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February 5, 2010 [LINK / comment]
The mail bag: stadium news, etc.
After a longer-than-expected hiatus due to "technical difficulties beyond my control,"
I have returned to cyberspace. (Cue Gen. MacArthur.) Leading off in my mail bag, as usual, is Mike Zurawski, who has a huge volume of news to share about baseball stadiums as well as baseball-related football stadiums.
In Chicago, they are removing the unsightly concrete exterior on the south (first base) side of Wrigley Field. The renovation is scheduled to be completed in 2014, the centennial of the beloved historic ballpark. See baseball-fever.com. (Bruce Orser brought the same item to my attention.) Well, it's about time! The exterior at Wrigley Field has never received as much attention as it should have. They are also renovating the iconic scoreboard, with the huge painted "Cubs" pennant on the back, and it is currently enclosed by scaffolding on the rear (street) side. See bleedcubbieblue.com.
In The Bronx, the escalator "pod" in left field of Yankee Stadium is being torn down. Frankly, I'm surprised they aren't making more progress in bringing the whole thing down. Opening Day is only eight weeks away! See baseball-fever.com.
In Toronto, they are getting ready to install new artificial turf at Rogers Centre. The existing playing surface, which looks like a parquet floor because of the heavy seams between the small square sections, was installed in 2005. Hopefully, the new surface will look less fake. See nationalpost.com.
In Fremont (located in California, for you folks in Rio Linda ), hopes are rising once again that the Oakland Athletics may yet build a stadium in their city. It would be built on the site of the soon-to-be-closed Nummi automobile plant (a joint venture of two ill-fated corporations, Toyota and GM), fairly close to a new BART station. Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman is promoting the idea, and they recently held a public rally to support bring the A's to town. See ktvu.com. I'm still skeptical of Fremont, and I'm sure that the San Jose alternative site is lucrative enough that they could pay off the Giants for their "territorial rights."
In Portland, PGE park is being converted into a soccer stadium, at a cost of 31 million dollars. That means it will be less baseball-friendly than before, which makes the idea of using it as a temporary venue for a possibly MLB expansion franchise less likely. The Beavers minor league (AAA) franchise may even leave Portland. See bizjournals.com.
On the north side of Miami, where Super Bowl XLIV is about to be held, people are objecting to the proposed use of public funds to put a roof on
Joe Robbie / Pro Player / Dolphins / Dolphin / Land Shark / Sun Life Stadium. See fieldofschemes.com, which notes that they would have to host the Super Bowl for the next 20 years in a row to make money on the deal. As for the stadium itself, "[T]he blueprint includes tearing out the lower bowl of the stadium to add 3,000 prime seats and moving the spectator area closer to the field." See miamiherald.com.
It's a similar problem faced by the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium, whose lower seating bowl is too low for many fans to see the field. Chargers will remain in San Diego for a least another season, as they try to put pressure on the city to build them a new stadium. They still might move back to their original home in L.A., however. See nctimes.com.
In Minnesota, there is talk of using Federal government "stimulus" funds ("Build America Bonds") to build a new football stadium for the Vikings in the suburbs. The town of Dayton, in western Hennepin County, is a leading candidate. Governor Pawlenty has suggested using the lottery to pay for such a stadium. See startribune.com and startribune.com. I still think the Vikings and the Chargers can afford to wait another few years at least.
In East Rutherford, New Jersey, demolition of Giants Stadium has started, and it should be complete by late May, when the new stadium will be inaugurated with a Bon Jovi concert. Will someone find Jimmy Hoffa's remains in one of the concrete slabs? See associatedcontent.com.
Thanks as always to Mike for keeping me "on my toes," and for keeping all of us better informed.
And, in other mail...
Bruce Orser sent me some newspaper archives and other very useful historical information about Griffith Stadium, old Yankee Stadium, and even Washington Park in Brooklyn. Major league thanks are due to Bruce as well.
Wes Kahn wrote to ask me some probing questions about various old ballparks: "First, let me pay you the highest compliments one can give for producing without a doubt the best ballpark website in the world. Your diagrams have supplied countless hours of hot stove entertainment for several years." I certainly appreciate the kind sentiments, and will try my best to address the questions he raises.
Mike Wagner is nearly finished writing a book about Yankee Stadium (to be called Babe's Place), and wanted authoritative numbers on the early dimensions for it, so I was happy to oblige.
Chris Moffatt reminded me that I needed to do update the Anomalous stadiums page to include Champion Stadium, where the Tampa Bay
Devil Rays played a few games a couple years ago. Done! I also need to do a diagram for it, however. Stephen Poppe never fails to remind of that nagging "chore."
John Grace sent me a link to a page with some great photos of Safeco Field being used for football, as well as for soccer: ysbp.com. It looks familiar, and I may have seen that before.
Finally, a note from Hugh Harris that arrived today: "Just found your site. As a lover of old baseball stadiums, I want to thank you for the wonderful site!!!!"
February 5, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Tea Party national convention
The Tea Partiers are gathering in Nashville, Tennessee for their first-ever national convention, eliciting a wide range of reactions across the country: hopeful anticipation, contemptuous derision, fear, and befuddlement. It's too bad more people don't reserve judgment and at least try to listen to what the participants are saying. According to the Washington Post, however, all is not well among the grassroots activists:
Some high-profile speakers and activist groups have canceled their appearances in protest of alleged profiteering by the convention organizers.
Attendees have paid $549 a ticket ... Some of the proceeds will cover former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's reported $100,000 fee for Saturday's keynote address.
I don't think that Ronald Reagan himself ever got paid so much for making a speech. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) were scheduled to speak, but both withdrew in protest against the way the event is being organized by teapartynation.com. Spokesman Mark Skoda, chairman of the Memphis Tea Party, said that the movement is "growing up." I sure hope so. In spite of deep differences within the movement,
the factions have largely united around a common cause: a don't-tread-on-me brand of fiscal conservatism and a belief that the government, first under President George W. Bush and now under Obama, has recklessly plunged deeper into debt and overstepped its constitutional powers. (SOURCE: WaPo)
Well, I certainly go along with that. It is not clear, however, whether and by what means the far-flung local chapters intend to aggregate their respective voices and articulate a common agenda. It will take a lot of effort to undo the image that many of the Tea Partiers tend to be on the kooky side. Obviously, I remain wary of the movement, which seems to be under some of the same unhealthy influences that have run the Republican Party into the ground over the past decade. But perhaps more uplifting voices will prevail, and they will serve a useful public purpose. After the convention is over, the question will arise as to what the movement's long-term goals are: to influence the Republican Party, to support individual candidates with whom they agree, or to lead in the formation of a third party? In the latter case, what would they call it -- the Tea Party Party?
For more fun, see teapartyexpress.org, official site of the cross-country caravan that will start off on March 27 with a rally in Searchlight, NV (home of Sen. Harry Reid) and finish in Washington, D.C. on April 15 -- Tax Day!
Sarah Palin, superstar
I'm probably one of the few people in America who lacks a strong opinion about Sarah Palin, polarizer extraordinaire. She has great potential as a leader who can reach out to millions of disaffected people on the right side of the spectrum, but is also plagued by grave inadequacies that would require many months of remedial effort on her part. Nevertheless, with the publication of her book Going Rogue: An American Story last fall, she has become a true "superstar," not unlike Barack Obama back in January 2007. It is useful to recall that Obama "portrays his lack of experience in national politics as an asset." Palin could be excused for botching her September 2008 interview with Katie Couric due to lack of time to prepare, so soon after being tapped as John McCain's running mate, but by now she ought to have done her homework. That is why her inability to name any founding fathers other than George Washington is so troubling; watch the youtube.com and prepare to grimace in empathetic pain. At a time when the Tea Partiers are reminding us of this country's constitutional roots, that is hard to excuse. But for her adoring fans, such gaffes do not matter in the least.
Among some of the major cyber-pundits, Andrew Sullivan genuinely fears Palin, which strikes me as puzzling. Does he think the American public is so desperate and so vulnerable to sweet-talking that it will anoint her as some kind of fascist queen? I don't think so. Back in November, Sullivan reviewed Going Rogue, treating it as a postmodern literary work, "deconstructing" Sarah, as it were:
In this, the book is emblematic of late degenerate Republicanism, which is based not on actual policies, but on slogans now so exhausted by over-use they retain no real meaning.
That sounds about right to me. Elsewhere, Sullivan has pointed out Palin's recourse to "victim" status, blaming her woes on the mean old Mainstream Media. That's not a good sign of leadership, and it's another characteristic that she shares with President Obama.
One of Palin's weaknesses is "shooting from the lip," blurting out opinions without thinking about the ramifications of what she is saying. For example, she was quoted at talkingpointsmemo.com, backtracking on her warnings about "death panels":
The term death panel "should not be taken literally," says Palin. The phrase is "a lot like when President Reagan used to refer to the Soviet Union as the 'evil empire.'"
Well, of course they're not going to convene panels to expressly condemn people to death. The problem is that one could easily construe her remarks to mean that the Soviet Union was not really an "evil empire." From a Republican point of view, that is darn near heresy.
Finally, just for "fair and balanced" laughs, watch Jon Stewart's (of Comedy Central "Daily Show" fame) final word on Sarah Palin at huffingtonpost.com.
What's your News IQ?
Take the Pew News IQ Quiz at pewresearch.org. I went too fast and missed one of the 12 questions, ending up at 92 percentile. Hat tip to Connie.
February 6, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Nationals prepare for 2010 season
Spring training is right around the corner, and the Washington Nationals seem to be well prepared, for once.
Second baseman Adam Kennedy, age 34, has just agreed to a contract worth $1.25 million in 2010 with a $2 million team option for 2010. Kennedy batted .289 with the Athletics last year, and is .277 lifetime; most of his career has been with the Angels. The first choice was Orlando Hudson, but he signed with the Twins, for a substantially higher salary. The addition of Kennedy to the Nationals' roster "likely means that Cristian Guzman will remain at shortstop." (Guzman says he has overcome his physical ailments and will become more mobile this year.) See MLB.com. This is yet more great news for the Nats. If someone had told me three months ago that the Nats would add Jason Marquis, Ivan Rodriguez, and Adam Kennedy to their roster in 2010, I would have said they were pulling my leg. Granted, it's hard to know what to expect from aging veterans, but we Nats fans have a lot to be hopeful for this year.
Another good sign is that the Nationals and Adam Dunn are negotiating a multi-year extension to his contract, which ends after this season. Both sides appear to be in accord, and Dunn is happy in Washington, notwithstanding the awful 2009 season. See Washington Post. In Friday's Post, Dan Steinberg called attention to Adam Dunn's use of jiujitsu to enhance his agility for defensive purposes. Like Manny Ramirez, he has a reputation for being a big slugger who has mediocre fielding skills, but he seems determined to prove his worth as a first baseman, occasionally covering left field. Interestingly, the Nationals now have a surplus of Adams (Dunn and Kennedy) all of a sudden, much like they had a surplus of Ryans a few years ago: Church, Drese, Wagner, and Zimmerman.
Two weeks ago, "The Nationals came to terms with outfielder Josh Willingham, relief pitcher Jason Bergmann, and catchers Wil Nieves and Jesus Flores." They are all solid contributors to the team, and if Flores is healthy, he might end up playing as much or more as Ivan Rodriguez. Only two more Nationals players remain eligible for arbitration. See Washington Post. The catcher position is like the first base position was during spring training last year, with three contending players. Finally, the Nats front office is discussing a possible contract with former Yankee pitcher Chien-Ming Wang. Hmm-m-m!!
Even more stadium news
It turns out I left out a couple news items yesterday. (NOTE: Mike Zurawski clarified that PGE Park in Portland, which is being renovated for use as a soccer stadium, "isn't going to have baseball at all. The Portland Beavers MUST have a new stadium somewhere.")
In Miami, on the site of the former Orange Bowl, workers are in the processing of installing the tracks on top of the 150-foot high concrete columns that will support the massive, hurricane-proof retractable roof of the Marlins' future ballpark. Eight of the 12 columns have been completed thus far, and the construction project overall "is slightly more than 20 percent completed." (That is consistent with what I had estimated previously, 15%.) See MLB.com.
In Santa Clara, California, the City Clerk verified that a sufficient number of signed petitions had been submitted, which means that voters will get to decide whether to provide public funds for the construction of a San Francisco 49ers stadium in a referendum on June 8 ballot. If a majority of voters approve, preliminary work on a stadium will proceed on a plot of land near the Great America amusement park. See the San Jose Mercury News, which says the project will cost $937, but I'm pretty sure they mean $937 million. So what will become of Candlestick Park???
February 6, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Another day, another blizzard
What was supposed to be the "storm of the century" didn't turn out to be quite that bad here in Staunton, but it was bad enough. Coming on top of five previous significant snowfalls this winter, it is starting to cause severe psychological distress, a.k.a. "cabin fever." This is really getting old: ¡Ya basta, caramba! In certain places such as Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, they had almost three feet of snow, so I guess we shouldn't complain. I was watching the radar maps on TV today, and it looked like the snow was already gone from the Shenandoah Valley, but here it kept snowing at a fast pace until late in the afternoon. "The wind outside was frightening" (REO), but after the snow finally stopped, it warmed up enough for the parking lot to melt, at least.
I spent about an hour shoveling snow late yesterday afternoon, when there was about four inches on the ground, and headed out again in the middle of the morning today for another round of hard labor. First the sidewalks, and then the top and sides of
our Jacqueline's Ford Escape. (The Hyundai can wait.) I was surprised by how wet the snow was, even though the temperatures seemed to be in the low-to-mid 20s. Must have been the wind chill factor. I paced myself while shoveling, as any prudent middle-aged person should do, and avoided any muscle strain or exhaustion. It's hard to estimate how much snow fell here, because we already had a few inches on the ground, but I figure it was about 18 inches, less than the "big blizzard" in mid-December. I must say, I was surprised by the number of people who had not thought to buy snow shovels of their own, in spite of all the recent snowfalls and the dire forecast for this weekend.
My new Facebook profile photo (not Gary Sinise): after digging snow today.
We should have known it was going to be a rough winter, when the early snowstorm surprised us on December 5. The big blizzard of December 18-19 set records, and the temperatures stayed near of below freezing for the next couple weeks, preventing the snow from melting. Two more minor snowfalls in January and one last Tuesday evening set the stage for today's "apocalypse." Here are my unofficial records for this season:
Snowfall totals (est.)
|Dec. 5, 2009
|Dec. 18-19, 2009
|Jan. 7, 2010
|Jan. 30, 2010
|Feb. 2, 2010
|Feb. 5-6, 2010
Late this afternoon I went for a short walk to take some "winter wonderland" pictures, and will try to do so again tomorrow. I'll post some photos in the next day or two. Here's a preview:
Snow pile in front of R. E. Lee High School. Click on this image to see a larger version.
Global warming update
It's too bad that this awful winter will set back the cause of reaching a consensus on global warming, or "climate change," as some people now prefer. (Speaking of which, since our president campaigned on a theme of "hope and change," what's so bad about climate change?) Those who were true believers in the "new religion" of global warming will strain to find rationales to explain the contrary evidence, and those who denied the very possibility of global warming will now scoff. Too bad, on both accounts. Actually, North America is not alone in suffering from extremely cold weather this winter: the same is true of China, Britain, and the continent of Europe. What's worse, this trend "is likely to last for 20 or 30 years, say some of the world's most eminent climate scientists." Read all about the worldwide "mini ice age" at the Daily Mail of London.
February 7, 2010 [LINK / comment]
#%@&* winter wonderland pix
After all the freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls we have had over the past two months, the phrase "winter wonderland" acquires a rather sinister meaning, almost eliciting a profane response. Gr-r-r-r-r!! Thankfully, the sun came out today, helping to melt some of the snow and creating great photo opportunities. Between snow-shoveling shifts today, I took some time out to capture the moment on
film digital memory, and just created a new photo gallery page: January-February 2010. Enjoy!
A think blanket of snow covers the trees and bushes at Belmont Terrace, in Staunton. The tracks suggest that some animal has a den in that ditch. (Click on the image to see the full-size version.)
Those who are interested in the "fractal beauty of nature" (as in Chaos theory) should take a look at the closeup photo I took of a bunch of snow crystals this morning. (I posted that photo on Facebook, as well as the News Leader Web site, but the latter is reduced in size and you can't really see the intricate detailed patterns.) Evidently the high humidity combined with the very low temperatures to create ideal conditions for crystal formation.
February 7, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Sarah Palin at the Tea Party
I made a point to watch (on C-SPAN) nearly all of Sarah Palin's keynote address at the Tea Party convention last night, and I thought she did a pretty good job. Anyone expecting a profound discourse on the tattered state of our body politic or on the vexing economic policy dilemmas created by the skyrocketing national debt would be disappointed, but of course hardly anyone did. What Gov. Palin did was to cover most of the contemporary "hot button" issues, and to give conservatives a reason to hope that they can capitalize on popular discontent in the 2010 and 2012 elections. Stylistically, she performed well in the first venue with a true national audience that she has faced for many months. Except for a couple awkward transitions, she remained poised, upbeat, and confident. In short, she gave every indication that she really wanted to earn the hefty ($100,000?) honorarium from the Tea Party organizers.
At frumforum.com (hat tip to Bruce Bartlett), Jonathan Kay derided Palin's speech as a "Barack-Obama put-down every 60 seconds." Well, what else would you expect? Kay provides a useful summary description of the Tea Party movement:
Tea Party organizers tend to describe their agenda with five bullet points: Less taxes, fiscal responsibility, greater liberty, state's rights, national security. But that quintet -- which also summarizes the major planks of the Republican Party -- doesn't really cover it. The Tea Party movement is mostly made up of refugees from the mainstream GOP. They rail hard against John McCain and other RINOs (Republicans in Name Only). Bipartisanship -- "Koombaya politics," as its derisively called -- is dismissed as a sell-out.
That sounds exactly like some of the fratricidal nuts who have been wreaking havoc in the Republican Party here in the Shenandoah Valley. Kay observes that many Tea Partiers don't fit on the traditional left-right spectrum, and he also criticizes the "smug left-wing take on the Tea Party movement" as a bunch of racists; Janeane Garofalo often expresses such a view. That insulting stereotype is also bandied about by many moderates who want to seem sophisticated by distancing themselves from humble folk. (Obviously, I have mixed feelings on the subject.) Whether the delegates to the Tea Party Convention were able to define a common agenda in terms of concrete policy proposals remains to be seen.
Palin's speech didn't devote much time to foreign policy, which is of secondary concern to most Tea Partiers. Andrew Sullivan conjectured what kind of foreign policy Sarah Palin would have if she were elected President. He sees her support of Jewish settlements on the West Bank as a sign she is under the influence of AIPAC, and her call for a more forceful containment of Iran's nuclear ambitions as evidence she is an aspiring war-monger. "Now she is a paid-up neocon fanatic." (Hat tip to Bruce Bartlett) My response on Facebook:
Sullivan's speculation is premature, and it's a waste of time to read serious intent into anything Palin says on subjects outside her knowledge. She is as much of a blank slate, foreign policy-wise, as GW Bush was in 2000. So, whether she would actually attack Iran or support Israeli settlements depends on who she picks as foreign policy advisors.
Er, on second thought, Bush didn't pay much heed to Colin Powell or Condi Rice. So, the real question is, who would Palin pick as her "Karl Rove"?
Viguerie joins Tea Party
Once again, "grassroots" (pseudo-)conservative activist Richard Viguerie can't seem to make up his mind on whether to work within the Republican Party, or create outside organizations to challenge it. At conservativehq.com, he urged the Tea Partiers not to form a separate party "A third party would be a disaster for the cause of limited government." In December 2008, however, he said "It's critical for conservatives to also operate independently of the GOP..."
February 9, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Coping with smug liberal elites
Everyone knows (or should know) that there are a lot of downright nasty things said by people on both sides of the political spectrum, but it's not a two-way street. Many of those on the Left are prone to a vice that is almost unique to their side: smug condescension. "You poor Neanderthal, how can you possibly think that way?" (Cue Bruce Hornsby.) Us folks on the Right are well accustomed to playing a subservient role in the social hierarchy, occasionally lashing out as our pent-up resentment bursts.
It's an ironic situation, given that conservatives used to serve as the defenders of wealth and privilege in the Western world. But nowadays, the news media, the entertainment industry, and the educational establishment -- in other words, the very institutions that shape public consciousness about controversial issues -- are to a large degree dominated by the Left. (Fox News is the exception that proves the rule.) So, to adequately understand why this change has come about, we must examine the bedrock institutions of society and how they have been transformed over the past century. (See below.) I will address a key aspect of this very broad question -- namely, cultural hegemony -- in a future blog post.
I bring this up because of an excellent op-ed piece by U.Va. professor Gerard Alexander in Sunday's Washington Post: "Why are liberals so condescending?" He outlines four common forms in which the annoying, presumptuously superior attitude of liberals is manifested:
- Conservatives supposedly win elections not by offering better ideas, but by using sinister campaign tactics and misleading the public -- the good old "vast right-wing conspiracy."
- Working-class voters are supposedly fooled by "wedge" issues (such as abortion) into voting for conservatives, against their own economic interests -- Thomas Frank's argument.
- Republicans supposedly win by exploiting white prejudice against blacks and immigrants -- notwithstanding strong evidence that racism is fading away.
- Conservatives are supposedly driven by emotion, anxiety, and fear of change, while liberals appeal to evidence and logic -- hence, Al Gore's 2007 book, "The Assault on Reason."
Taken together, these underlying implicit assumptions held by many if not most people on the Left create an asymmetry that make any kind of serious dialogue across partisan or ideological lines extremely difficult. Just think about how pious and contemptuous the leading left-wing pundits such as Keith Olbermann or Paul Krugman act. By way of comparison, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are just as insulting toward their adversaries, but they do not speak from a lofty (metaphorical) pedestal; they are just average Joes with a sharp wit and a gift of gab.
Why do such bigoted attitudes persist among liberal elites? Because all societies are prone to fashion an elaborate, exclusive code of morality, artistic tastes, and social standards to justify their elite privileges. It was true of 17th Century Austria, it was true of 18th Century France, it was true of 19th Century Victorian England, and in late 20th Century America, it came to pass that Manhattan literati, Hollywood liberals, Harvard intellectuals set the rules that lesser beings were obliged to follow. Eventually, the pomposity is exposed as a fraud, and some kind of social revolution replaces the ancién regime with a more humane set of values.
Prof. Alexander held on online Washington Post chat question-and-answer session on Monday morning, and he was kind enough to reply to the question which I submitted:
Staunton, Va.: I agree with what you write about the four types of liberal condescension, but you seem to hastily dismiss Richard Hofstadter's critique of the right-wing paranoid style. (He has become my touchstone for comprehending what ails today's GOP, in which I was formerly active.) Likewise, I think there is a kernel of truth in the leftist argument that modern (?) conservatives are impervious to reason. Do you not perceive a strong anti-intellectual current in the conservative movement of today?
Gerard Alexander: The key for this conversation is that I don't detect -more- anti-intellectualism among rank-and-file conservatives than among rank-and-file liberals. Modern economics and the law are probably the two areas of academic research and policy-making most influenced by conservatives. Do they seem less rational to you than, say, sociology or literature or movie-making as enterprises? And I wish paranoia existed only on the fringes of the right; I'm afraid we could all name enough conspiracy theories to go around.
I get the impression that Alexander is paying more attention to conservative academic and policy wonk circles than to the grassroots political activists and humble bloggers, many of whom do (I think) exhibit anti-intellectual tendencies. Anyway, I tip my hat once again to Bruce Bartlett for bringing Alexander's op-ed piece to my attention before it even appeared in print. My "fair and balanced" response on Bruce's Facebook page:
It's sad, but some of that condescension is deserved, as conservative "movement" activists have self-selected themselves out of the intellectual world. Panicked by what they perceive (not without reason) as the impending doom of freedom, they closed ranks and came to falsely equate personal and partisan loyalty with ideological fidelity. Derek Hunter seems to be a good example of this. Notice how Rush Limbaugh rarely cites George Will or Charles Krauthammer any more? How many right-wing bloggers cite Daniel Drezner these days? Possessing a graduate degree is now seen as a badge of shame in the GOP. All it took was one extremely wayward president to lead the party astray and wreck the whole conservative enterprise. Lacking any capacity for thoughtful self-correction, we now have a mob of "mind-numbed robots" (as Rush calls the liberals) marching in lockstep toward oblivion.
In other words, I do not deny that the fourth item listed above (emotion vs. reason) may have some validity. What is needed is a conservative renaissance in which intellectual values of criticism are given greater respect. But as Bartlett and others have pointed out, unfortunately, some of the major institutions on the Right (e.g., the Heritage Foundation) have degenerated into populist mouthpieces, pandering to the "Base," which has little or no interest in thoughtful discussion of issues. As someone who has withstood heavy pressure to conform, I think I've earned the right to call things the way I see them. The Right may be plagued by social pathologies, but it is the Left that is much guiltier of rigid "political correctness."
6th District GOP contest
A week or two ago I learned that a man named Greg Habeeb is running for chairmanship of the Sixth Congressional District Republican Committee, seeking to replace Fred Anderson, who is evidently stepping down. Habeeb seems to have a good reputation for building the GOP in the city of Salem. See Roanoke Valley Republicans. The other candidate is Trixie Averill. Since I have made a point of steering clear of intra-party intrigues since I learned about all the distasteful cronyism, I don't have a dog in this fight. I'll leave it to someone else to clean up that mess. I have met Ms. Averill on several occasions, and I also know the incumbent Mr. Anderson, who barely withstood a challenge from Jim Crosby of Botetourt County two years ago. Anderson is a decent man who tried to prevent the local Republican Party from breaking apart, but he was badly misled by certain party activists, and his actions were too little, too late.
February 10, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Republican resurgence: real?
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll is bad news for President Obama: If the November elections were held today, the Republicans would get just as many votes as the Democrats, with 46 percent of the respondents citing a preference one way or the other. No one can seriously doubt that this indicates deep dissatisfaction with the course the President has been leading us on. Whether it translates into actual election victories for the GOP, however, remains to be seen. Incumbents generally enjoy a huge advantage based on name recognition and their ability to deliver "pork barrel" economic benefits to their constituents.
And speaking of moola, don't forget, folks, Obama has withheld a large share of the "porkulus" funds precisely so that they could be released at the moment of greatest political impact, keeping as many Democratic incumbents in office as possible. But given the economic incompetence shown by many of the Obama administration figures thus far, they might end up squandering all that money for pet projects that yield little or no aggregate economic benefit. The American people may fall prey to charismatic sweet talking once in a while, but they are no fools.
The bottom line is, the road ahead is a difficult one, and "taking back America" is by no means assured. It is going to take a lot of work in candidate development for the Republicans to capitalize on their recent upsurge in order to have a serious chance at retaking majority control of either chamber of Congress. (Plus a lot of money.) But it can be done. Electoral success will be much more likely if the proper lessons of Bob McDonnell's huge victory last November are learned. We need strong leaders who can reach out to independent voters by combining principles with pragmatism, not hot-headed zealots. This opportunity once again places a burden on rank-and-file party members not to voice their many long-held grievances about past abuses by certain party leaders, lest the party break apart once again and become too ineffective to get enough voters to the polls.
Kudlow for Congress?
One potential Republican candidate for the House is none other than Lawrence Kudlow, the former supply-side economist who has become a leading conservative pundit. According to Talking Points Memo, he may challenge Rep. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Kudlow has a lot of baggage and not much charisma, however, so I would rate that possibility as low.
More lib condescension
I thought it looked rather tacky when Sarah Palin used notes written on the palm of her hand when answering questions at the Tea Party convention -- especially since she was poking fun at President Obama's over-reliance on the teleprompter. But it wasn't a huge deal. The Mainstream Media certainly didn't let that opportunity pass by, and all of them dutifully got their digs in. But how many of those broadcasters and newspapers called attention to the President's repeated mispronunciation of "Navy corpsman" in a speech last week? Hardly any! (For you folks in Rio Linda, the P and S are silent.) Megan Rhodes pointed out the grossly unbalanced treatment of those two cases, which is of course another example of the "liberal condescension" which Gerard Alexander wrote about.
Likewise, when Bruce Bartlett recently posted a news item on Facebook suggesting that many Tea Partiers harbor racist sentiments (the third type of liberal condescension), I felt obliged to state:
It is no doubt true that SOME anti-immigrant activists are racists, just as some Tea Partiers are, but we should be very careful not to apply a stereotypical broad brush toward either group. I think that fear of being called a racist is one of the big reasons why Congress has been unable to deal with the problem of mass-scale illegal immigration. Tancredo is a crowd-pleasing loose cannon, not helpful to the cause of immigration reform.
February 12, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Health care nullification
Even if the Democrats in Congress somehow manage to pass a health care bill imposing insurance requirements on all Americans, despite their recent loss of a filibuster-proof Senate supermajority, it may not be the end of the (free) world. In Virginia, the General Assembly is working on legislation that would nullify the mandatory elements of any Federal health care law. Del. Bob Marshall is the lead sponsor of the Health Care Freedom Act, which would uphold an individual's right not to participate in a health-care plan, and would prohibit any penalty, tax or fine on anyone who opts out. See Washington Post. Good!
For some people, this raises a troubling can of worms that could lead to a full-blown constitutional crisis. Actually, however, there is a strong precedent for this kind of legislative initiative: the Virginia Resolution of 1798. Read what James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution," wrote about the principle of interposition in an article by Michael Boldin at the Tenth Amendment Center. Hat tip to Ryan Setliff, on Facebook. Who knows, maybe states' rights are coming back into style for the first time since the 1860s.
R.I.P. John Murtha
Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), age 77, passed away this week after undergoing gallbladder surgery. He was one of the first Vietnam War veterans in Congress, and in late 2006 played a key role in helping Nancy Pelosi become Speaker of the House, becoming her right-hand man. The Washington Post referred to him "master of pork-barrel politics," for all the Federal funds he brought home for highway construction and other projects. In the late 1970s, he was "an unindicted co-conspirator in the Abscam scandal." Until the very end, he was defiantly unapologetic; in 2009 he said, "If I'm corrupt, it's because I take care of my district." For information on the future I-67 "Murtha Highway," see pahighways.com. When I lived in the Washington area in the 1980s I knew someone who had worked in Murtha's office for a while.
R.I.P. Charlie Wilson
Coincidentally, former Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-TX), the protagonist of the movie "Charlie Wilson's War," died of a heart attack on Wednesday at the age of 76. In the 1980s he made secret deals to get money to provide anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons to the Afghan mujahedeen, help to defeat the Soviet Union. He an amazing character "known in Washington as 'Good Time Charlie' for his reputation as a hard-drinking womanizer." See the Washington Post.
They just don't make congressman like Murtha and Wilson any more...
G.W. Bush: miss me yet?
The "grassroots" may miss him, but me, not so much.
February 14, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Haiti: one month of agony
On Thursday afternoon, people all across Haiti paused to remember the earthquake which devastated their country one month earlier -- at about 5:00 P.M. on January 12. An ecumenical memorial service was held in front of what's left of the National Palace, joining Catholic, Protestant, and Voodoo clergymen. Large parts of Haiti were destroyed, but several smaller cities remain intact, and the government is encouraging the homeless refugees to relocate to those parts of the country. The latest estimates are that at least 217,000 people have died, but the toll will continue to rise as more bodies are pulled from the rubble. It is impossible to express the magnitude of the horror in an adequate way with mere numbers, but taking a look at the grim statistics is a necessary first step. See CNN.com and BBC.
Last night, Emmanuel Episcopal Church held a fund-raising dinner featuring fish stew and musical entertainment (including me), and all of the proceeds (quite ample) will go toward Haitian emergency relief operations. Rev. Ed Covert said a very moving grace before the meal, keeping us "ever mindful" of the needs of others.
February 16, 2010 [LINK / comment]
More congressional drop-outs
As public opinion polls show that anti-incumbent sentiment is as high as it as been in many years, more members of the Senate and House of Representatives have announced they will not seek reelection this fall. Indiana's Sen. Evan Bayh is the latest to announce his departure. Two of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, Byron Dorgan (ND) and Chris Dodd (CT), also chose not to run a few weeks ago, creating more opportunities for the Republicans to tip the balance back in their favor, and maybe even win a majority in the Senate once again. Altogether, 43 members of Congress have announced that they will not seek another term, on top of the 39 "dropouts" two years ago -- a virtual hemorrhage of legislative experience. Well, it's probably all for the best to "clean House" (and Senate), substituting fresh, uncorrupted perspectives for inside knowledge. Bayh explained his reasons for leaving, quoted by the Washington Post:
There is too much partisanship and not enough progress -- too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving. ... Even at a time of enormous challenge, the people's business is not being done.
Very true indeed. Two years ago, the Republicans were plagued by a narrow focus on ideological purity, and now the tables are turned as the Democrats, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, find themselves in the same squalid trap. As Chris Graham notes at augustafreepress.com, Virginia's two moderate Democratic senators, Jim Webb and Mark Warner, are catching hell from left-wing party activists, much like Bayh was. Evan Bayh is a special case because he has aspirations for Higher Office (1600 Pennsylvania Ave., to be exact), and he was passed over two times as candidate for vice president. Frustrated ambition was probably part of his decision, but I would bet that he also deeply regrets having voted for Obamacare, against his better judgment. Voters across the country will wreak vengeance this fall on Democratic legislators who went along with their party leaders on that key vote. As for the Senate seat Bayh is vacating, former senator Dan Coats is the presumptive GOP nominee, and would be favored to win in November, but he carries some political baggage as a lobbyist and may be vulnerable.
What is particularly sad about Bayh's departure is that he is highly respected on both sides of the aisle, and has played a key role in arranging bipartisan compromises. (President Obama often pays lip service to that goal, but very few Republicans believe him.) The United States Senate prides itself on being "the greatest deliberative body in the world," placing great value on reasoned debate and deferential courtesy, in contrast to the House of Representatives, where the majority rules and the minority sulks. With Bayh gone, it will be harder for the Senate to function as it supposed to. Perhaps one of the consequences of Bayh's decision will be a renewed effort to forge some kind of centrist coalition or even a third political party. It's not very likely, given the heavy legal and institutional advantages enjoyed by the two major parties, but it's not out of the question, either.
I remember being disappointed in the late 1990s when two rising stars in the GOP, Susan Molinari (NY) and John Kasich (OH) decided to bail out of Congress. The pressure and frustration must be overwhelming for any legislator who is sincerely motivated to serve the public interest. Meanwhile, ethically-challenged veterans of Capitol Hill cling to their power and privileges decade after decade after decade...
Further back than that, I remember Evan Bayh's father, Sen. Birch Bayh, a prominent Democratic leader in the 1970s. Am I old, or what?
In her speech to the Tea Party convention, Sarah Palin was seen wearing a small pin with the flags of Israel and the United States. (Read Ann Gerhart's column in the Washington Post.) That is not a big issue for most of tea parties, so what's up? Was this another sign that she is being recruited by the Neocons, as George W. Bush was recruited just over a decade ago? Indubitably. William Kristol is said to be tutoring Gov. Palin on foreign policy issues. Tabula rasa.
O'Reilly vs. tea partiers
Bill O'Reilly caused a stir on Fox News the other day, telling Brit Hume, "Some of these tea parties are nuts." He even cited a figure, ten percent, which sounds pretty reasonable to me, offhand. Such a blunt, candid assessment may come as a shock to some, but O'Reilly also paid sincere respect to the civic involvement of those average Americans. It was a truly "fair and balanced" take on the controversial movement. See rawstory.com; hat tip to Bruce Bartlett. At the beginning of "The O'Reilly Factor" tonight, the acerbic commentator clarified what he meant, paying respect to the grassroots activists. Good. No one can accuse Bill O'Reilly of being a smug elitist. (Now if he would only stop interrupting his guests...)
For the record, I declined an invitation to join an anti-Tea Party Facebook group a few weeks ago. I remain wary of what some of those folks are up to, but I am generally sympathetic to their goals, and I hope they will play a constructive role in national politics. Wait and see...
Virginia politics update
Since we are covering the subject in my U.S. Government class, I have updated the Virginia politics page, with data on elections and office holders going back to the mid 1960s. Obviously, I've been pretty busy crunching numbers for the past few days.
February 17, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Wang joins the Nationals
Just in time for spring training, former Yankee starter Chien-Ming Wang has agreed to a one-year contract with the Washington Nationals, who will retain an option on him for a second year. Wang will get a salary of $2 million plus up to $3 million in incentives. The official announcement will take place on Friday. See MLB.com. Everything depends on his health, however, as he is still recovering from surgery that was performed on his right shoulder last July. He probably won't start for the Nationals until May. According to Chico Harlan in the Washington Post, "Wang is less a purchase than a gamble." It could turn out to be a great bargain, or a big waste. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Wang will probably be motivated to prove his worth to his new team after two disappointing years in The Bronx. He had great win-loss statistics in 2006 and 2007, but that may have reflected the team he was playing on. His specialty is the sinker ball, forcing groundouts rather than going for strikeouts.
The Nationals also signed a minor league contract with veteran Ron Villone, who was one of their few reliable relief pitchers last year, and won their arbitration case against another former Yankee relief pitcher, Brian Bruney. You take those guys, and add Jason Marquis, John Lannan, and perhaps Stephen Strasburg late in the season, and you have one hell of a fine pitching staff. Things are definitely look up in Nats Town -- finally!
The mail bag
Paul Thompson recently got back from a trip to Cuba, where he visited Estadio Latinoamericano (capacity 50,000) in Havana, among some smaller ballparks and other entertainment venues. I highly recommend reading his detailed trip report, which is chock full of photos and videos, at mopupduty.com.
Bruce Orser brought to my attention some good images of Metropolitan Stadium at baseball-fever.com, and after browsing for a while I realized to my horror that the right field fence was angled slightly inward -- not perpendicular to the foul line, as I had long thought! You really do learn something new every day. Yet another diagram update pending...
February 19, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Baseball in Vancouver, B.C.??
As the 2010 Winter Olympics proceed in Vancouver, British Columbia, some folks in Canada recall back in the mid-1980s when that city had hopes for attracting a Major League Baseball team. Believe it or not, that was one of the primary reasons for building BC Place, home of the CFL B.C. Lions, currently being used the main venue for indoor Olympic events. Philip Delisle wrote to ask me about the possibility of doing a diagram of that stadium, since it has been used for baseball exhibition games over the years, including the Blue Jays and the Brewers.
Philip pointed me to a discussion thread in which some photos and illustrations of a baseball configuration are shown: hfboards.com. Let me tell you, it is weird! The diamond is angled to the left, so that the foul territory on the third base side gradually shrinks as it approaches the foul pole, while it steadily expands on the other side. I'm very dubious about that alignment, which leaves a huge vacant area between the seats and first base. As somebody at baseball-fever.com pointed out, "Temporary seating on the 1st base side would kind of be reminiscent of old War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo." (That's where the movie The Natural, starring Robert Redford, was filmed.)
With its fabric roof, BC Place looks almost exactly like the Metrodome from the outside, but it is more elongated in order to accommodate the larger size gridiron used in Canadian Football League. The B.C. Lions have played there since 1983. It has about 60,000 seats, but there are very few sellouts, except for when the CFL "Grey Cup" championship game is played there. BC Place will undergo a thorough renovation after the Olympics are over, with a new retractable roof that is suspended from 20 or so outward-leaning poles rimming the outside perimeter. The project will cost an estimated $458 million, in Canadian dollars. Obviously, the B.C. Lions will be unable to use BC Place this year, so it was decided to build a large temporary facility located where their former home Empire Stadium used to stand; it will be called "Empire Fields." See the Vancouver Sun.
In any case, the dream of big league baseball in Vancouver is still alive, and the future retractable roof at BC Place, with blue skies and fresh breezes, makes that an appealing thought. As fans in Montreal, Seattle, and Minneapolis know, there is no sense in staying inside on a bright summer day in the northern latitudes. At Canadian Baseball Network, Adam Fine argues that BC Place will flop unless another major professional team makes its home there. The NFL is out of the question, which leaves baseball. With a population of just over 2.3 million (third biggest in Candada), Vancouver rivals Portland, Oregon as a prospective location for a possible future MLB expansion franchise. (See the Baseball cities page.) One would think that Montreal (about 3.8 million) would get first preference, but as Mr. Fine says, it all depends on fan interest and investor willingness.
Speaking of Montreal, the present situation in Vancouver reminds you of what a financial and engineering debacle Olympic Stadium (a.k.a. "The Big Owe") proved to be. Awkward compromises in multi-sport stadiums are rarely satisfactory to anyone, and the result is often a "white elephant" which nobody loves. They could just as well invest that $458 million on a brand-new baseball stadium, making it open at one end to allow for a CFL gridiron.
At a hearing of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly in May 1993, the provincial Minister of Economic Development, David Zirnhelt said he was busy promoting Vancouver as a future MLB venue. As an alternative, he also suggested that the Seattle Mariners could play some of their home games in BC Place every year, sort of like how the White Sox played some of their home games in Milwaukee County Stadium in 1968-1969, or the Montreal Expos played some of their home games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in 2003-2004. (See the Anomalous stadiums page.) That sounds like a reasonable idea to me; why not give it a try? I still think Major League Baseball ought to consider having teams from southern states (especially Florida) play some of their midsummer games in Canada.
Seattle Mariners fans recall that BC Place was where their star slugger Edgar Martinez tore a hamstring during a Mariners-Brewers exhibition game prior to the 1993 season. He never fully recovered from that injury, which is why he spent the rest of his career as a designated hitter. Anyway, I guess this means I'll have to add BC Place to my "to do" list. The baseball seating chart at bcplacestadium.com will be of great help.
February 20, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Metropolitan Stadium update
Based on the various photos that Bruce Orser brought to my attention recently, I have updated the diagrams for Metropolitan Stadium, home of the Minnesota Twins from 1961 until . It turns out that the fence and bleachers in right field were angled inward a couple of degrees, and the same was true of the left field fence from 1961 to 1964. In the football version (1965), I moved the gridiron about 70 feet closer to the main grandstand, and that position seems to have prevailed for most if not all of the 1965- period. Also, triple-deck portion of the main grandstand is slightly smaller than I estimated before, and the temporary bleachers along the third base line are a little further away. Finally, the profile of the post-1965 grandstand in left field has been corrected slightly. From seeing all those photos, I am growing skeptical of the dimension data for Metropolitan Stadium in Phil Lowry's Green Cathedrals.
UPDATE: I added a second set of hypothetical diagrams, with a more economical design in which there would be a retractable lower deck in left field (like in the Superdome), as opposed to the entire left field grandstand being rotated back and forth between baseball and football games. [Note that the short distance to left field (310 feet) would be offset by a 30-foot high fence reaching to the second deck -- very similar to Fenway Park.]
Tampa ballpark "news"
Mike Zurawski sends news that Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is making more noise about needing a new stadium. Where have I heard that one before? Oh yeah, every year for the past decade! See Tampa Bay Online. Here's what he has to say about Tropicana Field:
we're not going to be there through 2027. It just can't happen. Baseball won't allow it. Our partners in baseball won't allow it. The other teams won't allow it. And it's just not the right thing for our organization, and quite frankly it's not the right thing for our population.
Sternberg seems to be making an implied threat to slash his team's payroll if he doesn't get his way. Well, maybe he can ask President Obama for some bailout or economic stimulus money. Hey, Citibank got bailed out, and their name is still on Citi Field, so why not? Meanwhile, the former mayor of Tampa, Dick Greco, has come up with a plan to build a new stadium at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Hillsborough County, on the Tampa side of the Bay, according to fieldofschemes.com. But wait, there's more! Another developer, Claire Clements, wants to build a stadium for the Rays in downtown Tampa. See fieldofschemes.com, again.
And, for the record, Mike tells me that the idea of putting an MLB franchise in Vancouver is "1000% insane." He cites the miserable history of the NBA Vancouver Grizzlies franchise, as an example of lack of fan support in that picturesque city. Oh, well. Certainly, the chances of any franchise relocation in the foreseeable future are almost zero, and there won't be any franchise expansions for at least another ten years, if then.
February 20, 2010 [LINK / comment]
R.I.P. Gen. Alexander Haig
The man who kept the government functioning during the Watergate nightmare passed away earlier today. Gen. Alexander Haig, who served as supreme military commander of NATO forces, chief of staff in the Nixon White House, and Secretary of State under President Reagan, and few leaders of the 20th Century attained such heights of power and influence as he did. According to his family he succumbed to an infection while at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He was 85. Sunday's Washington Post has a full article on his exemplary career as a soldier and a diplomat.
Haig was tapped by President Richard Nixon to help restore order in the White House after chief of staff Bob Haldeman was forced to resign as the Watergate scandal unfolded. In October 1973, as the Yom Kippur War was threatening to escalate into World War III, Nixon ordered Haig to instruct acting Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire special prosecutor Arhibald Cox, but Ruckelshaus refused and quit instead. This was the infamous "Saturday Night Massacre."
As a general, Haig was saddled with daunting challenges. In the years immediately following the Vietnam war, U.S. influence was waning around the world, and the Soviet Union was building alliances in Africa and elsewhere in the Third World. Western European countries were virtually paralyzed by economic stagnation in the wake of the surge in petroleum prices, and many people that that capitalist democracy was doomed. As commander of NATO forces during that time, Haig had to make extreme exertions to make sure that U.S. forces (under-equipped at that time) would be ready to face any sudden Soviet attack, in order to reassure our NATO allies that the United States would fulfill its treaty commitment. In this task, his abilities as a military commander and as a diplomat -- reminiscent of the role played by Gen. George C. Marshall during and after World War II -- proved invaluable to the United States.
As Secretary of State, Haig became a victim of political maneuvering and lack of firm central control in the Reagan White House. This tension came to a head in May 1982, when U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick resigned after siding with Great Britain in the dispute with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. This made Haig's job more difficult, and after he complained about the "cacophony of voices" in the administration's foreign policy, Reagan informed Haig that he was accepting his resignation -- even though Haig had not resigned!
I think it's a shame that Haig caught so much flak for that one ill-phrased statement in 1981, after President Reagan was shot and no one knew whether he would live. "I'm in control here." became a derisive catch-phrase that dogged him for the rest of his life. I think it is safe to say that every single obituary written about him will include that phrase.
Haig was a perfect example of the old Eastern Establishment Republican, and would probably have a hard time fitting in to the GOP today. He was a poised, well-rounded leader whose self-assuredness sometimes rubbed other people the wrong way. When he was chosen as secretary of state, he said that he would serve as the "vicar" of foreign policy, an odd choice of words implying a privileged, custodial decision-making role. (A "vicar" is what Anglicans call their ordained priests.) His run for president in 1988 was anachronistic in style and probably doomed from the beginning. Haig was simply out of touch with the emerging political currents, especially the Christian Right.
One of the curious aspects of Haig's career was the Moorer/Radford affair, brought to my attention by Kevin Gutzman. U.S. military leaders were suspicious of President Nixon for making secret deals with the Chinese while the Vietnam war was still going on. They enlisted Haig, then serving as deputy to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, to snoop through Kissinger's papers and pass along the latest news about what was being negotiated. This fascinating episode, which took place in December 1971, is described in Forty Years War, by Len Colodny and Tom Shachtman. They regard Haig as one of the original Neoconservatives, who have played a controversial role in U.S. foreign policy since the late 1970s. See watergate.com.
I had the pleasure to meet Gen. Haig in the mid-1990s when I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia, after he spoke at the Miller Center, where I worked. Haig was kind enough to answer my questions about what really happened with Margaret Thatcher during the Falklands War, in which the government of Peru tried to play a mediating role. (After the effort broke down, Peru sent a squadron of Mirage fighter jets to help their Argentine allies fight back against the British forces.) Haig rejected the assertion made by many critics in Latin America that Prime Minister Thatcher was determined to teach the Argentines a lesson, no matter how the negotiations went. He also praised the good-faith peace-making efforts of Peru's President Fernando Belaunde, who passed away in June 2002. (See the obituary I wrote for him.)
While it is true that Haig was involved in some intrigues that may never see the light of day, he was a highly competent, patriotic, steadying influence in the corridors of power in Washington during a tumultuous time in U.S. history. I hope he gets proper recognition some day for his great service to the country.
February 20, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Birding in Rockingham County
I went birding in Rockingham County with fellow Augusta Bird Club member Jo King yesterday morning, in search of two rare birds that were were recently reported by local bird watchers: a Peregrine falcon and a Snow bunting. No luck on either of the target birds, unfortunately, but it was a successful outing nonetheless. We first stopped at Leonard's Pond, just in case some ducks might have stopped by, but it is still frozen over. About a mile north where the Snow bunting was supposed to be we saw a number of songbirds, and it was nice to hear so many of them actually singing. (Yes, Virginia, spring is on the way!)
Later on, we passed through the towns of Bridgewater and Dayton, and stopped for a while at Silver Lake, where there is a historic mill and museum / gift shop. There we saw about 20 Mallards, a pair of Mute swans, a pair of Lesser scaups, and a lone female Bufflehead. Not bad! But the real highlight of the day was when a flock of Amerian pipits flew in and landed on the lake shore. Some came within 50 feet of us, walking on the snow. We were utterly thrilled! After checking my records back home, I confirmed that it was the first time I had ever seen that species, which makes life bird #401 for me!! (My previous first-ever bird sighting, #400, was a Pectoral sandpiper, three actually, on October 28.) I have updated my life bird list accordingly. Anyway, here the highlights of the day's bird observations, 33 species altogether, with exclamation marks where appropriate and estimated numbers for some of them:
- Red-tailed hawk
- Meadowlarks !
- Black vultures
- Carolina wrens
- Red-winged blackbird
- White-breasted nuthatch
- White-crowned sparrows !
- House finches
- Yellow-rumped warblers (8) !
- Robins (50)
- Red-bellied woodpeckers
- Mute swans (2) !
- Lesser scaups (2) !
- Bufflehead (F) !
- American pipits (20+) LIFE BIRD!!
In other birding news
While driving across the Route 29 bridge over the James River near Lynchburg on Thursday, I saw a flock of at least 100 gulls, probably Ring-billed gulls. It was quite a sight to behold. The weather has been too bad to do much birding over the past several weeks, so I'm left watching birds in the back yard. We had a Towhee show up a few times this week, and some Robins appeared late this afternoon. Overall, there are fewer woodpeckers and White-breasted nuthatches than in past winters, and hardly any goldfinches, to our dismay. Zero Cedar waxwings, zero Purple finches, and zero Pine siskins so far this year.
I should also mention that I have made several visits to a location east of Stuarts Draft where a Rough-legged hawk has been seen on a regular basis for the past few weeks. Somehow, it has eluded me every time I have been there. Maybe next time I'll get luckier...
Finally, I recently updated my standard Montages of wild bird photos, with vastly improved photos taken with my digital cameras over the past two years:
Clockwise from top left: Bluebird, Tree swallow, Ruby-throated hummingbird, Cardinal, Magnolia warbler, Barred owl, Painted bunting.
Roll the mouse over the image to see the old wild bird photo montage.
February 22, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Spring (training) has arrived !!!
The snow may still still cover the ground across much of the country, but the annual resumption of the baseball spring training in Florida and Arizona gives us hope that fair weather can't be far off. In Viera, Florida, where pitchers and catchers for the Washington Nationals have begun practicing, hopes are soaring. Seeing Jason Marquis wearing a Nationals cap gives me an indescribable feeling of optimism. There is a veritable media feeding frenzy for newly-signed pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, dubbed "the Michael Jordan of Taiwan." Chinese-language reporters are swarming Space Coast Stadium to interview him, but there is no guarantee that his shoulder will fully heal. See the Washington Post.
There is just as much excitement, if not more, over Stephen Strasburg, the phenomenal pitcher from southern California whom the Nationals signed as their #1 draft pick last summer. Ivan Rodriguez, one of the newest Nats, said he was impressed, but "manager Jim Riggleman hinted that Strasburg may not be on the Opening Day roster..." See MLB.com. No need to rush; give the guy a chance to grow up first. As for "Pudge," he will certainly help the team as a batter, but some doubt that he has sufficient defensive skills as a catcher to help nurture and instruct the Nationals' young pitching staff.
As for the rest of the Nats' roster, Josh Willingham remains a question mark, but I hope he stays with the team. He may not be 100% consistent, but he does get some big clutch hits, and I like his attitude.
I was browsing the annual baseball 2010 preview magazines yesterday, and every one I saw forecast that the Nationals would finish in last place in the National League Eastern Division once again. Well, I beg to differ! It's a highly competitive division, I know, but there is no reason why they shouldn't expect to end up with a record over .500, for the first time since they moved to Washington.
Perhaps the biggest news of the day is that veteran slugger Johnny Damon, one of the most prominent free-agents, just signed a one-year contract worth about $8 million with the Detroit Tigers. He had been negotiating with the Yankees and other teams, and it would appear that he held out too long, as the terms he accepted weren't all that great. I'm sure he would have preferred a multi-year deal. See MLB.com. With a soaring unemployment rate, Detroit is in desperate need of an emotional lift.
Spring cleaning (photos)
One of my long-postponed chores is updating the photos and making them more consistent, especially the panoramas which I have taken over the past two years. I have now done so for Nationals Park, Citi Field, Shea Stadium, Yankee Stadium, and Yankee Stadium II. With any luck, I'll get to see games at two or three new ballparks this year, so you can look forward to more new photos. I also added five excellent photos of Wrigley Field that were sent to me by John Minor a while back.
On a more somber note, demolition work at Yankee Stadium is advancing rapidly, with both the first and second decks of the grandstand now completely gone, and a small portion of the upper deck getting "whacked" as well. If you can bare to look, see the photos at baseball-fever.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. After the recent weather-induced delays, they will have a hard time finishing the work before Opening Day, now less than six weeks away.
February 26, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Cleveland Stadium update
The diagrams of Cleveland Stadium, better known as the "Mistake on the Lake," have been updated with several significant corrections. The super-sized grandstand extends about 15 feet further toward the southeast (right field) and northeast (left field) sides than I had previously estimated, but the grandstand ends curve in more sharply. The center field bleachers don't curve as much, and foul territory is slightly smaller in the post-1960s versions. Finally, of course, the profile is much more accurate than before, and the light standards are included. I had previously included a note on that page to the effect that an update was scheduled for August or September, so I edited that to highlight the belated accomplishment of that long-overdue task.
But perhaps the most notable change on that page is the inclusion of a new hypothetical football version diagram. What if the City of Cleveland had decided to invest a couple hundred million dollars in the mid-1990s to refurbish Cleveland Stadium and bring it up to contemporary standards? They would have removed the massive roof and the upper portion of the support columns along with it, no doubt, and most likely would have expanded the upper deck by about eight rows, much like at the renovated Yankee Stadium. Likewise, they would have replaced much of the rear portion of the lower deck with expanded concourse areas and luxury suites, and added about eight rows of seats in front of the lower deck, while lowering the playing field by about three feet. That would have put the fans within reasonable distance of the sidelines, while improving the sight-lines for football games. It is a similar to my suggestion for QualComm (Jack Murphy) Stadium in San Diego.
Thanks to Tom Tomsick for pointing out to me that the bullpens at Cleveland Stadium were moved from foul territory to the vacant area beyond the outfield fence in 1954, and stayed there until 1966.
All-Star/World Series Stadiums
On a related note, I recently realized that on my blog post of Dec. 30 I should have included Cleveland Stadium among the elite group of stadiums that have hosted both the All-Star Game and the World Series during the same year: 1954. (Remember Willie Mays' famous catch in the Polo Grounds?) I also noticed that Yankee Stadium should have been listed a third time, for 1960. Here is the complete list, fully corrected and double-checked, along with the corresponding pennant-winning teams:
- Yankee Stadium (1939) -- N.Y. Yankees
- Fenway Park (1946) -- Boston Red Sox
- Ebbets Field (1949) -- Brooklyn Dodgers
- Cleveland Stadium (1954) -- Cleveland Indians (!)
- Memorial Coliseum (1959) -- L.A. Dodgers
- Yankee Stadium (1960) -- N.Y. Yankees (!)
- Metropolitan Stadium (1965) -- Minnesota Twins
- Riverfront Stadium (1970) -- Cincinnati Reds
- Yankee Stadium (1977) -- N.Y. Yankees
- Jacobs Field (1997) -- Cleveland Indians
Among all stadiums that have ever hosted the All-Star Game, Cleveland Stadium stands out in being the only one in which the "host" team, the Cleveland Indians in this case, did not even play there during the year in which the All-Star Game was played there, 1935. After two years in "Lakefront Stadium," as it was called in the early 1930s, they decided to return to the cozy confines of League Park, which remained their primary home until 1947.
World Series droughts
Another dubious distinction of Cleveland Stadium is that it shares second place for the most consecutive years in which the resident team did not earn a league pennant and thus a trip to the World Series: 39 years (1955 - 1993), the same as Comiskey Park (1920 - 1958). In a "league of its own," sadly enough, is Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs: 64 years without a World Series, and running. Here are the top seven:
||No. of years
|Wrigley Field||Chicago Cubs||1946||-||64|
|Cleveland Stadium||Cleveland Indians||1955||1993||39|
|Comiskey Park||Chicago White Sox||1920||1958||39|
|Braves Field||Boston Braves||1915||1947||33 *|
|Jack Murphy Stadium||San Diego Padres||1969||1997||29|
|Olympic Stadium||Montreal Expos||1977||2004||28|
|Griffith Stadium||Washington Senators||1934||1961||28|
* NOTE: Braves Field would be only 31 years if you count 1915 and 1916, when the other Boston team, the Red Sox, borrowed it for the World Series. Braves Field and Jack Murphy Stadium were fortunate to host World Series games during the final years of their Major League Service after an extended "drought," and Olympic Stadium probably would have if the 1994 players' strike had not ruined everything.
February 27, 2010 [LINK / comment]
As spring training ramps up into high gear, with the position players joining their teams' respective pitchers and catchers in Florida and Arizona, a few teams are tweaking their rosters for maximum advantage. The biggest news of the past week is that Johnny Damon, former Red Sock and Yankee, has signed a one-year contract with the Detroit Tigers. They need the help, and that acquisition should make the AL Central race more interesting this year. See MLB.com.
The Philadelphia Phillies acquired Toronto's phenomenal pitcher Roy Halladay a couple months ago, and their payroll is estimated to total about $136.55 million; see MLB.com. That's not as much as the Mets or Yankees, but it's a very healthy commitment to winning a National League pennant for the third year in a row, if not another World Series title. Does Ryan Howard still have enough slugging pop to generate runs for the Phils?
As expected, the Washington Nationals signed Livan Hernandez to a minor league contract. He has a good shot at making the starting rotation, but he probably only has a couple years of high-quality pitching left in him. In the Washington Post, Thomas Boswell joins the chorus of awe-struck praise for rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg, nick-named "Jesus" for the way that players react when they see his fastball.
February 27, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Huge earthquake strikes Chile
For the second time in as many months, a strong earthquake has struck near the capital city of a country in Latin America. This time it is Chile, on the west coast of South America. Once again, it will take days or even weeks before we have a good idea of how many people have perished. Early reports say that at least 122 people have died, but the total will certainly climb into the thousands. The earthquake that occurred during the overnight hours hit the central region of Chile, where most of the people live. Dozens of aftershocks have been reported, some located in Argentina, on the other side of the Andes Mountains. What little we know thus far has come through video reports via CNN and other news networks. Also see BBC.
This natural disaster comes barely six weeks after a strong earthquake killed about a quarter million people in Haiti, in mid-January. In that case, the death toll was greatly magnified due to the fact that building standards are much lower, reflecting Haiti's relative poverty, and the fact that people in Chile are better prepared for earthquakes, which occur relatively frequently.
This comes at an awkward time as Chile is about to undergo a transfer of power. Sebastian Piñera was elected president just last month and will be sworn in the middle of March. He made a statement saying that his country is able to take care of emergency responsibilities for now, but there is no doubt that Chile will need large-scale humanitarian assistance, just as Haiti needs it.
We will learn much more about this situation in the near future. For now, we can offer the people of Chile our heartfelt prayers and encouragement.
February 27, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Defending the Tenth Amendment
Are you a "Tenther"? I'm not sure if I'm as vehement about the issue as some folks, but I have taken the Tenth Amendment seriously at least since I was in graduate school at U.Va. I was surprised back then that some of my grad student colleagues, and apparently some professors, seem to downplay the Tenth Amendment as nothing more than self-evident, redundant boilerplate language lacking much substantive meaning. Their attitude baffles me for two reasons: first, because I can't imagine why the Founding Fathers would amend the Constitution with something so trivial, and second, because it is so obvious that major issues hinge on the extent to which states exercise unique powers that are denied to the Federal government in Washington. Clearly, if you favor centralized big government solutions to social and economic problems, then you won't be too fond of any constitutional impediments that might thwart your agenda. In other words, there is a widespread dismissive attitude toward the meaning of the Constitution, tending to subvert respect for authority. In any case, here is the text:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
I bring this up because I heard a very good presentation on "Term Limits and the Tenth Amendment" this morning at the Valley GOP breakfast. The guest speaker was James Atticus Bowden, a retired Army officer, author, Republican Party activist, and blogger. His presentation is posted on his blog at Deo Vindice. I first learned who he was three years ago when he was one of the "Bloggers for Sayre," and have occasionally read his writings since then. (He is NOT the deovindice blogger from Tennessee.)
Bowden argued that American politics is out of kilter in large part because of a badly mistaken understanding about where the locus of authority and sovereignty is in our federal republic. He views supreme authority as resting in God Almighty, and human laws being subordinate to and (hopefully) consistent with Divine Will. Since the American Civil War, which badly disrupted the body politic of the American nation, there has been a steady march toward the centralization of power, which is the prime reason for the gradual breakdown of social order. Americans are allowing their freedoms to be incrementally stripped away, and one manifestation of this is the poor awareness of the role of the Constitution in upholding our individual liberties and state government prerogatives. Bowden made a very good case and displayed a solid, deep grasp of the subject matter. My only real criticism, as I stated during the Q&A period, was the fact that he glossed over the erosion of constitutional safeguards under the Bush administration, exemplified by the No Child Left Behind educational program and the initiation of military action against Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) without a formal declaration of war by Congress. Bowden agreed with me on both points.
The Tenth Amendment is the essential basis for the effort by state governments to nullify Obamacare, if it is passed. I discussed this constitutional issue in my Feb. 12 blog post, and talked about it when I met Ken Cuccinelli (then a state senator, now attorney general) last September.
Internet tax equity
The lead editorial in Monday's News Leader praised the bill sponsored by State Sen. Emmett Hanger, which would begin levying sales taxes on purchases made over the Internet from within Virginia. Of course, that got the knee-jerk anti-tax crowd all fired up with their metaphorical torches and pitchforks, but there were a number of worthwhile comments made by readers. My comment:
The idea that tax burdens should be spread equitably is obvious, or ought to be. Likewise, the need for additional revenue is obvious, especially for communities like Staunton where budget shortfalls threaten to close a key state institution, the CCCA. Too bad that some people refuse to consider worthwhile reforms, or even admit that the state budget is in dire straits.
Mr. Campbell [*] sheds helpful light on some crucial details that the News Leader editors may have missed. From what I can tell from the Legislative Information System, SB340 was tabled until next year by the Senate Finance Cmte., and SB660 is a watered-down short term incremental step. If it passes, let's hope it doesn't side-track the goal of FULLER tax equity.
A number of companies that sell goods over the Internet already charge state income tax, but I wonder how many of them actually fork over the proceeds to the fifty state treasurers like they are supposed to?
* That was a reference to a comment by R. David L. Campbell, Chief Executive of Fed-Tax.net
Are liberals smarter?
Some expert in Britain has done a scientific study which found that, "on average, people who identified as liberal and atheist had higher IQs. This applied also to sexual exclusivity in men, but not in women." CNN.com. The more I read, the more appalled at the bigotry of the authors, one of whom linked paranoid feelings with religious faith. I also question their premises: "It defines 'liberal' in terms of concern for genetically nonrelated people and support for private resources that help those people."