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November 2016
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November 1, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Back to Cleveland: Cubs stage clutch rally, and stay alive

Thanks in large part to Kris Bryant, the Chicago Cubs avoided elimination at home at Wrigley Field on Sunday night, thus sending the World Series back to Cleveland for Game 6. In the second inning, Jose Ramirez put the Indians ahead with a solo homer, one of only four hits Cubs pitcher Jon Lester gave up over six innings. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Bryant started a three-run rally with a solo homer. Anthony Rizzo then doubled and reached third base on an infield single by Ben Zobrist. They both later scored on, respectively, a single by Addison Russell and a sac fly by David Moss. And that was all they needed. The Indians threatened in the sixth inning, but Lester held them to just one more run. In the seventh inning, Edwards allowed a hit and was then replaced by Aroldis Chapman. To me, that looked like a desperation move by Joe Maddon, but the gamble paid off. Chapman got the last two outs of that inning and then sailed through the last two innings and got a rare multi-inning save. Cubs fans had an enormous collective sigh of relief, satisified that at least the Cubs had won one of their games at home. Cubs 3, Indians 2.

But the task ahead was daunting. Thanks to Mark London for pointing out that not since 1979 has a team come back from a 3-1 World Series deficit to win, with the last two games being on the road. That team, of course, was the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose joyous "We Are Family" spoiled the atmosphere in Baltimore, where the series ended. Can the Cubs do what the Pirates did back then?

Maybe so. In Game 6 tonight, Bryant started a three-run rally with a solo homer tonight -- for the second game in a row! -- except this time it was in the first inning. As of the top of the third inning, it's still Cubs 3, Indians 0.

For a variety of reasons, the 2016 World Series will be remembered for decades to come. One distinguishing feature is how the switch between National and American League rules regarding the designated hitter have affected managerial strategy. In today's Washington Post, Barry Svrluga observed that four players: the Cubs' Kyle Schwarber (not cleared to play defensively), the Indians' relief pitcher Andrew Miller (taken out of the lineup in Chicago in favor of a pinch-hitter), Aroldis Chapman (unaccustomed to lengthy relief outings, and certainly not to batting), and Carlos Santana (not accustomed to playing left field). Ver-r-r-ry interesting sequences of events...

Yankee Stadium II changes

Mike Zurawski informs me that Yankee Stadium II is undergoing some modifications during the off-season, most notably the removal of obstructed-view bleachers in the inner rear corners in center field. and

And so, I made a preliminary (minor) update to the Yankee Stadium diagram, with a "new" diagram showing the original (2009) configuration but leaving the others untouched for the time being.

November 2, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Comeback! Cubs even series with Tribe, 3-3

For only the fourth time over the past 15 years (2002, 2011, and 2014 being the others), there will be a Game 7 in the World Series. The Chicago Cubs came charging out of the gate with a three-run rally in the first inning. Just like in Game 5 (except in a different inning), Kris Bryant started it with a solo home run. That one swing of the bat changed everything. The Indians starting pitcher got the first two batters (Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber) out in quick order, and had an 0-2 count on Bryant. Almost a 1-2-3 inning, but after Bryant's homer Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist singled, and then the Indians outfielders botched what should have been a relatively easy fly ball out, and two runs scored. With a three-run cushion, the Cubs' starting pitcher Jake Arrieta took care of business calmly and efficiently. Two innings later, Addison Russell hit a grand slam to take a decisive 7-0 lead, and the Indians barely had a chance after that. Arrieta was replaced in the sixth inning after the Indians scored a second run. Joe Maddon once again called upon Aroldis Chapman to pitch in the seventh inning, and this time Chapman himself had to be replaced. Like many others, I question Maddon's lack of faith in his regular [(non-closer) relief pitchers]. Isn't a five-run lead enough? But just to make sure, the Cubs added two runs in the top of the ninth, on a home run by Anthony Rizzo. The Indians rallied for one run in the bottom of the ninth, and the final score was 9-3.

So now as the ultra-tense drama reaches a "fever pitch" (the name of a good baseball movie, by the way), everyone wonders whether they Cubs can repeat the almost miraculous comeback of the Pittsburgh Pirates in Baltimore in the 1979 World Series. It's Kyle Hendricks up against the almost unbeatable Corey Kluber, and anything can happen!!!

Before Game 7 starts this evening, I plan to play (at a local brew pub) this tune by Steve Goodman, which I mentioned on October 25:

Go Cubs, Go!

I think it's safe to say that the 2016 World Series will be remembered for many decades to come. But whether Chicago or Cleveland wins, let's not forget that there will be no joy in the other city, since fans in both cities have been waiting several decades for a World Series victory. They'll just have to "wait till next year!"

November 3, 2016 [LINK / comment]

The Cubs win the World Series!!!

I'm still in a state of euphoric disbelief over what I saw happen on TV last night. Just to make sure that the Chicago Cubs really did win the World Series for the first time since 1908 (!!??), I watched the postgame show after the game ended, and then the reruns of it again in the morning, and then watched most of the (condensed) rebroadcast game on MLB TV this afternoon.

I had just finished playing my three-song set (beginning with "Go Cubs, Go"!) at Queen City Brewing here in Staunton when the first inning of Game 7 got underway. I saw the first pitch on the TV set behind the bar, but while I wasn't looking, Dexter Fowler hit a leadoff home run that just cleared the center field fence at Cleveland's Progressive Field. That blast quickly helped the Cubs get over the psychological hurdle represented by the daunting Indians pitcher, Corey Kluber. When Kyle Schwarber singled and Kris Bryant hit a fly ball to the warning track in center field, there was a momentary possibility of a three-run first inning, just like in Game 6. But the ball was caught, and the next two batters also flew out to end the inning. Corey Kluber settled down after that, and pitched two scoreless innings. I got home during the top of the third inning.

In the bottom of the third, Coco Crisp once again provided decisive offensive punch, with a leadoff double that resulted in a run two batters later. But the Indians bounced right back in the fourth inning, as Kris Bryant hit a leadoff single and later scored from third base on a sacrifice fly to short left field. The next batter Willson Contreras hit an RBI double, confirming that the momentum had shifted by in Chicago's favor. In the top of the fifth, Javier Baez hit a leadoff homer that forced Kluber out of the game, replaced by Andrew Miller, the usual closing pitcher. Later in the inning, Kris Bryant walked and made it home on a single by Anthoy Rizzo. He got a perfect jump, and just beat the throw to home. That gave the Cubs a 5-1 lead, but almost immediately the Indians started chipping away at it. Kyle Hendricks walked a batter, and Joe Maddon immediately replaced him with Jon Lester, a move which I thought was premature. Indeed, Lester gave up a single to the first batter he faced, and then threw a wild pitch to the next batter, allowing both base-runners to score, making it a 5-3 game. That was just horrendous. In the top of the sixth, David Ross hit a solo homer, making up for the throwing error that was partly responsible for the two runs being scored. In the bottom of the sixth, Brandon Guyer got a pinch-hit single for Lonnie Chisenhall, the first of two hits he had. (I found out on a local TV station that he is a former Virginia Cavalier; until this year he was with the Tampa Bay Rays.)

Then followed an interlude of relative calm, until the bottom of the eighth inning. That's when Jon Lester gave up a two-out single and was replaced by Aroldis Chapman. Under normal circumstances that would have been a good move, but as almost everyone knew, Chapman had been severely depleted by multi-inning appearances in both Game 5 and Game 6. His exhaustion became obvious when he gave up an RBI double to Brandon Guyer (his second hit), and then a home run to Rajai Davis. His line drive just barely cleared the big wall in left field, and almost hit the TV camerman posted there. No-o-o-o-o!!! All of a sudden the score was tied 6-6, and fans in Cleveland roared their approval. After giving up another single, Chapman struck out Yan Gomes to end the inning. Whew! In the top of the ninth inning, Jayson Heyward reached third base with only one out, and Cubs' fans hopes started to rise again. But for some reason, Javier Baez attempted a bunt with two strikes, and thus struck out. Some of the Fox commentators (including Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose) later said they thought that it must have been Joe Maddon who made that decision, and I agree. In any case, the next batter grounded out, wasting the run-scoring opportunity. To the surprise of many, Aroldis Chapman came back to pitch in the bottom of the ninth, and this time he did fine, getting three straight outs. Extra innings!

But first there was a rain delay, which had some of us worrying about playing after midnight or even being postponed a day or two, like what happened in the 2008 World Series. Fortunately, the delay turned out to be fairly brief. In the top of the tenth, Kyle Schwarber hit a leadoff single to right field, in spite of Cleveland's defensive shift in that direction. Since his legs are still fragile, he was replaced by pinch runner Albert Almora, who made it to second base on a long fly ball to center field -- what could have been yet another home run by Kris Bryant. Then Anthony Rizzo was intentionally walked, aiming to set up a double play, but it backfired when Ben Zobrist doubled down the left field line, scoring Almora. The Cubs were back ahead, and the thousands of Chicago fans in Progressive Field made their noisy presence felt! After another intentional walk, Miguel Montero, the third-string catcher, came up to bat with the bases loaded, and hit an RBI single to give the Cubs an 8-6 lead. The Indians got the next two outs, but their prospects were bleak.

In the bottom of the tenth, Carl Edwards took the mound for the Cubs, and he got the first two batters out. But then he walked Brandon Guyer, and none other than Rajai Davis came up to bat. Cleveland fans were giddy with anticipation that he might pull off another game-tying homer, and he almost came through, hitting a line-drive RBI single to center field. Oh, no! Joe Maddon yanked Edwards and put Mike Montgomery on the mound. Michael Martinez then hit a slow ground ball which Kris Bryant managed to grab, and threw it to first base for the final out. Game over!!! Cubs 8, Indians 7.

With all those plot twists, that had to be one of the most riveting and exciting final World Series games ever. It was far from perfect, as there were a few lapses by players and by managers -- especially Joe Maddon, whose trust in his pitchers seemed very low. Ben Zobrist, who hit the go-ahead RBI single in the top of the tenth inning, was named World Series Most Valuable Player. He did fine, but I really think Kris Bryant is more deserving of the award. He was the decisive factor in both Games 5 and 6, and played a major role in the Game 7 victory. Perhaps the two errors he committed in Game 4 explains why he wasn't the MVP.

As fate would have it, Cleveland fans suffered the agonizing heartache of losing after having come so close to winning -- both in this game, and in the World Series as a whole. They have much to be proud of, nonetheless, and much to be hopeful for in the future, with a strong roster full of young stars. World Series 2016 was very evenly matched, with both teams scoring exactly 27 runs over the seven games.

Notwithstanding the whole point of getting "home field advantage," the home team only won in two of the seven World Series games: Game 1 in Cleveland, and Game 5 in Chicago. It was the worst World Series for home teams since 1996, when the Braves won the first two games in New York, after which the Yankees won the next three games in Atlanta and then won Game 6 in New York.

And as many people observed, the whole concept of "home field advantage" seemed in doubt as Chicago fans seemed almost as numerous as Cleveland fans at Progressive Field last night. Tickets were going for several thousand dollars on the resale market, and apparently a lot of upscale Chicagoans outbid fans in Cleveland.

On a personal note, this World Series was emotionally draining for me as I unabashedly rooted for my late father's favorite team. Everybody was joking about fans on both sides having heart attacks after the various twists and turns in last night's game. Then it occurred to me on a more serious note that had my father lived another seven months to see this World Series, he quite literally might not have survived watching the latter innings of Game 7. That's almost too much to contemplate. Perhaps this is an example of "things happen for a reason..."

November 4, 2016 [LINK / comment]

New month arrives, & new birds too

After completing the editing tasks on the Augusta Bird Club newsletter yesterday, today I picked up the hard copies from Marden Press downtown, and headed out toward Swoope in hopes of seeing more winter birds. The weather was perfect: mild with clear blue skies, and I just couldn't resist. I saw a fair number of Song Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows, but no other sparrows (such as Lincoln's) which I was hoping for. On Route 705 just south of Buffalo Gap I came across six or seven Wild Turkeys crossing the road, but had a hard time getting any good photos of them. Then I drove to Augusta Springs, where the highlight was a group of Red-breasted Nuthatches. (I saw a couple of those in the Shenandoah National Park on Wednesday, my first of the season.) Otherwise, not much.

Back in Staunton, after taking stuff to the recycling center, I drove to Reservoir Hill to get some scenic photos, and saw a bunch of Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures on the cell tower there, so I photographed them. When I returned home I checked out the back yard, and got some very nice photos of a White-breasted Nuthatch and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet with an aphid in its beak.

Montage 04 Nov 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Wild Turkeys, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and in center, Red-tailed Hawk. (Roll your mouse over the image to see the Ruby-crowned Kinglet enlarged.)

On Tuesday, I spotted a different-looking bird out back, and soon realized that it was a Hermit Thrush, the first one I have seen this season. Unfortunately, it was too shady for me to get a high-quality photo. Later on I went to Bell's Lane, and saw a nice variety of birds, most notably a Palm Warbler and some White-crowned Sparrows (first of the season, I believe).

Montage 01 Nov 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Palm Warbler, American Goldfinch, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird *, White-crowned Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and in center, Red-tailed Hawk. (Roll your mouse over the image to see the Hermit Thrush enlarged.)
* The Bluebird photo was taken on Nov. 29.

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

November 6, 2016 [LINK / comment]

World Series 2016: joyous (and bittersweet) aftermath

The victory parade on Friday for the the world champion Cubs filled the streets of Chicago with over 5,000,000 people, one of the biggest human gatherings in history: "Cubstock," they called it.

On Saturday Night Live, Dexter Fowler, David Ross, and Anthony Rizzo appeared in two skits, one which was creepy and one in which they sang "Go Cubs, Go," along with noted Cubs fan (and former SNL regular) Bill Murray. They even had the lyrics on screen, like in that old TV show, "Sing Along With Mitch." That was pretty cool.

Friday's Washington Post had an article about the families of older Cubs fans who passed away in the weeks and months before World Series 2016. That hit pretty close to home for me. They focused on a guy named Louis DeBella, who died on October 5 at the age of 83. Referring to the Place of Eternal Rest, one of his family members said, "Don't worry. He had the best seats in the house."

And along a similar theme, the Washington Post sports page that day hypothesized that "Divine Intervention" was behind the rain delay after the ninth inning ended. Sports writer Barry Svrluga thinks those 17 extra minutes gave the Cubs time to pause and regroup mentally after the stunning game-tying rally by the Indians in the bottom of the eighth inning. Whatever the cause, it seems clear that the "Billy Goat Curse" is a thing of the past, and like the Red Sox since 2004, the Cubs can emerge from under their perennial dark cloud and compete like a normal team at long last. All is forgiven, Steve Bartman! smile

Progressive Field photos

Since I recently added a few more photos to the Wrigley Field page, I thought it would be appropriate to do likewise for Progressive Field page, which has six "new" photos (all from 2012), including this one that shows where Rajai Davis's game-tying home run in the eighth inning of Game 7 landed:

Progressive Field LF corner

Progressive Field left field corner, the "Toyota Home Run Porch." Note that the rows of seats in front of that white car were taken out last year and replaced with terraced table seating.

In one of the other "new" photos of Progressive Field, I noticed that there is (or was) a chair in front of the right field foul pole! So technically, a sharply-curving fly ball could cross the outfield wall in fair territory and still be called a foul ball. A similar situation once existed at Jack Murphy ("QualComm") Stadium in San Diego, according to Green Cathedrals author Phil Lowry.

I'll have to return to Progressive Field in the next year or two and get photos that show the revamped upper deck in right field, where about 3,000 seats were removed prior to the 2015 season. (Likewise for Coors Field.) I wonder if the Indians' front office regrets the decision to downsize their stadium? That would have been a hefty chunk of change from all those postseason games...

Gio Gonzalez will stay

Also in the Washington Post was news that the Washington Nationals opted to extend their contract with left-handed starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who struggled for much of the season but showed some improvement toward the end. However, they declined to do so for reliever Yusmeiro Petit, who became less and less effective as the season wore on.

Web page updates

Since baseball season is officially over, I'm starting to pay a bit more attention to football. I spent much of yesteray filling the numerous gaps in the Football use of baseball stadiums page. The chronological table is pretty much the same as before, but now all the gray text boxes that appear when the mouse hovers above the stadium links are complete, with brief chronological descriptions of the "comings and goings" of baseball and football teams in each stadium. (That's one of the pages that is inherently not suitable for mobile devices.) I also updated the various other Baseball chronology pages with the World Series results, etc. In the process of making those updates, I noticed an interesting pattern on the Annual chronology of baseball page: In each year since 2005, the World Series championship has alternated between American League (odd years) and National League (even years), except for 2010, when the St. Louis Cardinals edged the Texas Rangers in one of the most improbable comebacks ever.

November 6, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Campaign 2016 grinds to a nasty, ugly end

Thankfully, this hideous mockery of the democratic process is almost over. Historians will no doubt look back at this year's presidential campaign as a turning point in which old customs and norms that kept our republic on a relatively even keel were tossed out the window like so much litter from a speeding car. Who cares? After all the foul language from the big mouth of Donald Trump, and after all the shrill retorts and legalistic evasions from Hillary Clinton, we can at least look forward to a period of respite. And after two months have passed, we will then face the grim reality of inaugurating a new president who quite frankly does not deserve to lead this nation. How did it come to this?

In today's News Leader, a letter to the editor which I wrote appeared. It represents a modest first step on my part toward answering the question above. It is slightly edited from what I wrote (see below), omitting the names of the minor party candidates. (I didn't realize until after I wrote it that the independent candidate, Evan McMullin, is also on the ballot in Virginia.)

November 3, 2016

Seldom if ever have the two major party candidates for president been as unpopular as the ones this year. It's no wonder that both the Trump and Clinton campaigns have emphasized not their own candidates' virtues, but rather what a catastrophe it would if the other side wins. The scary part is they both may be right. Mr. Trump has offered very little in the way of a serious policy agenda, and his habitually outrageous rhetoric is not only reckless but undermines the civic culture upon which our democratic system depends. Mrs. Clinton has positioned herself as the safe choice, but her past record shows her to be deeply troubling from an ethical point of view.

Voters who are still undecided should resist being bullied into accepting the status quo dichotomous choice. Are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump really the best choices that our political system can offer to the voters of this great nation? I don't think so. To me it is clear that something has gone terribly wrong in the nomination process, creating strong incentives for extremist forces or those with a hidden agenda to snatch the nomination from someone who might attract more voters in the general election. If that is indeed the case, voting for either the Republican or the Democratic candidate would merely signal acceptance of a system that is breaking down.

Admittedly, the other options -- Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein -- are not compelling, and a significant vote share for them might affect the outcome in unpredictable ways, such as in 1992 (when Ross Perot helped Bill Clinton) or 2000 (When Ralph Nader helped George W. Bush). If nothing else results from this dreadful year of presidential politicking, let us at least undertake a serious reform of the nomination process and the election process in general. The United States might do better with a two-round system in which the top two candidates (and only those two) are on the ballot in the November general election.

Andrew G. Clem

Note that I did not urge anyone to vote a particular way. That in part reflects my long-term "migration" away from Republican ranks, to the point where I now consider myself an Independent. But it also reflects my own uncertainty about voting. Until September, I had been leaning strongly toward voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson. Then he made that infamous "What is Aleppo?" gaffe [showing his limited knowledge of the Syrian civil war. That and other things led] me to question whether he is fully prepared to serve as commander-in-chief.

I wish I had called attention in that letter to the fundamental problem of political polarization in this country. Not only has the level of discourse degenerated, but the very basis for communicating based on a shared understanding of reality is coming unraveled. For example, the New York Times (hat tip to Connie) recently called attention to the hyper-partisan websites and Facebook groups that spread bogus stories in an attempt to rally one side or confuse the other side. As the traditional news industry slowly fades away, the alternative media is becoming the main source of information for many people, especially young people who just don't know any better.

Since this is the first blog post on politics I have written since July 13 ("Redistricting reform movement is growing"), I should at least say a few things about the past four months. In case I have not already made it perfectly clear, my feeling of disgust with general trends in this country, and with the two major political parties in particular, makes it hard to muster the energy to write about it.

The not-so-Democratic convention

The big irony about the Democratic National Convention (in Philadelphia) is that it was stage-managed in a most undemocratic way. Supporters of independent socialist Bernie Sanders were furious that the Clinton team not only manipulated the nomination process (via "super-delegates"), but largely prevented Sanders people from participating at all. Clinton was forced to accept some left-wing language in the Democratic platform, and she apparently turned 180 degrees on trade policy, coming out against the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership. [As the crooked nature of the heavy-handed politicking became known to the public, Clinton supporter Debbie Wasserman-Schultz had to resign her position as Democratic National Chair.] The big question was whether party members would unite behind Hillary, and for the most part the answer seems to be "yes."

At the convention, Bernie Sanders gave a tepid "endorsement" of Mrs. Clinton, leading some to question whether it was a sincere geture, but since then he has consistently urged his supporters to vote for the party's nominee.

Wells Fargo Center - 2016

Wells Fargo Center, on the south side of Philadelphia, site of the 2016 Democratic National Convention. (August 31, 2016)

I was in Philadelphia for a few days two months ago, attending the American Political Science Association annual meeting, and it was a nice coincidence that the two events took place in the same city. At least I think it was a coincidence!

Tim Kaine for V.P.?

Mrs. Clinton chose as her running mate Senator Tim Kaine from Virginia. It was a safe choice, aimed at securing the Old Dominion for the Democrats, and most polls indicate that it she has a comfortable lead here. Ironically, Virginia used to be a solid "red" state, voting Republican in every presidential election from 1968 through 2004 (see my Politics in Virginia page), but things have changed since Barack Obama became president.

Some people from other states have asked me what I thought of Tim Kaine. I usually reply that he is an archetypical liberal Democratic activist, basically sincere in his convictions but not above the "horseplay" that often accompanies politicking. When he was first campaigning for governor in November 2005, I received a campaign flyer in the mail that was patently bogus, and as far as I know, he never renounced it. My critique of his "State of the State" speech in January 2007 [pointed out his weaknesses as governor.] I first saw him in person at a public event here in Staunton in November 2008. Since being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012, he has been a loyal mainstream Democrat. I will say [without reservation one] good thing to his credit: He has repeatedly insisted that there should be a congressional vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq and Syria, since large parts of those two countries have come under the control of ISIS. He is quite right that the constitutional prerogative of Congress to declare war must be respected, and this country cannot remain a republic for long if the President is allowed to initiate armed conflict anywhere he so chooses. All in all, he is a good choice for Mrs. Clinton.

FBI investigates Mrs. Clinton

This year's "October Surprise" was when FBI Director James Comey informed Congress (via a vaguely-worded letter) that the agency has reopened its investigation of Hillary Clinton, after some e-mail messages from her top assistant and confidante Huma Abedin were on a laptop computer owned by the latter's estranged (and strange) husband, Anthony Weiner. Republicans jumped for joy, and Democrats cried "foul", accusing Comey of being a right-wing stooge. To me, that's preposterous, especially if you recall his cautious treatment of Mrs. Clinton when he decided not to recommend indictment of her over the e-mail scandals last summer. He probably feels trapped, having given Mrs. Clinton a pass before, and wants to protect not only himself but his agency from charges of favoritism, in case something truly incriminating is found in those e-mails. The politicization of the criminal investigation process has led some people to urge that a special prosecutor be appointed, as was done in the Watergate scandal, and the Clinton scandals of the 1990s. See

My hunch is that not much will come of all this, although some Republicans are talking about holding impeachment hearings right after Inauguruation Day next January. Good grief...

The fractious Republican convention

Fears of chaos at the Republican National Convention (in Cleveland) turned out to be less than fully warranted, and at least there was no violence. There were all sorts of rumors of 11th-hour maneuverings by the "Never Trump" faction to change the rules so that delegates pledged to vote for Trump could be released from their obligations and vote their conscience. There was good reason for such a change, as Trump not only failed to "cool down" his rhetoric as the spring turned to summer, but he actually doubled down on his infamous trash talk. First Megyn Kelly, then revisiting the Rosie O'Donnell fracas, and then more insults and more spin-control from his underlings. One of his top advisers, Paul Manafort, was obliged to leave the campaign after reports of his unsavory dealings with shadowy figures in Russia emerged. But in spite of all the chaos within the Trump campaign, the convention itself proceeded in a more-or-less orderly way. [Unlike his Democratic counterpart, Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus played a passive, neutral role that merely paved the way for Trump's nomination; "party unity!"] I just pity the poor souls who participated in that gathering, watching the Grand Old Party be snatched away like a burglar stealing precious silver from a wealthy mansion.

One of the ironies that Donald Trump has brought to light is how the Republican Party has come to embody the same kind of white working-class focus that the Democratic Party used to represent. I sometimes hear older Republicans in this area talking about how they or their families used to always vote Democratic, as though the two parties' identities had completely reversed. The "Party of Lincoln"? Not so much any more.

Another irony about the Trump movement is how many of its members are furious with "Never Trump" folks, accusing them of being disloyal "RINOs." Party unity! But the funny thing is that many Trump supporters proudly proclaimed their intention to demolish the old Republican Party and rebuild something totally new from its ruins. These people, often associated with a nationalistic faction known as the "Alternative Right" (or just "Alt Right"), often exhibit disturbing affinities with white supremicist groups such as the Aryan Nation or the Ku Klux Klan. Some of these people are practically spoiling for a fight, hinting at some kind of race war, and they are armed to the teeth.

Prior to the convention, Trump paid a courtesy call to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who eventually made a reluctant, half-hearted "endorsement" of Trump. It was a lot like the way Bernie Sanders was courted by the Clinton campaign, but after Trump behaved so terribly and campaigned so miserably in late August and early September, Ryan and other top Republicans partially "walked back" their endorsements. It is a sorry spectacle that a campaign is being run so poorly.

Quicken Loans Arena

Quicken Loans Arena, in downtown Cleveland, site of the 2016 Republican National Convention. (August 7, 2012)

Mike Pence for V.P.?

After a series of rumors prior to the convention, Donald Trump announced (via Twitter!) that he had chosen Indiana Governor Mike Pence to be his running mate. It was a unique means by which the decision was announced, exemplifying Mr. Trump's habit of communicating with the public in an extemporaneous, often ill-considered way. In the months since being chosen, Pence has been walking a delicate tight rope in distancing himself from Mr. Trump's many outrageous comments with actually repudiating the presidential candidate. Pence seems to be well-liked by most people, but he seems to carry baggage for being closely associated with Christian conservatives, the same sort of people who ousted long-time Indiana Senator Dick Lugar in the GOP primary election in 2012, with the result that a fringe GOP candidate (Richard Mourdock) paved the way for a Democratic victory in the general election. I'd like to know what Pence's role in that was. Otherwise, I think he would do fine as a vice president.

President Trump: seriously?

It is hard to imagine what a Trump presidency would be like. Back in June or July, I wrote this on Facebook:

I just watched the movie "The Music Man" once again on TCM, and it reminded me of the presidential campaign. Many people complain that Donald Trump is a totally fraudulent huckster taking advantage of gullible people, and that he doesn't know a thing about what he is claiming to be. Yes, but that's almost beside the point. Just as Shirley Jones forgave Robert Preston for all his lies, and then by her selfless love for him helped foster the illusion of magnificence in the final "76 Trombones" march, so too do millions of forgotten middle Americans give life to a candidacy which, as seen by the rational mind, lacks any content whatsoever. In our postmodern world, everything is a social construct.

Unlike many others who engage in political debate on Facebook, I have largely refrained from disparaging supporters of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In fact, I think there really are valid reasons to vote for Trump (or for Mrs. Clinton), but for the most part those reasons do not apply to me. I sympathize with those who have lost patience with "politics as usual" in Washington, and my own record as a political activist bears out that same desire. But the basic fact is that, given that Trump represents precisely the type of sleazy, low-brow, populistic kind of politics that I been warning about over the past several years, for me to vote for him would signify a renunciation of all those warnings. Do I want Mrs. Clinton to win? Of course not. I reconciled myself to the bleak prospects for this country's political future several months ago, and while the election does matter, we are pretty much screwed no matter who wins.

I have no inside knowledge, and I admit that the electorate is volatile and perhaps may be angry enough to elect Trump as president, but I remain under the strong impression that Trump is not really trying to win. He might be doing all this as a publicity stunt for his business empire, or who knows why? But for me the scary thing is what happens in the post-election aftermath, when (assuming he loses) the recriminations begin within the GOP. My hunch is that the primary purpose of the Trump campaign is to complete the hostile takeover of the Republican Party, small parts of which I personally witnessed a decade ago. Republicans such as Paul Ryan who failed to support Trump will be under extreme pressure to step down from the "Alt Right" activists who are now prevailing in the party. Regardless of the outcome of the election, I don't see an end to the intra-party struggle any time soon, and frankly I'm glad that I have nothing to do with it.

November 7, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Augusta County officials under fire

On the eve of Election Day, I feel obliged to mention a puzzling situation that has arisen in and around Augusta County over the past few months. Tensions between local government officials and a new private social services company called Nexus mounted after Nexus (see below) accused the Sheriff's office and local bail bond companies of illegally conspiring against them. Nexus offers zero-fee bail for many people who are arrested and charged with crimes, and it seems that Nexus is cutting in on the traditional bail bond companies' business. The undocumented immigrants who comprise much of Nexus clientele must meet stiffer bail requirements because of the high flight risk, and Nexus minimizes its risk by fitting its clients with GPS ankle bracelets, a technological innovation. After David Bourne, one of the bail bond operators, warned the Sheriff about the past criminal records of the Nexus owners (Michael Donovan and Richard Moore, who were guilty of passing bad checks), in May the latter filed a $1 million lawsuit against Bourne, Donald Moran, Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith, Augusta County Commissioner of Revenue Jean Shrewsbury, on the grounds of conspiracy and defamation. See

Somehow, this tension escalated to the point that one part-time government auditor, Ray Ergenbright (his legal first name is Gene), sent another official an e-mail message that featured a smiley face emoticon modified to look like Adolph Hitler. It is not entirely clear what the point of that emoji was, but it sparked even sharper protests by Nexus. They demanded the resignation of Shrewsbury, arguing that the e-mail messages between her, Ray Ergenbright, and another auditor (Joy Mauzy) demonstrated prejudicial hostility and lack of professionalism.

DISCLAIMER: I know Ray Ergenbright and Jean Shrewsbury from my past involvement in local Republican politics, and I respect them for their devotion to public service, but I have not had any contact with either of them for at least the last two years.

The dispute seemed to fade away, but in July Nexus accused the Augusta County Sheriff's Office's of improperly detaining seven undocumented immigrants along Interstate 81. See

More recently, Nexus also targeted Harrisonburg Commissioner of Revenue Karen Rose, since Ergenbright also works part-time for that office. I have seen (at least a dozen times) a TV ad in which three African-American clergymen who lead a group called Americans Resisting Minority and Ethnic Discrimination (A.R.M.E.D.) denounce the alleged racism and bigotry which the Hitler emoji seems to signify. There is no explanation of how these people came together or why this particular case has them so upset. To me, it seems a bit contrived. The idea that Jean Shrewsbury or the other government officials are "racists" seems absurd. One would think the people most likely to be offended by Hitler emojis would be Jews, but as far as I can tell, there are no Jewish members of A.R.M.E.D. The ad calls attention to a new website,, which tries to explain the rationale behind the campaign to remove Shrewsbury and Rose from office. I saw this sign in Staunton about six weeks ago:

Fire Shrewsbury sign

"Fire Shrewsbury" sign, at the entrance to the WalMart / Lowe's parking lot in Staunton, September 24.

Today (November 7), Ray Ergenbright held a press conference in Harrisonburg, expressing regret for the offensive symbols but denying that there was malice toward any group. It was the first public statement he had made since the controversy broke out last spring. See

What is Nexus?

Support for the "A.R.M.E.D." group (which sounds menacing, perhaps deliberately) comes from an innovative private social services company called Nexus, which operates several distinct services. Of most concern is Libre by Nexus Services, which provides interest-free bail bonds to people (especially undocumented immigrants) who would otherwise have to stay in jail pending a court hearing. Nexus co-owners Donovan and Moore both spent months in jail several years ago, because they couldn't raise bail, and this experience is what motivates them in this unique, multifaceted enterprise. Nexus also operates a real estate office as well as charity service catering to immigrants. A few months ago, they began broadcasting a television show called "Breaking Through" on Channel 3 in Harrisonburg, covering a variety of local issues. The show features Nexus President Mike Donovan and Dave Briggman, a local Republican activist who happens to be a Facebook friend of mine. (We met at a February 2012 political event at which Karen Kwiatkowski, who was chalenging Rep. Bob Goodlatte in the Republican primary, was also present; scroll down.)

It's hard to know where this dispute will lead, but it is a good example of the administrative stress that happens whenever public policy fails to address a major problem such as illegal immigration. There is a huge financial incentive for entrepreneurs such as Nexus to exploit the legally-vulnerable immigrant population in the United States, and this will remain the case as long as the Federal government fails to articulate a clear policy on immigration.

Nexus offices Verona

The Nexus office complex, on Mill Place Parkway in Verona, October 28. ("Caridades" is Spanish for "charities.")

November 8, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Election 2016: last-minute forecasts

For the record, I have made my own forecast of the election results, showing Trump doing better than most people expect, but not enough to win. Reports of a surge in Latino voting in Florida would seem to doom his chances there, but unlike recent elections, I think it will all come down to Michigan. If Trump capitalizes on discontent with global trade and de-industrialization, it could just put him over the top. He made a joke the other day that probably resonates with some people: "It used to be we made automobiles in Michigan and you couldn't drink the water in Mexico; now it's the other way around." That's referring to the water system crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Anyway, Hillary Clinton will probably win Virginia, Pennsylvania, and might win North Carolina. I have the latter in Trump's column, but it will be close. Likewise, Texas will be closer than in recent elections, but I expect Trump to still finish with a lead of about 5 percent.

As for the popular vote, I'm guessing Mrs. Clinton will get about 48%, with Mr. Trump getting 43%, Gary Johnson (Libertarian) getting 5%, Jill Stein (Green) getting 2%, and Evan McMullin (Independent) also getting 2%. If Johnson reaches the 5% threshhold, the Libertarian Party will qualify for matching funds in the next presidential election, which is ironic for a party that preaches a sharply limited role for the government.

2016 Pres. Election forecast

My forecast of the 2016 presidential election.

Virginia races

Here in Virginia, there are some close races for the House of Representatives. Bob Goodlatte will win easily here in the 6th District once again, but Kai Degner waged an effective campaign, capitalizing on the pipeline issue. In the 10th District (northern Virginia), Barbara Comstock is fighting a tough battle for survival, and if she loses, Trump will be to blame. The most interesting race is in the 5th District, where State Senator Tom Garrett (GOP) has a small lead over Jane Dittmar. That campaign has been nasty.

Campaign signs Nov 2016

Montage of 2016 campaign signs, around Staunton.

Congressional races

I predict that the Republicans will hold on to a bare 51-49 lead in the Senate. [It is currently 54-46, including two independents on the Democratic side.] Republicans Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and in Roy Blunt in Missouri (both incumbents) are two key tossups.

In the House of Representatives, I expect the Democrats to make a smaller gain, going from the current 247-188 lead [in favor of the Republicans] to about 230-205. I have a hunch that many voters who cringe at the idea of voting for Hillary but do so as the lesser of two evils will compensate for that choice but picking the Republican candidate for the House. The average voter, although often susceptible to being fooled, is wiser than many people think, and they probably like the idea of keeping a balance between the two parties.

FBI clears Hillary

When I wrote my Sunday blog post, I was not yet aware that the FBI had already cleared Hillary Clinton. I'm not surprised, and frankly I'm glad that this potential complicating factor was removed (or at least minimized) prior to the election. But what about people who voted early? Well, that's another problem...

November 9, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Believe it or not: Trump is elected president

Oh, what a night! It was an exhausting ordeal staying up until after the results were reasonably certain (about 2:45 A.M.), and I remain deeply conflicted over what to make of it all. Yes, Donald J. Trump pulled off the biggest upset presidential election victory in modern American history, winning 30 states and nearly matching the number of popular votes received by the heavily-favored Hillary Rodham Clinton. It was probably a bigger upset than Ronald Reagan's victory over President Jimmy Carter in 1980, and the consequences are likewise very unpredictable. This country is entering some very dangerous rapids, with many people already becoming hysterical at the previously-remote prospect of a Trump presidency.

Virtually none of the mainstream pollsters and pundits gave Trump much of a chance of winning. Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball ( forecast Clinton defeating Trump, 322-216. My "last-minute" forecast, done just before the first returns came in had a slightly narrower margin of victory for Clinton: 305-233. While it will take some time to absorb the lessons, we can at least identify the specific places and circumstances where Trump did better than expected.

The map below shows what a broad-based victory Trump won, with states in all regions of the country except the Pacific Coast and the Northeast. His strongest support was in the lower Mississippi Basin and the Great Plains, extending into the upper Rocky Mountains. It is a clear reflection of the growing divide between the ethnically-diverse, urbanized Democratic base versus the largely white and rural Republican base. Two Americas that seem to shut themselves off from each other, almost pretending that the "other" America doesn't exist. It will be a huge (!) challenge for President Trump to govern such a deeply fractured society, and frankly he lacks either the preparation or the temperment to do so.

2016 Pres. Election

The 2016 presidential election. Roll your mouse over the image to see my forecast, and click on it to see the original map with the faulty calculations.

The map highlights (with exclamation marks) the six states that switched parties, i.e., went for Trump this time but went for Obama in 2012. I correctly forecast that Iowa and Ohio would switch toward the GOP, but was wrong about the other four: Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. They were all significant in terms of electoral votes. In my blog post yesterday, I suggested that Michigan might be the decisive swing state this time, in the event of an unexpected Trump upsurge. It might have been, but the vote totals were so slow in coming in there that it became redundant. Around 11:00 when Trump had a clear lead in both Florida and Michigan, the unthinkable outcome became a very real prospect. When Wisconsin went for Trump, he became the clear favorite, and when Pennsylvania was called for him around 2:30, it was essentially all over.

I updated the Presidency page, showing the map above, listing Trump as the 45th president, and including the election results nationwide, in Virginia, and in this local area.

Among the Facebook friends who deserve credit for better "forecasting" than me are Ryan Setliff (a strong Trump backer) and Jimmy Brenneman (not so much).

FUN FACT: Donald Trump, who was born June 14, 1946, will be 70 years and seven months old when he takes the oath of office on January 20. This is about eight months older than Ronald Reagan, who was born Feb. 6, 1911.

Election Night Facebook posts

For the record, here's what I wrote on Facebook last night, excluding comments and repostings of images. I confess to reposting one or two items that made fun of the Democrats, but ceased doing so after the likelihood of a Trump win became clear. One of my Facebook postings acknowledged the deep pain felt by Democrats who had been very confident of victory. The relative time elapsed is based on when I accessed my Facebook page, at shortly after 3:00 this afternoon. I added the approximate clock times in parentheses.

17 hrs ( ~ 10:00 P.M.) --
So far, the election looks closer than most people thought, and that is consistent with my "last-minute" forecast: I have Clinton with 279 electoral votes (48% of the popular vote), and Trump with 259 (43%).

16 hrs ( ~ 11:00 P.M.) --
A note to my Democratic friends, of whom there are many: If Trump does somehow pull off an upset win tonight, please don't freak out and go off the deep end. It doesn't mean that America is being taken over by racist Neanderthals, just that there is a deep upsurge of anti-establishment sentiment that the elites have been ignoring. I'm not a Trump supporter, and I never seriously considered voting for him, but I understand there are valid reasons for doing so. This may be another result like 2000, with the electoral vote winner getting fewer popular votes. That's just the way our system works, and if you don't like it, there are means to make a constitutional change.

16 hrs ( ~ 11:00 P.M.) --
Just curious: Would the number of ex-convicts whose voting rights were restored en masse by our glorious governor account for Clinton's lead over Trump in Virginia?

16 hrs ( ~ 11:00 P.M.) --
Ron Johnson (R) beats Russ Feingold (D) in the Wisconsin Senate race. Now that's something I can take pleasure in!

15 hrs ( ~ 12:00 A.M.) --
I just switched to Fox News and have to give credit to Greg Guttfield for interpreting the Trump upsurge as the average American expressing a big "F--- you" to popular culture, citing Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, et al. AGREED!

15 hrs ( ~ 12:00 A.M.) --
Trump is now projected to win Wisconsin, which is the first (or second) state thus far I have gotten wrong; Florida is too close to call for some news sources, but Trump is favored there too.

15 hrs ( ~ 12:00 A.M.) --
"DO NOT BREAK GLASS EXCEPT IN CASE OF EMERGENCY." This election may reflect the widespread sense that our country really has reached an emergency, and drastic measures are required. Yikes.

15 hrs ( ~ 12:00 A.M.) --
If Trump holds his lead, it will be an earthquake like nothing this country has seen in decades. Stock markets will tank, people will jump off buildings, but not all is lost. One positive consequence would be that Democrats will suddenly discover that constitutional limitations on government power can come in handy sometimes.

14 hrs ( ~ 1:00 A.M.) --
Adding to the HUGE surprise of this evening is the fact that Trump currently leads in the nationwide popular vote, as well as the electoral vote. But he will probably end up with a bit less than 49%. That calls attention to my recent letter to the editor calling for a reform of the presidential nomination and election process. I would require an absolute majority of both the popular vote AND a majority (26) of the states, and if no candidate qualifies, then you revert back to the traditional electoral college system.

14 hrs ( ~ 1:00 A.M.) --
Sen. Pat Toomey (R) wins reelection in Pennsylvania!

13 hrs ( ~ 2:00 A.M.) --
Forecast correction: Based on the states I picked, the electoral vote totals would have been Clinton 308, Trump 230. Stupid spreadsheet error on my part. (Before it was Clinton 279, Trump 259.)

13 hrs ( ~ 2:00 A.M.) --
Washington Post calls Pennsylvania for Trump, which puts him at 264 -- just six EVs short. Won't be long now...

13 hrs ( ~ 2:00 A.M.) --
After all the talk (justifiable, I think) about what sore loser Donald Trump was likely to be, Hillary Clinton now faces a huge task in making a graceful concession speech. John Podesta just told the crowd to go home and sleep, as there will be no speech tonight. It seems strange for them to hold out hope, given the mathematics of the situation.

13 hrs ( ~ 2:00 A.M.) --
Now I get it. MSNBC won't call Pennsylvania because of all the provisional ballots yet to be counted. Armies of lawyers about to descend upon Harrisburg?

12 hrs ( ~ 3:00 A.M.) --
One thing's for sure: The Republican Party is no longer the party of wealthy, privileged elites from the northeast! (Wait a minute...)

12 hrs ( ~ 3:00 A.M.) --
I can't believe I am watching President-elect Donald Trump make his acceptance speech. What a crazy world we live in. Well, we'd better get used to things being done differently from now on.

12 hrs ( ~ 3:00 A.M.) --
It is distressing to me to see so many people threatening to unfriend those who have a different world view on Facebook today. I only unfriend people who habitually use extreme, vulgar, or otherwise hostile language likely to incite violence. Be cool, folks, we'll get through this.


4 hrs ( ~ 11:00 A.M.) --
A couple months ago, I brought up the name of a long-forgotten Virginia politician named Mary Sue Terry. She had a lock on the race for governor in 1993, and then an uncouth upstart named George Allen ruined her best-laid plans. Know what I mean now?

3 hrs ( ~ 12:00 P.M.) --
Good for Hillary. She said what needed to be said, and did so in an emphatic, sincere way. I just hope her supporters take her words to heart and accept the results of the election. (It won't be easy for me either.)

Elections in Virginia

[Here in the Old Dominion, Mrs. Clinton won by a comfortable margin, 49.5% to 44.7%. It wasn't that long ago that Virginia was a reliably Republican state, and for many years it was a "bellwether" state, an early indicator of nationwide trends. This election, it not only went Democratic, but went against the nationwide trend. When reports surfaced that the Trump campaign was pulling out of Virginia in mid-October, it seemed like it was a sign of desperation by a losing candidate. Not quite.]

As for the House of Representatives, the Democrats picked up one seat in Virginia, as a result of the court-mandated redistricting that took place earlier this year. (See my July 13 blog post.) In the newly-redrawn 4th Congressional District, Democrat Don McEachin (an African-American member of the State Senate) defeated Republican Mike Wade (Sheriff of Henrico County) by about 14 percentage points, 57% - 43%. In the 2nd C.D., Republican Scott Taylor easily won the seat vacated by Scott Rigell, who decided not to run again. In the 5th C.D., formerly held by Robert Hurt (Republican), Tom Garrett (also a Republican) defeated Democrat Jane Dittmar by a wide margin, to my surprise. In the 10th C.D., incumbent Republican Barbara Comstock won reelection by a substantial margin, also a bit of a surprise to me. So instead of an 8 - 3 Republican advantage, it's now 7 - 4, which is closer to the total statewide popular vote by party.

District Republican % Democrat %
1 Wittman 60.71% Rowe 35.78%
2 Taylor * 61.57% Brown 38.17%
3 Williams 33.25% Scott 66.52%
4 Wade 42.79% McEachin * 56.99%
5 Garrett * 58.21% Dittmar 41.60%
6 Goodlatte 66.60% Degner 33.18%
7 Brat 57.66% Bedell 42.15%
8 Hernick 27.29% Beyer 68.36%
9 Griffith 68.59% Kitts 28.31%
10 Comstock 52.67% Bennett 46.94%
11 (write in) 12.35% Connolly 87.65%

* : new member; name of winner in bold face.
SOURCE: / State Board of Elections

The Politics in Virginia page has been updated to show the new and returning members of the House from Virginia as of next January.

I'll write about congressional races across the country tomorrow.

November 11, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Obama, Trump chat in Oval Office

In an old tradition that takes on added significance in light of the extraordinary circumstances, President Obama welcomed President-elect Donald Trump to Oval Office yesterday. The two men are bitter political rivals, having cast sharp aspersions on each other numerous times, but they managed to at least convey a sense of normalcy and dignity. The President pledged that he and the White House staff would help Mr. Trump to succeed -- "because if you succeed, then the country succeeds." See Presumably, there won't be any missing T's on computer keyboards, as there were missing W's when George W. Bush took up residence in the White House on January 20, 2001.

Sore losers unleash violence

Protests against the election of Donald Trump turned violent, in New York City, Los Angeles, and other cities. Some people just don't understand the concept of abiding by the results of the democratic process. In Richmond, demonstrators vandalized the local Republican headquarters, trying in to break in through the front door, and writing the circled "A" symbol of Anarchy on the glass. To their credit, top Democrats denounced the actions as "indefensible." See Times-Dispatch. In my opinion, this is a direct result of the widespread efforts to paint all Republicans with a broad brush, depicting them as "deplorable," "racist," etc. Intelligent people should know better than that.

Congress: Republicans retain control

The Republicans did better than I expected in the 435 House of Representative races, winning 239 seats so far, compared to 247 before. The Democrats have won 193 seats thus far, with three more races yet to be determined in recounts. If there was a negative "coat-tail effect" from Trump being at the top of the ticket (as many people expected), it wasn't very strong.

In the New Hampshire Senate race, incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte conceded on Wednesday to Democrat Maggie Hassan, currently the governor of that state. In Wisconsin, Republican Ron Johnson defeated incumbent Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold, a surprise to me. That's a possible case of a "coat-tail" effect, since Trump won that state. In Missouri, incumbent Republican Roy Blunt held on to his seat. In Louisiana, there will be a runoff election in early December, between Republican John Kennedy (!) and Democrat Foster Campbell. That seat has been held by Republican David Vitter, who did not seek reelection. So, it will be either a 51-49 split in favor of the Republicans (which is exactly what I predicted) or a 52-48 split if Kennedy wins.

I updated the Congress page with the latest results from the House and Senate races.

Reflections on Trump's triumph

In the Washington Post, Charles Lane writes that Trump's break-the-rules approach to campaigning will undermine the legitimacy of his government and lead to greater instability in American politics. Indeed, Republicans' hopes that Trump might wise up and learn how to get things done in Washington (which means cooperation and bargaining when necessary) are fragile, with no past record to support such a belief. But Trump has surprised us before, and anything is possible.

A related question is how did so many pollsters miss that hidden support for Trump? It occurred to me that Richard Nixon once hailed a similar latent mass of support for his policies, the "Great Silent Majority." Were they ashamed to tell the pollsters who they were going to vote for?

In the next few days, I hope to slowly get caught up with punditry and blogs, and offer some more thoughts on what Trump's victory means for America.

NOTE: Michigan has not been officially called yet, but Trump still has a slim lead. In New Hampshire conversely, Clinton is ahead slightly, but it's not official. So, I may have to change the map I posted on Wednesday, as well as the electoral vote totals.

What time was it over?

Tuesday's Washington Post had an article about the varying times on Election Night when the race was semi-officially called by the news networks. I summarize it in the table below, adding a final line for this year's race. (That's my own estimate.) I was going to cite the trite cliché "It's not over till the fat lady sings" on Facebook that evening, but thought better of it, in light of Mr. Trump's many infamous slurs against women.

Year Republican Democrat Time
1980 Ronald Reagan Jimmy Carter 8:15 P.M.
1984 Ronald Reagan Walter Mondale 8:02 P.M.
1988 George Bush Sr. Michael Dukakis 9:17 P.M.
1992 George Bush Sr. Bill Clinton 10:48 P.M.
1996 Bob Dole Bill Clinton 9:00 P.M.
2000 George Bush Jr. Al Gore (Dec. 12)
2004 George Bush Jr. John Kerry 11:19 A.M.
2008 John McCain Barack Obama 11:00 P.M.
2012 Mitt Romney Barack Obama 11:17 P.M.
2016 Donald Trump Hillary Clinton 2:45 A.M.

Winning candidate in bold face. SOURCE: Washington Post

Early campaign poll

In going through stacks of old newspapers that I habitually accumulate, I just noticed a Washington Post / ABC poll taken in April 2015, showing Jeb Bush in the lead among Republicans with 20%, followed by Ted Cruz (13%), Scott Walker (12%), and eleven (11) other Republican candidates. Guess who was not even on that list? That's right: Donald Trump! On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton was way ahead with 66%, followed by Joe Biden (11%), Elizabeth Warren (11%), Bernie Sanders (4%), Jim Webb, and Martin O'Malley. If nothing else results from this debacle, I hope the parties start to reform the nomination process so we don't get started prematurely like last time, with awful consequences in terms of the final choices.

November 12, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Murphy, Ramos win Silver Sluggers

Two members of the Washington Nationals -- Daniel Murphy (second baseman) and Wilson Ramos (catcher) -- won the 2016 National League "Silver Slugger" awards for their respective positions. Murphy's batting average was a spectacular .347, while Ramos batted a superb .307. As noted at, it's the fifth consecutive season the Nationals have had at least one Silver Slugger, the longest such streak in the National League. Murphy remains in contention for the National League MVP award...

Bryce Harper won the Silver Slugger last year, when he also was named NL MVP. In 2014, Shortstop Ian Desmond won the award (his a third time), and third baseman Anthony Rendon won his first Silver Slugger. In 2012, three Nationals received that award: Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche, and Stephen Strasburg, and I was lucky to see the shining hardware on display at NatsFest in January 2013.

Nationals let Ramos go

The Washington Nationals decided not to make a "qualifying" offer to their catcher Wilson Ramos, meaning that he will become a free agent. Under the MLB rules negotiated with the MLB Players' Association, there is a formula to determine the standard salary for a player whose contract is expiring, and in this case it would have been $17.2 million. Given that Wilson's injured knee is not likely to heal until the middle of the 2012 season, it just wouldn't have been worth it for the Nationals. There is a small chance that Ramos won't get a satisfactory offer from another team, in which case he might sign with the Nationals again. See Washington Post.

This is distressing to me, as Wilson was not only among the Nats' most popular players, but also one of the most productive ones at the plate this year. He lost a lot of playing time due to injuries, missing a major part of the season in three straight years: 2012-2014. The September 26 freak injury was a tragic way for his career with the Nationals to end, and I just hope he gets back to normal in due time, and finds championship-caliber success once again -- maybe even with the Nats.

Wilson Ramos

Wilson Ramos, before the August 31 Nats-Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park.

San Diego votes NO on stadium

In San Diego on Tuesday, voters failed to pass a bond referendum that would have funded a new stadium for the NFL Chargers. A two-thirds majority was required, but only 43 percent voters said yes. The upshot is that the Chargers are more than likely to seek relocation to Los Angeles, where a new stadium is being built. It's probably just a matter of time. See Washington Post. Ironically, the Chargers' original home was in Los Angeles.

And in other ballpark news, I learned from Mike Zurawski that the "Ballpark Village" on the north side of the Cardinals' Busch Stadium (III) will be expanded; see

November 15, 2016 [LINK / comment]

The Trump transition begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 15, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Super views of the "super" moon!

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

Moonrise, Holiday Inn 13 Nov 2016-A

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

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

Full moon, Nov. 13, 2016.

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

November 15, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Nice day for some nice birds

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

Montage 15 Nov 2016

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

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

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

November 16, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Field trip to McCormick's Mill

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

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

Montage 16 Nov 2016

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

November 17, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Max Scherzer wins NL Cy Young Award

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

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

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

Max Scherzer

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

Porcello wins AL Cy Young

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

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

Bryant, Trout win MVP Awards

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

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

Seager, Fulmer: Rookies of the Year

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

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

Golden Glove Awards

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

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

Comparing three successful years

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

Nats winning percentage 2016

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

November 19, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Field trip to Chimney Hollow

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

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

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

Montage 19 Nov 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Montage 18 Nov 2016

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

November 20, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Some scenic shots of Staunton, etc.

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

Mary Baldwin University, churches

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

Chimney Hollow trees, sky

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

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

November 28, 2016 [LINK / comment]

This election was rigged!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abolish the Electoral College???

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

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

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

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

November 28, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Harrier is back on Bell's Lane

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

Montage 25 Nov 2016

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

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

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

November 30, 2016 [LINK / comment]

FIVE more Open Mic appearances!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 30, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Trump begins to choose top officials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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