Latin America, 2005
Wild birds, 2005
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September 2005 Archives
September 30, 2005 [LINK]
Oh, what a night!
There were four games with critical playoff implications tonight, and all four of them were genuine humdingers. The highest-tension matchup was in Boston, where the home team capitalized on Yankee miscues to score three runs in the sixth inning, going on to win, 5-3. The AL East is now tied again. Blood feud? Well, at least no one was ejected from the game tonight. Tomorrow: Randy Johnson versus knuckeballer Tim Wakefield; Yanks by two. In Washington, Livan Hernandez struggled against the Phillies and was perhaps fortunate that they did not score more than four runs. Meanwhile, the Nationals' offense once again let multiple run-scoring opportunities slip by, and they lost another one-run game, 4-3. In Houston, the Astros took a 3-2 lead scoring two runs in the eighth, but then the Cubs came back with two in the ninth, thereby reducing the Astros' lead in the NL wild card race to one game. Finally, in Cleveland, there was a classic pitchers' duel. The Indians tied the game 1-1 in the ninth, and it went to the thirteenth inning, when the White Sox scored two, but the Indians could only score one in the bottom of the inning, falling a game behind the Yankees and Indians in the AL wild card race. Home field advantage?
Camden Yards, and more...
There is a new diagram on the Camden Yards page, at long last showing the outfield dimensions as they have been for every year except for 2001. As is my custom, during October I will concentrate on updating the diagrams of stadiums of those teams that are playing in the postseason. On deck: Turner Field!
Speaking of the perennial NL East champions, my brother Chris, a Braves fan since their days in Milwaukee, has some observations about a former Braves' pitcher:
Now this has to be a rarity in the baseball annals: Tom Glavine, en route last night to his 2nd complete game in 3 starts (the other was an 8 inning stint), hit safely (twice) as many times as he allowed hits. He also scored and had more RBI (1 each) than he allowed. He notched his 275th win, and is the 30th pitcher in MLB history to reach that plateau. He'd be near 290 wins if not for the ... Mets' offense and relief crew! ESPN highlights also showed him snagging a line drive hit right back to him, which he then tossed to 1st base for a double play. Talk about a legitimate triple threat!
September 29, 2005 [LINK]
DeLay indictment fallout
Ankle-Biting Pundits wryly cheers on the Democrats' attempt to capitalize on the DeLay, Frist, and Rove scandals so as to smear the Republican Party:
We also know this Democrat stratagem couldn't be more stupid. 'They're just as corrupt as we were when we were in power ... so put us back in power'" is a message destined to fail at the ballot box.
File this one under "the pot calling the kettle black." Nevertheless, "ABP" bemoans how the post-Gingrich Republican leadership has gotten off track, forgetting what got them into power in the first place, way back in 1994:
The GOP ran against lobbyists. Not specific lobbyists but rather the very idea that "K Street fat cats" (as we called them) were drafting legislation and deciding policy for a decrepit Democrat majority. We ran against corruption, such as Rostenkowski and all that. We were then an anti-Washington party, dismissing the "corridors or power" as a giant piggy bank for the highest bidding special interest groups. Hillarycare was just icing on the cake.
And yet somewhere along the line we became what we despised.
That's what happens when power-focused party elites lose touch with the principle-motivated grass roots. That ABP piece is a very, very good critique of what is wrong with both parties these days. Why has the GOP gotten off track? Because they have nothing to fear from Democrats, who have come under the sway of utter kooks who have no serious policy alternatives to offer. (via Instapundit, who notes, "The GOP is at serious risk of losing a decisive chunk of its voters to a Perot-style movement.") For the record, I do not favor "throwing DeLay overboard" as Rush Limbaugh puts it. It would be nice, however, if the House came under the leadership of men or women who were more committed to cutting Federal spending and reducing the deficit.
Fatuous liberalism in Maryland
American University history professor Allan Lichtman announced he is running for Maryland's U.S. Senate seat that incumbent [Paul S. Sarbanes] will vacate after next year. In the Washington Post photo caption, he is quoted as saying:
There is too much government intruding in our private lives and not enough government meeting our needs.
What Lichtman fails to realize (or refuses to admit, perhaps), is that government intrusion into our private lives is a direct consequence of the fatuous idea that government should "meet our needs." (Reality 101: Needs are subjective; in a market economy such as ours, resources are allocated in response to demand, which is objective.) When "needy" citizens don't reform their behavior as the various social welfare programs expect them to do, there is overwhelming pressure for the government to step in and make sure that public money is being put to good use. Hence, the "nanny state." Unfortunately, President Bush's "compassionate conservatism" buys into that rhetoric.
September 29, 2005 [LINK]
Seasonal transition begins
It was a cool, blustery, overcast morning heralding the arrival of truly autumnal weather, and it was therefore fitting that I spotted two winter birds on the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. According to my records, this is the earliest date of the season I have ever seen either of them. Unlike earlier this week, there were only a few neotropical migrants, and hardly any catbirds. (They usually hang around until mid-October.) Today's highlights:
- White-throated sparrow! (Previous earliest arrival was Oct. 12.)
- Ruby-crowned kinglet! (Previous earliest arrival was Sept. 30.)
- Rose-breasted grosbeaks (2 JM, 1 F)
- Red-bellied woodpeckers (F/J)
- N. flicker (F/J)
- Downy woodpeckers (M, F)
- E. phoebes
- American redstart (M)
- Magnolia warbler (F/J)
- Tree swallows (10+, flying high)
September 29, 2005 [LINK]
Condolences to the Farandas
My friend Phil Faranda's brother Paul just passed away after a long illness. What makes this sad moment especially poignant is the fact that Phil's other brother Tom began chemotherapy treatments only a few weeks ago. Jacqueline and I send our deepest sympathy to Phil and the rest of his fine family. May God bless them all.
September 28, 2005 [LINK]
Florida devastated by Nat swarm
The Washington Nationals roared through south Florida like a hurricane this week, tossing aside the vaunted pitcher Josh Beckett as though he were a puny midget. Not having scored in the double digits in nearly four months (May 7, to be exact), the Nationals managed to do so on two consecutive days! Oddly, in all five of their double-digit scoring games this year, the Nationals have scored exactly eleven runs. Credit for the series sweep goes to virtually every member of the team, even Cristian Guzman, who has raised his batting average to a tolerable .217 just in time for season's end. (Ryan Zimmerman's average is exactly .200 higher than that!) The belated offensive onslaught by Nats makes one wish they could have spread around a few of those superfluous runs in the many one-run losses since mid-season. They could have been leading the division! Their series sweep assures the Nats of at least an even .500 record for the season, as they rest for a day in preparation for the season finale series against the Phillies, in the (usually) friendly home confines of RFK Stadium.
The unbalanced scoring in this series may have been more a reflection of embittered strife among the Marlins, who were favored to win the wild card spot just a couple weeks ago. Their pitcher A.J. Burnett was told his services were no longer needed, after he complained about his teammates and manager Jack McKeon, and he told reporters he would consider signing with Washington for next year. Hmm-m-m-m... It is worth noting that the Marlins, as the last place team in the NL East, have a higher winning percentage than the likely "champions" of the NL West, the San Diego Padres. Even though I think the wild card teams need to face additional obstacles in the postseason (e.g., fewer home games), [I also think that any non-wild card team with a higher winning percentage than one of the divisional champions should be entitled to a one-game challenge playoff (at the divisional champion's home field) to qualify for the postseason. No more than two non-wild card challengers would be allowed, since only two slots (the divisional champions) are open. In such a system, theoretically, one division could grab all the postseason slots for that league.]
In the American League, the White Sox can breathe easier now that Cleveland has fallen back in the Central Division race, thanks to Tampa Bay. (Just think, the White Sox almost moved there in 1990!) Bronx Bomber Alex Rodriguez hit his 47th home run of the season (a team record for right-handers), helping the Yankees edge the Orioles, who had just unleashed their recent frustrations (namely, a nine-game losing streak) by trouncing the visiting squad 17-9 yesterday. The Red Sox are looking a bit shaky, losing to Toronto again and falling a game behind the Yankees, but they've always been one of those unpredictable, high-spirited crews, and they might find a way to get back in the groove before it's too late.
September 28, 2005 [LINK]
"Hammer" to the slammer?
Jail time is not very likely, but his leadership of the House has been neutralized for the indefinite future. As has been expected for the past several months, Tom DeLay was indicted by a grand jury in Travis County, Texas today for alleged campaign finance violations. DeLay responded by calling District Attorney Ronnie Earle a "fanatic partisan" and said the indictments were "baseless" and "a sham." See Washington Post. For reasons of both policy substance and political style, I'm on record as being less than fond of "The Hammer," as the House Majority Leader is known (see May 3), but I'm also well aware that the prosecution is to a large extent politically motivated. Andrew Sullivan takes an appropriately detached perspective, and I agree: Let's not jump to conclusions either way. Let the legal process go ahead, and the truth will come out. If the charges are bogus, there will be hell to pay.
More constitutional silliness
Last summer the Republicans in the House passed a proposed constitutional amendment to forbid desecration of the American flag, to which I expressed opposition on September 15. Now two Republican senators, Jim Talent (Missouri) and George Allen (Virginia), say they intend to introduce a constitutional amendment to grant the president line-item veto power; see allen.senate.gov. I do not doubt that the senators have the best intentions, but anyone who thinks that this is the most effective response to the Federal government's growing fiscal deficit is, in my opinion, misguided. Those of us who have studied legislative processes know that this is the sort of procedural contrivance that tries to let legislators off the hook for their failure as a collective body to pass a sound budget. Don't pass a law to force yourself to do something, just do it! As the Staunton News Leader editorialized today, "If all this is about is cutting pork, then Congress needs to clean up its own act, not shift the burden to the president. If they can't do that, we can take care of it for them during the 2006 elections." Not that anyone should expect the tax-and-spend Democrats to take fiscal responsibility any more seriously than Republicans, but if that is the best our esteemed senators can come up with, fiscal conservatives like me will be far less motivated to work on behalf of the party's candidates than in the all-important 2004 election. The impetus for true fiscal reform can only come from the grass roots, not via constitutional mandates.
September 28, 2005 [LINK]
Jacqueline and I went for a walk on the road leading to the Frontier Culture Museum this morning, and saw several Canada geese and Mallards on the pond, but no migrating herons or shorebirds. Around the thistle plants that have already gone to seed we saw quite a few goldfinches, most of which have now lost their yellow feathers. There was one especially bright-colored bird in their midst, however, and as it flew off by itself I could see that it was actually a Yellow warbler! It was rather windy, wreaking havoc with the camera's focusing for closeup shots, but I still managed to get a couple photos of the many Monarch butterflies that are passing through town. They like the thistle flowers.
Back home, we saw an unfamiliar dark gray bird land on the chair on our back porch. By the time I had figured out what it was -- an Eastern phoebe -- it was gone! Birds often show up in strange places during migration season.
September 28, 2005 [LINK]
Multiculture: ¿Es éste un gran país, o qué? *
"In ethnically diverse Los Angeles, many immigrants find that learning Korean, Spanish or Mandarin is more important than English." See webindia123.com. (via Drudge) I have some anecdotal evidence to support that finding. "E pluribus unum" is fast fading as an ideal in the good ol' U.S.A. Social integration? That is so-o 1960s! Note that this news story comes from a source that focuses on matters of concern to India, where speaking English is a highly prized job skill.
* For you folks in Rio Linda, that's "Is this a great country or what?" in Spanish.
UPDATE: Linda Chavez, former Reagan administration official who now hosts a radio talk show in Washington, points out that the roots of the various social problems related to immigration in this country lie in the lack of a consistent federal policy on the matter. Exactly! This was in the context of GOP gubenatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore's criticism of public funding of a center for day laborers in Herndon, VA. Kilgore was right, but he only sees part of the big picture. It's too bad neither Democrat nor (most) Republican leaders in Washington are willing to risk losing votes in order to begain the necessary steps toward comprehensive reform. See Washington Post.
September 27, 2005 [LINK]
Strange bedfellows in Maryland
Orioles owner Peter Angelos, otherwise known as "Dr. Evil," took out a full-page newspaper ad to thank Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich for his support of his failed attempt to prevent baseball from returning to Washington. What is strange is that Angelos used to be very tight with the state Democrat party, and was a major contributor to the campaigns of former Governor Parris ("Not Hilton") Glendening and others. The party affiliation made sense, since he is, after all, a fabulously wealthy trial lawyer. Since the ad did not explicitly urge people to vote for Ehrlich when he runs for reelection next year, it probably won't count as a campaign expenditure. See Washington Post. After a brief honeymoon, Ehrlich's term as governor has been marked by one frustration after another, as the Democrat majority has successfully blocked his initiatives. He and Angelos both needed each other, so you might say it was a match made in ... no, let's not go there.
September 27, 2005 [LINK]
The Tall Afar offensive
Though scarcely mentioned in the mainstream media, last week's U.S.-Iraqi offensive against the terrorist resistance in Tall Afar, near the Syrian border, went very well. Not many enemy combatants were killed, probably because they had advance warning, but at least that town is cleared of hostile elements for the moment. Little by little, the new Iraqi army is gaining experience and confidence, in spite of the continued attempts to intimidate recruits by bombs at Iraqi police and military bases. Most of the troops in that attack were in fact Iraqis. See Washington Post. Though the mere televised sight of such attacks make many Americans cringe, for most Iraqi people, it seems to have the opposite effect. This is discussed at strategypage by James Dunnigan, who explains "Why Al Qaeda Has Lost Its War in Iraq." A cartoon by Cox and Forkum makes this point graphically. There is a risk, nevertheless, that the insurgents will simply take refuge across the border in Syria, in which case there would be a possibility of a U.S.-led incursion into that rogue state, much like the brief incursion into Cambodia ordered by Nixon in 1969. The difference between the situation now and then is that the Ba'athist regime headed by Bashar Al-Asad is on the defense, under heavy international pressure because of the murder of the Lebanese politician earlier this year, and facing growing internal demands for more freedom. The "dominos" are leaning in the other direction this time, and a well-timed, properly justified U.S. incursion might just tip the balance.
Whether it was related to the battlefield success or not, the death of Al Qaeda leader Abdullah Abu Azzam today is a clear indication that the strategic situation is heading in the right direction, notwithstanding the surge of desperate terrorist attacks. More such leaders will arise to replace him, but it's still a very real, concrete victory.
On the all-important home front, a group of high school and college students traveled from Staunton to Washington for the "Support the Military Families" rally. See newsblaze.com.
As for the left wing (or "wrong wing," perhaps) folks, the silly grin worn by Cindy Sheehan as she was arrested outside the White House yesterday made it very clear what a riotous, unserious farce is the movement for which she serves as mouthpiece.
September 27, 2005 [LINK]
Earthquake in Peru
The temblor occurred on Sunday evening, registering magnitude 7.5 on the Richter scale. It was centered in the remote northern jungles, near the town of Moyobamba, and there seem to be few fatalities thus far. Thousands have been displaced, however, and aftershocks threaten to destroy the flimsy homes that most poor people live in.
Toledo the night owl
When he was running for president against Alberto Fujimori in 2000, Alejandro Toledo was scandalized when photographs of him in a compromising position with a woman were published in local newspapers. He claimed he had been drugged and kidnapped for blackmail purposes, which would not be surprising under the Fujimori government, which went to great lengths to defame opponents. Now, however, it is reported that his credit card records show that he has been a regular customer of the night clubs "of ill repute" where dirty deeds are done. See Peru.com (en español). Toledo was married to an ambitious Belgian woman, Eliane Karp, but they were not regarded as a close couple; indeed, Toledo was forced to acknowledge an illegitimate daughter.
Web site updates
I have begun redoing the photographs on the Latin America country pages. The separate photos have been merged together into a single montage. Also, the Latin America culture page has been updated with a new photo montage and more information on soccer and baseball. I plan to fully update the news chronologies for each country over the next month.
September 27, 2005 [LINK]
But wait, there's more!
I paid a return visit to the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad early this morning, and was delighted to see nearly all of the migrant birds that I had seen on Sunday morning, plus a few additional ones. Seven warbler species!! This is the time of the year when you see the largest number of Monarch butterflies migrating south to their winter resort in the highlands of central Mexico, and I saw several of them as well. Here are the avian highlights, in approximate chronological order:
- Common yellowthroats (3 F, 1 M)
- Wilson's warbler
- Swainson's thrush
- Downy woodpeckers (M, F)
- Red-bellied woodpeckers (M)
- House wren
- Magnolia warblers (2 M, 4+ F/J)!!
- American redstart (M)
- Scarlet tanagers (2 F/J)
- Yellow-throated warbler (prob.)
- Brown thrashers 3+
- Rose-breasted grosbeak (F)
- Eastern phoebe
- Chestnut-sided warbler (M)
- Black-throated green warbler (F/J)
- Gray catbirds (15+)
I'm surprised by the absence of hummingbirds, which normally abound in the streamside areas where orange jewelweed blossoms abound. Within a few short weeks, the only birds listed above that will still be hanging around these parts will be the woodpeckers.
September 26, 2005 [LINK]
D.C. ballpark land grab?
Sunday's Washington Post detailed the brewing fight over terms of land sales in the four city blocks where the Nationals' future home is to be built. The print edition included a large aerial photograph with all the property lines drawn in and owners' names and property values identified. Some owners are holding out for a much higher price, so a major eminent domain legal case appears inevitable. That may add another year to the constrution timetable.
After a five-month assessment, city planners have offered the property owners about $97 million for land that was assessed two years ago at $32 million. The city has given the property owners 30 days to respond or face eviction.
When Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) announced the arrival of a baseball team and plans for the stadium, his aides estimated land costs at $65 million. The city's chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, put the estimate at $77 million this spring in a report for the council.
The only homeowner living on the land designated for stadium use is Kenneth B. Wyban, who has renovated a Civil War-era house for possible use as a bed and breakfast establishment. As anyone who is familiar with the history of Griffith Stadium knows, however, the refusal of land owners to sell out can end up having unexpectedly net positive consquences. Hint! Since respect for property rights is one of the bedrock principles upon which our republican form of government is founded, there is a presumption in favor of the land owners. Unlike the New Haven vs. Kelo case in which a city government abused the right of eminent domain to benefit one set of private property owners at the expense of others (see my blog post of June 28), a baseball stadium does represent a clear, compelling public interest. It's not just for baseball.
Jeffrey Smulyan recently added some token minority partners to his prospective Washington Nationals franchise ownership group. In Saturday's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell expressed fears that Smulyan might get the franchise. He performed miserably as owner of the Seattle Mariners (1989-1992), blaming others for the lack of team success and threatening to relocate, but is a chum of the MLB honchos surrounding Bud Selig.
If the Nats aren't sold to owners with deep Washington-area roots, especially since groups including Zients-Malek and the Lerner family are willing to hit baseball's $450 million price tag, then the Council has every right to think about doing a major refurbishment of RFK Stadium rather than take the risk of spending $535 million on a new park on the Anacostia River.
I heartily agree. RFK Stadium would obviously not be adequate as a permanent home for the Nats, but given the way Washington has been hosed so badly by the MLB-Orioles cabal, there's no reason not to stretch out their tenancy there for another two or three years for leverage purposes, pending a better deal and/or a fitting ownership group.
September 26, 2005 [LINK]
Foreign subversion in Bolivia
Hugo Chavez is now filling the role that Fidel Castro used to play in the Cold War, making American presidents paranoid about what he is or isn't doing to stir up trouble elsewhere in Latin America. After accusing the United States of planning to invade his country during his visit to the United Nations last week, he was interviewed by Lally Weymouth for the Washington Post. Chavez's responses were typically inconsistent, calling the U.S. government (under the Bush administration) a "terrorist organization," but also saying that he could work with Bush. He was unabashed in his support for leftist revolutionary movements throughout Latin America, especially El Salvador, Nicargua, and Bolivia. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly obvious that his involvement in Bolivia goes far beyond moral support; his petro-dollars are being used to systematically undermine the government in La Paz. As a result, there is now a very real chance that the upcoming election in December will be won by the leftist leader of the coca growers, Evo Morales, whose "Movement Toward Socialism" played a leading role in forcing two elected presidents to resign in the last three years. It is an extremely tense situation, and some wonder whether the election will be held at all. On Friday the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that legislative seats must be apportioned according to the 2001 census, favoring the fast-growing province of Santa Cruz, to the detriment of Morales, whose support is centered in the highlands. Bolivia-born blogger Miguel Centellas got the BBC to correct their story, which wrongly implied the court's ruling was arbitrary and motivated by hostility to Morales. For some deeper background on the veritable communist conspiracy (!) in Bolivia, see American Thinker. (via Instapundit)
So, what can the United States do about Chavezian subversion? In today's Washington Post, Jackson Diehl contrasts the high profile of Chavez with the quiet pleadings of Peru's Toledo and Colombia's Uribe, the other two Latin American presidents to speak at the United Nations. He concludes:
But they also have a point: The Bush administration would have a lot more impact if it behaved as if the United States, rather than Venezuela, was the hemisphere's economic leader.
Ouch. Diehl has a point as far as the lack of active U.S. engagement in the region, but no one should be under the illusion that we can spend our way out of the security threat via foreign aid. That's usually a very inefficient and corruption-prone tool of development, in any case. Chavez illustrates perfectly why much of Latin America is trapped in deep poverty: Illiberal economic policies and institutions that stifle entrepreneurial wealth creation. More generally, the fact that a regime like his could emerge in a country that has such bounteous natural resources says a lot about the limits of the classical liberal approach to political economy in the Third World. Dependency theorists used to argue that trade between wealthy industrialized countries and poor material-exporting countries tended to reinforce existing inequalities in real income levels, but this fell out of favor after Asian countries figured out how to achieve development via the (selective) use of capitalist tools. It ought to tell us something that nearly all oil-exporting countries in the world today have corrupt governments, with persistent widespread poverty, and their societies are mired in deep hatred and resentment. No World Bank program is going to change that pathology. What's worse, as long as the U.S. government is constrained by domestic electoral realities (cheap gasoline!) to maintain trade relations with such quasi-rogue regimes, the dangerous status quo is likely to continue.
Anti-trade protest in Colombia
Speaking of the limits of the classical liberal political economy in the Third World, there was a large protest against the proposed free trade agreement with Andean countries in Colombia on Thursday. See CNN.com. What's ironic about this proposed pact is that the Andean Group countries were once among the most determined to pursue regional economic integration without major trade ties to the United States. The governments of Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia are under heavy domestic pressure to deliver quick economic results, making these talks very crucial.
Drug money in Mexican churches
President Fox harshly criticized Bishop Ramon Godinez said the Catholic Church is not responsible for checking to see where the money they receive in offerings comes from. As in Colombia and other countries plagued by drug traffic, some churches received large amounts of narco-dollars from traffickers who seek legitimacy and social acceptance. Pope Benedict XVI made it clear that accepting dirty money fosters a climate of violence and lawlessness, but it remains to be seen whether local churches in poor Latin American countries can be persuaded to shun drug money. See CNN.com.
September 25, 2005 [LINK]
Review: Bang the Drum Slowly
I just saw the 1973 movie Bang the Drum Slowly for the first time, and truly enjoyed it. The title comes from a slow-paced mournal folk song, and the sight of a baseball player strumming a guitar in a locker room was certainly novel. The basic plot is a familiar one: A promising young player is struck down in the prime of his life by an incurable illness. In this case it's Hodgkin's Disease. Unlike most other such movies, you learn about the impending tragedy in the very first scene. It stars a young and wiry Robert De Niro, who plays the part of the catcher who tries to hide his illness from everyone but his teammate, the pitcher who is played by Michael Moriarty. Gradually more and more players find out, and everyone is caught in the dilemma of whether to help the ailing player to feel like everything is normal, or to express sympathy. How do you treat terminally ill people? The agony suffered by De Niro's character is interwoven with the ups and downs of the team during its pennant race: The "New York Mammoths" play against Baltimore as well as Pittsburgh in this pre-interleague era, so there are no connections to any teams or leagues from real life. Those alternate-universe sports movies grate on me a little bit, I'm afraid. There are a fair number of action scenes of games being played, but they mostly gloss over the drama of the particular game situations, a minor shortcoming. It's one of the few sports movies that a female companion is likely to appreciate, and that alone makes it worthwhile.
The movie credits state that the game action scenes were filmed in Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium -- in its last year before it was tragically remodeled. I don't believe any other New York team is identified in the movie, however, which makes me wonder whether the director expected the audience to recognize those well-known landmarks. In addition, there is a brief "cameo appearance" by RFK Stadium, in a rained-out game with the tarp being pulled over the diamond. (That reminds me of the April 30 game!) That scene showed very clearly the large scoreboard in right field. Based on this movie, I have updated the Movies section of the Civic religion page.
Mets sweep Nats
Just a week ago, when visions of an inaugural-year pennant still danced in their heads, the Nationals swept the Mets in three games at Shea stadium. Today the Mets got their revenge, doing likewise at RFK Stadium, as Mike Piazza got two home runs. At least this game provided lots of exciting back-and-forth action. Interestingly, both the winning pitcher (Juan Padilla) and losing pitcher (Travis Hughes) were charged with blown save opportunities. Rookie Ryan Zimmerman started in the cleanup position for the first time, but went 0 for 5, bringing his average down to .412, from .483 yesterday.
End of an era in N.Y.?
In their final home series of the regular season, the Yankees completed a sweep of the Blue Jays today. Given the (remote ) possibility that they might not make it to the postseason, and given the fact that their veteran centerfielder's contract is about to expire, this just might be Bernie Williams' final game in pin stripes! See MLB.com. Bernie's one of those unassuming, unsung heroes of the 1990s championship teams, like Tino Martinez. He would be sorely missed. The Yankees head to Baltimore and the Red Sox host the Blue Jays, and then the two rivals will face each other in Beantown to close out the season...
UPDATE: "What if?"
Given the tight races in the AL East, AL Central, and both leagues' wild card spots, it is interesting to ponder some of the strange scenarios that might arise in case of a tie or ties after the final regular season games are played next Sunday. See MLB.com.
September 25, 2005 [LINK]
Burst of neotropical migrants
It was a cool morning with overcast skies, so I wasn't expecting to see much while taking a quick walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, but I was in for a pleasant surprise. I saw two species for the first time in three years, as well as a flycatcher that I could not quite identify. It had the bold light-colored wing feather linings common to Acadian flycatcher and others in the empidomax family, but it might have been just another pewee, which I did also see and whose call I did hear. Highlights:
- Magnolia warblers
- Swainson's thrush (first of year)
- Rose-breasted grosbeaks (F, JM)
- N. flicker
- Downy woodpecker (M)
- Red-bellied woodpecker (M)
- Black-throated green warbler (F/J)
- Cape May warbler (prob., J -- first of year)
- E. wood pewee
- Uncertain empidomax flycatcher (prob.)
- Cedar waxwings
- Plus many vocal catbirds, blue jays, and robins
I'm pretty sure about the Cape May warbler, which had pale yellow around the head and heavy brown streaks (like a Pine siskin), but it might have been a young, early-arriving Yellow-rumped warbler. Very soon I expect to see it and other "winter birds" arriving, such as White-throated sparrows and kinglets.
September 24, 2005 [LINK]
Into the home stretch
As we head into the final week, most teams have seven games left to play. The National League postseason slots now are almost all decided: the Phillies lost to the Reds and are now two games behind the Astros in the wild card race. Things are much more interesting in the American League: The Red Sox pulled even with Yankees tonight, and the White Sox are barely managing to stay ahead of the Indians, who are on a veritable war path. Which of those four teams will fall short in the race for October? I haven't a clue. There was one more come-from-behind team last night: the LAnaheim Angels, who beat the Devil Rays 7-5 after falling to a 5-3 deficit. That pretty much locks up the AL West title. By the end of the week, the Baseball Archives will be reorganized to permit easier comparisons of each successive year's playoff scores with each other.
The future looks bright for the Nationals
Just try not to pay attention to the gloomy present! When was the last time a team scored five runs in the first inning before the first out?? That was all the Mets needed for the rest of the game, beating the Nats by the same score as yesterday: 5-2. Having lost six of their last seven games, the Nationals are now only one game above .500, and a half game ahead of the last-place Mets. Once again, Washington's lineup tonight consisted entirely of rookies and reservists, except for pitcher Livan Hernandez and (possibly) Cristian Guzman, who is on a "warm streak." Those rookies are, in fact, the team's bright side: Future star Ryan Zimmerman (U.Va.!) got three more hits in tonight's game, and is currently batting an astronomical .483 in 29 at bats. His former team mate from the New Orleans Zephyrs, minor league journeyman Rick Short, is batting .400.
Perhaps some ball players, and even aging wannabes like yours truly, take the spiritual angle of baseball a little too seriously. Last Sunday, the Washington Post ran an article about the Christian evangelizing in which Washington Nationals outfielder Ryan Church and pitcher Matt Cepicky have been engaged. It seemed pretty innocuous and upbeat; "Green Cathedrals," indeed! Many pro sports teams these days include groups of born-again Christians who pray together, which makes some people uncomfortable. A couple days later, however, Church had to apologize for saying that Jews are headed for eternal damnation; see Washington Post. Even if the person is being totally sincere, expressing such an exclusionary belief in public is not consistent with working in a line of business that serves or entertains the general public.
September 24, 2005 [LINK]
Rally against the war
All across this great nation of ours, there are millions of decent, public-spirited, patriotic citizens who are deeply and sincerely opposed to the U.S.-led war against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's just too bad that none of them spoke at the anti-war rally in Washington today. Thanks to C-SPAN I was able to see and hear what most of the dissenters had to say. (I missed Cindy Sheehan.) See CNN.com. I can't say I was terribly surprised by the wacko rhetoric that prevailed, however. Every conceivable grievance from all four corners of the Earth was voiced on the podium today, but the unifying theme was clear: frank, unmitigated hatred of America and everything it stands for. As fringe kook leftist (and former attorney general) Ramsey Clark and other speakers made clear, the organizers' main goal is to impeach Bush. If you believe that American soldiers are systematically butchering helpless Iraqi civilians, that President Bush and top administration officials are war criminals, and that the deaths in New Orleans amounted to racial genocide, then you would fit right in with this crowd. If you support Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the Palestinian resistance (i.e., Hamas terrorists), and the Iraqi resistance (i.e., Al Qaeda), then this movement is for you! See answercoalition.org (Act Now to End War and Stop Racism).
Democrat meltdown continues
The rising tide of extreme left-wing politics in this country poses a dilemma for the Democrat leaders: Do they "ride the tiger" and hope to tame it later on, or do they part ways with the fringe groups, forsaking an energized base for an eventual chance to return to power? Tough call. I assume the reason that stalwarts like Senators Biden and Feinstein are making so much noise about Bush's judicial nominees is that they want to retain credibility with the activist base. No matter what they do, however, the tension between currying favor with the zealots and the necessities of political survival will continue to grow inexorably. They day is not far off when a loud (figurative) "snap" will be heard on Capitol Hill. The small remaining cadre of Democrat moderates will shout, "Enough nonsense, already!" Party leaders know what happened last year when the Kerry-Edwards campaign found itself unable to distance itself from the demented vitriol spouted by the Hollywood elitists and all the professional agitators: They lost! The latest example of profane hatred of Bush and the GOP comes from Bette Midler; as new blogger Steve Kijak writes, "Please Let them Talk!!!"
Which party will break up first?
Notwithstanding the suicidal hysteria emanating from some Democrats, recent scandals and policy disputes suggest that the Party of Lincoln may also succumb to internal fractures. Many on the Right have been gloating with overconfidence since last November's election, blind to the rising social tensions in this country and too proud to recognize the latent contradictions between social conservatives and economic conservatives. For example, energy policy! There is a huge difference, however, between honest, open policy disagreements within the GOP and the deep chasm between opposing world views the divides the Democrat Party. Republicans share a strong common objective of substantially reducing the size and power of government in domestic life. Where they differ is over tactics and short-term priorities. According to most observers at the APSA annual meeting earlier this month, the White House has embarked on an explicitly interventionist strategy of reforming American society so as to reduce the demand on government for social services. It's a bold "hegemonic project" (pardon the political science jargon) that risks failure if the party leadership can't keep its rank and file in line. The earmarked spending components of the energy and transportation bills that were passed last month seem to have been payoffs to individual congress persons in exchange for their support of Bush's social conservative agenda. I am not suggesting that the Republicans are as likely to break into factions as the Democrats, but the possibility cannot be discarded entirely. The Weekly Standard recently ran a special issue with articles that focused on what's become of the conservative movement in the ten years since the magazine was founded. There is, shall we say, some angst and disquiet over the direction our Republican government is heading. The Right has been the more innovative part of the ideological spectrum for the last 20-30 years, but the twin (usually alternating) perils of complacency and fear may put the brakes on the bold new thinking that will be required to keep the conservative movement on track.
September 23, 2005 [LINK]
Another corporate name switch
The ever-increasing mega-mergers between corporate behemoths in our fair republic makes things confusing for customers, and for sports patrons in particular. "What stadium did you say they were playing in? Who the heck are 'Network Associates'?" As a result of the recent merger of Bank One and J.P. Morgan-Chase & Co., the Arizona Diamondbacks today unveiled the new name of their stadium: "Chase Field." Goodbye, "BOB." For details, see MLB.com.
Palmeiro beats rap, takes hike
One day after criminal charges against Rafael Palmeiro were dropped, the Baltimore Orioles told him to pack up and leave. According to the Washington Post, "The abrupt end to Palmeiro's season came one day after it was learned that he cited a vitamin he received from teammate Miguel Tejada as possibly causing the positive steroid test." So, what's worse, a player on dope or a player on dope who helps identify other players who are on dope? Talk about a moral conundrum. And what does this say about team spirit in the Steroid Era?
Estadio Monterrey corrections
Thanks to a new visitor to this site, Eduardo Sauceda, I've learned a few things about Estadio Monterrey, and about baseball in Mexico. It turns out there are in fact luxury suites at ground level, as well as behind the last rows of the first and second decks. Also, the diagram may understate the size of the second (middle) deck. (The photos I relied upon weren't that great.) Finally, baseball is not as popular in Monterrey as it used to be, contrary to my earlier impression.
UPDATE: Night of big comebacks
The pennant races are really heating up, at least in some quarters. Atlanta was behind the Marlins 3-0, and then scored 4 runs in the bottom of the eighth, going on to win. The Fish are cooked. The rival Phillies were ahead by five runs in the middle of the fifth, playing in Cincinnati, and then the Reds scored nine runs in the next three innings, after which the Phillies scored five runs in the top of the ninth to win 11-10. Finally, the Nationals were behind 2-0 after eight innings, and then tied the game in the bottom of the ninth with a heroic clutch home run by veteran reservist Carlos Baerga, who is usually Just Average. It doesn't matter any more in terms of postseason hopes, but it was still nice show of spirit. Then Gary Majewski foolishly pitched to Carlos Beltran in the top of the tenth, and a three-run homer put the Mets on top for good, 5-2. Once again, ughhhh! The Cubs' timely win (as spoilers) over the Astros means that the Phillies are now only one game back in the wild card race. It's been a few years since they've made it to the postseason, and I wouldn't mind seeing them advance, except for the fact that I saw them beat the Nationals not once but twice this year. The Yankees and Red Sox both won tonight, remaining neck and neck. I wonder how much it would cost to see one of the games between those two rivals up at Fenway Park next weekend?
September 23, 2005 [LINK]
The British are coming!
Neil Young's words "Rock and roll will never die" were never put to a more strenuous a test as when the Rolling Stones launched their tour in support of their new album A Bigger Bang. [Thus far, I've only heard a snippet of their controversial anti-Bush administration song "Sweet Neo-con." More on that later.] They began their tour on August 21 at Fenway Park, and are playing at several other baseball stadiums, including Comerica Park, Angel Stadium in Anaheim, PNC Park, Petco Park, and SBC Park, as well as the Foro Sol in Mexico City next February. (The latter is actually a multiple-use venue.) They are scheduled to play at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville on October 6, and Jacqueline and I are really looking forward to it, albeit warily. The last two times I bought concert tickets, for Fleetwood Mac and Shawn(a) Colvin, the shows were cancelled!
September 23, 2005 [LINK]
Can Frist weather the storm?
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is being investigated after selling shares of the HCA hospital chain one month before its price plummeted. We'll have to watch this one very closely to see whether the charges are trumped up. See Washington Post. I initially thought Frist was a good replacement for Trent Lott (see Dec. 23, 2002), but some of his recent policy statements have made me wonder about his judgment. First Tom DeLay, then Karl Rove, now this. As Daily Kos puts it, "The trifecta is complete. The Republican leadership in the Senate, House and White House are ALL officially under investigation." (Is he actually trumpeting the politicization of criminal investigations of the sort that have gone on in Texas?) DeLay recently boasted of the fiscal record of the House of Representatives, which was either foolishly naive or (more likely) breathtakingly cynical. As for Rove, I sure hope reports that he is taking a lead role in the Hurricane Katrina recovery operations prove false. Speaking of which, Frist may be hoping that Hurricane Rita diverts attention from the storm clouds he is facing...
September 22, 2005 [LINK]
More of John's bird photos
Here is the latest digital masterpiece from my brother John: a Blue-headed Vireo (misnamed, don't you think?), seen in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. I think they should have stuck with the previous name for that species, the "Solitary vireo," but the experts decided that the eastern and western variants were distinct enough to be considered separate species. The Mountain bluebird photo John took is perhaps even more striking.
I went for a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning, which was very clear and mild, but the only birds of note I saw were a first-year House wren, a Goldfinch, and a Magnolia warbler. Goldfinches have been showing up at our backyard feeders more and more often, but the recent construction activity and clearing of underbrush has made the area less favorable as a habitat for birds. Think before you cut!
September 22, 2005 [LINK]
Blogging for dear life
New York blogger Phil Faranda's brother Tom has begun chemotherapy treatment, and is documenting his progress and expressing his thoughts at a new blog: Tom Faranda's Folly. It's a good reminder of how precious and how joyful life is.
Out on the other coast, meanwhile, my friend Donna Ball continues to recover, albeit slowly, as she gets chemotherapy for the rare disease known as Wegener's granuloma.
Menacing pause by Rita
Even though the forward movement of Hurricane Rita has slowed down, and its future course is still uncertain, millions of people are evacuating the Galveston-Houston area. It could just as easily turn toward Louisiana or southern Texas, however. Updates on the movement of Hurricane Rita can be seen at CNN.com. As much as one fourth of the nation's petroleum refining capacity is located on the Texas coast, so another upward jolt in gasoline prices is possible. The American Petroleum Institute placed a full page ad in today's Washington Post, pledging to crack down on price gouging by gasoline wholesalers and retailers.
September 21, 2005 [LINK]
Reason or "surrender"?
To fair-minded folks, the announcements that Senators Linoln Chafee (moderate Republican) and Leahy (feisty Democrat) will vote in favor of confirming John Roberts as chief justice was quite welcome news. As seen by the increasingly strident leftist blog dailykos.com, however, it was regarded as "surrender." (Head blogger "Comandante" Markos recently declared war on the Democratic Leadership Council.) Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne based his "Case for a 'No' Vote on Roberts" on the simple lack of information submitted by the White House. "If senators simply vote 'yes' on Roberts, they will be conceding to the executive branch huge power to control what information the public gets and doesn't get about nominees to life positions." Hogwash. If the Senate doesn't feel they have sufficient information on a prospective judge or Supreme Court justice, all they need to do is vote "no." Simple! After watching the Democrats scrounge for any kind of dirt on John Roberts, I'm convinced they wasted their effort and have further strained their credibility. If in the 22nd Century some scientist devises a robot to serve as judge, it will very likely be modeled on the almost-too-perfect Chief Justice Roberts.
Now the question is, Who will be nominated to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor? Even as he has stumbled in other policy areas recently, when it comes to the judiciary, President Bush has put himself in an excellent position to put forward a genuinely solid conservative. Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy suggests Michael McConnell of the Tenth U.S. Circuit Appeals Court.
September 21, 2005 [LINK]
For the first time in months, there is a brand new stadium page: Estadio Monterrey, which is ordinarily home of the Monterrey (Mexico) Sultanes, but also served as the venue for three major league games in August 1996 and one game (Opening Day) in April 1999. On the latter occasion, Mexican sports hero Vinny Castilla played there; he was then with the Rockies. Many thanks to Bruce Orser for research assistance, once again, and also to reliable tipster Steven Poppe. I have moved and reformatted the information on Latin American baseball from the Latin America Culture page to a new page: Latin American leagues. It is still far from complete, however.
Pennant contenders & also-rans
After twice battling back from three-run deficits, the Braves gave up a grand slam (hit by Ryan Howard) in the tenth inning, losing to the Phillies, 10-6. That scenario is something Washington fans can relate to: "We feel your pain." I don't think anyone is going to catch Atlanta, until the playoffs, that. Without a full pitching rotation, I don't see how they can get past the first round. Even though the divisional titles in the National League are pretty much decided, on the American side the races in all three divisions are getting tighter all the time. The ongoing Indians-White Sox series is a classic matchup between two very worthy teams. There were some unusually high scoring games yesterday: The Rockies beat the Padres (who had just ruined the Nationals' playoff hopes) 20-1. It's sad to see the Rockies alone in the cellar, ending another disappointing year after getting off to such a great start back in 1993. The front office needs to make some big changes to recharge the once-high fan enthusiasm in Denver; I just hope they don't overdo the hokie promotions. Also last night, the Red Sox beat the Devil Rays 15-2; the Red Sox should have saved up some of that energy for tonight, as they just lost to the Devil Rays, falling behind the Yankees for the first time in months. The Devil Rays have had almost no respect throughout their brief eight-year existence, in spite of playing in one of the most brutally competitive divisions, but at least they held their own during the latter part of the season.
It's over for the Nats
After Barry Bonds hit home run number 707 in the first inning tonight, there wasn't much the Nationals could look forward to. Ace pitcher John Patterson gave up an uncharacteristically high five runs in seven innings, as the Nats batters only scored one run. At least they managed a couple of hits in the bottom of the ninth. Having struggled on the fringes of the post-season quest since their monumental collapse in July, the Nationals are finally out of contention. But who would have thought back in April that they would still be in the thick of it with only two weeks left in the regular season? The Nationals rank a decent ninth place in terms of team ERA, but have the lowest team batting average in the majors, .252. If they can just keep their win-loss record above .500 until the end, we can call this historic season for D.C. baseball an unqualified success. I hope the former Expos' devoted fans up in Montreal don't lose interest in the sport. There may be room for franchise expansion a few years down the road...
September 21, 2005 [LINK]
Hurricane Rita: Category 5
The Florida keys got totally drenched from Hurrican Rita, and a few sections of the main highway-bridge that provide the only link to the mainland were seriously damaged. News that the storm has grown and intensified into a category 5 hurricane, rivaling Katrina, has frightened Gulf Coast residents. Being conditioned to behave in a herd fashion in this era of mass media, Americans are prone to alternately turn an indifferent shoulder to potential danger one day and then overreact the next. I thought Sean Hannity overstepped the bounds of public alert today when he urged practically everyone living in the Houston area to evacuate now. One has to wonder how persecuted the poor folks taking refuge in the Astrodome must right now feel.
Now we learn from NASA-JPL that the same phenomenon of global warming has caused noticeable changes on Mars. As Glenn Reynolds said, "If only we had ratified Kyoto." The point is certainly not to minimize the potential threat posed by global warming, to the extent that it exists, but merely to exercise caution about responding with public policies before we have a solid grasp of the mechanics that might be driving upward temperature shifts. If Mars and Earth are both warming up, one might reasonably conclude that higher radiant energy from the sun is to blame.
As preparations for another possible large-scale emergency proceed, I want to take exception to some of the recommendations President Bush has made. He called for new institutional procedures to make sure that Federal and state agencies work together more harmoniously next time, but that neglects the basic human function in public administration. When governments don't function as they should, it is often simply the result of human failures, which can seldom be offset by bureaucratic contrivances. Also, he called for a permanent role for the U.S. armed forces in responding to natural disasters, which might entail a repeal of the Posse Comitatus Act that forbids any military role in maintaining domestic order. One thing we don't need is a stronger state authority; we need public officials who are held accountable. The President has expressed appropriate regret for his shortcomings, but more heads need to roll before we can feel assured that those holding positions of authority in FEMA and other agencies are fully qualified to carry out their jobs in times of high stress.
September 20, 2005 [LINK]
Nats blow late-inning lead again
For all the media hoopla surrounding the return of Barry Bonds, I would have thought there would have been a bigger crowd at RFK Stadium tonight. Attendance was only a little above average, however: 32,403. Before the game, Bonds deflected reporters' questions about the steroid investigations by saying that Congress has more important things to deal with, such as disaster victims. Good point, Barry! Go hide behind some distraught homeless family while you rake in your megabucks salary. In the fourth inning, Bonds exchanged words with a hostile fan, and then unleashed his anger by smashing his 706th career home run, which landed in the seventh row of the upper deck in right field. Nats' starter Livan Hernandez only gave up two other hits and one walk through the first eight innings, another masterful performance. As usual, however, he got measly run support and clung to a precarious one-run lead going into the climactic ninth inning. Hernandez walked Omar Vizquel and Bonds, and then gave up a three-run homer to former Expo (!) Moises Alou. Ughhh... Just like their previous two games, the Nationals gave up the lead in the late innings, but this time they came roaring back in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases with only one out after Vinny Castilla doubled and two others got bases on balls. Rookie pinch hitter Ryan Zimmerman hit an RBI sac fly to close the gap to one run, and Brad Wilkerson hit a long fly ball to left field that Todd Linden just barely snagged while diving into the warning track dirt. It was only a matter of inches between a game-winning double and the final out. So, once again, the Nationals snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, falling to five games behind the Astros in the wild card race. You gotta give them credit for fighting till the end, however. You won't find many teams that have endured as many agonizing twists of fate as the Washington Nationals have, and still played hard in the next game. The Nats are a true class act.
As their roller-coaster inaugural baseball season draws to a close, Washington fans can at least draw solace from the football game in Dallas last night. I stepped away from the television for a few minutes in the fourth quarter when the Redskins were behind 13-0, and when I returned the score was 14-13. Huh??? The last time they beat the Cowboys on their home field was ten years ago!
September 20, 2005 [LINK]
Fiscal conservatives beg to differ
President Bush's speech on Thursday night pledged a virtual blank check to rebuild the Gulf Coast, and it would be hard to deny that reflects in part an effort to recover lost credibility after his initial hesitant response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster. What is most troubling is the hasty loosening of the purse strings, an invitation to abuse Federal funds by bogus pork barrel schemes. (I complained about the energy bill as a pork-laden monstrosity on July 28, and stand by that assessment.) We urgently need to pause and think about this before letting our collective sentiments (and political calculations) seriously distort our nation's economic policy. Bush's refusal to consider raising taxes to pay for the rebuilding effort simply highlights the fiscal bind his administration has put us in. Even before the Bush speech, David Broder complained bitterly of the mounting deficits -- which are headed toward half a trillion dollars annually! -- in the September 11 Washington Post:
The question is whether this will force the president and congressional Republicans to suspend their obsessive drive to reduce the revenue base of the federal government, or whether they will finally start paying the bills their government is incurring.
The warning signs of impending economic calamity are every bit as evident as the forecasts of ruin for New Orleans when a major hurricane hit.
Broder may be overstating the risk, but I would not rule out a major correction in the nation's financial markets like the one that struck in the midst of the Savings and Loan crisis of October 1987. One of the main reasons for fiscal prudence is precisely to set aside a reserve surplus for use in case of national emergency. Supply-siders' optimistic pro-growth rhetoric rings hollow when major disasters strike.
Porkbusters? "Not in my back yard!"
Thankfully, many Americans have "connected the dots" between our nation's emergency preparedness and its fiscal situation. Citizens in Bozeman, Montana have requested that Federal money for an unnecessary local highway project be returned to the U.S. Treasury. Inspired by this example of public spiritedness, The Truth Laid Bear blog, in cooperation with Instapundit, has launched a new campaign dear to the hearts of true fiscal conservatives everywhere: "Porkbusters." (logo by Stacy Tabb) Contact your local congressperson and tell him or her to "just say no" to wasteful pork barrel spending. It would help especially if you could identify any bogus projects you know about.
When it comes to sacrificing for the greater public good, folks tend to expect those in other states to go first, which is why it's so hard to control spending. In terms of pork, the transportation bill was at least as bad as the energy bill. Generally speaking, some Federal funding is appropriate when long-distance (interstate) transportation is involved, but local projects should be funded entirely by state and local governments. What about Virginia? I've met two Republican congressmen from Virginia, Bob Goodlatte (6th District) and Virgil Goode (5th District; a Democrat until 1997 or so), and both are decent, thrifty, sincere fiscal conservatives. In an age when most congressmen indulge in lavish travel and staff expenses, Rep. Goode ranked as one of the most frugal on Capitol Hill, according to a Washington Post survey a couple years ago. If you look across the landscape of rural Virginia, it's hard to find wasteful pork barrel spending by the Federal government. Across the state line in West Virginia, meanwhile, there are dozens of brand new bridges and multilane highways through the once-pristine wilderness, thanks to the undisputed world champion of Federal pork, Sen. Robert Byrd (D). All those new roads provide much easier access for out-of-state rafting and rock-climbing enthusiasts, ruthlessly paving over Mother Nature in the process. West Virginia will receive more than $2 billion in Federal highway funds over the next five years, more than double Virginia's share of the "loot." (See Sen. Warner's Web site.) Here are some of the main projects funded by the recent transportation bill in Central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, along with my evaluation of them in parentheses:
- $141.5 million for Interstate 81 improvements (definitely needed, but plans are sharply disputed)
- $27 million for the Meadowcreek Parkway in Charlottesville (probably needed, but purely for local traffic)
- $5 million to Widen Route 262 in Augusta County (still under construction; a needed bypass for truck traffic)
- $1.2 million for the Downtown Staunton Streetscape project (nice but utterly unjustified; to attract more upscale antique shoppers)
- More than $100 million to improve intermodal facilities and tunnels in the "Heartland Corridor" (?)
- $18.64 million for various projects in Richmond (?)
By far the costliest of these projects is I-81, and there is no reason it can't be scaled back and/or deferred at least a year or two. I think one of the most extravagant highway projects in Virginia is the new Route 460 highway bypasses in the Blacksburg-Christiansburg area, along with the pilot "Smart Highway" project that includes a huge bridge built a few years ago that will not be open to the public any time in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, that money has already been spent, so it's too late to ask Rep. Rick Boucher (D - 9th District) to give back those funds. The upshot is, residents of the Shenandoah Valley don't have much "pork" to give back, but that frivolous $1.2 million to spruce up downtown Staunton would be a good place to start.
September 19, 2005 [LINK]
Squabbles over new D.C. stadium
To the surprise of no one who has any first-hand knowledge of local politics in Our Nation's Capital, the process of selecting a design of the future home of the Washington Nationals has gotten bogged down in a classic bureaucratic turf war. The mayor, various city council members (some of whom are running for mayor), as well as officials of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission are all trying to assert authority over the final design. Long-time baseball booster Jack Evans objected loudly when he saw an artist's rendering that lacked clear views of the Capitol dome. Good for him! One problem is that anticipated development of the South Capitol Street corridor will result in blocked views of the D.C. skyline, but the city already has ordinances on the books limiting building height in Washington, for aesthetic reasons, so there is no reason why they can't pass a special ordinance for that zone. See Washington Post. All these delays will make it very hard to finish construction of the new ballpark in time for the 2008 season, as is hoped. The impending sale of the franchise will also be held up, because MLB officials have stipulated that a stadium lease must be signed before the Nationals will be sold. One thing's for sure: D.C. officials are not going to be nearly as slow as MLB officials were during the last few years when negotiations over relocating the former Montreal Expos were repeatedly stalled for no good reason!
Busch Stadium's final days
The Cardinals' front office is busy preparing for yet another postseason run, having clinched a berth before any other contenders, but they've also got a lot of logistical work ahead of them as they prepare to evacuate the existing Busch Stadium, which will be demolished as soon as possible after the season ends. The contractors no doubt hope the Cardinals don't go all the way to the World Series, because that would pinch their already-tight construction schedule for the new Busch Stadium (number III) even tighter. It has been decided, for safety reasons, to use a conventional wrecking ball rather than explosives. That will be disappointing to the fans who signed up for a special lottery in which the winner was going to throw the demolition switch on "D-Day." A seating diagram can be found at the end of a lengthy New ballpark season ticket brochure (PDF). I like the field layout, bullpen placement, and the orientation of the diamond with the Gateway Arch beyond center field, but am not too crazy about the unnecessarily disjointed grandstand sections and the excessive number of decks (four, plus skybox levels). The dimensions of the third incarnation of "Busch Stadium" will be ordinary down the lines (335/336) and in straightaway center field (400), but will be quite deep in the power alleys (390 feet on both sides). (Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.)
Thanks to Steven Poppe for reminding me that "Cinergy Field" (the name given to Riverfront Stadium in its latter years) had a grass field during the last two seasons the Reds played there, 2001-2002. That diagram has been corrected.
September 18, 2005 [LINK]
Padres deflate Nats' sails
The trite cliche "That's gotta hurt" never had more meaning than it did for the Washington Nationals yesterday in San Diego. With a four-game winning streak behind them, leading by a comfortable margin of 5-0 in the bottom of the ninth, with every expectation of sailing ahead in the National League wild card race, Frank Robinson abruptly pulled rookie reliever Jason Bergman, and all hell broke loose. Robinson stands by his decision (see MLB.com), but this seems to be another case of shaky managerial confidence in the team's bullpen. Not exactly inspiring. The Padres proceeded to piece together a two-out rally, and a grand slam by Khalil Greene tied the score, sending the game into extra innings. Just like on the previous Saturday against the Braves, the usually rock-solid closer Chad Cordero blew a precious save opportunity. Finally, in the 12th inning, Ramon Hernandez hit a three-run homer to end the game -- again, with two outs. Such an awful, ill-timed reversal of fortune is exactly the kind of thing that can put an end to a team's postseason hopes. In today's game, Esteban Loaiza pitched seven shutout innings, but the Nationals could only manage a single run, and the Padres pulled ahead toward the end, winning 2-1. The Nationals have shown they are capable of bouncing back after enduring similar traumas, and there is no reason why they can't do so once again. Nevertheless, since they are now 4 1/2 games behind the Astros in the wild card race, my estimation of their chances of making it to the postseason has now fallen to just two percent. (Go ahead, call me an optimist.) With exactly two weeks to go, the proverbial "fat lady" has left the dressing room and is heading toward the stage...
By far the hottest team in baseball this month has been the Indians, who have pulled to within 3 1/2 games of the complacently coasting White Sox. The Yankees are closing in on the Red Sox, meanwhile, and the tension between those two ancient rivals is raised to a Fever Pitch (!) by the very real possibility that one of them will not make it to the playoffs this year. In such a case, baseball television ratings in October would suffer a big drop.
UPDATE: Fenway fixup
A visitor to this site, Sean, told me that the Save Fenway Park folks think their proposed addition of a large second deck to their beloved sports palace could be done without forcing the Red Sox out of town if they were to move the diamond to the right field corner and rotate it. So, I've added a modified diagram to the Fenway Park page to show such a possibility, and it's ver-r-ry int-er-esting...
September 18, 2005 [LINK]
Almost hell in Iraq
Even though most of Iraq is rebuilding and moving forward, the key cities where most of the television cameras are deployed are steadily descending toward a version of Dante's Inferno. With hundreds more dead in car bomb attacks in recent days, Americans and Iraqis alike wonder how much longer can this go on?
One thing is certain about terrorists, they usually don't bother to conceal their unstated but all-too-obvious political aims. In the March 2004 Madrid attacks, they successfully induced Spanish voters to opt for a government less inclined to confront Islamo-fascism head on. In the July 2005 London attacks, they tried but failed to create a split in the British electorate that would have caused the downfall of Tony Blair's government. In Baghdad this month, likewise, they are transparently striving to torpedo the negotiations over the drafting of a new constitution. What the Western media generally fail to report, however, is the fact that virtually all of those attacks are being perpetrated by Sunni Muslims, who comprise the majority of Muslims worldwide but only about 30 percent of the population in Iraq. Many if not most Sunnis in Iraq have apparently come to the conclusion that the potential benefits of engaging in an all-out war against the Shi'ites and the Kurds (first one, then the other) outweigh the risk that they will lose everything under a democratic regime. (One sign of the persistent distorted mindset in Iraq, one consequence of three decades of totalitarian rule under the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, is that most [Sunnis in Iraq] refuse to believe that they really are in the minority.) Another way to interpret the carnage in Baghdad and other cities is that they are part of a bargaining posture aimed at intimidating other factions into submission.
So why haven't the Shi'ites and Kurds responded more forcefully to Sunni provocations thus far? It appears that they are biding their time, busily mustering a more capable militia army before they engage in a direct confrontation with the Sunni-based Baath regime holdouts. Some Iraqi police and army units appear to have been infilitrated with Shi'ites and Kurds who are prepared to stage mutinies if the central government in Baghdad cannot maintain control. (See Washington Post, August 21.) President Jalal Talabani, who was recently given a warm welcom by President Bush in Washington, openly praised Shi'ite militias back in June, infuriating the Sunni leaders. Determined support by the United States and Coalition partners is now more important than ever, which is why the rising defeatist sentiment orchestrated by Democrat leaders in the United States (think Cindy Sheehan) just might tip the balance in the wrong direction. However bad Iraq looks right now, it would look an awful lot worse if the United States retreated at a moment when the enemy has the strategic initiative. If in spite of our best efforts, full-scale civil war does break out, Iraq would then become a genuine nightmarish hell, making Yugoslavia or Somalia pale in comparison.
All too aware of this risk, President Bush will no doubt "stay the course" for the short term, but if the United States is to prevail in this historic challenge, his national security staff (Condoleeza Rice, Philip Zelikow) must come up with a daring plan to regain the initiative. That would involve a temporary increase in military commitment coupled with novel diplomatic approaches and a deadly serious ultimatum for the political factions in Iraq to reach an accord. Doing so would indeed risk getting entangled in the potential civil war among the ethnic-religious groups in Iraq, which is why we must be prepared to follow through on our threat to scale back our military deployment if the needed cooperation does not materialize. Such a posture does not signify retreat but would be a cold, hard calcuation of strategic risks and benefits, acknowledging the brutal reality that our means and ends are finite. One clear lesson from Vietnam that applies now is that fierce shows of resolve by leaders are not sufficient to persuade the enemy to back down, and prolonging such displays for the sake of prestige or credibility can backfire badly. If it becomes evident that Iraqi civilian leaders cannot resolve their differences peacefully, meaning that the U.S. military presence would become pointless, Democrats and leftist critics of Bush would no doubt rejoice in what they would consider a vindication of their position. I for one would not want to be in the position of taking cheer from the success of mass murderers. From a longer-term perspective, this is all a part of the century-long three-way debate between gloomy isolationist "American firsters," giddiliy optimistic missionary proselytizers (both Wilsonians and Neoconservatives), and sober realists who have a firm grasp of both the strengths and limitations of American values when applied to the world arena. Oddly, many critics of the U.S. war effort seem to hold the contradictory beliefs that we are both too good to sully ourselves with foreign entanglements and not worthy to uphold the (neoimperialist?) burden of defending Western civilization. The bottom line is that if we as a nation cannot agree to oppose and punish barbarous thugs in a part of the world where we have clear interests at stake, then we will have lost our moral standing in the world, thereby squandering our enormous influence over the course of global trends.
September 18, 2005 [LINK]
Almost heaven, indeed!
On Saturday Jacqueline and I took a casual road trip with no particular destination, and ended up at the Shrine Mont retreat and conference center owned by the Episcopal Church in the old resort town of Orkney Springs, Virginia. It is situated just west of the mountain ski resort of Bryce, about 30 miles north of Harrisonburg, very close to the West Virginia border. There are hiking trails, a picturesque pond, and a variety of recreational and artistic facilities. It was our first trip there, and we were so mesmerized by the natural beauty and tranquility of the place that we promised each other that we would return. This Pileated woodpecker (male) showed up just as we were walking through the unique and enchanting outdoor cathedral at Shrine Mont. An angel dressed in black, perhaps? Several photos of our visit there can be seen on the new Virginia, Fall 2005 page.
On the way to Orkney Springs we stopped at an ice cream stand on the west edge of Bryce, and were fortunate to see some White-breasted nuthatches, a Blue-headed vireo, and a Black and white warbler.
Early this morning we went for a walk behind R.E. Lee High School, and saw a family of five Brown thrashers, a Red-bellied woodpecker (M), a Downy woodpecker (F), a Hairy woodpecker (F), but only one warbler: a Chestnut-sided one.
September 17, 2005 [LINK]
Nationals beat Padres
Having recovered from a bout with bronchitis, John Patterson was back to his usual top form in San Diego Friday night, giving up only three hits in nine full innings. Unlike the wild Thursday game with the Mets, the Nationals only substitued the second base position, and none of the red-hot rookies played this time. Cristian Guzman, who has been improving as a batter lately, hit a double and a triple, with three RBIs, which were all the Nats needed. Final score: Nats 5, Padres 1. Guzman is now batting .207, a marked improvement from earliery in the season. Maybe he'll work out after all. (Mr. Bowden sure hopes so.) The D.C. crew is keeping pace with Houston, remaining 2 1/2 games behind in the wild card race. Meanwhile, the Phillies beat the Marlins, and are now in second and third place respectively in the wild card race. Need I remind anyone that a wild card team has won the last three World Series?
Riverfront Stadium update
The Riverfront Stadium (a.k.a. "Cinergy Field") page now has a dynamic diagram that shows the football configuration as well as the unusual "semi-demolished" configuration of 2001-2002 while the Reds' new home, Great American Ballpark, was under construction. I'm having a hard time finding hard information about Monterrey Stadium (supposed to be "on deck"), which until last year was being considered as one of the alternative home fields of the former Montreal Expos. It's very modern, at least by Mexican standards, and has three decks, with a capacity of 27,000.
September 17, 2005 [LINK]
Illegal immigration in Brazil
Much like the United States, Brazil is beginning to face up to a growing threat of organized crime (mostly narcotics trafficking) connected to illegal immigration. There is as yet no clear link to terrorism, but the mere potential makes it a national security issue to Brazilian officials. Some Peruvians and Chinese were arrested in a series raids in which U.S. agents participated as observers. This is another headache for President da Silva, whose popularity ratings have dropped as the result of bribery scandals, meaning that he may face an uphill climb when he runs for reelection a year from now.
Independence day in Costa Rica
I didn't realized it at the time, but Thursday (the 15th) was Costa Rica's independence day. Presidente Pacheco pleaded for national consensus to enable the country to achieve economic advance. He also declared the torch to be the national symbol, in a gesture aimed at rallying nationalist spirit. Recent polls suggest that Costa Ricans are becoming deeply disillusioned with the country's political system, which is among the most successful in Latin America. In my view, the country's sluggish economy, which depends heavily on tourist dollars, is not likely to improve as long as the traditionally protectionist welfare state policies continue.
Presidents speak at United Nations
Being geographically isolated from the rest of the world, Latin Americans pay special attention to international meetings, especially the opening session of the United Nations each September. Predictably, Veneuzela's Hugo Chavez took the opportunity to denounce U.S. imperialism.
September 17, 2005 [LINK]
Birds on Betsy Bell Hill
I went for a walk on the above-named local landmark on Friday morning, and saw a fair number of passerine species. It was warmer than usual, which may have accounted for the low number of warblers. I was surprised by the absence of any birds from the flycatcher family. Highlights:
- Blue jays (many, loud)
- Downy woodpeckers (M, F)
- Hairy woodpeckers (M)
- Ravens (2)
- Black and white warbler (F/J)
- Blackpoll warbler (F/J)
- Black throated green warbler (F/J)
- Red-eyed vireo
- White-breasted nuthatches
- Titmice (many, loud)
- Chickadees (many, loud)
September 15, 2005 [LINK]
Nationals sweep the Mets
For the first time since one month ago (when they beat the Rockies), the Nationals have swept an opponent in a three-game series. Cliff Floyd's fifth-inning line drive grand slam to right field in Shead Stadium put the Mets on top, but a ninth-inning error by 2nd baseman Kazuo Matsui allowed the Nats to tie the game, and a clutch RBI single by Vinny Castilla in the tenth gave the edge to Washington. Final score: 7 to 6. Now just 2 1/2 games behind in the wild card race, the Nationals are flying west to San Diego, which was the last team to sweep the Nationals -- in Washington! -- earlier in August. Next week the Giants play at RFK Stadium for the first time ever. I wonder what kind of reception the newly activated (and presumably clean) Barry Bonds will get. In tomorrow's (Friday) Washington Post, Thomas Boswell marvels that the Nationals, who have been written off by most experts several times already this season, have returned from the dead," and may just be in the thick of a fierce showdown with the Astros, Marlins, and/or Phillies at the end of the month.
Sale of Nationals is near
According to the Washington Post, Major League Baseball has sent formal contracts to the eligible bidders for the Washington Nationals franchise. This raises the remote but real possibility that the team could have its own owners by the end of the regular season, which would avoid the awkwardness of to whom the National League pennant should be awarded to. The sale price is expected to be about $450 million. I wonder what this franchise would have been worth if the former Montreal Expos had been relocated to Portland, Las Vegas, San Juan, Norfolk, or Monterrey, Mexico?
New photos from RFK
Some new photos from my recent trip to Washington, in which I saw the Nationals lose to the Phillies, are posted on the RFK Stadium page. Of particular amusement to some folks will be the guy with the T-shirt that says, "Mr. Angelos Screws the Nationals," referring to the Orioles-controlled Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. I have also used some new digital tricks to enhance the clarity of existing photos on that page and other stadium pages.
September 15, 2005 [LINK]
Princess gets around
On the way to full recovery, Princess is flying more and more every day, and yesterday flew into our living room for the first time in nearly two months. She (on the right) and George "posed" on our wedding photo, making demonstrative chirps and gestures of courtship. Love is in the air!
That young skunk continues to forage in our back yard, apparently looking for insects, rather than seeds scattered by birds as I had thought. Princess and George have noticed the new neighbor outside, but don't seem unduly alarmed about it. Perhaps that is because birds generally have little or no sense of smell.
September 15, 2005 [LINK]
The Pledge is unconstitutional?
Preposterous but true. The ruling by a judge of the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals that it is unconstitutional to recite the Pledge of Allegiance [because of the reference to God] applies only in "public schools," but it is clear the direction they are headed. [What's next -- tossing out the Declaration of Independence because it invokes God four times?] The case was prompted by atheist proselytizer Michael A. Newdow, whose case was dismissed a few years ago on the grounds that he did not have custody of his daughter at the time. Then he refiled the suit on behalf of unnamed parents. See Washington Post. Mr. Newdow leaves no doubt that he will not rest until the Pledge itself is expunged of God's name, and he will no doubt pursue his cause in other arenas. The Ninth Federal Circuit has a well-deserved reputation as a bastion of left-liberalism, but its problems don't end there. It has 28 active judgeships and its jurisdiction encompasses western states, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. population, which creates all sorts of distortions. Cases arising in urbanized California are often far different from those arising in Alaska or Idaho. As a measure of expediency, the Ninth Circuit adopted rules such that all members need not be present for "en banc" reviews, which are ordinarily heard by the entire panel of judges. Thus, the court's rulings may not actually reflect the views of the majority of the court, and contradictory opinions issued by the same court are not uncommon. See wikipedia.org.
The only possible rationale for such a ruling would be if reciting Pledge were compulsory, but it is clearly not. Religious dissenters such as Jehovah's Witnesses are routinely exempted from reciting the pledge, and hardly anyone sees anything wrong with such an accommodation to minority sentiment. As I wrote on July 9, 2002, however, "without a widespread belief in a God, we Americans would have no basis upon which to claim the rights that make us a free people." (Note in the very next piece that I emphatically reject any attempt to impose a constitutional [ban on] flag desecration, which the Republicans in the House recently passed.) We most certainly are a "nation under God," whether you truly believe in God or merely regard Him as a product (for better or worse) of the human imagination. From a partisan point of view, this ruling was actually very timely, as it reminds sensible people in the middle of the political spectrum how important it is to get more conservative judges seated in the Federal court system!
The Roberts hearings
Speaking of the courts, I was really floored when I heard Sen. Joe Biden's sarcastic inquisition in the Judiciary Committee hearings on Wednesday. Rush Limbaugh highlighted Biden's blatant hypocrisy on the issue of whether nominees should be forced to state opinions on prospective cases during confirmation hearings. When Ruth Bader Ginsberg was being questioned in 1993, Sen. Biden stated unequivocally that it would be wrong to force the nominees to do so, and he was quite right to make that point. For the curious, a wide variety of legal opinions and other documents detailing Roberts' background are available from the University of Michigan Law Library. (via Connie) Roberts answered Sen. Kennedy's bumbling, ill-informed queries with deferential grace and alacrity, and is now a shoo-in for confirmation.
Given the unusual situation of two simultaneous Supreme Court vacancies, there is stronger than normal interest in the tenure of the current justices. I have created a table of the years each of the court members who were serving as of the beginning of this year on the new Supreme Court page.
UPDATE: The new table of Supreme Court justices now distinguishes between those who were nominated by presidents of one party and those who were confirmed by a Senate that was controlled by the other party. While I was at the APSA annual meeting in Washington earlier this month, I came across a new book, Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution, (see amazon.com) written by Clinton-nominated Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, in which he expounds the liberal notion that the Constitution is not an iron-clad set of restrictions on government action, but is rather a "living" document that adapts to changing circumstances that could never have been envisioned by our Founding Fathers. I supposed it's quite fitting for an era in which the guiding social norm is "whatever." Any constitutional scholar should know that our constitution is notable for the [relative] absence of explicitly democratic procedures and norms. Democracy in America is something that evolved over many decades.
When I wrote that "everyone seems to be blaming the other side for the Hurricane Katrina disaster" on September 12, I should have made it clear that President Bush has not engaged in any finger pointing whatsoever. He may have been slow to respond to the catastrophe at first, but he has acted in a consistently presidential manner, most notably when he assumed responsibility yesterday for the slow and inadequate response of the Federal government. That prompted Mayor Fagin to say he assumed responsibility for the failures of local government. Is this a great country or what?
September 14, 2005 [LINK]
Vote for "Latino Legends"
In recognition of Latino Heritage Month, and implicitly, the absence of any Latinos on the "All Century team," MLB is inviting baseball fans to choose a "Latino Legends" team. See MLB.com. I was a little surprised at the paucity of retired Latino position players on the ballot, and the offsetting paucity of current Latino pitchers. Here are my picks:
- Catcher: Javy Lopez (PUERTO RICO)
- 1st base: Andres Galarraga (VENEZUELA)
- 2nd base: Rod Carew (PANAMA)
- 3rd base: Vinny Castilla (MEXICO)
- Shortstop: Alex Rodriguez (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC)
- Outfield: Vladimir Guerrero (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC)
- Outfield: Manny Ramirez, (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC)
- Outfield: Roberto Clemente, (PUERTO RICO)
- Pitcher: Pedro Martinez (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC)
- Pitcher: Juan Marichal (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC)
- Pitcher: Luis Tiant (CUBA)
- Relief pitcher: Mariano Rivera (PANAMA)
Nats hang on for dear life
After the crushing blow suffered in their 9-7 loss to Atlanta on Sunday, it was a good sign that they bounched right back and took the first two games from the Mets at Shea Stadium. Revealing the Nationals' desperate lack of healthy starting pitchers, Hector Carrasco filled that job on Tuesday, the first time he's done so since 2000, and he managed OK for four innings. Esteban Loaiza won his 11th game, and Chad Cordero racked up two more saves, and with 46 total now, he is once again firmly in the lead among major league relievers. The bullpen performed in the crunch both nights, holding the Mets to just five runs combined in the two games. The Nationals are now only three games out of first place in the NL wild card race, but the sad fact is that they have very little control over their own destiny, as their postseason hopes now depend on three very good teams losing most of the rest of their games. I give the Nats a five percent shot at making it.
Andruw leads sluggers
I probably should have paid tribute to Andruw Jones' amazing (if aggravating) burst of home run hitting during the Braves' visit to Our Nation's Capital. With a total of 49 thus far, he leads the rest of the majors by seven. If it weren't for his relatively low batting average (.275), he would have a shot at the triple crown. On the other hand, if he had hit a few fewer homers, the Cubs' phenomenon Derrek Lee would have been contending for the triple crown. (Sammy who?)
September 14, 2005 [LINK]
Nice evening stroll
The hummingbirds have stopped coming by our feeder on the back porch, sadly, but they are still in the neighborhood. The hummers like sipping nectar from these pale blue flowers, which are from a mystery "volunteer" vine [*] that keeps trying to strangle our basil plants, whose tiny flowers the hummers also enjoy. Here's what I saw on the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad while taking a walk to enjoy the beautiful weather just before dusk yesterday:
- Ruby-throated hummingbirds (F/J)
- Brown thrasher
- American redstarts (F/J)
- Black-throated green warbler (F/J)
- Eastern wood-pewee
- Least flycatcher (FOS)
- Downy woodpecker (F)
- Hairy woodpecker (M)
UPDATE: I later learned that these are Morning glories!
September 13, 2005 [LINK]
Hijacked flight in Colombia
A turboprop airplane with 25 people aboard, including a member of Congress, was hijacked and forced to land at Bogota. After a few hours of negotiations, the hijackers surrendered, and no one was hurt. It turns out it had nothing to do with politics or the civil war, but was merely a young man and his father, who had been disabled by a policeman's bullet many years ago and was demanding compensation. They smuggled hand grenades aboard the aircraft, eluding detection because the man's wheel chair could not pass through the X-ray machine.
Former President Julio Cesar Turbay, who served from 1978 to 1982, died at the age of 89. Although he was a member of the Liberal Party, he endorsed the constitutional amendment that will -- pending a Supreme Court ruling -- allow the incumbent President Alvaro Uribe to run for reelection next year.
The Latin American main page now includes a list of the upcoming elections in Latin America.
Chile remembers 9/11
No, not the terrorist attack launched by Al Qaeda in 2001, but the violent military coup launched by General Augusto Pinochet in 1973. At least 100 demonstrators were arrested, and one was killed, during a march to protest the coup that took place 30 years ago. Pinochet is still a free man, but is frail and might yet be prosecuted for the heinous abuses that he oversaw as leftists were purged after he took over.
September 12, 2005 [LINK]
Los Angeles blackout
Since Islamic extremists warned just yesterday that Los Angeles would be the target of their next attack, today's massive power blackout there looks very suspicious. Mere coincidence? Of course, local officials downplayed any link between the mishap and terrorism, but one of their main jobs is to keep people calm. The extremists also threatened Melbourne, Australia.
Is this a job for Special Agent Jack Bauer? Each season of the FOX-TV action series 24 has taken place largely in Los Angeles, which seems strange since the nation's economic and political nerve centers are on the east coast.
There seems little doubt that the ability of Al Qaeda to operate in the United States has been severely curtailed since the post-9/11 security measures were put into place, but no one thinks they are no longer a threat. From a strategic point of view, the big question is whether they seek to keep us jittery and distracted via semi-regular "pin-prick" attacks, or are biding their time until U.S. vigilance begins to wane over the next few years, and then unleash an even worse attack than the one four years ago. As long as our culture remains fixated on the short-term, demanding rapid solutions, we will remain vulnerable to the discretion of Islamic extremists, who will retain a degree of strategic initiative. Reversing that situation is a major reason for the offensive-oriented strategy being pursued by the Bush administration.
UPDATE: Never mind!? It now appears that the entire blackout was triggered by a utility worker who shut off the wrong power line, overloading the local power grid and precipitating a cascade of automatic shutdowns; see CNN.com. Sometimes suspicious coincidences are entirely innocent...
September 12, 2005 [LINK]
Back to our regularly scheduled hyperpartisanship
Now that the Roberts Supreme Court nomination hearings are underway, mayhem continues in Iraq, and everyone seems to be blaming the other side for the Hurricane Katrina disaster, we are grudgingly obliged to reengage in the political polemics that reached an apex in August and then took a brief vacation. (Must we? Yes!)
The death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist makes the confirmation of John Roberts, now designated as Chief Justice, much easier, because no one wants to start a new Supreme Court term in October with no one in the leading role. That ought to satsify conservative activists who were outraged by the compromise over the "nuclear option" in the Senate last May. In any case, Roberts is by all non-ideological accounts an ideal candidate, so the real fireworks will begin when the replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor is named. Jim Lindgren at the Volokh Conspiracy assesses Robert's comparison at today's hearings between the role of a judge and a baseball umpire. Neither job is as straightforward as you might think.
Another front in the ongoing War Between the Parties centers around the President himself. The Left cannot restrain itself from the urge to exploit any passing tragedy for the purpose of venting hatred toward our nation's duly elected chief executive. The deranged hysteria of scribes such as Maureen Dowd has barely changed at all since the last election, but most Americans seem sensible enough not to pay much attention to such fringe views. What about my own overall assessment of Bush? I've made clear my reservations about his lack of skills in rhetoric and management, as well as his troubling eagerness to promote his social conservative agenda via activist government. I pretty much agree with the assessment of Glenn Reynolds:
Bush is, in my estimation, adequate as President, but not much more. I've thought that all along -- which is why you've never seen the kind of lyrical praise of Bush here that once appeared at Andrew Sullivan's place, or the kind of disappointment with Bush you see at Sullivan's place now.
His comment was in the context of the recent drops in Bush's approval ratings. Since I work with the Republicans, you can either take my evaluation as influenced by party loyalty or as a foolhardy gesture of dissent. In my own view, I'm just trying to be honest. The bottom line for me is that Bush is on the right course in two crucial policy areas: a firm, resolute stance in the war against Islamic extremism, and a determination to nominate more conservative judges.
Michael Brown resigns
No surprise there. I sure hope he had accomplished a lot for the Republican Party in Oklahoma for all the discredit he brought to the Bush administration. Now can we all agree on one thing? Don't put political appointees in charge of a vital agency such as FEMA!
Will Mayor Ray Fagin or Governor Kathleen Blanco resign next? Probably not. Josh Marshall has been harping at Bush and the Feds incessantly, while making excuses for the failures of the local officials. Today Rush Limbaugh replayed the whispered comments of Governor Blanco (who didn't know the mic was live) in which she expressed to an assistant regret for not requesting military assistance more promptly. On Meet the Press yesterday, Mayor Fagin was utterly flummoxed by Tim Russert's queries about the failure to use city and school buses to get the poor folks out of town on time.
Sure, here was lots of buses out there. But guess what? You can't find drivers that would stay behind with a Category 5 hurricane, you know, pending down [sic] on New Orleans.
Maybe more drivers would have shown up for emergency duty if they had been told that their job was on the line. Just a thought. The mayor said he had no knowledge of AMTRAK's offer to evacuate hundreds of people as Katrina approached (see Washington Post), which if true suggests an inexcusable breakdown in communications within the city government. His only regret was in assuming that the Federal "cavalry" would rescue his city. That is a crystal clear expression of the shamelessly irresponsible dependency on bailouts from Uncle Sam engendered by the welfare state mentality.
UPDATE: Rebuild or not?
In the Outlook section of Sunday's Washington Post, urban planning expert Joel Garreau lends support to Majority Leader Dennis Hastert's ill-timed remark last week that there is no point in rebuilding some parts of New Orleans. He notes that the "crescent" along the Mississippi where the city originated -- the French quarter, parts of downtown, and the posh Garden District -- are virtually the only tracts of land above sea level. Much of the rest was a swamp in its natural state, and can only be kept safe and dry through massive expenditures of public money. Who is to say whether it's worth it or not? It's too early to be talking about long-term plans, but comparing New Orleans to Pompei, as he does, is stretching things a bit.
September 11, 2005 [LINK]
Four years after 9/11
For many Americans, the sense of utter horror and disbelief accompanying the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon seem to be fading into the mist. This numbness induces a complacent tendency that is very unhealthy and must be countered by periodic exposure to the awful images of that day. When is the last time you saw broadcast video clips of people jumping to their death or the towers crashing to the ground? Are we too terrified (!) to relive our recent past? PBS broadcast a program this evening in which Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clerics reflected on what that event and the conflicts since then mean to them. It is always encouraging to hear voices of reason and moderation in troubled times, but as all of them agreed, the Islamic faith is at present under a particularly dark cloud in which zealous fanaticism dominates. We must remember that all religions, including the Christian and Jewish faiths of the West, are subject to the same perversion through which good intentions are transformed into evil deeds. This does not mean we should let ourselves be paralyzed by moral relativism, it just means that even as we endeavor to defend our nation and the broader civilization of which it is a part, we should keep our ears attuned to the occasional gestures of peace and reconciliation that emanate from the proud but tormented and bedeviled Arab-Islamic world.
September 11, 2005 [LINK]
Koizumi rocks Japan vote
The hip, charismatic, reformist Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi won an overwhelming victory in yesterday's parliamentary elections, as his Liberal Democratic Party* won 296 of the 480 contested seats in the lower house of the Diet. Including the seats of the parliamentary allies in the Komeito (Clean Government) Party, the LDP now commands a 2/3 legislative majority, enough to overcome obstructionism. See Washington Post. Since I've become a hardened skeptic of Japan's capacity to enact substantial reforms after seeing past such efforts crash and burn, I'll wait and see.
* As I used to tell my classes, the "Liberal Democratic Party" is like the "Holy Roman Empire": It is neither liberal nor democratic nor a real party, but just a loose amalgam of factions with a vested interest in preserving the business-dominated status quo. After the financial crises of the early 1990s, a large portion of the LDP broke away and formed a new party.
Mubarak mocks Egypt vote
As expected, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak won "reelection" by a landslide, but those results probably don't mean much since thugs working for his official party had been repressing political opponents, and may have been tampering with ballot boxes. Some observers would call Mubarak's regime hypocritical in its feeble pretense at upholding free democratic norms, while others would say that going to all that trouble just to placate pro-democracy critics is itself a sign that democratic norms are carrying at least some weight. That is a good example of the old adage of "Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue." The U.S. government will have to tread carefully in reacting to this election, because the Bush foreign policy has become so strongly focused on promoting democracy in the Islamic world. Either praise or criticism could backfire by angering nationalist forces. Oddly, the Carter Center has not been monitoring the Egyptian electoral process, although they have been paying a lot of attention to Liberia lately.
September 11, 2005 [LINK]
Nats can't keep up with Joneses
With Chad Cordero on the mound and holding a one-run lead, the Nationals were only one out away from sealing what would have been an even more triumphant comeback than on Friday night. John Smoltz totally dominated the Nats' batters for seven innings, and the Braves had built a 6-0 lead by the middle of the sixth inning, but the intermittently feisty D.C. crew scored two runs in the bottom of the inning (solo homers) plus an amazing five runs in the eighth, capped by a go-ahead RBI single by rookie Ryan Zimmerman. The Nationals were on the very threshold of glory, but then consecutive home runs by Chipper and Andruw Jones retook the lead in the top of the ninth, and pretty much put an end to the Nationals' postseason hopes this afternoon. They are only 4 1/2 games behind in the wild card race, but they the fact that they went 4-6 in this home stand does not bode well. Final score: Atlanta 9, Washington 7. I had another rare opportunity to see the Nationals on TV yesterday (they lost, 4-0), as the game was broadcast regionally by FOX Sports, but today's game cablecast by TBS was blacked out in Virginia, and presumably throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Boo-oo!
Washington wins, 9-7!
Ironically, the football game being played a few miles to the east at the very same time ended up with the very same score, except that the Washington Redskins came out on top, beating Da Bears. This was almost certainly the first time in history that regular season professional baseball and football games have been played on the same day in Washington (or its suburbs). Attendance at RFK Stadium was a respectable 31,834 ("announced," that is), while [90,138] attended the Redskins game at FedEx Field, adding up to over [120,000] combined. Since this was the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a commemorative "Freedom Walk" was held from the Pentagon to the Mall, adding to the traffic congestion in Our Nation's Capital.
L-o-n-g road trip: Saints overcome adversity
Perhaps the biggest game in the pro sports world today was the victory by the presently homeless New Orleans Saints over the host Carolina Panthers. If ever there was an opportunity for a professional sports team to rebuild a city's civic pride and confidence, this is it. The Saints do not expect the Superdome to be repaired in time for the end of the football season, and still do not know whether they will play any of their "home" games in a regional venue, such as San Antonio's Alamodome or Baton Rouge's Tiger Stadium on the LSU campus. More than likely, they'll play their entire 16-game schedule on the road. Washington is not among their opponents this year, however, even though both teams are in the NFC.
September 10, 2005 [LINK]
The politics of disaster
Based on what we now know, there is little doubt that the government's response to the disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina was far from satisfactory. The question is, Which government? The decision to send the ineffective FEMA Director Michael Brown back to his desk in Washington was appropriate, and it seems that his tenure there is precarious at best. If it turns out that President Bush chose him for that vital but often-ignored post without duly weighing his qualifications (other than political work), then Bush will bear part of the responsibility for the tragedy being compounded. Congress will almost certainly proceed with a formal 9/11 style inquiry, but unlike that holocaust nearly four years ago, this time the nation is deeply divided into two warring factions that distrust each other. The gratuitous sniping at President Bush by Jesse Jackson was par for the course, but it was was quite unfair of the normally sensible Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu to accuse Bush of wasting time on photo-ops, something that Bush has consistently striven to avoid throughout his presidency. Indeed, one could fault Bush for not doing enough photo-ops in this tragedy, but given the times we live in, he was damned if he did and damned if he didn't. What about local officials? In the National Review Online, Michael Novak paints a bleak picture of New Orleans as a corrupt, anti-entrepreneurial welfare-dependent relic of the Old South. In other words, a paradise for Democrats. Donald Luskin points out the irony that environmentalists blocked some flood control projects around New Orleans. He also notes that the Democrats are already using the Katrina disaster for their fund raising efforts with an open letter by the always-polemical Sen. Charles Schumer; see Yahoo News. It must be deeply distressing to the displaced people of Louisiana and Mississippi that politicians in Washington are so quick to capitalize on their misery. In Friday's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer launches a blistering salvo of common sense, refuting alleged links to global warming or lack of funding, and listing the people most at fault, in order of most to least culpability:
- Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans
- Governor Kathleen Blanco
- Michael Brown, the head of FEMA
- President Bush
- The American people
Why the American people? "They have made it impossible for any politician to make any responsible energy policy over the past 30 years..." Indeed, I could hardly believe all the whining about gasoline price hikes last week, as though the devastation to the Gulf Coast petroleum and gas infrastructure would not be expected to curtail supplies. Massive ignorance of the economic facts of life... This tragedy illustrates one of the disadvantages of our vaunted federal system, in which state authority and national government authority are separate but often overlap, making occasional friction all but inevitable. Louisiana's governor is empowered to activate National Guard units, but was slow to do so last week, and then resisted when President Bush asserted control over those forces to hasten their deployment. There will be plenty of time to assess blame for needless deaths after the immediate relief operations have been completed. At least until then, we should all focus our efforts on working together and try to avoid jumping to conclusions about who screwed up. We should also exercise sharp vigilance over how the $52 billion emergency relief aid appropriation is spent.
September 10, 2005 [LINK]
Court approves detention
A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's ruling that U.S. citizen Jose Padilla could not be detained indefinitely without being charged in a criminal court. He was arrested in Chicago in 2002 and designated an "enemy combatant," suspected of plotting to blow up apartment buildings. The case will probably be appealed to the Supreme Court, whose composition is in the midst of a major change. See Washington Post.
This decision represents a big victory for the global anti-terrorism effort. If Padilla had been released, it would have discouraged potential informers to cooperate with authorities, and would have encouraged the Al Qaeda-sympathizing fifth columnists in this country. The reason why more people who suspect their neighbors do not come forward is precisely because they live in terror of retribution. The fact that he was once a gang member illustrates the potential for a tacit alliance between immigrant gangs and the more formal terrorist organizations. Predictably, the ACLU denounced this ruling: "So long as the civilian courts are open and functioning, American citizens arrested in the United States are entitled to due process protections provided by a traditional criminal trial." In the abstract, of course, all U.S. citizens are entitled to equal protection under the law, but this case illustrates the latent clash between individual rights and the collective right of the American nation to the best security the government can reasonably provide. Civil libertarians often fail to acknowledge the vital distinction between criminal violence, which is typically motivated by hatred or hopes of easy material gain, and warfare, which is organized large-scale violence motivated by power politics. Jose Padilla may have started as a mere common thug, but when he joined with avowed enemies of the United States in time of war, he forfeited his rights as a citizen. It is important to remember that there must be checks on the executive branch's ability to detain terrorist suspects, but as long as an appeals process exists, a reasonable balance can be struck between national security and personal freedom.
September 9, 2005 [LINK]
Once again, a skunk strolled through our back yard today, vacuuming up seeds scattered by birds as he went. Unlike May 29, there was plenty of sunlight for a good picture this time. Since skunks are mainly nocturnal, it is alarming to see them in broad daylight, but this creature wasn't acting strangely, so I don't think it is rabid. It seemed smaller than average, so it is probably just a young skunk figuring out how to survive on his or her own. Fortunately, there was no stink this time.
September 9, 2005 [LINK]
Do or die for the Nationals
The series against the Braves at RFK Stadium this weekend will be the acid test to see whether the Nationals are still up to the task of fighting for a postseason berth. Tonight's game got off to a bad start, as Esteban Loaiza allowed two runs in the top of the first, but the Nats responded with a run in the bottom of the inning, even without getting any hits! "Moral victories" in close games (such as August 20 against the Mets) and managing splits in series against tough opponents (such as two weeks ago against the Braves) are no longer good enough. The shaky start by John Halama on Wednesday and the unlikelihood that ailing Tony Armas will start again this season have exposed a major weak spot in the Nationals' arsenal: a thin rotation. In today's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell takes a hard look at the stiff uphill challenge facing the new darlings of Our Nation's Capital:
Looking back, after 141 games, it's almost certain that the flame was worth the candle. For many years, Washington's inaugural season will be remembered as a stunning success and the crowds at RFK Stadium, which surpassed expectations, will no doubt attract new ownership with deep pockets and big dreams. But the last 21 games of this season, unless the 72-69 Nationals summon all their remaining pride to finish above .500, may not be easy on the eyes.
UPDATE: The Nationals tied the game in the fourth inning, 2-2, but then the prodigious Andruw Jones hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning, creating a four-run lead that will be very hard for the low-run-producing Nats to erase. The proverbial "fat lady" is rehearsing in her dressing room...
UPDATE: It's "Do!" Oaxaca native Vinny Castilla homered (solo) in the seventh, and both Brad Wilkerson and Jose Guillen drove in two runs each with clutch doubles in the eighth inning, tying the game, and then taking the lead, 8-6. Reliable closer Chad Cordero got all three Braves batters out in the ninth inning, saving one of the most crucial games this season. O me of little faith! Once again, the Nationals are not dead yet!
Niece on TV in Denver?
If you happen to live where tonight's Diamondbacks-Rockies game at Coors Field is being broadcast, you may be able to see my sweetheart of a niece, Rachel, along with a group of Girl Scouts doing the pregame flag presentation ceremony. She's the cute redhead with freckles and glasses.
U.S. Cellular photos
Thanks to Bill Blake for sending more photos of U.S. Cellular Field, which is likely to see a lot of postseason action next month. I've also digitally tweaked the existing photos on that page, adding sharper definition.
UPDATE: Thanks to Ian Scott for letting me know that the center field bleachers in soon-to-be-demolished Busch Stadium (II) had actual bench seats, meaning that the quotation marks I had used around the word bleachers were inappropriate. There are a few other e-mail alerts I've received from helpful fans that I haven't gotten to yet, so thanks for your patience.
September 9, 2005 [LINK]
New iPods and more from Apple
When are those utopian nerds in Cupertino gonna take a rest? Apple just introduced two groundbreaking products: the iPod nano, an "impossibly small" version of their digital music player which includes a color screen, and iTunes mobile which is based on a new Motorola cellular telephone model with service provided by Cingular. The Motorola partnership is interesting in light of the fact that Apple recently announced they are abandoning the Motorola PowerPC microprocessor family and are joining the Intel bandwagon. Steve Jobs also unveiled version 5.0 of iTunes software, which has faster searching, parental controls, and enhanced support for podcasting. (My own iPod, purchased in January 2004, has become increasingly balky whenever I connect it to my iMac in recent months, making me cut back on my Apple Music Store purchases.) I just hope Apple's enormous success with iTunes and iPod doesn't result in reduced focus on their core computer business. To see the one-hour presentation of all the latest Apple products, featuring Madonna, Yo-Yo Ma, Kanye West (the rapper who departed from his script to denounce the Bush administration during the recent Hurricane Katrina televised fund-raiser) and other glitterati, click on this screen grab image. (The video is in AppleQuickTime format.)
DISCLAIMER: I have not been compensated in any way by Apple Computer or its business partners. The image displayed here is unauthorized, and is for informative purposes only.
September 9, 2005 [LINK]
APSA convention wrap-up
I've just added a new page containing an edited version of my notes from last week's American Political Science Association annual meeting: Washington APSA 2005. It's similar to what I did for the 2002 APSA meeting in Boston (that page has been reformatted), except that I decided to limit my summaries to the more informative panels I attended. Below are the most significant panels I attended, including the names of the panelists. Asterisks denote the most distinguished speakers. The usual disclaimer applies: These are MY notes only, and because they probably contain a few inaccuracies and omissions, they should NOT be cited.
The Bush Second Term
PANELISTS: Michael Barone*, Jonathan Rauch, Ron Brownstein*, Amy Walter, Barry Jackson (White House).
Present in audience: David Broder*, Thomas Mann*, Charlie Cook*.
Offensive Neorealism, Global Jihad, Preemption
PANELISTS: Robert Jervis*, Stephen Van Evera*, John Mersheimer.
Case Studies & Theory Development in Soc. Sci.
(roundtable on new book by Alexander George and Andrew Bennett)
PANELISTS: Chris Achen, John Odell, Daniel Drezner (one of my favorite bloggers), Jack Levy.
Resisting executive assaults in Latin America
PANELISTS: William Brandt, Diana Kapiszewski, Peter Siavelis, Adam Brinegar, Valeria Palazza.
Bush Foreign Policy: Is the revolution over?
PANELISTS: Francis Fukuyama*, John Ikenberry*, Jeff Legro* (U.Va.!), Joseph Grieco*. (Upshot of the answer: YES!)
I.R. theory in the era of global terrorism
PANELISTS: Kenneth Waltz*, Robert Keohane*, Alexander Wendt*, Paul Viotti*, Barry Posen*.
Elections in Afghanistan and Iraq
PANELISTS: Larry Diamond*, Andrew Reynolds. (In response to my question, Larry Diamond said that a rapid scheduling of municipal elections soon after liberation was considered, but Paul Bremer vetoed it. The idea of giving each Iraqi citizen an equity certificate in nation's oil wealth was never seriously considered; it would be too costly to carry out.)
Intl. pol. economy and environmental policy
PANELISTS: Randall Stone, Liliana Botcheva-Andonova, Jana von Stein.
U.S.-Canada-Mexico security cooperation
PANELISTS: Philippe Lagasse, Joel Sokolsky, Abelardo Rodriguez, John Cope, Richard Downie.
My observation: I'm taken back by the lack of any mention of NAFTA! European Coal & Steel Community (later EEC, EU) showed how economic integration can work hand in hand with regional security insitutions (NATO).
Response by Joel Sokolsky: There's a growing antipathy to NATO in Canada, which prefers bilateralism. U.S. refusal to abide by softwood lumber ruling makes Canadians anti-NAFTA. Security trumps trade, and NAFTA is the weak spot.
September 8, 2005 [LINK]
Warbler swarm in Staunton!
I went up to the picnic area at the top of Montgomery Hall Park around noon once again today, and this time I really hit the jackpot. As soon as I got out of my car I spotted one of the tiny, colorful insect-eaters (otherwise known as warblers) flittering about the tree limbs, and over the next 45 minutes or so I spotted five other warbler species, plus several other neotropical migrants. It was one of the best days of birding I've had since I went to Costa Rica! Here are the highlights:
- Blackpoll warbler (F)
- Magnolia warblers
- Chestnut-sided warblers
- Black and white warbler
- American redstart (a warbler)
- Northern parula (a warbler)
- Red-eyed vireos (5 +)
- Baltimore oriole (1st year male)
- Scarlet tanager (F)
- Northern flickers
- Blue-gray gnatcatcher
- Red-bellied woodpeckers
- Downy woodpecker
- Eastern wood-pewee
- Cedar waxwings
September 8, 2005 [LINK]
Astrodome: refuge from the deluge
Thanks to a freak meterological calamity unleashed by Mother Nature, the aging but once-ultramodern Astrodome is presently getting the most intensive use it has had since the Astros left after the 1999 season. Several thousand refugees from Hurricane Katrina have taken shelter there after the collapse of utility services and lack of police protection obliged authorities to move them to a safer location. In recognition of this unique role played by a former baseball (and football) stadium, I have revised the diagrams on the Astrodome page.
Wild card races heat up
I generally try to avoid thinking too much about the wild card standings until well into September, since diverting attention from the divisional races seems to undermine the sport's tradition. Now that Washington has lost three games in a row to the Florida Marlins, they are only three games above .500, and their chances of making the postseason are sinking fast. At the beginning of the season, a finish at or above .500 would have been considered a big success for the transplanted Nationals team, but after their magical hot streak in June put them in first place for over a month, we were hoping for a finish that was more than just "above average." The Phillies and Mets are also in the midst of losing streaks, leaving Houston (on the rebound from a mini-slump) and Florida as leading contenders for the "back door" route to the divisional playoff series.
In the American League wild card race, the Indians have pulled ahead of the Yankees, to the surprise of many. In contrast to Cleveland, the Yanks still have a good chance at winning their division. Pitcher Kevin Millwood (a former Brave) has been a big part of the Cleveland tribe's late upsurge this year. I'm sure those folks up on Lake Erie would love to get revenge on the Marlins for the 1997 World Series. But then the same goes for Bronx fans who want revenge for the 2003 series. With just over three weeks to go, however, both of the wild card races could turn around completely.
September 7, 2005 [LINK]
Marlins thrash Nationals
Tonight John Halama started, but he didn't even last a full inning. Frank Robinson must have been very impatient, as he changed pitchers almost every inning, but it didn't stop the flood of runs scored by the Marlins, who won 12-1. Dontrell Willis thus became the second pitcher this year to win 20 games, and he hit a single and double to boot, raising his batting average to .256, absurdly high for a pitcher. There were only two bright spots for the Nats in the game: a home run by Rick Short, the veteran minor league player who finished the season at New Orleans (!) with just under a .400 batting average. Also, Ryan Zimmerman played his first full game in the majors, playing at shortstop instead of third base. He got his second double of his brief career. This second straight loss puts the Nationals 3 1/2 games behind in the wild card race. Tomorrow the Nationals' best ace, John Patterson, starts against Josh Beckett. Yikes. Who the heck is Darrell Rasner? He was the Nationals' starting pitcher on Tuesday night, and he quickly gave up three runs to the Marlins, which was all they needed to win the game. Brad Wilkerson hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the (third) inning, a great sign of competitiveness, but there were hardly any hits after that, much less runs.
Is it just me, or have the Yankees been 3 1/2 games behind the Red Sox every day since the end of June? The schedule seems to favor the Yanks as the season's end draws near, but some of those games are against the Devil Rays, who have made an amazing resurgence since the All Star break, sweeping the Indians, Angels, and White Sox.
Fan Value Index
sportsillustrated.cnn.com analyzes which ballparks offer the best value to fans. It includes an odd assortment of criteria, only some of which coincide with my own. It refers to RFK Stadium as "a testament to classic '70s stadium architecture" -- huh? Try '60s. (hat tip to Brian Hughes)
Thanks to Gavin Dow, there are two new photos of that big tent in downtown Minneapolis, known as the Metrodome.
September 7, 2005 [LINK]
Migration season picks up
With mild temperatures and sparkling blue skies, this is perfect weather for enjoying the delights Mother Nature has to offer. At Montgomery Hall Park yesterday I saw another Blackburnian warbler, other unidentified warblers, a female Scarlet tanager, an Eastern Wood Pewee, some Northern flickers, Red-bellied woodpeckers, and a Hairy woodpecker. The number and level of activity of the woodpeckers was astounding. I also saw a group of four Broad-winged hawks flying south over head, the first such migrants I've seen this season. As in past years, Brenda Tekin is coordinating the Rockfish Gap hawk watch at Afton Mountain, but I probably won't have much time for that this year. At Bell's Lane in the evening, I saw an Accipeter hawk (probably a Sharp-shinned), as well as a hummingbird.
As the season changes, it's interesting to observe how different species change their habits. I've noticed that robins and starlings are beginning to congregate in flocks, which are especially noticeable in the evening. Blue jays have become very vocal once again, as have chickadees.
When I was at the Nationals-Phillies game in RFK Stadium last Friday night, I saw at least 40 large grayish gulls; possibly immature Ring-bills. I may have glimpsed a nighthawk but couldn't be certain.
September 7, 2005 [LINK]
Weather of mass destruction
Hurricane Katrina's full impact in terms of lives and property losses won't be known for months, nor will the responsibility for the sluggish evacuation and subsequent rescue and recovery effort. The uncertainty of the unspeakably tragic situation has not deterred many people from pointing fingers, however. One of the most strident Bush-bashers, Paul Krugman, wrote in Monday's New York Times:
But the federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming?
I hate to admit it, but he has a point. Just as the Democrat Party is full of people who despise the military and wealthy people, the Republican ranks include many people who sneer derisively at anything the (civilian part of the) government does. It is a very unhealthy knee-jerk reaction that needs to be cured.
Given the magnitude of the catastrophe, it is understandable that it would take a couple days to respond in a coordinated, effective way. Large-scale military reinforcements did not arrive on the scene until Saturday, and it is hard to understand why they weren't there by Thursday. To me it seems the most likely culpable party in this episode was FEMA Director Michael Brown, a political appointee with scant relevant experience. Krugman believes that including FEMA within the Department of Homeland Security undermined it, but I think it's quite appropriate, because natural disasters resemble terrorist attacks such as 9/11 in many significant ways. Indeed, the fatalities from Katrina are comparable to what a small nuclear explosion would cause. The main difference is that we can anticipate hurricanes to some extent (though warnings are often ignored), but in the aftermath of an urban nuclear blast we would be paralyzed by fear that another such attack would hit us at any moment. Nevertheless, if this is the way the Federal government would respond in case of a terrorist WMD attack on one of our cities, we are in big trouble.
This country's racial divide is once again highlighted by the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. While some politicians and professional agitators have taken advantage of it in an unseemly way, the fact that such a large percentage of the victims are African Americans should make us reflect, and hopefully resolve to act in a constructive way. New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin bitterly denounced the lack of help from Washington, but when it was pointed out that hundreds of school buses were not used to evacuate residents, as the emergency plan had specified, he had no comment. Unless he can come up with a better answer than that, he will have to answer to the victims, their families, and especially the ones who vote. Former New Orleans resident Phil Faranda refutes the complaints that inadequate funding from stingy conservatives caused needless deaths.
Emergencies such as these are occasions for the collectivist "all for one and one for all" sloganeering, but they also demonstrate the residual fierce independence and self-help instinct of many people, especially the poor. Mayor Nagin has just ordered the rest of the lingering city residents to be evacuated (see Washington Post), which may be wise in light of the contaminated, disease-infested waters in the streets, but it is sad to see folks yanked from their homes.
Is this "American Tsunami" the result of global warming? Scientists may eventually decide that the apparent rising frequency of large storms has stemmed from global warming, but one cannot infer causation from general background trends based on a single observation, so arguing along these lines is not likely to be fruitful. Let's wait and see. We can't afford to risk a delayed global response, you say? Well, the proposed Kyoto Protocol standards are not likely to yield much effect, even if they were enforceable, so until I hear of a more serious proposal, I will refrain from getting upset over the lack of action. Sometimes doing nothing is better than making strenuous exertions just for show.
One final observation: Americans are not used to seeing huge numbers of their countrymen enduring such desperate hardships. How could this happen in America? Well, we were due for a major natural disaster, and frankly I often wondered how long it would be before a major hurricane struck a major U.S. city. As for the looting, shooting, raping, and general bad behavior, that is a common characteristic of most human beings when the legal authority of the state (government) vanishes, a common theme in classical writings that is almost universally ignored in schools nowdays. I learned that Oprah told her audience that those who have left New Orleans to seek refuge elsewhere are not refugees, they are "survivors." Such hypersensitive labeling is not helpful to the task of confronting the national challenge. It reminds me that Americans being put in the unfamiliar role of refugees on an exodus fleeing from death and mayhem (such as Jews in World War II) was the main theme of Steven Spielberg's adaptation of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.
I don't see myself as a source of moral guidance, so I will refrain from exhorting other folks, as other bloggers (e.g., Glenn Reynolds) have done, to donate to the American Red Cross, the Episcopal Relief and Development, or other relief agencies. Isn't that civic duty obvious enough?
September 6, 2005 [LINK]
(Re)Learning to fly
About a month ago, our female canary named Princess suffered an accidental wing injury, after which she was unable to fly. For several days her right wing drooped noticeably, and we feared that it might have been broken, in which case she would never have flown again. (Medical intervention to repair broken or dislocated bones in small birds is generally futile, as we discovered when a veterinarian inadvertently compounded the leg injury Princess suffered just after we bought her four years ago.) In her flightless condition, she was literally "grounded," and we had to make sure that all the food and water she needed was accessible to her while we were away. This happens to be molting season for them, so their energy level right now is below average anyway. One good sign was that she maintained a good appetite, especially when we brought her treats like basil flowers or fresh spinach leaves. Mm-mm good! Thankfully, she gradually recuperated, spending many long days in semi-dormant rest while the delicate tendons and muscles healed. George, our male canary, stayed close by her side for nearly this entire period, only leaving their room on a few occasions. He was clearly very worried about Princess, and it was quite touching. About two weeks ago, Princess started flapping her wings on occasion, as if to rebuild her wings' muscle tone, and she even flew a few feet every few days. It was very awkward at first, and she bumped into objects several times as she gradually regained control of her flight. For some odd reason, she always became more active in these practice sessions in the evening, when it was time for lights out.
Last night, Princess became alarmed when I was vacuuming their room and flew to the top of the plant shelf. She stayed up there, and it was the first time since her injury that she had slept in an elevated spot! You could tell she was excited by this accomplishment, and George was too: Romantic chirping between them was a sure sign that the healing process was nearly complete. Today she flew around their room several times, and Jacqueline took some video clips of the happy landmark occasion. Princess will probably need a few more days or weeks before she can fly as confidently as she used to, but we are now hugely relieved that her full recovery is all but guaranteed.
September 4, 2005 [LINK]
Nationals rebound, stay in race
While in Washington this past week, I managed to devote a few hours on Friday night to see the Nationals hosting the Phillies in the first game of the series. I had great seats near the front of the upper deck behind home plate, right on top of the action. The weather was perfect, just like the last time I was there on May 31, but unfortunately, the game did not go as well this time. David Bell's grand slam in the third inning opened a gap that was too big for the Nationals to fill, and they ended up losing 7-1. There was one bright, memorable moment, however: Ryan Zimmerman, the recent U.Va. graduate who was called up from the AAA New Orleans (!) Zephyrs this week, got his first big league hit, a double in the fifth inning. The next three batters were out on fly balls to the outfield, however. Ryan also made a fine defensive play at third base in the top of the fifth, nabbing a hard ground ball and starting a double play, the only one of the game. A very auspicious beginning for this likely future star! New photos of the game I saw at RFK Stadium should be posted here soon; one is of a guy sitting next to me with a T-shirt that denounces the Orioles' monopolistic TV enterprise known as MASN: "Mr. Angelos Screws the Nationals." He told me about yet another anti-Angelos Web site: takebacknatstv.com.
I caught the tail end of the Saturday night game on Channel 20, and it was a doozy! The Nats were ahead 4-1 going into the ninth, and then Chad Cordero uncharacteristically gave up two home runs, tying the game. In the twelveth, Brad Wilkerson scored from second on a short looping single hit by Preston Wilson beyond first base, winning the game 5-4, and earning whoops and loud cheers from the relieved fans. On Sunday afternoon, as my train headed south, the Nats got revenge for the Friday night loss by beating the Phillies 6-1, thanks to homers by Brian Schneider and Preston Wilson, whose blast went into the upper deck in left field. Now the Nats are only two games back in the wild card race. Attendance for this series was down slightly, but the fans' enthusiasm was quite high.
ABC ignores baseball in D.C.
The Washington Post reports that ABC filmed a scene of an episode of the forthcoming drama series Commander In Chief in which the president (Geena Davis) throws out the first pitch in Baltimore! Presidents have often carried out this Opening Day ritual in Baltimore in recent years, but anyone who knows anything about baseball should know that this joyous occasion belongs to the Capital City. Haven't those Hollywood moguls heard that there is a team playing in D.C. this year?
September 4, 2005 [LINK]
Back from D.C.; ¡Viva AMTRAK!
My trip to Washington, D.C. went very well (much more on the APSA convention soon), and the return trip on AMTRAK this afternoon was not only pleasant and relaxing, the train was actually on time to the minute! There was a delay of nearly two hours when I departed last Wednesday, but that was anticipated, the result of "freight railroad congestion, track work or other operating conditions."
In much of Latin America, the government has traditionally owned and run the transportation system, usually resulting in gross inefficiency. Many people draw the same conclusion about the Federally-owned AMTRAK passenger rail system, but I've always had a soft spot in my usually free-market heart for that institution. At a time when gasoline prices are soaring close to $4 a gallon or more in some parts of the country, the idea of encouraging more use of collective passenger transport should be a no-brainer. Ironically, Greyhound stopped all bus service in the Shenandoah Valley last month because of lack of business, leaving carless people with virtually no means to travel. If that is not an indication of how this country is hopelessly addicted to automobile travel and cheap gasoline, I don't know what is.