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May 2004 Archives

May 31, 2004 MEMORIAL DAY: We usually "celebrate" this somber holiday by memorializing fallen soldiers, as Sunday's Doonesbury comic strip did for soldiers who have died in Iraq. The opening of the World War II memorial on the Washington Mall is a fitting tribute to the "Greatest Generation," but it may reinforce the unfortunate tendency to sentimentalize the past, thereby alienating ourselves from the shared harsh experiences that ought to bind us together. A recent Washington Post article shed light on the embarrassing ignorance about World War II on the part of today's school children. They know all about the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor -- no surprise there -- but are mostly in the dark about famous battles, leaders, or what it was all about. In my view, a good way for Americans to observe Memorial Day would be by remembering what was at stake in past wars, not making excuses for those who don't know or care about history.

Jacqueline and I went hiking yesterday in the Ramsey's Draft Wilderness Area, about 20 miles west of town. It was a pleasantly cool day, but the skies were mostly overcast, so it was hard to distinguish the colors of birds, especially those perched in treetops. We began at 2200 feet elevation, where Blackburnian warblers, parulas, and cedar waxwings abounded. Along the way uphill we saw black-throated green warblers, black and white warblers*, red-eyed vireos, a worm-eating warbler, and a scarlet tanager. Near the top we saw a brown creeper*, which usually are seen around here during winter but breed in northerly latitudes and higher elevations. In fact, I had not seen any of them all winter long, so this sighting was quite a surprise. Just as we reached the crest of the mountain ridge (3000 feet), we heard and then saw a ovenbird, singing at an ear-splitting decibel. The big highlight was seeing a male rose-breasted grosbeak* who was singing persistently, much like a vireo. Then a second male showed up, and the two engaged in a brief territorial dispute. Simply amazing; I figure I'm lucky if I see even one of these colorful birds during spring or fall migration season. Jacqueline saw a yellow-billed cuckoo, but I was fiddling with the video camera and missed it. Then we retraced our steps back downhill, getting repeat looks at several warblers. All in all, a very good day. *(Asterisks indicate first-of-season sightings.)

Wahoo-wa! Even though the second-seeded U.Va. Cavaliers baseball team lost two heart-breaking games in the ACC championships at Salem, Virginia, they will be hosting the NCAA regional tournament nonetheless. This is a tribute to their superb playing this year, and to their (nearly) new stadium, Davenport Field. See for details.

D.C. City Councilman Jacks Evans is pushing for quick legislation to authorize purchase of necessary land for a new ballpark at L'Enfant Plaza, but much opposition remains. See the Washington Post. Even though the Dulles site would be more convenient for me, I would still much prefer a stadium close by the incomparably scenic Potomac River -- even if it's on the northern side.

May 29, 2004 If I were a Republican partisan above all else, I would be gleefully cheered by Al Gore's hysterical speech condemning Bush administration policies. After all, how many fence-sitting Americans are going to be moved toward the Democratic side by such outrageous lunacy? But because I am not a 100% loyal partisan, my main reaction is to tremble at the thought that millions of Americans actually think like Gore. Once again, let me state that sincere dissent is not unpatriotic, even in war time. It's one thing to question motives and protest against the war, but it is quite another thing to call the entire operation in Iraq a deceptive sham. That comes perilously close to giving aid and comfort to the enemy, just when our nation ought to be uniting in the face of renewed threats of mass terrorism. Gore's demand that the entire national security team resign was likewise far too shrill to be taken seriously. Here's a scary thought: This man could have been our president! Perhaps he's just trying to make John Kerry look good by comparison.

Hysterical gestures aside, what about the legitimate points Gore was trying, so clumsily, to raise? Has Paul Wolfowitz lost what was left of his credibility? Probably. Should Don Rumsfeld take responsibility for the Abu Ghraib disgrace and go retire? Maybe. Is Condi Rice as effective in policy making as she was in the academic world? Probably not. What is virtually certain is that the situation in Iraq is far better than one would gather by listening to the mainstream news media. As President Bush's dead seriousness about the June 30 transfer of sovereignty becomes clear, the transition has shifted into high gear. Things will get increasingly chaotic in coming weeks, and the fact that the outcome is quite uncertain is actually a good thing, because it undercuts the suspicions of many that the U.S. government is just setting up a puppet government. Most Iraqi elites, both religious and secular, now realize that the ball is in their court, and if they don't get their act together soon, their country will be a mess for decades to come. President Bush is to be commended for persevering in the face of untoward criticism, and for creating the preconditions for a free -- and perhaps someday stable -- Iraq. It may not happen, but the potential rewards of a favorable outcome there would be truly enormous. Don't give up hope yet, O ye Americans of short attention span!

A new Big Red Machine? As the summer season swings into high gear, the latest baseball stadium page has just been completed: Great American Ballpark, home of the Cincinnati Reds. It has a lot of odd curves and angles, and thus took longer than usual to render. Its appearance here is quite timely, nevertheless, since the Reds have just taken sole possession of the National League Central Division, having swept the Houston Astros in what must have been a thrilling home stand. Meanwhile, the Cubs just dropped a double header in Pittsburgh.

The Braves and Phillies have split the first two game in their series at brand-new Citizens Bank Park. The broadcasts on TBS Superstation were the first real good look I've had at that stadium, and I'm more impressed all the time. Phil Faranda, a guy who has been visiting this site for quite a while, recently saw a game at the Phillies' new home and told me "they have done an absolutely incredible job there." I just may go there myself before long...

May 26, 2004 Yellow warbler I tried again to get photos of those yellow warblers on Bell's Lane this morning, but none came close enough. I was able to approach this male tree swallow guarding his next box, however. The increasing practice of building nest boxes for bluebirds in recent decades has paved the way for tree swallows to extend their breeding range southward, displacing many bluebirds in the process. I saw a few bluebirds too, but they are still scarcer than they were two years ago, probably due to West Nile Virus.

Venezuela is about to begin the process of verifying signatures on the long-delayed recall referendums -- one of which seeks to remove Hugo Chavez, and the other his opponents in Congress. An op-ed signed by Hugo Chavez himself appeared in today's Washington Post, along with an editorial that pretty much scoffs at Chavez's claims. He says he is ready and willing to allow the recall referendum to go ahead, as if all those months of heavy-handed obstructionism never happened:

To be frank, I hope that my opponents have gathered enough signatures to trigger a referendum, because I relish the opportunity to once again win the people's mandate.
But it is not up to me. To underscore my commitment to the rule of law, my supporters and I have publicly and repeatedly pledged to abide by the results of that transparent process, whatever the results may be.

"Rule of law"??? Coming from a former coup leader who has not hesitated to use force and intimidation against his opponents, such pious boasting is truly scary. So just what was the point the Post was trying to make by giving Chavez (or his ghostwriter) a platform? It would be interesting to see the negotiations involved whenever controversial political actors are given access to the op-ed page. More background on this lengthy dispute can be found at the Carter Center, which has been very active in seeking a pacific solution to the bitter standoff.

Nearly a thousand people have died from flooding in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. When such extreme death tolls occur in the Third World, however, it just doesn't seem to merit front page coverage in the American news media. It's that same veil of ignorance about what is happening in the rest of the world that contributes to our country's low prestige worldwide, and which makes teaching global issues courses so difficult.

May 25, 2004 Determination vs. disinformation. President Bush's speech last night at the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, PA (where I presented a paper on terrorism last fall) may have been a belated attempt to shore up support, but at least he made all the important necessary points. He left no doubt about the difficulties that lie ahead, and kept the focus on the long-term goal of denying terrorists a safe haven. While the President sometimes falls short in the eloquence department, his rock solid determination to prevail are exactly what we need in a leader right now. True, his proposals are "easier said than done," but it is precisely because the goal of a free Iraq is now within our grasp that terrorist violence has escalated in recent weeks. The transcript is available from the White House Web site. Here are the five steps outlined by the President:

  1. Transfer full sovereignty to a government of Iraqi citizens on June 30th
  2. Establish the stability and security necessary to hold elections
  3. Continue rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, leading to economic independence
  4. Enlist additional international support for Iraq's transition
  5. Hold free, national elections, no later than next January

Thanks to Glenn Reynold's Instapundit, I came across Jason Van Steenwyk's iraqnow blog, which calls to task the New York Times and other mainstream news sources for grossly misquoting Gen. Mattis, commander of the First Marine Division, in a news conference that focused on the recent U.S. attacks in western Iraq where a "wedding party" was underway. Otherwise minor lapses in journalistic standards become greatly magnified given the vital psychological aspect of this conflict. The BBC reports that the International Institute for Strategic Studies concludes that Al Qaeda has been "spurred on" by the U.S. campaign in Iraq, gaining new recruits and prestige in the Arab world. What did we expect, that the Arab world would be dancing in the streets after the fall of Baghdad? Unfortunately, it seems that many well-informed people are just not willing to face up to the nature of this global-scale war. It would have been easy to tiptoe around the sociopolitical malignancy that fosters terrorism, but President Bush decided, for better or worse, to resolve the matter once and for all. For anyone with a sense of history, the setbacks the U.S.-led Coalition has encountered in Iraq are part of the natural ebb and flow of war. As if that IISS report wasn't enough, Tom Clancy has hinted that he agrees with the co-author of his latest book, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, that the U.S. war in Iraq was a mistake. If the Superhawk himself indeed has pulled the "Eject" lever, the precipitous drop in public support might make this conflict start resembling Vietnam after all.

In Peru, army and police units are patrolling the town of Ilave, where the mayor was lynched by an angry mob in late April. It would appear that the discontent I witnessed in the protest in Cuzco in early March (see photo HERE) is real, deep, and widely felt. President Toledo's approval ratings have sunk into the single digits again, and the national mood seems to be despondent.

Ballpark at Dulles? Today's Washington Post has more details on the baseball stadium which would be the centerpiece of a planned resort development in Loudoun County. It would be located at the northeast corner of Dulles Airport, west of Herndon and south of Sterling. An abandoned stone quarry would be filled with water to create a recreational lake. The wheels of lobbyist action are revving up to full speed... Up in Montreal, meanwhile, attendance at Expos games this week has fallen to well below 5,000, and as viewed on TV it didn't even look like half that many were actually present.

Yellow warbler On Saturday we went for a walk/run along Bell's Lane and were greeted with a chorus of songs from yellow warblers (see regrettably blurry photo), willow flycatchers, and the always-abundant red-winged blackbirds. We saw one of the red-winged blackbirds chasing a raven, which I had never seen in the Shenandoah Valley before; they normally stay in the mountains. We also saw a green heron, for the first time this year. This morning I went for a bike ride and saw two of those yellow warblers again, plus two or three Baltimore orioles a mile or so away. I neglected to mention another interesting sighting from our hike on Friday: a wild turkey running across the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Today we got high-speed Internet service (from Adelphia) installed for the first time. Already I'm wondering how I ever survived without it. Stay tuned for major imminent changes to this Web site...

May 21, 2004 Scarlet tanager Today we took a hike to the top of Humpback Rocks, which overlooks the Blue Ridge Parkway about 20 miles southeast of Staunton. The mountain breezes were a refreshing break from the relentless heat and humidity we've had lately. It was the first time we took our Canon video camera along on a nature hike (other than at Machu Picchu, of course), and I'm glad we did. We were fairly lucky in getting great views of a variety of birds, of which the best by far was a male scarlet tanager. These bright red forest dwellers are surprisingly common, and you can hear them singing in just about any large thickly wooded area of Virginia. Their song is a buzzy repetitive melody, something like a robin or a vireo. Seeing them is another matter, however: They usually stay near the tops of trees, so I was extremely fortunate that this guy not only came so close to me (within 40 feet or so), but actually stayed put while I maneuvered into a better viewing angle. There were a few light patches among the red feathers, so I'm guessing he was a first-year male, not fully mature. Because of the low lighting conditions, this image was not as sharp as I would have liked.

Redstart (M) We also saw several American redstarts, which were singing almost everywhere we walked. (One of the males is pictured at the right.) We heard a pewee insistently whistling his plaintive song, and after several minutes of searching, I finally spotted him. A rather unusual sighting was a dark-eyed junco, which breed at higher elevations in Virginia and in northern latitudes, but are never seen in the lowlands between May and October. After we returned to the visitor center, I saw a Baltimore oriole from a distance, but the video image was quite poor. We also saw a pair of ravens (which were squawking loudly), a broad-winged hawk, a towhee, plus a couple indigo buntings and cedar waxwings. For the first time in years we heard a veery but did not see it; they are a member of the thrush family with an enchanting song that sounds like it is played through a long tube. We also heard some cerulean warblers, black-throated green warblers, and a (yellow-billed?) cuckoo. Just as we were headed home it started to rain...

The saga continues... Commissioner Selig elaborated on the reasons for his doubts about the Washington area's desirability as a new home city for the Expos franchise yesterday. According to the Washington Post, he "does not want to repeat baseball's past mistakes" by allowing a franchise relocation that adversely affects an existing franchise. As indicated elsewhere on this Web site, however, franchise relocations to metropolitan areas with existing franchises have only occurred four times: in 1902, 1903, 1954, and 1968. In the first two cases (St. Louis and New York), multiple teams coexisted for several decades. In the third case, the Baltimore Orioles may have diverted a small portion of the Washington-area fan base from the Senators, but that was hardly the main reason for the subsequent decisions of Clark Griffith (1961) and Bob Short (1972) to abandon D.C. The only such precedent that Selig can cite with some justification is when the Athletics moved to Oakland in 1968, taking some fans from the Giants across the Bay. One case is not enough to make an argument! The very real long-term problem of lagging attendance and television viewership in the baseball world has multiple causes, but it is certainly not a function of franchises crowding each others' turf. Interestingly, only one city has ever benefited from an MLB franchise relocation more than once: Milwaukee, which just happens to be Bud's home town! Hmmm... Obviously, he knows what he's talking about.

In spite of his qualms, Mr. Selig expressed confidence that the Expos will have a permanent home by the start of next season, saying "It's time to get this done." MLB officials supposedly expect a final decision on relocation by July. Of course, we've heard that song and dance before, over and over and over again, but this time Selig just may be serious. What's more, Northern Virginia is apparently on the verge of winning the franchise for next year, notwithstanding all the talk about Washington, or the barely plausible alternatives of Portland, Las Vegas, Norfolk, or Monterrey. As Jon Saraceno writes in USA Today,

When it comes to those cities, don't believe a word about their chances of landing the Montreal Expos. Baseball's smoke-and-mirrors strategy is designed for competitive bidding purposes.

Of course, we've heard that explanation before too: it's all just a ploy to leverage more public funding for a new stadium out of area taxpayers. What has changed the dynamics in recent weeks is the fact that the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority has worked out a plan to build a ballpark near Dulles Airport, most likely in Loudoun County. That is indeed a booming suburban area, and the fact that it is 20+ miles from downtown Washington would certainly make it more palatable to Peter Angelos. As Saraceno says, "Virginia has given MLB what it wants. Baseball has no better option." I'm not so sure, though: With gas prices soaring and no near-term prospect of mass transit to Dulles, attendance at such a far-out ballpark would be a very uncertain thing. I can remember going on bike rides in that area in the 1980s, back when it was full of bucolic pasturelands. The times are indeed a-changin'; are they changing that much?

So, this is a good opportunity to repeat my modest little proposal: Build a small-sized stadium (35,000 seats) in Northern Virginia while refurbishing RFK Stadium (with 45,000+ seats), and have the team alternate between home fields from one home stand to the next, for as many years as is mutually agreeable to the franchise owners and the respective local governments. That would attract the maximum number of fans from the Washington area and satsify all concerned parties -- if only the Commonwealth of Virginia and the District of Columbia could find a way to collaborate in their own mutual best interests!

May 20, 2004 Jacqueline found a beautiful tiny dead bird on her way to work yesterday, and she could tell from the colors and beak shape that it was a member of the warbler family. She called me and brought the poor thing's body home for me to examine. Indeed, it turned out to be a female common yellowthroat, and the absence of any wounds indicates that it was probably a victim of West Nile Virus. I called the local health department, and was told that they have found so many cases of that disease that they aren't even testing anymore. If you'd care to, take a look: HERE.

According to today's Washington Post, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has reverted to his old worries about a Washington-area team cutting into the revenues of the Baltimore Orioles, owned by Bud's pal Peter Angelos. Come on, Bud, we've been through all that! Quit stalling and just make a deal! Recent news on this matter had been pretty upbeat, but when you look at all the folks on the Relocation Committee who are connected in various ways to past "stadium swindles," the odds would seem heavily stacked against Washington.

May 19, 2004 WMDs: confirmed at last. Iraqi insurgents recently tried to use an artillery shell containing the nerve gas sarin in an attack on U.S. forces in Baghdad. Fortunately, it was discovered in time, but it detonated before it could be disarmed, and two U.S. soldiers had to be treated for exposure. This comes on the heels of other recent reports of chemical weapons related equipment in Iraq, but the mainstream press has been largely silent on the matter. The story was on page A14 of the Washington Post yesterday. Just what does this prove? It's too early to say for sure. The shell could have been part of a hidden stockpile, or it could have been just a loose "stray." Whoever planted it might not have even known that it was a chemical weapon. Properly used, however, such a weapon could kill hundreds of people, and there must be hundreds of terrorists in Iraq with sufficient training to use it effectively. At the very least, no one can doubt any longer that Saddam Hussein did in fact possess weapons of mass destruction, contrary to what his government claimed to U.N. inspectors. Will such concrete evidence help narrow the sharp division of opinion among American people regarding the war in Iraq?

The Pentagon announced that the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division will be tranferred from South Korea to Iraq this summer, further evidence of the dangerous overextension of U.S. military forces worldwide. Meanwhile, tensions between China and Taiwan are heating up again as pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian prepares for his second inauguration. The United States is obviously in no position to do very much to protect either South Korea or Taiwan from a surprise attack at this point.

Everyone's favorite no-nonsense military and security affairs columnist Austin Bay has been called up to active duty again, and will be shipping off to Iraq very soon. Read his parting thoughts (titled "Everyone is Part of the War") at: It's a good tonic for those who are discouraged by the recent upsurge in violence in Iraq.

JUST PERFECT! Randy Johnson's perfect game in Atlanta last night was the first such feat since David Cone did so for the Yankees five years ago. Depending on how you count the various asterisks, this could be considered anywhere from the 15th to the 19th perfect game in Major League history. Thanks to TBS Superstation, millions of fans nationwide got to see this momentous event live on TV. Atlanta fans showed real class by cheering him on during the extremely tense ninth inning, as the home team lost 2-0. Hooray for forty-somethings!

The Braves are clearly hurting all over, having dropped to fourth place in the NL East. MRI tests revealed that Rafael Furcal has a bruised bone in his throwing arm, while Marcus Giles broke his collar bone and suffered a serious concussion after colliding full-speed with Andruw Jones while chasing a short fly ball over the weekend. Speaking of injuries, Sammy Sosa somehow sprained his back while sneezing in Chicago, and will be out for a while. Fellow Cub Mark Prior and Red Sock Nomar Garciaparra have been on the disabled list since spring training, and yet their teams have been at or near the tops in their divisions. As for the Yankees, Derek Jeter is still slowly recovering from the injury he suffered in early April.

In preparation for this year's All Star Game in Houston, the Minute Maid Park page has been updated and now has a "dynamic diagram" that shows how the roof opens. Other retractable-roof stadium diagrams yet to be updated in this fashion: Safeco Field, Skydome, and Olympic Stadium.

The MLB Relocation Committee met again today, discussing the latest stadium financing offer from D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams. As today's Washington Post indicates, however, Williams will be hard pressed to get the D.C. City Council to pass the necessary funding measures. The article also included a map of the proposed Waterfront stadium site, which is two blocks further east than I had previously thought. The entire grandstand on the third base side would rest on a platform on top of I-395, the Southwest Freeway. The brick-paved L'Enfant Plaza promenade would lead right to the stadium, which would be a perfect link between the Mall, the Waterfront restaurants, and the residential district just to the east. The problem is that the diamond would point toward the southeast, AWAY from the Washington Monument. Why in the world wouldn't they take advantage of such a spectacular scenic backdrop???

UPDATE: I just got back from a quick evening walk along Bell's Lane just outside of Staunton, and was well rewarded. I got great close-up views of two yellow warblers* (male & female), plus a female redstart*, a willow flycatcher*, two kingbirds, a red-bellied woodpecker, a meadowlark, and an indigo bunting, among others. They were all very vocal, seemingly exhuberant in the wake of an afternoon rainshower, and the first three (marked with asterisks) were the first ones of the season I've seen. For the past three days we've been hearing blockpoll warblers singing ("tseet, tseet, tseet, TSEET, TSEET") around our apartment, and I caught a glimpse of them a couple times.

May 16, 2004 BIG SPRING DAY! Yesterday I participated in the annual "Big Spring Day" bird survey with the Augusta Bird Club, spending most of my time in the highland forests of western Augusta County. I heard or saw 243 birds, including 44 species altogether. The highlights were several scarlet tanagers, northern parulas, and Blackburnian warblers, all for the first time this year. I was surprised by how many great crested flycatchers I heard and saw, and was amazed that none of the many blue-gray gnatcatchers I heard popped into view. One big surprise was seeing two yellow-rumped warblers (both male) I saw on near the top of Betsy Bell Hill, a Staunton landmark. Just as dusk was about to fall, I saw a nighthawk fluttering about, likewise the first of the season. For full details, see the Wild birds page.

Early Friday morning I saw a common yellowthroat, for the first time this season, as well as a great crested flycatcher. John just sent me a superb close-up photo of a Sharp-tailed grouse that he recently took near Fort Pierre, SD. While colorful, this image doesn't even begin to show the fine detail on the image he sent me, which was actually the maximum reduction he could get with Adobe Photoshop. His new Canon Digital Rebel must be extremely good.

May 14, 2004 School's out for summer! If Alice Cooper had only known that teachers feel an even greater sense of relief this time of year than students do. Not that I'm complaining, mind you; it was a great year at JMU.

May 8, 2004Dr. Andrew Saturday Night Live's takeoff of the final scene from "Friends" but with Rumsfeld and "W" playing the romantic roles of Rachel and Ross was a classic!

Jacqueline and I headed up to Harrisonburg to attend commencement exercises at James Madison University. The weather was truly spectacular but the traffic around the campus was atrocious. Dr. Tony Eksterowicz, a true scholar and gentleman in the Political Science Department (who happens to be a fellow bird watcher!), spoke to the Humanities and Social Sciences ceremony. Among my students who have graduated are: Erin Magnor (cum laude), Katrina Webster, Brian Hurley, Rachel Rupright, Leigh Gurke, Chris Newton, and Thanh Dang. They are a fine group of scholars and deserve hearty congratulations.

Most recent iTunes downloads from Apple: "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow," a guitar and tenor harmony bluegrass song by the The Soggy Bottom Boys, and "I'll Fly Away," a gentler mandolin-centered bluegrass tune by Alison Krauss & Gillian Welch. Both were from the soundtrack album of the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, starring George Clooney. I had read great reviews of it but never saw it until it aired on TBS a month ago. As with Raising Arizona, Fargo, and other movies by the Coen brothers, it was utterly hilarious and yet thought-provoking.

May 7, 2004 "Friends" has a special place in our hearts, since it began airing not long after our wedding, (almost) ten wonderful years ago. The final episode on NBC last night was not really surprising, since there was really no other way to resolve the Ross-and-Rachel tension that was a central theme since the very beginning. Happily ever after! Even though the characters on "Friends" were all caricatures of neurotic urbanites, they were also very real and compelling, a tribute to their acting skills AND the scriptwriting. As a result, in spite of the implausible premise of entry-level employees being able to afford spacious, well-furnished apartments in midtown Manhattan, their little social circle seemed very real. (As they were vacating their empty apartment at the end, I was amused when Chandler credited New York's rent control laws, perhaps the most egregious and unjustifiable middle class entitlements ever devised.) How will the spinoff series "Joey" do next fall? I'm skeptical, but we'll see. The other sitcom we watch with some regularity, "Frasier" -- which is itself a spinoff of "Cheers" -- ends next week. So much for the highbrow prime time viewer segment...