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November 30, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Trump begins to choose top officials

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen a mixture of fawning loyalists and others [with more government experience to serve in his cabinet and as close advisers]. He faces a difficult task in delivering on the pledge to "drain the swamp" in Washington which he made to his populist-minded voters. The summary of those choices listed below is based mainly on politico.com and the Washington Post.

Today Trump revealed his choice to be Secretary of Treasury: Steven Mnuchin (pronounced "mah-NEW-chin"), a long-time Wall Street insider. Having spent 17 years with Goldman Sachs, including the 2008 financial crisis, he seems ill-suited for the task of reforming "crony capitalism." He seems to favor big tax cuts for the middle class (see Washington Post), which is inappropriate at a time that the Federal budget deficit is still so high.

Trump chose Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn to be his national security adviser. This worries some people because Kelly reputedly holds hardline anti-Muslim views, which might lead to biased advice [, or to give advice that merely confirms what Trump already believes. Trump's fondness for military people to fill civilian positions seems odd, especially given his absurd boast that he knows more about ISIS than the generals.]

Trump's first cabinet-level choice was Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Sessions was one of Trump's early supporters (see February 29), so it's no surprise. Many have criticized Sessions on the grounds that he is hostile to the cause of civil rights. I have a guarded opinion of him.

Elaine Chao was tapped to serve as Secretary of Transportation. She was Secretary of Labor for the entire eight years of the George W. Bush administration, and is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She is well qualified, but not exactly an "outsider."

Trump chose Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. DeVos is a wealthy campaign donor who is known as a critic of public education and an advocate of school choice. I share those sentiments to an extent, but I am skeptical of the alternative of school vouncers. Public schools are in desperate need of reform from top to bottom, but the real problem lies in society itself, and that is not amenable to government action.

I was frankly puzzled by the choice of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. She is a rising star in the GOP, but has no international experience, other than coming from a family with origins in India. Her main strength seems to be communication skill, and that could help maintain friendly relations with other countries. Perhaps this is a gesture of inclusiveness by Trump, since Haley was a vocal critic of him during the primary campaign.

In another sign of Machiavellian maneuvering in Our Nation's Capital, two weeks ago Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper urged President Obama to remove Mike Rogers as the head of the National Security Agency. Rogers was apparently being considered by Donald Trump as a replacement for Clapper as DNI, but was asked to leave the Trump transition team. He is a former Army officer and FBI agent who later was elected to Congressm (from Michigan), but decided to leave and then started his own radio talk show in 2015. See cbsnews.com.

The big question is whether Trump will offer the position of Secretary of State to Mitt Romney, the leader of "Establishment" Republicans who vowed "Never Trump." The two former adversaries had a well-publicized fancy dinner, after which Romney did his best to sound gracious and dignified. What an awful predicament for a good guy. Some think that Trump is merely playing with Romney, which is possible. I do not pretend to understand what makes Trump tick.

Other Secretary of State possibilities are Rudy Giuliani (just awful, IMHO), U.N Ambassador John Bolton (an ultra-hawk), former CIA Director David Petraeus (guilty of mishandling classified info, just like Hillary Clinton), Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), and retired Gen. John Kelly. Corker is well prepared, being the current chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but his name is associated with the Iran nuclear agreement, which Trump has denounced. The Corker Amendment allowed for a dubious bypass of the usual constitutional requirement of ratification by 2/3 of the Senate.

One intriguing development: Vice President-elect Mike Pence met with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (and others) in Washington today. Could Condi return to her old job? Would she? I sure hope so, but it seems like a distant prospect. Even though she has a top-notch reputation as a scholar of international relations, as well as a record of loyalty in government service, she has to overcome the image of being a "Washington insider," which she is clearly not. It's ironic because Trump puts such a high value on loyalty, but it was that very quality that harmed her reputation.

Finally, Trump is reportedly considering Sarah Palin to serve as secretary of Veterans Affairs. Seriously? Good grief.



November 30, 2016 [LINK / comment]

FIVE more Open Mic appearances!

Earlier this evening, I had yet another Open Mic appearance with the Staunton Music Guild at Queen City Brewing. That makes six weeks in a row (including five this month), a personal best! I have been trying to improve my stage presence and vocal delivery technique by playing in public on a regular basis, since I am slated to provide musical entertainment at an upcoming Augusta Bird Club dinner. There's no substitute for practice and discipline. Unlike my last "monthly report" (October 27), I am presenting my song lists in normal (not reversed) chronological order.

On November 2, which happened to coincide with the start of Game 7 of the World Series, I did my part to boost the Chicago Cubs' cosmic karma by playing what has become the team's semi-official victory song. Since I only recently learned it was written by Steve Goodman, who died in 1984, I played the song for which he is most widely known. I then concluded with a song paying tribute to this country's democratic heritage [as Election Day approached] with an irreverent song by the early "shock rocker," Alice Cooper.

On November 9, I tried to leave behind the oddball songs of the week before and "return to my roots." I played the lead part well enough on "Take It Easy," but it just didn't meet my high level of expectations. [I chose that song in part to calm folks' nerves in the wake of the big upset election.] The next two songs came across pretty well, however. [Parts of "Tuesday Afternoon" are hard to sing, but I pulled it off.]

On November 16, I paid tribute to Canada based on two important dates. November 10 was the 41st anniversary of the sinking of the cargo ship "Edmund Fitzgerald" on Lake Superior, so I played the song about that tragedy by Gordon Lightfoot, who is Canadian. The other two artists I covered are also Canadian, and I did OK on those songs. (Neil Young's birthday was November 12.) [For the "encore," I played an old tune that I saw in a Laurel and Hardy movie from the 1930s, and a rousing Beatles tune making use of the harmonica.]

On November 23, I played two songs that I learned way back in the 1970s, one that's sad and one that's irreverent. Then I did a very nice song (in 3/4 time, which is unusual) by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils (the first song of theirs I've done in several weeks) that I really only mastered a year or two ago.

Tonight (November 30) it was raining, and hardly anybody was there when I arrived. But fortunately, people started coming in the door right about the time when I started playing. Fritz Horisk reminded everyone that it was the one-year anniversary of the first Open Mic night at Queen City Brewing. Each musician got to do two extra songs later on, since there were empty slots in the signup sheet. I played a beautiful song with "Melissa" in the title, and then a foot-stompin' rocker that was written by a Melissa (Etheridge). Not perfect, but both songs felt pretty good to me.

And so, I have updated my Music page with the latest set lists.



November 28, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Harrier is back on Bell's Lane

Overall, my birding activity has diminished since the rather intense periods earlier this month. I've gone to Bell's Lane a few times in hopes of seeing (and photographing) one of the Northern Harriers, but with relatively little success. Last Friday (designated "Opt Out Day" by those who object to the "Black Friday" shopping splurge), I took a few adequate photos of one that was swooping around the rolling pastures, but none as good as when I first used my Canon PowerShot SX50 camera in January 2013. They are fascinating to watch, at any rate. I then went to the Fishersville area in hopes of seeing the two lingering Sandhill Cranes, in vain. I did see two Killdeers over there, however.

Montage 25 Nov 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Killdeer, Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Bluebird (M), Cedar Waxwing, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier (F/J), White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-bellied Woodpecker (F), and Carolina Chickadee. Roll your mouse over the image to see various photos of the Northern Harrier that day. (November 25)

The Cedar Waxwing was in a tree in our neighborhood, along with several others. I should note that we have had Bluebirds in our back yard as well, which is rather unusual. Those photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

During my visit to Bell's Lane last Wednesday, I was astonished by how thick the smoke was from forest fires. Betsy Bell Hill was barely visible! I saw a female (or juvenile) Kestrel, and was barely able to make out a group of four Northern Shovelers on the small pond near the high point of Bell's Lane.



November 28, 2016 [LINK / comment]

This election was rigged!

Contrary to what that headline might imply, I do not agree with Donald Trump's offhand claim that "millions" of fraudulent votes were cast in the November 8 election. (If ever there was a reason to avoid using Twitter, Trump is it.) Nevertheless, one could argue that elections in America are indeed "rigged" in the sense of artificially constraining choices -- but in subtle ways that few people really understand. I'll touch on what I mean below, and leave the detailed explanation for later.

But first I feel obliged to say something about what prompted Trump to tweet about massive voter fraud: The formal request by the Green Party candidate for president Jill Stein, that the vote totals in Wisconsin be thoroughly rechecked because of what some people regard as inconsistent patterns between early voters and those who voted on Election Day. (See the Washington Post.) It is perplexing, because she has no chance of winning, and the only possible change in result would be a victory by Hillary Clinton. But her own candidacy helped Trump to win, so she has only herself to blame for that. To me, the only conceivable motivation for seeking a recount is to undermine the legitimacy of the incoming Trump administration. If so, that represents a fundamental breach of democratic norms, taking the "sore loser" syndrome to a new (and dangerous) level.

But of course, Donald Trump brought this all upon himself by calling into question the election process in the first place, on multiple occasions during the fall campaign.

In my mind, there are two fundamental processes that yield distortions in our national elections: gerrymandering and primary elections. With regard to the former, on February 12, 2015 I wrote, "the electoral process itself is essentially rigged..." Gerrymandering is the means by which the leading party in a given state consolidates its power, making sure that its share of legislative seats significantly exceeds the share of popular votes cast for its candidates. Since most state legislatures are currently controlled by the Republicans, the GOP is ipso facto the source of the problem at this particular time. In my blog post of July 13, I called attention to the reform movement, which I strongly support.

On April 30 this year I wrote, "In fact, the system is "rigged," but it's rigged in favor of the front-runner: Trump!" This referred to the formulas most states use to apportion delegates in primary elections, generally quite biased against candidates that receive fewer popular vots. Since the delegate selection process so strongly rewards the front-runner, Trump was able to amass an almost unbeatable total by the middle of March. Since there is no mechanism for allowing voters to express their second-favorite choices, or their least-favorites choices, Trump's plurality of popular votes translated into an all-but-assured nomination, notwithstanding the strongly negative sentiments towards him, both within the Republican Party and in the general population.

That second point is part of what I was getting at in the letter to the editor I wrote just before the election. As for voter fraud, it probably happens at the local level, but it would be virtually impossible to manipulate the vote tabulations on a large enough scale to tip the balance in multiple states.

Abolish the Electoral College???

Just like in the 2000 election, many people are outraged at Trump's victory in the Electoral College, given that Hillary Clinton (apparently) won nearly two million more votes than he did. So, once again, there are calls to abolish the Electoral College, and once again the widespread ignorance about the fundamental structures and purposes of our system of government are on full display. There was a discussion about this on Doug Mataconis's Facebook page shortly after the election, so I added my two cents:

It baffles me why so many people have such deep scorn for the EC. It was created to give the executive branch a broad constituency separate from that of the legislative branch (strengthening the president vis-a-vis Congress) while maintaining a central role for states (reinforcing the federal structure of the government). This historic role remains vital even today. FWIW, my proposed reform would require a candidate to get at least a majority (not just a plurality) of the nationwide popular vote AND a majority of the states to be declared the winner, or else you go back to the traditional EC method. In this election, Hillary won about 47.8% of the popular vote, and Trump won 30 of the states -- depending on how Michigan and New Hampshire go.

Strangely, Michigan has still not been officially called, although Trump has a clear lead, while New Hampshire went Clinton's way, by a small margin.

There was even a call by someone who wants the electors to vote for Hillary Clinton on the grounds that she won the national popular vote. It is sad that such ideas are taken seriously.



November 20, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Some scenic shots of Staunton, etc.

The Arctic blast of frigid winds that arrived yesterday afternoon is a sign that the beautiful season of autumn is at or near an end. And so, I have assembled some of the more scenic photos I have taken over the past month or so. Of that batch, the following two are fairly representative. Some show the rich historical and archectectural heritage of Staunton, and others show the beauty of nature in Augusta County. They remind me just how lucky folks are to live in this part of the Shenandoah Valley.

Mary Baldwin University, churches

Mary Baldwin University, churches in Staunton, as seen from the top of Reservoir Hill. (Nov. 4)

Chimney Hollow trees, sky

Tall trees and blue sky above the Chimney Hollow trail, during my Augusta Bird Club field trip yesterday. (Nov. 19)

Other recently-added photos (including a panorama of downtown Staunton from the top of Reservoir Hill) can be seen on the Chronological (2016) photo gallery.



November 19, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Field trip to Chimney Hollow

For the third (and probably final) time this year, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Chimney Hollow this morning, and once again, nobody else showed up! (Granted, it was my own fault on the trip in March.) The weather forecast was ominous, but conditions turned out to be quite pleasant for the first couple hours. After a half hour, I came across a cluster of Golden-crowned Kinglets, Chickadees (both kinds), and was happy to get a good look at a Red-breasted Nuthatch. It flew away before I could take a photo, however. Later on I saw a Winter Wren, another "target" bird which I had mentioned in the trip description contained in the ABC Bulletin. I could only get a distant, blurry photo however. I also saw a Brown Creeper, but couldn't get a photo. Two "surprise" birds were both seen and heard flying high overhead: Eastern Bluebirds and American Goldfinches.

After 11:00 or so, the skies turned overcast and the high winds (which had been forecast) finally arrived. I made a quick trip over to nearby Braley Pond, and my effort was rewarded by a Pied-billed Grebe -- the only bird I saw or heard there!

Back in Staunton, late in the afternoon, I went to Bell's Lane, where I had seen a Northern Harrier the day before, during a chance encounter with Allen Larner. Sure enough, the same bird was there, swooping low over the fields, but once again the photos I took were only mediocre. Even though the skies had cleared, it was extremely windy and cold by then, so I didn't stick around for long.

Montage 19 Nov 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hairy Woodpecker (M), Pied-billed Grebe, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet (again), Carolina Wren, Winter Wren, Northern Harrier (F/J), and in center, White-breasted Nuthatch. (November 19)

Chimney Hollow Trail, Augusta, Virginia, US
Nov 19, 2016 9:05 AM - 11:55 AM
Protocol: Traveling
2.0 mile(s)
Comments: Augusta Bird Club field trip
18 species

  1. Black Vulture -- 1
  2. Turkey Vulture -- 2
  3. Downy Woodpecker -- 3
  4. Hairy Woodpecker -- 4
  5. Pileated Woodpecker -- 1
  6. Blue Jay -- 1
  7. American Crow -- 8
  8. Carolina Chickadee -- 4
  9. Black-capped Chickadee -- 7 *
  10. Tufted Titmouse -- 6
  11. Red-breasted Nuthatch -- 1
  12. White-breasted Nuthatch -- 4
  13. Brown Creeper -- 1
  14. Winter Wren -- 1
  15. Carolina Wren -- 4
  16. Golden-crowned Kinglet -- 10
  17. Eastern Bluebird -- 5
  18. American Goldfinch -- 3

* Most of the chickadees I heard had the distinctive slow-cadenced call, and this area is known to be on the edge of the Black-capped Chickadees' range. I tried but could not get any good photos.
View this checklist online at ebird.org.


UPDATE: Since I mentioned the visit to Bell's Lane yesterday, I figured I might as well add some of the photos that I took then. Allen Larner pointed out a Palm Warbler on the pavement, and I just managed to get a distant photo of it, showing the yellow rump. In the flooded ravine on the north side of Bell's Lane I saw a single female Hooded Merganser. Later in the afternoon, Jacqueline and I went to Gypsy Hill Park, where I took some closeup photos of common birds such as Mallards and Starlings. Those photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

Montage 18 Nov 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Harrier (F/J), Mute Swan, Eastern Bluebird (M), Red-tailed Hawk, Palm Warbler, European Starling, Hooded Merganser (F), and Mallard (M). (November 18)



November 17, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Max Scherzer wins NL Cy Young Award

For the first time in the team's twelve-year history (since the "rebirth" in Washington) a Nationals pitcher has won the Cy Young Award: Max Scherzer. I was watching with bated breath when the announcement was made on MLB TV at about 6:20 last night, and shared "vicariously" in Max's celebration with his buddies. That guy sure knows how to have fun! It was his second Cy Young Award, the first being in 2013 when he was with the Detroit Tigers. Max therefore becomes just the sixth pitcher in history to have won Cy Young Awards in both leagues.

Scherzer beat out two Cubs pitchers: Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, and I was as surprised as anyone that he received 25 of 30 first-place ballots. I thought it might be closer, but apparently postseason stats are excluded. With a 20-7 record, Max was the only National League pitcher to reach the 20-win level. His 284 strikeouts were 30 more than the number two MLB pitcher, Justin Verlander. (The late Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins threw 253 strikeouts.) He also led the NL in innings pitched, with 228 1/3. In terms of ERA, Scherzer only ranked eighth in the NL, with 2.96; see below. His one clear weak spot was in allowing home runs, and he tied for seventh place (with 31) among all MLB pitchers, dubious distinction. Today's Washington Post had a full page devoted to graphs showing all the measurements of pitching performance.

Here's an oddity to ponder: How many Cy Young winners in history have not recorded the lowest ERA among regular starting pitchers on their team? Well, Scherzer's one of them: his ERA was 2.96, compared to 2.83 for Tanner Roark.

Max Scherzer

Max Scherzer, pitching against the Mets on June 29. He threw ten strikeouts that day, as the Nats won, 4-2.

Porcello wins AL Cy Young

Rick Porcello of the Boston Red Sox won the American League Cy Young Award, even though he received fewer first-place votes than the Tigers' Justin Verlander. Porcello led the majors with 22 wins (versus 4 losses), and had a solid ERA (3.15), with 189 strikeouts.

There has been a lot of talk about another AL pitcher who was contending for the Cy Young Award, Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox, and where he might end up next year -- perhaps even with the Nationals. Sale threw 233 strikeouts this year, tied with Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays for second place in the AL. (Verlander was number one; see above.)

Bryant, Trout win MVP Awards

Kris Bryant was overwhelmingly chosen as the National League Most Valuable Player, getting 29 of 30 first-place votes. The lopsided voting shocked me. Daniel Murphy came in a distant second, even though he was within an inch of leading the majors in batting average (.347) as well as other measures of batting success such as OPS (.985). His mere 57 strikeouts in 531 at-bats are the best in the majors, from what I can tell. Subjectively, Murphy has shown himself to be a true leader on the Nationals, fitting in very well and carrying the team into the postseason. Bryant had 39 home runs but his average (.292) was not near the top of the league. He was the fourth player to win an MVP Award a year after being named Rookie of the Year, and if it weren't for the one first-place vote for Murphy, he would have been the first-ever player to win those two awards by unanimous acclamation. I still think Bryant should have been named the World Series MVP, but that went to Ben Zobrist.

In the American League, Mike Trout of the L.A. Angels was named MVP. He wasn't ranked near the top in either home runs (29) or batting average (.315), but his OPS of .991 was second place behind David Ortiz, who of course was "just" a designated hitter. This comes four years after Trout was chosen as AL Rookie of the Year, and two years after his first AL MVP Award. It is also the first time in several years that this award has gone to a player whose team did not make it to the postseason.

Seager, Fulmer: Rookies of the Year

To the surprise of no one, the L.A. Dodgers' Corey Seager, won the NL Rookie of the Year Award by a unanimous vote. Seager had a batting average of .308 and hit 26 home runs, which is just insane for a rookie. I became acquainted with the young Mr. Seager in a most unpleasant way, watching his feats of slugging and fielding during the National League Divisional Series against the Nationals. It's a shame that the Nationals' star rookie, Trea Turner, didn't have much of a chance against Seager. Turner didn't join the roster until July, and yet he hit 13 home runs in barely half a season. I read somewhere that Turner actually surpassed Seager in one of those new-fangled obscure stats.

The AL ROY winner, Michael Fulmer of the Detroit Tigers, had an 11-7 record and a 3.06 ERA, which would be admirable numbers for a veteran. He is one of the few bright lights for the Tigers this year. Former National Jordan Zimmermann pitched very well early in the season, but ended up with a middling 9-7 record and a 4.87 ERA, which is not very good.

Golden Glove Awards

I was a bit surprised that none of the Nationals won a Golden Glove, since the team as a whole ranked near the top defensively this year. They were in a virtual tie in fielding percentage (.988) with the San Francisco Giants, with just 73 errors (.45 per game), one more than the Giants. Nelson Arenado (Colorado Rockies) beat the Nats' third baseman, Anthony Rendon, despite committing more errors. It must have been Arenado's greater number of double plays: 39 vs. 25. Likewise, even though Jayson Werth ranked at the top among left fielders in fielding percentage, Starling Marte got the Golden Glove, probably because of all the assists he had: 17, which was 5 more than anyone else. I could go on, but probably shouldn't...

For a roundup of all this year's major awards, see MLB.com.

Comparing three successful years

I updated the Washington Nationals page, with the chart Nats' daily winning percentage for the 2016 season shown below, as well as the historical head-to-head table. It is interesting to chart the march toward the postseason in their three division championship years: 2012, 2014, and 2016. There are many similarities between the 2012 season and the 2016 season: In both cases, the Nats were on a hot streak in April, and stayed near the .600 winning percentage level for most of the season. (They were atop the NL East for almost the whole season both years.) In contrast, their other division championship year, 2014, the Nats had a rather dismal month of May, dipping below .500 briefly before making a long climb to just under the .600 level at season's end.

Nats winning percentage 2016

After consulting with baseball-reference.com, I found two errors in my daily compilation of Nationals home game attendance: April 14 and July 17. (I mentioned the discrepancy in my October 2 blog post.) The correct total for the year is 2,481,938 rather than 2,482,218; average home game attendance was 30,641 rather than 30,645.



November 16, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Field trip to McCormick's Mill

Enjoying more nice weather, today I joined an Augusta Bird Club field trip to McCormick's Mill in southern Augusta County led by Jo King. She counted 28 species altogether, of which the highlight was a Wilson's Snipe on the other side of the upstream pond. It was spotted by Dan Perkuchin, and was a great find. Later on we saw a dozen or so Cedar Waxwings, but they flew away before we could get a good look at them. We also heard and then saw a large flock (estimated at over 45) Eastern Meadowlarks, some of which were in a tree top, others in a field, and some that took a bath in the pond. That was amazing.

Later on, some of us drove over to nearby Willow Lake, where four Ruddy Ducks and one Ring-necked Duck were seen, along with 30 or more Canada Geese.

Montage 16 Nov 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Wilson's Snipe, Northern Cardinal (M), Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, Mallard (M), and Eastern Meadowlark. Roll your mouse over the image to see the Wilson's Snipe enlarged.



November 15, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Nice day for some nice birds

It's been chilly and/or rainy for the [past] couple days, so I took advantage of the nice weather this afternoon, walking along the Greenway Trail in Waynesboro. (I was there on a bird club field trip last month.) Nothing really out of the ordinary, other than a couple Pied-billed Grebes and a Belted Kingfisher on the Invista pond. But the lighting conditions were almost perfect for photographs:

Montage 15 Nov 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-bellied Woodpecker, Great Blue Heron, Northern Cardinal, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Harrier (F/J)*, Tufted Titmouse, and in center, House Finch (M). (* Nov. 8; all others Nov. 15)

I saw the Harrier on Bell's Lane six days ago, but wasn't able to get close enough for a good photo before it flew away. I went back there on the way home to Staunton late this afternoon, but the only birds of note that I saw were a couple Great Blue Herons, including the one shown above.

Enlarged images of some of the birds above can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.



November 15, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Super views of the "super" moon!

On Sunday evening, while Jacqueline and I were returning from a "Sunday drive" to the New Hope area of Augusta County, I stopped at the upland portion of Bell's Lane and waited for the moon to rise in the east. I had heard all the news reports about the "super moon," and given the nice skies, I figured it was a good opportunity to get some photos. I timed it very well, as we only had to wait a few minutes. As explained at space.com, "the moon hasn't been this close to the Earth since January of 1948."

Moonrise, Holiday Inn 13 Nov 2016-A

Moonrise above the Staunton Holiday Inn, Nov. 13, 2016. Roll your mouse over the image to see a closeup, with birds flying in front of the moon.

I was surprised to see the birds in the photo after I came home. They were too far away to tell what kind they were; perhaps crows? A couple hours later, after the skies had turned black, I took some more photos of the full moon:

Full moon, Nov. 13, 2016.

Additional photos can be seen on the Chronological (2016) photo gallery page.



November 15, 2016 [LINK / comment]

The Trump transition begins

President-elect Trump has tried to have it both ways by [choosing] a more-or-less "establishment" figure (Reince Priebus, RNC chairman) as his chief of staff, with an "alt-right" figure (Steve Bannon, of Breitbart News) as his "chief strategist." There will be [many] more strained efforts to placate opposing factions within the GOP in the months to come, and given what we know of Trump, there is likely to be a high turnover rate in the White House West Wing.

The choice of Bannon has been deeply disturbing to many people, as he is known as an exponent of harshly nationalistic (especially anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim) rhetoric, which is the bread and butter of Breitbart News. (Breitbart was founded by Andrew Breitbart, who died of a heart attack in March 2012.) I occasionally read articles there, but it's not the kind of source that I rely on.

Depending on which news source you were following today, President-elect Trump's transition team is either operating normally (Fox News) or is in utter disarray, undergoing a "Stalinist purge" (MS-NBC). The Washington Post's senior reporter Karen DeYoung leans toward the latter interpretation, noting that not only has New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie been removed from the Trump team, but all of Christie's close associates. That is merely fallout from the recent "Bridgegate" convictions, however, and doesn't itself reflect on Trump. The departure of former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), who had been a national security adviser, may be cause for concern however. Aside from Bannon, other members of Trump's inner circle include Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

Trump's family, including son-in-law Jared Kushner, is expected to play a major role in his decisions, which could lead to major conflict-of-interest problems. Trump must [is obliged to] put his assets into a blind trust while serving as president, and the same legal requirement [basic norm] applies to his immediate family. That could put them all in a severe financial strain, being forced to step aside from, or liquidate, some of their prized business assets. [UPDATE: In the Wednesday Washington Post, Matt O'Brien explains the well-established practice by which sitting presidents put their assets into a blind trust. Contrary to what I originally wrote, it is not required by law.]

The clash between the imperatives of winning elections and those of governing a country is especially sharp in the Trump transition. He won the election by breaking all the rules, ignoring conventional wisdom and outwitting the opposition. It reminds me a little of Germany's blitzkrieg strategy in World War II. But formulating public policy means bargaining and mobilizing a majority of constituents behind various specific proposals, and that will require a much different, much more subtle approach. I was listening to Sean Hannity this afternoon, and noted polemicist Ann Coulter scoffed at the critics of Trump. To me, the Trumpistas are indulging in a foolish end zone dance, oblivious to the harsh realities that will confront their Great Leader on January 20.

And on a more humorous note, Dr. Ben Carson took himself out of consideration for any cabinet position today. (What about surgeon general?)




 

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This blog features commentary and musings on a diverse but well-defined set of topics, from a critical-minded conservative point of view, featuring a veritable library of original graphics and statistical information. It is distinguished in many ways from the rest of the "blogosphere." My blog entries cover a rigidly defined set of topics, with varying degrees of intensity according to how much is going on in each area, and how much time I have. Being somewhat of a "do-it-yourselfer," I chose a "home-made" approach rather than conforming to the common blogging systems such as Blogger or WordPress. The blog entries and archives are arranged in a sort of "proprietary" scheme that I have gradually developed over time. Finally, being an old-fashioned, soft-spoken kind of guy, I avoid attention-grabbing sensationalism and strident rhetoric, and strive instead to maintain a reasonable, dignified, respectful tone.

"It's not just a blog, it's an adventure!"



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News Web sites

 

Blog roll (partial)

(Former) Regular reads:
Blogs I should read:
Virginia blogs (active):

 
 

NOTE: Additional blogs are listed on the respective category pages: Baseball, Politics, etc.


My blog practices

My general practice is to make no more than one blog post per day on any one category. For this reason, some blog posts may address more than one specific issue, as indicated by separate headings. If something important happens during the day after I make a blog post, I may add an updated paragraph or section to it, using the word "UPDATE" and sometimes a horizontal rule to distinguish the new material from the original material. For each successive day, blog posts are listed on the central blog page (which brings together all topics) from top to bottom in the following (reverse alphabetical) order, which may differ from the order in which the posts were originally made:

  1. Wild birds (LAST)
  2. War
  3. Science & Technology *
  4. Politics
  5. Latin America
  6. Culture & Travel *
  7. Canaries ("Home birds")
  8. Baseball (FIRST)

* part of "Macintosh & Miscellanous" until Feb. 2007

The date of each blog post refers to when the bulk of it was written, in the Eastern Time Zone. For each blog post, the time and date of the original posting (or the last update or comment thereupon) is displayed on the individual archival blog post page that appears (just before the comments section) when you click the [LINK / comments] link next to the date. Non-trivial corrections and clarifications to original blog entries are indicated by the use of [brackets] and/or strikethroughs, as appropriate so as to accurately convey both the factual truth and my original representation of it. Nobody's perfect, but I strive for continual improvement. That is also why some of the nature photos that appear on the archive pages may differ from the (inferior) ones that were originally posted.

The current "home made" blog organization system that I created, featuring real permalinks, was instituted on November 1, 2004. Prior to that date, blog posts were handled inconsistently, and for that reason the pre-2005 archives pages are something of a mess. Furthermore, my blogging prior to June 1, 2004 was often sporadic in terms of frequency.



 

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