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May 2005 Archives
May 31, 2005 [LINK]
"Deep Throat" revealed!
In an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, W. Mark Felt, a former FBI official who is now 91, claimed that he was "Deep Throat," the anonymous tipster who helped Woodward and Bernstein unravel the mysterious Watergate scandal. The iconic beat reporters have long pledged to keep their source's identity secret until he dies, but he apparently wanted to make the revelation on his own terms. "The Washington Post had no immediate comment." See Washington Post. I wonder what Linda Lovelace has to say?
France rejects Europe
Theme for the day: "As ye sow, so shall ye reap." For the past three years, French President François Mitterrand has systematically cultivated anti-American sentiment as a tool to maintain political support, so it should come as no surprise that the weapon turned into a generalized xenophobia which made political compromises with the rest of Europe very difficult. Mitterrand was humiliated by Sunday's defeat of the referendum on the European Union constitution, by a 55-45 margin. He has already dismissed Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker (see Washington Post), but he was already in a precarious position at home, so he will likely spend the rest of his six-year term (which ends in 2007) as a lame duck. Some are calling on him to resign. He's old, his government is rife with corruption (and not just over the Iraq oil-for-food scandal), and he has no new ideas on governing aside from America-bashing.
Red State/Blue State France: Power Line Blog has a map showing that virtually the only departments of France that voted in favor of the referendum were in the minority-populated regions of Brittany, which speaks a tongue related to English, and Alsace, which has strong linguistic and cultural ties to Germany. What does that say about France's spirit of nationalism?
May 31, 2005 [LINK]
Nine bids for Nationals
Nine bids to purchase the Washington Nationals have been accepted by MLB. Today's Washington Post has a detailed profile of the leading men in each of the prospective franchise owner partnerships. One of them, Stan Kasten, formerly president of the Atlanta Braves, wanted MLB to move the Expos to New Jersey. Boo-oo! Baseball economics expert Andrew Zimbalist was quoted as saying the franchise might go for $500 if the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (in which the Baltimore Orioles have a 90 percent stake that will gradually decline to 67 percent) is included in the sale. Of course, the legal dispute between Comcast and the Orioles over broadcast rights is holding things up. The franchise might not be sold until after this season is over... The Baseball in D.C. page has been duly updated.
Foul pole, scoreboard
Here's the photo of the place where the controversial call was made yesterday: RFK left foul pole. Note how it is attached to the grandstand, and note the small portion that is not painted yellow, which is where Brian Jordan's would-be home run apparently struck. That photo also reveals the spartan, low-budget (home team) bullpen, with folding chairs used to hold down plastic sheets to keep the dirt dry. It also shows the slight overhang of the second deck in the outfield, as well as the gradual widening of the gap behind the fence as it approaches the foul pole. Finally, it reveals the rail along which the movable part of the grandstand rolls when it is moved into position for soccer games. Between the banners on the green wall are the entry portals for the grandstand when it is in football/soccer configuration. For next season, they should replace one of those banners with an old-fashioned, inning-by-inning manual scoreboard -- nothin' fancy, just a minor touchup that would be functional as well as aesthetically appealing.
May 31, 2005 [LINK]
A Day to Remember
World War II veterans and fallen heroes received more attention in the media on Monday, perhaps because this is the sixtieth anniversary of the end of World War II. Hostilies in Europe formally ended on May 8, 1945, and in the Pacific theater on August 15, 1945. The aftershocks lasted for several more years, however, as Germany and Japan were not sufficiently pacified to govern themselves until 1949 and 1951, respectively. Those who died on the battle field probably could not have imagined the enormous benefit to the world their sacrifices brought. The idea that the former Axis powers would not only cease resisting but learn to cooperate with the Western democracies during the Cold War that ensued would have seemed very far fetched during the grim final months of 1944 and 1945.
A column by Michele Dyson in Sunday's Washington Post reprinted the famous World War I poem, "In Flanders Fields" by Canadian John McCrae. It was the subject of a Canadian postage stamp I recall getting many years ago, and my father explained the context too me. It is moving and evocative, from the very first lines:
In Flanders fields, the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row ...
Similar sentiments were expressed by President Bush at a wreath-laying ceremony yesterday, praising the noble sacrifices of the U.S. service men and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We must honor them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives; by defeating the terrorists." He read parts of letters sent home by soldiers who knew very well what they were fighting for; it's too bad so many Americans don't know... See Washington Post.
Carnage -- and progress -- in Iraq
It has been two years and one month since the war to liberate Iraq began, and it is remarkable that people actually debate whether it is really a war or not. In a strict military sense, it is a prolonged anti-insurgent campaign, similar to actions by U.S. forces in the Philippines and Nicaragua in the first half of the 20th Century, though on a bigger scale. In terms of duration and combat deaths, it is comparable to the War of 1812 or the Mexican War of 1848-1849. This strange quasi-war drags on, floating in and out of our collective consciousness. The Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen photographic series has been a valuable service to us all, reminding us of the human lives represented by the daily casualty toll. In our area, JASON REDIFER, a Marine lance corporal from the nearby town of Stuarts Draft, was killed in action on January 31, 2005. It was supposed to be his final mission before returning home. He belonged to the Second Marine Division based in Camp Lejeune, NC.
After a few months of attacks on oil pipelines, which are now better guarded, the terrorists have now turned their attention to the cities. The wounding of Abu Musab al Zarqawi probably doesn't mean much, as the suicide tactics do not seem to be well coordinated. With an almost unlimited supply of hate-inspired young men from many Arab nations, car bombs will likely be disrupting lives in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities for the foreseeable future. The upsurge in terror bombings coincided with the selection of the Iraqi civilian cabinet, after long negotiations among party leaders. That marked a major step forward, and signifies the consolidation of genuine state power, as more and more Iraqis recognize they are better off cooperating with authorities than joining the insurgents. Iraqi troops and police units have become much more active in tracking down hideouts and weapons depots. The recent counteroffensive by U.S. forces along the Syrian border sealed a major security gap through which foreign terrorists had been infilitrating. The other good news is that the country's economy is growing, but that could be changed by one or two spectacular attacks on the oil pipelines.
May 30, 2005 [LINK]
Nats bounce back
Their batting remains anemic at best, but the Nationals managed to eke out wins against the Cardinals yesterday and the Braves today, back home at RFK. In both cases the score was 3-2. Well, at least they're consistent. Livan Hernandez won his eighth game [yesterday], tying him (with three other guys) for the lead in the majors. Attendance for the Memorial Day occasion was nearly 39,705 -- not bad! I plan to join an old friend up at the game tomorrow...
UPDATE: The game was decided on a questionable call by the second-base umpire, who ruled that an apparent home run hit to the left field corner by Brian Jordan in the seventh inning was a foul ball. See mlb.com. The game was broadcast nationwide on TBS but it was blacked out here in Virginia, so I didn't see it until the local TV sports. On the replay the ball appeared to have hit the foul pole and bounced foul, but it's impossible to say for sure. That foul pole moves along with the movable part of the grandstand when the stadium is reconfigured for soccer games. It so happens I took a photo of that foul pole and the bullpen last time I was at RFK, so I'll have to post that one soon. I should give credit to one of the newest Nationals, Marlon Byrd, who helped the Nats win today and got some clutch hits in other recent games. Endy Chavez seems to being doing well in Philadelphia, so it seems to have been a good trade.
Three Rivers Stadium
Latest stadium update: Three Rivers Stadium, sponsored by Mark London. Thanks to a detailed seating chart from an old program Mark sent me, I was quite surprised to realize that this stadium, like Busch Stadium II [the diagrams of which have just been updated], is slightly oval in shape. That necessitated a bit more graphical tweaking than would otherwise be the case. All's well that ends well.
May 29, 2005 [LINK]
Here's a good reason to be careful about leaving too much bird food outside! This guy came through our back yard like a vacuum cleaner just a few minutes ago. It was well after dusk, hence the blurry image. No bad odor so far, thank goodness. Once in a while that pungent aroma comes wafting inside, though. Skunks mate in the early spring months, and we sometimes hear them screeching at each other in the middle of the night. It's quite eerie.
May 29, 2005 [LINK]
Warblers, etc. at Ramsey's Draft
Hoping to fill in some of the "gaps" from this sparse spring migration season, I trekked around the Ramsey's Draft area today, and had fairly good results: 3 first-of-season birds. I was surprised at the virtual absence of Ovenbirds, and I didn't hear as many Scarlet tanagers as I would expect. I didn't see any of the expected Louisiana waterthrushes along the stream either. Northern parulas and Pine warblers were heard but not seen. Here are the highlights of what I saw:
- Phoebe -- Nest!
- Chipping sparrows
- Black & white warblers (M)
- Red-eyed vireo
- Blackburnian warblers (M) (FOS)
- Worm-eating warblers
- Blue-headed vireo (M)
- Black-throated green warblers (M & F) (FOS)
- Acadian flycatcher (FOS)
- Downy WP (F)
- Pileated WPs (M & F)
- Indigo buntings (M)
- Black vulture
The male Yellow warbler that was singing in our back yard for a couple days has departed for greener meadows, where females are more likely to be. Also, the Carolina wrens abandoned the nest they were building on our back patio and have taken up residence next door.
May 28, 2005 [LINK]
Losing streak: 5
It was nice to see Brad Wilkerson hosting This Week In Baseball, introducing Washington to the world of baseball fandom. The nationally-televised 17-1 humiliation inflicted upon the recently-hot Yankees by the recently-cold Red Sox was anything but nice. For four games in a row until today, the Nationals had scored exactly three runs in each, losing each time. Tonight Esteban Loaiza threw six strikeouts and only one walk in six innings, holding the Cards to just 3 runs, but the Nationals only scored one. Arghh. Can they avert being swept in two consecutive series tomorrow?
Steven Poppe offers yet another perspective on how to rearrange the leagues, emphasizing tradition rather than the recent push for interleague play between teams from the same city or region:
If any two teams jump to the AL, they should be Milwaukee and Washington. Make room for the final two expansion teams -- Montreal and Portland. Traditions should stay intact.
May 27, 2005 [LINK]
Trying times for Nats' fans
After losing five of their last six games, it was no surprise that two of the Washington Nationals' starting pitchers have been sent down to the minors: Claudio Vargas and Zach Day. Reliever Jon Rauch is out for most if not all of the season, and the very promising starter John Patterson suffered complications from pain treatment on his back, and is likewise disabled for the foreseeable future. Ouch! Thomas Boswell puts it just right as usual in today's Washington Post:
In such times, teams learn what they're made of. But self-knowledge won't be limited to Washington players. Many in this area will discover whether they are part of that perverse breed that loves the delicious agony of a 162-game season. For both teams and individuals, baseball is a game of almost incomprehensible hot streaks that are so exciting, and equally mysterious slumps that are so demoralizing, that your own daily moods can be affected by the team's bipolar fortunes.
To paraphrase what I wrote on April 22: "When it comes to baseball in Washington, even a (dismal losing streak) like this one is better than no game at all!" I shouldn't complain, they're still above .500. The Nationals got off to a bad start against the Cardinals this evening, as Jim Edmonds hit a two-run homer in the first inning. Then they showed some spunk by taking the lead 3-2 in the third, but St. Louis came right back with two more runs in the bottom of the inning. It's 5-3 after five innings.
Many thanks to Mark London for sponsoring two (2) additional pages at the new discounted rate: the venerable old Forbes Field and the splendid new PNC Park. Mark now has a monopoly on the Pittsburgh ballparks, having first dibs on Exposition Park, when I get to it in the next few months. Thanks are also due to my good buddy Phil Faranda for sponsoring the Polo Grounds page. He tells me he once visited the housing complex that now stands on that site, and was pleased to learn that the residents are well aware of that funky old sports palace that used to stand there.
Scoreboard at RFK
One of the new Nationals blogs, districtofbaseball.com had a very pertinent opinion poll, asking "Which improvement would you like to see most at RFK?" and I heartily agree with the results: 53% said "More accurate, easier-to-read scoreboards." As I mentioned on May 3, RFK Stadium needs a manually operated inning-by-inning scoreboard! There's plenty of room on that mini-"Green Monster" wall in left-center field, so why not?
May 27, 2005 [LINK]
If the disproportional outrage from the Right is any indication, it would appear that the Democrats did indeed come out ahead in the filibuster compromise. There is another way to interpret the initial reactions, though: Conservative activists are keenly aware of what's at stake in the judicial nominations, and are mobilized for a stiff, protracted battle.
George Will noted in yesterday's Washington Post that the seven Democrats among the "Gang of 14" are supported by their party, by and large, whereas the seven Republicans are rebuked by most of their party members. He ridiculed Democrats "extraordinary rhetoric" in this episode and their fatuous expression of support for the original Constitution, neglecting the fact that senators were not chosen by individual voters until the 17th Amendment in 1913. Will got to the heart of the matter, however, by laying some of the blame at the Republican leader's feet:
The compromise is a mere pause, and arguably a prudent one, in a protracted fight. However, it looks to many conservatives like a defeat, partly because of Frist's own rhetoric, which was tactically imprudent and mistaken as a matter of constitutional law.
Instead of just correctly arguing that the Democrats' obstruction of up-or-down Senate votes on judicial nominees was wrong -- a violation of the ethics of legislative statesmanship -- he incorrectly said the obstruction violated a constitutional right . Once he cast this controversy as the defense of such a glistening right -- one not enumerated in the document -- any compromise would seem to derogate the nation's foundational document.
The inability to find ways to compromise may be an indication of the disproportional role of religious conservatives in the Republican party, something that gives people like me qualms about legislators like Frist. The possibility that he may have risked his party's standing in order to rally his core constituency for a likely run for president is not encouraging. Frist is probably doing better than his predecessor -- the amiable, pliable Trent Lott -- would have done under these trying circumstances. That is not nearly as bad as what Sen. McCain did, however. I hope the Republicans manage to find better candidates than those two guys to run for president in 2008.
May 27, 2005 [LINK]
As mentioned one month ago, a Washington Post poll indicated that two-thirds of Americans supposedly opposed the anti-filibuster "nuclear option," but how many of those Americans are really aware of the recent history of its abuse? A year and a half ago, the Senate went through a marathon 30-hour session in which Republicans tried to outlast the Democrats' filibuster of judges, and Senator Frist slept on a cot. Senator Ted Kennedy said that Democrats would "continue to resist an Neanderthal that is nominated by this president" for the federal courts. (Washington Post, Nov. 15, 2003, p. A9) Have any leading Republicans uttered such vile language toward Democrats? One way to rebuild the fragile spirit of bipartisan harmony and thereby avoid the nuclear option being invoked would be for Senator Kennedy to apologize for using such obnoxious slurs against well-qualified candidates. Are you up to that Senator? Or does the long record of verbal abuse by Democrats suggest that hopes for bipartisanship are in vain?
May 27, 2005 [LINK]
No vote on Bolton
Democrats in the Senate refused to end debate on the John Bolton nomination yesterday, delaying a vote on his confirmation by at least two weeks. They claim they just want to get access to classified documents on past actions by Bolton. Sen. Harry Reid said, "We are not here to filibuster Bolton -- we are here to get information." See Washington Post. Sounds like a filibuster to me; why didn't the Democrats request those documents earlier? Freshman Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who defeated incumbent Tom "Mr. Obstruction" Daschle last November, came out against Bolton to protest the proposed closing of Ellsworth Air Force Base, the only major military base in the state. I must say, the tearful laments about Bolton by Sen. Voinovich of Ohio made me less likely to listen to complaints about him. He missed much of the hearings last month, and yet came out forcefully against the no-nonsense nominee. Very strange; is he the next McCain?
May 26, 2005 [LINK]
Colin Powell goes to bat for WBC
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has become a partner in the Washington Baseball Club, the oldest prospective baseball franchise ownership group in the Washington area. Led by Fred Malek, who used to work in the Nixon administration, and Jeffrey Zients, a financial whiz kid, the WBC has expanded to include minority leaders, in hopes of building strong relations with the D.C. community. See Washington Post. Having an ultra-prestigious figure like Colin Powell on board will greatly enhance the Malek-Zients group's already-considerable advantage in the bidding for the Washington Nationals. The selling price could be anywhere from $300 -$400 million, depending on how (and when) the broadcast rights war with the Baltimore Orioles is resolved. Until then, serious work on acquiring land for building a new stadium in Washington cannot begin.
Nats get swept
After nearly two months of playing, the Washington Nationals were swept in a three-game series for the first time, getting trounced by the Reds, 12-3. Jose Guillen's two home runs mattered not. Starting pitcher Claudio Vargas didn't even last two innings this time, and he may be headed back to the minors very shortly. The battered and bruised Nats got to rest today, and will take on the first-place Cardinals in St. Louis this weekend, before returning home next week to face the Braves, who have fallen into second place.
May 26, 2005 [LINK]
Democracy On The March... April... May...
First Lady Laura Bush just finished a goodwill tour of the Middle East, bravely entering hostile territory where her husband is too prudent to tread. As one of the nicest, most gracious people to have taken up residence in Washington for many years, Mrs. Bush could not fail to shed favorable light on the United States. Her sincerity and kindness more than make up for "W"'s sometimes off-putting rustic swagger. True, she did encounter some rude heckling during a stroll in Israeli-occupied Jericho, but she seemed to come out of it just fine. Her visit was more than just a public relations gesture, however, it was part of the long-term Bush agenda of democratizing the Middle East, putting that hot-button issue in sharp relief. Indeed, there are so many intriguing political cross-currents in that part of the world that it takes some effort to get a sense of where things are headed, and at what pace.
Mrs. Bush raised eyebrows while visiting Egypt when she gave high praise to President Hosni Mubarak's plan to hold elections later this year, calling it "a very bold step." Many people doubt that Mubarak is truly serious, however, seeing his planned gradual transition to liberal democracy as tentative half-measures. At present, Egypt is a classic one-party state, a place in which making corrupt deals with government officials is the only sure way to get ahead in life. It is precisely that kind of discouraging, soul-deadening socio-economic system in most Arabic and Islamic countries that gives rise to the pathological mixture of hatred, envy, and admiration for the United States and the Western world. Hence, it's no surprise that short-term democratic impulses are likely to be radical in nature, and groups such as the Islamic Brotherhood might well gain a political foothold in Egypt if Mubarak really intended to follow through with liberalization.
Hopes for a genuine transition to democracy almost vanished yesterday, however, as a national referendum on Mubarak's plan was marred by bloody clashes in Cairo. Mobs led by Mubarak's "National Democratic Party" beat anti-government protesters, targetting women as the police stood by. See Washington Post. Coming so soon after the First Lady's visit, this crude exercise of brutal repression made the U.S. position look either hypocritical or impotent. Until the Bush Doctrine can be given real substance -- by means of a commitment of substantial resources -- most people in that part of the world will regard whatever the United States does with deep suspicion. The point to remember, however, is that the governments of both Egypt and the United States are in a painful dilemma of their own creation. The U.S. has provided massive subsidies to the Sadat-Mubarak regime for a full generation; this was what made possible the Camp David peace accords of 1978. We have been "renting" peace year after year ever since, under the assumption that Egypt is a "keystone" state that serves as a guidepost for the region, but in the process we have become deeply complicit in the illiberal status quo regime in Cairo. Mubarak is in the same position as Mikhail Gorbachev was: Even if he sincerely wants to liberalize his regime, he knows he is doomed to lose power and possibly throw the country into chaos if anything goes awry. Hopes that we might be able to convert all those past "peace rental payments" into equity to purchase a permanent liberal regime change more to our liking are in vain. The United States might be able to exert some positive influence on the regime transition getting underway in Egypt, but not much.
Speaking to the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee on Monday, Condoleeza Rice declared that peace between Arabs and Jews is mainly up to Mahmoud Abbas. He is considered the most moderate of the Palestinian leaders, and doesn't have much room to maneuver as he tries to persuade the radical factions to give up their violent tactics. Today Bush met with Abbas at the White House and pledged $50 million to used for new housing and infrastructure projects in Gaza, a rather modest sum for such a monumental problem. (By comparison, it's not nearly enough to build a new baseball stadium.) At the press conference, Bush was full of warm praise for Abbas, but he reportedly put heavy pressure on Abbas to reign in the terrorists. See cnn.com. The U.S. government has been (rightly) skeptical of Palestinian pledges ever since Yassir Arafat reneged on his commitment to peace, and if Bush wants to convince Palestinians that his attitude has changed, he should make sure that more follow-up aid is forthcoming.
Lebanon & Syria
Nearly three months after President Bashar Assad promised to do so, the withdrawal of Syrian military forces from Lebanon appears to be virtually complete. U.N. monitors are unable to verify whether any Syrian secret agents remain, but no one doubts that a substantial number did stay behind to maintain leverage with Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. The Syrians will be hard pressed to halt the burgeoning democracy movement in Lebanon, which was galvanized into action by the brutal bombing murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, who dared to resist Syrian control. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Lebanon has had the most encouraging news for democracy. Within his own country, Assad has made some token reform gestures in recent months, but his country is even more of a pressure cooker than Egypt is. The regime he inherited from his father Hafez Assad in 2000 derives its political strength from the minority Alawite clan, which has stayed in power by ruthlessly suppressing rival clans. It is much like the way Saddam Hussein used to run Iraq based on his clan centered in Tikrit. The long-term systematized repression by the Baathist party military regimes in both countries crippled civil society, much like the totalitarian regimes of the Soviet Union under Stalin or Romania under Ceausescu, boding ill for the future growth of democracy. Assad maintains popular legitimacy by appealing to nationalist sentiment, through exerting control over Lebanon, defying U.S. pressure, and giving moral or material support to the Baathist remnants in Iraq.
The political objective behind the terrible recent wave of suicide car bombings in Iraq is all too apparent: to derail democracy before it has a chance to become established. The country managed to overcome its deep internal divisions and form a new government earlier this month, though some Sunni politicians boycotted the negotiating sessions. The recent U.S. offensive against insurgents based along on the border with Syria has implications beyond merely pacifying Iraq, as most of the suicide bombers apparently come from other Arab countries through Syria, possibly undergoing training there. Condoleeza Rice's surprise visit to Iraq underline how important that battle is for turning the the against the extremists. By coincidence, British Labor MP George Galloway testified to Congress about his part in the "oil for food" scandal. He was completely unrepentant and launched a blistering attack on U.S. policy in Iraq. freedom. See weeklystandard.com The fact that so many people share Galloway's point of view and turn a blind eye to the obvious financial incentives that underlay French and Russian opposition to the U.S.-led campaign to oust Saddam Hussein shows how far we have to go in this long war over the cause of worldwide freedom. Listen to what many Democrats are still saying about Bush and the war to liberate Iraq, and it becomes painfully clear: The domestic front remains very shaky.
A wave protests throughout Central Asia was touched off by the bogus report early this month in Newsweek over the alleged descreation of the Koran; see May 18. This came in the midst of a general upsurge in anti-government protests in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, and two weeks ago President Islam A. Karimov ordered troops to fire on would-be insurrectionists, killing at least 300 people, according to official U.S. estimates. In terms of sheer numbers, it may rival the May 1989 Tien An-Men Square massacre in Beijing. The confluence of various chains of events makes it difficult to trace exactly what precipitated the bloodbath. Even though the turmoil there has not exactly grabbed the attention of most Americans, such events are a real cause for alarm, however, because that country hosts U.S. air bases that are used in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. (Now that Afghanistan is relatively secure if not entirely pacified, why do we still need bases in Uzbekistan?) The problem is that the U.S. has sought to cooperate with Karimov's government out of strategic necessity, even though that conflicts with the principles underlying the Bush foreign policy that rejects the old preference for stability at the cost of freedom. Gregory Djerejian writes of "Bush's long shadow" in that former Soviet republic, challenging those critics who charge that the United States is hypocritical in soft-pedaling democracy in Uzbekistan for strategic reasons. This will be a do-or-die test case for the Bush Doctrine. Interestingly, President Karimov just met with Chinese leaders, who showered him with praise. With a large Turkic Muslim minority (the Uighurs) in its western regions, Beijing has just as much to fear from Islamic militants, if not more, than Washington does.
The deadly violence touched off by Newsweek took many lives in Afghanistan as well. That country is making slow but certain progress in consolidating its new democratic regime, though regional warlords and Islamic extremists -- funded by narcotics traffickers -- still wield much power. The visit of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Washington this week was expected to be another one of those touchy-feely photo ops heralding a newly democratic state, but it turned out to be rather interesting. President Bush declined recently Karzai's request to have a greater role in overseeing operations by U.S. military forces in his country. U.S. officials criticized Karzai's weak approach to dealing with poppy growers and drug traders, but Karzai downplayed the differences between the two countries, saying "We are happy with what Washington is doing in Afghanistan." See Washington Post Karzai gives every appearance of being a serious, competent, resourceful leader, and it is hard to imagine anyone better suited for his extremely difficult job than him. Afghani civil society is emerging, and popular support for Muslim extremists is weakening.
In a breathtakingly sudden fashion, a popular uprising ousted President Askar Akayev in March, in what has become known as the "Tulip Revolution." He was one of the last leaders from the Soviet era who took over as the U.S.S.R. crumbled in 1991, and wrongly calculated that he could nullify the results of parliamentary elections. He fled to Moscow and, like Alberto Fujimori of Peru, submitted his resignation in absentia. Many Uzbek refugees took shelter in Kyrgyzstan during the crackdown against protest in their country two weeks ago. [x] It is too early to say whether a stable democracy will emerge there, but Kyrgyzians have clearly taken a big step in the right direction.
President Bush's recent visit to Georgia highlighted that country's welcome but still-shaky transition to real democracy. There is broad, popular support for the new government, and a strong awareness of the very real threat to the freedom they have so recently won. Georgia used to be run by former Soviet foreign minister Edward Shevardnadze, who was ousted two years ago in a popular uprising known as the "Rose Revolution." New President Mikhail Saakashvili has withstood Russian pressure [aiming to halt the Transcaucasion oil pipeline, which just opened today. Oil from Azerbaijan and the Caspian Basin no longer has to be pumped through Russian territory or loaded onto tankers at Russian ports. Cynics will sneer, of course, but the new pipeline significantly enhances the energy security of Western world. Saakashvili is also] cooperating with the United States in hunting for terrorist organizations that have bases in his country. Russians have denounced wealthy financier George Soros for his role in aiding the Georgian opposition, which is ironic because Soros is a bitter enemy of President Bush.
On balance: Wait and see
There are clearly signs of hope in most of these countries, especially in Lebanon and Georgia, but the enemies of freedom continue to resist fiercely. For example, the mullahs in Iran seem to have subdued the nascent liberalization movement there, using national pride in the country's nuclear program to deflect criticism. Saudi Arabia held local elections for the first time recently, and the strong showing by Islamic extremists there does not bode well for continued liberalization. If we are to accomplish President Bush's grand vision, therefore, we must accept the fact that there will be frustrating delays and occasional tactical defeats along the way. Democratization will take place over the course of decades, not months. In the May 16 Washington Post, Henry Kissinger called for a balance between the pursuit of democratic values and the heeding of geopolitical realities: "The United States has made clear its conviction that a democratic evolution reflecting popular aspirations is a long-term necessity. But it has not yet defined what it means either by that phrase or an appropriate evolutionary process." Realists such as Kissinger face a paradoxical challenge at this historical moment, which is to harmonize interests and values, rather than emphasize the former at the expense of the latter, as is their normal preference. To his credit, President Bush has urged caution and patience in the long pursuit of a more democracy in the Middle East. (See Washington Post.) Such words must be matched by a more realistic actions, however. Otherwise, the Bush Doctrine stands in danger of becoming another Carter Doctrine -- a vain, universal, idealistic appeal lacking due respect for either U.S. national interests or the interests of the other countries.
May 26, 2005 [LINK]
I saw a Yellow warbler in the wetland meadow on Bell's Lane this morning, and heard several others singing. There were a few Willow flycatchers as well. There seem to be just as many breeding pairs of both those species in that prime piece of "real estate" as there were last year.
I have heard Blackpoll warblers near our abode several times today, but so far none have popped into view. To my surprise, however, I did see a bright male Yellow warbler out back, quite unusual for inside the city limits. He was singing, in spite of the nearby construction noise, and it makes me wonder: Will a pair settle down and nest in our neighborhood? For at least two weeks we were seeing Northern rough-winged swallows out back every day, and some of them had started to build nests inside the ventilation ducts of the condo building being built, but then the workers covered the holes with vents. I hope no nesting females were trapped inside... A pair of Carolina wrens have built a nest inside a box on our back patio, so we look forward to seeing more baby birds in two or three weeks.
Since it's "that time" of the year again, I thought this picture of these amorous gold-headed beetles would be appropriate. I took it several years ago, in Charlottesville. They were on the hood of my old Isuzu, of all places!
May 25, 2005 [LINK]
Anti-doping bill introduced
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has joined with Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) to introduce the "Clean Sports Act of 2005," which would set uniform drug standards for professional baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. One of the witnesses testified that wealthy superstar athletes could easily defeat the proposed weakly-funded testing mechanisms, however. See Washington Post. I think such legislative moralizing is a misguided attempt to make up for the lack of a spirit of good sportsmanship in contemporary American society. If the "whatever-it-takes" cynicism of most pro athletes prevails, however, there may be no alternative. Which is better (or worse): the cynical, amoral candor of Jose Canseco, or the teary-eyed, shamed stonewalling of Mark McGwire?
New sponsor; discount rates
Thanks to Eric McErlain, sponsor of the Shea Stadium page, for plugging this site on his Off Wing Opinion blog, and thanks to Rob Visconti for sponsoring the Tiger Stadium page, which thereby gets moved ahead in my "to-do" list. You got a favorite stadium? Let everyone know about it (and about you)! In response to inquiries, I've decided to offer a discount for individuals who want to sponsor more than one page: Second, third, and fourth pages can be sponsored for one year for $8 (eight dollars U.S.) each, $2 off the basic rate. These rates are subject to change. Those who have already sponsored pages are eligible for the discount. As the traffic on this site continues to rise, I will also consider commercial-rate ads on a limited basis.
More diagram tweaks
The diagrams on the Milwaukee County Stadium, U.S. Cellular Field, and Hiram Bithorn Stadium pages have been tweaked slightly to conform to the new standard, with home plate at the same location. You'll soon start to notice the aesthetic enhancement on the pages that rely on rollover effects with thumbnail diagrams. One such page, which I've just revised by adding such diagrams, is the Anomalous stadiums page.
May 24, 2005 [LINK]
Realigning leagues (and divisions)
My May 23 "modest proposal" of moving the Diamondbacks to the American League and the Astros to the NL West elicited some thoughtful responses. Ken Levin found my idea "intriguing" but cautioned:
Unfortunately, there is a perfectly good reason there are two more teams in the National League than the American League, and this is for the sake of getting every team to play every day. If each league had 15 teams apiece, it would be necessary for at least 2 teams, one in each league, to have several days off every once in a while except when interleague play is going on. The even number of teams in each league deals with this by allowing every team in both leagues to be able to play another team in their league every day without forcing a day (or 2 or 3 or 4!) off. The contraction proposals were an elegant, albeit destructive, way to even out the leagues. Adding two teams to the AL would also deal with it, but with the current state of things in baseball, such as both Florida teams being in big trouble regarding stadiums and attendance, the climate is not right to add two teams to the league. If there's anything to be learned from the NHL, it's that 32 teams is too many for a league having attendance, popularity, and affordability issues in many of its stadiums. It may not be a bad idea to drop some unsuccessful, upstart franchises (Tampa Bay, for example) and realign the leagues somewhat for the good of the game. Regardless, there must be an even number of teams in each league for scheduling to work..
That's a good point, which I should have acknowledged more explicitly. As I wrote on my MLB franchises page, "To keep schedules balanced, sports leagues must have an even number of teams, but they could have achieved the same result by assigning the Devil Rays to the National League." In other words, by addressing the problem of unequal number of teams in each league, you create another problem. To get around that, I would suggest that the two "leftover" teams (which would change from one year to the next) in each 15-team league should play each other, getting more interleague exposure than the other 28 teams. I also think that there should be more games with teams from other divisions in each team's own league.
Then, from Christopher Jackman:
I believe it would be difficult to move the Diamondbacks to the AL as they
resisted the idea just prior to 1997. They stated that they were told by
MLB that they would be an NL team (at the time Phoenix was awarded a
franchise) and were going to sue MLB is they tried to move them. Selig
backed down, so they must have had a case. The reason they wanted to be in
the NL was to have a rivalry with the Rockies and the large # of Dodger
fans that relocated to Sun Valley.
My idea would be for MLB to grant permission for the Marlins to move to Las
Vegas if they are willing to switch leagues. Pittsburgh would then be moved
to the East, re-establishing their rivalry with Philly. Maybe in a few
years Florida will miss having MLB and agree to build a stadium if they are
awarded a franchise. MLB could then expand to Miami (AL) and Portland (NL).
Expansion right now is a far fetched idea, but a possibility in 5-10 years.
If the Diamondbacks resisted a move to the AL, I'm sure a suitable financial inducement could be arranged. They need the money. From MLB's perspective, Christopher's proposed conditional offer to the Marlins might be an expedient way of putting pressure on Miami and/or Florida to cough up more stadium dough. Whatever the original intent of the 1998 league switch by the Brewers, it seems to me that the current league alignment was not expected to be permanent.
Newest diagram update: Shea Stadium, sponsored by Eric McErlain. It has a dynamic diagram that shows the reconfiguration for football, when the Jets played there. Also, the Memorial Stadium diagrams have been reoriented with center field at top, to conform to the new standard.
Nats fall to Reds
After pulling even in the top of the ninth, the Nats just dropped another close game to the host Cincinnati Reds, 4-3, and this time the game lasted fourteen innings. Ouch. Brad Wilkerson is back in the lineup, but his bat, and Vinny Castilla's, have turned ice cold. Cristian Guzman has fallen back into a terrible slump as well, and Nick Johnson and Jose Guillen seem to be the team's most likely All Star candidates at this point.
May 24, 2005 [LINK]
Filibuster deal: Peace in our time?*
The moderate "Gang of 14" senators "saved the day" last night, agreeing to invoke cloture and thereby assure a vote on judges Priscilla Owens, Janice Rogers Brown, and William Pryor. However, Judges William Myers and Henry Saad have been "thrown overboard," as Rush Limbaugh put it. The fact that Sen. Byrd was included among the "vital centrists" -- standing alongside McCain, Snowe, Lieberman, and Landrieu last night -- was a troubling initial sign that nothing has really changed. I listened closely to each senator's statement in the press conference, and I'm not entirely convinced by Senator Warner's explanation. He said he kept asking pro-rule changers what the consequences would be in the Senate, and they couldn't give him a satisfactory answer. Indeed, Who knows? Who can fathom the true intentions of the shrieking minority faction? Their posture seems to have spooked the reasonable folks into backing down. Ahh, the burdens of responsibility, turning the other cheek for the Greater Good...
In today's Washington Post, E.J. Dionne articulated a good reason for maintaining the old filibuster rules, that the supermajority requirement gives the Senate more clout than it would otherwise have. (All members of the Senate share a stake in this clout, to some extent.) The logic behind this effect is explained in Robert Putnam's "theory of two-level games," in which the principals negotiating on behalf of one country or organization gain more bargaining leverage when they can convince their counterparts that domestic opposition prevents them from delivering any more concessions. Dionne also pointed out the political agenda behind this showdown:
Frist is waging this fight because he wants to be president and needs support from social conservatives. But especially in a time of terrorism, politicians worthy of the presidency don't toss around the word "assassinate" with the alacrity of a small-market radio host. The Republican moderates knew this.
True, but Sen. McCain was also acting on behalf of his own presidential aspirations, albeit aimed at a different contituency. I would have had more confidence in Frist and other conseratives if they had adopted a more mature tone, agreeing to the kind of terms that a hypothetical detached, disinterested observer might suggest. The irony about this compromise deal is that postponing the conflict may only whet the appetite of both the secular Left and the Christian Right for an even bolder stance, making a reasonable long-term compromise even less likely when the next judicial showdown looms.
Having mixed feelings about this issue, I am in part relieved that something was accomplished without resorting to extraordinary prodedural means. Lost in the shuffle, however, are the merits of the basic issue of partisanship in the Federal judiciary, which is clearly out of kilter, in my opinion. Democrats have been pretending falsely that the filibuster is a sacrosanct tool by which judges pass muster among a broad spectrum of political opinion, when virtually the only case of a prominent appeals court judge being blocked by a filibuster was Abe Fortas, LBJ's ethically challenged Supreme Court nominee in 1968. Another commonly-propagated distortion of the facts is that virtually all of President Bush's judicial nominees have been approved by the Senate, but the vast majority of those nominees were for district courts, the lowest Federal level. It is the appellate court level where the important cases are decided. Among the compromise solutions that were being discussed was a formal pledge by both party leaders to release the members of their respective caucus from the obligation to vote with their party's leaders. That would have been a healthy move, depoliticizing the judicial nomination process.
Who blinked first? To me, that question is less important than who blinks next. As with much of political and social life, the ultimate results of this bargain will depend on what people make of it. That's why it's more important than usual to see how pundits of various stripes are weighing in on this.
Glenn Reynolds: "As I've said before, I'd probably care more about this issue if Bush looked likely to appoint some small-government libertarian types to the bench. Since he doesn't, I don't."
John Hinderaker: "And, rest assured, there will be a next time. I'm afraid the Dems have staved off a losing vote tomorrow, and lived to fight again another day, on a nominee less impregnable than Priscilla Owen."
Kevin Drum: "I guess I'm puzzled. ... As for the agreement to filibuster future candidates only under "extraordinary circumstances," well, who knows? That could mean pretty much anything, couldn't it?"
Josh Marshall: "It seems an awfully bitter pill to forego the filibuster on both Brown and Owen, particularly the former. And the main issue isn't resolved so much as it's delayed."
"Jane Galt" (via Phil Faranda): "The fact is that Republicans are going to shove conservative judges down liberal throats because they can, not because there is some cosmic principle of justice involved."
Well, I acknowledged that Frist's move was in part a power grab, on April 28. But as any realist knows, politics always involves both power and principle; "Jane Galt" merely invokes the classic false dichotomy of idealists. Moreover, both sides regard promotion of their own ideologies as a matter of principle. It is now clear that both sides went a bit too far out on a limb in this historic showdown, and party leaders Frist and Reid were equally chastened. The strident Byrd at least had the political savvy to join the centrists at the last minute, thereby gaining greater influence for the next round. If reports of secret understandings (Sen. Lindsey Graham?) about voting against specific judicial candidates turn out to be true, there may be hell to pay. Anyway, it seems clear that observers from both sides agree: The peace that has been so dearly won is only temporary. Stay tuned.
* NOTE: This title, drawn from Neville Chamberlain's vain boast after Munich in 1938, is not intended to compare the Democrats to the Nazis, as Sen. Rick Santorum did, but merely to suggest that the deal fails to resolve the underlying issue and therefore merely postpones an inevitable future battle.
May 23, 2005 [LINK]
The Nationals finally started hitting in Toronto yesterday, scoring more runs (9) than they had in the five previous games combined. So, they pulled back into third place and maintained their record of not yet being swept in any 3 or 4 game series. José Guillen is back in the lineup, but José Vidro's ankle may not heal for another six weeks. Now the Nationals head to Cincinnati, where general manager Jim Bowden used to work. The Nats acquired Marlon Byrd from Philadelphia in exchange for the disgruntled Endy Chavez last week, and the results thus far are encouraging. Byrd got off to a good start in his first game with the Nats, hitting three RBIs. He started in left field but is now subbing for centerfielder Brad Wilkerson, who has a strained tendon in his arm.
Among the other series between cross-town or regional rivals, there were only two sweeps, by the Rangers against the visiting Astros, and by the Marlins aganst the visiting Devil Rays. The Mets embarrassed Randy Johnson at his nationally-televised debut as a Yankee on Saturday, and the Yanks barely averted being shut out by scoring a run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Attendance was near capacity in the games at New York (Shea), Boston, L.A., and Chicago (Wrigley), and over 40,000 paid to see the games in Arlington and Seattle. No doubt about it, interleague play is a big success.
Another modest proposal
While we're on the subject of interleague games, let me offer another suggestion. Ever since the Brewers were moved to the National League in 1998, apparently to facilitate the intended contraction that would have eliminated the Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos, there has been an imbalance that creates awkward scheduling problems. I was dubious about having the Brewers change leagues, but apparently Milwaukee fans approve of it, and it does create a natural regional interleague rivalry with the Twins. One option to restore the balance between the leagues would be to move the Pirates to the American League, creating a cross-state interleague rivalry with the Phillies, but that would leave the National League without any teams in that part of the country. Also, the Pirates have a long historical bond with the National League, and traditionalists would scream bloody murder. Another option, which I favor, would be to move the Diamondbacks to the American League. With less than a decade of franchise history, that would be much less disruptive, and it would create a good interleague rivalry with the Padres. The Astros would move to the NL West division, so that all six major league divisions would again have five teams. The other non-obvious interleague rivalries would be Mariners-Rockies, Tigers-Braves, Phillies-Red Sox, and Blue Jays-Pirates. Finally, because I lean strongly toward the traditionalist side, I think the number of interleague games should be cut back, with only two three-game series other than the two series with the cross-town/regional rival.
The diagrams on the Bank One Ballpark, Dodger Stadium, and PETCO Park pages have been tweaked, and those on the Rogers Centre page have been rotated, to conform to the new standard with home plate at a common coordinate, for better comparison. Those diagrams were already upgraded in terms of appearance, with warning tracks and an orientation compass, and were thus easy to redo. A major upgrade of the Shea Stadium page is "on deck."
From T. J. Zmina comes another link to a satellite photo, in this case two photos, of Turner Field and the old stadium that used to stand next door, at terraserver.microsoft.com. Also, there is a fine new panoramic photo on the Fenway Park page, taken by Leon Spath on a recent trip to Boston. Thanks, Leon!
May 23, 2005 [LINK]
Cerulean warblers, etc.
Jacqueline and I went for a short hike around the Humpback Rocks area of the Blue Ridge yesterday, and were rewarded with lots of good sightings. I don't think I've ever seen so many Cerulean warblers on a single day; their populations have been declining in recent decades, but they seem to be thriving around here. On the way we stopped at the telephone microwave tower and a few other spots on Rt. 610, but most of what we saw were found on the trail east of the parkway. Here are the highlights:
- Bald eagle -- Rt. 610, soaring toward the west
- Raven -- Rt. 610
- Cedar waxwings -- 25+, at visitors' center
- Redstarts -- 2 M, 2 F at visitors' center
- Indigo buntings -- M, F at visitors' center
- Black and white warblers -- 2 M
- Cerulean warblers -- 4 males seen singing, others heard (FOS)
- Scarlet tanagers (M)
- Ovenbirds (FOS)
- Wood thrush -- female in nest! (FOS)
- Red-eyed vireo
- E. wood pewees -- courting pair
- Hairy woodpecker
On the way home we stopped at the entrance to Lake Sherando, and sure enough the female Blue-gray gnatcatcher was brooding in the nest which we saw her building two weeks ago. I expect the eggs to hatch any day.
While heading to the landfill / recycling center on Rt. 648 this morning, I saw a Willow flycatcher and an Eatern kingbird, both firsts of the season for me. At the bridge over Mills Creek I saw a Pewee, Hairy woodpecker, and a Blue-gray gnatcatcher, and heard a White-eyd vireo.
May 21, 2005 [LINK]
Nesting Scarlet tanagers?
After a day of heavy rains, the skies cleared this morning, and hungry birds filled the tree tops. As soon as I stepped outside I heard the tsee-tsee-tsee song of the briefly-abundant Blackpoll warbler, and within a couple minutes I spotted one up in the branches. Strolling behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad I heard other Blackpoll warblers, as well as a loud Wilson's warbler, which soon popped into view at close range. It was in virtually the same place where I saw one on May 10, quite a coincidence. They nest further north, however, so it's very unlikely to have been the same individual. Further along the trail I heard and saw three Indigo buntings, two of which had the blotchy blue-and-ash plumage of first-year males but sang loudly nonetheless. In the hilltop neighborhood off to the east, I heard the enchanting, unreal song of a Veery, an elusive member of the thrush family I haven't actually seen in five years. Reaching the bend where the final leg of the trail begins, I heard the unmistakeable melodic burry song of a Scarlet tanager, as well as the "CHIP-brrr" contact call. I spotted the male near the top of a tree a few minutes later, and was thrilled that there may be a nesting pair in those woods. I also caught a glimpse of a female Towhee nearby; the males have fallen silent all of a sudden, and were nowhere to be seen. I estimate there must be at least five breeding pairs of Towhees in that wooded ravine. Toward the end of the trail I saw two female Blackpoll warblers as well as a female Redstart.
May , 2005 [LINK]
Whither the moderates?
As the filibuster battle rises to a climax, the Washington Post reports that a bipartisan group is laboring mightily to avert what some fear would be Armageddon. With a 55-45 majority in the Senate, the Republicans would need to keep half of the eight moderates listed below on board. Vice President Dick Cheney says he would cast the deciding vote in favor of a rule change if it came to a tie, but I don't think the Republicans would want to risk a total breakdown in relations with the Democrats by imposing a rule change without a majority. The following senators are ranked in order of least likely to most likely to support the proposed rules change, with notes on leanings or factors influencing them.
- John McCain (AZ) -- Active in negotiations; opposed to rules change because he must appeal to independents
if when he runs for president.
- Olympia Snowe (ME) -- Opposes rules change.
- Lincoln Chafee (RI) -- Probably opposes rules change
- Susan Collins (ME) -- Uncertain.
- Chuck Hagel (NE) -- Critical of Bush policy in Iraq, may feel need to show loyalty.
- John Warner (VA) -- Active in negotiations, no political agenda, very circumspect.
- Lindsey Graham (SC) -- Has suggested creative compromises.
- Arlen Specter (PA) -- Criticized for his independent leadership of Judiciary Committee, but emphatically denounced abuse of filibuster by Dems.
There is intense pressure from both sides in this debate, and many political organizations are rallying members to call their senators. For example, upordownvote.org on the right, and moveonpac.org (part of MoveOn.org) on the left, which is full of wild accusations about "radical Republicans" who want to "stack the courts with extreme judges." Whatever the political angle, frankly, I think all such calls to citizen action over a highly arcane procedural issue in Congress are a waste of time, and I hope senators don't spend too much time fretting over their standing with constituents.
Elephants & "RINOS"
GOP moderates are often called "RINOs" (Republicans in name only) by the hard-core conservative activists, the kind who gravitate toward Grover Norquist and Karl Rove. Even though I'm usually on the conservative side of things, I have a strong distaste for harsh rhetoric those guys specialize in, and I don't take kindly to impugning the motives of people who share party affiliation or general leanings. Moderates have a vital role to play within the Republican party and within Congress. True, some moderates pay more heed to expedience and popularity than to principle, especially those with a reputation for being "mavericks." Rush Limbaugh has often skewered McCain and Hagel for the way they wear that label as a badge of honor, and I agree. Dissenting from party leaders may be a mark of strong character and judgement, but contrary to what many journalists assume, there is nothing inherently virtuous in it. Parties exist for a reason, and they don't survive long if its leaders do not share a strong commitment to winning. Personally, I would be very disappointed if too many of the Senate moderates cave in to political pressure, but I would not engage in recriminations against them. That is the sort of behavior that losing parties indulge in. Rove often talks about reaching out to new groups (such as evangelical Christians) in building a "big tent," but many Republicans seem intent on keeping the "unpure" out of the tent. It makes me worry that back-biting among GOP party factions will help return the Democrats to majority status a lot earlier than most of us expect.
For his part, Sen. Rick Santorum, who owes his career to Christian conservatives, committed a awful rhetorical gaffe today by comparing the Democrats's attitude to the Nazis after they occupied Paris. That's just great.
Intellectuals weigh in
Interestingly, the National Review came out against the Frist proposal: "Republicans should insist on political accountability for filibusters instead of a rules change." That is essentially the same point I made on April 18. If the same objective can be achieved without the "nuclear option" rules change, so much the better. But in politics as in war, you don't force an enemy to retreat by holding back your assault forces. In a cliffhanger showdown like this, there can be no doubt about the willingness to follow through on the threat.
May 20, 2005 [LINK]
Nats vie for first place, again
The Nationals managed to eke out one-run victories against the Brew Crew in the last two games of their series at RFK. They, and the Florida Marlins, are now only a half game behind the first-place Atlanta Braves. Even without "the two Josés" (Vidro and Guillen), the team is clicking on all cylinders. There are some weak spots that need work, but after six weeks of solid play, the possibility that the Nats will still be contending for the divisional title late into the season can no longer be dismissed as idle fantasy. Now they're off to Canada to begin interleague play, facing their (former) regional rivals, the Toronto Blue Jays. Presumably the Orioles will become their regional rivals next year.
Though impressive, the Nationals' winning ways have been far outmatched by the Yankees, whose ten-game winning streak was finally broken by Seattle on Wednesday. Washington fans will be cheering the Yanks as they take on the Mets at in the interleague series at Shea Stadium this weekend, and will be cheering on the Red Sox as they host the Braves, formerly of Boston. In the NL West, San Diego and Arizona have surprised many people by their recent hot streaks, pulling ahead of the Dodgers. I got a good look at PETCO Park when the Braves played there on Monday night, and it left a good impression. The Western Metals Building at the left field corner makes for some interesting plays, and those weird angles in the right field corner do likewise.
May 20, 2005 [LINK]
Suggestion on win-loss stats
Gary Majewski got credited for the win by the Nationals on Wednesday, but Esteban Loaiza really deserved the credit. Once again he pitched several innings (in this case, eight) without allowing any runs, but once again his teammates provided no run support. After nine starts this year, Loaiza only has three decisions (1-2), and yet only two major league pitchers who have have pitched as many innings as he has (61 1/3) have a lower ERA than he has (3.08). I'm sure his luck is bound to improve, but that raises a more fundamental issue of how pitching records are kept. Recall that Hector Carrasco got credit for a win even though he only threw one pitch; see May 15. Granted, the statistic of pitching wins and losses reflects not merely cumulative pitching effectiveness, such as ERA and strikeouts, but performance in the clutch. I suppose the criterion for winning and losing pitchers should remain based on the moment when the winning team took the lead, but perhaps in some games there should be no pitcher declared to be the winner or loser. Existing rules do allow for some discretion in judgment by the official scorer (see mlb.com, Section 10.19). Nevertheless, I suggest that to qualify for a win, a pitcher must pitch at least two full innings if he enters the game as a reliever. If no one qualifies for the win, so be it. It will keep the stats more meaningful.
As for the losing pitcher, there should be no minimum number of innings for either starters or relievers (as is now the case), but any runs scored by runners who were already on base when he entered the game should be ignored when determining the point at which his team fell behind in score. That is, a pitcher could only lose a game when he is charged with earned runs. This situation is less likely, however, so there would probably be more games with losing pitchers but no winning pitchers than vice versa.
May 20, 2005 [LINK]
RFK page upgrade & corrections
The diagrams on the RFK Stadium page (sponsored by Rudi Riet) have been revised substantially, based on my inspection of the old ballpark prior to the game on April 30. It now conforms to the new standard, with home plate at the same coordinate. Those with especially sharp eyes will notice that it is slightly smaller than the previous version, reflecting my realization that the upper deck hangs further out above the lower deck. Thanks to Christopher [Jackman] for pointing out that alternate field layout at Camden Yards was only in use for one year (2001), and for letting me know that many scenes from A League of Their Own were filmed at Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana. The Civic Religion page has been duly updated, with a few other additions.
May 18, 2005 [LINK]
DEFCON-4 on Capitol Hill
Are they finally going through with it? The sight of Bill Frist, Orrin Hatch, and others on the Senate floor speaking in favor of Judge Janice Brown was quite a relief. Frankly, I'm getting tired of hearing all the dire reports about the impending Senate vote to change the rules so as to put an end to judicial filibusters. Sen. Frist has been making thinly veiled threats for many months, and still nothing has happened. Just do it! The "nuclear" analogy calls to mind World War III movies with soldiers in missile silos with launch keys at the ready, which is misleadingly apocalyptic. Republicans are calling it the "constitutional" option, meaning that the proposed rules change will do nothing more than return Senate practice to the way it used to be. Both houses of Congress have made major rule changes from time to time over the decades, and the world did not come to an end. Senator Reid's reference to the proposed change as "illegal" was way off base, since Article 1, Section 5, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution states:
Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.
Got it? There are no requirements for super-majorities to change internal procedural rules, and the situations in which super-majorities are required are clearly stated. Presumably there are still one or two moderate senators (most notably, Sen. John Warner from Virginia) who are sitting on the proverbial fence. Today's Washington Post outlines a "A Likely Script for the 'Nuclear Option'." Someone may yet come up with a clever procedural resolution, possibly involving a postponement of the rules change so as to avoid setting a precedent for an abuse of rule-writing by future Senate majorities. If so, it had better be iron-clad. The Democrats must be held accountable for their irresponsible abuse of minority prerogatives.
Political "train wrecks" such as these are usually the result of the two sides having sharply different perceptions of reality, which makes the leaders of each side prone to think that the other side will eventually come to their senses and compromise. When I heard one of the Democrats talking about one of the judicial nominees as being "extreme" and "outside the mainstream" today, it only reinforced my conviction that compromise at this late date would be utterly futile. To my mind, judges who rule that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional are extreme, but that's just me. Arguing in general terms about who is really "extreme," and who is not, is a waste of time. For a factual background, plus a list of some myths often promulgated by Democrats and their allies in the mainstream media, see judicialselection.org.
So what will the consquences be if Majority Leader Frist gets his way with the rules change? Given the heated state of mind exhibited by many Democrats, one can't exclude the possibility of screaming, paper-throwing, or walkouts. That is another situation in which the above-cited clause from the Constitution would apply. There will no doubt be demonstrations from MoveOn, etc. staging rallies bemoaning the "death of democracy" in America. Violence cannot be discounted. If the Republicans let fear of what their adversaries might do, however, they will never accomplish anything. Eventually, I hope and expect, a substantial number of Democrats will learn to work with Republicans in a constructive fashion, at which point the moderate Republicans will regain greater influence in the party. Other Democrats, the ones who follow Al Gore and Howard Dean, may indulge in fantasies of building an underground "resistance movement." Anything is possible, and this country is in dire need of guidance. Let us pray.
May 18, 2005 [LINK]
Speaking of the mainstream media, the blogosphere is once again in righteous indignation over Newsweek magazine's erroneous story about U.S. military interrogators in Guantanamo, Cuba, who allegedly flushed a Koran down a toilet. Bloody riots broke out in Afghanistan and other countries, and as blogger Michelle Malkin cried out, "Newsweek lied, people died." I would not go that far, but Newsweek obviously has a lot to answer for, and its retraction is only a first step. At least it didn't take them as long to admit the mistake as it took CBS News to admit that the story on Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard was based on phony evidence. There was nothing wrong with the Bush administration putting heavy pressure on Newsweek's editors to retract the story, even though it's much too late to undo the damage to U.S. prestige in the Muslim world.
Tiffs in blogosphere
I've always found Andrew Sullivan to be among the most erudite and intellectually honest of the right-leaning bloggers, even though I disagree with him on some issues. He is understandably more harsh on social conservatives than I am, and of late he has spent an inordinate amount of time bewailing the abuses of prisoners in the war on terrorism and complaining about the fiscal deficits under President Bush. Both are certainly valid concerns, but I just don't see them as gloomily as Sullivan does. Glenn Reynolds responds to Sullivan's critiques and concludes with this understated yet devastating put-down: "But, I confess, I find the question of what Andrew thinks less pressing than I used to."
May 18, 2005 [LINK]
Trouble brewing for Nationals?
After winning their third game in a row on Monday, beating Milwaukee 5-2, the Nationals failed to get a man on base until the seventh inning against the Brewers last night, and would have been shut out for the first time since April 27 if Nick Johnson had not hit a home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. There has never been a no-hitter pitched in RFK Stadium, much less a perfect game. The Nationals have been scoring consistently lately, but their slugging performance is clearly lagging. Where did that near-perfect pitcher Wes Obermueller come from? In contrast, Nats' starting pitcher Claudio Vargas got clobbered with six runs in the first two innings, but the good news is that Tomo Ohka served surprisingly well as a reliever, giving up only two hits in 5 2/3 innings.
D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (a Republican) wants to put a billboard inside RFK Stadium with the slogan "District of Columbia: Taxation Without Representation" to publicize their demands for a full voting representative in the House of Representatives. See Washington Post. I dislike politicizing baseball, but it's a reasonable way to promote a good cause. Too bad Mrs. Schwartz voted against the stadium deal that brought the Nationals to town in the first place! It's also too bad that television coverage of games in Washington is still so poor (thanks to you-know-who) that hardly anyone outside the District is likely to see those political billboards.
The Oakland Coliseum diagrams have been tweaked slightly to conform to the new standard, and revisions to RFK page incorporating the 2005 layout are imminent. Also, I've added separate text sidebars on the pages of ballparks where movies were filmed to highlight their "cinematic careers," and have filled in the remaining "gaps" in the chronology section of the Baseball in D.C. page. Whew! Finally, for the amusement of those folks who don't often visit my main home page, see our pet canary George at RFK Stadium.
May 18, 2005 [LINK]
Princess lays a gross!
After spending a full extra week beyond the normal two-week incubation period last month, Princess took a correspondingly longer break between egg-laying sessions. Somehow, she bumped her lame leg recently and was in pain for a few days, but has now recovered. She has left the spider plant nest site and has gone back to the nest basket on the shelf, and has laid three eggs. According to my calculations, that makes 148 eggs she has laid during the four years she has been with us, just over a gross (twelve dozen). Truly prodigious output.
George visits RFK!
George flew into my office for the first time in quite a while today, and really sang up a storm. I took this photo of him in front of the RFK Stadium poster that came free with the Washington Post on May 1. I took a similar photo of him last year when I had a poster of Fenway Park on that wall.
May 17, 2005 [LINK]
Immigration and identity theft
To my surprise, yesterday morning C-SPAN broadcast live from Arizona, where volunteer border patrols have caused great controversy lately. (See my post of April 19.) Doing a remote broadcast feed is rare if not unprecedented for the staid Congress-focused television service, a clear indication of how hot the immigration issue has become. In recent weeks Latino activists in Maryland have protested the proposed "Real ID" bill that would be a step toward a national identification card, something that libertarians and civil rights folks have warned about for many years. See Washington Post. The REAL ID Act of 2005 was introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) on January 26. "H.R.418 : To establish and rapidly implement regulations for State driver's license and identification document security standards, to prevent terrorists from abusing the asylum laws of the United States, to unify terrorism-related grounds for inadmissibility and removal, and to ensure expeditious construction of the San Diego border fence." See "Thomas" (Library of Congress), and a FAQ page from the usually reliable C-NET. Most of it makes perfect sense and is long overdue, but there are some provisions that may be a cause for concern.
The entitlements issue
Seldom acknowledged in all the discussions over immigration is how our own country's social policies create artificial shortages for labor that create a "great sucking sound" (How's that for irony -- remember Ross Perot?) drawing workers northward. Part of the problem is all the social safety net entitlement programs that make it easy for parents to shirk responsibility for providing for their offspring. It is not that working class people are too lazy to pick tomatoes or mop hospital floors, it's that there are so many labor regulations and minimum wage laws that discourage legitimate hires. Data are simply not available of course, but it is almost certain that the vast majority of firms that currently hire undocumented immigrants fail to live up to all the worker protection laws or Social Security. Indeed, many if not most illegals get hired by submitting fraudulent Social Security numbers, and the employers typically just wink or look the other way. Hey, it holds down costs, doesn't it? And besides, everyone else is doing it, right? (Thanks, Wal-Mart.) Toleration of this disgraceful practice is tantamount to indentured servitude and is unworthy of a country that prides itself on freedom and opportunity. Enough is enough. ¡Ya basta!
Fortunately, there are more and more organizations to push for major reforms. From some searching, I came across a list of links to immigration policy organizations, of which Federation for American Immigration Reform is the most well-known, and numbersusa.com looks interesting.
The requirements that states uphold stringent documentary standards might be construed as a classic "unfunded mandate." Like President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education reform, it risks upsetting the balance of power between the states and the Federal government. It is on that basis that I think we need to think through the implications of the REAL ID Bill and give it some REAL scrutiny before putting it into law.
May 17, 2005 [LINK]
Zorro se mete la pata*
President Fox of Mexico chose a bad time to insult folks of African descent in this country, saying that people from his country who sneak across the U.S. border are only filling jobs that "not even blacks" would do. Aside from implicit racism -- which is perfectly normal in much of Latin America -- his comment highlights the logical fallacy that often arises in political debates: falsely construing people's rational behavioral adaptations to faulty public policies as indicative of individual moral weakness. You know, polemics over welfare dependence and all that. For market-oriented gringos like me who held out high hopes for his presidency, Fox has been a big disappointment. One must be careful when using the Mexican word often translated as disappointment, decepcionado. When Bush said he was disappointed in Mexico's lack of support for U.S. policy against Saddam Hussein in 2003, it caused a big public uproar in Mexico, because decepcionado connotes lack of trust.
Inside Mexico, the biggest recent news is that corruption charges against the mayor of Mexico City, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, have been dropped, meaning that he will be eligible to run for president next year. He is popular and widely expected to win. Now that Fox's conservative National Action Party is in decline, the big question is, What will the old guard Revolutionary Institutional Party do about Lopez Obrador and his rising Party of the Democratic Revolution?
* Translation: "Fox puts his foot (in his mouth)"
Andrew Clem Archives
May 16, 2005 [LINK]
Magnolia warbler video
[CLICK TO SEE: Magnolia warbler video]
I was pleased to find that there are still a number of warblers passing through the area on my walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning, but the arrival of the Blackpoll warblers signifies the fast-approaching end of migration season. I managed to get a semi-decent video clip of a Magnolia warbler nabbing a small caterpillar in the bushes. Yummy! Note the distinctive field marks: black mask, yellow throat and breast, black streaks on the side, white wing bars, and black-tipped tail. The trilling chirp in the background is a Tufted titmouse. (In Apple QuickTime format; free download.)
- Blackpoll warblers (M) (FOS)
- Indigo buntings (M)
- Black vulture
- Towhee (M)
- Magnolia warbler (M)
- Black and white warbler (FOS)
- Common yellowthroat (M)
In addition, I heard some Black-throated green warblers up in the trees, but couldn't see any.
Ivory-Billed Woodpecker & Whitewater??
At the Augusta Bird Club picnic on Saturday, someone gave me a copy of a cartoon by Tom Toles in the May 3 Washington Post, about the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker that was recently rediscovered in Arkansas. The point was, nature-tourism-oriented development could end up destroying the nearly extinct bird's unique habitat. That is the ironic risk in all eco-tourism ventures, as folks in Costa Rica have learned. But then I started thinking, "land development in in Arkansas," that sounds familiar... Oh yes! Might there be a connection with the Whitewater real estate development scheme? I did a quick Google search and found that others have already jumped to that hasty conclusion: see freerepublic.com.
May 15, 2005 [LINK]
Winners and Losers
In the midst of all the recent somber news of escalating suicide attacks in Iraq, it brought great cheer to see President Bush being received by huge applauding crowds in the former Soviet republics of Latvia and Georgia last week. Perhaps this outpouring of popular support was in response to Vladimir Putin' recent declaration that the dissolution of the USSR was among the last century's biggest catastrophes. Folks in Riga and Tblisi would beg to differ with that. Or it may be that people who have a very vivid recollection of tyranny are more likely to understand and approve of the Bush foreign policy, based on defending and advancing freedom, than are those who have been "comfortably numb" for many decades. In any case, Bush did well to take the opportunity of the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe to remind everyone what a high price the world paid when the U.S. opted for stability at the cost of freedom. By this, he tacitly acknowledged the U.S. failure to stand up for its own principles as the Iron Curtain descended upon Eastern Europe in 1945.
Democrat blogger Josh Marshall was outraged at Bush's comparison of the Yalta agreement with Munich or the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and the implication that FDR was a weak-kneed appeaser. The irony here is that Bush has been accused of utopian Wilsonianism in raising the importance of values in U.S. foreign policy far beyond our nation's capacity to carry out those values on a consistent basis. It used to be that those on the Left were considered utopians, but the post-9/11 world has seen a remarkable role reversal in that respect. Moreover, the same lesson about freedom vs. stability could be just as easily derived from El Salvador or Indonesia, and an astute, less defensive person on the Left would have made a rhetorical riposte highlighting that moral weakness often found among "hawks." Mr. Bush would do well to leaven his foreign policy pronouncements with more frequent cautions about our limited means and frank acknowledgements of our concrete interests at stake in the Middle East and other troubled regions.
Just as the President's plane was arriving in Europe, the Democrats' leader in the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, commented during a visit to a high school that President Bush is a "loser." See Washington Post. This was a direct violation of one of the basic norms of American politics -- that the president is not to be ridiculed or harshly castigated while travelling abroad. As any teacher knows, loser is probably the worst insult that a teenager in today's hypercompetitive world could ever hurl at another, so given where he was at the time, the epithet uttered by the Nevada senator is not to be dismissed lightly. At first Reid and his staff appeared to apologize, but later he recanted, boasting that he's a "tell it like it is" kind of guy. Utterly tactless, utterly disgraceful. Is that the kind of bipartisan comity that those opposing the "nuclear option" are seeking to preserve?
May 15, 2005 [LINK]
Nats edge Cubs, twice
Nick Johnson knocked a two-run homer into the mezzanine level of right field at RFK this afternoon, but the key to the Nats' 5-4 victory was Cubs 2B Neifi Perez, who committed two errors in the sixth inning. It's not often that the winning run is scored without benefit of either a hit or a walk. Relief pitcher Hector Carrasco was credited with the win (his only decision so far this year) even though he only threw one pitch to end the sixth inning. How often has that ever happened? Do the record books count such things? Last night's 4-3 win halted a three-game losing streak and put the Nats back into third place, ahead of the Mets. So far, the Nationals have won five of nine games in which the winning margin was only one run. Today's game was nearly sold out, and last night's probably would have if it weren't for the rain, which delayed the start by two hours. Cubs fan George Will saw his favorite team play in Our Nation's Capital for the first time since the 19th Century. When asked whether he pulled political strings to get his prime-location season tickets at RFK, he gave a coy "no comment."
Since I asked of the Yankees' dismal slump "When will this nightmare end?" on May 6, they have turned things around and been on a red-hot streak, led by Tino Martinez, who has hit a home run in almost every one of those games. Such good fortune couldn't come to a nicer guy. The Red Sox have been even hotter, however, while the Orioles keep winning often enough to remain on top of the AL East. The White Sox have the best record of any team this year, which is quite a story in itself, but on a divisional basis, the East is clearly dominant in both leagues.
Boswell on RFK
Apparently suffering from a severe bout of baseball fever, Thomas Boswell wrote a (qualified) paean to RFK Stadium in yesterday's Washington Post. He concludes, however, by warning against complacency in resolving the broadcast issues and getting the team sold so that a new stadium can be built before the thrill is gone.
The grungy, musty anachronism, with its peeling exterior paint and its ingrained interior aromas of dust, beer and cigarettes, has provided a nostalgic destination for fans who have discovered an utterly unexpected affection for the old dump. RFK hasn't just proved to be a make-do facility but actually has its own time-warp charms. There's personality in the place. Normally sensible people have been caught discussing the "RFK experience," as if they'd forgotten that people have fun at ballgames.
But, eventually, RFK will become a curse. What seems quaint will inevitably become harshly dated. The smells that evoke memories will, in time, simply stink.
I share Boswell's enthusiasm for RFK, partly rooted in the feeling that playing baseball there rights the historical wrong suffered by D.C. after 1971. (See his response to my live chat comment on April 15.) The idea of a '60s-era cookie-cutter clone stadium having character is counter-intuitive, but who knows, we may come to miss those old places as the last few get replaced in the next few years.
Truth in diagramming
As I began tweaking some of the stadium diagrams that had already been fully "upgraded" to conform to a standard home plate coordinate, as mentioned in the last posting, I noticed an inaccuracy in the Atlanta-Fulton County diagram: the distances down the lines are about six feet too long. "Close enough for government work," perhaps, but not good enough for me. Correcton is pending.
Bruce Orser just sent me a link to a page full of satellite photos of baseball stadiums, at yahoo.com. I believe that's called "hitting the jackpot."
May 14, 2005 [LINK]
Dedication of YuLee's Trail
The Augusta Bird Club (ABC) held its annual picnic this morning, but this year's gathering was a very special occasion. A nature trail at Montgomery Hall Park has been named in honor of my former neighbor YuLee Larner, a leading expert on birds and author of a weekly column in the Staunton News Leader. She is a founding member of ABC, past president of the Virginia Society of Ornithology, and editor of the first two editions of Birds of Augusta County. Several people spoke about all her lifetime accomplishments, including City Councilman David Metz, Becky Wajda of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and John Spahr, vice president of ABC. Mary Vermeulen introduced the speakers and read a poem by Henry van Dyke.
I "met" YuLee via e-mail as I was moving to Staunton three years ago, inquiring about good places to watch birds in this area. She was one of those who responded to me, and we soon discovered that we lived practically next door to each other. Serendipity! Whenever either of us saw an unusal bird outside, we would call each other right away. Probably the most memorable rare sighting in this neighborhood was the Western tanager that I spotted in late March 2004. She was very anxious about missing the opportunity to see this rare bird, which had never before been seen in this region, and when she finally saw it, she was tickled pink. YuLee was very helpful to me in developing my bird-watching skills, and her devotion to monitoring avian wildlife is truly inspiring. I am proud to know her.
Pictured at the top of the sign is a Prairie warbler.
Prior to the picnic brunch and ceremonies, club members divided into two groups to go looking for birds. At first it was chilly and windy, but soon the sun warmed everything up, and quite a number of birds started singing. Most of them remained hidden in the thick foliage, but after some patient stalking, we eventually got good views of some, including seven first-of-season birds for me. The best part of the day was seeing a Bay-breasted warbler (male) for the first time in four years. All of the colorful warblers looked truly gorgeous in the sun. Here are today's highlights:
- Red-eyed vireos
- Magnolia warblers (FOS)
- Bay-breasted warbler (FOS)
- Chestnut-sided warblers (FOS)
- Eastern wood-pewee (FOS)
- Yellow-billed cuckoo (FOS)
- Yellow-throated vireo (FOS)
- Downy woodpeckers
- Scarlet tanager (F)
- Great-crested flycatcher
- Olive-sided flycatcher (FOS, prob.)
- Red-bellied woodpeckers
In addition, I heard but did not see several Black-throated green warblers, Black-throated blue warblers, Blackpoll warblers, and Indigo buntings. I should mention that I forgot to include a Wild turkey on my list of birds seen on the trail on Thursday; that entry has been corrected.
And speaking of erroneous reporting, the Washington Post printed a correction of the caption about the Red-bellied woodpecker which I called to their attention. That bird is a resident species, not migratory.
BELOW: ABC members and invited guests as the ceremonies were about to begin. YuLee is seated on the left-center, and the sign (then draped) bearing her name is in the right-center.
May 13, 2005 [LINK]
Augusta Springs again
Knowing that peak migration season has nearly passed, yesterday I made it a point to see Augusta Springs for the second time this spring. When I arrived, I had a nice chat about ecology and the decline of amphibian populations with two elementary school teachers who were preparing a large-scale nature field trip. Fortunately, the bus full of kids did not arrive until I was almost done. I saw five first-of-season species altogether. The highlights, in rough chronological order:
- Red-eyed vireos
- Towhees (M, F)
- Field sparrow
- Indigo buntings (M)
- Cedar waxwings*
- Pileated woodpecker
- Solitary sandpipers (2)
- Spotted sandpiper
- Wood ducks (2M, 1F)
- Green herons (FOS) (2)
- Blue-gray gnatcatchers, at nest
- Lincoln's sparrow (FOS)
- Yellow warbler
- Common yellowthroat (M)
- Wilson's warbler
- Scarlet tanagers (FOS) (2M, 1F)
- Rose-breasted grosbeak (FOS) (2M)
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Blue-headed vireos
- Worm-eating warblers (FOS) (2)
- [Wild turkey!]
The ones below the line were seen along a mountain trail a few miles to the northeast, where I stopped on my way back. In addition, I heard a Yellow-billed cuckoo, some Wood thrushes, a probable Yellow-throated vireo, an Acadian flycatcher, and a Hooded warbler.
May 12, 2005 [LINK]
Wrigley Field update
At l-o-n-g last I have finished the revisions to the Wrigley Field page, which now has a dynamic diagram that lets you "travel through time" as the Home of the Cubs evolved toward the place we know and love today. It includes the walkways between the seating tiers of the lower deck, in part to draw attention to the "bend" in the seating rows on each end of the grandstand. Note that the diagram of the original configuration (1914, when it was called "Weeghman Park") is the result of thorough and painstaking research from various sources and photographs, many of which were graciously sent to me by Bruce Orser. Thanks a million, Bruce! Because it is based on limited information (aerial photographs were very rare around the time of World War I), however, that diagram may need to be revised in the future. A football version diagram of Wrigley Field (Da Bears!) is still pending.
Note that the revised Wrigley Field diagrams are now oriented with center field at the top, and are the first ones to be based on a new standardized layout to which nearly all diagrams will conform eventually. That means home plate will be at the exact same coordinate, so that you can make much better comparisons between stadiums on the "Side-by-side page, and on the pages where thumbnail diagrams appear. One of the most regular visitors and "tipsters" to this site, Steven Poppe, urged me to do just that many months ago. I hesitated, in part because I was afraid the stadium pages would no longer be easily viewable on computers with a 800x600 pixel monitor, but I think I can get it to work for most stadiums. Some very large stadiums, such as Memorial Coliseum or Cleveland Stadium, will have to remain the way they are. It may take me several more months to tackle this project, but I'll get there eventually.
Many thanks to Michael Rudolf for sponsoring the Yankee Stadium page. As a result, that "green cathedral" just moved up several notches on my "to-do" list.
Back to the real world
The injury-plagued Nationals dropped another close on in Phoenix last night, and will host the Cubs this for a three-game series weekend. Both the Cubs and Yankees recently ended long losing streaks, but both have a lot of "repair work" to do before they can resume a serious quest for the division lead. Royals manager Tony Peña resigned this week, and Hall of Famer George Brett said he's not interested in the job. (See the Royals Web site.) Brett showed up on Wheel of Fortune this week; he still has that big grin of a high school jock.
May 11, 2005 [LINK]
Carolina wren fledge day!
Thanks to my neighbor Therese, I was able to get some still and video images of the baby Carolina wrens on the very day that they left the nest on her balcony. At least three have fledged so far, and there may be one more to come. This little guy (or gal?) landed in our stairway by mistake, so I helped him get into the grass. He's no bigger than a golf ball and about as light as a paper clip. (This photo is larger than life size.) The plumage is much like their parents, a rich brown above and pale cream color below, with distinct white "eyebrows." Their tails and beaks are much shorter than those of adults, however. The yellow lining around their beak is characteristic of all baby birds, apparently a guide and/or stimulus to get the parents to feed their hungry offspring. The fledglings will be hiding from predators (cats? blue jays?) in the ivy for the next few days, while they gradually learn how to fly.
Andrew Clem Archives
May 10, 2005 [LINK]
Not in my wildest dreams would I pretend to know what it takes to be a baseball manager, but I was dumbfounded tonight when Frank Robinson let pitcher Tony Armas bat in the top of the sixth with the bases loaded and two outs. Armas, who has just returned from the disabled list*, had already pitched five shutout innings and would have gotten credit for a win had a pinch hitter gone in to bat for him. But no-o. He lined out to first base, raising the Nats' [individual] left-on-base total to an obscene 17. In the very next inning, the Diamondbacks scored three runs, taking the lead and Armas was relieved of his duties. Arghhh. As of midnight, the Nats are down, 3-2.
LATE, LATE UPDATE: Arizona held on to win, 3-2, in spite of the fact that they were outhit by the Nationals, 10-3. Total team LOB for Washington: 13, pretty awful.
Baseball Crank has the hard data on the cumulative division-by-division win-loss records so far this year, and the NL East came out even higher than I thought, with a net +16 edge. That makes the Washington Nationals, currently 3 games above .500, look even better. *Considering the many injuries the team has suffered lately (Jose Vidro just sprained his ankle), their accomplishments look truly amazing. The NL Central is -15 against teams from other divisions.
Thanks to Mark London for sponsoring the Three Rivers Stadium page, and for informing me that said stadium had a full dirt infield in its first three years, 1970-1972. That is not mentioned in my main source, Lowry's Green Cathedrals, but Mark spent a lot of time at Three Rivers in the 70s and sounds like he knows what he's talking about. So, I've revised the Turf page, including updated info for the Metrodome and a few others. Note that the list of "Coming attractions" in the left column of the Baseball page has been reordered to reflect a higher priority given to stadiums that have been sponsored. And, yes, that is a hint.
May 10, 2005 [LINK]
"Neuter" the Democrats?
As the moderate Republicans in the U.S. Senate ponder whether to follow Bill Frist in "going nuclear" to restrict use of filibusters of judicial appointments, word comes of a possible compromise deal. See Byron York in the National Review. Part of me wishes that a sensible compromise could be reached, but I remain convinced that if the Republicans don't act decisively now, they will forfeit a precious opportunity to resolve the fundamental impasse in Washington on favorable terms. If there is a deal, it had better be a good one, with a clear understanding by both sides to exercise their powers in a responsible way from now on.
To understand why it has come to this, read what E. J. Dionne wrote in today's Washington Post, and pay close attention to his underlying premises. Dionne explained why his side (the Democrats) are so fiercely resisting GOP pressure to compromise on the judicial nominations.
"The current acrimony in politics is incomprehensible unless it is understood as the inevitable next act of a long-term struggle. Its ferocity arises from the Democrats' refusal to accept the role assigned them by their opponents. They are taking a stand across a broad front not simply to "obstruct" current GOP designs but to reverse a Republican political offensive that began during Bill Clinton's presidency.
In fact, every one of today's fights can be seen as a response to something that happened in the 1990s."
That is another strong hint that Dionne is among those who cannot get over the "Clinton wars" and see everything in terms of getting revenge. He may have a point about those Republicans who used to deny the need for more federal judges and are now complaining of a "vacancy crisis." His attempt to equate the Democrats' current obstructionist posture with the Republicans during the Clinton years, however, is simply not valid: The Republicans were in the majority for six of Clinton's eight years, and therefore had every right to expect a greater say in what kind of judges would be approved. For a minority party to demand the same degree of power is extremely unreasonable. Dionne correctly states how both sides understand the extremely high stakes in this, and yet he is the perfect example of the presumptuous thinking that assumes that enough "sensible" Republicans will back down when push comes to shove. That is why people like me have become so thoroughly fed up with getting suckered while trying to "build bridges." Dionne did manage to make another good point, however, when he recalled the gloating words of famed anti-tax activist Grover Norquist after the last election:
"Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with the Republicans. ... Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant. But when they've been 'fixed,' then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful."
Classic hubris, the intoxication of power. Will Norquist end up ruining the Republicans' ability to govern effectively as a majority party? It would be a hell of a lot easier to convince moderate Republicans to go along, or to convince moderate Democrats to make concessions, if GOP leaders didn't have to disavow such tactlessly demeaning words.
Sean Hannity had George Will as a guest on his radio show today, but I'm not sure if Hannity grasped Will's point that he opposes the "nuclear option" on the grounds of prudence, not justice. Will clearly sympathizes with Senator Frist, but as a devout constitutionalist, he said, "I'm for thwarting majorities on occasion." Me too, "on occasion." Heeding minority concerns as a top priority amounts to self-neutering.
May 10, 2005 [LINK]
House reinstates old ethics rules
Amidst all the hubbub over the filibuster showdown, the vote by the House of Representatives to restore the ethics rules that had been rewritten for partisan reasons in January was hardly noticed by the mainstream media. (See MSNBC and my January 5 post.) The chastened Speaker Hastert and the Republicans deserve credit for promptly cleaning up their own mess, and making sure that no further ethical lapses take place.
Speaking of which, there have been some nice side-effects from the recent DeLay uproar: Many congresspersons are hastily paying for past junkets and other favors provided by lobbyists, most notably Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer, the ultimate partisan insider. (See Christian Science Monitor.) I'm reminded of P.J. O'Rourke's book, Parliament of Whores, written back in the days when the Dems ran Capitol Hill like an imperial fiefdom and no one could imagine it being any other way. Of course, some still can't, and that's the problem.
May 10, 2005 [LINK]
Get well soon Donna
One of my old friends from the University of South Dakota, Donna Ball, had some bad luck in terms of health. She was having a harder and harder time breathing in the last couple months, and after a battery of tests was conducted, she was diagnosed with Wegener's Granuloma, a rare autoimmune system disease that affects only ten of every one million people. It used to be fatal, but is now treatable with heavy doses of strong medicine over a 12-month period. Donna has endured and overcome numerous tribulations in her life, and yet always manages to bounce back and move ahead. She is fiercely independent and loves to travel to unusual destinations, take photographs, and write about all sorts of topics. She is one of those underappreciated talented, hard-working, honest-as-the-day-is-long people who form the bedrock of this great nation. Get-well wishes may be sent to Donna at email@example.com.
May 10, 2005 [LINK]
It's a beautiful day, and the temps are headed toward the mid-80s. Behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning I saw two first-of-season birds, and heard a White-eyed vireo and a Rose-breasted grosbeak. Yesterday evening I heard a Wood thrush out there as well.
- Wilson's warbler (FOS)
- Towhee (M)
- Blue-gray gnatcatchers
- Yellow-rumped warbler (1YM)
- Common yellowthroat (F) (FOS)
- Brown thrasher
- Indigo buntings (M) -- one singing in a subdued way
- Cedar waxwings*
* Cedar waxwings were plentiful briefly last December, but this is the first spring I can recall without any large flocks of them passing through.
I've added a list of my favorite warblers in the left column of the Wild Birds page, as well as a wish list of the warbler species that I have not yet seen. Most of the latter are only found in the West or Southwest.
In the Metro section of Sunday's Washington Post, a photo caption incorrectly stated "The red-bellied woodpecker is one of the 80 species of migratory birds coming through our area every year." In fact, that species is NOT migratory but stays put year-round throughout its range in the eastern USA.
May 9, 2005 [LINK]
Evolution in Kansas
Once again, the battle over teaching evolution is back in the news, but this time the religious activists on the Right have gone too far. Not content to make the (quite valid) point that evolution is a theory, and therefore subject to correction or refinement, some are now organizing to undermine evolution on patently bogus pseudo-scientific grounds. A subcommittee of the Kansas State Board of Education, a majority of whom are Republicans, has been holding hearings on the matter, and most scientists in the state have refused to dignify the proceedings with their presence. Advocates of a purported alternative theory known as "intelligent design" believe that existence of a Creator can be inferred from the fact that evolutionary science cannot answer all the questions about how life arose. That is both true and trivial; science is an ongoing work of advancing human knowledge about the universe that by definition is never-ending. Attacking the firmly-established theory of evolution on the grounds that there are gaps in what it can explain, therefore, is utterly senseless.
One disturbing facet of this case is that one of the "expert witnesses," Jonathan Wells, is a member of the Unification Church. According to the Washington Post, "Wells refers to church leader Sun Myung Moon, saying, "'Father's words, my studies and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism.'" Wells is also a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, based in Seattle, headed by Bruce Chapman. On its face, the Institute looks legitimate, and although they specifically disavow promoting "intelligent design" or "creationism," they clearly support the efforts of educators who do promote it. It is a flimsy disclaimer at best. Jack Krebs, vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science, correctly summarized what the evolution opponents are up to: "They have created a straw man. They are trying to make science stand for atheism so they can fight atheism." (See above Post article.)
Ironically, that is precisely parallel to what some scientists on the Left are trying to do: trying to make atheism stand for science. In the minds of some people, religion is nothing more than superstition, and by nature, therefore, it is subversive to scientific pursuits. I recall reading a couple months ago about a scientist who was quoted as saying he believes in evolution "with ever fiber of his being," or something like that. Those are the words of a true believer, not a true scientist. I wrote at length on this controversy on January 14, and made further comments on March 1, January 21, January 19, and January 17. In classic dialectical fashion, the insistence by some "pro-science" types that evolution is an established fact, not "just a theory" (false dichotomy) elicits a counter-attack by anti-science people, leading to an escalating spiral based on mutual distrust, like an arms race. Both sides in this absurd "debate" fail to appreciate the respective limits of faith and reason, which is why they ironically need each other as rhetorical foils. Contrary to what either side would acknowledge, however, nothing in the theory of evolution contradicts the notion that a Divine Creator set the world in motion. You certainly don't have to believe in the literal truth of Genesis to accept that. From a detached, philsophical perspective, it may be the case that God exists, or it may not be the case. Some people can't deal with such existential anxiety, but that very tension is what human life is all about. Deal with it.
To sum up, I have zero patience with dogmatists, whether secular or religious, who crusade to impose their vision on truth on the rest of the world. If the Republican party at the national level cannot figure out a way to disentangle itself from the kind of people who are behind the nonsense going on in Kansas, it will have a hard time holding on to its majority status.
Andrew Clem Archives
May 8, 2005 [LINK]
Marlins to be homeless?
In spite of intensive lobbying by officials from Miami and the Marlins front office (see April 9), the Florida legislature turned down the request for state help in funding a new baseball stadium in Miami. This doesn't necessarily doom the team to search for a home in another state, however: "Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who has spent nearly two weeks in Tallahassee lobbying for the stadium, vowed to keep the team in town." See Miami Herald. Folks in Washington, Minneapolis, and elsewhere know how these issues tends to drag out infinitely. Speaking of which, the D.C. Council has lost patience with Mayor Williams and has taken control of the search for alternative stadium financing mechanisms. See Washington Post.
Washington conquers California
The Giants eked out a 4-3 win against the Nationals in the 13th inning tonight, thus averting being swept. The Nats won series against both the Dodgers and the Giants this past week, leaving no doubt that they are a very solid, competitive team. Is it premature to say they cannot be ruled out as contenders for the postseason? Manager Frank Robinson said the key play in Saturday's amazing comeback game was when Jose Guillen hit a sacrifice ground ball to advance the runner to third, rather than go for a home run. See nationals.mlb.com. Guillen had a bad reputation for being hard to get along with in Anaheim last year, but he is definitely a team player for the Nationals. Next up: The Arizona Diamondbacks, who are currently in second place in the NL West but were swept by the Nationals in the opening series at RFK Stadium last month.
Nearly all of the stadium pages should be "upgraded" by now. I tried to double check each one, because I modified many of the photographs to become more consistent in size, but there are bound to be a few glitches that escaped my notice. If so, please let me know.
Andrew Clem Archives
May 8, 2005 [LINK]
Happy (human AND avian) Mothers Day!
After hiking and picknicking at Sherando Lake (near the Blue Ridge) yesterday, we were lucky to see a pair of Blue-gray gnatcatchers busily building a nest in a tree right next to the parking spaces at the entrance from the highway. How convenient! Presented for your viewing pleasure is a 20-second video clip of the tiny "expectant mother" in action. (As any experienced birder will quickly note, the added sound effects are fake.) To see a closeup still image, click HERE. Note that the nest is made almost exclusively of tree lichens. We also saw an American redstart singing loudly, plus the first Red-eyed vireo of the season and a Hairy woodpecker. Heard in the distance was an Ovenbird, plus other probable warblers.
This morning I went walking behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad and saw several Yellow-rumped warblers (all males), a male Yellow warbler, and the first Nashville warbler I've seen in years. Plus a Pileated woodpecker (female), two flickers, two Red-bellied woodpeckers, a Downy woodpecker, two Brown thrashers, and a Red-eyed vireo.
UPDATE: Here's a (pop-up) photo of Sherando Lake, which I took yesterday. I forgot to mention that I saw a Baltimore oriole out back this morning, and a Ruby-throated hummingbird (male) late this afternoon.
FURTHER UPDATE: For some reason, I can't get the movie to play over the Internet. I've posted video clips to Web sites four times previously without a hitch, and this is the first time I've encountered such a problem. I'll see if I can fix it...
May 9, 2005
LAST (?) UPDATE: The movie clip is working now after I modified its file name slightly. That should not have mattered, however, so something else must be amiss somewhere.
May 6, 2005 [LINK]
Strange day at the parks
It would appear that the L.A. Dodgers had a lot to get off their chest after losing two of three games while hosting the Nationals earlier this week. In the first inning against Cincinnati today, they scored ten runs! The Reds came back with six runs in the last two innings, but that was not even half of what they needed. Mark Prior pitched an almost flawless eight innings, and Derrek Lee hit a two run homer in the bottom of the eighth to take the lead, but relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins made a throwing error in the top of the ninth, so the Cubs lost to the Phillies, 3-2. Ouch! Seemingly from out of nowhere, the Milwaukee Brewers had a seven-game winning streak going, but the Mets stopped them tonight, 7-4. Mike Piazza hit two home runs. The Yankees came back to tie the game 3-3 against the visiting A's, but Oakland scored three in the top of the tenth, as the Yanks dropped their [fourth] straight game. When will this nightmare end? Nats 1B Brad Wilkerson got tonight's game with the Giants at SBC Park started off on a good foot with a single, but Jamey Carroll then grounded into a double play.
Stadium page upgrades
I've begun the process of upgrading all the stadium pages, a task that should be done by tomorrow. The most immediate change you will notice is aesthetic, with more even layout of the diagrams and a separate shaded background for the main text section, for easier reading. Near the top right of each page you will see a ball (). Be careful when you move the mouse close to it! Clicking on it will take you to the Baseball site map page. If you roll across without clicking, however, the page will automatically scroll down to the Photos section (if there are any on that page), where you will see one photo and one or more green caption boxes on the left. Clicking on those links will let you see any of the photos. That way, the page loads more quickly for those who have seen the photos before and just want to check information. Some pages also have one or more extra-wide panorama photos below that, with similar green caption boxes if there are more than one. Further toward the bottom there is a Fan comments section with a link to a comments form that is not yet functional. The comments form is meant for those who have actually been to the stadiums in question, and have special experiences that other folks would enjoy hearing about. Any questions or errors that need to be brought to my attention should be sent via e-mail, as before.
The Baseball in D.C. page now has a list of the nine investors who have put down a $100,000 deposit to qualify as bidders for the Washington Nationals franchise. Some think the sales price could reach $400,000 or more, but that depends in part on how this insane war over broadcasting rights with the Orioles is resolved.
May 6, 2005 [LINK]
Holier than thou
A week or two ago I saw the Rev. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal bishop of Vermont who happens to be gay, on C-SPAN, speaking to a Planned Parenthood breakfast meeting. I tried to listen with open ears, but was quickly mortified by Robinson's defiant tone and self-certain attitude. There was not even an inkling of humility or repentance, in spite of the fact that he once abandoned his family, and yet he spared no effort in condemning religious conservatives. On one hand he urges people to see issues in a nuanced way, shunning sharp black vs. white dichotomies, but on the other hand he expresses blisteringly vehement personal opinions about the role of faith in public policy that rival the edicts of Muslim ayatollahs. Quite ironic. Coming from the academic world, I share his appreciation for "shades of gray," but it is the duty of religious leaders not to hem and haw but to provide moral guidance, i.e., follow the rules. See the Washington Times. All this reminds us that, although the Religious Right is getting all the headlines for its excesses these days, the Religious Left is active behind the scenes, promoting an agenda that is overtly hostile to traditional culture and values. I mentioned Robinson on April 8 this year and October 23, 2003 (scroll down). If leaders in the Episcopal Church do not convince him to stay out of politics, I can't see how an outright schism can be avoided.
May 6, 2005 [LINK]
There has been a lot of commotion in the blogosphere lately about proposed regulation of blogs by the Federal Election Commission, on the grounds that blogs constitute a form of political communicaton on par with television advertising. The problem is that some bloggers are not really independent voices but serve as mouthpieces for the political parties or organizations for which they work. See Washington Post. So, just for the record, I am not getting paid anything by the Republican party for doing the local swacgop.org Web site, beyond being reimbursed for what the Web hosting service charges. The views expressed in this blog come straight from my own mind and/or heart. Of course, that should be obvious, given the frequency with which I take issue with some of the party's policies and leadership.
May 6, 2005 [LINK]
Hooray for Tony
I don't normally cheer for socialists, but us Yanks owe Tony Blair a lot of gratitude for his loyalty and stubborn determination to press on in the war against terrorism. Where would we be without our British allies? As things stand now, Mr. Blair's party has won a third consecutive election, matching the feat of Margaret Thatcher. Just like in the U.S. elections last fall, the early projections hinted at a possible upset win by the Conservatives, but Labour will retain a substantial edge. As of now, Labour has won 329 seats, a slim majority, while the Conservatives have won at least 159 seats and the Liberal Democrats 51. The popular vote margin is much closer, however: 37%, 32%, 24%, respectively. How undemocratic!? Actually, that's the way single-member district representation (which we also have) works. See the BBC Web site. It's ironic that popular antipathy toward the war was frustrated by the parliamentary system. People choose their local legislator on the basis of party and have little to say about how the parties choose their leaders. Voting for the opposition Tories (under Michael Howard) would probably have resulted in even closer alignment with U.S. foreign policy. Blair says he does not intend to run as the party's leader in the next parliamentary elections, and his chancellor of the exchequer [Gordon Brown] is expected to succeed him in the next three years or so.
Give D.C. a seat in the House
Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), who recently chaired the hearings on steroid use and has long been a strong backer of baseball in Washington, has introduced the "D.C. Fairness in Representation Act," which would give the District of Columbia a voting seat in the House of Representatives. Good move. Because some Republicans want something in exchange, the bill would temporarily add another seat from Utah, a GOP state with growing population. One of my favorite Republicans, Susan Molinari of New York, appeared at the announcement, along with Mayor Tony Williams, council Chairman Linda Cropp, and Jack Kemp. See Washington Post. Personally, I think it would be better to get this done on its own merits, not as part of a deal. I wish this would be enough to satisfy those folks in D.C. who demand full statehood rights, but I doubt it. Two senators for D.C.? A governor as well as a mayor? Forget it.
Will on Religious Right
George Will, the voice of sobriety and caution on the right, wrote a piece in the Washington Post that warns the Republicans not to get any more closely tied to Christian activists than they already are. Will referred in particular to the "imprudent" legislation concerning Terri Schiavo, and reminded readers that the Constitution forbids making religious belief a qualification for holding public office. He's right. Will cooler heads prevail in the GOP leadership, so they can get back to their job of reducing the size of government? Or have they given up on that already? Interestingly, Will mentioned that Pat Robertson recently said he would accept the liberal-moderate Rudy Giuliani as the GOP nominee in 2006, suggesting that the Religious Right is itself worried about getting carried away with its own agenda, risking a loss in the next election.
May 5, 2005 [LINK]
Early All Star picks
I can't believe they are already taking ballots to choose the All Star teams. Is one month enough time to base a decision? Among the Nationals, who are resting for a three-game stand in San Francisco, Vinny Castilla ought to be a shoo-in, and Jose Guillen will probably make the team as well. Brad Wilkerson started the season red hot but has been in a slump for the past ten days, and thus probably won't get picked. He's got plenty of years ahead of him in his career, however. As for the Yankees, A-Rod, Gary Sheffield, and Derek Jeter are hitting just fine and will no doubt get picked as All Stars, but the rest of the lineup pretty much stinks, with none of the regulars batting over .280. Pitching? Ughh... Is the dismal prospect of abandoning their cherished home having a depressing effect on how well the Yankees play?
Many thanks to Eric McErlain (of Off Wing Opinion sports-blogging fame) for sponsoring the Shea Stadium page. That's one of those stadium pages whose diagram is in need of updating (making it "dynamic"), so it will get moved up toward the front of the waiting line. When I was watching a Braves game there a week or two ago I noticed that the left field bleachers have been expanded, with a bigger section in the middle, but I haven't seen any solid information on that. Someone else asked me about sponsoring more than one page, and I said I'd have to think about that. Don't wait until the one you want is already taken!
I just received word from Joseph McCauley that his book Ebbets Field: Brooklyn's Baseball Shrine has just been published. "The book is currently available through Authorhouse.com for $19.50 or from other sites like Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble for a higher fee."
Mike Zurawski has referred me to more recent stadium photos at webshots.com, which has a separate page for baseball. Of particular interest are the extra rows of seats between the dugout and bullpen on the first base side in Wrigley Field. No wasted space there!
My apologies to all those folks who sent me e-mail messages in recent days but didn't get a timely response. Busy, busy, busy...
May 5, 2005 [LINK]
¿Dónde están los warblers?
Every day the goldfinches seem to be singing more and more loudly in the tree tops. Nearly all the males have finished molting into their bright yellow summer plumage, as you can see here. Yesterday I saw a male Ruby-throated hummingbird buzzing out back for the first time this spring. This morning I went looking for migrating neotropical warblers along the trail behind Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, but they were absent once again, except for one Prairie warbler that I heard. (I haven't seen one of those in years.) The Yellow-rumped warblers stay in these northern latitudes during the winter, and are very common this time of year. In glancing at my records, I noticed that for the eight previous years, I first saw Catbirds in April, whereas this year my first sighting was May 2. The exact opposite is true of Baltimore orioles; April 27 this year was the earliest I had ever seen them. Here are today's highlights:
- Yellow-rumped warblers
- Ruby-crowned kinglets (late stragglers)
- White-throated sparrows (late stragglers)
- Red-bellied woodpeckers
- Blue-gray gnatcatchers
- Great crested flycatchers (FOS)*
- Indigo bunting (FOS)
- Field sparrow
- Purple finch (F)
*(Seen in Costa Rica in February.) FOS = first of season. In the afternoon there were a couple Northern rough-winged swallows and a (probable) Cooper's hawk out back.
May 5, 2005 [LINK]
Cover the uninsured?
Starbucks had a full-page ad in the Washington Post heralding "Cover the Uninsured Week," a prime example of corporate feel-goodism. Almost no one seriously questions the notion that expanding insurance coverage to a broader segment of the population would be a good thing -- as long as someone else pays for it, that is. Most Americans are blissfully unaware of how the health care sector operates, because they are relatively insulated from the ultimate consequences of their cherished health insurance benefits: exponential growth in the cost of medical services. Hence arises the extreme hypocrisy of calling for universal health coverage while hiring illegal nannies and making excuses for those who cut business expenses by employing illegal aliens who are not eligible for such entitlements. The fact that health benefits are largely untaxed means that average folks don't know how much they are really paying for their health care, indirectly that is. One of these days the government will have little choice but to start taxing employer contributions to health insurance, which will provoke a rebellion by the clueless middle class. The problem is not that poor people don't have insurance, it's that the politically mandate entitlements demanded by the middle class create huge distortions throughout our health care sector, resulting in excessive tests for some and inadequate or tardy treatment for others. Maybe we should have an "Uncover the Insured Week" instead.
Here's some background on the basic policy issue. Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation proposes modest incentives via tax breaks to make it easier for small businesses to offer health care insurance coverage, accepting the mainstream premise that universal coverage is the ideal goal. His plan would do nothing to address the insurance-caused upward spiral of health costs. In contrast, John Goodman of the CATO Institute is keenly aware that drastic reforms of entitlements are essential for us to maintain socio-economic vitality. Many people consider libertarian arguments too extreme, but in the long term, such market-based policies are the only alternative to gradual decay à la Europe. The idea that public policy can ignore fundamental objective economic realities and be based entirely upon the subjective preferences of the public is flat-out delusional, but pandering to popular delusions is one of the things that democracies do best.
In terms of corporate politics, it is entirely possible that Starbucks is motivated by bottom-line concerns as much as by pandering to its cleints' egos. They don't like having to compete against firms that are less generous to their workers, or who pay less to foreign coffee bean suppliers. There are currently five Starbucks shops or booths in Charlottesville, and one more coming, but absolutely none in the Shenandoah Valley! Is it possible that this might have something to do with the sharply diverging political affiliations on the respective sides of the Blue Ridge? Martin Sieff at The Globalist thinks so. After the last election, he made a provocative interpretion of American consumer tastes in psycho-sociological terms:
Wal-Mart, for its part, wants you to imagine that you are living in value-driven, small-town America, where down-to-earth people like yourself go about their everyday lives.
Starbucks, on the other hand, wants you to believe you are in a sophisticated club or restaurant where only you and the Nobel Prize winner for molecular biology at the next table drink that particular sugar-free, vanilla, extra-foam latte.
Seen from this perspective, the division of Republicans and Democrats, 'red' America vs. 'blue' America, makes vastly more symbolic sense. The election returns have made sure of that.
In this sense, shopping at Wal-Mart is about doing well for the family -- while the needs of the nation are neglected.
In contrast, sipping coffee at Starbucks is ultimately about individual psychological and emotional health. It is about taking a few minutes off to stroke the frazzled nerves and the wounded ego.
In short, Starbucks is selling classical short-term gratification absolved of guilt, and its left-liberal politics are just one part of the marketing campaign.
May 5, 2005 [LINK]
In the beginning...
Thanks to Rudi Riet for being the first person to sponsor a stadium page: RFK Stadium, naturally enough. He came across a wonderful bit of creative prose: Opening Day
Genesis by Glenn Burkmeier. Thus prompted, I updated the Civic Religion page, which was long overdue.
Eric Mirlis, an independent sports writerbased in New York, recently launched The Writers, a collaborative Web site. Among the group, Brian Wilmer is devoting special attention to touring and evaluating all sorts of ballparks. Check them out!
Selig gets tough on steroids
Commissioner Selig seems to have gotten the message from Congress, and has proposed much stiffer penalties for players who use steroids or other banned drugs. Rather than "five strikes and you're out" under the old policy, the third offense would, under his plan, result in a lifetime suspension from Major League Baseall. The first offense would draw a 50-game suspension, rather than 10 as in the current rules. I suppose he is heading in the right direction, but basic problem remains in the culture of "so what?" The seriousness and sincerity with which MLB officials and players actually carry out the new rules will be just as important as what is written on paper.
Nats cope with injuries
Endy Chavez was called up from New Orleans to replace Terrmel Sledge, who suffered an injury. Chavez choked in a clutch situation in his first at bat on Tuesday night in L.A., as the Nats lost to the Dodgers 4-2, but he made up for it on Wednesday by getting two hits, including an RBI double. Final score 5-2. The Nats win their first series on the West Coast!
May 3, 2005 [LINK]
Photos from RFK
My photos from the Nationals game on Saturday night turned out rather mediocre, unfortunately, reflecting the poor lighting conditions. Wait till next time! Note that the RFK Stadium page is a "prototype" of the new format all stadium pages will have shortly, but the comments form linked to it (at the bottom) is still under development.
Pictured with me here are my niece Cathy and her friend Yanira, who had a good time at the ball game even if they didn't understand all of it. More than once they asked me what the score was, which raises a good point: Nearly all scoreboards nowadays are part of multi-functional electronic displays, which show scores one minute and advertising the next. Shouldn't there be one or two old-fashioned mechanical scoreboards to make it easier for less-attentive fans to see who's ahead in the game?
Rising traffic, page sponsorship
As the number of visitors to this site continues to climb, far outpacing my original expectations, the specter of bandwidth limitations rears its ugly head once again. (Some of you will recall that this site used to be hosted by Earthlink, and before that by Apple, but grew too big for its britches.) Yet even on the full-fledged Web server I've used since last June, the number of gigabytes is fast approaching the allowed traffic quota. That is why I've decided to include a "sponsorship box" at the top right corner of each stadium page, as a token of appreciation for those generous folks who put their money where their mouths are. From now on, individuals who contribute $10* to this site may choose any stadium page to "sponsor" for one year. You can have an e-mail or Web site link attached to your name, if you would like. Smaller donations are still welcome, too. ¡Muchas gracias! (* Amount subject to change, [one sponsor per page].)
Bullpen woes, L.A. win
Four Nats relief pitchers are on the disabled list, including Joey Eischen, who broke his arm while diving for a ground ball in Sunday night's game against the Mets. He's expected to be out for 8-12 weeks, and will be sorely missed. See the Nationals Web site. In spite of missing relievers and travel fatigue -- having flown across the continent after the late-night game against the Mets -- the Nationals decisively beat the first-place Dodgers in L.A. last night, 6-2. Pretty darned impressive... I didn't realize that Nats manager Frank Robinson was ejected from the game in the eighth inning on Saturday, after swearing at an umpire in an argument over repairing the mud patches in the infield. The Mets, who had mounted a late comeback, filed a protest of the game. Perhaps the bottom of the eighth and the ninth innings will be played on some other date.
May 3, 2005 [LINK]
Novak on "DeLay's importance"
I have often expressed doubts (January 4, March 30, April 7, and April 12) about the ultimate "mean-spirited Republican," Tom DeLay of Texas, on the grounds that he seems to be doing the GOP more harm than good. Nevertheless, I keep an open mind, and on January 6 I actually complimented him. In his column yesterday (Chicago Sun-Times), Michael Novak provided some solid reasons for keeping DeLay, mainly that he has played a key behind-the-scenes role in getting important legislation passed, including the recent budget resolution. I would feel better about that if the Republicans in Congress these days weren't acting so much like Democrats in handing out budget-bleeding tax breaks to their favorite constituents. (As I keep saying, simply abolishing the corporate income tax would negate that pernicious prerogative of Congress in one fell swoop.) Anyway, the ethics charges against DeLay still seem trumped up to me, but that's par for the course in Washington these days. The recent series of "DeLay death watch" comic strips in Doonesbury were worth a chuckle, drawing an ironic if less-than-tasteful parallel to the agonizing last days of Terri Schiavo. For the moment, however, reports of DeLay's impending political death seem greatly exaggerated.
May 3, 2005 [LINK]
Attendance at RFK: solid
An average of 30,951 fans attended the twelve Nationals home games at RFK Stadium during their first month, ranking 13th among the 30 major league teams. This was slightly less than the Baltimore Orioles, who have an established fan base and a fancy new(ish) stadium. Perhaps more significant is how attendance for Baltimore and Washington combined (63,256) compares to other multi-team metropolitan areas, behind Los Angeles (89,836) and New York (82,226), but ahead of Chicago (60,232) and San Francisco Bay (60,035). See Washington Post. (But how many of those are just "phantom fans"?) The 40,000+ attendance at Saturday's game is all the more remarkable because there was also a basketball game at the MCI Center; the Washington Wizards are in the playoffs for the first time since they changed their name from the "Bullets." On my way into Washington I saw more folks on the Metro wearing Wizards logos than Nationals logos, but that was because I went early. Some sports fanatics, such as Rudi Riet, made it to both games!
May 2, 2005 [LINK]
Orioles, etc. at McCormick's Farm
I happened to be passing by McCormick's Farm this morning, so I stopped to see if I could get some pictures of one of the Baltimore orioles we saw there last week. It was my lucky day, as I saw at least three orioles and got some photos (though not very close), and saw four other species for the first time this spring ("FOS") as well. There were a number of territorial squabbles between males. It was very chilly, however. Perhaps the warblers have been slow in returning north for a good reason. Here are the highlights:
- Baltimore orioles
- Yellow warblers (FOS)
- Solitary sandpipers
- Spotted sandpiper
- Gray catbirds (FOS)
- Yellow-rumped warblers (M)
- Northern waterthrush (FOS)
- Brown thrasher
- Swamp sparrow
- Palm warbler (FOS)
May 1, 2005 [LINK]
40 K (& I) see Nats edge Mets
I finally got to see a Nationals home game at RFK Stadium on Saturday night, and unlike their inaugural game in Philadelphia which I saw, this time the ending was very gratifying. I expected there to be a big crowd, but the attendance exceeded my expectations: 40,913, the most since the sold-out Opening Day! Unfortunately, a fair number of them were Mets fans who made their presence known. My niece Cathy, her friend Yanira, and I sat up in the nosebleed level, on the left of the old football press box on the first base side. It was at least a clear view of the whole field, if rather distant. The crowd was fired up and the cheering got very loud at some points. As I watched the game unfold, I kept marvelling at how wonderful and perfectly natural it all looked, and wondering how this great city could have been deprived of such an experience for over three decades. The inside of the stadium looked very good, though the field itself could have been trimmed up a bit, and the old and grimy concourses were jam-packed with eateries and souvenir stands, raking in megabucks. How anyone could question the huge net positive economic effect baseball is having on Washington is utterly beyond comprehension. The Nats jumped ahead 2-0 in the first inning thanks to another clutch double by Vinny Castilla, and solo homers by Ryan Church and Nick Johnson in later innings added insurance runs. There was a rain delay in the sixth inning, and another one in the eighth, when the grounds crew failed to get the infield covered by the tarp after multiple attempts with a dozen or so volunteer helpers. It provided great comic relief for the kids, who would have been pretty bored otherwise. (I also had a very unusual bird-watching experience while it rained.) The rain highlighted one of RFK's distinctive features: Since the vast majority of seats are covered by the roof or the overhanging upper deck, most fans weren't bothered at all by the heavy showers. (Actually, there was a leak in the roof above me, and I got hit by a few drops.) After 30 minutes or so, the grounds crew managed to get the infield mud covered, an exercise in futility, but the umps called the game soon thereafter, and the Nats won 5-3. Unlike last week, this time the ground crew's shortcomings worked to the Nats' advantage. For a wrap-up, see mlb.com. I'll have more to say on what I saw at RFK, plus some new photos, soon...
As seen by millions on ESPN tonight, the Nats let the Mets break a tie in the top of the ninth inning, losing 6-3 and failing to complete what would have been their second sweep of the season.
May 1, 2005 [LINK]
Oriole at RFK? No way!
I was probably the only one of the 41,000 or so baseball fans at RFK Stadium last night to bring along a birding field guide, and it sure came in handy! In the sixth inning, I spotted a Common nighthawk (first of season) swooping around the stadium lights. Thus distracted, I didn't see Nats first baseman Nick Johnson swing when he hit a home run. A good luck omen, perhaps? Then during the second rain delay of the game, in the eighth inning, well after dark, I was surprised to see a blackish bird flying around the field at the upper deck level. With my binoculars, I could see it was smallish in size, so I figured it was probably a swallow or a swift until I saw that it had definite light-hued patches on its rump and wings, making me think it was a Baltimore oriole. Was this a publicity stunt hatched in Baltimore aimed at taunting Washington fans? Finally, the bird landed in the middle of the outfield as the rain poured down, and I got a clear look at it with no glare from lights in the background. The unmistakeable pale yellow back side of the head left no doubt: It was a Bobolink, no doubt confused and disoriented. They are very uncommon in Virginia, and are usually found in places where cows outnumber human beings.
More seasonal firsts
I was awoken this morning by an odd but delightful song outside the window (in Northern Virginia), and even in my semi-conscious state I recognized it as a White-eyed vireo. Fortunately it stayed there and kept singing throughout the morning, and I finally spotted it in a thicket of tall bushes. Later my niece Cathy and I went for a short walk and saw an Osprey, two loud Red-shouldered hawks (probably courting), plus a Red-bellied woodpecker, some Chipping sparrows, Cowbirds, and a Bluebird, among others. On our way home this afternoon I spotted a male American redstart near the Panorama restaurant and gift shop (closed for the season) in the Shenandoah National Park.