Latin America, 2005
Wild birds, 2005
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August 16, 2005 [LINK]
Prison riots in Guatemala
At least 31 prisoners were killed in riots sparked by gang rivalries in prisons in Guatemala on Monday. Prisoners used cell phones to launch coordinated simultaneous attacks in several prisons. Honduras and El Salvador have suffered deadly gang-related prison riots in recent years, and the problem is spreading across borders. The largest of the Central American gangs, Mara Salvatrucha, is responsible for the recent surge in vicious knife attacks against Latinos in the United States.
Plane crash in Venezuela
[After midnight on Tuesday] a West Caribbean Airways jetliner heading from Panama to Martinique suffered engine failure and crashed in western Venezuela, close to the border with Colombia. None of the 160 passengers and crew survived. This was the deadliest plane crash in Venezuela's history and came only one day after a jet crash that killed 121 people in Greece.
Chile reforms constitution
Last week the Chilean Congress passed an amendment to the constitution that puts an end to the immunities of the armed forces and restores full civilian authority over the entire government and state apparatus. This rebuke to the conditions stipulated by former dictator Augusto Pinochet as he gave up power marks the end of the transition from authoritarian rule to liberal democracy in what is now considered one of the most successful countries in Latin America, even though it remains haunted by the state terror of the Pinochet era. The National Security Council, which Pinochet had created in the 1970s as a strong centralized tool of maintaining order and suppressing dissent, will be transformed into an advisory body. The presidential term was also reduced from six to four years, with the prohibition against immediate re-election being kept in place. Legal proceedings against Pinochet continue on an intermittent basis.
August 20, 2005 [LINK]
Faith of the Penguins
Jacqueline and I saw the movie March of the Penguins this week, and it more than lived up to the high expectations set by all the favorable reviews. It was a pure delight from beginning to end. (Click on the poster thumbnail image to see the movie's Web site.) The male Emperor penguins have to incubate the eggs (one each) for six weeks in the dead of the Antarctic winter (June-July) while the females return to the sea (70 miles away!) to feed, and then the females have to come back and do likewise while the males go eat. They alternate incubation/guard duty with feeding until late spring (November), when the young penguins are ready to make the trek to the sea. (The distance from their breeding colony site to the edge of the ice shelf is much shorter in the summer.) As long as the egg or hatchling needs to be cared for, neither the male nor the female Emperor penguin has any assurance that their mate will survive the arduous round trip, but they put their own lives at risk just so the next generation can live. Is this behavior nothing more than genetically determined? Perhaps. Nevertheless, there's no room for cynical skepticism, selfish indulgence, or "rugged individualism" in the penguin's world; they either believe in each other or they perish. A genuine "faith-based community"!
President spares swallows
While the President and First Lady are enjoying a relaxing vacation on the ranch in Texas (or trying to, at least), the White House is undergoing some minor home improvement. Having learned that a pair of cliff swallows is nesting atop one of the columns on the south side of the Executive Mansion, Mr. Bush instructed the contractors not to disturb the nest until the young swallows have fledged. Let's hope that this small but very real example of responsible stewardship of nature catches on in the general public.
With the oppressively hot weather we've had this month, I haven't done any serious birding at all. I did happen to see a Pileated woodpecker at Montgomery Hall Park about ten days ago, however, and an Eastern kingbird (normally a rural-dwelling species) appeared in our neighborhood this week. The male Ruby-throated hummingbird still shows up at our feeder several times a day, and has claimed our back yard as his territory, chasing away other hungry hummers. I happened to see a hummingbird chasing a House sparrow last week!
My brother John sent me a great closeup photo of a female American redstart a few days ago. Once again, the exquisite detail of the original photo cannot be appreciated at the low resolution of that small popup image.
August 31, 2005 [LINK]
I'll be in Washington attending the American Political Science Association annual meeting for the next few days. If at all possible, I plan to see at least one Nationals game as they host the wild card rival Philadelphia Phillies. With any luck, I'll figure out a way to update this Web blog while I'm on the road, like I did while I was in Central America earlier this year.
August 2, 2005 [LINK]
Rafael Palmeiro suspended
News that Rafael Palmeiro has been suspended for ten days for violating MLB's new substance abuse policy came as a huge shock, especially since he made such an emphatic, finger-pointing denial when he testified before Congress in March. See MLB.com
I went in front of Congress and I was honest with Congress. There's no absolute reason for me to do anything at this stage of my career. There's nothing for me to gain and everything for me to lose. I knew I was approaching 3,000 hits. I was not about to put everything on the line, my reputation and everything that I've worked for so hard in my life to do anything like this. It just makes no sense.
Indeed, it makes no sense at all, which is why we should hesitate before judging. It is within the realm of possibility -- but not very likely -- that the test was a false positive, or that Palmeiro did not know what he was ingesting. But then again, many people said it was absurd to imagine that President Clinton would compromise himself by getting involved with an intern. People with big egos often do reckless things, believing themselves to be above the rules of normal society. Today another player received a suspension for drug abuse: Ryan Franklin of the Seattle Mariners. It all reminds me of the Bart Simpson excuse routine:
- I didn't do it.
- You can't prove I did it.
- I didn't do it on purpose.
- So what, everybody does it!
Mensis horribilis for the Nats
Queen Elizabeth II called 1992 the "Annus horribilis" (horrible year) because of the breakup of Charles and Di's marriage and other royal scandals. Likewise, the horrible month of July 2005 for the Nationals will go down as one of the darkest episodes in team history, going from 5.5 games ahead in the NL East to 5 games behind first place. Contrary to what was expected before the season began, the team's pitching has been much better than their batting. Compared to the rest of the major league teams, the Nats had the worst statistics in the categories of runs, batting average, home runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and strikeouts; they were 28th out of 30 in hits. Just wait till next month! Oops, never mind: They just lost to the Dodgers 5-4, their twelvth straight loss in a game decided by one run.
To my surprise, the Nationals did not make any last-minute trades as the waiver-clearing deadline passed. GM Jim Bowden said the other teams were asking too much in return, and he didn't want to sacrifice the team's future potential just to grab some hot talent. It's probably for the best; it would have been awful if John Patterson or one of their other young stars-in-the-making had been let go. I still don't understand why the keep Cristian Guzman as a regular in the starting lineup when Jamey Carroll is available.
Forbes Field feedback
I received much helpful input about the revisions to the Forbes Field diagram(s), especially from Bruce Orser and Mark London, who sponsors that page. I now know that the monument was a few feet to the right of straightaway center field, but the distance marker was at least 40 feet to the right, and I suspect it was quite inaccurate. (Such a thing is not unheard of; the power alley markers at RFK Stadium were found to be inaccurate and had to be moved 40+ feet recently.) I may need to make a couple other minor adjustments on those diagrams in the near future, after I've sifted through all the new photos and data. As an aside, Bruce sent me this intersting link: roadtripamerica.com
August 9, 2005 [LINK]
Kilgore opposes help for illegals
This issue should be a no-brainer, but in the politically correct environment of today, anyone who questions the de facto toleration of massive inflows of illegal immigrants is deemed a hateful, racist fear-mongerer. Jerry Kilgore, the Republican nominee for governor of Virginia, is not one who refrains from speaking his mind for fear of offending people. He said that Virginians should not pay to establish centers at which immigrant day laborers (typically without proper INS documentation) can more easily meet up with
ruthlessly exploitive businessmen who are looking for cheap labor. See Washington Post and some insider commentary from the Virginia Conservative blog. Kilgore has taken a strong position that is not only politically useful, but is right on target in terms of public policy. The problem is not that the Latinos who predominate in the underground labor force in this country are bad people; indeed, most are hard-working and law-abiding. The problem is that the atmosphere created by the routine flaunting of legal norms undermines respect for law and authority in general. As one prime example, folks in Northern Virginia are getting very nervous about the escalation of brutal violence perpetrated by "Mara Salvatrucha" and drug-related gangs. Narcoterrorism, which plagued Latin American countries for many years, is making its presence known here in the U.S.A. for the first time. People who are complacent about flagrant breaches of immigration laws in the post-9/11 era have their heads in the sand. In France, it's probably too late to resist the Muslim invasion by means of law enforcement, and time is running short in the United Kingdom. Is that the route we want to follow?
Local media flubs story on GOP
With some exceptions, the Staunton News Leader has been notably cool toward Republicans in their editorials, and their news coverage often seems less than favorable as well. In today's edition, their reportage of yesterday's Harley Hog Fest contained an egregious mistatement of fact: "Local Republicans who forked over at least $500 a plate for the event liked what they heard from their political representatives." WRONG! I was there, and just like everyone else who feasted on the pork barbecue, I only paid $10. I suppose that the reporter, like many people, automatically assumes that most Republicans fit the "country club" stereotype.
August 19, 2005 [LINK]
Nats are still contenders
When the first four batters in the lineup get only one hit altogether, your team is probably not going to win the game. Thanks to a solid, gutsy pitching performance by John Patterson at Shea Stadium tonight, however, the Nationals had chances to at least tie it in the late innings. A runner on third base with one out in the eighth (Cristian Guzman, pinch running for Vinny Castilla) was wasted, and a potential rally-starting leadoff hit by Nick Johnson in the ninth was followed by Jose Guillen's GIDP. Mets 1, Nats 0. I hate to say it, but if they don't improve real soon, the team formerly known as the "One-Run Wonders" might just as well be called the "Wonder What Went Wrongs." With all that fan support, why in blazes can't one or two of their key players get into a groove of consistent hitting and get the rest of the team fired up once again? Well, at least they managed a split with the Phillies this week, thereby staying in the wild card race, just barely. Tuesday was their first rained-out game of the season, hence the afternoon makeup game as the first half of the double-header yesterday.
Talk about going down the toilet! Having lost 18 games in a row, the Kansas City Royals are offsetting the high winning percentage racked up by the team on the other side of Missouri. I sure hope it doesn't lead to further declines in fan support and attendance, as they have a lot to be proud of. It was 20 years ago this fall that they were World Champions...
August 10, 2005 [LINK]
Nats win by one run!!!
For the first time in over a month (July 8, to be exact), the Washington Nationals won a game by a one-run margin, beating the Astros Tuesday night, 6-5. Brandon Watson, who was just called up from the AAA New Orleans Zephyrs, hit a home run in his very first game in the major leagues. (True, it just barely cleared the 315 mark in left field at Minute Maid Park, but who cares?) Watson started in left field, and played the whole game, also hitting a single. He replaces Matt Cepicky, who was "designated for assignment." (What an awful euphemism.) Brian Schneider, Brad Wilkerson, and Vinny Castilla also got homers for the Nats. See the Nationals' Web site. Interestingly, John Patterson didn't pitch nearly as well as he did against the Dodgers last week, but he did hit a single and later scored a run that proved to be the deciding margin.
Stadium architecture scrutinized
Monday's Washington Post detailed the process by which HOK architect Joseph Spears is putting together a plan for the future home of the Nationals. Whereas the original idea was to have the stadium pointed southeast toward the Anacostia River, now most people agree that it would be better to have it oriented toward the northeast, so that the Capitol dome would be visible beyond left field. Only folks sitting in the right field corner upper deck would be able to see the Washington Monument, however, and I still think the stadium should be oriented straight north. One good aspect of the tentative layout is that the stadium would be wedged in between South Capitol Street and Potomac Avenue, which would create a meaningful constraint on the shape of the grandstand, much like at Forbes Field or Ebbets Field.
August 1, 2005 [LINK]
Hummers are back
For the first time since May, a Ruby-throated hummingbird has returned to our back yard. It's an adult male, so it actually has the ruby throat. Maybe I'll finally get a high-quality closeup photo. Male hummingbirds have nothing to do with raising offspring, and are "fathers" only in the narrow biological sense.
We were surprised to see quite a variety of birds while strolling along Bell's Lane on Saturday evening: E. phoebes, E. kingbirds, Willow flycatchers, goldfinches, hummingbirds, a Green heron, a Red-tailed hawk, Downy woodpeckers, and (I think) a family of Scarlet tanagers. The open countryside is not tanager habitat, but it's fairly close to the woods where I saw a male Scarlet tanager singing in May, so it's not unlikely.
Yesterday's Washington Post (no link) reported that the number of Bald eagle nests along the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers increased from 401 last year to 429 this year, with a corresponding rise in the number of hatched eaglets.
As they did last year, the Wildlife Experiences organization is introducing Osprey fledglings to the shores of the Missouri River in southeastern South Dakota. I was lucky to stumble upon their project at Clay County Park when I was visiting my family last August; CLICK HERE to see a photo of two of them at their shelter on the platform.
August 22, 2005 [LINK]
Home run statistics galore
Sunday's "Parade" magazine featured the work of David Vincent, a member of the Society of American Baseball Research who has created a massive database of all major league home runs ever hit. I learned, among other things, that the next time Julio Franco hits a home run, he will become the oldest player ever to do so. See parade.com (archive link will become active on August 29). I'm particularly curious about tape measure home runs, and have thought about including the approximate location and date for the longest home run ever hit at each stadium on the respective pages. Another SABR member, Bruce Orser, who provides me with lots of research tips, is also doing research on home runs, concentrating on those hit by Mickey Mantle.
Nats avert a sweep
After Saturday's heart-breaking extra-inning loss to the Mets, the question was whether the Nationals would maintain their fighting spirit or just give up. They proved my prediction correct in the Sunday afternoon game, getting six runs in the first inning. The Mets threatened to catch up in the ninth inning, thanks to a Buckneresque error by Nick Johnson at first base, but the Nats settled down and won it, 7-4. Tomorrow the Nats return home to RFK and begin a three game series against the Reds, followed by a three-game series against the dreaded Cardinals. Retired Reds infielder Barry Larkin is now working as a consultant for the Nationals, trying to fix Cristian Guzman's recent defensive woes. Too bad Larkin isn't playing at the shortstop position himself! His presence reflects the connection with Nats' Interim GM Jim Bowden.
Royals fans were greatly relieved that their team's losing streak came to an end just before it reached 20. Now they're on a two-game winning streak!
[UPDATE: The Cubs had a chance to take a big lead in tonight's game against the Braves, loading the bases with no outs, but only scored one run in that inning. The Nationals could have used some help in catching up to the Braves in the NL East (hey, it's still possible!), but the two home runs by Chipper Jones were all Atlanta needed to win, 4-2.]
Stadium page corrections
One of the frequent visitors to this site, Brian Hughes, was at the Sunday Mets-Nats game in Shea Stadium, and tells me that the noise from jets taking off from nearby LaGuardia Airport isn't as bad as I had indicated, so I've corrected that page, and raised my rating of Shea slightly. A new visitor, Ken Levin, questioned the position of the football gridiron in the diagram on the Memorial Stadium page. I know that in some years it was closer to the south side than is indicated in my diagram, whereas in the final years when the Ravens played there it was closer to the north side (ex-center field). If anyone knows for sure where the football gridiron usually was, please let me know. While I was at it, I made a few corrections to the text on that page as well.
August 28, 2005 [LINK]
Dueling Gold Star Mothers
Only one day after her stirring speech here in Staunton (see photos and event summary from my August 27 post), Rhonda Winfield, mother of local fallen hero Marine Lance Corporal Jason Redifer, appeared on the Fox News Sunday program hosted by Chris Wallace this morning, along with an anti-war Gold Star Mother, Barbara Porchia. Both were intelligent and articulate, but the arguments of the latter seemed quite stale and pre-programmed to me. She must have rattled off the phrase "noweaponsofmassdestruction noimminentthreat noconnectionto9/11" at least five or ten times. For the record (just in case anyone on the Left still has an open mind), the WMD rationale was only one of several reasons for launching the war, President Bush said specifically that Iraq was not an "imminent threat" but rather a "gathering threat," and the connection between Saddam Hussein and Muslim terrorist groups was very real, though indirect.
For an inspirational rebuttal to the defeatism of Cindy Sheehan, see and hear the video (which I took and edited) of Rhonda Winfield's heartfelt and powerful speech in yesterday's support troops rally in Staunton. The video lasts nine minutes, in Apple QuickTime format. The file is just under 22 megabytes, and will take about 15 minutes to download with a dial-up Internet connection. It is worth the wait!
Virginia House of Delegates member Steve Landes presents a Gold Star Mother certificate to Rhonda Winfield.
August 4, 2005 [LINK]
Grand Slam: Nats win a series!
Are the dark days finally over? Topped off by Brad Wilkerson's grand slam in the eighth inning (the team's first grand slam since they moved to Washington), the Nationals trounced the Dodgers at home in RFK Stadium tonight, 7-0. The amazing John Patterson threw 13 strikeouts (accounting for every single player in the Dodgers' starting lineup), going the full nine innings. [What's more, he gave up only four hits and zero walks! Patterson had thrown ten strikeouts against the Astros on July 24, but still lost the game, 4-1.] This was the first time the Nats have shut out an opponent since July 19, the first time they have scored as many as seven runs since July 8, and was their biggest margin of victory since May 22! This the first series that the Nationals have won since early July, when they swept the Cubs at Wrigley. Tonight's huge victory was exactly the kind of tonic the Nationals needed to shake off those demons of July and resume the pursuit of the Braves for the lead in the NL East. How sweet it is!
More revised diagrams
The 1912 version diagram on the Fenway Park page has been revised based on new photos sent to me by Bruce Orser. As a preview of what's in store on this Web site for future months, I have revised the thumbnail diagrams for all of the "Classic Era" (1909-1915) ballparks to conform to the new standard with home plate at a consistent location, and center field at the top. You can readily compare those mini-diagrams on the Diagram introduction, which has been expanded with a more elaborate explanation.
Orioles fire Mazzilli
[UPDATE] Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli was fired today, getting the blame for his team's downward spiral since mid-June. Under Sam Perlozzo (ex-bench coach) as interim manager, the Orioles managed to beat the Angels in Anaheim today, 4-1. Mazzilli's dismissal is too bad, because the team had gotten off to such a great start early in the season, dominating all rivals. Owner Peter Angelos had refrained from dismissing other recent managers in the middle of the season, so he is obviously very annoyed by his team's declining fortunes. See MLB.com. I hope this doesn't mean he will become even more intransigent in negotiations over television rights and other issues related to the Nationals.
August 7, 2005 [LINK]
And you thought you had a bad hair day! This pathetic looking male cardinal has been feeding in our back yard for the past several months, and whatever the condition he has that caused the loss of head and crest feathers (parasites, perhaps?) has not improved. The male hummingbird still comes by to feed several times a day, and we also saw a Downy woodpecker out back. Before the construction next door began, they used to be more common around here.
August 24, 2005 [LINK]
Pat Robertson vs. Hugo Chavez
The often-wacky televangelist from Virginia Beach is at it again, opining that the United States should consider assassinating Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez before he is able to do us harm by collaborating with terrorists. (Is that what Jesus would do?) The threat posed by Chavez is real, but his most likely victims in the near term are other countries in Latin America, not the United States. Robertson's words were like sweet music to Chavez, who needs periodic evidence of U.S. malicious designs in order to rally popular support and justify his authoritarian regime. The strong disavowals from the State Department were appropriate but counted for absolutely nothing among leftist-nationalist circles in Latin America, where Uncle Sam is seen as a demon. See Washington Post. I've watched Robertson's "700 Club" a few times, and most of it is pretty good: accurate news reporting, though with a focus on topics of interest to evangelical Christians, and a variety of lively features, much like the "Today" show or "Good Morning America," but with a more wholesome "flavor." But when Pat starts to talk, all bets are off...
Plane crash in Peru
The fact that at least 57 of the 98 passengers and crew survived the crash of a jet in the Peruvian jungles seems to have been a miracle. The survivors said there was storm-induced turbulence as the plane prepared to land near the town of Pucallpa, but there was no warning of the impending disaster. Those who escaped the burning wreckage had to wade through swamps before being rescued. See CNN.com.
UPDATE: Here's a first-hand account of the crash: perucrew.blogspot.com (via Instapundit).
August 27, 2005 [LINK]
Staunton rally: Support the troops!
Local Republicans and other concerned citizens held a rally in support of the troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan in downtown Staunton today, and over 100 people attended in spite of the steady rain. The words of the speakers were often drowned out by the noise of honking car horns by drivers expressing their support. The featured speaker was Rhonda Winfield, mother of fallen Marine Lance Corporal Jason Redifer, who died in Iraq on January 31. She spoke very eloquently and forcefully about what her son's loss means to her, pointing out that Jason at least lived long enough to know that the Iraqi elections were held successfully. She let it be known loud and clear that she "gets it": Her son's blood was part of the price paid so that the Iraqi people can live freely and choose their own leaders, so that the terrorist movement will die out as more and more Arabs and Muslims learn that they can live a better life without violence. She also said that she understands the pain that Cindy Sheehan is feeling but made it clear that she sharply disagrees with her opinions and actions. Ms. Winfield's other other son, Justin Redifer, has also joined the Marines, taking up his brother's place in the line of duty.
Between speeches, the names of local servicemen and women were read, and several of the folks in the crowd carried signs with photos of their loved ones who are serving their country in its time of greatest need. The derisive epithet "chickenhawk" would carry no weight around here! This earnest expression of patriotism in small town "red state" America would probably be scorned and ridiculed by most of the elitists who run the mainstream media, but it does remind us of a vital fact: Inasmuch as the war against Islamo-fascist extremism is a contest of wills between two civilizations, the real battlefront is right here at home. If a majority of American people keep the faith, the good guys will win. It really is as simple as that.
On Friday a group of about 10-20 anti-war protesters gathered at the same spot. By all acounts, the reaction from passing motorists was deafening silence. Bad news for the enemies of freedom!
August 23, 2005 [LINK]
Cindy Sheehan and war morale
The protest "sit-in" by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a fallen soldier, outside President Bush's ranch in Texas was one of those red-hot polarizing issues that fails to excite me as much as it does most other political observers. Among the several lessons it offers, one is that family members of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice do deserve a full explanation of what is at stake in the conflict in Iraq. From her television appearances and brief statements, Ms. Sheehan strikes me as a person who is either quite naive or disingenuous. Since she is evidently distraught, however, I would not even think about casting aspersions on her own motives. The Bush-bashing political motivations of those who camped out in her midst are all too transparent, detracting from the sincerity of her cause. It would seem to be another case of self-righteousness veering off in the direction of self-delusion.
If Mrs. Sheehan really wants to know "why her son was killed," she should read a blog piece written by "The Idiom," cited by Donald Sensing, "Why Casey Sheehan Died." It is a no-holds-barred rejoinder to the pious indictment of Bush war policy, suggesting a chilling scenario of what would happen to American in the aftermath of a nuclear attack on New York. To those who pay attention to world events, the threat is all too real.
Another lesson is that many Americans have lost a sense of proportion as the war continues. The very fact that her demand to see the President is considered by many people as reasonable is itself an indication of the relatively light casualties American forces have suffered in this quasi-war* so far. Just imagine if during World War II President Roosevelt had to meet in person all of the hundreds of thousands grieving mothers. He would not have had time for anything else. If more Americans don't get a grip and view passing events in the war in a rational way, our troops' morale may suffer. Mrs. Sheehan already met with President Bush last year, and one would think that such an opportunity would be enough, given the large number of citizens who want the president's ear. Her reasons for demanding another meeting are unconvincing.
* (I hesitate to call the conflict in Iraq a real war, because the enemy combatants are not uniformed soldiers who openly resist foreign occupiers, but cowardly murderers who blend in with the local population. By comparison, the Vietnam War was much more of a real war, and even then some people questioned whether it was really a "war.")
A final lesson is that the President has fallen short in his obligation to explain American military objectives and political goals clearly enough for average citizens to understand. Every so often he comes through with just the right phrase or gesture, but more often not. It's good that he keeps trying, but it's just not good enough. It pains me to say it, but his limitations in the use of the English language, which most of his critics misconstrue as lack of intelligence, constitute a real weak spot in our nation's war effort. Donald Sensing wrote a long, thoughtful blog piece today critiquing the Bush effort to keep the public apprised of how the war is progressing.
Here in the Shenandoah Valley, folks are preparing a "Support Our Troops Rally" set for this Saturday in downtown Staunton. One of the speakers will be Rhonda Winfield, the mother of Lance Corporal Jason Redifer who was killed in action in Iraq last Janury 31. I'm hoping this event will be as non-political as possible, and am very eager to hear what this true Gold Star Mother has to say about her son's ultimate sacrifice.
August 7, 2005 [LINK]
Nationals get swept at home
When I saw the second-stringers in the starting lineup today, I knew that Frank Robinson was mad at his erstwhile star players. It's time to regroup -- again. The Nationals' lineup has been shuffled like a deck of cards this year, but Robinson normally leaves that decision up to his bench coach. No matter, the Padres shut out their hapless hosts at RFK Stadiium today, thereby going above .500 for the first time in at least two weeks. (And they're the division leader in the NL West!) According to MLB.com, "the Nationals are the first team in Major League history to win as many as 12 straight one-run games and lose as many as 12 [now 13!] consecutive one-run games." Thanks to David Eckstein's grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning, St. Louis beat Atlanta 5-3, so the Nationals didn't fall any further behind first place, though they now share second place with Florida.
New stadium progress
Last week Mayor Williams gave his consent to the tentative $246 million deal under which Deutschbank will finance construction of the new stadium in Southeast Washington. A special "ballpark zone" has been created in that area for planning and building permit purposes. Groundbreaking? We haven't even seen a solid design proposal yet. This project will take years and years to complete...
August 20, 2005 [LINK]
Oil protest in Ecuador
The Ecuadoran Army is struggling to regain control of petroleum wells and pipeline facilities in the eastern jungles of the country, after demonstrators forced a major shutdown of oil production to back up demands that more oil money be spent on infrastructure and jobs. On Wednesday the government declared a state of emergency, and to the defense minister resigned. See BBC. Ecuador has experienced several political crises in recent years, but those struggles were confined to the capital city Quito, for the most part. Unlike most of its neighbors, Ecuador has only rarely had widespread political violence. In light of recent turmoil in Bolivia, Colombia, and Venezuela, there is a very real possibility that social conflict in South America is becoming a truly transnational phenomenon for the first time.
August 14, 2005 [LINK]
Cabinet crisis in Peru
President Alejandro Toledo received a sharp rebuke after naming his political ally Fernando Olivera, as foreign minister. In protest, Prime Minister Carlos Ferrero submitted his resignation, thereby obliging the rest of the cabinet to resign. Ferrero objects to Olivera's support for allowing more cultivation of coca, which is one of the issues that has torn Bolivia apart in recent years. Ferrero may aspire to run for a congressional seat next year, in which case he would have had to resign by October in any case. See CNN.com. Peru is rather unique in the Americas, having adopted the "quasi-presidential" constitutional system of Fifth Republic France. The president is assisted by a prime minister, who is in charge of formulating detailed policies and getting legislation passed. It doesn't always work like it's supposed to... With his popularity remaining at single-digit levels, Toledo will probably be remembered as the president with the longest "lame duck" tenure in Peru's history. The fact that his government has survived for so long without a serious coup attempt in spite of the lack of popular support is perhaps a testament to the strength of the country's political institutions.
Lula apologizes in Brazil
President da Silva apologized for the bribery scandal that has ruined the coalition led by his Worker's Party. With a fragmented political party system, Brazil can ill afford such a breakdown in party alignments. Da Silva may end up having to rule by decree if the legislative branch cannot function.
August 6, 2005 [LINK]
PNC Park revision
The crown jewel of the Allegheny River, PNC Park, now has a revised diagram that conforms to the new standard. That page is sponsored by Mark London, and marks the completion of the revisions for all three Pittsburgh baseball stadiums on this site. (I plan to tackle Exposition Park, the Pirates home at the turn of the 20th Century, in future months.) On deck: the Polo Grounds, sponsored by Phil Faranda. Just a reminder to folks who are interested in seeing updates to any one of the existing stadium pages: Sponsorships ($10 per page for individuals, and $8 for additional pages) are more than welcome. I know some folks are leery of PayPal, but I have had zero problems with them, and no one has reported any problems to me. Just do it!
My apologies to anyone whose e-mail messages I've failed to acknowledge recently. It's been another busy cycle for me lately, but hopefully I'll get caught up with all that very soon.
Let there be lights!
The Stadiums by class now lists the years when all of the early-20th Century baseball stadiums first had lights for night games. Those respective pages also list those years, as well. Among other updates are new thumbnail diagrams for several more stadiums. Nearly all of them should be revised in this way within the next week or so, but the full-size diagrams, alas, will take much longer...
Another one-run loss
All was going well in the middle innings last night, as the Nationals took a 5-4 lead, and then the bullpen fell apart, allowing San Diego to tie the game in the eighth and pull one run ahead in the ninth. That made the twelveth straight one-run-margin game that the Nats have lost. They were perhaps lucky that they didn't lose by a bigger margin, as the Padres racked up 16 hits, 12 of which were given up by Livan Hernandez. Livan threw his coat and glove in anger after being taken out of the game by Frank Robinson, even though the Nats were still ahead at that point. Such temper tantrums are not a good sign.
Playoff preview in St. Louis
The Nats remained 4 1/2 games behind the Braves, thanks to the 11-3 walloping inflicted upon them by the Cardinals last night. The Braves got their revenge today, winning 8-1, helped by two more home runs by the phenomenal Andruw Jones, one of which was a grand slam. On the FOX broadcast today, Joe Buck mentioned that the New Busch Stadium will still be under construction when the Cardinals begin playing there next year. The portion in left field (which overlaps the first base side of the present Busch Stadium) is supposed to be finished by July. We'll see.
August 8, 2005 [LINK]
Republican Hog Fest in Staunton
The local Republican party held a huge outdoor barbecue-rally this evening at Shenandoah Harley Davidson, which just opened a few months ago. On the podium, from left to right: George Allen, Marty Kilgore (wife of Jerry), Bill Bolling, Chris Saxman, The owner of Shenandoah Harley-Davidson [?], John Warner, Steve Landes, Ben Cline, Bob Goodlatte. In back is Speaker Morgan Griffith. Local party member Chris Green was busy selling T-shirts showing George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and all the other U.S. presidents from Virginia, including a possible future one: George Allen. Senator Allen grinned in a non-committal way when he was presented with one of the shirts. See freedomgear.com (WARNING: highly partisan humor! ) For more photos of the event, see swacgop.org.
Social liberalism and social conservatism
Guest blogging for Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, centrist Michael Totten explains why the Democrats are very unlikely to adapt to socio-political circumstances in this country in time to win the 2006 elections, or even the 2008 elections. Quoting Rick Heller, he says that "social liberalism is the core value of the Democratic Party right now." Changing that any time soon is very unlikely. A fifty-cent hike in gas prices might make a difference, however. Spot prices for crude oil have soared to $62 per barrel.
August 4, 2005 [LINK]
Al Qaeda's blood-curdling threat
Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has warned Americans and British of much worse attacks to come. See CNN.com. It may be empty bluster, or it may be deadly serious. As the 9/11 Commission has warned, it's not a question of whether we get attacked on a big scale once again, it's a question of when. Will Americans show as much courage and defiant resolve as the British have? Will the partisan divide doom us with a plague of defeatism? One thing that is certain, the world will not be at peace as long as any governments tolerate this kind of language. There is no reason for us to make a threat along the lines that Rep. Tom Tancredo suggested (see my July 22 post), but there should be no question that we will reserve the right to launch devastating punitive attacks on any country that gives material or moral support to Al Qaeda or its associates.
The enemy's real name
One complaint I have had with the Bush administration's conduct of the war is in the vague way it has defined our adversary. Apparently, that problem has been fixed. As explained by Kim Holmes at heritage.org, the enemy is now being defined as "extremists" or "enemies of freedom" by top Bush administration officials. That is a step in the right direction, but it is still too timid, and therefore fails to rally the American people behind the long struggle we are in. The enemy consists of an ultra-ambitious non-state movement spanning the Islamic world: "Islamo-fascism." (Because ethnic identity plays a very large role among most (but not all) of the terrorists, I prefer to emphasize the Arab component of this movement, calling it "Arab-Islamic fascism.") The word fascist calls attention to the essentially aggressive nature of the movement that many critics on the Left ignore. Those who think we could avoid further bloodshed by ending support for Israel are as utterly wrong as those in the 1930s who believed that Adolf Hitler could be appeased by making territorial concessions.
IRA foreswears terrorism
Well, it's about time! The IRA renounced its terrorist ways last week, and the British Army quickly reciprocated the gesture by dismantling some of its guard posts in Northern Ireland. It's nice when separatist groups realize that they have more in common with their supposed oppressors than they had thought, and the clear and present danger posed to the native inhabitants of the British Isles by Muslim extremists certainly played a part in this. Common enemies are what forge alliances even between parties with sharply different values. In Wednesday's Washington Post, Anne Applebaum breaks a taboo in this country by pointing out that many Americans openly sympathized with the Irish Republican Army. It might be called a case of "selective outrage," which is one reason why defining our enemy as "global terrorism" was confusing to many people.
More fatalities in Iraq
Over 20 American Marines and Army soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the last few days, testing the willpower and determination of the American people. Over 1,800 Americans have sacrificed their lives in Iraq so far, which is bad, but what is even worse is that many millions of American remain tragically clueless about what the struggle is all about. President Bush needs to devote much more effort to explaining to the public what we are fighting for, and provide concrete examples of the improved conditions in Iraq that are so often ignored by the mainstream media.
August 7, 2005 [LINK]
The flap over Robert Novak
Another shoe is in the process of dropping as the Wilson-Plame leak (?) scandal unfolds. Robert Novak wrote a column that appeared in last Monday's Washington Post (see Chicago Sun-Times) that disputed what CIA official Bill Harlow said about conversations with Novak just prior to the infamous July 14, 2003 column in which Valerie Plame's name first was publicized. Novak noted that Harlow
told the Post reporters he had "warned" me that if I "did write about it her name should not be revealed." That is meaningless. Once it was determined that Wilson's wife suggested the mission, she could be identified as "Valerie Plame" by reading her husband's entry in "Who's Who in America.
It turns out that Valerie Plame's name has indeed been listed under the entry for Ambassador Joe Wilson in recent editions of Who's Who. This would come as a surprise only to those who are under the impression that she was a secret agent engaged in espionage; based on Joe Wilson's loud protests of Bush's war policy, which inevitably drew media attention to him and his personal acquaintences, it would appear that her cover at the CIA was not that deep. Likewise, from what we now know, it seems that Novak was just doing his job of investigative reporting, and it's a huge stretch to say he endangered national security by revealing her name. Democrat blogger Josh Marshall says he will explain later "why the whole commotion over Valerie 'Plame's' mention in the bio is simply an attempt on Novak's part to confuse the issue." Marshall is one of the top spin-meisters around, so I'm sure he will come up with something good.
This saga took a strange turn on Thursday when Novak walked off the set of a CNN show with Jim Carville, refusing to answer questions about his role in the affair. (A copy of Who's Who was sitting on the table!) Frankly, I'm surprised that he has been able to stay out of the fray for as long as he has. Moderate liberal blogger Joe Gandelman has been lamenting (?) Robert Novak's declining stature in this case, suggesting that Novak is melting down. (via Instapundit) It would be too bad if Novak ends up damaged by all this. Nicknamed the "Prince of Darkness" since his days on television with Rowland Evans, he certainly has personality issues, to put it delicately, but as a veteran hardball player in Washington, that's what it takes to get the next big scoop.
Perhaps he's a meany, but I do credit Novak with political integrity and independence. For example, his August 4 piece praised Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) for dissenting from the GOP party line and criticizing the pork-laden transportation bill, which "he exposed as phony." See Chicago Sun-Times.) (Speaking of which, if the transportation bill and the energy bill are the price that had to be paid for getting CAFTA passed, it calls into question both the worth of CAFTA and our country's status as a bastion of free enterprise capitalism.) Novak is not endearing himself to the White House by this line of criticism, which is interesting in light of the fact that Karl Rove is still on the hot seat over the Wilson-Plame-CIA affair. Ordinarily, August is supposed to be the month when politics in Washington takes a break, but perhaps this year is different.
August 28, 2005 [LINK]
I finally got some good closeup shots of one of the hummingbirds that have been entertaining us on our back patio in recent weeks. [This photo shows a female Ruby-throated hummingbird (the only hummer species in the eastern U.S.), which can be identified by the white throat. Immature male Ruby-throats have streaks and/or small red patches on their throats.] Unfortunately, the colorful adult male(s) isn't/aren't showing up as much as the female(s) for the past couple days.
NOTE: I retouched this photo to yield sharper definition; to see the original version, just click on it.
Bird diversity map
The Imperial College of London (link via Connie) has published a global map showing where various bird species live, highlighting their biodiversity. It is a more complicated picture than most people had thought.
"In the past people thought that all types of biodiversity showed the same sort of pattern, but that was based on small-scale analyses," says senior author Professor Ian Owens of Imperial College London. "Our new global analyses show that different sorts of diversity occur in very different places.
The team mapped three different measures of diversity for the study: species richness, threatened species richness (as assessed by their extinction risk), and endemic species richness (birds with a small breeding range). Only the Andes in South America contains bird hotspots under all three measures.
August 19, 2005 [LINK]
The "Able Danger" flap
This story broke while I wasn't following the news as closely as usual. (Hey, it's August.) Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) caused an uproar by disclosing that an Army officer, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, had complained that his repeated pre-9/11 warnings about Mohammed Atta were ignored. Shaffer was part of a secret military intelligence "data mining" unit called "Able Danger." For the gung-ho philosopher-soldier Austin Bay, the mere possibility that intelligence reports were squelched or hushed up is worth looking into, and he urges the White House to address this issue head on.
Reaction in the blogosphere has been typically hasty and in some cases ill-considered. thinkprogress.org launched a mass spam e-mail attack on InstaPundit and other right-leaning blogs, claiming that they had "lied" about Clinton Justice Department official Jamie Gorelick's role in keeping intelligence gatherers and law enforcement officers separate, so as not to compromise criminal prosecutions with evidence gathered by irregular means. The memo she wrote in 1995 (see above link) could be construed as pertaining to strictly FBI counter-terrorism activities, but the irony here is that the FBI was given responsibility for monitoring foreign spies on U.S. soil, rather than the CIA, out of concern that the CIA might become too powerful and even corrupt if it kept tabs on Americans coming into contact with foreigners. The general principle that American spies and Federal detectives are supposed to stay out of each others' way is well understood by all. Anyway, the comments on that page provide a textbook display of the Loony Left in full rage, e.g., "Nostradammit": "How can anyone who cites Rush Limbaugh as a credible source on any subject not be banned for impersonating a sentient being?" Huh? I cite Rush every so often, so does that mean I'm not a sentient being?? To me, it's fairly obvious that both President Bush ("W") and President Clinton could have been more alert to the threat of terrorism, and even more obvious that partisan bickering over which of the two leaders did a better or worse job in that regard is not only pointless, but serves to divide us further, which is exactly what our enemies want.
Lately I've become increasingly weary of the monotonous screeching, contemptuous attitude, hyper-cynical tone, and profane language on most leftist blogs, so for the sake of maintaining my own (mostly) positive outlook on life, I've sharply restricted my intake of their bile. Maybe someone else can work on "building bridges" for a while...
August 13, 2005 [LINK]
Heavenly news & views
The safe landing of the space shuttle Discovery was a relief, but after a quarter century in space, it really should have been routine. Yet another piece of foam insulation debris during liftoff suggests that the shuttle design was flawed from the beginning. In the future, we can expect much more efficient space flights by private firms that are much better suited than government bureaucracies to manage the ubiquitous risk factor.
On a brighter note, NASA launched a Mars Explorer probe from Cape Canaveral yesterday. It contains the largest telescope ever sent to another planet. It will be used to make detailed photographs of the planet's surface, and look for water.
A firm in Virginia is offering a ride to the moon (without actually landing on it) aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule for the amazing low price of only $?? million. It's hard to tell how serious this offer is, and it smells like a publicity stunt. The Soyuz space capsule that they are still using was originally designed for a lunar mission, just like the U.S. Apollo space capsule was, but the Soviet space program pretty much stalled at the end of the 1960s. A more pressing question is, What are the Chinese up to? They launched a man into orbit nearly two years ago, but we haven't heard much else lately.
Our household got a brand new telescope this week (a Bushnell "Deep Space" model), and we have been spending a lot of time learning how to use it. I took this shot of the moon on Thursday evening, at the optimal phase of the lunar cycle for seeing the shadows of the craters. It's rather fuzzy around the edges because of the distortion caused by the warm, humid air. Things will look a lot better in October. I especially look forward to seeing the rings of Saturn clearly, plus the four major moons of Jupiter. The Perseid meteor showers were peaking this week, but we were not up to staying awake after midnight to get the best views. Maybe next year.
August 6, 2005 [LINK]
"Failed States Index"
The journal Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace have joined to establish a ranking system to signal which countries are likely to fail, i.e., suffer a collapse of authority. They include 12 "indicators of instability" such as demographic pressures and delivery of public services. In Latin America, Haiti, Colombia, and the Dominican Republica rank as "high risk," Venezuela, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Peru rank as "medium risk," and Honduras, Ecuador, and Cuba rank as "low risk." Oddly, Bolivia is not even mentioned. See foreignpolicy.com. Those rankings seem quite out of order to me; Peru certainly ought to be ranked among some of the more stable states, whereas Ecuador and Bolivia ought to be ranked among those states "on the precipice." I worked on measurements of state effectiveness as part of the research for my doctoral dissertation, putting less emphasis on transitory social conditions and more on economic fundamentals such as monetary strength and debt burden. For the purposes of better understanding the contemporary global security situation, what is required is a solid theory that explains the relationship between "rogue regimes" (such as North Korea or Iraq under Saddam) and "failed states" (such as Somalia or Afghanistan).
August 31, 2005 [LINK]
Nats on TV again!
With broadcast games on both Saturday and Sunday, you would think I would get to see the Nationals at least score a few runs, but no-ooo. Zip, zero, nada. The Cardinals blanked them 6-0 both days. Well, at least the Nationals won the first game of the series, so they weren't swept. The rare opportunity to see the Nats on TV highlights a new group of D.C. baseball fans with a Web site, iwantmynatstv.com. According to the Washington Post, however, this movement may be a front for satellite dish companies. The Nats' loss on Sunday was made slightly less painful by the losses of every other team contending for the NL wild card spot on Sunday. Katrina gave them an unscheduled day of rest on Monday, which may have helped them beat the Braves 3-2 on Tuesday. They're not dead yet!
D.C. stadium advances
The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission has recommended that the City Council award the construction contract for the new stadium to a group led by the Clark Company. See Washington Post. The city recently made the legal steps to acquire the land from local owners. The only major obstacle seems to be a garbage disposal company.
I've finally finished the revised ("dynamic") diagrams for the Polo Grounds, sponsored by Phil Faranda. Sorry for the unscheduled hiatus; it may be a few more days before I update this Web blog again...
August 14, 2005 [LINK]
Nationals sweep Rockies
The Nationals' 9-2 win over the Rockies today capped their first sweep since the series against the Cubs just before the All Star break. John Patterson got his seventh win of the season Combined with yesterday's 8-0 victory, it was their biggest two-game run total since May 6-7 in San Francisco. Ironically, the Nats only got two home runs in the series, confounding the expectation of easy long balls in Denver's mile-high atmosphere. See MLB.com. This trip was bittersweet for Vinny Castilla, who still resides with his family in Denver, where he played for most of his career. He said he would have stayed there if they had offered him more money. The Nationals have been in desperate need of something to turn things around as the final month approaches; maybe this series in Denver was it. Winning the NL East is now a very long shot, but the Nats are at least holding their own in the wild card race. Now they head to Philadelphia, and then on to Queens, New York to finish a challenging 13-game road trip.
In Houston on Wednesday, Livan Hernandez accomplished something rather unusual: He hit a home run and yet lost the game as a pitcher. I hope this doesn't add to his already high level of frustration over the lack of run support. Sorry for the lack of updates this past week. I've been occupied with a variety of other pursuits, and my Internet connection was on the fritz yesterday.
Pennant races heat up
The winning streaks chalked up by the Red Sox and Yankees recently point to yet another all-out war between the ancient rivals as September approaches. On the other coast, the race between the Angels and Athletics is likewise getting closer and tenser all the time. In the National League, the Cubs surprised a lot of folks by beating the Cardinals twice, but it would take a miracle for anyone to overcome the lead St. Louis has amassed. The same could almost be said for the Braves, who have built an aura of near-invincibility in their division (if not in their league) over the past 15 years. In the NL East, all the teams are currently above .500, whereas in the NL West, all the teams are below .500. Perhaps there should only be two geographic divisions in each league, and two wild card teams...
Sold to the chummiest bidder?
Saturday's Washington Post explored the murky world of how baseball franchises are sold, recalling the dismay in Boston when the Red Sox were sold to a group of out-of-towners led by John Henry. All indications are that close personal ties to Commissioner Selig have been the primary consideration, outweighing the amount of the bids. Selig says he hopes to decide on awarding the bid for ownership of the Nationals by the end of August, but if the past is any indication, this process could stretch on for many more months. I hope Fred Malek's group gets picked, since he has been working tirelessly to bring baseball back to Washington for two decades, and he deserves a lot of credit for the fact that it finally came to pass.
Nats fever: relapse?
That reminds me, amid all the glum talk about the Nationals' fading postseason prospects, let's put things in perspective and rejoice in the mere fact that baseball is being played in Our Nation's Capital at all! With far more games being played every year than any other pro sport, baseball is famous for all the amazing hot streaks and depressing slumps. Perhaps it's all for the best that Washingtonians are getting a taste of the variety of emotions that come with being a major league city. Anything could happen in the next seven weeks...
Odds 'n ends
Many thanks to Fritz Roberson for sending me excellent panoramic interior and exterior photos of Dodger Stadium, SBC Park, and Miller Park. They have been added to those pages, greatly enhancing them. (The one of Dodger Stadium has been retouched slightly.) I do accept stadium photos for use on my pages, and I always credit the photographer.
Thanks to Richard Morscher for letting me know it was Josh Gibson (not "Howard") who was said to have hit a baseball out of Yankee Stadium. I was told by Bruce Orser a few weeks ago that some of the eyewitnesses to that blast acknowledged that the ball didn't actually leave the stadium but did, they say, sail over the front corner of the upper deck in left field and hit the wall behind the bullpen. Another mystery that will never be known for sure... Coincidentally, Alex Rodriguez hit a monster 485-foot home run that sailed way back into that same area, where an elliptical exit ramp now stands.
Thanks to Mike Zurawski for letting me know about recently unveiled plans for a new home for the Oakland Athletics. See SFGate.com. It would be located a couple blocks north of the existing Coliseum. I like the big roof, the Wrigleyesque triangular bleachers, and the Tigeresque curved grandstand in the right field corner. They seem to be emulating San Diego's PETCO Park by integrating existing buildings into the stadium design.
August 24, 2005 [LINK]
Early migrant warblers
A pleasant lunch hour repast in mild temperatures and clear skies at Montgomery Hall Park today turned into a surprisingly productive bird outing. I saw an Eastern wood pewee, a Ruby-throated hummingbird, a White-breasted nuthatch, as well as several Red-bellied woodpeckers and a Downy woodpecker. I walked over to investigate all the activity in the thick underbrush, and was delighted to see a female (or juvenile) Canada warbler. To my astonishment, I also saw a Golden-winged warbler, for the first time ever. I only glimpsed it for a few seconds, but it was enough to see the wing patch and bold head markings for a confident identification, so I can count it as the first domestic "life bird" for me so far this year. Finally, I saw a Red-eyed vireo and a Blackburnian warbler. All three of those warbler species nest in the mountains of western Augusta County, but are certainly not among the more common species. They are almost never ever seen in town except during migration season, so this is one of the first signs that autumn is on our doorstep.
We still see the male hummingbird at our back porch feeder every day, and sometimes a female hummer shows up as well.
UPDATE: I just learned that there is a new Web site for the Bath-Highland County Bird Club, to the west of Augusta County, and they are working on a project to monitor the number of Whip-poor-wills, a species that may be in decline. I've never seen a Whip-poor-will before, but after listening to the sound clip at nenature.com (requires Real multimedia software), I'm pretty sure I've heard one at least a few times.
August 5, 2005 [LINK]
Newt: Time for GOP to think
Newt Gingrich, who recently grabbed attention by collaborating with Hillary Clinton on proposals for reforming health care, said the strong showing by Democrat Paul Hackett in the special congressional election in Ohio is a symptom of the Republican party's vulnerabilities as the 2006 elections approach. Hackett is a veteran of the war in Iraq and once called President Bush "the greatest threat to the safety and security of Americans" (see commondreams.org), but as Rush Limbaugh) pointed out, there was none of this talk on Hackett's televised campaign ads. Gingrich said of this near-defeat in a safe Republican district:
There is more energy today on the anti-Iraq, anti-gas-price, anti-changing-Social Security and I think anti-Washington [side]. ... I think the combination of those four are all redounding to weaken Republicans and help Democrats. ... I don't think this is time to panic, but I think it's time to think. If we don't think now, then next September , people will panic when it's too late. (SOURCE: Washington Post)
Having lost his former titanic position of power (in no small part because of his own shortcomings), Gingrich is obviously anxious to insert himself into national political discourse and is therefore prone to saying things just to get attention. That much is clear. What is less clear is whether Gingrich still embodies that zest for fundamental reform that propelled him and his party to the top one decade ago. (Has it been that long?) Thus, even though Gingrich is probably being melodramatic in this situation, I do think he is on to something. President Bush has only recently begun to hint at the sacrifices and hardships that lie ahead, and has said virtually nothing about the need to accept higher energy prices. From everything I have been able to discern, the White House has been so tightly focused on tactical maneuverings and political paybacks that strategic planning has been left unattended. If anything goes seriously wrong on the world scene between now and November 2006, the GOP will be at the mercy of a volatile, discontented electorate.
From a broader perspective, we can begin to outline likely future currents in American politics by identifying key electoral blocs. Given the polarization of recent years, there are only a small number of politically attentive Americans who do not identify closely with one party or another. If the Democrats can manage to keep their "unhinged" core constituency fired up while attracting a large number of unattentive "clueless" voters, it will be hard to beat. For their part, the Republicans need to retain the loyalty of the Christian Right without alienating the more traditional "sensible" faction of the political spectrum. If the GOP gets tangled up in no-win divisive social issues such as opposing stem cell research or promoting the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools, they are toast.
August 14, 2005 [LINK]
Festival at Luray Caverns
Ignoring all the dire warnings about the 100-degree heat forecasts, we drove up to Luray Caverns for the celebration of the 127th anniversary of its discovery this weekend. We had hoped to take a balloon ride, but we learned after we got there that the only real (untethered) rides were at dawn and late afternoon; it's hard to get lift from hot air when the surrounding air is so warm. With year-round temperatures of about 60 degrees, the caverns were the perfect escape. It's one of the biggest tourist attractions in Virginia, and the wide variety of rock formations provides plenty of stimulation for the mind and senses. The flashless digital photos we took below ground were grainy but at least adequate for Web site purposes. After the 1.25-mile "spelunking" trek, we emerged into the stultifying solar rays again. We walked through a very good antique carriage and car museum, and later enjoyed fine bluegrass music from a local group "Higher Ground" and a group called "Meridian" from Johnson City, Tennessee. Time well spent!
August 17, 2005 [LINK]
Rumsfeld visits Paraguay, Peru
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is making his third trip to Latin America in the past year. The purpose is to improve relations with Latin American democracies, reverse the trend toward political instability, and fight terrorism and drug trafficking. In Paraguay, where he was met with a small group of anti-U.S. protesters, he questioned the involvement of Cuba and Venezuela in Bolivia's recent turmoil, urging neighboring countries to act in support of Bolivia's imperiled democracy. Paraguay seldom makes news headlines, but its thinly-guarded border with Argentina and Brazil has long been plagued with large-scale smuggling of drugs and sundry contraband goods, and Middle East terrorist groups such as Hamas are said to be getting funding from this illicit traffic. Today Rumsfeld is visiting Peru, where President Toledo has reversed his decision to name a political ally to the post of foreign minister, which led to the resignation of the cabinet. Toledo's government is is no position to undertake any major policy initiatives at the moment. Rumsfeld's visits are a good sign that the United States is attentive to the overlooked zone of instability in the southern hemisphere, but a visit by President Bush would accomplish much more.
Boat sinks off Colombian shore
At least 100 people died, and only a few survived, when a boat from Ecuador carrying passengers in the cargo hold sank in rough seas off the coast of Colombia. They were apparently headed toward the United States.
August 24, 2005 [LINK]
Robinson: Erase Palmeiro's stats
Nationals' manager Frank Robinson reported said that Rafael Palmeiro's batting statistics should be erased from the record books because all his accomplishments are tainted by the high likelihood of steroid use. He knows Palmeiro from his days in the Orioles' front office ten years ago. "Where do you go back, stop and say, 'OK, when did he started using steroids?' To eliminate all that, and get the players' attention, you wipe the whole thing out." See MLB.com. I tend to agree, and see no reason whatsoever to be lenient to Palmeiro, but MLB will have to come up with some clear-cut guidelines for handling players' records when drug use is an issue. The problem with threatening such a draconian penalty for performance-enhancing drug abuse is that players will be discouraged from confessing to past minor infractions, such as those "nutritional supplements," so how are they supposed to determine with any degree of confidence which players cheated their way up the career record lists, and which players were clean? MLB's ability to set a fair policy on baseball records will depend on whether most of the abusers are hard core steroid "junkies" who would never confess anyway, as opposed to the occasional users. Robinson has 586 career homers, to Palmeiro's 569.
Nats beat Reds
It was just like old times -- which is to say June -- at RFK Stadium tonight. John Patterson held the Reds to one run until the ninth inning, and after a home run closed to the gap to two runs, Chad Cordero came in and struck out two batters to finish the game, earning his 40th save. Vinny Castilla's double in the seventh inning (an actual rally!) added two insurance runs, which proved to be the deciding margin. It was good to see the veteran slugger perform in the clutch, after a long dry spell at the plate. He and Brad Wilkerson were batting way over .300 in April and May, but both are now below .250. After getting only four hits in their 6-2 loss to the Reds on Tuesday night, this win was a much-needed jolt of encouragement. If they don't win tomorrow's game, however, it would seem they don't stand much of a chance against the Cardinals, who come to town Friday.
UPDATE: It is rumored that recent U.Va. grad Ryan Zimmerman, who was drafted by the Nationals earlier this year and is now playing with the Harrisburg, PA farm club, may get called up to play in the majors for D.C. after the rosters expand in September. He would probably return to the minors next spring to refine his skills, but it would still be a thrill for him and for Nationals fans from the Old Dominion.
August 20, 2005 [LINK]
Nationals go down fighting
After the Mets scored eight runs in the first three innings tonight, I was just about ready to call it a season, but when the Nationals finally got on the board with six runs in the seventh inning, I was convinced that this motley crew of immigrants from the Far North may just have some fight left in them after all. With two outs in the top of the ninth, Brian Schneider came through with a clutch 2-RBI double that almost cleared the fence in right center field. If it had been a foot or two higher, the Nats would have won the game. At least they went into extra innings. Cristian Guzman singled in the tenth and later advanced to third base with two outs, but then Nick Johnson swung at the first pitch and flied out. In the bottom of the tenth, pinch hitter Chris Woodward hit a grounder that just got by the shortstop Guzman (who seemed to lack hustle), and the winning run scored from second. Mets 9, Nats 8. It is hard to imagine a more anguishing outcome than this, which forces us to take refuge in philosophy: It is better to have fought and lost than never to have fought at all! Moral victory or not, this game at least restores some pride to the frustrated Nationals, making it more likely that they will stay in contention for the postseason at least into early September. The last-place Mets are now within a half game of the Nationals in the NL East, by far the toughest division in the majors.
Meanwhile, the NL West-leading Padres have beaten the Braves twice, climbing back to the .500 mark. I say again, there should only be two divisions in each league, and two wild card teams. The White Sox have now lost seven in a row, as the Yankees shut them out 5-0 this afternoon at U.S. Cellular Park. If the see-saw race between the Angels and the Athletics continues at this fervent pace, the AL wild card team may not come from the Eastern Division this year. The Indians and Twins are in contention for that spot as well.
I've redone the thumbnail images of the rest of the cookie-cutter "doughnut clone" stadiums to conform to the new standard. Rolling the mouse over the stadium names on the Baseball sitemap page reveals that a substantial majority of the thumbnail images are now properly aligned, which makes for much easier comparisons. While I was at it, I redid the full-size diagram of Tropicana Field as well, so it is now "up to standard." The Polo Grounds revisions, which involved more work, are almost complete.
August 6, 2005 [LINK]
Hiroshima + 60
Except in Bolivia, most people around the world remember today for the holocaust that befell the city of Hiroshima, Japan sixty years ago today. If Americans are puzzled why other countries so often fear or loathe us, they should remember what happened in August 1945 and bear in mind that from today's detached perspective, the exigencies of wartime mean nothing to average Egyptians or Mexicans. Harry Truman spent many years justifying his decision to drop the atomic bomb on the grounds that it saved many thousands of lives that would have been lost in a ground invasion of Japanese homeland. I happen to agree with that rationale, but it is not something that anyone should take lightly. Nuclear weaponry at once confirms one of the basic axioms of military science, Clausewitz's idea that the violence of warfare tends to escalate without limit. Yet on the other hand, the scale of destruction in nuclear blasts renders them almost impractical from a military standpoint. Strategic thinkers from George Kennan to Robert Jervis have questioned the utility of nuclear weapons stockpiles and the possible value as deterrent "leverage." The very irrationality of nuclear weapons is ironically what makes them so appealing to terrorists, who do not behave according to the precepts of rational political actors. Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, was interviewed on C-SPAN this morning, calling on the United States to accelerate the reduction of its nuclear stockpile so as to convince other potential nuclear armed states to abide by the Nonproliferation Treaty. We still have over 10,000 nuclear warheads in our arsenal, and the Russians have over 6,000, plus at least that many which have been "mothballed" pending dismantling. In spite of recent tensions between the two countries, there is no reason for maintaining such a huge nuclear force -- except for the fact that China and other countries are building up their arsenals, and in this new, unpredictable world in which more and more countries aspire to nuclear weaponry, keeping an extra reserve force on hand to face multiple potential adversaries is certainly understandable. Illogical? Perhaps. Necessary? Probably. Arms-control advocates will object bitterly, but in one form or another, the wretched angst spawned by the security-power dilemma will forever torment mankind.
August 3, 2005 [LINK]
Bully for Bolton!
Frustrated with Democrat stalling tactics, President Bush made a recess appointment of John Bolton as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Democrats were outraged that Bush bypassed them, but that's the price they pay for contriving to avoid an up or down vote on whether to confirm him. Sen. Harry Reid called Bolton "a seriously flawed and weakened candidate"; see Washington Post. Conservative internationalist Daniel Drezner takes a neutral stance on Bolton: "from the Bush administration's perspective, this is an unwanted man being sent to an unwanted institution." Most of those who place a high priority on pushing for serious reforms in the United Nations think Bolton is just the right person for the job. For example, Glenn Reynolds notes a news report that "Most of the reforms sought by the United States are well on their way to completion" and Bolton is therefore unlikely to disrupt U.S. foreign relations. He concludes, "It's as if there was some sort of cunning plan all along. Nah, couldn't be."
Bush backs "intelligent design"
President Bush waded into the swamp of the debate over teaching evolution, saying that students in public schools should be exposed to "intelligent design," as if that were an alternate scientific theory. See Washington Post. NOT! By doing so, Bush unwittingly gave support to those who believe that the theory of evolution undermines Christianity or other religious faiths. As I've written before (most recently on May 9), there is no necessary clash between scientific advances and religious belief, except for those who hold unusually rigid and narrow views. Sometimes I wonder what's wrong with people who put those fish-with-feet "Darwin" symbols on their car bumpers; do they actually enjoy making religious people angry, or do they just feel intellectually superior? I just don't see what good can come from escalating the Culture Wars... For a thoughtful Catholic perspective on the evolution controversy, see Phil Faranda.
August 6, 2005 [LINK]
Diplomatic flap in Bolivia
Today is Bolivia's national holiday, and folks down there are celebrating the 180th anniversary of their independence from Spain. The country is in very shaky conditions since the uprising that induced former President Carlos Mesa to resign in June, but the good news is that tensions have eased slightly, averting an armed rebellion or civil war. One sign of the extreme fragility of the government is that the finance minister resigned just because he suggested that Evo Morales, head of the coca-lobby "Movement Toward Socialism," is tied to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. This would not surprise any impartial observer of either Bolivia or Venezuela. Analysts in Bolivia warn that the special elections later this year will result in a fragmented, ineffective government unless some of the political parties can join forces and present consolidated lists of candidates for the national assembly.
Violence in Mexico worsens
The U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo, across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas, had to be closed for several days because violence perpetrated by drug lords had made it too dangerous. Policemen were abducted and later released by gangs in Acapulco. Automatic weapons, hand grenades, and even rocket launchers are being used, suggesting that the narcoterrorist threat that has plagued South America for two decades is already on our own doorstep. The dire warnings of Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) about the need to make our southern border more secure cannot be ignored much longer. Inasmuch as one of the principle objectives of NAFTA was to expand economic opportunities in Mexico, obviating the need for a "Berlin wall" along the Mexican frontier, the broader question is what can be done to restart the process of economic liberalization that has stalled in Mexico.
Central America earthquake
A small earthquake (6.3 Richter scale) rattled southern Nicaragua and northwestern Costa Rica before dawn Wednesday. Damage was minor. I was trevelling in those areas earlier this year.
August 13, 2005 [LINK]
NARAL vs. Roberts
After a wide variety of people cried foul, the National Abortion Rights League / Pro-Choice America decided to stop showing a television ad that suggested that Supreme Court nominee John Roberts once condoned violence against abortion clinics by the likes of Randall Terry. This ugly slur was based on a terribly slanted misreading of a legal opinion Roberts filed in the early 1990s. Dana Milbank examined the political miscalculation behind this ad in the Washington Post. She quotes two leading Democratic activists, Robert Shrum and Chris Lehane, as expressing disappointment in NARAL's retraction, since they think that the ad was an appropriate retort to the "Swift Boat" ads against John Kerry last summer. Their hardball, eye-for-an-eye style of politics seems to be backfiring, however, as Milbank pointed out:
Some Democratic operatives say their trouble is congenital. "The problem is our politically impractical insistence on always residing on the moral high ground," said Jim Jordan, who was a longtime adviser to Kerry. "A large part of our ethos goes to what we perceive to be moral superiority and the sad truth is in politics that's sometimes inconvenient."
Blinded by self-righteousness into self-delusion, perhaps? FactCheck.org reported that the NARAL ad was "false" and "misleading," but it also called the Swift boat ads of last summer "dubious." From a purely political perspective, it's hard to understand why the Democrats and their associated interest groups would spend so much political capital attacking a Supreme Court nominee who is so eminently qualified and moderate in his thinking and tone. A cartoon by Mike Lane in today's Washington Post offers one explanation as to why they keep "hitting themselves on the head." [revised link]
August 1, 2005 [LINK]
Uzbekistan: "Yankee go home"
The authoritarian government of Uzbekistan has evicted U.S. military personnel from the air base near the city of Karshi. It supposedly provides a very useful refueling stop for U.S. aircraft headed for the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, but during his trip to Kyrgystan and Tajikistan last week, Donald Rumsfeld he said the U.S. military did not really need that base. (Those two countries agreed to continue cooperating with the United States.) Uzbek President Islam Karimov brutally repressed a protest movement earlier this year, causing some embarrassment to the United States because cooperation since the 9/11 attacks with the Uzbek government (which has fought Islamic extremism) calls into question the Bush Doctrine of promoting democracy as a central part of the fight against terrorism. See Washington Post. China and Russia recently criticized the U.S. military presence in their mutual "backyard," and in spite of the unfriendly nature of those regimes, it is hard to deny that they have more compelling interests in Central Asia than we do, and even more reason to control the spread of Islamic extremism. As I wrote on May 26, unless there is some overriding compelling reason to remain (such as warding off coercion against nascent democratic regimes wielded by Russia or China), the sooner U.S. forces withdraw from the countries in that region [the former Soviet republics of Central Asia], the better.
Guns of August
Donald Sensing reflects on the outbreak of The Great War" 91 years ago today. By comparison, Barbara W. Tuchman's book The Guns of August was published in 1962, or 43 years ago, which is nearly as long ago as World War One was when the book first came out.