August 1, 2006 [LINK]
Stadium sponsorship renewals
I have finally managed to set up a convenient, straightforward way (I hope) for folks to support this Web site by sponsoring one of the stadium pages. Just click on the Sponsor page and check to see which stadiums are available. Just like last year, it's ten bucks a pop, but without discounts for multiple sponsorships. (Current sponsors have the first option to renew, for the next week or so.) Or, if you'd rather contribute a smaller amount, just click on the "Donate" button. For non-PayPal people, alternative payment mechanisms are in the works. Thank you for your past and future support!
This Bud's for who?
I've been reading Andrew Zimbalist's new book In the Best Interests of Baseball: The Revolutionary Reign of Bud Selig. It was exactly eight years ago today that Bud Selig became permanent commissioner of baseball. Between 1992 and 1998 he was generally referred to by sports journalists as "acting commissioner," but that was never an official term. In fact, he was merely the the "chairman of the MLB executive council," an office that was traditionally held by the commissioner. The forced resignation of Fay Vincent in September 1992 was what brought on the strange circumstance of a franchise owner serving simultaneously as the overseer and guardian of Our National Pastime. The portrait of Selig painted by Zimbalist is hardly flattering, shedding harsh light on his hardball tactics in getting cities to pay for new stadiums. It is a fair depiction, nonetheless, calling attention to Bud's commendable political and communication skills. In spite of his weak formal position while "acting commissioner," he did manage to cajole the MLB owners into agreeing to expansion in 1998, beginning interleague play, and holding games in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Japan. Mr. Selig has a lot to answer for, I think, but his critics need to think about who could have done any better in maintaining a semblance of unity and order in baseball.
Reactions to Soriano non-trade
Isn't it something how a last-place team like the Nationals can attract such a media feeding frenzy? David Pinto remains skeptical of the whole Soriano thing:
The idea that Washington would flip him for talent after his great first half made me like the original deal that brought him to the Nation's Capital a lot more. Signing him long term doesn't appeal to me at all. He's past his peak and playing for a contract. Washington's likely seen the best they're going to get from Alfonso.
As usual, Tom Boswell (Washington Post) gets it:
But even if Soriano ultimately leaves town, the Nats may have made the right choice anyway because they did the right thing for the right reasons. Many will remember it. The small loss Washington may suffer in personnel -- the difference between the good-but-not-great prospects they could have gotten yesterday and the two draft picks they'd receive as compensation if Soriano leaves -- may be dwarfed by the credibility they immediately gain with their fans, their players and their biggest star.
Exactamundo. The Lerners would do much better in attracting fans to Nats games by spending their money on a better team, not on silly ballpark amusements.
August 1, 2006 [LINK]
Fidel Castro is gravely ill
It is unseemly to celebrate the impending demise of a human being, but one could forgive the Cuban exiles in Miami for dancing in the streets last night. Yesterday the aging dictator of Cuba transfered to his brother Raúl power over three institutions: the Communist Party, the armed forces, and the Cuban government. (Raúl has served as defense minister and vice president for many years, and is the "heir apparent.") Fidel also transfered responsibility for guiding the general course of health policy, education policy, and energy policy to respective cabinet-level officials. Oddly, the only word about Castro's condition as published by the official Communist newspaper Granma (or its Web site, at least) was from Fidel himself. His message to the Cuban people explained that the decision to turn over governing power to his brother was prompted by severe intestinal ailments, including bleeding, that was provoked by the stress of his recent visit to the MERCOSUR summit in Argentina. (The seriousness of the surgery makes one wonder whether the statement was ghost-written.) In any case, it ended by proclaiming:
Imperialism will never be able to smash Cuba.
The Battle of Ideas will continue forward.
Fidel's need to rest and recover from the intestinal surgery has forced the postponement of the planned 80th birthday party for him on August 13. The country's provisional leader Raúl Castro is 75. Fidel came to power on New Year's Day, 1959, and even though he quickly established relations with the Soviet Union, he did not openly declare himself to be a Marxist-Leninist until 1961. Whether he was a closet communist all along, or a nationalist who gravitated in that direction because of U.S. pressure, is a hotly debated question in academic circles. To me, it is a secondary question and in any case can never be answered satisfactorily.
For the United States, the long-anticipated hypothetical question of how to respond to Castro's demise and promote a transition toward a free democratic regime now becomes very urgent and real. Countless times in the past, well-intention U.S. programs aimed up lifting up countries in Latin America or elsewhere in the Third World have failed because U.S. "experts" failed to recognize the nationalistic spirit and wounded pride of the recipient nations. This occasion also provides an opportunity to reform U.S. immigration laws, which contain special preferences for Cuban exiles. People from other Latin American countries resent the Cubans' privileged status, which seems to reward a country for going communist. (!) Given that the Communist regime in Havana appears to lack any provision for a leadership succession beyond Raúl, those immigration provisions would become obsolete as soon as Castro dies, and should be repealed.
Above all, officials in the U.S. government must resist any temptation to gloat over Castro's brush with mortality. For better or (more likely) worse, most people living in Cuba seem to revere him as a nationalist hero. (In a closed, tyrannical system such as Cuba's, however, there is simply no way of accurately gauging true public sentiment.) However sincere or widespread the affection of his people may be, Castro can at least die a happy man knowing that his cherished cause of revolutionary anti-Americanism lives on at the other end of the Caribbean Sea -- in the "Boliviarian Republic" of Venezuela led by Hugo Chavez.
August 2, 2006 [LINK]
Turmoil worsens in Mexico
After several days of increasing protests, blockades, and turmoil, President Fox urged the Mexico City officials to order police to clear the streets. Thus far, Mayor Alejandro Encinas has declined to force the protesters to leave. He belongs to the Party of Democratic Revolution of which losing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is the leader, and no doubt supports the protesters' cause. See CNN.com. A spokesman for winning candidate Felip Calderon accused the PRD of "kidnapping" Mexico City. "AMLO" has spent the last three nights "camping out" in the main plaza, El Zocalo, with thousands of supporters in his PRD. He tries to show a dignified public image, calling on city officials to act with "patriotism, sensitivity, and rectitude." (La Jornada) Meanwhile, he tacitly encourages confrontation with authorities, risking violence and anarchy. The heart of the capital city remains choked by the blockades, causing great annoyance and lost sales for many businesses. To emphasize their determination to reverse the results of the July 2 election, or at least force a complete recall, PRD members pitched tents on the main boulevard, el Paseo de la Reforma, and blockaded the offices of the Secretariat of Social Development. (El Diario de Mexico) This is obviously the most perilous moment in Mexican history since the 1968 protests. The country's political institutions and leaders face a severe test to see whether the protests can be endured, and any legitimate grievances addressed, without resorting to overt repression.
I am unaware of any reputable outside observers who have lent credence to the PRD's accusations of vote rigging. Unfortunately, the Carter Center seems not to have had any involvement in monitoring the Mexican elections, perhaps preoccupied with the recent election in Congo and the upcoming election in Nicaragua.
Meanwhile, the prolonged teachers' strike in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca goes on, and may be spreading. Most tourists have fled the area, putting severe stress on the local economy. About 500 women surrounded a government television station, demanding the resignation of Gov. Ulises Ruiz (who belongs to the once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party), charging that his 2004 election victory was fraudulent. Two years later? See CNN.com.
August 3, 2006 [LINK]
Chavez visits west Africa
During his trip to Africa, Hugo Chavez signed an agreement on energy with President Amadou Toure of Mali, but the details were not disclosed. Presumably, it involves bargain prices for petroleum, such as the special deal reached with Castro's Cuba. Mali has potential oil reserves, however, so there may be some exploration work involved in this agreement. Chavez emphasized that integration with Africa was necessary to resist "imperialism." He then went to Benin and signed an agreement with President Yayi Boni by which Venezuela will invest surplus petroleum funds in that country. Chavez was recently quoted as declaring, "Imperialists belong to an inferior class of human beings or even sub-animals because they dropped an atomic bomb on a city and bombed Hanoi." (El Universal of Caracas) He hopes these diplomatic initiatives will win him (or his country) a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council for the next two years, but such off-the-wall rhetoric makes that prospect less likely.
Peru legislators resist austerity
As promised, new President Alan Garcia is following through with his austerity measures, eliminating the office of the First Lady. Members of Congress belonging to the opposition parties deny reports that they are resisting Garcia's proposed cut in congressional salaries, clearly being on the defensive. Essentially, the pay cut (already in effect for the executive branch officials) is a gesture aimed at restoring credibility among Peruvians who remember what Garcia did the last time he was president. Garcia's APRA and Ollanta Humala's Union for Peru (which is now firmly allied with the Nationalist Party) are engaged in an intense struggle to make deals with smaller parties, divvying up congressional committee assignments. (El Comercio)
August 3, 2006 [LINK]
Glossy ibis visits the valley
Several local bird watchers have reported seeing a Glossy ibis at a farm pond in recent days, the first one ever seen in Rockingham County. It seems that whenever such a rare bird is reported (Sandhill crane, Harris' sparrow), I get there too late, but this morning (hot!) I lucked out. As soon as I stopped my car, I could see the Glossy ibis in plain view. The long bill and green feathers quickly established the identity. [Correction: I thought this was a life bird, but Jacqueline and I had already seen one at Chincoteague in 1999.]
To see a different angle, showing the green color more clearly, roll the mouse over the image. Much better photos of the Glossy ibis were taken by Brenda Tekin.
A Sora was also reported at the same pond, but I didn't see it. I did hear some strange calls in the reeds, however, so perhaps it was hiding in there. Today's list:
- Glossy ibis
- Green herons (2)
- Solitary sandpiper
- Goldfinch (M)
- Indigo bunting (M)
- Red-wing blackbirds (F)
Glossy ibises breed along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts as far north as Maine, and then some of them head inland to forage for a month or so before returning south for the winter. Question: Will the planned large-scale industrial development of the Weyer's Cave area, just a few miles south of this spot, deter such migratory wonders from visiting the Shenandoah Valley?
August 4, 2006 [LINK]
Nats prevail over Giants
It was a good sign that the Nationals bounced back from getting swept by the Dodgers, winning two of three games at AT&T Park. Once again, Barry Bonds was not a factor. You could tell that Alfonso Soriano wanted to sweep the Giants for a second time in two weeks, as he hit two home runs in the third game of the series. Tony Armas pitched poorly, though, giving up six runs in less than four innings. Ironically, the Nats were rallying in the ninth inning, but their former relief pitcher, Mike Stanton, struck out Alex Escobar to end the game. Stanton was just traded to San Francisco last week, so it was a bit strange. So now the Nats are headed to San Diego, able to relax and focus once again now that all those trade rumors are behind them.
Off to Baltimore
Jacqueline has wanted to go to the aquarium in Baltimore for years and years, and this weekend we're finally going to do it. Could it be a mere coincidence that the Yankees are playing the Orioles in Camden Yards? May-be. Anyway, no blogging this weekend.
One of the imminent upgrades to this Web site will be an E-mail list, enabling stadium page sponsors (and registered users, eventually) to share information and opinions about ballparks. That will be a lot more efficient than waiting for me to get caught up with the latest e-mail tips from fans. Stay tuned!
August 4, 2006 [LINK]
House GOP ditches principles
When confronted with unpleasant choices and a tight deadline, most politicians do what average human beings do: punt, that is, let someone else worry about it. Most Republicans in the House detest the minimum wage, believing that in a market economy such as ours, any such attempt to manipulate the price of a good or service is liable to backfire and make most people worse off. But it's an election year, and the minimum wage is one of those "feel good" issues in which the effort to explain why it's bad policy just isn't worth it. To them, the minimum wage is a classic "politically compelling policy." (R. Douglas Arnold) Fear of losing the next election overcomes their doubts that the proposed measure will help the intended beneficiaries the way it's supposed to.
That's why the Republicans resorted to procedural hijinks, following Arnold's precepts, putting the Democrats in a position where they would be pressured into voting against the minimum wage hike: They tied that provision (increasing from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour over three years) to a cut in the estate tax, and to a variety of special tax breaks for favored corporations. That way, the Republicans win a partial victory in either case while being shielded from class-baiting criticism. Then they left town for summer recess. If the Senate goes along with the bill, Republicans get their death tax cut, and if not, at least they stopped the minimum wage from going up. (Washington Post) Ugh. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Robert Novak blamed outgoing House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (CA) for pushing through a measure he didn't really believe in, just to avoid the heat. (But if Thomas isn't running again, what is his motivation?)
There are probably a dozen or more hidden agendas in the bill Thomas put together, and I wouldn't pretend to care very much about who gets what. I would agree with Novak that the GOP moderates' desire to escape criticism from Democrats over the minimum wage issue is a waste of time. Doing so only makes people think you really don't believe in the principles of market economics. If not, what's the point of being a Republican?
In fact, the Senate voted down the measure on Thursday, which is just as well, given the insincerity of it all. See CNN.com.
August 4, 2006 [LINK]
Israel invades Hezbolland
According to the Mainstream Media, Israel has invaded "Lebanon" -- a putatively sovereign nation-state -- in clear violation of international law. It is true that Israeli forces have crossed the line on the map where Lebanon is supposed to begin, but the southern part of that country has not been under effective control of the government in Beirut for years. It is no secret that Hezbollah -- the "Party of God" which consists of Shiite muslims -- is the true supreme authority in much of southern Lebanon. What is striking is that the Lebanese government is objecting to the entry of Israeli forces into an area where its own forces are not even permitted to go! Why hasn't anyone pointed out that no soldiers from the Lebanese army have been killed or wounded in this conflict? Because it is so obvious that Lebanon is not an effective nation-state in any meaningful sense of the word. You may not find it in any world atlas, but the de facto reality is that Hezbollah is a virtual state unto itself, with a territory it controls on an exclusive basis; call it "Hezbolland."
Austin Bay wrote that this conflict shows that the Westphalian system of nation-states has "failed." That system assumes that each sovereign country has control over its own territory, unchallenged by armed groups. Strictly speaking, however, systems cannot "fail," because they are not deliberately constructed by anyone. They simply evolve from the interaction of their component parts. The Westphalian system was more of an idealized abstract than an accurate depiction of international reality, and in any case was superseded to a large extent by the United Nations in 1945. Still, Col. Bay is correct to point out that the transnational nature of terrorism, especially the modern Islamo-fascist variety, renders obsolete our traditional notions of national security.
Semantics aside, what is taking place in Lebanon is an awful tragedy, not just in the popular sense of great sadness and pity, but in the deeper, classical sense of an unavoidable clash of human wills thwarting each others' purposes, leaving everyone worse off. At first glance, the widespread criticism of Israel for the disproportionate use of force, responding to the abduction of two of its soldiers, seems quite valid.
Indeed, one of the biggest moral issues in this war is civilian casualties, and who is to blame for them. Red State notes that U.N. official Jan Egelund called the Hezbollah fighters "cowards" after he learned first hand that they were actually proud of avoiding losses to their own forces by blending in with Lebanese civilians. Belmont Club deals with asymmetric warfare, in which there are vast disparities in the physical capabilities of the two adversaries, who therefore operate under radically different moral and tactical guidelines. It's an extension of the old quandary about whether "guerrilla" forces should be held to the same rules of war as regular soldiers. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah (via C-SPAN) alternated between voicing outrage at the "massacre" in the town of Qana and sneering at the Israelis' inability to find all his rockets. Doesn't he know that it is obvious to everyone that his forces have been concealing their arsenal in civilian homes, using innocent Lebanese people as "human shields"?
The artillery attack by Israel that wounded several U.N. peacekeepers is believed by some people to have been deliberate, but there is an easy explanation for it: Hezbollah fighters were stationed right next door, as Andrew Bolt notes. Beyond that, many people are inclined not to believe a fundamental truism about war, which is fought in a "fog" of incomplete knowledge and deception: Mistakes are made, all the time.
A unique combination of weapons and tactics being used in this war, reminding us that war constantly evolves in unpredictable directions, as opposing sides keep innovating to outwit each other. Israel's initial response to the kidnapping of its soldiers, bombing Beirut and various towns in southern Lebanon, seemed quite inappropriate to me. What is (or was) their strategy behind such a massive retaliation? Philip Gordon (Brookings Institution) argued that Israel's frustrated campaign against Hezbollah shows, once again, that "strategic bombing almost never worked." He cites World War II and Vietnam, to which I would add Bosnia and Kosovo, when Clinton tried to win "on the cheap" with air strikes so as to minimize friendly losses. Actually, I don't think Israel's bombing campaign qualifies as a "strategic" endeavor; I think it is a combination of targetted attacks on suspected Hezbollah bases and semi-random punitive raids.
The novel but truly awful aspect of this war is the constant, intensive use of rockets to rain terror upon Israeli civilians. It's a lot like the V-1/V-2 missile campaign of Germany against England in 1944 and 1945: then as now, little was accomplished militarily, but it did paralyze Londoners with fear, and it forced Churchill's government to divert resources toward defending against the V-1 "buzz bombs." (Nothing could stop the V-2s.) Strategy Page summarizes the Hezbollah arsenal of rockets, most of which are Russian Katyushas, or derivatives thereof. Iran has been sending thousands of these rockets, and some bigger, longer-range ones for ten years or more. I would expect the Israeli people to hold up at least as well as did their counterparts in England 60-odd years ago, but one cannot discount the possibility of escalation by Hezbollah in terms of the type of warhead -- as in WMDs. From an apocalyptic, jihadist point of view, why not go for broke?
It was an encouraging sign when the Israelis shifted from reliance upon bombs to sending their commandos (via helicopters) on a bold strike deep into Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Bill Roggio has been following that operation. We don't know what they accomplished, but without "boots on the ground," they will never neutralize Hezbollah's rocket-firing capability, much less their command infrastructure. Western intelligence agencies apparently underestimated Hezbollah's military forces.
Donald Sensing reviewed the four military-political objectives set by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on June 17, and thinks that none of those goals are likely to be met any time soon. He concludes on a pessimistic note:
The only way Israel can recoup the diplomatic setbacks it has suffered in the last several days, of which the Qana deaths were the capstone, is to impose political conditions through military successes on the ground. Let's hope Israel's renewed seriousness is not too little, too late.
The question of "who wins," ultimately, lies in the realm of mass psychology more than physical reality. War is a clash of wills, and Israel's difficulty in southern Lebanon thus far seems to have raised confidence among the Hezbollah militiamen. The Washington Post interviewed several of them who are beaming with pride at having withstood a direct frontal assault by Israeli mechanized forces. Aside from the first few days of the Yom Kippur War (October 1973), no Arab army had ever held its own against the Israeli Defense Forces. Times have changed.
Paradoxically, increased confidence among Arabs may just be the key to striking an eventual peace bargain between the Israelis and their bitterly resentful, marginalized neighbors. In almost every war since 1948, Israel has outwitted or overwhelmed Arab forces, leaving them utterly humiliated and craving revenge. It also has instilled in them a tendency to blame outsiders for their failures -- hence the hatred of the United States which led to the 9/11 attacks. The longing for power is never satisfied, however, and it is just as likely that making a gesture of respectful concession to Hezbollah at this point would only encourage further aggression and acts of terror. As with most things human, which course they take simply cannot be predicted with any reliability. In the Washington Post, David Ignatius develops this line of thinking:
Yet in the long lens of history, the importance of the 1973 war is that it opened the door to peace. The Arabs, humiliated by earlier wars with Israel, could now claim a measure of dignity because of Anwar Sadat's bold attack across the canal. The Israelis learned that their Arab adversaries wouldn't run from battle as they had in the 1967 war. That gave them a stake in making peace, too.
The idea that Hezbollah could quickly reform itself and mature into a responsible political organization capable of making compromises with its adversaries is far-fetched, but that may be one of the long-term solutions. Scholars who study the history of state formation in Europe know that the royal families that came to dominate during the early Modern Era were often former thugs. It's like the hordes of Visigoths settling down to rule in Spain during the Dark Ages, or retired Mafia goons deciding to make an "honest" living in Las Vegas. Stranger things have happened.
The worst part about this war is that, only one year ago, there were high hopes for the spread of democracy in Lebanon. The forced exit of Syrian troops had many of us thinking (see May 26, 2005) that Lebanon would be the next "domino" to fall in a democratizing Middle East. Unlike the Neocons, I never saw that process as being swift or sure, but it must be admitted that democracy in that part of the world has stalled, at least for the moment.
Finally, as the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, and as North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela escalate their haughty, bellicose rhetoric, the near-term prospects for world peace are about as lowest point since the end of the Cold War. Some evangelical Christians are even talking about Armageddon as a serious, imminent possibility. The United States probably can't do much to influence the course of events in Lebanon for the time being, but there will no doubt be some serious revisions in U.S. foreign policy. To me there is no doubt that Israel deserves or full moral support in this conflict, even if many of us have reservations about how it is conducting the war. That is why this might be an opportune time to consider -- just to consider -- reducing the annual multi-billion dollar subsidy Israel has been getting from Washington since the 1970s. It would undercut the argument of paranoid Arabs and Islamicists that Israel is a client state of the United States, which makes us look responsible for their actions. This would also be a good time for President Bush to read some of Winston Churchill's memoirs from World War II, especially the speech where he could promise nothing but "blood, toil, sweat, and tears."
UPDATE: Hezbollah fired at least 230 rockets into Israel yesterday, the biggest total yet for one day. Donald Sensing has a thorough rundown on Israel's military strategy and the latest news on unit deployments, complete with a map. Eight Israeli brigades are now inside Lebanon,
at least 30,000 men. Sensing sounds more encouraged that Israel is prepared to wage a serious war against Hezbollah, but he admits that Israeli forces have barely penetrated across the border, making very little net progress on the ground.
August 7, 2006 [LINK]
Gorgeous day at Camden Yards = Nightmare for Yankees
Wouldn't you know it? The day I finally go to see a game at Camden Yards, officially ending my "boycott" after all these years, the team I was rooting for gets shut down cold. There must have been at least as many Yankees fans in the stadium as Orioles fans on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, as the game was completely sold out, with nearly 1,000 "standing room only" fans. Jacqueline and I were sitting in the front part of the upper deck near the left foul pole. Some guy in back of us kept yelling "Yankees suck!" and finally got ejected by the usher, but the way the New York team was playing on Saturday, quite frankly, it would be hard to argue with him. We got to our seats just after Bobby Abreu got a single in the top of the first inning, and for the rest of the game, there were no further hits by the Yankees! What a disgrace. Well, let's give credit where credit is due: Orioles rookie Adam Loewen threw eight strikeouts in six-plus innings. [Two of those were to Abreu, who struck out a third time in the ninth inning. The Yanks'] starting pitcher Mike Mussina (a former Oriole) got pummeled in the second inning, and was lucky that only three runs scored. In the two games I've seen the Yankees play, they have scored a total of one run; at least they won the first time.
Ironically, the Yankees had just taken the lead in the AL East for the first time in at least two months. The Yankees did win their other two games in Baltimore, and on Sunday four of them hit home runs: Jeter, Giambi, Damon, and Cabrera. Heck, I would have been satisfied to see just one Yankee homer...
As expected, I was indeed impressed by the architectural beauty of the Orioles' home; it's reputation is well deserved. I've added the above photo and a couple others to the Camden Yards page, and hopefully more will come. Unfortunately, however, I did not take any photos from inside the ballpark. I plan to tweak the Camden Yards diagram slightly in the near future as well.
Nats end road trip
In spite of two more homers by Ryan Zimmerman (one of which reached the upper deck in left field), and one by Alfonso Soriano, the Nationals managed only one win in their series against the Padres in San Diego. They won three and lost six while in California. Tomorrow they face the Marlins back home in RFK Stadium, hoping to pull ahead of the slumping Braves and get out of the cellar, where they have dwelt since the Fourth of July.
You can call them Rays
Photos of the new aquarium tank featuring live rays can be seen via MLB.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. While at the Baltimore aquarium before the game on Saturday, I learned that there are two categories of rays: fast-moving ones that flap their wings like birds, and slow-moving ones whose wings make a rippling motion.
UPDATE: Livan is traded to Arizona
I thought the passing of the waiver-clearing deadline meant that the Washington Nationals' roster would remain stable until year end. Not! Livan Hernandez has been traded to the Diamondbacks for two young prospects: right-hander Garrett Mock and left-hander Matt Chico. See MLB.com, which does not explain how Hernandez cleared waivers so quickly. And so, yet another former Montreal Expo parts company with the transitioning franchise. That's a real shame. I suppose that the Nationals' front office figures that at age 31, he might not have many more productive years. Either that, or they are trying to save on payroll so as to meet Soriano's likely demands for a raise. As if by magic, the image of Livan that used to be on the masthead of the Nationals' Web page has already been replaced by that of Ryan Zimmerman! They may have to replace Jose Guillen's face, as well.
Speaking of that masthead image, has anyone else noticed that the swooping curve of the word "Washington" in the Nationals' team logo matches the swooping profile of the roof at RFK Stadium? Is that just a coincidence?
Adjusting Chase Field?
Speaking of the Diamondbacks, Chase Field is gaining a reputation as "a hitter's paradise" this year, and some people in Phoenix are wondering whether the uniquely-shaped left- and right-field corners should be eliminated, to cut down on the number of extra base hits. For heavens' sake, that's one of its most interesting features! See azcentral.com, thanks to Mike Zurawski. Surprisingly, RFK Stadium ranks as the fourth hitter-friendliest MLB stadium.
August 7, 2006 [LINK]
Apocalypse now in Iraq?
On Thursday, top U.S. generals warned that the civil strife in Iraq is becoming so bad that civil war is a real possibility (see Washington Post). Gen. John Abizaid, who commands U.S. forces in Iraq, and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave similar appraisals of the deteriorating situation in testimony to the U.S. Armed Services Committee. In response, the U.S. 172nd Stryker Brigade has been redeployed from Mosul, which is relatively peaceful, to Baghdad, where the bloodbath gets worse every day. From a strategic point of view, such incremental shifts of military assets from one sector to another are unlikely to regain the initiative. Unfortunately, President Bush has been reluctant to call for major national sacrifice or devote sufficient resources to crush the insurgency, which is one of the few apt parallels between this war and Vietnam.
The possibility that the situation will get totally out of hand would put the United States in a very awkward position. There would no doubt be much gloating and recrimination from various partisan commentators, but the most pressing question is how to minimize our losses and still achieve partial success in Iraq. I have long emphasized that the United States must make it clear to the Iraqi government that ultimate success or failure in defeating the terrorist insurgents is up to them. If the Iraqi army cannot gain control of its own cities in the near future, the sectarian militias would thereby inherit the mantle of quasi-legitimate authority in much of the country. Unless President Bush is willing to spend what is left of his political capital to muster all our might at this point, the best course for us to take would be to accommodate a de facto partition of Iraq, pulling our forces out of the Sunni Triangle and letting the Shiites and Sunnis go at it. That prospect might be frightening enough to encourage flexibility on the part of the Sunni leaders, or it might not.
The complicating factor here is the war in southern Lebanon (or "Hezbolland," as I call it). Iran supports the Shiite militias in Iraq as well as Lebanon, and remains the primary enemy force in the region. The more we support Israel, the less we can count on Shiites in Iraq to cooperate in pursuing a pluralistic political settlement with the Sunnis.
Our Gold Star mother writes
Rhonda Winfield, mother of fallen Marine Lance Corporal Jason Redifer, has written a book on her experiences: When Johnny Doesn't Come Marching Home. It reminds us, once again, that the real battlefield in the war on Arab-Islamic terrorism is right here on the home front. Hat tip to Steve Kijak, who is also very busy with a local program to support our troops with donated goods: "From Our Hearts." The main coordinators of that effort are Benny and Dianne Rankin, owners of the T-Bone Tooters restaurant in Churchville.
August 8, 2006 [LINK]
Showdown heats up in Mexico
It's hard to say how much longer Mexico can endure the tense stalemate over the disputed July 2 election. The Federal Electoral Tribunal ruled that a partial recount should be held, involving 11,839 of the 130,500 polling stations, or about nine percent of all votes that were cast. Losing presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador rejected that outright, however, insisting on nothing less than a complete recount of every ballot that was cast, reopening all of the sealed ballot boxes. He is really going out on a limb, wagering that he can get enough public opinion on his side to force the authorities to give in to his demands. Doing so would set a dangerous precedent for the credibility of and respect for government insititutions in Mexico. Supporters of AMLO seized control of toll booths on some of the major highways leading into Mexico City, allowing motorists to pass through for free. That probably won't be enough to offset the deep anger they have stirred by shutting the city down for over a week. The final decision on the election results are due no later than September 6. (BBC)
Apparently fearful that he is quickly losing support among educated Mexicans, AMLO invited his opponents to an "assembly" on Sunday, at which he says he will lay out the reasons for leading the campaign of civil resistance. He repeated his claims that the elections were fraudulent. (El Universal)
August 9, 2006 [LINK]
Stadium controversy in Japan
Last Friday's Washington Post had a story on the controversy over where to build a new stadium for the Hiroshima Carp baseball team. Location seems to be the main point of dispute, rather than who will pay for it:
But most Hiroshimans support rebuilding at the current location across the street from the Peace Park and the iconic Atomic Bomb Dome, the burned-out building still standing from the Aug. 6, 1945, U.S. bombing. When asked about the ballpark, many residents talk about the postwar days when the birth of the Carp, in 1950, and the construction of the stadium, in 1957-8, restored hope and self-worth to the people.
There was a photograph of Hiroshima Municipal Stadium in the National Geographic 15 or 20 years ago. It is symmetrical and very rounded, but with the main grandstand running parallel to the foul lines, with lots of foul territory and a small, uncovered upper deck. Trivia time: It so happens that Hiroshima was the first professional team that Alfonso Soriano ever played for.
Marlins beat Nationals
Hopes that returning home would energize the Nationals proved in vain last night, as the Marlins beat them, 4-2. I suppose the loss of Livan Hernandez must be pretty demoralizing for the team. Apparently a deal tentative deal with the Diamondbacks was reached before the waiver-clearing trade deadline, but was kept secret while the details were ironed out. He said he was sad to leave Washington, and we are sad to see him go.
Camden Yards photo
I've added a panoramic photo at the bottom of the Camden Yards page, and modified one of the earlier ones. Back to diagram updates soon...
August 9, 2006 [LINK]
Uribe's second inauguration
Although the ceremonies were overshadowed by the tumult in Mexico City, Alvaro Uribe was duly sworn in as president of Colombia for a second time. It is the first time in many decades that a sitting president has been allowed to serve for more than one consecutive turn. From a conservative perspective, Uribe's triumph is one of the few heartening developments in Latin America for the past year. The concluding sentence in the AP story by Joshua Goodman reprinted in the Washington Post raised my eyebrows:
Uribe made no bold proposals for improving the lot of the 50 percent of Colombians who live below the poverty line -- on less than three U.S. dollars a day -- even as the rich benefit from the increased foreign investment that improved security has brought.
It almost sounds like talking points for the guerrillas. Uribe is quite aware that as long as the civil war continues, any proposals to ease poverty are unlikely to accomplish very much.
Protesters shut down banks
Supporters of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador have blockaded the entrances to three foreign-owned banks in downtown Mexico City, including U.S.-owned Citibank. They seem to realize that time is running against them, and that if they cannot force the electoral authorities to give in to their demands soon, public opinion will likely turn strongly against them. (CNN.com)
August 9, 2006 [LINK]
Lamont beats Lieberman
If you're a partisan first and foremost, whether on the left or on the right, you should be delighted at the primary election defeat of Senator Joe Lieberman by the wealthy newcomer Ned Lamont. The margin of defeat was only about four percent, less than the polls had predicted, so that is some consolation. Unfortunately, enough Connecticut voters were apparently persuaded by the "progressive" (i.e., defeatist, America-hating) rhetoric of the Daily Kos to give their incumbent senator the boot. For anyone who puts a priority on national unity, however, Lieberman's loss is a real shame, because he was one of the last few truly independent, conscientious voices in the Democrat Party. We need a strong moderate element in Congress to get things done via sensible compromise, and to avoid getting carried away by rash sentiments. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity tried to spin Lieberman's defeat as good news for the Republicans, but I'm not sure. Lieberman filed papers for running as an independent today, and there is a real danger that a Republican running for that seat would take away enough votes from Lieberman to give the election to Lamont. At a moment of national peril, as we face multiple deadly threats to our national security -- from Lebanon to Iran to Iraq to North Korea to Venezuela, and now perhaps even Mexico -- we simply cannot afford to let partisan extremists undermine our strength from within.
UPDATE: McCain-Lieberman 2008?
Austin Bay calls for a McCain-Lieberman ticket in 2008. He thinks they are both committed to waging a protracted political war against the Islamo-fascists, and would be uniquely qualified to lead the nation in that endeavor:
A McCain-Lieberman presidential ticket would be the closest thing a national unity government the American system can produce. It would make an international political statement of enormous significance. The McCain-Lieberman statement: "We're fighting, we'll continue to fight, and we will finish it."
It's a compelling argument, but I'm not so sure. McCain is just too unreliable to be my first choice, but then Bush was not one of my favorites in the 2000 primaries, so who knows? Wouldn't that be something: both of those potential candidates were defeated by George W. Bush in 2000!
August 10, 2006 [LINK]
The future of RFK Stadium
What will become of RFK Stadium after the Washington Nationals and the D.C. United soccer team move out? The National Capital Planning Commission is in studying that question, and the only thing certain is that the 190 acres of waterfront property in that neighborhood will not be sold for commercial development. Some combination of public sports, recreation, and nature preserve seems most likely at this point. The city's lease on the land ends in 2036, but that is contingent upon continued use of the site for sporting events. See Washington Business Journal, via Mike Zurawski.
As for D.C. United, they are still waiting for D.C. government approval on their plan to build a new stadium on the south banks of the Anacostia River, across from the future home of the Nationals. The four-time champions of soccer played in an exhibition match against the vaunted Real Madrid team last night at Qwest Field in Seattle, managing a 1-1 draw. That is a huge accomplishment. With a record of 13-2-6, D.C. United holds an almost insurmountable lead in the MLS Eastern Conference. Just thought you'd like to know...
Groundbreaking in the Bronx
Groundbreaking for the future version of Yankee Stadium, or whatever they plan to call it, has been set for August 16. Now the question is whether the Yankees or the Mets will be able to finish construction on their respective new homes first. See Sports Illustrated, via Mike Zurawski. Why has there been no groundswell of fan support for the grand old basilica of baseball, like there was for Tiger Stadium and Fenway Park? After checking the Year-by-year stadium chronology page, I've determined that this will be the first time ever that two major league baseball stadiums have been under construction at the same time in the same city.
Reds cry foul over trade
Less than two weeks after being traded from Washington, Gary Majewski has been put on the disabled list by the Reds, who are angry at Nats GM Jim Bowden for not disclosing that the reliever had taken cortisone shots. Majewski's right shoulder has been bothering him, but tests indicate that there is no serious injury. According to MLB.com, the Commissioner's office stated that "Cincinnati may have no recourse on the dispute. Spokesman Richard Levin said ... It's essentially buyer beware." Nevertheless, opines David Pinto, "Obviously, this doesn't reflect well on Jim Bowden."
August 10, 2006 [LINK]
Staunton "beltway" is completed
The final four-mile section of the long-awaited bypass loop around Staunton was opened this morning, and I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremonies. The weather was gloomy, not what you would call auspicious. Congressman Bob Goodlatte was the main speaker at the event, and Delegates Chris Saxman and Steve Landes, Staunton Mayor Lacy King, city council members Richard Bell and Bruce Elder, Augusta County supervisors Larry Howdyshell, Jim Bailey, and Nancy Sorrells, as well as various VDOT officials were there.
Looking southbound on the new section of Route 262, near the U.S. Route 250 exit. Click on this image to see Congressman Goodlatte.
The entire bypass will be designated "Route 262," which means that the northern stretch of the "Woodrow Wilson Parkway" will no longer be called "Route 275." (See VDOT.)
An obvious question arises: Is this highway project an example of wasteful "pork barrel" spending? I'm hardly one to answer that question objectively, but I can say without hesitation that there was a pressing need for a way to get around Staunton without getting stuck in the congested streets of downtown. There was simply no practical alternative route to or from the west side of town. When returning from Appomattox last March, I was amazed to see the brand-new, super-sized Route 29 bypass east of Lynchburg. By comparison, Staunton's bypass is much more modest in scale, and presumably more economical. The massive new bypass system in Blacksburg-Christiansburg? Don't get me started.
August 10, 2006 [LINK]
Brits foil airline bomb plot
Many Americans have grown complacent about the threat of terrorism, so perhaps today's announcement of the arrest of dozens of terrorist conspirators in Great Britain will serve as a needed wake-up call. If the purported ten airliners had indeed been brought down, the death toll might well have exceeded that of September 11. Many of the suspects were born in Britain, though most are from Pakistani families. (Assimilation? Not!) The plan was to use liquid explosives triggered by an MP3 player or similar device (iPod???), showing that the "passion and cunning" of terrorists (to cite Conor Cruise O'Brien's book on that subject) will keep our security experts on their toes for decades to come. See BBC. Whether or not the conspirators were actual members of al Qaeda is beside the point, because the Islamo-fascist movement has evolved into a decentralized operation (see below), with many self-starting "entrepreneurs" who have only weak ties to Osama bin Laden or his lieutenants. This changed circumstance should remind us why the proposed alternative of focuing exclusively on rooting out terrorist bases in the wilderness of South Asia could not have accomplished much.
Donald Sensing observes that North Korean agents blew up a South Korean airliner with such a device in 1987, and speculates whether they may be involved with this plot in some way. North Korea has been collaborating with Iran over ballistic missile technology and WMDs, so this possibility cannot be ruled out.
Meanwhile, eleven Egyptian "students" who were supposed to be attending the University of Montana are at large, subject to deportation for having violated the terms of their student visas. This should remind us that immigration reform is an urgent matter of national security, and -- at least in my view -- the first order of business should be to get everyone who is currently here illegally registered immediately, or else forfeit any future opportunity to gain legal resident status here.
Fallows: Just declare victory
During the middle part of the Vietnam War, some congressman suggested that the best course of action for the United States would be to just declare that we had won and go home. That is similar to what James Fallows proposes in the September issue of The Atlantic Monthly: "Declaring Victory." Though known for having a rather dour outlook on the war (see Dec. 14), he really does think that we have accomplished a great deal in the campaign against terrorists thus far. He notes that Al Qaeda and its Islamic extremist allies have started to bicker over killing fellow Muslims, and that the initial "romantic" appeal of jihadism is fading as the corpses pile higher and higher in Baghdad. Furthermore, which is what is so relevant to the events of today, the command structure of Al Qaeda has been largely dismantled, and their ability to do us serious harm has been crippled. Fallows believes that their biggest weapon, now, is in goading us into overreacting, either through unduly aggressive military action or by unduly defensive homeland security measures. Challenging the Bush administration's approach, he writes, "Perhaps worst of all, an open-ended war is an open-ended invitation to defeat." Thus, he concludes, our interests would be best served by recognizing the great achievements we have won, and moving on with "quiet confidence."
From a purely rational perspective, it indeed sounds like an appropriate way to make the best of a difficult situation in Iraq, but there is a slight problem: Could the average person tell the difference between that course of action versus "cutting and running," a la Howard Dean and Ned Lamont? It would take an extraordinarily gifted communicator in the White House to convey such a subtle message with just the right tone.
Prior to the Yankees-Orioles baseball game at Camden Yards in Baltimore on Saturday, I came across this shrine to American servicemen and women, a reduced-size recreation of the huge metal plaque that used to adorn the south end of Memorial Stadium:
Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.
"The citizens of the state of Maryland dedicate this memorial to all veterans who so valiantly fought and served in our nation's wars with eternal gratitude to those who made the supreme sacrifice to preserve democracy and freedom throughout the world."
Does that last phrase (italics added) sound familiar? It should.
UPDATE: Sullivan on Dems & war
Andrew Sullivan has become one of the loudest conservative critics of the way the Bush administration has handled the war on Islamic terrorism, so he is in a special position to respond to criticism from the Democrats. (The victory of Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut primary makes this question more salient, at least temporarily.) Sullivan responds to a Democrat reader's vague alternative approach to the threat of terror in a very direct fashion:
But, for all Cheney's and Rumsfeld's flaws, they are at least proposing something serious, however ineptly carried out. I have yet to hear anti-war voices on the left propose a positive strategy for defeating Islamist terror at its roots, or call for democratization of the Arab Muslim world. ...
Until the opposition party presents a progressive, democratic agenda to reform the Middle East - as Blair has done in Britain, for example - there's no reason to take them seriously on national security.
August 11, 2006 [LINK]
Nats bullpen crumbles again
When the Nats got four runs in the seventh inning last night, I thought it was a sign they were determined to prevail and at least take two of three games from the Marlins. Well, it didn't turn out that way. Once again, the bullpen fell apart under the stress, giving up five runs in the last three innings, and Florida won, 9-6. I know the Washington team is "rebuilding for the long term," but can't they afford at least a few reliable relief pitchers in the mean time? What a contrast from the first half of last year, when the bullpen was the Nationals' strongest spot! Who wold have thought the one game the Nats did win in that series was the one in which Dontrelle Willis was pitching? The Nats welcome the high-flying New York Mets to RFK Stadium this weekend, and the best they can probably hope for is to avoid a sweep.
Twins lose Liriano
For any team in a division with two teams over .600 winning percentage, any hopes of making it to the postseason would seem far fetched. That was the situation the Twins were in as of a month ago, but it didn't stop them from fighting hard and pulling to within one game of the slumping White Sox in the AL Central. The Twins earned a reputation as true-grit underdogs in the last few years, proving they deserved a new stadium. That is why the loss of their rookie All Star pitcher Francisco Liriano for the rest of the season is so tragic. See MLB.com.
Seals Stadium update
For want of time (as always), I decided to redo the easiest one of the stadium diagrams on my "to-do" list, and that was Seals Stadium, temporary home of the Giants in 1958-1959. Aside from the reorientation to conform to the new standard, there are a few minor corrections.
The mail bag
Chris Kassulke informed me that the minor league Atlanta Crackers played their games at Atlanta Stadium in 1965, one year before the Braves and Falcons moved in. Duly noted!
August 11, 2006 [LINK]
Politicizing the war on terror
If there is one consistent theme in all my blogging for the past four-odd years, it is that I respect honest differences of opinion over serious policy issues. Likewise, I shun ad hominem attacks on other people, and I emphatically renounce dogmatic positions of any sort. That is why it really burns me up when hyper-partisan bloggers like Joshua Marshall take to slandering Joe Lieberman for allegedly "claiming that any serious questioning of our policy in Iraq is a victory for the terrorists." That is a ridiculous misrepresentation of what Lieberman has been saying. Hell, I seriously question our policy in Iraq some times. Marshall is incensed that Lieberman said that an abrupt withdrawl from Iraq as advocated by Ned Lamont would signify a victory for the terrorists in England who were plotting to blow up airliners. For anyone who recognizes the psychological dimension of the broader conflict between the Islamo-fascists and the West, such a conclusion is self-evident. If you don't see the conflict in those terms, you will obviously reach a different conclusion. That doesn't mean that those of us who see this conflict with terrorism as a genuine global-scale war (not just as a form of organized crime) are bad people, however; it just means we are thinking and acting upon a different set of premises. Marshall's hyper-sensitivity to such criticism may reflect gnawing inner doubts about his position on these critical issues.
Again, I say this as someone who grants that some of the criticism of Bush's conduct of the war is valid, and who tries to be realistic about our prospects for a meaningful "victory." In the long run, it almost certain that the West and the Western values of freedom, modernity, and pluralism will prevail over the medieval theocrats -- but it might take decades before such a victory becomes apparent to most people. In the short term, we may find it in our interests to regroup and consolidate our position, "shrugging off" the burden of global hegemonic stabilizer until enough countries realize how valuable we have been to them in that role. That is basically what James Fallows suggests, as I noted yesterday. Ironically, those on the Left who demand a quick pullout from Iraq make such a move politically impossible. It is a hard-headed strategic question, not a sentimental patriotic one.
Perhaps all these polemics are a simple reminder of the point made by Halford J. Mackinder in his classic work on geopolitics, Democratic Ideals and Reality (1942):
Democracy refuses to think strategically unless and until compelled to do so for purposes of defense.
Unless more people in Joe Lieberman's party have the courage to stand up for what is right, you might as well replace the word "Democracy" in that sentence with "Democrats."
August 12, 2006 [LINK]
AMLO seeks foreign help
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist-nationalist whose campaign stressed the need to resist foreign intrusion into Mexico's economy, has called on foreign countries to back up his demands for a complete recount of the July 2 elections. Ironic? Perhaps even more amusing was his excuse for the attempt by his supporters to shut down Mexico City: It was the only way to draw attention to his cause because "he can't afford mass advertising." CNN.com As if Mexicans' nerves weren't already stressed to the limit by the prolonged political showdown, the capital city was shaken by a 5.9-magnitude earthquake today. It was centered 125 miles to the southwest.
¿Felíz cumpleaños, Fidel?
Hugo Chavez is due to visit the Cuban dictator on Sunday for his 80th birthday. Castro is said to be recovering well from his intestinal surgery. See BBC.
El viejo barbón ya tiene ochenta (80) años. ¿Y cuando va a dejar en paz al pueblo cubano?
August 12, 2006 [LINK]
U.N. resolution: what effect?
I haven't been paying much attention to the diplomatic front in this crisis, and the haggling with France and other Security Council members only reinforces the perception that the "global community" lacks the will to confront the problem of Islamic extremism. Condoleeza Rice has not been accorded much respect from the warring parties during her efforts to mediate, it would seem. Likewise, it was clear that the U.N. Security Council would not pass a resolution until Israel had launched a full-scale invasion of
Lebanon Hezbolland, which finally came to pass in the last couple days. Israel and Hezbollah have agreed to a cease fire, which is supposed to take effect on Monday. We'll see. (BBC) Lebanon's prime minister Fouad Siniora wrote an editorial in the Washington Post demanding that "Israel must be made to respect international law," but the sad truth is that the internal chaos in Lebanon poses a mortal threat to Israel, and prioritizing respect for international law in these circumstances would be suicidal.
Olmert, who hesitates, is lost
It has been puzzling why Israel has been so timid with the use of its ground forces even as its air forces are pulverizing large portions of Lebanon. It doesn't make much strategic sense, and the foot-dragging seems to be rooted in domestic politics. Donald Sensing has been following these developments very closely, and predicts that Ehud Olmert will resign as prime minister very soon:
The slapdash, haphazard and wholly indecisive way he has handled the Hezbollah war has doomed his chances of remaining in office past the end of this year, probably before then and maybe very soon. Olmert entered office with no national-security credentials and clearly still has none. Israeli editorialists all around are already calling for him to go.
Olmert's weak leadership in this crisis puts at risk the strong consensus among nearly all Israelis -- hawks and doves, the religious ones and secularists alike -- that Hezbollah must be decisively defeated.
On August 4 I wrote that "at least 30,000 men" were already inside Lebanon, based on the number of brigades that had been deployed there (eight). Apparently, however, there were only elements of eight Israeli brigades, because the total number of troops at that time was only about 10,000. The discrepancy may be part of deliberate disinformation, or perhaps the confusion on the part of the Israeli military command, which is apparently quite angry with Olmert. The above-cited BBC story reports that 30,000 Israeli soldiers are in Lebanon now.
August 13, 2006 [LINK]
Catching some rays
Especially during molting season, George likes to sit in the sun and fluff up his feathers. I'm not sure whether the warmth sooths his irritated skin, or if the sunlight wards away mites. Whatever the reason, it looks rather odd when he's in that pose. He and Princess remain in a low-key, restful state for the time being: no singing, no nest-building, and relatively little romancing.
August 14, 2006 [LINK]
Hostage released in Brazil
After their demands for a broadcast message complaining about bad prison conditions were met, the "First Capital Command" criminal gang released television reporter Guilherme Portanova, whom they had kidnapped two days earlier. Portanova said he was fed and not harmed while under captivity. See CNN.com and O Globo. This case draws attention, once again, to the erosion of governmental authority in Brazil under the government of leftist President da Silva, and the rise of organized crime, which draws much of its wealth from contraband traffic along the poorly-guarded border with Paraguay.
August 14, 2006 [LINK]
Barone on McCain-Lieberman
Michael Barone expands upon Austin Bay's suggestion of a McCain-Lieberman "dream ticket" for 2008. Both McCain and Lieberman might alienate many conservatives, but Lieberman is no longer beholden to the Democrat Party, so he can now vote his conscience and establish a less-liberal voting record in the Senate. Furthermore, both candidates are probably too old to want to run for reelection in 2012, enabling them to govern in the name of national unity without suspicions of seeking political advantage. Here's another advantage that Barone didn't explicitly mention: Such a bipartisan ticket would demonstrate to the American people that the Party of Lincoln is serious about building a long-term governing majority consisting of conservatives and moderaters. That might be anathema to the true-believing inheritors of the Barry Goldwater tradition, but given the current political dynamics, it is probably the only way the Republicans can hold on to power. The longer they stray from conservative principles and rely on crass pork-barrel spending measures and dumbed-down fear-mongering -- flag burning! gays! -- in their campaigns, the less most Americans will respect them.
GOP at Augusta County Fair
Steve Kijak was holding down the fort for the local Republicans at the Augusta County Fair last week, and has a boatland of photos and text about all the visitors there. Among them was Rhonda Winfield, mother of local fallen hero Marine Lance Corporal Jason Redifer (see Aug. 27. 2005), and Army Reserve Sgt. Herb Harman, who is most of the way through a one-year deployment to Iraq (see Oct. 17, 2005).
August 14, 2006 [LINK]
The Guns of July/August, 2006?
The confluence of security crises in several parts of the world has many observers in a panic, fearing we are on the precipice of World War III, or World War IV if you believe that the Cold War was World War III. The astonishing escalation of violence in and around Israel since the border attack and abduction of two of its soldiers by Hezbollah last month reminds many people of how World War I got started from the comparatively minor assassination of the Austrian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand. In the Washington Post, Richard Holbrooke cited Barbara Tuchman's classic The Guns of August, which focused on that chain reaction, and declared, "Preventing just such a trap must be the highest priority of American policy." He bitterly laments "American disengagement from active Middle East diplomacy since 2001," but his plea for negotiations with Syria and Iran misses the whole point of the Bush Doctrine: To press for fundamental liberal reforms or outright regime change, as the indispensible precursor to an enduring peace. It may not seem like a probable outcome at this point, but nothing short of that can be expected to accomplish anything of lasting value. The conflict we are in is a very l-o-n-g one, but some people have yet to grasp the implications of that. Holbrooke's call for "containing the violence" and "finding a stable and secure solution" is strikingly out of touch with the psychological dynamics in that region. Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah is claiming a historic victory, and he is obviously in no mood for a compromise "solution." The current cease fire is just a time-out for both sides as they prepare for the next round. In the current situation, diplomacy might help prevent a "chain reaction" à la 1914, but it would be delusional to think that there is any point to negotiating a broad peace settlement right now.
In the July 30 edition of the Washington Post, military historian John Keegan belittles the parallels between the current situation and August 1914, singling out Newt Gingrich's warning along those lines. Whereas all of the major powers in Europe were locked into firm treaty obligations to come to one anothers' aid in case of attack, he says that in the world of today, "there is no parallel system of alliances in place." True, but it is unthinkable that the United States would stand aside if Israel were on the verge of defeat, and there are strong informal ties among Islamofascist groups in nearly country in the Middle East. The danger is not that the governments of Egypt or Saudi Arabia might declare war on Israel, but rather that they might be toppled from within by Islamic extremists in a spasm of grisly, large-scale terrorist attacks. There seems to be no reason for either Iran or Syria to send their armed forces into battle at this point, and we would certainly rather not attack them except as a last resort. Keegan may be too focused on old-fashioned state-centric conflict.
As for the gloomy outlook many in the West have, Austin Bay looks on the sunny side, pointing to Japan's increased role in East Asian security in the wake of North Korea's nuclear threats and missile tests, the quick return to normalcy in Mumbai (Bombay) after the terrible train bombing, and the fact that Iraq's government is now a solid force for stability in the region, something that many people neglect. He thinks the differences between the current global conflict and what transpired in Europe in the summer of 1914 and what is transpiring in the Middle East now outweigh the similarities.
August 14, 2006 [LINK]
Return to North Mountain
Yesterday (Sunday) I hiked the loop trail (3+ miles) on the east slope of North Mountain near Elliott Knob, on the road to Augusta Springs about 15 miles west of Staunton. Jacqueline and I hiked there a couple years ago, and it was every bit as strenuous as I remembered, with a net climb of about 1,200 feet. This weekend the temperature was mild and humidity was low, fortunately, and I really needed the exercise. The last leg of the loop follows the steep, rutted gravel road that leads up to the summit of Elliott Knob, which I climbed two years ago. Here's what I saw this time:
- Downy woodpeckers (F, M)
- White-breasted nuthatches (A, J)
- Worm-eating warblers (several!)
- Hooded warblers (F, M)
- Black-throated blue warbler (M)
- Black and white warbler
- Towhee (J)
I also heard some Pileated woodpeckers and an accipeter hawk (Cooper's or Sharp-shinned). I was hoping to see a other warblers, or perhaps even a junco, but no such luck.
Last Thursday morning, I stopped at Bell's Lane and saw several good birds:
- Orchard orioles (3+ F/J)
- Indigo bunting (M)
- Willow flycatcher
- Red-winged blackbirds (F only!)
August 15, 2006 [LINK]
Chipper Jones hits 3 HRs at RFK
Chipper Jones did his part to erase what is left of the perception that RFK Stadium is pitcher-friendly last night, hitting three home runs, as the Braves trounced the Nationals, 10-4. (Over and out!) If the Nationals are going to end this season at or above .500 (the only realistic goal left), they will have to pick up at least two of the next three games against the Braves. The Nats did about as well as could be expected in the weekend series against the Mets, winning the first game and losing the next two by close margins. The win in the first game (2-1) was thanks in large part to a superb pitching performance by rookie Billy Traber, who gave up only four hits and no walks in seven-plus innings. I neglected to mention that, in the Nats' win against the Marlins last week, new player Brandon Harper hit a double in his first career at-bat in the major leagues. Good going! Maybe there is a lot ot be hopeful for in the team's future, after all.
Two California teams -- the Dodgers and the Athletics -- are in a hot streak, winning nine of their last ten games to take the lead in their respective (evenly-matched) divisions. Meanwhile, the Cardinals remain in a slump, clinging to a slim lead over the Reds. In the AL East, the race between the Yanks and Red Sox is as close as ever. That's the way baseball should be in a good year.
Latin American players
I have updated the Latin American Leagues page with a more complete list of players from various countries "south of the border." There are probably a number of missing retired Latin American players, however. Stay tuned...
August 15, 2006 [LINK]
Ted Nugent on the French
This quote is almost too good to be true, except that it is true, according to snopes.com: Ted Nugent, the clean-shaven hard rock guitarist and hunting enthusiast from Detroit, was asked by an interviewer what a deer would be thinking just before he released the bow to kill it. Nugent replied,
They aren't capable of that kind of thinking. All they care about is, What am I going to eat next? Who am I going to screw next? and, Can I run fast enough to get away? They are very much like the French in that.
Touché! Hat tip to Chris Green.
This just goes to show that not all rock stars are PC lefties. Another right-wing rocker is Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, who played guitar for Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers. He started a second career as a defense analyst, and wrote a briefing paper on ballistic missiles for the Pentagon. See the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
George Allen's puzzling slur (?)
What in the world was George Allen trying to say to that campaign worker for Jim Webb? Does "macaca" mean "macaque" (a genus of Old World monkeys)? The incident took place in the Appalachian town of Breaks, near the Kentucky border. It is strange because Allen is known to have aspirations for Higher Office, and has been polishing his image and building his gravitas in the last year or so. The guy working for Webb, S.R. Sidarth, has been stalking Allen at campaign stops with his video camera, which is common practice these days. Allen must have found the guy's presence annoying, however, or else he wouldn't have made the remark. Ironically, Allen used the expression just after declaring he was "going to run this campaign on positive, constructive ideas." See Washington Post.
Personally, I don't think this incident itself is such a big deal, but it does suggest a certain lack of judgment on Allen's part. I'm not one of those PC folks who bends over backwards to avoid offending anyone who is not a white male etc., but I do believe in common courtesy. For a party that is pushing hard to reform immigration, the slightest hint of derogatory words directed at people of foreign ancestry is liable to raise suspicions of racism. The fact that Allen used to display Confederate flags only adds to such suspicions. For me, reforming our immigration laws and practices is a high priority issue, and I take pains to disassociate myself from anything that smacks of nativism or xenophobia. That magnifies the impact of Allen's unfortunate, cryptical quip, making me less motivated to engage in partisan politics.
Jim "Born Fighting" Webb's Webb site called attention to this incident by including a link to the above Post story, without comment. Elsewhere on that site, Webb used cheap-shot demagogic rhetoric to criticize Allen for giving tax breaks to "price-gauging oil companies," as if all of them were colluding to fix prices. For me, that negates any advantage Webb may have gained from Allen's gaffe.
August 16, 2006 [LINK]
Astacio shuts out the Braves
What a turnaround from Monday night's game! Pedro Astacio, who missed the first half of the season due to injury, more than lived up to his potential on Tuesday, pitching a complete game 2-hit shutout against the Atlanta Braves. Adam LaRoche and Jeff Francouer got singles, and no one else from Atlanta even reached base! Astacio was only two batters away from a perfect game!! See MLB.com. Complete games by pitchers are a rare commodity these days, and Astacio deserves big kudos for that alone. The Nats scored five runs, two of which were unearned (errors!), so this gave the Nationals' battered and bruised bullpen some much-needed rest. The win also got the Nationals back to within 20 games of first place. Not that it matters, but it just looks bad when your team has a "minus twenty-something" listed next to it in the standings. The farthest they fell behind first place last year was eleven games.
Perhaps Brian Schneider's angry, chair-throwing retort to journalists after Monday's loss ("I'm not hurt!") was the kick in the rear that the Nationals needed to get motivated again. He's usually a pretty mild-mannered guy.
According to my (semi-)meticulous records, that was the first complete game shutout in Washington Nationals history. John Patterson apparently came the closest to that feat, allowing three hits in eight-plus innings in a 4-0 win against the Colorado Rockies on July 19, 2005.
Mail bag: Fenway!?
A. Young informed me that the actual capacity of Fenway Park is much less than I had indicated. He has been to many Red Sox home games this year, and "The ballpark announcer always [says it's] another consecutive sellout @ 36,000+ at the games I've attended." So what was my source? On Feb. 11 I cited a news item from MLB.com that was clearly quite misleading:
The capacity for this season, according to the fire code, will be 38,805, up from 36,298 last year. After the club finishes all upgrades -- this is the fifth one so far under current ownership -- by the park's 100th birthday in 2012, the capacity is projected to be 39,968.
Perhaps the fire code sets a legal limit to attendance, as opposed to the practical limit. In the box scores published by the Washington Post, Fenway's capacity is listed as 36,392, which is slightly more than what is indicated on the Red Sox Web site, so it might include standing room. I'm going with that for now. Many thanks to Mr. Young for the fact check.
UPDATE: Mike Zurawski points to an August 1 interview at bostonherald.com in which the 38,805 capacity figure is cited by a Red Sox planning official, Janet Marie Smith. If that number is correct, why does the reported attendance at Fenway Park never exceed 37,000?
August 16, 2006 [LINK]
Muslims resent link to fascism
British police have learned that some of the money sent to help earthquake victims in Pakistan last winter was diverted to support the terrorist plot that was foiled at the last minute. You're welcome! Why is it that Western charity doesn't seem to earn much goodwill in the Muslim world? See CNN.com.
Meanwhile, many Muslims in this country and abroad are objecting vociferously to President Bush's recent use of the term "Islamofascist." (See Council on American-Islamic Relations.) Contrary to what they say, Bush has never suggested that most Muslims are fascists, and he has been very hesitant even to call attention to the fact that some Muslims are fascists, for fear of offending potential allies. Why don't moderate Muslims give him more credit for being so deferential to their delicate sensibilities? Something is just not adding up here.
More on the Allen flap
Chad Dotson has a roundup of Virginia blogospheric reactions to Sen. George Allen's strange put-down of a Webb campaign worker that raised the ugly specter of racism. He calls it a "manufactured controversy," which may well be true, but it doesn't excuse Allen for the tacky way he held Mr. Sidarth up to ridicule. Nonetheless, I agree with Chad that there's no use in rehashing the incident any further, or trying to figure out what Allen really meant by "macaca."
August 17, 2006 [LINK]
Groundbreaking in the Bronx
"Say it ain't so!" On the 58th anniversary of the death of Babe Ruth, a ceremony was held to begin the process of replacing the stadium that was built for him. (Some preliminary tree-cutting and clearing away of Macombs Dam Park, where the new stadium will be built, had already begun a few days earlier.) Gov. Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg, Mr. Steinbrenner, Commisioner Selig, and the others made the obligatory reverential praises for Yankee Stadium, and then cheerily urged everyone to move on to the Brave New World of fan amusements, comforts, and luxury suites. The new "Yankee Stadium" is scheduled to open in 2009. According to MLB.com,
The new Yankee Stadium will seat fewer than the current stadium, but it will have 60 luxury suites, including three outdoor suites and eight party suites. It will have many restaurants, larger concourses and entertainment areas.
But the Yankees will also carry over some of the time-honored traditions of their current stadium. The field dimensions will be the same, and Monument Park will be transferred to the new park.
The design will even go further back to recreate some of the original park's features. It will have the tall cathedral windows, auxiliary outfield scoreboards, a right-field Yankees bullpen and a frieze on the roof, which is commonly known as the façade and was a feature of the original stadium.
Well, at least they're trying. I just hope the architects know what a slim margin for error they have when trying to recreate historical features. New Yorkers are a very demanding audience, and will have no patience for cheap imitations. Some purists argue that this travesty doesn't really matter because the "real" Yankee Stadium was dismantled thirty years ago, and they have a point. The post-1976 rebuilt version of Yankee Stadium may be only a pale imitation of the original, but I'll tell you what: It's a lot closer to the original than the next Yankee Stadium will ever be. I resigned myself to the unstoppable steamroller of "Progress" many months ago.
Perhaps this occasion was a bad omen for the team: They dropped the last two games of their home series against the Orioles, including an embarrassing 12-2 loss today. Now they begin another high-stakes series in Boston against the Red Sox, five games altogether, making up for rain-outs.
Nats split series with Braves
I figured the Nationals had to win at least two of their games in their home series with Braves to maintain a modicum of competitive spirit, and that is exactly what they managed to do. Young Billy Traber won his third game last night, an exciting back-and-forth 9-6 slugfest, beating John Smoltz of all people. This afternoon's game -- a dull 5-0 loss -- was broadcast by TBS nationwide, except in the Orioles/Nationals territory, where it was blacked out. Boo-oo-oo!
August 17, 2006 [LINK]
Michael Totten in the war zone
Having relocated from Beirut to northern Israel via Tel Aviv, Michael Totten explains how living in the midst of an ongoing battle tends to mitigate the natural fear instinct. It is the kind of insight that only first-hand experience can bring:
Fear forces you to think hard and fast about what you can do to protect yourself. As soon as you become 100 percent convinced that there is nothing more you can do to protect yourself, fear becomes a useless emotion. Then it goes away all on its own. You can't talk yourself into or out of this mental space. It's just something that happens.
This is the fatal weakness of terrorism.
In other words, the random destruction of Hezbollah's rockets is not only militarily useless, but the terrorizing impact tends to dissipate over time as well. His photos and descriptions of what life is like in northern Israel are as riveting as anything you'll see on the evening news. In an earlier post that was chock full of amazing up-close war photos, he referred to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as "catastrophically unfit." He's asking for contributions to support his independent journalistic endeavors, and I chipped in a little.
George Will on "unrealism"
In Tuesday's Washington Post, George Will rued the delusions that underlie the contemporary conflicts taking place in various parts of the world. Hezbollah has suffered heavy casualties but remains intact, demonstrating, he says, the futility of Israel's previous policy of unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Gaza, and parts of the West Bank. The United Nations is pressing ahead with plans for a peacekeeping force, notwithstanding the fact that its past resolutions calling for Hezbollah to disarm itself have been ignored. Never mind! Meanwhile, Iraq seems to be descending into tribalistic civil war, with Shiite death squads allegedly operating out of the Interior Ministry. When asked about the need to step up cooperating with police agencies in foreign countries in response to the airline bomb plot in England, a Bush administration official sniffed that the international "law enforcement approach" of John Kerry doesn't work. Goodness. Just because this strange, amorphous conflict with Islamic terrorists is most usefully regarded as a war does not mean that the tools of law enforcement should be arbitrarily set aside.
Will links these various examples of self-defeating policies as indicative of a blind, dogmatic attitude of unrealism, and I think he is on to something. President Bush deserves credit for displaying firm resolve and occasional diplomatic tact in the war on Islamic terrorism, but he is often too stubborn to listen to alternative suggestions. As his second term unfolds, time is running out for him to tap new advisers who might fashion a more realistic strategy for winning the war within the limits of our resources.
August 18, 2006 [LINK]
Humala may be charged in Peru
Prosecutors in Peru have asked a judge to charge Ollanta Humala, the losing candidate in the June 4 presidential election, with human rights violations over his role in counterinsurgency operations against Shining Path terrorists in the early 1990s. See CNN.com. Rumors about such abuses by Humala had been floating around ever since Humala became a leading opposition figure in recent years, and were a major issue in the presidential campaign. Humala's Union for Peru party (formerly led by Javier Perez de Cuellar, who used to be Secretary General of the United Nations) has more parliamentary seats than any other party. The possibility of political influence over the prosecutor's office cannot be denied, and this move may be part of an effort by Alan Garcia's Aprista party to form a legislative majority.
Copper strike in Chile
The Escondida copper mine in Chile, the largest privately-owned copper mine in the world, has been forced to shut down because of a labor strike now in its twelveth day. The workers are demanding a ten percent raise, less than the 13 percent they originally demanded. Given the sharp rise in the price of copper over the past year, there would seem to be ample room for management to give them most of want they want. See BBC.
Stroessner is dead
Alfredo Stroessner, the former military dictator who ruled Paraguay from 1954 until he was overthrown in 1989, passed away in Brazil, having spent the last 17 years of his life in exile. See BBC. Though many credit him for stabilizing and modernizing the backward landlocked country, he probably deserves much of the blame for the culture of corruption that allowed the contraband "industry" to flourish.
August 18, 2006 [LINK]
Liberal judges run amok
Federal judges in two different states issued very bad rulings yesterday, reminding us of the dangerous consequences if the Democrats were to regain control of the Senate. In Michigan, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor (a Carter appointee) ruled that the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program is unconstitutional. Her order that the program be halted was put on hold until a hearing on September 7, however. The Washington Post reported that impartial legal observers questioned the flimsy analytical basis for the ruling. Furthermore, it seems clear that there is a political agenda behind the lawsuit:
ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero called the decision 'another nail in the coffin' of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism strategies.
Well, those ACLU folks certainly aren't afraid of being accused of subverting the war against terrorism, are they? Legal blogger Eugene Volokh believes that the judge's ruling based on the First and Fourth Amendments is mistaken, and that "the strongest argument ... against the NSA program is that it violates not the Constitution, but the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act." I come down on the middle of this issue. It should be obvious that in war time, the president needs extra discretion to defend national security, and there are emergencies when the law cannot be adhered to 100 percent. On the other hand, the Bush administration has not always been consistent on the applicability of the FISA statute, and has wrongly resisted suggested legal frameworks so that necessary anti-terrorist operations can be carried out in accordance with the rule of law to the maximum extent possible.
In the second case, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler (no relation to former Food and Drug Administration chief and anti-tobacco zealot David Kessler) found that American tobacco companies violated racketeering laws by conspiring to deceive the public about the health risks of cigarettes, and ordered them to undertake a massive public education program to rectify the problem. (She said she would have ordered them to pay monetary damages, but was constrained by an appellate court ruling in 2005.) I have zero sympathy for tobacco companies, but I could have sworn that this issue was already decided several years ago. In fact, it was decided, as the Washington Post indicates:
Eight years ago, the industry agreed to pay states $246 billion in compensation for the public money spent on treating the health effects of smoking. A year later, the Justice Department filed its racketeering suit in federal court. Anti-tobacco activists predicted that government and private litigation would ultimately cripple the industry.
Aside from the obvious "piling on" abuse of the government's legal powers via these multiple punitive procedures, there lies the more fundamental problem of letting individuals off the hook for the consequences of high-risk lifestyles. Anyone in the last thirty years who did not know that smoking was dangerous and potentially lethal was an idiot. Of course, many did know, but lacked the will power to stop. All tobacco advertisements since the 1960s have been required to carry health warnings, and that should have been enough. It's called personal responsibility.
Last word on George Allen?
This controversy just won't die down. Given that his mother is of French North African colonial heritage, the fact that he speaks French, and that "macaque" is a common French slang deriding people of African descent (see the newly updated page at wikipedia, which is "usually" accurate), the likelihood that Sen. Allen did not know that "Macaca" was a racial epithet is very low. The more I think about it, the more I fear that his silly gaffe on the campaign trail in Breaks, VA will end up making reforms in our immigration laws and practices much more difficult, giving rhetorical ammunition to apologists for the status quo. That is just awful. Another thing: Is Sen. Allen aware that India, from whence Mr. Sidarth's family originates, is the world's largest democracy, and that it is one of our allies in the war to resist Islamofascist expansion? I hope so, because the United States needs all the allies it can get right now. Some of Allen's apologists ask whether he would really be so stupid as to use a racial insult when he knew he was being recorded. I think he was just trying to impress his audience by showing that he was not intimidated by the presence of the video camera, and went just a little too far with his swaggering bravado. 'Nuff said?
Virginia pork-barrel projects
The nicer term is "earmarked" spending, but whatever you call it, a list of all such projects in the Old Dominion can be found at: examiner.com. I noticed that Larry Sabato's University of Virginia Center for Politics raked in a cool million-plus bucks. Sweet! Oddly, Staunton and the rest of the Shenandoah Valley (except for Winchester) missed out entirely. Hat tip to Chad Dotson.
August 19, 2006 [LINK]
Missile controversy in Bolivia
The former provisional president of Bolivia, Eduardo Rodriguez, is upset that the United States is not backing him up in the renewed uproar over the hasty removal of 28 shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles made in China last October. This controversy came to light in December and is intensifying once again, and Rodriguez may face charges of treason. See CNN.com. Bolivians are engaging in a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution more to the liking of new President Evo Morales, the same path Hugo Chavez took to consolidate power in Venezuela. Fear that such weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists is what prompted the U.S. government to persuade Bolivian military officers to give up the missiles before Morales came to power.
Where is Peru's ex-first lady?
A judge in Peru has asked police to help locate Eliane Karp, the semi-estranged wife of former President Alejandro Toledo. She has been out of the country since the middle of July, even before her husband's term ended -- first to visit her family in France, then to Israel. Prosecutors want to interrogate her about the forged signatures on nomination petitions for Toledo's Peru Posible party. The request that Interpol help track her down is considered unusual, because she is not a fugitive, but only a potential witness. See La Republica (in Spanish). Ms. Karp, a native of Belgium who is a scholar of Indian languages, earned a reputation for being brash and ambitious. Justice is often politicized in Peru, as in much of Latin America, so someone may be trying to earn brownie points from the new President, Alan Garcia.
August 20, 2006 [LINK]
Nats' comeback falls short
The Nationals looked excellent in their Friday night game in Philadelphia, building a nice lead early and holding on to win 6-4, but then the Phillies got their revenge yesterday, 10-2. Today's game started out the same painful way, and Pedro Astacio stunk, quite frankly, in sharp contrast to his last outing. After the fourth inning, the Nats were down 10-1, but did they let that stop them? No! They clawed their way back into the game with six runs in the sixth inning, and could have easily tied in the eight, with two runners on and only one out. Alas, it wasn't to be, as they lost 12-10. Well, at least they showed a lot of spunk and put the heat on the Phillies. Let's give a big round of applause to Brandon Harper, the 30-year old "rookie" who hit a double in his first at bat last week, and today hit his first and second home run of his major league career, accounting for four of the Nationals' ten runs batted in. Let's also welcome back Jose Vidro, who has been on the DL for the past couple weeks.
But of course, the big question on most baseball fans' minds is whether the Yankees can complete a sweep of the Red Sox in their five-game series at Fenway Park. Wouldn't that be something?
Mile High Stadium
I've just updated the diagrams on the Mile High Stadium page. I realized that was the last stadium whose thumbnail diagram did not conform to the
new standard, and decided to rectify that gap at once. (To hell with my "to-do" list sequence! ) As with other "super-sized" stadiums, I've left the original "sideways" versions intact so that the entire stadium can be seen.
Stay tuned for more new "goodies" in the coming week...
More on Fenway Park
According to wikipedia.org (hat tip to Bruce Orser),
Reported attendance is generally 1,500 to 2,000 below capacity, though, due to the distribution of complimentary (e.g., to players, advance scouts, overflow press passes) and promotional tickets by the team, as well as no-shows. Capacity for day games is also reduced by 410 seats in the center field bleachers to provide a better hitter's background.
It sounds strange, and I didn't know that was common practice, but I guess it would explain the discrepancy. It seems to be the opposite of the situation in most stadiums, including RFK, where the official attendance includes tickets sold but not used, mostly for corporate and lobbyist entertainment accounts -- the "phantom fans," I call them. That page has a link to my Fenway Park page, so I guess I shouldn't make fun of Wikipedia's sometimes-shaky reliability.
August 20, 2006 [LINK]
Montgomery Hall Park rocks!
This morning I took a chance on a local nature area which I hadn't visited in a while, and for the first half hour or so, I thought it was a complete waste of time. All I saw were a couple Cardinals, and the rest was silence. After I reached the northeast side of the big hill upon which Montgomery Hall Park is situated, however, I struck pay dirt: a cluster of warblers! I also saw a Yellow-billed cuckoo for the first time this year, the latest such first sighting since I started keeping records ten years ago. Todays' highlights:
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Red-bellied woodpecker
- Hairy woodpecker (F)
- Downy woodpecker (F)
- Black-throated green warblers* (JM)
- Blackpoll warbler* (F/J)
- Black & white warbler
- Worm-eating warbler
- Redstart (F/J)
- Yellow-billed cuckoo (FOS)
- Titmice, chickadees, etc.
* Two of those warbler species are not known to nest in this area (lowlands), so I assume this means that fall migration season has begun.
We have been lucky to have hummingbirds visit our feeder out back on a regular basis for over a month now. A male dominates the area around our back yard, but sometimes a female (or young male) shows up to sneak a few sips before the older male zooms in to chase the "intruders" away.
August 21, 2006 [LINK]
Oaxacan teachers press demands
The public school teachers in Oaxaca who have been on strike for the last three months raised the stakes once again, taking control of 12 privately-owned radio stations. Just to make sure that no one thinks about sending their children to a private school instead, they broadcast a warning to parents not to take their children to school. (How in the world are teachers who act like that supposed to instill discipline in their students?) The takeover was in response to the wounding of one of the strikers by a gunshot. The fact that journalists who have reported negative things about the state government have been shot at raises the possibility that the teachers may have valid grievances. Gov. Ruiz belongs to the once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). President Fox, of the National Action Party (PAN), has decided not to send in Federal police for the moment, saying it is a problem of the state of Oaxaca. According to CNN.com,
"We're fed up with neoliberalism," one said, using a term for free-market economics. "We are fed up [sic] gringo ecotourism."
Oh, oh. What in the world did we do to offend them? We did notice a few Marxist protesters in the city plaza when we visited Oaxaca three years ago, but the situation has become much worse since then.
In the capital city, meanwhile, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador continues to escalate his rhetoric, warning of "ultimate consequences" if his demands are not met, and the streets remain clogged with camped-out protesters. On a brighter note, the state of Chiapas held an election on Sunday that is supposed to herald a new era of democracy. See El Universal (in English). That is where the Zapatista uprising began in January 1994, and the social discontent has evidently spilled across the border into the states of Oaxaca.
Peru negotiates free trade
In another sign that new president Alan Garcia is serious about pursuing pragmatic, market-based economic policies (unlike his first term), he has named Hernando de Soto to negotiate trade matters with the United States. De Soto is the author of The Other Path, which advocates -- among other things -- radical reduction of bureaucracy and tax burdens in Peru and other Third World countries. See La Republica.
Volcano in Ecuador
The Tungurahua volcano, south of Quito, has been spewing ash for the past several days, but many local residents are reluctant to leave their homes, in spite of evacuation orders. CNN.com As in some parts of the United States (such as New Orleans), there is a strong distrust of the government among many poor people.
August 22, 2006 [LINK]
Stadium page updates: complete!
All of the major league baseball stadium pages now have interactive thumbnail diagrams for easy comparisons with stadiums that are particularly relevant or similar. The text on some of those pages has been updated as well. The (previously obscure) link to the baseball site map page at the upper right of each stadium pages is now separate from the link that scrolls down to the photos (if any), which is indicated by the camera icon. Pages without sponsors (hint!) now have commercial ads -- just like on the outfield fences of old ballparks! Note also that the "Coming attractions" list now includes all stadiums yet to be revised, including major revisions (e.g., adding new dynamic diagrams), minor revisions (e.g., additional diagram versions), and future stadiums. As always, the precise sequence is anyone's guess. The various stadium comparison pages and franchise history pages will be the next to be revised.
Yankees win all five in Boston
For only the third time in history, the Yankees swept the Red Sox in a five-game series at Fenway Park. On the two previous occasions (1927 and 1943) they went on to win the World Series. Hmmmm... In the final game last night, the two players recently acquired from the Phillies -- Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle -- played key roles. See MLB.com. The Yanks are now 6.5 games ahead of the Red Sox, whereas one month ago they were 2.5 games behind. I had been wondering how long the revamped Red Sox team with all those unfamiliar faces could stay on top in the AL East. The fact that the wild card spot will probably go to the AL Central runner up this year means that the divisional race in the AL East is higher stakes than usual -- an all-or-nothing proposition.
Doldrums in D.C.
Meanwhile, the Nationals lost to the Marlins last night, 3-1, their third straight loss. As most people know, almost everyone in Washington leaves town in the late summer, so it is hard to maintain fan interest even in a good year. Given their mediocre play of late, the Nats need to do something good fast, or the attention of Washington area fans will quickly be diverted to the Redskins. Speaking of which, isn't it annoying how much attention the television sports reporters are paying to the football preseason? Since when did practice football games become more important than real baseball games??
The mail bag
Mike Zurawski drew my attention to some new, more detailed artists' renderings of the Washington Nationals' future home. They are posted at jdland.com.
Bruce Orser did likewise for several photos of Petco Park while it was under construction; see Cameron Stotz. I have a few more e-mail messages to get to, so please be patient...
August 22, 2006 [LINK]
First nighthawk of autumn
On Sunday I noticed that some warblers* had arrived in town, clearly indicating that fall migration season has begun. Late this afternoon on my way to Blockbusters I saw a Common nighthawk flapping its long pointed wings, in the characteristic intermittent, halting rhythm. We saw several of them in South Dakota, but they don't breed this far south, so it is yet another sign of autumn. In August?? Well, the temperatures have been pretty mild lately. In Virginia, we usually see nighthawks only in late August and early September. This evening Jacqueline and I took a casual drive along Bell's Lane, but not much was happening ... until we came across a Sharp-shinned hawk right next to the road! It flew up into a nearby tree, and I cautiously approached before it flew further away.
* Local bird expert YuLee Larner questioned me about the Blackpoll warbler, because the earliest in the fall that one had ever been seen in this area before was September 1, and I told her I couldn't be more than 90 percent certain about the identification. For the bird record-keeping authorities, that is just not good enough. The most likely alternative species, however, is the Bay-breasted warbler, and it happens to have the same earliest fall arrival date: September 1. So, I'm pretty sure that I broke one of those records, but I just can't be absolutely certain which one it was!
Speaking of uncertainties, when I saw all those other warblers at Montgomery Hall Park on Sunday, I also saw a very plain olive brown warbler and happened to get a good view of the underside of its tail. That is one of the best ways to distinguish warblers that are otherwise very similar, especially in the fall, when many of those species lose their breeding plumages. Anyway, I think it was probably (60 percent?) an Orange-crowned warbler, the only one of which I had seen for certain before was in Oaxaca, Mexico!
August 23, 2006 [LINK]
Nats choke again in Miami
The Nationals wasted multiple offensive and defensive opportunities in last night's 7-5 loss to the Marlins. Ryan Zimmerman, Felipe Lopez, and Jose Vidro all made fielding errors, which probably made the difference in the game's outcome. This comes a day after Alfonso Soriano made a crucial error. The Nats have now lost four games in a row. See MLB.com. The team is just not pulling together, and there seems to be a lack of leadership.
Miscellaneous ballpark news
Speaking of Miami, there is a renewed push to have the Marlins' new stadium built closer to the city's downtown. It would be built on the south side of the Miami Arena, but there is no way of knowing whether it is a serious prospect or not. See Miami Herald, via ballparks.com. I have a feeling this process is going to drag out longer than the process of relocating the Montreal Expos to Washington. It's a shame that fan enthusiasm for the Marlins is so low (attendance at the Nationals games has been under 10,000), given their two World Series championships, but low summer attendance at sporting events is probably an inherent problem in tropical or semi-tropical climes. That is why relocation or contraction cannot be ruled out.
The Kansas City Royals have "big plans" for Kauffman Stadium, including restaurants and picnic areas behind right field, spiffing up the main video board, and moving one of the bullpens from right to left field. The alternative of putting the bullpens in foul territory was discarded, fortunately. See Wichita Eagle, via Mike Zurawski.
Stadium page sponsorships
Many thanks to Mark London for renewing his sponsorships of the Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium, and PNC Park pages, and for sponsoring Metropolitan Stadium and the Metrodome as well. Existing sponsors have until the end of the week to renew, after which they're up for grabs. Hur-ry! Hur-ry! Hur-ry!
August 23, 2006 [LINK]
Democrat insults fallen hero
It is hardly news that many Democrats just cannot contain their bitter, hateful feelings of having lost most of the recent elections, but every once in a while one of them says or does something that goes way over the line. Steve Kijak follows up with his first-hand experience from the Augusta County Fair last week. A local Democrat Party volunteer walked over and told Rhonda Winfield, the mother of Marine Lance Cpl. Jason Redifer who died in Iraq last year, "Jim Webb is more of an American patriot than this man ever was." It is hard to imagine anything more disgusting than breaking the heart of the mother of a fallen war hero by insulting the memory of her son. I just hope Mr. Webb disavows such ugly sentiments. Unfortunately, according to Steve, the Waynesboro News Virginian has not covered both sides of this story, leaving many of its readers with a false impression of the incident.
Kaine's irksome partisanship
Speaking of partisan acrimony, I view our new governor with a wary eye, but upon the occasion of his inauguration in January I made a gesture of public spiritedness: "Let's give bipartisanship another try!" Alas, my feeble hopes for a fresh, constructive start in Richmond proved in vain. Most recently, in a speech to the AFL-CIO convention in Vienna (Virginia), Gov. Kaine boasted that "progressive" (leftist) forces are gaining strength, and that his party has a good chance to regain control of both chambers in next year's election. The new governor clearly relishes his power and is not shy about using it to tweak the Republicans in the state legislature. So much for the centrist approach of Mark Warner! Thus, it was a pleasant surprise that today's News Leader called attention to Gov. Kaine's unfortunate turn toward a more partisan approach to governing, and the underlying tone of "rancor" he perpetuates.
August 24, 2006 [LINK]
Yanks win games, but lose money
And if you believe that, I have a bridge to Brooklyn I'd like to sell you. As Andrew Zimbalist, Neil deMause, and others have amply documented, accounting tricks (such as depreciating players' payroll as though it were an asset) enable baseball franchises to make it look like they are losing money. So why were so many investors willing to pay up to a half billion dollars for the Washington Nationals in an allegedly [limited-size] market? Not because they were being charitable, I guarantee you. Leave it to George Steinbrenner to lament his financial condition after outbidding the rest of the major league teams in putting together the Best Team Money Could Buy. According to ESPN.com (hat tip to Brian Hughes),
[The Yankees' general manager Brian] Cashman told Bloomberg radio that the new stadium is 'vital' to helping the Yankees return to profitability.
Forbes Magazine reported that ... the Yankees lost $50 million last season because the team paid $77 million in revenue sharing.
I suppose I shouldn't criticize Mr. Steinbrenner too harshly, after all, because he is going to pay most of the cost of building the new Yankee Stadium. The city will pay for new parking facilities, a revamped subway station, and assorted infrastructure improvements.
Tigers win games, regain fan base
Rob Visconti relishes one of the side-effects of the Detroit Tigers' spectacular improvement this year: Attendance at Comerica Park has risen dramatically. "As a veteran of more games in which I had damn-near an entire section of the Comerica Park stands to myself than I care to remember, it's nice to have a little company."
Eischen is on the mend
Relief pitcher Joey Eischen, one of the dwindling cadre of former Montreal Expos on the Washington Nationals, says he is recovering from surgery faster than expected, but he still won't be able to play this season. See MLB.com. His fierce competitive spirit is a resource that must be conserved. As one of the reliable workhorse relief pitchers during the Nationals' amazing ascent to first place in the NL East during June 2005, he has earned the right to be given a chance to pitch for the team next year. Are you listening, Jim Bowden?
UPDATE: Bears Stadium memorial
By amazing coincidence, only one day after I updated the Mile High Stadium page, there was a story at MLB.com about plans in Denver to place a memorial plaque at the site of the old "Bears Stadium," as it was known until December 1968. A memorial home plate will also be installed in the parking lot pavement as close to the original location of home plate as can be determined. The ceremony will be held on August 29, with Colorado Rockies players in attendance. Now that spot is in the middle of a parking lot for "Invesco Field at Mile High." (Hat tip to Rod Nelson of SABR.)
August 24, 2006 [LINK]
Free trade deals at risk
Export-oriented enterprises in Colombia are getting very worried that the free trade agreement with the United States will not be renewed by the end of the year, in which case many of them might go out of business. What would the laid-off workers do? Take jobs with coca-processors or narcotraffickers, of course.* The problem is that the Bush administration is reluctant to put the matter before Congress in the middle of an electoral campaign in which control of the legislative branch hangs in the balance. See CNN.com. President Uribe is without question the strongest U.S. ally in all of Latin America, and what is more, he won reelection earlier this year by a large majority. In other words, no one can call him a puppet or lackey. The people of Colombia see the ugly face of terrorism up close, like the people who live or work in lower Manhattan. They are on our side in this struggle, and it would be stupid to let them down. It is time for President Bush to put short-term political considerations aside, and lay it on the line to the American people: Free trade with friendly countries in Latin America is a matter of vital national interest to the United States.
* An excellent movie that dramatizes precisely this excruciating personal dilemma is Maria, Full of Grace. It's about a young Colombian woman who is laid off, needs money to support a child, and tries to get rich quick by smuggling condoms full of cocaine to the United States. It is a gruesome and very hard-hitting portrayal of life in that part of Latin America. See the Internet Movie Database.
"Macacas" in Brazil!
Virginia Sen. George Allen sparked an uproar last week about the obscure foreign slang term "macaca," and thanks to Chris Green, I've learned that it is also the name of a soccer team in Brazil. They even have their own blog: Blog de Macaca! By way of explanation in English, according to answers.com,
The club's mascot is a female monkey (Macaca) wearing Ponte Preta's home kit. The mascot reflects racism against the club (one of the first Brazilian teams to accept blacks, having been even refused participation in championships due to this). Just as Palmeiras fans, the supporters adopted the mascot instead of taking offence from it.
This also reflects the more light-hearted way racial differences are treated in Latin America compared to the United States. Overtly racist fat-lipped caricatures of black people are still common in most of the region, and Mexico created a controversy last year when it released postage stamps showing such cartoon characters. Rev. Jesse Jackson demanded an apology from President Fox, who demurred.
August 25, 2006 [LINK]
Chavez makes deals in China
Hugo Chavez is visiting the People's Republic of China -- a nominally Marxist dictatorship -- he signed agreements with the Beijing government, under which China will invest in Venezuela to develop oil fields, a telecommunication network, farms, and gold and coal mines. Furhermore, "He said Venezuela plans to almost quadruple sales to China to 1 million barrels a day in the next decade." China has already been investing heavily in several Latin American countries, and has a contract to operate the ports of the Panama Canal, so the strategic implications of these commercial deals are obvious. Of course, Chavez took the opportunity to badmouth Uncle Sam once again, and to condemn Israel's attacks in Lebanon, comparing them to Nazi Germany. China's President Hu Jintao expressed support for Venezuela getting a seat on the U.N. Security Council, a clear slap in the face to U.S. interests. CNN.com. Who knew that the Monroe Doctrine might become relevant once again in the post-Cold War era?
On a brighter note, opposition forces in Venezuela are regrouping behind a candidate to run against Chavez in elections scheduled for December. (Will they be remotely fair and open?) Manuel Rosales is the governor of Zulia, the western province where most of Venezuela's oil wells are located. It's a long shot, but a rally for Rosales had bigger-than-expected crowds. See politicscentral.com (via Instapundit).
Conservative plurality in Mexico
Nearly two months after the national elections were held, authorities in Mexico announced the final results of the congressional races. The National Action Party (PAN), led by President Fox and (apparent) president-elect Calderon, won 206 seats in the 500-seat Chamber of Deputies, a gain over more than 50 seats, while the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), led by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, won 126 seats, a gain over more than 30 seats. Both parties gained seats in the 128-seat Senate, as well. Meanwhile, the once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party came in third place in the Chamber of Deputies, a sharp blow to its prestige. See BBC and El Universal (not a permalink). The upshot is that the conservative PAN holds a legislative plurality, but not a majority. It is therefore false to state, as many journalists do, that PAN is the "ruling" party. It needs to negotiate with moderate opposition legislators to get a majority of votes to pass legislative and spending measures. The Politics section of the Mexico page has been duly updated.
Mexican legislative elections
||Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD)
||Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)
||National Action Party (PAN)
|Ch. Dep. 2006
|Ch. Dep. 
August 25, 2006 [LINK]
Senate immigration bill: $$$!!!
A study by the Congressional Budget Office earlier this week estimates that the Senate's immigration bill -- the "comprehensive" approach favored by President Bush -- will cost $126 billion over the next ten years, as the number of people "entitled" to Federal benefits skyrockets. Details are in the Washington Post. Thank goodness someone is doing some serious scrutiny of the Senate's "Open Doors" proposal. Hopefully it will shock some complacent people into realizing the very dangerous path this nation is on right now. There is a big irony here: Granting legal status to undocumented workers who are currently here would negate the very reason businesses hire them in the first place: to avoid paying the full costs (including fringe benefits) to which legal employees are entitled. So why would our esteemed senators bother to do that? Because they are under political heat to "do something," so they "punt" (letting somebody else worry about it) by pushing a policy that shifts entitlement costs to future years while allowing the labor-cheating status quo to continue.
As for as that $126 billion figure, I pay scant attention to such long-range forecasts, which are full of dubious assumption. It would be much more meaningful (and accurate!) to express the costs of alternative policy proposals in one-year increments.
The Heritage Foundation has a survey on immigration reform. Since they are associated with the Big Business wing of the conservative movement, however, I would refrain from endorsing their position in toto.
If you think about it, cracking down on illegal immigrants might have the effect of giving businesses even greater power over their illegal work force, making them cower in fear rather than speaking out about any abuses they suffer. It would be the perfect (disingenuous) strategy for ensuring a large supply of docile laborers. I sure hope that is not a significant part of what is going on. This simply serves to remind us that sincere respect and concern for the welfare of workers in this country, and in other countries, is an absolute necessity if a meaningful reform of immigration laws and practices is to be accomplished. Any political leader who makes a big deal about the threat of illegal immigration and then turns around to either rationalize lapses in enforcement or denigrates the immigrants as second-class human beings deserves contempt.
New local blogger
Lynn Mitchell, a home schooling activist who handles communication duties for the Republican Party in this area, now voices her opinions on politics at SWAC Girl -- as in Staunton-Waynesboro-Augusta County, as in swacgop.org. Welcome to the blogosphere, Lynn!
August 28, 2006 [LINK]
Braves get revenge on Nationals
There was another fleeting glimmer of hope for the Washington team in Atlanta Friday night, as Austin Kearns' 3-run homer in the seventh inning provided the needed margin of victory. Reliever Saul Rivera almost blew the save, allowing two runs in the ninth inning, but all that counts is the final result. That 7-6 win was overshadowed, however, by two huge defeats inflicted by the Braves over the weekend: 10-1 on Saturday and 13-6 on Sunday. Both games were almost too painful to watch. The only bright spot was the Alfonso Soriano went 4 or 5, and stole two bases. He is almost sure to get 40 homers and 40 stolen bases this year, a very rare feat. The Nats have won only two of their last ten games, and now have a 55-75 record for the season, a distressing 6.5 games behind the fourth-place Braves.
Today the Nats get a day off (their second in five days) and prepare to welcome the Phillies to RFK Stadium once again. Let's just hope Nick Johnson's mild case of whiplash heals quickly. Jeff Francouer ran right into him without looking after hitting a pop fly in the Friday game. Also, Alex Escobar hurt his shoulder and may be out for the rest of the season.
Babe Ruth versus Albert Pujols
Bruce Orser brought to my attention an intriguing article in Gentleman's Quarterly, reported by the St. Louis Post Dispatch. It's about a group of scientists who administered the same battery of eye-coordination and muscle-response tests to Albert Pujols as another researcher had administered to Babe Ruth in 1921: "while the comparison has limitations, his results were strikingly similar to the Babe's." The original article, "Why Babe Ruth is Greatest Home-Run Hitter," by Hugh S. Fullerton (reproduced at York University of Toronto), concluded that The Babe's phenomenal perceptual abilities accounted for much of his slugging success. It's like those guys are bionic or something!
August 28, 2006 [LINK]
Partial recount in Mexico
The recount of the tabulations at 375 localities that were challenged is not completed yet, but it appears that the final vote tally will not change much. The Federal Electoral Tribunal said that Felipe Calderon's margin had dropped by 4,000 votes, which pales in comparison to his overall lead of 240,000 votes. The final decision must be rendered by September 6. Apparent loser Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is planning a massive demonstration on the country's day of independence, September 16. See CNN.com. Though full-blown chaos is still possible, it is at least a reassuring sign that Mexico's electoral authorities are resisting political pressure to conduct recounts across the board, focusing only on cases where there are clear signs of irregularities.
Meanwhile, the long standoff continues in Oaxaca, although it is becoming less of a labor action and more of a political mobilization. Pressure on Gov. Ruiz to resign is increasing, even as sympathy for the teachers wanes as the new school year begins. CNN.com reports that the teachers' strike is having a devastating effect on the tourist industry in Oaxaca, inflicting "terror" upon people who live or visit there.
Desperately seeking opportunity
Today's Washington Post had an in-depth background story on the desperate plight of young teenagers from Guatemala who have been rounded up by Mexican border guards and sent back home. This tragedy will go on and on as long as political leaders in Latin American countries are let off the hook for failing to reform their own laws and practices so as to create the same kind of opportunity in their countries that exists here. Impossible? All it would take is a critical mass of clear-headed thinking and courage on the part of citizens in Latin America as well as the United States. Ironically, when Americans tolerate illegal immigration -- whether out of greed for cheap labor or noble, charitable sentiments -- it only provides a "cushion" in in Latin American countries. The steady flow of dollars from the North allows those countries to maintain their self-defeating policies, thereby perpetuating the status quo of misery, alienation, and (occasionally) fabulous if shallow wealth.
August 28, 2006 [LINK]
George Allen comes to Staunton
Not wanting to reward bad campaign behavior, I decided to skip Sen. George Allen's visit to Staunton on Friday. From all accounts, it was quite a "zoo" downtown, with Democrat activists dressed as a gorilla (as in "Macaca") and a banana. Very funny. Sen. Allen changed his itinerary to avoid that scene, so I wouldn't have seen him even if I had showed up. Just as well. The News Leader covered the day's events.
The visit by Allen even drew the attention of the Daily Kos, which is a veritable Mecca for the kind of kooks who think such costumed stunts mean anything. That blog quotes someone from Albemarle County who was put down by Allen at a Republican event last November, saying the guy was wearing a "sissy helmet." As a one-time serious bicycle rider who has always tried to play it safe on the road or on the trail, I take offense at that!
The former "Wonkette" Ana Marie Cox, guest blogging for Andrew Sullivan, predicts that Allen will lose. Frankly, I doubt it. Webb is most likely just a "stalking horse" for his old friend John McCain (thanks to Jose Rodriguez for the tip earlier this year), aiming to undermine the Virginia senator's stature before the 2008 presidential primaries get underway. Webb himself does not evince the seriousness of purpose that a truly bona fide candidate would exhibit, and his campaign only has token funding. For his part, Allen is smart enough to learn from his mistakes, even if he doesn't always convey such intelligence in public. The big question, however, is whether the Republican Party will grasp the danger of losing even more support from well-educated people if it fails to definitively renounce low-class trash talking politics.
Who is blocking reform?
The "Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act," a bill that was introduced by senators Tom Coburn and Barack Obama, is being held up by one of those quirky senatorial procedures. Under the Senate's informal customs, any one senator can hold up legislation, ostensibly to have more time to reflect on it. This is raising suspicions that someone in the Upper Chamber is trying to thwart any attempt to shed light on who is responsible for earmarked (pork barrel) appropriations. See Washington Times (via Instapundit). (The Washington Post has been curiously silent on this story.) One thing is for sure, those who are resisting reform in the appropriations process will cite national security as a justification for keeping such things out of the public eye.
August 28, 2006 [LINK]
All aboard the Flying Fortress!
Yesterday, I took my niece Cathy and brother-in-law Walter to the Manassas Regional Airport, to see a genuine World War II era B-17 "Flying Fortress" that was paying a special visit as part of a nationwide tour. Well-heeled visitors (not us!) had the opportunity to take a short passenger ride on the big old four-engine bomber. We opted for "economy class," taking a tour of the plane's interior while it was parked. This particular aircraft, named the "Aluminum Overcast," was delivered just after V-E Day in May 1945, so it never saw any combat. It has been refitted, however, so that it faithfully recreates an actual B-17G equipped to go on a combat mission. It is one of only a dozen or so B-17s in the entire world that are still able to fly.
Roll mouse over the image to see the B-17 from a distance.
After climbing a ladder into the forward hatch (see closeup photo), we had to squeeze our way up into the cockpit, which was not an easy task, I assure you. Then we made our way back, along a narrow ramp through the bomb bay into the radio compartment in the middle of the fuselage. Further back, there were two small convass cots for the crew to get some rest on long flights. I cannot imagine how the tail gunner or the gunner in the turret under the belly of the Flying Fortress could possibly fit inside such a tiny space, especially for an extended period. The engine, machine guns, bomb rack, and radios are all kept in superb condition, and it's hard to believe that the shiny plane is 61 years old. It was a truly memorable experience, and the folks at the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh, Wisconsin are to be commended for the work they put into keeping this grand old plane airworthy. For details on this project, see www.B17.org.
While at the airport in Manassas, we also visited the Freedom Museum that is situated in the lobby. It has a very impressive set of photographic historical displays on U.S. military history, reminding us once again that "Freedom is not free." In conjunction with the B-17 visit, the museum was holding an "open house" with various special displays. We talked to Mr. Jeffrey L. Ethell, who has assembled a collection of rare, unique color photographs that you can browse at World War II Color Archives. We also talked to a U.S. Army Military Police soldier (female) with a dog trained to sniff out explosives -- a crucial and very dangerous task in Iraq right now. Finally, we talked to a retired U.S. Air Force guy who volunteers with a group that honors the memory of the First Canadian Parachute Battalion, which participated in the D-Day landings at Normandy. They hold annual parades in downtown Toronto, and it is apparently unusual to see firearms on public display in that country.
August 29, 2006 [LINK]
That controversial Israeli lobby
Earlier this year, political scientists John Mearsheimer (Chicago) and Stephen Walt (Harvard) wrote a paper, The Israel Lobby, that created quite a ruckus. They dared to raise the uncomfortable question of whether Jews in the United States and Israel are unduly influencing American foreign policy in ways that are contrary to our national interest. Yesterday they appeared at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and I caught a few snippets on C-SPAN. I've seen both men speak, and Mearsheimer is one of those polished scholars who has a knack for making a polemical argument sound very well reasoned and balanced. I'm not knocking him or belittling his scholarship, I'm just pointing out (or envying?) a quality that is very useful in the academic world. In today's Washington Post, Dana Milbank harped on Mearsheimer's mispronunciation of two members of Congress, which Milbank believes discredits his claimed expertise on Washington politics. Maybe. Bush administration officials Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith (both Jews) were singled out. More importantly, he derided the two authors for pandering to anti-Israeli sentiment in the Muslim world, and wrote, "Whatever motivated the performance, the result wasn't exactly scholarly."
Daniel Drezner (a former colleague of Mearsheimer at Chicago) has been following this academic spat very closely, and had a succinct response to the paper last March:
Walt and Mearsheimer should not be criticized as anti-Semites, because that's patently false. They should be criticized for doing piss-poor, monocausal social science.*
... [ASTERISK AT END OF BLOG PIECE]
* This is not to deny that a pro-Israel lobby affects U.S. foreign policy, just as Cuban emigres undoubtedly have an effect on U.S. policy towards Cuba. It's just that Walt and Mearsheimer say that the lobby "almost entirely" explains U.S. policy. My contention is that they vastly overestimate both pro-Israel lobby's causal role -- and their uniformity of opinion and motivation.
I think that is a pretty fair assessment, but I wouldn't call it "piss poor." It almost goes without saying that the influence of Israel in Washington is problematic at times, but blaming foreigners for policy mistakes is quite unbecoming a Great Power like the U.S.A. It almost sounds like the hand-wringing excuses for inaction that one always hears in Latin America. "We can't reform! The gringos have our hands tied!"
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s I was briefly active in criticizing the excessive financial aid given by the United States to Israel, money that was used (directly or indirectly) to build new Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. Israel demanded U.S. loan guarantees for construction projects to help resettle all the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics, and it got pretty much all of what it wanted. The main target of my criticism was American-Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC), the lobbying organization that keeps Congress "in tow." I have nothing against Israel, however, and I think the Israelis are by and large a very good and useful ally. Being exposed to a constant, mortal security threat at their very doorstep, however, they are prone to take desperate measures and sometimes that means acting against U.S. interests. We should acknowledge this frankly. It does no good to pretend otherwise.
August 30, 2006 [LINK]
Syriana vs. reality in the Mideast
Jacqueline and I recently rented last year's movie Syriana (see imdb.com), starring George Clooney. I was aware of the liberal agenda behind it, but the mix of Big Oil, politics, and terrorism looked just too darned intriguing to let it slide forever. It is based on the "novelized" memoir See No Evil by Robert Baer, a retired CIA operative, and as such is bound to contain a lot of unique insights. It is not like all those scandalous tell-all books by Frank Snepp and other former spies in the 1970s, however. Its main theme was simply that American people's continued access to cheap gasoline has come to depend upon a fragile network of crooked arrangements with despots in the Middle East, including some wealthy families with ties to terrorism. No surprise there! Obviously, there is a lot of dramatic license in the way that interactions between diplomats, spies, businessmen, and various Middle Eastern "strong men" (princes, terrorists, thugs) are protrayed. Does our government, in its harried pursuit of short-term national interests, get involved with nasty characters from time to time? Of course it does. That does not mean that such regrettable deeds dominate the overall course of U.S. foreign policy. Please keep a basic fact in mind: It's only a movie! The events portrayed bear about as much resemblance to the real world as an episode of Superman.
What does surprise me over and over is how many Americans seem to live in a dream world in which our foreign policy should be judged by Boy Scout "good deed" standards. Wake up, folks. In the extra material that came with the DVD there were interviews with Mr. Clooney and the director, Stephen Gaghan, who came across like Ken Burns or one of those too-pious PC literary types. That is where the underlying agenda came out loud and clear. And frankly, I would agree that the mergers between oil giants in the last decade are very difficult to explain except as part of a strategy to gain market share (and therefore, pricing leverage) in times of declining supplies: monopoly! There was also a plug for a "progressive" Web site: participate.net. I am very sympathetic to the general goal of energy conservation, but the suggestions offered were sadly futile. As I've always said, until energy prices climb to a high enough level to make people really feel the financial pinch, there will be no significant change in our profligate consumptions habits. It's nothing to feel guilty about, as long as you are not consciously making the problem worse by pretending that a lot of feel-good gestures on the part of individuals will fix things.
This question of "reality" is important because so much of the criticism of the Bush administration's conduct of the war revolves around the alleged "crusading approach" to foreign policy on the part of the Neocons. True, some of those folks have a quite overoptimistic view of the prospects for democratization and peace in the Mideast, but they aren't half as "delusional" as a lot of the "peace" activists you see in protests. Those in the self-styled "reality-based community" (see Wikipedia -- groan...) take pains to mock those in the "faith-based community," but there is really no difference in terms of engagement with the real world. Delusion is generally not an ideological or partisan attribute.
As those of us who study foreign politics on an up close and personal basis know, reality is far more complex and subtle than can be explained in a television news segment. It gets even more complicated when you are dealing with non-Western cultures in countries whose governments are nothing more than a sham, which forces leaders to go to extreme lengths of duplicity just to survive the internal and external pressures. For example, Michael Totten (guest blogging for Andrew Sullivan) cautions that we should take the self-contradictory statements of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora with a grain of salt. Last week he "said he was interested in peace talks with Israel. Today he said Lebanon will be the last country to make peace with Israel." Oh well.
It so happens that Syriana includes some exceptionally riveting scenes purporting to take place in the Hezbollah-controlled slums of southern Beirut. That part was very realistic. Seeing the movie just as the bombs and rockets were falling in Lebanon and northern Israel was quite chilling.
Pork procurer busted!
Glenn Reynolds trumpets the latest success of the Porkbusters movement, which he co-founded. A staffer for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) acknowledged that the senator was the one who was holding up legislation aimed at revealing secrets of government contracting. Stevens drew notoriety last year when the frivolous "bridge to nowhere" in his home state came to light.
Another new blog
My brainy, culturally inquisitive sister Connie addresses criminal justice issues and related topics at: nicic.org. (beta version)
August 31, 2006 [LINK]
"Baseball Sluggers" stamps
The U.S. Postal Service recently released a set of four commemorative stamps featuring "Baseball Sluggers." The four chosen for this honor were Mickey Mantle (!!!), Roy Campanella, Hank Greenberg, and Mel Ott. Was that the best list they could come up with? Let's look at the numbers that define who a real "slugger" is, and rank them appropriately:
| Babe Ruth
| Lou Gehrig
| Mickey Mantle
| Mel Ott
| Hank Greenberg
| Roberto Clemente
| Roy Campanella
I suppose Campanella is understandable for sentimental reasons, given his career-ending injury, but I'm not sure about Greenberg. World War II service? They made a movie about him that I've been meaning to see one of these days. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and Roberto Clemente have been on stamps already. What about Ted Williams??? Obviously, anyone who is still alive is ineligible for postal commemoration. Some day, no doubt, there will be stamps for Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, and maybe even for Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Tony Gwynn, and Harmon Killebrew.
Team identity: city or franchise?
The Washington Nationals awful slump continues even after returning to the friendly confines of RFK Stadium, with two losses to the Phillies. Groan. Well at least Alfonso Soriano is getting more home runs, climbing toward some kind of record. Should he be compared to Vladimir Guerrero, to Frank Howard, or to neither? Today's Washington Post addresses the awkward question of team records and historical identity since the former Expos migrated south and changed their name. As recounted on the Relocations section of the MLB Franchises page, the only three precedents for this situation also involve the Baltimore-Washington area: the Browns-Orioles, the Senators-Twins, and the Senators-Rangers. (The relocations of 1902, 1903, and 1970 can safely be ignored for this purpose because of the miniscule duration of the team in the original city.) The Brooklyn/L.A. Dodgers clearly have a continuous team identity, as do the Giants; perhaps less so for the Athletics and Braves, both of whom moved twice. The Orioles decided to ignore their Brown roots for team record purposes, whereas the Twins adopted the (first) Washington Senators, which seems dubious. For me, the decisive factor is whether the team name stays the same or not. I think that "born again" teams should pay due respects to their defunct predecessor teams -- the Browns, the Senators, the Senators, and the Expos -- but in a low-key, discreet way.
There goes the neighborhood...
Bruce Orser called my attention to a detailed graphical explanation of the planned transformation around Yankee Stadium as the new stadium gets built. See On NY Turf.