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May 2010
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May 3, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Progressive (Jacobs) Field update

The Jacobs Field Progressive Field (formerly known as Jacobs Field) page has been updated. You know the drill: Much greater accuracy in the diagram profile, minor tweaks here and there, and attention to details such as light towers, etc. The stadium is nearly 20 feet higher than I had previously estimated, which is a big difference.

On Feb. 26 I noted that Cleveland Stadium and Jacobs Field were among the few stadiums (eight) to have hosted both the All-Star Game and the World Series during the same year. I should have drawn attention to a special distinction held by Cleveland, however: it is the only city in which this rare coincidence has taken place in two different stadiums.

Wow, what a view!

One of the special attributes of Jacobs Progressive Field that puts it ahead of Cleveland Stadium is the view of the skyscrapers in downtown Cleveland. It really lets fans know where they are, something that was entirely missing in the enclosed dual-use "cookie-cutter" stadiums of the 1960s and 1970s. The background view is one of the considerations in determining the aesthetic aspect I apply in my ballpark rankings, but I have never made a separate ranking just for that. Here is a strictly preliminary ranking for current MLB ballparks:

  1. PNC Park
  2. Oriole Park at Camden Yards
  3. AT&T Park
  4. Great American Ballpark
  5. Wrigley Field
  6. Busch Stadium III
  7. Dodger Stadium
  8. Comerica Field
  9. Progressive Field
  10. PETCO Park
  11. Target Field
  12. Nationals Park
  13. Coors Field
  14. Kauffman Stadium
  15. Citizens Bank Park
  16. Turner Field
  17. Safeco Field
  18. Angels Stadium of Anaheim
  19. Fenway Park
  20. U.S. Cellular Field
  21. Citi Field
  22. Yankee Stadium II
  23. Minute Maid Park
  24. Chase Field
  25. Oakland Coliseum
  26. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
  27. Miller Park
  28. Sun Life Stadium
  29. Rogers Centre
  30. Tropicana Field

By the way, one of the enhancements planned for this Web site this summer is letting fans vote for their favorite, second favorite, etc. ballparks. Stay tuned!

Phillies battle Mets

On Saturday the Phillies put an abrupt end to the New York Mets' "amazin'" eight-game winning streak, with a crushing 10-0 blowout at Citizens Bank Park, broadcast on FOX-TV. It was supposed to be a classic matchup between two aces, but the outcome was extremely uneven. The the Phillies' new star on the mound, Roy Halladay, threw a complete-game shutout, allowing only three hits, while the Mets' Mike Pelfrey gave up six earned runs, raising his ERA from under 1.00 to 2.40. The Phillies won again last night, thereby retaking the lead in the NL East.

Thanks to the Phillies, there is now only one pitcher with more innings pitched and a lower ERA than the Nationals' Livan Hernandez: Ubaldo Jimenez, of the Colorado Rockies. He's the guy who threw a no-hitter in Atlanta on April 17. He and Roy Halladay are the only two pitchers to have won five games so far this year. Just imagine, if they keep this up, they may become the first 30-game winners since Denny McClain (of the Tigers) in 1968. Wouldn't that be something?

Even though the Nationals lost the last two games against the Marlins, they are still only 1.5 games out of first place, with a 13 - 12 record. At the end of the Phillies-Mets game on Saturday, I was glad that Tim McCarver had some nice words about the Nationals. Hopefully, they'll be getting more respect from now on.

HRs in Yankee Stadium II

Here's a surprise: It seems that New Yankee Stadium may not be as friendly to home runs as it was last year. According to Andrew Marchand at ESPN, "In the Yankees' first six home games this season, there were just 13 homers, compared to 25 at the same point in 2009." Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.

Next door, meanwhile, not much is left of the original Yankee Stadium. frown

Traffic overload warning

As more and more people find out about this Web site, the more traffic is generated, a mixed blessing. Some time last year, the number of hits on my Baseball blog page reached the half million mark, which is hard to fathom, quite frankly. Right now it is 584,444. I certainly appreciate the attention and the frequent compliments from fans, as well as the occasional donations. The downside is that I keep getting traffic overload warnings from my Web hosting service, and for the first time I had to pay extra to keep this Web site from being shut down in late April. Revenues from advertising and voluntary sponsorships haven't been enough to defray those extra costs, so as the price of success, I'm afraid I may have to make some drastic changes in the near future. I know times are hard, folks, but it's going to take more sponsorships and donations to keep this Web site going in its present form. Step up to the plate!

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May 5, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Boycott Arizona baseball?

In the Washington Post, columnist Robert McCartney called on baseball fans to protest the controversial new immigration law in Arizona by boycotting the games in Washington when the Arizona Diamondbacks come to town, August 13-15. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Whatever one thinks of the immigration issue, there is rarely if ever a good reason for politicizing sports, and there is no sense at all in punishing one's own home team for the alleged "sins" of the visiting team.

Capps gets award, loses

Nationals closer Matt Capps was named the MLB "Delivery Man of the Month" for getting 10 saves in ten save opportunities in April, ending the month with a 0.68 ERA. See MLB.com. He was let go by the Pirates in the off-season, and I bet they regret that. Unfortunately, he just lost his first game of the year in Washington this evening, as the Atlanta Braves beat the Nats 7-6 in ten innings. Three of the Nationals' last five losses have been in extra-inning games -- ugh.

In any case, with Livan Hernandez (4-1, 0.99 ERA) and reliever Tyler Clippard (3-0, 0.46 ERA), the Nationals have one of the strongest pitching staffs in the majors right now. All three of those guys deserve consideration for the All-Star Game this year, but Clippard isn't yet well enough known. Just think what will happen once Stephen Strasburg, Chien-Ming Wang, and Jason Marquis join the roster! Meanwhile, however, former ace John Lannan may be headed back to the minors.

Citi Field center field

Cody Gobbell recently raised the question of whether the center field fence at Citi Field has been moved closer to home, as it was shortened prior to this season. Brian Wysocki provides us with some definitive first-hand testimony:

I can confirm that there was no gap created in the centerfield wall when the wall was shortened. The LF wall is still made of two 8-ft padding sections, one above the other, for a 16-foot "Great Wall of Flushing" as WFAN's Howie Rose calls it. Centerfield used to be 8ft + 2ft = 10ft except by the apple...

The upper padding sections were removed in the offseason so the entire centerfield wall is 8ft tall with an orange line on the lower padded section separating padded (in play) and unpadded (HR) sections, both of which remain black.

From what I gather, it's just like Crosley Field in 1963-1964, or Jack Murphy Stadium in 1973, where painted horizontal lines on the outfield walls differentiated home runs from extra-base hits. It sounds like a recipe for perpetual arguing once again, or maybe it's just an excuse to rely on the new instant replay rules.

Brian also informed me that promoters are planning an international soccer match in Fenway Park this summer. The Celtic FC (based in Glasgow, Scotland) are tentatively scheduled to play Manchester United on July 21. See BBC.

Minor leagues in Virginia

For the first time since August 2008, minor league baseball has returned to the capital of the Old Dominion -- that would be Richmond, Virginia for you folks north of the Mason-Dixon line. It's no longer AAA International League baseball, like when the Richmond Braves played there, it's just AA level, the Eastern League. The new Richmond "Flying Squirrels" got off to a "flying" start last month with a seven-game winning streak, which came to an end last night when the Altoona Curve (?!) won by a score of 9-1 at The Diamond in Richmond. See minorleaguebaseball.com.

Eighty miles west in Lynchburg, meanwhile, the A Hillcats franchise has switched parent major league clubs this year, and are now part of the Seattle Mariners' farm system. Until last year, they were part of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

Stadium update update

I have updated the Stadium updates, 2010 page, and have reformatted the corresponding pages for previous years as well. Those archive pages keep track of when I have made significant revisions to the stadium diagrams.


May 7, 2010 [LINK / comment]

"Is this heaven?"

No, it's not heaven and it's not Iowa, either. (Any real baseball fan will recognize that reference to the movie Field of Dreams.) The photo of a little league game below was actually taken in the idyllic countryside of Virginia -- almost heaven, as in John Denver's song "Take Me Home, Country Road":

Almost heaven, west* Virginia
Blue Ridge mountains, Shenandoah River
New Hope ballfield

Fathers and sons at a little league ball field in New Hope, Virginia, on May 5. The Blue Ridge is visible in the background, part of Shenandoah National Park. (No soccer fields are anyway near here!)

* Just to set the geographical record straight, nearly all of the Shenandoah River lies within Virginia (hence the small w in "west"), as does most of the Blue Ridge, which extends into North Carolina. Only a tiny portion of the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah River are within the borders of West Virginia, near Harper's Ferry.

Hawaii fact check

Speaking of beautiful places to live, a baseball fan from Hawaii named Tom Haynes wrote to tell me that Aloha Stadium was never the home of the University of Hawaii Rainbows, as I had previously indicated on that page. Unfortunately, he tells me, "the movable lower sections no longer move and baseball is no longer played at Aloha Stadium." Corrections have been duly made.

Nats edge the Braves

The night after the Braves edged the Nationals in ten innings, the Nats came back with a narrow 3-2 win to take the series, two games to one. Starting pitcher Scott Olsen went seven and a third innings without giving up a hit, at which point the Braves rallied to tie the game, 2-2. Oh well. Adam Dunn got his sixth homer of the year, while Pudge Rodriguez got his first. In the bottom of the ninth, Adam Kennedy walked, Ryan Zimmerman doubled, and Cristian Guzman walked (intentionally) to load the bases with no outs. Willie Harris came through in the clutch, by driving in the winning run with a single. See MLB.com. That article mentions that Nats' catcher Pudge Rodriguez was catching for the Detroit Tigers when Justin Verlander threw a no-hitter in June 2007.

So, the Nationals are still only two games behind the division-leading Phillies, tied for second place with the Mets. Not bad!

COMMENT by: Chris Knight, of Kansas City, KS on May 08, 2010 03:37 AM
The only fact you left out is that the Pro Bowl is returning to Aloha Stadium in 2011 and 2012 with no indication of it going beyond that yet.


May 10, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Perfect game by Dallas Braden

Not in Dallas (or Fort Worth or Arlington), but rather by Dallas. The game was played in Oakland, and the home team's starting pitcher, Dallas Braden, went a full nine innings without allowing any opponent batter to reach base: 27 up, 27 down. It was the 19th perfect game in major league history. The last such feat was accomplished by Mark Buehrle (of the Chicago White Sox) in July 2009. The article at MLB.com notes that the game was on Mother's Day, and Braden's grandmother was there to witness the event. Braden's own mother passed away when he was in high school, and perhaps somewhere up in the Great Beyond, a maternal spirit is beaming with pride.

Coincidentally, Tampa Bay was the losing team in both those perfect games, but this year the Rays are vying with the Yankees for the lead in the American League Eastern Division. (Right now, they're in first, in fact.) Thanks to Buehrle, the A's won by a score of 4-0, and remain in a neck-and-neck race with the Texas Rangers for the top spot in the AL West.

Nats keep winning close games

The Washington Nationals clung to a thin lead and beat the New York Mets at Citi Field this evening, thereby claiming sole possession of second place in the NL East, a game and a half behind the Phillies. Adam Kennedy and Ryan Zimmerman had back-to-back home runs in the third inning, and the Nats threatened with more base runners later in the inning, without scoring. They wasted a couple other scoring opportunities later on, which is not a good sign. Young starting pitcher Luis Atilano had a quality outing, however, and he was credited with his third win. For once, Brian Bruney didn't falter in his role as relief pitcher. Miguel Batista filled in as closer, and gave up a home run, but got the job done anyway. Final score: 3-2.

Likewise, in the weekend series at home against the Florida Marlins, all three games were decided by one or two runs. The hero in Sunday's game, Josh Willingham, hit a solo home run in the eighth inning to retake the lead. The team has a new custom of making the player of the game wear a plastic silver "Elvis" costume hairpiece. It looks great on TV interviews. Josh hit two homers on Mother's Day last year, and his wife wanted to know if he was going to do it again this year. Yep! In the Nationals' only loss to the Marlins, on Friday, Brian Bruney gave up two runs in the eighth inning. He has been a weak spot in the Nats' bullpen, but manager Jim Riggleman seems to want to give him a chance to prove himself.

The Nationals have scored 132 total runs so far this year, against 148 by their opponents. How is that possible, with a record of 18-14? Eight of their 18 victories have been by one-run margins, while only three of their 14 losses have been by one-run margins -- and all three of those were in extra-inning games! The Nats have won four of their last five games, and yet they only scored more than three runs in one of those games. The Nats sluggers are starting to come alive, as Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman, and Josh Willingham now have six homers each. Ivan Rodriguez still has the lead in the major league batting average among regular players, at .393. The Nats were unbelievably lucky to get him in the off-season.

Better pitching

Obviously, the key difference compared to last year is that the Nats' pitching staff is vastly improved. The pitching staff as a whole isn't that remarkable, ranking 20th out of 30 teams with a collective ERA of 4.45, but what is special is their ability to perform in clutch situations. Matt Capps leads the majors with 13 saves. Livan Hernandez is steady as a rock in tense situations, and gave up just one run on Sunday. His ERA is 1.04, second best in the majors. Credit for the win went to Tyler Clippard, who joined Roy Halladay and Ubaldo Jimenez in reaching the six-win mark, the most in the majors right now. Not to disparage Clippard's great achievements, but to me, this illustrates the shortcomings of the win-loss standard for judging pitching performance. My own personal yardstick is Innings Pitched Minus Earned Runs (IPMER), which highlights cumulative performance -- "going the distance," which is what Livan is famous for. Here are the current rankings:

Pitcher Team Innings pitched Earned runs "IPMER"
Roy Halladay PHI 56 9 47
Ubaldo Jimenez COL 48.1 5 43.1
Adam Wainwright STL 52 12 40
Tim Lincecum SFG 48.1 10 38.1
Livan Hernandez WSH 43.1 5 38.1

 

R.I.P. Ernie Harwell

Long-time announcer for the Detroit Tigers, Ernie Harwell, passed away on May 4 after battling cancer. He was 92. Like Jack Buck, Harry Carey, and others of his generation, he was loved by millions of fans in his home team's region. They had a special tribute to him before the game in Detroit on Sunday; see MLB.com. When I saw a game at camera Comerica Park in August, 2004, I took a photo of the gate with Harwell's image on it.


May 11, 2010 [LINK / comment]

R.I.P. Yankee Stadium (1923-2010)

I knew this sad day was coming, but I was totally occupied with other obligations over the weekend, and didn't even find out about it until late last night: The last remnants of Yankee Stadium came down on Saturday morning, just before 9:00 A.M. The exterior walls were pulled inward, away from the elevated train tracks, as you can see in the following video, which was posted on baseball-fever.com:

Thus ends the painful, awkward period of "limbo," which several fine old ballparks have had to endure. It's been about 18 months since Yankee Stadium closed for business in October 2008. It's probably better to put the grand basilica out of its misery, rather than to neglect it while it crumbles into ruins, as has happened elsewhere.

Memorable moments

To mark this melancholy occasion, I have put together a list of "memorable moments" since Yankee Stadium was built. Entries since 2004 include links to the appropriate blog posts. I will update the Yankee Stadium page over the next few days.

  • May 5, 1922: Construction begins on Yankee Stadium, completed in less than a year.
  • April 18, 1923: Yankees beat the Red Sox 4-1 in the first game in their new home, as Babe Ruth hits a home run.
  • 1928: Upper decks are extended to left-center field.
  • 1937-1938: New bleachers are built, and all three decks are extended to right-center field.
  • July 4, 1939: Lou Gehrig makes his famous farewell speech: "the luckiest man on the face of the earth." He died two years later.
  • June 13, 1948: Babe Ruth makes his farewell speech. He died two months later.
  • Oct. 4, 1955: The Brooklyn Dodgers win their first (and only) World Series, beating the Yanks in Game 7, 2-0.
  • Oct. 8, 1956: Don Larsen pitches a perfect game, beating Brooklyn 2-0 in Game 5 of the World Series.
  • Dec. 28, 1958: Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants 23-17 to win the NFL Championship, in "the greatest game ever played."
  • Oct 1, 1961: Roger Maris hits his 61st home run, breaking Babe Ruth's record.
  • May 22, 1963: Mickey Mantle hits a home run to right field that came within inches of clearing the roof. (He did the same thing May 30, 1956.)
  • June 8, 1969: Mickey Mantle makes his farewell speech. He died in August 1995.
  • Nov. (?), 1973: Reconstruction work begins: supporting beams are removed, upper deck is enlarged, etc.
  • April 11, 1976: Renovated Yankee Stadium opens; Yanks beat the Twins.
  • Oct. 18, 1977: Reggie Jackson hits three home runs as the Yanks beat the Dodgers in the sixth and final game of the World Series.
  • Oct. 26, 1996: Yanks beat the Braves in Game 6 of the World Series, their first championship since 1978. The beginning of the "Fourth Dynasty."
  • May 17, 1998: David Wells throws a perfect game, as Yanks beat the Twins, 4-0.
  • [July 18, 1999]: David Cone throws a perfect game, as Yanks beat the Expos, 6-0.
  • Oct. 30, [2001]: Seven weeks after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch in Game 3 the World Series.
  • Oct. 16, 2003: Yanks win ALCS, beating the Red Sox thanks to an 11th-inning home run by Aaron Boone.
  • July 22, 2004: The only game I ever saw at Yankee Stadium; Yanks beat Blue Jays, 1-0.
  • Oct. 21, 2004: Red Sox win ALCS, beating the Yanks 10-3 to complete the most improbable comeback in postseason baseball history.
  • June 2005: Yankees announce they will build a new stadium, with their own money.
  • August 2006: Groundbreaking ceremonies at the new stadium.
  • November 2006: After lawsuits were dismissed, actual construction begins.
  • Oct. 8, 2007: Yankees lose to the Indians 6-4 in the deciding game of the ALDS, the final postseason game in Yankee Stadium.
  • July 15, 2008: The fourth All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium goes 15 innings; AL wins, 4-3.
  • Sept. 21, 2008: The final game ever played in Yankee Stadium; Yanks beat Orioles, 7-3.
  • Oct. 3, 2008: I toured Yankee Stadium, along with Brian Vangor. The first October without baseball in The Bronx since 1993!
  • May 2009: Preliminary demolition slowly begins, accelerating in November.
  • Mar. 10, 2010: Demolition progresses rapidly, with upper decks pulled down.
  • May 8, 2010: Demolition is completed; only rubble remains.

SOURCES: Yankee Stadium 1923-2008, by Gary Hermalyn and Anthony C. Greene (Arcadia Publishing, 2009); Yankee Stadium, USA Today Sports Weekly Keepsake Edition (2008); A Tribute to Mickey Mantle (L.F.P., 1995), baseball-almanac.com

Yankee Stadium montage

Yankee Stadium montage, including an upper deck view from the game I saw there in 2004, my tour ticket from Oct. 2008, and the monument to the greatest Yankee of my lifetime: #7, Mickey Mantle.

[UPDATE: It is worth pointing out that the last remaining section of Yankee Stadium was not even part of the original 1923 structure. The grandstand in the right field corner was added in 1938, fifteen years after Yankee Stadium first opened. And just to clarify my own feelings on all this, I'm sure they could have found a way to rebuild and even restore Yankee Stadium to last for through the 21st Century if they really wanted to. This is a tragedy that could have been avoided, and the misguided renovations of 1973-1976 did not necessarily ruin the stadium forever, as some have argued. But I know life goes on, and I will get over it, and will get used to the "Brave New Yankee Stadium" next door.]

[Corrections to two dates, in 1999 and 2001, were made on May 21.]


May 12, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Obama picks Kagan for SCOTUS

The person President Obama nominated to the Supreme Court this week, Elena Kagan, was widely considered among the most likely candidates. Aside from her lack of judicial experience per se, she seems eminently qualified. There is little doubt that she is on the left-liberal side of the political spectrum, and the only question is how far in that direction. The mainstream media is promoting her as a non-ideological pragmatist who earned a reputation as a reconciler as a faculty administrator at Harvard. (She also caused some controversy there by restricting the activities of military recruiters.)

Ironically, Kagan if approved would contradict one of President Obama's highest priorities in naming government officials: diversity. Tuesday's Washington Post had a fascinating article surveying the professional backgrounds of past Supreme Court justices, and pointed out two curious items:

If she is confirmed, the court would be filled with justices who attended law school at either Harvard or Yale, although Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated from Columbia Law School. And because Kagan is Jewish, for the first time in its history, the court would be without a Protestant justice: It would be composed of six Catholics and three Jews.

In other words, SCOTUS is quite elitist in terms of the Eastern Establishment academic world, but lacks the religious attribute that once was considered a defining element of the Establishment -- WASPhood. The article also alludes to aspects of Prof. Kagan's personal life which really ought to be kept private. The last thing we want in the Senate confirmation hearings is pointless inquiries and innuendos that have no bearing on the nominee's suitability for the job. Don't "bork" Kagan!

In the aftermath of the passage of the health care bill via the highly partisan "nuclear option," it was expected that the Senate would be too deeply divided and acrimonious to get much important work accomplished for the rest of the year. Somehow, it seems, the tradition of comity and collegiality has survived, according to some reports on Capitol Hill. I have mixed feelings about that; I certainly don't think the majority party should be let off the hook that easily for the way they forced Obamacare into law.

Accordingly, I have updated the Supreme Court chronology page, including Prof. Kagan's name with a question mark, since her confirmation is not necessarily a sure thing. I also made more clear the timing of the transitions from one Supreme Court justice to the next one. Usually, they announce their retirement during the early months of the year, so that a replacement can be selected, nominated, vetted, and approved by the Senate in time for the fall session, which begins in October. But sometimes it doesn't work out that way, or there are unusual delays in the confirmation process, as was the case when Robert Bork was "borked" in 1987, and the second pick Douglas Ginsburg (no relation to Ruth Bader Ginsburg) dropped out, and the third choice, Anthony Kennedy, finally was confirmed in early 1988.

Obama on immigration

Almost no one noticed, amidst the hue and cry over Arizona's new law cracking down on illegal immigration, but President Obama quietly set aside his plans to push for major immigration reform legislation. In the wake of his big triumph over health care reform, it was expected that immigrants would be next on his ambitious agenda. No such luck, it's too much of a hot potato now. In the Washington Post two weeks ago, Dana Milbank lamented the President's "fatal flinch on immigration reform."

Personally, I think it's just as well, since the President cannot seem to grasp the connection between immigration and entitlements, which he steadfastly refuses to reform. (Unless you consider more unaffordable entitlements such as health care to be "reform," that is.) To put it another way, it is precisely because much of our economy has come to rely upon a large number of un-entitled (i.e., illegal) workers that makes Obamacare feasible.


May 13, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Roger Bernadina's HUGE day

Until yesterday, I wondered what the big deal was about Roger Bernadina, the rookie part-time right fielder for the Washington Nationals. He had a fair-to-middling batting average but hadn't done much to show for himself. Somehow, he got plenty of playing time, as manager Jim Riggleman showed patience. Well, from now on I'll be paying a lot more attention. As the Washington Post reports, the team's coaches knew that Bernadina "was due to break out." Boy, did he! Not only did Bernadina hit tie-breaking homes in both the fourth and ninth innings (his very first two home runs in his career, by the way), he also made a diving catch of a line drive hit by Jeff Francoeur that would have cleared the bases. He prevented a big rally by the Mets and put an abrupt end to the fifth inning. Whew! Superman himself could have hardly done better. Showing the same kind of hustle that Willie Harris has displayed more than once, Bernadina thus single-handedly changed the outcome of the game in three separate clutch situations. Roger that, over and out!

Just last month, Bernadina was called up from the Nationals' Triple-A Syracuse farm club. Even though he is only 25, he has been in the Expos-Nationals organization since 2001. He was born in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, which is also the home of Shairon Martis, Andruw Jones, Jair Jurrjens, and the rogue Sidney Ponson. I'll bet scouts are swarming all over that part of the Caribbean right looking for fresh talent now.

Almost forgotten in the hoopla over the rookie right fielder's heroism was what the pitcher Craig Stammen accomplished in the batter's box: he got two hits and three RBIs in two at-bats, assuring that he would not get tagged for the loss even though he gave up four runs in five innings. And who got credit for the win? Why Tyler Clippard, who now leads the majors with a 7-1 record, even though he's just a reliever. The night before, Clippard was part of a gut-wrenching meltdown as the Nats gave up a four-run lead in the eighth inning. The Mets scored six runs and went on to win, 8-6. frown It wasn't all Clippard's fault, however, as the shaky relief pitcher Brian Bruney allowed two hits without getting a single out. Clippard keeps getting burdened with making up for other relief pitchers' lapses (especially those of Bruney), and he's only human.

Here's my comment on the MLB.com story about that game:

What a huge relief! After that awful meltdown last night, I was afraid all the wind would have been taken out of the Nats' sails, but today's incredible performance by Roger Bernadina helped us all forget about that. I was wondering when he was going to prove his worth and live up to expectations, and now he's got everybody's attention! So now it's full speed ahead once again to catch up to the Phillies. If we get Strasburg, Marquis, and Wang in the rotation, and they are all healthy, it is going to be very hard to keep this team from getting to the postseason. Seriously.

And to Mr. Brian Bruney: Don't let the door hit you on the way out. BYE BYE!

As a result, the Nationals are now 19-15, with sole possession of second place in the National League East, just one and a half games behind the Phillies. It was just about five years ago that the Nats surged into first place, against all expectations. Could history be repeating itself???

Strasburg's big day

Up in Syracuse, New York, meanwhile, future Nationals star pitcher Steven Strasburg continues to amaze and astound everyone. Yesterday, he threw six innings of no-hit baseball, with seven strikeouts. He even got a hit! Some time next month he'll throw his first pitch in Washington, and we'll find out if he's as good as the hype.

Surgery for Marquis

Unfortunately, not all the news is good for the Nationals. Jason Marquis tried to pitch in a minor league game the other day, but the pain in his elbow was too much to bear, so he is going to have surgery to remove the bone chips. That means he'll be out for at least four to six weeks. That is really too bad, and I just hope he returns to the roster in time to make a difference in the pennant race this season. (!)

(Dis-)Honoring Bobby Cox

Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox announced he is going to retire after this year, and some folks on Capitol Hill wanted to express their appreciation for his long, devoted service to the team and to baseball. They ordered a big decorated cake that was supposed to say "Thanks for 50 great years Bobby Cox," but it was misspelled in a way that could be considered profane. What a bummer. If you haven't heard about this incident already, take a look at Jeff Schultz's blog.

"Don't taze me, bro!"

In case anybody wonders, I think the police were absolutely justified to use a taser to subdue the drunken fool who ran across the outfield at Citizens Bank Park last week. See for yourself at cbsnews.com. I don't care whether he was a Phillies fan or what; he's an idiot who should be blacklisted from ballgames for the rest of the year. Maybe they need to keep a list of disruptive fans like the airlines keep a list of suspected terrorists.

Mantle fact check

Thanks to Bruce Orser for correcting me about the home runs by Mickey Mantle that struck the frieze ("facade") at the top of the upper deck in right field at Yankee Stadium, which I mentioned on Tuesday. He tells me, "'56 homer was inches, '63 homer was 6 feet down on the facade." Well, Bruce would know better than anyone about such things. He drew my attention to some excellent graphic comparisons of Mantle's biggest blasts with retouched photos at baseball-fever.com.

The mail bag

Now that the spring semester is behind us, I can get caught up with correspondence once again. My apologies to all those who are still waiting for an e-mail reply.


May 14, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Nationals clobber the Rockies

The change of two time zones and a gain of 5,000 feet in elevation did nothing to slow the momentum of the Washington Nationals, who unleashed a torrent of slugging power in Denver last night. Right from the start they were in control, as Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run homer in the first inning. But wait, there's more! Z-man upped the ante with a three-run home run in the fifth inning. Just one day after Roger Bernadina hit two home runs, Zimmerman did the same thing. Unfortunately, starting pitcher John Lannan faltered in the bottom of that inning, giving up four runs to the Rockies. Manager Jim Riggleman didn't want to put his team's lead at risk, so he brought in Miguel Batista. It's a shame that Lannan couldn't even finish five innings with a six-run lead; he could have used the win. It was 7-6 going into the eighth inning, when the Nats exploded with a seven-run rally, capped by Cristian Guzman's bases-loaded triple. I was dismayed when they brought in Brian Bruney in the bottom half of the inning, fearing the worst, but he not only held the eight-run lead, he got all three batters out. After that, the drizzle turned into steady rain, so they halted play and eventually called it after eight innings. Final score: 14-6, the first time the Nats have scored in the double-digits this year. They are now 20-15, just one game behind the Phillies!

Here's an interesting factoid: In four of their first five years in Washington, the Nationals scored ten or more runs in exactly three games through mid-May. In 2007, they did not reach the double digits in any game until May 31.

Another interesting factoid: According to my records, this was the first rain-shortened game in which the Washington Nationals have scored ten or more runs. I was at the Nats' first rain-shortened game on April 30, 2005 -- the only such game they ever played at RFK Stadium!

Nationals' rain-shortened games

Date Wash. score Opponent Opp. score # Innings
4/30/05 5 NYM 3 8
7/29/07 0 @ NYM 5 5
5/16/09 5 PHI 7 5
6/4/09 1 SFG 4 6
6/30/09 5 @ FLA 7 7
7/23/09 1 STL 4 6
9/13/09 7 @ FLA 2 8
05/13/09 14 @ COL 6 8

Stadium boom has ended

Whenever I get a news tip from both Mike Zurawski and Bruce Orser, I know it must be important. Indeed, the article by Charles Lewis Sizemore at benzinga.com -- "The Boom In New Sports Stadiums Has Finally Ended" -- is definitely worth reading. He focuses on the economic angle, noting that the boom which was initiated by the Orioles at Camden Yards in 1992 "soon took on a life of its own, eventually reaching speculative excesses every bit as absurd as the 2000s Florida housing bubble and the 1990s 'dot com' mania." Since then, about two-thirds of all baseball and football teams, and an even higher percentage of basketball and hockey teams, have had new stadiums or arenas built for them. He argues that the trend toward luxury accommodations had its origins in the "gentrification of American society spearheaded by the Baby Boomers and Generation X." He mocks Jerry Jones's overwrought Cowboys Stadium as a "monument to hubris." Indeed.

Sizemore also observes that in most cases, the new structures were mostly paid for with taxpayer funds. (I would like to point out two notable exceptions: AT&T Park -- formerly Pac Bell Park -- in San Francisco, and the Verizon Center in Washington.) He points out that the two remaining MLB teams hoping for a new stadium (Tampa Bay and Oakland) are located in states with severe budget crises. It's good to keep in mind that the great architectural renaissance in baseball (and other sports) has been a mixed blessing. What just happened in The Bronx is a perfect example.


May 14, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Scenic Lynchburg, Virginia

About two weeks ago, at the of end the semester at Central Virginia Community College, I took advantage of the clear, sunny skies by paying a brief visit to downtown Lynchburg, which is chock full of historical architecture. The centerpiece is Monument Terrace, which includes several statues, monuments, and bronze plaques memorializing the sacrifices made by earlier generations of soldiers. At the top of the hill is the Lynchburg Museum. The steps not only offer a breathtaking view of the downtown area and the James River below, they are a great way for people who work downtown to get exercise during the day.

Lynchburg Monument Terrace

The World War (I) statue, at the bottom of Monument Terrace, in downtown Lynchburg. Click to see the full-size version.

Five new photos, including the one above, are posted on the Spring 2010 photo gallery.

Photo gallery updates

In addition, I've been busy reformatting the photo gallery page with separate pages for each blog category and new drop-down menus for each year. I also reformatted some of the older ones such as the Richmond 2009 page, making them interactive and quicker to load. I just added three more photos from our class field trip to Richmond last year to that page. (Unfortunately, I didn't bring a camera to this year's field trip.) I will tackle the rest of the photo galleries over the next few weeks.


May 16, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Nats get mile-high reality check

Overall, the Washington Nationals played quite well in the four-game weekend series in Denver, outscoring the Rockies 21-18. But because most of those runs were piled on in the first game of the series, when they won 14-6, they didn't have enough "left over" to win any of the next three games. And so, for the first time all year, the Nats lost three games in a row, by respective margins of 4, 1, and 1 runs, and now share second place with the Florida Marlins. So much for the Nats' proclivity for winning close games. frown

Baseball page reorganization

I have been busy reorganizing my Baseball pages, all of which from now on will be accessible from one of these four navigational link pages:

  • Stadium lists (links to 82 stadium pages, listed alphabetically by name and by city)
  • Stadium comparisons (links to 16 chronology, ranking, and statistical pages, etc.)
  • Franchises (links to 8 pages on the Major Leagues, the Negro leagues, Latin America, the Washington Nationals, etc.)
  • Baseball in American culture (links to a new movies page, now separated from my "corny musings")

Those pages are still "under construction," pending a check on how the new, standardized layout appears on different computer systems. Same goes for the Baseball home page, which will soon become the central navigational nexus for the baseball pages, as the Baseball site map page becomes "deprecated." (That's computer lingo for "phased out.") This is a long-overdue renovation, but the end result will be a much cleaner look and a more consistent interface system. Things will be in a state of flux for the next few days, but the process of navigation will soon be much easier than before.


May 17, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Peru-Chile rapprochement?

With the new conservative administration of Sebastian Piña taking the reins of power in Chile, there is a possibility for a rapprochement with their old strategic rivals to the north. Chilean Senator Ignacio Walker, a forme Minister of Foreign Relations, said it's essential to try to continue moving forward in relations with Peru. For his part, Peru's Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde has announced that the "2+2" diplomatic mechanism will be restarted. It had been suspended when the two countries engaged in a bitter dispute over rights to maritime fishing areas off the Pacific Coast. See the televised interview at cnnchile.com.

Pisco still in ruins

While much of the world's attention is focused on earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti, and to a lesser extent Chile, the people of Pisco, Peru are still suffering the aftermath of the severe earthquake that struck them in August 2007. The rebuilding effort is proceeding at an agonizingly slow pace, as this video at CNN.com makes clear.

More Web page updates

As part of the massive, all-encompassing overhaul of this absurdly overwrought (!) Web site, I have reformatted and updated the content on the Latin America information pages, with two new additions that were previously part of other pages:

The twenty (20) country pages will be reformatted and updated within the next week or so.


May 17, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Did Tories win British election?

Unlike the world of sports, where contests usually take place between two teams, or in some sort of clearly structured playoff system or individual tournament, in politics it's often hard to say who really "won." For one thing, you can never be quite certain who is on whose side, and for another, the competition itself never really ends. That is why it's hard to assess the meaning of the big electoral gains registered by the Conservative Party in Great Britain. It's hard to deny that the 91 seat loss in the House of Commons was a stern repudiation of the Labour Party under the stewardship of past Prime Minister Gordon Brown, but it's not at all clear that the 97-seat gain by the Tories (Conservatives) under new Prime Minister David Cameron signifies a public endorsement of their agenda. Just as in America, many Britons are angry at the poor economy, and voters everywhere are prone to lash out at the incumbents, whether they really understand the underlying issues or not.

Without a majority (326 seats our of 650) in the House of Commons, the Conservatives had to make a deal with the Liberal Democrats, who agreed to a power-sharing arrangement. It took a few days for all this to be sorted out, as Gordon Brown toyed with the idea of clinging to power, or stepping aside and letting another Labour leader retain power by making a bargain with minor parties, but it didn't work out. The period of uncertainty lasted three or four days, and it was one of those rare situations where the opinion of the Queen of England might have had a decisive effect on the nation's government.

And so, this will be the first coalition government in Britain since the early 1970s, which was also a time of deep economic crisis. The big problem is that Britain has a large third party, and several minor parties (Northern Irish and Scottish Nationalist, mostly) that siphon away votes from the Big Two, so it's sometimes hard to get a majority of seats in Parliament. Because Britain has a winner-take-all single-member district electoral system (as we do in the U.S.), there is a built-in disadvantage for minor parties, who rarely have much chance to win seats. It is astonishing that the Liberal Democrats have more than 20% support nationwide, even though they hold fewer than 10% of the seats. That is a sign of deep dissatisfaction with the Big Two parties. Cameron picked a bad time to become P.M., as the European economy is is crisis mode, and working people everywhere are tired of having their lifestyles degraded via budgetary austerity measures. He says the 2010 election marks a "historic and seismic shift" in British politics (see BBC), but it remains to be seen whether he can stay in control of the political forces that have been unleashed. Cameron will have to make some tough choices, and he will need the support of the Liberal Democratic Party to get anything passed in the House of Commons, so it's really up to them how long Cameron lasts.

It was five years ago, in May 2005, that Tony Blair led his Labour Party to a third consecutive electoral victory, in spite of mounting public displeasure over his policy of supporting the U.S. war effort in Iraq. It was almost inevitable that Blair would have to step aside and let Brown take over, but Tony is still young, so if Cameron can't get much done, perhaps there will be a resurgence of support for moderate leftists like Blair once again.

For Americans, the big question is what this means for trans-Atlantic relations. President Obama has dropped heavy hints that he no longer considers there to be a "special relationship" between London and Washington. So how will the right-leaning government in the U.K. deal with the left-leaning government in the U.S.? Interestingly, the new foreign secretary, William Hague, seems to pursuing virtually the same foreign policy agenda that the previous Labour government was doing. See Andrew Sullivan. It's another reminder that foreign policy tends to be marked by far more continuity than domestic policy, notwithstanding changes of party control.

On a personal note, I wish that this election had taken place a bit earlier, so that we could have discussed in my Government classes. It's a rare opportunity for Americans to get to understand the parliamentary system that prevails in Europe and in certain other parts of the world.

Decision 2010: U.K.

Year Labour Liberal Democrats Conservatives Others
Seats Vote % Seats Vote % Seats Vote % Seats Vote %
2010 258 29.0% 57 23.0% 306 36.1% 28 12%
change -91 -6.2% -5 +1.0% +97 +3.8% -1
2005 329 37% 51 24% 159 32% ? ?

SOURCE: BBC. NOTE: Discrepancies between the 2010, 2005, and the net change figures reflect off-year by-elections, party switches, etc.

And so, I have updated the Foreign leaders page, including the name of David Cameron as the new P.M. I've been reformatting a lot of the background information pages lately, so this was an opportune time for a content update, as was the case with the recent Supreme Court nomination Elena Kagan.

That makes three more political background information pages that I have updated:

And more yet to come!

The Euro crisis

In Europe right now, there is a very delicate situation in trying to maintain the Euro and prevent a financial panic. Talks between the E.U. and the Greek government over a bailout have made progress, but the crisis isn't over yet. Those striking workers in Athens know they are holding the continental economy hostage, which is why they are being so "unreasonable" in their demands that no cuts in public salaries or pension benefits be made. Even the most tight-fisted governments such as Germany (under Chancellor Angela Merkel) would probably chip in for a modest-scale bailout rather than risk a spreading wave of industrial bankruptcies. It's the downside of continental economic integration. I have been a "Euro-skeptic" for many years, so this is no surprise to me at all. But for the time being, I'd be willing to bet that pride will force the leaders of Europe to make extreme sacrifices of their own people's well-being just to save the Euro, even though it is in a strictly utilitarian sense, irrational. C'est la vie.


May 18, 2010 [LINK / comment]

The final mission for Atlantis?

On Friday afternoon the space shuttle Atlantis lifted off from the Florida coast for the 32nd and, probably, the final time. As the space shuttle program draws to a close, many people are eager to see one of the pyrotechnic behemoths soar into space while they still have a chance, and 40,000 spectators were on hand at Cape Canaveral. On Sunday Atlantis docked with the International Space Station, and began unloading its cargo, including a Russian-built "Mini Research Module." Six astronauts were aboard, rather than seven as usual, and in a striking departure from recent practice, every single one of them is a white male. (Just like the good old days of the 1960s!?) The mission is scheduled to last twelve days, after which Atlantis will retire -- in Florida, which is a very popular state for retirees! See NASA.gov.

The space shuttle program went through big ups and downs over the years. In the early years of the 1980s, engineers were stumped with the recurring problem of heat shield tiles falling off. Little did they realize that the two defects that proved to be fatal. First, the faulty O-ring that cracked in freezing weather, allowing hot gas to leak from the side of the solid fuel booster rocket, thus causing Challenger to blow up on January 28, 1986. Second, the foam insulation on the huge liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen tank that kept crumbling during liftoff, somehow damaging the heat shields on the wing of the orbiter Columbia on February 1, 2003. (It's striking that those two disasters took place within three calendar days of each other.)

In terms of good karma, one of the biggest highlights of the shuttle program was when the first American to orbit the earth, John Glenn, went up with the space shuttle Discovery in October 1998. At age 77, he was the oldest human ever to go into space. I was curious about the frequency of space shuttle flights over the past three decades (!), so I looked in a book I have and browsed through NASA's Web site. I compiled the data on number of flights for each of the five shuttle orbiters in the table below. Endeavour was built to replace Challenger, but when Columbia was destroyed in 2003, it was decided not to build another one. It was becoming clear that the shuttle program would never be as cost-efficient as originally envisioned, and something better was needed for the long term. Anyway, here is a summary of the five orbiters, of which three still survive:

Year Columbia Challenger Discovery Atlantis Endeavour
First flight 1981 1983 1984 1985 1992
Last flight 2003* 1986** 2010 2010 2010
No. of flights 28 10 38 32 24

* : STS-107 Columbia was incinerated over Texas during reentry on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts.
** : STS-51L Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch on Jan. 28, 1986, killing all seven astronauts.

SOURCE: nasa.gov

Back in the late 1970s when preparations for the space shuttle program were getting underway, everyone assumed that there would be a large-scale space station built by the end of the 1980s, commercialized space travel, and return trips to the Moon (and perhaps even Mars) by the turn of the century. Remember the movie 2001: A Space Oddysey? My, how things have changed! Obviously, the disasters of 1986 (Challenger) and 2003 (Columbia) put a damper on dreams of making space flight routine, but another key reason is the advance in technology itself. As computers have become smaller and smaller, robotic devices aboard space craft can perform as well or better than humans in many situations. What's more, with sophisticated software, remote space probes can adapt to changing conditions, and in some cases even sense internal malfunctions and make minor corrections. Just consider the two robotic vehicles that landed on Mars in February 2004, and have been touring the Martian landscape ever since: Spirit, which is in hibernation mode, as its last communication was in March, and Opportunity. Ironically, however, their spectacular success poses a rather awkward question for us fans of space exploration: Who needs astronauts??!

I grew up enthralled and inspired by the U.S. space program, and vividly remember watching Walter Cronkite on the scene at Kennedy Space Center in the 1960s, covering the launches of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. It is almost impossible to convey to young people today the drama and uncertainty of it all. Most of them seem to take for granted the spectacular technological advances such as pocket-sized computers and tiny cell phones with multiple functions beyond what James Bond could have ever dreamed of. It's a terrible shame that the sense of wonder and discovery that were so powerful in motivating my generation to learn and accomplish things are almost entirely absent in the youth culture of today. "Lunar landing? What-ever!" That attitude of ennui may explain a lot about what kinds of policies our national leaders are pushing, or not pushing. (See below.)

And so, just two planned space shuttle missions remain: STS-133 Discovery, and STS-134 Endeavour. After that, no one knows. I've only been to Cape Canaveral once in my life, in the early 1980s when the space shuttle program was still brand new, but I didn't see a launch. This might be a good summer for a return visit...

As we reflect on the glorious past and uncertain future of the U.S. space program, I thought it would be appropriate to reproduce the "pre-blog" entry which I posted on my old mac.com Web site soon after the tragedy over Texas seven years ago:

Hail Columbia!

"Let's not forget the seven brave astronauts who perished so suddenly aboard the space shuttle Columbia on February 1:

  • Rick D. Husband, Commander (colonel, U.S. Air Force)
  • William C. McCool, Pilot (commander, U.S. Navy)
  • Michael P. Anderson, Payload Commander (lieutenant colonel, U.S. Air Force)
  • David M. Brown, Mission Specialist 1 (captain, U.S. Navy)
  • Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist 2 (born in India)
  • Laurel Blair Salton Clark, Mission Specialist 4 (commander, U.S. Navy)
  • Ilan Ramon, Payload Specialist 1 (colonel, Israeli Air Force)

Remember Challenger

And while we are remembering, here are the names of the seven astronauts aboard Challenger who died during liftoff on January 28, 1986.

  • Richard Scobee
  • Michael Smith
  • Ronald McNair
  • Ellison Onizuka
  • Judith Resnick
  • Gregory Jarvis
  • Christa McAuliffe

Space travel: "No, we can't!"?

As part of its budget measures, the Obama administration has effectively killed the Ares - Orion U.S. manned space program, at least for the time being. Obama claims to be encouraging private firms to develop new launch rockets, but he is not exactly known for being a fan of free enterprise. Perhaps some ambitous private investors will come up with a feasible launch system, but to me, it sounds like a feeble excuse for inaction. Does this really mean the end of U.S. manned space flights for the foreseeable future? Unless there is a big public outcry that might lead to a drastic change of plans, apparently so. By next year, we could well be relying on Russia to get our astronauts into space, "hitch-hiking."

On Capitol Hill last week, two former astronauts lobbied on behalf of restoring the manned space program. Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, as Commander of Apollo 11, was joined by Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan in testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee. Armstrong criticized the secretive way in which the President was advised, and Cernan said, "this budget proposal presents no challenges, has no focus, and in fact is a blueprint for a mission to nowhere." Ouch! See the Washington Post. The space program shouldn't become a partisan political issue, but at a time when our nation's values, purpose, and sense of identity are being challenged, it is not a good idea to abandon one of the vital national missions that make us all proud. I hope that congressional leaders in both parties insist on restoring funds for the manned space program.

President Obama recently paid a visit to the Kennedy Space Center, supposedly to express appreciation for the workers and engineers, but in fact only a select group of sympathetic officials was allowed to hear the President speak. If he wanted to reassure them and regain their confidence, the effort almost certainly backfired. As a flimsy "consolation prize," he is appointing Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden as co-chairs of a task force to "develop a $40 million job-creation plan for the Space Coast." To me, it sounds like a bunch of lame seminars in how to develop job-search networking skills. Somehow, I don't think that is going to be of much use for the highly skilled and dedicated workers. About 8,000 space-industry jobs are expected to be lost after the shuttle fleet retires, and that will have a very depressing effect on the economy of that part of Florida. See floridatoday.com.


May 19, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Nationals lose fifth straight

What a revoltin' development this has been! After doing better than they had done in any of their first five seasons in Washington, the Nationals have now lost five games in a row. After getting off to a good start on this road trip, winning three of their first four games, they just fell apart. Admittedly, the Cardinals are a tough team to beat, but they have been slipping lately, ceding first place to the Cincinnati Reds, so the Nats should have won at least one of the two games in St. Louis. On Monday, Craig Stammen gave up four runs in the first inning, a troubling sign, but he hung in there for another five innings, to his credit. Last night, John Lannan had one of his best performances this season, giving up only two runs in six innings. In the eighth inning, Ian Desmond tied the game 2-2 with a clutch RBI single, but then the Cardinals got another run in the bottom of the inning, and that's what decided the game. That means Tyler Clippard's record is now 7-3.

And so, the Nats have gone from a very promising 20-15 record, one game behind the division leading Phillies, to a so-so 20-20 record, clinging precariously to third place. Time to kick some butt in the clubhouse. This evening they begin a five-game home stand, facing the New York Mets and then the Baltimore Orioles, as interleague play begins.

Storen replaces Bruney

One piece of good news is that the highly ineffective relief pitcher Brian Bruney was "designated for assignment" (fired) over the weekend, replaced by Drew Storen, who was called up from the Nats' Triple A farm club in Syracuse. Storen went right to work on Monday in St. Louis, getting two outs in the seventh inning, and striking out the Cardinals' Matt Holliday. His only mistake was hitting Ryan Ludwick with a pitch. Storen was the 10th overall pick in the 2009 draft. See MLB.com.

Miami webcam

As with Nationals Park, Target Field, and other recently-built baseball stadiums, you can keep track of the construction progress in Miami by means of a webcam. It's at MLB.com. You can also follow the commentary on the future home of the Florida Miami (!) Marlins at baseball-fever.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser.

Also, I've got a lot of news to report from Mike Zurawski. Stay tuned...

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on May 19, 2010 20:33 PM
Brief note on your Nationals Park page, when I hover over the "My proposed modification", the diagram disappears off the page altogether as this: http://i303.photobucket.com/albums/nn140/HETopGearia/Untitled-4.jpg

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on May 19, 2010 21:46 PM
I HATE when that happens! Sorry, it's been fixed now. Thanks for letting me know. With all the behind-the-scenes format modifications and content changes I've been making lately, soon to be formally unveiled, I'd be surprised if there's not a lot more such glitches here and there.

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on May 19, 2010 21:51 PM
Dang it, while I was fixing that glitch, the Mets got a home run in the top of the ninth, reducing the Nats' lead to two runs. That's your fault, Brian! :-)

Fortunately (from the Washington point of view), the next two Mets batters were put out to end the game, so the Nats finally put an end to their losing streak.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on May 20, 2010 04:38 AM
Oh! You just reminded me that I have some Citi photos to pass along that I totally forgot about. Incoming email!


May 20, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Bienvenidos, Presidente Calderón

Mexico flag (Press ONE for English.) The President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, is currently on an official state visit to the United States, at a very difficult time owing to deep divisions over the issue of immigration. Last night President and Mrs. Obama welcomed President and Mrs. Calderon with a state dinner, only the second such event since the 2009 inauguration. ([The previous state dinner] was when the infamous Salahis "crashed" the party.)

During the "press availability" * yesterday, President Calderon criticized the new immigration law in Arizona (see April 30) as "discriminatory." Calderon called for a "comprehensive solution that will be respectful of the rights of the individual." See whitehouse.gov. As a conservative, Calderon is about as friendly a leader as the United States can expect right now; he barely won a hotly-contest election in July 2006, and leftists in Mexico still loathe him, and are very hostile to U.S. interests. For his part, President Obama asked for bipartisan cooperation on the issue of immigration reform, in marked contrast to his highly partisan approach to passing his health care bill.

Calderon's criticisms of Arizona will no doubt stir the resentment and anger of many Americans, but we should pause to reflect on the ways in which U.S. policy intrudes upon Mexican sovereignty, and how the nasty habits of American society negatively impact Mexico. Mexico is suffering through a virtual civil war right now, as well-funded, well-armed narcotics gangs challenge police authority in Ciudad Juarez and other cities in Mexico. If it weren't for all the drug consumers in the United States, that problem would not exist. That raises the question of whether or not the "drug war" as currently being fought is even winnable. There are many, many indications that it is not. And so, one aspect of the complex state of Mexican-American relations is that any true "comprehensive solution" to the problem of immigration will require that U.S. drug policies be reformed, probably meaning that small amounts of less-harmful drugs such as marijuana should be decriminalized.

* Apparently, a "press availability" is more controlled than a "press conference," in which reporters are free to ask questions.

This visit comes just over a year since President Obama visited Mexico; he also visited Guadalajara for a summit meeting in August. The last time a Mexican president visited the United States (other than appearances at the United Nations in New York) was when Vicente Fox visited California and Utah in May 2006. I understand that President Calderon is under heavy domestic pressure, in part because he leads a minority party, but he and President Obama will have to face up to painful dilemmas and take bold, honest positions on key policy issues if U.S.-Mexican relations are to be improved in years to come. I'm not very optimistic.

Mom doesn't have papers

First Lady Michelle Obama was visiting a Maryland elementary school as part of her anti-obesity campaign, joined by Mrs. Margarita Zavala (President Calderon's wife), when a little girl "stole the show." She said her mom told her that President Obama was "taking away" everyone who didn't have papers. It is both sad and very instructive that such paranoid beliefs run rampant in the immigrant community right now. The Washington Post has a video of the poignant exchange:

Mrs. Obama: "Yeah, well, that's something we have to work on. To make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers. Right"?

Student: "But my mom doesn't have papers."

Mrs. Obama: "We have to work on that. We have to fix that."

Translation: We have to give papers to those who don't have any. At least that's what it sounds like to me.

It is tempting in these situations to indulge our feelings of sympathy without using our rational faculties to address the underlying policy dilemmas that give rise to such anxieties. It is also very easy for politicians on both sides of the political spectrum to exploit the situation for their own benefit, without really fixing the problem. Unless immigration reform includes a real effort to police our borders, reform drug laws, and reform entitlements, then it won't really be "reform," it will simply be a prolongation of the evil status quo of second-class citizenship (!) for illegal aliens.


Capitol Hill update

In his speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress today, President Calderon declared that his government will defeat the narco-gangs but asked for U.S. help in controlling the flow of weapons into Mexico. He said 80% of the guns that police have seized recently came from the U.S., and that the problem has worsened since the U.S. ban on assault weapons ended in 2004. See BBC. He received hearty applause from the Democratic side of the aisle, where the Second Amendment is less of a priority.

Would Mexico be safer and more peaceful if its citizens enjoyed the right to bear arms? More than likely, but it would take a massive change of mindset in Mexican society. The idea that people should be self-reliant and that individual rights are paramount is so alien to the legal system that prevails in Latin America that the possibility of its people assuming responsibility for protecting their own families is almost negligible.

As for what practical, concrete steps could be taken now to preserve our national security, we must be realistic and seek bilateral compromises toward goals we share with Mexico. Even though our two governments are constituted on vastly different conceptions of state-society relations, we do share common objectives and interests, and we must be prepared to do what is necessary. Most Americans are clueless about how bad things are south of the border, and we need prompt, effective action -- not vain escapism or finger-pointing.


May 25, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Ballpark / stadium news roundup

While making further progress on reformatting the pages on this Web site over the past few days, I have fallen behind once again in news on stadium planning, construction, and renovation. Thanks to my always-reliable source Mike Zurawski, I am able to share with you all the following choice tidbits of news:

Last week, the San Jose Planning Commission approved a revised environmental impact statement that raises the chances that a new stadium for the Athletics will be built on the south end of the San Francisco Bay. Local citizens voiced concerns about how such a stadium would affect traffic, parking and noise in the downtown area. See mercurynews.com. Meanwhile, chances for "Cisco Field" ever being built in the Fremont area have dwindled away, as the collapse of the housing market renders infeasible the proposed residential complex that would have been situated just outside the stadium. Even with support from Tesla Motors, which plans to move into the old Toyota-GM joint venture NUMMI auto manufacturing plant nearby, it's just not economically viable. See mercurynews.com.

In Toronto, the founder of the Rogers telecommunication giant, Ted Rogers, passed away earlier this month [in December 2008], raising questions about whether the Blue Jays and/or Rogers Centre will be sold by the conglomerate. The team has already been forced to cut payroll, and let their star pitcher Roy Halladay go after last season; he is now with the Phillies. See bizofbaseball.com. It was only five years ago that they renamed Skydome "Rogers Centre," and perhaps the name will revert back to the original before long.

It's not baseball, but to me it smells like a prime example of "stadium socialism," pigskin style. The Atlanta Falcons are beginning to push for a new open-air stadium to replace the Georgia Dome, which was built in 1992 -- just 18 years ago. (WTF???) The team president Rich McKay prefers to remain in downtown Atlanta, but they are exploring other options. The Falcons would make an unspecified contribution to pay for the construction costs. "McKay said a retractable roof is too costly, while renovating the Dome would not provide a state-of-the-art facility for the long term." See the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. If they do proceed with a "state-of-the-art" football stadium, it would raise questions about whether to continue to maintain the Georgia Dome, which hosts the annual "Chick-fil-A Bowl," among other winter events. Mike Zurawski compares the Georgia Dome to the Rogers Centre; "Built a little too soon before the new stadium wave."

Even more stupid, the NFL announced that the new billion-dollar Jets/Giants stadium at the Meadowlands in New Jersey will host the 2014 Super Bowl. Mike notes that "this will be the first Super Bowl played in a cold weather city without a dome." See ESPN.

And Mike also reminded me that the NHL Pittsburgh Penquins were eliminated in the Stanley Cups playoffs earlier this month, at the very last game ever played at Mellon Arena. That curious silver igloo/dome was built in 1961, with a revolutionary roof that opened and closed, but it turned out to be a lousy concert house because of poor acoustics. It will be replaced next season by Consol Energy Center.

Nats end so-so home stand

The Washington Nationals managed to shake off their recent five-game losing streak, winning three of five games at home in Nationals Park last week. Within the space of four days, two (2) inside-the-park home runs were achieved by visiting teams: On Wednesday, Angel Pagan of the Mets circled the bases with the ball still in play, and also started a very unusual triple play by making a lunging catch in center field. Yet somehow, the Nationals still managed to win that game, 5-3. In the game on Thursday, the Mets took a 10-1 lead in the early innings, and the Nationals narrowed the gap later on, to no avail. Final score: 10-7.

On Friday interleague play began, and the lowly Baltimore Orioles prevailed over the Nationals, sending them below the .500 mark for the first time since April 15. Thanks to clutch home runs by Josh Willingham on Saturday and Sunday, however, the Nats won the next two games, and thus won the latest round of the "Battle of the Beltways." A two-run single by Adam Dunn capped a four-run rally in the sixth inning on Saturday, and the team held on to the lead. On Sunday, Nats' closer Matt Capps blew a save opportunity, giving up two runs to the O's in the top of the ninth inning. Willingham's walk-off blast to the visitor's bullpen in left center concluded matters on a happy note in the tenth inning, however. It was the Nats' first extra-innings win so far this year. (They have lost three.) See MLB.com.

For the five-game home stand, the Nats scored 26 runs and the visitors scored 27 runs. At least they scored runs when it counted, so I'm not complaining. After a much-needed day of rest, they begin a series against the Giants tonight in AT&T Park.

"S-Day" approaches

Once the Nationals return home to Washington from their west coast road trip, they will have a new member on their pitching rotation: none other than Stephen Strasburg! Bruce Orser has been following that story with keen interest. Assuming he is the starting pitcher on June 4, that means "S-Day" is only ten days away. And just to remind us that he is human, Strasburg gave up his first two runs in AAA baseball last night.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on May 26, 2010 07:53 AM
Why do you call the decision to host the Soup Bowl in NY/NJ stupid? If anything, I think that the cold-weather restriction should be eliminated entirely.

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jun 01, 2010 09:42 AM
They're just asking for trouble, weather-wise. If there's another blizzard like the ones we had this year, it will either cause a postponement or massive traffic chaos. For fans as well as players, the Super Bowl should be a pleasant reward, not more grueling punishment subjected to the harsh, frigid elements.

Now, one might say they already play multiple football games in January every year, so what does one more such game matter? I think the NFL playoffs have become way too drawn-out, with too many teams in the postseason. They should go back to having just eight teams in the playoffs, not 12, and they should move the regular season back at least a week, so that the Super Bowl is played on the third Sunday of January.

They have had the Super Bowl in a northern city once per decade since 1982, and it's OK to continue that, just for variety. I suppose the gesture to NYC (NJ) as just a one-time mega-event might have a happy ending, but I'd hate to put my career on the line for making that choice.


May 25, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Can Hugo Chavez stay in power?

This week's Economist magazine takes a close look at the regime of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, asking whether he can continue to remain as president without destroying what is left of the country's democratic institutions. Until recently, Chavez enjoyed broad support among the middle and lower sectors of society, most of whom did not seem to mind that he was trampling on the rights of the propertied classes. In the editors' words, Venezuela

has come to embody a new, post-cold-war model of authoritarian rule which combines a democratic mandate, populist socialism and anti-Americanism, as well as resource nationalism and carefully calibrated repression.

This model of governance, which is also characteristic of Russia and Iran, among others, worked as long as crude oil prices were high enough so that the government could dole out plenty of goodies, but that is no longer the case. Over the past year, the Venezuelan people have been enduring severe hardships and shortages of basic necessities such as meat. Caracas and other cities are subject to regular electricity blackouts due to insufficient power generation, but that is partly because of recent droughts, which curtail output at hydroelectric plants. Another symptom is a shortage of hard currency: street vendors are demanding almost twice as much Venezuelan local currency in exchange for the U.S. dollar as the official exchange rate.

These circumstances point to a critical weakness in the regime: Chavez bases his legitimacy on popular support, and often brags about his past election victories: first in December 1998, then in July 2000 (a special election under the new constitution), and most recently in December 2006. Chavez suffered minor electoral setbacks in 2007 and 2008, but he triumphed once again in February 2009, when the people approved of a constitutional change that abolished term limits on the presidency. The next election is scheduled for December 2012, two and a half years hence. Will voters get a meaningful choice, and a chance to give Chavez the boot, if that is their desire? And if not, will his opponents find a way to get rid of him by irregular means, as happened in Honduras last June? Here is what I recently wrote on Facebook:

I can't seen any circumstance in which Chavez would give up power, and with his dictatorial regime well established, any plot to overthrow him would be exposed before it got very far. He is at least as brutal and domineering as Pinochet was in Chile, and it is shameful that so few leftists acknowledge this. Indeed, some of them made excuses when Obama exchanged friendly greetings with Chavez last year, a low point in American history.

As for free market policies, yes, they were deeply tainted by cronyism in Argentina, Peru, and elsewhere. It was a tragic lost opportunity to promote true freedom. It would take a book chapter just to shed light on the subtle ironies that lie behind the debate over neoliberal wave of the 1990s. Overselling free markets is part of what led to Chavez and his left-wing comrades in Bolivia, Ecuador, etc.

I once had a student who was born in Venezuela, and he was brimming with confidence that Chavez would be removed from power in the near future. That was almost ten years ago, and Chavez is more deeply entrenched than ever.


May 26, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Wonders of nature: Reptile photos

While returning from a mostly-pleasant* day trip to the mountains of northern Augusta County on Sunday, Jacqueline and I encountered a turtle in the middle of the road south of Stokesville. It was about nine inches long including the tail, from which we could tell right away that it was a Snapping Turtle. If it had stayed there, chances that it would have been run over were about 99 percent, so we tried to save the poor thing. Using a long ice scraper, we gently tried to induce it to retreat to the side of the road. It was very reluctant, however, and two or three times it violently snapped at the ice scraper, surprising me with its speed. Well, that's how they get their name. Any finger in the vicinity would have been in grave peril!

* The weather was humid and mostly overcast, interspersed with occasional sunny moments, and our "picnic" ended up inside the car because of a rain shower. We did manage to walk around a bit and see a few birds, however. (Separate blog post to follow...)

Just over a year ago we saw a much larger Snapping Turtle on Bell's Lane.

Snapping Turtle small

A small Snapping Turtle, irritated and not at all grateful for having been rescued. Roll over to see a closeup of a Black Rat Snake that was soaking up the sun just down the road from Elkhorn Lake.

Those two photos are on the Reptile photo gallery (see the montage below). For now, I have lumped in amphibians with the reptiles, but I may "segregate" them later on. Other subsections of the broader (non-bird) Animals category to come include Mammals, Spiders, Butterflies, and Other Insects.

Reptile_montage

Clockwise, from top left: Box Turtle, Red-spotted Newt, Snapping Turtle (large), Black Rat Snake, red salamander (species unknown), and Cottonmouth snake, a.k.a. "Water Mocassin."


May 26, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Populists make waves in the GOP

Events last week in Utah and Kentucky provide fresh evidence that the anti-establishment insurgency in the Republican Party is as strong as ever. In Utah, Sen. Robert Bennett came in third in a party convention whose purpose was to certify names to appear on the primary ballot. Given that Bennett has rock-solid conservative credentials, the fact that he wasn't even given a chance to run for a fourth term is absolutely stunning. It appears that tea party activists were determined to punish him for voting in favor of the TARP bailout in September 2008; if so, that's a shame. (Personally, I was against the bank bailout, but I can see why someone might have thought it was necessary, in the context of the ongoing collapse of Wall Street.)

In response to Bennett's defeat, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) had an op-ed piece in the Washington Post: "Bipartisanship shouldn't be a political death sentence." He said that he and Sen. Bennett were virtual opposites ideologically, but nevertheless agree

that once elections are over we have a duty to try to govern even if it means working with people with whom we don't always agree.
...
Working in a bipartisan fashion can lead to watered-down legislation, yes, but principled bipartisanship can also lead to a value-added, better result.

For most populists on the right as well as the left, however, the mere suggestion of compromise for the greater good is outright heresy. They seem to assume that engaging in political give-and-take will always lead to messy, incoherent policies. It's too bad they can't absorb the lesson from Bob McDonnell's victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race last year: there is no necessary contradiction between appealing to results-oriented centrists and remaining faithful to one's own ideological convictions.

In Kentucky, meanwhile, the son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul -- Rand Paul (as in Ayn Rand) -- won the GOP primary election by a landslide, undermining the prestige of Sen. Mitch McConnell, the arch-establishment conservative curmudgeon. Since then, the younger libertarian Paul has created controversy by suggesting that the 1964 Civil Rights Act should not have been passed. My comment on Facebook:

Rand is obviously way outside the mainstream of the GOP, and that has good aspects and bad aspects. I'm hopeful that he will generate a serious debate on long-overdue policy reforms, but I fear that his populist constituency would make that difficult. Rand's opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act is a perfect example of how Libertarians are often guilty of pursuing a dogmatic vision, even when it clashes head on with political reality and backfires.

I would, however, take issue with the statement in Bruce [Bartlett]'s article [ADDED HYPERLINK], "As we know from history, the free market did not lead to a breakdown of segregation." If there are legal prohibitions against sales based on race, then ipso facto it's not a free market. We might say that *capitalism* as a social force (as opposed to free-market policies or principles) helped undermine Southern segregation, as it did in South Africa. But ironically, the South's economic renaissance seemed to FOLLOW the imposed breakdown of racial barriers to economic activity. Rationality and economic growth in the Sun Belt were forced down their throats, you might say.

I still think that the biggest stumbling block that prevents the right wing Republicans from properly diagnosing the party's recent setbacks is their failure to understand what happened during the Bush administration. The White House consciously encouraged and mobilized the populist, social conservative "base" of the party, shoving aside conservatives of a more mainstream mindset (Bruce Bartlett would be the classic example), even as it was pursuing policies that were not conservative at all. Until the populist "base" faces up to the reality of their own origins, I don't think they are going to have much long-term success. They may achieve spectacular gains in this November's elections, but the candidates they put into office won't be able to get much done in terms of actual governance.

Tea Party populism

Speaking of which, Facebook friend Andrew Murphy recently wrote a very good piece on the Tea Party movement, warning conservatives not to be led astray. (See frumforum.com.) Unfortunately, it came out at the end of the semester when I was totally occupied by teaching responsibilities, and I just didn't have time to read it until now. Anyway, he cites Russell Kirk to emphasize that "conservatism is not populism." Indeed. He goes on to invoke Richard Hofstadter's "the paranoid style in American politics," which I tentatively explored in October 2006; scroll down. I fully agree with Murphy that the Tea Party is a "populist-driven movement," which does raise certain dangers, but not necessarily fatal ones. (I remain thoroughly ambivalent about the Tea Partiers; see Feb. 7, for example.) As long as wise leaders are in charge, conservatism can become reenergized from Tea Party activists without losing touch with the fundamental conservative principles of prudence and respect for tradition.

Murphy made reference to a 1950s-era French politician whose name was not familiar to me: Pierre Poujade. He was a right-wing populist who paved the way for the dissolution of the Fourth Republic and the return of Charles DeGaulle and the Fifth Republic in 1958. From Time Magazine on Mar. 19, 1956:

Pierre Poujade's instrument is not reason but resentment, not plans but protest. It is the resentment of the provincial against sophisticated Paris, of poverty against the prosperous, of nationalism against the crumbling of empire, of common man against politicians. He raised the ancient French rallying cry, "We are betrayed."

Wow! That sentiment has familiar echoes in our own place and time...

Averill wins 6th District

At the convention in Lynchburg on Saturday, long-time party activist Trixie Averill won her bid to replace Fred Anderson as chair of the Republican Sixth District Committee, overwhelming her rival Danny Goad with 73% of the vote. According to the Washington Examiner,

Mrs. Averill pulled out the moderate and conservative vote while Mr. Goad pulled out the further-right conservative and tea party vote. Tempers flared as the two sides clashed through speeches, resolutions, and votes for other leadership positions prior to voting for chairman.

I came across an video of a debate between Goad and Averill at teapartywatchdogs.com, not very flattering to the winner. From what I could tell, Averill is more of an establishment party insider, and Goad is more of a grassroots activist. I'd be willing to bet that personalities and connections played a much bigger part in the outcome than ideology, however. I talked to each of them briefly at party meetings a couple months ago. In a campaign statement, the losing candidate Danny Goad stressed "the importance of the Republican Party being run in a 'Bottom-up"' manner in lieu of a heavy handed "Top-Down" approach as it is now run." I could not possibly agree with him more about that. Hopefully, Ms. Averill will be able to keep the party together in these turbulent and momentous times. She bears a heavy burden.

For the record, I registered to participate as a delegate to that convention and paid the required fee, but was unable to attend.


May 29, 2010 [LINK / comment]

R.I.P. Art Linkletter

Learning that Art Linkletter died this past Wednesday put me in a wistful and reflective mood. I have fond memories of his "House Party" afternoon TV show, which was full of a strange and exotic quality known as "good clean fun." Could people of today imagine kids and parents watching a TV show together, with everyone appreciating the humor? How weird is that!?

Linkletter's show was best known for the segment "Kids Say the Darndest Things," the title of a book he wrote in 1957. His sincere and engaging style was well-suited for eliciting candid remarks from kids and their parents, often with hilarious results. The beloved and admired long-time TV host lived until the ripe old age of 97, and according to the Washington Post, "Mr. Linkletter was born Gordon Arthur Kelly on July 17, 1912, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He was adopted as an infant by an older couple and was an only child." He led an amazing life, living as a hobo for a while, something I didn't know about. That article also notes that he outlived three of his five children. It is often the fate of those who bring happiness to others that their own lives are marked by tragedy. But Art Linkletter never succumbed to bitter feelings, and remained upbeat throughout his life.

One thing that really defines the baby-boomer generation is sharing a common experience in being influenced and shaped by a select group of entertainers, thanks to the golden age of television. No TV star of today can even remotely compare to Jackie Gleason, Lucy Ball, Carol Burnett, Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan, and of course, the warm and gentle man named Art Linkletter. Each of those entertainers put his or her own distinctive mark on the long-forgotten variety show format. (The closest we come nowadays are those atrocious "reality shows," which highlight fame and glory, while disparaging virtue and authenticity.) In part, that shared experience was due to the simple fact of the limited choices we had. Back when there were only three networks to choose from, mass media was truly media for the masses (rather than select demographic marketing niches), and for a while, at least, standards were generally quite high. For a series of reviews of 1960s TV programs from a baby-boomer perspective, see the60sofficialsite.com.

Like millions of others, I learned a lot about life and personal relationships through the vicarious medium of television. Sometimes the humor on those 60s-era variety shows was mildly ribald, and some of the comedians were obviously "gay." It didn't occur to anyone to be offended by it, however, since personal behavior was considered a personal matter. (What a novel concept!) But during the 1970s, sexuality became a political football, and we have been plagued by the Culture Wars ever since. The "Generation Gap" of the 1960s transmuted into a regional and urban-vs.-rural Great Divide, with tragic social consequences. Perhaps the passing of Art Linkletter will remind us that decency and kindness can be compatible with a rip-roaring good laugh. And after all, "laughter is the best medicine."

R.I.P. Gary Coleman

As if to draw attention to the contrast between "golden-age" TV and what followed, child TV star Gary Coleman passed away one day later, at the age of 42. The wisecracking, grinning main attraction of the "Different Strokes" show never adjusted very well to adulthood, and the same bottom-line-obsessed entertainment industry that thrust him into stardom in the 1980s later cast him aside as a has-been. He experienced a series of legal and health problems, and from interviews, you could tell he was not a happy person. May he truly "rest in peace."


May 29, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Peru frees Lori Berenson

A judge in Peru has ordered the conditional release of convicted terrorist Lori Berenson, five years in advance of the date her 20-year prison sentence was to end. The reasons for the leniency are not yet fully clear, but it appears that Berenson -- a U.S. citizen -- was being rewarded for good behavior in prison. In 1996 she was found guilty (by a controversial special court for handling terrorist cases) of abetting a terrorist organization, at a time when Peru was on the brink of anarchy. After being convicted, she served extensive time in very harsh prison conditions, sparking complaints by some human rights organizations. She is now 40 years old, and last year she gave birth to a baby boy (Salvador) in prison. Since then, however, she has become legally separated from her husband, Anibal Apari Sanchez, who also happens to be her lawyer. Mark and Rhoda Berenson, her parents, said they are ecstatic about the release. They have been lobbying for years to have the conviction overturned, without success. See CNN.com.

This abrupt judicial ruling has caused quite a stir in Peru, and not many people are sympathetic to Berenson. The congressional Justice Committee has requested a formal report on the reasons behind the decision. The president of the National Confederation of Private Business Institutions, Ricardo Briceño, asked the government to expel Berenson as soon as possible, for the good of the country. He declared "Peru doesn't want terrorists, the country wants peace and progress." See elcomercio.pe. Residents of the upscale district of Miraflores, where Berenson is now living, organized a vigil to honor the memory of those who were killed by MRTA, and to express their opposition to Berenson's presence in Peru.

For a quick background on the facts of the Berenson case, see my April 2008 blog post. Basically, she was a left-wing activist who allowed members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) to use the residence she was renting in Lima as a safe house. When security forces confronted the rebels in 1995, there was a major gun battle, after which Berenson and others were arrested. One year later, the MRTA seized over 100 hostages at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, demanding that Berenson and others be released. They failed. I stand by the strong opposition to freeing Ms. Berenson which I expressed two years ago. If she is returned to the United States, as many Peruvians are demanding, I hope that arrangements are made so that she serves equivalent time in a Federal prison. This is no time to be coddling those who facilitate terrorism, and it should not matter one bit whether they are misguided idealists or committed jihadists.

For the pro-Lori perspective, from a group that is clearly sympathetic to the MRTA, see freelori.org.


May 30, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Perfect game by Roy Halladay

For the second time in less than a month, a Major League pitcher has thrown a perfect game: Roy Halladay, who led the Philadelphia Phillies to a 1-0 victory over the Florida Marlins in Miami. He had to struggle at several points, but got through six full counts without cracking under the pressure. The only run in the game was off an outfielder's error, and therefore not an earned run. The Phillies have been in a bit of a slump lately, barely clinging to first place in the NL East, and this triumph will help recharge their batteries. The fact that Halladay was let go by the Blue Jays after last year will be recalled with much bitterness in Toronto. As noted at MLB.com, the only other Phillies pitcher to throw a perfect game was Jim Bunning, in 1964. Bunning is now a U.S. Senator from Kentucky, but will retire at the end of the year.

This was the 20th official perfect game in Major League history, and this was only the second time ever that two perfect games have been pitched within the same month. (On May 9, Dallas Braden of the Oakland A's achieved pitching perfection.) The first time? June 1880 -- nearly 130 years ago!

Nats fall short in California

The Washington Nationals played pretty well during the two series they just completed in San Francisco and San Diego, but not well enough. All six games were fairly close, but they just could not get the clutch plays necessary to prevail in either series. Against both the Giants and the Padres, they split the first two games, and were going neck-and-neck in the "rubber match" third games, but in both cases the home teams scored late-inning runs to tip the balance in an adverse direction.

In the Friday night game at San Diego, the Nats took the lead on a three-run homer by Josh Willingham in the fourth inning, and hung on to win, 5-3. It was a truly inspiring performance against the top team in the National League. (Why do the Nats have such a tough schedule, anyway?) That game was played under protest after the Padres' manager turned in a lineup card with a player who had just been sent back to the minors! Since the Nats won, it didn't matter. Today's Washington Post paid tribute to Willingham and his "torrid start" this season: "Steadiness and consistency have been Willingham's hallmarks since he arrived in Washington before last season." His batting average is a solid if unspectacular .275, but he has ten home runs (two behind the NL leader, Corey Hart), is tied for the NL lead in walks (37), and has a very high (.429) on-base percentage. That takes brawn and brains.

Today's game in San Diego was very tense and exciting throughout, but ended up as a big disappointment. Ryan Zimmerman ended his recent slump by crushing two home runs (#100 and #101 in his career), not at all easy to do in PETCO Park. His teammates failed to produce any more runs, however, and the game went into the 11th inning, tied 2-2, when a [deflected single by Lance Zawadzki] double by Yorvit Torrealba and a single by Nick Hundley decided the outcome. As MASN sportscaster Ron Dibble pointed out, Hundley probably should have been called out on strikes to end the inning on the pitch before that single. Well, that's how baseball is some times.

As of today, the three Nationals sluggers -- Dunn, Zimmerman, and Willingham -- have exactly ten home runs each this year. At one-third of the way through the 2010 season, it's quite possible that all three of them will cross the 30-home run threshold by the end of the season. I hope the Nats front office is smart enough to offer extended contracts to both Willingham and Adam Dunn this summer. Don't wait until the trade deadline approaches, have faith in your players, and they will pay you back with even better performance.

One reason for the Nationals' recent slump is the absence of catcher Pudge Rodriguez, who strained his back muscle last week. He was put on the 15-day DL and is expected back on or about June 7. That's about when Stephen Strasburg is due to pitch his first game for the Nationals, probably against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Mowing grass in Detroit

In Motown, the field where Tiger Stadium once stood has become unsightly and overgrown with tall weeds, and with the city in bleak financial situation, that's a low priority for the city government. Thankfully, some local residents of the Corktown neighborhood took it upon themselves to cut the grass themselves, technically trespassing on city property. It's good to see that civic pride is still alive in Detroit. See clickondetroit.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser.

R.I.P. Jose Lima

Former pitcher Jose Lima died suddenly after suffering a heart attack, at the age of only 37. He was born in the Dominican Republic and played for most of his career in Detroit and Houston, where he had his peak year in 1999, with 21 wins and an All-Star appearance. See MLB.com.

R.I.P. Dottie Kamenshek

Dorothy "Dottie" Kamenshek, one of the biggest stars in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, passed away at the age of 84. She played for the Rockford Peaches from 1943 to 1953, and chosen as one of the top 100 female athletes of the century by Sports Illustrated. The character Dottie Hinson, played by Geena Davis in the 1992 movie A League of Their Own, was based on Dottie Kamenshek. See NPR.org.


May 30, 2010 [LINK / comment]

R.I.P. Dennis Hopper

On Saturday yet another big-name entertainer passed away: Dennis Hopper, who fell victim to prostate cancer at the age of 74. He gained fame from the controversial 1969 movie Easy Rider, which (ironically) I just saw for the first time a couple months ago. Prior to that, he was known primarily for his roles in western movies, but afterwards, he became one of the leading counterculture figures in Hollywood. (His own personal lifestyle was indeed rather unorthodox.) Most notable was his portrayal of the deranged officer in Apocalypse Now (1979). Perhaps least notable was his role as the villain in the 1995 flop Waterworld. Stylistically, he was known for his gruff appearance and rural midwestern twange. (He was born in Kansas.) He also played a character in the first season of the FOX-TV show 24. See CNN.com and imdb.com.

More recently, Hopper parlayed his image of ultra-cool baby-boomer in doing TV ads for Ammeriprise Financial. As The Onion pointed out in 2007, Hopper's background was not exactly suited for building security and investor confidence. Maybe that could help explain the Wall Street crash in September 2008. smile


May 30, 2010 [LINK / comment]

May 2010 birding roundup

It's been a long time since I have reported on my bird-watching adventures on this blog -- about seven weeks, actually. This is partly due to the fact that until recently I just hadn't done as much birding as usual for the spring, and partly due to various Web site upgrade chores. Since I had a fairly successful bird outing today, it's high time to get caught up with things, hence this rather belated post. The subsections are listed in reverse chronological order, as blog posts are customarily presented, with the newest items at the top.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Today we woke up at the crack of dawn and ventured out to the Blue Ridge Parkway,* and hiked to the top of Humpback Rocks for the first time in nearly two years. It was a bit hazy and humid, but the temperatures were mild and the skies were mostly clear. Arriving early really paid off, as the summit and trail got very crowded later in the morning. Certain noisy family groups detracted from the natural experience, unfortunately. Unlike the previous time we were there (Aug. 8, 2008), I made sure the camera battery was charged. I was lucky to have a great close-up photo-op with a Scarlet Tanager; see below. Scenic photos from our day trip will appear in a separate blog post. Today's highlights:

  • Wild Turkey (F)
  • Ovenbirds
  • American Redstarts (M & F)
  • Ravens
  • Indigo Buntings
  • Broad-winged hawk
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Cedar Waxwings
  • Great crested Flycatchers
  • Black & white Warbler (M) -- FOS
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler -- FOS
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Chipping Sparrow

Plus I heard (but didn't see) a Hooded Warbler, several Cerulean Warblers, and of course many Red-eyed Vireos.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager (male), Humpback Rocks visitor center, on May 30.

* This year is the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was completed in 1935 as one of President Franklin Roosevelt's economic stimulus projects during the Great Depression. I liked the design and think the Skyline Drive/Blue Ridge Parkway project was among the most worthwhile public works of the New Deal, so I bought myself a commemorative T-shirt. As part of this observance, they are having a series of special cultural and nature-related events at the Humpback Rocks visitor center this summer.

Elkhorn Lake

May 23: Jacqueline and I drove to northern Augusta County last Sunday, with no fixed itinerary, but our trip ended up being influenced by adverse weather conditions. We spent most of our time in and around Elkhorn Lake, with brief stops at Todd Lake and the town of Mount Solon. Highlights:

  • Green Heron (at Mount Solon pond)
  • Red-eyed vireo
  • Indigo Buntings
  • Red-necked Grebe (???) -- far
  • Northern Parula -- FOS
  • Blackburnian Warbler (M) -- FOS
  • Cedar Waxwings
  • Pileated woodpeckers
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Madison Run / JMU

May 22: Prior to helping out with the church garden project the Saturday before last, I stopped at Madison Run and hiked up the trail for about an hour. Highlights:

  • Acadian Flycatcher -- FOS
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • Ovenbirds
  • Towhee (M)
  • Indigo buntings (M & F)
  • Hooded Warbler (M) -- FOS
  • Worm-eating Warbler -- FOS

That same day, I also stopped at the James Madison University arboretum. Highlights:

  • Swainson's Thrush -- FOS
  • White-breasted nuthatches
  • American Redstarts (F)

Augusta Springs

May 15: Just in time for the tail end of migration season, I managed to get out to Augusta Springs nature area, and was happy to spot several first-of-year neotropical migrants from "south of the border." Highlights:

  • Indigo Buntings
  • Bluebird
  • Louisiana Waterthrush
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird -- FOS
  • Magnolia Warbler -- FOS
  • Mourning Warbler -- FOS
  • Ovenbird
  • Pileated woodpeckers
  • Tree Swallow
  • Red-eyed vireo
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Goldfinch
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler (at E.K.* trail head)
  • Cedar Waxwings (at E.K.* trail head)
  • Blackpoll Warbler (at E.K.* trail head) -- FOS

* (E.K. = Elliott Knob) On the way back to Staunton, I drove through the Swoope area, and got decent photos of the following:

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird, near Swoope. Roll mouse over the image to see a Red-winged Blackbird, very close by.

Montgomery Hall Park

May 8: The Augusta Bird Club's annual picnic at Montgomery Hall Park was a major disappointment, as high winds discouraged birds from flying, and made it hard to hear their songs. Some club members saw a Yellow-billed cuckoo and a warbler or two, but about all my group saw were an Eastern Wood Pewee (FOS), a Red-eyed Vireo, and a Downy Woodpecker.

(Not-so) Big Spring Day

Apr. 24: For me, Big Spring Day this year was a big bust, in stark contrast to last year. My only significant find was a brief view of a Great crested Flycatcher, the only one spotted in Augusta County that day. Highlights:

  • White-throated sparrows
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • Phoebe
  • Great crested Flycatchers -- FOS
  • Killdeer
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Red-winged blackbirds
  • House finches
  • Goldfinches

More spring arrivals

I also made a number of important sightings during brief stops on the way home from work, etc. All of the birds listed below are first-of-season (FOS) sightings, which exclude birds I have positively identified by hearing alone:

  • Cedar waxwings, Apr. 13 (Finally!)
  • Chimney swift, in Amherst, Apr. 15
  • Scarlet Tanager, Sweet Briar College, [Apr. 20]
  • Broad-winged Hawk, near Lovingston, Apr. 20
  • Prairie Warbler, Piney River, Apr. 22
  • Indigo Buntings, Blue Ridge Pkwy, Apr. 27
  • American Redstart, Blue Ridge Pkwy, Apr. 27
  • Cerulean Warbler, Blue Ridge Pkwy, Apr. 27
  • Catbird, in Amherst, Apr. 29
  • Orchard Oriole, Lynchburg, May 4
  • Baltimore Oriole, Staunton, May 14
  • Willow Flycatcher, Bell's Lane, May 29

Yard birds

Cedar waxwings were present in our neighborhood for about a week earlier this month, but no neotropical migrants as we have had in years past. One day there was a male Towhee singing, which is very unusual for in town. Downy woodpeckers have been at the suet feeder almost every day, but the number of Goldfinches and House finches is far below normal.

Whew! Well, that should just about cover it. And so, I am in the process of updating the Annual arrival page...


May 31, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Memorial Day 2010 in Staunton

Staunton excels in a number of ways, and paying tribute to past and present members of the U.S. armed forces is near the top of the list. Once again, this morning's ceremonies marking Memorial Day were full of fitting speeches, musical pieces, and solemn wreath-presenting rituals. Ray Houser was the Master of Ceremonies, Rev. Joel Thornton of Bethel Presbyterian Church gave the memorial address, and the Stonewall Brigade Band played a variety of songs, from "America the Beautiful" to "The Entertainer." American Legion Post 13 presented the colors, and co-sponsored the event, along with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2216. The weather was nearly perfect,

Somehow I missed the Memorial Day ceremonies last year, but I did attend in 2008, 2007, and 2006.

Staunton National Cemetery

In the afternoon, I paid a visit to the Staunton National Cemetery, and spent some time looking at the grave markers. It's always a shock to realize what a high proportion of war fatalities were never identified in wars prior to the 20th Century. Nearly 70 percent of the interments (for some gravestones, there are two or three buried bodies) are listed simply as "Unknown," as the text on the plaque reproduced below attests:

United States
National Military Cemetery
Staunton.
Established 1867.
Interments 753.
Known 232.
Unknown 521.
Staunton National Cemetery

Grave markers at Staunton National Cemetery

Those photos, and others, have been posted on the new Military photo gallery page, which includes parades, warplanes, ships, etc.

WWII vet remembers

At this morning's ceremonies, I saw an elderly former neighbor of mine sitting in the front row, and I made a point to visit him later in the afternoon. His name is Richard McLaughlin, and he served with the 106th Cavalry Regiment in Europe during World War II. (He was in the Veterans Day parade photo montage that I posted in November 2007, the gentleman on the right side not wearing a cap.) We had talked about his military career before, and how his unit was fighting not far from the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.

Today Mr. McLaughlin told me that he once saw General George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. Third Army, drive by his unit in a jeep as they were advancing into Germany. Most of the local residents were old, since all the younger males had already been drafted into the Wehrmacht (or recruited by the SS), so there was no significant threat to U.S. soldiers from the German populace. The 106th Cav pushed through Bavaria in April 1945, and reached Austria at the end of the war in early May 1945, after which they carried out occupation and pacification duties. One of their tasks was to guard Belgian King Leopold, who had made the controversial decision to remain with his people after the Germans conquered Belgium in May 1940. To some people, he was a collaborator, and he had to be protected from death threats. McLaughlin later relocated from Salzburg to Vienna, where he experienced opera and fine arts for the first time. Because of all the American, British, and Canadian soldiers who sacrificed their lives on the beaches of Normandy, freedom -- and civilization itself -- were restored in Europe.

Honoring William Green

Later in the day, I drove past the National Guard Armory, home of the headquarters company of the 116th Brigade Combat Team. I noticed a monument placed in honor of William Green, a Staunton native who was one of the "Tuskegee Airmen" of World War II. They were the only African-American fighter pilots of that war, and their heroism and patriotic devotion helped pave the way for the integration of the U.S. military after World War II. As it says in the plaque, Capt. Green was shot down over Yugoslavia, but survived and joined the partisan forces of Josep Broz Tito, who became leader of Yugoslavia after the war. Green later received military honors from the government of Yugoslavia.

William Green monument

Monument honoring William Green, in Staunton. The aircraft pictured on the stone is a P-51 Mustang.

Those photos, and others, have been posted on the new Military photo gallery page, which includes parades, warplanes, ships, etc.

Local fallen soldiers

Steve Kijak made a highly visible gesture of respect and thanks for the three local members of the armed services who gave their lives during the war in Iraq: He put up three American flags on each side of the bridge that crosses over Interstate 81 on the north side of Verona. All three of the servicemen were Marine Lance Corporals:

  • Jason C. Redifer, of Stuarts Draft, VA: see Feb. 2005
  • Daniel Scott R. Bubb, of Grottoes, VA: see Oct. 2005
  • Daniel T. Morris, of Crimora, VA: see Feb. 2007

Faces of the Fallen

Every couple months or so, the Washington Post prints two or three pages filled with photos of U.S. military personnel who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. I always save them, but you can also look at the "Faces of the Fallen" at washingtonpost.com. It reminds you that those are not just numbers, they are real people with families and friends.

Memorial Day off?

The question of what is the most appropriate way to observe Memorial Day was addressed by Katherine Turner in a letter that was published in Sunday's News Leader. (She is a professor at Mary Baldwin College and the wife of my good friend Matthew Poteat.) She took issue with people who have complained about school being held on Memorial Day, which was one of the snow makeup days. I wholeheartedly agree with her that giving everyone a day off to lounge around probably doesn't carry much meaning as far as honoring the sacrifices of the generations before us.


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