December 1, 2008 [LINK / comment]
A night to remember!
The weather today was a little strange, alternating between cloudy and clear several times, with sporadic sprinkles, but fortunately there were no heavenly obstructions by nightfall, as the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter made their spectacular joint appearance in the southwestern skies. As they say (all too often), "totally awesome!"
The Moon and two planets: Venus is near the bottom, and Jupiter is on the right side. (Photo taken at 7:35 P.M.)
December 2, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Arbitration deadline passes
C.C. Sabathia (Brewers), Mark Teixeira (Angels), and Manny Ramirez (Dodgers) were among the top free agents whose teams are willing to pay more to have them stay around. Altogether, 24 players in that category were given contract offers, subject to arbitration. Those players have until December 7 (Sunday) to decide. Teams that extended such offers will get compensatory draft picks if one of their free agents signs elsewhere. Many Major League teams, however, decided not to offer new contracts to their arbitration-eligible players: The Cubs have given Kerry Wood a free pass to negotiate with other teams, the Yankees did likewise for Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi, and Bobby Abreu, as have the Padres for Trevor Hoffman, etc., etc. See MLB.com. This situation may be a side-effect of the economic recession, as teams cut costs in anticipation of declining ticket sales and TV revenue.
In Washington, the Nationals front office declined to make an offer to outfielder Austin Kearns or pitcher Odalis Perez, but say they would like them to stay with the team. Neither of them played particularly well this year, but there is always room for improvement. Kearns recently said he would like to stay with the Nationals. See MLB.com.
Citi Field fixup
I made a minor revision to the Citi Field diagram: the grandstand between the dugouts does not consist of a small number of long line segments similar to Fenway Park, as I had previously inferred, but is an approximate curve, with many short line segments that connect the structural beams. Thanks to John Crozier for that tip. Also, Brian Hughes informed me that the distance marker in right center will be closer to center field than was originally planned, at 391 feet, but this may be subject to last-minute change.
December 2, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Betancourt returns to Colombia
For the first time since she was dramatically freed from captivity last July Ingrid Betancourt has paid a return visit to Colombia. She said it is part of a tour of several Latin American countries. Fears about her safety, and the safety of her children, caused her to deny only a day before that she would make such a visit, but she decided to go ahead with it after all. See BBC. The people of Colombia recently organized a series large-scale marches to demand that FARC put an end to taking hostages. That would indeed be an appropriate gesture of peace and reconciliation for the holiday season, but is not very likely.
About a month ago, the commanding general of Colombia's army resigned after acknowledging that his forces carried out a series of civilian killings. This followed numerous reports of corrupt ties between armed forces and the "self-defense" militias who have been accused of human rights abuses. See the Christian Science Monitor.
The fact that the Colombian armed forces are starting to take more responsibility for their own actions should be recognized by the State Department, and one can only hope that the incoming Obama administration does not turn a cold shoulder to one of our few remaining friends in the region. Pass the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement now!
In Peru, President Alan Garcia was obliged to disavow a remark a general made about Chileans being sent home in body bags. What is interesting is that it took so long for the tiff to develop. The remarks were made in late 2006 or early 2007, and were uploaded to YouTube this past March, and only now has it come to broad public attention. Here is the offending quote, as reported by CNN.com:
We are not going to let Chileans pass by. ... [A] Chilean who enters will not leave. Or will leave in a coffin. And if there aren't sufficient coffins, there will be plastic bags.
December 2, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Who "gets it"? Who doesn't?
It's been nearly a full month since the historic election of Barack Obama, time enough for everyone to calmly reflect on what has happened and what this means for the future. Those and the right as well as the left have to decide whether they are going to take the high road (gracious losers or magnanimous victors, respectively) or take the low road (sullen whiners or gloating triumphalists). At this perilous moment in history, it means everything to our country whether the Republican Party can go back to its former, humble role of playing the "loyal opposition," and whether the Democrats can refrain from the temptation to wreak revenge.
Note that I have self-consciously avoided much of the blogosphere for the past few months (partly out of necessity during my October travels), but now it's time to wade back into the proverbial "muck."
Phil Chroniger gets it.
Deona Landes Houff gets it. (The December-January issue of EightyOne magazine is not yet online. Read the final page in print.)
Greg Leteicq doesn't get it at at all.
J.R. Hoeft ALMOST gets it. (He rightfully rebukes those who wallow in Reaganesque nostalgia and urges the GOP to stick to its basic, positive message, but forgets that parties have to be accountable for their elected officials' actions.)
Carl Kilo doesn't.
This is just a partial list, and I'll probably do another evaluation soon. I noticed that other conservative blogs have ceased activity since the election. I hope this is because they are seriously rethinking their approach to politics and not because they are giving up entirely on conservative politics.
Chambliss wins runoff
In Georgia, incumbent Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss prevailed in the runoff election against Democratic challenger Jim Martin, by a surprisingly wide 57% - 43% margin. This victory assures that the Democrats will not have a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority in the upper chamber of Congress. The runoff election was made necessary by Georgia law, which requires that a candidate must get an absolute majority of votes to win, and a third-party candidate prevented that from happening on November 4. See CNN.com. Whew! Meanwhile, the razor-close race in Minnesota between Republican incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman and hot-head Democrat Al Franken has yet to be decided...
December 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Happy (unspecified) Holidays!
Yes, folks, it's that special time of year once again -- the season when we bend over backwards to avoid offending anyone whose cultural heritage may differ from our own. In response to the growing number of merchants who are caving in to anti-Christmas pressure groups, a new campaign has been launched: "Merry Tossmas!" (As in, toss those "secular humanist" catalogs into the wastebasket.) Hat tip to Stacey Morris.
On a related note, the City of Staunton held its annual Christmas parade on Monday night (preventing me from parking downtown), and I heard of some complaints that it was being called the "Holiday Parade" for the first time this year. Is our own city surrendering to political correctness?? Well, the News Leader reported the event as the "Christmas parade," at least, so that's a relief.
December 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Change? Obama stays the course
For a while during the campaign, I was keeping track of each time Barack Obama "changed his tune" (i.e., flip-flopping on issues), and yesterday was a classic example. Obama's choices for the top national security cabinet and advisory positions confirmed the widely-rumored 180-degree reversal on his foreign policy campaign pledges. In other words, he is -- for the most part -- "staying the course" set by President Bush. How ironic! Who would have thought? (See below.) As Obama named his national security team at a press conference in Chicago, he hailed "a new beginning, a new dawn of American leadership" in the world (???), saying that his nominees "share my pragmatism about the use of power, and my sense of purpose." See Washington Post. The nominees are:
- Hillary Clinton, secretary of state
- Robert Gates, defense secretary
- James ("my middle name is NOT Earl") Jones, national security adviser
- Eric Holder, attorney general
- Janet Napolitano, homeland security secretary
- Susan Rice, U.N. ambassador
Some of those names had already been disclosed unofficially. Frankly, I think Obama made a big mistake -- both politically and policy-wise -- in choosing Hillary Clinton over Bill Richardson, who is slated to become secretary of commerce. Richardson has already served as U.N. ambassador and has ample experience in diplomacy, though his judgment is often suspect. At least he would be less likely to anger some foreign leader and start a war than Mrs. Clinton!
In anticipation of the announcements by Obama, Prof. Glenn Hastedt of James Madison University was interviewed by WHSV-TV3 in Harrisonburg. He noted that Obama is "putting together a team of rivals," smart and strong-willed people who don't always see eye to eye. That could either lead to a creative fusion of ideas, or chaos. Hastedt expects that Obama will respond to the heightened threat level since the attack on Mumbai, India with "a selective strategy in terms of where U.S. forces and efforts will be placed." Hastedt also noted the aspect of continuity in Obama's foreign policy, which will anger the left-wing Democrats.
Obviously, anyone who voted for Barack Obama in hopes that he would quickly abandon President Bush's foreign policy and pull our troops out of the Middle East must be sorely disappointed. It must also be extremely aggravating for supporters of Hillary Clinton, who contrasted her strong foreign policy positions to Obama's dovish approach during the primary campaign. Obama prevailed in large part because of anti-war sentiment among Democrats, and now look what has happened!
Likewise, the hawks on the right who feared the worst in letting down our guard must be quite befuddled as well. Is this for real, or just a trick? Obama's putatively pragmatic thrust came as a rather pleasant surprise, but such continuity in foreign policy is really par for the course during presidential transitions. Those who study such matters are well aware that new presidents have precious little leeway in diplomatic or military affairs. On the other hand, Obama (like most incoming presidents and presidents-elect) enjoys a wide range of latitude in domestic politics during the initial "honeymoon" phase. He is so deeply admired by so many Americans (especially journalists) that he can do just about anything right now without taking any flak.
It was a little curious that Vice President-elect Joe Biden was not very visible as the nominees were announced, since Biden was chosen as Obama's running mate in large part because of his expertise in foreign policy. It may be that his presence would have reminded people of the comment he made that, if elected, Obama would be tested by some roguish foreign power during his first months in office. (Fasten your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen.)
More Nixon tapes
I happened to see an old colleague while watching C-SPAN this morning: Timothy Naftali, director of the Nixon Presidential Library, was discussing the latest batch of White House tapes that have been released to the public: "Approximately 198 hours of tape recordings from the Nixon White House recorded between November and December 1972 and consisting of approximately 1,398 conversations." That's an awful lot to digest. I knew Prof. Naftali when we both worked at U.Va.'s Miller Center a decade ago, and he used to tell me stories about seeing the Montreal Expos play in old Jarry Park when he was young.
I was amused, in a way, by Nixon's paranoid warnings to his aides not to trust the press because "They are the enemy." He also said the same thing for professors. Well!
December 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]
"Twitter": non-stop chit-chat?
Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker is thinking about trying out the new-fangled Web 2.0 social networking Web site known as Twitter. It's a novel means of instantly communicating with a circle of friends and colleagues 24/7, rather like iChat but "broadcast" to a potentially wide audience. Like me, Parker is highly skeptical about flooding our finite brain capacity with trivial noise about what people we know (more or less) are doing or thinking at any given moment. (As if I didn't have enough distractions from e-mail and phone calls already!) Nevertheless, she does try to look at some of the possible benefits, such as joint brainstorming sessions, or just "marketing" oneself.
I may break down and try being "hyper-connected" one of these days, but here's another reason to hesitate: What are the consequences of millions of people melding their minds together in real time, so that everyone forgets whose idea is whose, and one's very conscious identity is blurred until no distinctiveness is left? It would be almost ... like ... The Borg, in Star Trek (Next Generation). Yikes!
December 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]
More winter birds arrive (II)
The recent cold rain resulted in a brief surge in sightings of unusual water birds around Augusta County, so I thought I would check one of the "hot spots" this afternoon. I saw two bird species for the first time this season, several of each kind, in fact: Hooded Mergansers and Redheads. Both of those species were spectacular in the afternoon sun.
Location: Bell's Lane (Staunton)
Observation date: 12/3/08
Number of species: 10
Ring-necked Duck 8
Lesser Scaup 1
Hooded Merganser 4
Ruddy Duck 6
Northern Mockingbird 1
European Starling 15
Song Sparrow 5
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org)
December 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Steady progress at Target Field
In Minneapolis, the temperatures are plunging into the single digits, which means that the pace of construction at Target Field will slow down for the next few months. (The work will be confined to interior spaces, mostly.) Overall, the project remains on schedule, with nearly all of the concrete work being completed, and the Twins hope to start playing there in April 2010. Several artistic design features have yet to be decided upon, including the pedestrian bridge that will connect Target Field to downtown. One feature noted by MLB.com sounds like a great idea to me:
The gate on Target Plaza, with turnstiles built into it for entry into ballpark, will be movable. When the Twins aren't playing, the gate will swing around and the outfield concourse will become part of the city sidewalk system -- meaning that fans can walk right up to the ballpark and through the concourses in the outfield to reach the trains.
That ought to get a lot more people interested in seeing a ball game there.
Save Shea Stadium?
On Long Island, meanwhile, progress on dismantling Shea Stadium is dragging along at a snail's pace, causing some people to worry that the wrecking crews will still be there when the Mets begin playing at Citi Field next April. That would be a depressing sight to behold. There's been much discussion of what is holding things up at baseball-fever.com, and some wise guy says he wants the Mets to ditch the whole Citi Field project and keep playing at Shea indefinitely. (???)
December 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Russian navy visits Venezuela
Several ships from the Russian navy recently completed maneuvers in the Caribbean Sea, joined by ships of Venezuela's navy. The Russian naval task force was led by the nuclear-powered cruiser Peter the Great. This naval exercise was timed to coincide with the recent visit of President Dmitry Medvedev, who stopped in Caracas after attending the APEC summit in Peru. It is also seen as a gesture of retaliation after the United States sent relief supplies to Georgia aboard U.S. warships following the invasion by Russian forces in August. From the perspective of Venezuela, it was a perfect opportunity to show defiance toward "U.S. imperialism," after the recent elections in which opposition leaders made minor gains. As reported in the Washington Post:
President Hugo Chavez has said the naval exercises weren't meant as a provocation to the United States or any other nation. He has praised Russia for raising its profile in the Americas, while saying the U.S. Navy's recently reactivated Fourth Fleet poses a threat to Venezuela
It would be very difficult to unravel the mixed motivations for this strategic challenge to U.S. interests in the Caribbean Basis. What are they really up to? The point is that Russia's deployment of major naval units to vital nearby shipping lines forces the United States to respond in an appropriate fashion. We will be obliged to divert precious strategic resources from the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, it gets even more complicated than that. As The Economist magazine observes, the United States really ought to be more concerned about China, which has been busy signing trade agreements with Latin American countries to keep its dynamic industries well-supplied, than to Russia, whose economy remains relatively stagnant. Facing multiple challenges on multiple strategic fronts, at a time when our means to respond are less than adequate, the United States will be hard pressed to maintain a favorable global balance of power.
December 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Advice for the Republicans
Shaun Kenney has written a very thoughtful Open Letter to Virginia GOP, with his diagnosis of what is wrong with the party. He insists that nothing is wrong with ideas or principles of the Republican Party, but rather with the party's logistics, which he says are "a wreck." Well, there's no question about that. Shaun outlines a proposed reorganization of the state party, urging above all that the RPV hierarchy be accountable to the unit committees, not the other way around. That is certainly a commendable goal, but there is one major problem: Precisely because of misguided interference by RPV in local-level politics over the past year and a half, the composition of some of those committees is no longer representative of the people in the local community who identify themselves as Republicans. Indeed, the party has gone out of its way to alienate itself from mainstream voters, and that is why we keep losing.
In sum, while Shaun is on the right track with the details, I think he is missing the bigger picture, of why the logistics have become so degraded. The GOP in Virginia does not suffer from a lack of technical or managerial skill, but rather from a paranoid culture of exclusion. (You know, those people frothing at the mouth about "RINOs.") Until true leaders step forward to chastise the hot-heads who have led the party astray under the false pretense of ideological purity, things are not going to get better. I think we can still win some of the big state election contests next year, but we need to be gearing toward a long-term reform.
On the blue side of the spectrum, meanwhile, Waldo Jaquith cited the refusal by RPV Chair Jeff Frederick to apologize for linking Barack Obama with Osama bin Laden as a prime example of why the Republicans keep losing elections. Waldo repeated his suggestions to the Republicans with a delightful mixture of sincerity and snark. On one hand, he means exactly what he says, in terms of what the GOP needs to do, but on the other hand he knows very well that his advice won't be taken at face value by the other side, which is exactly what he wants.
Just remember, free advice is worth every penny you pay!
Teléfonos para ilegales
This time I'll have to agree with Greg Letiecq: Unless the AT&T cellular telephone store in Manassas doesn't stop the practice of courting illegal aliens as customers (e.g., by putting up window signs saying you don't need an ID or a Social Security number), then AT&T ought to be boycotted.
December 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Episcopal schism deepens
In another step toward a full-scale rupture of the Anglican Communion in North America, conservative leaders of the Episcopal Church meeting in Wheaton, Illinois have voted to establish a separate branch of Anglicanism. The main issue dividing the church is on the proper role and status of gay people, and whether they should be ordained as priests or consecrated as bishops, such as the controversial Rev. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Conservative Bishop Martyn Minns, from Virginia, said that women will be allowed to serve as deacons and priests, but not as bishops. The conservative faction will seek official recognition from other Anglican church authorities around the world, but leaders of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. insist that they are the only recognized Anglican church in this country. See Washington Post. It's like an exclusive franchise, in other words, and there's a good reason for that. For those churches which place a high value on religious doctrine, liturgy, and authority -- such as the Roman Catholics or the Anglicans -- any muddying of the waters about who belongs to whom is simply not tolerable.
It is likely that similar episodes will continue for the foreseeable future, because of a tragic lack of mutual understanding between the leaders of the two religious factions. As I wrote on July 6, "Even though I am inclined toward the traditional, conservative side on most social and religious issues, I am appalled at the idea of breaking up the Church over such issues." But then, I'm a die-hard voice of reason and reconciliation within the Republican Party, and look at the situation there. Perhaps the idea of unity is simply not feasible in either case...
December 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Constitutional crisis in Canada
The global economic crisis is yielding a variety of side-effects in various countries, as governments struggle to cope with the loss of jobs and the evaporation of credit, and Canada happens to be an extreme case of that right now. Claiming that Prime Minister Stephen Harper (a Conservative) was not doing enough to address the crisis, the Liberal-led coalition tried to have a vote of no-confidence, notwithstanding the fact that the Conservative party just made a substantial gain in parliamentary elections last month.* Under parliamentary rules, such a motion would remove the prime minister from power. In response, Harper declared he would use "every legal means" to thwart this move, which could lead to further uncertainty and loss of investor confidence. [At his request, Governor General Michaelle Jean Parliament ordered the temporary suspension of Parliament, prompting outcries by the opposition.] Canadian politics are often raucous, but rarely has the system itself been subjected to such strain. Under their constitution, the Governor General exercises power as the head of state, on behalf of Queen Elizabeth, to decide whether parliament should be suspended or dissolved. [Only rarely does this prerogative matter very much, however.] See BBC.
* Parliamentary elections were held in Canada on October 14, but few Americans paid attention, being preoccupied with their own election campaign. The Conservatives emerged with the greatest number of seats by far, 143 vs. 77 for the Liberals, 37 for the New Democrats, and 49 for the Bloc Quebeçois. It was short of a majority, however, meaning that the parties had to reach a tacit understanding on the need to cooperate. Well, that didn't last long, did it?
I was watching a panel of Canadian commentators discuss this situation last night on C-SPAN, and the experts seems to agree that Harper's move, though regrettable, was probably necessary to prevent political and economic chaos. A big part of the problem is that a key part of the Coalition, the Bloc Quebeçois, intends to secede from the rest of Canada. Will the Liberals and the New Democrats have to agree to let Quebec go as the price for taking power in Ottawa?
Perhaps it won't get to that point. Today, the head of the Coalition, Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion**, was replaced by Bob Rae, also a Liberal. Dion, an academic (political science!) by profession, is disliked as aloof and elitist by many Canadians, and it appears to many that he is opportunistically taking advantage of the country's misery for his own ends. The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that a majority of people in Canada want the current Tory (Conservative) government to stay in power. The people aren't eager to go through another election again so soon after the last round.
** Possibly related to superstar vocalist Celine Dion; sources differ.
This crisis in Canada illustrates the downside of the parliamentary system, which is more flexible than our presidential system, but often prone to paralysis and divisiveness. If we had a parliamentary system, our national leader would be forced out of office if there was a major policy setback, such as the war in Iraq. Our system is more stable but less flexible.
Cold War? What-ever!
In the comments on the blog piece from Waldo that I cited yesterday, James Young made a point about Reagan and the end of the Cold War that I heartily agree with, but he went a rhetorical step too far. This elicited a response from Waldo which, in turn, went a step too far, exposing for all the world to see, the smug no-nothingness of his generation:
When Republicans shake their fists and rage against communism and socialism, what an increasingly-large chunk of the electorate hear is "blah blah blah I'm old and out of touch blah blah blah." You might as well be telling us to get off your lawn. You might be right, but it doesn't matter -- it's still a losing tactic. [emphasis added]
If this is how an intelligent, well-informed member of Generation X (or is it Y?) thinks, I shudder to think what a typical, clueless person of that age group must think.
December 5, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Canadians KIA in Afghanistan
In the middle of a turbulent political crisis in Ottawa, it was announced that three more Canadian soldiers had been killed in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan, raising to 100 the total number of Canadian military fatalities in that country. It was a dreadfully commonplace action: the soldiers' vehicle was destroyed by an "improvised explosive device." See the Toronto Globe and Mail, which provides telling details on the heroism of the troops under fire. We Americans often neglect our very worthy and noble neighbors to the north, and in a world that seems to be turning more hostile all the time, such lack of appreciation -- or even attention -- is most distressing.
It was sixty seven years ago today -- Dec. 5, 1941 -- that the Soviet Red Army began its winter counteroffensive, pushing German forces back from the gates of Moscow. It was a startling reversal of fortune, the first defeat suffered by the Wehrmacht in World War II. Six months later, the Germans were on the offensive once again...
December 6, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Digital TV for senior citizens
With the transition to digital television just a little over two months away, anxieties are already rising. No doubt there are hundreds of swindlers out there trying to make a fast buck by taking advantage of old folks who don't understand what this all means. A mean but devilishly funny comedy bit on this situation was recently broadcast on Spike Feresten's late-night talk show; see hulu.com. It reminds me of the Saturday Night Live fake TV ad by Sam Waterston, urging old people to buy insurance to protect themselves against robots. (WARNING: People who claim that robots don't exist may be robots themselves! )
December 7, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Corrupt Democrat loses
Crooks always think they are clever enough to get away with it, but in the end they learn that crime doesn't pay. It was very gratifying to learn that voters in New Orleans elected Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao to represent them in Congress, sending incumbent Rep. William J. Jefferson into early retirement. (He had served for nine terms.) Cao thus becomes the first Vietnamese American to win election to Congress. He and his family fled Saigon in 1975 when North Vietnamese Communists took over. See Washington Post.
How corrupt was Rep. Jefferson? In May 2006, FBI agents seized wads of cash ($90,000) that he had stuffed in his freezer, hoping to hide the filthy loot which he received in bribes, as federal prosecutors allege. The trial is still pending.
December 9, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Athletics switch ballpark site
Because of the economic downturn and the belated realization that access to mass transit will be crucial to attract fans in future years, the Oakland Athletics have reversed course on their plans for their future stadium, to be called "Cisco Field." Team owner Lew Wolff acknowledged that they are giving up on the fancy, upscale "ballpark village" development project on the southwest fringes of Fremont, California, and are now focusing on a site adjacent to a future Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station about a mile and a half to the east. At last report, team officials were negotiating with Fremont city officials and people from BART. See San Jose Mercury News and there is a map in the San Francisco Chronicle; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.
This is far from being a done deal, however, and indeed, the Oakland A's Web site still shows the previous location. Both the new site (between the I-680 and I-880 symbols on that map) and the previously-proposed site are about the same distance from downtown San Jose (10 miles) and from the Coliseum in Oakland (25 miles) where the A's currently play; in other words, "out in the boonies." I know there is hesitation among government officials in San Jose, but that is really the only logical place to build a new baseball stadium in Northern California, aside from Oakland. I hope the A's think long and hard before committing to a stadium that is so remote from a major population center.
While browsing the Chronicle Web site for news updates, I came across a humorous piece about the possible temporary relocation of the University of California Golden Bears' football team to Candlestick Park until their own new stadium is rebuilt. The San Francisco 49ers are still stuck in stadium "limbo," as the proposed Santa Clara site is going nowhere fast. I've been thinking about how the 49ers and the Raiders might economize by drastically renovating their existing stadiums rather than building new ones from scratch. (Stay tuned!) Since last June, the 49ers have gone back to the original name, "Candlestick Park," ditching the silly-sounding "Monster Park" name. See Sports Business Daily.
Even though baseball is "on the back burner" in most sports fans' minds, there will be some important sporting events at baseball stadiums over the next few weeks: college bowl games in Washington, D.C., a hockey game at Wrigley Field, and more.
Finally, I recently learned about a Web site that is definitely worth taking a look at: Baseball Stadium Reviews, by Amanda Lippert. It is loaded with great photographs, and includes a systematic evaluation of all the ballparks she has been to.
December 9, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Cognitive dissonance in the GOP
A big reason for the defection of mainstream conservatives from Republican ranks is the hollow pretense that party insiders make about their ideological purity as they shove aside anyone who does not fall in lock-step with their agenda. A perfect example of this tendency is John Hawkins, who recently laid out "Five Hard Truths For RINOS." * Like many of the simple-minded actvists who see the world in terms of black and white, he posits a false dichotomy -- "between the people who want the party to become more principled and those who want to turn the GOP into a poll-driven pile of mush that they believe will be more appealing to centrists." He then makes five dumbed-down, red-herring arguments that have almost nothing to do with GOP core principles or winning elections. Oh, brother, here we go again with more right-wing delusions...
With that in mind, I offer "Five Hard Truths For The Base":
- Appealing to centrist voters does NOT mean abandoning conservative principles, it means using logic rather than emotion.
- Wanting to put more emphasis on fiscal conservatism (as I do) does NOT mean wanting to "kick social conservatives to the curb," it means restoring a sense of balance and fidelity to the Republican Party's own heritage.
- To many non-partisan voters, the Republicans' failure to seriously address the problem of illegal immigration is proof that the GOP doesn't know how to govern, but just wants to exploit anti-immigrant sentiment to win elections.
- In terms of politics, the president who has held office for the last eight years has been more devoted to courting the GOP "Base" (e.g., using wedge issues) than even Ronald Reagan himself.
- In terms of policy, that very same "Base-focused" administration has been notorious for betraying conservative principles whenever it was expedient.
The fact that so many people on the Right refuse to face up to the glaringly obvious contradiction between the last two points is truly "one of the most surreal aspects of the post-2008 campaign," using Hawkins' own words. It's people like him in the Republican leadership who are in dire need of a reality check. President Bush and "The Base" are two peas in a pod, and in a way it's funny to watch those people get themselves all tangled up in twisted logic as they blame "RINOs" instead of their own Chief Executive. To put the crux of the matter in even more simple terms, No one can honestly claim to be both a principled conservative and a loyal supporter of President Bush. In sum, what we have here is a classic example of "cognitive dissonance": simultaneously holding two contradictory ideas in one's mind, and refusing to act upon the awareness thereof. (For example, when people keep smoking cigarettes even though they know it's potentially lethal.) Those folks can keep howling at the moon all they want, but it won't change the fact that they are living a lie.
For the record, while other Republican activists were loudly cheering "W" and chastising others for "disloyalty," I've been calmly but persistently warning about Bush's waywardness since 2005. I made cautionary allusions about him even further back. Bush not only squandered the opportunity for reform following his 2004 reelection, he has left the Republican Party in a shambles that will take years to repair.
* That's "Republicans In Name Only," for you folks in Rio Linda.
Conservatives for Obama???
According to Joel Mowbray in the Washington Times (hat tip to Connie), a critical factor in Barack Obama's electoral victory was support from conservatives. "What???" Many conservatives no longer consider themselves to be Republicans, and, according to Curtis Gans, from American University, "many culturally conservative Republicans still did not see [John McCain] as one of their own and stayed home."
Actually, it shouldn't be much of a surprise, given that neither John McCain nor the right-wing faction that currently dominates the Republican Party are really conservative in any meaningful sense of the word. McCain is a pragmatic moderate, and the folks belonging to "The Base" are, by and large, pseudo-conservatives, a term coined by Richard Hofstadter. It refers to ideological zealots with a paranoid tendency to suspect outsiders; see October 2006, and scroll down to the second item. I'll have more to say on that subject later.
Wait, Jeb, wait!
Should Jeb Bush run for the U.S. Senate seat that will be vacated by Republican Mel Martinez two years from now? That depends mainly on whether there are good alternative candidates in Florida. For the time being, the Bush "name brand" is more likely to do the GOP harm than good, so I would prefer that Jeb wait a few years before making a run for such an office.
December 9, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Many finches, few sparrows
I took a morning walk along the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad trail for the first time in months, and right away had a nice surprise: a first-year Kestrel that landed in a nearby tree top to look for "breakfast." Later on, I saw my first Purple finches of the season, but relatively few White-throated sparrows and no Song sparrows. I'm still puzzled by the small number of those sparrows this fall and winter. Here is the complete list from today:
- Kestrel (imm.)
- Downy woodpeckers (2 M)
- Cardinals (M, F)
- White-throated sparrows
- White-breasted nuthatches
- Carolina wren
- Purple finches (M, F -- FOS)
- House finches (M, F)
- Turkey vultures
In other news, a Calliope hummingbird has been sighted near Lynchburg, way out of its range and out of its proper season. Given the extreme rarity of that species, I may try to go find it later this week. It normally is found in western states, and it would be a life bird for me. Also, a Snowy owl has been seen north of Ruckersville, along Route 29.
December 10, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Corrupt Democrat is arrested
Mere days after Rep. William Jefferson was defeated in his reelection bid as public awareness of his corruption grew, now another dirty Democrat has to face the consequences of his misdeeds. The main difference is that whereas Rep. Jefferson had enough of a guilty conscience to make him conceal his crimes, Illinois Governor Blagojevich was brazenly contemptuous of the law, almost daring to be caught. On Monday he was talking to reporters about the possibility of having his phone conversations recorded, and on the very next day Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald* revealed the contents of some of those conversations in which Blagojevich solicited paybacks from prospective U.S. Senate appointees who might fill Barack Obama's seat.
Dirty politics in the Windy City? I'm shocked -- shocked! (Not.) Chicago has a reputation for corruption going way back before the days of Mayor Daley in the 1960s, and recent governors of Illinois have been prone to engage in criminal conduct while in office. (Dan Ryan, for example.) As James Pindell wrote at Politicker.com, "Along with the position of Newark, New Jersey mayor the seat of Illinois Governor may be the most corrupt office in America." (Hey those New Jersey people should know!) But the young, smiley-faced Blagojevich is truly in a league of his own. From what we know at present, Blagojevich resented Barack Obama for not "playing ball" in his nefarious schemes. There is no reason to suspect Obama of any involvement, but this scandal is bound to raise questions about his rise to power in Chicago politics, possibly tainting his image as a "knight in shining armor." Another rising black politician from Chicago may not be off the hook, however: Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. was one of the prospective replacements for Obama that Blagojevich was soliciting. Jackson denies any quid pro quo, of course.
For complete on-the-scene coverage of all these developments, see the Chicago Tribune.
In a bizarre coincidence, the Tribune Company, which owns several newspapers and the Chicago Cubs (!), has declared bankruptcy as ad revenues fall in the current depressed economic conditions.
* Fitzgerald led the inquiry into "Plamegate" affair that eventually resulted in the conviction of Scooter Libby.
Moral of the story
In a sense, the situation in Chicago and Washington right now is perfectly normal: Since the dawn of civilization, men who gain public power have been tempted to abuse the trust their constituents have given them, and it takes a lot of integrity to resist corruption. That's one of the main reasons we have constitutional restraints on the exercise of power, and why state-run or socialist economies invariably stagnate and fail. As I noted in January 2006, corruption is generally bipartisan in nature, but "has a disproportional effect on whichever party currently holds a majority." Whereas the Republicans seemed to get more than their share of the blame for corruption in recent years (Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff, etc.), now the tables have turned, as the Democrats have consolidated their majority status. In March, New York Governor Elliott Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal, in September we learned more fully about the cozy relationships between leading Democrats (including Barack Obama) and Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, which were at the root of our economic crisis. (Too bad more people didn't pay attention to that.)
But there is another lesson that most people would rather not hear: Corruption is almost universal precisely because good people who should know better allowed corrupt people to gain positions of power, and once they had attained those positions, it was too late to do anything about it. In such a situation, trying to reform politics by playing by the rules is almost futile: the deck is stacked against honest people. Just as "a stitch in time saves nine," if you don't nip corruption in the bud at the local level, it's bound to get much worse at the state and national levels.
December 11, 2008 [LINK / comment]
"Friendly Confines" held hostage!
It didn't take long for the "political corruption crime spree"* perpetrated by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to spill over into the baseball world. Federal prosecutors allege that the governor retaliated against the Chicago Tribune for editorials critical of him, warning that state money for renovating Wrigley Field would be in jeopardy unless certain editors were fired. (On Sept. 29 the Tribune editors had urged state legislators to consider impeaching Blagojevich, as rumors of his crookedness mounted.) As reported by the Chicago Tribune:
According to the criminal charges, Blagojevich's chief of staff, John Harris, repeatedly warned an individual identified by authorities only as a "Tribune Financial Adviser" that the governor's support for a Wrigley Field deal "could get derailed by your own editorial page."
Ironically, Tribune Chairman Sam Zell and his wife contributed more than $82,000 to Blagojevich's campaign in 2002. Maybe that wasn't enough... Also see Yahoo News (link via Bruce Orser). Scheming to make a profit from hallowed grounds is outright sacrilege, and cannot be tolerated or excused.
This sheds new light on what happened one year ago, when Gov. Blagojevich endorsed the idea of selling Wrigley Field to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority for a token sum in exchange for a promise to invest in massive upgrades to the facility. Chicago Mayor Daley resisted on budgetary grounds, however. I'll bet Blagojevich couldn't wait to get his greedy hands on that precious jewel...
Meanwhile, the Tribune Company which owns the Cubs has filed for bankruptcy, but this supposedly will not affect the Cubs. See MLB.com. Man, when is that team going to catch a lucky break?
* That is how U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald described what Blagojevich did.
N.Y. demolition update
Eric Okurowski has some photos of the demolition of Shea Stadium at stadiumpage.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. The wrecking crews are starting to move a lot more quickly, knocking down the front edges of the upper decks.
Over in The Bronx, meanwhile, it appears that Yankee Stadium will survive intact through the summer season, in part to make possible the filming of a movie, Keeper of the Pinstripes. Guess who one of the stars is? Former center fielder Bernie Williams! See Newsday.
Sabathia joins Yanks
Here we go again: Just about every winter, it seems, the New York Yankees make some huge deal with a legendary player (Clemens, Giambi, A-Rod, Matsui), and just about every year the added talent helps them get into the playoffs. This year, the new superstar on the block is C.C. Sabathia, who agreed to $160 million (more or less) seven-year contract with the Yankees. Details are still being negotiated. See sportsline.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser. The ongoing crisis on Wall Street may be causing misery all around the country, but it's apparently not having much effect on the economy in New York City...
Nats offer Teixera $160m
Another player targeted by the Yankees has apparently eluded their grasp: the Washington Nationals have offered first baseman Mark Teixera a $160 million eight-year contract, slightly better than the terms offered by the Orioles. See MLB.com. Apparently the Lerners got the message that if they didn't spend big bucks on top-quality players, they were at risk of losing their fragile fan base. If the deal is consummated, Nick Johnson and/or Dmitri Young might not play for the Nats next year. Let's just hope that the investment pays off for them. For a team with such a thin pool of veteran talent, it's hard to justify putting so many eggs into one basket.
Bad economy? What bad economy?
December 11, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Senate GOP [blocks] auto bailout
The House passed a short-term financial assistance package to the major American automakers yesterday, but Republican leaders in the Senate are refusing to go along, mainly because there are no guarantees that the absurdly generous labor contracts will not be reformed. Some senators on both sides of the aisle talk about negotiating concrete terms along those lines up front, but for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), that violates the whole principle of a free-market economy. See Washington Post.
Granted, the United States is not really a free-market economy today, but if we give up on those principles entirely, then what is to stop us from sliding downhill toward more and more state control of the private business sector? That, of course, is exactly what a large number of Democrats want.
I was surprised that good old Ben Stein (Nixon administration economist, droll comedian, and movie actor) reluctantly approved of the auto industry bailout, on pragmatic grounds. Hat tip to Dan.
UPDATE: (Originally, the title was "Senate GOP resists auto bailout.") Late today, the auto bailout bill died in the Senate by a vote of 52-35, meaning the measure won't be taken up until the new session of Congress convenes in January. That ought to get those auto workers' attention! But don't worry, Detroit won't collapse: The White House says they'll use money from the "Troubled Asset Relief Program," if necessary. (Once again, illustrating the pernicious ultra-wide range of discretion embodied in that banking bailout bill which was passed in early October.) See CNN.com.
Today's news about Illinois Governor Blagojevich mainly concerns baseball.
December 11, 2008 [LINK / comment]
A path to energy independence?
A company called Valcent Products is testing a new greenhouse system that uses algae to generate large quantities of lipids that can then be processed into combustible oils. According to CEO Glen Kertz [watch this video], "What we have is a closed-loop photo-bio reactor." (???) If his biofuels project lives up to his claims, it may go a long way toward U.S. achieving energy independence. Or, it could turn out to be another pipe dream like cold fusion. But at least it's worth a try -- hopefully with entrepreneurial capital rather than government subsidies. One drawback: the system requires huge inputs of fresh water. Hat tip to Rich Raab; Steve Kijak has some photos of the prototype.
Another reason to pause: With gasoline prices plummeting to insanely low levels right now ($1.37 per gallon!??), the profitability of such alternative energy sources comes into question.
December 12, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Quote of the
It is easier to become a Christian if one is not a Christian than to become a Christian if one is already supposed to be one. -- Soren Kierkegaard.
Hat tip to (Rev.) Donald Sensing.
Perhaps all of the cacaphony about the public observance of Christmas stems from the unease that many people feel when they realize what being a Christian entails.
December 12, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Bailout mess: GOP opportunity?
One of the drawbacks to the increasingly populist nature of the Republican Party is that it puts a strain on maintaining popular support for policies in times of recession. Old fashioned belt-tightening, pro-business economic remedies just don't go over too well in small towns where the factories are closing down. (See below.) Paradoxically, however, the current political-economic situation in the United States may actually redound to the Republicans' benefit, as Gannett columnist Chuck Raasch noted. He speculated that the Republicans might be able to capitalize on the widespread public opposition to the Detroit bailout proposal, while being faithful to the party's traditional opposition to interference in the market. I think he's right, and for once, populist politics is in harmony with the national interest. Let's hope that Sen. Richard Shelby and other Republican leaders stand up against the pressure to fork over huge stashes of Federal cash to companies with grotesquely excessive payrolls -- executives and workers are getting paid too much.
Raasch also noted that at one of those "debates" in October 2007, most of the Republican candidates seemed unaware of the growing economic hardships faced by many people. Two notable exceptions were libertarian Ron Paul and social conservative Mike Huckabee, who were very conscious of the emerging recession. Very interesting... (That column by Raasch appeared in the News Leader print edition, but you can't access that column on their Web site without some kind of login.)
I am generally anti-bailout, but I am not so dogmatic about it that I wouldn't consider arguments based on prudence or practicality, such as Ben Stein, whom I cited yesterday. Nevertheless, it seems clear that bailing out Detroit now would only prolong an industrial system that cannot be sustained indefinitely. The labor unions do not serve the interests of the working class in general, and the United Auto Workers in particular need to be told very clearly: "No more!"
Layoffs at Invista
Speaking of factories closing down, the Invista plant in Waynesboro (formerly DuPont) just laid off 210 workers, shutting down nylon fiber production. See the News Virginian. Times are indeed very tough all over, including right here in the Shenandoah Valley.
December 13, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Winter GM meetings conclude
The Major League general managers have come and gone from the annual meetings that were held in Las Vegas, with relatively few blockbuster deals so far. Manny Ramirez is still available, if any team wants him badly enough. Kerry Wood passed the necessary physical exam to complete the deal with Cleveland, a good sign that the Indians are determined to stay in the race even after letting C.C. Sabathia go. Also, the Yankees have reached a tentative deal (pending a physical) with pitcher A.J. Burnett on a five-year contract totalling $82.5 million. He went 18-10 with the Blue Jays this year. See MLB.com. Along with C.C. Sabathia, that ought to give the Yankees strong enough pitching staff to at least make it to the postseason next year. (But why don't they sign a pitcher who uses his real first name?)
I was glad to hear that the Washington Nationals signed young outfielder Willie Harris to a two-year contract, though with comparatively modest compensation of $3 million. He grabbed attention last May, diving to make a spectacular catch in left field at Shea Stadium, and in in July he was named National League player of the week. He is one of the real bright spots in the Nats' future, and he is eager to keep playing in Washington. They also offered salary arbitration to pitcher Shawn Hill and and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, and to two others. Zimmerman had a very sluggish start to the season, and was out for a few weeks with an injury, but he showed great improvement late in the season. However, the Nationals declined to offer arbitration to Tim Redding, their most reliable pitcher until mid-year, after which he fell into a slump. Negotiations with the Rockies on a trade for Redding fell through. See MLB.com.
December 13, 2008 [LINK / comment]
How "moderate" is Obama?
Barack Obama's main objective during the transition is to convey the impression that he is a responsible moderate, not some wild-eyed utopian radical. In this, he is succeeding brilliantly so far. But what about his plans for governing: Will he continue to hew toward the center, or will he "boldly go where no president has gone before"? Five weeks from now, we'll start to find out.
In Friday's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer scrutinizes this puzzle. He argues that Obama is not an ideological centrist, but rather is pragmatic in terms of setting his policy priorities. His only foreign policy objective is to avoid international conflict and maintain global capital flows so that he can focus on his domestic agenda, which, Krauthammer says, is "to effect a domestic transformation as grand and ambitious as Franklin Roosevelt's." Thanks to President Bush's $700 billion financial bailout slush fund and his own big electoral mandate on November 4, Obama now has the means at his disposal to carry out such a vast transformation. If so, it would permanently alter the political landscape in a way that could render the conservative market-based alternative utterly pointless. I dearly hope Krauthammer is wrong.
Some hints of what Obama's elusive agenda of "change" might entail can be found on the campaign Web site barackobama.com. The proposed "Social Investment Fund" would "use federal seed money to leverage private sector funding to improve local innovation, test the impact of new ideas and expand successful programs to scale." The Social Entrepreneurship Agency for Nonprofits would be "dedicated to building the capacity and effectiveness of the nonprofit sector." Richard Viguerie warns that the "socialization" of the nonprofit sector in this country might eliminate independent nonprofit organizations that have long been "among the most effective critics of government. Liberals wish to reduce such independence through financing (with strings attached) and regulating nonprofits." Instead, liberal groups like ACORN and Planned Parenthood would get taxpayer subsidies. I'm afraid Viguerie is on to something. If Obama does move ahead to, in effect, politicize philanthropy, it would poison the well of social trust upon which social peace in America depends, and would reduce the flow of voluntary charity to a trickle. In other words, it would be much like the situation in Europe.
Bush gets reflective
As his administration winds down, President Bush is getting more candid about his past mistakes, acknowledging that in an interview two weeks ago with Charlie Gibson of ABC News. (Thanks to Dan for the link.) Bush is clearly proud not to have compromised his principles (free markets?), but lamented his inability to reduce the partisan rancor in Washington. (That may have something to do with the fact that his political advisor Karl Rove deliberated exacerbated partisan acrimony, but perhaps Bush was not aware of this.) This part of the interview was especially illuminating on the way Bush approached big decisions:
Bush said his decision not to prematurely withdraw troops from Iraq was grounded in his values.
"I listened to a lot of voices, but ultimately, I listened to this voice: I'm not going to let your son die in vain," he said. "I believe we can win. I'm going to do what it takes to win in Iraq.
As anyone who has studied military history knows, making strategic decisions on the basis of emotions rather than logic is the surest path to disaster. For example, as World War I dragged on in a bloody stalemate, the refusal by national leaders on both sides to compromise for fear that it would dishonor the soldiers who had already fallen in combat resulted in the needless deaths of millions more. Bush spoke eloquently about the overwhelming burdens of leadership, but he should know that there are times when a commander in chief has to make the agonizing decision to cut the country's losses and move on.
December 17, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Ecuador defaults on debt
Last Friday, the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, announced that his government would not pay interest on the nation's foreign debt, which he declared "was obviously immoral and illegitimate." Ever the rabble-rousing populist, he referred to foreign lenders as "monsters." He has ordered government finance officials not to make the interest payments which were due on Monday, saying that he was prepared to accept any consequences. He told the people of Ecuador that the "social debt" (housing shortages, etc.) had a higher priority in his government. It is a very risky decision, however, because Ecuador depends on petroleum export revenues, and the price of crude oil has fallen sharply for the past two months. They could face a drastic shortage of external credit and find themselves unable to pay for vital imports. See BBC and CNN.com
And so, Ecuador continues to follow in the radical, nationalist footsteps of Peru during the late 1980s, when (then-and-current) President Alan Garcia undertook boldly defiant policy measures that backfired terribly. The number of parallels between the background, age, and social status of those two national leaders is truly remarkable. Garcia has matured and moderated considerably since his first term, and during his second term, which began in 2006, Peru has enjoyed one of the most successful economies in all of Latin America.
Today Correa is attending a summit meeting in Brazil with President da Silva, along with the new president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo. Both countries owe a substantial amount of money to Brazil, and the three leaders are trying to work out mutually acceptable terms for repaying the debt. See El Comercio of Ecuador (Spanish).
Personally, I think Correa's move is reckless and bound to make his people worse off than they are at present. Nevertheless, as a sovereign nation, Ecuador is within its rights to refuse to repay its debts. There is no international debt collection agency, and it is up to the creditor nation governments to rely upon the leverage of the IMF and other international financial institutions or else the threat of coercive force. (In the early 20th Century, the United States often used "gunboat diplomacy" to force the governments of Caribbean nations to pay their debts, or to preclude European great powers from moving in with their own military force.) The issue of Third World debt has both practical and moral dimensions, and the tradeoffs are more complex than most people think. Many Third World countries, including Bolivia, are essentially insolvent, and if there were stronger international leadership, private banks would have an incentive to write off a large portion of those debts so that they could at least recoup part of their losses, while allowing the poor countries a chance to start growing again. But until that happens, defaulting on foreign debts is a very compelling alternative for the poorest of the poor. See my essay on Third World debt, excerpted from my dissertation at U.Va. (2001).
Inasmuch as Correa holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Illinois, one wonders what the heck that department is teaching to its students. Upon the occasion of his inauguration in January 2007, that university's Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies reviewed Correa's academic work at Illinois. Correa's dissertation adviser was Dr. Werner Baer.
December 17, 2008 [LINK / comment]
More cabinet picks by Obama
It seems that most of Barack Obama's latest cabinet nominees are either pals from Chicago or colleagues in the U.S. Senate and House. Here are the latest names:
- Steven Chu: energy secretary
- Sen. Ken Salazar: interior secretary
- Arne Duncan: secretary of education
- Ex-Gov. Tom Vilsack: agriculture secretary
- Ray LaHood: transportation secretary
Secretary of Education-designate Duncan is a top administrator in the Chicago school system, and plays basketball with Obama. As the Washington Post reported, "The president-elect has not taken sides in a debate between reform advocates and powerful teachers unions, and choosing Duncan seems to be a consensus move likely to appeal to both." This makes it clear that, under the Obama administration, change does not necessarily mean reform. It's also odd that Obama acted as though the scandal involving Gov. Blagojevich didn't even happen, as he named yet another crony from the murky waters of Chicago politics. Further downstate in Illinois (Peoria and thereabouts), Obama is about to name Rep. Ray LaHood to be Secretary of Transportation, his first choice of a Republican so far.
Speaking of which, we should remember Obama's political and real estate connections to Tony Rezko, who was convicted of bribery. As I noted on Sept. 20, Obama has somehow eluded any blame for the financial crisis. Last March, Bob Novak dug up a lot of dirt about this connection. So far, it's just the appearance of impropriety, so let's not jump to conclusions. According to factcheck.org, "Obama has a relationship with Rezko that dates back many years, but there's no indication Obama did anything improper."
Also, former EPA chief Carol M. Browner will be named to a "czar" position, coordinating climate, environment and energy issues. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) later this week to serve as secretary of the interior. Gov. Bill Ritter may pick Rep. John Salazar, Ken's brother. (I'm sure there will be no hint of office-auctioning à la Chicago.) It's a strange situation, because Rep. Mark Udall, who just won the other Senate seat in Colorado in the elections last month, will become the state's senior senator as soon as he takes the oath of office! Two years ago, both Colorado senators were Republican, but neither Ben Nighthorse Campbell nor Wayne Allard wanted to run for another term, and now the Democrats control both seats. See Yahoo News.
Person of the Year
To no one's surprise, Barack Obama was just named "person of the year" by Time Magazine.
Confusion in the GOP
Richard Viguerie has given us another perfect example of the "Cognitive dissonance" that is currently so widespread among the Republican "Base." Apparently unaware (or just pretending to be) that the right wing already controls the party machinery in most of the country, he is now so fed up that he wants his right-wing people to organize outside the party:
It's critical for conservatives to also operate independently of the GOP and launch thousands of new organizations at the national, state, and local level, dealing with narrowly focused issues, public education, or maybe in your local community it might be property rights, it could be taxes, whatever the issue might be, work on those issues wherever your abilities and talents lead you to.
Absolutely amazing. What he describes is how the Republican Party operates right now, being hamstrung (or even held hostage) by hundreds of special-interest groups that demand compliance with their demands or else they will withhold money and votes. Policy is not deliberated within the party organization, it is set by those outside activist groups, such as Americans for Tax Reform and various Religious Right PACs. If I had to write a prescription on how the Republican Party could totally destroy itself, I couldn't do any better than what Viguerie has written. It's a truly awful situation, because there are millions of mainstream conservatives who agree with him on most of the issues, but "The Base" simply refuses to give an inch for their so-called "principles." Result: We keep losing elections, and the country slouches ever-so-gradually toward socialism. Viguerie also defends "full-fledged conservatism against the naysayers," citing a piece by Quin Hillyer that denounces Kathleen Parker, one of my favorite critical-minded conservatives. I will never understand how people such as Viguerie who don't have a clue about the fundamental give-and-take nature of politics ever got so far.
December 18, 2008 [LINK / comment]
More Yankee Stadium photos
Many thanks to Brian Vangor for sending me the many fine photos he took during the tour we both enjoyed at Yankee Stadium on October 3. Work on that diagram (and on others) continues, even in the off-season. Here is a sample, slightly reduced in scale:
Tour group enters Yankee Stadium on Oct. 3, 2008. Note how the front edge of the upper deck is directly over the walkway, as is usually the case at baseball stadiums. Also note how far recessed the middle deck is.
In "hot stove" news, the Red Sox are working hard to snatch Mark Teixera from the grasp of the Washington Nationals (booo!), though the Orioles, the Angels, and possibly the Yankees are in the picture as well. See MLB.com. And the Astros signed Aaron Boone, who played (so-so) for the Washington Nationals this year, and is most famous for the 11th-inning game--winning and series-winning home run when the Yankees beat the Red Sox in the 2003 ALCS. See MLB.com.
Here's a cool Web site: United Countries of Baseball.
December 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Democrat scandals: 2002-2008
Today's news in the Washington Post that the Securities and Exchange Commission failed to uncover the massive ($50 billion) Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Bernard Madoff will no doubt divert attention from Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, sleazebag extraordinaire. Contrary to widespread belief, however, Blagojevich is not an exceptional case among Democratic leaders. Indeed, they have been implicated in scandals at least as often as the Republicans, even before they retook control of Congress in the 2006 elections. So, for the benefit of those folks who haven't been keeping score, here's a quick "refresher course" on major misdeeds by the Democrats over the past few years, culled from my voluminous blog archives. They are listed in reverse chronological order:
Financial oversight failure, Sept. 2008: As major financial institutions crumbled and Wall Street panicked, it was learned that the top three members of Congress who received campaign donations from Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac (where the crisis began) were Democratic Senators Chris Dodd, Barack Obama, and John Kerry. Result: Mounting evidence that mortgage-based securities were shaky at best was covered up by regulators who were subjected to heavy political pressure. The Clinton administration's big push in the 1990s to get lenders to approve mortgage loans to people who would not otherwise qualify was what started the road to catastrophe.
Sex scandal, Mar. 2008: New York Governor Elliott Spitzer resigned after his involvement as a client with a prostitution ring was exposed; he was replaced by David Paterson, who now has to choose Hillary Clinton's replacement.
Voter registration fraud, July 2007: "Meanwhile, in Washington state, seven paid employees and supervisors of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) were indicted for having 'allegedly committed the biggest voter-registration fraud in state history.'" Under the Obama administration, it is expected, "community organizers" affiliated with ACORN will get federal subsidies.
Legislator corruption, May 2006: "Alan Mollohan of West Virginia resigned from the House Ethics Committee last month after it was reported that he steered Federal contracts to companies that contributed to his campaign ... and William Jefferson of Louisiana is under pressure to resign his seat for flagrant spending of public money to maintain an extravagant lifestyle." (Jefferson is the guy who hid dirty money in his freezer.)
Campaign finance violations, Jan. 2006: "Sen. Hillary Clinton's 2000 senatorial campaign received a fine of $35,000 for failing to report over $700,000 in fund-raising expenses." Also, "The ten-year inquiry into former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros for tax evasion and was finally closed without any indictments, and the prosecutor blamed former Clinton officials for successfully stonewalling."
Dirty campaign tricks, Nov. 2005: Just before the election, the Kaine campaign sent out a mailer criticizing Republican candidate Jerry Kilgore; the card was emblazoned with a GOP elephant logo, clearly implying that it had been sent from a Republican organization. NOT!
Archive theft / coverup, Apr. 2005 and Dec. 2006: "Former Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger pleaded guilty to charges of stealing government documents from the National Archives and will avoid jail time." It was later learned that "Sandy Burglar" hid or destroyed some of those documents, "presumably to cover up the failure of the Clinton administration to deal with Al Qaeda in a timely fashion."
Network news disinformation, Sept. 2004: CBS was exposed as a mouthpiece for the Kerry-Edwards campaign via a bogus "60 Minutes" piece on Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard based on fabricated evidence, thus ending the careers of Dan Rather and producer Mary Mapes.
Cyberspace deceit / coverup, Aug. 2004: "The restorehonesty.com Web site, which featured anti-Bush diatribes from former Ambassador Joseph Wilson" as part of the Democrats' presidential campaign efforts, was effectively shut down. Just as I had predicted, after Wilson's own dishonesty about how he became involved in investigating the African uranium ore case was exposed, the site's previous content was erased, thereby covering up the Democrats' prior deceit. All that remained was a link to John Kerry's campaign Web site. The "Swift Boat" ads attacking John Kerry paled in comparison to the Wilson-Plame disinformation campaign.
Fundraising improprieties, July 2002: On Sept. 11 2001, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) "received a total of $13,850 from 22 Arab and/or Muslim contributors, almost all from out of state. Did the price of serving as a mouthpiece for radical Islam go up on that fateful day?" (McKinney later gained attention by accusing the Bush administration of ignoring warnings about a terrorist attack prior to 9/11.)
Illegal candidate switch, Oct. 2002: After incumbent Senator Robert Torricelli withdrew from the race in the midst of a corruption scandal, the New Jersey Supreme Court allowed the Democrats to put the name of Frank Lautenberg on the ballot several weeks after the legal deadline. The judges accepted the Democrats' argument that voters deserved a "meaningful choice," whatever the legalities. (In Hawaii, meanwhile, Democrat Patsy Mink was posthumously elected to Congress five weeks after passing away. Is a dead candidate a "meaningful choice"?)
(The months cited above refer to the blog posts, which generally coincide with when the misdeeds took place.) I'm sure there were many other such cases of Democratic corruption, but these are the ones that I commented on at the time. Make of it what you will. And, for the record, I do not mean to excuse or minimize the numerous ethical or administrative lapses on the part of the Bush administration.
December 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Global warming update
Yesterday I came across what seems to be a thorough scientific paper that reviewed the research on Global warming: "Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide" by Arthur B. Robinson, Noah E. Robinson, and Willie Soon, published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (JPANDS).* (It is available at petitionproject.org; hat tip to Connie.) The authors are associated with the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. Since the only book I have on the subject of atmospheric science is dated 1997 (the year in which the Kyoto summit took place), it's good to have more current data. Among the key findings of the paper:
During the past 50 years, atmospheric CO2 has increased by 22%. Much of that CO2 increase is attributable to the 6-fold increase in human use of hydrocarbon energy. Figures 2, 3, 11, 12, and 13 show, however, that human use of hydrocarbons has not caused the observed increases in temperature.
The increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide has, however, had a substantial environmental effect. Atmospheric CO2 fertilizes plants. Higher CO2 enables plants to grow faster and larger and to live in drier climates.
I often wondered why more people don't take note of the benefits for plant life from increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, and the self-regulating potential for the global eco-system that this offers.
According to the often-reliable Wikipedia, the The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which publishes JPANDS, is politically conservative and its research standards have been criticized. An anonymous blogger called "Orac" at scienceblogs.com argues that JPANDS's "claim of peer review is a sham," pointing out their "antivaccine agenda" and "far right wing politics." Until I know more about these people, I would hesitate to endorse this study in particular or the organization behind it, but for now I would say it's at least worth taking seriously.
NOTE: The fact that there was a heavy snowfall in Las Vegas yesterday is merely a coincidence, and has nothing to do with this blog post.
December 20, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Bush bails out Detroit
As expected, President Bush announced that he will make use of $17.4 billion from the "Troubled Asset Relief Program" (TARP) funds to make an emergency bridge loan to General Motors and Chrysler. See Washington Post. (This was not the purpose for which Congress authorized such spending in October, under sever duress, and one again the Bush administration is "changing its tune.") Will bailing out Detroit make any long-run difference? Probably not. It's ironic that a populist president like Bush would ignore the clear anti-bailout sentiment from his core supporters. As I noted on Dec. 12, this is a rare occasion in which "populist politics is in harmony with the national interest." This loan will simply let the auto executives and union bosses off the hook, and will thus encourage other industrial leaders to slack off, expecting Washington to come to the rescue in a future emergency. It's the old "moral hazard" problem, which Bush just doesn't seem to grasp.
From a quick scan of blognetnews.com/virginia, I see that Doug Mataconis, Crystal Clear Conservative, and Republitarian are wise and principled enough to see this awful and regrettable bailout scam for what it really is. As Myron says of Bush: "I've abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system."
In distressing times like these, the only remedy is humor. So, hurry before our Treasury runs out of money, and apply for your own share of the Federal bailout loot.
Obama finishes cabinet
President-elect Barack Obama has filled the remaining vacancies in the cabinet, giving us a somewhat clearer indication of his intentions. (The names are all listed on the Politics blog page, along with the outgoing cabinet members.) Staunch union supporter Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) will become labor secretary, with the ambitious goal of "creating 2.5 million new jobs." (We're still not sure how they're going to do that, however.) Ron Kirk (former mayor of Dallas) will become U.S. trade representative, a job for which he evidently has little or no experience. Qualifications and expertise seem less important to him than rewarding political allies or placating potential rivals, according to the Washington Post, which also took note of the "prevalence of big-city nominees" chosen by Obama.
The selection of Kirk would suggest that Obama is giving a low priority to trade policy, much as many of us had feared. NAFTA and trade relations with other nations in the Western hemisphere are now in jeopardy, as anti-trade interests will eagerly seek to exploit the precious opportunity that Obama has given them. It should be noted that, historically, nations which take advantage of the principle of comparative advantages and adopt a free trade policy tend to generate the most jobs for their citizens. By turning his back on foreign trade, as seems to be his intention, Obama would -- ironically -- curtail domestic employment opportunities, just when they are most needed. It's like the Smoot-Hawley tariff of the 1930s, which made the Great Depression even "greater" than it would have otherwise been.
CLARIFICATION: When I mentioned on Wednesday that Ray LaHood was Obama's "his first choice of a Republican so far," I overlooked Bob Gates, who will stay on at least temporarily as secretary of defense. Gates is a professional intelligence officer, not a Republican politician, but it's safe to assume that his sympathies lie with the GOP, or else Bush wouldn't have named him to that post.
Franken leads Coleman
In Minnesota, the review of challenged ballots in the U.S. Senate race is proceeding slowly, and it probably won't be completed in time for the next session of Congress in early January. As of today, Democratic comedian Al Franken has taken the lead over incumbent Norm Coleman, with a margin of about 250 votes. See CNN.com. If someone as mean and snide as Franken ends up winning such an important office, that would be a travesty of enormous proportions. Coleman has been a decent and respecte senator, often playing an independent mediating role, but he had the misfortune to be associated with a deeply flawed president.
December 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Bowl games in baseball parks
Another sign of the decline of Western Civilization is the proliferation of meaningless college football bowl games, often featuring teams that barely reached the .500 mark for the season. It's unfortunate that baseball stadiums (or former ones) have to be part of this embarrassment. Last Saturday there were two such games: the first-ever Eagle Bank Bowl was held at RFK Stadium, as the Wake Forest Demon Deacons beat the U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen, 29-19. (That game was originally going to be called the "Congressional Bowl," to be played in Nationals Park.) It's the first time a college bowl game has been played in Our Nation's Capital, and the first time football has been played at RFK since the Redskins left in 1996.
Meanwhile, the inaugural (MagicJack) St. Petersburg Bowl was held at Tropicana Field, as the University of South Florida Bulls stampeded over the Memphis Tigers, 41-14. There is a great photo of the football gridiron layout at tampabay.com, which indicates that the seating capacity for football games is 33,000. "MagicJack" (a new kind of voice-over-Internet-protocol telephone service) became the sponsor on November 25. ESPN "owns" this and several other bowl games, and deserves much of the blame for this situation.
Coming up: The Emerald Bowl this coming Saturday, pitting the University of California Golden Bears (8-4) against the University of Miami Hurricanes (7-5), at AT&T Park in beautiful downtown San Francisco.
Finally, in case anyone cares, the Insight Bowl is no longer played at Chase Field in Phoenix, as it was from 2001-2005, but is instead now played at Sun Devil Stadium, which used to be the home of the (Tostitos) Fiesta Bowl, a 100% bona fide bowl game which is now held at University of Phoenix Stadium, which is the home of the Phoenix Cardinals but not the University of Phoenix, which has no football team. Got that?
UPDATE: Steve Chapman has a lot more to say on the subject of "College Football's Unbridled Excess" at Real Clear Politics. As for Barack Obama's ideas about how to fix the Bowl Championship System, I think it's all a farce, and should be junked.
The Angels have pulled out of the bidding war for Mark Teixera, boosting the Washington Nationals' chances of signing a superstar. A few days ago, it seemed that the Red Sox were likewise giving up on him, but the latest rumor says they are still in the running. The Orioles and Yankees are the likely alternatives. See MLB.com.
December 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Remembering Chico Mendes
It's a very good sign that Brazil is taking note of the 20th anniversary of the murder of environmental activist Chico Mendes, who resisted agribusiness interests who pillaged the Amazon rain forest, and continue to do so today. He was a farmer who rallied Indian communities that made a living by tapping rubber trees in a natural setting, rather than in a monoculture plantation, thereby balancing economic advancement with sustaining the eco-system. See BBC.
Concern for Nature is usually a luxury that only wealthy people and nations can afford, but as Brazil makes progress in economic development, its political culture is maturing as well. The Brazilian government has announced plans to slow down deforestation, but there is a big difference between hopes and actual deeds. Let's hope that enough Brazilians go the next step and actually do something to save what is left of the irreplaceable arboreal resource in the tropics.
December 22, 2008 [LINK / comment]
The politics of inflation, revisited
George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Those words of warning may apply to many Americans who were too young in the 1970s to remember the ravages of inflation, but to other policy wonks as well. For example, Steve Chapman (at Real Clear Politics) argues that what our depressed economy needs to get fired up again is a mild dose of inflationary stimulus. He seems to think that inflation can be controlled like a thermostat, apparently ignoring the lessons of the 1970s in Western Europe and the U.S.A., when Keynesian economic stabilization programs failed. (Latin America learned the same lesson in the 1980s.) Chapman cites former Bush economic adviser Gregory Mankiw, who earned a bad reputation a couple years ago for justifying the practice of outsourcing. (Hat tip to Shaun Kenney, who seems to be neutral on the issue.)
I would not dismiss Chapman's fears of a "looming catastrophe," but there are better ways to fix the economy than indiscriminate deficit spending. Inflation is a very tempting short-term solution to political leaders who don't know what else to do, and don't really care about the future. (The perfect contemporary example, of course, is Zimbabwe, where President Mugabe has unleashed a surge of inflation that has climbed to well over a million percent annually.) [The problem is that inflation] has a momentum that is far stronger than most people imagine, like the gradual but overwhelming pull of the tides. Once businesses and consumers get used to the idea that prices are going up, they will factor that into all their decisions, and trying to reverse inflationary psychology is extremely painful. President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher faced bitter opposition to their anti-inflationary policies in the early 1980s, and without their strong and determined leadership, the war against inflation would never have been won.
Barack Obama already has enough excuses to ditch fiscal prudence to carry out his ambitious agenda of "change," so why give him even more leeway? I know that in deep recessions you can't expect to balance the budget, or even come close, but with the exploding federal deficit that President Bush has bequeathed to his successor, this country is already in a perilous position vis-à-vis foreign creditors -- such as the People's Republic of China! Unfortunately, national security is not very high on Obama's list of priorities, and it's not likely that his cabinet will take due account of the strategic implications of embarking on a "pump-priming" spending spree financed from abroad.
For the record, I would not object at all if Obama goes ahead with large-scale public works programs similar to what FDR did in the early 1930s -- as long as they are of finite duration and for compelling public purposes, such as repairing streets and cleaning up neighborhoods. Clearly, there is an urgent human need for relief, and our stores need customers. To avoid going deeper into the red, any such new spending should be offset by cuts in spending on general government operations, such as mandating that all government employees cut back on time and salary by ten percent for six months or so. Impossible? Well, Obama has the clout to do it, and he could overcome public employee union opposition in a way that no Republican could ever do.
December 23, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Yankees grab Teixera from Nats
Those damn Yankees! (Did I really just say that?) Just when the Washington Nationals had a shred of hope for becoming competitive in 2009, the New York Yankees lured Mark Teixera to The Bronx, with an eight-year contract worth $180 million. It was the same number of years that the Nationals had offered the first baseman earlier this month, but with an extra $20 million. Well, I guess that would be enough to make me switch sides in a hurry. The Yankees thus have added another heavyweight slugger to their roster of multimillionnaires, after bolstering their bullpen with A.J. Burnett and C.C. Sabathia. As reported by MLB.com, "According to a Major League source, [his agent Scott] Boras told the Nationals that Teixeira wanted to win now and felt Washington was not ready." Well it's hard to argue with that, I'm sorry to say.
Numerous sources indicated that Teixera wanted to play for an East Coast team, since he grew up in Maryland. That's why the Orioles and Nationals had especially high hopes of landing him. The best the Nationals could probably do now is find a big name player who is willing to sign a one-year contract so that he can prove himself -- like Alfonso Soriano did for the 2006 season.
And so, look out Red Sox! (And for that matter, look out Rays!) Any thought that the Yankees might spend the first year in their new stadium in a "rebuilding" mode, looking toward the future, have been dashed.
December 23, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Brazil basks in global attention
In a large step toward realizing the long-standing aspirations by Brazil to become a Great Power, top officials from the European Union nations attended a summit meeting in Rio de Janeiro, seeking to improve economic relations. Presidents da Silva and Sarkozy (visiting from France) signed an agreement under which the latter will provide technology to construct advanced military weapons: 50 helicopters, four conventional submarines, and one "nuclear-capable" submarine. That would be a first in Latin America, potentially reigniting the ancient rivalry between Brazil and Argentina. (The final decision by France on whether to complete the nuclear reactor may depend on further negotiations.) Sarkozy paid tribute to Brazil's progress in economic development by comparing its global importance to India and China, two other very large countries that were once very poor but are becoming wealthier every day. Millions of Brazilians no doubt swelled with pride at hearing such compliments. See CNN.com, BBC, and O Globo (in Portuguese). Inasmuch as France has become a much more reliable ally since Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president in 2007, the United States should not object to the desire of Latin American countries to diversify their sources of armaments, as long as it is a friendly country. (Not Russia or China.)
Brazil's auto industry
While Americans are lamenting the declining fortunes of the domestic auto industry, the Ford Motor Company continues to pioneer in the globalization of vehicle manufacturing. One of their newest auto factories is located in Camaçari, in the state of Bahia, in northeastern Brazil. There is a remarkable video on this high-tech plant, featuring hundreds of "robots" on highly efficient assembly lines, at detnews.com. (Hat tip to Patrick Carne.)"Sources in Dearborn say privately that this is the sort of facility Ford would love to build in the U.S., if only the UAW, historically averse to this sort of supplier integration, would allow it." (Is anyone in Washington paying attention???) There is a plentiful supply of well-educated, well-motivated workers in Brazil, and the left-leaning government of "Lula" da Silva has refrained -- to his credit -- from taking any actions that might undermine private businesses.
Kidnapping in Mexico
In Mexico, meanwhile, outlaws associated with drug trafficking continue to wreak havoc. Earlier this month, an American who specializes in thwarting kidnappers and negotiating the release of hostages was himself abducted. It happened during a meeting with Mexican businessmen on how to prevent kidnapping, an obvious attempt to intimidate legitimate businesses into accepting mafia terms for protection. See Washington Post. Impunity is rampant, and continued political paralysis in the capital city makes it hard for the Mexican government security forces to respond effectively.
December 23, 2008 [LINK / comment]
O'Reilly Kasich! Factor
Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox News is usually pretty good, and he almost always tries to engage his guests in a fair-minded dialogue, but just as often as not his pugnacious style starts to grate on me. I suppose many other people who are not partisan ideologues have the same reaction to him. That's why I was relieved to see that former Ohio Congressman John Kasich is filling in for the acerbic O'Reilly during the Christmas holidays. ("O Glad Tidings of Comfort and Joy"...) Back when I was a "young Republican" in the late 1990s, Kasich was one my my heroes carrying the torch of New Gingrich's Republican Revolution. Kasich is very smart, with an encyclopedic knowledge of budgetary matters, and he speaks clearly and effectively about the issues that are near and dear to the heart of fiscal conservatives. He is also as clean as a whistle, ethically speaking, and kind of looks like an aging Boy Scout.
When Kasich announced that he would be leaving the House of Representatives in 2000, I was very disappointed. I can imagine how frustrated he must have felt, having come so close to making major reforms in welfare and budget policies, being thwarted by the Clintonistas time and again. It seemed to me that the "best and the brightest" of new Republican leaders in the House were falling by the wayside, such as Susan Molinari (NY) and J.C. Watts (OK). At a time when the GOP "brand name" is in tatters, it's very encouraging to see a smart mainstream conservative like John Kasich adopt a more prominent public profile again.
It was just over a year ago that rock crooner Neil Diamond revealed that the inspiration for his 1969 song "Sweet Caroline" was none other than Caroline Kennedy, daughter of JFK. (See People.com.) She truly exudes the charisma for which the Kennedy clan is known, unlike certain other family members, and I have no doubt that she is sincere, honest, and intelligent. Does she have the necessary horse-trading skills and steel nerves that would be necessary to effectively serve New Yorkers in the United States Senate? Almost certainly not. I hope for her sake that she withdraws from consideration soon, before somebody with greater ambition and wherewithal eats her alive.
December 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]
And the angel said to them, "Have no fear, for behold I announce to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people; for today was born for you in the City of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord."
~ Matthew 2: 10-11
December 27, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Kirchner faces corrpution probe
The former president (and current "first husband") of Argentina, Nestor Kirchner, is being investigated for corrupt financial relationships with Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela. Among the questionable deals are a 2004 agreement under which Venezuelan petroleum was exchanged for Argentine manufactured goods; $90 million in government funds are missing. There are many other suspicious transactions, however. BBC. Last January, a businessman was indicted in a federal court in Miami, charged in a plot to funnel $800,000 in illicit campaign contributions to President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who went on to win handily in the October 2007 election. The probe was begun after a complaint lodged by Elisa Carrio, the runner-up candidate. She is the leader of the left-wing "Civic Coalition."
It's rather remarkable that the probe has reached this far, even though it directly implicates the sitting president in major wrongdoing. Very few Latin American countries have a judiciary that is truly independent of the executive branch, which is a major reason why corruption is so widespread in the region.
Assassination plot in Bolivia?
The government of Bolivia announced a few days ago that a plot to assassinate President Evo Morales had been uncovered. It's certainly possible, given the intense hatred he has engendered through the course of his "revolution," but it could just as well be much ado about nothing, a ruse by the government to distract attention from other troubles. See CNN.com.
Country info pages
I have begun a long-overdue maintenance chore, reformatting and updating the Latin America country background information pages, beginning with Argentina and Bolivia. The other 18 pages have already been reformatted, but the chronologies on them are not yet updated. That should be completed within the next ten days or so.
December 29, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Yankee Stadium update (Whew!)
"After further review" of my own photographs, those taken by Brian Vangor, and others in various printed publications and online, I have finally completed the revisions of the Yankee Stadium diagrams. As usual, it took much more time to get everything right than I had expected. Of special help in this regard was the "Yankee Stadium Keepsake Edition" published earlier this year by USA Today Sports Weekly, containing dozens of fine-quality archival photos and thousands of juicy "factoids": everything from annual attendance figures to a list of movies that were filmed there. Compared to the previous ("official") revision, on July 1, the biggest changes to the diagrams are:
- The bleachers are about 15 feet deeper than I had estimated before, forcing me to make the diagram frame slightly taller than the "standard": 500 x 500 pixels, rather than 500 x 480.
- The bleachers in right-center field are angled more sharply (rotated about one degree clockwise), being parallel [to River Avenue and the elevated subway tracks, which are in turn perpendicular] to 159th Street (south-southeast side), rather than 161st Street (north-northeast side), which is slightly askew.
- The early era bleachers (1923-1936) extended about 20 feet further to the right of the foul pole than I had thought.
- The walkway dividing the upper and lower sections of the bleachers (1937-1973) are now included, providing a better indication of the orientation of the bench seats.
- The oval-shaped exit ramps behind the south-southeast and southwest corners are now included.
- The profiles are now more detailed and accurate.
I also made a few updates to the text on that page, with more information on non-baseball events at Yankee Stadium, plus I added another photo taken by Brian Vangor -- a panoramic view (#16) from the upper deck on the first base side. Now if all that's not enough to make a ballpark fanatic have a Happy New Year, I don't know what will!
One issue that has come up in e-mail correspondence is how the reduction in distances to left and right field corners in 1988 came about. The walls were in fact moved back, I have established, but there was no gap between the seats and the outfield, just an wide walkway.
Zambonis at Wrigley
Preparations for the NHL "Winter Classic game" at Wrigley Field on New Year's Day are just about complete, as the Zamboni machines are getting the ice rink ready. With the arctic blast that has struck the northern states over the past couple weeks, they really don't even need the Zambonis! See MLB.com; hat tips to Mario Vara III and Mark London. In response to several queries, I will make a hockey version of The Friendly Confines in time for the special event. "Yes, we can!"
Cabrera joins Nats
The Washington Nationals have signed free agent right-hand pitcher Daniel Cabrera to a one-year contract worth $2.6 million. He has pitched for the Orioles his whole career (five years), going 8-10 in 2008, but he gives up a lot of walks. See MLB.com. Five other players, including Jorge Sosa and Corey Patterson, were signed to minor league contracts; hat tip to Bruce Orser. Those are good acquisitions, but the Nats will need to do much more, and soon. The Dodgers seem interested in Adam Dunn, another target of the Nationals, so perhaps Manny Ramirez will end up in D.C. next year.
December 29, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Woodrow Wilson's birthday
Yesterday, December 28, was (or would have been) the 152nd birthday of our 28th president, Woodrow Wilson, born in 1856 right here in Staunton. The event was duly marked [with an open house hosted] by the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum (WWPL), and for once I managed to attend. The museum is very well maintained, full of artifacts and old photographs from the years of Wilson's presidency and his earlier career. I have studied Wilson in some depth, but I still learned a lot in the hour or two that I was there. The festivities were covered by the News Leader, and I was the subject of one of their photographs.
This year is special because the Wilson Library and Museum recently acquired an adjacent house (a former bed and breakfast) that will provide adequate space and research facilities for the library, which has had to scrimp in recent years. Unlike other presidential libraries which are part of the National Park System, Wilson's is run by a private foundation. Back in August, the executive director of the WWPL, Eric Vettel, wrote a column in the News Leader about the need for federal funding. Fortunately, a bill authorizing matching grants (though not specifically aimed at the WWPL) was passed, and the Presidential Records Preservation Act of 2008 was signed by President Bush on October 13. Credit for this goes to outgoing Senator John Warner, Senator Jim Webb, and Congressman Bob Goodlatte.
52 to 48 with Love
Many Republicans still cringe at the thought of Barack Obama being sworn in as president, and many Democrats are still gloating with revenge, but there are many folks on both sides who want to set aside all that partisan acrimony. To see a bunch of photos of bipartisan harmony at the "grassroots" level, see From 52 to 48 with Love, which refers to the percentage of votes received by Obama and McCain. (Actually, it was more like 53 to 47.) Hat tip to Waldo.
December 30, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Blagojevich embarrasses Obama
What is it that makes headstrong, yet morally crippled politicians think they can get away with (figurative) murder, when they've already been caught red-handed? To understand that, you would have to put yourselves in the shoes of someone as ambitious, crafty, and contemptuous of ethical values as Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Defying the warnings of Barack Obama, the Illinois legislature, and nearly all top state officials, he has gone ahead and nominated someone to replace Obama in the U.S. Senate. Who is the lucky appointee? Roland Burris, a former attorney general who happens to be black. Obama reacted by expressing disappointment, but in private he must be seething with anger to have his transition disrupted by the state-level constitutional crisis. See CNN.com. Blagojevich is certainly not shy about playing the race card, but in his position, he has to pull out all the stops or else step down and get ready to serve a prison sentence.
While some Republicans may find amusement in this disgraceful situation, the issue of who will serve as senator from Illinois for the last two years of Obama's term is a deadly serious matter for the whole country. The Democrats are within a vote or two of the filibuster-proof 60-seat supermajority, and they want to have a legitimate senator fill that vacancy right away. Whether they can block Burris from being seated may depend on getting cooperation from Republicans and/or black Democrats in the House of Representatives. (Obama was the only African-American in the Senate, and indeed, he was only the third such person since the Reconstruction Era.) There will be a lot of wheeling and dealing behind the scenes to get this matter straightened out, and though it might not look pretty, the urgency of resolving this mess for the greater good might have the salubrious side effect of getting the two parties used to cooperating on key policy issues. You never know...
December 31, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Baseball 2008: Year in Review
Fans of the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals would just as soon forget this past year, and that applies doubly to fans of both teams, like me! The Nats enjoyed a few bright spots, such as Ryan Zimmerman's walk-off home run in the inaugrual game at Nationals Park, but for most of the season, things went from bad to worse. Fans of the Mets and Cubs are in a state of funk as well, no doubt. For most baseball fans, however, there was a lot of good news in 2008. Once again, the World Series title went to a team (the Phillies) with few or no recent championships to its credit, demonstrating the competitive, fairly well balanced nature of the major leagues today. People still whine about the big payroll of the Yankees, but as Mr. Steinbrenner has once again learned, painfully, "money won't buy you victory." There were some aftershocks from the steroid/doping scandals of the past few years, but it seems that the sport has cleaned up its act, finally.
Anyway, just like last year, here goes my highly biased summary of the Top Ten big events in the world of baseball this year:
- Yankee Stadium retires (Sept. 22; likewise for Shea Stadium, Sept. 28)
- Nationals Park Opening (Mar. 30, Papal visit Apr. 17, my first visit May 26)
- Phillies win the World Series (Nov. 1)
- Preservationists save part of Tiger Stadium (June 26, etc.)
- All-Star Game goes 15 innings! (July 16)
- Nationals' worst month ever: 5-19 (July 31)
- Construction / renovation in N.Y., K.C., Boston, L.A. (Jan. 21, etc.)
- Miami ballpark hopes rise again (Sept. 5, etc.)
- Athletics switch Fremont ballpark site (Dec. 9)
- Ballparks involved in scandals: Texas (May 30) and Chicago (Dec. 11)
DUBIOUS DISTINCTION: My first first pitch (Ouch! -- July 4)
Although I only managed to see two big league games this year, both in Washington, I did get inside Yankee Stadium on a tour in early October, and paid visits to five other ballparks. The itinerary of my great "ballpark sojourn" was designed in part to coincide with anticipated postseason games in New York and Chicago, but things didn't quite work out. At least I was able to take some good photographs. All in all, I would have to say that for me as a baseball fan, 2008 was a pretty darn good year after all.
ABOVE: Nationals Park, taken Aug. 2, as the Nats were sweeping the Reds.
BELOW (clockwise from top left): Shea Stadium, Citi Field, Yankee Stadium II, U.S. Cellular Field, Wrigley Field, and Yankee Stadium, taken Oct. 2-4: 6 stadiums in 3 days!
Yankee Stadium memories
MLB.com conducted a survey of baseball fans' most memorable moments at Yankee Stadium, and somehow, Lou Gehrig's farewell address in 1939 only came in second place. The number one event was Aaron Boone's 11th-inning home run on Oct. 16, 2003 when the Yankees beat the Red Sox in the ALCS.
December 31, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Politics 2008: Year in Review
Most of us on the Right would just as soon forget the year, but we'll never improve unless we learn from our mistakes, so just like last year, here is my highly biased summary of the Top Ten big events in the world of politics this year:
- Barack Obama's historic victory; GOP reaps what Bush sowed. (Nov. 5)
- Mile-high hopes in "Dem-ver" -- Democratic convention (Aug. 28)
- McCain-Palin: a winning team -- GOP convention (Aug. 29)
- Wall Street Lays An Egg / Second thoughts about Palin (Sept. 16)
- Primary fever in the Old Dominion; Mike Huckabee visits (Feb. 11)
- Taetzsch wins in a landslide; I opt for discretion. (March 30)
- Dr. Roller wins in a landslide (?); Kurt stages a "putsch." (Apr. 11)
- GOP convention in Richmond; RPV picks Kurt Michael (June 2)
- Democrat scandals -- Blagojevich, Spitzer, et al. (Dec. 19)
- Mugabe clings to absolute power (Zimbabwe agonizes, May 2)
(Dates pertain to the blog post, usually a day or two after the actual event.) Aside from strictly news-oriented blog posts, I also wrote a number of analytical and interpretive pieces, including the following:
GOP Web sites
For the record, I have briefly summarized my past involvement with various Republican Party Web sites in a "science and technology" blog post today. "A word to the wise" is sufficient; more details to follow in the near future.
December 31, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Web sites, 2008: hits and misses
For my Web site work, this year has been filled with ups and downs. It marked the beginning of one new Web site which I created, the further development of another one, a political dispute over control of a third one, the temporary suspension of a fourth one (for related political reasons), and the sad demise of a fifth Web site that had been very near and dear to my heart. What follows is a summary of my time-consuming (but very rewarding) Web site activities, in the same order as above. (This does not include the course Web pages I designed at Sweet Briar College, where I taught during the 2007-2008 school year.)
Augusta Bird Club
At the request of the Augusta Bird Club, of which I have been a member for more than six years, I launched the augustabirdclub.org Web site in February. I tried to maintain a certain degree of continuity in appearance from the club's previous Web site, which was not updated very often. The new site is fairly simple in design, but it does have a few special features such as an interactive page that helps people find the location of various bird-watching "hot spots" in our area. It also has a special box that features news alerts about rare bird sightings. The bird club members seem pleased with it, and that is gratifying.
I continued to improve the Emmanuel Episcopal Church during the year, and in July obtained the emmanuelstaunton.org domain name, to make it easier for people to find. One aesthetic feature that would be of special interest to ritual-bound Anglicans is that the background color for all of the pages is changed according to the church season: purple for Advent, white for Christmas, green for Epiphany, purple for Lent, white for Easter, and green for Pentecost. In September I went to Roanoke to attend a conference on the new Web site system that the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia is setting up. They are envisioning some very sophisticated features, so it may be a while before our congregation moves to adopt all of them.
The bitter disputes within the Republican Party had a big impact on my duties as local GOP Web master this year. It would take too long to adequately explain all this, so for now suffice it to say that by late 2007, stauntongop.org, which I created in March 2007, was no longer functioning as the Staunton Republican Committee's official Web site. In spite of pledges to cooperate, another dispute ensued in May, and I relinquished authority over that Web site to another committee member, but not to the committee per se, whose leader, the members of our faction felt, had grievously abused her position and violated norms of civility and truthfulness during the previous year. We did not want to see more of the smearing and falsehoods that had been perpetrated during the Hanger-Sayre primary race of 2007. (No names for now.) During the summer, a new [official] Staunton Republican Committee blog was created, stauntongop.wordpress.com. In late September, my suggestion that, as a gesture of cooperation, traffic to the introductory page of stauntongop.org (index.html) should be automatically redirected to the new [blog] was approved by the other members in "our" faction. This took effect as of October 1. Inasmuch as there were no updates to [the new blog] after September 17, however, this gesture really didn't matter.
Meanwhile, the augustarepublicans.com web site, which I created at the request of the local Republican elected officials and candidates for public office during the Fall 2007 campaign, remains "in hibernation" for the time being.
American Red Cross
The most painful turn of events came in June, when the redcrossblueridge.org Web site, which I totally redesigned in early 2007, was terminated -- "erased from existence." Well over a hundred hours of volunteer work that I had done was in effect rendered null and void. This happened because of a budgetary crisis in the American Red Cross: The Blue Ridge Chapter, where I had been a volunteer for a year and a half, was consolidated with the Central Virginia Chapter, which is headquartered in Charlottesville. The former offices in downtown Staunton were closed, and a new, smaller office was opened in the Augusta Government Center in Verona. I was going to help out in redesigning the latter chapter's Web site, but I have failed to follow up on this, being otherwise occupied.
December 31, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Israel wages war against Gaza
The massive air strikes launched by Israel against Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip have caused hundreds of deaths already, 390 at last count. After a brief cease-fire rumor, there appears to be no end in sight for the near term. One Hamas leader demanded that Israel to "stop attacking and killing our children, women and men," but that is pretty hard when the "combatants" are taking refuge in civilian neighborhoods. See CNN.com.
Because of the large number of civilian deaths, many people have -- understandably -- objected to Israel's use of disproportionate force in this offensive. The problem is that Israel really has very little choice if it is to defeat the terrorists. This is a classic case of "asymmetrical warfare," in which the weaker side deliberately exploits public sympathy to carry on its attacks. We do need to keep in mind that Israel voluntarily gave up control of Gaza and much of the West Bank in hopes of promoting peace, but most people on the Palestinian side have not reconciled themselves to this idea. Until they do, tragic violence will continue.
The political reasons for the timing of this attack are fairly obvious. The Israelis know very well that they cannot count on steady support from the United States after Barack Obama is inaugurated as president, so they have a strong incentive to use the "window of opportunity" afforded by the presidential transition. In addition, Israelis will go to the polls to choose a new parliament in February, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants to reassure voters that he is strongly devoted to maintaining security. He was widely blamed for fumbling the invasion of Lebanon in August 2006, a major strategic setback.
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