Latin America, 2006
Wild birds, 2006
Macintosh & Misc., 2006
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March 2006 Archives
March 31, 2006 [LINK]
Senators flinch on immigration
Fearful of inciting riots across the country, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee moved to soften language in the Senate version of the immigration reform legislation. I am not encouraged by what Senators Specter and McCain have had to say on the matter. The committee action makes it much less likely that a workable compromise can be reached with the House, which passed a tough bill, including stiff fines for those who hire illegal workers in December. That is quite proper, but I think the House went too far in criminalizing social action support activities, however. For many people, that is a religious duty, which is fine. Hopefully we can maintain a distinction between individual and collective responsibility for the plight of immigrants. When I heard Sen. Kennedy on one of the morning talk shows last Sunday, he actually seemed to make sense on some aspects of the issue. That may be a sign of "A New Consensus on Immigration," as Albion's Seedlings suggests.
Today's Washington Post had a mostly unfavorable story on Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, who has been leading the charge on immigration reform, along with Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner. I have heard Tancredo on C-SPAN a number of times, and he just doesn't strike me as the angry rabble-rouser that the mainstream media portrays him to be.
Rep. Virgil Goode expressed indignation at protesters who waved the Mexican flag, eliciting sharp criticism for "extremist" language from likely Democrat challengers Al Weed and Bern Ewert. See Richmond Times Dispatch. One of the last of the rural conservative "blue dog" Democrats, Goode switched to the Republican side in 1999 or so. He is a staunch opponent of NAFTA and wants to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, a sadly isolationistic stance.
In Cancun, Mexico, President Bush called for "controlled" migration, desperately trying to please Mexico's outgoing President Fox. Well, it would be nice if the "World's Only Superpower" could regain control of its southern border, without resorting to such extreme measures as a Berlin Wall or military patrols. It mostly depends on Mexico's attitude and inclination to reform its economy. See BBC.
UPDATE: According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the Senate bill is "one of the most irresponsible pieces of immigration legislation ever brought before the United States Congress."
Religion and politics
Andrew Sullivan reminds us that one reason our Founding Fathers put limits on the power of government, and on the democratic majority, was fear that religious passions might get out of hand if they were not suitably constrained. Yes, the Founders were "elitists," out of touch with the "common people." Good! Sullivan's piece also hints at one of the little-known historical ironies of American politics: In the early years of the Republic, Massachusetts was a hotbed of puritanical religious zealotry and Virginia was the home of reasoned, secular moderation. I would almost be tempted to call this a "role reversal," except for the fact that the Massachusetts of today, though secular, is hardly moderate.
March 31, 2006 [LINK]
Mitchell to probe dope use
Prompted by the book Game of Shadows on Barry Bonds, BALCO, and steroid use, Commissioner Selig named former Sen. George Mitchell to head MLB's investigation into the sordid mess. Selig emphasized that it will be an open-ended inquiry. Jason Giambi sounds appropriately contrite, while Gary Sheffield sounds resentful. See MLB.com. Like Pete Rose, pride has made it hard for Bonds to face up to his (almost certain) misdeeds. The broad scope is appropriate, so that Barry Bonds doesn't end up looking like a persecuted scapegoat, but that raises a real risk that fans will become deeply disillusioned by further revelations. There really needs to be a wide-open discussion among fans, players, and experts on how to handle playing statistics during the Steroid Era. Since some players are more likely to 'fess up than othes, we can never be sure who was really innocent, or who may have only cheated a little. We can't just erase the last 15 years, but how can we ever make proper historical comparisons. Ugh. Mitchell is widely respected for his years of service as Senate Majority Leader, but I still remember cringing in late 1990 at his lame excuse for not holding a Senate debate on the question of war against Iraq, on the grounds that it was a "hypothetical contingency." Truly gutless.
Ballpark for Marlins?
The Marlins have been snooping around for a city friendly enough to build them a new home, but San Antonio, Porland, Las Vegas, Norfolk all have serious drawbacks. Mike Zurawski has been keeping up with a discussion thread at Oregon Stadium Campaign Forum, where someone announced a new blog: Marlins Ballpark News. Folks in Miami are "keeping hope alive!" Much as I find the idea of summer baseball in Florida (or Arizona, for that matter) a bit much to swallow, I hope they can work out a deal and build a decent (meaning roofless and not extravagant) ballpark in Miami. (In case of hurricane, there is always Montreal as a backup site...) Mike also point out some more photos of the new Wrigley Field bleachers at bleedcubbieblue.com,
I was perusing the Richmond Times Dispatch yesterday and noticed that the R-Braves are still pushing for a new stadium to replace The Diamond, exception the likely alternative sites are now at least as far from downtown (one mile) as their current home is. There will be a public hearing on the matter on April 6. I still think the whole idea of replacing a perfectly decent stadium that is only 20 years old is ridiculous.
Orioles lead Nats
In the first (exhibition) game of what will become a heated rivalry, the team from Baltimore scored four runs in the sixth inning, and now hold a 9-3 lead over the Nationals at RFK Stadium. Arghhh... The Nationals play their first regulation game against the Mets at Shea Stadium on Monday, while RFK is converted for use in a D.C. United soccer match. The Nats' home opener is on April 11, also against the Mets.
March 31, 2006 [LINK]
Iraq security forces not trusted
According to Baghdad Burning, the infiltration of Iraqi security forces by militias has gotten out of hand, and not even the Iraqi government can trust them. Apparently fake uniforms and insignia are confusing people about who really is or isn't an official police officer or soldier. The following announcement was broadcast on TV:
The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area.
Link via Belmont Club, which says it's "Crunch time in Iraq." (I had a similar experience at the airport in Lima, Peru in 1994, with private guards in brown uniforms who were performing official customs inspections duties. It's rather unnerving if you don't know your way around.)
Condi admits Iraq errors
While visiting British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in England, Secretary of State Rice acknowledged multiple tactical mistakes in the war in Iraq, "thousands of them, I'm sure," but emphasized that that the fundamental strategic decision was correct. See BBC. That echoes my perspective exactly. It probably won't convince any of the anti-Bush/anti-U.S. crowd, but it should reassure sensible moderates and thoughtful skeptics that at least the administration is listening to critics. Now if President Bush could only speak with as much candor, perhaps his approval ratings would rebound.
Iraq's WMD threat
An article by James Lacey in the April National Review, "The Threat Saddam Posed," reminds us that there was in fact a great deal of evidence on Iraq's WMD programs that was gathered by the Iraqi Survey Group. Reasonable people can interpret such evidence in different ways, but it is hard to understand the Democrats' inclination to err on the down side in WMD capability estimates, given the huge risk of doing so.
March 31, 2006 [LINK]
End of March, onset of Spring
Now that it has finally warmed up, many flowers are in full bloom, including these daffodils. I took a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning, but no new migrants were present, just Purple finches, Cedar waxwings, a Golden-crowned kinglet , a Towhee, and the usuals.
Roll the mouse over this image to see a Mourning dove that was in our back yard yesterday. Click to see the Golden-crowned kinglet.
Can it really have been six whole weeks since I took the jonquil* photo? Global warming or not, Spring has been s-l-o-w to arrive in Virginia this year.
* According to the usually-reliable Wikipedia, "jonquil" is just a name variation of the daffodil, part of the narcissus family, not a separate species.
March 30, 2006 [LINK]
Brazil's first astronaut
Lt. Col. Marcos Pontes became the first Brazilian to go into space today, riding a Russian Soyuz rocket headed toward the International Space Station. He was joined by American astronaut Jeffrey Williams and a Russian on a mission that will last nine days. Brazil's space program suffered a big setback three years ago when one of their rockets exploded on the launch pad. See CNN.com and Correio do Brasil.
Costa Rican scientist Franklin Chang-Diaz became the first Latin American to go into space in 1986, and ultimately completed seven missions aboard the space shuttles Columbia, Atlantis, Endeavor, and Discovery. He retired as an astronaut in 2002. See nasa.gov.
March 30, 2006 [LINK]
Kaplan: "The Coming Normalcy"
In this month's Atlantic Monthly, Robert Kaplan takes a hard look at the U.S.-led reconstruction of Iraq. The title of the article is a take-off on his landmark 1994 article "The Coming Anarchy," which was dismally pessimistic about prospects for governability and development in Africa, and in much of the Third World. Now his pessimism is offset by guarded optimism. His newest article is based largely on his recent visit to Iraq, focusing on the pacification efforts of the 1st (Stryker) Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division deployed in Mosul. When they arrived in September 2004, the streets were in chaos, and the police were nowhere to be seen. Now, there is a semblance of normalcy, and the police actually make patrols. Kaplan provides a balanced, truthful depiction of current conditions in the parts of Iraq that do not make the evening news. He does not paint a "rosy scenario," and he blames the Bush administration for failing to provide sufficient material and manpower resources to ensure a successful transition. Nevertheless, he thinks that Iraq's long-term prospects are reasonably good, which may bode well for other parts of the Third World. He lauds the trial-and-error learning experience of U.S. Army and Marine units, which are getting better and better all the time at the challenging, difficult, often delicate task of instilling order while building trust.
The biggest problem, as Kaplan rightly notes, is the leadership void on the part of most Iraqis, who are used to timid, blind obedience to an all-powerful despot. The idea that there should be an ongoing contest to see who is most worthy to lead -- whether based on merit, courage, or charisma -- is quite alien to their experience. It's the same problem that exists in all post-totalitarian societes, from Germany to Japan to Russia to Romania. The human qualities of leadership that are needed in democratic governments are systematically squelched by dictators, lest someone arise to take their place. In some formerly dictatorial countries, there remains a latent capacity in society to adjust and make the transition to freedom, while others fall short. There is simply no pat solution to this dilemma; at some point Iraqi leaders are going to "step up to the plate" and assume primary responsibility for their country's security, or else Iraq will remain mired in protracted violence for years to come.
President Bush always speaks with confidence about the ability of the Iraqis to "stand up" while our forces gradually "stand down," but he might consider a blunter rhetorical approach to galvanize the Iraqis into action. He should repeat his firm assurance that U.S. forces will remain in Iraq and do all we can to encourage a transition to stable self-government. This implies, very subtly, that we simply cannot do it all on our own; it also implies that there is a time limit to our involvement. The danger with saying that we will stay "as long as necessary," as Bush often does, is that it downplays the urgent need for Iraqi leaders to step forward and build a strong state that commands respect. This is a subtle distinction, between intensity of effort versus duration of effort, but I think it would convey the right message to the Iraqi people, who need to be reassured but not coddled. Bush needs to spell out, in an appropriately discreet way, the hideous, dire consequences of ultimate failure on the part on the Iraqi leaders themselves: a hellish, Hobbesian nightmare.
MBC grad gives her life
I was recently shocked to learn that 1st Lieutenant Sarah Small, a former student of mine at Mary Baldwin College, died in a road accident last September while serving on a mission in Egypt. She is the first graduate of the ROTC-affiliated Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership (VWIL) to have made the ultimate sacrifice. She was a public affairs officer in the U.S. Air Force. I remember Sarah as a bright, enthusiastic student who displayed a mature devotion to her country. She was in my seminar in Third World Security Issues, the subject matter of which was a bit more challenging than some of the students had bargained for. I am sure that it benefited Sarah in carrying out her duties in the Middle East. On Saturday there was a ceremony for her on the MBC campus, at which her parents were present, and a memorial placque was dedicated to her. Mr. and Mrs. Small should be very proud of their daughter, and they deserve public recognition and sympathy for their painful, tragic loss. For details, see the Staunton News Leader.
March 29, 2006 [LINK]
Will fat cats buy Nats' tickets?
As mega-lobbyist Jack Abramoff faces jail time for having perverted the meaning of democracy in Our Nation's Capital, the Washington Nationals are getting nervous that ticket sales might drop off as a consequence of tighter scrutiny of entertainment favors that are one of the most common means of wielding influence in Congress. See Washington Post.
This may be bad timing for Major League Baseball, because a drop in expected ticket revenues could seriously affect the market value of the Nationals franchise, the sale of which is expected to be announced almost any day. According to one rumor, the Lerner family has already been told that it won the bid. I wonder if the series of nasty editorials by Washington Post columnist Colbert King against the main contender, Fred Malek, might have anything to do with the MLB decision?
Fenway, Miller, AT&T Park fixups
Mike Zurawski referred me to more photos of the upper deck construction at Fenway Park, as well as some of the new picnic area in right field at Miller Park, but it's hard to see any details. The Giants are making some improvements to AT&T Park; see MLB.com.
League Park update
The diagram for League Park has been updated and now conforms to the new standard; early year versions will be available soon.
March 29, 2006 [LINK]
Mexico's view on emigration
That was quite a display of national pride by the flag-waving immigrants-rights protesters in Los Angeles and other cities, wasn't it? There is certainly no question as to which country their loyalty is owed. The Mexican government had a full-page ad in the Washington Post last week, [outlining] their general position on the immigration problem. Much of it consisted of bland euphemisms that were too vague to discern specific intentions with regard to policy, but there were a few notable points:
- Migration should be a shared responsibility, in the spirit of international cooperation.
- Mexico's migration policy must be evaluated and updated within 15 to 20 years. (no hurry)
- Mexico must strengthen the fight against smuggling of humans and document forgery.
- Mexico's north and south (!) borders should be secured and fortified.
- Each country has sovereign right to regulate entry, but the U.S. should fully incorporate existing undocumented persons into their communities.
- A guest worker program is a necessary part of solution; Mexico should participate in it.
- Guest workers should be encouraged to return home by tax breaks on construction of homes in Mexico, and by allowing U.S. pension benefits to be paid to retirees in Mexico.
Details are spelled out in a special report: Mexico and the Migration Phenomenon, from the Secretary of Foreign Relations. As for their southern border, the rigid policy of Mexico in resisting immigrants from Guatemala is well known to those who follow events in Mexico, but perhaps not to most Americans. "Do as we say, not as we do!" What is most distressing about the message from Mexico is the absence of any acknowledgment that the lack of job opportunities in Mexico results from public policies that discourage capital formation. To Mexico's credit, there was no hint that the terms of the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo (1848) should be reexamined. In all seriousness, I look forward to a series of frank, candid dialogues on how to address the immigration crisis. I do recognize that Mexico's political system is even more stagnated and resistant to reform than ours is, but that does not excuse inaction on either side of the border.
Financial scandal in Brazil
After an ugly scandal involving sex and violations of banking secrecy laws, Antonio Palocci resigned as Brazilian finance minister, and has been replaced by Guido Mantega. Palocci was considered a moderate who had the confidence of investors in Brazil, and his departure sparked a sell-off of the national currency, the real. President "Lula" da Silva is running for another four-year term in October, and his popularity has eroded because of the scandals over the past year, but no serious challengers are yet on the horizon. See washingtonpost.com.
Spring break in Cancun
Did any president ever need a Spring break more than George W. Bush? He left Washington and headed for Cancun this afternoon to meet with Mexico's lame-duck President Fox and with Canada's new Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This is the first time in nearly a century that all three countries have been led by conservatives* at the same time, and given the low prospects for President Fox's National Action Party in the upcoming elections, it may be a long time before a similar all-conservative summit happens again.
* Some conservative pundits such as George Will and Andrew Sullivan would question whether "W" is a genuine conservative.
March 28, 2006 [LINK]
Is it civil war or sectarian strife?
The escalation in killing in Iraq over the past month makes some people think that the dreaded worst-case scenario of civil war has come to pass. In Sunday's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer ridicules that fear, saying that it has been a civil war since at least 2004, except that only one side (the Sunnis) was actively engaged until recently. He observes:
Now all of a sudden everyone is shocked to find Iraqis going after Iraqis. But is it not our entire counterinsurgency strategy to get Iraqis who believe in the new Iraq to fight Iraqis who want to restore Baathism or impose Taliban-like rule? Does not everyone who wishes us well support the strategy of standing up the Iraqis so we can stand down? And does that not mean getting the Iraqis to fight the civil war themselves?
Maybe so. For Krauthammer, the main thing is to prevent the militiamen loyal to vicious extremists like Moqtada al-Sadr from infiltrating the police and army forces. As long as that can be managed, there will come a time when most Sunnis decide that their lives would be better off if they cooperate with local authorities and security forces than with the terrorists. The war will end only gradually, as political agreements are reached at the provincial and local levels. The United States will have only limited influence over this process, which in any case will probably escape most Americans' notice as the violence recedes.
At Strategy Page, Jim Dunnigan makes a distinction between sectarian strife and civil war, which is very appropriate when you look at the facts. Most of the recent killings are motivated by revenge, feudalistic clan vs. clan, and there is no indication that they are part of a coordinated strategy. The absence of a strategic goal behind the brutal killings is not necessarily a "good" thing, but it does help to understand that the road ahead may not be as difficult as it sometimes seems. Iraq has a lot of pent-up anger and resentment from the decades of dictatorial rule by Saddam Hussein, and this potential force was bound to be released eventually, one way or the other. If Iraq does get as bad as Lebanon was in the late 1970s, with constant mortar fire and well-defined zones of control, then the United States would have to contemplate taking sides to resolve the issue. Otherwise, we would have to back out of urban patrol duties, and hope that one or both sides becomes weary or war sooner rather than later.
Amidst the terrible loss of life among the Iraqi people, one bright note should be mentioned: The number of American war deaths this month (currently 24) will probably be the lowest for any month since February 2004. It will almost certainly mark the fifth consecutive month of declining U.S. war fatalities in Iraq.
If all one reads is the headlines, pessimism about the war is certainly understandable, but some people are getting carried away. Gary Hart, whom I once admired as a crusader for military and economic reform, recently opined in the Huffington Post that the U.S. Army in Iraq was headed for a defeat of the same historic magnitude as Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812. To put all the current commentary in perspective, Gateway Pundit reviews some of the astonishingly and otherwise wrong previous estimates of the course the war would take. (via Instapundit). To me, what is interesting that three years into the war the overall balance of opinion on the war's likely outcome has not changed very much. It's as if the facts are irrelevant. When the war began, I considered myself "guardedly optimistic" about victory. At various points I've become slightly more upbeat (optimistic) or downbeat (uncertain) in response to the changing fortunes of war, and am now "guardedly optimistic" once again.
March 28, 2006 [LINK]
Just your average back yard birds
A Robin was looking for worms and bugs in our back yard this morning. [The photo I took of it was later replaced by a better one.] Most people think of Robins as a sign of Spring, but in fact, they spend the winter in most of the Lower 48 states, confining themselves to wooded ravines for the most part. Male Robins (such as this one) are slightly darker in color than females.
Later on, a group of Grackles came by to snarf up what was left under the bird feeder; roll the mouse over the image to see one glaring at the camera.
March 28, 2006 [LINK]
Lethal vengeance in Peru?
As the pivotal election in Peru approaches, the rhetoric is getting more heated all the time. Antauro Humala, the retired military officer and brother of presidential candidate Ollanta Humala, with whom he has plotted armed insurrections in recent years, declared that there should be a "historical lesson to the corrupt politicians and traitors," calling for President Alejandro Toledo, his wife Eliane Karp, former Economy Minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, and others to be executed by a rifle squad. He is currently serving time at the Piedras Gordas prison, which may explain his bitterness. See Peru.com.
Monday's Washington Post has a background article that reminds me why the ironic phrase I use for Latin America -- "Land of Eternal Eternity" -- is often quite apt. Argentina and several other countries are reversing the trend of the 1990s whereby water, telephone, and electrical utilities were privatized and sold to foreign investors, usually French or Spanish conglomerates. It was a very sensible, expedient way for the government to liquidate hopelessly inefficient enterprises and allow a whole new team to come in and get things working again. Of course, that meant that many non-productive people were fired, and most people's utility bills went way up, since the government was no longer subsidizing those services. There were bitter complaints, but there was no real alternative, and gradually most residential customers enjoyed a much better level of service. I can attest to that from seeing Peru in 1994, 1996-1997, and 2004. As part of the general political trend toward nationalism and populism in recent years, however, many governments are reversing course, as if the lessons of the past about how inefficient the government was in providing utility services had been completely forgotten. It is truly tragic.
March 28, 2006 [LINK]
Fukuyama & the Neocon squabble
Francis Fukuyama's new book, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy has created quite a furor in wonkdom. It was reviewed in Sunday's Washington Post by Gary Rosen, who finds it "sober, fair-minded, even a bit dry." He says that Fukuyama "remains committed to the promotion of democracy," but would prefer to use "soft power" (a dubious term coined by Joseph Nye that really means nothing more than "influence") rather than coercion. Fukuyama's "newfound realistic Wilsonianism" strikes me as a bit oxymoronic, frankly. To me, it is self-evident that the United States should encourage the spread of liberal democracy and capitalism wherever it is feasible and opportune -- not as part of an all-out crusade. "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink it." Rosen upbraids Fukuyama for the "apostasy" in denying that political liberalization of the Middle East would result in less violence, contradicting the core argument of his classic book, The End of History and the Last Man.
I've been puzzled that someone whose primary intellectual influence was Friedrich Hegel could be considered by so many people a neoconservative; I remain convinced (see Feb. 22) that this perception owes more to the political realignment precipitated by 9/11 than anything else. The Neocons' main inspiration was Leo Strauss (University of Chicago, 1950s), but he is not even cited in The End of History and the Last Man! It may simply be that Fukuyama is too prone to bending in whatever direction current political winds are blowing. Fukuyama's "End of History" thesis -- that humanity was entering a final historical era in which liberal democracy and managed capitalism will spread throughout the world -- was based on a Hegelian philosophy of history as steady progression. Hegel and Auguste Comte (founder of the derivative positivism) both placed heavy emphasis on utilizing natural sciences to understand human behavior. Not surprisingly, their works are grounded in the then-current Newtonian scientific paradigm, which is in the process of being gradually superseded by the emerging science of nonlinear dynamical systems ("Chaos Theory"), which holds that ultimate outcomes are often unpredictable. When Fukuyama spoke at U.Va.'s Miller Center ten or so years ago, I asked him if his theory wasn't premised upon Newtonian mechanical precepts, and he downplayed the connection. It seemed like a very inconsistent application of scientific thought to me.
In today's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer really rips into Fukuyama for misrepresenting, in the preface to his new book, what Krauthammer had said in an American Enterprise Institute forum in 2004. Krauthammer did not say the war in Iraq was an "unqualified success." Indeed, his presentation was making a general case about the proper course of U.S. foreign policy, to wit:
Call it democratic realism. And this is its axiom: We will support democracy everywhere, but we will commit blood and treasure only in places where there is a strategic necessity -- meaning, places central to the larger war against the existential enemy, the enemy that poses a global mortal threat to freedom.
Exactly. Krauthammer distinguishes his approach from that of Hans Morgenthau, but I don't think the difference is a great as he supposes. Morgenthau had a deep awareness of the American purpose, and knew that foreign policy -- even when guided by balance of power calculations -- could not be entirely divorced from principle or ethics. As for Fukuyama and his "divorce" from the Neocons, one wonders what if any consistent intellectual theme exists behind his stellar, yet meandering, scholarly career.
A prime example of the grossly erroneous popular understanding the neoconservative movement was the Rolling Stones' song "Sweet Neocon." One line goes, "You call yourself a Christian, ... I think that you're a hypocrite." As any reasonably informed person knows, however, Paul Wolfowitz and most other Neocons are in fact Jewish.
Andrew Card resigns
Given the recent tailspin in White House political fortunes, it was inevitable that there would be some staff changes. What was uncertain was whether such changes might portend a shift in policy or political style. This morning's resignation by Andrew Card suggests to me that President Bush is "staying the course" with Karl Rove. The replacement for Card, Josh Bolten, is known to be a close associate of Rove. From the televised announcement in the White House (text available at whitehouse.gov), he seems like a decent enough guy, but at this point I see no reason to hope that Bush will do what is necessary to regain the political initiative. What Bush really needs is some political veteran from outside the White House who can tell the President the painful truths he needs to hear. That is the role served by Howard Baker in the Reagan White House after the Iran-Contra scandal broke out. Andrew Card was one of my favorites in the White House, showing a rare combination of political wisdom, effectiveness, and human decency. He was the guy who whispered to Bush the awful news about the 9/11 attacks when Bush was visiting an elementary school in Florida. The President's top assistants have been under terrible stress and fatigue lately, and this is one of those cases where needing "to spend more time with one's family" sounds sincere. Good job, Andrew!
March 27, 2006 [LINK]
The war to save wildlife
As the violence in Iraq escalates almost every day, even those of us who believe in the cause and have strong hope in ultimate success are prone to having second thoughts. Whenever I come across some vicious anti-Bush screed in the op-ed pages, however, I am inclined to refresh my memory on all of the good things that the liberation of Iraq has brought about. For us nature lovers, high on that list would be the restoration the marshlands of southern Iraq that Saddam Hussein had deliberately drained so as to flush out and eliminate opposition by the largely Shiite Marsh Arabs. In the last two years, the lower stretches of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers have become a true "Eden Again." For the full story, see Iraq Foundation. If you ask me, anyone who sincerely believes in protecting the environment and conserving wildlife should have been strongly in favor of removing Saddam Hussein from power. He was the one who ordered that all of the oil wells in Kuwait be torched when his army was defeated there in 1991. How anyone could argue that we should have left such a dictator alone is beyond me.
March 27, 2006 [LINK]
Baseball research at U.Va.
After tracking down a rare book in my old stomping grounds in the libraries at the University of Virginia on Saturday, I squeezed in some time to look up some baseball references which I had misplaced long ago. When I first began drawing pencil sketches of stadiums in my grad school days (as a diversion to stay sane), one of my main sources was The Mutual Baseball Almanac (edited by Roger Kahn), which included stadium diagrams in several of the editions in the 1950s. Another very useful source was Baseball Guide and Record Book (1947), by J.G. Taylor Spink and others. It included wonderfully detailed and amusing cartoon illustrations (by Gene Mack) of all the major league ballparks then in operation. For the Polo Grounds, for example, a young lad is pictured in the right field corner upper deck saying, "Aw, I could hit a homer here."
I also came across a book I had never seen before: Miracle in Atlanta: The Atlanta Braves Story, by Furman Bisher. It's all about the lengthy negotiations that led to relocation of the Braves franchise from Milwaukee to Atlanta, which was finally consummated in 1966. In October 1964, the Braves signed a 25-year contract to play in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, then under construction, and if it weren't for the legal injunctions filed by the state of Wisconsin, they probably would have moved to Atlanta in 1965. (Actually the Braves did play an exhibition game with the Tigers just before the 1965 regular season began, much like the Expos played two exhibition games in Washington in 1999, one of which I saw.) Negotiations between the Braves and Atlanta mayor Ivan Allen began in 1963, and the possibility of using rickety old Ponce de Leon Field for the 1964 season was even considered! Charlie Finley, owner of the Kansas City Athletics, was also courted in 1962 and 1963. The Atlanta stadium was a classic case of a sports facility built on speculation, but the book's author puts a quaint upbeat spin on the deal, writing that the stadium was
built purely on one big league baseball team's promise that it would be there. No greater faith can one man have in the word of another, for it could have cost Mills B. Lane $600,000 of somebody's money, mostly his own, and Ivan Allen Jr., his political career.
Can you imagine someone writing something like that in today's world? I've added that book and the other two mentioned above to the list of Sources, and will add brief citations to the list of sources on the appropriate stadium pages.
Will Congress give us Nats TV?
Virginia Rep. Tom Davis (R), known as a big baseball fan, has threatened to introduce legislation to compel Comcast to show more Washington Nationals baseball games this summer. Because of the continuing impasse with Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (a.k.a., ""Mr. Angelos Screws the Nationals", fewer than half of the home games will be available to Comcast subscribers this year. Washington Post. I'm sympathetic to what Davis is seeking, but there is always a danger in using legislation for highly targeted economic regulation purposes, such as when the Maryland legislature passsed a law aimed at WalMart.
March 27, 2006 [LINK]
Brown thrasher arrives
While walking behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning, I heard some very odd bird calls in the bushes. After several minutes I caught a glimpse of a Brown thrasher, the first time I had ever seen one before April. (Global warming? Not here.) I also spotted quite a few Purple finches (all female), Goldfinches, and a Golden-crowned kinglet (female).
This Mockingbird (which is a relative of the Brown thrasher) posed for me on this Forsythia bush. Roll the mouse over this image to see the [Hyacinth] in full bloom, at the bottom of that same bush.
The Wild birds introductory page, which shows the first sighting date each season/year for migratory bird species since 1997, has been reorganized. There is a new, separate table for migratory birds that spend the winter in Virginia, as opposed to those that spend the summer in this region or further north.
March 27, 2006 [LINK]
Team spirit: GMU to Final Four!
To the astonishment of everyone, the George Mason University Patriots pulled one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history yesterday, beating top-ranked Connecticut and earning a birth to the Final Four round in Indianapolis next weekend. This will really put GMU on the map in terms of public awareness, boosting applications for admission. Unbeknownst to most people, George Mason is home to one of the best economics departments in the country, thanks in large part to Dr. James Buchanan, who won the the 1986 Nobel Prize in Economics for originating "public choice" theory. Another high-profile institution affiliated with GMU is the Institute for Humane Studies, a libertarian think tank now headquartered at the GMU School of Law in Arlington.
I've driven past the main campus of GMU in Fairfax, Virginia hundreds of times over the years, but I think the only time I went inside was when I escorted some nieces [actually, young girls who later became my nieces by marriage] to a Milli Vanilli concert at the Patriot Center in 1989. The (purported) vocalists seemed very uncomfortable on stage, straining hard at the microphone. One year later I found out why.
Not to beat a dead horse (OK, I'm beating a dead horse), but isn't the remarkable victory by George Mason yet another example of how passion, dogged determination, and group effort count for more than individual excellence when it's Crunch Time? I refer, of course, to the recent blogospheric controversy over Kirby Puckett and whether he really deserved to be in the Hall of Fame.
Better luck next year for Phil Faranda's alma mater, Villanova. The Wildcats would have faced the Patriots in the semifinals. That makes me wonder, What will become of the RCA Dome after this year? That, in turn, reminds me that some have asked whether I intend to make basketball or hockey version diagrams of MLB stadiums. If so, I'd have to do so for the Metrodome, the Kingdome, and Tropicana Field, at least. "Just wait till next year!"
March 26, 2006 [LINK]
No cash prize for Cuba
Fidel Castro will not be able to carry out his pledge to donate the 2nd-place prize money from the World Baseball Championship to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, because Cuba will not get any of the money. The first place team (Japan) is supposed to get nine percent of the net proceeds (if any), and the runner-up gets seven percent. As a condition for participating in the WBC, however, the Cuban government had previously agreed not to accept any money. Otherwise, it would have been a violation of U.S. laws. (See CNN.com) That's funny, I could have sworn the Cold War was over... Castro insisted that such a donation would not be "wasteful extravagance," but rather an "investment in humanity." (Whether the gesture might have been influenced in some small way by Cuban propaganda objectives is another question, however.) See the Granma Web site for the official Cuban version of these events (en español).
In Cuba's defense, it should be noted that not one Cuban player defected, quite a contrast to the Atlanta 1996 Olympics.
March 26, 2006 [LINK]
Spring!? Swallows arrive
Notwithstanding the fact that Spring has supposedly arrived, yesterday it snowed! Not much, just enough to cover the grass. As I was driving across the Blue Ridge at Afton in mid-afternoon, I encountered a veritable blizzard, with minimal visibility. That is one of the biggest accident-prone traffic chokepoints in all of Virginia, so it was rather scary. Today was a bit milder, so on my way back from Blockbuster's this afternoon, I headed out to Bell's Lane. Today's list includes two first birds of the Spring, and one first bird of the Winter:
- 5+ Tree swallows (FOS)
- 5+ N. rough-winged swallows (FOS)
- 15+ American coots
- 8+ Ruddy ducks
- Pied-bill grebe
- Kestrel (F)
- 7 Killdeers
- Great blue heron
- 2 Buffleheads ! (FOS)
- Red-tailed hawk
- 200+ Canada geese
- 20+ Red-winged blackbirds
Several Grackles appeared in our back yard today for the first time since last summer, and two Great blue herons flew overhead just before dusk. Also, two Downy woodpeckers have been visiting our suet feeder every day, so we hope they build a nest near by.
March 24, 2006 [LINK]
Windfall from D.C. stadium?
According to a report issued by D.C. official Natwar Gandhi, cited in the Washington Post, the Washington Nationals' annual revenues are expected to climb from $125 million to $203 million in the first year of the new baseball stadium, based on sales of 3.17 million tickets. It would then probably edge down in subsequent years as the excitement and novelty wear off. That would put the Nats in the same elite class as the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Cubs, and Dodgers. (And to think that two years ago, people like Peter Angelos were still arguing that Washington couldn't support a major league team!) The article doesn't talk about profitability, which is a sensitive subject, but you can bet it will be high. I assume that this report is timed to persuade the soon-to-be-named new owners of the Nationals -- probably the Lerner family, or else Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients -- to make a reasonable offer of contributing extra money to make sure that the new ballpark has all the necessary finishing touches.
Field of Schemes
Coincidentally, I just received in the mail an inscribed copy of Field of Schemes, the book by Joanna Cagan and Neil deMause. See their Web site, where you can (and should) buy your own copy. So far, it's been a great read, with lots of fascinating, juicy details about how public officials and team owners mustered the money to build the sports palaces of the last couple decades. It makes one cringe to read about such dirty little secrets as the guaranteed ticket buy-back clause that San Diego agreed to as part of the lease terms when Jack Murphy Stadium was renovated and renamed a decade ago. It's like something you would expect from Pete Rose.
World Baseball Classic wrap-up
Congratulations to Japan! The final game between Cuba and Japan was a fitting, dramatic climax to a tournament that got off to a slow start, and finally started drawing some broad attention in the later rounds. I was following that game on the GameDay feature (the WBC Web site was obviously part of the MLB operation), and was riveted by the late-inning drama. The Cubans (all amateurs, of course) made a come-back effort, but the Japanese scored some insurance runs in the top of the ninth, going on to win, 10-6.
The WBC was perhaps a little too unusual to fully appreciate at first. The next time around, baseball fans in the U.S. and abroad will know what to expect from the format. As Mike Bauman notes at MLB.com, this was a wake-up call for Americans, but we really don't need to feel too glum. Other countries simply have a stronger zeal to compete, and we should feel proud at inspiring such athletic endeavor and fan enthusiasm. (Did you see those images of Japanese fans going wild?) Just wait till 2009!
Luis Ayala hurt his arm while pitching for Mexico in the WBC, helping to defeat the U.S.A. 2-1. Well, that oughta teach him! Unfortunately, losing the reliable reliever will be a big blow to the Washington Nationals, whose pitching staff is already dangerously thin.
All Star game in K.C.?
In an obvious attempt to encourage Missouri voters to pass the stadium renovation referendum next month, Bud Selig announced that Kansas City will host the All Star game for a second time, some time between 2010 and 2014, by which time the planned renovations should be completed. See MLB.com. (hat tip to Mike Zurawski)
March 24, 2006 [LINK]
In the footsteps of France?
I try to refrain from bashing France, but the news today makes it hard not to. President Jacques Chirac's conservative (by their standards) party is trying to pass a bill that would make it easier to fire workers who fail to perform, eliciting sharp resistance. Protests against the proposed reform law (known as the CPE, meaning "First Job Contract") have turned violent, but unlike last November, the perpetrators are the French people themselves. Back then, Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy bore the brunt of criticism, and now Prime Minister Pierre Villepin is on the hot seat. Since the two men are the main contenders for the Gaullist party's candidate in the next presidential elections, it would appear that conservative politics are on the decline in France. For much more background on this, see today's Washington Post. To his credit, President Chirac thus far has refused to be intimidated by the riots or the ultimatum issued by the French labor leader, but he probably doesn't have enough political capital left to prevail; see BBC.
What on Earth is wrong with the French? How could a proud, highly civilized country descend into such chaos and tumult? Well, it's not the first time, of course: Charles DeGaulle was faced with a similar ugly mass uprising by students in 1968, so such upheaval is something of a local tradition. Still, it is a clear symptom of a system that has gone awry. The French political establishment has become complacent and stuck in a rut over the years, pretending that things will get better on their own. France is probably the most egregious of all the European social democracies, with generous entitlements and long six-week paid vacations, as long as you "belong." It's a good life: the French Dream.
How can they possibly afford to keep this up in an era of global-scale competition? With cheap immigrant workers who are ineligible for such benefits, that's how. When a country is populated with coddled, blissfully ignorant people with their heads buried deep in the sand ("What clash of civilizations?"), bad policy is the usual result. On one hand, the beneficiaries of the (soon-to-be defunct) status quo resent any suggestion that they must change their ways, and on the other hand, the excluded/exploited ones (African Muslims, by and large) resent their inferior social and legal status. Over time, the present course will lead inevitably to sharply increased friction between the native French and the immigrants, accelerating France's decline as a world power. Interestingly, all this is happening at the same time that two smaller European countries are beginning to wake up and smell the coffee. Denmark and the Netherlands are tired of being pushed around, and are now standing up against the Islamic incursion.
Immigration debate in the U.S.
So, what does this have to do with us? Take a look at the protest marches by immigrant "advocates" across the country this week. By happenstance, today's Washington Post also had a major story on the Great Immigration Debate that is causing great unease within the Party of Lincoln. Ironically, John McCain is lining up with President Bush in urging that a guest worker program be included, while Bill Frist is leaning toward the strong zero-tolerance position of Tom Tancredo. No doubt, the prominence given to this story may have something to do with the Post's editorial slant, and their desire to sow division among the Republicans. Nevertheless, it does provide a perfect illustration of how the Republican Party -- and indeed, our Republic -- has recently veered off in a dangerous direction, as a consequence of the short-term priority given to winning elections (let's call that the "Tom DeLay approach") over the pursuit of long-term structural reforms (the "Newt Gingrich approach"). It is the eternal conflict between the contrasting imperatives of policy efficacy (governmental actions that achieve their stated goals) on one hand, versus political expedience (staying in office) on the other. To understand this debate, it is necessary to take a look at the state and local level of politics.
The debate in Virginia
Many people criticized GOP candidate for governor Jerry Kilgore for pushing the immigration issue too hard last fall, but I disagree. The problem is, as I stated last Sept. 28, is that he failed to draw the obvious (well, it's obvious to me) linkage between immigration and the broader need for a comprehensive social-economic policy reform. With mere half-measures, in contrast, people will doubt that you are sincerely committed to that ultimate goal. Kilgore laid out an ambitious reform agenda in the primary campaign, and then reverted to harsh attacks during the fall campaign against Tim Kaine, all but forgetting his original agenda. Result: an embarrassing and entirely avoidable loss. So how have Virginia Republicans reacted to this setback? By thoughtfully reconsidering the premises of the "Get Out The Vote" strategy (i.e., exhorting the conservative base while ignoring the moderates)? No, by blaming each other. I have personally witnessed so much bickering and recrimination over the disappointing election results last November that I am getting sick to my stomach.
The debate in Illinois
Red-state Virginia is hardly alone in confronting this dilemma. Thanks to a tip from José Rodriguez, I learned that a similar controversy has split the Illinois Republican Party, where Judy Baar Topinka -- currently the state treasurer, and considered a moderate -- just won the primary election against four (!) party rivals, mostly conservatives. The runner-up, Jim Oberweis, sharply criticized the third-place candidate, Bill Brady, for voting to allow the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates. Brady is reluctant to hold children accountable for their parents' transgressions, which is understandable. See Chicago Sun Times. It is a similar rationale that Virginia State Sen. Emmet Hanger gave recently; see Feb. 10. I have no idea if Topinko has a reasonable shot at unseating incumbent Governor Blagojevich, but the public squabbling among rival Republicans during the primary season certainly didn't help their chances any.
Crunch time for GOP
I think these cases illustrate a gnawing problem within the Republican Party across America, which is in danger losing touch with its traditional conservative roots in a scramble to attract more votes via dumbed-down populist appeals. Jerry Kilgore kept saying last year that "Republicans trust the people," but that's not how many of them act when they are on the campaign trail. Over-coached by cynical advisers, they often pander to fashionable popular sentiments (e.g., "gas prices are too high!"), hemming and hawing when it comes to tough issues. This kind of behavior wastes the huge advantage the Republicans have as the party of economic freedom, hope, and opportunity. The more people you convince that they can get ahead in life by working hard and playing by the rules, the more voters the party will attract. With respect to immigration, all we reform advocates ask for is consistent public policy and enforcement of the laws. The status quo is intolerably cruel to immigrant workers, and that is something that everyone should agree on, except for certain unscrupulous businessmen, perhaps. Calling for tighter controls on immigration is not "anti-immigrant," it is anti-exploitation of immigrants!
In sum, unless the Republican Party gets its act together soon and articulates a compelling domestic policy reform agenda based on market principles, in the proud tradition of Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich, it is doomed for the foreseeable future. If Republicans cannot muster enough intellect and imagination to resolve the basic policy vs. politics dilemma on their own, it is hard to see how they can ever hope to govern effectively. Even if the GOP manages to hang on to a slim majority in Congress this fall by heeding the advice of the crass "wise guys" like Karl Rove and Tom DeLay, after that there is nothing but bleakness on the political horizon, if current demographic trends continue. Time is not on our side. One of these days, if we don't wake up, the streets of Queens, El Paso, and Takoma Park will be in flames like the streets of Paris are today. We will look fondly back on the days when we were arguing bitterly about such comparatively trivial matters as the tax rate or how much to pay for widening highways.
UPDATE: The Federation for American Immigration Reform supports Majority Leader Frist's strong stand on immigration. He has issued an ultimatum to the Judiciary Committee to meet his deadline of coming up with a serious alternative immigration bill by March 27, which is Monday. See GOPUSA.com. Hey, maybe some people are starting to listen!
Immigration: Get in line, and Speed up the process.
March 24, 2006 [LINK]
Ospreys on Candid (Web) Camera
Prompted by an inquiry from Brenda Tekin about recent sightings of eagles in this region (I saw three of them on Nov. 6), I checked the Webcam at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, and sure enough, two Ospreys were there. No eggs or chicks, though, as far as I can tell. To see for yourself, just click on this image. (If you are curious about Nature and not too prudish, there is even a photo of the Ospreys mating! ) The first time I saw that Webcam on Nov. 27, a Bald eagle was there.
March 23, 2006 [LINK]
Mob threatens U.S ambassador
U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield protested that pro-Chavez mobs prevented him from entering a social club outside of Caracas earlier this week. He noted that many of the protesters arrived in buses and were provided with meals, which are obvious signs that their actions were state-sponsored. (CNN.com) Perhaps this was in retaliation for the ambassador's recent comment that "The United States could survive with its economy intact without Venezuela as an oil supplier." (So we're not "addicted to oil"?) For his part, Chavez has not let up in his series of childish insults and taunts of President Bush ("Mr. Danger") and the U.S. government. Chavez may be stirring up trouble as a means to squelch a nascent secessionist movement by Chavez opponents in the oil-rich region of Zulia in western Venezuela. It's probably not serious, but the mere possibility is too much to tolerate.
Campaign in Peru gets rough
With the election less than three weeks away, populist former military officer Ollanta Humala holds a slight lead over the conservative candidate, Lourdes Flores Nano, according to the latest polls. APRA leader and ex-President Alan Garcia is in third place. During a recent campaign stop in the highland city of Huancavelica, some of Humala's supporters threw rocks at Flores, but she was not hurt. Humala has been whipping up resentment among the poor (mostly Indian) people of Peru during his campaign appearances, and the political and economic establishment in Peru are becoming fearful of what might happen if he wins the election. Since it will probably go to a second round, the main question is whether APRA would throw its support to an even more dangerous demagogue than Alan Garcia or put the interests of Peru first by supporting the conservative Flores. (Caretas)
The news chronologies on the Peru and Ecuador pages have been updated, and both now have relatively complete coverage of the news in those countries since the turn of the millenium.
March 22, 2006 [LINK]
Soriano relents, moves to left
After realizing that he was in a no-win situation, and that dragging things out would only damage his reputation even further, Alfonso Soriano conceded and agreed to play left field on a regular basis for the Washington Nationals this season. After that, who knows? See washingtonpost.com. As details emerged about the trade through which the Nationals gave up Brad Wilkerson to the Rangers, it became clear that the whole misunderstanding originated with the refusal of the Rangers to let Nationals GM Jim Bowden talk to Soriano before they consummated the deal. Bowden took a high risk, and he certainly bears some of the blame for this unfortunate situation.
Bruce Orser concludes that Soriano didn't learn from the example of mega-bucks superstar Alex Rodriguez, who graciously moved to third base after he was traded from the Rangers to the Yankees, in deference to incumbent shortstop Derek Jeter. As David Pinto noted,
For the majority of us, a $10 million dollar salary means we're going to do pretty much anything the boss asks, as long as it's not illegal. Playing left field, with that in mind, seems to be a reasonable request.
There is a revised diagram on the Crosley Field page, but early versions (in a "dynamic diagram") are still pending.
UPDATE: Steven Poppe writes:
Notice how New Orleans' NFL and NBA teams played their home games this season in other cities (Saints in San Antonio, Hornets in Oklahoma City)? If New Orleans had a MLB franchise that played in the Superdome, I suspect Bud Selig would have the New Orleans Baseball Club play its entire 2006 home schedule in San Juan, Puerto Rico at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.
Very likely, but he would probably also beg for government disaster relief money to build a new stadium full of luxury suites for fat cats, while displaced local residents wait and wait. Or is that possibility too close to the truth not to be funny?
March 22, 2006 [LINK]
Argentina - Uruguay tensions ease
It appears that Argentina and Uruguay have reached an understanding over two controversial pulp mills that are under construction along the east (Uruguayan) side of the Uruguay River. Presidents Nestor Kirchner and Tabare Vazquez agreed to commission an independent environment study before any construction is resumed. In response, Argentines have called off a blockade that had stymied river ferry traffic for the last two months. See BBC. This situation first came to light in November. Anyone who has driven through the south side of Baltimore knows the awful stench given off by pulp mills, even in modern plants operating under strong environmental laws.
Bomb blasts in La Paz
Two bombs wrecked hotels in La Paz last night, killing at least two people. A Uruguayan woman and an American man have been arrested, but the motives for the attacks are not yet clear.
UPDATE: The American is believed to be mentally disturbed, giving various accounts of his identity and activities. He has been offering explosives and liquor for sale in Bolivia, but police discount any political or terrorist aims. Nevertheless, President Evo Morales took the opportunity to portray the bomb blasts as an attack on Bolivia's democracy, implying it was orchestrated by the U.S. government. See CNN.com.
Martial law in Ecuador
After several days of economic strangulation brought on by anti-free trade protesters, the government of Ecuador declared a state of emergency in five provinces. Army units have forcibly removed roadblocks. Free trade negotiations involving the Andean countries are about to begin in Washington. See BBC
UPDATE: Inmates set fire to a prison in Quito, and one of them died because fire fighters had to dodge bullets. The 900 prisoners are being transfered elsewhere, but conditions are already very crowded and out of control. See CNN.com.
March 21, 2006 [LINK]
Political geography in Virginia
Thanks to Chris Green, the unabashed gun nut and T-shirt mogul, I came across a wonderful Web site, myvirginiagenealogy.com, that includes an interactive map (much like the "dynamic diagrams" on my Baseball pages) that shows the evolution of counties in Virginia since the early colonial days of Jamestown. It is a truly splendid resource, especially for history and geography buffs like me. It also sheds light on one of the odd peculiarities of the Commonwealth: Unlike every other state in the Union, cities are considered entirely separate from, and independent of, the counties in which they are located. If you have ever seen a nationwide county-by-county electoral or demographic map, you will notice that Virginia contains many small "urban islands" within its counties' borders. I remember some civic meeting I attended in Charlottesville in the mid-1990s, at which then-Council member Kay Slaughter was explaining why some proposed project couldn't be done. (It might have concerned schools or roads, but I forget the details.) I made the point that the problem stemmed from Virginia's unique arrangement, and that many problems could be solved if the state constitution were amended to erase the artificial division between cities and counties.
When I took a closer look at the post-1900 maps that show the separate cities, however, I realized to my horror that Staunton was missing! Well, nobody's perfect.
"It's all about Hillary"
Chris also drew my attention to a useful and interesting Web site, Just Hillary, which is run by New York Post political editor Gregg Birnbaum. It purports to be an impartial compilation of the latest news and comments about New York's junior senator, and seems to do a very good job. Rush Limbaugh has pointed out that Senator Clinton has been reticent about the recent Dubai Ports World uproar, perhaps because her husband has done lobbying for some business interests in the United Arab Emirates.
March 20, 2006 [LINK]
Soriano acts like a big jerk
There. I said it. Or as Phil Faranda would put it, more elegantly, he's a "rectal cavity." On his first day back at Spring Training from the WBC, Alfonso Soriano refused to play left field and was taken out of the line up. He may be put on the "disqualified list," which I had never heard of. That would mean he would not get paid, and would not become a free agent, either. See MLB.com. The Nationals simply cannot afford to back down on this and still expect to operate an effective team, so Soriano apparently is asking to be traded. Fine. The problem is, who is going to want to hire such a selfish player?
"Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?"
Plans for Kauffman Stadium
Voters is the Kansas City area have a better idea of what Royals fans will get if the bond issue referendum passes on April 4. The centerpiece of the proposed improvement at Kauffman Stadium is widening and extending the main level concourse all the way around the outfield. There would be new plazas with fancy eateries, standing room, and kids play areas behind the famous waterfalls. To make room for more seats, the bullpens would be moved to foul territory, which seems like a bad idea to me. See MLB.com. One thing's for sure, the team needs a jump start, and this may be it. (via Mike Zurawski)
In lovely PETCO Park, near the San Diego waterfront, it is the bottom of the seventh inning, and Japan leads Cuba 6-3. Steven Poppe is wagering there will be multiple defections by the end of the game. It still doesn't seem right that the Dominican Republic didn't make it to the final game -- or, you know, US!
March 19, 2006 [LINK]
Birding around Appomattox
During our day trip to Appomattox yesterday, Jacqueline and I stopped at a few spots to soak in the solar rays and enjoy nature. I heard a Phoebe at the James River, and saw a Pine warbler at Holliday Lake State Park; both observations were the first of the season. I managed to get a decent photo of a Turkey vulture at the James River, and a Bluebird (mostly obscured by shade, unfortunately) at Appomattox. Yesterday's list:
- Turkey and Black vultures
- Pine warbler (FOS)
- Pileated woodpecker
- Cedar waxwings
- House finches
- Golden-crowned kinglets
March 19, 2006 [LINK]
Princess lays eggs!
We had thought Princess had already reached canary "menopause" (see Dec. 4), but she surprised us by laying two eggs, one each on Thursday and Friday. It's the first time since last June. George apparently could tell this was about to happen because he has been signing every day since Wednesday, the first time he has done so regularly in months. It's not as strongly as he used to sing, but it's nice anyway. On a sad note, Princess lost a third egg that was expelled prematurely, without a shell having formed. That happened to her once before, in May 2002. Her lifetime total is now 151. "You go, girl!"
March 19, 2006 [LINK]
The war comes to Staunton
It was three years ago today [see Iraq War chronology] that U.S. cruise missile and stealth fighter launched aerial attacks on Baghdad, the beginning of "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Protesters gathered to mark the occasion around the country, including here in Staunton. Anti-war demonstrators confronted a group rallying to support the troops in front of the county court house downtown yesterday, and things apparently became rather tense. The anti-war folks were quoted with some typical erroneous assertions, such as "Iraq has never posed any real threat to the U.S." or denying that American troops would be greeted in Iraq as "liberators." (In fact, they were so greeted, by and large.) Jan Harman, whose husband Herb is serving in Iraq right now, was deeply distressed by the protesters, who claim to be "supporting the troops." See Staunton News Leader.
Even though polls seem to indicate growing pessimism on the war in Iraq (including another glum assessment from George Will in today's Washington Post Outlook section), there is a silver lining: the anti-war movement is suffering from internal fighting between those who are sincerely skeptical about the war versus those such as Ramsey Clark (one of Saddam Hussein's defense lawyers) who just plain hate America. See gopusa.com. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is certainly not without flaws, but he is quite correct in today's Washington Post: The terrorists in Iraq have alienated a large portion of the population, creating an opportunity to bolster support for the new democratic government. A critical turning point like this is no time for retreat. If we do bug out, an escalation of violence into all-out civil war would become a very real prospect.
The new blog aimed at mustering donations of items to be sent as care packages to the troops is now up and running: From Our Hearts, run by Benny and Dianne Rankin, owners of T-Bone Tooter restaurant in Churchville, where we had the dinner for Herb Harman last October.
Pilgrimmage to Appomattox
Jacqueline and I missed the big event in Staunton because we paid a visit to Appomattox, where Lee surrendered to Grant on April 9, 1865, nearly 141 years ago. It was a very moving experience, and the theme of healing the wounds of a war-torn nation is very appropriate for the United States today. Let us not forget President Lincoln's words: "With malice toward none; with charity for all..." See the new Appomattox photo gallery page.
UPDATE: Remembering Tom Fox
Ever since it was learned that Virginia peace activist Tom Fox was killed in Iraq last week (see Washington Post), I have been searching for the right words to express my mixed feelings on this. Fox was a Quaker who had attended courses at Eastern Mennonite University (located in Harrisonburg), which has a strong peace studies program. Since my support for the war is based more on reasoned calculation than on "gung ho" patriotic sentiment, I can empathize with war opponents perhaps more than most war supporters. Thankfully, I just came across a refreshingly thoughtful blog post at Sic Semper Tyrannis that reflects my own thoughts and feelings very accurately.
March 17, 2006 [LINK]
Mexico spoils U.S. WBC dreams
With nothing at stake but pride, the Mexican national team edged the hometown favorites in Anaheim last night, thereby eliminating Team USA from the WBC. Talk about a Charlie Brown moment: "A-a-r-rgh-h-h-h!" See worldbaseballclassic.com. If you ask me, those cheesy "U.S." logos didn't exactly help. How about something more dignified next time around? Just wait till next year, I mean four years from now. In his Washington Post online chat today, Thomas Boswell observed "The whole draw was as close to "fixed" as you will ever see __to ensure that the U.S. not only made the semifinals but played almost NONE of the stronger foes in ANY game before the Finals." What we have here is a failure to motivate!
Reactions to stadium plan
Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher was mostly upbeat about the design of the new stadium, noting that it's backward, with main entrance on the south side, where hardly anyone will enter. He also suspects that the multistory parking garages in the plaza beyond left field "are really a political ploy and a sales pitch ... to scare the Nationals' new owner and developers into coughing up the $28 million needed to dig the hole for parking."
The mail bag
In spite of harsh winter weather, the expansion of the bleachers at Wrigley Field is on schedule for completion by Opening day. For photos, see MLB.com. (via Mike Zurawski)
There are some good photos of the landscaping work aimed at beautifying Dodger Stadium. They are also replacing many of the seats, as the stadium reverts to the original color scheme of 1962. (via Mike Zurawski)
Roger Foster tells me that the movie It Happens Every Spring was filmed in part at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, which was also the location for the 1959 TV series, Home Run Derby.
Mary Beth Bourgeois notes that the bullpens at Hiram Bithorn Stadium have been removed from foul territory and placed behind the foul poles. I noticed that too when watching a video clip from the WBC, and can't figure out why they did it, since there is so much foul territory to work with there.
Comment submitted via e-mail, inserted after the fact:
March 17, 2006 [LINK]
Virginia budget follies
Ah, if I could only keep up with what's going on in Richmond... Providing backup support for an op-ed piece in the Richmond Times Dispatch, One Man's Trash reminds us of Sen. John Chichester's past record on tax policy, which has been consistently wrong, from a conservative point of view. What's more, he has been as obstructionist as Tom Daschle ever was in the U.S. Senate. From what I can tell, he seems to be the main source of the problem in the budgetary showdown, refusing to reach a middle ground with the "extreme" Republicans in the House of Delegates. True fiscal conservatives need to put heavy pressure on Chichester, lest the Republican Party prove to be totally ineffectual in translating its majority power into coherent policy. (link via Commonwealth Conservative)
Along those same lines, Steve Kijak wrote a fine letter to the Staunton Daily News Leader backing up our local Republican legislators for resisting Gov. Kaine's push for massive tax hikes to pay for his transportation plan. I repeat my main point on this issue: People who want more highways should bear the full cost for them, preferably via a tax on gasoline, or else with tolls. Using general fund revenues (mostly from income taxes) for such purposes is an outrage.
South Dakota vs. PBS
South Dakota has garnered a lot of national attention since Gov. Mike Rounds signed the abortion bill into law last week. My sense is that those who want to ban abortion altogether will be disappointed by the way it is handled in Federal appeals courts, so it may turn out to be a good thing, from my perspective. Meanwhile, Republicans in the state legislature may be opening a new front in the cultural wars on the Great Plains: The Appropriations Committee of the state Senate has passed a budget resolution stripping $500,000 from the South Dakota Public Broadcasting. That's a lot of money, out there. Some people think it's a political vendetta, and others say it is a budgetary necessity. See Vermillion Plain Talk. (link via Connie)
March 16, 2006 [LINK]
Chinese military training
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner expressed concern about the fact that China is taking the place of the United States in some Latin American countries, as far as military training. This is a truly ominous trend, from the perspective of U.S. foreign policy, at least. "At issue is a U.S. law that mandates an end to military training in countries that refuse to exempt U.S. citizens overseas from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court." See CNN.com.
That law is no doubt the precipitating factor behind this trend, but there is more to it. Ever since the Reagan Era, protests against the School of the Americas and its successor, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (which has either drastically curtailed its activities or else shut down completely, from what I can tell) have seriously damaged U.S. relations with Latin American armed forces. Politics hates a void as much as Nature does, so it is only natural that a rival geopolitical force would fill the void created by our absence.
More protests in Ecuador
President Alfredo Palacios appealed for calm as protests against the pending free trade negotiations have resumed after a brief respite. The interior minister resigned after failing to quell the disturbance. The The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador began blockading roads on Monday. See CNN.com. The rise of indigenous / Indian political power over the last ten years has revolutionized politics in Ecuador. Last week oil workers staged a protest strike, voicing the same general grievances.
Bachelet inaugurated in Chile
Michelle Bachelet was inaugurated as president of Chile on Sunday, pledging "development for everyone, equally" as her government's first priority. Her first major official act was to decree automatic free medical care to all Chilean people over the age of 60. See Washington Post. This breathtakingly generous new entitlement rivals the social safety nets in the European welfare states. Can a country that is still Third World in many respects sustain such a program without ruining the economic success they have enjoyed until now?
Beisbol y política
At the World Baseball Championship last week, there was a confrontation in Hiram Bithorn Stadium (San Juan, Puerto Rico) when a Cuban official objected to the protest sign held up by a fan: "Abajo con Fidel!" (Down with Fidel!) See CNN.com.
Nuptials for Fujimori?
Wedding bells may soon ring in the Santiago academy for corrections officers where ex-president of Peru Alberto Fujimori remains incarcerated. He announced that will get married to his girlfriend, Satomi Kataoka, before the upcoming elections on April 9, in an apparent attempt to bolster his party's candidates, most notably Martha Chavez. Ms. Kataoka is the owner of several luxury-class Japanese hotels, and is campaigning for Fujimori in Lima. See CNN.com. He became estranged from his first wife, Susana Higuchi, just before I went to Peru for the first time in 1994. She created quite a scandal, accusing him of various misdeeds, and even organized a political party to run against her husband.
March 15, 2006 [LINK]
Beware the Ides of March
What the soothsayer warned Caesar holds special meaning for the Clem household. It was five years ago today that our pet canary Goldie died of some unknown ailment, in spite of treatment by a veterinarian, less than a year after we brought her into our home.
On a brighter note, Princess has been very busy rebuilding her nest recently, taking bits of cotton from my hand. Her flirtatiousness induced George to break out in a loud, clear song today for the first time in weeks.
March 15, 2006 [LINK]
Beware the Ides of March (II)
Yesterday, coincidentally, a friend brought to us a bird he thought was injured, figuring we would know how to take care of it. It turned out to be a fledgling Mockingbird that was probably blown out of its nest by the high winds we've been having for the past couple days. The gray plumage, white wing bars, and yellow eyes were unmistakeable. It wasn't much bigger than a sparrow, and didn't even have a tail yet. (CAUTION: If you ever see a small bird flapping around on the ground, think twice before you try to rescue it. Most young birds spend a day or two on the ground before they can fly, and their parents protect them and feed them during this time.) If it didn't improve, I was planning to take the Mockingbird to the Wildlife Center of Virginia, which specializes in animal rescue and rehabilitation, the next morning. We tried to feed it and give it water, but unfortunately, it went through cycles of lethargy followed by convulsions, and died last night. What is it about mid-March?
Yesterday Jacqueline and I went for a brisk walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, but few birds were in view because of the strong winds. I did spot one bird that I hadn't seen recently, however: a Yellow-rumped warbler.
March 14, 2006 [LINK]
New D.C. baseball stadium unveiled
We can all exhale now: The future home of the Nationals looks pretty good, after all. What is most striking about the new stadium is the curved permimeter, which stands in stark contrast to every other "Neoclassical" stadium except for Great American Ballpark. It apparently has four main decks, but the top two decks may be partly connected, as in several other newly built stadiums. It retains the glass and stone exterior style that has been rumored, rather than the red brick style that traditionalists such as D.C. Councilman Jack Evans had hoped for. (I was leaning that way too, but I am also aware of the need to create a truly distinctive design.) As widely expected, it will be oriented toward the northeast, wedged into the intersection of South Capitol Street and Potomac Avenue. It has some interesting features: The lights are placed along the rim of the stadium roof, as at Yankee Stadium (post-1976), and no light towers are evident at all. Behind home plate at the very top is a three-tier press box / luxury suite section that occupies a void between the two wings of the upper decks. There is a wide staircase and promenade from the Anacostia waterfront to the gap between the upper decks on the first base side. As at Citizens Bank Park, the grandstand beyond that gap is not as high as is the main part. (That is one of the only features shared by my proposed D.C. stadium design.) There will be a double-decked bleacher section in right center field, with the scoreboard on top. In the plaza beyond left center field there is some kind of circular building. It's hard to get a sense of the outfield shape, but there appears to be a straight diagonal stretch of fence at the left field corner. [Adjacent thumbnail-size image, and the moving image seen in a pop-up window when you click on it, are used with permission from the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission; note updated link. Also see HOK architectural firm.] Their Web site also includes a link to dcballpark.com, which implies that it is operated by the consortium of Clark Construction, Hunt Construction Group, and Smoot Construction.
The Washington Post has an analysis, as well as some artist's renderings that show the surrounding neighborhood. Hat tip to Rudy Riet, who sponsors the RFK Stadium page. Does that old place really have only two years left to go? We should know in the next month or two whether the 2008 completion target for the new ballpark is realistic or not.
I'll have much more to say on this subject after I've had more time to mull over the details. Stay tuned. Once again, I welcome fan feedback, especially from folks who have been visiting for a while but haven't taken the time to write. I can't promise that I'll answer every message, but I will try my best.
UPDATE: Maury Brown, one of the leading stadium experts at SABR, announced the new D.C. stadium design at his blog, The Baseball Journals. LATER UPDATE: Maury has included some additional images, including a semi-detailed overhead view of the playing field, which has some intriguing angles, some of which are contrived and some that are a logical fit to the surrounding street grid. Interestingly, the left-center and right-center fences (both mostly straight) intersect in dead center field much like at Wrigley Field (L.A.). Now that I've seen the outfield layout, I'm a bit more impressed, overall.
Feedback from fans
UPDATE: Sean Holland has some very thoughtful things to say about this; click HERE to read it. I'm still working on making this a regular feature, even as I toil away at the diagrams (!), but I figure I can do it on a one-time basis for such an important occasion. LATER UPDATE: Giuseppe Mirizzi and Mike Zurawski added their two cents. Mike alerted me to the story at MLB.com, including outfield dimensions.
Nick Johnson signs
Nick Johnson has signed a contract with the Nationals for three more years, which is great news. To me, he is one of the irreplaceable "core" team players. But then, that's what I thought about Vinny Castilla and Brad Wilkerson... See MLB.com.
Classic era ballparks
Ever-vigilant Steven Poppe, just back from the WBC in Arizona, noticed I had posted a preliminary rough version of a reoriented Sportsmans Park diagram. Can't put nothin' past him! I have now finished the touch-ups on it, but have not added the early (1909-1925) versions that will be part of the "dynamic diagram." At this point, I'm becoming more inclined to finish the basic versions of the remaining Classic Era ballparks rather than finishing all the versions for each successive one, which consumed so much time with Shibe Park. Then there's the new Busch Stadium III to do...
Comments submitted via e-mail, inserted after the fact:
March 12, 2006 [LINK]
GOP beauty pageant in Tennessee
The victory of Bill Frist in the Republican straw poll yesterday means almost nothing, since the event was held in his home state (Memphis, actually), and the real campaign does not begin for almost two more years. The stock sale mini-scandal last year could erupt once again, so he's better make sure that is all straight lest the party be tarnished by more financial misdeeds. I wish both parties would do something to reform the primary election process, which is distorting the nomination more and more each election cycle.
John McCain has decided to play the "loyalty card" in his race for the presidential nomination, urging his supporters to pick Bush in the straw poll even though Bush can't run again; see Washington Post. Several pundits on the Sunday morning talk shows found this gesture to be phony, and it costs him a couple points in my scorebook. I think he's decent overall but has a hard time refraining from pandering.
George Allen, who came in fourth place, was on Meet the Press today, and he exceeded my rather modest expectations of him. His swagger turns many people off, but he controlled his instinct to grin (a malady shared by Virginia's new governor) and came across as serious and thoughtful. After a few more years of grooming, maybe he'll be ready for the Big Job. (Veep in 2008?) I appreciated his opposition to the draconian anti-abortion law in South Dakota, which risked offending his social conservative base. I agree with him that states should be able to set their own standards on abortion, within reasonable limits.
Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has intrigued me as a possible candidate, but he didn't do or say very much to excite the crowd. His father George became one of the first victims of the modern-era media's "feeding frenzies" in 1967, when he said he had been "brainwashed" by U.S. generals in Vietnam about the military situation. That simple, offhand remark undermined his reputation and pretty much ruined his political career.
Ex-Bush aide arrested
For the Bush White House and its recent troubles, "when it rains, it pours." Claude Allen, who resigned as domestic policy adviser last month, was arrested in Maryland for swindling Hecht's and Target stores of more than $5,000, via refunds for items he allegedly did not actually buy. This comes as an especially hard blow, since Allen was one of the relatively few black staffers in the White House. For more, including the White House reaction, see Washington Post.
Kaine cries foul
The Virginia House of Delegates voted to reject former union leader Daniel G. LeBlanc as secretary of the commonwealth. See Richmond Times Dispatch. Kaine vowed revenge agains the Republicans, presumably when he was not grinning. I thought it was nice to see the Republicans acting united for a change, but Sic Semper Tyrannis fears that this action may alienate independent voters, especially those with libertarian leanings. On more serious business, State Sen. John Chichester is sounding very uncompromising on the budget-tax negoatiations with the Virginia House of Delegates.
March 12, 2006 [LINK]
Spring arrives; amphibian rescue
The temperatures climbed into the seventies yesterday and today, accelerating the pace of bird migration that is now underway. Yesterday I saw a male Bluebird out back, which is unusual around here, as well as a female Purple finch, and a dozen or so Cedar waxwings flying over head. Early this morning I walked behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad in hopes of spotting arriving migrants, but the only first-of-season bird was a Field sparrow. Today's list:
- E. towhees
- Yellow-bellied sapsucker (M)
- Purple, house, and gold finches
- Field sparrow (FOS)
- Golden-crowned kinglet
After I returned, I saw this Downy woodpecker at our suet feeder, which was almost empty thanks to the Starlings, so I put in a new chunk of suet. I also saw what I thought was a large worm (three inches or so) that was helplessly stranded on the asphalt, but it turned out to be a very young salamander that was very dry and barely alive. I brought it home and kept it moist until it finally revived and crawled away into the mud. "Born free..."
March 10, 2006 [LINK]
U.S.A.! U.S.A.! Rout at WBC
Ken Griffey Jr. apparently felt obliged to make amends for not backing up the left fielder on that bizarre inside-the-park home run by Canada on Thursday. Today he hit two homers and racked up seven RBIs altogether, as the United States annihilated South Africa 17-0 in a game that was called on account of mercy after four and a half innings. Roger Clemens only allowed one hit in the four innings he pitched. (We still don't know if the Rocket will play in the majors this season; I'd say more than likely "yes.") I was pleased to see that Washington Nationals closer Chad Cordero struck out the only batter he faced to end the game. For some reason, this climactic matchup was played in Scottsdale Stadium rather than Chase Field. See worldbaseballclassic.com. Take that, Dave Matthews! Same to you, Charlize Theron! So, the U.S.A. and Mexico advance to the next round, to be played in Anaheim. If I were Canadian, I would be gnashing my teeth at the way the tiebreaker system works.
Super-sized roof in K.C.
Most sports fans are aware that the NFL and the football players reached a labor agreement that will avoid a possible strike this year. Only a few know, however, that Commissioner Paul Tagliabue conditionally awarded Super Bowl XLIX (forty nine) to Kansas City. That will be nine years from now, in 2015. There is a small catch, however: the referendum set for April 4 to authorize funding for the renovation of the Truman Sports Complex must pass. The main element of that plan is a gargantuan rolling roof that would cover either Arrowhead Stadium or Kauffman Stadium. It would be the only football stadium roof in which the arches run the long way, parallel to the sidelines. Since this roof was envisioned as an eventual option from the very beginning, I can't help but wonder why they didn't build Arrowhead Stadium oriented north-to-south rather than east-to-west. Wouldn't that have allowed for a smaller, less expensive roof? For details, see the Kansas City Star; it has a cool animation of the proposed roof in action, but you'd better be patient while it downloads. Including debt service, the entire project would cost one billion dollars. Yikes. If I were a taxpayer in Jackson County, Missouri, I would think long and hard about spending that much money just to land the Super Bowl. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
March 10, 2006 [LINK]
More conservatives oppose Bush
Earlier this week, former Reagan administration adviser Bruce Bartlett spoke about his new book Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy (Doubleday) at the CATO Institute. David Boaz, who introduced the speaker, echoes my general opinion of Bush: He's not really disappointed in the President because he did not really have high hopes for Bush in the first place. Anyone who voted for Bush believing that he "trusts the people," in contrast to the Democrats who trust the government, however, has every right to be disappointed. The CATO event was reported by the Washington Post. Bartlett may have an axe to grind, and I would hesitate to accept at face value his contention that the Bush White House is "vindictive," but many of his criticisms seem to be well founded. What worries me most is his [contention that the White House lacks] "anybody who does any serious analysis" on policy issues. What really sticks in Bartlett's craw, as he put it, is the fact that Bush has not vetoed any spending bill passed by Congress, even though he complains about pork barrel spending and says he wants to have line-item veto power. What for? The last president not to have vetoed any bills was James Garfield, who served for less than a year.
In his comments on Bartlett's book at the CATO gathering, renowned blogger and new TV pundit Andrew Sullivan opined that the ultimate consequence of the Bush (II) administration will be a vast increase in the size of government at all levels, which he believes is a great tragedy. He also called Bush a "Christian Socialist," using government to promote a sectarian religious agenda. He later clarified on his blog that he meant that only in a particular context. It is a pretty explosive charge, nonetheless. It parallels his allusion to Bismarck he made in September 2004. I agree 100 percent with Sullivan's low opinion of Karl Rove, who has said that deficits don't matter because voters don't care about deficits, and to him, winning elections is all that matters. Such a grotesquely irresponsible attitude, if that is what Rove really believes, would be paving the way for the collapse of the conservative coalition.
For those who place loyalty to party leaders above all else, such dissent is tantamount to treason. In my view, vigorous debate and exchange of different viewpoints is a healthy sign of a party that is confident of winning elections. To my surprise, there is a lot of dissent fermenting over at GOPUSA.com, where Bobby Eberle has been criticizing Bush in blunter terms lately. He calls for a "new message" as the 2006 midterm elections approach. Who in the Party of Lincoln will emerge to articulate that message?
UPDATE: Re-reading this piece made be think about the White House flap over policy adviser John DiIulio, who got the boot in the autumn of 2002 and later derided his former colleagues as a bunch of "Mayberry Machiavellis" who didn't care a whit about policy substance. See my blog post of Dec. 3, 2002. I guess it's not like we weren't warned...
March 9, 2006 [LINK]
Arab port deal collapses
Well, there goes our hopes for building alliances in the Middle East. Lacking a clear sense of leadership from the White House, Republican leaders in Congress caved in to populist outcries and rebelled against the Dubai Port World port management contract. As I wrote on Feb. 28, this isolationistic reflex is "blindingly stupid." This morning came word that the United Arab Emirates would divest itself of U.S. investments, which was probably an empty threat, but a very hostile gesture nonetheless. That in turn killed any hope for salvaging a compromise on Capitol Hill, because it would look like the United States was submitting to blackmail. So early in the afternoon Sen. John Warner read an announcement that DPW would sell off its U.S. port operations, making sure that all managers were Americans. Read it and weep at washingtonpost.com. The two countries really need each other, so they will probably come up with some arrangement, but it's still a lot uglier outcome than it had to be. Part of the blame lies with President Bush for failing to stay on top of such sensitive issues, and for mishandling it when it first became public knowledge. Sen. Chuck Schumer's astute expose of the DPW deal last month was a stroke of political genius, from a partisan political standpoint, but it unleashed a terrible diplomatic setback for the United States government. I hope he's enjoying himself.
March 9, 2006 [LINK]
Constituent assembly in Bolivia
In Bolivia, new President Evo Morales is following through on his promise to convene a constituent assembly to rewrite the country's constitution. One of the leaders of his "Movement Toward Socialism" (MAS) proposed changing the name of the country to "Tawantinsuyo" (Quechua for "Four Corners," the name of the ancient Inca Empire) or "Kollasuyo." Morales also signed a law authorizing a referendum on regional autonomy. See BBC. It is almost as though he were trying to bring about the breakup of Bolivia. The sharp cultural divides within the mountainous country make this a very real prospect. The flat southeastern region around Santa Cruz, where most of the country's oil and natural gas are produced, tends to resent the highlands. It is too small to become an independent country, however, and the option of joining with neighboring Paraguay is almost unthinkable, because the two countries fought each other in the Chaco War in the 1930s. For a more thorough analysis of this situation, see Miguel Centellas.
Unusually heavy rains caused heavy flooding in La Paz last month. The capital city is located in a canyon that funnels water into a narrow channel leading toward the Amazon Basin.
Strike by Ecuador oil workers
Army troops in Ecuador used tear gas to disperse striking petroleum workers and restore the country's oil output, which had been severely curtailed since the strike began on Monday. One of their main demands is to be employed directly by the state-owned PetroEcuador company, rather than subcontractors. See BBC. Given that national elections are scheduled for October, political agendas are likely as well.
March 9, 2006 [LINK]
WBC: Canada stuns U.S. team
Is this revenge for losing the Expos to Washington? Or perhaps for the invasion by American troops in the War of 1812? A team of virtual unknowns from North of the Border trounced the United States team at Chase Field last night, 8-6, putting the home team on the brink of elimination in the World Baseball Classic. Shame! Was Ken Griffey Jr. dragging his heels in center field on that bizarre inside-the-park home run? That's what it looked like to me. Steven Poppe is attending the games in Phoenix, and I look forward to his perspective on this. Canada and Mexico play this evening, and the U.S. plays South Africa (!?) tomorrow afternoon. The tie-breaking procedures in the WBC are from the International Baseball Federation, rather unfamiliar to American fans. It has something to do with runs allowed per game; see if you can figure it out at worldbaseballclassic.com.
FEEDBACK: Canadian fan Matt Bahm took exception to the phrase "virtual unknowns" referring to his country's team, of which he has every right to be very proud. No disrespect intended. I know of Corie Koskie, but the name of Pirate All Star Jason Bay was somehow missing from my feeble memory, which just goes to show my lack of familiarity with most non-East Coast teams. In my defense, I try to stay abreast of political developments in Canada and expect my students to at least know who the Prime Minister is. (Do you know? He's new.) Back to baseball, I think Canada's surprise victory validates my point yesterday (in reference to Kirby Puckett) about team effort outweighing "star power" when it comes to winning Big Games.
UPDATE: Mexico beat Canada 9-1 this evening, which was quite a shocker, but good news (for us folks south of the 49th parallel) nonetheless. It means the United States can still advance to the next round in the WBC by beating South Africa tomorrow. In that case, the three NAFTA partners will be tied at two wins and one loss each. If Mexico's margin of victory had been less than three runs, under the tiebreaking rules, the U.S. team would have been eliminated no matter what. I agree with Johnny Damon: the WBC tiebreaking procedure "makes you use your mind a little more than you want to." It would appear that Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico are all headed to the next round, which will be held in Hiram Bithorn Stadium, beginning Sunday.
Nats keep Bowden
The Washington Nationals have extended the contracts of General Manager Jim Bowden and his assistant through the rest of this season. That's good news, but I'm a little less confident in Bowden than I was a year ago. Whether the new owners decide to keep him or not depends more than anything else on how Alfonso Soriano behaves after he returns from the WBC. Team player? The Nationals have only won one exhibition game so far this year, and Frank Robinson is rightly upset at his players. See MLB.com. Time to kick some butt in the dugout.
The Cashman Field page has been finished, which means that every Major League Baseball venue used since the early 20th Century is now covered on this Web site -- I think.
March 8, 2006 [LINK]
Our "Man in the Sand"
Even if some of our leading pundits are growing weary of protracted conflict, our troops are made of stronger stuff than most civilians, thankfully. I'm proud to say I know one of them who was recently deployed to Iraq: Sgt. Herb Harman, who volunteered for active duty in the Army soon after the 9/11 attacks. I met Herb and his wife Jan at the local Republican headquarters during the 2004 fall campaign, and enjoyed some interesting conversations. Herb is not just a great guy, he knows a great deal about this country's political system and heritage. We held a send-off dinner for him last October, which was covered by WHSV-TV3. I recently received a letter from Herb, and even though his unit is quartered in very Spartan conditions, he is very enthusiastic about his mission of helping to build a new democratic government in Iraq. For obvious security reasons, he can't go into detail, which reminds us why we often don't hear as much of the good news from Iraq as we would like. It's an incredibly difficult, sensitive, and vital task, but as far as Herb is concerned, he's just doing his job. We are so incredibly lucky to have guys like him serving our country, defending freedom and laying the groundwork for a more peaceful future in the Middle East.
Steve Kijak has some photos of signs that are being put up around the county in Herb's honor. Steve is also arranging for a "Goodwill" package campaign for all the lonely U.S. soldiers who are not so fortunate to have close friends and family back home. (Web site pending.)
Carrier fleet cutback?
The Navy recently announced the retirement of its F-14 "Tomcat" fleet, and now it is proposing to reduce its fleet of carriers from twelve to ten. It probably makes sense, given that there is only one part of the world where we might have to engage a enemy force with advanced weaponry -- and it's not in Europe. See strategypage.com; hat tip to Chris Green.
March 8, 2006 [LINK]
One (less) Hand Clapping
Donald Sensing has announced an indefinite hiatus for his superb blog One Hand Clapping, which focuses -- or focused, I guess -- primarily on military, religious, and cultural matters. He was one of my very favorite bloggers, and it will be hard for someone to fill the void. It's quite understandable that he has to devote his time to more pressing matters, however. Is this the beginning of the Great Blogosphere Crunch that some have been predicting?
March 7, 2006 [LINK]
New book on Barry* Bonds*
Why can't this story just go away? Because we as loyal, hero-worshipping fans are each implicated in the scandal, in a small way, that's why. This cover of this week's Sports Illustrated features a new book, Game of Shadows, written by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. They are pretty sure that Barry has been doping himself heavily with multiple drugs since 1998 -- the fateful, seemingly glorious year of McGwire* vs. Sosa*. (hat tip to Bruce Orser)
More on Kirby Puckett
Chad Dotson, the Commonwealth Conservative blogger, questioned Kirby Puckett's Hall of Fame credentials, so I felt compelled to respond:
If baseball were primarily a technical profession, and if most fans were number-crunching wonks, then Chad would have a valid point. I tend to see baseball (and most sports) as a very human, joint endeavor in which hustle and heart count more than innate ability or individual accomplishment. Teamwork! How many World Series rings did Ted Williams get?
To which Chad asked, "Andrew, are you seriously contending that Kirby Puckett was a better player than Ted Williams?" So I wrote to clarify,
Chad - Heavens no, it never occurred to me that Kirby Puckett was anywhere near as good as Ted Williams. My point was simply that it takes more than a superstar to win ball games or world championships. It takes a gutsy guy whose love for the game and willingness to put his team first inspires his team mates to do their best. Ted never really had such "infectious enthusiasm," as most Red Sox fans would grudgingly admit, I think.
The St. Louis Post Dispatch has a preliminary analysis of Busch Stadium III's likely effect on batting. Upshot: It should be "fair and balanced," like its predecessor (and Fox News? ). The designers take pride in avoiding the contrived outfield nooks and crannies that were taken to excess in places like Ameriquest Field and Minute Maid Park. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski, who also relayed this photo of the expanded upper deck at Fenway Park. It will be a real, substantial upper deck, after all, not just an enlarged mezzanine level. Only the sections adjacent to the infield will be expanded, however.
Partly at Mike's prompting, I modified the PETCO Park diagram to account for the slightly shorter fence in right center field. (I wish all diagram revisions could be so easy!) The change is not enough to warrant a "dynamic diagram." PETCO Park will host the final three games of the first-ever World Baseball Classic, on March 18 and 20.
D.C. Council OKs deal
UPDATE: As everyone expected, this evening the D.C. Council approved, by 9-4 vote, the stadium lease deal that MLB officials signed the other day. That clears the way for the sale of the team, after which it will be safe to say that the probability of the Nationals being relocated has dropped to zero. I am very anxious about the stadium design, which will probably be unveiled next week. Council member Jack Evans thinks they can finish the new stadium by April 2008, but without the finishing touches. Like bleachers and lights? If groundbreaking takes place in late April, as they are now saying, I guess that target date is still possible. See WTOP Radio.
March 7, 2006 [LINK]
Bell's Lane again
Sunny, clear skies and milder temperatures drew me out to Bell's Lane late this afternoon. I spotted the Harrier as soon as I got out of my car, and admired its low-altitude hunting flight for several minutes. Seeing two semi-migratory birds for the first time this spring was an encouraging sign. Today's highlights:
- Northern harrier (M)
- Short-eared owl (prob., far)
- 300+ Canada geese
- Red-winged blackbird (FOS)
- 3 Grackles (FOS)
- 11 American coots
- 4 Ruddy ducks
March 7, 2006 [LINK]
Hardball in Richmond, again
It's "deja vu all over again" here in the Commonwealth: A Democrat governor is in a showdown over the state budget with the Republican-led General Assembly. Like his predecessor Mark Warner, Governor Kaine is maintaining the pretense of bipartisan cooperation while waging a brass-knuckled fight behind the scenes. His chief of staff William Leighty was forced to apologize last week after mischaracterizing the voting record of a Republican state senator, Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, and for threatening that Kaine would veto bills authored by Republicans who oppose him in the budget battle. Ritual apologies followed, and then this week we learn that Kaine is launching an advertising campaign targeting those Republicans. So, it would seem, nothing has really changed. My impression during the 2005 campaign (see Oct. 10) that Mr. Kaine's ear-to-ear grin is but one of two faces that he routinely alternates, as expedience dictates, seems to be correct.
The 2006 session of the General Assembly is scheduled to end this week, but it may be forced into "overtime" to resolve difficult issues. Del. Vince Callahan, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee foresees a repeat of 2004 in the offing, with GOP moderates in the state Senate compromising on tax hikes, creating ill feelings in the Republican Party. See Washington Post. Nothing would be worse for Republicans and for Virginia taxpayers than another end-game collapse. Egos need to be set aside, and both sides need to respect each others' legitimate worries: needless waste of taxpayers money, on one hand, versus putting the state's financial status at risk, on the other. In the end, the real question is whether the leaders of the Senate and House of Delegates can fashion a workable mutual compromise and avoid letting a governor of the other party exploit their differences over policy. If not, then Virginia voters will be entitled to ask whether the Republicans are really up to the task of governing their state.
The most vexing issue this year is funding for transportation. Kaine, who has spent his political career representing urban-suburban interests, believes that all Virginians must shoulder the burden of building new highways to make life easier for those who live in congested areas. If the rural minority objects to going along with such a plan, that's just tough, Kaine seems to believe. I say, if people who live in high-traffic zones want more highways, they should pay for it, one way or the other. For example, all the quibbling in Northern Virginia over HOV lanes, Metro extension, or improving the Virginia Railway Express commuter service seems to be centered upon how to get someone else to pay for what particular constituencies think they deserve. One of the main initial proposals made by defeated Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore was to allow for regional transportation planning and funding solutions, which makes eminent sense.
Generally speaking, it is a good idea to take alarmist calls for new spending with a grain of salt. That is how Chad Dotson reacted to former VDOT commissioner Phil Shucet's plea for "new, sustainable, dedicated funds" in the Richmond Times Dispatch. There is a simple solution to the catastrophe of gridlock he laments: move to less densely populated areas! Otherwise, quit yer moanin'. I'm on record as favoring tax hikes on petroleum fuels to encourage less driving and to pay for road and rail improvements, but I am also well aware that that won't happen in Virginia any time soon. Eventually, the idea that energy really is a scarce resource is bound to catch on. In the mean time, we need to be wary of bogus rationales for wasteful spending for ordinary government functions, as Chris Saxman (a staunch opponent of new taxes) rightly notes at his new Virginia Cost Cutting blog:
Would one dramatically increase transportation spending if one was told by a very high ranking VDOT (no longer there) administrator that instead of the 9,300+/- employees that we really only needed about 5,000 to run the department efficiently?
March 6, 2006 [LINK]
Gutierrez freed from jail
In countries in which obeying the law is the exception not the rule, the mere act of challenging the legality of an abrupt change of government (or even coup d'etat) is considered subversive. That is the situation in Ecuador, where former President Lucio Gutierrez was just set free by a judge after almost five months of incarceration. He was removed from office by Congress last April after a brief period of street violence that escalated into an insurrection, [and was jailed in October as punishment for having disputed the procedure by which he was removed from office]. See CNN.com. Ironically, he led an insurrection in 1997, and was then elected president, following in the footsteps of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. To the surprise of many people, he began cooperating with the United States after his inauguration. The leftist Democratic Alliance suspects that the (conservative) Social Christian Party led by former president Leon Febres Cordero was behind his release from jail, according to El Comercio of Quito. Interim President Palacio, who will serve until a new president is elected in October, just returned from a visit to the United States.
Mexican mine disaster aftermath
Workers have resumed digging through the rubble of the collapsed coal mine in northern Mexico where 65 miners died two weeks ago. They had to stop for a couple days because of toxic gas emissions. Miners and steel workers in Mexico used the opportunity of public attention to go on strike as a protest against poor safety conditions. There are complicating factors, however. The Labor Department in Mexico recognized a dissident union leader who is challenging the leadership of the old union boss. Most unions is Mexico are as corrupt as the government and business, part of the decrepit "corporatist" socio-economic system put in place in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). See CNN.com. Ironically, many if not most workers in Mexico remain opposed to NAFTA even though it includes provisions to improve labor and environmental standards in their country.
There was more gripping testimony on Capitol Hill last week about recent incursions by Mexican drug runners and (possibly) rogue soldiers or police officers on the southern U.S. border. It was cablecast on C-SPAN, but somehow, it didn't get as much coverage in the mainstream media as I would have expected. Is someone trying to hush this up?
Arias wins Costa Rica recount
Oscar Arias, who served as president from 1986 to 1990, has been declared the winner of the presidential election in Costa Rica. Losing candidate Ottón Solís pledged to carry out his campaign promises in the role of opposition leader, in a spirit of dialogue and respect. See Tico Times. Solís had opposed CAFTA, so this outcome is a good sign for free trade in the hemisphere. As in Honduras, however, the general public in Costa Rica is leery of free trade agreements with the United States, fearing economic dislocation, which raises awkward questions about the relationship between free trade and democracy.
March 6, 2006 [LINK]
MLB signs stadium lease deal
It's a huge relief, but not really much of a surprise. Major League Baseball knows full well that taking the dispute over the lease terms for the new baseball stadium in Washington to arbitration would only lower the value of the franchise, which they are very eager to sell. So, they took the revised deal presented to them by the D.C. Council, attaching a few technical stipulations that no further legislation contrary to existing terms be adopted. (Translation: Don't muck this thing up any more.) See Washington Post. According to MLB.com, Bob DuPuy said,
Everyone has to compromise so the Nationals can enjoy a strong future. We are offering a compromise that I call on District leaders to support.
Ah, sweet reason! Does this settle the matter once and for all? Will everything fall apart if the cost cap provisions don't work like they're supposed to? No in both cases. This is just one more landmark event in a long series of contentious haggling over the ballpark that will not end until the final coat of paint and the last plumbing fixtures are installed. MLB will presumably announce the new Nationals owners just before Opening Day, more or less coinciding with the beginning of the demolition of the existing warehouses on the stadium site. Groundbreaking will probably take place by the end of the summer. "Theoretically," the new ballpark could be finished in time for the beginning of the 2008 season, but an opening at mid-year or early in the following year is more likely. For now, RFK Stadium still has a "life expectancy" of three years.
Guillen gets second opinion
Whew! It turns out that Jose Guillen was smart to seek another doctor's opinion about his wrist injury. Further tests indicate that his left wrist is merely swollen, and may heal in time for Opening Day -- as long as he follows doctors' orders and gives it a rest for 7-10 days. See MLB.com. All in all, it's been a great day to be a Nationals fan. Maybe they'll have another shot at a pennant race after all!
Kirby Puckett has died
[UPDATE: Earlier today I reported that Kirby Puckett was hospitalized in critical condition, and since then we have learned that he passed away. The popular hero of the Minnesota Twins' championship teams of 1987 and 1991 suffered a stroke at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona on Sunday morning. His friendly personality and fierce determination to win made him an ideal team player, inspiring others on his team to match his accomplishments. It was a tragedy when his career was cut short by glaucoma in 1996, and this sudden death only compounds it. At least he got to savor the sweet reward of being elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2001. One thing is for sure, he will not be forgotten in Minnesota. For more, see MLB.com.]
UPDATE: Kill an evening here!
Lonnie Spath, a sportswriter whose fine panoramic photos grace the Oakland Coliseum and Fenway Park pages, has included this Web site among his "10 Web Sites To kill 10 evenings with." I'm pretty sure that's a compliment. Much obliged, Lonnie!
UPDATE: WBC Round 1
The national teams of (South) Korea and Japan earned berths to the second round of the World Baseball Championship, which will begin in Anaheim (and San Juan, Puerto Rico) on March 12. It was a surprise that the Koreans beat the Japanese (3-2) in the final game of the preliminary round, winning all three of their games. The Taiwanese beat their mainland Chinese arch-rivals, 12-3. See worldbaseballclassic.com.
March 5, 2006 [LINK]
Sobriety check on Iraq
The recent upsurge of violence in Iraq, climaxing with the bombing of the Shiite mosque, was obviously intended to provoke a full-scale civil war, but the curfews seem to have staved off that prospect for now. The cumulative effect of these attacks is clearly undermining morale in the United States, however, as some of the strongest minds are starting to exhibit faint hearts. Last week I blogged about Francis Fukuyama's wary assessment of Iraq. In Thursday's Washington Post, George Will complained about the lack of reality in Bush's speeches on the war. It's not a new theme, and indeed Bush has made some tentative steps toward a more sober tone in his statements about Iraq since early December. He still has a long way to go, however, and Will draws a comparison (unfair?) between the war rhetoric of Bush and Winston Churchill. As Will notes, it doesn't matter if most Iraqi people "choose" peace or democracy unless wise, courageous Iraqi leaders emerge to shepherd them toward stability and prosperity. Beyond mere words, Will is growing more pessimistic on the prospects for the emergence of a stable, effective government in Baghdad, and on the global strategic outlook. He notes that the three members of the "Axis of Evil" (Iran, Iraq, and North Korea) are actually more dangerous now than they were three years ago. I would agree that our forces have not yet achieved their military goals, and that additional resources are needed to subdue the terrorist resistance, but I think Will is being unduly glum.
"Radio blogger" Hugh Hewitt interviewed Christopher Hitchens about this general topic yesterday. (via Instapundit) Hitchens reminds us that conservatives are just plain not eager to fight wars, build state power, or fight over religion to begin with, so their reluctance to make an all-out military commitment without a clear guidepost for victory is understandable. Ironically, Hitchens, the former leftist, gives a more even-handed appraisal of the war than some of the recently alarmist mainstream conservatives. It is easy to overlook the huge advantage we have obtained by doing away with the vicious dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, which used to menace the entire region. Try to keep that in mind the next time you see a news report of a car bomb in Baghdad. Things could be worse -- much worse.
Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Peter Pace, USMC, appeared on Meet the Press this morning, and frankly acknowledged the difficulties on the ground. It's a good sign that he didn't come across as spinning a rosy scenario, but one would hope for something a little more upbeat. He rejected the proposition that Iraq would have been stabilized if we had deployed more forces to occupy it in mid-2003, but no one would expect him to say such a thing and keep his job. Dissent in the military chain of command is supposed to be extremely discreet, behind closed doors.
The death toll
Fifty one American service men and women died in Iraq last month, the fourth consecutive month in which the death toll declined. The total now stands at just under 2,300, including two from our area who died last year: Jason Redifer and Daniel Bubb. See globalsecurity.org. During the course of the war, an average of 63 American soldiers' lives have been lost every month. We are approaching the third anniversary of the war's beginning.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan
A reinforced battalion of Canadian army troops (over 2,000) was recently deployed to the Kandahar region in southern Afghanistan. On Wednesday, one of them died when their vehicle overturned on a mountain road, and yesterday five of them were wounded by a suicide car bomb. Taliban insurgents claimed credit for the attack, which appears to be part of a stepped-up campaign by the extremists to regain the initiative in that country. See the Toronto Globe and Mail.
En route to India, President Bush made a surprise stop in Afghanistan, the first U.S. president to go there since Dwight Eisenwhower. He visited Prime Minister Karzai and greeted some lonely American soldiers, a nice and very appropriate gesture.
March 3, 2006 [LINK]
World Baseball Classic opens
Japan whalloped China 18-2, and Korea (South, presumably) edged China-Taipei (the country formerly known as "Taiwan," and the "Republic of China" before that) 2-0. Both games were at the Tokyo Dome. Attendance was nearly 16,000 for the first game, and barely 5,000 for the second. Not exactly a huge sensation. After concluding the six-game round robin on Sunday, the best two teams from "Pool A" will advance to the next round, facing "Pool B" (North America plus South Africa) in Angel Stadium, March 12-16. See the schedule at worldbaseballclassic.com. Somehow Nicaragua failed to qualify for a berth in the tournament, even though it has much more baseball talent and interest than Italy, Australia, or the Netherlands. It's probably the lack of money.
Guillen injures wrist; Nats S.O.L.
Jose Guillen, upon whose shoulders the Washington Nationals' hopes for this season rest to a very large degree, has torn some tendons in his left wrist, and will be on the disabled list for at least three months. The team doctor recommended surgery, but Guillen wants a second opinion. The high-spirited outfielder says he couldn't stand being out of action for so long. Having lost pitcher Brian Lawrence, and with Alfonso Soriano's future with the team highly uncertain, this is a devastating blow. The Nats have just about exhausted their payroll budget, they have few tradable reserve players, and their farm system has almost collapsed over the past few years. Time to punt... See MLB.com.
In today's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell laments that "the bloom is off the rose" for the Nationals. Observing the paltry attendance at Space Coast Stadium compared to last year, he gripes about the decline in fan enthusiasm for the Nats since the magical inaugural year. He blames the shortsighted, selfish MLB bosses and politicians in D.C. for putting the franchise in dire straits. Since there is no owner yet, the team is playing with an unfair handicap for the fourth consecutive year. He warns that resorting to arbitration over the stadium finance dispute would further disillusion D.C. area folks about their new team, which might cause attendance to drop, thereby lowering the value of the franchise, currently estimated at $450 million. Are you listening, Bud? How about you, Linda?
March 3, 2006 [LINK]
Election truce in Colombia?
The "Army of National Liberation" (ELN), the second-ranking guerrilla force in Colombia (motto: "¡Nosotros ponemos más esfuerzo!") has pledged not to make any attacks during the March 12 congressional elections. The presidential elections will be held in May. Government mediators and rebel repesentatives recently held talks in Havana, and will do so again in April. See CNN.com. This truce offer shows there is still hope for a possible disarmament accord, such as was reached with two other Colombian guerrilla movements over a decade ago. Only 3,500 ELN insurgents remain active, thanks to the counteroffensive campaign waged by President Uribe. Unfortunately, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, with about 12,000 effectives) remain grimly committed to inflicting mayhem as a tool for reaping a large share of profits from the narcotics trade. The right-wing militias are almost as dangerous and drug-corrupted as the left-wing rebels.
More delays in Haiti
The inauguration of president-elect Rene Preval, previously scheduled for March 29, has been delayed because it is contingent upon holding legislative elections, which have been postponed until complaints over last month's presidential elections are resolved. In the mean time, Preval is visiting the Dominican Republic, the neighbor with which relations have been chilly in recent months because of the alleged mistreatment of Haitians there. See BBC.
No bail for Fujimori
A judge in Chile has denied the petition for bail made by the former president of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, so he will remain in jail pending a decision on extraditing him to Peru. See CNN.com.
March 2, 2006 [LINK]
More falsehoods about 9/11
Others in the right-leaning side of the blogosphere heap scorn on lefty cartoonist Ted Rall for his sick sense of humor and habitual dishonesty. I scowl but usually try to ignore his garbage. Mind you, I do appreciate good political satire from all points of view, but I frankly can't remember the last time he produced anything that made a good point. Today, thanks to Connie, I learned of a recent cartoon about United Airlines Flight 93 in which Mr. Rall deliberately spreads the false notion that "The 9/11 Commission says there's no proof of a passenger revolt..." My copy of the 9/11 Report (paperback edition from the New York Times) states unequivocally in several places that there was such a revolt, describing the action in detail on pages 21-22. There is simply no excuse for blatant mendacity about something as important as 9/11. Mr. Rall is either a liar or else one sick, deranged puppy. Either way, he qualifies for my list of unmentionable wackos.
One year after 9/11 I was at a ceremony for airline employees on the Washington Mall in which the theme was "standing together as United Americans." If only...
March 2, 2006 [LINK]
Shibe Park refinements
Thanks to some helpful comments from Ron Selter and some excellent old photographs from Bruce Orser, I've made some corrections in the Shibe Park diagrams, mostly in the 1909 and 1913 versions. Some of the new findings are interesting. It appears to me that the bleachers in left field ended about 50 feet from the center field corner, 30 feet more than Mr. Selter estimates. In one photo dated 1913, there is a low fence between those bleachers and the right field wall, which would account for the drop in distance from 515 to 502 feet given by Lowry for late 1909. I also used trigonometry to determine the distance to the outer wall in left field: it was 387 feet, nine feet further than the left field foul pole; the difference was due to the scoreboard, which I had not seen previously. A few questions remain, especially about the backstop distance in the early years, and exactly when the far ends of the lower deck were rebuilt, but much has been cleared up. I greatly appreciate the research assistance.
Covering stadium overruns
D.C. Mayor Williams has submitted a plan that would provide $20 million in contingency funds in case the cost of constructing the Nationals' future home exceeds budgetary projections. The extra money comes from (expected) surplus in tax receipts over what is needed to pay interest costs to service the construction bonds. (Aren't those accountants amazing!?) Some Council members fear that the mere act of preparing for cost overruns will make cost overruns more likely; see Washington Post. Indeed, they have a point. In the public sector, there is no real incentive to hold down costs, so the only way to avoid cost overruns is for constituents to constantly scrutinize spending and demand accountability from their elected officials. Bor-ing! Monday is the deadline for Major League Baseball to accept or reject the stadium lease terms with the cost cap stipulated by the D.C. Council.
March 2, 2006 [LINK]
The choice (?) to abort in S.D.
The South Dakota legislature recently passed a bill that would ban almost all abortions, obviously hoping to precipitate a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court; see Washington Post. [Governor Mike Rounds has until March 20 to decide whether to sign or veto the bill, after which it would otherwise become law automatically.] Generally speaking, abortion is a low priority issue for me. I think it's obvious that Roe v. Wade was decided on bogus constitutional grounds, and that the function of defining civil rights lies exclusively within the legislative domain, not the courts. Like most Americans, I think that too many abortions are being performed, but I also believe that in gray areas like these, it is best to leave the decision up to the individual. Thus, I think the South Dakota bill is much too restrictive. On the other hand, I also think that the states should have the power to set their own rules according to local moral standards, as long as they do not impinge upon the laws of other states.
As for the politics of the issue, I am annoyed by the strident tone and frequent hypocrisy expressed by activists on both sides of the issue. There is, however, an especially glaring inconsistency on the "pro-choice" side, which was brought to the forefront in a letter to the editor in yesterday's Washington Post: "Women in South Dakota may be forced to seek illegal abortions, and doctors in the state will be powerless to help them." [emphasis added] Forced by whom, exactly? Isn't abortion supposed to be a matter of choice? It might help to apply this logic to a different issue involving morality and the law: If Prohibition were reenacted, would I be "forced" to buy bootleg liquor? I am not trying to compare a common vice to a traumatic personal dilemma, I am just calling attention to the basic fact that the conscience with which human beings are endowed is what enables us to live in a free, well-ordered society, and to decide whether or not to obey the law.
UPDATE: The South Dakota Politics blog has been following this issue closely, of course. Not surprisingly, they are getting a lot of hateful e-mail from some out-of-staters.
Church vs. state in Spain
Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero continues to coax his country toward the secular mainstream of Europe, ending religious instruction in public schools, and pushing for liberalized laws on abortion, divorce, and other moral issues. This has angered many traditionalists who want to maintain the Catholic Church's quasi-official status. According to the Washington Post, Zapatero's agenda is "creating some of [the] deepest political and social schisms in Spain since it returned to democracy 28 years ago." To a large extent, this is a generational issue: Spaniards over the age of 80 can still recall the wave of church burnings unleashed by the leftist Republican faction during the Spanish Civil War, and they are deeply suspicious of the contemporary counterparts to that movement represented by Zapatero. In contrast, young adults in Spain are well aware that Generalissimo Francisco Franco was a stick-in-the-mud brute, and tend to equate social conservatives with apologists for the franquista dictatorship. The thriving democracy and prosperity enjoyed by the citizens of modern Spain are the fruits of the constitutional arrangement that was carefully constructed after the death of Franco in 1975. I wrote on Jan. 28 that Zapatero is taking a big risk with autonomy for Catalonia. If he proceeds with his sweeping reform agenda with only a slim majority in the Cortes (parliament), he would put Spain's precious social stability in even greater jeopardy.