Latin America, 2006
Wild birds, 2006
Macintosh & Misc., 2006
May, 2018 X
April, 2018 X
May, 2014 X
November, 2013 X
May 16, 2006 [LINK]
U.S. bans arms Venezuela sales
The U.S. government has tried to block particular transactions in the past, most notably involving Spain, but this is apparently the first time that this has been made into a general, standard policy. This action was justified on the grounds that Venezuela has failed to cooperate in the fight against terrorism. Chavez has escalated his defiance by voicing support for the regime in Iran, declaring that no country has the right to prevent any other country from acquiring nuclear energy. In response to the U.S. action, he now says Venezuela will consider selling its U.S.-built F-16 fighter jets to Iran. See CNN.com. Indeed, based on the ties between Chavez and guerrilla groups in Colombia, there is good reason to suspect that he may be actively promoting the terrorist cause. Venezuela launched a major arms buildup last year, causing grave concern in Washington; see Feb. 13, Oct. 24, and Nov. 25. It is quite ironic that the Reagan administration sold the F-16s to Venezuela in 1982 (when they were state of the art) in large part as a gesture of support for what was then one of the only democratic regimes in South America. How things change!
Coincidentally, or not, Chavez announced that he will pay a visit to Libya, with which the United States is about to resume diplomatic relations after a lapse of over twenty years. Chavez is in the middle of a tour of European capitals, including London and Vienna. See CNN.com. This will me an interesting meeting: Will Gadhafi persuade Chavez to shun radicalism and support for terrorists, or will Chavez persuade Gadhafi to backtrack on his reform?
I was digging through my slide photo archives from my trip to Central America in 1989, and scanned some of the best ones. Just click on the adjacent image to go to the new Guatemala photo gallery page. (Photos from Belize and Honduras will be posted in the near future.) I have noticed that the dyes in slides last much longer than the dyes on printed photographs, allowing for much richer colors.
While doing some fact-checking, I came across some interesting Guatemala Web sites, so I put the links to them at the bottom of the Guatemala page.
May 18, 2006 [LINK]
Ecuador cancels oil contract
The government of Ecuador has cancelled its contract with Occidental Petroleum, on the grounds that Occidental sold part of its properties to a Canadian firm without proper autorization. The state firm PetroEcuador is taking over the oil facilities, and President Alfredo Palacio ordered troops to occupy them. In response, the United States has suspended negotiations on free trade with Ecuador. BBC. Palacio acceded to the presidency after his precedecessor Lucio Gutierrez was forced to resign after mass protests in April 2005. Since the current government is of an interim nature, it is susceptible to political pressure. It is hard to avoid the suspicion that this action by the government was aimed at placating domestic opponents who staged a strike in March. You might say this is radical populism "by default." The extent of influence by Venezuela in this remains to be seen. The country's future political direction will be decided in national elections this October.
Fujimori gets out of jail
A judge has ruled that former Peruvian President-for-Life Alberto Fujimori should be freed on bail while Chile's Supreme Court makes a decision on whether to extradite him to Peru. As a condition of his release, he must stay in Chile. See BBC. It will be interesting to see whether this affects the second round presidential campaign in Peru.
The news chronologies and the political backround sections on the Dominican Republic and Bolivia pages have been updated.
May 18, 2006 [LINK]
MLB owners OK sale of Nats
In one of the least suspenseful decisions in history, owners of the 29 normal baseball franchises approved the sale of the Washington Nationals to Theodore Lerner and family today, which means that Washington is one step closer to having a normal team at long last. The vote to admit a new member to one of the most exclusive clubs on Earth was unanimous. See MLB.com. Although their focus remains on the long term task of player development, the new owners know they need to restart fan enthusiasm, so they are planning a "Grand Re-Opening Night" at RFK Stadium after the All-Star Game break:
Though RFK attendance is down about 20 percent so far this year, the new group said one of its top initial projects is to make RFK a better place to go, as well as try to improve the design of a new $711 million waterfront ballpark.
I was amused by Commissioner Selig's reflections on the arduous franchise relocation process:
Would I want to do this again? No! But it was an emergency. We didn't really have much of a choice.
Indeed, the economic logic behind the move was overwhelming, and it's a wonder he managed to stall as long as he did. WUSA TV-9 reported that the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission is negotiating with Sony and possibly one or two other companies over the naming rights for RFK Stadium, which has just two years to go, more or less.
Nats avoid sweep
After being shut out twice in Wrigley Field, the Nationals finally scored some runs and managed to beat the Cubs. Ryan Zimmerman got things started in the 2nd inning with his seventh homer, and cannot be discounted as a candidate for rookie of the year. Chad Cordero, who has been shaky lately, earned a save after assuring Frank Robinson he was up the to task. In spite of their dismal performance lately, the Nats have not been swept in a series of three or more games in nearly a month. Next: Interleague play with the Baltimore Orioles, beginning a nine-game home stand. Oh, how I wish I could be there for that...
Tigers take first
The AL Central has been the hottest division in the majors this year, as the Tigers have been breathing down the necks of the White Sox all month. Today they completed a sweep of the Twins to take sole possession of first place. Kenny Rogers won his seventh game, the first pitcher in the majors to reach that mark. Now in second place, the White Sox still have a better winning record (.650) than any other team in the majors besides the Tigers.
May 20, 2006 [LINK]
ABC field trip to Chimney Hollow
I led my first field trip with the Augusta Bird Club this morning, which was sunny and mild. I was joined by Susan Clark and Elaine Carwile, who taught me a lot about wildflowers. We began at Chimney Hollow at about 7:45, and finished at nearby Braley's Pond at about 12:30, when it was starting to get windy. We heard many kinds of warblers in the tree tops, and some that were very close to us, but we only managed to see one such species: a Louisiana waterthrush, which was the first of the season for me. I saw 23 different species, and heard but did not see another 20.
The highlight of the day was probably seeing four young Phoebes in their nest just as they were about to fledge. I had spotted that same nest under the roof of the map / information board at Braley's Pond when I did the Big Spring Day survey on April 29. By the time we finished walking around the pond today, the young ones were gone.
Talk about overcrowding! The beaks of three about-to-fledge Phoebes are visible in this photo, and the eye of a fourth can be seen at the lower left. Among the many wildflowers we saw were Yellow violets and Birds-on-the-wing, which I also photographed on April 29, before I knew what the name was.
Seen (at least once):
- Cedar waxwings
- Red-winged blackbirds
- Indigo bunting
- Belted kingfishers
- Red-eyed vireos
- Acadian flycatchers (FOS)
- Great crested flycatchers
- Blue-headed vireos
- Sharp-shinned hawk (diving!)
- Turkey vultures
- Blue jays
- American crows
- Phoebes (1 adult, 4 juv. in nest)
- Chipping sparrows
- Black-capped chickadees
- Louisiana waterthrush (FOS)
- Spotted sandpiper
- Mourning doves
Heard (but not seen):
- N. parulas
- Hairy woodpeckers
- Pileated woodpecker
- N. flicker
- Ruby-throated hummingbird
- Black & white warblers
- Prairie warbler
- Black-throated green warbler
- Worm-eating warblers
- Hooded warbler
- Blackpoll warbler
- Cerulean warbler??
- Tufted titmice
- Scarlet tanagers
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Pine warbler
- Carolina wren
- Blue-gray gnatcatchers
May 8, 2006 [LINK]
Arias is inaugurated, again
Oscar Arias was sworn in as president of Costa Rica for a second time today, and first lady Laura Bush attended the ceremonies. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez canceled at the last minute. Arias's first term was twenty years ago, from 1986 to 2000. He won the Nobel Peace prize in 1987 for his efforts in mediating the civil war in Nicaragua, and is held in high esteem in his own country and around the world. Even though many Costa Ricans are opposed to CAFTA, fearing a loss of jobs, Arias is committed to pursuing free trade agreements with neighboring countries, and with the United States. See CNN.com. In a continental landscape full of radical demagogues these days, the accesion to power of a true statesman is a welcome relief. To mark the occasion, I have updated the Costa Rica page with news chronology and information on political parties.
May 2, 2006 [LINK]
WaPo: Lerners will get Nats
Today's Washington Post confirms what WUSA TV-9 reported last week: that MLB has decided to sell the Nationals to the family of Theodore Lerner. According to anonymous sources,
Commissioner Bud Selig, who will decide who gets the franchise, was angered by accusations that Lerner's group was unacceptable because it had included minorities only as tokens rather than genuine partners...
D.C. Council members Marion Barry and Vincent B. Orange Sr. held a news conference yesterday to accuse Lerner's family of "renting blacks" in its effort to win the right to buy the team from Major League Baseball.
Ouch. We all know how sensitive Bud is to criticism, and how insensitive he is to community opinion. It would appear that the lobbying by D.C. officials on behalf the alternative franchise bidders, Malek-Zients and Smulyan, backfired. It should be noted that Mr. Orange has been a consistent supporter of baseball in Washington, while Mr. Barry's support has been highly conditional. Let's hope this episode, if true, doesn't spoil the enormous good will the Nationals earned in Washington last year.
Nationals lose, once again
"Now pinch-hitting for the Washington Nationals, Livan Hernandez." Believe it ... or not! That was about the only good thing from last night's game at Shea Stadium, as the Nationals lost again, 2-1. That makes eight losses in the last nine games. Gary Majewski's throwing error in the bottom of the ninth was what enabled the Mets to prevail. See MLB.com. The Nats have lost six games by a one-run margin so far this year, while they have won only one one-run game. (Say that last part fast, three times.) That's the exact opposite of last year.
Yanks-Bosox: Here we go again
It was Johnny Damon's first game in Fenway Park since being traded to the Yankees, and the bad vibes may have unnerved him as he went hitless. Tonight former Marlin pitcher Josh Beckett faces Shawn Chacon in the second game of the two-game series. The Yanks are having a sluggish start this year, but are now only one game behind the Red Sox.
Somehow the Colorado Rockies' ascent to first place in the NL West escaped my notice until my brother Chris drew that to my attention.
Marlins stadium finance plan
Mayor Julio Robaina of Hialeah, Florida is pushing a plan to use property tax proceeds from a recently-approved industrial park to helping pay for a new stadium for the Florida Marlins. The land had been subject to tight restrictions on development, for environmental reasons. There is some urgency because the Marlins have to decide by May 15 whether to express a willingness to relocate to San Antonio so that a stadium bond referendum there can be scheduled. See Miami Herald; link via Mike Zurawski. This sounds like great news, but the area in question is near the edge of the Everglades, which are already under severe ecological stress from rampant development. The Hialeah site is about eight miles northwest of downtown Miami, compared to 14 miles for Dolphins Stadium and two miles for the Orange Bowl alternative site. That would still be ideal for everyone concerned, as long as the money could be found.
May 9, 2006 [LINK]
Hayden to replace Goss at CIA
This latest personnel shift taking place at Langley really makes me wonder what is going on inside the Beltway. The abrupt announcement by that Porter Goss was resigning as head of the CIA on Friday seemed highly irregular. It's not exactly the best way for Tony Snow to start his new job as White House spokesman. When Goss was named by Bush to that post back in November 2004, just after his reelection triumph, there was a consensus that the CIA was in need of housecleaning. Given that Goss seems to have failed in that task, in spite of his professional experience in the intelligence field, some explanation is due. Was he really carrying out a political witch hunt against enemies of Bush inside The Agency that had to be called off, or was it just a matter of flawed managerial style?
President Bush's choice of Gen. Michael Hayden to replace Porter Goss as head of the CIA sparked quick (negative) reaction by some Republicans in Congress. Some complain about putting a military man in charge of a civilian intelligence agency, but several others have held that post before, most notably Adm. Stansfield Turner, who was Jimmy Carter's choice. Hayden served as head of the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005, and has cultivated good relations with members of Congress. At his introductory press conference shown by C-SPAN, he came across as sincerely committed to maintaining a proper balance between civil rights and national security, a dilemma that was cast into sharp relief by the surveillance of international phone calls.
What is puzzling about the selection of Hayden is that it seems unlikely to mollify the CIA civilian career analysts who resented Porter Goss, who had been a Republican congressman. In today's Washington Post, Dana Priest advances the conjecture that the selection of Hayden is aimed at "reining in" Donald Rumsfeld and his plans to expand the size and role of military intelligence. Under this scenario, Intelligence Czar John Negroponte would be better equipped to exert influence over the Pentagon spies. To me, that sounds too clever by half, a bureaucratic chair-rotating scheme that is more likely to inflame jealousies and tensions than overcome them. Ms. Priest is the very same reporter whose article brought to light the CIA secret prisons (see April 24), so she is not exactly in a position to be objective about what is going on.
As far as any resistance by the CIA to encroachment by the Pentagon on its bureaucratic "turf," we should remember that the CIA played a leading role in offensive military operations in Afghanistan in October 2001, organizing and supplying Afghan militia units opposed to the Taliban. That struck me as very odd, and potentially troublesome. How about a "trade" of sorts, with the military and civilian spies agreeing to mind each others' own business?
Tony Blair under siege
The dapper young P.M. from Oxford, Tony Blair, has lost his "mojo," it would seem. In hopes of satisfying the growing number of dissident members of his Labour Party, he has reshuffled his cabinet, naming his ally Margaret Beckett as Foreign Minister, replacing Jack Straw, who has been demoted to a parliamentary leadership role. This action was in response to the widespread losses by Labour Party candidates in local elections across Britain. Labour won a comfortable majority in the House of Commons last year, when Blair began his third term as P.M., but defections over foreign policy may cost him majority control. Blair is under heavy pressure to give up his post, but he insists he will stay on for the foreseeable future. The man likely to succeed him is Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. See Washington Post. I saw Blair's press conference on C-SPAN 2 last night, and he does seem to be rattled by all the jeers from within his own party. Like John McCain, he is the darling of politicians belonging to the other party.
May 28, 2006 [LINK]
Nats win third straight series
For most teams, winning four games in a row is not all that unusual, but it was the very first time the Nationals had done so this year. The final game in the series against the Astros on Thursday night was one of those tests of team character, and they passed. Poor Matt LeCroy was simply not up to the task of filling in as emergency reserve catcher, however, as the Astros stole bases with impunity, giving Frank Robinson another Maalox moment. Even so, the relief pitchers did not buckle under the pressure, and got out of multiple jams in the late innings, enabling the Nats to hold on and win the game, and the series.
Fortunately, first-string catcher Brian Schneider was reactivated from the DL on Friday, as the Nats beat the Dodgers 10-4. Livan Hernandez pitched another solid game, but he should have been taken out one inning earlier; he gave up three runs in the seventh. Saturday's game was televised by FOX (not subject to blackout ), and new pitcher Shawn Hill only gave up one run in seven innings. (If he had had any run support, it would have been six games in a row.) This afternoon's game was a real slug-fest, as Nick Johnson, who has been in a terrible slump all month, hit two homers, and Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Zimmerman got one each. The Dodgers have been one of the hottest teams lately, so beating them two out of three games was a huge achievement for the Nationals. As a result, L.A. has slipped behind Arizona in the highly competitive NL West.
To put things in perspective, this was the first home stand in which the Nats won more games than they lost since the end of June last year. Most importantly, the Nationals have finally climbed above the .400 threshold of respectability. Unfortunately, Jose Guillen was put on the disabled list after his sore hamstring refused to heal. He is being replaced by Mike Vento, from the New Orleans Zephyrs.
Cubs' comeback falls short
Today's Braves-Cubs game was one for the record books: Atlanta hit eight home runs, a franchise record, taking advantage of the winds. Somehow the Cubs put together enough runs to close the gap in the ninth inning, giving the forlorn fans in Wrigleyville something to cheer about at long last. An error by third baseman Aramis Ramirez in the eleventh inning allowed Atlanta to score what turned out to be the winning run, however. Now the Cubs have lost six in a row. Ouch! On the bright side, 124,089 fans attended the three-game series against the Braves, setting a Cubs franchise record.
Great American Ballpark
The Great American Ballpark page has been updated with a new diagram that conforms to the new standard, and the photos on it have been enlarged and sharpened. That was where Ken Griffey Jr. hit that 11th-inning walk-off home run on May 11, the first of two heartbreaks for the Nationals that week.
Bonds hits #715 *
* Duly noted. As someone holding up a protest banner at a recent Giants game observed, "Babe Ruth did it on hot dogs and beer."
May 11, 2006 [LINK]
That letter from Tehran
What are we to make of the 18-page letter sent by Iranian President Ahmadinejad to President Bush? Not much, unless your name is Madeleine Albright. Condoleeza Rice was right to downplay any significance of its contents, which were apparently a presumptuously toned. rambling lecture on theology, morality, and history. John Bolton, our ambassador to the U.N., opined that the letter was a negotiating ploy aimed at dividing the Western allies (see Washington Post), but even that may be giving too much credit to the Iranian government.
It was just about a month ago that Ahmadinejad issued another proclamation that Israel will soon be annihilated, though he left unclear how that would be carried out. (The gray area of doubt gave rise to an nasty little spat in the blogosphere: After Christopher Hitchens criticized Juan Cole (of the University of Michigan) for denying that Ahmadinejad had ever called for "the removal of Israel from the map," Cole retorted that Hitchens must have been drunk, prompting Andrew Sullivan to corroborate Hitchens' sobriety. My, my.) Not that trying to reason with the Iranian leaders would do much good, but if Israel really is the "threat" to the rest of the Middle East that Ahmadinejad says it is, then why is it being attacked far more often than it attacks neighboring countries?
What about discerning Iran's intentions? Just as Kremlinology was a highly valued trade during the Cold War, expertise in the inner workings of the governments of the "rogue regimes" -- Iran, North Korea, and perhaps even Venezuela -- is today. Like most of those in the realist school of international relations, however, I place relatively low emphasis on intentions. Foreign policy usually embodies a continuity based on national interest that is independent of particular leaders and governments. In the exceptional anomalous cases such as Iran, it is almost impossible to make rational sense of governmental actions; it's almost anybody's guess. Indeed, the very possibility that any high-level official in Iran's government might think that such a letter would be considered seriously and taken at face value by the U.S. government only goes to show how far out of touch from reality they are. Responsible governments exercise extreme care with such high-level communication, and the religious fanatics who run Iran are leading their country down a very dangerous path. Here are some things to remember about President Ahmad Ahmadinejad:
- He is basically a puppet; under Iran's theocratic system, the real power is wielded by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
- He professes an eschatological belief that the end of world is drawing near.
- The primary significance of that professed belief is to enhance his "bluffing" credibility in a showdown; whether he truly believes those things or not is of secondary importance.
- The outlandish rhetoric and logical inconsistencies are perfectly normal for Third World countries with ambitions to become major powers. Just think about Hugo Chavez, Muammar Qaddafi (until 2001) and Saddam Hussein (until 2003).
So what should Bush do in response? His administration is properly giving the diplomatic track every possible chance, even though the resistance of Russia and China to any strong action by the U.N. Security Council makes a peaceful resolution of this crisis very unlikely. As in the confrontations with Iraq in 1990-1991 and 2002-2003, to the extent that diplomacy is seen as an alternative to coercion (the threat or use of force), it will fail. To the extent that it is seen as a supplementary course of action, there will be a greater chance of success without resorting to war. As far as the utility of economic sanctions, they are generally futile, serving mainly as a gesture of resolve that is equivalent to cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. In this particular situation, any threat of U.N. sanctions would be undermined by the erosion of the sanctions that had been imposed against Saddam Hussein's regime, rendering them a farce. If President Bush wants to show Iran's government that he is serious about cutting off the oil trade, of course, he should stop saying we are "addicted to oil."
May 19, 2006 [LINK]
Just as the first regular season interleague baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals is about to begin, today's Washington Post has a feature story on the history of the rivalry between the neighbor cities. Back in the 1960s, the Senators were so bad compared to the Orioles that no one really thought much about a rivalry. The teams came from different cities, so it was nothing like the Brooklyn Dodgers or New York Giants versus the Yankees. Of course, before interleague play began, the only city with multiple MLB franchises in which such a rivalry existed was New York, where there were two teams from the same league, and where teams from both leagues often made it to the World Series. That was not the case in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, or St. Louis.
To mark this occasion, I have updated the Baseball cities page with new attendance data for metropolitan areas with two baseball teams.
Coincidentally, one of those cities, Los Angeles, is going ahead with plans to renovate Memorial Coliseum, hoping to win an expansion franchise. See the Los Angeles Times. The National Football League is beginning a formal process to consider various cities.
May 15, 2006 [LINK]
Prison gang uprisings in Brazil
Prison gangs launched a coordinated series of uprisings in the state of Sao Paulo on Friday, and over eighty people have been killed so far, mostly guards and policemen. Gang members who had previously been released from prison robbed bus passengers, threw Molotov cocktails into banks, and fired machine guns at police stations. The uprising was in reaction to the transfer of the leaders of the "First Capital Command" prison gang in a special high-security prison, in a desperate attempt to isolate them from the rest of the inmates so as to regain control over the prisons. The gangs control the lucrative narcotics trade and are behind the rising crime wave in Brazil. See BBC. There were similar but smaller scale uprisings in Brazilian prisons last December and in November 2003. The growing frequency of such actions across Latin America raises the unsettling possibility that it may be part of a transnational phenomenon.
Inauguration Day in Haiti
Rene Preval, a close ally of deposed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was finally sworn in as the duly elected constitutional president of Haiti on Sunday. Unfortunately, the occasion was marred by a riot at the nearby national penitentiary in Port au Prince. The problem in Haiti is that only ten percent of inmates have even been convicted, because there is such a severe shortage of judges and legal personnel. Fixing that situation will be one of Preval's highest priorities. See CNN.com. There is no question that the political movement he leads (on behalf of Aristide) is supported by a majority of Haitians. There is much doubt, however, that Preval or other leaders are ready or willing to build bridges to the opposition and learn how to govern Haiti under pluralistic precepts of respecting minority rights. Perhaps they will learn something from Aristide's failure in his second term.
UPDATE: The Haiti page has been updated.
Fox warns Bush
The Mexican president telephoned his American counterpart to "express concern" about the possible militarization of the U.S.-Mexican border. Both men agreed that a comprehensive reform on immigration is needed, but of course that could mean almost anything. There is still almost no acknowledgment in Mexico that most of the problem stems from their own government's failure to reform the Mexican economic system, which is why its people seek opportunities abroad. See El Universal (in English).
May 31, 2006 [LINK]
Scandals foster bipartisanship
Nothing makes political allies faster than a common perceived threat, and the FBI's seizure of evidence from the home of Rep. William Jefferson so frightened House Speaker Dennis Hastert that he joined with his bitter adversary (and possible successor) Nancy Pelosi in demanding that the evidence be returned on constitutional separation of powers grounds. As for the issue substance, U.Va. law professor Robert Turner debunks that argument in opinionjournal.com: "Congress is not above the law." Indeed, the Republicans in Congress made such a big deal of the president not being above the law during the impeachment debates of 1998 that you would think that would be obvious to them. (via Instapundit) There is a clear precendent for criminal investigations of members of Congress, of course: the "Abscam" sting operation of 1980. South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler was one of the only legislators who flatly refused the bribe offer. (Rep. John Murtha was another!)
In terms of the politics of this controversy, Hastert seems oblivious to the growing sense of outrage among grass-roots conservatives over reckless spending resulting from pork barrel funding measures. If members of Congress are not held accountable for crass favoritism, which often leads to outright bribery, then the majority party does not deserve to retain control of the legislature. At a moment when the prestige of the House of the Representatives is on the line as a showdown with the Senate over immigration reform approaches, his attitude is self-defeating. Let's see if Speaker Pelosi shows as much willingness to collaborate with the Republicans next year.
Snow finally resigns
After many months of rumors that his continued presence was not desired by the White House, Treasury Secretary John Snow finally announced his resignation earlier this week. President Bush named Henry Paulson, chairman of Goldman Sachs, as his replacement. In past administrations, a cabinet change of this magnitude would be the occasion for heated scrutiny of what it all means for policy. Under the Bush administration, in contrast, almost no one even notices. The Washington Post recently made fun of the low-profile stature of Bush's "invisible cabinet," deriding Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson as a mere public relations face with no significant policy input. This parallels the criticism leveled by Bruce Bartlett, author of the stridently anti-Bush conservative book, Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy (see March 10), that White House policy-making is tightly controlled by Karl Rove with no regard for the merits of the issue beyond the likely electoral effects. I recently read that book, which is deeply troubling for the future of conservatism. What is ironic is that the cabinet agencies are diminishing in power even as their budgets soar under our Big Government "conservative" president.
GOP immigration crossroads
At Real Clear Politics, John McIntyre writes that the Republican Party is at a "crossroads" on the immigration issue. The convergence between national interests and conservative values is so overwhelming that a successful resolution of the issue by Republican leaders should be a no-brainer. The refusal of the House and the Senate to negotiate a reasonable compromise that achieves a serious reform of the status quo is terribly short-sighted, and I dare say stupid.
May 22, 2006 [LINK]
Nats win first Parkway Series
The Washington Post calls it the "Battle of the Beltways", but I call it the "Parkway Series," which is a better geographic fit (the Baltimore-Washington Parkway traces a direct route between the two stadiums), and is a closer analogue to the Yankees-Mets "Subway Series." The point is, Washington won the first such series since 1971, thereby getting a token amount of revenge for all the torment it has suffered at the hands of Peter Angelos. After dropping the first-ever Nationals-Orioles interleague game on Friday night, the home team rebounded and took the next two. For once, Livan Hernandez started pitching like his old self, and the batters got just enough clutch hits to win the games.
In honor of this proud moment in Washington baseball history, the Griffith Stadium page has been updated with a new diagram and an interactive thumbnail diagram. A dynamic diagram showing the evolution of the stadium over the years is still pending, however.
#714 for Bonds*
Barry Bonds finally caught up with Babe Ruth in the lifetime home run rankings, and the fan response was underwhelming. Bonds was widely considered a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame before he got caught up in the home run frenzy of the late 1990s, and it's a shame all of his earlier accomplishments will be tainted in future history books. As long as he can get over his pride, there is still time for him to come clean, however.
UPDATE: Twins' stadium approved
Great news for baseball fans in the upper Midwest: Thanks to an all-night session by the Minnesota legislature, final approval of funding for a stadium for the Twins was passed just before the crack of dawn on Sunday. The Twins will pay for almost one fourth of the $522 million total construction cost. It is hoped that the new ballpark will be finished by the 2010 season. See MLB.com (hat tip to Mike Zurawski and Stephen Poppe). The Twins, of course, used to be the Washington Senators...
UPDATE: Red Sox widen lead
With Matsui, Sheffield, and Shawn Chacon out of action, it's hard for the Yankees to keep pace with the Red Sox, who are now two and a half games ahead in the AL East. It was a huge satisfaction to see the Bronx Bombers win after a ninth-inning comeback at Shea Stadium on the first FOX Saturday Game of the Week. Playing as underdogs to the high-flying Mets is certainly an unexpected role reversal. Tonight's 9-5 loss at Fenway Park was another reality check. I swear, I don't even recognize half the Boston lineup any more. How have they managed to stay so good while going through so much change in their roster?
May 16, 2006 [LINK]
Princess lays three more eggs
Princess recently completed yet another fruitless brooding cycle, staying on the nest about a week beyond the normal incubation period (two weeks), and now she's at it again. After we indulged her craving for bits of cotton to rebuild her nest last week, she has laid three good eggs. The last two times she laid eggs, one of them lacked enough calcium for a shell, and were in effect "miscarriages." This time we made sure that she had enough calcium, and fed her much broccoli, so all is well with this batch of eggs. George has been singing regularly, as healthy as ever. They have been enjoying a new treat for the past few weeks: the yellow flowers and buds of the cabbage-family plants that have been growing by our back patio. They go crazy over it.
May 7, 2006 [LINK]
Dad's final day of teaching
My dear old dad, Dr. Alan L. Clem, has just finished his career as a professor of political science at the University of South Dakota, where he began teaching in 1960. He has been teaching on a part time basis since going into "semi-retirement" a few years ago, mostly political geography. His major field was American politics, especially elections and congressional processes. (He used to work on Capitol Hill, where he met dear departed Mom.) He also taught classes in South Dakota politics, research methods, and classical European diplomacy, using the board game Diplomacy as a teaching tool. His final day of classes was deemed newsworthy enough for the Sioux Falls Argus Leader to include a story about the occasion, written by a former student, David Kranz. Some of the most notable figures who were once his students include Tom Brokaw, the former NBC anchorman, and Larry Pressler, former U.S. senator. The elder Dr. Clem has written a large number of articles on books over the years. The title of one of his books is itself a lesson in civic responsibility that most Americans need to take to heart: The Government That We Deserve.
Well, done, Dad! I hope I can manage to attain a measure of success in the field of academia, one way or another, and carry on your proud legacy.
Three generations of Clems: Chris, Noah, and Alan. (Photo by Dan Clem.)
May 18, 2006 [LINK]
Two series finales
I was never a regular fan of Will and Grace, but I usually enjoyed it when I did watch it, lured by the sophisticated pretensiousness, I suppose. Tonight's final episode was bittersweet and somewhat satisfying, as the main characters managed to maintain their strong friendship even as their lives parted ways. The multi-year switches were a bit disconcerting, but it was necessary to wrap the whole story line up in a convincing way. I gather that the "moral" of the story is that unconventional families are just as good as traditional Mom and Dad families. Upscale individuals may find a way to raise semi-normal kids on their own, but that is no easy task for the vast majority of folks.
I watched That '70s Show somewhat more often, since it brings back (hazy) memories of that wacky era of Jimmy Carter and the Menace of Disco. It appealed to a middle-brow audience, so the characters were not supposed to be that deep, but they were at least interesting, reminding you of this or that person you used to know. The idea that Jackie (Mila Kunis) and Fez (Wilmer Valderrama) would end up together was not very convincing. (They never did say what country he was from, did they?) The return of Ashton Kutcher and Topher Grace was nice.
Two photos from my brief 1989 visit to Belize are now posted at Belize photo gallery. Belize is not part of Latin America, though it is absorbing a large influx of immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala, and one day may be considered a Latin American country.
May 4, 2006 [LINK]
Groundbreaking on new stadium!
The blessed (if purely ceremonial) event took place at about 11:00 this morning, attended by the Lerner family, some junior franchise partners, Mayor Williams, and several members of the D.C. Council -- including Mrs. Cropp! Apparently the hurt feelings by Council members Barry and Orange over the selection of the Lerners to become franchise owners have been all patched up. As is noted at washingtonpost.com, the Lerners' experience in mega-development projects offers real hope that the entire stadium can be finished prior to the 2008 season. At this point, I'm guessing mid-2008 as the most likely completion date. In any case, I think it's safe to say that the probability of relocation by the Nationals has dropped to zero. I also reduced the estimated relocation probabilities of the Florida and Minnesota, based on recent developments. As far as today's "groundbreaking" in D.C., how can they even begin the excavation when the demolition of the existing structures won't be completed for several weeks?
I have to admit, die-hard stadium opponent Adrian Fenty made a good point at the last D.C. Council meeting: Why should Council members have expected anyone to take seriously their opinions (about preferred franchise groups) when they essentially gave away $600+ million to Major League Baseball without anyone from MLB so much as showing up to argue for the stadium funding bill?
Lerners to rebuild for long term
In today's Post, Thomas Boswell explains why the Nationals might not get a substantial payroll boost for the second half of the season, even though they finally have an owner of their own: Theodore Lerner is determined to rebuild the franchise from the bottom up for the long-term future, concentrating on developing coaches, scouts, and a strong farm club system. Well, there's no question that must be done, but I was kind of hoping we might be in another divisional race this year. Seeing the photo Theodore Lerner's face rang a familiar bell in my memory, and I finally figured out who he looks like: Don Rickles!
Fish edge Nats
The Marlins built up a five-run lead last night, and then the Nationals slowly closed the gap, leaving the game tied in the late innings. In the top of the ninth, Chad Cordero gave up a clutch RBI single, losing the game, 6-5.
May 18, 2006 [LINK]
Hobbs on Bush
Bill Hobbs (via Instapundit) ponders why our President Bush is so low in the polls despite a solid record of accomplishment overall, and has some advice for our forlorn president:
George W. Bush isn't at 29 percent because he's lost support among moderates and liberals - he's at 29 percent because he has been too willing to cave in to moderates and liberals.
The recipe for restoring his popularity to above 50 percent is simple: Bush must screw the Left every chance he gets.
He details the agenda on immigration, the budget, the war, etc., and it sounds pretty good to me. Except that Bush should make sure he does so with "compassion," just to tweak the Democrats a bit more for failing to respond in a more positive way to his gesture of outreach during his first term.
Bush visits Yuma
The President paid a visit to one of the major hot spots in our porous border with Mexico, the area around Yuma, Arizona. I'm not sure that riding in that Border Patrol dune buggy was the best P.R. move, however. For some thoughtful analysis of the Posse comitatus issue discussed on Tuesday, see the article by Major Craig T. Trebilcock.
May 13, 2006 [LINK]
Anti-Chavez backlash in Peru?
Nationalistic sensibilities have turned many Peruvians away from populist presidential candidate Ollanta Humala, who has been strongly endorsed by Hugo Chavez. Perhaps the vainglorious leader of Venezuela is beginning to offend more people than he attracts, past his peak in terms of influence. The latest polls indicate that Alan Garcia leads Humala by a 62% - 38% margin. I doubt that landslide proportion can be maintained through election day Peru, but it at least suggests that virtually all supporters of Lourdes Flores and other candidates from the first-round race are backing Garcia, as the "lesser evil." CNN.com This scenario reminds one of the English expression "when Hell freezes over," as in "I'll vote for Garcia..."
Chavez meets Pope at Vatican
Since Hugo Chavez recently likened Catholic Church leaders in Venezuela to a "cancer," it is not surprising that Pope Benedict would admonish him during his visit to Vatican City. The Church wants to defend Catholic schools from government pressure and make sure there is no interference in the selection of Bishops, as has happened in Communist China. See CNN.com.
May 30, 2006 [LINK]
Peru resents meddling by Chavez
Once again, Hugo Chavez is doing his best to make enemies, deriding front-running Peruvian presidential candidate Alan Garcia not only as "an irresponsible demagogue and thief", but claiming that he represents "the Peruvian oligarchy, the right wing and the US empire." In Latin American political discourse, the latter allegations are especially low blows. Chavez has threatened to cut off diplomatic ties with Peru if Garcia wins the election, and once again, the government of Peru has rebuked Venezuela's interference in its internal political processes. President Toledo called on the OAS to take a stand on this matter. See BBC. The strident tone of Chavez in recent weeks may be an indication that he is nearing his peak in terms of international influence. Third World countries that resort to defiant foreign policies to bolster domestic support usually end up alienating potential allies, by making them jealous of all the attention, part of the phenomenon that I label "anti-imperialist overstretch." Ironically, Alan Garcia had precisely that experience when he was president of Peru in the late 1980s.
I noticed that CITGO, which is wholly owned by Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., has begun running ads on NBC's "Meet the Press," part of a propaganda campaign aimed at reassuring the gringos that Chavez is not really going to cut off our oil supply, as he often threatens. See fuelingtomorrow.com.
Uruguay defends pulp mill
In response to an escalation of pressure from Argentina to halt work on a pulp mill under construction earlier this month, the government of Uruguay has launched a public relations campaign in defense of the project. The environmental minister insists that it will meet high international standards. See BBC. In March, the two countries had agreed to an impartial process to make sure that the pulp mill doesn't cause major pollution, so the renewed friction seems to stem from domestic politics on the part of Argentina. It would appear that Argentina's objections to the project are based in part upon nationalistic sentiment, but the project is a joint venture of firms from Spain and Finland, neither of which presently have close relations with the United States. That being the case, Argentina's position on this issue seems short-sighted to me.
May 7, 2006 [LINK]
ABC field trip on Bell's Lane
I joined Allen Larner, Jo King, Marietta Beveridge, and Stephan Petrovsky on a birding venture around the nearby Bell's Lane area this beautiful morning. It was slow going at first, but turned out to be a very worthwhile trip, as I saw ten birds for the first time this season. Three of them were very unusual: A Bobolink, a Red-headed woodpecker, and a Blue grosbeak. Here are the highlights of what I saw, excluding the everyday birds, in rough chronological order:
ABOVE: Six baby bluebirds in a nest box. Click on this image to see a Red-winged blackbird nest with one egg.
BELOW: A first-year male Orchard oriole. Click on this image to see a Columbine flower.
- Wilson's warbler (FOS)
- Brown thrashers
- "Peep" sandpiper
- Bluebirds (M, F, babies)
- Downy woodpecker
- White-crowned sparrow
- House wren
- Baltimore oriole (FOS)
- E. towhee
- Cowbird (F)
- Field sparrow
- Savannah sparrows (FOS)
- Indigo buntings
- Goldfinches (M, F)
- Yellow warblers (M)
- Yellow-rumped warblers
- Kingbirds (FOS)
- Orchard orioles (FOS)
- White-breasted nuthatch
- N. rough-winged swallows
- Barn swallows
- Tree swallows
- Green heron
- Ruddy ducks (M, F)
- Purple martin (FOS)
- Red-headed woodpecker (FOS) !!
- Bobolink (M, FOS) !!
- Red-tailed hawks
- Spotted sandpiper (FOS)
- E. phoebe
- Red-eyed vireo
- Blue grosbeak (F, FOS) !!
UPDATE: A female Ruby-throated hummingbird showed up at our nectar feeder while it was raining late this afternoon. It's the first time I've seen one there since April 25.
May 1, 2006 [LINK]
Mac OS X security flaw?
We Mac uses tend to be complacently smug about ease-of-use and security issues, but no operating system is perfect. According to the SANS Institute, based in Washington D.C., one of the most notable trends in Internet security is the "rapid growth in critical vulnerabilities" in Mac OS X. Some Web sites contain malicious viruses and Apple Computer had to release a patch for its Safari browser, but the vulnerability also affects Firefox and Mozilla browsers. See sfgate.com, via Instapundit. There is a good report about how Apple Computer and its customers are both slow to wake up to this problem at MSNBC.com. (via MacAddict)
Apple: obscene profits
Meanwhile, Apple's quarterly profits surged from $290 million in 2005 to $410 million this year, while Intel's profits fell, even though Apple recently shifted to Intel microprocessors. See Washington Post. So far no members of Congress have proposed a windfall profits tax to rein in the rapacious capitalists in Cupertino.
May Day! May Day!
The new month revealed a "bug" in my new automated blog system, so I had to spend a couple hours tweaking the subroutines so that I won't have to worry about it when June 1 rolls around. I will have to do some more fiddling before the end of the year, or else a sort of "Y2K" glitch will result. This little chore has diverted my attention from the high-priority task of getting the stadium impression / feedback feature up and running. Sigh...
May 24, 2006 [LINK]
Fujimori claims he's innocent
In an interview with the BBC, Peru's former President-for-life Alberto Fujimori, who was recently freed from jail in Chile pending an extradition hearing, insists he is innocent: "In my government, there were clear instructions that the fight against violence was to be carried out with respect for human rights." He also declined to say whether he favors Alan Garcia or Ollanta Humala in the upcoming presidential election, but subtly implied a preference for Garcia, his former arch-enemy.
Chile's new president Michelle Bachelet denies an alleged lack of coordination between agencies of the Chilean government in how to treat Fujimori. She also warned that Fujimori's statements might harm the extremely sensitive relations between Peru and Chile. See El Mercurio (in Spanish). This is her first contentious issue since being inaugurated as president, and people will be scrutinizing her every word and gesture to see how she holds up under the pressure.
Brazil death toll falls
The official number of deaths in the recent street battles with gangs in São Paulo has been reduced to 79, about half what authorities had reported last week. The new, lower number excludes deaths of common criminals, 31 altogether, but human rights activists are suspicious that the government is trying to cover up a police rampage. Amnesty International accused current and retired Brazilian police officers of participating in death squads. See BBC. El Estado de São Paulo (in Portuguese) has details about the bureaucratic confusion as medical records are compiled.
May 12, 2006 [LINK]
Reds ruins Nats' comeback
Nats' fans' hopes for a turnaround were raised for a fleeting moment after the resounding 7-1 win over the Reds in Cincinnati on Tuesday night. They at least held their own on Wednesday, finally losing 9-6, but the final game of the series was the real heartbreaker. It was a pitchers' duel the whole way, as Zach Day held the Reds to a single run in seven innings. In the top of the ninth, backup catcher Matt LeCroy (another pleasant surprise) knocked in a run, tying the game at 1-1. In the top of the eleventh, Nick Johnson hit a solo homer to take the lead, and the two additional insurance runs seemed like plenty ... but they weren't. Sure enough, the bullpen faltered once again, and Ken Griffety Jr. got a three-run blast off Joey Eischen to win the game 5-4. Ughhh... I don't know why Frank Robinson pulled Chad Cordero after only two innings, but I bet he won't make that mistake again. Once again, the Nats snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. That game in Cincinnati will be remembered for a long time.
In today's Washington Post online chat, Tom Boswell focused on the bullpen issues, and opined that Joey Eischen's days with the team are numbered. It would a huge shame for somebody whose fierce competitiveness inspired his team to defy the odds last year; it was just over a year ago that he broke his arm diving for a ground ball. Where, oh where has the team mojo gone?
Ironically, part of the Nationals' problem may be the uncertainties unleashed by the sale of the franchise to the Lerners. Everyone knew it was coming, but the team had gotten used to being in a semi-orphaned state for the last three years, and the fact that they will finally be held accountable for their performance to a bunch of bosses with a fat wallet will be disconcerting. Welcome to real major league baseball!
Matsui breaks his wrist
Yankee left fielder Hideki Matsui broke his left wrist while making a diving catch against the Red Sox, in a classic instance of adding injury to insult, as the Red Sox beat the host Bronx Bombers. Matsui will be out for several weeks, if not the rest of the season, which is a big loss. This provides a vacancy that the aging reserve outfielder Bernie Williams will only be too glad to fill. It makes me glad too, in a way, but I still hope Hideki gets well soon. MLB.com
Drum roll, please...
I've been "out of commission" for much of this week, hence the hiatus. On a positive note, a large batch of stadium diagrams is in the process of being revised even as we speak. Well, figuratively speaking, at least. Prepare for another "fund raising drive."
May 1, 2006 [LINK]
May Day U.S.A., 2006
All across the Fruited Plains, undocumented workers are boycotting stores and workplaces to back up demands that their "rights" be respected. What is unclear is by whose authority those "rights" are derived. The action was orchestrated in part by the League of United Latin American Citizens, whose President Hector M. Flores explained the basic reasons for the boycott: showing "opposition to HR 4437 and expressing how important their worker's contributions are and the value placed on their employees." Under the status quo, ironically, illegal workers are getting paid less than legal workers, that is, they are clearly undervalued. That situation simply cannot be sustained. To me it sounds more like a blunt threat of "Do what we want, or you're going to regret it" than an earnest plea on behalf of justice. I'm still waiting to hear a coherent argument from the pro-immigrant lobbyists.
I heard a good quote from one of the activists calling in to Sean Hannity today: "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us!" The same person blamed poverty in Latin America on free trade and capitalism, revealing the real underlying agenda of many of the activists. If Americans do not have enough confidence in their own system to emphatically reject the absurd claim that poverty in Latin America is our fault, obliging us to open our doors to everyone out of misplaced guilt, then we deserve to lose control of our own country's destiny.
While this emotional debate rages on, let us try to remember one thing: Whether a given person is good, decent, or hard-working has little or nothing to do with whether they should be allowed to live in the United States. Bad behavior can disqualify someone from citizenship, but good behavior alone does not entitle anyone to become a permanent resident or citizen.
We should also remember the occasion of May Day: In most of the world, especially in socialist countries, it is the day for honoring working people. During the Soviet Era, there was a big parade in Red Square every May 1, featuring ballistic missiles, tanks, and large formations of troops. Maybe we should conform to the rest of the world, at least in a symbolic gesture, by switching Labor Day from early September to May 1.
Unlike President Bush, who is just a little bit too eager to demonstrate firm resolve to his conservative base, I see no big harm to singing the National Anthem en español. (For the lyrics, see Washington Post.) This amusing "side show" is, in part, an "in-your-face" expression of assertiveness by the immigrant community. It also illustrates, sadly, the extreme reluctance by most Latin American immigrants to learn any more English than is absolutely necessary to get by in the United States. Indeed, why bother, when the gringos bend over backwards to make essential information available to the public in Spanish? To an extent, the reluctance also reflects the prevailing disdain for American culture many of them hold, reinforcing the existing unhealthy tendency for them to remain in their own cloistered communities, isolated from mainstream society.
Today's Washington Post renewed my worries that the various factions within Republican Party may be unable (or unwilling) to work out a reasonable bargain on the immigration issue. On April 24, Pres. Bush declared,
A person ought to be allowed to . . . pay a penalty for being here illegally, commit him or herself to learn English, which is part of the American system, and get in the back of the line [for citizenship].
As long as that last clause is emphasized, I wouldn't have a big problem with that approach. Like me, however, Rep. Sensenbrenner is skeptical of the President's commitment to uphold the law, and he flat-out refuses to consider anything that smacks of "amnesty." What if they take my suggestion and call it "probation"? What I do know for sure is this: If the GOP leaders in the House, the Senate, and the White House don't get their act together soon, it would let an issue that is of great concern to a majority of Americans slip through right their fingers. In an election year with a discontented electorate, that would be unforgiveable.
In fact, this scenario reminds me a lot of what is happening in Richmond right now, with the Republicans in the state Senate and those in the House of Delegates working at cross purposes on transportation funding and taxes, to the benefit of the Democrats and Gov. Kaine. Just split the %#$&*@ difference, for cryin' out loud!
2ND UPDATE: You Don't Speak for Me!
Lest everyone think that all immigrants from Latin America are radical sympathizers who make excuses for lawbreakers, the Federation for American Immigration Reform held a forum at the National Press Club today, promoting the efforts of a group of American Latinos called You Don't Speak for Me. It's sort of a "Silent Majority," you might say. As one who deeply sympathizes with immigration on the legal path, it was very moving to watch this gathering on C-SPAN. Retired Col. Al Rodriguez, Mariann Davies, and Miguel Cruz (Peruvian!) made it clear that a large number of immigrants from Latin America believe in the United States, its values, and its laws. Two members of the Virginia House of Delegates, Jack Reid and Dave Albo (both Republicans), insisted that American businesses must be held accountable and duly punished for flaunting U.S. labor laws by hiring undocumented workers, which is by definition exploitive. Perhaps this movement will catch on in the American mainstream after all...
May 24, 2006 [LINK]
Taliban offensive crushed
The recent upsurge of combat in Afghanistan was reported in the mainstream media as if it signified a big setback, but what actually happened is that hundreds of Taliban forces were killed, and the rest retreated to their mountain refuges along the Pakistani border. A large group of Taliban guerrillas hiding in in a Kandahar religious school were killed by a smart bomb, showing once again the superior intelligence capabilities of the U.S.-led Coalition. The defeat of terrorists is analyzed by Strategy Page. As in Iraq, the insurgent forces are desperately trying to take advantage of the weakening of public support for the war in the United States, without much effect. Hopefully, this will reassure Canadians who became anxious after several of their soldiers were killed in Afghanistan recently. Parts of that country will remain unstable for years to come, as the new democratic government gradually asserts control, but that does not mean it is a "quagmire."
May 20, 2006 [LINK]
Justice vs. peace in Colombia
Putting an ironic twist on the cliche, "No justice, no peace," a judge in Colombia ruled that the peace agreement that was supposed to disarm the United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) militias is not valid. Human rights groups say the deal is too lenient, but the alternative is to let the militias continue to operate as they have been, making a mockery of police protection in certain rural areas. See CNN.com. This is a perfect illustration of the imperfect, contingent nature of justice, which cannot be defined exclusively by reference to abstract principles, but must be pursued with due regard for what is feasible given the existing configuration of interests. There are no hard and fast rules about how to proceed. In some fractured societies, justice (and therefore peace) will remain out of reach for as long as leading organized groups refuse to come to terms with each other. That, of course, is the case with Iraq right now. In some former dictatorships or oppressive regimes, such as Argentina or South Africa, the transition to an open, pluralistic system is part of a series of bargains with the bad guys who used to run things, leaving some aggrieved people frustrated.
The news chronology on the Venezuela page is now up to date. Reviewing Hugo Chavez's path to near-absolute power in that formerly free and prosperous country is very sobering. On two or three occasions, his opponents came close to prevailing, which might have changed the course of history in Latin America.
May 23, 2006 [LINK]
My brother John recently returned from another bird-oriented trip to Florida, where he took this photo of a Painted bunting, using a flash in low light conditions to create quite a stunning contrast. Don't let the name fool you, it is not really painted. This relative of the Indigo bunting breeds in certain parts of the southeastern United States, as far west as Arkansas, and winters in the Caribbean islands. I hope I get to see one before too long. I expect more fine photos from John in the near future.
I drove over to Bell's Lane late this afternoon, in hopes of spotting a Willow flycatcher for the first time this season, and indeed I did. Also seen: several Cedar waxwings, a Yellow warbler, and a Meadowlark. I also heard but did not see a Common yellowthroat. Spring rains have made up for a dry winter, and it looks like that wetland along Bell's Lane will provide enough food for many young birds this breeding season.
May 22, 2006 [LINK]
Graham: wimp on immigration
I used to think very highly of Sen. Lindsey Graham as a rising star on the side of honest reform in the Republican Party, but his comments on Meet the Press yesterday were a big disappointment. Most galling was his comment, "If the law doesn't create a just result, what good is it?" Now, I'll grant his points that the past failures by the government to enforce the laws must be taken into account, as should the military service of immigrants, but anyone who poo-poos the rule of law like that does not deserve to be a leading voice of the Party of Lincoln. Graham contradicted himself by saying that if his approach if adopted, "we'll be rewarded at the ballot box not just by Hispanic voters," and then, "It's not about the next election. What Republicans need to get away from is fear of the next election, and do things that are good for the country down the road."
He needs to make his mind up. Is it not obvious that Graham and people like him are the ones who are most afraid of the electoral consequences of real reform? Like John McCain, he is prone to mouthing the lame canards about how our economy "needs" underpaid illegal workers, not even bothering to reflect whether our labor laws might need to be part of the reform. Fortunately, Rep. Charles Norwood, appearing with Graham on Meet the Press, rebutted the red herring about "mass deportation," stating quite clearly that a reduction in the illegal work force could be accomplished gradually, through attrition of those who choose to return home to their home countries. Even though the specter of mass roundups is too far-fetched to contemplate, it might help matters if Reps. Sensenbrenner and Tancredo could offer to compromise by including provisions spelling out such details, to allay the fears some immigrants have.
May 4, 2006 [LINK]
John Kenneth Galbraith
It is interesting that the passing of one of the most eminent modern* liberal economists of the 20th Century comes just as orthodox market economics is besieged in much of the world, and even in this country, to an extent. Galbraith was perhaps most famous for his book The Affluent Society, a critique of America's awkward adjustment to mass wealth and recipe book of statist cures. In today's Washington Post, George Will writes that the The Harvard economist's main legacy was to instill in Democrats an elitist condescension toward average Americans. That attitude plagues the Democrats' efforts to make a sincere appeal to voters to this very day. Will also perceives the echoes of Galbraithian elitism in the McCain-Feingold Act.
I once read Galbraith's earlier book The New Industrial State, which made some good points about the trend toward oligopoly in the American manufacturing sector, making it less responsive to market forces. There were two major flaws in that book, however. First, his suggested remedy of building up a strong regulatory state with "countervailing power" against the industrial giants neglected the possibility that Big Government might end up "in bed with" Big Business, rather than policing it. Second, economic globalization severely curtailed the relative size and influence of American industry, and without a world government, of course, there can be no such "countervailing power" to global corporations.
* "modern" liberal as in not "classical" liberal
So I'm not the only one after all! Yesterday's Washington Post profiled Rod Dreher, a young columnist and author from Dallas who defies conventional stereotypes by having a whole-grain, all-natural lifestyle even as he espouses conservative political opinions. He recently wrote a book, Crunchy Cons (as in granola), which sounds like it's right up my alley. In January 2005 I posited a strong (potential) harmony between political conservatism and wildlife conservation. How is it possible to reconcile such seemingly opposite approaches to life? Just "Think Different." It's easy if you try.
May 31, 2006 [LINK]
Student protest in Chile
Perhaps it is an indication of Chile's economic success, rising above Third World status, that half a million students boycotted classes to back up their demands for a new curriculum, free bus rides, and no fees to take exams. Or perhaps it reflects the left-liberal permissiveness encouraged by the Socialist government. In any case, over 600 of them were arrested in protests during the last two days, and 14 were injured by police who used water cannons to keep the kids under control. President Michelle Bachelet denounced the police and expressed sympathy for the students. See BBC.
Venezuela-Russia arms deal
During a visit to Ecuador, Hugo Chavez announced that Venezuela had reached an agreement with Russia whereby Kalashnikov rifles will be manufactured under license in Venezuela "So we can defend every street, every hill, every corner." See BBC. Whether or not he actually believes such paranoid fantasies, some people are bound to do so, and this will needlessly escalate tensions and have a destabilizing effect on security in the region. Chavez began purchases of weapons from Russia in February 2005, and then as now, the main goal seems to be his desire to arm rebel forces in Colombia and other countries that resist his "Bolivarian revolution."
The Uruguay background information page has been updated with data on political parties and a (rather scant) news chronology.
May 25, 2006 [LINK]
Fox tours southwestern states
President Vicente Fox is visiting Mexico's former territories (!), and confronted Gov. Schwarzenegger over the immigration issue while in California. Speaking to the Utah legislature,* he insisted that building a wall will not solve the immigration problem (see BBC), and he is correct in a sense. The problem will continue as long as the Mexico retains its corrupt, statist economic system, and as long as the United States accommodates it by tolerating undocumented workers whose money sent back home props up the economies of Mexico and the rest of Latin America.
* [The U.S. Constitution forbids states from entering into agreements with foreign countries, and the meetings Fox is having with state officials might be considered a trespass into an exclusively Federal domain. Imagine if President Bush held direct talks with the governors of Chihuahua or other Mexican states.]
Dominican Republic elections
Votes have been counted from the legislative and local elections that were held last week, and the centrist Dominican Liberation Party of President Fernandez won a clear majority in both houses of Congress, with 22 Senate seats, up from just two before, and at least 90 of the 178 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Even former President Hipolito Mejia, of the center-left Dominican Revolutionary Party, has acknowledged that the elections were clean. The PRD won only 6 Senate seats, down from 29, and the center-right Reformist Social Christian Party won 4, up from just one. The PRD-PRSC alliance won 83 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Some election disputes have yet to be resolved, however, so the results are not yet final. See CNN.com.
Humala cries fraud, prematurely
Populist presidential candidate Ollanta Humala has fallen at least 12 percentage points behind Alan Garcia in the polls, and now he is warning of possible fraud as the June 4 elections approach. Ironically, he cited a comment by third-place candidate Lourdes Flores, who complained that she "lost at the tabulation tables, not at the ballot box" in the first-round elections on April 9. Humala's close affinity to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has alienated him from many Peruvians, who are too proud of their country to let Peru become a satellite of the tyrant in Caracas. See CNN.com.
I have put the final batch of photos from my 1989 trip to Central America on the new Honduras photo gallery page; just click on the adjacent thumbnail image. Also, the news chronology and political background sections of the Honduras page have been updated.
May 15, 2006 [LINK]
Augusta County development
For once I have to agree with the editorial in today's Staunton News Leader, questioning the refusal by the Augusta County Board of Supervisors to release any information about a $440,000 study on industrial development. (They ran another editorial on the same topic on Friday.) Although not mentioned in either one, it is rumored that Toyota is considering building a massive new automobile assembly plant in the Weyer's Cave area, between Staunton and Harrisonburg. It is feared that any disclosure of the (apparent) ongoing negotiations would scare the prospective investors away, and the state's Freedom of Information Act may be invoked. Lack of sufficient water supplies for a large factory is one reason for hesitation on this plan. Supervisors Kay Frye (Republican) and Nancy Sorrells were the only board members who voted to release some of the report. It is very interesting that gender, not party affiliation, seems to be the deciding factor in this controversy; the other five board members are men, and three of them are Republicans. People in this area are certainly eager to attract new businesses, but something as big as an auto plant would radically alter the character of the scenic Shenandoah Valley. A recent letter to the editor in the News Leader asked why not simply refurbish the auto plant in the Norfolk metropolitan area that Ford is about to shut down. Indeed, why not? Big corporations are used to getting their way with local governments who are willing to cut legal corners and pass special provisions and exemptions from taxes or regulations so as to attract industrial development, and I hope that is not the case here. If the Augusta County Board does decide to go ahead with this project, I hope they at least make sure that environmental concerns are fully addressed, and that the taxpayers not be burdened with any infrastructure costs associated with the new development.
UPDATE: Virginia GOP squabbling
Well, what else is new? Today's Washington Post has yet another story on the struggle between Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly, as the budget showdown heads toward another climax, just like two years ago. Apparently some of the party leaders are waking up to the possibility that they may lose seats in one or both houses if they can't convince the voters that they can legislate in a coherent and responsible fashion. The article quotes state Sen. Emmet Hanger, who represents Augusta County and surrounding areas, as saying "if we don't sort it out in a timely manner, we won't remain the majority party." He tends to be a moderate on some issues, and was heavily criticized by some Republicans for voting on the compromise measure in 2004 that resulted in a big tax hike, but I was pleased to learn that he is trying to convince his colleagues not to raise taxes this time around. Even though the state is currently running a surplus, Governor Kaine and many Republicans in the state Senate, including John Chichester, insist that future desire transportation projects necessitate a steady, rising stream of general fund revenues. Baloney! Anyone who thinks that new highways are needed should pay for it with their own money, whether by tolls, fuel taxes, or other user fees. The Virginia budget is biennial, so this is the last major fiscal policy decision before the next state election campaign. It would be nice if Virginia Republicans could start to act like a reasonably organized -- if not fully unified -- political party.
May 2, 2006 [LINK]
Third World blocks U.N. reform
Kofi Annan clearly got the message that the corrupt, inefficient status quo at the United Nations will no longer be tolerated by the U.S. government, at least not as long as George W. Bush is president. The Secretary General was pushing for a set of measures to reorder the U.N. bureaucracy, with U.S. support, but a coalition of developing nations thwarted his efforts on Friday. The main issue was the proposed creation of a small group of nations to exercise responsibility over the U.N. budget. This would have undercut the strong influence currently wielded by the "Group of 77" less developed countries (which actually includes 132 members), and they would have none of that. Quite the contrary, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution obliging the Secretary General to work harder to help people from poor countries obtain high-level jobs in the United Nations. Egypt's ambassador emphasized "that we are all equal partners in this organization." See Washington Post. From the Third World perspective, why should they agree to such a change? What's in it for them? This is precisely why we needed somebody like John Bolton as U.N. ambassador to create incentives for reform (carrots and/or sticks), and just put an end to the nonsense -- or drastically reduce it, at least. As I wrote just over a year ago, when he was being raked over the coals by the U.S. Senate, we shouldn't "expect to get much reform done at the United Nations with a 'Herman Milquetoast' approach."
You may recall that Kofi Annan was indirectly tied to U.N. corruption by his son's involvement in the Iraq "oil for food scandal" in late 2004. Now there is a new ethical blemish: He just appointed to a key environmental post a German who happened to be on the board of an organization that awarded Mr. Annan $500,000 prize last year. Annan denies that had anything to do with his decision. See today's Washington Post.
As the United States tries to work with the United Nations in trying to prevent Iran from acquiring the capacity to make nuclear weapons, just remember how dysfunctional that hallowed body is. Even under the best of circumstances, getting a large number of sovereign nations to agree on anything significant is almost a miracle.
Steele on White Guilt
The West's difficulties in exerting leverage over the Third World is related to what Shelby Steele wrote in opinionjournal.com today. (Rush Limbaugh talked about this at length today.) Steele observes that America has been extraordinarily "delicate with the enemy" since Vietnam, to which he attributes
the world-wide collapse of white supremacy as a source of moral authority, political legitimacy and even sovereignty.
Because dissociation from the racist and imperialist stigma is so tied to legitimacy in this age of white guilt, America's act of going to war can have legitimacy only if it seems to be an act of social work...
This shift in global zeitgeist has left much of Europe and the United States virtually paralyzed by "secular penitence." It's a very thought-provoking thesis, and I think it is very pertinent to the question of why discourse on university campuses these days is so biased. You either toe the politically correct, anti-Western line, or you get the cold shoulder.
May 17, 2006 [LINK]
Democrat scandals: bad timing
As much as I've complained about the Republicans' incoherent policy agenda and tolerance for ethical lapses recently, I should probably give equal time to the Democrats. Political analyst Charlie Cook writes in the National Journal, "Just think what life would be like for House Democrats right now if Alan Mollohan of West Virginia and William Jefferson of Louisiana had behaved themselves a bit better. Democrats would have the moral high ground." Now there's a far-fetched scenario! Mollohan resigned from the House Ethics Committee last month after it was reported that he steered Federal contracts to companies that contributed to his campaign (see Washington Post), and Jefferson is under pressure to resign his seat for flagrant spending of public money to maintain an extravagant lifestyle (see Washington Post).
At Tech Central Station, Glenn Reynolds discusses why the U.S. birth rate is declining: Public policy creates many incentives against having children, while erasing most of the traditional security benefits of procreating. It is fascinating that a libertarian-inclined person is addressing one of the core issues championed by cultural conservatives. Perhaps there is still hope for the Right after all. Rush Limbaugh tied the demographic slump to the rationales many offer for increased immigration, as the Democrats scramble to expand their shrinking constituency. As I have suggested in the past, we seem to be following In the footsteps of France. BTW, shouldn't there be a field called "Republographics"?
New Interior Secretary
After Gale Norton announced she was resigning as Secretary of the Interior in March, President Bush nominated Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne to replace her, pending Senate confirmation. Norton impressed me as a person who was sincerely concerned about conservation, but her past association with James Watt tarnished her in many people's minds. She was committed to sensible, sustainable use of forest resources, finding a middle ground between those who want to chop down every tree in sight, and those who want to preserve the woodlands as an untouchable Eden in perpetuity.
May 15, 2006 [LINK]
After the steady rain we had yesterday, today turned out quite nice though a bit cool, and I managed to do a brief walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad late this afternoon. I heard and then saw several high-flying Cedar waxwings and a couple Towhees, and I also heard but did not see a Scarlet tanager. The best part was when I spotted a male Blackpoll warbler for the first time this season. He was shaking off his feathers in the bushes after bathing in the stream. They are black and white, with a golden tinge on the edge of their wing feathers, much like a Pine siskin. With the sun in back of me, it was perfect lighting conditions, probably the best view of that bird I had ever had. They are usually the last species of warbler to migrate north, so this is a sign that the peak season has already passed.
The number of goldfinches in our back yard has dropped dramatically in the last few days, and just about the only ones we see now are females.
May 28, 2006 [LINK]
Orioles, orioles everywhere...
... but not one good photograph! I took a short drive to Lewis Creek, a mile or so northeast of Staunton today, and was pleased to see those bright orange and black birds flying every which way, it seemed. One landed within 30 feet of me, but flew away just as I clicked the camera. Well, their melodic songs were a delightful consolation. I spotted two oriole nests, but I suspect there are at least four breeding pairs in that area. Today's highlights:
- Baltimore orioles (M, F)
- Orchard orioles (M, F)
- Tree swallows
- N. rough-winged swallows
- Barn swallows
- Red-bellied woodpecker
- Bluebirds (M, F)
- Red-tailed hawk (high)
- Indigo bunting (M)
- Willow flycatcher (Bell's Lane)
- Green heron (Bell's Lane)
Male Tree swallow, guarding the nest box. One of the phoebes was carrying nesting material to the bridge over the creek; click HERE to see.
I also heard but did not see a Blackpoll warbler and some Yellow warblers. On Bell's Lane on the way back, I peeked inside one of the nest boxes which are supposed to be for Bluebirds, but are often used by the aggressive Tree swallows. Click on the camera icon below to see the bright white eggs, amidst the peculiar feather lining used by Tree swallows.
May 4, 2006 [LINK]
Montgomery Hall Park
This morning I hiked around Montgomery Hall Park, and was impressed by all the May apples, which are now blooming. (Roll mouse over the image to see the plants themselves.) May apples can be seen on almost any forest floor in the early Spring before the tree leaves block out the sun. During my walk I saw several warblers species, including a few first-of-season birds:
- Green herons (FOS)
- Indigo bunting
- House wren
- Red-bellied woodpeckers
- Downy woodpeckers
- Blue-headed vireo
- Red-eyed vireo (FOS)
- Black-throated blue warbler (FOS)
- Chestnut-sided warbler (FOS)
- Yellow-rumped warbler
- Black-throated green warbler
- Great crested flycatcher
- Northern parula
Behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad on Tuesday, I saw a Common yellowthroat for the first time this season. No other warblers, however, to my surprise. I heard but did not see a Wood thrush and a Cuckoo for the first time this season; I'm not sure whether it was a Black-billed or a Yellow-billed cuckoo. A Pine siskin (the same one as before?) showed up at our feeder out back yesterday, and I got a better photo of it than I did on April 12, so I replaced the previous one.
May 3, 2006 [LINK]
The national anthem of Peru
After the recent controversy over singing our national anthem in Spanish, I figured, hey, why not translate Peru's Himno Nacional into English? (The original Spanish lyrics are available at: redperuana.com, which also has a link to a MIDI file that plays the melody, which has a very stately cadence.) I don't pretend to have a talent for poetry or lyrics-writing, but here is my more-or-less literal translation:
(We are free)
We are free, may we always be so
And before the sun withholds its rays
Should we shirk the solemn vow
That the fatherland raised to Eternity
For a long time the oppressed Peruvian
Dragged the dreadful chain;
Condemned to cruel servitude,
For a long time in silence he endured.
But as soon as the sacred cry
"Liberty!" on the coasts was heard,
The slave's indolence was shaken,
The humble head arose.
The noise of the rough chains
That we hear three centuries of horror,
Of the free ones to the sacred cry
That the amazed world heard, ceased
For everywhere the aroused San Martin
Proclaimed "Liberty, Liberty,"
And shaking their base, the Andes
Announced it, too, in one voice.
With their influence the towns awoke
And like a bolt of lightning opinion spread;
From the Isthmus to the Lands of Fire,
From the fire to the region of ice.
Everyone swore to break the bond
That Nature denied to both worlds
And to break that sceptre which Spain
Proudly reclined upon the two.
Lima, carry out the solemn vow,
And, severe, its anger showed.
Hurling at the impotent tyrant
That was trying to prolong his oppression.
By their effort, they burst the shackles
And the ditches in which they made their stand,
They stoked the hatred and revenge
Inherited from their Inca and their Lord.
Countrymen, no more to see it a slave
Its humble three centuries endured,
Let us swear to make it free for always
Maintaining its due splendor.
May our arms, until now unarmed,
Always be priming the cannon
That some day the beaches of Iberia
Will feel the clamor of terror.
In their peaks, may the Andes hold high
The bicolored flag or banner,
That for centuries to come proclaim the struggle
That made us free, for always.
In their shadow may we live in peace,
And as the sun rises over their peaks,
Let us renew the great oath
That we render to the God of Jacob.
(Corrected translations may ensue.) That should give you an idea of how Peruvians, and many Latin Americans, view foreign domination -- whether by Spain or by the great powers of modern times. And you thought our national anthem was unduly bellicose?
May 16, 2006 [LINK]
Bush militarizes Mexican border
The President may say otherwise, but that's exactly what he proposes to do in the short term, and I suppose there was no other choice. There simply aren't enough Border Patrol agents to do the job, and it will take a year or more to train the 6,000 new agents Bush wants to hire. It would be nice if this was more than just a gesture aimed at placating his conservative base, and perhaps it is. Some people think that sending the National Guard to guard the nation's borders is highly inappropriate, but isn't that function a no-brainer? This raises another red herring aspect to this issue, the principle of posse comitatus under which soldiers cannot be used for domestic law enforcment. Is it not obvious that the border region is inherently not domestic? Or are our soldiers supposed to defend our territory on Mexico's side of the border?
To his credit, President Bush said almost all the right things in his brief address to the nation last night (the transcript is at whitehouse.gov), but the real test will be the actions. I wholeheartedly agree with Bush that the idea of deporting all 12 million (or more?) illegal aliens is just not practical, but shouldn't we at least consider deporting, say, the ten percent of them who are least desirable? Allowing 90 percent of the invasores to stay here would still be pretty generous, I would think.
Curiously absent from Bush's speech: any mention of the fundamental public policy distortions that give rise to the problem on both sides of the border. U.S. labor laws (minimum wage, mandated benefits) create a huge incentive for U.S. businessmen to cheat by hiring illegal workers, while the crooked, anti-capitalist economic systems in Latin America create a huge artificial surplus of labor that ends up here. As long as most people don't pay attention, the distortions on each side of the border sustain each other, in an indirect but very real way. Hardly anyone pays attention to those underlying sources of the problem, focusing instead on treating the symptoms. That approach will be futile, ultimately.
Some say that the deployment of combat forces to the border may make President Fox and other Mexicans unduly nervous. Well, perhaps Bush should have spelled out that we have absolutely no intention -- none whatsoever -- of sending American forces into Mexico like we did in 1917. Would that have calmed them down? I should note that Jose Rodriguez suggested to me recently that sending troops to guard the border would jolt Mexicans into facing reality and voting for the conservative (PAN) candidate in the upcoming elections, but I think an anti-U.S. backlash (in favor of the leftist PRD) is just as likely. In any case, the numbers just aren't that great: If you take 5,000 troops and divide by 2,000 miles, you only get one soldier for every half mile -- not even within shouting distance of each other!
In the Washington Post, Dan Balz notes the political aspects, noting correctly that Bush got himself (and the Republican Party) into this vexing predicament by not acting in a more timely fashion. If you ask me, it's probably all the fault of Karl Rove and the folks who base all policy decisions on their likely effect on the next election. Another Post news item spotlighted Gov. Bill Richardson's "Third Way" approach to immigration. (That is the triangulation-obsessed purportedly "moderate" Democrat agenda, popularized by Bill Clinton, borrowing from the success of New Labour's Tony Blair in Britain.) Some think that forward-thinking Western Democrats can take advantage of this issue, but Dems are just as divided by hypocrisy as the Republicans are. Most Dems will be content to sit back as spectators while the Republicans agonize over the responsibilities of governance, making some wonder if winning is really that important. This is one of those issues of vital national urgency -- like the budget crisis was in the mid-1990s -- where some degree bipartisan cooperation will be essential to achieving a real reform.
In the blogosphere, reactions are mixed. At Power Line Blog, John Hinderaker writes that Bush blew his chance as soon as he talked about "guest worker" programs. I too am quite dubious of that concept, and Bush has contradicted himself by talking about "guest worker" status as being a bridge toward ultimate citizenship. Who is kidding whom? I can relate to Hinderaker's anecdote about the African cab driver who could not fathom the possibility that Bush might have a welcoming attitude toward immigrants. There is a huge misperception problem, and it's too late for Bush to overcome it, I'm afraid. Bobby Eberle points out, as I have over and over, that the main problem is lack of enforcement, which is an executive branch responsibility. Get it, Mr. President?
Here's a thought: If enforcing the letter of our laws and deporting those who are here illegally is considered beyond the capacity of our government to do, as Bush says, then what does that say about our ability to create a democratic regime in a country (Iraq) that has never known real democracy before? Why should we be resigned pragmatists at home and starry-eyed dreamers abroad? The "power of positive thinking" has a lot more "oomph" when it is consistently applied.
Gore in 2008???
I got a good chuckle from Al Gore's relaxed, self-deprecating humor on Saturday Night Live, doing a fantasy skit in which he had won the 2000 election, there was never a 9/11 attack, and the whole world loved us. "What a wonderful world it would be!" Unlike his last appearance on SNL, it was not forced at all, which makes me wonder: What is he up to? Andrew Sullivan thinks he may just be preparing to run for Prez in 2008, another unthinkable political comeback a la Richard Nixon.
May 25, 2006 [LINK]
Nocturnal novelty: Luna moth
I saw this Luna moth flying around the parking lot lamp tonight, and was lucky to get a surprisingly decent photo of it. It is very large, about three inches wide, and has a unique pale olive green color. For more info on this species, see the usually-reliable Wikipedia. I've added this photo, and the recent closeup shot of the Honey bees*, to the Butterflies, spiders, & insects page.
* Apparently, some farmers came by to remove that bee colony for use in orchard or garden pollination.
May 19, 2006 [LINK]
¡Hay que hablar inglés, carajo! *
In a bold move aimed at asserting our nation's cultural identity, the United States Senate included a provision mandating that prospective immigrants learn English. See Washington Post. I used to oppose the movement to make English the official U.S. language, thinking that imposing it was contrary to our free, pluralistic heritage. In fact, I argued about this with a guy whose family came here from Cuba that I knew at U.Va. Suffice it to say that I have come around to his way of thinking in recent years. Nevertheless, the Senate measure reeks of symbolism, concealing the overall weak substance of Senate's immigration bill as it now stands. The English-language provision might carry a little more meaning if the existing laws mandating bilingual education and public signs were repealed. Otherwise, it's like one foot on the brake and one foot on the accelerator.
Objections to this measure raised by Senators Kennedy and Reid were utterly preposterous, as usual. I do take exception, however, to the argument that learning English is the key to success in this country. In fact, millions of immigrants enjoy a great deal of economic success without speaking anything more than rudimentary English. What many people do not realize is that the various immigrant communities are effectively "ghettoized," with members of each respective language group dealing primarily with each other, rather than the mainstream business sector. That is one more way that the current wave of immigration differs radically from past waves in our history.
* For you folks in Rio Linda, that means, "You have to speak English, dammit!"
Landes resists industrialization
Delegate Steve Landes objects to the secretive process by which the Augusta County Board is paving the way for industrial development near the regional airport at Weyer's Cave, which is part of his district. As for the specific proposal, he says "the size of the project is inappropriate." As a solid pro-business Republican, his opinion in this matter ought to carry a lot of weight. There are also concerns that a large factory would cause exceesive pollution runoff, and the Shenandoah River is already under severe environmental stress, as witnessed by the fish kill last summer. See the Staunton News Leader and my May 15 post. We are fortunate to have far-sighted public officials who recognize the priceless value of the fresh air and verdant pastures in the Shenandoah Valley. You don't have to be a counterculture Luddite to realize that "You don't know what you've got till it's gone."
May 13, 2006 [LINK]
Get a Mac!
I noticed by some TV ads that Apple has launched yet another crusade to convert Windows users, trying to avoid the condescending tone of past such ad campaigns. The "unenlightened masses" may atone for their past sins and redeem themselves at apple.com. As they say, it just works! The fact that the new Intel-based Macs will be able to boot up into either Windows or Mac OS X (as opposed to running Windows emulation software, as is now possible) may just be the incentive the fence-straddlers needed to take the leap. Whether a significant proportion of iPod users will "take the bait" and switch to Apple remains to be seen. I figure the aggregate productivity of the U.S. economy would probably be at least ten percent higher if Macs were the office standard.
Apple sues Apple
The Beatles' record label Apple Corps lost its trademark infringement suit against Apple Computer last week. A decade or so ago, the Apple folks in Cupertino had agreed not to infringe upon Apple Corps' music business, but apparently they've got some pretty clever lawyers because the judge ruled that the Apple logo may in fact be used in iTunes sales pitches and promotions. See Washington Post.
May 31, 2006 [LINK]
New New York stadiums delayed
According to fieldofschemes.com, construction work on both the Yankees' and the Mets' planned future stadiums has been delayed, and required regulatory approval has not even been made. The tax-exempt status of the bond issues for both stadiums is still being scrutinized by the Internal Revenue Service, which means groundbreaking probably won't begin until next year. In addition, the new Yankee Stadium would be built on Federal park land and would therefore require permission from the National Park Service, so it will probably take even longer to build than the Mets' future home. So, I'm adding a year to Yankee Stadium's "life expectancy," and hoping against hope that the bureaucratic holdup continues indefinitely... Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
Clemens "unretires" again
I guess I have mixed feelings about Roger Clemens' deal with the Astros for the second half of the season. Much as I admire him, a clean break and definitive farewell would be much better than dragging things out over and over. The Astros had mixed feelings too, having declined to offer him arbitration last December, but they need all the help they can get at this point, having fallen seven games behind the Cardinals. Two of his former teams, the Yankees and the Red Sox, made him offers, but he wanted to stay near home in Texas. See MLB.com.
UPDATE: Nats eke out win
The solid pitching of Livan Hernandez and the clutch hitting of Alfonso Soriano were just enough to give the Nationals a 3-2 win over the Phillies today, thereby avoiding a sweep. Soriano becomes the first player in Expos/Nationals franchise history to have hit 12 homers in the merry, merry month of May. On a sad note, workhorse relief pitcher Joey Eischen needs surgery on his left rotator cuff and will be out for the rest of the season. Now we know that his declining performance stemmed from a real physical problem. He is one of the dwindling number of former Montreal Expos players on the Washington roster, and at the age of 36, he might not be coming back. If not, he deserves a Major League farewell salute for giving the team all he had. See MLB.com. That article also mentions rumors that another ex-Expo, Jose Vidro, might be traded, even though he wants to stay with the team. That would be a shame.
New Busch Stadium seats
The seats in the upper decks in the left field corner of New Busch Stadium have been installed, and opened for business on Monday, one month ahead of schedule. With the 4,176 new seats, the seating capacity is now 43,975, and including standing room, it is 46,861. The finishing touches on the ballpark -- player statues and the team souvenir shop -- should be completed by mid-July. See St. Louis Post Dispatch. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
May 3, 2006 [LINK]
Lerner is the owner- [designate]
From the number of news reports and editorial comments in today's Washington Post, there is no longer even a shred of doubt that MLB has awarded the Washington Nationals franchise to Theodore Lerner and family. The formal announcement may come as soon as today, or else at the new stadium groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for tomorrow. At the ripe old age of 80, the patriarch real estate tycoon may not have much energy to take an active role in rebuilding the bare-bones franchise and whipping the team into shape. Presumably, his son Mark will be the guiding force. Well, at least MLB is not guilty of age discrimination.
With regard to the accusations that the Lerner franchise partnership is "renting" black men to pretend to be more diverse, Post Business columnist Stephen Pearlstein criticizes Marion Barry's "old school" race-baiting approach to politics, which is out of step in a city that is increasingly diverse. He notes that when Barry was mayor, he himself encouraged awarding government contracts to firms whose minority participation was largely token.
UPDATE: Late this afternoon, word spread that there would be an official announcement, and at a press conference this evening, it was indeed confirmed that the Nationals will be sold to the Lerners. See MLB.com. Bud Selig explained:
In the end, I determined that family ownership and major investment by a central person has served baseball well in the past and will continue to serve the game well in the future.
"Traditional family values," eh? I will leave it to others to ponder the occult processes by which such monumental decisions are made by the overlords of Our National Pastime. I wonder how high the bidding would have escalated if MLB hadn't set $450 million as the fixed sales price?
TV wars: D.C. vs. Comcast
The D.C. Council passed a bill last night that would force all cable television companies operating in the District to include all Washington Nationals games. In essence, they are taking sides in the legal dispute between Comcast and Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (a.k.a. Mr. Angelos Screws the Nationals ), which ran yet another full-page ad in yesterday's Washington Post. To anyone who really knows what has been going on, the message of "Vote to put the games on television" was extremely ironic. It's always worth a chuckle when one monopoly enterprise accuses another enterprise of unfair monopoly practices. (DISCLAIMER: Comcast acquired bankrupt cable TV provider Adelphia last year, and will soon become my cable TV provider.)
Nats beat Mets
Apparently, the Nationals are at their best when some unknown rookie takes the mound as starting pitcher. Last night they defeated the Mets 6-2, as Mike O'Connor struck out six batters and allowed only two hits in seven innings. Not too shabby! See MLB.com. Two weeks ago Billy Traber did likewise, after being called up from the minors on emergency duty, helping the Nationals trounce the Phillies.
I've noticed that the sports scores at the bottom of the screen on Harrisonburg's WHSV TV-3 still show the initials "MON" referring to the Washington Nationals, more than a year and a half after Montreal lost the team. How lame is that? Somebody needs to fire their database administrator.
May 5, 2006 [LINK]
Doctor House and Donna
One of the very best new drama shows on TV this past year has been House, on FOX. British actor Hugh Laurie plays the brilliant yet grouchy Doctor House superbly, and his American accent is perfect. A recent episode (see plot summary at fox.com) dealt with Wegener's Granulomatosis, the very same rare disease of unknown origin that my friend in California Donna Ball has been struggling against. I mentioned Donna's illness almost a year ago, and shortly after she finishes her chemotherapy this month, doctors will reevaluate her condition. Our prayers will be with her. House happens to be one of Donna's favorite shows, too.
May 8, 2006 [LINK]
Nationals crawl out of cellar
The Nationals finally won a series, edging the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates at RFK Stadium. They got off to a great start with a 6-0 win on Friday, but they wasted an early lead on Saturday, as the Pirates caught up and won on a Jason Bay home run in the tenth inning. Sunday's game was likewise a close match, and this time Chad Cordero resumed his role as confident closer, holding on to a 5-4 lead. Today is the Nationals' first off day in more than two weeks. On Tuesday they begin a challenging series in Cincinnati, where the Reds are currently leading the NL Central. To almost everyone's surprise, the Braves are in third place in the NL East, only one and a half games ahead of the Nationals.
Nats pitchers hurt
John Patterson will remain on the disabled list for at least ten more days, because his throwing arm (right) is still sore. Ryan Drese's tendon strain has not yet healed, either. See MLB.com. Trusty reliever Gary Majewski revealed that he has been suffering from tendonitis, which probably explains his disappointing performance this year. It was also learned that last year's starting shortstop Cristian Guzman will have season-ending surgery, and may not play again as a National. On the bright side, sluggers Alfonso Soriano, Nick Johnson, Jose Guillen, and Jose Vidro all seem to be in fine shape. Now if they could only hit consistently... Speaking of which, All Star balloting is now underway. Last year, no Nats batters made the team.
Now that the question of ownership has been resolved, the focus turns to the task of getting the new stadium built. The Business section of today's Washington Post talks about the Lerners plan to apply their experience in managing construction projects, and more particularly, about their experience in turning such projects into investment gold mines via economic spinoff effects as the neighborhood develops. The head of the construction company, A. James Clark, promises that the stadium will be completed "on time and on budget." We'll see. What if they have to use fully documented laborers?
Joe Torre wins #1000
Joe Torre, who used to be a catcher for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, celebrated his one thousandth victory since becoming manager of the Yankees in 1996. With the high turnover rate of managers under George Steinbrenner (Torre was the twenty-first!), no one would have expected him to last ten years. This came as the Yanks swept the Rangers and moved into first place, along side the Red Sox. See MLB.com. On a sad note for Yankee fans around the world, the career home run record of The Babe is about to be eclipsed under questionable circumstances.
The diagrams on the Yankee Stadium page have been corrected, moving the deepest part of the bleachers about 25 feet toward the left (north), reducing the depth of the upper deck by about ten feet, and extending the grandstand in right field about 25 feet further toward center field. As usual, getting these details right proved to be more time-consuming than I originally expected. The text on that page has been condensed, and the data table now shows the actual distances to the power alleys and center field, which differ significantly from the marked distances. Once again, I am indebted to the research assistance of Bruce Orser, who sent me blueprints and satellite photos that came in very handy. Those blueprints confirmed what I had suspected from some aerial photos: that the concourse "bulges out" at the three corners of the grandstand, where the entrances are located. Thanks, Bruce!
May 25, 2006 [LINK]
In today's Washington Post, George Will took exception to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez's dismissal of the suggestion that laws requiring bilingual ballots be repealed: "Of course not." Will notes that Federal statutes in 1906 and 1950 made English proficiency a requirement for obatining citizenship, and concludes:
Hence, if someone needs a ballot written in a language other than English, that need proves the person obtained citizenship only because the law was not enforced when he or she sought citizenship. So one reason for ending ballots in languages other than English is that continuing them makes a mockery of the rule of law, including even the prospective McCain-Kennedy law that pro-immigration groups favor.
As Will emphasizes, encouraging people who don't know much English to vote is a step toward the Balkanization of our national polity. As I wrote on May 19, passing a law making English the national language without repealing mandatory bilingualism in public places and work places is "like one foot on the brake and one foot on the accelerator." Every time you see an official notice written in Spanish displayed in some business establishment, bear in mind that it basically signifies tacit official acceptance of large-scale violation of immigration laws. This practice simply cannot go on forever. Moderate (i.e., crowd-pleasing) Republicans like Lindsey Graham (see May 22) and John McCain (see April 7) seem oddly oblivious to the fundamental necessity of crafting laws that will be enforceable and therefore respected.
May 16, 2006 [LINK]
Kasten lays out long-term plans
The Nationals' new president, Stan Kasten, held a press conference to explain the new owners' long-term franchise rebuilding plans, which means focusing most of their initial attention and resources on the crumbling farm system. See MLB.com. Well, we knew that already. Ever since MLB bought the Montreal Expos from Jeffrey Loria in 2003, that franchise has had a certain "Potemkin" quality, with all the good stuff on display in front and hardly anything in back. It will take years to make up for that shameful situation. I was heartened by this comment by Kasten:
A ballplayer is more than simply batting averages and ERA. A ballplayer has heart, makeup and competitiveness. The more of those qualities you have, the more successful players you are going to have. The more players you have, the better makeup of the team you have.
Exactly. The fewer mercenaries, the better. (So the Yankees are interested in Soriano again, eh?) As for the series in Atlanta, at least the Nationals beat the Braves on Sunday, avoiding a sweep. Nick Johnson's hustle sparked the rally that finally got them going. My brother Chris thought he was out at first, but it looked like a tie to me. Tonight at Wrigley Field, the Nats have yet to score against the Cubs, down 4-0 in the seventh inning.
I have updated the Baseball in D.C. background and Baseball in D.C. news chronology pages to reflect the latest developments in the sale of the franchise and groundbreaking of the new stadium.
Statement from the Washington Baseball Club
For the first time in many months, there was a public statement on the Web site of the prospective franchise ownership group headed by Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients:
Seven years ago, we partnered with the City to return the national pastime to the nation's capital. Now in its second year, the Washington Nationals franchise has already become a great source of pride and unity for the entire region.
We have enjoyed the opportunity to meet the Commissioner, team owners, and other baseball executives. We always felt that local ownership was a priority for the team, and we believe MLB has selected a good, strong, local family to lead the Nationals. We congratulate the Lerners and pledge our full support to ensuring that baseball is ingrained into the fabric of this City.
We are also deeply grateful to the Mayor, City Council, and D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission for their outstanding leadership during this entire process.
Jacobs Field touchup
Lawrence Duffy thought that I had failed to take account of the fact that the bleachers in Jacobs Field were expanded at some point in the latter 1990s. Actually, I did acknowledge that in the text and put dotted lines in the diagram, but to erase any doubt, I added a "dynamic diagram" to the Jacobs Field page. If anyone knows for sure what year that expansion was carried out, please let me know.
May 30, 2006 [LINK]
RFK Stadium: Homer friendly!?
In Monday's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell noted how many home runs have been hit in Washington this year, contradicting last year's conventional wisdom that the park was too spacious for batters to hope to hit many four-baggers. Yet so far this year, Alfonso Soriano is tied for second in the National League with 18 home runs, 11 of which were at home. Even Jose Vidro, who has complained about the far-out fences in RFK, has hit two homers at RFK this year. Boswell also points out the recent blossoming of the starting pitchers into a first-class rotation, even without John Patterson, who will remain on the DL for another week or two. Veterans Tony Armas and Ramon Ortiz have fulfilled their latent potential, while rookies Michael O'Connor and Shawn Hill are far outperforming expectations. When you add power hitting plus ace pitching, it makes you wonder whether the Nats could become contenders for the postseason again this year after all. Ah, if only the Nats' bullpen could hold up... Speaking of which, in the Nats' 11-2 loss last night, nine of the Phillies' runs came after O'Connor had to leave the game with a bruised ankle in the sixth inning.
Miguel Cabrera joins CITGO
CITGO Petroleum Corporation has hired Miguel Cabrera, of the Florida Marlins, to serve as its spokesman in a marketing campaign. He was born in Venezuela, the government of which owns CITGO. See CITGO's press room. What they don't tell you is that Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez has often threatened to cut off oil supplies to the United States. In January CITGO reached an agreement with the Baseball Hall of Fame to raise public awareness of the contributions of Latino players to the sport of baseball; see baseballbeisbol.com. Perhaps baseball could also be a tool to promote understanding between Latin American countries and the "Yankee imperialist exploiters" whom Chavez routinely condemns. For a bit of background on the CITGO-Venezuela controversy, see my blog post from Nov. 25.
UPDATE: Now that the Minnesota legislature has passed the stadium funding measure, the Metrodome now has a (baseball) life expectancy of only four years. Also, I have reduced the likelihood of the Marlins relocating from 35 percent to 25 percent, and of the Twins from 10 percent to 5 percent.
David Black pointed out that the text on the Baker Bowl page mistakenly stated that the Phillies moved out of there in 1939, and a Marlins fan informed me that it was the Marlins -- not the Mets -- who won the final game played by the Montreal Expos in Olympic Stadium. Full coverage of that sad game is at MLB.com. Someone had told me it was the Mets, but he was probably confusing the final game of the season (in New York) with the final home game of the season (in Montreal). Corrections to those pages and the Oct. 4, 2004 blog post will be made ASAP.
May 14, 2006 [LINK]
Día de la Madre, 2006
Mother's Day has an especially poignant meaning for those of us whose mothers have departed this earthly life. Mom's stylish ways, smart sense, and gentle laughter will never be far from my mind...
May 17, 2006 [LINK]
Mexican presidential race heats up
Only six weeks remain until the elections in Mexico, and the anxiety levels are rising sharply on all sides. The rising level of violence and disorder south of the border may hurt the candidate of the National Action Party, Felipe Calderon. He had enjoyed a slight lead until now. It seems odd that Mexicans would elect a president from one party while choosing a Congress from a different party, but that has happened many times in the United States. The perception that the government is losing control under Fox may help the candidacy of Roberto Madrazo, of the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) that used to dominate Mexico. See CNN.com. The PRI could attract support by reminding voters of the comfort and stability they enjoyed the old days, an appeal much like the Communists tried to do as the Soviet Union was collapsing.
Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (a.k.a. "AMLO") declared that illegal immigration to the United States is "Mexico's disgrace," blaming President Fox for failing to create enough job opportunities in Mexico. See Reuters. Well, he's got it half right. The shortage of job openings could be rectified in the short term by old-time government jobs programs always favored by socialists and New Dealers, but those kinds of jobs could not be sustained for long. Creating stable jobs in the private business sector would require much more free market policies than even the conservative Fox has dared to push. What they need in Mexico is some real bipartisanship, or even tripartisanship, to reform their decaying, stagnant system. As long as Mexicans remain "addicted" to jobs in America, however, there won't be much incentive for politicians to face the truth. At any rate, AMLO's statement is a welcome breakthrough in political discourse in Mexico, daring to admit that the problem is of their own making.
I repeat my contention that the problem in U.S.-Mexican relations is not that we are too strict or too loose with immigration, but that our national policy is too incoherent, with glaring inconsistencies between Federal and state law enforcement. That leaves Mexicans and others from Latin America in a state of confusion, not sure whether to fear us or heap derisive scorn upon us. Lately, the latter tendency has prevailed.
"Pro Cynic" (via Instapundit) speculates that Hugo Chavez is behind the candidacy of AMLO, and if he wins on July 2 Chavez will be in control of a huge portion of U.S. oil supplies, and in position to wreak even greater havoc on our borders. It's hard to imagine that a great, proud country like Mexico would permit itself to become a puppet of Venezuela, but cooperation between AMLO and Chavez would creat huge problems for us. He connects this to ANSWER's high-profile role in the illegal alien protests, which he believes is aimed at provoking an anti-immigrant backlash that would galvanize their supporters and unleash something like a civil war in our cities.
Bloody aftermath in Brazil
The death toll from that virtual insurrection that shook Sao Paulo for several days has risen past 150, most of whom were gang members. Human rights activists are complaining that the police engaged in revenge, killing suspects indiscriminately, but most of the public seems to be on the side of law and order. As elsewhere in Latin America, police and prison guards aren't paid very well, which leads to cynicism and corruption. There are suspicions that the governor cut a deal with the First Capital Command gang, because the violence ended abruptly not long after negotiations ended. See CNN.com.
No people photos?
Going through my slides from Guatemala yesterday reminded me of an incident that left a big impression on me, and I thought I should share it. The Indian people in that country are noted for their wonderfully colored apparel, and one day I was about to take a picture of a young woman who was wearing a beautiful dress and serape. Before I could click, however, a male friend or relative of hers held up his arms to block the view, expressing resentment toward me. I think I offered them some money, but that wasn't it. In some cultures, taking a photograph is considered a rude invasion of someone's privacy, and ever since that day I have been very reluctant to take pictures of people when I travel to Latin America. That explains all the photos I take of buildings, birds, and scenery, but relatively few closeups of human beings.
May 24, 2006 [LINK]
Twins: to roof or not roof?
The artists' renderings of the planned ballpark in Minneapolis look a lot like Safeco Park to me, with obvious parallel tracks behind the left field wall and the first base side of the stadium's exterior upon which a roof could be supported. The Twins will have to make a decision on that early in the process, however, and one insider says there is a 95 percent likelihood of no roof. The design could be altered significantly before construction begins. The target date for completion is April 2010. See wcco.com. (via Mike Zurawski)
Nats hold their own
The Nationals buckled under the pressure of a ten-run onslaught by the Astros on Monday night, as Lance Berkman hit the longest home run in RFK Stadium since baseball returned there last year. It landed several rows up in the upper deck of center field. They came back with a 4-1 win last night, however, getting three home runs, including back-to-back dingers by Daryle Ward (upper deck!) and Alfonso Soriano. Tonight's game is a pitcher's duel, with Houston up 1-0 in the sixth inning.
UPDATE: A balk by Row Oswalt in the sixth inning allowed the tying run to score, and Ryan Zimmerman's triple in the eighth started a four-run rally, as Washington beat Houston, 5-1,
taking their second straight series. [Oops: one more game to go!] Rookie pitcher Michael O'Connor had another fine outing, going six solid innings. This marks the very first time this year that the Nationals have won six out of ten consecutive games. Whether this marks a turnaround or not, it is at least nice for the home town fans to see some wins at RFK Stadium.
May 26, 2006 [LINK]
Gunshots spoil Garcia's parade
Protests against former president Alan Garcia, who is the leading candidate in the upcoming presidential election in Peru, turned violent while he and his entourage were heading to the airport in the highland city of Cuzco today. Two people were wounded by gunshots, but the candidate of APRA escaped without injury. An Aprista congressman blamed Ollanta Humala for inciting the violence with his extreme rhetoric, but the only people wounded were followers of Humala, so it appears that it was the bodyguards who fired weapons. The confrontation started when someone hit Garcia in the face with an egg, which escalated into a torrent of eggs and rocks hurled at the motorcade, leaving on Aprista activist injured. Details of the incident are still unclear. CNN.com and La Republica (in Spanish). From the 1930s until the 1960s, APRA had a bad reputation from all the street thugs, who were called "buffaloes," among their ranks. Ironically, APRA is now considered the relatively moderate option in the election which will be June 4, a week from this Sunday.
Venezuela flexes its muscles
The government of Hugo Chavez has reached a series of economic agreements with Bolivia that will result in greatly increased investment in joint mining enterprises and road paving, as well as expanded university scholarships. Venezuela is flush with cash from all the Americans who buy their gas at CITGO stations, and Bolivia is in desperate need of a cash infusion, so it is a match made in heaven, in a manner of speaking. Some Bolivians suspect the motives of Chavez, which are pretty obvious. Bolivia's recent nationalization of its gas industry angered Brazil and Argentina, which have investments in Bolivia, and this move represents an attempt by Bolivia to free itself from the influence of its much larger neighbors. See CNN.com. As for the mischievious ways of Venezuela, it's a fascinating power play by the up-and-coming "rogue regime" in Caracas.
Meanwhile, high military officials from Spain and Venezuela formalized with signatures the agreement they reached last month under which eight patrol boats will be built in Venezuela. See CNN.com. The U.S. State Department is not pleased with either country, both of which used to be very friendly.
Colombian campaign ends
The presidential campaign is about to end, and the only question is whether Alvaro Uribe will be elected in the first round (as he was in 2002), or will need to go to a second round to get a majority of votes. Over 100 academicians in Colombia signed a letter complaining that the campaign has been unduly polarized, placing much of the blame on President Uribe and his followers. See El Tiempo of Bogota (in Spanish). Also, the news chronology and political background sections of the Colombia page have been updated, including the results of the congressional elections that were held in March. That leaves just seven countries to go, until those Latin America background pages are fully up to date.
May 27, 2006 [LINK]
Montgomery Hall Park
I had an errand to run in the western part of Staunton today, so I figured I might as well stop at Montgomery Hall Park for a few minutes. No warblers were visible, but I did see a Pewee for the first time this season. Today's highlights:
- Red-eyed vireo
- Eastern towhees (M, F)
- Great crested flycatcher
- Eastern wood pewee (FOS)
- Indigo buntings (M, F)
- Goldfinches (M, F)
I also heard but did not see a Blackpoll warbler (close but elusive) and a Red-bellied woodpecker.
On Wednesday morning behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, I saw two Wilson's warblers, some cedar waxwings, a Red-eyed vireo, and an Indigo bunting. This is pretty much the end of spring migration season, and I'm surprised that I didn't hear more Blackpoll warblers this year; they are usually very common in the latter part of May.
Martha returns to George
"Martha," the female Bald eagle that was injured in a fight with another female and then rescued early last month was released a few days ago after her wounds healed. She found her way back to the Potomac River bridge construction site south of D.C. where she had built a nest, and her mate "George" was waiting for her. Eagles, like Canada geese and other large birds, tend to form long-lasting conjugal relationships, so these two will presumably try to raise another brood next year. George tried to incubate the eggs for a couple days after Martha was injured, and one chick may have hatched, but if so, it didn't live long. See Washington Post. Lest you get all sentimental over this episode, remember that eagles typicaly lay two eggs, and the chick that hatches first usually pushes the second one out of the next. Survival of the fittest!
May 28, 2006 [LINK]
Uribe wins landslide reelection
Colombia's hard-line anti-terrorist president Alvaro Uribe won about 62 percent of the vote, far more than was needed to avoid a second-round contest. Carlos Gaviria, of the Liberal Party [ ], came in second with 22 percent. Uribe won in 31 of the 33 provinces, and among overseas Colombian voters. There was no interference from either of the guerrilla groups, FARC and ELN. The civil war is far from being over, but there are many sings of vast improvement since Uribe was inaugurated nearly four years ago. The number of violent deaths and kidnappings has dropped sharply, and in the cities at least, it is now almost safe enough for tourists. The main trouble spot is the continued strength of the right wing militias, who are not accountable to any legal authority. See BBC and El Tiempo (in Spanish).
Although Colombia is in many ways one of the most "typical" of Latin American countries, it has usually followed a separate path from the rest of the countries in the region. It remained democratic while nearly all of the others were taken over by military officers in the 1960s and 1970s, and it avoided the hyperinflation and debt crises that most other dealt with in the 1980s. While other countries in South America turn sharply toward the left, Colombia maintains a clear conservative course. The appeal of left-wing politics is very low in a country where leftists routinely murder innocent civilians with terrorist bombs.
May 13, 2006 [LINK]
Lerners aim to rebuild Nats
Visiting Atlanta for the first time since he became a part owner of the Washington Nationals, Mark Lerner talked to reporters about his family's plans to rebuild the shaky franchise. He toured Turner Field to get ideas about what features to include in Washington's future stadium, but he made it clear that junior partner (and team president) Stan Kasten will be making the key operational decisions, i.e, personnel. Apparently, other teams (possibly including the Mets) want to trade for Jose Guillen, Jose Vidro, Livan Hernandez, and Alfonso Soriano, so unless the team improves markedly in the near future, some or all of those guys could be gone by August. See MLB.com. Trading away Soriano is almost a given, but I hope the Nats can at least hang onto Guillen.
As expected, tonight's Braves-Nationals game on TBS was blacked out in our area, thanks to "Mid-Atlantic Sports Network."
UPDATE: Jeff Francoeur's grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning makes me glad I wasn't watching tonight's game. Another blown save by Chad Cordero: When is this agony going to end?
The Jacobs Field page has been updated with a revised diagram that conforms to the new standard. The only real correction in it is a slightly smaller foul territory than before. That page has also been enhanced with larger, sharper photos, as well as an interactive thumbnail diagram, which all stadium pages will have before long.
May 24, 2006 [LINK]
New Israeli P.M. visits
Ehud Olmert, who replaced Ariel Sharon as Israel's prime minister last month, spoke to a joint session of Congress after paying a visit to the White House. He said Israel wants to engage with the Palestinian authority, supports the aspirations of the Palestinian people, and has no desire to oppress them. President Bush gave implicit backing to Israel's intention to unilaterally impose borders if the Palestinian authority refuses to negotiate. See Washington Post. I think that is an appropriate position, but the United States should keep a low profile in that dispute. Generally speaking, it's not our business how Israel decides to defend itself. Likewise, whether Hamas decides to leave behind its terrorist ways is beyond our ability to influence.
This reminds me of a letter to the editor by James McGrath in the Washington Post that compared the walls being built in Israel and along the southern U.S. border to the Berlin Wall. He seemed to be implying that the walls are similar instruments of oppression, which is utterly absurd. Not seeing the huge difference between a wall built by a dictatorship to keep people locked up, versus a wall built by democracies, defending against unlawful intruders, is an act of willful ignorance. Mr. McGrath has an unduly cynical view of the administration's promotion of freedom, but if Mexico and other Latin American countries adopted policies that encouraged greater economic freedom, their people would not be so desperate to come here. It's much the same thing with Palestinian people, who can't find work in the territories no longer occupied by Israeli forces.
May 13, 2006 [LINK]
ABC annual spring picnic
In spite of overcast skies and cool temps, the Augusta Bird Club's annual picnic at Montgomery Hall Park this morning turned out splendidly, thanks to the timely appearances by nearly a dozen warbler species. The most notable one was a Bay-breasted warbler.* Several people were just as surprised to see some Black-throated blue warblers, so I thought I would post this 12-second video clip (Apple QuickTime format) of one singing that I took in the very same park on May 4; just click on the adjacent freeze frame image. Here are the highlights of what I saw today:
- Great crested flycatchers
- American redstarts (M, FOS)
- Black-throated green warblers
- Chestnut-sided warbler
- Black-throated blue warblers
- Bay-breasted warbler (FOS) !
- Yellow-rumped warblers
- Yellow warbler
- Red-eyed vireos
- Downy woodpeckers
- Hairy woodpecker
- Red-bellied woodpecker
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Eastern bluebird (M)
I was one of the only ones not to see a Rose-breasted grosbeak that was singing in the tree tops. Also still missing from my list of spring neotropical migrants: tanagers and cuckoos.
* A Bay-breasted warbler also appeared at last year's ABC picnic, when the trail named in honor of YuLee Larner was dedicated; see May 14, 2005.
May 2, 2006 [LINK]
Bolivia takes over natural gas
Carrying out his anti-imperialistic rhetoric, President Evo Morales ordered troops into natural gas installations yesterday. He is demanding that foreign companies grant oversight powers to the Bolivian government and share a greater proportion of their total revenues with the government. This amounts to extortion, and may well be the first step toward formal nationalization. That would send shivers down the spines of international investors. Washington Post. This is almost exactly the same thing that the new military government of Peru did in October 1968, when troops occupied the oil facilities of Standard Oil of New Jersey (now Exxon-Mobil). This vain, self-defeating move by Bolivia in turn will discourage future investment in Latin America, which desperately needs new investment, thus reducing job opportunities and increasing the pressure for more immigration to the United States. Could the coincidence with what is happening in the United States right now possibly be any more ironic?
Mexico supports U.S. immigrants
There were big marches in downtown Mexico City yesterday, expressing "solidarity" with immigrants in the United States who staged a nationwide boycott. Some of the protesters belonging to labor unions were boycotting Walmart, McDonalds, and American-made goods in general, and some were even demanding that Americans get out of Mexico, calling for "A day without gringos"; see CNN.com. This was an ironic twist on the movie A Day Without a Mexican; see Internet Movie Database. President Fox asked protesters to be "prudent," but he has consciously appealed to nationalistic sentiment, and probably deserves some of the responsibility for this silliness.
May 3, 2006 [LINK]
Local elections in Virginia
In Staunton, the only incumbent member of the city council running for reelection this year, Lacy King, won the greatest number of votes, about  percent. The other two winners in the race for the three open seats were Bruce Elder, who ran for the Virginia House of Delegates last fall, and Carolyn Dull. Each of them received about 18 percent of the vote, barely edging Andrea Oakes [and Don Wilson, each of whom received just under] 16 percent. Roy Hartless came in last with ten percent. See the Staunton News Leader [and WHSV TV-3].
The Staunton school board race generated some last-minute controversy when it was learned that school superintendent Harry Lunsford sent a mass e-mail message endorsing candidates Ophie Kier and Angela Whitesell. This may have violated public school norms and/or campaign finance laws, but both of those candidates won, as did Roderic Owen. The two candidates who identified most strongly with the Weekday Religious Education (WRE) program, George Ballew and Fonda Gardner, came in last. (For the background on this controversy, see Jan. 24, 2005.)
In nearby Waynesboro, the city council campaign apparently got nasty. Incumbent Reo Hatfield, a Republican, lost his Ward D seat to Lorie Smith, while incumbent Nancy Dowdy held onto her seat in Ward C. Candidates must reside in the ward in which they are running, but the voting for each seat takes place city-wide.
In Herndon, the mayor and city council members who voted in favor of building a center for (mostly illegal) immigrant day laborers were defeated. The Washington Post portrays this as a "backlash," which sounds unduly negative to me. What is wrong when voters express displeasure with the policies enacted by incumbents? Isn't that what democracy is all about? (For the background on this controversy, and then-GOP candidate Jerry Kilgore's position on it, see Aug. 9, 2005.)
May 17, 2006 [LINK]
International Migratory Bird Day
Distracted by other things, I neglected to observe International Migratory Bird Day last week. To mark the occasion, Acting Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett announced that more than $3.9 million in federal grants will be devoted to support neotropical migratory bird conservation partnerships in 34 U.S. states, as well as 17 Latin American and Caribbean countries. See the Interior Dept. Web site. It doesn't seem like much money to cover so many countries, but the efforts of volunteers and dedicated natural scientists will no doubt ensure that the limited funds are well spent. It's not enough to protect the environment in our own country, we need to make sure that warblers, orioles, tanagers, etc. have a decent habitat in which to spend the winter months, and in most poorer countries, saving endangered species is not exactly high on the priority list. That reminds me, I need to make a list of the neotropical migrants that I've seen in Latin America as well as in the U.S.A.
1000+ bees swarm!
As intensively as I study birds, I ought to pay more attention to the bees once in a while. I was startled to see this mass of Honey bees (I think) in a walnut tree out back this afternoon. I couldn't tell whether or not they are building a hive. I just hope they're not those "Africanized" killer bees. Roll your mouse over the image to see a closeup.
I was in the Fishersville area this morning, so I decided to check out the pond near the Eagles Nest Airport that ABC member Mary Vermeulen often talks about. It is a very scenic and pleasant spot, indeed. There were quite a few Barn swallows, Tree swallows, and Red-winged blackbirds, as well as a Meadowlark and a female Flicker near a nest hole. No warblers, however.
May 5, 2006 [LINK]
Cinco de Mayo: ¡Que viva México!
This year's May Fifth celebration in Mexico takes place as relations between the giant neighbors are at their chilliest level in many years. To a large extent, this reflects disappointment with the results of NAFTA, as the economic liberalization has not yielded as much political liberalization as had been hoped for, and the entrenched political establishment in Mexico is very resistant to the kinds of reform that would facilitate the creation of enough new jobs for all the people. Nevertheless, there are many positive signs in Mexico, a country that has much to be proud of. Foreign relations tend to go through up and down cycles, and I would expect a gradual improvement next year, presuming that the U.S. Congress enacts new laws on immigration that erase the doubt in the minds of Mexicans.
To "celebrate" this occasion, I have updated the news chronology on the Mexico page, and have enhanced the map.
The celebration of the country's victory over French imperialism in 1867 is was spoiled by news of a violent clash between policemen and crowds in the town of San Salvador Atenco, just east of Mexico City. This was the same area where violent protests blocked the planned construction of a new airport in 2002. This incident began when police tried to street-side flower vendors, and for some reason the confrontation escalated out of control. A recent visit by Zapatista rebel leader "Subcomandante Marcos" may have been aimed at preparing the local radical farm workers to launch the rebellion. Six policemen had been taken hostage, and some had been cut by machetes. The motive of revenge on the party of police officers reminds one of Chicago in 1968, and it seems to be another example of the breakdown in respect for authority among many Mexicans. President Fox declared in anger, "No cause justifies breaking the law." See CNN.com. (Not even seeking a better life North of the Border?)
May 23, 2006 [LINK]
The charmingly patrician former senator from Texas, Lloyd Bentsen, passed away today at the age of 85. He had a fascinating political career, consistently on the moderate-to-conservative side of the Democrat Party. In 1970 he locked horns with George Bush the Elder in the race for Senate, and won. The Washington Post obituary notes that he flew combat missions in B-24 bombers based in Italy during World War Two, just like George McGovern did. Bentsen will no doubt go down in history for uttering the most devastating put-down in American history, to the hapless Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice presidential debate, but he should be remembered for more than that. He served as Secretary of Treasury during Bill Clinton's first term, exerting a much-needed moderating influence, along with Robert Rubin, who replaced him in 1995. Many people forget that Clinton was originally committed to an aggressive liberal Keynesian expansionist program that would have been highly inappropriate at a time of soaring deficits. You can call it luck or wisdom, but the 1990s would definitely not have seen the phenomenal sustained economic expansion without Clinton's momentous mid-1993 choice in favor of fiscal prudence. Bentsen should get some of the credit for that.
So where are the dignified, sensible, moderate Democrats of today?
May 1, 2006 [LINK]
Rice & Rummy meet Iraqi P.M.
One of the little-noticed positive signs from Iraq lately was the agreement by the newly convened parliament to designate Nuri Kamil al-Maliki as prime minister. This represented a breakthrough for the cause of pluralism, a sign that the Shiite majority which makes up the "United Iraqi Alliance" recognizes that they must respect the Sunnis, in spite of the fact that many Sunnis sympathize with the terrorists. P.M. al-Maliki had been using a the first-name alias "Jawad" ever since he became an exiled victim of political persecution under Saddam Hussein, but he will use his real name from now on.
Secretaries Rice and Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Iraq last week, a high-profile show of support for the fledgling democratic regime in Baghdad. Today they briefed President Bush, who expressed firm U.S. support for the new government. One of their main concerns they conveyed to P.M. al-Maliki was the imperative of "establishing control over militias and other unauthorized armed groups..." See defenselink.mil. The previous likely P.M., Ibrahim Jaafari Ashayqar, was considered too soft on the (often fanatical) militia forces that are undermining central authority in Baghdad.
U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq?
The Pentagon is considering reducing U.S. troop levels in Iraq from about 130,000 now to under 100,000 by the end of the year. That would correspond to a redeployment of five combat brigades back to the continental United States, leaving only ten brigades in Iraq. Of course, much depends on how well Iraqi army and police units perform. At the peak in December, providing extra security for the elections, 160,000 U.S. service men and women were in Iraq. See CNN.com. So far, so good, but let's wait and see who will try to take credit for this (probable) redeployment as the November elections approach.
Sixty five Americans died in Iraq last month, the first month-to-month increase since last October. The total number of American military fatalities in that conflict now stands at 2,379.
Note that the table of fatalities in past wars, and the list of military books, have been moved from the bottom of the War blog page to the new War introduction page, which also has background text that used to be on the Military forces page.
May 29, 2006 [LINK]
Memorial Day 2006
Jacqueline and I attended the Memorial Day ceremonies in Staunton's Gypsy Hill Park this morning. Most of the speakers were from the World War II generation, and most but not all of the folks in the audience were senior citizens. There was music, prayer, a rifle squad, and a presentation of flowered wreaths by the VFW, American Legion, and their auxiliary units. Such gestures are at once emotional and terribly inadequate. We each try to do what we can to make sure that the agonizing deaths of servicemen and women in past wars, and in the present war, will not be forgotten.
Afterwards, we paid our respects at the Staunton National Cemetary, which was established just after the Civil War. I was astonished to learn that a large majority of the tombstones from that era are inscribed "Unknown." It also includes the graves of 20th Century soldiers, even some as recent as 20 or so years ago, but it seems to be full. The cemetary is well maintained by the Federal government, and located in a prominent place along Route 250, but it is oddly overlooked by most people. I don't recall seeing any visitors there before.
Today's Washington Post had the latest installment of the "Faces of the Fallen."
Chris Green is hosting this week's Virginia blog carnival, and he has compiled a variety of blog posts related to Memorial Day at Spank That Donkey.
Iraq reserve deployed
In response to the surge of al Qaeda terrorist actions, American commanders in Iraq have transfered the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division from Kuwait to al Anbar province, west of Baghdad. That leaves just a reinforced Marine battalion in the Kuwaiti reserve sector. See Washington Post.
May 18, 2006 [LINK]
Coalition of willing holds firm
Australian Prime Minister John Howard visited Bush at the White House this week, pledging to maintain his country's 900-man force in Iraq for the foreseeable future. See Washington Post. That's good news, but I wish Bush had learned the lesson of last year, when he resisted Tony Blair's request for more support on international issues during a visit to Washington, thereby undercutting the domestic support of one of our strongest allies.
In Canada, the House of Commons voted 149 to 145 in support of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's proposal to extend Canada's military mission in Afghanistan until February of 2009. He patched together a coalition of Conservative and Liberal Party members; the latter is becoming increasingly divided over this issue. Some Canadians are weary of staying the course even after several fatalities in Afghanistan in recent weeks. In the most recent action, female Army captain Nichola Goddard was killed in a firefight west of Kandahar. See the Toronto Globe and Mail.
Rumsfield hedges on troop cuts
Rummy testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that he could not make any firm commitment on when a major withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq might begin. Sen. Pat Leahy grumbled that it's just more of the same (see Washington Post), but what else would anyone expect? It's going to be a long, hard, slow grind as the new Iraqi government is consolidated. The big question is not whether to withdraw from Iraq sooner or later, but whether to wage the fight against the Islamo-fascist movement on their territory or on ours. Last week the Pentagon announced that the scheduled transfer of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division from Germany to Iraq will be delayed for an indefinite period. This may be a possible sign of a reduction in troop levels in the combat zone; see Washington Post.
Rep. John Murtha is dishonoring our troops once again, claiming that U.S. Marines "killed innocent civilians in cold blood" in Haditha last November. See Army Times, via Confederate Yankee and Instapundit.
May 5, 2006 [LINK]
Least but not last flycatcher
The warm, humid air really felt like summer this morning as I trudged along the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad trail. The dearth of warblers (in this neighborhood) continues, but I did at least see two Least flycatchers for the first time this season. The various species of flycatchers are hard to tell apart*, as most of them have the same dull color, wing bars, and rings around their eyes. Voice, and in some cases size, are the best clues. This one was perched on a sumac berry cluster. I also heard two Indigo buntings and a Scarlet tanager off in the distance. Today's list of highlights:
- Common yellowthroat (M)
- Least flycatcher (FOS)
- Ruby-crowned kinglet (late lingering)
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Brown thrasher
- White-throated sparrows (late lingering)
* not counting Phoebes, Pewees, and Kingbirds, which are all related to flycatchers.
May 7, 2006 [LINK]
Brazil enriches uranium
Brazil announced that a new uranium enriching centrifuge facility in the town of Resende is now operational. This was in full compliance with United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, and signifies that Brazil will be less dependent on foreign energy and technology in the future. See BBC. Lack of domestic energy sources is one of the biggest impediments to economic development in Brazil. Much natural gas is imported from neighboring Bolivia, but political turmoil in that country raises questions about the reliability of supplies. There was some controversy last year when Brazil resisted U.N. nuclear inspections, but unlike Iran, Brazil has never threatened to erase any other countries from the map.
Kirchner joins pulp mill protest
Argentine president Nestor Kirchner has increased the pressure on Uruguay to halt to construction of two foreign-owned pulp mills on the other side of the Uruguay River, which divides the two countries. CNN.com. It seems like an unnecessarily tacky affront to a country with which Argentina has historically been on friendly terms. This conflict began last November.