February 1, 2006 [LINK]
More incidents on Mexico border
Police discovered a half-mile long tunnel from Tijuana to San Diego last week, seizing over two tons of marijuana. Also, a Mexican official was arrested near Alamogordo, New Mexico helping to smuggle people into the United States.See CNN.com. From their point of view, entering "New Mexico" is not really a crime. What if one of the states of Mexican was called "New America"? Wouldn't we feel like we had some right to be there?
This issue is obviously escalating toward a genuine crisis in U.S.-Mexican relations. Belatedly trying to avoid further insults toward their northern neighbor, the Mexican government halted the program of handing out maps to folks planning to sneak across the border. Mexican police arrested four Iraqis trying to cross into the United States. CNN.com Was this just a coincidence? It makes you wonder how much of the news on both sides of the border is being staged for public consumption.
Fujimori is questioned in Chile
Chilean judge Orlando Alvarez in questioned Alberto Fujimori, who has been incarcerated since returning from exile in Japan last November, as a possible step toward extraditing the former President back to Peru. See BBC.com. I was amused by the end of this story:
The former president is a divisive figure in Peruvian society.
To some he is a saviour of a country on the verge of economic collapse and racked by political violence.
Others see him as a corrupt authoritarian strongman who rode roughshod over Peru's democratic institutions.
What about the possibility that he was both things?! Does anyone think about that? I'm inclined to think the judge will take his time in sifting through all of the documents, so that the question of whether Fujimori would be allowed to run for president this year would be moot.
February 1, 2006 [LINK]
The State of the Union, 2006
Once again, President Bush performed above the level of most people's expectations in his address to the nation last night, and he set the right tone of optimism leavened with sober realism. (As I noted yesterday, that is part of the recently-recalibrated White House communications strategy, reaching out to a skeptical public.) This tone stood in contrast to last year, when Bush was fresh from reelection: "On a roll, not lookin' back."
The President's fundamental message was clear and very apt: The United States must continue to lead in pursuit of freedom around the world, and resist the temptation of retreating into the "false comfort of isolationism." (For the complete text, see whitehouse.gov.)
The seething resentment felt by the minority party exploded in a chorus of sarcastic cheering when Bush recalled the failure of his proposed Social Security reform last year. I can hardly imagine how he must have felt, after having spent so much of his "political capital" on an earnest, if somewhat misguided, reform initiative. "No good deed goes unpunished." Let us hope that at least some of them were sincere [in applauding] when he went on to admonish the entire chamber that the looming crisis of entitlements must be addressed, one way or the other. I was glad he mixed conciliatorty gestures with an emphatic rejection of the inappropriate dissent by the antiwar movement:
Yet, there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom, and second-guessing is not a strategy.
With regard to the core element of his foreign policy, the promotion of democracy, he handled the awkward question of frustrations in a delicate way. He called on the repressive Egyptian government to "open paths of peaceful opposition that will reduce the appeal of radicalism." Easier said than done. Hardly anyone seriously believes that his pro forma call on Hamas to choose peace will be heeded, but he had to say it.
I was prepared to be disappointed that Bush remains committed to "compassionate conservatism," which basically panders to (liberal) conventional wisdom on certain issues, in an expedient search for an expanded voter base. Two of the biggest missed opportunities were energy and immigration:
America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology.
That is a sad recitation of one of the lamest cliches in the American political lexicon, evading the real issue. The idea that public investment in new technologies will somehow solve the problem with no inconvenience to our coddled masses is the perfect example of how democratic societies are prone to fatuous delusions. New technologies certainly may lead to greater energy efficiency, but the only consistent, rational way to encourage that is to allow energy prices to rise to their natural market level. In a true market society, there would be a built-in profit incentive for such technologies to develop on their own. The real reason that alternative energy sources are not being adequately developed is that energy in this country is artificially cheap! Leftists often cry out "No blood for oil!" To that, I would respond, "No implicit subsidy for oil!" To the extent that the price of energy is held down by virtue of the stabilizing influence of U.S. armed forces in the Middle East, the cost of such intervention should be explicitly borne by energy consumers, via a tax on gasoline. If a strongly "conservative" president cannot bring himself to come right out and say that energy is a scarce commodity whose price reflects that scarcity, then who ever will? .
We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy -- even though this economy could not function without them. (Applause.) All these are forms of economic retreat, and they lead in the same direction -- toward a stagnant and second-rate economy.
I admire Bush for sticking to his guns on this issue, but I am very disappointed that he does not want to face up to the consequences of turning a blind eye to the massive cheating upon which a large portion of our economy is based. Too many Republicans have the cynical attitude that it is OK for businesses to hire illegal aliens so as to circumvent the labor laws, even though that practice reduces opportunities for American workers. Economic integration of North America will proceed in an awkward, uneven fashion, but there is a real danger that the impetus of economic liberalization will dissipate unless political leaders on both sides of the border maintain a courageous devotion to the ultimate principles and goals of NAFTA. To live up to the ideals of peace and prosperity, Bush needs to stoutly resist calls for a Berlin wall along our border, while allocating increased funds for border patrols and resuming candid dialogue with Mexico over free trade. The point is to increase opportunities for Mexicans and Central Americans within their own countries so they don't have to come here for a job!
As I keep insisting, if Bush were really intent on pursuing a radical restructuring of the American society and economy along free market lines, as many people believe he is doing, he would effectively link the immigration issue to entitlements reform, economic policy, and national security. What a wonderful world it would be! Alas...
Reaction by Democrats
For the Democrats' response, our own governor of the Old Dominion, Tim Kaine, stepped up to the plate. Still "wet behind the ears," in office for less than two weeks, he has not yet gained full control over the facial muscles that constantly propel his left eyebrow upward. His real function was to draw attention to the political success of his mentor and predecessor, Mark Warner, who is actively exploring running for president in 2008. That should be a good sign for the sane moderates within the Democrat Party, but Kaine felt obliged to pander to the leftist base by challenging the President's veracity on justifying the war in Iraq. Saying "America can do better" came across as a lame, hackneyed slogan.
A certain "unmentionable wacko" was arrested for disorderly conduct in the Capitol Building. She was wearing a concealed protest shirt, and recently accused the President of "waging a war of terrorism against the world."
February 2, 2006 [LINK]
Private finance deal collapses
D.C. official Natwar Gandhi has called off the private finance deal for the new stadium, on the grounds that the District would not be getting any tangible benefit in exchange for the $5 million fee. It involves specific provisions required by Wall Street bond graders. This is a major embarrassment to Council chairwoman Linda Cropp, who had insisted upon private financing as a condition for her support of the stadium deal in December 2004. According to Councilman Vincent Orange, "The whole bank plan was to appease Linda." See Washington Post. So that high-anxiety tension we endured as the crucial vote approached fourteen months ago was all for nothing!? All the wasted months... This outcome validates the skepticism [expressed by] the Post's economics writer Stephen Pearlstein [about the alleged advantages of private financing over public financing]; see my Dec. 21, 2004 blog post.
Some detailed photographs of the progress on the expanded bleachers, along with a snow-covered field, can be seen at chicagotribune.com (hat tip to Mike Zurawski). The extent of overhang over the sidewalk by the two wings of the bleachers increases as they approach the foul poles, because the number of rows in each wing remains constant, rather than tapering down as before. There will be an open-air concourse platform above the sidewalk behind the center part of the bleachers, and an upscale restaurant behind dark glass (rather than dark green shrubbery) in the "batters eye" in center field.
Speaking of Wrigley (the other one), Steve Pixberg of New Orleans asks:
Wasn't an episode of the Twilight Zone also filmed at Wrigley Field in Los
Angeles? The episode was about a man who made an android pitcher for the Hoboken Zephyrs. Think it was the early 1960's.
Does anyone recall that?
UPDATE: Sorry for the glitch in making this post earlier today.
February 2, 2006 [LINK]
Might as well face it,
We're "addicted to oil"!
President Bush's declaration in his State of the Union address that "America is addicted to oil" has elicited a wide range of startled gasps, delighted oohs and ahhs, and (thankfully) more thoughtful reactions from around the blogosphere and conservative punditocracy. Let's go:
Austin Bay, who is very reliable when commenting on military matters, actually buys into Bush's rhetoric. Indeed, he seems disappointed that Bush has not followed through with previous calls for more use of alernative fuels. I joined the commenters on that blog post, noting that most of those people are out of touch with present reality.
Andrew Sullivan agrees that "addicted to oil" is an inappropriate metaphor, and writes, "It's just a reflection of how this president has all but destroyed conservatism as a governing philosophy."
Daniel Drezner draws attention to the glaring contradiction between Bush's call to resist retreating into isolationism when it comes to trade and immigration policy, versus his strong push for reducing our dependence on Middle East oil. Oops! Somebody on the White House speechwriting staff forgot to check for internal logical consistency!
George Will (in today's Washington Post) finds that phrase addicted to oil to be "wonderfully useless," an example of "the therapeutic language of Oprah Nation." The long-term goals Bush set for energy independence are worthy of a Soviet planning commissar, he aptly notes.
Likewise, Robert Novak: "That has all the characteristics of an 'industrial policy,' with the federal government picking winners and losers. While violating the Republican Party's free market philosophy, this is a course with a lengthy pedigree of failure all over the world."
In sum, it would be more accurate to say that we are not so much "addicted to oil" as we are addicted to fatuous, politically correct rhetoric. As for the substance of policy, those of us who believe that tax policy ought to be used to correct the fundamental market distortion that results in massive traffic jams and air pollution may be in the minority right now, but our day will come!
Can Danforth save the GOP?
Today's Washington Post has a feature article on former Sen. John Danforth of Missouri, who is on a "crusade" of sorts to save the Republican Party from self-destruction in the name of religious sectarianism. Sign me up! After retiring from the Senate in January 1995, he devoted his life to service as an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. Like me, he is moderate in some respects, and conservative in others. His fundamental theme is standing up to the "bullies in the pulpit," which is an apt description of some leaders of the Christian Right. Rush Limbaugh says this article is "another hit piece" against conservative Christians, which seemed a little odd because Rush does not ordinarily stress religious faith as much as the more-strident commentators Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity do. In any case, I heartily disagree with his take on Danforth. The voice of evangelicals has added vigor and a sense of higher purpose to the GOP, but they are as susceptible to getting carried away with their beliefs as anyone is. My goal is not to push the Republican Party in one direction or another, but rather to get the various factions to respect each other and see how they all have a vital role to play in conserving what is good about this country. To me, that means standing together to resist the gradual slide toward statist, soul-crushing conformity and mediocrity.
UPDATE: Boehner becomes Majority Leader
Ohio's John Boehner defeated front-runner Roy Blunt in the race for the position of House Majority Leader recently vacated by Tom DeLay. My favorite, John Shadegg of Arizona (see Jan. 22), was eliminated in the first round. He pledged support for Boehner as long as Boehner remains committed to the goal of reform. See CNN.com. Both Arizona's senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, made a public endorsement of Shadegg earlier this week, seen on C-SPAN. Let's not forget the "sweeping brooms" of 1994, folks: It's time to CLEAN HOUSE!
FURTHER UPDATE: Jon Henke (via Instapundit) commented on the Majority Leader race, before it was decided, and "How Republicans Can Get Their Groove Back." Upshot: by choosing Shadegg, by far the ethically cleanest of the three contenders. The failure of House Republicans to heed the "fiscal conservatives and libertarians tha[t] make up the Republican base," as he urged, means that those of us who identify ourselves that way have got a long, cold, lonely winter yet ahead of us. How appropriate on Groundhog Day.
February 3, 2006 [LINK]
Bath time in the wrong place
For whatever reason, George has been spending more and more time resting on the shower curtain rod lately. Meanwhile, Princess decided to take a quick bath in a rather odd place today: the plastic water cup on the glass shelf in our living room!
¿Qué tendrá la muñequita en esa cabecita?
February 3, 2006 [LINK]
Campaign ends in Costa Rica
Voters in Costa Rica are going to choose a new president on Sunday, and the favorite to win is Oscar Arias, who served in that office from 1986 to 1990. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987. His center-left National Liberation Party has dominated Costa Rican politics since the civil war of 1948, but has been tarnished in recent years by corruption scandals. Widespread suspicion of politicians have made it more difficult for the Congress to ratify the Central America Free Trade Agreement; Costa Rica is the only nation in the region that has not yet ratified CAFTA, which also includes the Dominican Republic. Arias supports CAFTA as being necessary for a country that depends so heavily on tourism and exports. Much like Europe, there is a high unemployment rate (20 percent) and a problem with illegal immigration (from Nicaragua); this paradoxical market distortion stems from the country's generous welfare state benefits. Unlike most Latin American countries, where an absolute majority of votes is required to be elected, which usually means the race goes to a second round, in Costa Rica 40 percent is sufficient to win in the first round. See Washington Post. While in Costa Rica last year, I saw some graffitti indicating deep anger with corrupt politicians. There is a private foundation honoring Arias and his efforts on behalf of peace in San José, but it happened to be closed on the day when I came across it.
February 3, 2006 [LINK]
Debates over U.S. force structure
In preparation for the relase of the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review this afternoon, Donald Rumsfeld emphasized to the National Press Club the long-term nature of the war against Islamic terrorism. Coming to grips with this drawn-out conflict means rethinking how our armed forces are organized and equipped. Not surprisingly, the Pentagon has responded to intense political pressure from the states, and has partly backed down from a plan to cut back the National Guard. The authorized manpower will remain at 350,000, but they will still cut the number of combat brigades from 34 to 28. [It is expected that there will be less reliance upon the Guard for patrol duty in Iraq.] See Washington Post.
Dutch Army to Afghanistan
After some anxious debate, the Netherlands has decided to send a force of 1,700 troops to aid in stabilizing Afghanistan. See Washington Post. The Netherlands has a strong reputation as being the most liberal and open society in Europe, tolerating all sorts of vices. Recent acts of intimidation by the Muslim immigrant community toward the Dutch natives have galvanized a long-dormant sense of self-preservation, however, which may explain their increased willingness to join with other Western countries in turning back the tide of Islamofascism. It was nearly four years ago that the Dutch political leader Pim Fortune, one of the first to speak out on the growing immigration crisis, was assassinated by a left-wing animal rights activist; my very first blog post dealt with that.
Cartoonist Tom Toles was sternly rebuked in a letter to the Washington Post editor signed by Gen. Peter Pace (USMC), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the other five members: "Using the likeness of a service member who has lost his arms and legs in war as the central theme of a cartoon was beyond tasteless." Toles is usually pretty good with satire, but he got carried away with his animosity toward the Bush administration in this case, and his attempt to portray Donald Rumsfeld as callously indifferent to the suffering of our troops backfired badly.
Where are the Bill Mauldins of today? Why don't we see more newspaper cartoons that dramatize and humanize the hardships of our military personnel who are serving right now in Iraq and Afghanistan? Speaking of the touchy subject of humor in wartime, do you ever wonder how leading Democrats would respond if Pearl Harbor happened today? The folks at sacredcowburgers.com speculate on that. (Hat tip to Patrick Carne.)
February 3, 2006 [LINK]
Bell's Lane P.M.
A quick drive to Bell's Lane late this afternoon provided a few nice surprises:
- 12 American coots
- 5 Ruddy ducks
- 3 Shovelers !
- Belted kingfisher !
- 500+ Canada geese
- 2 Short-eared owls
- Horned lark !
- Great blue heron
I'm really getting spoiled by seeing those owls on a routine basis; I just wish they would come close enough for a photo! It was the first time I had heard their drawn-out screech call. The Horned lark was rather close, but flew away before I could get a photo. The absence of Mallards was somewhat surprising, but they tend to cluster together in bigger flocks during the winter.
Horseshoe crabs and Red knots
The National Audubon Society has a campaign to protect Horseshoe crabs, whose populations have been declining sharply in recent decades. The main problem is that fishermen are overusing them for bait. A species of sandpiper called the Red knot depends on Horseshoe crab eggs as a food source during its long annual migration from the south Atlantic coast to the shores of the Arctic Ocean. To send an e-mail message to your governor and legislators urging them to support a conservation bill introduced by Del. Morgan Griffith (R), just click on that link.
February 4, 2006 [LINK]
Revised stadium deal submitted
Mayor Williams sent another version of the stadium deal to the D.C. Council, which is scheduled to vote on the matter next Tuesday, February 7. The key new provision is that developers (mainly the Clark Construction Company) agreed to pay up to $70 million "if" there are any cost overruns; in return for assuming this risk, they would gain control over the direction of the construction project. The mayor pleaded with council members to see all the good that will come from the stadium. "Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) was cautiously optimistic." (Me too.) See Washington Post. She did not comment on the demise of her cherished private financing scheme.
The Tokyo Dome page is now finished, though the lack of good photographs online leaves several unanswered questions about the dimensions of the stadium structure. It's "close enough" for now, but future revisions are likely.
The mailbag: Welcome new fans!
For some odd reason, I've received more than the usual number of friendly greetings from new fans in the past couple weeks, and I've tried to respond. My e-mail in-box is getting stacked up once again, however, so please don't take offense if I don't answer right away. More often than not, it means that a more thoughtful reply is called for.
From intrepid news watcher Mike Zurawski: As previously announced, the fence at Miller Park has been moved in eight feet to make room for a picnic area, so right field will be 333 feet, presumably. "All fans in the area will be furnished with a replica Brewers batting helmet to prepare for home runs..." DUCK! Further renovations are planned for next year. See MLB.com.
Also via Mike: SBC Park, formerly known as Pac Bell Park, will be renamed "AT&T Park" on March 1. "The physical transformation to AT&T Park will require the removal of hundreds of signs and logos at the facility, and the changes should be finished by midseason." See MLB.com
Regarding the Twilight Zone episode that Steve Pixberg asked about, Patrick Schroeder writes:
I just saw that episode last week, "The Mighty Casey." Jack Warden played the manager. It was definitely filmed at LA's Wrigley Field. I recognized the grandstand and the ivy-covered outfield wall.
Chris Haack tells me that he recalls that the football gridiron at Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium was closer to the south end than is indicated by my diagram. I've seen photos with various gridiron positions, but I'll probably modify that diagram based on what he says in the near future.
February 4, 2006 [LINK]
Progress in the Mosul sector
The fragility of local security forces in the Kurdish sector of Iraq was exposed last year when insurgents seized large parts of the northern city of Mosul, where Kurds and Arab Iraqis both reside. Saddam Hussein expelled many Kurds from the oil-rich city during his reign, for obvious strategic reasons, and there is constant friction as the Kurds gradually move back in. Friday's Washington Post reported some good news that the local police forces are now much stronger, and that order in the streets is gradually prevailing over chaos.
You can't triangulate war
Notwithstanding the cartoon from sacredcowburgers.com cited yesterday, not all Democrats are irresponsible or verging on treason when it comes to dissenting on the Bush administration's war policy. Indeed, many of them have staked out a clear position in favor of U.S. victory, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Nevertheless, there remains a strong inclination among most such Democrats to promote a "centrist" alternative war policy, which as Mark Steyn (via Baseball Crank) points out, is completely oxymoronic:
You think how ludicrous it would be if people were to talk about people crafting a centrist position on World War II, or World War I, or the Civil War...
As I have often said, there is nothing wrong with frank, open debate over the best approach to pursue in this war, but political considerations should have nothing to do with the formulation of military strategy.
UPDATE: In the same interview, Steyn makes another interesting observation about the strange silence from the folks at "S.A.N.E." who used to protest against the U.S. nuclear weapons program:
You know, we're both of the generation that kind of grew up with all the sort of nuclear armageddon hanging over us, big mushroom clouds on the front of movie posters, and novels, and TV films and all the rest of it. And that was when five relatively sane countries had nuclear weapons. Now, any guy whose got the right Pakistani phone number in his rolodex can get ahold of nukes, and the left, who've spent the 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's raging hysterically about nuclear armageddon, couldn't care less about it.
It's as though they actually believe that the Pentagon is more dangerous than Al Qaeda...
February 6, 2006 [LINK]
D.C. Council showdown (Part 78)
Here we go again! According to a late-evening report on Washington's FOX-5 TV, D.C. Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp will introduce an emergency bill that sets a cap on the cost of constructing the new stadium when the Council convenes tomorrow morning. Council member Phil Mendelson says he supports baseball in D.C. (?!) but expressed grave doubts about the stadium finance bill's passage unless such controls on costs are included. (It should be noted that he has voted against every stadium measure brought to the D.C. Council thus far.) Of course, it is possible that further delaying tactics by recalcitrant council members will elicit additional concessions by MLB officials, who are obviously tired of getting jerked around, but they may finally decided enough is enough. What then? I shudder to think.
The two reputed swing votes are Kwame Brown and Vincent Gray. Hey, Nats fans! Drop them a friendly line, why don't you?
Baseball in Japan
Adam Myers tells me that the "Nippon Ham Fighters" no longer play in the Tokyo Dome. In 2004 they moved to Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, where they play in the Sapporo Dome, which features "the world's first Hovering Soccer Stage." A fully retractable grass soccer field (much like the soon-to-open football stadium in Phoenix) alternates with an artificial surface for baseball use, as you can see for yourself on a time-elapse video clip on that Web site. Totally awesome! (But is it really baseball?) Thanks much, Adam!
February 6, 2006 [LINK]
Costa Rican election: razor thin
To most people's surprise, the election in Costa Rica is too close to call. With 89 percent of the votes counted, former President Oscar Arias, who belongs to the long-dominant National Liberation Party, has a lead of 40.5 percent to 40.3 percent over Ottón Solís, of the Citizen Action Party. Solís has called for a renegotiation of the terms of CAFTA, which could be tricky given the large number of countries that signed it. Voter turnout was unusually low, reflecting popular disillusionment from all the recent corruption scandals in the country. It's an odd situation, because two candidates have exceeded the 40 percent minimum threshold to win the presidency. There will be a manual recount, and the official results will be annouced within two weeks. See Tico Times and La Nación (Spanish).
Coincidentally, Nicaragua today brought to the Interamerican Court of Human Rights (ICHR) a formal grievance over the case of Nicaraguan citizens who were mistreated in Costa Rica. It so happens that the ICHR is headquartered in Costa Rica.
Venezuela deports U.S. diplomat
U.S. naval Capt. John Correa has been declared persona non grata by the government of Venezuela, accusing him of spying and making contacts with Venezuelan military officers who may be against the regime of Hugo Chavez. The State Department denied the espionage charges and responded in kind by expelling a Venezuelan diplomat. CNN.com Given that the United States is preoccupied with the crisis over Iran's nuclear program, and the fact that Hugo Chavez has been consciously inflaming U.S.-Venezuelan tensions to bolster domestic popular support, it seems far more likely that the impetus behind this diplomatic spat originated with Caracas.
Haiti election is on
In spite of continued turmoil, Haitian officials have decided to go ahead with the election on Tuesday. The favorite to win is Rene Preval, who belongs to the party of ousted President Aristide and who also served as president (as a stand-in) from 1996 to 2001. Preval did try to calm the nerves of property-owning Haitians, many of whom are more inclined to rely upon warlords for security than the official police. See CNN.com. Unless Aristide, who is in exile, makes some kind of conciliatory gesture to his opponents, it is doubtful that the elections will serve to overcome the enormous social distrust that plagues Haiti.
February 7, 2006 [LINK]
D.C. Council prepares to vote
As of 4:00 this afternoon, still no word on a vote by the D.C. Council. Today's Washington Post has much more on the last-minute negotiations aimed at securing a majority "yes" vote on the stadium finance bill. The fact that everyone involved wants to portray this issue in all-or-nothing terms, rather than take my suggestion or proceeding incrementally and building as much of the new stadium as can be done with the budgeted funds, suggests that all this is mostly for the sake of posturing. Too much money is at stake for the whole thing to collapse. According to WTOP Radio (now at 103.5 FM, rather than 1500 AM), however:
[I]f the District cannot pass the lease, WTOP has learned that Virginia is open to talks with Major League Baseball about pursuing the Nationals in Northern Virginia.
Meanwhile, D.C. Mayor Tony Williams is furious with the council for using a consultant with ties to the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority.
Now, wouldn't that be something? I give that scenario a one percent chance, optimistically. The Baseball in D.C. page has been reformatted and updated with recent news items.
UPDATE: As of 5:00 PM, WTOP reports that Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine has expressed willingness to push for a new baseball stadium in Northern Virginia, in case the D.C. situation disintegrates. This eagerness stands in contrast to the prudent, arms-length attitude of his predecessor, Mark Warner. As a Virginian, I always preferred a new ballpark in Arlington (NOT Texas!) as the ideal outcome, and I remain deeply skeptical about the Dulles alternative stadium site. I also think it's a little unseemly for neighboring jurisdictions to be playing against one another in a delicate situation such as this. The D.C. Council is scheduled to vote up or down on the matter this evening. UP! UP! UP!
D.C. Council votes NO!
FURTHER UPDATE: As of 9:00 PM, WTOP reports that the D.C. Council voted 8 to 5 against
Mrs. Cropp's proposed emergency the stadium finance bill [submitted by Mayor Williams]*, which may just deal a fatal blow to the future of baseball in Washington. Or maybe not. Some council members seem to think that Major League Baseball will recognize that they have no better alernative than to make even bigger concessions and keep the Nationals in Washington. Perhaps, but that is taking an enormous risk. I would expect Bud Selig to issue an immediate statement condemning the D.C. Council vote, beginning steps to relocate the Nationals elsewhere (possibly even this season*), and I would have to support him. How in the world can anyone make a long-term commercial agreement with a government that reneges so capriciously on its existing solemn commitments? I have criticized MLB's heavy-handed tactics many times in the past, and there is no doubt that both sides share some of the blame for this disgraceful turn of events, but from what I can tell, the action by the D.C. Council this evening seems completely unjustifiable. It reeks of short-sighted, self-destructive, crowd-pleasing spite. I've been prepared for a lot of bluffing and brinksmanship by both sides, but this outcome is astonishing even to me. It will be interesting to hear what the "no"-voting council members have to say...
* I have raised the probability of the Nats being relocated from 10 percent to 20 percent; there is an additional 10 percent probability of relocation from D.C. to Northern Virginia.
* "EXTRA INNINGS" UPDATE: As of 11:00 PM, Washington's WUSA-TV 9 reports that the D.C. Council is still in session, considering the emergency legislation that was submitted by Mrs. Cropp yesterday. Earlier reports may have been erroneous in terms of which measure was being considered. Mrs. Cropp's bill would attach a cost-cap provision to the lease agreement, but many question whether that would be legally enforceable. A supermajority of nine votes is needed to pass legislation introduced on an emergency basis (so as to avoid hasty, ill-considered goofs), which would mean that four of the members who voted "no" earlier this evening would have to switch their votes. They'd better come with a darn good argument that the cost cap provision is really a deal maker-or-breaker.
LATE, LATE UPDATE: WUSA-TV 9 showed a live televised image of Council member Carol Schwartz engaged in debate as their news cast ended at 11:30 PM. The WTOP Radio link cited above has been updated with further details on the evening's agonizing developments. Finally, here is tomorrow's Washington Post story on the travesty. Unless tonight's meeting somehow resolves the matter, the next step appears to be binding arbitration, but whether an elected government can be compelled by an arbitration board to spend public money remains to be seen. Thanks to David Pinto for linking to this post.
Twins escape lease obligation
A Hennepin County judge has ruled that the Minnesota Twins have no legal obligation under the 1998 use agreement (which expired in 2003) to stay in the Metrodome after the 2006 season is over. According to ESPN, this "could increase pressure on lawmakers to approve financing for a new ballpark." Given the increasingly hostile political climate to subsidizing fatcats via stadium financing bills, however, the Twins may have less leverage in this matter than they think. Where else are they going to go? Besides, they have a long, established franchise history in their home city (metropolitan area), unlike the "at-risk" franchises in Florida. (link via David Pinto)
February 7, 2006 [LINK]
Morales mobilizes for revolution
The new president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, is wasting no time in showing to the world that his radical agenda is more than just tough talk. Yesterday he warned that foreign corporations are "conspiring" against his government, and the new vice president, Alvaro Garcia Linera (a former guerrilla), urged that preemptive action against the foreign interests be taken before the "gringos" can "do us damage." Last week "Morales threatened to mobilize Bolivia's social movements if Congress refuses to approve his call for a constituent assembly to rewrite Bolivia's constitution." See CNN.com. Morales met with Bolivia's high military command, or what is left of it, rather. He fired all generals after taking office, so the ones who are left are probably rather timid. He is also appealing to the peasants of Bolivia to prepare to take up arms in defense of his revolution. See Bolivia.com (in Spanish). Well, it's only natural for a person to use the techniques in which he or she has specialized experience, and Morales is certainly better suited to conducting roadblocks and strikes than he is to govern. That's what you call an illiberal democracy, or "mob rule," in the vernacular.
Will the new Jacobins in La Paz get totally carried away with themselves and ruin the economic progress Bolivia achieved at such high cost over the past twenty years? Perhaps a more urgent question is, What will it take to provoke Bolivia's armed forces, who used to intervene in national politics at the drop of the hat, into launching an old-fashioned golpe de estado? If it does come to that, let's just hope that the Bush administration reacts in a more prudent fashion than it did during the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez in May 2003. (Some believe that that coup may have been a bogus ruse aimed at smoking out opponents of Chavez in the high command.) La Paz is no doubt full of such intrigues right now.
Election SNAFUs in Haiti
Not unexpectedly, voters in Haiti are extremely frustrated with long lines, delays, and even closed polling stations in some of the poorer neighborhoods. There was a vicious cycle stemming from mutual distrust, as protests over late openings impeded efforts by election officials to open some of those polling stations. "[Former President Rene] Preval's supporters were among the most outraged voters..." See washingtonpost.com.
February 7, 2006 [LINK]
Muslims on (belated) rampage
What can possibly explain the fact that the sudden outburst of violent riots by Muslims around the world is taking place several months after the offending cartoons were published in a Danish newspaper? An orchestrated campaign by Islamofascists in Syria, that's what. The Baathist dictatorship of Bashar Assad in Damascus is under increasing pressure to reform itself, and decided to contrive the outrage among Muslims to reassert its domestic authority. This "rent-a-mob" tactic is also aimed at rekindling ethnic tension in Lebanon as a way to regain a foothold for Syria, from whence they were forced to retreat almost a year ago. For a "rogue regime" that has long been a sponsor of terrorism, such practices are just par for the course. The violence has spread to various European countries, Indonesia, and now to Afghanistan. See Washington Post. Latent anti-American sentiment is being blamed, which shows how absurd and delusional much of the Muslim world is today; the United States had nothing to do with those cartoons! This latest incident demonstrates, once again, the futility of trying to appease Islamic extremism and the various nationalistic movements that fall under its umbrella. Victor Davis Hanson (via Instapundit) asks whether the escalating offensive by Muslim fanatics may elicit a "European Awakening Against Islamic Fascism." Each in their own way, the governments of Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Denmark are showing increasing backbone in response to Islamic bullying, almost making the Bush administration look tame by comparison.
McCain rebukes Obama
Sen. Barack Obama, the young Illinois moderate who is widely considered to be the Democrats' "Great Multicultural Hope" for some future presidential race, has run afoul of Sen. John McCain. Obama had made a personal pledge to cooperate with McCain in a bipartisan push for lobbying reform legislation, and then backed out at the behest of his party leaders, leaving McCain in the lurch. In response, McCain wrote an unusually blunt and sarcastic letter (link via Chad Dotson) expressing regret that Obama reneged on his commitment. Whenever a moderate like McCain gets riled up, you know there must be a very good reason for it. Whenever some fresh new face like Obama's arrives on the national stage, I usually reserve judgment while everyone else fawns in premature adulation. I think my initial hesitation about Obama's leadership credentials has been borne out by events.
Obama has responded, professing to have no idea at what prompted McCain's rebuke. He says that he thought the "Honest Leadership Act" introduced by Minority Leader Harry Reid "should be the basis for a bipartisan solution." Yeah, right. (link via Instapundit)
February 8, 2006 [LINK]
D.C. Council votes "yes," but...
"After further review," the D.C. Council approved Chairwoman Linda Cropp's emergency bill by the required 9 to 4 supermajority at about 12:45 after midnight. I learned of this on WTOP Radio reported at 12:50 AM, barely awake. The bill limits the District's spending to $611 million, but it remains to be seen whether this provision is practicable. Council member Adrian Fenty said, "I hope everyone who voted for this gets a thank you note from baseball... We are voting on a very unfair deal that every member of this council would say is a bad deal." OK, guys, you made your point. Despite Phil Mendelson's earlier claims that he supported baseball, he voted "no" even with the cost cap provision, on the grounds that it is not "iron clad." For the full story, see the Washington Post. [This story was too late for our Virginia edition!]
Well, of course the cost cap isn't "iron clad." Controlling costs on such projects depends much more on relentless vigilance and resistance to the corrupting influence of lobbyists than on legalistic mechanisms. It's like when a legislative body votes for a balanced budget amendment rather than just buckling down and hammering out a balanced budget. Indeed, the more such "fine print" terms are added to such an agreement, the more likely it is that the parties really don't trust each other -- or themselves -- to abide by the terms!
So, will this lease agreement fly with the Lords of Baseball? "MLB President Bob DuPuy was non-committal about the deal..." according to MLB.com. That story indicates that March 6 is the "drop dead" date by which MLB must agree to the lease agreement with the cost cap provision.
This agreement will require careful study by all interested parties, and is by no means the final act in this farce-drama. For the time being, I have lowered the probability of relocating the Nationals from 20 percent to 5 percent; it was 10 percent since last month. Also, the Baseball in D.C. page has been updated with those votes, and a separate new page has been created for the Baseball in D.C. news chronology. I had estimated a 70 percent probability that Linda Cropp, Kwame Brown, and Vincent Gray would vote "yes" on the stadium, and a 40 percent probability that Carol Schwartz would. Who would have thought that Marion Barry (whom I had estimated a 20 percent probability of voting "yes") would cast the decisive affirmative vote? Phil Mendelson (estimated as 40 percent "yes") voted "no," once again.
I just noticed that four members of the D.C. Council have colors for last names, including Schwartz (German for "black").
MLB to help Marlins relocate
It is interesting that this vote took place just as MLB announced that it would take part in the effort by the Marlins to search for a new home city more amenable to funding a new stadium. See MLB.com. Shouldn't they be neutral?
Venezuela wins Caribbean Series
The Caracas Leones (Lions) have won the Caribbean Series, defeating the [Dominican Republic Licey Tigres (Tigers)], the first time a Venezuelan team has won the coveted championship since 1989. Alex Gonzalez (the new Red Sox shortstop) got a clutch RBI single in the bottom of the ninth, and his team went on to score the game-winning run. For details, see ESPN.com (English via David Pinto) and eluniversal.com (Spanish). President-for-Life Hugo Chavez will no doubt bask in the glory. I wonder if any of CITGO's petrodollars get channelled to baseball in Venezuela? For background, see Latin America baseball leagues [revised link].
February 9, 2006 [LINK]
The Cartoon War escalates
Which is worse: satiric humor that crosses the line into blasphemy, or state-sponsored mob violence? The Bush administration at first was more concerned more about the former, criticizing European newspapers that published cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed. Yesterday, however, the President and Secretary of State Rice turned their attention to the latter. See Washington Post. The delayed shift in emphasis is a bit odd, since the sources of the mob violence which is spreading around the world are the very same Islamofascist rogue regimes in Damascus and Tehran that are our main state enemies in the global war on terrorism. Wasn't that obvious to begin with? There is no doubt that the wave of violence has far more to do with the aggressive political agenda of Syria and Iran than with Muslim "anger" at the Danish newspaper that published the cartoons, as anyone who studies Third World politics should know. Now, however, we learn from pajamas media (via Instapundit) as well as Freedom for Egyptians (via Donald Sensing) that the offending cartoons were published in Egypt back in October! Can you say "hypocritical, selective outrage"? Clearly, the ability of some people to take a joke is highly variable.
Writing from the European "front lines," Paul Belien observes in the Brussels Journal (link via Lynn Mitchell), that
[T]hose who are now reacting so violently to the twelve Danish cartoons make it quite clear by their violent reaction that they are only insulted because the cartoon of Muhammad with a bomb under his turban mirrors their own (not necessarily my) view of Islam: a religion of revenge, terror and bombs. "Above all else, the Devil cannot stand to be mocked," C.S. Lewis said. Lewis was wrong: Above all else, the Devil cannot stand to be shown his own image. It is the truth that hurts.
Belien goes on to cite the state motto of New Hampshire: "Live free or die." Fortunately, more Europeans are becoming inclined toward the former course. In any case, we should hesitate at least a moment before condemning brutal cynicism or religious sentiment gone astray. Chris Green has "mixed emotions" on this question. Looking at it from the other side's perspective, he recalls the Christ-mocking "art" that has been displayed in some American cities, and wonders whether the cartoons mocking Mohammed as a terrorist were indeed beyond the pale. In a similar vein, Pat Buchanan expressed such worries on Sean Hannity's radio program yesterday, reminding listeners of a simple rule of daily living: prudence. Whether someone has the legal right to do something is often less important than whether the action in question is prudent under the particular circumstances.
My letter on energy
I followed up my Feb. 1 and Feb. 2 blog posts about President Bush's declaration that we Americans are "addicted to oil" with a grouchy-toned letter to the editor, which appeared in today's Staunton Daily News Leader.
February 10, 2006 [LINK]
Mixed messages from Chavez
Hugo Chavez continues to raise hell in Venezuela, trying desperately to get the world to take him seriously. Yesterday, he called heaped insults upon Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had criticized Chavez in Parliament this week, and called on Great Britain to hand over control of the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands to Argentina. He also repeated his past derisive denunciations of President Bush, calling him a "nut case" for -- he says -- planning to invade Iran and Venezuela. Earlier this week, he ordered American missionaries to leave the remote Indian villages where they were working, accusing them of "espionage." See CNN.com. On the same day, however, Venezuela's ambassador in Washington, Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, expressed a desire to maintain "mature and rational relations" and to continue trade ties. See Washington Post. Such ritualistic defiant posturing is normal for many Third World governments, but in Venezuela's case the rhetoric is really getting out of hand. The problem is that people grow weary of harsh talk with no action to back it up, and there is a temptation to escalate tensions just to maintain the public's attention. Unless cooler heads prevail, this practice either leads to an unintended international crisis, or else a humiliating retreat.
Votes counted in Haiti
The ballots are slowly being tabulated in Haiti, and the lead of the presumed victor, Rene Preval, is narrowing. If he receives less than 50 percent of the total, there will be a runoff election on March 19. See CNN.com.
February 10, 2006 [LINK]
Hanger: mercy for immigrants
In a partial reversal from his previous firm stand against in-state tuition for the children of illegal aliens, our own Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta County) offered an amendment to his bill that marks a significant compromise. His revised bill would provide a legal channel for some immigrants' children to qualify for the lower tuition rate, on condition that the parents have been paying their taxes and have already applied for normalized legal resident status. Hanger's change of heart came about through the pleadings of immigrant advocates and his own personal experience. Even if his bill passes the Senate, however, it would probably fail in the House of Delegates. See Washington Post. Last week Sen. Hanger introduced legislation that would provide for castration of repeat sex offenders, which raised quite a few eyebrows.
This is one of those ethical dilemmas that cannot be reconciled: Either you hold children accountable for the transgressions of their parents, or you undermine the basic sense of fair play and respect for the rules that is the hallmark of American society. Overall, I think Hanger's bill is a reasonable effort to balance justice and mercy, but I would object to the way he characterized the denial of state education benefits as "punishing" the children. To me, that smacks of the entitlements mentality that is at the root of many of our deepest social policy problems. From my experience, our colleges and universities are already jam-packed with kids who really don't belong there in the first place, and I emphatically reject the notion (often espoused by former President Bill Clinton) that every American deserves to go to college. Whatever the state legislators do, they should work toward achieving consistent standards and practices across the state, to avoid confusion, heartache, and bitterness.
To reiterate my basic position on immigration, I boil it down to two phrases: Get in line, and Speed up the process. The sooner a person who is in the United States takes formal steps to apply for permanent resident status and otherwise registers with the authorities, the sooner they should become eligible for equal protection under the law. There should be no "amnesty;" that was tried in the 1980s, and it failed. Any "guest worker program" should be accompanied by a suitable increase in funding to adequately monitor those who are supposedly here on a temporary basis; otherwise, it will become a cynical charade. Only after becoming full citizens, if they so choose, should immigrants become eligible for government benefits in health, education, and welfare. In my view, those who are in this country without taking any steps to normalize their status have no legal rights other than fundamental human rights. The longer a person has lived in this country illegally prior to making such an application, the longer he or she should have to wait in line. Those who have applied for U.S. permanent resident status or work visas and are still waiting in their home countries should get priority treatment.
Of course, no immigration reform will work unless it is accompanied by fundamental reforms in labor laws and entitlements in this country, to reduce or eliminate employers' incentive to cut costs by cheating. In that respect, the Virginia legislature's rejection of a proposed increase in the state minimum wage was entirely appropriate, if only a first step in the right direction.
February 11, 2006 [LINK]
Questions about stadium deal
Major League Baseball officials have taken a look at the revised stadium lease terms with Mrs. Cropp's "cost cap," and they don't like what they see. Right off the bat, no one knows how this provision would actually work, or if it could be enforced. Another problem is that any unspent surplus money must go to the "Community Benefit Fund" rather than the underground parking facility that is urgently needed to accommodate suburban patrons. Even though the South Capitol Street stadium site is two miles closer to Northern Virginia than is RFK Stadium, that advantage would be nullified if there is no place to park. See Washington Post. So what will happen? Some MLB officials, especially Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, apparently want to exercise the arbitration clause, at least as a threat. I assume they'll huff and puff and snort and pout, but in the end will agree to the terms pretty much as they are. Thanks to the $200 million surge in the value of the franchise resulting from the big success of the Nationals' first season, MLB is making out like a bandit the way it is. In Friday's Post, Thomas Boswell wryly observes how clueless MLB officials are about the political and social realities of Washington. I was struck by this quote from Bud Selig:
This team [in Washington] has been a godsend for baseball... Nobody wants to be in Washington more than I do. It's good for my sport.
Well, blow me down! Mr. World Champion Foot Dragger, D.C.-skeptic himself has finally seen the light! Or perhaps he has seen the Nationals' fat bottom line. Anyway, it's nice to have a "convert" on board. Welcome to Washington, Bud!
Nats juggle their roster
In Thursday's Washington Post, Dave Sheinin reminds us of one of the ill effects of the interminable delays in reaching a final agreement on stadium funding and leasing: Not having an owner -- because the franchise sale was contingent upon a signed, finalized lease for a new stadium -- the Nats remain severely handicapped, unable to put together a team worthy of the city's economic clout. Tony Tavares, the team's interim president, has no guidepost and very little decision-making leeway. The same applies to General Manager Jim Bowden, though you wouldn't know it by the way he acts sometimes. Just wait 'til next year!?
An arbitrator ruled against malcontent Alfonso Soriano, who will "only" get $10 million this year, rather than the $12 million he demanded; it's still a huge raise. Meanwhile, the Nationals have offered Sammy Sosa a provisional contract, giving him a chance to make the team if -- if -- he does well enough in spring training. David Pinto wonders whether Sosa's arrival may provide an opportunity to trade away Soriano, maybe even to the Chicago Cubs! A week after acquiring shortstop Royce Clayton, the Nationals sold Jamey Carroll, a reliable utility infielder and pinch hitter, to the Colorado Rockies for $300,000. Too bad, he added real depth and provided a lot of team spirit.
Mike Zurawski sends more news about the ongoing renovations to Fenway Park's small upper deck, which will get somewhat bigger, raising total capacity to 38,805, compared to 36,298 last year. Another thousand or seats will be added over the next few years. See MLB.com. On the down side, however, there are fears that high-rise construction in the neighborhood will cause wind currents to become more turbulent, which may make home runs harder to come by. To me that sounds like more superstition; I thought 2004 put to rest all those jinx anxieties in Beantown. See Boston Globe.
February 11, 2006 [LINK]
New bird photos from John
Just back from a trip to the Oregon coast, my brother John sent another batch of stunning bird photos, the best of which is the Hooded merganser, shown at the bottom left in this new "all-digital" montage. The others in this montage were previously posted to this Web site.
For much more "all-natural" eye candy, see John's wild bird photos page.
Clockwise from the top left: Vermilion flycatcher, Blue-headed vireo*, Bullock's oriole, Broad-tailed hummingbird, Hooded merganser, and in the center, Mountain bluebird. *(All males except for the Blue-headed vireo, the genders of which are indistinguishable.)
It snowed all day here in Virginia, but only about two inches have accumulated as of late afternoon. Several Cardinals, Goldfinches, Song sparrows, a White-throated sparrow, and even a Purple finch (female) showed up at our feeders, the most variety we've had in the last few weeks. Oddly, however, Juncos have been totally absent from our neighborhood since December. I heard several Cardinals singing before daybreak, so spring can't be too far off!
February 12, 2006 [LINK]
Spring training nears
Outside there are six inches of snow on the ground, and yet spring training is about to begin in Florida and Arizona. Can it really be true? The Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers report to Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida this Saturday, Feb. 18, and the rest of the team reports on Feb. 24. Because of lingering doubts over the franchise's long-term plans, the front office and players alike remain in an uneasy "transient" status. In fact, not one player from the Nationals has even purchased a home in the Washington metropolitan area! What a shame; see Washington Post. For a complete rundown of the contract situations of various players, see MLB.com.
I was a little surprised that an editorial in today's Washington Post questioned Mayor Williams' leadership while paying respect to the way the D.C. Council handled the vote on the stadium lease last week: "the council's behavior, we believe, reflected the democratic process at work." Just like the democratic process in Palestine and Haiti, perhaps? Sorry, I'm still recovering from that near-death experience. I suppose the Post editors are just building the stature of the three new council members who voted for the stadium deal after having campaigned against it; some local activists are angry with them.
The Ameriquest Field page has been updated with a new diagram that conforms to the new standard. The previous "sideways" version remains an viewable option on that page because it includes the entire stadium structure, including the concourse that surrounds the stadium. Note that the actual power alley distance is estimated at 380 feet, rather than 390 feet, as is marked at the bend next to the bullpen in left center. I also updated the Side-by-side stadium comparison page, and may add the various foreign stadiums to it soon.
Domes in Japan
Bruce Orser brought to my attention a satellite photo from Google Earth showing the Sapporo Dome, which I mentioned when I posted the Tokyo Dome page a few days ago. It has an odd "teardrop" shape, with the center field side elongated and squared off, where the movable soccer field enters and leaves the dome.
February 12, 2006 [LINK]
"Blog rage" against "WaPo"
The executive editor of the Washington Post Web site, Jim Brady, got caught in a firestorm of protest on Jan. 19 after he closed the comments section of the Post's new blog because of a flood of hateful comments. In today's Outlook section he sets out to defend his action and laments the sad, bilious, and often profane tone that prevails in much of the "blogosphere." It happens that in this case, the outrage was expressed by Democrats (or like-minded people) who were protesting a somewhat misleading statement that lobbyist Jack Abramoff gave money to both parties. It only reinforces my impression that cyberspace manners these days are generally much worse on the Left than on the Right. It also validates my reluctance to follow fashion by enabling a comments feature on my blog. I do welcome e-mail feedback, however.
Post lauds Hanger
One of the editorials in today's Post praised Virginia state Senator Emmett Hanger for his compromise measure on immigration, which I wrote about on Friday. (In Republican circles, a kind word from the Post is not necessarily considered a good thing.) The editorial highlighted Sen. Hanger's family experience with immigration as motivating his "change of heart," which reminds me that this is one of those divisive social issues on which opinions depend to a large extent on personal experience. It has certainly shaped my attitude on the issue, and try as I might, I can't pretend to be totally objective. It would take book's worth of explanation to convey to someone lacking such experience what the contemporary immigration situation is really like.
February 12, 2006 [LINK]
Catbird weathers snow storm
We had about six inches of snow altogether yesterday and last night. After cleaning off the cars this morning I took a
walk trudge behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. Sure enough, I soon heard that hardy Gray catbird that has been lingering here since November. This time I had my camera ready to get a quick photo when it popped into view. I also saw:
- 8+ Bluebirds (M, F)
- Hairy woodpecker (F)
- Downy woodpecker (F)
- Red-bellied woodpecker (F)
- Purple finches (M, F)
- House finches (M, F)
- Juncos (finally!)
- Cardinals, Chickadees, Titmice, etc.
February 14, 2006 [LINK]
Valentines Day for the birds
George sang today for the first time in several weeks, an auspicious sign of a happy Valentine's Day here in the Clem household. What is even more special is that Princess has been straining harder and harder to sing, and is getting very good at it. If you know anything about birds, singing is the exclusive function of males, as a mating ritual and as a sign of territorial dominance, so this accomplishment by Princess is truly astounding. I'll post a video or audio clip of her in the near future. In the mean time, take a look at the video clip of Princess and George from Valentine's Day last year, just as we were about to depart on our adventure-trip to Costa Rica.
February 14, 2006 [LINK]
Post-election chaos in Haiti
The vote counting process in Haiti is not having the intended effect of building trust among social factions, to put it mildly. Even though the favored candidate of most poor Haitians, Rene Preval, is far ahead of his rivals in the vote tabulations thus far, his supporters are angry that he has not already been officially declared the winner. Preval had urged his supporters to remain calm, but he also accused the electoral commission of "stealing" votes, almost inviting the violent response. If he does not reach the fifty percent threshold, there will be a second round election, but no one seriously doubts that Preval will be the ultimate winner. See Washington Post. The foreign minister Brazil, Celso Amorim, wants the UN Security Council to get more involved in the Haitian situation. Brazil has more peacekeeping troops there than any other country, so this crisis is of urgent concern to Brazilians, if not to most Americans. See BBC.
The impatience of Preval's supporters, and their quick resort to violence before the vote counting is even finished, makes it clear how far Haiti has to go before anything resembling a stable democratic regime emerges. The United States can do very little in these kinds of situations (much like Iraq), beyond encouraging moderation and avoiding any contact with anti-democratic forces such as the warlords who toppled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide two years ago. The ultimate outcome will depend more on him and other leaders in Haiti than anything else.
Evo remains cocaleros' chief
The newly inaugurated president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has been chosen by his colleagues in the coca-growing business to continue serving as their leader. He has pledged to fight narcotraffickers, but it will be hard to sustain such an effort given the fact that a large majority of coca revenue in Bolivia comes from illegal markets. The fact that he addressed the mass meeting in front of a banner reading "Long live coca, Death to Yankees" is not encouraging, but it may just be ritualistic defiance. See CNN.com.
From the agricultural sampler souvenir I purchased in Peru two years ago. See PHOTO of me with the kids who sold it to me. They are the kind of people Morales says he is fighting for. I hope so.
February 14, 2006 [LINK]
Zakaria on the "Fall of Europe"
Fareed Zakaria, the erudite IR scholar-pundit often seen on ABC, comments on the "Cartoon War" in the context of long-term demographic and economic trends in Europe. Upshot: downhill. The failure of European countries to resist and contain Muslim extremists is only a symptom of a deeper problem. The failure of governments in Europe to make any attempt to reform their protectionist agricultural trade policies, and the deep reluctance to modify the cushy welfare entitlements bode ill for the continent's ability to compete in the 21st Century global market. Zakaria speculates on the implications for the world if Europe continues to wane in importance: Political power would become more diffuse, making norms (such as nuclear non-proliferation) harder to enforce. On the plus side (for use), the U.S. dollar would remain the default reserve asset for global financiers, which would be good for us -- well, good for American tourists and investors, at least. See Washington Post. I would like to hear what Europhiles such as Charles Kupchan think about this.
InstaPundit on Coulter
I try hard not to get worked up about the rantings and insults spewed forth by big mouths, but Ann Coulter's use of the foul epithet raghead last Friday has had one positive effect: It spurred Glenn Reynolds to express his sentiments in a multi-paragraph blog post! Like me, he is not particularly fond of her abrasive style either.
February 16, 2006 [LINK]
The Stadium statistics page has been reformatted, showing the year of contruction and demolition, in addition to the first and last years of use in Major League Baseball. There are a number of other small enhancements on that page as well, such as indicating which stadiums were built next to their predecessors. The distances to the power alleys are no longer shown on that page, however, because those figures -- officially marked versus my estimates of the true distances -- will be a main focus of the soon-to-come Dimensions page. Power alley distances are notoriously unreliable, and the Stadium statistics page aims to be purely objective.
The Shibe Park revisions are nearing completion, but I need to get a few things straight before I post the new diagrams. In the mean time, I did a quick rotation of Jarry Park, which I'll post very soon. Tennis, anyone?
The mail bag
Jay Roberts brought to my attention a discussion thread (from 2002) at japanesebaseball.com in which a guy named Robert Whiting says he counted only 42,761 seats seats at the Tokyo Dome several years ago. Since then, one thousand seats have been removed, and standing room capacity is said to be 3,000. Nevertheless, the Yomiuri Giants routinely claim 55,000 in attendance. Sounds pretty "sushi" to me.
Dave Tucker suggested that I do a page and diagram for Scottsdale (Arizona) Stadium, since it will be one of the venues for the World Baseball Classic. It's unlikely that I would branch out in that direction, certainly not in time for the WBC. My "plate" is full of long-overdue revisions to existing diagrams and pages the way it is.
UPDATE: Sosa turns down Nats
Sammy Sosa has declined the offer of a $500,000 non-guaranteed one-year contract with the Nationals, and may not play at all this season, or perhaps ever again. He apparently wanted more money than Jim Bowden was willing to pay him. See MLB.com. Like Jose Canseco, his performance as a slugger took a nosedive late in his career, before he was ready to call it quits. It's too bad, in a way, it might have been interesting to see him try to regain his past glory and cross the 600 home run threshold in Washington.
February 16, 2006 [LINK]
More Euro-pessimists speak out
I was wondering what Charles Kupchan would say about Fareed Zakaria's Euro-pessimism, and thanks to Instapundit, I found out. Theodore Dalrymple recently posted an essay, "Is Old Europe Doomed?" at Cato Unbound. He begins by granting that history does not proceed in linear, deterministic fashion, but warns, "Nevertheless, it is undeniable that a pall of doom does currently overhang Europe." Clincher:
The principal motor of Europe's current decline is, in my view, its obsession with social security, which has created rigid social and economic systems that are extremely resistant to change. And this obsession with social security is in turn connected with a fear of the future: for the future has now brought Europe catastrophe and relative decline for more than a century.
The result of this obsession: dwindling work opportunities for native Europeans, and the encouragement of a vast "informal sector" of immigrants willing to take up the slack. As the youth of Europe long for cushy, public sector jobs, while rejecting the ethos of capitalism, productivity will continue to lag. Dalrymple's interpretation of social norms under these conditions is particularly troubling:
The goal of everyone is to parasitize everyone else, or to struggle for as large a slice of the economic cake as possible. No one worries about the size of the cake itself.
In response, Georgetown professor Charles Kupchan wrote that Dalrymple's piece "is essentially a Europhobic rant." (It did not strike me that way at all.) To Kupchan, things in Europe are not as bad as they seem, and some statistical trends indicate continued vitality in the European economy, especially if you leave out Germany. (How ironic; Germany used to be the motor of the European economy!) Oddly, Kupchan treats Europe's low birth rate as an exogenous trend, when it is really one of the clearest symptoms of socio-economic stagnation. I think he is whistling in the dark.
Dick Cheney's accidental shooting of his friend Harry Whittington has provided great fodder for comedians and Bush-bashers, and an inordinate amount of attention from the news media. The only real "lessons" to be drawn from it, however, are rather banal: "Safety First." "Accidents happen." One could certainly fault the Veep for poor public relations in this incident, but that has never been one of his priorities. The sorrow he expressed in the interview with FOX's Brit Hume yesterday was obviously sincere. Hunting without the proper permit is a more serious matter, however, and Cheney should pay the maximum fine to set an example.
February 16, 2006 [LINK]
Whither Iraqi WMDs? Try Syria.
The recently-released tapes of Saddam Hussein's telephone conversations regarding a possible terrorist attack on the United States really don't prove anything one way or the other. To me it sounds like he was speaking in contrived fashion "for posterity," like when Nixon said "But it would be wrong."
What is more significant are the recent revelations by former Iraqi generals that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction were transfered to Syria just before the U.S. invasion in March 2003. According to former Iraqi Air Force General George Sada, the neighboring Baathist regimes reached an ageement in the 1980s that if either of them was under threat of foreign occupation, it would transfer WMDs and other strategic assets to the other. In an interview with Sean Hannity at foxnews.com in late January, Sada explained this arrangement in great detail. There have been similar reports in the past, but not many from such a highly placed source. This has since been corroborated by another former Iraqi military commander, Ali Ibrahim al-Tikriti, as explained by The American Thinker, via Barcepundit.
As such evidence accumulates, it would seem that the day of reckoning for the two other mideastern "rogue regimes" -- Syria and Iran -- is fast approaching. I'm inclined to believe that the confrontation will involve more covert, cloak-and-dagger tactics than outright military invasion.
3rd ACR & counterinsurgency
Today's Washington Post describes how the U.S. Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment has shown marked improvement in its counterinsurgency tactics since its first deployment to Iraq in 2003, when its performance was below expectations. Now that it pays more attention to understanding what motivates the enemy, and treating prisoners with dignity, the 3rd ACR has become a much more effective fighting force. This is a good example of one of the seldom-recognized strong points of the American armed forces: the eagerness of our soldiers to apply themselves in a never-ending search for new and better ways to outwit and defeat the enemy. During the Cold War, U.S. military planners counted on the superior quality of U.S. personnel to offset the superior quantity of Soviet Bloc forces, improvising and adapting to rapidly changing battlefield conditions.
February 16, 2006 [LINK]
"Important bird areas"
This month's Augusta Bird Club meeting on Monday evening featured a very interesting and informative presentation by Aimee Weldon on the National Audubon Society's Important bird areas program. It is part of a systematic worlwide attempt to survey specific locations that various migratory bird species depend upon for their survival. This project depends on the coordinated efforts of thousands of grass-roots volunteers who have detailed knowledge of wildlife and geography in their respective localities. The Atlantic coast of Virginia, from Assateague to Chincoteague, is one of those "Important bird areas"; see my recent post about the plight of the Red knots. The Blue Ridge is the summer home of many Cerulean warblers, which are declining in numbers, and the mountains of Highland and Bath County are home to breeding area for Golden-winged warblers, which I only glimpsed once -- just last summer, in fact.
More of John's photos
Once again, they are exquisitely clear and detailed: one is of a Widgeon, a kind of duck, and the other is of a Varied thrush, a relative of the American robin that lives in the Great Northwest.
February 17, 2006 [LINK]
Mets push for new stadium
I've been skeptical about their timetable up until now, but it looks like the Mets are really serious about building a new stadium by the Spring of 2009, just like the Yankees. It would be much smaller than Shea Stadium, with either 42,500 or 44,100 seats, depending on which source you believe. In addition, it would emulate several design features of Ebbets Field, including the overall shape, a large roof, and a rotunda. The Mets will pay for most of the $600 million cost to build the new stadium, and the Empire State Development Corporation will hold a public hearing on Feb. 27. See nydailynews.com and queenstribune.com. (via Mike Zurawski, of course). It sounds pretty good to me; I just hope the Mets have better luck with local politicians than the Nationals did in D.C.! The "life expectancy" of Shea Stadium may drop very soon...
More revamped pages
In preparation for another Big Wave of upgrades to this Web site as Opening Day approaches, I have revamped the Baseball Introductory page and the Baseball Site Map. The main change was switching the lists of stadiums from one page to the other, for reasons that should be obvious. The list of stadiums by city on the latter page now indicates the status of each stadium page, in terms of how complete their diagrams are.
The Jarry Park page has a revised diagram (including the swimming pool!) and text, based on recent findings on what's become of the place in recent years. About ten years ago they tore down all of the grandstand except for the original curved portion behind home plate, and added new grandstands for a new tennis stadium. It's very impressive. Pat Schroeder asked me if I was going to add a tennis version diagram, but it's been so many years since the Montreal Expos (now known as the Washington Nationals!) played there, that I don't think it's worth it. That page also has a new interactive thumbnail diagram feature which I plan to add to the rest of the stadium pages, little by little.
Following up on the inquiry from Dave Tucker, Bruce Orser sent me a Google Earth image of Scottsdale Stadium, which has very tight foul territory, much like Jarry Park, and big outfield dimensions: 360 down the foul lines, and 420 to center.
February 18, 2006 [LINK]
Preval declared winner in Haiti
After several days of riots by poor people complaining that their votes had been stolen, election officials in Haiti changed their rules and declared former President Rene Preval to be the winner. By excluding blank ballots (which are a common sign of protest in Latin American countries, where voting is mandatory), Preval received 51.5 percent of the votes counted, meaning that no second round is necessary. It was an expedient decision, but it also gives the distinct impression of caving in to mob violence. See CNN.com.
Stones rock Rio
The Rolling Stones performed a free concert at the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro this evening, and about two million cariocas (residents of Rio) showed up. This is part of the buildup to Carnival, the world class hedonistic celebration that gives Brazil its very identity. See the BBC.
February 18, 2006 [LINK]
Checks and balances in wartime
I'm well aware of the uproar over the President Bush's extra-legal authorization of wiretaps of terrorist suspects, but this is one of those issues where I fall squarely in the middle, preferring to wait and see. I am concerned about the Chief Executive overstepping his rightful prerogratives, but thus far I have seen no cause for panic over the alleged erosion of constitutional protections. For those of us who acknowledge that we are in a real war (albeit a shadowy one), it seems obvious that preventing another urban holocaust should be the top priority.
Recent news items have made me start to wonder, however. The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility has begun to investigate the Department's role in approving the wiretapping by the National Security Agency. New Attorney General Alberto Gonazalez is on the hot seat. The White House has been arguing that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 does not apply to monitoring communications in which one party is out of the country. Some would argue, but I think that is reasonable. The other day, however, I heard an audio clip from 2004 (I think) in which Bush tried to ease people's fears by declaring that all wiretapping in this country was being done under a court order, under the provisions of FISA. Sounds like a 180-degree reversal to me. At govexec.com (hat tip to Connie), Shane Harris (a National Journal writer) scrutinized the White House position that the "Authorization for Use of Military Force" passed by Congress soon after 9/11 superseded the provisions of FISA:
In a January open letter to Congress, 14 legal scholars and former government officials wrote, "The administration cannot argue on the one hand that Congress authorized the NSA program in the AUMF, and at the same time that it did not ask Congress for such authorization because it feared Congress would say no."
A column by George Will in Thursday's Washington Post ("No Checks, Many Imbalances") harshly criticizes Bush for that flat-out contradiction, raising further doubts in my mind. Will notes the irony that Bush insists on appointing judges who interpret the laws and Constitution in very strict fashion, and wonders why Bush is so worried about renewing the Patriot Act, given his past willingness to circumvent Federal statutes. Will concludes by urging Congress to craft new laws that grant the necessary emergency powers to the President without lending legal support to the Bush administration's cavalier attitude toward FISA. That will be a delicate balancing act.
We need to make a basic distinction here, as Will hints at, between whether an action was appropriate under the circumstances, and whether it was properly justified. Relatively few people would dispute that occasional "on-the-spot" wiretaps are necessary to stop terrorist attacks, which leaves us with a fairly clear choice: Do we modify existing laws to accommodate current practice, to keep transgressions to a minimum, or do we get used to ignoring the law in the name of national security? The latter course is a very slippery slope, and there is no excuse for habitual exercise of "emergency" powers; after all, that is how dictatorships in Latin America and elsewhere usually got started. Could that happen here? It depends whom you are asking, and which party controls the White House. To my mind, the polemics over this very serious issue highlights, once again, the "Liberal-Conservative Conundrum" regarding the effects of war, as explained by Bruce Porter (War and the Rise of the State, 1994): Liberals tend to hate war but are quick to take advantage of it to promote their social reform agendas, while conservatives tend to be gung-ho but fear that social traditions will be undermined by the mass collectivization that military mobilization brings about. Folks on both the Right and Left are pulling their hair out in frustration over the role reversal in which post-9/11 history has placed them. It also reinforces my belief that it was a big mistake by Bush to ask Congress for a "blank check" discretion to launch war, rather than a formal declaration of war against Iraq. That would have erased any doubt in people's minds about whether this is a real war or not, and it would have set a higher standard for achieving a final legal resolution of the conflict.
Here's another way to look at the issue: How would Republicans feel if Hillary Clinton were president and was asserting such powers? A pretty scary thought, and not implausible either. So, the next time you hear the usual pro-Bush radio pundits talking about the President's "inherent power" as Commander in Chief in war time, imagine how they would react to such an assertion by a Democrat president. What goes around, comes around. That's why conservatives have traditionally favored limited government: It minimizes the downside risk when you lose the election.
Warner off to a slow start
Mark Warner, the ambitious, fresh-faced millionaire businessman -- and Democrat! -- who recently stepped down as governor of Virginia, is having a hard time adjusting to national politics. According to PoliticalDerby.com (hat tip to Steve Kijak), he has fallen in rank from #4 to #5 in the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. (Hillary occupies the #1, #2, AND #3 spots! ) Now that Warner no longer holds elective office, he finds it difficult to draw attention to himself. He recently traveled to New Hampshire, but got only a lukewarm reception. Perhaps he needs to appeal to the Democrat base by jumping on the "Bush lied" bandwagon. Of course, that would destroy his chances of winning the general election. What a dilemma! For all the troubles faced by the Republicans right now, I would definitely not want to trade places with the opposition party.
February 20, 2006 [LINK]
F-14 is retired from service!?
I was certainly aware that air superiority is no longer a high priority task of U.S. Air Force and Navy pilots, but I had no idea that the Navy's F-14 "Tomcat" was going to be taken out of service so soon. Yes, the very same futuristic, supersonic plane that Tom Cruise made famous in Top Gun is now officially obsolete! Man, does that make me feel old. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, some F-14s were modified to run bombing missions, since there was no enemy air force to speak of, but they really weren't designed for that mission. The fact that the Mach 2+ fighter jets are so expensive to maintain (partly because of their variable-geometry wings) makes the Navy's decision understandable. Donald Sensing reports this sad news and adds some comments about SPADs, Fokkers, and other fighters from World War I, when "dogfighting" was invented.
I got to peek into an F-14 cockpit at one of the annual air shows at Andrews (!) Air Force base outside Washington, D.C. This would have been in the early 1980s. I asked one of the pilots what the maximum range of the Phoenix air-to-air missiles carried by the F-14s was, and he coyly said he wasn't sure. I knew the precise range was a big secret (estimates ranged from 40 to 50 miles), since that was one of the main weapons in the Cold War, and knowing the range of the Phoenix would have helped the Soviets plan an attack against NATO.
Here's another little-known fact about F-14s: The Nixon administration sold a batch of 80 or so of them to the Shah of Iran, and when he was overthrown by the Mullahs in 1978-1979, those top-of-the-line jets fell into enemy hands. In the end, it didn't matter much, because we were the only source for spare parts, and very few F-14s were available for service in the Iran-Iraq war, as Iran's fleet of Tomcats was depleted through "cannibalization." It's another example of how alliances are prone to shift from time to time in world politics, and yet many critics today seem totally unaware of that basic fact.
February 20, 2006 [LINK]
Emotional Goldfinch rescue
A few days ago I spotted a Goldfinch that was seemingly stuck on the ground out back. After determining that it indeed was unable to fly, I brought the poor thing inside to recuperate and regain its strength until it was ready to return to its natural, free state. Based on the lack of yellow feathers in the throat area, I would say it is probably a female or a first year "adolescent." Little by little, it started flying again, to the amusement of Princess and George, who were very curious. Today the Goldfinch became quite anxious at seeing its own kind at the feeder just outside the window, calling repeatedly and flapping all around, so I finally decided to let it go. It quickly flew across the yard to the upper branches of a nearby tree, so I assume it will survive -- as long as there are no hungry hawks in the neighborhood, that is.
"Born free, as free as the wind blows..."
Bald eagles: out of danger?
UPDATE: For us folks in the Lower 48 states, it's a special treat to see a Bald eagle. Even so, our National Symbol has recovered sufficiently over the past thirty years that it will probably be taken off the list of "threatened species" in the near future. In some parts of Alaska, meanwhile, Bald eagles are so abundant that they are considered annoying pests by local residents! See Washington Post.
February 21, 2006 [LINK]
Chavez: cry of the loon
Hugo Chavez's latest verbal outburst -- a childish taunt to Condoleezza Rice (see CNN.com) -- simply does not merit repeating; doing so would only encourage him. It fits the recent pattern, making it clear that he is either a borderline mental case or wants us to think that he is. There is something familiar about his clownish posturing, and I just realized which historical leader Chavez reminds me of: Benito Mussolini, Il Duce. The same vain boasting and silly faces, pandering to the uneducated masses while dragging his country down to ruins. Apologists for such farcical despots always have some lame excuse in terms of practical action: "He made sure the trains ran on time" or "He provides food and health care to the poor people." It must be terribly embarrassing and depressing for educated Venezuelans. If Hugo were not an elected head of state, I would put him in the unmentionable wacko category. Nevertheless, I remain convinced that the United States must back off and avoid doing anything that would provide Chavez with an excuse to call us imperialists. Keeping tabs on any contacts between his regime and terrorist groups, via passive espionage, should be the extent of our intervention in Venezuela.
Peruvian rebel leader killed
One of the few leaders of the Sendero Luminoso ("Shining Path") terrorist movement who remains at large was killed by Peruvian police on Sunday. Hector Aponte, a.k.a "Comrade Clay," was killed in the Huallaga Valley, the main coca-producing region of Peru. He led the rebel unit that had killed eight police in December. It is believed that a about 150 rebels are operating under "Comrade Artemio" in the jungles around Tingo Maria, and about 300 are further south, in the Apurimac and Ene river valleys. That area is close to Ayacucho, the original "heartland" of the Senderistas. (See map of Peru.) See CNN.com. I see no signs that the terrorist remnants in Peru are gathering significant momentum, but their activities are cause for some worry nonetheless.
It so happens that Jacqueline is in Peru right now, visiting her family and old friends. Unlike our hurried "touristy" vacation to Peru two years ago, when we went to Cuzco and Machu Picchu, this time she is going to relax.
Web site touchups
I have turned my Web site enhancement attention to the Latin America section. I have made some organizational and aesthetic changes, and updating the chronologies on the country pages comes next.
February 22, 2006 [LINK]
Neocons & Neolibs: chastened alike
One of the fascinating cases of politics making strange bedfellows in the post-9/11 world is the convergence on foreign policy between the Neoconservatives (institutionally exemplified by the Project for a New American Century) and the Neoliberals (exemplified by the Brookings Institution). Before 9/11, Neocons sought a strong, unapologetic global push on behalf of American interests, relegating American values to a lower priority, while Neolibs sought to promote American (and Western) values through multilateral means. The dagger blow inflicted upon us by Al Qaeda convinced both those intellectual communities that America's future security depended on harmonizing American interests and values, relying primarily upon American means. The uneasy marriage of convenience between these two communities is under increasing strain, however, because of the difficulties in pacifying Iraq.
Francis Fukuyama, a shining star of Neolibs, distances himself from Neocons in the New York Times. He believes that democracy in Iraq can still be salvaged, but the cost will be higher than it had to be because of missteps by the Bush administration. More generally, he thinks the Bush Doctrine "is now in shambles":
But it is the idealistic effort to use American power to promote democracy and human rights abroad that may suffer the greatest setback. Perceived failure in Iraq has restored the authority of foreign policy 'realists' in the tradition of Henry Kissinger.
I think that is a fair assessment. I was struck, however, by Fukuyama's insinuation that "that the United States would have done better to stick by its traditional authoritarian friends in the Middle East." What a change from the "End of History" democratic triumphalist of ten years ago! When I saw him speak at the APSA meeting in Washington last September, he expressed similar mixed feelings about the Bush policies in Iraq, and the general Wilsonian approach to foreign policy. I agree with Fukuyama that there is a major risk of an isolationist backlash among the "red-state" folks whose sons and daughters are crusading for freedom in the desert, if things don't work out.
Andrew Sullivan wrote a thoughtful review of Fukuyama's piece, including a frank mea culpa:
In retrospect, neoconservatives (and I fully include myself) made three huge errors in the last few years. The first was to over-estimate the competence of government, especially in extremely delicate areas like WMD intelligence.
The second error was narcissism. America's power blinded many of us to the resentments that such power must necessarily provoke.
The final error was not taking culture seriously enough.
Where do I stand? I have never identified with the Neocons, and I have acknowledged those three pitfalls Sullivan emphasized from time to time. As one with strong roots in the realist tradition, moreover, I have always viewed Bush's promotion of democracy with a bit of trepidation. I do remain convinced that regime change in Iraq was the sine qua non of turning back the Islamo-fascist global advance, nevertheless, even though Bush's team did not carry out the project as effectively as it should have, for reasons Fukuyama and Sullivan explain. Like Sullivan, I do feel somewhat chastened for having made a strong political commitment to a leader whose flaws are becoming more apparent over time. Live and learn. There is a fine line between confident assertiveness and hubris, and our President (a self-admitted C-student) probably never read that chapter.
This is where the stubborn reluctance by the White House to admit past policy mistakes or legal transgressions (e.g., torture and wiretapping) has the potential to damage U.S. national interests. I think Bush's advisers are on one hand rightfully scornful of the destructive type of dissent exhibited by the (mostly) "unhinged" Democrats, and on the other hand unduly worried that such dissent might spread if Bush shows any signs of humility or weakness. I was reassured when the White House adopted a more sober, realistic tone in speeches about the war in Iraq since December, but there remains a disturbing tendency to ignore well-meaning criticism from sympathetic sources. The key to political success in Iraq and the U.S. midterm election is for Bush to ditch his Texan bravado while maintaining a firm resolve to carry on the fight against the enemy, as we gradually withdraw troops. The ultimate outcome is now in the hands of the Iraqi leaders themselves.
February 22, 2006 [LINK]
More bird photos
John sent me two more great closeup bird photos from South Dakota: Horned lark (you can see one of the "horns"!), and a (Lapland?) Longspur, which, in its winter plumage, probably looks like a sparrow to the untrained eye.
Here in Virginia we woke up to a surprisingly heavy snow fall, probably two inches total. I hope that Goldfinch is OK...
February 24, 2006 [LINK]
Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium
I finally finished the revised diagram(s) for the ballpark I always knew as Connie Mack Stadium, but which most traditionalists refer to as "Shibe Park." You'd think a simple rectangular ballpark would be easy to revise, but no-o-o. There are more oddities and data inconsistencies than you might imagine. I have determined from my relentless scrutiny of photographs and various data sources that the original distance to the corners was about
350* feet, not 360 feet as indicated by Lowry (1992) and others. Also, the distance to the backstop during the first few years was about 30* feet less than the 90 feet reported by Ritter (1992); that figure is accurate for 1922-1942. Other unresolved issues remain, however, which is why question marks appear on the first two versions of the dynamic diagram on that page. Another thing: The Eagles (not the rock group) used to play at Shibe Park / Connie Mack Stadium, but I did not make a football version diagram because I have never seen a photo of a football game there. Has anyone else? * (See corrections on March 2.)
Spring training begins!
At Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida, the Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers have been practicing for almost a full week now, and there remains a gaping hole in the rotation, with only two really solid starters: Livan Hernandez and John Patterson. Now, the rest of the team is reporting for duty, including the newest National, Alfonso Soriano. He was introduced by GM Jim Bowden and Manager Frank Robinson, but the issue of where he will play is still not resolved. Soriano will begin playing for the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic in Orlando on March 3. See MLB.com. Actually, this kind of tension might be the kind of spark the team needs to get motivated. We'll see. Former Oriole Sammy Sosa turned down a second offer by the Nationals, for one mil-lion dollars! That was more than "Dr. Evil" was willing to pay. I've been looking at the various baseball preview magazines, and nearly all of them are paying a lot of attention to Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals' rookie third baseman from U.Va. Living up to such high expectations will be a tough task for the former C-ville Wahoo.
I've come across two Web sites that cover the Nationals lately: Nats Fanatics, by Colin Mills, and The Beltway Boys, a photo-filled blog by Farid Rushdi, a former resident of the D.C. area who now lives in Idaho!
The mail bag
Sean Holland recently inquiried about those odd extra seating areas between the dugouts and bullpens at League Park (due for an imminent diagram revision). As far as I can tell from the photos I've seen, they were picnic areas, but I haven't read anything specific on that. Coincidentally, Tom Wolff (the author?) writes to tell me that the Cleveland team did not adopt the name "Indians" until 1915, so I have revised that page with corrected information.
February 25, 2006 [LINK]
Outfield dimensions: fiction & fact
The Dimensions page now is essentially finished, though further refinements will no doubt ensue. It basically aims to present comparable data on outfield (and backstop) distances for all stadiums, measured in a consistent way. Many of the discrepancies between the marked and actual outfield distances are already familiar to baseball fans, but there are probably a few odd cases I have found that will raise some eyebrows.
In the process of doing that page, I've made minor format tweaks and corrections in a few of the other baseball information reference pages. In some pages I had, for some inexplicable reason, mistakenly indicated that Sportsmans Park opened in 1910, when it was actually 1909. D'oh!
I was vaguely aware that Yankee outfielder Gary Sheffield was less than satisfied with the way his team has been playing, and he is no doubt itching for a World Series ring. Now he has caught some flak from some media outlets for speaking out. See MLB.com. Frankly, I like the guy and admire his cool-headed, professional approach to the game. This latest tiff in the Bronx perhaps also signfies a return to "normalcy" for the Yanks, who are well accustomed to continuous upheaval in the front office and roster. Interestingly, that has been more the case up in Boston since the Red Sox finally won the World Series two years ago. See, winning isn't everything...
February 26, 2006 [LINK]
Reagan dinner in Staunton
Friday night marked one of the year's biggest events on the local social calendar, at least if you are a Republican: the annual dinner in honor of Ronald Reagan. Rebecca Hagelin, a vice president of the Heritage Foundation, spoke to nearly one hundred guests at the recently restored Stonewall Jackson Hotel in downtown Staunton. Her book, Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That's Gone Stark Raving Mad, is a call to arms in the culture wars. She came across as very serious, sincere, and devoted to raising public consciousness about the depravity to which our kids are subjected on a daily basis. The Staunton Daily News Leader covered the event. I am not as "gung ho" on cultural issues as some conservatives, mostly because I think the way to address social ills is through religion and civic action rather than politics, but I am keenly aware of the crisis of filth. Conservatives need to keep in mind the principle of accountability: letting people suffer for their own mistakes as a way to learn, rather than berating them for bad behavior and/or smothering them with "compassion." Of course, the innocent among us -- i.e., teens and preteens -- do need active protection by law enforcement and community leaders, and that is where Ms. Hagelin's book is right on target.
One of the guests at the dinner was Rhonda Winfield, the mother of fallen soldier Jason Redifer who died in Iraq just over a year ago. She was the main speaker at the "Support the Troops" rally we had in Staunton last August, and I gave her a copy of the video CD of the event which I made. She is a very gracious and decent woman who just happens to be a very articulate supporter of the cause of freedom, and it was a true honor to meet her in person.
Webb challenges Allen
I was surprised to learn that James Webb, who served as Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, is running for the Democratic nomination to run against Senator George Allen, who will probably run for president in 2008. See Washington Post.
February 27, 2006 [LINK]
It's been pretty nippy for the past few days, which is often a good sign of finding water birds, so I drove out to Bell's Lane yesterday afternoon. I saw:
- 200 Canada geese, many on the pond
- 9 American coots
- 3 Ruddy ducks
- 2 Mallards
- 2 Northern shovelers !
I didn't see any Short-eared owls, Northern harriers, or other raptors this time. There seem to be more birds in our back yard lately, possibly because the menacing Sharp-shinned hawk has left the area.
February 28, 2006 [LINK]
Nats seek starting pitchers
The Nationals just signed Pedro Astacio to replace their recently acquired starting pitcher Brian Lawrence, who just had shoulder surgery that will probably keep him off the roster for most if not all of the season. Astacio pitched for the Rangers and Padres last year. At the age of 36, he has a pretty solid reputation as a veteran, even though his statistics don't look very impressive. As for Lawrence, who formerly pitched for Padres, the Nationals chose not to give him an MRI exam before completing the trade (for Vinny Castilla), because it would have cost upwards of $10,000. See Washington Post.
Meanwhile, at Space Coast Stadium, the Soriano-Vidro soap opera continues without resolution...
Shibe Park questions
Ron Selter of SABR responded to my assertions about Shibe Park's measurements in its early days by bringing to my attention further details about left field configuration. Apparently there was no mid-season change [in 1909] as had been indicated by Lowry in Green Cathedrals (1992). A revised edition of that masterpiece is pending, and Mr. Selter has a lead role in that project. I still have questions about some of the dimensions, however, especially the distance to the backstop. One or two of the the diagrams on the Shibe Park page will be revised soon.
New Shea Stadium
A news item in the New York Post (hat tip to Mike Zurawski) clarified the discrepancy (see Feb. 17) over the seating capacity for the Mets' future home. It will have 42,500 seats, plus standing room for another 1,600 fans, yielding a total capacity of 44,100. It will be built on the east side of Shea Stadium, beyond center field, with center field toward the northeast. What about the name: Giuliani Field? Pataki Park?
February 28, 2006 [LINK]
The Dubai Ports World uproar
The latest uproar facing the Bush administration is another example of policy that is eminently reasonable in terms of substance, but which has been marred by a faulty decision-making process and lack of attention in the White House to public perception. The result has been another feeding frenzy by the mainstream media, as the trauma of relatives of 9/11 victims is being exploited by isolationists. If reason does not prevail in this case, U.S. security and economic interests may be severely damaged.
First, the substance: Last October the Dubai Ports World company, based in the United Arab Emirates, began steps to purchase a London-based port management company, and the deal was essentially finalized earlier this month for $6.85 billion. The United Arab Emirates is humble federation of principalities in the Persian Gulf, an island of Western business ethics in a turbulent sea of religious fanaticism. Think of it as a beachhead of freedom, albeit incipient freedom. These things take time. Many critics call attention to the fact that some of the 9/11 hijackers were from the UAE, but that doesn't necessarily mean very much. Indeed, port management has almost nothing to do with port security. That is the domain of the Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs Service. In today's Washington Post, C. Peter Bergsten, who has impeccable credentials as an advocate of free trade and globalization as the head of the Institute for International Economics, warns about the adverse consequences if Congress meddles in this case, and suggests some procedural improvements to prevent such a thing from getting out of hand again.
On the other hand, there is a very good reason to question this deal as promoting economic liberalism abroad: The company is owned by the UAE government! None other than Sen. Hillary Clinton pointed this out in a committee hearing last week. Indeed, we should be very leery of putting the government in charge of critical economic sectors in which efficiency is crucial -- such as, for example, health care! It doesn't mean we should never make deals with foreign state-owned firms, it's just a factor to take into account.
The grand strategy of the United States is to expand the domain of and economic freedom, setting the stage -- it is hoped -- for expansion in the domain of political freedom. It is, to be sure, somewhat risky, because some regimes such as the one in Beijing are trying to have one kind of freedom without the other, but the virtue in this strategy is that it leverages American self-confidence. Our nation's prosperity is rooted to a very large extent in our eagerness to accept business risk. Whenever we have embraced openness to the world in our history, we have reaped big economic dividends. But the big picture in this particular circumstance is centered around security, national and international. For the United States of America to turn its back on a significant ally in the very part of the world in which our foreign policy is currently focused would be blindingly stupid.
As for decision-making process, a "background article" in Sunday's Washington Post provided a brief timeline since Chuck Schumer broke the "scandal" two weeks ago. It concluded that Bush's frequent resort to citing national security as a rationale for his administration's policies have created a double-edged sword that has nicked him badly in this case. Perhaps. What is indisputable is that the Democrats have seized the opportunity to regain credibility on the security issue. Given this country's lack of attention to complex international security and economic issues, a populist wedge issue such as this one might resonate among voters who are disenchanted with Bush and the Republican leadership, possibly tipping the balance in the 2006 congressional elections. Unless Congress acts by Thursday, the sale will go through. In hopes of averting rejection, Dubai Ports World has asked for a 45-day period in which U.S. agencies will take a more thorough security review.
Finally, public perception. Most people would acknowledge, at least privately, that the real problem in this case is the way Bush handled this before and after it became a media feeding frenzy. The fact that he was blind-sided by the port deal debacle reflects very poorly on the White House staff, though he bears some responsibility for his initial stubborn refusal to compromise or consult with Congress on the matter. You know something is wrong when respectable Republican moderates like Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) in effect pander to the xenophobes among us. (You can almost hear them sneering, "We don't want no stinkin' Ay-rabs runnin' our ports!") Sen. Collins' attitude in this case is very disappointing. In the Chicago Sun Times, Robert Novak discusses the political angle, and how some Republicans such as Reps. Vito Fossela and Peter King (both of New York) caved in to the outcry. On a brighter note, Sen. John McCain spoke out forcefully against critics of the deal on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday: "The near-hysteria about this is not warranted, particularly in light of the other major crises that we're facing throughout the world." See gopusa.com. Nevertheless, part of the problem is President Bush's loss of credibility ever since Hurricane Katrina, a lapse in managerial oversight for which he is paying very dearly.