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February 2008
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February 2, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Tense calm in Latin America

Overall, there hasn't been a lot of big news in Latin America for the past month, even though tensions remain high in various countries. In Bolivia as well as Ecuador, the presidents (Evo Morales and Rafael Correa, respectively) are still pushing hard to revamp their countries' constitutions in the mold of Venezuela. Today's Washington Post reported that in Bolivia, indigenous groups are anticipating getting the right to administer justice according to local community standards. That would entail, among other things, holding trials and meting out punishment without due process, in effect legitimizing vigilante justice. This is the country where, in 1946, then-president Villaroel was deposed by a mass uprising and then hanged in the Plaza de Portillo, next to the presidential palace. Mob rule in action...

In Venezuela, of course, President-for-life Hugo Chavez is still making anti-imperialist noises, but his words seem to have less impact all the time. (He wouldn't let a little thing like losing a referendum get him off his stride.) Perhaps the "red fever" sweeping the region is finally starting to cool off.

At Tech Central Station Daily, Raphael C. Rosen (link via InstaPundit) casts doubt on the purported menace posed by the Left, arguing that populism and resentment of incompetence are the primary factors that: "Politics throughout Latin America does not reduce to laminated right-wing or left-wing labels." There's probably some truth to that, but it's not unique to this situation. Throughout modern history, leftist leaders have drawn mass support from people who are motivated more by vague discontent with the status quo than any particular affinity to socialist ideology.

I can't help but notice that the same sort of dynamic exists in the United States right now. The possible election of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in November would not signify a national tilt to the left so much as a protest against the failure of (supposedly) conservative leaders to tackle the major problems we all face.

Jet crash in Bolivia

A jetliner with 150 passengers made a crash landing in a swamp amidst the jungles of northeastern Bolivia yesterday, because of bad weather and mechanical problems. All those aboard survived, though many of them were injured. The plane was an aging Boeing 727 operated by Lloyd Aero Boliviano. See BBC. It might have been the very same plane I was on 22 years ago...

Drug lord is killed

A leading Colombian drug trafficker was found dead in Merida, Venezuela, apparently at the hand of his own men. Wilber Varela was in effect the successor to Pablo Escobar. See BBC.

February 2, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Tom Davis to leave the House

Virginia Rep. Tom Davis announced he won't seek reelection this fall, which I think is a shame. The departure of yet another moderate-pragmatic from GOP ranks confirms the ongoing ideological constriction of the Republican Party, as the all-important fall presidential campaign approaches. The Washington Post noted that Davis began his career in politics as a campaigner for Richard Nixon (!) in 1972, debating on college campuses. Later in life, he moved toward the Center. He has represented Fairfax County in the House since 1995 (part of the Newt Gingrich-led "Republican Revolution"), and earned a reputation as a very serious, capable leader who made deals and got things done on Capitol Hill. He supported voting rights for the District of Columbia, as a matter of principle, rather unlike most others in his party. He also promoted transportation solutions in Northern Virginia and was an advocate of getting a baseball team relocated to the Washington area. As chairman of the House Reform Committee, he played a leading role in the hearings on drug use by baseball players in March 2005.

Even though Davis has been, like Senator John Warner, fairly disgusted with the rightward lurch by the Virginia Republican Party in recent years, I'm fairly sure that, when the time is right, Davis will resume an active role in party politics once again.

McCain: media darling?

One of my New Year's resolutions is to get back in the game of blog commenting, and yet somehow I haven't managed to do much about it thus far. So, I replied to the question posed by Chris Graham at The New Dominion as to whether John McCain would "continue to be the media darling" if he makes it to the fall campaign. Chris just announced he is running for Waynesboro City Council.

February 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]

The Super-duper Super Bowl

The Giants' upset win at the 2008 Super Bowl certainly adds an interesting chapter to the ancient New York vs. Boston sports rivalry. What else does the Super Bowl have to do with baseball? Well, the following stadiums which were once the home of major league baseball teams have also hosted the Super Bowl:

(Those pages have been updated, along with a couple others.) In terms of pomp and frivolity, baseball's counterpart to the Super Bowl is the All-Star Game. In both sports, all that hype is a big annoyance to real fans, but it probably serves a purpose in getting wives and girl friends to watch, and it may even make new fans out of some of them. In terms of the purpose of showcasing the best players in the sport, football's counterpart to the All-Star Game is the Pro Bowl, traditionally held in Aloha Stadium one week after the Super Bowl. It's very anti-climactic, and frankly, nobody cares. Here's a suggestion: Why don't they schedule the Pro Bowl in the middle of the fall season, with all teams taking a week off at the same time, rather than staggered throughout the season?

San Juan Marlins?

The Florida Marlins are considering the possibility of "relocating" temporarily (?) to San Juan, Puerto Rico to host the Mets in July. See I think there would be less risk of hurricane damage if they were to play the games in Montreal...

Estrada for Lo Duca

Since they learned that Paul Lo Duca will be out of action for 4-6 weeks after getting knee surgery, the Nats decided to sign Johnny Estrada to a one-year contract, to fill the gap behind the plate. Estrada played for the Brewers last year, and has a reputation for not being a "team player," which he is eager to disprove. See I still think it was dumb to let veteran catcher Brian Schneider go so abruptly. They should have brought in a promising young guy to gradually fill in for Schneider more and more often over a 2-3 year period.

February 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nationals Park preview

On Monday, Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten took reporters on a tour of the nearly-completed Nationals Park, pointing out all the recreational and dining options fans will enjoy. The restaurant in center field will be open to all fans, though there will be a special section for season ticket holders. Players will be treated to an ample, luxurious clubhouse, with such high-tech training equipment as an underwater treadmill. (Hey, I need one of those!) By next year, statues of Josh Gibson, Frank Howard and Walter Johnson will be completed, along with a team museum. Cool! See Parking issues are yet to be fully addressed, however, and there is sure to be chaos on March 30.

So, I've made a few text and layout touch-ups on the Nationals Park page, along with the other D.C. ballparks.

Unfortunately, the construction Web cam operated by OxBlue has shut down, presumably because the external construction activity is finished.

February 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Super Shrove Tuesday

In French areas of the world, today is Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday"), and in Latin America it is Carnaval (not "Carnival"). At this very moment in Brazil, hundreds or even thousands of scantily-clad dancers are ecstatically parading through the streets like there's no tomorrow. (But there is a tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, and that's the point.) In England and in churches belonging to the Anglican Communion, today is known as Shrove Tuesday, or sometimes "Pancake Day." This is explained by the Web site of Woodlands Junior School, Kent, England. I remember pancake suppers at church when I was very young, and this evening Jacqueline and I joined in that ritual. "Fat Tuesday," indeed! smile

From that Web site I learned that "shrove" means to confess, as Christians begin the season of Lent by examining themselves and "cleaning up their acts," so to speak. Lent begins very early this year, because of the way Easter is determined, based on lunar cycles. For more information on the obscure church calendar, see the Emmanuel Episcopal Church Web site.

February 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Say hello to "Luciano"

A couple weeks after George died so suddenly in early January, we decided to bring home a new canary to keep Princess company. She had given up calling for her dear, departed mate and was becoming very subdued, causing us to worry. Fortunately, one of the local pet stores had a male canary who was just starting to sing and who bears a resemblance to George camera, lacking only his crown. Sold! After thinking about it for a long time, we settled on a name for him: "Luciano" (as in Luciano Pavarotti, who died last September), because he is such a good and persistent singer.

His first few ventures outside of the cage were hesitant and awkward, as he slowly got used to the novel concept of flying free. As soon as he mastered the trick of landing safely, he quickly started exploring the other rooms. Now he constantly flies up and down the hall, grazing our heads more than once. He relishes the broccoli and green leaves we provide them, but he is not as fond of apples, for some reason. To our surprise, he followed the example of Princess in taking lengthy, vigorous baths, in contrast to George who was always a bit skittish in the water dish.

While it brings us great joy to have this "new bird on the block" (or cage), we are still grieving for George. He was very good to Princess, understanding that she was disabled and needed special attention. It will probably take a while before Luciano learns that.


Luciano, nibbling on lettuce, as usual. Roll mouse over the image to see a profile view.

February 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Colombians rally against FARC

This is certainly encouraging: For the past several months, there has been a groundswell of opinion against the left-wing FARC guerrilla movement in Colombia, and the recent (cynical) release of hostages did nothing to change this. Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of protesters voiced their opinion on the matter, carrying huge banners that said:

No more kidnapping, no more lies, no more deaths, no more FARC!

Just imagine: a mass-scale protest march against the self-styled "defenders of the people." Oh, the times, they are a-changin'...

Glenn Reynolds hails this as an example of the main theme in his "Army of Davids" book.

February 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Super-duper Super Tuesday 2008

What an extraordinary confluence of "super" days: Super Bowl Sunday, and today Shrove Tuesday / Carnaval / Mardis Gras, coinciding with the Super Tuesday primary elections. Par-TAY!

I don't really have a strong favorite in this campaign, so today's Super Tuesday election results don't matter all that much to me. What makes me glad is that none of the five remaining major candidates has locked up the nomination thus far. Hillary Clinton has held off the challenge from Barack Obama, who had been gaining momentum in recent days. Mike Huckabee picked up a few southern states, showing that he is still a serious force and chiding Mitt Romney for presuming that it was only a two-man race on the GOP side. Obama's victory in at least six states doesn't necessarily mean that much, because the Democrats award convention delegates in proportion to the percentage of votes each candidate gets, whereas it's winner-take-all on the Republican side, for the most part. Barring a decisive win by one of the candidates in California or other western states, it appears that for at least the next few weeks, there will be a real contest. With any luck the candidates may be forced to debate actual issues, as opposed to besmirching each other! It would have been a shame for the primary season to end on Super Tuesday, before the Virginia primary was even held. Now we folks in the Old Dominion may actually matter!

Speaking of which, the "Mountain-Valley Republicans PAC" that was recently established by State Senator Emmett Hanger and his supporters will be holding a forum on presidential primary race this Friday, February 8, at the Government center in Verona, South Board Room, at 7:00 p.m. See

The "dynamic" map below will be updated during the evening and into tomorrow morning.

Super Tuesday 2008 GOP

Compare election/caucus results from the two parties:
Republicans ~ Democrats

Dole vs. El Rushbo

Rush Limbaugh really took umbrage at the letter to him sent by former Senator Bob Dole, going so far as to portray Dole as a dupe of the McCain campaign. [Dole vouched for McCain's credentials as a conservative, which was a nice favor given the fact that many would offer a contrary opinion on that. Say what you will about McCain, but what Rush said today was] an insult to Dole. For more, see, via Instapundit. Bad blood within the Republican ranks is not new, but saying that it would be better for Hillary to win than a "liberal" Republican like John McCain is just plain dumb. As I suggested before, Rush may be "losing it." There is a very real chance that Democrats will be running clips of Rush criticizing the Republican nominee in their ads this fall...

I like Bob Dole. Bob Dole doesn't talk nonsense. Bob Dole means what he says. The Republican Party would be better off if more people respected Bob Dole.

Stimulus gridlock

I was watching the Senate on C-SPAN this morning, and I have to give a lot of credit to Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) for refusing to buckle under the pressure to pass a feel-good stimulus bill full of pork barrel goodies. Sen. Harry Reid got in plenty of cheap-shot jabs, appealing to his constituents who cry out "Gimme, gimme!" As the Norfolk Examiner (link via Instapundit) rightly observes, "The whole enterprise is misguided." It is a prime example of how "gridlock" often serves a very useful purpose, exactly as the Founding Fathers had intended.

February 6, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Super Tuesday aftermath

It wasn't until this morning that I learned about Obama's narrow victory in Missouri, and New Mexico is still too close to call. Tim Russert pointed out the virtual dead heat between Obama and Clinton in both popular vote and delegate totals, which is truly extraordinary. The race will almost certainly go on for at least a few more weeks, providing plenty of opportunities for the two candidates to get nasty during debates. The thing is, there are no major disputes over issues or philosophies between the two Democratic candidates, and I expect they will reconcile and unite well before the fall campaign begins.

On the Republican side, McCain's big-state victories got him to within striking distance of the nomination, but it won't do any good as far as bringing the party's right wing on board. In the Virginia blogosphere, for example, Leslie Carbone slams McCain as "Unfit to be President," based primarily on his hot temper. Well, he's not unique in that regard. Like Rush Limbaugh, she seems to prefer a victory by Democrats to a win by a moderate in her own party. I guess party loyalty doens't count for as much as it used to. Andrew Sullivan can barely contain his glee at the election results and asks, "Is The GOP Self-Destructing?" Well, duh-h!

It is tough getting used to the idea of McCain carrying the party's banner in the fall campaign. A blog called Watchman's Words (via Instapundit) offers "Five Stages of Voting in the Republican Primary," which almost applies to me. Ouch!

WaPo columnist Harold Meyerson writes that the results constitute a "Repudiation of Rove," and for once I have to agree with him, at least in part. He is right to blame the right wing for its embrace of amoral campaign tactics, but he is wrong to link this to conservatism as an agenda or as a philosophy. The "exhaustion of conservatism" that he claims would more aptly be described as the "perversion of conservatism" by party activists lacking in education.

Citizens Divided

I recently heard on the radio that the Citizens United group headed by David Bossie was paying for TV ads attacking John McCain. After checking, I learned from the Sunday Times that it's true. A few months ago I made a small contribution to Citizens United with the understanding that the money would be used for a movie expose on Hillary Clinton, and they have been pestering me for more cash ever since. Now I find out they are abetting the civil war within the Republican Party. I want my money back.

February 7, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Sharia Islamic law in Britain?

The Most Reverend Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has created quite a stir in Britain by suggesting argues that certain elements of Islamic Sharia law should be adopted so as to "help maintain social cohesion." He seems to think that the cultural diversity of present-day United Kingdom makes it unrealistic to expect everyone to adhere to the same legal code. Of course, he rejects some of the extreme practices such as cutting off of hands of thieves, but still believes that "constructive accommodation" with Muslims is the surest road to social peace. See BBC. This is the man whose primary responsibility is to be a "defender of the faith," in the established Church of England, no less. He seems utterly oblivious to the ambitions of the Islamic radicals.

A succinct rejoinder to Archbishop Williams comes from Johnathan Pearce (via InstaPundit): "Dr Williams means well; a lot of such people do. But frankly, he gives lapsed Christians such as yours truly plenty of reason for wanting the Church to be shorn of its state privileges."

The archbishop also called for new laws to restrict speech that might offend the religious sensibilities of minority groups. So anyone who dared to stand up to those terrorist-sympathizing bullies would face criminal charges. Good Lord... See Sunday Times, via Midwest Conservative Journal, via Barcepundit.

At a time when the Anglican Communion is already tottering on the edge of schism over cultural issues, such statements by the leader are terribly discouraging for members of the flock around the world. Perhaps the decline of Western Civilization is proceeding faster than we had thought.

February 7, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Romney ends his campaign

Mitt Romney's decision to "suspend" his campaign today seemed a bit premature to me, especially given the enormous discomfort among many in the party with the presumed nominee, John McCain. I thought Romney should have waited at least another week or two before pulling out. Nevertheless, he is to be commended for putting his party's and his country's interests ahead of his own ambitions. His speech today was very gracious, earning him great credit for the future in the party. His past willingness to reshape himself according to political circumstance made me skeptical of him, and I just hope that his eloquent words on such key issues as immigration will resonate in the party.

So, this much is virtually certain: The next president of the United States is a current member of the U.S. Senate. The last time a sitting senator was elected president was in 1960. Camelot...

McCain panders to the Right

Meanwhile, John McCain addressed the Conservative Political Action Committee today, and it was broadcast during Sean Hannity's show. CPAC members were told in advance to be polite, and the boos and catcalls were relatively subdued. McCain professed his belief in conservative principles and expressed a touch of regret over past words and actions he has taken. See Washington Post. For the next several months, McCain will be forced to endure an agonizing series of such rituals to placate the furious and resentful honchos from the GOP right wing. And that's the way it should be -- as long as he doesn't grovel or pretend that he never said something that he really did say. If he is to be the Leader of the Free World, he will have to be humble and contrite when it's necessary, while sticking to his guns. I'm willing to bet that his experience in a North Vietnamese POW camp built his character sufficiently to manage that daunting task.

Huckabee for veep?

Daniel Drezner ponders that possibility, and decides that "Huckabee is clearly not ready for prime time as a president." He notes of "the ratcheting up of standards for Vice Presidents" of the last two administrations (Al Gore and Dick Cheney)

creates a different problem -- instead of a buffoon or a lightweight, you have a talented, ambitious politician placed in an ambiguous position.

Cheney had no presidential aspirations, because of his age, but Gore's experience next door to the White House may have accentuated the frustration from his failed presidential bid in 2000.

Redistricting reform

I wholeheartedly agree with the editorial in yesterday's News Leader, endorsing the redistricting reform proposed by Sen. Creigh Deeds. It is Senate Bill 38, providing for a five-member temporary commission, with two Republicans and two Democrats. Legislative redistricting is one of my favorite pet causes (see ), but it hasn't received much attention in recent years. I still recall with distaste then-Attorney General Jerry Kilgore's comment that redistricting was always going to be political in nature, and there was, he believe, no point in trying to change that.

February 10, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Winter ducks here & there

After a brief mild spell last week, it has turned colder and colder once again, testing the resilience of our fine feathered friends outdoors. (How do they do it?) A brief walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad on Thursday turned up virtually nothing, to my surprise, just a few Bluebirds overhead and the usual sparrows, etc. I was a bit more fortunate in searching for migratory ducks on various local ponds over the weekend, however. The Bell's Lane pond and upland area yielded several first-of-season sightings for me, as did Leonard's Pond and Lake Shenandoah, near Harrisonburg. It was the first time I had been to that birding hot spot. (I couldn't find it the first time I tried, last year.) Recent highlights, with locale abbreviations:

February 11, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Primary fever in the Old Dominion

It isn't often that Virginia plays a significant role in primary campaign season, and while it may not be as crucial as South Carolina or California, it was enough to draw all five of the remaining candidates here. Barack Obama has a sizable lead over Hillary Clinton in the polls here, and John McCain has an even bigger lead over Mike Huckabee. (See end of post.)*

Governor Huckabee made a campaign appearance at the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport today, so I figured I ought to show him the courtesy of hearing him out. (He also stopped at Richmond, Virginia Beach, and Roanoke today.) At least 500 people were crowded into the building, and plenty of reporters were there, too. Huckabee was introduced by former presidential candidate Duncan Hunter, and both men emphasized their strong conservative stance on issues such as abortion, immigration, and taxes. Huckabee is just as charming in person as you would expect, and noted that the Shenandoah Valley looks a lot like his home state of Arkansas. Sweet talk aside, he is pretty convincing on a rational level. There are some issues I agree with him, and others I don't. I am all in favor of radical simplification of the Federal Tax code, as he calls for, but his "Fair Tax" proposal (a nationwide sales tax with rebates for poor people, replacing the current income tax, etc.) is too radical for my tastes. Some question how it could possibly be administered by the Federal bureaucracy, which calls into question Huckabee's call to "put the IRS out of business." That sort of crowd-pleasing populist rhetoric borders on demagoguery. The point is, Huckabee is conducting an honorable, positive, spirited campaign, thus helping to keep the public's attention focused on the Big Choice they will face in November. I don't think I will vote for him, but I admire and respect his effort.

UPDATE: While watching one of Huckabee's other Virginia rallies on TV, I saw someone holding up a sign saying "Crunchy Cons for Huckabee!" Now that's something that might get me to take a closer look at Huckabee, who does indeed appeal to a wide variety of sincere religious people, including nonconformist ones. (See my Sept. 6, 2006 post.) Also, I wasn't aware of the controversy in Washington state, where the State Party Chairman, Luke Esser, declared McCain the winner before all the caucus results were tabulated. (Only 87% of local units had reported.) See Huckabee's blog. Republican party officials manipulating delegate selection processes!?? I guess that's why most reform-minded people favor primary elections over caucuses, which are often skewed toward one candidate or another.

Mike Huckabee

ABOVE: Mike Huckabee. BELOW: Duncan Hunter.

Duncan Hunter Huckabee rally crowd

The Huckabee rally crowd at the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport. I don't think most of those who were there shared the sentiments of the guy carrying that sign.


Sen. McCain paid a visit to Richmond today, joined by Sen. John Warner, former Gov. Jim Gilmore, and other leading Virginia politicians who have endorsed him. One of those standing by McCain's side was Delegate Chris Saxman. A few months ago I thought Saxman's support for McCain was a lost cause, but it turns out he was pretty astute.

* Who is Ron Paul?

Ron Paul never was a serious contender for the presidency, but he is a serious voice who speaks for many thoughtful people who are fed up with mainstream politicians. Rep. Paul made a speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg a few days ago, which seemed a bit odd since fundamentalists are not among his main constituents. Driving home along I-64 last week, I saw a strange glowing object in the dark sky up ahead. Thankfully, it was not a UFO but a tethered mini-blimp with Ron Paul's name on it. It's just another example of the oddball publicity campaign for the "Republitarian" (Republican / Libertarian) candidate from Texas. (Apologies to Myron. smile)

February 12, 2008 [LINK / comment]

More teeth-gnashing at McCain

The vitriol against presumptive GOP nominee John McCain continues unabated in the right-wing blogosphere: "RINO" this, "RINO" that... Who is the "truest" conservative of all? (Who cares?) Leslie Carbone made a good point about McCain's flip-flop on financing his campaign (turning down Federal bucks so as to circumvent the spending limits), but she stretched it a little too far. In USA Today, Jonah Goldberg suggests that those on the Right who are angry at McCain might redirect their ire toward President Bush. Regarding campaign finance reform, for example, he notes, "The president signed the McCain-Feingold bill though he admitted that he thought it was unconstitutional." The same thing goes for illegal immigration: McCain was wrong on amnesty, without a doubt, but Bush was positively derelict in his duty to enforce the laws. What about judicial appointments? Harriet Miers! (Cue scream.)

It may be that many on the Right harbor deep inner conflicts, realizing that Bush has let them down badly on a variety of key issues, but for whatever reason (partisan loyalty?), they just can't bring themselves to openly admit this awful truth. Hence, they redirect their hostility toward a more convenient target: McCain.

"Potomac primary" returns

It's no surprise that Barack Obama is trouncing Hillary Clinton in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., but Mike Huckabee's strong showing in the Old Dominion may be enough to keep him in the race for the time being. On WHSV TV-3, political analyst Bob Roberts of JMU said that Huckabee (or "Hucklebee," as he kept pronouncing it) needed 40% to score a moral victory, and with 93% of the votes counted, "the Huckster" has just slipped below that threshhold. Well, he certainly deserves credit for campaigning here, and for keeping alive the dialogue on policy issues within the Republican Party. John McCain needs an outright majority to claim a real victory in Virginia, and after a slow start, he has climbed above the 50% mark, just barely. Of course, he won in a landslide on the other side of the Potomac.

February 12, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Augusta Bird Club Web site

At last night's meeting of the Augusta Bird Club, I announced that I had finished revamping the club's Web site. It has a number of automated features to make it easy to update, and before long, other members will be able to participate in doing so, without my involvement. The new Web address is simply: Today I made some corrections and graphical touchups, and it is now pretty much "ready for prime time."

Highway birding

On the way to Sweet Briar College on Monday morning, I saw a Flicker and some Bluebirds, but fewer Red-tailed hawks than usual; three is about the average. On the way to the Mike Huckabee campaign rally in Weyer's Cave in the afternoon, I saw at least three Kestrels, one of which was hovering like a helicopter near the airport.

February 16, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nationals Park nears completion

I was in the D.C. area today, and the weather was perfect with crystal blue skies, so I stopped at Nationals Park to take some pictures. I expected most of the construction mess to be cleaned up by now, but I was wrong! Workers are still busy doing various kinds of exterior work, and heavy vehicles are chugging to and fro at a brisk pace. Time's a-wastin', fellas!!!

Nationals Park UC south

The southwest entry to Nationals Park, with the U.S. Capitol dome in the distance on the left. Click on the image to see the full-size version.

Contrary to what I wrote last week, the Nationals Park construction site Web cam has not been shut down, it was just temporarily out of service.

Mini-hiatus (baseball)

For various reasons, I haven't been able to keep up with stadium page updates lately, but I expect to resume doing so very soon. Spring training is underway, and Opening Day is fast approaching! There are also some big baseball news stories to comment on...

The mail bag

Marcus Gilbert pointed out something that I had suspected: The dimensions of the new Yankee Stadium are not as close to those of the original as has been claimed. More to the point, the right field fence is parallel to the third base line, whereas the fence angles outward in the current version. A very good overlay comparison of the New and the Old is shown at: ball I have several other messages to respond to, and I appreciate everyone's patience.

February 17, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Stadium deal in Miami ! ?

At long last, is this finally it? Depending on whom you ask, the Florida Marlins either have reached, or are very close to reaching, a ballpark financing deal with local government officials. If so, it would ensure their continued residence in South Florida for the long term. (If not, they may be forced to move elsewhere after their lease expires at the end of 2010.) According to, "Miami-Dade County commissioners will discuss the stadium at a 1 p.m. meeting on Thursday." After they move out of Dolphin Stadium in 2010 and into their new presumptive new home where the Orange Bowl now stands, they will be called the "Miami Marlins." The Sun Sentinel indicates that the $515 million deal to finance the retractable-roof ballpark is all but finalized. Dade County is expected to contribute the bulk of the money, $347 million, with the Marlins chipping in $155 million, and the City of Miami contributing the land and $13 million in tax proceeds; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.

Did Andy "nark" on Clemens?

(What an identity conundrum for me!) Like Ollie North and other famous witnesses at Congressional hearings of the past, Roger Clemens stepped up to the microphone this past week, and professed his innocence. Andy Pettitte had stated that Clemens admitted using human growth hormone, to which Clemens replied (cautiously) that Pettitte's memory must be mistaken. Millions of sports fans are wondering what he has really been saying behind closed doors. Washington Post. I don't know what to think about this situation, frankly. I do know that in the world of sports as in the world of politics, there are millions of die-hard fans who refuse to believe that their heroes are anything less than saints...

Lo Duca regrets "bad judgment"

In a related story, newly-acquired Washington Nationals catcher Paul Lo Duca spoke openly about the Mitchell Report for the first time. As reported in the Washington Post, he says he regrets past mistakes in judgment, without going into specifics. Everyone knows what he means, and perhaps there is no reason for him to say anything more. Like Mark McGwire at the congressional hearings in March 2005, he is contrite up to a point. I presume he must have cleaned up his act some time ago...

February 17, 2008 [LINK / comment]

"Comfortable" Christianity?

As the season of Lent enters its second week, millions of Christians around the world are renewing their vows to obey the commandments of God by fasting and other acts of devotion. Others just want to get in and get out quickly, squeezing church into their busy schedules. Donald Sensing called attention to a Pastor Billings, whose Easter ad campaign made an ironic point that was just a little too subtle for some people to grasp: "Jesus died for your mortgage." I suppose once the folks who were drawn to the message of easy grace realize they have been made fun of, they probably won't come back. More broadly, this illustrates the futility of trying to enlarge congregations by feel-good marketing campaigns. (An allusion to Rev. Joel Osteen, perhaps?) It is hard to be a good Christian and be "comfortable" at the same time.

Sensing also called attention to the uproar over the recent gaffe by Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, who suggested earlier this month that Britain adopt elements of Islamic Sharia law for the sake of social peace. One might reasonably conclude that these two trends -- deprecation of the tenets of one's own faith in favor of convenience, on one hand, and eagerness to pay heed to the tenets of an alien faith, on the other -- are related to each other.

February 17, 2008 [LINK / comment]

D (as in digital)-Day minus 366

Exactly one year from today,* on February 17, 2009, broadcast television as we know it will come to an end. Ready or not, the era of digital TV is at hand, so I have added a countdown feature on the Science & Technology blog page. For the past couple months, TV stations have been preparing their viewers for the jarring transition with brief informative spots, calling attention to the Web site.

* (including an extra day for leap year)

To ease the burden of switching to the new technology, Congress appropriated funds so that any American, regardless of need, can request a coupon worth $50 toward the purchase of a digital converter box. That is only necessary for those who have older television sets and don't want to purchase one of the new flat-screen models. In December 2005, George Will poked fun at this (then-proposed) government subsidy by calling it the "No Couch Potato Left Behind Act." smile

One advantage of digital broadcasting is that you can squeeze more signal into a given bandwidth, which means that most stations will have two or three "subsidiary" TV stations. There is little doubt that the digital conversion is necessary, and it would have led to total chaos if they had tried to preserve analog broadcasting along with digital, so the mandate from Washington is probably for the best. Still, I have some qualms about what the future holds, such as:

I want my DTV!

February 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Fidel Castro ends his dictatorship

So he won't be "president for life" after all. After exercising supreme power in Cuba for 49 years, one month, and 19 days, Fidel Castro has announced that he will not serve another term as President. Cuba's National Assembly will convene in the next few days, and one of their tasks is to choose a president, which ordinarily is a routine rubber-stamp process. Fidel's brother, First Vice President Raul Castro has been serving as provisional leader ever since Fidel underwent intestinal surgery in late July 2006. Raul is expected to win the vote, but Second Vice-President Carlos Lage Davila is considered a potential rival, according to the BBC. (For his part, President Bush said while paying a visit to Africa, "The United States will help the people of Cuba realise the blessings of liberty." Get ready, Miami!) So now we may see some actual politics in Cuba, for a change! Fidel made it clear that he was not bidding farewll, but rather handing over power to someone who can devote enough energy to the job. He plans to continue voicing his opinion on world issues, and still looks forward to the defeat of "the adversary," i.e., America. An English translation of the full text of Castro's message to the Cuban people is at Granma.

Is "dictator" too harsh of a word? Well, Castro has ordered the arbitrary arrest and execution of hundreds (if not thousands) of Cuban dissidents over the decades, and he created a totalitarian police state in which his supporters are supposed to spy on their neighbors. Just last week, a student named Eliecer Avila was arrested for having complained about the dual-currency exchange system that Cuba uses to attract wealthy tourists from Europe, but from which Cubans themselves are excluded; see Even with recent gestures of political liberalization, any criticism of the current regime is harshly punished. Castro certainly typifies the despotic caudillo style of leadership that has often prevailed in Latin America since the era of independence, characterized by a self-certain attitude and headstrong, impetuous zeal. Most such leaders are prone to cling to absolute power until their last breath of life, which often results in a chaotic transition when El Jefe Maximo finally dies. Castro probably realized that his legacy would depend on preparing Cuba for a transition to a new leadership, so it is to his credit that his reason prevailed over his vanity. And thus, he leaves the political arena in a relatively classy way, bolstering his (ambiguous) future place in history. Much like Chile's Augusto Pinochet, he will always be loved by some people and despised by others. For objective observers, the ultimate verdict on Castro will depend on whether his successors allow greater political and economic freedom, moving belatedly into the 21st Century.

Among those who make excuses for his authoritarian rule, the question is, Are the Cuban people better off than they were when he took power a half century ago? Making a comparison in living standards over such a long term is problematic at best, however. For example, how can one possibly weigh the improved material conditions that we Americans enjoy with spiritual and psychological well-being? The lack of objective data on Cuba's economic conditions, due to the refusal of Cuba's government to allow the free flow of information, adds to the problem. It may well be that most Cubans are "poor but proud," having resisted "Yankee imperialism" for 50 years, but what does it mean if they were never given the freedom to choose between (real) greater prosperity and (alleged) foreign domination? One must also remember that, since the end of the Cold War, Cuba's economy has been artificially propped up by the petro-dollars of Hugo Chavez and money spent by European tourists. The bottom line that, while Cuba ranks relatively well according to some measures of medical care and educational opportunities, it is far below most other Western Hemisphere countries when it comes to personal income and consumption. Anyone who says the Cuban people are better off without iPods, designer bluejeans, and other status symbols of Western society is contemptuous of individual choice.

And so, with all its '57 Chevies and crumbling buildings, Cuba stands today as an anachronistic "museum" of sorts, representing an nostalgic utopia for those on the Left and a hellish dystopia for those on the Right. In postmodern lingo, I suppose, the Cuba of Fidel Castro "is what we make of it."

February 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Hey, Barack: Where's the beef?

In early months the 1984 Democratic presidential primary campaign, the charismatic intellectual Gary Hart was pulling ahead of the dull establishment candidate Walter Mondale. Some clever adviser suggested poking fun at Hart's high-falutin' New Ideas, and borrowed the slogan from Wendy's hamburgers, "Where's the beef?" Whatever the merits, the one-liner really caught on and resonated with the average voter, and the rest is history.

Now it seems that Hillary Clinton has found a weak spot in the shining armor of "Camelot" heir Barack Obama: he's all style, all talk,* and very "lite" when it comes to matters of substance. See Washington Post. Speaking of "Camelot," Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau scored another satirical bullseye by portraying Obama as the "first black Kennedy," as in Bill Clinton being the "first black president." smile

By the way, the 1984 triumph by the "old-school" Mondale was when I started having serious doubts about the future of the Democratic Party. At the time, Gary Hart was one of my favorite political leaders: reform-oriented, keenly aware of strategic and economic issues, but not dovish or pro-entitlement. Four years later, when Mike Dukakis took his famous stunt ride aboard an army tank, I was having very grave doubts.

* News that Obama "borrowed" some speech lines further erodes his credibility. A similar act of plagiarism was the main factor that sunk Joe Biden's presidential candidacy in 1988.

Romney backs McCain

Now that Mitt Romney has endorsed John McCain for president, rather than the "conservative" favorite Mike Huckabee, there is no more suspense about who will win the GOP nomination. There is, nonetheless, a great deal of suspense with regard to whether the right wing of the Republican Party will fall in line behind the all-but-certain nominee, or whether they will sacrifice the presidency -- and perhaps some of our cherished freedoms -- on the altar of ideological purity.

Romney's recent joint appearance with McCain was about as uncomfortable and strained as when McCain endorsed Bush in 2000. Oh well, that's politics. smile

February 20, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Minor league in The Valley?

For you folks outside the Old Dominion, "The Valley" is understood as "The Shenandoah Valley." Saturday's News Virginian (from Waynesboro) reported that talks are underway to bring a minor league franchise to the city of Waynesboro, and preliminary plans are being made for a 4,000-seat ballpark. This move would certainly displace the existing the Waynesboro Generals, who already play there, and could disrupt the whole the Valley League. (That league consists mainly of college-level baseball players who want to hone their skills during the summer.) I've always thought that the Shenandoah Valley ought to have its own minor league team, since Lynchburg and other smaller cities already do. The problem is that the population of The Valley is dispersed among three or four cities and many smaller towns, and it might be hard to consistently draw large enough crowds to a stadium in any one of those cities. Nevertheless, I'm willing to bet that there is sufficient fan interest to get this proposal taken very seriously by city officials.

One possible drawback is the proposed site of the new ballpark, on the banks of the South River. That part of Waynesboro, on the east side of downtown, has suffered repeated serious floods over the years, forcing people to move and businesses to close. But the Cincinnati Reds survived the big flood of 1937, when Crosley Field was submerged under 21 feet of water, so perhaps they could just make sure and water-proof the whole facility.

Another Boone in D.C.

Will the wonders wrought by Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden never cease? The Nationals just signed retired second baseman Bret Boone to a minor league contract, without any guarantees that he will get to play this summer. Boone is 39 and played in three All Star games, and his brother Aaron is already a National player. See Since the Nationals already have an overloaded infield, this seems like a strange move, but it could spark a lot of fan interest and good will. Go get 'em, Bret!

February 20, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Total eclipse of the moon

The clouds made it hard to see the lunar eclipse this evening, so I had to settle for this photo of a partial eclipse, taken at 9:22 P.M., about a half hour before totality. It was too blasted cold to wait for very long. The next time we will have a total eclipse of the moon will be in 2010.

Lunar eclipse I
And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon.

Roger Waters, "Brain Damage"
from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, 1973

Sony's Blu-Ray wins

Toshiba announced that it will pull out of the high-definition video disk race, meaning that Sony's Blu-Ray format has won the HDTV war. Sony apparently learned some lessons from when its Betamax format lost out to VHS back in the early 1980s. See; hat tip to Dan.

February 21, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Exxon vs. Chavez vs. Bush

Hugo Chavez is at it again, railing against "Mr. Danger" (President Bush) in retaliation for a legal move by the Exxon Corporation. Last year the Venezuelan government had nationalized oil drilling properties, and a U.S. Federal court just issued an order freezing $12 billion of assets owned by the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA. Chavez claims that the valuation is grossly exaggerated, saying that the properties are worth no more than $1.2 billion. It is unclear why Chavez thinks Bush had anything to do with this, but it may reflect his lack of awareness of the concept of separation of powers. (He never let a thing like that stop him from doing what he wanted to.) To show that he is serious, Chavez threatened to declare an embargo on Venezuelan oil exports to the United States, which is one of the reasons for the recent spike in gasoline prices.

In the past few days, Venezuela has reached compensation settlements with all of the foreign oil firms other than Exxon that were subject to expropriation: Total of France, Statoil of Norway and ENI of Italy. That puts the U.S. company in a negotiating bind, and they may have to back down if they want to get anything. See BBC.

This dispute represents a major escalation in the long anti-imperialist crusade by Chavez, one with the potential for devastating consequences around the world. It is an echo of the diplomatic clashes over the nationalizations by Peru and other Latin American countries during the 1960s and 1970s. (The more things change...) Even though Venezuela would certainly suffer more than the United States in the event of a cessation of oil exports, that probably doesn't matter to someone as vainglorious and spite-prone as Chavez is.

February 21, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Stonewall Brigade returns home

Several hundred people gathered at Gypsy Hill Park this afternoon to welcome home the 116th Brigade Combat Team (the "Stonewall Brigade") upon their return to Staunton, after a six-month deployment in Baghdad. (Actually, it was a company-sized detachment, just one of a dozen or so units belonging to the 116th.) The National Guardsmen (and women) left town last May, spending a few weeks training in Mississippi as preparation for their deployment to Iraq. Thankfully, all of the brigades' soldiers made it back home to the U.S.A., and only one of them suffered injuries while in Iraq. Congressman Bob Goodlatte said a few words of welcome, praising the troops for their successful mission in stabilizing Iraq, and reminding everyone that in years past, soldiers returning from overseas were not always well received. A number of local political leaders were there as well. Seeing the families joyously reunited up close and personal -- as opposed to on TV -- was quite an emotional experience.

Thank you, soldiers, for a job well done!

Soldiers from the Stonewall Brigade at the welcome-home ceremonies at the Staunton National Guard Armory, just prior to being dis-missed!

UPDATE: Steve Kijak arrived ahead of time and took a bunch of fine photos.

February 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]

New Marlins stadium gets OK

The governments of Miami and Miami-Dade County approved funding for a new baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins yesterday. It took seven hours of debate before the measure was passed by the Miami-Dade commissioners, 9-3. The County Manager said that the Orange Bowl project can go ahead with or without subsidized funding through the Community Redevelopment Agencies, which was the reason for a lawsuit recently filed by millionaire businessman Norman Braman. The deadline for reaching concrete, definitive terms over financing, etc. is July 1. The Miami Sun Sentinel reports, "The Marlins will provide $120 million up front and another $35 million in annual rent payments of $2.3 million a year." Well, that is certainly more than most other teams have been willing to pay for new stadiums over the past two decades, so let's give franchise owner Jeffrey Loria credit for that. Construction is expected to begin in November, as long as no unforeseen obstacles emerge. (As fans in the Washington and Minneapolis areas know, prolonged bickering and foot-dragging by local politicians is to be expected in these situations.) Nonetheless, it is almost a sure bet that the two-time world champions will move into their home in 2011 and thus become known as the Miami Marlins.

FOOTNOTE: MLB President Bob DuPuy hailed the decision, saying baseball "believes in this market" (South Florida). In the past, he has often cited astrological cycles (getting "the planets and sun and moon aligned") as the basis for stadium deals, which makes me wonder whether the eclipse on Wednesday night had anything to do with this. smile

February 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Independence day in Kosovo

So the good people of Kosovo have voted to declare themselves a free and independent nation. Break out the champagne! Of course they could not survive on their own for more than a week without the protection of U.S. and NATO combat forces standing guard, but let's not spoil the celebration by pointing out the stark reality of their situation. The Serb army would crush them very quickly, if it ever came to that.

Meanwhile, in Belgrade, the Serbs are peeved at losing another big chunk of territory, a process of disintegration that began 16 years ago. Angry mobs stormed the U.S. embassy and set it on fire, after which they wrought havoc upon other Western embassies which they hold responsible for the abrupt act of secession. See Washington Post.

Kosovo, for you folks in Rio Linda, is an Albanian-populated region within Serbia, which in turn used to be a part of Yugoslavia. That "land of the south Slavs" which is the very essence of "Balkanization" was cobbled together from the "spare parts" left behind by the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire in the aftermath of World War I. Yugoslavia's birth was in large part due to the efforts of President Woodrow Wilson and other well-meaning American liberal internationalists. They believed in the dream of 19th-Century Italian leader Giuseppe Mazzini that the surest path to world peace was to foster a nationalistic spirit around the world, creating a brotherhood of nations. At the time, it seemed like the Serbs, Croatians, Bosnians, and lesser groups had enough in common that they could get along in a united country. Eighty years later, another well-meaning American liberal internationalist president (Bill Clinton) decided that the United States had to act to facilitate the dismantling of the very same political unit that President Wilson had helped create. Together with fellow "liberal imperialist" Prime Minister Tony Blair, Clinton saved Kosovo from ethnic cleansing. Uncle Sam createth, Uncle Sam destroyeth. Is it any wonder that the Serbs are a little upset with us?

Knowledge of history can imbue one with an ironic sensibility that may not serve a useful purpose, so let us try to look at the current political dynamics to gain a sense of what we might or might not be able to do in this tragic situation. When President Bill Clinton ordered the U.S. Air Force to bomb Serbia into submission "for the children" of Kosovo back in 1998, everyone knew what the ultimate result would be: Kosovo would eventually secede from Serbia, and probably join Albania some day. It was all a matter of creating a "decent interval" of time to prepare the Serbs for the psychological trauma of losing yet again. That objective clearly has not been met. As for the Albanian-speaking Kosovars, they seem too euphoric to heed cautious advice, and they have every reason to expect that the U.S. military will bail them out in any event. Thus, our existing military presence has widened the gap in terms of the bargaining terms that might be mutually acceptable, applying standard "two-stage game theory." The alternative of pulling U.S. troops out at this point is unlikely to improve things either, however. Since the United States has no vital interests at stake in the former Yugoslavia, we should set up a timetable to withdraw troops, not unlike what critics of the war in Iraq have proposed. The objective should be to force the French and Germans to pick up the slack in terms of European security, while "appeasing" the Russians in a way that won't do us any harm. After another "decent interval" of ten or so years passes, Albania will be able to annex Kosovo with a relatively low cost in human lives. The Serbs won't give up their "ancient homeland" without a fight, but if European troops are on the ground there, they are unlikely to expend significant effort in such a campaign.

Stephen Schwartz goes way overboard, sarcastically "praising" the Serbs as heroes. (via Instapundit)

February 23, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Throwing mud at McCain

Well, the New York Times didn't waste any time trying to undermine the presumptive GOP nominee almost as soon as the race was effectively decided this past week. The timing was so obviously calculated that it even prompted Rush Limbaugh to jump to McCain's defense. The accusation that the Arizona senator was unduly friendly to a female lobbyist, and may have exhibited favoritism in his official duties, comes from a former adviser who may bear some grudge. So far, it doesn't seem to be too serious, pretty much par for the course in Washington. The insinuation that the relationship may have been "intimate" seems rather far-fetched, however, given that it happened only a year after the Clinton impeachment hearings. (Politicians would have to be smarter than that, right?) Some people (including me, two years ago) have noted that McCain was the only Republican who was caught up in the "Keating 7" savings & loan scandal of the late 1980s. I never figured out how McCain transformed himself into a reformer after that episode, and the latest incident makes you wonder if he really learned his lesson back then.

Is McCain not green?

News that McCain got a ZERO rating from the League of Conservation Voters came as a shock to me. Eight other U.S. senators shared the same dubious distinction, all Republicans. On the other hand, one of the three senators to score a perfect 100 was Susan Collins of Maine. She is one of the dwindling breed of old-fashioned moderate Republicans. McCain will need to do a lot more to motivate disenchanted folks like me to help out during the fall campaign.

Waldo jeers at RPV

Waldo Jaquith, a public-spirited lefty if there ever was one, surveys the decline of the Grand Old Party in the Old Dominion, which has been his blog's main theme for the past five years. He sends sardonic best wishes to Jeff Frederick, a young conservative who is running a candidate for RPV Chairman in the upcoming state convention. Waldo thinks that Frederick's ascension would hasten the day when the Democrats retake control of the House of Delegates. One of Frederick's associates spoke to the Staunton Republican Committee last week. The incumbent, John Hager, paid a visit to Staunton last August.

February 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Metropolitan Stadium: What if?

Most sports fans in Minnesota (and taxpayers!) would agree that the 1965 expansion of Metropolitan Stadium, with a big double-deck grandstand beyond the left field fence, was a big waste of money. It satisfied neither the Vikings, since their closest front-row fans still had to sit well over 100 feet away from the sidelines, nor the Twins, who had little use for those additional seats. As a result, it was replaced by the Metrodome a mere 17 years later. What if they had done it differently? I thought it would be interesting to imagine an alternative configuration that would have been better suited to both sports. So, while I was making corrections and enhancements to the existing diagrams (including the light towers, etc.), I came up with a design of my own. The major change is that a double-decked grandstand along the third base side would pivot and swivel into position for football games:

Metropolitan Stadium

My suggested alternative, showing both the baseball and football configurations. Roll mouse over the image to see the real-life baseball configuration, and click on it to see the real-life football configuration.

Comparing the real version to the imaginary version, you can see that the grandstand would be extended around the right field corner, and further along the third base side. That hideous high school temporary bleacher section along the third base line would have been junked and sold for scrap! The outfield layout is mostly symmetrical, but with a quirky deep angle down the left field corner, much like the right field corner in Fenway Park. With a movable grandstand, the cost of construction would have risen significantly, requiring some hard bargaining with government officials, and the groundskeepers would have been hard-pressed to keep the grass in left field in good condition. I estimate the capacity would have been 45,000, about a thousand less than the baseball capacity and 3,000 less than the football capacity. Offsetting the slightly reduced quantity, however, would be the vastly improved quality of seating: Almost all the football fans would have had great sight lines, close to the action. True, the seats at the far end of the movable grandstand would have been awful for baseball fans, pointed toward center field rather than the diamond, but the Twins rarely would have filled those seats in any case. (Not much different than the far-away seats in the real-life left field grandstand, actually.)

Nevertheless, even such an improved design would have had a limited useful lifespan for the Vikings, given the limited capacity, and they would have been clamoring for a domed stadium by the mid-1980s if not earlier. Perhaps they could have appeased the Vikings for another decade or so by expanding the capacity by 8,000 or so seats by extending the third deck all the way to the end in right field, and maybe even adding a roof, as some had suggested. Possible, but unlikely. Even if the Vikings had moved out around the mid-1980s, the Twins would have been under less pressure to go along with the (by then) passing fad of artificial turf domed stadiums, and they could have continued to play at the ballpark in Bloomington well into the 1990s, or into the next century!

I'm working on something similar for Candlestick Park, which underwent a similar unsatisfactory conversion into a dual-use (baseball and football) facility in 1972, and for Anaheim Stadium, which did so in 1980.

February 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Seven-year itch: a new Mac!

After putting it off for several months, I finally went ahead and bought a new iMac while I was in Northern Virginia last weekend. My niece Cathy and I shopped at the Apple Store in Clarendon, which was very crowded as usual, but there were plenty of helpful and knowledgeable Apple employees to answer our questions. It was the first time I had seen the new ultra-light MacBook "Air," which fits in a manila envelope. My only gripe about the Apple Store is that you now have to ask to get a paper receipt; otherwise, they just send you the receipt via e-mail.

As for the latest generation of iMacs, the brushed aluminum body is really impressive -- solid yet light-weight. (My old iMac "Flower Power" version with the cathode ray tube monitor weighs two or three times as much!) The new iMacs are also extremely quiet, so much so that I can't even tell when the hard disk is running. The enormous 20-inch screen is incredibly sharp, but it takes a lot of mouse rolling to move the cursor all the way across. I would have preferred the older 17-inch version, which is no longer sold. Like everything else in America these days, the once-compact iMacs are now "super-sized." Perhaps the biggest internal difference compared to my earlier Macintoshes is that this is the first model with an Intel microprocessor -- a 2.4GHz Dual Core, to be precise, nearly five times the clock speed of my old iMac. I haven't noticed that much difference in terms of how fast my applications run, however, perhaps because they are older versions that were designed to run on Motorola PowerPC microprocessors. Time to upgrade!?

Transferring files from my old iMac to the new one (with a FireWire cable) went extremely smoothly, except for a glitch with my e-mail archives. I half expected that, because my Mail program had crashed and burned twice over the past year or so, probably because of corrupted files. Everything is running quickly and smoothly now. Another hurdle for me was activating PHP and SSI in the Apache Web server software, which is what lets me do Web site development work. I had to scratch my head and locate some long-lost "how-to" papers, but I finally managed to get the job done. My first attempt to connect to the Internet failed because I didn't realize you have to turn off the cable modem so that it can reset itself. After that was done, "no problemo." Another cause of concern was the increasingly erratic behavior of the cursor on the screen: I would be moving the mouse one way, and all of a sudden the arrow would leap to the other side of the screen. I tried using different USB ports, and even tried the old iMac's mouse, and yet the same thing kept happening. I had a sickening feeling that it was a major hardware issue, but thankfully the Apple tech support guy offered a useful suggestion: changing the mouse pad. Bingo! For some reason, the new slick mouse pad I got from Nebraska Public Television did not get along with the new iMac's mouse, but my 21-year old mouse pad works just fine. Go figure...

New iMac, old iMac

"Out with the old (LEFT), in with the new! (RIGHT)"


So what's the deal about "Seven-year itch"? Well, it just happens that I have bought a new Macintosh in almost precise seven-year intervals ever since I brought home my Macintosh Plus 21 years ago. (How times flies!) The table below compares the technical specifications of each model I have owned:

Model RAM Speed Hard disk When bought
Mac Plus 1 + 2.5 MB 8 MHz 0 + 20 MB Jan. 1987
Power Book 150 4 MB 33 MHz 80 MB Sept. 1994
iMac G3 "Flower Power" 64 + 256 MB 500 MHz 20 + 156 GB Mar. 2001
iMac Intel "Aluminum" 1 GB 2.4 GHz 320 GB Feb. 2008

NOTES: The "plus" figures refer to upgrades after the original purchase, including peripheral hard drives.

So, compared to my Mac Plus, my new Mac is (approximately) 300 times as fast, has one thousand times as much memory, and 16,000 times as much hard disk storage space! (Actually the Mac Plus had no hard disk at all; I'm counting the 20 MB "MacBottom" I bought a few months later.) If you include the $800 cost of the peripheral device upgrade in the purchase price of the Mac Plus, even the most expensive version of new iMac costs significantly less. Just a reminder to you folks from Rio Linda: Anyone who thinks they are getting a better deal buying a Windows PC because they are cheaper is kidding themselves. The enhanced functionality, reliability, and ease of use of Macintoshes far outweighs the price difference. Note that I still have all four of my old Macs, and even after all these years, they still boot up and function properly. Believe it ... or not!

What about software? In coming days I will have much, much more to say about Apple's iWork productivity suite and about the new Mac OS X 10.5, a.k.a. "Leopard." For now, suffice it to say that some of the features are absolutely awesome, beyond what I could have imagined.

February 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]

"Uncommon" snipe on Bell's Lane

I picked a good day to stop at Bell's Lane yesterday (it's been a while), as I came across a WILSON'S snipe (formerly known as a Common snipe*) foraging along a muddy stream. It's perfect habitat for those bizarre long-billed "shorebirds," but for some reason (camouflage?), I hardly ever see them there. So for me, it's big news!

This afternoon I returned to Bell's Lane in hopes of getting a photo, but no snipe was to be seen. I did see my first Redheads of the season on the (south) farm pond, however.

The weekend highlights:

I have moved the table of first-of-season sightings from the Wild birds intro page to a new page: Annual arrival. Further updates are forthcoming...

February 26, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Brass knuckle politics in Spain

If you think Hillary Clinton's last-ditch campaign counterattack against Barack Obama is getting down and dirty (tonight's debate in Ohio was), you should check out the parliamentary campaign in Spain, where elections are to be held in two weeks. In a televised debate lasting ninety minutes (something that is rarely done in Spain), the two candidates traded loud insults with each other. Conservative challenger Mariano Rajoy called Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero "a liar" for covering up his secret contacts with the Basque terrorist group ETA. The incumbent replied by calling the challenger "immoral" for exploiting the terror issue for political gain. See BBC. Well!

Zapatero's retort is rather ironic, given the way he came to be elected four years ago. The Socialist victory in March 2004 was something of a fluke, as the voters of Spain were influenced to a small but critical degree by the terrorist bombing of the Madrid train station. Then-Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar showed poor judgment by initially blaming the Basque terrorists, when the actual culprits were Islamic radicals.

Warner in hospital

Sen. John Warner is undergoing treatment at Inova Fairfax Hospital after suffering heart trouble while in his office on Capitol Hill yesterday. See Washington Post. He had a similar episode last October, and once again we wish him a speedy, full recovery.

Politics photo montage

I have updated my politics photo montage to include images of some memorable experiences of the past year and a half. It shows, in the middle row, Rep. Duncan Hunter, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Scott Sayre, and the man he challenged, State Senator Emmett Hanger; and in the bottom row, then-Staunton Commissioner of Revenue Ray Ergenbright, Del. Ben Cline, then-RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, Del. Steve Landes, then-candidate for Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, and Del. Chris Saxman.

February 27, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nationals Park: down to the wire

In today's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell frets about the the many uncertainties surrounding the opening of Nationals Park, now barely one month away. Aside from the obvious parking shortages, and lingering construction mess, there [are] growing doubts about whether the blighted industrial neighborhood in Southeast D.C. will be renovated any time soon: "As the national economy slows, the long-term future of the entire waterfront project becomes cloudier and more worrisome." It also seems that the looming recession may cut into anticipated sales of season ticket packages. The owner of the Nationals, Mark Lerner, put a positive spin on the situation by saying, "we have done the best with what we were given." What, a $600+ million subsidy wasn't enough??

Over the weekend, construction project engineers did a test of the plumbing at the new stadium, flushing the 568 toilets and 218 urinals more or less simultaneously. All systems go!

February 29, 2008 [LINK / comment]

R.I.P. William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley was an idealistic cynic, which is much different than a cynical idealist. As a conservative, he was always skeptical of human pretenses and noble aspirations, and he constantly skewered pompous liberal pontificators with his genius-level wit. Nevertheless, unlike many conservatives, he believed in the power of ideas to change the human condition, and his entire life was devoted to waging war on behalf of conservative ideals. As is now well known, he launched the renaissance of conservative thought that launched the Barry Goldwater candidacy in 1964 (a "dry run," let's call it) and the triumphant election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Buckley was one of that rare breed of activist intellectuals, and he played that awkward role brilliantly. He took unpopular positions such as resisting LBJ's Great Society program (a colossal failure, as we now know) and in calling for a strong stand against Soviet expansionism around the globe. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, most people were very complacent about such matters. Buckley did have to retract a few of his past positions later in life, such as his early defense of the John Birch Society, but such occasions were rare. He stuck to his guns, and gradually the conservative movement in American regained its confidence. Those were the days...

The National Review, which he founded, has a full roundup of reactions to Buckley's death.

I was amused to find that the John Birch Society has mixed feelings about Buckley. They, of course, are a prime example of the pseudoconservative phenomenon.

I first became aware of who William F. Buckley was thanks to Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In TV variety show. (Boy, does that date me!) Lily Tomlin played the snarly-voiced telephone operator who kept mis-pronouncing names, such as "Mr. William Fbuckley, please." smile Since I was on the left of center during most of my young adult life, I usually grimaced whenever I watched Buckley on TV or read his columns. He was poking fun at people like me! Nevertheless, he did so with grace and charm, unlike some other right-wing pundits of the 1980s such as the egregiously offensive R. Emmett Tyrell. Buckley, in contrast, was deeply admired by many people on both sides of the political spectrum, a respect he earned over the course of a long life well-lived.

More deportations

Law enforcement officials are finally taking seriously the massive number of illegal immigrants, and thousands have been deported in the last few months. Washington Post. Who could possibly deny that is a good thing? Those who have contempt for the rule of law, that's who. I figure that about ten percent of the illegal immigrant population ought to be deported, based on serious crimes they have committed. The number of felons lacking legal status might be much greater, though, and of course no one really knows. As a practical matter, the rest ought to be given some kind of "path to legal status," if not full citizenship, which is what John McCain wants. In my mind, it should depend largely on how promptly the illegal immigrants declare their presence to the authorities. If they have done anything wrong that they don't want they government to know about, that's their problem.

February 29, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Happy Leap Day!

Every four years we get to enjoy an extra 24 hours of calendar time, but most folks have to work, so there is no real enjoyment. Why isn't this a national holiday? Actually, I think we have too many national holidays already, so perhaps we could get rid of three or four existing ones and replace it with Leap Day.


Happy 13th Birthday, Greg! (VHS Class of '74) smile


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