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June 4, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Nationals squander early lead

When the Sunday afternoon game in Washington began with back-to-back home runs by Steve Lombardozzi and Bryce Harper, it looked like smooth sailing for the home team. Such was not to be the case, however, as the Braves' starting pitcher Tommy Hanson composed himself and didn't allow any more runs that inning, or for the next six. The Nationals repeatedly wasted run-scoring opportunities, a possible sign that they are not yet comfortable with the mantle of division leader. The over-eager Bryce Harper was thrown out at third base trying to stretch a double into another triple, and Ryan Zimmerman grounded into a double play with two runners on base. The Nats' starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez could not control his location, clearly not his usual self. In the fifth inning he threw two wild pitches and two walks (one intentional), loading the bases for Justin Heyward, who singled in what turned out to be the decisive runs of the game. Final score: 3-2. See the Washington Post. It was the first time in the history of baseball since records have been kept (1900) that two rookie batters hit home runs in the first inning of a game. Ironically, Gio Gonzalez had just been chosen the National League Pitcher of the Month, and outfielder Bryce Harper was named the NL Rookie of the Month. See MLB.com.

That gut-wrenching loss is also a shame in light of the splendid game the Nats played on Saturday. With a sell-out crowd numbering 41,042, Stephen Strasburg had his best outing of the year. Showing no signs of fatigue this time, he pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out nine batters. Jesus Flores hit a solo home run in the fourth inning, and Xavier Nady doubled in a run in the sixth inning, and that was enough. Final score: 2-0.

But as a result of the loss on Sunday, there was (briefly) a virtual three-way tie in the race for first place in the NL East. The Marlins (31-23) are now a mere fraction of percent behind the Nationals (30-22), as were the Mets until this afternoon, when they lost to the Cardinals, 5-4. (St. Louis has really been struggling lately.) That loss puts the Mets (31-24) a half game back. Both the Nats and Marlins are off today.

Inopportune rain delay

I was all set to hit the road and drive up to D.C. on Friday, but the forecast 90% chance of rain made me think otherwise. Indeed, there were heavy thunderstorms and even flash floods all around Virginia and Maryland, so it was no surprise that the game was rained out. It won't be made up until later in the summer. I expect to see one of the games at Nationals Park later this month.

Olympic Stadium update

As hinted at recently, I thoroughly revised the Olympic StadiumOlympic Stadium diagrams, with additional versions that attempt to convey the various roof configurations. It is much, much more accurate than before, and shows details such as lateral aisles and the photographers' areas next to the dugouts.

I recently learned that Montreal's new soccer team, "Impact Montreal" (!?), has been using Olympic Stadium on a temporary basis while their regular stadium (located nearby) undergoes expansion. Hence the soccer version diagram. See impactmontreal.com.

More stadium news to come shortly...


June 6, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Washington wins a wild one

Facing a stiff challenge for the lead in the National League East, the Washington Nationals welcomed the rival New York Mets to town yesterday. It was a true test of the Nats' ability to win crucial games, a possible preview of the 2012 postseason series, and they passed with flying colors. Thanks to multi-hit performances by Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman, and the pitcher Jordan Zimmermann -- in other words, a genuine team effort -- the Nats beat the Mets 7-6 in an exhausting marathon game on Tuesday night. The Nats took an early lead, as Harper got things going with an RBI single in the third inning. But the Mets came back as Jordany Valdespin and David Wright both hit solo homers in the top of the sixth inning, and briefly took a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning, ruining Jordan Zimmermann's chance of getting a much-needed win. (He has an ERA of 2.82 but has had poor run support this year, so his record in only 3-5.) Ryan Zimmerman led off with a single in the bottom of the eighth, and later scored to tie the game.

In the 10th inning, the reliably un-reliable Henry Rodriguez came in as relief pitcher, and wouldn't you know, he did it again! He gave up a single to the first batter, Scott Hairston, who then stole second, reached third on a fielder's choice, and then scored when H-Rod threw a wild pitch. D'oh! In the bottom of the tenth, the Mets returned the favor of a "gift" run, as shortstop Jordany Valdespin made two errors, allowing Ryan Zimmerman to score the tying run -- again! The bases were loaded and Rick Ankiel had an 3-0 count, and the Nats were one ball away from winning the game with a walk-off walk... But he struck out.

In the 12th inning, Ross Detwiler (the Nats' last bullpen pitcher) gave up a home run to the first batter (Scott Hairston, again!), and struggled to prevent another run from scoring. In the bottom of the 12th, Michael Morse led off with a double that almost cleared the right field scoreboard wall, and then Ian Desmond doubled him in to tie the game. Once again, the momentum shifted in an instant, and before long, the bases were loaded once again, and it was all up to Bryce Harper. On an 0-2 count, he sliced a single to left field, driving in the winning run. YES! smile It was Harper's first career walk-off RBI, and he was rewarded with a Gatorade shower after the game, courtesy of teammate Michael Morse. As I wrote on Facebook, it is wonderful that a powerful long-ball hitter like Harper can stay focused in the batter's box, and get the clutch RBI single when it's needed.

The Nats came back from one-run deficits three times in that game, and each time it was Ian Desmond who got the clutch RBI. His recent improvement as a batter has been very encouraging. That game really established the Nationals as a genuinely tough, competitive team that has their collective sights set on October. True, they did blow some opportunities, but they never gave up. It reminded me of that amazing back-and-forth Game Six of the 2011 World Series. Nats fans will remember it for a long time to come.

In tonight's game, the Nats jumped to an even earlier lead, thanks to a three-run homer by Adam LaRoche in the first inning. After a great first six weeks of the season, his batting average has been dropping like a rock lately, probably ruining his chances at an All-Star selection. Anyway, this time the Nats held on to their lead, thanks to RBIs by Michael Morse (his first of the year) and LaRoche (a sac fly). Starting pitcher Edwin Jackson only gave up three hits in seven innings, thus earning his second win of the year. Tyler Clippard (not Henry Rodriguez!) got his fifth save.

It's worth mentioning that even though Michael Morse got off to a slow start in his first two games after returning from the disabled list, he showed his slugging potential with two doubles on Tuesday, and two singles on Wednesday. His presence in the Nats' lineup makes a huge difference, raising hopes that Washington duke it out with the best of them in the NL East and make it to the postseason.

Baseball heroes of D-Day

Today is the 68th anniversary of the Allied landings on the coast of Normandy, in northern France: "D-Day," June 6, 1944. Most baseball fans are aware that big-name stars such as Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Bob Feller volunteered for military duty during World War II, but few of us are familiar the lesser-known players who did likewise. Author Gary Bedingfield is building a biographical database of baseball players who lost their lives while serving in the armed forces, at baseballsgreatestsacrifice.com. Here are the players who sacrificed their lives for their country on the battlefields of Normandy:

  • Forrest L. "Lefty" Brewer
  • John J. "Joe" Pinder, Jr.
  • Elmere P. Wright
  • Louis Alberigo
  • Frank P. Draper, Jr.

June 6, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Walker wins big in Wisconsin

Belying all the pundits' predictions that it was going to be a close race, Gov. Scott Walker won a decisive victory in Wisconsin's recall election yesterday, beating Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by a 53%-46% margin. (CNN.com) As I wrote on Facebook, the results were a "huge relief for fiscal conservatives." The Democratic Party and labor unions made the effort to oust Walker a top priority, and the voice of the people was crystal clear: They support the Governor's reforms aimed at reining in the cost of public sector employees by restricting the power of unions to bargain on their behalf. As a former government employee myself, I am all too aware of how public sector unions raise costs and lower efficiency. Given the high job security enjoyed by most bureaucrats (compared to the private sector), there is really no reason for them to have unions. The fact that voters in a liberal state like Wisconsin are waking up to the threat to the public interest posed by public sector unions is an encouraging sign for Republicans as the November elections approach.

According to forbes.com (via Facebook), the Wisconsin election result "spells doom for public-sector unions." That may be putting it a little strongly, but the momentum is clearly with the side of those who favor free-market solutions to problems, rather than bureaucracies. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and AFL-CIO gambled a huge reserve of money and "grass-roots" volunteer time to get the word out to voters, with little evident effect. Given that the polls had indicated that it would be a close race, those efforts may actually have backfired.

"This was a referendum on collective-bargaining rights, and the unions lost," said Luke Hilgemann, director of Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin. (See Washington Post.) Many Democrats and sympathetic analysts have been blaming the defeat on all the out-of-state money that flooded into Wisconsin. Indeed, Walker's supporters outspent his opponents, $47 million to $18 million, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Well, Walker's opponents started the recall effort, so what did they expect would happen? There's nothing illegal about campaign donations across the state lines, and the issue is clearly one of national significance.

Personally, I am not entirely comfortable with the involvement of billionaires in funding political campaigns (e.g., the Koch family), and there is a possibility that it could eventually give rise to corrupting influence. One thing's for sure, I will be glad not to be getting several frantic e-mail alerts from various Tea Party organizations claiming to be supporting Gov. Walker. But somehow I fear they will keep up the deluge of e-mail junk. (Does all that stuff really do any good?)

And speaking of pundits' predications, I agree with U.Va. Prof. Larry Sabato that recall elections are generally a pernicious abuse of democratic processes, making it more difficult to govern. I'm glad that mechanism is not available here in Virginia.

The true significance of the Wisconsin election is that most Americans are aware that in tough economic times such as these, there must be serious budget cuts in government agencies, and public employees should not expect to be immune from the belt-tightening that most Americans are having to endure right now. There is still a large segment of the population that dreams of emulating the security-blanket entitlement system that is quickly crumbling in Europe right now, but as time goes on, there will be fewer and fewer people who think that way. Reality bites, and that spells big trouble for the reelection campaign of President Barack Obama, who will have to ditch his utopian rhetoric of "hope and change."

Am I still blogging?

Obviously, most of my blogging efforts have been devoted to baseball lately, and not much time is left over for politics or my other interests. My enthusiasm for politics, and the Republican Party in particular, has waned quite a bit over the past year, and the bland Mitt Romney juggernaut has not helped matters. I'm not giving up, however, and I do intend to blog at least occasionally as this vital (yet discouraging) election year unfolds.


June 7, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Sixth Congressional District race

I got a campaign flyer from Congressman Bob Goodlatte in the mail today, stressing his support for pro-life and pro-gun causes, as well as fiscal conservatism. He says he has been "[leading] the fight against Barack Obama's liberal agenda..." It's unusual to get such a mailer for this time of year, because Goodlatte has not faced any opposition from within the Republican Party since he was first elected to Congress in 1992. This year is different: libertarian-leaning Karen Kwiatkowski (karenkforcongress.com) is mounting a serious challenge, forcing Goodlatte to dip into his campaign fund which is usually devoted to resisting challengers on the Democratic side, if any. The primary election will be held next Tuesday, June 12. (There's also a senate primary election that day; see below.)

There was actually a debate among the Sixth Congressional District candidates on Monday night, but the incumbent Rep. Bob Goodlatte failed to show up. That's a shame; I'd like to see him defend his record and give an honest appraisal of the Bush (Junior) administration, when everything started going awry. So, the Republican Karen Kwiatkowski and Democrat Andy Schmookler held a debate of sorts on Monday, and the Daily News Record covered the event. I saw both of those candidates speak at separate events earlier this year (Kwiatkowski on February 12, Schmookler on March 31), and talked to both of them at length. They are each very impressive, in their own ways; see April 1.

Staunton's News Leader recently called attention to the rare political contest within the Republican Party. (Well, it's not that rare; after all, quite a few Republican legislators in Virginia were challenged by right-wing candidates in 2007, including our own State Senator Emmett Hanger.) That article says that Sixth District GOP Chairman Wendell Walker "believes the energy from the primary campaigns and the vote next Tuesday will build momentum for the party going into November." If there is such energy out there, I'm not feeling it yet.

Somehow I missed a rather heated confrontation between the primary candidates that took place five weeks ago, during the busiest time of year for me. As reported by Steve Kijak (Rightside VA), Congressmen Goodlatte appeared as a guest at the "SWAC Breakfast," expecting to meet with his constituents, and was surprised to find Karen Kwiatkowski there, badgering him with pointed questions. Steve wonders whether this was an "ambush" deliberately set up and hosted by the "SWAC-Gang." It sounds like the kind of stunt they would pull. I only found out about that confrontation very recently.

In the Rockbridge Weekly last month, Ms. Kwiatkowski insisted that Goodlatte can be beat, noting that "Republican incumbents -- against common wisdom -- are losing ground to the conservative and constitutionalist wing of the party. Just ask Senator Lugar." (See below.) This race made me think of all those signs on semi-trailers two years ago: "Vote out all incumbents!" Really? All of them???

As for Goodlatte, if the best he can offer budget hawks like me his proposed balanced-budget constitutional amendment, I'm just not impressed. To me, it was little more than a gimmick aimed at winning votes. (See the last line of my Dec. 3 blog post.) If he had taken concrete actions to oppose the Bush administration's reckless policy of raising spending and cutting taxes, I would take his words more seriously. Right now, I'm leaning toward voting for Ms. Kwiatkowski...

GOP Senate primary race

There is another big contest on the June 12 ballot: former U.S. Senator George Allen, running for the seat he once held, is being challenged by Del. Bob Marshall and Jamie Radtke, who are both considered stronger conservatives, highlighting their commitment to small-government consitutionalism. Marshall puts more emphasis on social issues such as abortion. In any event, Allen should win easily. I'm not particularly enthusiastic about any of those candidates, but I'm sure Allen will do just fine if (as I hope) he beats Democrat Tim Kaine in November. Ironically, Allen is now considered the Republican establishment moderate candidate, whereas a decade ago, he represented the populist right wing of the party, and then-Sen. John Warner was the GOP establishment moderate. How times change...

Adios, Dick Lugar

When Karen Kwiatkowski expressed a negative opinion about Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana (see above), who was recently defeated in a primary race, I felt compelled to jump to his defense on Facebook:

Very good points, very well expressed. I happen to admire Senator Lugar, and I think there are times when compromise is in the national interest. I am also close to a number of party veterans who were shoved aside on totally bogus grounds, and I think that those who have devoted their time and efforts to the party over the decades do deserve respect. But it is also obvious that there is a lot of "deadwood" in the party, people who tolerate the status quo for the sake of preserving their status in the party hierarchy, and that has got to change.

It's a shame when men and women who have earned the respect of party members for their decades of service get the boot, but that's the way politics is nowadays: nasty and brutal. Sen. Lugar was not only a good man, he was also a very effective conservative political leader. Just because (or mainly because) he declined to block some of President Obama's judicial nominations (there is already a serious vacancy problem in the Federal judiciary due to the partisan logjam), some people in the GOP right wing decided he was one of those wishy-washy "RINOs," and had to go. In a Washington Post column last October, George Will noted that, of "760 votes over the eight Reagan years, ... Lugar supported the president 88 percent of the time -- more than any other senator." Once again, How times change... frown


June 8, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Keynes: myth vs. reality

The latest economic reports on sagging employment, and the worsening financial peril in the Euro zone raise the risk of a second major downtown in the U.S. economy, at the worst possible time for President Obama. This situation raises the stakes in the eternal debate over which kinds of economic policy would be best suited to get the economy growing again. The stated positions of Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney are quite clear. What is less clear is the theoretical rationale behind the various alternatives.

Seeking to shed light on the matter, Facebook friend Andrew Murphy wrote an article on John Maynard Keynes at Harry's Place. His main point was to debunk the widespread stereotype of Keynes being a left-wing apologist for deficit spending. Not! Murphy cited Keynes' classic book, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1937): "The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity." Some people infer from that that Keynes would endorse deficit spending by countries in trouble, such as Spain or even the United States. Personally, I think the lesson to be drawn is grimmer: that failure to tighten belts when times are good means that belt-tightening will become even more necessary and painful when times are bad.

My comment on Facebook:

Very good article, helping to separate Keynes the real-world economist from Keynes the punching-bag cliche. You're quite right that Keynes would be appalled by some of the irresponsible policies that are done in his name. Likewise, he was indeed a moderate pragmatist by temperament, but I wouldn't go as far as calling him "conservative." After all, he did believe in active government intervention to stabilize the economy, something that becomes dangerous when electoral politics start distorting things. I don't think it's helpful to assess his ideology in terms of preferred tax rates, given the vastly different historical context. But the biggest point to make is that Keynes always assumed governments would be prudent enough to run a surplus in boom years, so that counter-cyclical stimulus measures could be done without bankrupting the treasury. Thanks to Grover Norquist and his tool Dubya, that option has been largely voided.

Common sense tells us that government has a proper role to play during times of true economic emergency. Indeed, while we're on the subject of myth-breaking, even Republican President Herbert Hoover had already begun small-scale stimulus measures, contrary to the image of him being a tight-fisted apostle of laissez-faire. I'm sure that Mitt Romney would be pragmatic enough to adopt appropriate measures on a selective basis, and would be immune from the political pressure that Democratic presidents have to reward their labor union supporters.

I actually read Keynes' General Theory when I was in graduate school (American University), and even though I was already under the influence of free market ideas of Milton Friedman, I did get a lot out of the book. There are long sections where his logic utterly escapes me, which may reflect either my own mental shortcomings or perhaps his proclivity for ivory-tower abstractions, but there is also a lot of hard-nosed pragmatic economic sense. As long as you keep an open mind and remember to distinguish Keynes himself from his wayward left-liberal followers, you too might get something out of reading it.


June 9, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Nationals reverse Fenway curse

For the very first time, the Washington Nationals have won a game in the daunting, hostile territory of Fenway Park. They beat the Boston Red Sox on Friday evening, and they did so as decisively as when the Red Sox defeated them by large margins on June 19, 20, and 21 of 2006. The Red Sox took a 2-0 lead in the second inning, but the Nats came back with three runs in the top of the third, capped by Ian Desmond's clutch two-run double. In the fourth inning Bryce Harper hit his sixth home run, which fell into the seats on the right side of the deep 420-foot corner. (Wow!) Stephen Strasburg threw 13 strikeouts in six innings, but his pitch count had already soared to 119, and there's no way Davey Johnson was going to let him break his personal best of 14 strikeouts. (That was in his debut game almost exactly two years ago.) The Red Sox scored one run each in the final two innings, but fell short, losing 7-4. See the Washington Post.

Kudos to right fielder Xavier Nady for making an amazing catch in front of the bullpen to rob Adrian Gonzalez of a home run in the bottom of the third inning. That prevented the Red Sox from tying the game, making it easier for the Nats to pile on more runs in the next inning.

Today, the Nationals did it again, with a mostly-solid performance by starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez who won his eighth game of the season. He was helped by a second-inning solo homer by Adam LaRoche, who has been in a slump lately. Final score: 4-2. Tomorrow the Nats go for the series sweep, hoping to stay at least one game ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. At 34-23, they have the second-best record in all of baseball; only the L.A. Dodgers are better right now.

Citizens Bank Park fix

Veterans Stadium & Citizens Bank Park While I was checking my compass orientations on the new adjacent-stadium thumbnail diagrams (on the Stadium proximity page), I realized that the street grid in which Citizens Bank Park is situated is not aligned with true north, etc. In fact, center field points about ten degrees east of due north, but the compass symbols in my diagrams only have points in 22.5-degree intervals (360 divided by 16). Well, that's no longer close enough for my purposes, so I have started putting black (north) points in between the 16 gray points for greater accuracy. That had a significant effect on the way the Veterans Stadium - Citizens Bank Park thumbnail image looks.

And of course, while I was at it, I made a number of minor corrections to the Citizens Bank Park diagrams themselves, such as moving the scoreboard back about 15 feet, making room for the party deck located there, and including such details as the decorative plant barrier in front of the left field seats. There are some new photos on that page, sent to me last year by Corey Sharp, and I enhanced the quality of two of the photos that had been posted there previously.

Finally, I'm almost done with the revisions to Veterans Stadium.


June 11, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Nationals sweep the Red Sox

And they said it couldn't be done! Showing a winning combination of talent and persistent resolve, the Washington Nationals scored the go-ahead run in the ninth inning, thereby sweeping the Red Sox in three straight games. Bryce Harper came in as a pinch-hitter (he has a sore back), and wisely took a walk. Then Roger Bernadina came up to bat and on a 2-2 count he smashed a line drive to the deep right field corner in Fenway Park, and Harper scored easily because he was attempting a steal anyway. Two innings earlier, Danny Espinosa had a clutch hit -- a high fly ball to left field that bounced off the Green Monster, for a two-run double. That gave the Nats a 3-2 lead, but then the Red Sox tied in again in the bottom of the seventh. Too bad for Jordan Zimmermann, because otherwise he could have got credit for a much-needed win. That prize went to Tom Gorzelanny. Tyler Clippard got credit for the save, striking out three of four batters he faced in the bottom of the ninth, allowing a walk. Final score: Nats 4, Red Sox 3. It was a classic, tense, back-and-forth game, a true test of collective "mettle" that the Nats passed with flying colors!

And so, as they continue their road trip from Boston across the border into Toronto, the Nationals now have a two-game lead over the Braves in the NL East. The Mets have fallen to 4.5 games behind (see below), ahead of the slumping Marlins and the Phillies. The Nats' record of 35-23 puts them over .600 for the first time since May 28. It's the first time since July 23, 2005 that they have been twelve games over .500 this late in the season. As us Nats fans from the very beginning know, that was an awful letdown of a month. The peak of their fleeting glory was July 3, 2005, when they had a 5.5-game lead in the NL East. Then the Mets came to town and took three of four games, and things just went downhill from there. [But at least for now,]

Washington: first in war, first in peace, and [almost] first in the National League!

Yankees sweep the Mets

The Nats got some indirect help from the Bronx Bombers, who beat their crosstown rivals from Queens in three games straight. The surprise hero of the Sunday game was catcher Russell Martin. He hit two home runs, including the walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth. Now the Yanks are breathing down the necks of the Rays in the AL East race, while the Orioles struggle to regain their composure.


June 11, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Seasonal photographic bonanza

After a lapse of many months, I have made a major photographic update, highlighted on the Spring 2012 photo gallery. It features the nature photos I took on a recent impromptu field trip to Reddish Knob by members of the Augusta Bird Club, this past Saturday. (See separate Wild birds blog post, later today.) Reddish Knob is the second-highest peak in this region (Elliott Knob being the highest), but is easily accessible by car. The weather was almost perfect, and we had spectacular views. Some of the individual photos shown in the following montage from that day have already been posted separately on various Nature photo gallery pages, and others will be posted, once I determine what their names are.

Nature montage, June 2012

Nature montage: Clockwise from top left: Red-spotted Purple butterfly, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Periodical Cicada, unknown wildflower, Mountain Laurels in bloom, unknown spiny caterpillar, unknown butterfly, and in the middle, a Black-throated Blue Warbler and and unknown bracket mushroom, similar in size and shape to the "Chicken Mushroom," but bright red.

Also on that page: photos from my brief visit to Washington D.C. on Feb. 10 (when I stopped to see the "Occupy D.C." protesters at McPherson Square, and my U.S. Government class field trip to Richmond on February 23. Plus a few interesting shots from in and around Staunton.


June 11, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Bird breeding season is here!

My birding activity in recent months has been a little less than what I would want, but much more than what might be suggested by the lack of any wild bird blog posts since last November. So, I'll try my best to get caught up by summarizing the main birding ventures I have undertaken over the past six months, illustrated with some of the bird photos I have taken recently.

Reddish Knob & Hone Quarry

Dan Perkuchin, Penny Warren, Josephine King, Jacqueline Clem, and I gathered for a journey into the wilderness this past Saturday morning (June 9) and conquered the second highest peak in Augusta County: Reddish Knob. I didn't realize that it was almost exactly two years after Jacqueline and I made our first trip to Reddish Knob: June 2010. Our first stop this time was the pond in Mount Solon, full of Mallards with one Pewee in the distance. We then crossed into Rockingham County, drove up Briery Branch Road, and observed quite a few Goldfinches at the reservoir. The whirring sound of the Periodical Cicadas was prevalent there, and in some other wooded areas.

We stopped at the road intersection at the top of the mountain, and soon saw a Scarlet Tanager, plus a few others. We heard some oddly familiar songs that turned out to be Dark-eyed Juncos, which were fairly numerous. We then headed north along a very rutted road with several deep puddles toward Bother Knob, where we finally spotted the main attraction: a Veery. Then we retraced our steps, drove for a mile or so in the direction of Sugar Grove, WV, and then turned around again and drove to the parking lot at the summit of Reddish Knob. Fantastic high-elevation 360-degree view with mostly blue skies! That is where Jo King succesfully lured a Chestnut-sided Warbler into close photographic range with her iPhone birding app. On the way back down we finally saw one of the Black-throated Blue Warblers that we had been hearing.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler, at the top of Reddish Knob; roll mouse over to see a different angle.

After descending to the valley again, we turned left into Hone Quarry Recreation Area, which was full of birds, butterflies, and Periodical Cicadas. Persistence paid off as we finally spotted one of the Parulas that was singing in the tree tops. We never did see the Blue-headed Vireo, though.

Back in Augusta County, we went looking for Red-headed Woodpeckers, to no avail. We did see a Kestrel at very close range, however, and a fledgling House Wren that was being fed. Here are the highlights of what we observed, 55 species altogether.

  • Wood Ducks (mama + 4 babies)
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • American Kestrel
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Downy Woodpeckers
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Common Raven
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • House Wrens
  • Eastern Bluebirds
  • Veery !
  • Brown Thrashers
  • Cedar Waxwings
  • Black and White Warbler
  • Northern Parula !
  • Chestnut-sided Warblers !
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler !
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Indigo Buntings
  • American Goldfinches

Trip to Highland County

This year's Augusta Bird Club early summer trip to Highland County was led by Allen Larner, and it was a big success. Before we even left Staunton, we had a very memorable sighting during a quick stop on Bell's Lane: a Bobwhite that Allen lured (by whistling) very close to where we were standing. Upon reaching Highland County, the first stop was at the graveyard near the town of Blue Grass, where we found a few Bobolinks, and spotted a Bald Eagle as well as a Golden Eagle flying overhead. Then at the home of Margaret O'Bryans, we saw the main target bird: a Golden-winged Warbler, as well as a Chestnut-sided Warbler. At the Straight Fork meadow, we saw a flycatcher that could have been an Alder's or a Willow, plus two Common Yellowthroats and a Black Bear which I spotted about 200 yards away. In the lush green rhododendron thickets near Laurel Forks we saw some Canada Warblers darting every which way. Finally, at the upland open area along the West Virginia border, we saw another key target bird: a Mourning Warbler, as well as several more Chestnut-sided Warblers. I spotted a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker near that area as well. It was a wonderful trip.

Bobwhite

Bobwhite, on Bell's Lane.

Golden-winged Warbler

Golden-winged Warbler; roll mouse over to see a different angle.

Picnic / Big Spring Day 2012

This year's Augusta Bird Club picnic was held in Waynesboro's Ridgeview Park for the first time. The weather wasn't very good, but we still had a nice walk and saw a few neotropical migrants such as Northern Waterthrushes, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Great Crested Flycatchers. The highlight was seeing a Red-shouldered Hawk nest with fuzzy white babies popping their heads up begging for food.

The next day, May 6, was the annual Big Spring Day, and I counted 43 bird species at three separate locations in Staunton: the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad trail, Montgomery Hall Park, and Betsy Bell Hill. The habitat was rather similar for the most part, ranging from semi-open to heavily wooded. It was pretty slow going early on, but there was a fair amount of bird activity at the final stop, Betsy Bell Hill. That's where most of the neotropical migrants were found, some of which were singing loudly. I got great looks at the Yellow-rumped Warblers, the Black-throated Green Warbler, a Scarlet Tanager, the Swainson's Thrush, and one of the Wood Thrushes. Odd that the only sparrows I saw at those locations were Chipping. No Bluebirds or Nuthatches either. I submitted a full report to eBirds, from which these highlights were extracted:

  • Red-bellied Woodpecker 6
  • Downy Woodpecker 4
  • Hairy Woodpecker 1
  • Northern Flicker 3
  • Pileated Woodpecker 3
  • Eastern Kingbird 1
  • Great Crested Flycatcher 1
  • Red-eyed Vireo 3
  • Carolina Wren 27 (!)
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
  • Swainson's Thrush 1
  • Wood Thrush 2
  • Cedar Waxwing 1
  • Brown Thrasher 1
  • Ovenbird 1
  • Common Yellowthroat 1
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler 1
  • Common Yellowthroat 1
  • Blackpoll Warbler 1
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler 3
  • Black-throated Green Warbler 1
  • Eastern Towhee 23 (!)
  • Scarlet Tanager 2
  • Indigo Bunting 9
  • American Goldfinch 8
  • _________________
  • TOTAL SPECIES: 43

Spring migration season 2012

School and other obligations kept me away from birding for much of April, but as soon as I finished with my last class of the semester (May 3), the first thing I did was head for the Blue Ridge and go bird watching. Fortunately, it was a lovely day, though a bit warm and muggy. I stopped at five or six places along or near the Parkway, from Route 60 (near Buena Vista) to Route 56 (Montebello). Here is a summary, with the first seven listed being first of the year for me:

  • Indigo Buntings -- 5 seen, many others heard.
  • American Redstarts -- 15 seen and dozens more heard. (See photo.)
  • Hooded Warblers -- 3 males seen, and ten or so more heard.
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher -- 2 seen, others heard.
  • Red-eyed Vireo -- 1 seen tending to a low-hanging nest,
  • Scarlet Tanager -- 1 male seen, others heard.
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak -- 1 male seen.
  • Hairy Woodpecker -- 1 male entering nest hole.
  • Phoebe -- 1
  • Chipping sparrows -- 2
  • Red-shouldered Hawks -- a loud threesome up high
  • Red-tailed Hawks -- 2
  • Goldfinches -- several

I heard other warblers, but the only ones I could positively identify were the Ovenbirds. Probably Ceruleans as well. Early that same morning, I'm pretty sure I saw an Osprey carrying a meal over I-64 near Waynesboro.

Redstart fight 1

Two male American Redstarts locked in mortal combat; one had the other pinned to the ground, but I intervened. Roll mouse over to see a different angle.

Jacqueline and I saw some Baltimore Orioles as well as Orchard Orioles at two different locations in early May: along Lewis Creek east of I-81, north of Route 262; and by a stream that crosses Route 705 just west of Swoope. Beautiful!

Field trip to Chimney Hollow

On Saturday April 7, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Chimney Hollow. Six Augusta Bird Club members plus two guests showed up for the field trip to Chimney Hollow on Saturday morning. The air was chilly early on, but the skies were clear blue, and by noon the weather was almost ideal. Unfortunately, birding activity was below normal. Three of us then headed over to nearby Braley's Pond. Here the highlights of what we observed at both places:

  • Ravens: several, making frequent loud passes overhead
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Louisiana Waterthrushes: 2 + 1 heard only
  • Black-capped Chickadees
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Juncos
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Bluebirds
  • Phoebe
  • Tree Swallows
  • N. Rough-winged Swallow
  • Pied-bill Grebes (2)
  • Pine Warbler (heard only)
  • Blue-headed Vireo (heard only)
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch (heard only)

The total species count was only 20, but at least we got a couple of the key target birds, as well as a nice surprise with the two Grebes, at fairly close range.

Winter birding 2011-2012

The big news over the late winter and early spring was the appearance of a Lark Sparrow by a pond on Brenneman's Lane near Stuarts Draft. I went there three times before I finally saw the darned thing, enduring bitterly cold temperatures, but it finally paid off. I had seen that species once before, near Burbank, South Dakota in 2006.

I found the time to help with the Christmas Bird Count this year, covering the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. It was December 18, 2011, and I only saw 15 species total, including these highlights:

  • 1 - Downy Woodpecker
  • 1 - White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 1 - Brown Creeper
  • 1 - Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • 1 - Yellow-rumped Warbler

In early December someone spotted an American Avocet north of Mount Crawford, Virginia. I took some photos of it, but it was too far away to get a good image. I saw an Avocet at Lake Andes, South Dakota, back in 1998, but not at all since then, as far as I can tell.

Closer to home, a Northern Harrier returned to the usual hunting grounds in the fields along Hall School Road near Stuarts Draft. This is a freeze frame from a video clip that will be on YouTube soon. I also saw a Kestrel there, but not the Rough-legged hawk that was seen there several times.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier, either female or juvenile. Click on the above image to see a YouTube video.

I posted that photo, along with a Hummingbird albino I took back in August 2011, on the Wild Birds (year by year) photo gallery page.

Whew!


June 15, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Matt Cain pitches perfect game

I went to bed early for a change on Wednesday night, and didn't learn until the next morning that Matt Cain had pitched a perfect game in San Francisco the night before. It was the 14th no-hitter in Giants history (the sixth since they moved to San Francisco), and the first perfect game in the team's history. If it weren't for the diving catch of a long fly ball by center fielder Gregor Blanco in the seventh inning, however, Cain's achievement would have been voided. See MLB.com.

Other recent no-hitters

It's quite jarring to realize that this perfect game was the second one this year (Phil Humber of the White Sox did so against the Mariners on April 21), and was one of five no-hitters altogether this year. On May 2 Jered Weaver helped the Angels beat the Twins, on June 1, Johan Santana earned the first-ever no-hitter for a Mets pitcher (in the franchise's 51st year, no less!), as they beat the Cardinals, 8-0, and and on June 8 Stephen Pryor (along with five relief pitchers) pitched a combined no-hitter, as the Mariners beat the Dodgers 1-0. Two no-hitters in Seattle this year! Today's Washington Post explored the reasons for the increasing number of no-nos in recent decades, with a long-term statistical chart. Some people say it's because of the increased number of major league teams, while others say there are just more good pitchers than batters these days. The article points out that in a variety of sports, instances of peak performance (such as horse racing Triple Crown winners) tend to cluster together, i.e., they are not randomly distributed on a historical timeline.

Date Pitcher Winning team # Losing team #
April 21 Phil Humber Chi. White Sox 4 @ Seattle Mariners 0
May 2 Jered Weaver L.A. Angels 9 Minn. Twins 0
June 1 Johan Santana N.Y. Mets 8 St.L. Cardinals 0
June 8 (Stephen Pryor, 5 others) Seattle Mariners 1 L.A. Dodgers 0
June 13 Matt Cain S.F. Giants 10 Houston Astros 0

The home team won all games except for the one on April 21 (marked "@").

On the very same day as Matt Cain's perfect game, R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets pitched a one-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays. The only was was a single by B.J. Upton in the first-inning, when third baseman David Wright tried to bare-hand a high bouncer. The Mets have taken the unusual step of formally petitioning Major League Baseball to overturn the "hit," charging Wright with an error, which would give Dickey a sort of "retroactive" no-hitter. See MLB.com. Not quite as satisfying.

Dickey pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings against the Nationals on June 7, one of only two games the Nats have lost this month. That morning's Washington Post had a feature article on Dickey, with a big photo of him riding the Metro subway. Dickey is one of the few successful knuckleball pitchers in baseball right now, and has had to overcome childhood trauma and behavioral issues. Did that article give Dickey a psychological edge in the game against the Nats that night? In any case, I've been paying a lot more attention to him since then.

Nationals sweep the Blue Jays

Somewhat overshadowed by Matt Cain's exploits, the Washington Nationals completed their second consecutive series sweep, beating the Blue Jays in three games at Toronto. On Monday, Edwing Jackson had a superb outing on the mound, going 8 1/3 innings. On Tuesday, Bryce Harper put the Nats on the scoreboard in the third inning when he crushed a home run into the Blackberry banner that covers the (usually empty) second deck in right-center field. I estimate the ball was at least 45 feet high and 405 feet from home plate at the moment of impact, and would have gone 450 feet, but hittrackeronline.com says only 438. (Hat tip to home run expert Bruce Orser.) Maybe it's because they erred in the placement of the ball on their diagram of Rogers Centre. You can watch a video at MLB.com. Danny Espinosa and Jhonatan (!) Solano also hit home runs, and it was the first of Solano's career. Nats 4, Jays 4. On Wednesday, the surprise hero was rookie Tyler Moore, who doubled in two runs in the second inning, hit a two-run homer to retake the lead in the fourth inning, and also hit a solo home run in the sixth inning, for five RBIs total. It was such an incredible performance that Ian Desmond's four-bagger was hardly noticed. Stephen Strasburg earned his eighth win, as the Nats won 6-2.

Altogether, the 6-0 road trip to Boston and Toronto was a splendid team effort by the "D.C. 9," who are now getting serious respect across the country as a dominant team. Even though veteran sluggers like Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse are still not 100% health-wise, other team members such as Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, and Steve Lombardozzi are more than pulling their weight, a clear sign of high team spirit where the players motivate each other to do better and better. They are making that corny 2012 buzzword "Natitude" really mean something! The Nats currently enjoy a 4.5-game lead, a higher margin than any other division leader in the majors. With a record of 38-23 (.623), they are within a hair's breadth of the current major league leading L.A. Dodgers (.625).

After a day of rest, this evening the Nationals begin a home stand by welcoming the New York Yankees to town. As a Yankees fan since childhood, I have deeply mixed feelings about this titanic clash of division leaders. (Oh, how I wish I could be there.) After a slow start, the Yanks have climbed into first place in the American League East, but with two strong rivals (Orioles and Rays) that race will probably remain close for a while to come.

Rogers Centre update

Rogers Centre Watching replays of Bryce Harper's home run made me notice a few details that were a little off in my diagrams of the Blue Jays' home. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I had thoroughly revised the Rogers Centre diagrams -- once again. I paid more attention to the scoreboard and restaurant in center field, as well as to the position of the upper deck seats in the power alleys, and the lights that are suspended from the roof girders. (Not shown in all versions.) there is less vertical space above the second deck than before, and the two luxury suite levels above it are each recessed by a few feet. relative to the level above. Finally, the entire playing field and lower deck "moved forward" by five feet relative to the rest of the stadium. Now everything fits just about perfectly.

A-Rod's 23 grand slam

There was one other landmark historical achievement this week: Alex Rodriguez hit a grand slam, thereby tying Lou Gehrig for the all-time record of 23 grand slams. A-Rod helped the Yanks come back from a 4-0 deficit against the Braves in the eighth inning in Atlanta, tying the game in one fell swoop. Later that inning, Nick Swisher hit a two-run homer, and the Yanks won, 6-4. See MLB.com.

The mail bag

A guy named Sammy recently asked if I have thought about doing college baseball stadium diagrams. There is one already, the University of Virginia's Davenport Field, and I plan to do Rosenblatt Stadium and TD Ameritrade Field in Omaha, the old and new homes of the College World Series (see June 26, 2011), but no plans otherwise at present.

I promised Mike Zurawski I'd get caught up with the stadium news, etc. he has brought to my attention, and I'll get a few of those take care of mañana. smile


June 19, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Roger Clemens is found not guilty *

Say it ain't so! A Federal court jury acquitted Roger Clemens of perjury charges yesterday, which essentially clears him of legal jeopardy. This came about ten months after a mistrial was declared during a previous prosecution of Clemens last summer. Specifically, he was accused of lying to Congress about whether he had ever used performance-enhancing drugs. He was cited in the Mitchell Report which came out in December 2007, and a few months after that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform referred the Clemens case to the Justice Department. On Monday, however, the man who then chaired that committee, Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), said that prosecuting Clemens was not necessary. See the Washington Post.

So why did Clemens get off scot free? The lead prosecution witness was Brian McNamee, who has a shady background as an athletic strength trainier and a large credibility gap. When Clemens' former teammate Andy Pettitte recanted some of his earlier testimony, doubts began to rise as to whether Clemens could be convicted.

WaPo columnist Mike Wise had a deeply sarcastic column that began, "If I ever lie to Congress..." He says "we have learned two truths: Steroids work ... and And cheating pays." (Ouch.) Extending that line of logic, if rogues like Barry Bonds or former Sen. John Edwards and can get acquitted on legal technicalities, is it possible that former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky will get off the hook? What a depressing thought...

* Much like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Pete Rose, among others still living, and tragic long-gone figures such as Shoeless Joe Jackson, Clemens' name will always be tainted with suspicion. Each of them still has their die-hard loyal fans, and detractors. Should any of those guys be admitted to the Hall of Fame? Mike Wise says no with regard to Clemens. I'm still undecided on that. I know that defendants are entitled to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty in this country, and no doubt many people get wrongly convicted. We'll probably never know the "whole truth." But there is a certain personality type among pro athletes, politicians, and entertainment celebrities that reeks of smug arrogance, disdain for lesser beings, and contempt for the normal rules and moral codes of society. Some of the people in that list above clearly fit that pattern, and they do not deserve the benefit of the doubt. 'Nuff said.

In the world of bicycle racing, meanwhile, Lance Armstrong... (Sigh.) frown

Yankees sweep the Nationals *

The Washington Nationals faced their biggest test of the season this past weekend as the New York Yankees came to town, and they failed. In Friday's game, starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez did his best, but the Yankees' Phil Hughes did better, and the final score wasn't even close: 7-2.

Saturday's game was much better -- tense and exciting all the way through, and Ian Desmond rose to the occasion with a game-tying home run in the bottom of the eighth inning. Right after that, Adam LaRoche hit a single to right fielder [Dewayne Wise, who had just been moved over from left field,] and Tyler Moore ran from second base, sliding head first into home, just under the tag of catcher Russell Martin. [Unfortunately, however, home plate umpire Tim Timmons called him out. He had to jump out of the way during the slide, so he didn't have a good view.] Tied at 3-3, the game went into extra innings, but the Nats failed to get a single hit until the 14th inning, by which time the Yankees had taken a 5-3 lead, thanks to a double by Mark Teixera. When the Nats came to bat, they finally got two runners on base with two straight hits, but Danny Espinosa flied out and Bryce Harper grounded out, wasting the run-scoring opportunities. Harper had his worst day yet in the majors, going 0 for 7 and striking out five (5) times. He was mad as hell after the game.

* Saturday's game would have been won by the Nationals if instant replay rules were in effect for all run-scoring plays, rather than just home runs. Multiple photo and video images leave no doubt at all that Tyler Moore avoided the tag at home plate, when the umpire called him out. Instant replay will probably be expanded next year, and this game will be a major reason why.

On Sunday, which would have been the deciding "rubber" game of the series if the world were fair (which it isn't), Harper bounced back with a double and a single, but neither resulted in a run being scored. Adam LaRoche's solo home run in the second inning was the only offensive accomplishment by the lackluster Nats, who fell to the Yanks, 4-1. For the Nats' third consecutive series, the home team was swept three games straight, but this time the shoe was on the other foot, and it hurt. frown

Actually, the entire American League East came close to sweeping the National League East over the weekend. The Blue Jays swept the Phillies, and the Orioles took two of three from the Braves, as did the Rays from the Marlins. (The Mets were swept by the Reds in the only all-National League series over the weekend.) And as a result, strangely enough, the Nationals held on to a four-game lead in the NL East.

Former All-Star pitcher Brad Lidge failed to help the Nats over the weekend, allowing five runs in his last two games, and has been "designated for assignment." (You're fired!) That's a shame, but it was necessary to make room on Washington's roster for right-hand pitcher Ryan Mattheus, who had been on the disabled list.


June 19, 2012 [LINK / comment]

University of Virginia's president forced to resign

In a stunning announcement last week, the president of the University of Virginia, Teresa Sullivan, submitted her resignation, effective mid-August, just before the fall semester begins. This was quite a shock because she has only held that position for two years, and there were no previous indications of any problems that might lead to such a precipitous action. Over the weekend, we learned that this was the culmination of a fierce, behind-the-scenes clash of wills over how the university should adjust to the harsh budget realities of today. More specifically, Rector Helen Dragas, who leads the U.Va. Board of Visitors, has been quietly recruiting support among other board members to have Sullivan removed.

This news of what appears to be a conspiracy turned the simmering anger into fierce outrage aimed primarily at Dragas, a developer from the Tidewater area. (See below.) As the Board of Visitors prepared to gather for a formal meeting to confirm openly what had already been decided privately, the U.Va. faculty Senate convened on Sunday, and yesterday (Monday) a protest rally was held in support of Teresa Sullivan, with about 2,000 people present, including me. See the Washington Post.

Faculty Senate chairman George Cohen spoke to the crowd about after Sullivan left, and reported on what was discussed with the BOV. He listed four requests that were submitted to the BOV:

  1. That the BOV postpone naming an interim president.
  2. That the BOV reinstate Sullivan as president.
  3. That there be representation by the University faculty on the BOV.
  4. That the Rector (Dragas) and Vice-Rector (Kington) resign, in the best interests of the university.

(For a full statement, see the U.Va. Faculty Senate's Web page.) Cohen acknowledged the unlikelihood of getting approval for those proposals, but he hoped they would have some effect. In fact, vice rector Mark Kington did resign his position on the U.Va. board of visitors on Tuesday; see timesdispatch.com. Maybe Dragas herself will leave soon. Her expressions of "regret" were totally inadequate, given the extent of damage that has been done to the university's prestige.

It is worth mentioning the political background to these dirty dealings. As the Washington Post reported last Wednesday (June 12):

[Gov. Tim] Kaine appointed Dragas to the board in 2008. A Virginia Beach developer who received two degrees from U-Va., Dragas has contributed nearly $20,000 to candidates since 2002, including $6,000 to Kaine, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in politics.

Well, that's probably par for the course, the way things work in the real world of money-grubbing politics. Kaine declined to comment, obviously not wanting this scandal to undermine his campaign for the U.S. Senate.

I was hoping the weather would be nicer, for the sake of photographs, but it really didn't matter that the skies were overcast, because the Rotunda was enclosed by scaffolding as workers repair the domed roof and adjoining structural members. One nice side benefit of going to that rally was seeing some familiar faces from U.Va. and the Charlottesville communtiy, including a couple Facebook friends! I even exchanged warm greetings with Rev. Paula Kettlewell, former vice-rector of St. Paul's Memorial Church (Episcopal), which Jacqueline and I used to attend, just across the street from the U.Va. grounds, up the hill from The Corner.

After spending an hour or two at the rally, I headed over to Alderman Library to take a nostalgic look around the stacks and look at some books -- including my own dissertation! Believe it or not, it was the first time I have actually seen it printed and bound. Way above average in terms of pages, and chock full of detailed leadership chronologies, dazzling graphs, and color maps done by the author himself. Pretty d****d impressive, if I do say so myself! When I went there to look for it a couple years ago, somebody had checked it out.

Sullivan protest 1

University of Virginia students and faculty express support for ousted President Teresa Sullivan.

Sullivan protest 2

View of the protest crowd from the Rotunda steps; about 2,000 people were there.

Teresa Sullivan

Former U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan, walking away from her meeting with the Board of Visitors in the Rotunda.

Later in the afternoon, President Sullivan issued a statement to NBC29.com. She recounted her accomplishments over the past two years, and acknowledged the need to adapt to changing times, but insisting that changes should not be disruptive. She proudly referred to herself as an "incrementalist," relying on consensus and careful planning. In a direct rebuke to BOV Chair Dragas, she declared, "Corporate-style, top-down leadership does not work in a great university."

Late last night, the BOV announced that the Dean of the McIntire School of Commerce, Carl Zeithaml, would serve as interim president until a permanent replacement could be named. (See augustafreepress.com.) What an awful job he has in front of him.

Before heading to Charlottesville yesterday, I got engaged in some spirited discussions about the U.Va. issue (and other matters) on Facebook. Here are some of my verbal gems, responding to Shaun Kenney's observation that George Allen froze college tuition when he was governor (TRUE, according to www.politifact.com):

Talking about "free markets" in the context of massively-subsidized public universities is not very helpful. But Waldo [Jaquith] does (implicitly) raise a very good point about the collateral effect of the tuition cap and tight state budgets: the ever-growing reliance by U.Va. on funding from all sorts of private corporations. In the long run, that is bound to create conflicts with the University's stated purpose.
To a large extent, U.Va. already IS private: It's a gold-plated luxury resort camp catering to privileged youths, sprinkled with a few ambitious plebians just for the sake of appearance. Waldo's point that it can't go fully private, as Chris [Green] suggested, is what makes it so convenient to maintain the Jeffersonian pretense while whoring for mega-donations.

Please pardon my bluntness. I hope it serves to highlight the underlying dilemma that faces public education across the country today: educators are caught in a vicious cycle of declining public respect for scholarly endeavors, which leads to reduced resources, reduced effort by students, and cynicism among teachers, which leads to even less respect, etc., etc. Politicians who seek to get elected by making campaign promises that conceal the above-stated ugly truth are themselves a key part of the problem. More on that later.


June 19, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Shenandoah Mountain hike

Just like two years ago, "In need of exercise and wanting to get as many migratory bird observations as possible before breeding season ends, I went for a hike on Shenandoah Mountain on Sunday." Unlike that time, I started from the bottom at Ramsey's Draft in the George Washington National Forest and climbed to the crest, a net altitude gain of about 750 feet. If my records are correct, it's the first time I went all the way on that trail since August 2007. (Jacqueline and I went half way up in April 2008.) I started at 10:00 AM from the parking lot at Ramsey's Draft, climbed to the crest and then went back, a total of five miles round trip. I saw seven mountain bikers along the way, in two groups, and I only heard two other hikers at a distance, but didn't see them. It was 2:30 PM when I got back to my car, with my feet aching.

Overall, bird activity was a bit less than I would have expected. There were two memorable moments: the first was seeing a pair (M-F) of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, at the summit. That is pretty clear evidence of breeding. (It was the Augusta County side.) Then, about half-way back down the mountain I noticed a medium-large bird in the tree-tops, and soon coaxed into clear view with my famous hand-whistle. From the bill color and dull (not reddish) brown wing shoulders, it didn't take long to determine that it was a Black-billed Cuckoo, which is a true rarity. Altogether I heard or saw 34 species; here are the highlights from the report which I submitted to ebird.org:

  • Red-tailed Hawk 1
  • Black-billed Cuckoo 1
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1 (H)
  • Hairy Woodpecker 1 (H)
  • Pileated Woodpecker 2 (H)
  • Acadian Flycatcher 1
  • Great Crested Flycatcher 1 (H)
  • Blue-headed Vireo 1 (H)
  • Red-eyed Vireo 8 (H)
  • Common Raven 2 (H)
  • Black-capped Chickadee 7 *
  • Carolina Wren 4
  • Cedar Waxwing 2
  • Ovenbird 7
  • Worm-eating Warbler 5
  • Black-and-white Warbler 2 (H)
  • Cerulean Warbler 2 (H)
  • Northern Parula 1
  • Pine Warbler 1 (H)
  • Black-throated Green Warbler 2 (H)
  • Scarlet Tanager 2
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak 2
  • Indigo Bunting 2

* I got good, closeup looks at one family of Black-capped Chickadees, and heard a few others along the way. "(H)" = heard, not seen.

I was glad to see a Parula foraging in the top of a tall tree by the river at the very end of my hike. I was disappointed not to see any Black-throated Green Warblers, and not to hear or see any Blackburnian Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrushes, or Redstarts. They are all supposed to be common species in that area, but they are probably all trying to raise their recently-fledged young as quietly as possible, to avoid detection by predators. I took several nature photos, but there weren't as many mushrooms as I have seen there in the past.

Road Hollow trail montage

Road Hollow trail montage, showing a bend in the trail at a ravine. Insets from top left, clockwise: Indian Pipes, Clavulina Cristata, Silver-spotted Skipper, ? wildflower, ? mushroom (identification pending...) Roll mouse over the image to see the mountain stream known as Ramsey's Draft.

NOTE: Shenandoah Mountain is not aptly named, as it is not near Shenandoah National Park. It is near the source of the North River, which is a tributary of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.


June 20, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Lethal Rays pierce Nats' defenses

After a day of rest and sober reflection on having been swept* by the Yankees, the Nationals welcomed the Tampa Bay Rays to town last night. Chien-Ming Wang took the mound, but simply could not keep things under control. He gave up four runs in the third inning, at which point he was relieved by Ross Detwiler, who "put out the fire." It's a shame, because Ian Desmond had given the Nats the lead with a home run in the second inning. Michael Morse had his first home run of the season (with one man on) in the sixth inning, but it wasn't quite enough. The Rays prevailed in the end, 5-4. There's no doubt about it, the Rays are serious contenders for the AL East title this year, along with the Yankees and Orioles.

There was a weird incident in the bottom of the eighth inning: Rays reliever Joel Peralta was ejected before he even threw one pitch, as umpires found pine tar on his glove. Peralta pitched for the Nationals a couple years ago, and somebody has apparently been saving a secret for just the right moment. Unfortunately, it had no bearing on the game's outcome.

The weather forecast for the game today is hot, hazy, and humid, with a 99% chance of me being there. Natitude! smile

* Only because of a blown call by the umpire at home plate!

Veterans Stadium update

I updated the Veterans Stadium Veterans Stadium diagrams, with a few corrections such as a reoriented compass. As mentioned recently, I discovered that needed to be done when comparing the position of (new) Citizens Bank Park and (old) Veterans Stadium relative to each other. While I was at it, I found that the existing diagram was too square, so I made it slightly rounder, bulging out by about ten feet in each direction on the sides. I also learned that the big "Liberty Bell" replica was originally attached to the front of the mezzanine level just to the left of center field, and was later moved to the front edge of the roof. That explains how Greg Luzinski was able to hit that Liberty Bell on May 16, 1972 -- a home run estimated by Bill Jenkins to have gone 505 feet. Hitting the Liberty Bell at the subsequent higher location would have implied a homer going 600 feet or more, which is basically impossible.

Target Field tweak

I recently learned from Gary Olson that "the north arrow on your Target Field diagram is wrong. It should be pointing to the left." Indeed, I messed up on my compass directions once again, so I fixed that, along with a couple other details on Target Field. Thanks, Gary.

Soccer at AT&T Park

AT&T Park was converted into a soccer stadium last March, for the debut game of the San Jose Earthquakes, who lost 1-0 to the Houston Dynamo. There was also a match between Olympic hopefuls Mexico and Senegal. See MLB.com; hat tip to Glenn Simpkins. Oh, no, not another one...

Summer reading

While at the University of Virginia on Monday, I stopped at Alderman Library and found a few books on ballparks that I have not seen before. Coincidentally, one of them was Veterans Stadium: Field of Memories, by Rich Westcott (2005). Once I've had a chance to read it, I'll probably update the text on that page.


June 24, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Strasburg wins his sixth in a row

Technically, the Washington Nationals won their game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night, but it was almost entirely Stephen Strasburg's own doing. By the time my friend Dave Givens and I had settled into our seats in the bottom of the first inning, the Nats had already taken a 2-0 lead, thanks to a double by Steve Lombardozzi, an RBI single by Bryce Harper, and an unearned run due to a weird throwing error by the shortstop Elliot Johnson. The overeager Harper reached third safely, and then trotted home after the stray ball dribbled into the dugout. After the next two batters were out, Ian Desmond hit a single to left field that just eluded the grasp of the third baseman, allowing Ryan Zimmerman to score.

And after that very auspicious start, not a single Nationals player got a hit for the rest of the game! In his very first start as a major league pitcher, Chris Archer went for six full innings with only one earned run, while striking out seven batters, and still lost the game. What a letdown that must have been for him. Washington's Stephen Strasburg also had a superb outing, [striking out ten batters and] giving up just two earned runs over seven full innings: a solo homer by Jose Molina in the second inning, and an RBI single by aging veteran Hideki Matsui in the third. Sean Burnett came in as relief pitcher in the eighth inning, and Tyler Clippard got credit for saving the game, both of which were flawless performances. From a fan's perspective, it was a rather dull contest and not exactly inspiring, but a win's a win! Final score: Nats 3, Rays 2. See MLB.com.

FOOTNOTE: I could not believe it when the Rays' Joel Peralta, who had been ejected the day before because he was using pine tar, came in as a relief pitcher in the eighth inning. As I later learned, he was allowed to pitch because the Rays appealed that ruling. I immediately yelled "check his glove!" and pretty soon I heard people in other sections chanting the same thing. smile

Hideki Matsui RBI single

Hideki Matsui hits an RBI single to right field in the third inning.

Since it was so hot that day (high temperature of 98°, I believe, with a heat index well over 100°), I wanted to make sure we would be sitting in the shade. I went over to check the lower deck seats in right field, and they are indeed well shaded, but the late afternoon sun exposes most of those seats to intense solar rays. Another reason for sitting there would be to wait for a Bryce Harper home run ball. Those seats would be suitable for an early-afternoon game, but not otherwise.

Nationals Park montage 20 June 2012

Photo montage from Nationals Park, June 20, 2012.

In Thursday's rubber match game, the Nationals won, 5-2, thanks mainly to Danny Espinosa, who hit two doubles, one of which drove in two runs, and the other enabled him to score. So, in a heartening turn of events after getting swept by the Yankees, the Nationals took that series, two games to one. [Thus, the Nationals built their lead in the NL East to 3 1/2 games over the second-place New York Mets.]

Nationals Park update

Based on further first-hand scrutiny, I have updated the Nationals ParkNational Park diagram. For the first time, I have included the "balconies" that protrude from the rear of the "Gallery" level, which is the front part of the upper deck. There is a small three-row set of steel risers in most of those balconies, closing the gap between the upper and lower parts of the upper deck, and that is where we sat: Section 308, Row K. Since those risers are temporary, however, I did not include them in the diagram. I also rendered the stadium lights more precisely than before; they are grouped in distinct sections, not continuous. Finally, I noticed that the multi-level "press box" [a.k.a. Shirley Povich Media Center] in the upper deck behind home plate is positioned askew, with most of it being on the third base side. I should have noticed that before. There are a few other minor changes as well. For the time being, I have left the lower-deck and alternative versions the way they were for the time being to let you see exactly what changed. NOTE: There are now so many photos on that page that I have put them in separate sections that open or close by clicking on the respective heading.

Orioles take 2 of 3 from Nats

On Friday, the Nationals headed up to Baltimore to begin a ten-game road trip, and the Orioles were ready for them. On both Friday and Sunday, they beat the Nats by a score of 2-1, while in Saturday night's game -- broadcast by FOX -- the Nats won, 3-1. (That gave the Nationals a 2-2 record in games televised outside their immediate region this season.) Obviously, the latest installment of the "Battle of the Beltways" was a pretty even matchup.

In today's rubber game of the series, Ryan Zimmerman hit an RBI single in the third inning, a rare accomplishment for him lately. With the help of a solid outing by Ross Detwiler, retaking his place in the pitching rotation from Chien-Ming Wang, the Nats clung to a 1-0 lead going into the bottom of the eighth inning. They had opportunities to score more runs, but the team's core sluggers just couldn't synchronize with each other. In the first, third, sixth, and eighth inning, either Zimmerman or Bryce Harper reached base on hits, but the other guy either struck out or was put out. And so, when the usually-reliable Sean Burnett came in as a relief pitcher in the bottom of the eighth, there wasn't much room for error. Uncharacteristically, he gave up a single to Adam Jones and then Matt Wieters hit a home run, which gave the O's a 2-1 lead. Groan... After Burnett allowed another base runner on a walk, Ryan Mattheus came in to finish the inning on the mound. In the top of the ninth, Ian Desmond reached first base on a walk with one out, but then was thrown out trying to steal second base as Danny Espinosa struck out, thereby ending the game. frown

And so, just like the Beltway series in Washington last month, the Orioles won two of three games, without having scored more total runs. For the six interleague games this year, the Nats (who won two games) scored 20 runs total, while the Orioles (who won four games) scored 16 runs.


June 26, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Goodness gracious, Great Falls

On the way back from Washington (where I saw the Nationals win) last Thursday, I made a few sightseeing stops, including some old familiar places and a couple that were entirely new to me. The skies were mostly clear, and I had time to kill, so I decided to go see Great Falls, a famous landmark that I had not visited for at least ten years. But first, as I was driving along the sharp curves of Georgetown Pike west of McLean, Virginia, I made a brief impromptu stop at riverside trailhead called Difficult Run. It is nestled in a shady ravine, a nice cool place to be on a hot day. After looking around for birds, etc., I then headed over to Great Falls itself, which is less than a mile away. The water level seemed a bit below average, but it still made for a very impressive view. "Great" seems like an understatement by today's inflated standards, and it occurred to me that they should perhaps rename it "Totally Awesome Falls." smile I did a bit of walking around, but it was already getting hot, so I retreated into the visitors center for a while and then headed on.

Great Falls

Great Falls of the Potomac, from the Virginia side. Roll mouse over image to see a closeup.

The next stop was The Plains, a small, quaint town with a big pocketbook. It is located near I-66, about ten miles south of Middleburg, in the very heart of Virginia's horse country. Filled with beautiful rolling green pastures and unspoiled by commercial encroachments, it looks much the same as it did a century ago. When I lived in Washington in the 1980s, that was one of my very favorite areas to go on long-distance bicycle excursions. Jacqueline and I had a brief rendevous there, and we drove around to see the local sights off the beaten path. There is an old passenger train station that has been wonderfully preserved, and now serves as a gourmet health food store for pet animals, I think. We also saw Grace Episcopal Church, a beautiful stone structure that is well shaded by tall spruce trees.

Finally, later on in the day, I took a detour off if I-66 at Front Royal and ventured into Fort Valley, an isolated, elongated pocket of land that is is situated between two branches of Massanutten Mountain. (As far as most people know, Massanutten Mountain is a single ridge that divides the North Fork and the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, but it actually splits in two at the halfway point, and is shaped rather like tuning fork.) As you enter Fort Valley from the north, you encounter a narrow, heavily wooded canyon, with the main road following the course of Passage Creek. There are a number of parking areas at which people can revel in the mountain stream, and facilities for picnics and campaign at Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area. (See U.S. Forest Service and/or trails.com for more information.) After lingering a while in the cool shade, I resumed heading south through Fort Valley, admiring the countryside. I turned right at King's Crossing, crossed the peak of the mountain ridge, and then headed into the town of Edinburg, whereupon I took the usual (dull) route along I-81 back to Staunton. The detour into Fort Valley was time well spent.

Scenes from these latest travel "adventures" (loosely defined) are shown on the new Summer 2012 photo gallery page. It also includes some photos I took while attending the rally in support of ousted U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan in Charlottesville last week. The U.Va. Board of Visitors is meeting this afternoon to consider reinstating Sullivan, who has deep and broad support from all sectors of the University community. I certainly hope they do.


June 26, 2012 [LINK / comment]

U.Va. Board of Visitors is forced to reinstate Pres. Sullivan

In yet another stunning turn of events, the University of Virginia Board of Visitors today unamimously voted to reinstate Teresa Sullivan as president, two weeks after she was obliged by Rector Helen Dragas to submit her resignation. This action came just eight days after the BOV's formal vote to dismiss Sullivan, amidst sharp protests, of which I was a part. As the controversy dragged on, and the depth of support for Sullivan became more evident, Gov. McDonnell issued an ultimatum to the BOV late last week, telling them to either resolve the situation immediately, or he would replace the BOV membership en masse. That blunt use of executive authority did the trick. From an official e-mail message sent out to U.Va. alumni late this afternoon:

"The Board of Visitors rescinds the Second Amendment to the President's Employment Agreement, subject to the approval and acceptance of the President, thereby reinstating the President's initial Employment Agreement of January 11, 2010, as amended by the First Amendment to the Employment Agreement; and further

"The Board of Visitors rescinds the naming of Carl P. Zeithaml as Interim President of the University, and rescinds the authority previously granted to the Executive Committee to negotiate and execute a contract or employment agreement with the Interim President."

Obviously, it is wonderful news for the university, but it by no means signifies that the painful budget dilemmas which brought about the original BOV action are behind us. What needs to happen is an increase in funding from the state government, probably necessitating a hike in taxes, and an across-the-board pay cut for all U.Va. faculty and staff, perhaps two percent. Ideally, such a cut would be voluntary. As long as the sacrifice is broadly shared, this near-tragedy can become an opportunity for renewal of the University's mission.

The big question now is whether Gov. McDonnell will appoint Ms. Dragas to another four-year term on the BOV. One might think that her clumsy handling of this fiasco would automatically disqualify her from consideration, but the way politics in Virginia works, it may well be that her change of heart about keeping Teresa Sullivan may have been part of a tacit quid pro quo.

[UPDATE: For more information on this decision, see virginia.edu.]

Commerce Secretary quits

After being charged with hit and run driving in San Gabriel, California, Secretary of Commerce John Bryson took a temporary leave of absence while undergoing tests (see commerce.gov), but he has now officially vacated that position for good. In his stead, Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank is serving as Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary. She did likewise last year from August 1, when the previous Commerce Secretary Gary Locke resigned to become U.S. Ambassador to China, until October 21, when John Bryson was sworn in.

Earlier this month I updated the Cabinet table on the Politics blog page to reflect the fact that John Bryson replaced Gary Locke as Secretary of Commerce last October, and that Leon Panetta replaced Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense in January 2011. That table will need to be updated as soon as a replacement for Bryson is nominated by President Obama and (presumably) confirmed by the Senate. While doing further checking, I discovered that Obama's original National Security Adviser James Jones was replaced by Thomas Donilon in October 2010, and the position of energy / environmental policy czar was never filled after Carol Browner resigned in March 2011. (She is still on the list of Obama's Czars on freerepublic.com as of this past January, however, suggesting that the list is outdated.) Finally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Web site is no lo longer "agriculture.gov," but is now usda.gov

Photos of local pols

On the semi-new Spring 2012 photo gallery, there is a shot of Emmett Hanger making a speech on the Senate floor, as well as a shot of Delegates Dickie Bell and Ben Cline in a House session. Those photos were taken during my U.S. Government class field trip to the state Capitol on February 23. And while I was updating the Autumn 2011 photo gallery, I added a shot of Delegates Steve Landes and Dickie Bell walking along Beverley Street in Staunton's Veterans Day parade.


June 27, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Ryan Zimmerman gets hit #1,000

In Denver last night, with the air filled with smoke from forest fires in the mountains nearby, Ryan Zimmerman finally broke out of his slump, getting his 1,000th hit, a single to right field in the fifth inning that launched a big rally. But wait, there's more! He also hit a double and a home run, his fourth of the year. Adam LaRoche homered twice and rookie Tyler Moore also homered for the Nats, who got 21 hits altogether, tying the mark set since the team moved to D.C. in 2005. In fact, every one of the nine starting players got hits, including the pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who batted in a run to take a 4-3 lead in the fourth inning. It took Bryce Harper until the ninth inning to get his first hit, but it was a weird infield dribbler that failed to advance the runners on second and third, neither of whom scored, so it didn't really matter. The final score was 12-5, with the Nationals matching the total number of runs scored in their previous five games combined. See MLB.com and/or washingtonpost.com for a full recap.

For me, it's hard to believe that Ryan has been around long enough to reach the 1,000 hit plateau. Well, it's been seven and a half years, and that's an average of 133 hits per year. As I have probably mentioned at least a dozen or so times in the past, I had the good fortune to see Ryan Zimmerman get his very first major league hit, a double, on September 2, 2005 (Phillies 7, Nats 1). I was hoping that I might get to see him hit #1,000 when I was in Washington last week. Maybe some day I'll get to see him hit #2,000, or -- dare I dream? -- #3,000!

In tonight's game, which just ended, the Nationals continued their offensive onslaught, racking up a score of 11-1 by the end of the seventh inning, after which relief pitchers gave up four runs in the last two innings. Something is definitely wrong with Chien-Ming Wang, I'm afraid. Final score: 11-5. Oddly, both teams had the same number of total hits (14), but the Nats' solid infield turned four double plays, shutting down potential rallies. Ryan Zimmerman hit another home run (his fifth), and young Tyler Moore got another, but Bryce Harper could only manage a single and a double. It was starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann's first win since May 22, notwithstanding his superb ERA of 2.77. It's too bad some of that surplus run support tonight wasn't spread out over some of those other games, when he could have used it.

And so, the Nationals go into tomorrow afternoon's game hoping for a series win, enjoying a steady 3 1/2 game lead in the NL East. With the L.A. Dodgers having lost four in a row, the Nationals now have the highest winning percentage (.589) in the National League. Only the Yankees (.622) and Rangers (.618) are higher than them in the American League.

Piling on more runs

I did some checking of my game records, and learned that this is only the [third] time that the Washington Nationals have had double-digit scores in two consecutive games. The first time was [September 27-28, 2005, when they beat the Marlins, 11-1 and 11-7, and the second was] September 24-25, 2007, when they beat the Mets, 13-4 and 10-9. On the other hand, there have been eight times when the Nationals' opponents (not necessarily the same team) have scored ten or more runs in two games straight. Once, that happened three games in a row: the Braves beat the Nats 10-1 and 13-6 on August 26-27, 2006, and then the Phillies beat them 10-6 on August 29.

Strasburg's streak ends

After winning his sixth game in six consecutive starts last week (when I was there), Stephen Strasburg finally slipped up, in the opening game against the Rockies on Monday. He had a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the sixth inning, and one of those runs he batted in himself, but then he allowed three hits and hit a batter with a pitch, giving the Rockies the lead, 3-2. Tom Gorzelanny came in as relief pitcher in the seventh inning, and the Rockies tacked on another run to earn a rare triumph over a division-leading team.


June 27, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Romney courts Va. swing voters

Mitt Romney held a rally in Salem, Virginia today yesterday, appealing to small businesses and the employees thereof. His main point was a very compelling one: That the cost burden of Obamacare is stifling the creation of new jobs in America. He spoke to over a thousand supporters at a rally held at the Carter Machinery Co., vowing to "get rid of Obamacare. We're going to stop it on day one." Much depends on what the Supreme Court decides on the legal challenge to it, and we will presumably find out very soon. See newsleader.com.

The one aspect of Romney's speech that gave me pause was saying "If Obamacare is not deemed constitutional grounds, then the first three and a half years of Obama's term will have been wasted..." That comes close to politicizing the role of the Supreme Court, which is the last thing we want at this delicate time. I have been hearing plenty of noise from folks on the left about that lately.

Last month, Romney gave the commencement address at Liberty University in Lynchburg. It was awkward but necessary part of his campaign strategy to reassure Christian conservatives that he is attentive to their concerns, mainly the right to life. He apparently pulled it off pretty well, and I just hope he can avoid falling into the same trap that John McCain did four years ago, spending so much time trying to shore up the GOP "Base" that he neglects the essential task of attracting independent voters who opted for Obama in 2008.

I look forward to seeing Gov. Romney in some future campaign stop in Virginia, which he definitely needs to win this fall. The Old Dominion was totally overlooked during the primary campaign, because of the restrictive manner in which the political system in Virginia operates, making it hard to get on the ballot. (Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum failed to qualify.)

Romney won the New Hampshire primary election, with 39.3% of the vote, a large margin over second-place Ron Paul, who received 22.9%. [He also won key victories in Florida (Jan. 31), Georgia and Ohio (both on March 6), and Illinois (March 18). When it became clear in early April that Rick Santorum could not win his home state of Pennsylvania, he dropped out, at which point Romney became the presumptive nominee. Until recently, Ron Paul continued to campaign, mostly to make a point.]

Incumbents sweep Va. primaries

In yet another huge waste of taxpayer money,* Republicans (and perhaps others) in the Old Dominion went to the polls on June 12 to choose the Grand Old Party's nominee for congressional and Senate races. Few people expected the challenging candidates to prevail, but there was hope that some races would at least be close. That was not the case. (For some background from my perspective, see my June 7 blog post.)

Among the seven Republican challengers to the five "establishment" candidates in Virginia (four of whom were incumbents), only [two -- including] Karen Kwiatkowski, here in the Sixth District -- mustered as much as one-third of the vote. Overall turnout was about seven percent, illustrating again how wasteful this process is at a time when state government budgets are so tight.

Race Incumbent % Challenger % Challenger % Challenger %
U.S. Senate George Allen 65.5 Jamie Radtke 23.0 Bob Marshall 6.8 E.W. Jackson 4.7
4th District Randy Forbes 89.8 Bonnie Girard 10.2
6th District Bob Goodlatte 66.5 Karen Kwiatkowski 33.5
7th District Eric Cantor 79.4 Floyd Bayne 20.6
11th District Gerald Connolly (D),
not in this race
Chris Perkins 62.5 Ken Vaughn 37.5

SOURCE: State Board of Elections

Just prior to the election, Augusta County Republican Chairman Bill Shirley had a column in the News Virginian, in which he quoted an excerpt of Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. (I have filled in the ellipses with omitted text in brackets.)

"truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, [that she is the proper and sufficient antagnoist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict,] unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, [errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.]" SOURCE: Thomas Jefferson Selected Writings, Harvey C. Mansfield Jr., ed. (1979)

According to Shirley, "Bob Goodlatte has disarmed truth by refusing to debate." I think he made a very valid point. Goodlatte had a chance to show some real courage and accountability, with relatively little risk, but he wimped out. As someone who has long advocated more open dialogue within the Republican Party, I was disappointed.

On the other hand, David Reynolds wrote at augustafreepress.com, "Sorry, Karen, you had an opportunity to run a reasonable, truthful campaign against an incumbent who is far from being the most decisive member of the U. S. Congress. Your campaign failed to inform the voter." I admit feeling a little uneasy with some of her campaign statements, but at least she opened some eyes and got people to think more than usual.

* If they are going to have publicly-funded primaries in Virginia, which I oppose on principle, then they should at least all be consolidated into a single date. Having a presidential primary separate from a congressional-senatorial primary is just plain stupid.

[NOTE: A few corrections and edits were made about 20 hours after the original post.]


June 28, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Mountain hike, interrupted

The weather was nearly perfect yesterday,* so I went for a hike around Trimble Mountain, but my plans were rudely interrupted by a large Black Bear on the trail ahead of me. The hulking beast ran away at a startlingly rapid clip, but I decided to play it safe and reverse course rather than risk an ugly dispute over "property rights." Who knows, he/she might have had a lawyer; now that's a frightening thought! smile I had intended to complete the four-mile loop, but only made it about two-thirds the way to the halfway point near the summit. Oh well. As I returned to the beginning of the loop trail, I came across two women hikers, and they decided to go elsewhere after I informed them of the bear's presence.

And so, I took advantage of the extra time I had left by photographing butterflies in a meadow at the bottom of the mountain, and at Elkins Lake, which is a few miles south; see the Butterflies photo gallery page. I exited the forest via the southern route, stopping briefly at Chimney Hollow, and then headed home. Trimble Mountain is located near Todd Lake in northern Augusta County, just a few miles south of Reddish Knob (which I had visited on June 9), part of George Washington National Forest. Northern Augusta County is a truly wonderful place for nature lovers of all persuasions, and it's easier to get to than you might think.

Elkhorn Lake

Elkhorn Lake, looking eastward. Roll mouse over image to see Todd Lake, looking northwest.

I added those photos and a couple others to the Summer 2012 photo gallery page.

My last hike up Trimble Mountain was in May 2009, during bird migration season. This time there weren't many birds to be seen, and only a few that were heard.

* In stark contrast to today. Hot, hot, hot!


June 28, 2012 [LINK / comment]

Supreme Court upholds Obamacare (But why?)

After the harsh interrogation of the Administration's lawyers at the hearings in March, most legal experts assumed that the Supreme Court would throw out most or even all of the the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, otherwise known as simply "ACA" or "Obamacare." The four conservative and one moderate justices wanted to know what limiting principle could be applied to the broadened application of the Constitution's Commerce Clause, which the Obama administration and most Democrats had cited as legal justification. (Of course, some Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi openly scoffed at the very notion that the Constitution limited the powers of Congress.) On the surface, today's ruling appeared to vindicate President Obama's all-or-nothing pursuit of his health care goals, but a closer reading of the ruling may contain the seeds of the ACA's ultimate demise.

Supreme Court building

The big shock, as the news of the decision spread shortly after 10:00 this morning, was that Chief Justice John Roberts had joined the four liberal justices in writing the majority opinion. Many folks on the Right were instantly outraged by this apparent "betrayal" of conservative principles. (To which I would sardonically reply, Roberts was nominated by a president who extolled "compassionate conservatism," and this ruling is simply the logical result of that.) My initial take, on Facebook, was a cautious one:

I think everyone knows that I am dismayed beyond measure by today's Supreme Court ruling, but I am going to refrain from any knee jerk reaction. To me the most important thing is preserving the Constitution (or what is left of it) and the principles of freedom that underlie it. That task should NOT be a matter of partisan politics, and I deeply resent those people (you know you are) who have in recent days and weeks been impugning the integrity of Supreme Court justices as being partisan hacks of the Right. The very legitimacy of our government hangs in the balance, and we all need to chill out and think through this calmly.

As the day progressed, the number of scenarios to explain the apparent change of mind multiplied rapidly, with some hinting at blackmail, etc. Some people have surmised that Roberts switched his vote at the last minute, possibly under duress, or more likely as a clever way to put his imprint on the decision. For example, at the Volokh Conspiracy David Bernstein notes that "the dissent reads like a majority opinion"; also see whitehouse12.com (hat tip to Zanette Hahn), for example. Indeed, since Roberts as Chief Justice had the prerogative to write the opinion, he was able to insert a number of limiting stipulations.

The following excerpts from the ruling (SOURCE: supremecourt.gov) make it clear that the Court did not grant Congress power to compel people to purchase any particular good or service, and quite the contrary, imposes significant new limitations on Congress. So, what looks like a defeat in the courtroom for the cause of individual liberty may set the stage for ultimate victory, on the political battlefield.

Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation's elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.

Our deference in matters of policy cannot, however, become abdication in matters of law. ... And there can be no question that it is the responsibility of this Court to enforce the limits on federal power by striking down acts of Congress that transgress those limits. [p. 6]
The Affordable Care Act does not require that the penalty for failing to comply with the individual mandate be treated as a tax for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. The Anti-Injunction Act therefore does not apply to this suit, and we may proceed to the merits. [p. 15]*
The individual mandate, however, does not regulate existing commercial activity. It instead compels individuals to become active in commerce by purchasing a product, on the ground that their failure to do so affects interstate commerce. Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority. [p. 20]
The proximity and degree of connection between the mandate and the subsequent commercial activity is too lacking to justify an exception of the sort urged by the Government. The individual mandate forces individuals into commerce precisely because they elected to refrain from commercial activity. Such a law cannot be sustained under a clause authorizing Congress to "regulate Commerce." [p. 27]
Applying these principles, the individual mandate cannot be sustained under the Necessary and Proper Clause as an essential component of the insurance reforms. [p. 29]
It is of course true that the Act describes the payment as a "penalty," not a "tax." But while that label is fatal to the application of the Anti-Injunction Act, supra, at 12-13, it does not determine whether the payment may be viewed as an exercise of Congress's taxing power. [p. 33]
Indeed, it is estimated that four million people each year will choose to pay the IRS rather than buy insurance. ... That Congress apparently regards such extensive failure to comply with the mandate as tolerable suggests that Congress did not think it was creating four million outlaws. It suggests instead that the shared responsibility payment merely imposes a tax citizens may lawfully choose to pay in lieu of buying health insurance. [p. 38]
The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness. [p. 44]

That pretty much sums up the key rationale for upholding the mandate. In short, it may be ill-advised or even dumb, but as long as it's a tax, it's within constitutional bounds. Invalidating once and for all the legal arguments based on the Commerce Clause or the Necessary and Proper Clause could be regarded as a partial victory for Georgetown professor, Randy Barnett (author of an excellent book, Restoring the Lost Constitution), who wrote some anti-ACA analyses. See thedailybeast.com. I'll have more to say once I have read the opinion more closely, and once I have heard from other experts and/or pundits.

* Contrary to what I heard on Facebook, the Court did consider the implications of the Anti-Injunction Act, which could be construed as prohibiting any legal challenge to a tax that had not yet been collected.

Miscellaneous reactions

I was watching Washington's WUSA-TV9 during the noon hour, when J.C. Heyward was talking with Prof. Paul Rothstein of Georgetown University. Another He seems to think that John Roberts' vote to uphold Obamacare was based on moral sensitivity and fairness, as if constitutional issues such as limitations on government power were irrelevant. I find it hard to believe that a distinguished legal expert would put such a high emphasis on ethos and pathos and such a low emphasis on logos.

Facebook friend Andrew Murphy, a moderate conservative, believes that we might as well accept the inevitability of a single-payer system. (See hurryupharry.org.) My response, a couple days ago:

That's very true, Obamacare was almost certainly never intended to be anything other than a transition phase toward a single-payer system. It probably will create an upward cost spiral and shortages of certain services and medicines. There will be a backlash from the Right, and Obama himself may lose in November, but as long as the core of the new system is allowed to stand, it sets in motion economic forces that will be impossible to reverse over the long term. The problem is that single-payer American style would by its very nature become a micro-managed bureaucratic hell, with politicians of all stripes insisting on new coverages, etc. to get votes. It doesn't have to be that way.

Along those same lines, as I wrote on Facebook several weeks ago:

Whether Pres. Obama really believes that we will be able to keep our existing health coverage under his system, the truth is that it sets the stage for ever-increasing government regulation of medical care, which will end up making very personal, private decisions (such as birth control) a matter of public policy. Unless Obamacare is repealed and/or ruled unconstitutional, EVERYTHING will become political!

That was in response to a link to endobamacarenow.com. Later, I followed up with more specifics as to the merits of the law, as opposed to its legal rationale:

I object to both the mandate itself and to the current practice of insuring pretty much all forms of health care, emergency as well as non-emergency. By definition, insurance is supposed to be for extreme contingencies whose cost might exceed one's own savings. When insurance is used to help pay for routine treatments, all sorts of market distortions (especially cost hikes) result. The main reason for excessive insurance in the status quo is that health care benefits from employers are exempt from income taxes, a massive (and in my view unjustifiable) implicit subsidy to the salaried (middle) class. Any true reform would address that glaring defect, about which very few people are even remotely aware. To the credit of the ACA, employers are required to put the value of their contributions to health care premiums on the W-2 forms, but the IRS delayed implementation of that, which is why it's not on our 2011 W-2s. Whether ACA is ruled unconstitutional or not, I would hope that W-2 forms do include those contributions so that people know what their full compensation is.

The political battle

When the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against the constitutionality of Obamacare, supporters and opponents of the law gathered in Washington to express their sentiments. One group was mobilized by Americans for Prosperity, which staged another "Hands Off My Health Care Rally." I attended a small-scale rally in Waynesboro in 2009. Since March, there has been growing pressure on the Court not to undo the massive piece of legislation, accompanied by hints of sinister malfeasance on the part of certain "right wing" justices.

For example, Bruce Bartlett recently scorned Justice Antonin Scalia for flip-flopping on the applicability of the Constitution's Commerce Clause, as defined in Wickard v. Filburn (1942) ruling; see talkingpointsmemo.com. Scalia once asserted that even marijuana grown at home for one's own personal use is inherently interrelated with the interstate market, and therefore subject to Federal regulation and control. I agree that Scalia seems to have changed logical gears on that.

Earlier this week, Bartlett called attention to an article ("La Loi C'est Moi," The Law Is Me) by The Atlantic Monthly editor James Fallows, who argued, "The Roberts majority is barreling ahead without regard for the norms [of judicial nonpartisanship], and it is taking the court's legitimacy with it." I replied on Facebook:

James Fallows used to be one of my heroes, on reforming the Defense Dept., budget issues, etc., but my confidence in him is waning. "It was out of loyalty to the system that Al Gore stepped aside after Bush v. Gore." That's not how I remember it. Regarding his dread of "a plainly partisan ruling about the health care law," why is it so hard to take seriously the constitutional argument, and the proper role of the Supreme Court? From Marbury v. Madison (1803), "It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is." When democratic majorities pass laws that violate constitutional norms, the courts are bound to stop such abuses, thereby protecting minority interests and the very nature of our republican form of (limited) government. The alternative is a hellish series of pendulum swings as various factions seek to outmaneuver each other in a bid for total control.

For more on the liberal attack on the Court by Fallows and others, see washingtonexaminer.com. They observe that Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., recently said that a ruling against the ACA would show that the court is "a wholly owned subsidiary of the right wing." My general feeling is that politicizing the Supreme Court is dangerous to our republic, and should be avoided wherever possible. I can't help but wonder if Roberts feared that he had to vote against his conscious in order to appease the left-liberal establishment, clinging to the hope of more broadly-accepted institutional "legitimacy."

On a lighter note...

Just to add some levity to this grave situation, NBC-29 observed on Facebook: "The Supreme Court's health care ruling may be a victory for President Barack Obama, but health advocates say the real winners are the millions of uninsured." My response: "What about health opponents? Shouldn't both sides be heard?" For you folks in Rio Linda, I was poking fun at the rhetorical presumptuousness by which statists claim the moral high ground in this debate.

Finally, one of my Facebook friends sounded the trumpet for states rights, raising the possibility of "succession." [sic] South Carolina was the first state to succeed in 1861, right? smile


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