November 1, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Phillies are world champions again
There is no question that, between the city of Philadelphia and the metropolitan area of Tampa/St. Petersburg, there was a far greater hunger for a World Series win in the former than in the latter. After all, the Phillies were the only one of the 16 original Major League franchises to have only won a single World Series in their entire history, that being in 1980. After their 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night, however, they have now joined the Cubs and Indians among that group in having won two world championships. (Three of the 14 expansion franchises have won two World Series: the Mets, the Blue Jays, and the Marlins.) The Phillies played hard and played well, and they deserved that trophy just as much as their fans craved it. Phinally! Congratulations to Philadelphia!
As for the games, two aspects stood out: First, the large number of men left on base by the Phillies -- 48, compared to 23 for the Rays. Second, the above-average number of bad calls by the umpires. Fortunately, those calls didn't seem to consistently favor either team. Everyone will remember the 2008 World Series for the crazy Game 5, which was played in a steady rain for the first six and a half innings, was then suspended, and was finally completed two evenings later. Bud Selig has taken flak from those who say Game 5 should have been cancelled entirely before it even got to the fifth inning, but that would have caused just as much outcry, I think. It was a no-win situation.
The Rays played well for the most part, but some of their star players just did not live up to expectations. Evan Longoria got only one hit in his 20 World Series at-bats, and Carlos Peña wasn't much better, going 2 for 17. [The Rays also] deserve big-league congratulations on having come so far so soon from the American League cellar. With a roster full of top-notch talent signed to multi-year contracts, I'm sure they will be a force to be reckoned with in future years.
Ballpark sojourn 2008
Just as the Phillies "phinally" won, I have finally returned from my extended travels. I have a lot of photographic editing to do, but in the mean time, the following montage of six baseball stadiums in New York and Chicago will have to serve as a preview...
TOP ROW: Shea Stadium and Citi Field, the homes of the Mets, in Queens, New York.
MIDDLE ROW: Yankee Stadiums I (left) and II (right), in The Bronx, New York.
BOTTOM ROW: Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, and U.S. Cellular Field, home of the White Sox, in Chicago.
The mail bag
Just after I left town, coincidentally, a guy named William Kooney sent me a great batch of photos from inside Citi Field, where he has been working, and I will be posting some of those soon as well. Thank you, William!
Harry Heller poses the following question: "As we all are aware, after 44 years, Shea Stadium will be closing in a week or so. As of today, no Mets pitcher has ever thrown a no hitter. So here is a question you might want to pose. Are there any other stadiums, other than temporary venues etc. that the home team has never thrown a no hitter in?" Do any trivia experts out there know for sure? Feel free to comment...
November 1, 2008 [LINK / comment]
SNL: politics all in good fun
To mark the final weekend of the historic Campaign 2008, Saturday Night Live put on a "double header" show this evening. John McCain joined Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin to open the 11:30 show, giving us a rare glimpse of his gentle, self-deprecating nature. I don't know how McCain had enough time to rehearse, given his busy campaign schedule, but he came across as poised and good-natured.
SNL guest host Ben Affleck "endorsed" McCain (in an ironic sense, alluding to Affleck's past support for losing candidates) during his greeting monologue, and later in the show did a great job playing MSNBC's Keith Olberman. I was vaguely aware that Olberman had an ugly reputation as a pompous ass among conservatives, but since I rarely watched MSNBC, I didn't realize how bad he really is. After watching a few times and convincing myself that Olberman was not just getting carried away with a parody or having a bad night, I now have to conclude that he is a bona fide nut case. I'll be the first to admit that President Bush has major deficiencies as a leader and is off-base on key policy issues, but the way Olberman froths at the mouth in denouncing him makes the Democrats look bad. At a time when Barack Obama's electoral fortunes hinge on convincing independent voters that he and his party are reasonable, dependable people, the rantings of left-wing loudmouths like Keith Olberman are the last thing the Dems need.
November 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]
U.S.-Bolivian relations worsen
During the month of October, relations between the United States and Bolivia went from chilly to frigid, as humanitarian missions came under the cloud of political conflict. The left-wing populist government of Evo Morales ordered a halt to all cooperation with the U.S. government in the fight against drug trafficking, accusing the United States of subverting his government. Class-based and ethnic conflict has continued to simmer in several regions throughout the past year, making it very unsafe for Americans who work there. In September, the Peace Corps withdrew all 113 of its volunteers from Bolivia, most of whom then left the Peace Corps, while a few decided to stay behind without official approval to help poor people. See the Washington Post.
Even as Mexico has gradually moved toward a more free market system over the past two decades, one huge impediment has remained: the state oil monopoloy, Petroleos Mexicanos, or PEMEX. The Mexican Congress voted to allow private investment in PEMEX for the first time, overcoming fierce objections from the Left. The leader of the Revolutionary Democratic Party, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who was narrowly defeated in the 2006 presidential elections, made this an issue of national pride, insisting that "The Fatherland is not to be sold." See CNN.com. Although potentially historic in scope, this legislative measure may yet be challenged, and it remains to be seen whether foreign investment in PEMEX will be allowed.
November 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Deciphering the electoral map
Campaign 2008 is winding down as John McCain tries to hold on to key Republican leaning states such as Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, adopting a defensive posture, while Barack Obama aggressively tries to rack up a big Electoral College majority by going to those very same states that have -- until recently -- been "red-tinted."
The political experts at the Washington Post (David Broder, Dan Balz, and Chris Cilizza) say that the states in which Obama has a lead in the polls have a total of nearly 300 Electoral College votes. They say the biggest factors that may sway undecided voters at the last minute is whether America is ready for a black president, and whether Obama can muster enough new voters in the "battleground" states. They say that the Democrats can count on picking up Senate seats in Colorado, New Mexico, and Virginia, where incumbent Republicans are retiring. The Dems might win in five other states where incumbent Republicans are being challenged, and if they win in either Georgia, Kentucky, or Mississippi, they will may just reach the magic veto-proof 60-seat threshold. That would pave the way for a historic shift in American politics, a leap toward the left.
UVa's Larry Sabato projects that Obama will get 364 electoral votes, and McCain will get 174. He expects the Democrats to gain 7 or 8 seats in the U.S. Senate, coming just short of a 60-seat supermajority, and to gain between 26 and 35 seats in the House of Representatives. (By the way, I recently read Sabato's new book, A More Perfect Constitution, in which he proposes a radical overall of our political system, and will have some responses to it in the next few weeks.)
The map below is a synthesis of what various polls are indicating, erring on the side of neutrality. That is, some "undecided" states are leaning in one direction or another; e.g., Obama is apparently slightly ahead in Virginia, but I consider it "too close to call." It would appear that Obama can count on at least 229 Electoral College votes, which means that he would win the election (270 is the minimum to get a majority) if he were to rack up 41 more. He could do that simply by winning two of the three undecided "big" states: Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. If Obama wins any one of those three states, McCain would have to win an overwhelming share of the remaining undecided states in order to be elected. It's a very daunting and sobering prospect, but the ball game ain't over yet, folks...
Some people have noticed that President Bush has not been seen at any campaign event this fall, the first incumbent president to help his party's candidate by staying out of sight since Lyndon Johnson in 1968. President Bush has some admirable qualities, but he is also severely deficient in various ways, and if Obama wins tomorrow, much of the blame will be placed at Bush's feet. Sadly, John McCain has failed to sufficiently distance himself from the negative style of politicking that got Bush elected in 2000.
Added to Bush's unpopularity is, of course, the bleak economic situation. Both parties share a large portion of the blame for the mess we are in, and I still can't figure out why more people don't grasp how closely Obama is connected to the crisis in the mortgage banking sector. Likewise, it is a mystery exactly what people expect that Obama would do any differently if he is elected president. Most likely, he will push for greater regulations, higher taxes, and higher spending on social programs that will discourage people from working. Obama's economic agenda is precisely the opposite of what our economy needs to recover.
Obama's aunt Zeituni
It's probably too late in the campaign to make much difference, but it has been reported that Barack Obama's aunt, Zeituni Onyango, has been living in the United States illegally for the past four years, after a judge turned down her visa request. She currently lives in public housing in Boston; see BBC. As Obama makes his final campaign stop in Prince William County this evening, it will be interesting to see whether he says anything about the problem of illegal immigration, which is a very hot topic in the Manassas area. What's more, the fact that she is living at public expense is yet another example of why the United States should include a substantial portion of domestic welfare spending in its foreign aid totals. Making such a statistical adjustment would reflect much more accurately how much our government spends on international charity, for which we are often criticized as being "stingy."
Senator Obama has made so many extravagant promises during his campaign, it is hard to know when he is just trying to inspire folks with utopian dreams and when he is being serious. Last July he raised eyebrows when he suggested a "national civilian security force" that would, he hopes, get as much funding as the Pentagon. Really? Such a nationwide neighborhood watch system would call into question American people's Second Amendment rights to defend themselves, and would risk becoming a politicized vigilante group like the "Committees for the Defense of the Revolution" in Cuba or Venezuela. Yikes... See nowpublic.com. Hat tip to Stephen Poppe.
Goodlatte's record of service
Due in large part to the current economic troubles, Congressman Bob Goodlatte is facing an unusually serious challenge in his reelection bid this year. Voters in the Sixth District should know that Goodlatte has worked hard over the years to protect the interests of farmers and small businesses in the Shenandoah Valley region. He knows that economic development in smaller cities depends on an adequate transportation infrastructure, and was present when the final segment of the Route 262 bypass around Staunton was opened in August 2006.
Goodlatte has also worked for many years to maintain a unified, balanced Republican Party even as pressure from factions with a narrow agenda continues to mount. In June 2007 he endorsed incumbent Emmett Hanger in the memorable, close-fought race for the 24th state senate district race.
Whereas some partisan Democrats have criticized Congressman Goodlatte for allegedly toeing the line on Bush administration policies, he has taken exception on more than one occasion. For example, during an interview with WHSV TV-3 in June 2007, he stated his opposition to several parts of President Bush's immigration proposal, especially the amnesty provisions.
Congressman Goodlatte has always been attentive to his constituents' concerns, making regular visits to towns throughout the Sixth District, and holding telephone mass forums. He is friendly and courteous, unlike some people who oppose him. For example, at a constituent meeting in Staunton in July 2007, he was the victim of a rude video "ambush" by anti-war activists. (So much for positive dialogue!) In spite of all this, Bob Goodlatte has maintained a friendly, open demeanor, and has run a very positive campaign highlighting his willingness to work with members of the other party. There is no question at all that Congressman Goodlatte deserves to be reelected.
In light of Goodlatte's solid record, I was surprised to read that the News Leader had endorsed his Democratic opponent, Salaam ("Sam") Rasoul. Their main reason seems to be that it's time for "change" in the Sixth District -- "change" in the Obamian sense of going back to a bigger government as in the New Deal or Great Society. The News Leader published a list of campaign contributors the other day, and for the first half of October, 27 of the 38 names listed were of Middle Eastern origin. Presumably they are all naturalized American citizens, or perhaps some of them are native-born citizens whose parents were immigrants. This doesn't mean that Rasoul is getting money from foreign sources, which would be illegal, but it does deserve further scrutiny by anyone who is concerned about foreign influence on our elections.
NOTE: The above section has been cross-posted at Bloggers for Bob Goodlatte.
November 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]
McCain and the centrist voters
Can John McCain perform a miracle? Can he actually rally the conservative base of the Republican Party while stealing the Democrats' thunder on the issue of national service?
It is widely agreed that John McCain's big advantage as a candidate is that he is held in high esteem by voters in the center of the political spectrum. Yet somehow, that emphasis has been lost in the shuffle during the fall campaign, as McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin have put most of their effort into shoring up their support among the Republican Party's conservative base. This is a supremely ironic situation. Normally, a candidate can count on his own party's support, and then tries to build a winning majority by reaching out to other groups. In this year's campaign, however, McCain seemed to assume that he would get a large share of the independent vote but had to work hard to "get out the vote" among Republicans. It will be interesting to find out who came up with that brilliant strategy.
Why is appealing to independent voters regarded with such disfavor in Republican circles these days? In the end, this approach leads to greater polarization, making our country weaker at an especially vulnerable moment in history.
The Palin factor
Columnist Froma Harrop wrote that "Palin drove stake into centrists' hearts," disappointing those of us who hoped she could expand the Republican voter base. In that regard, I need to admit an error in judgment about Palin. On September 5 I was quoted in the News Leader, "Palin is more likely to draw nonpartisan, independent-minded voters than people who are committed in one way or another." Actually, she redoubled the Republican emphasis on "getting out the vote" among the ideologically committed right-leaning core of the party, with a populist touch, while saying very little that might attract those outside the party. It was a strategy doomed to failure.
In this historic campaign ends, I have a wistful feeling, recalling the warm, good vibes among Republicans after Bush's reelection in 2004, and lamenting what has happened to us since then. This election reminds me most of 1996, when I was proud to vote for war hero Bob Dole, even though his campaign was rather mediocre. Likewise, I am very proud to have supported John McCain -- "putting country first" -- even though I wish he had done a better job.
A variety of organizations, not affiliated with the McCain campaign, have been running some TV ads attacking Obama's credentials and suspicious background. It raises questions about accountability and campaign financing, but Obama's huge success in fund-raising means that reform will be put on the back burner, which is probably just as well. Some of those can be seen as video clips at www.neverfindout.org.
The 2008 election reminds New York Times columnist Frank Rich of the 1967 movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, about interracial marriage and liberal hypocrisy. I remember going to that movie vividly, as I became conscious of social and political issues in that tumultuous era. Hat tip to Connie.
Some may ponder whether Obama is the Anti-Christ, but I don't think it does any good to fret about worst-case scenarios. Having been on the winning end and losing end of recent political battles, I know how important it is for all contenders to show grace and respect toward one's opponents. Much as I cringe at the thought of what Obama may bring, if he does win, I intend to give him the benefit of the doubt at least for a few months, and I hope that Republican leaders give him a chance to get something done for the sake of the country.
Finally, how's this for an advertisment:
Barack Obama: He may not have enough experience to serve as president, but he did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night!
Brokaw speech photos
I didn't have enough time to give adequate treatment to Tom Brokaw's lecture at the University of South Dakota last week. Brokaw spoke at the Neuharth Media Center, which was dediated in 2003. It is named for benefactor Al Neuharth, of USA Today. Brokaw said that independent voters were the key
NBC's Tom Brokaw lecturing at the University of South Dakota's Neuharth Media Center, October 28, 2008.
After the lecture, Brokaw chatted with his former professor, Dr. Alan Clem.
November 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Barack Obama's historic victory
As most people expected, Barack Obama defeated John McCain by a clear if not decisive margin yesterday. Barring any recounts, the Electoral College margin was 364 to 174, exactly what U.Va.'s Larry Sabato had projected, and the popular vote margin was 53%-46%. Nine states that voted for President Bush four years ago chose Barack Obama this year; see map and list below.
But enough numbers, already -- this is about emotion! Multitudes of people in America and around the world are exulting in a way that is both winsome and perhaps just a little unsettling. While I don't share in the joy, I can understand why people would feel so deeply about Obama's big victory, and I feel happy for them in a way. Something like this was bound to happen some day, breaking through one of the last big barriers in our society, and I just hope that the elation does not turn sour if it turns out that Obama can't deliver on the millenarian hopes that he raised.
The reasons for Obama's win are not hard to understand, at least not for sympathetic critics of the Republican Party like me. It may take a while for others to absorb the meaning of all this, and that's OK. NBC's Chuck Todd adapted his predecessor Tim Russert's 2004 mantra ("Florida, Florida, Florida") to this year's race: "Bush, Bush, Bush." That pretty much says it all.
Before the election, some pundits joked that Obama was measuring the draperies with which the White House will be decorated, but he refrained from seeming presumptuous as Election Day approached. Likewise, any speculation about his cabinet choices was kept under wraps, lest he offend any voters by exposing his super-human ego. And indeed, his administration has its work cut out for them, with multiple crises and challenges in domestic and foreign policy: As CNN's Christiane Amanpour said last night, Obama will begin work in the Oval Office on January 20 with the "in-box from hell." Thank you, George W. Bush!
Just as I hope that Republicans show more grace in defeat than the Democrats did in 2000, I hope that the outgoing Bush administration staffers refrain from the petty spite of the sort the outgoing Clinton administration staffers did in January 2001, when they removed the W keys from computer keyboards.
COMPARE MAPS: 2004 results ~ 2008 results ~ 2008 prospects
Here are the states that switched sides from 2004 to 2008, all from Republican to Democrat:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
World opinion: U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
Reaction from countries around the world is almost unanimous: People just love Barack Obama, and they heartily approve of the American voters' choice. Does that mean the rest of the world is going to love us from now on? That's what many Americans seem to think, and we will find out soon enough.
I shouldn't be too scornful of such naïve hopes, I suppose, and the United States can indeed expect to get a big diplomatic payoff from Obama's election in Africa, if not the Middle East. When he makes his first big tour of Africa as U.S. President, presumably next year, it will be a memorable occasion.
War? What war???
How soon people forget! Perhaps the biggest irony of the 2008 election is that Barack Obama surged to the lead in the Democratic primary race late last year by touting his early opposition to the war in Iraq, even as it was becoming clear that the "Surge" policy in Iraq was succeeding. It may not be a "victory," as some boast, but Iraq is being steadily pacified, and the Iraqi government and local security forces are taking greater and greater control of their own country all the time. The problem is that peace (or relative peace) is boring, and to put a twist on an old adage, good news is no news. The American people being relatively inattentive to events in faraway places, the natural advantage that John McCain should have had with his hawkish foreign policy was largely neutralized. In that sense, Obama really does owe President Bush a big "Thank you!"
The Redskin factor
One bad omen for John McCain was the [23-6] defeat of the Washington Redskins by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football. From 1944 through 2000, every time the Redskins won their last home game before the election, the party of the incumbent president won the presidential election, and vice versa. This strange pattern was interrupted in 2004, but this year it resumed. See snopes.com
The Democrats picked up at least five seats in the U.S. Senate, with four more races in which incumbent Republicans are being challenged yet undecided. (Two states held two senatorial elections, because of vacated seats, while in Delaware, Sen. Joe Biden was simultaneously reelected to the Senate and elected as Vice President; a replacement will be needed.) In Oregon, Sen. Gordon Smith is ahead by about 12,000 votes, in Georgia, Sen. Saxby Chambliss fell just short of a majority in a three-man race which will force a run-off election, in Alaska, Sen. Ted Stevens (recently convicted on corruption charges) is ahead by about 3,000 votes, and in Minnesota, Sen. Norm Coleman is ahead of comedian/talk-show host Al Franken by about 600 votes.
Virginia turns bluish
In Virginia, Democrats went a long way toward "painting the Old Dominion blue," winning the presidential election for the first time since 1964 and capturing a second U.S. Senate seat for the first time since 1970. Millionaire businessman and former Governor Mark Warner beat his predecessor as Governor Jim Gilmore by nearly two-to-one, a stinging blow. Now we'll find out if the high-handed, ostentatious style of the new Senator Warner fits in with the collegial, deferential upper chamber of the U.S. Congress. In the House races, I was pleased that Rep. Frank Wolf won by such a big margin over Judy Feder, and I was disappointed that moderate Republican Thelma Drake lost her seat. In the Fifth District, social conservative (and former Democrat) Virgil Goode is clinging to a very narrow lead over his challenger, Tom Periello. In the Sixth District, our own Rep. Bob Goodlatte handily turned back the challenge from Sam Rasoul.
Many Staunton-area Republicans gathered at the Elks Lodge to watch the election returns last night; see the News Leader. Meanwhile, I was among the "outcast" faction of veteran Republican activists that got together in downtown Staunton. We reminisced about all our struggles to keep the party on an even keel over the past couple years, most notably the 2007 Hanger vs. Sayre primary race and the mass meetings in Staunton and Augusta County. (Oh, the follies of youth...) Us "old-timers" look forward to the day when the Grand Old Party returns to its traditional virtues of common sense and pragmatism.
And in South Dakota
In South Dakota, a referendum that would have outlawed all abortions (except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother's life is in danger) failed. I think that measure went too far, so I am pleased with that outcome. To my surprise, one of the anti-abortion groups declared its opposition to that measure because they thought it didn't go far enough. Incumbent Senator Tim Johnson was reelected by a large margin, benefiting from a large sympathy vote. He suffered a stroke December 2006, and although he has made great progress in his recovery, his speech is still quite impaired.
The state's lone member of the House of Representatives, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, was re-elected by a wide margin. She is a young, bright, and articulate member of the moderate "Blue Dog" faction of the Democratic Party, and her ads clearly appealed to gun owners and social conservatives. Since the 2006 election, she married Texas Congressman Max Sandlin (D-1st District), but continues to maintain permanent residency in South Dakota.
I was disappointed that the Republican candidate for State Senate in District 17, Jerad Higman, was defeated by the incumbent. I met him before the University of South Dakota football game on Dakota Day (homecoming), and I was very impressed both with his knowledge of issues, and by the big success of his company, MASABA, which manufactures heavy-duty mining equipment.
The GOP's future
Not surprisingly, Andrew Sullivan took the opportunity of Obama's triumph to promote his book, The Conservative Soul, which does make some good points. To me, yesterday's enormous setback was entirely predictable, and I have written dozens of blog pieces on what is wrong with the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement, so I won't belabor the point right now. I happen to agree with what Karl Rove said (on FOX News?), that we should all wait a while and reflect on things before we start blaming each other for the defeat. I will try to hold off until December...
NOTE: I had to abruptly cease blogging last night before I had properly edited my words. My apologies for the typographical errors and incomplete sentences.
NOTE: Corrections, indicated by [brackets] were made on Oct. 7.
November 6, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Yankee Stadium farewell photos
I have added several new photos to the Yankee Stadium page taken during my recent tour, deleting some of the old ones. Two of them are shown below. I noticed that on the Utz billboard on the right end of the bleachers, it says "Clem Snacks," so I added a closeup version showing that. A few photos taken by Brian Vangor at the final game (Sept. 21), who joined me on that tour, are also posted on that page. Thank you, Brian! Finally, I have also begun to add the years for which the World Series was played in each stadium. (In the case of Yankee Stadium, the total number is 36.)
By the way, I was pleased that my semi-conjectural diagram depictions of the concourse area at Yankee Stadium was at least partially corroborated. Just as I had estimated, the tunnel ramps leading to the lower deck go slightly downhill (since 1976, that is), and the concourse level behind the lower deck is very cramped.
I would like to take this opportunity to heartily thank the New York Yankees for responding to the pleas of fans like me and holding tours of Yankee Stadium after the season had ended. Getting one last look inside "The House That Babe Ruth Built" really meant a lot to me.
Grand view of Yankee Stadium from the press box, on the middle level.
Yours truly, in Monument Park. Behind me are the memorials to Lou Gehrig, Miller Huggins, and Babe Ruth. On the far left in back is Mickey Mantle. Thanks to Brian Vangor for taking the picture.
NL Gold Gloves
Long-time Braves ace pitcher Greg Maddux [who has switched back and forth between the Dodgers and the Padres for the last three years] was awarded the [National League] Gold Glove for the 18th time. He will probably announce his retirement in the next few months. At third base, David Wright won the Gold Glove for the second straight year, even though Washington's Ryan Zimmerman had fewer errors (10, compared to 16) and a higher fielding percentage (.967, compared to .962). We wuz robbed! See MLB.com.
The mail bag
In response to Harry Heller's recent query about stadiums in which the home team has never thrown a no-hitter, Mark London tells me that Forbes Field never had a no hitter by either the home or visiting team. (I think I knew that.) There were three no-hitters by visiting pitchers at San Diego's Jack Murphy, but none by the Padres. Likewise, none in Camden Yards thus far, and the last one in Memorial Stadium was by Jim Palmer on August 13, 1969. Baltimore thus has the longest current streak of no no-hitters in the American League, and Cleveland is next; Len Barker threw a perfect game in 1981. San Francisco has the next longest National League streak (32 years); John Montefusco threw a no-hitter at Candlestick Park on September 29, 1976. Does anyone know if there are other such cases?
Darrell ? corrected a statement I made about the 1985 World Series (Royals vs. Cardinals), reminding me that there was a previous Missouri-only World Series, in 1944. I should have known that because my father attended two of the games in that World Series! At one of those games, he talked to Don Gutteridge, second baseman for the St. Louis Browns (and the Cardinals, before that), who got several of his team mates to sign their autographs for my father.
Ken Akerman shares my interest in thoroughly renovating Tropicana Field, removing the roof and reshaping the grandstand and outfield. He also points out that two other major league baseball stadiums have hosted the NCAA Final Four in college basketball: the Houston Astrodome (1971), and the Metrodome in Minneapolis (1992). What would I do without all my well-informed fans?
Finally, I have received dozens of photos from fans in recent weeks, and I will do my best to get the best ones properly posted on the respective stadium pages. Many thanks to all those who have contributed their ballpark photos. (Boy, do I have my work cut out for me!)
November 6, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Election fallout in Virginia
The "fallout" metaphor is appropriate: Take shelter, everybody! The News Leader interviewed some local Republicans, some of whom think the party has been too moderate and needs to become more conservative. That begs the question, of course, of how conservatism is to be defined. I would agree that the party needs to field candidates with a clear conservative agenda, but those with a narrow, dogmatic approach are unlikely to win a majority of votes. It seems that many Republicans were not very enthusiastic about John McCain's candidacy, even though he nailed down the nomination fairly early in the 2008 primary season. If people don't like the candidates that are produced by the current nomination system, there is only one solution: do away with primary elections, and nominate candidates via party mass meetings and conventions, in which only party members and sworn adherents can participate.
Thursday's Waynesboro News Virginian interviewed State Senator Emmett Hanger and JMU Professor Bob Roberts. In explaining how the GOP got off track in conveying its basic message to the voters, Hanger mentioned the negative influence of radio talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and hardball politicos such as Karl Rove. He said those people "have defined politics as warfare rather than a forum for the expression of ideas," leading to increased polarization in the country. (Limbaugh gets carried away sometimes, but I still think he has a net positive effect overall.) Hanger and Roberts agreed that the governor's race next year will be crucial in setting the Republican Party's future course. Attorney General Bob McDonnell is the presumptive GOP candidate, and he seems to be squarely in the middle of the Republican party (a tenuous position, these days), neither too far to the right nor too far toward the center.
Too close to call
In Virginia's Fifth Congressional District, the vote tally keeps changing because of late reports and corrections by some precincts. Democrat Tom Perriello has pulled slightly ahead of incumbent Rep. Virgil Goode, and now leads by nearly 700 votes, about 0.2% of the 316,618 total votes cast. The main issue in that campaign seems to have been whether Mr. Perriello was one of those "New York lawyers." (He says he worked there only two years.)
November 7, 2008 [LINK / comment]
N.Y. Times dissects "blue shift"
Thursday's New York Times presented an intriguing county-by-county map of the 2008 election, dissecting the "blue shift" which underlay Obama's historic victory. At first glance, it seems rather misleading, because several states that McCain won are clearly shaded in blue. The reason is that it shows not the percentage of votes received by each party's candidate, but rather the net shift since the 2004 presidential election. There is a striking geographic concentration of the areas in which McCain did better than Bush did four years ago, stretching from the coal country of southern West Virginia through Tennessee, northern Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and into Texas and Louisiana. The Times attributes this to the demographic makeup of those areas, which are predominantly white and rural in character.
So what does this demographic shift portend for the Grand Old Party? Probably a further migration away from the party's traditional emphasis on big business and global trade (NAFTA, WTO) exemplified by leaders such as Mitt Romney, and toward the more insular, populist attitude exemplified by leaders such as Pat Buchanan. The challenge for Republican Party leaders will be to articulate a national policy agenda that puts the marginalized regions into the mainstream of American politics, much as Franklin Roosevelt did for Appalachia and the Democratic Party during the 1930s. That will take some doing!
On the northern edge of that "red-shifting" region is the "Show Me" state of Missouri, which remains "too close to call." With a lead of nearly 6,000 votes, however, McCain has it nearly wrapped up. As noted by the Kansas City Star, "The election marked the first time since 1821 that a Democrat was elected president without winning Missouri. ... Overall, it was also the first time since 1956, and only the second time since 1900, that the state backed a presidential loser." This calls into question Missouri's time-honored status as a "bellwether" state. (Not "bellweather," as some people write.)
"Not conservative enough" ???
That's the title of today's News Leader editorial, referring to the reason why some local Republicans think the GOP lost so badly on Tuesday. I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. How can a party that has been completely taken over by the right wing possibly be not conservative enough? The editorial was quite right to "connect the dots" between the failures of the Republican Party at the national level with the bitter acrimony we Republicans in Staunton and Augusta County have endured for the past couple years. (Believe me, we have been doing everything in our might to keep the tensions out of public view so as not to undermine the campaign efforts of Republican candidates. It's a relief to have the pressure off, finally.)
Contrary to what many people think, the infighting among local Republicans was not just a personality squabble that got out of hand, it was a very serious dispute on what course the party should take. The editorial writers seemed to think that the party is divided between social conservatives and those who prioritize tax cuts, but that is not quite right. The real divide is between those who insist on a rigid, narrow pre-defined policy agenda, demanding unconditional loyalty from members, versus those who (like me) believe in rationally deliberating the issues and setting priorities based on electoral realities. In other words, the fundamental dispute is more about process than policy substance. Indeed, some of the folks on our side identify with the right wing of the GOP, but simply refuse to put up with cronyism, corruption, and dictatorial leadership.
All it would take for the party to get back on track would be a willingness to engage in honest, open dialogue, in an atmosphere free of intimidation and defamation. Most Virginians, and indeed most Americans, are naturally inclined toward the conservative side, and would be eager to join a party that did not shun newcomers. Under the current leadership of the Republican Party of Virginia, deluded by meaningless slogans like grassroots, unfortunately, such a dialogue is extremely unlikely. For some people, reality is a difficult concept to grasp.
One of the most intelligent and yet heartfelt perspectives on the election appeared in Thursday's Washington Post, in which Charles Krauthammer wrote an "autopsy" on the McCain campaign. As he reminds us, McCain was still ahead in the polls until mid-September, when the Lehman Brothers firm collapsed and the economy plunged off a cliff. This created an almost insurmountable climate of voter hostility toward the Republicans, and most voters were too angry to try to understand why the Democrats deserved most of the blame for the mortgage debacle. This spelled doom. At the same time, voters who did pay closer attention had to laugh at McCain's warnings that a President Obama would mean socialism, as President Bush proceeded to socialize the banking sector. Krauthammer had said from the start that the choice of Sarah Palin as running mate was a terrible mistake, squandering McCain's inherent advantage of maturity, experience, and responsibility. Trying to seize the "change" slogan from Obama was, as he says, a "fool's errand" for the candidate of the incumbent party.
On the same page in today's Post, House Minority Leader John Boehner conceded that the Republicans had failed and said he would try to cooperate with Obama's administration "when it is in the best interest of our nation." It was a graceful and sincere gesture of bipartisanship, but at the same time he served notice that his party wouldn't be fooled by sweet talk:
This election was neither a referendum in favor of the left's approach to key issues nor a mandate for big government. Obama campaigned by masking liberal policies with moderate rhetoric to make his agenda more palatable to voters.
It didn't take long for the finger-pointing among Republicans to begin. Some people in John McCain's camp talked to Newsweek reporters, pinning the blame on Sarah Palin for the electoral loss, even suggesting that she was clueless about basic facts of world politics. Whether such a depiction was accurate or not, it is quite unseemly for high-level campaign operatives to snipe at their candidate's running mate so soon after the election is over. Some bloggers on the right have used words like "Character Assassination" to denounce the McCain advisors for putting down Sarah Palin, but that is exactly the kind of dirty politics the right wing has been practicing during the Bush-Rove Era, so those charges ring hollow.
When Tina Fey showed the "Palin 2012" T-shirt during the skit with John McCain on Saturday Night Live, I thought it was a hilarious parody, like something you would read in The Onion. To my shock and dismay, there seem to be a fair number of Republicans who are cheering just such a candidacy. Are they out of their minds?? She is no better equipped to lead this nation than Barack Obama is... Oh, I see. Maybe that's good enough. Nobody emerged to rally the right wing this campaign year, and those folks really hunger for a leader they can call their own.
Whenever a defeat as big as this one occurs, it is hard to keep things in perspective. We need to cool it for a while, until we have all had a chance to reflect on the disaster that just happened. Above all, we must avoid pointless hand-wringing.
Speaking of which, I heard Rush Limbaugh accuse the moderate Republicans of dragging the party "down into the sewer" this afternoon, so I turned him off for the rest of the day.
November 8, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Shea Stadium photographs
I have updated the Shea Stadium page with some of the photos I took there last month. While the architectural design is not really remarkable, the stadium does stand out with its bold blue color and the artistic sketches of players that adorn the exterior walls. I was lucky to have plenty of sun that day, but it's too bad I couldn't get inside to take pictures. Next to come: the Citi Field, which is right next door, and New Yankee Stadium...
Thanks to all those folks who have sent in ballpark photographs lately, especially John Minor for his photos of Tropicana Field and Angel Stadium of Anaheim, among others. That leaves just three current MLB ballparks for which I still lack photos: Busch Stadium III, Chase Field, and Rogers Centre.
New uniforms for Nats
When your team stinks and all other remedies have failed, why not try new uniforms? That's what the Washington Nationals will do next year, but only the road game uniforms are changing, with a scripted red "Washington" on the front of the jerseys, rather like the old Senators uniforms. See MLB.com. If that doesn't work, maybe they can follow Tampa Bay's lead and change the name itself, perhaps back to the "Senators," as Steven Poppe keeps insisting.
At the new uniform "fashion show," manager Manny Acta and Lastings Milledge said they hoped President-to-be Barack Obama would throw out the first pitch at the first game to be played in D.C. next year, on April 13. See MLB.com. That would be a great way to generate fan enthusiasm among the African-American community in and around Washington.
November 9, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Stupid fundraising tricks
If Dante had written The Inferno in today's world, I'm sure he would have designated a special place in hell for those who make a career out of raising funds for political campaigns. We are all familiar with the barrages of colorful mail solicitations screaming that the world will come to an end in January if you don't send in your money right away. Blistering, strident, simplistic political buzz words to get your blood boiling and your wallet opening!! Or what about those "surveys" in which the candidate or party pretends to care what you think about, in hopes that you will send them some of your hard-earned dollars. What kind of fools respond to those dumb appeals, anyway? With all the modern computer technology at their disposal these days, why don't political campaigns target their campaign mailings according to some kind of demographic criteria?
This year, the appeals for campaign donations have blazed new frontiers of tackiness, breaking ethical standards left and right. Somebody figured out that the best way to get the recipient's attention is to send the appeal by U.S. Postal Service Certified Mail, as though the envelope contained an absentee ballot or some other sort of legal document. (It says "Certified Election Material," so it must be important, right?) A normal-size Certified Mail letter costs $3.12 to send, forcing the recipient to sign for the letter. If he or she is not home when the mailman rings the doorbell, however, then it's down to the local post office to get the letter. How insulting and aggravating! I know that Elizabeth Dole's campaign resorted to that attention-grabbing trick, and I wonder if it cost her more votes that it won?
But the grand prize for the sleaziest mail fundraising campaign of all goes to the "National Campaign Fund," which is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The "National Chairman" is Floyd Brown, but apparently it's just Floyd and his buddy Jim Lacy, and maybe a secretary or two. They used the big yellow envelope trick, the Certified Mail trick, and an extreme example of the old nickel-in-the-envelope-window trick often used by legitimate charities: he sent a big envelope with two dollar bills, a nickel, and three pennies which were visible through the cellophane window. The accompanying letter tried but failed to explain the significance of that particular amount, $2.08. (Maybe it referred to the year 2008 but with a missing zero.) The return envelope says "John McCain for President" in the upper left corner, and it looks pretty official. In the fine print at the bottom of the letter, however, is the following disclaimer:
Paid for by the National Campaign Fund Political Action Committee, and not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.
In other words, that "organization" evidently has no connection whatsoever to John McCain or the Republican Party. I'm sure it never even occurred to many of the easily-duped senior citizen Republicans who sent in their money that it was not going to the McCain campaign at all. What a pity... Floyd's Web site www.nationalcampaignfund.com automatically redirects to helpjohnmccain.com, which is nothing more than a bunch of blog posts dated September 29, September 30, October 4, and October 16. (Hell, I could have done that in an afternoon...) If they really wanted to "help John McCain," of course, they would have automatically redirected their Web traffic to www.johnmccain.com. Just to be safe and avoid criminal fraud charges, they did include a link to the official McCain Web site.
Because of Barack Obama's smashing success at online fundraising, there probably won't be much interest in reforming such bogus fundraising practices for the next couple years. What's the moral of our story? Caveat donor!
November 10, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Yankee Stadium II photos
I have added several photos taken during my recent visit to New York to the Yankee Stadium II page. I have seen some recent photos showing that they have installed the grass sod, one of the final steps as construction nears completion. As noted on that page, the diagram on that page is woefully inadequate, and revisions are pending.
Meanwhile, in hopes of hanging on to the ancient championship "mojo," perhaps, the Yankees are moving some of the dirt from old Yankee Stadium into new Yankee Stadium. Former Yankee star Paul O'Neill joined a bunch of kids with shovels and wheelbarrows hauling the sacred ground across the street. See MLB.com.
One thing I don't much care for in the new Bronx stadium are the huge "YANKEE STADIUM" letters on top of the roof. They already have the gilded "YANKEE STADIUM" letters above each of the three main entrances, and it just seems like overkill.
The mail bag
Even though the economic crisis has caused a postponement of a decision to provide public funds for a new baseball stadium in Miami, the Florida Marlins are moving ahead with their design work. According to the Florida Sun-Sentinel, team owner Jeffrey Loria wants the new stadium to have some special feature (yet unspecified) and to be pitcher-friendly with a deep "Bermuda Triangle" area, like Dolphin Stadium; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
Mike also informed me that the Red Sox are adding more seats on top of the roof near the right field corner in Fenway Park. After next year, the renovations should be essentially completed. See MLB.com. The Red Sox want to host the 2012 All-Star Game to mark the centennial of Fenway Park, but they just hosted in in 1999, and other ballparks have been "waiting in line."
November 10, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Fall birding on the Great Plains
During my recent visit to the Great Plains of South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska, I took advantage of the intermittent nice weather and went for a few birding treks through the countryside. Over the course of my trip, I was fortunate to spot two life birds: a Harris's Sparrow (several of them, actually) and a LeConte's Sparrow. I also saw quite a few winter birds that arrive in that region a couple weeks earlier than they typically arrive here in Virginia. The summary report below is roughly organized according to geographical location.
Harris's Sparrow (immature, lacking black face) on the left, and an all-too-common House Sparrow (female) on the right.
New York, Oct. 3
At Yankee Stadium, I saw a fast-flying raptor that was probably a Peregrine falcon. Late in the afternoon, as our train headed up the Hudson Valley, I saw:
- Ring-billed gulls
- Great Blue Herons
- Great Egrets (FOS)
- Double-crested Cormorants (FOS)
- Pied-billed Grebes (FOS)
South Dakota, Oct. 8-27
One thing that astonished me was the enormous number of Robins that were seen in various places in and around Vermillion. During some evenings I saw flocks passing overhead numbering well over 500, possibly more than a thousand. They seem to spend their days in the woods along the bluff that marks the north edge of the Missouri River valley, and then roost in wooded areas in town during the evening. I was amazed by the virtual absence of crows. Most of the birds listed below were seen in or near Vermillion. (Because so many unique birds were seen at Spirit Mound, which is in South Dakota, I put them in a separate list.)
- Robins (hundreds!)
- Blue Jays
- Cardinal (only one!)
- House sparrows (many)
- House Finches
- Yellow-rumped Warblers (FOS, Oct. 8)
- Dark-eyed Juncos (FOS, Oct. 10)
- Red-tailed Hawks
- Cedar Waxwings
- American Tree Sparrow (FOS, Oct. 10)
- Bald Eagles (imm.)
- Red-winged Blackbirds
- Harris's Sparrow (X) (LIFE BIRD!, Oct. 17)
- Sharp-shinned Hawks
- Canada Geese
- Ring-billed Gulls
- Double-crested Cormorants
- Pied-billed Grebes
- American Coots (FOS, Oct. 27)
- Lesser Scaups (FOS, Oct. 27)
- Common Merganser (FOS, Oct. 27)
- Gadwalls (FOS, Oct. 27)
Spirit Mound, Oct. 18
- LeConte's Sparrow (X) (LIFE BIRD!)
- Harris's Sparrow (X)
- Swamp Sparrow (FOS)
- Pine Siskins (FOS)
- Downy Woodpecker
- Barn Swallows
- Western Meadowlark (X)
- Ring-necked Pheasant (X)
Ponca State Park, Nebraska, Oct. 25
- Red-bellied Woodpeckers
- White-breasted Nuthatches
- Blue Jays
- American Crows (few)
- Black-capped Chickadees
- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Song Sparrow
- American Tree Sparrow
Iowa, Oct. 30
- American White Pelicans (X) -- 80+ on the Mississippi River at Burlington, Iowa.
(FOS) = first of season
(X) = not seen in Eastern U.S.A.
November 11, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Citi Field photos + diagram fix
I have posted some of the photos I took on the Citi Field page, as well as a panoramic image that I stitched together from three photos sent to me by William Kooney. Citi Field truly is photogenic, and I expect it will come to be regarded as one of the best of the post-1992 "neoclassical" ballparks. The design elements and color scheme are all well thought-out, and it fits right into the neighborhood. It's almost as if Ebbets Field had been reincarnated... (I said almost.) My only quibble is that they should have built it closer to the side of 126th Street in the Willets Point neighborhood, so that sidewalk pedestrians could get a quick glimpse of the game, as is the case at Wrigley Field. [That would also more closely resemble Ebbets Field, in which right field was flush up against the street, squeezing the outfield dimensions.]
Roll the mouse over this exterior photo to see a panoramic interior view of the field, kindly submitted by William Kooney. (Both photos are reduced size to fit on the blog page.)
While I was at it, I made some major revisions of the diagram. I was told that somebody at baseball-fever.com mentioned the inaccuracies. Hey, nobody's perfect ... not even obsessive perfectionists like me! I made it clearer that "under construction" applies to the diagram as well as the stadium itself. By rolling your mouse over this thumbnail image, you can compare Citi Field to the classic-era ballpark that was the inspiration for its design.
Next door, meanwhile, demolition of Shea Stadium has begun in earnest, and most of the movable portions of the lower deck are Already Gone... Helicopter-view photos can be seen at wcbs880.com; the link to that was on the afore-mentioned Baseball Fever page.
Rookies of the Year
Congratulations to Evan Longoria, third baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays, and Geovany Soto, catcher for the Chicago Cubs, for being named, respectively, AL and NL Rookies of the Year. Longoria was chosen by unanimous vote, while Soto came very close, getting 31 of 32 first-place votes. They both played a big part in getting their teams to the postseason this year. See MLB.com.
November 12, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Shining Path resurging in Peru
After more than a decade of dormancy and virtual extinction, the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) has begun terrorizing parts of Peru once again. Today's Washington Post reported on the recent surge in violence. During October, the Shining Path killed 17 soldiers and five Peruvian civilians, the biggest number since the 1990s. Drug money has fueled their operations, and it may be that the success of Colombia's government in putting down the narco-guerrilla movement there has caused a "spillover effect," as drug traffickers seek new sources and new protection from underworld movements in neighboring countries.
That article referred to the Shining Path militants as "guerrillas," but when I first visited Peru, I was told in no uncertain terms that they are considered terrorists, not "rebels" or "guerrillas."
Another disturbing aspect to this surge in Shining Path activity is the possible involvement of hostile governments such as Veneuzela, Ecuador, or Bolivia. Presidents Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa, and Evo Morales have expressed support for revolutionary movements across South America, while excusing drug trafficking. As the transition to a new administration begins in the United States, everyone will be watching to see what President-elect Obama will do about the narco-terrorist problem in Latin America.
November 13, 2008 [LINK / comment]
More GOP finger-pointing
After a political defeat it is perfectly natural for those on the losing side to want to vent their anger and frustration. Whenever a party loses a struggle of such historic proportions as was the case this year, the pressure to lash out is almost irresistable. But because political survival -- and ultimate victory -- depend above all on keeping an alliance together, it is far better for the party that such criticisms remain out of the public eye, so as not to further besmirch the party's image. That is why I am refraining from overt blame-pinning for the time being, preferring to think about the fundamental causes of the Republican Party's downward slide before venturing into the fray.
Unfortunately, that attitude of forebearance is not widely shared within the party, and the recriminations are flying all over the place. A perfect example is veteran conservative activist Richard Viguerie, who is really losing it. In a recent e-mail blast, he demanded that "All Republican congressional leaders should resign . . . or grassroots conservatives will withhold support from the GOP." What kind of leader exhibits a childish attitude such as that? On his blog "Conservative HQ" Viguerie heaps scorn and contempt on John McCain, which I find shocking. He faults McCain for not running as a conservative, but McCain is not identified as a conservative, so why pretend otherwise?
Another example of the right wing becoming detached from reality is radio talk-show host Michael Reagan. A couple nights ago on "Larry King Live," he claimed that after the GOP convention was over, John McCain completely ignored the Republican Base. That is the exact opposite of what I observed. McCain spent most of his campaign efforts trying in vain to "energize the base," but even with Sarah Palin on the ticket, they just refused to be energized.
It seems to me that a large proportion of the folks who belong to the "Republican Base" must harbor deep psychological insecurities, craving attention and respect much as a young teenager would. There must be hundreds of psychologists and sociologists across the country trying to unravel the mystery of just what it is that bothers "the Base" so much. Is it some kind of social status issue? Whatever it may be, instead of bawling and blaming somebody else when things go wrong, maybe those folks should just grow up.
Having just updated the Citi Field page with the photos I took while visiting the Mets' future home in Flushing Meadows, it occurs to me that editorial comment on the banking crisis is appropriate. (The new stadium's corporate sponsor is Citi Bank.) In light of the recent meltdown in the American banking sector, it is worth pointing out that the Mets are fortunate indeed that their corporate sponsor, CitiBank, seems to more financially stable than Enron, Ameriquest, or some of the other short-lived enterprises whose now-sullied names briefly graced Major League baseball stadiums. See the Stadium names page. CitiBank recently tried to aquire Wachovia Bank, but Wells Fargo then is a dispute. As of October 22, the Wells Fargo - Wachovia merger is going forward. See wachovia.com.
November 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Cy Young winners are named
I heard a lot of vague chatter about the Giants' pitcher Tim Lincecum during the 2008 season, and he indeed finished with a 18-5 record, for which he was given the National League Cy Young Award. Aside from his unusual name, the young (24) ace has a goofy face and a slight build, but his fast ball is almost unhittable. The Giants desperately need someone like him to get competitive again in the post-Barry Bonds era. See MLB.com. In the American League, a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians won for the second year in a row, but this time it was Cliff Lee, not C.C. Sabathia. Prior to this season, he had played four full years with Cleveland but got demoted to the minors last year, playing for Buffalo. Apparently that did the trick, as the mid-career starter made a spectacular comeback this year, finishing with an amazing 22-3 record. It's quite an inspirational tale. See MLB.com.
Saving Tiger Stadium
I'm still catching up with e-mail from last month, and came across some pleasant news from savetigerstadium.org:
The Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation have reached agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding that will ultimately transfer title to the stadium to the Conservancy and grant a long-term lease of the playing field.
Good! Let's hope they can keep what's left of the grandstand preserved for the future.
A's yearn for ballpark
In Oakland, the owner of the Athletics, Lew Wolff, still hopes to build a high-tech ballpark in suburban Fremont even though the economic situation is discouraging. If that particular deal falls through, he says, Sacramento is not a likely alternative. Fortunately for the A's, the new Giants' owner (managing partner) Bill Neukom says he is not worried about the possible effect on the Giants would be if the A's move closer to San Jose, which is supposed to be the Giants' territory. See USA Today; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
Mystery in Brooklyn
SABR member David Dyte has done a lot of research on exactly how much still remains of the original structure of Washington Park in Brooklyn. Apparently the brick wall that still stands today was built after the Dodgers left, when the Brook-Feds rebuilt the ballpark in 1914. "The Washington Park Wall" is a fascinating exercise in weighing various pieces of photographic evidence, and it includes a rough sketch diagram...
November 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Violent protests in Peru
Earlier this month, protests in southern Peru got out of hand, and a state of emergency was declared, authorizing the Army to restore order. Three people were killed and several dozen were injured when workers in the city of Tacna gathered to voice anger at a law passed by the Peruvian Congress that would shift a great share of the proceeds from state-owned mines to the central government in Lima. See CNN.com. "Renting mobs" for the purpose of staging protests is very common in Latin America, and it would be interesting to find what political organizations or labor unions were financing that street battle. Historically, the Peruvian economy (and the economies of Bolivia, and other mineral-exporting countries in Latin America) has been held back by corrupt, inefficient state-owned mining enterprises. Whether the government of Peru stands up to the mercantilistic "mafias" (exposed and denounced by Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto) will make a big difference in whether Peru continues to lead the way in Latin American economic growth, as it has in recent years. Peru has managed to overcome political calamity stemming from the Fujimori era, and has stayed on the path of growth, contrary to the expectations of many observers (like me).
November 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Hank Paulson changes his tune
Well, what do you know? Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has decided, evidently on his own, to completely reorient the $700 billion bailout program passed by Congress last month. Instead of using that gargantuan (and highly dubious) fund to buy stakes in enterprises that are at risk of failure, as President Bush had specified when begging Congress for the money in late September, Paulson has decided that money would be better spent to prop up the credit sector. Accordingly, he now intends to make sure that consumer credit companies have enough liquidity so that Americans can keep on borrowing and spending like there's no tomorrow. See the Washington Post.
In other words, Paulson is using your tax dollars to prolong a vicious cycle of bad debt, in an economy that is dangerously indebted already. The American economic system is apparently so addicted to continued flows of new credit that the idea of shoring up our individual and collective balance sheets, paying off some of our loans, is not even being considered. Where will this folly lead us to in the end? Perdition, most likely.
If nothing else, Paulson's decision shows what a reckless move it was for Congress to give such enormous prerogative to spend the public's money to a single government official. This is precisely the sort of arbitrary, unaccountable -- dare I say despotic -- kind of government that our Founding Fathers so fiercely opposed. Anyone who believes in a free society of responsible individuals living under a limited government should be mourning what is happening in Washington right now.
Kaine visits Staunton
Governor Tim Kaine paid a visit to several places around Staunton on Thursday. As reported by the News Leader, he warned people to be ready for more budget cuts while at the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center earlier in the day. Later he went to the Blackfriar's Theater and the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library. The Governor didn't make much of a speech at the final venue at which I was present late in the afternoon, at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel. Afterwards, I chatted about the recent election with Chris Graham of the Augusta Free Press, in which his coverage of Kaine's visit appears.
Governor Kaine responds to queries from Chris Graham.
November 16, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Abortion issue divides Uruguay
Only a couple days after the Uruguayan Senate passed a bill decriminalizing abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, President Tabare Vazquez vetoed the measure, citing philosophical and scientific grounds. Historically, abortion has been taboo in the predominantly Catholic nations of Latin America. Throughout the region, aside from Cuba and Mexico City, abortion is outlawed except in extreme circumstances. Public opinion in Uruguay favors loosening the restrictions on abortion, but it's uncertain if that sentiment is strong enough to prevail against the fierce opposition of the Catholic Church. See BBC.
Whatever one thinks about abortion, at least in Uruguay they are handling this ultra-sensitive matter the right way -- in the legislative and executive branches that set national policy, rather than in the courts, which have improperly intruded upon that role in the United States, e.g., with Roe v. Wade.
November 16, 2008 [LINK / comment]
The Obamas on "60 Minutes"
President-elect Barack Obama and his wife Michelle were subjected to intense grilling from veteran journalist Steve Kroft on this evening's "60 Minutes." (Just kidding! ) Well, no one would expect Obama to be scrutinized by the Mainstream Media so soon after his big election victory, while the good vibes are still in the air. Kroft did ask the obligatory questions about economic policy and cabinet appointments, and Obama was mum with regard to those topics. He is smart enough to know that, during this sharp and awkward transition from a conservative (?) Republican administration to a liberal Democratic administration, saying the wrong thing could further rattle the financial markets, which are already extremely nervous. There were a few moments when Obama grinned in a cocky way, not very presidential, and if he wants to earn the trust of his political opponents, he will have to guard against that after he is sworn in two months from now.Transcript, videos, etc. are at CBS.com.
For her part, Michelle Obama came across as very poised, graceful, and sincere. Laura Bush will be a very hard act to follow as First Lady, however, and Mrs. Bush never wrote any anti-American term papers either. Thus, like her husband, Mrs. Obama will need to do some "fence-mending" of her own after they move into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The big question for next year is, How long will the Obama-MSM honeymoon last? With all the comparisons between the Obamas and the Kennedies, will there be a new "Camelot Era"? With the economy in such bad shape, the new president will probably have to make some unpopular decisions very soon after his inauguration. The last two Democratic presidents, Clinton and Carter, found themselves in a hostile media environment after just a few months, and Obama will need a lot of luck if he is to do any better than those two.
Kaine & kiddie care
In yesterday's blog post about Governor Kaine's visit to Staunton, I should have mentioned one of my biggest pet peeves: Kaine's big push to get state funding for universal preschool in Virginia. To me, the idea of putting the delicate task of nurturing a young child's early development in the hands of the state bureaucracy is an abomination. In raising children, nothing is more important than close parental involvement at an early age to encourage reading, curiousity, and self-control. There is no way that such a function can be taken over by public school teachers, no matter how well motivated they are. Any public policy that creates an incentive for parents to relinquish more of their parenting duties to the state is subversive of our social order and must be resisted.
November 18, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Tropicana Field update
Since the Tampa Bay Rays won the American League pennant for the first time, it is fitting that their stadium should get more recognition, humble though it may be. Accordingly, I've revised -- yet again -- the Tropicana Field diagram, including a version that shows the roof and catwalks. The seating areas around the right and left field corners are much improved, showing the tight curvature, and a few other details are refined. Just in time for basketball season (!), I also made a new basketball version in the configuration used at the 1999 NCAA Final Four Championship; it's presumably similar to the arrangement for Tampa Bay Lightning hockey games from 1992 to 1996. What's more, there is now a football version in anticipation of the first-ever "St. Petersburg Bowl" to be played there next month.
But wait, there's more! I also added to that page four very good photos of Tropicana Field -- three interior and one exterior -- that were sent in to me by John Minor. I'm much obliged.
And on the subject of a possible new home for the Rays, team owner Stuart Sternberg has suggested that the Rays might not stay in St. Petersburg if the state and local governments don't cough up enough money to build a new stadium. See tampabay.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski, who doubts that any other city is going to pay for a new major league baseball stadium for years to come. I agree: under the current harsh economic climate, the Rays are going to have to make do or close up shop. Hard times! I am still working on a suggested "roof-less" alternative design, in case the Rays can't get public funding for a brand-new stadium and resort to refurbishing what they've already got.
While searching for images of the outfield area, I came across a interesting batch of photos of the aquarium / water tank where the Cow-Nosed Rays frolic just to the right of center field. See Tampa Bay Aquarium.
Odds 'n ends
Thanks to John Crozier for pointing out (via a blog comment) an error on my Citi Field diagram. Stay tuned...
I am posting this item under the Latin America blog category, but it will be of interest to Orioles fans and others: Baseball Diplomacy in Nicaragua.
November 18, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Baseball diplomacy: Nicaragua
Cal Ripken Jr. recently agreed to serve as a "goodwill ambassador" on a mission to improve relations with Nicaragua, the most baseball-friendly country in Central America. It was a daunting challenge, given the surge in political violence in Nicaragua, but he went ahead and spent many hours teaching young kids the basics of baseball. That took real courage. Ripken had to change his lodging arrangements, however, because a Sandinista mob smashed windows in the mall located next to his hotel. Nicaragua just held municipal elections across the country, and the opposition charged that there was widespread fraud. The State Department has criticized the Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega for repressing dissent and outlawing certain opposition political parties. See Washington Post. It is sad that the former dictator Ortega was given the chance to regain power because of a corrupt alliance with a nominally "conservative" political leader. The infighting among parties, and even within parties in Nicaragua, has put democracy at grave risk.
Joining Ripken was former Montreal Expos pitcher Dennis Martinez, for whom the national stadium in Managua was named.
November 18, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Parker blames Christian Right
Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker is still getting a lot of hate mail for her op-ed pieces criticizing the choice of Sarah Palin to be the GOP vice presidential nominee, but she's not backing down. In today's column she slammed the evangelical right wing for the misfortunes that have befallen the "erstwhile conservative party." (!) As the party has come to be dominated by low-brow moralizers who refuse to tolerate any deviation from their belief system, more and more normal voters finally lose their patience with the GOP and switch their allegiance. As Parker writes,
preaching to the choir produces no converts. And shifting demographics suggest that the Republican Party -- and conservatism with it -- eventually will die out unless religion is returned to the privacy of one's heart where it belongs.
Well put! That's the same basic point made in former Senator John Danforth in his book Faith and Politics; see my post from Oct. 2006. The worst part is the increasing hypocrisy that becomes manifested whenever religion and politics become so closely fused together. So why in the world aren't more people grasping something that is so obvious?
Any reasonably intelligent and level-headed person in Virginia or elsewhere knows very well what ails the Republican Party. With the feverish atmosphere of religious zeal that currently prevails, however, it is hard for anyone in a position of leadership to speak the truth openly. That is bound to change as the party loses more elections, as more people in the party will wake up to the monumental disaster that courting "The Base" has brought them.
Monarch in waiting
I heard Valerie Jarrett making this comment to Tom Brokaw on "Meet The Press" on Nov. 9, but the implications of the words didn't sink in until I watched it again on YouTube: "It is important that President-Elect Obama is prepared to really take power and begin to rule Day One..." [emphasis added]; hat tip to New England Republican. Yikes!
The mortgage debacle
For those who are too impatient to read lengthy articles on what the hell happened to our economy, there is an amusing and informative video on "The Mortgage Banking Meltdown" at youtube.com; hat tip to Connie.
November 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Big Apple photographic bonanza
At long last, I have posted several of the best photographs that I took in New York City early last month. I was lucky to enjoy fine weather during my brief visit, with unusually clear blue skies for a big city; the conditions were perfect for taking pictures. Take a look at the New York 2008 photo gallery page. It includes a "dynamic image" that lets you compare the four New York baseball stadiums to each other: Shea Stadium, Citi Field, and both the old and new Yankee Stadiums. Within a few months, two of those old stadiums will be gone forever. Then follow the usual New York landmarks, including this particularly relevant one:
The New York Stock Exchange, in the midst of the financial crisis that may spell the end of free-market capitalism as we know it. [Oct. 2, 2008]
November 20, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Dolphin Stadium update
Well, at least I've got Florida covered! The Dolphin Stadium diagrams have been updated, and now conform to the new standard in terms of how the concourse and light towers are depicted. Note that the vertically-oriented diagram shows less space behind home plate than the horizontally-oriented diagram, which is based on the seating configuration in 1993, when the Marlins began playing.
The mail bag
That update is based in part on a tip from Mike Hofer, who brought a fact check to my attention and confirmed what I had suspected about an extra row of seats being installed within the past few years. He also pointed me to a Web page at Florida International University in which a professor made his own measurements of the outfield distances at Dolphin Stadium.
John Shanley wrote me: "The marked dimensions I remember for Connie Mack differ from your table. From Left they were, 331, 420, 447, 405 and 329." Does anyone else out there remember? Please comment or send me an e-mail. (I might actually get to it. )
Congratulations to Albert Pujols (Cards) and Justin Pedroia (Bosox) for winning the NL and AL Most Valuable Player Awards for 2008. Chipper Jones ended the season with a higher batting average than Pujols (.364 vs. .357), but he missed several weeks due to injury and only managed 22 homers. The Phillies' Ryan Howard led the NL in homers and RBIs but fell way short of a Triple Crown, batting only .251. On the American League side, Dustin Pedroia is phenomenal both offensively and defensively, one of those amazing Red Sox players who seemed to come out of nowhere. He led the league in none of the top three categories, however, getting second in batting, but he did get the Gold Glove Award for excellence in fielding. See MLB.com.
November 20, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Dumping on the Republicans
While Richard Viguerie keeps blaming John McCain's failed White House bid on the senator's alleged disrespect for "The Base," the political intelligentsia are heaping more scorn on the Republican Party and people like Viguerie in particular. The Economist editors conclude that the defeat in the voting booths happened because "the party lost the battle for brains." Instead of facing up to tough choices and making thoughtful, fact-based arguments, most Republican candidates campaigned with cheap, dumbed-down slogans:
Energy? Just drill, baby, drill. Global warming? Crack a joke about Ozone Al. Immigration? Send the bums home. Torture and Guantanamo? Wear a T-shirt saying you would rather be water-boarding. Ha ha. During the primary debates, three out of ten Republican candidates admitted that they did not believe in evolution.
Ouch. Meanwhile, erudite foreign relations expert Fareed Zakaria was recently interviewed by CNN and made it clear what the problem is:
The Republican Party has become a party bereft of ideas or trapped by the wrong ones. The Reagan-Thatcher revolution of low taxes, deregulation and tight money isn't relevant to the problems of under-regulated financial products, huge deficits and a deepening recession. Add to that the Republican Party's social program is out of tune with an increasingly young, diverse and tolerant electorate.
Well, it might not be quite that bad. After all, there are creative voices of reason scattered about here and there among the Republican ranks, but they are currently getting drowned out by the cacophony of the "grassroots rebels." That'll change one of these days. And I would take issue with Zakaria's contention that the Republicans are less attuned to foreign affairs; after all, it was John McCain who held firm to a strong stand in favor of free trade with Latin America, while Obama pandered to the protectionists.
RPV "musical chairs"
Jeff Frederick has been chairman of Virginia Republicans for less than six months, and already there are calls for him to be replaced, as noted at Bearing Drift; hat tip to Waldo Jaquith. For more background on why many people distrust Frederick, see Contemporary Conservative.
It's hard to keep up with who is the current RPV chairperson, so for the benefit of those with short memories, here goes:
- Gary Thompson (? - Aug. 2003: convicted in the Matricardi scandal)
- Kate Obenshain Griffin (Sept. 2003 - Nov. 2006: left to work for Sen. Allen)
- Ed Gillespie (Dec. 2006 - June 2007: left to work for Pres. Bush)
- Mike Thomas (interim)
- John Hager (July 2007 - May 2008: defeated)
- Jeff Frederick (May 2008 - )
Frankly, it's hard for me to get too excited about who controls what office in the Republican Party right now. The situation is such a mess right now that it's hard to see how anyone could be effective in that post for more than a few months. I figured Frederick deserved a chance, but all that strident campaign talk about Obama and the Democrats' links to terrorism turned me off. As the anointed leader of the self-proclaimed "grassroots" faction (SWACtion), he obviously had no appeal to me.
Begich beats Stevens
In Alaska, the mayor of Anchorage Mark Begich defeated incumbent Senator Ted Stevens by about 3,700 votes, enough of a margin to preclude any state-funded recount. Stevens, who was the longest-serving Republican in Senate history, was recently convicted on corruption charges, i.e., failure to report gifts as income. See Washington Post. Two Senate seats have yet to be decided, however (Georgia and Minnesota), and the Democrats might just make it to the cloture-proof threshold of 60.
Perriello goes to D.C.
In Virginia's Fifth Congressional District, Democrat Tom Perriello has a 745-vote lead over incumbent Rep. Virgil Goode (a former Democrat), and is now heading to Washington in preparation for taking office, even though a recount is still possible. See the Waynesboro News Virginian.
Michael Moore, expert
So there was Michael Moore on "Larry King Live" last night, pretending to be an economic expert. It would be hard to argue with his harsh criticism of the over-paid, under-brained auto industry executives, but Moore said the answer to Detroit's problems is for the Federal government to take over the industry. (What??!) Ironically, he virtually echoed what I wrote in the photo caption of Wall Street in my blog post yesterday, saying that the auto industry's plea for money from Congress means "the end of the capitalist system as we know it." The difference is that whereas I lament this passage to socialism from capitalism, Moore exults in it, adding: "And good riddance!"
November 21, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Peru-China free trade pact
While visiting Peru for the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) summit meeting, Chinese President Hu Jintao signed a free trade agreement with Peru's President Alan Garcia. The deal eventually eliminate tariffs on the vast majority of goods traded between the two countries. See CNN.com. To satisfy its industrial sector's voracious appetite for raw materials, China has already established economic relations with several Latin American countries (besides Cuba, of course). How long will it be before American leaders recognize the strategic implications of this outreach by Beijing?
In the United States, meanwhile, Congress keeps dragging its heels on passing free trade agreement with Colombia, mainly because of obstructionist labor unions. The Peru-U.S. free trade pact was ratified in the U.S. Senate nearly a year ago, after excruciating arm twisting. Improved economic relations between the United States and Latin America are manifestly in our national interest for a variety of reasons: discouraging drug trafficking, reducing the flow of illegal immigrants to the United States, and keeping the continent on friendly terms in an often-hostile world. It is foolishly short-sighted for members of Congress to neglect this urgent business just for the sake of votes from union members. In that regard, John McCain was clearly on the right, "progressive" side of this issue during the 2008 campaign, while Barack made excuses for the status quo. Let's see if he applies his mantra of change to U.S.-Latin American trade relations after he takes office.
November 21, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Congress to Detroit: Drop Dead!
It was quite heartening that leaders on Capitol Hill gave a resounding "no" to the pleas by Detroit auto executives for a loan to tide them over until next year ... or whenever. The CEOs couldn't quite say for sure how much money they would need, or for how long. The bosses got chewed out -- and rightly so! -- for having flown in to Washington on private jets rather than using commercial airliners. Ordinarily, I'm not fond of populist attacks on the lifestyles of the rich and famous, because doing so only justifies and thereby stimulates the latent greed and envy that all people have to one extent or another. We don't need class warfare. But when the overlords of Corporate America come begging for taxpayers' money, such criticism is fitting and proper.
One of the good things about this gloomy economic situation is that it has created an unusually strong consensus across party lines that, when it comes to corporate welfare, enough's enough! Democrats have joined forces with staunch fiscal conservatives on the Republican side such as Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, and Richard Viguerie is leading the chorus of nays. Perhaps that strong expression of bipartisanship will get Detroit's attention!
Or maybe not. Don't forget that Congress initially refused to go along with the bailout of the financial sector in late September, but they eventually buckled under. After President Bush used what little clout he still possesses, and after the bill was sweetened with all sorts of special-interest goodies, Congress finally did pass a financial bailout package in early October -- in spite of vehement warnings that the whole thing was grievously wrong-headed. In this case, a bailout package would amount to a big step toward de facto nationalization of the auto industry, which is exactly what many on the Left want. Without a doubt, there would be many strings attached to any rescue, including mandated salary cuts for executives. (That would certainly be a good thing, but it shouldn't be decided in a political forum.) So, we should take with a grain of salt those loud jeers from the Democratic side of the aisle, because it may just be a negotiating tactic to bargain down the price of the eventual buyout of Detroit by Washington.
As far as the fate of the Big Three auto companies, one point needs to be made very clearly: The main reason that G.M., Ford, and Chrysler can't compete against the foreign auto makers is the high embedded cost of labor -- present and past. It's not just the (relatively) high salaries earned by the unionized American auto workers, it's the huge amount of pension money that the U.S. companies have to pay out to all their retired employees. One compromise solution to save the U.S. auto industry from bankruptcy would be to negotiate new pension terms with existing workers and retirees. That may be the only way to rescue the industry that was once the pride of the United States. Are there enough patriotic-minded auto workers out there?
Where credit's due
When I cited the Economist editorial ("Ship of fools," about the GOP) yesterday, I forgot to mention the person who brought it to my attention. Thank you, Matthew Poteat!
November 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]
A modest proposal for "The Cell"
While passing through Chicago en route to points further west last month, I managed to take a couple quick photos of U.S. Cellular Field, so I added one of them to said page. The home of the White Sox is greatly improved over the original 1990 version, which was widely regarded as "sterile," but some of the recent changes were misguided, I think. In particular, there was no reason to bring in the fences just to be like all the other ballparks, and the trivial bit of "contrived asymmetry" in the left field corner serves no aesthetic purpose.
That got me to thinking about how they could improve "The Cell" even more, and I came up with a suggested alternative design, with a reconfigured outfield and bleachers. The outfield wall would be rebuilt where it was before 2004, but without an inner fence. The bullpens would be moved to deep left and deep right center field, partly offsetting the greater outfield distances in center field and the corners. Those changes are aimed in part at reestablishing a historical link with the old Comiskey Park, with the foul lines and center field being nearly as deep as in the "ancestral home" -- 348 vs. 352 feet, and 420 vs. 440 feet. My design would also restore the symmetrical layout which "New Comiskey Park" (as the stadium was known until 2003) did maintain. If there is no good reason to have an asymmetrical layout, while there is a good reason to have a symmetrical layout, go with the latter. And don't give me this crap about players demanding easier home runs: Chicago ballparks were traditionally known for their long distances down the foul lines, so come on, White Sox, be faithful to the city's heritage!
How much would those changes cost to implement? I figure the amount of construction work would be similar to the 2006 shift of the left field wall in Citizens Bank Park, which cost about $1 million. Factoring in the greater physical scale of the project, the changes to the bullpens, and the ground-level "picnic area" under the right field stands, it might cost $3 to $5 million. For a champion team, that's chump change.
November 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Photo-tour of the Windy City
Actually, I don't even recall if it was windy the day I was in Chicago, but the skies certainly were clear -- perfect for taking pictures, just as it had been in New York during the two previous days. Our AMTRAK train ("Lake Shore Limited") was on schedule as we approached Chicago from northern Indiana on the morning of October 4, but we had to slow down because of congested freight traffic. Gradually we made our way through the south side of Chicago, where Barack Obama calls home, and I was delighted to get a good view of U.S. Cellular Field as the train passed by. Finally, we arrived at Union Station at 10:20 A.M., about a half hour late. I had a scheduled three and a half hour layover, and I was determined to make the most of my brief time in the city.
First, I roamed around the old part of Union Station, and then paused to enjoy the view from the Jackson Street bridge which spans the Chicago River. After taking some pictures there, I hustled into the heart of "The Loop" district, in the shadows of many huge skyscrapers. I had driven past downtown Chicago before, but I had never walked through it. It was quite a first experience. Then I boarded a northbound subway train; the tracks emerge from the ground about a mile north of downtown, so I was able to see neighborhoods up close. My destination, of course, was Wrigley Field, and I took about 20 photos there. (I'll post them later.) I was a little nervous about getting back to the Union Station on time to catch my train, but I did make it just in time, after grabbing a quick lunch. To my surprise, the train ("California Zephyr") left right on time, or within a couple minutes thereof. The highlights of my visit are posted on the Chicago 2008 photo gallery page.
The Sears Tower, the tallest building in the world from when it was completed in 1974 until 1998. In the foreground is one of the houses where they control the draw-bridges over the Chicago River.
November 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Obama's cabinet takes shape
With one possible exception so far, Barack Obama's cabinet choices seem to be mainstream liberal Democrats whose idea of "change" is reverting to LJB's Great Society -- 40 years after it was trendy.
Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State?? It's not official yet, but if she is in fact the one, then Look out, World! Although she met quite a few foreign leaders while on official state visits along with her husband, she is not known for being diplomatic or tactful. (Quite the contrary.) Perhaps her most newsworthy overseas trips as First Lady was at a conference on women's rights held in Buenos Aires in October, 1997, at which she promoted widespread distribution of contraception. If she is chosen to run Foggy Bottom, it will make three of the last four secretaries of state who were women. (What about white males???)
Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary! News of that choice sent the deeply depressed stock market into a brief spurt of euphoria yesterday. Geithner is a Democrat, but the way things are now, anyone with decent business or financial credentials would probably allay Wall Street fears of a rapid transition to a socialist economy. According to the Washington Post, his mentor is Larry Summers, the intellectual who served as Treasury Secretary late in Bill Clinton's administration. That article also reports, "Like Paulson, Geithner believes that the Treasury should be given vast powers to develop experimental strategies for responding to the crisis and the flexibility to abandon them if they don't work." Trial-and-error government -- yikes.
Eric Holder as Attorney General! He has lengthy experience in the Justice Department, and is well regarded by people in both parties. His main drawback is failing to properly screen the crooks (such as Marc Rich) who were pardoned by outgoing President Clinton in January 2001.
Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security? Her only known qualification is being governor of a state that borders Mexico. (That would be Arizona.) Nevertheless, she is a relative moderate and will probably get confirmed without much hassle.
Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services? Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a confidant of President-elect Barack Obama, will be nominated to that post, which is usually second-rate. At first glance, it seems a curious choice, because as the Washington Post notes, Daschle "until recently was not known as an expert on health policy." Aside from being one of Obama's early backers and advisors, his main qualification is being a consummate Washington Establishment insider and power-broker, knowing all the right levers to pull. With him in charge of the HHS bureaucracy, there is a very real chance that socialized medical care actually will come about during the next four years. It's exactly what the ailing Ted Kennedy has been yearning for his entire political life...
ANECDOTE: I had a lengthy conversation with Daschle way back in August 1978, when he was making his very first campaign for the House of Representatives in South Dakota. We were sitting in adjacent seats on a flight to Washington, where I was about to start work in the government. Even then, I could tell he was a far more shrewd and calculating politician than one might guess from his plain-spoken, mild-mannered demeanor.
Only two states provide for apportioning electoral votes according to congressional district: Maine and Nebraska. This year, it was just confirmed, Nebraska did in fact "split" for the first time, as Obama won in the second district, thereby getting one of the state's five electoral votes. That district includes the city of Omaha and its suburbs, which means that Obama won Omaha! See Sioux City Journal, which notes, "Not since 1964 has the state awarded an electoral vote to a Democrat." Just like Virginia! Now that Missouri (with 11 electoral votes) has been officially called for John McCain, that means that Obama won a total of 365 electoral votes, while McCain won just 173.
November 23, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Will Teixeira play for Nats?
As the annual meeting of MLB owners approaches, speculation about which free agents will sign with which teams is heating up. Baseball fans in the Washington area are wondering who the Nationals will seek to acquire to bolster their embarrassingly weak lineup. One possibility is first baseman Mark Teixeira, who became a free-agent at the end of this season. Even though the Nats aren't a very attractive team right now, Teixera has expressed interest in playing for Washington, partly because he grew up in nearby Maryland. It's ironic that the Nats are looking for a first baseman, because at the beginning of this year, they had two star-quality players at that position. Because of various health issues, however, neither Nick Johnson nor Dmitri Young can be counted on for next year. See MLB.com. Teixera has played for three different teams over the past two seasons: the Rangers, the Braves, and the Angels, and he probably wants to settle down with a long contract.
[Grey] Cup 2008
At this very moment, the second half of the Canadian Football League championship game is getting underway. Why should baseball fans care? Because it's a rare opportunity to see Olympic Stadium, home of the former Montreal Expos until they moved to Washington and became the Nationals after the 2004 season. At half time, the Montreal Alouettes were ahead of the Calgary Stampede, 13 - 10.
UPDATE: Final score: Calgary 22, Montreal 14. Where did that one point for Montreal in the second half come from? From a "punt single." See the official Grey Cup Web site (not "Gray," as I originally wrote).
"Citi Field," or ???
I recently contrasted (scroll down) the apparent sound financial condition of CitiBank to the fraudulent nature of two corporations that went bankrupt, forcing the names of two baseball stadiums to be changed: Enron and Ameriquest. I thought this meant the Mets had shown greater wisdom in choosing a corporate partner, but after the sharp drop in the value of CitiGroup stock values this week, I stand corrected! Apparently they are in not much better shape than other banks! They insist that the "naming-rights agreement between the Mets and Citi, said to be worth $400 million over 20 years, is not in jeopardy," but that may depend on whether they get a federal bailout. In any case, the name "Citi Field" will stay intact for the time being. See MLB.com.
ChiSox in the movies
While channel-surfing recently, I was surprised to see an extended scene [of a White Sox home game] in the movie My Best Friend's Wedding (1997). It was filmed from a luxury suite at what was then called Comiskey Park and is now called "U.S. Cellular Field." The views of the stadium were excellent, but it seemed very high up for below the upper deck.
November 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Wrigley Field photo bonanza
Such a beautiful ballpark on such a beautiful day! And such a sad occasion... I have just added seven (7) new photos taken during my brief visit to Chicago early last month to the Wrigley Field page. Three of them are similar to photos I took at Wrigley Field ten years ago, which was the last time I visited there. (Man, time really flies!) For comparison's sake, I have kept the old photos for the time being, but the only one worth keeping for the long term is the pre-renovation back-of-scoreboard shot. I will also be making a few minor revisions to the diagrams before long...
The "friendly confines" of Wrigley Field, from the southeast, at the corner of Addison Street and Sheffield Avenue. (Oct. 4, 2008)
In ironic contrast to the bright, sunny skies, the mood in Wrigleyville that day was understandably somber. Once again, the Cubs suffered a crushing playoff game disappointment the night before, losing -- at home! -- to the Dodgers, 10-3. (Curses!) I was told by a guy in a Cubs apparel/souvenir store that it was virtually silent as the 39,000+ fans left the stadium. That must have been an eerie scene. One day after my visit, the Cubs lost Game Three of the NLDS in Los Angeles, and were thereby eliminated from contention.
After the Grey (not "Gray") Cup CFL Championship game last night, I watched the Colts vs. Chargers game being played in San Diego, and realized that there were actually two football games being played simultaneously at stadiums that used to house major league baseball teams: Olympic Stadium (Montreal Expos) and QualComm / Jack Murphy Stadium (San Diego Padres). I wonder if that has ever happened before?
One of these days I might come up with a proposed renovated football version of QualComm Stadium, with improved sightlines. (At present, fans in the front rows can barely see the field.) That would require costly rebuilding of much of the lower deck, but it's certainly a better idea than building a new football stadium from scratch.
November 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Opponents of Chavez gain power
Venezuela held regional election yesterday, and Opponents of President Hugo Chavez managed to win at least three governorships, as well as the mayor of Caracas. The mayor-to-be, Antonio Ledezma, urged the government to tackle the problems of crime and the aging infrastructure. Chavez claimed that his socialist agenda was validated by the election, since his party won 17 of the 22 governorships. See BBC. Venezuela has one of the highest crime rates in the world, and the surge over the past decade coincides with the term during which Chavez has been in power. See the Washington Post.
It's hard to no what to make of the elections. Since Chavez controls nearly all of the means of communication and industry in Venezuela, and has put most dissident leaders in jail, it's almost impossible for his opponents to get the word out. So, even though there is rising frustration with conditions in the country, it has not yet been transformed into a political movement capable of changing the authoritarian system Chavez created.
November 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Obama rescues the economy
With nearly two months to go before his inauguration, President-elect Obama made his first live television address to the nation today, formally announcing his economic nominees and laying out his plans to rescue the economy. The nomination of Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary was leaked prematurely on Friday, we now know. As of today, it's official. Larry Summers (the Treasury Secretary during the last year of the Clinton administration) will be chief of the National Economic Council, and Christina Romer will be the chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers. Romer is an economics professor at Berkeley, specializing in the Great Depression. See CNN.com. [These high-profile public appearances] may seem presumptuous of Obama, but the financial markets have already "discounted" the Bush administration, and Obama's words carry more weight than those of the sitting president right now.
In his address, Obama was vague on exactly what steps he would take or what his guiding philosophy would be. He did make one thing very clear, however: His economic stimulus package will lead to an even greater Federal budget deficit, which has already soared under the "conservative" Bush administration. Since neither party takes fiscal discipline seriously right now, why not "go for it"? Just as AIG, CitiBank, and perhaps GM are "too big to fail," we can safely assume that creditor nations such as Communist China (!) will bail us out by lending money when it's needed. Right?
Here's an idea on how to help the economy: Abolish the National Economic Council! It was created by President Clinton as a way to highlight the importance of economic issues in his government, that is, making it on par with the National Security Council. No one can really explain what it does any differently than the Council of Economic Advisers, so why waste taxpayers' money by duplicating those functions?
With all the talk about religious extremists in the Middle East (and the Republican Party), it's nice to get an offbeat, satiric perspective on things. Take a look at The Onion; hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.
November 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]
More winter birds arrive
With the icy-cold temperatures we've had for the past few days, it's no surprise that more migratory ducks have arrived from the north. On a brief drive out to Bell's Lane late on Sunday afternoon, I saw two species for the first time this season, but not much else of interest:
- Mallards (20+)
- Ring-necked ducks (12+ -- FOS)
- Ruddy ducks (4 -- FOS)
- Great blue heron
- Canada geese (60+)
- White-throated sparrows
I was hoping to see a Northern Harrier that has been reported by local birders, but no such luck.
As for back yard birds, we see Goldfinches, Juncos, and Carolina Wrens just about every day, with Chickadees and Titmice on most days, and sometimes a White-breasted nuthatch or two. Not many Cardinals or woodpeckers have shown up lately, however. For some reason (removal of shrubbery?), hardly any White-throated sparrows have come by this fall, even though we provide plenty of food. Last week a Sharp-shinned hawk paid a "visit" for the first time this season, briefly scaring away all the smaller birds -- including our two inside birds.
November 25, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Dissecting Virginia's blue shift
Earlier this month the New York Times dissected the historic "blue shift" in the recent elections, with a spectacular county-by-county map covering the entire U.S.A., so I figured someone ought to follow up on that by focusing on Virginia. (But not Larry Sabato -- he does national politics now.) With that in mind, I went ahead and compiled the 2008 presidential election results for each of the 95 counties and 39 independent cities, summarizing the findings on a map of Virginia, with different color shades for different percentage levels. (I had previously done such a map showing the 2004 results in Virginia.) Looking at the presidential election results at the local level helps us to get a better understanding of the "seismic" shift that just took place.
To compare the 2004 and 2008 election results in Virginia, roll your mouse over the map above. Click on it to see the net shift from 2004 to 2008.
Full-size maps are shown on the Politics in Virginia page.
At first glance, Virginia still looks to be mostly "red," but that is because Republicans generally do better in rural areas which take up more room, while Democrats' votes tend to be concentrated in the densely compacted big cities. In terms of people, as opposed to land, the Obama/Biden ticket beat the McCain/Palin ticket by a total of 234,527 votes in Virginia, 52.6% to 46.3%. Of course, the "urban crescent" consisting of Northern Virginia, Richmond, and the Tidewater area are all Democratic strongholds, and most smaller cities across the state are at least more "moderate" than their surrounding counties, if not outright blue-tinted. For many decades, the Republicans' stronghold in Virginia has been centered in the Mountain-Valley region, but in recent decades the GOP also become dominant in parts of the Tidewater, Piedmont, and Southside regions. Colonial Heights is one of the strongest Republican localities, while neighboring Petersburg is the strongest Democrat locality; it must be like a war zone along the Appomattox River which divides those two cities!
If we look at the net shift in partisan voting behavior from 2004 to 2008, as opposed to the actual percentage of votes cast in 2008, a different pattern emerges. (You can see that either by clicking on the above map or by going to the Politics in Virginia page and using the rollover links.) It is obvious that, with relatively few exceptions, most counties that are still on the reddish side of the spectrum are turning distinctly "pinkish," while most of the bluish counties are turning darker blue. But the magnitude and direction of this shift are geographically concentrated in a manner that is very striking.
The most interesting feature on the Republican side is that their "center of gravity" has shifted away from their historic base in the Shenandoah Valley region, and toward the far southwest corner of the state. That is where one can find the only two counties that had voted for Kerry in 2004 but switched sides and voted for McCain in 2008: Dickinson and Buchanan. Nearly all of the counties where the Republican ticket gained vote shares compared to four years ago are located in the same region. In 2008, Scott County (which borders Tennessee) registered the highest Republican percentage of all the counties in Virginia (70.7%), whereas in 2004 Augusta and Rockingham counties (here in the Valley) tied for first place honors, at 74.4%.
Assuming that present trends continue, in Virginia as in the rest of the country, we must ask what demographic and economic variables are at play, and what this means for rebuilding the Republican coalition as American society changes. In racial terms, the emerging Republican "Heartland" happens to be the "whitest" part of the state; see a national county-by-county map at www.census.gov. This area also coincides with the Appalachian coal country which extends into Kentucky and West Virginia; see the maps at Appalachian Regional Commission. (Buchanan and Wise counties produce the most coal in Virginia.) It will take considerable research effort to ascertain more fully the demographic characteristics of the ever-changing Republican "Base," such as income and education levels, religious affiliation. It will be even harder to digest what all this means for the issues that the party ought to emphasize in its campaigns: abortion? taxes? immigration? (When was the last time you heard that mentioned?)
For the Democrats, meanwhile, the biggest gains were seen in the northern, central, and eastern parts of the state, especially in the outer suburbs of Richmond and Northern Virginia. Those were the very same (mostly) upscale parts of the state where population growth was centered and from which the Republicans attracted new followers during the 1970s and 1980s, as the party gained rough parity with the Democrats. The "inner cities" of Arlington/Alexandria, Richmond, and Norfolk were already heavily Democratic and didn't change very much between 2004 and 2008. What did change a great deal since the last election were the counties of Prince William, Loudoun, and Henrico, all of which switched to the Democratic side in the presidential race, as did six other counties and several medium- and small-sized cities. Let's look at the "scoreboard":
Virginia Dems' top ten
Of the 134 local jurisdictions in the Commonwealth, here are the ten cities and counties in which the Democrats scored their biggest gains, comparing the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections:
- Harrisonburg : +14.69%
- Manassas Park : +14.53%
- Williamsburg : +12.47%
- Manassas : +12.06%
- Newport News : +11.95%
- Hampton : +11.62%
- Staunton : +11.55%
- Prince William County : +11.12%
- Hopewell County : +10.47%
- Henrico County : +10.09%
Yes, you read that right: Two of the top seven blue-shifting localities are right here in the Shenandoah Valley, the erstwhile Heartland of the Republican Party in Virginia: Harrisonburg is #1, and Staunton is #7. If that Olympic-sized reversal of political fortune doesn't make Republican Party leaders sit up and start paying closer attention to what's happening in this part the state, then nothing will.
As is often the case in Virginia, the correlation between legislative election results and the presidential election results was rather weak. Overall, the Democrats picked up three of the eleven congressional districts in Virginia, causing an abrupt shift in the balance of power from 8 GOP vs. 3 Democrats to 5 GOP vs. 6 Democrats. Barack Obama's "coat-tail effect" almost certainly made the difference in the extremely tight Fifth District race, which was apparently won by the Democrats.* It probably played a major part in the defeat of incumbent Thelma Drake by Glenn Nye in the Second District, where the margin of victory was four percent. In three of the districts in which they retained control, the Republicans suffered a significant decline in vote percentage compared to 2004. The Democrats are surely taking a good, hard look at vulnerabilities on the Republican side as they prepare to build on their majority two years from now. The First District, successfully held by incumbent Republican Rob Wittman (a "moderate," who replaced the late Rep. JoAnn Davis), experienced a marked "blue shift" in the presidential race, and that would be one of their likely prime targets for 2010.
The "geographical migration" of the Republican Base toward the southwest points to an obvious goal for the GOP in the 2010 elections: Get Rick Boucher! The 14-term (!) House Democrat was unopposed this year, even though only one county in his Ninth District went for the Obama-Biden ticket: Montgomery, which is home to Virginia Tech. If the Republicans can't field a viable candidate in the part of the state where they are the strongest, then something is seriously wrong.
To compare the 2004 and 2008 election results in Virginia, roll your mouse over the map.
Full-size maps are shown on the Politics in Virginia page.
* NOTE: Democrat Tom Perriello was just declared the winner in the Fifth Congressional District, but incumbent Rep. Virgil Goode says he will request a recount, because the margin is so small, so the map above may need to be revised later.
November 26, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Peru hosts APEC summit
The 2008 Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) summit in Lima concluded on Sunday, and whatever may have been accomplished, it at least reflected well on the host country, Peru. There was some nervousness about a possible resurgence of political violence by extremist groups seeking to grab the spotlight, but no major incidents were reported. The summit went off without a hitch, which is a huge achievement for a country that was regarded as a hopelessly chaotic and wretched "basket case" two decades ago. APEC 2008 was held at the Ministry of Defense, in the massive block-shaped building known as "El Pentagonito," on the eastern side of Lima. The president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, expressed interest in joining APEC. The APEC 2007 summit was held in Sydney, Australia.
Leaders from twenty one countries spent most of their time discussing how to preserve an open system of international trade, as the economic recession raises pressure to adopt protectionist measures. The Pacific Rim leaders did, at least, issue a joint pledge to keep trade barriers among each other at a low level. Whether or not they actually live up to that pledge is another question, however. Leaders always face pressure from "The Base" to make sure that nobody loses their job. Assuring quality education, dealing with climactic change, and fighting corruption were also on the agenda. The Declaration of Lima urged member countries to address the social stress caused by globalization. Peru's President Alan Garcia met with President Bush, who conveyed his firm intention to fully implement the U.S.-Peruvian free trade agreement (which was signed one year ago) before he leaves office. See El Comercio of Peru.
While President Bush basked in the international limelight for perhaps the last time as president, everyone present was talking about his successor, Barack Obama. As the Washington Post reported, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, and Mexico's President Felipe Calderon both warned Obama that his plans to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement would makes things worse, leading to more illegal immigration. Indeed! When it comes to foreign policy, new presidents have much less leeway than is commonly assumed, and in crisis situations such as at the present, the policy constraints are especially rigid. That is why foreign policy usually exhibits a great deal of continuity, as the campaign promises of the new administration are set aside for pragmatic reasons.
November 26, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Not another economic council!
On Monday I made the humble suggestion that one way to help the U.S. economy get out of the current panic/slump would be to abolish the "National Economic Council," which to a large extent duplicates the functions of the Council of Economic Advisors. Well, guess what? President-elect Obama has taken the opposite approach, deciding to create yet another such governmental body, the "President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board." This [new entity] seems to be just a way to make room in the Obama administration for former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, who will head the unit. See BBC, which noted without a trace of irony that Obama "also said he will cut billions of dollars in 'wasteful spending'." By creating more government agencies?? This sounds like a job for the folks at The Onion.
On the other hand, I suppose we should give credit to Obama for choosing Paul Volcker to a top advisory position. Volcker was chosen by President Jimmy Carter to head the Federal Reserve Board in August 1979, at a time when the U.S. economy was experiencing a second major bout of inflation. Volcker was known as a "monetarist," a devotee of Milton Friedman's "Chicago School" of economics, which holds that the money supply is the most important factor in determining the general rate of price increase. It was one of the very few smart choices that Carter made as president. Volcker's strong will and intellect made a huge difference as the U.S. economy was painfully weaned off the steady, intoxicating flow of new currency. That is why President Reagan kept him for several years, even though Reagan sometimes criticized Volcker's tight-money policies. I always thought Volcker deserved more credit for reducing the inflation rate, and somehow his successor Alan Greenspan ended up with a better public image.
Obama girls at school
No doubt about it, the Obama girls Sasha and Malia are two of the cutest and sweetest things you'll ever see on television. But after their dad was elected president, everyone started asking where they would go to school next semester, after they move into the White House? The Obamas just announced they will be going to the elite Sidwell Friends School, where Chelsea Clinton once attended. See newser.com. In The Mud Pit, there are complaints about Barack Obama's liberal hypocrisy in having opposed school choice proposals because they would undermine public schools. That is certainly a valid point. I don't mind so much the decision on where to send the girls to school, which is a practical matter, after all. That being said, I positively despise the lame excuses from Obama and others in the liberal establishment who pander to the teachers' unions and obstruct desperately-needed reforms, thereby perpetuating mediocrity in public education.
November 26, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Blog challenge: Typealyze this!
I'm not big on personality tests that classify people into neat categories, while derogating what makes us unique individuals. It just strikes me as arbitrary and dehumanizing. But I went ahead and took the bait with the typealyzer.com Web site, which deconstructs online text passages with some kind of algorithm. It says that my main blog page (which consists of highly varied content) qualifies me as "ISTP - The Mechanics ... independent and problem-solving type ... fond of adventure," which sounds plausible, I suppose. In contrast, the evaluation of my Politics blog page indicates that I'm "INTP - The Thinkers ... logical and analytical type ... might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive." Ouch! Kind of like Gary Hart or Newt Gingrich, I suppose -- not very well suited for elected office. Hat tip to Connie.
November 27, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Thank you, Founding Fathers
On Thanksgiving Day, we Americans are accustomed to counting our blessings and giving thanks to our Divine Creator for the bounteous life we are privileged to enjoy. Especially in (relatively) hard times like these, it is important to recognize how fortunate most of us are. It also helps to reflect on the fact that, in the end, material possessions just don't matter all that much. That spiritual dimension of the American people, which many foreigners simply do not comprehend, is what keeps us going when the going gets tough.
There is another under-appreciated but vital element that underlies our nation's resilient character, however: the "democratic-republican" system of government bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers, as enshrined in our Constitution. In the early years of the United States, the system was much more republican (small r) than democratic (small d), whereas nowadays the opposite emphasis prevails. The healthy tension between those dual principles remains, nonetheless, sometimes manifested in sharp disputes over policy, but more often ensuring that justice and domestic tranquility prevail. We all have an equal say in how the government should be run, and we are all guaranteed that the government will not run our private lives.
As leadership of our government is about to be transfered at a very anxious moment in our history, I consider myself very fortunate to be able to express my opinions freely and openly, without fear of intimidation or repression. That is why I think we should offer a gesture of deep gratitude to George Washington, Ben Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, and all the other Founding Fathers of our nation in their Heavenly resting place. Thank you!
November 27, 2008 [LINK / comment]
War spreads in South Asia
Even though the news from Iraq continues to be very favorable, as evidenced by the Iraqi parliament's ratification of the U.S.-Iraqi security pact for another three years (see Washington Post), the security situation elsewhere in the region has deteriorated sharply. Over the course of the last several weeks, the conflict has spilled across borders, raising the possibility of a much wider and even uglier conflict. This, of course, is the only hope for the Islamic radicals.
Assault on Mumbai
At first, the terrorist attack on Mumbai (formerly "Bombay") yesterday seemed to be a typical spasm of mindless violence -- dreadful but all too commonplace in that part of the world. But the shooting has persisted for nearly 24 hours, leaving over 125 fatalities, and this episode may be something entirely different. Bombs were set off at several luxury hotels, while well-trained squads with automatic rifles took out the police headquarters, leaving much of the city without any protection. It reminds one of the 1968 Tet Offensive across South Vietnam, a surprise insurrection by suicidal guerrillas. India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed foreign groups for the Mujaheddin assault, but as usual in these cases, it will be hard to pinpoint responsibility. See CNN.com. Singh is a member of the centrist Congress Party, which is generally more tolerant of Muslim activists than the other major party, the Baharatiya Janata Party, which draws support from Hindu nationalists. (India has also suffered several bloody terrorist attacks perpetrated against Muslims by Hindu extremists in recent years.) This attack may discredit the moderate forces in India and create a polarizing dynamic that might allow the BJP to return to power.
Pirates menace ships
From India's perspective, this attack on Mumbai constitutes a big blow to the country's status as a regional hegemon, or as a budding major power on the world stage. Just a few days ago, the Indian Navy sank a Somali pirate vessel in the Gulf of Aden, which has been plagued with a rising tide of piracy over the past year. The U.S. Navy is apparently preoccupied with maintaining security in the Persian Gulf and nearby part of the Indian Ocean to deal with the pirates further to the west. Just last week, pirates seized a Saudi Arabian oil tanker, demanding a huge ransom. Somalia has not had an effective government since the early 1990s, when the United States tried but failed to help them stabilize, as dramatized in Black Hawk Down. In the chaotic power vacuum that prevails there right now, banditry and piracy are predictable consequences, and there is no reason to assume that those attacks on international shipping have any political motivation. Nevertheless, it is only logical that the Islamic radical movement -- Al Qaeda, etc. -- would seek to exploit Somali piracy for their own strategic purposes.
Missiles hit Pakistan
Over the past few months, American Predator missile strikes against targets inside Pakistan have occurred with greater frequency, although sometimes the Pentagon will not confirm that it was an American missile. (Who else, Israel?) Just a few days ago, such a missile strike killed Rashid Rauf, responsible for a plot to blow up British airliners in 2006. He held dual Pakistani - British citizenship. See Washington Post. These missile attacks are apparently being coordinated with Pakistan, but it is hard to tell for sure. In September, the United States and Pakistan reached tacit agreement on a don't-ask-don't-tell policy; see Washington Post. Unfortunately, the United States has little choice but to pursue the Taliban forces across the border into Pakistan with small-scale attacks, even though that carries a big diplomatic risk.
Tying things together
In counter-insurgency wars, the rebel forces often try to seek refuge in a safe haven across the border, usually in rough terrain where it is easy to hide. That was the case in Vietnam, when the North Vietnamese Army established bases and supply lines in Laos and Cambodia (the "Ho Chi Minh Trail"), hence the controversial cross-border raids ordered by Nixon. The same thing happened when the Hezbollah using bases in Lebanon to attack Israel, when the FARC used bases in Ecuador and Venezuela to attack the government of Colombia, or when the Shiite insurgents used bases in Iran to attack U.S. forces in Iraq. In each case the defenders are faced with the dilemma of whether to root out the tormenters and risk a wider war, or just to put up with indefinite low-level warfare. That is precisely the situation which the United States (and its Western allies) face in Afghanistan at present, as the Taliban guerrillas exploit the rugged Pakistani border region as a sanctuary.
In recent years, the U.S. government has built stronger ties with India, whereas relations with our former Cold War ally in Pakistan have cooled. We do share certain common interests with the Pakistanis, nonetheless, and the challenge to our diplomacy will be to maintain cooperation as long as it proves useful. At this point, we can't afford more enemies in that part of the world, so the option of large-scale unilateral intervention in Pakistan (as President-elect Obama has suggested) should be avoided if at all possible.
November 28, 2008 [LINK / comment]
South Dakota photo bonanza
Nearly a month after returning from my month-long trip, I have finally posted fourteen (14) photos on the new South Dakota 2008 photo gallery page, along with two previously-posted photos of Tom Brokaw, who gave a speech there. Most of the shots are of buildings on the campus of the University of South Dakota, including the famous Dakota Dome, but there are some nice rural scenes as well. Enjoy!
The historic (1883) Old Main building at the University of South Dakota, on a clear autumn day. (Oct. 20)
November 29, 2008 [LINK / comment]
(Another) Wrigley Field fixup
Not long ago, I realized that the Wrigley Field diagrams needed more accurate profiles, so I fixed that and made several other minor adjustments to the grandstand. There's nothing like actually being at a stadium to get the details right.
Next will be a few touchups on Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, and then back to the previous schedule...
The mail bag
Mike Zurawski sends the following news items: The Florida Marlins have postponed by one year the target completion date for their future stadium. Team president David Samson blamed the "frivolous" lawsuit filed by Norman Braman, who tried to block public funding for the stadium. They profess not to be worried about the state of the economy. The Marlins now hope to have it ready by 2012, and the Miami Dolphins are not likely to evict them even though their lease runs out after the 2010 season. See MLB.com.
Also, the Texas Rangers are adding two rows of luxury box seats behind home plate at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, which will raise the capacity by 88 seats. They will cost much more, of course, and even though current front-row season ticket holders get the first crack at the new seats, a lot of them will be mad. See Star-Telegram.com. What the Rangers really need to think about is how to cut back on the surplus capacity; with over 49,000 seats in a market that isn't that big, their stadium is looking emptier every year.
Also, the dimantlement (dis-Mantle-ment?) of Yankee Stadium is picking up steam, as the statues and plaques at Monument park were removed removed two weeks ago. See MLB.com.
November 29, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Oil refinery in South Dakota?
While I was visiting South Dakota last month, I made a point to visit the area of Union County where a petroleum refinery may be built in the next few years. It would process crude oil derived from tar sands in Canada into gasoline and diesel fuel, and they say it will be one of the "greenest" refineries ever, with various pollution-abatement technologies. One thing I learned, however, is that the refinery needs an enormous quantity of water to operate. The Hyperion Resources Company (headquartered in Dallas) has already submitted a request to the Clay Rural Water System to get a supply of water equal to ten times what the entire system currently delivers to its customers! Such a huge drain on the local water supply could cause a sharp drop in crop production in drought years.
Since I was in South Dakota, there have been further developments. The Yankton Press and Dakotan reported that that the National Park Service have raised questions about the effect the refinery would have on the Missouri National Recreational River and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. (The nearest National Park, the Badlands, is about 200 miles away.) In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency has questioned whether the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources has made the approval process sufficiently clear. The Sierra Club is getting involved, and with a Democratic administration in Washington next year, it will be interesting to see whether the project is subjected to further scrutiny and/or delays.
As I wrote on January 15, this refinery project would consume about six square miles of prime farm land and would disrupt the social fabric, aside from the inevitable pollution of the skies. (It's a question of how much pollution, not whether there would be any.) The opposition groups are not giving up, but the political leaders in the state seem more interested in the economic benefits and tax revenues, so it appears almost assured of approval, eventually. I think it's a shame they have to spoil the landscape in that pristine prairie region, but with demand for energy being what it is, I don't see much alternative.
Sign protesting the proposed Hyperion oil refinery in Union County, South Dakota, about five miles north of Elk Point. (Oct. 27)
In the waning days of the Bush administration, everyone is expecting a series of presidential pardons to government officials who were involved in tough national security decisions. It appears that there will also be more fallout from the Duke Cunningham corruption case, as reported in the Washington Post; hat tip to Waldo Jaquith. Some will recall that it was the investigation of such cases that prompted the Bush administration to abruptly fire eight Federal attorneys in December 2006, sparking an uproar that eventually led Alberto Gonzalez to resign as Attorney General; see March 2007.
November 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Somber (church) New Year
Today is Advent Sunday, the fourth Sunday before Christmas, marking the first day of the ecclesiastical year. The color for the Advent season is purple (or violet), which is symbolic of penitence and expectation of happier days ahead. Accordingly, I have changed the background color of the pages on the Emmanuel Episcopal Church Web site from green (for the Pentecost season) to purple.
The weather today fits the somber connotation of Advent, with gloomy skies, steady rain, and bone-chilling temperatures. Winter came early this year, and I just hope it leaves early as well...
November 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Are canaries self-aware?
I suppose all pet owners, or at least those who own mammals and birds, are prone to wonder how much self-awareness their pets have. This question is partly related to the degree of intelligence possessed by birds. According to a research study I cited in January 2005, birds' brains are a lot more complex than most people would guess. Birds are often just as resourceful as many mammals, and their "language" abilities (that is, singing and vocalizing to express different emotions) are on par or even greater.
It's probably impossible to make a fair assessment of multiple species, because we humans are "biased" in valuing traits that we possess. Therefore, we tend to regard dogs as more friendly or sociable than cats, but that doesn't necessarily mean that dogs are, generally speaking, superior to cats. Or what about horses? Many people are nuts about horses and ponies, but to me they seem almost as dull and expressionless as cows. (Sorry if I offended anyone by that.) Horses just don't seem to interact with humans in the same way a dog or even a cat would do.
When it comes to pet birds, there are a wide range of behavior types. The more advanced species such as parrots and macaws (which can be trained to "talk") depend on constant interaction with another member or their species or else a human companion, or they will soon become neurotic and unhealthy. You can touch them or let them perch on your finger, and that is often true with Budgerigars, a.k.a. "parakeets." Other birds are the opposite, preferring quiet solitude. The tiny finches you see in pet stores just don't seem to have much going on upstairs.
That brings us to my favorite indoor bird: the canary! These little songsters are delightfully inquisitive and very sociable, though they are usually wary of human contact. Our canaries have always been very attentive to our presence, clearly understanding that we are friendly providers of food, and they respond when we talk to them. The males (the late George, and Luciano) enjoy vocal "competition" whenever I whistle an imitation of their songs, as it gives them a sense of purpose in establishing "territory." It's probably like human "self-esteem," something that needs to be nurtured for the sake of physical health.
I got started on this atypical speculative digression after observing the "young buck" Luciano over the last few weeks. He is as feisty and inquisitive as ever, and he has even got to the point of trusting that he will pull on the hairs of my scalp if I lie down close to him. Once or twice he has landed on top of my head, and he even stayed there while I stood up once. (That would have made a cute video!) Earlier this month, I put a hand mirror on the floor, and Luciano quickly took a look at himself, clearly fascinated by his image, even though he doesn't realize he's looking at himself. He keeps trying to look around the back side of the mirror to find the other canary which surely must be there, but without success so far. This is probably an indication of birds' limited intellect, but the fact that he keeps going back shows that his mind is busy at work trying to solve that "puzzle."
Over the past few weeks, Luciano has become enamored of his own image in the mirror.
As for Princess, she has not flown at all since last March, so we have to provide for everything she needs, making sure she can get enough food and water. Sometimes Luciano aggressively approaches her in hopes of mating (she can't), but usually the two of them are on more cordial terms.
November 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Bobby Jindal: GOP's "Obama"?
One of the real bright spots on the Republican horizon is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a young, forthright conservative who combines brains with the ability to get things done. In today's Washington Post it is suggested that Jindal may be the "Republicans' Version of Obama," because of his excellent speech-making skills and his non-European ancestry. Such an association would be an instant turn-off for many Republicans, who frown on celebrity worship and image-consciousness. The last thing we need is to play the "me-too!" game, so the less that is said about his ethnic origins, the better. (I have made a point of de-emphasizing Barack Obama's African heritage, because I think the real question is whether he is the best person for the job, and in any case, I think Americans need to be less obsessed with skin color.)
So, let's not get carried away by pinning all our hopes on Gov. Jindal. I'm sure he will continue to mature and gain experience as an effective government administrator, and in some future election year (not necessarily 2012), I would hope he runs for president. He will have to prove himself just like everyone else, and I truly hope he lives up to our hopes.
November 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Venus and Jupiter converge
Venus and Jupiter have been approaching each other over the past month, as Jupiter slowly heads toward the southwest from the southern skies, while Venus (which is closer to the sun) rapidly rises from the southwest. They have just about reached their closest (apparent) point, as you can read at space.com. Unfortunately, the weather is so bad across most of the eastern and central United States (rain or snow at most of the football games) that not many Americans can see this celestial convergence tonight. The crescent moon will pass close by on Monday evening, so I hope it clears up by then so that I can see the triple convergence.
Space shuttle returns
The space shuttle Endeavour landed safely Sunday afternoon at Edwards Air Force Base in California, after being re-routed because of bad weather in Florida. The crew spent a full two weeks repairing and adding on to the International Space Station. See CNN.com. Under present plans, the space shuttle fleet is scheduled to be decommissioned in about two years, after which the United States will have no mean to launch astronauts into space for at least two or three more years. Given the overtly hostile attitude of the Russian government over the past year or two, we need to maintain the space shuttles until the new rocket system is operational.