August 1, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Jacobs Field update
The Jacobs Field diagrams have been revised, based on Google Maps as well as a closer inspection of my own photographs. In particular, to my surprise, the angle of the grandstand is a degree or two wider than I had previously estimated. Also, the walkways to the parking garage behind the left field scoreboard are now included, as is the new "Heritage Park" beyond the center field wall.
Braves get Teixeira
In the closing hours before yesterday's deadline, the Braves acquired first baseman Mark Teixeira from the Texas Rangers. That's about the only major trade, as far as I can tell. Having fallen into third place in the NL East, the Braves need help fast. MLB.com
August 2, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Today Show looks at ballparks
Kudos to the NBC Today Show for including America's big league ballparks as part of their "America the Beautiful" vacation travel series. Seeing the rapid-sequence montage of baseball stadiums was certainly a great way for me to start the day! Former New York Giants and Virginia Cavalier football star Tiki Barber reported from Fenway Park, and in batting practice with the Red Sox, he showed how hard it is -- even for a top athlete -- to get good wood on a pitched ball. Having retired prematurely, he has started a new career as a roving reporter for NBC. On the MS-NBC Web page, travel editor Peter Greenberg focused on Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. FACT CHECK: Contrary to what he wrote, however, the scoreboard in Wrigley Field is not the original one, obviously, since the ballpark was already 23 years old in 1937 when it was installed.
The Minneapolis bridge collapse
Some of the victims of the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis yesterday evening were probably headed to the Metrodome (only a few blocks away) to see the Twins play against the Royals. There was a moment of silence for the victims before the game began. They considered postponing the game, but decided that doing so would create an even worse traffic mess as the rescue/disaster response efforts were underway. The Twins have postponed tonight's game as well as the groundbreaking ceremony for the Twins' new ballpark that was scheduled for today. See MLB.com. I think it would be appropriate to divert some construction resources from the new stadium so that the bridge can be rebuilt more quickly.
Minnesota blogger James Lileks commented on the awful disaster, recalling the civic pride he felt every time he drove across it and saw "the magnificent view of downtown" Minneapolis. (Hat tip to Instapundit.) I can attest to the scenic beauty of that city, and I'm pretty sure I drove across that bridge in 1987.
Three big milestones
The past week has been full of strange, drawn-out suspense, as baseball fans await the accomplishment of three career milestones all at once: Barry Bonds' 755th (and 756th) home runs, Tom Glavine's 300th pitching victory, and Alex Rodriguez's 500th home run. Some people were relieved that Bonds waited until after the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies before making his historical mark.
Walter Johnson Day
UPDATE: One hundred years ago today, Walter Johnson pitched his first-ever game for the Washington Nationals, who years later later changed their formal name to the "Senators." Today the Washington Nationals are celebrating "Walter Johnson Day" in honor of the man who brought home the first and only World Series trophy to Our Nation's Capital, in 1924. See MLB.com, from which I learned the following factoid:
His other love was politics, and he served as [Montgomery, Maryland] county commissioner before losing his bid to become a congressman from the area. He was a staunch Republican, and held rallies on his farm for fellow Kansan and presidential candidate Alf Landon.
The Nats are going for a sweep against the Cincinnati Reds at RFK this evening, and as of the third inning it's tied, 3-3. The Washington team will welcome the St. Louis Cardinals to town this weekend...
August 2, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Save the radio pundits!
Are conservative radio talk show hosts an endangered species? They will be if the Democrats in Congress have their way. Senators Dick Durbin, Dianne Feinstein, and Ted Kennedy are among those want to apply the "Fairness Doctrine" in such a way that local radio stations would be coerced into providing a "balanced" mix of political commentary or else lose their Federal licenses. In other words, they see freedom of expression not as a basic right but as a privilege bestowed upon the humble citizens by the all-knowing, all-benevolent government.
In response, the Heritage Foundation has launched DefendTalkRadio.com, as a public service. It's a worthy cause, no doubt, but a little odd. Do the blustering pontificators of the Right really need a charity campaign in order to survive? The best way to show support for Rush, Sean, Laura, et al. is just to patronize their sponsors.
The latest flurry of attention was apparently sparked last week when Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin disclaimed any intention of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine on radio broadcasters. This was in response to a letter from Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN). See washingtonpost.com.
Actually, this story has been brewing for several months, and I'm wondering if the Democrats aren't just baiting the Republicans into over-reacting. As "pros" in the media-spin business, they excel at that sort of manipulation, which is precisely why we need those old-fashioned right-wing blowhards to offset their influence on the public mind and keep the leftists in check.
In the Sunday Outlook section of the Post, Anne-Marie Slaughter (dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs) had an interesting observation about the current state of politics in America:
The fiercest battle is no longer between the left and the right but between partisanship and bipartisanship.
She argues that the Bush administration began on a bipartisan note but found it convenient to use post-9/11 patriotism for its own partisan ends. I think she is exaggerating both the initial outreach to Democrats by Bush and the subsequent hardening. Bush has been guided by short-term expedience all along, I think, and there isn't much evidence of major shifts in political strategy during his term. Indeed, he has been "staying the course," set by Karl Rove. Dean Slaughter calls for a "bipartisan backlash," which sounds good to me.
August 2, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Would Obama invade Pakistan?
Smarting from the tongue-lashing he received from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at last week's debate, Sen. Barack Obama came out with a bold statement suggesting that, if he is elected president, he would intervene unilaterally inside Pakistani territory if that country's leader fails to suppress the Al Qaeda threat. He says we need to get off the "wrong battlefield" in Iraq (which is flat and relatively accessible) and pursue the terrorists on their home bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan (which are extremely mountainous and remote). See Washington Post. Well, isn't that special?
Question #1: Would he seek prior permission of the U.N. Security Council?
Question #2: Would he seek approval from Congress?
Question #3: Would he target Pakistan's arsenal of nuclear weapons?
Question #4: Does he have an exit plan in case things go awry?
Question #5: Does he have even a clue about strategic reality?
August 4, 2007 [LINK / comment]
The Nationals keep winning
The Washington Nationals finished their sweep of the Reds on Thursday night, and kept up the momentum by edging the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 last night. A single by Ryan Zimmerman in the bottom of the ninth drove in the winning run. The game that paid tribute to the Negro Leagues, as the Nats players wore Homestead Grays uniforms and the Cardinals wore St. Louis Stars uniforms. See MLB.com. After a slow start this year, the wunderkind from the Old Dominion is slowly but surely climbing in the batting average ranks, closing in on the .270 mark. This evening the Nats will be going for their fifth consecutive win, which would be the first time since early last August that they have done so. And I'll be there!
Unless Barry Bonds surprises us with historic home runs in PETCO Park this weekend, it looks like he will get his big opportunity to make the home fans happy in AT&T Park next week when the Giants host the Nationals!
August 4, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Judges reject "abuser fees"
In the past few days, judges from Henrico County and Richmond General District Court issued rulings that the "abuser fees" which went into effect on July 1 are unconstitutional because they discriminate against Virginia residents. (Out-of-staters don't have to pay them.) As a result, some Republican leaders are beginning to disavow the controversial measure, implying it was all Governor Kaine's doing. See AP. Here in Staunton, Public Defender Peter Boatner filed an appeal after his client was ordered to pay a $750 "civil fee" on top of the $541 fine for drunk driving. See News Leader.
Since the new law went into effect, there has been a huge outpouring of criticism of the "abuser fees," which were part of the (admittedly awkward and messy) compromise transportation funding package passed by the General Assembly earlier this year; see March 1. Well, what did people expect? With so many of our legislators having sworn never to raise taxes, in allegiance with Grover Norquist, the money's got to come from somewhere, and this is better than using lottery money at least. On a more serious note, this case is a perfect illustration of the point made by Sen. Emmett Hanger and other traditional conservatives: Just because a legislator says he won't raise taxes doesn't mean that he won't find some other way of reaching his or her hand into your wallet.
Tip-toeing toward socialism
Indeed, that's what the proposed State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) would be. As the August recess is about to begin, Democrats in Congress are appealing to sentiment in a bold move to get the foot in the door on government-paid health coverage. As they visit with their constituents across the Fruited Plain for the next few weeks, you can be sure they will spare no effort to muster popular support for this measure. And you thought HillaryCare was dead? Not by a long shot. For details, see heritage.org.
On the other hand, if U.S. public policy is to "leave no child behind" in the education system, why not apply the same criterion to health? This illustrates one of the big pitfalls behind President Bush's "compassionate conservative" agenda -- by attempting to attract more voters to the GOP side, it unwittingly provides justification for the Big Government schemes of the Democratic Left.
In a somewhat more perfect world, the Republican Party would have more leaders like Newt Gingrich who are aware of our nation's gradual creep toward economic statism. Instead of just opposing the Democrats, I wish more Republicans would propose real market-oriented reforms in the health care sector, abolishing the implicit government subsidies (such as tax deductability) and market restrictions (licensing, etc.), giving consumers more choice and more incentive to save.
Is it a factor? Some people think Gov. Mitt Romney's Mormon affilation is comparable to the role played by John F. Kennedy's Catholicism in the 1960 election. In the Washington Post, Michael Gershon explained why he thinks Romney's religion matters, mostly downplaying it. The problem for me is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (as the Mormons are known formally) is not just another church, it is a religion with a very distinct theology and scripture. The Mormon religion stands in relation to mainstream Christianity as Christianity does to Judaism. I'm not saying Romney should be excluded from consideration, I'm just saying we need to pay a lot more attention to what he says about the role of religion in public life, and what his church leaders say.
August 6, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Nats sweep World Champion Cards!
No doubt about it, sports fans, I could not have picked a better day to see a ball game in Washington this summer! For one thing, I was in good company, joined by my old friend Dave Givens and his charming daughter Olivia. An ice-cold beer and hot dog smothered with sauerkraut and hot mustard really hit the spot after the long drive up to D.C. The heat and humidity were a bit oppressive, but not so bad after the sun went down. Attendance was good as well -- just under 30,000. But what happened on the field is what I will remember the most. The last time I saw a game in RFK Stadium (late September 2006), the Nationals lost to the playoff-bound Mets by a humiliating 13-0 margin. The game I saw there on Saturday had the same total number of runs, but the score was almost exactly reversed: The Nationals crushed the St. Louis Cardinals, 12-1!.
The Cardinals scored first, when Adam Kennedy hit a home run just inside the right field foul pole in the third inning. I was disappointed that Albert Pujols was out of the lineup, but that absence was more than made up by Ryan Zimmerman, who hit two huge home runs -- one that landed in the upper deck in left field to spark a five-run rally in the fourth inning, and one that capped a second five-run rally in the sixth inning, going into the mezzanine level in left center field. Both of those balls would have traveled 440 feet or more, I estimate. It was the first multi-home run game of Zimmerman's career. The winning pitcher, Joel Hanrahan, helped his cause by knocking a two-run double down the left field line in the fourth inning. Brian Schneider hit a homer in the seventh inning to put another layer of sweet icing on that proverbial "cake." As they say in those beer commercials, "life just doesn't get any better than this!" For a complete game summary, see MLB.com for the official. I'll post a few new photos I took at that game in the next few days.
But that's not all! On Sunday, the Nationals played a close, hard-fought game with the Cards, who repeatedly failed to score after loading the bases. Relief pitcher Ray King adeptly fielded a hard-hit grounder up the middle, turning an RBI into a double play that ended the inning. In the bottom of the eighth, Ryan Zimmerman prevailed in a war of nerves with Cards relief pitcher Ryan Franklin, fouling several times (on no balls) before looping an RBI single into left field. That gave the Nats a 4-3 lead, and Dmitri Young batted in two more insurance runs right after that with a double to left center. The Nats' closer Chad Cordero did his job in the top of the ninth, sealing the team's splendid sweep of the World Champion Cardinals. Unbelievable! The Cards' manager Tony La Russa bravely faced the TV cameras after the game and graciously paid credit to the Nationals for outplaying his team.
The hero of the series was, of course, U.Va.'s own Ryan Zimmerman. He batted in the winning or go-ahead runs in two of the games, and led the offensive juggernaut with two homers in the other game. For these feats, he was named the "National League Player of the Week," along with Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks. MLB.com. After a mediocre first half of the year, he is now batting .270, up to the level that we would be expecting of him.
So now the Nationals are 51-60 for the year, tied for fourth place with the Marlins in the NL East, after many weeks alone in the cellar. Finishing the year at or above .500 is no longer an unreasonable prospect.
Three historic milestones
Three cheers to Alex Rodriguez for hitting his 500th career home run on Saturday afternoon, and to Tom Glavine for getting his 300th career pitching victory yesterday. All New York fans got to celebrate together. Two cheers* to Barry Bonds for hitting his 755th career home run, in San Diego on Saturday night. (I heard about it on the radio as I was driving home from the game in D.C.) After a week or more of anticipation, it was remarkable that the three historic milestones all came on the same weekend.
* With the Nats in the midst of a six-game winning streak, I'm in a good mood and more inclined to be forgiving. Let's not forget that, even without artificial enhancements, Bonds would still have been a Hall of Famer.
Tonight John Lannan (who?) will pitch for the Nats against the Giants at AT&T Park. Will he bean Barry Bonds like he did to Chase Utley (most likely out for the season, with a broken hand) and Ryan Howard ten days ago?
August 6, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Immigration woes in D.C. area
I'm spending a few days in Northern Virginia, and this morning I drove through the suburb of Woodbridge for the first time in quite a few years. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by all the foreign business establishments that have created -- Mexican taquerias, etc. For anyone who wonders why suburban sprawl seems out of control, a big part of the reason is the "fuel" of cheap immigrant labor. Those workers spend almost everything they earn, after sending a little bit back home, so there is a huge multiplier effect on the local economy, creating more traffic congestion, higher housing prices, and more aggravation overall.
That's what drew my attention to the alarming observations about the dubious tax-exempt status of "Mexicanos Sin Fronteras" and the "Woodbridge Worker's Committee" made by Greg Letief (Black Velvet Bruce Li). Greg has been on a roll lately, no doubt capitalizing on the recent coverage by FOX-5 TV.
In a related item, the Wheaton branch of Peruvian rotisserie chicken chain, El Pollo Rico, has reopened three weeks after being shut down by Federal agents:
Immigration officers seized nine workers at the Ennalls Avenue restaurant on the morning of July 12 in a dramatic raid on a popular strip mall. Federal agents arrested four members of the Solano family that owns the landmark eatery and a sister location in Arlington.
(See Washington Post.) Peruvian-style roast chicken is mighty tasty, and there is now such an establishment in Harrisonburg, VA.
August 6, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Herons, Sandpipers, & Osprey
Just before dusk on Sunday, I went for a quick walk in Fountainhead Regional Park, where Bull Run turns into the Occoquan Reservoir. The air was extremely humid, and a few rain drops fell, but not nearly enough. I was pleased to spot at least a few unusual birds, most notably an Osprey that dove into the water to catch a fish for dinner. Scenic photos pending...
- Phoebes (4+)
- Goldfinches (2)
- Worm-eating warbler??
- Great blue herons (6)
- Green herons (2)
- Killdeers (4+)
- Least (?) sandpipers
- Solitary sandpiper
August 7, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Occoquan Bay NWR
In spite of temperatures soaring into the nineties, I went for an expedition to the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge for the first time this morning. It is located about a mile east of Woodbridge, Virginia, along the Potomac River. It used to be an Army base where electronic signal experiments were carried out, and in 1998 it became a national wildlife refuge. I was amazed by the number of Ospreys that were flying all around, including several juveniles begging for food. I was also surprised to get good, close views of Blue grosbeaks, and even got some video clips, from which this image is taken. I spotted a White-eyed vireo for the first time this year, but failed to spot a Common yellowthroat that was singing. I was told that King rails are often seen there, and I may have heard one or two, but couldn't be sure. Today's highlights:
- Kingbirds (6+)
- Meadowlarks (2)
- Tree swallows
- Phoebes (4+)
- Purple martins (5)
- N. Rough-winged swallows
- Ospreys (8+)
- Blue-gray gnatcatchers (4)
- Cooper's hawk
- Towhee (M)
- Flickers (2)
- White-eyed vireo (FOS)
- Downy woodpecker
- Yellow warbler (F)
- Orchard orioles (F/J)
- Indigo buntings (M)
- Laughing gulls (200+)
- Herring gulls (10+)
- Great blue heron
- Blue grosbeaks (F/J, M -- FOS)
- Red-tailed hawk
- Field sparrow
- Goldfinches (M)
Hummingbirds have returned to the feeder on our back patio, including a male for the first time this year.
August 8, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Hot team, summer in the city
Just like the weather has been for the past two weeks, the Washington Nationals are HOT, HOT, HOT! After two consecutive series sweeps and a split of the first two games with the Giants, the Nats have climbed out of the NL East "cellar," sharing the fourth-place rank with the Marlins for the first time since April 21. How long the Nats' hot streak will last is anyone's guess, but I just hope this meterological heat wave ends soon...
Based on my recent trip to Our Nation's Capital to see that "hot August night" game (apologies to Neil Diamond), I have added two new photos to the RFK Stadium page: a very long panorama from the first base side (five separate images stitched together) and the lower deck in the shadows (two such images). It makes you wonder how that upper deck stays up! COMING SOON: Photos of the new stadium being built in Washington!
Take me out to the ball game!
Yours truly, with my friend Dave Givens and his daughter Olivia at the August 4 game in which the Nats beat the Cardinals 12 to 1. This was in the eighth inning or so, by which time many of the fans had left.
Bonds hits #756
I suppose it was almost inevitable that Barry Bonds would hit his 756th home run during one of the four games between the Giants and the Nationals this week. History will record the fact that rookie pitcher Mike Bacsik gave up the big blast. See MLB.com. Perhaps the fact that the Giants lost that game to the Nats (8-6) is a form of poetic justice in this imperfect world. It also reminds us that the thrill of watching sluggers perform superhuman feats often diverts attention from the more fundamental objective of baseball, which is to win the game .
And speaking of poetic justice, after the Monday night game, the Nationals know what the Cardinals felt like last weekend, letting victory slip through their fingers. The game was tied 1-1 after nine innings, then Dmitri Young smashed a line drive into the right field balcony section of AT&T Park in the top of the tenth, making it 2-1. Unfortunately, Chad Cordero blew the save opportunity in the bottom of the inning, as the Giants tied it, and in the eleventh inning they scored again, thus edging the Nationals 3-2. D'oh! But at least pitcher John Lannan struck out Barry Bonds!
The mail bag
Thanks to Terry Wallace for letting me know about faulty links in the Griffith Stadium page, where the "dynamic diagram" is still in the development stage.
August 9, 2007 [LINK / comment]
What are the Russians up to?
Some people may think that the claim of the Arctic Sea floor by a Russian Navy submarine last week was a desperate morale-boosting stunt by a government that knows it is in terminal demographic decline. Or perhaps it is nothing more than a symbolic, feel-good gesture along the lines of the U.S. flags planted on the moon by American astronauts. Canada's government is not taking this episode lightly, however: Prime Minister Stephen Harper is traveling to the Arctic region to assert Canada's sovereignty. Interestingly, the United States opposes Canada's claim, insisting that the Arctic waters are neutral. Why is this important? "[T]he U.S. Geological Survey estimates the Arctic has as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas." See CNN.com.
The Arctic episode was not an isolated incident, however. The Russian Navy, which has been "bottled up" inside the Black Sea ever since the end of the Cold War, is once again interested in the Mediterranean Sea. Last week Admiral Vladimir Masorin made a speech at the port of Sevastapol in which he proposed to restore a permanent Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean, even as the Kremlin denies reports of naval dock being built on the coast of Syria. See Washington Times.
Finally (?), Russian long-range bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, have resumed practice flights near U.S. territory. In part, this renewed activity reflects the increased revenues from petroleum exports, as the Russian government is no longer short of cash as it was throughout the 1990s. See BBC.
Taken together, these actions leave no doubt that President Vladimir Putin has opted for an aggressive, "defiant" foreign policy aimed at raising the prestige of the state via coercive means. The corollary of this alternative is that Russia has evidently decided to forego the potential wealth-boosting benefits of attracting foreign investment and promoting international trade. Strategic decisions such as these are not made on a whim, and we must therefore expect further confrontations with Russia in the months and years to come.
Was this inevitable? No. Putin bears a heavy share of the blame for needlessly resuscitating Cold War tensions. But part of the problem, I'm afraid, stems from the decision to expand NATO into former Warsaw Pact territory in the 1990s. I opposed President Clinton's decision to push for inclusion of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into NATO, and I remain convinced that the costs of that decision outweighed the benefits. (Those three countries sent a few thousand troops to Iraq, for which we should be thankful, but it was not a decisive contribution.)
So what should we do in response? Obviously, scale back on various trade and technical cooperation endeavors that are underway. Russia has no evident interest in working with us, and we have no choice but to reciprocate in this chilling of relations. We are not in a hostile situation, nonetheless, and there are no overriding clashes of interests such as existed during the Cold War. There is no reason to panic. If the Russians view things rationally, they will probably realize that they have little to gain from opposing us -- after all, we share a common enemy in radical Islam. Patience and determination will be required to convince the Russians that we have joint interests.
In Monday's Washington Post Jackson Diehl wondered whether President Bush is really serious about his declared goal of promoting democracy around the world. He dispatched Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to the Middle East, but prospects for success in brokering a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians seems very uncertain. Indeed, the main initiative of the Bush administration in that region involves the sale of military equipment to friendly (?) governments such as Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. Diehl believes the failure to back up words with substance indicates that Bush is focusing his diplomatic efforts on polishing his legacy for the future, rather than accomplishing practical goals for the short- and medium- term. Even more troubling, Bush has apparently given up on regime change in North Korea and is now trying to negotiate a deal with Kim Jong Il. Diehl observes:
The Rice offensive bears more than a passing resemblance to a record the Bush team once ridiculed -- the mad dash for Israeli-Palestinian peace and North Korean disarmament by the Clinton administration in its final months.
I think Diehl is a little harsh on Bush, but I would acknowledge that the President has not done very well in reconciling U.S. high ideals (freedom and democracy) with hard-nosed realpolitik. Somehow, Ronald Reagan achieved an almost perfect balance between those goals. Bush has yet to explicitly acknowledge that U.S. foreign policy objectives are constrained by limited resources, which is a fundamental premise of the realist approach to international relations.
August 9, 2007 [LINK / comment]
The "chicken hawk" canard
I recently came across the Operation Yellow Elephant blog, whose main purpose is to ridicule Republicans who support the war in Iraq but do not volunteer for military service. Lately they have been attacking Gov. Mitt Romney because his sons have not enlisted in the armed forces. They make a careful distinction between "Yellow Elephants" who are eligible to serve, versus "chicken hawks" (like me?) who are too old. I believe in a strong national defense and an unapologetic use of military force to advance American interests and ideals, when necessary, but I dislike political divisiveness and therefore refrain from gung-ho drum-beating.
This reminded me of an argument another local Republican and I had with a Democrat on July 4, 2005 in front of the Republican booth in Gypsy Hill Park. The Democrat was a veteran (Air Force, I believe) was was opposed to the war and told me that anyone without a military service record had no right to voice support for the war. I told him that such a statement was ridiculous. The other Republican, Tom Nelson, is a retired military intelligence officer who served in the Middle East and elsewhere. Unlike me, who "dropped out" of ROTC after one semester, Tom has solid military credentials and first-hand experience.
Here's the big irony: excluding civilians from decision-making on war matters is inherently anti-democratic. At the top of my War blog page, I quote former French premier Georges Clemenceau: "War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men." The "chicken hawk" label may be appropriate in some cases, but generally speaking it is basically a canard that is used to shut down honest discourse over war policy.
It was 62 years ago today that the city of Nagasaki was destroyed by a single American-made bomb. Hiroshima (bombed on August 6) probably gets ten times as much attention as Nagasaki, but there was much less difference between the respective death tolls: 78,000 versus 35,000. (Obviously, these are only rough estimates, and don't include those who eventually died of radiation sickness.) For years to come, people will continue to debate whether it was necessary or appropriate to drop the atomic bombs on Japan (see July 14), but whatever one thinks about the matter, we should all reflect on how to avoid future situations in which so many lives are sacrificed.
August 9, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Early warbler fallout
I don't know if the hot weather has anything to do with it, but I was amazed by the variety of warblers and other songbirds I saw at Montgomery Hall Park early this morning. In one location, I saw five different warbler species! (The first five in the list below.) Usually, such a concentrated "fallout" of warblers occurs during migration season -- April, early May, or September.
- Hooded warbler (F/J)
- Worm-eating warblers (4+)
- Black and white warbler (F)
- Redstarts (4+ F/J)
- Towhee (M)
- Brown thrashers
- Yellow-billed cuckoos (2)
- White-breasted nuthatches
- Red-bellied woodpeckers (4 M, F, J)
- Scarlet tanager (F)
- Cedar waxwings (5)
Is it a bird? Is it a bee? No, it's a Hawk Moth, which I spotted at Augusta Wetlands on July 22; Bill Funk identified this species for me. This image is slightly smaller than life size. Unlike most moths, the ones in the sphinx moth genus beat their wings very rapidly, like a bee. YuLee Larner wrote about the odd "Hummingbird moths" in her birding column in yesterday's News Leader. For an interesting discussion with lots of photos, see www.whatsthatbug.com
August 10, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Nats, Giants split series
Thanks to a home run from Felipe Lopez, the Nats managed to win in San Francisco yesterday, coming out of the series with a 2-2 split. The Washington team has won 8 of their last 10 games, and only one another major league can make that claim: the New York Yankees. Now the Nationals head to Phoenix, as the Diamondbacks have widened their lead in the NL West. Their surge in late July was a surprise to many people. That's another team on a hot streak, but unlike D.C., the hot weather there has little to do with it, since they play indoors this time of year. Meanwhile, the slumping Dodgers finally scored a run yesterday, and beat the Reds, after being shut out in three consecutive games. It was the first time that had happened since the 1966 World Series against Baltimore.
Bonds is cruising
Now that Barry Bonds has crossed the historic 756 threshhold, he says the pressure is off, so it will be a little easier to hit home runs. He says his career goal is 800 home runs, which is within the realm of possibility by the end of next year, when he will be 44. If he gets 84 hits, he will reach the symbolic 3,000-hit plateau. See MLB.com.
Partly in honor of "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron, the home run king for over 30 years, the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium diagrams have been updated to correct the left and right field dimensions, which had been about five feet (3 pixels) too long. "Accuracy is my primary concern."
August 10, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Chavez buys influence abroad
With more and more money from petroleum exports, Hugo Chavez is making another foreign trip in hopes of turning that wealth into power. He is presently visiting Uruguay, and signed an "energy security treaty" with President Tabare Vazquez, similar to deals struck with Argentina and Ecuador. Venezuela will help Uruguay expand output at the country's only petroleum refinery. (Any strings attached?) Chavez sees the MERCOSUR trade bloc as a strategic counter-weight to U.S. influence in Latin America. (It includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, with Chile and Bolivia as associates; Venezuela is trying to get in, pending ratification by legislatures in Brazil and Paraguay.) Chavez will end his journey in Bolivia, where he plans to announce a "grand South American alliance." See CNN.com.
Many observers of Latin America, including me, see MERCOSUR the same way: It has as much to do with power politics as with economic benefits. It's not necessarily a bad thing, though, and is probably inevitable. Brazil aspires to a leadership role in the emerging (Third) world, along with India and possibly South Africa, as a prelude to getting a seat on the U.N. Security Council some day.
As for Chavez's strategy of buying influence with petro-dollars, it puts Venezuela at risk of fluctuating world energy markets. Just because there is an oil boom now, and probably will be for the next year or two, doesn't mean it will last. Higher gas prices encourage thriftier consumer habits and more crude oil production, and things will even out eventually, at which point Chavez's influence will quickly wane.
August 10, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Insanely premature primaries
The Republican Party in South Carolina has decided to hold its 2008 presidential primary on January 19 next year, as its chairman, Katon Dawson, formally notified the secretary of state of New Hampshire, which is the traditional first primary state. Dawson boasted that in his state and New Hampshire, politics is about much more than 30-second sound bites, because the candidates for president are obliged to seek votes via one-on-one contacts with prospective voters. Presumably, that means a higher level of political discourse -- for that state, not necessarily the others. Whatever the rationale, this will no doubt spur a rush by other states to keep up or schedule theirs even earlier, leaving more and more "dead time" after the nominations are effectively decided but before the fall campaign begins. Or perhaps, the "fall" campaigns will start in August or July from now on Ugh. See Washington Post and the SC GOP Web site.
As weight-loss guru Susan Powter used to say, "Stop the insanity!" On the other hand, perhaps this drastic move will force leaders of the two major parties to consider reforming the way their respective nominations are carried out, with each state doing as it pleases.
In terms of "being first," South Carolina's main historical claim to fame was in taking the lead when Southern states seceded from the Union in 1861. Not a good precedent.
August 11, 2007 [LINK / comment]
John Hager comes to Staunton
It was only three weeks ago that John Hager was elected as the new Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, so it was quite an honor that one of his first official visits was right here in Staunton. (Are we really that important?) The occasion was the monthly breakfast meeting of Staunton-Waynesboro-Augusta County Republicans (SWAC-GOP), held at Mrs. Rowe's Family Restaurant. About fifty people attended, including a newspaper reporter who was taking notes. One of the main purposes of this gathering was to reunite the party in the wake of the bruising primary contest between State Senator Emmett Hanger and Scott Sayre. Hager urged party members to focus their attention on defining the differences on policy issues between the Republicans and Democrats. (I assume that means we should spend less time on differences among each other.) He also paid tribute to the "grassroots" campaign workers who, he said, are more important than money when it comes to winning elections.
Later on, several local elected officials spoke briefly about the upcoming fall campaign, in which some seats on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors will be contested. Scott Sayre talked for a few minutes, poking fun by saying that while Emmett Hanger's supporters were eating ice cream on election night, his supporters were "eating crow" in Waynesboro. It was a gracious effort to inject some levity into a tense situation. He also announced that his Web site, which was shut down soon after the June 12 election, will be relaunched in September. I was pleased by his acknowledgement that it may be necessary to define what is meant by "fiscal conservative." (Indeed.) Clearly, Mr. Sayre has a political future ahead of him. Other guests from out of the area included RPV Communication Director Shaun Kenney and GOP Sixth District Chairman Fred Anderson.
August 11, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Frontier culture birding
On the way back from breakfast at Mrs. Rowe's this morning (overcast and mild), I stopped at the entrance road to the Frontier Culture Museum, and had a fair amount of luck:
- Downy woodpecker (F)
- Cedar waxwings
- Goldfinches (M, F)
- Mallards (6 F, J)
- Hummingbirds (2, fighting)
- Yellow warblers (2 F/J)
- Black vulture
August 13, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Red Sox drop below .600
Thanks to the Baltimore Orioles, who won two of three games in their weekend series at home, the Red Sox have fallen below .600 for the first time since April 5. The Bronx Bombers are closing in fast. As of now, not a single major league team has won as many as 60% of their games this year. What's more, only one team is below .400 -- the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The remarkable late-season evenness of the standings is a sure sign of exciting, down-to-the-wire divisional races to come. The hottest race right now is the AL West, where the Angels are just managing to stay ahead of the Mariners. The Tigers, who are fighting neck and neck with the Indians, pulled out of a losing streak thanks in part to Magglio Ordonez, who hit two home runs in the same inning yesterday. See MLB.com In the National League, the Cubs seem to have lost their motivation for some reason, failing to take advantage of the slumping Brewers and thus remaining in second place.
Nats avert sweep
Thanks to clutch hitting in the eighth and ninth innings by Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Church, Jesus Flores, and Felipe Lopez, the Nationals converted a 5-0 deficit into a 7-6 victory. Now that's entertainment! Otherwise, they would have been swept in Phoenix by the D-backs. On Friday, the Nats hit three home runs in one inning to tie the game at 4-4, but then the bullpen fell apart, and they got trounced 11-4. Saturday's 1-0 loss was extremely frustrating, as John Lannan's superb outing (allowing only one run and four hits over seven innings) was wasted. After a day off, the Nationals play host to the Phillies and Mets for the rest of the week.
I was only vaguely aware of what has been called the "feel-good comeback story of the year," but Darren Heitner provides background on the personal side of Rick Ankiel's remarkable transformation from pitcher into slugger. What was his key? Having grown up in a rough home, he knew he had to persevere! Super-agent Scott Boras gets some of the credit for this, surprisingly. Hat tip to David Pinto. Ankiel just got called up from the minors, so it's too early to say whether he can keep up his batting success, but it certainly suggests he's got some good karma.
Save the Big Apple!
The New York Mets will only spend one more year in Shea Stadium, and some fans are objecting to plans to abandon the red apple and top hot that celebrates each Mets home run in center field. Some people think it is tacky and decrepit, while others see it as a symbol of their team's identity. It was installed in 1980. See ESPN. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski, who also alerted me to the likely abandonment of the Orange Bowl next year by the Miami Hurricanes. If so, it would free up land for the long-delayed new stadium for the Florida Marlins. See Miami Herald.
August 13, 2007 [LINK / comment]
U.S. to return Peru's antiquities
One of the things that most infuriates Latin Americans about gringos is the way many of our archeologists have made off with their ancient pre-Columbian artifacts. They weren't necessarily stolen, but they were often obtained in a hasty, unregulated manner. I recall a group of students complaining about that when I was visiting Copan, Honduras 18 years ago. During a visit to Peru by U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, it was announced that Yale University will cooperate in belatedly returning many of the ancient relics in its museums to their country of origin. Such a gesture is bound to improve U.S.-Peruvian relations, and is to be commended. See CNN.com.
August 13, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Hasta la vista, Karl Rove
It must be sad to have your very identity turned into a cliche, but such is Karl Rove's fate in life. (The same goes for pop celebrities such as Paris Hilton or Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will forever be typecast for the way in which they first burst onto the national scene.) That's why this morning's news that President Bush's top advisor plans to step down at the end of the month will elicit predictable mourns from his partisan supporters (who hail him as "The Architect") and cheers from his detractors (who mock him as "Bush's Brain"). Rove has created such a larger-than-life myth about himself that it is hard to remember that not everything that happens in Washington (or the Executive Branch, at least) is because of him. The news came to light in a Wall Street Journal interview with Paul Gigot, who noted that Rove's "crucial insight in 2000 was recognizing that Mr. Bush had to be both an alternative to Bill Clinton's scandalous behavior and 'a different kind of Republican.'" In other words, an impartial observer would have to give credit for the successes of the Bush administration, even if those successes are currently overshadowed.
Just like all good political figures who say goodbye to Washington, Rove explained that he wanted to spend more time with his family; see Washington Post. [Andrew Sullivan] calls that line "piffle." Josh Marshall wonders why he is resigning now, of all times, speculating that some new scandal or indictment is looming. I doubt it; it's just that Rove is obliged to either resign now or stay with Bush until the very end of his term.
As everyone knows, George W. Bush and Rove go way back. Just on a hunch, I did some checking, and found that Rove was apparently a key person behind Bush's purchase of a share in the Texas Rangers in 1989. Bush eventually made a net profit of over $14 million when the franchise was sold, thanks largely to public funding for the Ballpark in Arlington, now known as Ameriquest Field. (See everything2.com.) That source also reveals that Rove never graduated from college -- something besides outward physical appearance that he shares with Rush Limbaugh!
Rove is associated with the peculiar brand of hardball, pandering politics practiced by his mentor George W. Bush. Those who practice that style were described by one former White House aide as "Mayberry Machiavellis." The fundamental problem with that low-brow approach is that it ignores public policy formation, treating every issue in terms of how it can be manipulated to win the next election -- as opposed to solving a problem. (Immigration is the classic example of this failure under the Bush administration.) Rove makes everybody mad at him, but he makes everybody madder at Bush's political rivals. Under normal circumstances, it would be no big deal, just politics as usual, but it so happens that we are at war, and our national unity is badly frayed. I agree with most of what Andrew Sullivan had to say along these lines:
The man's legacy is a conservative movement largely discredited and disunited, a president with lower consistent approval ratings than any in modern history, a generational shift to the Democrats, a resurgent al Qaeda, an endless catastrophe in Iraq, a long hard struggle in Afghanistan, a fiscal legacy that means bankrupting America within a decade, and the poisoning of American religion with politics and vice-versa.
Ouch! I don't think Rove was calling the shots on foreign policy, but otherwise I think that indictment is correct. So, every time you see one of those angry slogans linking the Democrats to the Jihadists, thank Karl Rove for promoting that kind of rhetoric.
But don't be fooled by Rove's talk about going home to his family in Texas. He'll be back in the political fray all too soon, probably with one of the leading GOP candidates in the next few months. That's what Hugh Hewitt predicts, anyway. The very fact that Rove is so widely feared and despised will give him more power, and it may even make his chosen candidate look stronger for daring to appoint someone as out of favor with the press as Rove is. Love him or hate him, he does get results.
Kos meets the press
Markos Moulitsas, of the Daily Kos blog, appeared on Meet the Press with Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN), one of the centrists in the Democratic Leadership Council. (Markos recently grabbed a lot of attention at the "Yearly Kos" convention that grew out of his blog; Hillary Clinton was actually booed by some in the audience!) Both Markos and Rep. Ford scored points, with Ford appearing more dignified but with Markos holding his own. In the context of the ongoing squabbling within the Republican Party, it was fascinating to see the same dynamic play out: The pragmatist who favors appealing to centrist voters versus the hard-core, true-believing partisan.
Iowa GOP straw poll
Seriously, who really cares "who's ahead" this early in the process? Kudos to Giuliani and McCain for staying out. Mike Huckabee did better than expected, meaning he's on the inside track for the V.P. nomination, while Tommy Thompson lost big time, prompting his formal withdrawal. I was barely even aware that he was a candidate.
August 13, 2007 [LINK / comment]
What meteor shower???
Jacqueline and I must have waited 45 minutes outside last night, but all we saw were one or two fleeting glimpses of a meteor -- maybe. As far as we're concerned, this year's Perseid meteor shower was a big bust! (Apparently, the peak hours were from 2:00 to 5:00 AM.) Thanks to Space.com, however, I learned that folks in the west will get a "consolation prize" of sorts: On September 1 the Aurigids meteor shower will take place for the last time in our lives. Unfortunately, us Easterners will probably miss it!
Another cracked tile
Ever since the Columbia disaster, NASA officials have been extremely cautious when it comes to any possibility of a recurrent heat shield tile failure. So, even though the space shuttles have landed many times with much worse tile damage than the Endeavour has right now, they will spare no expense to avoid any risk. This, unfortunately, shows why the Space Shuttle program is doomed in terms of its original purpose -- transporting goods into orbit routinely and economically. I hope somebody in NASA is drawing the appropriate lessons from this.
August 15, 2007 [LINK / comment]
RFK Stadium updates
I've made some overdue (minor) corrections to the RFK Stadium diagrams, based in part of the superb 1960s-era photographs in John Pastier's book, Historic Ballparks. That showed clearly that the big old scoreboard in right field was right next to the rear wall, and that for a while, one of the bullpens was in the gap between the scoreboard and the fence. I'm still not sure when it was that both bullpens were located in left field. Another minor change is in the football version diagram, showing the dirt/gravel areas as they were in the 1980s. The text on that page has been updated as well.
Shawn Hill returns
The Nationals' best pitcher early in the season was Shawn Hill, but he had elbow problems and spent two months on the DL. Hopes were high as he returned to the rotation last night. He performed superbly, allowing only one hit in six innings, but it was all for nought as the Phillies scored three runs in the eighth inning, and that was all they needed to win, 3-2.
Orioles clobber Yanks
Just when it looked like the Pinstriped Juggernaut was making a move to catch up with the first-place Red Sox, disaster strikes. Somehow the Baltimore Orioles totally flummoxed them with an embarrassing 12-0 win in Yankee Stadium. Since Roger Clemens will be returning to the rotation this weekend, the Yanks' starting pitcher, Jeff Karstens, may have to look for a new job. See MLB.com.
R.I.P. Phil Rizutto
The Yankees' regular shortstop during most of the 1940s and 1950s, Phil Rizutto, has passed away at the age of 89. He began his major league career in 1941, but served in the military during World War II. See MLB.com.
August 15, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Major earthquake hits Peru
A 7.5 magnitude earthquake shook the coast of Peru earlier this evening, and many buildings in the capital city Lima were shaken hard. Tsunami warnings were issue all along the Pacific coast of South and Central America. Early reports indicate that 17 people are dead, but that number could rise dramatically. This is a developing story... See BBC and elcomercio.com.
This news caused us particular alarm, because our sobrina Cathy and cuñado Walter are visiting family in the Lima area right now. They felt the tremors, but weren't hurt, gracias a Dios.
Peru-Chile sea dispute resumes
After several months of relative calm, Peru and Chile are once again embroiled in a harsh dispute over maritime territorial rights. After the government of Peru published a report with a map of a proposed new line under which it would control more of the sea, Chile expressed its displeasure by withdrawing its ambassador from Lima, Cristian Barros. In response, Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde minimized the tension, saying that diplomatic communications are continuing. Under the agreement reached in the 1950s, the maritime frontier extends due west from the coastline, but Peru claims that it was not a permanent accord. See CNN.com. President Alan Garcia rejected suggestions that he is using the conflict for domestic political purposes. Peru plans to take this issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Details about the recent negotiations were published (in Spanish) by La Republica.
This is not really a new initiative by Peru. The issue of claiming waters rich in fish and seafood began in the 1950s, and reached a climax in 1969, when Peru began to seize U.S. fishing boats. This led to a diplomatic confrontation with the United States, and Peru eventually prevailed to a large extent. To this day, the 200-mile claim is widely respected.
August 16, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Hundreds die in Peru quake
As feared, the death toll in Peru has climbed rapidly as the full impact of yesterday evening's earthquake gradually becomes known. As of late Thursday afternoon, it stands at almost 500, but it could still rise much higher. It is estimated that 80,000 people have been left homeless because of the destruction. Dozens of cities and towns were heavily damaged, and the mayor of Pisco (famous for the "Pisco sour" drink) estimated that his city was 70% destroyed. The main coastal highway has been rendered impassible in several locations, making it very hard for rescue crews to get to the affected area. President Garcia declared a state of emergency, and paid a visit to Ica, according to one press account. Damage in Lima itself seems relatively minor, and it is perhaps fortunate that this quake was not centered closer to the nation's main population center. Destruction on a massive scale will have a very depressing effect on the economy in future months, a big setback for Peru, which has enjoyed the most stable growth in all of Latin America for the past few years. The Lima stock market plunged by 7 percent, a huge drop for a single day. For the latest reports, see [CNN.com], BBC and El Comercio (in Spanish). In addition, Gateway Pundit has been covering this tragedy in detail; link via Instapundit. Finally, there is a photo gallery of the earthquak damage at washingtonpost.com.
The epicenter was located 95 miles south-southeast of Lima, and was about 19 miles under ground. The Pacific and South American tectonic plates are in a hard, drawn-out collision, and events like this one are the only visible evidence we have of that phenomenon. The U.S. Geological Survey revised the estimated magnitude of the earthquake to 8.0 on the Richter scale. That would make it the second strongest earthquake in Peru's history, after the 2001 quake near the highland city of Arequipa in the south.
May God bless the survivors and the relatives of the victims. The Red Cross is beginning to mobilize [relief] efforts, and I only wish I had sufficient training in disaster relief to help.
SOURCE: World Almanac, 2004, etc.
UPDATE (10:00 PM EDT): The latest fatality count stands at 510, according to El Comercio. There have been 368 aftershocks over the 26 hours since the main earthquake struck. This horrible event lasted two full minutes, which probably seemed like hours to those who were experiencing it. Even well-reinforced buildings have a hard time withstanding shock waves that continue for such a long time. One should be aware that virtually all commercial and residential buildings in Peru, even very plain and modest dwellings, are built with steel reinforcing bars, so as to protect against seismic shocks. However, many homes are built with concrete that was not properly mixed, and are therefore more prone to crumble under pressure.
In Pisco, near the epicenter, as many as 200 people who were attending mass are believed to be buried in the rubble of a church. Another church in Ica collapsed during a service as well.
August 17, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Marlins to become homeless?
Even though prospects for obtaining land at the Orange Bowl increased recently, the Florida Marlins still have no deal in sight. In June, the Florida State Senate rejected a $60 million appropriation bill to fund a new stadium, even after Miami and Dade County had "stepped up to the plate," and everything is back to square one. You know what that means: The MLB franchise owners are huffing and puffing about a possible relocation if state officials in Florida don't "play ball." (If you ask me, it's odd how the failure by Montreal to pay for a new baseball stadium during the 1990s did not lead to demands for an immediate relocation by the owners. That situation dragged out for years and years.) The issue came up during the owners' quarterly meeting in Toronto. The problem is that an expensive retractable roof would be a virtual necessity, given the frequent summer rains in semi-tropical South Florida. From MLB's standpoint, the problem is that they have been too distracted with similar funding controversies in Washington, Minneapolis, and the Oakland/Fremont area for the past two years, leaving them unable to apply the needed political lobbying. Reflecting the mediocre venue which they currently occupy (Dolphin Stadium), attendance at Marlins' home games has totalled only 1,002,844 this year, next to last in the majors. See MLB.com. Now that two of those three situations are fully resolved, and the third one is slowly moving ahead (really?), you can expect Bob DuPuy and his crack team of shakedown artists to be spending a lot of time in Tallahassee (the capital of Florida) for the next few months. Otherwise, the Marlins' lease at Dolphin Stadium runs out after 2010, and they have nowhere to go at present. Except Portland, Montreal, Monterrey, or perhaps even Buffalo. When you get right down to it, baseball really doesn't belong in Florida during the summer months...
(Preposted to maintain desired blog sequencing.)
August 18, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Mourning and looting in Peru
The death toll from the earthquake in Peru now stands at about 540, not much higher than two days ago. That may be either a hopeful sign that fewer died than had been feared, or else an indication that authorities have simply not been able to count all the bodies. From the rubble of the San Clemente church in Ica, 127 bodies have been removed. It is winter in Peru right now, and even though it lies within the tropics, the cold Humboldt Current off the Pacific Coast keeps the air temperatures relatively cool. At night it can get very chilly, and many thousands of people are shivering while they try to sleep outside, either homeless or afraid to go back inside as the aftershocks continue. Out of sheer desperation, many people in Ica, Pisco, and smaller towns near the epicenter have begun looting stores, and police officers have fired warning shots. Hoping to stop the lawlessness, President Garcia promised that no one will go hungry or thirsty. Deliveries of relief supplies to the victims have been slow, however, mostly because of the badly damaged highways. At one spot along the Panamerican Highway, there is a three-feet high ledge along the fissure line, and it will take weeks or even months before normal traffic can resume. Because of the huge demand for transportation services, some truckers and bus drivers have been charging higher fares to passengers, which has created anger. All of Peru's neighboring countries have sent aid, as have Mexico, the United States, Canada, Spain, Italy and France. Garcia thanked the international community for the emergency assistance. See BBC and La Republica (in Spanish).
This will be the first major test of Alan Garcia's ability to cope with a high-pressure crisis since his second government began just over a year ago. In his first government, he did not measure up very well during a prison uprising. He also showed a tendency to promise more than he could deliver, and in a situation like this, any failures would be greatly magnified in the public's perception. There may still be some people buried alive, awaiting rescue. It's a lot like the tragic situation in the Utah coal mine, where three rescuers died trying to find the six trapped miners.
August 18, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Hiking around Ramsey's Draft
The mild temperatures today were a relief from the heat wave we've had for most of the past several weeks, providing the perfect opportunity for a long-overdue major hike. I started from Ramsey's Draft (which was almost totally dry!) and climbed to the crest of Shenandoah Mountain, a net altitude gain of about 750 feet, into a different climatic zone. Seeing a Junco was not unexpected at 3,000 feet altitude, but I was quite surprised to see a group of Red-breasted nuthatches, the first I have seen in years. Both of those species are only present in the lowland areas of Virginia during winter months. Other birds included five warbler species, but no Blackburnian warblers or Redstarts, which I would have expected in that location. Perhaps it is because of the ongoing blight that is killing many of the Hemlock trees upon which the Blackburnians thrive. Today's highlights:
- Cedar waxwing
- Hooded warbler (F)
- Wild turkey
- Worm-eating warblers
- Black-capped chickadee
- Pileated woodpecker
- Black-throated green warblers (F/J, M)
- Junco (J)
- Downy woodpecker
- Red-eyed vireos
- E. Wood Pewee
- White-breasted nuthatches
- Red-breasted nuthatches! (FOY)
- Wood thrush
- Canada warbler (F)
View toward the west from the crest of Shenandoah Mountain, a mile or so north of the Confederate Breastworks. Roll mouse over this image to see a zoom-in view.
Ramsey's Draft, in one of the only places where I found water. Under normal rainfall conditions, this is a swiftly-running stream. I took this photo at the end of my hike.
August 21, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Fading dreams of democracy
Monday's Washington Post reviewed the state of President Bush's global democratization initiative, concluding that Bush has resigned himself to meager accomplishments in that department. It began by going back to Bush's second inaugural address, at which he made bold, triumphant declarations in support of a global crusade of democracy. After winning the 2004 election, Bush was heavily influenced by the book by former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, The Case for Democracy, a hero to many neoconservatives. (Not all of them, though: Hard-boiled cynics like Dick Cheney could care less about pursuing such high-minded values.) Early in 2005, several scholars and experts were invited to the White House. Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis, who suggested an emphasis on "ending tyranny" rather than promoting democracy. Bush took some of that advice, but nevertheless came to be regarded as one of the most idealistic, crusading presidents in U.S. history, surpassing even Woodrow Wilson.
For a while, there was actually a lot of progress in democratizing Central Asia and the Middle East, seemingly validating Bush's bold stand, but then things began to stall. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak hardly even bothered to pretend that he would allow greater political freedom, even after First Lady Laura Bush paid a visit. The U.S. government keeps sending Egypt billions of dollars every year, "renting peace" in a dangerous neighborhood. A big turning point came in January 2006, when the terrorist group Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections, which was not supposed to happen according to the orthodox "democratic peace theory." So why don't people in those countries apply the lessons of postwar Germany and Japan, jumping on the bandwagon of democracy and free markets? Most people pin the blame on the nature of Arab and/or Islamic culture, but I would rather not put too much emphasis on that.
As for Bush, the sobering realization that pursuing lofty, idealistic goals may backfire has given rise to a gradual shift toward pragmatism and lowered expectations. The Post article quoted Philip Zelikow, who served as Condoleeza Rice's top adviser for a while (and was my boss at the U.Va. Miller Center), to the effect that Bush's grand strategic goals are not being realized. Joshua Muravchik, a staunch neo-Wilsonian who is a harsh critic of foreign policy realists, blamed the White House's lack of attention to the State Department bureaucracy, where caution and inertia are considered supreme virtues.
I think the main thing that foiled Bush was the inherent reluctance of U.S. government officials to relinquish the power to influence the political situation in Iraq, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia -- precisely because U.S. interests demand stability in the short term -- and profits. (Last year Dick Cheney paid a visit to President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan, where the ruling party has just won the parliamentary elections, supposedly garnering 88% of the vote. Guess what Kazakhstan exports?) Scholars of democracy stress that one of the inherent virtues that earns citizen trust over time is the very uncertainty of electoral outcomes: When no one can really be sure who will win the next election, the incentives to engage in corruption and oppression of political rivals is diminished. But in terms of foreign policy, we don't want uncertainty overseas; it's bad for investors. American values impel our leaders to stress noble intentions, whereas our interests create enormous pressure to act in selfish, short-sighted ways -- bribing petty dicators, etc. It's a hard habit for a Great Power to break.
It will probably take years for scholars to figure out what really motivated Bush and his top advisers. Based on what we know at present, his democratization push seems to embody a peculiar mixture of naivete and cynicism that is characteristic of political amateurs. No doubt, Bush did oversell the prospects for democracy in the Middle East, but to be fair we should avoid the red herring suggestion that "democracy" means liberal Jeffersonian democracy along the lines we practice (more or less) in the U.S.A. Another false image is the idea that major progress toward consolidating democracy can be made within the space of a few years. A few decades is more like it.
The one thing Bush has in his favor is that none of the Democratic candidates for president would be likely to reverse course on his democracy project, much less abandon it. How could they disavow their own party's name? So, whoever wins the election next year, the United States will probably continue to push for democracy in public declarations, but the actual resources devoted to such an effort will probably decline in relative terms. Ironically, the growing cost of the war in Iraq, which is supposed to serve the interests of democracy and freedom, makes that hard choice almost unavoidable.
Macaca: a year later
It was just over a year ago that former Senator George Allen uttered the infamous "macaca" gaffe at a campaign rally, unwittingly paving the way for the Democrats to retake control of the U.S. Senate. (Blame the media? Not me.) It's funny how such minor events can end up cascading and changing the course of history; in Chaos theory this is called the "Butterfly Effect." Have Republicans learned their lesson about the need to maintain a dignified tone and appearance? Their presidential candidates seem to have done so, refraining from crass pandering thus far, and that is encouraging.
August 23, 2007 [LINK / comment]
New "overlay comparison" page
I just finished another one of my summer upgrade projects: the Stadium overlay comparison page. Unlike the old Side-by-side comparison page, which lets you compare any two baseball stadiums (but only the latest version of each one), the new page compares baseball stadiums as they existed at the same point in time, listed in alphabetical order by city and team name. Another feature on the new page is that you can go to any of the stadium pages in question by clicking on their names. The page is interactive in terms of choosing stadiums and choosing among various historical eras: 1916, , 1939, 1958, 1969, 1977, 1991, and 2007. Of course, several of those stadium pages are not complete in terms of early-era diagram versions (and in the case of the Cardinals, there is as yet no page at all for Robison Field), but you get the idea where this is going...
Miami stadium shuffle
Mike Zurawski informs me that the Miami Hurricanes have decided to move out of the Orange Bowl and into Dolphin Stadium. See reuters.com and miamiherald.com, which makes it clear that this is not a "done deal." Forgive me for being a little skeptical, but I'm pretty sure I've heard this one before. If the deal really does goes through, it may make it easier for the Florida Marlins to get public funding for their hoped-for new stadium, in which case the two teams would be trading places. I wonder how many times in the past two teams have exchanged physical locations for their home fields?
Historic loss for O's
The 30-3 drubbing suffered by the the Baltimore Orioles at the hands of the last-place Texas Rangers last night at Camden Yards was truly historic in proportions. The Rangers hit six home runs altogether: "Marlon Byrd [former Washington National] and Travis Metcalf both hit grand slams and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ramon Vazquez hit two home runs each." From MLB.com, here is the box score, "believe it, or NOT!"
Nats cool off
Two weeks ago, the (then) red-hot Washington Nationals had won eight of their last ten games, a feat matched only by the Yankees. Since then they have been losing most of their games, and were swept by the Mets during their recent home stand. Fortunately for the Washington team, however, the Florida Marlins have lost nine games in a row, so the Nats are now in fourth place! With a 57-70 win-loss record (.449), the Nationals are doing better than eight other teams in the major leagues, and that is a major accomplishment for rookie manager Manny Acta.
August 24, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Back to school: "S-weet!"
Today I began teaching classes at Sweet Briar College, and it was nice to get back into the world of academia after an unexpectedly long diversion into local politics. Well, at least the practical experience will serve me well in my field. Sweet Briar is an elite school for women located about 15 miles north of Lynchburg, and one mile south of Amherst. The campus is literally in the middle of the country, and the surrounding landscape is so beautiful that it makes your jaw drop. As I was walking around today, I noticed several exotic spruce trees and other arboreal species I couldn't begin to identify. There are several nature preserves ideally suited for bird-watching, with miles of trails, lakes, and even horse stables -- a true paradise for the outdoors enthusiast!
Sweet Briar was founded just over one hundred years ago, and many of the older buildings are true architectural treasures that have been designated as historical landmarks. The buildings along the north side of the main Quad are connected by covered walkways with brick arch supports -- much like the University of Virginia. The pictures I took today were slightly marred by the hazy, humid conditions, so I may replace the photo below with a better one when the air is clearer.
This semester I will be teaching Comparative Politics, which I have taught before at Virginia Tech and Mary Baldwin College, as well as East Asian Politics for the first time. Of course, I will be making heavy use of my Web site design skills to enhance learning. Right off the bat, I was impressed by the background and interests of several of the students, and I'm looking forward to a very rewarding semester. The members of the faculty I've met are top-notch and very friendly and supportive, as well. The college staff people I've dealt with are likewise very helpful, cheerful, and efficient.
This new responsibility will no doubt curtail the time available for blogging (and explains the declining frequency of blog posts lately, as I was preparing to teach), but I do plan to continue posting on a more-or-less regular basis. For the time being, I do not intend to blog much about academic matters, or to create an academic blog category, but I may decide to do so eventually.
Gray Hall, where the Government and International Affairs offices are located.
August 24, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Is Fidel Castro dead?
There is probably nothing to it, but The Miami Herald has been reporting that rumors of Castro's death have been spreading today, as they have been off and on for the last three weeks. (I first learned of this from the Babalu Blog, as in Desi and Lucy, via Instapundit.) The Cuban government is denying it, but there is no mention of this on the official Granma Web site. To me, there is not much doubt that this is part of a propaganda campaign waged by the Cuban exile community to unnerve the Cubans who stayed behind, as the get ready to reclaim their former property in the post-Castro regime. At any rate, this reminds us that we should be prepared for the likely chaos to ensue in Cuba and South Florida once Fidel Castro leaves this Earthly existence and Meets His Maker. (!)
Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who has been incarcerated in the United States since U.S. forces apprehended him in January 1990, may be extradited to France, which has charged him with money laundering. Federal judge William Hoeveler ruled that being a prisoner of war does not make him immune to criminal prosecution. His 15-year prison term ends next month. See BBC.
The BBC headline "Venezuela lawmakers back reforms" raised my interest, wondering if there might be a large enough group of opponents of Hugo Chavez to push for reforms, however unlikely. Then I read the story, which is about the plans of Chavez to remove the last prohibition on consecutive terms in office. Anyone who thinks that's a "reform" is engaging in truly Orwellian language twisting.
August 26, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Just say "no" to abuser fees
The editorial in yesterday's News Leader had a sharp retort to the proposed minor scaling back of the despised "abuser fees" passed by the General Assembly earlier this year: Don't waste time tinkering with an ill-begotten mess, just ditch the whole thing. The editorial goes on to pinpoint the root of the problem that gave rise to this ugly situation, and proposes a bold alternative:
Rather than pander to the Grover Norquist crowd and pull a smoke-and-mirrors puppet show about fees vs. taxes, just do the honest thing: raise the fuel tax so that everyone in Virginia and everyone passing through Virginia pays their fair, painless and shameless share of helping to fund transportation and road-building.
Their reference to Grover Norquist echoes the point I made on August 4: that the "abuser fees" are essentially a scam to raise revenues without violating the pledge taken by some legislators never to raise taxes. If there is a genuine, compelling public need for something (such as new roads or repaired bridges), there should be no shame or hesitation about providing adequate funding for it. But as long as our elected representatives are afraid to anger constituents who think that cheap gasoline is an American birthright, nothing much will change.
Run, John, run!
UPDATE: During his appearance on Meet the Press this morning, discussing Iraq war policy, Senator Warner said he will announce next month whether he plans to run for a sixth term as U.S. Senator from Virginia. I strongly hope he does run, because he is one of the dwindling number of courageous, independent-minded Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, but at age 80, he is certainly entitled to some well-deserved rest and relaxation.
August 26, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Debating force levels in Iraq
Sen. John Warner appeared on NBC's Meet the Press this morning, explaining his argument that at least a brigade of U.S. troops should be brought home by Christmas to make it clear to the Iraqi government that we will not shoulder the entire burden of security indefinitely. Sen. Warner also pointed out differences between the Pentagon and the White House on how long the surge will last. When he announced his decision late last year, President Bush indicated that the surge was supposed to last several months, up to a year, but General Petraeus "wants to stay there with full force as long as they can," according to Warner, who recently returned from Iraq. See washingtonpost.com and gopusa.com. I was surprised that a top military commander would make such a statement without making a corresponding push to increase the overall size of our armed forces, which are already stretched thin and under heavy stress.
Last month Senator Warner said that Congress should pass a new resolution to authorize continued military efforts in Iraq because the original October 2002 resolution was based on a different justification that is no longer applicable to the current situation. (See Washington Post.) Warner is probably just trying to force the issue and get a solid consensus on the record.
To the surprise of many, the Democrats have been floundering on an alternative Iraq withdrawal strategy, with Senators Clinton and Obama sharply contradicting each other. As a result, they are suffering a reversal of fortunes in terms of public support, as the political momentum shifts to the Republican side; see U.S. News & World Report (via Instapundit). You don't have to be a gung-ho warrior to realize that the choice is not between fighting or giving up, but rather between fighting smart or fighting dumb. We can certainly recalibrate our force levels in Iraq, and perhaps refocus on military efforts, without giving up to the Islamo-fascists. Along those lines, John Krenson pointed out that many leading Democrats are shutting their ears to the advice of military experts, belying their previous charge that Bush was the one who refused to listen to input.
There was a "surge" of commentary about the apparent success of the U.S. surge in Iraq (e.g., Don Surber, via Instapundit), or about the ongoing religious-ethnic fragmentation of Iraq (e.g., IraqSlogger, via Andrew Sullivan), but I didn't bother to opine on the subject. I've made it clear since last December that I was skeptical that the surge would achieve the desired long-term political results (getting the Iraqi government to stand up on its own two feet), but I also see no point to undermining the command decision that has been made. I hope for the best, and expect a little less than that. Arguing about the "surge" diverts attention from the real question of whether the United States as a nation is committed to exerting enough effort in Iraq over the long term to pave the way for eventual stability and self-rule. The real issue is not the intensity of our effort, but rather the duration of it. This should be obvious enough not to have to repeat more than every couple months or so...
What it's all about
David Horowitz explained "Why We Went to War in Iraq" at frontpagemag.com; hat tip to Stacey Morris. He rebuts the truth-twisting and selective recollection of opportunistic politicians of the left such as Al Gore, who had a much different position on Iraq and Saddam Hussein when he was vice president. How soon we forget...
New British flat tops
Last month the British government signed contracts to build two new aircraft carriers that will be much larger than the existing carriers that tipped the balance in the Falklands War against Argentina in 1982. The are designed to accommodate the U.S.-designed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. "The two British ships, to be named Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, are scheduled for completion in 2014 and 2016, respectively." See defensetech.org.
August 28, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Baseball in Lynchburg
Yesterday was the final home game of the season for the Lynchburg Hillcats *, and since their stadium is located just 15 or so miles south of Sweet Briar College, where I recently began teaching, I figured I might as well seize the opportunity to see a ball game there. It was a warm but pleasant evening, with a packed house, but the home team lost to the Wilmington Blue Rocks 6-3. (All the runs were scored in the first four innings, after which I had to leave.) The Hillcats are a Class A team affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and set a record for attendance this year, even though they are in last place in the Northern Division of the Carolina League.
I had driven past City Stadium (originally built in 1939) about ten years ago, when it was run down and worn out. In 2004 the stadium was thoroughly renovated, and it is now very impressive in outward appearance, featuring a fancy stone outer wall and all the modern amenities. Most of the grandstand is covered by a roof, and since 2004 there have been fancy skyboxes along the top, with an angled house-like roof. The dimensions are standard: 325 to both left and right field, and 390 to center field. The stadium sits on top of a hill, and parts of the Blue Ridge are visible beyond left field (northwest), but the view in the late afternoon is much better behind the grandstand toward the southeast, where Candler's Mountain is. The ballpark is now known as Calvin Falwell Field, named after the man who brought minor league baseball to Lynchburg in 1966, and who became known locally as "Mr. Baseball." (He was also the cousin of late televangelist Jerry Falwell, who founded Liberty University.) For more on this ballpark, see ballparkreviews.com, Paul's minor league parks, and Charlie O'Reilly, who happened to visit there just two days before I did! John Nagy wrote an essay on baseball in Lynchburg published by the University of Virginia History Department.
* Is a "hillcat" the same thing as a bobcat? And for that matter, what the heck is a "river dog"?
The last time I saw a minor league game was in 1999, when I saw the Richmond Braves play at The Diamond. That was another occasion that arose in connection with a teaching job (Virginia Commonwealth University), and in fact accepting that position forced me to cancel my plans to see a game in Tiger Stadium before it was closed for good. Such is life.
Nats lose four straight
It's the first time that's happened since the end of June. The Nationals had a "rocky" time in Denver, getting swept. In the first of three games in Los Angeles last night, Mike Bacsik could not contain the Dodgers, who rallied in the sixth inning to take the lead and eventually win, 5-4. I suppose the Nationals' "no-name" pitching rotation has done as well as anyone could have expected this summer, but this is no time to start slipping.
August 28, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Another Bush loyalist departs
Ever since his "incredible" Capitol Hill testimony in April, Alberto Gonzales' days have clearly been numbered. The only question was how long he would stay. As the top law enforcement officer in the country, his continued presence was bound to have a corrosive effect on morale among Federal lawyers and investigators, but Bush needed him as a shield to deflect pressure, and to demonstrate Bush's leadership resolve at a moment of crisis in Iraq. For the time being, Bush has a bit more leeway, and the fact that not many people pay attention to politics in August made this an opportune time for Attorney General Gonzales to bail out. Yesterday it was disclosed that Gonzales will indeed step down as next month, only two weeks after Karl Rove announced his departure from the White House. It was only a month ago that I had predicted that Alberto Gonzales would hold on to the Attorney General position for another several months at least, taking the heat for President Bush, bt Chief of Staff John Bolten's insistence that all cabinet officials should either resign by September or pledge to stay in office until the end of Bush's term. In today's Washington Post, Ruth Marcus noted,
Gonzales stayed long enough to drain his departure of nearly all its political benefit. His resignation made Donald Rumsfeld's exit look precipitous.
So what does this mean? Does the resignation matter? Will other Bush loyalists join this exodus? What kind of staff will Bush have for his final year in office? Is he preparing to launch some new policy initiatives with fresh "blood," or is he simply aiming to make his January 2009 departure as smooth as possible? My guess is that Bush is focusing almost all of his attention and energy on Iraq, figuring that he can't get anywhere in domestic policy with the Democrats in control of Congress. I doubt that Bush or anyone in his inner circle is sufficiently attuned to reality to draw the obvious lesson that putting such a high premium on personal loyalty seriously undermines the effectiveness of government officials, especially ones like the Attorney General who must live up to an especially high standard of conduct.
Senator in sex sting?
Well, at least Sen. Larry Craig didn't rent out a room to a boy pal, the way Rep. Barney Frank did, and at least no money changed hands, as in the 1980 "Abscam" sting operation. Coming on the heels of the disgraced Mark Foley and Ted Haggard, it makes you wonder how big this syndrome of closeted gay Republicans / social conservatives is. Obviously, it doesn't look good at all for the Idaho senator, or indeed for the scandal-plagued Republican Party, but we should at least extend him the benefit of the doubt until the evidence becomes known. Now, however, Craig is recanting on his confession, declaring "I am not gay." See Washington Post. Guilty or innocent, this episode shows once again why it is dangerous for a political party to stake its fortunes on standards of morality that some of its members may not be able to meet.
August 28, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Nighthawks head south
Before and during the baseball game in Lynchburg yesterday evening, I saw several Common nighthawks swooping around the stadium lights. It was the first time I have seen them this season, or indeed this year. Yesterday morning I stopped for a few minutes along the Rockfish River, and saw:
- Red-tailed hawk (prob.)
- Cedar waxwings
- Black and white warbler
Other birders from this area are reporting that fall warblers are beginning to move through, and I hope to join an Augusta Bird Club field trip in the Blue Ridge on Saturday.
Young male hummer
We continue to get many visits from hummingbirds every day, and often two are squabbling over access to the feeder. A couple days ago I managed to get a closeup photo of one of them, although with mediocre lighting, and noticed from the streaks in his throat that it was a juvenile male. It's "just a phase" they go through. It is the adult males that give the Ruby-throated hummingbirds their species name.
August 30, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Selig bullish on Miami stadium
Commissioner Bud Selig paid a friendly visit to Miami on Tuesday, and chatted with Mayor Manny Diaz and city manager Pete Hernandez about a new stadium for the Marlins. He expressed hope that the Marlins will get funding approved in the near future, but avoided any hint of heavy-handed pressure by saying "I don't have any deadlines." MLB.com. Well, he didn't have any deadlines when it came to relocating the Expos to Washington, either, but as far as the Marlins are concerned, time is running out.
The mail bag
Thanks to Kevin for bringing my new Stadium overlay comparison page to the attention of members of SABR, and to Jerome Crosson who pointed out to me that there was a concourse behind the grandstand on the first base side of the Polo Grounds. It should have been obvious, since the drawing by Jeff Suntala on the cover of the new edition of Green Cathedrals shows that clearly. In any case, another diagram correction is
pending [completed! See the Polo Grounds page. How's that for speed?]
Also, thanks to loyal stadium page sponsor Mark London for pointing me to an article by Jim Caple on ESPN: "Lost Ballparks and Old Landmarks." It's got a great photo gallery.
Make that six straight
The Nationals' western road trip ended up as a nightmare, as they got swept by the Rockies and then by the Dodgers. That means they are now tied with the Marlins for last place in the NL East. What a dismal end to a month that started out so promising...
August 30, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Peru survivors getting desperate
Two weeks after the massive earthquake near Pisco, Peru, many thousands of people remain homeless and without even a tent for a shelter. Sanitary conditions are awful, and medical supplies are extremely scarce. The United Nations is requesting $37 million from the international community for relief efforts in Peru. Officials are beginning to make plans for a long-term rebuilding effort, amidst grumbles of discontent with government inefficiency. See BBC.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent responded by releasing $205,000 from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund, but much more is needed. The American Red Cross is making an appeal for donations to its International Response Fund. Various Red Cross organizations have a permanent warehouse full of relief supplies located in Panama.
More corruption in Brazil
President Lula da Silva's former chief of staff, Jose Dirceu, has been charged with illegal fundraising, yet another corruption scandal. He ran what was basically a vote-buying scheme under which da Silva got Congress to cooperate with his agenda, but it didn't yield much success. Somehow da Silva manages to weather the storms, but his credibility and popularity are eroding little by little. BBC. If he doesn't put his foot down and demand better behavior from his political allies, the historic opportunity for the Left to show that it can govern responsibly in Brazil would be squandered. While that might seem fine from a conservative point of view, it would leave many poor people disillusioned and even more tempted to turn to crime to make a living.
August 30, 2007 [LINK / comment]
Warblers begin migration
For a while there wasn't much happening on the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad early this morning, but as the sun rose more birds popped into view. Most notable were three warbler species that are almost certainly migrants heading south for the winter. Alas! Today's highlights:
- Hummingbirds (F, M)
- Canada warbler (M)
- Red-bellied woodpeckers (F, M)
- Downy woodpecker (M)
- Brown thrashers
- Yellow warbler (F)
- Redstart (M)