December 26, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Catching up with baseball
Let's see, where were we? Oh yes, the World Series! The last time I updated this blog was on October 10, just as the league championship series were about to begin. Busy, busy, busy! That would be putting it mildly. Fortunately, I'll be back to a more normal work schedule in the spring semester.
Dodgers, Tigers last six games in LCS
The lower-seeded teams in the League Championship Series just couldn't quite make it to a full seven games. The Dodgers bounced back after losing the first two games of the NLCS in St. Louis, winning two of three games in Los Angeles. But the Cardinals won Game 6 by a lopsided 9-0 margin, thus taking the NL pennant. It would have been the Dodgers' first trip to the World Series since 1988.
Likewise, the Detroit Tigers won Game 1 of the ALCS in Fenway Park, but could only manage to win one of three games at home in Comerica Park, making it easy for the Red Sox to win Game 6 and thus take the AL pennant.
Red Sox beat the Red Birds, again
Obviously, Boston was strong this year. The city's die-hard spirit was revealed in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing last April, and it seemed to help the Red Sox overcome all obstacles during the baseball regular season. Contrary to most people's expectations, they were simply dominant throughout the season, and this juggernaut momentum carried them right through October. The Cardinals surprised the Red Sox with a win at Fenway Park in Game 2, and then took a 2-1 series lead back home in St. Louis, but then the Red Sox won the next three games to seal the deal. That makes three World Series championships for the Red Sox in the past ten years, after eight decades of bitter frustration. Quite an amazing turnaround for that storied franchise!
World Series stadia
Customarily, I present diagrams of the home ballparks of the two World Series teams, for easy comparison. Last year, for example, it was Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and AT&T Park. This year, of course, it was Fenway Park and Busch Stadium (III). are both above-average in terms of outfield size, but otherwise have few similarities. So, just for the record, you can roll over the thumbnail images to switch between the respective full-size diagrams.
I've been working on diagram revisions of Fenway Park, and the inclusion of the entry portals has enabled me to get the placement of the gap between the bleachers and the grandstand a bit more accurate. There will also be minor revisions of Busch Stadium (III). Stay tuned!
Fenway Park visit
Speaking of to Fenway Park, another Clem paid a visit there last summer -- in this case my brother Chris. Hopefully I'll have time to finally see a game there myself next summer.
Fenway Park, from near Pesky's Pole down the first base side, August 27, 2013. Courtesy of Chris Clem. Roll mouse over to see a similar view (further back in the right field corner), circa 1996, taken by another member of the Clem Clan.
Mariano Rivera retires
One of the most poignant moments in baseball this year, and indeed for the past decade, was the retirement ceremony for longtime Yankees closing pitcher Mariano Rivera, a.k.a. "The Sandman." The Yankee teammates gave him a rocking chair to while away the hours. Brian Vangor took some photos of that ceremony, and I'll be posting some of them soon. Without Rivera, and especially without Robinson Cano (signed by the Minnesota Twins) next year, the Yankees will be a much different team.
Stadium demolition derby, 2014
Three former Major League Baseball stadiums are scheduled for Stadium demolition next year, and it was announced in November that another one may be in just a few years. All this news caught me a little off guard, and all of a sudden I realized that I might never get a chance to see two of those stadiums before they are gone forever.
In November, voters in the Houston area rejected a referendum that would have put public money into making the Astrodome into a convention center. That meant there is no hope for making use of that aging facility any time soon, so work crews began to demolish the circular exit ramps that were added to the exterior in 1988. How soon the rest of the stadium comes down is still undecided.
The Astrodome, just last week. In the background is Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans. Photo courtesy of Mark London.
As planned, the Minnesota Vikings played their last game in the Metrodome two Sundays ago, and that stadium will be torn down very quickly in next few months, to make way for the Vikings' new stadium. Speaking of which, I was informed by Keith Grinde two years ago (!) that the cut-out portion of the seats behind home plate has been filled in for football games since 1986, so I'll have to update the diagram to reflect that.
The halftime ceremony during the last football game at the Metrodome, December 15. Photo courtesy of James Matthes.
Then comes creaky old Candlestick Park, where the San Francisco 49ers played what was probably their final game there last Sunday, pulling off an amazing last-minute play to beat the Arizona Cardinals. I'm not sure exactly when The Stick will be torn down, but I thought I heard they might wait until next fall. The 49ers' flashy new home in Santa Clara is almost completed.
Braves to leave Turner Field!?
But the strangest bit of stadium demolition news in recent weeks has been that the Atlanta Braves announced they are going to leave Turner Field, and Atlanta itself, unveiling a new stadium deal with Cobb County. The lease on Turner Field is for 20 years, extending through the 2016 season. If these reports are true, and not just a colossal scam for purposes of bargaining, the new stadium site would be about ten miles northwest of the city's downtown. Since Turner Field is only 16 years old, I find this hard to believe. Turner Field was in need of some kind of renovation (downsizing, especially), but it should have at least another 20 years of useful life. I don't know about the new stadium design, but the suburban location seems totally wrong to me. I'm sure it was a matter of which local government would offer the best financial terms, but the Braves could risk losing part of their fan base.
For more on this, see the Atlanta Journal-Constitution or MLB.com, both of which have links to a video announcement by the Braves president. Hat tips to Scott Barry and Alex Peneton.
December 26, 2013 [LINK / comment]
2013: Republicans keep defeating themselves
The loss by Mitt Romney in November 2012 can be interpreted in more than one way, but it became clear this past year that the movers and shakers in the Republican Party simply could not come together in drawing any clear lessons. Instead, just as I had feared, the Tea Party faction redoubled its attacks on the GOP "mainstream establishment," including many loyal and stalwart conservatives. It's an ugly situation, and the infighting has virtually crippled the party just when the catastrophe of Obamacare is becoming obvious for nearly everyone to see. Whereas the Republicans should be in a position to build their majority in the House and retake a majority in the Senate next year, that is in doubt because of challenges to GOP incumbents by Tea Party candidates.
Shutdown: kamikazes triumph!
In September, it became clear that the right-wing Republicans were determined to push their no-compromise agenda on Capitol Hill, and the result was a partial shutdown of the U.S. Government. Texas Senator Ted Cruz did a 21-hour quasi-filibuster that accomplished absolutely nothing, while two weeks of chaos and confusion in early October failed to defund Obamacare, or even make any serious dent in spending levels. It seems like a waste of time, but from the perspective of a kamikaze pilot, perhaps there is some logic to such hopeless attacks. "Standing up for principle!" How long are the GOP "grassroots" minions going to fall for that kind of garbage? As I wrote on Facebook,
I hate to say it, but I'm going to take a bit of perverse delight in watching the various Republican factions blame each other for this disaster. It was as inevitable as the Titanic sailing toward the iceberg in 1912. How anyone could have thought something good could come out of the government shutdown is beyond me.
And in a slightly different context, referring to an article in the Atlantic (I believe), I wrote:
The article neglects to mention the one clear accomplishment from the shutdown: IT ENERGIZED THE GOP BASE! The true-believing apostles of limited government (since Jan. 20, 2009, that is) are more convinced than ever that Obama keeps winning because of "spineless establishment RINOs." The possibility that Obama came to power precisely because of the fiscal disaster unleashed by the Base's hero, George Dubya Bush never crosses their mind. Many sensible people who consider voting Republican remember when "deficits didn't matter" (Rove), and are rightly skeptical of amnesiac Tea Party rhetoric. That's a big part of why the GOP keeps losing.
Virginia: Democratic sweep
The consequences of the GOP hell-bent approach became evident in the November 5 elections, when the Democratic Party swept all three executive branch races for the first time since the 1980s. Ken Cuccinelli did better than most of the polls indicated, but it was still a clear margin of defeat. The Obamacare disaster made that race a lot closer than it would have been otherwise. So now the next governor or Virginia will be a man with little or no experience in state politics and tons of ethnical baggage from his years of being a political-business crony: Terry McAuliffe. Beginning with low expectations, perhaps he'll turn out better than most people think. He can't be much worse than the incumbent governor, Bob McDonnell. His multiple violations of the public trust just boggle the mind, and it's hard to see how he could ever resume a career in elective office.
As for the other two races, Ralph Northam easily beat right-wing preacher E.W. Jackson, who was prone to saying outlandish things about abortion and other hot-button issues. His candidacy was doomed from the moment he was nominated by the Republican convention last summer, and that only happened because he was a compromise candidate after the delegates deadlocked. Finally, Mark Herring barely edged Mark Obenshain, extending his lead from about 150 votes to nearly 900 after the recount was done. Obenshain seems like a pretty good guy, and the family name carries lots of weight in Virginia. (His father was nominated for the U.S. Senate in 1978 but died in a plane crash, forcing the Republicans to pick John Warner instead. The rest is history.) Obenshain had a pretty harsh voting record, however, often siding with the religious right extremists. That might have proved to be the decisive factor in this very close race.
I have updated the Politics in Virginia page with the November election results. I also spent a lot of time compiling the House of Delegates races, trying to find out how many of the races were really competitive. (Answer: not many.) More on that topic to come in January.
Campaign signs on Commerce Road in Staunton.
(Bitter) Sweet Briar adieu
NOTE: I haven't blogged at all about politics since last January. In part, that reflects my general pessimistic attitude that Republicans and/or conservatives are ready to face reality and begin making adjustments, but it's also a reflection of how little spare time I have had this past semester. I was teaching simultaneously at Central Virginia Community College and Sweet Briar College (the latter for one semester only), and it proved to be very exhausting. I don't regret it, though. I really enjoyed teaching at Sweet Briar again.
December 26, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Hawk watch: Up close & personal
Even though I was extremely busy with teaching duties this past fall semester, it happens that my drive home takes me right past where the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch takes place. So, I was able to put in a few hours most weeks helping the other observers keep track of raptor migration. The highlights for me were seeing a Merlins zoom past at eye level (in October, I believe), and seeing multiple Bald Eagles flying past high overhead. The following photos were not taken at the Hawk Watch, but they are worth displaying nonetheless.
Red-tailed Hawk, in Swoope, on October 5.
Bald Eagles, in Swoope, on November 17.
Christmas Bird Count
Ever since they moved the Christmas Bird Count in this area ahead by a week a few years ago, I haven't been able to participate in it. On the actual Christmas Day, however, I did a bit of bird watching, along with Jacqueline, and we saw some Hooded Mergansers at the DuPont Ponds in Waynesboro.
Hooded Mergansers, in Waynesboro, on December 25.
For many more bird photos, which I have been posting on this Web site and on Facebook for the past few months (blog or not), see the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
Where are the Monarchs?
One of the disturbing trends in nature this year has been the sharp decline in the population of Monarch butterflies. They usually migrate through our area in large numbers throughout September and early October, but this year there just weren't that many. For more on this, see learner.org.