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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. Hence,

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

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February 11, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Yankee Stadium II update

Yankee Stadium II

It wasn't high on my list of Coming_Attractions.gif (priority tasks), but I decided to make an update to the Yankee Stadium II diagram, perhaps because it was relatively easy. It's been three years since the last such update, so why not? There are a few notable changes: The arc of the bleachers is several feet broader than before, such that the bullpen in right center field is several feet wider on the right side than on the left side, i.e., the side which is adjacent to Monument Park. That area is now rendered with detail for the first time. Also, the entry portals in the rear of the lower-tier outfield seats are now show. Finally, in the upper deck, the forward (lower) tier of seats is a few feet bigger (about two rows), and the lateral walkway is correspondingly smaller.

I'm hoping to finally see a game at the New Yankee Stadium this summer, so there is a possibility that I will discover additional details that need to be corrected.

Shibe Park tweak

Shibe Park

Soon after completing the updates to the Shibe Park diagrams on January 31, I realized that a few additional corrections needed to be made. In particular the "new" (post-1926) upper deck, the part which extends beyond the infield, was about four feet higher than the "old" upper deck, so all of the profiles have been adjusted to reflect that. Also, the infield grandstand was a few feet longer than I previously estimated,* meaning that the "alley" which lay between it and the extended grandstand was a bit narrower. Unless you're a fanatical purist like me, it's no big whoop.

* That change was based on Bruce Kuklick's fine book To Everything a Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia, 1909-1976. On page 26, it says that the original infield grandstand was 251 feet long, and 77 feet deep.



February 6, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Fall bird migration season 2015

CATCHING UP (EXTREME!): I have been so busy teaching at Sweet Briar College since last August, that I failed to do any blog posts on the fall bird migration season. Little by little, I'm getting caught up, in big chunks going in reverse chronological order. After this birding post, I'll do one tomorrow (?) on my trip to South Dakota last summer, and that will be that.

On August 23, Jacqueline and I hiked along The Slacks Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway, 18.5 miles south of Rockfish Gap. There weren't many birds, but we did get nice looks at a Acadian Flycatcher, some Black and White Warblers, and some Canada Warblers, among others.

A week to remember!

The third week of September featured some of the nicest weather we had had for a long time, and I made the best of it. On Tuesday, September 15, I walked the boardwalk loop around Augusta Springs, hoping to spot some fall migrants. But all I managed to see was a Magnolia Warbler, a Redstart, and a family of Wood Ducks on the pond. Kind of a letdown a such beautiful day.

But two days later, another great day to be outside, it was a different story. I drove out west to Ramsey's Draft, which was fairly uneventful, so then I went up the mountain to the summit known as Confederate Breastworks. From there I hiked south along the ridge-top trail which straddles the Augusta-Highland County line. Many, many birds, including eight (8) Warblers! Among them was a Kentucky Warbler, which is pretty special for me, but it was either a female or a juvenile, thus rather dull in plumage. I got some of the best-ever photos of a Tennessee Warbler and a Blackpoll Warbler. The following list is not complete, but only shows the highlights.

  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Black and White Warbler
  • Kentucky Warbler
  • Eastern Wood Pewee
  • Ravens
  • Eastern Towhees
  • Ruffed Grouses
  • Bald Eagle (imm.)
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Dark-eyed Juncos
  • Cape May Warblers
  • Pine Warblers
  • Cedar Waxwings
Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler, on top of Shenandoah Mountain south of the Confederate Breastworks, September 17, 2015.

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler, on top of Shenandoah Mountain south of the Confederate Breastworks, September 17, 2015.

Two days after that, September 19 (Saturday), I drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and went for a short hike east of the picnic area near Humpback Mountain. I saw an Eastern Wood Pewee, a Tennessee Warbler, some Black-throated Blue Warblers (male and female), and Dark-eyed Junco. Stopping at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch on the way back, I stayed just long enough to see and photograph an Osprey. Once I got home again, I got some nice photos of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and a Sharp-shinned Hawk in the back yard!

The next day, I went up to the Hawk Watch again, and saw a Broad-winged Hawk but not much else. I did get a great photo of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, however:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (female), September 20, 2015.

Red-necked Phalarope!

After that extremely busy week, I did hardly any birding at all for the next three weeks. It must have been bad weather, or preoccupation with baseball perhaps. Anyway, on the morning of October 10 (Saturday), I heard that a Red-necked Phalarope had been seen on Leonard's Pond, in Rockingham County. Jacqueline and I were planning to drive up to Northern Virginia for a birthday party, so it was a convenient 15-minute detour to which my wife graciously consented. The time we spent paid off very quickly, as I soon spotted and photographed the bird in question. (Unfortunately, it was overcast, not good for photos.) That marked my 461st life bird! It was also my fourth and final life bird of the year 2015; see my life bird list.

Red-necked Phalarope

Red-necked Phalarope, Leonard's Pond, October 10, 2015.

Coincidentally, it was almost one year previously that I saw the closely-related Red Phalarope in a pond east of Dayton. The next day the skies were sunny, so we went back to Leonard's Pond hoping to get better photos. We saw Diane Holsinger there, but the Red-necked Phalarope was already gone. We did have better luck driving at Silver Lake near Dayton, however: An Osprey which had been reported there was still present, and I was able to get close enough for a beautiful, well-lit photo.

Osprey

Osprey, Silver Lake in Dayton, October 11, 2015.

One of the few times that I went birding at Sweet Briar College was on October 20, when I saw my first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the season during my lunch hour. I also saw a Downy Woodpecker and some Chipping Sparrows.

Bell's Lane: new kiosk!

At the suggestion of Augusta Bird Club president Penny Warren, a wooden kiosk with a chalkboard, protective roof and hinged clear plastic doors was built near the south end of Bell's Lane last spring. The purpose was to let nature lovers share their sightings with each other, so that folks would know what to look for. It's mostly birds, but also butterflies and unusual mammals. It has proven to be a big success.

On Saturday October 24, I finally had enough time to get outside and do some serious birding today, and it really paid off. Hiking up Mary Gray Hill in Staunton, I saw several Golden-crowned Kinglets (FOS)*, Blue-headed Vireos, Towhees, and a distant (probable) Hermit Thrush (FOS). Then I drove out to Bell's Lane, where I saw White-throated Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows (FOS), as well as Dark-eyed Juncos (FOS), Field Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets (FOS), Cedar Waxwings, Yellow-rumped Warblers*, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (FOS), some Phoebes, and a Goldfinch. I just about filled the kiosk chalkboard with those sightings.

* FOS = first of season (excluding Juncos, etc. seen in the mountains during breeding season).

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Bell's Lane, October 24, 2015.

I went back to Bell's Lane on November 3, after walking south of downtown Staunton to on Sears Hill, where I saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker. It was just a beautiful day for taking pictures. On Bell's Lane in the afternoon, I finally saw some Palm Warblers (FOS), among other nice birds and one not-so-nice bird: a Sharp-Shinned Hawk! It was duly recorded on the kiosk chalkboard.

Montage 03 Nov 2015

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Palm Warbler, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Mockingbird, White-throated Sparrow, Flicker, and Bluebird, on Bell's Lane, November 3, 2015.

Chimney Hollow field trip

On Saturday morning, November 7, I led a field trip for the Augusta Bird Club to the Chimney Hollow trail, in western Augusta County. I was joined by Penny Warren and new member Ann Pontius (sp?), who persevered in hiking along the stream in spite of very wet conditions. It varied between light drizzle and light rain, but we braved the elements like true adventurers. Our efforts didn't really pay off, however, as there were hardly any birds to be seen, just glimpses of Chickadees and a flock of (probable) Cedar Waxwings up above. We heard Golden-crowned Kinglets and Crows, but that was about it. At least it was a pleasant hike in a nice setting.

Because of school, I wasn't able to join Jo King's very successful ABC field trip to McCormick's Mill on November 11, so the next day I went there on my own. I didn't find as as many birds as they had found, but I did see some female Green-winged Teals in the upper part of the upper pond, which was finally refilled after a year or more during which is was empty and dry. There were also some Gadwalls on the lower pond in front. Then at nearby Willow Lake I saw nearly a hundred American Coots plus some Pied-bill Grebes, Ring-necked Ducks, and American Wigeons. Finally, I drove out to Camp Shenandoah (Boy Scout Lake), and saw several Killdeer but not much else.

After work on Friday the 13th of November, I got lucky seeing an adult Bald Eagle flying over the Tye River, which divides Amherst and Nelson Counties.

On November 15, a Sunday, I joined a group of friends from church (and some of their friends) for a short hike in the Blue Ridge, to a scenic overlook called Dripping Rock. It was sunny and mild, a perfect day to get outside. Unfortunately, the only birds I saw were some Chickadees and Vultures (both Turkey and Black), but someone spotted a colorful spider along the trail, and I got a nice photo of it:

Marbled Orb Weaver

Marbled Orb Weaver, in the Blue Ridge, November 15, 2015.

Autumn turns to winter

I went out to Bell's Lane on December 3, and spotted some Hooded Mergansers (FOS). Two days later they were there again, along with Bluebirds, a Great Blue Heron, and Ruddy Ducks. There was also a Sharp-shinned Hawk in "our" back yard.

On Sunday December 6 Jacqueline and I drove out to Swoope, in hopes of seeing Bald Eagles or Harriers, but not much was going on until we were leaving the Boy Scout Camp. Then, in rapid succession, we saw a whole assortment of different birds, most of which are pictured here:

Montage 06 Dec 2015

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Pied-billed Grebe, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, American Kestrels (male and female),and White-crowned Sparrow, around Swoope, December 6, 2015.

On December 10, I went back to Chimney Hollow, site of the infamous field trip of November 7. Incredible as it may seem, I saw even fewer birds than the time before: exactly one (1) bird! It was a good one, however: a Winter Wren!

On Wednesday December 16 (after the end of the semester), Jacqueline and I drove to Leonard's Pond in hopes of spotting some rare bird that had been reported, but the only bird worth noting was a Ruddy Duck. Later on, in a muddy field about two miles to the northeast, near the intersection of Oak Ridge Rdoad and Pleasant Valley Road in Rockingham County, I spotted about two dozen Wilson's Snipes. It was the biggest group of that species I had ever seen!

Wilson's Snipes

Wilson's Snipes, in Rockingham County, December 16, 2015.

As usual, the above photographs and many more can be seen on the Wild birds yearly photo gallery page.

So that takes us from late summer right up until the Christmas Bird Count, which I previously recounted. All's that's left is a report on my birding adventures in South Dakota last summer.



January 31, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Presidential campaign begins

CATCHING UP: I know, the actual presidential campaign began last summer, or even earlier, but I make it a point to ignore the preliminary silliness. So, as the Iowa caucuses are about to begin (tomorrow!), I suppose it's time for me to make a few observations on this blog. (Facebook has largely, but not entirely, superseded my expression of opinions on the Internet.) In my interactions with other politically-minded people, I often ridiculed the idea that Donald Trump might be a serious presidential candidate, but after several months, his lead in the polls appears to be solid. Whether or not he in fact is a serious candidate, Trump has a better chance of winning the Republican nomination than anyone else at this point.

For what it's worth, here are my favorite (Republican) candidates

  1. John Kasich
  2. Chris Christie
  3. Marco Rubio
  4. Carly Fiorina
  5. Rand Paul
  6. Jeb! Bush

There's no point in listing the other candidates, from my point of view. I simply can't see any circumstances under which I would vote for either of the top two Republican candidates, and indeed I am open to the idea of voting for a third party candidate for the first time since 1992. (!) Neither Michael Bloomberg (former New York mayor) nor James Webb (former senator from Virginia) hold any appeal for me, however.

And on the topic of Donald Trump, who has a chronic problem with "verbal diarrhea," I'd just like to point out that Megyn Kelly of Fox News is a top-notch professional journalist. Trump is a jerk, to put it mildly, and there was no reason for Fox to try to persuade him to reconsider boycotting the last GOP candidates' "debate."

In the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer discussed the "three-cornered fight" within the GOP, warning that the party faces a disaster if it succumbs to "the temptation of trading in a century of conservatism for Trumpism." To me, it is so obvious that Trump falls outside the parameters of conservatism that it doesn't need to be said. The fact that so many people on the right nevertheless think that he is a conservative savior in the mold of Ronald Reagan is deeply disturbing to me. Reagan had a solid, length record of responsible public service, while Trump has none at all. He is a loud, foul-mouthed demagogue who could be described as fascist. In Krauthammer's mind (and in mine), Ted Cruz is no better. Indeed, the GOP is on the brink of a meltdown as the dominant "grassroots base" faction pursues its goal of getting rid of the few remaining "RINOs" in the party -- Eric Cantor in 2014 being a perfect example of that.

In a similar vein, The Atlantic Monthly takes a look at the upcoming pivotal South Carolina primary: "Portrait of a Party on the Verge of Coming Apart." In a way it's too bad that the possibility of a brokered convention next summer is regarded by so many people as a bad thing. In my view, negotiations and compromises among the factions that comprise a party are perfectly normal.

Of course, I have unique insights on what went wrong with the Grand Old Party, having served on the Staunton Republican Committee for several years. I think the reasons for my non-involvement should be obvious to everyone who is acquainted with the Virginia political scene. I have made it a point to refrain from calling out the various kooks, extremists, and rogue elements in the party, in hopes that those in a position of responsibility would eventually wise up to what I had been warning them about. Some of them are wising up now, but it may be too late...

Democrats: socialist revolution!

On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) is mounting a surprisingly effective campaign against the presumptive nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton. In a refreshing break with the past, he has proudly identified himself as a socialist, and he declines to say anything about his religious beliefs. (I'm fine with keeping politics separate from religion, but I would prefer a candidate who sincerely adheres to Christian beliefs and values.) As long as the Republicans control Congress, there's not much chance that a President Sanders could lead the United States on a course toward socialism. But, as the Trump Phenomenon shows, politics in this country is extremely volatile right now, and any number of big surprises could await us in November.

Every week there are more revelations about the classified information that was stored on her e-mail server, in clear violation of the law. Will she be indicted during the primary campaign? Not if the Obama administration can put enough pressure on middle-level prosecuting attorneys in the Justice Department.

Politics blog hiatus

The last time I wrote a blog post about politics was June 30, 2015: "Emmett Hanger wins GOP primary election." If the long intervening time isn't an indication of my utter disgust and alienation from party politics, I don't know what is.



January 31, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Ridin' the rails out west

CATCHING UP: I actually made it home for Christmas this season, for the first time in several years. But instead of flying, which exposes one to all sorts of weather-related risks, which I have in fact I have suffered the last two times I flew out to South Dakota (!!!), I took AMTRAK and just relaxed. I got lots of reading done on the way out and back, and did some work on my MacBook laptop computer. Some trains have WiFi service, including the eastbound train from Chicago which I rode. See the Winter 2015-2016 Photo gallery, from which this sample was taken:

Chicago train tracks

Chicago train tracks and skyline, on December 31. (Eastbound)

I used to love flying, but the security hassles at the airports and miscellaneous inconveniences have soured me on that option. It happens that where I live (Staunton) has an AMTRAK station, so I don't have to drive to an airport and leave a car parked there for days or weeks. Besides, it's just plain fun watching the passing scenery from ground level, an experience you never get from 30,000 feet up. I should also mention that all four trains I rode (Staunton-Chicago, Chicago-Omaha, and then the reverse) arrived within a half hour of the scheduled time, which is not bad for such a lengthy trip. (My last trip on AMTRAK, in the fall of 2008, was plagued by delays of more than two hours.) So, they are definitely improving. On one hand, taking advantage of a government-subsidized transportation system does give me qualms, but I think there is a public purpose to be served in maintaining long-distance passenger train service. Wanna ride the rails? Go AMTRAK!

Rating popular-price beers

The Washington Post Weekend Section rated popular-price (i.e., cheap) beers, deliberately omitting the Big Three (Budweiser, Miller, and Coors). The rankings are shown in the list below, and I put the brands I like in bold face. I have to say I am surprised they put Yuengling so low. Back in the 1980s, Budweiser was my usual "regular" beer, and I still like it but I just don't think that it is so much better than some of those listed below that it should be priced almost $2 more per six-pack. Something else that bugs me is how the big brands hog almost all the shelf space in retail outlets. For example, National Bohemian was sold at Food Lion for a while last year, but not any more. Instead there are dozens of cases and six-packs of Bud, Miller Lite, etc.

  1. Genesee Cream Ale
  2. Narragansett
  3. Schlitz (TIE)
  4. Stroh's (TIE)
  5. National Bohemian
  6. Pabst Blue Ribbon
  7. Tecate
  8. Yuengling
  9. Schaefer
  10. Natural Light

On a related note, businessinsider.com Top 10 beer brands in America, most of which were imports or high-quality domestic beers such as Blue Moon. Maybe I'll do my own ranking of favorite beers in the future.



January 31, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Shibe Park update

Shibe Park

After the usual marathon of photo-squinting, pixel-tweaking, and hair-pulling, I finished updates to the Shibe Park page, the first such update since 2011. (Yes, I know, other diagrams are even more outdated than that.) For the first time, that page features not one, not two, but three upper-deck diagrams! That calls attention to the multi-phased expansion of Shibe Park, and for the first time gives one a look at the "insides" of the old stadium, which was torn down in 1976. Among the most outstanding details revealed for the first time: There were two sets of entry portals in the upper deck, one being adjacent to the support beams, and the other being about 20 feet in back. This was only the case in the portion of the grandstand surrounding the infield, not the upper-deck extensions that were built in 1925. For those portions, I think there was a small lateral walkway in back at the very top, accessible via staircases located in the 20-foot-wide gaps between the original upper deck and the extended upper deck. The entry portals in the upper deck were extremely narrow, only about three feet wide. It would have been hard for two people to pass each other, especially if one of them was on the chubby side.

Other new diagram details include the "creases" in the grandstand, the bullpen pitching rubbers and home plates, and even the emergency fire-escape exits behind the upper deck beyond left field. One thing I learned for the first time is that the two dugouts were situated differently, with the home dugout (third base side) being about 15 feet closer to the middle than the visitor's dugout. Apparently this was because there was a tunnel back to the home team locker room, etc. but not for the visitors. Strange.

One change since the previous (2011) edition of the Shibe Park diagrams is that the front edge of the upper deck is about 30 feet above the ground, rather than 25 feet as I had estimated before. That makes a lot of difference. Conversely, the small upper deck in left field is slightly lower than before.

From mid-1938 (when the Phillies moved in after abandoning the nearby Baker Bowl) until end of 1954 (when the Athletics moved to Kansas City), Shibe Park was shared by two teams. In only one other stadium (Sportsman's Park) did two MLB teams share facilities for a longer period. The name was changed to "Connie Mack Stadium" in 1953, just before the team long managed by that revered former player (the A's) moved out.

Obviously, the multiple "under-the-roof" (first second and second deck) diagrams sets the standard for the rest of the "Classical Era" stadium diagrams that are currently in the works. For the first time, you'll get to see the details such as entry portals, support beams, and lateral walkways. I made a lot of progress on Sportsman's Park recently, and expect to release those diagrams in the next week or so.

That takes care of three out of the four MLB stadiums in Philadelphia, since I made updates for Veterans Stadium and Citizens Bank Park in recent months. All that's left to do for that city is the Baker Bowl. (Maybe some day I'll get to the turn-of-the-century wooden ballparks such as Philadelphia's Columbia Park.)

Just say NO to the DH in the NL!

Last week rumors began to circulate that the new (since January last year) MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred may recommend that the National League adopt the Designated Hitter rule, as the American League has done since 1973. No-o-o-oooo!!!! Requiring pitchers to bat gives an advantage to athletes with multiple talents, and it makes watching a ball game more interesting because it forces managers to conserve their utility players and make switches in the lineup based on strategic calculations. The only reason to adopt the DH rule is that it would mean less wear and tear on pitchers, who are often a valuable (and "perishable") team asset.

At ESPN, David Schoenfield lists players who would be better off as designated hitters:

  • Pedro Alvarez, unsigned (ex-Pittsburgh Pirates)
  • Yasmany Tomas, Arizona Diamondbacks
  • David Wright, New York Mets
  • Matt Kemp or Wil Myers, San Diego Padres
  • Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs
  • Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals
  • Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals
  • Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

I have heard some people say that the recent contract negotiations with Yeonis Cespedes may have been affected by an expectation that the National League may start using designated hitters this year or next, in which case Jayson Werth would be a logical choice. The DH rule would raise his value, no doubt.

Baseball and birding in K.C.

Facebook friend and Royals fan Chris Knight asked if anyone could identify the species of the bird used on an "Early Bird" promotion, and it didn't take long for me to figure out that it is a Western Kingbird. Chris says that such birds are often seen swooping after insects at Kauffman Stadium. In fact, I photographed one of those very same birds when I was at a game there two summers ago:

Western Kingbird in Kauffman Stadium

ABOVE: Royals' promotional sign, courtesy of Chris Knight. BELOW: Western Kingbird in Kauffman Stadium, July 25, 2014.



January 29, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Christmas Bird Count 2015

CATCHING UP: For the first time since 2011 (but not recorded on my blog until June 11, 2012), I participated in the Christmas Bird Count this winter. It was held on Saturday, December 19, while I was in the middle of grading final exams, so I could only devote a couple hours to the "census." As usual, Allen Larner coordinated the count, and assigned me to two locations in Staunton. The first was Montgomery Hall Park, where I began in the early afternoon. I saw a fair number of birds, including quite a few woodpeckers, Carolina Chickadees, and Juncos, but nothing really noteworthy until I spotted a male Golden-crowned Kinglet, and lured him into close range by playing that species' song on my iPod. Bingo!

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet (male), in Montgomery Hall Park, December 19, 2015. Roll your mouse over the image to see the same bird displaying his bright orange crown feathers, as males do when they are courting females or warning other males away from their territory.

Later I headed over to Betsy Bell Hill, where I saw a couple Pileated Woodpeckers, a Raven, and most importantly, a Brown Creeper. At the dinner at which the bird count participants gathered to share their results that evening, I learned that I was the only one to observe a Brown Creeper that day. That made my efforts seem worthwhile, even though I only tallied 20 species altogether. Altogether, 76 species were seen or heard in this season's Augusta County Christmas Bird Count, plus four more during the count week. Here is my complete count, with subtotals for the two locations:

Species Montgomery Hall Park Betsy Bell Hill Total
Turkey Vulture 1 2 3
Mourning Dove 7 0 7
Red-bellied Woodpecker 6 3 9
Downy Woodpecker 5 1 6
Hairy Woodpecker 2 0 2
Northern Flicker 0 1 1
Pileated Woodpecker 0 2 2
American Crow 3 0 3
Common Raven 0 1 1
Carolina Chickadee 9 2 11
Tufted Titmouse 3 2 5
Brown Creeper 0 1 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 4 2 6
Carolina Wren 5 4 9
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1 0 1
American Robin 3 1 4
European Starling 20 0 20
White-throated Sparrow 8 0 8
Dark-eyed Junco 14 0 14
Northern Cardinal 11 0 11
TOTAL # OF SPECIES: 20 102 22 124


January 29, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert!

CATCHING UP: Jacqueline and I went to see Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert at the Rockingham County Fair last August 19, and it was just great. A group called Whiskey Myers played as the opening act, and as the sun went down around 8:00, the main event got underway. I would estimate a crowd of about 2,500 was present. They were enthusiastic, as was the band. The fact that adult beverages were on sale (in a special, roped-off area to the side) may have helped liven spirits. As the photos below show, we were quite close to the stage.

I remember when "Sweet Home Alabama" came out in 1974, and just as they were reached the peak of success in 1977, three band members died in plane crash, most notably Ronnie Van Zant. The band broke up for ten years, during which surviving members Gary Rossington and Allen Collins formed the core of a new group, the Rossington-Collins band. Collins later died as well. In 1987, a new incarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd was formed, led by Gary Rossington and Johnny Van Zant, younger brother of Ronnie. For more on the band's changing lineup, see lynyrdskynyrd.com and wikipedia.org.

Here is the unofficial set list from my notes, with three songs (marked with asterisks) that I didn't recognize:

  1. Workin' for MCA**
  2. I Ain't the One**
  3. What's Your Name?
  4. Saturday Night Special
  5. Double Trouble
  6. Gimme Back My Bullets
  7. That Smell
  8. The Needle and the Spoon**
  9. Tuesday's Gone
  10. Simple Man
  11. Gimme Three Steps
  12. Call Me the Breeze
  13. Sweet Home Alabama
  14. Free Bird (ENCORE -- of course!)

** Song titles retrieved from setlist.fm. My notes indicated that there was another song, between "Tuesday's Gone" and "Simple Man," but I guess not.

What better rock 'n roll cliche is there than delirious fans yelling out "Free Bird," asking for an encore? Well, I was finally part of it. I was a little disappointed that they didn't play any songs from the latest Lynyrd Skynyrd album, God 'n Guns. I bought that CD a few years ago, and like the title track as well as "Floyd," and a couple others. "That Ain't My America" veers toward nativism, taking the idea of "We all dig white people, too" (from the song "Sweet Home Alabama") a little too seriously. It's transparently anti-Obama.

My wife and I saw local Alternative Media entrepreneur Chris Graham, and his wife Crystal at the concert. Chris was very impressed by the performance. Other musical acts at the Rockingham County Fair last August included Lady Antebellum and Alabama; see rockinghamcountyfair.com.

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert

We were about six to eight rows from the stage at the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, pretty close.

Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert

In this photo shared by the official Lynyrd Skynyrd Facebook page, a bearded figure wearing an olive green ball cap, looking suspiciously like me, can be seen on the right side, about six to eight rows back.



January 26, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Sweet Briar College is saved!

As the spring semester gets underway, and I struggle to get caught up with various tasks, it's high time for me to write a few lines about a topic that is dear to my heart: the saving of Sweet Briar College! I mentioned that Sweet Briar had closed down in my blog post of June 30, 2015, when I was explaining my unusual three-job situation in the spring semester of last year: Bridgewater College, Sweet Briar College, and Central Virginia Community College. Only a week or two later it was announced that Sweet Briar would not close after all, thanks to a wonderful, spontaneous movement of alumni called Save Sweet Briar, to which I had pledged and donated a bit of money.

Well, that meager gesture of good faith on my part must have triggered some kind of cosmic karma, because soon I was offered a full-time position to teach at Sweet Briar, just before I left on vacation to Canada and South Dakota. As soon as I returned I got extremely busy preparing for three courses: Intro to Comparative Politics, Theories of Comparative Politics, and Intro to International Politics. The first two I had taught in the spring semester, while the third course I had not taught since my days at James Madison University, over ten years before. (!)

For the International Politics class, I had the students prepare for and conduct a diplomatic simulation, kind of a mock United Nations Security Council meeting, and it went very well. I concocted a fictitious world crisis in which troops from Iran's Revolutionary Guard seized most of the port city of Dharhan, Saudi Arabia, after Shi'ite Muslim dissidents seized two mosques in that city. That hypothetial scenario turned out to be eerily similar to the real-world crisis that happened a few weeks ago: Iran issued blunt threats to Saudi Arabia after the latter executed 47 people accused of terrorism. (See aljazeera.com.) In response, Saudi Arabia and several other Arab nations in the region cut diplomatic ties with Iran, amid fears that tensions might escalate toward war.

Anyway, I relished the experience, and was delighted to get to know quite a few excellent students, including some who are majoring in Government or International Affairs.

Welcome, Pres. Stone!

One of the most positive changes at Sweet Briar has been the new president, Dr. Philip Stone. He is a former president of Bridgewater College, and I am told by my former colleagues there that he is very highly regarded. I heard him speak at the Fall Convocation on August 25, and on Founders' Day, September 25. He made it very clear: Sweet Briar will prevail! (Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the speech to the college which he gave today.)

Sweet Briar impossible sign

The new president of Sweet Briar College, Dr. Philip Stone, speaking at the Founders' Day Convocation on September 25.

Regarding the previous president of Sweet Briar College, James F. Jones, Jr., I think the less that is said, the better. Without any warning of impending financial trouble, last March 3, just before spring break, he abruptly announced to the assembled faculty that Sweet Briar would close permanently at the end of the semester. When that was announced by a local TV channel that evening, I could not believe what I had just heard. Sure enough, it was in the newspaper the next day, and when I arrived for my 9:00 class, the students were even more stunned than I was. Some of them didn't even come to class, understandably.

For me, one of the worst parts of this tragic episode is that the lives of colleagues I deeply respect were turned upside down, causing untold family angst. Many of them had no choice but to take teaching positions elsewhere, before the "reopening" was announced. It leaves me with mixed emotions as I embrace the academic challenge with the sobering knowledge that my good fortune came at the expense of others, in effect. To find out what was behind those dastardly deeds, see followthemoneyatsweetbriar.com.

Future enrollment growth

The future looks bright at Sweet Briar, with over 200 students expected to matriculate as freshmen next year -- the Class of 2020. (Understandably, this year's freshman class was miniscule.) There remains some uncertainty over which programs and which majors will be retained at Sweet Briar, and some cost-cutting measures are to be expected. Colleges and universities across the country are in varying degrees of financial stress, while many warn of an impending crisis due to the "balloon" of student debt, similar to the mortgage debt "balloon." In any case, I would love settling down and making a career at Sweet Briar, so we'll see how things go...

Sweet Briar impossible sign

"At Sweet Briar, the impossible is just another problem to solve." Roll your mouse over the image to see another such uplifting sign: "It's going to be a legendary year!"

Seth Meyers at Sweet Briar

On Friday, November 6, NBC Late Show host Seth Meyers came to speak at Sweet Briar, being the "prize" for some kind of intercollegiate competition that Sweet Briar won. Seth is a very funny and very bright guy, formerly the chief scriptwriter for Saturday Night Live. He talked to the students about his career path and how he succeeded in a very tough environment. He grew up in New Hampshire, and went to journalism school at Northwestern University, after which he tried his hand at various stand-up comedy acts. He even spent some time working as a comedian in the Netherlands, which must have been different for an English-speaking comic. His message to the students was clear: Whatever situation you are in, produce something original whenever you have time. Don't fret about social networking or getting the highest grades, just establish a track record of effective performance and achievement that will catch the attention of potential employers. Indeed!

The nice folks at NBC (now part of Comcast!) gave everyone who attended the event a tote bag full of goodies such as a frisbee, sunglasses, mini-speakers for iPhones, etc.

Seth Meyers

Seth Meyers, grinning as he answers a question from one of the students in the audience.

NOTE: I will have to update my Academics page in the very near future.



January 24, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Mets keep Yoenis Cespedes

After a flurry of rumors last week about the Washington Nationals trying to get free agent Yoenis Cespedes, he signed a three-year contract with the Mets for $75 million, with an opt-out clause after the 2016 season. Cespedes was without a doubt the key factor behind the Mets' big surge during the last two and a half months of the 2015 season, overtaking the Nationals in the NL East and making it all the way to the World Series. See MLB.com.

Obviously, the Cespedes deal will help the Mets in the 2016 NL East race. They still have that awesome trio of pitchers this year (Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard), and it will likely be a tough struggle for the divisional title once again.

From my perspective, that announcement was a bit of a relief, as a contract between the Nats and Cespedes would have put veteran Jayson Werth's job in left field in jeopardy. At present, it's Bryce Harper in right field, Ben Revere in center field, with Michael Taylor as the backup outfielder. Who would be the odd man out? On Facebook I remarked that acquiring Cespedes could have had the same disastrous, morale-depressing effect on the clubhouse that acquiring Jonathan Papelbon did last year. Werth has two more years on his contract, which has a no-trade clause, and he will be paid a cool $42 million. He's got plenty of slugging ability left, and as long as he stays healthy (unlike last year), he can be expected to lead the Nats toward another postseason appearance.

AT&T Park update

AT&T Park

For some time, I've been aware that the AT&T Park diagrams were lacking [the last diagram update was in 2012], so I spent some time today making some corrections. As usual, what was supposed to be a minor "tweak" ended up taking more time than planned. There is new detail in the upper deck entry portals, such as the stairs between the upper and lower portions of the upper deck, and correcting the lower deck entry portals. I also added gray lines which represent the "creases" in the grandstand, and corrected the dugouts (smaller than before) and the light towers along the first and third base sides (longer than before). I also noticed that the big entry tunnel which used to be near the home dugout on the third base side was removed several years ago, perhaps to make room for more seats. (The tunnel on the right side is still there.) Later on I may add a second-deck diagram.

Let me thank Glenn Simpkins once again for the photos of AT&T Park he shared, which proved very useful in getting the upper deck entry portals and stairs just right. (I combined them into an "extreme" panorama, shown on that page.)

By the way, it appears that the "San Francisco Bowl" (or various name variations thereof) has not been played at AT&T Park since 2013, now that Levi's Stadium (home of the 49ers) is available for use. That will be the site of Super Bowl L (I know, it has officially been designated "Super Bowl 50"), in which the Denver Broncos will take on the Carolina Panthers. It's experienced Peyton Manning against the youthful Cam Newton. Should be a lot of fun.

Also by the way, notwithstanding the massive blizzard we just had here in the east, baseball spring training begins next month, and Opening Day (April 4) is just ten weeks away!

The mail bag

Mike Zurawski wrote to express great satisfaction in the way the Rams relocation back to Los Angeles was handled. He noted that St. Louis has had mediocre football attendance for many years, and the city was just not able to afford building a replacement stadium. Mike also explained some of the cut-throat negotiations behind the scenes, putting the Chargers ahead of the Raiders as far as partnering with the Rams to build a new stadium in Inglewood. Mike says the Raiders'-Chargers' stadium plan in Carson, California was fatally flawed. This New York Times article explains why St. Louis is probably better off without a football team.

A guy representing a group of musicians in San Francisco asked to use my Candlestick Park diagram as part of the art work for a music CD which they intend to publish this year, commemorating the Beatles' last concert in 1966. Cool!

A baseball fan and relics collector named Ken Finnigan is trying to acquire a authenticated brick from Griffith Stadium. He has checked the usual online sources, but thought someone who follows this Web site might know.

Finally, here's a heart-warming story involving baseball fans of the opposing teams in the Windy City of Chicago. A young White Sox fans named Drew Duszynski (age 5) was in urgent need of a kidney transplant, because of a life-threatening congenital disease. A Cubs fan named Chris White (age 35) happened to be a perfect match, so they went ahead with the transplant operation in December. Both are now doing fine, and the urban community as a whole is a little bit stronger than before. Read all about it at redeyechicago.com.




 

This month's calendar:

February 2016
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News links

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Blog roll (partial)

(Former) Regular reads:
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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.


Compatibility

This page, and all others on this Web site, are designed to be viewed on a monitor with 1024 x 768 pixel resolution, but certain accommodations have been made for the sake of those with 800 x 600 monitors. Most pages require that the user's browser program be JavaScript-enabled in order to function properly. In addition, most of the pages make heavy use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and thus may not be compatible with earlier versions of Netscape, Internet Explorer, or other browsers. The greatest degree of compatibility is with Safari and Firefox, followed by Netscape Navigator 6.1 and Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher. (Navigator 4.x is no longer supported by this site.)



 


 

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

This blog 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.


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