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June 1, 2005 [LINK]

Perfect game in Washington!

No, not a perfect game for a pitcher, as defined by no runners reaching base, but a perfect game for a fan: great weather, great seats, great company, great excitement, and a cliffhanger, dramatic victory. I joined my old friend Dave Givens and two of his pals, Paul and Buddy, to see the Nationals come from behind to beat the Braves last night, 5-4. This was their third straight win, bringing them to within a game and a half the the Marlins and Braves at the top of the NL East. Quite a turnaround from last week! Just back from disabled status, John Patterson had a rocky first inning, but he kept his cool and retired every Braves batter for the next four innings. Pretty impressive. Mike Hampton, likewise returning from the DL, had a devastating fast ball, but his control started to suffer. After both starters were taken out in the middle of the game, things got interesting. The Braves scored twice in the top of the sixth, but the crowd started getting fired up when the Nats scored two in the bottom of the inning, keeping the margin to only one run. The Nats rallied again in the seventh inning, as Nick Johnson knocked a 2-RBI double into the right field corner, and the Nats took the lead 5-3. "And the crowd went wild!" Closer Chad Cordero had a tough time in the ninth inning, as Julio Franco hit a home run, and two singles and a fielder's choice put Andruw Jones on third base -- the tying run with only one out! Somehow Cordero pulled himself together and threw two strikeouts to win the game, though the final pitch -- to Rafael Furcal -- looked a little low to me. Whew! Compared to the frustrating way the Nationals won the last game I saw at RFK [on April 30 -- that game was delayed twice because of rain and finally called after eight innings] -- this one was worth every penny paid for admittance!

Paid attendance last night was 29,512, but I would estimate only about 24,000 were actually present. The lower deck was full, but most of the yellow seats in the upper deck were empty. Our seats were in Section 211, behind the visitors' dugout on the first base side. It was the first time I had seen a game from the lower deck since Coors Field in 1998! I spied Nationals general manager Tony Tavares in the presidential suite, along with D.C. official Don Tuohey. In the press box I saw TBS sports commentators Chip Caray, Don Simpson, and Pete Van Wieren. I realized that most of the ground-level concourse behind the first deck provides good open views of the infield, so you don't miss much of the game if you need to buy a snack or adult beverage.

Tonight the roles were reversed, as the Braves battled back to take the lead in the eighth inning, winning 5-4. So the Nats are two and a half games out of first.

Attendance exceeds expectations

Today's Washington Post reported that attendance at Washington Nationals home games in May averaged 32,251, even greater than in April, and outpacing the Baltimore Orioles. The combined Washington-Baltimore attendance ranked fourth among metropolitan areas with two baseball teams, barely edging Chicago. The Baseball in D.C. page has been updated with a new table showing monthly attendance figures for all the two-team cities (and neighbor cities).

Albert Lord, chairman of the Sallie Mae student loan corporation, is the new leading partner of American Baseball Capital (good pun), taking the place of William Collins, who had been trying for many years to bring baseball to Northern Virginia.

More page updates

The data tables on all of the stadium comparison pages have been enhanced appearance-wise, with alternating row colors and a dynamic row "cursor" for easier legibility. The franchise pages will be revised in a similar way shortly.


June 2, 2005 [LINK]

Soros joins bidding war

Hungarian-born global financier George Soros has joined Jonathan Ledecky's partnership that is bidding to purchase the Washington Nationals. Soros, who has played a high-profile controversial role in global and domestic politics, is worth $7.2 billion. See Washington Post. I'm betting that MLB officials would rather not have to let a loose cannon like him into their chummy, ultra-deferential ranks -- even if he outbids Malek, Kasten, and others on the "inside track." Remember, this is not an open, competitive bid with business profit as the primary objective. It is, rather, an inscrutable, elaborate courtship and initiation ritual through which the trusted guardians of our National Pastime maintain their power. It is rumored that the Walentas family failed to make the cut in submitting initial bid applications.

NL East in slump

The fact that the Washington Nationals came within a game of taking first place in their division really isn't saying much, frankly. For the past two weeks, the Braves and Marlins have both been in a slump, while the Phillies and Mets have slowly crawled their way back toward contention. It's still a tight race, but it's a race that has become a somewhat less important. So much for the erstwhile dominance of the Eastern Division over the rest of the league! The two teams to watch right now in the National League are the ones with over .600 winning percentage: St. Louis, which has overcome the loss of Edgar Renteria and other big stars from last year, and San Diego, which seemingly came out of nowhere.

"For the children"

At the game in Washington on Tuesday evening, three young lads spotted the All Star ballot I was carrying and asked with a tone of deep awe if that was a ticket to the All Star game. I smiled and explained that it was just a ballot to choose each league's lineup. Their intense interest really left an impression on me, and serves as a reminder of what baseball is all about. While it is a truly wonderful thing for the many thousands of kids in the D.C. area who now get to see real big league baseball on a regular basis for the first time in their lives, we should also think about all the kids over the last generation who grew up without that character-building experience...

More graphical chores: The diagrams on the Kauffman Stadium page have been tweaked to conform to the new standard, with a common location for home plate. A revamping of the Yankee Stadium diagrams is "on deck"!!!


June 2, 2005 [LINK]

Reactions to "Deep Throat"

Unlike a lot of people whose opinions are based on ancient grudges, I have no special sympathy or antipathy toward Mark Felt, whose tips on Watergate to Bob Woodward led to the downfall of Richard Nixon. Some former Nixon officials, such as Charles Colson and Pat Buchanan, resent Felt as a traitor without any scruples. Some have accused Felt of breaking the FBI's rules on reporting crimes, undermining the institution's integrity. Given the corruption in that agency and in the executive branch at the time, however, Felt didn't have much choice if he wanted the Watergate crimes to be investigated. Disloyal officials were being severely punished in the Nixon era, and Felt wasn't stupid. Robert Novak questioned Felt's motivations for leaking in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times. He also says that Felt was considered by others in the FBI to be a sycophantic lieutenant of J. Edgar Hoover, "part of the problem" that mades reforming that agency so difficult. The fact that Felt may have acted more out of frustrated ambitions than noble concern for the public good suggests that he is no hero, but it should not sway our view of whether his action was justified. Few people would argue that the United States would have been better off if the Watergate crimes had never been uncovered or punished. As John Dean said famously back then, "There is a cancer growing in the presidency," and one can only imagine how much deeper the corruption of the Nixon administration would have become if Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and other officials had never been held accountable. Rush Limbaugh has alluded to the absence of similar informants in the Clinton administration, which managed to dodge several major scandals, and one particularly notorious but secondary scandal. Limbaugh made it clear he was not making excuses for Nixon's law-breaking, just calling attention to selective outrage over presidential misdeeds in the media. He also pointed out that Felt has aged in humble obscurity, while Woodward and Bernstein became millionaire authors. C'est la vie.

Today's Washington Post has a series of articles on this case, reviewing the history of Watergate and explaining how it was that they got scooped by Vanity Fair. As with most baby boomers, Watergate and Vietnam were the two main historical events that shaped my political outlook as a young adult. Somewhere in my family archives I've got an ancient high school newspaper with an editorial I wrote calling for Nixon to resign. The lessons that unchecked power tends to corrupt, and that blind loyalty can sometimes facilitate crime, are still valid today. I would hope that many people would recall that partisan affiliations tainted opinions about Nixon and Watergate during the 1970s, such that old segregationists like Sam Ervin became sudden folk heroes just because they were against Nixon. (What "southern strategy"?) The same sort of hard-core partisanship is badly distorting many people's opinions of contemporary political issues such as Social Security reform. Perhaps the bitter divisiveness and distrust of today are merely the aftershocks of the Vietnam-Watergate era.


June 3, 2005 [LINK]

Mrs. Cropp: "Never mind"

Remember when the relocation deal nearly collapsed back in December because D.C. Council chairwoman Linda Cropp demanded provisions for private financing of the new stadium in D.C. as a condition for her approval? Turns out her alternative plan doesn't add up, so the whole rationale for her threat to back out of the deal was empty. In the last two weeks it has become evident that the best private deal that has been offered, through Deutsche Bank, has few advantages over the original plan to pay for construction through bonds and tax hikes. Mrs. Cropp says she is "still hopeful" that a private financing plan can be arranged and insists she was only doing what she thought was best for the city. See Washington Post. More likely, she is just seeking a graceful exit. As Post business writer Steven Pearlstein wrote last year (see my blog post of Dec. 21), development projects that are publically financed benefit from lower interest rates, because governments are usually much better credit risks than businesses. As expected, arch-opponent of the new stadium, council member Adrian Fenty, has announced he is running for mayor next year. He is young, smart, ambitious, and like Marion Barry in the old days, he has an aptitude for reaching out to elites as well as poor people.

Nats win again (barely)

What a great matchup: Josh Beckett vs. Livan Hernandez! Each gave up only two runs in a classic pitchers' duel, going eight and nine innings, respectively. The Nats' surprisingly effective bullpen prevailed again, as the game was decided by two walks, an error, and a sac fly in the bottom of the eleventh. Now they're only a half game out of first place! Once again, Esteban Loaiza pitched superbly in the game against Atlanta last night, but once again he did not get credit for the win because of lack of run support. Things looked bleak when the Braves scored four runs in the eighth, but the Nationals showed their spunk once again by scoring five runs in the bottom of the inning, going on to win, 8-6. Hector Carrasco got the win even though he walked half the batters he faced (two). Why does anyone pay attention to pitchers' win-loss records?

Is RFK too roomy?

As anyone can tell by using the side-by-side page, RFK Stadium has one of the biggest outfields in the majors right now. No doubt that is why only one of Jose Guillen's 10 home runs this season has been hit in the home ballpark. Guillen was quoted as saying that he wants the outfield fences at RFK Stadium to be brought in next year. See the Nats Web site. That's the same thing that Mo Vaughn did in Anaheim (where Guillen also used to play): they moved the fences in by 9 or 10 feet in 1999 just to make him happy. I am against pandering to sluggers just to boost their stats. One of the best things about games at RFK is the number of doubles and triples that are made possible by the (comparatively) wide open spaces.

Winning pitchers by stadium

Baseball blogger and statistical fanatic David Pinto has compiled a list of which pitchers have won the most games in every major league ballpark from 1995 to present. At the top of the list is Andy Pettitte, who won 81 games at Yankee Stadium. For much more, see baseballmusings.com.


June 3, 2005 [LINK]

Violence in Bolivia: coup?

Peasants in Bolivia have launched yet another round of protests and roadblocks that have paralyzed the capital La Paz and much of the country. The protesters' stated aim is to force the government to nationalize all the oil and natural gas deposits, but it is basically a bid for power by the coca-grower's party led by Evo Morales, "Movement Toward Socialism." Along with Ecuador, Bolivia is in the forefront of a troubling trend toward reliance upon violent mass mobilizations to effect policy change in Latin America, signalling deep disillusion with democratic procedures. There are signs that the Bolivian armed forces are losing patience with the inability of civilian leaders to maintain order. Today President Carlos Mesa spoke to the nation, announcing the convocation of a national assembly to deal with the energy issue, and a referendum to be held in October. If he's still in office by then, that is. It is virtually certain that any such policy concessions will only whet the opposition's appetite for more power. See cnn.com

Peru-Chile tensions

Last month there were many news reports in Peru about increased tensions with Chile, nominally over the issue of airline ownership, but at the root of it is the old grudge over Chile's conquest of Peruvian land in the 19th Century. Ex-(and future?) president Alan Garcia called the controversy with Chile a mere "smokescreen" concocted by the hapless Toledo government to deflect attention from its own scandals. President Toledo met with Chilean presdient Ricardo Lagos at a summit meeting of Arab and Latin American heads of state in Brazil. Chile is less concerned with diplomatic tensions right now than with resolving its own terrible political wounds stemming from the dirty war of the 1970s. Several retired military officers from the Pinochet dictatorship may stand trial, but Pinochet himself will probably not be held accountable as long as he is alive.

A one-year old girl in Peru who was born with her legs fused together -- "mermaid's syndrome" -- underwent surgery yesterday to correct the defect. The operation was broadcast live on national television, raising complaints about medical ethics. It was deemed a success, but further corrective surgery will be required.

Will L.A. secede?

Antonio Villaraigosa, recently elected to be mayor of Los Angeles said Wednesday that Mexico will play an important role in shaping his policies. Last week he criticized Governor Schwarzenegger and said the border with Mexico should be seen as an opportunity, not as a threat. See El Universal Online (in Spanish), via newsmax.com.

We are at the beginning of an era in which, instead of closing borders like Governor Schwarzenegger said, we should see it as an opportunity. ... I propose to turn this city into the Venice of the 21st Century, into the city of promise.

He also favors a "more humane" immigration policy and opposes the use of the L.A.P.D. as an arm of the border patrol. Venice, of course, was an independent city-state during the Renaissance. Interesting model to emulate...


June 4, 2005 [LINK]

Human Rights uproar

When someone like E.J. Dionne criticizes Amnesty International, you know they have messed up badly. In yesterday's Washington Post he lamented how AI secretary general Irene Khan did Bush a rhetorical favor by calling the detention camp at Guantanamo "the gulag of our times." That was such an egregious, misplaced comparison to the Soviet Brezhnev era that no further attention would be warranted, except for the fact that many people around the world really do see the U.S. through such a distorted prism. That is why Dionne unfortunately missed the mark when he wrote, "It's outrageous that Bush tried to dismiss all questions about practices in Guantanamo as the work of 'people who hate America.'" I agree that scrutiny of U.S. treatment of terrorist prisoners is needed, but it's too bad Dionne can't accept the sad fact that hatred of our country is behind much of the criticism over Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, etc. That does not excuse the abuses, but it should caution us not to take at face value wild accusations about flushing the Koran and "torture." Would it be too much to ask to give at least as much credence to the duly elected leader of the free world as to the terrorists and guerrilla fighters we were so fortunate to put behind bars? For more, see the AI report on Guantanamo and a story about the Pentagon's report in today's Washington Post. In my opinion, Amnesty International is undermining the promotion of human rights.

While the charges that the U.S. government is hypocritical about human rights are patently unfair, there is a brewing conflict in Uzbekistan, where the government brutally cracked down on protesters last month. Negotiations are underway to renew the agreement under which U.S. forces are allowed to use military bases there, and some suggest that making concessions to an authoritarian regime undermines U.S. credibility as a promoter of freedom and democracy. See Washington Post. As I mentioned on May 26, the rationale for keeping U.S. forces in that remote central Asian country is getting increasingly dubious. Unless the Pentagon and the Bush administration really are intent on dominating the world, as many who empathize with the Islamic extremists believe, we should get out now before our strategic and moral position there starts to deteriorate. Let Russia and China assume more responsibility for subduing terrorism in their own back yards. They certainly have greater interests at stake there than we do.


June 4, 2005 [LINK]

More bird photos from John

My brother John just got back from yet another bird-watching trip to Arizona, and has sent me a batch of incredibly sharp photos, of which this Broad-tailed hummingbird is probably the best. That image does not begin to do justice to the amazing detail you can see at full enlargement. The Bullock's oriole and Vermilion flycatcher are nearly as spectacular, however. See the Photo gallery page. Thanks very much, John!


June 5, 2005 [LINK]

Nationals in first place!

Between May 17 and May 30, those bleak "trying times," the Nationals scored more than three runs in only one game. Since May 31 (when I was there, coincidentally) they have scored more than three runs in all but one game, which is why they swept the Marlins in a three-game home series and have taken sole possession of the lead in the NL East! Amazing but true. Today's hero was Ryan Church, named rookie of the month for May, who hit a three-run homer to take the lead in the eighth inning. Over 40,000 fans were at RFK for the fifth time this season.

Surprisingly, the Phillies have been even hotter than the Nationals lately, winning nine of their last ten, and climbing from last place into third place. The Marlins and Mets now share the "cellar," but they're only 1 1/2 games behind the Nats in that extremely competitive division. In the other five MLB divisions, in contrast, the second place team is at least three games behind the division leader, and in four of those divisions, the last place team is 14 or more games behind the leader.

Meanwhile, the Yankees' fortunes have taken another decided turn for the worse, as they have lost seven of their last eight game, plunging to fourth place in the AL East. Cold streak, hot streak, cold streak... Derek Jeter has been suffering from a chest cold, which probably explains his batting slump.

Fan feedback

The text on the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium page has been corrected thanks to Christopher K., who refreshed my all-too-fallible memory of the 1996 World Series. A new visitor named Alan recalls the pleasing smell coming from the nearby Wonder Bread bakery when he went to baseball games in Washington in the 1950s: "The aroma to me was as much a part of Griffith Stadium as was Roy Sievers."


June 5, 2005 [LINK]

Hardball in the Old Dominion

With only nine more days until the primary election, a sharp split seems to have emerged within Republican ranks in Virginia, as the candidates for lieutenant governor, Bill Bolling and Sean Connaughton, and for attorney general, Bob McDonnell and Steve Baril, have relased campaign literature and TV ads filled with mudslinging and even some distortions. Everyone claims to be a "real" conservative and everyone says they are against taxes, leaving the average voter quite confused.

From my perspective, the problem is that none of the leaders in either party wants to candidly address why it is that property taxes have soared in the past couple years. It's the result not of tax rate hikes, but of rapid increase in property assessments which reflect a classic speculative bubble in the real estate market. That surge is being fueled by purchases of second and third homes as investments by upper-middle class people who are taking advantage of the bogus Federal income tax deduction for mortgage interest rates. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: That deduction constitutes one of the most outrageous entitlements in our country today, and it is beginning to have severe distortionary effects on the rest of the economy. Too bad so few politicians are willing to face up to this simple fact.

Former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore is the overwhelming favorite in the primary race for governor against Warrenton mayor George Fitch, an independent-minded guy who has a background in sports. If some Democrats have their way, however, the race might be a lot tighter than expected. Barnie Day, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, openly urges his party members to vote in the Republican primary in order to defeat Kilgore. That's not kosher, but these days such tactics are all too common. See Augusta Free Press.

Bipartisan fund sleaze

One of the recent lesser-known scandals in Washington involves a lobbyist named Jack Abramoff who was seeking favorable laws for casinos on Indian reservations. Most of the money went to Republicans, as one would expect since they have been the majority party for several years. Democrats have been trying to exploit the issue as part of their campaign against Tom DeLay, but Friday's Washington Post reports that a substantial portion of the money spread around by Abramofff went to Democrats. Most notable among them was Patrick Kennedy, who came in a close second to Montana Sen. Conrad Burns.


June 5, 2005 [LINK]

Shenandoah day trip

Chestnut-sided warbler Jacqueline and I spent a wonderfully relaxing day up in the central section of the Shenandoah National Park today. We stopped at several scenic overlooks and went for a short hike to Dark Hollow Falls, near Big Meadows. We saw many Redstarts and Chestnut-sided warblers (see photo; note yellow cap), and I saw four other birds for the first time this season. [Prior to today,] I don't believe I had seen a Veery since 2000; unfortunately it was not singing its enchanting song. I took some video clips, but the results were mixed. Here are the highlights:

  • Indigo buntings (M)
  • American redstarts (M, F)
  • Chestnut-sided warblers (M)
  • Red-tailed hawk (juv.)
  • Broad-winged hawk
  • Towhees
  • Canada warblers (M, FOS)
  • Veery (1st in 5 years!?)
  • Hairy woodpecker (M)
  • Dark-eyed juncos
  • Blue-headed vireo
  • Scarlet tanager (M)
  • House wren (FOS)
  • Bluebird (M)
  • Hooded warblers (M, FOS)
  • Red-eyed vireos

June 6, 2005 [LINK]

Let Dean be Dean!

DNC Chairman Howard Dean stuck his foot in his mouth again, insulting millions of GOP members and likely voters in a speech at Campaign for America's Future. Discussing the convenience factor in voter turnout, he blurted out, "Well, Republicans, I guess, can do that [wait in line to vote], because a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives." (See Washington Times.) Well, I never... smile In response, Sen. Joe Biden and last year's losing V.P. candidate John Edwards -- both of whom may be presidential candidates in 2008 -- quickly distanced themselves from Dean and his ill-chosen words. (See Washington Post.) Outrage by Republicans toward Dean is misplaced, however. The more off-the-wall remarks he makes to fire up the activists on the Left, the more time the sensible faction within the Democrat party has to spend disavowing his words, so much the better. If the Democrats are really serious about trying to retake the House or Senate next year, Dean will have to go. The sooner the centrist DLC faction regains influence in the party, the sooner will political discourse in our country become (relatively) dignified and sane once again. Heck, we might even make progress on critical issues like Social Security, health care, or immigration reform! Call me a dreamer...


June 6, 2005 [LINK]

D-Day Plus 61

Sixty one years ago today, nearly 150,000 American, British, Canadian, and other Allied soldiers waded ashore (or swooped in by air) to begin the liberation of France, and eventually, Western Europe. Thanks to the movie Saving Private Ryan, the World War II Memorial in Washington, and the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA, that momentous event is no longer as remote from our consciousness as it used to be. Many Americans are still rather weak when it comes to understanding that cataclysmic conflict, or in drawing lessons from it that might be applicable to our world today, but there is at least hope that the lamentable gap in historic knowledge will be narrowed.

UPDATE: The Daisy Cutter blog relates the memories of one of the elite Rangers who stormed the cliffs at Point du Hoc on D-Day to take out the German heavy gun emplacements. It includes a photo of what the place looks like today. (via InstaPundit)


June 7, 2005 [LINK]

Parkway Series in October?

I know this is wildly premature, but given the fact that no baseball team from Washington has been in first place this late in the season since 1933, I think a little dreaming by a fan can be excused. We've had the Mets-Yankees "Subway Series" of 2000, the Athletics-Giants "Bay Area (Earthquake) Series" of 1989, and a number of all-New York World Series up through the 1950s. Why not a (Baltimore-Washington) "Parkway Series" this year? It's almost a straight shot between the two teams' home fields. Driving east from RFK Stadium, you cross the Anacostia River, get on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and 40 or so miles later you enter downtown Baltimore and come upon Camden Yards.

As expected, the Nationals have just drafted University of Virginia star Ryan Zimmerman, a third baseman with superb batting and fielding abilities. Wa-hoo-wa! See the Nats' Web site.

Today's Washington Post dissects the Washington National's remarkable success in the (reborn) team's inaugural year. Statistically speaking, they are mediocre at best in nearly all categories. The Nats do have an abundance of that mysterious unquantifiable factor known as "team spirit," however: a quiet, steady confidence that they can hold their own in close games, and usually find a way to win. The big home town crowds are an extra boost, as the Nats have already drawn more fans after two months than the Expos did all last year! The deep outfield fences at RFK Stadium are probably a bigger factor, however: Only 30 home runs have been hit there so far this year, by far the fewest in the majors. That's very fitting for a team that does not emphasize slugging power; the Nats' home run total (40) ranks last in the National League.

The diagram on the Citizens Bank Park page has been reoriented with center field at the top, to match the new standard and facilitate comparisons.


June 7, 2005 [LINK]

Kerry the intellectual -- not!

A major issue in the 2004 presidential campaign was which candidate had more brainpower and therefore, presumably, a more sophisticated understanding of the world. The mediocre grades of George W. Bush were a matter of public record, but John Kerry refused to allow disclosure of his grade transcript from Yale -- until last month. Now we know that truth: "[N]ewly released records show that Bush and Kerry had a virtually identical grade average at Yale University four decades ago." In fact, "Dubya's" were slightly higher. Kerry got four "D"s in his freshman year, and his best subject was -- not surprisingly -- French. See the Boston Globe. (via Instapundit) This has marginal relevance for current politics except to point out the hollow, snooty pretensions of many Bush bashers.


June 9, 2005 [LINK]

Another sweep for the Nationals

Tonight's 4-3 win over the A's was the seventh straight victory for the Nationals. Unlike most of their other recent games, however, this time they did not come from behind. The steamy hot summer air at RFK Stadium seems to be adding lift to long fly balls, as the Nats hit three of them over the fence last night. What was most gratifying about that game was that Esteban Loiaza finally got solid run support behind yet another superb starting performance, giving up only two runs in seven innings. It was only his second win of the season... After a series hosting the Mariners this weekend, the Nats head west to Los Angeles, where they had good success last month. This time they'll be playing the Angels in Anaheim. As soon as the injured Jose Vidro returns to the lineup, the Nationals should be in a very strong position as the All Star break approaches. The Phillies remain only 1 1/2 games behind the Nationals, however, and anything could happen in the NL East. [UPDATED]

Goodbye to Oakland?

As the Oakland A's conclude their three-game series in D.C., Peter Handrinos makes an eminently sensible suggestion on how that proud, high-performing but sadly neglected franchise in Oakland can get going again -- by moving 40 miles south to San Jose. It would be a uniquely short-distance "relocation," remaining within the general Bay Region, but attracting a new set of fans in ultra-rich Silicon Valley. See United States of Baseball. Maybe the marketing geniuses at Apple Computer will fork over the cash for the stadium naming rights!


June 10, 2005 [LINK]

Orioles fans defect to Nats?

Today's Washington Post profiled a number of former Orioles fans from the Maryland suburbs who have gotten caught up in "Nats Fever." It's too bad in a way, since the O's are playing so darned well this year, for once. I suppose if I were an Orioles fan, though, I too would be awfully ashamed by how their owner has been acting toward Washington. I'm a little skeptical about such cases representing a broad trend, however: That Post article sounds like media hype to me.

New stadium woes

D.C. official Natwar* Gandhi has again advised against a private stadium financing plan proposed by local investors, on the grounds that it relied on a dubious tax loophole that could be closed by Congress at any time. That leaves the Deutsche Bank proposal, which is not likely to be approved by the D.C. council either. See Washington Post. *Just wondering: Do you suppose anyone has given him the nickname "Make Love"? smile Gay activists in the D.C. area are lamenting the imminent demise of The Follies and other gay establishments on O St. SE, where the new stadium will be built. See Washington Post, but only if you have a strong stomach. The article does not shed positive light on that lifestyle.

Nats make it 8 straight

They had to come from behind with a late-inning rally (Brian Schneider hit the key 2-run single), but the Washington Nationals once again prevailed tonight, beating Seattle 9-3. The Phillies won too, so the Nats remain 1 1/2 games ahead in the NL East, "where all the teams are above average" (above .500, that is).

Ohka traded for Spivey

Not surprisingly, Nats pitcher Tomo Ohka was traded to Milwaukee for second baseman Junior Spivey yesterday. Jamey Carroll had been filling for Jose Vidro in as starting second baseman, and has done very well, but he will now return to a reserve role. Vidro did a bit of practice at RFK Stadium yesterday, but is not expected back on the team until after the All Star break. Ohka began as a starter, then got demoted to the bullpen. He had a few solid outings, but was just not reliable enough. Last week he turned his back on manager Frank Robinson, an unforgiveable show of disrespect. It's also out of character for someone with an East Asian cultural background; Confucian ethics place high emphasis on respecting authority figures.

A-Rod reaches #400

Even though the Yankees as a whole are, shall we say, underachieving this season, some of their stars still shine. Congratulations to Alex Rodriguez for becoming the youngest player ever to reach 400 career home runs in Milwaukee yesterday. He's not even 30; what if he lasts another ten or twelve years???


June 10, 2005 [LINK]

Bolivia on brink of anarchy

President Carlos Mesa submitted his resignation on Monday, and after relocating to the less-chaotic city of Sucre, Bolivia's congress voted to select a successor late on Thursday. The head of the Bolivian Supreme Court, Eduardo Rodriguez, has been named as president on an interim basis. The president of the Senate, Hormando Vaca Diez, was next in line for succession but was rejected by protesters as just another "puppet of the oligarchy." See today's Washington Post or CNN.com. Bolivia has no vice president currently because Mesa assumed the presidency in his capacity as vice president after Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada resigned in the face of violent protests in October 2003, and no successor is named for the vice president under the Bolivian constitution. It is doubtful that the protesters will be pacified by the selection of the relatively apolitical judge Rodriguez, inasmuch as their leader, Evo Morales, seeks nothing less than a fundamental regime change and radical social reform. His "Movement Toward Socialism" party has a distinctly leftist ideology but is more dangerous because of the fact that it represents the coca growers, who want to abolish all restrictions on trade in the raw material used to make cocaine. Bolivia is one of the only countries in the world with two capital cities. Sucre was the capital from independence until the end of the 19th Century, after which the executive and legislative branches relocated to the boom city of La Paz. the Supreme Miners and other Indians are now marching from La Paz to Sucre to press their demands for immediate new elections and for nationalization of natural gas. For a perspective from a blogger born in Bolivia but studying in the United States, see the recent posts by Miguel Centellas. Bolivia is riven by fierce regional rivalries, and there is a strong separatist movement in the eastern department (province) of Santa Cruz, where most of the hydrocarbon deposits are located. The "cambas" speak with a dialect that is closer to Argentina than to the rest of Bolivia.

Whither Peru?

Given the insurrections that have led to extra-constitutional changes of government in both Ecuador and Bolivia this year, many people wonder, What about Peru? President Toledo's popularity rating remains in the single digits, and while viewing Latin American television while in Northern Virginia for a couple days, I saw a farcical staged show of support for Toledo as he returned from a visit to some provincial city. A blogger named Adam Isacson worries about the deep discontent and poverty in that "keystone" nation of South America. (via Randy Paul) That is hardly news, however: most Peruvians carry ancient, bitter grudges on their shoulders, venting their deep frustrations on other classes (rich white pitucos or poor dark cholos), or else blaming Spain, Chile, or the U.S.A., as circumstances dictate. Nevertheless, I would not discount another upsurge of violent protest in Peru in coming months. I witnessed a protest march in Cuzco in March 2004. (CLICK TO SEE PHOTO.) There was a mutiny by Peruvian police officers in January (see my blog post), but it was quickly put down. Peru's economy has been performing well enough for the last couple years that any revolutionary social movement there would be very unlikely to attract a wide following.

OAS summit in Florida

Events in Bolivia could not have happened at a worse time for President Bush, who spoke to an OAS summit in Fort Lauderdale this week. He declared (in Spanish) that freedom is not negotiable ("La libertad no es negociable."), a noble sentiment that unfortunately does not count for much in the amoral, cutthroat realm of global politics. See Washington Post.) Likewise, the President's ritualistic urgings for Latin American countries to adopt free market policies seem jarringly out of touch with reality in that part of the world, where both democracy and capitalism have fallen on hard times. The fixation on the mischief wrought by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela may have distracted the administration's attention from more urgent crises. Colombia and Peru are not doing well, either. Argentina has emerged, ironically, as a bastion of stability, but that's only relative.


June 10, 2005 [LINK]

Charlottesville day trip

Jacqueline and I went to go hiking on the nearly-completed Rivanna Loop Trail that encircles Charlottesville, where we used to live. We didn't get very far, however, as the trail was overgrown with tall grass and poison ivy. One tick was all it took for us to turn back. We did see a few interesting birds during our short time there, most notably the first Pine warbler I've seen this year, as well as a Red-tailed hawk being harrassed by a crow, some Cedar waxwings, bluebirds, phoebes, all three common swallow species, and an Indigo bunting.

Afterwards, we drove around and gawked at all the new street and housing construction on the south side of town. Boy, is that town booming! Some wooded areas where we used to go hiking or biking are now fully developed residential communities, with others on the way. Finally, we stopped for a richly satisfying lunch at the famous Bodo's Bagels, one of the finest bagel establishments on the east coast. Their bagels are freshly made according to very exacting standards, and there is simply no way to describe how good they taste and how perfect their consistency is: firm on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. Ah-h-h-h-h!


June 11, 2005 [LINK]

Make that nine straight

Their bats cooled off compared to last night, but the Nats managed to eke by with another frugal win (2-1) over the Mariners tonight, maintaining their lead over the Phillies. I know it's too early to seriously contemplate pennant races, but the further into the season the Nationals stay in contention, the bigger will the seldom-acknowledged conflict of interest based on their peculiar ownership status become. Will legal disputes prevent the sale of the franchise in time for the July 31 waiver-clearing trade deadline? Will the skimpy payroll budget prevent the team from making a bid for the talent they need to get to October? Are the Nationals going to be given a fair chance to win or not??? And even if they do win the pennant somehow, who will accept the NL championship trophy from Bud Selig on the team's behalf, all 29 MLB franchise owners? Such prospects are too absurd to imagine, but the possibility cannot be dismissed outright.

Today's Fox Game of the Week between the two perennially cursed teams, Cubs and Red Sox, more than lived up to its billing. Back and forth the whole way, with the outcome in doubt until the very last pitch. The Cubs have risen above adversity of recent pitching injuries, and if Derrek Lee keeps hitting the way he has been, they just may make another run for the postseason.

A short career

The guy who hit the first RBI for the Nationals last night had a name that was unfamiliar to me: Rick Short. He was just called up after playing for eleven years in the minors and Japan. Now his name has vanished from the team roster as quickly as it appeared, and the story about his brief moment in the big leagues has disappeared from the MLB Web site as well. [June 13 UPDATE: the link has been corrected on the Nats MLB site, and is likewise corrected above.] Chris Needham has some thoughts at Capitol Punishment, recalling a character from a certain classic film.


June 11, 2005 [LINK]

Orioles, etc. at McCormick's Farm, Part II

Jacqueline and I paid a short visit to McCormick's Farm this morning. I last went there on May 2, and today I was hoping to see some of the orioles that are supposed to be nesting there. We saw a Green heron (probable) and a Great blue heron flying overhead, a female Mallard with eleven ducklings in tow, plus a Great crested flycatcher. Finally, we did spot two Baltimore orioles, a first-year male most likely serving as an "apprentice," and a bright orange mature male who was singing intermittently. We could not pinpoint where the nest was, but we did see a pair of Cedar waxwings building a nest in the tree just west of the mill building.

Later in the day we saw two Phoebes and a male Pileated woodpecker in Lexington.


June 12, 2005 [LINK]

Kamikaze attacks continue

The daily onslaught of suicide bombings in Iraq is deeply distressing, but it may indicate that a critical "tipping point" in the conflict is at hand. At a commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy last week, Vice President Cheney declared, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is a war we are winning." See Washington Post. He was was ridiculed by some for asserting that the terrorist resistance in Iraq is near defeat, which may be a bit optimistic, but leaders are supposed to give upbeat, inspirational assessment. Historical analogies with Japan's desperate kamikaze attacks of 1945 are imperfect, but it would be reasonable to assert that few if any wars have ever been won by suicide attacks.

Anyone who thinks that such attacks indicate widespread resistance to the U.S.-backed regime by the Iraqi people should read the June 8 Washington Post article that describes in detail the network of smugglers operating in Syria. That is the source of the "martyred" radical youths whose lives are wasted in the unholy besmirching of the Islamic faith. Are their numbers unlimited? Time will tell. Fortunately, more Iraqis are coming to realize that far more of their people are being killed by Arabs from other countries than by Americans or other Coalition allies. The Baathist regime of Bashar Assad makes occasional reformist gestures, but the new leader is basically trapped by the ideology and power structure built by his father, the late Hafez Assad. If the U.S. had enough forces to patrol the Syrian border, suicide attacks would probably decrease sharply.

Blair & the Downing Street memo

P.M. Tony Blair got some minor concessions from President Bush during his visit to Washington last week. Bush agreed to release $674 million more for famine relief, mostly in Africa, but demurred on other items Blair wanted. Of perhaps more significance for the future of the anti-terror alliance was the news that in July 2002 Blair received a memorandum warning of inadequate planning for postwar Iraq by the Pentagon. See Washington Post. There is no doubt some merit in that line of criticism, and I think Rumsfeld should take responsibility for it. (Fat chance.) The truth, however, is that no one knew what to expect, precisely because the closed nature of Iraqi society under Saddam's totalitarian regime made it impossible to gauge popular sentiment in advance. Some antiwar critics warned before the war that sheer chaos and mass famine would ensue, but no fair observer of Iraq would characterize the situation there in that way. As for the protracted nature of the conflict, apart from some Neocon true believers, hardly anyone expected a quick "in-and-out" by Allied liberation forces. In one form or another, this war will probably drag on for several years or even decades. Given the high likelihood of erroneous premises necessary to formulate a comprehensive plan of occupation, a significantly increased effort devoted to postwar planning might have yielded little if any benefit. War is inherently chaotic and unpredictable, and "the best laid plans of men and mice..." Therefore, a more relevant question to ask is whether Pentagon staffers gave enough training and preparation to officers in combat units to adapt to the various kinds of emerging crises that could be foreseen.

Another criticism outlined in the memo was the familiar charge that U.S. intelligence reports were crafted in such a way to deliver the pre-ordained policy conclusion. Some of that may be true, as seemed to be the case with John Bolton. As anyone who has worked in the government knows, however, survival-oriented bureaucrats have a fetish for writing "CYA" memos that can be dug out to say "I told you so" when the need arises. Moreover, such memos are subject to differing interpretations. So, I'm perhaps less impressed by the Downing Street memo than most people. Blair deserves high credit for sticking to his guns, insisting that forcibly removing Saddam Hussein was imperative for the sake of Western and global security. If anyone should be held to account for lying about critical security issues, it should be George Galloway, the Labour M.P. on Saddam's payroll who recently testified before Congress. He was completely unrepentant, as would be expected of someone who is as deeply mired in corruption as he is; there's no turning back.

Home front morale

Yet another "push poll" from the Washington Post points to declining support for the U.S. war effort. As always, however, the answers you get depend on the questions you ask, and how you ask them. If someone asked me has the war in Iraq made me "feel safer," I might answer "no" as well, but calming our fears of terrorism is certainly not the immediate objective of the war. No doubt, many attention-deficit-afflicted Americans are losing patience with the slow grind on the battlefield, but I interpret the results primarily as an indication of the generalized angst in American society right now. It was probably the case that a majority of (northern) Americans felt the war was a mistake in the early months of 1864. Statesmen and wartime leaders who pay attention to poll numbers are doomed.

The bottom line question upon which all the peripheral questions hang is, Will the war in Iraq ultimately be judged to have been worth the cost? Since I fail to see how anyone could expect there to be a significant decrease in terrorist activity as long as the avowedly hostile regime of Saddam Hussein held power in Baghdad, to me that question almost answers itself. Nevertheless, I remain open to contrary arguments that are founded on solid facts and strategic logic. If Bush fails to do more to muster domestic support for a protracted conflict in Iraq, such as expanding the regular Army and encouraging recruitment, serious doubts about the long-term outcome would be in order.


June 12, 2005 [LINK]

Blue Ridge impromptu visit

As the result of a small but real wildlife tragedy, we made a brief, unscheduled visit to the Blue Ridge today. Jacqueline saw a neighbor's cat attack one of the chipmunks that lives in our back yard, and saved the poor thing's life, just barely. We took it to the Wildlife Center of Virginia, near Waynesboro, where the veterinarians administered painkillers while keeping it under observation... Unleashed cats often kill songbirds, especially newly-fledged young ones. Let this be a lesson for cat owners: See the American Bird Conservancy for information on Cats indoors! The Campaign for Safer Birds and Cats.

Since we were in the area, we took a casual drive around, and at the entrance to Lake Sherando I spotted a Louisiana waterthrush for the first time this year. The Blue-gray gnatcatchers that had built a nest there were nowhere to be seen, however, so I presume the babies have already fledged. Then we drove up the Blue Ridge and saw some Worm-eating warblers, a Blue-headed vireo (close!), a female Scarlet tanager, an Ovenbird, and some Redstarts.

Note that many of the birds listed on the Wild Birds page now show popup photos when you click on their names.


June 13, 2005 [LINK]

Nationals pride: Fan love fest in D.C.

As they used to say in one of those beer ads, "You know, it just doesn't get any better than this." (Or can it?) The Nats have won ten games in a row, completing one of the best home stands in franchise history. Not only have they been in first place for a full week, they have the fourth highest winning percentage (.587) in all of the majors right now! True, there are skeptics, such as Robert Tagorda, who cites the Nationals' negative cumulative run differential that stands in contrast to their win-loss record. Fortunately, Frank Robinson is not the kind of manager who pays a lot of attention to statistics. He knows that skillful "small ball" ultimately counts for more than run production. As long as the fans are happy, who cares? Many years from now, folks from the Washington area will still get a great big smile whenever they think back to 2005 and the Nationals' superb inaugural season. Today's Washington Post explores the sociological phenomenon of "Nats fever," which is turning normally sensible people into escstatic, impassioned zealots. Compared to the twelve previous MLB franchise relocations, Washington ranks along with Milwaukee (1953) and Los Angeles (1958) in terms of the tremendous outpouring of fan enthusiasm and high attendance. In fact, the Nationals have already broken the one-million attendance mark for this year, thereby smashing the old record for all previous Washington teams! The old record was set in 1946.

New ballpark for Mets?

After New York State officials turned down the costly proposed new football stadium for the Jets along the Hudson River in Manhattan, city officials unveiled "Plan B": a new stadium for the Mets next to Shea Stadium! The Mets say they will pay for it, which would make a very compelling offer. The idea is to build a 45,000-seat baseball stadium by 2009, then expand it to 80,000 seats for the 2012 Olympics, and then tear down the temporary annex afterwards. It would be an interesting twist on the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, where Turner Field was born. The design borrows heavily from Ebbets Field, but the original idea of a retractable roof has been discarded. The planned baseball capacity of only 45,000, less than the ballparks in Denver or Baltimore, strikes me as inappropriate for one of the biggest cities on earth. See the Mets Web site; hat tip to Brian Hughes. [UPDATED]

Diagram updates

Warning tracks have been added to the U.S. Cellular Field and Colt Stadium diagrams, which now conform to the new standard home plate coordinate. The revised Yankee Stadium diagrams may end up being rotated as well, but if so they won't conform to the new standard; it's just too darned big to fit! Also, the Stadiums by class page has been revised, with Jarry Park moving to the "temporary" class, and two football stadiums being removed from that class.


June 13, 2005 [LINK]

Primary race ends (Thank goodness)

I must say, the mudslinging among Republican candidates in Virginia this year has convinced me more strongly than ever that primary elections are a pernicious sideshow that exposes the downside of democracy. In appealing to a relatively non-attentive public, and running against rivals from the same party who agree on most of the issues, the candidates are forced to highlight irrelevant personal qualifications and distort aspects of their opponents' backgrounds. It's providing a lot of ammunition for the Democrats in the fall campaign. Under the status quo, by paying for primary elections, the government subsidizes the two major parties, in effect granting them an official status. IMHO, primary elections should be funded entirely by the parties holding them. If they choose not to pay for it, the parties should choose candidates in a state or district convention.

Warner raises his sights

Virginia Governor Mark Warner, a Democrat, has formed a political action committee that will allow him to raise funds for a possible candidacy as vice president in 2008. See Washington Post. As a high-tech millionaire businessman, with a fresh Kennedyesque face, he is exactly what the dispirited and often hysterical Democrats need to broaden their appeal to the sensible center of the political spectrum. Though his earnest personality would seem to undermine his potential as serious heavyweight at the national level, he showed resourcefulness and determination in last year's budget showdown with the Republicans, suggesting he might be well suited for Washington.

Michael Jackson

Today's not guilty verdict was mildly irritating, but given the apparent credibility problems with the mother of one of the alleged victims, the jury's decision is certainly understandable. "Beyond a reasonable doubt?" Perhaps not. What is more instructive about this case is how it showcases our contemporary society's obsession with celebrity, and the corresponding disdain for serious news. Coincidentally, today's Non Sequitur comic strip by Wiley dealt with precisely that issue.


June 14, 2005 [LINK]

Pathetic primary turnout

Voter turnout in today's primary elections in Virginia was less than 4% for the Republican side, and less than 3% for the Democrat side. As expected, GOP gubenatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore won easily over self-styled "real Reaganite" George Fitch, 82% to 18%. In the race for lieutenant governor, Bill Bolling beat Sean Connaughton, 55% to 45%, and in the race for attorney general, Bob McDonnell beat Steve Baril by a 68% to 32% margin. In the only statewide race for the Democrats, Leslie Byrne, a sharp-tongued former member of Congress from Northern Virginia prevailed over three other candidates in the race for lieutenant governor. These results are not yet official. For the latest updates, see the Virginia State Board of Elections. Many people believe that Virginia's odd custom of holding state elections in the off years was deliberately intended to "weed out" less-attentive voters who show up for presidential or congressional elections but don't really follow state politics closely enough to make an informed decision. It's working.


June 15, 2005 [LINK]

Yankee Stadium: New & improved?

What we've been fearing for months is apparently going to come to pass. At a press conference filled with state and local politicians this afternoon, the Yankees announced they are going ahead with construction of a new stadium to replace The House that Ruth Built. It would have the same outfield dimensions as the existing stadium (that is, without the old "Death Valley" in left center field), with 51,000 seats initially. The capacity could be expanded by a few thousand more, which almost goes without saying. That is not nearly enough for Gotham City. See MLB.com [updated link]. In watching the Webcast I was glad to hear all the appropriate statements about community development, but skeptics are entitled to reserve judgment before jumping on the bandwagon. It would be nice to spruce up the Bronx, as long as the existing residents don't get shunted aside. The same thing goes for southeast Washington, as I've said.

What is curious about this is that the timetable for the Mets' and Yankees' new stadiums coincide, with plans for both to open in 2009. Of course, that's just a wild guess, but it would be unprecendented for any baseball city. I just hope the Yankees front office is smart enough to learn from the sorry experience of the White Sox, who ignored suggestions about how to replace Comiskey Park and ended up with an ugly mess that had to be rebuilt to make it fan friendly.

UPDATE: Mayor Bloomberg, Mr. Steinbrenner, [Governor Pataki, and Steve Swindal] are pictured in the above video grab. Here are some key sound bites from the momentous announcement:

"We are staying at home in the Bronx," Yankees president Randy Levine said. "We are continuing our tradition in the Bronx.

"The Yankees, not the taxpayers, will pay for this project. The Yankees, not the taxpayers, will pay to maintain this ballpark."
...
"We pledge to all our fans that this ballpark will be affordable," Levine said.

Well, why not build enough seats for all the working-class patrons, then, Randy? Toward the end of the press conference there was a question en español from one of the local journalists, and one of the Yankee officials came back with a snappy and remarkably fluent reply. ¡Qué bien! The total cost of "New Yankee Stadium" (or "Steinbrenner Coliseum," perhaps?) would be $800 million, with the city paying for street and infrastructure improvements. Although I've become a bit fatalistic about this likely prospect, I remain extremely dubious that replacing Yankee Stadium is either necessary or advantageous. I think Steinbrenner is sacrificing the special Yankee mystique, short-sightedly boosting his bottom line at the expense of the franchise's long-term interests. Here's what tradition-minded Steven Poppe has to say:

Three words for this atrocity: CRASH AND BURN. The Mets should try for a new ballpark in midtown Manhattan where the new Jets stadium would have been built. And I've said this before and I'll say it again: The Yankees should build a new Yankee Stadium where the current one stands - with the same fence dimensions as the Yankee Stadium of the DiMaggio and Mantle eras. And while the new Yankee Stadium (description in last sentence) is being built, the Yankees can play at Shea Stadium.

Nats brawl* in Anaheim

The Nationals bounced back from an embarrassing 11-1 loss in Anaheim to win last night 6-3. Trailing 3-1 in the seventh, the Nationals got involved in a bench-clearing brawl (their first one, I believe) after manager Frank Robinson told one of the umpires he suspected pitcher Brendan Donnelly was using pine tar, and his counterpart Mike Scioscia objected, after which both teams went at it. Donnelly may face suspension, and Robinson later said he "lost a lot of respect for Mike tonight as a person and as a manger and there's nothing he can say to me now." See MLB.com. Being in different leagues, there's little likelihood of a grudge developing between the two teams. Two things make this an interesting series, however: former Expos star Vladimir Guerrero now plays for Anaheim, but he might have been playing for Washington now if the relocation from Montreal had not been needlessly stalled for year after year. Also, Nats outfielder Jose Guillen played for Anaheim last year but was suspended late in the season for insubordination.

In yesterday's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell took very seriously the possibility that the Nationals could be contending for the pennant late in the season. I'd like to think so too, but they just don't have enough depth to make up for any injuries. Enthusiasm and team spirit are necessary but not sufficient to "go the distance."

* LATE EVENING UPDATE: From what I've read, no punches were thrown, so I suppose it doesn't qualify as a "brawl." Former Ranger Ryan Drese is pitching his first game as a National right now, and he just gave up his first hit, in the third inning. Angels pitcher Bartolo Colon (a former Expo!) has not allowed any Nats batters to reach first base. I wish I could stay awake to follow these late-late West Coast games...


June 15, 2005 [LINK]

Bush tells it like it is (almost)

President Bush has came out swinging in urging the Senate to pass the energy bill recently approved by the House. The main controversy is opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, but various tax provisions have also come under scrutiny. Here are some of the main points from a speech to the 16th Annual Energy Efficiency Forum in Washington today, from the White House Web site:

  • "propose that every American who purchases a hybrid vehicle receive a tax credit of up to $4,000."
  • "encouraging automakers to produce a new generation of modern, clean-diesel cars and trucks."
  • "produce and refine more crude oil here at home in environmentally-sensitive ways. ... the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska"
  • "encourage the construction of new refineries on closed military facilities"
  • "to develop new alternatives to gasoline and diesel. ... Hydrogen Fuel Initiative..."
  • "promote ethanol as an alternative to foreign sources of oil"
  • "help countries like India and China become more efficient users of hydrocarbons -- that will help take the pressure off global supply, it will take the pressure of gasoline prices here at home."
  • "we need to expand production of safe, clean nuclear power."

It's interesting that he cited France as a model to follow in terms of nuclear power. It's nice to see the President taking on yet another critical issue that must be addressed, and I'm particularly glad that he effectively linked the national security and environmental issues, since that's one of my personal interests. It's too bad, however, that some of his proposals are old fashioned lame gestures and half measures. He could accomplish what all those proposals would do but in a much simpler and more direct way by just raising taxes on gas and diesel fuel to a level commensurate with their real long-term scarcity and environmental impact! Why is it so hard to enact such a measure? Oh yeah, because most American people regard cheap energy as an entitlement, and they'd rather have someone else pay for the consequences. The President has a long way to go before the gas guzzling public gets the message.


June 16, 2005 [LINK]

You call that a "save"?

I actually stayed up long enough to catch the whole Angels-Nationals game last night (on MLB Game Day), and it was worth it. After new National Ryan Drese threw eight innings in which only two Angels got hits, the usually reliable closer Chad Cordero took over in the ninth inning and proceeded to almost blow the 1-0 lead. The first three batters loaded the bases on two hits and a walk, and it seemed the best the Nats could hope for was to force the game into extra innings. Somehow Chad settled down and threw two strikeouts, with the second out coming on a short pop fly to center field. Game over! Thus, the Nats won their fifth straight series, and Cordero got credit for his 21st save of the year, leading the majors. On May 20 I called for changes in the way wins are awarded, and this case suggests that perhaps saves statistics need to be reformed as well.

Yankee Stadium fallout

The New York Times has a slide show of renderings of the future "Yankee Stadium." David Pinto gives it two thumbs up. Some features I like, such as the exterior wall that replicates the original Yankee Stadium, and the large roof with the lights built into a grated façade, also much like the original. The overall grandstand shape and the field layout only bear a passing resemblance to the original, however, and the whole thing looks an awful lot like Turner Field in Atlanta. Given that this announcement was originally expected around May 1 (see April 18), one wonders what political haggling might have occasioned the delay. Perhaps it was all the concurrent activity related to the 2012 Olympics and the proposed new Mets stadium.

UPDATE: Lifelong Yankees fan Phil Faranda writes: "I was always in the 'hallowed ground' corner when it came to a new yard for my team, but the fact is the Old Stadium ceased to be after the 1974-75 renovations. ... I say build the thing."

Oops

Thanks to a photo in this morning's Washington Post, I realized that I had misidentified two of the men in that (rather fuzzy) video grab from yesterday's blog post about the press conference at Yankee Stadium: "some tall guy" was actually Governor George Pataki, and "ESPN's Chris Berman" was actually Steve Swindal, a general partner of the Yankees, son-in-law of Mr. Steinbrenner, and Heir Apparent to the Dynastic Throne. Yesterday's post has been duly corrected, as indicated by [bracketed text]. See the press release from the Empire State's governor's Web site.


June 17, 2005 [LINK]

Dick Durbin on Gitmo

Lately I've been getting the creepy feeling that the barrage of criticism by Democrats over the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo is part of an orchestrated campaign to undermine the war effort. Recent comments on that controversy by Al Gore, Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi, et al. were too off-the-wall to be taken seriously, which is why I initially ignored Sen. Dick Durbin's comparison of the U.S. practices at "Gitmo" to totalitarian regimes. I suppose you could say I have a "nonsense filter" that insulates my brain from poisonous cacaphony. Durbin's words clearly gave aid and comfort to the enemy, and yet he refused to back down, complaining that he had been misinterpreted; see Washington Post. It is as thought those critics want to be brought up on charges. I dislike political polarization, but the effect of such words on a person like me who craves reasonable discourse is to intensify my loyalty to the side that is committed to winning the war. If the main objective of critics of U.S. war policy and conduct is make sure that American ideals and values are not unduly compromised in the name of security, the first step would be to exercise reason and restraint in their arguments, keeping things in proportion.

Indeed, there probably were abuses of some detainees, but no serious person would compare the overall level of treatment to that of the Nazis or the Soviets. This is a point that several bloggers have picked up on; see Mudville Gazette , via Instapundit. To imagine that the Pentagon is so blind to public relations to permit routine abuse or torture is just absurd. They are all too aware that this war will be won or lost as much on the plane of psychology and perceptions as on the physical battlefield. Most of the detainees are probably eating, sleeping, and being cared for better than they ever had before. One can only imagine how hard they must be laughing at all the suckers who are buying their bogus complaints. Speaking of which, Rush Limbaugh is "illustrating absurdity" of the accusations by peddling "official Club Gitmo" apparel and souvenirs. Get yours while they last!

In all seriousness, the detainees are in an unfortunate legal limbo of their own making. Virtually all of them were apprehended while they were with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, "caught red-handed" in a sense. As "illegal enemy combatants" they are covered neither by criminal law nor by the Geneva Convention which prescribes norms for treating captured soldiers of regular armies or organized militias. They may never be put on trial, as it is unlikely suitable witnesses could ever be found, and they may not be repatriated for several decades, depending on how the struggle between the Free World and its enemies goes. That is what is due to the terrorists who systematically violate international human rights norms on behalf of a global jihad, and then invoke civil rights rhetoric on habeas corpus, due process, etc. as a legal defense.


June 18, 2005 [LINK]

Ex-Senators beat ex-Expos

It's one of the more interesting interleague matchups, between the team that just moved to Washington and the team that moved away from Washington 33 years ago. Also, there are two former Yankees facing each other: Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano. The Rangers won the first two game quite convincingly, though the Nats at least showed enough spunk to close the gap in the late innings of tonight's game. It's the first time in over three weeks that the Nats have lost two in a row, but they're still in first place.

Game of the Week

What could be finer than watching the Cubs play the Yankees in the Bronx on the Saturday Game of the Week? It depends who you ask. Some of us had weddings to attend. Well, at least I caught a couple innings between the service and the reception, but I just missed Derek Jeter's first-ever grand slam.

More Yankee Stadium fallout

A new visitor named Alan brought to my attention the following observations about replacing Yankee Stadium which he posted on another Web site. The points he makes are well worth repeating.

Here's what I think is wrong with this new ballpark -- but it is the same thing that is wrong with ALL the new ballparks ...

I understand that owners want luxury boxes and Yankee Stadium has (I believe) only 12. And building 150 or so luxury boxes will steal cheap seats (the kind I sit in.) But worse, today's architects seem to think that lower deck seats are somehow preferable to upper deck seats. In the present Yankee Stadium there are ~ 20000 lower deck seats and ~30000 in the upper deck (plus ~7000 in the mezzanine.) The plan for the new park reverses that. Any real fan would prefer to see the whole game from upstairs. Worse, when Yankee Stadium was renovated in 1974-75 great expense was gone to to, yes, remove the infamous "poles", but also to preserve the extreme cantilever of the upper deck over the lower, so upper deck fans were amazingly close to the action. This was accomplished by the use of cables buried in the concrete and anchored into the ground. The only other ballpark that I know of that used the same cable arrangement was DC Stadium -- another park with VERY close upper deck seating in the infield (despite its concrete cylinder form.) Sit downstairs in the first few rows and look at the upper deck in the Stadium. It seems to be right on top of the lower deck and going straight up. National League teams coming into the Stadium actually marvel at how close the screaming-banshee Yankee fans are to the action.

But the cabled cantilever design is expensive -- much too expensive to waste on the "cheap seats". So they build luxury boxes instead and move you and me to a seat in a different zip code. For all its architecural excellence, even a place like Camden Yards gives the back of its hand to the peons upstairs.

As far as the "history" ... well ... except for the relationship of the stands to the field, which is pretty much the same in the 1976 Stadium as it was in 1923, most of the character of the old ballpark was obliterated when it was remodeled 30 years ago. A fake plastic "facade" tacked on in the outfield just isn't the same as the green copper adornment to the old park's roof. Even if you want to make the case that Gary Sheffield plays on the same patch of ground as the Babe (I think I wanna be sick) you have to allow for the 10 feet deeper the '76 park's field is into the earth than the original.

The new park will recreate the 1923 exterior (although it will actually be a "false-front") and take a stab at recreating the so-called "facade" around the roof. (When Mantle hit the facade off Fisher in, what was it, '64?, he referred to it as the "FACARD".) And, maybe best of all, the plans call for preserving the playing field and part of the lower deck of the present Stadium for amateur games.

So, all in all, as desecrations go it could be a lot worse...

If indeed the replicated exterior walls at the new "Yankee Stadium" are nothing more than a veneer (like vinyl siding), I almost wish they wouldn't bother with such fakery. As for RFK, I had wondered about how the upper deck was supported, and he may well be right about the cable method, which I had thought was pioneered at Yankee Stadium. That bears further research. I am fairly certain, however, that the field in the latter was lowered by about five feet during the 1974-1975 renovations, not ten.

Wrigley Field (L.A.)

I think I've figured out how I'm going to handle the diagrams for stadiums that are too large to fit into the standard size template, such as Yankee Stadium. It's an annoying conundrum, reflecting in part the need to accommodate folks with various sized computer monitors. In the meantime, I've redone the diagram for Wrigley Field, where the Los Angeles Angels originally played.


June 18, 2005 [LINK]

Summer morn on Bell's Lane

A cool front has passed through these parts, making it a delightful morning for a stroll along placid Bell's Lane. Since this is the peak of songbird breeding season, we heard the songs of a dozen or more species, a veritable symphony. One odd melodic song in particular caught my attention. Jacqueline spotted a female Orchard oriole, and I soon located the singing male as well. It was the first time we had seen that neotropical migratory species since February.* Today's highlights:

  • Indigo buntings (M)
  • Eastern phoebes
  • Willow flycatchers
  • Red-winged blackbirds (many M, 1 F)
  • Goldfinches (M)
  • Cowbirds (M, F -- boooo!)
  • Brown thrashers
  • Yellow warblers (M, F)
  • Tree swallows
  • Robins (incl. 1 J)
  • Orchard oriole (M, F)
  • Canada geese
  • Red-bellied woodpecker (M)
  • Cottontail rabbit (J)

* In Costa Rica, that is. smile

Bridge-Tunnel to reopen

The commission responsible for the 18-mile long Bridge-Tunnel that spans the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay decided to reopen three of the islands to bird watchers, but only on a limited basis. (There is a restaurant and fishing pier at one of the islands, but the other three islands are normally deserted.) From now on, amateurs will be permitted to visit the other three islands as long as they get advance security clearance and pay $50 an hour for police escort. See Washington Post. It is sad to have to put up with such restrictions, but unfortunately, that happens to be one of the most vital strategic "chokepoints" in the continental United States. Norfolk is the home port to aircraft carriers and dozens of other combat vessels, and you don't want a bunch of "weirdos" with telescopes and cameras hanging around. Jacqueline and I went there to watch birds with my brother John in November several years ago (before 9/11). Our most unusual sighting was a young male Baltimore oriole, a forlorn "straggler" who was supposed to be in the tropics by that time of year.


June 19, 2005 [LINK]

Look for the union label

To no one's surprise, Mayor Williams unveiled an agreement by which labor unions will get special preference in the construction contracts for the new baseball stadium in D.C. This, of course, will inflate the project's total cost by at least five or ten percent, but that was something I took for granted from the beginning. "Let the overruns begin!" Ironically, the union requirement (a political quid pro quo) may prejudice the interests of District residents and businesses, many of which are non-union. Since the city is undertaking the project on its own, it has every right to set the terms for construction. Does this mean construction delays caused by strikes may be more likely? Of course. I'm in no hurry for the Nats to leave RFK. It has already become as much a part of their winning ways as it was for the Redskins in decades past. Which leads us to:

Will Nationals usurp Redskins?

In today's Washington Post, Mark Gauvreau wonders whether the phenomenal success of the Washington Nationals will result in a switch in fan loyalty and attention away from the Redskins. Until recently, such a possibility would be almost unthinkable. It was not until the 1970s, however, when George Allen and then Joe Gibbs turned the team into a real powerhouse, that football enthusiasm really gripped the city. Given the Redskins' huge frustrations of recent years, D.C. sports fans could easily tire of waiting and give themselves over to those scrappy, eager newcomers who are playing in the 'Skins old home.

Nats salvage a win

The Nationals bounced back from two losses in Arlington (Texas), winning this afternoon by 8 to 2. Brad Wilkerson knocked in half of those runs, three of which came in the eighth inning on a double. After his amazing hot streak in April he fell into a bad slump, but he seems to have pulled out of it now. He is leading the majors in doubles this year (with 26), but with a .278 average, he's unlikely to make the All Star team. The Nats are headed to Pittsburgh, and will return to D.C. on Friday.

Soccer at FedEx Field

The D.C. United soccer team played two home games at RFK while the Nats were on the road, and they won both. Because of continuing problems with the temporary grass infield turf, it has been decided to play an exhibition game against the English team Chelsea FC at FedEx Field on July 28. That will be a tight squeeze for a soccer field, and it will be interesting to see what the reactions are. Most soccer fans in D.C. are Latinos, many of whom would have a hard time getting to the suburb of Landover, Maryland.


June 21, 2005 [LINK]

Corruption tarnishes Lula

The chief of staff of the Brazilan cabinet, Jose Dirceu, resigned last Thursday after being accused of running a bribery scheme by which legislators were paid monthly "allowances" to vote along with the Brazilian Labor Party of President "Lula" da Silva. Brazil has been hit by a crime wave in recent months, and this case further undermines the aura of success that Lula had enjoyed since taking office nearly two and a half years ago. Generally speaking, Brazil has somewhat less of a problem with corruption than most other Latin American countries, but there is also less of a reformist tradition than elsewhere in the region. In other words, small-scale corruption is routine but usually doesn't get out of hand. What this case illustrates is the fragmented nature of the political party system in that giant country, where policy decisions are usually made in the executive branch because the Congress is too bogged down in factionalism to get much done. It may also suggest that Lula's effectiveness as a national leader is on the wane.


June 21, 2005 [LINK]

Condi scolds potentate "allies"

Following up on the Bush administration's push to democratize the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice bluntly criticized the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia for failing to liberalize their political systems during a tour of the region. It's about time. She also made it clear that the United States is not imposing its system on others and frankly acknowledges its own past failings, such as segregation and discrimination of blacks. See Washington Post. This comes as news that most of the suicide bombers in Iraq have come from Saudi Arabia, where security forces pay lip service to "rounding up the usual suspects." In Egypt, pro-government mobs made a mockery of Laura Bush's nice words for President Mubarak's tip-toes toward democracy last month; see my May 26 post.

Meanwhile, Iran has held elections in which a thuggish apologist for the theocracy won a spot in the second-round ballot by surprise. Most expect that former president Rafsanjani, a relative moderate, will win. A pro-democracy movement lives on in Iran, though the mullahs are putting heavy pressure on them. The really good news about democracy comes from Lebanon, where anti-Syrian candidates won a solid victory in elections this week. The fact that an anti-Syrian leader was assassinated shows how fiercely and desperately the fascist Baathist forces are resisting this trend. The Lebanese people have spoken loudly in defiance to Syria, marking a huge step forward for the forces of freedom. This has not received much attention from the mainstream press, however. Most recent news reports have focused instead on the esclalation of car bomb attacks in Iraq and escalated calls for a withdrawal timetable by several Democrats and even some Republicans such as Chuck Hagel.


June 22, 2005 [LINK]

CAFTA ... and party politics

The Central American Free Trade Agreement is nearing a showdown on Capitol Hill, and President Bush will have to spend a lot more "political capital" (and pork) to get it through Congress. That's right, yet another issue of vital importance to the nation is being reduced to a political football. For many years, I have been in favor of liberalized trade among the countries of the Western Hemisphere. I supported NAFTA, which yielded strong mutual overall benefits to both Mexico and the United States, though it must be acknowledged that the disruptive social effects on either side of the Rio Grande have yet to be fully reckoned. The point was that the two countries already were trading heavily with each other, in a classic symbiosis, and in a real sense NAFTA merely institutionalized and rationalized ongoing trends. The countries of Central America are another matter, however: Except for Costa Rica, they are much poorer and more politically unstable, raising doubts about whether free trade with the United States would produce greater economic wealth or just more political friction. The Dominican Republic is also included in the agreement, but not turmoil-wracked Haiti. For the PRO side in this debate, see the U.S. Trade Representative, and for the CON side, see StopCAFTA.org. I remain skeptical of the proposed grandiose "Free Trade Area of the Americas," which would run up against sharp differences of national interest, within South America itself, but I believe that further institutionalizing economic relations between the U.S. and its (relatively close) neighbors would serve a compelling mutual interest. I find the provisions for stricter controls on pollution and higher environmental standards to be among the strongest reasons for favoring it. How else are we North Americans going to have influence over the fate of the ecologically precious rain forests and beaches of that region? As for the leftist charge that this is all just a sell-out to corporate interests, I would submit that the character, competence, and public-mindedness of Special Trade Representative Robert Zoellick should allay any such fears.

Earlier this year I was travelling in two of the countries where free trade with the U.S. is most controversial. Costa Rica has a long tradition of state management of the economy, emulating the European social democratic model, and its social stability might well be put at risk by being exposed to the rigors of free trade. I saw a lot of political activity against the free trade pact in San Jose, and the most academics there seem to be against it as well. Meanwhile, Nicaragua has been undergoing a serious political crisis in recent months, due in part to controversies over trade and relations with the United States. The Sandinista party of former president Daniel Ortega has been putting the squeeze on the conservative government of Enrique Bolaños in what some are calling a "creeping coup." The CAFTA showdown also coincides with increased complaints about the flow of illegal immigrants across the border from Mexico. One of the fundamental objectives of NAFTA was to minimize the gap in economic opportunity between the two giants, and the shortcoming in that department has to be considered one of the biggest disappointments with NAFTA.

But what about the domestic front? As the dust settles on the compromise that avoided the "nuclear option" in the Senate, indications are that partisan divisiveness is as deep as ever. As reported in the Washington Post, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi strongly warned her side of the aisle not to vote for CAFTA because "A vote for CAFTA, she said, was a vote to keep the GOP in the majority." She gives the impression of caring not in the least whether the agreement is in the best interess of the country. Meanwhile, the Republicans are inclined to pacify their base in the key state of Florida, which makes them prone to continue coddling the ultra-protected sugar cane industry. The June 18 Economist magazine opines, "Mr Bush must defeat the sugar lobby. The pro-trade Democrats must stand up to their short-sighted leaders." They interpret the Democrats' obstructionism as a reflection of being "intoxicated with their success, thus far, at stymieing Mr Bush's agenda on social security reform." Given the climate in Washington these days, trying to assess the relative merits of CAFTA, apart from the calculations of partisan gains and losses, may be futile. Moderate Republicans in the Senate such as John Warner had better pay heed to the fact that their gestures of bipartisan cooperation are not being reciprocated.

This would be a good opportunity to remind everyone of one of the most praiseworthy aspects of the Clinton presidency: a solid commitment to freer international trade, as exemplified by NAFTA and the WTO.


June 22, 2005 [LINK]

Kestrel nest in Verona

Kestrel juvenile Thanks to an e-mail alert sent by Lisa Hamilton of the Augusta Bird Club, Jacqueline and I got a good close-up view of a young American kestrel this morning. Just as we arrived, I spotted an adult leaving the nest cavity near the corner of a government building in nearby Verona. The juvenile, which looks like it's ready to fledge any day now, popped in and out of view for the next few minutes, but the adult did not return. This was after we enjoyed another pleasant stroll along Bell's Lane, where we saw Willow flycatchers, Brown thrashers, an Indigo bunting, and three juvenile robins, but no Orchard orioles this time. Yellow warblers were heard but not seen.

Yesterday afternoon there was an amusing sight in our back yard: a female Mallard leading twelve (12) babies on an arduous trek to better feeding grounds. A neighbor and I shepherded them across the busy street, holding back traffic for a minute until they were safe. Cute video clip pending...


June 24, 2005 [LINK]

Yankee Stadium "renovations"

I've finally completed one of the biggest diagram revision projects I've yet taken on: Yankee Stadium; that page is kindly sponsored by Michael Rudolf. (Reminder: Anyone who has a favorite stadium and would like that page to be updated is invited to sponsor it by making a PayPal donation. smile) It includes five chronological phases plus a football version; all the diagrams are oriented with center field at the top, and the current (1988) version diagram conforms to the common home plate coordinate which facilitates comparison on the Side-by-side page. Speaking of which, you can now easily see that Yankee Stadium's outfield is actually smaller than that of RFK Stadium, in all directions. Shame! This latest enhancement to this Web site comes just as the Yankees have begun to move ahead with replacing the grand old Bronx basilica. Bruce Orser, who provided me with extremely useful blueprints and many fine archival photos of Yankee Stadium, looks on the potential bright side of this sad deed:

The [Yankee Stadium] plan would be even better if the playing field resembled the original instead of the outside. It would give fans a contrasting illustration to what they are used to. What would be ideal in my opinion is for the field dimensions to match the '23 configuration and in two years change to the 1924 dimensions, in two more years the 1937 dimensions and finally to modern dimensions. This would be a very tangible history lesson and one to linger in the fans' mind for some time. It surely would spark conversation and be written about a great deal. In short, lets see a for real Clem Dynamic Stadium over a period of about 7 years.

I agree, but I wonder if the Yankees front office is smart enough to do something that creative. I made a similar suggestion about how the District of Columbia should handle the new stadium, making a virtue out of fiscal necessity by building it incrementally on a "pay as you go" basis. Speaking of which,

D.C. stadium news

As expected, the D.C. council has passed a bill that approves Mayor Washington's preference for labor unions in the new stadium building contracts. But when will groundbreaking begin? The financial pinch of the new stadium has already hit D.C. businesses, and one law firm is threatening legal action over the special-purpose tax assessment. See Washington Post.

Nats squeak by again

The Nationals concluded their road trip by winning their first series in Pittsburgh since moving to Washington, thereby staying on top of the NL East by a 3 1/2 game margin. The Pirates whomped the Nats in game two, 11-4, but the Nats once again came from behind in the rubber game on Wednesday and came away with a close win, 5-4. This weekend they take on the Toronto Blue Jays back home in good old RFK Stadium. Jose Vidro is practicing more every day, and should be ready to return to the lineup before the All Star game.


June 24, 2005 [LINK]

More partisan vitriol on the war

In a speech to the New York state Conservative Party, Karl Rove angered many Democrats when he drew a sharp contrast in how the two sides view the war on terrorism. All the usual suspects in the Democrat leadership fired back: Sen. Reid called on Rove to resign, Sen. Clinton called the remarks "appalling" and "saddening," and Howard Dean "accused Rove of trying to divide the country with 'cynical political attacks,'" which is supremely ironic. Here's the crux of what Rove had to say:

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. (SOURCE: Washington Post)

One caller on the Rush Limbaugh show suggested that Rove should issue a Durbinian quasi-apology (see below), but Rush wisely warned against such patent cynicism. I've often criticized Rove for his Machiavellian subordination of principle to winning at all costs, but this time he made a good point. True, his words were provocative and painted liberals with too broad a brush (as pro-war liberal Michael Totten writes), but Rove aptly called attention to the fact that the leftists who have come to dominate the liberal side of the political spectrum, including most Democrats (there is a small but vital distinction), seem not have the foggiest idea what we are up against in this war, or what the stakes are. Hence the recent chorus of (self-fulfilling?) defeatist rhetoric on the Left. Millions of Americans are under the grotesquely false impression that "we had it coming" on 9/11, and that those nasty terrorists would leave us alone if only we had "nicer" foreign policy and abandoned Israel. Not bloody likely. Differences of opinion on something as awful as war are entirely natural, and all we can hope for is a measure of restraint and balance. FWIW, here are my initial reflections on 9/11.

Durbin "apologizes"

Sen. Dick Durbin choked back tears as he pleaded for understanding and forgiveness for his hyperinflammatory words comparing actions by the U.S. military to the Nazis and other totalitarian regimes. It was conditional contrition, however:

I'm sorry if anything that I said caused any offense or pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust, the greatest moral tragedy of our time. Nothing, nothing should ever be said to demean or diminish that moral tragedy.

I'm also sorry if anything I said in any way cast a negative light on our fine men and women in the military. (SOURCE: Senator Durbin's Web site)

If??? That might be construed to mean that he is not sorry otherwise, except for the fact that the word if was [nothing more than a lame attempt to raise the (remote) possibility that someone was not offended]. It's a lot like the congressional resolution apologizing for lynching passed last week: a contritional gesture that carries little weight. I fail to understand how Durbin thinks he could have been "misunderstood." He said what he said. This case really says less about Durbin than it does about the general deranged state of mind exhibited by many Democrats these days. I've read various leftist blogs that accuse conservative critics of Durbin of not caring about human rights abuses at military detention facilities. I for one am concerned about such abuses, but I would prefer that criticisms be reasonable in tone and balanced, hopefully reserving judgment until more thorough, impartial investigations are carried out.


UPDATE: postwatchblog "compares and contrasts" how the Washington Post covered the Durbin story to how it covered Rove's comments. It's almost like they're biased or something... (via InstaPundit)


June 26, 2005 [LINK]

Interleague sweeps weekend

An inordinate number of consecutive victories were recorded in interleague matchups this weekend. The Red Sox swept the Phillies, the Rockies swept the Royals, the Marlins swept the Devil Rays, the Angels swept the Dodgers, the Athletics swept the Giants, and the Braves swept the Orioles, knocking them out of first place in the AL East in the process. Andruw Jones now leads the majors in home runs, at 24, eight of which have come in the last ten days! Known primarily for his fielding prowess and casual "basket catches" à la Willie Mays, he is having a career year batting-wise, and recently hit the first home run ever to land in the left field upper (second) deck at Turner Field.

The Nationals were trying for a sweep against the visiting Blue Jays in this afternoon's game, but this time their bullpen could not contain the enemy batters in the late innings. So, the Blue Jays won 9-5, the first home loss by the Nats since June 1. ball President Bush and Condoleeza Rice were at the game on Friday evening, to everyone's surprise. The superb starter Esteban Loaiza finally got his third win. Only two regular pitchers in the majors have fewer wins and a lower ERA than he does (3.63): Brian Moehler (Marlins) and Victor Santos (Brewers). ball While the Nationals were out of town on their recent road trip, eleven of the players' cars that were parked in a "secured" area next to RFK Stadium were broken into, and one was stolen. Ouch. D.C. chief of police Ramsey has pledged to track down the culprits, but his car was stolen as well. As humorist Dave Barry used to say, "I am not making this up."

The Mets (last place in the NL East) lead the Yankees 4-3 after seven innings, and are on the verge of sweeping the Bronx Bombers in Yankee Stadium. What a revolting development that would be. [UPDATE: Thanks to a clutch two-run single by Jason Giambi in the bottom of the ninth, the Yanks came from behind to win 5-4, avoiding being swept.]

Yankee Stadium feedback

Alex ? let me know that the Yankees have used land on both sides of the 1976 left field fence for their bullpen since 1988, making me wonder if Mariano gets a private bullpen. smile He also reminded me to include a dark batter's background in the center field bleachers. Peter Piroso informs me that there were no temporary bleachers in right field for Giants football game. (He used to go to those games and therefore has first-hand knowledge.) I was going by a photograph on another Web site that was apparently doctored. Diagram revisions pending; all such feedback is appreciated and acknowledged if it's significant enough to mention, but their are practical limits to the extent of detail I represent.


June 26, 2005 [LINK]

Wildlife on Crawford Mountain

Scarlet tanager F I got motivated to hike to the top of Crawford Mountain yesterday, something I've been planning to do for a long time. With an elevation of 3,760 feet, it is about 700 feet shorter than nearby Elliott Knob, where I hiked almost one year ago. Just as on that hike, I passed through multiple ecological zones as I ascended 1,800 feet (net); I covered seven miles horizontally, round trip. I began at about 8:30 on the Chimney Hollow trail, where I have hiked several times in the past, enjoying cool temperatures in the shade. Along the way up I got video clips of a few birds, including this female Scarlet tanager, carrying an insect to her offspring, nervously waiting for me to get on my way. It got pretty warm as noon approached, and my feet and legs felt the strain. Fortunately, my determination to scale the summit paid off, as a group of five or so Ruffed grouses flushed just as I reached the top. The U.S. Forest Service has a special habitat management program for Ruffed grouses in that area, so perhaps it's working. Along the "saddle" ridge between the peak and Coalpit Knob on my way back down, I was startled to see an adult Black bear about 70 yards in front of me, on the left. It grunted and ran away as soon as it saw me, however, so I couldn't get any pictures. Just as well, I suppose. After making sure there were no baby bears around, I cautiously proceeded, looking back over my shoulder every ten paces or so. Here are the highlights of the avian creatures I saw (in rough chronological order):

  • Blue-gray gnatcatchers
  • Acadian flycatchers
  • Worm-eating warblers
  • Blue-headed vireos
  • Great crested flycatchers
  • Pileated woodpeckers
  • Hairy woodpeckers (M, F)
  • Towhees (F, M)
  • Black & white warblers (F, M)
  • Scarlet tanager (F)
  • Ovenbirds (A, J)
  • Ravens (high above, screaming)
  • White-breasted nuthatches
  • Juncos
  • Downy woodpeckers
  • Ruffed grouses (5+, first of year; at summit)
  • Pine warbler (M, singing close by)
  • American woodcocks (2, along Chimney Hollow Stream)

In addition, I heard several Black-throated green warblers, a Red-breasted nuthatch (!), a Yellow-billed cuckoo, a Parula, some Pewees, Wood thrushes, and several Veeries (!), plus a hummingbird at the trail head on Route 250. Not a bad day! Quite exhausted, I made it back home in time to see the last three innings of the Fox "game of the week." I've added some scenic photos from that hike to the Virginia, Summer 2005 page.



June 28, 2005 [LINK]

Eminent domain & new ballparks

The issue of eminent domain, which was hotly debated in the recent Kelo vs. New Haven decision by the Supreme Court, happens to be very relevant to baseball, and the sports world in general, because it has been invoked to acquire land for new stadiums in several cities around the country. That is why D.C. government officials were so pleased, since they will face fewer obstacles in clearing the land in Southeast Washington for the Nationals' new stadium. See Washington Post. The basic question is whether the project qualifies as a "public use." Highways, schools, utility lines, and parks are all widely accepted as "public uses." Not everyone is a sports fan, but virtually all cultures have some kind of public forum for mass gatherings. Since virtually all new baseball stadiums are owned by the city or some regional government entity these days, and since the stadiums are also used for a variety of public gatherings, there is little doubt that they are essentially public in function. For example, see the plaque at RFK Stadium. Nevertheless, the fact that the new ballparks were built for the primary purpose of boosting the owners' profit margins raises troubling questions, as I discuss below.

An early and bitterly controversial case of using eminent domain to facilitate stadium construction was in Los Angeles in the late 1950s, where working class Latinos were evicted from their barrio in Chavez Ravine to make room for Dodger Stadium. The bitter political struggle delayed construction by at least a year. Coincidentally, the offbeat old folk rocker Ry Cooder recently released a CD entitled "Chavez Ravine," in which he laments the lost community. One of the songs is "3rd Base, Dodger Stadium. See the review in the Washington Post. [UPDATE: There are some interesting comments on Ry Cooder and Chavez Ravine at reason.com. (via Instapundit)]

Another such case was the acquisition of land for the new stadium where the Texas Rangers began playing in 1994. See my "editorial comment" on President Bush's questionable involvement in that saga near the bottom of the Ameriquest Field page. That's what you call a political hot potato...

Nats beat Bucs

This is getting monotonous: Once again, the Nats squeaked by with a one-run margin of victory against the Pirates, 2-1. Can their excellence at small ball and situational adaptation carry them into a September pennant race? ball Jose Guillen returned to the lineup tonight despite getting hurt in Sunday's game. Nick Johnson bruised a bone in his foot while evading the catcher's tag at the plate, and he may be out for a week or more.


June 28, 2005 [LINK]

Private property, private shmoperty

Friday's ruling by the Supreme Court that local governments can exercise the right of eminent domain to acquire private property with the intent of reselling it to new owners, rather than making it available for some genuinely public use, has rightly been regarded by conservatives as a frontal assault on individual liberties. Homeowner Susette Kelo lost her case against the city of New Haven, CT, which seeks to redevelop a waterfront area into an upscale office / residential / shopping complex. Now the city will rake in extra tax revenues from the increment in property value, sharing the benefit with the favored private investors. This was such an egregious case of economic-political elites using the coercive power of the state to enrich themselves that it is amazing that anyone could rationalize it.

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, cited cases in which the court has interpreted "public use" to include not only such traditional projects as bridges or highways but also slum clearance and land redistribution. He concluded that a "public purpose" such as creating jobs in a depressed city can also satisfy the Fifth Amendment. SOURCE: Washington Post

Stevens' bland assertion that "[p]romoting economic development is a traditional and long accepted function of government" places FDR's New Deal on a higher plane than the Constitution. It was a 5-4 decision, with Justices Scalia and O'Connor (!) writing bitter dissents. See George Will pointed out the irony that the Court exercised "deference" to local government, in a case where conservatives would wish for judicial activism. in the Washington Post:

Liberalism triumphed yesterday. Government became radically unlimited in seizing the very kinds of private property that should guarantee individuals a sphere of autonomy against government.

Perhaps a bigger irony is that the notion of private property as a bulwark of individual freedom was once considered a liberal notion, and in most of the world, it still is. What this ruling signifies is the final, definitive divorce of modern American "liberalism" from its classical liberal roots. In the minds of the Europhilic left-liberals of today, wariness toward the power of government is no longer warranted as long as the power is exercised domestically. (Antipathy toward the military may be in part a compensation for this pro-state bias.) Is all this hubbub over property rights really such a big deal? Some people regard "a man's home is his castle" to be nostalgic silliness. Well, consider this:

The great and chief end, therefore, of men's uniting into common-wealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property. SOURCE: John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (Italics in original.)

Lockean liberals (!) hold that communities are strongest when each member has a clearly defined portion of land of his (or her) own to live on, so that there is a broadly shared interest in maintaining public order. In crowded parts of the world, such a condition is nothing more than a utopian pipe dream. America is unique in the way that virtually anyone with proper motivation can acquire property and thereby obtain a stake in social stability. This is what makes our country so irresistably appealing to immigrants, who are buying up houses by the thousands. The fact that so many of our legal and political elites are oblivious to this vital foundation of our society is tragic. Without a broad shared stake in the institution of property, neither elites, nor those of more modest means have much incentive to abide by the rule of law, and corruption becomes rampant. Control of the reins of government power would become even more highly prized than it already is, and resentment by the losing side in elections would increase. Is that what we want? This ought to be a situation in which reasonable people from both side of the political spectrum can agree on the public interest. Unless the Supreme Court's interpretation is somehow sharply modified in the next few years, however -- perhaps by virtue of a more conservative justices, or at least more prudent and circumspect ones -- our republic will have lost a vital underpinning of its vitality. Our society will continue to slouch in the direction of spiritually dead, statist Europe, beholden to the government for all blessings of life. For a variety of reactions to the Kelo case, see Instapundit and SCOTUS blog. For some laughs, see Free Star Media, which plans to build a "Hotel Lost Liberty" on land in New Hampshire to be acquired from Justice David Souter. (via Rush Limbaugh)

UPDATE: In response to the Kelo v. City of New London decision, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) has introduced the Protection of Homes, Small Businesses, and Private Property Act of 2005. It's terribly sad that such a measure is even considered necessary. See gopusa.com.


June 28, 2006 [LINK]

Cheney, the CIA, & war in Iraq

Most of the news from Iraq lately has been positive, for a change, but there are still some disturbing trends. There's been another surge in attention to spats within the intelligence community, occasioned by Ron Suskind's book The One Percent Doctrine. It claims that Dick Cheney declared that, given the risk of another holocaust like 9/11, even a one percent likelihood that Al Qaeda had obtained a nuclear weapons had to be treated as though it were a certainty. Eric Umansky (via Instapundit) shares some of the author's suspicions about the White House, but wonders "whether we're getting the full story. For one thing the quotes just seem too perfect."

A parallel line of criticism toward the Veep was launched by PBS Frontline last week, in a gripping episode about Cheney's dominant role in setting U.S. war policy, entitled "The Dark Side." Parts of it seemed very one sided, but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Cheney was single-mindedly determined to go to war with Iraq. He may well have pushed the intelligence officials to tailor their reports to portray Saddam Hussein as more dangerous than he really was. CIA Director George Tenet comes off as a weak-willed "enabler" of the pre-war public relations effort by the Bush team. He apparently felt he had to atone for the failure of intelligence services to warn about the impending 9/11 attack. I was never as worried about Iraq's possession of WMDs as some people, and to me that was a less compelling rationale for overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime than his connections to terrorists and the psychological value of his continuing defiance of U.N. sanctions, which made him seem like a hero to many Arabs. It will be years before we get a full enough picture of what really happened in Iraq prior to the 2003 liberation, so the utility of debating the WMD question is limited, in my view. Nevertheless, the appearance that intelligence findings were manipulated by the White House does tarnish the justification of the war to some extent, and Cheney and the Neocons are mainly responsible for that.

WMDs in Iraq

I try not to get too worked up about omissions by the mainstream media, and their fetish for negative news coverage, but it is odd how little attention they have paid to the recent report on WMD findings in Iraq. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) held a press conference to call attention to a Pentagon report on WMDs that have been found in Iraq. The problem is, the reports are classified, so Santorum and Hoekstra want them to be made available to the public. See Bobby Eberle at GOPUSA.com.


June 28, 2006 [LINK]

Après le déluge ... oiseaux! *

The torrential rains finally ended late yesterday, and this morning the sun came out in full force. I took advantage of the break in the weather to check out the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, and parts of it were quite a mess. The rushing water had carried the makeshift plywood "bridge" over the creek 50 or so feet away, so as a public service, I dragged it back into position, more or less. Anyway, I saw a few interesting birds:

  • Red-bellied woodpecker (M)
  • Downy woodpecker (F)
  • N. flicker (M)
  • Indigo buntings (2 M, fighting!)
  • Black and white warbler (M) !!

While visiting Northern Virginia over the weekend, I peeked inside the space under the mailbox in front of my in-laws' house, and saw a dead nestling Bluebird. So, I got a shovel and buried the poor thing. To my relief, there were four other nestling bluebirds still alive in that nest. With the rains came an increased supply of worms brought by the parents, so the rest of the brood should be fine. I also saw some Chipping sparrows, Cowbirds, an Indigo bunting, and a Phoebe in their neighborhood, as well as a Mockingbird harassing a large black snake in the middle of the street. That was pretty amusing.

On our way home driving along I-81, I spotted a Great blue heron wading in the north fork of the Shenandoah River.

* For you folks in Rio Linda, that's French for "After the deluge ... birds!"


June 29, 2005 [LINK]

Tom Davis vs. George Soros

In today's Washington Post, Sally Jenkins criticizes Republicans such as Virginia's Rep. Tom Davis who object to controversial billlionaire George Soros joining in the bidding for the Washington Nationals. I would agree that it was probably unwise for Davis to become involved, especially because Fred Malek, one of the leading bidders, is a prominent Republican, but Jenkins stretched credulity by saying it was OK to have Marge Schott as a franchise owners, so why not Soros? Besides, Soros would only be a subsidiary partner to Jonathan Ledecky, or so they say. Jenkins states, correctly, that President Bush is "polarizing" (intentionally or not), but that was not the case when he was a junior owner of the Texas Rangers, so that point is irrelevant. I've always believed there should be a tacit "firewall" between politics and sports, which ought to serve as a unifying function in our society. To look at it another way, how would Democrats feel about someone like Rush Limbaugh becoming part owner of a franchise? Boycott!! The presence of Soros should not disqualify the Ledecky bid, but simple prudence dictates that MLB should take the potential volatility of the new franchise owner groups into account when it awards the winning bid.

War of the tubes

There was a full-page ad by Mid-Atlantic Sports Network urging viewers to demand television coverage of the Nationals in Sunday's Washington Post, so I dutifully obliged by calling my local cable provider. I know full well, of course, that this is just public relations maneuvering as the litigation proceeds, and no one seriously believes that MASN has the Nationals' best interests at heart. Today's Washington Post has more on this disgraceful situation: "Nats Caught in a TV Rundown."

"Moonlight" Graham

Thanks to a tip from Rich ?, I've learned that today is the 100th anniversary of Moonlight Graham's one and only baseball game for the New York Giants, which was dramatized in Field of Dreams. See his "lifetime stats" at baseball-reference.com. Speaking of movies, you can see my own cinematic debut starting today in War of the Worlds. No kidding!


June 29, 2005 [LINK]

Somber pep talk by Bush

President Bush's speech at Fort Bragg said most of what needed to be said, but it fell short in terms of rhetorical edge and delivery. We are accustomed to Mr. Bush's shortcomings in verbal communication by now, but it would be nice if he could rise to the occasion more often. Some people expected Bush to express contrition for past strategic mistakes, but such a gesture would not have served any purpose. I take issue with some of the decisions he and his generals have made, but I'm the first to admit I don't know enough of the facts to render an expert opinion. No civilian does. To his credit, President Bush called on the general public to persevere in the face of adversity, at long last hinting that we will have to bear serious sacrifices in order to prevail. It's too bad he didn't make a strong pitch for energy conservation, which is becoming once again a vital element of our national security. In terms of substance, he drew a clear link between Iraq and 9/11:

The terrorists who attacked us and the terrorists we face murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance and despises all dissent.

That is quite true, but he should have acknowledged that there are distinct factions within the Islamo-fascist ("terrorist") movement, because that is what is so confusing to many Americans. In the Democrats' rebuttal, Rep. Nancy Pelosi complained that Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack, which may or may not be true. Bush certainly never claimed there was a direct link, though Vice President Cheney did make such an assertion. But such quibbling over historical facts that may never be known for certain is utterly beside the point: We face an enemy that is consciously exploiting divisions within this country, and within the Western world, and what happens on the socio-psychological level is even more important than what happens in the streets of Baghdad, Mosul, or Fallujah. Unless Bush manages to convince a sufficient number of Democrat leaders that we must stand (relatively) united, the war will drag on inconclusively for decades. A reassuring sign that some on the Left are facing up to reality came in today's New York Times; see justoneminute (via Instapundit).

UPDATE: Roger Simon (via Instapundit) calls attention to a depressing sign that even many Democrats who are regarded as very intelligent just don't get it: Sen. Russ Feingold denounced President Bush for failing to provide "some sense of when he believes this conflict in Iraq will be over and when our brave men and women in uniform will come home." Is it not obvious to everyone that self-imposed deadlines and talk of looking for an "exit strategy" serve to bolster the enemy's resistance? How many times does Bush have to repeat that? Besides, does anyone seriously expect candor about what our military strategy is? Feingold really ought to know better. Such silliness reminds me of the Saturday Night Live skit of a press conference during Desert Storm in which reporters kept asking "Gen. Schwarzkopf" for precise U.S. troop dispositions and other secrets likely to benefit the enemy. All this simply highlights the inherent difficulty that liberal, open democracies have in waging war. On the positive side, Simon calls Feingold's speech "one of the purest examples of the reason people like me have deserted the Democratic Party." To which I say, "ditto." Ahh, if only I could lower my standards and use the smash-mouth language popular on leftist blogs to say what I really think about political leaders like Feingold...

Who's winning?

Fighting a counterinsurgency war is inherently frustrating, because there will never come a clear-cut moment at which we are sure that the other side has conceded. Some die-hard resistance in Iraq will probably continue for several decades, long after Egypt and other countries in the Middle East have passed through the turbulent, uncertain process of democratization. Jim Dunnigan ponders the amorphous nature of "winning" at strategypage.com:

It was long a popular myth in Moslem countries that the backwardness and poor government they suffered was somehow caused by the West. Much to the dismay of Islamic terrorists, coalition operations in Iraq show how false this is. While people are reluctant to admit they have been duped, many Moslems are now admitting that the problems in Moslem countries are internal, not some infidel conspiracy to "keep the Moslems down." Changing attitudes like this cuts off the flow of recruits for Islamic terrorist groups. This is a war that is not followed via troops dispositions and casualty counts, but by opinion polls and election results.

That is an accurate portrayal of the wider socio-psychological "battleground," except for the "opinion polls" part: Asking people on the phone what they think is not an accurate measure of how strong they feel about something. American people may be dissatisfied with how the war is going, but that doesn't mean they are losing their will to win.


June 30, 2005 [LINK]

More phantom fans at RFK

Just as I suspected! The number of empty seats I've seen at Nationals games (in person and on TV sports highlights) has seemed inconsistent with the announced attendance, but the actual discrepancy is even greater than I thought. "The Nationals sold an average of 32,019 tickets for their first 33 games, ... but the average number of people who attended those games was 24,679..." This glaring gap between reality and pretense is having serious consquences: Since "phantom fans" don't drive or eat or drink, the D.C. government is not earning as much money from parking and concessions sales as it was expecting. This, in turn, will put a pinch on financing construction of the new stadium. See Washington Post. Interestingly, the 7,000+ unused tickets per game is about the same as the average of people who actually attended Expos home games last year. As I wrote on April 22, the phenomenon of empty stadium seats is one of the pernicious distortions arising from the U.S. Tax Code, which permits all sorts of luxurious perks and other wasteful corporate spending to be written off as expenses for income tax purposes. Oh, oh! Sorry for injecting more politics into baseball... smile

Yet another squeaker

Once again, the Nationals didn't waste any extra offensive power in their 3-2 win against the Pirates last night. Jose Guillen batted in the go-ahead run with a double in the eighth inning. The game was delayed by rain for over two hours, and apparently the grounds crew has learned how to get the tarp deployed much more quickly than in the farcical game I saw on April 30.

EVENING UPDATE: The Nationals completed their sweep of the Pirates this afternoon, 7-5. Finally getting good run support, Esteban Loaiza got his fourth win, and he hopes to even his record by the All Star break. Perhaps more significantly, Chad Cordero tied a major leage record by getting 15 saves in one month. After winning 20 games and losing only six in June, the Nationals have crossed the elite .600 threshhold for the first time, behind only the Cardinals and the truly phenomenal White Sox.

"LAnaheim" Angels!?

That's what David Pinto intends to call them from now on, and I may follow suit. As the "O.C." theme song plays on our tube (it's Jacqueline's favorite show), however, I still wonder if "O.C. Angels" might be more hip.


June 30, 2005 [LINK]

Peak breeding season

This is the time of year when wild birds are busily feeding their newly hatched or fledged offspring, and Princess and George have seen a number of young House sparrows and Carolina wrens being fed by their parents outside their window. Princess laid three more eggs this week, after taking a little longer rest between brooding sessions than usual. After a lot of flirting and flying around together for several days, Princess and George are now back to their usual routine: She on the nest, he on the living room shelf, singing every once in a while. I found George under the dining room table a few days ago; that used to be his favorite resting place until a few months ago. Yesterday they were both eating contentedly at the window sill, just a few inches from a Mourning dove doing likewise outside. What must the birds on either side of the window think about the ones on the other side?


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