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October 2, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Dunn delivers, big time

With one swing of the bat in the bottom of the ninth inning on Tuesday, Adam Dunn won the game for the Washington Nationals, thereby averting a sweep at the hands of the juggernaut Philadelphia Phillies. He also made sure that the Nationals would end the season with a winning record at home: 41-40, compared to (then) 27-51 in games on the road. Dunn's walk-off blast, his 38th homer of the year, soared into the second deck just in front of the scoreboard in right-center field. Watch a video replay at MLB.com. Unfortunately, Dunn struck out four straight times the next night, possibly straining to please the crowd, many of whom were chanting:

"Sign Adam Dunn!"

So, will the Lerners sign him by the end of the regular season tomorrow? After that, Dunn becomes a free agent, and some other ambitious team would be very likely to offer him terms he can't refuse. MLB blogger Bill Ladson raises the grim possibility that Adam Dunn may have played his last game at Nationals Park ... as a Nat, that is. He quotes Ryan Zimmerman as saying the team would be deeply disappointed if the owners can't The main issue seems to be how long the contract will be. And of course, many thousand devoted Nats fans would feel deeply betrayed. With the team finally gathering a critical mass of championship-caliber talent, this is no [time] to be pinching pennies.

[UPDATE: Along those lines, Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote on Thursday that if the Nationals owners are going to make use of D.C.'s big-market revenue potential and capitalize on the game-winning abilities of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, then they have to "think big," and the time to act is now. He is talking about signing free agents such as Cliff Lee, Jayson Werth and Carlos Pena. Now that would be interesting.]

"Sign Adam Dunn!"

In Queens, New York, the Nats played very well against the Mets last night and today, with a tie score in the late innings. Both times relief pitcher Tyler Clippard, who had a fantastic first half of the season, fell into a slump, and then came back as a reliable closer in September, choked. Both games he gave up home runs that proved to be decisive: Josh Thole had a walk-off dinger in the bottom of the 10th inning, and David Wright had a three-run homer in the seventh inning today. I must say, I can't figure out what manager Jim Riggleman is up to. Why does he put mediocre players like Justin Maxwell in the lineup, and why does he use Kevin Mench as a pinch-hitter? Both those players have a batting average well below .200, worse than some pitchers. I can only assume Riggleman doesn't care about winning and losing, since the Nats are so far out of contention.

Reds clinch NL Central!

In the city where Adam Dunn used to play, meanwhile, fans are celebrating with joy. Speaking of which, Joey Votto has all but made the folks there forget about Adam Dunn. Thursday night they beat the Houston Astros, 9-1, assuring that they would end up in first place. They got to celebrate their big achievement at home, whereas the Phillies whooped it up on the road, in Nationals Park.

So, to mark the special occasion, I posted a new panoramic photo of the Cincinnati riverfront on the Great American Ballpark page. It was taken from the same location as a photo (three stitched-together photos, actually) I had taken there in 2002, seven years before.

Cincinnati Riverfront 2002 BW

Now you see it, now you don't: the Cincinnati Riverfront, in 2009 and (when you roll the mouse over the image) in 2002. Riverfront Stadium is no more...


October 3, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Bosox spoil Yanks' big plans

The final weekend of the 2010 regular season had plenty of thrills and chills. The Yankees had picked up a one-game lead over the Rays in the American League Eastern Division, thanks to a 6-5 extra-innings win over the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon, broadcast by FOX Sports. Veteran Mike Lowell got two hits in two at bats, including a bomb that nearly cleared the Green Monster in left field. It was a fine performance it what was probably his final game in the major leagues, and he was warmly applauded. But then in the night cap (making up the Friday game which had been rained out), the Red Sox returned the favor by edging the Yanks 7-6 in extra-innings. The game lasted until well after 1:00 in the morning, by which time there were many empty seats in Fenway Park. That certainly doesn't happen very often. This afternoon the Red Sox did it again, winning 8-4. With so many injuries this year, the Red Sox lineup was very unfamiliar to me. And so, the Yanks finished in second place, qualifying as the wild card team. They will play the Minnesota Twins at Target Field in the American League Divisional Series starting Wednesday -- no easy task! See MLB.com.

Braves make the playoffs

In Atlanta, the Braves held off a late-inning rally by the Philadelphia Phillies, winning 7-6, and combined with the loss by the Padres to the Giants, the Braves have earned their first trip to the postseason since 2005. (!) Manager Bobby Cox, who is retiring after this season, actually cracked a smile while commending his players at the end of the game. [He ends his career with a cumulative regular-season record of 2,504-2,001; only Connie Mack, John McGraw, and Tony La Russa have had more wins than Cox. See ESPN; hat tip to Chris.] A certain camera Braves fan I know also had a big smile on her face. smile Giants fans are likewise elated at their first postseason berth since 2003, back when Barry Bonds was still riding high.

And so, the Postseason scores page has been updated with the 2010 series matchups. The Phillies ended up with the highest winning percentage (.599). The only other recent year in which no team ended up over .600 was 2006, when the Cardinals won the World Series in spite of having the lowest win-loss record of all postseason teams. Note that I have added the winning percentage for each team to make the postseason since 2002, when I launched this Web site.

Nats finish with a win

The Washington Nationals were in peril of being swept at Citi Field in New York this afternoon, and their hopes of reaching 70 wins for the season had already been dashed, so there wasn't much at stake -- except pride. Unfortunately, they wasted multiple run-scoring opportunities once again (such as when Adam Dunn singled with no outs in the top of the ninth), and were tied 1-1 with the Mets at the end of nine innings. It was the same situation as on Friday night, but this time the game stretched out for a few extra innings. Apparently, neither side was ready to call it quits for 2010. And so, with the bases loaded and one out in the 14th inning, Justin Maxwell came up to bat. He has had a lousy year at the plate, but he is known for a remarkably high rate of grand slam home runs in bases-loaded situations. Would the magic repeat itself? He worked the count to 3-2, and then wisely held off on a pitch to earn a walk and a run batted in. And that's how he became the "hero" in this game, as the Nats won, 2-1. See MLB.com.

Nearly one year ago, likewise in the regular season finale, the Nats beat the Braves by the very same score, in one more inning -- 15. It marked the seventh game in a row the Nats had won, the longest such season-ending streak in the majors.

It was only the third extra-innings victory for the Nats this year, out of 11 total extended games. Finishing the season with a record of 69-93 (.426), their fourth-highest record in six seasons.

Speaking of Nationals history, when I was at the game in D.C. two weeks ago, I bought a DVD of the team's 2005 inaugural year in Washington, and it really brought back memories. What a great group of guys: Brad Wilkerson, Vinny Castilla, Nick Johnson, Jose Vidro, Chad Cordero, Joey Eischen, John Patterson, Jose Guillen, and Terrmel Sledge, the first National to hit a homer. Only one player is on the roster now: Livan Hernandez, who went 6 2/3 innings today, giving up just one run, for a no-decision.

Orioles: home improvement

Kudos to the Baltimore Orioles for emerging from the and finishing the season at 66-96, just above the .400 "threshold of respectability." (And only three games behind the Nationals record of 69-93!) Two teams didn't make the cut: the Seattle Mariners and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Under new manager Buck Showalter, the Orioles won 34 games and lost only 23, a winning percentage of .596 -- not bad at all!


October 4, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Are you ready for some football?

Now that the regular baseball season is over, many fans turn their attention to football. So, it's appropriate to mark the occasion by fixing up the diagrams for Memorial Coliseum Memorial Coliseum, the extremely ill-suited home of the L.A. Dodgers from 1958 to 1961. A number of minor corrections have been made, based on a variety of photographs. I recently learned from Bruce Orser that the height of the stadium from ground level to the top rim was much higher than I had thought. The profiles reflect that correction. In addition, the Coliseum is a bit less elongated than I had estimated, so the diagrams are a bit "plumper" in the middle.

Some folks have asked me about doing a 2008 baseball version, based on the exhibition games played there in the preseason of 2008, the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of baseball in Los Angeles. To me, Memorial Coliseum was enough of a joke as a baseball venue back in 1958, and the addition of extra rows of seats in 1993 made baseball an utter absurdity. The Dodgers should never have been allowed to play baseball there in the first place!

And speaking of being "ready for some football," I'm sure a lot of folks in the Los Angeles area are. Not since 1994 has the NFL had any franchise in the nation's second biggest metropolitan area. This is the 16th year without professional football there. Very, very strange...

Two managers get axed

Deeply disappointed with their fourth-place finish in the NL East, the New York Mets declined to renew the contract of manager Jerry Manuel. They also fired their general manager, Omar Minaya, who used to work in the Expos organization. See MLB.com. Also, the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates fired their manager, John Russell. He just finished the third year of a four-year contract, so the Pirates will have to pay him for next year. See MLB.com.


October 6, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Photo gallery extreme makeover

In terms of weather, September 2010 was one of the best months I can remember. Day after day, we had clear blue skies, just perfect for taking photos. (If my bicycle were in working order, that is, if I were motivated to maintain it properly, I would have ridden quite a few miles.) In any case, I took advantage of the ideal conditions while I was out watching birds to capture the scenic beauty of this area on my digital camera. The results of my efforts can now be seen at the brand-new Autumn 2010 photo gallery. For now it mostly contains photos of downtown Staunton, but there will be others of fall foliage in the weeks to come. I would say my favorite photo on that page is the camera Blackfriars Playhouse, home of the renowned American Shakespeare Theater. My second favorite would probably be camera McCormick's Mill, during an Augusta Bird Club field trip in mid-September.

But that's not all! Also I belatedly added three photos to the Summer 2010 photo gallery, including a rather spectacular camera Swoope view, showing Great North Mountain and railroad tracks heading off into the distance.

As part of the ongoing comprehensive reformatting of this Web site, a project that is several months underway and far from finished (!), the navigational system on the main Photo Gallery page has been radically simplified. There are now five categories, and clicking on any of those titles opens a drop-down menu (denoted by the hand point down icon) containing either links to particular photo gallery pages, or else a set of links to lower-level drop-down menus, in a hierarchical scheme. Click once to reveal the drop-down menu, and click a second time to hide it again. Some of the title-links trigger a change in the montage, as a preview of what that photo gallery page (or group of pages) contains. It's a much cleaner and more efficient system, and will hopefully make it easier for visitors to find the photos they want to see. There is also a new, improved general photo montage. The view of Machu Picchu from above (which was taken in 2004) is the same as before, but all the other photos are from 2010.

Photo montage

Clockwise, from top left: Amanita Umbonata mushroom, Machu Picchu, country road in South Dakota, Scarlet Tanager, and Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (dark morph female).

Butterfly photos

Over the past couple years I have become increasingly interested in butterflies, and this time of year one can see dozens of bright orange Monarchs flying south almost every day. I recently bought a beginner's field guide to help me identify some of the ones I've been seeing, many of which are on the Butterflies (and Moths*) photos page.

Butterfly montage

Clockwise, from top left: Tiger Swallowtail, Mourning Cloak, Spicebush Swallowtail, Monarch, Rocky Mountain Parnassian, Great Spangled Fritillary, and in center, Orange Sulfur.

Roll your mouse over the image to see a normal (yellow) Tiger Swallowtail, and click on it to compare it to a female, dark variant of that SAME species! Move the mouse away from that image to return to the original butterfly montage.

I was amazed that the male and female Tiger Swallowtails look so much different, but that dark variant apparently only occurs in some regions. You can see many more examples at butterfliesandmoths.org.

* One of the more astounding, and unexpected, nature sightings during my trip to South Dakota in July was a huge moth, almost the size of a hummingbird. During one of the heavy rain storms, I saw something in the grass being attacked by a Robin in the back yard, and went out to investigate. It turned out to be a huge moth that was too soaked to fly, so I rescued it and released it the next morning. I had to rescue it once again after a House sparrow attacked it. It seemed very sluggish, and I thought it might be nearly dead, but the afternoon sun seemed to reenergize it, as it flew away very rapidly when we released it a second time. At the butterfliesandmoths.org Web site, I was able to identify it as a camera Five-spotted Hawkmoth, a species which had never been sighted in Clay County, SD. So, I submitted the photos I took to the proper authorities, along with a description of the circumstances.

Last week I was pleased to get a response via e-mail from Silka Kempema, Wildlife Biologist in the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. She confirmed that it was a Five-spotted Hawkmoth, and that it was the first one ever reported in Clay County!

Other insect photos

Every once in a while I come across some strange or colorful insect and manage to get a decent photo. Some of the photos in the insect montage were taken as long as two years ago, so I am finally getting caught up with that. Those photos, and others, have been posted on the Other insects photo gallery page. I don't have any reference field guides for insects other than butterflies, so some of the species shown below may remain unknown for some time.

Insect montage

Grasshopper, ?, ? beetle, Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly, ? yellow fly, Praying Mantis, and in center, Periodical Cicadas (from the "plague" in 1987).

More mushroom photos!

I posted the Mushroom montage below on Facebook a few weeks ago, and have been meaning to post it here on this Web site, but I have been just too busy to identify the various species in it. Well, I think I have identified most of them correctly now, so I have posted several separate photos on the Mushrooms photo gallery page. When you roll the mouse over the image below, it reveals the mushroom montage I put together in June, which was almost as varied and colorful. This has truly been one of the best years for mushrooms ever!

Mushroom montage 2010 Aug

Top right: Amanita Cokeri; Bottom right: Amanita Umbonata; Center: Lycoperdon Pulcherrimum; Top right-center: Clavulina cristata. Other species are yet uncertain...

Ballpark panoramas

And finally, for baseball fans, there is a new Ballpark panoramas photo gallery.


October 7, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Halladay is nearly perfect, again

Last night's flawless pitching performance by Roy Halladay was utterly amazing on several levels. He helped the Philadelphia Phillies totally dominate the Cincinnati Reds, winning the first game of the series, 4-0. It was his very first appearance in a postseason game, after 12 full years in the majors (all with the Toronto Blue Jays), and he acted like he was used to the ultra-intense pressure. Most news reports seem to be emphasizing that it was only the second no-hitter thrown in MLB postseason history, the first being Yankee Don Larsen's perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. (See MLB.com.) The only Reds player to reach base was Jay Bruce, who walked in the fifth inning. This was Halladay's second no-hitter of the 2010 season, the first being in May, when he threw a perfect game. Only four pitchers before have ever thrown two no-hitters in one season. No one has ever thrown two perfect games during the course of their careers, much less twice in one season. Halladay came within one pitch of doing exactly that, and some people thought that Bruce should have been called out on strikes. (See MLB.com.) Unbelievable!

Facebook friend Callum Hughes was live-blogging the game, and posted several great photos of the postgame celebration at mopupduty.com.

Yanks & Rangers are two games up

In the American League, the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers are in a commanding position to win their respective divisional series, both of them winning the first two games on the road. The Rangers won both games by wide margins (5-1 and 6-0), whereas the Yankees prevailed over the Twins by smaller margins, 6-4 and 5-2. So much for home field advantage! The Tampa Bay Rays had the highest winning percentage in the league at the end of the regular season, and the Twins did briefly a couple weeks ago, but now both teams are on the brink of elimination. Target Field has been highly favorable to the Twins' fortunes in its inaugural year, but the luster on that shining gem may be fading fast. The two series will now head to The Bronx and Arlington, Texas, where home team fans will be gearing up for big celebration. The Rangers have reached the playoffs three times, but have never made it past the first round.

Lincecum & Posey beat Braves

In San Francisco, the Atlanta Braves could not figure out how to get hits off of Giants' ace pitcher Tim Lincecum, who allowed only three batters to reach base in nine full innings. All it took for the home team to win was Buster Posey's single and stolen base in the fourth inning, followed by Cody Ross's RBI single. Posey, a young catcher who came out of nowhere to become a star player for the Giants this year, also got a double in the sixth inning, but it didn't result in any runs. Final score, 1-0.


October 8, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Finally here: Marlins Ballpark !

NEW: In response to multiple requests from fans, there is a brand-new page and diagram for Dolphin Stadium Marlins Ballpark, the future home of the Miami Marlins. (They will shed the "Florida" identification as soon as they move into their permanent home in 2012.) Like the stadium itself, the diagram is "under construction," meaning that substantial revisions are very likely. Once I've got a firm idea of the dimensions, etc., I'll add the retractable roof, with a "dynamic diagram," like with Minute Maid Park, etc. Enjoy!

San Jose update

Mike Zurawski reports that there is growing activity in San Jose, where hopes are high that the Oakland Athletics will relocate there in the next few years. Take a look at some of the artists' renderings of a future ballpark ("Cisco Field"?) at probaseballforsanjose.com and sjredevelopment.org. The proposed design would feature a large brick wall in right field, rather like Boston's Green Monster. I'm not sure I like the multi-tiered balconies over that wall, however. It seems to me a ballpark in California ought to be as open as possible, showing off the mountain vistas in the distance.

Ground rules at The Trop

Mike also informs me that the ground rules at Tropicana Field have been changed for this year's playoffs. Basically, any ball that strikes either of the lower two catwalks in fair territory is a home run, and any ball that hits either of the upper catwalks is a dead ball. See usatoday.com. Having lost their first two games there, the Rays will be lucky if they get another chance to play there this year!

Reds vs. Phillies

In Game 2 of the NLDS, the Cincinnati Reds had a 4-3 lead over the Philadelphia Phillies going into the seventh inning, but an error by right fielder Jay Bruce allowed two runs to score. The Phillies are currently ahead, 6-4. Later tonight the Braves will try to even the series against the Giants in San Francisco.


October 8, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Vote out which incumbents?

As frustration with the bleak economic conditions mounts, and as resentment toward the big government agenda of the Democrats builds, incumbents in Congress are under unusually high pressure from the voters this year. So what's up with all those semi-trailers in this area that have been adorned with anti-incumbent slogans in huge black letters? The two trailers pictured below are in Rockingham County, and there are at least a couple in Augusta County as well. I regularly pass by the one along I-64 in Fishersville: "Congress: Represent the American People or Go Home!" What is odd is that all of them say, "Vote Out All Most Incumbents!" The word Most is inserted as an afterthought, perhaps to make clear that the mysterious angry citizen (or citizens) who paid for those signs doesn't want the incumbent congressman from this district voted out. The News Leader recently reported on those trailers, noting that they may be in violation of local advertising ordinances, but it did not identify who paid for them. What I want to know is, why are they here in the Sixth District, where the incumbent is very popular, especially among conservatives?

Congressman Bob Goodlatte is running for reelection in the Sixth District of Virginia for the ninth time. (His first term began in 1993.) Other than 2008, when Democrat Sam Rasoul ran against him, Goodlatte usually breezes through the campaign season without much to worry about. He's a good man, and aside from his support for certain agribusiness subsidies, he has a pretty solid voting record as a free-market economic conservative. (Goodlatte visited the Augusta County Republican headquarters in Staunton last month.) But the failure of the Democratic Party to even run a candidate against Goodlatte is a very troubling sign of a lack of competition in our political system, raising doubts about how democratic we really are.

Indeed, the very high rate at which incumbent legislators are reelected every two years is one of the most glaring defects in the American political system. In the last two elections, about 94% of the members of the House of Representatives who sought reelection were successful, and those were years in which voters were noticeably displeased with the Republicans and turned control of Congress over to the Democrats. In the four preceding elections (1998-2004), the incumbent reelection rate was about 98%. It makes you wonder how much meaningful choice the American voters really have. I am opposed to arbitrary limits on campaign spending, but the fund-raising advantages enjoyed by incumbents have made it so hard for challengers to win that the U.S. Congress has turned into a virtual House of Lords, largely immune from public pressure, and the congressional seats are becoming aristocratic privileges. Policies and tax laws are tailor-made in response to pressure from lobbyists with fat wallets, while needed basic reforms are shunted aside. In sum, there is good reason for the anger behind those anti-incumbent banners. It really is time to "clean House" ... and clean the Senate, too!

Congress trailer billboard 2

Anti-Congress billboard on a trailer along Interstate 81, south of Weyers Cave; roll your mouse over the image to see another such billboard, on Route 11 south of Harrisonburg.

Is Obama a socialist?

On Facebook a week or two ago, Bruce Bartlett asked, rhetorically, how can President Obama be socialist if the U.S. government is selling its shares of GM. (They're in the process of settling up all the bailout transfers and exchanges, so it's not really a policy move per se.) Bruce provoked a cascade of responses that were uniformly derisive toward conservative critics of Obama, mocking the paranoia exhibited by some. My comment:

Lots of cute jabs on this thread, but the GM case does raise an interesting philosophical question: What does it even *mean* to be a socialist in a post-industrial service-based economy? If Obama is indeed pursuing the European social-democratic model, seizing the proverbial "commanding heights" so as to manage competing social demands for limited resources, he probably wouldn't worry much about taking or maintaining control of declining industries.

October 9, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Rays wreak revenge on Rangers

After losing the first two games of the upper-bracket American League Divisional Series, wasting their home field advantage, the Tampa Bay Rays were in deep doo-doo this afternoon. They fell behind 1-0, but then tied it in the middle innings. Heroics were provided in the eighth inning by Carlos Peña, who batted in the go-ahead run and later scored himself. In the ninth inning, Carl Crawford and Peña each hit home runs to give the Rays a commanding 6-2 lead. In the bottom of the inning Nelson Cruz hit a solo shot for the Rangers, but it didn't change the outcome, and the game ended with a score of 6-3. The long-suffering crowd of 51,000+ Texas fans at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington was disappointed that their team didn't sweep the series and advance to the ALCS for the very first time, but they'll have another chance tomorrow.

And so, the visiting team has won each of the first three games of the ALDS. As shown on the Postseason scores page, that has happened twice before over the past decade, and both times the home team won Game 4, thereby advancing to the next round. In the 2006 NLDS, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the San Diego Padres, and in the 2008 ALDS, the Boston Red Sox did likewise to the L.A. Angels. The Rangers will try to replicate those experiences tomorrow at noon.

In The Bronx, meanwhile, the lower-bracket ALDS may be nearing a premature conclusion. The Twins face elimination at the hands of the New York Yankees, exactly the same situation the Rays were in earlier today. The Twins faced the Yankees in the 2003, 2004, and 2009 ALDS, winning only twice and losing nine times. The score in the bottom of the fourth inning: Yanks 5, Twins 0. The "fat lady" is starting to warm up...

[UPDATE: The Twins got on the scoreboard in the eighth inning, and had the bases loaded with only one out, courtesy of a Yankee relief pitcher named Kerry Wood (!), who quickly got yanked. The Twins failed to get any more runs after that. Final score: 6-1, meaning the Yankees are the first team to advance to a league championship series this year.]

Ankiel saves the Braves

In San Francisco late last night, a clutch [eleventh]-inning home run by Rick Ankiel gave a one-run lead to the Atlanta Braves, who held on to beat the Giants, 3-2. It was only the second home run ball to land in McCovey Cove during a postseason game. (Guess who hit the first one?) Ankiel is an unlikely slugging hero, as he started his major league career as a pitcher, and then switched positions in 2007. There are more fascinating details about Ankiel's career at MLB.com.

Baseball chronology page

I have added another background information page: Annual chronology of baseball. It includes some stadium data going back to the beginning of the 20th Century, as well as franchise sales, the All-Star Game, World Series results, etc. Please note that it is a work in progress, with many gaps in data. I may tweak the formatting later on, as well.


October 12, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Visitors dominate MLB playoffs

The 2010 baseball postseason has seen an unusually high proportion of games being won by the visiting team, even higher than in most recent years. (2009 was an exception to the trends of the past decade or so.) On Sunday, the visitors won all three games, and last night, the visiting San Francisco Giants eliminated the Braves in Atlanta, sending manager Bobb Cox into a bittersweet retirement. In St. Petersburg, Florida, tonight, the Texas Rangers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-1, thereby earning their first-ever trip to the American League Championship Series. That means that all five games in this divisional series have been won by the visiting teams. For all four divisional series this year, the home teams won four games, and the visitors won eleven! The home field advantage just doesn't seem to matter much any more.

In checking my records on the Postseason scores page, which displays the records I have compiled since this Web site was launched in 2002, I found that the most number of consecutive MLB playoff games won by the visiting team since 2002 was three. So, I felt compelled to find out when was the last time that such a five-game streak had happened. I couldn't find an adequate online source to answer that question, however, and as a last resort, I scoured through my reference books. (For historical data on players and teams, it's hard to beat The Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball; I have the 23rd edition, published in 2003, edited by David S. Neft, Richard M. Cohen, and Michael L. Neft.) I quickly determined that there was a four-game visiting-team winning streak in the 2001 ALDS, only one year earlier than my records began; the A's won the first two games in New York, then the Yankees won the next two games in Oakland, and then they won Game 5 -- and the series -- at home.

So when was the last time that five consecutive playoff games were won by the visiting team? That took me a while longer to figure out. Finally, after squinting at line scores for a couple hours (or so it seemed), I learned that it did indeed happen before, in the 1996 World Series. (I should have known that!) In the first two games, at Yankee Stadium, the Braves trounced the Yankees, who then returned the favor by beating the Braves three games straight at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, soon to be demolished. When the series returned to New York, the Yankees prevailed, 3-2, earning their first world championship since 1978. So, you might say that this year's ALDS is unique in that all of the games were won by the visiting team, compared to five out of six in the 1995 World Series. Having gathered all this information, I will probably add the postseason scores for the years 1995-2001 in the near future.

Rangers sting the Rays

Tonight's deciding game in the ALDS was a showdown between two top-ranked pitchers, David Price of Tampa Bay and Cliff Lee of Texas. In the end, Cliff Lee of Texas came out ahead, going a full nine innings and only allowing one run. The Rays had a big opportunity for a rally in the third inning, with three consecutive hits, but the next two batters, Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria (until recently on the DL), failed to get any more runs in, falling short of their stellar reputations. The Rangers used small-ball tactics to get single runs in the first, fourth, and sixth innings, after which Price left the game, with his team down by two runs. A home run by Ian Kinsler in the ninth inning provided plenty of insurance for the visitors, who won, 5-1. Congratulations to the Texas Rangers for making it to the ALCS for the very first time.

Giants vanquish the Braves

Poor Brooks Conrad! He gets a chance to shine in the national spotlight thanks to the injury suffered by Chipper Jones last summer, and he commits three errors in the Braves' most crucial game of the season. The Braves had positioned themselves for a big triumph as underdogs in Game 2 of the NLDS, beating the Giants 5-4 in extra innings. In Game 3 they were behind 1-0 going into the bottom of the eighth, at which point Eric Hinske turned things around, putting the Braves on top 2-1 with a home run to the right field corner. For a few minutes he was poised to be the hero of the day. But then in the top of the ninth inning, the Giants clawed their way back, tying the game with two outs. (The Braves actually came within one strike of winning the game.) It was at that point that second baseman Brooks Conrad committed his third error of the game, allowing a ground ball hit by Buster Posey to pass through his legs, and the Giants scored the go-ahead run. The Braves' bats were silent in the bottom of the inning, and the visitors won once again, 3-2. In an instant, the Braves lost a precious chance to control their destiny. In Game 4, Derek Lowe had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning, but then Cody Ross hit a home run. The Giants won by the same score, 3-2, earning a berth in the NLCS, where they will face the Philadelphia Phillies.

As ESPN's Rob Neyer writes, Conrad should not have put in that position at second base. Being the proverbial goat "is both ultimately fair, and terribly unfair." Much like life in general, I guess. Actually, I don't think Conrad should have been charged for the first error, when he had to run way out in to right field to chase a pop fly. Neyer says that Bobby Cox should bear some of the blame for putting Conrad at second base. I think it's really the fault of the organization for not fielding a team with more depth. The Braves were "overachievers" this year, and it would be hard to expect them to have accomplished more than they actually did with the players at the manager's disposal.

And so, congratulations also go out to the San Francisco Giants, who are especially hungry for a World Series title. It would be the first for the franchise since 1954, which was before they moved to California.

NOTE: This blog post was delayed while I took time to watch TV as the miners from Chile were being rescued. That took place just as the Rangers-Rays game was entering the ninth inning!


October 12, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Chilean miners are rescued!

Chile flag At about 11:12 PM EDT, Florencio Avalos, became the first of the 33 Chilean miners to be rescued. He reached the surface in a capsule, and was greeted by his son, his wife, and the president of Chile, Sebastian Piñera. I was watching the event live on Spanish-language TV, and it was a mesmerizing experience sharing in the anticipation with people from Chile and around the world. It almost reminded me of the Apollo 13 mission, where technical ingenuity and dauntless human spirit overcome bleak odds of survival. For the next several hours, Avalos's comrades at the San Jose mine will be lifted, one by one, out of the slightly inclined shaft, which is nearly a half mile deep. They await a hero's welcome all across Chile, and they are already preparing to embark on a world tour.

Since the mine shaft collapsed on August 5, miners' relatives and rescue workers have set up a virtual tent city at the mine, standing vigil and refusing to succumb to despair. On Saturday, the drill reached the chamber where the miners are located, after which it was just a matter of time to set up the escape capsule and winch. Progress went much faster than earlier estimated, when some people said the miners might not be rescued until late November or even December. As the relief hole approached the miners over the past few days, preparations for a big fiesta have been in full swing. Time to celebrate! See the Washington Post. A photo gallery of the rescue can be seen at El Mercurio Online.

The people of Chile deserve to be proud of their engineering skills and social solidarity. There seems to be very little finger-pointing or political posturing, and the amazing episode seems to have bridged class differences. Religious faith, and the hope of Divine Providence, clearly played a big part in keeping up the spirits of the miners, and of their families. Disasters, whether natural or manmade, always have the potential to either bring a people together or tear them apart. The nation of Chile has emerged stronger from this trial.


October 15, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Sun Life (Dolphin) Stadium update

What is a baseball fan supposed to do during the agonizingly long hiatus between successive divisional, league, and World Series every year? (Something's gotta be done about the needless "rest" days that cause the baseball postseason to spill over into November, which is ridiculous.) Well, if you're a confirmed ballpark nut like me, you get back to work on your stadium research and diagramming. It's only one of many things that I've fallen behind on lately...

And so, after many hours of squinting, measuring, pointing, and clicking, the Dolphin Stadium Sun Life (Dolphin) Stadium diagrams have been thoroughly revised. They are much more accurate than before, with greater attention to detail. Believe it or not, it was only recently that I realized just how extensive the 2007 renovations were. I have to thank Bruce Orser and Mike Zurawski for providing crucial bits of information that helped get all the details just right. There is also a new 1993 version diagram, along with a jumbo-sized "full view" version, with center field pointing up, and nothing truncated. The text on that page has been revised as well.

Along with Marlins Ballpark diagram which was added last week, that completes the update work for Miami stadiums, and the state of Florida -- almost. I still need to do a diagram for that minor league ballpark in Orlando which has been used occasionally by Tampa Bay.

ALCS gets underway

In Arlington, Texas tonight, fans were treated to a big thrill in the first inning when Rangers star slugger Josh Hamilton hit a three-run home run off of Yankee ace C.C. Sabathia. So it's going to be a competitive series after all! The Rangers scored twice more in the fourth inning, but the Yankees are now in comeback mode, closing the gap and taking a 6-5 lead in the top of the eighth inning. Alex Rodriguez just hit a two-run single: Is he the new "Mr. October"???

It is interesting to note that both A-Rod and fellow (new) Yankee Mark Teixera are playing this series in the stadium that they once called home: (Rangers) Ballpark in Arlington!


October 15, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Misc. Facebook comments

As Facebook takes up more and more of my time on the computer these days, the less time I spend reading conventional blogs, much less writing my own blog posts. (Baseball is an exception, of course.) So, as a way to get back on track as far as keeping a journal of my observations about the news of the day (week, etc.), here are some things I have written over the past couple weeks:

French "workers" strike

In France, workers have launched a general strike to protest the proposed raise of the retirement age from 60 to 62. President Sarkozy has slipped in popularity recently, and it may just be political opportunism. But there's no doubt that the French working class flatly rejects any suggestion of any limits to their generous welfare benefits, much less austerity. It's an amazing sight to see thousands of people in the most civilized country on earth acting like complete spoiled jackasses. See CNN.com. As I commented on Bill Shireman's Facebook page:

Only in a culture that elevates absurdity and irony to a high art form could such an untenable entitlement system be taken seriously. The only thing that keeps it going is the un-entitled immigrant work force, the growth of which is leading to escalating social conflict. And yet somehow there are still millions of Americans who look to France (and Europe, more generally) as a model we should follow. Go figure.

Andrew Murphy expressed doubt that any Americans regard France as a model for national policy, but sure enough, some folks stepped right up to state quite clearly that they do think we should be more like France. (!!!???) As I said, Go figure...

Jacksonian populism

Carl Tate expressed interest in a recent book on President Andrew Jackson, who was in effect the founder of the Democratic Party as we know it today: stoking class resentment and mobilizing electoral majorities so as to carry out irresponsible populist policy schemes. It's exactly what James Madison warned about in the Federalist #10, and it was a tragic stain on the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, whose Anti-Federalist / Republican Party (usually called the Democratic-Republican Party) morphed into an ugly mob during the 1830s. My comment:

Studying Jackson's presidency might prove useful in understanding how limited government Jeffersonian republicanism degenerated into crass, grab-what-you-can populism. Does that sound familiar?

HINT: Many in the GOP these days call themselves "Jeffersonian Republicans," and the burgeoning "grassroots" movement in the party bears a lot in common with the rural, anti-establishment supporters of "Old Hickory." Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you. smile

Columbus Day 2010

Former Delegate Chris Saxman posed the question, What are people doing to commemorate Columbus Day? I was in an impish mood and wrote:

I observed Columbus Day by discovering a new trail in the Blue Ridge. New for me, that is. Just like America was "new" for Columbus. :-)

Pocket-sized GOP pledge

I've been looking at the Republican "Pledge to America," and I'm sad to say it leaves a lot of important things out. For example, on the issue of health care reform, it calls for repealing Obamacare, which would be nice if they could do it somehow, but there is no hint of recognizing the basic problem with too much insurance driving up costs. Given the divisions in the party these days, it's hard to muster support for any specific agenda, so I understand the practical necessity for a watered-down agenda. Too bad. Anyway, you can get your own pocket-sized Pledge at gop.gov.

ABC Privatization? No.

At first, I wasn't terribly excited about Governor McDonnell's proposal to privatize the state-owned ABC liquor stores. After all, "if it isn't broke, don't fix it." Several months later, I remain dubious. The original plan was supposed to "Provide Massive New Funding of $500 Million for Transportation" (see the Governor's Web site, but it would only be a short-term windfall. Over the long term, the state would probably lose revenues. (We really need to raise taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel to pay for road repairs, etc., but that's not likely under a Republican administration, unfortunately.) Even though poll numbers indicate public support for ABC Privatization, even many state legislators on the Republican side are reluctant, and it seems to be an uphill battle to get that passed. The complexities of coming up with a fair licensing system could take months if not years to resolve. I wish the Governor would concentrate on other matters.


October 20, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Do-or-die time for the Yankees

The MLB league championship series this year have yielded some big surprises. On the American League side, the Yankees managed to recover from the initial shock of the Texas Rangers taking a 5-0 lead against Yankee starter C.C. Sabathia in Game 1 of the ALCS, with a remarkable comeback win, 6-5. But then the Rangers bounced right back from this dispiriting turn of events in Game 2, using aggressive base-running and hot batting to run up the score. This time their bullpen held on to a five-run lead, and the Rangers won it, 7-2.

With the series even at 1-1 heading back home to New York, and esteemed veteran Andy Pettitte as the starting pitcher for Game 3, the Yankees had every reason to think they were in fine shape. But a home run by Josh Hamilton put the Rangers on top 2-0 in the first inning, and their ace pitcher Cliff Lee went eight flawless innings, hurling 13 strikeouts and only giving up two hits and a walk. In the top of the ninth inning, everything came apart, as a succession of Rangers Final score: 8-1. And if that wasn't enough of a nightmare for Yankee fans, last night the Rangers piled on eight runs over the last four innings, winning 10-3. Bengie Molina's three-run homer in the sixth cracked the game wide open, and Josh Hamilton hit two more dingers after.

I noticed that the attendances at Games 1 and 2 in humble Arlington, Texas (50,930 and 50,362) were actually higher than at Games 3 and 4 in New York City (49, 840 and 49,977). Capacity at New Yankee Stadium* is only 50,287, about 7,000 less than its glorious predecessor. What a disgrace that they couldn't build more seats for fans in the Big Apple! In contrast, capacity at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is 49,170, evidently with plenty of standing room.

Ballpark in Arlington Yankee Stadium II

* Thanks to Brian Vangor for the camera aerial photo he recently took. It shows a pedestrian walkway through the vacant lot where The House That Ruth Built once stood.

So with the Rangers ahead three games to one, what's next? Not once since the inception of the three-round playoff format in 1995 have the Yankees lost three straight postseason games at home. (See the table below, as well as the Postseason scores page, which will soon include the years 1995-2001, in addition to 2002-2010.) At 4:00 this afternoon, the Rangers will try to finish off the Yankees, but I don't think C.C. Sabathia is going to make the same mistake on the mound this time around. The question is whether A-Rod, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixera will start getting a decent number of hits. Among the Yankees thus far in October, only Robinson Cano has been doing consistently well at the plate. Anyway, I predict the ALCS will return to Texas and go a full seven games!

Yankee postseason games at home since 1994
Year Wins at home Total home games
2009 7 8
2007 1 2
2006 1 2
2005 1 2
2004 3 6
2003 4 9
2002 1 2
2001 6 9
2000 5 7
1999 6 6
1998 6 7
1997 1 2
1996 3 6
1995 2 2

Giants lead the Phillies

Likewise, the National League Championship Series has yielded a surprising 2-1 lead for the underdog San Francisco Giants. In Game 1, the visiting team prevailed over Roy Halladay, who recently made postseason history with his no-hit win over the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of the NLDS. This time he pitched very well, but the Giants' Tim Lincecum (a.k.a. "the Freak") pitched even better, as the Giants prevailed, 4-3. So Halladay's human, after all. That was one of the biggest, highest-profile pitching confrontations in recent baseball history.

Just like the Rangers, the Phillies recovered from their initial setback in Game 2, winning by a score of 6-1. Indeed, the first two games of the ALCS and the NLCS were mirror images of each other, with narrow one-run victories for the visiting teams in Game 1, and lopsided victories for the home teams in Game 2. The run totals were higher than one might expect when such top-ranked pitchers are on the mound, but everyone knows how friendly Citizens Bank Park is to sluggers. As usual, thousands of Phillies fans overflowed the official seating capacity. But upon returning to San Francisco in Game 3 yesterday afternoon, the Giants shut down the Phillies, as Matt Cain outdueled Cole Hamels, who was the Phillies' ace in their last two superb postseasons. Offensively, the Giants' secret weapon has been Cody Ross, who hit three home runs in the first two games, and batted in the first run in Game 3. It turned out that was all the Giants needed. Final score: 3-0, a run total that is about what you'd expect in AT&T Park.

Yankee Stadium II Ballpark in Arlington

So, even though the Phillies aren't as desperate as the Yankees, behind by only one game in the NLCS, they too are under heavy pressure to perform in the clutch. They have decided to give Roy Halladay another day of rest (holiday?), sending Joe Blanton to the mound for Game 4 this evening. The Giants are poised to win the next two games at home, which would earn them their first trip to the World Series since 2002. Wouldn't a Rangers-Giants matchup be interesting? It's certainly unexpected.

D.C. historical footnote

The 2010 MLB playoffs mark the first time that both former Washington Senators franchises advanced to the postseason in the same year. The original Senators (1901-1960) became the Minnesota Twins in 1961, and the second Senators team (1961-1971) became the Texas Rangers in 1972. It is also interesting to note that the Rangers' manager is Ron Washington.

Nationals promote Rizzo

To fill in the void left by departing president Stan Kasten (see Sept. 25), the Washington Nationals have promoted General Manager Mike Rizzo to the position of "executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager." He gets a five-year contract extension as part of the deal. See MLB.com and/or the Washington Post, which says this means Rizzon will have "total control" of the Nationals. Kasten had served as a sort of "bridge" between Rizzo and the Lerner family, which owns the franchise. As far as his expanded range of duties, Rizzo said, "I will have to learn to delegate a little bit better." If the Nats are to acquire top-dollar free agents such as Cliff Lee during the off-season, he has a lot of work ahead of him.


October 21, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Yanks & Phils are stayin' alive

The Yankees redeemed themselves before the home crowd in New York yesterday, staving off elimination and beating the Texas Rangers in convincing fashion, 7-2. This time, C.C. Sabathia got credit for the win, even though he allowed nearly twice as many hits (11, compared to 6) as he did in ALCS Game 1, when he lasted only four innings. The Yankees scored three times in the second inning, getting maximum use out of two singles, two walks, and a throwing error. The three home runs they hit later in the game did not change the outcome, but they probably helped the nervous home crowd feel a lot better. So now the series returns to Texas, with the Yankees in the unusual position of having to overcome heavy odds, on "alien turf," without the ghosts of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle to inspire them.

Across the continent, meanwhile, the Giants and Phillies battled each other in two very tense and close games. Last night Jayson Werth made a couple fine defensive plays in right field to prevent Giants from scoring, but "relief pitcher" Roy Oswalt faltered in the final clutch situation, giving up a long sacrifice fly to Juan Uribe, who got credit for the game-winning RBI. Werth's efforts were all for naught. In tonight's game, the Phillies took the lead after a dubious call by the home plate umpire, when a bunt by Roy Halladay was called fair, starting a weird chain of events that resulted in the Phillies scoring three runs. See MLB.com. Jayson Werth hit a homer to the right field corner in the top of the ninth as an insurance run, and the Phillies escaped from San Francisco with a win, 4-2. In the encore matchup between two of the greatest pitchers in the majors today, Roy Halladay prevailed over Tim Lincecum. The NLCS resumes in Philadelphia on Saturday.


October 23, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Rangers win pennant; Yankees go home

For the first time in their 50-year franchise history (and the 39th year since moving to the Lone Star State), the Texas Rangers are going to the World Series. Somehow, the team with the lowest regular-season winning percentage (.559) vaulted past the defending world champion New York Yankees. Once again, the Rangers got the jump on their opponents by scoring in the first inning. They took maximum advantage of the fact that they were playing at home, before a packed house of 51,404 fans, a big psychological boost. Not until the fifth inning did the Yankees get their first hit, a double by Alex Rodriguez that tied the game. He soon scored on a wild pitch. Jorge Posada doubled later in the inning, and Lance Berkman tripled in the seventh, but neither of them ended up scoring. In other words, there were zero RBIs for the Yankees. frown The Rangers came right back in the bottom of the fifth inning with a four-run rally, puncturing the visiting team's hopes of a comeback win. Only one Yankee reached base in the final two innings, and five of the last seven Yankee batters struck out. The last man up, Alex Rodriguez, was called out on strikes. It was, truth be told, a less than inspiring performance from the team that is routinely expected to meet the very highest standards.

And so, the defending world champion New York Yankees will not get to defend their championship status in the Fall Classic. (Good thing I've got some videos from games they played in October 2009 to watch!) The Rangers were obviously hungry for a win, and their stars such as Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and Vladimir Guerrero all played superbly throughout the ALCS. Their winning pitcher in Game 6, Colby Lewis, went eight full innings, making his mark on the national stage for the first time. And so, congratulations to the Texas Rangers for their commendable, hard-fought triumph. They fully deserve to represent the American League in the World Series.

Phillies battle back

In Philadelphia, this evening, the Phillies are using their big home field advantage, jumping to a 2-0 lead over the San Franicsco Giants in the first inning. Their usual clutch hitters, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, both got hits, finally, making up for their cold bats thus far in the NLCS. The Phillies fans are in a frenzy, hoping their team can extend the series to a full seven games. If so, and if they win tomorrow, they would be the first team to win three consecutive National League pennants since the St. Louis Cardinals did so in the 1940s. In the top of the third inning, the Giants staged a rally and tied the game, 2-2. Tension is mounting...

Bryce Harper debuts

Presumed future superstar slugger for the Nationals, Bryce Harper, is playing in the Arizona Fall League, and had his first hit in professional ball a couple nights ago. The bases were loaded, and some fans were disappointed that the ball fell short of the wall, evidently expecting a grand slam. See yahoo.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser. I look forward to a fine career as much as any Nats fan, but the kind of superhuman expectations such as Harper and Nats rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg are under may be forcing them to strain too hard to excel. Give the young guys time to mature, for Pete's sake!

Fenway Park renovations

The final phase of the renovations at Fenway Park will be completed during the coming winter. Among the enhancements are new high-definition video screens, concrete repair and new seats in the granstand around the right field corner, new high-price box seats, more concession stands, and improvements to the main concourse. The cost for this year's upgrades amounts to about $40 million, and for the entire ten-year phased renovation it was about $285 million. See MLB.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. Baseball fans should thank their lucky stars that the new ownership team led by John Henry had the sense to preserve one of the last original jewels of baseball. Too bad wiser heads didn't prevail in Detroit or New York...


October 24, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Giants win pennant; Phillies are phinished

Well, I certainly didn't foresee either the American League or the National League pennant winners this year. The underdog San Francisco Giants overcame a large, ferocious home crowd and an awful performance by starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, who gave up two runs to the Phillies in the first inning. After the second inning went almost as badly, he was replaced. For most teams, that would have been too much of a burden to overcome, but the Giants' bullpen rose to the occasion and prevented the Phillies from scoring any more runs over seven innings. When you're going against a lineup consisting of Utley, Rollins, Howard, and Werth, that is a truly stellar accomplishment.

Inning by inning, the game ground ahead in an atmosphere of extreme tension. The Giants tied the game with two runs in the third inning, and the benches cleared after Chase Utley was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the third, but no blows were exchanged. The Giants took the lead in the eighth inning when Juan Uribe knocked a home run that just cleared the wall in right field. The Phillies had several run-scoring opportunities in the latter innings, but failed to capitalize on any of them. They thus failed to live up to expectations of becoming another "dynasty," in the mold of the New York Yankees.* Giants closer Brian Wilson [took the mound in the eighth inning, and got the final five outs while allowing two walks but no hits.] Cody Ross, who has made a name for himself with all those clutch home runs, was named NLCS MVP. See MLB.com.

Is the west the best?

Last year the World Series pitted two east coast teams against each other, but this year both teams are from the western divisions of their respective leagues. Is this a reflection of pop culture trends, as "California Gurrl" Katy Perry supplants New Yorker "Lady Gaga," a.k.a. Stephanie Germanotta? As I commented on Amish Trevedi's Facebook page, [I hope the absence of any east coast teams in the World Series this year doesn't hurt TV ratings too much. For the record, here are the previous World Series in which both teams were from the AL or NL Western Division:]

  • 1974: Oakland A's vs. L.A. Dodgers
  • 1988: Oakland A's vs. L.A. Dodgers
  • 1989: Oakland A's vs. S.F. Giants
  • 2002: Anaheim Angels vs. S.F. Giants
  • 2010: Texas Rangers vs. S.F. Giants

One might also consider the 1965 Minnesota Twins vs. L.A. Dodgers matchup as an all-western World Series. Minneapolis (or Bloomington, rather) is located on the west side of the Mississippi River, after all.

* Whither the "Core Four"?

Speaking of dynasties, fellow Yankees fan Brian Vangor wonders what will become of the team after their cadre of four superstar veterans retire: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte. All four men began playing in 1995, and except for Pettitte (who spent a couple years in Houston) all of them have stayed with the Yankees for the entire careers. They have defined the latest Yankee dynasty, but some of them may retire over the next few years. Who could possibly replace them? Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, Francisco Cervelli, Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Hughes are the most notable younger players who have come up through the Yankee farm system, but among them only Cano seems to offer promise as a future superstar. Maybe some of the others will develop their talents and lead the Yankees to future World Series.


October 24, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Another field trip to Chimney Hollow

Last Saturday, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip for the first time since last April. As with all of my past field trips for the club, we hiked along the Chimney Hollow trail, on Route 250 in western Augusta County. We observed a total of 26 species altogether, including five that were the first of the season for me. I was especially pleased to spot a Red-breasted Nuthatch, which was one of the main target birds for this trip. The other three members -- Grant Simmons, Jo King, and Tish Folsom -- heard it but didn't see it. Later on we all had great looks at some Winter Wrens and Hermit Thrushes, both of which are elusive migratory birds that are only present in the lowland areas of Virginia during the cooler months. Afterwards, we stopped at the store in nearby West Augusta, where we saw 21 Wild Turkeys across the field, and then paid a brief visit to nearby Braley Pond, where we saw an American Coot. Here are the highlights of what I saw, in rough chronological order:

  1. Golden-crowned Kinglets
  2. Ruby-crowned Kinglets
  3. Carolina Chickadees
  4. Blue Jays (very noisy)
  5. Pileated Woodpeckers
  6. Blue headed Vireo
  7. Red-breasted Nuthatch (FOS)
  8. Winter Wrens (FOS)
  9. Hermit Thrushes (FOS)
  10. Red-shouldered Hawk
  11. Eastern Phoebe
  12. White-breasted Nuthatch
  13. Hairy Woodpeckers
  14. Dark-eyed Junco (FOS)
  15. Wild Turkeys (21) at West Augusta
  16. American Coot at Braley Pond (FOS)
  17. Red-tailed Hawk

In addition, others saw a Pine Warbler and a Blackpoll Warbler, but not me.

ABC bird seed sale

On Saturday I was at the Augusta County Government Center in Verona, helping out with the Augusta Bird Club's annual bird seed sale. (Nearby, Congressman Bob Goodlatte was hosting a Republican barbecue, but I was already committed and couldn't be in two places at once.) Lifting all those big bags was great excercise, which I really need. The sale was very successful, in spite of the poor economic conditions. Crista Cabe set up a Google page to make it possible to directly place orders and make payments online; that was a huge success.

Other recent bird forays

In celebration of the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the National Park Service hosted some nature walks on September 18 and 19, with Allen Larner serving as nature guide. I joined him on the 19th (Sunday), and we lucked out by spotting a large number of warblers and other neotropical migrants. I made brief birding trips to the Blue Ridge Parkway a couple other times, and likewise had better luck than usual.

Compared to last fall, I have put in a great deal more time at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch, which is being coordinated by Brenda Tekin, as usual, as well as Vic Laubach. A couple days they had several thousand Broad-winged hawks, but the most I saw on any one day was about 150-200 Broad-wings.

In late September, I walked along the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad for the first time in several months. It was quiet until I was near the end, at which point a variety of warblers and vireos popped into view.

Last Wednesday, late in the afternoon, I made a brief visit to Bell's Lane, and found some pleasant surprises. There were several White-crowned sparrows, along with the expected White-throated sparrows, plus Bluebirds, a dozen or so Meadowlarks far away, a Downy Woodpecker, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, at least two Palm Warblers, and best of all, my first Brown creeper of the season! From the high point, I could see several shorebirds at the distant pond, along with Canada geese, but no Harriers or other raptors were present.

I will be updating the Annual arrival page, incorporating this information, in the near future.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler, on Bell's Lane. Roll mouse over the image to see a different angle.

Last Tuesday I stopped at the Ruritan park on Route 151 in Nelson County, and was lucky to spot my first White-crowned sparrow of the season. It was a juvenile, with brownish feathers on his head.

Great Egret near Pentagon

Jacqueline and I saw this Great Egret after the baseball game [in Washington] on September 25. It was at Lady Bird Johnson Park near the Pentagon.

ABC Web site upgrade

One reason for my scant blog posts of late is that I have been spending a lot of time upgrading the Augusta Bird Club Web site, in terms of style, content, and functionality. It now allows members to make announcements of "impromptu" field trips, i.e., ones that are organized too late for the current newsletter. Club member Jo King was the first to make use of this new feature, but alas, I wasn't able to participate on her trip to Springdale Water Gardens. There is also a new automated calendar feature that I may incorporate on this Web site eventually.

Kiptopeke Challenge 2010

Congratulations to Allen Larner and the three other members of the Augusta Bird Club's "Bald Eagles" team, who took first prize at this year's Kiptopeke Challenge, spotting 125 species. Allen's avid passion in birding and his keen senses put him a league of his own, birding-wise.


October 25, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Even more mushroom photos!

During the Augusta Bird Club field trip to Chimney Hollow last week, I took a few more photos of mushrooms, including a striking lavender-colored one. There were several of them near some rotting logs, but it was hard to get a good view of them from above, and we ended up picking one in order to see the gills underneath. Fortunately, we were joined by someone who knows a lot about mushrooms, Tish Folsom. Thanks to Tish for helping to identify the Clitocybe Nuda in particular. Overall, the colors were less dramatic than the mushrooms I photographed last summer, but there was still quite a variety of textures. The new batch of photos are now posted at the Mushrooms photo gallery, and there will be even more in coming weeks, once I finally identify the other species.

Mushroom montage Oct. 2010

The only two above mushroom species I'm sure about are the Clitocybe Nuda in the top left (the lavender one), and the Hericium Erinaceus in the lower left (the white shaggy one). (Roll mouse over the image to compare to the mushroom photo montage from August.)


October 25, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Which party will "get the car keys"?

As poll numbers remain stubbornly negative, President Obama has been campaigning furiously in hopes of preventing a Republican takeover of Congress in next week's elections. In a famous speech in Seattle a few weeks ago, he claimed the Republicans had "driven the economy into the ditch" under the Bush administration and didn't deserve to get the car keys back. (See youtube.com.) It's pretty effective rhetoric, at least among that segment of the population that is not totally disenchanted with Obama, but there are serious factual distortions behind his argument.

Actually, given that the Democrats have been in control of the legislative branch since 2007, both parties share responsibility for the economy being "driven into a ditch." It's like when two people are fighting over control of the steering wheel. Likewise, anyone who follows policy matters closely know that it was a rather unintentional convergence of agendas between the Republicans and Democrats in the 1990s that resulted in the Federal budget being balanced. It was not President Clinton's sole doing, as the former president frequently suggests while he has been campaigning on behalf of Democratic candidates. It was Clinton's 1993 tax hike combined with the subsequent budget cuts that were passed by the Republican Congress that saved this country from financial ruin, as the Concord Coalition kept warning about. Now the Federal government is back in the same bleak fiscal situation once again, with trillion-dollar deficits year after year, heading straight toward bankruptcy just like Greece, France, and other European countries.* Whether the two parties might tacitly collaborate in serving the broad national interest remains to be seen.

It's almost a given that the GOP will gain a majority in the House of Representatives, with Rep. John Boehner replacing Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. Control of the Senate is still up for grabs, and the weakness of Tea Party-backed candidates in Nevada (Sharron Angle) and Delaware (Christine O'Donnell) may prove decisive in the Democrats' favor. Will the American people heed the President's dire warnings, or will they forgive past GOP foibles and "give the car keys back"?

Perriello causes car wreck

In a related development, Perriello caused a car wreck last week, making an improper lane change that forced another vehicle off the highway. Fortunately, only one person was injurded. Oddly, however, not many people seem to have heard about this news. Is the mainstream media covering up the incident? See the Richmond Times-Dispatch. In a close race, this kind of thing could end up changing the outcome. Most polls indicate that the incumbent Robert Hurt still has a slight advantage, but there remains much uncertainty, and Perriello could still pull and upset and win reelection. I have been noticing more and more signs along the highway in Nelson County lately, such as the following:

Perriello November Is Coming

Perriello and "November Is Coming" road signs, on Route 151 near Route 29 in Nelson County.

Perriello stealing

"Perriello stealing" and Hurt road signs, on Route 29 near Lovingston in Nelson County. It quotes a statement he made on March 16, 2010:

If you don't tie our hands, we will keep stealing...

Personally, I think that's a little unfair to Perriello, who seems like a decent, sincere (if wrong-headed) legislator. I think he meant that the system encourages legislators to "steal" from the public, requiring some kind of reform, but whatever he meant, it was great P.R. for the Republicans.

* Fiscal austerity in U.K.

In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, Prime Minister John Cameron and the Conservative Party are taking a huge political risk, calling for massive cuts in government spending across the board. See the Washington Post Now why can't Republican leaders in the United States do likewise? It's quite a contrast to France, where beleaguered President Sarkozy faces widespread opposition to making modest-scale reforms in government entitlement programs. The strikes continue...

NPR fires Juan Williams

Everyone knows that National Public Radio is a bastion of left-leaning political correctness, but sometimes even they can surprise us with their extreme orthodoxy of opinions. The firing of commentator Juan Williams has elicited jubilation on the right wing, and legal hair-splitting by more moderate conservatives such as Doug Mataconis. I'm not about to jump on the bandwagon to ban all public funding of NPR, but I will definitely postpone my next pledge commitment to the local public radio station. I'm sure NPR will get the message after the November elections...

Virginia politics info

Finally, I have updated the Virginia politics page, with several new (or refurbished) maps showing election results going back to the year 2000.


October 27, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Historic pitching duel in S.F. (NOT!)

All the media hype over the pitching duel between Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum was just a bit exaggerated, it seems. In Game 1 of the 2010 World Series, everyone expected a low-scoring contest with the two ace starters going into the late innings. Nope. Instead what we got was a wacky, error-filled blowout, which got "unblowed" in the final inning as the Rangers rallied to. The visitors from Texas got on the board with a run in the first inning, and could have at least a couple more with the bases loaded, but third baseman Juan Uribe made a fine double play to end the inning. Another run in the second inning gave Rangers' ace Cliff Lee a comfortable two-run lead, but then the Giants tied it in the third. Two innings later the home team put together a string of hits, forcing Lee out of the game. He was charged with six earned runs. In the top of the sixth, the Rangers came back with two runs, but they couldn't narrow the gap to any less than four runs. Final score: Giants 11, Rangers 7. The 43,601 fans at chilly AT&T Park (page layout updated) were delirious with joy.

As an example of the hype, Washington Post reporter Dave Sheinin compared Cliff Lee to postseason superstars of the past such as Sandy Koufax and Christy Mathewson. Lee, he wrote, had "a chance to become known as the greatest of all time." Well, nobody's perfect -- players or sports writers.

Just like last year, etc., I present the home ballparks of the two World Series teams, for easy comparison. I may need to make some small changes, such as the slight overhanging balcony in right field at AT&T Park.

Rangers Ballpark in Arlington AT&T Park
ball

October 27, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Tempests in the Tea Party

No matter how Election 2010 turns out, most of the analyses of the results will center around the role of the Tea Party movement. (Personally, I remain "deeply ambivalent" about the movement, though I'm becoming more disturbed by some of what I have been hearing lately.) On Sunday, in the Washington Post, Amy Gardner exhaustively dissected what she called the "movement without a compass," a vast upsurge of political sentiment lacking in focus or leadership. Here's the gist:

But a new Washington Post canvass of hundreds of local tea party groups reveals a different sort of organization, one that is not so much a movement as a disparate band of vaguely connected gatherings that do surprisingly little to engage in the political process.

Well, that is certainly consistent with the deeply alienated state of mind exhibited by many of those protesters. The activists share a passionate disdain for "the Establishment," or anything remotely connected to "the Establishment." They detest compromise, and at the end of the day, they simply do not possess the social skills necessary to succeed in the realm of politics. In some cases, they are probably so gloomy about the future of the country that they are ready to give up and "head for the hills," becoming hermit survivalists. The article included a national map that supposedly included all the local Tea Party chapters, but I know they omitted at least one or two from Virginia.

"Republicans by another name"?

That's what NPR writer Frank James calls Tea Partiers: "In other words, they are the opposite of the Republicans In Name Only or the RINOs many Tea Partiers revile." This was a story on the recent interview with D.C. cultural wonk-pundit Jonathan Rauch on NPR, in which he said that Tea Partiers tend to

think of themselves as independents.

That's one reason they're so unafraid to vote for Republican candidates in primaries who might lose to Democrats. They say it's not about party and in their minds it really isn't.

That's a fascinating insight. If these veterans of brutal intra-GOP warfare really are think of themselves as independents, it could be yet another case of "cognitive dissonance," refusing to face up to the obvious contradiction between what they believe and what they perceive. That is one of the hallmarks of pseudo-conservatism.

Along those same lines, Karl Denninger was recently interviewed by Dylan Ratinger on MS-NBC; watch at youtube.com. (Hat tip to Andrew Murphy.) Denninger recounts the early days of the Tea Party movement, protesting the proposed bank bailouts at the Capitol in Washington. He refuses to have anything to do with those folks any more, however. Money quote:

I am not going to be co-opted into an organization that is essentially part of the right wing of the Republican Party.

Why? Growing reliance on "wedge issues," which has become a "time-honored practice" of the two party system. Also see Denninger's blog at market-ticker.org. He mostly deals with financial and investment issues, but he also gets into politics quite a bit.

Many, many Tea Parties

Many critics of the Tea Party are prone to portray the movement in an unduly harsh, broad-brushed, stereotypical fashion. As the Web sites below indicate, there is a Tea Party for just about every ideological stripe to the right of center. It is clear that some of the organizations are quite authentic and autonomous, whereas others seem to be nothing more than mouthpieces for corporate interests.

teapartypatriots.org -- probably the most important organization in the movement. "Fiscal Responsibility * Limited Government * Free Market"

teapartyexpress.org -- They did the caravan from Nevada (Sen. Harry Reid's home state) to D.C.

thenationalteapartyfederation.com -- "Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, Free Markets" (Lists as sponsors the "usual suspects" of the "Conservative Movement, including Americans For Prosperity, the Conservative Union, National Taxpayers Union, and the Family Research Council. (WTF!??) I also noticed Richard Viguerie's name there, and the Lynchburg Tea Party.

teapartynation.com -- A HOME FOR CONSERVATIVES!!! (They mention Glenn Beck's rather oddball "912" movement.)

jointheteaparty.us -- "True Conservatives Are Winning Their Primaries!"

teaparty.org, Dale Robertson, USMC (Ret.) -- A distinctive paleo-conservative flavor, run by a lone wolf activist.

teapartyrevolution.com -- An attempt to link grassroots organizing efforts from Northridge, CA across the nation.

teapartymovie.com -- Endorsed by Dick Morris, FWIW.

Lynchburg Tea Party

I heard that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was visiting Lynchburg this week, in conjunction with the local Tea Party. So I did some Web surfing, and came across an unusually bitter and dark essay written last summer, after the Tea Party candidate was defeated in the primary election by (relative) moderate Republican Robert Hurt. From virginiafifthwatchdog.com, here is an excerpt from a diagnosis of recent GOP / conservative setbacks.

But whose fault, I ask. Was it Ross Perot's fault Bill Clinton served two terms, or even one term? Or was it the fault of a compromising, invertebrate GOP so-leadership showing all the ominous signs of detesticulation, that failed to ignite the base because the base was not sure many of the candidates stood for any principle other than their own election? I contend this is the reason for the failure of the GOP to win in 1992, 1996, and 2008.

(NOTE: I couldn't find that piece at all at lynchburgteaparty.com, evidently because there has been a change in leadership recently.) From my point of view, it's hard to imagine a more severely wrong-headed interpretation of what has happened in the past few years. The Democrats won control of Congress in 2006 mainly as a result of the policy failures of the Bush administration, and the takeover of the Republican Party by pseudo-conservative Bush loyalists, rendering the GOP almost incapable of articulating a coherent agenda of governance. The Tea Party movement itself is an embodiment of the populist right wing "base" constituency that Bush and Karl Rove deliberately cultivated in a wrong-headed attempt to nail down a hegemonic supermajority. Whenever you hear an epithet like "spineless" you can be sure that the argument is being aimed at a less-intelligent activist susceptible to such macho garbage. Now many of the ex-Bushies are changing their stripes and blaming the moderate or pragmatic elements in the party for Bush's failures. Anyone with brains can see right through that nonsense.


October 28, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Can Obama save Perriello?

The President of the United States, Barack Obama, is coming to central Virginia tomorrow evening, in a last-minute bid to save incumbent Rep. Tom Perriello from defeat. The President will speak at a Democratic rally to be held at the Pavilion on the east side of downtown Charlottesville. The city is abuzz with frantic preparations, with Secret Service agents taking security precautions and police making arrangements for traffic. (See the Charlottesville Daily Progress.)

Most of the polls indicate that State Sen. Robert Hurt has a lead of several percentage points. (According to surveyusa.com, as of Wednesday, it's Hurt 51%, Perriello 43%.) So why would the Prez take time out of his busy schedule on behalf of one humble freshman congressman with shaky prospects for reelection? Partly because Perriello is among those who were first elected in 2008, being swept into office on Obama's coat-tails, and partly because he has stuck to his guns and refused to apologize for supporting the Obama-Pelosi agenda, which is not exactly popular in most of the Fifth Congressional District, which he represents. Successful politicians never fail to reward such gestures of loyalty, so Obama will probably look good even if Perriello loses next Tuesday. Being practical, Perriello has not exactly boasted of his close allegiance to the President, but at this stage of the game, he needs all the help he can get. He needs to "energize the base," meaning all those students at U.Va. Obama will be visiting other states with close House races over the weekend.

Democrats have pulled out all the stops in a end-game media blitz for Perriello. Yesterday he appeared on the Comedy Channel's Colbert Report, right after the President was a guest of Jon Stewart Daily Show. (Stewart and Colbert will be leading a mock-serious "rally to restore sanity and/or fear" in Washington.) Today Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack traveled with Perriello through the Fifth District, touting all of the wonderful (?) things brought about by the stimulus bill. See the Lynchburg News & Advance. This came a day after Hurt and Perriello debated each other at Randolph College, in Lynchburg. See the News & Advance.

Last week, the two candidates engaged in a heated debate in Danville, sponsored by U.Va.'s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. Hurt went after Perriello on the Card Check issue (a top priority of organized labor) and Obama's stimulus, and the incumbent responded, oddly, by criticizing Hurt for his support for tax hikes. Evidently it's a clever way to undermine support for Hurt among anti-tax conservatives. See the Daily Progress, which includes a video clip.

Hurt caught some flak for refusing to participate in any debate including a third party candidate, Jeff Clark. His Web site is self-explanatory: crashtheirparty.org. He identifies himself as "a social and fiscal conservative who believes that fundamental reform is needed in our political system." (Could he be a Tea Partier?) He has about 2% support in the poll cited above.

It is important to note that in the Fifth Congressional District race, the Republican candidate (Hurt) is not a creature of the Tea Party movement, some of whose leaders openly despise him. (Hurt prevailed in a wide-open multi-candidate Republican primary last summer, and has had to build bridges to the losing factions.) According to the same essay I cited yesterday (virginiafifthwatchdog.com), the nomination of Hurt was

brought about at least in part by a push from the same damned GOP establishment that ushered in the era of Obama

That is an extraordinarily creepy and deranged point of view, but I'm afraid it is characteristic of a significant portion of the Tea Party crowd.

Griffith narrows the gap

Elsewhere in Virginia, the latest polls show that Del. Morgan Griffith (R) is edging closer to incumbent Rep. Rick Boucher (D) in the Ninth District race. According to surveyusa.com, Griffith is at 47%, while Boucher is at 46%, i.e., it's too close to call. Until recently, Boucher had enjoyed a substantial lead in most polls.


October 29, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Democrats know how to govern?

President Obama's recent jab at the Republicans for "driving the economy into a ditch" serves to remind us of the Latin root word of govern: gubernare, which means "to steer," as in what a ship's helmsman does. Governing a nation means keeping it on a fairly steady course, avoiding the hazardous shoals from whence the sirens' tempting song of easy, false promises is often heard. It does not mean routinely blaming the other party for negative consequences, which is one of the President's bad habits.

On one hand, there is abundant evidence that the Democrats enjoy advantages in terms of governance skill, since they are the "party of government" and are increasingly associated with the intellectual and cultural elite in this country. Notwithstanding his bitter partisanship, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman does have a good idea what he's talking about. His words carry a lot of weight among Democrats in Washington. Even many Wall Street executives -- such as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his mentor Robert Rubin (who served in that post under President Clinton) -- are closely affiliated with the Democrats. Then there are the top academicians, the literati, the Brookings Institution wonks, and the writers and editorialists for the New York Times and Washington Post. That's a lot of knowledge, skills, and experience upon which the Democrats can rely.

On the other hand, you have to consider who is actually leading the Democrats on Capitol Hill, and in the White House. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the favorite whipping girl of Republicans these days, seems to be especially fond of policies that stand in direct, stark contrast to economic realities. Hearing her explain how the new health care law is supposed to work, for example, sounds as though she were a utopian flower child from Haight-Ashbury. (Her district encompasses most of San Francisco, so perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise.) One could be forgiven for thinking that she richly deserves the chorus of derision aimed at her. Her counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, seems a little more sensible but evidently lacks the gumption to insist that legislation be subjected to careful scrutiny by policy experts.

On the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, meanwhile, it seems that most of President Obama's top advisers are bailing out as quickly as they can. Rahm Emanuel (chief of staff), James Jones (National Security Adviser), Peter Orszag (Director of the Office of Management and Budget), Christina Romer (chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers), Larry Summers (Director of National Economic Council) have all announced their resignations over the past few months. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is slated to leave soon, and some speculate that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may do so as well, possibly to run against Obama in 2012. Is this the typical sort of infighting that takes place between policy veterans and political hacks, or do they know something the rest of us don't know? For a far-fetched portrayal of the "White House in crisis," see survivalstation.org; hat tip to Stacey Morris.

R.I.P. moderate Dems?

In the heated, ultra-polarized political environment of today, can moderate Democrats survive? In South Dakota, which has only one congressional district, incumbent Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin is in danger of losing what had been considered a fairly secure seat for the Democrats. She has served for four terms, and has become a leading figure among moderate "Blue Dog" Democrats. You can tell her party is nervous, because they have started taking the low road, with TV ads that crudely suggest that the Republican candidate, Kristi Noem, is too risky to drive. (Noem has been cited for speeding on more than one occasion, apparently.) According to electionprojection.com, Noem currently has a lead of 4.6% over Herseth-Sandlin.

In Virginia's 9th congressional district, Rep. Rick Boucher (D) has apparently lost the lead in the polls which he had been enjoying. The challenging candidate, Del. Morgan Griffith (R), actually has a slight lead right now, but it's really too close to call; see electionprojection.com. Boucher represents a conservative part of the state, and he voted against the Democrats' health care bill; see Boucher's Web site. He has served in the House since 1983, and like Herseth-Sandlin, his seat was considered safe for the Democrats.

Last month I attended a meeting of local business leaders who came to hear Sen. Mark Warner at Cranberry's in downtown Staunton. His main purpose was to listen to the concerns of small business owners, especially with regard to how more jobs can be generated. To his credit, he acknowledged that both parties are to blame for the bleak economic situation. He tried to put in a good word for the economic stimulus measures, lamenting that they were "poorly explained," and claimed that the Small Business Administration is becoming more effective and less bureaucratic. Warner said he was one of only four Democratic Senators who voted in favor of tort reform, while eleven Republicans voted against it! He gave ample time for feedback from those who were present. I could sense Warner's discomfort at having to split hairs and carefully distance himself from President Obama and most of his fellow Democrats. He expressed big regret that the health care legislation, which he supported, did not do more to contain costs. (Well, of course it didn't!) To me, Sen. Warner seemed a bit too hopeful that information technology can rein in health care costs, but that is probably natural for someone with a background in high-tech industry. As a successful businessman, nevertheless, he knows the chilling economic effect of many of the policies being pursued by the President. Sen. Warner will be up for reelection in 2014, and even though he has a stellar reputation for competence in government and would seem to enjoy a heavy advantage right now, anything can happen over the next four years.

Mark Warner, Chris Graham

Sen. Mark Warner spoke at Cranberry's in downtown Staunton, on September 8. Chris Graham, editor of the Augusta Free Press, is in back.


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