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July 2009
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July 1, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Marlins sweep the Nationals again

Just when you think the Nationals are showing signs of life, they revert to their old habit of wasting solid outings by starting pitchers and throwing away run-scoring opportunities. They take an early lead, then their batters fall silent and Manny Acta decides to entrust the game's outcome to the bullpen, which gives up late-inning runs just about every time. On Tuesday night, pitcher Craig Stammen did a fine job, and even batted in two runs with a single. Adam Dunn's 20th home run added to the feeling that the Nats were going to overcome their jinx, but then the usual sequence of events unfolded, and they lost 7-5 in a rain-shortened game. Tonight (Wednesday) it was the same old, same old. It's not the way you want to start off a new month.

Somehow the Nats can't figure out how to beat the Florida Marlins, who have won all nine games against the "D.C. 9" this year. It's just like the Red Sox beating the Yankees in every matchup between the two teams. The Nationals have now lost 23 of their past 26 games to the Marlins, who are climbing toward the top of the NL East standings. Unlike most years, however, that's not saying much. They are now ahead of the Mets and only a half game behind the Phillies. (When was the last time the Mets were below .500 this late in the season?)

Nats make a deal

And not a moment too soon! The Nationals have traded their erstwhile closing pitcher Joel Hanrahan and outfielder Lastings Milledge to the Pittsburgh Pirates for reliever Sean Burnett and outfielder Nyjer Morgan, who has impressed a lot of people with his hustle and performance. As reported at MLB.com, "In seven games, Milledge, who was acquired from the Mets in December 2007 for catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church, was 4-for-24 with an RBI for the Nationals."

I was dubious of that trade at the time (see December 2007), and the fact that Church and Schneider have proved their worth to the Mets leaves little doubt that this was probably the worst trade that Jim Bowden ever made. That MLB.com article notes that Cristian Guzman is also "on the trading block," because of his mediocre fielding performance this year. He's a reliable hitter, but just doesn't have enough range to snag hard ground balls. After his wonderful comeback season last year, it's a big shame.

Finally, the Nationals sent their burly and enthusiastic but uneven outfielder-slugger Elijah Dukes down to the Triple-A Syracuse farm team for some "back-to-basic" instruction. I hope he can pull it together.


July 1, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Spoonbill makes the headlines

In her column in today's News Leader, YuLee Larner wrote about the Roseate Spoonbill that strayed off course and spent a few days near Waynesboro recently. (I was one of the fortunate ones to see it, racking up another notch on my life bird list; see June 18.) YuLee was clearly "tickled pink" (the same color as the bird!) by this special event:

The Augusta County roseate spoonbill will be the first documented Virginia record if accepted by the Virginia Avian Records Committee (VARCOM), and this is my rarest column since 1977.

There's no doubt that this sighting will be accepted, but I'm not so sure that my sighting of the Scissor-tailed flycatcher will be accepted. In any case, here's an old photo my brother John sent me a few years ago:

Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill, somewhere in Florida, in 2000 or thereabouts, courtesy of John Clem.

Summer yard birds

Not much to report, as far as serious bird outings; we're in the summer doldrums now. The hummingbird is still showing up at our feeder a few times a day, and we get occasional House finches, Cedar waxwings, Cowbirds, and Catbirds. Grackles remain a nuisance, Starlings somewhat less so. Today I heard a familiar song near our back porch, and soon spotted the source: a male Goldfinch who was nibbling at one of the sunflower plants, which have grown to well over six feet tall. He called, and soon a female showed up. Goldfinches have paired up by now, and are getting ready to start their (late) breeding season.

English bird seed

In response to a friendly solicitation, I added to my Wild birds blog page a link to the The Really Wild Bird Food Company, located in Hampshire, U.K. I know that at least a few baseball fans in the U.K. and on the Continent follow my Web site / blog, but I don't know if any bird watchers do.


July 2, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Honduras becomes a cauldron

The clash between global and local politics in Honduras is turning into quite a spectacle, as world opinion and democratic ideals face off against an established elite class that determined to resist foreign pressure. Demonstrations both in favor of and against "Mel," as Manuel Zelaya is known, continue in Honduran cities. It is very hard to get a good idea of what is really going on. The Washington Post emphasized that the government is resorting to heavy-handed measures such as curfews to maintain order in the cities. Journalists are being told not to report news that might incite the public. The World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank both did suspended aid to Honduras, but the new leaders insist that they will be accepted in due course. Honduras is not in a good financial position to resist a cut-off of finance for very long. Several European countries have recalled their ambassadors, and the Pentagon halted joint military operations with Honduras. On a more positive note, El Salvador resumed trade ties with Honduras after a brief suspension.

The secretary general of the Organisation of American States plans to go to Honduras and demand that the deposed president be restored to office. He refuses to negotiate with the interim government, not wanting to give them legitimacy. See BBC. I can understand the desire not to reward people for usurping legal authority, but he seems to be ignoring a widespread consensus among the leadership in Honduras that Zelaya had to go. A BBC reporter named Stephen Gibbs spent some time walking the streets to get a feel for the situation, and had some anxious moments. He concluded, "things really have not changed since the heyday of Latin American coups in the 1970s and 1980s ."

See El Heraldo reports that crowds chanted, "Get out, Mel, get out, Chavez!," positioning themselves as standing up for democracy and the rule of law. The anti-Zelaya forces are angry at international condemnation of the coup, resentful of outsiders meddling in their affairs. It sounds paradoxical, but time will tell which side in this showdown is more sincere about adhering to those principles. I suspect that neither side is truly innocent.

Even though the "International Community" has come down resoundingly against the coup, I think the attitude of foreign leaders and diplomats is mainly intended to discourage would-be imitators from launching coups elsewhere in Latin America or the Third World. They may not know or really care what the actual situation is in Honduras, and whether the legal authorities who gave their blessing to the irregular change in government were justified or not.

Actually, there were two other new presidents in Latin America last month:

Panama turns right

In Panama, conservative businessman Ricardo Martinelli was inaugurated as president on July 1. He owns a chain of supermarkets. He pledged to carry out his plans to reduce the government budget, but says that public workers will get raises. (?) Other priorities include public safety, prison reform, and fighting drug traffickers. See CNN.com.

The Honduran newspaper Proceso reported that the presence at the inauguration in Panama of deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya made the hosts feel "uncomfortable." Zelaya now says he will put off his return to Honduras until Sunday. The article indicates:

Zelaya is accused in Honduras of abusing authority, violating the rights of government employees funcionarios, and treason, among other crimes, for which he could be sentenced to 20 years in prison, according to the Honduras attorney general, Luis Rubí.

El Salvador turns left

In El Salvador, the ideological pendulum swung in the opposition direction, as FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes was inaugurated as president one month ago. He was elected in March, and his inaugural speech emphasized the theme of "change." Now we will find out whether he is a moderate leftist like Lula da Silva, or a radical like Hugo Chavez.

More violence in Peru

The Peruvian Congress has rescinded an economic development law that had been recently passed, after fierce resistance from Indigenous people in the Amazon region. The law would have made it easier for foreign companies to commercial exploit the wilderness area of the Amazon rain forest, especially the mining and hydrocarbon industries. Angered at being ignored by the government in Lima, these groups had staged violent protests that left at least 30 people dead, including several police officers. For several days the blockades were set up around town of Bagua near the border with Ecuador. The point man in the negotiations has been Prime Minister Yehude Simon, who accepted the post several months ago after a corruption scandal caused a shakeup in President Alan Garcia's cabinet. Simon says he will resign after the crisis is resolved. Garcia says he hopes for reconciliation, but the ethnic distrust is very deep and will take years of effort to overcome. See BBC and CNN.com.


July 3, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Stadium groundbreaking in Miami

Great news from Mike Zurawski: "Construction on the Marlins new stadium started yesterday. I can't believe it. Its a miracle." Yes, sports fans, it's true: the bulldozers and road graders are busily excavating the land where the Orange Bowl used to stand, in preparation for work on the foundation It almost didn't happen, however, beause of a "last-minute $6 million shortfall." See MLB.com. The 37,000-seat retractable-roof stadium is expected to be completed by the 2012 season. They'll have to keep a pretty good pace to make that deadline. This takes some of the sting out of the final demolition of Tiger Stadium.

Outfield trigonometry

Motivated in part by recent controversies over outfield measurements, such as at New Yankee Stadium, I have added a new page on "Outfield Trigonometry", with an explanation about power alley measurements and loads of formulas and data tables you probably never thought you needed. It is a greatly enhanced version of a section that was formerly part of the Stadium Statistics page, which will soon be revised.


July 3, 2009 [LINK / comment]

McDonnell campaign fires up

GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell has issued a bold challenge to his Democratic rival Creigh Deeds: participate in a series of ten debates all across Virginia. It is an unprecedented idea, and will keep the Democrats under pressure to defend their agenda in a setting where reasonable discourse -- rather than cheap shot sound bites -- prevails. I remain very encouraged that McDonnell knows the political landscape in Virginia and is determined to win over independent voters. He is keeping busy with campaign appearances, and TV ads are continuing at a good clip. Here in the Valley, stalwart Republican Party loyalist Steve Kijak is taking the lead in spreading the word via campaign road signs. As the Fourth of July weekend approaches, things are looking up for the Republican ticket. Well, almost.

I hate to mention this, but I feel it's my duty: About two weeks ago, Chris Green wrote that "McDonnell is running as a Democrat on the Tax issue," based on nothing more than Washington Times editorial that criticized McDonnell for not signing Grover Norquist's infamous anti-tax-increase pledge, which they say "is a guaranteed vote-getter." Well, there's no doubt that it picks up some votes, but it almost certainly loses many more votes than it gains. Has anyone been paying attention to election results in the last few years since Norquist intensified his guerrilla campaign against independent-minded Republican legislators? Kudos to Bob McDonnell for recognizing that the political winds are changing.

Virginia is one of the most business-friendly states in the country, and undermining the pro-business candidate at a time when the pro-business party is riven by deep factionalism, and when the very survival of American private business is being menaced by an onslaught of government regulation, is inexcusably irresponsible. It's time to put an end to sniping at the good guys!

And just for the record, Grover Norquist, as head of Americans for Tax Reform, is the original author of the regrettable trend toward "bitter nastiness and partisanship" in state politics, in Virginia and elsewhere. See my June 2007 blog post on him, in the midst of the epochal Sayre vs. Hanger primary race. I noticed that Norquist's "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" has been deleted moved to a new page.

Franken is the winner

We've been expecting this news for a long time, but it's still awfully hard to swallow: Al Franken has been declared the winner of the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota against incumbent Norm Coleman. The margin of victory: 312 votes. frown According to politico.com, "a new national poll shows that 44 percent of voters have an unfavorable view of the former comedian and liberal radio host." (Maybe they are confusing him with his alter ego, Stuart Smalley. smile) Franken is a lot like his arch-enemy Rush Limbaugh, but not as successful in talk radio. Will an acerbic, smarter-than-thou comedian find success in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Senate, where deference and collegiality are the watchwords? We'll see.

Now President Obama has his 60-seat Senate supermajority, unless some of the Democrats start demanding favors to get that crucial 60th vote. Because of ill health, moreover, neither Sen. Ted Kennedy nor Sen. Robert Byrd have been able to carry out their senatorial duties lately.

Unlike Franken, Minnesotans are considered very polite and self-effacing, almost painfully so. That's what makes the social satire of Garrison Keillor (the genial genius behind "Prairie Home Companion") so hilarious. Too bad he's a Democrat too.

Press gets mad at Obama

As Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and the George Bushes could tell (or could have told) you, when Helen Thomas gets her dander up, you know you're in trouble. At a press conference a couple days ago, some members of the White House press corps took exception to President Obama's phoney-baloney stage-managed "public forums" that are being used to promote his health care nationalization reform. It was quite an amusing sideshow to the usual fawning adulation that Obama usually gets from the Mainstream Media. Too Conservative noticed this little journalistic spat as well. Perhaps more of the conformist liberal reporters will wise up one of these days, as Bernard Goldberg (ex-CBS) and John Stoessel (ABC) have. When will they realize that they are becoming propaganda pawns for the Obama administration?

Brief blog hiatus

To my immense relief, the delightfully honest and thoughtful Megan Rhodes has not disappeared from the blogosphere. It was just a technical adjustment that was more troublesome than expected. Well, I can relate to that. I have noticed that some other Virginia bloggers such as Bad Rose have virtually given up on their blogs and are now devoting full-time attention to Facebook. I'm having a very hard time keeping up with all that...


July 3, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Marines attack in Afghanistan

As the folks in Baghdad celebrate the withdrawal of U.S. forces from cities in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan is becoming more tense. Call it the "Obama Surge" if you like, but the U.S. Marines launched the first large-scale offensive in Afghanistan in many months. Operating in the province of Helmand, southwest of Kandahar, the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, with 4,000 men, is trying to cut off the Taliban's supply lines from Pakistan and pacify outlying regions where the extremists have established a base. So far, however, they have met little resistance. See the Washington Post. Marines are putting a big effort into getting to know the tribal leaders and win their trust, but this will take many, many months. The local people are mostly cooperative or neutral, but the weather is brutal, with temperatures over 110 degrees.

Strategy Page interprets the offensive as being aimed at "following the money," i.e., hunting down narcotic traffickers and growers who provide the financial means for the Taliban to operate."By the end of the year, there will be 57,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan." Also, "German troops in the north are adopting a more aggressive ROE" (Rules of Engagement), which is a welcome sign that their presence may translate into actual results.

On the other hand, the Obama administration recently announced that the program aimed at curtailing opium cultivation would be canceled. They believe it has alienated too many people, which may be true, but can we afford to concede defeat on that front? The Obama administration is pursuing a new counterinsurgency strategy, and rooting out corruption is one of the highest priorities. See U.S.News & World Report. Easier said than done. Much easier...

Military forces has to be a central aspect of the pacification campaign, but it clearly won't be sufficient, and with this in mind, ironically, Obama may be on the right track in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's Swat offensive

No, not "SWAC," but Swat, a region of Pakistan where the Taliban and their allies in Al Qaeda has a stronghold. The Pakistani army launched a major offensive against Taliban forces in the Swat valley in , and a couple days ago they finally took control of Mingora, the major city in that region. Ethnic rivalries dictate strategy and tactics. Pakistan has a long way to go before central state authority is truly consolidated. The New York Times reports that the Pakistan's military success in the Swat Valley does not mean that the Taliban are dead, or that Pakistani authority has been firmly established.

My curiosity about whether there is a "Swat Girl" got the best of me smile, and I found a news item that happens to be quite pertinent. In April there were reports that a teenage girl was subjected to harsh flogging, but the Taliban denied that this occurred in the Swat Valley. See taragana.com.


July 4, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Texas Rangers are for sale

Tom Hicks, who bought the Texas Rangers from a group led by former President George W. Bush in 1998, is in deep financial doo-doo (that's a Bush joke), and has received an emergency loan from MLB. From ESPN, "A caller Wednesday to an XM radio station said the Rangers had failed to make payroll and had to get $15 million from Major League Baseball." Hicks paid $250 million for the Rangers in 1998 (see the MLB Franchises page), but according to Forbes magazine, the value of the franchise has declined from $412 million to $405 million over the past year, and MLB is working on getting the franchise sold as expeditiously as possible, but it's still hush-hush. That's all we need is more news about shady baseball business in the Lone Star State... Wasn't it just a few years ago that the Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez to what was then the priciest MLB contract in history? I wonder how many other franchises are speculative "bubbles" ready to burst? The team itself is still doing fine, tied with the Angels for first place in the AL West.

The mail bag

Mike Zurawski informed me that the city of San Jose has postponed a planned referendum on financing a new baseball stadium for the (Oakland) Athletics until at least March next year. They had been planning on holding a vote this November, but city officials say they need more time to hammer out a tentative understanding with the A's owner, Lew Wolff. A new facility would be estimated to cost about $500 million. See the San Jose Mercury News, which also notes that a new stadium for the (San Francisco) 49ers in the of city Santa Clara is being negotiated.

Zane Bishop tells me he loves the "full view" diagram on the new Ballpark in Arlington page. A number of other stadiums have similarly "truncated" diagrams because of their big size, and I suppose this means more work for your humble diagrammer...

I was contacted by Russ Grimes, who has a superb Web site on baseball history: Today in Baseball. Links are duly exchanged. The July 3 item is an eye-opener: "On this date in baseball history Tony Cloninger of the Atlanta Braves became the first National Leaguer to hit two grand slam home runs in one game." And that's not the half of it. As they say, "Read the whole thing!"

Mike Barnes tells me that the lower stands at Arlington Stadium were not moveable, contrary to what I had been told a few years ago by another Texan, Bucky Nance. Maybe I'll ask around at the SABR convention at the end of the month...

NOTE: My apologies for the broken link to the Today in Baseball Web site mentioned above. Corrected on July 10.


July 5, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Nationals please the home fans

In Washington this weekend, Nationals got the upper hand of the Braves, managing to win consecutive games for the first time in two weeks. This afternoon, Scott Olsen went 8 2/3 innings, giving up only one run until somebody named McClouth hit a two-run homer, after which reliever Mike McDougall took over on the mound. After a nerve-wracking single and a walk, they got the third out to finish the game, winning by a score of 5-3 for the second day in a row. Olsen hit two singles and drove in a run, managing to surpass John Lannan's fine eight-inning performance yesterday. Key to victory: Keep your starting pitchers in the game for at least eight innings, to take the pressure off the shaky bullpen. The Saturday game was the third out of four Fourth of July home games that the Nationals have won, and the first in Nationals Park. (They were out of town this time a year ago.) Unfortunately, attendance for the three-game series with Atlanta was mediocre, exceeding 30,000 only once.

Dunn reaches #300, fast

The highlight of Saturday's game was Adam Dunn's home run in the seventh inning, a long blast that almost reached the back of the second deck in right-center field. It was his 22nd homer of the year, and the 300th of his career. He is "the 13th player to reach the 300-homer plateau before the age of 30," which means he is on the inside track to reach 500 lifetime homers, and maybe even 600 if he avoids any serious injuries. At the midpoint of the 2009 season, he is on track to hit at least 40 home runs for the sixth year in row. See MLB.com article and Dunn's historical stats. I didn't realize that he had hit exactly 40 home runs in each of the last four years. That's gotta be a record in itself.

All Star rosters, 2009

Congratulations to Ryan Zimmerman on being selected (as a reserve player) for the 2009 All Star game, his first such appearance. He is the only Washington player to be so honored this year, and frankly I was a little surprised, given his recent slump. Obviously, his 30-game hitting streak got people's attention. Cristian Guzman is among those who are in the running for the NL "Final Vote." See MLB.com and ESPN, from which I extracted the following table, adding my own picks. It's the first time I have voted more than once in the "democratic" All-Star selection system, and I was perhaps more "biased" than usual. Obviously, Albert Pujols deserved a place, both for his sustained excellence and for the sake of the fans in St. Louis where the All Star Game will be played, but I'm dubious about Derek Jeter, who is in a rut, relatively speaking. Congratulations are also due to Baltimore's Adam Jones, one of the youngest players ever to qualify for the "Midsummer Classic." Comparing to last year's roster, you can see that my picks were not as consistent with the "mainstream opinion" as in the past.

National League
Pos. Player Team My 1st vote My 2nd vote
C Yadier Molina Cardinals McCann, B., ATL McCann, B., ATL
1B Albert Pujols Cardinals Johnson, N., WAS Johnson, N., WAS
2B Chase Utley Phillies Hudson, O., LAD Hudson, O., LAD
3B David Wright Mets Zimmerman, R., WAS Zimmerman, R., WAS
SS Hanley Ramirez Marlins Guzman, C., WAS Guzman, C., WAS
OF Ryan Braun Brewers Braun, R., MIL Braun, R., MIL
OF Raul Ibanez Phillies Ibanez, R., PHI Hawpe, B., COL
OF Carlos Beltran Mets Beltran, C., NYM Beltran, C., NYM
American League
Pos. Player Team My 1st vote My 2nd vote
C Joe Mauer Twins Posada, J., NYY Posada, J., NYY
1B Mark Teixeira Yankees Cabrera, M., DET Cabrera, M., DET
2B Dustin Pedroia Red Sox Cano, R., NYY Hill, A., TOR
3B Evan Longoria Rays Young, M., TEX Longoria, E., TB
SS Derek Jeter Yankees Bartlett, J., TB Bartlett, J., TB
OF Jason Bay Red Sox Hunter, T., LAA Damon, J., NYY
OF Ichiro Suzuki Mariners Suzuki, I., SEA Suzuki, I., SEA
OF Josh Hamilton Rangers Jones, A., BAL Jones, A., BAL

July 5, 2009 [LINK / comment]

OAS gives Honduras the boot

The Organization of American States voted to "suspend" Honduras after the de facto leaders (interim president Roberto Micheletti, top judges, and others) refused to comply with foreign demands by reinstating Jose Manuel Zelaya to the presidency. See CNN.com. How ironic, only one month after admitting the ruthless dictatorship of Cuba. Can you say double standard? That would be "doble criterio," en español.

The latest news is that Zelaya's jet was blocked from landing at the Tegucigalpa airport, forcing him to abort his flight. See BBC. The Honduran authorities had vowed to arrest him if he landed, but he went ahead with the flight, hoping to outbluff them. There have been violent disturbances at the airport, where Zelaya's supporters are confronting police. One person has already died in the clashes. In the streets, many pro-Zelaya militants wear the masks typical of rebel fighters, another sign of what could turn out to be a revolutionary situation. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has vowed to do everything he can to help Zelaya regain power. This is getting very ominous...

The Honduran newspaper El Heraldo praised Senator Jim DeMint for supporting the anti-Zelaya cause. For his part, President Obama continues to insist that President Zelaya was democratically elected (true), and deserved to finish his term (uncertain).

Personally, I have no strong opinion one way or the other as far as the legitimacy of the means by which Manuel Zelaya was removed from office. I would like to know why they didn't try to use the proper constitutional means of impeachment, as has been done in Brazil and other Latin American countries over the past two decades. (Before that, such a procedure was unheard of in that region.) Based on everything I have learned, Zelaya was a trouble-maker who was leading the country toward a major political crisis. That alone may not have justified his abrupt removal, however.

BBC has an analysis of the "coup" (if that's what it really was), suggesting that it may have been carried out at the "wrong" time. It leaves no doubt that Zelaya has become a deeply polarizing figure, extremely popular to some people but strongly disliked by the majority. A recent survey indicated that he has a popularity rating of only 30 percent. One lawyer in Honduras observed, "Zelaya, for some reason, became a radical." What a riddle that will be for students of Latin American politics to solve!


July 5, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Earthquake in Alaska: Palin quits

Just when you think the Sarah Palin saga couldn't get any stranger, she shocks us again. The Alaska governor's "stealthy" Friday-before-holiday-weekend announcement that she would be leaving office later this month was obviously calculated to minimize the inevitable notoriety that such a move would cause. For the time being, there is no basis to the insinuations that she may be in legal jeopardy, possibly related to the tax evasion allegations of last February. I think most people would understand that a mother of five really would need to "spend more time with her (or his) family," which is the standard (often bogus) excuse that politicians give when they resign or decide not to seek reelection. That plus the increased cost of commuting from Wasilla to Juneau, Alaska because of gasoline price hikes might be reason enough.

The problem, however, is that Gov. Palin's announcement was very vague, and full of self-pity and finger-pointing that left people's mouths open. Huh??? It was not very encouraging to those who might want to give her the benefit of the doubt. She bemoaned the "superficial political blood sport" to which she and her family were subjected since she gained instant fame last August. See politico.com. Other than David Letterman's off-color reference to her daughter last month, I can't think of any nasty barbs that have been flung her way lately. As they say, "if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen."

Her finely-tuned adeptness in the art of playing the "victim" gave me an intriguing insight about why Palin is so popular in the Conservative Movement these days. As I have written in the past, conservatism as is presently known in this country bears all the hallmarks of "pseudo-conservatism," Richard Hofstadter's term that refers to right-wing ideological purists who are prone to falling into a trap of paranoia and self-defeatism. (See October 2006.) They are more concerned with identifying enemies than solving real-world problems, and whenever they gain power in a party or government, anyone who does not agree 100 percent is likely to be purged. What makes Sarah so special for filling the Movement's "leadership void" is that she is a woman. A man couldn't play the victim card for very long without looking phoney or wimpish, but Sarah is ideally suited for that job.

While I don't begrudge Gov. Palin's decision to step down from her public duties, I do think this proves that she lacks the basic sense of public responsibility that any elected official, especially one touted as a possible presidential candidate, should have. If the governor of a state is going to abruptly quit her job with only the flimsiest of excuses, very few if any reasonable non-partisan people are going to vote for her as president. So while she may retain aspirations for higher office, she is basically doomed as a viable national candidate for the next few years at least.

In the Washington Post, Dan Balz assumes, as do most people, that Gov. Palin "remains interested at least in exploring a presidential campaign for 2012." Nonetheless, her "judgment and political instincts were again called into question by her decision to quit." It's one thing to announce in advance that she would not run for reelection as governor (like Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota), but just abandoning her office on an apparent whim? Something just doesn't add up. As Balz writes,

Palin is entitled to resign the office. But in disparaging others to justify her course, she has left herself open to legitimate criticism that she is walking away for the wrong reasons.

Even though my initial reaction to the selection of Sarah Palin to be John McCain's running mate was very positive, I later had second thoughts and ultimately concluded she was a net liability, forcing the McCain campaign to backslide into the old habit of "energizing the base" rather than reaching out to "nonpartisan, independent-minded voters. ... It was a strategy doomed to failure." In sum, we an only hope that Sarah Palin's time out of the public eye will give her a chance to reflect and mature as she ponders her political future. Without a major adjustment, I'm afraid, she is liable to further divide the Republican Party and isolate it from the mainstream of American voters.

Fourth of July, 2009

This year's Fourth of July parade in Staunton was blessed with sunny skies and mild temperatures, just perfect. The America's Birthday Celebration in Staunton has become quite an institution over the years, a key part of what define's this small city's identity. On the down side, the parade seems to get longer and longer every year, as the organizers apparently bend over backwards to accommodate just about anyone who wants to drive their vehicle through the park. Antique tractors and hot rods, yes, but 1974 GTOs and Mustangs? NO! Well, at least it's good clean fun for the kids.

Among the elected leaders who joined the parade were Congressman Bob Goodlatte, State Senator Emmett Hanger, and the members of the Staunton City Council. I was expecting the three area members of the House of Delegates and the Augusta County supervisors, but did not see any of them.* A few local Republicans manned the GOP booth, but there was no float like in the good old days (2005).** frown (As far as float-building, at least, I think most people would agree that former Augusta County GOP chairman Kurt Michael played a very positive role.)

* Steve Kijak (barely visible in the photo montage below, on top of the truck) posted a bunch of photos on his blog, too. Delegates Saxman, Landes, and Cline were indeed present!

** NOTE: The missing photo on that blog post was formerly on the swacgop.org Web site, which was essentially shut down in early 2007. (See March 2007 for a partial explanation; more detail is forthcoming...) Just for old times' sakes, CLICK HERE to see it. Patrick Carne, Vivian Jones, Cliff and Erma Fretwell, Henley Folk, Ray and Carol Ergenbright were among the enthusiastic volunteers behind that big Fourth of July event four years ago.

Quite a few Democrats were in the parade as well, some of whom were holding up a banner that read: "Health care: We can't wait!" I assume they mean that action is urgently needed. Well, if the U.S. government takes over the health care system in this country, that's exactly what you're going to have to do when you go see a doctor: WAIT! smile

July 4, 2009 montage

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Congressman Bob Goodlatte, "Tea Party Patriots," Republican campaign sign truck, crowd at Gypsy Hill Park.

(Click on that image to see a gallery of the full-size photos, along with others.)

ACORN & Census 2010

Unless you don't care whether population figures are arbitrarily manipulated for political reasons next year, take a look at Stop ACORN and the Census. Those left-wing "nuts" could end up messing up the balance of power in the House of Representatives. Hat tip to Stacey Morris.

"Freedom Fest" in Vegas

There is an interesting mix of characters slated to speak at the upcoming Freedom Fest, to be held in Las Vegas. It's less about libertarian philosophy or policy than it is about free thought. Hat tip to Dan.


July 6, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Three Rivers Stadium update

The diagrams on the Three Rivers Stadium Three Rivers Stadium page have been revised, with minor adjustments to the outfield fences and grandstand depth. The exit ramps around the perimeter are now clearly indicated on the main diagram and in the profiles, which are much more accurate than before. Also, details such as lights are now included. Finally, I rescanned one of the photos of that stadium that I took. Note that, at least for the time being, I have decided to list the maximum (baseball) seating capacity for each stadium, rather than the nominal capacity, which means very little. Three Rivers was one of several stadiums in which large portions of the upper deck in the outfield were closed during baseball games in the 1990s. If they really needed to, however, they could have made those seats available.

By the way, that happens to one of the pages that are sponsored by Mark London. If you have a favorite stadium for which you would like to see an enhanced diagram, etc., it takes just a few mouse clicks to become a sponsor... As some of you might have guessed, the recent concentration on ballparks in Pittsburgh is related in no small measure to a recent centennial celebration in that city...


July 7, 2009 [LINK / comment]

R.I.P. Michael Jackson, Superstar

To some people, he was the very source of their inspiration and happiness in lives, and it is both a tribute to his talent and a sign of our societal times that he was often treated like a Messiah. The memorial service in his honor at the Staples Center in Los Angeles this afternoon was truly "fit for a king." The 16,000 or so attendees sat in silence at the beginning, an eerie spectacle to behold. The musical tributes to the "King of Pop" were very well done, and the eulogies by Queen Latifah, Smokey Robinson, Rev. Al Sharpton, and others were deeply moving. It was unfortunate that some of the speakers felt compelled to defend his character or the child guardian rights which Michael Jackson assigned to his mother. We all know the he was deeply troubled and eccentric, but now is not the time to dwell on his shortcomings. I began with a slightly detached, though sympathetic attitude, and came away with a sense that our nation really has lost a real treasure.

I had anticipated more fan frenzy to get access to the service, but those who weren't lucky enough to get tickets respectfully kept their distance with a minimum of commotion. Their generally restrained behavior in this time of grief is a positive sign. When was the last time the nation mourned as deeply as this? I don't think any other funerals have drawn as much media attention since those of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy in the 1960s.* The deaths of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II were marked by elaborate ceremonies that were fitting for their greatness, but both men were old at the time, and their passing was not unexpected. Michael Jackson was truly larger than life, but being mortal, he was not larger than death. That is what is so hard for those who adored him to comprehend. Though blessed with immense talent and ambition, in the end he was just as frail and error-prone as the rest of us.

* UPDATE: After watching a TV report on the Michael Jackson memorial service, I remembered the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997. That monumental tragedy was on certainly par with those others in terms of media coverage and public attention. "Only the good die young."

"The king is gone but not forgotten." Though the next line in Neil Young's song "Out of the Blue, Into the Black" spoke of punker Johnny Rotten, it really referred to Elvis Presley, another wildly popular musical superstar whom I was never terribly wild about either. Nothing against either one's music, they were just not my style. Quasi-religious cults have grown up around the Elvis phenomenon, and something like that will probably happen with Michael Jackson fans. For a while in the mid-1960s, the Beatles enjoyed intense adulation from millions of their screaming fans, but that was a fad that soon passed. Other than those examples, I can't think of any other pop music stars who rose to such heights of popularity. I can't think of any musical performer or group I have ever had such a strong attachment to, but as a devout fan of baseball, I can understand how one can get carried away with one's interests in sports and entertainment.

As a non-fan, there is no point in me reviewing Michael Jackson's musical career. I am, however, quite curious about what it was that ignited such passionate devotion to Jackson. He was so deeply loved by so many that he was seen as above reproach, or even above sin. (!) For his fans, any allegations against him had to be lies or distortions, no matter how many times he put himself in compromising situations. He really strained their credulity to the limit, and that is very sad for them.

In today's News Leader, Erika Lassen made an excellent observation: Why don't we pay as much attention to military heroes and others who sacrifice their lives for the greater good? We should be ashamed. Her general point was simply that our culture is too obsessed with celebrities, and there is no denying that. We should remember, however, that there is nothing new with fan adulation of entertainers and political leaders. It's just that Michael Jackson rose to the top of the "hit charts" just as media technology had advanced to the level at which global communications were nearly instantaneous. He was the first true global superstar, hence the Live Aid "We Are the World" charity concert/movement. If one side-effect of Jackson's musical career is to raise popular awareness of poverty in the Third World, and spur constructive action, then that alone will make his life worthy of high praise.

Last week Fishersville Mike wondered what kind of U.S. Postage stamp will be issued in Michael Jackson's honor. (Various Third World countries had commemorative stamps honoring him many years ago.) I commented,

As a stamp collector, that was one of the first things that occurred to me, as well. I would prefer an image of Michael doing his music video dance for the title song "Thriller," with his face painted up to look like a ghoul risen from the grave, which eerily presaged how he really did look two decades later.

But all kidding aside, we should try to look beyond Jackson's psychological problems, vices, and fan-induced egomania, and remember him for the great joy he brought to billions of people around the world. Almost without exception, his songs had a positive theme, without foul language and without any glorification of violence. By the standards of many of today's musical performers, you could say, Michael Jackson was a saint. Rest in peace, Michael.

More deceased celebrities

It seems like an awful lot of big-name celebrities and other famous people have "passed from the stage" over the past month. Here is a listing excerpted from deadoraliveinfo.com:

  • Robert McNamara (July 6)
  • Steve McNair (July 4)
  • Karl Malden (July 1)
  • Billy Mays (June 28)
  • Farrah Fawcett (June 25)
  • Ed McMahon (June 23)
  • David Carradine (June 3)

I should also mention that earlier this year, in March, long-time NBC economic correspondent Irving R. Levine passed away. The erudite, bow-tied, old-school journalist sometimes called the U.S. Department of Labor office where I used to work, asking about our latest inflation statistics. I talked to him on the phone once or twice, responding to his queries. I know that he was very hard-working and knowledgeable, and his reports were always incisive and accurate.


July 9, 2009 [LINK / comment]

MLB ponders sale of Cubs

A couple days ago I saw a newsflash that the Chicago Cubs, and Wrigley Field, had been sold to Tom Ricketts for about $900 million, nearly six months after a preliminary deal was reached. (See Jan. 25.) Any such deal will require approval by the MLB franchise owners, and since the owner of the franchise -- Chicago Tribune Company -- is bankrupt, a bankruptcy court will also have to approve the transaction. See MLB.com, which mentions that shortstop Ryan Theriot expects the new owners to upgrade the facilities at Wrigley Field; a retractable roof "would be neat." !!!???

Today I read that the Tribune Co. agreed to terms to sell the Cubs to a group led by investor Marc Utay, presumably on more favorable terms than the deal with the Ricketts family. See nwherald.com. What is really going on?

Gannett / USA Today columnist Mike Lopresti has some handy advice for anyone who is considering investing a billion bucks or so on a team that has made losing a way of life. Last year marked a full century since the last World Series victory by the Cubs, and many of us thought they would follow in the Red Sox footsteps by "reversing the curse."

Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey welcomes the change of ownership, but wonders what the future will bring to the troubled (though highly profitable) franchise:

The bottom line is that the Cubs are heading into the great unknown and most everyone is OK with it. Fans will take the unknown over the known because, mostly, the known has been nothing but heartache.

(Some of the above links were from ESPN.) From what I know, the Cubs' sorry experience of recent years shows what happens when a corporation, rather than a single strong-willed individual, owns a baseball team. "Who's the boss?"

The mail bag

Gradually, I'm starting to get caught up with communications again...

Mike Zurawski came across a news item about an engineering study by "Populous" (formerly H.O.K.) that says that renovating Tropicana Field with a retractable dome would cost $471 million, even more than the cost of building a new stadium, and the results would be less than satisfactory. See tampabay.com. Complaints about the "Trop" include narrow seats, bad sight lines, and cramped concourses. The proposed renovation would reduce the seating capacity by at least 7,000, and the Rays would have to play elsewhere for at least a full season. I still think they should junk the dome and hope for good weather (in addition to rebuilding the more distant portions of the grandstand), but apparently that option isn't being considered. For a facility that was designed exclusively for baseball, I've always wondered about the poorly-angled seats behind the bullpens near the foul poles. Who the heck designed that place???

Mark London was watching an old MLB videotape of a 1968 game at Busch Stadium, and noticed something odd: a place with a pitching rubber near each foul pole for starting pitchers to warm up on the field before the game. These "mini-bullpens" were in foul territory, before the main bullpens were moved there. Does anyone remember about that?

I forgot to mention that John Parent confirmed from personal recollection what a photograph revealed about Tiger Stadium (see June 26): that there were indeed a few rows of seats behind the second set of support beams in portions of the lower deck. Thank you, John. Speaking of which, all that's left of Tiger Stadium is the crumbled ruins of the lower deck behind the diamond. See aerialpics.com. frown

Plus, I've had a few requests, such as James Melchow, who would like to see a diagram of Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. Like they used to say in Brooklyn (and still do in North Chicago), "Wait till next year!" smile


UPDATE: Mike Zurawski sent another news item about Tampa Bay. An 11-member civic board called "A Baseball Community" is exploring various site options for a new baseball stadium, including downtown Tampa, elsewhere in Hillsborough County, downtown St. Petersburg, and mid Pinellas County. Ironically, the mayors of both St. Petersburg and Tampa want the Rays to stay on the west side of the Bay, even though the population is somewhat greater on the east side. This comes as the owners of the Tampa Bay Rays are complaining loudly about mediocre attendance, even during the recent "rematch" with the Rays' 2008 World Series opponent, the Philadelphia Phillies. It's all part of the argument over whether the Tampa-St. Petersburg metropolitan area has enough fan support or political will to build a new stadium. See the St. Petersburg Times; columnist John Romano doesn't think the Rays' owner Stuart Sternberg will threaten to move the team, but will more likely just sell the franchise to somebody else. It's too bad baseball isn't catching on on the "Sun Coast" of Florida; smaller urban areas such as Milwaukee have registered much greater attendance than the Rays in recent years.


July 9, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Conservative defeat in Mexico

Mexico flag The National Action Party of President Felipe Calderon suffered a large loss of seats in the Mexican national congress as the result of the midterm elections held on Sunday. Obviously, the economic recession played a large role in the conservative losses, but other factors such as the swine flu outbreak (see Cinco de Mayo) and the virtual war against drug lords in northern Mexico (see March 15) also cost the president's party a large number of votes. Calderon's failure to resolve the immigration issue with the Bush administration probably weakend his stature among Mexicans somewhat as well. See CNN.com.

What really stands out from the election is the very poor showing of the left-wing PRD, whose candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had come very close to winning the presidential election three years ago. and the growing strength of the PRI-Green faction. So, there is a silver lining in the election results: It will be somewhat easier for President Calderon to work with Congress since there are fewer far left members and a correspondingly greater number of moderate (PRI) leftists. Clearly, nonetheless, President Calderon will become a virtual lame duck for the rest of his six-year term. Aside from the big shift in strength from the PAN to the PRI, two The environmental movement in Mexico seems to be gaining popularity, which is a welcome change. Here are the preliminary results, including my unofficial estimates of the seats to be chosen by proportional representation. (See below.)*

Party Chamber of Deputy seats,
by district
(+ prop. rep.)
Percent of votes
National Action Party (PAN) 72 (+ 56 ?) 27.9%
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) 134 (+ 75 ?) 37.7%
Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD) 40 (+ 24 ?) 11.9%
PRI - Green 51 (+ 13 ?) 6.4%
Others 3 (+ 20 ?) 10.2%

In the governor's races, PRI staged a comeback as well, winning six states, including San Luis Potosi and Queretaro. Only in Sonora, just south of Arizona, did a National Action candidate win: Guillermo Padres. After a meeting with President Calderon, the leader of PAN, German Martinez, took responsibility for the defeat by resigning. See El Sol de Mexico. There is a possibility of widespread vote recounts due to various irregularities, but there seem to be no systematic manipulation, as was the case in the sharply disputed 2006 election. PRI leaders expressed confidence that they can retake the presidency in 2012, after two consecutive defeats at the hands of PAN. It remains to be seen whether they can overcome internal divisions between modernizers and the old guard defenders of statist economic policy, however.

* In Mexico, elections are held for all 500 seats of the Chamber of Deputies every three years, 300 of whom are directly elected in single-member districts, with the remaining 200 members being chosen by proprtional representation, based on each party's share of the popular vote nationwide. The 128 Senate seats are put to a vote every six years, coinciding with the presidential terms.

The Mexico background information page has been accordingly updated.

Stalemate in Honduras

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987, is trying to mediate the dispute between former President Zelaya and the de factor authorities in Honduras. He certainly has his work cut out for him, as neither side seems prepared to compromise very much. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Zelaya on Tuesday, but did not make any strong statements on the matter. The government of Honduras remains defiant in the face of heavy international pressure, and the cutoff of financial aid and some trade flows may lead to unrest in the country in a matter of weeks. See BBC.

I learned from the Economist magazine that the constitution of Honduras has no provisions for removing a president from office. So, the steps taken by the Supreme Court and Congress to give legal sanction to the removal of Zelaya were as proper as they could have possibly done.

A modest proposal

The leftist victory in Mexico raises anew the question of how to deal with the immigration / border problem between the United States and Mexico. Here is a radical solution: combine the two countries into one! Take a look at "Megamerge: The Dissolution Solution," by T. L. Winslow.


July 10, 2009 [LINK / comment]

The Palin factor in Virginia

I was surprised by all the news coverage and editorials in the News Leader about what the ramifications of Sarah Palin's resignation as Alaska governor might be for Virginia politics. If she did indeed quit her job in order to become a full-time campaigner for Republican candidates, that would certainly call into question her devotion to the general public interest. I hope that's not the main reason. The (AP) article suggests that Bob McDonnell is maintaining a cool, neutral attitude as far as getting help from Gov. Palin. It's a tough situation, because the Democrats are pulling out all the stops to get Creigh Deeds elected, and we can expect a virtual invasion of big-name political celebrities to get Virginians to pull the voting lever for the "D" candidate once again this November. McDonnell has worked hard to lay out a serious policy-based agenda, challenging Deeds to engage in a series of debates, but the campaign may devolve into a emotional, symbol-laden media hoopla before it's all over. If so, McDonnell would have little choice but to wage the battle on terms set by the Democrats, relying upon out-of-state Republican celebrities such as Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal. If the Virginia gubernatorial campaign turns into another hyperpartisan Armageddon, it would be a terrible shame.

At augustafreepress.com, Chris Graham wrote about "The GOP's Palin Quandary," making a good point about the dilemma the Republicans face in trying to motivate their base while reaching out to the mainstream. He put himself in the imaginary role of Republican strategizer and pondered how to deal with the Sarah Palin phenomenon. For some reason, he referred to the governor (governess?) of Alaska in a very insulting manner, to which I took exception:

I was taken aback by the uncharacteristically nasty epithet toward Palin, and am puzzled why you are making people mad for no reason. Unless, that is, you are trying to get Republicans to rally behind her so that she WILL come to Virginia and campaign for Bob McDonnell, which would probably cost him more votes than it would gain. Quandary indeed!

On the other side of the political spectrum, SWAC Girl is busily denouncing critics of Palin who are engaged in the "politics of personal destruction," which is more ironic than words can express. I commented briefly on her self-congratulatory words about "everyday people" such as Sarah Palin, as opposed to "inside-the-beltway insiders":

"being civil about it" -- very funny.

Yeah, we don't want to get mixed up with those shady "insiders," do we? smile All this goes to show, obviously, that Sarah Palin is a highly polarizing figure in American politics, which is the exact opposite of what our country needs right now.

Fact check department

Steve Kijak took exception to my recent (faint) praise for Kurt Michael's past work in putting together Republican parade floats. Steve should know better than anyone; I stand corrected.


July 10, 2009 [LINK / comment]

R.I.P. Bob McNamara

Robert McNamara, who served as Secretary of Defense under two presidents (1961-1968), and later as president of the World Bank (1968-1981), has passed away at the age of 93. As one of the Kennedy administration's "best and brightest" (in the words of David Halberstam), it was McNamara's cruel fate to be remembered for plunging this country into one of the worst and darkest periods in its history. What did he do that was so wrong? His main "sin," if you can call it that, was applying contemporary, "state of the art" technocratic managerial techniques such as "systems analysis" to a field (military strategy) in which such an approach was not appropriate at all. In the Vietnam War, the obsession with quantifying results led to a misguided focus on "body counts," which severely distorted operational decisions and ultimately corrupted the chain of command. Mid-level commanders learned they had to lie or shade the truth in order to get promotions. It took years for the U.S. Army to recover its reputation and restore troop morale. (Personal note: This sorry state of affairs was one of the main factors that discouraged [me] from staying in the ROTC program.)

Many people think that McNamara redeemed himself when he took the lead in the World Bank, helping to end world poverty, but it was on his watch that the conditions that led to Third World debt crisis (1982) were allowed to fester. The crisis per se was not his fault, certainly, but the same blindness to underlying qualitative conditions which he exhibited in Vietnam set the stage for economic catastrophe around the world. In his memoirs, McNamara admitted that Vietnam was a terrible mistake, to his credit. In the Washington Post, Thomas Lippman had an extensive analysis of McNamara's career, reminding us of McNamara's early successes at the Ford Motor Company. Indeed, McNamara was not at all a bad person, in contrast to some of the others in Washington in those years. Perhaps if he had stayed in the private business sector, Detroit would have revamped its product line in a more timely fashion, avoiding the gas-guzzling disaster of the 1970s. Tragically, however, McNamara's talents were misplaced, and for years to come, his name will be associated with the "quantitative fallacy."

What is most ironic of all about the death of McNamara is that the Obama administration is boldly following the same high-handed approach as the Kennedy administration, in substance as well as style. The new president is confidently relying on experts who are virtual carbon copies of McNamara to tackle the most daunting of global challenges, while micromanaging the myriad details of Americans' daily lives. It's called hubris. Woe is us.


July 12, 2009 [LINK / comment]

The Nationals: First Half, 2009

Calculating midyear statistics for the Washington Nationals this year is complicated by the fact that their May 5 game against the Houston Astros was suspended in the 11th inning because of rain with the score tied, 10-10. The Nationals won that game on Friday evening, and it only took seven minutes to decide the outcome. The guy who had been on first base when the game was suspended, Elijah Dukes, has since been sent down to the minors. He was replaced by Nyjer Morgan, who scored a couple batters later thanks to an error by Astros infielder Miguel Tejada. It was a strange "walk-off" victory by the "home" team playing in the other team's stadium!

Including that game, the Nationals played their 81st game this year on Monday July 6, marking the halfway point of the season. They hit their "high point" on May 9, at which point they were 11-18, or .379. Since then, they have been struggling to stay above the .300 mark. Their [25-56 (.309) record as of the end of July 6] is the Nats' worst ever for the middle of a season. [They are currently 26-61 (.299).] In mid-2005 they were 50-31 (0.617), in both mid-2006 and mid-2007, they were 33-48 (0.407), and in mid-2008 they were 32-49 (0.395). Can you detect a pattern here? frown

Just about every aspect of the Nationals has utterly failed this year, most notably the bullpen. I kind of wish that they had retained Chad Cordero, their former closer, but he suffered a torn labrum one year ago -- shortly before I did the same! I hope it doesn't ruin his career. The young starting pitching staff has shown great improvement, one of the few bright spots. For the first two months, the Nationals were one of the very best hitting teams, but they went into a collective slump in June. Their fielding performance is downright atrocious, and some blame manager Manny Acta for not insisting that the team spend more time on fielding drills during batting practice. But above all, there is an unsettling lack of team spirit; the Nationals routinely waste run-scoring opportunities, and rallies are few and far between.

The way things stand, all the Nationals can hope for in the second half is to finish the season with a higher winning percentage than last year, .366. Is that too much to ask? See the compiled data on the Washington Nationals page, which lists some of the highlights of this agonizing season.

Washington Nationals: First Half, 2009 summary
Month Wins Losses NL East place
(at end)
Number of
home games
Total
attendance
Average
attendance
April 5 16 5 9 178,230 19,803
May* 9 20 5 15 324,970 21,665
June 9 17 5 15 384,966 25,664
July** 2 3 5 3 80,367 26,789
(First half) 2009 25 56 5 42 968,533 23,060

* incl. May 5 suspended game, finished July 9. ** incl. July 1-6 only.
SOURCE: My unofficial daily tabulations from MLB Gameday stats and newspapers.


Nationals ponder trades

If it's July, it must be time for the Washington Nationals front office to unload some of their best players, or at least those they can get the best trade deals on. In Wednesday's Washington Post, sports columnist Thomas Boswell recommended a "Major Overhaul," saying they should get rid of pretty much everyone on the team over the age of 28 or so. He bemoans the complete absence of unified team action, and is basically disgusted with the whole operation. I think his suggestion is going way too far, and it contradicts some of what he wrote in the past (for example, in December 2006) about the need to retain crowd-pleasing stars. He is correct, though, that a major housecleaning is in order.

Since positioning themselves for a race for the divisional title in mid-2005 (their first year in D.C.), the Nationals have slipped to fourth or fifth place every July since then. Last July The good news is that Adam Dunn is not on the trading block, but whether they will keep him for the two-year duration of his contract remains to be seen; go to MLB.com.

So that leaves the question of which Nats might be traded. Frankly, it's damn hard to find any players with enough experience to establish a real market value. The Nationals are basically a combination of veterans with mixed records and a bunch of young prospects, with hardly anyone in between. So, I suggest:

  1. Cristian Guzman (SS)
  2. Austin Kearns* (OF)
  3. Ronnie Belliard* (2B)
  4. Julian Tavarez (RHP)

* A trade prospect last year also. Kearns is making $8 million this year under a contract with a sharp escalation clause (see Feb. 2007), but he is currently batting under .200. No team on earth is going to pay him that much, so the Nationals will have to absorb a loss of several million dollars. Belliard is more tradable since he's not earning as much. Boswell thinks Nick Johnson should be traded as well, but I emphatically disagree -- partly for his worth to the team as a consistent hitter, and partly for sentimental reasons: He is the only player left on the roster who used to play for the Montreal Expos. Only three others (Cristian Guzman, Jason Bergman, and Ryan Zimmerman) played for the Nationals during their inaugural season in Washington of 2005.

Relief pitcher Jesus Colome was "designated for assignment" (fired) last weekend, a move which I'm sorry to say was a long time coming. He had an 8.40 ERA this season and although his contract was not renewed in December, he somehow made the roster during spring training. To replace him, Jason Bergmann was called back up from Syracuse.

Nats rampage, then choke

Every once in a while the Nationals act like a real baseball team, with multi-run rallies and solid pitchers who hang tough. That was the case on Saturday, as the Nats trounced the Astros 13-2 in Minute Maid Park. On Sunday, however, it was back to the old routine, loading the bases with only one out in both the sixth and seventh innings, but failing to score either time. In the sixth, Alberto Gonzalez and Anderson Hernandez failed to drive in a run, and in the seventh, Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn did likewise. Until the bottom of the seventh it was a tight game, with the Astros leading 1-0, but with two outs Kazuo Matsui hit a three-run homer that broke it wide open. Thus ended another would-be masterpiece by Jordan Zimmermann, who left the game. Final score: 5-0, and the worst part of it was that the Nationals outhit the Astros 11 to 6.

The mail bag

The Red Sox honored their former center fielder Dom DiMaggio in a pregame ceremony at Fenway Park today. The younger brother of "Joltin' Joe" DiMaggio passed away on May 8 at the age of 92. He never married a Hollywood superstar, and never worked as a pitch man for kitchen appliances, but he did complete a respectable career in baseball. See MLB.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser. Nicknamed "The Little Professor" for his slight stature and spectacles, he racked up a .296 lifetime batting average with 1,680 hits over an 11-year career in Boston. (He served in the military for three years during World War II.) The elder DiMaggio, Vince, played for five different teams from 1937 to 1946, and died in 1986.

ESPN recently aired an irate declaration from Wade Boggs about how steroid users have tainted the National Pastime. Hat tip to Bruce Orser.

The Superdome is going to get another makeover, not long after current $220 million restoration project is completed. About $85 million more will be spent to provide nicer luxury suites and add 3,100 new seats in the lower bowl, which will be totally reconfigured. See wwltv.com. I guess that means the current arrangement which allows for a reconfiguration into a baseball field will be tossed aside. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.

Finally, Target Field will officially open next April 12, when the Minnesota Twins play host to the Boston Red Sox. There will be a lot of red faces in Minneapolis if it snows that day! Maybe the Twins should retain rights to play indoor games at the Metrodome, you know, just in case...


July 12, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Church garden project

Emmanuel Episcopal Church made the front page of the News Leader about three weeks ago, regarding the effort made by many parishioners to cultivate a large vegetable garden at the farm of a long-time church member, Dave Rapp. Every summer Dave brings in large quantities of fresh produce, and the money donated for the food is allocated to a charity fund. He isn't able to do the work himself anymore, however, so the rest of us are pitching in. This year, because of the rising unemployment rate in the area, they are donating the proceeds and some of the produce itself, to the Blue Ridge Food Bank. I have managed to make it out there to help with gardening duties four times so far. Yesterday was the hardest task yet, clearing out the weeds and vines that were choking the asparagus bushes. (They didn't harvest them this year, but let them go to seed.) Besides producing the food itself, this is a wonderful opportunity for socializing with fellow church members, and I look forward to more honest, productive labor in the weeks to come.

Dave Rapp's Garden

Meneta Deaton (green shirt) and Randy Hamblett (left, with hat) were among the parishioners who gathered to do weeding and planting chores on Saturday. The empty rows are where beets and lettuce were recently harvested; they have planted pumpkins and other fall crops in those areas. On the right are several dozen tomato plants. In the background, across the creek, is the second garden, which is mostly corn (much of which has been eaten by deer), as well as more tomatoes and squash. This photo will also be posted on the emmanuelstaunton.org Web site. Click on the image to see it in full size.

"As ye sow, so shall ye reap!"


July 13, 2009 [LINK / comment]

The Nationals fire Manny Acta

During the overnight hours as the team was flying home from Houston to Washington, Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten informed team manager Manny Acta that he has been terminated. After yet another series full of disappointing failures, and after months of speculation about such a move, it was really not such a big surprise. Acting general manager Mike Rizzo made the official announcement this morning, lamenting that the Nats have "underachieved." Acta leaves D.C. with an overall 158-252 record. See ESPN ("So much for ... Manny Acta's patient optimism") and MLB.com.

Bench coach Jim Riggleman will serve in Acta's place for the time being. He has managed the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs (reaching the postseason in 1998), and Seattle Mariners. He is reputed to be a "a tough disciplinarian," quite the opposite of Acta's soft-spoken positive approach. Boy, does he have his hands full!

The team's lone All-Star, Ryan Zimmerman, told reporters that somebody had to be the scapegoat for all the losses this year, but he made it clear that the problem is with the team itself. Quite correct. Whether he likes it or not, Ryan is forced to assume a heavy leadership burden, at and he hasn't even turned 25 yet!

It was probably the most logical moment to do so, during the All Star break.Acta was gracious in his statement to the press, thanking the Nationals for giving him the opportunity to manage in the big leagues. He said he learned a lot from the experience, and has no regrets. I'm sure he'll get another chance to be a big-league manager before long.

I really did like Manny Acta, and was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt over and over, but at some point you have to say, "Enough's enough." How many other managers have kept their jobs after a team has performed as poorly as the Nationals have for the past two and a half years? During that period, the Nats posted winning records in only two months out of 15. Instead of gradually getting better or at least showing signs of improvement, it was a nightmarish downhill slide. Maybe it wasn't his fault, but as I wrote on June 15, "All the evidence points to Acta's extreme ineffectiveness in terms of motivating the players." There are a number of very promising players in the Nationals roster, and if the new interim manager Jim Riggleman can solve whatever "chemistry" issue that is vexing the team, there is no reason they can't start winning as many games as they lose -- and maybe even more than that next year.

I often wondered about the origins of Acta's last name, and learned from my Spanish dictionary that it means a legal certificate, or the minutes of a meeting.

I hope that the Nationals front office extends every possible courtesy to Acta. They didn't treat the previous manager Frank Robinson very well at the end of the 2006 season.

This drastic step marks the culmination of a leadership "purge" that almost reminds you of the Soviet Union in the late 1930s. After the end of the 2008 season, all of the team's coaches were fired except for pitching coach Randy St. Claire, and in early June St. Claire was fired too. Plus, general manager Jim Bowden was forced to resign just before the 2009 season began! So you've got a team with absolutely no continuity in terms of leadership, and not very many long-term contracts. That's not the kind of environment that breeds a winning spirit.

After the All-Star break, the Nationals resume play this Thursday back home in D.C., hosting the Chicago Cubs.


July 14, 2009 [LINK / comment]

The All Star Game, 2009

Having one of the all-time baseball greats always adds a lot to the atmosphere of an All Star Game. In 1999, it was Ted Williams in Boston, and this year it's Stan "The Man" Musial in St. Louis. With all those good vibes, plus the huge fan support for for "hometown" hero Albert Pujols, maybe the National League can finally "reverse the curse" that has plagued them in the All Star Game since 1996.

The pre-game festivities seem to get more carried away with symbolism and emotionalism every year. Paying respect to real "hometown heroes" as they did this year is nice, but let's not overdo it, folks. Sheryl Crow sang the National Anthem; she is one of my favorite rock music artists, but her rise to stardom is perhaps a little clouded, I recently learned.

And what the hell is wrong with people for booing the President? Talk about bad sportsmanship! I'm no fan of Barack Obama, but he was duly elected and deserves our respect, if not our support. Like the previous president, who also endured more than his share of boos, he managed to throw a decent first pitch even though he was wearing a heavy protective vest underneath his White Sox jacket.

I'll probably update this later this evening...


UPDATE: For the fourth year in a row the American League beat the National League by exactly one run. The MVP award was presented to Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford, who snagged a would-be home run hit by Brian Hawpe in the 7th inning, keeping the score tied at 3-3, and saving Jonathan Papelbon's rear end. Surprisingly, Albert Pujos went 0 for 3, a letdown for St. Louis fans. I was pleased that Ryan Zimmerman got to play several innings at third base, though he didn't reach base in either of his at-bats: one fly ball out to deep center field, and one fly out to right field, and nobody on base either time. In the top of the eighth, Curtis Granderson crushed a triple to deep left center field, bouncing off the fence, and two batters later, Baltimore's Adam Jones drove him home with a long sacrifice fly to the right field corner. That was all it took, as Mariano Rivera racked up his fourth All Star save. Final score: AL 4, NL 3. Time: 2:31, probably one of the shortest in many years. Attendance: 46,760.

Omitting that irritating tied All Star game of 2002 in Milwaukee, the AL has prevailed in 12 consecutive All Star games. The National League curse continues!


Home Run Derby 2009

When nobody came close to Josh Hamilton's phenomenal first-round performance in last year's Home Run Derby, I soon lost interest. Well, hats off anyway to Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers, who prevailed over Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers. Just wait until they have the All Star Game in cozy little New Yankee Stadium -- think of all the home runs they're going to hit then! Maybe they should change the name to "Yankee Ballpark" to distinguish it from the authentic, full-size original. smile

Busch Stadium II update

Busch Stadium II I figured I ought to resume getting caught up with Missouri stadium revisions as I had originally planned, and what better occasion to do so for Busch Stadium II than tonight's game? The main change is that the stadium is about ten feet longer than before (it's slightly elliptical in shape), with the field pushed forward about 15 feet. There are more rows behind home plate than I estimated before, and fewer in the lower deck of the outfield. [Also, it shows that the dugouts were repositioned in the 1996-1997 renovations, and the outside ground level was at least ten feet higher on the north side of the stadium than on the south side. ]

National All Stars

Somehow or other, the Washington Nationals have managed to get at least one of their players into the All Star Game every year since they began playing [in 2005].

Year Venue Player Performance Score
2005 Comerica Park, Detroit Livan Hernandez Allowed two hits and two runs in the 4th inning. AL 7, NL 5.
Chad Cordero Pitched 8th inning: 3 up, 3 down.
2006 PNC Park, Pittsburgh Alsonso Soriano Got one hit and one stolen base in two at-bats. AL 3, NL 2.
2007 AT&T Park, San Francisco Dmitri Young Singled with two outs in bottom of ninth inning, scored on Alfonso Soriano's home run, but all for nought. AL 5, NL 4.
2008 Yankee Stadium, New York Cristian Guzman Pinch-runner in the ninth, then six innings at third base; zero hits in three at-bats. AL 4, NL 3. (15)
2009 Busch Stadium III, St. Louis Ryan Zimmerman 5th-9th innings at third base; zero hits in two at-bats AL 4, NL 3

COMMENT by: Chris Knight, of Kansas City, KS on Jul 15, 2009 01:36 AM
I am just wondering when will the Kauffman Stadium revisions be finished up. It is half way through the season and the Renovated Kauffman Stadium has not been posted yet, leaving us with a out of date diagram.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Jul 15, 2009 09:26 AM
Thought I commented with this before, but I guess not. MLB has a rule mandating that all teams must have at least one representative on the All-Star teams, which is why the Gnats have always had at least one. :P

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jul 17, 2009 18:38 PM
Chris: I'm working on it, but other ballparks such as Comiskey Park were even more out of date than Kauffman Stadium. This month, for sure. Brian: I wondered if there might be some kind of "egalitarian" roster provision, regardless of the fan balloting. I guess it's all for the best, so that the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers don't dominate the whole affair. :-)


July 14, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Sheryl Crow: ripoff artist?

Sometimes you learn something totally unexpected from randomly browsing the blogs. For example, Too Conservative reports that Sheryl Crow "basically ripped off most of her debut album from the real Tuesday Night Music Club, which [former boyfriend Kevin] Gilbert introduced her to. Read this for some background..."

As a big fan of Sheryl, I am, like, so-o-o disillusioned...


July 14, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Rare woodpecker? Not quite.

I got a call from fellow Augusta Bird Club member Stephen Pietrowski yesterday, about a strange-looking woodpecker with a reddish crown that has been appearing in his back yard lately. He thought it might be a Three-toed woodpecker, a species which is found in the northern forests of Canada. It has never been reported in this region, so if true, this would have been an amazing sighting. So, this morning I went out to investigate, and after a half hour or so, the bird in question finally showed up. I managed to get a few photos from fairly close range while it was there, but of course the angle of the sun detracted from the quality of the images. Just as Stephan said, the crown is all red, unlike any other woodpecker around here except the Yellow-bellied sapsucker, which is a winter bird. After looking at it for a few minutes, however, the size and plumage left no doubt in my mind that it was just a Downy woodpecker, possibly a juvenile with some kind of hormonal imbalance.

After returning home and consulting my National Geographic Complete Birds of North America (the biggest of all my bird reference books), I learned that both male and female juvenile Downy woodpeckers "have a pale red patch in the center of the crown, more extensive in the male." (The same is also true for Hairy woodpeckers.) I'm surprised I didn't know that before; you learn something new every day. Anyway, thanks to Stephen for bringing this curious bird to our attention!

Red-crowned (juv.) Downy Woodpecker

ABOVE AND BELOW: Red-crowned (juvenile Downy) Woodpecker, Staunton, July 14, 2009. Click on the bottom image to compare to an adult female Downy Woodpecker.

Red-crowned (juv.) Downy Woodpecker
 

Bird miscellany

I forgot to mention that I finally saw some Purple martins a couple weeks ago, at the home on Springhill Road just north of Staunton where they usually reside, another first of year sighting. There weren't as many of them as in past years, but maybe it was the wrong time of day.

Here is a birding Web site that would have been very useful to Jacqueline and me six years ago: Birding Oaxaca Mexico. It's now included along with the other Wild Bird Web site links.

FACT CHECK: My brother John informs me that the photo of the Spoonbill I posted on July 1 was probably taken in Louisiana in 1998, not in Florida in 2000 as I had thought. I may replace it with a better photo if he sends me one.


July 15, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Open letter to Nationals fans

The front office of the Washington Nationals released a letter to their fans, explaining why Manny Acta was replaced by Jim Riggleman as manager of the team. They insist that they are just as disappointed as anyone by the team's failures this year, though they do look at some of the silver linings as well. Appropriately, they have "the highest respect for Manny Acta," but finally concluded that "a fresh attitude and approach" are needed to get back on track to winning. Fine. One element is missing from the letter, however: any sense of responsibility for the debacle on the part of the owners themselves. Unless they start laying out enough salary money to create a first class team, they should be part of the shakeup in team leadership! But how can the owners be fired? Well, that's one way to look at the lousy attendance figures at Nationals Park this year: Baseball fans are voting with their pocketbooks, collectively telling the Lerner family: "You're fired."

What's more, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the investment in rebuilding the franchise's farm club system is already paying off. Over the past two years, the Nationals have built a deep pool of young talent, pitchers and position players alike. They are bound to improve soon, and there is no reason to keep talking about "long-term" improvements, as the Lerners have been doing. As British economist John Maynard Keynes said, "In the long run, we are all dead."

MLB controversies

As expected, the St. Petersburg-based civic group "A Baseball Community" recommended that a new ballpark be built, because it would cost too much to bring Tropicana Field up to desired standards, with a retractable roof, etc. Not surprisingly, Commissioner Bud Selig heartily concurs that the local taxpayers should pay for a new ballpark. See ESPN. Selig also denied recent accusations that MLB franchises colluded to not offer big salaries to free agents after the 2008 season. See ESPN. So that's why Adam Dunn is playing for Washington?


July 15, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Zelaya warns of insurrection

Failing to get anywhere through diplomatic channels thus far, the ousted president of Honduras, Manuel "Mel" Zelaya, declared that his supporters have the right to launch an insurrection to return him to power, and hinted that it could start this weekend. I'm sure there are a lot of "community organizers" and "grassroots activists" in this country who would sympathize with this zestful "people power" approach. But what would the consequences be: civil war? Somehow, that just doesn't sound like the kind of thing a responsible national leader would say. Zelaya was speaking in Guatemala prior to meeting with President Alvaro Colom, who shares Zelaya's leftist ideology. One piece of good news is that both the de facto president (Roberto Micheletti) and Zelaya held talks last week with the President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, who is serving as a mediator. The public statements of the rival claimants to executive authority in Honduras do not show any sign they are willing to compromise, however. See BBC and CNN.com.

Zelaya is still widely recognized by other countries' governments as the legal president of Honduras, and he may still prevail in his battle with the country's establishment, or he may accept strict conditions on returning to power for the last few months of his term. But the fact that he was planning to go ahead with a referendum over the strong objections of both Congress had the supreme court (which ruled it illegal) leave little doubt that he is a headstrong, reckless individual who could well bring about total disaster before this is all over.

Brazil's Pantanal at risk

The BBC recently had a report on efforts to preserve the vast Pantanal wetland region in southwestern Brazil, which is ten times larger than the Everglades. Agricultural runoff from the surrounding tablelands is the main threat, because of faulty soil management practices on the soy bean and sugar cane plantations. Sewage from new cities lacking proper waste treatment facilities is also a problem. "There are more species of birds in the Pantanal [around 700] than in the whole of Europe."


July 15, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Can Steele bring blacks to GOP?

There are any number of reasons to admire Republican National Chairman Michael Steele: He overcame social adversity and skeptical attitudes as he climbed the political ladder and was elected the first African-American lieutenant governor in Maryland's history. He is a forceful, articulate advocate of mainstream conservative principles, exuding sincerity and depth of character. He has worked in the centrist-oriented Republican Leadership Council, and after a lot of hard work and arm-twisting, finally won over enough votes to become elected RNC chairman in January. Now he is busy with fund-raising and pushing the party to broaden its appeal to long-neglected groups such as African-Americans. As part of his "Freedom Tour," he made a speech to the 100th convention of the NAACP, taking place in New York. If the Party of Lincoln could be faithful to its founding principles of emancipation, and enacted public policies that rewarded individual initiative, millions of deprived minorities could live better, happier lives. See the Washington Post.

Deeds and black voters

The black vote may turn out to be decisive in this year's governor's race in Virginia. Last month Larry Sabato noted that even though Virginia has become more moderate and Democratic than it was four years ago, he nonetheless estimates that Deeds' share of the black vote in the recent primary election was 3 or 4 percent less than that of his party's 2005 candidate, Tim Kaine. This points to a huge opportunity for Republicans: "A robust showing this year could be decisive, particularly in Hampton Roads, where McDonnell broke into politics as a member of the House of Delegates, Sabato says." See Richmond Times Dispatch; hat tip to Carl Tate.

Deeds rakes in the cash

One thing Creigh Deeds does have in his favor is access to cold, hard cash; during the month of June his campaign raised twice as much money as Bob McDonnell. See newsleader.com.

More "porkulus" baloney

As the debate over whether to throw more good money after bad as a follow-up to President Obama's stimulus package rages on in Washington, take a look at what House Minority Leader John Boehner has to say about one of the lesser-known elements of that package at YouTube. $16 million was appropriated to save an endangered rodent found in the in San Francisco Bay area, in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's district. Save the Salt Marsh Harvest Mice! smile Hat tip to Rich Raab.


July 16, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Disco Demolition: 30 years ago

Last Sunday was the 30th anniversary of the infamous "Disco Demolition Night" that was celebrated in Comiskey Park, on the south side of Chicago: July 12, 1979. The radio station publicity stunt backfired by provoking a riot that forced the White Sox to forfeit the second game of a double-header. The YouTube video below was posted by David Pinto, who says he preferred "The Night Chicago Died." (Yuk!)

For the record, I hated disco with a passion back then, but over the years my views have mellowed somewhat. I have gradually learned to appreciate the Bee Gees, and must admit that the bass line in the 1970s smash hit "Disco Inferno" was pretty catchy. Ten years previously, that refrain -- "Burn, baby, burn!" -- had a much more sinister connotation.

Comiskey Park update

In (ironic) honor of the 30th anniversary of this historical event, I have updated the Comiskey Park Comiskey Park diagrams, which were long overdue for a correction. Most of the changes are fairly minor, except for the backstop distance and curvature of the grandstand. The profiles are more accurate, and details such as lights and various latter-day rooftop appendages (such as bathrooms) are now included. There remains some doubt on the exact dimensions to center field in the last decade or so before the White Sox left the original Comiskey Park. Lowry's Green Cathedrals gives a figure of 409 feet, but I'm pretty sure that applies to the corners on either side of center field, which I estimate was actually 400 feet in the late 1980s. I'm also not sure exactly which years there was a bend in the outfield fences, as shown in the 1969 version diagram; only recently did I come across a photo showing this bend.

"Who runs the Nats?"

At foxsports.com, Ken Rosenthal argues that the basic problem with the Washington Nationals (which he rightly characterizes as an "embarrassment") is the absence of clear lines of authority in the front office. Neither Mike Rizzo, the acting general manager, nor team president Stan Kasten have much to say about key decisions. It's all up to the Lerners, who are business wizards but seem to be clueless about baseball as a sport. When are the Lerners gonna learn? Link via baseball-fever.com.

The Nationals have begun their first game of the post-Manny Acta era, at home in Washington, and after two innings, neither they nor the Cubs have scored.

UPDATE: John Lannan had another quality outing, with two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings, but as usual the Nats' bats were mostly silent, and the bullpen collapsed in the ninth inning, giving up three more runs to the Cubs. Ryan Zimmerman homered (#15) in the bottom of the ninth, but the Cubs still won, 6-2.


July 16, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Obama's health care hard sell

On Wednesday, the Senate Health Committee approved a bill that would make health care "universal." * Debate of the provisions was unusually sharp for the Senate, and the 13-10 vote was strictly on party lines. Usually the Senate is more cautious and conservative, but in this case, it is the House of Representatives where the opposition to President Obama's plans is the strongest. See the Washington Post. As more people scrutinize the hellishly complex procedures and start to realize how inefficient and inequitable a government-mandated (or government-run) health care system would be, more people are bound to stand up and object.

Just as President Bush had a fleeting "window of opportunity" for enacting comprehensive reforms based on free market principles after his triumphant reelection (which he pretty much wasted), President Obama knows that he only has so much time to accomplish his extremely ambitious agenda. He is working hard and warning of dire consequences for the economy if Congress does not act right away. "It's time!" Obama declares.

Whoa! What's the rush? Actually, there are two reasons for hasty action: In terms of raw politics, the coalition in favor of nationalized health care will gradually start to erode as the detailed provisions become known, and more individual citizens object to the plan. In terms of practicality, the longer this is dragged out, the more that private insurers will try to squeeze patients by denying coverage, so as to build up their reserves. At some critical point, Obama hopes, those insurers will be convinced that they'd be better off by relenting and accepting new (low-income) clients whose health insurance premiums come from the government. As a clever politician, Obama can probably fool a number of those companies, but the smart ones will realize that it's the first step toward a complete government takeover, putting them out of business.

I get the impression that Obama must be feeling confident that he will get his health care reform package passed. During a recent TV interview, he came out and said that he has come to the conclusion that every American should be required to have health insurance. It's no surprise that he thinks that way, but it is a surprise that he would admit it. Nowhere in the United States Constitution does it even hint that the Federal government has the power to force individual citizens to pay for any particular goods or services. I don't think a constitutional amendment to that effect would be upheld on appeal as constitutional, for such a requirement clearly violates the spirit of the Bill of Rights, especially the Fifth and Ninth Amendments. And to think that some people actually pretend that he cares much about freedom!

And just in case you actually believe the White House spin that we will all have the choice between government-run or private health insurance, see the Investor's Business Daily. Under the current Senate bill, for many people, such insurance coverage would become illegal on the day the law goes into effect! Hat tip to Stacey Morris.

On the other hand, if the Republicans fail to articulate a clear market-based alternative policy but merely stall for time so as to make corporate health lobbyists and doctors happy, Obama's case would be greatly strengthened. Almost everyone agrees that the status quo is unacceptable, but it is precisely the job of lobbyists (in most cases) to protect the status quo against would-be reformers. The Republicans must work harder to convince the public that they are not merely tools of the private health care industry.

* The term "universal" is not exactly accurate, under most proposals at least. Health coverage would only apply to American taxpayers (possibly including illegal aliens), but not to people in other countries. This may seem obvious, but it shows how misleading terminology can be.

Kaine & Apple Computer

Three leading Republicans in Virginia are blaming Gov. Tim Kaine for neglecting to address a tax law omission that might have discouraged Apple Computer from coming to the Old Dominion. Del. Scott Lingamfelter, Del. Tommy Wright, state Sen. Frank Ruff, and RPV chairman Pat Mullins are angry that Apple chose to locate its new data center in North Carolina: "Apple was lost, they allege, because Kaine was distracted from his state duties by the partisan post President Barack Obama appointed him to in January." See newsleader.com. The question is whether they can connect Kaine's diversion into national politics (as Democratic National Committee chairman) to the Democratic candidates in this fall's election. Working in the Republicans' favor is the Democrats' heavy emphasis on continuing in the footsteps of the last two governors, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. If people associate that record with partisan politicking, as well they should, there won't be as many "coat-tail" votes.


July 17, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Saxman ends bid for reelection

In terms of local politics, this morning's announcement by Del. Chris Saxman that he is withdrawing from the 20th House District race was as much of an "earthquake" as Gov. Sarah Palin's abrupt announcement was in Alaska two weeks ago. The Harrisonburg Daily News Record apparently got the scoop on the Staunton and Waynesboro newspapers, a bit of a mystery in itself. Saxman says he has recently taken on some new responsibilities and wants to focus his energies on the issue of school choice. (I received his e-mail newsletter this morning, which said among other things that his constituents "deserve a full-time commitment" from their legislator, which he feels he can no longer offer.) For a politician who is widely touted as a rising star in the Republican Party, his explanation was perplexingly vague. There must be something else going on that we don't know about yet. Lord knows there has been enough political infighting in this area over the past couple years to last any aspiring politician a lifetime...

Chris Graham interviewed Saxman after the news conference that was held in Saxman's home, and the audio clip is at augustafreepress.com. Saxman said the decision was very difficult and painful, which is putting it mildly, I'm sure. His demeanor and facial expression evinced fatigue and sorrow.

According to Rockingham County Republican chairman Mike Meredith, Staunton city councilman Dickie Bell will be chosen to fill the vacant slot on the November ballot. Other local Republican leaders have apparently not made up their mind, however. See the newsleader.com; hat tip to Matthew Poteat. Among the other possibile candidates suggested by local bloggers to fill Chris Saxman's place in the 20th House District, the only serious one -- Scott Sayre -- resides in the Lexington area of Rockbridge County and would have to change his place of residence in short order in order to qualify as a candidate. (The 20th House District includes Staunton; southern Rockingham County; northern, western, and parts of south-central Augusta County; as well as Highland County.)

Another vexing question is what will become of Saxman's ample campaign fund, which was the lead story on the front page of this morning's News Leader, by ironic coincidence. Saxman raised $27,292 from May 28 to June 30, more than six times as much as Democratic candidate Erik Curren. In a telephone interview with WHSV-TV3, Curren said the 20th District race is now wide open, and he thinks he can win it. (Now, that would be an "earthquake"!)

Just as Sarah Palin has a big political future ahead of her, though perhaps not as a candidate for public office, so too I am sure that we have not seen the last of Chris Saxman in Virginia politics. He is very bright and articulate, with a solid record of advancing conservative causes and has worked hard in the "Cost-cutting Caucus" in Richmond. At the same time, he has been played a prominent role in efforts to keep open the School for the Deaf and the Blind (see Oct. 2006), the Commonwealth Center for Children & Adolescents (see Feb. 3), and other state operations here in the Staunton area. In the past, I have questioned Del. Saxman's judgment in associating with certain unsavory political groups such as Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. That group deliberately set out to create a nasty and hostile political atmosphere in state and local politics around the country, including here; see June 2007. I know, however, that Saxman was just trying to navigate turbulent waters in a party that is rife with dissension right now. It must be exhausting to have to work so hard year after year to placate people who constantly demand "their way or the highway," and if that's the reason he is stepping aside from politics for the time being, I wouldn't blame him one bit.

I wish Chris, his wife, and his family all the best in the future.

Senators grill Sotomayor

Judge Sonia Sotomayor survived the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in fairly good shape, and there is little if any doubt that she will be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Sen. Jeff Sessions made the fundamental issue crystal clear in his opening statement: "Empathy with one party in a dispute always means prejudice toward the other party." (Broadcast on C-SPAN) That set the stage for the rest of the week's dialogue, as Sotomayor took pains to distance herself from past controversial statements that hinted at cultural prejudice. She pledged unbending fidelity to the law, and moderate Republican Senators Lindsey Graham left no doubt that she would be confirmed. I have very deep reservations about Sotomayor's suitability for the Supreme Court, but I don't think it would do any good to try to block her confirmation.

I was actually glad that Sotomayor evaded the questions from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) about her position on abortion. (See the Washington Post.) That is a personal, moral question that should be carefully distinguished from the legal dispute over the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. In my view, that ruling was a legal travesty (as I wrote in July 2005 with regard to the John Roberts nomination), creating a new constitutional right out of thin air, with little or no pretense about the basis for it in the U.S. Constitution. Accordingly, I am very interested in what she thinks about the pernicious trend of judicial activism and making up policy. Her oft-cited remark that "The Court of Appeals is where policy is made" (see May 26) is not encouraging, however.


July 19, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Back to McCormick's Farm

July is not the best month for watching birds, as the males of most species have stopped their singing and no longer defend their breeding territory, but on Wednesday morning I was amply rewarded for joining Jo King on an Augusta Bird Club field trip McCormick's Mill. (The last such excursion in mid-May was likewise better than expected.) Jo counted 45 species in all. Here are the highlights of what I was able to see, in rough chronological order of appearance:

  • Green Heron
  • Belted Kingfishers
  • Wood Duck (F)
  • Cedar Waxwings
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Killdeer
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Eastern Wood-Pewees
  • Indigo Buntings (M)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Phoebes
  • Robins (many)
  • Catbirds
  • Goldfinches
  • Kingbird
  • Bluebirds
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Solitary Sandpiper (migrating???)
  • Black-and-white Warbler (F/J)

All in all, it was a wonderful morning, in terms of weather and birds, though we were a bit disappointed by the absence of any orioles.

I should note that a tragic plane crash had taken place about a week earlier in the vicinity of McCormick's Mill, which is located on the southern edge of Augusta County. We did not see any evidence of the crash, however. Four people died when a single-engine aircraft went down in bad weather conditions, though the cause of the accident has not yet been determined. See newsleader.com.

Fourth of July birding

I took the following photos during the Fourth of July parade in Staunton:

Wood Duck

Wood Duck (male), in Gypsy Hill Park, on July Fourth, 2009.

Mute Swans

Mute Swans, at the same place and date.

Bell's Lane

Late this afternoon, Jacqueline and I went for a walk on Bell's Lane, and I was glad to see a fair number of birds, some of which have been elusive there lately:

  • Green Heron
  • Kingbird
  • Goldfinches (M, F)
  • Indigo Bunting (M)
  • Yellow Warbler (F)
  • Willow flycatchers
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (F/J)

July 20, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Cubs sweep the Nationals

The change of management has had no discernible impact on the Washington Nationals, who were swept by the Chicago Cubs in a four-game series over the weekend. Since the Cubs are one of my favorite teams, and are in need of a boost in the standings, it wasn't as painful as such a sweep would have ordinarily been. It's too bad the Nats' new manager Jim Riggleman couldn't at least get one win against his former team, the Cubs. On the plus side, the Nats came close in Games 2 and 3, but then fell apart in Game 4 as the Cubbies walloped them, 11-3. The low point was the seven-run rally by the Cubs in the fourth inning; see MLB.com, which noted, "For trivia buffs, you have to go back to July 11-14, 1898, for the last time the Cubs won a four-game series in Washington. The games were played at Boundary Field then, and William McKinley was president." I was surprised that former National Alfonso Soriano (who hit a long home run to left field) is batting so poorly this year, about .240 or so. Attendance was pretty good, over 35,000 in the two weekend games. With any luck, I'll finally get to see Alfonso play in Denver next month...

Tonight's game against the Mets wasn't any better. J.D. Martin, a rookie just called up from AAA Syracuse, was the starting pitcher, and he gave up five runs in the first two innings. At least he retained his composure and held on for another two. Tyler Clippard did a superb job as reliever, getting nine straight outs over three innings, including five strikeouts. Unfortunately, the Nats' bats were mostly silent again, and Josh Bard had the only runs batted in. Final score: 6-2.

In Philadelphia, meanwhile, the Cubs had a rude reality check, losing to the Phillies, 10-1.

Groundbreaking in Miami

The Marlins held the formal groundbreaking ceremonies at the site of their future ballpark, and you can see a gallery of artist's renderings at MLB.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. There are definitely some things I would have done differently, such as a shorter left field, but overall it seems like a pretty good design, with several interesting features.

Fenway Park hockey

Also from Mike: The NHL Boston Bruins will host the Philadelphia Flyers in NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park next New Year's Day. See MLB.com.

Yankee Stadium football

I learned from Brian Wysocki that there will be a college football game for the first time in New Yankee Stadium one year from this fall. Notre Dame will play against Army on Nov. 20, 2010, reviving a tradition from many years ago, when they used to play in Old (pre-renovation) Yankee Stadium. For next year's game, they plan to lay the gridiron with one end zone in center field and the other near home plate, slightly angled toward the left. The outfield was designed specifically to accommodate football, just as the original (1923) Yankee Stadium was. For the future, they are considering a hockey game there as well. See MLB.com, and a diagram of the gridiron at twitpic.com. Groan! Here we go again...

Thanks for the photos

I received several excellent photos of Rogers Centre from Tim Moysey, and I'll be posting those in the next few days, along with the remaining ones submitted to me by John Minor.

COMMENT by: Chris Knight, of Kansas City, KS on Jul 21, 2009 01:58 AM
Man that is crazy just when we all thought and heard that New Yankee Stadium was Baseball only and it wouldn't fit a football field. They have this set up and it looks like they can remove the dugouts on that diagram of New Yankee Stadium to accommodate the football gridiron.

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jul 21, 2009 15:32 PM
Crazy was my first thought, too, but then it occurred to me that there might be a sneaky "ulterior motive"...


July 20, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Walter Cronkite and "old news"

All the broadcast tributes about the life and times of Walter Cronkite bring back long-forgotten memories for us baby boomers. For young people today who have grown up with the image-obsessed, celebrity-oriented 24/7 news cycle, anything that happened more than a couple hours ago is "old news." For those people, history is what happened a few years ago, and anything that took place before they were born is irrelevant. For them, it's hard to fathom the virtues of reporting serious news events from around the country and around the world. ("Indonesia? Where's that?") But I digress. Walter Cronkite had some faults and biases, but he excelled at what he did. He was the epitome of everything that was good about the "old news."

If you think about it, it's hard to imagine the second half of the twentieth century without Walter Cronkite. He got his start covering the Allied landings during World War II. He served as CBS anchorman from 1962 to 1981, a period spanning six presidents. Here are some of the key historical events he reported on, and with which he is closely associated:

  • John Kennedy assassination (1963)
  • Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space flights (1961-1972)
  • Vietnam War, esp. 1968 Tet Offensive
  • Urban race riots (1965-1968)
  • Arab-Israeli war and peace (1973-1978)
  • Watergate (1973-1975)
  • Iran hostage crisis (1979-1981)

As for the competition, NBC's Chet Huntley and David Brinkley could never match Cronkite's popularity, probably for stylistic reasons more than anything else. Chet was too dour, and David was too wry. In the 1960s, ABC was struggling just to maintain a news operation. Among the many ABC news anchors back then, Frank Reynolds was the one I recall most strongly.

Although he followed in the footsteps of TV newsmen Edward R. Murrow and Douglas Edwards (the latter of whom I vaguely remember), Cronkite was a trailblazing pioneer, setting standards and establishing customs in television news where none had existed before. In those early years, there was as yet no standard news program format, and different networks were trying different formats. Cronkite was so comfortable in his role that his natural sincerity shown through, hence his reputation as "the most trusted man in America." I enjoyed the replay of his cameo appearance on the Mary Tyler Moor show, which was one of our family's favorites. The way he curtly dismissed the sycophantic "Ted Baxter" was hilarious! Speaking of which, one of my favorite movies is Broadcast News (1987, see imdb.com), starring William Hurt, Albert Brooks, and Holly Hunter. It was a semi-serious drama that satirized pompous TV news buffoons such as the "Ted Baxter" character or Dan Rather. Back in the good old days, as Rather himself acknowledged, TV anchormen were reporters first and foremost.

Cronkite's commanding presence and his resonant voice calmed the nerves of Americans during the high-anxiety years of the 1960s and 1970s. After retiring, he freely admitted that he was a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, as were most people in that profession of his generation. Even so, he rarely let his personal biases show when he was reporting the news. Some TV anchormen (and women) have done a creditable job of living up to Cronkite's standards, including NBC's Tom Brokaw, CBS's Bob Schieffer, and PBS's Jim Lehrer. I think NBC's Brian Williams is very good as well, as is ABC's Charles Gibson, and in her own way, CBS's Katie Couric. (In terms of journalistic excellence, I would also include Tim Russert, who died in June 2008, but he was never an anchorman.)

For an "insider" perspective on the life and times of "Uncle Walter," what better place to look than cbsnews.com? It quotes Cronkite's successor, Dan Rather, saying, "Walter Cronkite didn't just play a reporter on TV. He was a reporter." Indeed he was. Rather was the CBS anchor from 1981 until March 2005, when he resigned in the aftermath of the infamous Rathergate scandal in September 2004.

And that's the way it was: 1916-2009!


July 20, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Men on the moon: 40 years ago

It's hard to believe that four decades have passed since the historic triumph of Apollo 11, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon, while Michael Collins tended the command module circling above the moon. As a young science geek in the 1960s, I was completely enthralled by the manned space missions. I vaguely recall the Mercury missions, and built plastic models of the Gemini capsule and the Apollo command module and lunar module. Young people these days have nothing remotely comparable to inspire them, and it's sad that we live in an age of diminishing horizons and lowered expectations. So, I thought it would be helpful to recount the crucial steps leading up to that epochal moment.

It's easy to forget, but for most of the 1960s, the Soviets had a clear lead over the United States in the space race. John Glenn was the first American in orbit (February 1962), but that was nearly a year after Yuri Gagarin had accomplished that feat. The Soviets later put the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, and conducted the first "space walk" outside of the capsule, but their rendevous and docking attempts were marred by frustrations. In April 1967, during the first test of the Soyuz spacecraft which was designed to go to the moon, the cosmonaut died when the parachute failed to open properly.

This tragedy came soon after the tragic Apollo 1 fire that killed Astronauts White, Grissom, and Chaffee in January 1967. Many people thought that President Kennedy's goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade was no longer possible. But somehow, the engineers at NASA, North American Rockwell, and Grumman picked up the pace, fixed the defects, and Americans returned to space in the successful Apollo 7 mission in October 1968. Apollo 8 circled the moon at Christmas 1968, as Frank Borman read the opening lines of Genesis. That was incredibly moving. Three months later, Apollo 9 tested the lunar module in earth orbit, practicing docking maneuvers, and in May 1969, Apollo 10 did likewise in lunar orbit. Against all odds, every mission achieved its goals, setting the stage for the climactic Apollo 11 mission in July 1969.

The tension as the launch date approached was overwhelming, and it's amazing that human beings could perform under such extreme conditions of stress. But all the rocket stages did their jobs, and after a three-day trip of about 200,000 miles, the astronauts arrived in lunar orbit on July 20. The descent to the surface was nerve-wracking as the puny on-board navigational computer overloaded and had to be rebooted (!), while the fuel dwindled away to less than one minute reserve. I was watching live on TV, of course, and made sure my younger brother John [age 5] was watching so that he would be able to say he remembered that event later in life. All we could hear was numbers being read off [altitude, velocity, etc.], and then "Contact!" Neil Armstrong's first words after touching down were: "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." WOW!

The grainy TV images from Apollo 11 were disappointing, but in future Apollo missions we could see much more clearly what was going on. I recall on one of those missions they had a TV camera pointed at the lunar module was the ascent stage blasted off. AWESOME! Sadly, they canceled the last three planned Apollo missions, but there were six successful lunar landings altogether, plus the aborted Apollo 13 mission. In the years the followed, NASA did three Skylab missions, the first U.S. space station, one joint U.S.-Soviet mission, and after a six-year U.S. space hiatus, the Space Shuttle program got underway in 1981. At first all was going well, but then came the Challenger disaster in 1987, and more recently the Columbia disaster in 2003. Two space ships lost out of a fleet of five is not a very good record.

Last week's launch of the Space Shuttle was marred by another foam insulation problem, which is what doomed Columbia. The fact that the Space Shuttle never lived up to its expectations in terms of economy and reliability has discouraged many Americans about our future in space. But as Russia, China, and possibly India or other countries contemplate manned space flight missions, we can't fail to keep our collective eyes skyward. I'm not convinced that either a Mars mission or another lunar mission is what we need right now, but we simply cannot abandon the exploration of space. America's very identity lies in taking on new challenges and, in Captain Kirk's words, "going where no man has gone before." Corny or not, it's part of what we as a nation are, and we cannot deny our destiny.


July 21, 2009 [LINK / comment]

New Yankee Stadium update

Yankee Stadium II Not again!!? Well, prompted by yesterday's news that Yankee Ballpark New Yankee Stadium will host a Notre Dame-Army college football game next year, I decided to come up with a football version diagram of it. Actually, I needed to make some minor corrections anyway, so this was a good opportunity. The left field fence is about five feet closer than I estimated before, as the point at which the straight portion of said fence intersects with the curved portion is about ten feet closer to the left field corner than I had thought. Right field is unaffected, so the enlarged overlay diagram that I posted on June 16 remains valid. I also updated my suggested alternative diagram, pushing the outfield fences back by about 10-15 feet. It shows the true "power alley" dimensions, not the artificially enhanced (too close to center field) dimensions as marked in New Yankee Stadium.

That reminds me, for more explanation on how the power alleys should be measured, see the new Outfield trigonometry page.

Even though the gridiron just barely fits within the existing playing field, they would still have to fill in the dugouts and remove the fences in front of the bullpen in order to create a "safety zone." Then I had an intriguing thought, which I posted on baseball-fever.com:

What about this possibility? Perhaps the Notre Dame-Army football game is at least partly an excuse for the Yankees to move the outfield fences back so that there would be enough room for the gridiron, and ALSO to create more reasonable outfield dimensions for baseball in right center field, so as to cut down on the flood of home runs. It would be a "graceful retreat" by the Yankees front office.

Hey, whatever gets the job done. smile

League Park lives!

Even as demolition workers finish their grim work in putting old Tiger Stadium out of its misery, hopeful news comes from Cleveland: Historical preservationists are pushing ahead with plans to restore League Park, making it an attractive place to visit and recreate. They are planning a special event there on September 12. Go to leaguepark.org, and if possible, go to Cleveland! Thanks to Russ Haslage for the heads-up.

Memory Lane

Stashed away in my hoard of baseball memorabilia I recently found two tickets to Baltimore Orioles games that I saw thirty-odd years ago: April 20, 1979 (vs. the Milwaukee Brewers); and Oct. 4, 1981 (vs. the New York Yankees). What a revelation! I had forgotten exactly when it was that I saw games at Memorial Stadium, but I will duly correct that page forthwith. The latter game was the final game of the strike-shortened 1981 season, when they decided to split the divisional standings into two halves. That is how the Yankees made it to the postseason and then advanced to the World Series (losing to the Dodgers, 4 games to 2), even though they finished in third place in the AL Eastern Division for the year as a whole! See baseball-almanac.com, from which I also found out the scores of those two games: BAL 6, MIL 3; and BAL 5, NYY 2.


July 21, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Blue Dogs reject Obamacare

In Our Nation's Capital, the centrist-oriented Blue Dog Democrats have decided not to support the House version of President Obama's health care phased nationalization "reform" bill. Hooray for the Blue Dogs! This shows once again that the center of the political spectrum is where the action is these days. The news comes as the Mayo Clinic issued a report which calls into question the alleged cost savings.

[T]he proposed legislation misses the opportunity to help create higher-quality, more affordable health care for patients. In fact, it will do the opposite.

Also see washingtontimes.com. As I keep arguing, any such long-term cost estimates are no more than rough guesses; too many contingencies come into play for such estimates to be reliable. The issue is not whether "we as a nation" will save or lose X amount of dollars under the proposed plan, but whether the various mandates and regulatory provisions would stifle consumer choice and undermine the quality of health care services.

On the other hand, I was not pleased with the comments of Sen. Jim DeMint, who said that defeating Obama's health care agenda could mark his "Waterloo," clearly relishing the prospect. See foxnews.com. This, of course, provided an opportunity for the President to piously lament that "This isn't about me. This isn't about politics." I emphatically object to what Obama is doing, but I agree with him that the current system must be drastically overhauled. Anyone who tries to block the Obama health care juggernaut without making it clear that he or she is doing so on valid, sincere policy terms -- as opposed to crass partisan politics -- is doing a disservice to the country. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

McDonnell gets key endorsement

Bob McDonnell received the endorsement of Sheila Crump Johnson, the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television. She praised him for having "the right vision and the executive leadership skills that will guide Virginia through these challenging times." See bobmcdonnell.com. This seems to confirm what Carl Tate has been arguing about McDonnell's potential appeal to African-American voters; see July 15.

On a related note, I happened to see on C-SPAN a hostile interchange on Capitol Hill. National Black Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Harry Alford was offended by Sen. Barbara Boxer's racially-tinged remarks during a Senate hearing on Friday. See the nationalbcc.org. The same thing phenomenon of Democrats losing one of their "safest" constituent groups be happening at the national level.

Religion & local politics

The race for the 20th District House of Delegates seat got even weirder than before this morning, as Augusta County Supervisor Tracy Pyles (a Democrat) raised questions about Democratic candidate Erik Curren's religious views. Curren evidently considers himself a practicing Buddhist and Christian. (???) See the New Leader. Curren wrote Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today. People who display "Free Tibet!" bumper stickers may not be aware that the Dalai Lama is not a saint, and that Buddhism in Tibet has been politicized for many decades.

Full disclosure: I have seen Mr. Curren attending services in Emmanuel Episcopal Church a few times, but I have not yet spoken with him. Generally speaking, religion is a lesser factor in my choice of candidates, such as Mitt Romney (see August 2007, third item), not a decisive one. I find it unfortunate that local politics have become tangled up with religion. On theological grounds, I don't see how anyone could be considered both a Christian and a Buddhist. The two faiths have very distinctive creeds and metaphysical belief systems.


UPDATE: Here is my comment on the News Leader article cited above, referring to Curren's Web site:

I was taken aback by the news about Curren's unorthodox religious beliefs, but that wouldn't make me rule out voting for him, as long as his policy positions were reasonable. He should have known, however, that deeply traditional religious views prevail in this area, and that many people would regard his lack of full candor about his beliefs on his Web site as suspicious. Whether that irritates you or not, it's a political reality. Ironically, this comment thread reinforces my belief that religious bigotry is just as strong on the left as it is on the right.

Meanwhile, the local GOP committee chairs decided to hold a public forum to give prospective candidates for the 20th District seat an opportunity to speak up before making their decision. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on July 27, at Buffalo Gap High School. That story was in Sunday's News Leader.


July 22, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Nats take two from the Mets

We're on a winning streak! If you're the Washington Nationals, or one of their forlorn fans like me, you've got to squeeze every ounce of enjoyment from whatever small triumph they achieve. And the last two games against the Mets were indeed praiseworthy, not flukes. It's the first back-to-back wins since July 4-5, against Atlanta. John Lannan (Tuesday) and Craig Stammen (tonight) proved once again that they are reliable starting pitchers who can "go the distance" and win games, as long as the batters score a few runs and the fielders don't make too many errors. Lannan pitched a complete-game shutout, the first of his career, as the Nats scored four runs on four hits, while the Mets got seven hits, for nought. Weird! In tonight's game, Josh Willingham came very close to batting "the circuit," with a single, two doubles, and a home run. Tomorrow the Nats host the Cardinals in a rained-out makeup game, and another win would put the "D.C. 9" back over the .300 mark. (Lowered expectations...) Then the last-place Padres come to town, another team that has been underachieving lately.

The Mets are now in fourth place in the NL East at 44-50, while the Braves have surged into second place. That's a pleasant change of pace. The collapse of the Mets is one of the biggest surprises of this season. Usually, they excel until about mid-September, and then collapse. smile

On the trading block

Jim Riggleman [the Nationals' new manager] wants to give more playing time to Ronnie Belliard, thinking the extra at-bats will raise his batting average. I hope so. The surplus of second basemen means that either he or Alberto Gonzalez or the versatile hustler Willie Harris may be traded in the next few days. The Trade Deadline is fast approaching, and first baseman Nick Johnson is another Nationals player who may be changing residence soon, according to MLB.com The Cardinals and Tigers have expressed interest in Adam Dunn, but he will probably stay put unless some other team offers the Nationals a very lucrative deal.


July 22, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Virginia is for closures?

Yesterday marked the end of the line for 18 of the 42 rest areas along Interstate highways in Virginia. (One more, in Manassas, will close this fall.) The rest stops on both sides of I-81 near Mount Sidney in Augusta County are now closed, as is the southbound rest stop at New Market. That means anyone driving from Northern Virginia into the Shenandoah Valley will have to wait until they get close to Lexington before they can, ahem, "relieve themselves." See the VDOT Website. What an outrage! Political leaders from both parties have come together on this issue, demanding that steps be taken to get those rest areas open ASAP. Otherwise, the state's reputation as an attractive tourist destination will erode. See the News Leader. Well, whenever Bob McDonnell and Creigh Deeds agree on some major policy issue, you know something fishy is going on.

Actually, this needless aggravation was years in the making, and though Gov. Tim Kaine deserves much of the blame for this drastic cutback, it is basically the result of a showdown over fiscal policy. Why can't the issue be resolved effectively? Mainly because people expect elected officials to do the impossible, delivering more services without increasing the tax burden. Also because of lobbyists for the travel and trucking industries who block attempts to charge users a reasonable fee. Why not "pay to pee"? As I suggested in September 2006, in the midst of one episode of the never-ending partisan battles over the transportation budget in Virginia:

Just levy a $100 fine on every truck that parks along exit ramps and rest areas. Among the side benefits, that would also ease traffic congestion on I-81, give more business to truck stops and motels, and make rail transportation more competitive. Rest stops in Virginia at night have become dangerously overcrowded with semi-trailer trucks that are basically freeloading at the public's expense. Enough of that, already!

Kudos to State Senator Mark Obenshain for explaining "the games people play" in Richmond. From his Facebook page:

Eliminating nineteen rest areas -- eighteen on July 21 and another in September -- to save a mere $9 million is, however, reckless and unnecessary. ... [It's like] the Washington Monument Strategy. Year after year, Congress would call upon the National Park Service to find ways to operate more efficiently, and invariably the response would be that if they had to cut one more penny, they would have no choice but to close the Washington Monument.

Right he is. I vividly remember seeing silly examples of the Washington Monument ploy first-hand in the 1980s, whenever there was a budget showdown between President Reagan and Congress, so I commented:

Thank you for bringing up the "Washington Monument Strategy," the oldest bureaucratic trick in the book. We don't need to make VDOT into an even bigger empire than it is by merging it with DRPT, we need to explore creative privatization and user fee options to keep those rest areas open.

Shame on VDOT! (And shame on us.)


July 23, 2009 [LINK / comment]

20th District GOP: 8 is enough!

In the past few days, even more prospective candidates have come forward seeking the Republican nomination for the 20th District House of Delegates seat being vacated by Chris Saxman. (See June 17.) This morning's News Leader listed eight of them, in fact:

  • Dickie Bell
  • David Karaffa
  • Cliff Fretwell
  • Charles Curry
  • Christopher DeWald
  • John D. Beghtol
  • Charles Hawkins
  • Ray Ergenbright

Eight??? Enough already! smile

At first, it appeared that Staunton City Councilman Dickie Bell was assured of the nomination, but now he will face several challengers who will presumably appear at the public forum to be held this Monday evening. The nomination process is being handled primarily by Carl Tate, a Staunton Republican who worked in the Federal government for a while, and is now a law student at the University of Richmond. He has been working tirelessly to heal the party's wounds and make sure that this candidate selection is done fairly and openly, a task for which all Republicans should be grateful. Mr. Curry ran against Chris Saxman in the 2001 Republican primary for that House seat, and in 2007 he ran as an independent against incumbent Larry Howdyshell for the North River District seat on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, falling just short of victory.

Full disclosure: besides Dickie Bell, I know two of those men personally, and I can attest wholeheartedly to their qualifications, experience, and integrity: Cliff Fretwell and Ray Ergenbright. For many years they were very active with the Staunton Republican Committee, and since last year they have been active with the Mountain Valley Republicans, a group which I have the honor to chair. But that's another story...


UPDATE: I just commented on the above-cited News Leader story:

It is refreshing that we will have such a wide choice of good candidates, with varying backgrounds.

It is sad, however, that the News Leader reporters failed to own up to the paper's very unfair treatment of Ray Ergenbright in that 2005 campaign. The records clearly showed that he was not responsible for the bad accounting software purchased by the city which led to the tax billing snafu, and in fact, the person who DID recommend said software had a business relationship with the candidate who unseated him. Very fishy, if you ask me.

http://www.andrewclem.com/Archives/Post.php?2005/10/20po.html

Obama cajoles the nation

Like Sen. Orrin Hatch (see foxnews.com), I have lost all patience with President Obama's misguided attempt to ramrod his version of health care "reform" through Congress, without the least pretense of due deliberation or assessment of the likely consequences. In fact, I didn't even bother to watch Obama's press conference last night, but you can watch the video "replay" at whitehouse.gov

Obama's "science" adviser

President Obama's choice of John P. Holdren to be his Science Adviser was supposed to make sure that "facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology." With all the politicization of scientific issues such as evolution or global warming, that sounds fine to me. When you look at Holdren's background, however, several warning bells go off. Read about his scientific "activism" at frontpagemag.com. Hat tip to Stacey Morris.


July 24, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Prosperity Gospel thrives

Do you every come across televangelist Joel Osteen while changing channels on Sunday morning? I sure do, he's hard to avoid. "Crunchy Conservative" social critic Rod Dreher recently discussed the "Prosperity Gospel," a neo-Pentecostal offshoot that has faint theological origins in Calvinism. It takes the idea that material wealth is a sign of God's favor, and then perverts it beyond all recognition: "God wants to make your life easier"??? One might think that economic hard times would lead to a drop in attendance for such churches, as a reality check, but that does not seem to be the case. Is it any wonder that many of the feel-good TV "clergymen" look like used car salesmen than devout men of the cloth? To Dreher, "These preachers are pimps of false hope and salvation by materialism." Link via Andrew Sullivan. Rev. Donald Sensing referred to this materialistic syndrome exemplified by Osteen as "Comfortable Christianity." (See February 2007.)

Green acres is the place to be!

On my way out to help with Dave Rapp's garden last Saturday, I saw this spectacular view of the countryside and asked my friend Matthew, who was driving, to stop so I could take a picture. Is this God's country, or what?

Weyers Cave horse farm

An idyllic horse farm west of Weyers Cave, Virginia. Click on that image to see the full-size version.

Land spreadin' out so far and wide,
Keep Manhattan, just give me that country life! smile

July 24, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Obama changes his tune on cops

All of us say things we later regret every once in a while, but this has become a recurring problem with President Obama. Last month he did a 180-degree flip-flop on the protests in Iran, and today he reversed himself on the question of whether or not the police in Cambridge, Massachusetts responded properly to the report of a possible burglar by a neighbor. The "intruder" turned out to be none other than esteemed Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, the owner of the house, but the police did not recognize him. A series of misunderstandings ensued, tempers flared, and Gates was arrested. In his news conference on health care, the President was asked what he thought about that incident, and though he admitted he didn't know all the facts, he said "the Cambridge Police acted stupidly..." (See whitehouse.gov.) An ordinary local dispute thus became the occasion for another "national dialogue on race relations." Today Obama telephone Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer, as well as Gates, trying to defuse tensions. He didn't apologize, but he did admit he should have chosen his words more carefully. See foxnews.com.

This is another case where a media frenzy spun out of control because a few key people with sensitive egos overreacted in dicey situations. The police overreacted, Gates overreacted, and then Obama overreacted. I agree with Eugene Volokh: "I don't see what the point of arresting Gates was." If I had lost my keys as Gates apparently did, I would probably be feeling pretty tense as well. Let's just chill out.

The professor at the center of the uproar, Henry Louis Gates, is the author of many books, and is known for having very sharp views on racism in America. He's perhaps not quite the radical that Prof. Cornel West is, but he's close to it.

On most days, having a black man as president makes you feel deeply proud to be an American, such as when Obama was visiting the locker room before the All Star Game last week. He can schmooze with the best of them, and nine times out of ten, he's going to make everybody feel better about each other. But then every once in a while, like on Wednesday night, Obama will say or do something that just makes you cringe, revealing the latent distrust that still persists in our multicultural society. Let's hope he plays it cooler from now on, and gets his facts straight before he opines on something. (Like health care, perhaps?) Whether or not the police officers had any racial prejudices, this incident does serve to remind us that such things happen, even in the 21st Century. The old joke about African-American motorists being arrested for "driving while black" is not entirely inaccurate.

President Richard Pryor

Coincidentally, a friend pointed me to a hilarious video from way back in 1977 of Richard Pryor (who passed away in December 2005) playing the first black president. It's a perfect fit to this situation, because "President Pryor" was holding a White House press conference, starting off smoothly and calmly and then getting progressively riled up. The conclusion is a real hoot. Sometimes reality and off-the-wall satire come very close to merging with each other. See blackbusinessaffiliate.com; hat tip to Rich Raab.


July 26, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Buehrle gets perfect game

Thanks to an amazing catch at the wall by centerfielder DeWayne Wise that robbed Tampa Bay's Gabe Kapler of a home run in the ninth inning on Thursday, Mark Buehrle became the 18th player in history to pitch a perfect game. The last one? Randy Johnson [ARI] in 2004. Before that? David Cone [NYY] on July 18, 1999 and David Wells (NYY) on May 17, 1998. (Notice a pattern?) See MLB.com; that page contains links to several others. After the game, the winning pitcher got a phone call from Air Force One. I don't know if records are kept for such things, but Buehrle is surely one of very few major league players to have talked to the president two times in as many weeks!

Here's a lesson I wish more people would take to heart: If they hadn't moved the outfield fence in at U.S. Cellular Field in 2001, that fly ball would have been a lot easier to catch, and would not have been a home run in any case. They could still rebuild the outfield wall and bleachers to make it less hitter-friendly and more like the predecessor, Comiskey Park.

According to MLB.com, "The fleet-footed outfielder's function on the South Side is to serve as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-run in big situations." Talk about the perfect player in the perfect situation! Buehrle now owes Wise a favor that can never be repaid, but he'll have to make the attempt nonetheless. A steak dinner every week for a year? A Mazerati coupe? A sea-fishing boat? Buehrle's name is well-known in baseball, and after this remarkable defensive effort by DeWayne Wise, hopefully many people will remember his name as well.

Memorial Stadium update

Memorial Stadium Speaking of memory, I recently wrote that "I had forgotten exactly when it was that I saw games at Memorial Stadium," which is pretty funny if you think about it. I'm sure if they ever name a sporting venue "Amnesia Stadium," I will definitely remember when I go there! smile Anyway, the Memorial Stadium page now has been updated with a variety of minor corrections and enhanced detail.

"Dugouts"? Not really.

When is a "dugout" not a dugout? For a while I had thought that Memorial Stadium in its 1950s configuration lacked true below-ground dugouts, since they were originally underneath the first two rows of seats, like at the first three stadiums listed below. After looking more closely at photos, however, it appears that there was indeed a small step or two down. Several of the dual-use cookie-cutters stadiums had baseball "dugouts" at ground level, to avoid extra bother when shifting from baseball to football and back again. Like artificial turf and domes, this expedient compromise undermined the authentic baseball experience, but is now pretty much a thing of the past.

  • Jack Murphy Stadium
  • Kingdome
  • Metrodome
  • Three Rivers Stadium
  • Riverfront Stadium
  • Olympic Stadium

Henderson, Rice in HOF

Today the Baseball Hall of Fame officially inducted two new members: Ricky Henderson, and Jim Rice. Henderson, who spent the better part of his career with the Oakland A's, has the all-time record for stolen bases (1,406) and runs (2,295), and was a shoe-in. Rice gained fame with the Boston Red Sox in the late 1970s; it was his final chance to get elected by the baseball writers. Congratulations to both men, neither of whom will have asterisks next to their names in the record books. See baseballhalloffame.org.

Nats are on a rebound

The Nats lost 6-2 to the visiting San Diego Padres on Friday night, largely because the superb Jordan Zimmermann was taken out of the rotation and put on the DL due to a sore elbow, and replaced by Collin Balester MLB.com. They came back with a fury on Saturday night however, thrashing the Padres 13-1 after a long rain delay. The final pitch was just before 1:00 A.M.! Too bad they couldn't spread some of those runs around. Today was a tense pitchers' duel, as John Lannan turned in another top-notch performance, giving up one run in eight innings. Mike MacDougal blew the save opportunity in the ninth inning, but the Nats managed to win in the tenth, thanks to a rare clutch RBI by Austin Kearns. Interviewed by the MASN reporter after the game, you could see he had tears in his eyes. I felt bad for having scorned him for having such a lousy year. Good job, Austin!

So, there are some hopeful signs under the new management of Jim Riggleman. After losing the first eight extra-inning games they played this year, the Nationals have now won the last four such games, including the suspended May 5 game that was completed on July 9. The Nats have now won four of their last six games, only the [third] such string of above-average play this year. After a day [night] of rest, the Nationals head to Milwaukee. The Brewers have been struggling lately, while the woe-begotten Cubs have taken first place in the NL Central!!! smile

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Jul 26, 2009 19:32 PM
I think you got some of the teams wrong. Randy Johnson pitched his perfect game for the D'Backs, and David Cone for the Yankees, I believe.

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jul 26, 2009 21:55 PM
Right you are, and I was just about to make that correction [in brackets] when I saw that you caught me, again. Duly done.


July 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Pennant races are shaping up

Whatver happened to all those upstart teams that surged into first place during the early weeks of the 2009 season -- the Orioles, Mariners, Royals, Padres, and Marlins? (The Blue Jays were also in first place for a while, you may recall.) As of mid-April (scroll down), each of those teams were leading their respective divisions, against all odds, but now they are all at or close to the bottom. The only team in first place now that was also in first place back then is the Detroit Tigers, who shared the spot with the Kansas City Royals. Here are the current division leaders, and the leaders as of mid-April:

  • NL East: Phillies, by 6.5 games (Marlins are now in 3rd.)
  • NL Central: Cubs, by 0.5 games. (Cardinals are now in 2nd.)
  • NL West: Dodgers, by 8 games (Padres are now in 5th.)
  • AL East: Yankees, by 2.5 games. (Orioles are now in 5th.)
  • AL Central: Tigers, by 2 games. (Royals are now in 5th.)
  • AL West: Angels, by 3.5 games. (Mariners are now in 3rd.)

It's been almost a complete reversal, and the division leaders are now pretty much what you would have expected. After a dismal first couple months, the Yankees have finally gotten their act together, winning nine of their last ten, and the Angels, Cubs, and Phillies have been almost as hot. Other teams that are licking their chops: the Rockies, the Rangers, and both the Red and White Sox. Who knows, maybe the Braves or the Marlins will make a late-season surge and make it back to the post-season. On the other hand, the Mets have almost collpased, now in fourth place, ranked just ahead of the Washington Nationals. The indignity! smile As of next month, I will officially start paying attention to the wild card races. The Orioles are not a bad team at all, and like the Washington Nationals, they are missing a few critical pieces, or else they might be a contending team as well.

Camden Yards update

Speaking of the Orioles, the Camden Yards page has been updated with several corrections and additional detail, such as the profile, lights, and trees in the plaza on the northeast side. The most significant change is that the angle of the diagonal bend in the grandstand near the left field corner is oriented more toward the diamond than I had thought before.

Well, that takes care of Maryland, at least. Now, back to our regularly-scheduled sequence in Missouri...

Don't worry, I am still working on Kauffman Stadium, and expect to have it done this week...


July 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Dickie Bell gets GOP nomination

Seven candidates appeared at the 20th House District Republican candidate forum at Buffalo Gap High School this evening. It was quite a spectacle, with close to 200 people in attendance to hear what each candidate had to say. (Over the weekend, Christopher DeWald announced he was withdrawing from consideration, and endorsed David Karaffa.) Afterwards, the four local GOP committee chairs met in private and decided to nominate Richard "Dickie" Bell to fill in for Chris Saxman. This was what most people expected, and I count myself as among those who were pleased. (I found out about the result by watching WVIR-Channel 29 News about an hour after the forum ended. Reporter Matt Thalhelm covered the event.)

Dickie Bell is a well-spoken, fiercely independent mainstream conservative, and seems to be very well suited to reaching out to the party's diverse factions. It was the first time I had heard him speak at length. In Staunton City Council meetings, he has usually had a rather taciturn demeanor, and is known for being somewhat of a curmudgeonly dissenter. So, I was pleased to hear him speak out forcefully on the need for limited government, common-sense approaches, and fostering private investment to promote economic growth. Bell has a wry sense of humor, and pointed out the obvious fact that the Republican Party has an image problem. For example, he noted, many people think of Republicans as just a bunch of "old white men" -- and then he looked at the guys sitting around him! That description would fit all of those candidates except David Karaffa. He said he would take the high road in the campaign, and that he hates negative attacks. So do I.

The other main candidate, David Karaffa, represented the GOP "Base." He stressed the passion and energy that he would bring to the task of campaigning, declaring "I am ready!" He is young, probably in his late 30s, so he may have felt the need to make up for his lack of experience relative to the rest of the candidates. Karaffa's supporters wore red shirts to identify themselves, but it wasn't hard to tell who was who, as they repeatedly cheered loudly whenever he spoke. Karaffa is a nurse, "on the front line of health care," which he said qualifies him to tackle such issues. He is flatly opposed to any legalization of either abortion or embryonic stem cell research. At one point he made a critical remark aimed at the Augusta Free Press, whose editor Chris Graham was seated in back of me, not far away. I didn't see the point in that. When asked to prioritize the issues of transportation, education, and the economy, he basically took a pass, unable to make a clear statement. That was not a good sign. Nor was the odd slogan which was emblazoned on the many Karaffa campaign signs taped to the walls: "Principles, Courage, MOMENTUM" (Huh? Is this a physics experiment?)

Ray Ergenbright stressed the need for our society to reclaim its civic heritage, going back to the principles of constitutional self-government that has made this country free, secure, and prosperous. He criticized the tendency of politicians in Richmond and elsewhere to engage in "group think," afraid to express their true opinions. Ray has a background in retail business and for twelve years was the Staunton Commissioner of Revenue. As far as policy positions, he called for a general devolution of government power from the Federal to the state level, and from the state to the local level.

Cliff Fretwell called attention to his many years of service to the Republican Party, and to the Staunton community. He is a gruff, no-nonsense kind of guy who reminds me of the mustached actor Wilford Brimley: "Eat your oatmeal!" Cliff worked his way up through determined salesmanship to become a successful realtor and businessman. Among all the candidates, he was the most gracious in expressing appreciation to Chris Saxman for his eight years serving in the House of Delegates, If candidates were chosen on the basis of who deserved it the most from all their past sacrifices, I think Cliff or Ray would almost certainly win this contest.

Charles Hawkins is an interesting figure, with a background in the Navy and the Christian Broadcasting Network. His main issue seems to be bringing broadband Internet service to rural areas. At one point Hawkins actually said that higher gasoline taxes should be considered, eliciting boos from several people. Didn't anyone brief him that no Republican is supposed to say that?? Well, I was one of two or three people who applauded him for having the nerve to come out and say what had to be said. And the end of the forum he threw his support to Dickie Bell.

John Beghtol seems to be the ideal Republican of the previous generation: solidly pro-business but more pragmatic on sensitive social issues. In his closing remarks, he brought up the Utah model for health care, and stressed the often-neglected Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which reserves powers not otherwise delegated to the states, or to the people themselves. (If you ask me, they'll have to repeal that one if they want to pass President Obama's health care proposal.)

The candidate who least impressed me was Charles Curry. He has a long career in education and served on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, but he didn't articulate his policy positions very clearly. He seems very reasonable and intelligent, but perhaps not dynamic enough to handle the heavy demands of politicking in Richmond.

Since I know Ray Ergenbright and Cliff Fretwell very closely from all the years we worked together on the Staunton Republican Committee, I can't pretend to be objective. With that "sentimental" qualifier in mind, here is my ranking of the seven candidates, from favorite to least favorite:

  1. Ray Ergenbright*
  2. Cliff Fretwell
  3. Dickie Bell
  4. John Beghtol
  5. Charles Hawkins
  6. Charles Curry
  7. David Karaffa

*Rankings of the first two determined by a coin toss. smile

Not knowing what to expect at this forum, I felt a bit trepidatious. Aside from occasional boisterous outbursts by the Base, all turned out very well, however, and I am very confident that Dickie Bell will make an excellent candidate, and is the odds-on favorite to be the next delegate from the 20th District. During and after the forum, I saw quite a few big-name Republicans other than those pictured, including Delegate Steve Landes, Trixie Averill, Tom Sheets, and Scott Sayre. Even litigator-sheep farmer Francis Chester was there! Quite a few of the Mountain Valley Republicans were there as well, but apparently not State Senator Emmett Hanger. All in all, it felt good to be in a room full of Republicans who seem relatively at ease with one another once again. Thanks to Carl Tate for conducting this process, and making sure that all voices in the party were heard. On to November!

Congratulations to Dickie Bell, our nominee!

20th District GOP candidates

The moderator at the podium, and the seven 20th District GOP candidates (left to right): John Beghtol, Dickie Bell, Charles Curry, Ray Ergenbright, Cliff Fretwell, Charles Hawkins, and David Karaffa.

Red shirts for Karaffa

Supporters of David Karaffa distinguished themselves by wearing red shirts, and by achieving the loudest decibel level of any candidate's backers.

Chris Saxman at GOP 20th Dist candidate forum

Outgoing Delegate Chris Saxman spoke to the crowd after the candidates had finished, and received a standing ovation.

David Beyeler, Jeremy Shifflett, Elnora Hazlett, Lee Godfrey at GOP 20th Dist candidate forum

Augusta County supervisors David Beyeler and Jeremy Shifflett (plaid shirt) heading out of the forum, with former Staunton Treasurer Elnora Hazlett (in the lavender blouse), and Lee Godfrey (Shifflett's Democratic opponent in 2007!) on the right.

Ray Ergenbright and Cliff Fretwell

Ray Ergenbright and Cliff Fretwell, two of the seven candidates.

McDonnell vs. Deeds: debate #1

By most accounts, Bob McDonnell got the better of Creigh Deeds in the first of four scheduled debates. This one was held on Saturday morning (while I was gardening!) at the Homestead resort in Bath County, sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association. McDonnell tried to focus on national issues, criticizing Democratic policies on energy, labor and the economy, while Deeds put his emphasis on "what's going on around the breakfast tables." See the Washington Post and bobmcdonnell.com. From the Richmond Times Dispatch,

Democrat R. Creigh Deeds said Republican Bob McDonnell's transportation plan, announced this week, would take $5.4 billion out of education funding over the next 10 years.

McDonnell said Deeds has no transportation plan.

The more general question is, Does Deeds have any plan at all? J. R. Hoeft has the entire audio recording, lasting one hour and 15 minutes, at Bearing Drift.


July 28, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Willingham slams Brewers, twice

Two swings of the bat by Josh Willingham were all it took for the Washington Nationals to beat the Milwaukee Brewers last night, 13-6. How is that possible? Well, the mighty Josh connected just right in two consecutive innings with the bases loaded, and went into the history books as only the 13th player ever to hit two grand slams in the same game! The incredible feats of athletic prowess took place in the 5th and 6th innings at Miller Park. Ryan Zimmerman also got his 18th homer of the year, but Willingham is closing in on him fast. See MLB.com. (Of all the nights for me to be out of the house! frown) I sure hope they don't trade Willingham away in the next few days...

Minor diagram updates

At the request of Mike Zurawski, I made minor corrections to the PNC Park and PETCO Park diagrams. In both cases it involves the location of the LC distance marker, and for PETCO Park I actually moved the fence back a few feet based on that. Most of you will probably not even notice what changed, but for us perfectionists, it's crystal clear.

COMMENT by: Ryan Brister, of Rochester, NY on Jul 28, 2009 18:33 PM
The Mets have already made an addition to Citi: a new video board in the RF corner. http://i254.photobucket.com/albums/hh82/fightinitalian21/IMG_5958.jpg


July 29, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Valley League Baseball 2009

Because of rainouts and other commitments (such as watching Nationals games on TV), I had not been to a local baseball game all summer until last night. I picked a good game to see, as the hometown Staunton Braves trounced the Waynesboro Generals, 16-8. Half of Staunton's runs came in the third inning, with five hits, two walks, and two errors. That was a big enough cushion, but they kept piling on more runs late in the game. For the box score and play-by-play, see valleyleaguebaseball.com; local star Donovan Huffer scored three runs. Attendance: 1,601, about twice what I estimated.

The Valley League Baseball consists of college players who want to improve their skills during the off-school months of summer. This year there are twelve teams, from Covington in the south to Winchester in the north, divided into three divisions. The regular season comes to a close this weekend, and Staunton has already clinched the southern division title, with the second-highest win-loss percentage in the league as a whole. Four teams (including the wild card) will vie for the league championship trophy.

Over in Waynesboro, Chris Graham laments the disappointing season of the Generals, who are 16-26: "There's always next year." See augustafreepress.com. He has been tirelessly promoting Waynesboro's team all season long, organizing fan get-togethers, etc., and he deserves a lot of credit for that.

John Moxie Stadium

Vital statistics:
Lifetime Capac- ity Outfield dimensions (feet) Be- hind home plate Fence height The Clem Criteria:
Built Status LF LC CF RC RF Field
asym.
Arch.
design
Seat
prox.
Loc. Aesth. Over- all
??? fair (1,200) 340 355 360 355 325 (35) 20-10-20 3 4 8 7 7 5.8

John Moxie Stadium

The grandstand of John Moxie Stadium, in Staunton, Virginia.

Ted Bosiak Field

Ted Bosiak Field: Staunton Braves vs. Waynesboro Generals, July 28, 2009.

To be more precise, it is "Ted Bosiak Field at John Moxie Stadium," I believe.

Nats' streak ends

After winning four games in a row -- two against the Padres and two against the Brewers -- the Washington Nationals fell short this evening, losing 7-5. The aggregate score during that rare "winning streak" was a lopsided 38-12, so it's too bad they couldn't have saved up some of that offensive power for when they really needed it. Tomorrow they face the Brewers in a fourth game, and will try to win the second series in a row. And how about those Cubs, beating the Astros 12-0! They are running neck and neck with the Cardinals in the NL Central.


July 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Going to the SABR 39 convention

Today I am heading up to Our Nation's Capital, where the 39th convention of the Society for American Baseball Research is being held. I look forward to meeting in person many of the leading ballpark experts with whom I have become acquainted over the Internet. After that I head west, stopping in Pittsburgh and perhaps a couple other cities before reaching the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Cubs at Rockies: August 9 or bust! With any luck, I'll see three or more big-league ball games during my journey.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to finish revisions to the Kauffman Stadium as I had planned. I have plenty of good photos, but that new outfield seating arrangement has an awful lot of weird quirks.


July 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Zelaya steps inside Honduras

Ousted President Manuel Zelaya is keeping up the pressure on the forces that removed him from power one month ago. Last Saturday he took a symbolic step inside Honduran territory. (Ironically, it nearly coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing: "That's one small step for man...") Zelaya then retreated rather than face arrest by the border guards. See CNN.com. It was a public relations stunt that raises tensions, making more difficult any kind of compromise with the de facto government in Tegulcigalpa.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Zelaya irresponsible, but the State Department has nevertheless revoked the visas of four Honduran officials, continuing to insist that Zelaya be returned to power. Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, serving as a mediator, said he has done all he can for now. See the Washington Post. It's remarkable that the authorities have held firm in the face of so much international pressure. How much longer they can resist economic coercion and diplomatic isolation remains to be seen...

Chavez's peso diplomacy

No doubt, Hugo Chavez is doing all he can behind the scenes to abet the social conflict that is afflicting Honduras. In June the Venezuelan government pledged $50 million to help Nicaragua after the United States decided to withhold foreign aid. Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega has been acting more and more like his old authoritarisn self lately, cracking down on protesters and abusing state power for his own political ends. See CNN.com.


July 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Health care Armagdeddon

Rallies in favor of and against President Obama's health care initiative are being held all across Virginia, and all across the nation. The President himself appeared in Bristol to pitch his plan for the many low-income folks who live in that Appalachian region. He didn't exactly get a hero's welcome, however, as many protesters showed up, decrying socialism and state control. See the News Leader. A "Hands Off My Health Care" bus tour caravan departed Richmond, sponsored by Americans for Prosperity. It will arrive in Staunton, the closing event this Saturday. I will be out of town by then, unfortunately.

While I fully agree with those who oppose what Obama is pushing, I take issue with the "hands off" rhetoric. Any genuine health care reform will have to address the equity issue in which many millions of Americans receive health care insurance benefits from their employers without paying taxes on this compensation. It is unfair to those who do not enjoy such benefits, including many self-employed people. As Sen. John McCain said during last year's campaign, those benefits should be taxes just like regular income. Thus far, Obama resists that approach, not wanting to upset too many people. Ironically, he is in agreement with most of those protesters!

In case anyone is interested in what is contained in the fine print of the proposed legislation, read the memo on "America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009" house.gov.

The Blue Dog Democrats are apparently considering a compromise package that would have less destructive impact on the budget. Here's an idea for a grand compromise: put the following disclaimer on the application form for every American who wants to be part of "Obamacare":

The undersigned unconditionally relinquishes to the Federal Government full discretion over life-saving medical procedures, and agrees to abide by any decision regarding euthanasia. He or she also expressly severs from his or her estate any claims that may be made by his or her family members after such death occurs.

That way it would be truly "voluntary," with all the ramifications spelled out in black and white.

The current issue of National Review has a hilarious cover, with a grinning Dr. Obama putting on his rubber gloves: Just bend over and relax, America, and it won't hurt so much!

Is Obama a real citizen?

Speaking of the National Review, their editors reject outright the trumped-up dispute over the president's citizenship status: "President Obama was born on August 4, 1961, at 7:24 p.m, in Honolulu County, Hawaii, on the island of Oahu." Hat tip to Doug Mataconis, who hopes "this will help set to rest the idea that birtherism is anything other than the rantings of delusional conspiracy theorists." Meanwhile, the (in-)famous Mike Stark (remember him?) staged a video ambush on Capitol Hill, making fun of Republican legislators who pander to the "birthers." See youtube.com; hat tip to Bill who posted a comment at augustafreepress.com. (Lots of juicy tidbits there!)

In sum, let's not get distracted by red-herring accusastions, folks. There are far more important "fish" to fry than that.


July 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]

More troops to Aghanistan

The buildup of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has yielded mixed results so far, and there have been the usual (unavoidal) tragic accidents in which innocent civilians get caught in the crossfire. In Operation Khanjar is aimed at Taliban forces in in Helmand province, where they are allied with poppy-growing farmers. It's the same problem of narco-terrorism that has plagued Peru and Colombia in the past.) As the U.S.-led offensive in Aghanistan against the Taliban goes forward, commanders there are asking for more troops to be sent there. The fatality rate has climbed so much that there are now more U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan than Iraq. The total number of military fatalities suffered by international forces there has reached 47, the highest monthly tally so far. See CNN.com. Canadian and British forces are suffering a large share of the cost, and Americans need to understand and appreciate their allies' contribution.

The question remains, however, what the Obama administration's ultimate strategy in Aghanistan really is. Hunting down Osama bin Laden? They apparently killed one of his sons the other day, but that was not intentional, apparently. What if no strong government emerges in Afghanistan, as has happened in Iraq? How long will we (and our Western allies) continue to police the countryside?

Another question is how Obama's "surge" in Aghanistan will play out in American domestic politics. During the Iraq war, military strategy became politicized, as (most) Republicans supported the "surge" as a mark of patriotism, while (most) Democrats opposed it. With the change in White House occupancy since January, now the proverbial shoe is on the other foot.

Support the troops! Support the President?

Altered troop levels

Secretary of Defense Bob Gates recently announced that the Army is expanding its active-duty ranks by 22,000 soldiers. It's long overdue, as the ground forces became dangerously overstretched during the Bush administration, which launched two wars without a major increase in force size. See Washington Post. On a more positive note, he also said that a brigade (about 5,000 troops) may be withdrawn from Iraq ahead of schedule. U.S. forces there pulled out of Iraqi cities last month, and the surge of violence was within a tolerable level. So far, it looks like the Iraqi army is willing and able to pick up the slack. If so, it would mark a huge success for the "surge" policy of former President Bush.


July 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Gardening is for the birds!

One of the side-effects of summer gardening, whether large scale or tiny backyard plots, is that many of the plants attract wild birds. Red flowers attract hummingbirds, and this morning, we saw one out back for the first time in over two weeks. Also, goldfinches are especially fond of the sunflower seeds that are produced in the tall flowered stalks. Fellow Staunton bird lover Stephen Pietrowski says his sunflower plants have reached nine feet high, thanks to the use of organic composting. For fertilizer, we use natural "guano" (bird droppings) produced by our canaries, Luciano and Princess!

Goldfinch, sunflower

Goldfinch at a sunflower plant out back.


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