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June 2009
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June 1, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Breathtaking Blue Ridge views

May was a very wet month here in the Shenandoah Valley, but on the relatively few sunny days we had, I somehow managed to get outdoors enough to get some great scenic photos. While running some errands in Augusta County on May 20, when the sky was clear blue, I took a quick "detour" into the Blue Ridge, stopping to watch birds and soak in the scenery at a couple spots. On Saturday, I drove up to Madison Run, located east of Grottoes, and hiked up the Furnace Mountain trail for about a mile and back. It was cloudy and humid, but at least I got some good photos of fungi (still surprisingly scarce) and butterflies. Mountain Laurel flowers in full bloom were everywhere! A bird report will follow soon. Here is a sample of what you can see on the May 2009 Photo Gallery:

May 2009 montage

TOP ROW: Reservoir south of Stuarts Draft, near Big Levels; Blue-headed vireo, close to that very spot; Boletus mushroom. MIDDLE ROW: Two kinds of butterflies, species yet unknown, and Mountain Laurel flowers, all on the Furnace Mountain trail. BOTTOM ROW: The Rockfish Valley.


June 2, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Nats finally get a big rally

After getting swept once again this past weekend, as the Philadelphia Phillies bested them by small margins three days in a row, the Washington Nationals were in desperate need of something to lift their spirits as they begin a home stand. (Same goes for their fans! frown) Hopes were dim as they faced the San Francisco Giants' best pitcher Tim Lincecum this evening, but the Nationals batters got enough hits to make it a close game. Typically, they wasted a run-scoring opportunity in the seventh inning. Then in the eighth inning the guys in the bottom of the lineup sparked a rally that ended up scoring six runs. Clutch RBI hits by Anderson Hernandez, Cristian Guzman, Ryan Zimmerman, and Elijah Dukes created a big enough cushion that even the shaky Nats bullpen could take it easy, for once. Joel Hanrahan gave up a run in the top of the ninth, but then settled down to finish the job, and the Nats won, 10-6. smile smile smile

St. Claire gets canned

Somebody had to take the fall for the miserable performance of Washington's pitching staff, and the logical victim was pitching coach Randy St. Claire. In his stead, Steve McCatty was hired. He was the pitching coach for the Nationals' farm club in Syracuse, so he already knows some of the Nats' pitchers. See MLB.com. It's ironic because St. Claire was the only member of the coaching staff who kept his job after last season. I tend to agree with those who pin the blame for the sorry state of the Nats' pitching roster on former general manager Jim Bowden. He was interviewed by WUSA-TV9's Brett Haber, and it will be interesting what old Jimbo has to say...

Bleak month in review

The month of May was anything but "merry" for the lads who play baseball in Our Nation's Capital. The Nationals won only 8 games and lost 20, their fourth-worst monthly performance. (The very worst? July 2008, when they went 5-19.) Since his 30-game hitting streak ended, Ryan Zimmerman's batting average has fallen from about .360 to about .320, and Cristian Guzman has had a similar cold streak. See the newly-updated Washington Nationals page.

Flores on the DL

The Nats' promising young catcher Jesus Flores caught a real bad break a couple weeks ago, when his shoulder got dinged by a ricocheted ball. He was put on the DL, and most of us figured he'd be back soon. How bad could it be? Well, the latest report is that he has a stress fracture in his right shoulder, so he won't be playing for at least three more months, which means he's probably out for the season. See MLB.com. Ouch!


June 3, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Modest proposal for "QualComm"

Jack Murphy Stadium I recently got bogged down trying to unravel a mind-blowing puzzle about early Wrigley Field, but have now finished some minor tweaks on the Jack Murphy Stadium (a.k.a. "QualComm") diagrams.

On a related note, I came up with a "modest proposal" for renovating QualComm Stadium in a way that would make it better suited for football only. (Baseball fans often gripe at the stadium design compromises that detracted from the baseball experience, but the same was just as often true for football fans at multi-use stadiums.) Many people know that the first ten or so rows are so low that spectators can't see what's happening on the football field, which is why they covered those rows with decorative tarp during the 2003 Super Bowl. The only way to really fix that problem is to lower the playing field by a few feet. Ideally, they would also rebuild the lower deck with a steeper slope in the rear so that the fans in the back rows would get a better view as well. To see my proposal, you can either go to that page, or just click on the image above to see it in a pop-up window.

I was going to tie this into the recent hot streak the San Diego Padres were on, but they have lost all but one of their games over the past week, so never mind.

U.Va. beats #1 U.C. Irvine

The University of Virginia Cavaliers defied the odds and staged a huge upset by winning the NCAA baseball regional tournament in Irvine, California over the weekend. They beat the top-ranked (and #6 seed) college baseball team, University of California at Irvine, twice no less, and they also defeated San Diego State (!). Next they will face Ole Miss in the NCAA Super Regionals in Oxford, Mississippi. See virginiasports.com.

Last week, Chris Graham of the Augusta Free Press complained about how the NCAA disrespected UVa by sending the baseball team all the way across the country to face a top-ranked opponent, but the Wahoos stepped up to the challenge and proved everybody wrong. Maybe with further playing success and producing major league talent like Ryan Zimmerman, UVa will get chosen to host an NCAA baseball tournament one of these years. Davenport Stadium would certainly be a fine venue for such a big event.

COMMENT by: John Crozier, of Rockville Centre, NY on Jun 04, 2009 16:21 PM
the problem with your proposal to lower the field 5 feet is the water table under that stadium is high, so if they dug deeper, they would hit water...or at least that's what i've heard.

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jun 07, 2009 23:24 PM
Yes, I was afraid that might be the case since "QualComm" was built in a former river valley / wetland area. But if they can't figure out how to lower the field, I don't see how they can make that stadium really suitable for watching football games.


June 3, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Scissor-tailed flycatcher!

Sometimes you see the most amazing birds when you least expect it. I was driving home from Waynesboro on Thursday evening, just about dusk, when I noticed a strange bird with an extremely long, floppy tail flying over the road right in front of me. It was medium-sized, about as big as a Robin, but the lighting conditions were too poor to make out colors. I quickly pulled into the next driveway, pulled out my compact binoculars, and got a second look at the bird as it flew in back of a tree. It definitely was not carrying straw or other nesting material, those were its own tail feathers! I talked to one of the residents of the house who was curious what the heck I was looking at. I explained what I was looking for, and the guy confirmed that he too had seen the strange bird with the very long tail. For me, that cinched it, and I have no doubt that it was a Scissor-tailed flycatcher, possibly the same one that was seen just north of Port Republic earlier this month.

Scissor-tailed flycatchers breed primarily in the south-central states, and winter throughout Central America, but they are known to wander far from their usual range. I have seen them in Oklahoma (1998) and in Nicaragua (2005). About ten years ago, I recall, a pair of them was spotted somewhere in Central Virginia, possibly Orange County, and they actually raised a brood of "younguns." None were reported in the following years, however. Anyway, whenever a rare bird like this is spotted, the observer is obliged to submit an official report to the Virginia Avian Records Committee, so I'll do that tomorrow.

Carolina wren nest

A friend of Jacqueline told us she found a bird nest in a decorative basket on her porch, so I went to get a picture before the babies had fledged. For most people, it would be hard to tell what species they are, but I have seen Carolina wren babies before, and the very bulky nest in the strange location is the modus operandi for that species.

Carolina Wren nest, babies

Carolina Wren babies, which have since gone on to bigger and better things.


June 4, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Randy Johnson makes history

It was a bleak and rainy afternoon in Washington, but the few fans who showed up at Nationals Park (less than 18,000) witnessed history, as Randy Johnson won his 300th game. Things might have turned out differently if the umpire had not called Adam Dunn out on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning (the pitch was below his knees), but the Giants prevailed over the Nationals, 5-1. Well, who wanted to spoil The Unit's big day, anyway? They even put together a special event page for Johnson at MLB.com. None of the next nine active pitchers with the most career wins has even a remote chance of reaching that milestone, so the Giant (literally) pitcher may be the last one to reach the 300-win level in our lifetime. The Nats lost the second game by nearly the same score, 4-1; it was called because of rain after six innings.

Is Tiger Stadium doomed?

The last I heard (see Jan. 15), everything was on track to provide funding for the preservation what is left of Tiger Stadium. Now it appears it will be demolished after all, and possibly within a matter of weeks or months. See macombdaily.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser. This is just awful, and terribly short-sighted.


June 6, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Judge saves Tiger Stadium

Two days ago I wrote that Tiger Stadium (or the remnants thereof) could be demolished in a matter of weeks or months, because city officials in Detroit are on a vendetta against it. It turns out, however, that it was a lot closer than that. On Tuesday the city rejected the latest redevelopment/preservation plan presented by the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, and wrecking crews wasted no time, getting started on Friday. Two hours later, Judge Isidore Torres granted a request for a temporary restraining order, saving what's left of the ballpark from imminent doom, for now at least. Attorneys for for both sides will be at a court hearing on Monday morning. See the Detroit Free Press.

Sicks' Stadium update

The Sick's Stadium Sicks' Stadium diagram has been revised, with an enhanced profile and greater attention to details such as the light towers. Most notable among the corrections are that the roof extends a few feet farther forward than I had previously estimated, and foul territory is smaller. Sicks' Stadium was home of the ill-fated Seattle Pilots, one of only two major league teams to only last one year; they moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers in 1970. That takes care of the first two ballparks in Seattle, with just SAFECO Field to go...

Target Field "topped off"

Good news from Minneapolis: construction workers have put in place the final structural steel beam at Target Field, which is now more than 75 percent completed. The crew celebrated the "topping off" by having a barbecue lunch. See startribune.com; hat tip to David Pinto. The folks in the Twins Cities have a lot to look forward to next year, as the future home of the Twins has a very unique architectural design. It will boost the fan experience immeasurably, and will add a lot to life in downtown Minneapolis.

It was just a little over two years ago that the same construction milestone was reached in Washington, at Nationals Park. How time flies!


U.Va. evens series

UPDATE: In the NCAA Super Regionals, the U.Va. Cavaliers were down 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning, but staged a two-run rally to take the lead and win the game against Ole Miss. That evens the series at 1-1, and the deciding game in the series will be at 3:00 PM tomorrow, broadcast nationwide on ESPN. After that, the winners go on to Omaha for the College World Series. It's ironic that U.Va. was playing as the "home" team, since the tournament is being held in the home field of Ole Miss!

Big league gratitude is owed to U.Va. alumnus Ryan Zimmerman, who just made a $250,000 contribution to the Virginia Athletics Foundation to help out the Cavalier baseball program. More specifically, it will be used to expand Davenport Field. See virginiasports.com.


June 6, 2009 [LINK / comment]

OAS allows Cuba to rejoin

On Wednesday, the Organization of American States overcame objections from the U.S. State Department, and voted to allow back into the group. The precise terms put conditions on Cuba's attainment of full membership rights on progress toward greater freedom and democracy, however, so the United States salvaged at least a token concession in the historic reversal. It was 47 years ago that Castro's regime was banned from the OAS, as punishment for supporting revolutionary movements in Venezuela and Colombia. It is supremely ironic that Venezuela, which for three decades was a bastion of middle-class democracy in Latin America, a bulwark against Castroism, has now fallen in step with Cuba and was the main force behind getting Cuba back into the OAS.

The OAS was holding its 39th General Assembly in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The issue became extremely heated because Nicaragua and Venezuela threatened to quit the OAS unless Cuba was readmitted. As of Tuesday, it appeared that a complete breakdown would come about, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said they were at an impasse. She led the U.S. delegation in the negotiations, and President Obama (heading for the Middle East) made a personal call to Brazil's President "Lula" da Silva. Finally, they agreed that Cuba must take concrete steps if it is to regain full voting rights in the OAS; in effect, it is "on probation." Another key part of the compromise was the president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, who persuaded Hugo Chávez to accept the resolution. (He is a moderate leftist who is in favor of CAFTA and trade with the U.S., and his country is a major recipient of U.S. foreign aid.) Anything less than those stipulations on Cuba would have been difficult to reconcile with the "Democratic Charter" which was signed by OAS members in 2001, pledging themselves to uphold free elections and journalism. As See the Washington Post noted, "leftist countries who have been bashing the United States over its Cuba policy sided with the Obama administration, rather than with Venezuela's populist leader Hugo Chávez..."

That raises the interesting question of how the issue would have been resolved if John McCain had been elected president. The Republican candidate campaigned strongly in favor of free trade with Latin America, while Barack Obama largely ignored that region. But since he is much closer ideologically to the emerging leftist mainstream in that region, the U.S. government can exert greater influence than otherwise. It's an interesting paradox.

But as for the central question of how to handle Cuba, the OAS decision was probably inevitable. President Obama has begun steps to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba, and he is not exactly a champion of individual freedom, so it would have been strange for his administration to work overtime to block Cuba's entry. Even though the symbolic victory for the Left may seem discouraging to some, I think a tactical retreat under the current circumstances was probably wise. As the United States switches back and forth between nice-guy "good cop" Democrats and tough "bad cop" Republicans in the White House, other countries learn that they can work with us and achieve common objectives. If Cuba "behaves" well under the aging "younger" Castro, Raul, then the U.S. concession on the OAS will pay off. If not, political forces in the United States (especially Miami!) and elsewhere will scream bloody murder over what may turn out to be a betrayal of the cause of freedom.


June 6, 2009 [LINK / comment]

D-Day plus 65: Remember this

It was sixty five years ago today that the liberation of Europe to began, under the command of General Dwight David Eisenhower. An armada consisting of thousands of warplanes, naval ships, transport vessels, and landing craft ferried 150,000 Allied troops across the English Channel, where many of them faced instant death from German machine gunners. At Omaha beach, the troops of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions almost didn't make it, and barely established a small beachhead by nightfall. For us Americans today, it is almost as hard for us to imagine the horrors of the invasion itself as it is to imagine the unified, clear moral purpose that our country had back then. Most D-Day veterans are close to 90 years old, and every year that passes there will be fewer and fewer of them left to share their painful but precious memories. We are accustomed to observing Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and many of us do so with great seriousness, but we should also remember the dates on which the crucial battles that shaped our world took place. In retrospect, the numerical superiority of the Allied forces make the outcome of World War II look inevitable. If not for the huge exertions and sacrifices made by all those soldiers crawling through the blood-stained sand, however, the peoples of Europe would have remained under totalitarian rule -- either fascist (under Hitler) or communist (under Stalin).

D-Day Memorial

The D-Day Memorial, in Bedford, Virginia. It suffered the highest proportion of combat fatalities of any town in America.


June 7, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Return to Highland County

I joined an Augusta Bird Club field trip led by Dr. John Spahr to Highland County today, and even though the results weren't quite as spectacular as on the same trip one year ago, I did see several very special birds. The weather was nearly perfect, with clear skies and slowly warming temperatures. The camaraderie among bird enthusiasts was high, in what will probably be the club's last field trip until fall migration season. I met some birders from other parts of Virginia, one of whom I had known through the shenval-birds e-mail list. We followed almost the same itinerary as last year, beginning at Bear Mountain Lodge, then crossing into West Virginia, returning to the Straight Fork valley, going to the O'Bryans' home north of Blue Grass, and concluding just south of Hightown. This year our lunch break was at the retreat home of John and Nancy Spahr, very gracious hosts. For me the most outstanding sightings were a Vesper sparrow (which I had not seen since 2003) and a Mourning Warbler. We heard Veeries singing at at least three different places, and got a great look at one of them. The following list of highlights of what I saw, in rough chronological order, includes all the locations at which we stopped, lumped together.

  • Kestrel
  • Yellow-rumped Warblers
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Vesper sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Juncos
  • Veery
  • Chestnut-sided Warblers
  • Mourning Warbler
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Kingfisher
  • Alder Flycatcher
  • Common Yellowthroats
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Kestrel
  • Phoebe
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
  • Goldfinches
  • Red-shouldered hawk
  • Broad-winged hawks
  • Bald eagles
  • House Wren
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee
  • Bald Eagle (J, A)
  • Goldfinches
  • Cedar Waxwings

Notable by their absence or shyness: both kinds of Orioles, Yellow Warblers, Both kinds of Black-throated Warblers (Blue and Green), Red-eyed Vireos, Blue-headed Vireos, Canada Warblers, American Redstarts, and Red-tailed hawks. Most of those we heard but did not see, and the same applies to the Golden-winged Warblers.. Missing that one was a disappointment, but it didn't detract from what was otherwise a very successful day. Many thanks to John Spahr for leading the trip.

Prairie state birding


Chestnut-collared Longspur

Chestnut-collared Longspur, at the Grand River National Grassland near Lemmon, South Dakota, courtesy of John Clem.


June 9, 2009 [LINK / comment]

The 'Hoos go to Omaha!

Unless you live in Virginia, the nickname "Wahoos" (or "'Hoos" for short) may not be familiar to you. But if the U.Va. baseball team keeps winning as they head to the College World Series in Omaha later this week, the rest of the country will learn real fast. The University's football and basketball teams have shown occasional moments of excellence over the past couple decades, but they usually fall short when the day of the Big Game comes. Maybe the baseball team will do better. U.Va. overcame the heartbreaking extra-inning loss to Ole Miss on Friday, and won the next two games over the weekend, earning their first-ever berth to the Final Eight series in Omaha. It's a double elimination tournament, not really a "world series" per se, however. The final series is a three-game matchup between the top two remaining teams. The Cavaliers play against the LSU Tigers this Saturday night. See virginiasports.com.

Coors Field update

The Coors FieldCoors Field diagrams have been revised, showing the lights, and with greater detail in the profiles. There are a couple corrections in the angles of the grandstand. That page also features four fine photos from John Minor, taken on a sunny day in Denver. "Rocky Mountain High...." smile

Coincidentally, or not, the Rockies just finished a remarkable triumphant four-game sweep on the road in St. Louis. They are still in last place in the NL West, but the Cardinals have been toppled from the top spot in the NL Central, giving way to the Brewers.

Nats demote Hanrahan

After giving him a second chance, hoping against hope, the Washington Nationals have replaced Joel Hanrahan with Mike MacDougal as their closer. I'm sorry to say it, but it's about time. See MLB.com. The Nats open a three-game series against Cincinnati this evening, but bad weather may force yet another change of schedule.


June 9, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Creigh Deeds wins big

Perhaps it was the surge in TV advertisements for Creigh Deeds late in the campaign, or perhaps it was people getting tired of hearing Terry McAuliffe's Chicago accent. Getting an endorsement by the Washington Post didn't hurt either. Whatever the reasons, it's pretty clear that the Democrats have nominated their most appealing candidate to go up against Republican Bob McDonnell in the fall gubernatorial campaign. Deeds came within a fraction of a percent of getting an outright majority of votes in a three-way race, which is very impressive, given his relatively modest funding. The Washington Post called the result a "stunning come-from-behind victory."

Deeds is from Bath County, in the rugged highlands of western Virginia, and some have mocked him -- unfairly -- for being something of a backwoods rube. He is competent and likeable, which is one reason I initially doubted he would win. (Leo Durocher: "Nice guys finish last.") Deeds has been an advocate of redistricting reform, a cause that I believe in, but in his case it comes from personal experience. His 25th Senate District is the most severely "gerrymandered" constituency in the Old Dominion, with a thin strip of land linking two Appalachian counties with parts of Albemarle and Nelson counties on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge. That sort of monkey business has got to stop. But Deeds will have to work hard to distinguish himself from the traditional big-spending liberal activism that the sitting governor Tim Kaine exemplifies. Just because Barack Obama won in Virginia last fall does not mean that most Virginians agree with his agenda or ideology.

I positively dreaded the prospect that the Clintonista McAuliffe might occupy the Governor's Mansion next year. Like his former boss in the White House, "Bubba," he practically exudes insincerity from every pore in his body. Toward the end of the campaign, his ads emphasized his supposed advantage in electability, but I have serious doubts about that. He lined up endorsements from most of the "usual suspects" in the Democratic coalition, mainly the public employee unions, but that only served to highlight his identity as an old-fashioned Ted Kennedy-style Democrat. As for his argument that he would have done better against Bob McDonnell in November, I've come to be skeptical of the opinion polls in Virginia over the years, and this primary election result validates that.

Brian Moran barely won a majority in his home turf of Alexandria, and failed to convey a strong message or image of himself across the state. He represented the wealthier, suburban, more liberal people in Virginia, and he and McAuliffe ended up fighting each other for that group, while Deeds built a large majority in the southern and western parts of the state, while picking up support in the more populated areas.

Bob McDonnell had a congratulatory video, grinningly expressing "regret" that the Democrats' campaign against each other has come to an end. It was a positive message that pointed to his openness to new approaches, prioritizing the creation of new jobs through the private sector: "Yes to new jobs, yes to economic growth, and yes to more opportunities for Virginians." I had expected that the Dems would tear each other apart, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Terry McAuliffe seemed flustered when interviewed as the results were coming in, but he seems committed to uniting behind his party's ticket this fall.

For Lieutenant Governor, Jody Wagner trounced Michael Signer but will have a big uphill battle against incumbent Bill Bolling this fall.

In local races, Greg Marrow defeated James Noel by a two-to-one margin in the 25th District House of Delegates primary race, and will challenge incumbent Steve Landes this fall.


June 10, 2009 [LINK / comment]

It's Doomsday in Detroit

Tiger Stadium demolition animation The proverbial "Fat Lady" is singing in Motown, which is to say, it's all over for Tiger Stadium. At the hearing on Monday, the judge found that the preservationist movement had already had enough time to raise sufficient funds, but had failed. Thomas Linn, of the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, said there will be no further appeals. Even though that organization has been paying for security at the site for the last few months, and even though other city development projects are behind schedule because of funding shortfalls, the authorities refused to give Tiger Stadium a break. And within hours, the wrecking crews went back to work. For further gory details, see the Detroit Free Press and/or ESPN, and for some insightful commentary, read Mary Kramer; as she asks, "why the rush?" (The latter links via Bruce Orser.)

How could such a terrible, short-sighted injustice happen? Well, most people in Detroit right now are a lot more worried about whether the Chrysler Corporation will survive than about sports, so their attention is probably diverted. And for those who are paying attention to sports, they are probably less interested in historical preservation than in the Detroit Tigers, who have surged into first place in the AL Central Division, or the Detroit Red Wings hockey team, which will play against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the seventh and deciding game of the NHL Stanley Cup championship series on Friday night. Anyway, it is a huge, monumental travesty that this cause been singled out for harsh treatment by the city officials and judicial authorities. If you ask me, there are ulterior motives at play behind the scenes. Here are the most likely suspects:

  • Frederick Berg, attorney for Economic Development Corp.
  • Mayor Dave Bing
  • Judge Prentis Edwards

As one consequence of this sudden, unexpected tragedy, I have moved Tiger Stadium to the head of my queue of works in progress. Stay tuned.

For the record, I made some very small tweaks to the Coors Field diagrams which I released yesterday.

Nationals draft Strasburg

For most baseball fans, the biggest news yesterday was the 2009 amateur baseball draft.As expected, the Washington Nationals picked Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals are in such bad shape right now, pitching-wise, that they are likely to rush him into service by the end of this season. Whoa! Give the guy time to adapt to major league baseball before you ruin his confidence, please! Strasburg is reputed to throw the ball 103 miles an hour, which if true stretches the limits of human ability. They also drafted another promising pitcher, Drew Storen, the number ten pick. In fact, they already signed him to a contract. See MLB.com. As far as Strasburg's salary, I have heard a figure as high as #10 million, which is ridiculous for a rookie, no matter how good he is. The Nationals front office was criticized -- rightly -- last year for taking so long to sign their draft picks to contracts, but in this case they need to think very seriously about long-term plans and budgeting. Strasburg may turn out to be as good as they say, but it would be foolish to join the herd in the bidding war. They could regret it later, like the Giants regretted signing Barry Zito to a multi-year megabucks contract.

As that article states, the last two pitchers who played in the major leagues the same season they were drafted were David Clyde (Rangers, 1973) and Ben McDonald (Orioles, 1989). Remember them? Me neither. See what I mean?

Boaters heart Citi Field

Mike Quindlen let me know about a special transportation option that is available to Mets fans in New York: "There is a marina walking distance from Citi Field. It's called World's Fair Marina. They charge a dollar a foot to dock your boat there for the day. For example, I have a 22 foot boat so it's $22 dollars. It beats the hell out of traffic and costs about the same because you don't have to pay tolls. Granted, fuel is probably more but it's a wonderful experience..." I know the Nationals are planning something like that for the future, as the Anacostia River waterfront is cleaned up and redeveloped, but it may take years. Obviously, there are plenty of boating fans in McCovey's Cove at AT&T Park, but I wonder if the same setup exists at Pittsburgh or Cincinnati. Does anybody out there know?


June 11, 2009 [LINK / comment]

McDonnell vs. Deeds "rematch"

Four years ago, Bob McDonnell beat Creigh Deeds in the race for attorney general by a razor-thin margin of just a few hundred votes, and now the same two candidates are vying for the highest office in the state. It will be fascinating to see how that rivalry is played out this time around, when the tables have turned in terms of shifts in the respective parties' strength. For obvious reasons, McDonnell has to play it safe, even though his Republican Party has been shut out of the Governor's Mansion for the past eight years (and is therefore very eager to get back in), while Deeds is aggressively "hunting" (he's pro Second Amendment) for new voter groups.

At augustafreepress.com, Chris Graham exuberantly touts "The Deeds juggernaut," asserting that the Democrats' nominee for governor has an advantage in both geography and policy. Here is my take on all that:

Deeds' advantage is not so much that he is a relative moderate or can pull votes from NRA members, but rather that he has a reputation for doing what is right, regardless of party affiliation. Both he and McDonnell understand the current political climate, that the independent voters who care more about results than ideology are the key to victory. It will come down to which candidate offers the clearest plan for tackling economic AND social problems. In that sense, McDonnell is on very solid ground, and thus far has a clear edge. If Deeds can present a more substantial agenda than merely continuing the Warner-Kaine policies ("Me too!"), he might chip away at McDonnell's advantage with independents, in which case it could boil down to which party is more enthusiastic for their candidate. So far, McDonnell has been a master at smoothing over differences among the fractious Republicans, whereas Deeds is something of an outsider among Democrats, and his support among the party "base" remains very uncertain.

And speaking of accents, McAuliffe sounds more "foreign" than any of them! The Dems are lucky he lost the primary race.

Home town support

Thanks to Bob Gibson on Facebook, I came across a cool page at VPAP.org, with maps showing county-by-county election results in statewide races back to 2004 or so. The map of the recent Democratic gubernatorial primary election reveals that turnout in Creigh Deeds' 25th Senate District and in the Washington suburbs was higher than average, while it was lower than average here in the Shenandoah Valley and in southwestern Virginia. The map of the 2005 attorney general race also shows that Deeds has strong support from folks in his own area.


June 12, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Tiger Stadium memorial update

At "The Corner" (Michigan and Trumbull) in Detroit, the demolition crews are busy doing their dirty deeds, and the front portion of the upper deck is now mostly gone, as is the northwest edge of what was left of the grandstand. It was a sad week indeed in Motor City. Well, at least Chrysler was saved from extinction, thanks to a judge's ruling that approved the partial buyout of the corporation by FIAT. And at least the Detroit Red Wings are giving fans something to cheer about this evening. (Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals has just begun, in Detroit.)

In recognition of the old ballpark and everything that it represented, I have made some corrections and enhancements to the diagrams on the Tiger Stadium Tiger Stadium page. After squinting long and hard at various photographs, I determined that the upper deck had 26 rows (including the lateral aisle), not 28 as I thought before. However, it appears from some demolition photos that I've seen that in at least some parts of the stadium (away from the diamond), the lower deck extended back a few rows. In other words, the very back seats may have been obstructed by two sets of support beams, like at the Polo Grounds. The 1934 version diagram has a more accurate rendition of the huge bleacher section that covered what used to be Cherry Street beyond the left field wall; hence my estimate of a center field distance of only 397 feet for 1934-1935. I realized that those bleachers extended onto the field, except for a sliver of land in the left field corner. It must have been murder for left fielders who had to chase balls hit there. [One of the biggest changes is based on a more accurate estimate of the backstop distance: In Phil Lowry's Green Cathedrals, it gives a figure of 66 feet since 1955, and 54 feet before that. After looking at a variety of aerial photos, however, I put the distance at just about 60 feet, maybe a couple feet less. Making this change affected the rest of the grandstand, greatly reducing the amount of foul territory, among other things.]

The saga, in retrospect

When the history of the failure of the historical preservation movement in Detroit is written, some may ask about the lack of big-name celebrity support for the cause. Where was renowned Tigers fan Tom Selleck? What about musical stars from Michigan like Ted Nugent, Glenn Frey (of the Eagles), or Smokey Robinson? Or what about do-gooder par excellence Jeff Daniels or left-wing curmudgeon Michael Moore?? Well, I guess a "Live Aid"-style telethon for this cause might have seemed a little silly to most people.

In any event, here are the crucial events leading to the final demolition:

  • April 2008: Detroit's Economic Development Corporation sets a preservation fund-raising deadline of June 1, or else demolition will begin.
  • June: City extends the deadline to August 1, as Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy steps up fund-raising.
  • July: Partial demolition begins, prior to deadline.
  • August: Demolition proceeds rapidly.
  • September: Demolition pauses, giving preservationists more time to save the one-third of the stadium that still remains.
  • November: Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation signed a Memorandum of Understanding.
  • January 2009: Michigan legislature passes tax credits dedicated to the redevelopment of Tiger Stadium, worth at least $4 million.
  • June: A judge grants a temporary restraining order, but preservationists fail to convince Economic Development Corporation, and the final demolition resumes.

You can also follow the tragic demolition step by step in photographs, at aerialpics.com.

Book: The Final Season

On the Tiger Stadium page, I also cited a very good book by Tom Stanton about what that stadium really meant: The Final Season: Fathers, Sons, and One Last Season in a Classic American Ballpark (Thomas Dunne Books, 2001). Mr. Stanton decided to mark the final season of the stadium (1999) by attending every single Tigers home game there. He took along his father and other close family and friends as a way of bringing back childhood memories. The book chapters are interspersed with inspiring tales of hardships in the Great Depression, World War II, and Detroit's turbulent decline beginning in the 1960s. It's a lot like Tom Brokaw's tribute book The Greatest Generation, but from a baseball fan's perspective. Take a look at Amazon.com or see the author's Web site: www.tomstanton.com.

Coolest video EVER!

Some extremely clever guy strapped a video camera onto a radio-controlled airplane, and took a video of Tiger Stadium in 2006. The quality is better than you'd expect, and I actually noticed some details that helped me in getting the diagram just right.


I got Baseball Fever

Here is my second-ever posting on baseball-fever.com:

We can debate how much of a loss Tiger Stadium is to baseball posterity, or whether it was better than Comerica Park or not, but what bothers me is the sudden, surreptitious way the final phase of the demolition came about. The OTSC folks were caught off guard by the economic development folks last week, in spite of having a (semi-)solid plan on the table. Preservationists made a good-faith effort, and were "rewarded" with a sneak attack by those whose motives are not yet clear, but probably sinister. They knew they had to act quickly once that vote was cast last week before the pro-Tiger Stadium forces could rally, and the wrecking crews were on standby alert like it was a military operation. It's kind of like when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, or perhaps like when the Baltimore Colts packed their bags in the middle of the night and moved to Indianapolis in 1984.

In case you're wondering, for several weeks after signing up with Baseball Fever, I was prevented from posting any comments by their anti-spam measures, which I fully understand. Somebody contacted me to let me know that I had finally been approved, which I appreciate.


June 12, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Digital TV conversion day (II)

We were supposed to convert to digital TV back on Feb. 17, but Congress intervened at the last minute. After all the public announcements for several months leading up to the planned switchover, "Never mind!" Most stations decided to postpone the conversion until June 12, to give folks one last chance. Well, today, it finally happened. To commemorate the big conversion event, I unplugged our cable from the TV this morning, and hooked up the old "rabbit ears" antenna for one last time. The reception on the few remaining analog stations was pretty bad, as you can see:

TV, antenna

I shall ceremonially toss that now-useless antenna into the dumpster forthwith. Welcome, "brave new (digital) world"!

Web sites that endure

As I was cleaning out my office the other day, I came across a 1999 magazine article sent by a friend with the addresses of some cool Web sites. I decided to check some of them out, and was pleased to learn that some of them are still alive and kickin'. If you've got spare time, take a look at howstuffworks.com, which as you might imagine is all about "how stuff works," and historicwings.com, which has lots of information and images of old military aircraft, from World War II, etc. I could lose hours browsing sites like that, except that I spend too much of my time adding new and enhanced content to this Web site.


June 13, 2009 [LINK / comment]

College World Series 2009

The University of Virginia Cavaliers baseball team plays its first-ever College World Series game this evening, going against the LSU Tigers. If you look at the list of eight teams that qualified, you may notice a certain regional pattern. As the Washington Post pointed out, "This year, Virginia is the northernmost school in a field that includes Louisiana State, Cal-State Fullerton, Arkansas, North Carolina, Arizona State, Texas and Southern Mississippi." Location matters, indeed.

To a large extent, this built-in climate advantage for southern universities is permanent. One possible solution that would have collateral budgetary and academic benefits should be considered, however: Moving the standard university schedule forward by two weeks. Instead of the present spring semester lasting from mid-January until early May, you would go from early February until the end of May. For institutions in the north, that would save a great deal on heating bills. Schools that offer an intensive one-month term in May could simply move that to January, which would be more appropriate for travel to places like Latin America in any case. In most universities, summer school would remain essentially as it is.

Anyway, it's been fun watching TV reports of the U.Va. players getting treated like big stars, signing autographs for fans at Rosenblatt Stadium. Let's hope this charmed season ends on a happy note. smile

More fallout in Detroit

It seems that demolition at Tiger Stadium has taken a pause, but it's too late to turn back now, so don't get your hopes up. I know that some fans think that Tiger Stadium was overrated, and I [wouldn't] dispute that it had its share of faults. It was, however, an authentic embodiment of a baseball experience that few Americans can get any more, and I share the feelings of Detroit fans who mourn its passing.

In the National Hockey League Stanley Cup final game last night, the Detroit Red Wings squandered their home advantage and lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-1. Is this an example of bad karma, as a form of divine retribution for the sacrilege of gutting a "green cathedral"? Detroit has not won a hockey championship since 1955, whereas Pittsburgh has won twice, in 1991 and 1992. baseball In Pittsburgh, meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers beat the Pirates, 3-1. How ironic is that?

Tiger fan blogger John Parent has a "final goodbye to Tiger Stadium." Like the author Tom Stanton, whom I mentioned yesterday, John really "gets it" when it comes to understanding the true value of old ballparks.

In identifying those individuals in Detroit most at fault for the needless demise of Tiger Stadium, I should have mentioned George Jackson, head of the Economic Development Corp. He was named one of the "worst persons in the world" by the often-opinionated (to put it mildly) Keith Olbermann of MS-NBC. In an interview on WJR radio, Jackson called Tiger Stadium an "icon of urban blight." Links via [PreserveTigerStadium.com].

This enlarged profile of Tiger Stadium more clearly illustrates my conjecture that, in at least some parts of it, there were a few rows of seats behind the second set of support beams. If anyone who has been to a game there know for sure, please let me know.

Tiger Stadium

Used stadium for sale

Tiger Stadium is not the only abandoned major sporting venue in the Detroit area, and this surplus inventory may have raised pressure on officials to "liquidate" their stock. In the far-out suburb of Pontiac, the once-gleaming Silverdome sits all alone in a vast, weedy parking lot. Like Cuba, in a way, it serves as a monument to human folly. Last year a developer offered to buy it for $20 million, but the mayor of Pontiac, Clarence Phillips, objected on the grounds that the guys' finances were too shaky. The city is paying $1.5 million a year to maintain the Silverdome, most of which is for electricity to keep the dome inflated. See the Detroit Free Press. (They had the same problem at the DakotaDome in Vermillion, South Dakota, which is why they replaced the inflatable roof with a rigid structure a few years ago.)

Believe it or not, there was a proposal last year to create a "Global Baseball League" consisting of 10-12 countries that would have played most or all its games in the Silverdome beginning in April 2009. See sportsology.info. As far as I know, this hare-brained scheme didn't pan out.

Bosox sweep the Yanks

With all the baseball activity in Detroit and Omaha this week, I didn't pay due attention to what was going on in Boston. It's just as well, the way things turned out. The Red Sox have beat the Yankees in all eight games so far this year, and have now taken over first place in the AL East from the Yankees. frown

COMMENT by: Karl Bennett, of Orlando, FL on Jun 14, 2009 00:10 AM
The Red Wings won four Stanley Cups since the 54-55 season, including last year.

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jun 14, 2009 15:28 PM
Thank you, Karl, for the fact check, and likewise to Owen and Russ, two fans who sent me e-mail messages setting me straight. Russ gives more detail: "The Red Wings are noted as one of the most successful sports franchises ever, and that includes recently. They have won Stanley Cup titles in 199697, 199798, 200102, 200708. So no offense, but you could not have been more wrong about the Red Wings." Indeed, I owe hockey fans an apology for my ignorance of the sport. Chalk it up to mental exhaustion or just plain laziness, but I was relying on a 1996 reference guide even though I have more recent almanacs. -- Or MAYBE I was just testing to see what kind of a response I would get. (I wish.) Sorry, folks.


June 15, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Can Manny Acta keep his job?

After the Washington Nationals were swept by the Tampa Bay Rays this weekend, speculation is mounting that Manny Acta will get fired in a matter of days. When the MLB.com Web site is part of the rumor mill, you know the guy's in trouble. At the Nationals Journal (blog) on washingtonpost.com, there was a flood of fan input, and here is what I posted:

Acta seems like he knows what he's doing, and he is well liked by the team, so I'd really like to give him more of a chance. However, the team's record is worse than anyone could have imagined, and it's not just bad luck. All the evidence points to Acta's extreme ineffectiveness in terms of motivating the players. His laid-back style is just not suited for getting out of the team's current predicament. The "hand he was dealt" is not really that bad; the Nats have some very good hitters, and even the young starting pitchers are decent. They just don't play well as a team, but rather keep wasting run-scoring opportunities. Unless he changes his attitude and his players' attitudes immediately, which is unlikely, there is no point in postponing the inevitable. Fans in Washington deserve better, and since you can't fire the team, I'm afraid Manny will have to take the fall.

Nats head to The Bronx

The Nationals are currently 16-45, an abysmal .262 in percentage terms, and are now so far behind the rest of the MLB that it's not even funny. They had an awful start to the season, losing 10 of their first 11 games, but from late April through early May they played respectably, winning 9 and losing 8, thus giving us hope. Since May 10, however, they have lost 27 games while winning only 6, and now are on track to out-do the 2003 Detroit Tigers, who went 43-119 for the season (.265). (Hey, three years later they were in the World Series!) Tomorrow they head to New Yankee Stadium, where the visiting Mets were clobbered yesterday, 15-0. I shudder to think what will happen to the "D.C. 9," but at least those are my two favorite teams, so I'll be happy whoever wins. Besides, the Yankees need to catch up to the Red Sox!

Historic hockey arenas

One interesting aspect of the recent Stanley Cup playoff is that the "home ices" of both teams are rather old. The Pittsburgh Penguins' Mellon Arena is currently the oldest hockey arena, built in 1961. I saw it once, and wondered what the heck that igloo-shaped thing was. The "Civic Center" was originally built with the stipulation that it serve as a venue for symphony concerts, but the acoustics were lousy, so they built something better a few years later.

Two especially historic hockey arenas were abandoned in the 1990s: Maple Leaf Gardens (in Toronto) was built in 1931 and closed in 1999, replaced by Air Canada Centre, and Boston Garden (home of the Bruins since 1928) was closed in 1995, replaced by the Fleet Center, soon to be renamed TD Garden. Maple Leaf Gardens is still standing, whereas Boston Garden was demolished in 1997. Those arenas both held dear places in fans' hearts, and in that respect there is a nostalgic parallel between baseball and hockey that does not really exist with either football or basketball. [OK, maybe Celtics fans had a strong attachment to Boston Garden, but I don't know of other examples.] Here are the oldest hockey arenas that remain in NHL use:

Mellon Arena* Pittsburgh Penguins1961
Madison Square Garden (IV)New YorkRangers1968
Rexall Centre*EdmontonOilers1974
Joe Louis ArenaDetroitRed Wings1979

* Name changed. Am I presenting this information as a way to make it up to hockey fans for my factual goof about the Detroit Red Wings? Quite possibly. smile

Cavs are still alive

In an upset, the U.Va. Cavaliers beat California State at Fullerton (#2 seed) this afternoon, 7-5, thereby remaining in contention for the 2009 College World Series championship. The Cavs lost 9-5 to the LSU Tigers on Saturday in the double-elimination tournament. See ncaa.com.

COMMENT by: John Crozier, of Rockville Centre, NY on Jun 15, 2009 21:15 PM
Wow, Andrew, your really slipping on your hockey facts lately. You left out the Nassau Coliseum (aka Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum) on Long Island, the home of my hometown New York Islanders since 1972. The Coliseum was known as "Fort Neverlose" by us Islanders fans during the franchise's heyday when they won 4 straight Stanley Cups from 1980-1983. Nowadays its called the Nassau Mausoleum by some. Geez Andrew, whats the matter with you?......I kid of course. I always joke that the Islanders (an NHL team of course) are more obscure than some minor league teams. No worries! :)

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jun 16, 2009 00:12 AM
It serves me right for trying to rectify the original gaffe in a sport of which I know little. Yes, I see Nassau Coliseum right in front of me, listed right after the N.J. Devils. I guess it's time to get new glasses.


June 15, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Iranians protest election fraud

Anyone who studies Iran know that the elections are to a large extent window dressing to legitimize the authoritarian theocracy. The real power rests not in the hands of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad but rather in the hands of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini. Chances that the mullahs would let their puppet "president" be ousted in a free election were slim to none, so it was no surprise when they announced the results almost as soon as the polls were closed. The challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, led street protests today, and Iranian security forces killed at least one of the demonstrators. This is a sign of a regime that is desperate and out of touch with the majority of the population, and that ought to be very good news for the United States and the free world in general. Perhaps "the Islamic republic" will be more of a republic and less Islamic in another year or two.

As the Washington Post notes, however, the political tumult is making it harder for President Obama's policy of "outreach" to Iran. A White House spokesman said the U.S. Government will have to deal with the Iran that is, not the Iran we would like to have. Ordinarily, that would be a sensible, pragmatic position to take, except for two things: First, Obama's very identity is that of a starry-eyed dreamer for whom no challenge is too daunting; Second, such words have a chilling effect on those in Iran who are pushing for more freedom. It's quite the opposite of the Bush administration, which tended to speak in grandiose terms about the spread of freedom and democracy, even if nothing much in concrete terms was actually done to help the cause. Still, Obama is adopting a very weak stance on what could be one of the most dramatic political shifts to take place in the Middle East in over a decade.

Some may argue that Iran's defiant crackdown on the pro-democracy movement shows that Obama's solicitous approach to the Muslim world has backfired. It's far to early to assess what the consequences of that initiative will be, however. I would agree with the commentator on ABC's "This Week" (Ron Brownstein, I think), who argued that Iran was not responding to U.S. pressure but rather is trying to preemptively silence the opposition. The mullahs think they can buy time while they prepare for another challenge to the western world, possibly involving a missiles launch, in an attempt to rally national unity. What many in the West don't understand is that, even among the pro-democracy forces in Iran, there is a strong nationalistic pride and consensus on Iran's right to develop its own strategic military forces.

On a related note, CIA Chief Leon Panetta said that former V.P. Dick Cheney acts as though he wants the Islamic radicals to attack us to validate the Bush administration's position. In that vein, one could be forgiven for believing that Obama wants the fragile Mideast democracy movement to fail to validate its position.

Obama's outreach to Muslims

Earlier this month, President Obama made his second major foreign trip, the highlight of which was a major speech in Cairo. He pleaded with the Islamic world for a "new beginning" with the United States, with a humble tone that acknowledged past American transgressions and lingering prejudices. See Washington Post. Some of what he said is accurate, including the need to avoid defining our relationships in terms of our differences. It is true, as he said, that we do share some values, and more importantly, concrete interests. However, much of his speech was quite out of place or proportion to the true nature of the political problems that exist. What Obama fails to grasp, or at least to show he grasps, is that Western culture is very tolerant of diversity and amenable to pragmatic compromise, whereas most Islamic countries are in the grip of a religious orthodoxy that regards free inquiry as treason. In that sense, the vast cultural divide (or "clash of civilizations," as Samuel Huntington put it) is likely to remain a fixture of world politics for years to come.

Nevertheless, Obama remains supremely confident of his ability to convince others of his good intentions. It is clear that he aims to radically reshape global political dynamics by overtly courting the Muslims, staking everything on establishing friendly or at least polite relationships with governments that have been quite hostile or suspicious of us. It is a striking combination of idealism and pragmatism, but where this approach is taking us remains unclear. Obama may yet achieve some diplomatic breakthrough through his immense personal charm and unique pesonal identity, but he needs to make it clearer that he understands where U.S. national interests lie, and that he is committed to upholding them.


June 16, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Home runs in New Yankee Stadium

The general public is gradually starting to realize something that I began pointing out over a year ago: that, contrary to numerous official announcements, New Yankee Stadium is not a virtual carbon copy of Old (or Renovated) Yankee Stadium in terms of the outfield configuration. In fact, the distance to the fence in right center field is markedly closer than it was in the old stadium, about 18 feet, according to my estimates. This is the reason for the huge increase in home runs at the new stadium, not the weather. Indeed, AccuWeather.com

analyzed the 29 games played and the 105 home runs hit at the new Stadium and determined that 20 of those home runs, all hit to right or right-center field, would not have been home runs at the old Stadium across the street.

See MLB.com; I cite AccuWeather.com below. I believe the current home run total at NYS is 115, about twice as many as there were last year at OYS (or RYS, if you wish). That article spells out something about which I wasn't sure until now: the height of the outfield fence is eight feet, two feet less than at OYS. So, the vaunted successor to the House That Ruth Built seems to be a measly little band box, a veritable home run heaven for left-handed hitters. In a way, however, that is actually closer to what Yankee Stadium was like in the old old days, before the tragic renovations of 1976. It's just that the Yankees can't exploit the superiority they used to enjoy with left-handed sluggers, especially Ruth and (switch-hitter) Mantle.

There was a similar story at Yahoo Sports [link via Bruce Orser]: "The new Yankee Stadium is a lot of things that the New York Yankees expected when they planned it. No one fathomed it would be the park that could break Coors Field's stranglehold on the single-season home run record of 303 in 1999." No one?

See, I told you so!

While it is true that I made no firm predictions about how many home runs there would be at New Yankee Stadium, I did make it clear more than once over a year before it opened that the right field fence was going to be closer than in the old stadium. In response to an e-mail message from a fan named Marcus Gilbert in February 2008 I wrote,

The dimensions of the new Yankee Stadium are not as close to those of the original as has been claimed. More to the point, the right field fence is parallel to the third base line, whereas the fence angles outward in the current version.

I first released a preliminary rendering of New Yankee Stadium in March 2008. This past January I wrote,

The Yankees want everyone to think that the outfield dimensions will be the same as at the old Yankee Stadium, but unless I have been misled by some of the blueprint images I've seen, that is definitely not the case in the power alleys.

And of course, anyone who has browsed this Web site and compared the new and old stadiums on either of those pages would see this right away. To make this 100% clear for everyone, I have come up with the following overlay diagram comparing the two Yankee Stadiums:

Yankee Stadiums RF overlay

This close-up image of right field in New Yankee Stadium is overlaid with the outline of Old (or Renovated) Yankee Stadium, showing how much closer the fence in right center field is now than before. The red-shaded area -- in play last year, but beyond the fence now -- is the "bulls-eye" for would-be home run hitters.

Don't blame the weather

One of the lamest excuses from the Yankees front office for all the home runs at New Yankee Stadium is the difference in wind currents. Well, that "urban legend" is falling by the wayside. There are a lot of gullible fans out there, but slowly the truth is getting out. Curiously, I had a hard time finding the widely-reported story at AccuWeather.com, but did find what Bernie Rayno wrote there on April 21:

The old Yankee stadium had more vertically stacked tiers and a large upper deck, acting like a solid wall in effect, which would cause the wind to swirl more and be less concentrated. The new Yankee stadium's tiers are less stacked, making a less sharp slope from the top of the stadium to the field. This shape could enable winds to blow across the field with less restriction. In addition, the slope of the seating would also lead to a "downslope" effect in the field which, depending on wind direction, would tend to cause air to lift up in the right field. Fly balls going into right field during a gusty west wind would be given more of a lift thus carrying the ball farther out into right field.

In other words, AccuWeather.com was itself part of the "spin machine" that kept alive that false notion, hence their apparent eagerness to rectify the true situation. As far as the possibility that the different shape of the grandstand may affect wind currents, these enlarged profiles illustrate this point more clearly:

Yankee Stadium Yankee Stadium II

It would take a huge amount of effort to measure wind in various locations to determine whether that phenomenon is a real one or not. At Candlestick Park, there was a similar belief that the 1972 enlargement, enclosing the outfield with a double-decked grandstand, affected winds, but I don't think there has been definitive proof of such an assertion.

Yankee Stadium II update

With all of these things in mind, I've made a revision to the Yankee Stadium New Yankee Stadium diagram, yet another change in plans in response to real-world news. Compared to the earlier version, the upper deck is a few rows deeper and the profile about 6-8 feet higher altogether. Also, the second deck seems to be even less steep than I thought before, with a slope of about 16 degrees rather than 18 degrees, but I may need to check other sources before deciding for sure. There is no change in the shape of the field, the first deck, or the bleachers. For the time being, I have left my proposed alternative configuration (with the outfield fences pushed back 10-15 feet) the way it is, so you can see which parts of the diagram were revised.

And just for the record, the difference in the outfield fence distances is so great that it is even apparent in these scaled-down thumbnail images.

Nats in the Big Apple

And speaking of the New Yankee Stadium, the forlorn, luckless, leaderless Washington Nationals begin a three-game series at New York tonight. The Nats' best starting pitcher Shairon Martis (5-1) faces some guy named C.C. Sabathia with a slightly worse record (5-4), so it should be a pretty even matchup ... NOT! Well, at least the Nats' left-handed slugger Adam Dunn ought to be good for a few more home runs in cozy little New Yankee Stadium. At 17 for the year, he is currently five behind the three league leaders. WUSA-TV's Brett Haber just said that if the Nationals sweep the Yankees, Manny Acta might get to keep his job. smile

The mail bag

I've fallen behind in communications once again, but have received from very helpful input recently from Bruce Orser, John Pastier (author of the superb reference book Ballparks Yesterday and Today), Ron Selter, Jonathan Veilleux, and Cesar Gomez, who sent me some Citi Field photos. (Stay tuned.) Plus, I still have some ballpark photos to post from John Minor. And that's not including the (friendly) flak I got for my feeble attempts at discussing hockey! Mike Zurawski disputes my contention about the historical status of hockey arenas, citing Lambeau Field (Green Bay Packers) and Soldier Field (Chicago Bears). Possibly, but those are exceptional cases, and I don't recall a big fans' movement to keep Soldier Field looking the way it used to when they did that horrible renovation to it several years ago. (To my surprise, Mike approves of that renovation.) My point was more about fans, that hockey fans are more nostalgic about their "home ice" than football fans are about their home fields.

Hockey update

Speaking of hockey, did I ever mention that I used to ice skate? At least I think so. I'd better check my sources first. smile

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Jun 16, 2009 23:22 PM
No way, I totally have sources on your hockey info here that proves you've never seen ice skates in your life. :P As for NYS, it's somewhat vindicating when people who whole-heartedly and somewhat naively bought into the Yankees bullpoop assertion that the OF fence is exactly the same as OYS come back to you saying "You know what, you were right, it IS shorter." I called it from the very first day I saw your diagram that it was going to be a bandbox, and good lord I was right.

COMMENT by: Karl Bennett, of Orlando, FL on Jun 17, 2009 22:22 PM
When you get the chance, check out Johnny Damon's homer from today's game vs. the Nationals. That would have been a double at OYS and it's a homer in NYS.

COMMENT by: Charlie H, of Chicago, IL on Jun 17, 2009 23:21 PM
Andrew, As a life-long Chicagoan, I can assure you that there was a large outcry to the redevelopment of Soldier Field. I am not exaggerating when I say that the attachment and desire for keeping the old Soldier Field was much greater than any fan outcry in New York regarding New Yankee Stadium. Yes, that sounds crazy, but we loved Soldier Field, with the historic columns and single bowl. Rebuilding on the same site, and keeping the columns is the same as what the Yankees did this year. Sure, the 50 yard line is at the same place, but it's not the same. New Soldier Field now is awesome, with some amazing sightlines, and great amenities, but it doesn't and will never hold the same historical significance that the original building did in the hearts of Chicagoans. Thanks for a great site!


June 17, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Metal industry pollutes Peru

A few months ago, I gave a presentation on environmental policy in Latin America, and one of the cases studies I cited was the Doe Run mine-smelter complex in La Oroya, Peru. It is a terrible example of the often-dysfunctional nature of foreign investment in Third World countries. On one hand, there is a desperate need for capital from foreign countries for the purposes of economic development and job creation, but on the other hand there is a deeply ingrained suspicion of outsiders that results in unduly strict regulations. When you add to that the corrupt nature of bureaucracies that prevails in many Latin American countries, you've got a mess -- figurative and in this case, literal.

During the government of Alberto Fujimori, many state-owned corporations were privatized, and in 1997 the US-owned Doe Run Corporation bought the state-owned smelter in La Oroya with the condition that toxic waste would be cut. It didn't work out that way, however, and last year CNN aired a special report by Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the terrible health problems suffered by metallurgical workers who have ingested lethal doses of lead, via fumes. Sadly, many of them are so poor that they keep working in the smelter just to feed their families, even though they know it will gradually kill them. La Oroya is a main center of lead and zinc production in Peru, located about 100 miles east of Lima. Elsewhere in Peru, there are huge copper mines and iron mines. A blogger called American in Lima followed up on this case with some observations from a local perspective.

As you might expect, the recent global economic crisis has accentuated the dilemma, making it harder than ever for the company to live up to its obligations. In April, Doe Run secured a $175 million line of credit, but the deal is on the verge of collapse because of the company's failure to achieve more environmental progress. The parent company Renco has declined to bail out its subsidiary, raising the possibility of a total shutdown. There is a deadline set for October, but given the current economic uncertainties, the Doe Run company could fail before then, or it could get another extension from the government. See BBC.

To its credit, the government of President Alan Garcia has played an active role in getting a satisfactory resolution of this awful problem. Several of Garcia's cabinet ministers were dismissed for corruption several months ago, and that fact plus Garcia's own past as a gringo-bashing demagogue put him in a weaker position than might otherwise be the case. He has governed in an effective and responsible way since being elected in 2006 (unlike his disastrous first term, 1985-1990), and he wants to continue upholding his improved reputation, so he will probably refrain from reverting to the old-fashioned populism that got him in so much trouble before.

Callao docks from air

An aerial view of Callao, the port district of Lima, Peru, taken by Jacqueline during a trip home she took earlier this year. The air above Lima is typically hazy (and polluted) for most of the year, but you can see a cruise vessel and other ships at the docks in the background. At lower right is the Rio Rimac, which is usually very low but sometimes floods.


June 18, 2009 [LINK / comment]

U.Va.: (very) close but no cigar

The University of Virginia Cavaliers baseball team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory not once, not twice, not even three times, but four times last night, as the Arkansas Razorbacks finally prevailed in the 12th inning to stay alive in the College World Series. In the top of the ninth, with U.Va. (playing as home team) leading 3-1, there were two outs and two strikes on Zack Cox, who managed to hit a single. Then the very next batter, Brett Eibner, hit a home run to tie the game. All across Virginia, fans' spirits were instantly deflated. But even so, the Cavs got going right away in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases with only one out. Then Danny Hultzen grounded into a double play, sending the game into extra innings. Arghhh! The same situation came about in the tenth inning, and this time Jarrett Parker and John Hicks struck out to end the inning. (Both of those guys had multiple hits and multiple strikeouts in this marathon game.) U.Va. runners made it to third base in the 11th and 12th innings as well, but it was all for naught. The one run in the top of the 12th was all Arkansas needed to win the game, by a score of 4-3. frown I was following the play by play on the NCAA Web site, which uses the CBS College Sports Game Tracker. It compares favorably to MLB's Game Day online service, but the updates were often agonizingly slow. For the full wrap-up see virginiasports.com.

And so, the "Cinderella" year for the Cavaliers comes to an end, as Destiny passes them by. You have to give those guys and their manager (Head Coach) Brian O'Connor a lot of credit for relentlessly plugging away, even if the final outcome was hard to take. As for who's left in the College World Series, you can keep up with the latest results on the NCAA bracket at ncaa.com.

Nationals beat the Yanks

It was small consolation that one of my favorite teams won for the second straight night in New Yankee Stadium last night. This time, however, it was the Washington Nationals ... believe it, or not! Adam Dunn smashed a home run (#18) so far beyond the right field wall that it almost cleared the bleachers! They clung to a slim lead and defeated the Yankees, 3-2, as John Lannan went 8 1/3 innings, a superlative performance. (Poor Chien-Ming Wang, 0-5!) See MLB.com.

Stadium rankings update

I have updated my purely subjective Stadium rankings page, which has a new column showing when the last time I have visited each of the respective ballparks. It includes rankings for New Yankee Stadium and Citi Field for the first time. Of course, my opinions won't count for much until I'll actually been inside them. Speaking of which, I'm hoping to be at PNC Park in early August when the Nationals visit the Pirates, and if all goes well, I'll also see the Metrodome (in its last year with the Twins), as well as Coors Field, and possibly one of the Chicago ballparks. That means I'll probably have to put off seeing games in the new stadiums in New York until next year.

NOTE: Because different Web browser programs work differently, the columns on that page may not line up exactly for some people. If that's a problem for you, please let me know, indicating which operating system and program you are using. Thanks.

The mail bag

Paul Naprstek brought to my attention some details about when the seats at Wrigley Field were reconfigured, which I'll have to look into. ballAnd long-time fan of this site Rob Stevens sends friendly kudos for pointing out the differences between New and Old Yankee Stadiums. I'm sure this will be getting more attention in the near future. ball Finally, another long-time fan, Joe Johnston, sent some fantastic photos of Rangers' Ballpark in Arlington. Stay tuned!

Sosa tested positive

This shouldn't surprise anyone, but drug tests on Sammy Sosa have indicated the presence of banned substances, notwithstanding his strong denial when testifying before Congress. See the New York Times; hat tip to Bruce Orser.


June 18, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Life bird: Roseate Spoonbill!

More often than not, whenever there is a rare bird alert in this area, I miss out on it, or so it seems. Yesterday, however, I got lucky. A Roseate Spoonbill was sighted across from the Waynesboro Nursery in Lyndhurst earlier in the week, and on Wednesday afternoon I headed out that way in hopes of seeing it. At about 4:00 I arrived at the indicated location on Shalom Road, just across the South River bridge, and after a few minutes of scanning the fields with my binoculars, sure enough, there was the Spoonbill standing in a big mud puddle about 300 yards away. Absolutely incredible! There is no listing for that species in Birds of Augusta County,* so this must be the first one ever confirmed in this area. So, I started walking along a dirt track next to a corn field that soon got very muddy, and eventually I got to within about 100 yards of the bird. It was at least close enough to get a good look at the strange shaped bill, which is apparently useful in probing for food. Adult Spoonbills are deep reddish pink, whereas the young ones such as the one I saw are much paler. While I was there, Thelma Dalmas and another birder from the Lynchburg area arrived. We talked about the Calliope hummingbird that I saw west of Lynchburg back in January.

Just as we were leaving, a Cooper's hawk flew over, scaring the Indigo buntings, Bluebirds, etc. into hiding.

Later on, I stopped at Bell's Lane and was rewarded by the prompt appearance of a male Baltimore Oriole. Also seen: Grasshopper sparrows, Kestrel, and Willow flycatcher.

The Roseate Spoonbill was life bird # 384, my fourth new bird of the year. And so, I have updated my life bird list page.

* Coincidentally, the editor of that reference book, YuLee Larner, had a column about rare bird sightings in the Wednesday News Leader, and she mentioned my name with regard to the Scissor-tailed flycatcher I saw on May 28; see blog post of June 3.

I didn't expect to get very close to the Spoonbill, so I didn't bother to bring any camera, but Brenda Tekin had better luck today, as you can see at birdsofvirginia.com.

Hummer is back

We have been sad that almost no hummingbirds have come to our feeder since the early June, but two days ago, one showed up (a female), and to our delight is now making regular appearances several times a day.


June 20, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Ballpark in Arlington update

Ballpark in Arlington I have updated the (Rangers) Ballpark in Arlington diagram, partly in response to a request from Mike Zurawski and partly because of some great photos submitted to me by Joe Johnston. They were taken at a Rangers-Yankees game in May. Click on the panorama (which I stitched together from three separate shots) below to see the full-size version.

Ballpark in Arlington panorama

Now, is that an awesome view, or what!!?? It makes me want to run out and buy a ticket for the game right now. Except all that sun in Texas this time of year might be hard to take. Why in the world didn't they build a bigger roof on that stadium, to keep more fans in the shade??? Anyway, thanks very much for the fine photo, Joe!

It is worth mentioning that the Rangers are in first place right now, a half game ahead of the Angels in the AL West. Perhaps this year they will finally overcome their "underachiever" status and make a postseason appearance.

Target Field progress

In Minneapolis, they are already installing the seats and furnishings for the various club suites, etc., as you can see from the photo galleries at the Minnesota Ballpark Authority; hat tip to Bruce Orser. At this rate, the Twins might be ready to move in to their new home by the end of the season. (Very doubtful.) They are only two games behind the Tigers in the AL Central Division, and seem poised to make yet another postseason bid.

Nats win three straight

It is too early to say whether they are out of their historically dismal slump, but the three consecutive wins by the Washington Nationals is more than just a fluke. Ironically, their formerly red-hot hitters have been ice cold lately, and Ryan Zimmerman's average has fallen to less than .310, probably dooming his chances of making the All Star Game. The Nats won two out of three games in New Yankee Stadium, their first series win since early May (against Arizona). (Bruce Orser informed me that Adam Dunn's towering home run actually only went 403, not as far as I thought.) Back at home in D.C., the Nationals beat the Toronto Blue Jays last night, 2-1, their first extra-inning win of the season. It's a relief to be playing well for the home crowd once again. Let's just hope it lasts.


June 22, 2009 [LINK / comment]

City size and baseball attendance

I have updated the Baseball cities reference page, which shows the relationship between population and attendance at Major League Baseball games for the last eight years, summarized in the following chart:

Cities chart

The five largest metropolitan areas are labeled, as well as St. Louis and Montreal. The red data points for the Washington-Baltimore area highlight the effect of the relocation of the former Montreal Expos franchise to Washington in 2005, which yielded a 1.0 million net increase in annual Major League Baseball attendance. That page also includes data on stadium capacity.

Attendance trends

The data on attendance displayed on that page reveal which cities have been most successful in drawing fans to see ball games over the past few years:

  1. Washington Nationals: +21.9%
  2. Texas Rangers: +10.7%
  3. Philadelphia Phillies: +9.6%
  4. New York Mets: +7.6%
  5. Chicago White Sox: +7.3%
  6. Los Angeles Angels: +6.9%
  7. Toronto Blue Jays: +5.3%

The Washington data are "inflated" by the comparison to Montreal, where attendance was abysmal during the last few years of the Expos. Two cities, in contrast, show marked declines in attendance during the current decade:

  1. Seattle Mariners: -6.1%
  2. Baltimore Orioles: -5.4%

Too many empty seats

One clear pattern stands out when you look at the earlier "neoclassical" stadiums, the ones that were built during the 1990s: Nearly all of them were too big. Every one of the following ballparks has an excess capacity of at least 5,000 seats.

  • Orioles Park at Camden Yards (1992): 48,000
  • Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (1994): 49,000
  • Coors Field (1995): 50,000
  • Turner Field (1997): 50,000
  • Chase Field / "Bank One Ballpark" (1998): 49,000
  • Safeco Field (1999): 47,000

The only ballpark from that era that was not too big was Jacobs Field / "Progressive Field" (1994), with a capacity of 43,368. You could also add to that list U.S. Cellular Field, a.k.a. "Comiskey Park" when it opened in 1991. Its original capacity of about 45,000 later grew by about 2,000, but then shrank to about 41,000 seats in 2004, to about where it should be.


June 23, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Obama changes his tune on Iran

One of the recurring themes during the 2008 presidential campaign was the frequency with which Barack Obama changed his policy positions for the sake of political expedience. It was one reality check after another, and so it is with his presidency. With regard to the upheaval in Iran, Obama initially reacted very cautiously, but today for the first time he started to use strong language toward the Tehran regime. Why the switch? Well, today's News Leader editorial applauded Obama for not overreacting, which is well and good, but in the comment section, I took mild exception to their criticism of Republican leaders:

I agree that Obama's restraint is appropriate for the situation, because any hint of U.S. intervention would play in to the hands of the tyrannical mullahs, who thrive on inciting hatred of the "infidels." There is very little we can do, unfortunately. As Sen. McCain and other Republican critics rightly point out, however, Obama's policy of currying favor with Islamic autocracies is very discouraging to the reformist forces in Iran who want more freedom. His attitude of indifference to freedom is well known, and it would seem insincere if he started talking about promoting peace through democracy, as Bush II did. Indeed, today's speech in which Obama chastised the Iranian government for its brutal crackdown makes it look like he was caving in to pressure from the Republicans. He tried to deny it, but he couldn't stop from grinning. Foreign policy never was a priority for Obama, and because of his weak stance, he will have a very difficult time exerting diplomatic leverage.

Right after the (bogus) election results were announced, before the protest movement got going, Daniel Drezner wrote that a continuance of the status quo (the theocratic regime) in Iran "might actually be the best possible outcome for the Obama administration." Why? Because Iran's regional influence is waning anyway, because the discrediting of the Iranian regime will make Obama's fondness for multilateral diplomacy easier, and because if Mousavi had won, it would make it harder for the U.S. to rally international support for containing Iran's nuclear ambitions. (As I wrote last week, even the reformist "moderates" in Iran are in favor of pursuing great power status.)

Tehran video update

If there is a real grassroots revolution in Iran, it will be propelled to a large extent by Western technology: cell phones, Twitter, and of course YouTube: "Riot police caught by crowd - Protests in Tehran after election."

2nd American Revolution

And speaking of YouTube, listen to a Bob Basso, author of "Common Sense," playing the role of Thomas Paine to rouse complacent, lazy Americans into action before their freedoms are lost forever. Watch "We The People Stimulus Package"; hat tip to Stacey Morris. "Wouldn't it be nice..."

Fact check department

Former News Leader editor Dennis Neal asked me to correct a misleading statement that I made on April 4, and I am happy to oblige. So, just for the record, the controversial characterization of the "SWAC" leaders as "snakes" was not his idea, and he did not leave his job with the News Leader because of the boycott waged against the local paper by those "grassroots" activists. My apologies to Dennis for interpreting the situation wrongly, and for taking my sweet time in making the correction.

Jose Rodriguez, a long-time visitor to this blog, informs me that -- contrary to what I wrote on June 9 -- Terry McAuliffe does not have a Chicago accent. I could have sworn that accent came straight out of the Windy City, or some place very close to it, but Jose tells me that the McAuliffe is actually from upstate New York. It seems that those exaggerated vowel sounds are a speech characteristic of several states in the Great Lakes region. I stand corrected!


June 24, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Stadium diagram update archives

It has often occurred to me that I should make it easier to track revisions to my stadium diagrams, some of which have gone through multiple generations. For serious research purposes, such documentation is crucial. With that in mind, I scoured my blog archives and put together a set of archive pages that systematically keep track of when I have updated stadium diagrams over the past five years. Regrettably, my "blogging" prior to late 2004 was not consistent enough to serve as a reliable source of information on exactly when I made changes. See the 2009 stadium update page, which is (for now) equivalent to the "default" stadium update page. There are links for each of the separate annual pages, 2005 - 2009, each of which has a set of thumbnail images in the right-hand column showing the "Highlights of the year." Those are either brand-new stadium pages, or else ones which underwent major revisions. I am not certain that the listed updates are complete, but it's the best information that I have at present.

Going through all those archives was quite a "trip down memory lane," and yielded a few surprises. For example, I had forgotten how my political activities in 2007 had interfered with my baseball research work. Likewise, the number of times that I updated the diagrams for Yankee Stadium and Tiger Stadium over the years is hard to believe. But hey, Rome wasn't built in a day, and there is a lot of trial and error involved in getting things just right.

"Put your red on" ??

The promotional campaign to get D.C.-area baseball fans to "Put your red on" as a gesture of support for the lowly Washington Nationals is nice, but often inappropriate. Earlier this month, the Cincinnati Reds came to town, and would have swept the Nats if not for a throwing error by second baseman Brandon Phillips that allowed Cristian Guzman to score the go-ahead run. This week the Boston Red Sox are in town, and the house was almost packed with fans of the visiting team last night, with an attendance of 41,517, even more than on Opening Day. frown It was encouraging that John Lannan had yet another very solid outing, giving up only three runs in six-plus innings. It was a very close and exciting game against a daunting opponent. But of course, once they brought in the relievers, everything fell apart, and the Red Sox scored six runs in the eighth inning. Arghhhh! Final score: 11-3.

No go for "P.G. United"

By happenstance, I recently learned that the Prince George's County council voted 8-0 against the proposed soccer stadium deal with D.C. United, which pretty much kills the whole project. See the Washington Business Journal. This is good news as far as I'm concerned, as Maryland already has FedEx Field, home of the "Washington" Redskins, as well as their own baseball and football stadiums. This will also obviate the awkward necessity of having to rename the team from "D.C. United" to "P.G. United." The franchise bosses are not giving up the fight, however: see the D.C. United Web site. What this means for RFK Stadium, their home since 1996, remains uncertain. It would be nice if they could somehow downsize and refit RFK to make it more suitable for soccer, possibly tearing down large portions of the upper deck, but that would seem to be very difficult from an engineering standpoint, and quite unlikely.

More hockey arena news

You thought I had given up on hockey news? No, siree! Mike Zurawski informed me that Madison Square Garden (home of the NHL New York Rangers and NBA Knicks) will undergo a renovation that is estimated to cost about $500 million. They will widen the concourses, add more bathrooms, and build new corporate boxes. See New York Daily News. "MSG" (not monosodium glutamate) sits on top of the "new" Penn Station, which replaced its grandiose predecessor that was built in 1910 and closed in 1964. For another "trip down memory lane," see forgotten-ny.com.

Madison Square Garden

Madison Square Garden, which upon closer inspection, actually appears to be round, not square!! (Taken during my trip to the Big Apple last October; see camera Photo gallery.)


June 25, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Imagining an alternate Argentina

Argentina has made headline news for the past couple days, which doesn't happen that often, and once again, an unflattering image of that country has been spotlighted. Gov. Sanford's dalliance quickly became fodder for late-night TV talk shows, which pander to popular stereotypes about a foreign culture of which most of us know little. It's a shame -- both the scandal and our ignorance.

But this painful situation does at least provide an occasion for me to to mention an intriguing intellectual project I learned about recently. One of the biggest debates in the field of Latin American studies is whether and to what extent culture has an effect on socio-economic development. The orthodox North American perspective follows Max Weber, who argued that the "Protestant work ethic" explains why Northern Europe and North America are more successful economically than Southern Europe and Latin America. In the scholarly world, Lawrence Harrison is associated with this line of thought, that culture determines development. (His books Underdevelopment Is a State of Mind and The Pan-American Dream explore this theme.) I think there's something to it, but I refrain from making too much of culture as a variable, because it's too hard to measure.

Well, a few months ago I was contacted by a guy who has taken this argument to a new plane, using alternate history to explore what might have happened in the Southern Cone region if a few key naval clashes between Spain and Great Britain during the late 18th Century had turned out differently. Britain has designs on the southern tip of South America (that's why they took control of the Falkland Islands), and it could very well have ended up as another part of the British Empire. In short, Argentina today would be much like Canada as we know it: prosperous and stable, with English as the official language and an occasionally restive but usually compliant minority-language population. Take a look at British Argentina, and ask yourself whether that's a plausible scenario. As someone who sees historical events as often hinging upon small twists of fate, I'm inclined to think that it is.


June 26, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Standing room only; Nats win!

It's been a long time since I've felt sorry for the Boston Red Sox, and even though they currently lead the AL East, I almost did during last night's game in Washington. The first inning must have been excruciating and quite humbling for their recently-acquired veteran pitcher John Smoltz, in his first start of the season. The Nationals scored four runs in the first inning, and could have easily scored even more. Then he settled down, but the Red Sox could not get anything going off the Nats' rookie starter Jordan Zimmermann. Once again, batters toward the end of the lineup provided most of the offensive firepower, and the Nationals won 9-3, averting a sweep. It was a very welcome change of pace: In only two games since June 2 have the Nats scored more than four runs.

Attendance at last night's game was 41,985, the highest ever at Nationals Park, and exactly 97 more than the official seating capacity of 41,888. Attendance at the first two games of the season was only a few hundred less, yielding a series total of 125,032.

Prior to this series, there had only been one game at Nationals Park in which attendance had exceeded 40,000: April 13, 2009, which was Opening Day. The highest-ever attendance for a three-game series in Washington was 134,991: June 16-18, 2006 when the Yankees came to town and lost two games. The highest-ever attendance for a four-game series in D.C. was 162,058: July 4-7, 2005 when the Mets won three games, marking the end of the Nats' "Cinderella (half) season." The following table summarizes home attendance for Nationals games over the nearly four and a half years of their existence:

Year Maximum attendance Minimum attendance Average attendance Wins when
att. >40K
Losses when
att. >40K
2005 45,596 23,332 33,584 6 5
2006 45,157 18,324 26,574 2 3
2007 40,519 15,611 24,219 1 1
2008 39,824 20,407 29,004 0 0
2009* 41,985 12,473 22,773 1 3

* So far. I'm still mad that attendance at the inaugural game at Nationals Park last year was 2,000 less than capacity, even though thousands of fans like me tried desperately to buy tickets online. More complete historical data are found on the Washington Nationals page.

A blogger from Arlington named Miles Grant went to the Red Sox-Nationals game at Nationals Park on Wednesday night, and was surprised to see a live Great Horned Owl on display. See The Green Miles.

Inside Tiger Stadium

Two weeks ago I asked if anyone knew whether there were rows of seats behind the second set of support beams in the lower deck at Tiger Stadium. It's so far back there in the shade that it's hard to tell from photos, and demolition photos are inconclusive. (I've only seen the outside of it.) Thanks to Bruce Orser, who came across a great photo of the left field stands at Digital Ballparks, I can definitively answer in the affirmative.

Tigers are on a roll

The Detroit Tigers are currently the hottest team in baseball, winning seven games straight, and now leading the AL Central Division by five games over the Minnesota Twins. The Tigers swept the Cubs in a three-game home series, drawing 42,332 fans to Comerica Park in the game on Thursday. See MLB.com. The Tigers now head to Houston, where the Astros are in fifth place in the NL Central Division.

(LSU) Tigers win CWS

Congratulations to the Louisiana State University Tigers for winning the 2009 College World Series in Omaha, taking two of three games in the final series from the Texas Longhorns. It is at least some consolation for University of Virginia fans that the Cavaliers played a respectable game against LSU, losing 9-5 on June 13.

Tiger Woods slowly heals

In the world of golf, Tiger Woods could not recover from a first-round score of four over par at the U.S. Open in Farmingdale, New York, and Lucas Glover edged out Phil Mickelson to take the 2009 championship. Tiger had knee surgery last year, and is still a bit weak but is playing better all the time. He is currently second in total winnings for the 2009 PGA tour, behind Phil Mickelson. See ESPN.

Tamil Tigers are crushed

In Sri Lanka, meanwhile, the ethnic rebel group known as the "Tamil Tigers" was decisively defeated last month, ending a 26-year civil war. They don't play baseball in Sri Lanka, but rather a quite peculiar sport called "cricket." Coincidentally, the Sri Lankan team was defeated by Pakistan in the International Cricket Championship just last Sunday; see srilankacricket.lk. Interestingly enough, the Sri Lankan national team is called the "Lions"! For the life of me, I cannot make heads or tails of the scoring system. Last March, Islamic terrorists attacked a bus carrying the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, Pakistan, killing several policemen and injuring several team members and a coach; see BBC.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Jun 26, 2009 15:24 PM
As somebody who rudimentarily follows cricket, I'll try to boil down the scoring system simply. At the start of an innings, a batsman and his partner line up. The batsman stands in front of the wicket, and his partner lines up behind the bowler, the player who delivers the ball to start play. So, the bowler delivers to the batsman, who swings at the ball, and if he makes any sort of contact at all, no matter where on the pitch the ball goes, the batsman and his partner run to trade places. Each time a run is completed to the batsman's side successfully, a run is scored, and both the batsman and the runner remain in the game. If the partner ends up at the batsman's end when play is stopped, he becomes the batsman and the cycle repeats itself again. If one or both of the duo on the field gets out (an entirely different creature unto itself) he is replaced by the next man in the order, and the team continues batting until only one of its players is left, when the teams switch sides.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Jun 26, 2009 15:36 PM
As an addendum, the batting team can score 4 automatic runs if the ball rolls beyond the boundary of the field, and 6 if it clears the field on the fly.


June 26, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Can Gov. Sanford keep his job?

Yet another Republican official has been caught up in a morals scandal that, in many peoples' eyes, makes the party look hypocritical. Gov. Mark Sanford's lame alibi -- that he was hiking along the Appalachian Trail -- was bound to unravel eventually, and made the affair with the mysterious "Maria" of Argentina all the more farcical. It makes you wonder how a smart guy like that would think he could get away with it. Lust and hubris go hand in hand, and if political leaders can't control themselves, they soon fall. As far as his public duties, Sanford's biggest sin was making trips with taxpayers' money. No one can excuse that, period. If he avoids impeachment, he will still end up gravely weakened, probably ruining his political career. He has left his position as chairman of the Republican Governors' Conference, and is no longer a serious contender for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

Sanford drew flak from other Republicans in March, referring to people like Rush Limbaugh in suggesting that anyone who wants President Obama to fail is an "idiot." Hey, Mark take a look in the mirror! smile

Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles had a pretty good one today, with the GOP elephant lost somewhere along the Appalachian Trail between Maine and Argentina (!), holding a map and a bible entitled "Holier Than Thou." The fact that so few Republican leaders recognize the perilous position they put themselves in when they court moralistic "values voters" who are especially liable to punish candidates who "stray from the path." Sometimes the party as a whole suffers for the sins of a few. As the Toles cartoon says, the Republicans are indeed in the "Wilderness Years."

For the record, I was hiking along the Appalachian Trail last weekend, in case anyone was wondering where I was. Unlike Sanford, however, I was with my wife!

Rambling Kaine

But wait, there's another southern governor who has been AWOL for extended periods in recent months: our very own Timothy Kaine! With all his fund-raising trips on behalf of the Democratic Party lately, he is a true "ramblin' man." (Cue Allman Brothers.) Virginia Republicans have been demanding that Kaine release his travel records so that the public can know where and what he has been up to. Today, however, his office issued a flat rejection, saying that travels that do not pertain to state business are nobody's business. See the Washington Post. Hmmm. I guess that means that he is only a part-time governor. Did the voters realize that his devotion to the Commonwealth would take a back seat to his Higher Ambitions when they elected him three and a half years ago? In the News Leader, Jim McCloskey had a good cartoon today, pointing to the parallels between Gov. Kaine and "fellow traveler" Gov. Sanford, with Kaine's wife saying "At least my husband isn't in Argentina." smile

R.I.P. Jack Kemp

While the rest of the world is absorbed in the tragedy of Michael Jackson's death, we should take a minute to remember someone who died last month whose work never got as much credit as was due. Jack Kemp was a pro football quarterback (for the Buffalo Bills) as well as a congressman and a member of the (first) Bush cabinet, as secretary of housing and urban development. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele paid tribute to Kemp as a "standard-bearer for economic conservatism and lower taxes within the Republican Party. ... He would often remind me what it meant to be a 'Lincoln Republican.'" See GOP.com. Conservative curmudgeon Cal Thomas wrote a tribute column that appeared in the News Leader: "The Jack Kemp I Knew." Like Steele, he emphasizes that Kemp was a sincere true believer in expanding opportunities for less-advantaged people by unleashing market forces.

I sometimes wondered about some of Kemp's ideas, such as supply-side economics or targeted tax breaks to regenerate business in urban areas by creating "enterprise zones." It just seemed too gimmicky and prone to misuse to me. Nevertheless, I would agree with the general idea that in an imperfect world you sometimes need to compromise with basic principles in order to accomplish important tasks. Kemp never worried about whether he fit somebody else's description of a "true conservative." The important thing about his life is that he broadened the Republican Party's appeal, a vital task that has fallen by the wayside in recent years.


June 26, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Sri Lanka destroys Tamil Tigers

One of the most significant but least-heralded international events last month was the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, which had lasted for nearly three decades. The uprising began in 1983 after Tamil demands for greater autonomy were rejected, and over 70,000 people were killed in the ensuing war. During the middle of May, the Sri Lankan army routed the remnants of the ethnic rebel army known as the "Tamil Tigers," and killed their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The circumstances of his death remain in question, however; see BBC. In the last weeks of the conflict, many civilians were killed by artillery shells fired by the Sri Lankan army. The victors showed no mercy to the survivors, opting instead for total annihilation. It may ensure peace in the short term, but will probably make any attempt at reconciliation with the Tamil minority more difficult in the long term. There will no doubt be investigations of the Sri Lankan final offensive by human rights organizations, and any negative findings would undermine the credibility of the government in Colombo. So, even though this was a decisive defeat from a military standpoint, there remains a possibility that exile leaders may regroup and begin preparations for a new resistance movement in the years to come.

The Tamils are concentrated in the northeastern part of Sri Lanka, and until a few months ago had a stronghold and functioning government are kin to the Dravidian ethnic group that populates the southeastern part of India. They claim to have an ancient history residing on the island, but the native Sinhalese claim that the Tamils are relatively recent immigrants; see the historical article by Prof. S. Ranwella. When the British colony of Ceylon (as it was known until 1972) became independent in 1948, the Tamils were deprived of citizenship rights because they had enjoyed special privileges under British rule and were considered subversive, and likely to help India take over the island nation.

The fears of the Sinhalese seemed to be borne out in 1987, when India sent troops to try to end the civil war in Sri Lanka. Largely because of mutual mistrust, however, the intervention backfired badly, and the Indian forces were soon withdrawn. The Tamil Tigers were saved from imminent defeat, and used the respite to regroup and rebuild, which resulted in an escalation of the violence and death. See FPRI.org.

A large majority of Tamils are Hindus, though some are Muslims, whereas the Sinhalese majority of Sri Lankans are predominantly Buddhists. Ironically, the Buddhist faith had largely disappeared from the rest of India by the year 1200, even though Buddha Gotama himself lived in what is today northern India, in the 6th Century B.C. Hindu religious nationalism has become inflamed in recent years by Muslim extremists, such as the notorious terrorist attack on Mumbai (Bombay) last November. In other words, there are a wide variety of geopolitical, cultural, and ethnic factors which made national unity and peace in Sri Lanka very difficult.


June 28, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Nationals beat the Orioles (once)

The heralded "Battle of the Beltway[s]" between Washington and Baltimore could just as well have been called the "Battle of the Basement Dwellers," as both the Nationals and Orioles are several games behind the fourth-place teams in their respective divisions. The Friday night game was a total embarrassment for the Nats, as their bullpen collapsed yet again, giving up eight runs in the sixth inning, as the O's won 11-1. It was the biggest margin of defeat the Nats have suffered this year. O Saturday they kept it relatively close, but wasted run-scoring opportunities once again. In this afternoon's game, John Lannan held the Orioles to only three runs in seven-plus innings. In the fourth inning, Ryan Zimmerman hit a double and Adam Dunn followed with a tape-measure home run that hit the warehouse building on one bounce. Budding outfield star Willie Harris added an insurance run with a homer in the same direction later in the game, as the Nats won 5-3, averting a sweep. See MLB.com.

Transactions of note

The Nationals have activated starting pitcher Scott Olsen who had been on the disabled list, and to make room for him, they sent Shairon Martis to the minor league farm club in Syracuse. See MLB.com. I was stunned to learn that one of the only five-game winning pitchers has lost his job, while the least reliable relief pitcher Jesus Colome gets to keep his. What gives???

The Nationals also traded outfielder Ryan Langerhans to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for infielder Mike Morse. This seemed like an odd move to me, because the Nats have a fair amount of depth in position players, but are extremely weak in pitching. It was mainly to give Langerhans an opportunity to play in the majors; see MLB.com. The only function I can see for Morse is as an emergency backup or to provide the front office with negotiating leverage with some of the other players; for now he'll be playing in the minors.

The Cleveland Indians traded verteran utility player Mark DeRosa to the Cardinals for right-handed reliever Chris Perez and a player to be named later. Unlike other trades of recent years (C.C. Sabathia comes to mind), this deal "brought the Indians an immediate Major League return, rather than a batch of prospects." See MLB.com. I saw DeRosa play when he was with the Richmond Braves in 1999, before he was called up to play with the Atlanta Braves. Over the years he has earned a reputation as a valuable team player, and he is steadily improving as a batter, with 13 home runs so far this year.


June 28, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Obama's health care proposals

This past week, President Obama started his big push for health care "reform," setting the stage for what will surely be a monumental battle with the Republicans over the proper role of government. Oddly, Obama has played a passive role as far as the legislative specifics, leaving it up to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to fill in the details. It's an invitation to chaos and stalemate, which makes you wonder what Obama is up to. I would at least agree with Obama that the current system is a travesty that cannot be sustained much longer. I sharply disagree with most of his proposed remedies, however. From whitehouse.gov,

President Obama is committed to working with Congress to pass comprehensive health reform in his first year in order to control rising health care costs, guarantee choice of doctor, and assure high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

To put it bluntly, that is utopian balderdash. There are always tradeoffs in policy, and by declaring his desire to simultaneously tackle both sides of the dilemma, Obama exposes himself as a light-weight rookie, policy-wise. In the New York Times, David Brooks noted that the Congressional Budget Office has evaluated the two alternative plans put forth by the Democrats, and found that over the next 10 years, they "would cost the government more than $1 trillion this decade and send total health care costs zooming at least twice as fast as the economy as a whole." Obama may not be closely involved with the policy formulation at this stage, but numbers like that reinforce the impression held by many on the Right (including me) that the President is either indifferent to whether the Federal Treasury goes bankrupt, or it actively running that risk so as to create more emergencies that will justify more drastic action. I sure hope I'm just being paranoid about this.

In the Washington Post, George Will writes that most Americans do support health care reform, it's just that they have not really thought about it very deeply: "They want 2009 medicine at 1960 prices." It is a classic case of escapism, or refusing to face up to basic facts. He scorns Obama's fixation on the supposedly excessive share of health care expenditures in the average family budget, but this is as much due to improvements in technology and medical skill as anything. The reason we pay so much is because the quality of our medical care is so high! Maybe what we need, or what some Americans need, at least, is access to lower-quality medical care -- the "barefoot doctors" approach of Cuba or China in the days of Mao. Policies to enhance access to basic-level medical services in public clinics (such as is available in most of Latin America, for example) might be part of a bipartisan compromise solution. George Will gets to the crux of the matter in admirable fashion:

Most Americans do not know this because the cost of their care is hidden. Only 9 percent buy health coverage individually, and $84 of every $100 spent on health care is spent by someone (an employer, insurance company or government) other than recipients of the care. Those who get insurance as untaxed compensation from employers have no occasion to compute or confront the size of that benefit. But it is part of the price their employers pay for their work.

One of the few hopeful signs as this policy debate unfolds is that Obama has indeed begun hinting that he might accept taxes on the (hitherto undisclosed) employer contributions to health care insurance. During the campaign, Sen. McCain boldly took on this issue (see May 2008), but Obama assailed him for it. Now, he realizes that his program will need more revenue, and any government-run health insurance program will fail to attract customers unless that inherent advantage of private health care coverage is eliminated. (NOTE: Former President Bush cautiously addressed this issue in his last State of the Union address, in January 2008.)

Over the next few months, things are bound to get confusing for average folks across the Fruited Plain, as their very lives in the future now hinge upon what a bunch of big shots in Washington decide. Just keep this in mind: All that talk about how many billions this or that proposal will cost or save over the next ten years is a waste of time. Budgetary forecasts are rarely accurate more than a few years in advance, and when it comes to entitlement spending, the sky is the limit. No one really knows how much health care will cost ten years from now. Unless, that is, Obama really is determined to "contain health care costs" by imposing iron-clad caps on costs. That would be a devastating blow to what is left of our market-based economy, and would lead us down on a path toward a paternalistic, semi-authoritarian welfare state.

So what's the Republican alternative approach to health care reform? Beats me.

Obama and Canadian oil

As tensions with Iran mount over the dispute elections and subsequent crackdown against protesters, the question of whether we should reduce our dependence on oil imported from the Persian Gulf rises once again. Well, it seems that the Obama administration has taken "a rather belligerent stance" toward oil extracted from tar sands in Canada for environmental reasons. See Yahoo finance; hat tip to Dan. Apparently Obama is banking on political stability in the Middle East, because a democratic revolution would disrupt oil markets for several months at least. On the plus side, from a parochial standpoint, this shift in policy against oil from tar sands may cause a delay or cancellation of the proposed refinery to built in southeastern South Dakota; see Nov. 29.


NOTE: While looking at my Facebook page on Saturday, I realized to my dismay that I had inadvertently posted a brief and preliminary version of this blog piece on Friday night. My apologies for the (extremely rare) "false start."


June 29, 2009 [LINK / comment]

PNC Park update

The PNC Park PNC Park diagram has been revised in various ways -- some small, some not-so-small. Most importantly, the fence in right field is angled outward a few degrees more than I had estimated previously, and the stadium profile is much better than the crude original. A few other details are corrected as well, and details such as light towers and grandstand walkways are now included. Thanks to Mark London for his continued sponsorship of this page, and four others. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that PNC Park is the best of all the neoclassical stadiums, of which Oriole Park at Camden Yards was the first. With any luck, I'll be able to provide a first-hand assessment in about five weeks...

Note that, for the time being, I have left the previous version of the "alternate" stadium configuration the way it was, so that you can more easily see what has been changed.

Also note that I have rescanned the panoramic under-construction photo of PNC Park, and added another photo I took while passing through Pittsburgh in August 2000.

Also note that I have updated the Dolphin Stadium page (but not the diagram) to reflect the new name, "Landshark Stadium." (It's just temporary, I assume.) The Nationals have just begun a three-game series against the Marlins, and Ryan Zimmerman started things off on a good note by crushing a long home run to the seats in left field.

St. Louis ballparks

There is a cool Google Maps application that shows where all past and present professional ballparks in St. Louis have been located, and you just click on the respective spots to see a video and photographic history. See St. Louis Times Dispatch; hat tip to Kevin McCann of SABR.

Baseball theology

I cited George Will yesterday with regard to the debate over health care, but this quote from his column is worth bringing to the attention of baseball fans:

Only God, supposedly, and Wrigley Field, actually, are perfect.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Jun 29, 2009 21:39 PM
The naming rights deal with Jimmy Buffett expires before the next Super Bowl to be held at the stadium.


June 29, 2009 [LINK / comment]

House votes to regulate climate*

On Friday, the United States House of Representatives voted 219-212 in favor of a massive 1,300-page bill that seeks nothing less than to stop global warming in its tracks. In spite of intensive lobbying by the White House, 44 Democrats voted "no," but eight Republicans crossed the aisle, providing just enough votes to save this high-priority legislative milestone. The bill contains a comprehensive set of mandates that will force industries to restrict their consumption of fossil fuels, or else pay a penalty for excessive greenhouse gas emissions. Companies that consume less than the ceiling would get credits that could be traded with companies that consume too much. As the Washington Post explains,

The heart of the bill is a "cap" that would lower greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and to 83 percent below those levels by 2050. It would enforce the cap by requiring many sources of such pollution, including power plants, factories and oil refineries, to amass buyable, sellable credits equal to their emissions.

What I'd like to know is where they got those numbers. Is there any scientific evidence that a 17 percent drop in emissions by the U.S. would have a noticeably different effect than a ten percent drop? And what if companies shut their U.S. factories and open up new ones across the border in Mexico? Has anyone thought about that? And how can we be so sure that investing in new technologies will bring about the planned increase in energy efficiency? As far as breaking the fossil fuel habit, why hasn't Obama spoken more openly about following the French example and going nuclear??? I suppose real-world conditions don't matter very much to social engineers who are busy dreaming of how to make our future better.

In essence, under this system, the government would set an arbitrary limit on air polluting emissions while permitting companies to sell or purchase allowances, providing some quasi-market flexibility. It would be prohibitively expensive, and if the measure gets final approval in the Senate, years from now people will be screaming bloody murder, asking how such a thing could have been done. (The Heritage Foundation prepared an estimate of what the net cost of the Waxman-Markey Climate Change Bill would be for each congressional district. For Virginia's Sixth Congressional District, they forecast an annual decline in Gross State Product of $585.72 over the period 2012-2035. Most other districts in Virginia would suffer even more.) For the record, I don't rule out the possibility that greenhouse gases may have a significant impact on global temperatures. I am, however, very skeptical about the efficacy of the national caps, especially given that China is a bigger greenhouse gas emitter than we are. In principle, something along the lines of the "cap and trade" regulatory mechanism might be appropriate, but only if it was geared to a market price system in which producers and consumers could plainly see the direct costs they would be bearing. Arbitrary limits on consumption on consumption are not only less efficient and less equitable, they are inimical to the very notion of a free society. For those who are curious about this "cap and trade" business, here are some useful background sources:

As for the politics, it seems that much of the opposition to the bill came from farm states. I was intrigued that the co-sponsors of the bill, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), rejected Obama's idea to have the emission allowances be auctioned off to make possible tax cuts that would offset some of the pain. As with the health care debate, Obama is either unable or unwilling to spend much of his precious political capital, a striking contrast to his bold approach to policy-making.

On the Republican side, Minority Leader John Boehner at least put up a respectable fight, insisting that the provisions of the bill be explained on the House floor, so that the members would actually know what they were voting on. Somehow, Rush Limbaugh got mixed up on which of the eight Republicans defected on the cap and trade legislation, falsely including our own Congressman Bob Goodlatte, notwithstanding Goodlatte's strong denunciation of the measure. Fortunately, the word got around on Facebook pretty quickly, and Rush issued a correction.

In a statement to reporters today, President Obama voiced confidence that the Senate will likewise follow the "forward-looking" example set by the House. Sigh.....

* Hopefully the absurdity of that title will register with some people. As if...

ABC's The Obama Show

I missed the President's prime-time interview/public forum with ABC anchorman Charlie Gibson last week, but you can watch the video at whitehouse.gov. Conservatives are outraged that ABC gave air time to Obama for what some saw as a blatant promotional "infomercial," and I would have to agree that Gibson made only the barest pretense of presenting both sides of the issue.

As a protest, a blogger in Cincinnati is launching a boycot of ABC and its sponsors; see Puma by design 001 and scroll to the middle. Hat tip to Stacey Morris.

Another Facebook poll

This sounds like a fairly accurate description of me, though I'm probably more of a free-market booster than it implies. Also, I don't necessarily dislike hippies, some of whom might fit the description of "Crunchy Conservative."

Moderate Republican

Tax cuts, less regulation, family values -they're all good to an extent, but hey, let's not go crazy. You're pragmatic, and you shy away from ideology. You want what works for America, and you sometimes feel that it isn't found in your own party's platform. You're a loyal Republican, though, and you know that government is at best a necessary evil. You probably have friends (and fierce enemies) on both sides of the aisle. You don't like hippies, but you don't like torture either. You love America, and want it well-defended, prosperous and healthy. You'd also like a bit less yelling, please. You probably have recently said: "I voted for McCain (twice)", "I'm working towards the centre", "I miss my father's Republican Party"

June 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Military coup in Honduras

It has been several years since a military coup has been attempted in Latin America (2002, when Chavez was briefly detained in Venezuela), and two full decades since such a coup was successful (1989, when Stroessner was overthrown in Paraguay). Yet that is exactly what has just happened in Honduras.

Early on Sunday morning, President Manuel Zelaya was seized by soldiers, and sent to exile in Costa Rica. The coup was launched to prevent Zelaya from going ahead with a referendum that was intended to authorize the election of a constitutional assembly as a first step toward allow him to stay in power beyond the one-term limit. The Honduran Supreme Court had ruled that the referendum was illegal, but Zelaya ignored them. The Congress voted overwhelmingly to support this coup, accepting a letter of resignation purportedly signed by Zelaya, and then chose Roberto Micheletti to serve as president. Zelaya denied that he had written such a letter. Opposition to Zelaya in Congress was overwhelming, and even many of his own party's members defected. Furthermore, the Honduran Supreme Court said that it had authorized the military to remove the president. See Washington Post and CNN.com. That's an unusual position for a body dedicated to upholding the rule of law, but it may be a reflection of the dire situation they believed the country was in.

President Zelaya's push for a referendum for a constitutional assembly was clearly following in the footsteps of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, each of which is now run by left-wing authoritarian rulers who had the rules changed so they can be reelected indefinitely. Presidential elections were scheduled for this coming November in Honduras, but in the wake of the coup, no one knows whether that will happen.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was understandably very circumspect in her press conference yesterday. Since the Obama administration does not make a high priority of either supporting democracy or Latin American affairs, there isn't much likelihood that the United States will take a high-profile position on the crisis in Honduras.

Among the newspapers in Honduras, El Heraldo reported favorably on the march in the capital city Tegucigalpa by 50,000 opponents of President Zelaya, celebrating being freed from the "yoke" of Hugo Chavez. Whether they represent the broad sentiment of Hondurans is uncertain, however. That newspaper mocked him for playing the role of a martyr, and for falsely claiming that his supporters had launched a general strike in Honduras.

Another paper, Proceso, seems to have a more neutral tone, but noted that in a statement before the U.N. General Assembly, Zelaya blamed the coup on "elite" forces in Honduras. He said they have falsely accused him of being a "populist or a communist who wants to ruin the country," insisting that they just want to block his plans for changing the country and reducing social inequality. He sounds a lot like President Barack Obama.

I don't follow Honduras very closely, but I was still shocked to learn that there was such an intense power struggle going on behind the scenes. Zelaya was first elected in November 2005, and at first he was considered a moderate liberal, favoring free trade with the United States and neighboring countries. One might think that the new left-wing Sandinista government of Nicaragua might be involved with Zelaya's push toward radicalism, but the territorial dispute between those two countries (see May 2007) makes that unlikely. Earlier this month, President Zelaya played a key role in the compromise under which Cuba was allowed to rejoin the OAS, under certain conditions. Now the OAS will play a key role in trying to broker a compromise to rescue Honduras from further chaos.


UPDATE: Late on Tuesday, the U.N. General Assembly voted unanimously to endorse Manuel Zelaya as the legitimate president of Honduras, and the Organization of American States has given the de facto authorities in Honduras 72 hours to reinstall him. Zelaya said he intends to return to his country this weekend, even though he had been told that he would be arrested if he did so. Obama administration officials declined to meet with Zelaya, however, explaining that Secretary of State Clinton is still recuperating from a fractured elbow. (!) See the Washington Post. It's an ironic situation, in that Zelaya is denouncing "repression" and demanding respect for constitutional norms, even though he had been embarked on a determined campaign to circumvent such norms in order to impose his will on the country. His evident egotism and willingness to polarize society is puzzling and disturbing to me. If he does try to return to Honduras, he will cause a deep and long-lasting divide within the country, which had been known as one of the more stable parts of Latin America. Hopefully the opposing factions in Honduras can arrange a compromise solution adhering to the constitutional provisions as closely as is expedient.


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