Monthly links this year:
Culture & Travel
Science & Technology
February, 2012 *
December 1, 2005 [LINK]
Showdown over D.C. stadium
For the first time in several months, Mayor Williams has gotten involved in the showdown over funding for the new baseball stadium, calling on D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp to meet with MLB officials. He warned that failure by MLB to make concessions would jeopardize the project. The mayor was thoroughly exhausted from the battles he waged to get the deal through a year ago, but as a political "lame duck," his clout is limited. As a candidate for mayor in next year's race, meanwhile, Mrs. Cropp faces overwhelming temptation to "grandstand," appealing to populist sentiment. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who was in charge of the relocation process, is visiting Washington in hopes of overcoming the impasse. Both sides have dug in their heels, daring the other side to blink first in a classic game of "chicken," but we've been through this before. See Washington Post. A deal's a deal, of course, but the big honchos in baseball cannot ignore the fact that political atmosphere has changed since last year, nor the obvious huge commercial success that the franchise in Washington has become and promises to remain. They need to get off their monopolistic high horse and cut a deal soon, or risk spoiling the enormous goodwill the Nationals have earned with D.C. area fans.
December 1, 2005 [LINK]
Nicaragua-Costa Rica dispute
Relations between Nicaragua and Costa Rica have become tense because an old border dispute has come up again. After Costa Rica presented a complaint to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Nicaragua imposed punitive entry fees on Costa Rican travelers, and raised the long-dormant territorial claim on the province of Guanacaste, in northwest Costa Rica. According to the Tico Times, Costa Rica 's ambassador to Nicaragua, Rodrigo Carreras, noted that the stalemate reflects the fact that the [San Juan] river is a much more important issue to Nicaragua than it is to Costa Rica. He is striving to improve mutual understanding between the neighboring countries, which have distinct cultural traditions. This dispute comes in the midst of intense public debate over free trade in the region, and may make Costa Rican ratification of CAFTA less likely.
It so happens that I purchased a detailed topographical map of Costa Rica when I was there in February. It clearly shows that the border with Nicaragua follows the south bank of the Rio San Juan, not down the middle of it. Unless some treaty gave explicit navigational rights to Costa Rica, I would say the case is closed.
Warm feelings from Venezuela
As the temperatures in the eastern United States plummet, and heating bills rise, today's Washington Post included a full-page ad trumpeting the low-cost energy program for poor people in the northeast, sponsored by Venezuela-owned CITGO. It concludes,
This fuel assistance program isn't about politics. It's about offering humanitarian aid to those who need it. What could be more American than that?
Indeed! Well, the marketing campaign is certainly American-style. I can't wait until Chavez pays a visit to the shivering, downtrodden proletarian residents of The Bronx. Hu-go! Hu-go! It's certainly a welcome change of pace from all the denunciations of "North American imperialism" coming from President Chavez lately. Given the polemics related to the withdrawal of opposition parties from the upcoming legislative elections, Venezuela clearly needs to improve its image abroad. For more, see Embassy of Venezuela in the United States.
Many people argue that Americans who buy gasoline from companies that get their crude oil from Saudi Arabia are indirectly funding terrorism. Perhaps those who buy gasoline from CITGO stations should consider whether they want to support the left-wing authoriarian regime of Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement." I don't think a boycott would do any good, and in fact, I think the United States should take a very low-key, tolerant attitude toward Chavez until he gets tired of throwing tantrums, or until there is clear evidence that he is connected to terrorist movements.
UPDATE: Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel accused the U.S. Embassy of instigating the withdrawal from the upcoming elections by the opposition parties. Oh well... See CNN.com.
December 1, 2005 [LINK]
Letter to the editor on Iraq
My letter to the editor about the controversy over the war in Iraq was published in today's Staunton News Leader. I wrote it in response to an editorial that said that "thousands of lives have been wasted" in Iraq, which I think is a gross misjudgment about the course of events. My letter represents yet another plaintive, mild-mannered effort on my part to reach out to war skeptics, something that is hard to do in the short space available. I would have liked to expand on certain complex issues, above all the precise nature of the well-documented links between Saddam Hussein and terrorists. Many war critics falsely construe such assertions as saying that Saddam Hussein was complicit in planning for the 9/11 attacks, or that he was a close partner of Al Qaeda. Those are nothing more than worn-out red herrings. I also wish I could have expanded on the nature of the terrorist insurgents in Iraq, which many Americans believe reflect widespread opposition to the U.S. presence there. In fact, those insurgents are an amalgam of Baathist regime remnants who want to restore the Sunni faction to dominance, and Al Qaeda outsiders. True, many Iraqi people are deeply angry at the ongoing violence, and it is only natural to blame the authorities, i.e., the United States and Coalition allies, even though they probably realize that the violence is not being perpetrated by our forces. This simply illustrates the universal tendency of people to want to have it both ways: Just as Americans want to enjoy an opulent life style but not pay high prices (only possible when labor is cheap, hence illegal immigration and imports from China), Iraqis want domestic peace and freedom from external occupation. Those objectives were not compatible under the regime of Saddam Hussein, and they will remain in conflict to some extent until the new democratic regime is firmly consolidated. That could take at least five or ten years, a time span that would sorely test the American people's patience and would stretch our armed forces to the limit. If the buildup of Iraqi security forces continues to proceed as well as it has been going, however, I would expect virtually all U.S. combat forces to be out of Iraq within the next two or three years, depending mainly on political trends in this country.
December 2, 2005 [LINK]
RFK stadium site: mere threat?
In negotiations with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf yesterday, Linda Cropp and other members of the D.C. Council pushed the silly idea to build the new stadium next to RFK, in a penny-wise, pound-foolish attempt to save a few bucks on the construction cost. Reinsdorf didn't seem to care where the new stadium is built, which is rather distressing, since that indicates he may not have a clue about the geographical element of the Washington franchise's future success. It was the first time that the Council members had met directly with an MLB official. It is hard to believe that anyone seriously believes that that location would yield any benefits to either the team or the city, and my doubts about the sincerity of the proposal are reinforced by this:
Some city leaders said the council was using the threat of RFK to try to exert leverage over MLB in the lease negotiations, in hopes of winning a bigger contribution from the league. (SOURCE: Washington Post)
In that same article, there was a graph comparing the total attendance for the inaugural years of the last four expansion clubs, and to my surprise, the Nationals (with 2.7 million) ranked behind three of them: Colorado had 4.5 million, Arizona had 3.6 million, Florida had 3.1 million, and Tampa Bay had 2.5 million.
Miniscule adjustment at CBP
Only two rows of seats will be removed from left field at Citizens Bank Park, so the power alley distance will only increase by five feet. The Phillies expect that will reduce the number of home runs next year by 18 to 22, but tt's hard to imagine that such a small change will have any discernible effect. Will it even be worth my effort to make a new diagram?? The reconstruction project is expected to cost about one million dollars (cue Dr. Evil), which works out to $200,000 per foot! I smell waste, fraud, and abuse. See timesleader.com (hat tip to Mike Zurawski)
December 2, 2005 [LINK]
Chile-Peru maritime dispute
The dispute over maritime boundaries is heating up, as the Peruvian Foreign Ministry declared that existing agreements between Peru, Chile, and Ecuador dealt only with fishing rights and did not establish sovereign jurisdiction. Yesterday Presidents Lagos (of Chile) and Palacios (of Ecuador) reaffirmed that the declaration of 1952 and accord of 1952 between those three countries remain fully in effect, in response to a unilateral declaration redefining maritime rights passed by the Peruvian Congress on November 3. On Monday, the commander in chief of the Chilean Army, Juan Emilio Cheyre, denied that there were any military tensions along the border with Peru. See El Murcurio Online (Chile, in Spanish).
In the race for Chile's presidency, leading candidate Michelle Bachelet, of the center-left Concertación, complained that a "campaign of terror" is being waged against her. To back this up, she cited rumors that she plans to abolish the armed forces pension system, bringing military personnel into the civilian system, and that she supposedly supports homosexual marriage. The election will be December 11. See El Murcurio Online (Chile, in Spanish).
Bolivian missile envy
Leftist presidential candidate Evo Morales is suing Bolivia's President Rodriguez and defense minister for having dismantled 30 Chinese HN-5 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, on the grounds that cooperating with the United States in this disarmament program was a betrayal of national sovereignty. Many people feared that those missiles could have fallen into the hands of terrorists. Since both officials will be out of office in the next few months, however, the lawsuit is largely moot. It is obviously a symbolic gesture aimed at demonstrating Morales' nationalistic credentials. The election will be December 18. See CNN.com.
December 2, 2005 [LINK]
Democrats splinter on Iraq
The political landscape has been radically altered by President Bush's defiantly resolute speech on Iraq war policy on Wednesday, as Capitol Hill Democrats have reacted in all sorts of ways. Some, such as Senator John Kerry and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, have come to their senses, grudgingly, while others such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi persist in endorsing Rep. John Murtha's irresponsible call for an immediate withdrawal of troops. See Washington Post. What a quandary: The war is becoming increasingly unpopular, suggesting the possibility of major political paydirt for the Democrats next year, but there are simply no viable alternatives on the horizon. The hard left folks at Common Dreams are livid with anger at Sen. Joe Lieberman's dissent from his party's leaders by taking note of real progress in the war; he may even face opposition in next year's Democratic primary election. Sean Hannity had the Connecticut senator on his show yesterday, all but begging him to join the Republican side. Actually, I think it would be better if Lieberman stays with the Democrats, who seem not to listen to anyone outside their own party any more. There's always a chance a few other Dems will begin to see the light... Rush Limbaugh had a good time needling the suddenly disconcerted Democrats today, but now is not the time for gloating. Let us hope that President Bush resists any advice to get political revenge for all the unfair attacks he has faced in recent months. It will be a test of his true character and ultimate legacy as wartime leader.
Who's the Majority Leader?
I've added a new information reference table that appears on both the Situation room and Politics pages, showing each party's leadership and the number of seats they hold in the two houses of Congress. While doing the research, I happened to notice that the majorityleader.gov Web site omits any mention of the fact that Tom DeLay stepped aside (temporarily) from the Majority Leader post after being indicted, being replaced by Rep. Roy Blunt. In fact, there are no news updates at all on that site since DeLay left! Very strange...
"Why Mommy Is a Democrat"
To find out the answer, see littledemocrats.net. Childhood indoctrination: good grief. Well, to those who believe that "everything is political," I guess it only makes sense. Hat tip to local Republican activist Chris Green, who posted an image of the cover of that cute little book on his brand new blog: Spank That Donkey! WARNING: HIGHLY PARTISAN HUMOR!
December 3, 2005 [LINK]
Stadium deal is almost sealed
Well, what do you know? The negotiating ploy by the D.C. Council seems to have worked, as MLB has tentatively agreed to the City's demands:
District negotiators have asked baseball for a $24 million letter of credit to ensure the Nationals' rent payment for four seasons in the case of a terrorist attack or players' strike and $20 million to cover contingencies in case of cost overruns. Those guarantees are needed to secure an investment-grade rating on stadium construction bonds, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi has said. SOURCE: Washington Post.
In return, the District is making some unspecified concessions. This is not a huge surprise, as failure to reach a compromise would have cost both sides a lot of money, so they both had incentives to make concessions. From MLB's standpoint, it was mostly a question of pride and maintaining a reputation for tough bargaining. A few details in the contract need to ironed out, but it is expected to be wrapped up next week. Now sell the team and play ball, for cryin' out loud!
Carrasco to LAnaheim
More fallout from the inexcusable delay in finalizing the sale of the Washington Nationals franchise: Hector Carrasco, one of the team's most reliable relief pitchers last summer, just signed a two-year deal with the Angels. See Washington Post.
World Baseball Classic
Further details are emerging abut the World Baseball Classic, which will take place next March. Handling the logistics of that event in the midst of spring training will be one of the main topics at the MLB owner's winter meeting that is about to commence in Dallas. According to current plans, the WBC will be held again in 2009, and every four years after that. Cuba is still considering whether it wants to participate, and risk another wave of mass defections. See MLB.com.
New football stadiums
This being football season, I get more inquiries about whether I intend to devote more attention to football stadiums in the future. (As if I wasn't swamped already!) There's only a low chance of that any time soon, but I may create a separate page to list the current NFL stadiums. One reason is that I'm intrigued by how the architects of some of the new stadiums have tried to emulate the quirky features of the neoclassical stadiums. In the case of baseball, there is some historical and play-wise rationale for doing so, but in football the stadium and the fans are virtually out of the picture. So, I'll probably evaluate the new stadiums based on how much artificial quirkiness they have.
December 3, 2005 [LINK]
Whither Merkel's foreign policy?
Newly sworn-in Chancellor Angela Merkel, of the conservative CDP/CSU alliance, is more friendly toward the United States but is constrained by the terms of the "grand alliance" with the Social Democratic Party, under which the leftists keep the diplomatic portfolio. In the old days, the centrist party of Hans Dietrich Genscher typically held that post, even as the other two parties alternated in power. Belmont Club summarizes the analyses of various writers about the future direction of German foreign policy.
Ayn Rand on smashing X-Boxes
New York libertarian blogger "Kip Esquire" rebutted self-described disciples of Ayn Rand who objected to the recent incident in which several people bought and then smashed brand-new Microsoft X-Boxes, apparently to make the point that the herd-oriented consumer masses needed a jolt to their dulled, conformist consciousnesses. Frankly, I don't care much about X-Boxes or Y-Boxes or whatever, but it does raise a good ethical question. Kip's piece is mostly a philsophical discourse on subjective vs. objective theories of value, but he concludes with a very pertinent general observation:
If there is one reason why Rand's philosophy never permeates out to the masses, it's not because the philosophy is wrong, but because myopic purists refuse to let it evolve and thereby flourish. The Randroid Objectivists are doing to Rand pretty much what the Catholics have done to Jesus. And in both cases, the potential positive impact of the original philosophy is increasingly being lost.
December 4, 2005 [LINK]
Canary middle age?
George flew into our bedroom to join me in watching a football game this afternoon, so I grabbed the camera. He has been singing vigorously every day ever since September, whereas he was quite subdued for most of the summer, which had us worried for a while. For her part, Princess remains active in flirting at the window, demanding George's attention if he is gone too long. Even though she built a nest in late October, she has not laid any eggs in it yet. It has been over five months since the last time she last laid any eggs, so this may be a sign that she has entered "menopause," having exhausted her ovaries. I guess laying about 150 eggs over the course of her lifetime is probably enough already. At least they are both healthy, energetic, and about as content as any birds could be.
UPDATE: This afternoon I received an e-mail inquiry from a woman named Barbara whose male canary hurt his leg, and she wants to know what to do. I told her that birds usually know best how to take care of themselves when they suffer minor injuries, and that well-meaning veterinarians can accidentally compound the injuries suffered by small birds, because they are so delicate. That is what happened to Princess four and a half years ago. I do not pretend to be an expert, but unless the pet bird is in obvious pain or distress, it is usually best to let nature take its course for a couple days.
December 4, 2005 [LINK]
More Fox sparrows
The cold spell eased enough for me to go on a comfortable walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning. [Snow is forecast for this evening!] In the distance I spotted a Sharp-shinned hawk flying and then diving after its intended prey. I also saw at least a couple dozen Cedar waxwings, and quite a few Robins, as well as a Hermit thrush and some Fox sparrows. Unfortunately, the only picture I got of one of them was with the sun in back, resulting in excessive glare, but the bold streaks are still visible. Oddly, no woodpeckers or nuthatches appeared, though I did hear a few. No sign of that late-lingering catbird, either.
UPDATE: While clearing out the huge stack of accumulated e-mail messages from my in-box this weekend, I came across a few birding Web sites in other countries, so I've added them to my list of birding Web links: Gone Birding (Costa Rica), avesdelima.com (Lima, Peru), and oiseaux.net (French).
December 5*, 2005 [LINK]
Winter counteroffensive + 64
In a fitting coincidence, given the weather we are having, today [December 5] marks the 64th anniversary of the opening of the Soviet counteroffensive that pushed the German Army back from the gates of Moscow in 1941. Not expecting such prolonged resistance by the Red Army, the overconfident Germans did not bring winter uniforms, and did not properly winterize their weapons, tanks, or transport vehicles. Within days the German front line was shattered, and it took a huge amount of effort to stabilize the front after retreating over 100 miles in some sectors. This counteroffensive signaled the end to the Germans' hopes for a quick victory in their quest to dominate Europe. A year later came the Battle of Stalingrad, the decisive turning point that put an end to any German hopes to dominate Europe.
The German invasion of Soviet Russia, code-named "Operation Barbarossa," is a textbook example of imperial overstretch, as historian Paul Kennedy would define it. In strategic terms, it represented a high-stakes gamble -- some would call it reckless -- without adequate logistical preparations. What's more, it was a preemptive attack that may not have been warranted. That is, Hitler calculated that Stalin had a bigger industrial base, with greater raw material resources, so he decided to attack before the military balance shifted in the Soviets' favor. In rational terms, it was a close call that could have gone either way. If Hitler had not diverted the Second Panzer Group to the south in August 1941, thereby giving the Soviets time to prepare the defenses around Moscow, the Germans probably would have won the war. In human psychological terms, the way the German invasion was carried out exemplified hubris, the limitless arrogance of those who are addicted to power and glory, and refuse to listen to counsels of prudence. Of course, it also exemplified barbaric cruelty, for this is where the Holocaust began in earnest.
Military overstretch in Iraq?
That brings us to President Bush and the war in Iraq. The death of ten U.S. Marines in a single bomb attack in Fallujah three days ago reminds us that the Sunni heartland remains defiant and unpacified, and that victory is not "around the corner." One of the most compelling arguments against the war made by critics who share a genuine concern for the U.S. national interest (such as William Odom or Joe Biden) is that our armed forces simply cannot maintain the occupation of Iraq at current troop levels indefinitely. Many of the loudest critics of the war are fond of making comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam, and indeed there are some parallels, but I think a strategic-minded person would see greater parallels with the German invasion of the U.S.S.R. in 1941. Both invasions were launched as a "crusade," counting on a quick victory and relying upon subordinate allies who were not deeply committed to the cause. Other than fringe radicals such as Ramsey Clark, no one would make a serious comparison between the liberating U.S. government and the conquering Nazi regime, of course, but the parallels in the strategic decision making and the mental framework of the leaders are rather intriguing.
Having had its "comeuppance" in the failed pacification of Iraq in late 2003, just as the Germans failed with their initial invasion plans, the United States now has a precious second chance to get it right. As the decisive phase of the handover of Iraq to its own people's control proceeds, the margin for error is small; one more Abu Ghraib could ruin it. Will the U.S. counter-insurgency effort in 2006 reflect a prudent balance between means and ends, taking into account possible adverse contingencies, or will it be a vain exertion to win at all costs -- like Stalingrad? Perhaps the biggest difference compared to the Russian front in 1942 is that the United States is on the other side of the planet from the enemy homeland, so we are less vulnerable than the Germans were to being conquered by vengeance-minded hordes. If worse came to worse, we could always withdraw from the Middle East, revert to our old isolationist ways, and get used to the price of gasoline fluctuating unpredictably between $2 and $8 a gallon. That would be the tragic result of American "neo-puritans" refusing to see the obvious harmony between our interests and our values in the present conflict.
* Written December 5, but not posted until next day due to Internet service outage.
December 6, 2005 [LINK]
Winter arrives, catbird remains
It snowed yesterday for the first time this season here in Virginia. We got about four inches, altogether. As the ground slowly turned white, we had as many as 25 ravenous goldfinches (see new closeup photo) at our feeders, plus a few juncos, Carolina wrens, and song sparrows. About 3:00 a Sharp-shinned hawk swooped into the back yard, frightening the smaller birds away. After resting for about 15 minutes on a tree branch, it zoomed away at an amazing speed.
This morning, bright blue skies framed the snow-covered trees, reminding us that tropical countries don't have all the fun. So, I went out for a walk (or a "trudge," actually) behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad with camera in hand to record the "winter wonderland." To my delight, I soon heard and then saw that "straggler" Gray catbird that has been lingering in that area. A Sharp-shinned hawk (same one as yesterday?) spooked it and other birds to take refuge in the bushes, but it eventually ventured back out and posed for this picture. It is the first catbird I have ever seen during the winter months; perhaps the snow will persuade it to join its friends further south. Catbirds normally winter in the Deep South and parts of Mexico, ranging as far north along the Atlantic coast as Tidewater Virginia. I also got a decent picture of a Song sparrow, and saw some Yellow-bellied sapsuckers (male and female), and even a Pileated woodpecker (female), which are seldom seen in this neighborhood.
December 7, 2005 [LINK]
Baseball at Pearl Harbor!
Serendipity, random happenstance, or "Intelligent Design"? You be the judge! Just in time to commemorate the 64th anniversary of the infamous sneak attack by Japan, I have just completed the diagrams for Aloha Stadium, which is located right next to Pearl Harbor. It is the first all-new stadium page since September (that being Estadio Monterrey). Most Americans know Aloha Stadium as the site of the Pro Bowl, but it also served as a "neutral" venue of a series between the Padres and the Cardinals in April 1997. Of all the football-baseball "hybrid" stadiums, it had perhaps the most radical reconfiguration scheme. Whether there was much point to building such a big stadium for baseball in Hawaii is another question.
Reminder on diagram usage: ©!
$700 million! (Do I hear $800 million?)
Tuesday's Washington Post reported that the newest estimates put the new stadium's total cost as high as $714 million. That seems a little steep even to me, but it's not out of the question. Part of the problem is whether to include infrastructure and neighborhood improvements such as new sidewalks, lighting, and parking garages. This points out something I learned when taking graduate economics courses at American University: When doing a cost-benefit analysis for some proposed development project, there is simply no foolproof way to objectively identify which entities should be included or excluded from the analysis. Estimating the spinoff effects of a stadium, or a fishmeal processing plant near Lima Peru, is inherently a risky judgment call, which is why it's usually better to let self-interested, risk-assuming entrepreneurs run commercial development projects than politicians who couldn't care less about the bottom line. Speaking of which, in my opinion, the disingenuous bargaining tactics employed by the D.C. Council have created a cynical atmosphere around this projects, making it more likely that all sort of corrupt kickback schemes are going to emerge. The folks at fieldofschemes.com are having a "field day" with this latest flap. It's a good thing that there are plenty of accounting scrutinizers to prevent all the greedy hogs from devouring all the public money they can.
I've had a very sober view of this stadium-funding process (and the related franchise-relocation process) all along, and I do not discount the possibility that further legal tangles may put the construction on hold, perhaps for many months. (No problema: We've got RFK!) That's what happened in San Diego, you may remember. PETCO Park was delayed by two years because of bond issue referendum controversies and whatnot. That is another city that has long been plagued by corruption in government, by the way.
December 7, 2005 [LINK]
Cleaning up the House (rules)
When the Republicans won majority control of Congress in 1994, and won the presidency in 2000, one of the leading campaign themes was "cleaning up the mess" left by the incumbent (Democrat) party. Now the shoe is on the other foot, as the Republican leadership faces ethical challenges on several fronts. On Monday the left-leaning Center for American Progress held a panel discussion on proposals by House Democrats to reform the rules of the U.S. House of Representatives. Although some of the participants were dyed-in-the-wool partisans, such as Barney Frank (MA) and David Obey (WI), there were also some voices of reason, such as David Price (NC), who happens to be a former college professor. Since I share some of their concerns about the way the House has been run since Tom DeLay became Majority Leader, I listened, and I think much of what they are calling for is appropriate. When conservative-leaning Capitol Hill expert Norman Ornstein concurred with the general thrust of the proposals, I was convinced. Bad policies, such as the hideously complex and dubious Medicare prescription drug benefit, are often the result of bad process in formulating them. Under DeLay, open discussion in committee hearings about the merits of policy proposals has been curtailed, and the real "deliberation" (if that word is even appropriate) increasingly takes place behind closed doors. Meanwhile, dissent by moderates or independents within the Republican caucus is being harshly punished, and when roll call votes are taken, the time limit is routinely extended to give the GOP House leadership time to buy the votes of wavering members. Hence, pork barrel "payoffs" are becoming more common all the time, leading to ever-bigger budget deficits. This is no way to run a government.
Rice in Europe
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is in Europe, meeting newly sworn-in German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Let's hope a friendship blossoms between them, allowing the long German-American friendship to resume once again. Rice was criticized for explaining in guarded terms the U.S. policy on treatment of terrorist suspects being held at locations outside the United States. Well, she's just doing her job. Many people forget that in the world of diplomacy, blunt candor about sensitive operations involved in national security is a vice, not a virtue. She did admit errors in the abduction of a German terror suspect. See Washington Post. It is worth noting that the Center for American Progress's (see above) credentials as a serious policy-oriented institution are undermined by the sarcastic tone of their report on Rice's visit to Europe: "Condi's European Vacation".
Anti-war Dems face backlash
To their credit, some Democrats are objecting to DNC Chairman Howard Dean's statement on a radio station Monday that "the idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong." Dean may not last more than a few more months. To her dismay, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is out on a limb for her endorsement of Rep. Murtha's call to "bug out." See Washington Post. I have long believed that the unhinged defeatist rhetoric being spouted by some of the less thoughtful Democrats could not go on forever, and it is reassuring that enough sensible Democrats are beginning to speak out that we might have a genuine national dialogue on how much we are willing to sacrifice to make it possible for Iraq to have a reasonably stable, democratic government. Given the positive undercurrent of democracy in Middle Eastern politics, the mere fact that Republicans and Democrats are on speaking terms again could make a solid victory in Iraq much more likely.
From a strictly partisan perspective [for example, see Bobby Eberle at GOPUSA.com], I would love it if Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi (or even Ramsey Clark!) served as leading spokesmen for the Democrat Party, destroying what is left of their credibility on national security issues. As a patriot first and foremost, however, I would much rather see them sidelined, even if it means the Democrats pick up a few seats in Congress next year.
December 7, 2005 [LINK]
Remembering Pearl Harbor
Japanese naval aircraft bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor 64 years ago today, destroying most of our Pacific surface fleet and killing over 2,300 Americans. The memory of that unthinkably horrific shock remained seared in the American consciousness for many decades thereafter, even for us baby boomers who were born a decade or more later. This, in turn, had a huge influence on how Americans perceived external security threats. It is also interesting to note that while there were obvious lapses in intelligence in 1941, there was not much recrimination over it. Everyone understood that we were at war, and the most pressing issue was how to win, not second-guessing past slip-ups. That is one of the universal effects of war: It forges national unity by forcing citizens to realize that they either "hang together, or hang separately."
Time does funny things to our perception of events. The 9/11 attacks killed hundreds more people than died at Pearl Harbor, and yet somehow the sense of immediate alarm stemming from that awful day seems to be fading away, as hardly any video clips of the attacks and the aftermath are broadcast on television any more, for fear of upsetting someone. This, in turn, may explain why so many Americans seem so clueless about the nature of the global struggle we are in, and the part played by Iraq in that struggle. I am convinced, nevertheless, that for all its flaws, this country is simply too great, and this conflict too serious, to let silly partisan political spats weaken our resolve. I am willing to bet that the younger generation of Americans, for whom 9/11 was the first major historical event in their memory, will soon come to resent having that episode conveniently set aside by the mainstream news media barons. Ultimately, I think 9/11 will be ranked as a more important historical episode than Pearl Harbor.
Florida professor not guilty
Sami Al-Arian, a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian who used to teach engineering at the University of South Florida, was found not guilty on charges of conspiracy to aid terrorism by a Federal jury in Tampa. The jury deadlocked on several other charges, and he may be retried later. None of the three co-defendants were convicted either, after 13 days of deliberation. A representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations praised the verdict; hopefully most of the members of CAIR will take this as a sign that all Americans, immigrants or not, have equal rights in our court system. See Washington Post. Al-Arian was active in Palestinian extremist groups, and was once videotaped exhorting a crowd with the chant of "Death to Israel." A friend of mine who has some inside knowledge about that controversy said that Al-Arian was just speaking metaphorically, but in these times, such inflammatory words cannot be eaily brushed off. It's like yelling "fire" inside a movie theater, but what he was doing was more important than what he was saying. Free speech is one thing; sedition is another.
As for this criminal trial, if the jury decided there wasn't enough evidence to convict, I can accept that. The verdict certainly does not constitute vindication for his promotion of terrorist-related groups. More generally, this case illustrates the limits of treating the campaign against terrorism as a problem of law enforcement. Since the evidence obtained by intelligence agencies often is not accpetabe in a court of law (where there is a high standard of proof, and a presumption of innocence), there will be many situations where extra-legal means of preventing anticipated terrorist attacks will be necessary. Such tactics (including "rendition" of terror suspects and coercive interrogation methods short of torture) do expose our government to the risk that rogue agents will go too far, however. That is why we need novel institutional means to oversee such operations, so that the Executive Branch does not gain too much power as the war is being waged. The PATRIOT Act will need to be tinkered with over and over again before we can arrive at a workable balance between security and justice.
December 8, 2005 [LINK]
Nationals acquire Alfonso Soriano
In one of the biggest player transactions that have taken place during the annual winter meetings of MLB owners, the Washington Nationals have traded Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge, plus a minor league player, for Texas Rangers star Alfonso Soriano. Since he has played at second base since his days as a Yankee, that creates a conflict with the "incumbent," Jose Vidro, and "the new kid in town" will probably end up in the outfield. This trade came as a surprise to Soriano, who says he wants to stay at second base, so there may be some friction. It will become official as soon as Wilkerson (presumably) passes his physical exam next week. See MLB.com. All this came as a big shock to me, too, since Wilkerson was one of the anchors of the Expos/Nationals, though he slumped in the latter half of the season. I was lucky to see Soriano play in Detroit in August 2004, on a day when he hit a single, a triple (419 feet to center field!), and a home run. Rangers 2, Tigers 1.
Among other Nationals whose contracts have expired, Carlos Baerga and Preston Wilson will not get new offers from the team, while pitchers Tony Armas and Joey Eischen will have the opportunity to have their contract terms decided by arbitration. What's strange about all this is that the General Manager Jim Bowden himself is still negotiating with the Red Sox, and may jump ship at any time.
Busch Stadium (II) is history
The last remaining section of Busch Stadium (II) was torn down yesterday, and some lucky (or crazy?) fans standing outside the fence were given chunks of concrete by the construction workers. See the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for some photos. The first game at Busch Stadium III will be on April 10, against the Brewers. I'll have to get crackin' on that diagram...
December 8, 2005 [LINK]
Winter ducks on Bell's Lane
It has been cold as the Dickens lately, but I happened to be passing by the Bell's Lane area around mid-day, so I decided to stop and look for birds. Not surprisingly, some of the ponds were totally iced over. No harriers or owls were present, but I did see quite a few winter ducks, some of which were for the first time this season, plus a variety of smaller birds. Today's highlights:
- Red-tailed hawks
- Savannah sparrows
- White-crowned sparrows
- Red-bellied woodpecker
- House finches
- Field sparrows
- American coots
- Redheads (FOS)
- Ruddy ducks
- Shovelers (FOS)
- Ring-necked ducks (prob.; far)
- Gadwalls (FOS)
December 9, 2005 [LINK]
Lieberman as SecDef: outreach?
By now most people have heard the rumor that Sen. Joe Lieberman may replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense next year. It would be a very astute political move (dreamed up by Karl Rove, perhaps?), but I'm not sure about Lieberman's qualifications. Nominating a friendly member of the opposition party would be quite similar to the decision by Bill Clinton after winning reelection in 1996 to replace SecDef William Perry with Sen. William Cohen (R-ME). This was interpreted as a either gesture of conciliation to the Republicans, or as a ploy aimed at coopting GOP moderates. Which leads us to the present situation and the possible "outreach" by Bush to sane Democrats. The mere suggestion that Lieberman might get the SecDef post has created quite a dust storm among leftists: MarKos says he and Rumsfeld are "two peas from the same pod," and Atrios says it "would serve the little quisling right." Now, now, let's try to be nice! As for the Right, Glenn Reynolds wryly observes, "John Kerry has jumped on the bandwagon, which makes me suspect that it's not going anywhere."
GOP regroups at the "Advance"
I did not attend the Virginia "Advance" (an annual conclave of GOP faithful) at the Homestead resort last weekend, so I can't comment on what actually transpired there. In yesterday's Washington Post (Virginia Extra), Michael Shear observed that many Republicans in Virginia think Kilgore lost because he was "not conservative enough." I certainly felt that Kilgore strayed from conservative principles when he pandered to populist sentiment (e.g., saying gasoline prices were "too high"), but my line of criticism diverges from that of some other Republicans. For example, the Post article cited complaints by Phillip Rodokanakis, who just posted a commentary on the GOP "Leadership Vacuum" at the Virginia Club for Growth Web site. I would agree that there was a breakdown in party leadership and communication during the 2004 budget showdown, possibly the fault of Speaker William Howell, but to my dismay, Rodokanakis recycles the self-defeating "RINO" rhetoric, blaming everything on GOP "liberal ... turncoats" (!?) who put a premium on fiscal prudence. (I mentioned that group's involvement in the fall campaign in my blog post of Nov. 7.) I detest impugning others' motives on the basis of honest differences over policy.
As for that Post article, which seemed to hype the degree of tension between factions of the Republican Party, what I found annoying is the presumption that virtually all GOP activists and bloggers are blindly loyal hard-core doctrinarians. In fact, there are various strands of conservativism in America today, distinguished primarily by different short-term priorities, and there is a healthy internal debate about how best to achieve our common long-term goals. Those who sow division, whether on the inside (intolerant "movement" purists) or from the outside (the press), may end up ruining hopes for true conservative reform. If that happens, a policy vacuum will result, much like the early 1990s when Ross Perot gained prominence. Those who attempt to portray political leanings as falling somewwhere along a one-dimensional right-to-left scale simply do not grasp the underlying political dynamics in this country, specifically the latent impulse for fundamental reforms and the intriguing drama about who will capitalize on it.
Finally, there are some pertinent comments about the "Advance" from Old Zach at sicsempertyrannis (via Commonwealth Conservative), including this observation:
Finally a couple of other individuals who impressed me this weekend were folks that might have their eyes on a statewide run in '09 or later. One was US Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, John Brownlee. ... The others were Delegates Ben Cline and Chris Saxman. [emphasis added] These two Shenandoah Valley area legislators are young, dynamic, and solidly conservative. They obviously understand the issues facing our Commonwealth very well and are poised to make some noise in the General Assembly in the coming years. I have a feeling that the Republican faithful will soon learn to love these guys, if they don't already, and that Tim Kaine and his cronies may soon convert their names into epithets.
To which I would add, "Megadittos!"
Kaine comes to the Valley
Speaking of Kaine, the Governor-elect held a public forum on regional transportation issues in Staunton yesterday, and I somehow managed to miss it. For details, see the Staunton News Leader. Yesterday's edition featured a full-page ad from the friendly road-building folks at Star Solutions, warning of future truck traffic nightmares unless their proposal is adopted, paying lip service to rail transport. Get out of our way!
December 10, 2005 [LINK]
Stadium deal nailed down
To the surprise of no one, negotiators for the D.C. government and Major League Baseball reached a compromise over funding the new baseball stadium in Washington yesterday, but it wasn't pretty. In a demonstration of lingering mistrust, D.C. insisted on a clause that mandates that the franchise will remain in Washington for the next 30 years -- except for brief interludes as deemed appropriate by the Commissioner. That sounds bizarre to me, and sets a bad precedent. Otherwise, ther terms were pretty much what was announced last week. If the stadium is not ready by 2008, the city will have to pay a substantial penalty, so perhaps they are going to get moving fast after all. The city also agreed to give up one-third of the parking revenue generated at the stadium on non-game days. Council chairwoman Linda Cropp has been uncharacteristicaly low key recently. As usual, council member Jim Graham complained that the city gave too much away on that concession, while baseball booster Jack Evans said it was the best deal they could get. All in all, it is a classic example of "crony capitalism," a business deal in which monopolistic private enterprises coerce public entities into transfer wealth to them. It's as if they're trying to validate the theories of Karl Marx. The D.C. Council must vote on the matter by December 20. For more details, see Washington Post.
The player transactions that most grabbed my attention from the annual winter owners' meeting last week were: Rafael Furcal signed with the L.A. Dodgers, Edgar Renteria signed with the Braves, . The Red Sox and Orioles are working on exchanging Manny Ramirez for Miguel Tejada, both renowned malcontents. The Mets signed Julio Franco to a two-year deal, which means he will be playing big league ball at the age of 49!!! He did a fine job with the Braves, who were smart to sign the oldster, in the fine tradition of Satchel Paige and Nolan Ryan. As for Washington, their bid for Kevin Millwood hasn't come to anything yet. New "Nat" Alfonso Soriano says there is no way he will play outfield, and I'm starting to worry that Jim Bowden may have made a big goof. Why in the world don't they put him at shortstop??? That's by far the biggest "hole" in the lineup, for cryin' out loud! As for the front office, the Red Sox intend to have two guys share general manager duties, so apparently Bowden will stay in D.C. after all. Whew! (all via MLB.com)
Baseball "Holiday makeovers"
Baseball introductory page! No, not an introduction to the sport, but an introduction to the wondrous resources you'll find on this Web site, for the benefit of first-time visitors. I hope it helps ease the "learning curve" and enhances everyone's enjoyment. Two major sections have been moved from the main Baseball (blog) page to the new page: the list of stadiums ranked in alphabetical order by city, in the left hand column, and the introduction to stadium diagrams, found at the bottom of that page. That will make loading the main blog page quicker. The new page (which actually has the same URL as what used to be the main baseball page) also includes a scrolling menu that allows you to instantly jump from photographs of one stadium to the next. In the future there wil be a "FAQ" section, plus other goodies. Any suggestions?
Another improvement is that many of the ballpark photographs have been sharpened up quite a bit, as I learn more digital tricks. The Great American Ballpark and Comerica Park photos are perhaps the best examples.
As for some of the other Baseball Web site projects underway during the dark, bleak months of winter, I have come up with "true" power alley dimensions for nearly all major league ballparks. In many cases, the distances displayed on the outfield walls are markedly inaccurate, as we found out at RFK Stadium last summer. The true power alley distances will be added to the respective stadium pages in the next few weeks.
While we're on the subject of Web site enhancements, let me take the opportunity to do a little Yuletide "tip jar" rattling: For those of you fine folks who visit here on a regular basis, please consider sponsoring one of the baseball stadium pages. There will be special benefits for "Members" (those who donate or provide photographs or substantial research assistance) as of next January. In addition, there will be more commercial advertisements next year, more than likely, so don't wait until your favorite stadium has been taken by someone else. Just click on the PayPal "Donate" button.
December 10, 2005 [LINK]
Chavez triumphs in Venezuela
Since there was no significant opposition, the victory of the Chavista "Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement" candidates for Congress last Sunday was anti-climactic. Not many people will take his victory very seriously, however. As A.M. Mora y Leon, one of the pro-democracy bloggers at publiuspundit.com put it, "WHAT IF THEY GAVE AN ELECTION AND NOBODY CAME?" He witnessed the abysmally low turnout in Caracas, and provided background on the controversy surrounding the government's intended use of fingerprint identification devices. Since there are many documented cases of government opponents facing harrassment and violence, voters had good reason to suspect how such new technology might be used to track them down. In his post-election follow-up report, he relayed the fear and depressed sentiments of many Venezuelan people, now that Chavez has established himself as a virtual dictator. According to observers from the EU, however, the election was fair and square: "For us, there was transparency in the electoral process,' said [Jose] Silva [of Portugal], who oversaw about 160 observers." See CNN.com. Well, there's no reason to cheat if there is no competition, right?
Now that the center-right opposition parties have given up on what remained of the democratic process in Venezuela, the possibilities for an eventual accommodation have narrowed even further. After trying and failing to oust Chavez via a general strike (December 2003-January 2004) and then in a referendum (August 2004), they have basically shut themselves out of the nation's political life. There is an analysis of the opposition movement's future prospects at BBC.com. According to political scientist Margarita Lopez-Maya, "The opposition in Venezuela has committed suicide by boycotting the elections."
In another troubling incident, the government blamed the opposition for an election day explosion that damaged a pipeline that provides more than a third of the oil to the giant Paraguana refining complex.
Election eve in Chile
The presumptive victor in tomorrow's presidential election in Chile, Michelle Bachelet, stands poised to shake her country's traditions to its very roots. She would be the first woman elected president in South America, and is a single mother, in fact. (Isabela Peron succeeded to the top office after her husband Juan died, and a woman briefly held that office in Ecuador a few years ago.) She is an avowed socialist, becoming active in politics under the regime of Salvador Allende, and is an agnostic in a country that has long been culturally conservative. That does not mean she is without faith, however: She declared "I believe in the state." Yikes. See Washington Post. Ricardo Lagos and other left-leaning presidents in recent years have pursued relatively moderate economic policies, being smart enough not to ruin the incredible accomplishments that were brought about under the authoritarian tutelage of dictator Augusto Pinochet. Whether Ms. Bachelet maintains that record is an open question. It will also be interesting to see how she handles the recent martime jurisdiction dispute with Peru.
Talks with rebels in Colombia
President Uribe says his government will begin negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN). They are the lesser-known guerrilla movement in Colombia, reputedly less vicious than FARC, and apparently not so deeply enmeshed in the narcotics trade. Their willingness to negotiate may be related to being short on funds. President Uribe ordered the ELN leader Francisco Galan released from prison in September as an olive branch gesture. At least Uribe has stronger credentials than his predecessor Andres Pastrana did, and therefore is more likely to get something in exchange for such concessions. See CNN.com.
December 10, 2005 [LINK]
Former Senator Eugene McCarthy died today at the age of 89. He gained sudden fame as an anti-war presidential candidate in early 1968 as the Tet Offensive undermined the Johnson administration's credibility. McCarthy came a very close second place in New Hampshire primary, which was enough to persuade Lyndon to pull out of the race, turning the responsibility for incumbency over to Hubert Humphrey. This was when I first became strongly aware of national politics, and I even went door to door handing out campaign literature on McCarthy's behalf. Then Robert Kennedy joined the race, and soon took effective lead of the anti-war movement until he was assassinated in Los Angeles in May. This came soon after Martin Luther King's assassination, of course, spurring race riots that made 1968 one of the bleakeast years in U.S. history. McCarthy refused to support Humphrey, believing that the old bosses running the Democratic Party (most notably, Chicago's Mayor Daley) stole the nomination, and he was probably right. McCarthy was really too idealistic and aloof to be an effective politician, however, and it is frankly hard to imagine him serving as president. Although he did run again for president in the 1970s, his stature shrank almost as quickly as it had grown. What is important to remember about McCarthy, especially for anti-war activists today, is that he was a decent, admirable person whose positions were a matter of conscience, not political expedience.
December 13, 2005 [LINK]
Stadium inflation heats up debate
The officical responsible for D.C. finances, Natwar Gandhi, issued a report estimating that the proposed new stadium will cost $667 million, in the upper range of the independent estimates published last week. It is also $78 million over budget. A stadium built next to RFK would cost about $606 million, he estimates, but that would cause a delay of another year and would be unlikely to generate anywhere near the amount of development that the Southeast D.C. site would. Not building at all and just staying at RFK for ten or more years would be preferable to a new stadium in that remote part of the city. (That's what D.C. council member Adrian Fenty wants.) For a "tree-by-tree" look at what accounts for the rising cost of the future stadium in Washington, see Washington Post. That misses the "forest-wide" perspective, however: In the D.C. culture of corruption, buck-passing, taxing, and spending, there is very little incentive for anyone to hold down costs. The absurdity of all this debate over how much the new stadium will cost is highlighted by the fact that no specific design has even been agreed upon as of yet!
In a letter to council chairwoman Linda Cropp on behalf of the 29 franchise owners, MLB President Bob Dupuy rejected the RFK stadium site option outright. (Oddly, Jerry Reinsdorf didn't seem to care where the new stadium would be built when he was in Washington negotiating two weeks ago.) See wtop.com. Today the D.C. council met to debate the matter, and Mayor Williams called attention to the public-private development "teams" he is forming to coordinate revitalization of the area surrounding the Southeast D.C. site. The final vote will be on December 20. It will be close, but sanity is almost certain to prevail.
Eischen stays with Nats
Since the bullpen was consistently the Nationals' strongest spot last year, it was great news that they signed up reliever Joey Eischen for another gig. Utility player Robert Fick was also signed; both contracts last one year. See MLB.com. The more players who once played as Montreal Expos remain with the Washington Nationals as the team adjusts to its new identity during this awkward transition phase, the more collective self-confidence and stability it will have in the future. Brad Wilkerson passed his physical, so the trade by which the Nationals are acquiring Alfonso Soriano was made official. Wherever he ends up playing (hint: shortstop!), he will bring first-class excitement and competitive edge to the Nats.
Thanks to Bruce Orser (once again!), I've come across solid numbers on the outfield dimensions at Aloha Stadium: 325 feet to the foul lines (5 feet more than I estimated) and 420 feet to center field (2 feet less). I've corrected the table on that page, and will tweak the diagram ever so slightly in coming days.
Bruce also sent me a high-quality photo of Wrigley Field, apparently from the Cubs' first opening day there in 1916, showing a slight bend in the grandstand on the third base side. I had thought that that bend was the result of moving the grandstand toward the west in 1923; not so. That means I'll have to adjust the 1914 version diagram. That reminds me, I have some very thoughtful e-mail inquiries about Wrigley Field that I need to answer. I spent a lot of time cleaning out my in-box last week, and I'm almost done. My apologies to all for not answering sooner.
December 13, 2005 [LINK]
Chilean election: Round Two
In Chile, Socialist candidate Michelle Bachelet failed to win an absolute majority of the vote, so there will be a second round runoff election on January 15 against conservative Sebastian Piñera, who got about 26 percent. He studied economics at Harvard and owns the Chilean airline LAN, which has acquired subsidiaries in Peru and Bolivia. If all of those who voted for third-place candidate Joaquin Lavin (who got 23 percent) in the first round vote for Piñera in Round Two, he would win. Thirteen leading members of the centrist Christian Democratic Party announced they will support Piña, among whom Fernando Moreno said that it would be "immoral" for a party called "Christian Democratic" to urge people to vote for an atheist candidate. (Bachelet says she is agnostic.) In response, Christian Democrats' leader, Adolfo Zaldívar, warned that any members who supported Piñera would be expelled from the party. See CNN.com and El Mercurio Online (Spanish). Historically, the Chilean political party system has been fairly stable, with three or four major parties competing in most national elections, but since the Pinochet dictatorship ended, two large coalitions -- the leftist "Concertación" and the rightist "Alianza" -- have played a decisive role in deciding electoral outcomes. In Chile's congressional elections, the Socialist Party gained a few seats in both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, while the Christian Democrats lost a few seats.
December 14, 2005 [LINK]
More gripes about the GOP
I'm not the kind to indulge in hand-wringing or finger-pointing, but the recent electoral setback by Virginia Republicans, and the troubles on Capitol Hill and in the White House, warrant serious reflection. So, here are some of the more valid criticisms I've come across:
Andrew Roth lists some instances in 2005 "when the GOP abandoned the ideals of economic freedom and pro-growth policies": (via Instapundit)
- Death Tax Repeal (NOT! -- even Russia and Sweden repealed theirs)
- Highway Bill ("6000 earmarks totaling over $24 billion")
- Social Security Reform (at least Bush tried)
- Sugar and CAFTA ("should have been a cake walk")
- Windfall Tax (even Hastert played demagogue on oil)
- Reinstating the Davis-Bacon Act (Hurricane Katrina)
I was among the few people who posted a comment about an especially touchy topic:
The failure to recognize and act upon the obvious connections between illegal immigration, national security, moral corruption (getting used to turning a blind eye to those who flaunt labor laws with impunity), and the welfare / entitlements quagmire is indicative of a party that is intellectually comatose. If GOP party leaders had half as much vision and guts as they have lust for reelection, they would act upon all of those problems simultaneously as part of an integrated national reform agenda, recapturing the spirit of 1994 and saving domestic freedom. As things stand, however, they are becoming more like the Democrats every day. P.S. I'm tired of all the whining about "RINOs." Show us true, ethical conservative leaders, and the troops will fall in line!
Roth curiously omitted immigration, and I think I know why: Today's Washington Post notes that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is bitterly opposed to any restriction on or increased enforcement of current laws, and has threatened to stop campaign contributions to any Republican legislator who dares vote in favor of such measures. This illustrates one of the biggest vulnerabilities in the Republican coalition: the growing tension between conservative values and the interests of corporate America. The fundamental social norm in board rooms is "don't rock the boat," and any policy change that seriously curtails the plentiful source of cheap, unorganized labor is anathema to those for whom the bottom line is all that matters.
I want my digital TV!
In last Thursday's Washington Post, George Will derides a $3 billion program for creating a fatuous "Inalienable Right to a Remote." The House and Senate have passed bills (reconciliation pending) by which every American will be guaranteed subsidies to be able to purchase digital television converters by 2009, when all U.S. broadcasting is scheduled to switch to digital signals. He suggests that the act be titled, "No Couch Potato Left Behind." We don't want to lose the low-brow vote, of course! The entitlements mentality has truly run amuck in the "conservative" party.
Politics and religion
Andrew Sullivan had a very apt "quote for the day" (from an English rabbi), which began:
Politics turns into virtue what religions often see as a vice -- the fact that we do not all think alike, that we have conflicting interests, that we see the world through different eyes.
It's called pluralism, folks. Getting over the fact that our neighbors are different from us is how we maintain a peaceful, civilized society.
December 14, 2005 [LINK]
Various reflections on the war
As the Iraqi parliamentary elections are about to begin, it is appropriate to take stock of where we stand in the conflict. In this month's Atlantic Monthly, veteran defense reform advocate (and editor) James Fallows has a troubling article: "Why Iraq Has No Army." In it, he repeats familiar charges against the Bush administration for failing to plan for turning over control to the Iraqis, and for failing to give the matter of training the Iraqis the urgency it was due. Some of that criticism is no doubt valid, but he goes overboard in calling the decision to the disband Iraq's army after liberation a colossal mistake. The historical verdict on that will not be rendered until several years have passed, at least. He correctly notes that many newly-trained Iraqi troops attached to U.S. units just melted away during the battles in Fallujah and Mosul in 2004, but there have been a lot of improvements since then. His overall thrust is extremely pessimistic, but at least he concludes on a sound note: Either we make a multi-year commitment to stabilize Iraq, with all resources that are necessary, or we just back out and hope for the best.
Long wars are better
Common sense tells us that, when it comes to something as horrifying and repugnant as war, the quicker it's over the better. Well, perhaps not. In The New Republic, Harvard Prof. William J. Stuntz notes that "blitzkrieg" type campaigns leave the defeated country physically intact and lacking a sense of having been conquered. Clausewitz would probably agree. (via Donald Sensing)
Training takes time
Here is another good reason to be patient: Daniel Ingham writes "Comparing Apples & Oranges: Why The Training of Iraqi Security Forces is Taking So Long" at freerepublic.com (via Chris Green, who relates his own experiences in Marine boot camp, showing why NCOs are such a vital part of the military. Every American soldier is trained to take command of his squad if the leader is killed or incapacitated.)
Sectarianism in Iraq
One worrying trend as the campaign against the Sunni-Baathist insurgency continues is that many Iraqis are turning to a Shiite-based militia for their security, especially in Basra, which is occupied by British troops. These militias are loyal to fundamentalist mullahs who have close ties to Iran, and do not tolerate minority opinions. The question of how much they should be tolerated is a very delicate one. Harsh repression would only incite a nationalistic reaction among the Shiites and spur recruitment, while a passive posture would be a signal to extremists among them that they could grab even more power. Like puppies in training, the wisest course for the U.S.-led Coalition forces right now would be to keep those militias on a loose "leash," giving them a chance to let off steam, and yanking them back when they get out of hand. If support for the war in this country continues to erode as the Fall 2006 elections approach, there will be increasing pressure to turn the job of policing Iraq over to whoever is available to do the job. Ironically, we may have made Iraq safe for Iran-inspired Shiite extremism.
Strategy and politics
Last week, Daniel Drezner examines the domestic political strategy behind the recent White House document, National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. There's some truth to that, but given the fact that this conflict rests above all on national will, such a tack is appropriate.
Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) held a news conferece today (via C-SPAN), repeating his call for a quick "redeployment" of U.S. forces out of Iraq. Of course he repeated the old lines about the supposed untruthfulness of President Bush, but what struck me the most was when he said the United States does not go to war to spread democracy, it does so for its own national interests. Obviously, he is appealing to realists like me who tend to be skeptical about invoking values such as freedom or democracy when rationalizing foreign policy. What he does not acknowledge are the facts that 1) Encouraging a friendly government to take root in Iraq emphatically is in our national interest, and 2) That the situation there is a textbook case of our values and interests being in harmony. In other words, he posits a false dichotomy. On the plus side, he expressed confidence that the Iraqis would be able to deal with the terrorists after our troops leave, which makes one wonder why he considers our intervention there a "failure." I must say, the way he stumbled over his words suggest that he is quite ineffective as a spokesman for the anti-war cause. There is a case to be made that the Bush administration made a strategic error in toppling Saddam Hussein's regime (I disagree, of course), but Murtha is not the one to articulate such an argument. His confusion and contradictions about who the enemy is, and what the terrorists are aiming for, are very sad and even pathetic.
"Truth on the Ground"
In today's Washington Post, Major Ben Connable, USMC, tries to explain to skeptics why the war in Iraq really is heading toward victory, notwithstanding the continued carnage, and why U.S. troops need to stay there until Iraq's own government has firm control. He is about to begin his third tour in Iraq, and is very confident about the mission and his troops ability to carry it out. The crux of his piece is a direct rebuttal to Rep. Murtha:
The impression of Iraq as an unfathomable quagmire is false and dangerously misleading.
It is this false impression that has led us to a moment of national truth. The proponents of the quagmire vision argue that the very presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is the cause of the insurgency and that our withdrawal would give the Iraqis their only true chance for stability. Most military officers and NCOs with ground experience in Iraq know that this vision is patently false. Although the presence of U.S. forces certainly inflames sentiment and provides the insurgents with targets, the anti-coalition insurgency is mostly a symptom of the underlying conditions in Iraq. It may seem paradoxical, but only our presence can buffer the violence enough to allow for eventual stability.
Hopefully, this eminently sensible statement from a first-hand participant in the conflict will offset the gloom purveyed by those like Rep. Murtha.
December 14, 2005 [LINK]
Br-r-r-r! Goldfinch takes refuge
A Sharp-shinned hawk was swooping about in the back yard today, and I soon noticed a Goldfinch that seemed to be ailing, just sitting on the ground with its feathers all puffed up. Wild birds are especially vulnerable to injuries when it is so cold outside, and I thought this one might be in shock. It remained surprisingly calm as I approached it and brought him inside to examine it. Princess and George only grudgingly came to accept their temporary house guest (on the left in this photo), which we will release tomorrow, assuming all is well. Its appetite is certainly healthy. The rule of thumb is to let sick or injured wild animals be, or else take them to a certified treatment center; "Don't try this at home."
(Roll mouse over image to see closeup; click on it to revert.)
I have separated the "blog" [posts, links, and special lists from] the more-or-less permanent portions of the Wild birds page; the latter have been moved to the new Wild birds introductory page.
December 15, 2005 [LINK]
Election nears in Bolivia
Only three days remain until voters in Bolivia choose their next president, and given the high anxiety over the possible win by leftist Evo Morales, the country is calmer than most people would have expected. The other leading contender is Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga, who served in the government of Hugo Banzer. He belongs to the Podemos ("We Can") Party, an apparent recent creation that is described as "social democratic." He says that if doesn't get a majority in the first round, he will not contest the second round. That is a puzzling declaration, presumably calculated to push voters who fear Morales but favor other candidates his way. See CNN.com.
Dominican Republic vs. Haiti
The Dominican Republic demanded an apology from Haiti after crowds threw stones at President Leonel Fernandez during a visit to the neighboring country on the other side of the island of Hispaniola. People in Haiti are angry at the mistreatment of Haitians who work in the Dominican Republic, many illegally. See CNN.com.
December 15, 2005 [LINK]
William Proxmire ... and me
Former Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) died today at the age of 90. He earned a reputation as one of Capitol Hill's fiercest critics of government waste and incompetence. He first rose to national fame in 1968 when, in his capacity as chairman of the Joint Economic Subcommittee, he exposed the huge cost overruns on the C-5A "Galaxy" military transport jet. For more on this case, see globalsecurity.org.) In the years following, Proxmire became a relentless crusader for good government, attacking "waste, fraud, and abuse" wherever he could find it. Woe be unto any complacent, gluttonous bureaucrat who stood in his way! Proxmire was not a demagogue, however, and I was among the many people who held him in high esteem for taking on the privileged fiefdoms of the Federal bureaucracy in Washington. [For a full obituary, see CNN.com.]
Proxmire was among those in the late 1970s who took the lead in popularizing jogging as a way to improve physical conditioning and health. I even saw him once or twice jogging down Massachusetts Avenue, heading to work. His wiry frame, thinning hair on top, and glasses made it easy to recognize him.
I also had a rather remarkable one-on-one encounter with him, over the telephone, back when I was a junior bureaucrat. This was in 1980, or thereabouts. Someone on his staff apparently thought they had caught an error in the text of the monthly Producer Price Index news release, which I used to help write, and Proxmire was going to call attention to what he thought was a bureaucratic screw-up by making an example out of some hapless underling: me. I took a telephone call on the day of the PPI release, when our office was regularly inundated with inquiries from journalists and businessmen, and was told that Senator Proxmire wanted to talk to me. You cannot imagine the icy shivers of terror I felt as I waited to be chewed out by an official of his immense stature. Somehow I composed myself as the senator got on the line and read to me two separate sentences from different paragraphs of the news release. One pertained to the Producer Price Index for Finished Goods, and the other pertained to the Producer Price Index for Finished Consumer Goods. He thought those two categories were the same thing, but the latter excludes Capital Equipment such as machinery, heavy trucks, and tools. When I realized that his big "gotcha" was a mistake on the part of his own staff (failure to read the text closely enough), I got a big smile on my face and politely explained why the two indexes were slightly different. "Oh, I see." I don't recall his exact words, but I'll never forget the feeling of triumph I had in facing down one of the most feared public figures in Washington.
UPDATE: Thanks to Donald Sensing for linking to this posting.
December 16, 2005 [LINK]
Robinson stays with Nationals
Manager Frank Robinson just signed a one-year contract with the Washington Nationals, which is great news. Several of the coaches are leaving Washington, however, and Robinson's displeasure at that decision by GM Jim Bowden made him think twice before agreeing to stay. There was a clear lack of leadership on the team after mid-season, and someone has to be held accountable. See MLB.com.
Caleb Hannan thinks the Alfonso Soriano trade was a bad deal for the Nationals. (link via David Pinto) I was very disappointed at losing Brad Wilkerson, one of the few promising players who had been a Montreal Expo, but I have to admit that he seemed to lack competitive zeal, so perhaps his commitment to the team wasn't that strong.
Will Cuba play in WBC?
The nasty world of politics has intruded upon the (inter-) national pastime, as the U.S. Treasury Department ruled that participation by Cuba in the World Baseball Championship would violate U.S. laws that prohibit any commercial exchange with the Communist island state. MLB officials say they have not given up on bringing Cuba in, however. See MLB.com. Maybe "El Duque" can broker a compromise agreement!
For some construction updates on Wrigley Field, including the controversial "knothole" for street pedestrians, see Bleed Cubbie Blue (via David Pinto) and chicagotribune.com. (via Mike Zurawski)
Sponsor for Fenway
Thanks to Sean Holland for sponsoring the Fenway Park page, which will be next in line for diagram revision. He is the guy who let me know about the (bizarre?) suggestion to move the diamond to the right field corner while the upper deck was expanded. Based on the Red Sox current plans, that option appears very unlikely. There is just no alternative venue for major league baseball in the Boston area, so they have no choice but to stay in Fenway while any renovations are carried out.
December 17, 2005 [LINK]
Christmas Bird Count 2005
Because of a lack of volunteers this year, I had to do my circuit on the Christmas Bird Count alone. I covered the same section of northern Augusta County I did last year (with Mark Adams); see Dec. 19, 2004 blog entry. It was picturesque snow-covered scenery, with varied terrain, including rolling pasturelands, wooded ravines, and river valleys. Like last year, however, it was very cold, and many of the remote country roads were covered with slick ice. All in all, it was a pretty good day of birding, as I saw a total of 36 species -- the same as last year! The highlight was when I got an excellent closeup view of an adult male Yellow-bellied sapsucker, with bright red crown and throat, and an immature one right next to him. I deliberately left my camera at home to save time, and I knew I would probably miss a photo-op such as that one. Here is my complete count for today:
- 4 Mallards
- 3 Black vultures
- 18 Turkey vultures
- 4 Red-tailed hawks
- 1 Sharp-shinned hawk*
- 2 American kestrels
- 56 Rock dove (pigeon)
- 10 Mourning doves
- 7 Red-bellied woodpeckers
- 3 Yellow-bellied sapsuckers
- 7 Downy woodpeckers
- 1 Hairy woodpecker *
- 2 Northern flickers
- 22 Blue jays
- 33 American crows
- 3 Carolina chickadees
- 4 Tufted titmice
- 3 White-breasted nuthatches
- 7 Carolina wrens
- 19 Eastern bluebirds
- 40 Robin
- 1 Hermit thrush* (HO)
- 12 Northern mockingbirds
- 1 Gray catbird* !!!
- 15 Yellow-rumped warblers*
- 10 Song sparrows
- 31 White-throated sparrows
- 3 White-crowned sparrows
- 16 Dark-eyed juncos
- 12 Northern cardinals
- 1 Eastern towhee* (HO)
- 4 House finches
- 4 American goldfinches
- 4 Eastern meadowlarks*
- 506 European starlings
- 8 House sparrows
* -- not seen last year
(HO) -- heard only
Ironically, the biggest birding achievement of the day came after I returned home. I went for a quick walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad just before sunset, and sure enough I saw the catbird, which I had last seen (and photographed) on December 6. It is not the first time that a catbird has been sighted during a Christmas Bird Count in this area, but it was still a rare occurrence. The "hardy straggler" probably should be a few hundred miles south of here right now.
Goldfinch set free
Jacqueline let the ailing goldfinch which we gave shelter go free the morning after I brought it inside. The warm air seemed to revive it; I hope it's still doing all right.
December 19, 2005 [LINK]
Evo Morales wins in Bolivia
As expected, the leftist candidate Evo Morales won the largest number of votes in yesterday's presidential elections in Bolivia. What was unexpected was the share he received: about 51 percent, according to the latest estimates, about 20 percent more than Jorge Quiroga. If it turns out that Morales did not receive a majority, it would be up to the newly-elected Bolivian Congress to choose the next president. Given the high tensions in the country right now, however, choosing anyone other than Morales would result in an immediate insurrection on the part of the mostly-poor Indians. In the Washington Post, Pamela Constable calls the "sweeping if unofficial victory of Evo Morales ... has given him an unprecedented opportunity to transform the impoverished Andean country." If Morales indeed embarks on the kind of radical policy agenda that he has espoused, but without a broad public mandate, it could tear the country apart. That is what happened in Chile after Socialist Salvador Allende became president (without an absolute majority) in 1970.
Morales has made rejection of the pro-capitalist "neoliberal" economic development model the cornerstone of his campaign platform, but it is unclear what alternatives he intends to carry out. Ever since 1989 or so, most political leaders in Bolivia had a rough consensus that free market policies were an essential foundation, and that there could be no return to the irresponsible statist economic policies that had led the country to hyperinflation and virtual ruin by 1985, when I visited Bolivia. Morales has pledged to cease cooperation with U.S. government programs aimed at curtailing coca cultivation, and has said nothing to alleviate fears that he sees nothing wrong with growing coca leaf that ends up being processed into cocaine. That would set his government squarely at odds with U.S. national interests.
Miguel Centellas, who had been blogging intensively on Bolivia until this weekend, has a very curt post about the election results. He notes that this would be the first directly elected president of Bolivia since the return to democracy in 1982. Customarily, the Congress has chosen the president because no candidate has won an outright majority until, presumably, now.
Election results can be found (in Spanish) at bolivia.com. Interestingly, only two of the nine prefectural (provincial) elections were won by the "Movement Toward Socialism," which Morales leads: Potosi and Oruro, which are mining centers in the highland region. Also on that site is a report that the Mercosur economic bloc, composed of Argentina, Brasil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, expressed "pride" in the "exemplary" character of the elections in Bolivia. Given the political leanings of the current governments in those countries, they were no doubt just as pleased with the outcome of the elections as with the process.
Defending the Monarchs
In central Mexico, many millions of Monarch butterflies are currently hibernating in a unique highland habitat. If logging continues in that area much longer, the Monarchs could easily become extinct. That is why the Mexican government is now using armed guards to ward off anyone seeking to chop down trees in the butterfly sanctuary. See CNN.com.
December 20, 2005 [LINK]
Bush: sober realism on the war
President Bush's ongoing public relations offensive aimed at pointing to the progress that is underway in Iraq has begun acknowledging the difficulties and some of the past mistakes in his administration's policies. It is not the first time he has done so, but it is wisely timed to coincide with the apparently big success of Iraq's first parliamentary elections. Nevertheless, as Bush said, there are likely to be terrorist holdouts for years to come. This tacit redefinition of victory was clearly aimed at lowering expectations for a clear-cut, decisive military triumph, which I have long believed is necessary -- to avoid disappointing the faithful, pro-war segment of the population. In his televised speech on Sunday evening, Bush also made an unusual appeal to war opponents, saying that he understood their arguments. It was an appropriate gesture of respect for dissenters, many of whom, sadly, have not earned much respect. For Bush the Swaggerer, adopting a humble attitude does not come easily. Well, practice makes perfect. The best part of his lengthy, wide-open press conference on Monday was when he took on the argument of Rep. John Murtha that the presence of U.S. troops inflames terrorists. See whitehouse.gov for a full transcript.
From the standpoint of domestic politics, Bush's P.R. offensive is likely to convince skeptical folks in the middle that we are on the right general course in Iraq. On last Sunday's "Meet the Press," Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) repeated his argument that current U.S. war policy is headed in the wrong direction, but he also made several comments suggesting that he and other Democrats are no longer wedded to defeat. His hopes that the new Iraqi government might be able to take care of its own security in the near future could be interpreted as a first delicate step toward a semblance of a bipartisan consensus over Iraq war policy. Miracles do happen!
Outrage over "domestic spying"
Bush's momentum was slowed on Friday by the New York Times report that Bush had authorized domestic wiretapping without court approval soon after 9/11. It is hard to imagine that the publication of the story might have been unrelated to the vote to renew the PATRIOT Act. It is very worrisome, at least potentially, but legal shortcuts are a common feature of warfare in any age. In the present situation, rigid adherence to the letter of the law by intelligence operatives could handcuff their ability to track the movement of terrorists in this country. Bush's outrage about the leak by the Times is somewhat ironic given that his own administration stands accused of leaking the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to the press. For more on Bush's response, see Washington Post.
Part of the dispute over such extraordinary security measures involves the question of whether or not we are at war. In time of war, the president does have broader discretion to safeguard the country, and Lincoln and FDR are among past chief executives who have wielded wartime power in bold, controversial ways. In strictly legal terms, however, there is some question as to whether the United States is at war, because Congress did not formally declare war, as is its constitutional prerogative. Today Rush Limbaugh tried to argue that the resolutions authorizing Bush to take action against states that were fomenting terrorism amounted to a declaration of war, but I heartily disagree. The resolution on Iraq in October 2002 was an explicit abdication of constitutional duty, passing the buck to President Bush. Both Congress and the White House share responsibility for this lapse, which hardly anyone besides me commented on at the time. Hopefully, the next time this country faces the decision to go to war, it will be decided upon in the halls of Congress, with a formal declaration of war if necessary. That way, there will be no "escape route" for wobbly-kneed politicians.
December 21, 2005 [LINK]
D.C.'s nightmare before Christmas
The dreaded "nightmare scenario" of politicians fouling up the stadium lease deal at the last minute is coming to pass. A few days ago, the nice but hapless Mayor Tony Williams announced that the vote on the D.C. stadium lease terms would be delayed, and now we know why. Former mayor-for-life (and convicted felon) Marion Barry apparently thinks he's in charge of the city once again, because he was conducting his own negotiations in secret, and then blamed the real mayor when his plan fell through. He said, "there are at least seven of us on the Council who remain strong and will still block this horrible . . . agreement." I don't deny the extortionary element in the terms as they stand, but what else are you going to do when you're dealing with a monopolistic cartel? Perhaps such a high-risk game of "chicken" is the only way to get bargaining leverage in this situation. Meanwhile, chairwoman Linda Cropp has resumed her effort to have the new stadium built at the RFK site. Three council members who voted in favor of the stadium bill one year ago were replaced by stadium skeptics this past January; see the Baseball in D.C. page. MLB responded by threatening to take the matter to binding arbitration if the lease is not finalized by Dec. 31. See Washington Post.
Since Barry craves re-acceptance back into the city's power elite, and since he is not one of those who is running for reelection next year, I'm betting that he will come around after getting some token concession and play the role of wise statesman, voting "yes." New council member Kwame Brown appeared on WUSA-TV9 this evening, and made a good case that Major League Baseball should assume much of the risk of cost overruns. (Indeed, as a Post article on Saturday reported, "In all but one of the six cases [of baseball stadium cost overruns in recent years], the team was obligated to pay the extra costs." Of course, Washington's situation is unique because the team has no owner yet! Brown seems like a reasonable guy, and has softened his anti-stadium position since taking office, so he might shift from the "no" column to the "yes" column if the terms were right. Post columnist Thomas Boswell explains why some kind of deal will almost certainly be reached, because both sides would stand to lose many millions of dollars otherwise. Stupidity and stubbornness cannot be ruled out entirely, but sanity will probably prevail in the end. Based on these frightening late developments, nonetheless, I've raised the likelihood of the Nationals relocating out of Washington from five percent to ten percent.
Today's Washington Post also reports that Alfonso Soriano is still insisting on playing at second base, and making noises about looking for a job in the American League after the 2006 season is over. Since Jose Vidro's health is still questionable, however, second base may be available on Opening Day.
Johnny Damon joins Yankees
Holy cow! After weeks of speculation that they might grab some Red Sox free agents, or recent Red Sock Nomar Garciaparra, the Yankees announced that Johnny Damon will replace Bernie Williams in center field next year, pending a physical exam. He'll be paid $13 million per year over the four year contract, slightly more than Williams was making. Damon explained, "We know George Steinbrenner's reputation; he always wants to have the best players and I think he showed that tonight. ... He and Brian Cashman came after me hard and now I'm part of the Yankees and that great lineup. We're going to be a tough team to beat." Indeed -- as long as they can get some better starting pitchers. I wouldn't want to be around when Johnny bids farewell to his "idiot" comrades in Boston. Would this have happened if Theo Epstein were still the Boston general manager? When was the last time a player went directly from the Red Sox to the Yankees or vice versa? See MLB.com.
Dodgers build strong roster
The L.A. Dodgers have become very active in the last two weeks, creating a new infield consisting of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and third baseman Bill Mueller, both former Red Sox, as well as ex-Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal, who joined last week. The Phillies' veteran center fielder Kenny Lofton also signed with the Dodgers. Apparently, all this is the work of their new general manager Ned Colletti. See MLB.com. The fact that a team won the NL West Division this year with a winning percentage barely above .500 provides a wide-open opportunity for an ambitious franchise to grab a postseason slot.
Metrodome page update
The Metrodome page has been updated with a "dynamic" diagram, and a separate "truncated" diagram conforms to the new standard for use on the Side-by-side page. Based on a close inspection of some photos I've seen since I drew the previous diagram, I've expanded the depth of the upper deck, added the scoreboard, and made other minor corrections. Last April there was a tentative agreement to build a new baseball stadium for the Twins on the west edge of downtown Minneapolis, but the Minnesota legislature has put a higher priority on other projects. As a result, the Twins may still be playing in the Metrodome for ten more years, as I estimated. See MLB.com.
Power alleys, "Status"
On each newly updated stadium page from now on, I will list the "true" power alley distances (measured from the angular midsection between the bases), as best as I can determine them, rather than the officially marked ("nominal") distances, which are shown on the diagrams. If the difference is less than ten feet, I will just go with the "nominal" distance. In some cases, such as Yankee Stadium, the markers are quite a distance from where they should be, making comparisons between the power alley distances from one stadium to the next very difficult. In other cases, such as RFK Stadium until July this year, the distance markers were wrongly placed and had to be moved to the spot at which the marked distance was correct. Another change in the "Vital Statistics" tables is that the second column heading will vary according to whether the stadium is still standing or not. "Status" refers to the physical condition as well as the psychological- aesthetic factor; this is distinguished from "Stadium prospects," which depend on the franchise's long-term plans. The Status categories are "New," "Good," "Fair," and "Bleak."
Mike Zurawski believes that the Mets are going ahead with their plans to build a new stadium, but I have come across only one news item about that since last July, so I will wait and see. In contrast, the Yankees are moving full speed ahead. Mike also informs me that Tampa Bay is spending $10 million this year to make Tropicana Field more aesthetically appealing. They hope to install a new scoreboard in the next couple years, part of an additional $10 million investment outlay. See tampatrib.com "Tear the roof off the sucker," I say!
December 21, 2005 [LINK]
Religious dogma defeated
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones ruled that the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania was wrong to require that "intelligent design" be taught along with the Darwinian theory of evolution in public schools, on the grounds that it constituted an intrusion of religion into state affairs. The core tenet of I.D. is that "life is too complex to have developed without the guidance of a supernatural creator." See Washington Post. That tenet displays shocking ignorance of the major findings emanating from the various branches of science connected to Chaos theory. In any event, it is a welcome relief to see such a decisive ruling being handed down, and one would hope that it helps lay this whole silly matter to rest. The American contemporary education system is rife with various pernicious dogmas, however, and resorting to a lawsuit in what should have been an open-and-shut case is a troubling indication that socio-political divisions are undermining educational standards across the board.
McDonnell wins A.G. recount
Republican Bob McDonnell has won the recount in the Virginia attorney general race by a 360-vote margin over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch. That is 37 more votes than his winning margin in the original count. "Landslide Bob," they'll call him. For the perspective of someone who was involved in monitoring the recount in the Augusta County courthouse in Staunton, see Chris Green's Spank That Donkey blog.
Hazlett loses treasurer recount
In Staunton, incumbent treasurer Elnora Hazlett lost the recount to Rick Johnson by a margin of 35 votes, one vote closer than in the original tally. City Hall remains in a tense uproar over the difficult transition to the new MUNIS computer system, and the City Council voted to delay the mailing of property tax bills once again, which means they will not go out until January, when the incumbents (both Republicans), Commissioner of Revenue Ray Ergenbright and Treasurer Hazlett, are out of office. City Manager Bob Stripling actually ordered city employees to deny Ms. Hazlett access to the old (and relatively reliable) AS 400 computer system, so that she could not mail the property tax bills on time using it. See the Staunton News Leader. This level of distrust within the local government left me stupefied. What's the matter with Staunton?
Federal agents questioned a University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth student in October, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's "Little Red Book." See southcoasttoday.com (hat tip to Connie). Good grief. Does this mean I have to dispose of my copy? [NOTE: This news item later turned out to be a hoax; for details, see my Dec. 27 blog post.]
December 22, 2005 [LINK]
MLB OKs PETCO fence move
The Padres' plan to reduce the distance in the deep right center field corner, which I think is quite unwarranted, has been approved by MLB. It's unclear what will fill the void; perhaps that sandy "beach" slope area for sunbathers will be expanded. See signonsandiego.com (via Maury Brown of SABR).
Phillies begin CBP fence move
Workers have begun to remove the left field wall at Citizens Bank Park, as part of a minor expansion that will increase the distance to the power alley by several feet. See MLB.com.
The Nationals on Tuesday offered salary arbitration to reliever Luis Ayala, outfielder Marlon Byrd, infielder Jamey Carroll, first baseman Nick Johnson and catcher Brian Schneider. MLB.com
December 22, 2005 [LINK]
Election fallout in Bolivia
Evo Morales has won 54 percent of the natiowide vote in the Bolivian presidential elections, an even more clear-cut victory than first appeared. During a telephone interview, he expressed a desire to work with Fidel Castro in seeking "social justice" in the region. Meanwhile, a Spanish radio station owned by the Catholic Church is in trouble because the host of a comedy show telephoned Morales with a bogus congratulatory message, pretending to be Prime Minister Zapatero, who is a socialist and sympathetic to the leftist surge in South America. See CNN.com [link label corrected].
Peace talks in Colombia
Representatives of the ELN (National Army of Liberation) met with government officials over a period of five days, in an initial round of discussions aiming toward a truce. Nobel-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and diplomats from Europe participated as facilitators.
December 24, 2005 [LINK]
Power vacuum in D.C.?
Today's Washington Post analyzes the reasons for the latest crisis in baseball stadium negotiations, and concludes that the problem emanates from an absence of leadership in the city's government. It's a blunt assessment of Mayor Anthony Williams' leadership style, and there's probably a lot of truth to it. I guess it proves what Leo Durocher used to say: "Nice guys finish last." Especially when you're up against a shameless scoundrel has-been and an ambitious two-faced wanna-be.
That being said, one cannot dismiss the brazenly monopolistic practices of Major League Baseball in helping to create the mess. Yesterday's Washington Post reported that MLB warned the prospective ownership groups not to make any offer about covering the stadium cost overruns. Well, why the hell not? Other franchises have covered cost overruns in the past. MLB made a good gesture by offering to cover $20 million in overruns as part of a compromise earlier this month, but the demand that prospective owners not pledge to do any more is utterly unreasonable. No wonder the folks in D.C. are so leery about paying for that stadium.
December 24, 2005 [LINK]
I took this photo of George back in October, and had forgotten to post it. Princess continues intermittent nest-building, window flirting, and seductive chirping to attract George, but there has been no egg laying as of yet.
(Click on this photo to see last year's "canary Christmas" photo.)
Merry Christmas to All!
from the Clem family
December 26, 2005 [LINK]
Why U.S. Muslims are silent
In this season of three religious holidays (Christmas, Hannukah, and Eid) and one ethnic one (Kwanza), the "clash of civilizations" theme becomes more salient. While in the Washington area yesterday, I noticed a television ad sponsored by the Embassy of Saudi Arabia (which I visited in early 1991), highlighting that country's cooperation in the struggle against terrorism. I just wish a greater portion of the people in Saudi Arabia were sincerely committed to that end.
Reason for a bit of skepticism in that regard is offered by Stephen Schwartz, who explains why so few American Muslims speak out against terrorism: "because the price of speaking out is immediate, coordinated attack." It puts an ironic twist on the Nixonian phrase "silent majority." The guilty party, in Schwartz's view, is the extremist "Wahhabi lobby," mainly funded by certain Saudi princes and Hamas. (via Instapundit)
Democracy evolves in Iraq
Demonstrations by Sunnis against the Iraq election results, and counter-demonstrations by Shiites in favor of the same, indicate that there is a lack of consensus on basic democratic norms. See Washington Post. Of course, the same thing could be said of the United States since November 2000 at least, suggesting that we should not set our standards too high. The big increase in turnout by Shiite Muslims suggest that a large portion of that group is coming to realize that their future depends on participating in democratic processes, and that their interests are not served by cooperating with the terrorist resistance of Baathists and fanatics linked to Al Qaeda. Iraq obviously has a long way to go, just as the United States did in 1789. The ball is mostly on their side of the court now, and all we can do as the gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops gets underway is hope for the best. Democracy can be encouraged, under the right conditions, but it can't be force-fed.
December 26, 2005 [LINK]
Sharp-shinned hawk attack
I heard some rustling in the holly bush outside my window this morning, and sure enough I soon saw a Sharp-shinned hawk perched on top of the bird feeder. Photo op! As I was transfering the photos into the computer, sadly, I heard a tiny scream and saw the hawk fly away, presumably with lunch in its grasp. I hope its victim wasn't a goldfinch. It has since returned at least twice. Based on its relatively small size (about that of a pigeon) and plumage, I would say it is an adult male.
Princess apparently saw the hawk, because she was hiding in some unknown corner of the canary room for over a half hour. George was resting in the bedroom, blissfully unaware.
While driving up to Northern Virginia on Saturday [virtually no truck traffic: O joy! ] we saw a Great blue heron flying, the first one in quite a few weeks. The usual complement of Red-tailed hawks and American kestrels were perched alongside Interstate 81 at regular intervals.
December 27, 2005 [LINK]
Oakland Coliseum set to shrink
The Oakland Athletics have announced that the entire upper deck of "McAfee Coliseum," a.k.a. "Network Associates Coliseum," a.k.a. Oakland Coliseum, will be closed for the 2006 season. That will reduce its capacity for baseball games from 44,073 to 34,179, which is about the size of the stadium that are pushing for. Why?? "Only 19 of the A's 81 home dates last year necessitated making third-deck seating available..." See MLB.com (via Mike Zurawski). To me, it seems more likely that they are trying to gin up ticket sales by creating an artificial scarcity. That, of course, is one of the main reasons why most newer baseball stadiums are much smaller than the ones (typically dual-use "hybrids") they replaced.
Nats' inaugural year in review
I noticed two date errors on the MLB.com summary of the team's significant happenings in 2005: the Nats' rain-delayed 5-3 win over the Mets was on April 30, not May 1. I should know, because I was there. Also, Joey Eischen broke his arm on May 1, not May 2.
The Washington Nationals just signed relief pitcher Mike Stanton to a one-year contract. He had joined the team in July, and was then traded to the Red Sox at the end of the regular season. The team needs steady, reliable veterans like him.
Monday Night Footnote
While reminiscing over ABC's 35-year history in broadcasting Monday Night Football last night, the subject of stadium name changes came up. Al Michaels asked if Yankee Stadium could be called anything else, and John Madden said that, to him, the Oakland Coliseum would always be Oakland Coliseum, and Candlestick Park would always be Candlestick Park. Hear, hear! In a remarkable historical parallel, the New York Jets lost the very first MNF game ever broadcast, which took place in Cleveland Stadium in 1970, and the very last such game ever broadcast, by the very same score: 31-21. Next year MNF will be cablecast on ESPN. Boo-oo!
Bill Nye, the baseball guy
Will wonders never cease? Bill Nye, the guy who made science "cool" for teenage kids in the 1990s, grew up in the Washington area and used to be a Senators fan. He was terribly distraught when his team left town and became the Texas Rangers in 1972, but he is brimming with enthusiasm over the return of baseball to Our Nation's Capital. See Washington Post. His TV show was produced at the PBS station in Seattle, so I always thought that's where he was from.
December 27, 2005 [LINK]
Political bias in academia?
This is one of those touchy subjects about which commentary is mostly futile. The New York Times (via Glenn Reynolds) reports on growing discontent among conservative students who resent the leftist slant of many of their professors. It goes without saying that most college campuses have a left-leaning atmosphere, which is why hardly anyone in the know bothers to talk about it. It's a more-or-less permanent condition, like the physical landscape, so there's no point in aggravating people to no good end. (The question mark in the title is meant to be ironic, by the way.) Fortunately, however, the extremely dogmatic or overtly subversive Ward Churchills of the university world are the exception, not the rule. Most politically correct professors are simply risk-avoidant types who would rather pander to youthful rebelliousness than insist on critical thinking and open dialogue.
There is a big, unseen danger in attacking political correctness head on, however, as the new Students for Academic Freedom movement is doing. Like affirmative action programs, demands by conservatives for equal treatment on campus are likely to backfire. Such a campaign would only accentuate the politicization of higher learning, which is the real problem. Two wrongs don't make a right.
"Little Red Book" hoax
I strain mightily to avoid spreading unsubstantiated rumors, but my credulity got the best of me last week (scroll down). The story about the student being questioned by Federal agents for having checked out Mao Zedong's "Little Red Book" was false. University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth professor Brian Glyn Williams confronted a former student, who admitted it was a hoax but gave no explanation. Even though the case was cited by Sen. Ted Kennedy and others, "John Hoey, spokesman for UMass-Dartmouth, said the university did not expect to take any action against the student." See Boston Globe (via Instapundit, who wonders why the student's identity is being protected). In any reputable institution of higher learning -- an admittedly restrictive category -- such a high-profile fraud would be grounds for expulsion, or at least a one-semester suspension.
December 28, 2005 [LINK]
New stadium chronology page
Year-by-year baseball stadium chronology, tracing the complete "life cycle" from construction through demolition of all past and present Major League Baseball stadiums. There are probably a few minor omissions in it. It is plainer appearance-wise, but more information rich than the old graphics-intensive Baseball stadium chronology (by decade) page, which has been touched up just a bit.
Cleveland Stadium update
I bought myself the "Take Me Out to the Ballpark" calendar (by the author of the weird round book by that same title) that included some detailed photos I had never seen before. One of them showed the outfield fence in Cleveland Stadium at some time during the 1980s, when the marked power alley dimensions were eight feet greater in right field than in left field. There was no evident reason for this apparent asymmetry, and I'm beginning to suspect that it was nothing more than a matter of where the distance markers were placed. Anyway, I jumped the gun on the planned revisions to the diagrams on that page, which are now completed.
Movies: Mr. 3000, Bang the Drum Slowly
A new visitor to this Web site just alerted me to the fact that the movie Mr. 3000 was not filmed in Ameriquest Field, as the cover of the DVD implies, but rather Miller Park in Milwaukee. My apologies; the Civic Religion page has been duly corrected. That reminds me, I was going to mention a similar oddity in the movie Bang the Drum Slowly, which I reviewed on Sept. 25. Anaheim Stadium is on the cover (see imdb.com), but none of the movie was actually filmed there. There's an additional quirk about the photo of Anaheim Stadium that shows Robert DeNiro crouching with the catcher's mitt: It is a mirror image of the grandstand in left field, with the foul pole on the wrong side. Also, the stadium roof on the left side of DeNiro's head does not align with the roof on the right side; sloppy photo doctoring, in the pre-Photoshop era.
December 28, 2005 [LINK]
Morales pledges to reject U.S. aid
Bolivia's president-elect, Evo Morales, says he will reject any U.S. foreign aid that is conditioned on Bolivia's cooperation in the coca eradication program. He plans a world tour in preparation for his inauguration, and his first stop will be Havana, Cuba. See CNN.com. Morales lacks any experience in government whatsoever, so his early months in office are likely to be marked by a lot of sharp crowd-pleasing rhetoric and inconsistent actions, as he faces up to the harsh realities of governance. With any luck, he will follow the example of Brazil's "Lula" da Silva and proceed with his sweeping reform agenda in a responsible way. In any event, his accession to power will be a momentous occasion for Bolivia, which has never had a full-blooded ethnic Indian serve as chief executive.
Chile to buy German tanks
The nearly-completed sale involves 100 advanced-technology Leopard tanks, which have long been the primary weapon of the German Army. This is the last major part of a weapons acquisition program that included ten U.S.-built F-16 jet fighters, 18 Dutch jets, four frigates, and two submarines. High prices for copper are said to be the reason for this buildup. See CNN.com. (Chile's strategic rival Peru is a major copper exporter as well.) Such purchases are normally arranged over a long period of time, so there may be no particular strategic motive behind it. The timing of the announcement may be in response to Peru's recent declarations about maritime sovereignty, which has offended many people in Chile.
December 28, 2005 [LINK]
Bloggers & the information war
Monday's Washington Post reported on the use of bloggers and cash donations as part of the effort to influence the perception of the war in Iraq. It's not really news, but it provides a good in-depth look at the war over information. There was a mini-scandal a month or two ago when it was learned that American military units had been paying Iraqi journalists, possibly in exchange for favorable reporting. U.S. officers quoted in the Post story insisted that they do not control or try to manipulate the Iraqi news, and if any of them tried to do so, a huge scandal would no doubt erupt. In a blog post at threatswatch.org, one of the bloggers cited, Bill Roggio, objected to some inaccuracies in the story with regard to journalists are embedded, and what he believes is a suggestion by the Post authors that he was a tool of the military. I didn't get that sense from the article, which seemed to me to be balanced in its scrutiny. Roggio does draw attention to past sins by Western journalists, however, which might explain why he is so sensitive to criticism by them:
In the past, the established media has paid Iraqi stringers that have turned out to be insurgent or al-Qaeda operatives. And they have provided cover for Saddam's brutal regime in order to maintain a Baghdad office. Never have these improprieties caused the media to question the motivations of their counterparts as the motivations of my embed have been questioned.
Hopefully, anyone who questions U.S. efforts in the information war will take into account the need for doing so. The Post story also features another one of the "embedded" bloggers in Iraq, Michael Yon, an intrepid independent photojournalist. I took note of him on Nov. 23.
December 28, 2005 [LINK]
Wood ducks on the pond
After washing the car yesterday, I walked across the street to the pond at Gypsy Hill Park, and was delighted to see, amidst the dozens of Mallards and motley other ducks and geese, a beautiful, multi-colored Wood duck. I hadn't seen any there in several months, and in fact, there were two of them: a male and a female. I was surprised to hear them emit quiet squeaks rather than quacks. Wood ducks are notably smaller than Mallards, and shier as well. Indeed, when I returned today with camera in hand, they kept paddling away from me. A family was tossing bread to the ducks, in spite of the signs posted at the duck pellet vending machines urging people not to do so. Those machines help fund the Wildlife Center of Virginia.
Roll mouse over the image to see the female Wood duck, which is plainer.
December 30, 2005 [LINK]
Nationals sign Armas, Ortiz
The Nationals are trying to solidify their starting pitcher rotation well in advance of spring training. Tony Armas Jr. avoided arbitration by signing with the Nationals for another year, the same term as the contract signed by former Cincinnati Red Ramon (not Russ) Ortiz. Both have been steady if unspectacular starting pitchers for the past few seasons, though Armas missed many games last summer becuse of a bad shoulder. See MLB.com. Former Indian (and Brave) Kevin Millwood, who was also pursued by the Nationals, just signed with the Texas Rangers.
David Pinto recently compiled a ranking of the top MLB leadoff batters in terms of on-base average over the last three seasons. He was focusing on Johnny Damon's likely effect on the Yankees (Derek Jeter is ranked #2), but I noticed how much higher Brad Wilkerson (.372) is compared to Alfonso Soriano (.335). Did Jim Bowden realize that before he made that trade with the Rangers? At the bottom of the list: former National Endy Chavez, traded to the Phillies last May.
The E-mail bag
I'm still struggling to get caught up with old e-mail correspondence. I always appreciate a friendly compliment or tip from new visitors to the site (welcome Gilbert Ohlson, Michael Springer, and David Bennett), but I regret that some messages requiring serious thought on my part often languish on the back burner for weeks or more. To help me keep track of what to get to first, please include something specific in the subject line when you send a message. Steven Poppe submitted modified versions of the Ameriquest Field (ex-Ballpark in Arlington) diagram, with a retractable roof (a lot of territory to cover), and one of Miller Park; both would be symmetrical. Sean Holland posted a comparison of the Fenway Park (which he sponsored) and Yankee Stadium diagrams on a message board, properly crediting me and including a link to this Web site. That's the way to do it.
December 30, 2005 [LINK]
End-of-term spending spree
Gov. Mark Warner has proposed a $72 billion budget in Virginia for 2006-2008, a huge (20 percent) increase over the $60 billion 2004-2006 budget. If it seems that the popular, fresh-faced Governor is "spending like there's no tomorrow," there is a very good reason: He will be leaving office very shortly. The Augusta Free Press (link via Steve Kijak) notes the varied reactions of Valley area politicians and activists, ranging from sympathetic rationalization (State Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon) to mild indignation (Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave) to outrage (Phil Rodokanakis, the president of the Virginia Club for Growth. Hanger noted that the non-general fund budget (which includes entities such as public universities whose expenses are partly covered by fees) has been growing faster than the general fund in recent years. Some of the increase is not discretionary in nature, resulting from Federal (unfunded) mandates such as No Child Left Behind, and it wouldn't matter who was running the state government. Those factors cannot explain such a big increase, however. As in Washington, fiscal discipline in Richmond seems to be crumbling.
Since Warner is a lame duck, forbidden for running for reelection under the constitution of Virginia, there is no reason for him to refrain from dishing out all the goodies he can. Might this have something to do with pleasing key constituency groups as the entrepreneurial, Kennedyesque "New Democrat" prepares for the 2008 presidential campaign? After all, the tax hike of 2004 resulted in a big surplus in the state treasury, and one of the Prime Directives in the world of government is "use it or lose it." That's why I'm generally sympathetic to the tax-cutting cause, even though I cringe at the rigid dogmatism of some of those folks. I still say that if former Gov. Jim Gilmore had adjusted to economic conditions and delayed the scheduled car tax cuts in his final year in office, there would have been no budget crisis that led to the panicked overreaction in the 2004 tax hike. The fact that Governor-elect Tim Kaine is much more of a traditional tax-and-spend left-liberal than Mark Warner is means there will almost certainly be even more pressure on the state legislators to spend, spend, spend.