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August 2008
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August 1, 2008 [LINK / comment]

New month, new team, new hope

I hardly recognized any of the names in the Nationals' starting lineup this evening: Alberto Gonzalez? Emilio Bonifacio? I figured that Manny Acta was getting desperate, letting the new guys have a shot. Right off the bat (literally), the personnel shift paid off, as the Nats scored twice in the first inning and three times in the second. That was all they needed, as Odalis Perez kept the Cincinnati Reds under control, and the home team won, 5-2. Jesus Flores, Willie Harris, Lastings Milledge, and Elijah Dukes (who just came back off the DL) all had solid batting performances. Thus was the awful nine-game losing streak broken, and what better way to start off fresh with a new monthly calendar page. July 2008 will be a month to forget, and things can only get better from now on. (I think.)

It's too bad the Nationals had to let go of veterans Felipe Lopez, Paul Lo Duca, and Johnny Estrada, but they just weren't performing. No other team wanted them in a trade, so the Nationals front office released them unconditionally. Those three players will still get paid a total of $11 million under the terms of their contracts, however. See MLB.com.


August 1, 2008 [LINK / comment]

GWOT: good news, bad news

First, the good news in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT): For the entire month of July, there were only ten U.S. combat deaths in Iraq, the lowest fatality rate since the war began. (The previous low figure was 19, in February 2004, just before things started getting ugly in Fallujah.) President Bush said that some American units may be withdrawn from Iraq in the next few months, which would be a huge relief for the many thousands of long-suffering military families. The question is whether they would return to the U.S.A. or be redeployed "elsewhere"... See Washington Post.

In contrast, July was a very bad month for Afghanistan. We don't have solid figures yet, but there were certainly more U.S. combat deaths there than in Iraq. Our Canadian and German allies are paying a significant price in human lives as well. A bomb blast at the Indian embassy in Kabul raised the possibility of war with Pakistan, and President Hamid Karzai spoke in unusually blunt terms toward the Pakistani government. The difficult transition to democracy in Pakistan seems to be confounding the expectation that democracy will be a force against terrorism. The problem is that the large majority of people are brainwashed from a young age at the madrassa schools at which radical Islamic theology is taught.

In light of this alarming situation, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced that some U.S. troops will deploy to Afghanistan, depending on how things are going in Iraq. He spoke at a press conference with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. They noted that the Pakistani government's response to the recent upsurge in Taliban/al Qaeda activity in the mountain regions remains to be seen. (Indeed, the Pakistanis have been playing both side of the fence for years.) See Defense Department. The Marines were "ahead of the curve" on this redeployment, pushing last year to have their units taken out of occupation duties in Iraq (too boring for the "jarheads") and sent to where the action is. Too bad the Pentagon didn't make such a change more promptly.

Lest we get too optimistic on the prospects for (relative) peace and stability in Iraq, we shouldn't forget that an "October surprise" may be in store. The terrorists and their Islamic radical allies are keenly aware of the sensitivity of U.S. public opinion (or indeed the publics of any country) during an election campaign. There is an overwhelming likelihood that they will try to stage some kind of morale-deflating attack in the weeks before the November 4 elections. The objective would be to encourage voters to choose a less-aggressive candidate for president, as happened in Spain after the Madrid bombings of March 2004. That tactic could easily backfire, however, so we shouldn't assume that a high-casualty terrorist attack would necessarily favor Barack Obama or John McCain. It would depend on how the campaign is going, and on how each candidate reacts to such an attack.

Based on a chart in a recent Washington Post article, I have added a table of combat deaths in Afghanistan in the left column of the War blog category page, lined up with the corresponding table of war deaths in Iraq in the right column.

Support the troops

Finally, from one of the posts on the News Leader's opinion forum feature last month, I learned of a new organization devoted to making life easier for our servicemen and women who are stationed overseas: soldiersangels.org.


August 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nationals sweep the Reds

Now there's a refreshing change of pace! After getting swept in three consecutive series -- losing three games each to the Giants, the Dodgers, and the Phillies -- the new-look "rejuvenated" Washington Nationals won three straight games with the Cincinnati Reds. (Payback time: It was just one month ago that the Reds swept the Nats in a four-game series at Great American Ballpark.) The Nats scored first in all three games over the weekend, though they lost the lead in the second inning of Saturday's game. This afternoon, Lastings Milledge started the four-run first-inning rally with a two-out home run, his second four-bagger in as many days. See MLB.com and the next paragraph!

Nationals Park revisited

I picked a good time for my second visit to Nationals Park on Saturday night, getting to see the "D.C. Nine" come back from a 6-2 deficit to beat the Reds by a score of 10-6. The Nats took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, but then Jason Bergmann gave up five runs in the second inning, and neither team scored for the next few innings. Ronnie Belliard got things going (as a pinch hitter) in the sixth inning, knocking a home run with one runner on base. That tied the game 6-6. In the seventh inning, the Nats capitalized on errors by the Reds, adding four runs. Surprisingly, journeyman utility player Pete Orr hit a clutch 2-RBI single. I was impressed by the new second baseman, Emilio Bonifacio, both for his hitting and his fielding performance. As for the Reds, I was surprised that Adam Dunn went hitless; the Nats infielders shifted for the left-handed slugger. I'm sure most of the fans there were disappointed that Ken Griffey Jr. was traded just before this series began. But the game was huge fun, full of nail-biting tension and drama. For the long-suffering Nats fans, it was a huge relief to win in such a dramatic and convincing fashion. This home stand was the first time this year that (paid) attendance at Nationals Park has exceeded 30,000 for six games in a row.

I had a pretty good seat, in Section 222 near the front of the "Terrace Level" -- third deck near the right field corner. I was mildly annoyed at being told by the ticket clerk that there were no more $10 seats left in the upper portion of that part of the stadium. I saw a good many empty seats near the top, so it's pretty obvious the Nationals Front office gave orders to their employees not to sell any cheap seats on the day of the game. That sucks.

I decided to try the free parking at RFK Stadium option, but just as I arrived there, a thundershower began, and I had to wait almost a half hour for the skies to clear. (Nice rainbow!) I wanted to see how efficient the shuttle bus to Nationals Park was, and I'd say it's not bad. It's an interesting ride, passing by the Congressional Cemetary, Eastern Market, and the historic Navy Yard. The bus stop is actually four blocks away from Nationals Park, at the corner of 3rd and M Streets.

Anyway, I took dozens of photos of various views inside and outside the park with my new Nikon digital camera, including the two shown below and several others which will be posted soon. The sky was mostly clear blue at game time, good for picture-taking, though it drizzled briefly a couple times during the game. I also made some mental notes that will aid in refining the Nationals Park diagram. For one thing, the backstop distance is ten or more feet shorter than I first estimated: about 45 feet, rather than 56. I think the minimum distance behind home plate should be 50 feet, and even that's too cozy.

After the game, they showed the fantasy movie Rookie of the Year, in which a hapless young kid gets a chance to pitch for the Chicago Cubs after his arm gains supernatural strength as the result of the way his broken bone healed. The movie included some nice views of Wrigley Field from the days just after they installed the lights (1988) but before any of the more recent renovations began. The "Saturday Night at the Movies" promotion at Nationals Park is basically a way to justify the premium ticket prices, but it's not a bad idea. I would say about 500 people stayed to watch, but many (including me) left before it was half over.

Nationals Park

Nationals Park, shortly before the game started. At the far left is the U.S. Capitol, partly obscured by the new red tent on top of the parking garage.

Nationals Park 7th Inning Stretch

The seventh inning stretch at Nationals Park, just before the home team retook the lead. At the right are Joe Perkins and his son Joey, a budding outfielder who is learning to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."


August 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nationals Park, RFK updates

Based upon my visit there on Saturday, I have made some minor corrections to the Nationals Park diagram. For one thing, I learned that the upper deck ("Terrace Level") in the right field corner in fact does in fact align vertically with the third deck of the main grandstand. I also learned that the reason some parts of the upper two decks seem to "fuse" into one is that there are quite a few metal "risers" with three rows of seats in that small gap in back of the third deck. One of the many interesting details not suitable for inclusion on the diagram is that the sections of the Terrace Level closest and furthest from the diamond are accessed directly by stairs from the middle concourse level, whereas the other sections are accessed via catwalks leading to an elevator in the rear. That is because there is a flat, wide area at the front of that deck to make it easier for handicapped people to access. Another such detail is that there is a row of plants in front of the outfield sections in left field, like at Citizens Bank Park, and this creates a small (two-foot) jog in the fence at the left side of the visitors' bullpen. After the game, I measured the standard depth of the rows and determined it to be 34 inches, slightly more than I thought. Furthermore, I added another photo to that page.

And speaking of photos, I also added a new one that I took just after the thundershower ended to the RFK Stadium page. (Getting such a photo was part of the reason I used the RFK parking option.) It's from the north side of the stadium, showing the old D.C. Armory.

R.I.P Skip Caray

Long-time Braves TV announcer Skip Caray died yesterday at the age of 68. He was the son of beloved Cubs announcer Harry "Holy Cow" Caray, and the father of another top-notch Braves announcer, Chip Caray, as well as a younger announcer-son, Josh. Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren joined to become the regular announcers for Braves games in 1976, and continued that partnership for over 30 years. Skip had a flat Midwestern accent but his intelligent analysis earned him the respect and admiration of fans and players alike. He had had a series of health problems recently, but his passing came as a big shock nonetheless. See MLB.com.


August 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Visit to Sky Meadows Park

On our way back home on Sunday, Jacqueline and I stopped at Sky Meadows State Park, located on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge between Front Royal and the "horse country" of Middleburg. We have passed by dozens of times along I-66 but never seemed to have enough time to take a look. Since the weather was so beautiful, however, we decided to finally pay a visit, albeit a rather brief, impromptu one. It was more delightful than I could have imagined, with gorgeous scenery, history, and wildlife. As the photo shows, "Sky Meadows" is aptly named. I hiked to this spectacular vantage point, climbing several hundred feet, while Jacqueline stayed behind, lacking proper footwear. (!) At least I got some spiritual refreshment (in lieu of church) and some much-needed exercise! (A report on birds will be posted separately.) Nearby is the quaint, upscale village of Paris, home of the Ashby Inn. One negative factor: a natural gas pipeline is being built right along the park boundary, creating an ugly scar that may take years to "heal." (It's just off the left side of the view below.) For more information, see the Virginia State Parks Web site or the Sky Meadows page. I highly recommend it.

Sky Meadows Park view

August 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Is Virginia "up for grabs"? Why?

When the Washington Post and the Staunton News Leader (no permalink) both have the same headline, you know something is up. Both papers today focused on the possibility that the Democrats could wrest away the dominant position which the Republicans have enjoyed for the past generation. It wasn't always that way, of course, and it would take a lot of reading to understand how and why the Republicans came to be the majority party here after a century as insignificant "also-rans." The have a series of maps showing counties that Bush won in 2004, but which Tim Kaine won in the 2005 governor's race. The article listed Staunton as one of the cities with a growing "cosmopolitan" culture (non-NASCAR, presumably) that might be inclined to vote for Obama. (Indeed, the Obama campaign just opened a headquarters in Staunton.) If Obama does somehow win in Virginia, then he almost certainly would have won a substantial majority of Electoral College votes in any case. True, Virginia's demographics are changing, but that doesn't necessarily translate into votes for the Chicago Democrat. I just don't see Virginia as a decisive "bellwether" state.

The very fact that Obama has a shot at winning in the Old Dominion, coupled with the fact that the race for a U.S. senate seat that has been in Republican hands for so long is such a daunting challenge, clearly points to some fundamental problem on the Republican side. As a persistent critic of the party in recent years, albeit one who strives to be a team player as best I can, I have a lot to say about that subject. To boil it down into a quick sound bite, the party is currently under the sway of Bush loyalists who use the hardball tactics of Karl Rove to push aside anyone who doesn't fall into lockstep with their doctrinaire anti-tax, Christian Right agenda. The irony is that Bush is way out of step with mainstream conservatism, leaving many people dazed and confused. Throughout history, whenever a faction of heretics (whether political or religious) comes to power by chastising traditionalists for their lack of faith, a schism typically comes about, and this is the first step toward a major realignment of partisan forces (or church denominations). Much more about that later...

In the mean time, there are lots of other political doings to catch up on...

Dem teeth gnashing

With all the problems in the Republican Party in recent years, you would think the Democrats would take advantage of the situation by shunning their habitual crankiness and adopting a more reasonable tone aimed at attracting undecided voters. Sadly, that isn't the case with a leading Staunton Democrat. Responding to some harmless, ordinary campaign spin and pep talk by "Salem Republicans" about Sam Rasoul's race against Bob Goodlatte, Clifford Garstang made some unseemly parallels between Republicans and terrorists; see Cobalt-6. I'll be the first to admit that Bush has shortcomings as a leader and has made some big policy errors, but calling him the "worst president in history" is way over the top. It's also unfair to suggest, as Garstang does, that Rep. Goodlatte has been parroting the Bush administration's policy positions. Hat tip to David Rexrode.

Bob Novak retires

One of my favorite conservative columnists, Robert Novak, has been diagnosed with brain cancer, and after a "dire prognosis," has decided to retire from his writing career. Last week he announced a temporary leave from his work while he got hospital treatment, but this case seems to be terminal. See Washington Post. As a leading political pundit in Washington, Novak has combined a fierce, unapologetic attitude with a relentless search for facts, having established a vast network of insiders who tip him off. That's why is he one of the best in his field. I join the many thousands of his fans across the country who wish him the very best.

Obama's plane: no flag

Finally, I get tired of reading wild rumors spread by e-mail and low-life blogs, but sometimes they turn out to be true. That's the case in the story about Barack Obama having the American flag removed from the tail of his Boeing 757 aircraft repainted with his campaign logo. This was verified by snopes.com; hat tip to Steve Kijak.


August 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Obama changes his tune (III)

Once again, "president-in-waiting" (that's what he thinks) Barack Obama has reversed course on a major policy issue, and once again he did so smoothly and effortlessly that hardly anyone noticed. Last time it was about whether to unilaterally withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq (see my July 4 blog post), and now it's about drilling for domestic petroleum. Under pressure from the McCain campaign,* he now says he would support allowing drilling in U.S. territories and offshore areas that are currently off-limits for environmental reasons. See Washington Post. Well, you can't blame him for facing up to reality every once in a while.

* McCain is passing out tire pressure gauges labelled "Obama's energy plan" smile to make fun of Obama's crazy claim that if everyone kept their tire pressure properly inflated, there would be no need for additional petroleum supplies. Actually, this raises a fundamental issue that few people appreciate: If energy prices rise to a high enough level that reflects the true relative scarcity of the commodity in question (oil, coal, etc.), then people will make those "conservation" efforts out of sheer self-interest. It's what Ronald Reagan used to call the "magic of the market place."

Even as Obama gets a "reality check," some environmental activists are digging in for total resistance. In today's Washington Post the National Resources Defense Council ran a full-page ad mocking the offshore drilling proposal as Bush's "snake oil" just because the benefits may take several years to be realized. As I wrote on June 19, just because it's a "slow fix" doesn't mean it shouldn't be tried. In fact, offshore oil rigs have been found to create a hospitable habitat for various kinds of mollusks and fish, like a reef. As long as there are no leaks, that is...


August 6, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Birding in the mountain tops

Jacqueline and I have been in three different mountain locales over the past few days, and each time we did some birding. On our Sunday visit to Sky Meadows Park, we were amazed to see a pair of Barn swallows tending to a nest full of babies above the back porch at the historic plantation house. During my brief hike up the steep trails at the park, I saw some Goldfinches, two male Scarlet tanagers (molting already), and a Phoebe. I also heard a Yellow-billed cuckoo and a Pewee.

Yesterday we were in Blacksburg and nearby areas (photos pending), but didn't see much unusual, just some Red-tailed hawks, Goldfinches, Indigo buntings, Bluebirds, and Chipping sparrows.

Today, in a fit of spontaneous but excessive ambition, we hiked to the very top of Elliott Knob, one of the highest mountains in Virginia. (Elevation 4,458 feet.) It was the second time that I had made the entire climb (see July 13, 2004), and it was the very first time for Jacqueline. I'm not in as good shape as I should be, so it was quite a challenge to make it all the way. Fortunately, it was cloudy and mild for most of the time, so we didn't get dehydrated. We began the hike at 2100 feet elevation, but the only birds we saw early on were Indigo buntings and Towhees. Most birds were seen above 3000 feet, and the highlights were the male Black-throated Blue Warblers, the juvenile Wild Turkey, and the Red-shouldered Hawk flying overhead with his shrill whistle call. Altogether I saw 18 species, and we were both thoroughly exhausted when we returned to the trailhead along Route 42. Here are the birds that I saw, taken from my eBird report (http://ebird.org/VA):

  • Wild Turkey -- 1 J
  • Turkey Vulture -- 6
  • Red-shouldered Hawk -- 1
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee -- 1
  • Red-eyed Vireo -- 2
  • Common Raven -- 1
  • Barn Swallow -- 10
  • Black-capped Chickadee -- 12
  • Gray Catbird -- 3
  • Cedar Waxwing -- 3
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler -- 2 M
  • Black-and-white Warbler -- 1
  • Worm-eating Warbler -- 1
  • Scarlet Tanager -- 2 F/J
  • Eastern Towhee -- 15
  • Dark-eyed Junco -- 9
  • Indigo Bunting -- 5

I also heard a Blue-headed Vireo.

Finally, while I was walking along Bell's Lane last week I was surprised to see an adult male American Redstart in the trees across from the wetland area. They are not known to breed in the Bell's Lane area, so this may mean that some of the warbler species may have begun migrating, or searching for habitats with more food available.


August 7, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Griffith Stadium update

Griffith Stadium Since the Nationals are playing so poorly this summer, why not take a step back in time and remember the great Washington Nationals / Senators of yesteryear? Well, they did win a World Series in 1924, after all, and won the AL pennant in 1925 and 1933. With that legacy in mind, I give you a totally revamped, corrected, detailed, enhanced (but not with steroids!) rendering of Griffith Stadium! There are now several historical diagram versions beginning in 1911, with more detail in the concourse area (partly conjectural), lights, etc. The grandstand is a few rows smaller than I had estimated, and the outfield bleachers and right field wall are angled more toward the right than before. I realized that the angles were incorrect when I saw the photo of Griffith Stadium in the Washington Post obituary of Chuck Stobbs, which I mentioned on July 25.

One minor enhancement (?) to that page is a modified version of a photo camera I took in 2004, replacing the Howard University Hospital in the background with a crude drawing of what the back of the bleachers, the scoreboard, and the clock might have looked like from that same spot.

Dubious anniversary

It was one year ago today that Barry Bonds broke Babe Ruth's career home run record, hitting #756 off Washington Nationals rookie pitcher Mike Bacsik in AT&T Park. It's too bad we can't celebrate such an achievement without reservation.

Old ballparks in ruins

Speaking of pre-World War I ballparks, there is a thread full of photos of the ongoing demolation of Tiger Stadium at baseball-fever.com. It's hard to believe they are throwing away all that history.

Also, I recently found out (via the satellite images on Google Maps) that they tore down what was left of the concrete grandstand at League Park, and now all that remains is the corner office building and the brick exterior wall. What a shame that they didn't try to restore the remnants of the grandstand.

More news items to get to soon...

Blog hack attack!

In case any baseball fans of this site were wondering, the fact that your city and state are being tallied by "Feedjit" when you visit this Web site poses no security threat that I'm aware of, and is shown strictly for the sake of curiosity. I do not use that information for marketing purposes, spam, etc. Read more about it HERE. On a related note, if it weren't for Michael Fronda bringing it to my attention, I might not have known that my main blog page was hacked today. Thank you, Michael. All is well now...


August 7, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Ack! Blog page gets hacked!

Many thanks to a long-time fan of this blog / Web site, Michael Fronda, for alerting me to the fact that my main blog page had been hacked, re-routing traffic elsewhere. I took the necessary corrective actions and wish I could publically denounce the sleazy Web site that was evidently responsible for this, but that might drive more traffic to their site, so I won't. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who brings such glitches to my attention.

New widget: "Feedjit"

A few weeks ago I put a new feature called "Feedjit" on my baseball blog page, which apparently uses the user's Internet Protocol address to identify the geographical location. I have been amused to note which cities and towns across the country are the most frequent visitors. Since it seems to be working fairly well, with no ill effects, I'm going to put it on my main blog page and politics blog page as well. Rest assured, I have seen this feature in use on other, more reputable blogs and Web sites, and there are no reports of security breaches as far as I know. This is not a case of "Big Brother is watching you!"

Sticky mouse scroll

One of the best features of Macintosh computers is the mouse, which debuted just before I bought our first iMac in 2001. Its curvature and lack of any buttons or mechanical parts were a sheer delight to use. It lacked one thing common to modern Windows-based computers, however: a scroll wheel. Fortunately, the "Mighty Mouse" included such [a wheel.] I recently had trouble using the [device, which was very frustrating, and finally managed to find a solution to the problem at] Apple.com.


August 9, 2008 [LINK / comment]

The (baseball) mail bag

Lots of catching up on correspondence to do, as usual.

Jim Meyer of Overland Park, Kansas liked my hypothetical alternative version of Yankee Stadium and suggested that a whole section full of "fantasy" ballpark designs would be interesting for many fans. (I also did my own versions of Metropolitan Stadium and Nationals Park, and one of Candlestick Park is "on deck.") I'll certainly give that idea some thought, but as always, it depends on how much time I have available...

Regarding the possible restoration of League Park, Bruce Orser reminded me about the leaguepark.org Web site.

Brian Hughes has become intrigued by Nashville's old Sulphur Dell, which had a huge slope in right field, much bigger than at Crosley Field or Minute Maid Park, and drew my attention to sulphurdell.com. Brian also noticed that I omitted a separate roll-over link for the 1952 version of Griffith Stadium, so I added that. I also included the (tiny) press boxes on the 1950s diagrams.

And, as September approaches, more sports fans will be thinking about football. Brandon Henderson noticed that someone posted a bunch of football seating diagrams for baseball stadiums from 1964 at baseball-fever.com.

Nightmare in Anaheim

If you think the Washington Nationals have a vulnerable bullpen, they aren't so bad when compared to the New York Yankees this year. Of course, the Yanks don't have much in the way or starting pitchers, either, whereas the Nationals starters consistently perform well even without run support. Anyway, that glaring weakness was exposed on national television this afternoon, as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, playing in Angels Stadium of Anaheim, trounced the Yankees, 11-4. It was quite a pitchers' duel for most of the game, and in the bottom of the eighth inning Vladimir Guerrero hit a home run to take the lead, 4-3, starting an eight-run rally.

Corruption in Detroit

I don't know if this is connected to the city's decision to tear down Tiger Stadium (or most of it, at least), but Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was just freed from jail after posting bail. He is charged with shoving a sheriff's detective, and was previously implicated in sex and financial scandals. For more, see the Detroit Free Press.


August 9, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Return visit to Blacksburg

For the first time since December 2005, Jacqueline and I paid a visit to Blacksburg on Tuesday. It was mostly to touch base with family and friends, but we also wanted to see the memorials to the victims of the massacre that took place on April 16 last year. It is extremely painful to think about what all of those young people would have accomplished if their lives had not been brutally cut short. Say what you will about gun control, for or against, but the real problem is the persistence of evil in our world, and our society's unwillingness to recognize it and to deal with it. Every time we make excuses for bad behavior, or look the other way, we encourage some sociopath to vent his rage upon the world.

Burruss Hall, VT memorial

For each of the 32 victims, a stone engraved with the name has been placed in a memorial garden across the street from Burruss Hall.

Virginia Tech Apr 16 memorial

The plaque memorializing the students and faculty members who were killed; it is barely visible in the above photo.

Virginia Tech arch

This arch, spanning the landscaped Alumni Mall, connects Torgersen Hall (on the left) with Newman Library.

Compare these to the photos of Blacksburg I took in 2001.


August 9, 2008 [LINK / comment]

More mountain-top birding

Deciding that conquering Elliott's Knob was not enough, Jacqueline and I decided to climb Humpback Rocks yesterday. It's only about 800 feet up from the parking lot, about one-third of what we climbed on Wednesday. The wind was very strong, with mostly clear skies and cooler-than-normal temperatures. Conveniently (not!), I had left the new digital camera turned on overnight without recharging the batteries, so it was useless and we wasted a good photo-op. I guess that's how you learn. Anyway, here are the birding highlights:

  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Scarlet Tanager (F/J)
  • Black and white Warbler
  • Juncos (A, J)
  • Towhees (M, F/J)
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Sharp-shinned Hawks

My legs still hurt like hell from all that climbing, especially the calf muscles, and my right arm is still healing after throwing out that first pitch last month, so I've only got one good limb right now.


August 10, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nats fall to the Brew Crew

Facing top-notch starting pitchers C.C. Sabathia (Friday) and Ben Sheets (Saturday), the Washington Nationals had little chance of beating the Milwaukee Brewers. So, the 5-0 and 6-0 shutout losses they suffered were tolerable. The true test was in this afternoon's game, and once again John Lannan did a solid job as starter, giving up only one (unearned) run in six innings. The Nats staged a three-run rally to take a 4-1 lead in the top of the eighth inning, but the Brewers came right back with three of their own, and the game went into extra innings. The Nats got eleven runs [hits!] overall, four more than the Brewers, but they kept wasting run-scoring opportunities, while their relievers gave up eight walks (plus five from Lannan), and that's what made the difference. In the thirteenth inning, finally, Gabe Kapler hit a walk-off home run to end it.

It's a shame, because the Nats had won six of their previous seven games, prevailing over the Reds and the Rockies, a hopeful upturn after a dismal July. On the positive side, Ryan Zimmmerman and Lastings Milledge each got three hits, including a home run for Milledge.

NL Central Division dominates

Within the National League this year, the Central Division has been unusually dominant. The Cubs are practically in "a league of their own" lately (appropriate, since that movie was filmed there), winning ten of their last 13 games. The Brewers have been in hot pursuit, while the third-place team in that division (Cardinals) has a higher winning percentage than the first-place team in the NL East (Phillies)! What's more, the third place team in the NL East (Marlins) in turn has a higher winning percentage than the first-place team in the NL West (Diamondbacks)! So, if the season were to end today, the Cardinals would be left behind, while two teams with lower winning percentages from weaker divisions would get a postseason berth. Is that fair? Disparity among divisions calls into question the current structure of Major League Baseball, especially the way the championship series are done.

Atlanta Stadium update

Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium

Remember the Braves? Remember how they used to win the NL East every year? Well, I do. Based largely on the fine, detailed photos in John Pastier's book Ballparks: Yesterday and Today, I have updated the diagrams on the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium page, with lights and a more detailed profile, a 1969 version, plus a couple minor adjustments.

Manny being Manny?

Manny Ramirez's first few days with the Dodgers exceeded expectations, but the trade still raises "manny" questions, and not just for baseball fans. MLB investigators are looking into the matter, since it appears that his slack playing and trash talking may have been aimed at nullifying the value of the option that the Red Sox had on him, so that he could be in effect a free agent. It's almost as bad as throwing a game for the sake of a gambling payoff. See boston.com; hat tip to David Pinto and Bruce Orser.

Demolition video

Tragically, Tiger Stadium is about one-quarter gone now, and those with a strong stomach can watch it happen on You Tube.


August 11, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Ecuador wants USAF out

The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa is continuing his campaign of anti-American rhetoric, hoping to build domestic political support. His government's Foreign Ministry has informed the U.S. government that the lease on the air base at Manta will not be renewed next year, fulfilling on of his major campaign pledges. About 300 U.S. Air Force service men and women, presumably along with DEA agents, are stationed at the Manta air base, from which aerial sureillance and patrol missions are staged on a constant basis. The 10-year agreement will expire in November 2009. See BBC.

It is possible that Correa is just angling for a more lucrative lease payment, and if that's the case, it's probably worth a substantial increase in rent. We must face the likelihood that Correa is dead serious about his stated desire to throw the gringos out; he would lose face if he reneged on his pledge at this point. It's a similar situation to the Philippines, where the government of Cory Aquino in effect sent the Americans packing from Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base in the early 1990s. Fortunately, the Cold War had just ended, and those bases weren't as valuable as they once had been. The U.S.-leased air base at Manta is a valuable tool in the fight against international narcotics trafficking, and losing it would mean a lot more cocaine reaching the U.S. market.


August 12, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Early fall bird migration?

All of a sudden, the weather has changed from hot and dry almost every day to steadily mild, with just barely enough rainfall every few days to keep most plants from dying. It makes for pleasant evenings, and we have been taking advantage of it by going for long walks along Bell's Lane. (Jacqueline, who is more focused on exercise than on birds, usually covers much more distance than me.) The variety of birds I've seen there lately makes me think that the fall bird migration season has begun already, even though September is still almost three weeks away. It's striking that even though some migratory birds are packing up and leaving, Goldfinches are still in mating season. Here are the highlights from the past two evenings:

  • Goldfinches (mating!)
  • House finches
  • Least flycatcher #
  • Kingbird
  • Cedar waxwing
  • Redstart (F/J) #
  • Catbirds (many *)
  • Flicker
  • Great blue herons
  • Bluebirds
  • Blackpoll warbler (prob.) #
  • Solitary sandpiper #

Birds that are clearly migrating (i.e., are known not to nest in this vicinity) are marked with "#".

* I haven't seen that "albino" Catbird lately.

Screech Owl


Screech Owl

A family of Screech Owls has been nesting in the neighborhood where my brother John lives (in South Dakota), and he was able to get a good picture of one in his yard the other night.


August 13, 2008 [LINK / comment]

County Stadium update

Milwaukee County Stadium How many people out there remember Eddie Mathews? Warren Spahn or Joe Torre? Well, of course. How about [Phil Niekro] or Rico Carty? Those were some of the great players from the Milwaukee Braves, the favorite team of my brother Chris "when we were very young." It was also home of the Brewers, of course, and thereby qualifies as one of the very few ballparks to serve as home field of two different teams in the World Series! (It was also "home away from home" of the Green Bay Packers!) As Tiger Stadium gets torn to shreds little by little, and the same thing is happening to the Washington Nationals (12-zip tonight vs. the Mets), it is more fitting than ever to take refuge in nostalgia. Accordingly, the page for their home field, Milwaukee County Stadium, has been updated with new diagrams, etc. Aside from all of the enhanced (and soon-to-be-standard) features such as more accurate and detailed profile, lights, moving the outfield distances markers to the inside of the fence), there is one notable correction: The [upper deck of the] grandstand is set back almost 15 feet further away from the field than I had previously estimated. I generally strive to get measurements accurate to within 5 or 10 feet, so that is a significant revision. Hey, nobody's perfect, but some of us try harder than others to approximate that goal.

The superb book by John Pastier, Ballparks: Yesterday and Today, has become my main source for archival photographs that I depend on to get greater accuracy.

I also made a few small corrections to the new Griffith Stadium diagrams, based in part on feedback from Bruce Orser. In particular, the exact shape of the outfield in the early years remains uncertain...

Dunn to Phoenix

The Cincinnati Reds have traded Adam Dunn to the Arizona Diamondbacks, which seems a bit puzzling on both ends. The Reds already unloaded their franchise star, Ken Griffey Jr., and Dunn was their only other All-Star caliber player. White flag? And while it's nice that the D-backs are determined to keep up with (or ahead of) in the NL West after the Dodgers acquired Manny Ramirez, it's a rather low-stakes battle, with neither team much higher than .500. Perhpas Dunn's reputation as a malcontent had something to do with it. (Like Manny!) See MLB.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser.

Malek bids for Cubs

The runner-up in the contest to become owner of the Washington Nationals, Fred Malek, is interested in purchasing the Chicago Cubs. Including the team itself, the friendly (and lucrative) confines of Wrigley Field, and the television rights, the entire franchise might be worth a cool billion. The investment "tycoon" and long-time Republican Party bigwig has formed a "special-purpose acquisition company" that includes Jack Kemp and Hank Aaron. MLB frowns on diffused ownership structures, however, because they are harder to control. See Washington Post. I still think Malek would have been a better owner of the Nationals than the Lerners have turned out to be.

Fenway photos

Finally, Edward Findlay sent me some very good photos of Fenway Park with the new club section and upper deck, which are now posted.

Still more correspondence to get caught up on; stay tuned!


August 14, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Lambeth Conference 2008

The decennial meeting of the Anglican bishops from around the world that was held at the Lambeth Quadrilateral concluded on August 3 without undue strife, thank God. It remains to be seen, however, whether the various bishops in attendance truly narrowed their theological differences or just papered them over for the time being. Of course, the biggest controversy underlying this year's Lambeth Conference was the question of homosexuality and the proper role of gay people in the church. Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who is openly gay, in effect "crashed" the meeting, showing up even though he was not an invited participant. This, of course, raised tensions even further. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams urged the American (Episcopal) Church to refrain from taking any further steps that might bring about a total schism. He "urged bishops to halt further consecrations of gay bishops, pointing a finger specifically at the United States." See Washington Post.

In his sermon at the concluding Holy Eucharist, Archbishop Williams focused on Saint Peter's words that "We are witnesses of what Jesus did..." What does that mean? That we should understand that "the Gospel is written so that we may recognize that (as the hymn has it) 'this is our story, this is our song'." That is, the words and deeds of Jesus Christ are not some ancient tale about supernatural happenings in a faraway place, they are meant to turn our hearts toward God and transform our lives. See aco.org.

One of the elements of the Lambeth Conference was a series of candid encounters known as "indaba." (That is a Zulu word referring to a council or conference among tribes of South Africa; see indaba-southafrica.co.za.) For the Anglican bishops, it meant "Face to face conversations, often exchanging conflicting and challenging points of view, have led to deeper understanding and new insights." The report on the lambethconference.org Web site emphasized that the outcome of such spirital encounters cannot be expressed adequately in words, because it is rather an inner transformative experience. I pray that these encounters will indeed have the desired effect, opening the eyes and hearts of all faithful people. Lord knows, the alternative of continued stubborn factionalism is too awful to contemplate.

The dissenting, orthodox faction of the Anglican Communion (which is strongest in Africa) issued a brief statement: "The Primates' Council of GAFCON will wish to study the outcome of the Lambeth Conference carefully and consult with those they are leading." See GAFCON.


August 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Mets sweep the Nationals

The downward spiral continues in Our Nation's Capital, as the Washington Nationals lost their seventh straight game. Sometimes, they play hard and barely get edged, but usually they get creamed. So much for renewed hope in the new month! Nevertheless, attendance at Nationals Park continues to meet or exceed expectations, averaging 30,000+ per game. As the headline in yesterday's Washington Post went, "Nats Don't Even Need a Hit to Reach Fan Base." Hey, when you've got a big city full of fans who have been starved of baseball for over a generation, it's not hard to please the crowd. I should note, however, that Nats pitcher Jason Bergmann did get booed during that atrocious 8-run rally by the Mets on Wednesday night.

The mail bag

Some of the messages in my in-box are over a month old, I'm afraid. Anyway, let's go: Jay Boyle suggests that the Padres move the bullpen which is currently in the right field corner of Petco Park to the area in front of the fence in right field where there is more room. He also sent me some old football/baseball field diagrams that will be very helpful as I continue with my own diagram revisions.

Bob Andrews was kind enough to let me use his pictures of Minute Maid Park, which are posted on his flickr page. Many thanks, Bob! (I needed to update the text on that page anyway, and I'll be making minor revisions on the diagram eventually.)

Cody Gobbell wants to know when I'll get around to making a rough draft diagram for the Twins' new ballpark. I have a lot of old diagrams to fix first, so I would say it will be at least a couple more months -- unless I get a sudden avalanche of pleas from Twins fans, of course. "I aims to please..." smile He also noticed that the distance markers at Kauffman Stadium have been changed to read 390 and 410 feet, presumably part of the vast renovations going on in Kansas City.

Stadium impressions

Beginning today, every time that someone submits their impression of one of the baseball stadiums, it will appear on the Baseball blog page, in the right column toward the bottom. This is another small step toward making this Web site more interactive and responsive to fan input. I'm pleased that quite a number of fans have taken the time to share their experiences already, but it seems that some stadiums are much more popular than others. What about the homely but lovable old Milwaukee County Stadium, for example?

(Speaking of which, I made a few further tweaks to the diagrams on that page, mostly in the area around each foul pole.)


August 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Whither the evangelicals?

Today's Washington Post reported on some anecdotal findings to the effect that some evangelical Christians are having second thoughts about their support for the Grand Old Party. Might some of them actually defect to the Democrats, or will they just stay home on November 4? Part of the problem is deep disappointment with President Bush, a devout born-again Christian who actively courted evangelicals in 2000 and 2004. Obviously, after the various moral and ethical scandals of recent years (Sen. Larry Craig, Rep. Mark Foley, Sen. Ted Stevens), some erosion of support is to be expected.

In fact, such erosion might not necessarily be a bad thing. The role of the Christian Right in this campaign puts a spotlight on the precarious nature of a coalition that relies so heavily on people of faith. When people become politically active because of some moral issue or cause (e.g., abortion), there is always a risk that they will cease political activity when compromises are made for the sake of passing legislation, etc. For those who live by absolute standards of Good vs. Evil, the messy world of politics quickly becomes a big turn-off. Conversely, devout people who get elected have a hard time abiding by their religious tenets and still carrying out their public duties, and some of them become disillusioned or even corrupted. These are some of the points that former Senator John Danforth made in his book Faith and Politics: How the Moral Values Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together; see my Oct. 4, 2006 blog post. I think that the less that religious faith is used to mobilize political support, the better off our country will be. (The same goes for exploiting patriotic sentiment for political ends.)

The question of evangelical voting behavior also has special significance for "Battleground Virginia," which is in danger of slipping back into the Democratic column in the presidential race. After the Christian Right cemented its ascendancy in the Virginia Republican Party at the convention in late May, it became clear that there is a "new wind blowing." The name of the game in the GOP today is not being "Left Behind," if you want to have a role. As for the voting public in general, however, the strength of evangelicals remains to be seen. If Republican candidates don't watch out and heed the concerns of pragmatically-oriented voters, some of them may be "left behind" on Election Day.

But the problem is not just with social conservative zealots. You might compare the fervent, true-believing evangelicals on the Right (mostly) to the fervent adherents of the "Cult of Barack Obama." Trying to explain why some people are so passionate about their support for particular candidates or causes is beside the point, because it defies rational explanation. Political activism isn't always based on a person's opinion on particular policy issues, but often serves to vent deep inner frustration and spiritual anxiety in people who believe that they deserve more in life than they are getting. Parties and candidates who are astute enough to sense the societal undercurrents can tap into such latent political support and win elections in an upset. The best examples from modern times would be John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Ronald Reagan in 1980, who were both charismatic but with a good measure of grace and modesty. On the other hand are the candidates who think they have captured the public imagination but then get caught up in their own glory and quickly lose support. Barack Obama, still "wet behind the ears," might be such a case.


August 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]

More early fall migrants

After the welcome rain shower yesterday afternoon, the air was pleasant and mild, so we went for our customary walk along Bell's Lane. Sure enough, even more migrant birds (#) were seen:

  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds
  • Goldfinches
  • Baltimore orioles (F/J)
  • Cedar waxings
  • Least flycatcher #
  • Blue-gray gnatcatcher #
  • Indigo bunting (M)

"After further reflection," it's possible that the bird which I had previously identified as a Blackpoll warbler was probably just one of the female or juvenile orioles.

Farm pond surprise

On my way to a political event late this afternoon, I caught a glimpse of a Green Heron next to a farm pond right by the road. Since I had my camera with me, I stopped for a photo op, and to my surprise quickly spotted two much bigger wading birds on the opposite bank. It's not often that you see these two species so close to each other:

Great Blue Heron, Great Egret

Great Blue Heron and Great Egret (a migrant) on a pond northwest of Waynesboro.

Also seen: two huge turtles thrashing about (mating?), a noisy Killdeer, and a Kingbird further down the road. After a second rainy day, birds such as Robins and warblers that depend on worms and insects are getting much more nourishment. I think the farmers and gardeners around here can breathe a sigh of relief as well.


August 16, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Who the hell is Aaron Crow?

And more importantly, Who the hell does he think he is for demanding a major league contract with a $9 million signing bonus fresh out of college? You can get some partial answers at MLB.com. The Washington Nationals could not reach an agreement with their number one draft pick, a right-handed pitcher from the University of Missouri, and he ended up signing with the Fort Worth Cats, an independent team. Apparently, he is both vain and foolish when it comes to money.

Some people have criticized the Nats owners and/or GM Jim Bowden for taking so long to sign their draft picks, but it seems like Crow is an extreme case, and they shouldn't get blamed for that situation.

I was chatting with a guy last night who thinks that the answer to the Nats woes is to get Mark Teixera. Assuming that Dmitri Young stays around for another year (not likely, I suppose) and assuming that Nick Johnson gets healthy again, that would make three first basemen. Well, the Nats had four catchers until a couple weeks ago, so why not?


August 16, 2008 [LINK / comment]

GOP BBQ in Waynesboro

The Augusta County Republican Women's auxiliary group held their annual barbecue dinner fundraiser in Waynesboro yesterday. State Senator Emmett Hanger and Delegate Ben Cline spoke briefly. Scott Sayre, who recently became vice-chairman of the Republican Sixth District, was there as well, along with several campaign workers for Bob Goodlatte (U.S. House incumbent) and Jim Gilmore (U.S. Senate candidate). Attendance was very good, as was the food and the music. A bluegrass quartet was followed by a father-and-son duo, providing great entertainment.

As usual, the barbecue was held at the Woodmen of the World building. The Woodmen are a fraternal organization founded in 1890 that offers life insurance and other social benefits for its members. Here's a good slogan for them: Woodmen of the World -- You have nothing to lose but your chainsaws! smile

Aug Co GOP women's BBQ

Vickie Parkinson (far left) and Alice Chambers (far right) were among the women's group members who worked hard to prepare and serve the fine food to the guests.

Hangers, Holly, Judy, Steve at BBQ

Judy Wyatt, Steve Kijak, Emmett and Sharon Hanger, and Holly Herman.

Cline, Alice, Hanger at BBQ

Del. Ben Cline (foreground) and Sen. Emmett Hanger (background) chatted with their constituents. Alice Chambers is on the left.

Goodlatte helps vets

Rep. Goodlatte met with Armed Forces veterans in Weyer's Cave this past week, talking about legislation he has submitted that would increase veterans' benefits. One immediate measure is that an outpatient clinic for veterans will open in Staunton in the next few weeks. This meeting was part of a Veterans' Service Fair. See newsleader.com.


August 18, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Rockies sweep the Nationals

The visiting Colorado Rockies got revenge for last week's series in Denver, beating the Washington Nationals in three straight games. For the Nats, it was the same old story of missed opportunities and lackluster batting. They have now lost ten games in a row, the team's longest losing streak since moving to Washington three and a half years ago. The last six of those losses were at home in Nationals Park, setting another record they would rather forget: Previously, the longest consecutive string of lost home games was five, from June 12-16, 2006. With a record of 44-81, the Nationals can still end up with an even win-loss record for the season (81-81, matching the Washington team's best record, from 2005), but only if they win every one of their remaining 37 games. There is little chance of climbing out of the NL East cellar, being 24 games behind the Mets, whereas the fourth-place Braves are 11 1/2 games behind.

Today is a much needed "day of rest" for the Nationals, so even if their losing streak continues tomorrow (in Philadelphia), at least they can't lose 11 days in a row. Hopefully they won't end up with a losing streak that is even longer than their historic ten-game winning streak, June 2-12, 2005. It's a sad way to inaugurate Nationals Park, but other teams with new ballparks have had similar initial experiences and then rebounded. The Cincinnati Reds and the Detroit Tigers are two examples of that.

So what is left for the Nationals to aim for in this dismal season? They ought to strive for a winning record in the remaining games. If they can win at least 19 games, they will avoid losing 100 or more games, which would be shameful in the extreme. That will be a tough goal to reach, however, because most of their upcoming opponents have winning records; the exceptions are the Braves (seven games) and the Padres (three games).

Adios to Ayala

The Nationals front office did relief pitcher Luis Ayala a favor by trading him to the Mets, after the waiver-clearing period was up. He was one of their more reliable members of the bullpen in their first two years in Washington, but his performance declined this year, with a record of 1-8. It seems he has had personal problems over the past year. See MLB.com. The Mets have made good use of several former Nats, including Brian Schneider, Ryan Church, and Endy Chavez, so maybe Ayala will have better luck in the Big Apple.

Now there are only former Montreal Expos on the Nationals roster: Chad Cordero, Shawn Hill, and Nick Johnson. All three of them are on the disabled list!

The mail bag

The Twins have decided to add more limestone to various parts of their new ballpark, including the facade of the "porch" that will hang over right field. That aesthetic touch will add a local flavor to a design that looks very good so far. See startribune.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. The fact that there are no light towers or exposed light racks on top of the boomering-shaped roof gives the ballpark a very striking appearance. The lights will be concealed just under the front edge of the roof.


August 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Inauguration in Paraguay

Paraguay flag A former Catholic bishop named Fernando Lugo was inaugurated as president of Paraguay last Thursday, marking the first time in over a half century that control of government has changed from one party to another. Lugo was elected on a leftist-populist platform as the candidate of the Patriotic Alliance for Change (which he founded), promising to give land to the poor. Even before he took office, some of those people staged invasions of an hacienda in the north, an indication of the unstable political situation the election has brought about. The Catholic Church gave Lugo a special dispensation for the unusual "career switch" from the clergy to the public sphere. See CNN.com.

Until the long-time dictator Alfredo Stroessner resigned in 1989, Paraguay was an island of backwardness and stagnation in a sea of socio-political tumult. During the 1990s, there was a struggle for power among various leaders of the Colorado Party (of which Stroessner had been a member), marked by a series of corruption scandals and assassinations. The country is slowly catching up to the rest of South America, but lacking industry or much in the way of natural resources, the economy remains heavily dependent on traffic in contraband.

Continued stalemate in Bolivia

Bolivian President Evo Morales claimed victory in the referendum held two Sundays ago, but some governors belonging to the opposition won as well, yielding a mixed result overall. The governor of Santa Cruz (which is the center of the movement for greater regional autonomy in Bolivia) won by a margin of nearly 70 percent, while governor of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa, lost his election. He refused to abide by the result, however, claiming that the vote was unconstitutional. (He leads a right-wing party.) See BBC and the Washington Post.

The complaint by Reyes Villa has merit, as there is no provision for such a referendum in Bolivia; it was arranged as part of an ad hoc compromise to prevent a civil war. Constitutionalism in Bolivia is weak, however, so that argument doesn't count for very much in any case. The referendum amounted to a confirmation of the status quo of divided government, as the Bolivian people themselves remain sharply divided on the direction their country should take. It may take some time to evaluate the probable long-term consequences, as the deadlock continues.


August 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]

What McCain needs to do (I)

John McCain clearly faces an uphill battle on the road to the White House, given the myriad problems with the American economy right now and the factionalized, demoralized state of his party. Nevertheless, the election is still eminently winnable, as long as he rectifies his vulnerabilities in a timely manner and exploits the vulnerabilities of Obama in an astute (not heavy-handed) way. McCain is in an awkward situation as the standard-bearer for a party whose current leader has been tarnished by lackluster governance. The irony that he ran against Bush in the 2000 primaries and now must pay for Bush's "sins" must be painful for him to bear. Fortunately, he is in a position to take full advantage of his own inherent qualities in a way that partly neutralizes the "penalty" of belonging to the incumbent party. That leads us to the first and most important task for his campaign to be successful:

Emphasize his credentials as a serious, experienced leader capable of tackling problems in a practical way. That means he must avoid pandering to voters (as he has been prone to do on occasion in the past), or sugar-coating the tough measures that the next president will have to make. True, such a candid approach to campaigning risks alienating some voters -- the kind who don't pay much attention to policy issues anyway, and just want the government to make their lives easier. McCain should concede that portion of the electorate to Obama, and hope that enough skeptical, attentive voters appreciate his courage and forthrightfulness. If he is not willing to take that kind of risk, it will be very hard to regain the momentum, and he probably won't win.

In Sunday's Washington Post George Will made just such a suggestion for McCain, noting wryly that the Arizona senator has a tendency to offer up a smorgasbord of nice-sounding policy proposals in an off-handed way. Accordingly, Will says, McCain must break that habit and reinvent himself as a thoughtful, deliberate chief executive:

To begin the recasting, he should weed from the unkempt garden of his political thinking the populism that often seems like mere attitudinizing redeemed by insincerity.

That really hits the nail on the head, doesn't it? I couldn't have phrased it any better myself. smile The point is that McCain must sharply distinguish himself from Obama, and that means refraining at all costs from pandering to populist impulses. If he tries to out-pander Obama (for example, by promising lower gasoline prices), he might as well give up right now. Will goes on to say that McCain should tell voters that he would keep the Democratic Congress in check, since it is all but certain that the Democrats will gain an even larger majority in both houses come November. Raising the specter of a runaway liberal government making all kinds of mischief (nationalized health care, shutting down conservative talk radio via the "Fairness Doctrine") is a good idea, as long as the point is not oversold.

Finally, Will says McCain needs to hammer Obama on specifics of foreign policy, asking what he would do about Iranian missiles, Russian aggression, or trade policy. Those are areas in which Obama is notoriously weak, and most people know it. Again, however, McCain must adopt a mature, dignified tone in making these criticisms of Obama, not getting nasty or oversimplifying the issues. Ultimately, it will come down to stylistic presentation. McCain is no Reagan in that regard, and he likewise falls behind Obama as a communicator, but fortunately, he ranks well ahead of Bush.

I certainly don't pretend to be a political pundit or prescient prognosticator, but I'll venture the following bold forecast: If McCain is holding his own in the polls by early October, within a few percentage points of Obama, he will win the election. Obama's campaign is based entirely on emotion and imagery, and if the bandwagon he started early this year can't maintain forward momentum as the campaign reaches the climax, doubts will start to arise and most swing voters will come to their senses.

GOP Veepstakes

For right now, the big question is, Who will McCain pick as his running mate? Should he choose someone who could tip the balance in a swing state (Eric Cantor, Virginia), someone who appeals to a key Republican constituency (Mike Huckabee, evangelical Christians), someone who makes up for what he lacks in terms of policy substance (Mitt Romney, economics), someone who is more youthful (Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota), or someone who is best suited to serve as president in case the unthinkable happens?

Among the most likely candidates, I would favor Pawlenty. (Imagine the puns they could come with: "Pawlenty of experience," etc.) An ideal vice president for McCain would have strong conservative credentials and appeal to non-traditional GOP constituencies such as women and minorities. Condoleezza Rice is out of the running, but what about Lynne Cheney, wife of the current Vice President? She is very smart, experienced, and is an excellent speaker. Just imagine how much that would annoy the "Impeach Bush and Cheney" crowd! Granted, it is far-fetched, but an unexpected choice like that could be just the ticket McCain needs to shake things up and seize back the momentum from Obama.


August 21, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Baseball in the Olympic Games

It is only since 1992 that baseball has been an official Olympic sport, and it was rather ironic that, in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, America's Caribbean nemesis -- Cuba -- won the first two gold medals in our "National Pastime": Barcelona, 1992 and Atlanta, 1996. Team U.S.A. took the Gold Medal in Sydney Olympics of 2000, but Cuba once again took the top prize in the 2004 Olympics held in Athens. See MLB.com and the official Olympic Web site, Beijing 2008. Cuba and the United States will play each other in the semifinal game on Friday, as South Korea vies with Japan. The Gold Medal game will take place on Saturday. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Olympic Stadium With the Beijing Olympics well underway, and American swimmer Michael Phelps having broken so many historical records, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight the Stadiums of the Olympics which have also served as the home field of Major League baseball stadiums, including one "also ran" (Cleveland). None of them served as a venue for Olympic baseball games, of course. All stadiums are/were very large, but there is great variety in terms of their suitability for baseball. But of course Atlanta's Olympic Stadium, which was later transformed into Turner Field, was designed that way from the beginning.

Turner Field update

So now you know why I scheduled Turner Field for a revision. To my surprise, I erred in my previous revision of that diagram, making the upper deck a bit too small, so now it's back to where it should be. On deck" is Montreal's Olympic Stadium, where the Expos (now the Nationals) used to play...


August 21, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Obama visits southern Virginia

Barack Obama took his campaign through the solid "red" territory of south side Virginia today and yesterday, boldly going where no closet socialist has gone before. As the Washington Post reported, he lamented the "tough times" and the fears many people have for their futures. He traveled with another charismatic elitist, former governor and senatorial candidate Mark Warner, who has had some success with reaching out to voters in rural Virginia, courting NASCAR fans and hunters.

Can Obama transform worker discontent over jobs lost to China (whose economy is booming because they have ditched their Marxist ideology) into support for a party whose ideology is not that much different from the Chi-Coms themselves? Anything is possible, and this election will turn to a large extent on whether economic or cultural and security issues are the highest priority. How many voters can be persuaded that life is just too tough to bear in this harsh capitalist system of ours?

Meanwhile, millions of Mexicans, Central Americans, Asians, and Africans are desperately trying to get inside the United States so that they can work at below minimum wage. (Does anyone notice a disconnect here?) I suppose that if McCain had a stronger position on economic policy and immigration, the incongruity of the Democrats' populist appeal would become more obvious to more people.

Indeed, the ironies of this situation are almost too rich and too varied to be expressed. For most of the 20th Century, south side Virginia was solidly in the Democratic camp, loyally supporting Senator Harry Byrd. Meanwhile, the areas of the state which were historically more inclined toward the GOP -- Northern Virginia and the Mountain-Valley region -- are ironically two of the areas where Obama has devoted most of his efforts. It's a thorough role-reversal, very confusing to sort out.

Yet to be seen, however, is whether Obama will attend a NASCAR race. As I wrote on July 16, "That would be huge."

Obama's Veep choice

Obama says he has already made up his mind on his running mate, so we will probably know by this weekend. The "Dream Ticket" with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the #2 slot seems virtually impossible at this point, given the continued tensions between the respective camps over speeches, credentials, and the platform. Virginia Governor Tim Kaine lacks experience in national politics, and picking him would look like a craven, insincere bid for votes in the Old Dominion. Indiana Senator Evan Bayh is young and reputedly moderate on some economic issues, which might help attract moderate voters who are afraid of socialism, but coming from the same region and age group, he probably wouldn't help Obama very much. That leaves Joe Biden (Delaware Senator) as the most likely pick. Biden is a rhetorical soul-mate of Obama, fond of making grandiose pompous declarations about human rights, etc., utterly divorced from practicality. He does come to his senses on a fairly regular basis, however, and by Democrat standards, he is a sober realist. He would be my pick if I were advising Obama.

Finally, here's something to ponder for all those folks out there who can't wait to pull the lever for Barack Obama: Isn't 16 years of having a young, genial, impulsive, and inexperienced president with a history of substance abuse problems enough already? smile

GOP VP litmus test?

On Fox News tonight, Laura Ingraham provided, unwittingly, a perfect example of why the Christian Right has become such a shaky, unreliable part of the Republican coalition. (I discussed this on August 15.) She was arguing with a pro-choice Republican woman (from the Hoover Institution, I believe), and kept talking about how many Catholic and other Christian voters would ditch McCain if he picked a [pro-choice] vice presidential candidate such as Pennsylvania's Tom Ridge. No amount of reasoning or pleading that we [should] not emphasize such a divisive issue would get Ingraham to acknowledge this sad predicament: that the Grand Old Party of today is beholden to a single-minded bloc of voters who refuse to compromise, even if it means losing elections. The widespread attitude of "my way or the highway" evidenced by many activists is another example of "the tail wagging the dog," and it's the surest road to defeat.


August 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nationals finally win a game!

Fans of baseball in Washington, our long Nationals nightmare is over! The Nats showed just enough pluck and determination last night in Philadelphia to prevail over the Phillies, 4-3, thus averting yet another sweep and putting an end to the awful 12-game losing streak. It was a tense pitchers' duel, back and forth in the late innings. Reliever Joel Hanrahan got out of a jam in the eighth inning, and did likewise in the ninth, getting credit for a two-inning save. In the final play, Chris Coste hit a ground ball to shortstop Cristian Guzman, who threw to Ronnie Belliard at first base just in time for the final out, thereby preventing Shane Victorino (on third base) from scoring. Blessed relief!

Now the Nationals head west to Chicago, where they will play the red-hot Cubs in Wrigley Field.

Another Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium Before the people of Atlanta (or the taxpayers, that is) built a fine stadium for their Olympic Games, Montrealers did likewise in 1976. The diagrams on the Olympic Stadium page have now been revised, and once again, "after further review," the upper deck turned out to be a little bigger than I previously estimated.

Instant replay in baseball???

Speaking of "further review," Major League baseball is about to take a leap into the dark by instituting a limited version of an instant replay rule, which will apply only to possible home runs. The cameras already being installed at all 30 major league ballparks, and they should be ready by the end of the season. The MLB umpires had to agree to this measure first. See MLB.com. I suppose it's an inevitable concession to technology, but I don't think this is going to reduce the number of arguments with the umpires. In fact, it might create more arguments, as people demand that instant replay be made available for more and more situations, while the pace of the game becomes as slow as molasses.


August 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Turmoil in Peru's Amazon

For the most part, Peru has been relatively tranquil compared to its neighbors over the past few years,* but recent violent protests in the Amazon part of the country may indicate that instability is becoming "contagious." As a protest against a recently-enacted law that would allow more sales of land to companies for purposes of oil exploration, some Indian groups in the Amazon jungle region have blockaded oil and gas installations. See BBC. The very same sort of thing has happened recently in neighboring Ecuador (May 2006) and Bolivia (January 2007). It's almost as thought someone were orchestrating the unrest in South America...

From a broader, strategic perspective, the apparent instigation of indigenous unrest in oil-producing countries can be seen as a bargaining tactic, to bid up the market price of petroleum by restricting potential future supplies.

* The last time Peru experienced such a wave of political turbulence was in January 2005, when radical military officers launched an abortive coup d'etat.


August 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Goodlatte for Congress, 2008

It used to be that political work for the Republican Party in this part of Virginia was gratifying, because our side almost always won, but also rather dull ... because our side almost always won. My, how things have changed over the past couple years! As the Chinese curse says, "May you live in interesting times." frown

All this is a prelude to what would ordinarily be a routine event, but which this year is a matter of some urgency: Congressman Bob Goodlatte will be visiting his newly-opened campaign headquarters across the Sixth District during this "Winning Weekend." The complete schedule is at bobgoodlatte.com, and Steve Kijak has further details at Bloggers for Bob Goodlatte. (I belong to that group, and will make another post there in the next few days, reviewing Congressman Goodlatte's record.)

I have seen quite a few yard signs around town for the Democratic challenger, Sam Rasoul, and there was supposedly a big turnout at a recent fund-raiser in Staunton, but it would take an extreme upset for the Sixth District to "turn blue" in the November elections. That doesn't mean Republicans should get complacent, it just means that we need to keep our eyes focused on the "big battles" and stop worrying so much about internal divisions and policy differences.

As I wrote in March with regard to the challenge by Rasoul, "competition is a healthy thing!" In fact, I'd be willing to bet that the lack of meaningful competition from Democrats in this area explains why some Republicans waged such a fierce, hard-ball campaign against (relative) moderates such as Emmett Hanger in state legislative races last year. Those right-wing activists probably figured there was a big margin of safety, and the party could thus survive a few cuts and bruises. It is no longer safe to make that assumption.


August 25, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Ballparks in the Old Dominion

During a brief trip to Virginia Beach this weekend, I passed through downtown Norfolk and saw Harbor Park for the first time. The double-decked home of the International League Norfolk Tides looks very impressive, with a brick exterior, steel girders, and an engraved stone nameplate. The resemblance to Camden Yards is no coincidence, as it was built one year later, in 1993. Some people may recall that Norfolk was one of the leading alternative cities being considered for the to-be-relocated Montreal Expos in 2004, and Harbor Park (capacity 12,067) would have served as home at least on an interim basis. Being squeezed into such a tight space along the waterfront, however, it would have been hard to expand it to major league standards.

The Diamond While passing through Richmond, I also caught a glimpse of The Diamond, the home of the Richmond Braves. Because of a failure to get a suitable ballpark renovation or rebuilding deal with the city, the R-Braves are about to relocate to suburban Atlanta. What a shame. To mark the sad occasion, I have updated said diagram.

Cubs beat Nats

For once, I was actually rooting against the Washington Nationals this weekend, because their opponent -- the Chicago Cubs -- need a big cushion to assure the NL Central Division title. (The Cubbies are my postseason favorites.) Because of travel, however, I didn't find out the results of the three games until the entire series was over. Willie Harris hit two home runs on Friday afternoon, leading the Nats to a surprising 13-5 victory, and then the Cubs took the next two games by lopsided margins. The Milwaukee Brewers are nearly as "hungry" as the Cubs for a postseason berth, and are not going to slack off.

The mail bag

Christopher Jackman tells me that Cleveland Stadium was not built with the 1932 Olympics in mind, contrary to widespread belief, and provided hard evidence to back up his assertion. According to the Southern California Committee For The Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 1932 Olympic Games to Los Angeles in 1923, the same year Memorial Coliseum was built. I was aware of the dispute over this, which is why I phrased it in ambiguous way on the Stadiums of the Olympics page. If in fact there was no chance for landing the 1932 Olympics by the time of the ground-breaking in the late 1920s, one can only conclude that the Cleveland stadium boosters were out of their cotton-pickin' minds for building such a big stadium.

As most folks know, this will be the last year that baseball will be a full-fledged Olympic sport. I was told by Brian Hughes that this was in part because the London Olympic officials don't want to pay for a stadium that would be used by so few countries.

Speaking of which, congratulations to the amateur U.S. baseball team for winning the Bronze medal in Beijing, defeating Japan in the consolation game. South Korea won the gold medal, and Cuba took the silver medal.


August 25, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Weekend at Virginia Beach

Jacqueline and I just returned from a brief and pleasant (though sometimes rather intense) weekend at Virginia Beach. The mini-vacation was totally spontaneous, and yet we still managed to find good accommodations*, dining**, and we accomplished most of our unorthodox "tourist" objectives.

* We camped at the North Bay Campground, a nicely maintained facility shaded with tall pine trees and with direct canal access to Back Bay. It's a few miles south of all the hustle and bustle of Virginia Beach proper, and is thus closer to a true outdoors experience than most other campgrounds.

Neptune statue, Jacqueline

Jacqueline posing by the statue of Neptune, the Roman god of water, on the north end of the "boardwalk" (actually made of concrete) at Virginia Beach.

On Saturday morning we hiked along some of the trails at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Almost immediately upon our arrival, we came face to face with the deadly side of Mother Nature, quite literally "under the boardwalk":

Cottonmouth snake

A highly venomous Cottonmouth snake, a.k.a. "Water Mocassin," at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I learned from the employee at the visitor center (who identified the snake from the image in my camera) there that this is the 75th anniversary of the first "duck stamp," a program that was originally created as a way to license migratory bird hunters on a nationwide basis, while providing funds to set aside land for the sake of wildlife conservation. She persuaded me to buy a duck stamp (for $15), which also serves as an entry pass for any of the National Wildlife Refuges across the country, run by the Department of the Interior. See www.duckstamp.com.

Jacqueline, Back Bay boardwalk

Jacqueline, watching out for more snakes on the boardwalk at Back Bay NWR.

Then, as we hiked along the marsh trail, we saw several of these colorful and industrious little critters:

Golden Garden Spider

Golden Garden Spider, at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Does this remind you of a certain old song by Ray Stevens? "I don't like spiders and snakes, and that ain't what it takes to love me ... like I wanna be loved by you."

Andrew, Back Bay sand dunes

Andrew and the sand dunes at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

In the afternoon, we opted for a safer place to observe God's creatures, the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. They have several excellent exhibits with large sea turtles, terrestial reptiles, sharks, smaller fish, and sea mammals. (They are currently undergoing an expansion/renovation, so it's a bit of a mess in some places.) In a separate building they have an aviary with many shorebirds and water birds. We highly recommend it as a place for nature lovers to visit.

Virginia Beach Aquarium montage

Montage of fish, rays, sea turtles, and a shark, at the Virginia Beach Aquarium.

** In the evening we dined at Margie and Ray's, a popular local restaurant that serves some of the best, freshest seafood you will ever taste. It is located on Sandbridge Road, on the way to the Back Bay NWR.

On Sunday morning we went for a swim at Little Island beach by the town of Sandbridge (which is part of Virginia Beach), facing another peril of nature known as rip tides. Then we headed home. I cleverly arranged our return trip so that I could see Harbor Park, the baseball stadium in downtown Norfolk. We returned home rather exhausted but feeling good for having had such rewarding experiences.

Additional photos will be posted before long on a new Photo Gallery page. A report on the birds we saw at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and other places in the area, will appear in a separate blog post.


August 28, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Mile-high hopes in "Dem-ver"

The Democrats have certainly put on an impressive display in the "Mile-High City" of Denver, just as we would expect. Their National Convention was full of exhuberant, almost euphoric rhetoric about making everyone's life better, as though it were all just a matter of wishing it were so. That's par for the (Left) course. I was glad that the Democrats actually went through the motions of the roll call vote last night, or else there would have been almost no real business to transact. The fact that Obama's people resisted that was not a good sign. As the convention opened, prospective First Lady Michelle Obama tried hard to repair the damage for some of her past gaffes on patriotism, etc. Well, it's a start. The Obamas are without a doubt a very nice, attractive family. Senator Obama just finished his big speech, and I'll have more on that tomorrow, as I gradually get caught up with things. What follows are a variety of specific observations:

Obama-Biden: our time

While I agree with Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden to be his running mate (see my Aug. 21 post), it does expose him to an ironic line of criticism. His choice of the senior senator from Delaware to make up for his lack of foreign policy experience is precisely analogous to the choice made by the current president ("W") when he was about to be nominated eight years ago. Yes, folks, it's true: Joe Biden is Barack Obama's Dick Cheney!

Copyrighted rhetoric?

The phrase "We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For" sounds vapid, but is actually the title of a book by Alice Walker. See www.feminist.com. I am not sure whether Obama has properly credited the source for his uplifting (?) slogan.

Warner aims at center

By most accounts, the keynote speech by Virginia's former governor (and candidate for U.S. Senate) Mark Warner was a big dud. It was obviously intended to attract non-partisan voters, and some pundit said it could have been a Republican speech if a few names were changed around. It was so dull that it put me to sleep, so I missed out on the live version of Hillary Clinton's speech. I'm not sure if I'm glad or sad about that...

Hillary rallies base

From what I read and the excerpts of her I saw, Hillary Clinton hit all the right notes of party unity in her speech, though her gestures were a bit forced, suggesting that she still harbors some lingering reservations. A lot of her supporters bear strong grudges against Obama, and it's taking longer than expected for those wounds to heal. But at least she made her supporters proud and kept her own political future alive... Who knows?

Durbin on divisiveness

Speaking about all the feel-good, non-partisan togetherness rhetoric, I thought it was ironic that Sen. Dick Durbin lectured his party's adversaries on the politics of divisiveness, after having compared the U.S. detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to the practices of totalitarian regimes. (See June 2005.)

For which people?

It was also ironic to contrast the teary-eyed faces of those hard-luck people attending the convention, listening to the talk about giving opportunity for all, to those crooked lobbyists who have been circumventing laws to get access to all the party bigwigs in Denver. Brian Ross of ABC News will probably be in hot water for his report that shed light on some of the exclusive events being staged for well-heeled Democrats. Go ahead and join Nancy Pelosi's "100 Club" ... if you can afford to hand over a hundred thousand bucks, that is.

Unbridled faith?

I was struck by the frequent references among the Democratic speechmakers to the potential of faith to accomplish big things, or even to "move mountains," as in the Gospel story about the mustard seed. But what exactly is it that people are being called up to believe in?

"Green" convention?

Well, not according to an on-the-scene observation by my brother Dan, who saw a jet skywriting the name "Obama" from his office window in Denver. He writes: "It must have been a solar powered jet or something, because I'm sure they wouldn't have just wasted hundreds of gallons of fuel at this, the greenest convention ever!" smile


August 29, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nationals sweep the Dodgers

For the first time since the beginning of the month (beating the Reds), the Nationals won three straight games against the same opponent, possibly spoiling the Los Angeles Dodgers' hopes of reaching the postseason. In both the Tuesday and Wednesday games, the home team in D.C. won by just one run, as the different parts of the team did what they had to do in tight situations. Ryan Zimmerman hit his first home run since May in the 5-4 win on Wednesday, and new closer Joel Hanrahan got another save. On Thursday night, Manny Ramirez hit a two-run home run in the top of the first inning, and the Nationals answered with five runs of their own in the bottom of the inning, led by Cristian Guzman's solo home run. Guzman went on to hit a single, double, and triple, achieving the first-ever "cycle" for the Washington Nationals in a home game. (Brad Wilkerson hit for the cycle in the Nationals' second-ever game, which was played in Philadelphia on April 5, 2005.) The Nats ran up the score in the later innings, and the final score was 11-2. The Dodgers have now lost seven games in a row, and are 3 1/2 games behind the D-Backs.

In a sense it was an interesting matchup between two guys from the Dominican Republic with the same first name: Manny Ramirez (recently traded to L.A. from Boston) and Manny Acta (the Nats' manager).

Even though the Nationals still have the worst record in the Major Leagues (49-85), technically they have not yet been eliminated from postseason play. At 25 games behind the Mets (74-60) with 28 games left in the season, their Elimination Number is now down to 4. The Seattle Mariners earned the dubious distinction of being to first team to be eliminated this year. The Nationals' primary task for the rest of the season remains the same as before: avoiding a triple-digit loss total. That means they must win exactly half of their remaining games.

The mail bag

John Fensom, a fan of the Blue Jays (and andrewclem.com) who lives in Sudbury, England, took exception to the idea recently offered to me by another fan that one reason that baseball is being taken out of the Olympics was the attitude of officials in London, host of the the 2012 Olympics. John writes:

The decision to drop baseball from the 2012 Olympic was taken in a secret IOC vote in July 2005. See
http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/other_sports/olympics_2012/4658925.stm and
http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/other_sports/olympics_2012/4664733.stm for details.

This decision had nothing to do with the games' hosts. It was an IOC decision.

I appreciate the fact check, John. This is the sort of feedback that would be more appropriate to using the blog comment feature, which is available to registered users of this Web site. (That is a necessary hassle to prevent spam attacks, but I may come up with a more streamlined process for comments one of these days.)

Also, Bruce Orser informs me that there is a movement to save Yankee Stadium, and you can sign the petition. It's a nice idea, but I doubt that any more than a trivial portion of the original structure can be preserved.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Aug 30, 2008 08:20 AM
The decision to remove baseball from the Olympics was indeed an IOC vote, in part inspired by the refusal of MLB to send major leaguers over there, but the reluctance of the host nations to build a baseball stadium certainly played a major role in it.


August 29, 2008 [LINK / comment]

McCain-Palin: a winning team

I recently wrote that "An ideal vice president for McCain would have strong conservative credentials and appeal to non-traditional GOP constituencies such as women and minorities," and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin fits that description to a T. She is exactly the kind of "unexpected choice" that (as I suggested) McCain needed to make to retake the momentum from Obama.

The announcement ceremony in Dayton, Ohio was a little odd, I thought, especially the high school cheerleaders. But when Gov. Palin finally arrived [and] stepped up to the podium, she left no doubt that she is up to the big challenge laid before her. Sen. McCain praised her "grit and integrity and devotion to the common good that is exactly what we need in Washington today." (See foxnews.com.) It's exactly the kind of emphasis I am looking for in a presidential ticket: a strong devotion to a market-oriented, honest reform agenda. The fact that she opposed the Federal money sought by (indicted) Sen. Ted Stevens for the "bridge to nowhere" (actually located in a different part of Alaska) and bucked the state Republican Party establishment in her campaign to become governor are very impressive credentials for me. She is clearly determined to resist corruption wherever she sees it, and given the weak legacy of the Bush administration in that regard, it's another big plus for McCain.

As for her personal characteristics, Gov. Palin seems to be a dream candidate for the Conservative Base: mother of five (one of whom is headed off to Iraq as part of the Army National Guard), gun-toting NRA member, anti-abortion advocate, and with a solid record of opposing tax hikes. Those aren't necessarily my main criteria for choosing a candidate, but if they can help round up enough votes to win the election, it's fine with me.

McCain made a great choice in terms of political calculations, but we still need to probe into Governor Palin's qualifications to be chief executive. Barack Obama's campaign staff was caught off guard and released a harsh and tacky statement belittling Gov. Palin's background as the mayor of a small town -- Wasilla, pop. 8,500, located just north of Anchorage. (They should have asked musician-activist John Mellencamp before insulting the "demographically challenged" portion of the electorate!) As a sitting governor, nevertheless, she already possesses more executive experience than Barack Obama or Joe Biden ever had! She is obviously very bright, energetic, and resourceful, and will have no problem mastering the nuances of diplomacy and strategic affairs in the coming months.

On the other hand, McCain may have exposed himself to criticism that his Veep choice was too focused on the election, as opposed to who is best equipped to serve in the White House. Perhaps, but that probably won't weigh too heavily on most voters' minds. It has come to be expected. Ironically, Palin may not attract many women supporters, especially since she is on the opposite side of Hillary Clinton on most of the issues. On WHSV-TV3, JMU Prof. Bob Roberts made the interesting point that the benefit to McCain from Palin depends on how many additional voters Barack Obama can get registered this fall. If Obama gets as many new people registered as he plans, Roberts thinks that Palin will actually hurt McCain. We shall see...

Did I mention that Gov. Palin is quite a babe? Take that, you charisma-obsessed Democrats! smile Images aside, the contrast to the status quo big-government liberalism espoused by Obama and Biden, versus the alternative limited government, freedom-oriented approach of McCain and Palin, could not be stronger. The choice of Governor Sarah Palin as vice presidential nominee today was great news for Republicans as they get ready for the Convention in St. Paul, and for the fall campaign...

Obama's big speech

I have to give credit to Barack Obama for meeting his own high speech-making standards last night. Like Hillary Clinton two nights before, he said all the key things he needed to say to reassure his own core supporters and ease the fears and suspicions of fence-sitting voters. The Washington Post

Obama was a little fuzzy on the details about how he would pay for all of these wonderful benefits he promised, however, and of course he had to be. Raising additional revenues by closing tax loopholes and streamlining the Federal bureaucracy? Those are two of the lamest, most shopworn budgetary solutions politicians have ever come up with, and I was surprised he didn't try harder to bridge the obvious gap between what he desires and what he can plausibly deliver. It reminds me of the air-headed agenda of Jimmy Carter in 1977, which accomplished virtually nothing. Even if Obama were successful with those token belt-tightening measures, they would probably raise only a small fraction of the needed funds. Frankly, hardly anyone seriously thinks he could do all those things without an enormous tax increase.


August 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Are the Tampa Bay Rays for real?

All season long baseball fans have been wondering whether the Tampa Bay Rays could sustain their amazing pace and make it to October. As August comes to a close with the Rays having just won another dramatic game (edging the Orioles, 10-9), the answer has to be a resounding yes. So what's their big secret? With the second-lowest payroll in the majors (after their neighbors in Miami), it's definitely not high-priced star power. Their success stems, rather, from young star power, plus a lot of teamwork. Two veterans clearly stand out: slugger Carl Crawford, who has spent his whole career in Tampa Bay (since 2002), and Carlos Peña, who seemed to come out of nowhere to take second place in the American League home run race last year (with 46), is doing almost as well this year (with 27 so far). More typical, however, are young guys like Scott Kazmir, winning pitcher of the All-Star Game. Much has also been said about third baseman Evan Longoria, a contender for rookie or the year. (I keep wondering if he is the twin brother of Desperate Housewives TV star Eva Longoria, but they don't look much alike. smile)

A few key injuries threaten to derail the Rays' magical season, however. Carl Crawford has been on the 15-day disabled list since August 10 with an injured right middle finger tendon. It was feared that he would be out for the rest of the regular season and possibly the postseason (!) after injuring his. That could make a huge difference. Evan Longoria fractured his right wrist almost at the same time, but is expected back in the lineup in the next ten days or so. Troy Percival is another key player on the Ray's DL. See MLB.com. It's amazing that the Rays keep winning so often without those two guys.

I saw Scott Kazmir being interviewed on TV a couple days ago, being asked about the low attendance at Rays' home games this year, even as the team plays better than anyone could have expected. Is it the lousy ballpark? Traffic issues in a metropolitan area full of congested bridges? You could tell it bothers him, and it's a shame he and his team mates aren't getting more fan support from the St. Petersburg area.

Here's another (almost) "Cinderella story" from not so long ago that Washington fans may recall: The Nationals, who had just relocated from Montreal, were in first place in their division for six whole weeks in June and July, 2005, sparking baseball fever like the Nation's Capital had not seen since the 1930s. Then they lost to the Mets on July 4, and thereafter fell into a losing streak, ending their hopes of a trip to the postseason. Clearly, the Nats were not ready for prime time. Whether the Rays have all the necessary qualities to keep winning games into October will be one of the most suspenseful questions baseball fans ask as the final month of the season progresses.

And then, we will deal with another chapter in the long-running saga of funding a new baseball stadium in St. Petersburg. What about tearing the roof off the Trop, and rebuilding the seating sections beyond the infield? Just a thought...

Tiger Stadium: going, going...

I just checked the "The Official Tiger Stadium Demolition Thread" at baseball-fever.com, and found to my horror that the demolition crew in Detroit has kept up the pace during the latter part of August. So, I updated the "demolition" thumbnail image.

Tiger Stadium Tiger Stadium demol 1 Tiger Stadium demol 2

The mail bag

Thanks much to Marc Myers for the photos he sent of Jack Murphy Stadium from the mid-1980s, including shots of Steve Garvey and Bruce Bochy. That leaves five current and three past major league stadiums for which I am still seeking photographs from fans. From now on, the "camera Wanted" list will be posted in the right column of the baseball blog page.

I still have other e-mail messages to get to. My apologies to fans who are still waiting for a response.


August 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Cool flight sim

Please fasten your seat belt for a virtual flight through an arctic mountain range at Electric Oyster; hat tip to Patrick Carne.


August 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Birding around Virginia Beach

Not surprisingly, we saw a fair number of interesting birds during our extensive time outdoors in Virginia Beach last weekend, including at least three species for the first time in my life: Sanderlings (which I probably had seen before without identifying it), Royal Terns (likewise), and a Seaside Sparrow. (I'm not quite sure about the Wilson's Storm-Petrels; there was a flock of 20 or so small dark birds fluttering above the waves, and I don't know what else they could have been.) It was at the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It was a nice treat to see several Brown-headed nuthatches at close range right at our campground. I had seen that species only once before, at Chincoteague in 1999 -- also at a campground!. Here is a fairly complete list of the more noteworthy birds that we saw, grouped according to location:

Various places

  • Great Blue Herons
  • Great Egrets
  • Ospreys
  • Herring gulls
  • Ring-billed gulls
  • Laughing gulls
  • Lesser Black-backed Gulls
  • Common Grackles
  • Bluebirds
  • Double-crested Cormorant

North Bay campground

  • Pine warblers (20+)
  • Brown-headed nuthatches (!)
  • Eastern Wood Pewee
  • Downy Woodpecker

Back Bay NWR

  • Goldfinches
  • Boat-tailed Grackles
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Chipping sparrows
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Eastern Kingbirds
  • Blue Grosbeak (M)
  • Indigo Bunting (M)
  • Red-wing Blackbirds
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Sharp-shinned hawk
  • Common Yellowthroats
  • Sanderlings (LIFE BIRD!)
  • Greater yellowlegs
  • Brown pelicans
  • Royal Terns (LIFE BIRD!)
  • Seaside Sparrow (LIFE BIRD!)
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Wilson's Storm-Petrels (LIFE BIRD! prob.)

I also saw several large dark birds flying high over the ocean; my guess is that they were some species of Shearwater. During the pre-dawn hours at the campsite we heard, on successive nights, a Great Horned Owl and a Screech Owl. The latter spooked Jacqueline, and it was the first time I had heard one for sure. Finally, we saw White-tailed deer up close, a Raccoon, a number of turtles, and even some dolphins. All in all, it was a wonderful excursion into the world of Nature.

Sanderling

A number of Sanderlings such as this one were patrolling the beach, running just ahead of the incoming waves, and then running back again to look for goodies in the wet sand. Roll the mouse over this image to see one of them taking off.

Gull (juvenile) flying

An unidentified species of gull (definitely juvenile) flying along the beach.


August 31, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Russia's invasion of Georgia

What are we to make of the military onslaught in Georgia? Is it "a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing," as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said about Czechoslovakia in 1938? Or, do we have a strong national interest at stake that might warrant getting involved in one way or another? Like most things in the foggy world of diplomacy, the answer is somewhere in between.

First, a quick review of the facts as we know them: In early August the Republic of Georgia sent army units to occupy Tskhinvali, the capital city of South Ossetia, which is part of Georgia but with a distinct ethnic identity. (North Ossetia, on the northern slope of the Caucasus Mountains, is part of Russia.) This was not a sudden, precipitous action, as the Russians claim, but was part of a long, ongoing showdown with separatist forces. On August 8, Russian jets bombed various targets in Georgia, and its Army moved into South Ossetia, forcing the Georgian units back. Within a couple days Russian tanks were advancing further into Georgia, taking the city of Gori, along the only road that connects the capital Tblisi to the Black Sea. Realizing that its situation was hopeless, Georgia pleaded for a truce, and the 2,000 Georgia army troops stationed in Iraq were airlifted by the U.S. Air Force back home to defend their own country. Thereafter, Russia began a series of ambiguous (or duplicitous, rather) moves, announcing a withdrawal one day and then reinforcing their outposts and/or renewing hostilities the next day. Russian naval units blockaded the port of Poti, but a U.S. military vessel was able to unload emergency supplies at another port further south, Batumi. The Russian Parliament recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia (another separatist region of Georgia), a prelude to absorption into the Russian Federation. After three weeks, Russian forces still control South Ossetia.

To put this conflict in proper context so as to clearly frame the alternative policy responses, we should bear in mind some of the following considerations:

The strategic angle

Georgia is eager to join NATO, and President Bush recently tried to convince our NATO allies to agree to this in his recent summit meeting in Europe.Two other former Communist countries, Croatia and Albania, were invited to join NATO at that same summit meeting. Bush also wants NATO to accept the Ukraine as a member, which would oblige American soldiers to defend a large former Soviet republic from Russian invasion. That is an utterly unthinkable prospect, and the fact that any person in a position of authority would make such an untenable commitment is cause for grave worry. (Speaking of which, three other former Soviet Republics, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, joined NATO in 2004, over Russia's strong objection. Technically, in case of invasion, the United States would be obliged to defend these new allies which are located on the doorstep of Mother Russia.)

Last month, the United States signed an agreement with the Czech Republic, pledging to defend them from ballistic missile attack using SDI ("Star Wars") technology. (The Bush administration does not intend to submit this deal to the U.S. Senate for ratification, however, so it does not have the legal force of an international treaty.)

The Russian government has made it clear in its series of propaganda / news inserts in the Washington Post that continued encroachment of NATO into Russia's traditional sphere of interest is antagonizing Moscow.

If Georgia was so eager to join NATO, the statesmen at NATO headquarters in Brussels must have been preparing to make a forceful response in defense of a prospective democratic ally, right? Wrong. WaPo columnist Charles Krauthammer ridiculed the vaunted Western Alliance for its failure to take any serious action: "NATO Meows." Not only did they fail to act, the official joint statement was worded so weakly that it was not even clear that aggression had taken place. They simply referred abstractly to "Russian military action" as being "inconsistent with its peacekeeping role." Putin and his henchmen must be laughing out loud at that; they correctly assessed that NATO countries would fail to respond forcefully, and they will no doubt seize the opportunity to exploit Western weakness in other regions.

The ethnic angle

South Ossetia is not the only part of Georgia in which there is a territorial dispute. Since the mid-1990s, Russia has repeatedly intervened in the region known as Abkhazia, in the northwest part of Georgia along the Black Sea. Anyone who has studied the geography of Eurasia knows that the Caucasus Mountain region on the south edge of Russia is almost as "Balkanized" as the Balkans themselves. It's a mishmash of feudal clans with various religious affiliations.

Not many people in the West know much about the culture of Georgia. They have been Christian since the Fourth Century A.D., and use a bizarre alphabet. In both respects the Georgian nation is similar to their landlocked neighbor to the southeast, Armenia. Georgia was the home to the most brutal "Russian" dictator of all time: Josef Stalin, whose real surname was Djugashvili.

The economic angle

If "you knew" there had to be an oil connection, you're right. Last month, WaPo business columnist Steven Pearlstein focused on Russia's desire to the control the oil pipeline that connects Azerbaijan to Turkey, which was built through Georgia over strong Russian objections. (They tried to demand a pipeline route through Russian territory -- through the violence-torn region of Chechnya -- so that they could control the flow.) That pipeline was a major strategic gain for the United States and Western powers, and Russia regarded that as intolerable. Georgia's greatest fear was that Russian troops would advance further south and destroy key part of that pipeline. That would have left Georgia's fragile economy in ruins.

The democracy angle

Opinions on Georgia's President Saakashvili vary widely. Some say he went too far in asserting sovereignty over the breakaway regions, and others say he was just doing his job. In the Outlook section of Sunday's Washington Post, Tara Bahrampour reported on the decline in morale among the people of Georgia. Until recently, were very proud of finally having achieved a stable democracy after nearly two decades of post-Cold War chaos. Some Georgians resented President Saakashvili's embrace of free-market capitalism. Like many other formerly communist societies, many older people are used to a secure life without working too hard, and that is no longer possible there. If Saakashvili is forced out of power as a result of this crisis, it will signify a reversal of economic policy, and the anti-global populism of Putin's Russia would gain strength in Georgia as well. Georgia has long had a complex, ambiguous relationship with Russia, which is feared and yet seen as a protector at times. She has not observed any backlash against ethnic Russians living in Georgia, which is a good sign. Democracies are supposed to be more peaceful and civilized, but young, fragile democracies are sometimes prone to mob action.

It's worth noting that Georgia has endured repeated bouts of turbulence since becoming independent of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. A brutal despot named Zviad Gamsakhurdia was ousted in an armed uprising in 1993, and former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze was soon elected to lead the country. Though considered pro-Western (he was a key partner of Mikhail Gorbachev), his true sympathies and intentions were always unclear. He gradually lost the trust of his own countrymen and foreigners alike. Failure to create stable democratic institutions resulted in the growth of mafia clans that ran much of the economy. Since the late 1990s, Georgia has been begging for Western assistance, seeking to join NATO, which explains the deployment of troops to Iraq.

Russia's de facto ruler Vladimir Putin blamed American electoral politics for the violent conflict in Georgia, and their regular propaganda section in the Washington Post has been full of twisted stories full of self-pity, accusing the Georgian government of "aggression." It's a silly suggestion, of course, but there is something to the logic behind the accusation. Clearly, domestic politics cannot be entirely separated from this international crisis, and that means we need to consider the McCain vs. Obama factor. (See below.)

What are we to do?

Given the remote location of Georgia, next to Russia but very hard to reach from Western Europe, there is a fundamental geopolitical limitation on how much pressure the United States can exert in the region. Besides, our armed forces are already stretched very thin across the globe thanks to "The Surge" in Iraq, and there simply aren't any sizable reserve forces available for an unforeseen emergency conflict such as this one. But contemplating the deployment of U.S. ground troops in defense of Georgia is rather divorced from reality. What we actually can do is provide varying degrees of moral and material support to the Georgian government, especially restocking their depleted armaments, and punishing the Russian government in various ways -- via trade sanctions, diplomatic measures, etc.

WaPo columnist Jim Hoagland (who has strong credentials in national security, and is usually a "hawk") suggests that Obama's cautious initial reaction was justified, both in substantive terms (strategic considerations) and political terms (getting elected). Obama was lucky in a sense that the need to keep his party united at the convention in Denver served to restrain him from making a stronger statement against Russia just to show he isn't a foreign policy lightweight. Hoagland thinks that Georgia might be an opportunity to show the advantages of the diplomatic "soft-power" approach favored by Obama, but it might just as easily expose the extreme limitations of that approach.

One reason why the United States must help the Georgians resist, nevertheless, is that Georgia is one of the few remaining countries with a substantial number of combat troops helping to stabilize Iraq. If we don't stand by one of our view remaining allies -- for whatever real military power they can contribute -- then there won't be much reason for small and middle-size countries to cooperate strategically with the United States in the future. So even though we can't do very much directly, we should continue to offer large-scale economic relief aid to the Georgians, and to provide funds for pro-democracy programs in the Caucuses region, and perhaps even in Russia itself. The time has come for us to stop pretending that we can get cooperation from Moscow. The Putin-Medvedev regime is clearly hostile to our interests, and there is a tight connection between their authoritarian tendencies and aggressive foreign policy. We should make it clear that the status quo is unacceptable, and that Russia must either reform or be isolated diplomatically. For the time being, Russia can go on sneering at us, and we must gird ourselves for a long, grim tug of war -- Cold War II, perhaps.


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