Andrew home

Annual archives
(by topic)

Monthly archives
(all categories)

Miscellaneous Archives, 2005

Some of the most wild, wonderful, and just plain offbeat musings, photographs, and sundry graphics you're likely to find on the Internet, or your money back! *

December 31, 2005 [LINK]

Looking back on the year: 2005

For me, the Year of Our Lord 2005 was an odd mixture of frustration in terms of politics, as the Bush administration got off track and Republicans in Virginia lost the governors race, coupled with exhuberant triumph in terms of baseball, as I was a witness to the (re)-birth of the Washington Nationals. As for joint marital endeavors, the trip Jacqueline and I made to Central America early in the year was probably the highlight. This having been the first full year in which I have blogged in a consistent fashion, with posts on all topics being integrated into a single archiving system, I thought it would be appropriate to summarize the year's main events and trends in terms of how I saw them at the time. The titles of the following blog entries are listed in chronological order, from January through December:

Major news items

Final respects

I noted the passing of the following notable figures over the past year:

I probably should have mentioned William Rehnquist, Rosa Parks, and Richard Pryor.

Birding, travels

December 30, 2005 [LINK]

Blacksburg day trip: Br-r-r-r!

Lane Stadium Jacqueline and I spent yesterday in Blacksburg, visiting old friends from Spain and a special uncle. Overcast, cold, and blustery... It was the first time I had seen the new bleachers section at the east end of Lane Stadium. That section is nearly as tall as the rest of the enormous single-deck grandstand, and is frighteningly steep.

Bowl season

The Virginia Tech Hokies were in contention for one of the Bowl Championship Series slots until they lost to the Florida Seminoles. Now they are preparing for the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville on January 2, and the sometimes-troubled quarterback Marcus Vick is on the hot seat. See His older brother Michael's team, the Atlanta Falcons, failed to make the NFL playoffs this year. Meanwhile, the U.Va. Cavaliers, who dropped out of the Top 25 rankings early in the season, play Minnesota in the Music City Bowl in Nashville at noon. For me, the biggest football game this weekend will be the Redskins vs. the Eagles on New Year's Day.

UPDATE: The final score was Cavaliers 34, Golden Gophers 31. U.Va. was behind or tied the entire game until a game-winning field goal in the final minute. WA-HOO-WA!

December 22, 2005 [LINK]

Take this theology quiz!

Always anxious about my shortcomings in knowledge of and practice of religion, I took this Theology quiz with some trepidation. Link via Donald Sensing, an actual man of the cloth (Methodist) who scored as an "Evangelical / Wesleyan." Here are my results:

You scored as Classical Liberal. You are a classical liberal. You are sceptical about much of the historicity of the Bible, and the most important thing Jesus has done is to set us a good moral example that we are to follow. Doctrines like the trinity and the incarnation are speculative and not really important, and in the face of science and philosophy the surest way we can be certain about God is by our inner awareness of him. Discipleship is expressed by good moral behaviour, but inward religious feeling is most important.

Classical Liberal


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Neo orthodox


Reformed Evangelical


Roman Catholic




Modern Liberal




What's your theological worldview?
created with

For what it's worth, I think that overstates my degree of skepticism of Biblical text, and understates the importance I attach to theological doctrine. More of my answers were "somewhat agree / disagree" or "unsure" than "strongly agree / disagree." That portrait is Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), a German Reformed minister whom, quite frankly, I had never heard of. Ha! He was a major influence on 20th Century theologian Karl Barth. Well, you learn something new every day.

December 20, 2005 [LINK]

Warm (& vague) holiday greetings

Xmas tree 2005 closeup In hopes of not offending anyone, in the spirit of multicultural tolerance , we did not put up a traditional Christmas tree this year, but just decorated one of our indoor tree-plants.

Among our bird ornaments are a loon, a goldfinch, and a hummingbird. Others are hard to identify.

As an exasperated bystander in the silly "culture wars," I must confess indifference to the controversy over the Christmas season, and whether it should be labeled as such in the public sphere. It's just simple tact and common sense that one should adjust salutations during this time of year according to the person to whom you are talking. It's also obvious that a large majority of Americans are of a Christian background, and it's only natural that the "reason for the season" -- the traditional (if conjecturally dated) celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ -- be widely recognized in public, as long as tax dollars aren't spent for such a purpose. It's not like it's a secret, and a bit of occasional evangelizing never hurt anyone.

This is the 40th anniversary of the first "Charlie Brown Christmas" broadcast on CBS, and many people don't know that that was the first time that criticism of crassly commercialized Christmas was expressed in a mass venue. Robert Thompson reminded us of this last month in the Washington Post. I can identify with the gentle, spiritually uplifting sentiments that "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz always tried to convey in his cartoon work. Irony aside, may all the world be blessed with peace, joy, and goodwill this season.

December 13, 2005 [LINK]

Totally awesome "galaxy quest"

My friend Rich Raab sent me this cool link to a Web page from Florida State University that shows a conjectural image of our Milky Way galaxy, then gradually zooms in to planet earth, the city of Tallahassee and the leaf of an oak tree on campus:

Libel perpetrated on Wikipedia

I've had my doubts about Wikipedia, the open-source online encyclopedia that just about anyone can edit, subject to a theoretical oversight. Thanks to another friend, Phil Faranda, I've learned that someone posted on it a false assertion that John Siegenthaler Sr. (a Tennessee journalist who was a founding member of the Freedom Forum, along with USA Today's Allen Neuharth) was involved with both Kennedy assassinations, just as a "prank." Ho, ho, ho. I think 2-5 years in the penitentiary ought to wipe the smile off of that guy's face. See

December 9, 2005 [LINK]

Ice storm: no sweat

Sunrise,icy_parking_lot2 The forecast was for 3 to 6 inches of mixed sleet and snow, but we only got about one inch of packed sleet last night. Fortunately, it wasn't as cold as it was yesterday, so scraping the ice off the windshields wasn't too hard. Afterwards, I seized the opportunity to take a sunrise photo.

"Blog With No Name"

After several months of tossing about various semi-clever names for this blog, I realized that there's just no way to encapsulate the variegated main topics I cover in a single phrase. So, I finally decided not to decide and just left it the way it was, without a name. Except now, drawing attention to not having a name gives it a name! I also figured the allusion to my '70s folk/country rock roots would be appropriate. Since I didn't have any good desert photos available to use as a background theme, I picked this one of a rural road in Clay County, South Dakota that I took in August 2004. It shows off my geographical roots and (I think) conveys that song's spiritual sense of connecting to the Earth, or something like that. "'Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain..."

November 30, 2005 [LINK]

Blogging styles and traffic

Mister Snitch (via Instapundit) observes that "Aside from the occasional, reclusive J.D.Salingers, most writers want to be read by as many readers as possible." There follows an analysis of the types of blogging that can be found, and the traffic-generating strategies behind them:

  1. Meme-du-jour bloggers (in-depth, focused writing, e.g., Michelle Malkin)
  2. Caterers (lack all convinction, e.g., MarKos)
  3. Nichebloggers (aka localbloggers)
  4. Internet guides (summarize others' writing, e.g., Instapundit)
  5. The celebrity-blogger (e.g., Arianna Huffington)
  6. The service blogger (e.g., Truth Laid Bear)
  7. The long-tail blogger ("the rarest of successful breeds. This style requires consistent blogging over a long period of time")

So which one am I? Some types of posts (e.g., bird-watching, canary hijinks) are probably of interest to practically no one. My place of residence (Staunton, Virginia) might lend itself to local specialization, but I don't have deep roots or a long-term commitment to the community. So I would have to say either the last one ("long-tail blogger") or, more likely, the reclusive J.D. Salinger []...

Congrats to Phil

Speaking of blog traffic, my New York friend Phil Faranda (Red Guy in a Blue State) has been blogging like there's no tomorrow lately, making me proud to have inspired his very interesting and useful outlet of creative energy. Phil has a great sense of humor, keen wit (necessary to survive in New York), and a well-honed style of writing (English major from Villanova!), taking on a wide variety of cultural, political, and economic issues. He recently generated a surge in traffic by making several posts concerning some misbehaving Carolina Panthers cheerleaders that most people have read about. Tsk, tsk! Well, I figured I can't keep up this holier-than-thou, aloof pretensiousness forever, so I signed up with the Truth Laid Bear "Ecosystem" blog database to find out where I rank. (See the bottom of the main blog page for current lowly status.) Don't count on me climbing to the top of the charts any time soon!


Savvy bloggers (not me, certainly) are up to speed with the RSS technology, by which daily posts are automatically transmitted to regular visitors, by a subscription using an RSS feed software. I've put this off long enough, and yesterday I finally downloaded and installed NetNewsWire for Mac OS X, from It's certainly a change of pace in terms of keeping up with news and views, and it may prompt me to take the next step in blogging and add RSS feeds as a feature. Stay tuned.

November 29, 2005 [LINK]

Great plains puns

The following dreadfully droll plays on the English language were just sent to me by my brother Chris. Please bear in mind the dry sense of humor that prevails in the drier parts of the country.

  • Those who jump off a bridge in Paris are in Seine.
  • A man's home is his castle, in a manor of speaking.
  • Dijon vu - the same mustard as before.
  • Practice safe eating - always use condiments.
  • Shotgun wedding: A case of wife or death.
  • A man needs a mistress just to break the monogamy.
  • A hangover is the wrath of grapes.
  • Dancing cheek-to-cheek is really a form of floor play.
  • Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?
  • Condoms should be used on every conceivable occasion.
  • Reading while sunbathing makes you well red.
  • When two egotists meet, it's an I for an I.
  • A bicycle can't stand on its own because it is two tired.
  • What's the definition of a will? (It's a dead give away.)
  • Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
  • In democracy your vote counts. In feudalism your count votes.
  • She was engaged to a boyfriend with a wooden leg but broke it off.
  • A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.
  • If you don't pay your exorcist, you get repossessed.
  • With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.
  • The man who fell into an upholstery machine is fully recovered.
  • You feel stuck with your debt if you can't budge it.
  • Local Area Network in Australia: the LAN down under.
  • Every calendar's days are numbered.
  • A lot of money is tainted - It taint yours and it taint mine.
  • A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat.
  • He had a photographic memory that was never developed.
  • A midget fortune-teller who escapes from prison is a small medium at large.
  • Once you've seen one shopping center, you've seen a mall
  • Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead-to-know basis..
  • Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses.
  • Acupuncture is a jab well done.

November 28, 2005 [LINK]

"Situation room" page

In recent weeks I have been working on putting current "situational" information in the left column of most of the topical Web log pages, most recently the one showing Divisional deployment. These various summary tables are now brought together on a new page: Situation room, your "one-stop source for critical information," at least from my perspective. There will be further enhancements to that page in coming days and weeks. In addition, I have eliminated the "drop-down" list of blog Archive links on the main blog page; clicking on the Archives link now takes you directly to the Central archives page.

November 24, 2005 [LINK]

Día de Acción de Gracias

Translating "thanksgiving" into Spanish and back into English yields "action of thanks," or something like that. I used to wonder why old folks said "grace" before meals, and the meaning of that word eludes many people whose minds are fixed upon worldly things. The idea that life is a humdrum routine dominated by petty annoyances and random accidents diverts our minds from grasping the drama and wonder that is behind almost everything we do, just out of range of our perception. It sounds like New Age claptrap, but our lives are all connected in ways we cannot fathom, and the slightest gestures of kindness toward each other sprinkle live-saving grace that keeps us all going. The seductions of technology numb our senses to the existence of this social network that we usually take for granted, but it's there. I have so much to be thankful for to so many people, and I hope this Web site is an apt reflection the many graces that have been bestowed upon me during my lifetime. For my wonderful, devoted wife Jacqueline; for my wise and loving father Alan; for my dear, delightful (and departed) mother Mary; for my wonderful and uniquely gifted siblings Chris, Connie, John, and Dan; for all the inspiring teachers and professors I have had the honor to study under; and for all the fine, close friends I've had over the years, such as Dave, Thomas, Lanny, Carlos, Donna, Deb, another Dave, Fred, Greg, [Randy], Rich, Norm, Dennis, and Joe (departed), I am deeply thankful to God. Amen.

November 23, 2005 [LINK]

Farewell to Ted Koppel

Twenty five years after launching the show during the prolonged Iran hostage crisis, Ted Koppel broadcast his last episode of ABC's Nightline last night. It was mostly devoted to memories of his favorite college professor, Morry Schwartz, who died after a long bout with Lou Gehrig's Disease. At the close, Koppel admonished viewers to "be nice" to his successors in the late night time slot, or else ABC would replace Nightline with a comedy show to compete against Jay Leno and Dave Letterman. Now, that would be a revolting development! For obsessed policy wonks like me, it has been something of a luxury counting on ending the day with an in-depth examination of the hot topic of the day for the past quarter century. We should not take such things for granted. Always stiff as a robot, bordering on pompous, Koppel was an easy target of satiric ridicule on Saturday Night Live. Unlike many others in his business, however, he was a thoroughly knowledgeable professional, 100 percent genuine. In an era when Edward R. Murrow has received tribute both in Hollywood (with the release of Good Night and Good Luck) and in the music industry (a song by Fleetwood Mac), perhaps there is hope for first-rate broadcast journalism after all.

November 21, 2005 [LINK]

Vine DeLoria, Jr. dies

Noted American Indian author Vine DeLoria, Jr. died in Colorado on November 6 at age 72. A member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe who grew up in South Dakota, he wrote Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1969), which played a key part in the consciousness-raising that we folks on the Great Plains went through during the tail end of the Civil Rights Era. See his obituary in the Washington Post. His father, Vine DeLoria, Sr., served briefly as rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Vermillion, which I attended as a lad. I have warm memories of Father Vine, but I'm not sure if I ever heard his son speak in public.

November 19, 2005 [LINK]

Theisman's career-ending injury

Yesterday's Washington Post marked the 20th anniversary of the awful day when Redskins quarterback Joe Theisman suffered a broken leg that put an end to his stellar career. It was a Monday Night Football game in RFK Stadium against the New York Giants, and linebacker Lawrence Taylor sacked Theisman, and then threw his hands up in a panic, summoning the medics after realizing what he had inadvertently done. I was watching the game on TV and will never forgot seeing his angle twisted grotesquely out of shape as he lay on the ground. Backup quarterback Jay Schroeder then came in and led the Redskins to an unlikely win. After the game I drove over to Arlington Hospital, and waited for an hour or so with a group of fans in hopes of getting some first-hand news about his condition. Theisman put a lot of effort into rehabilitation, but his attempt at a comeback did not work out. I saw him once when I was dining in the restaurant that bears his name, on the west side of Alexandria, Virginia. He was very nice, and came up to our table to greet us. We were all too much in awe to say very much. He caught flak over the years for being too egotistical, but standards for athletes' behavior were a lot higher back then. He was a classy guy and a great leader, taking the Redskins to a Super Bowl victory in 1983.

November 18, 2005 [LINK]

Was Jesus a Republican?

How's that for a provocative heading? The Gospel reading for last Sunday included one of those head-scratching sayings from Jesus that makes you think hard about how we mortals are really supposed to behave, and what God's role is in overseeing this cruel world. It's the parable from Matthew 25 about the wealthy master who goes on a journey and leaves his three servants with, respectively, five talents, two talents, and one talent. When he returns, he is pleased that the first two doubled their wealth by working and investing, but was angered the third simply buried his in the ground, reasoning that the Master was a ruthless exploiter, so there was no use to taking the risk of losing what little the servant was given. The master concluded his condemning retort:

For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have in abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

Doesn't that run counter to the general thrust of the Sermon on the Mount? What about the meek inheriting the Earth? It is hard to tell whether Jesus meant to say that the master was responding appropriately. If he did, it might imply the Jesus would support "tax cuts for the wealthy" and "trickle down economics." One of my professors at American University, Dr. James Weaver, used to cite the folk saying from his home state of Arkansas: "Thems what has, gets." Nothing succeeds like success, etc., etc. To understand this parable, and others like it, you need to read the preceding and subsequent chapters from the Gospel. My own interpretation of this parable, which was one of the last lessons Jesus gave to his disciples before the Last Supper, is simply that it is vain for human beings to presume righteousness or to plea victimhood in this dog-eat-dog world. When we pray that "Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven," we shouldn't assume that all members of the human race will instantly renounce sin and carry out God's will. The realm of Caeser and the kingdom of heaven will remain forever separate. In our daily lives, we have to behave in terms of how the world actually is.

Just imagine if the Devil hired some political consultant to broadcast an attack campaign advertisement against the Holy Savior, with such a misleading out-of-context quotation!

November 16, 2005 [LINK]

Academics pages updates

I have made major revisions to four course Web pages I have created in the past, and their format is now much more consistent. Links to them can be found on the Academics page, which has also been reformatted. Further revisions there are in the works.

November 11, 2005 [LINK]

Scientific theories and evolution

Bravely wrestling with the confusing issues surrounding the debate over "Intelligent Design" versus evolution, Uriah Kriegel at Tech Central Station (link via Instapundit) explains the various kinds of theories there are, and the various ways to evaluate theories. He [cites] one of my intellectual heroes, Karl Popper, a mid-20th Century philosopher who emigrated from Austria to Great Britain:

Popper concluded that the mark of true science was falsifiability: a theory is genuinely scientific only if it's possible in principle to refute it. This may sound paradoxical, since science is about seeking truth, not falsehood. But Popper showed that it was precisely the willingness to be proven false, the critical mindset of being open to the possibility that you're wrong, that makes for progress toward truth.

Much like Marxism, he continues, "Intelligent Design" cannot be falsified, and therefore does not qualify as a scientific theory. The notion that the natural world was created by an Intelligent Designer certainly may be true (I believe so), but it cannot be proven or disproven on the basis of concrete evidence, so it shouldn't be taught in schools. A person might reflect on the wondrous, intricate forms of life around him or her and conclude that there must be a Creator, but there is simply no objective basis upon which to convince another person with a skeptical mind, which is one of the foremost attributes of a scientist. Prove it! Actually, "prove" is too strong a word when it comes to scientific research. That word is more properly used in mathematical deductive reasoning, as in geometric theorems. "Substantiate" is a much better term, because it leaves open the possibility of further refinement, to which all theories are subject.

As for the misunderstandings over evolution in particular, I remain convinced that the crux of the matter lies in the mathematics that underlie genetic mutations, and the possibility that apparently random mutations embody "stochastic resonance." That is a verifiable proposition, and I have seen some scientific research along those lines, based on Chaos theory. Common sense tells us that evolutionary change based on random behavior implies the absence of any Plan or Guiding Influence, which is why many people on both sides of the debate tend to equate Darwin with Atheism. Chaos theory shows that such extremely complex patterns often have their origins in simple nonlinear deterministic systems, however. One might interpret that as part of a Master Plan, but that would depart from true science and head into the realm of metaphysical philosophy.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict came down strongly on the side of Intelligent Design. See Washington Post. What would Bishop Gene Robinson say?

UPDATE: According to Phil Faranda, Pat Robertson has weighed in on this important issue. Voters in Dover, [PA] removed the school board after it tried to impose intelligent design into the science curriculum, and Pat warned its citizens not to ask for God's help if there is a disaster in their area. Also see the official blog of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Oh, oh, here we go again... The fact that no one at CBN seems to have the nerve to tell the boss he's off his rocker after repeated mega-gaffes does not reflect well on their credibility.

November 9, 2005 [LINK]

Promoting religious schism

Not content with sowing bitter divisiveness within the Anglican Communion over his status as an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson is now looking upon new horizons, inviting Roman Catholics who question the doctrines regarding homosexuality espoused by the new Pope Benedict to join the Episcopal Church. In an interview in London, he said, "... Pope Ratzinger may be the best thing that ever happened to the Episcopal Church." Robinson may bear a grudge over a friendly message then-Cardinal Ratzinger sent to opponents of the former's elevation to bishop in 2003. See Washington Post. Referring to the Pontiff by his family name could be construed as a lack of respect, and the taunting attitude strikes me as unseemly and even belligerent. It is not a good sign when one denomination with falling membership preys upon another, and may be a symptom of the morbidity of mainline, nonevangelical churches. The following passage from St. Paul's First Epistle to Timothy, Chapter 3, which is part of the service for the consecration of a bishop (in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer), is of particular relevance to Robinson, who left his family to live with another man:

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop*, he desireth good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

* "Bishop" is also translated as "overseer," which is functionally equivalent. If those who hold higher office, whether in religious organizations or in government, are not held to a higher standard of morality, then society at large tends to decay -- "slouching toward Gomorrah," as Robert Bork put it.

November 7, 2005 [LINK]

Wolf spider

A giant (well, two inches across) Wolf spider (not related to Wolf Blitzer) intruded into our abode last night, no doubt seeking refuge from the chilly temperatures. Rather than killing it, I gently put it into a "detention facility" and released it out back this morning, marking the event with a good-bye photograph, which I've added to the Butterflies, spiders, insects photo gallery page. It seems to have lost one leg. According to the "usually reliable" Wikipedia, it is of the species Hogna frondicola.

October 15, 2005 [LINK]

Like, totally Stoned

Unfortunately, only one photo I took of the Rolling Stones performing in concert turned out decent: the one showing guitarist Ron Wood. Since it was so dark, I had to use a slow shutter speed, and without a tripod the images came out blurry. I did get a good shot of the huge crowd when the lights came on at intermission, however: a Scott Stadium panorama, and a photo at the entrance outside, can be seen at Virginia, Fall 2005.

At the Green Valley Book Fair yesterday I bought The Rolling Stones -- It's Only Rock and Roll: Song by Song, and was surprised by the chronology. For example, "Start Me Up" was released in 1981; I would have thought it was in the late 1980s. I also learned that some of their biggest songs such as "Satisfaction" and "Honky Tonk Woman" were never included on studio albums. With all they've been through, it's amazing that those bad boys are "still survivin' on the streets" after all these years. The tales of drug arrests, jam sessions with blues artists, the death of Brian Jones and mayhem at Altamont in 1969, romances with Bianca Jagger, Jerry Hall, and others less glamorous, all add up to an incredible mosaic that one can interpret in any number of ways. Can you sort out the good from the bad? No. That's life, and that's rock and roll.

October 7, 2005 [LINK]

Now that's entertainment!

Rolling Stones, A Bigger Bang Mick Jagger and his band of merry men showed what superlative entertainers they are last night in Charlottesville. To hell with old age, they're focused on having a rockin' good time, as was the audience, most of whom were as old or older than us! (Charlottesville political analyst Bob Gibson recounts the impressions of some aging baby boomers at As feared, it did rain some, but not until the middle of the show, and even then it was just a drizzle for the most part. Our seats at Scott Stadium were adequate, near the front of the upper deck in the south corner. With binoculars we could see the performers, but there was a sound tower that obstructed the view of the big video screen behind the stage. "Stage" is not an adequate word to describe the gigantic five-story fire-spewing multi-media display structure, which must have take a week or more to set up. (The Virginia Cavaliers do not play another home game until October 15, by which time the turf will have had time to recover, hopefully.)

The seats filled very slowly during the opening act by Trey Anastasio (good, but too loud), but Scott Stadium was jam-packed (except for the northwestern extremities behind the stage) by the time the Main Event began. Attendance was about 55,000, but many folks arrived late because of massive traffic tie-ups. Channel 29 interviewed some very irate Stones fans who were still stuck in traffic after the show began, but TicketMaster and U.Va. provided plenty of information for out-of-towners on how to park, so I think they have only themselves to blame.

Music? Oh, yeah. It was a perfect mix of the Rolling Stones' standard hits, including nearly all of the best ones, plus a few new songs and a few lesser-known older blues tunes. The sound quality was alright, though a little muddied by amplification and echoing. I suppose that is the best you can expect in such a big arena as Scott Stadium. I made notes of the set list for the show:

  • Start Me Up
  • It's Only Rock 'n Roll
  • Shattered
  • Tumblin' Dice
  • Rough Justice *
  • Ruby Tuesday
  • Sweet Virginia
  • All Down the Line
  • Night Time is the Right Time

  • Miss You
  • Oh No, Not You Again *
  • Get Off My Cloud
  • Honky Tonk Woman
  • Sympathy for the Devil
  • Midnight Rambler
  • Paint It Black
  • Brown Sugar
  • Jumpin' Jack Flash

  • You Can't Always Get What You Want !
  • Satisfaction
  • * : New songs, from A Bigger Bang.

The unplayed song I missed most was "Gimme Shelter," and I was surprised by the omission of "Angie." On either side of the drum set there was a clear plastic shield on which were written the names of the songs in the set, so I knew what to expect. Mick Jagger never showed a bit of fatigue as he sang and screamed through the 20-song set. He played guitar (electric and acoustic) on a few songs, including the crowd-pleasing "Sweet Virginia," and harmonica on "Miss You" and one or two others. He showed he had done his geographic homework by welcoming fans from nearby Richmond, Virginia Beach, and the small town of Midlothian -- which has obvious English roots. Keith Richards was nearly as energetic as Mick on lead guitar, while second guitarist Ron Wood and drummer Charlie Watts were more subdued. Wood generally stayed put, usually out of my line of sight, thanks to the light tower. For "Paint It Black" he used a special electric guitar with a long neck and round base theat resembled a sitar and reproduced the exotic sound. Watts kept up a steady beat with his trademark bemused expression.

Just as Mick was introducing the band members, he announced that "the authorities" had declared that there would be a ten-minute break. Soon all of the stage personnel and the audience from the first 30 or so rows on the field in front of the stage were evacuated, while police officers led trained dogs sniffing around the equipment and seats. They didn't explicitly say so at the time, of course, but it was later confirmed that there was indeed a bomb threat. It only takes one idiot to spoil everyone's fun. Fortunately, however, the concert resumed after a delay of nearly an hour. The incident gave a grimly ironic twist to the name of the new album, A Bigger Bang. Given the weather, it would have been appropriate to play another of the new songs, "Rain Fall Down."

After the (unscheduled) intermission, the crowd on our side of the stadium was thrilled when the band was moved on a large rolling platform to the middle of the field. Seeing the ecstatic faces on the fans right next to the stage was fun for us upper-deck remote observers. The Stones have that special, magical quality that comes through even on songs that would be just average when performed by other musicians. This was the first time Jacqueline and I have been to a rock concert in at least ten years, and there is no doubt if you are only going to see one such show, this one is it. Pure, unadulterated "Satisfaction"!

October 6, 2005 [LINK]

Stones are rolling into town

Wouldn't you know it, we've had a severe drought here in Virginia for two solid months, and on the very day when the Rolling Stones are performing in Charlottesville, there is a fifty percent chance of rain! (Here in Staunton, morning drizzle has turned into light rain.) Parking and traffic will probably be nightmarish, so we plan on arriving hours early. If the set lists for their previous concerts in this tour (see are any indication, there is a high likelihood that they will open with "Start Me Up." (Memories of Windows 95: Ugh.) Trey Anastasio of Phish phame will do the opening, and I'm still hoping that a certain former Charlottesville resident (Dave Matthews) will make a surprise appearance.

October 4, 2005 [LINK]

Butterfly (and spider!) photos

There is a new photo gallery page: Butterflies, spiders, & insects. Most of the photos on it were taken at or near Augusta Springs Wetland Area on Sunday, but some of them are older photos. Among the new photos, I really like the Marbled Orb Weaver, a colorful spider I had first photographed last year, and was recently identified for me by Dr. Art Evans, a friendly and enthusiastic research associate with the Smithsonian Institution who spoke at the Augusta Bird Club meeting last month. The butterfly species in this montage are, clockwise from top left: Red-spotted Purple (misnamed, if you ask me), Orange Sulphur, Monarch, and Cabbage White. The caterpillars from the latter species were devouring one of the plants on our back porch, so I removed them, and now that I know what they would have grown into, I feel bad.

September 29, 2005 [LINK]

Condolences to the Farandas

My friend Phil Faranda's brother Paul just passed away after a long illness. What makes this sad moment especially poignant is the fact that Phil's other brother Tom began chemotherapy treatments only a few weeks ago. Jacqueline and I send our deepest sympathy to Phil and the rest of his fine family. May God bless them all.

September 28, 2005 [LINK]

Multiculture: ¿Es éste un gran país, o qué? *

"In ethnically diverse Los Angeles, many immigrants find that learning Korean, Spanish or Mandarin is more important than English." See (via Drudge) I have some anecdotal evidence to support that finding. "E pluribus unum" is fast fading as an ideal in the good ol' U.S.A. Social integration? That is so-o 1960s! Note that this news story comes from a source that focuses on matters of concern to India, where speaking English is a highly prized job skill.

* For you folks in Rio Linda, that's "Is this a great country or what?" in Spanish.

UPDATE: Linda Chavez, former Reagan administration official who now hosts a radio talk show in Washington, points out that the roots of the various social problems related to immigration in this country lie in the lack of a consistent federal policy on the matter. Exactly! This was in the context of GOP gubenatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore's criticism of public funding of a center for day laborers in Herndon, VA. Kilgore was right, but he only sees part of the big picture. It's too bad neither Democrat nor (most) Republican leaders in Washington are willing to risk losing votes in order to begain the necessary steps toward comprehensive reform. See Washington Post.

September 23, 2005 [LINK]

The British are coming!

Neil Young's words "Rock and roll will never die" were never put to a more strenuous a test as when the Rolling Stones launched their tour in support of their new album A Bigger Bang. [Thus far, I've only heard a snippet of their controversial anti-Bush administration song "Sweet Neo-con." More on that later.] They began their tour on August 21 at Fenway Park, and are playing at several other baseball stadiums, including Comerica Park, Angel Stadium in Anaheim, PNC Park, Petco Park, and SBC Park, as well as the Foro Sol in Mexico City next February. (The latter is actually a multiple-use venue.) They are scheduled to play at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville on October 6, and Jacqueline and I are really looking forward to it, albeit warily. The last two times I bought concert tickets, for Fleetwood Mac and Shawn(a) Colvin, the shows were cancelled!

September 22, 2005 [LINK]

Blogging for dear life

New York blogger Phil Faranda's brother Tom has begun chemotherapy treatment, and is documenting his progress and expressing his thoughts at a new blog: Tom Faranda's Folly. It's a good reminder of how precious and how joyful life is.

Out on the other coast, meanwhile, my friend Donna Ball continues to recover, albeit slowly, as she gets chemotherapy for the rare disease known as Wegener's granuloma.

Menacing pause by Rita

Even though the forward movement of Hurricane Rita has slowed down, and its future course is still uncertain, millions of people are evacuating the Galveston-Houston area. It could just as easily turn toward Louisiana or southern Texas, however. Updates on the movement of Hurricane Rita can be seen at As much as one fourth of the nation's petroleum refining capacity is located on the Texas coast, so another upward jolt in gasoline prices is possible. The American Petroleum Institute placed a full page ad in today's Washington Post, pledging to crack down on price gouging by gasoline wholesalers and retailers.

September 21, 2005 [LINK]

Hurricane Rita: Category 5

The Florida keys got totally drenched from Hurrican Rita, and a few sections of the main highway-bridge that provide the only link to the mainland were seriously damaged. News that the storm has grown and intensified into a category 5 hurricane, rivaling Katrina, has frightened Gulf Coast residents. Being conditioned to behave in a herd fashion in this era of mass media, Americans are prone to alternately turn an indifferent shoulder to potential danger one day and then overreact the next. I thought Sean Hannity overstepped the bounds of public alert today when he urged practically everyone living in the Houston area to evacuate now. One has to wonder how persecuted the poor folks taking refuge in the Astrodome must right now feel.

Now we learn from NASA-JPL that the same phenomenon of global warming has caused noticeable changes on Mars. As Glenn Reynolds said, "If only we had ratified Kyoto." The point is certainly not to minimize the potential threat posed by global warming, to the extent that it exists, but merely to exercise caution about responding with public policies before we have a solid grasp of the mechanics that might be driving upward temperature shifts. If Mars and Earth are both warming up, one might reasonably conclude that higher radiant energy from the sun is to blame.

As preparations for another possible large-scale emergency proceed, I want to take exception to some of the recommendations President Bush has made. He called for new institutional procedures to make sure that Federal and state agencies work together more harmoniously next time, but that neglects the basic human function in public administration. When governments don't function as they should, it is often simply the result of human failures, which can seldom be offset by bureaucratic contrivances. Also, he called for a permanent role for the U.S. armed forces in responding to natural disasters, which might entail a repeal of the Posse Comitatus Act that forbids any military role in maintaining domestic order. One thing we don't need is a stronger state authority; we need public officials who are held accountable. The President has expressed appropriate regret for his shortcomings, but more heads need to roll before we can feel assured that those holding positions of authority in FEMA and other agencies are fully qualified to carry out their jobs in times of high stress.

September 9, 2005 [LINK]

Skunked again!

Skunk Once again, a skunk strolled through our back yard today, vacuuming up seeds scattered by birds as he went. Unlike May 29, there was plenty of sunlight for a good picture this time. Since skunks are mainly nocturnal, it is alarming to see them in broad daylight, but this creature wasn't acting strangely, so I don't think it is rabid. It seemed smaller than average, so it is probably just a young skunk figuring out how to survive on his or her own. Fortunately, there was no stink this time.

September 4, 2005 [LINK]

Back from D.C.; ¡Viva AMTRAK!

My trip to Washington, D.C. went very well (much more on the APSA convention soon), and the return trip on AMTRAK this afternoon was not only pleasant and relaxing, the train was actually on time to the minute! There was a delay of nearly two hours when I departed last Wednesday, but that was anticipated, the result of "freight railroad congestion, track work or other operating conditions."

In much of Latin America, the government has traditionally owned and run the transportation system, usually resulting in gross inefficiency. Many people draw the same conclusion about the Federally-owned AMTRAK passenger rail system, but I've always had a soft spot in my usually free-market heart for that institution. At a time when gasoline prices are soaring close to $4 a gallon or more in some parts of the country, the idea of encouraging more use of collective passenger transport should be a no-brainer. Ironically, Greyhound stopped all bus service in the Shenandoah Valley last month because of lack of business, leaving carless people with virtually no means to travel. If that is not an indication of how this country is hopelessly addicted to automobile travel and cheap gasoline, I don't know what is.

August 31, 2005 [LINK]

Outta here

I'll be in Washington attending the American Political Science Association annual meeting for the next few days. If at all possible, I plan to see at least one Nationals game as they host the wild card rival Philadelphia Phillies. With any luck, I'll figure out a way to update this Web blog while I'm on the road, like I did while I was in Central America earlier this year.

August 14, 2005 [LINK]

Festival at Luray Caverns

Luray Caverns icicles Ignoring all the dire warnings about the 100-degree heat forecasts, we drove up to Luray Caverns for the celebration of the 127th anniversary of its discovery this weekend. We had hoped to take a balloon ride, but we learned after we got there that the only real (untethered) rides were at dawn and late afternoon; it's hard to get lift from hot air when the surrounding air is so warm. With year-round temperatures of about 60 degrees, the caverns were the perfect escape. It's one of the biggest tourist attractions in Virginia, and the wide variety of rock formations provides plenty of stimulation for the mind and senses. The flashless digital photos we took below ground were grainy but at least adequate for Web site purposes. After the 1.25-mile "spelunking" trek, we emerged into the stultifying solar rays again. We walked through a very good antique carriage and car museum, and later enjoyed fine bluegrass music from a local group "Higher Ground" and a group called "Meridian" from Johnson City, Tennessee. Time well spent!

August 13, 2005 [LINK]

Heavenly news & views

The safe landing of the space shuttle Discovery was a relief, but after a quarter century in space, it really should have been routine. Yet another piece of foam insulation debris during liftoff suggests that the shuttle design was flawed from the beginning. In the future, we can expect much more efficient space flights by private firms that are much better suited than government bureaucracies to manage the ubiquitous risk factor.

On a brighter note, NASA launched a Mars Explorer probe from Cape Canaveral yesterday. It contains the largest telescope ever sent to another planet. It will be used to make detailed photographs of the planet's surface, and look for water.

A firm in Virginia is offering a ride to the moon (without actually landing on it) aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule for the amazing low price of only $?? million. It's hard to tell how serious this offer is, and it smells like a publicity stunt. The Soyuz space capsule that they are still using was originally designed for a lunar mission, just like the U.S. Apollo space capsule was, but the Soviet space program pretty much stalled at the end of the 1960s. A more pressing question is, What are the Chinese up to? They launched a man into orbit nearly two years ago, but we haven't heard much else lately.

Our household got a brand new telescope this week (a Bushnell "Deep Space" model), and we have been spending a lot of time learning how to use it. I took this shot of the moon on Thursday evening, at the optimal phase of the lunar cycle for seeing the shadows of the craters. It's rather fuzzy around the edges because of the distortion caused by the warm, humid air. Things will look a lot better in October. I especially look forward to seeing the rings of Saturn clearly, plus the four major moons of Jupiter. The Perseid meteor showers were peaking this week, but we were not up to staying awake after midnight to get the best views. Maybe next year.

July 27, 2005 [LINK]

Mushroom photos

Mushroom montage #2The Mushroom photos page has been thoroughly revised, and now displays two montages (the new one here, which shows older photos, and the one shown on July 25) with a scrolling menu for each one.

July 26, 2005 [LINK]

Discovery: All systems go

Space Shuttle launch When Discovery was scheduled to launch earlier this month, I was skeptical that it would actually take place because NASA has become ultra-cautious in the wake of the Columbia disaster. Millions of high-tech components have to perform flawlessly, or "no go." So, it came as a pleasant surprise that NASA officials decided to proceed with today's flight on a common-sense basis, accepting a small degree of risk. This points to one of the reasons that government-run space flight will probably be supplanted by private space enterprise in future years. Nevertheless, there will always be a compelling reason for public space exploration, if for no other reason than the inherent inextricably close relationship between national security and technology. Also, it provides lots of material for "Nova" and other public television programs. For current news on the Space Shuttle mission, see This image is a video screen capture from an NBC broadcast.

(The following is repeated from my "pre-blog" post of Feb. 20, 2003):

Hail Columbia!

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

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

July 20, 2002 [LINK]

Sudoku: ¡Qué tal rompecabeza*!

8 1 5 6 7 4 9 2 3
9 4 2 3 8 5 1 7 6
7 3 6 9 1 2 4 5 8
5 7 9 4 6 1 3 8 2
3 6 8 7 2 9 5 4 1
4 2 1 8 5 3 7 6 9
6 9 3 5 4 8 2 1 7
2 8 4 1 3 7 6 9 5
1 5 7 2 9 6 8 3 4
The Washington Post began running a new brain teasing puzzle called "Sudoku" on one of their three (!) comics pages a couple weeks ago, bumping aside the crossword puzzle, and I must confess to becoming a semi-avid player. It consists of a 9 x 9 grid divided into nine 3 x 3 grids. Each row, each column, and each 3 x 3 grid consists of the numerals 1 through 9, with none being repeated. Anywhere from one fourth to one half of the numerals are already filled in when you begin (indicated here by bold face type and gray or dull green background), depending on whether you've got a hard, medium, or easy puzzle, providing all the clues you need to deduce all the rest. For example, since you know that one of the cells in the center 3 x 3 grid must be a "1," the "1" shaded greenish on the left side and the "1" shaded greenish on the right side establish that the "1" in the central grid must be in its top row (the fourth row). The "1" shaded greenish on the upper side and the "1" shaded greenish on the lower side establish that the "1" in the central grid cannot be in its upper left or upper middle cell, so it must be in the upper right cell, which is shaded pink. And so on and so forth. You can see examples and tips on the Sudoku Web site, but I prefer to figure out the tricks to solving them on my own. For example, A couple days ago I hit upon a new logical trick: I was stumped because I knew that two separate pairs of cells had to be one of two numbers, but there wasn't enough information to decided which was which. That was enough, however, to prove that a cell in an adjacent grid had to be a certain number, by process of elimination. Sometimes you have to proceed in an indirect fashion.

* That's "puzzle" (or, literally, "head breaker") in Spanish, for you folks in Rio Linda.

June 30, 2005 [LINK]

The movie: W o W indeed!

From my admittedly biased viewpoint, War of the Worlds was awesome -- in the genuine, pre-Gen X sense of the word. I was riveted to my seat for almost the entire [116] minutes, which was notably shorter than I had expected. Like a roller-coaster ride, however, it seemed a lot longer. I had anticipated the incredible, state-of-the-art special effects, such as the utter destruction of that huge arched bridge which is seen in the movie trailers. From what I can tell in my DeLorme Street Atlas, it was probably the Bayonne Bridge, which connects Staten Island to Bergen Point, New Jersey. There was no attempt to replicate the kitschy obliteration of national landmarks as in Independence Day, which was just as well. The focus of the movie was on the Ferrier family, and the character development and acting were as high quality as in practically any other science fiction movie I've ever seen. Jacqueline, who has a strong distaste for science fiction movies -- No me gustan las peliculas fantásticas -- decided not to go at the last minute. No matter; the scenes I was in were too rushed and filled with explosions for anyone to be able to pick out faces in the background or even see my white knit cap. Perhaps in slow-motion when the DVDs come out... After the ferry crossing scene, I instantly recognized the farm house at Set #2, as shown in the map of the set in yesterday's post. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that at least 20 minutes of the movie took place at that house, when Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning were hiding in the basement with deranged survivor Tim Robbins. That is where some of the best alien close-up special effects are seen. Unfortunately, there is a locked gate on the road to that house, so I couldn't take a picture of it when I returned to the movie set in March. I have added a second photo of the movie set on the War of the Worlds archive page, taken from the position where the "alien tripods" were coming. Contrary to the impression that we extras on the set were given, that battle scene was not toward the climactic end of the movie, but just over half way through it. Also, I was surprised to see M-1 Abrams tanks charging up the same hill in the movie; no tanks were present on the day when I was there, just Humvees. The scene of the refugees marching along the road at Set #1 apparently ended up on the cutting floor; perhaps it will make the extended DVD version. Thanks to Donald Sensing for linking to yesterday's posting. When it comes to military matters, and especially the vital personnel side of military matters, he is the true voice of authority.

The precocious pre-teen sweetheart Dakota Fanning appeared on Dave Letterman last night; her constant giggles were in marked contrast to her many blood-curdling screams in the movie. Dave said in his monologue: "I don't want to spoil the ending, but Tom Cruise saves the Earth by converting the aliens to Scientology." smile

June 29, 2005 [LINK]

War of the Worlds premier

Today the latest Steven Spielberg blockbuster, War of the Worlds, opens in theaters across the country. I happen to have been one of the hundreds of extras who were playing refugees in the crowd scenes, and will be eager to find out whether my face is recognizable amidst all the apocalyptic tumult. The map below shows where the movie was filmed in the Appalachian foothills of Virginia, back in December. Dark green areas are wooded, and the "X"s mark the spots where director Steven Spielberg's helicopter took off and landed.

War Of Worlds movie set map

The day I worked as an extra playing one of the many "war refugees" was bitterly cold. In the morning, about 200 of us were bussed from the movie "base camp" to the set where we picked up prop suitcases and assorted personal belongings. We filmed a few scenes in which we trudged along the gravel road, and one scene trudging through a low-lying field that was crunchy with ice. "Background! ... Rolling! ... Action!" yelled the assistant directors. Over and over, back and forth... I think the camera was at the top of the hill where the helicopter landed, but I have since learned that many scenes in the movie were filmed with hand-held cameras, so perhaps there were a few cameramen who "infiltrated" the ranks of us extras who were playing refugees.

Then we broke for lunch (prime rib!), but to my surprise, we did not resume filming until very late in the afternoon, near sunset. We were walking down a hill, and then breaking into a run, supposedly excited by seeing the arrival of the Army (I think). "Let's do that again," over and over. It's a good thing I was in semi-decent shape; some extras had a hard time keeping up. In a nearby spot we filmed the climatic battle scene (which I glimpsed in one of the movie trailers on TV), where eleven military Humvees come racing down a road and then make a simultaneous abrupt turn to charge uphill against the aliens, with a hundred or so of us civilian refugees chasing behind. We did that sequence at least seven times, and I was exhausted! It was nearly dark by time we finished that last scene was shot, after which the assistant directors gathered all the extras together to sing "happy birthday" to Steven Spielberg. I never did see him or Tom Cruise, however. There is a new War of the Worlds archives page that includes my previous blog posts on this rather unique "Hollywood" experience, including a photo I took of the movie set in rural Virginia.

As for the final cinematographic product, the initial reviews are very good. (See Stephen Hunter in today's Washington Post.) The underlying post-9/11 feelings of confusion, panic, and despair are obvious themes, as is the creepy suggestion that the evil ones "are already here" -- like Mohammed Atta and the other 18 terrorists. One unique element is Spielberg's portrayal of Americans becoming desperate refugees like the Bosnians, Kurds, and Sudanese vitims we have been pitying for years. There is apparently some confusion over whether the aliens are from Mars or some other solar system. I'll hold off on making further comments on the movie -- and the political implications thereof -- until I actually see it.

Tom Cruise: midlife crisis?

The release of this blockbuster movie has been undermined somewhat by the recent strange words and actions of lead actor Tom Cruise. Much of the celebrity hoopla has focused on his purported romance with the ultra-cute Katie Holmes, which has elicited widespread scoffs and/or gestures of indifference. (Curious coincidence: Steven Spielberg was the idol and inspiration of the character Dawson played by Jason Van Der Beek, with whom Holmes co-starred in the WB teen drama Dawson's Creek.) Tom's jumping on Oprah's sofa seemed to be a contorted effort to display the last vestiges of youthful appearance, something I can relate to. At least he wasn't cavorting in white briefs like he did in Risky Business. Soon he will be buying Rogaine, Viagra, and Metamucil, or maybe even doing TV ads or commercial endorsements for those products. The way he's been acting lately, I wonder if he might need some Prozac, which is ironic given the bizarre interview with Cruise on the Today show last Friday. His strained lecturing to Matt Lauer on the overuse of drugs to "cure" psychiatric illnesses gave me the creeps, but I must admit he made a good point. We are a grossly overmedicated society, seeking easy remedies (subsidized by the government wherever possible) to the pains and frustrations of life that people used to accept as perfectly normal. Leaving aside Mr. Cruise's suitability as messenger, the message is very apt.

June 15, 2005 [LINK]

Flower blogging

Donald Sensing recently traveled to Hawaii and was so entranced by the tropical flora there that he felt compelled to share some of his photos on his military-and-religion-focused blog, "One Hand Clapping." One of the flowers happened to be the same species as a pink flower which Jacqueline and I saw in Costa Rica, so I posted a comment on his blog to that effect.

June 14, 2005 [LINK]

New photos

I've posted seven new photos, mostly from our recent day trip to Shenandoah National Park, on a new Photo Gallery page: Virginia, Summer 2005. I think THIS ONE is the most amusing.

June 6, 2005 [LINK]

Dynamic tables fixed

Thanks to expert advice from my brother Dan, I've fixed (at least I think I have) the problem that was preventing non-Mac Safari users from enjoying the new dynamic effects on several of the data tables on this site, such as Stadium rankings, Military forces, 1995, and Life bird list. If anyone is still having problems with viewing those tables, which should have alternating row colors and highlights for the current row, please let me know.

May 29, 2005 [LINK]


Skunk Here's a good reason to be careful about leaving too much bird food outside! This guy came through our back yard like a vacuum cleaner just a few minutes ago. It was well after dusk, hence the blurry image. No bad odor so far, thank goodness. Once in a while that pungent aroma comes wafting inside, though. Skunks mate in the early spring months, and we sometimes hear them screeching at each other in the middle of the night. It's quite eerie.

May 10, 2005 [LINK]

Get well soon Donna

One of my old friends from the University of South Dakota, Donna Ball, had some bad luck in terms of health. She was having a harder and harder time breathing in the last couple months, and after a battery of tests was conducted, she was diagnosed with Wegener's Granuloma, a rare autoimmune system disease that affects only ten of every one million people. It used to be fatal, but is now treatable with heavy doses of strong medicine over a 12-month period. Donna has endured and overcome numerous tribulations in her life, and yet always manages to bounce back and move ahead. She is fiercely independent and loves to travel to unusual destinations, take photographs, and write about all sorts of topics. She is one of those underappreciated talented, hard-working, honest-as-the-day-is-long people who form the bedrock of this great nation. Get-well wishes may be sent to Donna at

April 26, 2005 [LINK]

Dogwoods in bloom!

Dogwood flowers We weren't able to make it up to Washington for the Cherry Blossom Parade this year, but there is plenty of nature right here in Virginia. On the other side of the Blue Ridge, the annual Charlottesville Dogwood Festival was celebrated last week. The sparkling clear skies yesterday induced me to step outside for enough time to take this photo, reminding me that I've been hunched over this computer for way too much time lately. To see a closeup, click on the photo.

April 15, 2005 [LINK]

Spring photos, War of the Worlds!

War of the Worlds posterAs promised, there is a new photo gallery page: Staunton & nearby places, Spring 2005. It has ten photos.

coming attractions One of the photos shows the set (click for popup) of the upcoming Paramount movie War of the Worlds, starring Tom Cruise and Tim Robbins, directed by Steven Spielburg. I was one of hundreds of "extras" for the crowd scenes, wearing a dark blue overcoat and white stocking cap with a Yankees emblem. Also see blog posts of Dec. 7 and Dec. 17. I may post a crude map to make it easier to get a perspective on the area where those movie scenes were filmed. Coming to a theater near you in late June!

Which reminds me, I need to see the new baseball movie Fever Pitch, starring SNL's Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, who of course starred in an earlier movie about space invaders: E.T. [oops--NOT Close Encounters of the Third Kind!]

April 14, 2005 [LINK]

Save the sea turtles!

If the weather had cooperated while we were in Costa Rica, we would have gone to the Caribbean beach town of Tortuguito, which means "little turtle" in Spanish. I've seen nature documentaries on the fascinating life of sea turtles on numerous occasions, but I never took the time to do any serious reading about them. I just read Sea Turtles: A Complete Guide to Their Biology, Behavior, and Conservation by James Spotila (Johns Hopkins, 2004). It has lots of beautiful photos and plenty of useful data about the seven species found around the world. I learned that over 22,000 Green turtles nest around Tortuguito every year, one fourth of the world's total. The biggest sea turtle, the Leatherback, can dive as deep as 4,000 feet in search of food. Loggerheads nest on the beaches of Florida and the Carolinas, while the endangered Kemp's Ridley nests exclusively in Mexico, not far from Texas. It was saved from extinction in part thanks to the mandated use of "turtle excluder devices" (cost = $300 each) on fishing nets. I don't mind paying a little more for my tuna, do you?

Sea turtle conservation

The ten best
  1. Australia
  2. U.S.A.
  3. Costa Rica
  4. Mexico
  5. Brazil
  6. French Guiana
  7. Oman
  8. Suriname
  9. Greece
  10. Malaysia
The ten worst
  1. Japan
  2. Taiwan
  3. Spain
  4. Korea
  5. Philippines
  6. Indonesia
  7. Thailand
  8. Morocco
  9. Cuba
  10. Equitorial Guinea

April 8, 2005 [LINK]

That's gotta hurt!

Those folks who are avid outdoors enthusiasts and have had unnerving encounters with wild beasts and smaller pests can probably relate to this news item from Hong Kong: Leech worms way into hiker's nose; see E-e-u-u-w!

Another outbreak of the "Marburg" virus (related to ebola) has killed 174 people in Angola, causing panic; see New York Times. For background facts, see the CDC. The horrendous symptoms and high fatality rates of such tropical diseases often grabs most of our attention, but what we really need to guard against are pandemic outbreaks of influenza-type illnesses, such as avian flu. Remember Steven King's The Stand?

April 2, 2005 [LINK]

"Out with the old, in with the new"

Isuzu Pup, Ford Escape That is a line from one of my favorite movies, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, recently broadcast on TBS. ER's George Clooney, as the self-styled intellectual backwoods hick Ulysses Everett McDowell (?), pontificating to his escaped convict comrades on the progress overtaking the South of the 1930s. "Yessir, we've got ourselves a veritable Age of Reason -- like the one they had in France." You would probably have to see it to appreciate the humor in this flick, produced by the inimitable Coen brothers.

After twenty years of dependable service (but less than 100,000 miles!), taking me all across the U.S.A and into Canada, visiting national parks, historical monuments, baseball stadiums, and other sights along the way, I just couldn't let my old Isuzu pickup truck go without taking a farewell photograph. To see the "wave of the future" in our household, roll your mouse over the photo. $2.10 per gallon for gas? Suits me just fine, though for environmental and national security reasons, I would prefer a tax hike to bring it up to at least $2.50 or even $3.00. Call me an extremist wacko.

In the background is R. E. Lee High School, home of the 2005 Virginia boys' high school basketball champions, the "Fighting Leemen"!

Andrew Clem Archives

February 12, 2005 [LINK]

Coming attraction Costa Rica trip

Jacqueline and I will be traveling to explore the exotic rain forests and volcanoes of Costa Rica next week, and I will (hopefully) spend a few days in Nicaragua after she returns. If all goes well, I plan to update this blog every couple days or so while we're down there. Costa Rica is probably the number one eco-tourism destination on the entire planet, and is a paradise for bird watchers. If I don't spot at least fifty new bird species while I'm down there, I will be quite disappointed. I should be back in the States by March 3 or so...

I'm posting this on the baseball page for the benefit of the majority of folks who visit that portion of my Web site / blog. Baseball is not nearly as popular in Costa Rica as it is in most other countries in that region, probably because U.S. military forces never occupied it. smile

Andrew Clem Archives

January 24, 2005 [LINK]

Johnny Carson

News of the death of Johnny Carson yesterday came to me as an awful shock, almost rivaling the sudden death of John Lennon in 1980. I had no idea Carson was suffering from emphysema, and I always assumed he would come back some day and make us all laugh one more time. Jack Benny, George Burns, Bob Hope ... Can we call them The Greatest Generation of Comedy? He was quite younger than those others, of course. In fact, he was attending the University of Nebraska at the same time my father was, and like Tom Brokaw, his professional devotion and unassuming, pleasant nature made him stand out from the crowd. For more, see (link via Donald Sensing). With all those reruns of his greatest moments being played, it's hard to sort out one's own memory from TV-induced "memory," but here are some of the things I think I remember most vividly from The Tonight Show while he was there:

  • The Mighty Carson Art Players, with the mustachioed fast-talking salesman; the same routines just got funnier every time
  • Chimps and countless other wild animals peeing on his suit
  • Tiny Tim's wedding to Miss Vicky in 1969
  • Drew Carey's first stand-up comedy act -- I almost split a gut laughing!
  • And of course, that classy, poignant farewell episode. Goodnight, Johnny.

Andrew Clem Archives

January 19, 2005 [LINK]

Jeff Foxworthy on South Dakota

With outside temperatures in the teens or lower for the third straight day, it's beginning to seem a lot like my home state, South Dakota. Out there on the high plains, "where all the kids are above average," strong character is instilled by the harsh elements at an early age, and no one complains about a touch of frostbite here or there. Coincidentally, I just got this from an old friend I saw for the first time in ages last summer, Rich Raab. Some of these jokes may escape folks who hail from milder climes:

  • If you consider it a sport to gather your food by drilling through 18 inches of ice and sitting there all day hoping that the food will swim by, you might live in South Dakota.
  • If you're proud that your region makes the national news 96 nights each year because Milbank is the coldest spot in the nation, you might live in South Dakota.
  • If your local Dairy Queen is closed from November through March, you might live in South Dakota.
  • If you instinctively walk like a penguin for five months out of the year, you might live in South Dakota.
  • If someone in a store offers you assistance, and they don't work there, you might live in South Dakota.
  • If your dad's suntan stops at a line curving around the middle of his forehead, you might live in South Dakota.
  • If you have worn shorts and a parka at the same time, you might live in South Dakota.
  • If your town has an equal number of bars and churches, you might live in South Dakota.
  • If you have had a lengthy telephone conversation with someone who dialed a wrong number, you might live in South Dakota.


  • 1. "Vacation" means going east or west on I-90 for the weekend.
  • 2. You measure distance in hours.
  • 3. You know several people who have hit a deer more than once.
  • 4. You often switch from "heat" to "A/C" in the same day and back again.
  • 5. You can drive 65 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard, without flinching.
  • 6. You see people wearing camouflage at social events (including weddings).
  • 7. You install security lights on your house and garage and leave both unlocked.
  • 8. You carry jumper cables in your car & your girlfriend knows how to use them.
  • 9. You design your kid's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit.
  • 10. Driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow.
  • 11. You know all 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter & road construction.
  • 12. Your idea of creative landscaping is a statue of a deer next to your blue spruce.
  • 13. You were unaware that there is a legal drinking age.
  • 14. Down South to you means Nebraska.
  • 15. A brat is something you eat.
  • 16. Your neighbor throws a party to celebrate his new pole shed.
  • 17. You go out to a tail gate party every Friday.
  • 18. Your 4th of July picnic was moved indoors due to frost.
  • 19. You have more miles on your snow blower than your car.
  • 20. You find 0 degrees "a little chilly."
  • 21. You actually understand these jokes, and you forward them to all your South Dakota friends. Sad....but true!!!

Andrew Clem Archives

January 14, 2005 [LINK]

Winter fungus: "Witch's Butter"!

Orange wood ear? Even in the middle of January one can find some of Mother Nature's colorful beauty if you just look hard enough. While strolling through the nearby woods in a rather unproductive search for birds today (very cold and wet all of a sudden!), I came across this bright yellow-orange fungus with a jelly-like consistency. It is not in my copy of A Field Guide to Southern Mushrooms, but it is similar enough to the "Wood ear" fungus that I was able to narrow down my Google search. I soon determined that it is member of the species Tremella mesenterica, or "Witch's Butter" in the vernacular. Yum!? You can read all about it from "Mushroom Expert" at XXXXXX. What would we do without Google??? [NOTE: On Feb. 11, 2006 I was told by someone viewing this Web site that the link previously included here no longer functions, so I have deleted it.]

UPDATE: Thanks to Lynn Mitchell for pointing out the obvious fact that the wrong year has been displaying in nearly all blog entries since January 4. Fortunately, BBEdit has a superb search-and-replace function that let me fix that very quickly.

Andrew Clem archives

January 1, 2005 [LINK]

Happy New Year!

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

Bon Any Nou!

That last greeting is in Catalonian, for you folks in Rio Linda. For more on politics and culture in the non-Spanish part of Spain in the region around Barcelona, see the barcepundit blog. ¡Hola, Montse, Josep, y Laura!

NOTE: This offer is not valid in the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Puerto Rico and other U.S.-ruled territories, foreign countries, or ships on the high seas.