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May 1, 2008 [LINK / comment]

"Worst decision" by the Fed?

I was very dubious of the buyout of Bear Stearns by J.P. Morgan, made possible by emergency financial support from the Federal Reserve, but a former senior policy adviser made an exceptionally harsh criticism of the March 14 move. Vincent Reinhart, who advised Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as well as his predecessor Alan Greenspan, called that rescue operation the "worst policy decision in a generation." Gone is the pretense that the Fed serves as an "honest broker" in preserving monetary stability. What's worse is that the Fed plans to start making loans to investment banks, going outside its traditional domain of depository institutions. Getting involved in such a high-risk sector sets a very bad precedent for the future. See Washington Post.

We need to remember the close connection between market economics and individual freedom, and that capitalism fosters liberty only as long as the government is restrained from playing favorites. Once it starts intervening for the sake of stability, there is a slippery slope and it gets hard to avoid getting ever-more deeply entangled in business affairs. The "moral hazard" that arises whenever the Fed makes emergency loans -- insulating firms and individuals from the consequences of their bad decisions -- has been forgotten by most people. Once voters get used to the idea that politicians can be induced to help them out in time of "need," then we have turned away from our (small r) republican roots and embraced the comforting allure of despotism. "Crony capitalism" or "compassionate conservatism" -- whichever way you look at it, the whole thing stinks like rotten eggs.


May 2, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Mugabe clings to absolute power

Ever since Zimbabwe held presidential elections on March 29, the country has been lingering in turmoil and suspense as people wait for the results to be announced. The incumbent President (for life?) Robert Mugabe has been using every trick at his disposal to hang onto power, including violent coercion. His clumsy attempts to manipulate the vote count cost him the support of former allies, and the use of police forces in order to silence the opposition has further polarized the country. Over the last few years, Zimbabwe has fallen prey to hyperinflation, with prices climbing at an annual rate of several thousand percent. Today, at last, it was announced that the opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai won a higher percentage of the vote than Mugabe, 47.9% to 43.2%, but without any candidate getting a majority, there will have to be a second-round election -- as long as Mugabe allows it, that is. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change accused election authorities of fraud. See BBC or CNN.com.

Mugabe, age 84, came to power in 1980 as leader of the Zambian [Zimbabwe] African National Union (ZANU) rebel movement that triumphed over the white supremacist regime of Ian Smith, who died last November. Smith had declared the British colony of Rhodesia to be an independent Republic in 1970, sparking a civil war between Whites and Blacks. The country was renamed "Zimbabwe" when African people won control, prompting a slow but steady exodus of white people, mostly farmers. The country's economy remained in terrible shape for the next two decades, and then it started to get even worse. Nevertheless, Mugabe, maintains control of the country through his "ZANU Popular Front," a coalition of political cronies whose loyalty is bought via government jobs and other favors. Until recently, at least, he maintained broad popularity by using "wedge issues" such as resentment toward the few White farmers who are left. He is a classic populist demagogue.

Whether Mugabe will abide by the voting results in the forthcoming second round election remains to be seen. After all, he made the cover of Parade magazine a couple months ago as one of the world's "Top Ten Dictators." Just last week, Zimbabwean riot police raided the offices of the opposition party and arrested hundreds of people. (See Washington Post.) To Mugabe's "grassroots" supporters, such actions are a sign of strong leadership. To any reasonable person, it would be obvious that Mugabe's tenure has been a total disaster. In short, he has destroyed his country's economic infrastructure, and it will take years to recover. It is hard to understand why a person with such a lousy track record would go to such extreme lengths to retain his power.

Kurt Michael's day in court

The farce that has become the local Republican scene became even more of a farce this past week, as Kurt Michael took the dispute to court. Depending on who you ask, he was either decisively defeated (141-103) or decisively won reelection (57-2) as Augusta County Republican chairman three weeks ago. After failing to appear at a fact-finding meeting on April 27 called by Sixth District Republican chairman Fred Anderson, either because of short notice or having had "more important" things to attend to (see News Leader), Kurt called that meeting "illegal" and filed a court injunction to force recognition that his election was valid, and to have his slate of convention delegates seated. This afternoon, Circuit Court Judge Victor Ludwig denied Michael's request for an injunction, though Kurt claimed to have achieved his goals. (Somebody call a spin doctor!) See News Leader.

It seems ironic that Kurt, the ultimate political insider, has apparently lost faith in the Republican Party hierarchy. (Another irony is that he is using litigation to achieve his ends, a tactic that is usually associated with Democrats. Can you say "frivolous lawsuit"?) He already has lost the support of a number of local "grassroots" who are growing weary at his manipulation of "wedge issues" and are aghast at the public disgrace that his antics have led to. "Stop the insanity!" This latest stunt will no doubt further erode his base of support, and it will take years for the local party organization to recover. I have no idea how the Sixth District Republican Committee will decide the matter tomorrow, though I know there is strong sympathy in favor of Kurt from the abrupt and highly irregular way long-time party loyalist Ray Ergenbright was forced out of the Committee last year.

From what little I have read in the Virginia right-wing blogosphere, there is still a grave misunderstanding of the actual political situation here in "SWAC Land." Eventually, however, the truth will come to light. It always does, one way or another...

Divisive? Divisive???

Let Kurt be Kurt! smile

New local bloggers

I've got a lot of catching up to do on various blog chores, such as updating my blogroll. Carl Tate, who (like me) served a brief stint as Secretary of the Staunton Republican Committee a couple years ago, has launched a new blog, The Virginia Hall of Justice. Carl is a very bright guy who works in for the Federal government in Washington (like I used to), but he spends a lot of his time here at home in Staunton.

Further to the north (and a bit toward the left), Megan Rhodes, a.k.a. "Whackette," recently ceased blogging for the Daily Whack Job, to my dismay, but she has now started a new solo blog: Sun Versus Wind. Hooray!

Finally, a guy in this area who is heavy into quantitative analysis has launched Blue Ridge Data. Ideologically, he is "located slightly left of center."


May 2, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Bobolinks at Sweet Briar!

Every once in a while, you come across a bird or birds that are totally unexpected, and that was the case at Sweet Briar College early on Wednesday afternoon. I was walking to the other side of the campus, where the sloping meadows are, and spotted a large number of blackish birds chattering oddly, about 100 yards away. At frist I thought they were Red-winged Blackbirds, but as I got closer, I could see with my binoculars that many of them had yellow heads and large white marks on their wings and tails. Bobolinks! I also saw a couple more warblers.

Location: Sweet Briar College boat pond
Observation date: 4/30/08
Number of species: 6

  • Eastern Bluebird (1)
  • Yellow Warbler (1)
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler (1)
  • Bobolink (15)
  • Red-winged Blackbird (5)
  • Eastern Meadowlark (1)

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org/VA)

Bobolinks are more common out on the Great Plains, where I grew up, but are not seen very often in the East. In fact, the last time I saw that species was in May 2006. I had also seen a Bobolink in the middle of the outfield at RFK Stadium a year before that, at the very first Washington Nationals game I saw there. Weird!


May 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Some issues with Nationals Park

Issue #1: Why are most of the seats behind home plate empty? Part of the reason, as today's Washington Post explains, is that the Nationals front office overestimated how many upscale patrons they could attract in the "Presidential" seating area, where ticket prices start at $325. That's the highest in the majors -- ridiculous! I'd be willing to bet that part of the problem is that too many of those seats have been bought by corporations and lobbying firms for entertainment purposes, the cost of which can be written off for income tax purposes, so it doesn't really matter that much to anyone if the tickets don't end up getting used. That is the origin of the problem of "phantom fans," which I first described in April 2005. Simple solution? Abolish the corporate income tax!

Issue #1: When are they going to fix up that concrete plant eyesore on the south side of the stadium? Some day it will be a beautiful tree-lined cluster of high-rent restaurants and night clubs on the banks of the Anacostia River, but getting from here to there depends on some developer with a fat wallet stepping up to the plate. The current owner of that land, Florida Rock Properties, has submitted such a proposal, but it's uncertain if that company is up to the job. See the Washington Post from last Monday; thanks to Mike Zurawski for reminding me.

Nationals continue to win

The Nationals scored just enough runs to stay ahead of the Pirates this afternoon, winning 9-8. The hero of the game was Cristian Guzman, who batted in six runs, tying his career-record high RBIs per game. He is really starting to shine, after three frustrating years with the Nationals in which he had poor performance and injuries. Last night the Pirates trounced the Nats, 11-4, as John Lannan's "Cinderella" streak of 19+ innings of shutout pitching came to a sudden end. Perhaps that rude shock of six runs in the third inning was what caused some of the lights to go dark in the fourth inning, causing a 25 minute delay. Anyway, the Nats have won seven of their last ten games, a hell of a lot better than they had been doing. Most of their wins have been close ones, with a margin of two runs or less. That is a tribute to their bullpen, but all aspects of the team are presently meeting or exceeding expectations. Keep it up, guys!


May 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Sixth District picks Kurt Michael

No big surprise: In Lexington this afternoon, the Sixth District Republican Committee voted 15-8 to recognize Kurt Michael as Chairman of the Augusta County Republican Committee. This was in spite of a recommendation to the contrary made by Vito Gentile (appointed as a fact-finder by Sixth District Chairman Fred Anderson), in spite of Michael's refusal to cooperate with mediation efforts, and in spite of the escalating scandal he brought to the local Republican Party by taking the issue to court. Later [Earlier] in the meeting, Mr. Anderson narrowly turned back a challenge for his post by Jim Crosby.* See newsleader.com. Until more details emerge about the rationale and arguments made on both sides, there is not much point to commenting further on the merits of the decision. Whether the candidate who won more votes in Augusta County (Larry Roller) will appeal this decision to the RPV Central Committee remains to be seen. If he does, it will be interesting to see if Lynn Mitchell, who [cited "Yankee Phil" to suggest that] called on Fred Anderson to [should] recuse himself** from the Michael-Roller dispute, will recuse herself when the Central Committee takes up the matter. She is certainly much more partial in this case than Mr. Anderson is. And if Kurt does win the next round, we will have to see whether he will follow through on his promise to resign. As of today, that commitment actually means something.

* (Crosby served as a supposedly "neutral" mediator when the Staunton Republican Committee was in a state of turmoil last fall, but his main function seemed to be to squelch testimony by committee members on our side. It later became known that he is an ally of Michael and the "SWAC Jobs.")

Since I'm right in the middle of this dispute, I can't pretend to offer an impartial perspective on the recent meltdown in Augusta County, or of Kurt Michael's tumultuous reign as County GOP Chair. That's why I refrain from claiming that our side's candidate (Larry Roller) won, even though it's pretty obvious to me. I would merely like to point out that "war" was declared by Kurt Michael himself in March 2006, nearly a year before the primary campaign of Scott Sayre began, which he falsely claimed was the time when the problems began. In other words, the early skirmishes of the "SWAC War" which had us so puzzled were merely the first step in the long-range plan to unseat State Senator Emmett Hanger.

As I gradually get caught up with the blogosphere, I have come across some interesting and thoughtful perspectives on this tragic situation. If you want a truly "fair and balanced" take on the underlying problem in SWAC Land, just read what Stephen Winslow has to say about Kurt's "sad legacy."

At Roanoke Red Zone, meanwhile, Zak Moore berated Michael for circumventing the party organization and taking the matter to court, calling those tactics "Absolutely disgusting." (And he doesn't know the half of it!) After the Augusta County GOP mass meeting fiasco last month, co-blogger Brandon Bell (a former State Senator) called the Kurt Michael faction the "Phone Booth Republicans," as in that's how many people will be left in the party when they're done wreaking havoc. Bell noted that Michael took "advantage of the parliamentary technicality and def[ied] the will of the majority. Some leader, huh?"

"Huh" indeed.

** Corrections made a day later; see Sunday's blog post for an explanation.


May 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Augusta Bird Club picnic

The Augusta Bird Club held its annual spring brunch picnic at Montgomery Hall Park this morning, one last chance for camaraderie with fellow bird "nuts" before the summer doldrums set in. (I will update the club Web site with a group photo, etc. in the next day or two.) In the morning it was mild and fairly sunny, but later on it became a little too breezy for good birding. I saw a total of five (5) first-of-season birds, which was pretty good, but only one such warbler species, the Redstart. I took photos of it and one of the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (from a distance), shown below. Other birders saw a Peregrine Falcon and a Chestnut-sided warbler. Here are the highlights of what I saw:

  • Eastern Kingbird (FOS)
  • Scarlet Tanager (M, FOS)
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (2 M, FOS)
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Red-eyed Vireos
  • American Redstart (M, FOS)
  • Indigo Bunting (M, FOS)
  • Cowbird (M)
  • Goldfinch
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
Rose-breasted Grosbeak M

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male), May 3, 2008

American Redstart M

American Redstart (male), May 3, 2008

UPDATE: The Annual arrival dates page has been updated.


May 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Is McCain a truer conservative?

Those on the Right who are dismayed that a relative moderate like John McCain will carry the Republican Party's banner this fall should perhaps take heart. Last week the Arizona senator defied conventional wisdom by rejecting universal health coverage, calling for market-based health care reform. This, of course, one of the issues nearest and dearest to my heart. From the Washington Post:

McCain's prescription would seek to lure workers away from their company health plans with a $5,000 family tax credit and a promise that, left to their own devices, they would be able to find cheaper insurance that is more tailored to their health-care needs and not tied to a particular job.

That's a fine start, but at some point the employers' contributions to health care insurance costs will have to be made taxable (perhaps as part of a revenue-neutral tax rate cut) to create a level playing field so that such a decentralized, voluntary, market-based health care reform can work. By distancing himself from the "compassionate conservative" approach of President Bush, McCain has a chance to attract voters who are burned out on grand ideological schemes. (Is Newt Gingrich behind this??) Now if we could only convince McCain that government controls over campaign finance have just as much of a distorting effect as do government controls over medical care...

Just remember, both Democratic candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, are determined to make national health care a fundamental "moral" right of all Americans. Ah, the sweet, intoxicating allure of despotic socialism, which never shows its true [face] until it's too late...

In The Atlantic Monthly, meanwhile, Jonathan Rauch suggests other ways in which McCain is -- ironically -- much truer to classical conservative philosophy than many of those in the "Conservative Movement" of today. For example, McCain quoted British conservative thinker Edmund Burke, who emphasized keeping a balance between individual rights and social order. Notwithstanding his reputation as a "maverick," McCain's legislative work in the Senate has been consistently incremental, and his campaign speeches avoid grand promises. In that respect, he stands apart from many of his GOP colleagues, including Newt Gingrich. Rauch observes, "Starting with Barry Goldwater's campaign of 1964, American conservatism repositioned itself as a revolutionary movement, intent on uprooting illegitimate and ineffective liberal structures." That is one of the very few unfortunate legacies of Ronald Reagan, providing rhetorical ammunition to gung-ho activists for whom prudence is a dirty word.

"Conservatives" on the march

Speaking of which, I had a feeling that the extraordinary tensions in the Republican Party were not unique to the SWAC area, and SWAC Girl confirms it. In the 2nd and 7th Congressional Districts, the "conservative grassroots" successfully unseated the incumbent chairmen who had been endorsed by most of the elected officials. She also congratulated Fred Anderson (!) on his narrow reelection victory.

Fact check

Speaking of SWAC Girl, she asked me to make a correction in my previous politics blog post about the Sixth District GOP convention, and I decided to oblige her with some rewording, though the meaning is essentially the same:

Original: If he does, it will be interesting to see if Lynn Mitchell, who called on Fred Anderson to recuse himself from the Michael-Roller dispute, will recuse herself when the Central Committee takes up the matter.
Revised: If he does, it will be interesting to see if Lynn Mitchell, who cited "Yankee Phil" to suggest that Fred Anderson should recuse himself from the Michael-Roller dispute, will recuse herself when the Central Committee takes up the matter.

(Editing marks and links as shown on yesterday's revised blog post are omitted here.) NOTE: My recent attempt to bring a fact check to SWAC Girl's attention was not accepted.

For a more complete report on yesterday's Sixth District GOP convention, in which Kurt Michael was named Augusta County GOP Chairman, see today's News Leader. I had a hunch the deck was stacked, but I had no idea how badly: "While Michael was allowed to address the committee, [Larry] Roller was not because several people objected when he made requests to speak." Well, that figures... On to Richmond!

Movie on radical Islam

Back in March I came across a Washington Post article on Dutch filmmaker Geert Wilders, who recently produced a Web movie, Fitna, that dramatizes the barbaric aggressiveness of radical Islam and its roots in the Quran. Thanks to Dogwood Pundit, I found it on the Web. It last about 15 minutes, and it's well worth watching, if you have enough intestinal fortitude to face up to reality.


May 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Autonomy for eastern Bolivia?

By a vote of over 60 percent, the people of the state of Santa Cruz in Eastern Bolivia have approved a referendum that asserts more rights. It is a step toward a looser federation, but it may not have much practical effect, as the populist President Evo Morales has declared the vote "illegal." Santa Cruz is the wealthiest part of Bolivia and is a vital part of the nation's economy, because that is where most of the petroleum reserves are located, and the controversy over exporting hydrocarbons was one of the main issues that brought Morales to power. Morales is pushing for a vote to approve a major revision of the Bolivian constitution this month, aiming to centralize power in executive hands, supposedly for the sake of enhancing the rights of Indians in Bolivia. See Washington Post.

Since taking office two years ago, the young and energetic Morales has sharply polarized the nation of Bolivia by assuming despotic powers and using force against his opponents. He had urged his "grassroots" (mostly Indian) supporters to boycott the referendum, but even so an estimated 60 percent of eligible voters turned out. It is always ironic when demagogic leaders who pander to the masses get defeated in a free and open election.

Sexual rights for women?

They are also in the process of rewriting the constitution in Ecuador, and Maria Soledad Vela has proposed to include a provision giving women equal rights in sexual matters. That would be a major step forward in this culturally conservative society. "Opposition assembly member, Leonardo Viteri, accused her of trying to decree orgasm by law." See BBC. smile


May 7, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nationals Park after one month

So far, Nationals Park seems to be fairly balanced as far as hitter-vs.-pitcher friendliness. For the first 18 games played at the new ballpark, there have been an average of 0.86 home runs per game, compared to the major league average of 0.94 homers. Surprisingly, given the shorter dimensions in the power alleys, it is almost exactly the same home run frequency as in RFK Stadium. For the three years the Nats played there, an average of 0.83 homers per game were hit. Given the fact that the Nationals are not known for their slugging prowess (last in the National League with 18 homers), it's just as well. See Washington Post.

Problems in Houston

Fresh on the heels of their superb 8-3 home stand, the Nationals have blown two games in a row to the Houston Astros. Last night, they were leading 5-4 going into the bottom of the ninth, and Houston scored two runs to win. Tonight they were tied in the ninth, whereupon Houston scored one run to win, once again due to sloppy relief pitching. D'oh! Ryan Zimmerman's two home runs went for nought.

Julio Franco retires

I was wondering what had become of Julio Franco as he approaches the mid-century mark, and learned from the Washington Post that he has retired from the Quintana Roo Tigers at the age of 49. (He had previously played in the Mexican League for a couple years before the Braves called him back up, which was a very smart move.) In his 23 years in the majors, Julio had an average of .298, with 173 home runs, the last one being in May 2007 against fellow-40-something Randy Johnson. I was lucky to snap a photo of his next-to-last home run, in RFK Stadium in September 2006. Baseball fans everywhere salute this inspirational, doggedly competitive ballplayer.


May 8, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Hillary's pandering fails

Having won the Indiana primary election by only a two-percent margin, Hillary Clinton's candidacy is fading fast, and Democrat insiders are calling on her to pull out of the race. Since she is over 100 delegates behind Barack Obama, she needed a decisive win to maintain the recent surge in momentum stemming from the Rev. Wright mess. Now Barack is back in the driver's seat, and only a major gaffe or scandal could ruin his chances now. The North Carolina primary wasn't even close.

The big question was whether Hillary could get traction by "out-pandering" Obama, mobilizing the traditional Democrat "base," consisting mainly of working class union members, and the answer seems to be no. Her advocacy of a "gasoline tax holiday" was classic unmitigated populist gall, eliciting harsh scorn from market-oriented policy wonks. Well, what do you expect? Expecting an Old School Democrat like Hillary (or Bill!) to refrain from pandering to populist impulses is like expecting a dog to refrain from chomping down on a raw steak; it's practically in their DNA. Hillary gave Obama the perfect opportunity to appear rational and statesmanlike, and he seized upon it eagerly, criticizing her "gas tax holiday" idea. For once I agreed with him on a major issue!

Nevertheless, Hillary is vowing to press on in the race, and I can't blame her. (See Washington Post.) She has come way too far in the campaign, and is too close in the total delegate count, to give up now. What's more, most polls are showing that she would do as well or better than Obama in the general election. Whatever you think about conservatives' hidden motives or the effects of Rush Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos," the process must play itself out. There is no reason for it to get nasty, though that's probably just what will happen, given the high stakes involved. In the end, though, it probably won't matter, and Obama will almost certainly face a rested and refreshed -- though still vulnerable -- John McCain this fall.

Staunton, Waynesboro elections

In the Staunton City Council race (which is officially non-partisan), two Republicans won out of four contested seats: incumbent Dickie Bell and newcomer Andrea Oakes, who fell just short in her first such bid two years ago. Congratulations to both! So, at least conservatives will have a little more representation in the city government, which has been dominated by free-spenders for several years. One other incumbent won (David Metz), along with another newcomer: Ophie Kier, who somehow garnered an endorsement from Delegate Chris Saxman. Yard signs for Metz and Kier seemed to be associated with each other, suggesting they lean toward the Democrats' side. Two other men with ties to the GOP failed: Rusty Ashby, a financial advisor, and Bob Campbell, a country singer.

In the Sunday News Leader, there was a full-page newspaper ad by the "Citizens Committee for Common Sense Government in Staunton" (basically Libby Welsh, but possibly others) endorsing Bell, Ashby, and Campbell, and it appears that campaign finance laws may have been violated; see the News Leader.

In Waynesboro, where council members are elected according to ward, anti-tax conservatives won handily in two contested races (Bruce Allen and Frank Lucente) and picked up a third uncontested seat (David Williams). It was a high-profile campaign with many newspaper ads. This election result will bring about a major shift in that city's government, presumably meaning less public money for downtown redevelopment efforts. Chris Graham, of the Augusta Free Press, who ran against against Bruce Allen in Ward B, had received considerable support from Mayor Thomas Reynolds and from the head of the Wayne Theatre Alliance, Bill Hausrath. See the News Virginian.


May 9, 2008 [LINK / comment]

And throw away the key!

Just when the comedy movie Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay comes out, a real-life event transpires to remind us that the Gitmo detention facility still serves a needed purpose, and it still saves lives. A story in yesterday's Washington Post began

A Kuwaiti man who complained about maltreatment during a three-year stay in the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was involved in a deadly suicide bombing in northern Iraq last month...

Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi was only one of 500 or so former Guantanamo detainees released or transferred elsewhere, and many of the 270 who remain are in the process of getting out. If only that piece of scum had been kept behind bars where he belonged, some of those Iraqi bomb blast victims might still be alive today. (It's the opposite lesson to the one George Bailey learned in It's a Wonderful Life.) It's popular to make fun of U.S. counter-terrorism measures, as "Harold and Kumar" do, but this is a deadly serious matter. I'm against torture and I agree that we need better legal safeguards for those who are being kept at Guantanamo, but I see no alternative to the permanent incarceration of the religious fanatics who have sworn to destroy us.


May 10, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Dr. Roller explains his appeal

In the wake of the 15-8 decision last weekend by the Sixth District Republican Committee to recognize Kurt Michael as Augusta County GOP chairman, against the recommendations of a fact-finding committee, Dr. Larry Roller filed an appeal to the Republican Party of Virginia. In a lengthy column that was published in Thursday's News Leader, he explained his reasons for doing so. First, he recounted in plain, matter-of-fact terms, repeated instances of Kurt Michael's refusal to cooperate in the mass meeting itself, and in subsequent mediation efforts. Then he noted the flagrant bias of the Sixth District Republican Committee, which let Dr. Michael speak, but not Dr. Roller. I learned that as Dr. Michael was taking over the mass meeting, he threatened to have State Senator Emmett Hanger thrown out of the room. (!?) I was not aware of that, but it certainly fits the pattern of bullying tactics I have observed him use in the past.

At the express request of elected officials from Augusta County, I have posted Dr. Roller's statement, including a letter declaring support for Dr. Roller as duly elected chairman from all ten of those officials residing in the County, on the Augusta Republicans Web site.

Even though there were procedural flaws in the mass meeting, as I have acknowledged, it would be a gigantic stretch to conclude that the miscues were serious enough to invalidate the election of chairman. It is a basic principle of jurisprudence that breaches of law or rules should be weighed against the probable consequences of the specific breaches. So, without getting into excruciating detail, resolving this dispute is a fairly simple matter for me:

  • At the outset of the mass meeting, Kurt Michael tried to rush a vote to become elected as temporary chairman, but had to consent to an alternate nominee and a secret ballot.
  • A solid majority of the attendees chose an alternate temporary chairman, Jim Bailey.
  • Mr. Bailey duly appointed a person (Jean Shrewsbury) to chair the rules committee.
  • The rules committee recommended that the election be held on a one-person-one vote basis, regardless of magisterial district.
  • A majority of the attendees verified as registered voters approved this change. *
  • A majority of the verified attendees (141-103) voted for Dr. Larry Roller.
  • One of the tellers who counted the votes, Tom Nelson, registered his objection to the validity of the vote, without explaining his reasons.
  • Temporary chairman Jim Bailey declared the meeting adjourned, and most people began to leave.
  • Kurt Michael then announced that he was taking over the meeting without invoking any procedural guidelines to justify such an action**, and declared that the prior proceedings were invalid.

Those are the essential facts of the case, and no one can deny them.*** Did Mr. Bailey skip a few steps during the mass meeting? Yes. Did that change the outcome of the election for chairman? No. In short, it would be extremely difficult for a reasonable person to conclude that the election of Larry Roller was not valid, and even more difficult to conclude that Kurt Michael's subsequent "election" was valid.

* NOTE: The rules approved at the March Augusta County GOP Committee meeting were not binding, but were subject to approval by the mass meeting attendees. That's why there is a rules committee in the first place, for Pete's sake! The standard requirement under Robert's Rules of Order that a two-thirds vote is necessary to suspend the rules applies when an organized society holds one of its regular meetings, not at mass meetings, which are by their very nature open-ended.

** Dr. Michael's failure to invoke such a justification for his unilateral takeover of the mass meeting renders any business that was conducted by the "rump session" dubious at best. That kind of a stunt bears all the creepy hallmarks of a "putsch."

*** NOTE: I sent a batch of "raw and uncut" video and audio files which I had recorded to various party leaders immediately after the mass meeting. Unfortunately, they are not complete, as I was running low on battery power and tape. I had hoped to put up a brief version of this on YouTube, and hopefully will have time to do so in the next few days.

To put all this in context, let me remind the gentle reader that far worse procedural violations were committed at several meetings of the Staunton Republican Committee last year, in the midst of the Hanger-Sayre primary race, and all of the objections we raised and brought to the attention of higher party officials were completely ignored. Quite the contrary, we were castigated as "trouble-makers" and told that filing a formal grievance would cause bad publicity for the party, possibly affecting the outcome of the election last fall. (Ha!) So, our faction decided to zip our lips and hope that reason would eventually prevail. Well, folks, what's good for the goose is good for the gander: If the higher levels of the Republican Party decide to overturn Larry Roller's election as chairman on some minor technicality, after having turned a blind eye to the very grave abuses that were committed by the Michael-Mitchell faction over the two preceding years, then there is essentially no more hope for getting this party to function in a positive, collaborative way.

The general public knows that something is seriously wrong with the Republican Party, so why is it so hard for party leaders to grasp this? The choice facing the RPV Central Committee is simple: favoritism toward insider cronies (a.k.a. "grassroots"), or fair play in the best interests of the party as a whole.


May 10, 2008 [LINK / comment]

"Rainbow in the morning...

... Sailors take warning. Rainbow at night, sailors' delight."

Because of the rain showers we had over night, only two people showed up for my Augusta Bird Club field trip this morning. On our way to the destination at Chimney Hollow, we could see a big rainbow hanging over Great North Mountain, in western Augusta County. It was beautiful, but I remembered that rhyme, and sure enough, we soon saw a thick veil of dark gray low clouds in precisely the direction we were headed. We decided there was no point to going birdwatching in the middle of a heavy downpour, so I did a U-turn on the Rt. 262 bypass and returned to our meeting place. Better luck next year?

Actually, I did see a group of ten or so Cedar Waxwings in the treetops as I was leaving, the first I had seen in many weeks, so the day wasn't a total loss. And besides, the cancellation of the field trip made it possible for me to attend a very important breakfast meeting! smile

Bell's Lane evening

The skies cleared during the afternoon, though the temperatures remained chilly. So, I spent a half hour snooping around on on Bell's Lane. For once, I got lucky with my camera, as you can see below. Also, by some serendipity, I met a birding couple who are new to this area, and they told me about a weird bird they saw a bit further along the road. It was shaped like a Mockingbird, but with a white head and back -- a possible "albino." I will upload the photo submitted by Darrell Schwalm to the Augusta Bird Club Web site shortly. This evening's highlights, as reported* to eBird v2(http://ebird.org/VA):

Location: Bell's Lane, Staunton, VA
Observation date: 5/10/08
Number of species: 18

  • Green Heron
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Catbird
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Yellow Warbler (M)
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Baltimore Oriole (M)
  • American Goldfinch
  • Eastern Kingbird* (FOS)
  • Eastern Bluebirds*

* I forgot to report two species, including my first Kingbird of the year -- D'oh! Also, I heard a Willow Flycatcher for the first time this spring, but didn't see it.

Baltimore Oriole

ABOVE: Baltimore oriole, on Bell's Lane, May 10, 2008

Green Heron

ABOVE: Green Heron, on Bell's Lane, May 10, 2008


May 12, 2008 [LINK / comment]

The M&M faction strikes back

Responding to Dr. Larry Roller's column explaining the reasons for his appeal to RPV, Kurt Michael had a brief column in Sunday's News Leader. I was struck by his reference to "Larry Roller's unsuccessful appeal" (to the Sixth District), because in fact, there was no such appeal. (See below.) "The only purpose a series of appeals serves is to continue the division that exists within our party. This must stop."

And this from the man who defied the party's own higher-level leaders, circumvented internal procedures, and took the issue to court! Is it any wonder that two-thirds of the members of the Staunton Republican Committee petitioned the chair last summer, requesting among other things that Kurt not interfere in our meetings?

Divisive? Divisive???

In magnanimous tones, Kurt also repeated his pledge to resign after the state convention, but did not specify when he will do so. (June? July? November?) In some of his comments to reporters, he has hedged just a bit, hinting that he might not resign if there was an overwhelming show of support for him. Translation: His commitment to step aside for the good of the party is shaky at best. (Cue Larry Craig!)

Appeal? NOT!

Meanwhile, SWAC Girl keeps up the drumbeat, repeating her red herring accusation that Sen. Emmett Hanger is out to "purge" those in the party who opposed him last year. She also makes an unusual claim:

In Augusta County an appeal was filed by Larry Roller after the Augusta County Mass Meeting held on April 10, 2008. The appeal was signed by every Republican elected in Augusta County including three who were not even at the mass meeting, a clear violation of the 6th District Bylaws.

FACT CHECK: That letter from the elected officials was NOT an "appeal," it was a joint declaration of support and recognition. By definition, until the Sixth District Committee voted on that matter, no one could have filed an "appeal" in this case, because the matter was still up in the air. Prior to May 3, no higher-level Republican party [official] recognized Kurt Michael as chairman. Ergo, there was nothing to be appealed, and therefore quite obviously, there could be no "violation" of the rules, as she charges. SWAC Girl should be more careful about making accusations toward public officials, and at least get her facts straight. (The preceding is an attempted comment on her blog.) Then she continues,

The grassroots need to run the Party ... and the electeds [sic*] need to run their elected positions. That is the checks-and-balances put in place to prevent Party bosses from running it all. That is not what Augusta County electeds want ... because they want to run it all.

Under ordinary circumstances, it would indeed be proper for elected officials to take a low profile with regard to internal party politics. But when you have a faction of self-appointed "grassroots" who set out to intimidate, ostracize, or defame anyone who deviates one iota from their narrow path, the Party will inevitably start to crack apart. In such a situation, it is only natural that those who hold elective offices in the government would step in to repair the damage before their own political careers become endangered. The notion that those friendly, mild-mannered folks with offices in Verona are on some kind of power trip is outrageously funny, and it's supremely ironic when you consider who is making the accusation.

* In my Webster's dictionary, the word elected does not appear as a noun; evidently, that is insider / "grassroots" jargon.

"David vs. Goliath"??

I was also disappointed that Yankee Phil maintained the absurd "David vs. Goliath" pretense, one of the standard "SWAC Job" talking points. He seems to think that folks on his side are the innocent "little guys," when in fact they are the very same people who have been running the party * for the last few (disastrous) years. Talk about alternate reality! (Last year, when there were at one point 15 "Bloggers 4 Sayre" against little ol' me, our side was supposedly the "Goliath"!) I'm sorry, but anyone who claims that Kurt wields no power because he is (or was) merely a party official is either disingenuous or incredibly naive. The first step toward party unity is facing up to the truth, and from what some of those folks have been writing about Larry Roller's [supposed "appeal" to the Sixth Distict], I'm afraid they have a long way to go in that regard...

* or should I say, "running the party into the ground"?

For reasonable people on the outside, or at least for those who have the stomach to read this daily saga of juvenile silliness in the local paper, it is fairly easy to discern which side in this dispute is most truthful, even-tempered, and committed to party unity.

FOOTNOTE: I wonder how many contested races for local party leadership there have been in which both candidates had doctoral degrees? Well, at least the people who reside in Augusta County can take pride in the high educational quality of its contending GOP leaders, if not in the party's ability to function.


May 13, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Tiger Stadium: clock is ticking

Time is fast running out on Tiger Stadium, as the demolition company plans to get started tearing the old hulk down in the next few weeks. Odds that the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy will raise the needed $369,000 by June 1 just to save a portion of the grandstand appear dim, as the New York Times reports; hat tip to Rod Nelson of SABR. (Besides, that group's Web site is still under construction!)

Judge rules on Miami stadium

A judge in Miami issued a ruling that allows Norman Braman to proceed with his lawsuit against the public financing deal for a new baseball stadium next to the Orange Bowl, but he rejected a key part of Braman's claim. The trial will begin in July. If the Marlins are still in first place by then, it just might tip the balance, getting government officials and private investors close enough to cinch the deal for good. If so, the Marlins plan to break ground in November. See MLB.com.

Nats back in a slump

Speaking of the Marlin's astonishing successes this year, they swept the Nationals in three games in D.C. last weekend. Now playing in New York, the Nats have split the first two games of a four-game series with the Mets, winning 10-4 on Monday and losing 6-3 tonight. Former Nationals Ryan Church and Brian Schneider played crucial offensive roles in tonight's game. Both are batting over .320, while former Met Lastings Milledge is batting just .245. (He keeps getting booed in Shea Stadium.) He made a superb catch in center field, however, robbing Carlos Delgado of a run-scoring double.

Cabrera's triple play

Asdrubal Cabrera, second baseman for the Indians, turned an unassisted triple play on Monday, but the home team still lost to the Blue Jays, in the second game of a double-header. Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies managed that feat against the Braves on April 29 last year, and Rafael Furcal (then of the Braves) did so against the Cardinals on August 10, 2003. See MLB.com. In all of major league history (since 1900), there have been only 14 unassisted triple plays, and one in 1878.


May 13, 2008 [LINK / comment]

McCain on global warming

Distancing himself from the Bush administration, and straining his already fragile ties with the Republican Party "Base," Sen. John McCain outlined his approach to dealing with global warming. It involves mandatory restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, and tradable credits for such emissions, similar to the provisions of the Kyoto Treaty. See Washington Post. The latter measure might work, and I would consider the use of tax policy to discourage excess hydrocarbon consumption, but as a matter of principle, I am dead set against any arbitrary limits. Global warming is the perfect excuse for a despotic government to take control of individual lives. In general, I think McCain's initiative is commendable, showing that if he is elected president he would not necessarily follow in President Bush's footsteps on every issue. We need some fresh thinking, and a true leader must be willing to take unpopular stands from time to time.

My position on global warming is "wait and see" -- but don't wait until it's too late. I saw Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth recently, and it's about what you'd expect, preaching to the left-liberal choir and foretelling imminent doom. Been there, done that. I don't deny that all those melting glaciers around the world are part of a serious trend that needs to be watched closely, but we shouldn't jump to the conclusion that it's all because of humans and their CO2 emissions. But even if that were the case, the idea that the nations of the Earth can all join hands and solve the problem in a cooperative fashion is too far-fetched for me to believe. The potential scope of the problem is so vast and overwhelming that it would be vain to think that clever scientists and political leaders could make things right. It may the case that Planet Earth is at the point of a major climactic shift, leading to mass extinctions that might even threaten our own species. As with the "Club of Rome" forecasts in the 1970s, when energy prices were skyrocketing and many people thought we were about to run out of natural resources, we are now living in an era in which talking about scarcity and limits is "cool."


May 14, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Edwards spoils Hillary's parade

If you know how vindictive the Clintons can be, you know that John Edwards won't be getting any Christmas presents from Chappaqua, New York this year. Senator Clinton was all excited about capitalizing on her landslide win in West Virginia (with ample support of white working class union members, no doubt), and then smiley-faced John Edwards ruins everything by announcing he's endorsing Barack Obama. That 41-percent victory margin in the Mountaineer State went for nought, and the expected momentum shift was negated. See Washington Post. Significantly, Edwards' wife Elizabeth was not present at this announcement, and it is believed that she is not happy about this move.

So now, the few remaining Democrat primary states such as Montana and South Dakota are counting more than anyone had expected, and the Obama campaign is putting a heavy effort into those states, not taking anything for granted. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is sending letters and e-mail messages to voters in the Prairie State, asking them to vote for Obama on June 3; see sd.barackobama.com. (Hat tip to Dan.)

Liberal elites (including some in the news media) seem very nervous at what a drawn-out battle for the remaining delegates might do to party unity, and they are rapidly tilting in Obama's favor. So here's what we have: a party that prides itself on voicing the concerns of common people via open elections deciding its party's nomination by back-room deals on behalf of a candidate whose main support comes from elites. Talk about an identity crisis!

If the economy weren't in such bad shape, John McCain would be in an excellent position to win handily this November, but as it is, he is going to have to fight hard. On both sides, perhaps the biggest question is whether the party organizations can stay unified and bring all factions together, getting everyone out to the polls on Election Day.


May 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Another GOP election loss

For the third time this year, the Republican candidate in a special congressional election has lost. In Mississippi's [First Congressional] District, Travis Childers defeated Greg Davis, a Republican mayor. This seat has been held by the GOP since the 1994 Republican Revolution. What does this [adverse outcome] portend? Virginia's Tom Davis, who will leave his House seat in January, noted that the Mississippi contest was in the "social conservative" heartland that has been at the core of the party's electoral coalition for the past generation. He said the political climate for the Republicans is the worst it has been since Watergate. The Washington Post surveyed the ten Senate seats most vulnerable to a Democrat win this fall, including Virginia, of course. Counting the two left-leaning independents, the Democrats currently enjoy a 51-49 majority, and they are now setting their sights on how to pick up nine more, which would give them a filibuster-proof supermajority.

As for what lessons to draw from their recent string of defeats, Republicans are arguing furiously among themselves. Almost everyone agrees on the need to stick to a consistent conservative message, but many disagree on what that means. The recent custom of using emotion-laden attack ads no longer seems to do the trick in getting out the vote, and some fear that portraying Barack Obama as less of an American than John McCain could backfire badly. I agree. Obama is extremely liberal on most social and economic issues, and focusing on his actual voting record and appealing to reason will attract many more votes than "Swift Boat" type ads that question his moral integrity. If the GOP keeps targeting its own "base," running ads with a sneering, hostile tone that alienate independent voters, the presidency could well go to the Democrats. If they get those nine extra seats in the Senate as well, we could be stuck with the most left-wing government since the 1930s. Nationalized health care for all, cuts in national defense, and wide-open doors to immigration. Are you ready for that, comrade?


May 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Migration season: past the peak

I've finally had enough time in the past few days to catch up on birding before spring "prime time" comes to an end, but not quite enough time to report on it. On Monday I took some back roads that I had not driven on for some time, and eventually hit "pay dirt." I drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway in hopes of seeing some of the warblers, etc. that others have seen, but it was too cold, overcast, and windy. In short, miserable. I did catch a glimpse of my first Cerulean Warbler of the season near Humpback Rocks, however. As I continued southeast, descending into the Piedmont hill country, the weather improved, and my first visit to the Blue Ridge Railway Trail at the town of Piney River proved to be especially worth while, as I saw two (2) Yellow-breasted chats for the first time in six (6) years! And that wasn't all!!

Yesterday (Wednesday) I saw several warblers, etc. on the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, including a Wilson's Warbler, which I had not seen at all last year. I saw another first-of-season bird out back -- a female Blackpoll Warbler, which is typically the last species is to migrate northward. That means that in another week or two, this year's "show" will be pretty much over.

Here are the highlights of what I saw (not the complete list), in those three places:

Location: Humpback Rocks
Observation date: 5/12/08
Number of species: 8

  • Red-eyed Vireo 1
  • Cerulean Warbler 1 (FOS)
  • Black-and-white Warbler 2
  • American Redstart 1
  • Scarlet Tanager 1
  • Chipping Sparrow 2

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org/VA)


Location: Piney River, VA
Observation date: 5/12/08
Number of species: 14

  • Pileated Woodpecker 1
  • Eastern Phoebe 1
  • Cedar Waxwing 2
  • Prairie Warbler 1 (FOS)
  • Yellow-breasted Chat 2 (FOS)
  • Indigo Bunting 1
  • White-eyed Vireo 1 (FOS)
  • Chipping Sparrow 3

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org/VA)


Location: Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad trail
Observation date: 5/14/08
Number of species: 21

  • Red-eyed Vireo 2
  • Northern Parula 1
  • Black-throated Green Warbler 1
  • Blackpoll Warbler 1 (FOS)
  • American Redstart 3
  • Wilson's Warbler 1 (FOS)
  • Eastern Towhee 2
  • Indigo Bunting 1
  • Brown-headed Cowbird 2
  • American Goldfinch 2

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org/VA)

I also heard a Rose-breasted Grosbeak in the distance, and possibly a Great Crested Flycatcher. This morning when I returned to the SARS trail, I saw at least three (male) Common Yellowthroats, but not much else. (NOTE: The "FOS" (first-of-season) labels were inserted manually in the above summary lists.)

Yellow Warbler

I heard a Yellow Warbler singing in our back yard a couple days ago, and managed to get close enough for a photograph.

Saving Scarlet macaws

In Costa Rica, an organization called the ZooAve Center for the Rescue of Endangered Species has successfully reintroduced captive Scarlet macaws into the wild, and they have begun to reproduce. See CNN.com. That is wonderful news for this precious symbol of tropical biodiversity. Jacqueline and I were very fortunate to see a flock of a dozen or so Scarlet macaws camera in Costa Rica in 2005.


May 16, 2008 [LINK / comment]

The Nationals (heart) heart New York!

Thanks in no small part to the amazing -- dare I say miraclous -- horizontal dive catch by Willie Harris of a fly ball hit in the ninth inning by Ryan Church down the left field line, the Nationals held on to beat the Mets, 1-0. Several commentators said that catch was the "play of the year" -- so far. The lone RBI in the game was a sac fly in the eighth inning by Felipe Lopez, allowing Jesus Flores to score. The Nationals also won on Wednesday night, 5-3, as Tim Redding got his fourth win of the season. Against all odds, the Nats took three of four games up in New York, hopefully getting their season back on the right track again.

I checked my records, and found that the Nationals have had much better success against the Mets in Shea Stadium than at home. Remember when they swept the Mets up there in late September last year? I'm sure the Mets remember -- they got knocked out of the playoffs! From 2005 until the present, the Nats have a 19-14 record against the Mets when playing in New York, and a record of only 8-22 when playing at home in Washington.

I heart N.Y.!

And so, in honor of the Mets' aging, soon-to-be-retired home, which has been so friendly to the Nationals, I have updated the Shea Stadium diagrams, adding lights and other details. Note that I have lowered my estimate of the total diameter of the stadium by about 40 feet, which works out to about seven rows. Basically, there is more overhang by the middle and upper decks than I had realized, so they are a bit more "squeezed together" than I had thought.

Shea Stadium

Watching the Nats-Mets games on TV (MASN!) was a great opportunity to see the construction progress on Citi Field, which looms menacingly over Shea Stadium's left-center field. The west side of the new structure is only twenty or so feet in back of the center field black screen.

UPDATE: For some great photos of Shea Stadium and Citi Field, see baseball-fever.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.

Nick Johnson on DL

Nick Johnson hurt his wrist the other day, and after an MRI test, it was found that he has a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist. He is expected to be out for four to six weeks, but has been put on the 15-day disabled list, presumably in case he heals faster than expected. The Nats really need him, as he is one of the highest on-base percentages on the team, mostly because of his ability to draw walks. (Patience!) See MLB.com. Coincidentally, the man who replaced him at first base last year, Dmitri Young, is just coming off the DL. In any case, Aaron Boone has been playing extremely well -- both as backup first baseman, and as a batter at the plate. It's another example of how the Nationals have acquired one of the deepest rosters in all the majors, with multiple solid players at almost every position. It's just too bad some of their first-stringers can't perform at All-Star levels on a consistent basis...


May 16, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Appeasement? Obama is miffed!

Barack Obama should have known better than to express resentment over President Bush's derision of appeasement in a speech yesterday. But when his party's leaders in Washington made this a high-profile issue, he didn't have much choice but to weigh in. The President was speaking to the Israeli Knesset, the first major stop on his trip to the Middle East, and ridiculed the idea of negotiating with governments that promote terrorism such as Iran, or radical Islamic groups such as Hamas. "We have heard this foolish delusion before," referring to the failure of appeasement to prevent Hitler from launching World War II. In response, Nancy Pelosi called Bush's remarks "beneath the dignity of the office of president..." (I wonder what she said when Democratic Congressmen David Bonior and Jim McDermott went on a "peace" trip to Baghdad in October 2002 -- suggesting that Saddam Hussein was more trustworthy than our president?!) On the Senate side, Joe Biden used foul language to express outrage at Bush's insinuation, but later retracted part of what he said. Obama, in turn, criticized Bush's "extraordinary politicization" of foreign policy, notwithstanding the fact that he himself has made foreign policy a central part of his campaign, often disparaging the President in an extraordinarily rude manner. See Washington Post.

This is a very interesting case, because while Bush raised a very good point, he did so in a manner that was guaranteed to generate controversy: while on foreign soil and in an indirect way that gives the President "plausible deniability." (White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush's speech was not directed at Obama -- yeah, right.) In the "good old days," politics was said to end "at the water's edge," meaning that U.S. political leaders had a tacit understanding not to criticize their own country while traveling abroad. Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have long since made a mockery of that quaint old custom, of course, but only after they stepped down from the presidency. There is a lot of truth in what Bush said, but for the sake of prudence (and national unity), he should have used milder words to characterize the "appeasement lobby." After all, some Democrats do "get it" (i.e., grasp the nature of the conflict we are in).

The network news programs dutifully broadcast a video clip of McCain saying that we might have to deal with Hamas if they won the Palestinian elections in 2006, which indeed they did. He didn't say we would "negotiate" with them, however. In any case, this illustrates why it is so important to resist Islamo-fascist movements before they gain power; after they do, it's too late.

Happy 60th birthday, Israel!

The occasion for Bush's visit was the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the declaration of independence by the Israelis. WaPo columnist Charles Krauthammer hails the truly miraculous rebirth of the sovereign nation of Israel via the Zionist movement. He also reminds us that the suffering of the Palestinian people, while genuine and heart-wrenching, is mainly the result of their own leaders' fanaticism and imprudence. Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip, and what does it get in return? A barrage of rockets fired from the "save haven" of civilian neighborhoods, all but guaranteeing innocent deaths if Israel does anything to try to stop it. What despicable cowards are the leaders of Hamas! Krauthammer concludes, "Israel's crime is not its policies" (which the Arabs typically invoke to justify their violence) "but its insistence on living." And living well, I might add. More than anything else, it is material resentment that motivates most terrorists.


May 17, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Chavez helps to arm rebels

Other than Joe "CITGO" Kennedy, perhaps, no one seriously doubts that Venezuelan president-for-life Hugo Chavez supports the rebels in Colombia. The extent of his his involvement and solid proof thereof are another question, however. This past week, Colombian officials showed to reporters captured paper documents and files on computer hard drives proving that the Venezuelan government tried to help Colombian guerrillas obtain surface-to-air missiles via an Australian arms dealer. The deal was not consummated, apparently, but significant quantities of small arms, including rocket-propelled grenade launchers, have already been delivered to FARC, courtesy of Hugo Chavez. It was the decision by the Reagan administration to provide American-made "Stinger" surface-to-air missiles to the mujaheddin rebels in Afghanistan that tipped the balance against the Soviet Union. The Afghan War was one of the crucial battlefields of the Cold War, and likewise, Colombia today could prove as decisive in the Global War On Terrorism. Hugo Chavez has been actively collaborating with Islamic terrorist groups, and by extension, Cuba and the FARC in Colombia are part of this "Axis." Ironically, Chavez has accused the Bush administration of using this report to justify an invasion of Venezuela from Colombia, when he is the one who has been blatantly inciting hostilities throughout the region. See Washington Post.

It's yet another case of a power-mad despot who is turning the truth on its head, somehow managing to convince enough innocent people that it's the people other side who are lying. How long can such massive-scale deception go on? And how will the people who have been deceived deal with the fact that they were badly misled and used for nefarious purposes? Nothing in this world is more disconcerting than realizing that you've been had by people you once trusted.


May 17, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Obama: "Thank you, Sioux City!" *

* (NOT!) Sioux City, Sioux Falls, what's the difference? It's all the same in "flyover country," right? Well, that depends. If you are campaigning for the presidency, and you want those people's votes, you'd better know which is which. Evidently, Barack Obama recovered from his gaffe, and his adoring supporters at the Sioux Falls Arena were all too willing to forgive him. He was introduced by former Senators Tom Daschle and George McGovern, who until recently had supported Hillary Clinton. Read all about it in the Argus Leader. On-the-scene hat tip to Chris.

For you folks in Rio Linda, and others whose knowledge of geography may fall a bit short, Sioux City (est. pop. 84,000) is in Iowa, and Sioux Falls (est. pop. 130,000) is in South Dakota; they are about ninety miles apart. I remember when Sioux City used to be the bigger of the two.

Putin "steps aside"

Dmitry Medvedev (former prime minister) was sworn in as president of the Russian Federation last week, and only a day later the former president Vladimir Putin was confirmed as the country's new prime minister. He made some minor changes in the composition of the cabinet, but the three most important portfolios (Foreign Affairs, Finance, and Defense) stayed the same. This shows that there is an immense degree of continuity in the Russian government, and not much democratic input. See Washington Post. Even though Putin has "stepped aside," respecting the constitutional limit on no more than two consecutive terms, the practical effect of the role-switching is minimal. For the time being, it is uncertain whether Medvedev is a mere puppet or a junior apprentice, but in any case, Putin is still regarded as the man with all the power. He remains very popular with the "grassroots" in Russia, but it is hard to say for sure because the Russian government exerts heavy control over the news media there, subjecting independent journalists to intimidation and even death threats.

Stacey's LTE

In Friday's New Leader:

What Augusta County is going through now with the 6th district voting for Kurt Michael despite the fact-finding recommendations shows that the problems with the party are deeper than just Kurt and Lynn (Mitchell). Staunton suffered the same irrational justice last summer at the hands of the 6th District over an election for secretary that had occurred months before, without an outcry from anyone at the time of his election. We never received reasons for their rulings; it was pure bullying brought on by Kurt and Lynn pushing for their intervention. Yes, it is about the power, and it's very corrupt.

Those Republicans who say that this battle is hurting the party are part of the problem. History is replete with tragedy because people refused to intervene at the first signs of a process gone wrong. Power in the wrong hands is a dangerous thing.

Kurt recognizes that he has reached the end of the game locally so like Putin he will pass the baton to one that will follow his orders as he plans to move to the 6th District. Humm...

STACEY MORRIS Staunton

For background, see my May 3 blog post.


May 17, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Saturday in the park: windy!

In hopes of catching the last few migrating songbirds of the season before they are all gone to parts further north, I walked through Montgomery Hall Park this morning. The skies were clear blue, but it was surprisingly chilly and windy, which added to the sense of discomfort from having unwittingly bought a cup of cold (or perhaps room temperature) coffee at a local convenience store -- yuck! I hate when that happens. The birds were apparently in no mood for socializing today either, though I did come across one first-of-season bird -- a Magnolia warbler. Today's highlights of what I saw:

Location: Montgomery Hall Park
Observation date: 5/17/08
Number of species: 19

  • Downy Woodpecker -- 2
  • Northern Flicker -- 1
  • Great Crested Flycatcher -- 2
  • Red-eyed Vireo -- 3
  • Magnolia Warbler -- 2 (FOS)
  • American Redstart -- 1
  • Eastern Towhee -- 1
  • Brown-headed Cowbird -- 4

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org/VA)

I also heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Late yesterday afternoon I drove up to Verona to see if the Painted Bunting was still there, but without luck. On the way back, however, I did get a good view of my first Grasshopper Sparrow of the season along Bell's Lane.

Locust flowers

Locust flowers, at the top of the hill in Montgomery Hall Park.


May 18, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Wet day at Augusta Springs

I figured that after the chilly conditions yesterday, the weather just had to improve today, but such was not the case. Jacqueline and I did a short "hike" around the Augusta Springs Wetland Area this morning, but it started to rain off and on about half way through. It wasn't much, but it made it hard to take pictures, videos, or record the bird songs. I did get a decent video clip of a Common Yellowthroat (see below) and recordings of the songs of at least two birds, however: an Ovenbird woofer and a Worm-eating Warbler woofer; the latter's "song" is more of a buzz, actually. I never did see either one of those birds, however. Highlights of what I saw:

Location: Augusta Springs
Observation date: 5/18/08
Number of species: 22

  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Wood Thrush *
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Indigo Bunting
  • American Goldfinch

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org/VA) -- * I forgot to include the Wood Thrush.

Other notable birds that we heard but did not see include: Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black-billed Cuckoo, Pileated Woodpecker, Pine Warbler, and Scarlet Tanager. All in all, a rather frustrating day. Finally, just as we were leaving from the parking lot, this female Bluebird landed on a sign post only about 20 feet away:

Bluebird female

I also took a video of a couple of Common Yellowthroats who were singing vigorously, and uploaded it to youtube.com -- my fourth such video. I couldn't get very close to either one, however, so the quality is only fair. I'll probably replace it with a better one eventually.


May 21, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Spring cleaning on baseball pages

My apologies to all the folks who have been visiting the baseball pages on this Web site for the past few months, during which the "reconstruction" has taken more time than I had anticipated. I appreciate in particular the many folks who have registered to share their impressions of various ballparks, from the exquisite PNC Park to the humble Arlington Stadium. In the next few days I will finish making the necessary changes so that the fans' impressions will appear properly on all of the pages. I also noticed that in some browsers the photo selection links were not functioning, and I think I've fixed that. Again, my apologies.

The mail bag

From Mike Zurawski: The owner of the Chicago Cubs, Sam Zell, has rejected the offer by the Illinois stadium commission to buy Wrigley Field, and now says he will sell the "Friendly Confines" along with team. See Chicago Sun Times.

Many thanks to John Mikulas for sending several batches of stadium photos. I've added four of them to the Jacobs Field page -- now technically known as "Progressive Field," but I'm not sure about going along with that just yet. More photos to come soon...

Lester's no hitter

Jon Lester hurled a no-hitter for the Red Sox on Monday night, the first such feat in MLB this year. The 24-year old ace is a survivor of cancer (lymphoma), and after spending a year undergoing chemotherapy, he returned and was the winning pitcher in the deciding Game 4 of last year's World Series against the Rockies. See MLB.com.

It was a poignant coincidence that a famous Boston fan, Senator Ted Kennedy, suffered a seizure one day before that, and watched the game while recovering in the hospital. The senior senator from Massachusetts has been diagnosed with brain cancer, and we wish him all the best in the battle of his life.


May 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Eagles in concert: superb!

Last night Jacqueline and I saw the Eagles in concert in Charlottesville, the first time she has seen them, and the second time I have. They have been my favorite group ever since my college days, so of course, we pounced on the tickets as soon as they went on sale last month. Our seats were in the upper deck of U.Va.'s John Paul Jones Arena, on the right side of the stage, toward the front. It was close enough to get a pretty good view. The 16,000-seat arena was packed to capacity, unlike The Police concert we saw last November. The sound quality was good, not too loud, but a little heavy on the bass side.

The Eagles are promoting their new double CD release, Long Road Out of Eden, which is everything an Eagles fan could hope for; see below. The band members dressed in dark business suits, white shirts, and ties, quite a contrast to their laid-back blue-jean style of thirty years ago. But given the age of most of the folks in the audience -- boomers in their late 40s and 50s -- it was appropriate attire. Don Henley played drums on several songs, like he used to, Glenn Frey strummed acoustic guitar on most songs, party animal Joe Walsh played electric guitar mostly, including slide guitar and some lead guitar parts, and mellow, long-haired Timothy B. Schmit played bass. They all sang and played very well, obviously well practiced and eager to please their audience. I was surprised that most of the lead guitar parts (formerly done by ex-band member Don Felder) were done by a guy named Steuart Smith, from Arlington, Virginia. (!) When they played "Long Road Out of Eden" in the middle of the second set, I actually got chills down my spine. I correctly guessed both the opening song ("How Long") and the final song ("Desperado"). Here is the complete list of songs they played, based on notes I was taking:

  • How Long *
  • Busy Being Fabulous *
  • I Don't Want to Hear Any More *
  • Guilty of the Crime *
  • Hotel California
  • Peaceful Easy Feeling
  • I Can't Tell You Why
  • Witchy Woman
  • Lyin' Eyes
  • Boys of Summer (DH)
  • In the Long Run
  • (INTERMISSION)
  • No More Walks in the Woods *
  • Waiting in the Weeds *
  • No More Cloudy Days *
  • Love Will Keep Us Alive
  • Take It to the Limit
  • Long Road Out of Eden *
  • Somebody *
  • Walk Away (JW)
  • One of These Nights
  • Life's Been Good (JW)
  • Dirty Laundry (DH)
  • Funk # 49 (JW)
  • Heartache Tonight
  • Life in the Fast Lane
  • (ENCORE:)
  • Take It Easy
  • Desperado

* = songs from the new CD, Long Road Out of Eden. Two of the songs were originally done by Don Henley "(DH)" as a solo after the Eagles split up, and three were originally done by Joe Walsh "(JW)", either as a solo or as part of the James Gang.

As you can see, that's quite a big list -- "How Long" indeed! (The concert began shortly after 8:00 PM and lasted just over three hours.) I have to give those guys credit for playing so many of their big hit songs, leaving almost nothing out. It was perfectly appropriate for them to begin with songs from the new album, which deserves recognition. If I could have picked the songs, I would have included "Already Gone," "Tequila Sunrise," and "Seven Bridges Road." I was a bit surprised that none of Glenn Frey's solo songs (such as "You Belong to the City") were included. While they played "Dirty Laundry," the 1980s Don Henley tune that mocked trash television "news," the video screen showed images of contemporary exemplars of "yellow journalism" such as Nancy Grace and Jerry Springer. They even poked fun at themselves by showing a fake Time magazine cover with Don Henley solving global warming and Glenn Frey winning the Masters golf tournament. It's good to have a sense of humor. That montage also showed the latest issue of Rolling Stone, with them on the cover. They've made the big time at last! smile I saw somebody with a "Joe Walsh for president" T-shirt, possibly dating from 1980, but Joe didn't say if he is going to campaign actively this year. We left the arena with big smiles on our faces, very satisfied at hearing a first-class performance by the best of the best.

The Eagles were also featured in last year's Country Music Awards ceremony, a fitting tribute as the Eagles keep in touch with their musical "roots" while expanding their fan base -- a "Big Tent" approach, you might say.

Next the Eagles are headed to Newark, New Jersey, where they will play two nights in Prudential Center, and then across the Hudson to Manhattan for two nights in Madison Square Garden. (See their Web site: www.eaglesband.com.) I noticed there is an upcoming concert in Philadelphia, which must have been added recently, since it is not among the cities listed on the T-shirts we bought.

To mark this landmark event, I have updated my Culture and Travel blog page with a new section for music, featuring a brief Eagles chronology, listing their albums and band members through the years.

Long Road Out of Eden

I bought the new CD while we were Christmas shopping late last November -- at WalMart! It was their first album full of new material since The Long Run (released in 1979), and I was very impressed. Without a doubt, they met their own high standards, and almost all of the 20 songs on it are very good or excellent. Interestingly, the big single from the new CD, "How Long," was written many years ago by John David Souther, who also co-wrote several of their early songs. That's a truly great tune, as are "Waiting in the Weeds," and "No More Cloudy Days." But the best song, I think, is the title track "Long Road Out of Eden," which begins with a haunting solo on a reed instrument that evokes the deserts of the Middle East. It's an anti-war, anti-consumerism allegory that contrasts the suffering and loneliness of American soldiers serving in Iraq to the mindless, gas-guzzling hedonism of the folks back home. Like their 1970s anthem "Hotel California," it consists of an eclectic blend of musical styles, with acoustic and electric parts, and has a serious message behind it. In the Washington Post last fall, reviewer Chris Klimek sniffed that the new CD is "mostly limp balladry and stale diatribe," but that's way too harsh. Yes, the Eagles do "preach" a little bit, but as intelligent, accomplished musicians, they've earned the right to do so -- whether you agree with them or not.

For their new CD, the Eagles created their own label (Eagles Recording Co.) and reached an exclusive sales agreement with WalMart, as a marketing strategy to fight the twin evils of monopolistic record labels and digital music piracy. Time will tell whether that succeeds in reaching a new audience or not.

Eagles - Long Road Out Of Eden CD cover

May 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Dominican Republic election

The President of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernandez, won reelection on Sunday, with 53 percent of the vote, and observers from the Organization of American States confirmed that the process was proper. Fernandez leads the Dominican Liberation Party, in the center of the political spectrum. The opposing candidate, Miguel Vargas Maldonado, refused to congratulate Fernandez, accusing him of "shameful" use of government resources for political purposes. Vargas Maldonado belongs to the leftist Dominican Revolutionary Party. Even though the Dominican Republic remains one of the poorest countries in Latin America, its economy has benefited from increased trade with the United States, thanks to DR-CAFTA. That agreement clearly worked in Fernandez's favor. He was first inaugurated as president in August 1996, but was prohibited from running for reelection in 2000, under the terms of a law which has since been rescinded. His current term began in August 2004, and he will serve until of his second term ends in August 2012. See BBC.

After the election, President Fernandez called on his poltical opponents to join in a cooperative spirit, reaching out to the Dominican Revolutionary Party in particular. He denied accusations that taxpayers' money was used in his reelection campaign. See dominicantoday.com.

Nevertheless, what is on the minds of most people in the Dominican Republic right now is the visit by Pedro Martinez to see his father, who is suffering from terminal brain cancer, and the recent signing of young slugger Hanley Ramirez to a seven-year contract with the Florida Marlins. The Dominicans are loco for baseball.

The next presidential election in Latin America will be next March, in El Salvador.


May 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Congress overrides farm bill veto

Both the House of Representatives (Wednesday) and the Senate (this evening) voted to override President Bush's veto of the $307 billion farm bill, a stinging rebuke to The Prez. In the Senate, the vote was 82 to 13, as 35 Republican senators opted for political safety instead of legislative propriety. Through an apparent oversight by the "enrolling clerk," the section of the bill on trade policy, including international food aid programs, had been omitted from the version of the document that was voted on, as opposed to the version the President vetoed. House Minority Leader John Boehner called for an investigation of this irregularity, but it was voted down on party lines. Democratic leaders in Congress say they will submit a separate bill on farm trade in the next few days. See Washington Post.

What is at stake here, really? Well, the bending of the procedural rules was cause for serious concern, but the main question is whether or not the Republican Party remains truly commited to its traditional supreme standard of fiscal restraint. Whenever the economy turns sour, as it is right now, there is an enormous temptation for less-scrupulous legislators to pander to ill-informed voters by making spending commitments under bogus pretenses that it will "reinvigorate the economy" or "alleviate suffering." In most cases, it just wastes the taxpayer's money without accomplishing any long-term objective other than keeping the incumbent politicans in office.

Colorado Senator Ken Salazar (a Democrat) hailed the veto override which he says will open up a "new chapter of opportunity for rural America." He had taken a lead role in passing key elements of the farm bill, including nutrition programs, biofuels incentives, and "investments" in rural communities. Apparently, most GOP senators agree with him... See his Web site; hat tip to Connie.

Hillary vs. Barack, Ch. XXXIV

So Senator Clinton won Kentucky by a landslide (65% to 30%), while Senator Obama won Oregon by a comfortable margin. Obama apparently now has a majority of pledged delegates, depending on how Florida and Michigan will be handled. The ambiguous election outcome on Tuesday means that there is still a tiny, non-negligible mathematical possibility that Clinton could somehow pull off a "miracle." It's not over yet! As Senator McCain said on Saturday Night Live, Republicans don't want the Democratic leaders to make any hasty decisions. They ought to weigh very carefully each candidate's pros and cons, and then weigh them again, and again... smile


May 23, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Lerners sue D.C. over "delay"

Contrary to the expectations of skeptics who (like me) are all too familiar with how Washington works (or doesn't), the new baseball stadium was built on time and on budget -- or so we thought. Now we learn that the Lerner ownership group is demanding $100,000 per day in damages, citing the contract provisions under which the city would pay penalties for failure to finish the stadium on time. On Opening Night, lead owner Ted Lerner was praising the "wonderful job" that had been done on Nationals Park, but now he has changed his tune. What was not done on time? The office suites, which make up less than three percent of the total project cost. No leather chairs, no oak paneling, no plush carpeting? Poor babies! Apparently, getting a $600-billion subsidy from the local government in getting the stadium built wasn't enough. Now, that's what I call chutzpah! (Is Mr. Lerner being influenced by the super-greedy Peter Angelos, by any chance?) In yesterday's Washington Post, Marc Fisher warned that if the owners go ahead with this legal move, the team risks losing the precious goodwill that the new ballpark has brought to the urban community.

Phillies trounce Nats

If I was going to pick one night out of the whole season not to watch the Nationals on TV, I think Wednesday night would have been it: starting pitcher Matt Chico (0-6) and reliever Jesus Colome gave up a total of eight (8) runs in the sixth inning alone. Colome threw 30 pitches and only got one out before he was replaced. Jesús! Final score: 12-2. frown Did the fact that the Philadelphia football team is named "the Eagles" have anything to do with the coincidence of the concert I just saw and the disaster in Washington? smile More likely, it was bad karma from wasting another fine pitching performance by Jason Bergmann the night before, losing 1-0. This weekend the D.C. Nine will host the Brew Crew from Milwaukee in Nationals Park, and if all goes well, I'll be there...

The mail bag

I've had several e-mail inquiries in the last few days, just as I'm struggling to get caught up with Web site maintenance. As always, I appreciate the interest, and your patience. I will get to them shortly.


May 23, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Rock concert series in Staunton

The Goodson Brothers rock group performed at Staunton's Wharf District last night, part of the "Shakin' 2008" concert series to raise funds for (and awareness of) the Central Shenandoah Crimestoppers program. The Goodsons played a wide range of classic rock tunes, such as "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," as well as a couple country rock songs. Band leader Danny Goodson sounded just like AC-DC's original lead vocalist Bon Scott. The turnout for this event was great, with at least 500 fans of all ages. Similar concerts are planned for every Thursday night for the next three months, except July 3. Among the sponsors are Domino's Pizza, StellarOne, Detamore Printing, 98.5 Rock, Kroger, the Byers Street Bistro, Boston Beanery, and Comcast. It's yet another example of the wide range of cultural opportunities in the "Queen City" of Staunton, and of the broad commitment to bettering the quality of life in this community.

Shakin 22 May 2008 concert

May 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Late spring migrating warblers

Just when I thought the spring migration season was pretty much over, I got lucky this bright and beautiful morning with my first Blackburnian Warbler of the season -- a male, plainly visible but at least 40 yards away. I also saw a few Magnolia Warblers, Blackpoll Warblers, and one or two Wilson's Warblers. Those obnoxious Starlings, with their noisy fledglings, were everywhere, it seemed. Highlights of what I saw:

Location: Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad trail
Observation date: 5/24/08
Number of species: 27

  • Red-bellied Woodpecker - 2
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee - 1
  • Red-eyed Vireo - 2
  • Brown Thrasher - 2
  • Cedar Waxwing - 5
  • Magnolia Warbler - 4
  • Blackburnian Warbler - 1 (FOS)
  • Blackpoll Warbler - 5
  • Wilson's Warbler - 1
  • Eastern Towhee - 4
  • Indigo Bunting - 3

I also heard a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a Northern Parula. I took a video of a Blackpoll Warbler drying off after a bath, but it was poor quality because of the angle of the sun. Instead, here is a Black & White Warbler that we saw at Ramsey's Draft last month:

Blackpoll Warbler

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org/VA)

Near the dump

Yesterday, on Christians Creek Road near the landfill, I saw two first-of-season birds: Yellow-billed Cuckoos (2) that were chasing an Eastern Wood-Pewee for some reason. Highlights of what I saw:

Location: Christians Creek Road - Rt. 648
Observation date: 5/23/08
Number of species: 15

  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo - 2 (FOS)
  • Northern Flicker - 1
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee - 1 (FOS)
  • Red-eyed Vireo - 2
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - 1
  • Indigo Bunting - 2

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org/VA)


May 25, 2008 [LINK / comment]

The Phoenix has landed

... on Mars! The Phoenix spacecraft landed successfully on the Red Planet just before 8:00 PM EDT this evening, a major accomplishment for the U.S. space program. The landing site was in the northern polar region of Mars, far from where the Spirit and Opportunity Mars vehicular probes landed in April 2004. Unlike those two prior Mars probes, which used novel but unpredictable balloon cushions, the Phoenix used the more traditional (and expensive) retro-rockets to make a soft landing. After waiting for the dust to settle (literally), the first photographic image was taken and sent back to Earth. See it for yourself at www.nasa.gov.

The main goal of the Phoenix mission is to determine whether water is present in significant quantities, and it is thought that water (or ice) is more likely to be found near the polar ice caps, which are composed mainly of dry ice -- carbon dioxide. The Phoenix's robotic arm will dig into the soil layer to gather samples for chemical analysis. President Bush has called for a renewed U.S. manned space exploration program, including an eventual trip to Mars, and the results of the Phoenix mission could have an impact on public support for such a huge undertaking. I'm generally in favor of a manned mission to Mars, as long as our long-term budget problems are adequately addressed.


May 26, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Saturday in the (Nationals) Park

Since it was officially announced that Washington would get a baseball team in September 2004, I have visited the site of the new stadium several times. (December 2006, August 2007, and February 2008) On Saturday, finally, I had an opportunity to see an actual game at Nationals Park for the first time. Because it was Memorial Day weekend, attendance was a little greater than usual, just over 30,000.) Unfortunately, the Nationals wasted precious run-scoring opportunities once again, and the Brewers won, 5-2. Well, at least the weather was nice! smile

By amazing coincidence, the guy sitting next to me (named Brian) had visited this Web site for the first time just a few weeks ago, and we were both rather astonished. What's more, he is an expert photographer and gave me some good tips on digital cameras, which I put to good use the next day. I goofed up while reloading my ancient Pentax 35mm camera with a new film roll (lack of practice!), and he was kind enough to take a picture of Jacqueline, our niece Shary, and me with his Canon digital camera. Stay tuned!

Because I have been scrutinizing all the myriad details of Nationals Park for well over a year now, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, unlike the vast majority of "normal" fans. The plaza in left-center field is a great "welcome" to the ballpark, and it will get better once the cherry trees grow and become leafier. The wide-open concourses, with good views of the field for the most part, are a huge improvement over RFK Stadium. Also, I have to admit that the division of the upper deck "Gallery Level" so as to create an open concourse level is a good idea as well. Even though you really can't see the field from the concourse, you still feel like you are part of the action, not it some closed-off dungeon. Another big improvement over RFK Stadium is the friendly attitude of the employees at Nationals Park. Evidently, the Lerners succeeded in driving home that message: Smiles and good service = more revenue.

Besides taking pictures, I made mental notes of several specific aspects of the stadium about which there was some doubt in my mind. For example, I learned that the right foul pole is closer to the front edge of the second deck than I had thought, just out of arm's reach. Also, the upper deck is recessed four rows from the second deck in the right field corner, twice what I had estimated. I realized that the front edge of the second deck is aligned with the front edge of the mezzanine level in the main part of the grandstand -- not with the upper deck's front edge. I also noted discrepancies with some structural details behind the scoreboard, and a few other interesting details as well. (See below!)

Nationals Park right field

A lovely evening at Nationals Park, just after batting practice was over, at 6:22 P.M. (That's what the clock above the bullpen said, anyway.) More photos pending...

Ground rule anomalies

One of the things I noticed at Nationals Park was the vertical yellow stripe a few feet to the left of the left foul pole. What is that for? Well, by another coincidence, Sunday's Washington Post explained that anomaly (and others, such as at Wrigley and Fenway). It turns out that there is a small triangular gap between the left field wall and the wall in front of the seats, so whether a fair ball hit into that corner is in play or ruled a ground rule double depends on exactly where it hits the wall. "And that's the way the ball bounces."

There is a similar oddity with the left foul pole in Yankee Stadium, which had a big impact on a game there two Saturdays ago after a controversial ruling by the umpires. Because of the extreme angle of the fence in that corner, the foul pole is a couple feet behind the fence. Carlos Delgado hit a line drive into that corner that was fair when it crossed the fence and should have been a three-run homer, but was ruled a foul ball after the four umpires conferred, even though the third-base umpire called it a home run. The fan sitting right there showed the scuff mark on the pole where the ball hit. Fortunately, it didn't matter in the end, as the Mets cruised to an 11-2 victory over the Yankees. See Washington Post.

Slight exaggeration

CORRECTION: The implicit subsidy to the owners of the Nationals from the D.C. government in paying for the new stadium was not $600 billion, as I wrote on Saturday, but rather about $600 million, with an m. My apologies.


May 26, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Memorial Day 2008

As was the case last year, Memorial Day ceremonies in Staunton's Gypsy Hill Park were blessed with beautiful, sunny weather, a cheery contrast to the somber occasion. The event was sponsored by the American Legion Post #13 and V.F.W. Post #2216. As usual, the Stonewall Brigade Band Brass Ensemble provided the music, along with bagpipe player Capt. Lee Tate, and solo vocalist Earnest Holly, who sang Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." (I'm Proud to Be an American) and a couple other songs. Ray Houser served as Master of Ceremonies, and Rev. Charles Davis gave the keynote address. He tried to get the audience to think about what those who died for their country would have accomplished had they lived, and what they would have wanted. As he suggested, all patriotic people ought to devote themselves to carrying out -- in one way or another, as best they can -- the work begun by those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.

Memorial Day 2008 speaker

The only downside to the commemoration today was the relative lack of young people in attendance. Perhaps it is a reflection of the general disinterest in history and cultural heritage shown by many in the younger generation, disparaging the study of history. But we shouldn't pin the blame on youth, because their habits and priorities are to a large extent a reflection of the way they were brought up by their parents. Across the board, many people of all ages find it too painful or discomforting to remember the past. As the philosopher George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." As but one example, the reaction of many people to the recent surge in energy prices suggests that they have learned nothing at all from the blunders in energy policy of the 1970s. Unless our society pays more attention to its own past -- both the heroic deeds and the mistakes -- we will keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Even worse, we will make it extremely difficult to restore the sense of national unity that is a prerequisite to our continued survival as a nation.

Let Memorial Day be a day not just of ritualizing old memories, but also a day of active remembrance, reflection, and conscious action.

Memorial Day 2008 Gold Star mothers

Several Gold Star mothers were presented with wreaths during the Memorial Day ceremonies. In the center is a newly-built replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, which is in need of repair.

The last "doughboy"

In Sunday's Washington Post, columnist George Will paid tribute to Frank Buckles, age 107, the last known American veteran who served in France during World War I. Will made an interesting observation that would never have occurred to most students today: "The First World War is still taking American lives because it destroyed the Austro-Hungarian, Romanoff and Ottoman empires. A shard of the latter is called Iraq."

U.S. soldiers who served "over there" in France were called "doughboys," but that slang term originated several decades before, during the 19th Century. See www.worldwar1.com.


May 27, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Just what did Hillary mean?

Sen. Hillary Clinton's latest gaffe, bringing up the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968 as a reason for her to stay in the race, is hard to decipher. Did she mean to suggest that Barack Obama might be assassinated once he is assured of being nominated? Probably not. Most likely, it was an awkward reference to the fact that, historically, primary campaigns have extended well into the summer, and there is no reason why that shouldn't be the case this year. Likewise, she probably did not mean to suggest that he might be a Muslim. But the lingering shadows of doubt that she keeps spreading -- whether intentionally or out of desperation -- are having a corrosive effect on Democratic Party unity. That is why Rush Limbaugh's claiming success in "Operation Chaos" is not as far-fetched as you might think.

On a more serious note, Hillary's off-hand comment to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader's editorial board does illustrate one of the pitfalls of politics in our hyper-PC era: the often-ineffable nature of political discourse. In personal life and in political life, there are some extremely sensitive things that simply cannot be said openly, for once the speaker has uttered the words, the meaning is altered by the way the listener interprets them, and the words have the opposite effect to what the speaker intended.

Steve's LTE

In Sunday's News Leader:

It appears that after five years of being an active member of the Augusta County Republican Committee, the newly elected committee has determined I am no longer a Augusta County Republican as they see fit. Selected Chairman Kurt Michael held a ACRC meeting this week to elect and position a new executive committee of the Augusta County Republican Committee.

Kurt Michael advises that the meeting was announced 10 days in advance as compared to the seven-day notice required by the committees bylaws.

During my five plus years as a member of the ACRC I have always been notified by mail of all upcoming ACRC meetings as required by the same bylaws.

Like many other Augusta Republicans, no meeting notifications were received this time.

Turns out Kurt Michael only acknowledged and informed the 59 people that signed up and remained at his second meeting Kurt Michael held after the announced and original ACRC mass meeting.

This in itself shows that Kurt Michael and his select few do not acknowledge or recognize the majority of Augusta County Republicans, including myself, who voted instead for Dr. Roller for chairman. And what about the 44 people who did vote for Kurt Michael, but also left after the first meeting? Are they recognized by the new ACRC leadership?

After a contested mass meeting last month that Michael claims was not closed properly, the Republican 6th District committee selected Michael as the chairman they recognize, thus ignoring the majority of the voters at the mass meeting.

When given a clear choice between candidates, and before any noted problems with how the meeting was closed, the voters at the mass meeting chose Dr. Roller over Michael by a vote of 141 to 103.

Interestingly, the Democratic National party faces this same "Super Delegate" situation where a "Party member" can overrule or disregard the majority vote of the voters with their "Super Vote".

Both Kurt Michael and vice-chairperson of communications Lynn Mitchell have publicly called for unity within the party but have done little to promote such unity. This is just another example of their "Party Unity."

STEVE KIJAK Stuarts Draft

Indeed. Well said, Steve. Kurt's secret call for a meeting, leaving out dozens of people who participated in good faith in the Augusta County Republican mass meeting, notwithstanding the ongoing dispute over the leadership, erases any doubt over his intentions to pursue the "pup tent" or "phone booth" approach. The people in that faction of the party are hell-bent on shoving out of the party anyone who doesn't agree with them, and membership will inevitably decline as long as he is in charge -- formally or behind the scenes. Indeed, those folks spend so much of their time attacking other Republicans (while complaining that they themselves are under constant, unfair attack!) that it is a wonder they have any energy left over to take on the Democrats.


May 28, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Another mega-gaffe by Obama

As Rush Limbaugh pointed out today, if a Republican candidate had made such a blatantly false statement as Barack Obama did on Memorial Day, the press would be jumping all over him. Now, I'm not one who incessantly whines about liberal media bias (the problem is obvious enough, but often exaggerated), but in this case, complaining is quite appropriate. When is "the first black Kennedy" going to get some serious scrutiny from the mainstream media? In a speech in New Mexico, Obama said, "I had a uncle who was one of the, who was part of the first American troops to go into Auschwitz and liberate the concentration camps." See Washington Post.

WRONG! Auschwitz is in central Poland, which was "liberated" by the Soviet Red Army in early 1945. There were quite a few concentration camps in the western portions of Germany that were indeed liberated by the Western Allies toward the end of the war, but all of the extermination camps such as Auschwitz were in the German-occupied territories of Eastern Europe.

This probably won't matter to many of Obama's youthful voters, sadly, because for a lot of students today, neither history nor geography are worth learning. Auschwitz? Dachau? Buchenwald? What-ever! frown


UPDATE: I should have mentioned Obama's other gaffe that day: "On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes -- and I see many of them in the audience here today -- our sense of patriotism is particularly strong." Dead people in the audience?? Brent Bozell surveys this and other past whoppers by Obama, making Dan Quayle look very good in comparison. Hat tip to Patrick Carne.


May 29, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Detroit: 10 seconds to midnight

The clock continues to tick away in the effort to raise funds to preserve at least part of Tiger Stadium before the June 1 deadline. Michigan Sen. Carl Levin says he will seek federal funding for the effort, but in times of recession, such "pork barrel" spending is not likely to gain wide support. Besides, it's really too late to stop the wrecking ball. See the Detroit News; hat tip to Bruce Orser.

I think it's time to face up to the harsh truth: Tiger Stadium is history. And yes, I mean that in both the contemporary derogatory sense and the traditional reverential sense.


May 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Crony capitalism and baseball

Question: What do Our National Pastime, the Bush administration, and the global financial panic earlier this year* have to do with each other?

Answer: The defunct subprime mortgage lender known as Ameriquest Mortgage Company, whose name used to grace the Texas Rangers' home ballpark until last year. Having updated the "(Rangers) Ballpark in Arlington" page accordingly (see my baseball blog post on Jan. 31), I did a bit of Googling and came across some interesting facts. From the Washington Post, July 29, 2005:

On the same day that the White House announced that President Bush is nominating California billionaire Roland E. Arnall to be ambassador to the Netherlands, the company he controls said it would set aside $325 million for a possible settlement of allegations of predatory lending tactics.

Hmm-mmm... As its bad loans kept piling up early last year, Ameriquest was forced to accept a multistate settlement, and it closed operations for good about a year ago, effectively bankrupt. See USA Today.

Meanwhile, Mr. Arnall continued to serve as our ambassador in The Hague until March 7, when he resigned. The U.S. embassy Web site provided this background on his company's road to wealth:

Ameriquest's success is based in part on the fact that it helped modernize the nonprime lending industry, which today is recognized as an essential part of home financing in America.

(The stricken-through portion was deleted a couple months ago, which itself is very interesting.) TRANSLATION: Mr Arnall got rich by exposing the American financial system to very grave risk. I am not, repeat not, making this up. Ten days after his resignation, Mr. Arnall died of esophageal cancer, which had only been diagnosed last week, supposedly. Could this get any stranger? See his obituary in the Washington Post.

I blogged about the connection between "crony capitalism" and baseball back in December 2005, so it's not a new phenomenon by any means. It's too bad that both of the new-era ballparks in Texas -- the former "Ameriquest Field" and the former "Enron Park" (Minute Maid Park in Houston)-- are closely tied to the corporate corruption that has weakened the American economy in recent years. As if the steroid/doping scandal didn't give us enough reasons to feel embarrassed for Our National Pastime already...

* I know, I know, anything that happened more than a week ago is considered "ancient history" nowadays. frown

The mail bag

Thanks much to Brian Hughes for sending a photo of Shea Stadium showing Citi Field under construction last summer. More photos are pending...

Matt Motyka has created a blog that serves as a seating guide to the lovely but sometimes awkward Wrigley Field: Chiblogo: Partially Obstructed Views. Apparently, the South Side ballpark isn't perfect in that regard, either. smile

And finally, Joe Schallan informed me that the fictional radical author portrayed by James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams was Terence (or Terrence?) Mann. Duly noted. More mail to get to... Thanks to everyone who helps me with fact checking.


May 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Augusta mass meeting video

It's too late to have any real effect, but for the record, I just posted my six-minute version of the "Meeting of Mass Destruction" on YouTube, with a few creative embellishments for effect. smile It concludes with a brief summary of events since the meltdown in Verona, some questions about what the "grassroots" people are leading us to, and finally a pair of pertinent quotations, from Newt Gingrich and Barry Goldwater. Enjoy!


 

Who's really "in the closet"?

There were some other YouTube videos on the Mass meeting, two of which were produced by former Albemarle GOP chair Keith Drake, whom I met at that meeting. His videos are entitled "Hanger's Closet," with the sinister implication that the senator has some dastardly covert agenda or something that he is trying to hide. How utterly ridiculous! It's also extremely ironic coming from the faction that has earned "renown" across the Old Dominion last year for assuming false identities to spread their disinformation and dirty laundry. They probably think they'll get away with it, since most people these days have such a short attention span. ("That's ancient history!") Sorry, the truth will come out eventually, as it always does, and there will be an accounting for all those misdeeds.

For example, "General Grievous' Dog" kept himself busy in the early months of 2007, smearing C-ville blogger Waldo Jaquith, former RPV Communication Director Shaun Kenney, and several other bloggers, including me. It was a big insider's joke, the "worst kept secret" in the Virginia blogosphere, I was told. The hard-core SWAC Jobs linked to the "Dog," and said they knew who it was but wouldn't reveal it. (It is Kurt, isn't it?) Such lack of candor is a singular mark of dishonor, and is a major reason for the breakdown of trust and party unity in the Staunton-Waynesboro-Augusta County region. I displayed these images from the notorious blog after it was transformed into "Teddy's Dog" and then finally went into hiatus last July:

GGD - Andrew Clem, GOP chairs closeup

Roll mouse over the image to see the closeup, with the "BOGUS" label superimposed.

At one point he fraudulently identified me as the blog registrant, which was going too far. After I raised hell with the folks at Blogger over this egregious violation of their rules against identity theft, the "Dog" went "into hiding." Ever since mid-July, all you can see at General Grievous' Dog is a big smiley face. Very cute.

That is only one of many example of SWAC-area bloggers who throw mud while hiding behind false identities. We all know about the silliest examples, such as Johnathan Maxfield, Attorney at Law -- NOT! But even among bloggers with a higher degree of credibility, there is a recurrent shyness that stands in odd contrast to their extreme outspokenness. It took many months before "SWAC Girl" revealed her true name, and others in that faction have gradually followed suit. While I was taking the video of the mass meeting, she started chuckling about something, and as I panned the camera over her way, she felt compelled to hide her face. (Screen grab below.) Guilty conscience, perhaps?

Lynn hiding

Finally, "Elle" (Inpolitically Correct) went into hiatus in February, presumably playing it safe during her recent run for reelection. In the last few weeks, however, she has reemerged, but her blog is now closed to the general public. What's with the hiding behind the invitation-only bit, Anne? It is Anne, isn't it?

inpolitically invited only

When are the SWAC Jobs going to come out of the closet???

Actually, some of them have, at least on a part-time basis: www.sixtyfour81.com.


May 31, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Birding around Richmond

I had to be in the capital city of the Old Dominion today, and is my wont, I took advantage of the opportunity to do a little bird watching while I was there. On Friday evening, with beautiful weather, I saw several Ospreys, Great Blue Herons, Kingbirds, and many Tree Swallows around the James River near downtown Richmond. I really envied all those young people who were swimming, tubing, and kayaking in the picturesque rapids smack in the middle of a big city, but I wondered how many of them realize how lucky they were to have those awesome four-foot tall birds only a stone's throw away.

Early on Saturday morning, I reached (after some trial and error searching) my main destination: the Dutch Gap Conservation Area, about ten miles downstream on the James River. Upon arriving, I was chagrined to see that the gate was closed, as the park does open until 8:00 A.M. But I couldn't wait that long, so I "bushwhacked" my way through the woods, in search of my main target species: the Prothonotary Warbler, which has a restricted range and habitat, requiring warm, moist woodlands. (They built their nests in tree cavities, the only warbler to do so.) Jacqueline and I had seen for the first time back in April, 2000. Almost immediately, I heard a steady, monotonic warblerish song which I thought was that bright golden bird, and I turned out to be right. Sure enough, I spotted one before long, and a couple more at close range later on. Eureka! And after eight years! What follows is a complete eBirds report of this morning's adventures, not just the highlights. "(HO)" means that I Heard it Only.

Location: Dutch Gap Boat Landing
Observation date: 5/31/08
Number of species: 18

  • Great Blue Heron -- 1
  • Black Vulture -- 20
  • Osprey -- 1
  • Virginia Rail -- 3 (HO)
  • Mourning Dove -- 2
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee -- 1
  • Great Crested Flycatcher -- 1 (HO)
  • White-eyed Vireo -- 1
  • Red-eyed Vireo -- 2
  • Tree Swallow -- 3
  • Carolina Chickadee -- 3
  • Carolina Wren -- 1
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher -- 2 (HO)
  • American Redstart -- 1
  • Prothonotary Warbler -- 3 (FOS)
  • Common Yellowthroat -- 1 (HO)
  • Northern Cardinal -- 3
  • Indigo Bunting -- 1

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org/VA)


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