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June 2, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Can anyone beat the Cubs?

You've got to wonder. They've won their last seven games in a row, including an incredible comeback against the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday. Down 9-0, they rallied to win 10-9. See MLB.com. For the first time since 1908, when they last won the World Series, the Cubs currently have the best win-loss record in all of baseball. With slugging outfielders Alfonso Soriano, Jim Edmonds (!), and Kosuke Fukudome in the lineup, and Kerry Wood as the very effective new closing pitcher (a career shift like John Smoltz a few years ago), they could -- go -- all -- the -- way! [Sorry, I should have mentioned ace pitcher Carlos Zambrano.] It's also nice to see journeyman infielder Mark DeRosa having a great year; he's batting .298 right now. I'm sure I'm not the only guy whose long-suffering father could finally get to relish a moment of joy this October.

Florida dominates (?)

Perhaps just as astonishing, however, is the fact that both teams from Florida have been on top or near the top of their respective divisions for the past month or so. The NL East and AL East are both very tough divisions to compete in. I'll bet taking "Devil" out of their name exorcised some of the Rays' playing "demons." In Citizens Bank Park yesterday, the Phillies beat the Marlins thanks to a couple key errors by the Marlins, thereby pulling a half game ahead of their semi-tropical rivals.

Home run milestones

After a prolonged wait last month, Manny Ramirez finally hit his 500th career homer over the weekend, as well as his 501st. Congratulations, Manny! Meanwhile, Ken Griffey Jr. is still stuck at 599, having hit only one four-bagger in all of May. And how about Chipper Jones, another future Hall of Famer, who is closing in on the 400-home run threshold? He is currently batting an astounding .405! After batting a career low of .248 in 2004, Chipper has improved his batting average every year since then. Too bad the rest of his team can't keep up with him. Since Ted Williams finished the 1941 season at .406, the closest any Major Leaguer has come to that level has been Tony Gwynn, who batted .394 in 1994.

The mail bag

The granddaughter of the "Sultan of Swat," Linda Ruth Tosetti, is leading a petition drive to have all Major League Baseball teams retire the number 3 on their uniforms, in honor of The Babe. See Newsday and retirebabesnumber.com. Hat tip to Bruce Orser.

Also, Mitchel Lichtman heard that the home run line on the left field wall at Minute Maid Park was raised in the first couple years after the park was opened -- and still called "Enron." Does anyone out there know anything about that?

Finally, Brian Vangor sent me this spectacular picture he took of my lovely wife Jacqueline and me up in the nosebleed section at Nationals Park two Saturdays ago. Note all the empty seats in the over-priced middle deck above the bullpen. Off in the distance, though not discernible in this photo, one can see the flags on the roof of RFK Stadium, just above the lights along the roof in the right field corner. Many thanks, Brian!

Andrew, Jacqueline at NationalsPark

June 2, 2008 [LINK / comment]

GOP convention in Richmond

I served as a delegate to the Republican convention in Richmond this weekend, my first such experience. It wasn't exactly "Kumbaya," but the tensions among the rival factions were under control. On the surface, at least, Republicans came together. On Friday afternoon, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling was elected to chair the meeting, after a challenge from Ron Paul supporters that almost created a disruption similar to what happened in some party meetings last year. Bolling gave the introductory speech, followed by Attorney General Bob McDonnell, and then a brief recorded video message from President Bush.

I forget who said it, but one of the speakers quoted Andrew Jackson as follows:

One man with courage makes a majority.

That's a refreshing and encouraging thought.

Gilmore defeats Marshall

The most important issue to be decided was the senatorial nomination, and that was the first major item on Saturday's agenda. Congressman Eric Cantor nominated Jim Gilmore, reminding everyone that Mark Warner can't be trusted to act in the best interests of all Virginians. (I recorded several of the speeches, and may post a montage of some of the best parts later on.) [In his speech, Gov. Gilmore] made a strong promise not to raise taxes, not to go along with pork barrel spending, and to secure our borders against illegal immigration. Then he made a very bold pledge:

And finally, I will work to reduce these outrageous gas prices which are crushing our working families and crippling our economy. It's time for a declaration of energy independence for the United States!

That drew the loudest cheers, but as the guy sitting next to me said, "If he can do that, he'd be a miracle worker." [Gilmore] called Mark Warner a "limousine liberal who says one thing to get elected and then does another thing once he's in office," referring to Warner's broken commitment not to raise taxes. Indeed! He also urged party members not to write off Northern Virginia, which has come to be a Democrat stronghold in recent years.

Then Delegate Bob Marshall was nominated (I'm not sure by whom), and he elicited a rousing chorus of whoops and cheers from his supporters. "Go, Bob, go! Go, Bob, go!" I knew he had strong "grassroots" support, but was taken aback by just how loud they were. The intensity of his supporters was so great that I was convinced he would win easily, which would have been an upset. Then a woman sitting near me pointed out that [each unit's voting strength is based on the total number Republican votes in the most recent presidential and gubernatorial elections, not the number of delegates actually present.]

I was leaning toward Gilmore all along, but I was impressed with his opponent Bob Marshall's command of the issues. I also appreciate the fact that Delegate Marshall took the time to call me and ask me what my concerns were. My main hesitation with him is his overriding emphasis on social issues, such as banning all abortions. Because I do not believe that personhood begins at conception, I favor some choice for women in the early weeks of pregnancy.

Finally, they began passing out ballots and tabulating the vote counts. For the large party units such as Fairfax County, delegates had to line up along the side of the auditorium to make sure ballots were properly cast. It was incredibly dramatic as each district's leader announced their vote totals. I carefully wrote down the totals for each district, and borrowed a calculator to come up with the totals, getting it correct to the second decimal place, so the folks sitting next to me learned the final results even before they were announced at the podium!

District Jim Gilmore Bob Marshall ? Berry
1st 490.73 643.27 0
2nd 612.00 345.60 0
3rd 121.83 75.16 0
4th 319.45 382.54 0
5th 666.17 419.65 0
6th 530.62 507.47 19.91
7th * 1,035.79 581.52 0
8th 156.96 145.04 0
9th 551.78 335.22 0
10th 160.50 584.50 0
11th 577.00 1,137.00 3.00
TOTAL 5,222.83 5,156.97 22.91
(PERCENT) 50.2% 49.6% 0.2%

It could not have been any closer. [The difference between Gilmore and Marshall was 65.86 votes, only six-tenths of one percent of the total!] Indeed, two women sitting near me probably made the difference, switching to Gilmore at the last minute almost. Since they were the only delegates in attendance, they alone determined their unit's votes, and that was enough to tip the balance. It proves the adage that one person can make the difference.

In Staunton, which is part of the Sixth District, there were 20.7 [27.7 ?] votes for Marshall, and 8.3 votes for Gilmore. Thirteen delegates from Staunton cast a total of 36 votes, which means that only two others besides me voted for the winning candidate. Someone suggested that we should adopt the "unit rule," meaning that whichever candidate got a majority in Staunton would get all the votes, but we decided against that.

[ * The 7th District passed when they were called the first time, so they were the last ones to announce their vote totals, which is what put Gilmore over the top. ]

Frederick unseats Hager

Delegate Jeff Frederick, age 32, succeeded in his bid to replace long-time party activist John Hager, age 72, for the position of RPV Chairman. Frederick is from Woodbridge, part of Prince William County in mostly-Democratic Northern Virginia. He is clearly energetic, appealing to the party's "grassroots." I expected Hager to win comfortably, and once again, my hunch was way off base. Even before the votes were announced, Mr. Hager took the podium to move that his opponent be declared the winner by acclamation. In Staunton, Hager received 11.07 votes (four delegates) and Frederick received 24.93 (nine), and the Sixth District totals were even more lopsided. Obviously, it's a reflection of deep dissatisfaction with the party leadership in these times of division and acrimony.

Frederick's election will lead to a very awkward situation, because Frederick by law cannot raise money for political causes while the General Assembly is in session. He has promised to step aside from party leadership while the legislature is in session, which means he will not be able to serve as party leader during those 6-8 weeks every January and February.

Electing someone with conflicting obligations seems problematic to me, and that got me to thinking about something that Augusta County Republican Chairman Kurt Michael (see below!) said in his speech to the mass meeting on April 10 (watch the YouTube video):

Let the public officials do their public duties, let the party people run the party!

As I noted at the time, that is a good idea as a general rule, unless there are truly extenuating circumstances. (If the current situation in SWAC Land is not an extenuating circumstance, I don't know what is.) I just hope Delegate Frederick can juggle his overlapping duties and perform effectively.

I must say, I was rather disgusted by Frederick's campaign literature suggesting that Hager was on cozy terms with the Democrats. What's he trying to say? Is John Hager a "RINO"? In the last days of the campaign, Hager sent out a flyer quoting Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican." Frederick had the enthusiastic backing of the party "grassroots," and his election marks another step backward in terms of the party's appeal to the general public and the electability of its candidates, I'm afraid.

As for Mr. Hager, he is a fine, dynamic party leader, as well as a polite gentleman, and to me it's a shame he was ousted so abruptly, after less than ten months in office -- hardly enough time to prove himself. (He was elected last July, and paid a visit to Staunton just a few weeks later.) He has probably been spending most of his time lately taking care of his son Henry's wedding to Jenna Bush. I feel sorry for the party elders in his age group who are just learning what blogs are, but can't quite grasp all the opportunities and pitfalls created by this new medium. The rapid turnover rate in the RPV chairmanship -- Kate Obenshain Griffin, Ed Gillespie, John Hager, and now Jeff Frederick, all within the space of two years -- is a prime indicator of the turbulent state of the party these days. Hager tried but failed to reconcile the divergent factions in the party, and I'm not sure that Frederick makes that a very high priority. "Grassroots" über alles!

RPV picks Kurt Michael

As most of us had come to expect, the RPV Central Committee voted to accept the decision of the Sixth District Committee, recognizing Kurt Michael as Chairman of the Augusta County Republican Committee. They probably figured it was the safe thing to do. See the News Leader. (Did Lynn Mitchell recuse herself, as she suggested that Sixth District Chairman Fred Anderson do?)

FACT CHECK: It says on the sixtyfour.81.com blog that the decision in favor of Kurt Michael was by unanimous vote, but I learned from a first-hand source at the convention that it was definitely not unanimous. I keep saying that truth and candor are essential for restoring party unity, and I'm not encouraged when I read false statements like that.

Democrats split apart

Meanwhile, as I returned home that evening, I got to watch (live on CNN) the Democrats tear themselves apart over the question of how and whether to allow Michigan and Florida to be represented with delegates at the Democrats' convention. As a compromise that pleases no one and angers many, they allowed delegations from both states to participate, but with only one half vote each. So, Barack Obama will get significant number of delegates from Michigan, even though his name wasn't even on the ballot! On TV, there were a couple of Clinton delegates who were so mad they said they would vote for McCain in November! Well, if I were in Hillary's camp, I'd be pretty P.O.'d as well!


June 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Photo gallery spring cleaning

After a long period of neglect, I have reformatted and updated the Photo gallery page. It now loads more quickly, as there is only one montage image displayed at first, and is replaced by appropriate montages for each year as you scroll up and down the page. There is also a new Spring 2008 photo gallery page. Nearly all of the old photo gallery pages now conform to a standardized format, with captions being positioned consistently, and with the "Photo Gallery" banner image at the top of the page serving as the navigational link to the main photo gallery page. I will be deleting a lot of old photos, and for past years, there will generally be only one photo gallery page per year, except for trips overseas or to other special places.

This upgrade of the photo galleries is in part motivated by a recent "hardware" acquisition, of which the photo below is the first example. We had been shopping for a digital camera for several months, and I wasn't sure if we should get one of those tiny pocket-size cameras or a higher-quality one. In making my selection, I relied upon Consumer Reports and MacLife magazines, as well as advice from various people such as Brian Vangor, whom I met recently at Nationals Park in Washington. (He took that photo of us.) Last week, finally, we opted for the latter, and bought a Nikon D40 digital SLR camera, and so far, I am extremely impressed with the results. It will take a long time before I learn all the features of this new technological "marvel." It has an 18mm-55mm wide angle zoom lens, rather than a telephoto lens, so I won't be able to use it to take wild bird photographs for the time being. I plan to get a spotting scope and adapter eventually, at which point I might be able to take bird photos of comparable quality to those taken by Brenda Tekin or by my brother John.

Purple Orchid

The very first photo I took with our new Nikon D40 digital SLR camera, using manual focus but automatic exposure controls. This purple orchid is of the Phalaenopsis genus.


June 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Obama claims nomination

There was no doubt that Barack Obama would get enough pledged delegates to win the Democratic nomination, and in his speech in St. Paul* tonight, he let everyone know that it's a done deal. Even though Hillary won the South Dakota primary 55%-45%, Obama seems to have won Montana by an equal or greater margin -- they're still counting the votes in the Mountain Time Zone. See CNN.com. Should Obama have waited for Hillary to face up to the cold, harsh reality? Was his declaration of victory premature? "Mission Accomplished?" smile

One has to give him credit for promising that Hillary will be at the center of his plan to nationalize health care. (Groan...) Still, I wonder how soon people will get tired of all [that "this is our moment" rhetoric Obama keeps spouting]. Inspiration grows stale very quickly in the absence of concrete achievements, and he remains a big question mark in that department.

Obama's speech was at the Xcel Energy Center, where the Republicans will hold their convention in early September.

Will Obama's belated decision to cut his ties with the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago neutralize one of the Republicans' most potent rhetorical weapons against him? (See Washington Post.) Only a little. He should have left that church long ago, and doing so at this late date may simply make him look weak, buckling under pressure after having stoutly defended Rev. Wright. The Catholic priest who has preached at that church, Rev. Michael Pfleger, is just as much of a nut as Rev. Wright, and it really makes you wonder about the influence of religious extremists on the Democrat side. I don't think anything the late Rev. Jerry Falwell or Rev. Pat Robertson said compare with the overt hate speech of Wright and Pfleger.

Is Hillary a sore loser?

Some of the media pundits complained that Hillary missed the opportunity to look gracious in this historical moment, but I'm not so sure. Having come so close in this primary race, I think she's entitled to let the process play out until the end. Her speech this evening gave no hint of bitterness, though she probably feels that way. What may raise questions is the way she hinted she might take the Veep position, presumably on her terms, in a sort of co-presidency. Would Bill become Secretary of State? Even though Hillary is probably better equipped to govern, with all her contacts and experience, having Bill hanging around making mischief would count as a major negative factor.


June 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Canary love: ups and downs

Ever since March, Luciano has been acting so aggressively toward Princess that we have had to keep her in the cage for her own protection. For the past couple weeks, however, his courtship "ardor" seems to have cooled off a little bit, and she in turn has become a little more receptive to his advances. It's still very much an off and on proposition, however, and we still keep a close eye on them, because Princess is lame and can't defend herself very well. Indeed, her one good leg has become noticeably weaker in the past couple months, and she can't hop around very well. Instead, she relies on her wings just to move short distances. Likewise, she is finding it harder and harder to fly because she is missing one or two primary wing feathers. I suppose it's one of the ailments characteristic of older birds.

As for the "young stud," Luciano is gaining more confidence in establishing "his" territorial rights, singing loudly while perched in the window every day. Compared to George (his predecessor), he shows less fear, and he lets us get closer to him than George would. This morning while I was reading the newspaper on the sofa, Luciano flew right next to me and perched on a pillow, where he stood and watched for about 15 seconds. That was pretty remarkable.

Princess, Luciano eating

Princess (left) and Luciano (right) often eat together, and sometimes he will feed her as part of the courtship ritual that is standard for most bird species.


June 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]

FARC leader is dead: what now?

Last week the narcoterrorist organization that calls itself the "Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia" (FARC) officially acknowledged that their long-time leader "Manuel Marulanda" died on March 26. Supposedly it was after suffering a heart attack, but some speculate that he was killed in an air strike. Another top FARC leader had been killed by Colombian government troops during the recent offensive during which a rebel base inside Ecuador was bombed, sparking an international crisis in March. There had been rumors about his demise for several weeks, and the delay is not surprising given the need to choose a successor. The rebel leaders pledge to continue their 40-year old war against the government. FARC has lost about one-third of its total strength since President Alvaro Uribe took office in 2002, and now includes about 11,000 armed members. See Washington Post.

The new leader is Alfonso Cano, an expert in ideology and regarded by some observers as a more "moderate" (??) than FARC's military commander, "Mono Jojoy." The "Marulanda's" real name was Pedro Antonio Marin, nicknamed "Tirofijo" (Sureshot). The Economist noted of him:

Mr Marulanda was the last link to the FARC's origins as a peasant self-defence force against landowners, an offshoot of a rural civil war in the 1940s and 1950s between Liberals and Conservatives.

The Economist gives FARC little chance of maintaining its current level of power for much longer, without a strong central leader. As they say, the main threat to security in the region stems not from Colombia's stubborn old rebels but rather from next door in Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez has been providing moral and material support to the anti-government forces.

So, FARC will probably linger on for a few more years, though greatly diminished. The United States will have to remain engaged, encouraging the development of a free, prosperous society in Colombia that can defend itself from barbarians. In retrospect, FARC probably went too far when it accepted a safe haven as part of a compromise arranged by the previous president, Andres Pastrana. They used it as an opportunity to rearm and regroup, launching a deadly series of terror bombings in Colombia's main cities, alienating the vast majority of people. Ever since then, they have been isolated from the mainstream of society, with dwindling material and manpower support.

Very little has been heard from the other rebel group in Colombia, the National Liberation Army (ELN), which operates mostly in the northeast. President Uribe offered them an olive branch in 2005, and there have been intermittent peace talks since then.

Dems turn their backs

At the very moment when the scales are tipping toward the cause of freedom and respect for the rule of law, Democratic congressmen in the United States are holding up ratification of the U.S.-Colombia free trade treaty. By catering to union leaders who insist on unrealistically high standards as a precondition for accepting such a treaty, they are sabotaging our national interests. Their attitude is utterly despicable, and even the Washington Post has repeatedly chastised Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders for their foolish, short-sighted attitude.

For more on the pandering of Barack Obama and other Democrats toward the narco-terrorists, see Charles Bird at www.redstate.com.


June 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Turnaround time for Nationals

After two awful days of rain and thunderstorms in Our Nation's Capital, including a rained-out game last night, it appears that the Nats have turned the corner, and brighter days may be ahead -- finally. In each of the first three innings against the Cardinals this evening, the Nats have scored as many or more runs than the total runs scored (2) in the four previous games [put together]!!


UPDATE: The Nationals frittered away the seven-run lead they had built by the end of the third inning, and the Cardinals' relief pitcher Mark Worrell hit a three-run home run in the sixth inning -- his very first career hit in the big leagues! In the ninth inning, Nats' closer Jon Rauch gave up two more runs, blowing the save and making it an 8-8 tie. The Nats came very close to an awful heartbreak in the tenth inning when the Cardinals took the lead on a home run by Joe Mather -- the second player to hit his first career homer in that game! But in the bottom of the tenth, Cristian Guzman got another hit (his fourth) and the spirited Elijah Dukes knocked a walk-off home run (also his fourth hit of the game) just beyond the corner in center field, winning the game, 10-9. (Whew!) The Nationals, with 16 hits altogether (a season high), thereby averted being swept in their home series with the Cardinals. See MLB.com. What a wild and crazy game!

The mail bag

I received a nice message from Russ Haslage, one of the directors of the The League Park Society, which has set up a Web site dedicated to preserving and restoring what remains of that old ballpark in east Cleveland: www.leaguepark.org. More updates on that project soon!


June 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Kurt Michael prepares to resign

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it looks like it's the end of an era in the Staunton-Waynesboro-Augusta County (SWAC) area.* In a major step toward carrying out the promise he made six weeks ago, Dr. Kurt Michael declared that he will resign his position as Chairman of the Augusta County Republican Committee this coming Saturday. His letter appeared in the sixtyfour81.com blog, emphasizing party unity:

While my decision to relinquish the Chairmanship does not come easy, my primary motivation is for the greater good of the Republican Party. By stepping aside, an opportunity for a consensus candidate will be created. With my resignation, I am offering an invitation to Senator Emmett Hanger and his followers to come back into the Republican fold and focus on the true challenge of the fall elections.

"back into the Republican fold"? When did Senator Hanger or his followers ever leave the Republican fold? Oh, that's right, he's been considered a "RINO" by those "grassroots" folks all along. I think a good way to restore party unity would be to stop using that annoying epithet: "Republican In Name Only." For my part, I pledge to refrain from using such derogatory epithets in the future, as long as there is a gesture of reciprocity. Let's see if we can all be nice for a change.

As for his plea to Dr. Larry Roller to accept the decision of the State Central Committee regarding the Augusta County chairmanship, I agree. I thought it was disgraceful for Kurt to take the dispute to the legal system, outside of party channels (see May 2, second item), and I think the same standard applies now. The issue has been decided, and there is no higher appeal to be made. As noted at the end of my YouTube video, I have grave reservations about the fairness of the appeal process, but a political party is a voluntary association of individuals, and the only recourse when things are done in an unfair or objectionable way is simply to leave.

That raises another nagging question, however: Who exactly is a member of the Augusta County Republican Committee right now? According to the recent letter by Steve Kijak, the only people invited to the recent meeting of that party unit were Kurt's own supporters. Another big step toward restoring party unity would be to immediately and unconditionally accept as a member any person who was a member in good standing as of April 10, when the mass meeting was held. (Actually, there is a similar situation with the Staunton Republican Committee: In spite of repeated inquiries, I don't even know who is on the membership roster, and which members are considered "at-large," and I've been a member for almost six years!)

The co-leader of the M & M "grassroots" faction, SWAC Girl, laments the passing from the stage of her partner, Kurt. For the first time in recorded history (as far as I know), she agrees with Chris Graham of the Augusta Free Press, who writes:

I guess I ought to just go ahead and say this, as controversial as it may be. This news is great news for Democrats and progressives, both locally here in the Valley and across the Commonwealth.

No one can deny that Kurt has been an effective, energetic, "grassroots" party leader. The question is whether his efforts were wisely and prudently directed. Many if not most people who know him first-hand would say he's something of a "loose cannon." If only that vast energy and talent had been applied in a positive way, rather than in attacking other Republicans, our party would be in a much stronger position today than it actually is.

* Of course, one ought to take into account the possibility that Dr. Michael may decide to remain active in the party behind the scenes...

Part 2 [LINK / comment]

GOP convention miscellany

Shaun Kenney gives his take on the Republican get-together in Richmond. I have to agree with him that the Richmond Convention Center was less than satisfactory. The main auditorium has bad acoustics and bad sight lines for the audience. He pays kind tribute to outgoing chair John Hager and to [RPV] Executive Director Charlie Judd, who will be leaving as well. (Likewise, [Treasurer] Fred Malek, I assume?) Ah, the passing of the generational guard... As for Shaun's comment on the dominance of the "values voters" in the New Right, that there is a "new wind blowing," I would agree, albeit ironically: It's something of a "Divine Wind," you might say. (See next paragraph.)

Waldo Jaquith relished the bitter contest between the GOP right wing and the even-righter wing, noting that new RPV chief Jeff Frederick has "all but promised to accelerate his party's plunge off the cliff." That parallels what I wrote in my summary of politics for the year 2007: "Yes, folks, the Party of Lincoln is in the midst of a kamikaze dive, and Honest Abe must be rolling over in his grave." (Am I being clear enough?)

As one might expect, the campaign by Jeff Frederick to unseat John Hager as RPV Chairman was not without controversy and charges of unfairness. As Riley at Virginia Virtucon (link via Shaun Kenney) reported, Jeff Frederick's supporters complained bitterly that they were not allowed to show a campaign video to the convention audience unless it was submitted several days in advance, giving Hager's team time to rebut it. There are also questions about Hager's use of party resources to promote his reelection. From what I can tell, Frederick has pledged to resign his seat in the House of Delegates, rather than stepping aside from his post as party leader during the General Assembly session. We'll find out in due course what his intentions are.

Finally, from the official convention program, I learned that none other than Alex Davis was a member of the Credentials Committee, which is in charge of validating the identities of delegates. I kid you not. Virginia House Delegate Chris Saxman and Trixie Averill, a prominent Sixth District activist, were on the Resolutions Committee.

Rules: what for?

I thought this passage from the campaign flyer of Virginia's Republican National Committee member Morton Blackwell, who is a widely-recognized authority on party rules and procedures, was very appropriate to our situation:

Top priority regarding party rules: Always to make it possible for power to flow from the bottom up, rather than the top down.

This is the exact opposite of the way party rules have been applied around here over the past year, from what I've observed. That's politics for you.

Primary election?

The Washington Post noted a big irony that also occurred to me recently: Last year, Jim Gilmore persuaded party leaders to nominate the senatorial candidate in a convention, rather than in a primary election. At the time, his chief likely rival was Rep. Tom Davis, of Fairfax County, who is relatively moderate on some issues. In other words, Gilmore's preference to have the choice made by party activists, more conservative and therefore presumably more friendly to him than the general public, just about cost him the nomination. I wonder how Davis would have fared against Gilmore in an open primary?

Part 3 [LINK / comment]

More video stuff

There's a piece about Keith Drake's "Hanger's Closet" video at hburgnews.com, and "Bubby" presents a lengthy, insightful, entertaining summary of what the hell has happened to the SWAC-area Republican Party (and the party state-wide) over the past few years. He made a couple passing references to me, and I commented to take exception to his characterization of me as a "dandy." smile

On Yankee Phil's blog, "Anonymous" (!) accused me of presenting false information in my newest YouTube video, just because it left out some parts of the mass meeting (in the interests of brevity), so I obligingly provided a transcript of the missing portion: (Sentences in parentheses are already on the YouTube video.)

Jean Shrewsbury: (I would like to nominate Jim Bailey for permanent chairman of this mass meeting.) Jim has been chairman of Augusta County Board of Supervisors and is very familiar with Robert's Rules of Order, and should be able to handle our meeting with efficiency and decorum.

Kurt Michael: Ms. Shrewsbury, with all due respect, the motion is out of order. Are you saying that he should be permanent chair?

JS: Yes sir.

KM: We first need to vote on temporary chair, so if he would like to run for temporary chair, that's appropriate, but that motion is out of order. Would you please repeat the motion.

JS: I'll withdraw the motion.

?: I move to ... (interrupted)

KM: OK, there's a motion on the floor, there's been a motion to call to question for temporary chair of the mass meeting. The only nomination I hear at this time is Kurt Michael. Is that my understanding?

?: I nominate Jim Bailey for temporary chair.

KM: There's no second.

?: Second.

KM: Let's move forward. There's two people for temporary chair, that would be Kurt Michael and Jim Bailey. (All in favor of Kurt Michael being temporary chair of this mass meeting, say aye...)

What does that prove? That Ms. Shrewsbury made a mistake in her nomination of Jim Bailey? Well, yes. That Dr. Michael, in his haste to get himself voted in, ignored someone who tried to speak up? Apparently. Either way, it's not such a big deal.

NOTE: Because this is a long post covering multiple topics, I have added separate links for the second and third parts.


June 6, 2008 [LINK]

Blog post: lost ... and found!

While revamping my Web pages and doing some searches of my blog archives on Thursday, I came across a blog post dated January 6, 2006, and realized to my horror that I apparently never uploaded it to the Web server. frown Because of the extremely relevant subject matter ("RINOs," etc.), I think it's important enough to include. So, as a good faith measure to show that the file was indeed created and last modified in January 2006, here is a screen shot of the Finder window on my Mac, with a closeup of the HTML file in the lower left corner.

omitted blog post 6 Jan 2006

And here is the blog post in question, just as I originally wrote it but with some editing changes for the sake of clarity and context, enclosed in brackets -- 29 months after the fact! "Better late than never"?


January 6, 2006 [LINK]

Club for Growth

One of the leading conservative political action committees in recent years has been the Club for Growth, and I tend to agree with the basic grievance:

Too many Congressional Republicans have veered away from the limited government agenda that got them elected to the majority in Congress. They have approved pork-barrel highway bills worse than the Democrats used to give us. They have dropped the ball on making tax cuts permanent, tax reform, and personal investment of Social Security.

This sentence from their Web site best encapsulates the emphasis that gives me pause: "Our ultimate goal is to change policy outcomes--to maximize prosperity through pro-growth policies." If freedom were their ultimate goal, the definition of "prosperity" might be different. Conservatives often forget that prosperity is a subjective thing, intimately connected to social status, which is why many Americans feel stressed out and frustrated in spite of being fabulously wealthy by global standards. The appropriate standard is to look back on our own history, specifically our own family ancestors, and think about how they would see the kind of creature comforts most of us enjoy. Public policies should not be aimed at aggravating the anxiety most people feel about "keeping up with the Joneses," it should be aimed at broadening the range of choices to individuals in their "pursuit of happiness." It hardly needs saying that making economic growth the number one priority would put the environment at risk, contradicting the principle of wildlife conservation. "O, beautiful, for spacious skies..."

As for political strategy, [the Club for Growth has had a pernicious effect on GOP unity.] I remain convinced that, unless the Republicans' agenda puts more emphasis on an integrated [set of market-oriented policy reforms, as opposed to simplistic, crowd-pleasing anti-tax pledges, the] fratricidal campaign against "RINOs" [which they have encouraged] will doom the party.

GOP to Slash Planned Deficit Growth by .05%

"Congressional Republicans hailed the revival of 'the Reagan revolution for smaller government' today..." That's according to Scott Ott's superlative scrappleface.com. An appropriate ironic thought to dwell on over the holidays.


June 6, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Remembering D-Day: 6/6/44

During the night of June 5/6, 1944, thousands of naval vessels of every shape, size, and function set sail from England, heading toward the beaches of Normandy. The initial troop landings were horrific, with a very high casualty rate, as dramatized all-too-vividly by the movie Saving Private Ryan. In spite of extensive preparations, and clear superiority in terms of airpower, seapower, manpower, and materiel, the Allies were at a big disadvantage because of the German fortifications and beach obstacles all along the English Channel coast of Northern France.

In retrospect, the victory over the Nazi occupiers seems almost inevitable, but for those who were there at the time, it was a hellish, confusing bloodbath that could have gone either way. Only because enough American, British, and Canadian soldiers valued the cause they were serving more than their own lives did the liberating armies gain a foothold on the Normandy coast that allowed reinforcements to be brought in. After the first day, 150,000 Allied soldiers were ashore, and this number climbed steadily in the weeks that followed, paving the way for the ultimate defeat of Hitler. That's what D-Day was.

To keep things in perspective, 64 years later, let's also remember that more Allied soldiers died on the beaches on D-Day alone than the total number of American combat deaths in Iraq thus far -- about 4,000. The war and counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq have lasted over five years, which means just over two American fatalities per day.

It's hard to drive home the importance of that landmark historical event. Today as I was writing a check at WalMart and noting the date, the checkout lady mentioned D-Day without any prompting from me. She has a brother and father who served in the military, so that matters to her. It really made my day.

Those who care about the sacrifices that were made in the cause of freedom should visit the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. It was built there because that town suffered a higher proportion of combat deaths relative to its total population than any other community in the United States. They were troops of the 29th Infantry Division (National Guard), which still operates today, with one of the brigade headquarters located right here in Staunton.

D-Day Memorial, beach

June 9, 2008 [LINK / comment]

We built this Citi (Field)

Citi FieldNew! The Citi Field page is now in a semi-completed state, much like the future home of the New York Mets, construction of which is about 70 percent completed. The diagram is still preliminary, leaving out certain details, pending further research. The same goes for the New Yankee Stadium. I hate to admit it, but I'm more impressed with the design of the Mets' future stadium than with the Yankees' future stadium being built in The Bronx.

NOTE: Back on April 24, I said I would have that page ready "next month, for sure," but that depends on what the definition of "next" is. smile

Less bulk, more speed

Back to old-fashioned "small ball"! Sunday's Washington Post analyzed the increased number of stolen bases and decreased number of home runs in the post-steroid era. While the number of stolen bases has risen from a low of 1.06 per game in 2003 to 1.24 so far this year, the number of home runs has declined from an average of 2.34 per game in 2000 to 1.89 per game thus far this year. Part of this trend stems from the rapid decline in the use of performance-enhancing drugs, but part of it reflects the increased use of quantitative methods ("sabermetrics!") to assess the risks and benefits of stealing bases. The article mention four sluggers who are good at stealing bases (A-Rod, Chase Utley, David Wright, and Derek Jeter), but neglected to mention Alfonso Soriano, who as a National in 2006 became the first and only player to get 40+ homers and stolen bases in one year.

Nats are in bad shape

As a team, the Washington Nationals have gone back into a negative cycle, below .400 for the first time in several weeks. This is mainly a reflection of the banged-up roster: Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson, Austin Kearns, Paul Lo Duca, Chad Cordero, and others are all on the disabled list, and it may be weeks before the team is in good enough shape to win consistently.

Tonight at Nationals Park, the Nationals will try to avoid being swept by the Giants, which would be the first four-game sweep the Nats have suffered since April 5-8, 2007, versus the Diamondbacks. That was also a home series.


June 9, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Hillary bows out: What now?

For at least the past four years, pundits on the Right have made a cottage industry of bashing closet Socialist Hillary Clinton, assuming that she would be the Democrats' nominee. Now that she has officially conceded the race to nominee-apparent Barack Hussein Obama, what are Sean Hannity, Chris Green, and all the rest going to do with themselves? smile

UPDATE: WaPo colunist Richard Cohen, a paragon of liberal MSM orthodoxy, makes the same point, pitying the legion of anti-Hillary book authors, TV pundits, and bloggers whose purpose in life has been voided:

For a number of reasons, I did not think she should be the Democratic nominee, but I often had more problems with her critics than I did with her. Some of them, clearly, needed to be medicated.

Now, though, an eerie silence has settled over the land.

On a more serious note, the effective end of the Democrats' primary campaign does create a new challenge for John McCain and the Republicans. Now that Obama can focus more of his attention on independent voters, framing issues in a way that makes the November election look like a referendum on the Bush years, McCain will be put in the awkward position of distancing himself from Bush, but not too much.

Virginia GOP follies

Former delegate Vince Callahan, who once supported Gov. Gilmore's "no car tax" proposal but is now considered a "RINO," left no doubt what he thinks about the recent Virginia Republican Party convention:

I think you are seeing a cataclysmic episode in the decline of the Republican Party of Virginia. ... It took us 30 years to build up this party, and now it is slipping away. . . . The Republican Party has gotten out of touch with the general electorate. (SOURCE: Washington Post)

Thomas Krehbiel speculates: "Am I the only one that wouldn't be surprised to hear about Kurt Michael being named to an RPV position in the near future?" No, he is not. (Hat tip to Whackette, who was on a SWAC-bashing roll for a while and is now "kissing up.") Perhaps Alex Davis will be named RPV Legal Counsel. smile


June 9, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Field trip to Highland County

On Saturday I joined eleven other members of the Augusta Bird Club and the Bath-Highland Bird Club on a very successful field trip to Highland County, braving the high temperatures that were only slightly less oppressive at the high elevations. Known as Virginia's "Little Switzerland," this is a special location because a number of bird species breed in the mountains of West Virginia (or near it) but nowhere else in these latitudes. Altogether, our group identified (by sight or by sound) 99 species of birds, and I personally saw 65 species, two of which were life birds for me: the Alder Flycatcher and the Golden-winged Warbler. I saw twelve different kinds of warblers, possibly the most I have ever seen in one day, taking video shots of several of them (see montage below), and I heard a few others as well. Since this is the middle of breeding season, the males of almost all the species were singing loudly, making them relatively easy to locate.

Even before [our car load of four] guys met up with the rest of the group in Monterey, we came across a Barred Owl that was perched on the side of the road only about ten yards away. We were very lucky that it stayed put while we got our cameras ready, but the low light conditions of the early morning detracted from the image quality:

Barred Owl

Barred Owl, just west of the Augusta-Highland county line, on Route 250.

Because our trip covered such a vast area, with multiple habitats, I have subdivided the list of birds into separate trip segments. Our first stop was near the Bear Mountain Lodge on Route 601, just south of Route 250 within a mile or so of the West Virginia line. Highlights of what we saw there:

  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Indigo Bunting

Next we crossed into West Virginia, went a few miles and then turned back east on Route 54. We stopped near the Buffalo Lake recreation area and a few more times along the thickly forested road, getting a great closeup view of a Winter Wren singing his heart out. As we approached the Virginia state line the road began to climb, and at the top we had great success at a semi-open area full of blackberry bushes. I located one of the main target species, the Mourning Warbler, but I was disappointed that the auto-focus on my video camera didn't work. While at that spot, we saw several Chestnut-sided Warblers and heard some Veeries singing not far away. Then we resumed our eastward course along Rt. 642 (Laurel Fork Road) and made a few more stops as we gradually descended. Highlights:

  • Dark-eyed Juncos
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • American Redstart
  • Winter Wren
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Wild Turkey
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Mourning Warbler
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Cedar Waxwings
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Canada Warbler

Eventually, we emerged from the forest and returned into open pasture countryside, where the sun was blazing. We stopped at Straight Fork, where there is a wetland area with a couple beaver dams, and almost immediately spotted the Alder Flycatcher singing atop a tree snag about 100 yards away. Further along, we saw more pasture-habituated birds. Highlights:

  • Great-crested Flycatcher
  • Alder Flycatcher (Life Bird!)
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Bobolink
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Eastern Kingbirds

Around noon, we stopped to buy food and refreshments in the small town of Blue Grass, and continued on to the O'Bryan's home on the West Virginia state line, where we had lunch on a balcony with a spectacular view. They were very gracious and friendly hosts. (It was the same place where I had seen my first Golden Eagles in January 2007. Sure enough, we soon heard the buzzing "song" of the Golden-winged Warblers, and saw two of them during a short walk up a brushy slope later on. Triumph! Highlights:

  • Kestrel
  • Cliff Swallows
  • Phoebe
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Golden-winged Warblers (Life Bird! *)

This was my first clear sighting of a Golden-winged Warbler; I caught a probable glimpse of one in Augusta 2005.

After lunch we drove south, and stopped at the Spahrs' house, where a Yellow-throated Vireo was sitting in a nest that was very difficult to see in the tree top. It was the first record of nesting by that species in the county. Then we continued toward the south and saw more birds in the open countryside near Hightown, pretty much wrapping up the day. Highlights:

  • House Wren
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee
  • Bald Eagle (imm.)
  • Orchard Oriole (1YM)
  • Baltimore Orioles
  • Goldfinches
  • Kestrel
  • Hairy Woodpecker

On our way back to Staunton, we stopped briefly at Ramsey's Draft, and heard a Northern Parula, just as I had hoped, adding one last bird to our list, and saw two additional male and one female Blackburnian Warblers. It was an exhausting, ten-hour foray into the Wild Kingdom of Nature, but the results were well worth it. Many thanks to Dr. John Spahr for planning and scouting the trip route, to Allen Larner for his driving and bird identification skills, and to all the others who made the field trip such a big success.

Highland County bird montage

Montage of songbirds from Highland County. Clockwise, from top left: Canada Warbler, Bobolink, Mourning Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Black-throated blue Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Winter Wren, and in the center, Blackburnian Warbler. Most of these images are freeze-frames from digital video clips. YouTube video pending...

Based on these new observations, I have updated my Life Bird List page, and will do likewise soon for the Annual Arrivals page.


June 11, 2008 [LINK / comment]

HUD and the mortgage crisis

A front-page article in Tuesday's Washington Post almost sounded like Ronald Reagan, blaming the government for the sorry state of the mortgage lending industry, and the millions of lower-income families who are at risk of foreclosure. As far back as 2004, the Department of Housing and Urban Development ignored warnings that many borrowers were in debt over their eyeballs, and went right ahead encouraging more subprime loans. From 2004 to 2006, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae bought $434 billion in mortgage-backed securities to keep the capital flowing. Why? Well, to expand the home-owning middle class, of course! They all vote Republican, don't you know?

(NOTE: Steve Preston replaced Alphonso Jackson as HUD Secretary just last week, with hardly any fanfare. See hud.gov. Jackson resigned amidst charges that he showed favoritism in allocating HUD financing.)

Remember, it was in December 1996 that Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan first warned about "irrational exuberance" in the stock market, but that was because of the herd mentality of Wall Street brokers. In this case, the blame lies with administration officials who were creating a huge distortion in the financial market -- for political reasons! This case is a perfect illustration of the pitfalls of "compassionate conservatism" that President Bush has pursued. Whenever well-meaning government leaders enact some policy aimed at alleviating stress among the less fortunate, the main effect is to encourage more people to get themselves into situations that cause exactly that kind of stress. We would be much better off with a much smaller, less intrusive government that allowed the free market to send accurate signals on the relative scarcity of various commodities and services.

The economic policy debate

That, in turn, is one reason why the debate over economic policy between John McCain and Barack Obama is so interesting. See today's Washington Post. McCain freely admits he is weak on economics, and in a recession year like this one, the incumbent party is extremely vulnerable to populist or emotional appeals for relief, which may backfire. (See above.) With his penchant for euphoric rhetoric, Obama can hardly help promising the moon, the stars, and the sun to every deserving person in the world. That's why McCain's bold offer to do a series of small-scale debate-forums, which would expose such wacko schemes for what they are, is so commendable. I just hope he does his homework ahead of time. There is a huge opportunity for McCain to show the public how certain imprudent, un-conservative policies of the Bush administration are part of the problem, thereby separating himself from Bush while articulating an alternative conservative reform agenda more like what Newt Gingrich would push.


June 12, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Up, up, and away!

After months of frustrating postponements due to adverse weather conditions, Jacqueline and I finally went on a hot air balloon ride this morning -- entering the "Fifth Dimension." This time, the weather was perfect, making the long wait worthwhile. We launched from a Church of the Brethren located a few miles west of Woodstock. (Virginia, not New York.) I was surprised how quickly we gained altitude, and was almost as surprised by our slow horizontal pace, drifting along at less than 10 miles per hour. Our maximum altitude was about 1,300 feet above ground, and we came within inches of the ground once (deliberately), and passed within a few feet of the tree tops another time. Except for the periodic blasts of flame above our head, all was silent as we cruised above the lovely Shenandoah countryside. The experience had a sublimely soothing effect on us. No birds approached us, but we did spot a few interesting birds while aloft, and several dogs barked as we passed overhead. I had always thought that ballooning was purely haphazard, with no real control over direction, but Don Warner of Valley Ballooning proved otherwise. He showed his expertise by deftly guiding the lighter-than-air craft over the tree tops, gaining and losing attitude in order to catch the winds going in the right direction, and finally into a flawless touchdown in a residential subdivision near Mauertown, covering about ten miles altogether. After landing, we helped deflate and pack the balloon into the big duffel bag, and even the local residents were eager to help.

For anyone who loves the outdoors and has a sense of adventure, I highly recommend taking a balloon ride, and you can't go wrong with Valley Ballooning. It's well worth the money, and I'm quite certain we will do so again before long.

Jacqueline, Andrew in balloon

"Are we having fun yet?"
A few miles northwest of Woodstock, Virginia, just after dawn, June 12.

This photo has been posted on the new Summer 2008 photo gallery page, and others will be posted there soon.


June 13, 2008 [LINK / comment]

The mail bag: a quick roundup

I always seem to get bogged down (or bogged up? smile) with peripheral activities camera, and therefore don't always respond very quickly to e-mail inquiries or tips. But you already knew that. Little by little, diagram and Web page enhancements are getting done...

Anyway, Brian Hughes let me know that the overall shape of Citi Field conforms to the surrounding street grid, and about how the new ballpark is expected to encourage economic development in the Willets Point area, which to my surprise is full of run-down warehouses. Also, the Mets made sure that Citi Field's fences can be adjusted with relative ease in case there are too many or too few home runs. He notes the contrast to Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies had to spend millions of dollars just to add ten or so feet in left field.

Josh Geiswite told me something I should have realized a long time ago: When they renovated Yankee Stadium in 1976, they raised the level of the upper-deck concourse by 10-15 feet, in keeping with the increased number of rows in the upper deck. Revisions pending...

Bruce Orser learned that there is a renewed controversy over public funding for the new Yankee Stadium, most of which is being paid for by the Yankees franchise. See Chicago Tribune.

Mario Vara heard that the planned January Winter Classic outdoor hockey game in Yankee Stadium fell through, so the NHL hopes to have that game (between the Chicago Blackhawks against the Detroit Red Wings) played at Wrigley Field. Well, it will almost certainly be cold enough there for the ice!

Finally, Joe King asks a question that should be obvious, and I'm sure someone else must have thought about it:

Why is it that centerfield fences are always further from the plate than are the fences down the left- and right-field lines? The only field that comes close to an exception was Griffith Stadium (438' to center, 405' to left).
It would seem to me that a batter could pull the ball farther than he could hit it to center, since the bat would have accelerated through a longer arc before striking the ball.
On the other hand, the batter cannot take advantage of 100% of the momentum of the incoming pitch unless he hits it to center. My trigonometric calculations show that a ball hit down the line takes advantage of only about 70% of the pitch's incoming momentum. So maybe he CAN hit it farther to center.

I figure that when the ball leaves the bat at an angular trajectory, as in a pull hit, there is a loss of momentum. It probably depends on the speed of the pitch as well, that is, a pull hit ball would go farther than a ball hit to center field, other things being equal, if the pitch was slow enough. This issue is not answered directly in Robert Adair's Physics of Baseball. Is there anybody out there who knows for sure?

Nats are on a rock

As in, they are not on a roll. Every time something encouraging happens, like the ninth inning home run by Lastings Milledge on Tuesday at PNC Park that turned a 6-5 defeat into a 7-6 win against the Pirates, they go back to losing again. Tonight they begin an interleague series against the Mariners (another last-place team) in Seattle.


June 13, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Tim Russert passes away

There are relatively few giants in the world of politics and the news media who hold everything together -- men and women you can't imagine how the world would get by without them. Tim Russert was just that sort of person. Political junkies across the country are in a state of utter shock and dismay this evening upon learning that Russert died of a heart attack today while preparing for his Meet the Press show. A teary-eyed Tom Brokaw made the official announcement on NBC this afternoon. As Keith Olbermann noted on MS-NBC this evening, NBC waited until all family members were notified before making it public -- even though other media outlets had already made it headline news. Such is the cutthroat nature of television news these days: anything to get the "scoop" on the competition.

Trying to assess Russert's greatness is very hard, because he has so few real peers. Among television anchors and reporters, he clearly ranks at or above the level of Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, or Tom Brokaw, and perhaps even that of Edward R. Murrow. One could easily compare him to the great 20th Century newspaper journalists such as Walter Lippmann, James "Scotty" Reston, or William Safire. His strength was not so much in intellectual originality or high-brow wordsmithing as it was in being able to probe his guests in a fair and respectful but extremely effective way. If you were at fault for something, television viewers would quickly know it because of the incisive and honest way he phrased his questions. Few people who were guests on Meet the Press got off the hook.

Tim Russert deserves special recognition as a real national treasure who more than did his part to make sure that the United States remained a great nation, faithful to its ideals of truth and justice. Some day, there will be statues, buildings, endowed professorships, charity events, scholarship funds, and probably a commemorative postage stamp honoring him. Without him, the American public will not be as well informed about the candidates and the issues as they need to be as they make their voting decisions this fall. It will be hard to watch the 2008 national party conventions and the fall presidential campaign without Russert adding his commentary and insight. Who, indeed, can possibly fill his shoes?

Russert became the moderator of Meet the Press in 1991, and he soon transformed it from a solid but unremarkable weekly routine to a dramatic centerpiece of the national political discourse. He persuaded the penny-wise NBC executives to extend the time to a full hour, and he made every minute of that hour count. (If you ask me, NBC should consider cutting Meet the Press back to 30 minutes, now that he's gone.) Russert clearly loved his work, and he was truly blessed to have found his professional niche while in the prime of his career. It is interesting that his rise to superstardom in the Mainstream Media during the 1990s paralleled the rise of Rush Limbaugh in the upstart alternative genre of talk show radio. Russert was smart enough not to look down on Limbaugh, as most others in his profession did, however, but instead welcomed him on his show. Later, he paved the way for Limbaugh to participate as an analyst for NBC in the 2000 election campaign.

Growing up in a working class family from the Rust Belt, Russert's political sympathies naturally lay with Democrats, but it hardly ever showed in his work as a television journalist. His work for Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (an intellectual giant who died in March 2003) no doubt accentuated Russert's innate qualities as a journalist. He was born in 1950, and makes those of us "Baby Boomers" (not exactly the "greatest generation") proud.

A big part of Russert's character came from his father, the subject of Russert's book Big Russ and Me. For a true family man such as Tim Russert, the timing of his death is especially sad -- just before Father's Day. In a somewhat morbid footnote to this terrible tragedy, we should note that Russert's father is still very much alive, notwithstanding what Clinton campaign co-chair Terry McAuliffe suggested last month on Meet the Press, to the painful embarrassment of Russert.

For more on his life, see MS-NBC.

Finally, Russert was a big-hearted sports enthusiast who attended baseball games of the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, and other teams. That was another sign of his genuine, fun-loving personality. But his real passion was for football. I remember every January in the early 1990s as Russert cheered the pro football team from his home town of Buffalo as they got ready to play in the Super Bowl:

Go Bills!

The Buffalo Bills lost four years in a row, as we all know, but Russert never gave up hope, cheering them on in the years that followed. Let's hope that his happy, zestful, fighting spirit, combined with his supreme standard of excellence in broadcast journalism, serve as an inspiration for others to follow in his footsteps. Our country is in dire people of people like him to shine the light of truth on the confusing, shadowy world of politics.


June 14, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Comerica Park update

Comerica Park Thanks in part to some photos kindly submitted by John Mikulis, I have updated the Comerica Park diagrams. They now feature a more accurate grandstand positioning, and include details on exterior structures such as that Ferris wheel and the light towers. After an awful start to the 2008 season, confounding their high hopes for another trip to the World Series, the Tigers have risen to fourth place in the AL Central Division, with a respectable .448 winning percentage.

Griffey gets #600

Congratulations to future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr. for hitting his 600th home run, after a long dearth of four-baggers. It was in the first inning, giving the Reds an early lead over the Marlins, whom they went on to beat, 9-4. Too bad it had to happen in a road game, especially in a ballpark (Dolphins Stadium) with so few fans present to witness the historic event: 16,003 was the "announced" attendance.

I have little or no interest in the latest fads and trendy catch-phrases, but the following remark about career home run records really irritated me: "600 is the new 500." Barf!


June 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nationals sweep the Mariners

The Washington Nationals have been swept (in 3- or 4-game series) five (5) times this season, and this weekend they finally achieved such a sweep against an opposing team, the Seattle Mariners. The hero today was Kory Casto, whose first major league homer got three runs across the plate. See MLB.com. Or, perhaps the fact that they were playing in Washington (state) gave the Nationals a bit of an advantage. After spending a couple weeks on the DL, infielder Ronnie Belliard has come roaring back, with two home runs on Tuesday, two doubles yesterday, and another double today.

Red Sox beat Reds

Yesterday's Game of the Week from Cincinnati on FOX had a thrilling ninth-inning, when the Reds' Edwin Encarnacion hit a two-run homer with two outs and two strikes to tie the game, but it didn't matter in the end, as the Red Sox got two home runs in the top of the tenth, thus winning, 6-4. That's gotta be painful. Today, the Bosox defeated the home team 9-0.

Yanks want more $$$

The New York Yankees are seeking an additional $400 million in public funding for their new stadium, which seems like a dubious proposition. But the bigger issue is whether the project should have been given tax-exempt status in the first place, as about $941 million in tax-exempt public bonds have already been issued. See foxsports.com and Chicago Tribune; hat tip to Brian Hughes and Bruce Orser.

More old baseball movies

I recently saw parts of two classic baseball movies for the first time on Turner Classic Movies: Angels in the Outfield (the 1951 original version; see IMDB) included lengthy scenes from Forbes Field, and some from Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium. The other movie was The Stratton Story (1949), starring Jimmy Stewart as White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton, who kept playing even after his leg was amputated; see IMDB and MLB.com. It included scenes in Comiskey Park as well as Briggs (Tiger) Stadium, and some scenes were filmed in the two principal L.A. minor league ballparks: Wrigley Field and Gilmore Field.

Maybe some day they will make a movie called "Angles in the Outfield" for us baseball stadium aficionados. smile


June 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Mockingbird albino sighted!

After the refreshing rain shower we had this afternoon, the air was too pleasant and mild for us to stay inside, so Jacqueline and I took a leisurely stroll along Bell's Lane this evening, and guess what we saw? The albino Mockingbird that new local birder Darrell Schwalm observed when I met him at that location last month. From watching the bird's behavior, there is no question about the species identification. Fortunately, I had a camera ready:

Mockingbird albino

Other Mockingbirds were making quite a racket, as were their relatives, the Catbirds and the Brown Thrashers. I was surprised by the absence of Willow Flycatchers and Orioles. Highlights:

  • Catbirds, Catbirds, and more Catbirds
  • Kingbird
  • Bluebird
  • Yellow Warblers -- 3 M
  • Brown Thrashers
  • N. Rough-winged Swallows

June 17, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Argentines protest farm tax hike

Farmers in Argentina have escalated their protests against the tax hikes on agricultural products decreed by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to make up for a government revenue shortfall. Police used force to dismantle the roadblocks which they had created with their trucks, and the economy is suffering from these disruptions. According to CNN.com, "hundreds of thousands of gallons of spoiled milk have been dumped," causing a significant decline in export revenues. Although most of the protest have been centered in rural areas, there have been demonstrations in favor of the farmers in the capital city, Buenos Aires.

Ever since Argentina defaulted on its foreign debts during the currency crisis in 2001-2002, the economy has been artificially stimulated, and sooner or later the day of reckoning would come. They can't run an economy that is so heavily regulated by the state forever without some major adverse consequences. President Fernandez will either move toward a freer economic policy, as did Carlos Menem in the 1990s, or Argentina will remain in a turbulent state. Just when world prices for agricultural products are skyrocketing, Argentina should be taking advantage of the situation by giving farmers free rein. Failure to make such an adjustment would be insanity.


June 17, 2008 [LINK / comment]

One-stop Web site hub

Do you ever forget the exact address for some common Web site? I sure do. Well, your troubles are over: Just go to All My Faves, and chances are what you are looking for is right there. Perhaps in the future many of those cyberspace enterprises will be merged together, making the search process even easier. I've added this handy site to the list of featured links on my main blog page. Hat tip to Rich Raab.


June 17, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Correction: albino Catbird

That albino bird I saw for the first time along Bell's Lane on Monday turned out not to have been a Mockingbird, as I had thought, but rather a Catbird! Upon closer inspection this evening, and from hearing its distinctive cat-like "mewing," there is no doubt whatsoever. I should have known from the black eyes, black bill, and charcoal-black tail, but for some reason its posture and cocked tail had me thinking it was its relative, the "mocker." I stand corrected and plead innocent in this case of cybernetic "identity fraud." smile YouTube video pending... [is ready!] I also saw most of the other Bell's Lane "regulars," including a Brown Thrasher, a Yellow Warbler, plus a probable Green Heron flying overhead.

Catbird albino

The albino Catbird on Bell's Lane.


June 18, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Be$t $eat$ in the hou$e

Sunday's Washington Post surveyed the upper range of seating prices for major league stadiums, for those exclusive "club" sections that come with complimentary drinks and food. As the first sentence in that article correctly points out, that is why the Yankees are replacing "The House that Babe Built," not because of any structural deficiencies. Not surprisingly, the Nationals came in fourth overall, and the wood paneling inside the "Presidential Club" looks like it belongs in Georgetown or on K Street NW. Here are the teams charging in the three-figure range:

Team 2008 average
premium ticket price
Dodgers $222.38
Yankees $203.72
Red Sox $163.86
Nationals $125.00
Twins $113.61
Mets $103.58

The question is whether rising ticket prices can be sustained in a recessionary economy, and how such pricing strategies might affect attendance at baseball games. Nationals President Stan Kasten brushed off questions about whether some sections at Nationals Park are over-priced, which is not an encouraging sign. Of course, for the folks at the top of the heap, the "good times" never stop rolling...

Coincidentally, Bruce Orser recently forwarded to me an article from the April 6, 1960 edition of the Sporting News, which describes the new plush swiveling, cushioned seats being installed in Yankee Stadium. The total cost of the upgrade was $65,000 -- a pittance by today's standards, and all of it was paid for by the fans. You'll never believe how much box seats for season ticket holders cost back then: eight dollars! High-class refreshments meant hot and cold water on tap, instant coffee, tea bags, hot chocolate, and boullion. How times change...

Mets fire Randolph

Willie Randolph was fired by the Mets during the wee hours of Tuesday morning, which seemed pretty tacky, and probably not necessary. Pinning the blame on a "fall guy" is not how an organization succeeds. I hate to say it, but I think the Mets have caught "Yankees Disease" -- they've become a bunch of high-priced superstars who are more devoted to themselves than to the team as a whole. ball Another low-key manager whose team is underperforming, Manny Acta, seems secure in his job as manager of the Nationals for now...

Nationals Park tweak

After further scrutiny of photos in the team magazine and ones I've taken, I have made a few minor adjustments to the Nationals Park diagram.


June 18, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Outside bird "friends"

Our "new" (five months) male canary Luciano is getting to know all the different kinds of wild birds that come to our backyard feeders. It's a good way to keep him stimulated and alert even though he lives in (relatively) confined quarters. I don't think he's ever seen a hawk, but I know he has expressed alarm whenever one of the neighbors' cats gets too close. Of course, he seems most interested in the Goldfinches, which are the closest relatives or canaries in North America, but House Finches and Carolina Wrens get his attention as well. Princess still calls out when the Goldfinches come by, but she seems to have less energy all the time, and can't get around very well...

Luciano, House Finch M

Luciano (left) seems intrigued by the male House Finch eating just a few inches away, on the other side of the window. The House Finch glances back, warily.


June 18, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Violent protests in Peru

Peru and Chile are two of the world's biggest copper exporters, and their economies have benefited greatly from the global surge in commodity prices over the past couple years. As is often the case, however, whenever there is an economic bonanza, the first thing that happens is that people start arguing over who deserves to get a bigger share of the loot. That is especially the case in Latin America, where a boom-and-bust mentality is deeply ingrained in the public psyche. "Grab it while you can!"

In recent weeks, people in the regions of Peru where copper is mined have been demanding that more of the tax proceeds be returned to the local governments. The confrontation centered on the southern city of Moquegua, and on Monday about 20,000 demonstrators blockaded virtually the entire city. Police were sent in to restore order, but after they used tear gas, the crowd charged them and seized 48 police officers. Some feared this might signify a revolutionary groundswell, but the next day they released the hostages. See BBC. This takes a little pressure of the government of Alan Garcia, who used to cater to such populist impulses during his first term (1985-1990), but now is governing in a more responsible way. Poor people don't like that approach, it seems.

Elian joins young Communists

It was nearly eight years ago that the United States government in effect deported a six-year old boy back to Cuba. Freedom-loving people will never forget the photographs of heavily armed Federal marshals taking a terrified Elian Gonzalez from his relatives in Miami to be with his father in the "socialist paradise" of Fidel. So now we learn that 14-year old Elian has joined Cuba's Communist Youth organization, a sort of totalitarian Boy Scouts. See CNN.com. Do they award merit badges for turning "subversive" parents in to the authorities? Janet Reno must be so proud!


June 18, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Mortgage scandal is bi-partisan

Lest anyone think that the Bush administration or the Republicans bear exclusive culpability for the scandal stemming from the subprime mortgage crisis (involving HUD and the Ameriquest Mortgage Company, among others), it is clearly a bipartisan affair. Last Friday it was reported that two Democratic senators -- Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut -- got special favors from Countrywide Financial, though they deny it. Dodd was a candidate for president until early this year, and is Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, which is playing a key role in trying to untangle and clean up the mortgage lending industry. It seems, however, that he is a part of the problem. The key player in the mortgage loan arrangements was Angelo Mozilo, who instructed his staff to cut points off the mortgage loan agreements with Dodd and Conrad. See Washington Times.

That article reminds us that a key campaign aide to Barack Obama, Jim Johnson, was obliged to step down after it was learned of his involvement in the subprime mortgage mess through his position as Chief Executive Officer of Fannie Mae. That stands for "Federal National Mortgage Association," founded as a New Deal program in 1938, but you'll have a hard time finding the full name on their Web site or in any news reports. (I wonder why...) I'll be interested to hear Obama's position on the mortgage crisis and how he plans to to fix the culture of corruption in Washington, which is at the root of the problem.


June 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Venezuela's links to Hezbollah

After identifying two men who have been working for the Hezbollah terrorist organization in Venezuela, the U.S. Treasury has seized assets they own, carrying out President Bush's Executive Order 13224. Ghazi Nasr al Din is a diplomat who recently served as Charge d' Affaires at the Venezuelan Embassy in Damascus, Syria, and has helped Hezbollah with fundraising. Fawzi Kan'an has done fundraising, and has made travel arrangements for terrorist operatives via two travel agencies that he owns. Both men have traveled to the Middle East to meet with Hezbollah leaders. About this case, Adam J. Szubin, Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said "It is extremely troubling to see the Government of Venezuela employing and providing safe harbor to Hizballah facilitators and fundraisers," urging other governments to join in combatting international terrorism. See www.treasury.gov; via BBC.

So what does CITGO flack Joe Kennedy, Jr. think about the government of Venezuela's connections to terrorism? (Oddly, the CITGO heating oil program Web site is down at the moment...) His buddy Hugo Chavez has been accusing the Bush administration of orchestrating terrorism, while giving loud rhetorical support (and at least some material support) to the FARC terrorist group in Colombia.

It is also worth pointing out the parallels between the activities of these individuals and those of Dr. Sami al-Arian, the former professor at the University of South Florida who was convicted on charges of abetting terrorism, and was later deported. He claimed that he was just raising funds for a charitable cause, feigning ignorance about the murderous acts that he helped bring about.


June 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Offshore drilling: s-l-o-w fix

... As in, it's not a quick fix. The fact that it will take years for the benefits of drilling for oil in coastal waters to take effect does not mean we should give up on the idea altogether. In fact, the long-term nature of said benefits is one of the favorite excuses for those who would just as soon keep a tight rein on energy supplies. (Why would they want to do that? See below.) One of the many collateral benefits of the recent surge in energy prices is that it has forced political leaders to reexamine domestic hydrocarbon production policy. After years of putting it off because of environmental fears, we may see a mad rush for offshore drilling like what happened in Texas and Oklahoma at the turn of the last Century. That is not the right way to address the underlying problem.

Yesterday President Bush joined Senator John McCain in calling on Congress to lift the ban on offshore oil drilling. See Washington Post. It's a rare case where the political dynamics of a major policy issue favor the Republicans this election year, so they will have to avoid pushing too hard, or else it will seem cynical and hollow. As long as McCain presents this initiative as part of an overall strategy to rely upon free markets to solve national problems, he will get a large number of votes from independents.

But there is also a national security angle: News of Venezuela's connections to Hezbollah reinforces the urgency of increasing domestic production so as to lower our dependence on foreign sources of oil, which are often unreliable or even dangerous to us. Also, China has been exploring for oil in waters off the shore of Cuba that may be within the U.S. exclusive economic zone. See American Free Press, and sign the petition being sponsored by American Solutions; hat tip to David Wright.

Here in Virginia, Delegate Chris Saxman is preparing legislation that would

dedicate any future revenues or royalties paid to the Commonwealth [from offshore natural gas and oil] to the Transportation Trust Fund, in order that those funds be used to pay for our on-going transportation needs.

That sounds quite appropriate. The main thing is to ensure that oil and gas drilling adhere to the highest standards of safety, to minimize the risk of an environmental disaster. Of course, there is no way of knowing how much oil and gas are to be found off the Virginia coast, which is not very long compared to other Atlantic states, in any case.

I often have mixed feelings about New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who tends to be an aloof, pro-globalization elitist, but he aptly ridicules the whole "quick fix" mentality exhibited by most Democrats and even some Republicans. He is absolutely correct to point out the obvious fact that the basic reason why energy prices are skyrocketing is because of the booming economies in China, India, and other parts of Asia -- you know, the countries where they make all that stuff we buy at WalMart. I agree wholeheartedly with his criticisms of McCain-Clinton summertime gas-tax "holiday," or the offer by gas-guzzler manufacturers to subsidize gasoline for three years. He paints a very accurate picture of the fundamental problem with U.S. energy policy, which is the widespread attitude of denial in the American public.

I would go one step further than Friedman: Anyone who thinks that anything close to the current level of gasoline consumption in this country can be sustained for another decade is totally out of their mind. Yes, I am aware that most Americans probably do think just that. Now, perhaps WaPo columnnist Charles Krauthammer was correct to say that "At $4, Everybody Gets Rational," meaning that they start to make the necessary lifestyle adjustments at that particular price point, but I think he is being prematurely (and uncharacteristically) optimistic. If you ask me, major changes in Americans' driving habits, etc. won't happen until the price gets near $5 a gallon, which would trigger a deep recession like in the 1970s. We are all in for one hell of a rude shock, and we shouldn't deceive ourselves that drilling more oil wells is going to cure all our ills.

The politics of scarcity

If you listen closely to many Democrats in Congress, they seek to put an artificial lid on energy supplies, even while they demand lower prices. Why would anyone deliberate pursue such a self-contradictory set of policies? Well, it's a clever left-wing populist trick to appeal to people's craving for cheap gasoline while making them feel good about themselves. The only way to accomplish both objectives (tight supplies, low prices) is by rationing gasoline, as was done during World War II, but in this case it would be the first step toward a government-dominated socialist economic system. It's like what Rush Limbaugh says about environmental activists (many, not all): they use their purported cause of defending Mother Nature as a Trojan Horse to advance their Marxist agenda.

Rights for terrorists?

The 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court to allow terrorist suspects the right to appeal for trial or release brought into sharp relief one of the major issues of the fall presidential campaign. John McCain has taken some flak from the press for siding strongly with the Bush administration on this issue, and I'm glad he is sticking to his guns. It's not just about pandering to the Republican base, as his critics say, there is a compelling national security interest at stake. Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in this case, "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times." (See Washington Post.) I take it he reject's Richard A. Posner's assertion that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. (That's the title of a book he wrote; see amazon.com.) As for Guantanamo, it is well and good to restrain presidential power and provide some legal recourse, but I still think that for most of those being detained there, they should "throw away the key!"


June 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Taliban offensive in Afghanistan

For at least a year, the security situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating, and the sudden upsurge in attacks over the past few days are a disquieting reminder of the early 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam. Three days ago, over 1,000 inmates escaped in a major prison break, including at least 350 who are Taliban-affiliated. Shortly thereafter, the newly reinforced insurgents launched an offensive that seized several towns in close proximity to Kandahar, the second biggest city in the country, located in the southwest. The Afghan government forces, backed by NATO troops, claims to have repelled the attack, for now at least. See the Washington Post.

Kandahar is a stronghold of the Taliban, and is one of the major centers of poppy growing. The confluence of interests between rebels and narcotics traffickers makes this malignancy especially potent, just as has been the case in Colombia, Peru, and Indochina at various times. Ulimate success in Afghanistan at this point depends as much on political maneuvering as on military force. A huge burden rests on the shoulders of President Hamid Karzai, who must avoid the appearance of serving U.S. interests while insisting on greater cooperation with Pakistan in the war against Islamic extremists who have bases along their mountainous border region. Somewhere in there, Osama bin Laden is still lurking...

It was encouraging that, even as the commitment of Germany and some other NATO allies remains shaky, the Canadian parliament voted (in March) to approve an extended tour of duty for its 2,500 troops in southern Afghanistan. See BBC. It's a shame more Americans don't appreciate how lucky we are that the Canadians are standing by our side in this lengthy, difficult conflict.


June 20, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Obama changes his tune

Contrary to his repeated, vehement pledges, Barack Obama has decided not to accept Federal financing for his presidential campaign. Because the Democratic Party of today represents the interests of the social elite in this country, this will accentuate the already-sizable financial advantage over John McCain that he currently enjoys. His excuse for opting out is that "the public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who've become masters at gaming this broken system." (See Washington Post.)

By "broken," I assume Obama means that there aren't enough government controls over how money is spent. Just as with the health care system, the education system, and the home mortgage system, there are severe distortions brought on by heavy government intervention, which does indeed leave many loopholes that create opportunities for "wise guys" to milk the system for all it's worth. Whether you believe that there is "too much" money in politics or not (I side with George Will on the negative side), it is clear that the current system is a tangled mess that creates the illusion of a level playing field while turning campaigns over to independent "527" PACs which may or may not be collaborating with the candidate on their side.

That leaves us with two choices: Either go full speed ahead with more and more and more government control over political campaigns, health care, etc., in which case we would end up with a thoroughly statist political-economic system, leading toward stagnation, or else cut back on government regulations and live up to our professed values as a "free society." The solution to the problem of campaign finance lies not in making the government stronger but rather in making our political processes more transparent. As long as everyone can see who gave how much money to which candidates, the American voters themselves will be the best judges of who is worthy of being elected to public office and who is a mere pawn of special interests.

Should we be surprised by Obama's expedient reversal? Of course not! As David Brooks of the New York Times wrote,

But as recent weeks have made clear, Barack Obama is the most split-personality politician in the country today. On the one hand, there is Dr. Barack, the high-minded, Niebuhr-quoting speechifier who spent this past winter thrilling the Scarlett Johansson set and feeling the fierce urgency of now. But then on the other side, there's Fast Eddie Obama, the promise-breaking, tough-minded Chicago pol who'd throw you under the truck for votes.

June 21, 2008 [LINK / comment]

More of the same on Bell's Lane

You're not apt to find many surprises when you go birding this time of year, as nearly all birds are busy raising their newly fledged offspring, so they stick pretty close to home. Here is a fairly complete list of which birds are seen there almost every day, in rough order of relative abundance:

  • Catbirds
  • Red-wing Blackbirds
  • Starlings
  • Meadowlarks
  • Tree swallow
  • Barn swallow
  • Song sparrows
  • Chickadees
  • Goldfinches
  • Brown thrashers
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Kingbirds
  • Indigo Buntings
  • Yellow warblers
  • Willow flycatchers
  • Cedar waxwings

While walking there this morning, Jacqueline and I saw the albino Catbird again, but I couldn't get a decent photograph. I did manage to get a fairly good, though obstructed, shot of this fellow, however:

Red-wing Blackbird

Red-wing Blackbird (male), in a Mulberry tree along Bell's Lane.

Lake Shenandoah

I was up in Harrisonburg on Friday, and decided to stop at Lake Shenandoah for the second time. I saw a Purple Martin flying overhead, as well as a male Baltimore Oriole feeding his offspring. The only other birds of note I saw were Brown thrashers, Kingbirds, and an Indigo Bunting.


June 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Interleague rivalries

It's that time of year when bizarre match-ups between teams from different leagues take place, giving the sports fan a sense of intrigue and vague discomfort. As for the specific match-ups, both teams from New York are in third place in their respective divisions, in spite of expectations that at least one of them would reach the postseason. So how about an all-Chicago World Series? It's entirely possible, given the spectacular success of the Cubs this year. After beating the White Sox in the first two games at Wrigley, the Cubs are ahead in the third game, and it looks like they would be the favorites to win if the two teams meet again in October.

Or how about this: An all-Florida World Series??! Do you suppose anybody in Las Vegas has made odds on that possibility? The Marlins and the Rays are breathing down the necks of the Phillies and the Red Sox, respectively. There is actually talk about both teams seeking to acquire new pitching talent, but both are cash-strapped. New stadium negotiations in Miami and St. Petersburg seem to have bogged down once again...

As for the also-ran teams, the Nationals struggled mightily to prevail against the Texas Rangers on Friday, winning 4-3 after 14 innings. It was a welcome outcome upon their return home to D.C. All the credit for that win goes to Elijah Dukes, who got five hits in six at-bats, including a home run and the game-winning RBI. That game lasted 4:10, more than twice as long as the game on Tuesday (1:59), when the Twins beat them, 2-1. The Nats ended up getting swept in Minneapolis, and lost the second and third games to the Rangers.

As a few historically-minded observers noted, these last two series pitted the current Washington D.C. team against two teams that used to play in Our Nation's Capital. The original Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins in 1961, and the second Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers in 1972. Washington is the only city to have lost two well-established Major League franchises (in 1961 and 1972); see the MLB Franchises page.

Busch Stadium update

Busch Stadium I have made some minor corrections to the Busch Stadium II diagram, adding a few details such as lights. I have revised downward my estimate of the size of the upper deck, but otherwise not much changed.

Of particular note in my latest series of diagram updates is greater attention to the concourse levels in each stadium, indicating more accurately how fans accessed the grandstand, with horizontal lines extending through the solid colored seating areas whenever there are entry portals. In the case of Busch Stadium (not the current one), I benefited greatly from the photographs taken during demolition, when the internal structure was fully exposed. It's like when a physician does an autopsy, you might say.


June 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Rest in peace, George Carlin

George Carlin died of heart-related problems at the age of 71, which seems much too young, or maybe I'm just getting too old. Almost everyone who talks about the comedian brings up his famous "seven words" that were supposedly banned from television. Carlin first gained national fame in the late 1960s as the "hippie-dippie weatherman," and during the 1970s he ranked with Richard Pryor and Steve Martin as the most popular comedians. He was the very first guest host of "Saturday Night Live" in October 1975. (See CNN.com.) His particular shtick was mixing a variety of amusing characters, from the foul-mouthed cynic to the dope fiend lost in the ozone. Profanity was his stock in trade. But I always think back to the first time I ever saw him on TV [in the mid-1960s], as a pitch man for Ozark Airlines, which [was bought out by TWA in 1986]. You would never recognize him, with short hair and a business suit: "Go-getters go Ozark!" Morphing into a counter-culture icon of sorts was a smart career move, paralleling Willie Nelson.

Carlin's brand of dark, foreboding, cynical humor was not for everyone, of course. He was no Will Rogers, but was nonetheless part of a long and (more or less) honorable tradition, from Don Rickles to Matt Groening ("Simpson's," "Life in Hell") to Lewis Black. Much of his comedy consisted of social satire, mocking establishment values and usually identifying himself with leftist politics. To say that he was irreverent would be a huge understatement; offending people was his daily goal, basically. Even though he did get carried away at times, he was at heart a humane, decent person, not a nihilist or misanthrope. By saying outrageous things that no one else dared to say in public, he had a cathartic effect that relieved stress, lifted spirits, and made life a lot more bearable for grouches all across the fruited plain. He helped expose the veneer of hypocrisy and got millions of us to open our minds. For that, he deserves our admiration and respectful memory. %#*&@!!! smile

One of my favorite George Carlin routines was "Baseball and Football," which you can watch on YouTube.


June 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Vote for autonomy in Bolivia

Voters in the department (province) of Tarija, in southern Bolivia, have voted by a large margin (80%, according to one exit poll) in favor of greater autonomy from the central government in La Paz. BBC. As with a similar measures in the eastern department of Santa Cruz (see May 5), and the northern departments of Pando and Beni, the practical effect is questionable because there is no clear constitutional framework for such an action. Also, supporters of President Evo Morales boycotted the referendum in Tarija. But the overwhelming result does demonstrate persistent deep antipathy toward the government of Morales. Indeed, a recall referendum will be held in August, in lieu of a constitutional reform referendum that he had been pushing for several months, but kept getting postponed. It was to have been the centerpiece of his redistributionist agenda, on behalf of Bolivia's poor Indian majority. This latest setback for Morales is bad news for his patron Hugo Chavez and, therefore, good news for the United States.

Paraguayan inmates demand sex

If you've never been inside a Latin American prison,* that headline may seems a bit confusing. How can inmates make such demands? Unlike American prisons, which are rigidly controlled by guards, with constant surveillance, in most Latin American countries, the sole responsibility of guards is to prevent escapes. What happens on the inside is none of their business, which is why rebel organizations, terrorists, and drug traffickers are able to coordinate their activities so well -- from the inside!

Anyway, prisoners in Paraguay staged a riot to back up their demands for more time for conjugal visits, with suitable quarters. No one was seriously hurt, but it prompted the Justice Minister to agree to allow conjugal visits after working hours. CNN.com.

* I was "just visiting," like in Monopoly! smile

Paraguay's difficult transition

With just two months until the end of his term, the outgoing president of Paraguay, Nicanor Duarte, has offered to resign. He was elected to the Senate, the new terms of which begin July 1, which is six weeks before the presidential inauguration, and he cannot serve in those two offices concurrently. He belongs to the Colorado Party, which has dominated Paraguay for many years, but lost the recent elections. See CNN.com and my April 22 blog post. It seems to be a blatant, underhanded maneuver aimed at clinging to power.


June 26, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Save (the) Tiger Stadium!?

Thanks to John Gallagher, a reporter for the Detroit Free Press, for replying to my inquiry, reassuring me that Tiger Stadium is still intact, at least for the moment. He said that the city has given the preservation activists (led by famed sportscaster Ernie Harwell) one final chance to put a deal together, with a new deadline of August 1. But even under the best-case scenario, they would still tear down most of the old structure to make room for new shops and condos. Bruce Orser came across a Web page that tracks the latest news on Tiger Stadium, at newslib.com. It reported on Tuesday, however, that the official "death watch" has begun, as workers are putting up a chain link fence around the perimeter in preparation for demolition.

So, we have mixed signals once again. But lest anyone conclude that hopes are fading fast, I also learned from Bruce that the Save Tiger Stadium Web site is now actively soliciting support for the conservancy campaign. You can either mail in a check, as I just did, or you can wait until they are ready to accept online donations, which is supposed to be soon. Time to get crackin', sports fans! And don't forget, there is a precedent for a successful ballpark preservation campaign: Save Fenway Park!

Moral of the story: It ain't over till it's over (Yogi Berra smile), or until the fat lady sings...

Tiger Stadium SE corner

Tiger Stadium, August 5, 2004 -- "Shining in the sun, after the boys of summer (had) gone." Roll your mouse over that image to recall another hopeless, romantic cause, in Iowa. "If you build preserve it, they will come." IMDB.com

Nats will miss Nick Johnson

As if losing the services of Ryan Zimmerman, Austin Kearns, Paul Lo Duca, and Odalis Perez wasn't enough, the Nationals just announced that Nick Johnson, who has been on the disabled list for the past few weeks, will miss the rest of the 2008 season after undergoing surgery on his right wrist. See MLB.com. It's a shame, because Nick has been one of the Nationals' best sluggers and best fielders, and yet he keeps getting sidelined by major injuries. Thank goodness they have Dmitri Young as a backup at first base!

Until yesterday, the Nationals had lost 7 of their last 8 games, and 17 of their last 23 games. That puts them well below .400 for the year, and only one team in the majors (the Mariners) have a worse record this year. Given all their injuries, it's no surprise that they are well below .500, but they ought to be doing better than .400 at least. Something is clearly amiss. Manager Manny Acta held a special team meeting yesterday afternoon, and it apparently did the trick in last night's game, as the Nationals edged the Angels, 5-4. They blew another lead late, but a clutch double by Jesus Flores in the bottom of the ninth got the winning run across the plate. About time! Well, things are bound to improve from this point forward.


June 26, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Unity in Augusta County GOP?

Sunday's News Leader reported that the Augusta County Republican Committee will meet Thursday evening to elect a new Chairman, after Kurt Michael resigned, purportedly for the sake of "party unity." Oddly, however, the only people who are now considered members of the Committee are loyal supporters of Kurt, as pleas by those who had been members in good standing until recently have been ignored. In strictly procedural terms, the faction that was deemed the legitimate winners* has the right to structure the committee as they wish, but how they can claim to be unifying the party with such exclusionary practices is beyond me. Who do they think they are fooling?

* On May 3, the Sixth District Republican Committee voted to recognize Kurt Michael as Chairman, and on May 30 the RPV Central Committee ruled against Dr. Larry Roller's appeal of that decision. Kurt Michael then began the process of handing over power to his chosen successor, much like how former Russian President Vladimir Putin arranged to have his protege Dmitry Medvedev follow him as president; see my June 5 post. Everyone knows that Putin is still the one in control.

Likewise, in terms of formal titles, Bill Shirley is the designated successor to Kurt Michael, but in practical terms nothing will change. Just about any reasonable outside observer would see what is going on for what it is: a blatant, underhanded maneuver aimed at clinging to power. As Carl "JusticeLeaguer81" declares,

Those who would cling to power don't deserve it.

So how is it that the Republican Party hierarchy sided with the faction that has brought such bitter acrimony, divisiveness, and notoriety upon the party over the past two years? Is it really all about "heeding party rules," as some claim? If so, then why was there nothing done about the multiple, serious violations of party rules that have been committed by that faction? Don't the party leaders realize that they are alienating majority sentiment??

In this regard, it is worth remembering what state Sen. Emmett Hanger said back in May 2006, as the opposing Republican factions in the Virginia General Assembly were struggling to put together a budget package:

Republicans are in control, and this battle in leadership is within the Republican Party. The Democrats, even though they may see some political opportunity in it, are basically bystanders, onlookers. It's something we need to sort out as Republicans. Ultimately, if we don't sort it out in a timely manner, we won't remain the majority party. (SOURCE: Washington Post.)

For a thorough, very thoughtful discussion of this situation from an insider's perspective, read what As Steve Kijak has to say.

For a more satirical and pugnacious perspective on the Kurt Michael / SWAC fiasco, see the new 141 Majority blog. (That number refers to the number of votes for Larry Roller at the April 10 mass meeting; Kurt Michael received 103 votes.)

And for my own wry take on that "Meeting of Mass Destruction," and what it means for the Republican Party statewide, see the YouTube video that I posted on May 30.


June 26, 2008 [LINK / comment]

What the heck is "canola oil"?

It rhymes with granola, so it must be healthy, right? Well, maybe not. I've learned from Dan that "canola oil" actually is extracted from genetically engineered rapeseed plants, which are poisonous in their natural form. (The toxic ingredient is erucic acid, but hardly any of that remains in the modern version which is sold in stores.) The "Can" part of the name refers to the country of origin: Canada, where the climate is not suitable for soybeans or most other oilseed crops. See ithyroid.com. Canola oil has also become popular in India, I have learned; see The Hindu Business Line.

But don't push the panic button just yet. According to the rumor-busting Web site snopes.com, the dangers of canola oil are greatly exaggerated. Time will tell.


June 27, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Second Amendment is upheld!

If you ask some Americans, the Second Amendment does not really mean what it says. They somehow think that the right to possess weapons is a collective right, ignoring our heritage as a society of free individuals. That is why it was so gratifying that the Supreme Court in effect "upheld" the constitutionality of the Second Amendment yesterday, by a 5-4 vote in the Heller case. The District of Columbia law banning handguns was thrown out, thus making it possible at long last for law-abiding citizens to feel secure from the threat of armed robbery in their own homes. It is a truly great day in Our Nation's Capital!

The Washington Post reported that the Court "decided for the first time in the nation's history that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual's right to own a gun for self-defense." It would be more accurate to say that this right was tacitly acknowledged by almost everyone until the early 20th Century, but there was never an occasion to make an explicit ruling on the issue until the wave of gangster violence during Prohibition. Justice Stephen Breyer is afraid that this may "throw into doubt the constitutionality of gun laws throughout the United States." Well, of course it does! Most of those laws are unduly restrictive, if not totally unwarranted.

I would make one caveat, however: Gun control advocates have a point when they say that the right to bear arms is not absolute. (But of course, very few rights are absolute.) The right to own a gun is, rather, conditioned upon what you might call good citizenship. That's what the preface in the Second Amendment about a "well-regulated militia" is all about. You don't have to belong to the National Guard to own a gun, but it would help the cause of domestic tranquility if you belong to some kind of local civic group such as the Kiwanis or a rescue squad. No one should complain about having to wait a day or two for a background check to go through, and sellers at gun shows should be held to the same standards as retail stores. Likewise, different states may apply different rules as far as where people can carry or use firearms, but everyone should have the right to defend their own home.

Shirley, they jest

As expected, Bill Shirley was elected by a unanimous vote to become Chairman of the Augusta County Republican Committee last night. As a newcomer to the local political scene (as far as I know, and I should know), he will need some time to get acclimated to the rather turbulent situation in which the party finds itself. According to the News Leader, he "implored the group to unite and focus on the November elections." Well, it's easy to unite when only one faction of the party is allowed to participate! How many people in the general public are being fooled by what is going on? In that regard, I added the following comment to that News Leader story:

For purposes of unifying the party for the fall campaign, Mr. Shirley faces a huge task in reaching out to the mainstream Republicans who voted for Dr. Roller but have since been "left behind." If those in the majority faction who participated in the April 10 mass meeting in good faith continue to be excluded from the Augusta County Republican Committee, it will further hurt the party's image and make it harder to get Republicans elected this fall. The true test of leadership is the ability to act independently of any particular faction and foster a sense of broad common purpose so as to make the organization bigger and stronger.

Tyranny in Zimbabwe

After the first-round presidential elections in Zimbabwe failed to yield a majority winner, a second round was scheduled, though not without sharp disputes over procedures and heavy foreign pressure. (See May 2.) Unfortunately, opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew his candidacy after numerous acts of violence against his supporters. See Washington Post. As a result, President-for-Life Robert Mugabe will retain his position by default for another term. It's yet another example of a blatant, underhanded maneuver aimed at clinging to power.


June 28, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Stadium pages reformatted

I have finished reformatting the stadium pages, with an improved navigation interface for comparing successive stadiums for each team and (where appropriate) various phases of the same stadium. As one immediate benefit of this latest upgrade, the "Impressions" feedback feature should now function properly on all sixty-odd stadium pages.

In that regard, thanks to Marco Trejo of Las Vegas for being the latest person (just a few days ago) to add their stadium impressions, in this case, PETCO Park. Thanks also to the fans who have recently added their impressions to other pages. All you have to do is register. (It's easy, safe, and free, so why not join the fun?)

In addition, I have updated and reformatted the Stadium chronology (by decade), Stadium chronology (annual), and Stadium statistics pages. All of those reference tables will feature scrolling data rows from now on, for ease of use. I will have to check for compatibility across various browsers and operating systems, so if anyone encounters something out of alignment, please let me know. Finally, I have deleted the Dimensions page, which served primarily to highlight discrepancies but was mostly redundant. A number of stadium diagram upgrades are in the final stages of completion as well. Stay tuned!

All-Star picks, 2008

I was too busy with political fun and games this time last year, but had enough time to submit choices for the All-Star Game to MLB.com. (You can vote as many as 25 times, but once is enough for me.) Some of those names are relatively new to me, and after looking at their individual records, I now know why the Nationals had such a hard time against the two former Washington teams (the Twins and the Rangers) last week.

  • 1B -- J. Morneau, MIN
  • 2B -- I. Kinsler, TEX
  • SS -- D. Jeter, NYY
  • 3B -- A. Rodriguez, NYY
  • C --- J. Mauer, MIN
  • OF -- J. Damon, NYY
  • OF -- J. Hamilton, TEX
  • OF -- M. Bradley, TEX
  • DH -- D. Ortiz, BOS
  • 1B -- L. Berkman, HOU
  • 2B -- C. Utley, PHI
  • SS -- C. Guzman, WAS
  • 3B -- C. Jones, ATL
  • C --- B. McCann, ATL
  • OF -- M. Holliday, COL
  • OF -- R. Braun, MIL
  • OF -- X. Nady, PIT

WANTED: Your photos!

camera icon There are still six current major league ballparks for which I don't have any photos yet, plus four former such ballparks and a few miscellaneous stadiums, mostly "neutral venues." Please Contact me if you would like to share some of your "photographic memories" with other fans.

  • Angel Stadium of Anaheim
  • Busch Stadium III
  • Chase Field
  • Minute Maid Field
  • Rogers Centre
  • Tropicana Field
  • Astrodome #
  • Candlestick Park
  • Jack Murphy Stadium
  • Memorial Coliseum

June 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nationals beat the Orioles

Thanks to a home run by Ronnie Belliard with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the [12th] inning on Sunday afternoon, the Nationals turned a 3 - 2 loss to the Orioles into a 4 - 3 victory. Whew! (Interestingly, the same thing happened when the Nats played the Braves on April 30: The Braves scored one run in the top of the 12th, and the Nats came back with two runs in the bottom of the inning to end the game, 3 - 2.)

I like Belliard, but I wish he wouldn't act like such a hot dog some times. The way he spit and slowly sauntered out of the batter's box after launching his game-winning blast was not the classiest way to win the game.

Thus, the Nats took two of three games from the O's in the home stand and salvaged a 3 - 3 season split with their regional rivals from Baltimore. I have to admit, the Orioles are looking pretty impressive this year, for a change. The team that's really impressive in the AL Eastern Division, however, is the Tampa Bay Rays, who have taken sole possession of first place from the Red Sox!

First half 2008

Thanks to the near-capacity crowds during the inter-league series with the Orioles, the average attendance at Nationals Park for the month of June creeped above 30,000. That represents an improvement over the last two years, but is less than the numbers achieved in 2005, their first year in Washington. (Of course, the fact that they were in first place for several weeks in May and June 2005 added to the fan excitement.) This information is compiled on the Washington Nationals page.

Speaking of big crowds in Washington, over 35,000 soccer fans were across town at RFK Stadium that same afternoon, watching D.C. United beat the L.A. Galaxy, 4 - 1. The featured attraction was former British superstar David "Bend It Like" Beckham.


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