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August 1, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Leaders compromise on debt ceiling

Since I expected a deal to be reached before the August 2 "deadline" (?), I'm not particularly moved one way or the other by the compromise that was reached late Sunday night. It won't satisfy anyone, and of course, that's what happens when stalemates are terminated. After the Senate rejected the House debt ceiling bill over the weekend, it looked like Doomsday was nigh, and the White House held emergency negotiations. Today the House passed the "Budget Control Act of 2011" which sets up a series of conditional hikes in the debt ceiling, offset by reductions in future spending. See politico.com.

From what I can tell, the budget cuts appear very modest compared to what had been discussed. Claims that it will cut spending by $2 trillion or whatever over the next ten years are meaningless to me, since there is no way Congress can force future spending cuts, and no one can foresee future contingencies that might require emergency spending hikes. Backloading spending cuts to future years so as to avoid politically costly short-term pain is one of the oldest tricks on Capitol Hill, and frankly I'm surprised they still get away with it. The only figures that matter to me are spending levels for the next fiscal year.

Anyone who exults that Congress finally got the job done is missing the bigger point, I think. The fact that we came this close to defaulting is a terrible indictment of our very political system, in which government leaders refuse to lead. President Obama has been a virtual non-entity, caving in to pressure from the House Republicans, and not getting hardly anything in return. Comparisons between him and Jimmy Carter are starting to be heard more and more often. Neither Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid nor House Speaker John Boehner have done much better. Some Democrats have compared the intransigent "my way or the highway" approach of the Tea Party faction to terrorism, but I think that's a bit extreme. Extortionist, yes. Sadly, that is how factions in the Republican Party have gotten their way over the past ten or so years: the anti-tax crowd and the anti-abortion crowd repeatedly threaten to defect or just refuse to vote if their demands are not met. And every time, the "mainstream" Republican leaders cave in, fearing they will lose the next election otherwise. So now that same approach is being applied to the national stage, as America is "held hostage" by the right wing. (Pretty ironic, since that used to be Rush Limbaugh's slogan during the Clinton administration.) Anti-tax Godfather Grover Norquist, who appeared as a panelist on ABC's This Week on Sunday, is just about as happy as a clam. Repeating the main theme of my op-ed column on the subject, I commented on WHSV-3's Facebook page:

This is exactly what we would expect to happen when the people forget about constitutional principles of limited government and allow the political system to turn into a majoritarian democracy in which two established parties engage in a perpetual tug-of-war, with voters choosing whichever side promises the most benefits. When self-interest runs amuck, factionalism and chaos are the inevitable result.

About the only positive thing to come out of this showdown was the first public appearance by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who is recovering from gunshot wounds she received in January. Welcome back, Gabby!

Will this compromise actually resolve anything, or is it just a pause while the two sides regroup for the next round? Maybe the 12-person joint select committee ("Supercommittee") will serve its intended purpose in making tough budget choices, but it merely confirms the ineffectiveness of the U.S. Congress as it is presently constituted and organized. Supposedly, there would be across-the-board cuts ("sequestration") if they fail to reach an agreement, but Congress always finds loopholes to evade such provisions. This was just not a good time for either side to push for a "grand bargain" over fiscal policy. All I can really say at that anyone who makes a big deal out of who won or who lost in this monumental showdown is doing a disservice to the country. Frankly, I've grown weary of these tedious polemics over the debt ceiling.

Gay marriage in New York state

So let's talk about one of those fun "wedge issues" -- gay marriage! Thanks to a law passed by the New York legislature earlier this year, it is front and center once again. The first gay couples entered into the state of wedded bliss (if not exactly "holy matrimony") last week. See Washington Post.

Earlier this year, a Ninth Circuit Federal court which ruled that the California law banning gay marriages was unconstitutional, while another judge ruled that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was invalid. Our armed forces are now integrating those of different sexual orientation, another grand social experiment. I hope it goes well, but it won't be easy. More ammunition for social conservatives! frown

In a discussion on Facebook, a few months ago, I tried to refute the widespread notion that opposition to gay marriage signifies hate or bigotry, while acknowledging that some Republicans shamelessly use gay-baiting. "To me, marriage is an ancient social institution that predates the law, and is not a matter of 'rights.' But if society as a whole decides that gays should have the 'right to marry,' it should be decided by popular referendum or by constitutional amendment, not by elite judges."

Last month, the Obama administration announced that it will support the repeal of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. See Washington Post. This came after Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would not defend the law in any court cases that may arise. That comes dangerously close to violating the constitutional obligation to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed..." (Article II Section 3.) Personally, I think that law is of dubious constitutionality, but that is an issue for the judicial branch to decide.

Apropos of this issue, I was pleased that former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman "came out of the closet" last year. I had the pleasure to meet him at a local Republican campaign rally in October 2005. If I had known he was gay, I could have told him that I once put a link to the Log Cabin Republicans on one of the local GOP Web sites I used to manage. (Nobody noticed.)

And last but not least, I watched the LOL hilarious movie In And Out, starring Kevin Kline, a week or so ago. (Remember the ending? "Macho, macho man ... I want to be a macho man!" smile) It was made in the late 90s, when gay culture was quickly moving into the mainstream. Maybe another 15 years from now, gay marriage itself will be fully embraced by mainstream American culture, and all these controversies will be seen in the same light as debates over teaching evolution in public schools. Nobody knows.


August 2, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]

Nationals bounce back, win four

After losing six consecutive games, their longest losing streak this year, the Washington Nationals managed to compose themselves and win the last two games in their weekend series with the New York Mets. On Saturday night Jayson Werth, who has been in a bad slump for most of the season, got things going in the first inning with a three-run homer that ended up being the only run-scoring play of the game. On Sunday, closing pitcher Drew Storen blew a save opportunity, giving up a home run that tied the game 2-2 in the top of the ninth inning. But in the bottom of the ninth, Rick Ankiel scored the winning run from third base on a high chopper hit by Ian Desmond. Thanks largely to Ankiel's alert base-running, Storen got the "win" that starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann really deserved.

As I noted on Facebook, "It's their first win in a one-run margin game since July 6, which was also the last day they won in two consecutive games. They ended a disappointing month on an upbeat note."

On Monday the Atlanta Braves arrived in town, in the midst of their best season in several years. The Nats couldn't hope for too much, but they got a very pleasant surprise. On Monday, Rick Ankiel hit two (solo) home runs (only his fourth and fifth of the year!), providing the margin of victory in a 5-3 final outcome. And today he hit a grand slam (the 22nd in team history!), along with homers by Ian Desmond and Michael Morse (#18), leading to a triumphant 9-3 thrashing of the Braves. All of the position players got at least one hit, and five of them got two hits. Even Jayson Werth! Of the four grand slams hit by Nationals players this year, this was the first one at home in D.C.

On Wednesday, the Nats will be going for their first series sweep since they beat the Mariners three straight in late June. The starting pitcher will be Chien Ming-wang, who was badly drubbed by the Mets last Friday in his first major league appearance since June 2009. He gave up four runs in the first inning, but settled down and pitched for three more innings before the bullpen took over. He had shoulder surgery last year, and it took many months of hard rehabilitation work before he was ready to take the mound again. He racked up some phenomenal numbers as a pitcher with the Yankees, and it would be great if he could repeat that performance in Washington.

After going 17-10 in June, their best month since 2005, the Nats won only 11 games and lost 15 in July. I suppose it could have been worse.

A few big trades, and non-trades

Given the team's worsening prospects of late,* it was expected that the Nationals would trade some of their better players before the July 31 deadline. Indeed, they did give up two excellent players, but no one truly essential at least. One of the best performing utility players, Jerry Hairston Jr., went to the Milwaukee Brewers, who are slowly building a lead in the National League Central Division. The Brew Crew also acquired Felipe Lopez, who played with the Nats a few years ago. Also, starting pitcher Jason Marquis is going to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Jason had a lousy year in 2009 due to a bone chip in his elbow, but he has done very well this year, with a record of 8-5. The Nats have come to depend on reliable pitching this year, and Jason will definitely be missed. The Nationals front office was negotiating with Minnesota over a trade for their closer Drew Storen, but Mike Rizzo implied the Twins were not offering a good enough deal to the Nationals, so they declined. Whew! smile

Last week the Nats acquired outfielder Jonny Gomes in a trade the Cincinnati Reds. He was having a down year, and some scout evidently thought he had a lot of potential. In his first at-bat as a National, in the final game of the series against the Marlins, he grounded into a double play with the bases loaded. Ouch.

As for other big trades in the majors, the Cubs traded their star slugger Derrek Lee to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and within a couple days he hit a home run against his former team. The Phillies acquired Hunter Pence from the Houston Astros, who also traded Michael Bourn to the Atlanta Braves. The Nats were in the market for him as well, apparently. The Colorado Rockies traded pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians, who are struggling to keep up with the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central. Finally, diminuitive shortstop Rafael Furcal was traded by the bottom-dwelling Dodgers to the St. Louis Cardinals. Another team that is performing below expectations this year, the New York Mets, traded slugger Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants, who are hoping for another postseason run, or perhaps even another World Series title. The Mets also traded closing pitcher Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez to the Milwaukee Brewers. The Boston Red Sox acquired a few players, but the Yankees were oddly quiet in trading activity this year.

For a complete rundown of all the trades, see MLB.com.

* We'll have to wait for any postseason action until October 2012, when future superstars Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are on the team.

Page sponsorship renewal

Finally, many thanks to Dr. Thomas Tomsick, author of Strike Three! My Years in the Pen, for renewing his sponsorship of the Cleveland (Municipal) Stadium page. I know these are hard times for most people, and there are many more worthy charities than this, but any amount donated to help support this Web site is most appreciated.

sponsor

August 3, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Shibe Park update update

Wouldn't you know it, I thought I had finally tackled all of the vexing issues connected to Shibe Park / Connie Mack Stadium, and Bruce Orser sends me another photo (from 1913) that throws everything up in the air again. Arghhh. It turns out that my earlier conjecture that the diamond had been rotated slightly in a clockwise direction prior to the 1913 season was false. Putting all the pieces of evidence together left only one conclusion: that the pavilion sections extending to the right and left field corners were not angled inward as much as I had estimated. That, in turn, affected all of the diagrams for subsequent years as well. And so I have posted re-revised diagrams of Shibe Park. Is it perfect? No, but it's pretty d@%* close. I'll have to consult with other ballpark experts such as John Pastier and Ron Selter...

One thing that got me going on Shibe Park was having received several e-mail inquiries about it in recent months. Larry Mazzenga told me "with 100% certainty that those distances were actually 405 in right-center and 420 in left-center." He brought to my attention a Web site full of old photos of Shibe Park for sale: alanluber.com, and it appears he is correct as far as 1963 goes. The question is when did those distance markers appear? I have seen a seating chart corroborating the 420 figure, but I have also seen a photo clearly showing 400 in deep left center. Lowry's Green Cathedrals indicates it was 400 feet to the left side of the scoreboard in right center field as of 1942, so perhaps the 405 distance was marked after they installed the new, bigger scoreboard in the late 1950s. For the time being I put a red border on the 400 marker in deep left center to indicate there is some doubt. Stay tuned...

Harry Heller asked me about whether there was once a plan for "Connie Mack Stadium" (as it was then known) to be "torn down after the 1963 season and replaced by bowling alleys." (He got that from baseballlibrary.com, in the "this day in history" item that appears at the bottom of that page.) To answer that, I consulted one of the books I used as a source, Bruce Kuklick's To Every Thing a Season. I learned that Bob Carpenter, who had bought the Phillies in 1943, bought the stadium for $1.7 million in 1954 as the Athletics were about to leave town, and later sold it for $600,000 in 1961, as part of one of those tax-evading lease-back deals. The Phillies took a three-year lease, with an option to extend it four more years. They were expecting a new stadium to be built in Torresdale, on the northeast side of Philadelphia, by 1967. The developers who bought the stadium did indeed plan to build bowling alleys, etc. on the site. But politicians could not work out a new stadium deal until May 1967, after which groundbreaking on The Vet (on the south side of Philadelphia) got underway. So now you know "the rest of the story..."

Terry Wallace let me know about some photos of the Philadelphia Eagles playing at Shibe Park, including the snow-packed NFL championship game in December 1948. Those were useful in drawing the football version diagram, which did not exist previously.

Finally, Brent Simmons has a very specific inquiry that I unfortunately could not answer:

I have what I believe to be an original seat from Shibe, but I have some hesitations and thought you might be able to answer a couple quick questions.... The seat I have has green paint covered by blue paint covered by gray paint. I was told the blue and gray paint was added at a fairgrounds where the seat was used. As you probably know, at the time of closing, the seats at Connie Mack were either peach or red and my seat has neither color paint on it. The explanation I was given was that sometime in the 30's or 40's these seats were removed when they were still green to make way for bleachers. However, as you know, and as I've learned, this most definitely did not occur since there were no bleachers ever "added" to Shibe Park. Do you have any knowledge of seats being removed from Shibe Park pre-1954 (when the green paint was covered with peach or red) possibly being sold to the Bloomsburg Fair? Any knowledge you have on this would be much appreciated.

If anybody knows, please either post a comment on this blog piece, or else send me an e-mail. Speaking of which, I'll be "on the road for the next ten or so days, which means there will only be one or two blog posts during that time, if that. Seeing the Yankees play in Kansas City? I can't wait!


August 4, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]

Nature photo gallery updates

As I prepare to head west for a brief vacation, I thought I should at least fill in one of the many gaps on my Web site "to-do" list before I go. And so, here for the enjoyment of the general public, is a sampling of some of the newest nature photos that I have uploaded:

Wild (and tame) flowers

While Jacqueline and I were hiking in the Shenandoah National Park a couple months ago, I was lucky to get a very good closeup of an uncommon Trillium flower, shown below. (I also took one at Springdale Water Gardens during an Augusta Bird Club field trip on April 29, thanks to Tish Folsom.) The Flowers photo gallery also has nice closeups of a Mimosa flower on a tree on Greenville Avenue in Staunton and of Rhododendron flowers in Allegheny County (in June), as well.

Trillium flower

Trillium flower, in Shenandoah National Park, June 8.

Butterflies

I had very good luck taking pictures of Butterflies this summer. Besides the Comma (,) shown below, I also got great shots of Red-spotted purples, Tiger Swallowtails, Little Wood Satyr. I am indebted to Mark Gretch, who has started a butterfly observing group in the Staunton-Augusta County area, in which several Augusta Bird Club members and I have participated. In late June we did a butterfly count, the first ever in this area.

Comma butterfly

Comma butterfly, Madison Run, June 11.

Mammals (g-g-growl!)

I only added one photo to the Mammals photo gallery, but it is an exceptionally good one:

Black Bear

Black Bear, Shenandoah National Park, June 8.

I've also taken a few photos of birds and Staunton scenery in recent months, but those will have to wait until later...


August 4, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]

Debt ceiling deal dirty fallout

Given, the hasty, bitter way the debt ceiling compromise was reached, it should surprise no one that it solves nothing. Almost all of the cuts are in discretionary programs in future years, and it would be a minor miracle if they are actually enacted. As Robert Bixby of the Concord Coalition explains, "debt-limit deal needs to get done," but

The main flaw in the agreement is that it reflects the continued refusal of our political leaders to confront fiscal reality. Once again, they are leading with discretionary spending cuts while leaving the biggest problems -- entitlement and tax reform -- for another day.

Many Tea Partiers and their sympathizers (e.g., Richard Viguerie) are already either claiming victory for having put so much heat on the Republicans or else complaining that they were sold out, but neither argument gets to the heart of the matter. By poisoning the negotiating atmosphere with a thinly-veiled goal of making sure that President Obama would not get credit for any agreement, which would make it easier for him to get reelected, they almost assured that their goals of sharply reduced spending would not be achieved. In short, because of the deep partisan hatreds harbored by many people in that faction, they shot themselves in the foot.

Speaking of factions, I was pleased that one of the Washington Post columnists, Ruth Marcus, recently picked up on the main theme of the op-ed column that I wrote for the two weeks ago: The "mischiefs of faction." It's all about how the debt ceiling debacle illustrates the perils of factionalism that Founding Father James Madison warned about. I seriously doubt that she saw what I wrote, but it's nice to know that I'm not the only one thinking that way.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

Since Doonesbury (Kevin Trudeau) once referred to Barack Obama as the "first black Kennedy," it's appropriate to salute the occasion of his 50th birthday with a sly reference to the risque "Happy Birthday" sung to JFK by Marilyn Monroe. I just signed an online birthday card for him at barackobama.com; hat tip to Clifford Garstang. My explanation (on Facebook): "Well, I guess there is at least a theoretical possibility that I might vote for him as long as he continues his recent moderate shift, depending on who the Republicans nominate, so I can sign that with sincere intentions."

No, I will NOT donate any money to his campaign! frown I guess I should have realized that the "birthday card" was just a fundraising gimmick.


August 20, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Baseball road trip 2011: Missouri

Whereas my annual road trip last year veered toward the north, this year I focused on the "Show Me" state of Missouri. I saw the New York Yankees play at beautiful Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City with my brother Dan. We arrived about a half hour early, while there was still plenty of light for photos:

Andrew at Kauffman Stadium

Yours truly at Kauffman Stadium. Photo by Dan.

My brother Dan, who is a veritable genius at work and at play, came up with the bright idea of getting box seats. Being habitually cheap, I hesitated at first, but then realized I would never get such a closeup view of all those future Hall of Fame Bronx Bombers in any game at New York. See what I mean?

Derek Jeter

Leadoff hitter Derek Jeter gets ready to bat in the first inning. That's Curtis Granderson's elbow.

Of course, any visit to Kansas City would be incomplete without feasting on some of the local barbecue treats. Unfortunately, we had to walk all the way around the concourse to the outfield to find the top-quality BBQ place, but it was worth it. We paid a high "price," however: while we were out there, we missed a home run by Robinson Cano. It splashed down not far from where we were standing, ironically. The Yanks scored five runs in the fourth inning, but the Royals closed the gap with two runs in the sixth. It was a great, exciting game, one to remember. Final score: Yankees 9, Royals 7.

Derek Jeter doubles

Derek Jeter doubles to left in the fourth inning.

I took several other photos, which will soon be posted on the Kauffman Stadium page.

The next day I drove to Saint Louis, and stopped at the site of Sportsmans Park on the north side of town, and later took a tour of Busch Stadium (III), the first time I had been inside. It was a wonderful day.

Derek Jeter doubles

Yours truly at Busch Stadium III.

Pennant races heat up

The American League East divisional race is every bit as hot as the outside temperatures this year, with the Yankees and Red Sox jostling back and forth for the lead. It was during their visit to Kansas City that the Yanks edged ahead of the Bosox, but it's only a half game lead at this point. The next six weeks are sure to get very tense.

In Our Nation's Capital last night, the Washington Nationals put a speed bump in front of the Philadelphia Phillies. The visiting team, cheered on by thousands of fans (who may have outnumbered Washingtonians), had a 4-2 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. That's when former Phillie Jayson Werth outlasted closer Ryan Madson and finally punched a single to left field, starting an incredible comeback rally. Ian Desmond tied the game with an RBI single, and with bases loaded, two outs, and a count of 3-2, good old Ryan Zimmerman hit a grand slam. WOW!!!! smile


August 22, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Nats come back, beat Phillies again

As if the Friday night game in which the Washington Nationals came back from a 4-2 deficit in the ninth inning to beat the Philadelphia Phillies 8-4 wasn't amazing enough, they pulled another trick out of their hat once again on Sunday afternoon. This time the hero was Ian Desmond, who homered into the left field stands to tie the game with two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the ninth. (The Phillies had scored one in the top of the inning, off of Drew Storen, who owes Desmond a beer at the very least for escaping that game without a loss.) One inning later, Ryan Zimmerman led off with a single, and the bases were quickly loaded after that. Clearly rattled, Phillies pitcher Brad Lidge hit Jonny Gomes in the elbow, forcing in the game-winning run. Against all odds, the Nationals took two games from the usually-dominant Phillies, a big boost to team morale. smile For more details, see MLB.com.

In recognition for his consistently superior slugging performance and clutch plays, Zimmerman was named the National League Player of the Week, along with Nick Hundley, catcher for the San Diego Padres. Z-man seems 100% fit once again, having recovered from surgery in April.

Welcome to Washington!

Thanks to all those fans who came down from Philadelphia, a record number of people were present at the game on Saturday: 44,685. That's about 3,000 over the official seating capacity, suggesting that an awful lot of people were standing up for the whole game. The previous record attendance at Nationals Park was 41,985, on June 25, 2009 vs. the Red Sox. (The highest-ever attendance at a Nationals game was 45,596 at RFK Stadium on April 14, 2005 -- their inaugural home game.) Total attendance for the three-game series with the Phillies was 124,253 -- the second most ever at Nationals Park (the highest was 125,032 on June 23-25, 2009, vs. the Red Sox) but less than the 134,991 recorded on June 16-18, 2006, when the Yankees came to town. Also worth mentioning: the 162,058 who attended the four-game series against the Mets, July 4-7, 2005. That works out to 40,514 per game, an average of about 900 less than in this weekend's series.

This evening the Nationals welcomed the Arizona Diamondbacks to town. The D-Backs recently pulled ahead of the San Francisco Giants in the National League West, and are a more formidable foe than I would have guessed. Thanks to a three-run homer by Jayson Werth (his 15th of the year), however, the Nats took a 4-0 lead, and held on to win, 4-1. They have now a record of 62-64, the closest they have been to an even .500 win-loss record since one month ago. Meanwhile, the fourth-place Mets and fifth-place Marlins continue to lose more games than they win. Will this be the year that the Nationals finally end the season out of the NL East cellar?

Minor league news

Phenomenal rookie (last year) pitcher Stephen Strasburg did very well in his first two rehab starts earlier this month, but got roughed up last week. Well, these things happen to the best of them. All signs indicate that his recovery from Tommy John surgery is coming along very well, but he may not pitch at the major league level until next spring. No need to rush things. Also, the Nats' hot slugging prospect Bryce Harper pulled a hamstring and will be out for the rest of this season.

Also, I forgot to mention that I saw a minor league game in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for the first time earlier this month. The Sioux Falls Pheasants (formerly the Canaries) lost to the visiting Sioux City Explorers, 7-6 in 12 innings. See sfpheasants.com. Actually, the American Association of which Sioux Falls is a member is not even part of the official minor league system; see milb.com. (Note to people who live on the east or west coasts: Sioux Falls is in South Dakota, and Sioux City is in Iowa. It's an easy mistake to make. smile) Sioux Falls Stadium is attractive and very modern, with a nice view beyond the outfield fence, which has some nice asymmetrical quirks. (Future diagram??!) The ballpark holds about 5,000 fans, but was less than half full the day we went.

Sioux Falls Stadium grand view

The seventh inning stretch at Sioux Falls Stadium, home of the "Fighting Pheasants."

Kauffman Stadium photos

I put five new photos on the Kauffman Stadium page, in addition to the two which I posted on the blog yesterday. Perhaps the most dramatic shot is the super-wide camera upper deck panorama. (Yes, I had to do a fair amount of digital editing to get the three photos to mesh together.) It is interesting to compare it to the panorama I took from nearly the same spot exactly nine years earlier.

Touring Kansas City

While in Kansas City, I went to the site of Municipal Stadium, where the Royals (and before them the Athletics) once played. I knew just where to go, along Brooklyn Avenue, but couldn't find the historical marker because a new residential neighborhood has been built on that plot of land since the last time I was there in 2002, and I didn't recognize the locale. If I had had more time, I would have stopped at the Negro League Museum, just a few blocks to the northwest of that site. "Wait till next year!"


August 22, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]

Midwest photos: cities and floods

This year's batch of photos from my travels to the Midwest has two main themes: urban centers and floods. It was the first time I had really stopped to look around (and photograph) the downtown sections of Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Saint Louis. In each case I came across interesting scenery, a combination of vibrant new structures and crumbling old factories. The Rust Belt! In the latter two cities, searching for the sites of former baseball stadiums led me to discover some charming but rather run-down neighborhoods. [One especially sad scene was the ongoing demolition of Holy Name Catholic Church, in Kansas City, about a half mile from where Municipal Stadium used to be. It was a beautiful old stone structure, but the congregants had evidently moved far away several decades ago, and nobody seems willing or able to maintain or restore it.]

The other theme was the floods all along the Missouri River, which was supposed to be protected against such natural disasters by the advent of large dams that were built in the decades following World War II. I was aware that Interstate 29 had been closed in the vicinity of Omaha, Nebraska, but I assumed the waters would have receded by now. Wrong! To my surprise, on my way out west I had to drive through several low-lying sections of I-29 that are still protected by sandbags on either side, with the flood right next to the road bed. Yikes! Low-lying parts of Sioux City, Iowa remains inundated as well, I learned. As I was heading toward Kansas City on my return trip, I had to take an extensive detour through southwestern Iowa along U.S. Route 71 because I-29 is still closed south of Omaha! To me, that is almost incomprehensible.

While sight-seeing in South Dakota, I was astonished by the enormous volume of water that is being released at the Gavins Point Dam. (See below.) Those in charge of managing the Missouri River dams did not anticipate the consequences of the above-average winter snowfall, combined with a very rainy spring. (Your government in action. frown) I learned that the 1944 "Pick Sloan Plan" (named after an Army Corps of Engineers general who had a zeal for damming rivers) was never fully thought through in advance. This year we learned that the ability of human beings to control the natural environment through dams, etc. is more limited than we would like to think. For both points of view, see the Corps of Engineers Web site and Prairie Fire, a progressive (leftist) newspaper based in Lincoln, Nebraska.

With that as background preparation, please take a look at the brand-new Midwest 2011 photo gallery.

Gavins Point Dam, overflowing

The Gavins Point Dam, which has been overflowing all summer. It is located about five miles west of Yankton, South Dakota.


August 24, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Earthquake? What earthquake??

All along the eastern seaboard, millions of Americans were jolted just before 2:00 P.M. yesterday by an earthquake that registered 5.8 on the Richter scale. (Some reports said 5.9.) There was minor damage to the Washington Monument, the National Cathedral (camera see recent photo), and other structures many miles from the epicenter in Mineral, Virginia. Me? I was about 80 miles away, relatively close to the biggest seismic event in the eastern U.S.A. in the past 50 years, and I didn't feel a thing. I was out driving at the time, returning from a lunch break to the campus of Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg, Virginia. My car tires absorbed the bad vibrations, leaving me oblivious to the tremors beneath. What kind of dirty rotten luck is that?!

I'll never forget my first experience with an earth tremor. It would have been late October 1994, in Lima, Peru. I was in the midst of my first interview as part of my doctoral dissertation research, in the office of a professor at the Catholic University in Peru, when everything started to shake. The professor looked mildly alarmed, but the seismic waves soom receded and nothing big happened. Similar temblors happened three or four times after that over the next couple months.

Folks in Latin America are used to mild tremors, as are the folks in California. Occasionally, however, they get hit by catastrophic earthquakes, such as in August 2007. Haiti suffered a terrible earthquake in January 2010, and Chile did as well in February 2010.

UPDATE: Just today, the eastern (Amazonian) region of Peru was hit by an earthquake registering 7.0 on the Richter scale; some sources say it was only 6.8. Since it's a rural area, there were no reports or major damage or loss of life. Thanks to Jacqueline for the tip. See El Comercio of Peru.


August 27, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]

Five ball games "hurricaned out"

As Hurricane Irene tears northward along the east coast, wreaking death and destruction, the major league baseball schedule has been seriously disrupted. Five Saturday games were postponed, including two double-headers: Marlins at Phillies (two games), Yankees at Orioles (two), and Braves at Mets (one). All of those matchups involve teams that are heading toward the postseason, so the games will have to made up one way or another. Natural disasters such as this remind us that baseball is a mere sideshow in the grander scheme of things, and we should pay due respect to the many thousands of rescue workers, electrical utility workers, and police officers who are working overtime this weekend to make our lives safer.

Earth quakes at Nationals Park

The hurricane comes on the heels of the freakish earthquake that hit central Virginia on Tuesday afternoon. (I was not far from the epicenter but didn't even notice.) Buildings in Richmond, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and even farther north suffered damage. The evening game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Washington Nationals was delayed for about a half hour while Nationals Park was inspected to check for damage. Fortunately, everthing was intact. See MLB.com. Obviously, it was nothing like the major earthquake that devasted the San Francisco Bay area during the 1989 World Series, leaving cracks in Candlestick Park. This week's quake may have rattled the Nationals' nerves, however, as they lost that game, 2-0.

Yankees hit three grand slams

The New York Yankees whalloped the visiting Oakland A's 22-9 on Thursday afternoon, a feat that was made possible by three (3) grand slams -- a major league record. camera Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin, and camera Robinson Cano each cleared the bases with the long ball, in a home game at which many fans had already left because of a rain delay. (D'oh!) Oakland actually led early on, 7-1. (Photos taken at the August 16 game in Kansas City.)

Nats hit three homers, lose again

Playing the Reds in Cincinnati, the Washington Nationals lost their fifth consecutive game this evening, in spite of home runs hit by Wilson Ramos, Jayson Werth (!), and Michael Morse. Unfortunately, they were all solo shots, while the team went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position. Ouch. In his major league debut, Nats first baseman Chris Marrero committed two errors in the early innings, allowing the Reds to score at least two additional runs. On the plus side, he did get a hit. Final score: 6-3. The Nats have fallen into fourth place, behind the Mets once again, and have a record of 62-69.

Ballpark photos

I have received a number of ballpark photos from fans recently, and I'll be posting some of them on the appropriate pages in the near future. Whether I make use of them on my Web site or not, I always appreciate them.

On a related note, I occasionally get requests from fans for use of photos, for a variety of purposes. I charge a nominal fee for high-resolution photographs in JPG format, but only for photos that I myself have taken. I will not release to any third party high-resolution images that other people have sent to me for use on this Web site unless the person who owns the rights to them gives me their consent. I'll develop a general policy for high-resolution photo distribution later this year.


August 29, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]

Busch Stadium III major update

During my tour of Busch Stadium (the new one) in St. Louis two weeks ago, I made maximum use of the opportunity to inspect the facility and glean as much architectural information as I could. The other folks probably wondered why I was asking such detailed questions and taking so many pictures. smile And so, after many hours of intensive scrutiny, I have added several new photos to the Busch Stadium III page, and have also completed a thorough revision of the diagram, or diagrams (plural).

Our tour group had a very nice and well-informed guide, a lady named Mary, a long-time Cardinals fan who was aware that Albert Pujols had just hit his 30th home run of the year. She was very friendly but made it very clear as we stepped onto the warning track that we were not supposed to touch the grass! Tours begin at Gate 5 at "Ford Plaza" on the north side, and gradually move around the stadium in a counter-clockwise fashion. As we walked along the club-level concourse near the left field corner, I was struck but the "tunnel vision" effect produced by the extraordinary degree of upper-deck overhang. That's the price you pay when fans in the higher levels get a more up-close view, and that's probably as it should be. Just like in the good old days, for gosh sakes! They let us see the view from one of the luxury suites as well as from the press box, a couple levels higher. Later we descended to the ground level behind home plate, where the rich fans enter and enjoy the finer things in life inside the Cardinals Club. Finally, we got to walk onto the field by the Cardinals dugout and imagine being in the middle of a game... Priceless!

As for the diagram update, I have included a "full view" version for the first time, similar to what I have done for Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Coors Field, and a few other "super-sized" stadiums. I also included a lower-deck version, which is especially revealing for a stadium with such a large upper-deck overhang. (I'll also have to do one of those for Kauffman Stadium, based on my recent visit to K.C.) There is even a new football version diagram of Busch Stadium III. Someone asked me about doing one a while back, and since it appears there is a serious possibility of such a game happening in the next year or so, I went ahead and did it. See cbslocal.com.

NOTE: For the time being, I am leaving untouched the old version of the Busch Stadium II AND III diagram, to make it easier to see exactly what has changed since the last diagram update in September 2009. Among other things, the first deck is bigger than before, and the upper deck is a bit smaller. (I have decided to consider the tip-top "Terrace" level and the "Pavilion" level right below it as jointly comprising a single deck.)

Busch Stadium III grand view

Grand views just don't get any better than this: Busch Stadium III, from the press box.

"I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun ...
After the boys of summer are gone..."

After the tour, I peeked inside one of the offices along Eighth Street, on the west side, and saw some highly detailed scale models of the two previous Busch Stadiums. (The first one, of course, was originally called "Sportsmans Park.") I was fascinated, and asked permission to take pictures of them. You will soon see those models on the respective pages for those two other stadiums.

Reds sweep the Nationals

In Cincinnati, the Reds completed their sweep of the Washington Nationals on Sunday afternoon, winning 5-4 in 14 innings. The Nats tied the game 3-3 in the top of the eighth inning with a pinch-hit RBI single by Ryan Zimmerman, who was taking a day of rest. They then took a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth with an RBI double by Jayson Werth, but closing pitcher Drew Storen gave up a home run in the bottom of the ninth, sending it into extra innings. The Nats had the bases loaded in the top of the 10th, whereupon Ian Desmond hit a line drive straight to Edgar Renteria, who stepped on second base for a double play to end the inning. (Drat!) They also put runners in scoring position in each of the next four innings, to no avail whatsoever. (Gr-r-r-rrr!) Credit Joey Votto with a walk-off home run that just cleared the wall in left field. Argh-h-h-h!!! frown It was a game full of exiting and controversial plays, such as when center fielder Rick Ankiel threw out a Reds player at third base in the ninth inning. Amazing! The former pitcher's arm is still golden, plus he got three hits in the game. The Nats got 17 hits altogether, three more than the Reds, and left 17 men on base, four more than the Reds. See MLB.com.

This was starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann's final game of the year, and it's a shame his season had to end that way. He had Tommy John surgery last year, and the Nationals front office decided before the season that he would pitch no more than 160 innings total, to give his arm a chance to fully recover. He had an excellent year, with an ERA of 3.18, but with terrible run support, his record was only 8-11. Along with Stephen Strasburg, who had a great minor league outing over the weekend, he will be sure to help the Nats win many more games next year.

The Nationals have now lost six in a row, and at 62-70 (.470) are at their lowest win-loss percentage since July 29. A week ago, it was a sure bet they would end up with a winning record for the month of August, but they are now 11-14 since August 1, with only two games left this month. The Nats have had time to reflect on all their many missed run-scoring opportunities during their day off today, after which they head to Atlanta for a three-game series. These are trying times indeed for the "D.C. 9."

AL East race heats up

In nearby Baltimore, meanwhile, the Orioles won six consecutive games, rising above the symbolic .400 win-loss mark. The Yankees beat them tonight, trying to close the gap with the Red Sox in the AL East. Tomorrow the Yanks begin a series in Boston, and this year's edition of the annual "holy war" between the two arch-rivals is sure to be just as tense and dramatic as in years past. Lost in the shuffle are the Tampa Bay Rays, whose 73-59 (.553) record is better than the division leaders in the AL Central (Tigers) and the NL West (D-Backs), but they have very little chance of making it to the post-season.


August 29, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]

White hummingbird in town??!!

After returning form my recent trip to the Midwest, I had a lot of e-mails to get caught up on, and one of those was an alert about an albino hummingbird right here in Staunton! It seemed to good to be true, but I quickly called the folks who have been lucky to be hosting this little marvel of nature, and after a wait of 20 minutes or so on their back patio, I was able to see and photograph it. Believe it or not!!! Many thanks to Ed and Nancy Lawler for sharing this joy of nature.

Albino hummingbird

Albino hummingbird, in Staunton, VA. (Aug. 24, 2011)

I also uploaded a brief video to YouTube, the first one I have done in over a year.

Alleghany County bird census

Back in June, I participated in a census of birds in Alleghany County, a project that is run by the Virginia Society of Ornithology. Here are some of the highlights of what I saw:

  • Wild Turkeys
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Pileated Woodpeckers
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoos
  • Acadian Flycatcher
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatchers
  • Red-eyed vireos
  • Scarlet Tanagers
  • Great Crested Flycatchers
  • Hooded Warblers
  • Prairie Warblers
  • Yellow Warblers
  • Black-and-white Warblers
  • Ovenbirds
  • Worm-eating Warblers
  • Scarlet Tanagers
  • Orchard Orioles
  • Baltimore Orioles
  • American Goldfinches

One of the other census participants drew my attention to a Worm-eating Warbler nest that he found, and with his help, I located and photographed it. That species builds its nests on the ground.

Worm-eating Warbler

Worm-eating Warbler, in Alleghany County, Virginia. Roll mouse over the image to see a Worm-eating Warbler nest (with eggs) that I saw nearby, perhaps belonging to that very same bird.

Birding in South Dakota

While in South Dakota earlier this month, I went birding a couple times, but didn't see anything really spectacular. There was a Scarlet Tanager on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River south of Vermillion, apparently rather uncommon in that region, and a small flock of American Pelicans a couple miles upstream on the Missouri River. I saw a number of Dickcissels and heard a Sedge Wren at Spirit Mound, but didn't actually see any.

During my trip to South Dakota last January, however, I had a good look at a Bald Eagle, at Gavins Point Dam:

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle, perched in a tree along the Missouri River. Roll mouse over the image to see it in flight.

Falcon smuggling in Russia

This is just a random news clip I had saved from last year, but one that is worth sharing: Several gyrfalcons were smuggled out of Russia in a suitcase last October. It's another terrible example of the wildlife poaching that has become so common in Russia's mafia-dominated economy. See CNN.com.


August 31, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]

Is Obama getting desperate?

Ever since he backed down and compromised with the Republicans in order to get an increase in the debt ceiling one month ago, President Obama has been looking weaker and weaker with each passing day. His recent bus tour through the Midwest did not unveil any new proposals or campaign themes, and one gets the sense that he is desperately floundering about, searching for solutions to the economic slump. He probably regrets his decision to agree to an extension of the Bush tax cuts last December, a conciliatory gesture that was not reciprocated by GOP leaders. (Well, did they really have any reason to do so?) It's quite a stunning fall in political fortunes from where he was six months ago, and his prospects for reelection next year are in grave jeopardy right now.

The latest example of weakness in the Oval Office came today, when Obama agreed to a change in date for a speech to a joint session of Congress, at which he will explain his plans to create more jobs and get the economy back on track. (One doubts that he even has a plan right now, but I'm sure that his staff of economists is furiously crunching numbers in an attempt to come up with one.) He had requested next Wednesday, September 7, but House Speaker John Boehner said there wasn't enough time to prepare the House chambers for such an event. A bigger reason was that the next Republican presidential debate is scheduled for that evening, and it looked like Obama was trying to divert attention from the GOP candidates, especially the new front-runner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Not smart at all. And so, the White House had little choice but to agree to postpone the speech until the next day. See washingtonpost.com.

As reported by politico.com:

That the White House sprang the speech on short notice to everyone isn't in dispute. The president's letter was leaked to the press shortly after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was told of the request.

Republicans were incensed.

In sum, it was a rather unseemly, insincere exchange between the two leaders, showing once again how deep is the chasm of distrust between the two parties.

More generally, Obama seems to be trapped, as his left-leaning core of supporters in Congress is putting heavy pressure on him to deliver on all those utopian promises he made during the 2008 campaign. He will have some very painful choices to make over the next twelve months. Every time he does something to appeal to the moderate or independent voters who were they key to his success in the last election, he risks alienating at least as many people in his own party. Voicing support for private-sector job creation comes across as lacking in conviction, as though he were being dragged in that direction against his will. His lack of experience and background in business and economic affairs is becoming more and more painfully obvious.

As for economic policy, the President just announced a replacement for Austan Goolsby as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors: Alan Krueger, a professor at Princeton University. Krueger's specialty is the labor market, an obvious indication of Obama's priority for the next year. See whitehouse.gov. Goolsby will be returning to the University of Chicago, having served less than a year in that post. He in turn replaced Christina Romer, who returned to teach at Berkeley. Three CEA chairpersons in three years (all of them academics, please note) is a very bad sign that nobody in the White House knows what to do about the economy. Perhaps the real question is How desperate is Obama getting?


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