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April 2008
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April 1, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nationals lead the majors

What an appropriate headline for April Fool's Day! Well, believe it or not, sports fans, it's true! The Washington Nationals are currently the only team in the majors with a 2-0 record, but since they are off tonight, it's likely that there will be other teams with perfect records by this evening. Last night's game in Philadelphia was almost as thrilling as the Opening Night game against the Braves in D.C. on Sunday. This time it was tied 6-6 going into the ninth, and then the Nats unleashed a torrent of doubles, scoring five runs altogether, thus winning the game, 11-6. Some will recall that the Phillies beat the Nats in their first-ever game (April 3, 2005 -- and I was there), and then the Nats came back to win the next two games in the series.

The superior batting, fielding, and base-running performance by Nick Johnson in the first two games is very encouraging for the team's prospects this year. Dare we dream of a post-season bid???

The mail bag

Another news item from Mike Zurawski: The economic slowdown has put the brakes on the planned "Ballpark Village" next to the new Busch Stadium (III) in St. Louis. See

April 1, 2008 [LINK / comment]

And now, a message from the "grassroots"...


Victory in Iraq

(but don't raise my taxes to pay for it!)

Have a "patriotic" April Fool's Day, everyone!

big smile

Well, sometimes it takes satirical humor to make a serious point. In this case, it seems to me that many of those who are gung-ho on the war against Islamic-inspired terrorism are a little weak-kneed when it comes for asking their fellow citizens to shoulder the burden. That, I'm afraid, is one of President Bush's biggest failures. This country's financial system is every bit as important in preserving national security as our armed forces and intelligence services are. Yet the declining value of the U.S. dollar, stemming largely from the growing trade gap, the budget deficit, and the recent mortgage crisis (especially the buyout of Bear Stearns by J.P. Morgan), highlights our nation's growing vulnerability to foreign pressure, making us less secure. On the personal level as well as in the Federal government, getting used to borrowing money for things we should be paying for up front is putting us in a dangerous predicament.

It is clear that the huge financial cost of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan (which I support, in general) is starting to cause "collateral damage" on the home front. Indeed, the days of living the easy life with dangerously high debt ratios may soon be coming to an end. Then we will learn what "tightening our belts" really means: victory gardens, scrap metal recycling drives, and maybe even rationing certain commodities like they did during World War II. "We can do it!"

Whatever one thinks about the strategic wisdom of the war, it should be clear to all that we cannot ultimately prevail over our enemies unless our armed forces are given enough financial, human, and material resources to WIN THE WAR. Putting up patriotic yard signs is a nice gesture, but is grossly inadequate for the enormous magnitude of the struggle that we face. Accordingly, I would suggest that folks who consider themselves to be true patriots consider donating the bulk of their "economic stimulus" handout from Uncle Sam to some charitable cause or causes in support of our troops.

United we stand.

Let us also remember that no party has a monopoly on patriotism, no party has a monopoly on religious faith, and no party has a monopoly on moral virtue. If we really want to "Take the politics out of this war" and unify this country, we on the Republican side had better stop slamming the opposition party in toto, lest we lose some potential (moderate) allies on the other side of the aisle. "Get it?"

April 1, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Balmy spring day

March may have gone out like a lion, on the frigid side, at least, but April came in like a lamb, with warm summer breezes. Actually, it was pretty windy for a while. I went for a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad late this afternoon, and heard many Cardinals singing, along with other birds. I saw my first Phoebe of the season, as well as a Golden-crowned kinglet (F), and a Brown creeper. I also heard a Towhee.

Out back this evening I saw the first bat of the season, swooping just a little too close for comfort, so I went back inside.

April 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nationals cruise, hit a bump

Until the [sixth] inning today, the Washington Nationals were in dominant form, heading confidently toward their fourth straight win to open the 2008 season. Cristian Guzman led off the first inning with a double, and a five-run rally ensued. With a comfortable cushion, Jason Bergman held the Phillies to only one run for the first five innings. After the Phillies started to connect with the ball in the sixth inning he was taken out, whereupon the bullpen promptly collapsed as the Phillies scored six runs. The Nats evened it up in the eighth, and let slip a chance to take the lead in the ninth. In the tenth inning, Jesus Colome was obliged to intentionally walk Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, loading the bases, and then he walked in Jayson Werth on four straight pitches. D'oh!! And so the Nats lost their first game of the season. Well, at least they are still in first place!

Nationals Park tweak

I've seen enough photos [e.g., -- thanks, Mike Z.] of the Opening Day Night game at Nationals Park to see that a few minor adjustments were needed, so I took care of that. The high-priced seating sections behind home plate and around center field ("Red Porch," etc.) were the most notable changes.

Booing the Prez

Reluctantly, I bring up the disrespectful attitude of some fans toward our Chief Executive as he threw out the first pitch in Washington on Sunday night. Love him or hate him, he is our president, and happy occasions such as Opening Night should be off limits to political nastiness. For some reason, this incident elicited a blase "so what" attitude from many opinion-makers, including the editorialists of our local paper, the News Leader, who seemed to suggest that he deserved it. What!??? A letter to the editor in the Washington Post likewise asserted that booing is a fundamental right, saying that "respect had to be earned." How utterly inane and beside the point. Of course we have the "right" to boo, just as we have the "right" to be obnoxious in other ways. But why anyone would waste their breath making excuses for such behavior is beyond me.

April 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Spring comes and goes

Yesterday we had a veritable heat wave, with clear blue skies to boot, and I spent a little time enjoying the outdoors at Sweet Briar College. Today, however, it turned overcast and chilly, and sleet even fell for a while. MEMO TO MOTHER NATURE: Make up your mind!

Crabapple bloom SBC

Ornamental crabapple tree in full bloom at Sweet Briar College.

April 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Argentine farm strike is lifted

Farmers in Argentina temporarily halted the strike they began three weeks ago as a protest against recent tax hikes on exports of agricultural commodities. Those measures were part of the government's anti-inflation program. The showdown is not over, however, as the farm leaders say that have only suspended the strike for a "truce." Taxes on exports of soybeans, for example, have been raised to as much as 45 percent. In a speech to 20,000 people gathered to show support for her, she warned that the last time Argentina faced widespread food shortages was in 1976 -- the year that the last female president of Argenina, Isabela Peron, was overthrown by a military coup. See CNN.

Using such alarmist rhetoric, it seems that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who was inaugurated just last October, must be in serious trouble. Somehow her husband, Nestor Kirchner, who preceded her as president, managed to evade the consequences of his rather irresponsible economic policies, defying foreign banks and the IMF, while encouraging the Argentine people to live it up in the wake of Argentina's default on its foreign debt. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost.

Taxes on exports are often a convenient revenue-raising measure for governments that lack the administrative capacity to collect taxes on income or retail purchases. Argentina does not fit that description, however. Export taxes have a perverse effect on the economy, moreover: They curtail total export value, because foreign consumers are forced to pay a higher price for the goods, and the result is an unfavorable shift in the balance of payments. Ordinarily that means greater pressure on a country to devalue its currency (assuming it has a fixed exchange rate), which leads to increased inflation. The logic of what the Fernandez government is trying to do escapes me.

Uribe rebukes Obama

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe criticized Barack Obama for opposing the pending U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement. See AP / Google News; via InstaPundit. Obama apparently thinks that the United States can dictate terms to countries that fall short of our high standards, not realizing what the awful consequences would be if we turn our backs on solid allies such as Colombia. If the United States gives up on Colombia just as the Uribe government has the FARC rebels on the ropes after all these years of bitter struggle, we will have made one of the biggest strategic blunders in recent diplomatic history.

April 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Early season oddities

For the third game in a row, the Washington Nationals wasted multiple run-scoring opportunities and finished the game one run behind their opponent. Today and yesterday it was Cards 5, Nats 4. Well, they won two of their first three games by one run, so I guess that's expected. Baseball is a game of inches, and most games could go either way. An amazing defensive play in today's game by second-baseman Adam Kennedy put cold water on what would have been a big rally by the Nats. Ryan Zimmerman finally started getting hits (aside from his two game-winning homers) today, and Nick Johnson hit his first home run since he broke his leg in September 2006. Second-string catcher Jesus Flores hit a homer in the ninth inning, while first-stringer Paul Lo Duca has yet to live up to his reputation. Maybe his arm is still weak.

Even with three straight losses, the Nats somehow remain tied for first place in the NL East, but all five teams are bunched together. The AL East standings appear "upside down," meanwhile, with the "diabolical" Tampa Bay Rays at the top and the Yanks in last place. In the AL Central, Detroit has yet to win a game this season, after getting swept by Kansas City, to everyone's surprise. Acquiring high-priced stars Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera from the Marlins has not paid off yet, but the season has barely begun, so let's reserve judgment.

Cleveland photos

I've added four photos of "Progressive Field" (formerly known as "Jacobs Field") that were sent to me by Mike Hoecker. I really appreciate fans who submit photos.

April 6, 2008 [LINK / comment]

More Nationals Park tweaks

Nationals Park

Anyone who bought today's Washington Post in 7-11s or certain other stores got a free glossy color poster of the first pitch thrown at Nationals Park on March 30. It is just like the poster of RFK Stadium they gave out after the first Nationals home game in April 2005. They will probably have more copies of the poster to go with next Sunday's paper as well. Based on it, and further scrutiny of other photos, I've made a few more corrections to the Nationals Park diagram. I just realized for the first time that the "bend" in the fence near the foul line is bigger and closer to the infield on the first base side than on the third base side. That is an element of asymmetry I had not appreciated before. Also, the huge baseball that was on top of the Red Porch restaurant just left of center field is no longer there. Weird.

Cards sweep Nats

The Nationals were shut out for the first time this year, losing the third and final game of their series in St. Louis. They got several hits, but just couldn't capitalize on any of them with a rally. After allowing a run in the [bottom] of the first, John Lannan settled down and pitched 6 2/3 superb innings, giving up only one more run. Even though the Nationals have fallen below .500 after an impressive three straight wins to start the season, let's keep things in perspective: Of their first seven games they played in the past three years, they had won three, two, and one game, in that order. They have every reason to expect to do much better this year than in 2006 or 2007, and should strive to beat their 81-81 record of their inaugural year in Washington, 2005.

Angry hawk in Boston

UDPATE: A Red-tailed hawk that had built its nest on the roof at Fenway Park attacked a girl who was taking a tour of the old ballpark, necessitating a trip to the hospital. The nest and the egg were later moved elsewhere. The incident reminds one of the Alfred Hitchcock horror movie The Birds. What could have prompted such bizarre aggressive behavior? Well, the girl's name is Alexa Rodriguez. See; hat tip to David Pinto. Believe it ... or not!!! Could this mean an alliance between Red-tailed hawks and the Red Sox?

April 6, 2008 [LINK / comment]

R.I.P. David Newsom

David Newsom, former undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Carter administration, died at the University of Virginia hospital on March 30. He was 90 years old. As the Washington Post obituary reported, he played a key role during the Iran hostage crisis, and in the Mariel boatlift from Cuba, both of which happened in 1980. That was an extremely difficult moment in U.S. diplomatic history, as the Soviet Red Army was occupying Afghanistan and America's global prestige plummeted. It must have been very stressful to serve in a high diplomatic position at that time. Newsom earned a reputation for being a very skillful problem solver. After retiring in 1981, he became director of Georgetown University's diplomatic studies program. In the 1990s he served for several years as the "ambassador in residence" in U.Va.'s Department of Government and Foreign Affairs.

I only talked to him a few times while I was in graduate school at U.Va., but I remember very well his advice to those of us who were preparing to take the Foreign Service oral exam: The State Department wants "no bullies and no wimps."

Superdelegate watch

As Hillary Clinton battles on against Barack Obama in spite of ever-increasing odds, the pressure builds on the elected officials and other Democratic honchos who will pick their party's nominee this summer. The new Uncommitted Superdelegates blog is a great way to monitor the situation on the Democratic side. Hat tip to X Curmudgeon.

Child labor humor?

The best satire is that which is almost believable. The idea that The Gap would sell a line of clothing made "For Kids By Kids" is not beyond the realm of possibility. Watch the video news clip from Onion News Network; hat tip to Stacey Morris.

April 7, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Clinton campaign aide quits

Mark Penn, the lead strategist and pollster for Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign, resigned after it was learned last week that he met with Colombia's ambassador to the United States. Sen. Clinton is against the proposed free trade agreement with Colombia, putting him in an awkward position because his lobbying / PR firm Burson-Marsteller was retained by the Colombian government last year, for the express purpose of promoting U.S.-Colombian free trade! The Washington Post reports that he had created friction within the Clinton camp because of his personality, but it's really a question of fundamental policy choices. With his rhetorical and semantic wizardry, Bill Clinton could always manage to pander to his party's base without doing too much damage to U.S. national interests, but Hillary just doesn't have the same knack for double-speak as he does. People loved Bill even though they knew he was lying to their face, because he was so good at it, but Hillary doesn't enjoy that degree of rapport with Democratic voters. And so, without a clear vision of where she wants to take America, her campaign organization steadily crumbles...

"Punished with a baby"??

On Laura Ingraham's radio show this morning, I heard a voice that sounded like Barack Obama saying that he wouldn't want his daughters to be "punished with a baby" if they were to make the mistake of getting pregnant out of wedlock. I could hardly believe it, but it's true. See Washington Times, via Prairie Pundit. The idea that a having baby is something bad or to be avoided -- What an awful thing to say, and to think!

April 8, 2008 [LINK / comment]

More Wrigley Field tweaks

Based on a tip from Mike Zurawski, I have made some minor modifications to the Wrigley Field diagrams, mainly on the third base side where the new "CBOE" seating section is located. I noticed from Bleed Cubbie Blue that since the resodding was done over the winter, the infield dirt area is now conventionally shaped.

Also from Mike: The Red Sox (in last place!) open their first home series at Fenway Park this year with the new "Coca-Cola Corner" upper deck section. The "Bleacher Bar" ground-level restaurant in center field will open in May, after which the maximum capacity will be 39,928. See . You know what this means: still more diagram "tweaks." (Groan...)

Back home again

The return of the Washington Nationals to their brand-spanking new home failed to boost their playing success last night. Somehow Tim Redding lost the superb control he showed against the Phillies last week, and the Marlins kept batting the ball out of the park. The Nats made several comeback attempts, but kept wasting run-scoring opportunities. Final score: 10-7.

Bonds reprieve?

The Giants have put a small banner in honor of Barry Bonds on the right field wall at AT&T Park. Well, they can't erase history. See

April 8, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Chavez nationalizes cement

President-for-life Hugo Chavez has decreed that Venezuela's cement industry, most of which is foreign-owned, will be nationalized immediately. He justified this move on the grounds that there is a shortage of building materials for people of modest means, but this shows that his radical populist policies are beginning to cause major distortions in the Venezuelan economy. This abrupt move has sparked a dispute over respect for property rights with the Mexican government, since the Mexican company Cemex controls almost half of the Venezuelan market. See BBC.

In 1938, ironically, the government of Mexico nationalized the petroleum industry, most of which had been owned by U.S. companies. It's perhaps a sign of Mexico's great economic progress over the past 20 years that it now takes the side of responsible private businesses, rather than pandering to the (often-gullible) impoverished masses.

April 8, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Chipping sparrows arrive

I heard some Chipping sparrows for the first time this spring a few days ago, and after the sun finally came out this afternoon, one appeared at our feeder, the first I have seen. Fortunately, it stayed put while a took a picture:

Chipping Sparrow

Not much else to report. Where are the swallows??? The recent gloomy weather has made it hard to do any serious birding walks. I did see a Kingfisher perched on a wire along Route 29 on Monday, a rather odd location, I thought.

April 10, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Free Lori Berenson? No way!

From the department of political correctness: Left-wing activists have launched a campaign to free convicted terrorist supporter Lori Berenson from prison in Peru: see** Ms. Berenson is an American citizen who was tried, convicted, and sentenced in 1996, and later retried and reconvicted after complaints were lodged about the judicial proceedings in the first trial. Some people, such as her parents, claim that she was an innocent dupe of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA, the lesser-known of the two main terrorist organizations in Peru), but she lived with those people for several months, and she had to have known. In the courtroom, Ms. Berenson loudly proclaimed her allegiance to the MRTA cause, and she got what she deserved. Anyone who argues in defense of Ms. Berenson is, wittingly or not, abetting the cause of international terrorism.

** I learned of that Web site from Rick Howell, who is clearly sympathetic to Ms. Berenson. All I can say is that the vast majority of Peruvians with whom I have talked, elites as well as common people, are not at all sympathetic to the misguided American woman.

As background on this case, this excerpt from Chapter 8 of my dissertation (footnotes excluded) describes Ms. Berenson's involvement with the MRTA, and a subsequent dramatic episode:

Unlike Sendero Luminoso, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) held out well into Fujimori's second term, partly because it was more astute in international politics. In November 1995, police were tipped off about a plot to bomb the Peruvian Congress, and a gun battle erupted at a house in the La Molina suburb east of Lima where a large arms cache was found. The woman renting the house, a young American named Lori Berenson, was arrested, found guilty of treason in a military court, and sentenced to life in prison, giving rise to another international human rights issue nagging Peru. In a desperate bid to stave off defeat, the MRTA carried out a stunning seizure of the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima in December 1996. Its leader Nestor Cerpa demanded the release of jailed MRTA members (including Berenson) as a condition for freeing the hostages, which included Foreign Minister Tudela. After four months of mediation efforts, government commandos launched a nearly perfect rescue operation in April 1997. It was another political triumph for Fujimori, but some criticized the way he took advantage of the bloody episode.

While visiting Lima in February 1997, I stopped at the scene of the hostage crisis to take a picture camera, in which you can see soldiers guarding the perimeter and television journalists on a rooftop. Actually, I had to request permission to pass through an outer perimeter of guards to get that close, and it was still a half block away.

April 10, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Augusta County GOP: Decision 2008

This evening's Augusta County Republican mass meeting promises to be very interesting. (See today's News Leader.) Five people have filed to challenge incumbent chairman, Kurt Michael: Sharon Hanger, David Beyeler, Larry Roller, Steve Kijak, and Vickie Parkinson. My understanding is that Dr. Roller will emerge as the sole alternative to Dr. Michael and the status quo of bitter acrimony within the party that he has brought about over the past two years.

The transcendental question in all this is:

Is Kurt Michael divisive?

SWAC Girl says no, and in a letter to the editor SWAC Husband heartily concurs.

So does the Daily Whack Job, though from a slightly different perspective. Well, one off-the-wall parody begets another one. smile What's my answer to that question of whether Kurt Michael is divisive?

Is the Pope Catholic?

Do bears (defecate) in the woods?

Are puppy dogs cute?

I think what Barry Goldwater said in his 1964 presidential nomination acceptance speech in San Francisco sums it up pretty well:

Fellow Republicans, it is the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power, private or public, which enforce such conformity and inflict such despotism.

April 11, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Dr. Roller wins in a landslide (?)

Thursday night's Augusta County Republican mass meeting was a real circus, from start to finish. (Actually, the adjournment itself was disputed, and for all I know the losing side may still be in there, doing who knows what.) It was quite a contrast to the dignified way that the Staunton Republican mass meeting unfolded on March 29.

I could tell from the beginning that there would be trouble. Unlike the Staunton GOP mass meeting, which was chaired by a more-or-less neutral outside person (Andy Ashby of Bath County), Kurt Chairman tried mightily to retain control over the proceedings. He lost his bid to Jim Bailey, a Republican who used to serve on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors (BOS). Bailey got off to a difficult start as Kurt and others on his side raised several objections, and I grew quite uncomfortable as they whooped and hollered. Well, he sure does "energize the base."

Aug Co GOP mass mtg 2008

The big dispute came when it was moved to revert to the Party Plan and bylaws rather than the rules that had been approved at the prior Augusta County GOP Committee meeting. (It wasn't until later in the evening that I learned what that fuss was all about. Phil Lynch, a.k.a. "Yankee Philip" told me (if I understand correctly) that his side wanted to have each magisterial district vote separately, weighted in proportion to the number of registered voters. Instead, it was a one-person-one-vote setup, countywide, regardless of district. Phil seemed to think that it mattered that the chairs of five of the seven districts were pro-Sayre people, as if the members of those districts were going to take orders from their respective district chairs. That's not a very democratic way of looking at it, but I guess democracy is not necessarily the highest virtue for some Republicans.) It took forever to get all the procedural issues resolved. The Rules Committee had to retire from the chambers for a second time to get certain things straight. At about 9:32 P.M. Lynn Mitchell, who was standing a few feet away from me, made a call on her cell phone: "Dan? ... They're voting us out of office. ..."

Next came time for the candidates to speak. As expected, four of the declared candidates withdrew and threw their support for Dr. Larry Roller, a retired college professor and long-time Republican Party activist. First, Steve Kijak, then David Beyeler, then Sharon Hanger, and then Vickie Parkinson. Then Dr. Roller used their allotted time, speaking for over 20 minutes about the friendly way things used to be, and about how pleased he and others were when the "young bloods" such as Kurt Michael joined the party a few years ago. Then things turned sour about two years ago, when Lynn and Kurt started manipulating meetings, reducing the frequency from monthly to quarterly (I remember that episode, and the dubious explanation for it), and withholding information from other party members. Clearly, something was gravely amiss. Dr. Roller stressed that he only wanted to serve the party and bring it together, echoing the main theme of my speech on March 29. He was a true class act.

Larry Roller

Dr. Larry Roller, the winner by a landslide. In the background is Chris Green, who was nominated by Jim Bailey to serve as Temporary Secretary.

Then Dr. Kurt Michael spoke, and it was the Main Event of the evening. Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! Kurt left the podium, and walked up and down the center aisle in the middle of the audience, almost reminding me of the Jerry Springer show. He told people about his strong support of the Marriage Amendment, Weekday Religious Education, etc. He too talked about the need to unify the party, but he did not respond to the complaints about his tenure that Dr. Roller had raised. Mr. Bailey said that Kurt could have as much time as Dr. Roller had had, but Kurt finished his speech within 5-7 minutes or so.

Kurt Michael

Dr. Kurt Michael, the second-place winner. In the background are two members of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors: David Beyeler and (in striped shirt) Larry Howdyshell.

Next came the balloting procedure, which took a long time to get straight. Finally, they called out the names, and one by one the participants walked forward to drop their ballots in the box. While the votes were being counted, Congressman Bob Goodlatte talked for a few minutes about the need to stay united, emphasizing that "we are all Republicans in here." Delegate Ben Cline spoke a few words as well.

Some time around 10:00 the vote counters returned to the room, and the results were announced. All along I had been expecting a tight race, but in the end, it wasn't even close: Larry Roller 141, Kurt Michael 103. With 58% of the vote, it might not be considered a landslide, but it was still pretty decisive.

What happened next will be argued about for years to come. Right after Dr. Roller was declared the victor, Tom Nelson, one of the tellers who counted the votes, registered his objection to the propriety of the election. As grumbles grew louder, Jim Bailey declared that the mass meeting was adjourned sine die (that means without setting a future date, for you folks in Rio Linda). Kurt Michael then loudly objected, and as people started filing out of the room, he declared unilaterally that he was taking over the meeting. (Now there's a take-charge kinda guy!)

On strictly procedural grounds, I would agree that the meeting was not properly adjourned. After all, the very same thing happened in the Staunton Republican meeting last May (scroll down), when amidst an uproar, Chairwoman Anne Taetzsch declared adjournment without taking a vote.* But as I wrote last June with respect to the ugly aftermath of the Hanger-Sayre race, "There are proper ways of handling disputed elections, and creating a public scandal is not one of them." Well, folks, we've got one doozy of a scandal now!

* I pointed out this obvious parallel to Mr. Michael, Ms. Mitchell, and Ms. Taetzsch, but none of them acknowledged the similarity. Lynn said, "You mean the meeting without a quorum?" and walked away. She should know better than that: Our records clearly indicate that we had a quorum at the March and May meetings last year, and on the latter occasion I declared that to be the case to a packed room when I was serving as secretary sitting next to Ms. Taetzsch. No one said otherwise, because it would have been a ridiculous claim to make.

On the equally-important substantive grounds, however, it became crystal clear which of the two candidates would really live up to the widely-agreed-upon goal of unifying the party: Dr. Roller. He is a decent and capable man, and I heartily congratulate him for having the guts to stand up in defense of the Party of Lincoln and Reagan.

As more and more people left the room in confusion, I told Congressman Goodlatte that the elected officials should huddle and exert their influence to resolve matters in a mutually-agreeable way, but he didn't want to get involved. I guess I can't blame him.

At 10:30 or so Kurt Michael walked up to David Beyeler and, in his inimitable sneer, called the Augusta County Supervisor "a clown." I took exception to that remark as being inconsistent with the goal of party unity. Mrs. Beyeler was sitting right there, and I can imagine how mortified she must have felt. (It was a pleasure to meet her for the first time, even if it was in trying circumstances.)

After that, I went over to talk to Scott Sayre to see what we could do to reunify the party in the wake of this fiasco. Then I asked Tom Nelson, one of the tellers who counted the votes, what the basis of his objection to the validity of the election was. All he said was that he wanted the objection to be on the record, but he could not give me any specific reason.

While the rump session was proceeding to hold a second election, I chatted with a number of folks outside, including some I hadn't talked to in over a year, and it was clear that even folks whom I considered to be on "the other side" of the GOP were dismayed at what was taking place. They could all see, at long last, what terrible damage he was wreaking to party unity. There is no way on God's green earth that any reasonable person could consider a second vote without broad consent to be valid, so I assume they were just going through the motions in preparation for filing a grievance later on. Some time around 11:00 I went home.

Going out with class (war)?

I don't mean to brag (OK, I do), but I think it is worthwhile and instructive to point out the clear difference in the way that the losing candidate from the recent Staunton GOP mass meeting (moi) handled defeat to the way the losing candidate from the Augusta County GOP mass meeting did. If our side had really wanted to make a stink about it, we could have raised all sorts of procedural objections. In our view, the damage that would have done to the party's image far outweighed any benefit we might have gained. But for some people, ego gratification is everything, and damn the consequences to other people or to the public interest. We all knew that Kurt would go out kicking and screaming like a moonbat, and that's just what happened. "We wuz robbed!" As far as losers go, Kurt Michael makes Al Gore look like Wendell Willkie.

Some party! Some unity!

Now you might think that a 141-103 margin is a decisive outcome, but you wouldn't be a die-hard "SWAC Job." As John Belushi said in Animal House, "Was it over after the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? NO! It's not over!" (Or something like that.) And so, this result will make Republicans look even sillier than before, and the dispute will no doubt be taken up at the Sixth District Republican Convention early next month.

The way the meeting transpired is deeply regrettable, but it's not the end of the world. A quote from Winston Churchill is perhaps appropriate:

Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

NOTE: This account of the evening's events is truthful and as complete as I can make it for now. It is only a "first draft" of history. After I have time to go over the audio and video recordings I made of the mass meeting, I may make a few clarifications or corrections to the sequence of events. I expect to post a YouTube video by Friday evening, possibly with a separate audio clip or two.

April 12, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nats set record losing streak

I suppose the high hopes fostered by the initial three wins this season were bound to get a reality check sooner or later, but does it have to get this ugly??? After the 10-2 thrashing at the hands of the Braves today, the Washington Nationals have now lost nine games in a row, setting a club record for the longest losing streak. That aggravating loss to the Phillies on April 3, blowing a five-run lead, evidently created bad karma or something. If they don't beat the Braves tomorrow, it will be the first time the Nationals have lost two consecutive three-game home series, other than two home series in September 2005 that were separated by a road series.

What the hell is wrong? Pretty much everything except fielding. At the plate, only one regular player has a batting average over .270, and that's Cristian Guzman, currently batting .320. On the mound, Matt Chico and Tim Redding are doing pretty well, but otherwise the rotation is weak. Jon Rauch is not filling Chad Cordero's shoes as closer, and it remains to be seen whether Cordero can live up to the high reputation he established in his first year in Washington, 2005. In the field, the team has only committed four errors, the third best in the NL, but Cristian Guzman was responsible for three of those, and only three other NL players have made more errors this year.

April 12, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Swallows arrive en masse

It seemed to me that swallows were slow to return north this spring, but they are here at last. On the drive leading to the Frontier Culture Museum this morning, I saw dozens of Tree swallows fighting to claim nest boxes intended for Blue birds. I saw my first Northern rough-winged swallow of the season at Gypsy Hill park on Thursday afternoon, along with a Flicker and a pair of Pileated woodpeckers at nest holes. On Friday afternoon I saw my my first Barn swallow at Bell's Lane, where large numbers of Red-winged blackbirds and Meadowlarks were singing in fields and meadows.

Tree Swallow

Tree swallow, near the Frontier Culture Museum.

Near the top of Betsy Bell Hill this morning, I saw a Hermit thrush for the first time in several weeks. They'll be heading north pretty soon. I also saw two male Yellow-rumped warblers, now in their bright breeding plumage.

April 13, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Lucky 13: Nationals finally win!

Maybe the 13th of the month is lucky when it falls on a Sunday. From Atlanta's perspective, it was certainly a bad omen when aging superstar ace Tom Glavine had to leave the game in the first inning. The Nats had a 5-0 lead going into the sixth inning, and the Braves closed the gap to 5-4 by the eighth inning. Chad Cordero made an appearance as a closer for the first time this year, and for the first two batters he was looking very good, just like in 2005. But then Yunel Escobar and Chipper Jones got on base, and Manny Acta took Chad out. It was fingernail-biting time, but the Nationals just barely hung on to win their first game since April 2. Whew! Jon Rauch got credited for the save with a single pitch, and Lastings Milledge got three hits, raising his average to above .300. Ryan Zimmerman and Ronnie Belliard made some superb infield plays. See

The MASN announcers noted that the last time the Expos/Nationals franchise lost nine in a row was in September 2000, but I consider that to be distinct from the club or team record.

I noticed on TV that several entire sections of the middle deck in the right field corner were completely empty. I think the Nationals need to refigure their seat pricing structure.

Milledge got a bad reputation in New York, but he comes across very well in interviews, and his performance at the plate thus far certainly meets or exceeds expectations. The future looks bright for the Nats.

Bosox jinx foiled

And while we're on the subject of curses and superstition, the Yankees found out about a Red Sox jersey (David Ortiz, to be exact) that was buried in concrete under the new Yankee Stadium by a construction worker whose loyalties are suspect. He now faces legal jeopardy. See Yahoo News; link via Bruce Orser.

MASN-Comcast shirt

Comcast customers who (like me) upgraded their cable TV service in response to their deal with MASN, through which we can now watch Nationals and Orioles games, can get a free long-sleeve shirt with the Washington Nationals logo on it just for asking. (Supplies are probably limited, so hurry!) I guess this means I can't say bad things about MASN any more. smile

April 17, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Papal mass at Nationals Park

Pope Benedict XVI said mass at Nationals Park this morning, and it was quite a sight to see the ballpark converted into a genuine "Green Cathedral." An altar draped in white was built in center field, with a couple thousand seats installed just beyond the diamond. (The infield was closed.) Of course, all the advertising signs were discreetly covered. I didn't watch the whole service, so I don't know if he blessed the stadium or the team that makes its home there, but the mere presence of His Holiness certainly cannot hurt the Nationals' success. The way this month has gone, they could really use some divine intervention. To read all about the papal visit, see

One of the questions that pops up once in a while is whether Nationals Park could be used as a venue for football games. Bruce Orser pointed me to a discussion thread raising that question at, so I have added two alternative football gridiron layouts to that page. The answer is "yes," it fits -- just barely.

Role reversal

Tonight the Nats try to avoid being swept by the Mets at Shea Stadium. One year ago, I would have been rooting for the team with Ryan Church and Brian Schneider, and against the team with Paul Lo Duca and Lastings Milledge. Since the off-season trades, there has been a big switch in rosters. Church and Schneider both seem to be fitting in very well with the Mets, and the same seems to be true of Milledge and Lo Duca with the Nats. Next, the "D.C. Nine" head to Florida to face the Marlins.

The mail bag

To see a closeup video of the new "Coca Cola" section at Fenway Park, go to; hat tip to Mike Zurawski, who also called my attention to a photo of the same thing from a distance at

Also, I learned of a relatively new blog focusing mainly on baseball: Roto Journal, by Scott Campanella. Blogroll update pending...

April 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Tiger Stadium update

Based on intensive inspection of old photos (several of which were provided by Bruce Orser) and other research, I have updated the Tiger Stadium diagrams, making a few corrections. The biggest change is that the grandstand is about 15 feet less deep than I had estimated before. (I had erroneously assumed that the number of bleacher rows was the same as the number of grandstand rows, yielding an estimate that was too high.) Also, I learned from the latest edition of Phil Lowry's Green Cathedrals that the actual distance to center field from 1955 on was only 425 feet, not 440 feet, as the distance marker said. There is a new post-1955 version that includes lights and other details.

Tiger Stadium

In the real world of baseball, meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers got off to an extremely disappointing start this year. Perhaps the planned demolition of their old home is giving them some bad karma...

Nats win in the Nick of time

Thanks to a clutch 3-RBI double by Nick Johnson in the seventh inning at Dolphin Stadium last night, the Washington Nationals won for only the second time in their last 14 games. Nevertheless, at 5-12, the Nationals remain the only team in the majors currently with a win-loss record below .300.

April 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Kurt Michael says he'll "resign" (?)

Even though he was refused access to the Augusta County Government Center because his status as party leader is in grave doubt, Kurt Michael went ahead with his meeting to certify the selection of delegates on the front steps of the building on Friday evening. He then made the surprise announcement that he would step down as chairman of the Augusta County Republican Committee after the state party convention ends on May 31. He said he was doing so in the interests of party unity, which is certainly a nice (if belated) gesture.

However, that begs the question of whether he will in fact be declared chairman by higher party officials. He certainly knows that the matter is under review by the Sixth District Republican Chairman and by the Republican Party of Virginia, and no party official has thus far said anything about recognizing him as chairman. So, it seems that he is jumping the gun just a little bit. When asked about the confusion over who is party leader by the News Leader reporter, he said, "There is no confusion about who is the chair of Augusta County." Apparently, he thinks his opinion on this question counts more than the opinion of the party leaders in Richmond. He also said in reply to another question that it is "not my responsibility" to reach out to Dr. Larry Roller, the candidate who won the most votes (141-103). So while Kurt took a big step in the right direction, he still fell a bit short in the grace department.

The comment by Larry Roller cited in that article that Kurt tried to "sabotage" the mass meeting made me think about something I observed that evening. While the votes were being cast, I heard Lynn Mitchell telling others to make sure that the attendees on their side did not leave after casting their votes, in case there was a tie and a second ballot was necessary. A tied result seemed very unlikely to me. But if indeed they were planning all along to take control of the proceedings after the vote totals were announced, it would make perfect sense that they would keep all their folks in the room.

As far as who is chairman now the ACRC right now, Kurt cited the RPV roster, referring to the Web site. (Hey, let's look it up on Wikipedia! smile) I found it interesting that Kurt brought up the name of Charlie Judd but did not mention the Republican Sixth District, which is the logical next step in handling disputes. Previously, he and his allies had relied upon the GOP Sixth District to back up their positions whenever local controversies arose. In the interview, he said he planned to issue a call for an ACRC meeting to elect a new chairman (or chairwoman!), even though his claim to be party leader is strongly disputed. That is not very likely to win the confidence of folks on the other side, casting doubt on his gesture of reconciliation. Any such call ought to be jointly agreed to by both sides. Kurt's claim that "this whole process" (meaning the intra-party conflict) started during the 2007 primary campaign when he supported Scott Sayre over Emmett Hanger is totally false, and he knows it. In fact, the first open hostilities began at the Sixth District GOP meeting in Lexington in March 2006. (I should know, Kurt and I were two of the protagonists.)

What Kurt Michael may be planning next is anyone's guess. He doesn't seem chastened at all by the fiasco, so I expect him to remain deeply involved in one way or another. The more I think about it, the more this situation reminds me of Sen. Larry Craig, who promised his colleagues that he would resign, but has never gotten around to it.

Newt on the wayward GOP

Newt Gingrich was interviewed by GQ Magazine (hat tip to Zen at Daily Whack Job), and had some typically pithy remarks about what is wrong with the Republican Party today:

Okay, back to the past. What happened to your party over the last eight years?

They went off the rails. That's it. They took a majority that took 16 years to build and they destroyed it.


There was a fundamental misunderstanding about how to govern. The concept of red versus blue is a tactic, not a strategy. In the long run, in order to mobilize your base, you tend to become more intense and your positions become more vitriolic, and you drive away the independents. Then you are no longer a majority.

What does the party have to do to come back?

We have to remember that we are the party of reform. The Democrats should defend the bureaucracy because it's theirs. Republicans want the bureaucracy changed, not defended. Nothing we have seen on the border, nothing we have seen after Katrina, leads people to believe that this government can do anything effectively. People profoundly distrust this government. Republicans should remember that.

Exactamundo. Thank you, Mr. Gingrich. (Actually, he's a doctor, but you never hear him referred to that way.)

April 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]

More spring arrivals

As it has been getting warmer and warmer over the past few days, I've seen a few birds for the first time this season, but still no vireos and no warblers other than the Yellow-rumped ones. On Thursday morning and late this afternoon I walked along the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad:

Friday evening I saw the first Chimney swifts of spring, and early this afternoon I went to Montgomery Hall Park:

The Purple finches seem to be almost everywhere, including right outside our window (see below):

Purple Finch M back

April 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Opposition wins in Paraguay

Paraguay flag For the first time in over sixty years, an opposition party has won the presidential elections in Paraguay. Fernando Lugo, who used to be a Catholic bishop, won 41 percent of the votes. He leads the "Patriotic Alliance for Change," a coalition of center-left parties. Blanca Ovelar of the once-dominant Colorado Party won 30 percent; the party has suffered from bitter infighting in recent years. Ovelar would have been the third presidenta (female) currently serving in South America, after Chile's Michelle Bachelet and Argentina's Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. The third-place candidate, Lino Oviedo, received 21 precent. The founder of the "National Union of Ethical Citizens" party, he is a retired colonel who was jailed for plotting a coup attempt in 1996, and later plotted another coup attempt in May 2000 while in exile. Unlike most Latin American countries, there is no provision in Paraguay for a run-off election in case no candidate gets a required percentage of the vote. Lugo pledged to renegotiate the agreements on hydroelectric power Paraguay signed with Brazil and Argentina. He denied the accusation made by incumbent president Nicanor Duarte that he will pursue the radical populist agenda of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez or Bolivia's Evo Morales. See BBC and

Being land-locked (like Bolivia), Paraguay seldom garners notice in the outside world. It ranks among the lower income countries in Latin America, but there is not as much desperate poverty as there is in places like Brazil or Bolivia. The ruling Colorado Party, conservative in orientation, maintained control of the country even after the downfall of dictator Alfredo Stroessner in 1989, and even after scandals that turned violent in the 1990s. Paraguay's transition toward democratic rule has been frustratingly slow, mainly because of widespread corruption. It is the center of contraband traffic to and from Argentina and Brazil, including drugs and weapons.

Paraguay has a fascinating culture in which the Spanish settlers intermingled with the indigenous people rather than conquering and exploiting them. That is why nearly all Paraguayans today speak both Spanish and the Guarani languages. It's rather appropriate that a former Catholic priest like Lugo would campaign on helping Paraguay's poor people, since the country was originally run by Jesuit missionaries, as depicted in the movie, The Mission, starring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons. (See Inasmuch as Paraguay is a symbol of pluralistic tolerance, with relatively few instances of political violence in its history, it would be nice if Lugo opts for the more pragmatic and inclusive style of Brazil's Lula da Silva and avoids the temptation of radical populism.

April 23, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Hillary stays in the race

Hillary Clinton needed a convincing win in the Pennsylvania primary in order to keep her campaign alive, and that's just what she got: 55% to 45% for Barack Obama. In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank ridiculed the notion of a "point spread" (determined by the media) that Hillary needed to surpass in order to secure a meaningful win. He says the Democratic primary marathon is like the movie Groundhog Day, where every day is the same thing over and over again; he is clearly exhausted by the primary race.

Rush Limbaugh is taking credit for "Operation Chaos," encouraging Republicans to vote for the weaker candidate in the Democratic primaries, but that's just tongue in cheek. (I think.) As Sean Hannity pointed out, Democrats who urge Hillary to give up a hopeless struggle are reflecting the same defeatist mindset that many express with respect to the war in Iraq.

For me, it is gratifying that Obama's 3-to-1 advantage in campaign spending made little if any difference. That is the best antidote to "excessive" campaign spending. Sooner or later, potential donors will realize that they're wasting their money, drying up the source for all the televised negative ads. The "miracle of the marketplace."

Obama on small town "bitterness"

For someone whose reputation rests upon his eloquence and charisma, Barack Obama sure is putting his foot in his mouth a lot lately. His offhand remark that Americans who live in small towns often channel their bitter feelings by blaming foreigners for lost jobs, etc. says a lot about his contemptuous elitist attitudes. See Washington Post.

Having grown up in a small town, unlike Sen. Obama, I know what life is like in such a setting. Obviously, some small towns are nicer than others, but there is a clear difference in terms of the feeling of angst and desperation one encounters in big cities and suburbs. Most people who live in smaller cities and towns actually know and care about their neighbors, and they don't worry much about material status. That's why they are less prone to demand favors from the government.

The more I think about it, however, Obama may be on to something with his remark about "bitterness"... For example, some of the folks in SWAC Land are more than a bit perturbed by the results of the recent Augusta County GOP mass meeting, as though it signified the end of the world as we know it, and someone even called Sen. Emmett Hanger "evil." Such venomous attitudes must reflect some kind of psychological problem. How can anyone take seriously the idea of reconciliation with people who hold such bitter grudges??

April 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Tiger Stadium: The End Is Near

I recently noted that Tiger Stadium is liable to be demolished before long, and thanks to Bruce Orser, I've learned that "doomsday" may be fast approaching. Under a deal reached by Detroit's Economic Development Corporation, historic preservation activists must raise $369,000 by June 1, or else demolition will get underway at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Trumbull Street. They may try to save about a quarter of the old structure for the sake of posterity, integrated into a new commercial center. See Detroit Free Press. OK, let's go, sports fans: Preserve Tiger Stadium! Ironically, the Web site of the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, which is supposed to raise the needed funds, is "under construction" even as demolition looms.

Nats finally get hits

After a promising start of the 2008 season, the three batters at the heart of the Nationals' lineup -- Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson, and Austin Kearns -- have fallen into an awful slump, which is the main reason the team keeps losing. Thankfully, the team's pitching has been pretty solid, and some other guys are pulling more than their share of the load at the plate. Tonight Felipe Lopez got six RBIs, leading the Nats to a 10-5 win over the Mets. In the sixth inning, he crushed a homer deep into the right field seats, the first grand slam in Nationals Park history! ball Attendance for the two Mets games averaged over 30,000, which is a respectable figure, but you expect a lot more fans whenever a New York team plays.

The mail bag

More news courtesy of Mike Zurawski: St. Petersburg officials are dubious of the design of the Tampa Bay Rays' proposed stadium on the waterfront, which would cost $450 million -- pretty steep for a medium-sized city. The ballpark would feature a huge retractable "sail" to provide shade, complete with an enormous "mast." The roof itself looks a lot like the roof at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. If the funding uncertainties can be resolved (a big if), the proposed ballpark could open as early as 2012. See Ballpark Watch. ball Also, the co-owner of the Oakland A's, Keith Wolff, now says that the new ballpark in Fremont, which is pretty much a done deal, it seems, may not open until 2012, or even later. Given that the baseball stadium is intended to be the centerpiece of a comprehensive development project, everything hinges on the state of the economy. See San Jose Mercury News

Finally, Rob Stevens wants to know when I'll get started on a Citi Field diagram / page. Next month, for sure! (I'll be swamped for the next couple weeks.)

April 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Food price summit in Caracas

In response to the soaring price of foodstuffs that has created hardship for poor people in many countries, four Latin American leaders held a summit meeting in Caracas, Venezuela this week. President Evo Morales of Bolivia, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, along with the vice president of Cuba, Chavez claimed the food price spike demonstrated the "historic failure of the capitalist model." In his typical populist style, ignorant of market realities or business practices, he blamed "intermediaries and speculators" for the food shortages. The United Nations World Food Program calls this a "silent tsunami" for countries that are highly dependent on food imports. See BBC. To my mind, that kind of rhetorical hyberbole only confuses the issue and makes it harder to solve the problem.

Thailand has faced heavy criticism in recent weeks for refusing to put controls on the price of rice. I learned to my surprise that Thailand is one of the world's biggest exporters of rice.

It will be interesting to see how Brazil reacts to this situation, since it has put heavy emphasis on the production of ethanol fuels made from sugar cane. Environmentalists who tout biofuels as the answer to the global shortage of hydrocarbon fuels are now learning what the consequences of that strategy are for human beings: hunger.

April 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Housing vacancies in Manassas

The collateral effects of the crackdown on illegal immigration in the Prince William County area are becoming apparent, and it's starting to look like the movie A Day without a Mexican (see Monday's Washington Post profiled two activists in Manassas, Chris Pannell and Allison Kipp, who are satisfied that their efforts are starting to pay off. Whereas their neighborhood was becoming extremely overcrowded before, with many illegal immigrants who often exhibited behavioral issues, it has now reverted to relative tranquility, with many vacant houses. Real estate brokers must be gnashing their teeth at the lost business... Greg Letief (BLACK VELVET BRUCE LI) hails this as evidence that the "Rule of Law Resolution" passed by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors is working.

I see this outcome with mixed emotions, however: I'm glad to see that law and order are being upheld, but a bit sad for the hard-working folks who are getting squeezed out. But let's not kid ourselves, folks: This mini-exodus had to happen sooner or later, and if it had been postponed much more, the confrontation might have turned violent.

April 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]

A few more spring arrivals

The temperatures climbed into the upper seventies today, and I took advantage of the improved weather conditions by taking a stroll behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning. There were a few first-of-season sightings, not as many as I had hoped, but at least I got some video shots. Purple finches are still abundant almost everywhere you go. Today's highlights:

Blue-headed Vireo

ABOVE: Blue-headed vireo, formerly known as a "Solitary vireo." I am dubious of the new name. (video freeze frame)

Upon entering the campus of Sweet Briar College yesterday morning, I took a few minutes to check out the nature sanctuary, and got lucky almost immediately:

I also heard but did not see a Scarlet tanager in the tree tops. On Sunday morning, I saw my first Worm-eating warbler of the season, in the same location. Chimney swifts are now seen fairly regularly up in the skies. Based on all the recent "first-of" sightings, I have updated the Annual arrival page.

April 26, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Big Spring Day, 2008

Just in time for this year's Big Spring Day, I finally signed up for the eBird system yesterday. It is a joint project of the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, enabling birders all across the country to submit their sightings so that experts can compile a much broader range of data on avian distribution. Today's report includes two first-of-season sightings, a Red-eyed Vireo and a Common Yellowthroat (M):

Location: Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad trail
Observation date: 4/26/08
Notes: Very warm, sunny, and humid.
Number of species: 29

I missed out on the Big Spring Day last year, but participated in 2006.

Sweet Briar afternoon

My first eBird report was based on a brief walk to the pond after I left the office late on Friday afternoon:

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Location: Sweet Briar College boat pond
Observation date: 4/25/08
Number of species: 16

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

* The Virginia Rail call from from a bunch of thick, tall clumps of grass next to the pond. It sounded just like a can of spray paint being shaken, and it took a minute for me to figure out what it probably was. It would have been my first-ever sighting of that species, but the bird became silent as I approached. Maybe I'll get another chance. Not included in the eBird report: a few very loud Carolina Wrens. In future tabulations using eBird, I will probably list only non-abundant birds, as has been my standard practice.

Here's a thought: When you put "Virginia" and "rail" together, most people would think of the Virginia Railway Express, the commuter train system in Northern Virginia.

Owl Web cam

For a peek at a Great Horned Owl nest with two hatchlings, see; hat tip to Connie.

April 27, 2008 [LINK / comment]

New box seats at Turner Field

While watching the Nats play the Braves the other day, I got my first good look at the new "SunTrust Club" box seats at Turner Field. As with the premium seats at Nationals Park and the newly-added box seat sections at other stadiums, they come as part of a package including free buffet, drinks, and valet parking. (Perhaps there will be a butler to shell the peanuts and serve the Cracker Jacks on a silver tray...) The distance to the backstop has been reduced to a mere 43 feet, which barely even qualifies for college baseball standards, let alone minor league. Stop the insanity! See the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And so, I have updated the Turner Field diagram, which now includes the structures surrounding the stadium per se, as well as lights and a few other details.

Turner Field

Nats win 2 of 3 vs. Cubs

After an extraordinarily dismal month of April, the Nationals finally won a series at their new home ballpark, raising hopes for a prompt return to normalcy. On Friday they beat the Chicago Cubs 5-3 in extraordinarily dramatic fashion: They took the lead in the first inning with an upper-deck home run by Nick Johnson (the first one in Nationals Park, I believe). Eventually, the Cubs tied it 3-3 going into the bottom of the ninth when journeyman backup catcher Wil Nieves made his mark by knocking a walk-off homer into the Nats' bullpen in right field. It was his first major-league homer! Nieves has been impressive behind the plate, showing a fierce competitive spirit, making some great throws to second base, while keeping the pitchers calm and focused. Maybe Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada (first- and second-string catchers) have something to worry about! As a reward from his teammates, Nieves got a cream pie in his face while being interviewed after the game. smile

The Cubs came back to even the series with a 7-0 shutout last night, but with Carlos Zambrano pitching, what else do you expect? But the Nationals took an early lead in this afternoon's rubber game, and John Lannan threw seven shutout innings, raising his streak of scoreless innings to 19. See Pretty impressive! [Final score, 2-0.] The Cubs are still in first place in the NL Central Division (a half game ahead of the cards), and are in very good shape to make a postseason bid and maybe even win the World Series for the first time in exactly one century!

UPDATE: Total attendance for the three-game series with the Cubs at Nationals Park: 104,137.

April 27, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Roman roads, modern highways

Many highways in this country were built along the same trails that Indians had built over many centuries, including Route 29, a.k.a. the "Seminole Trail." Surprisingly, the same thing is true of highways in Great Britain, except that the original builders were the Romans. During the 16th through 18th Centuries, many of the roads were taken over by "turnpike trusts," when guards wielding long pikes made sure that only people who paid tolls were allowed to use them. See U.K. Highways Agency; hat tip to Connie.

April 28, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Farmers protest in Argentina

As world market prices for foodstuffs have soared in recent months, tensions have risen in Argentina, which is a major agricultural exporter. The government of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is in a quandary over the food price issue, as farmers contend with budget-squeezed consumers. True to her (Peronista) party's populist roots, she has chosen to raise taxes on exports of soybeans and other products, for the third time in the last six months. In response, farmers declared a three-week strike and put up roadblocks in various parts of the country. The ostensible purpose of the tax hikes was to keep local food prices low, but there is an added political benefit:

That revenue, she said, would allow the government to redistribute the agricultural sector's disproportionate wealth to the people most vulnerable to price hikes. SOURCE: Washington Post.

In other words, it would transfer wealth from the sector that produces the most desired commodity (soybeans and grain) to the sectors that are least productive. That, in a nutshell, is why most Latin American countries remain stuck in poverty or relative backwardness. A temporary truce will end on May 2, and further confrontations are likely in this country with a long record of chaos and instability.

For most Argentine people, eating meat at three meals a day is considered a basic entitlement, much like consuming gasoline is considered a birthright by many Americans. So while we are stuck in the mud on energy policy, Argentina is stuck in the mud on food policy.

April 28, 2008 [LINK / comment]

April showers bring (Cape) May warblers

The heavy rainfall this morning made for hazardous driving conditions, but after it cleared up I got to enjoy a small-scale warbler "fallout" at Sweet Briar College in the afternoon, with two first-of-season sightings. I heard several Yellow warblers singing in the trees right outside my office building, but only saw one, a female. There were also some Yellow-rumped warblers and Chipping sparrows, but the biggest delight was seeing two (male) Cape May warblers at very close range, within 20 feet. The last time I had seen one of that species was in October 2006.

Ramseys Draft, Braley Pond

On Sunday, Jacqueline and I did our first serious nature hike of the season, about half way up the Road Hollow trail at Ramseys Draft. We saw two first-of-season warbler species, plus a few others, but no Scarlet tanagers to be seen or heard, surprisingly. Highlights:

Location: George Washington National Forest - Ramseys Draft
Observation date: 4/27/08
Number of species: 18

We also heard an Ovenbird. Prior to that, we did a quick walk around Braley Pond:

Location: Braley Pond
Observation date: 4/27/08
Number of species: 16

We also heard a Louisiana Waterthrush and a few Pine Warblers.

April 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]

May-November canary romance

Full of male hormonal urges, and taking note of what the male birds outside are doing as spring unfolds, Luciano has been "courting" Princess more and more aggressively in recent weeks. Even though she is old enough (7+ years) to be his great-grandmother (canaries breed once or more a year), she is nevertheless often quite receptive to his wooing. Seeing her "seductive" chirping for the "new bird on the block" (he replaced George, who died in January) is quite poignant: It's a real "May-November romance." Since Princess is lame, however, and well past her breeding years (the last time she laid eggs was in December 2006), there are limits as to what she can do. So, Luciano keeps getting frustrated, and sometimes we have to protect Princess from his over-eager advances, keeping them apart. Like a college-age youth, it will take some time for Luciano to learn the proper way to a (female bird's) heart. Stay tuned for another exciting chapter of Canary Romance!

Luciano, Princess in sun

Luciano stretches his tail feathers, enjoying the sunlight in the window, along with Princess. (March 2)

April 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Obama disowns "Rev. Wrong"

Well, it was bound to happen eventually. Nearly six weeks after saying he could "no more disown [Rev. Jeremiah Wright] than I can disown the black community," Barack Obama did just that yesterday. Based on what the "Rev. Wrong" said at the National Press Club in Washington on Monday, Obama really didn't have much choice if he intends to be the Democrats' nominee. What is so shocking about the latest news is that Rev. Wright hurled a verbal counterattack at Sen. Obama. (See Washington Post.) Both men have now disowned each other, in effect. (So does this mean Obama has in fact disowned the black community?)

On the "Today" show, NBC's Tim Russert called this a "public divorce," almost unparalleled in modern American history. It would be interesting to find out when the last time a leading presidential candidate parted ways so dramatically from one of his closest associates.

Obama's viability in the fall campaign depends greatly on how he is perceived by the opinion-making elite. It's no surprise that Obama-booster Andrew Sullivan, who considers himself a conservative, is straining to defend the Illinois senator, who already missed his chance to make this flap into a "Sister Souljah" moment, distancing himself from hate speech. To his (partial) credit, Sullivan at least used the opportunity to reject the "government created AIDS" conspiracy talk by many Blacks. James Patterico notes that Sullivan took much too long to face up to Obama's big failure; link via InstaPundit.

It's hard for me to understand why anyone would waste their breath trying to defend Rev. Wright. People on the Left who complain that he has been unfairly targeted by the media, or that Obama has been unfairly associated with the Rev. Wright completely miss the point. The guy is just hogging the attention and making the most of his 15 minutes of fame. He's a classic demagogue who hides behind a pulpit to spout his vile words, making those sitting in the pews feel justified in sharing such hostile feelings. Either you take a stand against hate speech, from whatever the source, or you sit back and let the forces of evil win another round.

What this episode illustrates is the uncomfortable fact about the coalition that makes up the Democrats' voter base: A large number of them just plain hate America in general, and resent successful people in particular. [In this kind of situation,] the art of politics consists of retaining the support of such people while keeping them hidden away from view of the general public. Every once in a while, such efforts fail, and the ugly attitudes shine through.

Democrats are not unique in that regard, however. Indeed, the Republicans have a problem in appeasing their "Base," those energetic folks who respond to emotional and symbolic appeals. They're the kind of people who thought former Sen. George Allen's "macaca" crack [in August 2006] was funny. It is the responsibility of true political leaders to keep such people at bay, and chastising them when necessary.

From a partisan perspective, I am glad whenever the other side stumbles and raises our side's chances for victory. But in this case, I feel no joy in seeing the Obama candidacy taken down a notch or two. Why? Because racism continues to be a huge problem in this country, and anything that needlessly antagonizes the opposing sides makes it harder to lessen the divisions that plague us. Racism today is a more complex, nuanced, insidious beast than it was in the 1960s Civil Rights era, and as Rev. Wright reminds us, Black racism has become just as big a part of the problem [as] White racism. Most people would admit that privately, but would never say so publically. As long as public discourse over such matters is kept in the straightjacket of Political Correctness, we will never make much progress in righting all those Wrongs.

April 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Microsoft huffs and puffs at Yahoo

Earlier this month, Microsoft warned Yahoo that if Yahoo's shareholders did not accept a buyout offer by April 26, it would proceed with a hostile takeover bid. Well, Yahoo did not budge in the face of the pressure as the deadline passed on Saturday, and today, Microsoft's board of directors "sweetened" the offer by a couple dollars a share, from $31 to $33. Steve Ballmer previously threatened to depose Yahoo's entire board if they don't surrender immediately, but now he is throttling back the bluster. Interestingly, Microsoft's key financial advisers is from Bear Stearns, which went bankrupt by concocting precisely these kinds of high-risk leveraged buyouts. How ironic is that!? See Yahoo News.

Personally, I think Microsoft should spend less time trying to dominate the universe and spend more time accommodating its millions of long-time customers who would rather stick with clunky but serviceable Windows XP rather than upgrading (?) to the slick but bug-infested Vista. There is more than a little truth to the joke about people "upgrading" from Vista (back) to XP, as the New York Times reported last month. (via InstaPundit) But what do I care, I'm a Mac user!

April 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Combat deaths surge in April

After a lull that began last fall, a hopeful sign that the "Surge" policy was working, the number of U.S. combat deaths climbed to [50] in April, the most since last September (62). The U.S. offensive against the militia forces loyal to Moqtada al Sadr in Sadr City district of Baghdad is dragging out week after week. It is exactly the kind of urban attrition warfare that we have been trying to avoid all along, and there is a growing risk of alienating the local population if some of our soldiers fire at the wrong targets. In all such counterinsurgency campaigns, that risk must constantly be managed by military commanders. (See Washington Post.) In the south of Iraq, meanwhile, the offensive by government forces against the Shi'ite militiamen apparently gained very little. The virtual absence of the British army since earlier this year has left a power vacuum that the militias have eagerly filled.

Including fallen soldiers whose relatives have not yet been contacted, the total number of U.S. war deaths in Iraq crossed the 4,000 threshhold in March. It is sad that, as the frequency of news stories about Iraq declines, many Americans are paying less attention to the struggle.

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