed their home stadium "Rangers Ballpark in Arlington" last year, so I finally got around to updating (and renaming) that page. The Rangers terminated their naming-rights contract with the (now defunct) Ameriquest Mortgage Company last March. Oddly, the Rangers' Web site makes no mention of the name "Ameriquest Field." (Erased ... from existence!).
The mail bag
From Mike Zurawski comes news that the St. Louis "Ballpark Village" which will occupy the land where Busch Stadium II once stood will probably not be completed in time for the 2009 All-Star Game. It's a complicated arrangment involving several parties; see stltoday.com.
As for the Marlins, a business man has filed a legal challenge to the proposed new stadium financing deal; see sun-sentinel.com. The wealthy plaintiff, Norman Braman, is the former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, and claims he is acting on principle. The Miami Herald has some interesting background on him and his possible grudge motives. Mike comments, "This is the same genius that let Reggie White go when he was owner."
Some blueprints of the new Yankee Stadium have been posted at baseball-fever.com. Now that the dimensions have been set, I will probably go ahead and set up stadium page for it and for Citi Field in the near future, but a (preliminary) diagram may be a few months away.
Also, Mike came across some detailed photos of construction and architects' models of the Twins' future home, also at baseball-fever.com; they are very creative in squeezing that ballpark into the tight space available. The glass and stone wall design looks very good, and very unique. Speaking of which, Bruce Orser found more info on that at www.twinsballpark2010.com.
Finally, John Cappello pointed out an error in my narrative of when the outfield fences were moved at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which was due to an inconsistency in the previous edition of Green Cathedrals. The new edition fixed that, and now so have I.
January 31, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Giuliani, Edwards bow out
With Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards officially out of the running, there are only two major candidates left in each party. It's a shame the field has narrowed so drastically so soon, but that is the nature of our stupid presidential nomination process. (See below.) In the fallout, John McCain and Mitt Romney got into a heated debate exchange, as Romney questioned whether McCain is a "true conservative." See Washington Post Uh-oh, here we go again for another round of "RINO"-calling...
It is interesting, but perhaps not too significant, that both Giuliani and Edwards are considered to be ideologically on the left side of their respective parties. Giuliani's quick endorsement of John McCain is no doubt an attempt to boost momentum in favor of the moderate candidate who remains anathema to Rush Limbaugh and many others on the right wing of the party. It will be a big task to get those folks (and even more moderate conservatives like me) to swallow their disappointment and rally behind a man who, for all his flaws and errant policy positions is still a devoted, capable, and patriotic leader. At this point, there is no doubt in my mind that John McCain is the only Republican candidate who can draw enough support to defeat either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. As Giuliani said, he is uniquely qualified among the remaining candidates, and he deserves full support from the Republican Party.
It is also interesting to relate the endorsements made by leading politicians in Virginia. Senator John Warner and Rep. Tom Davis (see below) back John McCain, House of Delegates Speaker William Howell supports Mike Huckabee, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and PWC Board Chairman Corey Stewart support Mitt Romney, and former Senator George Allen supported Fred Thompson. Locally, Delegate Chris Saxman has endorsed John McCain for the past several months, even though Saxman is generally aligned with the opposite (right) ideological side of the Republican Party.
As John McCain surges to the top of my candidate ranking list "by default," I'll have to pay increasing attention to the other serious candidates who remain. The difference between the #2 (Romney) and #3 (Huckabee) is very small. Both men have some very good attributes and policy positions, and some things that give me great pause. I'm glad Ron Paul is still technically in the race, to keep theings interesting if nothing else. Like Ross Perot in 1992, he may be a bit of an oddball, but he speaks blunt truths that other candidates are to squeamish to repeat.
The Virginia primaries
With only five days to go until Super Tuesday, it is entirely possible that one or both races will essentially be sewn up a week from today. It's a shame that the primary system has degenerated into a chaotic free-for-all that punishes prudent-minded candidates, but I see no sign of sentiment in favor of reforming the party nomination system. Like most major problems in America and the world, the root cause lies in misguided government spending that creates false illusions and perverse incentives. I'm talking about the money spent by state governments for primary elections, which should be the exclusive domain of the respective political parties. Much more on that later...
January 31, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Painted bunting perseveres
In spite of frigid temperatures, the Painted bunting that has taken up winter quarters near Verona is still there, and doing just fine. What a hardy creature! My previous visits to the home of Chris Waldrop this month did not pay off, but late this afternoon we got lucky. It was the first time Jacqueline had ever seen it, and she was duly impressed. The photo I took wasn't that great, as the sun was already sinking by the time "the star of the show" arrived, but the bird's posture was better than the last time I saw it, in late December. Other birds of note today:
- Cedar waxwings
- Robins (50+) *
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Fox sparrow
- Field sparrow
* The last time I was there, I must have seen over 500 Robins flying overhead, in successive waves at dusk.
Otherwise, not much to report, bird-wise. The usual Red-tailed hawks along the highways, and the occasional White-breasted nuthatch or Downy woodpecker out back. It's too gosh-darn cold outside!