Now here is an ironic twist: The government of Venezuela is heightening security measures at its oil installations after Al Qaeda called on its members to attack countries that supply petroleum to the United States. CNN.com quotes one of Hugo Chavez's military advisers, Luis Cabrera, as saying that it was illogical that "al Qaeda, which is against North American imperialism, would go against a state that is fighting, though in a different way, against that hegemony."
Translation: "Hey, Al Qaeda! We thought you guys were on our side!"
Of course, it is also possible that these statements are merely part of a disinformation campaign, as Venezuela tries to rebut criticism for its march toward dictatorship, as well as its intervention in other countries' politics, as in Bolivia or the CITGO reduced-price fuel oil program in the U.S.
Panamanian President Martin Torrijos visited the White House today, and agreed to seek a free trade agreement with the United States. Given the obstructionist posture of the Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress, however, the prospects for such an agreement being ratified are far from certain. See CNN.com. Torrijos is the son of a former left-wing authoritarian leader, Gen. Omar Torrijos, but he has opted for a moderate course since his inauguration in September 2004.
Bush will tour Latin America
UPDATE: President Bush will travel to Latin America from March 8 to 14, visiting Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico. I'm a bit surprised he omitted Chile, which is a big success story for capitalism and democracy. Hat tip to Los Blogueros (in Spanish), who is/are not necessarily pleased by the President's outreach to our southern friends: "¡¡¡Preparen las protestas!!!"
Mike Zurawski sent a whole boatload of news about ballparks, and I'm struggling to get caught up. Wrigley Field was ranked as the 31st best structure in America (just four spots behind Thomas Jefferson's Monticello!), according to a survey that was conducted by the American Institute of Architects. Yankee Stadium and five other ballparks were ranked within the Top 150 as well.
Now, this is insane: Officials in Hennepin County, Minnesota may have to find another location for the Twins's future stadium because, primarily, the land owners are demanding more than was expected. See startribune.com. The Twins had planned to unveil detailed renderings of the new ballpark this month, and preliminary construction work was to begin in March, but now everything is on hold. The planned 2010 completion date is in grave doubt.
The new governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, has expressed support for a proposal to increase the sales tax rebate that professional sports teams have been granted. If the legislature approves the measure, which seems likely, as much as $240 million in public money would be diverted to stadium construction and renovation in South Florida. He says it is "an economic development issue. I think it is important these major league teams stay within the state of Florida," It just so happens that Crist used to be general counsel for Minor League Baseball. See sun-sentinel.com.
It seems that construction at the Mets' future home, Citi Field, is progressing at a fair clip. There is a photo in the New York Times that was taken from the upper deck of Shea Stadium, but it's hard to make out details. That story also notes that Albert "Pujols, 27, became a citizen Wednesday during a ceremony in St. Louis."
Bruce Orser alerted me to an obituary for Eddie Feigner, a barnstorming softball pitcher who threw as [fast or] faster than most hardball pitchers. From the Washington Post:
In a 1967 exhibition at Dodger Stadium ... He struck out all six -- Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Willie McCovey, Maury Wills and Harmon Killebrew -- in succession.
As for other fan feedback, Mark London informed me that some of the Dodger Stadium dynamic diagrams were missing, so I have fixed that. If folks ever come across an obvious error like that, please let me know!
David Unruhe just wanted to let me know that he finally found my site via John Skilton's baseball-links.com/ Web site, after being out of touch for three years, probably back when it was hosted by EarthLink. Welcome back, David! I hope you enjoy all the new enhancements.
Tom Koch-Weser questions whether they really changed the right field dimension at Miller Park after they installed that bullpen bar/picnic-area last year. I estimated that it is 337 feet, based on the fact that the area is eight feet deep. However, it still reads 345 on the wall. Does anyone in the Milwaukee area know for sure? Feel free to send me an e-mail or (for quicker turnaround) register and post a comment on this blog post.
In today's Washington Post, Anne Applebaum has some refreshingly sensible words about the recent global warming conference. She grants, as I do, that global warming is a serious problem, and she praises Europeans for recognizing this.
The question now is whether these same Europeans will start taking the solutions seriously. If so, they must begin by abandoning the bankrupt Kyoto treaty on climate change and encouraging the United States to do so, too.
Exactamundo. For some unfathomable reason, very few people seem to grasp how irrational Kyoto's emissions ceilings are, or how stupid it is to grant special exemptions on greenhouse gas emissions to countries like India and China on the grounds that they are poor and underdeveloped, when they are driving U.S. industries out of business already! Applebaum calls for a simple solution that will yield positive side-effects in terms of revenue: a carbon tax. That's what I've been saying!
Global warming is not due to human contribution of Carbon Dioxide (CO2). This in fact is the greatest deception in the history of science.
This just goes to show that disagreements among scientists are a normal occurrence, and the matter is not definitively resolved. As the author states, "consensus is not a scientific fact." He also makes a valid point that many universities these days -- especially ones that depend on public money -- are becoming bastions of dogma. I was also quite pleased that he cited Thomas Kuhn, author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; that's one of my favorite works. I have a hard time believing, however, that the world scientific community could be engaged in such large-scale deception. (One can't help wondering, moreover, if it might be in Canada's own interest to promote global warming.)
Apple vs. Apple: It's over
After a quarter of a century, Apple, Inc., formerly known as Apple Computer, Inc., has reached a settlement over the use of the "Apple" trademark and name with Apple Corps, the Beatles' record company. This may facilitate making Beatles songs available for purchase at the Apple Music Store. (The second 45 RPM vinyl record I ever bought was "Hey Jude / Revolution," back in 1968, and I vividly remember the green apple label.) The dispute first arose in 1980, when Apple was still an upstart home computer company. Apple Computer agreed to stay out of the music business, but of course that commitment went out the window when iTunes and the iPod came out. See BBC and apple.com. I wonder if last month's decision to drop "Computer" from Apple, Inc.'s name was prompted by anticipation of the resolution of this dispute? I also wonder if the deal may have been motivated by Apple's desire to protect itself from certain European governments who want to dismantle the Digital Rights Management (DRM) system that binds the iPod to iTunes, preventing unauthorized copying.
UPDATE: Steve Jobs' "thoughts on music" are quite relevant and well worth reading. If Apple gives up its proprietary DRM (called "called FairPlay"), there is no way it can guarantee to recording companies that the licenses they grant will be protected. He notes that Microsoft ("Zune") and Sony have their own proprietary DRM systems. If Apple were to give in to the demands, it would unleash a tidal wave of digital theft. Jobs observes:
Its [sic] hard to believe that just 3% of the music on the average iPod [that is purhcased from iTunes] is enough to lock users into buying only iPods in the future. And since 97% of the music on the average iPod was not purchased from the iTunes store, iPod users are clearly not locked into the iTunes store to acquire their music.
During his campaign last year, Rafael Correa vowed not to renew the lease on the U.S. air base next year, and it appears that he will indeed follow through on that pledge. The base is located in the coastal city of Manta, and the AWACS planes and other surveillance aircraft take pains to avoid flying over Ecuador as they conduct their anti-narcotics patrols. Correa claims the presence of foreign soldiers is affront to national sovereignty. Well, it's their country, and they don't have to take our money. What about the alternatives? The only really friendly government in the region is in Colombia, and the establishment of a military base in that country would constitute an escalation of the civil war there, exposing Americans to increased kidnapping and terror attacks. The change in Ecuador's foreign policy comes in the context of declining mutual trust between the U.S. government and countries in the Andean region, which is putting existing special trade agreements in grave jeopardy. See CNN.com. When you combine Correa's position on that issue with his harsh criticism of Colombia's coca eradication aerial spraying along the border region, and with his close ties to pro-coca Bolivian president Evo Morales, suspicions grow that his intention is to make life easier for narcotics traffickers.
U.S., Brazil cooperate on ethanol
Today's Washington Post reports that the United States and Brazil are holding talks this week about sharing ethanol production technology, as a first step toward other countries in Latin America reduce their dependence on imported petroleum. The U.S. imports about on fourth of the ethanol it consumes, but those imports are subject to a 54% tariff, which Brazil regards as hypocritical. Brazil is energy poor and was forced by the energy shortages of the 1970s to develop an ethanol program based on distilling sugar cane, which is locally plentiful. About 70% of the cars and trucks in Brazil nowadays can run on various mixtures of gasoline and ethanol. This is a fascinating case of shared national interests, and it further highlights the question of whether future U.S. energy policy will be geared more toward market incentives, via consistent across-the-board taxes, or on subsidies and preferential agreements with other countries.
In Mexico, meanwhile, poor people are protesting more strenuously to the recent hikes in prices for corn, which is largely the result of increased ethanol production over the past year. Mexico and Venezuela are major crude oil exporters, of course, which further accentuates the clash of interests with alternative energy sources. Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru also have substantial oil and gas production. This draws attention to a major geopolitical irony: The countries of MERCOSUR -- Brazil and Argentina, primarily -- have the most in common with U.S. interests in terms of being net energy importers, even though they have come to regard themselves in recent years as a bloc rivaling perceived U.S. hegemony in the hemisphere. Chile is a major energy importer that is mostly friendly to the United States.
Austin Kearns was not a happy camper when the Reds traded him to the Nationals last July, since he had been quite content to play in a city (Cincinnati) that is not far from his home town of Lexington, Kentucky. Consquently, many people expected him to look elsewhere for employment during the off season. Nevertheless, he agreed to a three-year contract extension worth $16.5 million, with a sharply escalating pay scale: $3.5 million in 2007, $5 million in 2008 and $8 million in 2009. Beyond that the Nationals have a one-year option. Kearns said the strong fan support he found in Washington was what led to his change of heart. (Yay team! ) So now there are only two arbitration-eligible Nationals players left: John Patterson and Chad Cordero. See MLB.com. With the recent bargain hunting and short-term contracts sought by the Nats' front office, the deal with Kearns comes as a pleasant surprise. It's nice to be able to look forward to a stable lineup of solid players.
UPDATE: Bruce Orser came across an interesting newspaper story from 2001 about Braves Field and its later incarnation as Nickerson Field at dailyfreepress.com. It contains new details, but the author Dave D'Onofrio doesn't seem to understand the "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain" slogan. It was the Boston fans who prayed for rain!
Recent controversies in Virginia politics (see HERE and HERE) have brought into sharp relief the question of bloggers and their credibility, which varies considerably. Here are the criteria that I go by when assessing new blogs that I come across, in rough order of importance:
Open identity (not anonymous)
Educational background, knowledge of facts
Proper citation of sources (hyperlinks, etc.)
Reasonable tone, proper spelling
Acknowledgement of ideology and biases
Willingness to admit mistakes
Length of time blogging
As for the first criterion, I have always felt that if a person is afraid to put their own name by what they write, their opinions don't count for much. Now, if a highly reputable blogger cites someone who is anonymous, I will pay attention, figuring he or she must know the other blogger's identity. That calls attention to the unsavory nature of the blogosphere as a vast hierarchy of social cliques, each of which whispers insider secrets to each other. I detest such things. Some bloggers have come partly "out of the closet," but are for whatever reason still a little shy. Obviously, I've been completely open about who I am and what I stand for from the very beginning -- which was almost five years ago. Now that's "incredible"!
I attach the highest value to the opinions of Donald Sensing, Andrew Sullivan, Victor Davis Hanson, Daniel Drezner, and Glenn Reynolds, in that order, more or less. All are conservative, and most of them are scholars or experts in military affairs and/or national security. Glenn is so busy linking to so many items every day that he doesn't spend much time expressing his own opinions much anymore. He is less of a fan of Andrew Sullivan than he used to be, feeling (as I did for a while) that Sullivan was overhyping the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo torture issues. Having just finished Sullivan's fine book, The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How To Get It Back, I am more impressed with his intellectual honesty than ever. Stay tuned for a book review...
Thirty eight heads of the national churches belonging to the Anglican Communion finished a conference in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, earlier this week. It has exposed, once again, latent tension over deep-felt social issues. The conference issued a communique demanding that the Episcopal Church U.S.A. accept the orthodox position that homosexual practice is "incompatible with Scripture," setting a deadline of September 30 for American bishops to pledge to stop blessing same-sex couples and consecrating gay bishops. Conservative priest Martyn Minns, of the Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia, was cheered by this action, saying it gave the U.S. church "one last chance." But some liberal American bishops, including Steven Charleston of Cambridge, Massachusetts, said they are ready to accept an outright schism rather than concede on what they view as a basic principle. See Washington Post.
The fact that they cannot accept the fact that many others in their denomination see traditional moral standards as a basic principle is a troubling sign of arrogant, dogmatic self-assuredness, which is the opposite of what a "liberal" minded person is supposed to be. If a schism does take place, there will be little doubt as to which side is primarily to blame. But there are signs that the majority of Episcopalians are realizing that their defiant stance is a dead-end that would leave them cut off from the rest of the world. (Rather like the Bush administration! )
Indeed, this conference also highlighted an interesting "tectonic shift" that is taking place in global church politics: the vibrant Third World churches are gaining influence and becoming more confident in their positions, while the complacent, staid old English and North Americans stagnate. Rev. Kendall Harmon cited an article, "Anglican Winds of change," from R. William Franklin:
So instead of long-predicted schism, the Tanzania meeting helped create a different kind of Anglicanism of the first decade of the twenty-first century. The developing world is coming to the fore as a mature power within the Communion in this decade.
It's the first time since 1996 that the official rules of Major League Baseball have been altered. As of this season, a player who scuffs or defaces the ball will receive a ten-game suspension, but umpires have discretion over applying this to pitchers. There are also new provisions to minimize the possibility of a tie ball game, which are exceedingly rare anyway. In addition, players will not be allowed to step into the dugout to catch foul balls; that change is overdue, I think. What caught my attention was this measure to speed up the pace of play: If there are no runners on base, a pitcher must pitch the ball within 12 seconds. Wow! See ESPN. In the interests of speed, I favor calling every other throw by the pitcher to first base a ball, and every other time a batter steps out of the batter's box a strike.
Belliard signs with Nats
Ron Belliard has agreed to a $750,000 minor league contract with the Washington Nationals, adding depth to their infield. He played second base for the Cardinals last year, but seems to have had some personal problems during the offseason. See ESPN.
Things in Central America are not going so smoothly of late. Yesterday, tens of thousands of protesters representing labor, students, environmentalists, and other groups marched in San Jose, Costa Rica against the Central American Free-Trade Agreement. Costa Rica is the only one of the seven signatory nations that has not yet ratified CAFTA. Believing that the measure would unduly favor wealthy people and the United States, the protesters are demanding that Congress reject the bid by President Oscar Arias for "fast-track" authorization to limit debate. (That is routinely done for trade agreements in the United States.) Most people expect the fast-track measure, and CAFTA, to pass. See CNN.com. It is sad that such a prosperous, well-educated nation as Costa Rica falls prey to populist demagoguery.
Hit job at Guatemalan prison
A gang of gunmen assaulted a prison in Guatemala and killed the four police officers who were accused of assassinating the right-wing politicians from El Salvador last week. It was fairly obvious that they were trying to cover up whoever ordered the original killings, and makes this intriguing case even murkier. A riot broke out at the prison after the killings, and it took 12 hours to restore order. El Salvador President Tony Saca will visit the White House soon to discuss the growing threat of narco-gangs in the region. See BBC and CNN.com.
A local U.S. Marine was killed in Iraq last week: Lance Cpl. Daniel Todd Morris was the victim of an improvised explosive device that detonated while he was on patrol in Anbar Province, on February 14 -- Valentine's Day, of all days. A Marine honor guard carried his flag-draped casket to his home town of Raphine, south of Staunton. See the News Leader. That makes the third heroic member of the armed services from our area who has died serving his country and the cause of freedom. The other two were Jason Redifer and Daniel Bubb. All three were U.S. Marines.
By coincidence, PBS had a compelling documentary on the Marines this evening. It took a detailed look at their intensive training and indoctrination at Parris Island, SC and other facilities. It was very inspiring and shows why, in spite of all the setbacks, there is good reason to hope for success in the campaign to pacify Iraq.
Milblogger Austin Bay argues that the real significance behind the U.S. "surge" offensive is not the additional troops per se, but rather, the way they are being deployed. As is well known, our troops are now quartered throughout Baghdad and other cities in Iraq, rather than safely ensconced in isolated fortress garrisons. The goal is to regain the confidence of the Iraqi security forces, and also to keep a closer eye on them, so that they do not come under the sway of extremist leaders like Moqtada al Sadr. (Some think it's too late for that, but I'll wait and see.) Bay points to "the relentless, focused targeting of Shia and Sunni extremist organizations..." as the key to ultimate success. It comes close to a tacit admission that we really are taking on both sides in what could reasonably be called a civil war. (Arguing whether it really is or not is futile, I think.) I don't know if there is any precedent for that in military history. In 1995 U.S./NATO intervention halted a civil war in Bosnia, but there was a clear favoritism toward the Bosnians; likewise for Kosovo in .
In today's Washington Post (no link), Fareed Zakaria derides the offensive operations by saying they would have been appropriate for the 2003-2005 period, but not today. Sarcasm aside, he does aptly call attention to the fundamental dilemma we face: The harder we crack down on the respective sides, the smaller will be the margin for error as each side suspects we are really favoring the other side. In that situation, our best efforts could simply backfire. Zakaria suggests an alternative "surge," focusing on economic regeneration via pragmatic deal-making. He berates the Bush administration for closing down the old state-run industries in Iraq, leaving farmers with no supplies of fertilizer, and thousands of skilled men without jobs. You would think that better administrative planning would have taken care of the transition to a market-oriented economy. Alas...
After last season there were rumors that Mr. Steinbrenner wasn't very pleased with Manager Joe Torre, and Now it looks like Don Mattingly will replace Torre as manager in another year or two. He has worked with the Yankees in various roles since retiring in 1995, and was recently promoted from hitting coach to bench coach. Jason Giambi expressed enthusiasm for Mattingly, but everyone will have to be very respectful toward Joe Torre, one of the franchises' most successful managers. See MLB.com. Still, one wonders whether Mattingly has enough experience in such a high-profile role...
The bloom may be coming off the rose for Hugo Chavez, as his radical populist economic policies have discouraged private sector output while boosting demand. The result: widespread shortages and price hikes. Chavez has reacted in typical authoritarian fashion by imposing price controls and threatening to jail any grocery store owners who violate. This may be the next big step toward a large-scale nationalization of businesses in Venezuela, which would come as no surprise given his avowed campaign to create a socialist revolution there. Another bad sign: there was a net outflow of foreign direct investment in Venezuela during the first nine months of 2006. See New York Times; via Daniel Drezner.
Bribery charges in Peru's Navy
President Alan Garcia has accused Italian businessman Sergio Siragusa of bribing several admirals in the Peruvian Navy, in connection with the purchase of replacement Otomat anti-aircraft missiles in the mid-1990s. See La Republica (in Spanish). This comes as rumors spread about possible cabinet changes in Peru. During the 1980s Peru built four frigates based on Italian design and using Italian high-tech components. For a while Peru was a regional leader in armaments production, but this came at a heavy economic cost, and the effort was drastically scaled back under President Fujimori in the 1990s.
There is a serious possibility that former Gov. Mark Warner may challenge Sen. John Warner in next year's election, which would be the second race between the two Warners. In 1996, the wealthy, charismatic businessman came within a few percentage points of unseating the incumbent, in spite of his complete lack of prior political experience. This set the stage for the Democrat's successful gubernatorial campaign in 2001. Since leaving office, Gov. Mark Warner briefly explored the possibility of running for president, and has set up a political action committee, "Forward Together," with Monica Dixon serving as its executive director. There are rumors that Sen. John Warner has suggested to Rep. Tom Davis that he should prepare to run for Warner's seat in case he decides not to run again. See Washington Post.
Meanwhile, many conservative Republicans in the Old Dominion are grumbling at Sen. Warner because of his criticism of the Bush administraiton's "surge" policy in Iraq, even though he is widely regarded as one of the most knowledgeable senators in terms of defense policy. They should pay higher regard to his national security credentials and consider the possibility that his criticisms are well founded. If a conservative emerges to challenge Warner in the Republican primaries next year, it would further weaken the party and almost guarantee that a popular moderate such as Mark Warner would win the seat. Wouldn't that be something if both of Virginia's senate seats switched parties within the span of two years?
Wall Street laid a pretty big egg today (though not as big as in 1987 or 1929), losing 416 points; see Washington Post. Apparently the sell-off was triggered by a financial panic in China. James Waterton had a pessismistic assessment of China's economic prospects about a year ago, and his fears may be coming to pass. Hat tip to Instapundit. I've had a very hard time trying to explain to students that China has a burgeoning capitalist economy that is, nevertheless, subject to a Communist dictatorship. It is a fatal contradiction, and we may pay the price one of these days. Or perhaps the Chinese leaders will see the light as Gorbachev did, and there will be miraculous transition toward a more open political system as happened in the old Soviet Bloc after 1989.
Washington Nationals closing pitcher Chad Cordero won his arbitration case yesterday, so he will get $4.15 million, rather than the $3.65 million he was offered by the team. See MLB.com. That's a mighty big raise over what he was getting last year: $525,000. Cordero is definitely a superb pitcher, but I don't think he's that much better than John Patterson, who will be making just $850,000 this year. Too bad arbitration cases don't split the difference more often...
No more wool caps
MLB announced that this year, baseball caps will be made out of synthetic material, rather than the traditional wool. See Yahoo.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser. I've always been a big fan of wool, but until I bought my regulation wool Nationals cap, I never understood why wool was used in baseball caps. It definitely has a comfortable, solid feel to it.
RSS baseball feed
As of today, the RSS feed for my baseball blog is operational, though it is still a "beta" version that may need to be tweaked. The date is supposed to be for the last update, but there seems to be some inconsistency in that. Also, as you probably noticed, the format for all my blog pages has been revamped; for more, see HERE.
Somehow or other, I came across an interesting article at the secular Web site infidels.org last week, "Contextual Problems with the Gospel of John," by James Still, and it stirred me to do some extra Bible reading. I was quite aware that the Gospel of John (one of the Twelve Apostles also known as Saint John the Divine) differs in several respects from the three earlier "synoptic" Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and that it was written a generation later (circa 95 A.D., compared to A.D. 60-70). Still notes that John left out the parables that were a central means by which Jesus instructed his disciples on how they were to do the will of God. Whereas Jesus in the synoptic Gospels was reticent about his divine nature, in John, He declares quite forthrightly on many occasions that he was the Bread of Life, the Vine, the Light, etc.
I did not realize that there are other glaring omissions in John, as well as unique extra material, giving an entirely different perspective on the life of The Messiah. For example, in John there is no mention of the Last Supper, which was the last occasion on which Jesus taught his disciples, and upon which the Holy Eucharist (sanctifying the bread as Christ's body, and wine as Christ's blood) is based. Another rather odd difference is that John, who emphasizes supernatural miracles, does not mention the Ascension. (Actually, Matthew does not, either.) Still writes that John wrote from a distinctly Greek perspective, whereas the synoptic Gospels were more closely tied to the Judaic tradition. Thus, he argues, the Jesus as portrayed by John verged on a pagan "cult of Dionysus" -- the Greek god of fertility and wine.
So, what are we to make of the differences between John and the other three Gospel authors? I think Still's conclusions exaggerate and distort the differences, as many enthusiastic young scholars are prone to do. It will probably be a long time before I am able to address that question with a real degree of confidence.
In my readings, I have benefitted from a Spanish language version of the Bible given to Jacqueline by her friend Rosa Maria a number of years ago. It includes a very useful index of the Gospels, cataloguing which of the four books mention various events in Jesus's life. It also explains the slight difference between the Catholics and the Protestants with regard to which Old Testament books are included, and in which order. It has to do with the division in Judaism during the First Century A.D., with some Jews assimilating into Greco-Roman culture, and others holding steadfast to their Hebrew linguistic and religious roots.
John was also the author of the Book of Revelations, which is the subject of a series of sermons by Pastor John Hagee, whom I happened to watch this morning, just for a change of pace. Perhaps mainline Protestant denominations could use a little more "fire and brimstone" in their worship services.
The investigation into a prison massacre that took place over 20 years ago is turning into a major test case for an independent judiciary in Peru, and Latin America more generally. President Alan Garcia, who was also serving as president when the massacre took place in July 1986, was obliged to answer questions. In his testimony he denied having "any knowledge of the operation at the time." Well over 100 prisoners were killed at El Fronton prison, on an island near Lima. See BBC and CNN.com. (A similar number died at about the same time at Lurigancho prison, but neither article mentioned this.) The consensus among scholars that I researched was that Garcia at least tacitly approved of the Army / police counterattack that resulted in the deaths of at least 250 prisoners. He also hinted at the time that the security forces were to blame for the shockingly high death toll. This crippled civil-military relations at the worst possible moment, when Peru was under assault by the "Shining Path" terrorist movement. That prison riot illustrated how much control the terrorists had over the prisons in Peru; because of tight government budgets, there simply weren't enough guards to impose discipline within the prison walls. It may well be that the security forces used indiscriminate force during the retaking of the prisons, but given the fanatical determination of the terrorist prisoners, it is doubtful that order could have been restored without major bloodshed. As for the current situation, it seems unlikely that prosecutors would file formal charges against a sitting president, but this case may end up weakening Garcia's political authority.
Ecuador Congress bows to Correa
The Congress of Ecuador approved a measure to hold a national referendum on whether to convene a national assembly to enact major reforms, and possibly rewrite the constitution. That constitutes a major victory for President Rafael Correa, who continues to blame the established political parties for the country's problems. Of the 100 legislators, 57 voted in favor, but nearly all the rest walked out in protest. Details on the scheduling and funding remain unsettled, however, so the referendum may not take place for several more months, if then. See BBC. Correa is clearly heading along the same route taken by Venezuela and Bolivia, where demagogic populism has caused a deep rift in society, discouraging private investment. Giving up on established constitutional norms in such a manner shows how weak democracy has become in Latin America.
The country with perhaps the strongest democratic tradition in Latin America, Costa Rica, has recently been involved in a growing rhetorical battle with the newest dictatorship in the region, Venezuela. President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has on several occasions criticized Hugo Chavez for stifling freedoms, to which the government of Venezuela has reacted harshly. This week, Venezuela announced it was closing an aluminum plant that it owns in Costa Rica. A spokesman for President Arias said that this action was made for "political reasons." See CNN.com. Arias deserves huge credit for being one of the only leaders in the region to stand up to the bullying and intimidation of the thug from Caracas.
This morning was the mildest we've had in over a week, so I went for a quick walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. There was a fair amount of bird activity, mostly Chickadees and White-throated sparrows, but a few interesting birds popped into view as well, including the first Fox sparrow I have seen this winter. Today's highlights:
Fox sparrow (FOS)
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Clair Mellinger, a bird expert from Rockingham County, reported to the ShenVal birds e-mail list that a friend found a male
Black-throated Blue Warbler on the ground, just barely alive. He contacted the Wildlife Center of Virginia, but it died before they could take it there. It was the first time this species had ever been sighted in this area during the winter months.
One of the remarkable things about Nature is how awesome beauty and extreme danger often go hand in hand: waterfalls, volcanoes, heavy surf, and icebergs, to name just a few. Last night Virginia and much of the Mid-Atlantic region suffered a major ice storm, and several thousand people in the Augusta County area were left without electric power or heat. The views this morning of all the ice-covered trees was truly spectacular, however, especially when the sun came out.
On my way in to help with the local Red Cross chapter this morning, I snapped a photo of these ice-covered tree twigs.
The inconvenience occasioned by the harsh weather may have interrupted many people's plans for a romantic Valentine's Day dinner. Can we reschedule?
Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is expected to step aside within the next few months, announced the beginning of a gradual phase-down in the size of the British military force in southern Iraq. A battalion of about 1,600 will return to England in March, and more will leave by the end of the year. Blair explained that the security situation in Basra is good enough to warrant the drawdown, but it runs counter to the Bush administration's new offensive push. Other countries are pulling their forces out of Iraq as well, and before long, American forces will have only the local Iraqi forces to join with them in fighting the insurgents. See Washington Post.
Meanwhile, the British are planning to increase the size of their force in Afghanistan (currently 5,600) by about 1,000 men, almost as many as are being withdrawn from Iraq. Interestingly, the "surge" in Afghanistan still enjoys broad support in Britain, even as the Iraq war is becoming more unpopular. Politicians in Britain are complaining that NATO allies are shirking their responsibilities in Afghanistan, and the Queen's army has become badly overstretched. The total NATO force in Afghanistan is about 35,000, about one-third of whom are American. See BBC.
Twelve more Washington Nationals players have signed contracts, including Jon Rauch, Saul Rivera, and Ryan Church. That leaves the two arbitration-eligible players, John Patterson and Chad Cordero, as well as two key junior players, Ryan Zimmerman and Nook Logan. Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training in Viera, Florida next Tuesday, and position players the week after that. See Washington Post. As cold as the weather has been across most of the country for the past couple weeks, it's hard to believe that spring really is "just around the corner."
Chris Needham analyzes the future salary trajectory Zimmerman is likely to get, assuming he is the team's Big Star attraction for the foreseeable future. He's obviously worth a lot more than players who make four or five times what he will make in the next couple years until he gains tenure and negotiating freedom. Let's just hope he has enough team spirit to put up with getting underpaid for the time being.
Vinny Castilla retires as a hero
The Mexican team from Hermosillo beat Venezuela's Aragua Tigers 4-3 in the Caribbean Series being held in Puerto Rico, and good old Vinny Castilla scored the winning run. The Mexicans ended up with a 1-5 record, and Venezuela finished the round-robin tournament at 2-4, so neither team will advance to the next round. See MLB.com. It was too bad Vinny didn't get better treatment at the end of his career, although the Rockies did hire him for the last few months of 2006. Now he gets to retire as a hero playing for his home country. Too bad his home town of Oaxaca became such a disaster zone last year.
Lew Burdette dies
Lew Burdette, who pitched for [most of his career with] the Milwaukee Braves, passed away of lung cancer at the age of 80. He won three games in the 1957 World Series, shutting out the Yankees in the final game in the Bronx, and was named MVP. See Washington Post.
Having been W3C validated (), the RSS / XML feed for all categories is now operational. This is now officially a "grown-up" blog. I have added a baseball-only RSS / XML feed (beta version) as well, and once that is validated, I will add feeds for some of the other categories as well. There is some inconsistency in the way dates are handled, so I'll have to keep my eye on that for a while.
Also, I have finished reformatting all of the blog pages, as the first step toward a comprehensive reformatting of all pages on this Web site. The pages are now designed to be viewed on a monitor with 1024 x 768 pixel resolution, but certain accommodations have been made for the sake of those with 800 x 600 monitors. In particular, there is now a standard three-column layout in the main body, with various links (on-site and off-site) pertinent to the category in the left-hand column, and various kinds of handy information in the right hand column, with the blog text in the middle. The right hand column extends beyond the range of an older 800 x 600 monitor. As my brother Dan, a professional Web site designer says, it's "the horizontal scroll bar of doom!" Well, you have to make compromises. Netscape Navigator 4.x is no longer supported by this Web site; from what I've read, less than one percent of Web surfers still use that browser software. If you are among that one percent, and don't want to be "left behind," please let me know, and I'll see what I can do.
One convenient new feature is the scrolling navigation menu below the home plate icon on each blog page. That way you can skip from Baseball to Politics to Latin America, or whatever, without having to go through the main blog page. As I've said before, I do appreciate it when baseball fans and other visitors bring glitches or errors to my attention. Contact me!
Conservative pundit Robert Novak is back to bashing the Republican establishment for being "in denial" about the reasons for their recent losses. He cites the frustrating experience of GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who has been disinvited to party conferences after upsetting some of the leaders with his frank talk. According to Novak,
Luntz sees a disconnect between Republicans and voters that projects a grim future for the party. That contradicts what House and Senate Republicans are saying to each other in closed party conferences. While Luntz views 2006 election defeats as ominous portents, the party's congressional leaders see only transitory setbacks and now dwell on bashing Democrats.
Like those of Cassandra of ancient Troy, Luntz's prophecies of impending disaster have been both accurate and disregarded. Republicans have never been very comfortable hearing critics in closed conferences. He is not invited to such meetings today. "They do not want to hear the truth," Luntz told me. While truth-telling is celebrated by Republican reformers such as presidential front-runner John McCain, it is a decidedly minority view in the GOP.
That seems to be the case here in Virginia as well. Novak cites other GOP advisers and concludes, "The question is whether the party will heed warnings or follow the route of its leaders, who mainly want to trash Nancy Pelosi." (A lot of good that will do.) For the record, I have expressed strong misgivings about the Republican Party's direction on more than one occasion. For what it's worth -- which ain't much, given the epidemic of deafness suffered by GOP leaders -- here is a compilation of my in-depth criticisms of the party since the 2004 elections:
To which the typical party functionary would probably reply, "why don't you just quit?" Well, because I would like to help stave off socialism, terrorism, and mass depravity.
Biden: hat in ring, foot in mouth
Sen. Joe Biden got off on the wrong foot in the race to the White House, making an awkward comment about Sen. Barack Obama's good looks and charm. Jesse Jackson and other black leaders quickly expressed resentment. See the Washington Post. The uproar may be a sign that any criticism of Obama may backfire, as his Democratic rivals fear alienating people of color. I am of two minds on Biden. Sometimes he makes very eloquent, thoughtful statements on foreign policy, and sometimes he will say the most fatuous, absurd things you can imagine. From one day to the next, it's a coin toss.
Molly Ivins has died
Texas-based liberal columnist Molly Ivins has died of cancer at the age of 62. The Washington Post has an obituary. She was one of those rambunctious, high-spirited commentators whom some people loved and others hated -- much like Rush Limbaugh. I hardly ever agreed with what she wrote, but one must acknowledge, at least, that she was being sincere and true to her populist principles.
Sometimes I wonder how a president who is so keenly focused on national security could have such a nonchalant attitude about the massive, flagrant border crossings from Mexico. Most likely, he figures there is a tradeoff between security and prosperity, based on the assumption that our economy needs an endless supply of cheap labor. But perhaps he is also influenced by his inner circle of advisers and their social attitudes. On Tuesday, Karl Rove was speaking at a Republican women's luncheon and used a personal example to justify President Bush's misguided push for a "guest worker" program:
I don't want my 17-year-old son to have to pick tomatoes or make beds in Las Vegas.
Oh, ho! Once again, a simple offhand remark reveals the true attitudes of a public figure. See abcnews.com, via thinkprogress.org, via Andrew Sullivan, who reacted initially by saying, "It's a very big story if true - because it higlights the deep faultline in the GOP on immigration." Yep. Sadly, many Americans are too obtuse to even realize there is something wrong with Rove's statement. It's probably the same folks who see no reason to have to make sacrifices for the war effort. I bet Rove doesn't want his son to serve in Iraq, either.
I should state that one of my basic beliefs about society is that "People who in any way deprecate the value of an honest day's work, however humble the job may be, whether in or out of the home, are reprehensible scum bags." (See my Introduction page.) As for Bush's proposed guest worker program, anyone who thinks there aren't enough illegal aliens in this country to do agricultural and menial jobs already are just plain nuts.
By the way, Sullivan's blog has just been transfered from Time magazine to The Atlantic Monthly, which has long been my favorite literary opinion magazine. James Fallows rocks!
While the beleaguered but high-spirited folks in New Orleans whoop it up in Mardi Gras, Latin Americans are celebrating Carnaval. Carnaval constitutes a large portion of Brazil's annual economic activity, with huge colorful parades, loud music, gaudy costumes, and all-night parties, in preparation for Lent. These days, however, the observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent pales in comparison to Carnaval, so one might say that the pagans are prevailing over the Christians, at least in that part of the world. In Rio de Janeiro, which is the cultural heart of Brazil, the Carnaval celebrations go on for days. The grand prize for this year's parade contest was won by the samba group Beija Flor (literally "flower-kisser"), which is the Portuguese word for "hummingbird." Not everyone in Brazil goes along with all of the hedonism, however: "Outside the Sambadromo stadium, members of Youth With a Mission played Christian rock music and told passers-by that Carnival is the "'fruit of sin.'" Right on! It's another sign that evangelical movement is gaining strength in Latin America, getting people to become more serious and reflective about their professed Christian faith. See CNN.com, or for a first-hand report from Rio, O Globo.
The festive exuberance is offset by the steady rise in violence and banditry in various Brazilian cities.
Militias and Colombian politicos
The Washington Post has uncovered more signs that right-wing politicians in Colombia are collaborating with the AUC militia forces, which are known to be involved in drug trafficking. This puts the Bush administration in a very difficult position, because President Uribe is one of the only friendly leaders in that region, and if his party is tainted by drug corruption and even murder, it would be a huge blow to the war on narcotics in that region.
Assassination in Guatemala
Three politicians from El Salvador were assassinated yesterday, along with their driver; their bullet-ridden, burnt car was found by police outside Guatemala City. They were serving as deputies to the Central American Parliament, a largely symbolic body. They belonged to the conservative ARENA party, which currently holds a majority and were deputies to the Central American Parliament. Among the victims was the son of a controversial former president, Roberto D'Aubuisson. See BBC.
The Pentagon announced that the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which is based in Italy, will be sent to Afghanistan, rather than Iraq as originally planned. This is aimed at heading off an expected spring offensive by Taliban forces, who claim they have 10,000 fighters ready to launch assaults. The Taliban has been wreaking more and more trouble for the past year, making local alliances with poppy farmers and opium traffickers. Whether this insurgency might blossom into a coordinated campaign capable of threatening the Afghani government remains to be seen. Several other U.S. units from Iraq will be redeployed there as well, raising our force level to about 30,000 men and women. That is stretching American conventional military capacity to its limits, while we face simultaneous threats from Iran and -- until this week at least -- North Korea. As explained by Strategy Page, a big part of the problem in Afghanistan is the tacit acquiesence by Pakistan with respect to the refugee camps on its side of the border, from which the Taliban draws most of its strength. Prime Minister Musharraf continues an ambiguous policy toward the Islamic extremists, and the U.S. government doesn't seem to expect much more of him, given the political circumstances in which he finds himself.
Canadian soldiers have been doing much more than their share of the fighting in Afghanistan, while some other NATO members put in little more than a token effort. Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned yesterday that the months ahead would not be easy, but declared that Canada's forces are up to the challenge, in spite of shortages of materiel resulting from past budget cuts. He still faces pressure from the Liberal Party to scale back Canada's involvement in Afghanistan. See the Toronto Globe and Mail. Americans should thank their lucky stars that they have such good, reliable allies in Canada, Australia, and of course Great Britain.
Donald Sensing has been positively obsessed in recent weeks about the latest "surge" (!) of alarm with regard to global warming. On Friday he challenged the widespread notion that there exists a solid consensus among scientists about this trend and its main causes. He distinguishes between scientific fact and scientific consensus, something that few laymen grasp. The point being that just because there is a broad consensus that temperatures have been rising in recent decades (a factual matter) does not mean there is a similarly broad consensus as to whether this trend will continue, or why it is happening. He quickly gets to the heart of the matter:
But a collection of facts do not comprise scientific knowledge any more than a pile of feathers makes a duck. Facts, though crucial, are intermediary. Facts must be interpreted. Scientists relate facts to formulate theory. The major usefulness of theories is to make predictions and inferences about nature, what it is and how it works and how it will work.
Music to my ears! I was especially pleased that he made such a big point about the widespread expression "Just a theory," which he states "is an accusation that actually makes no sense." I spent a great deal of effort explaining the difference between facts and theory in connection with evolution in January 2005. I heartily recommend reading all of Rev. Sensing's eloquent and thoughtful post.
Random tech tidbits
I'm old enough to remember the Apollo moon landings, and am proud to have insisted that my younger brother John, who was of kindergarten age, watch the moon walk in living black and white. He didn't fully grasp the significance of it at the time, but eventually he was grateful that I provided him with a "first historic event in my memory." Anyone can enjoy these lunar surface panoramas. Hat tip to Shaun Kenney.
Tanner Godarzi recently suffered the heartbreak of an iMac that recently "passed away." See his fond remembrances, and thoughts about how the iMac saved Apple from probable bankruptcy, at applematters.com. Non-Mac users could never understand...
I have added a new Archives Search function on the Central archives page. It was in "beta version" stage for the past few weeks, and I'm pretty sure the bugs in it have been taken care of. Because of the heavy amount of server processing that is involved, it is only available to those who have registered for this Web site. Don't be shy, sign up today! It's free and your information will be secure.
The tornados that devastated a large portion of central Florida on Thursday night killed all but one of the 18 Whooping cranes that were being cared for at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. The cranes were taught to migrate with an ultralight airplane, as part of a project to create a second flock, in hopes of increasing the reproduction rate. The interaction of harsh Nature and human best intentions often leads to tragic results, and this case was a vivid example. The main flock of Whooping cranes spends the winter along the Gulf Coast of Texas. They were almost extinct by the 1940s, and even after decades of efforts to help them become reestablished, fewer than 300 are known to exist. See Yahoo News. Sandhill cranes, in contrast, are still quite plentiful.
Nuthatches love suet
When the temperatures fall into the single-digit range, it is especially important to make sure that wild birds have enough food to keep them warm at night. Yesterday I refilled the suet feeder in hopes that it would attract some of those tree-clinging birds during this brutal cold snap, and sure enough, two White-breasted nuthatches showed up today. For some reason, very few woodpeckers, nuthatches, or finches (Gold, House, or Purple) have showed up in our back yard for the past month or so.
WEATHER UPDATE: As of 11:30 PM, it's been snowing steadily for over two hours...
Bolivia has suffered terrible flooding in the past few weeks, and over 40 people have died and many thousands are homeless. According to the International Red Cross, over 350,000 people have been affected, and diseases such as malaria are spreading rapidly. "President Evo Morales blames the floods on developed states failing to tackle climate change. Meteorologists say the El Niño phenomenon is the root cause." See BBC. The absurdity of linking such tragedies to the failure of the United States to sign the Kyoto Protocol is self-evident.
In today's Washington Post, Barry Svrluga surveys some of the leading Washington Nationals blogs, including Chris Needham's Capitol Punishment, which is linked on this Web site. The point of the article is that Stan Kasten and others in Nationals front office are starting to pay attention to the baseball blogosphere, since they are increasingly concerned about public relations. Well, that's a good sign. Several of the blogs mentioned in that article are totally new to me. I was not surprised that he omitted this blog (whose scope is far too broad to be considered a Nationals blog per se), but I was surprised that he omitted Farid Rushdi's The Beltway Boys, given the fact that it was cited in the Post sports section a week or two ago. Farid posed some "interview" questions to me recently, and I owe him a response. Clearly, he is scrounging for material in the off-season!
I am glad to reciprocate with other sites that ask me to add their links, as long as they are relevant to this site's content, and are reputable. Commercial advertising inquiries take more time for me to sort out.
"Does John Edwards Condone Hate Speech?" That's what ABC's Terry Moran (link via Instapundit) is inclined to believe, since Edwards hired Amanda Marcotte to be his new blogmaster last week. After I looked at the examples Moran cited of her extremely crass writings (at Pandagon), there is no doubt in my mind. She is indeed one of the many bloggers on the Left who have a bad case of "potty mouth." (True, there are even some on the Right.) Edwards has such a squeaky-clean, nice-guy image that I expect he will act soon to make sure that his campaign does not get dragged into the mud of negative campaigning -- at least not in the early stages.
Oscar Meyer Weiner
I caught a glimpse of Democratic silliness on C-SPAN this evening. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) was speaking on the House floor and made an arch reference to the "Republic" Party. Ho, ho, ho. Then he went on to boast that under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats will stop global warming, or something like that. It reminded me of when candidate John Edwards claimed that if John Kerry and the Democrats won the 2004 election, people like Christopher Reeve would walk again.
The DemocratIC Party
Weiner's jab was no doubt payback for President Bush's use of the mildly derogatory phrase "Democrat Party" during the State of the Union address, for which he later apologized, professing bewilderment at why offense was taken. So, I checked my blog archives and counted five instances of "Democrat Party" in 2005 and seven instances in 2006, the last time being in August -- on an occasion when a derisive tone was quite appropriate. An especially notorious event that month convinced me that it was time to distance myself from name-calling and bad political manners once and for all. I found no instances of "Democrat Party" prior to 2005.
Saturday's Washington Post included another chapter in the never-ending saga of the warring factions of the Republican Party in Virginia. The "moderates" in the Senate and the "conservatives" in the House of Delegates are still having a hard time narrowing their differences over transportation funding and other issues. (I use quotation marks because I'm becoming skeptical that those labels are really accurate of what each side represents.) The Senate voted down the measures related to illegal immigration, one of which I supported [link corrected]. The article focused on two key protagonists, the flamboyant Sen. Russ Potts of Winchester, a moderate's moderate, and House of Delegates Majority Leader Morgan Griffith. Actually, I tend to agree with Potts about not wearing one's faith on their sleeve, echoing the thoughts of former U.S. Senator John Danforth (see October 12), but when it comes to tough issues such as the budget or immigration, Potts just doesn't get it. Stubborn-headed legislators like him make it very difficult to reach a compromise solution that serves the broad interests of Old Dominion residents.
Sayre challenges Sen. Hanger
These divisions are becoming manifest right here in the Shenandoah Valley, as a challenger to incumbent state Senator Emmett Hanger has emerged: Scott Sayre, a businessman from Buena Vista. He announced his candidacy at several public appearances yesterday, as reported in the News Leader. On Tuesday evening he spoke at length to the Staunton Republican Committee about his family background, his service in the Army, and his career as a private business owner. He emphasized his strong opposition to taxes and illegal immigration, and then faced questioning from the local party members who wanted to know his positions on other issues. See his Web site: www.sayreforsenate.com.
Some have complained that Sen. Hanger is "out of touch" with his constituents, based primarily on his vote to increase the state income tax in June 2004. This was part of a last-minute compromise that prevented the state government from shutting down. Even though that tax hike proved to be much greater than what was truly needed (we now have a surplus), I grudgingly accepted it at the time, figuring that the alternative was the state getting a bad financial reputation. In relative terms, however, Virginian taxpayers are still not doing that badly. From the state government's Web site "Virginia Performs":
According to the Tax Foundation, in 2006 Virginia had the 10th lowest state and local tax burden in the country at 9.5 percent of income.
Translation: If you think Virginia's taxes are too high, you should move to Maryland or Massachusetts. As for the criticism of Hanger as being "out of touch," what many people fail to recognize is that senators are generally expected to exercise greater judgment as to what serves the common good, whereas members of the lower house are supposed to reflect the sentiments of their constituents in a more direct way. The distinction in roles is not always crystal clear, but that is one of the fundamental reasons for having a bifurcated legislative branch -- as a check on sudden popular impulses.
For the record, I should state that I know Sen. Hanger personally, and he is a very friendly, decent, competent man. I may not agree with him all the time, but I do admire his thoughtful, independent-minded approach to grappling with complex policy issues. At a time when the Republican Party is being torn apart by single-minded tax-cut advocates on one hand, versus a few unprincipled "moderates" who pander to the mainstream media on the other hand, Sen. Hanger is a clear voice of reason who can get the two sides to work toward a common goal. He embodies the old-fashioned ideal of a Virginia Gentleman.
Ever-vigilant Baron Bodissey had another scoop this week on the Muslims of America (a.k.a. Jamaat ul-Fuqra) compound near the town of Red House, Virginia. Some time ago they put up a sign on the road leading to their compound, calling it "Sheikh Gilani Lane," in honor of a man who is, according to the Justice Department, a terrorist. In spite of requests by the Christian Action Network since last November, and Congressman Virgil Goode more recently, the Charlotte County board of supervisors declined to take any remedial action. It seems that the local residents are afraid of the Muslims (African-Americans) and don't want to stir up trouble.
As an expression of support for the folks in Charlotte County, the 910 Group (of which The Baron is a leader) plans a protest in Charlotte County Courthouse on February 20th, which is this Tuesday; link via Cat House Chat. It's too far from the Shenandoah Valley, but I do hope there is a good turnout of folks from central and southwestern Virginia.
This incident may explain why Rep. Virgil Goode used such heated, alarmist words in his latest tirade about Muslim immigrants, during his speech on the House floor opposing the anti-surge resolution. Personally, I don't think such "over-the-top" rhetoric will help convince neutral skeptics of the reality of the Islamo-fascist threat, and it may even backfire. The problem is that the threat is very subtle and gradual by nature, taking years and even decades to become manifest; it's just not conducive to dire warnings of imminent danger. But go ahead and listen to Goode's brief speech, as long as you're not prejudiced against folks with a southern accent. Hat tip to Not Larry Sabato for the YouTube video link. Of course, it's easy to scoff if you're not on the front lines.
Hillary 2008 video
Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, this will brighten your day: Hillary 2008 video. Hat tip to Patrick Carne and Stacey Morris.
As part of his campaign to publicize his proposed increased budget for national parks, President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush visited the Shenandoah National Park today. He held a discussion with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and leaders of various concerned citizen groups, and then spoke to reporters at the Big Meadows visitors center. (Even if the weather had been nicer, the event would still have been closed to the public, which is unfortunate. I would have loved to have gone.) Bush proposed an increase of nearly 10% in this years national park budget, even as other civilian programs are being cut back. In preparation for the National Park Service's 100th birthday in 2016, he wants to mobilize a joint public-private funding effort to provide enough resources for the parks, which have been on a very tight budget since the 1980s. Mrs. Bush called attention to how rewarding bird watching and hiking are. See Associated Press. Bush is to be commended for undertaking this initiative, and his wife is to be commended for encouraging him. User fees at national parks and forests have risen sharply over the past decade, which is fine with me, because I think it is worth it, but the parks have been deteriorating and need more public money. They are a national treasure for the good of all Americans -- and other creatures of God.
Virginia blog wars
Ward Smythe has reconsidered his opinion of C-ville blogger Waldo Jaquith [link fixed] based on recent events. Like me, he felt that Waldo was justified in de-listing a certain blogger from the Staunton-Augusta area. I stand by that judgment (see Jan. 5), though I must say I am less impressed with Waldo the more I read his blog. I think fame went to his head, and he forgot that high standards apply to him, too. In any case, it's not about him, it's about the state of blogging in the Old Dominion. Whatever happened to the "Virginia Gentleman" tradition? (I'm not talking about whiskey.) Bloggers on all sides of the political spectrum need to get a grip, put an end to all these nasty innuendos and rumors, and present their opinions in a frank and honest manner, without hiding behind some pseudonym. (Hat tip to Chris Green. Oops: I named a name! )
Only on rare occasions does the House of Representatives conduct important business in full session. Trying to get something done with 435 squabbling members would be hopeless, which is why nearly all the work is done in committee hearings. Every once in a while, they do hold wide-open debates, and nearly all members weighed in on The Surge. This afternoon the House voted 246-182 in favor of a resolution declaring opposition to President Bush's planned deployment of 21,500 more soldiers to Iraq. House Minority Leader John Boehner warned that this would be heading down a path that would "endanger Americans for decades to come." See Washington Post.
To me, the "nonbinding" vote was a vain exercise in finger-pointing, lacking any real consequences. Obviously, there will be psychological consequences, including harm to the morale of our armed forces. If members of Congress truly believe that the war in Iraq is not worth fighting, they should stop pretending to "support the troops" and vote to cut off funding [for the war. Such a drastic measure and would no doubt cost them many votes, which is why hardly any Democrats are willing to go that far, but any expression of anti-war sentiment short of that is a waste of time.]
I was up very late last night [watching C-SPAN], and happened to catch a sharp exchange on the House floor between Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN). Wasserman Schultz complained about Republicans in the House who have, she said, questioned the patriotism of Democrats. In response, Buyer challenged her to name one, but she could not do so, saying that it was "implicit." What a ridiculous statement for a person in her high position to make. Rep. Buyer came across as reasonable and justly indignant; Wasserman Schultz came across as sarcastic and insincere. Score one for the GOP!
White flag Republicans
A new collaborative blog has been created by military expert Austin Bay, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, and others: Victory Caucus, and they are up in arms about the 17 "White flag Republicans" in the House who voted with the Democrats. I am disappointed that Northern Virginia's Rep. Tom Davis was among those who voted for the resolution, but I would not go so far as to say that he and the others "decided today to end their political careers."
More generally, it is unseemly in my opinion to cast aspersions on members of one's own party without very strong justification. That being said, we may have to admonish those members of the Grand Old Party who stridently proclaim their devotion to "victory" without endorsing means to achieve such a victory. That is almost as bad as those weasels in Congress who say they "support the troops" but want to cut off their funding. The worst thing of all is to consciously employ pro-war campaigns as a "wedge issue" tactic, either against Democrats or moderate Republicans; this country needs to stand as united as possible, and political polarization will only make us weaker. In my opinion, that comes close to the definition of treason.
the truth is that the Democrats didn't get anything like the number of Republican supporters they were hoping for just a few days ago. I think the public will recognize that the real meaning of the resolution is that the Democrats, as a party, have committed themselves to a policy of failure and surrender. Time will tell whether that commitment will turn out to be a wise one.
Howard blasts Obama
Australian P.M. John Howard didn't mince any words in criticizing Barack Obama's call for a prompt U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Of course, he has the advantage of not living in the United States, where the Prime Directive is deference to minorities. See the Sidney Morning Herald [link fixed]; (via Belmont Club).
I was encouraged last week by news that the two houses of the Virginia General Assembly have narrowed their differences on transportation funding. As they say, though, "the devil is in the details," and there is one provision in the bill approved by the House of Delegates that really bothers me: It relies upon "$250 million from the state's general fund to pay for road maintenance." House Speaker William J. Howell and Del. Morgan Griffin strongly objected to the Senate's modifications to the funding compromise that would impose registration fees and taxes to make up the difference. See Washington Post. I strongly believe that the transportion infrastructure should be self-funding, not relying upon general revenues, so on this particular issue I am siding with the Senate. Taking money from the general fund may be expedient politically, but it will inevitably rob important programs of their resources. One example is in the area of conservation, and today's News Leader points to Gov. Kaine's $20 million land conservation initiative as a primary victim of budget politics. I think his preschool day care program was totally unwarranted, but I think conserving Virginia's beautiful landscape is a worthy goal. I hope the Republicans can meet him half way on that issue. The Senate's proposed registration fee or a few cents more tax per gallon of gasoline would be a small price to pay for keeping Virginia's fiscal house in order, and its roads in decent condition.
In an unusual Saturday session for the Senate, the anti-surge resolution came four votes short of the necessary 60 votes to avoid cloture, and therefore failed. The Washington Post listed the seven Republican senators who voted with the Democrats:
In addition, nine Republicans did not vote, including John McCain, which is surprising given his ardent (?) pro-surge stand. Some conservatives are angry at the seven GOP moderates, most of whom were part of the "Gang of 14" who brokered a compromise to avoid the "nuclear option" in May 2005. One should bear in mind, however, that the vote was only about the procedural question of whether to allow the debate to proceed. It was not a vote against the President's "surge" policy per se.
The Senate vote was not the end of the story, however. Rep. John Murtha made crystal clear his intention not just to expression opposition to Bush, but to undermine the U.S. military mission in Iraq. He said the House's resolution was not that important, and that the "real vote" would come when the Defense appropriations bill comes up for consideration. He really thinks he is going to force Bush's hand by cutting off funds for the additional troops, causing a slow "bleed" of resources. If he goes ahead with that, it may precipitate a constitutional crisis of similar scale to the Iran-Contra controversy or Watergate. In today's Post, Robert Novak rakes Murtha over the coals as a mediocre has-been whose main claim to fame is procuring "pork barrel" benefits for the folks back home, but now thinks he can grab some nation-wide glory before retiring. Novak reminds us that "Murtha was an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1980 Abscam investigation." Interestingly, the Post's editors had a similarly critical view of Murtha's position, which would not only undermine national security but put the Democratic leadership in a very bad light at a critical moment in the war.
McCain faces challenge
Sen. John McCain faces some vocal critics [in his own party back in Arizona; they "seem determined to derail his White House chances," but the validity of the presidential "straw poll" organized by local Republicans has been disputed.] See the The Arizona Republic; hat tip to Uncle Bill.
After six months of evaluating applicants, the Staunton City Council has chosen Stephen Owen to be the next city manager, effective March 12. Owen has been serving as town manager of Herndon since 2003, and now looks forward to serving in this "beautiful community," as he called Staunton. See newsleader.com. This sentence caught my attention, however:
As town manager, Owen recently guided Herndon through a controversial project that granted a conditional use permit for a taxpayer-funded day labor job site to operate on town property.
The problem was that the site used public funds to cater to illegal immigrant workers who lacked Social Security numbers and were therefore ineligible for regular wage jobs. Then-candidate for governor Jerry Kilgore got involved in that controversy in August 2005, and Herndon voters expressed strong opposition to the day-labor project when they elected a clean slate of council members last May. I used to go on bike rides along the W & OD trail that passed through Herndon; they have managed to maintain the flavor of the old town center while massive development proceeds all around it.
Speaking of controversy, the previous city manager of Staunton, Bob Stripling, was at the center of the flap involving the city treasurer and commissioner of revenue that reached a head in October 2005. Staunton was the first city in the United States to adopt the city manager form of municipal government, back in 1908. Unlike elected mayors, city managers are trained professionals who are supposed to keep politics separated from efficient management of local government, but it doesn't always work out that way.
More snow is forecast for tomorrow, so I thought it would be appropriate to share this photo of a Snowy egret that my brother John took recently in South Carolina. Pretty awesome, huh?
Scaups on Bell's Lane
Today was relatively mild, so I took a quick hike along the new trail on Mary Gray hill, adjacent to Betsy Bell hill. I heard a few woodpeckers, and saw a small White-tailed deer, but the only bird of note I saw was a White-breasted nuthatch. Then I drove out to check the ponds on Bell's Lane, and found:
Canada geese (30)
[Great blue heron]
Coots (2, prob.)
Lesser* scaups (5, prob.)
* Allen Larner reported seeing two Greater scaups there today, so I may be mistaken. They were over 200 yards away. The most exciting wildlife discovery was a Red fox that was crouched near one of the ponds. Unfortunately, we haven't had the Northern harriers or Short-eared owls that usually spend the winter in that area.
ly getting a lot of attention these days. Semi-clever title notwithstanding, I don't for a minute deny the mounting evidence that the Earth's mean temperature has been rising in recent decades. Each of my previous comments on global warming (Dec. 19, 2004, July 7 and Sept. 7, 2005) combined serious concern with a bit of healthy skepticism. It is getting harder and harder to ignore all those melting glaciers and polar ice caps, however. What is causing this trend, and whether it is likely to continue, are another matter. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is meeting in Paris, is "90 percent certain" that greenhouse gases generated by human beings are responsible for most of the rise in temperatures around the world over the past half-century. A "Summary For Policymakers" based on their Fourth Assessment Report is available from their Web site. This body was established by the United Nations Environment Programme in 1988. Of course, anything produced by the United Nations should be regarded with a grain of salt, but this is a serious matter and should not be scoffed at.
The fundamental problem is that estimates of future mean global temperatures, the causes thereof, and the effects thereof, are all subject to such great uncertainty that it renders an efficacious response extremely difficult. If human activity really is to blame, what are we to do? The Kyoto system of arbitrary emissions ceilings is probably unenforceable in free societies. One possible remedy that allows for some individual freedom would be to impose an international tax on energy consumption. Some people would no doubt regard that as the first step toward a world government, however, and indeed it might eventually drag us toward the misery of global socialism like in so many of those science fiction movies. Could we be confident that the sacrifice of our freedom and/or prosperity would really save the planet? Among the various leading proposals to mitigate global warming, any one of them might be quite effective or a complete waste of effort. Trying to manage the atmosphere when causes and effects stretch out over decades, and when there is no central authority to make the appropriate decisions, is quite probably futile. That is the meaning of tragedy, which few people in the modern world really understand. People will wring their hands in earnest angst over this predicament, but in the end that too is a waste of energy. If the human species is unable to mount a collective response and ends up making Planet Earth uninhabitable for itself, as James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis suggests, it would be tragic beyond human comprehension.
UPDATE: On the other hand, as Donald Sensing asks, "What if global warming is a good thing?" Let's try to keep an open mind and not panic, folks.
(The) Mercury is rising
The upside of the low, low temperatures we've been suffering lately is that visibility is markedly better. This evening the sky was especially clear, so I took a look toward the southwest after sunset, where Venus is currently very prominent. Sure enough, I soon found Mercury, which has rising above the horizon for the past few days, and is presently several degrees below and to the right of Venus. It will reach its highest point ("Greatest Elongation East") on February 7, and then head back down. For a schedule of planetary appearances this year, see space.com. Mercury was part of a planetary "triple play" that I observed on December 12. It takes Mercury only 88 days to revolve around the sun, and between six and ten weeks elapse between its respective "greatest elongations" before dawn and after dusk, depending on its orbital position relative to Earth.
Rubiks Cube solution
I fiddled around with the Rubiks Cube for a while in the 1980s, and I came close a couple times, but I don't think I ever solved it. Now there is a Rubiks Cube Solution Web page, complete with bizarre mathematical symbols and nomenclature; hat tip to Shaun Kenney. Now where is that darned thing??
Nationals pitcher John Patterson's reputation reminds me of what they say about Brazil: it (he) is the country (star) of the future, and always will be! Patterson lost his arbitration case, and will therefore only receive $850,000 this year, $1 million less than he had asked for. Ouch! "That's gotta hurt!" If Patterson could only stay healthy for a full season, he would be worth at least $3 million a year. Regarding his crucial spot in the Nats' pitching staff, the Washington Post noted:
No other team in the majors has a rotation in which its only established member has never won 10 games in a major league season.
That shows why the Nationals didn't want to pay him very much, but it also highlights the glaring weakness resulting from the front office's long-term strategy of rebuilding the team's roster from the bottom up. Of course, that risks the loss of the D.C. fan base in the mean time. They are still negotiating with Chad Cordero...
Hank Bauer has died
Former Yankee star Hank Bauer has passed away after a bout with cancer at the age of 84. The husky and versatile outfielder played for the Bronx Bombers from 1948 to 1959, almost the same period that Casey Stengel was their manager. He was named an All Star three times, but was traded to the Kansas City Athletics for Roger Maris. Later he managed for the Orioles, leading them to their first World Series title in 1966. During World War Two, he served with the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific theater and earned several combat decorations. See MLB.com.
In the Outlook section of Sunday's Washington Post, Republican pollster and campaign adviser Frank Luntz elaborated on his vision on how to help "the GOP get moving again." He reminds us that the 1994 Republican Revolution succeeded because it tapped into the discontent expressed by independent voters who rallied to Ross Perot in 1992. (Like me.) First and foremost, Luntz wants to curtail the nasty campaign tactics and rhetoric associated with Karl Rove. Beyond that, he insists that attracting a broader range of voters will necessitate facing up to real policy dilemmas. Bravo! His recommndation for the GOP, boiled down to the essentials:
Be bold, return to basics, stop telling, start asking, focus on results, abolish "earmarks" and embrace a permanent balanced budget.
Makes sense to me. I wouldn't want to insist dogmatically on a balanced budget amendment, any more than I would endorse an iron-clad commitment to cut taxes, regardless of the circumstances. But still, it's an appropriate general direction to head. I hope more Republican leaders listen to voices of reason such as Luntz. (On Feb. 1 I cited Robert Novak's column on him.)
Many self-styled "conservative" Republicans are loathe to make a strong campaign appeal to moderate voters, fearing that such a move would signify an abandonment of core conservative principles. They are dead wrong. Did Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich win over millions of moderate voters by pandering to the mainstream or offering a watered-down, compromise policy agenda? No. They each scored decisive electoral victories precisely because they promised clear, forthright conservative agendas, and then they followed through on them.
Hillary vs. Obama
To me, the assertion that the Clintons are habitual liars is nothing new, which is probably why the big spat among Democrats last week evaded my attention. At a Hollywood fundraiser, entertainment mogul David Geffen said "everybody in politics lies, but they [the Clintons] do it with such ease, it's troubling." Bravo! The best take on this incident I could find was at Belmont Club. I would also have to concur with Mr. Geffen "that America was better served when the candidates were chosen in smoke-filled rooms." The withdrawal of Iowa's Tom Vilsack highlights the insanity of the current trend of ever-costlier premature presidential primary campaigns that weed out thoughtful candidates and yield mediocre nominees.
As a serious baseball fan, you'd think I'd cover sports more generally and have something to say about the Super Bowl, wouldn't you? So, how about this superb owl photo? Well, I thought it was superb, anyway.
As for the actual football game in Dolphin Stadium, north of Miami, I was pleased by the Baltimore Indianapolis Colts' victory over the Decatur Staleys Chicago Bears, but I wouldn't have minded if the Bears had won; both teams were about due. It was nice that Peyton Manning finally got a Super Bowl ring, after years of frustration. And Prince did a nice job at half time, playing in the rain -- which was not purple, as far as I know.
I took this photo of a Pacific Screech Owl in the Santa Rosa National Park in Costa Rica in February 2005. To see more, CLICK HERE.
My apologies to those who do not appreciate a dry sense of humor; in the Midwest where I grew up, puns like that are actually considered funny!
Birds are singing
Notwithstanding the snow and bitterly cold temperatures we've had this week, there are some signs of spring already. Yesterday and today, I heard some male cardinals singing, to establish territory in preparation for mating season. While outside for a few minutes this evening (gazing at Mercury and Venus again), I heard a killdeer calling overhead in the darkness. I wonder why they fly at night?
Earlier this week there was speculation about where Roger Clemens would play this year -- with the Astros, the Yankees, or the Red Sox? According to the latest reports (see MLB.com), however, it seems that he may be ready to retire after all. He said in a TV interview that there is only a 20 percent chance that he will play, for whatever that's worth. The fact that Andy Pettitte signed with the Yankees raised the possibility that Clemens may do so as well, but sentimental factors may have weight, which would mean Boston, where he started. If Clemens does decide to make a final (?) encore performance, he would probably sign a contract a month or two after the season begins. He has said that playing for a non-contending team (a pointed reference to the Astros) would be a "waste of time." Daniel Drezner has been following this saga, and includes an amusing YouTube video clip of an ESPN ad with Clemens and Keith Olbermann.
Spring training begins
The big change for the Nationals as spring training begins is the arrival of their new manager, Manny Acta. He is excited but a little nervous, saying it was the biggest day of his professional career, and he has been preparing for it for 20 years. Chad Cordero said the pitching staff got the message that, whatever the current challenges, the new boss wants to win. See Washington Post.
Nick Johnson on the mend
The Nationals' first baseman Nick Johnson hopes to be back in the lineup by June, but wants to give his leg plenty of time to heal. He expressed frustration about how long the rehabilitation has taken during the winter, and he has had some minor follow-up surgery. To fill the void at first base, the Nationals have acquired Travis Lee, who played for the Devil Rays last year, and Dmitri Young, who was released by the Tigers just before they went to the postseason. Both are fair-to-middling veterans. See MLB. The Nationals desperately need star sluggers in their lineup, so I hope Nick returns as soon as his body is ready to handle the stress -- but not a minute sooner.
Giants sign Bonds
The Giants have signed Barry Bonds to a one-year contract worth $15.8 million. The agreement they reached in December was [not finalized because of differences over the specific terms and the renewed dope allegations in January. With only 22 home runs to go before he reaches Hank Aaron's record of 755, we can anticipate a sour, melancholy day in the annals of baseball history some time in July or thereabouts.]
RSS feed soon
Baseball fans who don't often read my main blog page should be aware of a new blog feature that I am testing: an RSS feed. That makes it easier to keep up with the latest blog postings and news items from various sources. Developing that feature, making some reformatting changes, and taking on new outside responsibilities have forced me to postpone work on revising stadium diagrams, but there will be at least one or two later this month. Thanks for your patience!
The six announced Democratic candidates presented themselves at a "beauty pageant" in the Washington Hilton last week, and the competitive pressure is already undermining their discipline. At the outset, DNC Chairman Howard Dean warned each speaker that a seven-minute time limit would be severely enforced. So what happened? The first candidate, Sen. Chris Dodd, talked for more than 20 minutes, three times more than he was allotted, and the rest of them were nearly as bad. As Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank observed, "the Democratic National Committee is not exactly a precision drill team."
This episode reminds us how the presidential candidate selection process is getting more frenzied and arbitrary every election cycle. Part of the problem is the accelerated primary election schedule, with several states considering moving theirs up to early February. So, the time lag between effective candidate selection and the formal selection at the convention will lengthen even further, making most people even more apathetic and cynical about politics. I fear that the 2008 presidential primaries will become ever more farcical, yielding mediocre but media-savvy candidates on both sides.
Take this quiz -- if you dare!
I should have known better than to expose myself to ridicule, but what the heck:
You Are Most Like George W. Bush
So what if you're not exactly popular? You still rule the free world.
And while you may be quite conservative now, you knew how to party back in the day!
After many months of putting it off, I finally made a submission to the Virginia Blog Carnival -- the Super Bowl Edition hosted by Cat House Chat. It was my "compendium" of gripes last week about the Republican Party over the last two-plus years. One of my New Year's Resolutions is to pay more attention to the Virginia blogosphere, and I am going to try.
The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, based in Richmond, is suing the eleven (originally eight) congregations that seceded from the Episcopal Church USA last [year]. (See my Dec. 18 post.) Those congregations, which are more conservative and evangelical, have affiliated themselves with the Anglican Diocese of Nigeria. Sixteen Episcopalian bishops of the Middle Atlantic area issued a joint statement supporting Lee. As reported by Episcopal News Service, "Congregational property is held in trust for the diocese, and the diocese holds property in trust for the wider church (Canon I.7.4)." The failure of various factions within the denomination to heed each other's concerns and respect each other's points of view is indeed tragic, and it reminds me of what is happening in the Republican Party. In each case, one side is trying to force the other side into either submitting, or else leaving the fold.
On January 4, the Washington Post had a background story on how this schism came about. It said that some congregations in Northern Virginia had turned away from the bland, liberal mainstream of the church, and some more so than others. "[F]or more than 30 years, Truro and The Falls Church have been part of a 'charismatic revival' within mainline Protestantism."
D.O.G.S. head to Nashville
A local Christian rock band called the D.O.G.S. of Pray signed a recording contract last year, and they just went to Nashville to record an album. I happen to know their lead singer, Henley Folk, a great guy who has a very interesting background and has been active in local Republican politics. For more, see their blog: P.O.U.N.D.
New blog categories
Effective today, the former "Macintosh and Miscellaneous" blog category has been divided into two new categories: Science & Technology and Culture & Travel. The latter category will be my outlet for more personal and spiritual musings, and possibly for showcasing my musical dalliances.
This is the first test of my home-made RSS feed system. Let's see if it works!
UPDATE: Indeed, it does seem to be working on the very first try, to my immense surprise. For you folks in Rio Linda, "RSS" stands for "Really Simple Syndication" (or close variations thereof), and enables blogs to make their content instantly available to subscribers via syndicated "feeds" that are coded in the XML language, rather than the HTML language that is the standard for Web pages. I haven't used RSS very much, but some people think that is the future of blogging, [as more attention is focused on the content highlighted by blog aggregators]. For the Mac, a popular RSS reader is Net News Wire.
Those who are registered for this Web site can see the URL for the RSS feed below. I'll make it public in a few days, to make sure it functions on a routine basis the way it's supposed to. Once I have made sure it works, I will add separate RSS feeds for the categories of greatest interest -- baseball, politics, Latin America, and war. For the time being, I plan to include only the most recent day's blog entry or entries in my RSS feeds; later on, I may decide to include blog posts from the most recent two or three days.
Say, why don't you REGISTER for this Web site and get access to premium features (some of which are forthcoming)?
One of the key provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement signed in 1993 was that Mexican truckers would be allowed to travel on U.S. highways, as long as proper inspection standards were met. Mainly because of opposition from unions (the Teamsters), however, this was never really put into practice. Trucks from Mexico could cross into the United States, but had to stop within a certain distance of the border and allow U.S. trucks to haul the cargo the rest of the way to the destination. This caused many Mexicans to doubt U.S. good faith. Finally, the Bush administration has negotiated provisions that will allow Mexican trucks to drive much further into the U.S.A., as long as the drivers speak adequate English and meet other standards. The deal should take effect in the next two months or so, and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters pledged that it will promote trade without compromising highway safety. See Washington Post. I think this step was long overdue, and is exactly the kind of concrete gesture that the beleaguered new president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, needs to show his people that he can get things done. More generally, it just may reactivate NAFTA and the overall agenda of promoting free trade in the Western Hemisphere. Otherwise, the folks south of the border won't have much incentive to look for jobs in their own countries, and you know what that means.
Thanks to an alert from Augusta Bird Club member Starke Smith, I was able to see some Ring-necked ducks for the first time this winter. They were on the farm pond on Goose Creek Road near Fishersville, the same place where I saw a Black swan in November, again thanks to Mr. Smith. There were two male Ring-necked ducks and one female, in good late-aftenoon lighting conditions at close enough range to see the distinctive bill and other field markings.
Smart jay birds
The weekly Science column in the Washington Post reported on a study of the ability of Scrub jays (relatives of Blue jays) to plan ahead. The birds were put in compartmentalized cages with specific kinds of food placed in certain places on a steady routine, so that the birds could begin to anticipate what would happen the next day. If they got it wrong, they'd go hungry for two hours in the morning. With such motivation, they soon began to store food in the compartments where no food would be placed the next day. Adapting to survive!
It's hard to know what the Bush administration is up to as it rattles the proverbial sabers at Iran. On one hand, I have no doubt that Iran is the source of much of the violence in Iraq, and constitutes a grave menace to world peace. On the other hand, I cannot fathom what useful military measures the United States might take toward Iran at this point in time. This situation is all very strange, because there was a similar surge in tensions one year ago, and nothing came of it. "Never mind!" As I wrote last month, military action should be held back until the diplomatic groundwork has been laid. As far as I know, the only recent high-level contact between the U.S. and Iran was when ABC's Diane Sawyer interviewed President Ahmadinejad for "Good Morning America," and I don't think that counts.
Yesterday there was an embarrassing mixed message as Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace seemed to be unaware of the U.S. military briefing in Baghdad at which evidence on Iran's interference in Iraq was laid out. Press Secretary Tony Snow scrambled to reconcile the different accounts of what was said. Today Secretary of Defense Bob Gates appeared with Gen. Pace to set matters straight. "For the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran," Gates said. "We are not planning a war with Iran." See washingtonpost.com. I hope that the policy formation process is not as confused as it sometimes appears. Remember, incidents such as these are sometimes contrived to put the enemy at ease. After all, we are at war, and no one should automatically take at face value statements made by top leaders regarding war policy.
Today's News Leader espouses the conventional thinking of "We won't be fooled again," and there is ample justification for such skepticism. As with "The boy who cried wolf," nevertheless, the moral of the story is that eventually the warning is true. Having given President Bush the benefit of the doubt on many past occasions, my confidence in his judgment is on the decline. Based on what the public knows at this point, I would oppose a military strike on Iran unless and until congressional leaders had been thoroughly briefed, and the appropriate legislative authorizations had been passed.
Black Hawk down '07
What does the sudden "surge" in numbers of U.S. helicopters shot down mean? Since January 20, U.S. forces have lost one Black Hawk utility chopper, two Apache attack choppers, and one Sea Knight transport twin-rotor helicopter. The Blackwater private security firm ("mercenaries"?) lost a small observation helicopter as well. Evidence suggests that all or nearly all of those crashes were caused by enemy fire, and the reluctance of the Pentagon to admit that is not encouraging. It seems that enemy insurgents are aware of the high stakes behind the "surge," and are doing all they can to derail it.
There was, however, an apparent positive signal yesterday, as the Shiite militia leader Moqtada al Sadr fled to Iran. He may be fearing for his life as U.S. forces prepare for a major offensive in the streets and alleys of Baghdad. Or, perhaps this is somehow connected to the showdown with Iran.
Sunday's Washington Post provided new details about the new stadium being built along the Anacostia River. One unique aspect of it is the oval-shaped home team club house / locker room, as in Oval Office. The supposed purpose is to give all players a equal status, with no privileged corner locations. One of the architects, Marshall Purnell, had visited AT&T Park (then SBC Park) in 2005 and made note of the positive and not-so-positive features. Until the recent cold snap, construction progress was proceeding on schedule and on budget -- a minor miracle by Washington standards. The main structure should be completed by the end of the summer, after which all the wiring, plumbing, landscaping, seat installation, and finishing work will begin. Because the project is proceeding on an urgent, accelerated pace (due to the delays caused by resistance on the D.C. Council one year ago), many details were not decided upon when the construction got underway; they call that "fast-track design."
The Post also recently reported that the ramp leading up to the Frederick Douglass bridge will be lowered considerably, so that it reaches ground level by the time it gets to the stadium. The work will begin this summer and hopefully finished by next spring.
Slow progress on Nats' roster
In today's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell looks on the bright side of the Nationals' rebuilding efforts as spring training begins. He grants that he may have been a bit harsh on team president Stan Kasten, and compares the team in Washington to the team in Atlanta that Kasten built nearly twenty years ago.
However, Kasten is correct on one crucial point that, in time, may trump all others. The Nats are far ahead of his old Braves in assembling a core of young veteran players who could become a contender within just a few years.
Boswell observes that the Nationals have seven solid regular players (eight once Nick Johnson's leg is fully healed), and aside from the "barren" starting rotation, the team looks very promising for the future. It's a hell of a crap shoot counting on untested young pitchers to rise to the occasion, and counting on fans to maintain their loyalty through this trying year of transition to becoming a genuine, autonomous major league franchise. The former Montreal Expos franchise suffered from years of neglect, and it will take years to put things back on track.
Aloha, football fans!
The attendance was paltry, but the end of the Pro Bowl was actually exciting enough to be worth watching. The NFC team somehow erased a 14-point deficit in the final minutes, and then allowed the AFC to quickly get within field goal range and win. Most of the details I noted in Aloha Stadium seemed consistent with my stadium diagram, except for the wide-open gap between the two decks.
Many conservatives are aghast at Sen. John Warner for having introduced a compromise resolution opposing President Bush's troop "surge" in Iraq, but without any force. Many deride Warner as having gone "wobbly," which implies weakness of spirit or lack of martial valor, but it is really a question of strategic logic. When push came to shove, Warner voted on the right side, rejecting the Democrats' resolution. "Just two Republicans, Norm Coleman (Minn.) and Susan Collins (Maine), voted with the Democrats." (Both are up for reelection next year.) See Washington Post. As I've said before, I think the surge is a mistake, offering only a small chance of meaningful victory, while raising the risk of a strategic setback. Nevertheless, Bush is our commander in chief, we are at war, and all we can do for now is hope for the best. *
In today's Washington Post, however, David Ignatius says we should "Expect The Worst In Iraq." He lays out the brutal assessment in the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which raises the possibility of a catastrophic outcome. He recommends a series of contingency measures to stave off the worst consequences, and I suppose there is someone in the Pentagon who is doing such planning work. I don't envy that guy's job.
On the other hand, John Krenson argues "The Moral Case for a Surge," emphasizing our duty to finish the job we set out to do. It's an impassioned plea, and well thought out, but I remain skeptical. I do agree with him on one crucial point, however: An abrupt withdrawal from Iraq, as advocated by Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi, is out of the question.
* Some local folks are promoting a "win the war" campaign, and while I admire their optimism, to be perfectly blunt, I don't share it. In a messy, complicated milieu such as Iraq, "victory" is a nebulous concept. Personally, I don't think the prospects would have been so awful if President Bush had heeded more of the recommendations in the Iraq Study Group, which basically called for cutting our losses and hastening the transfer of responsibility to the Iraqis themselves -- ready or not. That was probably the best we could reasonably hope for, but that chance is fading away fast. My general approach in life is to expect the worst and hope for the best, and that certainly applies to the situation in Iraq. Let us pray...
About 20,000 Bolivian miners who belong to small co-operatives agreed to a compromise over the tax payments they are obliged to pay, and have called off their protest in La Paz. Many of these miners utilize sticks of dynamite to intimidate security forces. (Just think: protests can force the government to alter tax policy!) As part of the settlement, the government promised to set up a $10 million investment fund for the mining coops. President Evo Morales denied reports that he was trying to "stamp out" the independent miners. This was a strange political challenge to Morales, who has enjoyed strong support among most but not all of the country's poor Indian workers. Now that he is president, however, his interests coincide with those of the state-owned mines, which have faced a sharp increase in trespassing by "wildcat" miners. See BBC and my Oct. 6 post for some background.
Even as most American people long for moderation and pragmatism these days, both parties are being pulled in opposite directions by their respective hard-core activists. In a sense it is a relief to learn that the Republicans are not alone in facing sharp internal divisions caused by the "true believers" in their ranks for whom reality is a meaningless concept. In recent weeks, Left-wing Democratic blogs such as dailykos.com have denounced Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-CA), who chairs the centrist New Democrat Coalition. She has sharply criticized President Bush's "surge" policy in Iraq, but even that wasn't good enough for the leftist fringe. "Kos" himself, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga boasted, "Absolutely, we could take her out." See the Washington Post. Rep. Tauscher is also a member of the "Blue Dog" Democrats of which South Dakota's Stephanie Herseth is a leading spokesperson. They are highly conscious of the need to restore fiscal discipline, like most Republicans used to be. In the next election cycle, the center will be where the action is at, and the party that makes the strongest appeal to moderates will win.
Many people expected that Alex Rodriguez would have been traded by now because of his disappointing postseason performance. His regular season stats were fine but perhaps less than what New York fans have come to expect of their superstars. Now it seems that his friendship with Derek Jeter is cooling, saying he wants to remain a Yankee but may consider exercising his contract option to leave after this year. David Pinto thinks that story is overblown. It may be just contrived PR hype to generate fan interest. Meanwhile, veteran outfielder Bernie Williams has failed to show up at spring training in Tampa, upset that the Yankees front office won't guarantee him a spot in the regular lineup. He proved an invaluable replacement after Hideki Matsui was injured, and I would hope the Yankees can reach an understanding with him. See ESPN.
Web page reformatting
The Stadium statistics page has been revised, and now features scrolling rows of data, obviating the need for multiple column headings. The vertical alignment may vary from one browser to the next, however, depending on the width of the scroll bar. This is part of my annual "spring cleaning" of Web pages, aiming for convenience, functionality, and enhanced appearance. Please contact me ASAP if you experience any problems viewing that page, because I plan to adopt a similar format for all such statistical reference pages. One forthcoming format change of a more general nature is trying to make pages suitable for varying monitor sizes. In the past my pages have been designed primarily for an 800x600 pixel monitor, for the sake of folks with older browsers, but that is now changing. For the next few weeks, there will probably be a few awkward inconsistencies; my apologies during the "reconstruction phase."
This is one of those old controversies that will never be settled. At the Daily Kos, "Devilstower" (Wyoming?) argues that "buying a Mac makes you liberal." He cites various statistics, such as the fact that only 2% - 3% of visitors to Instapundit use Mac OS X, compared to 15% - 25% of visitors to Daily Kos. Of the various explanations he proposed, I found the "Conformists vs Individuals Theory" to be most dubious, and quite ironic, given that the initials PC stand for "political correctness." Granted, there are signs of stodginess in conservative circles these days, in contrast the the dynamism of the 1990s, but that doesn't mean the Left has all of a sudden been "born again" as creative thinkers. And what about the contrasting ideals of rugged individualism vs. egalitarian collectivism? That certainly confounds his argument. Interestingly, the author does not mention the fact that Rush Limbaugh is probably the most prominent Mac user in the country, despite the fact that he has been shunned by Apple's Steve Jobs. Al Gore, of course, is on the Apple Board of Directors.
Perhaps those data mean something, but the findings do not apply to me. In fact, I shifted toward the center of the political spectrum within a couple years of buying my Mac Plus in 1987, and began to identify myself as a Republican not long after I bought my Apple PowerBook in 1994. About a year ago, I responded to local columnist Fred Pfisterer's thoughts about Mac users.
This is the first blog post in the new Science & Technology blog category, which like the Culture & Travel category, used to be part of the former "Macintosh and Miscellaneous"category.
UPDATE: Unlike most initial reviewers, Joe Hutsko really liked the new Vista version of Microsoft's Windows operating system. He is a long-time Apple and Mac user, and says he has caught heavy criticism from Mac loyalists for making the switch. Via Donald Sensing, who sees this as an example of "religious intolerance." Well, in a way it is.
Over a year after former President Alberto Fujimori arrived in Chile, hoping to become a presidential candidate, the government of Peru is about to file an extradition request to bring him to justice. Special prosecutor Carlos Briceño will present new evidence that Fujimori was directly involved with human rights abuses, and embezzlement. See CNN.com. The reasons for the lengthy delay since the original formal extradition request was made in January 2006 is rather puzzling. I suspect it may reflect the desire of the government of Alan Garcia to go out of its way to avoid any appearance of political influence in the judicial process. After Fujimori's "autocoup" in April 1992, Garcia (who had recently left the presidency) was accused of corruption and pursued by police, and he was lucky to escape from the country. Fujimori was married to a wealthy Japanese woman while still under house arrest last April, and was granted conditional freedom in May. Fujimori was often called "Chinochet," referring to his Asian heritage and his emulation of the authoritarian methods of Chilean dictator Pinochet, who recently died. I have often compared Fujimori to Richard Nixon, since both presidents used underhanded means to push through controversial policy measures, sometimes reversing pledges they had made while on the campaign trail. In many countries of Latin America, newly inaugurated presidents have a nasty habit of persecuting their predecessors on corruption charges, which often are partly valid. Eventually, the persecutors become the persecutees. Mexico, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica are some of the leading examples.
I haven't blogged much about immigration lately, and the last time I addressed the policy issue in serious terms was last June. Obviously, the Republicans in Congress squandered their opportunity to address the matter while they still held power, and the Democrats are quite content to let the problem of illegality get worse. Meanwhile, Rep. Virgil Goode's offensive remarks about the Koran in December once again made the Republicans look churlish and mean-spirited, undermining the cause of honest immigration reform. What a shame.
This week, nonetheless, the Virginia House of Delegates took up the matter once again. They passed a variety of tough bills, one of which would deny funding to any charitable organization that assists illegal immigrants, and another that would force college students who are not legal residents to pay out-of-state tuition. (I oppose the former and favor the latter.) Of course, the Senate will water those proposals down before they become law, and even then they would have to be signed by Gov. Kaine, which is rather doubtful. According to the Washington Post, immigration rights advocates say they will hold four days of protests against the House bills. ("Sí, se puede!" ) For their part, police departments are wary of the proposed law, fearing that it will intimidate immigrants and make them less likely to trust their police for protection. This would only encourage immigrants to align themselves with criminal gangs for protection, which would set in motion a chain reaction of hostility.
Even though I am strongly in favor of serious measures to reform the immigration system, it is primarily a federal matter. Granted, as Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) complained, "The federal guys aren't doing anything." He is quite right. That is why I hope the House of Delegates does pass a serious immigration measure, to put pressure on the U.S. Congress to address the problem. I have one huge stipulation, however: any such measures must be part of a broader agenda to reform entitlements and labor laws. (To the Republicans' credit, the General Assembly did defeat a proposed increase in the state's minimum wage.) There is a big danger that laws aimed at selectively punishing illegal immigrants will be seen as more of way to appeal to angry voters than a genuine attempt to address the underlying problem. Many people forget that cracking down on illegal immigrants forces them to lay low, which has the effect of making it easier for sleazy businesses to exploit them. Nothing could be more cruel or cynical. If the bills passed by the House of Delegates appear to be unfairly singling out a vulnerable portion of the population, I would hope that the Virginia Senate would reject those bills.
Immigration: Get in line, and Speed up the process.
License plates in Our Nation's Capital display the protest slogan, "Taxation Without Representation," and their grievance is a just one. The Congressional Research Service has concluded that legislation that would give the District of Columbia a full-fledged seat in the House of Representatives is probably unconstitutional. It is a compromise that would add two seats (temporarily raising the total from 435 to 437) -- one for D.C. and one for Utah, which would be "next in line" for a seat under the formula for apportioning seats by population. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC); it's interesting that she can sponsor bills and can vote in committees, but cannot cast votes on the House floor. See Washington Post. I expressed support for that proposal made by Rep. Davis in May 2005. Too many people see the issue in purely partisan terms of whether the Democrats should be given an automatic extra seat in the House, which is why the compromise was proposed. Some Democrats want to give increased voting rights in the House (allowing them to vote in all procedural questions) to the D.C. delegates and to the delegates from Puerto Rico, Guam, etc. But the constitutional issue is most important, and it will probably take an amendment for D.C. to get its seat in the House.
Rep. Davis has also introduced a bill that would repeal the law that facilitated use of the National Guard by the federal government during emergencies. Many people had qualms about relying on the Guard for for domestic law enforcement on a routine basis. I agree with the News Leader that Davis deserves praise for resisting the centralization of power in Washington.
This doesn't sound like the Bush administration is very confident of victory: A group of U.S. officials will go to Amman, Jordan later this month to begin interviewing Iraq war refugees for possible admittance to the United States. Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey (a former congresswoman from Maryland) is overseeing the program. About 7,000 people have fled from Iraq to take refuge in Jordan, Syria, and other countries, and the short-term effect of a U.S.-led offensive in the streets of Baghdad might be to create more refugees. See Washington Post.
Jihad Watch calls this Bush resettlement policy "Utter madness ... if these Iraqis are admitted to the U.S., it will be with absolutely no screening to determine if they are jihadists or jihad sympathizers."
To me, the psychological component is almost as important as the potential terrorist threat from admitting Iraqi refugees en masse. Remember all the boat people from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon, and all the social problems that resulted when they tried to adapt to life in the U.S.A.? If that kind of thing happens again, it will be widely regarded as proof that we had lost the war. We should live up to our obligation as liberators to help the Iraqis up to a point, but if they can't figure out how to establish a modicum of order and security in their own country, that's their problem, not ours.
It was bitterly cold and windy this morning, but at least the sun was shining. After the frigid spell we've had for the past two weeks, I was fed up with being cooped up indoors, and decided to head out and search for birds. At nearly all the places I stopped, however, very few birds were visible -- wisely hunkered down, no doubt. I did see a fair number of ducks and geese on the farm pond at Bell's Lane, at least, including a Bufflehead and the first Pintails that I had seen in six years, so it wasn't a total loss. Today's highlights:
Canada geese (200+)
Ruddy ducks (4)
American coots (2)
Northern pintails (15; FOS)
Earlier in the morning, I paid a visit to Grant Simmons, president of the Augusta Bird Club. Grant's home was partly destroyed by a fire two weeks ago, and his son DeWayne was hospitalized for a few days. Many, many thanks to all the ABC members who have helped Grant out in this difficult time.