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October 2, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Twins & Padres division champs

The regular season ended in clearcut fashion, obviating the need for any playoff games. For the rest of the year, the bottom of the baseball blog page will include a table of scores for the 2006 postseason, which is also displayed on the historical Postseason scores page. Of course, most people are focused on the possibility of a repeat of the 2000 "Subway Series" between the Yanks and the Mets, but as noted at MLB.com, there are three other plausible repeat World Series matchups:

  • Tigers-Padres (1984)
  • Cardinals-Twins (1987)
  • Athletics-Dodgers (1988)

Now that Jeter, Matsui, and Sheffield are all healthy again, the Yankees stand an excellent chance of going to the World Series for the first time in three years. Randy Johnson probably doesn't matter, and neither does Pedro Martinez, for that matter. Both had been relatively ineffective for most of the year anyway. I'm going with the conventional wisdom that it will be another "New York, New York" series, and guessing that Bronx will beat Queens in seven games, but I wouldn't rule out a surprise or two. The Twins have built a huge wave of momentum over the past three months, and it is possible that the Tigers will rediscover whatever that magic spark they had in the first half of the season.

Mets sweep the Nationals

I managed to get into Washington on Saturday and see the Nationals get walloped by the New York Mets 13-0. At least I think it was the Nationals; I hardly recognized most of the names of the lineup. In contrast, I certainly recognized Tom Glavine, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Jose Reyes. Profound lesson of the day: a first-string postseason-bound team is likely to beat a second-string last-place team. Getting swept in a home series was not exactly the way Frank Robinson wanted to end his career as a manager.

Frank Robinson

I had the pleasure to see Hall of Famer Frank Robinson before the Saturday game with the Mets, just after it was announced that he will not be returning as manager next year. He was being interviewed for the "George Michael's Sports Machine" show. More photos are pending.

¿Dónde estaba Alfonso Soriano?

To my immense disappointment, Alfonso Soriano was not in the lineup at the Saturday game I attended, only his third absence all season long. He did not play at the other game I attended at RFK Stadium this year (July 2), either. Given that he played in 159 out of 162 games this year, the probability that a fan would not see him play in any randomly selected game would be 1.85 percent, or 54 to 1 odds. The probablity that a fan would not see him play in either of two randomly selected games would be .03 percent, or 2916 to 1 odds. Is this bad karma, or what? Odds are, I will never see Soriano in a Washington Nationals uniform. Even though Frank Robinson shifted him to bat third last week in hopes of boosting his RBI total into the three-digit range, Soriano went hitless in the last six games he played for the Nationals. For the month of September, he only hit three home runs and had a batting average of .204, dropping his cumulative batting average to .277 -- not exactly the best way to gain negotiating leverage as a free agent.

Buck O'Neil is ailing

Famed Negro League player Buck O'Neil, age 94, has been hospitalized and has lost his voice. See yahoo.com. (Hat tip to Bruce Orser.)


October 2, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Election in Brazil: Round One

Brazil flag Brazil held presidential elections on Sunday, and President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva fell just short of an outright majority, necessitating a second-round election which will be held on October 29. "Lula" has been widely praised for the prudent way he has pursued his leftist agenda, which has helped a number of poor families, but his Workers' Party has been tarnished by a series of corruption scandals. Last week several of his campaign workers were accused of paying $800,000 for information the main opposing candidate, Geraldo Alckmin. Ironically, widespread cynicism about corruption in Brazil may shield Lula from the consequences. It was surprising nonetheless that Alckmin -- of the conservative Social Democrat Party -- received as much as 42 percent of the votes cast, because he was a relative unknown outside of the state of Sao Paulo, where he previously served as governor. See Washington Post and CNN.com. Since Lula came very close to the 50 percent threshhold in the first round, it seems almost certain that he will prevail in the second round. At least this will provide a greater opportunity for the conservative opposition to voice their opinions and force Lula to state more clearly what he intends to do in his (presumed) second term. Brazil's financial system has been weakened by heavy government spending, and economic experts warn that fiscal reforms are urgent.

This election has strong implications for the rest of Latin America, where leftist parties are being pulled in opposite directions: the moderate, pragmatic course of da Silva in Brazil and Bachelet in Chile, versus the radical, utopian course of Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia. Failure by moderate leftists in Brazil might bode well for the extreme leftists in other countries.


October 2, 2006 [LINK / comment]

More sleaze in Washington

In an obvious attempt to influence the upcoming elections in favor of the Democrats, two new scandals were uncorked this weekend. First, vague "news reports" disclosed that Rep. Mark Foley carried on some kind of disgusting relationship with a House page. Unlike Barney Frank, Ted Kennedy, or any number of ethically challenged Democrats, Foley at least had the sense to resign immediately for the good of his party. Speaker Dennis Hastert objected to the release of the unwholesome e-mail messages, but some conservatives think he is on shaky ethical ground himself. For example, Ed Morrissey claims that Hastert was told about Foley almost a year ago, and is part of the coverup. (via nationaljournal.com, via Instapundit) This mess only adds to the impression that Republican leaders loathe to do anything that might loosen their grip on power.

The other bombshell exposé came from Bob Woodward, who appeared on the Today show to plug his new book, State of Denial, about Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld's refusal to face up to the ugly situation in Iraq, and their stubborn resistance to suggestions from military commanders. (See Washington Post.) These criticisms are hardly news, and I have more than once opined that Bush has a lot to answer for being so isolated from friendly expert advice, but Woodward insists that his book brings fresh new evidence to light, from his interviews. Maybe. He frankly admitted that his publishers wanted the book to come out before the election -- for business reasons, of course. In response, White House spokesman Tony Snow did a creditable job rebutting the main charges, wisely acknowledging that the book no doubt contains much true information. I hope Bush appreciates what a huge asset Snow is at this difficult moment.

Unprincipled Dems?

Perhaps I am too complacent, but I still don't think the Democrats have made a convincing case to the public that they are any better equipped to lead the country than the Republicans. Besides, gas prices are still dropping, at an opportune moment for the GOP incumbents. In today's Washington Post, Sebastian Mallaby, who seems to represent the left-of-center Washington establishment, finds nothing to get excited about from the Democrats: "They clearly want power, but they have no principles to guide their use of it." I take exception, however, to the issue that has Mallaby riled up: Many Democrats went along with the majority and voted to build a 700 mile fence along the Mexican border. I have reservations about going to such extreme lengths with such a fence, but the fact is that our border is a joke, and something must be done about it. That is not a racist position. We don't need such a fence on our border with Canada because it is not being violated nearly as much. We are fortunate that many Democrats have enough sense to realize that serious action is necessary.


October 3, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Nationals: Year in review

Finishing in last place once again forces us to do some Sober Reflecting, while squinting to find some kind of "silver lining" around those dark clouds of agonizing defeat. The electrifying April 2005 debut series in Washington whereby the Nationals swept the Diamondbacks got the newly relocated team off to a fine start. In contrast, in this year's opening series at RFK Stadium the Nationals were swept by the Mets! Home field advantage counted for hardly anything early in the season, as the Nats lost nine of their first ten home games. For most of the first six weeks there were hovering around .333, usually in fourth place in the NL East. They turned things around with a win against the Orioles at home on May 20, beginning a three-week hot stretch that brought them to within four games of .500 -- the closest they ever came this year. Then the Colorado Rockies swept them at RFK Stadium in mid-June, the start of another cold streak lasting through mid-July. Consecutive sweeps at home against the Cubs and Giants later that month were probably the high point of the year, but they could never hold the momentum. They managed a winning record in September, salvaging some dignity, but the loss of the final three games to the Mets -- like the sweep in April -- provided a fitting end to a very disappointing season. So, what were the Most Memorable Moments of the year? I would say:

  • Apr. 21: Three home runs by Alfonso Soriano helped beat the Braves, 7-3.
  • May 13: Braves win 8-5 on grand slam by Jeff Francouer in bottom of the 9th.
  • June 17: Nats erase 7-run deficit and beat Yanks at home, 11-9.
  • June 18: Nats beat Yanks 3-2 on Ryan Zimmerman's 2-run homer in bottom of the 9th.
  • July 6: Marlins beat Nats in D.C., 18-9. Ugh...
  • Aug. 15: Pedro Astacio pitches complete 2-hit game, no walks; Nats 5, Braves 0.
  • Sept. 27: Phillies win 8-7 in 14 innings after Nats score a run in 9th, 10th & 14th.
  • Oct. 1: Frank Robinson bids an emotional farewell to appreciative fans at RFK.

Some of those moments we wish we could forget. The following summary table can be compared to the table I compiled last year.

Washington Nationals: 2006 summary
Month Wins Losses NL East place
(at end)
Number of
home games
Total
attendance
Average
attendance
April 8 17 4 8 202,430 25,304
May 14 15 4 15 390,393 26,026
June 11 16 5 12 357,775 29,815
July 14 11 5 15 412,751 27,517
August 9 18 5 13 352,350 27,104
Sept. - Oct. 15 14 5 18 436,829 24,268
TOTAL 71 91 5 81 2,152,528 26,574

SOURCE: My unofficial daily tabulations from MLB Gameday stats and Washington Post.

One of the striking differences between the Nationals' first year and their second is in the pitching-versus-batting tradeoff. Injuries to Pedro Astacio (before the season even started) and John Patterson in midseason exposed a crippling vulnerability in the bullpen. Jon Rauch performed well, but the rest of the "motley crew" was seldom up to the task, so that Chad Cordero had far fewer save opportunities than in 2005. The sharply reduced win-loss record (from 81-81 to 71-91) was matched by a corresponding drop in average attendance, from 33,584 to 26,574 per game.

Nats need new stadium ASAP

As the above figures suggest, the mediocre performance by the Nationals this year puts at risk their fan support from the Washington area. As the Washington Post notes, this raises the pressure on the stadium builders to finish the construction pronto. I just hope the Lerners are wise enough to realize that baseball is not a circus, and that all the fancy accommodations in the world will not make up for a losing team on the field.

The 2006 playoffs begin

Visiting teams won both games this afternoon, reminding us that playing at one's home field has not been particularly advantageous in postseason games of the past few years. (Hence the World Series wins by wild card teams in 2002-2004.) The Twins' loss in the noisy Metrodome was surprising, especially with Johan Santana pitching. In the Bronx, Derek Jeter practically won the game all by himself, hitting two singles, two doubles, and a home run. He also started a crucial double play that stifled what could have been a rally by the Tigers.


October 3, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Military conference in Nicaragua

Defense ministers from most major countries in the Western Hemisphere are meeting in Managua, Nicaragua this week. Donald Rumsfield, under fire back home once again after the release of Bob Woodward's new book, represented the United States. Rumsfield said he was satisfied with the cooperation of Nicaragua's army and police forces in the fight against narcotics trafficking. He expressed concern about possible interference in Nicaragua by Hugo Chavez, but he avoided making any comment about the upcoming elections. The Sandinista candidate, Daniel Ortega, was the nemesis of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. See laprensa.com. Rumsfield's expression of support is important because Nicaragua has experienced political turbulence and massive corruption in recent years, and its fate hangs in the balance in elections to be held next month. There remains the touchy question of what to do with 1,000+ Soviet-built SAM-7 missiles, however. When the Bolivian government turned over such weapons to the United States last year, a major political crisis broke out.

The Nicaragua page has been completed, at last. Also, the Latin America intro page has been updated with a fuller (but still sparse) list of Latin American rock and salsa musicians, with Web links.

More clashes in Oaxaca

The political turmoil continues in the Mexican city of Oaxaca, as protesters have used explosive devices against local banks. A group calling itself the "Armed Revolutionary Organization for the People of Oaxaca" claimed responsibility. See CNN.com. If Gov. Ulises Ruiz does not resign soon, or make some equivalent gesture of accommodation, it is hard to see how the situation can improve.

Brazil airliner crash

Recovery workers have found the black box in the Brazilian airliner that crashed in the Amazon jungle on Saturday, killing all 155 people aboard. It collided with a smaller jet that somehow escaped with only minor damage and managed to land. The blame for the accident has yet to be ascertained. See CNN.com.


October 3, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Fall birds at Bell's Lane

There was an e-mail alert about a rare Eared grebe at the Bell's Lane Bell's Lane yesterday, but it was already gone by the time I got there this afternoon. I did see two birds for the first time this season, however.

  • Ruddy ducks (2 M - FOS)
  • Pied-bill grebe (FOS)
  • Great blue heron
  • Chimney swifts
  • Tree swallows
  • Wood duck (M)
  • Phoebe

On Monday I took a drive along Sanger's Lane a couple miles east of town, and saw:

  • Bluebirds
  • Brown thrasher
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Flickers (2)
  • Cedar waxwings (10+)
  • Field sparrow
  • Phoebes (2)
  • Killdeer
  • Common yellowthroat (F)

On Sunday my niece Cathy and I did a short walk along the Occoquan Reservoir south of the charming village of Clifton, and had some pleasant surprises:

  • Black-throated green warbler
  • Great egret
  • Great blue heron
  • Common yellowthroat (JM)
  • Pine warbler

October 4, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Me & Julio down by the ballpark

Until last Saturday, no major league player who had passed his 48th birthday had ever hit a home run. But then, Julio Franco hit a three-run blast in the first inning at RFK Stadium, putting the Mets up, 4-0. That historic feat put a big smile on us middle-aged "forever young" guys who just don't know when to quit! It also marked the end of the Nationals' rookie pitcher Beltran Perez's string of beginner's luck. Fortunately, I had my camera ready to snap this photo:

Julio Franco HR at RFK

Click on this image to see a closeup of Julio Franco hitting a three-run homer.


Twins blow home field advantage

Oakland just defeated Minnesota 5-2 in the Metrodome, which has had a reputation for being a big advantage for the home team because of the indoor noise generation effect. Suddenly those scrappy underpaid underdogs from Up North have stalled, after a remarkable second half comeback. Too bad. So now Oakland is poised to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs for the first time since the three-division format began in 1994 (1995). Somewhat like the Braves, they have earned playoff berths several times in recent years (four), but then choked.

I should take this opportunity to repeat one of my suggestions for a reformatted playoff schedule: In the first round, the first three games should be played at the higher-seeded team's ballpark, i.e., a 3-2 schedule rather than a 2-2-1 schedule. Not fair to the fans in the lower-seeded team's city? Tough. That's why you're supposed to win!

Mike Mussina (15-7) will face Justin Verlander (17-9) in tonight's game at Yankee Stadium. I just hope "Moose" pitches better than he did when I saw him pitch in Baltimore two months ago! Apparently, Randy Johnson's (17-11) sore back is well enough to pitch, and is expected to start in the Friday game in Detroit. He will face Kenny Rogers, who has the Tigers' best win-loss record (17-8). See MLB.com.

Nats release pitchers

The Nationals released pitchers Pedro Astacio, Zach Day, Ryan Drese, Brian Lawrence, Joey Eischen and Felix Rodriguez. See MLB.com. I thought Astacio's strong peformance on August 15 might have merited a second chance, but I fail to see how getting rid of someone as reliable and hard-working as Joey Eischen can be justified. Having been a big part of the Nats' remarkable surge in June 2005 (until he broke his arm), he deserves a lot of credit and appreciation from the team.

Ebbets Field: revised at last!

Ebbets Field After countless hours of scrutinizing various data sources and archival photographs, I have updated the Ebbets Field page with new ("dynamic") diagrams. That page is sponsored by Steven Kindborg, who runs KeyMan Collectibles. Just a friendly reminder: Sponsored stadium pages always get priority in my revisions, so if there is one of the remaining stadiums that you'd like to see redone, now is your chance: become a sponsor today! I may add a football version diagram later on, since Ebbets Field was used by the AFPA Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1930s and 1940s. Believe it ... or not! Thanks as always to Bruce Orser for research assistance. Also, friendly salutations to John Pastier, author of Historic Ballparks, who related to me some of his own memories of Ebbets Field.

The mail bag

Thanks to Michael Fronda for calling to my attention a small mistake on the 1976 version of the Yankee Stadium diagram, which has been corrected. I had indicated the distance to short left center field to be 379 feet, whereas it was actually 387 feet until the fence was brought in in 1985. NOTE: Please send such corrections to me via e-mail, rather than posting them on the Guestbook or Stadium impressions pages.


October 4, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Done molting, back to mating

Princess and George have pretty much finished their three-month period of molting, during which they were rather irritable and subdued, i.e., "not in the mood." Even as the birds outside prepare for winter, the birds inside are preparing for yet another round of mating rituals. Princess has resumed chirping and flapping her wings in the window -- "flirting" with the wild birds -- and refurbishing her nest with fresh bits of cotton. Meanwhile, George is acting more aggressively toward Princess, and is practicing to sing once again. He's still a bit rusty, but he'll no doubt be back in top form within a couple weeks or so.


October 4, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Faith, politics, and the GOP

Former Missouri GOP Sen. John Danforth, an ordained Episcopal minister, is touring the country promoting his new book, Faith and Politics: How the Moral Values Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together. He basically wants the Republican Party to adopt a more serious approach to solving problems, moving toward the center, rather than catering to the religious right. I am leery of making too many concessions to moderates, who are often blissfully ignorant of impending threats, but I do agree on the need to reestablish a strong center in American politics. Based on a Washington Post background story, I gave two thumbs up to Danforth's efforts on Feb. 2 (2nd item, scroll down). Danforth rejects the notion that he is calling for a "squishy," watered-down version of Christianity that demands nothing of its members. As quoted by the Christian Science Monitor:

I think [Christianity] is basically reconciling. I don't think there is anything squishy about following the admonition of St. Paul to be ministers of reconciliation. ... I don't think there is anything squishy about believing in a God who is bigger than our political agendas and who is the judge of our political agendas.... What is weak is the notion that our faith is the servant of our politics.

As an earnest practitioner of a conciliatory (but unapologetic) approach to politics, that sounds exactly on target to me, and I have no doubt that our party's virtual Founding Father, Abraham Lincoln, would heartily concur. Anyone who would doubt me on this should read Essays on Lincoln's Faith and Politics, by Hans Morgenthau and David Hein (University Press of America, 1983). Nevertheless, Bobby Eberle, who runs gopusa.com, is upset with the former senator for presuming to try "to save GOP from itself." Eberle retorts, "The GOP does not need to be saved from its conservative base. What it needs to be saved from is its leadership which has driven the base to apathy." I think he misses the point. To me, the problem is not trying to get one faction or the other to prevail, but rather trying to get the two factions to see how their respective agendas are best served by constructive collaboration. That is why I think it is imperative to broaden the party's base, which means including fresh, creative voices of conservative thought such as Rod Dreher (see Sept. 6). "You may say I'm a dreamer ... but I'm not the only one."

More generally, this highlights the basic problem the Republicans have in failing to reach out to moderate voters. Year after year, Republicans are losing key elections in states like Virginia where they have a natural advantage. Why? To me, it's pretty obvious that the focus on maximizing turnout among the hard-core conservative base is backfiring badly. So why are party leaders oblivious to this clear pattern of repeated failure?

Speaking of the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages in Virginia, which Danforth opposes, I wonder if anyone has responded to the Mark Foley scandal by calling for a constitutional amendment against having sex with pages or interns?

George Allen starts to rebound

It looks like Sen. Allen has weathered the storm that followed his infamous "macaca" gaffe in mid-August. After another small stumble last week, he is now back on message, talking about issues. Today he made a brief, impromptu appearance at nearby Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport; see newsleader.com. On Monday evening, he made a two-minute televised address that was carried by most commercial TV stations around the Commonwealth, and was later shown on C-SPAN. You can see the whole video at Chad Dotson's Commonwealth Conservative blog. I was particularly pleased that Allen issued a sincere mea culpa: "Some of this I brought on myself." Well, that's what I said. Now, back to our regularly scheduled campaign...

For his part, James Webb made sure to alienate an even bigger portion of the Virginia electorate by appearing with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at a campaign fundraising event in Alexandria. See Washington Post. Of course, Mrs. Clinton has a strong, consistent record in making excuses for men who disparage and take advantage of women...


October 5, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Baserunning blooper at Shea

I couldn't believe the replays of Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew getting tagged out at home in the same play in the second inning last night. It ended a certain rally by the Dodgers, probably deciding the game in the Mets' favor. The 6-5 score was closer than I would have expected, and I wonder if the Mets were shaken up by it. MLB.com compares this major league gaffe to the time when two Yankees were thrown out at home in 1985. It is also reminiscent of the time in 1926 when three Dodger base runners got caught on third base simultaneously. Lawrence Ritter tells that tale in Lost Ballparks.

It rained later in the evening in New York, so the Yankees-Tigers game was postponed until this afternoon. In the fourth inning, the Tigers are ahead, 1-0.

Cost overruns for parking

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams now says the city needs an additional $75 million to pay for additional parking facilities, on top of the $611 million that the city council voted on earlier this year. Now, hold on a minute! His spokesman cited the "need to maximize the economic benefits of the stadium," but the developmental spinoff effects were supposed to come from private investment. See Washington Post.


October 5, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Will Nicaragua build a canal?

At the turn of the last century, a serious alernative route to a canal through Panama was along the San Juan river, which forms the southern border of Nicaragua. It would pass through Lake Nicaragua, and then traverse a mountain range before reaching the Pacific coast. That country's President Enrique Bolanños is urging Nicaraguan voters to approve a referendum to seek funding for building such a canal. It would have a wider channel to permit larger ships to pass from the Pacific to the Caribbean, no doubt taking much traffic away from Panama. It would cost $18 billion and take 12 years to finish -- which are only rough estimates, of course. See BBC. It's very ambitious, especially for a country with a shaky political-economic foundation, but it's the sort of prestige-oriented task that could promote national unity. It may be that such plans were the underlying reason for the border tensions between Nicaragua and Costa Rica late last year.


October 5, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Illegal immigration crackdown

At a symbolic ceremony in Scottsdale, Arizona today, President Bush signed into law a bill which includes $1.2 billion in funding as the first step toward building a 700-mile long fence along the Mexican border. (That doesn't even cover half the total distance, as Jay Leno observed.) Some details have yet to be worked out, however. See Washington Times. It is sad that such a measure was necessary, but it is probably the only way to get the attention of Mexico, where the prevailing attitude is one of haughty dismissal and/or resentment toward the U.S.A.

It will take a lot more than spending Federal money to repair the breach in our southern frontier, however. In Foreign Policy, Peter Skerry writes "How not to build a fence." He notes that the existing fence is a hodgepodge of different sizes and materials, designed for different purposes. He notes, correctly, that the inconsistent approach to policing the border with Mexico reflects the deep ambivalence most Americans have about immigration. This points to the broader dilemma of how to pursue reform of public policies in both Mexico and United States so that human migration is no longer promoted.

Meanwhile, the Herndon, Virginia Police Department is getting involved with enforcing immigration laws under a special program with the Immigration and Custom Enforcement Agency. This policy change was in reaction to last year's unpopular vote by the city council to pay for a day-labor center. The incumbents lost their reelection bids, and the new city council has adopted a stricter stance toward illegal workers. Many of the illegal immigrants are now afraid of the police, and are looking for work in other parts of Northern Virginia. See Washington Post.

It just so happens that, while driving through Annandale on Saturday morning, I saw for myself for the first time a large contingent of immigrant day laborers standing along Little River Turnpike. There were probably 50 or more of them within a three-block span. A police car with its lights flashing was stopped near some of them, but I don't know what that was about.

Fighting smut on TV

Do you ever get the helpless feeling that nothing can be done to reverse the hideous "slouch toward Gomorrah" that is gradually spreading from MTV to the major TV networks? Well, you can start here: the American Family Association compiles complaints about objectionable broadcast TV material. (via Stacey Morris).


October 5, 2006 [LINK / comment]

More fall birds behind SARS

In anticipation of the rainy weather that has now arrived, I took a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning, and found several interesting birds, including the first Swainson's thrush of the year for me. (This is the first year since I began keeping records ten years ago that I have not seen any Wood thrushes.) Today's highlights:

  • Magnolia warblers
  • Swainson's thrush (FOY)
  • Ruby-crowned kinglets
  • Tree swallows
  • Downy woodpeckers
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Black-throated green warbler
  • Phoebe
  • Red-eyed vireo
  • Cape May warbler (F/J) -- back yard

Yesterday I saw a Yellow-bellied sapsucker (JF) in our back yard, the first one this season. For the last five years, the arrival date of that species for me has been amazingly consistent. Downy woodpeckers and Goldfinches continue to show up regularly, as well.


October 6, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Mets, Cards take first two

In the game against the Dodgers last night, Tom Glavine was every bit as dominating on the mound as when I saw him in D.C. on Saturday,* and the Mets won 4-1. They now head to Los Angeles with the confidence of presumptive pennant winners. Like the Twins, the Padres blew their home field advantage. In what may be his last game as a major league pitcher, David Wells gave up just two runs over five innings, but the Padres were shut out by Jeff Weaver and the Cardinals relievers. The Cards thus stand an excellent chance of "baptizing" their new home with a playoff series victory. It's a bit odd that two of the NL teams to make it to the postseason are from the Western Division, which was so mediocre last year.

* I took a photo of Glavine from only 15 feet away as he emerged from the bullpen just before the game began, but he was looking down and the cap covered his face.

Tigers survive in the Bronx

After game one, it looked like the formerly-spectacular team from Detroit was going to go quietly into the night. Not! Between the steady, effective pitching of Justin Verlander (age 23) and the awesome 100+ MPH fastballs of reliever Joel Zumaya (age 21), the cream of the Bronx Bombers lineup was held at bay. The only runs came from Johnny Damon's homer into the right field upper deck, as the Yanks lost, 4-3. Tonight Randy Johnson (age 43) faces Kenny Rogers (age 41); "The Unit" will have to be in his old top form and shrug off any aches and pains if the Yankees are to beat the Tigers in their first-ever postseason game at Comerica Park.

Some TV announcer mentioned that this Yankee team may be the first ever in which the entire lineup has played in the All Star game. There is a downside to acquiring all that top-notch talent, however: Only two of the Yankee regulars have played in more than two World Series as a Yankee; three if you include reserve outfielder Bernie Williams, who joined the Yankees in 1991.

The New York Yankees: An All-Star Lineup
PositionPlayerFormer teamYankee sinceWorld Series as Yankee
Pitcher 1Mike MussinaOrioles20012
Pitcher 2Chien-Ming Wang!20050
Pitcher 3Randy JohnsonDiamondbacks20050
CatcherJorge Posada!19956
First baseGary SheffieldBraves20040
Second baseRobinson Cano!20050
ShortstopDerek Jeter!19956
Third baseAlex RodriguezRangers20050
Left fieldHideki MatsuiNomiuri Giants20031
Center fieldJohnny DamonRed Sox20060
Right fieldBobby AbreuPhillies20060
Designated hitterJason GiambiAthletics20031

As folks in Oakland, Phoenix, and Boston are no doubt aware, three of those players have postseason experience playing against the Yankees! It is nice, nonetheless, that two of those newer guys are are "home-grown," more like the team was in the late 1990s.

Nats seeking new manager

The Washington Nationals have begun contacting potential candidates for the vacant managerial position, and Braves' coach Terry Pendleton is at or near the top of the list. He played for the Braves and Reds, among other teams during the 1980s and 1990s. Other possibilities: Lou Piniella (ex-Devil Rays, Yankees, etc.), Joe Girardi (ex-Marlins), and Dusty Baker (ex-Cubs, Giants). Preliminary talks with Alfonso Soriano are underway as well. See Washington Post.


October 6, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Deadly miners strike in Bolivia

At least 11 miners died in a clash between rival unions over control of a tin mine southeast of Oruru, in the central highlands. Some of them were throwing sticks of dynamite. One group consists of an independent cooperative, and the other is the union recognized by the state-owned mining company, COMIBOL. The cooperative miners apparently instigated the attack, trying to forcibly gain access to richer tin deposits. They were strong supporters of President Evo Morales in his campaign for president last year, and seem to think they are entitled to government support for their mining claims. About 700 policemen were sent to quell the violence. See CNN.com. This sort of incident may be symptomatic of the radical populist style of politics Morales has pursued, encouraging poor people to grab what they can, regardless of the law. The worst fears of Morales's opponents may be coming true.


October 6, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Warner reports on Iraq situation

Sen. John Warner has just returned from a tour to Iraq, and issued a very sober report on the deteriorating security situation. He fears the U.S. forces may be losing control of Baghdad outside the Green Zone as the sectarian violence worsens. He wisely avoids getting into the debate about whether it is a "civil war" or not, since that is a vague term, and the violence has escalated gradually for the past two years. It's more like a clan feud, only on a massive scale. Indeed, U.S. forces were forced to reassume control over large parts of the city after Iraqi police and soldiers proved to be unable to carry out their duties in a fair and efficient manner. In the press conference shown on C-SPAN, Warner complained that the militia forces (mostly Shiite) are operating as death squads, taking people out to garbage dumps to be tortured and/or murdered. As quoted by the Washington Post, he observed:

You do not see them [Iraqi government leaders] taking the levers of sovereignty and pulling and pushing them and doing what is necessary to bring about a situation in Iraq whereby the people are able to live, have sufficient food and fresh water, and have a sense of confidence in their government that they're going forward.

Indeed, as I have often argued, we can't win this war on our own. "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink it." It's the Iraqis' own ball game now. Warner said he didn't think sending more U.S. troops at this point would do any good, and he hinted strongly that we would have to make a fundamental reevaluaton of our strategy in the next two or three months. In other words, either the Iraqis pick up the slack as our forces begin to depart, or the chaos will get worse. Our forces have done about all they can, and if the Iraqi government does not assert full control and disband militia forces very soon, it would be safe to say that our mission will be over -- and not successfully. Warner said he regrets not having scrutinized the preparations for war more thoroughly, another expression of reduced confidence in the Bush administration. Sen. Warner is renowned as one of the most experienced, knowledgeable, and sensible congressional leaders in matters of national security, and his opinion carries a lot of weight. The White House should be worried -- very worried.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice also made a visit to Iraq this week, but it was not announced in advance. She met with Prime Minister Maliki, trying to convey the urgency of achieving governmental unity and political order.


October 7, 2006 [LINK / comment]

A's advance to next round

For the first time since 1990, the Oakland Athletics have won a playoff series. Oddly, the Twins outhit the A's in the third and deciding game, 12-8, but Oakland still won by a five-run margin, 8-3. Josh Suchon (via David Pinto) recalls the bizarre ways the A's have blown their nine previous opportunities to clinch postseason series. Meanwhile, there is no joy in Twinville.

Tigers prevail; Yankees go home

I guess I'm as stunned as anyone else that the Yankees choked against Detroit after entering the postseason with so much confidence. Damon and Rodriguez both went hitless in the last two games, and A-Rod was actually batting eighth! Well, at least he wasn't getting booed while playing on the road... Sheffield was not performing much either. No doubt there will be some Major Changes in the Yankee roster during the off-season, and A-Rod is understood to be willing to waive the no-trade clause in his contract. There's no question that the Tigers deserved to win, the way they were playing, so congratulations as they advance to the ALCS for the first time since 1987.

Tiger Stadium lives another day

Because of engineering questions, cost, and other factors, Detroit officials have postponed the planned demolition of Tiger Stadium, so it will remain standing for the next few months at least. See detnews.com (via Maury Brown of SABR)

Buck O'Neil passes away

The famed Negro League player, who missed getting voted into the Hall of Fame by just one ballot earlier this year, died in a hospital bed at the age of 94. See MLB.com. As I noted on the Ken Burns Baseball page, he was an extraordinarily charming and decent fellow who added a lot to that historical documentary series.


October 8, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Padres stay[ed] alive in St. Louis

In the first postseason game ever played at the third incarnation of Busch Stadium, the Cardinals lost. The Padres have only scored four runs in the first three games, but three of them were yesterday, and with Chris Young's pitching, that was enough for a win. It would be interesting to see Mike Piazza play against his former team in New York. He is like Nomar Garciaparra and Frank Thomas, who left their teams just before they went to the World Series.

In the fourth inning of tonight's game, it's 2-2, the first game in this series where both teams have scored more than one run.

UPDATE: San Diego won, 23-13! No wait, that was the Chargers beating the Steelers in Sunday Night Football. The San Diego baseball team lost 6-2, and were thus eliminated, thanks to a four-run rally by the Cardinals in the sixth inning. The Cards will play in Shea Stadium on Wednesday, their third consecutive NLCS appearance.

Mets sweep Dodgers

The way the have dominated the National League all year, it was no surprise that the Mets swept the Dodgers in three games. The Dodgers played well, but were simply outclassed. Even without Pedro Martinez or Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, they make it look easy. That kind of depth in a team is pretty scary.

I was impressed by how well two former Nationals played in this series: Marlon Anderson was traded to the Dodgers just over a month ago, and hit seven homers in September, more than he had hit in the previous five months altogether. Endy Chavez was traded to Philadelphia in May 2005 after some disappointing performances, and he didn't do very well there either. This year, in contrast, he has done very well offensively and defensively playing for the Mets. There must be a lesson in there somewhere. I hope Jim Bowden is thinking about it.

Will Joe Torre leave the Yanks?

After the New York Daily News reported that Joe Torre may be replaced as manager by Lou Piniella, several Yankee coaches and players came to his defense. Given all the injuries the team suffered this year, making such a big comeback late in the season was a major accomplishment. See MLB.com. Torre has a low-key style, making you wonder if he has the "fire in the belly" needed to win, but it's hard to pin the frustrations of the past few years on his shoulders. He has had eleven mostly wonderful years in The Bronx, and perhaps he has several more years ahead of him. If you look at the turbulent history of managers under George Steinbrenner, it has been a remarkable tenure. Traditionally, the Yankees had managers who lasted well over a decade: Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, and Casey Stengel. Ralph Houk would almost fit into that category. For most of the Steinbrenner Era, in contrast -- from 1973 until 1995 -- only five times did the same guy manage for the Yankees two complete years in a row. Maybe they ought to replace the owner!


October 8, 2006 [LINK / comment]

North Korea goes nuclear

North Korean announced it conducted an underground nuclear test a short while ago, declaring that this will enhance stability in the region. They blamed the U.S. government for making threats against it. The story ran over the AP news wires at 10:54 PM EDT (see Washington Post), and was just reported on the BBC World News. No details are available yet, and confirmation is pending, but it isn't a big surprise. North Korea's economy is crumbling, and the only way it can survive in the short term is by extorting more foreign aid from the Western world. China and Japan had issued sharp warnings to North Korea not to go ahead with the test, and the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton made it clear that there would be very serious repercussions. Now we'll find out what that means...


October 9, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Mexico deplores 700-mile fence

After expressing doubts that it would even be built, Mexican officials are now expressing outrage at the "inhumane" fence that will (presumably*) be built along the U.S.-Mexico border. As reported by CNN.com, "Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez called it an 'offense' and said Wednesday his office was considering taking the issue to the United Nations." Huh? Here's a thought: If the Mexican people put half as much effort into improving their own country as they do trying to sneak into ours, their economic growth rate would double!

* Various loopholes attached to the appropriations bill signed by President Bush raise questions about whether the fence will be built as advertised.

Solution: 700-mile ladder?

That's what "Juan Ajob" reports is underway, in response to the U.S. fence construction project. Read it for yourself at gunsnbutter.com.

On a more serious note, I hope that the Mexican government at least starts to take this issue seriously and enacts needed reforms on its side of the border, so that the fence won't have to be built.


October 9, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Flush with thrushes

The deluge finally ended yesterday, and today turned sunny at last, after the fog burned off. I walked over to the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, which was quite soggy, and saw an interesting mixture of summer and winter birds, including quite a few thrushes that were devouring berries. I also heard and then saw the first White-throated sparrows of the season. Today's list:

  • Ovenbird
  • Swainson's thrushes (6+)
  • Gray-cheeked thrush
  • Red-eyed vireos
  • White-throated sparrows (FOS)
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Goldfinches
  • Phoebe
  • Ruby-crowned kinglet
  • Indigo bunting (JM)
  • Plus many Blue jays, Catbirds, etc.

At the Augusta Bird Club meeting this evening, one of the staff members of the Wildlife Center of Virginia showed a Barred owl, an American kestrel, and a Broad-winged hawk. They are unable to return to the wild and therefore used for educational purposes. It was quite a thrill to see them up close. They seem smaller than you might guess.

I have nearly completed the Birding Locations page, which makes it easy to find directions to almost any of the major bird-watching destinations in this area. It will be transferred to the Augusta Bird Club Web site before long.


October 10, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Championship series begin

So, here we go with the next round of games leading up to the October Classic. Now that the Yankees have been prematurely ousted, I suppose I'm rooting for the Tigers. I've been to their new ballpark, and I'm sympathetic to teams that have bounced back from terrible years. (As a Nationals fan, I need to cling to hope for a better future, after all.) Barry Zito and Frank Thomas make for a very imposing adversary, however. "Moneyball"? Don't ask me. I'm more or less neutral on the Mets, but I figure they deserve to go to the World Series after doing so well in the regular season. "Deserve" does not mean an automatic pass, however, and they'd better not ease up.

Root, root, root for the home team

The Cardinals-Padres series was notable for being the first postseason series since 2002 (Giants-Cardinals, NLCS) in which the first three games were won by the visiting team. I have often commented on the desirability of giving higher-seeded teams more of an advantage in the postseason, such as by reformatting the first-round playoffs from a 2-2-1 to 3-2 home-road sequence. That raises the question of just how much of an advantage the home teams get. The facts for the last few years suggest that it's not that much:

  2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Wins by home team 19 18 20 16 (7)
Total games 34 38 34 30 (14)
(% home) 56% 47% 59% 53% (50%)
Wins by home team in final game 5 2 2 2 (3)
Wins by visitors in final game 2 5 5 5 (1)

(NOTE: 2006 data are for the first round playoffs only.)

Interestingly, for the last three years, in only two of the seven postseason series have the home teams won in the final game.

Washington Post looks at Lerners

Monday's Washington Post had a lengthy article on the family of Theodore Lerner, who recently purchased the Washington Nationals. It stresses the "hardball" business practices by which he built a retail development empire in the D.C. suburbs. Another big developer, "Til" Hazel, shares the skeptical eye of the Lerners toward government planners. This is all in the context of the recent disputes between the Lerners and the D.C. government over the construction of the new stadium, especially the parking facilities. There is nothing wrong with a hard-nosed "all-business" approach, but if it is not complemented by a strong commitment to the sport of baseball and to the local community, it can poison the atmosphere of good will upon which any professional sport depends.

Steinbrenner reassures Torre

George Steinbrenner has told Joe Torre that his job as manager is not at risk. However, general manager Brian Cashman's comment that "I think Joe Torre is the right man for this team next year" leaves open the possibility that he may not be the right man for the year after that. See MLB.com.


October 10, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Is Fidel on his death bed?

Raul Castro, who has been serving as provisional leader of Cuba since the end of July, denies rumors that his big brother has terminal cancer. Suspicions have been fueled by the fact that "no new photographs of the leader have been released in three weeks. He was last shown receiving private visits by world leaders during the Nonaligned Movement summit." See CNN.com

The "Fourth Pioneer Congress" of Cuban youth just ended, and the thousand or so children who attended issued a manifesto proclaiming their eternal love for the Jefe Máximo; see Granma.

As Spain's long-time dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco lay dying for months on end in 1975, Saturday Night Live made a big joke about it. (See answers.com.) Even though the two despots were ideological opposites, the parallels with Castro are quite striking...


October 10, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Allen & Webb debate again

I missed the Allen-Webb debate that was broadcast live last night, but I caught nearly all of it on C-SPAN later on. Some parts got so nasty I had to change the channel. Allen held his own, except for an awkward moment when Webb played "Geography Gotcha," in a tacky retaliation for the way Allen embarrassed him for not knowing where Craney Island was in their first debate last summer. I think Webb was referring to the Sakishima Islands, east of Taiwan. It was not a compelling argument for a challenger to make, and once again Webb blew an opportunity to show he might have more senatorial gravitas than Allen. Born fighting, or born snarling? The incumbent unfortunately took Webb's bait more than once, when he should have shown more poise. It was not one of the finer moments in the annals of American political discourse. See Washington Post.

In the Weekly Standard, Matt Continetti dissects what went wrong in the Allen campaign, concluding that the candidate himself is flawed. Allen does have an interesting personal background, at least, and a sister with quite an axe to grind... (Via David Adesnik, who opines that that "cover story provides a fitting book end to Allen's career as a GOP golden boy and White House hopeful.")

Gloom and doom for Republicans?

If you go by the mainstream media, you must think that the Republicans' political fortunes are spiralling downward as the elections approach. Rush Limbaugh started off whining that all was lost yesterday, but that's just a ironic device he uses to make a point from time to time. You can't deny, however, that the war in Iraq is getting worse. It's almost as if the insurgent factions in Iraq know that America's political will is weakest during a campaign. Meanwhile, reporters keep harping on the stupid Mark Foley scandal, which was obviously planted by Democrat operatives for maximum electoral effect. (That doesn't excuse the misdeed, however, or the failure of Hastert to deal with it promptly.) On ABC's This Week on Sunday, Rahm Emmanuel coyly refused to say whether he knew about the Foley sex messages in advance, just saying he had never seen them, which was virtually admitting he did know. Typical. A story in the Washington Post warns evangelicals may defect from the GOP because of Foley and other things. Politics is cyclical in nature, and to me it wouldn't be surprising to see a large shift in the Democrats' favor, but not necessarily enough to win back one of the houses of Congress.

To offset the GOP malaise, check out the new Guns 'n Butter Web site. It's a lot like The Onion, but with a pronounced right tilt.


October 11, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Lidle dies in N.Y. plane crash

This is one of those times when fact is stranger than fiction. Like most people, I feared the worst when I heard on the radio that a small plane had crashed into a high-rise building in Manhattan this afternoon. I was on my way to a Red Cross blood drive, and after I was done I learned that the plane belonged to Yankee pitcher Corey Lidle, and that he and his flight instructor were confirmed dead a short while later. See CNN.com. To Yankee fans, this was a chilling reminder of catcher Thurman Munson's fatal airplane accident in 1979. Today's tragedy cast a pall over New York, and it's probably a good thing that the Mets-Cards game was rained out, to give New Yorkers a chance to release the stress and compose themselves. I hope all baseball fans say a prayer for Corey Lidle's widowed wife and son.

Tigers pounce on Athletics

If Oakland couldn't win with Barry Zito pitching at home, it's hard to see how they can win this series. They wasted many run-scoring opportunities in the first game, as Nate Robertson and the Detroit relief pitchers kept their cool and held off comeback attempts by the A's in the late innings. Brandon Inge was the batting hero for the Tigers, quite an unexpected role for someone batting ninth! Tonight Justin Verlander outshone Esteban Loaiza (a former Washington National!) on the mound. None of the previous eight teams that lost the first two games at home in a league championship series went on to the World Series. Detroit is on "cruise control" and will have the advantage of extra rest, whether they face the Mets or the Cardinals. It looks like Pudge Rodriguez will get another chance to go to the World Series; he was with the world champion Marlins in 2003.

Attendance at Tuesday night's game was 35,655, which was above the nominal capacity of 34,179 but well below the full capacity of 50,000+ if they opened up the upper deck of the main grandstand and the upper deck of the center field addition built in 1996. I think it is stupid to keep those sections closed during a postseason game, artificially reducing the number of fans. The Raiders played in Oakland (McAfee) Coliseum on October 1, so the stadium crew went to some trouble to cover the upper deck seats -- but why??? I'd bet the extra crowd noise might have helped the A's win.


October 12, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Chavez vows to aid Morales

As Bolivian President Evo Morales faces growing internal pressure, Hugo Chavez has declared he will come to the aid of his ally: "Venezuela will not keep its arms crossed if the Bolivian government and people are attacked from outside or within." Opponents of Morales and his proposed new constitution have staged protests in Santa Cruz in recent weeks, and Chavez has blamed the U.S. Embassy in La Paz plotting to incite dissident action. See CNN.com.

Protest aimed at Peru oil wells

Indigenous groups have launched protests against three oil production facilities in the Peruvian Amazon region, on the grounds that they are suffering from the pollution side-effects. About 40 oil workers are trapped inside the facilities operated by Argentine-owned Pluspetrol, but the company says they are not the ones who caused the mess. As reported by BBC,

The Ministry of Health report found that the water contained high concentrations of hydrocarbons and heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic, and the Achuar people say it is destroying the fragile eco-system in which they live.

October 12, 2006 [LINK / comment]

McCain bashes Clintons

In response to Sen. Hillary Clinton's statement that the North Korean nuclear (?) test was evidence of the "failure" of Bush administration policies, Sen. John McCain reminded everyone of the hopeless accommodative policy pursued by Bill Clinton during the 1990s. As McCain said, the Clinton administration's repeated warnings to North Korea not to take certain steps were routinely ignored, and each time the bad behavior was rewarded with another round of prestige-building negotiations. It was a "carrots-and-no-sticks" policy. See Washington Post.

Clearly, this is a case of political expediency converging with national security strategy. McCain has serious shortcomings in his approach to politics (pandering to the press) and on specific issues (e.g., immigration), but his desire to curry favor with conservatives has reinforced the faltering consensus on foreign policy at a critical moment for the Republican party and for the country. The Democrats' attempts to blame the North Korean provocations on President Bush are simply outrageous; as I note separately. Unfortunately, we may never know the full truth about the Clinton administration's foreign policy misadventures, thanks to "Sandy Burglar."

Mark Warner won't run for prez

Former Virginia governor Mark Warner has decided not to enter the 2008 race for president bcause he "needs to spend more time with his family." The lamest political cliche of all time! I suppose Republicans can breathe a little easier, now that the centrist Democrats have lost one of their leading voices. See washingtonpost.com. Just think, last summer, many folks from the Commonwealth were dreaming about having two Virginians competing for the Highest Office in the next election!


October 12, 2006 [LINK / comment]

North Korea's "smaller bang" *

Since they test fired several ballistic missiles last July, North Korea has been clamoring for attention. Failing to get the United States to take any high-profile actions (covert actions are another matter), the Pyongyang regime felt it had no choice but to go ahead with the nuclear test. But was it just a dud? Virtually all estimates place the yield of the explosive device at well under a kiloton of TNT, compared to about 20 kilotons for the Hiroshima bomb. The low yield may reflect the desire by North Korea to conserve as much of their tiny stockpile of fissionable material as they can. The International Community expressed unanimous condemnation toward North Korea, of course, (see Washington Post), but that really doesn't matter. Anyone with any sense knows that North Korea is the most "evil" regime of the "Axis of Evil," and condemning its actions is beside the point.

In order to get its blackmail agenda back in operation, North Korea needs desperately to achieve one thing: Force the U.S. government to negotiate in a one-on-one setting. Such bilateral talks would greatly enhance North Korea's global prestige. In order to nullify North Korea's high-stakes gambit, the United States must avoid doing anything to justify or reward the nuclear test, which means no talks except in a multilateral format. The Bush administration should resist the demands by many Democrats and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan (how ironic!) to hold immediate bilateral talks, and continue the existing approach of wary detachment, showing no more concern or worry about Kim Jong Il's temper tantrums than is necessary. Fortunately, "staying the course" is one thing the Bush administration has excelled at. Ambassador John Bolton acknowledged that multilateral diplomacy is time-consuming and frustrating, but in this situation that is just fine. Time is on our side, whereas North Korea is desperate to get more extortion money. In the end, they may lash out with some kind of military attack or even an invasion of South Korea, but such a move would be suicidal.

So, what are the fallback options in case (!) diplomacy fails? Apparently, the White House has ruled out any military action against North Korea, so it looks like we are in for an intense period of symbolic sanctions and outraged breast-beating. Milblogger Austin Bay recommends "hermetically sealing" the "Hermit Kingdom." That's fine, but over time, any sanctions will tend to erode, just as they did with Iraq, and corrupt officials in China or Russia will find it very lucrative to look the other way.

What many people fail to appreciate is that the North Korean nuclear test has put the United States in a very favorable diplomatic position. All of a sudden, countries with whom we have had tense, often adversarial relations -- China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea -- are eager to collaborate with us in putting an end to the threat posed by North Korea. As Harold Hutchison notes at strategypage.com, the main consequence will be to reawaken the "sleeping giant" of Japan, which may decide to build its own nuclear weapons. From our perspective, that is fine. We have enough problems around the world already, and would be glad to share the burden of maintaining security in northeast Asia.

* For non-rock music fans, that's an allusion to the Rolling Stones' latest album, A Bigger Bang.


October 13, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Glavine shuts down Cardinals

As usual, Tom Glavine performed flawlessly, holding the Cardinals to zero runs and only four hits over seven innings last night. All the Mets needed was a home run by Carlos Beltran in the sixth inning; it hit the scoreboard at least 25 feet off the ground, and would have gone well over 400 feet. See MLB.com.

All the Tigers need to do is win two home games over the next three days. Without first baseman Sean Casey, however, it is not a sure thing. He suffered a spasm in his calf, tearing the muscle tissue (that's gotta hurt!), so even if he plays in the World Series, he would probably be partially immobilized. I get a cramp in my calf every once in a while, and it is hideously painful. They say lack of potassium may be a factor, so eat more bananas!

Rumors on Soriano's salary talks

Jose Rijo, who works in the Nationals' front office, allegedly told a Dominican Republic newspaper that Alfonso Soriano has turned down an offer of $70 million over five years. Chris Needham opines, "At that price, it's probably a good thing that he's likely to head elsewhere." Indeed, that's about as generous as a rebuilding team can afford to be, and if it's true, the prospects that he will remain in Washington uniform next year continue to dim... The story was also reported on WUSA-TV9 in Washington, but Rijo and other Nationals officials flatly deny it; see MLB.com. In situations such as these, it's best not to take anyone's word at face value...

One of the most enthusiastic of the Nationals bloggers, Farid Rushdi, once knew Cory Lidle, but only by his first name.

The mail bag

Mike Zurawski sends the following ballpark news items: The design of the Twins' new stadium is complicated by the need to incorporate two train stations in the structural foundation. One of the rail lines would pass underneath part of the grandstand, so extra strength is required in case of derailment. startribune.com

According to sfgate.com, the Oakland (?) Athletics are buying up property in Fremont, by an old racetrack off Interstate 880. That raises the likelihood that they will in fact move away from Oakland. Groan...

The Florida Marlins are discussing with local leaders in Pompano Beach the possibility of building a ballpark there, as part of a plan to renovate a local horse racing track. Odd-makers consider it a long-shot... See sun-sentinel


October 13, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Election eve in Ecuador

Voters in Ecuador will go to the polls on Sunday to choose a new president. The leading candidate is Rafael Correa, a left=wing populist who vows to "do away with the lying oligarchy." Not surprisingly, he is accused of having close ties to Hugo Chavez, and his rhetoric sounds like that of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico. Most observers doubt that he will get a majority of votes, however, so there will probably be a second round next month. The campaign has been boisterous and full of sharp rhetoric, indicative of the deep social tensions in Ecuador over the last decade. See BBC.

The last man to be elected president of Ecuador, retired Col. Lucio Gutierrez, was in effect forced to resign by a mass uprising led by Indian organizations in April 2005. After a period of chaos, an interim government set up a framework to return the country to a normal constitutional order. Ecuador is plagued by a very weak political party system, and the large number of parties is confusing to voters, while making it very hard to get a majority to pass legislation in Congress.


October 13, 2006 [LINK / comment]

A deluge of "October surprises"

Corruption? On Capitol Hill??? Yes, I'm afraid it's true. As the Mark Foley mess reminded us last week, one of the main weapons used in electoral politics these days is scandal-mongering. It is obviously no coincidence that most of the revelations of misdeeds by elected officials come in the weeks just before the election. It was reported this week, of all weeks, that Sen. George Allen (R-VA) failed to report stock options on a company he was promoting in his capacity as a public official; see Washington Post. Perhaps in retaliation, or perhaps not, it was learned that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) made highly quesionable profits off a real estate deal; see Washington Post. By genuine coincidence, in contrast, Rep. Robert Ney pleaded guilty today to corruption. See Washington Post. That scandal -- all of the unsavory dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- was over a year old.

Perhaps some day it will sink into certain thick skulls that there really was a good reason to prevent growth of the government bureaucracy and resist the temptation to cure social ills through Federal spending.

Speaking of which, Richard Viguerie, one of the fiercest conservative ideologues of the Reagan Era, is plugging his new book Conservatives Betrayed -- How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause at conservativehq.com. Yet another right-wing Bush-bashing book by a conservative... He recently appeared on C-SPAN. Back in the early 1980s when I was left of center, I viewed Viguerie with particular distaste, likening him to such unsavory right-wing polemicists as R. Emmet Tyrell. It is interesting to get a fresh perspective on someone who has been out of the limelight for many years.


October 14, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Tigers sweep the Athletics

Oakland jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, and added another run in the fourth, but stalled after that, while Detroit gradually clawed their way back on top. Magglio Ordoñez tied the game with a homer into the left field corner in the sixth inning, and won it with a three-run walk-off homer in the ninth. What a perfect way to win the ALCS! Without that blast, which cleared the bullpens and went into the seats, where the outfield fence used to be, it would have become the first extra-inning game in the 2006 postseason. Congratulations to the Tigers and to the city of Detroit, which richly deserves a championship. Veteran Kenny Rogers was at the top of his game last night. Late in his career, he has been given a second chance to prove himself in clutch championship situations, and he passed the test with flying colors -- first against the Yankees and then against the A's. He and Tom Glavine are the only starting pitchers to have allowed no runs in consecutive postseason games since Roger Clemens in 2000; see MLB.com. As a result, Comerica Park becomes the sixth of the fourteen neoclassical / "retro" ballparks to host a World Series.

Mets and Cardinals split

Just when the Mets thought they had the Cardinals on the ropes, they let victory slip through their fingers last night. Now, they're on the defensive, having to win at least one of the three games in St. Louis. Back home again, the Cardinals have taken back the momentum, leading 5-0 in the third inning of Game 3. This will be an appropriate occasion for me to make the touchups in the Busch Stadium III diagram, based on Jonathan Karberg's very detailed and helpful feedback.

For the fifth year in a row, a wild card team will be in the World Series. (In 2002, both teams were wild cards.) That leads us to an obvious question:

Changes in playoff format?

Bud Selig is pondering future format changes in the playoff series, such as having at least one day game for the World Series (yes!) and creating a bigger hurdle for wild card teams, presumably meaning fewer home games. See MLB.com. I strongly support both ideas, and more than once have called for having the first three games in the first round playoffs at home.

More fan impressions

Possibly motivated by his team's winning ways, Cardinal fan James Sutton has added his impressions of past visits to Wrigley Field, Tiger Stadium, and over a dozen other ballparks. You can do so too, after you have registered. Just go to the bottom of any stadium page, and click on the "share your impressions" link.


October 14, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Abimael Guzman is sentenced

For the second time, Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman has been sentenced to life in prison for waging a war of terrorism against Peru. (Because his first trial was conducted in a special anti-terrorism court in which the judges' identities were hidden, human rights organizations called the proceedings unfair.) Guzman had a belated change of heart regarding the use of violence to achieve political ends after he was captured in 1992. Nevertheless, he is not sorry for all the death, destruction, and mayhem he wrought upon Peru: "I am a revolutionary combatant and totally reject being a terrorist." Because of the civil war he launched, about 70,000 people died or "disappeared" in Peru between 1980 and 2000, though some of those people were killed by government forces. See CNN.com. When I first went to Peru in 1994, people would correct me if I used the expressions "rebels" or "guerrillas" to refer to the Shining Path; they made sure I understood that the Shining Path was a terrorist group. Indeed, that group's blood lust and utter disregard for human life put it in a category totally apart from Peru's other insurgent organization, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or even from the vicious FARC rebel movement in Colombia. Guzman used to be a philosophy professor, and adopted an extreme Maoist attitude during the 1960s. He is a very intelligent, charismatic, and ruthless leader. He should be thankful that the death penalty has been essentially abolished in Peru, because if anyone deserves to be executed, he does.


October 14, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Webb slants; Allen replies

With three weeks to go, it's starting to look like Jim Webb may be a serious candidate after all, as his TV spots are appearing more frequently. I have not been dismissing outright the possibility of his winning, mind you, but if he does win, it will be "by default," more of a vote against Allen than a vote for Webb. Fortunately, George Allen's campaign Web site has done a pretty good job rebutting the bogus allegations contained in Webb's TV ads.

In general, I would agree with Allen's criticisms of Webb for wanting to taxes, but there is a small problem. Because of the enormous fiscal deficit and the rising cost of the war in Iraq, tax hikes are something that need to be considered, unless Congress figures out how to cut spending.

Steele for Maryland

Now here's a Republican candidate for Senate that I could get excited about: Michael Steele. Not only does he come across as very intelligent and sincere in his television ads, his unapologetic independent stance are very appealing to centrist voters. In Maryland, you're not going to get elected by campaigning as an ideological conservative. Some polls say he is within striking distance of Democrat Ben Cardin, who is as dull as can be.


October 14, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Shrike, eagle, & many sparrows

I joined Allen Larner and several other members of the Augusta Bird Club this chilly morning for a field trip to Swoope and Augusta Springs, in the western foothills of the county. About 55 species were seen altogether, of which the most noteworthy were a Loggerhead shrike * and a Bald eagle. With the bright sun behind us, we had excellent views. We found most of the migratory sparrows that were the main target of the trip, and I saw eight species for the first time this season or year. In a couple cases, I hadn't seen those birds in at least two years. Today's highlights:

  • Savannah sparrows (20+)
  • Field sparrows (8+)
  • White-crowned sparrows (FOS, 8+)
  • Phoebes (12+)
  • Vesper sparrow (FOY)
  • Palm warblers (FOY, 8+)
  • Meadowlarks
  • Cooper's hawk
  • Indigo bunting
  • House finches (8+)
  • Loggerhead shrike (FOY)
  • Bluebirds (5+)
  • Goldfinches (2)
  • Lincoln's sparrow (FOY)
  • Wood ducks (15+)
  • Pied-billed grebes (4)
  • Yellow-rumped warblers (FOS, 20+)
  • Ruby-crowned kinglets (3)
  • Great blue heron
  • Bald eagle !
  • Killdeer
  • Kingfisher
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Kestrels (3)
  • House wren
  • Robins (3)
  • Carolina wrens
  • Tree swallows
  • Swamp sparrow (FOS)
  • Mallards
  • White-throated sparrows
  • Blue-headed vireo
  • Juncos (FOS, glimpse)
  • Downy woodpeckers
  • Flicker
  • Sharp-shinned hawk
  • Towhees

* Shrikes are medium-small songbirds that subsist entirely on the flesh of small animals and insects, much like raptors. They have no talons (sharp claws) with which to impale and kill their prey, so they use thorns or barbed wire for that purpose, often "storing" uneaten food. That's why they are called "butcher birds."


October 16, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Mets storm back in Game 4

Game 4 was a real slugfest, as the Mets won 12-5, with four home runs, including two solo shots by Carlos Beltran, while the Cardinals hit three. David Wright's homer was his first hit in this series, after nine at-bats in the first three games. The lopsided win was a dramatic turnaround for a team that seemed on the verge of letting a historic season of triumph slip through their fingers. Who knows, perhaps the Mets got overconfident about reaching the World Series, or perhaps the loss of Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez is hurting them more than we suspected. One thing is for sure, no one expected starting pitcher Oliver Perez to perform so well in Game 4. He had a 3-13 record during the regular season, and it seemed like the Mets were about ready to give up when they put him in as starter. Now the series is tied, 2-2, and it's just like they're starting over.

Game 5 is rained out

Thanks to an enormous storm system sweeping up from Texas through Tennessee (heading this way), Game 5 will be played tomorrow, the second time in this year's NLCS that bad weather forced a postponement. That will give Tom Glavine more time to rest, it will give the Tigers an even bigger advantage in terms of rest, and it will give me more time to finish the corrections on the Busch Stadium III diagram.

A's fire Ken Macha

To me, it's quite an achievement that an underfunded, poorly attended team like the Athletics has made it to the postseason so often. Nevertheless, the franchise honchos expect even more, and today general manager Billy Beane announced that manager Ken Macha was fired after four years. Apparently there was "lack of communication" and personality issues with some of the players. See MLB.com.


October 16, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Ecuador election goes to Round 2

Ecuador flag Two separate exit polls in Ecuador show that Alvaro Noboa, a wealthy populist, has a lead of about two percent over leftist Rafael Correa, but neither man has even 30 percent of the total vote in a crowded field of candidates. (Unlike other countries where an outright majority is required, in Ecudador, only forty percent is needed to be elected in the first round.) There will be a second round election on November 26. Correa, who has a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Illinois, had a brief (three-month) and stormy tenure as finance minister under the provisional government of Alfredo Palacios. In a distrubing sign that he intends to follow in the footsteps of Mexico's Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Correa demanded the removal of the head of the Organization of American States' election observer team on the grounds that alleged irregularities were ignored. He also accused the United States of trying to block his election. Correa wants to lead "citizens' revolution" to replace the political establishment, a common goal expressed by many outsiders in Latin America. Noboa has surged in the polls in recent weeks, thanks apparently to his frequent unabashed invokation of God. He has been handing out much-needed items such as personal computers at his rallies, an old tradition in Latin American politics, where the votes of poor people are easily bought. Noboa also "says he will use his business skills to bring Ecuador's poor into the middle class." See Washington Post or CNN.com.

For the United States, the most pressing issue is maintaining the lease on the air base that was established for anti-narcotics surveillance a few years ago. Correa says he would not renew the lease when it expires in 2009, but the United States would no doubt be willing to pay a higher "rent" to keep it going. In Spanish, the word "correa" means "belt," and Correa used a belt as a prop in his campaign appearances, threatening to lash corrupt politicians. ¡Qué gracioso! Some people compare him to Hugo Chavez, but the young, well-educated firebrand reminds me much more of Alan Garcia when he was president of Peru from 1985 to 1990. On the plus side, the elections were conducted in an atmosphere of relative tranquility, a marked improvement from the deep turmoil of last year and earlier this year.


October 16, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Sen. Warner endorses Sen. Allen

In a gratifying display of party unity, Sen. John Warner addressed the voters of Virginia in support of his junior colleague Sen. George Allen during a two-minute televised address this evening. (Video available at georgeallen.com.) Warner stressed that our country's security is at stake in these elections, in a very sober and sincere tone. To counteract the mistaken impression that voting for Republican candidates means blind affirmation of the Bush administration policies, he reminded everyone of his own independent, critical stance on the Iraq war issue. Sen. Warner deserves huge credit for playing the difficult dual roles of wise elder statesman and party loyalist. Left-liberal cartoonists and op-ed writers have recently been hyping the false notion that any time President Bush or other Republican leader talks about the threat posed by Islamic terrorists, it constitutes "fear-mongering." Sorry, folks, there really is a threat out there, and a strategic retreat as advocated by John Murtha and Jim Webb would only make things worse.

The big headline in Sunday's Washington Post proclaimed "Allen and Webb in Virtual Tie," almost as if they were relishing the prospect of a Webb victory. A degree of skepticism toward the putatively "objective" polls published in the mainstream media is certainly warranted, but the polls showing Tim Kaine ahead of Jerry Kilgore almost one year ago turned out to be accurate. My doubts were misplaced.

Instapundit is down on GOP

Glenn Reynolds had an unusally long and thoughtful post on Saturday: "A GOP PRE-MORTEM" began by citing the gloom John Hinderaker and other conservative bloggers about recent poll numbers, and then listed these warning signs of policy failure by the Republicans: (Dates are blog links to my take on each of those events as they happened.)

  1. The Terri Schiavo affair (Mar. 22, 2005)
  2. The Harriet Miers debacle (Oct. 23, 2005)
  3. The Dubai Ports disaster (Feb. 28)
  4. Immigration (Mar. 24) to me, the biggest issue of all)
  5. Rep. William Jefferson (May 31; cash in freezer, remember?)
  6. Rep. Mark Foley (Oct. 2)

I share Glenn's libertarian leanings to some extent, but I take religious and social issues more seriously than he does. Sadly, there are indications of the gloom he expresses even here in rock-solid "red state" Virginia. Well, at least some of us did our level best to speak out on these and other issues where the Republicans have stumbled over and over again. (In retrospect, I should have been more critical of the way those first two issues were handled.) For some reason, the party leadership seems utterly deaf to such concerns. Stay tuned for "the perfect storm" of bitter recriminations...

Capito in W. Virginia

West Virginia is traditionally a Democrat state, and the only Republican member of congress at present is Shelley Moore Capito. It speaks volumes that her radio campaign ads (broadcast here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia) take pains to criticize President Bush over the immigration issue. Good for her!


October 17, 2006 [LINK / comment]

New book: Historic Ballparks

This just came in the mail today: Historic Ballparks: A Panoramic Vision, by John Pastier. It is one of those hefty "coffee table" books, chock full of photographs, many of which I had never seen before, as well as the 1950s-era diagrams that used to appear in The Mutual Baseball Almanac series, plus a set of 3-D architectural sketches. It also includes quite a bit of descriptive text, as well as tables of basic data. Unlike most other books of its genre, this one has strong coverage of minor league ballparks. For hardcore stadium geeks like me, it is a sheer delight from cover to cover. I already have several historical baseball stadium books, and have browsed through several others in bookstores, but this won is superior to the rest in several respects. It was published in June, and includes RFK Stadium in its second incarnation as the home of the Washington Nationals. My only complaint is the choice of stadium photos to put on the cover: Memorial Coliseum, which I regard as "an abomination." The author of the book contacted me recently.

In case you're wondering, that's why I haven't finished the Busch Stadium III diagram revisions yet.

Cardinals knock Glavine out

It's been quite an intense, close-fought game so far. The Cardinals rallied to take a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning, proving that 40-year old Tom Glavine is only human after all. After he was replaced, the Cardinals loaded up the bases with nobody out, and the Mets were lucky that no more runs scored that inning. As of the seventh inning stretch the Cards are up, 4-2.

UPDATE: The Cardinals hang on to win, 4-2, and now lead the NLCS, 3 games to 2. Not a bad way to inaugurate Busch Stadium III in its first postseason. But could there be more games here this year?

The mail bag

Still more ballpark news items from Mike Zurawski: Construction on the future home of the Washington Nationals is "one day ahead of schedule," according to Allen Y. Lew, of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. A solution to the parking quandary is nowhere in sight, however. See Washington Post. A letter to the editor from Ralph Nader appeared in yesterday's Post; he criticized (rightly, in my view) Mayor Williams request for $75 million more to pay for parking facilities, but his suggestion that it's not too late to stop the construction project and simply go back to RFK Stadium is quite unrealistic.

"On Friday, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority unanimously approved a lease extension that should keep the A's at McAfee Coliseum until 2010, possibly longer, and add $2.8 million to public coffers." See insidebayarea.com.

The Twins are considering options for heating their future stadium, which would come in very handy if the team keeps making postseason appearances. Hey, it gets pretty nippy outside in the northern latitudes during October! See startribune.com. Previous attempts at heated seating, such as at Candlestick Park, were a big bust.


October 18, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Busch Stadium III

Busch Stadium III Too late for the NLCS, but perhaps not too late for the World Series (!), the Busch Stadium III diagram has been revised, with several significant corrections to my original rendering. One addition is a second profile, showing how the four decks are stacked tightly on top of one another in the left field corner. Many, many thanks to Jonathan Karberg for his detailed descriptions of the stadium's layout, based on first-hand inspection. Photographs are very useful for purposes of getting accuracy in the diagrams, but there is just no substitute for first-hand inspection.

Piniella joins Cubs

Lou Piniella has been hired as manager of the Chicago Cubs (see MLB.com), who deny rumors that they are about to sign Alexander Rodriguez as well. Wouldn't that be something to see in the Windy City? And will he still be a guest commentator on FOX for the World Series?

Nats keep St. Claire

Pitching coach Randy St. Claire will remain with the Nationals for the 2007 season. He earned a stellar reputation during the 2005 inaugural season, when pitching was the Nats' strong point, but this year was a different story. Whoever becomes the team's manager (Joe Girardi?) will have discretion to keep or replace the other coaches, but St. Claire's job is secure. See MLB.com.

I noticed there is another former National in this year's playoffs: outfielder Preston Wilson, who was acquired from the Colorado Rockies in July 2005 but was allowed to go at season's end under the free agency terms. Playing for the St. Louis Cardinals this year he has batted .263 and hit 17 home runs, compared to .261 and 25 home runs last year.

Mets' back to the wall

With more postseason experience under their belts, I think the Cardinals will have a slight advantage over the Mets in Game 6 tonight and (if necessary) Game 7. With Chris Carpenter pitching for the Cards, it will be hard for the Mets to avoid an ignominious defeat, even with home field advantage. The absence of Pedro Martinez and "El Duque" from their rotation may prove decisive after all.

UPDATE: Thanks "mainely" to the steady pitching of John Maine, who gave up only two hits in 5 2/3 innings, the Mets stayed alive and forced a Game 7 tonight by beating the Cardinals. For the second straight day, the home team won by a score of 4-2!


Welcome to new registrants Sam Leverenz, "a rabid Cardinals Fan" and Frederick Nachman, a White Sox fan who has corresponded with me previously. I have a feeling that "Tuhlyak Tuhlyak" and "bely832new bely832new" are not real people, so they have been deleted from the Guestbook. I may have to place additional hurdles in the registration process to block such spam, so register today to avoid the hassle.


October 18, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Venezuela vs. Guatemala at U.N.

After two days of repeated ballots cast for the Latin American seat in the U.N. Security Council, there is still a deadlock between Venezuela and Guatemala. Hugo Chavez refuses to back down, and prospects for a compromise country emerging seem slim at this point, so the stalemate could continue for several more days. The two-year rotating term begins in January. See washingtonpost.com.

Ecuador counts the votes

Alvaro Noboa leads Rafael Correa by three percentage points, without almost 80 percent of the votes counted. Even though it doesn't really matter who gets the most votes since it will go to a second round in any event, many of Correa's supporters are already crying "fraud." The Brazilian company that is handling the electronic tabulation denies any irregularities. The BBC report explains that Noboa comes from Guayaquil, the commercial port city.

Student riots in Chile

The dispute over education policy in Chile has flared up again, as police arrested over 100 students after rocks were thrown at them. President Michelle Bachelet's government gave into most of the demands last June, but students complained that the promised reforms were not being implemented quickly enough. BBC. It's an ironic sign of Chile's success in socio-economic development that unruly youngsters get coddled and then demand even more -- just like here in the U.S.A.!

Peru ex-pres. Paniagua dies

The former interim president of Peru, Valentin Paniagua, died of complications following heart surgery. He was 69. Paniagua was chosen by Peru's Congress to lead the country after Alberto Fujimori resigned in disgrace while in Japan in 2000, and served until Alejandro Toledo won the election in the following year. He was widely praised for guiding the country back to a normal democratic status after years of increasingly heavy-handed rule by the once-popular Fujimori. See CNN.com.


October 18, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Rush is down on Instapundit

Rush Limbaugh is mad as heck at those gloom-and-doomers who think the Democrats are going to win next month. What has him most irked is the "GOP Pre-Mortem" blog post I mentioned on Monday. For a guy who is supposedly at the "cutting edge of societal evolution," Rush's professed lack of awareness of who does the Instapundit blog was certainly strange. In his own defense, Glenn Reynolds (the blogger's name, for those of you in Rio Linda or the "EIB Southern Command") cited James Taranto: "[T]here is something to be said for punishing the party in power if its performance has been subpar."

Personally, I am exhausted from years of haranguing by Rush and especially Sean Hannity that Nancy Pelosi, Hillary, et al. will turn our proud nation into a wimpy, appeasing socialist cesspool if they took over Congress. They'd probably like to do so, of course , but our government has enough checks and balances to prevent outright self-destruction. Of course, the hubris-afflicted folks like Karl Rove who prevail in Republican circles these days think checks and balances is a quaint notion.

For what it's worth, I have every intention of voting Republican, and I hope all public-spirited conservatives do as well. I want them to win, but I'm not going to freak out if they lose. Maybe, just maybe, some Republican officials may notice that the declining motivation of thoughtful conservatives in this election means that the party needs to slap itself in the collective face. As long as campaigns remain focused on "getting out the base" via dumbed-down, crass, negative TV ads, I will have a hard time getting excited about our side's candidates.


October 19, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Fenty's parking proposal fails

Now here's a classic case of role reversal: D.C. Council member and presumptive next mayor Adrian Fenty submitted an alternative parking plan, but it was narrowly rejected by his colleagues. They disputed his claims that the $56 million plan to build two garages north of the stadium and a smaller underground garage to the south would not violate the $611 million spending cap. As a last resort, they might have to pave over five acres of nearby junk land, which would be a setback for neighborhood development plans. Fenty used to be the staunchest opponent of public funding for stadiums, but as election day nears and he envisions the world from the perspective of the mayor, he is now adopting a more pragmatic attitude. See Washington Post.

Tigers lick their chops

While the Mets and Cardinals slug it out in Game 7 tonight at Shea Stadium, the Tigers are patiently resting and waiting for their chance to pounce. Comerica Park will host Game 1 of the World Series on Saturday night. A Washington Post article highlighted the big morale boost the city of Detroit has received thanks to the Tigers' amazing success this year. Average home attendance this year was 32,000, helping local bars, restaurants, and other businesses.


October 19, 2006 [LINK / comment]

What's the matter with Kansas? *

In what could be construed as yet another effort by the mainstream media to discourage GOP turnout, the Washington Post reported today on several former Republican officials in Kansas who are running as Democrats this year. Apparently, the Kansas Republican Party is now under the control of the Religious Right, pushing to halt or restrict teaching of evolution in public schools. Groan... Maybe Margaret Atwood's apocalyptic vision of a future America taken over by hypocritical fundamentalists -- A Handmaid's Tale -- should not be dismissed outright after all...

* For you folks in Rio Linda, that's the name of a book by leftist author Thomas Frank, which I reviewed on Oct. 30, 2004. If that Post article really is an accurate portrayal of Kansas politics, Frank may deserve some credit. (I still think he has a hopelessly jaundiced view of capitalism and freedom, however.) Pay close attention to Sen. Sam Brownback, a possible contender for Higher Office who is treated with particular scorn in that book.

Allen vs. Webb; Dubya vs. Bubba

President Bush appeared at a campaign rally with Sen. George Allen in Richmond today, while his predecessor campaigned for James Webb in Northern Virginia. The Senate race here in the Commonwealth is really drawing national attention. This evening's PBS News Hour focused on the Senate race in Ohio, where Republican incumbent Mike DeWine is struggling hard to stay in office.

Try as he might to keep his focus on the real issues such as national security and education reform, Sen. Allen had a hard time with NBC reporter David Gregory at the Manassas Regional Airport yesterday. Gregory, who is tall enough to play in the NBA, kept needling Allen over the "macaca" controversy, showing no interest whatsoever in policy positions. Typical MSM... Steve Kijak was there and has the details. (I was at that airport in August, when they had an exhibition featuring a B-17 Flying Fortress.

Misleading polls??

Believe it or not, even the most scientifically rigorous public opinion surveys can be inaccurate some times. The Riehl World View blog (via Instapundit) reminds us of some big mistakes made by the Zogby poll just before the 2002 election. Guess which direction they erred? Moral of the story: Don't worry too much about poll numbers, but don't get too complacent, either.


October 20, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Cardinals outlast the Mets

It was the only postseason series that went all the way so far this year (three of the other five series were sweeps), and it fully lived up to the drama inherent in such decisive make-or-break games. If this were one of those "storybook endings," the hero of Game 7 would have been Endy Chavez (a former National!), whose amazing "snowcone" catch at the left field wall in the sixth inning turned what would have been a two-run homer by Scott Rolen into a double play. If the Mets had gone on to win, that would have been one of those historic plays that people would talk about for years to come, like Willie Mays robbing Vic Wertz of a sure inside-the-park home run at the Polo Grounds in 1954. In the bottom of that inning, Chavez had a chance to capitalize on the momentum with the bases loaded, but failed. Instead, it was Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina who grabbed the unexpected glory in the top of the ninth inning with his home run to the same spot in left field as before but a little further. (Endy -- Yadier -- Where do those names come from?) But that was just a single moment, whereas the major credit should go to Jeff Suppan, who held the Mets to only one run in seven-plus innings. Proving they were indeed worthy contenders, the Mets came roaring back with the bases loaded in the ninth, but Adam Wainright's vicious curve balls flummoxed the next batters. I was expecting another miracle, but alas, there was no joy in Queens; the mighty Carlos Beltran was called out on strikes. See MLB.com.

Overdue teams, new ballparks

This will be a repeat of the 1968 World Series, when the team led by Denny McClain (31-6!) and Al Kaline prevailed over the team led by Bob Gibson (22-9) and Curt Flood. The Year of the Pitcher, just before the four-team expansion. It was also the year of the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, social turmoil around the world, and the first manned mission to orbit the moon. The same two teams faced each other in the 1934 World Series, when the Cardinals won by the same 4-3 margin.

Many people have remarked that neither of the teams have won the World Series in over 20 years. For me, there is another remarkable aspect to this year's World Series, that both teams' stadiums are relatively new: six and a half years for Detroit and only six months for St. Louis! Indeed, it is the first World Series that both stadiums are of the "neoclassical" or "retro" class. That leads me to announce...

Trivia contest #1

The first person who can correctly identify all previous stadiums in which the World Series was played during their first year of existence will get a "free" stadium page sponsorship of their choice for one year. (It's worth ten bucks, but will mainly be of value to folks with their own blog or online business to promote.) The information necessary to answer that question can be found on this Web site. Send your answers (ONE per customer) to: baseball+AT+andrewclem+DOT+com.

Yankee birthdays

I neglected to mention that yesterday was Mickey Mantle's birthday. He would have been 75. Thanks to Bruce Orser for reminding me. Today is his teammate Whitey Ford's birthday; he just turned 77.


October 20, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Conserving land in the Valley (II)

Last month I called attention to local efforts on behalf of land conservation, which is one of the most contentious issues here in the Shenandoah Valley. To find out more, I attended a joint meeting of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commissions on Wednesday night, and learned that promoting good stewardship of the land is a lot more complex than you might think. Members of the public were allowed to speak out on a proposed land ordinance which would restrict the ability of land owners to sell off agricultural land in subdivisions. Not surprisingly, real estate agents are sharply opposed to this measure, as are property rights advocates. There is also opposition from some farmers and low-income people; one woman warned that this measure would cause land prices to "go through the roof." She complained that "elitists rule" in Augusta County. Well! Many small-scale farmers make a living by selling off individual plots of land every few years, but apparently some are abusing the "family member exception" provision for transferring land to family members without penalty. For me, the most compelling argument was made by Larry Weeks, who pointed out that unrestricted conversion of farmland to residential use sets the stage for eventual big increases in costs for roads, sewers, and other infrastructure. Who's going to pay for all that? The bottom line is that any new restrictions on property rights should be compensated through some form of tax relief. This hearing was reported by the News Leader. I also learned that there is an information clearing house on local issues: Eye On Augusta Co(unty).

Years ago, Fairfax and Loudoun Counties tried and failed to manage commercial and residential development on rural land, in the face of suburbanization. The same thing is happening even in this relatively remote location, as many professional people commute long distances to work. (Thanks to cheap gasoline!) The Shenandoah Valley's beauty is renowned around the country, and yet many local leaders seem unaware of the reason why this area is so desirable, as I noted on May 15.

Meanwhile, a group of Mennonite farmers around Dayton (in Rockingham County, north of here) are promoting measures to prevent flooding and pollution runoff by reinforcing river banks and planting trees as a "riparian buffer." After all the fish kills and contamination warnings in recent years, this is welcome news. For those folks, the connection between religious obligation and maintaining the Good Earth in a healthy state is quite obvious. Too bad it's so hard for many other people to grasp that connection... See the News Leader.

VSDB consolidated in Staunton

State government officials recently completed the final steps toward the consolidation of the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton. There used to be a separate such school in Hampton, and there was a proposal to close both it and the one in Staunton, possibly building a new, combined facility in nearby Fishersville or elsewhere. Sanity prevailed, thankfully, and the school in Staunton will be preserved and upgraded. Much of the credit for keeping that venerable local institution alive goes to Delegate Chris Saxman. This is especially good news for Staunton because the closure of the Staunton penitentiary a couple years ago was a big blow to the local economy. That property, situated in a scenic area near downtown, has been sold off to private developers...

School For Deaf & Blind

The Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton.


October 20, 2006 [LINK / comment]

"Hate triangle" tears Iraq apart

One day's grim headlines blend into the next, and before you know it we are numbed to the carnage in Iraq. Those who do keep paying attention know that the ethnic strife has been worsening for the last few months. It has gotten to the point where the Shiite militia controlled by the thuggish "cleric" Moqtada al Sadr claimed control of the city of Amarah today, burning down three police stations. It would be nice if the high human death toll were just "the price of freedom," but I don't think that applies here. Almost 2,700 Iraqi civilians were killed in Baghdad during September (see Yahoo News; hat tip to Donna Ball). This month is even worse, and with at least 75 Americans dead already, and many more badly wounded, it is sure to be the bloodiest month for us since October last year.

Americans are bound to be confused by all the killing, because there are multiple factions and subfactions, with cross-cutting affiliations. Broadly speaking, the three main power centers in Iraq right now are the Americans, the Sunnis, and the Shiites. (The Kurds are relatively detached from the ongoing conflict for the moment, though there are signs that that may change.) We profess a desire to reconcile the Iraqi factions, both of whom have a hard time deciding whether they hate each other more than they hate us. Because of the inherent love-hate relationship in all situations of unequal power, the Sunnis and Shiites at once resent our intrusion and want our protection and/or help against the other faction. The Sunnis are greatly outnumbered but benefited from years of privilege under Saddam Hussein, so they are willing to take huge risks just to hold onto the power they once had. At this point, the only thing that could dissuade them from pursuing that goal is the prospect of defeat at the hands of the Shiite militias. Some of those groups have been rampaging in Balad and other towns north and east of Baghad over the past week, forcing Sunni families to leave their homes. It is a very cruel program of ethnic cleansing that is taking place.

In spite of growing calls to reconsider, President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld once again stoutly defended the U.S. strategy in Iraq, saying only that tactical adjustments will be made. Rumsfeld was right to state that we should not expect the process of transition to be smooth or peaceful, but he didn't give much reason to hope that things will eventually get better. See Washington Post. I'm all for persevering as long as there is a coherent strategy that balances objectives with available means, but I'm worried that Bush's vague definition of "victory" will become increasingly problematic. The people doing the killing are not uniformly anti-U.S. or anti-freedom, they have simply calculated that brutal violence is the best way to get or hold onto power in Iraq. Some but not all are connected to the religious extremist groups that can be considered "Islamofascist." Others are just ordinary warlords with local political objectives. Realistically, the best we can hope for is a gradual reduction of violence over the next few years, as the government slowly gets consolidated. For some reason, Bush keeps giving blanket reassurances to Maliki that we will be there to back them up, undermining the incentive the Iraqis have to pick up the slack. (I call that the "permanent training wheels" approach.) What I don't understand is why Bush would refrain from exerting leverage to get Prime Minister Maliki to crack down on militia groups, as I have urged -- unless in fact Bush is aware that the Iraqis are simply incapable of exerting such power. If that is the case, then there will be hell to pay in terms of U.S. public opinion. First and foremost, President Bush needs to reassure us.

Fallback options

Just because prospects for meaningful victory in Iraq are fading does not mean we should pull out abruptly, or set an arbitrary timeline, as many Democrats and others have urged. Instead, we should use our military presence in Iraq as a bargaining chip to secure security commitments from relevant power centers in Iraq and in neighboring countries such as Iran. As long as this is handled gracefully and deliberately, the United States can minimize the loss of prestige from what some would be sure to call a "defeat." Our goal at this point should be to encourage a more pluralistic Iraq, with more local control over government. Official U.S. policy rejects any hint of a "partition," but that is probably where Iraq is headed. The Kurds are well on their way to achieving a semi-autonomous government, and the Shiites are following close behind. Even though there is a big risk that Iran will gain influence if the Shiites gain the upper hand in the sectarian warfare, our government has plenty of resources to drive a wedge between patron and client. In particular, we can exploit the linguistic difference between Iraqi Shiites and the Farsi-speaking majority in Iran. The former have strong similarities with the Arab-speaking minority in southwestern Iran, where the oil is. In other words, we have plenty of seldom-appreciated advantages in the complex geopolitical "game" that is the Persian Gulf.

Beyond that, what if a U.S. tactical retreat backfires (as President Bush warns it would) by encouraging a worldwide upsurge in Islamo-fascism? Last month, Clayton Cramer, a blogger who supports the war objectives, pondered what we might have to do if worse comes to worse. (Hat tip to Chris Green.) He outlines five stages of increasingly desperate action by the United States to save Western Civilization:

  1. "Fortress America" (President Pat Buchanan?)
  2. Make al-Qaeda happy by cutting off all aid to Israel.
  3. Treat Muslim nations the way they have treated other nations: occupy, convert, etc.
  4. A war not to change hearts and minds, but to humble Islam, bombing Mecca, etc.
  5. Don't stop at nuking religious sites.

The point is not to offer these as serious suggestions for the foreseeable future, but rather envision what might be necessary for the defense of the West ten or twenty years down the road. Remember, we Americans operate under a much shorter time frame than those in the Arab-Islamic world do. Perhaps contemplating such ghastly scenarios will focus our attention on devoting more resources to dealing with the comparatively moderate degree of threat we face at the present. If President Bush is serious about winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he had better call for a large increase in resources devoted to that cause. That would mean higher taxes and higher loss of American life in the Iraqi and Afghani conflicts.


October 21, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Fall Classic 2006 is underway

The well-rested (and tanned?) Tigers being heavily favored to win this World Series, it was no surprise when they took a 1-0 lead in the first inning. It was a surprise, however, when the Cardinals came back in the next inning with a home run by Scott Rolen, and expanded their lead to 4-1 in the third inning with help from a homer by Albert Pujols. (He is said to have a sore hamstring.) So it may be an interesting, close-fought match after all. The Cards certainly have the edge in terms of postseason experience, or indeed any major league experience.

UPDATE: Winning by a decisive 7-2 margin, the Cardinals have completely changed the psychological dynamic of this World Series. The fact that the Tigers' star rookie pitcher Justin Verlander gave up seven runs (six earned) does not bode well for the rest of the series. The Cardinals' Anthony Reyes (also a rookie) would have pitched a complete game if it weren't for the home run by Craig Monroe in the top of the ninth. I missed that weird play in the sixth inning where Brandon Inge committed two errors, as Jim Edmunds and Scott Rolen scored on a fielder's choice. (!?) Young teams tend to be "brittle," going quickly from cocky self-assuredness to panic. I hope that's not the case with the Tigers.

As a special World Series treat, here's a quickie "side-by-side" comparison between Comerica Park and Busch Stadium III, like I did last year. Click on either of the thumbnail images to toggle back and forth:

USCellularField MinuteMaidPark
ball

We have a winner!

Mark London correctly identified "all previous stadiums in which the World Series was played during their first year of existence" and is thereby entitled to (another!) stadium sponsorship. He already sponsors the three Pittsburgh stadium pages, and both Minnesota stadium pages. He has chosen Miller Park, thereby cornering the market on the upper Midwest! Here are the correct answers:

  • Forbes Field (1909)
  • Polo Grounds IV (1911)
  • Fenway Park (1912)
  • Braves Field (1915 - for Red Sox!)
  • Yankee Stadium (1923)
  • Riverfront Stadium (1970)
  • Busch Stadium III (2006)

Other answers submitted included Busch Stadium II and Three Rivers Stadium, but it was more than 12 months after those two were finished when the World Series was played in them, and the 1976 version of Yankee Stadium, which was essentially the same structure as the original. As a token of appreciation for their interest, I'll try to think of some "consolation prize" for the other folks who entered the contest. Next time I do a trivia quiz maybe I'll come up with a more significant incentive, such as a photo print...


October 21, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Car bomb in Colombia

President Alvaro Uribe cancelled his offer to negotiate a prisoner exchange after a car bomb set by the FARC guerrillas injured 23 people including a defense ministry official. This happened at the Nueva Granada military university in Bogota. Uribe has pursued a very determined military campaign against the rebels, achieving considerable success and earning widespread praise in Colombia, but had made some conciliatory gestures in recent weeks. In a speech at the university, he showed anger, ordering a halt to discussions with the armed leftists. See CNN.com.

Earthquake off Peruvian coast

An earthquake of 6.4 magnitude shook the Peruvian coast on Friday morning. The epicenter was 125 miles southwest of Lima, where the tremors were felt. Fortunately, there was no major damage and no one was injured. See CNN.com. Later in the day, a temblor shook the coast of California.


October 22, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Allen, Webb jockey for position

As close election races such as this one go down to the wire, the issues tend to matter less and less, while emotion-laden symbols move to the forefront. When it comes to the Iraq war, nothing is more important than honoring those in our armed forces -- the living and the fallen -- who put their lives on the line for the rest of us. That is why Jim Webb is so frustrated that he is not getting more credit with voters for his past military career, as reported by the Washington Post. For his part, George Allen's prospects have been lifted by the enthusiastic support for him by local Gold Star Mother Rhonda Winfield, who in turn said she was "outraged that Webb would criticize Allen for mentioning him." As a token of her support, Ms. Winfield even gave [Sen. Allen] her fallen Marine son Jason's dog tags. Obviously, it's hard to compete with a deep, heart-felt gesture like that. The main focus of the Post article was Webb's supposed modesty about his military record; so why in the world is there so much emphasis on that "born fighting" slogan?

Even though Allen has been among the most loyal supporters of Bush administration war policy on Capitol Hill, he is paying greater heed to public opinion polls and parting ways ever so slightly with the White House. Since Sen. John Warner endorsed him last week, Allen has begun to voice agreement with his senior colleague that U.S. policy in Iraq must be scrutinized and reevaluated. See the Washington Post. Political expediency, strategic wisdom, or both? I'm usually not impressed by "stay the course" rhetoric, but I do give Allen credit for making the point that executive decisions in wartime should not be second guessed by "Monday morning quarterbacks."

Immigration is a particularly dicey issue, and the two candidates differ in various respects. Allen favors the House approach of sealing the borders first and addressing comprehensive reforms later, but he sides with the White House in calling for a guest (farm) worker program. To me, that sounds like a phony loophole just begging to be abused, but at least Allen made it clear that he opposes public funding that would reward illegal behavior, such as the Herndon day-labor center that caused such controversy last year. Meanwhile, Webb supports a "path to legalization" for illegal immigrants who have been here for a long time, which at first glance sounds like a reasonable, pragmatic position. The problem is that he rationalized that Herndon day-labor center as a way to make up for failed Federal immigration policy. In other words, he absolves the cheaters of any blame for having benefited from government negligence, which only encourages more people to cheat and demand more government benefits. Is that not obvious to everyone?? See the Washington Post. Unfortunately, Sen. Allen's ironic-toned "welcome to Virginia" remark to Webb campaign aide S.R. Sidarth in August undermined his credibility on the immigration issue. Many people automatically equate support for immigration reform with racism or xenophobia, which infuriates me, but it is a widespread attitude that must be acknowledged as a political reality nonetheless. My special concern with that issue, and my insistence on avoiding any hint of anti-immigrant sentiment, is the main reason for my displeasure with him.

It may not be a big surprise, but it's certainly good news for Allen that the Richmond Times Dispatch has endorsed his reelection, listing his [solid record on key issues and his] many qualifications for the job; hat tip to Chad Dotson.

I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing for Allen, but when Saturday Night Live makes a skit about a political race, as it did last week, all bets are off. For purposes of comedy, however, it is hard to lampoon a guy with a plain appearance and unpretentious demeanor such as George Allen. Aside from his boots and cowboy hat, his only standout feature is his somewhat goofy grin , but the SNL actor playing him didn't do that.


October 22, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Calfpasture Valley excursion

The weather wasn't as nice as yesterday, but Jacqueline wanted to see the fall foliage before it's too late, and I concurred. So we took a pleasant day trip to the far reaches of western Augusta County today, including some areas we had never seen before. On the way, we stopped at the Augusta Springs wetlands and did the quick boardwalk circuit walk, but not many birds were present. After that we continued further southwest, passing through Craigsville, and then took a rough road across the Great North Mountain, passing through Ramsey Gap, not to be confused with Ramsey's Draft to the north. At the highest point, where there is a trail crossing, we stopped for a snack. I scouted around and soon came upon a group of at least ten Wild turkeys, the greatest number of full-grown ones I had ever seen in one place. They quickly scattered as I approached, creating quite a ruckus. Then we headed downhill into the isolated and idyllic Calfpasture River Valley, which was quite placid and scenic, as this photo attests:

Calfpasture Valley fall foliage

Looking east toward Great North Mountain from the Calfpasture River Valley. On the other side is Augusta Springs.

We proceeded for several miles through the Calfpasture Valley to the small town of Deerfield, where we got a cup of coffee to warm up. Finally we reached U.S. Highway 250 and headed back east toward Staunton, stopping at a fall festival at the Cestari / Chester Farms in Churchville, where they raise sheep and produce their own wool products. (I love wool!)

Birds were relatively scarce throughout the day, but there were a few big surprises, most notably the Wild turkeys and Blue-headed vireo I saw at Ramsey Gap. Today's highlights:

  • Bluebirds
  • Kestrel
  • Cedar waxwings
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Ravens
  • Blue-headed vireo
  • Ruby-crowned kinglet
  • Wild turkeys
  • Yellow-rumped warblers
  • White-breasted nuthatch

On my way out to the Augusta Bird Club's annual bird seed sale in Verona yesterday, I drove along Bell's Lane and saw:

  • Savannah sparrows
  • Field sparrows
  • White-crowned sparrows
  • Bluebirds
  • Palm warblers
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • House finches
  • Robins
  • Yellow-rumped warbler
  • Red-winged blackbird (F)
  • Cedar waxwings
  • Flickers

October 23, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Tigers even it up (just barely!)

If a team had to choose between winning only Game 1 or only Game 2 in a postseason playoff series, the latter would probably be preferred most often, so as to gain momentum for the subsequent road series. The Tigers absolutely had to win last night's game, but the way they did so did not exactly inspire confidence for the rest of the World Series. Once again, Kenny Rogers shouldered the burden of veteran starter with perfect poise for seven-plus innings -- the third straight game he allowed zero runs. And once again, Craig Monroe got things off on the right foot for the Tigers by hitting a first-inning homer. Everything was going fine until the ninth inning, when reliever Todd Jones bobbled a ground ball with two outs, allowing the Cardinals to start a last-ditch rally. They scored one run and loaded the bases, but Yadier Molina grounded out to end the comeback threat. Whew! Dodging a bullet like that is not characteristic of a championship team, so the Tigers still have a lot to prove. See MLB.com.

Detroit: rock city! *

Like Cleveland, Detroit has a strong tradition in rock music, hence the pre-game performances by Bob "Like a Rock" Seger on Saturday and John "Cougar" Mellencamp on Sunday. (Mellencamp is from nearby Indiana.) Both musicians have cashed in their working-class credentials by letting their tunes be used in TV car advertisements, and after all, Detroit is the home of the auto industry. Another famous Detroit-area rock musician is Ted Nugent, and sure enough, I heard his song "Stranglehold" being played on the Comerica Park PA system before Game 2. He is quite a character, playing extremely loud guitar, but he is clean-shaven, boasts a drug-free lifestyle, and is an avid hunter and outspoken Cultural Conservative. Go figure. I mentioned Ted on August 15 in connection with a joke about the French. Maybe he will show up to perform "Motor City Madhouse" in Game 6 or 7 (if necessary).

* That's the name of a 1999 movie (see imdb.com) based on a 1976 song by KISS.

MLB, players near labor deal

Negotiations between representatives of Major League Baseball and the Players' Association are close to reaching an agreement that would avert any work stoppage. Unlike the hair-raising situation in August 2002, the deadline is not imminent, so there is no risk of terms that would later turn out to be unsatisfactory to one side or the other. The fact that attendance remains on an upward trend, and that there has been a changing mix of teams in the postseason for the last few years, are signs that the sport is healthy overall. No one wants to take the blame for upsetting the apple cart. "Stay the course!?" See Washington Post.


October 23, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Panama votes to expand canal

The people of Panama approved a referendum on expanding their canal by a huge margin; nearly 80 percent voted "yes." President Martin Torrijos, a moderate leftist, strongly supported the measure, which was opposed mainly by radical leftists. Construction is expected to begin in 2008 and finish by 2014; the total price tag is about $5 billion. His father Omar won a treaty conceding control of the canal from then-President Jimmy Carter in 1979. See Washington Post or BBC. Whether the Chinese businesses that currently manage the canal operations will be involved in such construction is uncertain; their presence raises national security concerns for the United States. Nicaragua is also considering a proposal to build a canal along the San Juan River and through Lake Nicaragua, but that would be a high-risk venture, because the potential market for two separate trans-isthmian canals is quite uncertain.

Ollie North visits Nicaragua

Speaking of Nicaragua, Retired Colonel Oliver North arrived in Managua yesterday, almost exactly 20 years after the Iran-Contra scandal exploded. He says he is just enjoying the company of friends, denying reports that he is there to campaign on behalf of Nicaraguan presidential candidate Jose Rizo, of the Liberal Constitutional Party. He recently wrote a letter complaining that the State Department is standing by while the Sandinista Daniel Ortega is on the verge of a historic electoral comeback, so obviously he is not indifferent. (Elections will be on November 5) See La Prensa.

Venezuela's U.N. bid

Hugo Chavez's aggressive campaign to get Venezuela a seat on the U.N. Security Council for the 2007-2008 is apparently not bearing fruit. Indeed, the effort may be backfiring, costing Venezuela a lot of money and time for nothing, as Blue Crab Boulevard notes (via Instapundit):

This is going to cause Chavez's train wreck even worse. He has badly overextended his nation trying to buy the seat on the UNSC. He now has to pay all those bribes with much diminished income from oil sales. He's in trouble.

October 25, 2006 [LINK / comment]

MLB labor contract renewed

Bud Selig and Don Fehr were all smiles at the announcement of the five-year renewal of the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the Players Association. It is the longest such agreement ever reached. The terms appear to be very complex, essentially a formula for ensuring that players and owners share in the wealth generated by the sport. There will be steady increases in minimum salaries, and in the thresholds to which the competitive balance tax applies. (The tax rate itself will stay the same, so Mr. Steinbrenner can rest easy.) As anyone who has studied Econ 101 knows, it is a flagrant violation of the principles of market economics, insulating both parties from the vicissitudes of supply and demand. Of course, a major part of the contract was an extension of the drug testing provisions beyond the existing 2008 end point. Also, "There will be no contraction during the term of the agreement." Selig boasted that this is baseball's "golden era," but the reason the economic trends are so good right now is because of the enormous public sector subsidy through all the recent stadium construction. For all the taxpayer money that has been spent, the players and owners sure as hell had better come to an agreement! See MLB.com.

Carpenter nails Detroit

The Cardinals' premier starter Chris Carpenter prevented the Tigers from scoring any runs last night, giving up only three hits in eight innings. Two of those hits were from Sean Casey, who had injured his calf muscle two weeks ago. Facing Jeff Suppan tonight (weather permitting), the Tigers are in a much more difficult position than most people had expected last week. They had the best win-loss record in road games this year (49-32), and now we'll see whether they can live up to that achievement.

Girardi passes on the Nationals

Joe Girardi, who managed the Marlins this year, announced he doesn't want to manage for the Washington Nationals next year, citing "family reasons." (Perhaps, but that's what they all say.) See Washington Post. Another leading candidate, Braves coach Terry Pendleton, has withdrawn his name from consideration as well.


October 25, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Bolivia on the Security Council?

Refusing to concede to the "Yankee imperialists," but aware that opposition to his bid to get Venezuela on the U.N. Security Council for the 2007-2008 term is far too strong, Hugo Chavez has offered to support Bolivia for the seat. Guatemala refused that "compromise" offer, however, and the United States is probably opposed to Bolivia as well, since its president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, is close pals with Hugo. It was only recently that Morales assumed power, and the political situation in Bolivia remains very unsettled. See BBC. The fact that Chavez so crudely insulted the very foundations of the United Nations during his stormy visit to New York last month no doubt undermined the prestige or popularity he once enjoyed in the Third World.

As for Bolivia, it is considered ill-mannered to draw attention to the humble capacities of many Third World governments when they are acting as sovereign peers on the global stage. After all, they're doing their best, or seem to be. In Bolivia's case, there have been several historical episodes in which public order completely broke down. Although it has a beautiful indigenous culture, Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, with a record of deep social division and political instability. In recent decades, as much as ten percent of its gross domestic product has consisted of foreign aid, one of the highest aid-dependency ratios in the world. The 1990s were marked by steady progress after the hyperinflation of the early 1980s, and many observers of Latin America thought those days of chaos were a thing of the past. Poor people began to feel left out by the turn of the century, and on several occasions over the last few years the entire Andean region, and other parts of South America, have teetered on the brink of anarchy. Bolivia's economy remains in decent shape, but investor confidence has suffered terribly, leaving the government in a weakened financial position. Many people consider it wrong for the United States to exercise a leading role in international security when there is so much violence here at home, but by those standards Bolivia would be ruled out completely. Given the present-day internal situation, with recent violent clashes in Santa Cruz, La Paz, and near Oruro, no sensible person would consider it an appropriate country to weigh in on vital matters of international security. Perhaps in a few more years when things settle down again...

Argentina accuses Iran

The government of Argentina has charged the government of Iran and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah group for plotting the 1994 bomb blast that destroyed a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people. The indictment named Iran's former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is under an arrest warrant. See CNN.com. Politics does not seem to be a factor in this criminal proceeding, and it is a good sign that Argentina is acting in a bold, responsible way in the global war against terrorism. Rafsanjani was succeeded as president in 1997 by Mohammed Khatami, who was considered a moderate by Iranian standards and recently created a stir when he visited the University of Virginia. Too bad his successor is such a hot head.


October 25, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Is U.S. global power waning?

On a day when the White House is suddenly distancing itself from the previous "stay the course" rhetoric (see Tuesday's Washington Post) for fear of losing control of Congress, it is appropriate to step back and look at the Bigger Picture. What do all of the recent foreign policy setbacks mean? On Monday, Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby painted a bleak picture of the world situation, and the inability of the United States to defeat security threats in Iraq, North Korea, and Afghanistan, or even to halt the genocide taking place in Sudan. Meanwhile, prospects for freedom in Russia have turned so bad that hardly anyone notices when a leading investigative journalist is murdered, probably at the tacit behest of Putin's government. Mallaby calls this moment a "nadir of U.S. power," the lowest we have sunk since a quarter century ago, when Ronald Reagan roused our low spirits by declaring it was "morning in America."

North Korea is the most telling example of (apparent) U.S. weakness. Symbolic though it may have been (they're not very likely to actually attack anyone), North Korea's defiant nuclear test will probably mark a grim historical milestone. As more middle-rank countries go nuclear, the global balance of power will be reshaped. Iran is obviously "on deck," and will go ahead whether we like it or not, Japan will be getting ready to cross that threshold "just in case," and even Brazil may even decide to restart its mothballed nuclear program. President Bush had previously said that a nuclear test by North Korea would be unacceptable, but aside from a few wrist-slap sanctions, we seem to have accepted it. Now, I will grant the possibility that some much sterner U.S. retaliatory response to Kim Jong Il's provocation is being prepared, just as it is possible that we may be about to unleash a major new military effort in Iraq. It would be a clever way of baiting our adversaries, maximizing the psychological boost from such a coordinated counterstroke. Based on what is known to the public, however, it just doesn't seem very likely.

Why is the Bush administration so timid about exercising U.S. power at this critical juncture in history? The simple answer would be that we have already exhausted our resources in the war in Iraq, i.e. the Paul Kennedy "imperial overstretch" thesis has come true. There is another possibility, however, that State Department and Defense strategists are in the midst of recalculating U.S. interests in maintaining a free global trading system, as the (unappreciated) "hegemonic stabilizer." Having done all it could to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions over the past few years, without much political benefit to show for it, the United States may come to favor a new, more pluralistic world order as the best way to balance our means and ends. Eventually, the American people will tire of straining to uphold a world order under that assumes -- dubiously -- that a degree of concordance exists among the great powers. Having to share power and responsibility with authoritarian governments such as Russia, China, and Iran is a disconcerting prospect, but without solid support from our traditional allies, we don't have much choice.

Unlike Mallaby, I don't think we are as bad off as we were in 1979 -- at least, not yet. In the worst-case scenario, some unexpected confluence of global crises might put the United States in an untenable position similar to that faced by the Carter administration, forcing the Bush administration to resort to a desperate threat of nuclear war similar to the "Carter Doctrine." More than ever, the President needs to shun ideologues and pay heed to the advice of foreign policy realists in order to uphold our national prestige and power. Otherwise, there is a small but real risk that Republican Party may squander its national security credentials just as the Democrats did in the late 1970s. It would be one of the bitterest, most ironic cases of role reversal ever.


October 26, 2006 [LINK / comment]

$100 million parking fine?

D.C. financial officer Natwar Gandhi warned the city council that Washington may be liable for up to $100 million in penalties if the parking garages stipulated in the stadium lease agreement are not finished by April 2008. He wrote an eight-page letter asking the council to reconsider the $56 million garage project they recently rejected. See Washington Post. I've been against any increase in spending above the $611 million cost cap provision, under the assumption that "a deal's a deal," but if what he says is true, it appears that there was not sufficient scrutiny of the lease terms. It may be the case that there is an "unfunded mandate" about which they have no choice.

24-hour "rain delay"

The weather forecasts left no doubt that last night in St. Louis was going to be a washout, so why did they wait so long before postponing Game 4? I have a sneaking suspicion that FOX-TV advertising revenues must have something to do with it. If I were a fan in St. Louis, I would be mad as heck for sitting so long in the rain. That reminds me of another reason why large-sized roofs such as at RFK Stadium are so advantageous.

Once again, Sean Casey led his team off to an early lead tonight. The Tigers are ahead 3-1 in the fourth inning.


October 27, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Ban on abortion in Nicaragua?

With national elections less than two weeks away, the Congress in Nicaragua passed a measure that would outlaw abortion in all cases, even when the life of the mother is threatened. "Fifty-two lawmakers voted for the measure. Nine lawmakers abstained, and 29 others did not attend the legislative session." Apparently no member of Congress dared to vote "no." See CNN.com. It is hard to ignore the probable connection between this action and the election campaign, as conservative forces seek to drive a wedge between the leftist candidate Daniel Ortega and Catholic voters. Ortega seems to have become a "born again Catholic." It is worth recalling that a large part of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua was solidly behind Ortega's Sandinista government in the 1980s, an expression of the leftist "Liberation Theology" movement.


October 27, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Sen. Allen returns to Staunton

Sen. George Allen made a campaign stop at Mrs. Rowe's Family Restaurant here in Staunton this morning, and a large contingent of Republicans attended the breakfast to show their support. It was a pretty impressive display of party unity, and seems consistent with the apparent widening of Allen's slim lead in the polls as the election draws near. Virginians are very sensible people by and large, and as they go into the voting booths, I think the incumbent's solid record and conservative positions will count more than a couple offhand gaffes. Besides, how many people in this state really know who Jim Webb is? Perhaps if he had done a few more months of preparation for the campaign he would have had a better chance.

I brought our newly-repaired video camera along to record the event for posterity, and reported on the event at swacgop.org. Unlike his previous visit to Staunton in August, today's campaign event was free from any nuisance caused by costumed political opponents. Maybe I should do some "guerrilla" videography at a Webb campaign event just to see what happens. Nah...

To see a seven-minute video clip (11.5 MB) of Sen. Allen's talk this morning, click on the image below. (Apple Quick Time format, free download.)

George Allen breakfast

October 27, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Anger over U.S. "timetable"

The domestic political reaction to the worsening bloodbath in Iraq is having some interesting consequences. The usually stubborn President Bush finally bowed to pressure by declaring that he is not satisfied with the pace of progress in Iraq. Even though he is toning down the "stay the course" rhetoric, he says he remains confident of ultimate victory. Those are appropriate words from our Commander in Chief, but the timing is a little off. For the next few months, he must hew to a careful balance between voicing concern about military setbacks on one hand, and maintaining a calm reassuring attitude on the other. Now that he has put the heat on the Iraqi government to crack down on (mostly) Sunni insurgents and Shiite militiamen, we can find out whether the Iraqis are ready to shoulder a bigger security burden. Ironically, the Iraqi prime minister Maliki rejected U.S. "timetable," Good for him! The more heated words that are exchanged between Baghdad and Washington, the greater will be the prestige of Iraq's fledgling government. Just to make sure that no one thinks there is an outright rift, today Maliki and the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad jointly announced that they see eye to eye on this matter.

Facing tough questions from reporters about the shift in U.S. war policy in Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld got a little testy during his press conference yesterday: "You ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it's complicated, it's difficult." NBC's Jim Miklazewski bore the brunt of the SecDef's ire. Goodness gracious! It reminds me of Yosemite Sam with his six guns a-blazin'. See Washington Post.

After a series of incidents in which the mainstream media reported news in a blatantly negative way or ignored contrary opinions in editorial pages, the Defense Dept. launched a new Web page -- For the Record -- that is designed to set the record straight. Good! Hat tip to Strategy Page via Instapundit.) For example, it explains that Rummy's above-cited "back off" retort was

referring specifically to journalists who were seeking to create a perception of major divisions between the positions of the U.S. and Iraqi governments. He was not referring to critics of the administration's Iraq policy.

In the Washington Post, Frederick Kagan takes sharp exception to the idea of pinning the blame squarely upon the government of Iraq: "This notion is wrong and morally contemptible, and it endangers American security around the world." He says, rightly, that by liberating Iraq in 2003, the United States assumed a burden to maintain security that cannot be casually tossed away. I think it would be more fair and accurate to state that we are simply in a difficult transition phase in which responsibility for security is inherently ambiguous. Success in such a situation will require some hard bargaining, including warnings to our Iraqi partners, but above all it will require a solid degree of trust between Washington and Baghdad. But I would grant Kagan's basic point that we should not presume to put the entire burden on the Iraqis via an arbitrary "timetable" for making progress in the same way that domestic critics of the Bush administration have been doing.

John Krenson, the new blogging partner of Donald Sensing, writes that this is a "gut check" moment for the U.S.:

The key to our success in Iraq is our center of gravity -- our public will. If we have the will then we will win. If we falter then we will lose. The enemy knows it and therefore our will is their primary target. They are targeting the American and Iraqi will to persevere. As of today, the enemy is being very successful. We have the resources to win. So the important question today is do we have the will to win.
...
[and concludes:]
...
Full commitment from all sides -- in words, resources and action -- will change the momentum back in our favor. Trying to win based on a "quick as we can, cheap as we can" attitude is flawed. It is time for that to change. It must change.

The "will to win" is a hard concept for many war critics to grasp, but I have emphasized it has fundamental from the beginning of the Iraq war. To me, one of the best indicators of willpower is the degree to which leaders put their own fortunes at risk in pursuit of the greater good of the community. If our military commanders in Iraq asked for an emergency deployment of an extra 10,000 or 20,000 troops, would President Bush oblige them, even at the risk of defeat in the November elections? Now there's a tough question to answer.

Personally, I am not too troubled by all these harsh polemics over war policy. In a democratic nation such as ours, that is what is expected, and indeed it is necessary. In the end, whether you like to admit it or not, the upcoming congressional elections will be regarded by all parties to this conflict as a referendum on the American will to prevail. Just because the optimal outcome of a peaceful, united, democratic Iraq seems less and less likely for the foreseeable future does not mean there is nothing to fight for. As Secretary Rumsfeld said, it's a messy world out there, and you can't expect nice, neat happy endings. Voting Republican means striving for victory against the forces of darkness and hatred, or at least holding them off while we regather our wits.


October 28, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Cardinals are world champions

As Gomer Pyle, USMC used to say, "Surprise, surprise, surprise!" No one gave the banged-up Cardinals much chance to go far in the postseason, but all of their players got healthy just in time for the decisive month of October. Albert Pujols is almost certainly the best all-around player in the major leagues today, and after six years, it's about time he got to enjoy a world championship. Likewise for Jim Edmonds, Scott Spiezio, Juan Encarnacion, and David Eckstein. The full story is at MLB.com. It seems like the Cardinals are almost always in the playoffs, so it's a bit surprising that this is their first World Series win since 1982. Congratulations to the Gateway City!

I had no strong feelings about this series, but wished the Tigers had at least brought the series back to Detroit for Game 6. You could almost say the Tigers threw this series away, or more specifically the Tigers' pitchers threw it away. One fan was holding up a sign with a devastating putdown: "Hit it to the pitcher!" Ouch. Kenny Rogers could have pitched last night, but the manager Jim Leyland felt that Rogers on the mound may have provoked an uproar among the St. Louis fans for the sticky substance seen on his hand in Game 2. The Tigers' youthful enthusiasm was refreshing, but their inexperience showed. Maybe next year, or the year after that. They've got time to mature.

I was glad they picked David Eckstein as the World Series MVP. His combination of fielding hustle and clutch hitting probably tipped the balance in the Cardinals' favor. Plus, it's nice to see short-statured athletes get recognition.

I didn't realize that Preston Wilson is the adopted son of former Met Mookie Wilson, who hit the infamous ground ball that went under Bill Buckner's glove in the 1986 World Series.

Attendance at the three games in Busch Stadium III averaged close to 47,000, which means there were well over 3,000 standing-room-only fans, as Jonathan Karberg pointed out to me. The official seating capacity which I list on that page is 43,975. He says the Cardinals plan to add even more seats during the offseason.

"Ballpark Village"

City officials in St. Louis are moving ahead with plans to build a "ballpark village" in the vacant lot north of Busch Stadium III, where Busch Stadium II used to stand. It will consist of a "mix of shops, restaurants, businesses, retail stores, office space and a condo tower." No doubt they will go overboard straining for nostalgic authenticity, while catering to upscale patrons with $5 cups of coffee and the like. Will anyone grasp the irony? How about a one-dollar hot dog, just for old times' sake? At least they made sure not to spend any of the city's general funds, but you would think there would be enough incentive for private investors to be able to dispense with public funding altogether. Construction will begin next spring, with completion scheduled for Opening Day 2009. It is expected to cost $387 million. See MLB.com. (via Mike Zurawski)

New ballparks

As the above-cited MLB.com summary observed, Busch Stadium III is "the first first-year ballpark since Fenway Park in 1912 to see its home team close out the title on home turf." For you trivia buffs (see Oct. 21), in five of the seven stadiums in which the World Series was played during their first year of existence, the home team in residence there won: Forbes Field (Pirates, 1909), Fenway Park (Red Sox, 1912), Braves Field (Red Sox, 1915), Yankee Stadium (Yankees, 1923), and Busch Stadium III (Cardinals, 2006). The Giants lost in the Polo Grounds (1911) and the Reds lost in Riverfront Stadium (1970). The Red Sox won the World Series playing in two different ballparks within the span of three years!

New sponsors

Many thanks to John Pastier (author of the superb new book Historic Ballparks) for sponsoring the Shibe Park, Tiger Stadium, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, and Comiskey Park pages, and to Sam Berry for sponsoring the AT&T Park page. You too can do your part to keep this Web site going by availing yourself of one of the options on the Sponsor page.


October 29, 2006 [LINK / comment]

"Lula" is reelected in 2nd round

Brazil flag Brazilian President "Lula" da Silva easily won the second round balloting, defeating conservative Geraldo Alckmin with over 60 percent of the vote. See CNN. No surprise there, as he has proven more competent and responsible than most people expected when he was inaugurated four years ago. Now the question is whether he can govern effectively without resorting to bribery of congressmen. His first term was plagued by a series of such scandals, which illustrated the lack of party discipline in Brazil. Somehow, like former President Ricardo Lagos in Chile, da Silva managed to separate himself from the corruption in the public's (forgiving) eye. In his victory speech, da Silva promised to promote further economic growth while reducing social inequality. That, of course, is the "impossible dream" in Latin America and much of the Third World; good luck.

Riot police move into Oaxaca

After political strife in the provincial capital of Oaxaca resulted in a few deaths in recent days, including an American journalists, President Fox finally sent in hundreds of heavily armed riot police. They dismantled barricades and used water cannons to disperse protesters. That may be why the 70,000 teachers who have been on strike since May finally agreed to go back to work on Monday. "Interior Minister Carlos Abascal said it was necessary to send in troops to restore peace because of the 'inability' of Governor Ulises Ruiz to handle the situation." Fox had been reluctant to intervene in Oaxaca, but he only has one more month as president, and has pledged to resolve this crisis before he leaves office. See BBC. It's sad that the local leaders couldn't reach a compromise on their own, and terribly tragic that the tourist trade has suffered so badly.


October 29, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Virginia's marriage amendment

Nine days from today, Virginians will not only choose a senator and representatives, they will decide whether to ratify a proposed constitutional amendment that defines marriage as being exclusively between one man and one woman. In the good old days, that was just common sense, but nowadays it seems that all such social norms have to be codified in excruciating, absurd detail. For the record, I wrote in Feb. 2004, "tampering with the Constitution for such a purpose is almost as absurd as the notion of homosexual marriage itself." Now I'm not so sure. If there is no sense of restraint or willingness to compromise on the part of those pushing for "gay marriage rights," such a measure may just be necessary.

Leading the charge in favor of the proposed constitutional amendment is the Family Foundation Action, which runs the va4marriage.org Web site. They argue that the amendment is necessary in order to thwart the designs of liberal activist judges who presume to dictate on all matters of civil rights. As if to oblige those who feel that way, the New Jersey Supreme Court just ruled that existing marriage laws are discriminatory against gays, but left up to the state legislature whether to permit gay marriage or some lesser civil-union status. More fundamentally, those who favor a "yes" vote on the amendment warn that the institution of the family is under siege. I'm not so sure about that argument. I think it is obviously best when a child is raised by a married man and woman, but that does not mean that two men or two women could not raise a child in a healthier, more loving atmosphere than in an orphanage. Any adoptions by gay couples should be subject to a much heavier degree of scrutiny by social workers, however. Is that "discriminatory"? Yes, of course it is. Since the 1960s, most people have forgotten that discrimination based on reason and prudence is often a good and necessary thing.

Opposed to the amendment is the Commonwealth Coalition. They warn of all sorts of unforeseen consequences if the amendment is passed, and even unmarried heterosexual couples may suffer a loss of rights. (Well, maybe they should get married.) Even though the organization is clearly pro-gay marriage, much of their argument focuses on the second part of the proposed Marshall/Newman amendment, which forbids recognition of any legal status that approximates marriage. I wouldn't object to legal provisions that enable two people of whatever gender to share living quarters on a long-term basis, whether they are sleeping together or not. I don't worry about what people do in their private lives, as long as they are not taking advantage of or abusing vulnerable people. The question is whether such legal provisions would be the "foot in the door" leading to eventual full-fledged marriage, as many social conservatives fear. Opponents of this amendment would be more convincing if they could assure traditional-minded folks that such would not be the case.

This issue is a particularly hot one here in the Shenandoah Valley. In Harrisonburg, a worker (who happened to be a Hispanic immigrant) was fired by Cargill just because he was displaying a pro-amendment slogan on the back window of his pickup truck. Steve Kijak has been following that story. After loud protests, the company relented and gave him his job back. They probably thought they were staying away from trouble by banning political expression from the plant, and their risk-avoidance backfired. By coincidence, Sen. George Allen appeared at a pro-amendment rally on Friday soon after he had breakfast here in Staunton. Opponents of the amendment were loud and boisterous, even holding a mock lesbian wedding just to annoy the proponents. (That sort of thing certainly doesn't convince me.) See the Daily News Record.

There are similar measures on the ballot in several other states across the country. Opposition to the proposed amendment in Tennessee was voiced by Sam Venable (via Instapundit, who is often disdainful of social conservatives).

One line of "argument" that does not impress me at all is the derisive "How could you possibly vote for such a measure?" The implication, of course, is that all social conservatives are Neanderthals. I emphatically detest such elitist condescension. I happen to know quite a few social conservatives whose opposition to gay marriage is deep, principled, and sincere. Casually brushing off the earnest convictions held by a large portion of the American public is foolish. Granted, there are some political activists who use "wedge issues" such as abortion in a way that casts doubt on their sincerity. Such attitudes are not healthy for a a country at war, which desperately needs to restore a vital degree of unity.

This issue, of course, is the perfect illustration of the point made by former Sen. John Danforth in his book Faith and Politics (see Oct. 4). The more that political candidates seek to attract votes by hyping this issue, the further removed it becomes from personal morality. Sen. Allen's campaign ads have been hammering Jim Webb for opposing the marriage amendment lately, which I think is off base and which makes me less likely to vote for it. Much as I would like to register my annoyance with some of the activists on both sides of this issue, I think it is best to keep such deeply personal issues as far from the political arena as possible. So, I'll probably keep my final decision to myself. You might consider doing so, too.

Rush Limbaugh angers Michael J. Fox

Speaking of wedge issues, stem cell research is one of those complex, sensitive ethical questions that is simply not suitable for discussion in a political forum. Rush Limbaugh's callous comments about Michael J. Fox's campaign ads on behalf of the Democrat candidate for Senate in Missouri went way beyond the bounds of propriety. I happen to agree with him that the ailing actor's comments were misleading, but it doesn't excuse mocking a disease victim. It seemed that Rush spent all of last week trying to explain himself, wasting valuable air time just as the Fall 2006 campaign nears an end. Dumb, dumb, dumb.


October 29, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Juncos, coots arrive

Goldfinches eating I've seen several Dark-eyed juncos in our back yard for the last few days, a bit earlier than usual. I glimpsed one a couple weeks ago while on a field trip with the Augusta Bird Club, but Thursday was the first clear sighting of the season for me. We've had dozens of Goldfinches (not very gold this time of year) in our back yard lately, feasting on nyjer (thistle) seed like it's going out of style. This morning two woodpeckers showed up at the suet feeder: a Downy and a Red-bellied.

The weather today was bright and sunny for a change, so I drove out to Bell's Lane this afternoon. I was hoping to retrieve a few tasty persimmons , but very few were on the ground, and the ones still on the branches refused to be shaken off. Warning: Do NOT eat them unless they are soft and ripe! I did see some American coots (common in winter) and Black ducks (not) for the first time this season, plus many sparrows along the road. No Harriers or Short-eared owls have appeared as of yet, however. Today's highlights:

  • American coots (10+, FOS)
  • Pied-billed grebes (2)
  • Ruddy ducks (5)
  • American black ducks (4, FOS)
  • Phoebes (2)
  • White-throated sparrows (20)
  • White-crowned sparrows (8)
  • Red-bellied woodpeckers (2)
  • Bluebirds (4)
  • House finches (6)
  • Goldfinches (8)
  • Palm warbler
  • Great blue heron
  • Meadowlarks (2)

Very hungry pelican

Here's a weird bird news item: A pelican was seen devouring a pigeon in a park in London. See BBC. (Hat tip to Fred Holt, the Costa Rican bird expert.)


October 30, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Pinochet under house arrest

Retired dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet was placed under house arrest pending charges that he orchestrated torture of political prisoners. Judge Alejandro Solis explained that Pinochet is a "danger to society given the grave charges against him. But due to his age, he is 90, he has been granted house arrest." This marks the fifth time that Pinochet has been arrested in the last few years, and it is beginning to look like the criminal authorities plan to keep arresting him on new charges and then releasing him over and over again until he dies. That will avoid the agonizing divisions in Chile that would result from putting him on trial, but will it satisfy the craving for justice among those who lost loved ones under his government? There is certainly no shortage of possible criminal charges that could be filed against him. See CNN.com.


October 30, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Armey: Where GOP went wrong

In Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey reminisced about the glory days of the Republican Revolution, but voiced fears that "my Republican friends in Congress stand on the precipice of an electoral rout." So how did the party that had amassed a "permanent majority" get so badly off track in the last few years?

The answer is simple: Republican lawmakers forgot the party's principles, became enamored with power and position, and began putting politics over policy.

He does a good job of explaining why the Contract with America was tragically abandoned: After Newt Gingrich lost the budget showdown with Bill Clinton in the fall of 1995, many Republicans in Congress concluded -- erroneously -- that most Americans really did want bigger government after all. Based on this terrible miscalculation, they indulged in massive pork barrel spending and went along with Bush II's Big Government agenda (Medicare prescription benefit, etc.), thereby putting the nation's financial health at risk. To those of us who follow Washington politics closely, this is not exactly earth-shattering news, but it's a good concise summary of recent trends nonetheless. He calls for keeping both social conservatives and fiscal conservatives within the Republican fold so as to stage a comeback should the apocalyptic scenario of Speaker Nancy Pelosi come to pass. Once the blaming for next week's likely electoral setback is over, Republicans must repudiate the detour of the past few years and unite behind the banner of limited government once again.

Joe Gandelman (via Instapundit) has some thoughtful reflections about Armey's column, and foresees a battle between Republicans who want to keep using "wedge issues" like gay marriage against those who want to advance a conservative agenda based on ideas. (Guess which side I'm on?) If you ask me, those die-hard party loyalists who make excuses for the misdeeds of Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, and the like are the real problem -- not the liberal mainstream press.

Paranoia on the Right

While Armey's piece just about hits the bullseye, it leaves out the "cultural dimension" of the present-day GOP maladies. More and more, I think the dysfunctional state of the contemporary American Right seems to bear out the central thesis of Richard Hofstadter in his 1965 book of compiled essays, The Paranoid Style in American Politics. (Good luck finding a copy.) Paranoid leaders, he says, are on the (ironic) "cutting edge" in their social circle, seeing emerging threats before the others do, and often contriving to artificially magnify those threats. To their weak-minded followers, self-fulfilling prophecies are a mark of genius. The world is seen as a Manichean dichotomy of good versus evil, loyalty is the highest virtue, dissent is equated with treason, and mediation is a waste of time. This pathological tendency is present on both ends of the political spectrum (remember Hillary's "vast right-wing conspiracy"?), though Hofstadter emphasizes the conservative side. Reading his critiques of the Goldwater movement and its precursors brings forth eerie similarities to current trends. For example, in a 1954 essay Hofstadter wrote of the "pseudo-conservatives" who formed the John Birch Society:

They have little in common with the temperate and compromising spirit of true conservatism in the classical sense of the word, and they are far from pleased with the dominant practical conservatism of the moment as it is represented by the Eisenhower administration.

With their conspiratorial world view, pseudo-conservatives are prone to repeated failure, and in fact they relish it, because every setback gives them fresh ammunition to blame their old enemies and identify new enemies. Such people have little interest in actually governing or formulating policy. When they predominate in a government, there is often little or no critical feedback from middle-level administrators, so policy goals are not attained and the machinery of government gets rusty. (Think Hurricane Katrina.) Thankfully, Ronald Reagan had the political wisdom to keep such people at arm's length even as he courted their votes. He fashioned a cabinet that favored solid pragmatists like George Shultz, while letting conservative ideologues like James Watt make minor mischief. The resulting friction wasn't always pretty, but it made possible a dynamic, goal-oriented administration that was superlative in terms of concrete achievements. The difficult question for today is how far the pseudo-conservatives of today are willing to go to blame others for the Bush administration's failures. It could get ugly, sports fans...


October 30, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Hermit thrushes arrive

A quick walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad late this afternoon yielded a sighting of yet another first-of-season bird, or birds: two Hermit thrushes. This was one day earlier than last year. Highlights:

  • Swamp sparrow
  • Ruby-crowned kinglets
  • Yellow-rumped warbler
  • Robins
  • Hermit thrushes (FOS)
  • Red-winged blackbirds (20+, high)
  • Downy woodpeckers
  • White-breasted nuthatch

October 31, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Soriano files for free agency

Well, duh! Imagine what a shock it would have been if he had not done so. Alfonso finished fourth in the majors with 46 home runs, and tenth in the majors with 41 stolen bases, but his .277 batting average was not exactly stellar quality. Sure, he's a crowd-boosting, big-name draw, but will other teams be willing to pay him as much as he seems to think he's worth? See Washington Post. Three other Washington Nationals have also filed for free agency: Tony Armas, Jose Guillen, and Robert Fick. I hope they can work out terms with Guillen at least, and I think the others would be useful as well.

Yours truly at bat

Now that baseball is over and we struggle to somehow cope with the next five bleak months, I thought it would be appropriate to indulge in a little whimsical diversionary nostalgia. This photo was taken in some Northern Virginia park way back in the 1980s, before anyone had even dreamed of building a "retro" ballpark. I also used to play on the softball diamonds near the Tidal Basin in D.C. for the Department of Labor team. I'll never forget one particular character on our team named Colin. Whenever a tourist bus drove by, he would greet the passengers from the hinterlands with a loud and ostentatious "Welcome to Washington, folks!" Those were the days...

Andrew at bat

October 31, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Oaxaca is burning

Hopes that the arrival of los Federales in the provincial capital of Oaxaca would quell the violence there turned out to be premature. Even though the teachers have ended their strike, which is what started the whole mess five months ago, protesters have dug in their heels, preparing for a pitched battle with authorities. This erases any doubt that they want the confrontation to escalate. The entire city is under siege and basically closed down, with charred remains of buses and debris filling the streets. The police control the zone around the central plaza, while the protesters control much of the rest, including the university radio station, from which they are broadcasting revolutionary propaganda. I was stunned to realize that the photo of the "fiery barricade" in today's Washington Post was taken from the exact same spot where I took this photo in February 2003:

Oaxaca street

That photo came from the Mexico, 2003: Oaxaca & Tule photo gallery page. We observed protesters with communist insignia outside the main government building, but never imagined it would come to this.

Ironically, the American photo-journalist Brad Will who was shot last week worked for the left-wing Indymedia, which strongly supports the protesters. They claim this happened during "an armed, paramilitary assault on the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca..." As reported at Pajamas Media by "Mark in Mexico," however, the APPO was responsible for the death of Will and others, it is armed, and it is not disposed to make peace. APPO leader Flavio Sosa "has a third grade education and is a convicted felon." (Hat tip to Barcepundit.) The death and destruction in the beautiful city of Oaxaca is an enormous, incomprehensible tragedy, and anyone who makes excuses for violent means to resolve domestic political disputes in democratic countries is a moral coward.


October 31, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Kerry's gaffe: "stuck in Iraq"

Sen. John Kerry is well known for holding a haughty contempt toward average Americans, and it was revealed once again today while speaking in California. He jestingly told a group of college students that if if they didn't study hard, they might get "stuck in Iraq." It probably never occurred to Kerry that, for all the hardships and danger, most of our troops over there in the "sand box" take pride in the valuable service they are performing. It is not some useless menial chore, as he seemed to imply, it is a vital mission. Kerry later said it was a "botched joke" aimed at the president, but refused to apologize for it. Dumb, dumb, dumb. President Bush came back swinging, insisting that "our troops deserve our gratitude and respect" (CNN.com), but it probably wasn't necessary. Let Kerry keep digging his own (party's) grave.

Austin Bay, whose military service credentials are impeccable, writes that "Kerry has resurrected the Vietnam Syndrome -- at least his and the left wing of the Democratic Party's Vietnam (loser's) Syndrome." Kerry has aptly reminded the American people, exactly one week before the election, what a vast difference there is on national security policy between the two parties: One side takes it seriously, and the other side sneers at it. Quite a nice electoral "treat" for the Republicans on Halloween!

P.C. ostracism

Jewish blogger Judith Weiss has a long post in reaction to a New York Times article on how partisan differences are creating deep divisions within many families these days. Most Republicans are reticent about talking politics, whereas Democrats tend to live up to the feisty "donkey" attitude and proselytize on politics as though it were a religion. In practice, the party that espouses "diversity" is extremely intolerant of contrary opinions and assumptions. The description of situations in which people she knows have been shunned as outcasts for their conservative beliefs really resonates with me.


October 31, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Readjusting the course

Now that President Bush has backed away from "stay the course" as a rallying cry, several questions emerge. Was this change appropriate? (Yes.) Was it timely? (No.) Will it help the Republicans hold on to Congress? (No.) Daniel Drezner agrees with me on that last point: "From a political perspective, however, my hunch is that this shift in rhetoric will be a disaster." Indeed, the change from Bush's prior insistence that we had to persevere now calls into question other aspects of U.S. war policy. He needs to be extremely careful in how he phrases war policy for the next few delicate months, as the transition toward greater Iraqi control over security proceeds. As Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki takes an increasingly assertive stance toward the United States, Bush needs to display extreme tact and statesmanlike poise. We want the Iraqis to stand up for themselves, and Bush needs to tone down the macho war rhetoric so that Americans get used to dealing with the Iraqis as equal partners.

Drezner was also quite right to highlight the "Vietnam analogy" in this situation, but not for the reason you might think. As most reasonably objective people understand, the ongoing slaughter in Iraq is almost certainly part of an orchestrated campaign to undermine the American people's will, just as the the Tet Offensive was in 1968. Many Americans still don't "get" Tet, in which a clear U.S. military victory was transformed into a geopolitical defeat thanks to the eroding credibility of the Johnson administration, especially Bob McNamara's Pentagon. The Viet Cong suffered devastating losses in Tet, after which the North Vietnamese Army became the primary locus of enemy resistance. We lost the Vietnam War in no small part because LBJ was afraid of directly confronting the main suppliers of the communist forces -- Red China. The corresponding external patron of the enemy forces in the Iraq War is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Victory or defeat in Iraq will depend on whether we confront Tehran.


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