Monthly links this year:
Culture & Travel
Science & Technology
February, 2012 *
July 1, 2005 [LINK]
U.S.-India military ties
To the surprise of many, the United States and India have signed a military cooperation agreement that will last ten years. This comes as Pakistan struggles (?) to contain the Al Qaeda - affiliated bands operating along the border with Afghanistan, and new questions arise about its commitment to nuclear nonproliferation. India and China have recently engaged in discussions over security matters, and India may hold the key to the global balance of power in the 21st Century. See windsofchange.net. (via Donald Sensing)
More Ward Churchill
Yes, that bad boy of academia from Colorado is back at it again. This time he came out in favor of "fragging" U.S. officers, like some of the disgruntled grunts used to do in Vietnam. See Jackson's Junction. Much more on the Iraq-Vietnam parallels soon...
Trafalgar + 200
This week was the 200th anniversary of the greatest and most decisive naval clash in history, the Battle of Trafalgar, which took place off the coast of Spain. Even though the Admiral of the British fleet Lord Nelson died during the battle, Britannia ruled the waves for the next century. Eminent military historian John Keegan has some thoughts on that. (Barcepundit)
July 4, 2005 [LINK]
Independence Day 2005
The lack of blogging lately reflects my many hours of work with the local Republicans in preparing for Staunton's annual Fourth of July parade. Several photos of the parade passing by the GOP Booth in Gypsy Hill Park can be seen at the new Independence Day 2005 page on the swacgop.org Web site which I also manage. Today's parade was heavy on military forces, with Marine Corps Reserves, Army National Guard, VFW, and Confederate reenactors all participating. The crowd of thousands cheered enthusiastically. (There was also a group from the Augusta Coalition for Peace and Justice, who were met by the crowd with polite but stony silence.) It reminds us that we are a free and independent nation because brave men in uniform risked their lives for our ancestors. By the same token, our continued freedom will depend on the service men and women who are fighting against murderous extremist movements in Iraq and Afghanistan today.
The unexpected announced retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor points toward an imminent make or break point in the long-standing partisan deadlock in Washington. Or does it? Time and again we have approached supposedly climactic moments that just fizzled out indecisively. I for one am not eager for a do-or-die showdown with the Left, and I hope Bush appoints someone who is less known for their conservative viewpoint as for their experience and credentials as a jurist. Justice O'Connor served very ably, and will be remembered not for being conservative or moderate so much as for an honest, thoughtful, independent voice. Her recent dissent on the Kelo vs. New Haven case (see my "Private Property Private Shmoperty" post from June 28) was a commendable stand on behalf of constitutional principles.
July 5, 2005 [LINK]
All Star lineups
Most of the first-string players on the All Star teams are well qualified, even though they do bear a suspicious resemblance to last year's World Series teams. Managerial discretion? How in the heck did Carlos Beltran get picked over Jose Guillen? And Mike Piazza: Has there ever been an All-Star player with less than his .257 batting average? Since Washington Nationals lack an established fan base, it wasn't much of a surprise that their players received so few All Star votes. Livan Hernandez and Chad Cordero made the cut, and rightly so, but no position players at all??? Something is not right with this popularity contest voting system. Nick Johnson deserved at least a reserve slot, but since he was just put on the DL, it doesn't matter. (Perhaps in a parallel universe where the Expos were relocated to Washington two years ago, All-Star Vladimir Guerrero is wearing a Nats uniform.) The selection of the delinquent Texas Ranger Kenny Rogers is a disgrace, and he is technically eligible to play because his appeal of the suspension and fine is pending, but I doubt that Terry Francona would have the gall to have him pitch.
Welcome back Jose Vidro!
Thanks largely to a clutch double in the seventh inning tonight by Jose Vidro, just back from two months on the DL, the Nats faced down the almost unhittable Pedro Martinez and beat the Mets 3-2. Esteban Loaiza threw eight strikeouts in eight innings, finally getting his fifth win. Yesterday's sold-out July 4 game in Washington was a disappointment, as the Nationals lost to the Mets, 5-2, but it only goes to show that even the best (!) teams have off days. They may still win this four-game series... When one measly loss like the one yesterday gets on a fan's nerve, it may be a sign that we are getting spoiled by success. Let's hope that Washington fans don't abandon their new home team if they can't manage to sustain their recent superhuman performance.
As if we needed any more proof that they are in fact serious contenders for the postseason, the Nationals' sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley Field should lay to rest any doubt. As is their fashion, all three games were low-scoring and were decided by only one or two runs. Brian Schneider was the hero of the series, making a key pickoff at third base in the first game and hitting the game-winning home run in the 12th inning of the third game. Twice the Cubs came from behind to tie it on Sunday, and twice the Nationals went ahead once again; pretty disheartening for the home town fans... Thomas Boswell made the case for a D.C. postseason scenario (which would be the first since 1933) in yesterday's Washington Post: "No Telling When, Or If, This Will End." Believe it ... or not!
Fourth of July sellouts
Attendance at the ballgames yesterday was very good for the most part, but rather poor in a few cities. Ballparks in Atlanta, the Bronx, Houston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Washington were filled to the brim, or nearly so, while most of the seats in Kansas City and Miami were empty. Attendance was so-so in Phoenix and Cleveland, where the Indians have been climbing back into contention (for the AL Wild Card spot) recently.
Sorry for the unannounced holiday hiatus, sports fans. Revisions to the Anaheim Stadium, Tiger Stadium, and Ameriquest Field diagrams are well underway. Y'all come back now, ya hear?
July 6, 2005 [LINK]
Hot summer, hot teams
So the Nats dropped another one to the Mets tonight. Oh well. At least all the teams in the NL East are at or above .500 again... As the All Star Game approaches, the astounding Washington Nationals are finally attracting nationwide attention, but other teams have been playing as well or even better lately. For one, the Yankees have pulled out of their long, dark slump and trounced the Orioles in two games in the Bronx, and are on the verge of passing the O's to move into second place behind the Bosox. The newly lean, clean, and healthy Jason Giambi has been a big part of the Yankees' upturn, hitting three home runs in two days. He says he finally got the "kink" out of his swing; see MLB.com. In the AL West, the "LAnaheim" Angels have widened their lead over the Texas Rangers to 8 1/2 games. With five of their position players batting well over .300, it's no surprise. Speaking of which, the Anaheim Stadium page has been updated with slightly modified diagrams to conform to the new standard.
Negro League ballparks
Thanks to Bruce Orser for cyber-research assistance on some of the old Negro League ballparks, including Web sites on Hinchliffe Stadium (projectballpark.org, Charlie's ballparks, and National Parks Service), as well as one on Dyckman Oval (Washington Heights & Inwood Online). The Negro Leagues page has been reformatted and updated with some of those links.
July 7, 2005 [LINK]
G-8 Summit tackles global issues
The series of terror bombings in London has cast a shadow on the G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, distracting Tony Blair, who serves as a unique "bridge" between the United States and Europe. He had pushed a reluctant President Bush to accept stronger action against global warming, to little avail. This is the sort of problem that is potentially very serious, but in which hysterical polemics undermine the effort to ascertain the true extent of the harm that is being done, or which possible remedies might be most efficacious. It is said that polar bear populations might decline by thirty percent over the next twenty years because of the (supposedly) melting polar ice cap. If the policy response is a set of national quotas for hydrocarbon consumption, à la Kyoto, I'm afraid nothing will happen. A consistent across-the-board tax on energy, similar to the BTU tax proposed by President Clinton in 1993, is the only way to restrain consumption without sacrificing personal freedom and national autonomy.
The other big issue at the summit is alleviating poverty in Africa via a huge transfer of cash and financing; that was what the "Live 8" concerts around the world were all about. Would increased foreign aid to poor countries really do much good? President Bush rightly pointed out that corrupt governments siphon off much if not most of the proceeds. James Shikwati, an economist from Kenya, pleads for an end to the counterproductive handouts in an interview with Der Speigel. (via Donald Luskin) That is much the same argument as British development economist W. Arthur Lewis (a Nobel prize winner) used to make. In other words, it's much like the welfare dependency controversy in this country, one of those hypersensitive taboo subjects.
Sad to say, these multilateral summits are becoming more of an empty public relations ritual every year. During the energy crisis of the 1970s and Cold War years of the 1980s, the G-7 played a vital role in articulating joint policy responses by the Western industrialized nations. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, the G-7 nations have fewer common interests, as became painfully obvious in 2003. European nations have become stodgy and complacent, providing cushy welfare benefits for their citizens, funded implicitly by cheap immigrant labor from the Third World, many of whom are resentful Muslims. It is a socio-economic system that cannot be sustained. The inclusion of Russia a few years ago to create the G-8 has turned out to be a big mistake; Russia has turned sharply away from liberal democracy and capitalism, and is overtly hostile to the West and especially the United States. In my mind, the pointless expansion of NATO into former Soviet republics played a big part in Russia's reversion to a xenophobic foreign policy, but it's too late to change that. Last month the European Union leaders tried to patch over economic policy differences in order to salvage their march toward political integration, but they failed miserably. As a result, the mighty Euro has fallen sharply for the last several weeks. Jacques Chirac's insult about British cuisine (though perhaps not unjustified) created a diplomatic flap that reinforces the split between the continent and the Anglophone world. Another sign of such a split was that Tony Blair has begun to say nice things about economic freedom in recent weeks, hinting at a dramatic change of mind for this eager social democrat. Might he prevail upon his European counterparts to grow up and set aside their fond delusions about maintaining the status quo?
July 7, 2005 [LINK]
The attack on London
The long-felt sense of dread that London would be next to suffer the fate of Madrid was borne out at last today. One senses an odd relief that the other shoe has dropped, breaking the tension and bringing the global security situation into focus once again. Though the loss of life was heavy, it apparently was not as bad as it could have been. The fact that only four bombs went off, rather than six or seven as earlier reported, shows how confusing terrorist attacks are, which is of course precisely the point of terror. For a quick summary of exactly what happened, see the BBC. Here are some quick reflections:
- The timing of the attack to coincide with the G-8 summit suggests a sophisticated command structure and discipline within the terrorist ranks.
- Tolerance for Islamic extremists among the burgeoning immigration population of Britain will have to end. Likewise for the United States and other Western nations.
- The political strategy behind the London attack -- to divide and conquer the West -- is so transparent that one wonders if Al Qaeda (or some similar affiliated group) is either unaware that it might elicit a renewed solidarity among Western nations, or is so confident of its ultimate success that it doesn't care.
- The British people will either grasp the broader meaning of the attacks and stand decisively behind Prime Minister Tony Blair, or else blame him for it and drop him like a hot potato. From what we know of Great Britain, the former course is much more likely. There's no room for hedging or fence-straddling.
- Likewise for the Italians and Danes, who have supposedly been threatened with similar attacks if they don't pull their forces out of Iraq.
- One may presume that Spain will remain safe as long as there remains a firm bloc of anti-terrorist nations in Europe. If that bloc crumbles, however, all of Europe would become a target for the fanatical Muslim jihad -- and in Spain's case, reconquest.
- For the foreseeable future, Al Qaeda and its affiliates will retain some destructive capacity no matter what successes are achieved by counter-terrorism agents or Coalition military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- The long-term scope of this conflict, and its enormous stakes, will continue to baffle many Western observers and critics of the war effort.
- At moments like this, it is imperative to avoid making honest differences of opinion in this country over the nature of the terrorist threat become the occasion for partisan sniping.
July 8, 2005 [LINK]
Bolivia plans new elections
The Bolivian congress voted 80-27 on Tuesday to hold new national elections in December and hold a constitutional referendum next July, in an effort to stave off insurrection and save what's left of their democracy. The fact that the terms of incumbent congresspersons will be shorted by a year and a half, contrary to what the constitution provides for, obviously counts for much less than preserving social peace. The opposition consists mainly of dirt-poor Indian miners and peasants who are led (and paid) by coca growers. Your drug dollars at work! In mid-June U.N. envoy Jose Antonio Ocampo met with new president Eduardo Rodriguez in an effort to bolster the new government and the country's shaky democratic institutions. That will take a lot of dollars and a lot of luck.
Cabinet shakeup in Brazil
President "Lula" da Silva has named a new labor minister as part of a cabinet shuffle that he hopes will lay to rest the wave of corruption charges leveled against his government. It is noteworthy that da Silva, as well as Mexico's Vicente Fox, were present at the G-8 Summit in Scotland. That seems to represent an effort by the "elite eight" to reach out to the middle-level powers of the Third World. That's a noble gesture, but it does little more than dilute the already-weak common interests that might make the G-8 an efficient agent of global action.
Postage stamp outrage in Mexico
Who writes letters or collects stamps anymore? Besides me, I mean. Well, somebody must, because a set of commemorative stamps in Mexico featuring caricatures of African folks has sparked anger in the U.S. black community again. The small black minority in Mexico has expressed displeasure as well. Cultural standards are much different in Latin America, however. The sort of Uncle Tom imagery that no one here would even dream of showing in public is accepted as normal south of the Rio Grande. Perhaps that will start to change as a result of globalization.
There has been a lot of controversy in Colombia lately about vigilante militias, and whether they should be prosecuted for murders. The war against FARC guerrilla-terrorists has now spread south to the border with Ecuador, and the government of President Uribe has complained to Ecuador that it's not doing enough to control the guerrillas who take sanctuary on the Ecuador side. As if the fragile government of Ecuador is even in much of a position to do anything about it...
July 8, 2005 [LINK]
Still more bird photos from John
My brother John just sent me another batch of bird photos, this time from his recent trip to Colorado. As usual, they are spectacularly crisp and clear. The most interesting one is probably this Red crossbill, which would have been perfect if the sun had been at a different angle. To see the rest of them, including great closeups of a Scrub jay as well as a Steller's jay, go to our Photo Gallery page.
All I got lately was this lousy Brown-headed cowbird (click for pop-up) in our back yard. Breeding season is winding down, and males are therefore singing less and less as we enter the summer doldrums of the birding world.
Wednesday's Washington Post had a feature story about the fanatic folks who put in long, miserable days and weeks in the mosquito- and snake-infested swamps of Arkansas and Louisiana in search of the no-longer extinct Ivory-billed woodpecker. To which Jacqueline would reply, "Get a life!"
July 11, 2005 [LINK]
Nats taste own medicine: Yuk!
What comes around, goes around. Eventually other teams were bound to figure out how to beat the Nats (otherwise known as the "One-Run Wonders") at their own game. Too bad it had to be nationally televised! Gleeful D.C. area fans now know how other teams must feel after losing close games to the Nationals over and over again. All three games against the Phillies were decided by one run. Actually, the Mets edged the Nationals on Wednesday and Thursday to take their series, 3-1. It's the first time since April that the Nats have lost two consecutive series, and yet they still lead the NL East by 2 1/2 games. I'm not complaining. Jose Guillen showed he is truly of All Star caliber in yesterday's game, hitting a long two-run homer and making a spectacular catch in right field after hurting his ankle on a foul tip. He's a real trooper, and I don't begrudge his high-spirited approach to the game. He was mad at Livan Hernandez for not retaliating after he was hit by a pitch thrown by Pedro Martinez last week, and did not play in the next game until the ninth inning, presumably as a disciplinary measure. As the Nats have plowed ahead to the top of the heap in the NL East during the first half of the 2005 season, I've started to wonder about how well all the teams that were relocated in years past have fared after arriving in their new cities. Stay tuned for a report on that...
Urban areas with multiple teams
One of the big unanswered questions related to the recent move of the Montreal franchise to Washington is whether the Baltimore-Washington area can support two MLB teams. Gary Gillette and Stuart Shea review the history of the San Francisco Giants - Oakland Athletics friction, which is often cited as bearing many similarities in terms of population and demographics. give a strong affirmative in 24-7 Baseball. The crux of their piece:
In both the Bay Area and in Baltimore, the historical trends have shown that winning baseball brings in fans. The novelty value of a new ballpark cannot be discounted, but new parks in most every major-league city aren't enough to maintain high attendance if a club doesn't win. While the Orioles are among tough competitors in the AL East, the club has won in recent years and clearly can do so again.
Look homeward, Mr. Angelos. The experience of the Giants and the A's in the 1970s and 1980s offers no guidance other an exhortation to play to win. The Orioles' wounds in recent years are self-inflicted, and Baltimore retains the resources to put a winning team on the field again whether it has a National League neighbor in Washington or not.
Will the presence of the Nationals hurt the Orioles? Somewhat; certainly the monopoly the Birds have enjoyed for decades is preferable, from their viewpoint, to having serious competition.
Is it likely that Baltimore and Washington will reprise the experience of Oakland and San Francisco from the late 1960s through the late 1990s? No. The factors that are similar are far outweighed by compelling reasons to believe that Washington and Baltimore have more than enough fans, TV households, and discretionary income to handsomely reward both franchises-assuming they put a good product on the field.
The Tiger Stadium page has been updated with six (6) brand new diagams, including a football version. That happens to be one of the stadiums that doesn't quite fit within the standard template, so there is a separate truncated diagram that appears on the Side-by-side page. Coincidentally, yesterday's New York Times had an article about the status of that homely but lovable old hulk of a ballpark, and the various proposals to restore it for posterity. [UPDATE: In my haste, I neglected to thank Bruce Orser for providing research assistance in preparing the Tiger Stadium diagram (especially the 1936 version), and for bringing to my attention the above-cited New York Times article.]
July 12, 2005 [LINK]
Motor City All Star Game
3rd UPDATE: The NL team made a good show in the late innings, and threatened to tie it in the ninth, until Mariano Rivera struck out Morgan Enberg to finish it. Final score: 7-5. The "Junior Circuit" has now won for nine years in a row. Why has the All Star game become so prone to consecutive victories since the early 1960s? (The NL won every game from 1963 to 1982 except for 1971.) For the first thirty years, neither league won more than four years in a row. I had thought that FOX sportscastress Jeannie Zelasko was looking a little frazzled in recent weeks, but was I the only one not to realize that she was with child until last week? Her postgame interview with MVP Miguel Tejada broke yet another cultural barrier in sports history. I liked it when Joe Buck asked Tim McCarver early in the game: "Do you remember that the Washington Nationals used to be the Montreal Expos?" Or words to that effect.
2ND UPDATE: Nats' closer Chad Cordero was indeed called in to relieve San Diego's Jake Peavy in the bottom of the eighth inning. He struck out Pudge Rodriguez, who will probably be the last AL batter in the game, unless the National League can stage a four-run rally in the ninth. Thanks to David Pinto at Baseball Musings for letting his fans know about comparing Comerica Park and Tiger Stadium on this site. He has been assessing several of the teams' performance and prospects this evening. Kenny Rogers made a sincere-sounding apology and was therefore allowed to play tonight. Andruw Jones' huge home run past the left field corner in the seventh inning perhaps made him wish he hadn't showed up.
UPDATE: Revisions to the Comerica Park diagrams are now complete, in time for the latter part of the All Star game. The AL is ahead 5-0 as of the top of the sixth inning, and it's strange for me to be rooting for the National League for the first time. Washington's Livan Hernandez didn't have much success in the fourth inning, allowing [two] hits and two runs. Will manager Tony LaRussa let Chad Cordero pitch as the closer?
Mike Zurawski inquired whether I intend to redo the Comerica Park diagrams in recognition of it being the venue for this year's Midsummer Classic. I wasn't sure if I could manage to devote more eye-squinting and pixel tweaking after the monumental task in redoing the Tiger Stadium diagrams, but it turns out to have been easier than I expected, reflecting Comerica's simplicity and relative symmetry. I hope to do the fine touches between innings, and finish it by the end of the game. Stay tuned! I still think it's too bad they reduced the size of left field last year; I wonder if anyone tabulated how many of the dingers in last night's Home Run Derby fell into the bullpens which used to be in play? Bobby Abreu's record-breaking total of 41 homers might have meant more if they had left it with the original dimensions. On the other hand, it's still bigger than Tiger Stadium used to be, except in dead center field. Check it out on the Side-by-side page.
"World Baseball Classic"
As expected, there will be a "world cup" of sorts for baseball next year, with national teams from twelve countries: Australia, Canada, China, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Italy (!?), the Netherlands (!?), Japan, Korea, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, South Africa (!?), Taiwan, the United States and Venezuela. Will Hugo Chavez and his buddy Fidel Castro show up? It will take place next March, mostly in the U.S.A., though the venues have not yet been specified. See MLB.com. Ironically, this news comes just after the International Olympic Committee announced that baseball and softball will be dropped as of 2012, the first time that a sport has been deleted since the 1930s. Well, at least they'll still have synchronized swimming!
July 12, 2005 [LINK]
Hospital fire in Costa Rica
At least eighteen people died after a fire broke out in the Calderon Guardia Hospital in downtown San Jose Costa Rica last night. Most of the fourth and fifth floors were burned out, and many patients who were physically incapacitated were trapped. Somehow, they managed to keep the hospital operating during the fire, so that some victims were treated on site, although many had to be transferred to other hospitals in the capital city. See Tico Times Online (not a permalink). That tragedy has special meaning to Jacqueline and me because we stayed at a lodging establishment (Kap's Place, very nice and friendly) located only two blocks from that hospital, which we walked by at least 15 times during our vacation last February and March. There is a bakery right across the street where we used to snack, and we saw many doctors and nurses eating there. Costa Rica has one of the most advanced social services sectors in all of Latin America, and the "Ticos" take pride in their country's medical and technical know-how.
July 12, 2005 [LINK]
War, law, ethics, and torture
In the Washington Post's Outlook section on Sunday, Juliette Kayyem critiques U.S. interrogation practices. She begins by granting that Sen. Durbin's comparison with Nazis was unwarranted (as if that needed to be said), but still thinks that the "administration surely bears the lion's share of the blame" for the outrage over Guantanamo. In her mind "the administration consistently seeks to blur this distinction [between targets of interrogation and the interrogation tactics used] or ignore its import. "This is why the conservatives' outrage at the outrage rings so hollow." She thinks the U.S. would attain a higher moral ground and thereby garner more respect around the world if armed forces and intelligence officers were bound by a stricter code on acceptable interrogation practices. I was skeptical about the efficacy of such a formal legal mechanism in war time, where crucial snap decisions must constantly be made in unique situations in which no precedents exist, but I remained attentive to her arguments until I reached the concluding section:
But ultimately, the interrogation debates are not about how the world feels about us, but how we feel about ourselves. [Italics added.] Do we really believe that the insurgents in Iraq, or the terrorists worldwide, are motivated by our detention or interrogation procedures? Isn't it much more likely that our continuing presence in Iraq, for example, or our failure to provide security for its people, or even our support of autocratic regimes in the region might have more to do with the animosity that we now face there?
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you fatuous liberalism at its finest. Anyone who thinks that "how we feel about ourselves" (raising our self-esteem?) is among the main objectives of national security policy is just not serious. Leaving aside the way she holds out the U.S.-led occupation and the lack of sufficient occupation forces as explanations of anti-U.S. sentiment, it must be pointed out that she blatantly ignores the Bush administration's bold push for political liberalization in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the successes our policies have already engendered elsewhere in the region. Some people are just blind to the facts of world politics. There is one general reason for anti-U.S. sentiment in Iraq: the poisoned civil society bequeathed by the 30+ year Baathist regime; and one specific reason: fear among the formerly dominant Shi'ites that the Sunnis and Kurds will wreak vengeance upon them. Most Iraqis support their new government.
By coincidence, I've been participating off and on in a polemical comment thread on Randy Paul's Beautiful Horizons blog. I took excepton to Randy's scathing derision of the President's Statement on United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, unwittingly unleashing a torrent of vitriol. (Is it any wonder I'm reluctant to include comments on my blog posts?) Randy and other Bush critics have made much of the memorandum written by former Justice Department official Jay Bybee, who is now a federal judge. It is posted at tomjoad.org, though no source is given, so it can't be authenticated. John Dean (yes, that John Dean) derided Bybee and his legal arguments, but it seemed pretty reasonable to me. I can't find anything in it that justifies torture. The basic thrust of the Bybee memo was the need for the United States to resist politically motivated legal challenges from countries that are hostile to our interests. Though it is hard for liberals to accept this, the pursuit of justice in the international realm is always tainted by politics, interest, and favoritism.
By another coincidence, at the Fourth of July parade in Staunton I saw a veteran Army Reservist who has served in Guantanamo I had met last year, and he saw with his own eyes that the detainees are being treated very well. He can't vouch for the interrogation techniques, however. There must be something to the FBI reports about the abuse some detainees apparently suffered, but the recent outrage looks very contrived to me, and I will remain skeptical until further evidence emerges. Torture is unacceptable in a free, civilized society such as ours [as if that needed to be said], but simple prudence dictates that interrogators be given greater leeway in certain cases where they are convinced that heavy psychological pressure is the only way they can get information that would save thousands of lives. I just hope enough of the Bush critics understand that we all share an interest in gaining such intelligence before the next attack against us is launched.
July 14, 2005 [LINK]
There's a lot of news to catch up on as we enter the second half of the baseball season:
Nationals trade up
In preparation for what promises to be a hard-fought pennant race, the Washington Nationals have acquired outfielder Preston Wilson from the Colorado Rockies, in exchange for pitcher Zach Day and outfielder J.J. Davis, plus some cash or an unnamed layer. See MLB.com. In his debut as a National in Milwaukee today, Wilson filled the bill by hitting a home run, but the Nats still lost 4-2. Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro [both] went hitless, a major embarrassment. Hopefully this does not portend a second-half slump. Ryan Church pinch hit in today's game, his first plate appearance since being put on the DL after colliding with the wall making a heroic game-saving catch in Pittsburgh two weeks ago. The Nationals also acquired veteran Yankee reliever Mike Stanton (pronounced "Staunton" ), who will become only the second lefty in their bullpen. Jim Bowden made clear his purpose: "I like his postseason experience." Indeed, hardly anyone on the roster has played in the postseason. The Nats still have a small cash surplus with which they could get more talent this month, but their farm system remains in poor shape, and Ryan Zimmerman (of U.Va.) is one of their few future hot prospects.
D.C. stadium funding
D.C. Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp has changed position once again, coming out in favor of a private stadium financing deal proposed by Deutschbank. The reason for the switch is that many D.C. businesses screamed bloody murder when they got the first tax assessment with the stadium surcharge last month month. See Washington Post. One month ago, the Deutschbank option seemed all but dead; see my June 10 post.
RFK Stadium fixes
Responding to fan complaints, the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission is making several improvements at RFK Stadium: providing 24-hour security (to halt car thefts from the parking lot!), entering a renewed food service contract with Aramark Corporation (which has pledged to widen the variety of food sold), as well as replacing the infield turf and making miscellaneous repairs and touchups. They still hope to get a naming rights contract finalized by August... See Washington Times.
Former Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry and three other members of the D.C. Council endorsed the bid by Jonathan Ledecky to purchase the Washington Nationals. Ledecky promised to donate $100,000 to renovate recreation facilities in the District if he wins the bidding war. He is backed by controversial billionaire George Soros, whose efforts against President Bush during last year's campaign no doubt play well in heavily Democratic D.C. See Washington Post.
Comcast blasts MASN
Comcast, which provides cable TV service to much of the Washington area, charged that the Baltimore Orioles are conspiring to keep Washington Nationals games off the air. This was in conjunction with a legal briefing they filed as part of their lawsuit against the Baltimore Orioles and MLB. Ironically, the Orioles-controlled Mid Atlantic Sports Network recently ran a full-page ad insisting it wants to make Nationals games available to more fans. (Yeah, right; see my skeptical post of June 29.) Isn't it nice when two monopolies accuse each other of monopolizing business? I saw the Nationals on live TV for the first time last on Saturday (FOX Game of the Week) and then, to my surprise, on Sunday (on Washington's FOX-5 TV, which carried an MASN-produced game for the first time).
Tiger Stadium rusts
One positive spinoff from the All Star game was it brought attention to the Tigers' old home, which is suffering badly due to lack of maintenance. Some of the players did not even know it was still standing! The city of Detroit paid $2.5 million to maintain Tiger Stadium, but the money was entrusted to the owner of the Tigers franchise, Mike Ilitch, who has a conflict of interest. Some say "Ilitch doesn't want to see Tiger Stadium redeveloped because it would mean competition for Comerica Park and the Ilitch family's other attractions near the Fox Theatre area." See wxyz.com, which shows a helicopter view of the interior. At least the grass is being mowed. (via ballparksofbaseball.com) What a shame. I still think the Tigers should play at least one game there every year, or else have a regular Old Timers Game there like they used to in the Old Times.
UPDATE: The MLB Franchises and 19th Century Leagues pages have been reformatted and updated.
July 15, 2005 [LINK]
Yanks close in on Red Sox
Here we go again! One of the greatest rivalries in the sports world is on display this weekend at Fenway Park in Boston, and tomorrow's Game of the Week will surely draw huge ratings to FOX. The Yankees have been gradually closing the gap for the past two weeks, as the Orioles finally rebounded after their recent skid, clinging to second place. The Red Sox came out roaring with four runs in the first inning last night, but the Yankees gradually climbed back and spoiled Curt Schilling's debut as a Bosox reliever, scoring two runs in the top of the ninth inning. Tonight's game is starting out the same way, and the vengeance-minded Red Sox are now on top 12-1 after four innings. Some guy named Jason Anderson just replaced some guy named Darrell May as the Yankees' pitcher...
UPDATE: David Ortiz hit a grand slam in the sixth inning, and the final score was Red Sox 17, Yanks 1. Ouch! It reminds me of Game 3 of the ALCS last October, but with the roles reversed.
Nats try to regroup
The Nationals also came out roaring tonight, with four hits and two runs in the first inning, possibly angry that they let yesterday's game slip from their grasp so easily. Managerial Motivation may have been a factor in their improved performance as well. The Nats were darned lucky that the Braves matched them loss for loss in the last three game days, thereby maintaining their two and a half game lead. The NL East is still up for grabs, and any of its teams could make a go of it in the postseason. Mike Piazza may not have been the best choice for the All Star game, and his usefulness to the Mets as a catcher is quickly fading, but he sure made the home crowd happy with that three-run homer in the eighth inning last night. Beating the Braves made some Nats fans happy, too!
UPDATE: Milwaukee responded with two runs of their own in the bottom of the first. The Nats took a one-run lead in the fifth, but a homer by Carlos Lee tied it in the eighth. In his debut as a pitcher for the Nationals in the tenth inning, Mike Stanton balked (!!?), allowing the winning run to score from third. Having lost four straight games, the Nats have a serious problem on their hands. The Braves are only one and a half games behind.
Favorite sporting venues
This item is not strictly about baseball, but it is definitely about stadiums. A group of sports writers was asked to pick their favorite venues, from football to baseball to basketball to hockey. Brian Baldinger of FOX Sports ranked RFK Stadium as #3 in his list. There are a number of fascinating descriptions and anecdotes about the Polo Grounds, Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, and so on. You can see and judge for yourself at themirl.com.
July 15, 2005 [LINK]
Global warming in Costa Rica
ABC's Nightline program had a report on global warming last night. To my surprise, much of it was filmed in the cloud forests of Monteverde National Park in Costa Rica, and there was a brief clip of a Violet saberwing. We didn't go to that park, but we did encounter similar fog-shrouded habitat at Poas Volcano. Scientists report that a number of tropical plant and animal species are in decline in Costa Rica, presumably because of global warming. (Pollution or other factors may play a part as well.) In an ideal world, more folks who are concerned about conserving nature would recognize that the only hope for restraining consumption of hydrocarbons and forest products lies in making prices reflect scarcity, either by taxation or by removing implicit subsidies. In the real world, much of that concern is wasted on utopian campaigns that ignore the way that human beings actually behave. Hence the ungodly tragedy of extinction.
July 15, 2005 [LINK]
Breeding neighborhood birds
I took a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad for the first time in a while this morning, and had a few pleasant surprises. I saw at least two Great crested flycatchers, presumably part of a family unit. Later I heard a White-eyed vireo ("singing" its odd, jumbled "tune"), and finally spotted him in the tangled bushes. There was also an Indigo bunting that was singing while flying; I have seen as many as three in that area previously. I caught a glimpse of a probable Sharp-shinned hawk as well. Finally, I heard a familiar "wheezy, wheezy" call and soon spotted a Black and white warbler, which is very unusual for this time of year in that location. Breeding? Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Scarlet tanager which I saw back in May, but that was further along the trail.
Many thousands of magenta thistle flowers are now in bloom, meaning that goldfinches can at last begin building their nests for this year's brood. They are already quite dispersed, and we only see them occasionally; quite a contrast from the spring months! Speaking of no-shows, I haven't seen a hummingbird in over two months!
July 16, 2005 [LINK]
Conratulations to future Hall of Famer Rafael Palmeiro for getting his 3,000th career hit in Ameriquest Field last night. Only three previous players have reached that mark and hit more than 500 home runs: Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Eddie Murray. Note that those three guys spent all or nearly all of their careers with one team, whereas even the best players wander from club to club these days, "thanks" to free agency. I have a feeling that players who stick with one team for several years will ultimately be remembered by fans for a longer time.
Nats bounce back from bogus balk
After losing their fourth game in a row because of a highly questionable balk call in the tenth inning last night (see MLB.com), the Nationals played a solid, consistent game and finally beat the Brewers, 5-3. Vinny Castilla doubled twice, getting an RBI each time, and Jose Guillen knocked in two more runs on a single. Esteban Loaiza stayed in the game just long enough (six innings) to get credit for the win, and his record is now 6-5, over .500 for the first time this season. Mike Stanton came in as a reliever for the Nats for the second time, and this time he threw a pitch! Despite the aggravating end to last night's game, which manager Frank Robinson is reviewing for a possible protest (see MLB.com), it must be acknowledged that the Nationals really beat themselves, wasting multiple scoring opportunities.
Yanks recover from thrashing
The Bronx Bombers didn't let a little 17-1 blowout get on their nerves. In spite of a so-so outing by Randy Johnson, they still prevailed in Boston this afternoon, 7-4. I was glued to the tube. God, Fenway Park looks good on a clear, sunny day. It will be interesting to see how well newly acquired veteran pitcher Al Leiter does in the final game of the series tomorrow. "Caveman" Johnny Damon has hit safely in 28 consecutive games, officially reaching the halfway mark toward Joe DiMaggio's renowned record. Some say it's bad luck to openly count such streaks or no-hit games in progress, but I give scant credence to fortune, so why not?
Happy birthday to long-time visitor Steven Poppe. "¡Vaya con Dios!"
July 16, 2005 [LINK]
The Rove-Plame-Wilson-Novak-Cooper-Miller circus
The long, suspenseful wait to see whether the reporters would divulge their sources about the summer 2003 Valerie Plame story finally ended when Time's Matthew Cooper agreed to testify. (Karl Rove had waived the confidentiality pledge many months ago, so that had nothing to do with Cooper's decision.) The facts are still very hazy, but Friday's Washington Post (late edition) provided some important details:
In accounts of both conversations that have been made public, Rove does not give Plame's name and discusses the matter only at the end of an interview on an unrelated topic. Rove has said he did not know Plame's name and did not know she was undercover. If that is the case, it is unlikely that the disclosure is a crime. ...
Republican lawyers working with Rove say he was not pushing a story about Plame but was trying to steer Cooper away from giving too much credence to Wilson. ...
Sources who have reviewed some of the testimony before the grand jury say there is significant evidence that reporters were in some cases alerting officials about Plame's identity and relationship to Wilson -- not the other way around.
In other words, it is far too early to jump to any conclusions about who told what to whom, or whether any crimes were committed. According to GOPUSA.com, "Rove mentioned "Wilson's wife" only to let Cooper know that no one in the Bush administration had sent Wilson to Niger -- and that Time shouldn't believe everything it was hearing from Wilson." The fact that New York Times reporter Judith Miller remains behind bars for failing to disclose her source, even though Cooper was freed, suggests that Rove was not her source. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that early White House claims that Rove had nothing to do with the disclosure have been proven false. I fully agree that Rove should be held accountable and punished if what he said to the reporter met the criteria for wrongdoing specified by the Federal criminal statute. Perhaps he merely committed a slight indiscretion with a political motivation, or perhaps he acted out of genuine concern that the truth about the allegations by Joseph Wilson be known to the public. If President Bush really is sincere about wanting to get to the bottom of this -- and I know of no reason to doubt him on this -- we will find out soon enough. In the murky world of Washington intrigue, however, no one of any consequence is 100 percent innocent. Everyone trades leaks and rumors to maintain their rank in the hierarchy of power and status.
Some say that Ms. Plame did not conceal her CIA job from friends and was not really a covert agent. One thing that is certain is that her husband's mission to Niger in early 2002 seems fishier all the time. Wilson practically invited public scrutiny of his wife's identity when he wrote an article in The Nation in March 2003 accusing the Bush administration of misleading the public about Iraq and WMDs. For a career diplomat, especially one married to a CIA agent, to be writing in a publication with such a sharp editorial slant is rather unusual, to say the least. For his part, The Nation's David Corn denies charges that he was the one who "outed" Ms. Plame. (via Instapundit) He and Katrina Van Den Heuvel, also of The Nation, appear regularly on WUSA-TV9's Eye On Washington panel discussion program. I wonder what former editor Victor Navasky would say about all this?
What is most ironic (or galling) to me is that Democrats are trying to act serious on national security issues for once. The joint press conference on Thrusday with Sen. Chuck Schumer and former ambassador Joseph Wilson laid bare the fundamentally partisan nature of the dispute. Rush Limbaugh is convinced that Wilson and Schumer are old pals, but that's just a conjecture. The Democrats' demand that the security clearance of Rove be revoked is absurd grandstanding that only ill-informed fools would take at face value. Coming on the heels of exaggerated outcry over alleged "torture" at Guantanamo and defeatist moans about Iraq, all this gives every indication of being another front in the escalating war to unseat the Bush administration.
July 17, 2005 [LINK]
Basil flower: Mm-mm good!
The basil plants on our back porch are growing rapidly, and some have begun to sprout flower heads. That is one of Princess and George's favorite treats, so we picked the first one this morning, which they immediately feasted upon. George has started to molt, and has been singing less often lately. Princess has been brooding in her nest for almost three solid weeks, and will probably give up on her latest three eggs any day now.
July 19, 2005 [LINK]
What to make of carnage in Iraq?
As the horrific car bombings continue in Iraq, American people seem to be of two sharply different minds on what this means. Those on the Left believe that these attacks vindicate their argument that Iraq is a cesspool of violence that we should have just left alone. For example, Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury strip cynically portrayed Iraq as a lost cause that is being covered up by happy talk U.S. propaganda: "Rummyworld." Harping on that tired point for two straight weeks, as he did, amounts to satirical overkill that hints at possible doubt in Trudeau's mind; he "doth protest too much, methinks." I would agree that Cheney's "last throes" comment probably erred on the optimistic side. What I fail to understand is how anyone could see the barbaric murder of innocents in Musayyib and other towns as something we should just leave alone. Sure, we can't attend to atrocities in every corner of the earth, but if we can't help matters in a country where we have clear interests at stake, what would be left of our prestige or moral standing? Those qualities are markedly different from our "popularity," which the press focuses on, and which is beyond our control as a superpower. John Hawkins provides a noble public service by his piece "Debunking 8 Anti-War Myths About The Conflict In Iraq" at rightwingnews.com.
Was Bosnia worth it?
In today's Washington Post, former Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke, who makes John Bolton look like Mr. Rogers, stoutly defends the U.S.-led intervention in Bosnia ten years ago. He invokes the slaughter at Srebrenica, when Dutch peacekeepers failed to stop marauding Serb militias from rounding up and executing hundreds of Bosnian Muslim men. For him and many others, this tragedy was an occasion for pious breast-beating, lamenting the failure of the "international community," an entity whose existence has never been proven. I believed strongly then, and even more strongly now, that President Clinton's decision to send U.S. combat forces into the former Yugoslavia set a terrible precendent that basically let European nations off the hook for a crisis in their own back yard. France, Italy, and Germany had the troops and weapons; all they lacked was political will. U.S. forces paradoxically set the stage for anti-U.S. sentiment by making European countries think we would bail them out and do their bidding as the "police force" of the West. This false impression was reinforced in 1999 when Clinton bombed Serbia into submission in order to force the Serb army out of Kosovo. This was the first case of overt expansion by NATO into the sovereign territory of a nation outside its proper jurisdiction. Though motivated in part of noble sentiment, it constituted an act of imperialism that did nothing to resolve the underlying animosity between Serbs and Kosovars, and failed to impress Muslim nations that we would stand up for their peoples suffering oppression. It also set the stage for bitter disappointment in European capitals when a less solicitous administration came to power in Washington in 2001. We coddled them for far too long, and the sooner we withdraw our remaining land and air forces from the European continent, the better.
Londoners fear not
All indications are that the bomb attacks on London did not yield the psychological effect that the terrorists were hoping for, much less affect British policy. A new Web site, werenotafraid.com, expresses British defiance. (via Patrick Carne) On the other hand, there are signs that some people are interpreting the attacks in precisely the wrong way, that Blair's pro-U.S. policy made Britain vulnerable to terrorist attack; see Monday's Washington Post. In a related story, newly released documents show that Al Qaeda's central objective in the March 2004 Madrid attack was indeed to remove the pro-U.S. government of Aznar from power. See barcepundit. We have a long way to go...
Blood feuds & death cults
Calling the terrorist attacks "barbaric" carries a risk of suggesting that the people on whose behalf the attacks are purportedly launched are themselves barbarian. Warfare does engender a "race to the bottom," as each side justifies cruelty and bigotry toward the enemy in retaliation for combat losses it has suffered. Thus, we must choose our words carefully, without retreating into timid politeness. Born-again hawk Christopher Hitchens wrote about the London attacks, "It is a big mistake to believe this is an assault on "our" values or 'our' way of life. It is, rather, an assault on all civilisation." Arnold Kling made a provocative analogy to the war between Americans and Indians in the Old West, drawing some "Terrorism Lessons From 1870" in techcentralstation.com; see (via Instapundit)
It is possible that the culture of the world Muslim community, including its religious and secular institutions, simply is not yet equipped to confront the radicals in the way that Thomas Friedman and the rest of us might wish. A lack of social capital, or what James Bennett calls "civil society," means that the Muslim community's circuits are overloaded. Like the Native Americans living in Montana in 1870, Muslims are confronted with too much change happening too quickly.
My "career" in journalism pretty much ended after high school, but I'm pretty sure I recall that reporters are not supposed to make things up when they write news stories. Last week the Washington Post tried to analyze the perpetrators of the suicide bombing attacks, and went a bit too far:
Still, the profile of the suspects suggested by investigators fit long-standing warnings by security experts that the greatest potential threat to Britain could come from second-generation Muslims, born here but alienated from British society and perhaps from their own families, and inflamed by Britain's participation in the Iraq war. [italics added]
As Hugh Hewitt notes, there is no such evidence that the four Muslim youths (including one Jamaican convert) were motivated in any way by British war policy. The reporter just made that up, making the news fit pre-conceived assumptions. (via Instapundit) Likewise, the issue of justifying the original decision to go to war is being twisted beyond any resemblance to reality, as exemplified by the hype-filled afterdowningstreet.org Web site. The actual Downing Street memo includes nothing more incriminating than a few cautionary sentences that have been public knowledge for many months. So what??? The standard leftist way of thinking holds that public support for U.S. military action and global capitalism is the result of orchestrated propaganda campaigns; Noam Chomsky popularized this notion of "manufacturing consent." Is it not possible that the overwhelmingly negative coverage of war news that we are witnessing amounts to manufacturing dissent? Which leads me to propose the following bumper sticker, borrowing from the familiar "Question authority" theme:
* as in scrutinize, not necessarily oppose
July 20, 2005 [LINK]
54 - 40 and fight!! *
After a dismal 3 - 9 record since the Fourth of July, the Nationals finally won a convincing game at RFK Stadium Tuesday night, beating the Rockies 4 - 0. That was their biggest margin of victory since June 19 (exactly one month ago), when they beat Texas, 8 - 2. This time the promising young ace John Patterson not only lived up to his own high standards, giving up only three hits in eight-plus innings, he actually got some run support. With a record of 54 wins to 40 losses, the Nats are barely clinging to the NL East lead, as the Braves breathe down their backs. Now that Chipper Jones is in the lineup for the first time in six weeks, and Andruw Jones is continuing with the best slugging season of his career, the Braves are heavily favored to reclaim their customary position at the top. (Those two had three home runs in San Francisco last night!) If the Nats can just get a new shortstop to replace Cristian Guzman (batting only .189!), they'll have a good shot at holding their own. Retired Cincinnati Red Barry Larkin is often mentioned, since Nats GM Jim Bowden knows him well. Maybe another starting pitcher would help too, but the main thing is to maintain consistent performance and a fierce determination to win.
* That's a reference to the expansionist slogan of James Polk in the presidential campaign of 1844. The U.S. eventually compromised and settled for 49 degrees latitude as the border with the British colony of Canada in the northwest.
One of the TBS announcers at the game at SBC Park last night mentioned that Barry Bonds doesn't even show up at the ballpark any more. He resides in Los Angeles and keeps the team informed about his rehabilitation progress via his Web site, barrybonds.com.
I stayed up till after midnight to see if the Giants could hold off the Braves, and indeed they did, winning 5 - 4, with each team scoring one run in the ninth inning. So the Nats' lead in the NL East is back to 1 1/2 games. Whew!
Citizens Bank Park
The architects who designed Citizens Bank Park deny that they were warned during the design stage that the tight dimentions in the power alleys would yield a huge surplus of home runs. Yeah, right. They just got carried away with the crowd-pleasing steroid-injected, easy-home run craze of the late 1990s. (Via Baseball Musings, where I just posted a comment.) If the Phillies wanted to, they could solve about half of the problem by moving the wall back about 15 feet in left field, reaching the ends of the diagonal "creases" in the seating sections in the left field corner and deep left center. Moving the right field wall back would be more difficult, but the fence is taller on that side, so it's not quite such an easy target for sluggers.
July 20, 2005 [LINK]
Chavez stirs trouble in Venezuela
President-for-life Hugo Chavez has been raising tensions in Venezuela in recent weeks. During the July 5 (!) Independence Day speech, he accused the United States of plotting to topple his regime, citing the discovery of documents with plans for "Operation Balboa." He is milking the Bush administration's clumsy response to the coup attempt against him in April 2002, stoking xenophobic paranoia. Flush with petro-dollars, he seems to be flexing his muscles in a bid for a more prominent international role. He has hinted at cutting off oil shipments to the U.S., which buys over 60 percent of Venezuela's exports, but it is unlikely his country could survive long without oil revenues, so it's probably an empty threat. Venezuelan police forces are not cooperating in anti-narcotics efforts in recent months, and tensions with neighboring Colombia, whose guerrilla movements have received implicit support from Chavez, remain high. A Venezuelan Foreign Ministry Official said the U.S. could instantly repair relations merely by showing her government "respect." See Washington Post. Yesterday he lashed out at Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara for having labeled him a dictator. See CNN.com. The real question is whether his rhetorical expressions of sympathy for Islamo-fascist terrorists has been matched by any concrete support or providing safe haven. The lack of much recent news on this front could be interpreted either way.
UPDATE: Gateway Pundit has an in-depth report about anti-Chavez demonstrations in Caracas, complete with photographs. No doubt this was all planned in Langley! (via Instapundit)
Web site updates
I have reformatted all of the country pages and topical background pages in the Latin America section of this Web site. The chronologies on each country page are being condensed, sifting out the less significant "chaff." Some of those entries with commentaries will be retroactively moved to the Archives section, in standard blog format. There is one new page that will be very useful as a reference source: Presidential chronology, which lists the heads of state for all twenty countries since 1980, color-coded according to political leaning.
July 21, 2005 [LINK]
Heat wave, cold streak
Here in the Mid-Atlantic region the weather has been stiflingly hot and humid all month long, and I have pretty much given up bicycle riding for swimming. Up in Montreal, meanwhile, it's about 15 degrees cooler and much drier. Might this contrast explain the awful downturn of the Washington Nationals this month? Perhaps the former Expos have been having a hard time acclimating themselves to the brutal Washington summers. Once again, they lost a game by one run tonight, suffering the frustration they had been inflicting on everyone else until early this month. At one point in the latter innings tonight, the Nats had grounded into double plays nearly as many times (3) as they had put a man on base (5), a clear sign that they're in big trouble offensively. Get well soon, Nick and Vinny -- PLEASE! Oddly, there were no bases on balls in the entire game. After six and a half weeks of holding sole possession of first place in the NL East, the Nationals now share that spot with the Braves. And since "A" comes before "W," Atlanta is now listed on top. Groan...
Here's an interesting stat: All but one of the teams in the NL Central Division have won seven of their last ten games. The other, Cincinnati, has only won two.
Author Ted Steele has just published a book about the family responsible for building Ebbets Field. "Although it is not a baseball book, there is a lot of baseball in it. It also corrects much mis-information about Charlie Ebbets and his ancestry -- info that the Dodgers and the Sporting News didn't know and that Ken Burns got all wrong in his TV series Baseball." See Ebbets: The History and Genealogy of a New York Family.
July 21, 2002 [LINK]
Diplomacy with India
The visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington this week was anything but routine. President Bush surprised almost everyone by announcing that the United States would share nuclear technology with India, in spite of the fact that India does not adhere to the Nonproliferation Treaty. Arms control activists are up in arms (!), fearing that this may undermine global efforts to prevent the spread of dangerous technology to terrorists and rogue states. Such an agreement with India had been expected, but not for several more weeks or months. The intellectual support for this strengthened partnership came from Robert Blackwill, a former ambassador to India, and Ashley Tellis, who recently wrote a paper titled "India as a New Global Power." It's not a done deal, however, as the administration will need to get approval from the 40-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, and persuade Congress to modify the U.S. Nonproliferation Act. See Washington Post. Bush stopped short of endorsing India's bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, but that day can't be far off. The only question is how to handle Germany, Japan, and perhaps Brazil. Some might regard this compromise with global nonproliferation norms as an ill-advised, hasty gamble, and some might see it as a sign of strategic desperation by a U.S. government that badly needs allies in South Asia. It at least has the virtue of consistency with the Bush administration's support for democratization and capitalist free trade, as India scores far better than Pakistan on both counts. Nevertheless, taking sides in such a volatile part of the world is something that could easily backfire. The stature of Pakistani President Musharraf seems to be shrinking, meanwhile, as his government fails to gain control over Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists along its border with Afghanistan. So much for the political payoffs of joining the nuclear club! Is Bush willing to put strategic cooperation with Pakistan at risk by solidifying an alliance with India, or is this just maneuvering to put pressure on Pakistan to get its house in order?
Tensions with China
The India story is inseparable from what has been transpiring in U.S.-China relations of late. Yesterday's Washington Post reported that the Pentagon is worried that China's military modernization poses a threat to the regional balance of power, making India's strategic role all the more important. China has acquired modern submarines and missile destroyes from Russia, and is developing a medium-range missile force, an air force capable of reaching hundreds of miles from the mainland, and a mobile ICBM force that could launch a second strike against the United States. We need to face this emerging situation soberly: China is unabashedly flexing its muscles over the Taiwan reunification issue, and it is not cooperating very much on nuclear proflieration or containing its rogue neighbor in North Korea. Henry Kissinger wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on June 13, arguing that a passive strategy of containment of China will not succeed. For someone who has been a paid lobbyist for the Chinese Communist government, and whose firm maintains that relationship, that's quite a statement. He is correct to say that we should not panic and start treating China as an enemy, and we should make every effort to respect their new role as a great power, but we cannot be complacent about actions it takes that constitute a clear challenge to U.S. interests. It will take patience, wisdom, and determination to manage the inevitable rise of Chinese power in the 21st Century.
China raised fears in the U.S. when one of the giant state oil firms, CNOOC, made a takeover bid to purchase Unocal, which is also sought by Chevron. China bluntly warned Congress to stay out of the matter, even though it routinely bristles at any implied foreign intrusion into its internal affairs. Some say that in this era of globalization, corporations no longer have fixed national identities, as borders are blurred by ever-increasing trade and financial flows. That argument does not apply to state-owned enterprises, however. Coincidentally or not, China tried to assuage U.S. concerns about its huge trade surplus by announcing that it will no longer peg the value of its currency to the U.S. dollar. The yuan has been grossly overvalued in recent years, subsidizing Chinese exports and making imports of Western goods prohibitively expensive for Chinese consumers. It's a classic mercantilistic strategy that has obvious strategic motivations, and raises big doubts about whether China should have been granted membership in the World Trade Organization.
Ancient Chinese secret
The recent worries about China happen to coincide with the 600th anniversary of a landmark historical event that hardly anyone in the West even knows about. The Chinese fleet under Admiral Zheng He made a voyage of discovery in the Indian Ocean that reached the east coast of Africa, a century before Portuguese mariners first rounded the Cape of Good Hope from the other direction. Because of the expedition's high cost, however, Chinese leaders decided to give up their maritime ambitions, after which they retrenched and stagnated, paving the way for European civilization to dominate the globe. Paul Kennedy highlighted this fateful historical twist in the opening pages of Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.
July 22, 2005 [LINK]
Wrong dimensions at RFK!
Today's Washington Post reports what I have long suspected: the marked distances to the outfield fences [in RFK Stadium] are inaccurate, especially in the power alleys. The distance markers have been located much closer to center field than to the foul poles, and I regret not voicing my doubts earlier. The erroneous markers may well have been an honest mistake, possibly caused by adding advertising billboards to the outfield fence in the place where the true power alleys lie. The 16-inch difference between right and left field may be the result of home plate being in the wrong spot. In response to the Post exposé, the RFK grounds crew has moved the green fence pads [with the "380" markers] toward the foul poles. Is this another Washington scandal -- "tape-measure-gate"? What did Tony Tavares know about this, and when did he know it? Jose Guillen, who has hit 19 home runs this season but only one at home, is among the players who have been complaining about the deep outfield. They should realize that that distinctive aspect of RFK has played to the team's advantage. Looking for excuses for their recent slump is not a good sign. Here are the indicated outfield distances and the actual ones as reported by the Post:
For purposes of my diagrams, I don't worry about a discrepancy of only a couple feet (each pixel equals 1.67 feet), but I will redo the RFK diagram, putting the 380 marks where they belong. More generally, I've been thinking about changing the "vital statistics" on each stadium page so that it will show the estimated true power alley distances, as defined by an angle midway between center field and the foul lines, rather than the marked distances. (For RFK, I estimate 388 feet.) If so, those data would often differ from what is indicated in the diagrams, requiring an explanation. From one stadium to the next, there are significant differences in the position at which the power alley distances are marked. I may also list stadiums that I believe have inaccurately marked outfield distances, such as Dolphins Stadium; I think the 434 mark there is at least 15 feet too long.
Livan wears his war wound like a crown
I've been waiting for an opportunity to borrow that line from Elton John's song "Levon" for a long time. Earlier this week workhorse ace pitcher Livan Hernandez vented his frustrations with team management, hinting that he might need surgery on his knee that would take him out for the rest of the season. Now he says he'll keep soldiering on. If his knee is bothering him that bad, he shouldn't stay in the game so long. [Livan's sore knee] may have been what allowed J.D. Closser to hit the game-winning home run [against the Rockies on Wednesday]. Livan leads the majors in innings pitched this year (149.1), but there are no awards for masochism in baseball. He should take a cue from the Eagles and "Take It Easy." Sorry for the gratuitous references to classic hits from the 70s, folks. I just couldn't help it.
Rocket aimed at Washington
No, not a crude terrorist weapon or a North Korean or Chinese ICBM, but a Texas-sized rocket from the land of NASA: Roger Clemens. This is the Houston Astros' only visit to Our Nation's Capital this summer, and since this may be Clemens' final season in the majors, I expect a packed house this evening. With the unpredictable Ryan Drese pitching, the odds are stacked against the home team. It looks like the best the Nats can hope for in this series is to salvage a 2 - 2 split.
Last night FOX-5 TV showed a clip from a brief interview at the All Star game in which a reporter embarrassed Roger Clemens by asking (in a subtle, indirect way) if he would consider being traded to the Nationals. At first he didn't understand the question, and then he quickly exited with a grinning mumble. Now wouldn't that be something?
July 22, 2002 [LINK]
More bombs in London
The four dud bombs that went off in London yesterday may well have been the work of amateur copycats, but the fact remains that Great Britain is under siege. Londoners came face to face with the implications of that today when security agents shot dead a man who was attempting to set off another bomb in a subway car. For a country that prides itself on civilized norms of behavior, where "bobbies" keep the peace without the threat of lethal force, this is a rude awakening. Will Englishmen and women begin calling for the right to bear arms? The only purpose I can discern from the small-scale explosions is to provoke a security crackdown by British police and security forces, in an effort to sharpen the division between native English people and immigrants, thereby inflaming tensions around the world. Thus, I would expect the British government to proceed vigorously without going overboard; The specter of mass detentions of Islamic immigrants, like what happened to Japanese people in the United States during World War II is real, but we're not there yet.
Thinking the unthinkable
Donald Sensing recently posed a question that most folks would rather not face: What should we do if, God forbid, Al Qaeda succeeds in setting off a nuclear bomb in one of our cities? Until now, our military response has targetted countries that were known to be havens for terrorists, leaving alone countries such as Saudi Arabia or Pakistan that made at least a half-hearted effort to round up or suppress the bad guys. Could we continue to be so lenient when the consequences of giving ambiguous countries the benefit of the doubt? Sensing cites some possible options suggested by Jihad watch (by Robert Spencer), which in turn was prompted by Rep. Tom Tancredo who said on a Florida radio talk show, "if this [a nuclear attack] happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites." (see foxnews.com) A big part of the problem is that religious fanatics tend not to respond in a rational way to threats and incentives. The prevention of nuclear holocaust during the Cold War rested to a large extent upon the doctrine of "Mutual Assured Destruction," under which each side maintained a strong enough second-strike missile force to ensure that any surprise attack would be met with a devastating retaliation. It is hard to imagine that a U.S. threat to "nuke Mecca" would restrain Islamic radicals from attacking America or American allies, partly because such a threat would not be credible enough. Such a threat would only play into the hands of paranoid xenophobes in Karachi and Riyadh, in any case. As Sensing, Mideast expert Bernard Lewis, and others have said, the war against terrorism is primarily a war within the Arab-Islamic civilization, between those who believe in modernization without Westernization (the path that China is taking) and those who reject modernization outright, fearing that it is part and parcel of Westernization. These are the distinctions made by Samuel Huntington in Clash of Civilizations, a must read for anyone seeking to understand this terrible new global conflict. Unless and until there is a consensus among Muslim religious leaders that terrorism (or at least murdering innocent people) is an ungodly crime, we will not be safe.
Rather than threatening eye-for-an-eye violence, I think we should make it clear to Arab and/or Islamic oil exporters with a weak record in fighting religious extremists that we will expect them to pay in full for the damages from any nuclear attack on Western cities, and that our Navy will enforce this demand, with a total blockade if necessary. It may not prevent such an attack, but it would at least get their attention, while maintaining a restrained posture of moral superiority.
July 23, 2005 [LINK]
Nationals hit rock bottom
Hardly anyone expected the Nats to win with Roger Clemens pitching for the other side, but last night's 14 to 1 blowout inflicted upon them by the Astros surely must mark the low point of the season thus far. The Nats were only four runs behind when Clemens left the game after the sixth inning, and then their usually-reliable bullpen withered under the onslaught of Astros slugging. Thanks to the Diamondbacks' tenth-inning victory over the Braves, however, the Nats still cling to a tie for first place, so who's complaining? Interestingly, last night's 13-run margin of defeat equalled the total margin of defeat in their previous ten losses, an indication of how close most of their games have been.
RFK measurement goof fallout
According to foxsports.com, Jose Guillen and other Nationals players used a tape measure to check the measurements from home plate to the fences before the game on Friday. Guillen says his home run totals should rival those of Derrek Lee and Andruw Jones, but insists he isn't complaining. I've revised the RFK Stadium diagrams, which now show the 380-foot markers in their new proper location. On the televised highlights from last night's game, I could see the 380 mark on the left side of the GEICO sign in right center field, about 45 feet from where it used to be.
Designing the new D.C. stadium
In today's Washington Post, Benjamin Forgey discusses some of the issues related to designing the Nationals' future home, emphasizing the desire by D.C. officials for an "iconic" stadium that will become a widely-recognized signature of the Nation's Capital in the new century. He compares various Olympic stadiums of recent years, and those planned for Beijing and London, noting that such oval shapes are not suited for baseball. (Obviously.) He calls for orienting the new baseball stadium so that the distinctive Washington skyline is visible in the outfield, and making it pedestrian friendly, integrated into the neighborhood, two of the key points I have argued; see my proposed new D.C. stadium. He fears that the scenic backdrop would eventually be blocked by new high-rise buildings along South Capitol Street, but city ordinances could control that. He also thinks that batters would be blinded by afternoon sun in such an orientation, but I don't think that would be the case if center field were straight north. I just hope the HOK architectural firm is creative enough to improve upon the recent stale imitations of Camden Yards.
July 25, 2005 [LINK]
Battered, bruised, bloodied Nationals cling to first
Well, let's look at the bright side: young ace John Patterson showed why many baseball insiders regard him so highly, striking out ten batters in eight innings yesterday, as many as Roger Clemens did in six. Also, the Diamondbacks thwarted Atlanta's bid to take sole possession of first place, allowing the Nats to share the honors for a bit longer. Nevertheless, we can't ignore the Nats' awful 5 - 13 record since July 4, or such forboding signs as Jose Guillen's wrist injury resulting from an errant pitch. As the waiver-clearing trade deadline approaches with no sign of major moves, one wonders if this team's lack of owners -- which is largely the result of the ongoing litigation over television rights* -- condemns their heroic efforts to futility. Might the grim realization that the business-end deck is stacked against them explain their seeming loss of competitive spirit? In an interview after last night's game, Frank Robinson wisely set very low expectations for his team as they rest and prepare to take on the Braves at Turner Field on Tuesday. The Nationals would do well just to avoid being swept, but you never know when they'll pull another surprise on us all. Baseball is full of amazing streaks, inexplicable slumps, and baffling turnarounds. To my surprise, only about 38,000 people saw Roger Clemens pitch at RFK on Friday evening; attendance on Saturday was much higher, but 3,000+ empty seats remained.
* Speaking of television rights, TBS will broadcast Thursday's Braves-Nationals game in Atlanta, but if earlier precedent holds, the game will be blacked out across a vast region where no one can see the game at all! Thanks a lot, Mr. Angelos. Any Washington-area fan who attends an Orioles game while this stupid, unjustified blackout of Nationals games continues has no self-respect.
July 25, 2005 [LINK]
Hewitt on Tancredo
Hugh Hewitt (via Instapundit) savages Rep. Tom Tancredo's (R-CO) suggestion that we ought to consider retaliating against Muslim holy sites if Islamic terrorists wreck an American city with nuclear weapons. Tancredo was way off base (see my July 22 post), but there's no point in belaboring the obvious. Hewitt does, however, aptly call attention to a weak spot on the contemporary Right that is at the root of Tancredo's rhetorical excess, which rivals the recent gaffe by Dick Durbin:
In fact Tancredo is preoccupied with attention-getting statements that play to the frustrated edge of the conservative camp that sees any denunciation of "political correctness" as an endorsement of their desire for blunt talk against media elites.
In other words, it seems that many conservatives are letting righteous indignation over the hyperinflammatory rhetoric and deranged attitudes exhibited by many folks on the Left in recent years cloud their judgment as to the limits of prudent discourse. Perhaps the Left has merely been throwing "sucker punches" at the Right, baiting them into a no-win war of words but not really meaning all those absurd rants they've been spouting.
July 25, 2005 [LINK]
Sinai resort attack
The massive coordinated truck bomb attack that killed nearly 100 people in the tourist resort of Sharm El-Sheikh leaves little doubt that Al Qaeda is unleashing a global offensive. Inasmuch as the objective of such attacks is invariably psychological, the essential question is this: Will the morale of resolve of Western peoples hold up long enough for the latent anti-terrorist sentiment among the Arab-Muslim people to be expressed? There was an encouraging demonstration by Egyptians agains the attacks yesterday (see gatewaypundit), even as sundry Islamofascist groups scramble to claim credit for it (see jihadwatch). What is most disturbing that a variety of political and religious leaders in Egypt actually blamed the Israeli Mossad for the atrocities (see haaretz.com). The fact that the decrepit regime of Hosni Mubarak has brutally repressed opposition rallies recently shows how complex and delicate this situation is.
Various lessons can be drawn from the mistaken killing of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes by British security agents. At the most trite level, even the most highly trained security personnel are liable to err in times of high stress. Mr. Menezes should not have run away from the authorities who ordered him to halt, but if the plainclothes officers failed to show him a badge, they share the blame. The quick apology by police officials was proper, and the outrage by Brazilians is understandable. According to BBC, the victim may have had an expired visa, which should give pause to anyone who takes lightly immigration laws in the Age of Terror. As for the controversial "profiling" suspects according to skin color and gender, to some extent that is only common sense, but Al Qaeda would probably adapt to such measures by recruiting light-skinned females with nothing to live for, so it doesn't matter much.
July 25, 2005 [LINK]
Day trip to Todd Lake
We spent a pleasant, mostly sunny Sunday picnicking, swimming, and hiking up at Todd Lake, a U.S. Forest Service-maintained recreation area in the mountains about 20 miles northwest of town. (Click HERE to see a scenic photo.) There were a few interesting birds in and around that area, including:
- Red-tailed hawks
- Cedar waxwings
- Blue-gray gnatcatcher
- Blue-headed vireo (very vocal)
- Chipping sparrows
- Worm-eating warbler
- Cooper's hawk (prob.), juv.
- Blue jays (very vocal)
- [Great blue heron]
We also heard a pewee in the woods and a kingfisher [where the stream enters] the lake. The most interesting nature finds, however, were the many kinds of colorful mushrooms we saw on the trail above the north side of the lake.
UPDATE: Here is a montage of the best ones we saw yesterday. ("But wait, there's more!") Identification of some of these species is still pending, so I won't post the individual photos on the Mushrooms page until later. As always, stay tuned...
Saturday morning we saw a pair of Broad-winged hawks circling over Gypsy Hill park, screaming intermittently. There was also a female Wood duck at the pond, plus the usual hoards of Mallards and mixed breed ducks.
July 26, 2005 [LINK]
Nats let another close one slip by
Chad Cordero blew a perfect save opportunity in Atlanta tonight, giving up a double to Andruw Jones, a single to Chipper Jones, and a game-tying sac fly to Adam LaRoche. In the tenth, Luis Ayala loaded the bases by hitting the batter, and then threw four straight balls to walk in the winning run. Thus, Livan Hernandez's splendid eight-inning performance was wasted, as was the chance to restore the team's morale. What's really sad is that this gut-wrenching game marked the return of Nick Johnson and Vinny Castilla to the starting lineup, and Jose Guillen started as well, in spite of a sore wrist. The versatile Brad Wilkerson, now playing in left field, nabbed a would-be home run by [Chipper] Jones; he also got three hits, and one RBI. For the first time since June 4, the Nationals are in second place.
July 26, 2005 [LINK]
Rove uproar begins to fizzle
Matthew Cooper laid out everything he knows about the Rove-Wilson-Plame flap in last week's Time magazine: "What I Told the Grand Jury." The key points were already known to the public, but they bear repeating: Rove never used Valerie Plame's name, and he "never once indicated to me that she had any kind of covert status." If it weren't such a potentially weighty matter, I'd be tempted to say that this case is closed. Rove is probably off the hook for criminal charges, at least. If anyone is to blame for his wife's cover being blown, it is Joseph Wilson, who made himself the center of a political firestorm, practically begging for scrutiny into his personal connections to the intelligence services. In townhall.com, Michael Barone (via Power Line blog) pointed out that the Senate Intelligence Committee's bipartisan report "concluded that Wilson lied when he said his wife had nothing to do with his dispatch to Niger," and tended to support charges that Iraq sought to buy uranium in Africa, which Wilson loudly denied. Hardly anything in the intelligence world is ever black or white, however. Barone concludes:
The case against Rove -- ballyhooed by recent Time and Newsweek cover stories that paid little heed to the discrediting of Wilson -- seems likely to end not with a bang but a whimper.
Don't worry, the Mainstream Media will find something else to harp on before long...
The Roberts nomination
At first glance, President Bush's selection of John Roberts to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court seemed like a masterstroke. He's conservative but amiable and nondogmatic, with no apparent skeletons in his closet. The initial knee-jerk reaction against him exhibited by many Democrats -- most notably Sen. Chuck Schumer, but also many leftist pundits and bloggers -- was almost comical. Perhaps this was the work of "boy genius" Karl Rove, suckering the opposition into revealing their obstinate refusal to cooperate on major issues.
Now, however, we learn that Roberts was (apparently) a member of the Federalist Society, composed of lawyers and legal experts who believe in our country's original constitutional principles and view the American court system as deeply biased toward the Left. Sinister cabal? No, just people who oppose policy-setting activism by liberal judges. Unfortunately, Roberts raised needless doubts by stating that he doesn't remember if he belonged to that group, stretching credulity and acting as though he had something to hide. (see Washington Post) The big underyling question, of course, is abortion, which doesn't rank high among my priorities. I detest screening potential judges on the basis of whether they pass a "litmus test" on a particular issue. I will say this, however: the Roe v. Wade decision was a travesty in the way it fabricated a constitutional basis for the decision out of whole cloth, and in the way it created a new "right" (which is properly a legislative function) by judicial fiat.
July 27, 2005 [LINK]
War with(in) Islam
Michael Graham, a D.C. radio talk show host who appears on the Eye On Washington panel discussion show on WUSA-TV9, sparked outrage among Muslims by describing the "The problem is not extremism. The problem is Islam. ... We are at war with a terrorist organization named Islam." See Washington Post That kind of rhetoric is going too far, I think, and it may further damage relations between the West and the Islamic world, but it does point out a sad fact: There are too few moderate Muslims speaking out against terrorism, there are too many wealthy Saudis who provide financial support to the intolerant, anti-modern Wahabbist branch of Islam, and there are too many terror-preaching madrassa schools in Pakistan and other poor countries where the vast unemployed population provide easy recruits to jihad. It is much too early to say that we are engaged in war with Islam, but there is no doubt that a war within Islam is already underway.
Perhaps the views of Muslims themselves will be of greater help in understanding this. Irshad Manji, the outspoken Ugandan-born Canadian author of The Trouble with Islam interpreted the London bombings in Time magazine: "When Denial Can Kill." She asserts that by refusing to face up to the fact that the Islamic faith is being used for evil ends, Muslims are passively abetting the terrorists and thereby making their religion weaker: "as long as Muslims live in pretense, we will be affirming that we have something to hide." She has a Web site: muslim-refusenik.com.
In today's Washington Post, Anne Applebaum cautions the public diplomacy campaign toward the Muslim world that Karen Hughes recently began to direct. She calls attention to a report by the Center for Religious Freedom (a part of Freedom House): "Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Invade American Mosques." Such activities by our nominal "allies" cannot be tolerated forever, and our diplomacy must face up to the prospect of a break in political relations, and possibly economic relations as well. Unthinkable? So is a nuke in Manhattan. In this context, nice gestures such as state visits to Egypt by First Lady Laura Bush will count for little if there is no concrete support for the moderate voices in Islam. Applebaum aptly describes how our current diplomatic practices show such a glaring contradiction between means and ends: "At the moment, the State Department probably spends more money denying visas to moderate Muslims than it does funding magazines for them to write in." If that doesn't change soon, we will have wasted a huge opportunity to follow through on the recent strides toward liberalization and democratization in the Middle East.
July 28, 2005 [LINK]
CAFTA passes, barely
The House passed the CAFTA bill by a razor-thin vote of 217-215 just after midnight last night. I stayed up to follow the roll call on C-SPAN, but the last dozen or so House members were tardy, and the the telecast went strangely blank for several minutes, and when it returned the tally had been finalized. This was a big relief for anyone who believes in Inter-American cooperation, but it was only a first timid step in that direction. As yesterday's Washington Post pointed out, the economic impact of CAFTA will be smaller than either proponents or opponents claim; its main direct effect will be of a political nature, reinforcing the fragile bonds between those countries and the United States. As shown on my Presidential chronology page, most governments in Central America have been moderately conservative in recent years. Some of them are under very heavy pressure from leftist parties, most notably Nicaragua, where Daniel Ortega's Sandinistas are doing all they can to sabotage democracy and capitalism. These die-hard opponents of freedom seem to share the agenda of the anti-globalization movement, those nihilistic misfits who try to wreak chaos whenever there is a summit of Western leaders.
The job of encouraging trade within the Northern Hemisphere is far from finished, however. The countries of Central America are simply too small and too poor to adequately regulate economic activity within their own borders, and they could vastly improve the overall prosperity and working conditions by encouraging a consumer-goods industrial sector that would take advantage of economies of scale. My trip to that region last February and March convinced me that Central America must pursue an economic union, tearing down all remaining barriers among themselves and allowing unhindered transit within the region, much as Europe has done. That is something they must do on their own, however, and the United States should stay out. As for the grandiose proposed "Free Trade Area of the Americas," I remain deeply skeptical.
One of the sad aspects of this vote was that it was cast on such strongly partisan lines. House Speaker Tom DeLay, who has been under political siege for the last several months, assured everyone that he had enough votes for passage, so this may count as vindication for his continuing effectiveness. As I wrote on June 22, Nancy Pelosi told the Democrat caucus that "A vote for CAFTA ... was a vote to keep the GOP in the majority." By viewing the issue in partisan terms, the Democrat leadership has cast its lot with the nihilistic anti-globalization movement. So much for progress.
July 28, 2005 [LINK]
Energy bill: futile, misguided pork
The House passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 today, and all indications are that it is little more than classic pork barrel politics, creating the illusion of serious action but accomplishing very little. Consisting of 1,725 pages, the energy bill passed by a vote of 275 to 156, in contrast to the razor-thin margin of the CAFTA bill. With such a big majority, it must be pretty good, right? Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) called it a ringing endorsement of free enterprise system, while Rep. Joe Markey (D-MA) heaped scorn on it, calling it "socialism." (But I thought folks on his side of the aisle liked socialism...) For example, "The House bill includes incentives aimed at encouraging the nuclear power industry to build the first new plants since the 1970s," which is exactly the kind of statist (!) industrial policy that one might find in in France, Germany, or Japan. Likewise for the tax incentives to those who buy hybrid gas-electric vehicles; are those folks somehow more virtuous than those who just choose to drive less when prices go up? See Washington Post for more details. An editorial in today's Post paid the bill a backhand compliment: "It could have been a lot worse." Scott McClellan declared,
This is a good bill. ... This legislation will help us reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy and help address the root causes that have led to high energy prices.
That assessment follows from the mistaken premise that higher energy prices are somehow unnatural or wrong. Has anyone in the White House ever read an economics textbook? The "root causes" of higher energy prices are exponentially increasing global demand (mostly from China, but also from SUVs) and steadiliy diminishing supplies. We live in a world of scarce resources: Get over it! Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren of the CATO Institute provide a libertarian critique of the Republican bill:
Although conservatives claim to find much therein to embrace, virtually every section of the bill represents a rejection of free markets and limited government.
As I wrote on June 15 in response to President Bush's speech on energy policy, if the White House had more long-term vision or political courage, they would bite the bullet and propose something truly radical that faces up to cold, hard reality -- something like an across-the-board tax hike on energy. That would accomplish more in one fell swoop than all those hundreds of special "incentives" that, to skeptical eyes, look a lot like political paybacks. While at the gas pump today, I saw a sticker that shows how much of the price per gallon is due to Federal and state taxes, and I was shocked that it was so low. Since the tax is assessed per gallon, not per dollar, the proportion of the price due to taxes declines as the price goes up. (For a comparison of gas taxes in the major industrial countries, see shell.com.) Unfortunately, many of today's "conservatives" regard tax hikes of any shape or form as anathema. Why? Because now that "conservatives" are in the majority, getting reelected has become their number one priority, which means taxes are a big no-no. Sad to say, it seems that the post-election "window of opportunity" the Republicans had to push through a truly far-reaching agenda has pretty much closed, and all we have to look forward to for the next three years are "minor repairs" that ignore fundamental problems. Another reason for the blind disregard for the laws of supply and demand among "conservatives" is that faith in the power of markets has gotten out of hand, to the extent that miracles are expected. Among the true believers, prudent skepticism is regarded as rank heresy.
To understand such blatant inconsistency between principles and practice, one must turn to a leading political scientist, R. Douglas Arnold, author of The Logic of Congressional Action. The energy bill can be interpreted in his framework as a deadly combination of a "politically attractive policy" (where local benefits are obvious, but the costs are hidden and diffuse) and a "politically compelling policy" (where the popularity of the intended effects outweighs the legislator's doubts that the means will actually work). The result: bad public policy.
More on Unocal
While we're on the subject of energy policy, take a look at the very first blog post by my old friend David Givens, on the subject of the bidding war between Chevron and China's CNOOC for Unocal, at naturalgasinsider.com.
July 28, 2005 [LINK]
Mystery sandpiper in S.D.
My brother John just sent me this photo of a "mystery sandpiper," which he saw on the Vermillion (South Dakota) Country Club this afternoon. As far as the sandpiper family goes, I would have a hard time telling a Godwit from a Dowitcher, but based on my field guide, I agree with his guess that it's a Buff-breasted sandpiper. If anyone can help identify it, please send an e-mail to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
My dear wife and I took a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad on Tuesday morning, before the temperatures became unbearably hot, and were surprised to see an American redstart, a Black and white warbler, and a (probable) Prairie warbler. I thought at first the latter might be an Orange-crowned warbler, but they breed in the far north, and migration season for them is weeks away yet. It was plain except for pale markings around the eyes, so it was either a female or a juvenile. I heard a Prairie warbler singing in the now-off-limits section of that trail back in May, so it's possible a pair may have bred in this area. We also saw some Indigo buntings and a Great crested flycatcher.
July 29, 2005 [LINK]
Braves sweep Nationals
In each of the five previous series, against the Mets, Phillies, Brewers, Rockies, and Astros, the Nationals have won exactly one game. In this week's series against the Braves, however, they failed to win any. This marked the first time the Nats have been swept since the May 23-25 series with Cincinnati. All of a sudden they are three games back, with the Phillies hot on their tails for the number two spot. Well, let's look on the bright side: the Nats lost each of the three games by only one run, and they increased their score in each game. On a serious note, I do have to give the Nats players credit for hanging in there and playing hard, even though that magic-charm teamwork that propelled them to the top in May seems to have vanished for the moment. Over the course of a season, things do tend to even out, and they couldn't expect to maintain such a high percentage of one-run wins for ever. With one notable exception (!), all of the Nats position players are showing flashes of brilliance, but just not often enough. I think as long as Livan Hernandez, Esteban Loaiza, and Chad Cordero can maintain that rock-hard determination to do their best no matter what, the rest of the team will eventually bounce back and get in the groove again. If the past is prologue, it will be hard to beat the Braves in the divisional race, but it may not be so hard to reach the postseason via the wild card route, and maybe even get to the World Series.
Comcast suit dismissed
For the fourth time this season today, TBS broadcast a game between the Braves and the Nationals, and for the fourth time, it was blacked out in our area, even though none of the games are shown on the stations carried by Adelphia. Booo! Well, I suppose I didn't miss much in today's game. A Circuit Court judge from Montgomery County, Maryland threw out the lawsuit filed by Comcast against Major League Baseball and the Orioles-controlled Mid-America Sports Network; see Washington Post. I really don't care who wins, as long as the issue is resolved and the games are made available to the general public on a reasonable basis.
July 30, 2005 [LINK]
Forbes Field: my favorite
The Forbes Field page (sponsored by Mark London) has been revised with a "dynamic diagram," showing four distinct phases. From a close examination of numerous photographs, in print and online, I have concluded that the universally accepted original left field dimension at Forbes Field (360 feet) is wrong. In at least three photographs from the early years, one can see that the left field foul pole is at the front edge of the bleacher section, at least 20 feet from the end. I estimate that the actual left field distance in 1909 was about 325 feet. As it happens, there is a historical preservation campaign in Pittsburgh to restore the remaining portion of the brick wall that used to mark the edge of center field in Forbes Field. See post-gazette.com.
Being full of eager optimism in the inaugural season of the new team of my former home city, I said the Nationals had hit rock bottom on July 23. Hah! Since then they have lost six straight games, and are struggling just to hold on to second place. After four consecutive one-run margins of defeat, today's 3-0 loss almost came as a relief. John Patterson pitched very well for the most part today, but two of the Marlins' runs came on his wild pitches. On the bright side, in only two games this month have the Nationals' opponents have scored more than five runs. Unfortunately, it has been two weeks since the Nats themselves scored that many. Meanwhile, the formerly dominant Baltimore Orioles have fallen behind the Blue Jays and are now in fourth place. So much for the chances of a "Parkway Series"! Thomas Boswell draws meaning from the sour turn of events for the regions' two teams in the Washington Post. This was only the third Nats game I've seen on television so far; all the Braves-Nationals games on TBS have been blacked out.. Thank goodness FOX's television contract with MLB exempts them from the normal blackout restrictions.
As the trading deadline draws near, Lyflines wonders whether a certain Red Sox outfielder with ego and discipline issues is more trouble and expense than he's worth. (Hint: His last name starts with "R.") The last sentence will make you sit up and think, I guarantee. (via Baseball Crank)
July 30, 2005 [LINK]
Vigilance & political correctness
In Friday's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer ridicules the way U.S. officials have "stepped up" security in the wake of the London bomb attacks, making a priority of not offending anyone. He does give the U.S. more credit than Britain for clamping down on the recuitment of jihadists by Muslim fanatics:
Britain's problem, however, is not just an alienated minority but also a suicidal civic openness that permits sheiks and imams to openly preach jihad against Britain. The United States, for all of its openness, does not tolerate this kind of treason.
Nevertheless, us Yanks are far behind the Brits in terms of doing what is necessary for the sake of public security, squeamishly resisting any focus on the most likely terrorists at airports and other security-sensitive locations:
The American response to tightening up after London has been reflexive and idiotic: random bag checks in the New York subways. Random meaning that the people stopped are to be chosen numerically. One in every five or 10 or 20.
This is an obvious absurdity and everyone knows it. It recapitulates the appalling waste of effort and resources we see at airports every day when, for reasons of political correctness, 83-year-old grandmothers from Poughkeepsie are required to remove their shoes in the search for jihadists hungering for paradise.
Indeed. Finally, he counters doubts about the efficacy of profiling likely terrorists on the grounds that, as I mentioned on July 25, Al Qaeda and its ilk would simply recruit from outside the usual male Middle Eastern population:
That will require a huge new wasteful effort on their part.
The possibility that Al Qaeda may be operating on a tight resource budget and therefore may be thwarted via exhaustion is an interesting angle, one that not many people have talked about. Maybe Krauthammer is on to something...
Real health care reform
On the Friday Rush Limbaugh show (guest hosted by Walter Williams), Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) plugged his bill to make health insurance more affordable, mainly by forbidding states from mandating specific coverage. See johnshadegg.house.gov. It's not a complete solution, but it's a big, bold step in the right direction.