Andrew Clem home

Archives
January 2005
(all categories)

Monthly links this year:
(all categories)


Category archives:
(all years)



Monthly archives
(all categories)


Andrew Clem archives

January 1, 2005 [LINK]

A new year of birding

Golden-crowned kinglet New Year's Day in Staunton is balmy but rather cloudy, probably not much different than in Pasadena right now. On my first birding walk of the year I came tantalizingly close to getting a good shot of this Golden-crowned kinglet, but it moved just as I snapped the shutter. Well, at least you can see the crown, if not the beak. This one happened to be the first male of this species I had seen in some time; they are distinguished by bold orange feathers among the yellow ones, but sometimes they are more prominent than others. I also saw a Ruby-crowned kinglet nearby. Kinglets are tiny, even smaller than chickadees, but move very rapidly in search of small insects. Finally, there was a group of three screaming Red-tailed hawks, possibly warming up for courtship season, as well as several White-breasted nuthatches, Downy woodpeckers, a Red-bellied woodpecker, many titmice, cardinals, and all the other usuals except for no juncos at all.

As in the year before, nearly all the new life birds I saw in 2004 were in Latin America, 31 of 35 to be exact. I looked at the annual data on my Life bird list and noticed that, after declining steadily from 1997 to 2001, the annual number of new birds I've seen has been increasing by greater and greater increments each year. That pace will be hard to maintain in 2005, but there is a strong possibility of another venture south of the border...


Andrew Clem archives

January 4, 2005 [LINK]

New Hall of Famers

Red Sox slugger Wade Boggs (who also played for the Yankees and other teams) was just elected into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Getting over 90 percent of the vote, there was never any doubt. Career-long Cubs second-baseman Ryne Sandberg also made the cut, on his third attempt, while Bruce Sutter fell short of the required 75 percent of votes by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. He still has another shot in 2006 and possibly in 2007. "If Cooperstown is callin', it's no fluke..."

Commissioner Selig approved the trade by which Randy Johnson will leave the Diamondbacks and join the Bronx Bombers. Look out world: Here we go again! The page for his former home, Bank One Ballpark, has been updated with warning tracks and a football-configuration diagram, partly in recognition of the recent Insight Bowl. I had planned to update the Wrigley Field page first, but I think I'll concentrate on football diagrams since this is the tail end of football season. ball Less than a hundred days remain until the first Nationals game at RFK Stadium. It's hard to imagine what that long-awaited day will be like...

Say what?

In a strange, misguided effort to attract a broader fan base, the Anaheim Angels are planning to change their name-affiliation to "The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim." Good grief. This would be their third such change, the others being in 1965 (when they switched from "Los Angeles" to "California") and in 1997. Talk about an identity crisis! Well, what about these possibilities:

  • Minnesota Twins of Minneapolis
  • Kansas City Royals of Independence
  • Texas Rangers of Arlington
  • Florida Marlins of (North) Miami
  • Colorado Rockies of Denver
  • Tampa Bay Devil Rays of St. Petersburg
  • Arizona Diamondbacks of Phoenix
  • Of course, football stadiums are located in the suburbs more often than baseball stadiums are these days, which leads us to:

  • Washington Redskins of Landover
  • New York Giants of East Rutherford
  • and many more!

Andrew Clem archives

January 4, 2005 [LINK]

A new year of egg-laying

After taking a three-week break from nesting duties, Princess has laid three more eggs, the last of which came on New Year's Day. During her respite in December she joined George in flying all over the place. Because of the heavy aerial traffic, I put up a sign in our hallway. Princess now is back to her incessant chirping routine every morning, which has prompted George into singing out loud for the first time in a few weeks.


Now that Princess has resumed a sendentary lifestyle, George is once again on his own while wandering around. Today he paid a visit to my office, nibbling on the succulent plants in the window sill.



Andrew Clem Archives ~ GOP ethics reprieve

January 4, 2005 [LINK]

GOP ethics reprieve

Thanks to a critical mass of courageous consciences in the Republican ranks on Capitol Hill, a proposed weakening of ethics rules -- aimed primarily at protecting Majority Leader Tom DeLay in case he is indicted -- was abandoned. Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), chairman of the House ethics committee, had denounced the proposed changes, putting his position and perhaps his career on the line. See Washington Post. Not that it's going to win any converts from the Democratic side, of course, but this stand for principle will earn the party credit among the more attentive voters and political observers. Three cheers! When you consider that the criminal charges being filed against DeLay in Texas are almost certainly politically motivated to some extent, the rule changes were understandable, if not justifiable. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Electoral college

In Monday's Post there was an ad on the Federal Page by the Committee to ReDefeat the President. They are challenging the Electoral College results on the grounds of (they say) fraudulent manipulation in Nevada, Florida, Ohio, and New Mexico. I got a kick out of the mail-in coupon for those wishing to donate: you either check "YES! I will help..." or "NO! You people need to get over it because God wants George W. Bush to be the president even if he got fewer votes than his opponent again." HO, HO, HO! I can't quite figure out, however, if that is how they really think most Bush voters think, or if they are just being sarcastic. I sure hope it's the latter... They will be among the lead organizers of the "CounterInaugural Ball" on January 20. (By the way, their Web site quotes "Audous Huxley" [sic]; it should be "Aldous Huxley." He, of course, was the author of Brave New World, where everyone was contentedly tranquilized by an all-powerful government, without any emotional ties to family members, or any moral compunctions about sexuality. In other words, a Democratic vision of utopia.)


Andrew Clem archives

January 5, 2005 [LINK]

Stadium page updates

For those interested in football configurations of baseball stadiums, I've finished diagram revisions on the SBC Park page, host venue of the recent Emerald Bowl, as well as the Mile High Stadium and Cleveland Stadium pages. I'm also getting around to making text revisions on several pages, based on fan e-mail messages that in some cases are several months old. Then I'll add a Guestbook page at long last, and, hopefully, comments links on the blog entries and/or the stadium pages. More to come...


Andrew Clem Archives ~ GOP ethics relapse

January 5, 2005 [LINK]

GOP ethics relapse?

On the first day of the 109th Congress, the Republican House leadership pushed through a revision to that body's ethics rules that requires at least one member of each party to agree before any investigation can go forward. This marked a partial retreat from the principled stand that Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) had taken, and he now says he expects to lose his post as chairman of the House ethics committee. See Washington Post. It's certainly not the best way to start off a new year of legislating. Perhaps the Republicans are driving home the point that they have given up trying to work with the Democrats in Congress. Personally I wouldn't have a problem with going along with a hardball strategy if I were more confident that the congressional Republicans are serious about enacting comprehensive reforms to entitlements programs, fixing the medical liability insurance mess, etc. Radical reforms are not generally based on widespread consensus, and I happen to believe that stiff, unpopular measures aimed at making our economy more free and more market-friendly are absolutely necessary. Some toes will get stepped on in the process, and many Democrats will scream bloody murder. It's a shame.


Andrew Clem Archives ~ Tsunami: A view from France

January 6, 2005 [LINK]

It's official: Bush wins!

A day that used to be a ceremonial, purely symbolic reaffirmation of our democratic heritage was spoiled by raucous and bitter debates over alleged voting irregularities in Ohio and elsewhere. Congress' role in certifying the Electoral College votes used to be supremely anti-climactic, but like everything else these days, it's an excuse for a pointless verbal brawl. The (Barbara) "Boxer Rebellion," the transparent attempt to undermine the legitimacy of President Bush's reelection, will surely fire up the Democrat activists for the next election, though the cost in terms of relations between the parties on Capitol Hill may be very high. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) began his remarks on the House floor by saying "We are not here as partisans of one candidate or another..." Well, perhaps not, but the timing of the objections certainly seem odd. Look at it from a different perspective: If he were in fact pursuing a partisan agenda, wouldn't today be the perfect opportunity for grandstanding and annoying his opponents?

The monumental scale of the disingenuousness on display by the Democratic side is quite breathtaking. Another House Democrat went so far as to say the United States has forfeited any right to judge the electoral practices of other countries such as Ukraine. Do they really expect us to take them seriously? As for the merits of the dispute, the Democrats certainly could have picked a more suitable occasion for ironing out problems if they were really aiming for cooperative action. After Florida 2000 the issue of voting rights received a huge amount of attention, and there was ample opportunity to put in place enough safeguards to erase any doubts about the electoral process. I heard a particularly articulate response to the Democrats' complaints while listening to the debate on the TV in another room, so I went in to see who it was. Wouldn't you know, it was good ol' Majority Leader Tom DeLay from Texas! Perhaps I should give him more credit, but I still think his role in the Texas redistricting was inappropriate. Anyway, late in the afternoon, the lower chamber of Congress finally confirmed the November 2 election results by certifying the Electoral College votes. Hooray!?

I checked the Carter Center Web site to see if they had any recent comments about the U.S. election or the Ohio recount. Not yet. Carter, you may recall (scroll down), approved last summer's referendum in Venezuela while claiming that the Florida 2000 elections were unfair. In fact, they still haven't weighed in on the hotly disputed Ukrainian elections, to my amazement. They are perhaps too busy monitoring elections in Palestine and Mozambique.

January 6, 2005 [LINK]

Tsunami: A view from France

In belgravia dispatch (via InstaPundit), Gregory Djerejian writes about French resentment that the U.S. is taking a lead role in the "humanitarian coalition." As for the "stinginess" accuastion, one of the posts on that belgravia dispatch page included a link (PDF) to a Defense Department list of U.S. forces that are involved in the tsunami relief operation. His blog post includes a cartoon from Le Monde portraying the U.S. as a presumptuous imperialist, and the text sarcastically implies that U.S. aerial photographic missions to survey the damage are part of a sinister Pentagon plot. That's absurd, and it's sad that so many French people think that way.

True, the past U.S. record in supporting the military regime of Suharto during and since the Vietnam War is a somewhat blemished one. Here's a twist, though: until the 1990s, U.S. policy toward Indonesia was accommodative of nationalist sentiment. It was during the Republican administration of Gerald Ford in 1975 that Henry Kissinger sent a signal tacitly approving Indonesia's takeover of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor. It was under the Clinton presidency, in contrast, that the U.S. pushed Indonesia to let go of that culturally distinct half-island, angering the military leaders and infuriating nationalist sensibilities there. That was one of the best-justified examples of Clinton's aggressive global reformism, most observers would say, and the outcome in East Timor is certainly better than Bosnia or Kosovo. Because the destruction from the tsunami was centered in the province of Aceh, where there has been a violent separatist movement for many years, many Americans are for the first time getting a faint inkling of the complex ethnic strife in that far-flung island "nation." Students who have been in my Global Politics class know all about the ethnic and religious makeup of Indonesia, or should...

I was proud of Colin Powell for forcefully correcting the faulty premise of Diane Sawyer's interview query, that the U.S. response to the disaster was alllegedly tardy and weak. Few statesmen can speak as authoritatively and convincingly as he can. Have I mentioned he will be missed? Yes, I have.

For a grimly humorous review of the insipid mainstream Western reaction to the tragedy, see "The 12 most stupid tsunami quotes " at chrenkoff.blogspot.com. Beware, there are some extremely lame platitudes and expressions of utter ignorance. One woman letter writer from Kansas bewailed the "tsunami" wrought by the Bush administration on this country. Were 150,000 people killed by Bush?


Andrew Clem Archives ~ Uprising breaks calm in Peru

January 7, 2005 [LINK]

Uprising breaks calm in Peru

In political terms, most of Latin America has been fairly tranquil in recent months, hence the low degree of attention to that region lately on this blog. Even in the more violent regions such as Colombia, the level of tension has remained steady for the most part.

One exception, which has been overlooked by the mainstream media, is Peru. Last week a retired army Major, Antauro Humala, led an uprising, taking control of the police commissariat and the downtown area of a provincial city, demanding the resignation of President Alejandro Toledo. Four people had been killed in the initial takeover. This was in the highland city of Andahuaylas, located between Ayacucho (homeland of the Shining Path terrorist movement) and Cuzco (where Jacqueline and I visited last year). About 125 rebels were holding 17 hostages for four days before Humala finally surrendered. Toledo's popularity remains in the abysmal 9-to-10 percent range, and many Peruvians wonder if he can survive in office for the last 17 months of his term. Even though Toledo did not resign, Humala made his point, and will probably be a key player in future political struggles in Peru. He and his brother Ollanta led an uprising in October 2000, as Alberto Fujimori was losing control of the country. His movement seeks to establish a new regime in Peru that would be modeled on the ancient Incan Empire. It sounds Quixotic, but that is a common theme among many radical groups in the Andean region, and there is no question that indigenous people are gaining political strength, as shown by Bolivia and Ecuador.

January 7, 2005 [LINK]

Bus massacre in Honduras

It must have been like living in Baghdad or Mosul: Just before Christmas, a group of gang members armed with assault rifles stopped a bus in the northern city of San Pedro Sula (where I visited in 1989), and murdered 23 people in cold blood. This was apparently an act of intimidation intended to thwart President Ricardo Maduro's crackdown on the rising crime wave that is attributed to gangs. The most prominent of those gangs is "Mara Salvatrucha," founded by Salvadorans who live in U.S. cities.

By the way, that group is responsible for vicious crimes in the Washington, D.C. area, and some victims have had their fingers hacked off. The gang has even begun to gain influence in the Harrisonburg area of the Shenandoah Valley, where many Hispanics work in poultry processing plants. One former member who helped police investigators, Brenda Paz, was murdered in this region a couple years ago.

January 7, 2005 [LINK]

Nightclub inferno in Argentina

One hundred seventy five people were killed in a Buenos Aires musical club after a fire broke out, but most of the victims died from smoke inhalation or being trampled. Another 700+ people were injured, out of the estimated 4,000 patrons, three times the capacity. Fire code regulations are often ignored in Latin America, as indeed most government regulations are ignored, and similar tragedies have occurred in Peru and Brazil in recent years. It even happened in Rhode Island, U.S.A. two years ago, when 100 people died at a Great White rock show due to a pyrotechnic malfunction.

January 7, 2005 [LINK]

Pinochet under house arrest

After a judge ruled that the former Chilean dictator was fit to stand trial for murder and human rights abuses, Augusto Pinochet was indicted last week, and has since been put under house arrest. Many Chileans still regard him as a hero, and it would be hard to deny the economic benefits Chile enjoys compared to the rest of the region. Those accomplishments may end up being voided, however, if he does not answer for the crimes committed under his rule. If he is as patriotic as he has always claimed to be, and not just another egomaniacal despot, he will apologize for the abuses. It won't undo the evil, but it will begin to heal some of the terrible wounds.


Andrew Clem Archives ~ Trying times in Iraq

January 8, 2005 [LINK]

What to do about Iran

In the New Republic, Franklin Foer writes about the "Identity Crisis" that is creating divisions among the neoconservative movement. Some neocons believe that , while others ...



Andrew Clem Archives ~ Trying times in Iraq

January 10, 2005 [LINK]

D.C. gets RFK fixup in order

Today's Washington Post has an article on Allen Lew, the D.C. government architect who is in charge of overseeing the renovation of RFK Stadium, which is proceeding at a rapid clip. He has proven himself a cool-headed, effective administrator in past projects, so there shouldn't be any problems in getting ready for opening day. The article includes an excellent photo showing a big gap where the northwest side end zone seating sections are positioned for soccer games, and football games in the old days. Behind that gap is just a solid concrete block wall, which makes me wonder, Where do they store that removable section? The old dugout is visible on the left side movable section in that photo; one of the biggest parts of the renovation will be to enlarge the dugouts to modern super-size proportions. Also, the press boxes, bathrooms, and concession stands need to be upgraded. For now, it appears that the field dimensions will be virtually the same as in the old days: 335-385-410. I wish they would add a small bleacher section for kids at ground level. It is not certain whether the big scoreboard will be returned to right field as it was until the Senators left town at the end of 1971. To my surprise, they are bulldozing the entire field at RFK, possibly to add a layer of pea gravel to help the field drain more quickly when it rains.

Nats get lineup in order

The Washington Nationals signed Brad Wilkerson, who played at first base during 2004 but will probably move to the outfield, assuming that Nick Johnson (former Yankee) plays at first. They also retained Brian Schneider (catcher), another free agent enticed into signing a contract. This gives the Nats a fairly solid lineup, with spring training only a month away, and assures them of continuity in the midst of an awkward transition. Are there any good pitchers still available out there???

"The Murph"

Are you ready for some football (diagrams)? The Jack Murphy Stadium (QualComm) page has been revised with new diagrams, rendered with the help of the televised San Diego Chargers game against St. Louis on Saturday night. Of all the 1960s & 70s-era stadiums built for both baseball and football use, this is the only one where the football team both began playing before the baseball team played there (in this case, 1967 vs. 1969) and continued to play there after the baseball team left. Actually, the same could be said of RFK Stadium -- until this year! Thanks to Steven Poppe for alerting me to a glitch in the recently-revised Bank One Ballpark page.


Andrew Clem Archives ~ Schwarzenegger on Redistricting

January 10, 2005 [LINK]

Schwarzenegger on Redistricting

California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has called for a major reform in the way legislative district boundaries are drawn, assigning the task to a panel of retired judges. This would bring back meaningful competition in legislative races, where incumbents nearly always win.

Schwarzenegger ... noted that of the 153 seats in the California Congressional delegation and Legislature that were on the ballot in November, not one changed party hands.

"What kind of a democracy is that?" he asked in his address.

"The current system is rigged to benefit the interests of those in office and not those who put them there," he said. "We must reform it."

SOURCE: New York Times (via Donald Sensing); an analysis in the Washington Post suggests that Schwarzenegger may forfeit the bipartisan support he has enjoyed up till now. Indeed, even some of the Republicans (the minority in California) are leery about tackling such a sacred cow. I'm starting to admire the ambition and vision of Schwarzenegger, who seems to have a more substantial policy agenda than Jesse Ventura. (A movie coming in the next few weeks which focuses on his sordid early career in show business may take some of the luster off his image.) Anyway, fighting gerrymandering is one of my favorite (long shot) causes, but if Republicans fail to grab hold of such opportunities for much-needed reforms, they will once again become a minority party nationwide within a few years. And our country would then become even less democratic, ironically.

UPDATE: On the other hand, as most would argue, the Republicans would risk becoming a minority party as soon as 2006 if they were to take on too many high-risk "too hot to handle" issues, as Bush is doing with Social Security. It all depends on leadership at the top and communication between legislators and grass roots activists. If the GOP mobilizes its vast human resources in an effective manner and makes clear the connection between problems and proposed solutions, they can accomplish something truly historic during Bush's second term. However, if they sound the battle cry without having a clear strategy -- such as the Republicans in the Virginia legislature who were outmaneuvered by Governor Warner last year -- it will be like Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. Obviously, playing it safe and just tinkering with minor reforms is a very tempting option, but the underlying structural problems in our economy will get worse and worse unless something serious is done, and the Republicans would get blamed. So it's a question of either taking a calculated risk of losing in 2006 in order to achieve a monumental change in public policy on par with FDR's New Deal, or else clinging to power for the next two or three elections while frittering away the support of the conservative activists, thus setting the stage for a renewed march toward socialism under the Democrats.


Andrew Clem Archives ~ Life bird: Cackling geese

January 10, 2005 [LINK]

Life bird: Cackling geese

Thanks to a tip from Allen Larner, one of, if not the most active member of the Augusta Bird Club, I spotted some Cackling geese for the first time ever yesterday. They are close relatives of the much more common Canada geese (in fact, they used to be considered the same species), but they are only about two thirds as big. I saw at least three, in the middle of a flock of 100 or more Canada geese. Two other birders, Brenda Tekin and Tom Pendleton, happened to be at the Bell's Lane location when I arrived, and using their spotting scopes provided a much better image than my binoculars. Thanks, folks! Red-tailed hawks were all over the place; we counted at least eight. Also seen: a Kestrel, a Downy woodpecker, and 15 or so Killdeers.

UPDATE: I just received a letter from Susan Heath, Secretary of the Virginia Avian Records Committee, informing me that my submitted sighting of a Western tanager last March has been accepted as a "Category One" sighting, the highest level of acceptance, based on physical evidence, i.e., photographs taken by Brenda Tekin and me. This was the fifth sighting of a Western tanager in the Mountains and Valleys region of Virginia since records have been kept, but the first ever in Augusta County.


Andrew Clem Archives ~ Dolphins Stadium!?

January 11, 2005 [LINK]

Dolphins Stadium!?

Thanks to "Stadium Guru" I found out about Monday's announcement by the Miami Dolphins that they are renaming Pro Player Stadium "Dolphins Stadium." (It was originally called Joe Robbie Stadium.) This name change is part of a massive long-term, privately funded renovation program. "Phase II, which could not commence until the relocation of the Marlins [!], would potentially include expansion of the stadium concourses, a permanent or retractable roof, additional seating capacity, ..." See miamidolphins.com Not missing a beat, the Marlins have already updated their own Web site with the new stadium name. I guess I'd better do so too: Dolphins Stadium! (While I was at it, I revised the diagrams on that page to include warning tracks, etc.) This will become, as far as I can tell, the first time a Major League team has ever played in a stadium named after another currently-playing team, reinforcing the Marlins' sense of "homeless" insecurity. The Giants played in Seals Stadium for their first four years in San Francisco, but that was just temporary and the PCL Seals had already folded, of course. Four NFL "tenant" teams have had to put up with this second-class status: the Detroit Lions (at Tiger Stadium), the New York Giants (at Yankee Stadium), the New York Jets (at Giants Stadium), and the Houston Oilers (at the Astrodome).


Andrew Clem Archives ~ White House payola?

January 11, 2005 [LINK]

White House payola?

Conservative commentator Armstrong Williams was paid $240,000 by the Education Department in exchange for saying favorable things about President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education initiative. Though probably legal, such expenditure of public funds does raise eyebrows. It reminds one of the radio station-record company payola scandals of the late 1950s and early 1960s, which left many disc jockeys with a black eye. Who will end up looking worse, the commentator or President Bush? The White House denies it had anything to do with the department's decision... Glenn Reynolds' techcentralstation.com column rightly condemns this instance of subsidized advocacy, but he also puts it in context. For example, FDR persuaded journalists to spread propaganda in favor of an expanded income tax during World War II, exploiting patriotic sentiment. (Does that ring a bell?) It might be said that all the anti-smoking, anti-drug, anti-teen sex "nanny-state" propaganda campaigns of recent years set a precedent for this sort of thing. It depends on whether you favor the particular policy initiative or not. To his credit, Williams at least showed unqualified contrition for this lapse:

"Even though I'm not a journalist -- I'm a commentator -- I feel I should be held to the media ethics standard. My judgment was not the best. I wouldn't do it again, and I learned from it." [SOURCE: cnn.com]

This is dreadful for conservative reformers, but there is a silver lining. Beyond the breach of trust itself lies the question of why did the White House feel the need to resort to state-subsidized propaganda. Isn't "No Child Left Behind" good enough on its own merits, or are the deep conceptual flaws in it? Apparently, it was thought that since Williams is African-American, black people in inner cities would be more receptive to Bush's unorthodox educational reform initiative. Here in Virginia, which is conservative, a number of school districts have asked to be exempted from the program, which they feel puts undue stress on students and teachers, for an uncertain benefit in terms of real learning. If I weren't skeptical of public schools' performance in general I might be more sympathetic. In any case, it does highlight the dilemma that emerges whenever the Federal government tries to promote some social objective across many states whose cultures and values vary widely. That used to be the bugaboo of liberal busybodies in Washington; now it's the burden of the President's increasingly questionable "compassionate conservativism."

January 11, 2005 [LINK]

Rathergate: the final chapter?

Perhaps it is fortunate for Republicans that the Williams scandal was followed so closely by a scandal tarnishing their adversaries, or the final episode of an old scandal, that is. As a result of the independent investigation of the infamous "60 Minutes" forged documents scandal last September, which was conducted by former attorney general Dick Thornburgh (R-PA), Mary Mapes and three other employees of CBS news have lost their jobs. Rush Limbaugh pointed out that Ms. Mapes already has been offered a job with some cable television news outfit. Dan Rather never apologized for attacking those who brought this scandal to light, and he never admitted anything worse than poor judgment. As the report indicates, however, Mapes and others at CBS were driven from the very beginning by a fierce zeal to find dirt on President Bush. In other words, CBS was consciously working to stop the reelection of the President. Politicized, discredited news will be Dan Rather's sorry legacy (even if he is not sorry himself) when he leaves in March.

January 11, 2005 [LINK]

Time to Spray DDT?

Nicholas Kristoff had an interesting, counterintuitive commentary on the link between environmental and social issues in the New York Times. Whereas public attention tends to focus on dramatic, photographic, discrete human tragedies, there are many bigger preventable causes of death in the world. He says, "Mosquitoes kill 20 times more people each year than the tsunami did, and in the long war between humans and mosquitoes it looks as if mosquitoes are winning." He points out the kind of painful dilemma between competing values that many environmentalists would rather not face. Perhaps there is room for limited reliance on that toxic, bird-killing substance, as he urges, but it would only be appropriate in countries where state authority is widely respected. Because of ineffective government regulation, many people already are spraying DDT in many Third World countries. How much? Nobody knows.


Andrew Clem Archives

January 12, 2005 [LINK]

Trades: Unit arrives in Bronx...

Randy "The Unit" Johnson was formally introduced as a Yankee after all the contractual wrinkles were ironed out. That's great news, though one wonders how such a giant (stature-wise and ability-wise) will fit into a clubhouse already chock full of supersized egos. For me, it was more gratifying to learn that first-baseman Tino Martinez is returning to the Bronx, after being unceremoniously let go a few years ago. He was one of the solid but unspectacular crew that won all those titles in the late 1990s. Jason Giambi is still on the Yanks' roster, but what that means is uncertain. ball After several days of rumors, Carlos Beltran is going to the Mets, who desperately need help. That will make it harder for the Nationals to fight their way out of the cellar that they inhabited during their last years as the Expos. ball Shawn Green, who hit four home runs in one game in May 2002, is being traded from the Dodgers to the Diamondbacks. This was expected, but it was originally going to be part of the three-way mega-trade involving Randy Johnson and the Yankees.

FOOTball!??

But wait, there are even more new football diagrams on the updated Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Milwaukee County Stadium pages. ball Finally, the chronology of events on the Baseball in D.C. page has been updated through the end of December, at last.


Andrew Clem Archives

January 12, 2005 [LINK]

Back to McCormick's Farm

Tufted titmouse I joined yet another Augusta Bird Club trip to McCormick's Farm led by YuLee Larner this morning. It was balmy, as it has been recently, though mostly cloudy. Our most notable sighting was five Gadwalls, which are a rather plain looking duck. If my records are correct, this was only my second sighting of that species, the first being in 2001. I also saw both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned kinglets, Downy woodpeckers, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Belted kingfisher, and a Red-tailed hawk. We were startled to see two Carolina wrens (obviously males) locked in mortal combat, clutching each other by the feet and rolling around in the underbrush. One pecked at the other quite viciously, and we tried to break it up. The first sign of mating season!

After I got home, this Tufted titmouse appeared outside our window.



Andrew Clem Archives

January 13, 2005 [LINK]

Getting tough on dope

Commissioner Selig's announcement that MLB and the players' association agreed to terms on a new drug testing policy is at least a step in the right direction. The automatic suspension for the first offense, coupled with the random testing, shows that the problem is finally being regarded as very serious. Such a screening program does cast a pall over the whole sport, but there really wasn't much choice, given the fact that the problem had become so widespread. Otherwise, the problem might get to the point of becoming "contagious," where a wavering clean player finally gives in if he figures that's his only chance to compete. Selig thanked President Bush for drawing public attention to the issue in last year's State of the Union address. (At the time, many people thought it was a strange thing to bring up, but Bush was perhaps a step ahead of the rest in this case.) I hope that these draconian measures don't become permanent, however. If baseball does not revive a culture of good sportsmanship without the necessity of heavy-handed policing, its role in our national culture will become further diminished.

Nationals update

Speaking of national culture, I was pleased to learn that Nationals catcher Brian Schneider has a leading role with the player's union. The Nationals are negotiating to acquire pitcher Carlos Loiaza, and are reportedly considering making an offer to ex-Reds infielder Barry Larkin, but only in a backup capacity. The thinking is that the team needs more veterans to guide the youngsters, and Vinny Castilla may need help in that mentoring role.

Sir Sidney no longer?

Sidney Ponson, who was supposed to be the Baltimore Orioles's ace pitcher but has performed below expectations, says he will no longer consider himself a resident of Aruba. That is a small island off the coast of Venezuela that became separated from the rest of the Netherlands Antilles in 1986. He was made a knight as a reward for the recognition he brought to the island, but has not acted like one. He was jailed for several days after assaulting someone in an altercation involving his jet ski. He expressed belated regret over the incident, and said that he was getting tired of all the attention from local folks wherever he went in Aruba. Tough life...

"After further review" of my various reference sources, I've corrected the new diagrams on the Milwaukee County Stadium page, and added a 1954 version.


EVENING UPDATE: Stadium fraud?

The report by Kevin Tibbles about baseball's new drug testing policy on NBC Nightly News tonight contained video clips of Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and several scenes of games being played -- in Milwaukee County Stadium, which NO LONGER EXISTS! (Quite a coincidence with my latest diagram revision, huh?) Pretty sloppy journalism, if you ask me. Not as blatantly bogus as the CBS "60 Minutes" report based on the fake memos last September, perhaps, but still pretty bad. Are NBC's standards eroding in the post-Tom Brokaw era?

The FOX hit TV show "OC" just started, and it reminds me about the Angels' identity crisis. Since Orange County has so much prestige attached to it, why not call the team the "Orange County Angels" instead of the absurd "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim"?


Andrew Clem Archives

January 14, 2005 [LINK]

Judge rules on Theory of Evolution

A federal judge in Atlanta has just issued a ruling that was aimed at curtailing religious meddling in public education, but which ironically strikes a blow against against scientific thinking.

In ruling that the stickers violate the constitutionally mandated separation between church and state, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper ruled that labeling evolution a "theory" played on the popular definition of the word as a "hunch" and could confuse students.

According to The Associated Press, the stickers read,
"This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."
[SOURCE: cnn.com]

To me, the innocuous words on that sticker are just straightforward common sense, a reasonable attempt to avoid friction between faith and reason. To Judge Cooper and many others, however, those words amount to a disingenuous "Trojan horse" that seeks to instill doubt about science in impressionable young minds, as part of a fundamentalist agenda of imposing Christian beliefs in schools and other public institutions. No doubt, many of the people who were behind the policy of putting those labels in textbooks are religious fundamentalists. Were they a majority among the activists? Did they say whether they really care about science during public debates on this matter? It's hard for outsiders to know. Personally, I would favor a strong reaffirmation of the non-establishment clause in the First Amendment, making it clear that no particular religious group can force its views on the general public. But to interpret the words on that sticker as being tantamount to the establishment of religion is so utterly far-fetched that it makes the idea of dinosaurs on Noah's Ark seem plausible by comparison.

Having some familiarity with education and with scholarly pursuits, this question is extremely important to me. Trying to disabuse students of the popular use of the word "theory" (cited by the Judge Cooper) is one of the most frustrating things I have had to deal with as a teacher. As I made clear to students in some of my classes at JMU last year, fossils and DNA samples are facts; evolution is a theory, that is, a generalized, testable explanation of how facts relate to each other. Calling something a theory does not mean it is lacks widespread support among experts, and anyone who disputes this is, wittingly or not, undermining scientific learning. A theory that stands up to empirical testing does not "become" a fact; it is, rather, established in the body of knowledge of a particular field until it is further refined, or until something better comes along. Hardly any learned person seriously questions the processes of genetic mutation or natural selection, or the general progression of life forms toward greater complexity and adaptive capacity over millions of years. Nevertheless, there is almost certainly some significant part of the Theory of Evolution that will eventually be found to be seriously flawed. (Otherwise, it would be called the Fact of Evolution.) Human reason and human perception are fallible, and always will be.

This should not even be an issue, but many secular-minded Americans simply refuse to acknowledge this fundamental distinction between theory and fact because of exaggerated or misplaced fear of the Religious Right. This makes me wonder whether there might be a certain nervousness or self-doubt among the secular segment of our population. How might we bridge the chasm of distrust that motivated the judge's ruling? First, by acknowledging that there are enemies of free thought and free scientific inquiry on both the Left and the Right. (The former danger should be painfully obvious to anyone who is at all familiar with campus political correctness; the latter is more subtle, usually manifested in public affairs campaigns funded by certain wealthy activists.) Second, by making sure that teachers are clear in the use of scientific terminology, resisting false popular notions. Third, by agreeing to uphold pluralism and open-mindedness in the public sphere, leaving a path open for those who, like St. Thomas Aquinas, seek to harmonize faith and reason. As long as the widespread mistaken belief that the First Amendment precludes any public role for religious faith persists, however, this task will not be easy.


January 14, 2005 [LINK]

UPDATE: Chaos or "Intelligent design"?

Today's Washington Post, reports that the co-author of one of the biology textbooks that had been affixed with the stickers in Cobb County, Georgia, Kenneth Miller of Brown University, is involved with a similar case. Parents in Dover, Pennsylvania are suing the school system over the required teaching of "intelligent design," which is apparently a new version of "creation science." That approach is -- quite obviously -- based on religion, not science. To most nature lovers like me, nevertheless, it is hard to imagine that all the wonders of the Great Outdoors and the Universe Beyond are the end result of nothing more than random events, devoid of any Higher Purpose or fundamental ordering principle. Under the conventional, common-sense scientific paradigm of Isaac Newton, there seems to be an ever-shrinking space for the role of a Supreme Being and thus, religion. Reason! Progress! Order! The depressing prospect that the universe may be a closed, deterministic realm of finite complexity, much like a jigsaw puzzle that will be completely solved one day, is one reason why Chaos theory is such an aesthetically appealing alternative, with the strong suggestion that there are yet-undiscovered principles of order in nature, which itself is continuing to unfold. A good example would be the theory of "punctuated equilibrium" as a mechanism for evolution, as elaborated by the late biologist Stephen Jay Gould. (He was a Yankees fan, if I recall correctly.) His refinement of evolutionary theory, which departs from Darwin in certain respects, may be a step toward uncovering such broader principles of order. I happen to believe that the laws of nature are an expression of God's will, but I have no problem with people who believe otherwise. As philosopher Karl Popper -- a strong advocate for an open, free society and open, free thinking -- wrote in The Open Universe: An Argument for Indeterminism (1956), "the creativeness of life does not contradict the laws of physics." Amen.

In sum, as long as people keep their hearts and minds open and remember that science and religion are largely separate domains, the inherent tensions between faith and reason can be kept to within a tolerable level. Leaving behind comfortable old dogmas can be scary for some people, but the rewards of doing so can be sublime. The biggest and saddest irony about all this is that the advocates of "creationism" on one hand, and those who would shut out any consideration or discussion of religious heritage from the curriculum of public schools, on the other hand, are actually serving each others' purposes by setting up bogeymen to attack. This is a perfect example of the polarization in our fair land, leading toward an escalated "cultural war." But it doesn't have to be that way.

Just for fun, here is a suggested "secular/politically correct" alternative sticker for those textbooks:

"This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a fact, not just a theory, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an compliant, obedient mind, memorized by rote, and uncritically absorbed." smile

Andrew Clem Archives

January 16, 2005 [LINK]

RFK grandstand repositioned

There is a photo of the ongoing renovation work at RFK Stadium in Sunday's Washington Post, showing that the movable portion of the grandstand has been returned to its baseball position for the first time since 1999. (It probably took several gallons of 3-in-1 oil to get those rollers unstuck!) Last week there was just a huge gap on the third base side. The photo also shows the much bigger new dugouts which are under construction. The work is proceeding so quickly that many of the details are being decided with little or no advance planning. For example, "when the chief groundskeeper asked how close the bullpens should be to the outfield wall, [architect Lane Welter replied,] 'Whatever you think is best. I trust your judgment.'" To make room for a modern electronic scoreboard/advertising message board, unfortunately, the "Hall of Stars" -- the signs with names of past Washington sports heroes that ring RFK Stadium at the mezzanine level -- will probably be moved to a less-visible location in the upper deck. Yet unclear is what kind of main scoreboard there will be. Commissioner Bud Selig has already committed to attending the premier game at RFK on April 14, and I wouldn't be surprised if President Bush shows up as well.

January 16, 2005 [LINK]

Nats on the tube?

Saturday's Washington Post reported that the Nationals still do not have a television broadcasting deal for the coming year, because negotiations with Orioles owner Peter Angelos over territorial issues and compensation for anticipate revenue declines continue to drag on, with no end in sight. As things presently stand, FOX will broadcast Saturday games from RFK Stadium in August and September.

In spite of the unresolved Angelos issue, and the remote but non-negligible possibility that the new D.C. Council may rethink the stadium funding bill that was passed last month, I've raised the likelihood of the Nationals playing in Washington from 98 percent to 99 percent. In practical terms, they are now past the point of no return, and the costs of an emergency change of location from D.C. back to Montreal, or to San Juan or Las Vegas, would far outweigh whatever extortion Angelos may demand. It would also throw the entire Major League Baseball schedule into utter turmoil. As for the D.C. Council, new member (and ex-mayor) Marion Barry recently checked into a hospital under an assumed name because of some severe flu-like illness. As a consequence, he probably won't have enough energy to contest the stadium bill until the baseball season is about to begin.

Good news: First baseman Nick Johnson and pitcher Tony Armas (Jr.) have signed short-term contracts with the Washington Nationals, keeping the team formerly known as the Expos virtually intact as they prepare for spring training in Viera, on the "Space Coast" of Florida.

January 16, 2005 [LINK]

Stadium page update marathon

Many thanks to Bruce Orser, a new visitor to this site, for sharing with me ancient blueprints of Yankee Stadium (revisions pending on that page) plus boatloads of great archival photos of several stadiums. The blueprints indicate that in the first year of Yankee Stadium, 1923, the distance down the foul lines was 257.5 feet, only 2.5 feet less than I had previously estimated by eyeballing old photos! I have never seen that figure published before in any book, so that's a major research finding, in my book. ball Thanks also to all the other regular visitors who keep me on my toes with their sharp eyes and helpful feedback, even if I don't always have time to respond right away.

The (K.C.) Municipal Stadium page has been updated for second time in one day, after I found an inconsistency in the field dimension data in Lowry's Green Cathedrals book. That's one of those stadiums where they kept moving the fence year after year (and even home plate, sometimes), and it becomes hard to maintain accuracy. I believe that makes nine stadium pages I've revised already this month, quite possibly a "personal best."

Which reminds me, those of you who pay regular visits to this site might want to consider making a small contribution to the cause by clicking on the PayPal button above. I have found their service to be very efficient and very fair, but if anyone ever has problems with it, please let me know. I'm not in this for the money, obviously, but nothing says "I appreciate what you're doing!" quite like a crisp five dollar bill, or the electronic equivalent thereof. If your charity/good cause budget has been depleted by donating to the tsunami relief operations, that's perfectly understandable. But if you would like to see further improvements in this site in coming months and years, give some thought to making a small donation. Whatever you think it's worth, I'd be much obliged...


Andrew Clem Archives

January 17, 2005 [LINK]

Virginia General Assembly opens

Governor Mark Warner's "State of the Commonwealth" speech to the opening session of the Virginia General Assembly last week made a strong plea for bipartisan cooperation. The Democratic governor, an outsider who became a millionaire in the cell phone business, has shown himself to be more politically savvy than most people would have guessed. Early last year, it looked like the Republican majority in Richmond was going to have their way, but he outmaneuvered them and threatened a government shutdown until moderate Republicans relented, handing him a big victory. Having solid credentials as a businessman and as a "moderate southerner," Warner is often touted as a leading candidate for the vice presidential ticket in 2008, which may explain his present amicable posture.

State Senator Emmitt Hanger was one of the two legislators chosen to give the Republican response, and spoke very eloquently. He responded positively to Warner's offer, but cast doubt on the long-term budget projections, comparing them to early afternoon exit polls on November 2. (Ha!) Hanger took some heat from his own party for deciding to compromise with Warner and the Democrats during the big budget showdown in Richmond last June, when it appeared that the Commonwealth was in much bigger fiscal trouble than it in fact is. Since fiscal responsibility is a high priority for me, I agreed with Hanger's position then, and based on what I knew at the time, I would stand by that choice. Was Warner "cooking the books" to scare moderate Republicans into caving in, or was he just lucky that state tax revenues in recent months have outpaced expectations? Either way, "we won't get fooled again!"

The biggest issue in Richmond this year is what to do about the traffic mess on our highways. Interstate 81 is often a dangerous nightmare, with hoards of huge trucks clogging the two lanes much like cholesterol deposits clog a person's arteries. Delegate Ben Cline (R-Lexington) has come up with a solid, balanced long-term plan that aims at widening busy sections of main highways at the "choke points," such as hills, where trucks can't keep up the pace. (One alternative, very costly, would be to widen I-81 to three lanes across the entire state. Of course, that would just invite more truck traffic.) Cline's plan would also provide funds to encourage the use of railroads to haul trailers over long distances, which is an eminently sensible part of the solution. Will the trucking lobby try to stop that? What does the all-powerful Virginia Department of Transportation have to say about rail solutions? Unfortunately, no one seems to want to bite the bullet and raise taxes on gasoline, which is the only sure-fire way to ensure that there are sufficient funds for transportation needs in the long term. That measure, which I have long advocated, is no doubt unpopular in our fair "land of the spoiled," but it would also serve environmental and national security objectives.

January 17, 2005 [LINK]

Lawyers triumph in Maryland

On the other side of the Potomac River, meanwhile, the Maryland General Assembly overrode Governor Ehrlich's veto of a bill which will address the medical malpractice liability crisis by raising taxes and increasing state regulation. How typical of Democrats to come up with such a complicated scheme to make sure their main constituents (lawyers) keep raking in unjust dollars from bogus lawsuits, and how counterproductive in terms of health care quality! To his credit, Ehrlich stood firm against the bill. It does nothing to correct the fundamental structural imbalance which is behind the soaring cost of medical care nationwide: the absence or virtual absence of any demand-side cost containment by medical consumers who might otherwise be more budget-conscious but don't really care how much their medical bills are because insurance will cover the lion's share of it anyway. As long as employer contributions to health insurance premiums are not counted as taxable income, this implicit state subsidy will perpetuate the gap between what a person thinks he or she is paying for medical services, and what the full cost really is. This defeat has shaken Governor Ehrlich's already precarious position in Maryland.

January 17, 2005 [LINK]

More on evolution and theory

Donald Sensing mentioned my blog post on evolution from last Friday: "While it seems that Andrew isn't very clear about what "theory" means, it also seems the judge was a bit whacko in the rationale for his ruling." Since erasing any possible confusion on this vital definition was one of my main objectives, let me reiterate: A theory is "a generalized, testable explanation of how facts relate to each other." Any questions?


Andrew Clem Archives

January 17, 2005 [LINK]

First snow!

Song sparrow Snow fell last night in the Shenandoah Valley for the first time this season. (I also noticed snow falling in Gillette Stadium on TV yesterday evening, perhaps giving the hardy Patriots the extra edge they needed against the "sheltered" Colts.) This comes rather late, since mid-January is typically the midpoint of winter. The weather here has certainly been a lot milder than in California or the Ohio River valley region. This Song sparrow found plenty of good eatin' along our back porch this morning. Song sparrows are fairly plain, but can be distinguished from the more common House sparrows (a non-native import from Europe, often considered a pest) by their brownish streaks and a dark spot in the middle of their chest. They are aptly named, as they sing boldly and frequently, from February until late summer, and sometimes even in the colder months.



Andrew Clem Archives

January 18, 2005 [LINK]

Nats' farm system in bad shape

One of the most tragic consequences of the awful "limbo" that the former Montreal Expos franchise has had to endure for the past few years has been the crumbling of its once-proud farm system. Everyone knows about Vladimir Guerrero or Gary Carter, but fewer realize that Randy Johnson, Andres Galarraga, and Larry Walker came up through the Expos' farm system. In the past, the Expos could fritter away their top talent in hopes of bringing up fresh blood from the New Orleans Zephyrs or lower-level minor league clubs, but their younger prospects just ain't what they used to be. That is why the new owners of the Nationals will have to shoulder an extra burden, as the rebuilding of a top-caliber roster with plenty of reserve depth will probably take several years. See Washington Post.

Thanks to some great aerial photos provided by Bruce Orser, I've updated the diagrams on the (K.C.) Municipal Stadium page once again. ball Also, Adam Myers pointed me to some fine photos of (Milwaukee) County Stadium in the football configuration, indicating flaws in my diagrams, and updates will appear on that page shortly.


Andrew Clem Archives

January 18, 2005 [LINK]

Resumed turmoil in Venezuela

Two separate matters are raising the anxiety level in Venezuela once again. Colombia hired bounty hunters in Venezuela to abduct Rodrigo Granda, a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) from Caracas. This was carried out on December 13. President Chavez has complained angrily, saying this act violated Venezuela's sovereignty. In retaliation, he ordered that work on a joint gas pipeline project be halted. Chavez's revolutionary rhetoric at times seems to give support to FARC, and U.S. Ambassador William Wood called on Chavez to decide whether the Colombian rebel groups are terrorists or not. See cnn.com. U.S. leverage in Venezuela has been weak ever since the failed coup in April 2002, and Chavez give every indication of aligning his country more closely with terrorist groups around the world.

For the past couple weeks the government has been pushing for a forcible land redistribution campaign. This is remarkably similar to what has been happening in Zimbabwe under President Mugabe in recent years. Police and army forces have forcibly entered a few large farm properties deemed as "idle" and therefore eligible for redistriubtion to poor peasants. This process is in the very early stages, however, and it is uncertain how far Chavez plans to go with this. Ironically, Venezuela used to be regarded as one of the least class-divided countries in Latin America, and radical land reform would not even have been thinkable until the economic crisis of the 1990s.

Friction in Ecuador

It is interesting to contrast Venezuela's tacit support for the Colombian terrorist-rebels with Ecuador's policy of cooperating with the Colombian government. A leader of FARC seeking medical treatment in Ecuador was arrested and returned to Colombia a couple years ago. President Lucio Gutierrez surprised many people by shunning left-wing populism a la Hugo Chavez, since he too was a military officer who led a coup in 2000. In recent months, however, has angered opponents by trying to stack the Supreme Court in his favor, a heavy-handed maneuver reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt. The party of former President Roldos (PRE) has been putting increased pressure on the president, who has agreed to grant them cabinet and judicial posts. The Civic Convergence for Democracy has been protesting at the Supreme Court, demanding the resignation of the current justices, while a movement called "Zero Corruption" has been assembling at the same place in support of the justices. Ecuador is important to the United States because of the recent establishment of anti-narcotic infrastructure (airfields, radar) in that country, as well as because of the environmental value of the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon rain forest. Also, bananas.



Andrew Clem Archives

January 19, 2005 [LINK]

Nationals sign Loaiza

After a physical exam showed his balky elbow is in good shape, the Washington Nationals just signed former White Sox pitcher Esteban Loaiza to a one-year contract. (Practically the whole team is on a one-year contract!) That's a risky move, given Loaiza's shaky recent health, but it fills in a huge gap in the Nats' pitching staff. If he plays as well as he did before 2004, it would give the Nats at least a reasonable chance to compete in the NL East. I saw the hyperactive Interim General Manager Jim Bowden being interviewed on the Washington FOX-TV affiliate a couple days ago, and his enthusiasm is certainly high. Will the new owners give him a permanent job? ball Yesterday was the deadline for anyone wishing to submit a private stadium financing proposal to the District of Columbia. With a non-refundable fee of $10,000, there were only a few takers, apparently. Anyone wishing to purchase the Nationals franchise has until the end of the month, putting down a partially refundable deposit of $100,000.


Andrew Clem Archives

January 19, 2005 [LINK]

Winter baseball in Venezuela

One year ago, Venezuela was in the midst of a tense general strike that threatened to boil over into an outright civil war. As a result, the winter baseball season was cancelled. This year, things are back to normal, and the eight-team Venezuela Professional Baseball League is near the end of the semifinal round of the championships, which uses a round-robin format. (Some of these participants' names may be familiar: Luis Gonzalez, Bobby Abreu, Jose Miguel Cabrera, Henry Blanco, ...) The "Tigres de Aragua" have a three game lead going into tonight's final game of the semifinals. The final round will be completed in the last week of January. See the Liga Venezolana de Beisbol Profesional (en español)


Andrew Clem Archives

January 19, 2005 [LINK]

Bill O'Reilly on evolution

Donald Sensing talked about commentator (and misogynist?) Bill O'Reilly's rude treatment of a scientist who was talking about evolution yesterday. Here are the two cents I added to that discussion thread:

Very intelligent comments, but I almost wish someone were defending O'Reilly, whom I cannot honestly describe without violating the ground rules above. He is a discredit to conservatives, to TV, and to the male gender. Science and religion each have a separate domain, but proselytizers on both sides are vying for "hegemony." E.g., secularists have become so dogmatic that when someone (like me) calls evolution a theory, he or she is construed as trying to undermine it. NOT! The Pope once advised Stephen Hawking not to ponder what came before the Big Bang, for good reason. Speaking of the "Science Guy," I heard Bill Nye is doing a new TV show; boy, do we need him now!

On a related note, anyone who is interested in the philosophical or theological interpretations of Chaos theory, which I previously alluded to in passing, should read Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint: New Discoveries in Nature's Creative Ability to Order the Universe (New York: Touchstone Books, 1989). My understanding is that Davies is an agnostic, but his writing is well worth the time of an curious person interested in such matters.


Andrew Clem Archives

January 19, 2005 [LINK]

Conservation and conservatism

Tuesday's Washington Post had an op-ed column about bird and wildlife conservation issues by Pat Patterson, of the Fairfax Audubon Society. He mentioned "Pale Male," the famous Red-tailed hawk in Central Park, as well as the Cerulean warbler, which is suffering from a loss of woodland habitat in the eastern states. (For some reason, I have seen them in the Blue Ridge more often than some other warblers that are supposed to be more common.) I was pleased to learn that First Lady Laura Bush is a birder, and that the President "claims that he is managing habitat on his ranch for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler," which has a very restricted range in central Texas. I heartily concur with Mr. Patterson's call for Bush to "support $100 million in funding for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act." As a first symbolic step at the outset of the President's second term, it would be nice to see a bird feeding station set up on the back lawn of the White House.

To me, it is just common sense that conservatives ought to be more attuned to conservation issues, but reality and popular perception both suggest otherwise. Though the Republicans' record on environmental issues is hardly as bad as some hysterical activists such as Robert Kennedy, Jr. would suggest, there is, sad to say, some reason for the Republicans' shaky credentials. Business lobbyists often get regulations waived on economic grounds, and if past Washington Post articles are correct, campaign contributions may be part of the equation. If President Bush really wants to broaden the Republican Party's base, he should broaden the definition of what conservatives want to conserve, and make it clear that good stewardship of the bounty of God's creation is a duty of all Americans.



Andrew Clem Archives

January 20, 2005 [LINK]

Bullpens moved at Comerica

Thanks to Steven Poppe for alerting me to great news from Motown: The Tigers are moving the bullpens from right field to the 25-foot wide gap in left field that was created when they moved the outfield fence in three years ago. This reconfiguration will "add about 950 additional seats in homer-friendly right field..." See mlb.com. Is somebody in Detroit reading this Web site? As I wrote on the Comerica Park page, "If they decide to leave that inner fence in place, they should either move the bullpens to the area behind it, or else put in a picnic area, like they used to have at Crosley Field."

There is plenty of stadium "action" elsewhere, as well: The Florida Marlins are asking the state of Florida for an additional $60 million to help pay for a new retractable-roof stadium. Negotiations on this issue have been dragging on for over a year, and because of the renovation plans at "Dolphin Stadium" (ex-Pro Player Stadium) that were recently unveiled by the Miami Dolphins, the Marlins will be "homeless" unless a new stadium is built by 2010. See mlb.com. The Kansas City Royals are putting pressure on the [Jackson County] government to help fund major renovations to Kauffman Stadium. The stadium itself is in fine shape and of adequate size for that small market, but it is thought that added amenities and luxury suites will bring in enough extra revenues to enable the team to acquire more first-class players. [There's even talk of building a new stadium in downtown K.C.] See mlb.com. CORRECTION: T. J. Zmina tells me that the close-in box seats at U.S. Cellular Field will soon be upgraded to super-luxury status (the "Scout" seating area") to rake in extra ticket bucks. Also, the sterile blue seats are being gradually replaced with dark green ones, which are all the rage these days. See the White Sox Web site. Sorry for the miscommunication.

The first ballgame hosted by the Washington Nationals at the renovated RFK Stadium will be a charity fund-raising exhibition game against the Mets on April 3. The first real game will be against the Diamondbacks on April 14. Less than three months to go!

The Metropolitan Stadium page has been revised, with yet another dynamic diagram showing the baseball-to-football transformation -- which in this case involved no movable seating sections. That was the stadium that lured the original AL Washington Senators westward, in 1961.


Andrew Clem Archives

January 20, 2005 [LINK]

Four years with George!

George in spotlight Not coincidentally, since the President is his namesake, today marks the fourth full year that our canary George has been with us. It was a cold, snowy day when we bought him (on January 20, 2001, of course), and he had to spend a long time cooped up in the cardboard box before we returned home that evening.

"That's George in the spotlight." Since he's such a skilled and accomplished singer, this pose is quite appropriate. I took this picture of him recently, using a mirror reflecting the afternoon sunlight in an unlit room. Princess recently gave up on her latest clutch of eggs, after spending four days beyond the normal three-week gestation period. Extra effort or off-timed biological clock? She and George are now flying "como loquitos" all around the apartment. Duck!



Andrew Clem Archives

January 20, 2005 [LINK]

Inauguration Day 2005

Presidential seal President Bush appeared calm, rested, and dignified for today's ceremonies, with just a touch of the typical Bush unease. He has a tough rhetorical task: to reassure the public that the nation is reasonably safe, while exhorting the citizenry to stay on their guard and persevere in the long campaign against our shadowy foe. In case anyone hasn't been paying attention, he drilled home once again the central theme to justify his administration's forward policy in the struggle againt the Islamic terrorists, without quite naming them as such. A key passage in his inaugural address came fairly early:


Bush, inaugural speech We have seen our vulnerability, and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny -- prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder -- violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders and raise a mortal threat.

There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment and expose the pretensions of tyrants and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant. And that is the force of human freedom.

We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. ... [SOURCE: cnn.com]

The speech was remarkable for its tight focus on this one driving theme. The President reminded Americans of the need for patience, but he stopped short of asking for across-the-board sacrifice. Instead, he appealed to the idealism and sense of honor of those citizens who have heard the call to duty, in or out of uniform. As for the inaugural festivities, some people suggested that celebration is not appropriate in a time of war, citing FDR's curtailment of parties for his fourth (!) inauguration in January [1945], but that probably reflected the fact that he was gravely ill by that time. Solemn reflection is surely called for. It was appropriate that our armed forces were given special honors at one of the inaugural balls, and President and Mrs. Bush even danced with soldiers, probably setting a unique precedent.

In the streets of Washington, hundreds of dissenters assembled in hopes of drawing attention or disrupting the ceremonies, but apparently achieved very little. The minimal level of violence is something to be thankful for.


January 20, 2005 [LINK]

Bill Thomas on Social Security

An article in Wednesday's Washington Post suggested that a defection may break out within the Republican Party over the Social Security issue. They quoted Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) as saying that the President's plan is "a dead horse." (What "plan"? Bush has only laid out the general direction he wants to go thus far.) Thomas stated his main point in blunt terms:

"What I'm trying to get people to do is get out of the narrow moving around of the pieces inside the Social Security box," Thomas said at a forum on Bush's second term sponsored by the National Journal. "If we miss this opportunity . . . I think we will have missed an opportunity that may not present itself for another 20 years."

I happened to see most of that forum sponsored on C-SPAN yesterdat morning, and I came away with a somewhat different impression. I too have stressed how important it is to seize that "window of opportunity," before it vanishes, and Thomas seems to be one of the most committed to tackling tough issues on the Republican side. Also present at that forum was Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist who has earned a reputation as a political bruiser in Washington. Norquist emphasized the goal of enabling individual Americans to achieve their own financial freedom, as part of the vision of an "ownership society." Thomas noted that Norquist seems not to care whether the Social Security system goes belly up, and Norquist didn't try to deny it. My sense is that Norquist's focus on tax cutting blinds him to the urgency of other structural reforms, such as tort liability. The other discussants were Gene Sperling, a top economist under Clinton who agreed that some changes in Social Security are needed, and Celinda Lake, an activist from the Democrats' obstructionist wing who could scarcely contain her gleeful anticipation of regaining a majority in the House in the 2006 elections if, as she hopes, the Republican reform agenda crashes and burns. To his immense credit, Thomas emphatically scolded her irresponsible, hyperpartisan indifference to the public interest.


Andrew Clem Archives

January 21, 2005 [LINK]

Details on the "new" RFK

According to the Washington Post, the outfield dimensions at RFK Stadium will be 336 feet down the foul lines (one foot more than it used to be), 380 feet to the power alleys, and 410 feet to center field. Supposedly it will be neutral in terms of batter-versus-pitcher friendliness. The perfect symmetry implies that there will be no ground-level scoreboard in right field as there was for most of the time when the Senators played there. One unique feature, necessitated by having to share the field with the D.C. United soccer team, is that the pitcher's mound will be removable: the entire thing will be lifted and stored away when the Nationals are out of town. Also, the movable portion of the lower deck will be automated, perhaps with cables and pulleys, so that the reconfiguration from baseball to soccer and back again can be done quickly and routinely. Two extra rows of box seats will be added behind home plate. The plan is to have the new sod put in place by March 1, which is cutting it a bit close to opening day, if you ask me.

Roger Clemens' decision to go for a second "victory lap" in signing another one-year contract with the Houston Astros seems a little strange. Was the tantalizing taste of near-victory in the NLCS against St. Louis too much for him to leave behind forever?


Andrew Clem Archives

January 21, 2005 [LINK]

Krauthammer on geopolitics

Charles Krauthammer makes an interesting observation in today's Washington Post. On one hand, the prospects for democratic reform in such places as the Ukraine, Afghanistan, and even Iraq have been much greater than is usually recognized, suggesting a broad global shift in favor of U.S. interests and values. On the other hand, there is a growing, little-recognized strategic threat to the United States, apart from Al Qaeda and their similar terror groups. Krauthammer was

talking about the other, more subtle challenge to Pax Americana: the first stirrings of what might become an anti-American coalition involving at least two Great Powers.

He went on to focus on the growing strategic collaboration between Russia and China, including the recent announcement of Russian military exercises on Chinese soil, for the first time. Moreover,

China in turn is developing relationships with such virulently anti-American rogue states as Iran. Add such various self-styled, anti-imperialist flotsam as Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, and you have the beginnings of a significant "anti-hegemonic" bloc -- aimed at us.

Just like the good old days of the Cold War!? Nothing to panic about, but it's definitely something to watch. Here is a big irony about the perplexing renewed anger of the "Russian Bear" under the Putin administration: What prompted Moscow's growing alienation from Washington over the past several years was the (largely) needless expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, including the three Baltic States that used to be part of the U.S.S.R. In spite of strong warnings by Boris Yeltsin not to intrude into its traditional geopolitical sphere, the Clinton administration blithely pushed ahead with the "enlargement" of the Western Democratic realm as if there was no reason for Moscow to fear this severe shift in the European strategic balance. Advisers such as Anthony Lake, Joseph Nye, and Sandy Berger insisted that the world had forever left behind such "archaic" notions as balance of power politics. In fact, however, Clinton's brushing aside of Russia's objections was an insulting slap in the face to a country that has long been famous for its touchy nationalistic pride. In the eyes of most Russian elites, it voided what was left of Yeltsin's credibility, and made any Russian who favored more Western investment and political ties suspect as a traitor. And what did "enlargement" get us? A bigger but flabbier NATO that no longer has any real strategic consensus or common purpose. Aside from Poland, the Czech Republic, and perhaps Romania, which have been partners to some extent in the "coalition of the willing," the new members have not added to the security of the Western nations.


Andrew Clem Archives

January 21, 2005 [LINK]

More snow, more birds

Cardinal - female We had another light snowfall last night, not as much as in southern Virginia, apparently. The forecast is for much more snow tomorrow and possibly Sunday. This female Cardinal was among the dozens of birds swarmed in our backyard this morning: mostly starlings, juncos, crows, goldfinches, titmice, and white-throated sparrows.

Yesterday Princess and George were frightened by a Sharp-shinned hawk that zoomed into our back yard. They flew out of their room in a panic and didn't return for nearly two hours.

The Photo Gallery page has been updated with newly added photos and some format refinements.



Andrew Clem Archives

January 24, 2005 [LINK]

"W" to toss first pitch at RFK (?)

According to Washington Nationals president Tony Tavares, President George W. Bush will throw out the ceremonial first pitch when the Nats play their first regulation game at RFK Stadium on April 14. See mlb.com. The White House has not confirmed this, however. Given the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks, presidential appearances these days are often kept under wraps until the last minute. Presumably, he will wear a bullet-proof vest as he did when he threw out the first pitch in Yankee Stadium for the memorable 2001 World Series. In his honor, all Washington baseball players will wear caps emblazoned with the initial "W." smile Several players in the Nationals organization are currently playing in Latin American winter leagues: Jose Guillen and Cristian Guzman in the Dominican Winter League, and Luis Ayala, Matt Cepicky, Antonio Osuna, and Claudio Vargas in the Mexican Winter League. See mlb.com. Veteran Vinny Castilla is also from Mexico, the southeastern city of Oaxaca, to be exact.

The Memorial Stadium page has been revised, with new diagrams for the year when the Orioles first played there (1954), and the football configuration. ball Thanks to new visitor Don Singleton for providing a first-hand tip regarding the location of one of the bullpens in Municipal Stadium in the mid-1960s. (Originally it was behind the center field fence.) Duly corrected.


UPDATE:

The fruits of my recent (obsessive?) graphical labors can be seen at a glance on the newly-revised Stadiums by class page. I think those dynamic effects are pretty cool, frankly, but the question is, What's it worth to you?


Andrew Clem Archives

January 24, 2005 [LINK]

Church and state in Staunton?

Sunday's Washington Post had an article on a big controversy right here in the friendly, laid back town of Staunton. For 65 years, the public schools have had a "weekday religious education" (WRE) program for elementary students, but there is a move to cut the program back or eliminate it entirely. The nearby town of Harrisonburg (home of James Madison University) eliminated their WRE program last year, and other towns in the Shenandoah Valley are considering doing the same. Ironically, it is said that adhering to the Standards of Learning and "No Child Left Behind" initiatives (usually favored by conservatives) is getting more difficult because students are away from the classrooms for WRE, even though it only takes up one half hour per week. Several Supreme Court rulings in 1948 and 1952 forced the schools to remove these classes from the school premises, and since then WRE sessions have been held in nearby churches. No public funds are involved, and those conducting the sessions do so on a volunteer basis. At least 80 percent of students participate in WRE, and hundreds of pro-WRE parents have shown up at recent school board meetings to protest the proposed elimination of the program.

Like others who moved here after having lived in Northern Virginia, my eyebrows were raised when I first learned about this. I knew that the numerous churches throughout the town are indicative of a strong and widespread religious belief -- which may explain the low crime rate and general good vibes -- but [until recently] was unaware of WRE. My feelings on this issue are torn: On one hand, many college students these days have an abysmal knowledge of the religious history which is such a vital underpinning of Western Civilization. On the other hand, I sympathize with families who are affiliated with minority religions, as well as agnostics and atheists. Feeling left out can be a very painful experience for young children, though most people in Staunton cited in that Post story insist that non-participating students are not made to feel bad. Later in life, some students may end up questioning their own faith if they come to believe that it may have been forced upon them.

In my view, this is not really a church versus state issue, but rather a community versus individual issue. If a given community overwhelmingly supports an institution that reflects their own cultural values, it would be hard to deny them that right, as long as minority rights are respected. Indeed, there is some precedent for this: For example, in much of Utah the Mormon Church has a quasi-established status, and there is a small town inhabited by ultra-traditional Jews north of New York City in which the "public" schools teach Jewish religion. What most concerns me is that the WRE program goes beyond education per se, it promotes specifically Christian beliefs and Christian values, including group prayers. I wholeheartedly agree that promoting Christian beliefs and values is a good thing, but it depends who is doing the promoting. In my view, parents who object to such tacit "evangelizing" by public schools have a valid point, even though some seem to be objecting too stridently. I would feel more comfortable with the WRE program if the curriculum were broadened to include other religions, perhaps with interfaith prayers like they do at public ceremonies such as the inauguration. But that might be too confusing for tender young minds, which would then suggest that the whole concept is flawed. Whatever the Staunton School Board decides, I just hope that the Christian activists pushing WRE take into account the need to accommodate cultural diversity, which may be an overused cliche but is nonetheless absolutely essential for any community to thrive and grow. The Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute, which takes on major legal cases involving religious issues, may get involved with this case, and it may go all the way to the Supreme Court.

On a related note, that organization's head, John W. Whitehead, wrote an interesting piece, entitled The Gospel of Darwin: Its Sordid History. How many people know that Darwin believed that women were biologically inferior to men, and that his ideas were used to justify totalitarian ideologies? (Well, he was only human.) And speaking of evolution (GROAN!), today's Washington Post has an eminently sensible editorial on "intelligent design," and the bogus attempts by some activists to portray it as legitimate science.

January 24, 2005 [LINK]

Europe: the biggest "Blue state"

There has been much recent press coverage of the dismayed, stunned attitude much of Europe has toward the United States in the wake of President Bush's reelection and reinauguration. For example, see Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor. Apparently, Freedom is seen as a dangerous menace in many countries in which socialism or social democracy is the prevailing ideology, as if we might invade France to take away the six-week vacations their (white) citizens enjoy. Fear of U.S. "unilateralism" may simply reflect the refusal of people who have their heads in the sand to face up to the real threat in their own midst, that of radical Islam. The popular "war blog" Belmont Club has a nice interpretation of Euro-dismay:

It is perhaps the subconscious realization that it has awakened to a nightmare new world that drives the the Left's incredulous reaction to George Bush. ... The European ideologies of the last century have left the stream of history and will not, cannot acknowledge it.

Why anyone would look to such a dull, culturally and economically stagnant part of the world as Europe as a model for us to follow is beyond me.


January 24, 2005 [LINK]

Condi: Grace under pressure

One of the first requirements of being a good diplomat is having poise, which is often defined as "grace under pressure." In spite of a withering barrage of insults from Sen. Barbara Boxer during last week's confirmation hearings, Secretary of State designate Condoleeza Rice refused to buckle. Media critic Howard Kurtz asks a very pertinent question about that little Capitol Hill circus in the Washington Post: "Why on earth do senators who are supposed to be engaged in a serious "advise and consent" role spend so much of their allotted time giving endless speeches?" He counted the dozens of paragraphs of prepared text uttered by Democrat Senators Kerry, Biden, Sarbanes, and Dodd, which greatly surpassed what the Republican committee members had to say.

But all this paled compared to a 27-paragraph monologue by Barbara Boxer, who went way over her time limit in accusing Rice of changing the rationale for Iraq after the WMD thing didn't pan out, ending with:
"And you don't seem to be willing to . . . admit a mistake, or give any indication of what you're going to do to forcefully involve others. As a matter of fact, you've said more misstatements; that the territory of the terrorists has been shrinking when your own administration says it's now expanded to 60 countries. So I am deeply troubled."

That brought the day's sharpest exchange, when Rice forcefully defended herself, saying she has "never, ever lost respect for the truth" and didn't want anyone "impugning my credibility or my integrity."

Whatever point Boxer was trying to make about administration policy got lost in the disgraceful slurs. Even though her confirmation has been pointlessly delayed by the opposition party, Ms. Rice got off to a fine start in what will be one of the toughest jobs on the planet. Being young, articulate, and highly competent, one can imagine that she might aspire to even higher positions in the public sector...


Andrew Clem Archives

January 26, 2005 [LINK]

Marlins get Delgado

The biggest trading story of the week was the Marlins' winning bid for free agent Carlos Delgado, beating out the Orioles and the Mets. It would appear that the franchise owner, Mr. Loria, is trying to impress Miami city leaders that he is serious about building a top-rate team in order to get the funding for the new stadium his team so desperately needs.

Jays buy Skydome

So, what will the Blue Jays do without Delgado's bat? Well, they're going to purchase Skydome, for one thing, paying just C$25 million for a facility that cost over C$500 million to build. Something tells me taxpayers in Canada are getting hosed royally over the bargain-basement liquidation of this ill-conceived white elephant. They certainly didn't learn the lesson from Olympic Stadium. For this season the Blue Jays plan to spruce up Skydome, putting in a new scoreboard (Jumbotrons are obsolete) and replacing the old Astroturf with the "more natural" FieldTurf. It was the only major league field with Astroturf last year! Now why can't they put in real grass, like at all the other retractable-roof stadiums? Oddly, the CFL Toronto Argonauts plan to move out of Skydome into a smaller, football stadium of their own in the next few years. See mlb.com

Mets get ambitious

Although missing out on their main target, the Mets have definitely not been slouching in the off-season. After acquiring Carlos Beltran from the Astros and Pedro Martinez from the Red Sox, they just picked up another top player: Doug Mientkiewicz, also from Boston. Other than that strange controversy over possession of the game ball from the final out in the 2004 World Series, I don't know why the Red Sox would let him go. He was just traded from the Twins in midseason last year, and barely had time to get settled in to Beantown. Along with the Orioles, the Mets have been one of the biggest disappointments in recent years, in terms of payroll relative to win-loss record. Mike Piazza will be in the last year of his contract, and isn't sure whether he will retire after this year.

The "Stick"

There are new diagrams on the Candlestick Park page. (3-Com? Monster??)


Andrew Clem Archives

January 27, 2005 [LINK]

Nats act while O's sulk

In today's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell talks about how, thanks largely to Interim General Manager Jim Bowden, the embryonic Nationals franchise is outperforming the Orioles in terms of talent acquisition. This, in turn, is spurring deposits on the Nationals' season ticket packages, totalling 17,830 so far. As far as letting Carlos Delgado slip through his fingers, Peter Angelos said he refuses to pay more than a player is worth to his team, which these days would seem to be an uncommonly sensible attitude. Boswell noted, however, that another Orioles official has a far less upbeat take on his team, then draws some lessons about Angelos's apparent sulking behavior:

His most infuriating and baseless demand is that the Orioles should get more than half the revenues -- perhaps 60 percent -- of any future regional cable TV network.

This offseason's radically opposite results have put such greedy demands in an ugly light.

The Orioles have everything on their side -- profits, tradition, a classic ballpark and a team on the verge of becoming a winner again. Yet they either can't or won't improve their product on the field. Why should they be rewarded by baseball for ineptitude?

Boswell may be a little harsh this time, possibly caught up in all the excitement over the impending Opening Day at RFK, but he has a point. Despite the lack of any agreement between Angelos and MLB over the compensation issue thus far, I'm raising the likelihood of the Nationals playing at RFK Stadium from 99 percent to 99.5 percent.

"Joisey" in big leagues?

For the first time in months, there is a brand new stadium page: Roosevelt Stadium, located in Jersey City. It may or may not still exist, depending on which source you consult.

UPDATE: I just learned from Adam Myers that the confusion over whether Roosevelt Stadium still exists or not stems from the odd fact that there were two stadiums with that name built at about the same time, only a few miles apart. Upshot: the one where the Dodgers once played is long gone. ball At the suggestion of Brandon Henderson, I've added a fake turf version diagram of Candlestick Park. How's that for quick response?


Andrew Clem Archives ~ Trying times in Iraq

January 28, 2005 [LINK]

Trying times in Iraq

With only two more days to go before the elections in Iraq, the forces of tyranny and darkness are mustering all the cunning and resources at their disposal to try to derail the process of pacification and democratization. Wednesday's terrible helicopter crash that killed 31 U.S. Marines was a brutal reminder of how high the cost is in this campaign. (Four of those Marines were from Virginia: Cpl. Jonathan Bowling, Sgt. Jess Strong, Lance Cpl. Karl Kinn, and Cpl. Christopher Weaver.) This tragedy, in turn, reminds us how important it is to keep focused on what we are fighting for. For the last two months we have seen some of the most hideous carnage yet on the streets of Baghdad, Mosul, and smaller cities in Iraq. Just before Christmas, several dozen Iraqi civilians were murdered by presumed former Baath regime loyalists, and a score of Americans, including civilian employees of Halliburton, were killed in a mess tent in Mosul. Over 1,400 American soldiers have died in Iraq thus far, and we must constantly reflect on what their families have suffered.

The fact that such mayhem seems to be getting more dreadfully commonplace every day, in spite of all our efforts, recalls a controversial phrase coined by Hannah Arendt in her 1963 report on the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann: the banality of evil. (For a discussion of this theme, see Ulrich Baer at cabinetmagazine.org.) To Arendt, "banality" meant that evil could not be understood in rational terms since there was no depth to it. It just was. Perhaps in the same way today, those who strain to comprehend the ultimate political purpose behind the car bombings, kidnappings, and beheadings are just missing the point. A great amount of the killing is probably for the sheer, vicious sake of killing; as Thucydides and Hobbes knew so well, human beings who live in places with no effective government authority are prone to revert to barbarism. Yet, there certainly is some kind of political agenda behind the Baathist-Islamist-terrorist insurgency in Iraq. After all, part of the psychological impact of terrorism is the very absence of any rational basis for the particular act of violence. The more the victims' families wail, "Why?" the more power the terrorists amass.

Generally speaking, political observers should avoid demonizing opponents or casting struggles in stark good-and-evil terms, since self-righteousness can result in blind hubris. What we are facing in Iraq right now, however, is not a normal circumstance. Perhaps we are fortunate that al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi made his purpose crystal clear by declaring that democracy itself was an evil principle, and must be stopped at all costs. This blunt acknowledgment of domineering pretensions may backfire by pushing some nervous, undecided Iraqis into actively supporting the democratic transition. (See strategypage.com and Austin Bay.)

To begin to grasp the nature of our adversaries, we need to look back in history for parallels. By coincidence, yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in southern Poland by the Red Army. Until Nazi Germany was decisively beaten, hardly anyone could have imagined the monstrous extent of evil that was being committed under Hitler. Likewise, Iraqis today have learned much of the awful truth about the depravities of Saddam Hussein's regime. As they prepare to vote, they know that however difficult life is right now, the future in the post-Saddam era offers immeasurably better and happier prospects for the vast majority of Iraqi people.

Causes for trepidation

Granted, there are many well-informed pessimists on the war, such as Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser for the first President Bush. He says the elections "have the great potential for deepening the conflict," even leading to a civil war. Furthermore, he sees the continued presence of U.S. troops in the Middle East as compounding the problem of terrorism, in effect playing into the hands of Osama bin Laden. (See Washington Post.) Scowcroft is one of the foreign policy "realists," a school with which I associate myself to a large extent. Realists are usually skeptical about the role of abstract values such as democracy in motivating political action, emphasizing instead the role of concrete interests and believing that craving for power is a universal trait. During the Cold War, such attitudes often prompted U.S. tacit alliances with dictators such as Augusto Pinochet. It seems that times have changed, however. As Secretary of State Condoloeeza Rice reminded U.S. diplomats after being sworn in yesterday of what President Bush said in his inaugural address: "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one." I happen to agree with that bold assertion, but I recognize that many realists and others do not. Any invocation of idealistic rhetoric into foreign policy is a risky double-edged sword, and past leaders making similar arguments to justify dubious foreign campaigns have been accused of hypocrisy when they don't follow through 100 percent.

President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld have been harshly criticized for the conduct of the war, and as I have written, some of that criticism is well founded. In a Washington Post interview last week, President Bush responded to the National Intelligence Council's conclusion that Iraq has become a "terrorist breeding ground." He stood by his conviction that elections will constitute a major setback for the Salafist Muslim extremists who gravitate toward Osama bin Laden. His firm determination to stay the course is, in and of itself, a valuable, even indispensible strategic asset, but reluctance to to admit mistakes remains a worrisome sign that the U.S. military campaign in Iraq may lack the tactical flexibility needed to win. Retired military blogger Donald Sensing weighed in on the various criticisms of Rumsfeld. Like me, he is no fan of Rummy. He quotes from a National Review piece by Mackubin Thomas Owens, who compares Rumsfeld's attempted restructuring at the Pentagon the Eisenhower's "New Look" slimmed-down military force posture in the 1950s. Such reforms always provoke fierce bureaucratic infighting, and I've long been sympathetic to Rumsfeld on that issue. Sensing also brought up Frederick W. Kagan's essay in the Weekly Standard, "Fighting the Wrong War." Kagan makes the point, with which few would disagree these days, that Rumsfeld stubbornly refused to increase U.S. armed forces to meet the requirements of subduing the resistance and pacifying Iraq. On that count, I think Rumsfeld is guilty as charged. In sum, the Bush policy of understaffing the war effort and downplaying the need for sacrifice raises the possibility that the American people may lose their will to prevail, the vital element upon which our armed forces depend to go on risking their lives.

Another reason for caution with regard to success or failure in the war is that the civic culture of a post-totalitarian society such as post-Saddam Iraq is prone to fear and mutual distrust. Romania and Russia are perhaps the classic cases where democracy's progress has been stalled by the old mental habits that inhibit the free expression of ideas. It took Germany and Japan several years to become meaningfully democratic after World War II. Hannah Arendt captured the confused combination of gullibility and cynicism that prevails in societies that fall under the grip of totalitarian movements such as the Nazi Party and the Soviet Communist Party:

The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fanstastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuse in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness. {SOURCE: Origins of Totalitarianism (1973), p. 382}

This certainly applies to the Baathist Party and Islamo-fascist groups such as al Qaeda in today's world, hence the preposterous yet widespread belief in Muslim countries that the 9/11 attacks were plotted by Jews. (Is it possible that such deranged thinking exists even in our own country today? Absolutely.) The world will not be safe as long as such grotesque delusions persist, and democracy will certainly not take root. Curing such mass psychosis will not be accomplished via transparently propagandistic, heavy-handed "public diplomacy" campaigns by the State Department or hired P.R. firms. It will, instead, require patient, devoted attention by civic activists from various countries.

Keeping hope alive

Amidst the relentless drumbeat of discouraging televised images from Iraq, we need to keep things in perspective and remember that a full picture of reality cannot be conveyed through a narrow video screen, or even a wide one. Frankly, I don't think most Americans have the faintest idea about the tremendously liberating effect that a free press in Iraq has had. There are literally hundreds of newspapers and several dozen political parties, giving people in Iraq a range of choice they never had before. In that sense, progress toward a new culture of democracy there has been much more rapid than it was in Germany and Japan after World War II. Is civil war possible, as Scowcroft believes? Yes. Does that mean we will have "failed"? Certainly not. We are creating the conditions for a new Iraq, and thereby assume some responsibility for the ultimate outcome, but the final product is mostly up to Iraqi leaders and people. Many Iraqis will be intimidated from voting this time, unfortunately, and if too few of the once-dominant Sunnis show up, Iraq may well break apart as the Shiites and Kurds decide to make law and order in their own respective regions. In any case, the tiny minority whom the terrorists represent cannot impose their will on the majority as long as the United States and its allies press on with their mission: giving freedom -- and therefore peace -- a chance.

Is such a corny sentiment just whistling in the dark? It depends who you ask. As Iraqi exiles living in the United States begin to vote, I have in my mind the shy face of a bright young Kurdish woman from Iraq who was in one of my classes at JMU last year. Even though her family suffered terrible brutality under Saddam, thus having every reason to want revenge, she expressed great hope for her country's future. Freedom for her is not some corny sentiment or abstract ideal, it is a wonderful tangible reality. The energy and devotion of people of good will who are exposed to freedom for the first time after decades of oppression simply cannot be overestimated. Let freedom ring!


Andrew Clem Archives ~ Trying times in Iraq

January 30, 2005 [LINK]

Sammy to Bal'mer!?

There is no official confirmation from the Cubs or Orioles yet, perhaps because he still has to pass a physical exam, but it seems certain that slammin' Sammy Sosa will be wearing orange and black colors this year. That will take some getting used to. The fact that he agreed to void the last year of his contract, meaning that he will become a free agent one year early, leaves no doubt about how badly he wanted to get out of Chi-town. The fact that the Cubs are willing to eat $10 million of his contract salary for this year suggests that the feelings are mutual. What in the world is his problem? Fans in the Windy City adored him, as far as I can tell, but something turned him sour last year, even though the Cubs were in the pennant race until the last week of the regular season. I hope this doesn't mean the Cubs are lowering their expectations for the 2005 season... For their part, the Orioles have shown they are serious about putting together a pennant-contending team after all -- just in time!

Revisions to the Memorial Coliseum page took longer than expected. (You would think a simple one-deck structure like this would be easy, wouldn't you? Don't try this at home!) It now includes a diagram version for the 1993 renovation, which turned out to be not enough to keep the Raiders in L.A. for very long.

Thanks to new visitor Mike Feldbush for pointing out to me the fact that neither the Pro Player sportswear brand, nor its parent company Fruit of the Loom, are in business anymore. Obviously, the money they spent to promote their brand name didn't have much impact on me; I guess I'm just not as attuned to marketing campaigns as most people are. Anyway, the Dolphins Stadium page has been corrected. Thanks also to Steven Poppe and Bruce Orser for their continued constructive input.

January 30, 2005 [LINK]

¡Los Tigres Ganaron!

Felicitaciones to the Aragua Tigers for winning the Venezuela Winter League Championship, beating the Caracas Lions 7-6 in the seventh and deciding game of the series. The Tigers thus retained the title crown they won two years ago (the season was canceled because of political violence last year), and it is their fifth national championship. The game was played in Maracay, which happens to be the home town of Miguel Cabrera, the star of the Tigers as well as the Florida Marlins. Among the stars of the Lions was Bobby Abreu, better known as a slugger for the Phillies, and Henry Blanco, catcher for the Braves. Perhaps reflecting the tense mood of the country, there was some fan violence in the game in Caracas last Sunday. See mlb.com and lvbp.com. In scanning other team rosters, I noticed that a certain pitcher named John Rocker, who played for the Lara Cardinals this winter, has an ERA of 13.50 on 2 2/3 innings pitched. Ouch!


Andrew Clem Archives

January 30, 2005 [LINK]

Freedom rings loud & clear in Iraq

Upbeat assessments about prospects for the elections in Iraq that yesterday would have been judged as pollyannish wishful thinking are today borne out as fact. All indications are that voter turnout in today's historic elections in Iraq was high -- perhaps as high as 70 percent nationwide -- while disruption by the terrorists was low. Even Dan Rather was impressed by the strong show of support for democracy: "courage" indeed! To the many Americans who rely on the mainstream media for their news, the good news from Iraq will come as a pleasant surprise, but it really shouldn't have. In the Baltimore Sun, Thomas Sowell put the terribly negative press coverage of Iraq in historical perspective by noting that U.S. forces in World War II suffered major losses even in such lopsided victories as the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot." (link via Chris Green) War reporting that lacks historical perspective is undermining American people's morale, but the recent burgeoning of alternative media at least provides a saving grace. I don't know what portion of our press would qualify as "fifth columnists," as he puts it, but it is certainly ironic that so many journalists exhibit such a dim appreciation for what is at stake in Iraq -- a free press, for one thing. (To maintain an upbeat tone suitable for this auspicious occasion, I will postpone until later any comment about what Democrat leaders have been saying about Iraq recently.) It will take weeks to count all the votes, so it is too soon to tell whether the Shi'ite candidates endorsed by Ayatollah Sistani will be in a commanding position or not. For an on-the-scene picture of events in Iraq, see friendsofdemocracy.info (link via Donald Sensing) or Iraq the Model; the title in today's entry of the latter blog says it all: "The people have won."


.