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September 18, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Secessionism in Bolivia

Tensions in Bolivia have risen sharply once again over the past week, as several departmental (provinicial) governments have resisted central government authority, provoking a harsh crackdown by President Evo Morales. The army was sent in to take over in the northern department of Pando, after a state of emergency was declared there. Morales ordered the prefect (governor) Leopoldo Fernandez to be arrested, accusing him of having about 30 pro-government farm workers killed. In Santa Cruz province, the heart of the secessionist movement, opposition leader Branko Marinkovic ordered roadblocks to be taken down as a gesture of goodwill. The crisis assumed international proportions when Morales ordered U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg to leave the country, accusing him of fomenting the rebellion. Several South American leaders, including Brazil's "Lula" da Silva, Peru's Alan Garcia, and Chile's Michelle Bachelet, voiced support for the Bolivian government. (Bachelet "said she hoped the Union of South American Nations could help promote a democratic solution," which is wishful thinking.) See BBC. Those relatively moderate leftist leaders do not necessarily support Morales himself, but rather, support Bolivian national integrity. Secessionary movements are a latent threat in Peru and other countries in the region, and no one wants a large-scale civil war in South America.

In response to the expulsion of the U.S. ambassador, the U.S. government declared Bolivia to be among the countries that have failed to cooperate in fighting international narcotics smuggling. The opposition leaders, which have organized themselves as the "National Democratic Council" (CONALDE), agreed to formal negotiations, which have begun in the central city of Cochabamba. Tensions seem to have abated slightly in the past day, and United Nations official Yoriko Yasukawa has offered his organization's assistance, for whatever that's worth. The relatively new "Union of South American Nations" is playing a major international role for the first time, and this will be a test of whether continental multilateral diplomacy can succeed without U.S. involvement. See Washington Post and El Diario (Spanish).

Such a violent clash was probably inevitable after the popular referendum last month failed to yield a consensus on which direction the country should take. President Morales hopes to carry out another referendum on his planned constitutional changes later this year, and one of the opposition's main goals is to prevent that from taking place. It would codify a stronger, more centralized and more authoritarian government, with a clear socialist agenda, in the mold of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

September 20, 2008 [LINK / comment]

A few more fall migrants

I managed to get outdoors for a nice walk on Wednesday morning, and came across a fair number of interesting migratory birds. The following summary is extracted from my report to the eBird system (

Location: Montgomery Hall Park
Observation date: 9/17/08
Number of species: 21

  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker (J)
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Pileated Woodpeckers -- 2 (M)
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Swainson's Thrush (FOY)
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warblers -- 2 (M, F/J)
  • American Redstart (M)
  • Worm-eating Warbler
  • Scarlet Tanager (F/J)

That was my first Swainson's Thrush of the year. This evening I took a quick walk just before dusk, which is getting earlier and earlier every day.

Location: Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad trail
Observation date: 9/20/08
Number of species: 9

  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Swainson's Thrush
  • Eastern Towhees -- 2 (J)
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeaks -- 3 (F/J)

September 9, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Gov. Palin is sensational

Ever since Gov. Palin "hit a home run" in her speech to the GOP convention in St. Paul last week, she has created an enormous wave of enthusiasm in the Republican ranks, while attracting a large number of uncommitted voters, especially white women. Critics such as David Gergen (on CNN) warn that her honeymoon can't last much longer, and she will have to face intensive questioning from the press. Just wait for an onslaught of "gotcha" questions such as, "Can you name the new president of India?" Her lack of foreign travel is regarded as a weakness by some as well. As a native of Alaska, however, I'll bet she at least knows who the prime minister of Canada is, unlike 90% of Americans.

I was among the local Republicans asked to comment on the Sarah Palin phenomenon for the Staunton News Leader last week. Somehow, I didn't sound as enthusiastic in print as I thought I sounded when talking to the reporter on the telephone. There was a separate article on the religious-morality aspect of Palin's vice presidential candidacy. Some of us have different takes on what the net effect of Palin will be, but we all agree that it was a major lift for the party's chances in November.

September 28, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Phillies, Brewers make the cut

Yesterday's game in Philadelphia was a close, hard-fought thriller with decisive playoff implications for the Phillies, and honor at stake for the woebegone Nationals. With the bases loaded and one out in the top of the ninth, Ryan Zimmerman hit a hard ground ball up the middle that ordinarily would have at least tied the game and set up the go-ahead run. Instead, shortstop Jimmy Rollins made a spectacular play, diving to grab the ball, starting a 6-4-3 double play that ended the game and started the fireworks. The Washington Post said the ball was hit "to short," which was not quite right, understating what a great defensive play Rollins made. Earlier in the game, he had robbed the Nats of a run-scoring hit by diving for a short fly ball to center field. (Shane Victorino collided with him and hurt his shin.) Thanks in large part to Rollins, the Phillies clinched their second divisional title in a row. If the Nats had won, today's games would have been that much more dramatic. Attendance on Saturday was 45,177, about 1,500 more than the number of seats available at Citizens Bank Park. No doubt, it will be "standing room only" in Philly on Wednesday and Thursday night when the Brewers play there.

Today's game, in contrast, didn't really matter to anyone, as both the Nats and the Phillies had their lineups full of second-stringers. The Nationals would have liked to at least reach the 60-win threshold and avoid total disgrace, but no such luck. The Phillies won 8-3, completing the three-game sweep, as the Nationals went quietly into the night, or winter. They finished the 2008 with a 59-102 record, the worst in the majors frown; the Seattle Mariners finished with a 61-101 record.

In Milwaukee, meanwhile, the amazing C.C. Sabathia pitched a complete game, allowing only one run and four hits, leading the Brewers to a 3-1 victory over the Cubs -- and the crowd went wild! The Brewers thus became the second home team to win a playoff berth today. It will be Milwaukee's first postseason series since 1982, when they made it as far as the World Series. The Cubs clinched their divisional title last week, and are in resting mode.

The Cubs and Astros were supposed to play a make-up game tomorrow (remember Hurricane Ike?), but it will have no bearing on the playoffs, so it was cancelled.

Shea Stadium retires

It wasn't nearly as big a deal as the retirement of Yankee Stadium last week, but the final game at Shea Stadium was actually more relevant to the 2008 championships. The final batter was Ryan Church (a former Washington National!), who hit a long fly ball to the warning track in center field that was caught for the final out. The Mets lost to the Marlins 4-2, thus deciding the NL wild card race in the Brewers' favor. If the Mets had won, there would have been a playoff game with the Brewers tomorrow.

Next door in Flushing, meanwhile, Citi Field is about 85% completed. See

American League

The Minnesota Twins and slumping Chicago White Sox both lost on Saturday, and both won today, but the divisional title is still up for grabs because the White Sox need to play a make-up game with the Tigers tomorrow. If the Chisox win, there will be a playoff game with the Twins in Chicago on Tuesday.

Preparations for hosting the first round of the ALDS are underway in Anaheim, for the fifth time in the seven last years, and for the first time ever in St. Petersburg. See the Post-season scores page, freshly updated.

In rain-drenched Boston, meanwhile, the (second-string) Red Sox took a 3-1 lead over the Yankees in the bottom of the eighth inning, and then the Yankees came back to tie it 3-3 in the top of the ninth. The game is going into extra innings, but it matters not a whit... For the first time since 1993, there will be no teams from New York in the Major League postseason series!

September 11, 2008 [LINK / comment]

That's what I call a "slugfest"!

Jacqueline noticed something strange on the side of the balcony while we were having dinner with some friends recently, and was disgusted when she realized what it was. Fortunately I had the new Nikon digital camera ready for the photo op:

Great Gray Slugs

Great Gray Slugs, in a "romantic" encounter.

Not only are slugs slimy, disgusting garden pests, their behavior is positively shocking, according to our standards anyway. According to the often-reliable Wikipedia,

Slugs are hermaphrodites, having both female and male reproductive organs.
Once a slug has located a mate, they encircle each other and sperm is exchanged through their protruded genitalia. A few days later around 30 eggs are laid into a hole in the ground, or under the cover of objects such as fallen logs.
For a species of slug that has an unusually elaborate mating procedure, see Great grey slug. A commonly seen practice among many slugs is apophallation. The penis of these species is curled like a cork-screw and often becomes entangled in their mate's genitalia in the process of exchanging sperm. When all else fails, apophallation allows the slugs to separate themselves by one or both of the slugs chewing off the other's penis. Once its penis has been removed, a slug is still able to mate subsequently, but using only the female parts of its reproductive system.

Eew-w-w! I'll be posting more photos of other creepy critters soon...

September 11, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Can we de-politicize 9/11, please?

It was a nice gesture that Senators John McCain and Barack Obama made a joint pilgrimage to Ground Zero in lower Manhattan today, placing roses in memory of the 9/11 victims. It was also a welcome relief that no campaign ads were seen on TV today -- no taunts about lipstick, no sarcasm about the other guy's call for "change" and "reform." The less that the seventh anniversary of the September 11 attack is used to promote particular political parties or leaders, the better off we will be as a nation. United we stand. 'Nuff said.

Tomorrow we return to our regularly-scheduled bare-knuckled campaign discourse, heavy on symbolism and "lite" on substance. Sigh...

September 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Rays withstand Bosox challenge*

After Boston's 13-5 win at Tropicana Field on Monday, it looked like Tampa Bay would quickly wither under the slugging assault of the Red Sox. That did not happen in the next two games, however. They edged the Red Sox 2-1 with a dramatic ninth-inning finish on Tuesday, and the next day trounced the New Englanders, 10-3. In sum, the Rays stood up to the test as well as anyone could have predicted, building a two-game lead over Boston in the AL East race.

On Thursday night, the Rays got a rude awakening from their euphoria when the Twins staged a five-run rally in the top of the ninth to come from behind and beat them, 11-8. This came after Evan Longoria had hit three home runs, tying the franchise record for one game. What a crushing disappointment that must have been! For young teams on a roll such as the Rays, there is always some vulnerability, and in this case it was the bull pen.

* As opposed to the "Botox challenge." smile

Cubs bounce back

The Brewers embarrassed the crowd at Wrigley Field with a lopsided win against the Cubs on Wednesday night, and were on the verge of a repeat victory on Thursday evening. After hitting a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings, Cubs catcher Geovany Soto is on the inside track to be named Rookie of the Year. He has 23 home runs and is batting .285. Of the Cubs' 7-6 win, Mark London writes, "Just unbelievable. By rescuing victory from the jaws of defeat yet again, the most hard core ledge jumpers must be smiling tonight..." Yes, the Cubs do have a mountain of superstitious jinxes to overcome as they approach the post-season, but exactly one century after their last World Series victory, they really are in position to Go All The Way.

Those old "cathedrals"

While New York fans take part in the emotional goodbye to Yankee Stadium during the final home stand this week, others in Boston and Chicago are extolling the virtues of having preserved the ancient and hallowed ballparks in which the Red Sox and Cubs play. See As in 2003, there is a very real chance that this year's World Series may be played in the two oldest stadiums in the world of baseball.

Colt Stadium update

Colt Stadium The Colt Stadium diagram has been updated, though not necessarily because of recent attention to Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. The grandstand is slightly larger than previously estimated, and light towers and other details are now included. And speaking of Houston, after looking over the Astrodome diagrams, I may have to tweak them once again as well... frown

New lease in Cleveland

The Cleveland Indians have renewed their lease at Progressive (formerly Jacobs) Field from 2013, when it would have expired, thrugh 2023. The Gateway Economic Development Corp., the special entity that owns the stadium, is about to to pay off the (tax-exempt) bonds that financed the stadium's construction. After that is accomplished, the ballpark is supposed to be transfered to the City of Cleveland, but under the new agreement, the property deed will be transfered back to "Gateway," which had been verging on bankruptcy because of disputes over rent payments. (Is that clear?) See Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.

September 17, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Ballpark news roundup

Thanks as always to Mike Zurawski for helping us keep up to date with all the developments in the ballpark world.

Good news for the Marlins: a judge in Miami-Dade Circuit Court ruled that new baseball stadium would indeed serve a public purpose, thereby nullifying six of the seven lawsuits filed by auto dealer Norman Braman, who is trying to stop the project. The judge acknowledged that public opinion may be against the stadium project, but said her job is simply to apply the facts to the law. The pro-stadium coalition hopes to finalize paperwork so that the issue can be voted on by city and county commissioners by November. Because of the legal delays, finishing construction by 2011, by which time the Marlins are supposed to be out of Dolphin Stadium, is highly questionable. See and

In Minnesota, the Twins reached a tentative 25-year marketing agreement with Target Corporation to name their new stadium "Target Field," scheduled to open in 2010. The specific terms of the naming rights deal may be kept confidential, however, as the team said it is a "private business transaction." See That page has a cool time lapse image of the stadium construction work from the very beginning.

Finally, the Arizona Diamondbacks are following up on their recent "image makeover" (new uniform design) with a series of improvements to Chase Field. See

And just for the record, Mike objects once again to the idea that there is any historical or aesthetic value to saving the renovated (desecrated?) post-1976 Yankee Stadium. Point well taken, if not agreed to 100%. smile

September 11, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Global War on Terror: Year 7

It's been seven long years since that awful day in September when everything suddenly changed forever. Many of us knew immediately that our nation was at war, and that it would be a long and difficult conflict. Our country did not choose to begin the war, and likewise it is beyond our power to end the war simply by "choosing" peace. Whether we like it or not, the United States, and indeed much of the Western world, will be in a state of war (or virtual war) for years and years to come. That does not mean that our troops will be engaging in protracted bloody firefights month after month, or that our pilots will be dropping bombs on terrorist hideouts year after year, but we will be subject to potential attack in one form or another for the indefinite future.

For amnesia-prone Americans, the idea of a conflict lasting for many decades is simply beyond comprehension. Europeans, on the other hand, tend to have a better appreciation for history. They know all about the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453). Having suffered through two world wars in the past century, however, they are correspondingly less inclined than Americans to defend their civilization, which seems to be withering away. (Read Mark Steyn's America Alone.)

To put the "GWOT" in proper historical perspective, you would need to go back to at least the mid-20th Century, when Arab nationalism was beginning to rise, in opposition to Zionism. It would be even better to go back to World War I, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed and left millions of Arabs and other non-Turkish populations without any governing authority -- save for the British and French. This sudden power vacuum exposed the Arabs' stagnant, backward culture for all the world to see, creating a deep, abiding hatred for Western imperialism. But the "Clash of Civilizations" really goes back to the 19th Century, when Charles Gordon (played by Charlton Heston in the movie Khartoum) heroically resisted the jihad waged by the Mahdi Mohammed Ahmed. (Both men died and then came the Whirling Dervishes.) Or perhaps it goes back to the late 18th Century, when the newborn United States took on the Barbary pirates in North Africa -- those "Musselmen," as Thomas Jefferson called them. You get the idea. This conflict has been a long time coming, and it's got a long way to go.

That being the case, we need to think seriously about our options in how to prosecute this war: Which targets to hit, and how many troops and other resources to devote. This, of course, is one of the main policy choices that the election in November will determine. In today's News Leader, Mary Baldwin College Professor Gordon Bowen looked ahead to how the wars will proceed after the Bush administration has ended. He rued the waning attentiveness of many Americans to the very real progress that is being made in Iraq:

George Bush's unaltered determination to persist to victory in Iraq fortunately was paired with a shift in war strategy: General David Petraeus' "surge" in street level counter-insurgency operations by U.S. and (pro-U.S.) Iraqi militias and armed forces

That point is paralleled by Bob Woodward's new book, The War Within, being excerpted this week in the Washington Post. It was not so much the increased numbers of U.S. troops that turned the tide as it was the adoption of more aggressive yet politically-sensitive tactics. Surprise: the Sunnis in Iraq are now on our side, and Anbar province is largely free of Al Qaeda! All it took was some astute negotiations with Sunni tribal leaders and a show of U.S. determination to prevail. Dr. Bowen is critical of several aspects of the Bush administration's conduct of the war, but unlike many pundits these days, he grasps the essential nature of the struggle we are in. What does he consider the most dangerous crisis zone in the world today? "Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state of 164 million, is close to unraveling." (Asif Ali Zardari was just elected to replace Pervez Musharraf on Saturday, but few people expect him to pacify the country any time soon.)

Anyway, some of the the online comments that were made in response to Dr. Bowen's column were off-topic, but I took the opportunity to add my two cents anyway, taking issue with someone who suggested that John McCain is a war-monger:

If you're going to talk about Obama's aversion to war, Pakistan is a bad example. Indeed, he has sounded even more gung ho than Bush about sending troops there to hunt for Osama bin Laden. Or maybe that's just talk.

Going back to the topic of Dr. Bowen's op-ed piece, it is also useful to contrast the relative degree of success in Iraq, where the U.S. has led the counter-insurgency effort in a determined (though often flawed) fashion, to Afghanistan, in which a hodge podge of NATO allies lacking in commitment has failed to secure the countryside. What more proof do you need of the inherent shortcomings of Obama's preference for multilateral, diplomacy-focused foreign policy?

Listen to McCain. When he says he hates war, he means it. He is not a swaggering "imperialist" bully, but he knows that you'll never get far in foreign policy if you rule out the use of force. He also knows that Bush made some serious errors, such as ignoring the political makeup of Iraq and failing to ask the American people to make sacrifices, and he's not about to repeat them. But that doesn't mean he's going to shirk responsibility for Iraq and just pull out.

September 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]

House to Wall Street: Drop dead! *

I've had my doubts about the right wing of the Republican Party in recent years, as far as the shift toward a populist style of campaigning focusing on "values," and the corresponding lack of concern for prudent oversight of the government which many of them exhibit. I've also argued that in times of emergency such as the present, the guidepost for making decisions should be pragmatism rather than ideology -- free market or otherwise. Sometimes the headstrong Republicans in the House just make me cringe. Yet the more I think about it, the more I'm inclined to give them credit for resisting pressure to go along with the dubious bank bailout bill demanded by President Bush.

After the initial panicked reaction to the failure to pass an emergency bailout bill on Monday (the Dow dropped a record 777 points, about 7%), Wall Street bounced back today, as investors apparently realized they don't need Uncle Sam after all. See Ironically, the gesture of refusal by the House of Representatives seems to have restored their faith in the ability of markets to correct themselves. Too bad President Bush lost his faith. World markets are another question, but for the time being, contrary to the consensus view of most experts, it appears fairly certain that the sky is not falling.

The House rejected the bailout by a 228-205 vote that had nothing to do with party affiliation, even though the partisan bickering before and after the vote was rampant. (See below.) A larger proportion of Democrats voted in favor of the bill than Republicans. Today's Washington Post dissected the vote, and found that about half of the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus voted against the bill, as did three fourths of the conservative Republican Study Committee. In other words, House members on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum united against the centrists. Another finding was the most freshmen House members and those facing tough challenges in this fall's election opposed the bill, reflecting popular sentiment. That's exactly what the House is supposed to do; see below.

Party YES NO Total
Democrats 140 95 235
Republicans 65 133 198
TOTAL 205 228 433

NOTE: One Republican did not vote.

In terms that rational choice theorist R. Douglas Arnold would use, this bailout (?) bill was a classic case of a "Politically repellant policy," that is, one in which citizens can't see the link between proposed policy instruments and intended effects. (I should note that, in her weak attempt to sell the bill to her fellow Democrats, Speaker Pelosi said it was not a "bailout," but rather a "buy in." From a Democratic (or Socialist) perspective, the main virtue in this bill is that it would get the foot in the door for a gradual takeover of the private business sector by the Federal government. In any case, President Bush simply did not have enough credibility to persuade skeptics to follow his recommended course of action.

I was surprised that Rush Limbaugh pointed out an irony today: Why the "rush to judgment"? What about the possibility of faulty or manipulated intelligence? Shouldn't members of Congress apply greater scrutiny to the arguments before making such a profound decision of such great historical magnitude?? After all the complaints by the Democrats about how the war in Iraq was approved, you would think they would have applied their own lesson to this case.

Democrats can scarcely contain their glee at ushering in the demise of the capitalist system, while getting credit for trying to save it. As Nate Silver wrote "the schadenfreude of certain liberals on this issue is absolutely obnoxious." Hat tip to Daniel Drezner, who remains deeply annoyed at the House Republicans, but perhaps he'll come around.

As Establishment Conservative George Will (no populist, he!) wrote last week, there is great uncertainty over the scope of the problem which ought to give us pause before acting. Instead, it is being used as an excuse for even more urgent haste. Something is not quite right.

The Senate is supposed to vote on the bill tomorrow. As the debate over the proposed $700 billion bank bailout continues, a striking irony is emerging: The House of Representatives, which is supposed to reflect the will of the people without while the United States Senate, "the greatest deliberative body in the world," can hardly wait to rush headlong into the Brave New World of state-run economics. It's a veritable constitutional role reversal!

Who's to blame?

I will let others argue which party is more at fault in the current crisis, although it should be clear what I think. Suffice it to say that Rep. Barney Frank's sarcastic derision of Republicans who resented Speaker Nancy Pelosi's highly partisan speech on the House floor just before the vote did not help the Democrats in the P.R. battle.

The problem really goes back years, and neither party's leaders are innocent. On one hand, President Bush has been closely associated with crony capitalism, and on the other hand, Barack Obama, Sen. Christopher Dodd, and Barney Frank are on unduly cordial terms with some of the crookedest operators in the financial sector. Indeed, the Democrats have been stalling on the need for reforming the mortgage sector for years, as this YouTube video demonstrates. (Hat tip to Steve, Chris, and Phil.) But you might say that most of the adult American population is complicit in one way or another. If this crisis began when too many people couldn't keep up with their mortgage payments, you have to consider the public policies that artificially stimulate consumer demand for homes. At the top of that list would be the mortgage interest deduction on Americans' personal income tax. Eliminating that unwarranted "middle class entitlement" would be a big step toward restoring a level playing field in the housing market. As I wrote in June 2005:

[The] Federal income tax deduction for mortgage interest rates ... constitutes one of the most outrageous entitlements in our country today, and it is beginning to have severe distortionary effects on the rest of the economy. Too bad so few politicians are willing to face up to this simple fact.

At the Mountain-Valley Republican breakfast on Saturday, Lynn Sisson of the AXA Advisors office in Staunton gave a quick summary of what led to the current economic mess, and how we can prepare for an uncertain financial future. She reminded everyone that pressure to loosen standards for loans at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac began during the Clinton administration. She also discussed the problem with certain accounting regulations that need to be reformed urgently. A spirited discussion followed, and everyone present learned a great deal, including me.

* For you folks in Rio Linda, the famous "Drop dead!" headline originated in the New York Daily News on October 30, 1975 after President Gerald Ford turned down New York City's plea for a fiscal bailout.

September 27, 2008 [LINK / comment]

McCain holds his own vs. Obama

With all the last-minute shuffling in connection with the negotiations over President Bush's proposed big bank bailout, I was afraid that John McCain might not be at his best during last night's "debate."* Fortunately, McCain rose to the occasion, showing a solid command of a wide range of issues and poking holes in Obama's vision of utopia. There were a few awkward moments, such as when McCain talked about the fallen soldier's bracelet he wears, and Obama came back with a sharp rejoinder. McCain occasionally seemed a little uneasy, but for the most part his poise and dignified demeanor were very reassuring, especially in nerve-wracking times like these.

For his part, Obama came across as a little aloof or even smart-alecky, I thought. He avoided making any obnoxious put-downs, which is hard for elitists like him. Nevertheless, he still needs to work on his skills in communicating with average people.

As the Washington Post noted, both candidates support the general idea of a large-scale bailout of the U.S. banking system. It's too bad that such a vital national issue didn't elicit more clash of ideas. Likewise, both candidates took a hardline stance on preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons (easier said than done) and on confronting the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The question of exactly how hard to pressure Pakistan to cooperate in our war against the Islamic extremists was one of the most interesting parts of the debate.

Even though McCain came out ahead, he needs to do better next time to regain the momentum, now that the excitement over Gov. Sarah Palin has passed. Doubts about Sarah Palin's readiness to serve could cost him a percentage point or two. For a strikingly civil, thoughtful exchange of views on the debate, see The Mud Pit. Here's what I wrote:

McCain was better prepared and spoke more forcefully than I had expected, given the chaos of this past week. True, he did pull his rhetorical punches a couple times when Obama left himself wide open, but he got some good shots, showing a strong command of the issues and detailed knowledge. Both he and Obama wasted time arguing over numbers. I was surprised that Obama came across as so hesitant. I expected him to be ready with a bunch of juicy "gotcha" one-liners, but likewise he held back. I guess they are both getting a feel for each other in preparation for later debates.

As usual, the Saturday Night Live parody version of the debate was hilarious, making fun of both candidates' foibles. smile

* Those modern-day question-and-answer sessions do not qualify as true debates; see National Forensic League.

September 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Yankee Stadium retires at age 85

With all the pomp and circumstance that was due for such a momentous (and bittersweet) occasion, the New York Yankees bid farewell last night to the "House That Ruth Built," which has been their home for the past 85 years. Even though the visiting Baltimore Orioles took an early lead, the Yanks came back in the third inning and then took the lead for good in the fourth inning, winning 7 to 3. Official attendance was 54,610, about 3,000 less than capacity, but the grandstand and bleachers looked pretty full to me watching on TV. The difference is probably due to a large number of "comp" tickets given out to various dignitaries, former Yankees, and their relatives.

It was wonderful to see Yogi Berra, Don Larsen, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, and other former Yankee greats in the pre-game ceremonies. It was like when Ted Williams was at Fenway Park for the 1999 All-Star Game. Too bad Bobby Murcer didn't live quite long enough to be there. (Where were Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez, or Roger Clemens? What about Joe Pepitone or others from the early 1960s?) The daughter of Babe Ruth did a great job of throwing out the first pitch, especially for someone of her age (91). The daughter of Elston Howard, who became the first African-American to play for the Yankees in 1955 (as catcher), represented her father, who died in 1980.

Of course, it was Babe Ruth himself who hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium in 1923, and in his farewell speech in 1946 he said, "God knows who'll hit the last one." Now we all know it was Jose Molina. See (In the third inning Johnny Damon hit the next-to-last home run at Yankee Stadium; it would have been something if another former member of the Red Sox who became a Yankee had hit the very last homer there!) Trivia buffs will want to file away these tidbits of information:

  • Final game score: Yankees 7, Orioles 3
  • Final home run: Jose Molina (4th inn.)
  • Final hit: Jason Giambi (7th inn.)
  • Final RBI: Robinson Cano (sac. fly, 7th inn.)
  • Final run scored: Brett Gardner (7th inn.)
  • Final batter: Brian Roberts
  • Final put-out: Cody Ransom (1B)
  • Winning pitcher: Andy Pettitte
  • Closing pitcher: Mariano Rivera

(Why have I never heard of Jose Molina, Brett Gardner, or Cody Ransom before?) Here are some of the individual all-time records compiled at Yankee Stadium:

  • Career home runs: Mickey Mantle -- 266
  • Career hits: Derek Jeter -- 1,274
  • Career RBIs: Lou Gehrig -- 949

Jeter passed Gehrig on the all-time hits list earlier this month. Unfortunately, he did not get any hits last night, possibly because of a hurt hand. In his brief "speech" on behalf of the Yankees after the game, he said,

And although things are going to change next year, we're going to move across the street, there are a few things with the New York Yankees that never change -- it's pride, it's tradition, and most of all, we have the greatest fans in the world. [sic; he probably meant the possessive "its"]

Because the Yankees (85-71) are eight games behind the Rays (92-62) in the American League Eastern Division, and six and a half games behind the Red Sox (91-64), last night's game will probably have no significance for the championship series in October. Nevertheless, it did keep alive the mathematical possibility that the Yankees might make it to the postseason, so in a sense, the last game at Yankee Stadium really did count. If the Yankees had lost last night, the Red Sox would have clinched a postseason berth, eliminating the "Bronx Bombers." The fact that the Yankees won means that, if they win every one of their remaining games (six, all on the road), and the Red Sox lose every one of their remaining games (seven, all at home), those two arch-rivals will end up tied at 91-71, forcing a one-game playoff for the Wild Card slot. I know, it's not bloody likely. But if you think it's impossible, don't forget what the Colorado Rockies did in late September last year!!

Yankee Stadium is the only home the New York Yankees have ever had to themselves, and in that regard they are unique among all Major League teams, other than the new ones founded in the 1990s. Before Yankee Stadium was built in 1923, they shared the Polo Grounds with the New York Giants, and before that (1903-1912), the team was known as the "Highlanders" and played in Hilltop Park. For the team's first two years of its existence, they played in Baltimore and were known as the "Orioles"; see the MLB Franchises page. It is ironic that the final game in Yankee Stadium was against the team whose identity matches the Yankees' own original identity.

While the closing of the grand old cathedral in the Bronx is very somber for those of us who are ballpark aficionados and Yankee fans, it's not the end of the world. (Remember, "there's no crying in baseball!") The "old" Yankee Stadium did have shortcomings, and in any case, the renovated post-1976 version bore little resemblance to the way it looked in the "good old days" of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle. I'm sure the new version will be more "fan-friendly" in many respects, and I will keep an open mind about it as the Yankees begin a new era next spring.

Yankee Stadium

Roll mouse over the diagram to compare the final configuration of Yankee Stadium (1988-2008) to the way it looked when it first opened in 1923.

Cubs, Rays clinch

Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs for clinching the NL Central Division for the second year in a row, and to the Tampa Bay Rays for clinching their first postseason berth in franchise history. That means that all four of the franchises founded in the 1990s have made it to the postseason.

COMMENT by: John Crozier, of Rockville Centre, NY on Sep 24, 2008 19:21 PM
Actually, Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius were at the game and participated in the on-field pregame ceremony.

September 11, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Rays overcome Fenway jinx

One of the many ways in which baseball is distinguished from most other sports is the widespread superstitions that are believed to determine winning and losing. The Cubs have labored under the "Billy Goat curse" since the 1940s, while in Boston, the Red Sox finally put an end to the "curse of the Bambino" in 2003. Now they are a successful, psychologically well-adjusted team for the first time in living memory. In similar fashion, the Tampa Bay Rays felt spooked having lost their last nine games at Fenway Park, and their series in Boston this week was a true test of whether they have the intestinal fortitude to make it to the postseason. A ninth-inning home run by Dan Johnson (just called up from the minors) tied the game on Tuesday night, and consecutive doubles after that gave them the margin of victory (5-4). See Last night's game was a marathon pitchers' duel, 1-1 going into the 14th inning, at which point Carlos Peña hit a three-run home run. The Bosox loaded the bases in the bottom of the 14th, but only scored one run, as the Rays won again, 4-2. Thus, the young overachievers from Tampa Bay overcame doubts and finally broke through the psychological barrier that Fenway Park represented. That's a good thing for them, because they may be playing against Boston in the playoffs next month!

Two slugfests in Flushing

The Washington Nationals may have weak spots (such as inconsistent batting and inconsistent pitching), but they are showing that they aren't giving up as the 2008 season enters its final phase. In both games at Shea Stadium this week, they came back or retook the lead multiple times after the New York Mets had racked up big leads. But they just couldn't keep up with the bats of David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and Carlos Delgado, and lost twice, 10-8 and 13-10. Those were the last games the Nats will ever play in Shea Stadium, which had been one of their luckiest out-of-town venues. (See May 16.) It was strange seeing so many former Nationals (Brian Schnieder, Ryan Church, Luis Ayala, Marlon Anderson, and Endy Chavez) in Mets uniforms, while two former Mets (Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes) are now playing for the Nationals. Both those guys had troublesome reputations in New York, and Dukes was less than gentlemanly in last night's game.

And so, the Mets expand their lead over the Philadelphia Phillies to 3 1/2 games. The Nationals play four games with the Mets in D.C. next week, and three road games with the Phillies to close the season. Will the Nats end up deciding the NL East title like they did last year?

[UPDATE: Speaking of slugfests... smile]

Angels clinch division

To no one's surprise, the L.A./Anaheim/California Angels clinched the AL West division title last night, beating the Yankees. On the other side of the city, meanwhile, the Dodgers are on a hot streak, winning nine of their last ten games thanks in part to Manny Ramirez. They are now 3 1/2 games ahead of the Diamondbacks. With a so-so .514 record, however, the Dodgers still have a lower winning percentage than four teams in the NL Central Division and are below two teams in the NL East!

Tiger Stadium photos

An interactive photographic chronology of the demolition work at Tiger Stadium can be seen at Apparently, the wrecking crew has paused while the historical preservationists get another chance to save what's left of the old ballpark. About one-third of it remains relatively intact for the time being.

The mail bag

Terry Wallace tells me he thinks the reason that the seating capacity for football games at Metroplitan Stadium was 3,000 more than for baseball games was because the lower deck of the "bleachers" in left field were extended by several rows after the end of baseball season. Does anyone else know about that? If so, feel free to comment, if you are registered.

September 18, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Decision 2008: Foreign policy

Even though the economic crisis is currently grabbing the headlines, both candidates have placed an unusual degree of emphasis on foreign policy this year. For most Americans, international issues are either too remote or too complicated to deal with, and not many elections are decided by such issues. Two of the biggest exceptions would probably be 1968 and 1980, but in both those years, social and economic problems were also very salient.

To a large extent, Sen. John McCain has staked his candidacy on his greater command of foreign policy issues, and his greater sense of judgment and prudence compared to Sen. Barack Obama. Given the public's slowly waning enthusiasm for fighting the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, such a stance by McCain is perhaps rather surprising. His big challenge will be trying to arouse in the American people a sense that there is great danger in the world, requiring a steady hand in the Oval Office, while reassuring voters that things are progressing gradually in the right direction. It will be hard for him to convey such a subtle, mixed message to an electorate that doesn't always pay close attention.

On Tuesday night, I was among 30-odd people who attended a forum on foreign policy and the 2008 campaign, sponsored by the Augusta Free Press. (The event was also covered by WHSV-TV3.) Chris Graham moderated and introduced the two discussants: Dr. Gordon Bowen, professor of political science and international relations at Mary Baldwin College, and Dr. David McQuilkin, who teaches history and political science at Bridgewater College.

Dr. Bowen is known for being rather hawkish on international security issues, and recently wrote an op-ed article for the News Leader, which I cited. He drew attention to the parallel between Barack Obama and Harry Truman, who was an untested novice in foreign affairs when he suddenly assumed the presidency upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt in April 1945. Truman struggled to guide the United States in the confusing post-World War II era, when there was an emerging threat from a determined ideological foe (the USSR), and no consensus on how to confront it. It's a lot like the situation today in the "Global War on Terror." Bowen said that experience is necessary to be an effective president, but it must be the "right kind" of experience...

Then, Dr. McQuilkin spoke about all the vast changes in the world, and especially the fact that the United States no longer enjoys hegemonic supremacy as it did in the 1990s. He believes the essential task our next president faces is to discard backward-looking policies and approaches, and look forward, embracing the new realities. That means accepting that the global balance of power is now decidedly multipolar, and addressing security issues will be very difficult without stronger international institutions. He believes in cooperative conflict resolution, whereas Dr. Bowen argues that intractable problems such as the Israeli-Palestine conflict can only be managed, not "resolved."

During the question-and-answer session, I asked Dr. McQuilkin whether NATO is one of the "obsolete Cold War insitutions" he was talking about. I mentioned that one reason for the aggressively hostile foreign policy adopted by Vladimir Putin in recent years is that the expansion of NATO during the 1990s threatened Russia (which is historically paranoid) with strategic encirclement. This question put him on the spot, since he was talking about the positive role played by NATO in various crisis zones. He said he didn't have a good answer, but agreed that NATO's continued existence should be open to debate. Dr. Bowen countered that NATO serves the purpose envisioned by German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who called for the establishment of a league of democracies (actually, Kant referred to republics) that would support each other and gradually expand the realm of freedom around the world. Point well taken, but we still need to think very carefully whether the United States should commit itself to defending former Soviet republics such as Estonia (or perhaps Georgia, some day) from Russian invasion.

If there had been enough time, I would have asked the discussants how well suited they thought the two presidential candidates were to candidly telling the American people what a daunting prospect we face in coming years, as China and other countries rapidly gain in power relative to us. To me, the populist campaign approach adopted by both parties makes it even more difficult to talk about such things in a frank, honest way. A few years from now, this country is going to get one hell of a rude slap in the face when we realize we can't influence other countries the way we used to.

During the forum, I was reading a fact sheet handout entitled "Barack Obama on Foreign Policy," which of course highlighted Obama's opposition to the war in Iraq. It also emphasized building the size of our armed forces (!) and increased international cooperation to stop nuclear proliferation. I was struck, however, by the minimal regard for promoting democracy abroad, which was a major element of both the Clinton and Bush (II) administrations. It's striking that a Democratic Party candidate would not emphasize his own party's values more strongly.

NOTE: This event was held at the Democratic headquarters in Waynesboro, and just for the record, I was not spying. smile

Brooks on conservatism today

In the New York Times, David Brooks ponders the meaning of the Sarah Palin phenomenon, in terms of the contemporary drift of conservatism in American toward a more populist nature. He notes that conservatives used to be candidly elitist, and upheld high standards in education and government service. The populist conservatives of today, in contrast, are often skeptical of "book learning" and less concerned with responsible governance. He considers the argument that our Founding Fathers wanted to have common people in positions of government authority, to offset rigidity in thinking.

I would have more sympathy for this view if I hadn't just lived through the last eight years. For if the Bush administration was anything, it was the anti-establishment attitude put into executive practice.

And the problem with this attitude is that, especially in his first term, it made Bush inept at governance. It turns out that governance, the creation and execution of policy, is hard. It requires acquired skills. Most of all, it requires prudence.

Hat tip to Daniel Drezner, who obviously shares the same worry about what Palin represents -- as do I, to a certain extent.

Poll on the economy

With Wall Street gyrating up and down from day to day, many people are wondering how bad the current crisis really is. So, Glenn Reynolds set up an "Insta-poll," asking: "How bad is the economic situation?" I answered, "Like the 1987 Crash," which was (barely) the most frequent response, with 22%; see

Carl Tate

The News Leader featured one of the "best and brightest" of local Republicans -- Carl Tate, who is working hard on behalf of John McCain. It's hard for him to persuade other African-Americans not to vote for Barack Obama, the first black presidential candidate. I remember when Carl introduced himself to the Staunton Republican Committee a few years back, and how excited we were to have a dynamic guy like him on board, helping to broaden the party's appeal. The article recounts Carl's determined political organizing efforts at Liberty University and elsewhere in the face of scorn. Those leadership qualities are exactly what the Republican Party needs today. Here is my response to one of the comments on that article:

GregBruno: Republicans did not "choose" Carl; he chose the Republicans. If you think affirmative action has been largely eliminated, perhaps you live on a different planet. Jesse Helms was not a typical Republican, and Ronald Reagan did not share his racial views.

The Republican Party is committed to expanding opportunities to ALL people who are willing to work, save, and invest, encouraging self-reliance. The Democrats, in contrast, promise "opportunity" to select socio-economic groups, in return for their votes, encouraging greater dependence on government. It's a trap.

Carl is beginning studies at the University of Richmond Law School this fall, which probably explains why he isn't blogging as much as he was during the summer at The Hall of Justice. We wish him the very best success in the legal field.

September 28, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Park beautification in Staunton

I spent a couple hours on Saturday morning joining local school teachers, police officers, and a "motley crew" of public-spirited volunteers at a Community Day event held at the Booker T. Washington Community Center, located on the west side of the historic "New Town" neighborhood of Staunton. It was the first time I had been there, and I was amazed by how steep the streets are; it's quite a view from up there. We spent most of the time digging holes, shoveling mulch, and planting plants and bulbs in the playground. When we were done, it looked just great. The weather was overcast and it drizzled occasionally, but at least we didn't get rained on.

The event was part of a broader crime prevention program, targeting the alarming rise of street gangs in this area. Attorney General Bob McDonnell (see Web site) spoke to the volunteers about the need for this kind of community service to raise hope and (by implication) combat deliquency. Assistant Attorney General Phil Figura was the main organizer of the event, and several staff members joined him. I was very impressed by the large outpouring of good will, showing once again what a solid, vibrant community Staunton is. As the article in today's News Leader pointed out, however, much will depend on whether there is a sustained community effort to maintain the Community Center and playground.

Lowe's contributed a large quantity of flowering plants, mulch, tools, and supplies that were put to excellent use. Several employees of Shenandoah Valley Security pitched in, and several local companies contributed supplies, such as Blue Ridge Lumber. Tom Sheets, the company president, was in attendance, along with his wife Peggy. They were the hosts of the campaign fund-raiser for State Senator Emmett Hanger in May 2007.

(Full disclosure: My presence at this community event was motivated in part by politics, with the understanding that there was to be no political activity.)

September 7, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nats split series with Braves

The first two games in Atlanta were discouraging -- a 2-0 loss and a 10-5 blowout (they narrowed the gap late in the game) -- but the Nationals found a way to scrounge out victories against the Braves in the two weekend games, earning a 2-2 series split. Both of the wins were achieved in extra innings, though the respective stories were quite different. In Saturday's game, Elijah Dukes hit two home runs, and Willie Harris and Ryan Zimmerman hit one each. Nats' starter Tim Redding went six innings and deserved the win, but the relievers let him down again as the Nats blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning. (If the ball hit by Kelly Johnson with the bases loaded had not bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double, the Braves would have won the game.) Then Ryan Langerhans (a former Brave) hit a three-run homer in the tenth inning that ended up winning the game, 8-5.

In Sunday's game, the Nats came from behind with a home run and a two-run double by Alberto Gonzalez (not the former attorney general) late in the game, and the score stayed 4-4 through the thirteenth inning. A nerve-wracking marathon! Finally, Elijah Dukes came through with a three-run double down the left field line in the fourteenth inning.

Back-to-back extra-inning games are quite a rarity. It has happened to the Nationals exactly three times in their (almost) four-year history, but in each case it was against two different teams. June 29-30 this year (win vs. Baltimore, loss vs. Florida), September 12-14, 2007 (loss vs. Florida, loss vs. Atlanta), and August 31-September 2, 2006 (win vs. Philadelphia, win vs. Arizona).

Now that Elijah Dukes is healthy again, he is looking very good as a slugger. The same thing goes for Ryan Zimmerman and Lastings Milledge as well, and the future looks bright for the Nationals. Zimmerman's consecutive-game hitting streak came to an end today at 12 games. Cristian Guzman had an eight-game multi-hit streak going until a few days ago. For most of the first half of the season, he was leading the National League in number of hits, but missed several games in August. With 163 hits for the season, he is currently 30 behind the Major League hit leader, Dustin Pedroia.

Too many empty seats

Attendance at Turner Field looked pretty measly on TV, and the 30,000+ official figures for the weekend games were apparently inflated by a high proportion of "phantom fans." Turner Field usually has a large excess capacity, like most of the early-phase retro / "neo-classical" stadiums: Camden Yards, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Coors Field, Chase Field, and Safeco Field each have nearly 50,000 seats, about 10,000 more than is normally needed. The lone exception among the "late-20th Century" ballparks is "Progressive Field" (formerly known as Jacobs Field), with a capacity of about 43,000. The Indians, who made their home at gargantuan Cleveland Stadium for several long decades, knew better than anyone else how depressing excess capacity can be... Almost all of the early 21st-Century stadiums have fewer than 43,000 seats, which is much more appropriate for baseball games.

September 1, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nationals sweep the Braves

It's hard to believe that the downtrodden, hard-luck team from the District of Columbia could make such a dramatic turnaround as the month of August comes to an end. Defeating in succession the L.A. Dodgers and then the Atlanta Braves in three straight games in two series at home was a major accomplishment for the Washington Nationals, coming so soon after they lost 12 games in a row. The Nats are currently the only team with a winning streak of six games, and only one other team (the Brewers) have won eight of their last ten games. You might say the Nats are the hottest team in baseball right now! (OK, would you believe warmest?)

Saturday night's 9-8 win was the first extra-inning victory for the Nats in over three months. They came from behind, showing their increasing confidence, but then gave up a lead in the late innings. In the bottom of the tenth, the bases were loaded with two outs, and Elijah Dukes showed he is maturing by holding off on marginal pitches, drawing an RBI "walk-off walk" to end things in jubilant fashion. On Sunday, the Nats staged another late comeback, as Aaron Boone hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning to take a 6-4 lead, and two more Nats scored after that. Very satisfying!

At long last, the Nats are finally playing like a real team, in which everybody contributes a little bit fairly consistently, and different people make the clutch hits and defensive plays in different games. No single player stands above the others during their current hot streak. Ryan Zimmerman continues to improve his batting average, now above .280, which is in line what everybody has been expecting from the U.Va. wunderkind.

How's this for a statistical fluke: August was the winningest (or "least losingest") month for the Nationals so far this year (14-15), and yet it was also the month in which the team suffered its longest losing streak (12 games) since moving to Washington in 2005! That's because they won almost all their games for the first week of the month, and then won almost all the games for the last ten days of the month.

Astrodome update

Astrodome As Hurricane Gustav slams into Louisiana almost exactly three years after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, it's appropriate to remember the Astrodome, where many of the refugees were taken. So, I have updated those diagrams, rendering the profile more accurately than before, and adding a separate diagram showing the roof structure. The main upper deck is slightly smaller than I previously estimated, and its front edge is directly above that of the next-lower deck, not set back several feet as I had thought before.

Superdome baseball?

Steven Poppe raised an "alternate reality" conjecture: If there had been a Major League team in New Orleans in 2005, where would they have taken refuge while the Superdome was being rebuilt after Katrina hit? The NFL Saints played their "home" games that fall in San Antonio (Alamodome) and Baton Rouge (LSU's Tiger Stadium). Major League exhibition games have been played in the Superdome several times over the years, but I have never seen a photo from such a game, and the only seating diagrams I've seen online are insufficiently detailed for me to come up with a suitable baseball configuration diagram.

Thome ties Mantle

Congratulations go out to Jim Thome, who hit his 536th career home run on Saturday and thereby tied Mickey Mantle on the all-time list. His two-run shot in the first inning helped the White Sox defeat the Red Sox at Fenway Park, which in turn helped the Tampa Bay Rays widen their lead in the AL East to five games.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Sep 02, 2008 21:58 PM
Did some precursory research, and according to witnesses, the approximate dimensions of the Superdome were from left foul pole to right foul pole, 325-385-421-385-325, and that there was EXPOSED CONCRETE in play. Owie!

COMMENT by: John Crozier, of Rockville Centre, NY on Sep 03, 2008 15:59 PM
There's a video of a College baseball series in 1987 called the "Busch Challenge" Here's the link: Tulane (along with UNO and LSU) played the state of Florida (Florida, FSU and Miami). This video may show more cearly how the Superdome was situated for baseball.

September 29, 2008 [LINK / comment]

New constitution for Ecuador

Based on early returns, it appears that almost two-thirds of the people of Ecuador voted to approve a revised constitution that would greatly enhance the powers of the president. For one thing, he would have the power to dissolve Congress once per term, though that would force new presidential elections to be held. Incumbent presidents would be eligible for reelection after their initial four-year term is up; President Rafael Correa has already served two years, and thus may hold on to power for eight additional years -- or more, pending further constitutional revision. The left-wing Correa hailed the results of the referendum, saying, "This confirms the citizens' revolution." As reported by the Washington Post,

Correa's supporters emphasize that the 444-article document -- Ecuador's 20th constitution -- prohibits discrimination, respects private property, will increase spending on health care and the poor, and enshrines more rights for indigenous groups. In a country rich with ecological treasures, including the Galapagos Islands and part of the Amazon rain forest, the constitution also calls on government to avoid measures that would destroy ecosystems or drive species to extinction -- the first such measure of its kind, according to Ecuadoran officials. The constitution would allow civil unions for gay couples.

Obviously, that is not a "constitution" in any traditional sense, it is a laundry list of vague aspirations and specific commitments that probably cannot be fulfilled. It takes to the extreme the Latin American habit of enshrining a multitude of particular concerns in the Basic Charter, making it so complex that hardly anyone has the slightest idea of what the Constitution really says. Today the jubilant Correa called on his country's citizens to help "build a more just society." See Ecuador thus continues to march in the authoritarian footsteps of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, abandoning the traditional constitutional restraints that made possible peaceful political change. The people of Ecuador will soon learn what a "revolution" really is, just as the people of Bolivia are learning...

A nuclear Venezuela?

Just back from a trip to Russia, where he met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, President Hugo Chavez announced that he is seeking help from Moscow in developing a nuclear power program. Of course, he made the obligatory stipulation that it would be for "civilian" purposes. See In an energy-rich country like Venezuela, however, the political and strategic purposes of such a program are obvious to everyone. Moscow has no reason to help Venezuela gain the capacity to build its own nuclear weapons, but given its ongoing strategic offensive aimed at toppling U.S. global supremacy, it has every reason to make the U.S. government think that it is doing so.

September 20, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Deadly prison riot in Mexico

One of the most worrisome trends in Latin America, aside from the spread of radical populism inspired by Hugo Chavez, is the rising frequency of deadly prison riots. This a partly a symptom of social stress, but mainly reflects the growing influence of criminal gangs involved in the drug trade. This phenomenon has been concentrated primarily in Central America, but may be spreading. Brazil has suffered such experiences in recent years, and it even happened Paraguay in June. In Mexico this week, about 20 people died in La Mesa prison in Tijuana, and a video of the shooting can be seen at BBC. It started last Sunday, when three prisoners died in a riot over demands for more food, and a second round led to a sharp increase in the death toll on Thursday.

September 18, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Red state, red insect

Here is another close-up nature photo from our trip last month to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, in the southeastern corner of the Old Dominion. My apologies for (implicitly) interjecting politics into Nature, but that's what happens during campaign season. smile

Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly

Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly, at Back Bay NWR.

September 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Can you guess who I am?

Here's a nice riddle that will hopefully open a few minds in the midst of this heated political campaign. Hat tip to Patrick Carne.

  • I am under 45 years of age,
  • I love the outdoors,
  • I grew up hunting,
  • I am a Republican, a proven reformer,
  • I have taken on the Republican Party establishment, my own party,
  • I have many children,
  • I have a spot on the national ticket as vice president,
  • And with less than two years in the governor's office.

Have you ever heard of me before now?

I am Teddy Roosevelt.

(Triple-click or drag mouse over the line above to see who it is.)

September 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Gov. Palin hits a home run ball

In her speech in St. Paul last night, Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin scored a huge triumph, giving a much-needed spark of life to the Grand Old Party. Subjected to intense, prime-time national media scrutiny for the first time in her career, she hardly batted an eye as she simultaneously tackled several crucial objectives.

First, she spoke about the personal and moral issues that concern her the most, such as the struggles of family life in this modern world and the right to life. The self-described "hockey mom" reassured the social conservative element in the Republican Party that John McCain values their support and wants to advance their causes. Gov. Palin has single-handedly done more to repair the breach among factions in the Republican Party and restore a sense of united purpose than anyone else could have done.

Second, Gov. Palin showed she is, one on hand, tough as nails and unapologetic about her convictions. Nobody is going to push her around on the campaign trail! Yet she is also quite clearly sincere about what she says, not a shrill or prudish moral pontificator. The fact that she is fundamentally decent as a human being greatly enhances her ability to reach out to skeptical undecided voters. Her personal character shines like a beacon, multiplying her abilities as a communicator. Her ability to make important points about major policy issues in a way that average Americans can relate to is a tremendous asset for John McCain, who is widely admired but is somewhat lacking in terms of personal rapport with the masses.

For me, the best part about Gov. Palin's speech was her emphasis on the need for reforming the Washington political establishment and resisting pressure from lobbyists who work for special interest groups. She won't kowtow to inside-the-Beltway elites or media poohbahs. Her own background as someone who fought corruption and stood up to political cronies shows that, for her, reform is more than just words, it means putting your reputation on the line on behalf of the public interest. These days, there just aren't many politicians willing to take that kind of risk. She is the perfect complement to John McCain's "Maverick," crusading for greater transparency and responsiveness in government and a renewed sense of public spiritedness in America.

Finally, Gov. Palin had some of the best rhetorical putdowns since Lloyd Bentsen made Dan Quayle look three feet tall in 1988. "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities," (See Washington Post.) WOW! Take that, Barack Obama! She certainly made people (like me) who grew up in small towns feel proud. There were a lot more zingers almost as good as that one, but she kept her good humor, avoiding a strident or partisan tone. Like the Hall and Oates song, "Sarah, Smile!" smile

In sum, even though there may still be some questions about her preparedness to serve as vice president, Sarah Palin left no doubt whatsoever about her command of the basic issues and her effectiveness as a campaigner. She's not perfect, but from a Republican perspective, she is as close to perfect as a vice presidential candidate as anyone could be. The biggest danger for the Republicans is that she might upstage the guy who picked her! We can now look forward to a lively, upbeat fall campaign by the Republican team as Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin take their case for reforming Washington to the American people. With less than nine weeks to go until the November 4 election, things are really looking up for our side.

Pundit reactions

On the other hand, there are some naysayers. Dyed-in-the-wool Democrats such as WaPo's Richard Cohen and Eugene Robinson could be expected to regard Palin with a cynical, jaundiced eye, so their opinions don't count for much. The same thing could perhaps be said of conservative banner-wavers such as Rush Limbaugh, who was -- rightfully -- ecstatic at McCain's choice. Among critical-minded conservatives, NYT columnist David Brooks worried that Palin shares McCain's "tendency to substitute a moral philosophy for a political philosophy," lacking a clear structure to guide his policy agenda and direct the vast Federal government bureaucracy toward a clear goal. See Instapundit. Indeed, such reliance on ad hoc criteria could result in policy incoherence, as was the case in the early phase of the Clinton administration. Much will depend on who McCain picks as his top advisers and White House chief of staff.

Labor Day parade

I missed the annual Labor Day parade in [Buena Vista*] Lexington, but Steve Kijak was there and posted a bunch of photos of the evet at RightsideVA. It sounds like there was a lot of dust flying, as Jim Gilmore taunted Mark Warner over his refusal to debate as previously planned. Maybe Mark Warner is getting over-confident about winning the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by John Warner...

[* Hey, those two towns are practically right next to each other.]

September 6, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Late season injury roundup

It may not be as violent as football or other full-contact sports, but baseball is harder on the human body than most people imagine. Unless you're an "Iron Man" like Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripken, playing 162 games every year will cause severe wear and tear. For the Washington Nationals, this entire summer has been filled with unlucky injuries to some of their best players, and the same thing is now happening to several other teams, including some postseason contenders. These news items are based largely on

The Cubs' ace pitcher Carlos Zambrano has been out with a strained shoulder, but after getting an anti-inflammatory injection, he thinks he might be able to resume playing within the next week or so. With all the rotten breaks the Cubs have had over the decades, something like this was exactly what superstitious north-side Chicago fans have been dreading.

On the south side of the Windy City, meanwhile, White Sox slugger Carlos Quentin, who leads the American League in home runs (36) broke his wrist after slamming his bat in anger on Monday, and may be out for the rest of the season. D'oh! There was a similar bonehead self-injury last year, but I forget the guy's name. With the White Sox clinging to a small lead over the Twins in the AL Central, they ought to dock his salary.

Perhaps the biggest question mark is with the Tampa Bay Rays, struggling to stay ahead of the hard-charging Red Sox in the AL East. Evan Longoria has been activated, but will only play as a pinch runner until his fractured wrist heals properly. Carl Crawford remains on the 15-day disabled list.

The Mets, who have been in a back-and-forth race with the Phillies in the NL East, are hopeful that Billy Wagner will resume pitching next week. He has been on the DL since early August, with pain in his left elbow.

Two of the the Dodgers pitchers could resume active duties soon: closer Takashi Saito and starter Brad Penny. With the D-Backs in a slump lately, they've got a prime opportunity to take the lead in the NL West.

Two players for the Texas Rangers are having season-ending surgery: second baseman Ian Kinsler and pitcher Doug Mathis.

Oakland's pitcher Justin Duchscherer will be out for the rest of the season because of a strained right hip; he has been on the DL since August 19.

In Our Nation's Capital, Ronnie Belliard, who has proven to be one the Nationals' most valuable utility players this season, getting clutch hits while playing at first base, second base, shortstop, and as a pinch hitter, strained a groin muscle while running to first base on Thursday night in Atlanta. It was feared he might be out for the rest of the season, but now they think he'll play again soon.

Finally, Nationals pitcher Shawn Hill, who made only 12 starts this year before going on the DL, had some bone spurs surgically removed, and there is now a chance that he will return to the rotation next year. His career hangs in the balance.

Instant replay begins

I happened to flip the channel just in time to see the home run by Alex Rodriguez in Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. Since the ball soared above the tip of the foul pole at Tropicana Field, hooking slightly, it provided the first occasion to use the new instant replay rules, and fortunately it was resolved quickly and fairly. See The ball hit by A-Rod hit the catwalk behind the left field foul pole. There is a yellow vertical pole on that catwalk, in line with the foul line, but I'm not sure what significance it has. Some of those catwalks are in play, and I probably ought to include them in a future diagram version.

Citizens Bank Park

Citizens Bank Park I updated the diagram on the Citizens Bank Park page, with a second profile depicting the grandstand in right field. There are several corrections, most notably, the upper deck is a little smaller than I had previously estimated.

Nationals Park photos

Finally, I added some more of the photos I took last month to the Nationals Park page.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Sep 07, 2008 18:20 PM
The YES announcers on that particular Yankees game with the replay said that the yellow pole on the catwalk has no significance and shouldn't be there because only the foul pole itself determines fair or foul.

September 8, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Mortgage banking nationalized

They never would have tried this during a weekday, when the stock market could have panicked. The takeover over "Fannie Mae" (the Federal National Mortgage Association) and "Freddy Mac" (the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation) by the U.S. Government, which was announced on Sunday by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, in effect means that the mortgage industry is nationalized. Given the continued shakiness of secondary markets for mortgage-backed securities, which undermines Wall Street and by extension the world financial system, such a drastic move was probably inevitable.

As the Washington Post points out, however, there is no guarantee that putting those privately-owned yet publicly-chartered institutions under U.S. Government control will solve the underlying problem. No one can even estimate what the total cost of the bailout-buyout might be. What we do know is that the Federal Government will become a major participant in the secondary mortgage market, meaning that political considerations will inevitably impact on housing supply and demand. There will be huge temptations for politicians of both parties to speak in lofty terms about preserving "the American Dream" of homeownership for most Americans. Nevertheless, the move toward greater government control, however well-intentioned, will paradoxically reduce economic opportunities for enterprising people of modest means.

If a Democratic president had pulled such a sweeping government takeover of such a big segment of the U.S. economy (whether housing, energy, or health care), you can be sure there would be a ferocious outcry by conservatives over the march toward socialism. The fact that a Republican president did so takes some of the sting out of it, sort of like when Nixon went to China in 1972. (A Democratic president doing so would have been suspected of treason by some people.) But that doesn't change the fact that our economy took a big step away from capitalism and corporate accountability yesterday, and a big step toward a more statist, regulated economy. It is a sad day for advocates of free markets like me.

One of the big lessons that we should draw from the mortgage debacle is that, for all its strengths and virtues, a large portion of the U.S. economy is so badly distorted by misguided public policy that market signals no longer serve to make automatic corrections when supply and demand are out of kilter. Put more simply, very little of our economy these days operates according to free market principles. So why don't you hear hardly anyone making that point? Because Republicans are ashamed that they have failed to enact much-needed free market reforms that were the intended follow up to the "Republican Revolution" of 1995, and Democrats don't care about free markets anyway.

As for the political angle, I am glad that Sen. McCain has emphasize reforming the culture of corruption in Washington and distancing himself from the Bush administration on such matters, as I suggested he do on June 11. McCain may be weak on economics, but he understands from an up-close perspective that giving more power to politicians in Washington is what caused most of our economic troubles in the first place. He is in no position to take issue with the Bush administration's emergency policy move, because it's probably too late to do anything different, but he can at least declare with good reason that he has been the one who has been warning of such dangers all along.

We should also remember that the mortgage banking crisis has bipartisan origins, in spite of the Bush administration's close ties to the worst of the subprime mortgage lenders, Ameriquest. Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd and a former campaign aide to Barack Obama were among those who took favors from mortgage lenders, no doubt undermining the government's function in scrutinizing the financial markets at a critical time; see my June 18 blog post.

September 2, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Virginia's GOP delegation

Yesterday's Washington Post took a look at the delegation from Virginia that is attending the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul: 63 delegates and 60 alternates, 85 men and 38 women. The article contrasted the ebullient, optimistic spirit of Virginia Republicans four years ago to the sadly divided state the party is in today, "Hoping to Put a Halt to Slide." The article quoted one delegate who belongs to Americans for Prosperity, Ben Marchi of Richmond, as saying "Republicans had forgotten where they came from." Hmmmm... On the other hand are the relative GOP moderates who abound in Northern Virginia such as Rep. Tom Davis. As the article states,

Some moderate Republicans worry that they no longer have a place in the party and that a shift to the right is coming as the state is tilting left.

The party in Virginia is certainly in a fluid situation, and anything can happen. State Sen. Ken Cucinelli and others were quoted in that article affirming that the party is starting to bounce back. Nevertheless, the factionalism among Republicans in this area (Staunton-Waynesboro-Augusta County) remains so deep that the two sides barely acknowledge the other's existence, if at all.

As for the convention itself, there is no drama and everything seems preordained, except for occasional news items about teen pregnancy, etc. In the Virginia primary held in February, McCain received 50% of the vote statewide, compared to 41% for Huckabee, who was very popular in the Shenandoah Valley and other rural parts of the state. Because Huckabee conceded the race in March, however, all delegates are committed to McCain. In a way, it's too bad they can't go through the voting process on the convention floor so that the "also-rans" can get some satisfaction for all the campaign work they did. It wouldn't mean that the party is divided, it would, rather, give a more accurate indication of everyone's first preferences, just for the record. I was for Fred Thompson originally, but I support John McCain wholeheartedly, without any reservation. Other people in the party have made a name for themselves by harshly denouncing relative moderates like McCain for being "RINOs," but not me.

Hurricane distraction

Hurricane Gustav distracted everybody's attention from the Republican gathering, in large part because it coincided almost exactly with the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. That tragedy spotlighted the Bush administration's excessively detached approach to governance, and probably marked the beginning of the decline of Bush's presidency. I thought it was pointless to delay the 2008 convention's scheduled business just because of the weather, but now that the storm has passed without causing catastrophic damage, they can get back to the planned agenda. Hurricane Gustav did yield one clear benefit for the Republicans, however: It provided President Bush (and Vice President Cheney) with a plausible excuse for not attending the convention. Their presence at the podium would have made the McCain people very uncomfortable, and video clips thereof no doubt would have been incorporated into TV commercials for Barack Obama.

September 7, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Frank Wolf for Congress

One of the most esteemed senior members of the U.S. House of Representatives is Frank Wolf, from the 10th Congressional District, which covers western Fairfax County and a few counties north and west of there. He was first elected in 1980, part of the Reagan Revolution. Over the years, however, he became known as someone who was deeply committed to promoting U.S. human rights objectives, and as a champion of bipartisan cooperation. Now he is running for his 15th term, facing a challenge from Judy Feder, who ran against him two years ago. The Washington Post noted that Wolf will be the only incumbent Republican on the ballot in Northern Virginia, since neither Sen. John Warner nor Rep. Tom Davis (11th District) will be running again. That region that has been leaning more and more Democratic as the years pass, but for a person like Frank Wolf who does not emphasize ideological "wedge issues," such a shift in partisan affiliation does not automatically translate into a loss of votes.

I met Congressman Wolf in 1987 or thereabouts, at a post office where he was holding a routine meeting to hear his constituents' concerns. I was asking him to support the Contadora peace initiative in Central American, and he politely told me he supported the Reagan administration's policy in that region. (Looking back, I'd say he chose wisely.) Anyway, I was impressed that he took the time to listen to little old me, and to explain his own position. Well, I thought, perhaps there are some good Republicans after all. In the years that followed, I came across more and more Republicans like him, and the rest is history. There is a reason that Frank Wolf has enjoyed solid reputation over the years as a devoted public servant: he earned it by being honest and hard-working, not seeking personal glory or his own political advancement. He is genuinely a nice guy. In order to start winning elections again, the Republican Party will need more people like him who put the public interest first and foremost, ahead of partisan politics. Vote for Frank Wolf for Congress!

September 9, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Ballparks and franchise value

One of the perennial questions about public funding for professional sports stadiums is how much those structures end up adding to the value of the (privately-owned) franchise. This summer, Forbes magazine had a special issue on "Sports Money: Baseball." They estimated the franchise net worth, and the share of that total accounted by, respectively, Major League Baseball (revenue sharing), the regional market, the stadium, and the team "brand." Their methodology is vague, but some of the results are interesting. The highest-value franchise is, of course, the New York Yankees, estimated to be worth $1.3 billion, and the Mets are number two, at $824 million. At the bottom of the scale are the two teams from the Sunshine State: Tampa Bay Rays ($290 million) and Florida Marlins ($256 million).

One thing that surprised me is that more teams own at least part of their home stadium than I would have guessed. Four National League franchises own their stadiums outright (Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, and Cardinals), and two American League franchises do (Red Sox and Blue Jays). In addition, three National League franchises have partial equity stake in their stadiums (Astros, Padres, and Brewers), but the magazine doesn't say how big a share.

As for ballparks' share of total franchise value, about half (14 of 30) of the stadiums fall in the 20% to 25% range. The lowest estimate is for the Florida Marlins (Dolphin Stadium, 10%), which is not surprising, and the highest estimate is for the San Francisco Giants (AT&T Park, 29%), likewise just as expected. I was surprised, however, by the low estimates for New York's Yankee Stadium (18%), Pittsburgh's PNC Park (16%), and Washington's Nationals Park (19%). The latter may be due to insufficient data. There seems to be no clear relationship between each stadium's cost of construction and its economic value to the franchise. In the future, I will include some of this data on individual stadium pages and/or some of the stadium comparison pages.

In the mean time, I have made a long-overdue update of the MLB Franchises page, using the franchise valuation data as estimated by Forbes and information from other sources. That page now has a stronger focus on stadiums than before, and is chock full of those dynamic rollover effects I'm so fond of. In addition, the chronological maps showing the spread of baseball across the continent have been updated with the full team names, rather than abbreviations. It's more cluttered in the northeast than before, but overall is much more clear and informative. Enjoy! smile

Wagner may miss 2009

My recent injury roundup suggested that Mets' closing pitcher Billy Wagner might resume pitching duties next week. NOT! He is having surgery on his elbow, and will miss not only the rest of this season, but possibly all of next year as well. See

September 16, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Wall Street Lays An Egg

That was the famous headline in Variety magazine after Black Tuesday in 1929, when the stock market crashed. Yesterday's 500-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average wasn't as bad on a percentage basis ("only" 4.4%), but the alarm bells should rouse our attention nevertheless. The Lehman Brothers investment firm went bankrupt yesterday after no buyers stepped forward, while Merrill-Lynch* was bought out by Bank of America. The collapse in investor confidence is raising pressure on the Federal government to step in, and decisions made by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve in the next few days could have profound ramifications for our country's future. See Washington Post.

* "Bullish on America," remember? frown

World markets have been plunging in reaction to the U.S. financial distress; see On the plus side, oil prices are sinking while the Dow Jones has rebounded today in part because of reports that the Federal government may bail out the AIG insurance-investment conglomerate, also on the verge of bankruptcy. "It's too big to fail," they say. Well, that kind of thinking is what brought us to this point in the first place. A case could be made for bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac since they had an explicit public charter (see Sept. 8), but AIG is a private firm and should bear the full responsibility for its own bad decisions.

I'll have more to say on the state of the U.S. economy later, but for now suffice it to say that there are indeed severe distortions that need to be reformed. Public policy in recent years has undermined the working of the free market, while regulatory agencies have neglected their proper role. The status quo of crony capitalism -- which the Bush administration failed to remedy, unfortunately -- is no longer viable, and puts us all at risk of a misguided push toward something resembling state socialism. During a presidential campaign, there will be a huge temptation by both candidates to indulge in populist rhetoric that would confuse voters about the real nature of the problem. That would further discourage investors, compounding our economic problems.

Second thoughts about Palin

Now that the euphoria about John McCain's savvy choice of running mate has passed, it's time to think more seriously about the ramifications of electing Sarah Palin to be our vice president. Ordinarily, the office isn't worth "a warm bucket of spit," in the words of FDR's first vice president, John Nance Garner (or rather "piss," according to wikipedia). But because Gov. Palin has dramatically altered the political landscape, all of a sudden the question of who will hold the office of vice president is the most important issue in the fall campaign.

The Sarah Palin phenomenon has clearly thrown Barack Obama off balance, so I can understand that Democrats would be deeply annoyed. I would grant that there is some merit to the criticisms about her relative lack of experience, but much of what I hear rings hollow. After thinking about it, I came up with this generalization: Outrage over Sarah Palin is inversely proportional to the likelihood of the person voting for John McCain in the first place. In other words, those complaints won't affect many people's votes.

I have seen reports that Sarah Palin's rise to mayor of Wasilla and then to the governor's mansion was accompanied by hard feelings. That's normal in politics, to an extent, but the reasons for the "Bad Blood" (see Washington Post) remind me of recent political maneuverings here in Virginia.

Another cause of worry is that Todd Palin, known as the "First Dude," has been deeply involved in Alaska's state government, even lobbying state legislators. He is also being scrutinized in connection with the state trooper who was fired. See New York Times; hat tip to Connie. To me, it sounds just like Hillary Clinton!

Indeed, Sarah Palin has brought about an amazing role reversal, as social conservatives hail the career-juggling Supermom from Alaska, while liberal feminists fret about what effect her vice presidential duties will have on the five Palin children. Who is the real "sexist"? Along those lines, I recently saw an amusing yard sign that reads "I Am Voting For The Chick," and Steve Kijak follows up on that. smile

Daniel Drezner is among those who are dismayed by McCain's pick. He feels like the GOP doesn't care about folks like him (and me?) any more: "Question to other GOP policy wonks: is it possible to support a candidate that campaigns on the notion that expertise is simply irrelevant?" (Some of the commenters questioned whether Drezner's professed affiliation with the Party of Lincoln means anything, since he voted for John Kerry in 2004.) I enjoyed several of the comments, a few of which are worth repeating:

How much foreign policy experience did that grocer's daughter in the UK have? And Truman?"


I am stunned by all the people who think it is such a horrible, terrible, beyond the pale thing that McCain might have picked his vice president solely for the sake of getting himself elected. That's what politicians DO.


Dan, you're an intelligent, serious, thoughtful guy who tries to think through issues and come to a reasonable conclusion based on evidence, experience, and a coherent philosophy of government. The Republicans haven't wanted you for years.

That last one hits too close to home. Ouch!

Is Obama smarter?

Just in case you think that Obama is in a league of his own in terms of intellect or eloquence, take a look at some of the factual gaffes he has made in his speeches at Sun Versus Wind (now dubbed "The Mud Pile"). Well, Obama is only human, after all.

September 27, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Paul Newman passes away

Paul Newman, who died yesterday at the age of 83, was one of the greatest actors and most engaging personalities of the 20th Century. I remember him most vividly in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), as well as The Sting (1973), in both of which he co-starred with Robert Redford. Here are some other Newman movies I enjoyed the most:

  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
  • Exodus (1960)
  • Cool Hand Luke (1967)
  • Fort Apache the Bronx (1981)
  • Absence of Malice (1981)

I have yet to see the highly-regarded Road to Perdition (2002, with Tom Hanks), but I'll have to do so soon. For the complete list of his cinematic and television achievements, see the Internet Movie Database.

Paul Newman was well known as a conscientious social activist, and was involved in a number of liberal causes. Compared to most of his peers in Hollywood, however, he showed more genuine concern for the less-fortunate, and was never one of those irritating "pious" grandstanders. One of them that I used to support many years ago is the Center for Defense Information. Tonight on Larry King Live, they rebroadcast an interview from 1999 (?) in which Newman talked about the Scott Newman Foundation (now Center), which was established after his son died of a drug overdose in 1978. It aims primarily to discourage the movie industry from glorifying substance abuse. Newman also had his own brand of salad dressing. In January, he and his wife Joanne Woodward (also an actor) celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. That must have set a record for Hollywood couples!

In sum, Newman's abundant charm, sincere character, and lifelong devotion to his profession into his eighties were almost unparalleled. He brought laughter and inspiration to millions of people, and his is the perfect example of a live well lived.

September 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Mexicans protest violence

For the past few years, Mexico has been plagued by a wave of brutal murders and assassinations of public officials perpetrated by the narco-mafia. For example, twelve decapitated bodies were discovered last week outside the city of Merida camera, in the Yucatan peninsula. Most of them had criminal records, and it seems to be part of a war among rival drug gangs. It is thus a very encouraging sign that thousands of Mexican people have organized to protest this violence. At least 50,000 marched in Mexico City, demanding that the government of Felipe Calderon do more to fight the crime wave. See Calderon is well aware of the urgent need to fight the mafia, but he is handicapped by corruption in the police forces and continued political in-fighting, as the rival leftist PRD and centrist PRI parties resist his policy reform agenda. If he can't accomplish much more progress in the next few months, however, his conservative National Action Party (PAN) will suffer a defeat at the polls when the mid-term congressional elections are held next year.

Colombian rebels quit

Meanwhile, there is more progress toward pacification in Colombia, as another group of rebels has surrendered. The Guevarista Revolutionary Army (ERG), a faction of the National Liberation Army (the smaller of the two main rebel armies), agreed to demobilize. See BBC.

September 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Brisk morn on Bell's Lane

The outside air on Sunday morning was unusually brisk, as autumn seems to have arrived in very abrupt fashion, and Jacqueline and I took a correspondingly "brisk" stroll along Bell's Lane. She saw some warblers with yellow under-tail coverts, which are probably Palm warblers. Here is my list of notable birds:

  • Brown Thrashers -- 4+
  • Tennessee Warbler (prob.)
  • Phoebes -- 3
  • Hairy Woodpeckers --2 (M)
  • Goldfinches -- 6+
  • Great Blue Heron (high in a tree)
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Magnolia Warblers -- 2

The hawk was flying in broad cirles around the heron, which seemed relatively unperturbed. I got a video of that (possible YouTube?) and managed to get close enough to a Brown Thrasher for a decent still photo. They'll be mostly gone in another month...

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher, on Bell's Lane, Sept. 21.

September 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nats take two from Phillies

Thanks to the fine pitching of Cole Hamels, the Phillies put an end to the Nationals' seven-game winning streak last night, going seven-plus innings in a 4-0 shutout. Well, all good things must come to an end. It was the first time since June 2005 that the Nats had won more than six games in a row. (That was when they took first place in the division for several weeks, surprising everyone.)

Nats' catcher Jesus Flores got creamed by Chase Utley at home plate (Y'er out!), and there were some scary moments when he couldn't get up, but fortunately the tests were all negative. He'll be out for at least a couple weeks with a sprained ankle. The Nats have a solid backup catcher in Wil Nieves, and there's always a possibility that Paul Lo Duca could get "unreleased" and put back on the Nats' roster...

Tonight's game was an exciting, back-and-forth affair, and a clutch RBI single by Ronnie Belliard started a four-run rally in the eighth inning. The Phillies came back with two more runs in the top of the ninth, but Joel Hanrahan managed to hold on, and the Nats won 9-7. It was a great home stand, with eight wins and only one loss. With a win-loss record of 54-86 for the season, the Nationals are on the verge of climbing out of the Major League cellar, close behind both San Diego (53-85) and Seattle (54-85). Now they head to Atlanta for a four-game series with the Braves, whose lead over the Nats in the NL East standings has shrunk to only six games. It is within the realm of possibility that the Nats could finish the season in fourth place, ahead of the Braves.

Photos from fans

Thanks much to Brian Vangor (whom I met at the Nats game in May) for sending his photos of Yankee Stadium, showing the nearly-completed newfangled version beyond the left field bleachers. ball Also, in response to my note about baseball at the Superdome in New Orleans, Joe Johnston sent me a batch of pictures he took at a 1983 exhibition game in the "Big Easy," when the Yankees played the Blue Jays. It was a true revelation! (Cue the choir.) That prompted me to do some searching, and I found some useful info at Stay tuned for a brand new stadium page... ball Finally, thanks to Mike Hoecker for his photos of Great American Ballpark and the birthplace of Cy Young. I'll get one or two of those posted right away. I do appreciate all such photographic contributions.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Sep 04, 2008 12:23 PM
Lo Duca plays for the Marlins now, so no, that is not a possibility. :)

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Sep 05, 2008 16:04 PM
How did that escape my attention? Lo Duca seems to be hitting better now that he's with the Marlins, and I hope he continues to meet his past high standards. Some above-average players just don't seem to click with the Nationals -- Wily Mo Pena, Austin Kearns, ...

September 25, 2008 [LINK / comment]

No pinstripes this October

Even though the Yanks won in Toronto last night (thanks to a tenth-inning grand slam by Bobby Abreu!), they were eliminated from postseason contention when the Red Sox beat the Indians, clinching at least the wild card spot in the American League. As a result, for the first time in his 14-year career in the majors, Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter will be a spectator rather than a player during the month of October. The same goes for Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada, all of whom began their careers with the Yankees in the very same year: 1995! (Actually, Pettitte spent three years with the Astros, 2003-2006, the last of which Houston did not make the playoffs.) Those four players are the only remaining Yankees from that grand era of four world championships and six American League pennants. The Yankees won the American League East Division in 1996 and every year from 1998 through 2006, a record of prolonged dominance matched only by the Atlanta Braves in the contemporary era. The Yankees were the wild card team in 1995, 1997, and 2007.

"Glory Days, oh they pass you by, Glory Days..."

Meanwhile the Dodgers, under the new management of Joe Torre (!), have clinched the NL West division. That means both teams from Los Angeles will be playing in October, as one and perhaps two teams from Chicago will make the cut, while no more than one team from New York will qualify. Congratulations to the Dodgers and the Red Sox.

Last night's Cubs-Mets game on ESPN was quite a thriller, a neck-and-neck race that went into the tenth inning. That's when Derrek Lee doubled in a run, and Aramis Ramirez hit a two-run homer, and that was more than enough to win, 9-6. The Mets kept getting runners to third base late in the game, and they kept failing to get them home. They got revenge on the Cubs tonight, winning 7-6 when Carlos Beltran singled in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

Rain, rain, go away!

The (nameless) tropical storm that is sweeping through the Mid-Atlantic states is throwing a monkey wrench into the end of the regular season. The final game in Washington scheduled for this evening was cancelled, as neither the Nationals nor the Marlins are contending for playoff spots. Well, at least the Nationals won't cross the ignomonious threshhold of 100 losses playing at home. Their last three games of the season, in Philadelphia, will have to be played, even if postponed due to rain, as the Phillies fight to retain the divisional title. The Mets, hot on their heels, host the Marlins in the last three games ever-to-be-played in Shea Stadium this weekend, while the Red Sox host the Yankees in Fenway Park. Since the Tampa Bay Rays' magic number is one, the Red Sox would have to win all three of those games to win the division, and the Rays would have to lose all three of their games in Detroit.

R.I.P. Mickey Vernon

One of the Washington Senators' greatest sluggers ever, Mickey Vernon, passed away at the age of 90. He won the A.L. batting title in 1946 (.353) and 1953 (.337), and hit 172 home runs during his 22-year career. After retiring as a player, he managed the second Senators franchise from 1961 to 1963. See The first time I recall coming across his name was seeing it on the "Wall of Fame" at RFK Stadium in 2005. It is sad that names like his and Roy Sievers were all but forgotten to a generation of sports fans in Washington, during the three decades that baseball was absent from Our Nation's Capital.

September 26, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Nationals' fan base at risk

Perhaps the cancellation of last night's game in Washington -- which would have been the Nationals' final home game this year -- was a fitting punctuation mark for this dismal year. In today's Washington Post, columnist Tom Boswell laments the woeful performance of the team, noting that the original Senators only lost 100 or more games twice between 1909 and 1961, and the Montreal Expos only lost over 100 in their first year, 1976. Boswell goes on to rebuke the stinginess of the Lerner family which owns the Nationals:

The franchise took a gamble on fielding a low-budget team, a choice that, in retrospect, seems like a combination of bad faith and worse judgment.

Result: attendance at Nationals Park (29,005 average per game) has been below what was expected, in fact the lowest of any new baseball stadium in its inaugural year since the early 1990s. If they don't get some true champion-caliber players on their roster next year -- somebody like Alfonso Soriano or Vladimir Guerrero -- the team's fan support will start to wither. Are the Lerners really so "penny-wise and pound-foolish" as to let that happen?

Stadium impressions

The Washington Post has been publishing a series of first-hand reminiscences (?) about Washington's baseball past, and I noticed that one of the contributors was the very same guy who has been submitting impressions of Griffith Stadium on this Web site recently: Mr. Jack Toomey, of Poolesville, MD. I appreciate the interest and the time taken by fans to add their special memories to the stadium pages, helping to make them more lively and interesting.

Ballpark in Arlington

Ballpark in Arlington The (Rangers) Ballpark in Arlington diagrams have been revised slightly, with more detailed profiles, lights, etc. I realized that the grandstand behind home plate consists of straight lines, like at Fenway Park, rather than a virtual curve as at Jacobs Progressive Field. Also, the overall structure is not perfectly square as I originally thought, but is slightly elongated along the third base line "axis."

It so happens that this particular ballpark exemplifies the syndrome of "crony capitalism" which -- I believe -- is at the root of the current economic crisis. It was paid for by taxpayers, thereby (indirectly) enriching a select group of investors led by George W. Bush, before he became governor of Texas. Later it was renamed "Ameriquest Field" under a deal with the fast-and-loose subprime mortgage lending company that went broke and was forced to shut down operations in 2007. That's how the current crisis got started.

Nameless Coliseum?

I learned from Mike Zurawski that the 10-year naming-rights deal between the Oakland stadium authority and McAfee Inc. has expired without being renewed. At least for the time being, the home of the Athletics (and Raiders) will be called "Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum" once again, but negotiations with new potential sponsors are underway. See Accordingly, I have updated the Stadium names page, making a few other refinements on it.

September 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Zambrano pitches no-hitter*

What an ironic situation! The Cubs-Astros series had to be moved to Milwaukee because of Hurricane Ike, but Miller Park was anything but a "neutral" venue. Milwaukee fans have strong anti-Cub sympathies, while thousands of fans drove up from Chicago (only 90 miles away) to give the Cubbies an unexpected psychological boost. Carlos Zambrano made the most of it, pitching his first career no-hitter, and the first time a Cubs pitcher had done so since Milt Pappas in 1972. See * The unusual circumstances of this no-hitter will give rise to loud grumblings from Brewers fans and others, hence the asterisk above.

Our very own correspondent from the Upper Midwest, Mark London, decided to see that game on the spur of the moment, and he and his wife were amply rewarded by getting to witness the historical event. About the large number of Cubs fans present, he writes, "It's no wonder they call it Wrigley Field North." (Indeed, the White Sox played some of their "home games" at Milwaukee County Stadium in 1968 and 1969.) Mark also tells me, "The Brewers ground crew dug out the pitching rubber after the game, presumably to give to Zambrano. Nice touch of class on the Brewer's part. Guess they made up for that by firing Ned Yost an hour ago."

The last time a hurricane caused a baseball series to be relocated was September 10-11, 2004, when the Florida Marlins hosted the Montreal Expos at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, so as to avoid Hurricane Ivan in Miami. See the Anomalous stadiums page, newly updated.

Busch Stadium (III) in St. Louis was available since the Cardinals were in Pittsburgh, but there must have been some objections to using it for this series. Steven Poppe told me they should have used the Superdome in New Orleans, but that would have involved too much last-minute shuffling around.

In today's game, Ted Lilly had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning, at which point Mark Loretta hit a single. The Cubs still won the game, 6-1, and are now eight games ahead of the Brewers.

Brewers fire Ned Yost

While the Chicago Cubs fell into a slump this month, the Milwaukee Brewers not only failed to take advantage of the situation, but actually fell further behind in the standings. So the Brewers fired manager Ned Yost, replacing him temporarily with one of their coaches, Dale Sveum. See

Marlins sweep Nats

Oh, how aggravating! The Nationals practically gave away two of their three games in Miami. On Friday, Shairon Martis pitched a great game, giving up only two hits over five innings, but he made a classic rookie error that ended up deciding the game. He snagged a hard grounder in the sixth inning, and had Hanley Ramirez caught between second and third base, but threw the ball to second, whereupon Cristian Guzman threw it off-line to Ryan Zimmerman at third, and Ramirez was safe. Later he scored, and the Fish won, 2-1. Saturday's game wasn't much different, as the Nats lost 4-2. On Sunday, the Nats finally got their bats cooking, and were ahead 6-1 going into the bottom of the eighth inning. Then the Marlins scored seven runs off four different pitchers. The Nats scored one in the top of the ninth, but it wasn't enough, as they lost once again, 8-7. The bullpen melted down once again, wasting Collin Balester's fine performance.

It's called elementary situational baseball. I remember many years ago playing softball in right field, when I had a runner between first and second. For some reason, I threw the ball to first, and the guy made it safely to second. Boy, did I get yelled at! That's how you learn, and I'm sure that Shairon Martis has likewise learned his lesson -- the hard way.

September 26, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Bush pleads for bank bailout

President Bush took his case for bailing out the nation's banking system to the American people last night, and I was less than convinced. Yes, I agree that the Federal government must take action to forestall a financial panic, but we don't need to stoke the fires any further. The note of dire alarm was uncharacteristically blunt for Bush, who often talks in upbeat terms. See Washington Post.

One thing was missing from his speech, however: a call for national sacrifice for the greater good. It's just like his risk-averse approach to waging war in Iraq, not wanting to impose any hardships on the folks back home, for fear they might vote for the other party.

Meanwhile, the House Republicans are refusing to go along with Bush's proposal, citing free market principles. Ordinarily, I would agree with them, "in principle." In practice, however, you sometimes have to make adjustments, and this is probably just such a time. The reaction on Capitol Hill was quite a paradox. Democrats such as Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Barney Frank seem amenable to some kind of bailout along the lines Bush proposed, as long as they get their way on peripheral issues such as executive pay caps. Buried amidst the devilish details is this item: the Democrats want to provide Federal government funds for ACORN, the left-wing voter registration organization that has been complicit in numerous cases of voter fraud. See Employment Policies Institute; hat tip to Stacey Morris.

In sum, I share Daniel Drezner's sentiments: "I'm in a surly mood right now." Dan is disappointed in John McCain's shifting response to the crisis, first suspending his campaign and then agreeing to hold tonight's debate after all. Dan is also disgusted with the House Republicans' rejectionist approach, saying their alternative is unrealistic.

Speaking of which, I would like to make one modest proposal inspired in part by free market ideals that is probably quite unrealistic: Rather than directly spending Federal money to provide the necessary funds so that the insolvent financial institutions can be smoothly liquidated -- which would unduly politicize the economy -- why not just allocate an equivalent amount of money to provide matching funds for individuals who wish to participate in such a buyout? Let people themselves decided which institutions are worth saving and which aren't. That would "democratize" the economy in a dual sense, satisfying one of the Democrats' biggest objectives (redistributing wealth) without having the process be controlled by the government in Washington.

Well, the Great (?) Debate just started...

Charlie Daniels on Barack Obama

That good ol' "long-haired country boy" from Tennessee has a few choice words for the Democratic presidential candidate, who derided small-town Americans who cling to God and their guns> See Charlie Daniels' blog, located via; hat tip to Stacey Morris.

Michelle Obama on white racism

Many people are aware that Michelle Obama's undergraduate thesis at Princeton University contained some extraordinarily harsh anti-white language, sounding almost like a Black Panthers manifesto. What many people don't know is that the University officially embargoed the thesis until after the November election, evidently trying to cover up something even worse. See; hat tip to Patrick Carne.

September 16, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Showdown in St. Petersburg (???)

Every September for the last several years has been a ritualized drama, as the arch-rival New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox vie for the AL East title. Baseball fans relish the "clash of titans" in Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park when those two teams go head to head. More often than not, one of them ends up winning the AL pennant.

This year, however, is very different. The Yankee Dynasty has faltered as the team's vaunted stadium is about to be replaced, while the feisty upstarts from central Florida have led the division for most of the summer. For the first time, this year's climactic "clash of titans" is taking place in "sunny" St. Petersburg, as the Red Sox seek to get revenge against the Tampa Bay Rays for the surprising losses they suffered at home last week. (You won't see the sun during the game at Tropicana Field, unfortunately.) In the opening game last night, David Ortiz and Mike Lowell both hit home runs in the first inning off Scott Kazmir, and Boston went on to crush Tampa Bay, 13-5. Thus, the Red Sox have pulled even with the Rays in the AL East divisional race. The next two games may end up deciding the season.

Fenway Park update

Fenway Park With the Red Sox making their final big push toward the postseason, it's an appropriate time to update the Fenway Park page. The text and diagrams have been updated with several minor corrections and enhanced details, as well as a new 1988 version. I'm not sure whether the newly expanded upper deck extends all the way to the second light tower, so I may need to tweak the current version diagram a bit more.

The mail bag

Mark London concurs with Terry Wallace about Metropolitan Stadium having extra rows of seats in left field for football games. He adds that for two seasons (1975 and 1976), those seats were left in place for baseball, reducing the left field line to 330, while the power alley mark of 360 was moved closer to center field. So that explains the odd shift in dimensions for those years cited in Lowry's Green Cathedrals! Possible update pending...

Also, Karl Bennett informed me that on the Forbes Field page, the link for Three Rivers Stadium didn't show the diagram of Three Rivers the way it was supposed to. Instead, it showed the diagram of Riverfront Stadium. "You confused one bland cookie cutter on the Ohio for another bland cookie cutter on the Ohio." Oops! Thanks to the tip from Karl, I have corrected that.

September 23, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Russian fleet sails to Venezuela

In yet another display of military might aimed at regaining its former status as a global superpower, the Russian government announced that a fleet of ships has set sail to Caracas, Venezuela. The fleet will be led by the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser Peter the Great, but it's unclear how many ships will join it. The naval exercise is also intended as a show of support to President Hugo Chavez, who has been keeping up the diplomatic pressure on the United States recently, and is heavily involved with the radical governments in Ecuador and Bolivia. In addition, "Two Russian bombers arrived in Venezuela last week for training flights." Russian oil firms are also exploring investment options in Venezuela, and it all adds up to a multi-front strategic offensive by Moscow. See BBC and

Is this 1962 all over again -- a precursor to another Cuban Missile Crisis? Probably not, but it should remind us of the recent adverse shifts in the global balance of power, and the precarious state of the geopolitical situation right now. Russia has been selling large amounts of military equipment to Venezuela in recent years (see, for example, June 2006), including fighter jets, helicopters, and huge numbers of small arms, presumably intended for guerrilla forces in neighboring countries. Talks about purchases of armored vehicles are underway as well. To deal with this threat to regional peace and stability, the United States will have to devote more of its scarce military and strategic resources to the Western Hemisphere, making the ongoing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq more difficult to sustain.

September 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]

White Sox win AL Central

Thanks in large part to a grand slam by rookie Alexei Ramirez (his fourth of the year!!?), the Chicago White Sox beat the Detroit Tigers yesterday afternoon, 8-2. That set up tonight's tiebreaker with the Twins, a classic pitcher's duel. This time the hero was veteran Jim Thome, whose seventh-inning monster home run onto the terrace beyond center field ended up being the only run scored in the game. That ball must have gone at least 440 feet, according to my estimates.

After all the grouchy comments from their manager, Ozzie Guillen, I was surprised that the White Sox had enough motivation to win. The Twins have had more post-season experience than the White Sox in recent years, but this time it didn't matter.

Post-season prospects

So, there is still a chance for an all-Los Angeles World Series or an all-Chicago World Series, but I think the latter is more likely. The Angels have totally dominated this season, and have ample post-season experience, so I think they'll beat the Red Sox in the first round. Tampa Bay will probably make it to the American League Championship series, but I don't think they will win the AL pennant. In the National League, I'm hopelessly biased in favor of the Cubs, and I would say they have about a one-third probability of winning the World Series. I don't want to hear about any stupid jinxes this year! smile

Here's an ironic historical twist: I wonder how many people remember that the White Sox almost relocated to Tampa Bay in 1990, after the domed stadium now known as Tropicana Field was built to lure them there. But instead, Chicagoans rallied to keep the White Sox in the Windy City and hastily built the "New Comiskey Park" that was later revamped (thank goodness!) and renamed...

U.S. Cellular Field !

U.S. Cellular Field Seeing those games on TV reminded me that I really needed to update the U.S. Cellular Field diagrams, which had multiple inaccuracies. Done! As usual, there are now additional details and a more accurate profile. As for changes, the new roof that was added in 2004 was bigger than I estimated before, and the lower deck and the open terrace area beyond the bleachers are both larger than I had thought. The rebuilt version of the stadium is a huge improvement over the original 1991 version, but I still think a few more changes might help, so I may add a suggested alternative at some point in the future...

September 11, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Will Brazil join OPEC??

In yet another sign of how topsy-turvy the world is becoming, OPEC has invited Brazil to become a member of the elite petroleum exporting quasi-cartel. (A genuine cartel would control supplies on a consistent basis, and OPEC only does so on occasion.) Actually, it was Iran that made the invitation, and strategic (anti-U.S.) considerations no doubt played a big part in this gesture of "Third World solidarity." Historically, Brazil has been dependent on a very large share of its energy needs, which is why it has invested so much into ethanol fuel production, mostly made from sugar cane. A major discovery of offshore oil reserves was made in April, and this could be the break that would finally make Brazil into a actual superpower, as opposed to a superpower of the future. See BBC.

September 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Wall Street dive helps Obama

It is becoming clear that the plunge in stock prices and the more general crisis of nerves on Wall Street has given a huge boost to Barack Obama's campaign hopes. According to a poll published in the Washington Post (in conjunction with ABC), he has erased John McCain's recent slim lead and now is up by nine percentage points, 52% to 43%. Not surprisingly, among those who believe that the economy is the biggest issue (50% of all voters), Obama's lead is even bigger, 62% to 33%. Those who are more pessimistic about the U.S. economy's long-term prospects are much more likely to vote for Obama as well. Is that just a blip, or do most Americans really think the Illinois Democrat is better suited to addressing our fundamental economic problems? John McCain freely admits that economics is not his strong suit, but where does Obama's alleged economic expertise come from? He's a lawyer, for cryin' out loud!

I can understand that many Americans are prone to blaming the party of the incumbent president for the economic woes, but it simply defies reason to think that Barack Obama is any better suited to fix the problems than John McCain is. As I pointed out on Saturday, a major reason for the collapse of the mortgage banking sector, which has dragged down the entire financial system, is the politicization of economic policy, and Obama is a perfect example of what's wrong with the status quo. Why, then, do so few people grasp this??? Probably because of the myth that there is an economic magic wand in the Oval Office, and everything is up to the president, for better or worse. There's no question that Bush bears some responsibility for the failure of regulatory agencies to prevent the crisis in the first place, but John McCain has absolutely no connection to the Bush White House, and has proven himself over the years to be an independent-minded reformer. The cure to this country's financial distress will come from a pragmatic combination of regulatory vigilance and renewed reliance on free market principles, as opposed to class-baiting populism (on the left) or crony capitalism (on the right). McCain is the right choice for America.

Meanwhile, there is widespread consensus on Capitol Hill that something must be done immediately to prevent the economic crisis from getting worse, but there's a complete lack of agreement on exactly what to do. Putting caps on executive compensation, as the Democrats are demanding, would do virtually nothing to improve matters, but it would play well on Main Street. If that's what it takes to get an emergency "bailout" bill passed by the Democratic-led Congress, then so be it. Going along with such a token populist measure might even reflect favorably on McCain and the Republicans, but I doubt that it would have much impact on voting. But any such measure must be limited in scope, to avoid the "moral hazard" which would tempt other corporations to take risks thinking that Washington would come to their rescue if worse came to worse. That would be the road to perdition, a.k.a. socialism.

Some observers have pointed out the irony that President Bush's second term began with a strong (and in my view, rather miguided) push to privatize Social Security, and is now coming to an end with a strong push to socialize much of the financial sector.


John McCain just announced that he is "suspending his campaign" and is returning to Capitol Hill in order to devote more time to addressing the economic crisis. That means no speeches, no advertising, and no fund-raisers for the time being. See Whether this is perceived as a good thing or a bad thing will be entirely up to the spin-meisters. What I do know for absolute certain is this: Among all members of the United States Senate, and indeed the entire Congress, John McCain ranks near the very top in terms of his solid record of pursuing bipartisan cooperation. In tough times like these, our country needs a unifying leader like John McCain.

Is Obama a Muslim?

I thought we settled this question during the primary campaign back in March, when Hillary Clinton kept bringing it up. In an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos earlier this month, Barack Obama said, "You're absolutely right that John McCain has not talked about my Muslim faith, and you're absolutely right that that is not some..." Then Stephanopoulos interrupted to correct the apparent gaffe, and Obama clarified, "my Christian faith." If you don't believe it, watch it for yourself on YouTube. (This may be a mere coincidence, but as Rush Limbaugh recently pointed out with respect to an earlier gaffe, "Obama said he's going to campaign in 57 states, and it turns out that there are 57 Islamic states." Hmm-m-m...) Hat tip to Stacey Morris.

Now, how in the world did that latest gaffe escape my notice? Is there a coverup by the Mainstream Media, or is it my fault for paying too much attention to the baseball pennant races? Well, you can read about it at Washington Times and, at any rate. This, of course, is providing great fodder for the fearsome right-wing smear machine...


WARNING: Political humor is a matter of taste. If you are easily offended, DO NOT click on the above image.

September 13, 2008 [LINK / comment]

More fall migrants arrive

September is well underway, and right on schedule, many of the birds that spent the summer in Canada and the northern U.S.A. are passing through Virginia. I haven't spent as much time outside as usual for this time of year, but I did put in several bird-watching hours during the latter part of last week. What follows are brief summaries (highlights only) from recent reports I have submitted to the eBird system (

Bell's Lane, Sept. 1

  • Osprey -- 1
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird -- 5
  • Empid (Acadian ?) Flycatcher -- 1
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher -- 1
  • Cedar Waxwing -- 2
  • Common Yellowthroat -- 1
  • Indigo Bunting -- 1
  • Baltimore Oriole -- 1

In addition, good numbers of Catbirds, Mockingbirds, Brown Thrashers, Bluebirds, and Goldfinches are regularly seen around Bell's Lane. There are no Red-wing blackbirds left, however, and any remaining Meadowlarks have gone silent.

Barren Ridge, Sept. 1

  • Common Nighthawk -- 4
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee -- 1

Bell's Lane, Sept. 2

  • Double-crested Cormorant -- 1
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird -- 4
  • American Kestrel -- 1
  • Empid (Acadian ?) Flycatcher -- 1
  • Magnolia Warbler -- 1
  • Wilson's Warbler -- 1
  • Indigo Bunting -- 2
  • House Finch -- 2

Bell's Lane, Sept. 3

  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird -- 4
  • Belted Kingfisher -- 1
  • Empid (Acadian ?) Flycatcher -- 1

Bell's Lane, Sept. 5

  • Great Blue Heron -- 1
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird -- 3
  • Empid (Acadian ?) Flycatcher -- 1
  • Eastern Phoebe -- 2
  • Baltimore Oriole -- 1

Sherando Lake, Sept. 5

  • Red-bellied Woodpecker -- 1
  • Red-eyed Vireo -- 1
  • White-breasted Nuthatch -- 2
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher -- 1
  • Magnolia Warbler -- 1
  • Black-throated Green Warbler -- 1
  • Pine Warbler -- 2
  • Black-and-white Warbler -- 2

Coyner Springs Park, Sept. 5

  • Great Blue Heron -- 2
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird -- 3
  • Downy Woodpecker -- 1
  • White-breasted Nuthatch -- 1
  • Orange-crowned (or Tennessee?) Warbler -- 1
  • Magnolia Warbler -- 1
  • American Goldfinch -- 4

If the weather cooperates, I may get a chance to find another significant cluster of warblers and other neotropical migrants in coming days. Only two or three more weeks before they're gone for the year...

September 20, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Bud's ballpark building boom

On the eve of the final game at Yankee Stadium frown, tries to put an upbeat spin on the sad occasion by focusing attention on all the new stadiums that have been built:

Stadium closings, even legendary ones like Yankee Stadium, are an inevitable part of a vibrant, healthy game that's growing more and more every year. The old ballparks make way for newer, better versions where more memories are waiting to be made.

Pardon me for not sharing the joy.

Ever since Fay Vincent resigned and Allan "Bud" Selig took over as Acting Commissioner of Baseball in 1992, a total of sixteen new major league baseball stadiums have been built, and another five older stadiums have been substantially renovated. (It would be easier to celebrate this remarkable progress if taxpayers in most of those cities had not been stuck with the lion's share of the bill.) Factoring in Rogers Centre/Skydome, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and Thunderdome/Tropicana Field, which were still new when Selig took over, all but six MLB teams now play in relatively up-to-date stadiums that were built primarily for baseball. The exceptions are (construction years in parentheses): the Mets (1964), Athletics (1966*), Royals (1973), Yankees (1976), Twins (1982), and Marlins (1988). As of next year, that list will shrink to three, and it will then shrink to only two the year after that.

* The A's moved to Oakland in 1968, two years after Oakland / "McAfee" Coliseum was built. The rebuilding of the Coliseum in 1996 was exclusively for the NFL Raiders, and substantially degraded the baseball experience there.

Mets eke out 2-2 split in D.C.

On Monday and Tuesday night, it looked like the Nationals were going to inflict the same kind of embarrassment on the Mets as they did last year, costing them a postseason berth, but in the next two games the Mets regained their composure, winning by scores of 9-7 and 7-2. On Friday, the Mets beat the Braves in Atlanta, taking first place in the NL East once again, as the Phillies lost to the Marlins in Miami.

Dubious economic benefits to D.C.

Friday's Washington Post reported that the D.C. government expects to earn only about $13.5 million in sales taxes for the inaugural season at Nationals Park, much less than the $16.1 million which was originally projected. Average attendance at the new ballpark was close to 30,000 at mid-season, but then petered out as the Nationals went from mediocre to worse during July and August. They will be lucky just to match last year's average attendance of 24,219, which was less than 2006 (26,574) and 2005 (33,584). If the owners don't spend more money on high-quality talent next year, the team will be in danger of losing its precarious fan base. The fact that the owners of the Nationals owe the city $3.5 million in rent payments is putting further financial stress on D.C., making stadium boosters look foolish.

One of the leading rationales for investing over $600 million in public funds in Nationals Park was that it would stimulate economic development in Southeast D.C., but a related article notes that the economic spinoff effects from the ballpark have failed to meet expectations. For example, the Lerners' new high-rise building north of the stadium remains "substantially empty." I wonder whether the problem might be that, with the ongoing crisis in the real estate market, the Lerners aren't able to make their rent payments??

Arlington Stadium

Arlington Stadium The Arlington Stadium diagrams have been updated. Why that one? It's a simple design, and therefore easier for me to work on. The profiles are now more accurate and detailed, and light towers are now included, but none of the measurements have changed.

The mail bag

Back in July a fan named Joe King sent me a message that got lost in my in-box (he's not the only one, I'm afraid), and his idea is worth consideration:

I have a suggestion to avoid the "extra-innings All-Star Game" problem:

1. Limit the game to 10 innings. This will allow the managers a set number of innings to plan so that every selectee gets to play (they won't have to "hold players back" for extended innings) and so no position player ever has to pitch. Ten innings is a reasonable length, I think, especially after this year's 15-inning, 1:40 a.m. debacle.

2. If the score is tied after 10 innings, the tie-breaker will be the total number of home runs hit by each league during the previous night's home run derby. This will a) give the derby some additional meaning and fan interest, and b) maybe give a little incentive for the top sluggers to participate and not blow it off.

What do you think?

I think something along those lines is worth a try. After all, the All-Star Game is mainly a "pageant," and yet the pressure to win puts each league's manager in a very awkward dilemma in extra-inning games such as the one this year. What do all of you think? Feel free to comment, as long as you have registered first.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Sep 21, 2008 18:59 PM
I've been preaching an innings cap to the All-Star Game since to my fellow baseball fans since the final out at the Yankees Stadium ASG was recorded, and yet nobody listens to me because they consider 15 inning, six hour long debacles starting at 9 at night to be "epic". I proposed a 9 inning cap so that managers would have a SET schedule to put in all the players, and removing the "IT COUNTS" mantra to the game, instead giving home field advantage in the World Series to the team with the best record, with ties going to the best interleague record. But baseball out of all the sports is the most conservative and nobody wants any major changes.

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Sep 22, 2008 20:25 PM
So what would you do instead to maintain fan interest in the otherwise-pointless ASG? Before they decided to "make it count," it was turning into a lame ritual with zero drama, much like a modern-day national party convention, or like the NFL Pro Bowl. Perhaps in the 10th inning (if any), they could let everyone in the lineup bat one more time, regardless of how many outs, and after that use some kind of tie-breaker if necessary.

September 20, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Obama and the financial crisis

As the crisis in the U.S. financial sector unfolds and starts to affect the rest of the economy, there will inevitably be a lot of finger-pointing, since we are in the middle of a presidential campaign. There is no question that part of the blame belongs with the Bush administration; as I wrote on June 18, the "Mortgage scandal is bi-partisan." But more and more facts are coming out that show just how close Barack Obama and his party are tied to the shady institutions behind the crisis. It turns out that, among all members of Congress who received campaign donations from Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac (including individuals and PACs), Barack Obama ranks second, with $126,349. He was just behind Sen. Chris Dodd, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, who received $165,400. Guess who #3 was? Sen. John Kerry, who received $111,000! In fact, as reported by, of those who received more than $50,000 (22 in all), 13 were Democrats and nine were Republicans. Hat tip to Stacey Morris.

Fannie Mae has a long history of soliciting Federal support by targeting legislators who represent a proportionally larger number of their clients. For example, former Fannie Mae chief Daniel Mudd spoke to the Congressional Black Caucus, extolling their "family" relationship. Yes, Barack Obama was there. Watch it on; hat tip to Joe at It is precisely this corrupt distortion of the housing market -- subsidizing mortgage loans to people who were really not prepared to take on that kind of long-term financial obligation -- that gave rise to the mess we are in. This is most assuredly not just another case of "guilt by association." Do you think Obama will even hint at acknowledging that the kind of politics he practices is at the root of the financial crisis? No %#$&@# way!

In this regard, it is worthwhile to read what John Lott (author of Freedomnomics) wrote about Obama's vaunted (but questionable) "judgment." If Obama really has such a good judgment, why has he changed his position on so many key issues? In terms of people, was Obama a good judge of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's character? Or how about his pal from Illinois Tony Rezko, who was convicted of bribery? That article cites many other cases. Bottom line: charm and smoothness do not equal good judgment. Hat tip to Patrick Carne.

Another Democrat waist-deep in filth is Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.); according to the Wall Street Journal, he is the "patron saint" of Fannie Mae. Hat tip to Shawn Kenney. Barney ranks #26 on that list of Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac campaign recipients. Maybe, just maybe, enough voters will pay attention to the Democrats' role in the financial crisis that it will tip a few congressional races toward the Republicans.

Obama and Bill Ayers

For the most part, Barack Obama's long-standing ties to the subversive terrorist sympathizer Bill Ayers has been kept under wraps by the mainstream media. In February, a fact-checking blog at confirmed that Ayers once belonged to the Weather Underground, that he and Obama were once on a community board together, that they belonged to the same "liberal-progressive" social circle in Chicago, and that Ayers made a $200 campaign contribution to Obama. Nevertheless, they concluded that "the Obama-Ayers link is a tenuous one." (???) You can see a TV ad about Obama's ties to Ayers at; hat tip to Michael Oliver. (He meant "censor," not "censure.") A Post article this week compared it to the "Swift Boat" ads against Sen. John Kerry.

Obama y los hispanos

Unless you speak Spanish, this ad probably won't bother you too much. It makes me mad as hell. It begins, "Yo soy Barack Obama, y yo apruebo este mensaje." (Translation not needed.) It invokes Rush Limbaugh and portrays the Republicans as hostile to Spanish-speaking immigrants, which is grossly unfair. See Unfortunately, Obama will probably get away with it. ¡Sí, se puede!

September 9, 2008 [LINK / comment]

U.S. plans to leave Ecuador

It appears that the radical president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, is determined to terminate the presence of U.S. military and anti-drug agents in his country next year. It seems less likely all the time that he is just trying to bargain for a better deal. (See August 11.) The Washington Post gave one reason why Correa isn't worried about the economic losses if the 450 American personnel do leave his country, as planned: The Venezuelan government and a Hong Kong company are investing in development projects in the area around the coastal city of Manta, where the U.S. air base is located.

Subversive intentions by Venezuela (i.e., Hugo Chavez) almost go without saying. One wonders, however, whether the Chinese government is connected to that Hong Kong firm; that would raise the strategic stakes in Ecuador considerably. China has become increasingly involved in Latin American business in recent years, such as maintenance on the Panama Canal, in which the United States still has a vital interest.

September 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Marlins' stadium hopes rise again

Local elections held in Miami-Dade County on August 26 has raised hopes once again that the Florida Marlins will get enough public funding on their proposed retractable-roof stadium to break ground soon. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and other local officials who have declared support for the project were reelected, in an implicit endorsement of the ballpark. Entrepreneur Norman Braman previously said he might drop his lawsuit (see Feb. 22) against the project if the public voted in favor of it in a referendum, and that is what just happened. See So, things are looking up once again, but this story has seen so many ups and downs that it's like a roller coaster. The Marlins' lease at Dolphin Stadium ends after the 2010 season, and after that they will be "homeless" unless their new stadium gets built in record time. How about a season playing in Puerto Rico, like the Expos did but on a full-time basis?

Indirect hat tip to Brian Hughes, whose fact check about Paul Lo Duca joining the Marlins led me to this news piece.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Sep 06, 2008 02:10 AM
Speaking of stadiums that host both football and baseball (ok, horrible transition but whatever), I found a photograph of the A's Oakland Coliseum in soccer configuration on Wikipedia. I didn't think it was important enough to warrant filling your already overflowing email inbox, yet worthy of a mention. :)

September 13, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Palin on the Bush Doctrine

As expected, the mainstream media couldn't wait to pounce on Gov. Sarah Palin for her lack of experience in national policy matters. ABC's Charles Gibson scooped his rivals in getting the first lengthy interview with the governor, in her scenic home town of Wasilla, Alaska. He used the opportunity to ask her a classic "Gotcha!" question, soliciting her opinion of the Bush Doctrine -- without saying what it was until it was clear that she didn't know. Gov. Palin was caught off guard but handled herself fairly well, nonetheless, showing poise in a tense situation during her first real "test" in national politics. My only complaint about Gov. Palin's performance in the interview was her over-use of Gibson's informal first name, "Charlie."

As today's Washington Post noted, however, the "Bush Doctrine" has no clear, specific meaning, citing various foreign policy experts who contradicted the premise of Gibson's question. That term is often used to mean, among other things, 1) reserving the right to unilateral action, withdrawing from treaties if need be, 2) declaring states that harbor terrorists to be hostile ("You're either with us or with the terrorists"), 3) reserving the right to preemptive strikes to prevent terrorist attacks, or 4) promoting freedom and democracy as an instrument of peace, etc. Furthermore, WaPo columnist Charles Krauthammer said it was Charlie Gibson who made the gaffe, not Palin. Krauthammer was the first to coin the term Bush Doctrine (referring to unilateralism) in 2001, even before the 9/11 attacks. After Gibson clarified what his understanding of that term was (preemption), Gov. Palin asserted our nation's right to defend itself if intelligence reports indicate that we face an imminent attack, but that is hardly a controversial stand. After all, who in the post-9/11 era would openly say that we should wait until we are hit before acting? The only question is what degree of certainty in intelligence we should expect.

Obama on the Bush Doctrine

Indeed, both parties' candidates agree on this issue more than most people would imagine. On August 1, Obama said that if he were elected president, he would consider sending U.S. troops into Pakistan unilaterally if the Pakistani government fails to contain the Islamic extremists within its borders. See Washington Post. In other words, it would appear that Obama himself agrees with the Bush Doctrine, or at least at least one variant thereof.

A vet speaks to Obama

Hat tip to Craig Shrewsbury.

Pakistan's democracy

Speaking of Pakistan, the election of Asif Ali Zardari to replace Pervez Musharraf last weekend (see Washington Post) is a rare hopeful sign in a country that has been teetering on the brink of anarchy for many months. Islamic extremists are growing in strength, while the armed forces of Pakistan seem unwilling to confront Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Zardari is the widower of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. He pledges cooperation with the United States, but has yet to prove that he is a strong leader.

One of the ironies of that election by the Pakistani parliament is that it turned the function of the presidency on its head, rendering the office moot. In a normal parliamentary system, the president is ordinarily a ceremonial figure who only exercises discretionary power when the governing coalition collapses and the parties can't agree on who should be the new prime minister. When Musharraf resigned under threat of impeachment, however, there was no person to fill such an emergency role, creating a dangerous power vacuum. For the time being, the situation is calmer, but it probably won't last for long.