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Andrew Clem Archives

March 1, 2005 [LINK]

Rounding third & Heading for home!

Today is my last day in Costa Rica, and I have deeply mixed feelings about leaving this wonderful place, and not just because of the bad weather back home. Last night I took a first look at the video and photos I took at Santa Rosa National Park, and was very pleased overall. Stay tuned!

Evolution & the Left *

* In order to keep the content of this blog in the proper respective categories, the portion of the blog entry that was originally posted here has been moved to: Archives/2005/03/01po.html. I have left the following paragraph (which is duplicated, to maintain continuity) here, however.

UPDATE: I had to cut the previous post [see above-referenced entry] short, because I'm sharing this computer with other guests at Kap's Place. Also, I was determined to visit the University of Costa Rica this afternoon, and I did. I was graciously received by the director of the Political Science Department, Dr. Jose Miguel Rodriguez, inquiring about the free trade issue in Costa Rica. Then I took a pleasant stroll around the beautiful campus, which is filled with lush groves of bamboo, palm, and pine trees, great bird habitat. (It's also filled with anti-free trade posters and grafitti.) Gary Stiles, the lead author of A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, which I've been scouring every day since I arrived here, teaches at UCR and is going to give a seminar here one week from tomorrow: "How to Arm a Hummingbird? Ecology, Adaptations, and Philogenia." (That's my English translation of it.) Too bad I'll be gone by then.


Andrew Clem Archives

March 1, 2005 [LINK]

Evolution & the Left *

Shannon Love, at the Chicago Boyz blog (link via Donald Sensing), wrote an excellent piece about the contradictory attitude toward evolution held by many on the Left. On one hand, they exalt evolution because it casts doubt on religion and traditional authority structures, but on the other hand they loathe to acknowledge the corollary aspect that differences among individuals -- such as regarding intelligence and based on gender -- are universal and indeed necessary for evolution to function. So I made the following comment:

This is a very thoughtful posting and comment thread. I do think the "blank slate" aspect is drawing too much attention, however, and I'm also a bit surprised that so little has been said of the huge irony that Leftists refuse to incorporate the adaptation to environmental factors into their understanding of social behavior or public policy. For example, the mere suggestion that welfare recipients may become trapped in despair as the result of perverse incentives created by the (well meaning) government is beyond the pale. Remember how Republicans got savaged for daring to bring this up? In contrast, Hayek's writings on how free markets work is full of evolutionary insights. He rescued the liberal capitalist intellectual tradition by bringing it out the the 18th-19th Century scientific paradigm based on Newtonian mechanics. Just as Darwin himself was superseded in some ways by those who benefited from subsequent scientific and intellectual advances, Adam Smith has been superseded and refined, thereby keeping his ideas alive. The same cannot be said for the followers of Karl Marx, however. Unless they learn to adapt to reality (not utopia), they will keep marching toward doom, dragging down as many unwitting victims with them as they can.

UPDATE: I had to cut the previous post short, because I'm sharing this computer with other guests at Kap's Place. Also, I was determined to visit the University of Costa Rica this afternoon, and I did. I was graciously received by the director of the Political Science Department, Dr. Jose Miguel Rodriguez, inquiring about the free trade issue in Costa Rica. Then I took a pleasant stroll around the beautiful campus, which is filled with lush groves of bamboo, palm, and pine trees, great bird habitat. (It's also filled with anti-free trade posters and grafitti.) Gary Stiles, the lead author of A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, which I've been scouring every day since I arrived here, teaches at UCR and is going to give a seminar here one week from tomorrow: "How to Arm a Hummingbird? Ecology, Adaptations, and Philogenia." (That's my English translation of it.) Too bad I'll be gone by then.

Anyway, back to the previous topic. (No, please, not more evolution!) I meant to call attention to other ironic aspects of evolution and politics. First, the Right has traditionally been associated with the self-reliant, do-or-die ethics of competitive markets, sometimes flirting with Social Darwinisim. The contemporary Republican Party, however, is full of Christian fundamentalists who reject Darwinian thinking outright. This suggests that there may be latent tensions among the factions that make up the American Right. Meanwhile, as one of the people who posted a comment on the Chicago Boyz blog noted, the Catholic Church has a strong tradition of reconciling scientific learning with revealed truth, something with which I heartily concur but is largely absent from Christian fundamentalism. However, the Catholic Church's modern social teachings run strongly counter to capitalist principles, holding that wages, for example, should be based on needs of a worker's family, rather than on supply and demand. Indeed, throughout Latin America, public policy is heavily influenced by the Catholic rejection of free market principles. This results, for example, in inefficient labor markets, where some workers can't find jobs even though there are potential employers who would be willing to hire them. Antipathy to markets also impedes the resolution of the Third World debt issue; creditors ought to be able to liquidate their nonproductive foreign debt holdings at an appropriate discount, but that would render many poor countries ineligible for future debt, which many people believe is intolerable. Thus we reach the apparent conclusion that no present-day political or social organization seems capable of dealing with the consequences of evolutionary theory in a consistent manner. I may draw further lessons from this in a future posting.

* This blog entry was originally posted along with other material at Archives/2005/03/01la.html while I was in Costa Rica, but has been retroactively renamed and placed in the Politics category, where it belongs.


Andrew Clem Archives

March 5, 2005 [LINK]

Don't Cry For Me, Costa Rica

Costa Rica montage I finally made it back home to Staunton last night, taking the AMTRAK train from Manassas. There wasn't as much snow on the ground when I arrived as I had feared, but today it has been snowing since dawn. It is hard to imagine a starker contrast to Costa Rica. I should have stayed for another week... This photo montage shows some of the very distinct places Jacqueline and I visited. Clockwise, from the top left: La Paz Waterfalls, in the cloud forest east of Poas Volcano; downtown San Jose, from the Jade Museum atop the INS (National Insurance Institute) Building; a falen tree flower in Santa Rosa National Park; and the beach at Playa de Cacao, near the town of Golfito.

Overall, I would have to say that this was one of my best foreign trips ever, in terms of the scenery, wildlife, and the hospitality of the local people. I wish Jacqueline had had enough time to stay with me for the entire trip, but she might not have appreciated the rugged terrain and risky territory that I visited in Guanacaste (NW) and Nicaragua. From a tourist standpoint, the only way in which Costa Rica falls short compared to most other Latin American countries I've visited is the absence of significant archeological ruins. This reflects the fact that the Indians who lived here before Columbus were not as advanced as the Incas or the Mayas.

From an economic standpoint, Costa Rica's prospects are good as far as I can tell, but there are a few serious problems, some of which I've mentioned previously. The comparison I made on February 23 with Venezuela's precarious social order is apt, I think, but there is one big difference: Costa Rica has not had any armed forces since 1948, and is therefore free from the threat of a military coup. Among the "Tico" political leaders, I am unaware of any populist firebrands similar to Hugo Chavez. Thus, the country seems to be a safe haven for private investors. The fact that so many Americans have invested money here, and even moved here for their retirement, means that Costa Rica has a big vested interest in maintaining the favorable status quo. It would take a large-scale economic catastrophe (an earthquake, perhaps?) to cause a big enough shift in political currents for radical left-wing politicians to gain control.

One of the best things about traveling abroad is meeting interesting people and sharing experiences and opinions. I met a Swedish woman who voiced the mainstream European antipathy toward U.S. "militarism" and "arrogance." I politely explained the rationale behind U.S. policy in Iraq, but she really did not seem interested. Unfortunately (?), the United States is under-represented among the tourists who visit Costa Rica; the same applies to Latin America in general. I put that question mark there because there are just enough stereotypical "ugly American" boobs in Costa Rica to warrant some anti-(North) American sentiment. (NOTE: The word gringo usually applies to just about any person of European descent.) I also saw a few rude people from Europe and Canada, however, so bad behavior is by no means exclusive to the U.S.

I could go on and on about how much I'll miss Costa Rica, but that will become evident in all the text and photos I post about our trip over the next few days. I want to take this opportunity to thank all the wonderful people I met down there, above all, Karla Arias, the proprietor of Kap's Place, where Jacqueline and I stayed while we were in San Jose. It is a very nice, well-decorated, friendly, comfortable, and well-run establishment that I think is destined for Bigger Things in the future. One thing's for sure: I'll be back!


Andrew Clem Archives

March 5, 2005 [LINK]

Bird photo bonanza

Costa Rica birds montage I have literally dozens of fair-to-very-good photos from our trip to Costa Rica, and this montage is merely a preview. They are, clockwise from the upper left: Great kiskadee, Blue-gray tanager, Silver-throated tanager, Red-footed honeycreeper, Scarlet-rumped tanager, Scarlet macaw, Pacific screech owl, and in the right center, an Coppery-headed emerald hummingbird. More details on where I saw these birds and all the others are yet to come... I wanted to include the Elegant trogon in this montage, since it was one of my big photographic "prizes," but it is hard to distinguish the bird from the background foliage unless the photo is at a larger scale. All the above photos are still images from our Canon digital video camera. After I finish with editing those I will move on to capturing freeze frames from the many video clips I took. For faster-moving birds such as hummingbirds, it is almost hopeless to get good still images, so taking video is the only way to go.

With four or more inches of snow on the ground right now, our backyard bird feeder has been attracting a large number of juncos, goldfinches, sparrows, cardinals, etc. That makes it prime hunting territory for hungry raptors, and indeed a Sharp-shinned hawk collided (feet first) with the window in Princess and George's room while I was standing there about an hour ago. I think his prey got away this time, but Princess and George panic flew all around in a panic and are still nervous.



Andrew Clem Archives

March 7, 2005 [LINK]

Nationals play (practice) ball!

History will record that the Washington Nationals won their first-ever competitive event, edging the Mets at their spring training home field at Space Coast Stadium by a score of 5-3. (History will omit the fact that I was in the vicinity of this practice game while it was being played, about six miles above in a United Airlines jet, returning home from Costa Rica.) Seeing the Nationals on the field in uniform is still almost too fantastic to believe... Even though their inaugural win means virtually nothing, it was still a nice way to start. Even nicer was when they beat the Orioles, who will become the "natural" interleague rival club. MLB just announced that the Nats and O's will play at least three games against each other during the 2006 season.

To the surprise of no one, Peter Angelos is still refusing to budge in negotiations with MLB over compensation and broadcast rights issues. This is causing further delays in the process of selling the Nationals to private investors, which in turn will make it hard for the team to expand its salary budget until very late in the season. There goes our chances for the postseason! smile Thomas Boswell wrote about all this in the Washington Post:

Perhaps out of malice because D.C. finally dared to get a team, or simply to wangle the best deal for his Orioles, Angelos has filibustered all spring in marathon reparation negotiations. Before Opening Day, all this will be settled. Top officials are furious at Angelos for refusing what they consider generous, if not excessive, offers. The call-his-bluff stage is coming soon.

All of which made the Nats' televised victory even tastier.

Scorched-earth tactics by Mr. Angelos notwithstanding, any remaining legal contingencies that might have thwarted the start of baseball in Washington have now effectively vanished, so I've officially raised the likelihood of the Nationals playing in D.C. as scheduled to 100 percent.

March 7, 2005 [LINK]

Stadium updates: D.C., L.A., etc.

The D.C. government has chosen three architectural firms as finalists in the bid to design the new stadium near the Anacostia River: the renowned Hellmuth, Obata, & Kassabaum (HOK) of Kansas City; Harwood K. Smith of Dallas; and Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill. A final decision is expected by the end of the week. The architectural proposes submitted at this stage do not include specific design plans, just broad parameters. It is reassuring that D.C. officials don't want just another ultra-nostalgic retro stadium, a once-laudable trend that was, unfortunately, taken to extremes in recent years. They want something unique. For more, see washingtonpost.com.

All systems are go at RFK Stadium, including the new self-propelled seating rotation mechanism that will make it possible for baseball and soccer to co-exist in perfect harmony -- or so they say. It's never been done before. Single-game Nationals tickets go on sale this Saturday, but tickets for Opening Day won't be sold until March 26...

In spite of the apocalyptic floods that have plagued the Los Angeles area for the last several weeks -- Repent, Hollywood! The End is near!? -- renovations at Dodger Stadium are somehow on schedule. New dugouts are being built about 15 feet closer to the diamond, and several rows of "Baseline Field Box seats" (very l-o-w) are being installed along the foul lines. Will the 1,600 new seats add to Dodger Stadium's "permanent" capacity of 56,000? The extra rows will create a very long "notch" in each corner, much like at Yankee Stadium but even longer. To restore authenticity, real dirt will replace that fake rubber surface on the warning tracks. For more, see mlb.com.

The Cubs have announced that the bleachers at Wrigley Field will be expanded prior to the 2006 season, adding 1,970 to the capacity. ball No word from Detroit on how the process of moving the bullpens from right field to left field is going... ball The Cardinals' new ballpark, Busch Stadium III, is assuming recognizable form with much of the steel superstructure and brick exterior on the south end already completed. Yet uncertain is whether partial demolition on Busch Stadium II can be avoided until the end of the 2006 season in order to give enough time for completing the new stadium, which overlaps the "footprint" of the current one.

March 7, 2005 [LINK]

Back from vacation

Fear not, sports fans, I've returned safe and sound from the jungles of Central America, and I'm raring to go as the new season gets underway. I do plan to make continual revisions and enhancements to the baseball pages, which I've spelled out more explicitly in the left column. Can I guarantee that I will proceed in that precise order. No, but that is my general plan. I've been in touch with Bruce Orser about what the original Wrigley Field was like, and we are both stumped for the moment. I may end up doing a "best guess" version for the 1914-1922 period.


Andrew Clem Archives

March 7, 2005 [LINK]

Costa Rica (& Nicaragua) bird list

Blue-gray tanager Whew! After many hours of squinting at photographs, I've managed to compile a preliminary list of the birds I saw in Costa Rica (and Nicaragua). There are a few uncertain cases (marked with "?") among the 117 species, and this list will be revised based on scrutiny of video images, input from experts, etc. Plus signs (+) denote the most abundant birds, though in some cases they are not found in all habitats. Asterisks (*) denote new life birds for me, of which I've counted 63 so far. "(ph)" denotes that I have photographs and/or video images; "(ph!!)" denotes the very best photos. The Blue-gray tanager pictured here may not be as colorful as some others, but it has a subtle beauty and was the one bird I saw almost every place I/we went in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and is therefore the most "representative" of all. (NOTE: Some photos have not yet been posted.) I plan to add one or more photo gallery pages with captions explaining the location and circumstances, but in the mean time you can see those photos individually by clicking HERE.

  1. Great-tailed grackle (ph) +
  2. Rufous-collared sparrow (ph) +
  3. White-winged dove
  4. Rock pigeons +
  5. Black vulture +
  6. Turkey vulture
  7. House sparrow
  8. House wren +
  9. Blue-gray tanager (ph!!) +
  10. Summer tanager (ph)
  11. Baltimore oriole (ph)
  12. Great kiskadee (ph!!)
  13. Tropical kingbird * (ph) +
  14. Clay-colored robin (ph) +
  15. Red-crowned ant-tanager *
  16. Rufous-tailed hummingbird * +
  17. Yellow warbler (ph)
  18. Ovenbird
  19. Hoffman's woodpecker * (ph)
  20. Cattle egret +
  21. Fiery-throated hummingbird *
  22. Sooty-capped bush-tanager *
  23. Sooty-faced finch *
  24. Black-cowled oriole * (ph)
  25. Scarlet-thighed dacnis * (ph)
  26. Gray-breasted wood wren * (ph)
  27. Green-breasted mango *
  28. Blue & white swallow
  29. Rose-breasted grosbeak (ph)
  30. Silver-throated tanager * (ph!!)
  31. Violet sabrewing * (ph!!)
  32. Green-crowned brilliant hummingbird * (ph!)
  33. Purple-throated mountain gem * (ph)
  34. Coppery-headed emerald hummingbird * (ph!)
  35. Tennessee warbler (ph)
  36. Roadside hawk * (?)
  37. Ruddy ground-dove * (ph!!)
  38. ? dove
  39. Scarlet-rumped tanager * (ph)
  40. Bananaquit (ph!!)
  41. Spotted sandpiper (ph)
  42. Magnificent frigatebird * (ph)
  43. Bank swallow
  44. Mangrove swallow *
  45. Brown pelican
  46. ? gull
  47. ? tern
  48. Red-crowned woodpecker *
  49. Belted kingfisher
  50. Amazon kingfisher * (ph)
  51. American pygmy kingfisher *
  52. Chestnut-backed antbird *
  53. Turquoise cotinga *
  54. Riverside wren *
  55. Chestnut-mandibled toucan * (ph!!)
  56. Streaked flycatcher ? * (ph)
  57. Philadelphia vireo *
  58. Palm tanager * (ph)
  59. Black-crowned tityra *
  60. Black-striped sparrow * (ph)
  61. Thick-billed seed finch *
  62. Crested caracara (ph)
  63. Bare-throated tiger-heron * (ph)
  64. White ibis (ph)
  65. Common black hawk * (ph)
  66. Green heron
  67. Great curassow * (ph)
  68. Scarlet macaw * (ph)
  69. Golden-naped woodpecker *
  70. Red-legged honeycreeper * (ph!!)
  71. Great blue heron (ph)
  72. Black-collared hawk (ph)
  73. (small, bluish, with green crown, yellow belly --- ???)
  74. ? parrot
  75. King vulture *
  76. Blue-black grassquit
  77. Yellow-bellied siskin *
  78. Groove-billed ani *
  79. Smooth-billed ani * (?)
  80. Great antshrike * (ph)
  81. Prevost's ground-sparrow *
  82. Blue-crowned motmot *
  83. Silvery-throated jay *
  84. Thicket tinamou *
  85. White-throated magpie-jay * (ph)
  86. Pacific screech owl * (ph!!)
  87. ? hawk * (ph)
  88. Inca dove (ph)
  89. Rufous-capped warbler (ph)
  90. Banded wren * (ph)
  91. Squirrel cuckoo * (ph)
  92. Yellow-throated vireo
  93. White-lored gnatcatcher * (ph)
  94. Olive sparrow * (ph)
  95. Striped-headed sparrow *
  96. Great crested flycatcher (ph)
  97. parrot * (ph)
  98. Elegant trogon * (ph)
  99. Scissor-tailed flycatcher
  100. Orchard oriole
  101. Broad-billed hummingbird (ph)
  102. ? swifts
  103. Great egret
  104. Olivaceous (neotropical) cormorant
  105. Purple gallinule
  106. Limpkin *
  107. Northern jacana * (ph)
  108. Montezuma oropendula (ph)
  109. Orange-chinned parakeet *
  110. Snowy egret
  111. Little blue heron
  112. Osprey
  113. Crimson-fronted parakeet *
  114. Nicaraguan grackle
  115. Social flycatcher ?
  116. Eastern meadowlark
  117. Indigo bunting

I used "A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica" by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander F. Skutch as a reference, and it was invaluable. If I had stayed in Costa Rica for one more week I could have heard Prof. Stiles give a lecture on hummingbirds and ecology at the University of Costa Rica. While at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, where we saw most of the hummingbirds, I had the pleasure to chat with Dr. Aaron Sekarak, the resident biologist and avian expert. I invite comments or challenges to my species identifications: please contact postmaster@andrewclem.com.


May 8, 2005 [LINK]

Happy (human AND avian) Mothers Day!

After hiking and picknicking at Sherando Lake (near the Blue Ridge) yesterday, we were lucky to see a pair of Blue-gray gnatcatchers busily building a nest in a tree right next to the parking spaces at the entrance from the highway. How convenient! Presented for your viewing pleasure is a 20-second video clip of the tiny "expectant mother" in action. (As any experienced birder will quickly note, the added sound effects are fake.) To see a closeup still image, click HERE. Note that the nest is made almost exclusively of tree lichens. We also saw an American redstart singing loudly, plus the first Red-eyed vireo of the season and a Hairy woodpecker. Heard in the distance was an Ovenbird, plus other probable warblers.

This morning I went walking behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad and saw several Yellow-rumped warblers (all males), a male Yellow warbler, and the first Nashville warbler I've seen in years. Plus a Pileated woodpecker (female), two flickers, two Red-bellied woodpeckers, a Downy woodpecker, two Brown thrashers, and a Red-eyed vireo.

UPDATE: Here's a (pop-up) photo of Sherando Lake, which I took yesterday. I forgot to mention that I saw a Baltimore oriole out back this morning, and a Ruby-throated hummingbird (male) late this afternoon.

FURTHER UPDATE: For some reason, I can't get the movie to play over the Internet. I've posted video clips to Web sites four times previously without a hitch, and this is the first time I've encountered such a problem. I'll see if I can fix it...

May 9, 2005

LAST (?) UPDATE: The movie clip is working now after I modified its file name slightly. That should not have mattered, however, so something else must be amiss somewhere.



Andrew Clem Archives

March 9, 2005 [LINK]

Costa Rica scenic photos

UPDATE: I've just posted a batch of thirty nine (39!) scenic photos from Costa Rica. For the first time, I have used specialized software (Graphic Converter by Lemke Software, GmbH, to be precise) to create thumbnail images that are links to full-size photo versions. That way, you can get a good overview of our trip without having to wait an eternity for all the photos to load, and you can pick and choose the ones you want to see better.


March 9, 2005 [LINK]

Bolivia in turmoil again

After several weeks of escalating protests, President Carlos Mesa submitted his resignation on Monday, but this turned out to be a ploy aimed at rebuilding political support. In an emergency session last night (Tuesday), the Bolivian Congress unanimously rejected the offer. Mesa had set conditions for staying in office, specifically that his political opponents support the restoration of order in the streets of the capital city. Most political parties realized that if they don't support Mesa, democratic authority would wither and the country would teeter on the brink of anarchy.

To understand these events and what possible grievances might be motivating the protesters, it is important to put Bolivia in the context of the continent-wide upsurge of indigenous political activism that began in the 1990s and is still gathering momentum. President Mesa assumed power in October 2003 after his predecessor, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, resigned after a similar wave of violent protests. On that occasion, the protesters were complaining about the proposed exports of natural gas via a pipeline to the Pacific Ocean. That would have been a very lucrative enterprise for Bolivia, but many radicals and indigenous rights advocates are so deeply suspicious of private enterprise and foreigners that the potential benefits meant nothing to them. The main complaint this time is lack of water service in the slum service of El Alto, near the La Paz airport. As in Peru elsewhere in Latin America, water utilities have been privatized in recent years in order to improve efficiency, but the French company running the water works in La Paz has not satisfied the many poor customers.

There is no question that much of the impetus behind the protests of the last two years comes from Evo Morales, leader of the "Movement Toward Socialism" party that represents coca growers. Growing coca for domestic use and pharmaceutical purposes is perfectly legal in Bolivia, so the demands for abolishing restrictions on coca cultivation amount to a blatant bid to legalize large-scale commercial coca sales to narcotics traffickers. If Bolivia went down that path, American interests would be seriously affected, and the Bush administration would have little choice but to enact stiff punitive sanctions. In the face of greed backed by violence (though cloaked in the garb of social justice), the Bolivian government really has no room to negotiate with the coca lobby.

Miguel Centellas (via Randy Paul) points out that Bolivia's armed forces have taken a strong stand in defense of democracy and constitutional authority. Such a transformation from their old habit of constant interference in civilian politics, via coups and subtle intimidation, is one of the few positive trends in Latin America recently.

March 9, 2005 [LINK]

Free trade falters in Guatemala

Protesters succeeded in forcing a delay in the scheduled vote by the Guatemalan Congress on whether to ratify the CAFTA free-trade agreement between Central America and the United States that was signed last spring. Conservative President Oscar Berger rejects the proposal to put the ratification question to a nationwide referendum. Army troops have been mobilized in case the protesters return to lay siege to the Congress again. There have also been protests against CAFTA in Honduras, and I observed many signs of opposition to it when I was in Costa Rica and Nicaragua recently.

March 9, 2005 [LINK]

Inauguration in Uruguay

Tabare Vazquez, a member of a leftist party that has never before held power, was sworn in as the country's new president on Tuesday. One of his first officials acts was signing a food-for-oil agreement with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Nevertheless, he is expected to shun radicalism and follow the example of Brazil's "Lula" da Silva, a pragmatic leftist who has had some success during his first two years in office.

March 9, 2005 [LINK]

Prison riot

In the Dominican Republic, 120 inmates died in a prison riot that sparked a fire that got out of control. As with similar recent incidents in Central America, turf wars between rival gangs were the cause. In most Latin American prisons, police don't try to control what goes on inside the prison walls, so gangs often fill the role of guards, obviously preferential. Overcrowding is a big part of the problem.

Spring cleaning

I've begun another overhaul of the Latin America pages on this site. Background material formerly included on the main Latin America page has been moved to the Latin America culture or Latin America war pages.


Andrew Clem Archives

March 10, 2005 [LINK]

Four more eggs: You go, girl!

four eggs Princess has done it again: Less than five weeks since her last clutch of eggs, she just laid four more in her new nest she just built in one of our spider plants. This marks the first time she has laid that many in almost a year. As is her routine prior to egg-laying, she went through some of the standard flirting rituals in the window in the last few days. George has been singing a bit more often, but we haven't noticed much "amorous" activity between them since we returned from our trip to Costa Rica. Our neighbors Therese and Ron took good care of them while we were gone, and we appreciated it tremendously. Princess and George were quite upset when a Sharp-shinned hawk bumped right into their window the other day, but they apparently got over the trauma.

This week will mark the fourth anniversary of the passing of Goldie, our first canary. Beware the Ides of March...



Andrew Clem Archives

March 12, 2005 [LINK]

Congress investigates steroids

Congressman Tom Davis, known as an avid fan who lobbied for baseball's return to Washington, ruffled some feathers in MLB this week by announcing that Jason Giambi, Sammy Sosa, and other suspected steroid users would be subpoenaed to testify before the House Government Reform Committee, which he chairs. Somehow Barry Bonds did not make the "cut." See the Washington Post. Congressman Davis has a superb reputation for his knowledge, ability, and ethics, but this action raises some questions. For one thing, the timing of this seems unfortunate, just as the regular season is about to begin. Baseball is already taking strong steps to address the problem, and while it is too early to say whether the new testing measures will be effective or not, they should at least be given a chance. Commissioner Selig has had a lot of headaches lately, and though he has often been slow to act in the past, he seems to have gotten the message about the seriousness of the problem. As in other scandals investigated by Congress, these public hearings may complicate any criminal trials that may come about. Interestingly, Mike Schmidt declined to blame steroids for the fact that four steroid-suspected sluggers have passed him on the all-time home run list over the last four years. He says the increased number of homers is due to smaller ballparks, harder bats, and harder balls.

Estadio Dennis Martinez

For the first time, I've added a page for a stadium in Latin America, complete with a diagram and photos: Estadio Dennis Martinez, formerly known as "Estadio Nacional," located a mile west of downtown Managua, Nicaragua. Because I was not allowed to take photos inside, however, the diagram is subject to greater error than I usually tolerate.


Andrew Clem Archives

March 12, 2005 [LINK]

Bank robbery in Costa Rica

Nine people were killed in a bank shootout on Wednesday after a robbery attempt failed and hostages were taken. It happened in the mountain tourist town of Santa Elena, about two hours northwest of San Jose, near Arenal volcano (It is one of the best bird watching locations in the country, but I passed it by on my recent trip there.) Three of the culprits, including the only one who survived and was apprehended, were immigrants from Nicaragua. In an ironic parallel to the United States, many people in Costa Rica have complained about the influx of illegal immigrants in recent years. See Tico Times. I sometimes wondered about security when Jacqueline and I were in remote areas of Costa Rica with scant police protection last month. Compared to other Latin American countries, Costa Rica is relatively safe and stable, but this case shows that all is not well in that tropical eco-paradise. Rich gringo tourists attract thieves and burglars like raw meat attracts flies. As long as you stay alert, keep watching all around you, and of course avoid dangerous places, you won't have much to worry about.


Andrew Clem Archives

March 12, 2005 [LINK]

Madrid: One Year Later

One year ago yesterday nearly 200 innocent people were murdered by Islamic terrorists in the central train station in Madrid. Actually, slaughtered would be a better word. I happened to learn about the atrocity via the Web while in an Internet cafe in Cuzco, Peru. A few days later the incumbent government of Prime Minister Jose Aznar was defeated by the anti-war Socialists, confirming in many people's minds the political strategy behind Al Qaeda's attack. I didn't comment on it at the time, however, because I generally refrain from pontificating unless I have something special to say. (How quaint!) Also, I was extremely busy. Yesterday, however, Latin America blogger Randy Paul reopened old wounds by adding to his expression of heartache for Spaniards this jarring comment: "May God forgive those who called you appeasers or cowards from the comfort of their keyboards because you could not bear having your grief and suffering be used for political purposes." I looked at the three blog posts he cited (whose links I included as in the original) and found nothing that could be considered obnoxious enough to warrant Divine pardon. I've been trying to decipher the last clause of that sentence and its logical connection to the first clause. Randy seems to be saying that many Spanish people voted out the People's Party because its leader Aznar was consciously exploiting the Madrid bombing for political purposes. That strikes me as a bizarre interpretation. Aznar bears some responsibility for his party's defeat for having initially blaming the bombing on the Basque ETA, but I know of no analyst who believes that Aznar tried to take political advantage from the attack.

As for the "appeasement" charges, I'm inclined to think fear of terrorists played a major part in the last-minute swing in votes in favor of Zapatero and his Socialists. It's really impossible to say for sure, however. This is a good example of how public opinion surveys often fail to accurately reflect true popular sentiment because many people are ashamed to state their true opinions. Differences of opinion on how to interpret the Spanish elections are perfectly normal, and perhaps the huge chasm between points of view on Madrid, on Iraq, and on 9/11 is merely a sign of the tragic times we live in. I hope for a narrowing of differences on these vital questions some day, but I don't count on it. Very conscious of "the comfort of my keyboard" and the frailties of my human intellect, I make it a point not to invoke God's name to make a political argument.

"Franco Aleman," a.k.a. barcepundit, lists the Madrid victims' names. Reading through it is one way to pay respects, and once you do, no further commentary is necessary.


Andrew Clem Archives

March 14, 2005 [LINK]

Even more vacation pix!

There are two more pages full of thumbnail links to photos from our recent trip to Central America: Costa Rica scenic photos (Part II) (15 photos) and Nicaragua scenic photos (10 photos). These two batches consist of traditional print photographs that I scanned; they are higher quality and therefore reproduced at a larger size than the previous photos from this trip, which were taken with our Canon video camera. The only photographic chore left for me to do from this trip is to transfer the video clips to my iMac, which should yield freeze frame images for ten or so more birds. Later I will probably and add descriptive captions to many of the individual photograph pages. Outside, there is a fresh carpet of snow on the ground...

March 14, 2005 [LINK]

Militias disarm in Haiti

Several hundred Haitian militiamen -- mostly ex-soldiers who had served under the old military regime -- handed in their weapons yesterday, in a belated gesture of respect for government authority. A little over one year ago the elected government of President Jean Bertrand Aristide was overthrown, and the U.S. government took no contrary actions, conveying the impression of tacit approval. Since then Haiti has been policed, just barely, by foreign peacekeeping troops under U.N. auspices. Elections are supposed to be held next October or November.

Haiti shows there are exceptions to the notion that democracy leads to peace and prosperity, the optimistic belief upon which President Bush's foreign policy in the Mideast rests. Haiti never embraced liberal democracy (meaning pluralistic and tolerant) with which we are familiar, however. It was "democratic" in the limited sense of Russia under Putin or Peru under Fujimori. Heavy pressure and pleading for more liberalization by the Clinton administration, which restored Aristide to power in 1994, simply did not bear fruit. To ensure that Iraq does not follow in Haiti's footsteps, we must derive the proper lessons from the failed U.S. policy in Haiti. To wit, resist the urge to push the U.S. model of government, and instead make aid flows contingent on tolerance of nonviolent dissent. The demagogue Aristide remains in exile, meanwhile, hoping for a return to power some day, and probably seeking revenge.


Andrew Clem Archives

March 16, 2005 [LINK]

More Costa Rica bird photos!

Violet saberwing This Violet saberwing is just a sample of the 18 new bird photos I've posted on this site, making about 50 altogether. A few more bird photos may be added later, and I also plan to post a few photos of monkeys and other exotic wild beasts. The Costa Rica birds page has been revamped to make it quicker and easier to see just the photos you want to see. It now includes a scrolling "a la carte" menu to let you pick and choose. The 31 photos it contained are now on the originals page, while the 18 new ones (nearly all of which are freeze frames from digital video tape, rather than still images as in the first batch) are on the second batch page. Those folks with limited patience or slow Internet access speed may prefer to see just the "cream of the crop" at: Costa Rica birds, best. Other high-quality photos on that page from the new batch include a Summer tanager, a Chestnut-mandibled toucan, and a White-throated magpie jay. I wanted to include the Rufous-collared sparrow and the Black-bellied hummingbird, but there are already 16 photos on that page. Thanks to the video camera, I've identified several more birds, adding to my life list. Going through all that video footage to extract suitable freeze frame images and to identify birds has been very time-consuming, which is why blogging has been so light this week.

I did find a bit of time to stop at Bell's Lane on the way home a few days ago. I noticed a huge flock of black birds in a barren field, and was pleased to spot at least a hundred Red-winged blackbirds among the thousands of Starlings. There were also a few Cowbirds, but I didn't see any Grackles. Then I happened to meet up with a caravan of Augusta Bird Club members on a field trip. The American wigeons, Redheads, Ruddy ducks, and Green-winged teals that have been wintering at the big farm pond off and on are still there, along with the usual Canada geese, but I didn't see any of the American coots or Mallards.



Andrew Clem Archives

March 17, 2005 [LINK]

Showtime on Capitol Hill

The "steroid hearings" in Congress just got underway, and lest there be any doubt about their function as a platform for "grandstanding" politicians, it took over an hour for committee members to make their opening statements. (Live audio is available via C-SPAN Radio.) Hall of Fame pitcher Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) is one of the few members of Congress qualified to make judgments about this matter. (He just barely won reelection in November.) He set the proper tone in his introductory remarks, reminding everyone that the government should not meddle in sports unless there is a compelling public interest. I do not underestimate the gravity of this problem and am not making excuses for the dopehead sluggers or for Selig's past foot-dragging. I merely want to point out that the power of Congress to put public pressure on institutions can be abused. I think MLB and the Players' Assocation got the message, and I don't think much more browbeating in the public arena is necessary. If Davis's committee is out to wrench shamed confessions from Sammy, Rafael, and the rest, the only thing it will accomplish is leave a bad taste in our mouths, at the very moment when we should be celebrating baseball's long-overdue return to Washington.

David Pinto scolded Chairman Tom Davis for "bastardizing" Casey at the Bat in his opening remarks. Which makes me wonder, When will someone produce a satirical version of Terry Cashman's "Willie, Mickey, and The Duke (Talkin' Baseball)" -- something like "Barry, Sammy, and Big Mac"? smile


Andrew Clem Archives

March 18, 2005 [LINK]

Clash of titans (70*, 66*, 73*, ...)

Wow! Yesterday's eleven-hour hearings on the baseball steroid problem more than lived up to expectations of high drama. What a memorable scene: the titans of the political world versus the (formerly) pumped-up titans of the sports world, in a fierce contest to determine who is more righteous, or perhaps less corrupt. Not having C-SPAN3 where we live, I only saw the last three hours of the hearings live after regular C-SPAN switched from the House floor to the committee chambers, and I stayed glued to the tube as the earlier highlights of the day were rebroadcast later in the evening. There weren't many surprises in terms of what was said, since the principal figures had already let their positions be known. What I found intriguing was the wide array of emotions and attitudes displayed by the inquisitors and the witnesses. Curt Schilling was on top of his game, making a long, thoughtful statement and answering questions in a forthright, sincere manner. He is right that the drug problem and the attitude of winning at all costs is society-wide, not restricted to baseball or the sports world. Baseball's new black sheep Jose Canseco, in contrast, was subdued and apologetic. Inconsistencies in his story undermined his credibility somewhat, but not many people seriously doubt the general thrust of the charges made in his book. As for one of the most off-the-wall particular misdeeds he alleged, ABC later replayed a recent Jimmy Kimmel show with an extremely tacky skit reenacting the supposed Canseco-McGwire buttocks injection, while the hapless guest Canseco watched, quite red-faced. (No such thing as bad publicity?) Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, now Orioles teammates, issued flat, grim denials reminiscent of Bill Clinton.

But it was Big Mac himself who made the biggest scene, getting teary eyed as he lamented the problem and straining to explain why he could not answer the question. This recalls the memorable line by Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own: "There's no crying in baseball!" (David Pinto cited that line in regard to weeping by Canseco.) It was embarrassing to hear McGwire rehash ad nauseam the trite cliche of wanting to focus on the positive and not worry about the past. I really think he was sincere, though I'm not sure exactly which aspect of this tragedy troubles him the most: The teenage boys who committed suicide or ruined their health because of steroid abuse, the disappointment felt by his family and fans, or the mortal peril to his legacy this scandal has wrought? His predicament is eerily similar to that of Pete Rose: whatever he says or does from now on, he is damned. Selig's position that the batting records of recent years will stand without asterisks or other qualifications is not convincing. There has to be some kind of accounting for artificially enhanced performance. Fallen heroes are tragic.

Since I had low expectations of the publicity-seeking politicians on Capitol Hill to begin with, I was prepared for all the crowd-pleasing rhetoric they spouted. Amidst all the hoopla and pious cacaphony, however, a lot of good points were actually made. For example, Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA) rose to the occasion by pointing out what I have long insisted is the basic structural problem with baseball: The way franchise owners exploit baseball's exemption from anti-trust statutes to blackmail their host cities into funding new stadiums, the "field of schemes" problem. (Did D.C. have any other choice? No.) This huge unwarranted subsidy works against the public interest by facilitating unchecked inflation of players' salaries and ticket prices. Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) harshly attacked Commissioner Selig and other MLB officials for allowing the problem to get out of control. Some of that criticism is fitting, I think, but as at least one member noted, hindsight is 20-20. Thus, I came away from the hearings with a slightly more sympathetic view of Rep. Tom Davis and his House subcommittee than I originally had. Baseball needed to be chastened if there is to be any hope for "self-policing." There are serious loopholes in the drug testing procedures, and the "graduated" penalties so strongly defended by Players' Assocation head Donald Fehr seem pretty lame. Five strikes and you're out? Much was made of the Commissioner's new powers of discretion to enforce the doping rules during the hearings, but it is precisely the low-key, consensus-seeking style of Mr. Selig that raises questions about having his office shoulder such a big share of the burden.

In the end, the doping problem will not be fixed by tighter rules, tougher penalties, greater scrutiny, or more appropriate mechanisms so much as by a renewed spirit of sportsmanship. No legislation or collective bargaining agreement can accomplish that; it will require leadership on the part of the star players. How many of our beloved overpaid egomaniacs will "step up to the plate" and do what must be done?

Many thanks to David Pinto (Mr. Baseball Musings) for plugging this site, which is perpetually "under construction." I've just made a thorough revamping of the links to blogs and other Web sites on throughout this site, aiming for consistent format and functionality. Through my bleary eyes I think I see the light of an actual guestbook at the end of the tunnel...


Andrew Clem Archives

March 18, 2005 [LINK]

George Kennan

One of the 20th Century's leading scholars and practitioners of diplomacy died today at the age of 101. George Kennan made his first big mark by writing "The Long Telegram" from his post in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in 1946. He meant to alert the complacent bureaucrats in the State Department that the Soviet Union was not content to merely defeat Germany, but was determined to expand and fill the power vacuum in Europe and elsewhere in the Eurasian continent. Unlike the Red-baiting purveyors of panic that soon came to dominate the Cold War environment, however, he remained calm and clear-eyed about the nature and extent of the Soviet threat. In his mind, Communist ideology was only part of the explanation for Soviet behavior, which embodied traditional Russian imperialistic tendencies, as well as paranoia. Later that year Kennan wrote the famous Foreign Affairs article, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," developing the thesis outlined in the "Long Telegram" and expounding his proposed policy of "containment" which guided U.S. foreign policy for the next 44 years. (These were among the canonical works that my colleagues and I pored over in graduate school at U.Va.) He went on to serve in various diplomatic capacities and wrote several highly regarded books, including one that bemoaned the nuclear arms race. He was a sober realist who always aimed to maintain a balance of power, but he was not a militarist. His pragmatic, non-ideological approach to foreign policy influenced thinkers and statesmen such as Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, and to some extent Condoleeza Rice today. Can the force of this intellectual tradition prevail over the gung-ho neoconservatives in the Bush administration?

UPDATE: For an assessment of Kennan's legacy by a current scholar at U.Va.'s Miller Center, where I used to work, see David Adesnik at Oxblog. He says that Kennan was often misunderstood, and gives as an example the obituary for Kennan in the New York Times. Adesnik says the Times editors completely missed the point about Kennan's contributions. Specifically, Kennan would have recoiled at an ideological foreign policy based primarily on the promotion of democracy. Is Mr. Wolfowitz paying attention? Well, he's heading to the World Bank, if President Bush has his way...


Andrew Clem Archives

March 20, 2005 [LINK]

Green, green grass of home

There were a number of developments on the Washington baseball front last week, of which perhaps the most vivid imagewise was the sod being laid at RFK Stadium. It's really coming to pass! Saturday's Washington Post had several photos of the sod-laying process, in a time-lapse fashion. You can see a big hole where the retractable hydraulic pitcher's mound is. I just hope it warms up enough for the sod to take take root in the dirt prior to opening day. A week-by-week renovation photo-update is found on the Nationals' Web site. I decided to hold off on making a 2005 version diagram revision of RFK Stadium, pending a first-hand on-the-scene inspection. Getting tickets for Opening Day may take a lot of luck...

In response to the intense criticism on Capitol Hill, Commissioner Selig announced on Sunday that a loophole in the penalties for steroid use has been closed, so that the suspensions are now automatic. It's still "five strikes" before you're called out, however... See mlb.com.


Andrew Clem Archives

March 21, 2005 [LINK]

Open Letter from Orioles

One of the items I meant to talk about last week was the unusual full-page ad in the sports section of the Washington Post from two Sundays ago: "An Open Letter to All Fans of Baseball from the Orioles." It took sharp issue with news reports and editorials in the Post, claiming that for the last 30 years their franchise has had exlusive rights to territory "as far south as Charlotte, North Carolina." (Huh? Do those folks know that?) It also claimed that the above assumption was figured into the sales price when Mr. Angelos bought the team for $173 million in 1993. That was a gamble that Mr. Angelos took, and under normal business practices he should bear the risk. (Of course, as we all know, baseball is not a "normal business," it is a curious cartel whose dubious dealings are kept from the public eye by all the goodwill and nostalgia that the sport built up over the decades. Like Mr. Potter in A Wonderful Life, Peter Angelos is simply trumpeting to the world the universal arrogance exhibited by all monopolists.) It is as though Washington was never even considered for an expansion franchise or a relocation deal (Astros?) in the 1990s. Most outrageous, perhaps, is the demand that the Nationals games be broadcast exclusively by the television network controlled by the Orioles. That network was created in 2001, however, by which time it was becoming very clear that the Expos might relocate to Washington at any time. Recouping the millions of dollars in sunk costs for that enterprise is his responsibility, and cannot be forced upon Washington. I've always felt that some reasonable compensation to the Orioles would be appropriate, but Angelos has infuriated other franchise owners by his no-compromise position, forfeiting millions of dollars in lost revenues. He has created his own mess, and his old pal Commissioner Selig has too many other things to worry about right now to try to placate or woo Angelos. As usual, Thomas Boswell aptly dissects the perverse logic behind Angelos's arguments. Suffice it to say that he is not winning the hearts and minds of many potential fans in Washington. I was really looking forward to finally seeing a game at Camden Yards this spring, but it looks like I'll have to prolong my boycott a little longer...

The Dodger Stadium page has a new dynamic diagram that reflects the nearly-complete renovations, which will radically change its character.


Andrew Clem Archives

March 22, 2005 [LINK]

Frank Robinson in SI

Sports Illustrated had an interview last week with Nats' manager Frank Robinson, who shared his thoughts on the return of baseball to D.C. He was hired on a stopgap basis after Jeffrey Loria sold the Expos to MLB in 2001, and he never expected to stay in that position for more than a year or two. He has become an indispensible part of the franchise organization, however. Aside from being one of the sport's greatest sluggers and fielders, he is truly a class act who exudes calm, patience, and wisdom. That's exactly what his young team needs as the former Expos (remember them?) get psyched up for their historic Grand Opening under a new identity. Robinson left no doubt what he thinks of the extent of the steroid problem, but he refrained from making any direct accusations. He has every right to be bitter over his career home run record getting stomped on by the artificially enhanced younger generation. Sports Illustrated was going to make that piece the cover story last week, which would have been great fanfare for the upcoming blissful event in Washington, but it got bumped by writer Tom Verducci's tale of taking the field with the Toronto Blue Jays in spring training. Well, given the famous SI Cover "jinx," perhaps that was all for the best...

Nationals get ready

With less than two weeks left in spring training, the Nationals seem to have put together a fairly balanced team, including a surprisingly effective pitching rotation. (Their bullpen is another matter.) They have stayed above the .500 mark throughout March, showing glimmers of excellence in batting, pitching, and fielding. One youngster has grabbed a lot of attention as a possible rising star: Ian Desmond, a "non-roster invitee" who has made some spectacular plays at shortstop. Given his tender age (19), however, he is not expected to serve as Cristian Guzman's backup, and will probably spend a year in the minors.

Bonds out for season?

Barry Bonds got rather nasty with reporters after getting knee surgery, blaming the media frenzy for making his family life miserable. Physical pains and mental exhaustion may keep him out of the game until at least mid-season. "You finally brought me and my family down. ... So now go pick a different person." See si.com. That's the kind of bitter comment someone like Richard Nixon would be expected to say. I'm not encouraged.


Andrew Clem Archives

March 22, 2005 [LINK]

Terri Schiavo

In a reasonably sane world there would be no occasion to comment on the terrible tragedy of people like Terri Schiavo in a political context. Laws would be written in such a way that would enable people to pay, if they so choose, to keep alive close family members who are in a prolonged state of unconsciousness, in cases where no living will can be found. Conversely, no court would force anyone to assume the financial burden for artificial life support or feeding. In our ugly world of reality, however, it is the fate of Terri Schiavo to serve as the pawn of warring political factions. Some people are passionately concerned with the case, such as Phil Faranda, who notes that the Florida judge handling the case may be trying to cover up malfeasance. Others such as Glenn Reynolds have no particular opinion. In principle, I tend to agree with husband Michael Schiavo that Congress should not intrude upon his family's personal life. The facts of this particular case raise serious questions, however, and I find it annoying that we should have to scrutinize him in order to form an informed opinion. In my opinion, the fewer headlines and speeches that are made about these kinds of heart-wrenching family situations, the better.

Some people such as Laura Flanders (link via Connie) have noted that the Republicans in Congress may have ulterior political motives for convening in a special session to pass a bill enabling a federal court to hear the case. Obviously so (Rush Limbaugh candidly admitted as much today), but that does not necessarily mean there is not also a substantial degree of sincere ethical and/or religious belief motivating them. A fundamental principle of politics is that decisions and actions almost always embody some mixture of interests and values, and it is generally futile to argue that one is more important than the other, or why someone is "really" doing something. The fact that Rep. Tom DeLay took such a high profile position on this case, just as he has been getting bad press over alleged scandals in Texas, does not strike me as particularly sincere, however. Nor did I appreciate his remark that cutting off Terry's feeding tube was an act of "terrorism." (That label was ironic, as Randall Terry, a violent anti-abortion activist, was among those demonstrating in Florida.) I will give credit to President Bush for making a good point: In extremely delicate cases such as this, it is better to err on the side of life.


March 22, 2005 [LINK]

Signs of Spring

Even though there are hardly any flowers or green sprouts visible yet, the cardinals have begun singing on a regular basis, so spring can't be far off. On Friday I saw a flock of 15 or so Tree swallows in the Bell's Lane area, along with an American kestrel or two. Tree swallows are one of the earliest migrants we see. Robins and grackles are also making more frequent appearances, but woodpeckers are strangely scarce lately.

I just got a batch of incredibly sharp bird photos from my brother John, who traveled to Minnesota several weeks ago. The Northern hawk owl and Great gray owl shots are worthy of publication. I've also updated the Costa Rica birds page with a second scrolling menu that shows the second batch of photos, which were taken from video clips. That page is now more or less complete.


March 23, 2005 [LINK]

Red Sox commit to Fenway

Great news from Beantown: The Red Sox announced a long-term renovation program at Fenway Park, meaning it will be their home "for the foreseeable future." I would guess that means at least 15 more years. No specifics were given, but they must be planning on bringing the capacity up to 40,000 or more, ultimately, which would mean building a sizable upper deck. Renovations during the winter have been inside the grandstand, involving concourses, training rooms, etc. (Renovations planned for next year were described here on Feb. 10, when the long-term prospects were still up in the air.) Team President Larry Lucchino talked about the Red Sox' three years under the ownership of John Henry, when stadium options were being carefully evaluated, and announced:

It's time to culminate this courtship with a loud, clear, long-term public commitment. We are proud that Fenway Park will be our home for years to come, and we are confident it will generate the revenue we need to be successful. ...
We will now begin to plan the Fenway Park Centennial, in 2012, sure to be a great celebration and an historic achievement.

That thought kinda puts a lump in your throat doesn't it? See mlb.com. A photo on that page shows a bulldozer on the field, indicating that they have replaced the turf at Fenway Park. The folks at savefenwaypark.com must be tickled pink red about all this. Now, will Mr. Steinbrenner wise up in time so that they can have such a centennial celebration in the Bronx in 2023?


March 29, 2005 [LINK]

New name for RFK???

I was appalled when I read that D.C. officials are trying to raise some cash by leasing the naming rights of RFK Stadium. They are hoping for $2 million per year, for the next three years. This seems like a travesty, but "RFK Stadium" will remain part of the name, much as "Mile High Stadium" remains part of the name of Denver's new football venue, but with a corporate appendage (Invesco). In addition, Bobby Kennedy's widow Ethel apparently agreed to the change, because the funds are supposedly being earmarked for children's programs in the District. We'll see... Response from corporate bidders has been slower than anticipated, and rumors are that a local telecommunicatons company has an inside track. (Is it Verizon? Since their spokesperson James Earl Jones co-starred in Field of Dreams, I suppose that is appropriate.) See washingtonpost.com.

"Dr. Evil" digs in heels

Peter Angelos is still haggling over terms for compensation and broadcast rights, with less than a week to go before Opening Day. (The first Nationals home game is still more than two weeks away, however.) Today's Washington Post editorialized on this situation:

In fact, such a deal is a rip-off that would deflate the Nationals' value and imperil the task of finding a buyer for the franchise -- an orphan that is now the collective property of baseball's 29 team owners. What prospective Nationals' owner would cede control of broadcasting rights to a rival -- to say nothing of a rival as truculent as Mr. Angelos? Might as well trade away the team's best sluggers and star pitchers.

Orioles' ticket sales have apparently declined by at least ten percent compared to a year ago. That is in line with what most people expected, but much less than Angelos had claimed. (He used to say that one fourth of Orioles' fans came from the Washington area.) Meanwhile, some tickets for Opening Day at RFK Stadium (which quickly sold out) are going for over $1000!

For what it's worth,

I've come up with a design for a Proposed new D.C. stadium. (Yes, folks, that is one of the main things that has occupying my time in the last few days.) What do you think? Too wacky? Too symmetrical? Tell me what features you think the new stadium should have.


Updates

Thanks to Bruce Orser for the following links to images of two under-construction stadiums: ballparkconstruction.com, about the future Busch Stadium, scheduled to open in [2006], and ballpark.org, about Safeco Field in Seattle, which opened in 1999. And thanks to Mike Zurawski for alerting me to a small mistake in the diagram for the newly renovated version of Dodger Stadium, which has now been fixed. Finally, I have recalibrated the "countdown clock" for Opening Day in D.C., which is presently 16 days away (not 14).


March 30, 2005 [LINK]

Let the cost overruns begin!

The total price tag for the new baseball stadium in Washington "could rise another $46 million to a total of approximately $580 million, according to a study ... by Natwar M. Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer." This updated figure falls within the parameters stipulated when the funding bill was passed in December, and D.C. council member Jack Evans said, "This is a go." Mr. Gandhi says that estimate is conservative, meaning it could be lower than that. See washingtonpost.com. Maybe they could save a few bucks by outsourcing some of the ... Nah. Frankly, any government-funded project in the bureaucrats' paradise known as the District of Columbia is almost guaranteed to run at least 10-20 percent over budget.

The Nationals have sent underachieving outfielder Endy Chavez, who had been slated to be the leadoff hitter, back to the minors -- to the New Orleans AAA club, to be precise. Now their whole lineup is messed up, and manager Frank Robinson is not pleased.

MLB owners approved the sale of the Oakland A's to Lewis Wolff, for $180 million. His top priority will be to get public funding for a new stadium in Oakland, or perhaps further south in the Bay Area -- How about the San Jose Athletics? See mlb.com.

Many thanks to Rudy Riet for his warm praise of my Proposed new D.C. stadium design on his Random Duck blog.


March 30, 2005 [LINK]

Fissures in the GOP?

Many pundits are already writing the epitaph for President Bush's push for Social Security reform, but it will be many months or even years before the final outcome of that initiative are known. In the mean time, however, this battle has raised fears that the Republican tide has already begun to ebb. E. J. Dionne took a welcome step back from his usual partisan trench warfare to apply his powers of semi-objective political analysis in yesterday's Washington Post. Noting the abysmal esteem the two parties have for each other at present, he observed,

The paradoxical result of this mutual contempt is that each side is simultaneously underestimated and overestimated. As a result, current political arrangements are seen as permanent and the possibilities of political change are missed -- even when change is in the process of happening.

Pretty astute: all the recent petty cacaphony on Capitol Hill and GOP threats of using the "nuclear option" against Democratic obstructionism may conceal the fact that the general public is leaving the politicians behind. Dionne goes on to detail the splits between social conservatives and economic conservatives (or libertarians) in the Republican party, and what that portends. (Hint: He can barely contain his glee.) One leading pundit who shares that assessment of recent trends but is not happy about it, is Andrew Sullivan, who writes:

It's been clear now for a while that the religious right controls the base of the Republican party, and that fiscal left-liberals control its spending policy. That's how you develop a platform that supports massive increases in debt and amending the Constitution for religious right social policy objectives. But the Schiavo case is breaking new ground. For the religious right, states' rights are only valid if they do not contradict religious teaching.

I would grant that a "conservative crackup" is possible, but I don't think it's the most likely scenario. Though Dionne and Sullivan are correct to point out latent tensions among the factions on the Right, I think they overplay it. Personally, I don't share the intensity of feelings about the Terri Schiavo case that many religious conservatives do, but for the most part I respect their position. I certainly don't look down on them, as many elitists do. Indeed, I think the issues raised by social conservatives are often quite valid, but I see the breakdown of values as a direct consequence of New Deal/Great Society programs. That is, most social ills are caused, directly or indirectly, by a clumsy Big Government -- however well-intentioned its bureaucrats may be. Fixing those ills, therefore, does not require draconian new laws but simply the abolition of failing "nanny state" institutions and the dull, mediocre mindset that goes with them. (Obviously, easier said than done!) If enough social conservatives and economic conservatives could only grasp this basic point and see how their long-term goals converge, the Republicans can still hope to maintain a durable coalition of reform. Some of the religious conservatives are despairing right now, but I have a feeling that their cause may yet serve a purpose in shedding light on "What's become of us?"

More generally, all these fascinating cross-currents of American politics highlight the paradox of what it means to be a conservative in a place and time when the status quo is so deeply liberal. Forget what the polls say about Americans' self-identification, we are a lot more like the coddled, complacent welfare-state Europeans than we would like to imagine. Thus, as with many "conservatives" in Europe, there is a strong tendency to play it safe and acquiesce in a statist paradigm, pretending that things will somehow get better on their own. Not bloody likely.

March 30, 2005 [LINK]

Rogues in the GOP?

What worries me more about the Republicans these days is a seeming reluctance to engage in critical self-reflection. The dominant attitude is a nervous "don't rock the boat." We all know about President Bush's low regard for contrary opinions, which "Doonesbury" has lampooned over the past several weeks. If that sort of thinking spreads, and tolerance for wayward behavior among party members increases, then the Republicans will have lost any chance of becoming the "party of reform" to which they aspire.

For example, Thor Halvorssen (link via Instapundit) notes that Jack Kemp was recently negotiating a major oil deal with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, near the top of Washington's list of foreign rogues. Kemp has also been associated with Samir A. Vincent, an agent of Saddam Hussein who was part of the U.N. oil-for-food scam.

Likewise, in the March 22 issue of New York Times, conservative pundit David Brooks exposes some "Masters of Sleaze" on the Right, folks like Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Jack Abramoff. Like the bosses of Tammany Hall in the 19th Century, these policy advocates let success go to their head after the 1995 Republican Revolution and decided to cash in while the gettin' was good. They lobbied on behalf of notorious bad guys such as Angola's Jonas Savimbi and Congo's Mobutu Sese Seko, promoting them as champions of liberty. Brooks writes, "Soon the creative revolutionaries were blending the high-toned forms of the think tank with the low-toned scams of the buckraker." I was never particularly impressed by Norquist's single-minded obsession with cutting taxes without regard to consequences, and the more I learn about him, the less impressed I get.

Another heavyweight giving the Republicans a bad image is House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who is in a heap o' trouble back in Texas over (possible) campaign finance irregularities and the redistricting controversy. (I drew attention to his dubious role in the Schiavo case on March 22.) I was greatly encouraged when I saw Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute make some scathing criticisms of DeLay in a television commentary. It needed to be said by someone of Ornstein's stature and impeccable conservative credentials.

Another recent breath of fresh air in Washington is Karen Hughes, the capable and forthright former Bush White House adviser who returned to Texas two years ago, an apparent victim of "mastermind" Karl Rove. She just returned to Washington to become an Undersecretary of State for public diplomacy. I tend to be skeptical of "winning hearts and minds" around the world, but she is probably one of the best suited for that extremely challenging job. In sum, the cause of mainstream, sensible, non-hysterical conservatives is not yet lost, but more such leaders need to step up to the plate.


March 31, 2005 [LINK]

Broadcast deal: NO ! ?

Details are still lacking, but it appears that Peter Angelos got most of what he wanted in the deal over broadcast rights that was reached with MLB officials today. Once again, I'm appalled but not surprised. The Orioles will control an unspecified majority of the new network:

Under the agreement, sources had said yesterday, newly created Mid-Atlantic Sports would pay the Nationals a rights fee and distribute 76 of the club's games to WTTG-5 and WDCA-20, two Fox-owned broadcast stations in Washington. SOURCE: Washington Post

On the bright side, broadcasting that many games on the open air waves will help to promote greater public interest in the Nationals, about which many people in Virginia and the Capital Region are still only vaguely aware. Unfortunately, Commissioner Selig raised new doubts about his capacity to enforce discipline and fair play on the MLB owners with this comment:

I also want to commend my friend, Peter Angelos. He was relentless in his desire to preserve and protect the Baltimore Orioles franchise now, and for future generations. His concerns, which he expressed often and well, were not about himself or his ownership interest, but rather to establish a means by which to ensure the future viability of the Orioles franchise. I don't know many other people who would have fought so vigorously for such purposes. SOURCE: mlb.com

Ugh. What a lame excuse for blatant monopolistic behavior. This broadcast agreement, which does not fully go into effect until next year, is supposedly modeled after existing arrangements in mega-cities with overlapping team areas. In the case of New York, however, there seems to be no interaction between the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network ("YES") and the Mets, whose games are broadcast locally by Fox Sports New York, WPIX-TV, and "Madison Square Garden Network." Speaking of YES, here's a suggested alternative name for the new Baltimore-Washington baseball network: just use the initials of the two teams, Nationals and Orioles, to create the acronym "NO."


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