One of my various ongoing endeavors finally bore fruit yesterday: the revamped Web site of the Blue Ridge chapter of the American Red Cross, headquartered here in Staunton. Words can't express what a pleasure it has been doing volunteer work with those caring, devoted folks, and I've had a few first-hand experiences in responding to small-scale emergencies. It so happens that March is Red Cross month, and I heartily urge all civic-minded folks to find some way -- whether money, time, or blood -- to contribute to this very worthy and seldom-appreciated cause.
As President Bush embarks on his week-long trip to Latin America, and leftist or nationalist protesters are already gearing up for a loud "welcome," pundits and analysists are offering him all sorts of (free) advice. At heritage.org, Helle Dale says Bush should "Urge Mexico to Adopt Economic Reforms," apparently unaware that any such pressure from the gringos usually backfires. Most of her recommendations are sensible, but human nature being what it is, the Mexicans will have to arrive at that conclusion on their own. Broaching the very sensitive topic of privatizing PEMEX and other state monopolies right now would not be prudent. Ms. Dale notes correctly that the forces of reason and moderation are still prevailing in most of the region, for the moment. Who would have ever thought that Alan Garcia would be considered a positive influence? Live and learn...
Andres Oppenheimer offers four suggestions for Bush at miamiherald.com (before the Democrats make such a Kennedyesque appeal next year!):
Hemispheric Bio-fuels Initiative
New Alliance for Progress for Latin America and the Caribbean
Hemispheric Health Cooperation Plan
Hemispheric English Language Program
It would be nice if the U.S. government could devote enough resources and attention to such an ambitious cooperation program, but the war on terror will make that difficult. Given that his credibility is not high to begin with, Bush should not promise more than he can deliver.
Political showdown in Ecuador
Fearing for its political life (and perhaps the future of pluralistic politics in Ecuador), the opposition-controlled Congress voted to dismiss the head of the electoral tribunal, because of his decision to approve the referendum sought by the new (leftist) president, Rafael Correa. That official, "in turn, ordered the removal from office of the 57 deputies who voted against him." What gives him that authority? Correa is trying to to restructure the country's entire political system from the ground up, beginning with Congress, and he is resorting to extraordinary means to push his agenda. See BBC. The establishment will not go quietly, and the possibility of violence cannot be discounted. Ecuador used to be relatively tranquil but became extremely unstable in the late 1990s, thanks primarily to the foolish squandering of the nation's oil wealth. I continue to be amazed at how audacious and reckless Correa has turned out to be, in spite of his background in higher education. Chalk it up to headstrong egotism and youthful inexperience -- like Alan Garcia in the 1980s.
Eight U.S. attorneys were abruptly dismissed in late December, even though all but one of them had a very solid performance record. Why the mass firings? The Justice Department says it was because they were not following Bush administration guidelines on prosecution priorities. According to the Washington Post, several of the attorneys said they had faced heavy pressure from above, and the House and Senate committees are issuing subpoenas to get to the bottom of this. Most of the attorneys are Republicans, and some of them were investigating alleged corruption by (mostly) Republican members of Congress, including Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Even if their firings were not punitive in nature, it still reflects poorly on Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who is a close personal associate of President Bush. Don Surber notes that until now the Bush administration has been very good at cracking down on corporate corruption (unlike Clinton), but says that Gonzalez should be fired for this "ham-fisted firing." Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan, who no doubt concurs.
Perhaps the most notable thing about President Bush's visit to Latin America is that relatively few notable events took place. You have to give credit to the trip planners, who successfully coordinated extensive security measures in each of the five countries he visited. There were a few predictable anti-U.S. demonstrations, including some vicious caricatures comparing Bush to Hitler, but that is pretty much par for the course. It's been that way ever since Vice President Richard Nixon was the target of a tomato barrage in Lima, Peru in 1958. There were also predictable chidings of Bush by Latin leaders, but otherwise pretty much everything went smoothly. This stood in contrast to the riotous Summit of the Americas [held in] Mar del Plata, Argentina, which Bush attended in November 2005.
The summary analysis by Peter Baker in the Washington Post took note of President Bush's intensive gestures to reach out to average people in Latin America, trying to counteract the appeal of Hugo Chavez. With less than two years to go before his term ends, it was probably one of the last big chances for Bush to do some real "campaigning." Bush pushed his themes of social justice and "compassion" like there was no tomorrow, and it really was impressive. Baker is probably correct to write that "Bush had more symbolism than substance to offer," but that is one of the collateral effects of having invested such a big share of U.S. resources to the War on Terror. Bush seems to be making up for lack of hard cash and time with sharp, up-close focus.
In Brazil, the big announcement was the ethanol trade agreement. This had been anticipated (see Feb. 8), and in a sense it embodies some of the fundamental contradictions in U.S. foreign policy, especially as has been practiced under the Bush administration. The geopolitical objective of courting allies in the region to curtail the influence of Hugo Chavez was obvious to all. As explained in the Washington Post, Bush's attempt to link ethanol to environmental goals is questionable:
The emphasis on ethanol has also drawn criticism from environmentalists and others who complain that it will create more problems. Because the United States makes ethanol from corn, it has already caused price increases, for example, for tortillas in Mexico. Brazil makes ethanol from sugar cane, and critics say increased production would result in further deforestation of the Amazon.
From a strictly economic perspective, the problem is that such trade agreements run counter to the long-standing American commitment to free-market economic policy. Indeed, U.S. farm policy is a big part of the problem, as commodities such as cane sugar are heavily protected from imports because of the incestuous relationship between lobbyists, organized interest groups, and congressmen in Washington. If the U.S. agricultural economy moved toward a real free-market system, there would be vastly improved prospects for exporters in Latin America, which would provide more employment opportunities and therefore less incentive to emigrate to the U.S.
Brazil's President "Lula" da Silva left no doubt about his government's strong opposition to the Bush foreign policy. He got some laughs from his countrymen for some ribald words poking fun at his North American guest -- all in good fun, of course! Lula's political judgment is often lacking, but I am more and more impressed with his combination of prudence and public style. Not many leaders can do both things. All in all, the stop in Brazil got things off to a good start, at least.
In Uruguay, Bush met with Tabare Vazquez. Not much has happened in Uruguay since his leftist Broad Front took power in 2005, upsetting the traditional political establishment there. Vazquez signed a food-for-oil agreement with Hugo Chavez [early in his term], and his country has been in a dispute with Argentina over a pulp mill along the Uruguay River. While Bush was in Montevideo, "Chavez tried to steal his thunder by staging an anti-Bush rally in a soccer stadium filled with Venezuelan flags, Che Guevara banners, and signs saying: 'Bush Get Out!'" See washingtonpost.com
The visit to Colombia was the first time a U.S. president had been to the capital city Bogota since 1982, but the hurried seven-hour stay hurt feelings of Colombian people. Well, that's probably unavoidable, given the risky circumstances there. Bush's friendly sentiments were not reciprocated, as 2,000+ protesters smashed windows and clashed with police after he passed them by. Because of the terrorist threat, "U.S. officials arranged for a second motorcade to serve as a decoy." Yikes. Bush praised President Uribe for his strenuous efforts to subdue the FARC narco-terrorist movement. See Washington Post. Some success in this decades-long civil war is indicated by the fact that the rival ELN guerrilla group is winding down its campaign and is now negotiating peace terms. But until U.S. drug policy is reformed, there will be a steady flow of cash to keep the violence going.
In Guatemala, Bush discussed the problem of narco-traffic gangs with President Oscar Berger, who was concerned primarily about U.S. immigration policy. Berger expressed strong disappointed that Bush did not commit to ending deportations of illegal immigrants. The Washington Post indicates that "10 percent of [Guatemala's] population has moved north of the Rio Grande." (Seriously, whose problem is that?) Bush also stopped at the Mayan ruins of Iximche, after which Indian leaders held ceremonies at archeological sites Bush visited to "cleanse the evil spirits" he allegedly left.
In Mexico, immigration policy was also the number one item on the agenda. President Felipe Calderon sharply criticized Bush for the wall being built along the border, even though it was not Bush's idea in the first place. See Washington Post and El Universal (in English). Bush said he is optimistic: "I will work with Congress, members of both political parties, to pass immigration law that will enable us to respect the rule of law -- and at the same time, respect humanity." (See CNN.com.) The tragedy of U.S.-Latin American relations at the present time is that those two objectives are widely seen as mutually contradictory. In Mexico's case, in contrast to the rest of Latin America, U.S. policy is constrained by the obligation to accommodate a government that is about as friendly as we can expect under current circumstances. That doesn't mean bending over backward or turning a blind eye to border-crossers, but it does mean making strong reciprocal gestures of cooperation aimed at demonstrating good will and respect for a country that, for all its faults, deserves it.
Chiquita is fined
U.S.-owned Chiquita Brands International will pay a $25 million fine for having paid $1.7 million in protection money to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) militias, under a settlement with the Department of Justice. See BBC. The AUC is notorious for involvement in drug trafficking and committing human rights abuses, and is classified as a terrorist organization by the State Department. They have made hesitant steps toward disarmament in recent years, though many people doubt the sincerity of their commitment. For many wealthy rural landowners, the AUC is the most reliable security force. It is important to note that several conservative political allies of President Uribe have been linked to the AUC in the last few months, an embarrassment for the Bush administration.
Latest word is that Fidel Castro seems to be recovering, so he may well linger on for the rest of the year or perhaps beyond. Also, the level of violence in Mexico and Venezuela has declined in recent months. I've updated the Latin American Presidents & elections table accordingly.
Former MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn has passed away at the age of 80. He served as commissioner from 1969 to 1984, a length of tenure that was second only to the first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1920-1944). An attorney by profession, he presided over the sad era when baseball lost its status as the nation's Number One sport to football. It wasn't his fault, however, and indeed he exerted mighty influence against the baseball franchise owners, many of whom refused to adapt to the era of televised entertainment. The most notable instance was in 1976 when he refused to allow Charley Finley to trade Vida Blue and two other Oakland Athletics players. (In contrast, his successor, Peter Ueberroth, was very close to the owners and is suspected of orchestrating the collusion against free agent players during the late 1980s.) On the other side of the bargaining table, during this era, organized labor flexed its muscles in baseball for the first time, as the Curt Flood case gave rise to free agency, million-dollar salaries, and rising ticket prices. Kuhn will be remembered for several major achievements, such as expansion of the major leagues, the beginning of divisional playoffs, and of course the abolition of the reserve clause, which is when free agency began. In addition, Kuhn punished Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle for their commercial ties to gambling, setting a clear example for the future that was not heeded by all, unfortunately. The major setback during his tenure, of course, was the players' strike that interrupted the 1981 season. Mr. Kuhn was the first commissioner that I took notice of, and I learned to my surprise that he had a degree from the University of Virginia! See MLB.com. In his book In the Best Interests of Baseball?, Andrew Zimbalist noted that Mr. Kuhn was much more of a decisive leader than his three predecessors. Let's hope the next MLB Commissioner is as effective as he was.
Just a few days ago, the temperature climbed into the seventies, and today it snowed for most of the afternoon. This is utter madness!
And speaking of March madness, hats off to the Rams of Virginia Commonwealth University, who upset the Duke Blue Devils 79-77 last night. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU was the first institution at which I taught, and it has a lot of promise. They have blended the new architecture into the existing rowhouses and other buildings in a very harmonious way. I frown on the professionalization of collegiate sports, but I still say that athletic success can do wonders to motivate scholarly effort.
Just before midnight last night, I heard some commotion in the room where our canaries live, so I went in to check and realized that Princess was not in her nest. It took a minute or two before I found her on the floor in the corner, obviously scared after having fallen in the darkness. After a few minutes she flew back up there, but something was irritating her and she kept fidgeting compulsively. I don't know what it was that was bothering her, but Jacqueline was very distraught that there may have been some serious problem. Fortunately, Princess calmed down after munching on some broccoli we brought in, and soon she and George went back to sleep. Whew!
Those two "lovebirds" have been going through their usual flirting and quarreling routines, as Princess flaps her wings in the window to impress the birds outside. No eggs since December, though. For his part, George has been singing more loudly and more frequently now that spring is here. He has started to fly into my office almost every day, and enjoys "competitive" singing while I play music on iTunes.
Coca growers in Bolivia are demanding, as part of their efforts to rewrite the country's constitution, that Coca-Cola remove "coca" from their corporate name, on the grounds that it is a sacred plant and a fundamental part of their cultural heritage. One rather suspects that they are trying to extort royalty payments from Coca-Cola. According to the BBC,
President Evo Morales is a former coca leaf farmer and is pressing the UN to allow Bolivia to export products such as tea, toothpaste and liquor made from coca.
Just imagine: Coca-toothpaste: It gives your breath that clean, tingly feeling!
Meanwhile, Panama seized 21.5 tons of highly concentrated "cultural heritage" from a ship that was probably headed for the United States. It was one of the biggest cocaine busts in history. See CNN.com.
Coincidentally, I've been reading a book that is very pertinent to this: Whispering in the Giant's Ear: A Frontline Chronicle from Bolivia's War on Globalization, by William Powers. The author is a development aid official who (rightly) looks askance on conventional development programs because, among other things, they are hopelessly out of touch with market realities. He is very conscious of the common interest in protecting indigenous cultures and precious natural habitats, but he seems to have "gone native," sympathizing rather uncritically with the coca-growers movement led by Evo Morales.
Venezuela vs. Dominica
Venezuela wants to build an oil refinery on tiny Bird Island, which it has controlled since 1865, even though the island is actually much closer to Dominica. The opposition party in Dominica wants the government to reject Venezuela's proposal because of the potential for environmental harm. Dominica happens to be a major destination for bird-watchers, and tourism is the leading industry. CNN.com notes:
The Barbados-based Caribbean Conservation Association has also urged Dominica to reject the refinery, being built as part of Venezuela's Petrocaribe deal -- under which 14 Caribbean nations benefit from preferential terms to buy oil from the South American country.
It's quite a dilemma for a poor country: cheap oil or eco-tourist dollars? Bird Island is situated about 130 miles west of Dominica, and about the same distance south-southeast of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Somehow, I was unaware of this piece of geographical trivia, so I went to check out my atlases, and to my surprise, only one of them shows it: The Hammond International World Atlas, on a 11,200,000 to 1 scale map. The Planet Earth edition of the Macmillan World Atlas, with very detailed 5,000,000 to 1 scale maps, does not show it at all, though it does show the undersea Aves Ridge. Bird Island is treeless, so I assume the only birds found there are nesting seabirds such as Shearwaters, Petrels, or maybe Albatrosses.
The vote by the U.S. Senate this week (50-48) to set a firm deadline for withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq was so wrong-headed that I don't know where to begin. That is not what the Iraq Study Group recommended! Sen. Chuck Hagel joined with the Democrats (except for Sen. Joe Lieberman), explaining that he could no longer support "failing" war policies. This position stands in marked contrast to what he and Sen. Joe Biden said back in December 2002 (via Instapundit):
Once [Saddam Hussein] is gone, expectations are high that coalition forces will remain in large numbers to stabilize Iraq and support a civilian administration. That presence will be necessary for several years, given the vacuum there...
So why has he changed his position? It would appear that, as with immigration, Hagel is now simply pandering to the mainstream media. For his part, Sen. John McCain has made some very strong and appropriate denunciations of the Senate vote. I think those on both sides who try to make war policy into a partisan issue are making our country weaker, but I must say that the Democrats on Capitol Hill are doing everything they can to validate the impression that they are, as Rush says, "invested in defeat." Please, Democrats, give use some reason not to think that.
Dems In Name Only?
Most of the complaints about lack of party loyalty have been heard on the Republican side in recent years -- those evil "RINOs"! -- but a similar flap has occurred on the Democratic side of the aisle in Richmond. State Senator Benjamin Lambert gave $1000 to conservative Republican Rep. "Buck" McKeon, from California, and Raising Kaine was incensed at this disloyal effrontery. The somewhat more free-thinking Waldo Jaquith admits that he too has given money to Republican candidates.
Webb: Born shootin'
Who would have thought that the guy who replaced George Allen as junior senator from Virginia would be even more of a gunslinger? The arrest of Sen. James Webb's aide for bringing a handgun into the Senate office building was a deliciously ironic treat for Second Amendment fans. Webb, of course, has been as disingenuous about this hypocrisy as you could imagine. But might this whole episode have been a stunt concocted to lure hunters and gun enthusiasts into defecting from GOP ranks? Ominously, our local pro-gun bloggers have yet to weigh in on this matter.
Generally speaking, I pay little or no attention to the snit fits of Donald Trump vs. Rosie O'Donnell and other media personalities. But when Rosie O endorsed the lunatic fringe theory that government explosives were to blame for bringing down some or all of the buildings at the World Trade Center, I took notice. Rosie has hereby earned herself a place in my list of Unmentionable wackos.
"After further review," it turns out that prospects for a new ballpark in Miami have actually improved this month. Both the Miami-Dade County Commission and the Miami City Commission have passed preliminary authorization to jointly fund a $490 million stadium for the Florida Marlins. It would be located in the city of Miami (not in ecologically-sensitive Hialeah, thank goodness), and there is an emerging consensus to build it on the site of the Orange Bowl. A decision on the stadium site is expected in late April or early May. As reported by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (hat tip to Bruce Orser),
The ballpark proposal calls for the Marlins to contribute $207 million mainly in rent payments; the county to chip in $145 million in hotel bed taxes; and the city to contribute $108 million in hotel bed and tourist development taxes. The $60 million state sales tax rebate would cover the remainder.
Well, that's certain a better deal for John Q. Public than the stadium funding agreement reached in Washington last year. Field of Schemes has a more recent post on the Miami story, expecting that the Florida legislature will pass the necessary tax measures.
Stadium name changes
The Stadium names page has been updated with recent stadium name changes and new stadium construction projects, and has been reformatted with a scrolling table, like the one on the Stadium statistics page. If there are any glitches in it, please let me know.
Most people's attention is focused on Iraq, where U.S. forces are making progress in subduing enemy resistance. (But for how long?) One thousand miles to the east, meanwhile, the "forgotten war" in Afghanistan is picking up steam as well. The Washington Post reported that NATO troops (U.S., British, Canadian, and Dutch) and some Afghans are attacking Taliban bases in the mountains of Helmand province, northwest of Kandahar. It is one of the areas where poppy cultivation is most widespread, and the drug money fuels the warlords and insurgent movement. Elements of the 82nd Airborne Division only recently arrived in Afghanistan, and they are already part of the attack, which is called "Operation Achilles." The local people seem to be in favor of the government, being tired of all the pointless fighting. Unfortunately, U.S. troops fired back toward a crowd after being hit by an IED a few days ago, and President Karzai sharply criticized them for it. Such things are bound to happen from time to time, but overall our troops are displaying great discipline and professionalism.
China hikes military spending
China has announced it will spend 18 percent more on its armed forces this year. It seems like a lot, but their total military budget ($44.9 billion, according to standard currency conversion) will still be less than ten percent of ours, which is $623 billion. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte (who just assumed that post) called on the Beijing government to "clarify its plans." Of course, China said it was strictly for defensive purposes. See Washington Post. Personally, I don't think their recent test of an anti-satellite missile system was defensive. So, don't forget where your money is going every time you shop at Wal-Mart or Target, folks! In all seriousness, we will have to get used to China becoming a fully-capable superpower in the next decade or so, and that means making certain accommodations with them so as to minimize points of friction. It all depends on whether they are reasonable in their demands on Taiwan.
Save the ghost fleet!
The possibility of an armed confrontation with China some day implies that we should be prepared. In Monday's Washington Post, Craig Hooper warned that the Bush administration and the Navy Department are discarding retired ("mothballed") ships with undue haste, using many of them for target practice. That leaves us with precious little reserve in case of war.
Jacqueline and I took advantage of yesterday's balmy temperatures (what a contrast to last week!) by driving through the northern reaches of Augusta County. We traversed miles of rolling pastures and then stopped for a while in the town of Mount Solon, where we relaxed and watched the ducks and geese on the picturesque pond. I walked around and was particularly impressed by the old architecture such as the old brick building that may have been a school or a courthouse. Mt. Solon must have been a thriving community in the 19th Century, but today it is regarded as a sleepy, bygone village. If you ask me, it is truly an idyllic locale. Then we went to Natural Chimneys Regional Park, less than a mile north of town, but were dissuaded from entering by the $6 per car entry fee. For an afternoon picnic, sure. For a brief photo op? No. See y'all next time. On the way back home, we stopped so I could get a picture of the old steel girder bridge in Stokesville . Now that's a classic image of yesteryear rural America.
I recently read the provocative book by Mark Steyn, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is prone to occasional doubts about the "War on Terror." (Those quotes reflect my belief that it would be more apt to call it the "War on Islamo-fascism," not any doubt about the reality of the conflict itself.) To say that Steyn is an alarmist would be an understatement: he boldly and unapologetically proclaims that The End (of Western Civilization) Is Near. Some complacent folks (tenured university professors?) will no doubt chuckle at such a notion. To deny that his book contains a substantial amount of truth, however -- an "inconvenient" truth, you might say -- would be a grievous error. Steyn makes no pretense of being a scholar (the book has no footnotes or bibliography), but he is keenly aware of the global situation and the nature of the enemy. Steyn grew up in Canada and has a military background, and now lives in the United States. He blogs at Steyn Online.
The basic premise of American Alone is that Europe's welfare state mentality has paved the way for a massive influx of immigrants who are implacable enemies of everything Europe stands for, and that before long, most if not all of those countries will have been taken over by the jihadists. It is a breathtaking and frightening futuristic scenario to contemplate, but it is hardly a novel forecast of global trends. Indeed, for many decades, the fear of being taken over by fast-breeding dark-skinned barbarians has been a staple theme of nativist political activists in Europe as well as the U.S.A. In order to properly evaluate Steyn's book, therefore, we need to keep in mind that historical background.
Steyn begins by laying out the current demographic trends in Europe and North America, both of which (especially the former) are plagued by a low birth rate -- thanks to abortion, birth control, and changes in social roles. I was pleased to note that he quoted Allen Lynch (a very bright and decent professor I used to know at U.Va.) in observing that Russian women who viewed the anti-abortion movie The Silent Scream were too morally numb to be shaken by the images of aborted fetuses. Since Russia stands at the forefront (?!) of Europe's regression into socialist stagnation, that reaction is probably indicative of the attitude trends in the rest of Europe, i.e., moral bankruptcy. Check out the appalling statistics on abortion in this country at NRLC.org.
The author does a great job in drawing the connection between the welfare state and the steady disintegration of a family-based social structure in Europe, and to a lesser extent, here. So how do the Europeans keep their economies going without enough native-born labor? By "outsourcing breeding," as Steyn puts it, otherwise known as unrestricted immigration. (During my trip to Europe as a college student in the 1970s, I was dumbfounded by the hopeless attitude shown by many businessmen that there was nothing they could do about high labor costs, and they had no choice but to rely upon immigrant labor. Cognitive dissonance!) Sadly, that's the condition of stagnation and reality-denial toward which we are headed, too, but we are not quite as "advanced" as the Europeans are.
Steyn then takes a hard look at the practice of religion by the (mostly) Muslim immigrants. He argues that "Islam is not just a religion," but is, rather, a political project in which resorting to violence is a central, defining feature. From suicide bombers to political conspirators to feuding sheiks to mobs of unemployed young men in the streets, the common element is settling differences by violent means. He sometimes over-generalizes about the Arab-Islamic culture, but anyone who follows the news closely* knows that the phenomenon he depicts is very widespread. The "moderate Muslims" upon which Westerners pin our hopes are genuine, but in terms of leadership roles in the Muslim community at large, they have been effectively marginalized by the extremists, who use them as a cloak while they plot against us in our very midst. Those moderates insist that they have nothing to do with the terrorists who have "hijacked" their faith, but by remaining silent they allow the continued recruitment of innocent young dupes to carry out jihad. The dignified-appearing imams, diplomats, and lobbyists from the Middle East (including some countries that are supposedly our allies) constitute the "insulating circles of gray" that cloak the hard-core jihadists, thereby sustaining the diabolical cult of martyrdom.
So what are we to do? Steyn outlines three broad options: submit to Islam, destroy Islam, or try to reform Islam. The first two are not conceivable, however, and the third option is largely beyond the capacity of Westerners to bring about. So Steyn suggests a wide variety of small-scale measures to undermine the legitimacy of jihadist regimes. His prognosis is quite grim, envisioning a new Dark Ages in which what is left of Western Civilization will take refuge in North America. In much of the rest of the world, he expects, chaos will prevail because there will be no superpowers willing or able to police international trade. Ecotourism or saving the Amazon rain forest? Dream on.
Is our future really that bleak? The threat of Islamo-fascism is a very real one, but it is very stealthy and gradual in nature, which is why many people pretend it doesn't exist. This is where the old fable of the "boy who cried wolf" is very appropriate. It offered two contrary lessons: 1) Don't ignore a warning just because you've heard the same thing over and over, and 2) Don't put your credibility at risk by frightening people unless you're sure that the potential threat is real. Nevertheless, most people have only taken to heart one lesson or the other. Some people are prone to hysterical alarm, which invariably backfires; Rep. Virgil Goode is a good example. Other people take advantage of people's desire not to be subject to fear and pretend quite cynically that no threat exists; Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean would be good examples of that. Their attitude of head-in-the-sand complacency is validated by a number of Europhilic scholars such as Charles Kupchan or Timothy Garton Ash, who assure us that Europe will thrive with a pluralistic society. I think Mark Steyn has much clearer idea of where Europe is headed than they do.
In our debates about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and about immigration policy, we need to keep in mind the global context. The reason for Europe's reluctance to help us fight extremist movements in the Middle East has more to do with their own domestic social situation than with the merits of our current anti-terrorist strategy. What's more, we need to be aware that there are jihadists in our midst, even right here in the Old Dominion. Americans need to wake up to this threat and face it calmly and resolutely before it gets to the point where anti-Islamic vigilantes begin to take matters into their own hands. The prospect of anti-immigrant mob violence in cities and towns across America in another ten years or so is a very real one. That would be the end of America as we know it.
* Coincidentally there was another senseless riot by those "youths" in Paris yesterday; via Drudge. Before long, these incidents will become a daily occurrence, part of the "background noise" in the news cycle, and we will hardly notice as Paris begins to look more and more like Beirut.
Why the sparse frequency of blog posts lately? Most of my time over the past few days has been devoted to setting up the new Staunton GOP Web site, which has a number of interactive features such as a Photo gallery in which all the photos can be accessed from a single page. (I learned from my brother Dan that, because of the CSS techniques I used, that page will not work with versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer prior to 7.0; it works fine on Firefox 1.0+, Safari 1.0+, and Netscape 6.0+, however.) This "new" Web site actually replaces the old swacgop.org Web site, which I created four years ago. (The domain name of the latter has been "parked" until such time as the respective units can come to a mutual agreement.) Augusta County withdrew its participation in December, and Waynesboro just did likewise. It's sadly emblematic of general trends within the Republican Party these days. Like the Fleetwood Mac song, "You Can Go Your Own Way"...
The attack ads begin
And speaking of divisions within the Republican Party, there is a new radio ad attacking Sen. Emmett Hanger in a sarcastic, sneering tone that does not exactly appeal to reason. I guess that's what "mobilizing the base" means. Ugh... I learned of it via the VCAP blog. It's one thing to criticize Sen. Hanger for voting to raise taxes in 2004, but lumping him in with the Democrats is just ridiculous. Such fratricide in the most solidly Republican part of the Old Dominion is very troubling, and it raises the question of whether the party can hold together during the fall campaign. The ad does not mention Sen. Hanger's opponent, Scott Sayre, and therefore does not count as a campaign ad for statutory purposes.
And speaking of Mr. Sayre, there is a new collaborative blog, bloggers4sayre, and some of the names on it I recognize.
The video of the rally in Staunton, expressing support for the "Gathering of Eagles," is now available for viewing. (The event was chronicled in last Saturday's post.) It features Rhonda Winfield, mother of fallen hero Jason Redifer, as well as Sgt. Herb Harman, who recently returned from a one-year tour of duty in Iraq. The video has only a few excerpts of the speeches, for the sake of brevity, and my apologies to those who were not included. It runs three minutes and twenty seconds, and has a 9.3MB file size. To view it, you need QuickTime media software, available free from Apple.com. Thanks go out to all those folks who organized this event.
The quality of Web video is by nature quite mediocre, so just in case anyone is interested in seeing a higher-quality full-screen version in video CD format (playable on most but not all DVD machines) please contact me. I made a similar video CD of the August 2005 rally, and I would include both on the same disk.
A series of articles in the Washington Post has exposed substandard physical conditions and poor postoperative care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, DC. Walter Reed is an aging facility and is slated to be abandoned in the next few years, though I'm not sure why. Surely they could tear down the older buildings and remake the facility. Yesterday, Maj. Gen. George Weightman was removed from command of the hospital after less than a year on the job. Is he being made a scapegoat? Oddly, his predecessor in that post, Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, was named temporary replacement, even though the problems have been known for many months. A retired colonel wrote a letter to the News Leader today, calling on citizens to demand action from their members of Congress as the best way to show support for our troops. I would agree wholeheartedly that wounded and disabled veterans no less than the best care, and there is no excuse for shortchanging them.
This case highlights the severe budgetary strain our armed forces are under as they fight on several fronts in the global war against Islamic terrorists. Obviously, more resources are needed, including better armor, better pay, and better medical care for the troops. That means higher taxes. Conservative heresy, you say? Well, that shows why conservatives are generally averse to warfare, in spite of their patriotic inclination, because it tends to make the government stronger. It's a stressful role-reversal described as the "Liberal - Conservative Conundrum" by Bruce Porter in his book War and the Rise of the State (1994).
Cheney visits the battlefront
The Taliban detonated a bomb to welcome Vice President Dick Cheney on his visit to U.S. troops in Afghanistan this week, as both sides gear up for major battles this spring. Whether you agree with him on all issues or not, Cheney's consistent display of rock-solid determination to prevail in the long struggle is exactly what we need in our leaders. (It's one of the more admirable traits of President Bush as well.) Cheney then traveled to Pakistan and put heavy pressure on President Pervez Musharraf to crack down on al Qaeda. The question is, can Musharraf do much of anything in the face of heavy pressure from Islamists in the Pakistani armed forces and the civilian sector? He has adopted a very low-key posture since his book In the Line of Fire came out last year.
Mike Zurawski tells me that Ameriquest field is now called Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. As part of the name change, the Ameriquest bell logo in left field has been removed. See dfw.com. This is great news, as long as they don't change the name again in the next few years. Congratulations to team owner Tom Hicks.
Washington Nationals President Stan Kasten was interviewed about the new stadium being built. He expects the grove of cherry blossoms to create a wonderful atmosphere, and says that fans sitting in the upper deck in the right field corner will be able to see the Washington Monument. Good! See palmbeachpost.com.
Bruce Orser sent me another boatland of stadium links, including photos of construction of the future Citi Field, adjacent to Shea Stadium: stadiumpage.com.
There is also some analysis of the future Twins ballpark at bizofbaseball.com. This was from last fall, however, and plans are quite uncertain right now.
Bruce also alerted me to a D.C. architect created the South Capitol Street blog in which he outlines options for the neighborhood around the new stadium in Washington. He talks about ways to handle the expected increased traffic, including an extended tunnel under South Capitol Street, and I especially like the idea of a large traffic oval at the north end of Frederick Douglas Bridge. It will probably be replaced in the next ten or so years, anyway.
Finally, new visitor Lorenzo Paulino provided me with updates to baseball stadiums being used in the Dominican Republic, and I will take care of that ASAP.
Many thanks to all the folks out there who help to keep me informed about baseball stadiums. My apologies to baseball fans for the infrequent updates recently. Some regular visitors have asked me what's up, and there will be an explanation on my main blog page later today.
In today's News Leader, Mike Radoiu argues quite eloquently that science and religion do not necessarily clash with each other. That's a point I have often made in connection to evolution and similar hot-button issues that should not even be hot-button issues. It's a pretty basic proposition that faith and reason are separate domains, by and large, but people keeping forgetting it anyway. Radoiu laments, "It would seem that the current national debate is once again limiting us to the extremes with self-assured secularists on one side and wild-eyed fundamentalists on another." Alas... I was encouraged that most of the "StoryChat" comments to that op-ed piece shared Radoiu's sensible, balanced perspective. (Can you guess which of the comments was mine?)
After many weeks of friendly give-and-take, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman agreed to an extension of his existing contract with the Washington Nationals, rather than signing a new contract, and will earn $400,000 this season. It's no surprise, but it at least removes doubts about the team. See MLB.com. Zimmerman, who was the last man on the Nats' 40-man roster to reach terms, said:
I would have liked to have signed a contract, but it really didn't make sense. There are no hard feelings, nothing like that.
It's a good sign that Ryan is no pushover, and he knows what he is worth without being a hot shot. New manager Manny Act praised Zimmerman: "This kid is a pro." As the 2006 NL rookie of the year runner-up, he deserves more, of course, and he will no doubt get handsome raises by the time he becomes eligible for arbitration after the 2008 season is over.
The mail bag
Frank Trimborn alerted me to a unique blog: Google maps mania, which has a link to a ballparks map / satellite photo database at fantasy-baseball.info. I also was intrigued by "Jacktracker - Season 6, which maps all the "explosive" events in the Los Angeles area from the FOX-TV series 24, starring Kiefer Sutherland as Special Agent Jack Bauer.
Mike Zurawski informs me that Tropicana Field is going to get a new, improved version of FieldTurf this season, and it is expected to play much slower than before; see sptimes.com. The domed stadium in St. Petersburg will get some exterior landscaping improvements as well.
The Kingdome page has been updated with a brand new "dynamic diagram." I included a version with a roof as an experiment; eventually I may do likewise for other fixed-dome stadiums. This marks the longest hiatus between new or revised diagrams in at least two years, but there are many others in various stages of completion.
While searching for photos of the Kingdome, I came across a very nice page full of superb photos of stadiums that were in their final year of baseball use: robertondrovic.com. Warning: It has dozens of photos, and will take a long time to load! That guy and his buddies have been on a tour of stadiums on the "endangered species list" since 1990. Will they go to RFK Stadium this year?
The mail bag
Bruce Orser pointed me to a page full of photos of the new Yankee Stadium construction site at baseball-fever.com. Groan... I'll get caught up with other correspondence later today.
The Virginia General Assembly passed a transportation funding bill that is far from perfect, but is at least a workable compromise that represents a step in the right direction. Gov. Kaine is mad that there isn't enough money to build highways in the wealthy, urbanized parts of the state, and has threatened to veto it. More likely, he will exercise his power to rewrite certain portions he doesn't like, in which case the legislature would have the opportunity to give [assent to the changes] or not at a special session later this spring. The big surprise is that for once the Republicans in the Senate and House of Delegates are standing together, realizing that their majority status is in jeopardy. [It's about bleeping time.] The new chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, Ed Gillespie, played a role in coordinating the response. Such direct involvement in policy matters by a party official is rather unusual, and this initiative by Gillespie -- which I applaud -- is evidence of the dire situation the state party organization is in. See Washington Post.
The News Leader editors deride the package as a "shell game":
Unfortunately, the bill is such a hodge-podge of balkanization, buck-passing, borrowing and bad intent that it meets and surpasses Otto von Bismarck's famous metaphor for legislation and sausage. In fact, it's so mangled and sausaged-up that it could be considered dead on arrival.
Well, they do have a point. I agree that it is wrong to use general revenue funds to pay for transportation, and borrowing money for such purposes is likewise very questionable. Unlike most Republicans, I would much rather have a small increase on fuel taxes, so that people would feel in a direct way the high cost of maintaining a 21st Century highway system. (There are also conservation and national security spinoffs from such a tax.) Above all, no one should be deluded by the old-fashioned notion that wide, smooth roads are free.
I take sharp issue, however, with the News Leader's characterization of the bill as "shirking" the state's responsibility for transportation. When different people within a given political unit have sharply different opinions on a given issue, as on this one, the logical thing to do is provide a reasonable way for the various interests to be accommodated. That's all the regional tax proposal does, and I think it is entirely justified. (Some will recall that that was one of gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore's major proposals, but his message got muffled late in the 2005 campaign.) Overall, the transportation package is about as good as could be expected, given the current divisions within the state party. Further intense discussion and dialogue among party leaders will be necessary to formulate a consistent long-term policy agenda for the Commonwealth, so that voters will know what to expect when they make their choices in November.
Arthur Schlesinger, the erudite, bow-tied Eastern Establishment historian who was an adviser to President Kennedy, has died at the age of 89. He was the author of many books, including A Thousand Days, about the JFK administration, as well as The Imperial Presidency, which was aimed primarily at Richard Nixon. See Washington Post. Ironically, one of Nixon's main foreign policy accomplishments was to smoothly disengage from the Vietnam War, which was brought about by Lyndon Johnson.
At noon today I attended a rally in support of our troops at the Augusta County Courthouse, and encountered a rather chilly atmosphere: blustery winds and temperatures near the freezing mark. Somehow, every time we have such a rally, the weather refuses to cooperate, but at least the bright sun today made for good photographs. This event commemorated the fourth anniversary of the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. More specifically, it was intended to support the Gathering of Eagles, a non-partisan movement that is guarding the Vietnam War memorial in Washington against malicious anti-war vandals.
Local rock musician Henley Folk, who recently returned from a recording trip to Nashville, sang the national anthem. Alex Davis then introduced each of the speakers and read the names of all the men and women from our area who are currently serving in the armed forces. The first speaker was Scott Sayre, mentioned in a prior post.
The next speaker was Rhonda Winfield, mother of fallen U.S. Marine Cpl. Jason Redifer and Justin Redifer, who is currently on active duty. Mrs. Winfield has appeared on a number of television programs, and is a very eloquent witness to the burden of sacrifice borne by our soldiers and their families. She is the author of When Johnny Doesn't Come Marching Home: A Mother's Story of the Price for Freedom. (See the book Web site.) Anyone who doubts that the war to liberate Iraq was worth it should read her book. Mrs. Winfield was also the featured speaker at another rally in support of the troops that was held in August 2005.
The third speaker was Sgt. Herb Harman, who returned from a one-year deployment to Iraq in January. Herb related his first-hand experiences of guarding the presidential palace in Baghdad, where he often saw Prime Minister Maliki and other high Iraqi officials. He got emotional when he described what it was like to be present at the birth of a new democracy, comparing the historical moment to the founding of our own country. He talked about how much the average Iraqi people he dealt with appreciate the efforts our troops are making to bring peace and stability to their country. It's that kind of determination that will ultimately tip the balance toward the good guys in this epochal, decades-long struggle.
Finally, there was a brief talk by a member of an organization that supports Virginia veterans and military families. I should have a brief video clip of this event ready by tomorrow.
While this was going on, the left-wing ANSWER Coalition (redirected link at pephost.org) was holding a rally at the Pentagon, enjoying a degree of freedom to dissent that is unimaginable in much of the rest of the world.
Is the surge policy working?
In the Outlook section of last Sunday's Washington Post, Robert Kagan argued that Bush's surge policy is in fact working. He also "wonder[ed] if The Post and other newspapers have a backup plan in case it does." That is a sly reference to the Bush administration's apparent lack of a Plan B. He noted some reasons to be encouraged:
The Interior Ministry has been purged of corrupt officials and of many suspected of torture and brutality. And cracks are appearing in the Shiite governing coalition -- a good sign, given that the rock-solid unity was both the product and cause of growing sectarian violence.
Well it's about time. To me, it is pointless to argue whether or not a policy that only began a couple months ago is already paying off; doing so only diverts attention from the long-term nature of this struggle. I have my doubts about the surge, and it's likely that the insurgents are simply lying low until the U.S. troop presence starts to go down again. This doesn't mean the surge campaign is futile, however. Indeed, it might just create the necessary breathing room for the Iraqi government and people to take charge of the situation again and get the country on the path toward stability. I certainly hope so.
This morning Jacqueline and I drove to Highland County, for the final day of the annual Maple Festival. We were surprised to encounter so much snow in our neighboring county to the west, and indeed, snow was falling for much of the day. It was a veritable late, late "winter wonderland," with the trees draped in a heavy coat of wet snow. Fortunately, the highways were safe and clean.
ABOVE: Downtown Monterey, Virginia, looking east. Roll your mouse over the image to see an afternoon view of the snow-covered Confederate Breastworks, at the crest of of Shenandoah Mountain, which marks the county line. Click on it to see it in the morning, when the visibility was low because of the snow.
Of course, the main attraction at the festival is the maple syrup, as well as doughnuts, fudge, and other confections made from the delectable concentrated tree sap. A wide variety of arts and crafts are for sale, including wood, woolens, jewelry, and paintings. I bought myself a small plaque with an inspirational quotation from the 18th-Century English writer Samuel Johnson:
Great works are performed, not by strength, but by perseverance. (See samueljohnson.com.)
Anyone who has completed a doctoral dissertation will appreciate those words. For more information on the Maple Festival, see www.highlandcounty.org.
In Ecuador, the political confrontation between the new president Rafael Correa and Congress has escalated even further, as the Supreme Electoral Tribunal fired a judge, Juan Ramirez, who issued an injunction blocking the dismissal of 57 members of Congress that the Electoral Tribunal had ordered. This situation is reaching bizarre proportions, and the country's institutions are in virtual tatters, as everything seems now to depend on which side has the strongest will power or cunning. See CNN.com.
Students riot in Chile
In Chile, students have confronted police again, as a march commemorating the 20th anniversary of two students being killed turned violent, with Molotov cocktails and water cannons. See BBC. The underlying grievances are hard to fathom, and the violence by students last June seemed to be more an attempt to throw their weight around than anything else.
I recently saw a brief item in the Washington Post about a first-ever Field Guide to the Birds of Iraq, and found it via a unique soldier's blog, Birding Babylon. For a country that has been subjected to so much evil and torment, this is wonderful news. Believe it or not, "387 bird species ... have been recorded in Iraq." As I mentioned one year ago, the restoration of the vast wetland region of the lower Euphrates River has been one of the biggest achievements of the liberation of Iraq. Saddam Hussein had drained the marshes in order to attack the Shiite "Marsh Arabs" who resisted his dictatorship, and the wildlife suffered greatly.
Navy jets vs. wildlife
A letter to the editor in the News Leader a couple days ago complained about the U.S. Navy's plans to build a training site for fighter jets near Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach. It would be near a wildlife refuge, where many migratory birds pass through every year. Can't they find a less damaging location?
I saw a half dozen or so Cedar waxwings out back yesterday, the first of that species I had seen since last October. They are unpredictable in their migration patterns, but ordinarily we would expect to see them at least every few weeks during the winter, so the recent absence is quite unusual. It is still cold as the dickens...
In today's Washington Post, David Broder offered several reasons why reports of the Grand Old Party's imminent demise may be way off base. He notes that President Bush still enjoys strong support from within the party, even though the vast majority of other Americans hold a sharply negative opinion of him. True, Republicans are not particularly enthusiastic about the current crop of presidential candidates, but the real campaign is still a long ways off. As Broder writes, "the only thing we know for certain about the 2008 election is that we know none of the vital facts that will determine its outcome." Actually, I would disagree. We do know for certain that the party has lost its sense of direction, and there is a fierce struggle among various factions to define what "conservative" means in the 21st Century, and to what extent the party should either stress its conservative roots, or else make compromises on its principles for the sake of a few extra votes. During the next 16 months until the 2008 Republican National Convention, we will witness a momentous phase of collective soul-searching, interspersed by frequent trivial distractions along the campaign trail.
I've heard chatter lately about the possibility that Fred Thompson might run for president. I like him a lot, and ranked him second behind Newt Gingrich on Jan. 13 (including unannounced prospects), but the latest Gingrich confession of marital infidelity makes him much less appealing to social conservatives. Meanwhile, moderate Sen. Chuck Hagel made a fool of himself with an aborted "major announcement," and I can't see how he could win very many Republicans' votes, in any case. I say, Fred's the one!
Now here is an inspirational news story: The San Diego Padres acquired the services of right-handed pitcher Cooper Brannan, a U.S. Marine corporal who lost the little finger on his left hand while serving on his second tour in Iraq. He has recovered almost full use of his hand, and he is still on active duty. It's a unique situation. There is a huge naval base in San Diego, and Brannan underwent rehabiliation in the Navy Medical Center there. See MLB.com and ESPN. The signing took place almost three weeks ago, but I just learned about it on Sunday, in a video clip of him at spring training. They seem to think he has a very good shot at making it to the majors.
This reminds me of Mordecai "Three-Fingers" Brown, who played for most of his career as a pitcher with the Chicago Cubs about a century ago -- the last time they won the World Series, in fact. He ended his career in 1916, just as the Cubs moved into what later became Wrigley Field. (See baseball-almanac.com.)
Once again, we have to worry about Dick Cheney's health, as he suffered from a blood clot in his leg after a long flight home from Central Asia. In response to the latest Cheney scare, Donald Sensing wondered what would happen if Colin Powell became vice president and then announced he was running for president -- against Barack Obama! I wrote:
Being a proud man with much to be proud of, the only way Powell would serve as veep and then run for prez is if he set firm conditions, e.g., being allowed to speak his mind on the goofs in Iraq. (I know, that makes this scenario even less likely.) In that case, he could neutralize much of the anti-war sentiment Obama would tap, with none of the Bushite crony baggage. Aside from a few folks on the hyperpartisan Left, he is widely regarded as trustworthy and sincere. With oceans of gravitas, a dependable record, and personal warmth, he would easily trounce Obama. That is, unless the economy tanks between now and then, which is a serious possibility.
Political civility 101
Iowahawk presents an amusing imaginary dialogue between Ann Coulter and Bill Maher on "the deterioration of civility in American politics." I never thought much of Maher, and I'm not as fond of Coulter's sharp political rhetoric as I used to be. Her crack about John Edwards a few days ago did not even strike me as funny.
When former NARAL head Kate Michelman said that Edwards could become "first woman president" (as Bill Clinton was regarded by some as the "first black president"), however, I thought that was pretty funny. It was meant as a compliment. See New York Sun.
With the sudden warming trend, at long last, it is no surprise that we are seeing new birds almost every day. During our trip through northern Augusta County yesterday, Jacqueline and I saw:
Tree swallows (FOS)
Field sparrow (FOS)
Today I saw some Chipping sparrows out back, another first-of-season bird species.
Rare owl in Peru
Here is encouraging news from the rain forest: a "long-whiskered owlet, one of the world's smallest owls, was spotted in February by researchers monitoring a private conservation area in Peru's northern jungle." It has become an endangered species because of deforestation, and fewer than one thousand are thought to remain. See CNN.com.
This week's Virginia Blog Carnival was another attempt to set newer and higher standards of creativity. It was hosted by Eileen Levandoski, who runs the VB Dems blog -- as in Virginia Beach Democrats, for those of you in Rio Linda. First, she gave a teaser preview, describing each of the bloggers' various characteristics and tastes, and challenging readers to guess who was who. I happened to be listed second, for my submission on Bush's trip to Latin America, but otherwise I had almost no clue at all. Then she named each one, in brief fashion. Congratulations to Eileen for a good effort that paid off. Two submissions caught my interest:
Unlike me and several others, Adam Gurri actually addressed the question posed to submitters by Eileen. She asked why people got into blogging, and why they keep it up. Gurri wrote about the "long tail" style of blogging, which is what applies to me. It simply means that some bloggers carve out a niche for themselves by blogging on a consistent basis over a long period of time, to keep the interest of people who share a similar interest in topics and a similar taste in blogging styles. In fact, I cited the same article as Gurri did back on Nov. 30, 2005.
The VCAP blog responded to a Washington Post article on whether it is proper to use the General Fund for transportation. I say no, as a general rule, but on different grounds than most people cite. For me it is not so much a statutory question as an economic subsidy question. I hate public policies that encourage waste of polluting hydrocarbons, which is what happens when the government pays for highways with money from general revenues. But VCAP makes it clear that there has never been a solid "firewall" between general fund and other state government funds. It all depends on the business cycle, as the budget goes into surplus and deficit over and over again.
VCAP endorses Sayre
Speaking of VCAP, they endorsed Scott Sayre, the candidate for state Senate in the 24th District. See thenewdominion.com.* Oddly, the local news media doesn't seem aware of what has been going on. On the way to Highland County on Sunday, we saw the red Sayre for Senate yard signs in a number of different locations. It is becoming clear that incumbent Sen. Emmett Hanger faces a formidable, well-organized, well-funded challenge.
* The New Dominion is the new online magazine and blog published by Chris and Crystal Graham, replacing the old Augusta Free Press. The inaugural print edition of The New Dominion includes an article by Chris on I-81 and one about the growing (but largely invisible) Latino immigrant community in the Augusta County area. Rhonda Winfield, the Gold Star mother who spoke at the support-the-troops rally on Saturday, works with the business side of the Grahams' ever-growing cyber-enterprise.
I am elected secretary
I am very grateful to fellow members of the Staunton Republican Committee for electing me to the post of secretary at our monthly meeting last night. Patrick Carne resigned that post last month, and Alex Davis briefly served in a provisional capacity. In conjunction with my duties as Web master, I intend to work to improve relations with other Republican Party units and with the general public. I wholeheartedly agree with the recommendations made by Charles Judd, the new Executive Director of the Republican Party of Virginia, that the party adopt a more welcoming, inclusive attitude. He spoke to the local Republican breakfast meeting in January [February].
Scott Sayre, Republican candidate for state senator in the 24th District, spoke to a rally in support of our troops, which was held in Staunton today. He recalled that while serving with the Army in Lyon, France in 1984, he attended a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of that city's liberation from the Nazis. He expressed hope that forty years from now, there will be similar ceremonies marking the liberation of Iraq from totalitarian rule.
Ironically, Mr. Sayre's appearance at this non-political event called attention to the troubling divisions in our country, locally as well as nationally. Since Sayre announced his candidacy last month, I have been stunned to read all the harsh, unfair criticism of incumbent Sen. Emmett Hanger in the Virginia blogosphere, just because he believes in fiscal responsibility. The way some of them write, you would think he was a liberal Democrat! There are many anti-tax activists out there who think of themselves as conservatives but who have probably never heard of Michael Oakeshott or Russell Kirk. NOTE: That previous post stated erroneously that Mr. Sayre is from Buena Vista. Actually, he lives in Lexington, but his business is in nearby Buena Vista. This is an important distinction because the border between the 24th and 25th Districts runs right between those two cities!
At a time when the Democratic Party leaders in Congress are pushing for legislation to force a premature withdrawal from Iraq, and left-wing demonstrators in Washington are giving aid and comfort to the enemy, it is of utmost importance that patriotic-minded citizens do whatever they can to seek reconciliation and national unity. The key to winning the war against Islamo-fascism is setting aside narrow sectarian agendas and pulling together for the greater good!
UPDATE: For a more complete report on the day's events, see HERE.
I guess I wasn't really surprised by Rush Limbaugh's whining about the Scooter Libby guilty verdict today. It's ironic, given that Rush observed (in June 2006) that Karl Rove avoided indictment precisely because he told the truth to the grand jury. Like Rush, the Wall Street Journal strenuously objected to this "travesty of justice." Libby, they say, "has been convicted of telling the truth about Mr. Wilson and Ms. Plame to some reporters but then not owning up to it." So, should Bush pardon Libby, as they argue? I agree with Ann Althouse's argument against a pardon (link via Instapundit): Libby "was convicted of perjury. Whatever you think of the Plame affair and the whole investigation, why should Bush condone that?"
I found it quite striking that the editors of the Washington Post also criticized the prosecution of Libby, saying that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was pursuing a "pointless Washington scandal." Well, that's a cozy insider's perspective for you. (How often do they agree with Rush Limbaugh? ) It is a perfect (and ironic) parallel to the bogus argument that the impeachment charges against President Clinton were "just about sex." Perjury is unacceptable, period. I suppose there are still some die-hard defenders of Al Capone who say he was "just a tax dodger."
As a general principle, I think both sides should avoid linking this case to the substantive issue of intelligence reports on Iraqi WMDs. For the record, in Oct. 2005 I called into question the common misconception that the Fitzgerald prosecution would undermine the Bush rationale for war. I just wish the President had made a more concerted effort "to get to the bottom of this," as he pledged in September 2003.
Doubts about Rudy
In today's Washington Post, Ruth Marcus dissented from the recent "surge" of enthusiasm for Rudolph Giuliani's candidacy. Behind the big grin and the warm, fuzzy rhetoric, she found very little of substance in his speech to CPAC last week, just vague Reaganesque platitudes. This raises serious doubts about his policy positions and inner convictions. Well, he will certainly be getting more scrutiny in the months to come.
Virginia blog wars 2
Here we go again: A guy named Carl who does the Spark It Up blog criticized J. C. Wilmore ("Richmond Democrat") over the Virginia Blog Carnival, to which I first posted last month. In return, Mr. Wilmore apparently sent Carl some intimidating e-mails implying a law suit was being prepared. Some time this evening, however, his original post from a few days ago calling for a "new blog carnival" mysteriously disappeared. Unless there is some technical glitch, such a post deletion is a major breach of blogger ethics. In his post announcing cancellation of the new blog carnival, Wilmore complained about the lack of interest shown by lefty bloggers and the "non-stop harassment directed at me by certain bloggers..."
As a relative bystander in the Virginia blogosphere, it all seems very strange to me; who is really "harrassing" whom? Should we even care? Why on earth do people get so worked up about such things? The only reason I can think of is that they have very big and/or fragile egos.
Washington Nationals outfielder Ryan Church's younger brother Matthew is heading off to Iraq, which will put strains on the whole family. He is in the Army's Special Forces, and his unit will be deployed to Tikrit, which was Saddam Hussein's home town. You can't find any more hostile territory in Iraq than that. See Washington Post. Whether you support the war effort or not, most people would agree that it is better for the country when the burden of military service is more broadly shared by various social classes. Whenever someone close to a public figure goes off to war, it builds a more direct connection between the front-line troops and the folks back home.
With hardly any experienced talent in their starting rotation, the Nats have fared about as poorly as we would expect in spring training, thus far. Their record in the Florida "Grapefruit League" is 2 - 7, and three teams are actually below them.
Today's Richmond Times Dispatch (hat tip to VB Dems) surveyed the growing impact of various Internet on political races in Virginia. From issue monitoring to constituent feedback to fundraising, the possibilities are multiplying continually, and so are the dangers. When word of George Allen's "macaca" gaffe spread like wildfire thanks to YouTube last August, he didn't seem to know what hit him. As Shaun Kenney, former blogger and newly appointed communications director for the Republican Party of Virginia, said: "Ignore the blogs at your own peril." Being old-fashioned and quite pressed for time as it is, I steer clear of trendy networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube, but who knows, maybe I'll cave in some day.
It's nice that Republicans in the Old Dominion are finally getting up to speed with the blogosphere, just as I am setting aside trepidations and getting up to speed with the blogosphere in Virginia. I spent a good two years or more trying to push local Republicans into grasping the potential for blogs (e.g., Rathergate, in 2004) and Internet technology (e.g., swacgop.org, and last year the message finally started to spread. Better late than never. Of course, many older folks (and even some young ones) still think the Internet is an amusing novelty or trivial diversion, but the smart ones know otherwise. The big question for the future is how will the blogosphere "police" itself so that disreputable or slanderous blogs don't get as much exposure as the ones with higher standards.
Plug for Sen. Hanger
A letter from Bea Morris in today's News Leader expressed appreciation to State Sen. Emmett Hanger for his support for retired teachers in Virginia. He sponsored a bill that raised the health insurance credit for retired teachers, bringing them up to par with retired state employees. Most people will never know the sacrifices in life that teachers have to endure so that the next generation will receive a good education. Fortunately, some of our legislators do know.
After several long days of deliberation, a jury in Washington found Lewis "Scooter" Libby guilty of perjury and obstructing justice today. See Washington Post.
Obviously, Libby was the fall guy in the "Plamegate" scandal (see July 2005), for which we may never know the full truth, unfortunately. Libby's past legal representation of guys like Marc Rich make him a less than sypathetic character. I see no reason to question the jurors' verdict, and this case shows once again that no one, not even the highest government officials, can defy the process of justice and criminal inquiry in this country without paying a heavy price. As I wrote on my Introduction page, "Lying under oath is a crime, and for a public official, therefore, it is an impeachable offense." Bill Clinton committed the same crime in 1998, and he almost was removed from office for it. I'm still inclined to think that he should have been removed, but we will probably need to wait a few more years to get a proper historical perspective.
What does this verdict mean politically, and what are the ramifications for the war in Iraq, which is how this all got started? Andrew Sullivan writes:
Why are those of us who favored the war not as eager to investigate whether we were deliberately misled? Weren't we potentially conned as well?
Now that Spring training has come to an end, we have a slightly better idea of what to expect in the regular season. At least the Nationals managed to avoid the cellar in the pre-season NL standings, for whatever that's worth. Every baseball annual magazine I have looked at has picked the Washington Nationals to finish dead last in all the major leagues. Even the Washington Post annual baseball special section echoed the bleak outlook, raising questions about the Nationals' decision to invest nearly all of their capital in rebuilding the farm system. Surprisingly, Thomas Boswell dissented from the conventional pessimism, speculating that the Nationals are poised to become one of the "richest" (talent-wise) teams in the majors in another two or three years. He praised the Lerners' long-term strategy the other day, after warning that they were putting the team's fan base at risk by banking everything on future years.
Nook Logan has healed faster than expected, so he will be in the starting lineup (at center field) for the Nationals on Monday. It will be the first Opening Day home game in Washington. Former Tiger Dmitri Young will serve as first baseman until Nick Johnson is ready to return, which could take another two months or so. The superb John Patterson leads the starting rotation, while the other four are relative unknowns: Shawn Hill, Matt Chico, Jason Bergman, and Jerome Williams. But you know what? Some of those young kids have a lot of promise.
Old New York stadium videos
I was checking the stadium impressions submitted by fans of this site recently, and came across a posting on the Polo Grounds (scroll down to near the bottom of that page) by a guy named John. He uploaded to YouTube a fascinating old home movie taken by his grandfather of two football games some time during the 1920s or early 1930s. The first one was in Yankee Stadium and the second one was in the Polo Grounds. Trust me folks, you do not want to miss this.
The mail bag
Thanks to John Pastier, author of Historic Ballparks and sponsor of five stadium pages for alerting me to Historic Ballparks, a new blog by baseball artist Jeff Suntala, whose beautiful and precise renderings grace the cover of the new edition of Green Cathedrals.
A new visitor named Dan "would like to know the volume ( if you will ) of the outfield playing area." Coming up with such a two-dimensional measurement is one of the items on my long to-do list. Does anyone out there know of reliable estimates along those lines?
Here we go again: The Florida Marlins' hopes to build a new stadium on a plot of public land in downtown Miami has been nixed by county commissioners who fear that would jeopardize the children's courthouse and police training academy previously planned for that location. Now what? Back to the Orange Bowl site, except that the new plan is to tear down the old stadium, rather than building a ballpark for the Marlins next to it, as in the original Plan A. It would cost $170 million to renovate the historic football venue, and the city simply can't afford two simultaneous stadium projects. The University of Miami says that if such upgrades are not made, the Hurricanes will relocate to Dolphin Stadium, in which case the Orange Bowl land would become available for the Marlins. See miamiherald.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. The good news is that the Florida legislature seems more inclined to contribute money for this purpose, but the bad news is that getting this project done will involve complicated negotiations among the city, the state, the Marlins, the Dolphins, and the University of Miami.
That makes me think of an intriguing possibility. The city of Baltimore was faced with a similar money squeeze when they were soliciting a major league baseball team in the early 1950s, and they came up with a fairly decent expedient, modifying an existing horseshoe-shaped football stadium for baseball use. Hmmmm. I need to check Google maps and start measuring...
Can Nook Logan switch hit?
That's the big question facing the Washington Nationals as their outfielder gets ready for the regular season, less than three weeks away. (!!!) Logan grew up batting right-handed, but conventional wisdom holds that speedy players like him can best be used when they bat from both sides of the plate. The Detroit Tigers failed to teach him to switch hit, and now the Nats are having the same problems. But at least he's still trying, according to the Washington Post. I've always been right-handed, and I remember trying to hit left-handed when I used to play softball, with mixed results. As with learning a foreign language, those who start practicing at an early age have a big advantage.
One year ago...
It was precisely 365 days ago that the Washington Nationals unveiled their plans for the new stadium, which is just about half completed. (See the Clark Construction Web cam; the new portion of the upper deck now has the roof and light standards, and boy is it tall!) I've added a new feature, Year Ago Today, for anyone who is curious what was taking place this time last year. For now, the link will be at the top of my main blog page.
UPDATE: Nationals President Stan Kasten tried to assuage fears that the new stadium might not be ready for Opening Day next year. Everything is on schedule, he insists. The nicest aesthetic touch will be the cherry trees behind the left field bleachers. Early April is when the cherry blossoms come out, and it should be quite an awesome sight to behold in future years. See MLB.com.
Outfielder Nook Logan and pitcher Jason Simontacchi have both pulled groin muscles in the past few days, and will therefore probably miss the first couple weeks of the regular season, which is now only a few days away!!! Ryan Church will probably take Logan's place in center field, and Simontacchi will probably be replaced by Jerome Williams in the starting rotation. Kory Casto is in line to become backup outfielder for the time being. See MLB.com As for the infield, Josh Wilson has earned himself a spot on the 25-man roster, having batted .366 during spring training. Keep it up, Josh!
Also, there is a progress report on the stadium construction project in D.C., with an impressive photo, at MLB.com. It shows that the roof covers almost all of the fourth deck, which is almost contiguous with the third deck, like in Citizens Bank Park and other newer stadiums. A big roof is certainly good, but I wish it were a little bigger, as the sun can get awfully hot in Washington during the summer. "[B]y July or at some point in the summer, most of the building's structural work should be completed."
I knew I was bound to get lucky ONE of these days! It was cloudy but warm for most of the day, but I was too busy performing feats of Web design wizardry to go outside for bird watching today. Fortunately, my quick trip to Bell's Lane just before sunset paid off handsomely. It's about time!
On and around the two ponds in the uplands area:
N. Shovelers -- 8+ M (FOS)
Canada geese -- 30+
Red-winged blackbirds (dozens)
Meadowlarks (singing everywhere)
On the farm pond:
Hooded mergansers -- M, F (FOS)
Buffleheads -- 2 M, F (FOS)
Ring-necked ducks -- 3 M, F
Mallards -- M, F
Pied-bill grebes -- 3
Lesser scaups -- 3 M, (FOS?)
Ruddy ducks -- M, 2 F
Wood ducks -- 8 M, 4 F
Canada geese -- 10+
The late afternoon sunlight poked through the clouds just before I left, giving me breathtaking looks at the exquisite plumages of the Hooded mergansers and Buffleheads. I know that at least four of those were first-of-season sightings (in this area) for me, and maybe five, depending on whether the scaups I saw exactly one month ago were Greater or Lesser.
Gambling by Pete Rose? On a daily basis?? Well, I'm shocked -- shocked! The latest installment of Pete Rose's agonizingly drawn-out incremental confession has given his die-hard fans another opportunity to plead that he be let into the Hall of Fame. He told ESPN Radio that he bet on the Reds every night during the 1980s when he was manager, a statement that is somewhat at variance with his earlier declarations. He explained,
I bet on my team to win every night because I love my team, I believed in my team. I did everything in my power every night to win that game.
See MLB.com. When you listen to the rationalizations, it makes you wonder what a tormented conscience that guy must have. Meanwhile, he is still selling those "I'm sorry I bet" autographed baseballs; he just doesn't get it. I doubt that he will ever really "come clean," which is tragic for Rose and for all of baseball. I agree with David Pinto: "Some kudos should go out to the late Bart Giamatti for doing the right thing."
Curt Schilling blogs
Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling has begun writing his own blog: 38 Pitches. It will be interesting to get his perspective on Matzowhatsizname Daisuke and the apocryphal "gyroball." Hat tip to Volokh Conspiracy.
The mail bag
Some more new photos of the New Yankee Stadium construction site can be seen at: baseball-fever.com; to my surprise, it's going up very quickly. Hat tip to Bruce Orser.
The new Heritage Park at Jacobs Field is expected to be completed by Opening Day. It is a sort of a Hall of Fame for the Indians, similar to the historic gallery behind the center field wall at Citizens Bank Park, but with shrubbery and vines. See MLB.com. Diagram update pending; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
When the Democrats won control of Congress last fall, the big fear was what kinds of mischief the new committee chairmen would wreak. We have since learned that the Democrats are determined to pull the financial rug out from under our troops in Iraq, and in the past week it has become clear that they are gunning for Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. If you ask me, the firing of eight U.S. attorneys late last year (see Mar. 9) was disturbing in its implications, but the flap over it has been somewhat overblown. Federal prosecutors serve at the president's pleasure, and Bill Clinton was notorious for mass firings for purely partisan reasons. So even though the Bush administration was within its rights to dismiss the eight former prosecutors, it left the impression that it was trying to intimidate the others into "playing ball," i.e., not prosecuting Republicans suspected of corruption. The Washington Post has a special page full of links to recent stories related to this case.
Two of the eight former prosecutors, David Iglesias and John McKay, appeared on the Sunday talk shows yesterday, and left no question that politics was behind their dismissal. It raises the distinct possibility that the justice system is being politicized, which would erode one of the basic pillars of our democratic system. This of course has provided ammunition to the Democrats who are now seeking to subpoena Karl Rove about the White House role in this matter. This situation is ridiculous, and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are equally to blame. The White House knew that it would face a hostile Congress in January, so why in the world did it take such a provocative action?
In today's Washington Post, Robert Novak puts the Gonazlez controversy in broader perspective, noting the growing opinion among Republicans that the White House is simply not being managed competently. He renders an extraordinarily blunt assessment of the situation:
In half a century, I have not seen a president so isolated from his own party in Congress -- not Jimmy Carter, not even Richard Nixon as he faced impeachment.
In a parliamentary system, a leader like Bush would have been replaced long ago. (Stay tuned for a tearful farewell by Tony Blair.) In our fixed-cycle presidential system, in contrast, we often get presidents who become lame ducks a year or more ahead of schedule. Given the precedents of Michael Brown (who was supposedly doing a "heckuva job" after Hurricane Katrina) and Don Rumsfeld (whose dismissal was already being set in motion before the election, contrary to what was being said in the White House), the words of support from President Bush for Gonzalez do not carry much weight.
One of the clearest signs that the political winds have shifted in dramatic fashion is the virtual absence of any serious conservative candidate on the Republican side thus far. What's more, the candidate who has generated the most enthusiasm recently is Rudolph Giuliani, the most moderate of all the Republican candidates. Well, Rudy does have the admirable quality -- which is often lacking in certain rivals such as the one from Arizona -- of forthrightly saying unpopular things when it's necessary. The Washington Post reports that the folks who attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington last week are feeling down in the dumps about being abandoned, and some are throwing their weight around by threatening to bail out. "That'll teach 'em a lesson!?"
A good example of this attitude was expressed by Rocinante's Burdens (via SWAC Girl, hosting this week's Virginia blog carnival), in an exquisitely self-contradictory mixture of policy advocacy and political prognostication."Without the 'evil' religious right, no republican [sic] is going to win. Ever. Therefore, any Republican candidate needs to do some serious pandering to them." Then, a few paragraphs later, "Winning isn't everything." Well, which is it? I heartily agree that the Republicans need to do more than just urge folks to "vote against Hillary" to win in 2008, and I agree that triangulation on policy positions is a cynical dead-end, but the purist rejection of any Republican candidate who might be a "moderate" will doom us all. At a fundamental level, anyone who insists that any given constituency within a party must be retained at all costs has in effect given up on translating political action into policy making. The whole idea of "tossing bones" to this group or that, as opposed to cajoling the various factions of the party into seeing a common long-term vision, amounts to abject surrender. As far as immigration, while I emphatically support a strong stand in defending our borders, the idea of "mass deportations" proposed by "Rocinante's Burdens" is ludicrous -- unless you're willing to risk a civil war, that is.
Here's what it comes down to: Will we let evangelical Christians dictate the Republican Party platform until the End of Time?* It is precisely their puritanical attitude that sees compromise as inherently evil that has drawn the party into a swamp from which it cannot get out. (For more on that, see my post on John Danforth's book Faith and Politicslast October.) I fully agree that social conservatives are an integral part of the GOP, which is why I go along with certain policies that clash with my own beliefs. I accept the fact that it's an imperfect world and messy compromises are often necessary (like the Virginia transportation bill last week), but they don't. As a result of the inability (or lack of desire) of religiously motivated people to make political bargains, the uneasy coalition between the economic and social conservatives has become unstable of late. That, in a nutshell, is why I think it is high time that someone stand up to the bullies on the Christian Right, or else the "sensible" (i.e., economic-policy oriented) conservatives will despair of the Republican Party and begin to jump ship. (A few of them already have.) There is a vast well of untapped discontent in the middle of the political spectrum, but those with ideological blinders are not likely to see that the center is where the action is right now. If the Republicans are to go back on the offensive with a forward-looking policy agenda that appeals to new constituents, in the tradition of Reagan and Gingrich, they must face up to the possibility that their current coalition may have to be, ahem, rebuilt.
To me, the risk of losing to Hillary or Barack and veering sharply toward socialism is simply unacceptable, so conservative ideological purity can wait. Accordingly, I have revised my rankings of GOP candidates (first posted in December), moving Rudy from #5 to #1. That list will be periodically revised and displayed at the top right of the Politics blog page (and elsewhere) until the nomination is secured next year. I agree with Duncan Hunter on immigration but am wary of his nationalistic stance on trade policy. I'm impressed with Jim Huckabee's articulate, sincere delivery, but don't yet know much about him. I'm still not particularly fired up about any of the candidates, however. At this point, my main criteria are leadership style (including oratory) and hands-on executive competence. Both of those qualities are severely lacking in "W," and we are paying dearly for it.
* Yes, those were ironic allusions to the Left Behind book series.
Chile has recalled its ambassador to Venezuela, Claudio Huepe, because of indiscreet remarks he made in a TV interview about a private conversation he had with President Michelle Bachelet last year. This incident has caused some diplomatic friction with Venezuela. As CNN.com reports:
According to transcripts of the interview, Huepe said Bachelet at first wanted to support Venezuela over Guatemala in the October election for a seat on the Security Council but later was influenced by a debate within the governing coalition.
Bachelet is a Socialist, but the Christian Democratic Party which belongs to her governing coalition was opposed to giving the seat to Venezuela. For background on the Security Council controversy, see Nov. 2, 2006.
Hugo Chavez vs. Barbara Walters
Hugo Chavez recently went face to face with one of the most powerful forces in the media universe: ABC's Barbara Walters! The interview was broadcast last night, and it was fairly pleasant, as Chavez strained to be on his best behavior for the cameras.
Venezuela vs. Netherlands?
Meanwhile, there are reports that Venezuela is making threatening noises about Caribbean islands controlled by the Netherlands. Donald Sensing wonders semi-seriously what would happen if Venezuela seized the Dutch islands, like Argentina seized the Falkland Islands in 1982.
During the past week, we've seen an increasing number of tree-clinging birds in our back yard: a White-breasted nuthatch, a Yellow-bellied sapsucker, a Red-bellied woodpecker, and a Flicker, seen here. Grackles have returned in large numbers; supposedly they are non-migratory, but I hardly ever see them in the winter. On Tuesday I took a quick walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad and saw:
Phoebes (first of season!)
On the way to Highland County today, we saw a Red-tailed hawk, and Robins seemed to be everywhere. There was a White-breasted nuthatch at the Confederate Breastworks, but not much else. The last time I was in Highland County (with the Augusta Bird Club in January), I saw two life birds: some Golden eagles, and a Rough-legged hawk.
I recently volunteered to help the Wildlife Center of Virginia in their raptor rehabilitation program, and today I had my first training session, along with fellow Augusta Bird Club member Jim Reed. The folks at WCV are conducting a clinical study comparing which of two methods of flight training for injured hawks is more effective: letting them fly inside long cages specially built for that purpose, or "creancing," in which they are taken to an open field and allowed to fly while attached to a tether. [It's like what falconers do.] To ascertain their state of physical fitness, a blood test is taken before the flight practice, shortly after the practice, and then several minutes afterwards. I was amazed to see the skill by which Pete the veterinarian and his assistant Stacy took the blood sample, and I even got a closeup video clip. It was really something to look into the hawks' eyes and their throat "up close and personal." This image is a video still of the Cooper's hawk just before one of its practice flights. It was energetic and almost flight-worthy enough to be released back into the wild, but its tail is rather mangled, so it will need to be kept a while longer until new feathers grow in. We also worked with a Red-tailed hawk that will need a few more weeks of rehabilitation.
Many conservatives and patriotic-minded Americans are prone to resenting the mainstream media for having an anti-war bias, or an anti-Bush bias. There is much truth to that, of course, but a fair-minded person would notice that there is a lot of reporting that is very sympathetic to the war effort. Last Friday, United Press International Defense Correspondent Pamela Hess appeared on C-SPAN, and actually broke into tears as she described the valiant, dedicated work our troops are doing to make the people of Iraq feel safer. Their combination of professionalism, bravery, and compassion for the victims of terrorists is truly awesome. Any American who does not feel a profound sense of gratitude for the efforts of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan must not have a heart. Ms. Hess wrote a recent news report on The battle for Haditha.
The spectacular recovery of former ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff is one of the most heartwarming stories to come out of this tragic war so far. If he can bounce back from such severe head injuries, and resume work as a journalist within the space of one year, there is no reason why our forces in Iraq cannot defy the odds and turn back the tide of Islamo-fascism. Woodruff made a special series of reports "To Iraq and Back," focusing on the painful struggle of wounded war veterans to get going again; see ABC.
Another ABC reporter, Martha Raddatz, was on C-SPAN as well as the Charlie Rose show (PBS) last week, plugging her new book, The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family. Like Ms. Hess, she got emotional talking about what heroic efforts our troops are making (See c-spanstore.org.) On the other hand, she was criticized by newsbusters.org for negative words about President Bush in January.
Finally, CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier has also recovered nicely from the injuries she suffered last year. She returned to her colleagues in January (see cbsnews.com) and has made various public appearances since then. I note with pride that she is a fellow graduate degree holder from the U.Va. Department of Government and Foreign Affairs, and in fact, I probably saw her at least a few times when I was taking classes there in the early 1990s.
Four members of the Augusta Bird Club joined me for a field trip to the Chimney Hollow Trail this morning, nearly ten months after my previous field trip there last May. They were: Jo King, Ed and Nancy Lawler, and Dave McRuer of the Virginia Wildlife Center, who -- coincidentally -- briefed me on raptor rehabilitation procedures last Tuesday.
As we began, I gave a preview of the target species I was hoping to find, first and foremost a Blue-headed vireo. Right on cue, one began singing before we had walked 50 yards. Bingo! We tracked it down but only caught a brief glimpse as it flew away in the tree tops. Further along the trail, we heard more of them, as well as some Pine warblers, but we didn't get many good views. Still, both of them counted as a first-of-season sighting for me. Because of recent rains, the water was higher than I expected, so we decided not to risk the third stream crossing on the trail. On the return leg of our shortened hike, we encountered a busy cluster of Golden-crowned kinglets. Near the end, I suggested that we take a side trail just in case there were any waterthrushes present, and sure enough, we soon heard a Louisiana waterthrush, which Dave McRuer spotted in a tree. Double bingo! Interestingly, the earliest in the season I had ever seen those two target species was only one day earlier: March 30, 2000 for the former, and March 30, 2002 for the latter.
Then we drove over to nearby Braley's Pond, and I pointed out the nest where we saw the Phoebe nestlings last year. Soon we saw two Phoebes flying nearby. Pine warblers were singing in several places, and we saw a few of them, but none of the expected swallows or kingfishers. The best sightings there were the Brown creeper, the Pileated woodpecker, and two Yellow-bellied sapsuckers (see photo; the red throats indicate they are males) feasting on an oozing tree. They were so ravenous that they didn't mind our aapproaching to within 30 feet or so. We also [heard but did not see another Louisiana waterthrush and] saw several turtles on logs in the pond. Finally, we drove up to Ramsey's Draft, but the only bird there was a Pileated woodpecker. We did see some Bloodroot flowers , however. Today's list:
Blue-headed vireos (FOS)
Pine warblers (FOS)
Golden-crowned kinglets (M, F)
Louisiana waterthrush (FOS)
Brown creeper (FOS)
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (M)
Great blue heron (high overhead)
* = seen at other places. Also heard but not seen: Flickers, Ruffed grouse (probable; it flushed nearby), and Downy woodpeckers. All agreed it was a very good day for birding, and a very good place. Many thanks to Jo, Ed, Nancy, and Dave for coming along.
Has the steady drumbeat of liberal guilt mongering about energy consumption gotten you down? Are you starting to wonder if Al Gore might just be right about global warming after all? Then go look at the British televised report that debunks the questionable scientific arguments behind the hysteria: "The Great Global Warming Swindle" on YouTube. It runs 75 minutes altogether. And whatever your opinion on this very important matter, please try to keep an open mind. Hat tip to Patrick Carne.
The World Court has opened hearings on an old border dispute between Nicaragua and Honduras. Nicaragua has staked a maritime claim up to 17 degrees north latitude, about 200 miles north of the 15 degree latitude which roughly corresponds to the two countries' land border at the coastline. That is a large disputed area. There are only a few small islands and coral reefs in that area of the Caribbean, but the waters abound with fish and there may be oil and natural gas reserves as well. Nicaragua decided to seek recourse in the World Court after Honduras signed a bilateral treaty on maritime claims in the affected zone. See CNN.com. Tensions between Nicaragua and Costa Rica have risen in recent years as well (see Dec. 1, 2005), and neither case is directly related to the fact that the government of Nicaragua recently came under control of the left-wing Sandinista party. President Daniel Ortega's radical ideological affinities may make it more difficult to arrive at a peaceful resolution of the disputes, however.
The BBC has a story on Christian Chavez, an actor/singer from Mexico who has openly declared that he is gay. Like English pop singer Elton John, he is prone to flamboyant clothing styles, and often changes his hair color. In 2005 he was photographed at an apparent same-sex marriage ceremony in Canada, triggering rumors about his lifestyle. Mexico is no different than the rest of Latin America in terms of the culture of machismo, and it is considered a grave insult to be called maricón ["sissy"], the most common term for homosexual. It wouldn't even occur to many people that there is anything wrong with gay bashing. So, it took more than a little guts for Mr. Chavez to come out of the closet.
President Bush is packing his bags for a trip to Latin America, at a moment when his political prestige is under attack once again, thanks to the Walter Reed scandal. Will he be welcomed? Today's Washington Post previewed the five-nation itinerary (Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico), highlighting the credibility gap Bush faces in the region. He deeply wants Latin Americans to know that he really cares about their impoverished condition, but in the real world of socio-politics, it is extremely difficult to win the trust of people with a much lower economic status. It's also too bad he doesn't get more credit for his "open-borders" immigration policy. It probably raised more people's hopes than it satisfied, creating even more envy and anxiety.
Escape in Colombia
The Post also had an interesting article on Fernando Araujo, a former hostage in Colombia who managed to escape from the FARC guerrillas in January after six years in captivity. (Wow!) He has just been named foreign minister by President Uribe, who is desperately trying to shift attention from the recent scandals implicating some of his conservative political allies with the right-wing drug-tainted militias. The U.S. Congress will expect further concrete actions by the Colombian government if they are to get the needed money for the anti-narcotics program in the coming year. Bush will find himself in an awkward position when he visits Bogota.
Flood in Bolivia
The political battle between President Evo Morales and the political establishment in Bolivia is hindering recovery efforts as the flood waters recede in the norther jungle province of Beni. Morales has visited the affected area twice without bothering to consult with local officials, and Gov. Ernesto Suarez, a conservative, is angry. See CNN.com.
Also, the Post had a front-page background story on the growing influence of rural women in Bolivia, focusing on the sprawling slum of El Alto on the outskirts of La Paz. The article is in the context of a massive ongoing demographic shift from the countryside to the cities in much of the Third World.
State Sen. John Chichester, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, announced he will not run for reelection this year. His district includes Northumberland and Stafford counties. Del. Vince Callahan had made a similar announcement last week. See Roanoke Times. Chichester was considered Public Enemy #1 by the conservatives in the Republican Party, for his recent compromises with Democrats over budget issues. I've become increasingly wary of the right wing lately, but I still think that his insulting comment toward his conservative adversaries within the Republican Party last June -- "God, they're dumb as rocks!" -- was beyond the pale. Paradoxically, he was a moderate in terms of policy substance, but something of a hothead in terms of political style. From what I have observed, he did not serve to build consensus within the majority caucus, which is one reason why the GOP may not retain majorty status in the General Assembly next year. I hope that someone who is fiscally responsible emerges to take Sen. Chichester's place.
Kaine's road show
Meanwhile, Our Governor is taking his campaign to revise the Republican-passed Transportation bill "on the road," with stops in Northern Virginia and other congested areas. Today he announced he won't insist on a tax hike on vehicle purchases after all, a good sign that compromise may yet be possible. See Richmond Times Dispatch. For the record, I share Kaine's and Chichester's opposition in principle to the use of general fund revenues for transportation, but I can accept such a relatively small fiscal transgression as long as the overill bill is a step in the right direction. Thus far, I think it is.
Virginia blog carnival
Bad Rose did a very good job in hosting this week's Virginia blog carnival, even putting together a graphic montage of the respective bloggers' banner images. She kindly mentioned my submission, which was only my second one ever.