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"Situation room" (Current info)
In brief, I put a high emphasis on respect for intellectual property rights, and expect those who visit this Web site to do the same. It's called the Golden Rule: Don't rip off thy neighbor. Thank you. I try to respond to requests to reproduce content, or other queries or comments, in a prompt manner. Guestbook is pending. (Really!)
For each section, the last update is indicated in small green letters. Non-trivial corrections and clarifications to original blog entries are indicated by the use of [brackets] and/or
strikethroughs, as appropriate so as to accurately convey both the factual truth and my original representation of it. Nobody's perfect, but I strive for continual improvement. Some of the photos that appear on the archive pages may be different than the ones that were originally posted.
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Who we are
On an individual basis, we are:
Andrew, an overly earnest aspiring scholar with wide-ranging interests who grew up in South Dakota, and
Jacqueline, a lovely and multitalented chica who grew up in Lima, Peru. (Roll mouse over names to see photos.)
Graduation photo -- U.Va., May 2002 (Click to see a pop-up window.)
Together we are far more than the sum of our parts; we are
Cliches aside, we are truly blessed to share so many tastes in music (rock, salsa, etc.), food (enchiladas, salsa, etc.), and pastimes (hiking, bicycling, travel, camping, nature, baseball), and indeed we do almost everything together. Exception: I (Andrew) tire of shopping almost as quickly as Jacqueline tires of politics. (I must admit, her skepticism of what politicians promise is certainly well founded.) The content on this Web site in part reflects the fact that my career as a scholar of international relations, focusing on Latin America, is intertwined with our family life.
No automatic redirect? Please click HERE to go to the new central blog page, as explained below.
April 17, 2006 [LINK]
Web site Spring cleaning
As part of my relentless, never-ending efforts to make this Web site more automated and interactive, I have begun a transition to a new blog system that will entail a slight change in Web site addresses. Unless I have slipped up somewhere, you shouldn't notice any differences in page format or functionality for the time being. In a slight departure from blogosphere custom, the blog entries on the archives pages will henceforth be listed in natural chronological order, starting with the earliest date. To me, that makes it a lot easier to review old material. For the time being, the "legacy" blog and archive pages (".shtml") will remain intact, and they will eventually have an automatic redirect to the new pages (".php"). As part of this transition, there will be feedback features in the near future, as long promised. Note that the new Macintosh & Miscellanous page serves as the residual catch-all for all blog posts that don't fit into any other categories. That means general culture, religion, music, movies, science, computer technology, and non-baseball sports. From now on, the monthly and categorical archives pages will include all blog entries, up to and including the current date. Therefore, there will be some overlap between current blog pages and archive pages. Here are the new and old addresses for the main blog categories. Please adjust the bookmarks in your Web browser accordingly, and as always, "thank you for your $upport."
One of the tradeoffs with this new system is that I will lose flexibility in making cross blog posts between more than one category. From now on, each post will appear on one, and only one blog category page. That is why you will see this blog post (classified as "miscellaneous") on the old Baseball blog page, but not the new one.
UPDATE: Another change is that for each successive day, blog posts on the central blog page will henceforth be listed from top to bottom in reverse alphabetical order of their category (wild birds first, baseball last), irrespective of what time of day they were originally posted.
Reminder: Legacy blog pages (ending in ".shtml") will not be updated after today. Please choose one of the new blog pages.
April 17, 2006 [LINK]
Does GOP oppose free speech?
In Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section, George Will kept up the drumbeat of dissent against the nominally "conservative" party that is clinging to majority status. He bewails the April 5 vote by the Republicans in the House of Representatives to place arbitrary limits on how much people can contribute to the "527" political advocacy groups (such as MoveOn.org), on the grounds that much of what those groups do is obnoxious in tone. Well, I agree with that assessment, but my opinion, or anyone else's opinion on what constitues good taste in political discourse should have no bearing on the law. The First Amendment means what it says, period. This is just another example of one bad law (McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform") begetting another, as legsilators are prone to vote for dubious bills just to prove to the voters that they are concerned, even if they have grave doubts about whether the bill will actually work the way it is supposed to. As Will says, the House Republicans have in effect come out in favor of restricting political speech. He goes on to wonder what would happen once the Democrats return to power (as they will some day, Karl Rove notwithstanding), and tried to muzzle radio talk show hosts on similar grounds? The Republicans would have no basis on which to object. The problem is that too few people on either side of the aisle these days are disposed to look at issues from a detached, abstract perspective, putting themselves in the shoes of the opposition. Among the eighteen "principled Republicans" who voted against restricting 527s named by Will, I noticed John Shadegg of Arizona, who was a contender for the position of House Majority Leader in January.
City government in Staunton
I confess to not paying a great deal of attention to local affairs here in Staunton, but I have often wondered why the city council is elected at large rather than on a ward-by-ward basis. Neaby Waynesboro is smaller, and it uses the ward system. The lead editorial in today's Staunton News Leader confirms my suspicion that the lack of dispersed geographical representation on the city council has resulted in an unusal concentration of downtown business interests. One sometimes gets the sense that many of the development projects, such as the recently-completed Stonewall Jackson Hotel restoration, have been designed in such a way as to favor certain interests over others. The editorial points out that nearly all current city council members either live or work in downtown, which may be why the outlying residuential and commercial areas are often neglected. The election will be on May 2, but apparently none of the candidates are identified with a political party.
April 16, 2006 [LINK]
Nationals win two straight
After losing six games in a row, Washington won back-to-back games for the first time this season. Today's hero was Ryan Church, who just got called back from the minor league New Orleans Zephyrs* as Brandon Watson was demoted. (How appropriate for Easter Sunday: Church!) He knocked two home runs today, including the go-ahead shot in the top of the ninth. It was a close-fought, back and forth game, and the Nats finally prevailed, 7-5. It was a beautiful day in Miami, but barely 10,000 folks showed up to watch. I suppose it's hard to maintain fan enthusiasm when the franchise is shopping around for a new home. The Saturday game (final score 2-1) was a classic pitchers' duel, as Jon Patterson struck out 13 batters, tying his personal best.
On the down side, Jose Guillen missed the entire series against the Marlins because of a strained rib muscle. In the fifth inning of Friday's game pitcher Ryan Drese had to leave because of a sore elbow, and today, the Nats' new shortstop Royce Clayton left the game after his left arm was hit by a pitch. With such a thin farm system, the Nationals are especially vulnerable to losses due to injuries.
* The Zephyrs are the only professional sports team from New Orleans that has played all their scheduled home games in their customary venue since Hurricane Katrina struck.
The lack of blog posts recently reflects my "behind-the-scenes" Web site upgrading efforts. Please stand by...
April 16, 2006 [LINK]
House wrens arrive
Still no warblers behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this happy Easter morning, but I did see a House wren for the first time this season. Indeed, it was the earliest date in the Spring I had ever seen one. I also heard a probable Blue-headed vireo and saw several Cedar waxwings and some Ruby-crowned kinglets, but nothing else out of the ordinary. The usual woodpeckers, White-breasted nuthatches, and singing Cardinals and Towhees were quite prominent, and Purple finches were everywhere.
Speaking of wrens, click on the adjacent image to see a 30-second video of the Carolina wren singing his little heart out. It was taken three days ago. Unlike most birds, Carolina wrens have less color during the warmer months of the year. Click the camera icon below to see one in its winter plumage.
April 15, 2006 [LINK]
Judas and the Gnostic heresies
There was a lot of commentary last week about the National Geographic special on the "Gospel according to Judas," some papyrus scrolls that were found in Egypt and recently rediscovered in someone's bank vault. The Washington Post explains the background of the writings which may be interpreted as a self-justification by the disciple who betrayed Jesus, or else, more likely, by someone else with his own theological agenda to promote. Donald Sensing took a hiatus from his hiatus to comment on this, and concludes that there's just not much there to get excited about. He explains for us lay people (he is an ordained minister) how it was that the bishops of the early Christian church decided which documents were considered valid and which were not.
There seem to be a lot of parallels between the "Gospel according to Judas," and the "Gospel according to Thomas," the apocryphal writings of the apostle who doubted the divinity of Jesus. Both Thomas and Judas are revered by the Gnostics, a little-known offshoot of Christianity that emphasizes occult knowledge as the path to salvation. It is a message that is clearly contradicts the teachings of Jesus according to the four canonical gospels. In other words, it is heretical. I was surprised to learn in graduate school that there are many adherents of gnosticism even today in parts of Latin America. I myself have seen Gnostic temples in Lima, Peru and San Jose, Costa Rica, but I couldn't tell you what they are up to.
UPDATE (Apr. 16): Thanks to Phil Faranda for linking to this post. To see a photo of the "Gnostic Institute of Anthropology" in San Jose, click on the camera icon below. You thought I was just making that up?
April 15, 2006 [LINK]
More purple finches
I finally got a decent (though shade-obscured) photo of a male Purple finch today. As you can see, they are actually raspberry in color, or perhaps magenta, but not "purple." Dozens of females and a few lingering males have been in the neighborhood recently, engorging themselves on tree buds. In back you can see the tip of the tail of a female Purple finch. When lighting conditions are bad, it can be hard to tell a Purple finch from a House finch . [Males of the latter species have red heads and rumps but less color on the back side. Both male and female House finches are more grayish overall, with a square-tipped tail, whereas Purple finches are more brownish, with a notched tail. Finally, Purple finches sometimes display a slight crest, and have a more musical song.]
UPDATE: While going for an evening stroll behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, I saw some Chimney swifts for the first time this season. Their constant twittering up above is one of those sure signs that summer is near. I also saw a pair of Downy woodpeckers at their nest hole, a Hairy woodpecker, a Flicker, and a Tree swallow, plus the usuals.
April 15, 2006 [LINK]
Can Dems seize the opportunity?
Given all the problems faced by the Republicans lately, you would think the Democrats would be ready to pounce, taking advantage of the vulnerability on a range of issues. After all, the Republicans are deeply divided over immigration, budget reform, Iraq policy, and other key issues. Of course, that would mean [the Democrats] would have to slap themselves in the face and get out of the teeth-gnashing, bitterly angry mental state many of them are in. Thursday's Washington Post surveyed some of the key congressional races around the country, and found that the Democrats are not doing as well as one would think. After an intensive recruitment drive aimed at winning back competitive districts, they have only come with a dozen or so candidates that have a good chance at wining. That is not enough to regain control of the House of Representatives, but the Senate is another matter.
Ironically, today's Washington Post showed why it is so hard for the Democrats to succeed in politics under current circusmtances. It profiled a typical Angry Leftist, Maryscott O'Connor, who has a blog (My Left Wing) that is, shall we say, way off the deep end. From the moment she wakes up in the morning, her entire existence is consumed with an obessive hatred for President Bush, his aides, and the "evil" Republican Party. Does she mean all of us, or just some? She needs to get a life. How about watching birds?
April 14, 2006 [LINK]
Retired generals want Rummy out
The dissatisfaction felt by some U.S. military commanders toward Donald Rumsfeld has been well known for some time. After all, he "declared war" on the Pentagon as part of his administrative reform campaign just before the Pentagon was attacked in 2001. What is new is how widespread the opposition to him is, and how many high-ranking officers [are among those speaking out]. Retired Gen. John Batiste says the current Defense Department leaders do not respect military professionals and have violated well-established principles of strategy. What makes his argument more credible is the fact that he turned down a promotion to become a three-star general because he so strongly disagreed with Rumsfeld's approach. In Time magazine, retired Marine Gen. Gregory Newbold blames "zealots" in the administration for launching a "needless war," and criticized Rumsfeld for "micromanaging" military operations, like LBJ and McNamara did in Vietnam. Likewise, former Central Command chief retired Gen. Anthony Zinni says we have "wasted three years" in Iraq. Yesterday's Washington Post summarized the recent critiques.
Such vociferous complaints by so many high-ranking military officers cannot be ignored, but that doesn't mean we should take them at face value either. President Bush is "standing by his man," as usual, and thankfully has not yet said that Rummy is doing a "heckuva" job. Belmont Club contends that anyone calling for Rumsfeld to step down must offer a credible alternative plan of action:
Yet notably absent from discussion is the answer to the question: change [Administration policy] to what? To more troops on the ground? To a renewed effort to bring European allies into Iraq? An accelerated withdrawal from Iraq in order to concentrate on what General Newbold called "the real threat -- Al Qaeda"? All of these are possible alternatives but only one has been formally articulated by the Administration in waiting, the Democratic Party. It is called the Real Security plan and many of Rumsfeld critics are unhappy with that as well. Unless it is the case that 'anyone will be an improvement on Rumsfeld', it is surely fair to ask: how should it be done differently. The Real Security plan has been put forward. Are there any others?
Needless to say, the Democrats' proposal is not based on strategic considerations, but is geared solely to electoral politics. I disagree that calling for Rumsfeld to resign obliges one to offer an alernative approach. Indeed, the main issue in this controversy is managerial style and policy-making process, not necessarily national strategy per se. On a related note, I saw retired Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former aide to Colin Powell (with whom he is now estranged), on C-SPAN earlier this week. He was speaking about what he regards as major strategic errors by the Bush administration in the way he is handling the war against Islamic terrorism. There was a Washington Post Style section profile of him in January, and while his criticisms are serious and well thought out, I get the sense that his dissent is based on personality clashes as much as anything.
On the op-ed page of today's Post, David Ignatius called on Rummy to resign. He thinks we need someone who can muster bipartisan support (that sounds far-fetched to me), suggesting Joe Lieberman or John McCain. I disagree; if Rumsfeld is replaced, it should be by someone who is not part of the political maelstrom in Washington.
I have long had mixed feelings about Rumsfeld. His bluntness and candor are a refreshing change of pace from the dull, mealy-mouthed norm in Washington. As I noted in January 2005, he does deserve some criticism for failing to adequately plan for postwar reconstruction in Iraq, but no one really knew what to expect. A substantial degree of improvisation was inevitable, and our troops and officers have done a very good job of learning how to fight a new kind of war without any advance preparation. Ironically, the need to carry out a war against the Islamic terrorist movements made it difficult for Rumsfeld to carry out the organizational changes in the Pentagon he thought were necessary, and after five years, almost all talk of that has vanished. That being the case, I really don't see what purpose his continued presence in the Pentagon would serve, so it's probably for the best that he should step down soon.
April 13, 2006 [LINK]
Nationals get swept at home
Except for the sixth inning in yesterday's game, the Nationals were never really in the competition during their home opening series against the Mets. They have now lost five games in a row, with the worst record (2-8) among all major league teams. Ouch. Well, we all knew that the failure to put together a solid pitching rotation during the off season meant that this year would be more difficult than last year. The Soriano episode plus the lingering ownership and financial questions have had a depressing effect on the team, as they face the first "normal" (post-honeymoon) year in their new home. I'm not worried. What they accomplished last year will stay in our memories for a long time, and will give us fans something to fall back on in times of trouble, like now, for instance.
The big drama this week was whether there would be any fisticuffs or retaliation against Pedro Martinez. Known to be high-spirited, Jose Guillen restrained himself, maintaining "bipartisan" decorum. Every day I am becoming more convinced that Guillen is a perfect fit for the Nationals. Ever since he left LAnaheim under a cloud of resentment, he has found a true home in D.C., and he has matured even as he maintains his upbeat, zestful approach to the game. He is not only a good slugger, he is a major morale booster on the squad. And boy, do the Nationals need one!
UPDATE: Jose Vidro has been complaining about how hard it is to hit home runs at RFK Stadium, but for some reason it hasn't been as hard for the opposing teams. He thinks that the team's management doesn't care about what the players want. Such discontent by the team's senior member is not a good sign. For his part, Jose Guillen has decided that he can live with the wide open spaces at RFK. See MLB.com.
The slow selling of the Nationals
The Washington Post reports that the Lerner family's bid to purchase the Nationals has been undermined by the lack of participation by minority investors. They had been considered the front-runners, so I assume this means that the Fred Malek-Jeffrey Zients partnership now has the inside track. Jeffrey Smulyan, the former owner of the Seattle Mariners, was interviewed at RFK Stadium on Home Opening Day, and he professes to be very optimistic.
Has the team been sold already? There were rumors last month that the Lerners believed they already had they deal locked up. According to Tom Bridge at Metroblogging Washington, the ushers at RFK Stadium have been hired directly by the Nationals, and no longer work for the D.C. government. (Motto: "Service with a frown ... if we decide to show up for work.") Bridge believes this means that Bud Selig has already decided on an owner for the Nats. (via David Pinto)
Even though the television wars rage on, the Nationals' clever marketing ploys in print and on the tube means that there must be somebody with brains in the team's provisional front office. In one TV ad, there's a young, urban group doing some kind of hip hop dance routine. I can dig it ... well, almost.
Fenway Park expansion
The Fenway Park page has an updated diagram showing the newly expanded upper deck. Mike Zurawski came across a fan photo showing the grandstand behind third base, which helped in making a last-minute correction to the diagram. If anyone recognizes the people in that photo, please tell them thank you for helping to make my diagrams more accurate. Mike laments the additional advertising billboards on and around the Green Monster, but that's what it used to be like, before the 1940s. At least they made sure that muted colors were used so as to avoid distracting fans or the players.
April 12, 2006 [LINK]
Pine siskin belated appearance
Just as spring warms up, one of the seldom-scene winter migrants finally showed up at our window today: a Pine siskin, which is a close relative of the Goldfinch. If you look closely, you can see the yellow edges in its wing feathers. The yellow color can be seen more clearly in the sunlit photo that I took on Nov. 10, 2004. As far as I know, there have been no other sightings of Pine siskins in this area since the cold season (fall-winter-spring) began. The only remaining songbird that regularly winters in these parts that I have not yet seen this season is the Red-breasted nuthatch.
NOTE: The original photo was replaced on May 4.
April 12, 2006 [LINK]
Counting votes in Peru
With 88 percent of the votes counted, Humala has 31.0 percent, Garcia has 24.4 percent, and Flores has 23.3 percent. Only eight percent of the overseas votes have been counted, however, and the lead of Flores among expatriate Peruvians has climbed to 72 percent. APRA is seeking to nullify ballots cast in several overseas cities, including New York, Miami, Milan, and others. Jorge del Castillo charged that campaign activities on behalf of Lourdes Flores were taking place right outside voting places, contrary to law. Of course, it is difficult to enforce Peruvian law in other countries. Whoever wins second place, Humala says he will not be part of any political alliance in the second round election campaign. See CNN.com and El Comerico of Peru (in Spanish).
While the votes were being counted, President Alejandro Toledo traveled to Washington to witness the signing of the free trade treaty with the United States. Peru's minister of foreign trade and tourism, Alfredo Ferrero, and the U.S. special trade representative, Rob Portman, signed the document. If either Humala or Garcia takes office on July 28, however, the agreement might end up being nullified. Both men are strongly against free trade with the United States.
Spanish arm sale to Venezuela
In spite of U.S. objections, the government of Spain is going ahead with the sale of ten military transport planes and eight patrol boats to Venezuela. The deal is worth $2 billion, the biggest military sale in Spain's history; negotiations on it began in November. The CASA CN-235 planes normally contain U.S.-made parts, but because of U.S. restrictions on sale of military technology to hostile countries, the Spanish company EADS-Casa will have to find substitute parts from some other supplier. See CNN.com. It is hard to remember the last time that a country that was recently a close ally of the United States took such an abrupt turn and began providing strategic assets to a country that is an avowed enemy. One can only imagine the consternation in the State Department, and the icy personal relationships with the diplomatic representatives of Spain in Washington.
April 12, 2006 [LINK]
Nuclear bluster: Iran and U.S.
How much more can tensions escalate before something gives way, or a true international crisis breaks out? On Sunday the Washington Post reported that the Bush administration is seriously considering various options for a preemptive attack against Iran, aimed at neutralizing its nuclear weapons program. It would either be a quick surgical strike at the nuclear facilities or an extended bombing campaign aimed at crippling Iran's entire strategic infrastructure. Since some of the targets are in hardened shelters underground, nuclear bombs might have to be used, though only as an extreme contingency. One constraint is the availability of land bases for attack planes, including the F-117 stealth fighter. Turkey is extremely reluctant to let us use the Incirlik air base, but I was surprised that there was no mention of air bases in Iraq being used for that purpose. The Post story was based on interviews with various present and past officials, and probably represents a deliberate leak by the White House.
On Monday President Bush dismissed all that as wild speculation, but of course he wants Iran to think that the threat is real. Why the bluster? Bush is simply following up on the declaration in his State of the Union speech (see Jan. 31) that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear arms. He is in essence putting the "international community" on notice that failure by the U.N. Security Council to take a decisive stand on this issue would leave the United States with no alternative but to proceed with unilateral action. While other world leaders prefer to look the other way and let someone else worry about Iran, Bush is well aware that something must be done soon. Whatever his other shortcomings, he cannot be faulted for having a strong sense of responsibility for international security.
On Tuesday Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran has succeeded in enriching uranium, and the timing suggests that it was calculated to up the ante with Washington in the escalating war of wills. They have only attained 3.5 percent purity of enriched uranium (fissionable U-235), however, and it takes at least 80 percent purity to make a bomb. Thus, Iran does not pose an imminent threat of weapons-producing capacity, but they have taken a big step forward. Ahmadinejad insisted that this program "is only for the purpose of peace and nothing else," but of course he wants the outside world to think that the threat of nuclear bombs is real. In one sense, it the flip side of the coin to President Bush's ambiguous rhetoric, but there is a profound difference: One side in this showdown wants to maintain the global status quo, and the other side wants to overturn the status quo. Is it not obvious to any thinking person which of those objectives is more consistent with world peace?
Iran's behavior is nothing more than classic "defiant" foreign policy, the small-state variant of imperialistic foreign policy that I analyzed in my dissertation. The underyling purpose of such behavior (in essence, "elbowing" other countries out of the way) is clear: to build national prestige so as to mobilize domestic support and forge national unity and progress. It is useful to recall that Adolf Hitler alternately professed peaceful intentions and blustered menacingly as he rearmed Germany during the 1930s. Indeed, this episode with Iran may be the equivalent of March 1936, when German troops occupied the Rhineland. At that time, France had overwhelming power to force the Germans to retreat, but its government in Paris simply lacked the political will. France at that time was deeply torn by partisan bickering between the left wing and right wing, plagued by strikes and parliamentary chaos. Then, as now, domestic politics proved decisive in determining the course of world events.
In today's Washington Post, David Ignatius calls for a careful approach much like the way John F. Kennedy handled the Cuban Missile Crisis. He notes, "Disaster was avoided because Khrushchev believed Kennedy was willing to risk war -- but wanted to avoid it." Ignatius likewise urges the Bush administration to resist the stark alternatives posed to him by advisers, and instead engage in "creative thinking." Given the current (mostly rather stodgy) cast of characters in the national security command structure, that seems to be an unlikely prospect. Some critics charge that Bush lives in a "bubble" isolated from contrary opinions, moreover, and if true, it only compounds the problem. Nonetheless, Ignatius "take[s] heart from the fact that the counselor to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Philip Zelikow, is an expert on the Cuban missile crisis..." (Zelikow recently resigned as director of the U.Va. Miller Center, where I used to work.)
Saber rattling only makes sense when the side making threats has an edge in terms of credibility and range of options as the showdown unfolds. (In political science theory, this is called "escalation dominance.") If one side miscalculates, they will either end up in an unwanted war or else chickening out. It is clear that Bush thinks he has credibility, but many people in this country and in others have grave doubts about him. Given this socio-psychological context, Ignatius warns that we may be headed in an extremely dangerous direction, the kind of unstoppable juggernaut that led to World War I. He cited Zbigniew Brzezinski who urged Bush to proceed cautiously, based on the (questionable) premise that time is on our side. True, we are not yet in emergency mode, but it would be taking a huge gamble to blithely assume that Iran is several years away from nuclear wepons capability.
Many people rightly fear that taking on yet another military campaign against a rogue regime would be beyond our capabilities (see Jan. 20), but that is based upon the flawed premise that our adversaries in Iraq and the ones in Iran are separate entities. In fact, much of the resistance in Iraq depends upon support from Iran, and this will continue for as long as the Islamo-fascist mullahs rule in Tehran. One way or another, we need to push for eventual regime change in Iran. When you come right down to it, our choices are fairly simple: 1) launching a preemptive attack on Iran soon after an ultimatum is issued, 2) emphasizing diplomatic means (coercive or multilateral) to persuade Iran to cooperate, or 3) beginning a strategic withdrawal from the Middle East. In order to make the best choice (i.e., the least bad choice), we need to seriously examine all three of the alternatives, contemplating what the likely ramifications of each one would be. If we do attack, we should expect a wave of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests around the world, possibly with weapons of mass destruction. Fear of such attacks should not dissuade us from taking action, because, after all, the whole point of the struggle against terrorists, and the regimes that harbor them, is to free ourselves from the grip of fear. Either we suppress that menace and put the Islamo-fascists on the defensive, or Western civilization will decline at an even greater pace than it has been.
The stakes in this showdown are obviously huge, and it is tragic that so few Americans are seriously engaged in a discussion over how to proceed. In my view, Bush needs to be firm and accept some risk, but in the end he will probably need to make some tacit concessions. In this delicate situation, "tacit" means not acknowledged by any government officials. Ironically, the low expectations most people have of our president gives him greater leeway at this critical moment. It wouldn't take much for him to outfox the conventional wisdom by saying or doing something that no one expects, thereby regaining the initiative. The bottom line is that, prior to any push toward a military solution, President Bush must offer a major concession to the Iranian government, and he must do so sincerely. He must provide a clear path for the Iranian leaders to retreat gracefully, even if the chances that they would actually take him up on the offer are small. Only by paying due respect to the nationalistic sensibilities of Iran -- a task that Bush bungled in Iraq, quite frankly -- can the United States hope to neutralize the defiant foreign policy posture of Iran. By putting his own reputation on the line in such a magnanimous gesture, President Bush would stand a much better chance of gaining the consent of major countries around the world for an attack, should all else fail. With such consent, Iran might decide to back down as Zero Hour approached. Without such consent, even a 100-percent successful military strike against Iran would only yield temporary strategic advantages. Prepare for war, but give diplomacy a chance.
April 11, 2006 [LINK]
Leftists win (?) in Italy
I avoid name calling, but we have to face up to what just happened in Italy: A coalition led by former communists, many of whom probably never really changed their ways, just defeated incumbent conservative prime minister Berlusconi by a tiny margin. Romano Prodi served as prime minister in the mid-1990s (see Foreign leaders page), in the wake of an avalanche of scandals that shook the very foundations of Italy's political establishment. Prodi has a somewhat more responsible reputation than his successor, Massimo D'Alema, who was strongly Marxist. Recounts are still possible in this election, and Berlusconi has not yet conceded. See BBC. I don't see any signs that this result signifies anything in terms of popular preferences on policy, I just think there is a general malaise in Europe and much of the Western world, and people just want a change of leadership. Berlusconi is a controversial figures whose government was enmeshed in some scandals, though nothing on the scale of the early 1990s. Italian troops are due to withdraw from Iraq over the next several months in any case, so a new government would have little effect on that.
The two parties are blaming each other for the collapse of the compromise in the Senate last Friday (see Washington Post), but I draw a somewhat different lesson. Ordinarily, the Senate is supposed to function as a moderating influence, forcing lengthy deliberation and consensus building, as opposed to the upstart House, where the majority tends to run roughshod. In some circumstances when major reforms are called for, however, the centrist approach is not appropriate. That is precisely the situation we are in now. Senate leaders need to listen to their constituents, think hard, and act!
Democrats playing politics on an issue of vital national importance? Perish the thought! Marc Cooper writes in blunt, unflattering terms about the role of electoral calculations in the Democrats' stance on immigration. (via Instapundit)
UPDATE: The Dems' rising multicultural star Barak Obama has long been curiously silent about immigration, fearing that if he says anything it might break up the African-American-Latino coalition, according to Robert Klein Engler. (Hat tip to Chris Green, who also reminds us about the Jesse Jackson's anger at President Fox for his racist remarks.) Then there's those insulting Mexican postage stamps. [link added]
April 11, 2006 [LINK]
Nats' home opener: big letdown
Just like their very first home opener one year ago, it was a spectacular sunny, mild day in Our Nation's Capital, just perfect for baseball. Yet all the pregame hype and hoopla, martial music, and the honor of Vice President Cheney throwing out the first pitch could not conceal the uneasy feeling that the Nationals are not yet able to compete on equal terms with the rest of the major league teams. Today was the last chance Bud Selig had to follow through on his commitment to finalize the sale as soon as the stadium league deal was nailed down. It's been over a month (March 7) since the D.C. Council voted the final approval. What's the holdup, Bud?
The game itself had few memorable moments. Alfonso Soriano hit his third home run of the year, but the Nats only got two other hits, and no runs. Ramon Ortiz struggled to live up to the expectations due a starting pitcher, and giving up four runs was about as good as you could expect of him. The relief squad did not meet the high standards they set for themselves last year. The Nats's record is now 2-6. I have to credit Frank Robinson and pitcher Felix Rodrigeuz for making the point in last Thursday's game at Shea Stadium that Pedro's bean balls will not be tolerated. The suspension they got is the price that had to be paid for the team's honor; see MLB.com.
Around the leagues
It so happened that today was the home opener for both the Red Sox (at newly expanded Fenway Park) and the Yankees. The Red Sox have the winningest record at this point, 6-1. The Yankees piled on some huge run totals in their series against Oakland, but are below .500 nonetheless. I recall hearing something about Milwaukee's high ambitions during the off-season, and I guess I should have paid closer attention. The Brewers and Tigers both went undefeated for their first five games, and then lost the next two. The Mets, Indians, and Reds have been playing exceptionally well, too. It's good to see some fresh faces at the top of the standings, early in the season anyway.
Sheer silliness department: The Miami Dolphins have renamed their home "Dolphin Stadium," without the "s." See sports.espn.go.com (via Mike Zurawski).
April 11, 2006 [LINK]
Catbird returns; warblers scarce
Oh, what a beautiful MOR-ning! On the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad I saw a Gray catbird for the first time this spring. It was not the first time I had seen one this year, however: A Catbird stayed for most of the winter in that area, and I last saw one there when it snowed on Feb. 12. I was a little disappointed not to see very many warblers, which should be arriving in good numbers by now. Perhaps the most notable sighting today was three Hermit thrushes in one place. Today's list:
- Gray catbird
- Goldfinches (30+ M & F)
- Purple finches (20+ F, 2 M)
- Ruby-crowned kinglet (3, incl. 1 M)
- Cedar waxwings (15+)
- Downy woodpecker (M)
- Hermit thrushes (3)
- Yellow-rumped warblers (3+)
- E. towhees (2 M, 1 F)
Above right: female Purple finch. Roll mouse over the image to see the Towhee, which has a red eye.
Below right: Roll mouse over the bird names below to see each one.
We have had several Purple finches (the one on the right is either female or a first-year male) and Chipping sparrows in our back yard lately, and I have taken some closeup photos of both.
UPDATE: I took an improved photo of a Robin late this afternoon out back. It has replaced the old one.
April 11, 2006 [LINK]
Flores' only hope: expat votes
As of dawn Tuesday, Alan Garcia's lead over Lourdes Flores is now nearly a full percentage point, with 80 percent of the votes counted. Flores cannot be counted out, however: So far she has received 62.2 percent of the votes cast by Peruvians living abroad, of whom nearly a half million are eligible to vote, and only 3.8 percent of those votes have been tabulated so far. Garcia has received only 8.5 percent of those votes, and Humala only 8.0 percent. Voters residing in foreign countries comprise 2.8 percent of the Peruvian electorate. See El Comercio of Peru (in Spanish). If those trends continue, an admittedly big if, Flores would prevail over Garcia by a comfortable margin in the race for the number two spot. In any case, it will take several days or even weeks to finish the vote counting, and there are likely to be a lot of heated arguments over alleged irregularities. This situation is reminiscent of the controversy over handling ballots cast by U.S. servicemen overseas in recent presidential elections. The possibility that overseas votes might tip the balance toward Flores constitutes Peru's only real hope for the future at this point, which would provide an entirely new aspect to weighing the pros and cons of undocumented immigration into the United States, where most Peruvian expatriates live. Living in the Land of Liberty, where contrasting ideas are openly debated in public forums and no one is afraid to express their opinion, gives one a new perspective on social and economic issues.
NOON UPDATE: With 84 percent of the votes counted, Flores continues to slip further behind Garcia, who has 24.7 percent to her 23.6 percent.
UPDATE: Annex Mexico??
That's what Glenn Reynolds suggests, and he is not being entirely facetious. The point is, as I have argued over and over again, is that job-seekers leave Mexico and other Third World countries because their corrupt political systems stifle opportunities for their own people. Therefore, any concessions by the United States on immigration must be matched by reciprocity in terms of economic policy by countries that have gotten used to "exporting" workers rather than face up to the need for reform. ¡No más!
At some point, the United States will have to confront the ugly question of what to do about countries whose governments are so irresponsible that there is no hope for poor people to ever make a decent living in their own country. Imperialism is often regarded as a thing of the past, just as sovereignty is. As those of us who follow politics in the Third World know, however, sovereignty is at the top of the list of the national agenda. This asymmetry cannot go on for long. Either they let in our "exploiting" investors to hire people in their own countries, or we shut the door to further immigration. The question is whether this could be done on a selective basis, targetting the countries with the worst government, like Haiti, Venezuela, or ... Cuba. Therein lies the big irony in all this, folks: Our historical practice of favoring the victims of economic oppression in Castro's hell hole has created an ironic incentive for other countries in Latin America to follow in Cuba's footsteps. It's time to exert the potential leverage we have had and insist that the principles of NAFTA (and now CAFTA) be carried out.
April 11, 2006 [LINK]
I believe I have taken the necessary measures to prevent a recurrence of the security breach that forced me to suspend the functionality of permalinks and à la carte photos last week. The permalinks work normally once again, and the à la carte photos should be operational very soon. My apologies for the inconvenience.
April 10, 2006 [LINK]
¡Sí, se puede!*
Is this a great country, or what?
"La Gran Marcha" in cities across the country was certainly impressive, and it was a real eye-opener to see the constitutionally guaranteed right to peaceably assemble for the redress of grievances exercised by people who would probably be shot for doing the same thing in their own countries. Now there's an aspect of American civic culture I would be proud to export: ¡Qué viva la libertad! In one sense, it was heartwarming to see all those American flags and hear those chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" You would have thought it was a bunch of Bush supporters at a NASCAR race. At the rally in Washington (on C-SPAN) I also saw a few flags from Argentina, Colombia, Peru, and Honduras, but NOT from Mexico! Whether the newfound sense of loyalty to Uncle Sam -- in sharp contrast to the Los Angeles protests two weeks ago -- reflects a deeply felt sentiment or is just a tactical shift of convenience for most of the rally participants is not really important. The big question is what policy makers and legislators will make of this awesome display of collective will. The smart ones among those running for election this fall will pay due attention to the voting strength of those whom the protesters represent -- which is to say, hardly at all.
Ironic tone aside (momentarily), I fully sympathize with the aspirations of all those hard-working undocumented folks who just want to come out of hiding and enjoy full rights as human beings. This is where the distinction between human rights (which apply universally) and civil rights (which apply to citizens) is so crucial. Unfortunately, the purpose of the rally seemed to be to blur such distinctions and to shift the debate from the realm of justice and logic to that of mercy and sentiment. Surely most of them must have some sense that they did something wrong when they snuck across the border. Don't they? The fact that many of the speakers at the rally in Washington were calling for "reform" was at least a sign that they are aware that the status quo must change. Hear, hear! I wouldn't expect such a gathering to yield a clear-cut comprehensive plan of action, but I thought some of the loudest slogans at least deserved a response.
"No human being is illegal!"
Well, some of us break the law, and if we get caught, we are duly punished for it.
"We are all immigrants!"
In a historical sense that is true, but by that logic, even the Native Americans are immigrants. The point is that some of us are here in accordance with the law, and some of us are here as a result of having transgressed the law. No way of gettin' around that one.
"Let my people stay!"
What a deliciously ironic twist on Moses! "Please let us be exploited!" If preferring to live here as a virtual slave or indentured servant rather than going home doesn't make clear just how bleak conditions are in most Latin American countries, I don't know what will. Too bad it doesn't occur to anyone that perhaps conditions and employment opportunities in those countries might be improved. But of course, free trade and capitalism are widely considered "evil" in those countries, so they will remain stuck in backwardness for years to come.
* For you folks in Rio Linda (!), "Sí, se puede" means "Yes, we can." It seems to imply that concerted, mass action can force the government to give in to their demands for quick, unconditional legalized status.
Just carry out the laws
As difficult as this problem is, the solution isn't as tough as most people assume. We don't need new laws so much as more rigorous enforcement of existing laws. In other words, the fault lies primarily in the executive branch, not the legislative branch. Are you listening, Señor Presidente?
James Webb's buddy
The motivation for former Navy Secretary James Webb to run against George Allen for the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia this year became a little clearer, thanks to an article from The Hill: Webb just happens to be old Navy buddies with a certain senator from Arizona who might end up as a rival to Allen in the 2008 presidential primary races. Hmmm... (Hat tip to Chris Green.)
April 10, 2006 [LINK]
Garcia pulls ahead of Flores
All day long today, the voting tabulations in Peru showed that Lourdes Flores' margin over Alan Garcia [in the race for second place] was shrinking, and by the evening he had grabbed a slight lead. According to the latest figures, with 79 percent* of the ballots counted, Garcia has 24.9 percent to 24.3 percent for Flores. At this point it would take a huge swing in the late-counted districts for Flores to make up that difference, so it looks like Garcia will face the front-runner Ollanta Humala in Round Two. Because of widespread fears of what Humala might do if he wins in the second round, either Garcia or Lourdes would probably pick up a large portion of the votes cast for each other in the first round and stand a very good chance to defeat Humala. For those who are familiar with Garcia's disastrous first term as president, from 1985 to 1990, the idea that he would be considered the mature, responsible alternative in the upcoming election is almost too ironic to believe.
It is especially ironic that this apparent devastating setback for the cause of economic freedom and opportunity in Peru coincides with the mass protests by immigrants-rights advocates in the United States. Another catastrophe in Peru like what happened in the 1980s would add huge pressure for more immigration to the U.S.A.
* I apparently misinterpreted the election returns reported in the late update yesterday when I wrote that 83 percent of the votes had been counted as of 9:00 P.M.
April 9, 2006 [LINK]
Democrats on national security
On Meet the Press today, John Kerry followed up with the Democrats' effort to position themselves as "strong on national security," in preparation for the fall campaign. He is trying hard to shed the image of dour defeatism that cost him so many votes in the 2004 election, but he wants to make it clear that he regrets voting to authorize the war. In late March the Democrats issued a high-profile report outlining their approach to national security, which is summarized at democrats.org. Rep. Nancy Pelosi played a leading role in publicizing this project. So far, however, I can't find much in it that is particularly new or compelling. Their primary objective in the War on Terror is:
Eliminate Osama Bin Laden, destroy terrorist networks like Al Qaeda, finish the job in Afghanistan, and end the threat posed by the Taliban.
Well, that's easier said than done, of course. It's not like we aren't trying already, either. Those goals highlight a common misperception among many Democrats and other war critics: The idea that rounding up the terrorist leaders will put an end to the threat. They call attention to the "economic, social, and political conditions that allow terrorism to thrive," but seem unaware that terrorist movements flourish in societies in which pathological institutions and cultural traditions repress natural human yearnings. Meaningful reform means regime change, which can sometimes be accomplished via economic pressure or military means, but hardly ever via the international means they prefer.
It is significant that the Democrats emphasize "honoring the sacrifice of our troops" by striving for a positive outcome in Iraq, distancing themselves from the defeatism espoused by a certain unmentionable wacko, but what makes them think that "insist[ing] that Iraqis make the political compomises necessary" is going to bear fruit? That's what Secretary of State Rice has been doing already. The Washington Post noted that:
Democrats have polled extensively on national security, testing various possible messages for the fall, and found that the more emphasis put on securing the homeland, the more voters respond. According to one poll taken for the Democratic National Committee, nearly three-quarters of those surveyed responded positively to such a message, rather than a message that emphasized taking the fight to the terrorists and staying the course in Iraq.
So that's their approach, a poll-driven national security strategy? And they want to be taken seriously?? Just imagine during World War II if Churchill and Roosevelt had relied upon opinion surveys to decide when and where to begin the liberation of France. Electoral calculations are probably why the Democrats included in their security agenda the utterly fatuous pledge to attain "energy independence" by 2020. No serious, well-informed person thinks that is remotely possible, but hey, it makes for a good sound bite.
It is interesting to note that the Democrats for National Security Web site no longer exists. I suppose it would be like "Republicans for Guaranteed Social Equality."
April 9, 2006 [LINK]
Humala leads Garcia and Flores
According to exit polls conducted by four different organizations in Peru, Ollanta Humala has won about 30 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential elections, while his rivals Alan Garcia and Lourdes Flores won about 25 percent each. The consistency of the preliminary soundings is striking. There were some noisy protesters at the voting station in San Borja (on the east side of Lima) where he and his wife Nadine cast their votes, requiring police protection for the candidate. Vague accusations of fraud were made, but so far there are no serious irregularities other than normal delays and long lines. See CNN.com and El Comercio of Peru (in Spanish).
UPDATE: As of 9:00,
83 percent of the votes had been counted in Peru, and Lourdes Flores is in second place, with 24.9 percent, while Alan Garcia trails with 23.5 percent. Ollanta Humala is holding steady in first place at about 30 percent. Unless there are a lot of uncounted precincts in Trujillo and other northern cities where APRA is known to be strong, it would appear that Flores is in good shape to go to the second round.
Chavez warns U.S. ambassador
After another incident in which Venezuelan mobs assaulted U.S. ambassador William Brownfield, hitting his car with eggs and tomatoes, Hugo Chavez blamed the victim. He said, "I'm going to throw you out of Venezuela if you continue provoking the Venezuelan people." Preoccupied with the far more menacing rogue regime in Iran, the State Department is in no mood to play games with clownish wanna-be's. See CNN.com.
April 8, 2006 [LINK]
Dionne on DeLay and GOP woes
Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne is not exactly my favorite, but he makes some good points about what's ailing the Party of Lincoln these days. Specifically, the exit of Tom DeLay is not the main problem, contrary to what many people think.
No, the most important development is the collapse of purpose in the Republican Party and the sense of exhaustion at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Other than the desperate scramble to make something go right in Iraq, our national government seems to have no energy, no coherence and no sense of direction.
His conventional-wisdom assessment of the Iraq situation overlooks the fact that casualties there continue to decline, notwithstanding all the scary headline-grabbing bombs. Likewise, I think he is overstating the depth of the crisis in the GOP, but it is a prospect that cannot be ignored. Dionne reminds us about DeLay gloating after the 2004 elections that the Republicans had amassed a "permanent majority," just as Karl Rove was fond saying in those "glory days." Alas...
McKinney is "sorry"
Well, at least she said the magic words "I apologize." Just like Bill Clinton, Dick Durbin, et al., however, I had the strong sense that she had her fingers crossed behind her back. Donald Luskin links to a cartoon (pre-apology) that portrays Ms. McKinney fairly aptly.
April 8, 2006 [LINK]
It's a three-way race in Peru
As voters are about to begin Phase One of the presidential elections tomorrow, the latest polls indicate that radical populist Ollanta Humala has lost considerable support, as people start to take seriously the extreme rhetoric he and his brother Antauro have been spouting. Mainstream populist and former president Alan Garcia (of APRA) has pulled some support from Humala, while conservative Lourdes Flores Nano is either in the lead or close to it.
I don't recall another election in Peruvian history with such an even three-way split. [2001!] So now the real question is not who will win the greatest number of votes, but who will finish third and be eliminated. If Garcia overtakes Flores in the race to see who will make it to the next round, I would expect a massive sell-off by investors in Peru, as all hope for future stability and development would be lost. CNN.com
April 8, 2006 [LINK]
Slow start for Nationals
With Washington down 4-3 in the ninth inning at Shea Stadium on Wednesday night, Ryan Zimmerman's first career home run tied the game, giving the Nats a chance to go ahead and win the game in the tenth inning. It was about as heartwarming a turn of events as you can imagine. See MLB.com. Otherwise, there is not much good news to report. Frank Robinson pulled Alfonso Soriano out of that same game after he seemed to be dragging his feet in left field. Lack of good pitching has cost the Nationals dearly, especially last night in Houston, where they lost 6-1. Meanwhile, the public relations war between Comcast and MASN goes on, though congressional intervention begun by Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) may force a reasonable compromise.
Wrigley Field renovations
The Wrigley Field page has been updated with a new diagram showing the newly expanded bleachers. Read all about the improvements at MLB.com; it won't be 100 percent finished until it gets warm enough to paint that section dark green to match the rest of the stadium. The construction was just barely completed on time for the Cubs' home opener yesterday. They made it a special occasion by beating the vaunted Cardinals, who had just swept the Phillies in Philadelphia. [More photos of the "Bud Light Bleachers" (ugh) can be seen at Bleed Cubbie Blue.]
Zurawski's ballpark updates
Mike Zurawski continues to bring to our attention ballpark news from around the nation. As for Kansas City, the referendum on paying for renovations at the Truman Sports Complex in Jackson County, Missouri yielded a split decision. A three-eighth cent sales tax for basic renovations was approved, but a proposed $202 million use tax on businesses to finance the rolling roof (which would have covered either Arrowhead Stadium or Kauffman Stadium) was rejected. It remains to be seen whether the NFL will still hold the Super Bowl in Kansas City in 2015, as outgoing commissioner Paul Tagliabue had offered as an inducement to get funding for the roof. See the Kansas City Star. I guess that is all for the best; that roof looked scary to me. What if a tornado came through?
The Mets provided further details on their future home, pledging to invest about a half billion dollars of their own money to build the stadium. The overall shape is based on Ebbets Field, which is fine except that the triple-decked grandstand in left field will obstruct the view of Long Island Sound. Harking back to the Polo Grounds, there will be a small section that will hang eight feet over right field. Projected dimensions: LF - 335'; LC - 379'; CF - 408'; RC - 391'; RF - 300'.
Under new ownership, Devil Rays are investing some money into sprucing up Tropicana Field. By [July] or so, they expect to have a large tank full of live rays. It sounds cool, but what if one of them gets hit with a fly ball?
UPDATE: Frisco & Barry
That was quite a remarkable comeback by the Braves against Giants at AT&T Park last night. Of course, I fell asleep just before the Braves' eight-run onslaught after midnight (EDT). The Braves failed to repeat the feat in today's game, but the real story in this series was about Bonds -- Barry Bonds. Scorned almost everywhere else, the tarnished hero received loud cheers from the home town crowd. And why not? Maybe such an expression of undying loyalty will bring a change of heart upon the proud slugger, reconciling himself to the truth before his career is over and thereby salvaging honor for posterity. I sure hope so, anyway.
Preceding blog posts: April 2006 Archives, or browse the Central archives page.