Latin America, 2008
Wild birds, 2008
Science & Technology, 2008
Culture & Travel, 2008
December, 2020 X
November, 2020 X
October, 2020 X
April, 2020 X
March, 2020 X
February, 2020 X
January, 2020 X
May, 2018 X
April, 2018 X
May, 2014 X
November, 2013 X
July 8, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Montesinos exculpates Fujimori
The trial of Peru's former President Alberto Fujimori has reached a critical stage, as various former top officials are taking the witness stand. Fujimori's one-time adviser Vladimiro Montesinos testified that Fujimori knew nothing about the Colina Group death squad that was responsible for the massacre at La Cantuta University in July 1992. Many experts in Peru believe that Montesinos and Fujimori cut a deal, which seems fairly obvious. It's hard to say what the payback would be, however, inasmuch as Montesinos is already serving a sentence of up to 20 years, and faces additional charges. As arrogant and manipulative as ever, Montesinos acted as though he were in charge of the proceedings, lecturing the judge on how to conduct the trial. See Washington Post.
On the other hand, the lawyer in the civil case against Fujimori contends that retired General Nicolas Hermoza Rios, who was armed forces commander at the time, had indicated that Fujimori found out about the massacre at Cantuta through Montesinos. See El Comercio, in Spanish. It's all one huge tangled Web of "he-said-she-said."
Fujimori took refuge in Japan in the midst of a huge corruption scandal during an overseas summit trip in October 2000, then flew to Chile in October 2005, in vain hopes of returning to Peru to run for president, and was finally extradited to Peru by Chilean authorities in September 2007. He convicted of lesser charges last December, and sentenced to six years in prison. For his part, Montesinos fled to Venezuela in 2000, but was caprured and returned to Peru a year later.
This testimony by Montesinos is a striking turn of events because the former partners (Fujimori and Montesinos) had become estranged in recent years, blaming each other for the past misdeeds. Fujimori still holds out hope of running for president in 2011, even though he will probably still be behind bars. See the Fuerza 2011 news blog. ("Fuerza" means "force.") It indicates that Retired General Pedro Villanueva Valdivia, who was Commanding General of the Army in 1991, claimed that Fujimori merely set policies but did not give orders to the military. So apparently, they are all getting their stories straight, that Fujimori was blissfully unaware of the sordid details about the anti-terrorist campaign. It's too bad, because a harsh crackdown was almost certainly necessary in order to prevail over the barbarians in the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). The failure to keep a tight rein on security forces hurt the Peruvian government's image, however, and it probably ruined Fujimori, who resorted to repressive measures and coverups late in his term, and left office in disgrace. For millions of Peruvians, nevertheless, he remains a hero for bringing peace and prosperity back to the country, and it's easy to understand why.
July 27, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Antique Mac laptop still works!
A week or so ago, I turned on my old (1994) Apple PowerBook 150 to see if there were any files on it that I had failed to transfer to my semi-old (2001) iMac. To my horror, I got the dreaded "sad Mac" icon, meaning that there was a fatal bootup error. Repeated attempts to start up failed as well, so I put the old thing away, fearing it was gone for good.
Today I tried to start it one last time before discarding it, and on the first attempt there was no response at all. Then I tried something different: I removed the battery (while it was still plugged in, of course) and hit the ON switch again. Eureka! I don't know why the presence of the battery might have affected it, but it has virtually no charge storage capacity any more in any case, so it's just taking up space. The bootup took longer than usual, but the Finder and applications worked just like new. There isn't much practical use for the PowerBook, because the only removable disk drive is for magnetic 3.5" diskettes, and none of the ports are compatible with USB or FireWire, so it's basically a curiosity, or perhaps a museum piece.
Try this color test humorsphere.com, to see how young your brain is. It took me a few attempts before I figured out what you were supposed to do, so perhaps my brain is aging faster than I thought.
July 12, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Tony Snow passes away
Former White House press secretary Tony Snow died early on Saturday morning, after a long battle with cancer. He was first diagnosed with the disease in 2005, and underwent chemotherapy treatment that put the tumors into remission. He began his White House stint in May 2006, earning praise (and some mild scorn) for the zestful, combative way he conducted his press briefings. He put the best face on the Bush administration, and the fact that he had occasionally criticized Bush in the past gave him a vital degree of credibility, a very precious commodity.
Early last year he had a relapse of the malignancy, and this time it turned out to be terminal. He resigned in September, trying to make the most of the time he had left on Earth for the good of his family. For more on his splendid, inspirational life, see foxnews.com. It was through FOX that Tony gained national attention during the 1990s, after working for many years as a newspaper editorial writer and columnist.
Serving as the official voice of a president who is as unpopular as President Bush has got to be one of the most demanding jobs on earth. That's probably why Bush has gone through so many press secretaries: Ari Fleischer, Scott McLellan, Tony Snow, and Dana Perino. It is striking that both Bush (II) and the even more problematic Bill Clinton went through four press secretaries, whereas the five previous presidents averaged about one per four-year term.
Tony was always my favorite substitute host on the Rush Limbaugh show, and not just because of his earnest, charismatic style. He was very smart and could explain complex policy issues in a very clear way -- a rare gift. Like Rush, he was a "natural" in the electronic media, a true "man for his times." Although he had strong conservative convictions, he was not polemical and did not engage in rude put-downs of his adversaries, the way so many others in Washington do. (I won't name them, but you can probably figure out who.) He proved that you can be a nice guy and still be an effective advocate of conservative policies and principles. He was among the very best in his profession, and his loss will be hard to bear for all us political junkies and policy wonks.
It's a remarkable coincidence that his death came so soon after the passing of another TV journalistic superstar, Tim Russert -- just three weeks ago.
July 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Bobby Murcer gets "called up"
Up to that great green ball field in the sky, that is. Former Yankee outfielder Bobby Murcer died of cancer last Sunday at the age of only 62. His career with the Bronx Bombers (and two other clubs) marked the transition between the fading glory of the mid-1960s and the renewed hope of the mid-1970s. He was a team mate of Mickey Mantle as well as Don Mattingly. His first game with the Yankees was in 1965, at age 18, but he spent two years in the Army after that. I remember when he and Mel Stottlemyer were supposed to keep the Yankee Legacy going, but neither of them ended up savoring the three trips to the World Series in the late 1970s. Perhaps at the behest of impatient new owner George Steinbrenner, Murcer was traded to the Giants (for Bobby Bonds!) in 1974, and didn't return to the Yankees until 1979. That was the year that Yankee catcher Thurman Munson died in a tragic plane crash, and Murcer delivered the eulogy. Those two guys were almost like soul mates, only one year apart and with remarkably similar lifetime stats. Murcer was part of the pennant-winning Yankees team in 1981 (the strike-shortened year), but he wasn't playing on a full-time basis any more by then. He ended his career in 1983 with a total of 252 home runs, 1,043 RBIs, and a .277 batting average. He made the All-Star team five years in a row, 1971-1975. He was a solid, reliable player for many years, but he was also a favorite with fans and with other players, a genuine nice guy and great athlete. After retiring, he was a broadcast announcer for the Yankees. Read the obituary in the Washington Post.
"The Vet" update
I've made some corrections and enhancements to the diagrams and text of Veterans Stadium, the behemoth that defined "nosebleed level." The biggest change is that the upper deck is closer to the field, and the diamond is situated about 15 feet further toward center field than I had previously estimated. I've also refined the profile portion of the diagram that shows the concourse levels, of which there were several in that case.
The mail bag
As usual, lots of catching up to do. I mentioned to Bruce Orser that I'm revising the Dodger Stadium diagrams, and he sent me an article which states that Walter O'Malley originally wanted to put a dome on top of Dodger Stadium. How utterly stupid! That article included a very useful diagram of the stadium's profile while it was still in the planning stages, with the second deck significantly bigger than it eventually turned out to be. All very interesting...
Next, Mike Zurawski tells me that Wrigley Field will host an outdoor hockey game between the Chicago Black Hawks and the Detroit Red Wings; the NHL's second "Winter Classic" outdoor match. Earlier such matches were held in Buffalo (2007) and Edmonton (2003). See the Toronto Globe and Mail. In addition, the lawsuit by Norman Braman against the Florida Marlins has started, and the outcome will have a huge impact on whether a new ballpark gets built in Miami. See Miami Herald. Mike also noticed from Ballpark Digest that the Milwaukee Brewers have installed luxury recliner seats in center field at Miller Park, catering to hard-core couch potatoes.
Finally, Brandon Henderson reminded me that the renovations at Kaufmann Stadium are more extensive than I had thought, with party suites on the slope beyond left field and a widened concourse behind the grandstand. The left field bullpen has already been reoriented, and now is parallel to the fence. See the Royals' Web site. All this will, of course, necessitate yet another diagram revision. Sigh... Brandon also brought to my attention the news that Tropicana Field will be used for the "St. Petersburg Bowl" (NCAA football) this coming winter. "The Trop" has already been used for major hockey and basketball events, and I can't think of any other stadium that has been hosted all four major sports.
I'll get to more news items very soon...
July 6, 2008 [LINK / comment]
GAFCON vs. Lambeth conference
Can the Anglican Communion stay unified? That is the biggest question as traditionalist bishops from around the Anglican world have met in Jerusalem in a challenge to this year's Lambeth Conference, which begins ten days from now. The most contentious issue is over the status of homosexuals in the church, and whether they should be ordained as priests and bishops. There are many other differences as well, however. The traditionalist "Global Anglican Future Conference" (GAFCON) report declares: "We want unity, but not at the cost of re-writing the Bible to accommodate the latest cultural trend." See BBC. GAFCON has created a "Primates Council" to oversee the creation of Anglican missions within the jurisdiction of existing diocese, as has happened here in Virginia. (See my Feb. 1, 2007 post.) This crossing of boundaries is what is considered so subversive by the mainstream Anglican bishops, who are mostly of a modern liberal inclination.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams called the GAFCON proposal "problematic," which by the standards of typical English underspokenness is rather strong language. See Episcopal Life Online. Archbishop Williams has counseled the Episcopal Church U.S.A. to proceed with caution in its liberal reform agenda, fearing that it would precipitate a global schism. In that respect, he is a unifying figure. The Archbishop himself is considered a liberal on most social and political issues, however. For example, he actually suggested adopting elements of Islamic Sharia law in Britain, to placate Muslims; see my Feb. 7 blog post.
Speaking of the Anglican Communion, I just noticed that the Classical Anglican Web site went out of commission a few months ago, mainly because of a malicious hacking attack. As a partial replacement, one of the main bloggers at that site, Rev. Kendall Harmon, has set up a new domain for his blog: Titus One Nine. That is how I found the GAFCON Web site.
Even though I am inclined toward the traditional, conservative side on most social and religious issues, I am appalled at the idea of breaking up the Church over such issues. The Anglican Communion, and the Episcopal Church in particular, has always been open to a variety of interpretations of the Bible and of what the mission of evangelism calls upon us to do. Indeed, the three fundamental tenets of Anglican theology are: Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. That implies that the religious laws and guidelines we follow are subject to reconsideration over the centuries, but likewise that any reinterpretation thereof be very deliberate, based on widespread consensus. Somehow, some people have got it in their heads that they alone are carrying out God's will. I pray dearly that those on both sides will reconsider their headstrong attitude before it is too late.
Church Web site
On a related note, I recently set up a new domain name for our local congregation in Staunton, Emmanuel Episcopal Church: www.emmanuelstaunton.org. (I became Web master and revamped that Web site last September.) It includes photos I took of the stained glass window that was recently restored.
July 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Summer eve on Bell's Lane
The dog days of summer aren't much good for bird watching, but some days are better than others. I went for a stroll along Bell's Lane on Monday evening, just before dusk, and was glad I did. I was surprised at the complete absence of Red-winged blackbirds, which are abundant there during breeding season. The albino Catbird was nowhere to be seen, either. I'm quite sure that Redstarts haven't been breeding in that area, so the male that I spotted would suggest that some of that warbler species have begun to migrate a bit early, perhaps because of the drought. Monday's highlights:
- Cedar waxwing
- Willow flycatchers
- Towhee (J)
- Indigo bunting
- Brown thrasher
- Redstart (M)
- Green heron
Hummingbirds finally started showing up at our feeder on a regular basis early in July, and this year a male has claimed it as part of his own territory, chasing other Hummers away. Until I get a picture with a better light angle, this one will have to do:
Ruby-throated Hummingbird at our back porch feeder. Only the males (like this one) have the red-colored throat, which often appears black depending on the angle of the light.
July 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Colombians rally for hostages
In another clear expression that public sentiment in Colombia has shifted decisively against the FARC rebel / narco-terrorist movement, millions of people marched in Bogota and other cities on Sunday. They are demanding the release of the remaining hostages, estimated to number about 700. Ingrid Betancourt, the most prominent of the hostages who were recently rescued, lent her voice to this outcry: "It's time to lay down those weapons and exchange them for roses." See the Washington Post.
In the days immediately following her release, Ms. Betancourt said some equivocal things about FARC and the Colombian government, leading some to wonder if she was a victim of "Stockholm syndrome," in which hostages develop sympathy for their captors, feeling they must have good reason to do what they do. Apparently she is not such a victim.
The improved security situation in Colombia, and the brave spirit of the people, is one of the most encouraging trends in the world today, but it just isn't getting enough attention in the American press. (What a surprise.) Given the ongoing problems with Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, it is more important than ever for the U.S. Congress to show support for the Colombian people by passing the free trade legislation. Opportunity knocks only once, and Colombia right now is a huge opportunity for U.S. foreign policy, and the cause of freedom in general.
July 10, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Nationals are losing TV viewers
Tuesday's Washington Post reported that the Nationals' TV audience has dropped 43 percent compared to last year, and with an average of 9,000 viewers per game, they are by far the least popular major league team. That TV audience is less than one-third as much as that of the next-lowest team, the Kansas City Royals. That's a bit odd, because the attendance at the home games at Natinals Park has been more or less satisfactory, averaging nearly 30,000 per game. (That's paid attendance, however, and may exceed the actual turnstile count by 15 percent or more.)
As noted by WaPo columnist Thomas Boswell , no other MLB team has more fans at the stadium than watching at home on the tube. If this means that most of those who go to Nats games just want to see the shiny new stadium but don't really care about the team itself, that is bad news indeed. Boswell observed that Orioles owner Peter Angelos is paying about $25 million annually for the TV rights, much more than is commercially justifiable, given the low viewership. Poetic justice, perhaps? One should remember that the Nationals currently have only a minority owership stake in the company that broadcasts their games, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. In future years, they will gain a bigger equity share. For details on the last-minute (shady?) TV rights deal between MLB and Mr. Angelos, see my Mar. 31 2005 blog post. Most people expected TV viewership of Nats games to rise sharply after MASN and Comcast signed a deal in March (Yay!), but MASN seems to have more and fancier promotional ads for the Orioles than they do for the Nationals. I can't help but wonder if this sorry situation has something to do with the often-miserly Mr. Angelos... Is he spiteful enough to neglect promoting what could be a very promising sports marketing franchise, forgoing a substantial profit?
Compared to their former selves as the Montreal Expos, nevertheless, the Nationals are doing much better on television. That's because the Expos didn't even have a television contract.
Nats win a game!
Well, at least the Nats won a game last night, breaking their six-game losing streak. John Lannan pitched yet another solid game, giving up no runs and only two hits over six innings, and this time he actually got run support. His 5-9 win-loss record does not begin to reflect his actual performance, however; his ERA is 3.40, which puts him 23rd in the major leagues. The slugging hero this time was Jesus Flores, who pinch-hit a three-run homer into the visitors' bullpen in the sixth inning. Flores has been in a slump lately -- just like several of his team mates. The 5-0 win over the Diamondbacks was the Nats' sixth shutout victory of the season; they have been shut out 11 times this year.
Demolition in Detroit
Partial demolition work has begun on Tiger Stadium, as wrecking crews ripped a gash in the outer wall that exposes the overgrown field inside. [See a photo at Washington Post.] Whether that work will continue until nothing is left of that lovable old hulk of a historic ballpark depends on fan support. Come on, folks:
Save Tiger Stadium!!!
July 10, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Those lazy, deadbeat Cowbirds!
Is this an ugly bird, or what? You may not know this, but Cowbirds also have an ugly behavior pattern, at least by our standards. They are "parasitical nesters," which means they don't build their own nests or raise their own young. Instead, the female Cowbird searches for another bird's nest in which to lay her eggs, and in many cases, the unwitting hosts raise the chicks until they fledge. (The instinct to reproduce can be overwhelming, some times.) Usually, the baby Cowbirds are bigger than the other birds in the nest, and they push them over the side. Nature is indeed cruel.
This Brown-headed Cowbird was out back a few days ago.
Why do Cowbirds reproduce this way? Well, as with most instances of animal behavior, it evolved over the millenia as an adaptation. Cowbirds live mainly on insects that swarm around cattle and livestock manure, and many centuries ago, such animals roamed freely across the plains, which made it impossible to raise young in a particular breeding location. Thus, some of them gave up on building a nest, and left that task to other birds. Enough of the offspring survived that the behavioral trait became permanently ingrained in their genes. It's a case study in welfare state mentality, you might say.
In Europe, Cuckoos are parasitical nesters, but the American species of Cuckoos build their own nests, albeit rather sloppy ones. I haven't been on any serious birding trip lately, but hope to in the next couple days. I have updated my Wild Birds USA photo gallery page.
Ospreys learn to poop
A photographic record of a "poop lesson" in an Osprey nest was posted by Fred Miranda, and it's pretty funny, though it takes a while to load those big images. Hat tip to Stacey Morris.
July 30, 2008 ** [LINK / comment]
Mortgage bailout: "compassion"?
Virtually no one believes that the mortgage bailout bill passed by the Democrat-controlled Congress will serve the public interest. Many thousands of people will probably end up getting foreclosed anyway, while new prospective house buyers will face a credit market that will be tighter because lenders will become more distrustful. (It's the age-old problem of "moral hazard" -- when public policy undermines the discipline of the market and creates incentives to bend the rules.) Nevertheless, the Senate approved it by a vote of 72 to 13, after the House passed it by a 272 to 152 margin. (Hooray for the gutsy House Republicans!) Amazingly, the Washington Post actually got it right on an economic issue, for once, noting that the bill is "unlikely to relieve the foreclosure crisis..."
The mortgage bill is a prime example of what political scientist R. Douglas Arnold called a "politically compelling policy: The popularity of the intended effects outweighs the legislator's doubts that the means will actually work, because his opposition would be construed as lack of sympathy."
President Bush heavily criticized the bill, but as a lame duck whose party can't afford to alienate voters this fall, he probably doesn't have much choice but to sign it. Having staked his presidency on the idea of "compassionate conservatism," it's hard for Bush to appeal to reason in debates over public policy.
So what will be the end result? Millions of prudent, thrifty tax-payers will end up shelling out money to people who probably never should have bought a house in the first place. ("What a terrible thing to say!") Well, this is one of those cases where the American Dream of homeownership runs smack into cold, hard reality. By rewarding those who gambled and lost, while punishing those who played it safe, Congress will subvert the function of the market. That will lead us one step closer to a state-controlled (but "compassionate"!) economic system. In short, the mortgage bailout bill is totally bogus.
Speaking of bogus, the Democrats in the House are up to their usual no-good grandstanding. They say hope springs eternal in the human breast, and perhaps the same holds true for craving revenge. C-SPAN has been showing the House Judiciary Committee hearings in which expert legal witnesses are testifying as to the impeachability of President Bush, or rather, whether impeaching him would be an appropriate legal remedy. One of the leading voices in this absurd diversion is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a rising young star in the party. (Oddly, her accent sounds more like the back alleys of The Bronx than the 20th District of Florida which she represents -- Fort Lauderdale, etc.) I noticed from her Web site that her district is heavily gerrymandered, and I'd like to know which party is responsible for that.
** This blog post was improperly uploaded on July 30; correction made August 1.
July 23, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Guzman stays, Rauch leaves
Cristian Guzman just signed a two-year contract extension with the Nationals, which is great news. Guzman signed with the team as a free agent in November 2004, after they left Montreal but before they arrived in D.C. His first the years in Washington were nightmarish, plagued by injuries and poor performance that evidently stemmed from eyesight problems. After corrective laser surgery, he started making ball contact like he used to, and became the only Nat in this year's All-Star Game.
Meanwhile reliever Jon Rauch was traded to the Diamondbacks for Emilio Bonifacio, whom they hope will be the team's future second baseman. Felipe Lopez's job is clearly in jeopardy, but I thought Ronnie Belliard was more than adequate in that position, so what gives? Bonifacio will play for the Columbus affiliate for the time being. He is supposed to be an excellent defensive player with solid batting and base-stealing abilities. See MLB.com. Rauch was one of the dwindling number of former Montreal Expos on the team; the only ones left now are Chad Cordero, Nick Johnson, and Luis Ayala.
A Capitol view? NOT!
Mike Zurawski informed me of a hideous monstrosity that was recently unveiled at Nationals Park: a big red tent on top of the parking garage that blocks the view of the U.S. Capitol dome. See Half Street Blues. That view is one of the prime attractions of the new ballpark, for crying out loud! Was this done out of spite, or to force the D.C. government to pay the damages that the team owners are demanding? Or are the Lerners just too stupid to run a ball club? Mike thinks the latter:
Other than the Marlins Jeff Loria and maybe Peter Angelos i can't think of worse baseball owners. Fred Malek should have been the owner. These idiots should go back to real estate.
Based on the way the Lerners have structured ticket prices at Nationals Park, leaving many prime seats empty, and at their failure to sign some of their top draft picks, which Mike also mentioned, I would have to agree. NOTE: My opinion on that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I'm at the top of Fred Malek's blogroll! Mr. Malek recently resigned from his post as Finance Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, partly to spend more time on the McCain campaign, and partly to let the new state party chairman pick his own staff.
Profiling RFK Stadium
As ballparks go, rendering the profile of RFK Stadium is one of the more difficult tasks, due to its odd, swooping roof and grandstand configuration. Previously I tried to indicate this with a combined profile depiction, but now I have separate profiles for the tallest and shortest portions of the grandstand, along with a third profile that shows the outfield, where there is no lower deck. I hope it's not too cluttered. I've also added the lights to the diagram(s), but the field dimensions and grandstand are the same as before.
A few more news items with the Nats that deserve attention: Wily Mo Peña, who failed to live up to his reputation as a slugger during the first half of the season with the Nationals, had surgery on his shoulder on Tuesday and will miss the rest of the season. Apparently he's had the problem for most of this year, but he tried to keep playing anyway, possibly aggravating the condition.
On a brighter note, Ryan Zimmerman returned to the Nats' lineup for the first time in six weeks, because of a sore shoulder.* He missed 48 games altogether, during which time the Nats won only 16 games -- an abysmal .333 record. Zimmerman got one hit in three at bats against the Giants in AT&T Park last night (they lost, 6-3), and one of his outs was a blazing line drive that was caught. Well, things can only get better from this point on. (Right?)
Another bright note was the fact that the Nats beat the Braves in two of the three games in Atlanta over the weekend, and they almost caught up in the one game they lost, 7-6. During that series, the Nationals scored a total of 29 runs, their highest such total since last September 24-26, when they swept the Mets by a cumulative score of 32-19.
* Speaking of sore shoulders, mine is still bothering me, after throwing out the first pitch at a local game on July 3. It's making it hard to use the mouse, so maybe I'll have to learn to use my left hand.
July 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]
My first first pitch: WILD!
It seems that whenever somebody tosses out the ceremonial first pitch at a ball game, the result is hilariously bad. "What an idiot!" Well, from now on I will judge others less harshly. Last night I had the honor of throwing out the first pitch at the Staunton Braves baseball game. (They are part of the Valley League, which is for college players on summer break. Alums include David Eckstein, Aubrey Huff, Jon Rauch, and Saul Rivera.) It was the annual "community night," when all sorts of businesses and organizations put up promotional banners, and I was there in my capacity as a Red Cross volunteer. (I also participated in the same event last year.) Anyway, my main thought as I stepped onto the mound was to give the ball a good, strong heave. Taking things too seriously, as usual, I got into the set position, as if I were looking for a signal, and then let it sail -- head high and at least six feet wide of the plate! It's a good thing the catcher was standing up so he could catch it! Like Bob Uecker said in Major League, "Just a bit outside." Obviously, I should have taken a few practice throws first, as my arm was sore for the rest of the evening. The other Red Cross folks thought I did the organization credit, but I'm not so sure.
As for the game itself, the first inning was a marathon, with the Covington Lumberjacks getting two runs and the Staunton Braves getting four. I estimated there were at least 500 spectators present. Wanting to catch the end of the Nationals-Reds game on TV, I left after the sixth inning, when the home team was ahead 12 - 4. As it turned out, Covington almost caught up to Staunton late in the game, and the final score was 14 - 12. I noticed during the game that a few fans at the game were using cowbells, just like the fans in Tampa Bay have been doing!
July 26, 2008 [LINK / comment]
"Assisted living" for Princess
No longer able to fly very much or even move while she's on the floor, Princess requires more and more care all the time, the older she gets. We've had her for over seven years, and she is probably almost eight -- more than an average life span for most canaries. She spends most of the day in the same place, usually in the dirt of a flower pot, and in the evening, we put her in the nest to sleep. She never has gotten used to being handled, no matter how gentle we are. The two missing primary feathers of her right wing are starting to grow again, but we are afraid that the roots are permanently damaged, and those feathers may never grow back to normal. Thus, she may never fly again.
Even though Princess is usally subdued or listless these days, there are days when she gets more energetic, chirping and flirting with Luciano. This is molting season, when their old feathers are shed and get replaced, so neither of them is in the mood for mating. It's a relief for us that he hasn't been harrassing her as much as he did during the spring. As evidence of her spunky character, sometimes she even tries to sing like male canaries do. I recorded her awkward "singing" the other day, submitted for your amusement:
Click here to hear a 30-second audio clip of Princess.
Princess is not happy about getting help with bathing, but proper hygiene is for her own good.
July 12, 2008 [LINK / comment]
All-Star rosters, 2008
As with the novel and intriguing situation in the divisional standings at this year's midpoint, the selections for this year's All-Star Game bring a lot of surprises. For both leagues, exactly five of the nine All-Star slots I picked (see June 28) matched those who were actually chosen for the starting lineups. to MLB.com. Of the other four in each league (indicated below with
strikethrough lines), three were chosen as reserve players. To my surprise, neither Johnny Damon* nor Xavier Nady made the cut. It appears that the Cubs and the Red Sox are more popular than the Twins and the Rangers.
* Damon suffered an injury in that bizarre play at Yankee Stadium when the ball rested momentarily on top of the left field fence before rolling onto the field (watch YouTube), so he probably couldn't play in any case. That's a shame.
- 1B -- Kevin Youkilis, BOS
Justin Morneau, MIN
- 2B -- Dustin Pedroia, BOS
Iain Kinsler, TEX
- SS -- Derek Jeter, NYY **
- 3B -- Alex Rodriguez, NYY **
- C --- Joe Mauer, MIN
- OF -- Ichiro Suzuki, SEA *
Johnny Damon, NYY
- OF -- Josh Hamilton, TEX
- OF -- Manny Ramirez, BOS *
Milton Bradley, TEX
- DH -- David Ortiz, BOS **
- 1B -- Lance Berkman, HOU
- 2B -- Chase Utley, PHI *
- SS -- Hanley Ramirez, FLA
Cristian Guzman, WAS
- 3B -- Chipper Jones, ATL
- C --- Geovany Soto, CHC
Brian McCann, ATL
- OF -- Kosuke Fukudome, CHC
Matt Holliday, COL
- OF -- Ryan Braun, MIL
- OF -- Alfonso Soriano, CHC *
Xavier Nady, PIT
* Asterisks denote players who were also chosen for the starting lineup either last year or the year before, or both years (**).
As for the pitchers, there are likewise a lot of new names, especially on the American League side. I gained an awareness of two of the younger National League pitchers in recent games against the Nationals: Dan Haren of Arizona (see below), and Edinson Volquez, of Cincinnati.
Nats show signs of life
In Thursday night's game against the Diamondbavks, the Nationals played typically for most of the game -- a fine performance by a starting pitcher (in this case, Jason Bergmann), coupled with weak batting. Then, in the bottom of the ninth inning, they did something amazing: They staged a rally and tied the game, 2-2. Austin Kearns batted in two runs with a hard grounder into left field (Mark Reynolds was charged with an error, one of three he committed), and with runners on first and second and nobody out, it seemed they would win the game easily. Yet somehow, the Nats let slip the chance once again. When the D-backs scored three in the top of the tenth, it looked bleaker than ever, but the Nats came back once again to tie it, and once again they wasted a chance to win. But Arizona scored two more in the top of the eleventh, and by then the Nats had run out of miracles. See MLB.com. [Final score: D-backs 7, Nats 5.]
That was one of those "character-building" games, when everything depends on what you make of it. Was it about brave determination or choking in the clutch? Based on the way they played Friday night, it was the former lesson that was learned, as the Nats trounced the Astros, 10-0. It their biggest shutout victory ever, and came one short of their greatest-ever margin of victory, when they beat the Cardinals 12-1 on August 4 last year. (I was there!) There was one other occasion when they won by ten runs, scoring 11-1 against Florida on Sept. 27, 2005. As for their worst defeats ever, two times the Nationals have lost by 13 runs: 14-1 against Houston on July 22 2005, and 13-0 against the Mets on Sept. 30, 2006. (I was there, too!)
July 1, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Cordero is out for the year
Late yesterday it was announced that Nationals' closer Chad Cordero has a torn labrum, and will be out for the rest of the 2008 season. See MLB.com. Coming on top of news that Nick Johnson will miss the rest of the season, and the uncertain prospects for the return of Ryan Zimmerman, Austin Kearns, Shawn Hill, and (most recently) Lastings Milledge, this is really adding injury to insult to injury. (Reserve players Ryan Wagner and Johnny Estrada are also on the DL.) Fortunately, Jon Rauch has performed very well in his role as substitute closer, for the most part. (Last night's 6 - 5 loss to the Marlins was an exception.) If you want to know what a torn labrum is, see the University of Michigan Health System.
Yankee Stadium fixup
I have tweaked the Yankee Stadium diagrams, rendering the concourse area more accurately than before, and adding a few touchups. This was prompted by a recent tip from Josh Geiswite. Coincidentally, I also had some inquiries on "The Bronx Basilica" from Joe Johnston and Rob Stevens. If you would like to offer your thoughts about particular stadiums to the general public, feel free to use the "Impressions" feedback feature on the page in question.
Also, I have refurbished and updated the Artificial Turf, On-speculation stadiums and Anomalous stadiums pages.
July 10, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Another "roadblock" in Virginia
As usual, the Senate and House of Delegates in Virginia are having a hard time reaching a compromise on transportation funding. The Republican-led House submitted a bill to create regional taxing authorities for funding roads, but it was a non-starter. According to the Washington Post, it's all because of "Partisan Bickering." Well, there is some of that, no doubt, but there is also a very real difference of philosophy. Majority Leader Morgan Griffith said he won't "play games" with Gov. Kaine, whose tax-hike proposal seems calculated to pin the blame on the GOP. Actually, I would agree that the most obvious (and fairest) source of revenue would be a hike in gasoline taxes, but with prices creeping above $4 a gallon, that is highly unlikely. They should have done it last year, or the year before.
Folks with long memories (that's what they say about elephants, at least) may recall that regional transportation funding was one of gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore's main campaign pledges in 2005. At first glance, it is a compelling solution to the perennial clash of priorities between the (sub-)urban and rural parts of the Old Dominion. The problem is that there are no constitutional units of government between the state level and the local level. Creating regional transportation boards composed of appointed members would immediately raise the issue of "no taxation without representation," one of the main grievances upon which this country was founded.
Brandon Bell (the former state senator) sent an open letter to the governor and legislative leaders, proposing that "[a]ll responsibility for local roads should be shifted to our localities..." It's a good starting point, but any solution would involve a complex set of bargains among rival interests, and that seems unlikely given the current political landscape -- especially the weak leadership in Richmond. Bell says that "doing nothing is not an option," but I'm afraid it is a very likely outcome. It's possible that, in the wake of a failure to enact legislation, a political shakeout would ensue that would decide the matter once and for all. But my general position remains the same: I dislike dipping into general funds to subsidize one transportation sector at the expense of another (e.g., railroads). That is why the Republicans' resistance to Gov. Kaine may well serve the public interest.
Webb disavows veep candidacy
Senator James "Born Fighting" Webb declared on Tuesday that he is not willing to run as the vice presidential candidate along with Barack Obama. (See Washington Post. This news came as great comfort to Daniel Drezner, who resented the fact that, when he was testifying to a Senate committee recently, Webb was "bound and determined not to hear the answer I was giving him at one point." Well, the freshman senator never said he was "born listening," did he? Combative politicians like him tend to make up their minds early on, and don't care much about opposing points of view. Drezner's main objection to Webb, however, is his anti-trade position, which is a seductively tempting route to take for many politicians in a recessionary election year. (Does anyone still remember the Smoot-Hawley tariff? Total disaster.)
Among other Virginian politician with national aspirations, Mark Warner was once considered a prospective V.P candidate, but he is too busy running against Jim Gilmore for the U.S. Senate right now. Gov. Tim Kaine, would have to give up the last year of his term as governor, and that seems unlikely.
Frederick changes his tune
Recent reports suggest that newly elected RPV Chairman Jeff Frederick may want to keep his seat in the House of Delegates after all. I was having a hard time figuring out his intentions, but Brandon Bell reports that Frederick is raising money for a possible reelection bid next year. He speculates about the reasons, including the possibility that Frederick wanted to serve as both party chairman and executive director (a salaried position), but was discouraged from this by his supporters. Does he want to have his cake and eat it too, or is this fund-raising on behalf of his wife as a candidate? Hat tip to Shaun Kenney, who says he is "largely disappointed with the replacements (and non-Virginians) at RPV," and worries about "the flight of all the heavy-hitting fundraisers from RPV ." Come back, John Hager! Come back, Charlie Judd! Come back, Fred Malek!
Run, Myron, run!
Finally, Megan alerts us to a "grass-roots" viral Web phenomenon: "Republitarian for President!?" (It's a faux news report do-it-yourself video; pretty cool.) Well, Myron got more votes running for Clerk of Courts than I did running for Staunton Republican Chairman, so why not?
Obviously, I've been out of the blogospheric loop for a while, and am slowly getting caught up. Hey, baseball will do that to you!
July 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Goodlatte visits the war zone
Congressman Bob Goodlatte is on his way home from a tour of the Middle East, and spent some time with U.S. troops in Iraq earlier this week. It is his third visit to Iraq, and clearly the security situation is much more favorable now. This time he went to Fallujah, which used to be an extremely dangerous hotbed of Sunni resistance. For the past year or so, however, it is largely pacified, as the local people have largely accepted the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad. It doesn't mean the old animosities have suddenly vanished, and future flareups can be expected, but most Iraqi people seem to realize there is no point to shedding more blood.
In a telephone interview with the News Leader, Goodlatte said he was free to go pretty much wherever he wanted to go in Iraq, unlike his previous visit when the generals advised him to remain within certain secured sectors. He also pointed out that the number of U.S. troops in Al Anbar province (a Sunni stronghold in the west) has been reduced from 36,000 to 26,000 this year. (By comparison, the Pentagon announced in May that the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq is being reduced from a peak of 170,000 to about 140,000.) The article noted that the Democratic challenger for Goodlatte's seat, Sam Rasoul, acknowledged that the "surge" is yielding results, but calls for a phased withdrawal nonetheless. He said the U.S. needs to put more pressure on the Iraqi government, which is the same thing Goodlatte has said. Perhaps it is a good sign that the differences over Iraq war policy aren't as great as you might think. Or perhaps the Democrats simply realize that, in the Sixth District at least, a "dovish" position would be a ticket to defeat at the polls.
Most Americans are vaguely aware that Iraq has quieted down since the "surge" last year, but many probably think that it's just a temporary lull. Well, perhaps. What they may not realize is that the political dynamics are shifting in the right direction as well. One of the most interesting recent developments is that the Iraqi government asked the U.S. to pull back its forces from Sadr City, the impoverished Shi'ite district of Baghdad that has been a bastion of the warlord "cleric" Moqtada al Sadr. The joint U.S.-Iraqi government offensive there and other points of resistance achieved partial success, as Moqtada al Sadr ordered his militias to stand down. It seems that the Iraqis are better able to get cooperation of local people when their own forces do the patrolling on their own, so that they are not perceived as tools of American domination. Thus, we are in the almost-ideal position of declining violence and the local officials telling us that they want to assume a bigger share of responsibility for securing their own nation. This is about as close to "victory" (a problematic term when applied to messy situations of civil strife such as in Iraq) as we are going to get. Let's take them up on the offer!
The example of Basra, the port city in southern Iraq, may be a useful guide for the conduct of the pacification campaign in other parts of the country. British forces pulled out of the city late last year, and their total troop strength in Iraq has dropped from a peak of 43,000 (in 2003) to less than 4,000 right now. After a few days of heavy fighting with Shi'ite militias a couple months ago, the Iraqi armed forces are now in full control of that vital petroleum hub. The local residents have learned to respect and trust their own soldiers. (Those thuggish militias were widely seen as pawns of Iran, the border of which is only a short distance from Basra.) As the Washington Post noted, it may have been easier to pacify Basra than it would be in other parts of Iraq because Basra is almost exclusively Shi'ite, and therefore relatively free of sectarian hatred.
Overall, the vastly improved situation in former trouble spots such as Basra and Fallujah offers real hope for achieving our goals of a stable, self-governing Iraq. How close are we to that goal? In the News Virginian, Goodlatte was quoted as saying "The Iraqis, in the opinion of Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, are not ready to take control of their country without our assistance." Well, they may not be ready by our standards, but they are going to have to pull their own weight sooner or later, and when they do, it will be of their own free will, not because of U.S. pressure. It is the perpetual dilemma of all occupation/pacification campaigns: How to foster the development of an autonomous, strong government that is respected but is not hostile to our interests. There is simply no simple, sure-fire way to achieve all of our goals in Iraq, and there will be some awkward trade-offs. In the end, we will have to accept that the new regime in Iraq may sometimes be odds with us. The recent announcement by Baghdad that they will let out bids for foreign oil companies to rebuild the petroleum industry will be a test of our willingness to let them do what they want.
Goodlatte's campaign Web site makes clear our long-term objectives, and the probable consequences of pulling back at this critical moment:
Our goal is not to maintain and occupy Iraq, but to ensure that the country is stable enough to stand on its own and be a beacon of hope and democracy in the Middle East. Stability in the Middle East is imperative to our national security. The long-term instability over decades in this region has created a haven for terrorists and a breeding ground for radical Islamic extremists to advance their terrorist agenda. Pulling out of Iraq at this time would put our nation and the rest of the world at great risk. While I continue to support our mission in Iraq, I think it is clear that the Administration's efforts to achieve the mission have not been flawless. I believe more should be done to press the now established Iraqi government and U.S. trained Iraqi military to take the lead.
In other words, it is not just about patriotic duty, but is a clear strategic choice in shaping the global situation for the years to come.
During the month of June, 28 American servicemen died in Iraq, and the total for May and June together -- 48 -- is the lowest two-month fatality rate since the war began just over five years ago. If that is not a sign of progress in stabilizing Iraq, I don't know what is. However, this also marks the first time that monthly fatalities in Iraq have been less than in Afghanistan. That is where more of our attention will be faced in the coming months...
(Cross-posted at Bloggers for Bob Goodlatte.)
July 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Obama changes his tune (II) *
Barack Obama is reconsidering his plan to unilaterally withdraw from Iraq, which is a smart move, given the great progress that we have been making in that war-torn nation over the past year. In a speech in North Dakota (!), he said that his "guiding approach continues to be that we've got to make sure that our troops are safe, and that Iraq is stable," while reevaluating the situation periodically. See Washington Post. (I should note that, to a large extent, those two goals clash with each other; that is, keeping our troops safe means keeping the Iraqi people less safe.) Obama's shift is part of an aggressive strategy aimed at courting voters who would ordinarily lean toward the Republican side. During the primary campaign, Obama had highlighted his plan to phase out the U.S. troop presence in Iraq over a 16-month period. In essence, that would amount to a strategic retreat under the premise that there is no reasonable hope for anything close to victory. If we are indeed losing, why prolong the inevitable? If there were no tangible signs of progress after the "surge," such a position would be the only logical course to take, painful though it might be.
But the problem for Obama is that our forces have stabilized Iraq to a large extent, that the Iraqi government is standing on its own two feet, and this strategic gain has caused positive spillover effects for U.S. diplomacy in other parts of the Middle East region. (Condoleezza Rice is getting the Israelis and Palestinians back to the bargaining table, and even Syria is negotiating with Israel over Lebanon and other matters.) Is Obama going to forfeit all of that just to abide by his earlier campaign pledges? NO!
In coming months, we look forward to Senator Obama changing his tune on nationalizing health care and meeting face to face with foreign dictators. As long as his policy shifts are consistent with the national interest, which generally speaking means a more conservative direction, there is no reason to criticize him for "flip-flopping," as some pundits have done.
* (See Part I on June 20.)
July 25, 2008 [LINK / comment]
New constitution for Ecuador?
The "constituent assembly" convened by Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has approved the draft constitution that aims to replace the entire political establishment and give more power to the executive branch. The president would be able to run for consecutive terms, which is currently prohibited, and he would make decisions on economic policy that are currently handled by the central bank, which is independent. The vote was 94 to 36. A referendum will be held later this year, but if the newspapers and broadcast media remain under state control (Correa ordered a takeover last week), the voters won't have all the information they need to make an intelligent decision. See BBC. The slide toward despotism in Ecuador continues unabated, with little apparent outcry by the opposition. Very sad and very strange.
FARC releases hostages
The Colombian rebel group FARC has released eight of ten hostages who had been seized recently. This would seem to indicate that they are on the defensive in the public relations war ever since the dramatic rescue operation early this month, and needed to make a good will gesture, but they are expected to demand ransom for the other two hostages. One of the freed hostages seems to have a more sympathetic view of FARC, a manifestation of the "Stockholm syndrome." The International Red Cross served as an intermediary in this release. Seven hundred people remain imprisoned by FARC. See BBC.
July 15, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Do Americans whine too much?
That's what former Senator Phil Gramm thinks, and while most well-informed observers would probably agree, it's not the kind of thing you're supposed to say during an election year! Gramm was scorning the idea that the American people are enduring severe hardships right now, saying we are in a "mental recession," not a true recession. (Well, only an American could commute 30 miles to work every day in a gargantuan SUV and then get his nose bent out of shape when the price of gasoline inevitably goes up.) Gramm has a background as an economics professor, and always saw his job of legislator as a matter of applying cold, hard facts and logic than appealing to gut emotions or "grass-roots" sentiment. That's probably why he left his the Senate in 2002, which I thought was a big shame. In any case, the mere suggestion that Americans are whiners created such a big uproar that John McCain had to issue a stern disclaimer to minimize the damage. Gramm will probably get kicked off McCain's advisory team as punishment. Too bad.
In Saturday's Washington Post, Amity Shlaes (of the Council on Foreign Relations) dared to say what politicans fear to acknowledge in public: "Phil Gramm Is Right." She observes that garnering votes with "Campaign Econ" rhetoric about the alleged "hard times" we're in actually creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, as consumer confidence declines. And, as she rightly points out, Barack Obama is renowned for pandering on such issues as the "gas tax holiday."
Another retired Republican senator with a penchant for blunt talk and a grouchy personality, Bob Dole, would have had no hesitation in telling the whiners to shut up and tighten their belts. That's why I admired him so much, and that's probably why he lost the election to Bill Clinton in 1996. My idea of an ideal Republican presidential candidate would be someone like Wilford Brimley, the gruff, moustached character actor who did those TV ads for Quaker Instant Oatmeal, Grape Nuts, and geriatric medical supplies. No-nonsense, straight, blunt words of wisdom. I wasn't aware of this fact, but Mr. Brimley endorsed John McCain back in January, and the young punks at Daily KOS made fun of this. No respect for the elderly!
Global war and local politics
Controversy over the war in Iraq has resurfaced on the local political scene lately. Starke Smith*, from Fishersville, wrote a letter to the News Leader in response to a recent column by Lynn Mitchell, which was in response to a column by Iraq war veteran Seth Lovell, who is tired of seeing those "Win the War!" signs. Here is my comment:
The letter writer, Mr. Starke Smith, came close to making a good point about politicizing the war, but then he got tangled up in his own negative opinions about the war. I totally agree that all of us should "be willing listen to both sides of an issue," but expecting us to "admit that invading Iraq was a mistake" is begging the question. True, the Bush administration made serious mistakes before and after the war started, but that does NOT mean it is a lost cause. Far from it!
Mr. Smith seems to think that most of the folks with those yard signs aren't doing their part to help in other ways. Why does he think this? I would be the first to admit that some people -- note the word SOME -- may be bragging or exploiting the war for political advantage. ("By jingo!") But let's not assume the worst about other people we don't know.
As for the lessons from Vietnam, which Mr. Smith mentioned, I would hope we learn never again to get involved in a major war without an explicit declaration of war by Congress, as the Constitution requires. That way, you can't pin the blame for starting a difficult war on one top leader. For years, Democrats have been scoring points with impatient, war-weary voters by bashing Bush over the Iraq War, even though they voted to give Bush the authority. "We were misled!" Hogwash.
Likewise, many on the Republican side are now doing the same sort of thing, though from the opposite side: using the war as a "wedge issue" to scrounge for a few more votes as economic troubles mount. For example, Lynn Mitchell wrote in her column that politics and support for our troops "are inseparable." Hogwash. There are many politically neutral people who are sincere patriots, and we can't afford to alienate them with that "if you're not with us, you're against us" approach to politics that was popularized by the Bush-Rove team.
United we stand. Polarization means defeat.
! WIN THE WAR
Victory in Iraq
Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.
President G. W. Bush *
* I should note that Mr. Smith is a member of the Augusta Bird Club, and alerted me to the Black Swan that was seen near Fishersville in November 2006.
July 6, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Nationals look to the future
Well, at least in this afternoon's game in Cincinnati, the Nationals didn't go down without a fight. Even though they once again wasted a solid outing by a young starting pitcher, stranding multiple runners on base, they staged a two-out rally in the top of the ninth inning. They hustled and got two runs across the plate, but Wil Nieves was caught looking at a perfect pitch down the middle, and the game ended, 6 - 5. The twisted knee suffered by left fielder Elijah Dukes in Saturday night's game is adding yet more injury to insult to injury. He will probably be out for a month or more; see MLB.com.
Having just been swept by the Reds in a four-game series, the Washington Nationals have reached a new low, with the worst record (34 - 56) in all the majors. In spite of occasional moments of hope and even outstanding achievement this year, it is fast becoming clear that the Nats are giving up on their goal of ending the season with at least an even .500 record. What a shame. As the August 1 trading deadline approaches, that means that the franchise will be unloading some of their veterans who might be of use to other teams in winning a postseason berth. The Washington Post got some answers from General Manager Jim Bowden about the team's strategy in the bleak present situation.
We're open to any trade that makes us better long-term. That includes proven major leaguers that are successful, top prospects in the minor leagues; we're open to anything. We've told every club, we have complete flexibility on trading players and acquiring players.
So, here's my list of reliable veterans on the Nationals roster who are most likely to be traded in the next few weeks, in descending order of likelihood:
- Tim Redding
- Austin Kearns
- Aaron Boone
- Ronnie Belliard
- Odalis Perez
- Paul Lo Duca
- Dmitri Young
I would hate to see Belliard go, after his recent surge in slugging performance. Letting go of their star player this year, Cristian Guzman *, is almost unthinkable. Ordinarily, Wily Mo Pena would be on that list, but he's having a lousy year.
* On a brighter note, Cristian Guzman was chosen as a reserve player for the All-Star Game, the only National to earn that honor. He currently leads the Major Leagues in total number of hits, and kept his hitting streak alive today; he's now at 14. He previously appeared in the 2001 All-Star Game, when he was with the Twins. See MLB.com.
In contrast to the Nats today, the Cardinals actually achieved such a come-from-behind victory against the suddenly-slumping Cubs last night. [This afternoon, the Cubs got revenge, winning 7 - 1.] This is shaping up to be the biggest rivalry in all the majors, as only two other divisions have a tighter race at the top: the White Sox are one game ahead of the Twins, and the Diamondbacks are a half game ahead of the Dodgers, but that hardly counts since neither team is over .500.
The mail bag
Loyal sponsor Mark London reminded me of something that Jonathan Karberg had told me last year, but which I had forgotten: The bullpens in Busch Stadium II were originally located beyond the foul poles, underneath the seating section. (It's that empty space where Mark McGwire's 62nd home run landed.) A photograph from John Pastier's book Ballparks Yesterday and Today confirms that there were no bullpens in foul territory during the late 1960s. The correction has been duly noted.
I have updated the Antique stadiums page, and have added two of those old ballparks, Robison Field and Hilltop Park, to my list of "Coming attractions." [The revised data are taken from the latest (2006) edition of Phil Lowry's classic, Green Cathedrals.] Also, I made some further data revisions on the Stadium statistics page.
July 17, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Obama targets Virginia (?)
Barack Obama's campaign announced that they will open up 20 additional local offices across the Commonwealth of Virginia, in a bold bid to take the battle to "enemy territory." One of those offices will be in Harrisonburg, just a ways up I-81 from here. Since LBJ won Virginia in 1964, no Democrat has won [in Virginia]. See the Washington Post, which quoted Delegate Chris Saxman as saying that those extra offices would be a "tremendous waste of money" for Obama. That's probably the case, since Obama has only a slim chance of winning Virginia, but it depends what the objective is.
It seems to me that this campaign push in Virginia is intended to put John McCain on the defensive, forcing him to spend precious resources to shore up his own base of support. It's not likely to work, however. The one consistent theme with Obama is style over substance, image over reality. As Saxman said, it's probably just a publicity stunt to create the impression of a nationwide bandwagon. Most Virginians are pretty sensible people, however, immune from [Obama's kind of] glitzy showmanship. On the other hand, this reminds me of Mark Warner's expensive campaign to appeal to hunters and rural folks when he ran for governor in 2001. They even composed a catchy bluegrass tune -- as if Warner had roots in the hill country! That was one slick campaign, and it worked. The real test of how broad Obama's appeal in Virginia is will be whether he shows up at one of the NASCAR races in the state: either Bristol (Aug. 23), Richmond (Sept. 6), or Martinsville (Oct. 19). That would be huge.
Charlottesville experienced a rush of "Obama-mania" when Barack himself came to town last year, and given the announcement that he will give his convention acceptance speech at Denver's Invesco Field ("at Mile High"), I wonder if they plan on a similar event this fall at Scott Stadium. Much more likely would be John Paul Jones Arena.
Now the wet-behind-the-ears Illinois senator is heading for the Middle East on a "fact-finding mission," which as John McCain pointed out is rather odd, since Obama has already made up his mind on the facts. Let's watch to see whether Obama goes to any parts to Iraq that would have been off-limits for security reasons two years ago, and then see how he explains the improved conditions. Who knows, maybe he'll "change his tune" on the surge, as he has on other issues!
A false impeachment rumor is making the rounds in the blogosphere thanks to a thinly-veiled piece of satire by lefty blogger Cheryl Biren. She quoted Rep. Bob Goodlatte and six other Republican House members who voted to impeach President Clinton in 1998 for having lied under oath, but without any context, leading one to think -- erroneously -- that those were recent statements referring to President Bush. NOT! Only at the end of the blog piece was this explained. Very funny. If anyone could point to a case in which President Bush told a deliberate lie under oath or in a similar solemn circumstance, it might be appropriate to make that comparison, but not otherwise. Hat tip to David Rexrode for this alert.
From my own personal experience (that linked blog post is exactly one year old!), disinformation spread by bloggers is a very grave offense in my book.
Grace under fire
During his speech welcoming 72 new American citizens at Monticello on July 4, President Bush displayed real poise (often defined as "grace under fire") as he was repeatedly interrupted by obnoxious, profane hecklers. It was even worse than was reported in the newspapers, causing embarrassment for those who arranged the special event. Watch for yourself at youtube.com; hat tip to Patrick Carne.
July 31, 2008 ** [LINK / comment]
Phillies sweep the Nationals
This slump is getting monotonous. Once again, the Nats showed signs of competitive life against a strong opponent, and once again they fell short. John Lannan threw seven strikeouts, but gave up eight runs (two unearned) in 5 2/3 innings, and there is no way the Nats are going to score that many runs. Nevertheless, they got two runs in the bottom of the ninth, closing the gap, but still losing, 8-4. That makes nine (9) losses in a row, matching their worst losing streak of this season, from April 3 through April 12. For the month of July, the Nats won only five games, while losing 19. That makes it the team's worst month in their (Washington) history! (Their previous worst month was April 2006, when they went 8-17.) In tonight's game Ryan Zimmerman was hit by a pitch on his right hand, but no bones were broken, apparently. He's listed as day to day.
But you know what? For sports fans in Washington, a last-place team is better than no baseball at all! Let's see how long we can keep spinning defeat in a ironically positive way... Tomorrow the Nats begin a home series against the Cincinnati Reds, who are doing fair this year (51-58), but are hopelessly outclassed by the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals.
The only trade of note by the Nationals was getting Yankee shortstop Alberto Gonzalez (not the Attorney General ) for Jhonny Nunez, a pitcher in their farm system. He's 25 and may be a contender to serve as backup for Cristian Guzman. The Nationals have an incredibly flexible infield, with Belliard, Lopez, Lo Duca, Pete Orr, and Kory Casto all playing multiple positions. According to MLB.com:
General manager Jim Bowden really wanted to trade his veterans for prospects. But he quickly learned that his veterans, such as Felipe Lopez and Paul Lo Duca, didn't have any trade value because they're having subpar years.
Ouch! Well, who knows, maybe Bowden might get traded soon.
Do the Dodgers deserve Manny?
I'm sure the folks in Los Angeles will find out real soon whether they are up to his standards. Manny Ramirez practically begged to be traded, revealing his inflated ego while expressing deep resentment toward the Red Sox organization -- but not the fans. Well, no one ever accused him of having class, so it's no big surprise. His disgruntlement has been well-known for years, and he was almost traded after the 2004 season. I wonder how he will get along with his once and future team-mate, Nomar Garciaparra? This momentous exchange involved the Pirates as well, and Jason Bay is heading to Boston, so at least they won't suffer much in the batting department. See MLB.com.
Pudge joins the Yanks
Ivan Rodriguez played a key part in reviving the moribund Detroit Tigers, and now he's headed for bigger and better things in The Bronx. Since Jorge Posada had season-ending surgery, the Yankees needed a first-class "backstop," so it made eminent sense. (Did they consider Paul Lo Duca?) The Tigers are playing respectably this year, but aren't bound for the post-season, and it seems that Pudge parted ways on good terms.
Reprieve in Detroit
Thankfully, the City Council in Detroit has given the preservationists one more week to muster enough funds to Save Tiger Stadium. (Go ahead, give a few bucks. You'll feel better about yourself, and it just might make the difference.) See Free Press.
UPDATE: Griffey leaves Cincy
To the dismay of many fans, future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. was traded by the Reds to the White Sox in exchange for a couple younger prospects -- a relief pitcher and an infielder. This happened just before the deadline. Everyone remembers what a feel-good occasion it was nine years ago when he was traded from the Mariners to his family's "home city" on the Ohio River, expecting he would finish his career there. Such was not to be the case. One year remains on his contract, and at age 39 he's probably got a couple more decent years of play in him. He has 608 lifetime home runs, one behind Sammy Sosa. This trade was also a surprise from the White Sox perspective, because they are already strong in the outfield. See MLB.com.
** This blog post was improperly uploaded on July 31; correction made August 1.
July 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Rays sweep the Red Sox
Are those guys for real? Baseball fans across the country got to watch the Tampa Bay Rays finish their sweep of the Boston Red Sox last night on ESPN. Attendance was 36,048. Against all odds, the Rays are now in first place, with a 2 1/2 game lead. See MLB.com. The fans of the Rays have adopted a novel rally gimmick: a cowbell. Team owner Stu Sternberg got a kick out of that Saturday Night Live skit spoofing the song "Don't Fear the Reaper," (more cowbell! ) though I'm not sure what that has to do with baseball.
In honor of the Rays' big success this year, I have updated the Tropicana Field diagram, with a second profile and other details.
The mail bag
Speaking of Tampa Bay, it seems that the public there is wary of public funding for the proposed new stadium on the waterfront, wanting a referendum before approval is granted. See the St. Petersburg Times. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski for this timely news.
Also from Mike: the proposed deal under which the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority would buy Wrigley Field (and then renovate it) has fallen through. See Chicago Sun Times.
July 25, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Giants sweep the Nationals
After the first inning in the Tuesday game in which the Giants scored three runs, the Nationals held their own, playing hard and refusing to quit. The latter two games at AT&T Park were close and exciting, but in both cases the Giants barely edged the Nationals. On Thursday afternoon, Tim Redding pitched a masterpiece, giving up no runs until the eighth inning. Then the Giants scrounged one run on two singles and a stolen base -- classic "small ball." In the ninth, Willie Harris singled and Cristian Guzman doubled with one out, but then Ryan Zimmerman and Austin Kearns both flew out, wasting yet another run-scoring opportunity. D'oh!
Speaking of Willie Harris, he was recently named NL Player of the Week; see MLB.com. Congratulations to the promising young slugger! Somebody in the Nationals outfield is likely to get bumped aside in his favor...
Hopes fade in Detroit
The walls are tumblin' down at Tiger Stadium, as most of the double-decked grandstand in left field is now gone for good. City Council members seem not to care about preserving even a portion of the old ballpark, and racial animosity may have something to do with it. The Tigers were slow to abandon segregation during the 1950s, and some blacks see Tiger Stadium as a symbol of that past. Read it and weep at the Free Press.
R.I.P. Chuck Stobbs
Former Washington Senators pitcher Chuck Stobbs died on [July 11]. He had a few fine seasons on the mound, but he is mainly remembered for pitching the ball that Mickey Mantle blasted over the left field bleachers at Griffith Stadium in 1953. [He later claimed to have no particular memories of that momentous event, and I guess you can't blame him.] That was the first "tape-measure" home run, originally estimated to have traveled 565 feet, but that included bounces. See Washington Post. (In The Physics of Baseball, Robert Adair calls that estimate "nonsense," saying it was more like 506 feet in the air.) Bruce Orser brought the news about Stobbs to my attention a week or two ago.
The mail bag
Regarding the question of whether the dugouts at Shea Stadium were below ground or not during the pre-1984 dual-use era, Brian Hughes says [his] father thinks not. On the other hand, I noticed in a calendar photo of the Astrodome that the dugouts there were below-ground, and had to be covered for football games. Brian also informed me that Shea was used for soccer matches, but leaving the lower deck in the baseball configuration, leaving almost no room for kicks from the corners. Weird.
July 21, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Authoritarian rule in Ecuador?
Ecuador's president Rafael Correa shows no signs of restraint in his drive to extend state control in order to remake the country in a socialist model. In recent weeks the government has been taking over television stations and other enterprises that might offer a dissenting point of view. Correa justifies these actions by claiming that the affected companies are "corrupt." In particular, William and Roberto Isaias, who reside in Florida, are accused of using their ownership of newspapers and television stations to subvert the judicial system, with mafia-like tactics. See Washington Post. There may be some merit to the charges but we should remember that it's the same justification Correa cited for replacing the duly-elected Congress with his own constituent assembly last October, on the grounds that the incumbent legislators were all corrupt. (Just throw out the whole system!) Senior journalists and analysts in Ecuador say that even during the military regime of the 1970s the government did not go so far in repressing the media and controlling political expression.
It is rather astounding how arrogant Correa has acted over the 18 months since his inauguration. The young (43) leader clearly seems intoxicated by power, and his recent actions amount to a brazen lurch toward the establishment of an authoritarian regime. Oddly, the resistance to this usurpation of freedom has been feeble thus far, in contrast to the situation in Venezuela and Bolivia, the other radical regimes in South America.
July 16, 2008 [LINK / comment]
An All-Star Game to remember
If for no other reason, the 2008 All-Star Game was worth it just to watch Bud Selig sweat and squirm as the game stretched into extra innings, and everyone started to remember the debacle of 2002 in Milwaukee, which ended in a 7-7 tie. Just like there is no crying in baseball*, for pete's sake, There's no tie games in baseball, either! Thankfully, Mr. Selig has acknowledged that basic rule, once and for all; see MLB.com.
The game was close all the way through, and the National League held a small lead for much of the game, until J.D. Drew's clutch 2-run homer tied the game in the 7th inning. He was got the MVP award mainly for that. The game could have ended much sooner but for some superb defensive plays, most notably the throw by Nate McLouth (of the Pirates) to get Dioner Navarro (of the Rays) out at home plate in the 11th (?) inning. I was glad to see that Cristian Guzman, the only All-Star from the Washington Nationals, had some fine put-outs, even though he was thrown out on a steal and didn't get a hit. On the down side, Marlins' infielder Dan Uggla committed three crucial errors (the last one was a bad hop), and only the calm pitching of Rockies' reliever Aaron Cook save his rear end from ever-lasting shame. It was too bad the Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon got booed by the New York fans, but his teammate J.D. Drew got applause at the end, at least. Red Sox manager Terry Francona was under pressure to not use reliever Scott Kazmir, from the rival Rays, and fortunately, he was only needed for one inning. A sacrifice fly to right field by Michael Young finally ended it in the 15th inning, and if the throw to the plate had been a bit quicker, the game might have continued further.
The 15-inning game matched the record for length that was set in the 1967 All-Star Game. Clockwise, however, it was the longest such game ever, at four hours and 50 minutes. All in all, the extraordinarily tense and dramatic Midsummer Classic was an extremely fitting way to mark the final year of Yankee Stadium. It was the fourth time the All-Star Game has been held there, the earlier occasions being 1939, 1960 and 1977. Only one other stadium has hosted that many All-Star Games: Cleveland Stadium.
And so, even though the National League put up a great fight, the "Junior Circuit" (AL) won for 12th consecutive year, depending on how you count the tie in 2002. Ever since they made it so that the league winning the All-Star Game gets home field advantage in the World Series, the players really do act like "This Time It Counts!"
Next year's All-Star Game will be held at Busch Stadium (III) in St. Louis. Ironically, Anheuser-Busch was just bought out by the Belgian mega-brewery InBev, and it remains to be seen whether they will rename that ballpark "InBev Stadium."
* Exception: When they tear down Yankee Stadium, I think all Yankee fans and baseball history buffs are entitled to shed a few tears. I'm sure there are plenty of wet eyes in Detroit right now, as Tiger Stadium gets knocked down.
Home Run Derby: WOW!
Josh Hamilton's 28 home runs in the first round of the Home Run Derby was almost too incredible to believe. Not just the number, but the distances -- three balls were estimated to have gone over 500 feet (without stadium obstruction, that is). Two or three of those balls came within 20 feet or so of the back row of the bleachers in right-center field, and one of them soared over the corner of the upper deck into the rear of that alley where the bullpen used to be. Too bad he ran out of energy after that, as Justin Morneau ended up winning in the final round. We shouldn't take the Home Run Derby too seriously, but I think the current format leaves much to be desired. I would either make it only one round, with ten "outs" per batter, similar to the present, or else give each player five "outs" each round to get a single home run in order to advance to the next round. If that means the subsequent rounds are crowded, fine, just have more rounds.
July 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Bush welcomes new citizens
President Bush took the time to attend the July 4 naturalization ceremonies that were held at Monticello, just outside Charlottesville, as 72 new American citizens swore their oath of allegiance to the U.S.A. It was the 46th year that Monticello has hosted this combined Independence Day celebration and citizenship rites. As reported by the News Leader, Bush told the new Americans, who come from 30 different countries:
But you all have one thing in common, and that is a shared love of freedom. This love of liberty is what binds our nation together. And this is the love that makes us all Americans.
That article featured one of those new citizens who lives in Staunton: Estrella Carne, whom I happen to know as the wife of Patrick Carne. She is from the Philippines, which is where they met. They are a wonderful family, with a bright son, and are very active in a variety of community organizations such as St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. Patrick served as Secretary of the Staunton Republican Committee from 2006 until early 2007, after which I was elected to that post. But that's another story, and a very long one at that...
Estrella and Patrick Carne, at the Ronald Reagan dinner in Staunton, February 2006.
[The ceremonies at Monticello were marred slightly by the presence of a few hostile demonstrators, exercising their First Amendment rights to be total jerks. They were escorted off the premises. The otherwise-splendid July 4 event was also covered in the Washington Post, page A2!] If you want to protest the war, that's fine, but calling the President of the United States a criminal is just asinine.
These naturalization ceremonies have a special meaning for Jacqueline and me, as we went through the same thing at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, back in 2002 . It was one of the proudest moments of our lives. It is hard not to get emotional when you witness the rites. It reminds you of how treasured U.S. citizenship is, and how hard people have to work to go through the whole process. It's too bad that many Americans and others who make excuses for illegal immigrants don't respect the rights that come with U.S. citizenship, which is a supreme privilege -- not an automatic entitlement.
Jesse Helms has died
Former Senator Jesse Helms passed away at the age of 86. His political career could be considered a case study in Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy." During the 1960s he scorned the civil rights movement, and in 1970 he switched from the Democrats to the Republicans. In 1972 he was elected in an upset to the U.S. Senate, where he served for five terms, until 2002. He was a major force behind the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, and more specifically the growing emphasis in the Republican Party toward social conservatism. He was one of the first to use negative TV attack ads, earning a reputation as a polarizing figure. See Washington Post. He wasn't my favorite Republican, but I'm convinced he was sincere in his beliefs, and I agreed with him on most of the issues. The Grand Old Party owes him recognition for all he did on its behalf.
July 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Dodgers sweep the Nationals
Just when you think things can't get any worse... Thanks to the Giants, the Dodgers, and now the Phillies), the Washington Nationals' losing streak has extended to seven games, the longest winless stretch since the nine-game streak in April. Over the last five games, the Nationals have scored a grand total of three (3) runs. Never before in the (born-again) team's three and a half year history have they scored so few runs over five games. In four of those games, the margin of defeat was only one or two runs, showing how the team's fine pitching effort continues to be wasted. Of course, you can blame injuries, but the Nationals have a reserve of fine young talent, and they just aren't producing on a consistent basis. Somebody needs to kick some butt in the locker room! Over the next two months, there will be more talk about replacing manager Manny Acta if he can't get those guys motivated to win.
Trading deadline nears
So far, it looks like the Milwaukee Brewers pulled off the best trade of the midseason, getting pitching ace C.C. Sabathia from Cleveland. But the Yankees' acquisition of Xavier Nady (outfielder batting .330) and Damaso Marte (promising young pitcher) from Pittsburgh was a smart move as well, and boosted their recent winning streak. The Orioles thumped the Yanks pretty good on Monday night, 13-4, and barely held off a Yankee comeback last night. This afternoon, the Yanks are getting revenge, ahead of the O's 13-2 in the eighth inning. Meanwhile, the lackluster Atlanta Braves traded Mark Teixeira to the Angels, who have the best record in the AL right now. It's odd how you don't hear much about them, or perhaps that's just my east coast perspective.
Rebuild the Metrodome?
That's what the Minnesota Vikings want to do, after the Twins move into their new stadium two years from now. They are seeking public funds to help pay for the project, which would cost about $853 million. The rebuilt Metrodome (or whatever they call it) would have three decks and retractable-roof, but turning the football field 90 degrees, so as to provide a view of downtown Minneapolis. Doing so would also allow more room for widened concourses, etc. The Vikings' lease expires the end of the 2011 football season. See MinnPost.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. The artists' conceptions remind me of Qwest Field in Seattle. Personally, I think they should make the Vikings wait a few more years, since it's their fault that the Twins were cajoled into the Metrodome deal -- a major blunder.
Jack Murphy update
I have finished revisions on the diagrams for Jack Murphy Stadium, former home of the San Diego Padres. The concourse levels are rendered much accurately than before, and in the course of doing this I realized that the grandstand is much shorter. They managed to squeeze the mezzanine suite level in just under the upper deck, with minimal clearance. Also, the upper deck is several rows smaller than I had previously estimated. But perhaps the biggest change is that the distance behind home plate is much less than was indicated by official sources. Lowry (1992, 2006) says the backstop distance was originally 80 feet, and was reduced to 75 feet in 1982. I estimate that it was actually about 55 feet, which is a huge difference. (I can't find any photographic evidence to corroborate the change in 1982 mentioned by Lowry.)
July 13, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Oakland ("McAfee") Coliseum, etc.*
I have updated the Oakland Coliseum diagrams, making adjustments to the grandstand and adding details such as lights and concourses. There is also a new diagram version for 1968, when the dimensions were slightly greater, especially behind home plate.
In response to a recent fan inquiry, I also included a comparison to another Colosseum (note the spelling difference) from many years ago...
* "etc." is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase "et cetera," meaning "and other things."
In the course of researching this and other ballparks that are "in the works," I came across a great source of ballpark photos at chrisputro.com.
Lerners won't pay the rent
The owners of the Washington Nationals are escalating the dispute with the D.C. government, and are refusing to pay rent on Nationals Park because of its allegedly incomplete construction status. The Lerner family's refusal to make the $3.5 million rent payment is based on a very narrow reading of the contract terms under which Major League Baseball relocated the former Montreal Expos franchise to Washington. This refusal is on top of the Lerners' demand for $100,000 in damages per day, for the same reason. See Washington Post. Deadbeat franchise owners: Well, isn't that swell! Maybe the fans should refuse to pay for tickets until the owners field a team that wins ballgames more often.
The mail bag
A fan named Nicholas has an urgent inquiry, and I'm not sure of the answer off hand. Of all the dual-use stadiums in which the lower deck was rotated back and forth for football and baseball games, Shea Stadium seems to be one of the only ones, if not the only one, in which the dugouts were below the ground level. If so, they would have had to cover that area because the football end zones were there. Does anyone out there know how they did that?
July 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Obama: Ich Bin Ein Frankfurter
As in hot dog, as in prima donna, as in darling of the mainstream media.Well, you get the picture. Even Comedy Central's Jon Stewart got carried away with the self-parody of journalists' adulation for Barack Obama. (As Republitarian suggested, he's seen as a "Messiah.") Saturday Night Live did a hilarious spoof of that last year, and yet the Pied Piper phenomenon continues nevertheless. The "first black Kennedy" (as Garry Trudeau jested) was not allowed to make his speech at Brandenburg Gate during his "campaign stop" in Berlin, as JFK did, but had to settle for a less-prominent venue, Tiergarten Park. At least 200,000 people were there, but American diplomats were advised not to attend, since partisan political activity is prohibited under the Hatch Act.
OK, I know it's easy to snipe at Obama for his over-the-top public relations, so let's look at what he actually said. (See MSNBC.) His main theme seemed to be evoking the fall of the Berlin Wall as a model for worldwide reconciliation: "The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand." Same for rich vs. poor, Christian vs. Jew vs. Muslim, etc., etc. Banning nuclear weapons and stopping global warming are crowd-pleasing, simplistic slogans, but (rather like tax-cutting), those things are much easier said than done. He did at least acknowledge the reality of the terrorist threat, but his desire to enlist European support suggests that he does not have the foggiest idea that Europe is largely a spent force in global politics, a weary bystander whose people have gotten accustomed to relying on Muslim immigrants to do menial labor. He should read Mark Steyn's America Alone.
Obama keeps denying that he's too naive to be Leader of the Free World, but until he gets across the idea that it is better to be respected (or even feared) than loved in global politics, he will face strong skepticism from those who are "world-wise."
Maliki endorses Obama
Well, the Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki didn't exactly endorse Obama as a candidate, but he sure came close to endorsing Obama's 16-month withdrawal timetable. John McCain was caught off guard by this, and the Bush administration is mad as heck. Well, the Iraqis have to prove they aren't puppets of the U.S., so something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. Hopefully, Bush and McCain will spin this as proof of the success of the surge, agreeing that there is now a greater chance of withdrawing U.S. troops without undue risk to the Iraqi people than there was a year ago.
WaPo columnist David Broder rebuts the notion that Obama is getting kid-glove treatment, noting that many of his journalistic colleagues feared that Obama would make a gaffe during his foreign trip. He thinks that Obama showed, from his meetings with P.M. Maliki, Israeli P.M. Olmert, Gen. Petraeus, and other Mideast leaders, that he is prepared for such momentous occasions as presidents must deal with. McCain, meanwhile, has been shunted aside from the debate. Perhaps, but I think Broder is being a little less analytical than his usual self this time, looking at things through mainstream-tinted glasses.
July 2, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Hostage rescue in Colombia
It is a wonderful day for freedom in Latin America! Fifteen hostages were rescued in the remote jungles of Colombia, including three Americans and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. It came about through a bit of trickery, as Colombian secret police posed as private helicopter pilots who were hired to transport the hostages from one rebel base camp to another. See BBC. Ms. Betancourt, who enjoys dual French-Colombian citizenship (through marriage), had been held as a captive since February 2002, when she was kidnapped while campaigning for the presidency. She and the other hostages were held incommunicado for most of the time since then. There have been rumors of a possible prisoner exchange since at least June 2006. In May 2007 there were reports that Ms. Betancourt's health was at risk, and that she had been shackled in chains after an escape attempt. In January this year several hostages were released, including one of her former aides.
In historical terms, this represents one of the biggest victories over terrorism in Latin America since the rescue of several dozen hostages at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, Peru in April 1997. Because of the success of the sustained anti-guerrilla campaign by Colombia's military forces, the "Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia" (FARC) no longer have the power to intimidate the population via constant murders and bomb attacks. Because of this rescue mission, they no longer have much bargaining leverage left, which was the main reason for keeping the hostages. The Colombian government is to be heartily commended for this great achievement.
We still need to be careful about what lessons to draw from this episode, however. It is not a case of the "good guys always win in the end," but it does reveal the precarious state of the FARC rebel movement at this pivotal moment in history. For over a year, they have been losing battles, losing leaders, losing members, and losing public support. In part the march toward defeat is of their own doing, as their transformation from a revolutionary cause with a conscience into a brutal protection racket for drug smugglers forfeited what slim goodwill they once enjoyed. Certainly much of the credit goes to President Alvaro Uribe, who has pursued the subversive movement with relentless pressure, coupled with occasional gestures of conciliation. But the biggest reason for the decline of narco-terrorism in Colombia is because of the expanding economic opportunities afforded by foreign trade. That is why the pending free trade legislation, currently awaiting ratification by the U.S. Congress, is so important for the cause of Latin American development and hemispheric security.
McCain in Colombia
Coincidentally, GOP presidential candidate John McCain was wrapping up a visit to Colombia at the time, highlighting his commitment to free trade with that troubled nation. His statement to the press show that he understands how trade policy is the best tool to fight the international drug trade; see johnmccain.com. He really gets the connection between open markets and human freedom. An editorial in Investor's Business Daily praised McCain for forthrightly declaring his support for free trade as an engine for growth at a time of recession, when many people let fear get them best of them. On this issue, there is a stark contrast with Barack Obama.