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April 1, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Goodlatte conference call

Earlier this evening, I participated in another conference call* with Congressman Bob Goodlatte, along with Jim Hoeft (who recorded it for a podcast at Bearing Drift), K.D. Weeks, and Leslie Carbone. The main topic, of course, was what the Republicans in Congress are doing to resist the Obama administration's massive spending binge, and various shady schemes such as "cap and trade." I was encouraged that the House GOP caucus is very active in formulating a coordinated response to the Democrats, letting people know that there is an alternative to Big Government. But whether in this "honeymoon" period most Americans are of a mindset to think carefully about the long-term implications of the choices being decided right now is another matter.

As usual, I asked the Congressman a question that was very hard to answer: Which of the various initiatives being introduced by President Obama is considered by Republicans to be the most menacing? Goodlatte thought about it and replied that it was the enormous level of spending and borrowing. He did mention in particular the threat posed to our economy by Obama's health care proposals, which could lead to a diminished quality and promptness of medical services, force small businesses to shut down, bust the budget, or all of the above. For example, the SCHIP program (see Jan. 28) was obviously created as a first step toward broader federal government involvement in health care, which has been the Democrats' objective all along. Goodlatte hopes that the (relatively) conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats might be persuaded into offering a compromise measure on health care that would avoid the European-style hellish bureaucracy, but some legislators in that faction are less conservative than others. It is going to take a lot of behind-the-scenes negotiation and public consciousness-raising to prevent President Obama's most egregious proposals from being enacted, so as to preserve what is left of our free enterprise system.

* I was part of a similar conference call in February, when Congressman Goodlatte introduced the "Tax Code Termination Act."

Obamas arrive in London

President Barack Obama and First Lady arrived in London for the G-20 summit, their first appearance on the world stage. Image counts above all in politics, and we should at least be thankful that our First Couple have the charisma to beguile a "global community" that was until recently very hostile to the United States. Whether the smiles and admiration will translate into greater cooperation with the U.S. government is not yet known. The Obamas were introduced to Queen Elizabeth, presenting her with an iPod (!!!), but somehow I doubt that Her Majesty would find such a device useful. The BBC reports that London is catching "Michelle Obama fever," with frequent comparisons to Jack and Jacqueline Kennedy. Perhaps the Obamas will visit the countryside around Avon, where the legendary Kingdom of Camelot was supposed to have been...

There is much more serious business to attend to, of course, such as trying to reach an agreement on a coordinated global response to the recession. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have stoutly resisted Obama's push for a big increase in "stimulus" spending, to their great credit. Even the Russian media has poked fun at the U.S. government for its spendthrift ways, and in a cartoon image, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was gaily tossing dollar bills in the air.

Ron Paul to head RNC?

Richard Viguerie was spreading a rumor that Ron Paul has replaced Michael Steele as Chairman of the Republican National Committee, but of course it's just an April Fool's joke. smile


April 2, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Municipal Stadium update

The diagram and text for KC Municipal Stadium Municipal Stadium, former home of the Kansas City Athletics and Royals, have been revised. The profile has been refined, light towers have been added, and various small details have been corrected. The only major change in terms of the outfield is in the left field fence in the 1956 version. I've also been working on the Royals' present home, Kauffman Stadium, which is being renovated this year; see below.

The mail bag

Mike Zurawski sends news that Bud Selig has appointed a three-man committee to find out what needs to be done to get a new ballpark built for the A's. Team owner Lew Wolff recently told reporters that he now hopes to move the A's to San Jose, which is currently part of the San Francisco Giants' territory, so he need Bud's intervention. See MLB.com. In hard times like these, chances for building a new ballpark just about anywhere are pretty meager; you might as well send that MLB committee on a diplomatic mission to find permanent peace in the Middle East.

Mike also found a photo gallery of the nearly-completed Kauffman Stadium renovations at MLB.com. Most of the pics are of the goofy kids' entertainment stuff, but a few of them are useful.

Finally, there are some great interior photos of Citi Field, showing the distance markers in a slightly different location than previously planned, at baseball-fever.com.

By the way, I finally registered at baseball-fever.com, using the ID "AC/DC2005," as in my initials, the District of Columbia, and the year baseball returned there. I've been a shameless "lurker" there for years, and figured I ought to start contributing, especially since my work is often cited there, or in some cases, posted without proper citation. frown

OK, all you fans who "lurk" on this Web site, it's time to stand up and be counted: Go ahead and REGISTER so that you can contribute your own stadium impressions or comment on the blog.


UPDATE: Bruce Orser sent me a link to a page full of Kauffman Stadium renovation photos, at a Web site appropriately named kauffmanstadiumrenovation.com.


April 2, 2009 [LINK / comment]

McDonnell visits Harrisonburg

The Republican candidate for governor Bob McDonnell paid a visit to Harrisonburg during the final leg of his campaign "kickoff" yesterday. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend. According to the News Leader, he emphasized his background that better equips him to manage the state government during difficult times such as these, and his firm commitment to keep taxes low so as to maintain a healthy business climate in which job opportunities expand. He also called attention to his strong record on energy issues, favoring off-shore drilling.

One of McDonnell's statement made me a little uncomfortable, however: "We need a wider and a safer Interstate 81." If he means widening the highway in cities and on big hills where trucks cause traffic snarls, then yes. But if even hints at the massive expansion that would amount to a "highway to hell" (see Feb. 2005), then absolutely NOT. McDonnell was cautious on the proposed closings of I-81 rest-stops, suggesting partial privatization as one way to avoid that. What needs to happen is that truckers who park there to rest need to pay an appropriate fee, probably $10 per visit. That would be more economical for them than staying overnight at a private truck stop, which are losing a lot of business to the public rest-stops. They were designed primarily for the convenience of travelers, not as a cost-cutting "freebie" for businesses.

Chester sues BOS

Churchville lawyer/sheep farmer Francis Chester is frustrated that his campaign to fight property tax assessment hikes isn't being taken seriously. And so, he is following through on his threat to sue the Augusta County Supervisors, as well as county Commissioner of Revenue Jean Shrewsbury. He rejects outright the suggestion that the county should cut tax rates to mitigate most of the effect of the higher assessments. He simply refuses to compromise. See News Leader. I repeat my firm contention that politicizing the process of making property tax assessment leads us down a dangerous path, having a destabilizing effect on local government finances that would hurt vital services and make the county less business friendly. Also, litigating political disputes erodes the bonds of community trust.


April 4, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Yanks, Mets stadium "exhibitions"

The new stadiums of the Yankees and Mets were on display for exhibition games last night, and the threat of rain did not prevent the games from being played. The Yankees beat the Cubs 7-4, and all their runs came on three home runs -- by Robinson Cano, Hideki Matsui, and Cody Ransom, in that order. I think that's an indication of what's to come in this slugger-friendly, scaled-down version of the original "House that Ruth Built." The Yankees begin the regular season on the road, and christen* their new "cathedral" on April 16, hosting the Cleveland Indians. See MLB.com.

From looking at all the photos on baseball-fever.com and from taking a closer look at various blueprint images people have sent me, I've decided that the dimensions of the new Yankee Stadium are closer to the original than I had thought. In particular, the left field fence is 10-15 feet further back than my previous estimate, but the right field fence is where I thought it was, significantly closer to home than in Yankee Stadium I. Some fans have complained about the significant number of seats with obstructed views of the field, and the photos bear this out. From the back corner of the bleachers near center field, you can't even see first base from the left side, or third base from the right side. That means I'll not only have to fine-tune the diagrams for the actual stadium, but come up with a suggested improved version as well. Stay tuned...

* Speaking of "christening," televangelist Joel Osteen will hold a religious service (of sorts) in the new Yankee Stadium on April 25, but you have to buy tickets to get in. It's $15, apparently.

Several miles to the east in Queens, meanwhile, the Mets split their two exhibition games with the Red Sox, winning the inaugural game at their new home last night, but losing today, 9-3. The fans were delighted with Citi Field, at least. The first regular season game there will be on April 13, as the San Diego Padres come to town. See MLB.com.

Ballpark humor

Somebody in baseball-fever.com posted this fake headline from The Onion: "PNC Park Threatens To Leave Pittsburgh Unless Better Team Is Built." Ouch! smile


April 4, 2009 [LINK / comment]

The end of the Newspaper Era

In Tuesday's edition, the News Leader announced that they will shut down their printing presses this month, and outsource that job to the Harrisonburg Daily News Record. The last edition to be printed here in Staunton will be April 13. This will result in the loss of eight full-time jobs and 15 part-time jobs.

The current recession is the immediate cause of this decision, not surprisingly, as advertisement revenues are way down. I happened to look in the classified section of the Washington Post a few days ago, and was startled to find that most of it was taken up by "trustee sale" notices, i.e., sales of homes in which the mortgage was foreclosed. That's pretty scary.

The underlying cause of the demise of the newspaper industry is the decline in readership among younger people. Few people under thirty bother to buy a newspaper anymore, let alone take the time to actually scan one quickly. They get their "news" from blogs and other Internet news sources, of widely varying reliability. Plus, functional literacy is way down, and not many people in their twenties can digest the serious prose and big, multi-syllabic words contained in newspaper articles. OMG! frown

One of the side-effects of declining newspaper circulation is that profitability concerns makes the newspaper managers more sensitive to boycotts by subscribers, threatened or real. For example, in June 2007, some of the local "grassroots" activists launched a campaign against the News Leader in protest against the characterization of their leaders as "snakes" by the former editorial page editor, Mr. Dennis Neal, and within a couple months, he was gone.

Beyond the growing pressure on newspaper editors lies the problem of declining citizen awareness of civic affairs. As local newspapers curtail their operations, it will be harder to maintain the same level and quality of news reporting on community events. This will reduce the pressure on public officials and other leaders to behave in accord with the public interest, and the inevitable result will be greater corruption and the erosion of democratic governance.

Another victim of the bleak economy and declining readership is Eighty One magazine, which will cease publication after this month. That is a real shame, as it has been a valuable source of information about entertainment and culture, and occasionally in-depth stories about subjects not often covered in the mainstream press. Deona Landes Houff [poured] her heart and soul into that magazine, and we will all miss it.

The Post axes "Zippy"

Another side-effect of declining newspaper readership is the shrinkage of the comics page, and my favorite -- "Zippy the Pinhead" -- was among the casualties at the Washington Post. The last time the Post cut the "Zippy the Pinhead" from its comics pages, ten or so years ago, I was among those who voiced outrage, and they quickly granted "Zippy" a reprieve. shopfloor.org [reported on the cutback at the Post; link updated]. I commented on the WaPo blog:

The people who are loyal readers of "Zippy the Pinhead" are the ones who most appreciate newspapers. They are the ones who defiantly hold fast to what is authentic and true, like Albert Brooks in the movie Broadcast News, and who rely on good old-fashioned print newspapers to keep tabs on the world and enlighten their minds. Why on earth would the Post alienate the very same people who are most inclined to buy their product, just when their industry is starting to crumble???
Zippy

April 5, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Palm Sunday 2009

Like last year and years past, members of Emmanuel Episcopal Church joined with other local congregations in a Palm Sunday procession through the streets of downtown Staunton. This year's observance of Holy Week -- memorializing the arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, the Last Supper, his betrayal, crucifixion, and resurrection -- was blessed with mild, sunny conditions. We began at Trinity Episcopal church, marched down Beverley Street, and concluded with songs and prayers at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic church, before returning to our respective churches.

Emmanuel Church copper roof

Installation of the new copper roof on Emmanuel Episcopal Church has been completed. For more photos, see emmanuelstaunton.org.


April 5, 2009 [LINK / comment]

RPV chair Frederick is removed

As widely expected, the Central Committee of the Republican Party of Virginia voted on Saturday to remove Jeff Frederick as chairman. The vote was very close, however: 57-18, just barely enough to meet the three-fourths requirement. The article in the News Leader indicated that the meeting was very long (five-plus hours) and very heated, with frequent loud arguments. One of Frederick's supporters called the vote a "mob lynching," and another said that "social conservatives would abandon the GOP." Well! Frederick apparently did not win any supporters by sending a lengthy e-mail message to party leaders in advance of the vote, calling it a "power grab by party elites." This was presumably a reference to the fact that all five Virginia Republican congressman, gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell, and other leading figures in the party had called on Frederick to resign for the good of the party, but he steadfastly refused to do so; see March 6 and March 17.

The Washington Post story on yesterday's vote focused on the ramifications of this intra-party conflict on the fortunes of the Republican Party nationwide. GOP leaders are keenly aware of the precious opportunity that Bob McDonnell offers for the party, which might win back the governorship this fall for the first time in eight years. That is one of the few bright spots on the national landscape, which is why John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee have campaigned in Virginia in support of McDonnell. He will need more such campaign help in order to withstand the backlash from the "grassroots" that is sure to come.

One can only imagine all the arm-twisting that must have been going on behind the scenes. Indeed, according to Chris Green there is a rumor that Lynn Mitchell (a.k.a. "SWAC Girl") cut a deal to save her position as Sixth District representative on the State Central Committee, voting against Frederick despite having been one of his most vocal supporters. I am aware of the charges against her (see March 13), but have no first-hand knowledge. In any case, it doesn't serve any purpose to speculate on other party members' motives, and from a realist perspective, politically expedient choices can often serve a higher purpose.

I was a bit surprised that the vote was as close as it was, given the overwhelming repudiation of Frederick by Virginia elected officials. They have evidently apprised the situation for what it is, deciding that the party would continue to veer off course toward defeat, as long as Frederick was in charge. On the other hand, the furious reaction of his supporters, some of whom say they will quit the GOP and vote Democratic, raises questions about whether a meaningful degree of party unity is likely in the wake of Frederick's ouster. The removal probably could have been handled better, but few objective people would doubt that it had to happen. Now is the time for the party to set aside old grudges and come together...

Or is it? In a normal party with honest differences of opinion amenable to compromise, that would certainly be the case, but that is not the situation in the Republican Party today. The problem is not that the party "disrespects" its "Base," but rather that the "Base" itself embodies deep pathological defects, with a "paranoid culture of exclusion" (see Dec. 4) and a bad habit of threatening to defect. Richard Viguerie is a classic example. Ironically, the GOP "Base" and Democrats see eye to eye in hoping that Frederick would retain his post; see March 19. It is also very telling that the local anti-tax movement has rallied behind Democrat Tracy Pyles, of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors (see March 13), rumored to be considering a challenge to Delegate Chris Saxman this fall. Any party that relies upon such unreliable people as the foundation of its electoral hopes is doomed. I hope that most of those folks get a grip on reality and learn how to get along with others, but in the long run, I'm afraid, we may be better off without some of them.

In sum, while prospects for the Republican Party have brightened as a result of the vote in Richmond, we are not out of the woods yet. It will take a sustained effort at conciliation over many months to fully heal the party's wounds.

Another blog post after midnight... frown


April 6, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Opening Day 2009 has arrived!

After several dark, bleak months of waiting, as of today, baseball fans finally get to enjoy life once again: PLAY BALL!!!

Actually, last night was Opening Night, as the Braves beat the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies 4-1. The Braves scored two runs in each of the first two innings, while Phillies didn't even get on the board until the bottom of the ninth. Chipper Jones went 2 for 4, getting a quick start to match his phenomenal performance of last year; he finished the 2008 season with a batting average of .364, just ahead of Albert Pujols and way ahead of the rest.

ESPN (or ESPN2) will be broadcasting several games today, starting at 1:00 with the New York Mets at Cincinnati.

Candlestick Park update, at last

While mainstream baseball fans have been waiting forever for Opening Day to come, ballpark fans who frequent this Web site have been waiting forever to see an update to the Candlestick Park Candlestick Park page. As of today, I am proud to announce, it now has new diagrams that conform to my "state-of-the-art" standard, as well as some hypothetical diagrams portraying what I think should have been done when Candlestick Park was expanded in 1972. Any comments, feel free to put them on this blog post.

This means that all major league stadiums since 1909 can now be compared to each other on the Side-by-side and Overlay comparison pages. I still have a few other stadiums to do, some of which you've probably never heard of...

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Apr 06, 2009 17:29 PM
Finally! I've been pestering you for how long about that? :) Also, of note is that the right-center field corner at Citi Field has a marked distance of 415. I meant to add that comment yesterday but got sidetracked. >_>

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Apr 08, 2009 13:02 PM
Well, as the Tortoise said to the Hare (who lost the race in a big upset), "I may be slow, but I'm sure." Thanks for your patience.

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Apr 08, 2009 13:03 PM
About Citi Field, yes I saw the new distance markers and will be updating that diagram soon, right after New Yankee Stadium.


April 8, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Fujimori is convicted, again

Peru's former president Alberto Fujimori was convicted of ordering the murder of 25 dissidents in 1992: 15 at Barrios Altos and 10 students at "La Cantuta" University, just outside of Lima. This comes sixteen months after Fujimori was sentenced to six years in prison for having ordered an illegal search; see Dec. 2007. The delays were caused by Fujimori's poor health; he is 70 years old. (That sentence was clearly disproportional to the nature of the crime, and can be explained by the widespread suspicion that Fujimori had done far worse things which could not -- at that time -- be proven for sure.) The central charge in the trial that just ended was that Fujimori gave indirect orders to "La Colina" death squad, which spearheaded the successful anti-terrorism campaign of the early 1990s. Fujimori was also convicted of ordering the detainment of respected journalist Gustavo Gorriti. According to the BBC, it "was the first time a democratically elected Latin American leader had been tried and found guilty in his own country for human rights abuses."

In his closing arguments, Fujimori complained that the trial was motivated by revenge. There may be some truth to that, since the man who currently serves as president, Alan Garcia, was forced to flee Peru in 1992 after Fujimori ordered his arrest. It's pretty ironic, and one wonders if deep inside, Fujimori regrets persecuting his predecessor.

Even if he spends the rest of his life behind bars, Alberto Fujimori will still enjoy widespread support in Peru, and 13 legislators in Peru's congress are affiliated with pro-Fujimori parties. His daughter Keiko is a possible candidate for the presidential elections in 2011, as Fujimori himself has been barred for life from running again. Millions of Peruvians are grateful to him for the economic stabilization and recovery that he brought about, as well as the defeat of the narco-terrorist forces of the Shining Path and MRTA. Fujimori's methods were often brutal and even illegal, but it is hard to imagine how Peru could have overcome those dire threats to its very existence any other way. There is no clear-cut answer to how much violence or extra-legal actions are necessary in order to defeat a terrorist movement, and you might say that Peru was a real-world test case for the sorts of moral dilemmas that are a main theme of the FOX-TV series 24. (What would Jack Bauer have done about the terrorist menace in Peru?)

The headline in Peru's leading daily newspaper, El Comercio, was: "It Is Now Proven: Alberto Fujimori Kidnapped and Murdered with Treachery." The article details the illegal orders that Fujimori gave to specific military units, bypassing the chain of command. Fujimori's adviser Vladimiro Montesinos exercised command power as well, even though he was neither a military officer nor a cabinet official. This fact itself casts grave doubt on the many achievements of the Fujimori presidency: Even as the country became more secure and prosperous, the national political institutions were undermined by the irregular manner in which the "dirty war" against terrorism was carried out.

Will this verdict and sentencing bring Peru any closer to the social reconciliation that its people so desperately yearn for? Probably not. In much of Latin America, the justice system is heavily tainted by political favoritism, and countries such as Argentina, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica have been noted for criminal persecution of former presidents, and those who still revere Fujimori are not likely to regard the trial as fair or legitimate. For background on Fujimori and Peru, see the Peru page.


April 8, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Democrat to challenge Saxman

Yesterday's News Leader reported that Delegate Chris Saxman (20th District) will face a Democratic challenger this fall: Erik Curren, the marketing director at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton. He says that "new ideas and new vision" are needed, but was not very specific on issues. He did emphasize the need to maintain the quality of life in the Shenandoah Valley, however, and it's hard to argue with that. The question is, how do you go about doing that?

With a phenomenal public relations operation and press coverage that is unusually friendly for a Republican, it is hard to imagine that anyone could make a serious dent in Chris Saxman's bid for reelection. But other Republicans in "safe" districts such as Virgil Goode lost last year, so who knows? This means that all three (Republican) delegates who represent parts of Augusta County will face opposition in November: Steve Landes, Ben Cline, and now Chris Saxman. See March 3.

Virginia tea parties

Rush Limbaugh and other conservative pundits have been promoting the Tea Party movement, and several April 15 tax protest events are being organized in Virginia, including Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Roanoke, and Richmond. See richmondteaparty.com; reported in the Times Dispatch.


April 9, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Marlins sweep the Nationals

Day One of the 2009 season was pretty awful for my two favorite teams, as both the Yankees and the Nationals were trounced by lopsided two-to-one margins, losing to, respectively, the Orioles (10-5) and to the Marlins (12-6). In Miami, Nats "ace" pitcher John Lannan lasted only three innings, giving up six runs. (Why is he considered the team "ace"? Because none of their other starting pitchers were with Washington last year!) Bright spot: Adam Dunn homered in his first game in a Washington uniform. The Marlins went on to sweep the Nats, but at least the margins of defeat in the games on Tuesday and Wednesday night weren't so big: [8-3] and 6-4.

Last year, in contrast, the Nats won their first three games and then lost their next nine, which turned out to set the pattern for the rest of that horrible, horrible inaugural season in Nationals Park.

Yankees strike back

C.C. Sabathia's first outing in pinstripes didn't go very well, and the Orioles beat the Yankees in the second game as well, but the Bronx Bombers lived up to their fearsome reputation on Thursday, thrashing the O's, 11-2. Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher hit their first home runs since joining the Yankees.

R.I.P. Nick Adenhart

The Los Angeles Angels are mourning the death of their up-and-coming pitcher Nick Adenhart, who was killed by a drunk driver in Fullerton, CA last night. The team postponed today's game. It happened just a few hours after Adenhart threw six shutout innings for the Angels, an auspicious start to what would have been his first full season in the majors. He grew up in suburban Maryland, and the Washington-area TV stations had full coverage of the very sad turn of events. See MLB.com, which has a list of active player deaths since 1990.

Zimmerman: No deal

The Washington Nationals front office could not come to terms with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, so the two sides have agreed to suspend negotiations over a contract renewal until the after the season is over. See MLB.com. Zimmerman has only two hits so far this season, in 14 at bats.


April 9, 2009 [LINK / comment]

More vireos and cormorants

Last week I saw a Blue-headed vireo and a Double-crested cormorant -- but just one of each -- whereas this week I saw multiples of both those migratory species. I saw two of the former today at the Peaks of Otter, along with a Ruby-crowned kinglet. Further along the Blue Ridge Parkway a Pine warbler was singing, and yet another Wild turkey was foraging along the road.

On Tuesday, I noticed a group of 20 or so big black birds riding out the rain on a small rocky island in the middle of the James River west of Big Island, and I quickly realized what the were. Highlights:

  • Double-crested cormorants (20+)
  • Wood duck (M)
  • Tree swallows
  • Barn swallows
  • Northern Rough-winged swallows

My first Barn swallows of the season were last Sunday, a few miles east of Staunton. Pine siskins are still frequenting our feeder in back, and I've seen as many as five at once. In other nature-related developments, a Red fox ran right in front of me as I was driving south on I-81 between Greenville and Raphine. That was a scary near miss, and I hope it learned its lesson about jay-walking.


April 10, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Good Friday: spoiler alert

On the somber occasion of Good Friday, it's a good idea to try to put oneself in the shoes of the followers of Jesus when he was being crucified, reminding ourselves of what it's all about. Observant Christians mark Holy Week by reciting biblical passages about Jesus Christ's last days, but after doing the same ritual for so many years, some of the drama wears off. Why? Because you know how the story is going to end, so it is hard to imagine the sense of utter and complete despair that they must have felt.

Some time back in the 1980s, I happened to see the movie It's a Wonderful Life for the first time. I had heard of it, but didn't know the plot, so as George Bailey's (Jimmy Stewart's) life kept going from bad to even worse, I was appalled by the (apparently) ironic contrast with the movie title. Feeling down and out at the time, I could relate to the cruel twists of fate suffered by the protagonist, so when the angel Clarence finally pulled the right spiritual strings to make everything right at the end, I had a deep emotional catharsis, even shedding tears. (!)

Now, if I had known how the movie would turn out, I never would have fully appreciated the ending, and the inspirational message would not have had nearly as great an impact on me. So it is with the story of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins: For most of us, it doesn't have such a big impact because we already know he will be resurrected on the third day. But just try to put yourself in the shoes of a non-Christian who is learning the Gospel for the first time, and who doesn't know the "ending to the story." It would be an overwhelming experience to go from being completely disconsolate to being completely happy.

Perhaps other people have other ways of focusing their minds and hearts so as to fully grasp the meaning of Christ's death and resurrection, experiencing the awe. It doesn't matter how you do it, it just matters that you make the effort to connect with our Creator, who gave his only son for the sake of our everlasting souls. It's the least we can do in return.


April 10, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Gov. Kaine and unemployment

Our governor, Tim Kaine, voiced outrage that the Republican-led General Assembly rejected the conditions for getting extended unemployment benefits as part of President Obama's stimulus package, but did not respond to the Republicans' principled critique of such policy measures as being counterproductive.* The Republicans' refusal means that Virginia will forego $125.5 million in federal "stimulus" aid. As reported in the Richmond Times Dispatch, Kaine says that the General Assembly will have to reconvene in order to pass the necessary measures to qualify for that money, but it seems unlikely. "Opponents, mostly Republicans, said this would cost the state money and, perhaps, lead to more layoffs when the economic stimulus money runs out."

* It's pretty elementary, once you think about it: If you want more people to work, you create the conditions under which more money will be spent on payroll; if you want fewer people to work, you pay them not to do so, i.e., unemployment compsensation. There is a place for emergency government relief measures, but it ought to be part of a public works program, not a welfare "freebie." As Delegate Chris Saxman said in a press release (via e-mail):

A short-term check from the federal government is no substitute for real, pragmatic solutions that will create new jobs, stimulate economic growth, and get Virginians working again in long-term, full-time jobs that provide good pay and good benefits.

Randall Terry is back

The loathesome and obnoxious anti-abortion activist Randall Terry is raising hell once again, spearheading a movement to prevent President Obama from speaking at the Notre Dame commencement, because of his (Obama's) pro-choice stance. I saw Terry making a strange statement on TV, and confirmed it at stopobamanotredame.com:

We must create a political mud pit that is so ugly that Obama does not want to wade through it to speak at Notre Dame.

That's a odd approach for a supposedly religious person to take. Do Megan and company in the Mud Pit know about this?


April 10, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Facebook: Can you ever exit?

Now they tell me! Maybe my hesitation about joining Facebook was well-founded after all. Some people who decided that Facebook exposed too much of their private lives to the general public found out that they could not delete their Facebook pages, nor the content on them! Once you join, it's for the rest of your life, much like being assimilated into The Borg. This was reported in the New York Times way back in Feb. 2008. Hat tip to Below the Beltway, which observes, "It's like the song 'Hotel California': 'You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.'"


April 11, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Heartbreak endings for Cubs, Nats

Both the Cubs and the Nationals lost in close games decided at the very end last night. In Milwaukee, the Cubs allowed two runs in the bottom of the ninth, losing to the Brewers, 4-3. Manager Lou Pinella is not happy with his closer, Kevin Gregg; see MLB.com.

Meanwhile, the Nationals were in Atlanta for the Braves' home opener, with a full house. They had the bases loaded with one out in the third inning, but only scored one run. The Braves then punished the Nats for wasting that precious opportunity, scoring three runs in the bottom of the inning. After a two-hour rain delay in the fourth inning, the Nats came back to tie the game twice, a welcome sign of fighting spirit, but the Braves finally sealed the win on an RBI single by Kelly Johnson in the tenth inning. The Nats left 16 men on base! frown

To my surprise, the Nationals have been hitting pretty well this first week of the season, with five of their starting lineup above the .300 mark. The team batting average right now is .276, in the middle of the MLB pack, just behind the Yankees and Angels.

FOX Sports will broadcast their first Saturday Game of the Week later this afternoon. Time to crack open a cold one and savor the good life... smile

Arlington Ballpark update

Ballpark in Arlington Mike Zurawski recently reminded me that the Texas Rangers have added two rows of luxury box seats at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, so I took care of that, making a few other slight corrections. I had mentioned the new box seats on Nov. 29. The Rangers have also added new LED auxiliary scoreboards, and a "Commissioner's Box" premium seating section beyond the third base dugout. Former President Bush threw the ceremonial Opening Day first pitch in Arlington on Monday; see MLB.com.

Statues at Nationals Park

Statues of former Washington baseball stars Josh Gibson, Walter Johnson, and Frank Howard have been installed in the centerfield plaza of Nationals Park, but the reviews aren't so good. See Can't Stop the Bleeding.


April 11, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Democrats in Cuba, praise Fidel

As the United States moves toward a government-managed economic system that bears a certain resemblance to socialism, six black Democrats from the U.S. House of Representatives paid a visit to the "socialist paradise" of Cuba. They met with President Raul Castro on Monday, and four of them met with his predecessor, Fidel, later on. Rep. Barbara Lee made it clear that she and her colleagues were not there on behalf of President Obama, "but had come only to 'listen and talk' with the Cubans." See washingtonpost.com. She also said that Fidel Castro was "very engaging, very energetic," as reported by FOX News, and Gateway Pundit. The Cuban government said that one of the congresspersons said that the United States should apologize to Cuba, and another said that American society is still "racist," but they all denied that such things were said. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) called for Cuba to be removed from the U.S. list of terrorist nations; he was a member of the Black Panthers in the 1960s. (Isn't it strange how little coverage that visit got in the Mainstream Media?)

This visit comes as President Obama is moving toward ending all restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba. The embargo hasn't had the desired effect in nearly a half century, so why not? Actually, there are very good reasons to wait, as Marc Thiessen recently argued in the Washington Post:

The dumbest thing we could do today would be to enact legislation unilaterally lifting the embargo. Set aside questions about the embargo's efficacy. Like it or not, it is our only leverage, aside from our military, to affect the transition in Cuba. Why would we fritter away that leverage just as time prepares to do what the embargo could not -- bring about the end of the Castro regime?

Weighing Fujimori's legacy

The conviction of Alberto Fujimori, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for having ordered death squads into action, is getting a sharply mixed reaction in Peru. The former president is regarded as a valiant hero by some, and a terrible ogre by others. The BBC calls attention to the paradox that "many poorer Peruvians ... are grateful to him for stabilising the economy" and for defeating the Shining Path terrorist movement. Ordinarily, leaders who impose harsh stabilization programs are favored by wealthy classes. Fujimori's daughter Keiko, a member of Congress, is popular and may run for president in 2011. Neither she nor her father's movement are considered strong enough to make a decisive impact on politics in Peru, let alone win a majority of votes. Now the speculation is turning to what President Alan Garcia will do to retain influence after his term ends in 2011. He is not eligible to run for reelection in consecutive terms, but he apparently cannot count on any of the rising leaders in his party, APRA.


April 13, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Opening Night at Citi Field

To mark the Mets' first official game at Citi Field Citi Field this evening (against the Padres), I have made several corrections and enhancements to that diagram. I have seen enough photographs to be fairly confident, but I'm sure I'll need to correct a few minor details eventually. It seems there are a zillion odd "nooks and crannies" in it, very time-consuming to get right. For example, the visiting team bullpen is mostly covered by a pedestrian bridge beyond right-center field.

The New York Times recently had an architectural review of both New Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. A blogger named Zack Hample offered his own review of Citi Field based upon a detailed, photo-documented inspection during a recent college game there. He thinks the food sucks, which is too bad. His blog is definitely worth checking out. I've received lots of feedback from fans regarding Citi Field and "NYS," mostly positive. Mike Zurawski thinks the exterior brick arches should have extended all the way along each side (as at Ebbets Field), rather than stopping where the grandstand per se begins.

Citi Field grand view

Grand view of Citi Field. Click on the image to see a larger version. Photo courtesy of John Crozier.

The Yankees inaugurate their new Stadium this Thursday, April 16, hosting the Cleveland Indians.

Braves sweep the Nats

It was a race between Cleveland and Washington to see which team would begin the season with the longest losing streak. Thanks to the Atlanta Braves, the Nationals earned that dubious distinction, and are now 0-6 for the season. During their first four seasons since relocating from Montreal and changing their name in 2005, the Nationals had won at least one of their first three games. At this very moment the Nats are hosting the Phillies in Nationals Park, their first home game.

All-Star Game in Phoenix

On Saturday, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig announced that Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, will host the 2011 All-Star Game. He said he had been under heavy pressure from Arizona lobbyists to make that decision. See MLB.com. High temperatures in Phoenix during July are usually at or above 100 degrees, but that's not a problem as long as the air conditioning at Chase Field is running at full blast! (Energy crisis? What energy crisis?)

This year's All-Star Game will be at Busch Stadium III, and next year it will be at Angel (Anaheim) Stadium. Speaking of Busch Stadium III, I noticed that Albert Pujols hit a home run into the third deck in left field last week. Wow!

Hockey in Fenway Park

John Grace learned that the National Hockey League will be hosting the Winter Classic at Fenway Park on New Year's Day 2010, just like they did at Wrigley Field this past New Year's.

COMMENT by: John Crozier, of Long Island, NY on Apr 13, 2009 18:54 PM
I love that adjective "grand" :) The only thing I had to eat at Citi was a Shake Shack burger, and it was terrific. I have heard that for the most part, the food at Citi was far better than the common fare at Shea. At the St. John's game, I believe only a few consession stands were open so maybe the food wasn't up to par yet.


April 13, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Return to SARS

For the first time in at least a couple weeks, I took a quick walk along the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad ("SARS") this morning, and spotted one first-of-season species: a Blue-gray gnatcatcher. It seemed to have more bluish tint than others I have seen, which may indicate that it was a male. One of the Ruby-crowned kinglets showed why it is named as it is: the male's red spot was prominently displayed as it engaged in territorial disputes (or romance) with others of its species. The Yellow-rumped warbler was in full breeding plumage, another sign of spring. No other warblers as of yet, however, and no Catbirds, either. Today's highlights:

  • Goldfinches (M, F)
  • Pine siskins
  • Towhees (M, F)
  • Purple finches (M, F)
  • Ruby-crowned kinglets* (M, ?)
  • Yellow-rumped warbler (M)
  • Blue-gray gnatcatcher
  • Blue-headed vireo
Cardinal

Male Cardinal, out back last week.


April 14, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Obama ends embargo on Cuba

As expected, President Obama has announced that most current prohibitions on trade and travel with Cuba are being relaxed. It is clearly the first step toward ending the 48-year old embargo on the Caribbean dictatorship. See the Washington Post.

As I recently noted, it doesn't matter whether the embargo is having the desired effect, the question is whether we are going to make unilateral concessions to a government that remains unremittingly hostile to our interests and is a moral abomination to humanity. How ironic that the "first black Kennedy" (as Barack Obama was dubbed by Garry Trudeau in Doonesbury) is undoing the policies put in place by JFK. "Camelot" indeed!

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
(1961 Inaugural Address, from bartleby.com)

Perhaps the following phrase is more appropriate to our times, with respect to U.S.-Cuban relations in particular:

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. frown

April 15, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Nationals Park Opening Night

After a frustrating road trip to open the season at 0-6, the Washington Nationals were hoping that things would improve back home at Nationals Park on Monday night. No such luck. In spite of three home runs by Washington, including a two-run shot in the bottom of the ninth by Ryan Zimmerman, the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies held on to a slim 9-8 victory. See MLB.com. Tonight's game was rained out, so they will finish the series tomorrow, leaving the missed game for some uncertain future date.

I still think they should go back to the old tradition of having every year's Opening Day game in Washington, with the president throwing out the first pitch. Early April is when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, so why wait until the middle of the month, when they (the flowers, not the players) are already fading?? In February, President Barack Obama was invited by the Nationals to throw out the first pitch, but he declined. (See Washington Post.) That's too bad, as it would have been a great opportunity to serve as a symbol of national unity at this difficult historical moment. Being a White Sox fan is no excuse!

In any event, to mark the occasion of Opening Night in D.C., I have made small corrections to the Nationals Park Nationals Park diagram, mostly with regard to the profile. For one thing, I'm fairly sure that the second deck in the main part of the grandstand is less steep than the second deck in right field. I have also included a proposed modification. The most significant change is building an entirely new second deck, one level above the current second deck, and set about 15 feet forward. That would address one of the biggest design defects in that stadium: the virtual absence of upper-deck overhang, which leaves upper-deck fans far from the action and exposes nearly all the lower-deck fans to rain. I also propose moving the fence back about ten feet in left-center field, to cut down on the number of home runs, and to create more of a "jog" in the outfield fence next to the visitors' bullpen. Finally, I would convert all of the seats in the trapezoidal-shaped "Red Porch" to bleachers, for the benefit of average working-class fans. (The "Red Roof" would remain a haven for snobs.) One of the worst aspects of Nationals Park is that it caters zealously to rich fatcats (most of whom probably don't even care about baseball), while ignoring average folks. And if that's not enough, I also added two additional photos to that page, one of the box seats near the diamond, and one inside the main concourse. Both of them were taken the same day as most of the other photos: August 2, 2008.

Jackie Robinson Day

It was 62 years ago today that Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play in the major leagues, and in his honor all the players in today's games wore "42" on their uniforms, which will be auctioned off for charity. (The game in Washington was rained out.) It is fitting and proper that MLB has commemorated the star athlete / civil rights pioneer, and even if they may get carried away at times, it's better to overdo it than to underdo it. See MLB.com.

Nats roster moves

In Nationals news, Lastings Milledge has not performed well at the plate this year, so the Nationals have sent the center fielder down to the minors; he will play for the Syracuse affiliate until he starts playing better. Does anyone still doubt that the Mets got the better end of the deal when they traded him for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church in late 2007? Well, maybe he'll shape up one of these days and prove me wrong. For now, the Nats' starting outfield will consist of (left to right) Adam Dunn, Elijah Dukes, and Austin Kearns.

One of the real brights spots for the Nationals this year is Cristian Guzman, the team's only All-Star last year. He currently leads the majors (among those with at least 10 at-bats) with a .515. batting average, with Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (.486) in second place. Guzman just pulled a hamstring, however, and is listed as "day to day." Ronnie Belliard has been a reserve infielder this year, so at least they've got some depth. The guy who replaced him at second, Anderson Hernandez, had two errors the other day.

R.I.P. Harry Kalas

Two hours before the game in Washington on Monday night, Phillies announcer Harry Kalas passed away in the press box at Nationals Park. He was 73, and had experienced unspecified health problems in recent months. His career as an sports announcer spanned four decades, almost all in Philadelphia, including two Phillies World Series titles -- 1980 and 2008. I'm sure he died a happy man. See MLB.com.

R.I.P. Mark Fidrych

Coincidentally, that quirky pitcher from the late 1970s, Mark "the Bird" Fidrych, died the same day. He was named AL Rookie of the Year in 1976 playing with the Detroit Tigers, but after that he had arm problems and never returned to his early great form. He died while doing mechanical work on his farm in Massachusetts. See MLB.com and Detroit News.

Upside-down standings

As of mid-month, the divisional leaders are:

  • NL East: Marlins
  • NL Central: Cardinals
  • NL West: Padres
  • AL East: Orioles
  • AL Central: Royals / Tigers
  • AL West: Mariners

Other than the Cardinals and perhaps the Tigers, hardly any baseball expert would have given those teams a serious chance to make it to the post-season. What gives?


April 16, 2009 [LINK / comment]

New Yankee Stadium Opening Day

Yankee Stadium II New Yankee Stadium officially opened for business this afternoon, but the Cleveland Indians spoiled the party, beating up on the Bronx Bombers, 10-2. At least it was a Yankee, and indeed one of the team's veterans, who hit the first home run: Jorge Posada. Somehow, C.C. Sabathia couldn't work his usual magic. See MLB.com. So neither of the New York teams managed to inaugurate their respective brand-new stadiums with a win. [The Mets lost to the Padres at Citi Field on Monday.] In the first game at Old Yankee Stadium in April 1923, the home team won, and Babe Ruth hit a home run as if it had been scripted.

Aside from those who are very superstitious, these initial home game losses mean absolutely nothing in terms of how the teams will play for the rest of the season. Just ask the Washington Nationals, who defeated the Atlanta Braves in the first home game at Nationals Park last year, and then went on to finish the season with a dreadful record of 59-102.

Accordingly, I've updated the diagram with several major corrections. Most notably, the fence in left center field is about ten feet further out than I had estimated, closely coinciding with the fence in Old Yankee Stadium. In right center field, however, I remain convinced that the fence is 10-20 feet closer than in the previous version of Yankee Stadium. Another correction is that the grandstand in the left field corner makes a more gradual arc than in my previous version. In coming days I plan to add a "modest proposal" on how New Yankee Stadium could be improved, as I have done for Nationals Park and other ballparks.

Photos of New Yankee Stadium, including Monument Park, can be seen at flickr.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. [I've got a boatload of other news items from him that I haven't had time to digest. Stay tuned!]

Nationals finally win!

In Our Nation's Capital this evening, the Nationals won a game for the first time this season, defeating the Phillies, 8-2. Adam Dunn hit his third homer of the season, and is on track to keep up his string of 40+ home run seasons. The Nats are now 1-7.

And in other news...

From looking at the photos of construction work at Target Field (see baseball-fever.com), it looks like they are making rapid progress now that the winter is over. I'd say it is about 50 percent completed.

Eric Cohn informed me that the Cleveland Indians played their opening series in 2007 against the Angels in Miller Park, because of a snowstorm in Ohio. So, I have updated the Anomalous stadiums page.


April 17, 2009 [LINK / comment]

New Yankee Stadium photos

Thanks to Brian Vangor for sending me a batch of photos he took at the inaugural game at New Yankee Stadium yesterday. Five of them are now posted on that page, including the one below. The outcome of the game was a drag for New York fans, but at least they got to enjoy beautiful weather. Today, the Bronx Bombers lived up to their name, getting five home runs in a close win over the Indians, 6-5. (see MLB.com.) All five homers went to right field, and I noticed that Derek Jeter's go-ahead homer in the eighth inning only cleared the right field wall by about ten feet or so. I estimate it traveled about 350 feet total. Babe Ruth would have been very happy playing in New Yankee Stadium.

New Yankee Stadium scoreboard

The Yankees' bullpen, the new Monument Park, and the "Bleachers Cafe" and "Mohegan Sun Sports Bar" are visible below the super-sized video scoreboard. Photo courtesy of Brian Vangor.


April 17, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Obama visits Mexico City

President Obama stopped in Mexico City today en route to Trinidad and Tobago, where the Summit of the Americas is being held. It is his first trip to Latin America since his inauguration, and will be an early test to see whether his softer approach to diplomacy is reciprocated. CNN.com notes that his predecessor visited Mexico several times during his eight years in office, but did not go to Mexico City, presumably because of fears that anti-U.S. protests would get out of hand. This overseas venture by Obama comes just two weeks after his trip to Europe and the Middle East, which was hailed by some as a public relations success even though he largely failed to persuade allied countries to follow his lead in economic policy.

The violence in Mexico perpetrated by the narco-trafficking gangs has put the very authority of the government at risk, though the situation has stabilized somewhat since the Mexican army cracked down last month. This, plus the subsequent admission by Secretary of State Clinton that U.S. drug abuse is leading cause of Mexico's problems, has at least taken the heat off the U.S.-Mexico relationship. President Felipe Calderon is tightly constrained by the need to work with a congress that is dominated by political opponents: the center-left PRI and the left-wing PRD.

Few would doubt that foreign policy is not a high priority for President Obama, and among the regions of the world, he is probably least concerned with what happens in Latin America. During the 2008 campaign, he consistently opposed free trade agreements with Latin America, bowing to pressure from American unions who dislike competition from cheap-labor countries. In April he was criticized by President Alvaro Uribe for opposing the pending U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, in June the Democrats blocked congressional consideration of that agreement, and in November he was warned by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Calderon that his plans to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement would have serious negative effects. Obama is enough of a pragmatist to avoid making big blunders on trade policy, but at a time when leftist radical governments are harming U.S. interests in several countries, his aloof attitude toward our hemispheric neighbors is a tragic squandering of potential good will.


April 18, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Tea parties in the Valley

Just a few days in advance of Tax Day, April 15, "tea parties" were organized in Staunton as well as in Fishersville. I was unable to attend, but I heard first hand about what happened at each event by some folks who did go to both of them. The Staunton tax protest at Gypsy Hill Park (outdoors) was spirited and well-focused, but the cold rain sapped the participants' enthusiasm to some extent. In contrast, the Fishersville tea party was such a joke that it made Bill Bennett's "Morning in America" radio show. Someone named "Pam" from Augusta County called to complain that the guy running the Fishersville tea party ignored the tax and spending issues, and instead started talking about 9/11 conspiracy theories, black helicopters, etc.

What surprised me was the apparent lack of involvement in the tea parties by the local "SWAC" Republican leaders. Since their big issue is taxes, I figured it was their perfect opportunity to mobilize and recruit more supporters.

According to the News Leader, about 200 people showed up for the Staunton tea party. The leader of the Staunton event, Scott Batten, and David Karaffa both emphasized the importance of the U.S. Constitution, which few people seem to appreciate or understand these days. It's very encouraging that people are spreading the word about saving our republic before we lose our personal freedom and our financial freedom for good.

Chris Graham at Augusta Free Press scolded the local papers for their lack of coverage, but his depiction of the tea party organizers as a bunch of "wingnuts" was badly misplaced. Granted, there are a fair number of "conservative" activists whose grip on reality is often shaky, but just because you oppose Big Government doesn't mean you're a nut.

On the national level, I was pleased with the positive tone of the tea parties. With these sorts of spontaneous expressions of "grassroots" sentiment, there is always a risk that some kooks (such as in Fishersville) or infiltrators will mess things up. Seeing Newt Gingrich and other Republican honchos with grins on their faces was a refreshing change of pace. The scant coverage of the events by most of the mainstream media is typical, about what you would expect. The CNN reporter who got in the face of a guy at a tea party was incredibly rude and unprofessional.

Shad plank report

Steve Kijak went to this year's Shad Planking, in Wakefield, Virginia. Among the groups he talked to were the Virginia Energy Independence Alliance, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, the Campaign for Liberty, and of course the NRA. Maybe one of these years I'll have time on my hand and be in the mood for some "schmoozing"...


April 19, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Indians massacre the Yankees

I bet Joe Girardi knows what General Custer must have felt like at the Battle of Little Bighorn. So there I was watching TV on Saturday afternoon, all excited to watch the first nationally broadcast game at New Yankee Stadium, and things started off on a good note. Mark Teixera hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the first. Yes! Then pitcher Chien-Ming Wang suffered a total collapse, getting yanked in the second inning after he gave up eight runs, followed by a hapless rookie relief pitcher named Clagett, and the Marlins racked up 14 runs in that inning alone. Welcome to the Big Leagues! The onslaught continued for the rest of the game, and the final score was an unbelievable 22-4. I forced myself to watch the entire hideous meltdown; I must be a masochist.

Fortunately, the Yanks came back with a win today, 7-3, but it's still going to take a while to live down that awful game on Saturday.

My fears that New Yankee Stadium would turn out to be a slugger-friendly "band box" like Shibe Park are turning out to be true. They really need to expand the outfield dimensions next year...

Nats let Fish slip away

And if that disaster wasn't enough, the Washington Nationals snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on three consecutive days, losing in the most aggravating way you can imagine. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday the Nats were ahead of the Marlins going into the ninth inning (2-1, 6-3, and 4-3), and then fell apart. On the first two days the Marlins came back to tie it in the ninth, as Joel Hanrahan blew consecutive save opportunities, after which the Marlins won in extra innings, 3-2 and 9-6. Today, Saul Rivera blew the save, as the Marlins managed to turn a probable 4-3 loss into a 7-4 win. Well, you have to give them credit for knowing how to win; they are 11-1 right now, the best record in the majors. It was an appalling performance by the Nationals' bullpen, but the batters kept failing to take advantage of run-scoring opportunities, so there is plenty of blame to share.

All in all, I'm in a real piss-poor mood right now. frown

Five-year contract for Zimmerman

Not long after it was announced that negotiations would be suspended until the end of the season, the Nationals have reached a long-term contract agreement with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. See MLB.com. In the absence of a general manager since Jim Bowden resigned last month, team president Stan Kasten is filling that role. The Washington Post reports that it's a five-year contract worth $45 million, but we won't know for sure until Monday. That's not an exhorbitant price, but in today's economy it is generous enough to convey respect and appreciation for everything Zimmerman has contributed, and everything that is expected of him in the future. Zimmerman had an off-year in 2008 (as did the entire team!), but after a slow start, he is starting to hit consistently this year.


April 22, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Fenway Park update

John Crozier sent me a fine batch of photos he recently took at Fenway Park, from all different perspectives, and I have posted seven of them on said page. John recently saw a game at Citi Field, and he was kind enough to share his photos from that visit, and next he plans to see New Yankee Stadium.

Based on John's photos, and closeup photo recently sent to me by Edward Findlay, I have updated the current version of the Fenway Park Fenway Park diagram, showing the new seating section on the roof near the right field foul pole. While I was at it, I made some very minor corrections to the other diagram versions.

In the future I may add a separate diagram that indicates the exact year that each of the seating changes at Fenway Park were made over the past decade or so. It has been a very long, drawn-out process, but that was necessary to allow the Red Sox to continue playing in Fenway Park every year.

Fenway Park grandstand from LF

Fenway Park grandstand, courtesy of John Crozier.


April 22, 2009 [LINK / comment]

More migrants are arriving

I've been driving all over Virginia during the last few days, it seems, and I have managed to stop and look for birds several times. The following report is in reverse chronological order:

At Lake Shenandoah east of Harrisonburg this afternoon, I saw the Common Loon that has been reported in recent weeks. It was in breeding plumage (mostly black), but too far away to see details. I haven't seen one of those in years. Also on the lake were a Pied-bill grebe, some Canada geese, and ducks of some sort. I also saw my first Yellow warbler of the season, a female just a few feet away. Ruby-crowned kinglets (including a male showing his red crown) and Yellow-rumped warblers also came very close to me while I was standing on the lake shore.

This morning in the town of Piney Grove in Nelson County, at the trail head where the railroad used to pass through, I heard and soon saw my first Prairie warbler of the season. They are very attractive, but rather uncommon on this side of the Blue Ridge. I also saw a Phoebe at the same place.

In the Blue Ridge just east of Buchanan on Tuesday, I saw a Black-throated green warbler for the first time this year, as well as a Phoebe. I also heard a Red-eyed vireo and a Redstart (or possibly a Black and white warbler) off in the distance. About time! In the afternoon east of Weyer's Cave, I saw an Osprey flying majestically overhead, likewise the first of the season.

After church on Sunday, while enjoying coffee and cookies, I heard the familiar chittering of Chimney swifts up above, and soon spotted a large number of them swirling around -- at least 20, I'd say. Yet another first-of-season observation.

I've been back to the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad ("SARS") a couple times in the past few days, but to my surprise, no spring/summer warblers were there. The following list of highlights is pretty much the same as before:

  • Goldfinches (M, F)
  • Pine siskins
  • Purple finches
  • Ruby-crowned kinglets
  • Yellow-rumped warbler (M)
  • Blue-gray gnatcatcher
  • Red-bellied woodpecker (M)

Out back, Chipping sparrows are becoming ever more abundant: I counted ten of them at one point this afternoon! Meanwhile, the Pine siskins are less numerous than before, and perhaps some of them have already headed north.

Goldfinch

The male Goldfinches have almost completed their molt into breeding plumage. Roll over this image to see the same bird with indirect lighting, and click on it to see what they looked like just seven weeks ago.


April 25, 2009 [LINK / comment]

New Yankee Stadium: too easy?

The large number of home runs to right field at the New Yankee Stadium has led many to wonder if it might be too easy for sluggers. Some Yankees officials have blamed the weather, wind currents, or other such nonsense, but the real reason is perfectly clear: The fence in right center field is 10-15 closer than in old Yankee Stadium. Pay no attention to those distance markers, they are too close to center field to be good indicators of the true "power alley" dimensions. A recent article at MLB.com observed,

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 26 home runs in Yankee Stadium's first six games surpassed the total hit at Kansas City's Municipal Stadium in 1955 for the most hit in the first six games at a new big league venue.

ESPN had a similar article. This situation is simply not acceptable, so I have come up with a proposed alternative design for New Yankee Stadium, moving the fences back about ten feet from left center to right center. This would at least be a modest step toward restoring a semblance of the deep dimensions at the original Yankee Stadium. I would also move the bullpens from their current position to the rear, on either side of that club section in center field, but perpendicular to the outfield fence, rather than parallel to it. This would largely solve the problem of poor sight lines for many bleachers patrons.

John Crozier saw a game at New Yankee Stadium on April 21, and sent another batch of great photos, two of which are now posted on that page. I also included a zoomed-in version of the "grand view," showing a historical mistake on the scoreboard pertaining to Joe DiMaggio. "1921, 1941, what-ever!" They must have got that from Wikipedia. I'm much obliged for the photos, John!


April 25, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Cline launches campaign 2009

Delegate Ben Cline (R-Lexington) chose the new Central Virginia Community College center in Amherst as the place to announce his candidacy for reelection yesterday afternoon. He was introduced by Congressman Bob Goodlatte, as a crowd of about 25 people (including his wife Elizabeth) and a couple reporters listened in the warm spring sun. Both Goodlatte and Cline talked about the need to preserve the free enterprise system, the viability of which these days is being challenged. Cline emphasized in particular the role played by community colleges in providing Virginia workers with the training they need to get skilled jobs in today's competitive market. Cline was instrumental in getting funding for the new CVCC branch unit, which opened in January.

This was an unusual situation for me, mixing my usually-separate roles in academia and party politics. I tried to convey to the students in my U.S. Government class what a big deal this was, but I'm not sure it registered, as only one of them stayed around long enough for the announcement. Delegate Cline made a special effort to welcome the students when we made a field trip to Richmond in late February. Ben works as an assistant prosecutor in Harrisonburg, and is earning great respect both in his career and for his work as a state legislator. In the Republican Party, he is identified as a mainstream conservative, not inclined toward any particular faction. He is facing opposition from the Democratic side this fall (see March 3), but he can count on strong popular support when Election Day arrives. The 24th District which he represents in the House of Delegates covers all of Rockbridge County, nearly all of Amherst County, and the southern part of Augusta County.

Ben Cline Campaign Kick Off 2

Congressman Bob Goodlatte and Delegate Ben Cline, in front of the Amherst center of Central Virginia Community College. Photo courtesy of Charles Kelley, Delegate Cline's campaign manager.


April 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Busch Stadium(s)* update(s)

The Busch Stadium Busch Stadium (II) and Busch Stadium III diagrams have been updated, primarily the profiles. Busch Stadium II is about ten feet smaller in diameter than I had previously estimated.

Two new features will be of interest to many fans: First, there are separate "overlap" diagram versions for both Busch Stadiums II and III, showing where the subsequent or previous incarnation of Busch Stadium were situated, respectively. I'll do likewise for other stadiums that occupied at least some land in common.

Second, the diagram profiles now pertain to distinct sections of the grandstand, showing the maximum and minimum seating depths for the baseball and football configurations. This shows more clearly how the switch was made from one sport to another. I'll do likewise for other dual-use "cookie-cutter" stadiums with the "paired swivelable circular section lower deck" (PSCSLD) configuration."

* By the way, I know some people prefer the Latin plural stadia, but that sounds silly to me.

Pork barrel project in Detroit?

A couple weeks ago there was a report by a public interest group about those terrible "earmarked" appropriations bills, a.k.a. "pork barrel projects." Everyone just hates those wasteful expenditures, right? Well, the annual "Pig Book" released by Citizens Against Government Waste included as one example the $3.8 million that was set aside for the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy in Detroit. A spokesperson for that group defended the appropriation on the grounds that partially refurbishing Tiger Stadium would help in "revitalizing the surrounding Detroit neighborhood." I would prefer more emphasis on historical preservation. See CNN.com.

Pork barrel spending? I think not! smile

Web site traffic, support

Speaking of worthy causes, how about this very Web site? I recently received notice from my Web hosting service that the recent surge in traffic to this Web site is near the monthly quota, and a surcharge may be necessary to avoid a suspension of service. Just a friendly reminder that, as with everything else in life, all the enjoyment and information you get from these Web pages is not free. It's been a while since I have solicited cash support, and I know that times are tight for most of us, but it's time for more visitors to "step up to the plate" and help keep this endeavor going.

With that in mind, let me take this opportunity to express thanks to Mark London for once again renewing his sponsorship of five (5) stadium pages: Three Rivers Stadium, Forbes Field, PNC Park, Metropolitan Stadium, and Metrodome. You can do the same and show your support for this Web site for $10 a pop via PayPal, or by making a smaller donation via PayPal or Amazon. See the Sponsorship / support page. As of June 1, the other stadium pages (except Wrigley Field, which is "reserved," will become available for sponsorship if the current sponsors do not renew.


A sweep, and almost two

Those scrappy Bostonians found a way to put the Yankees away in three straight games at Fenway Park over the weekend. On Friday night, they came from behind to win it 5-4 with two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, on Saturday they overcame a six-run deficit and finally prevailed in a 16-11 slugfest, and last night they won 4-1.

At least the Washington Nationals avoided getting swept by the Mets, getting their first road win of the season last night at Citi Field, 8-1. The phenomenal rookie pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (two n's) earned his second win in as many starts. The Nats are now 4-13 for the season.


April 28, 2009 [LINK / comment]

"RINO" virus: a ghastly Specter

Just as news that the swine flu virus is rapidly spreading across the world, raising fears of an apocalyptic plague, Sen. Arlen Specter announced that he is joining the Democratic Party bandwagon, which is currently on a "highway to (egalitarian) hell." Now, why on earth would Specter do such a thing right when the fate of our fair republic hangs in the balance? Does he agree with ditching our nation's heritage of freedom? Specter explained his defection by saying that the Party of Lincoln has been taken over by the right wing. See the Washington Post. I can understand his frustration, having first-hand experience in grappling with the ideologically-rigid "conservative base," but he should be aware that the forces of reason are reasserting themselves within the party. I think his timing is way off. If Al Franken is declared the winner of the disputed Minnesota Senate election, then the Democrats will have a 60-vote supermajority.

Even though this was called a political "earthquake" by pundits this afternoon, it's not really a big surprise. As I commented on Shaun Kenney's Facebook note,

Indeed, the only reason it's big news is that it puts the Dems on the threshold of a filibuster-proof supermajority. Specter was a shaky political ally, it's true, but he was occasionally useful. Even though most of his policy views were off base, I take no pleasure in his departure. It reinforces the decline of the GOP in the northeast, its traditional (pre-1932) heartland.

Specter made it clear that he won't vote with the Democrats on every issue, so President Obama's dream of a filibuster-proof Senate majority is still just out of his grasp. Specter probably would have lost in the Republican primary race in Pennsylvania next year in any case, so this was an understandable switch out of political expediency for a man who has devoted his life to public service and feels he deserves better treatment. But in "cashing in" on his good name (in many if not most circles, anyway), Specter now puts his legacy as a public-spirited statesman in grave danger. If his desire to be reelected to the U.S. Senate next year means that the United States is transformed into a quasi-socialist economic system, then he will not be remembered well by future generations.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele is furious at Specter, saying he "flipped the bird" at the Republicans, and was acting out of "political survival." See CNN.com. Steele has every right to be upset by this move, which will undercut his efforts to rebuild a broader-based GOP.

A trip down memory lane

Let's review the sequence of events that led Specter to switch parties. In May 2005 he was one of the "Gang of 14" moderate senators whose compromise averted the "nuclear option" over judicial nominations. I was rather skeptical at the time, but time proved that that was the wise and prudent course to take. During the nomination hearings on Samuel Alito in January 2006, Specter chastised Sen. Ted Kennedy for his bullying tactics, showing that his bipartisan approach did not mean meek submission.

In June 2006 Specter expressed belated willingness to compromise on the immigration issue, agreeing to more border guards and greater law enforcement. It was a reassuring sign that he was often amenable to rational persuasion.

In February 2007, Specter was one of seven Republican senators who voted with the Democrats on a procedural vote, in opposition to President Bush's troop surge policy. At the time, I shared his skepticism of the surge, which has turned out better than most of us thought -- so far.

Specter's defection raises the question of party loyalty, and who is entitled to define what that means. Ironically, Specter's then-colleague in the Senate, Rick Santorum, lost his reelection bid because his erstwhile social conservative supporters punished him for backing Specter. As I observed in June 2007 (just before the primary election victory of State Senator Emmett Hanger),

Santorum's defeat last year proved (among other things) that the Pennsylvania conservatives who didn't bother to vote for him were too spiteful and short-sighted to see the consequences of giving away the election -- and thus, the U.S. Senate -- to the Democrats.

I dearly hope that more of those hard-core "true believers" wise up before no one else is left in the Republican Party but them. And finally, this past February, Specter voted for President Obama's stimulus bill, and that was the final straw for most Republicans.

Filibusterer watch

Heroes, or jackasses? You be the judge! A new leftist Web site, filibusted.us, is focusing public attention on Republican senators who are most prone to filibustering as a means to blocking the Democrats' more egregious spending bills. I don't believe in obstructionism out of pure spite, when nothing better is offered as an alternative, but it seems to me that the senators listed on that page are by and large motivated by a sincere belief that the President's agenda is leading us toward economic perdition.

Augusta Co. GOP purge?

I recently heard rumors about a "purge" in the Augusta County Republican Committee, but as usual some people are making too big a deal out of it, trying to create another "dust storm." A large number of people lost their membership after failing to attend committee meetings three consecutive times. Since the ACRC only meets every three months, that means they haven't been to a regular meeting for over nine months. I read in a forwarded e-mail newsletter that "SWAC Girl" is outraged -- outraged! -- that the committee chairman Bill Shirley is enforcing the rules, just as he should. Unfortunately, some of the people who are engaged in that struggle are not helping the full truth about what has been going on come to light. For a truly "fair and balanced" take on all that, read Steve Kijak.


April 29, 2009 [LINK / comment]

First 100 Days: America loves Obama!

The President's popularity remains very high, as 69 percent of Americans approving of his job performance, according to a Washington Post - ABC News poll. It's about the same as the average of other presidents, and reflects in part a slight rise in consumer optimism about the economy. He has managed to sustain his "honeymoon" period longer than most recent presidents, and aside from a few gaffes (and arguably awful decisions on budget policy), he is off to a great start. The American people just aren't too thrilled about some of his policies, however.

The policy area in which support for Obama is weakest is with regard to the fight against terrorism. The President's decision to release the classified CIA detainee interrogation memos has had a sharply polarizing effect on the public, the poll shows. During last year's campaign, he made a big deal about not politicizing the war on terrorism, and now he is finding it hard to resist doing the very same thing. It seems clear that Obama is paying back his left-wing supporters for their help in his campaign, by paying strong attention to one of their big grievances. Many voters criticized Obama for failing to cut back on political partisanship in Washington.

That article continues, "Nearly two-thirds said Obama has accomplished 'a great deal' or 'a good amount' in his first three months in office." When Obama was asked to name his biggest accomplishment thus far, he said it was restoring hope. I'm sorry to sound cynical, but hope alone isn't worth much, and unless it is based on some real prospects for improvement, it quickly dissipates.

Trouble for the Republicans: According to that WaPo article, only "21 percent of those surveyed said they identify as Republicans, the fewest to do so in a Post-ABC poll in more than 25 years." Much work remains to be done in healing the party.

Day 100 press conference

The President performed well as usual during this evening's press conference, at least in terms of poise and clarity. He was evasive on some policies, however. One thing that concerns me about Obama is his frequent mention of the 2008 election results, which he claims was a repudiation of Republican economic approach. (More likely, it was a repudiation of Bush cronyism.)

Bowing to the king?

It sure looked that way to me, and from the video clips, it's hard to conclude otherwise. The President was greeting King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in Vienna earlier this month, and showed more deference than was proper. WaPo columnist Kathleen Parker notes that outrage over such protocol slip-ups has been overdone by some of Obama's critics, reminding us that George W. Bush committed his share of faux pas while serving as Head of State. For an administration that self-consciously emulates the style and social graces of JFK's Camelot, nevertheless, Obama needs to do better than that.


April 29, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Peak migration season is here

We had quite a heat wave earlier this week, and it seems to have prompted a sudden rush of migrating birds. It's hard to squeeze in time for birding, but I have managed to do the bare minimum as the peak spring migration season has arrived. Rather than describe each outing, I'll simply list the first-of-season sightings, and then show the e-Bird report from the only extensive birding trek I've done this past week.

  • Northern Parula (Apr. 23)
  • Solitary sandpipers (Apr. 24)
  • Green heron (Apr. 25)
  • Brown thrashers (Apr. 25)
  • Grasshopper sparrow (Apr. 25)
  • Kingbirds (Apr. 25)
  • Catbirds (Apr. 26)
  • Indigo bunting (Apr. 26)
  • Worm-eating Warbler (Apr. 27)
  • Red-eyed Vireo (Apr. 28)
  • Ovenbird (Apr. 28)
  • Hooded Warbler (Apr. 28)
  • Scarlet Tanager (Apr. 28)
  • American Redstart (Apr. 28)
  • Broad-winged hawk (Apr. 28)

CORRECTION: The Blue-headed Vireo I previously included in the above list (Apr. 28) was not a first-of-year sighting.

 Location:     Peaks of Otter Recreation Area
Observation date:     4/28/09
Number of species:     26

Turkey Vulture     5
Sharp-shinned Hawk     1
Downy Woodpecker     1
Northern Flicker     1
Blue-headed Vireo     5
Red-eyed Vireo     3
Blue Jay     3
American Crow     2
Carolina Chickadee     6
Tufted Titmouse     5
White-breasted Nuthatch     2
Carolina Wren     4
Wood Thrush     1
American Robin     4
Northern Mockingbird     1
Black-and-white Warbler     3
American Redstart     1
Worm-eating Warbler     2
Ovenbird     6
Hooded Warbler     2
Scarlet Tanager     3
Eastern Towhee     5
Song Sparrow     3
Northern Cardinal     4
Boat-tailed Grackle     6
Brown-headed Cowbird     2

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

Note that the Broad-winged hawk listed above was seen a few miles west of the Peaks of Otter, that same day.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow, one of many we have seen out back lately. They seem to have left over the past couple days.


April 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]

North Korea's missile test

The "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" (a.k.a. North Korea) has been jerking the rest of the world around for so long that just about anything it does should be regarded as a publicity stunt. That doesn't mean it is not a threat to friendly countries in northeast Asia, it just means that our reaction to their provocations must be calibrated according to that regime's actual capabilities. Thus, the long-awaited test of North Korea's Taepodong II intercontinental ballistic missile on April 5 had less to do with raising fear or putting a satellite in orbit (as they claimed) as it did with impressing their own miserable but brainwashed people. In that sense, it was very similar to their initial (unsuccessful) test of the Taepodong II in July 2006. This missile launch was a technical failure as well, according to the Pentagon (see the New York Times), but it succeeded in its political objective, demonstrating that the Pyongyong regime can repeatedly thumb its nose at the United States without paying a price. Indeed, they will probably get a new round of "extortion" money as a reward for their misbehavior.

But instead of downplaying North Korea's latest temper tantrum, President Obama used it as an occasion to launch a peace offensive, calling for total nuclear disarmament. (See BBC.) That is probably just what the North Koreans were hoping he would do. The subsequent announcement by North Korea than international inspectors would be ordered out of the country, while the country restarts its nuclear reactor, makes it clear that the Clinton-era policy of appeasement, which the Bush administration did little to alter, has utterly failed.

Obama likewise showed signs of self-delusion when he proposed to call off the U.S. missile defense program in Eastern Europe as long as Russia promised to help resolve the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program. Making a major concession like that, with no concrete assurance of any immediate reciprocity by the other side, makes no strategic sense whatsoever. See Washington Post

Reopen Alcatraz?

President Barack Obama followed through on his campaign pledge to close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Marine Base in Cuba, but it won't take effect until the end of the year. Thus, he won the public relations benefit without having to decide what to do with the "Gitmo" detainees right away. One possibility that was raised in January would be to refurbish the infamous Alcatraz Prison in the San Francisco Bay, and house the detainees there. Political considerations, and the fact that the island is now a tourist attraction, might make that hard to implement, however. See the New York Times. This questions becomes even more pertinent in the wake of the release of the Bush administration's internal memos on interrogation practices.


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