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January 1, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Happy New Year!

¡Felíz Año Nuevo!

Bon Any Nou!

Feliz Ano Novo!

Ein gutes neues Jahr!

Bonne Année!

The languages in the headings above are: English, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, German, and French, arranged the same way as I did it for Christmas.

Jacqueline and I celebrated New Year's Eve at Baja Bean in downtown Staunton, where a local rock group called The Findells was playing. I had already sampled some of their music on their Web site (findells.com), so I had a rough idea of what to expect. Their live performance was very good, combining musical excellence with high-spirited enthusiasm. Almost all the songs were original compositions, of which "Helen of Troy" stood out, but it was a little hard to hear the words because of the so-so sound mixing. The instruments were well balanced, nevertheless. I thought the bass player (Carl) did a great job in maintaining the pulse of the songs, almost reminding me of John McVie in Fleetwood Mac. The lead vocalist Sera Petras had a clear, ringing voice that often peaked into a very impressive loud crescendo, and her flirtatious, fun-loving attitude adds a lot of character to the group. The drummer (Paul) kept a steady rhythm without going overboard, while the lead guitarist (Andy) and second guitarist (Allan, who also did vocals) played great as well. At midnight, they played a rock version of "Auld Lang Syne." All in all, their show was high-quality entertainment, a great way for us to ring in the new year. The Findells have released three CDs, and I plan on buying at least one of them soon. Check out "Bang, Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" at YouTube -- Now that is some hard-ass rockin'.

NOTE: I uploaded the blog post about Princess and Luciano, dated January 1, just before we left to go out last night, so that it would appear automatically at the stroke of midnight. It's a rare case of "pre-posting" on my part.


January 1, 2009 [LINK / comment]

A New Year for our canaries

This is the first New Year with Luciano, who has been with us for 11 1/2 months now, and the eighth New Year with Princess. The age difference between them give rise to occasional tension. They will often "kiss" and make soft chirping calls to each other, but she is usually not ready for his "amorous advances." Because of the injury she suffered to her right wing, she has been unable to fly since last March, more or less. That compounds the difficulty from her lame right leg, stemming from an injury on the day we bought her in April 2001. It's a pitiful sight to watch her try to move around, and so we go to extensive lengths to make it as easy as possible for her. These days we keep everything Princess needs on the floor, from her food to her sand box to her water dish to her nest basket, with a soft towel underneath for maximum comfort. Sometimes she will put her head in the water to wash her face, but she is too afraid to take a full bath any more, so Jacqueline takes care of that for her, very gently. Every few days we put her in a semi-enclosed spot on the window sill so that she can watch the birds outside. On Wednesday we brought her to the living room for the first time in several months, and she seemed to enjoy the change of "scenery."

We keep a very close eye on both our canaries, but especially with Princess. She seems to be as content as can be expected given her severe physical handicaps, and we will do our best to make what remains of her life as pleasant as possible. She, Luciano, George, and Goldie have certainly made our lives much more happy and pleasant, and it's all we can do to return the favor.

Princess closeup

Princess next to hear nest basket.


January 2, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Yankee Stadium II update

Yankee Stadium II I have made substantial revisions to the Yankee Stadium II diagram, which -- like Citi Field -- is still preliminary, pending completion of construction. The Yankees want everyone to think that the outfield dimensions will be the same as at the old Yankee Stadium, but unless I have been misled by some of the blueprint images I've seen, that is definitely not the case in the power alleys. Evidently, they intend to mark the outfield fence with the same distances as before, but the markers will have to placed much closer to center field, not in the true power alleys. I think it's a shame that they aren't even making allowances in the stadium design for a possible future expansion of the outfield, so that it might at least partly resemble the way Yankee Stadium used to be. One thing I learned recently is that the perimeter concourse on the south side (along 161st Street, which separates the new and old Yankee Stadiums) bulges out quite a bit. It's about 30 feet wider than the perimeter concourse along the street leading to Macombs Dam Bridge.

"Winter Classic" (br-r-r!)

On the north side of Chicago, the Detroit Red Wings overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Chicago Black Hawks by a score of 6 to 3. It was the third NHL "Winter Classic" match, and the first time hockey has been played at Wrigley Field. Over 40,000 fans braved the frigid temperatures to watch the historic event, but I doubt that very many of them were close enough to the rink to actually see the puck. I finished the hockey version diagram in the evening, and duly posted it, though not in time for the match itself. From the National Hockey League Web site, I learned that the standard dimensions of a hockey rink in the NHL are 200 feet long by 85 feet wide. I got wrapped up in the Gator Bowl between Nebraska and Clemson, so I missed the Winter Classic entirely.

I have seen one NHL game in my life, in 1983 or so, a Washington Capitals game at the old Capital Centre (later known as "USAir Arena") in Landover, Maryland. In 1997 the Caps moved into the MCI Center (now called "Verizon Center") in downtown D.C., as did the NBA Wizards, which until then had been called the "Bullets." I recall local star Rod Langway, who played for the Caps from 1982 to 1993 but disdained to use a helmet.


January 2, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Trend-spotting is so-o yesteryear

In hard times such as these, not many people can afford to keep up with the latest styles. For people like me who were raised in small towns, it's not hard at all to make a lifestyle adjustment, and that's probably true for Republicans in general. smile But if you live in Washington, you need to have at least a clue about what's going on, so every year I tried to make sense of the Washington Post's annuual list of "What's In and Out." This year, as usual, a few things seem backwards between "in" and "out," but that's partly because what defines "in" is going against current fashions, but not too much, because after all, the trend-setters need to convince enough fawning suckers to follow along with them. The less time that people spend trying to make sense of such social paradoxes, much less following them, the less anxiety prone they will be.

If you're a fan of old movies, you know that some time in the mid-1930s a very dramatic shift took place in clothing fashions. As the Great Depression shut the door to upper-class aspirations for millions of Americans, all of a sudden wearing tuxedos and silk top hats became terribly gauche. Instead, simplicity and practicality came into style, and this middle-class mode lasted until the late 1940s, when absurd "zoot suits" and long dresses became all the rage. Accordingly, I would expect that, as one consequence of the current deep economic recession, we will soon see a transformation of clothing styles almost as profound as what happened in the 1930s.


January 4, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Why the fuss about Rick Warren?

As part of his bold attempt to bring the far-flung elements of this country together, as in the End Times when the "wolf shall dwell with the lamb,"* Barack Obama has invited a preacher named Rick Warren (author of The Purpose Driven Life) to give the invocation at his inauguration. The gesture of national unity may have backfired, however, as a number of people on both the Christian Right and the Secular Left (e.g., Rep. Barney Frank -- see Washington Post) have loudly objected. Rev. Warren caused a small stir early in the fall campaign when he invited both John McCain and Barack Obama to answer questions. His brief statement accepting the invitation from Obama is at rickwarrennews.com.

Until the fall campaign, I knew little if anything about Rick Warren or his church. He is the pastor of Saddleback Church in the Los Angeles area, which boasts the third biggest congregation in the United States. Rev. Warren founded the congregation from scratch in 1979, reaching out to people who did not attend church very often. Over the years it has "gone forth and multiplied" into eight worship venues on four separate "campuses": Corona, Irvine, Lake Forest, and San Clemente. They are all within or very close to Orange County, one of the wealthiest places in the United States. (Remember the briefly-faddish TV show "The O.C."?) On the 25th anniversary of his church's founding in 2004, they held a huge service at Anaheim Stadium -- home of the Angels, of course.

Warren has preached in conjunction with the Urbana collegiate evangelical association, but it is very hard to pin down his denominational affiliation. It is clearly Protestant with some fundamentalist overtones, but seems to be more modern or worldly than the Southern Baptists, from what I can tell in their statement of belief. Warren's sermons stress the need for Christians to let go of their fixations on possessions and ego, and to take responsibility for their own shortcomings. He urges people to inquire introspectively about their own true identi, then to purify their hearts of hatred and bitterness, and then to dedicate their lives to serving God. His church is also more dedicated to "social issues" than other evangelical churches, and its members take seriously poverty, AIDS, and the environment.

Saddleback Church is a prime example of a "megachurch," defined as a Protestant church with at least 2,000 members. Last July, the Washington Post had a brief article on this phenomenon, with a map showing the geographical distribution of megachurches across the country. All but two of the Lower 48 states are within 50 miles of a megachurch: only Maine and South Dakota are not. The number of megachurches (currently about 1,300) has roughly doubled every ten years since the 1970s. Contrary to widespread impression, megachurches are not uniformally aligned with the Christian Right.

Megachurches may seem like a more comfortable religious venue for many people, compared to a traditional small or medium-size congregation, because it is easier to walk into a huge arena where you can remain relatively anonymous than in a smaller social group where someone might notice you. Entering a new church can be a daunting challenge for anyone, especially someone who is trying to "mend their ways" and feels guilty about their past. Likewise, it would be easier to leave such a large group, because you wouldn't be missed all that much. I'm not convinced that that is the best way to build the Christian faith.

* Not, as is often said, "the lion shall lay down with the lamb." See blueletterbible.org.


January 4, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Premature cabinet shakeup

With nearly three weeks until his administration officially begins, Barack Obama has already had to reshuffle his cabinet. Gov. Bill Richardson announced today that he cannot accept the position of commerce secretary, because of a continuing investigation into his dealings with a company that has done business with the government of New Mexico. Richardson apparently failed to fully disclose the nature of the FBI investigation to Obama staffers, who are no doubt miffed. See CNN.com. This puts Obama in an awkward position because he had already been criticized for not nominating enough Latinos to his cabinet. That being the case, and given the ethnic-identity obsession of Democrats these days, I would say the odds that Obama will name another Latino or Hispanic person to head the commerce department are somewhere between 90% and 95%.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado has named Michael Bennet to replace Interior Secretary-designate Ken Salazar in the U.S. Senate; see Washington Post, while the other two Senate vacancies (New York and Illinois) are still giving rise to heated controversy, to put it mildly. Gov. Blagojevich is not backing down from his defiant choice of Roland Burris to replace Obama, and no one knows what will happen next. On "Meet the Press" today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid criticized Blagojevich, but admitted that he and his collegues might have to accept Burriss eventually.

Lodging for the Obamas

First Lady-to-be Michelle Obama and the two daughters Malia and Sasha arrived in Washington over the weekend, as the spring semester begins at Sidwell Friends school tomorrow. Because the Bush White House declined to provide accommodations for the Obamas at the Blair House, as is customary for incoming First Families, however, they were forced to take up temporary residence at the nearby Hay-Adams Hotel. See Washington Post. Thus far, President Bush has shown uncharacteristic grace and dignity as he prepares to vacate 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and I just hope this situation is an honest misunderstanding, and not a snub. We all remember what jerks the outgoing Clintonistas were in January 2001, and I hope the Bush staff lives up to higher standards than that.

Leary: Why We Suck

I noticed that on the Washington Post's annual list of "What's in and what's out" (see Friday) the Rev. Rick Warren's book [The Purpose Driven Life] is "out," while Denis Leary's book Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid is "in." I don't agree with Leary very often, and his brash urban style is not my cup of tea, but he is certainly very conscious of some of our country's most glaring defects. Of course, as long as we can get illegal immmigrants to do the work for us (!), we can go on being "Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid." See amazon.com.

Politics info pages

I have just updated four existing background information pages in the Politics category:
    U.N. Security Council,
    Foreign Leaders,
    Supreme Court, and
    Politics in Virginia,
and have added a new such page:
    The Presidency, featuring election results since World War II and a brief chronology of all 43 presidents up through the present.


January 5, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Stadium info pages updated

To take account of the new stadiums in New York, I have updated the following pages that feature background information on ballparks:
    Stadium chronology,
    Stadium chronology (annual), and
    Stadium statistics.
More such updates are pending...

Ballparks in the news

Thanks as always to Mike Zurawski for keeping us all abreast of ballpark news. It seems that, in the aftermath of the latest change in ballpark plans by the Athletics (see Dec. 9) Bud Selig has had a change of heart about adhering rigidly to franchise territorial rights, talking vaguely about "other communities" in the Bay Area. If enough team owners vote to allow such a move, the Athletics might end up in San Jose (currently "owned" by the Giants) after all. The Mercury News boasts that they are "the Bay Area's largest city with the best baseball weather. The prime site, just south of downtown's Diridon Train Station, has already cleared an environmental impact report for a ballpark." Of course, this is probably just a negotiating ploy to put pressure on Fremont city officials to cough up the dough.

Also, the Tampa Bay Rays are exploring alternative sites for a new stadium, focusing on the Carillon office complex, which is mostly vacant. It would be easier for people in Tampa to get to. The proposed waterfront site in downtown St. Petersburg was just too cramped to provide adequate parking; see tampabay.com. I still think they should tear the roof off Tropicana Field and make it last another 20 years or so; stay tuned...

Finally, demolition of Shea Stadium is proceeding rapidly, with much of the concrete having been knocked away already, leaving not much more than a steel skeleton left. There are some fantastic, up-close photos at baseball-fever.com, but like watching an autopsy being performed, it's not for the faint of heart! One of those pages includes a link to a youtube.com video of the 1965 Beatles concert at Shea.

On a related note, somebody in that discussion thread mentioned the recent Discovery Channel program on the demolition of the Orange Bowl last summer. I caught the last 15 or so minutes of it on Saturday night, channel surfing by happenstance, and it was indeed fascinating to watch. Whether a new ballpark for the Marlins gets built in the now-vacant lot any time soon remains to be seen...


January 5, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Illegal immigration: no problem

The issue of illegal immigration was swept under the rug during Campaign 2008, as neither candidate was willing to risk losing any votes by addressing that controversy. It's a lot like Social Security -- the high-voltage "third rail" of American politics that nobody wants to touch. Of course, neither McCain nor Obama offered any clear solution to the underlying policy dilemma posed by immigration. Does that mean that the crisis is over? Or perhaps that it was never really a big problem to begin with? Not by a long shot.

Indeed, with the economy in the worst shape it's been in for over three decades, immigrant workers (legal and otherwise) will inevitably play a crucial role in setting the stage for an economic recovery. Penny-pinching firms are more motivated than ever to cut legal corners to save a few bucks here and there, and in hard times government officials are more likely to look the other way. With Barack Obama as president, furthermore, It's safe to say that the Federal government will adopt an even more relaxed approach to policing our borders and enforcing immigration laws in our workplaces than did President Bush, whose own party had to force him to do his duty. The current economic situation poses a severe threat to the immigration reform movement, undermining popular support for strong government action.

Friday's Washington Post reported on a small-scale example of how the changing economic climate is affecting public sentiment on immigration policy. As more and more undocumented Latino families move out of Prince William County, which has been Ground Zero for the immigration enforcement movement, it is getting harder and harder to find good child-care providers. So, a group of mothers has mobilized to resist the crackdown. (I saw a police checkpoint on Route 28 in Manassas a few months ago, so I can confirm that local officials are deadly serious about this.) They say they want to make the policy debate more reasonable in tone, and have launched a new blog (antibvbl.net) to fight back against Black Velvet Bruce Li (Greg Letiecq). Well, I'm all in favor of reason, but the comment by one of the women regarding the movement to resist illegal immigration sounds to me like the misplaced sentimentalism that is typical of many liberals: "It was as if they were saying he wasn't making a contribution or worthy of being here..." No, Ms. Almeda, it's not about being appreciated, it's about reestablishing the rule of law.

This points to an even bigger dimension to the problem: the sharp rise in housing vacancies in Manassas has caused a budgetary crisis for local government as revenues dry up, and some businesses have shut down. The collateral effects of the crackdown on illegal immigration (see last April) makes some people wonder if it was a big mistake to go after illegal immigrants. (Let no one forget, legal immigration has been a very positive force in our economy and society; see last July, for example.) In my view, the day or reckoning was bound to come sooner or later. In a capitalist economy in which businesses and consumers constantly go bargain-hunting for better deals, the status quo ante in which everyone turned a blind eye to massive cheating would have eventually turned most of our economy into something like the Third World, with substandard, unsafe practices becoming the norm, and no recourse for people getting ripped off. If you've never lived for more than a week or two in Latin America or some other poor part of the world, you just wouldn't understand. As I wrote after Bush's final State of the Union Address nearly one year ago,

Understandably, the President said nothing about the potential for a major decline in U.S. global prestige if the current economic turmoil (mortgage defaults, rising energy prices) turns into a real crisis. The inability of Bush or any leader in Washington right now to effectively address the immigration issue, and more importantly to recognize the ugly truth that our economy today depends to a large extent on illegal activity, raises the possibility that the U.S. economy and the global economy are in a more precarious position than most people realize.

You read it here first. Or you should have, anyway.

In any case, there is, in fact, a solid basis for the argument that cracking down on illegal aliens was what triggered the mortgage crisis early last year, precipitating the current recession. I recently found some illuminating thoughts on the connection between illegal aliens and the sub-prime mortgage meltdown from a blog post by Michelle Malkin last May. This came from Greg Letiecq, who also drew attention to a pro-immigration group called the Commonwealth Institute. They issued a report which found that "undocumented workers" add a substantial net revenue benefit in Virginia.

As usual, however, those sorts of arguments miss the point, trying to tally up the direct costs and benefits, while ignoring the collateral damage to the socio-economic system caused by widespread labor market cheating. The longer such abuses were tolerated, the more frayed our social fabric would have become, as the precious "social capital" of trust -- as political scientist Robert Putnam emphasizes -- would have dwindled away. (See his book Bowling Alone.) To put it bluntly, the massive scale hiring of illegal workers who come from strife-torn, impoverished Third World countries amounts to importing class conflict, to put a twist on a slogan of Karl Marx. Is that what we want?

Another of the small group of pundits and bloggers who really grasp the big connections between immigration policy and our overall economy is Steve Sailer. He was recently cited by the esteemed conservative analyst Michael Barone (of USNWR). As Sailer wrote at vdare.com:

The Crash is, at a fundamental level, a readjustment to demographic change. America's immigration-driven shifting ethnic balance means that the average human capital of U.S. residents is now lower than was assumed.

That's an interesting way of expressing the problem. So just to clarify the ironic blog heading above, Yes, Virginia, illegal immigration is a very big problem.


January 5, 2009 [LINK / comment]

New year, new birds!

Prompted by an e-mail alert from Allen Larner, I drove over toward the Stuarts Draft area today, Guthrie Road to be exact. This local birding "hot spot" which Allen often patrols is a very rural part of Augusta County, with huge barren fields and very few houses -- almost like you're in the Midwest, except hillier. I didn't see the of Snow buntings that had been sighted, but I did see a pair of small dark birds circling overhead and emitting an odd call. They were small (bluebird sized), chocolate brown, with some kind of markings on the neck or shoulders, pale bellies, and a notched, rounded tail, like that of a Red-winged blackbird. The sky was cloudy, so visibility wasn't very good, and the birds stayed at least 30 yards away from me, making it hard to see details. What was most distinctive was their strange call, consisting of harsh cheeps (tee-uw) interspersed with rapid twittering or rattling. I was stumped. Just as I was about to leave, fortunately, Allen himself showed up and helped me to identify those two birds, which were almost certainly Lapland longspurs. After going through all my field guides back home, I am 95% sure, making that my first life bird of the year, and the 381st total! Here are today's highlights:

  • Kestrel
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Meadowlarks -- 15+
  • Horned larks -- 20+
  • Lapland longspurs (prob.; LIFE BIRD!) -- 2

According to YuLee Larner's Birds of Augusta County, the Lapland longspur is a "rare winter visitor," last seen in this area in 2004. So, even though it's not a definite sighting, I put the alert about it (and the Snow buntings, etc.) on the Augusta Bird Club Web site.

I saw a total of eleven life birds last year, the greatest number of new birds that I have seen in the United States in a single calendar year since 2002, which was when we first moved to Staunton.

Energy vs. wildlife in Canada

In the Washington Post two weeks ago there was an article about the threat to certain neotropical migrant birds and other animals posed by tar sands mining in the province of Alberta. Among the many species affected by energy development in that part of Canada are the Connecticut warbler and the Blackpoll warbler. I hope they are setting aside a portion of the new oil revenues for the cause of wildlife conservation.


January 7, 2009 [LINK / comment]

"Bipartisan" Kaine to lead DNC

The choice of Gov. Tim Kaine to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee is certainly ample and fitting reward for his role in "turning Virginia blue" in last year's election. He and newly-sworn Senator Mark Warner are model "Obama-style" Democrats who appeal to centrist voters and business leaders, while subtly pursuing a leftward policy agenda. How do they do that? Well, a lot of strategic audacity, stylistic panache, and tactical cleverness, to begin with. The News Leader cartoonist Jim McCloskey appreciates the irony of this situation, but Chris Graham chuckles at the notion that Kaine is partisan. I took a photo of him speaking with Kaine during the governor's visit to Staunton in November.

Well, here's an archival gem I wrote in March 2006, early in Kaine's term: "Like his predecessor Mark Warner, Governor Kaine is maintaining the pretense of bipartisan cooperation while waging a brass-knuckled fight behind the scenes."

Panetta to head CIA??

Speaking of partisanship, Barack Obama's choice of Leon Panetta to head the CIA was utterly mystifying to me -- at first glance, anyway. Panetta has no real experience or education in intelligence-related matters, and his area of technical expertise is in budgetary affairs. See Washington Post. But then I got to thinking, maybe Obama intends to revamp the intelligence community, purging Bush appointees and putting liberals like Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame in top positions. I'm still angry at Panetta for his role in blocking Newt Gingrich's budgetary measures as part of the "Republican Revolution" in the fall of 1995. He was then White House chief of staff, using deception and fear-mongering tactics about Social Security, etc. on behalf of Bill Clinton. It was a truly despicable display of partisanship.

Rewriting the GOP's past

In response to certain right-wing Republicans such as Brent Bozell who blame "liberal" Republicans for the electoral defeat, shifting responsibility from the party's leaders, Lou Zickar at the Republican Leadership Council offers some refreshingly helpful thoughts:

[T]he GOP did not lose this election because it abandoned its small-government philosophy. Rather, the party lost the election because its small-government philosophy was incomplete. ...

If this election has proven anything, it is that it's no longer enough to simply say you're going to cut people's taxes and leave it at that. ...

The challenge now facing the GOP is that smart government is not in the party's rhetorical toolbox.

Indeed. Eventually, the Republicans are going to have to decide if their essential, defining value is limited government or social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. It's going to get harder and harder to keep those two in balance, unless the folks who favor the latter become more inclined to compromise. The promotion of an alternate version of reality, which Zickar alludes to, is related to what I was talking about on Dec. 9, with regard to the phenomenon of "cognitive dissonance." The truth that the Bush administration has crippled the Republican Party and have confused people on what conservative means is just too ugly for Bush loyalists to bear, so they flail away at "RINOs" and other ghosts.

When it comes to spinning an alternate version of reality, it would be hard to do better than Al Dahler, in his News Leader op-ed column on Monday. He argued that Bush has achieved great success in carrying out conservative policies, but he defines conservative in such a twisted, sarcastic way that it's not even worth arguing about. If Dahler meant to be facetious, it sure didn't come across that way. Calling Bush a "conservative" is like calling Martin Luther a "Catholic."


January 8, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Anaheim Stadium update

Anaheim Stadium Perhaps I should have done this one in time for Christmas: "Angels we have heard on high..." smile Anyway, I have finished revisions to the diagrams of Anaheim Stadium, a.k.a., "Angel Stadium of Anaheim," home of the Los Angeles / California / Anaheim Angels, and former home of the (former) L.A. Rams. As usual, the profiles are more accurate, and there is more attention to detail as far as light towers, etc. I'm still not sure whether the diamond was shifted when the did the renovations in 1998; for a while the distances to the foul poles were marked "330," compared to the original "333," but since 2003 (according to Lowry's Green Cathedrals) those markers say "333" once again. I recently learned that evangelical minister Rick Warren held a huge service there in 2004; see my Jan. 4 blog post. That's not why I chose this stadium, however. For now, I'm proceeding on a state-by-state basis, intending to finish California by the end of the month.

"California Dreaming"...

Cubs sign Bradley

The Chicago Cubs have signed outfielder Milton Bradley to a three-year contract, once again thwarting the Washington Nationals' hopes of recruiting a big name star player. As Homer Simpson would say, "D'oh!" See MLB.com. No word yet on whether the Cubs will sign the Parker Brothers. smile

Ailing Patterson retires

The tall guy who was supposed to become the Washington Nationals' ace right-hand pitcher, John Patterson, has announced his retirement because of recurring problems with pain in his right arm. He was released by the Nationals last March, and played briefly in a minor league club affiliated with the Rangers, but never did regain his professional form. MLB.com. That's a shame; I really had high hopes for him.

On a related note, I recently had an MRI on my ailing right shoulder (those machines are loud!), and was relieved to learn from the doctor that surgery is probably not necessary. (The injury occurred when I threw out the first pitch at a local ball game last July.) Movement of my right arm is still constricted, and I have to avoid putting steady pressure on it, like with a computer mouse, for example. Pending the completion of physical therapy, the pace of diagram updates will be slower than what I would like...


January 8, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Constitutional convention?

Anyone who is keeping track of the Federal budget knows that the fiscal deficit is climbing toward the once-unimaginable level of one trillion dollars. It's one of the saddest legacies of the Bush administration. And if that weren't bad enough, president-elect (or president-in-effect?) Barack Obama is pushing hard for an "economic stimulus" plan that would put the U.S. Treasury even more deeply into the red. (Perhaps we should start capitalizing the R, as in the money we owe to Red China.)

With that sobering backdrop, State Senator Emmett Hanger announced he will submit a bill calling for a constitutional convention whose main purpose would be to enact an amendment that would mandate a balanced budget. (Hat tip to Steve Kijak for bringing this to my attention.) The news was reported in yesterday's News Leader, and was derided as a "hare-brained scheme" in today's editorial. That's overstating things just a bit. Personally, I tend to be dubious of arbitrary constraints on legislatures such as balanced-budget requirements or term limits -- which the editorial endorses, ironically. As I wrote about GOP strategist Frank Luntz's proposal along those lines in February 2007,

I wouldn't want to insist dogmatically on a balanced budget amendment, any more than I would endorse an iron-clad commitment to cut taxes, regardless of the circumstances. But still, it's an appropriate general direction to head.

I would grant that in certain recessionary conditions, such as the present, a case can be made that deficit spending will have a stimulative effect. Assuming that this is always the case, however, as Keynesians do, is very dangerous. As with the stimulus tax rebate Bush pushed through last spring, much of the extra money people receive ends up being spent on imports from countries like China. Given that the situation at hand is very grave indeed, we may have no other choice [but to move ahead with a constitutional convention, as Sen. Hanger has proposed]. I think the best approach would be to make congressional salaries, office expense budgets, or retirement funds contingent upon the fiscal balance. That way, there will be a built-in incentive for congressmen and women to exercise fiscal prudence, and if they truly do think that deficit spending is in the urgent national interest, they can put their own money on the line to back it up.

Aside from the merits of the balanced budget amendment, there is also great cause for worry about what mischief a constitutional convention might lead to. It is a procedural measure that has not been used since the Constitution itself was drafted in 1787, and given the contemporary climate of distrust and cynicism, such an assembly could well be "hijacked" by political factions that do not have the public interest at heart. So I would hope that the mere talk about creating a constitutional convention would prod the U.S. Congress into shaping up and reforming its own budgetary practices before it really is too late.

Disintegration of U.S.A.?

A Russian foreign affairs expert named Igor Panarin has been predicting that the United States will collapse and break into regional fragments by the year 2010, and he stands by his assessment. See the Wall Street Journal; hat tip to Stacey Morris.


January 9, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Rebuild Oakland Coliseum!

With all the talk about the Athletics moving to Fremont (or possibly San Jose) one of these years, it's time to think about what will become of their home, Oakland Coliseum (no longer called "McAfee" or "Network Associates"), once they leave. Given that it was expanded barely a decade ago, to lure the Raiders back from L.A., it ought to last another twenty years at least. However, the original circular portion of the grandstand just isn't very well suited to football -- nor to baseball either, of course. So, I propose that they tear down the original portion and build a new grandstand where the the old part presently sits, in a mirror image of the new portion that was built in 1997. Check out the Oakland Coliseum page, with a new proposed football version and miniscule revisions to the existing diagrams.

And just for the record, I see no reason why the A's can't come up with a reasonable compromise with the City of Oakland to built an economical ballpark next to the Coliseum. From what I can tell, there is plenty of land in that area, and if parking gets tight, they can build multi-story garages. Granted, the ballpark arrangement with Cisco is probably too far along to back out now, but who knows?

Giambi returns to Oakland

Just like the wayward Raiders did a decade ago, Jason Giambi has decided to return to his "home" city of Oakland, where he is being welcomed with open arms. The 38-year old Giambi would have expected more money than the Yankees were willing to pay him, so they let him go. He will make only $4 million in Oakland this season, but with substantial performance incentives, and the A's have a $6.5 million option for the 2010 season. See MLB.com.

Smoltz head to Boston

The last of the Atlanta Braves' dominant pitching trio of the 1990s, John Smoltz, has decided to join the Red Sox. I wonder if there are any old Boston Braves fans up there. And what does this say about the Braves' long-term strategy: Are they going to let all the good players go except for Chipper Jones and Brian McCann?

Speaking of Boston, Bruce Orser brought to my attention a cool time-lapse graphic on the extensive renovations that were undertaken at Fenway Park from 2002 through 2009, at boston.com.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Jan 12, 2009 01:37 AM
Where would the Raiders play if this renovation were to take place? I think it would take a lot longer than an offseason, maybe even two seasons.

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jan 12, 2009 23:34 PM
I think Candlestick Park would be more than adequate for a year or two, though the 49ers might feel a little uncomfortable being upstaged the the "house guests." Or maybe even play a couple games in L.A. at Memorial Coliseum -- just for old time's sake.


January 9, 2009 [LINK / comment]

George: a sad anniversary

It was one year ago today that our first male canary, "George," tragically died while I was out of town. We bought him on Inauguration Day 2001, hence his name (!), and he lived with us for almost seven years, providing much happiness and amusement. The first blog post I wrote after returning from my trip was an "obituary" for the spunky, musical little guy: Jan. 13, 2008. Here is one of my favorite photos of him, taken in October, 2005:

George's face, closeup

January 10, 2008 2009 * [LINK / comment]

Bush's fiscal profligacy: a recap

As the unemployment rate climbs to 7.2% (see Washington Post), consumer spending plummets, and the U.S. dollar sinks ever lower on world markets, one is entitled to wonder, What the hell happened to us? Many Americans are mystified by the current economic recession, a new experience for just about anyone under 40. They have grown so accustomed to economic growth over the past three decades that "irrational euphoria" became normal behavior. Well, all good things must come to an end. Sorry, folks: That was just a dream! A drug debt-induced dream, you might say.

There are many reasons for the awful mess we are in, including the failure of regulators to ensure sound mortgage lending practices, but chief among them is the soaring budget deficit. Whenever the Federal government has to borrow money to pay its bills, it absorbs a portion of national savings (or foreign savings, in the global economy) that would otherwise be invested for productive purposes. The current record-setting deficit takes the lion's share of savings and thereby "crowds out" investment, crippling potential growth. Go back and look at your Macroeconomics 201 textbook.

So whose fault is this? Well, if you follow Harry Truman's approach, "the buck" stops at the White House desk, and the outgoing president clearly bears most of the responsibility for our nation's fiscal predicament. I do not mean to excuse the Democrats or the Republicans in Congress who succumbed to the temptation of "easy living," passing budgets with bigger and bigger deficits every year, but it's the guy at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue who had the power to veto those spending bills if he really wanted to. Unfortunately, President George W. Bush was notoriously meek about confronting Congress on budgetary matters.

Of course, it all started with the tax cuts that Bush pushed through Congress in 2001 and 2002, using any rationale that seemed handy at the moment. At the time some people wondered if tax cuts were a prudent move for a country that suddenly found itself embroiled in a global-scale war against Islamic extremists. Tightening the government purse-strings seemed to contradict the ambitious foreign policy of the Bush administration, which was characterized as "imperialistic" by many critics. As I noted in Dec. 2002 a writer for the Boston Globe observed, "No serious empire-builder would ever cut taxes as recklessly as President Bush has." Well, perhaps Bush was an "un-serious empire-builder."

In the aftermath of the (temporarily) successful conquest of Iraqi armed forces in April 2003, the atmosphere in Washington verged on giddiness, and hardly anyone dared to question Bush's judgment. In May 2003, I cautiously questioned whether it was the right time for another round of tax cuts, but I tried to give the president the benefit of the doubt. (Belonging to a political party can sometimes cloud one's judgment, and I'm only human.)

Soon, however, my fears about the Bush agenda grew. During mid-year, Bush rolled out his Medicare prescription drug benefit proposal, which eked through Congress later in the year. As I wrote at the time, "This new entitlement will create a fiscal hemorrhage, exactly the kind of thing the Concord Coalition has always warned against. ..." At the time I was angry with Bush, but even I couldn't imagine the horrors that would follow this first dangerous and terribly misguided step. Pat Buchanan's 2004 book Where the Right Went Wrong recounted Bush's "fiscal record of startling recklessness," adding $1.3 trillion to the national debt in just his first three years in office, without using his power to veto spending bills even once. Even after the 9/11 attacks, Bush promoted the idea of "Let the good times roll," as if he were imitating Bill Clinton. I will always look back on the fall of 2004 and wonder why I put in so much effort on behalf of the Bush campaign, setting aside my gnawing doubts. For now, all I can figure is that the alternative of John Kerry must have seemed frightening to me.

In retrospect, Americans have to be very glad that President Bush's audacious proposal to, in effect, privatize Social Security never saw the light of day; most of them would have lost their life savings last year. At the time (April 2005), the Bush proposal seemed like the wrong emphasis to me, but I was willing to hear him out, in hopes of reaching a compromise. (Fat chance.) It got even worse in July 2005, when Congress passed (with Bush's approval) a costly, pork-laden energy bill that did absolutely nothing to encourage Americans to adapt to a world of scarce energy supplies. It was full of silly gimmicks that seemed inspired by the social engineering approach of the Democrats. And, of course, it caused the budget deficit to ballon further.

The pivotal moment of truth came in September 2005, when Bush tried to overcompensate for his poor handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster by asking Congress for a virtual blank check to rebuild the devastated region. At the time, budget hawks like me were fretting that the deficit was approaching half a trillion dollars. (Three and a half years later, the deficit is nearly twice that level!) Conservatives soon began openly rebelling against the wayward president, with the "porkbusters" campaign, for example.

The reasons for Bush's astonishing disregard for fiscal prudence became clearer as his term progressed. For example, in March 2006 I wrote about Bruce Bartlett's book Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. I also highlighted the dangerous belief prevalent in the Bush White House (Cheney, Rove, et al.) that "deficits don't matter." Guided by his political guru Karl Rove, for whom winning elections was all that matters, Bush decided not to worry about deficits. As I wrote, "Such a grotesquely irresponsible attitude ... would be paving the way for the collapse of the conservative coalition." Indeed it did! (For more on the episode when Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill resigned in dismay over the lack of regard for serious policy in the Bush White House, see the New Yorker magazine, January 2004.)

For me, patience with Bush finally wore out in April 2006, when I made it clear that I was "disgusted with fiscal imprudence." I also pointed out that "many Republicans wrongly equate loyalty to President Bush with being a true conservative," which of course was exactly backward. This pathological, malignant tendency exhibited by many Republicans was spreading quickly as frustrations mounted, as the Grand Old Party began floundering about. Some party members sought to articulate a coherent philosophy of governance, but for the ascendant populist faction known as "The Base," caring about government operations was seen as irrelevant, and perhaps a little subversive.

Not surprisingly, Bush led his party to a huge defeat in the November elections, setting off an orgy of recriminations in the GOP. He didn't learn his lesson, however: In December 2006, Bush endorsed the Democrats' call to raise the minimum wage by $2.10, to $7.25 an hour, over a period of two years, in exchange for concessions on tax cuts and regulatory policies. This abomination was the purest essence of Bush's bogus "compassionate conservatism."

As the Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, Bush made a declaration that at the time seemed far-fetched, but in retrospect seems astonishingly cynical: He was going to "submit a plan to balance the budget within five years!" (Yeah, right.) Bush devoted most of his attention to "the surge" in Iraq for the rest of the year, and did little if anything about the budgetary situation as the warning signs of financial doom multiplied.

As the economic teetered nervously in January 2008, Bush spent what little remained of his "political capital" to push for an economic "stimulus" package that was mainly of benefit to Red China. (Our government in effect borrowed money from China to give to consumers to buy products that were mostly made in China; real smart.) Ironically, he achieved "bipartisan consensus" on the need for a stimulus, as president-elect Barack Obama intends to push for an even bigger "stimulus," as the deficit gets bigger and bigger and bigger... President-elect Obama says he expects to run annual deficits of a trillion dollars or more for the foreseeable future; see the Washington Post. He seems as nonplused by the fiscal catastrophe as Bush himself, which is a scary thought, as is his warning of imminent catastrophe if Congress doesn't do what he wants. Whatever Obama decides to do with all that money, it is all but inevitable that massive tax cuts on the wealthy (which probably means you) will follow. You can be sure that billions of dollars in financial assets are flowing to "save haven" offshore banking centers such as the Bahamas, in anticipation of redistributionist economic policies under Obama.

The main point of this blog post is not to "bash Bush," but rather to make it clear that people like me have been warning about the coming economic disaster for years, to no avail. You might say this is a litany of earnest pleas for reform that fell on deaf ears. The Republican leadership just tuned out the "naysayers" and pretended that all was well, whistling past the figurative graveyard and all but guaranteeing themselves minority status for the next few years at least. Many Republican rank and file members can't wait for January 20 to come, so that they can finally speak openly and honestly -- without fear of retribution -- about what an awful mess our current president has created, for the party and for the country. Mark my words, if you think there is a lot of infighting among Republicans now, it will get much worse ten days from now. It will be a contest to see who can disown "W" the quickest and most emphatically.

Ironically, the machinery of the Republican Party today is controlled by Bush loyalists who have been trained in the "Mayberry Machiavelli" tactics (a term coined by John DiIulio) of Karl Rove to purge anyone who deviates from their agenda. These are the people who frantically blame others in the party for "betraying conservative principles" while ignoring the obvious fact that their own president spent his eight years in office doing exactly that. Somehow, many people have got it in their heads that tax cuts are what defines conservatism as a political philosophy, a grossly simplistic notion that is quickly unraveling as the horrendous economic consequences of Bush tax cuts become apparent. The facts are as plain and clear as the nose in front of your face, but for true believers, facts don't matter. The conservative "movement" of today is utterly blind to the dismal reality of the Bush years, a classic case of massive "cognitive dissonance." God help us.


 

* NOTE: Originally posted on Jan. 10, 2009 but with the wrong year (2008) displayed. Here is a screen shot just before the correction was made, showing the date/time stamp:


  blog_10-Jan-2009

 

January 10, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Climate change: then and now

Two recent news items offer divergent views on a perpetual controversy: climate change. First, there was a news item about a geological discovery that might explain the mass extinctions that took place in North America 12,900 years ago, as the Woolly mammoths and Saber-toothed tigers vanished from the face of the earth. The human race also suffered, as the prehistoric "Clovis people" disappeared. Scientists now believe that a massive comet or meteor struck North America at that time, and now they have evidence: tiny crystalline carbon particles called "nanodiamonds" have been found at many sites across the continent, at the same stratum of earth sediment. See the Washington Post

A more recent phenomenon is global warming. Many people fear that melting polar caps are causing the oceans to rise, threatening to cover most of Florida, the Seychelles Islands, Bangladesh, and other low-lying areas. Surprisingly, there has been a rapid rebound in recent months, and global sea ice levels are now the same as they were 29 years ago. This casts doubt on recent predictions that the North Pole ice cap could completely melt away this year. Read the article by Michael Asher at dailytech.com; hat tip to Dan. Cancel the polar bear extinction watch.


January 10, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Finally: a Pine siskin!

It seems that winter migrant birds are scarcer than usual this season, except for Juncos, which are abundant as ever. But there just aren't many White-throated sparrows where we live, and no Kinglets of either kind, or Yellow-bellied sapsuckers, or Purple finches as of yet. Today, however, one such bird did make its first appearance this winter outside our window: a Pine siskin, who graciously posed for a few photographs. I hope this is a sign that more winter migrants will be here soon.

Pine siskin

Pine siskin, eating thistle (nyjer) seeds outside our window. The yellow feathers in its wing are an indication that it's related to the Goldfinches, which are also fond of thistle seeds.

Pine siskins have been reported in a few localities around Augusta County this winter, but I'm not aware of any previous ones here in Staunton. I saw a dozen or so Pine siskins in South Dakota back in October.

For the first time in a few months, I have updated the Wild Birds USA photo gallery page, as well as the Annual arrival page.


January 11, 2009 [LINK / comment]

CVN77: George H.W. Bush

In ceremonies held at the Norfolk Naval Station, the newest aircraft carrier in the United States Navy was commissioned for service yesterday: the USS George H.W. Bush, named for the World War II Navy combat pilot who later became our 41st president. Outgoing President George W. Bush made a brief speech in honor of his father at the ceremony, one of the last official public events of his presidency. Construction on the $6.2 billion carrier, designated "CVN77," began in 2001, and the ship's keel was laid in 2003. It has a crew of more than 5,500 under the command of Capt. Kevin O'Flaherty, and is the last of the ten Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in the Navy. The previous such carrier was the Ronald W. Reagan, and one of the next-generation carriers will be christened the "Gerald R. Ford." See the Washington Post, and the ship's Web site, traffic to which is currently being rerouted to an IP address for security reasons, presumably. The Post article says that the Bush is the Navy's 13th carrier in its active fleet, but I only count 12 (including the Bush) on the Navy Web site. The USS John F. Kennedy (CV67) was decommissioned in March 2007, and now there is only one conventionally powered carrier left in the fleet: the USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63).

Ever since World War II, aircraft carriers have been the main element in the ability of the U.S. armed forces to project power around the globe. Some critics say that such huge vessels are an anacrhonism in the post-Cold War era, but there is no conceivable alternative combat system that could carry out an equivalent function. It's a question of how big our future carriers should be, and how many of them we need to patrol vital shipping lanes. In an era of newly emerging threats, such as Somali pirates, we may need a different naval force structure. Since the Royal Navy dwindled away in the 1950s, no other nation has had more than a few such ships in their fleet. The Soviet Union commissioned a few carriers, but they never were deployed far from the Russian home coast. The Russian Navy today remains hamstrung by the ongoing rivalry with neighboring Ukraine. (Hence the shutoff of natural gas from Russia to Ukraine last week.) Likewise, China is exploring the option of building such ships, but it remains to be seen if this would be part of a strategic expansion or merely a way to gain a naval power advantage over the United States in the South China Sea. China has already deployed a few ships to the Indian Ocean to guard commercial shipping against Somali pirates, the first such mission by China in modern history.

CVN71: "Teddy" Roosevelt

While driving into the city of Norfolk last August, I spotted a carrier that was docked, and snapped a photo. Based on the number (71), I was later able to determine that it was the USS Theodore Roosevelt, CVN 71, being refitted in its home port during the summer. During this time it joined French naval units for a brief exercise off the Atlantic coast. The Theodore Roosevelt left Norfolk on September 8, and is now deployed in the Persian Gulf region, in support of "maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility." On on Thanksgiving Day, the ship hosted General Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command, which overseas military operations in the Middle East and South Asia. See the Theodore Roosevelt's Web site, and the newly-updated War introduction page, which includes summary information on U.S. armed forces.

CV71 Theodore Roosevelt

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and support ships, at dock in Norfolk, Virginia, August 2008.


January 12, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Augusta Bird Club Web site

This evening's meeting of the Augusta Bird Club was especially worthwhile, for a variety of reasons. There was discussion about the visiting Townsend's solitaire, a grayish Western-ranging bird that has been seen near the Massanutten resort lately. The featured program at the meeting was a presentation by Dr. Mercedes Foster about her study of the mating behavior and social systems of Manakins, a family of small, colorful, fruit-eating birds that are found in tropical rain forests. Dr. Foster is a Research Biologist who works at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. She described in detail the challenging conditions she and her co-workers had to endure at the Manu National Park in Peru, which happens to be one of my top hoped-for travel destinations. Some day!

But most important of all (perhaps), I announced some major enhancements to the www.augustabirdclub.org Web site. It now enables club members to post alert messages about rare bird sightings (such as the Townsend's solitaire), without having to go through the Web master (me). The club members were very appreciative, and it's a real pleasure for me to be able to apply my creative energies for such a worthy cause. Now if I can only find the time to lead a field trip...

Driving along Route 29 in Nelson County today, I saw three Red-tailed hawks, a Kestrel, and a Red-bellied woodpecker that flew across the road in front of me. With the arctic front coming through in the next couple days, I don't think I'll spend much time bird watching.


January 13, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Wrigley Field (L.A.) update

Wrigley Field LA "Easy does it!" With so many things going on all at once right now,* I figured I ought to follow the path of least resistance, and among California ballparks, Wrigley Field (L.A. style) fits that bill. It was the home of the Angels in their first year of existence (1961), and should have been the temporary home of the Dodgers as well. Diagram revisions are mainly concerning the profile and light towers, with a few small corrections here and there.

* Such as the first session of physical therapy on my aching shoulder yesterday, stemming from a "career-ending" injury last July. For all the gory details, see www.orthogate.org.

Henderson, Rice tapped for HOF

Congratulations to Rickey Henderson (Oakland) and Jim Rice (Boston) on being chosen for the baseball Hall of Fame. Henderson received overwhelming support from baseball writers in his first year of eligibility, while Rice barely cleared the required 75% threshold on his final chance; see MLB.com.

COMMENT by: Brian Hughes, of Edison, NJ on Jan 15, 2009 16:43 PM
While you're doing California parks, you should take a look at the Candlestick Park page. For some reason the diagram is non-standard and there are no dynamic diagrams where there once were some.


January 14, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Calliope hummingbird: for real!

To my delight and utter amazement, the Calliope hummingbird that has been reported west of Lynchburg showed up at the designated location not long after I arrived there today. (I had mentioned it in a blog post on Dec. 9.) He spends most of his time perched in a large cedar tree, sometimes chasing other birds that get too close, and every 15 minutes or so he flies down to the feeder on the patio. In spite of freezing temperatures, the tiny thing has survived quite well in the wooded back yard since October at least. Ah, the wonders of Nature. That makes my second life bird in just the first two weeks of the year, and my 382nd overall. I'll probably go back to take some pictures, when the weather improves.

For non-birders, the name "Calliope hummingbird" refers to the series of purple streaks on the bird's throat, resembling the row of pipes in a calliope. Since this particular bird has not yet reached adulthood, the streaks are very faint and gray in color, with a couple tiny purple spots. Excellent close-up photos of the Calliope hummingbird are available from Robert Schamerhorn at iphotobirds.com. He spoke to the Augusta Bird Club last February, displaying some of his best photographic work.

The hummingbird's "hosts," Mary Pat and Fred Morris, are very friendly and very knowledgeable about birds. According to their guest book, about 160 people have paid a visit in hopes of seeing the rare, out-of-place hummer, and every single one did in fact see it. The Morris's deserve hearty thanks for making sure the hummingbird has plenty of nectar, and for welcoming all the birding "pilgrims" to their house. With several bird feeders, a nearby stream, and plenty of trees and shrubs that provide cover, their back yard is like Grand Central Station for birds of all kinds. The highlights today were a Pine siskin, a male Purple finch, and a Downy woodpecker. On the drive back home, I saw a Sharp-shinned hawk patrolling above Interstate 81 near Lexington.


UPDATE: This news item was mentioned in the Lynchburg News Advance yesterday. The column about "Seeing the signs of spring in January" also mentions that a Western tanager has been seen in Williamsburg recently. Coincidentally, I mentioned to the Morris's that I had a brief flurry of visitors to our back yard in March 2004, when a Western tanager camera was visiting. It was the first of that species ever reported in Augusta County.


January 15, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Yankee Stadium finance dispute

New York City Assemblyman Richard Brodsky is mad as heck at the Yankees' request for more than $370 million in tax-exempt bonds to help pay for Yankee Stadium II, which is on top of the $942.5 million in such bonds the franchise received in 2006. At a hearing yesterday, Brodsky contended that the Yankees are just trying to avoid paying property taxes, but he himself has been criticized for favoritism in supporting tax breaks for a racetrack. (Corruption? In New York??) The Industrial Development Agency will vote on the matter Friday. See the New York Times. My understanding was the Yankees were going to pay for most of the construction cost, but it would take a degree in accounting to figure out whether that is true after all the implicit subsidies are factored in.

San Jose Athletics?

MLB.com is just now reporting a story that is nearly ten days old: that Bud Selig plans to allow the Athletics to move to Santa Clara County (which is supposed to be in the Giants' territory) if the A's can't get a good enough ballpark deal from Fremont. Of course, this is probably just a bargaining ploy, to get Fremont city officials to cough up more dough. A's owner Lew Wolff implicitly acknowledges this, saying the A's won't consider San Jose unless the Fremont project collapses. Chances that the A's will move further south and become the "San Jose Athletics" are probably no more likely than the then-insolvent Montreal franchise relocating to Puerto Rico and becoming the "San Juan Expos" was back in 2003-2004, an obvious case of leveraging one prospective franchise city against another. (Link via freshcontent.net.)

Good news from Detroit

... from the good folks at Save Tiger Stadium:

The Tiger Stadium Conservancy has started the new year with two pieces of good news: State Representative Morris Hood III has joined the Conservancy's Board of Directors and Governor Jennifer Granholm signed Public Act 448 into law, giving the redevelopment of Tiger Stadium an additional 15 percent in state historic tax credits -- estimated at over $4 million -- towards the total project cost.

January 15, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Bush's graceful farewell address

President George W. Bush gave a brief and dignified goodbye speech to the nation from the White House tonight, expressing gratitude for the honor of serving as president, and reminding people of his administration's accomplishments. He extolled the promotion of democracy around the world, combatting the spread of AIDS and alleviating the suffering of AIDS patients, and the Medicare prescription drug benefit -- something which I believe was a big mistake. I took sharp issue with the President on economic policy, and his vow to "show the world once again the resilience of America's free enterprise system" rings a little hollow to me. On the other hand, I heartily agreed with his choice of two new Supreme Court Justices: Samuel Alito and John Roberts. This paragraph was especially poignant:

Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks. There are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I've always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right. You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made. But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.

(The full text of the speech is at whitehouse.gov.) Though he exhibited just the right attitude of humility and grace, Bush's presentation left a little to be desired stylistically; he remains awkward in public appearances, just as his father was. (Likewise for his last press conference a couple days ago.) There were several moments when a tear glistened in his eyes during tonight's speech, revealing the increasing strain he has been under for the past eight years. He will no doubt be relieved to be relieved of duty, and that goes doubly for his warm yet stoic wife, Laura. Michelle Obama will find it hard to match the current First Lady's kindness and deep sincerity.

President Bush can justly claim credit for keeping this nation safe from terrorism since the 9/11 attacks, and critics of Bush (like me) need to weigh that against his failures and shortcomings. One problem is that it's nearly impossible for anyone in the general public to know just what was done to thwart the subsequent plots against us. Those things are classified, and in any case, you can never prove why something didn't happen.

As the Internet has matured during the past decade, the issue of controlling the official White House Web site becomes especially dicey during this presidential transition. Fortunately, no one is seriously questioning the legitimacy of Barack Obama's electoral victory, in contrast to what happened eight years ago. Increasing reliance on electronic communications and record-keeping also poses a challenge to archivists and historians who want to do research on the Bush administration. The Bush legacy will depend in part on how hard his outgoing staff works to ensure that official White House computer files are handed over to the Obama team complete and intact.


January 16, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Tax evasion? What-ever!

It's a sign of our times that the news that the man chosen by President-Elect Obama to be the next Treasury Secretary failed to pay taxes to the IRS had no discernible impact. On the face of it, the lapse on the part of Timothy Geithner seems to be more serious than the Federal investigation into Gov. Bill Richardson, which may turn out to be nothing at all but derailed his nomination nonetheless. But when the entire economy is collapsing and crooked CEOs are making off with billions of taxpayer dollars, Geithner's relatively small-scale offense pales in comparison. He is the highly-respected protege of former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who will become one of Obama's top economic advisers.

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank called this "The Nomination That's Too Big to Fail," alluding to the flimsy rationale for bailing out AIG and other mammoth-sized financial institutions. He quoted Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) who said, "senators have decided that times are too dire to be puritanical." Even most Republicans have minimized the transgression, all too ready to forgive what is claimed to be an "honest mistake." But as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said, "The man who wants to be the top tax collector in America ... not having paid $35,000 in taxes, apparently maybe even involving an illegal alien, is a serious matter." I think so, too.

What is the real meaning of this easy pass for Geithner? That Congress is too frightened of rocking the boat by challenging a renowned financial expert and thereby creating another wave of panic on Wall Street.

Nice things about Bush

At The Mud Pit, they challenged readers to "Say Something Nice About George Bush," and here is my response:

This is quite a challenge, but I've come up with something VERY nice to say about "W": No president ever faced as much bitter hatred and derision as Bush did without ever showing that it was getting under his skin. Bush II never got sarcastic or lashed out at his enemies the way LBJ, Nixon, or Clinton did. He may lack poise, but he definitely lives up to the Christian value of "turning the other cheek," and he abides by his faith with complete sincerity. In that one way, I think he can redeem himself in the eyes of history.

January 16, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Steve Jobs takes sick leave

There was some disquieting news from Cupertino, California earlier this month. In a letter to the Apple Community Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs admitted that his "health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought," saying that his severe weight loss over the past year was the result of a "hormone imbalance." Many people are afraid that the pancreatic cancer which he suffered five years ago might have resurfaced, however. In an Apple media advisory this past Wednesday, Jobs announced that until his expected return to work this summer, chief operating officer Tim Cook would "be responsible for Apple's day to day operations." Jobs failed to show up at the annual MacWorld exhibition for the first time ever, making many people nervous. Apple's stock fell over 10% after the announcement by Jobs. See Washington Post.

The news that Jobs is in worse physical condition than previously thought is dismaying on several levels. For hard-core Apple / Macintosh devotees like me, it's extremely hard to face up to the mortality of our "cult leader." It's hard to imagine how the pioneering computer company could remain on the cutting edge of technological development without someone of Jobs' enormous vision and energy.

On a more serious note, I join Mac users around the world in offering prayers for Steve Jobs' prompt return to full health.

Apple subliminal logo

January 17, 2009 [LINK / comment]

More hot stove news

Several teams have made deals in the last few days, clarifying the competitive situation as the 2009 season approaches. In Boston, first baseman Kevin Youkilis signed a $41-million four-year contract with the Red Sox; see MLB.com, while talks with Jason Varitek are still under way. They aren't conceding anything to the big-spending Yankees. Atlanta showed they aren't giving up easily, either, signing pitcher Derek Lowe, a former Red Sock who has played with the Dodgers for the past four years. The Dodgers released a former Brave, Andruw Jones, under special terms that ensures that some other team will pick him up. (Manny Ramirez is still a "man of mystery.") The World Champion Phillies signed their young pitcher Cole Hamels (age 25) to a three-year contract worth $20.5 million; see MLB.com. He was one of the stars of the 2008 postseason. They also signed a two-year contract with Greg Dobbs, whose 22 pinch-hits last year led the Major Leagues. See MLB.com.

Anaheim Stadium photos

I've finally added some photos that were kindly submitted to me by John Minor to the Anaheim Stadium page. Several more batches of his photos are yet to come...


January 17, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Bush's greatest failing

As the final days of the Bush II presidency wind down, pundits are getting in their last licks at the beleaguered chief executive. In today's Washington Post, columnist David Broder took note of Bush's humble, reflective state of mind as his term ends, but bemoans what he considers to be:

the greatest moral failing of the Bush presidency -- his refusal to ask any sacrifice from most of the American people when he put the nation on a wartime footing after the Sept. 11 attacks.

I made that same point on several occasions, such as January 2007. Bush seemed totally unaware of the vital moral dimension of the war against Islamic extremism, seeming to think that we could defeat them by using high-tech weapons, without mobilizing the American public. I have made no secret of my strong disagreement with Bush on a number of issues, but I also give him credit where it is due. One thing is almost certain: History will judge George W. Bush more favorably than one might suspect based on current public opinion polls. The same was true of Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Gerald Ford.


January 18, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Variations on Oakland Coliseum

My recent proposal to "rebuild Oakland Coliseum" (to make it a suitable permanent home for the NFL Raiders if and when the A's leave town) elicited some very thoughtful feedback. In particular, T.J. Zmina made a suggestion about Oakland Coliseum Oakland Coliseum which I think is clearly better than my suggestion. He agrees with my idea of building a "mirror image" of the new (1997) eastern grandstand on the west side (where the baseball diamond is), but he would leave in place the existing triple-decked curved grandstands on the north (left field) and south (right field) sides. That would certainly save a lot of construction cost, and it could alternatively serve as an intermediate stage, pending a complete rebuilding, along the lines that I suggested. So, I added a diagram based on his idea, and while I was at it, I added a few details to the rest of the diagram versions such as light towers. At the suggestion of Steven Poppe, finally, I also made a 1966-1982 football version diagram. (Note that the Raiders started playing in Oakland Coliseum two years before the A's arrived.) That makes a total of four (4) different football version diagrams for this one stadium!

Nats seek arbitration

Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has filed for arbitration, as did three other Washington players. According to MLB.com, "the club was willing to give Zimmerman a contract that was similar to that of Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who signed a six-year, $31 million deal in January 2008. Sources indicated then that Zimmerman wanted a larger contract." Zimmerman has struggled to live up to the high expectations of him, but the marked improvement he showed in the second half of the 2008 season qualifies him for a generous salary. I hope the team owners show him the respect he is due.


January 18, 2009 [LINK / comment]

"Obama Express" arrives in D.C.

President-elect Barack Obama, his family, and close associates rode a special Amtrak train from Philadelphia to Washington yesterday, a symbolic journey meant to evoke Abraham Lincoln's epochal railroad trip to the Nation's Capital in 1861. Vice-President elect Joe Biden boarded the train in Wilmington, Delware, as he has hundreds of times in the past. Obama made a speech there, and also in Baltimore, as thousands of excited citizens braved the Arctic air. The trip took a total of 6 1/2 hours, more than three times the normal scheduled time for the Amtrak trains that travel that route. See the Washington Post.

As I recall from my train trip to New York in October, much of the track in that region has been upgraded, but there are sections that are still pretty bumpy and slow. Perhaps Obama will use this train trip as the basis for calling on Congress to pass a major passenger railroad modernization program, with high-speed service along the eastern seaboard. If so, that's fine with me. It's a given that Obama will push through major spending hikes, and at least enhanced passenger train service is a worthy public cause. The current "Acela" trains move at least 25% faster than regular Amtrak trains, but they are much slower than the high-speed trains in Europe.

Polls show that the American people have a positive view of Obama, and even Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly had some nice things to say about the incoming Commander in Chief. The good vibes are a refreshing change of pace, but it may not last long. The domestic economic crisis in the United States is having a global contagious effect, and other countries may get so desperate that their leaders become tempted to threaten their neighbors for the sake of rallying popular support. North Korea is among the "most-eligible" troublemakers that would bear out Joe Biden's warning that the Obama administration would be challenged by some rogue nation during its first months in office. If so, the "rally-around-the-flag" effect could catapult Obama into an unchallenged position of dominance in the American political scene, much like the boost in popularity that George W. Bush enjoyed after September 11, 2001.


January 19, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Our first year with Luciano

It was one year ago today that we brought home from the pet store a new male canary: Luciano, named after the Italian opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who passed away in October 2007. Our Luciano has adapted very well to the home environment, signing vigorously every day, and being very affectionate (sometimes too affectionate) toward Princess. His only physical defect is a a missing claw on his back right toe, but that doesn't seem to hinder his ability to perch. He is very friendly, to the point of boldly approaching us. Sometimes he will even perch on my shoulder, arm, or leg to get food treats he wants. He has been somewhat more subdued lately, resting in secluded corners more frequently, a possible sign that molting season is about to begin.

For her part, Princess is somewhat more animated lately, chirping and flapping her wings more often, and even making short "flights" of a couple feet distance. The bad feather in her right wing, which had an infected follicle, is finally growing back in, and we are hopeful she will recover full aerial mobility one of these days.


January 19, 2009 [LINK / comment]

U.S.-Peru free trade pact

As one of his final official acts as U.S. President, George W. Bush signed the U.S.-Peru free trade pact which was ratified by the U.S. Senate in December 2007 after a stiff debate. The delay in signing the agreement stemmed from a variety of concerns over implementation. As reported by BBC, "Earlier this week, Democrats in the US Congress and development organisations said Peru had still not fulfilled key obligations to improve its labour rights and environmental standards and urged Mr Bush not to sign the deal." Some Peruvian farmers fear that subsidized U.S. agricultural imports will undercut home-grown agricultural produce, a concern that is not without merit. The U.S. Congress should reduce farm subsidies that distort domestic and international markets, and replace such measures with a reformed system of credits, which would be a better way to help tide farmers over in lean years.

Contraband wildlife

Chilean inspectors seized at least 400 exotic animals from Peru that were discovered in cardboard boxes aboard a Chilean boat last week. The distressed creatures will be returned to Peru promptly. According to CNN.com, the smuggled cargo included "macaws, toucans, parrots, turtles, squirrels and crocodiles, most of them protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. ... The captain of the ship ... faces a possible fine of between $188,000 and $940,000..." Congratulations to the government of Chile for enforcing laws designed to protect Nature, which is often difficult in poor countries. It's another sign that Chile is joining the ranks of the developed world.

Costa Rica earthquake

An earthquake hit Costa Rica earlier this month, killing about three dozen people. It was centered in the mountains northwest of the capital city San Jose. See CNN.com. This is not far from the Volcano Poas where Jacqueline and I visited four years ago.

Brazil update

I have updated the chronology on the Brazil background information page.


January 19, 2009 [LINK / comment]

A peaceful transfer of power

Tomorrow's inauguration of Barack Obama is being called historic for a number of reasons, but it is also worthwhile for us to contemplate the "remarkable unremarkableness" of the presidential transition. Given the intense degree of partisan rivalry over the past 14 years, accompanied by some of the most outrageous rhetoric spewed by activists of both parties toward the other sides' leaders, it is amazing to think that all that will be set aside, for this brief moment. Seldom do most Americans appreciate the fact that the most powerful office in the world is being transfered from one political party to another in a peaceful, predictable, and straightforward manner. All the details are decided in advance, and all the rituals are carefully choreographed so that no one gets nervous as a new pair of hands takes control of the steering wheel of the proverbial "ship of state." There will be plenty of soldiers and security officers on hand during the inaugural ceremonies in Our Nation's Capital, but no one even thinks about a coup d'etat taking place, as might well happen in parts of Latin America or elsewhere in the Third World. For that blessed condition, we should thank our lucky stars, or better yet, our Founding Fathers who bequeathed to us a balanced and enduring Constitution, or perhaps even Divine Providence.


January 20, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Inauguration Day 2009

Presidential seal Getting used to saying "President Barack Obama" may take some time, but after a few hours, it doesn't sound as bizarre to my ears as it did at first. Like him or not, he is our president, and he certainly carries himself well in ceremonial duties. He clearly has "presidential timber."

Barack Obama's inauguration was a welcome upbeat occasion, in the midst of mounting global troubles and domestic economic decline. (The Dow Jones fell more than 300 points today.) His poise was put to the test early on: Chief Justice John Roberts stumbled over his words as he was administering the oath of office, which is prescribed by the U.S. Constitution. Obama didn't let it bother him. Compared to George W. Bush's second inaugural address four years ago, today's speech by Obama was more sober in tone and less narrowly focused. Confounding the expectations of most people (myself included), it was not full of fluffy rhetorical one-liners but was, rather, remarkably substantive in nature. Early on, he showed awareness that his first big challenge is to overcome the doubts of his critics, and he did so by questioning their precepts:

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

...

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched. But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. (SOURCE: washingtonpost.com.)

Obama leaves no doubt that he plans to proceed boldly, and making health care a universal right seems to be one of his top priorities, so does this herald a radical socialist agenda? The outcome of the initial phase of Obama administration depends to a large extent upon how the Republicans in Congress respond. If they show flexibility and are willing to engage in bipartisan give-and-take, they should manage to avoid the worst-case scenario -- socialism -- which of course is the best-case scenario for those on the Left.

In the section on foreign policy, Obama spoke of the limits of power and the power of ideals. (His predecessor had a strong grasp of the latter concept, but a very weak grasp on the former.) Those whose understanding of global politics is grounded in the realist tradition (such as I) will be pleased by this. The following words were aimed at reassuring hawks:

We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense.

And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, "Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.

That was a clever and effective turn of phrase, implicitly using his own mixed racial background to his advantage. And finally, these words of warning to tyrannical despots (unnamed, but surely referring to Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Putin of Russia, and Chavez of Venezuela) are universal in application:

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Well put! Conveying such an air of calm self-confidence is a good sign that Obama knows what he is doing. Toward the end, he spoke of this being "a new era of responsibility," a clear contrast to the Clinton-Bush era of carefree hedonism. I liked his allusion to George Washington at Valley Forge, challenging Americans to stand fast "in this winter of our hardship" and thereby carry forward the gift of freedom.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

And speaking of the frigid temperatures, Obama's theme of "change" took on a new meaning today. Hundreds of thousands of shivering spectators waited in the cold for hours, hoping to get close enough to see the inaugural platform, but many of them decided to leave early, unable to take it. Can someone change the weather, please?

As expected, the whitehouse.gov Web site suddenly transformed at high noon, with new interactive features such as an RSS feed and a blog. Does this mean anonymous adolescent rogues will be able to post comments there? Somehow I doubt it. I checked to see whether the text of former President Bush's farewell address (which I referenced on January 15) is still on that Web site, and learned that it has been deleted, or perhaps moved elsewhere. In that blog post, I stressed the importance of maintaining continuity in terms of online documents during presidential transitions, so that's too bad.

Soon after Obama's inaugural address, the 43rd president and Mrs. Bush flew back to Texas, maintaining a proper air of dignity. George and Laura deserve hearty praise from the American people for doing everything possible to ensure that the transition went smoothly, without a hint of rancor. Bush II's stewardship during the first 94 months of his term are wide open to criticism, on the other hand. It will take years for presidential scholars (and lesser pundits) to arrive at a balanced evaluation of "W," and in the mean time, the future direction of the Republican Party hangs in the balance.

Even though I'm not a fan of Obama, and am leery of his agenda, I admire his abilities and his dedication to making this country a better place to live. I hope he is a quick learner and doesn't prove to be as stubborn and headstrong as either Bush II or Clinton. I also hope that people on my side of the political spectrum show good sportsmanship, refraining from doing or saying anything to spoil the Obama administration. As part of the "loyal opposition," I wish the new president well as he undertakes a burden that would quickly overwhelm most of us. I am happy for those who supported him, hoping that their sky-high hopes for him are not disappointed too roughly, and I can truly say on this historical occasion that I am "proud to be an American."


January 20, 2009 [LINK / comment]

More winter ducks, and a Phoebe!

I managed to squeeze in two brief bird outings over the past two days: At the big farm pond on Bell's Lane yesterday, I spotted quite a few duck species, and at the scenic (and currently frozen) Peaks of Otter along the Blue Ridge Parkway late this morning, I saw a Phoebe, which is unusual this time of year:

	Location:     Bell's Lane (Staunton)
Observation date:     1/19/09
Number of species:     12

Canada Goose     60
Gadwall     4
Mallard     6
Northern Shoveler     2
Northern Pintail     2
Redhead     3
Ring-necked Duck     6
Lesser Scaup     15
Ruddy Duck     4
Red-tailed Hawk     1
American Kestrel     1
American Coot     3

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org)
	
	Location:     Peaks of Otter Recreation Area
Observation date:     1/20/09
Number of species:     9

Black Vulture     4
Red-shouldered Hawk     1
Downy Woodpecker     1
Eastern Phoebe     1
American Crow     3
Song Sparrow     2
Swamp Sparrow     2
Dark-eyed Junco     20
Northern Cardinal     2

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org)
	

January 22, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Black Republicans on Obama

I saw former Secretary of State Colin Powell being interviewed at the inaugural ceremonies on Tuesday, and it really made me feel melancholy. Even though he endorsed Obama (in mid-October), he says he still considers himself a Republican. Powell lamented the exclusionary attitude of most current Republican leaders, who seem out of touch with demographic trends, but he is hopeful that they will adapt to reality eventually. If he had wanted to run for the Highest Office badly enough, he probably could have won the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, and most likely would have become the first African-American president. How much different this world would have been!

Locally, Carl Tate attended the inauguration, and was deeply moved by witnessing the historic event, even though he is not an Obama supporter. Carl is "proud of how this great nation managed, on this day, to wipe those stains [of brutal segregation] away and now we can finally look to fulfilling the deferred dream that Dr. King had." He also noted that Obama's spirit of "unity" was violated by a few spectators who rudely jeered outgoing President Bush. See The Hall of Justice.


January 25, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Ricketts to buy Chicago Cubs

The Tribune Company (which declared bankruptcy last year) has agreed to sell the Chicago Cubs to billionaire investor Tom Ricketts for about $900 million. The deal includes Wrigley Field and a 25 percent interest in the Chicago-region Comcast SportsNet cable channel, but must first be approved by 3/4 of the MLB owners -- 23 out of 30. Ricketts is a long-time Cubs fan, and met his wife at Wrigley Field, and almost everyone agrees that having a true fan in control will be a great boost to the sport -- and especially to the Cubs. When billionaire Sam Zell acquired the Tribune Company in 2007, he announced that the Cubs were for sale. See ESPN (link via Mike Zurawski) and MLB.com. The Chicago Tribune notes (rather candidly) that the objective of this deal (and a similar one in New York) "was to shelter Tribune Co. from several hundred million dollars in capital gains taxes that would be generated by selling assets the company had held through decades of growth." The leveraged nature of this transaction will be scrutinized by MLB officials and the IRS, no doubt.

The tentative sale price is $258 million more than the value estimated by Forbes Magazine last year, suggesting that the recession has yet to make a full impact on baseball; see the MLB Franchises page. One likely consequence of the sale is that plans to renovate Wrigley Field can now move ahead, as the Chicago Tribune reports; link via Mike Zurawski. It could cost at least $250 million, and perhaps as much as $650 million.

Coincidentally, I was in a plane landing at O'Hare Airport the other day, and got a good view of Wrigley Field completely blanketed in snow. What a sight -- a veritable "white cathedral"! The hockey rink used in the NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day had already been removed.

Random news bits

Demolition of Shea Stadium is proceeding very rapidly, and most of the upper deck grandstand is now gone. Some great photos have been posted at baseball-fever.com; link via Mike Zurawski.

The Washington Nationals are considering having one-time Washington Senators slugger Frank Howard working as an "ambassador" for the Nationals this year. A statue in his honor will be dedicated at Nationals Park during the summer. See MLB.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser, who also brought to my attention a list of the 50 greatest (?) sports broadcasters at americansportscastersonline.com.

Ryan Zimmerman, Manny Acta, and several other Washington Nationals are on a tour of communities in Virginia, after kicking off their "Fan Fest" at Nationals Park last week. On Saturday they stopped in Charlottesville, where Zimmerman played for the University of Virginia baseball team, and I was very sorry that I was not in the area and hence unable to attend.


January 25, 2009 [LINK / comment]

"Bipartisan" stimulus package?

Clearly aware that he has a limited "window of opportunity" to enact his sweeping agenda, President Obama is ramping up the pressure on Congress to pass his economic "stimulus" package, warning of dire consequences otherwise. The "American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan" would cost $820 billion, or perhaps more. No one knows for sure. Obama reached out to Republicans in hopes of crafting a "bipartisan" stimulus package, but the way he proposes to spend money to create four million new jobs seems extremely inefficient. His plan is filled with a grab-bag of liberal programs that have little or nothing to do with stimulating the economy. See the Washington Post, which quoted Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) regarding Obama's desire for bipartisan support -- notwithstanding the fact that Van Hollen is one of the most partisan Democrats on Capitol Hill. Bad choice.

Even though the unemployment rate is not yet as bad as it was in the recessionary years of 1974 or 1982, I would agree with a stimulus package that was based on putting Americans to work by a New Deal-style public works program, especially if it were coupled with a broader reform of the labor market. For example, the Federal government could eliminate a large portion of the unemployment insurance program by simply requiring recipients to perform community services in exchange for the money. Neighborhood cleanup, street repair, etc. are badly needed. Another huge opportunity for employment generation would be to enforce laws prohibiting companies from hiring illegal aliens, and filling those jobs with Americans who have been without work. Can we do it? Yes, we can!!! (But will we do it? Probably not.)

As for the Republican response, I am glad that House Minority Leader John Boehner was highly critical of Obama's plan, but I was disappointed to hear that tax cuts are at the top of the Republican agenda. Everyone knows that there is not a snowball's chance in hell of that happening, so such a proposal sounds rather insincere, "pandering" to the GOP base. Tax cuts are unlikely to have much stimulative effect in the middle of a recession, in any case. If that's all the Republicans can come up with, I'm not encouraged.

In discussions with Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) Obama declared, "I won," suggesting that the November elections were a mandate for him to do whatever he pleased. See New York Post. Talk about "audacity"! Obama also made a slighting reference to Rush Limbaugh, which won't mend partisan fences either; hat tips to Byron York and Mason Conservative. It didn't strike me as showing disrespect for "dittoheads," as those pundits inferred, but it wasn't very wise, either. The leader of the House Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, said it didn't matter what the Republicans thought, because the Democrats won the election, thereby entitling them (she believes) to dictate policy terms. That's the sort of hegemonic triumphalism once expressed by the likes of Karl Rove and Hugh Hewitt that proved to be the undoing of the Bush presidency.

Conclusion: Any stimulus package that gets passed by Congress will almost certainly be highly partisan in nature, and lacking a broad public support, it will be doomed to fall well short of its goals.

"Investment"? NOT!

I've been reading the Obama campaign's book Change We Can Believe In, which lays out the rationale for Obama's myriad proposals. One thing I noticed is the grossly excessive use of the word investment, which sounds more worthy than spending. A given appropriation of money (by an enterprise or by a government) can be considered an investment as long as it leads directly to a real increase in future revenue streams. Spending money on education can plausibly be called "investment," and perhaps even spending on immunizations to prevent costly disease outbreaks. But Obama applies that term to Federal programs that have no such purpose. One example is spending money on veterans' medical treatment. That is indeed be a worthy cause, but providing care and comfort to retired military personnel has nothing to do with making the U.S. economy more efficient or productive.


January 26, 2009 [LINK / comment]

New constitution for Bolivia

Based on early returns, it appears that almost three-fifths of the people of Bolivia voted to approve a revised constitution that would greatly enhance the powers of the president. (Note that this is exactly what happened in Ecuador last September.) President Evo Morales announced his historic triumph in a speech from the palace balcony, proclaiming a new era of "equality for all Bolivians." It was by no means a landslide, however: Between 56 and 60 percent of voters approved the new basic charter, and this support was concentrated in the highlands of western and central Bolivia. The eastern lowlands, where the country's petroleum and gas are centered, voted against Morales. This includes the departments of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando. Morales compromised on some of the provisions in response to violent protests against his government last year. New elections for the executive and legislative branches will be held in December. See BBC and the Washington Post.

Morales thus follows Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Rafael Correa of Ecuador in radically restructuring government power, putting more power in the hands of the people. (In Bolivia's case, this means Native American Indian people.) Whether this populistic majoritarian model of democracy can survive for very long in a country with a history of instability such as Bolivia is an open question. The opponents of Morales are very likely to push harder for regional autonomy, and an open civil war of secession is entirely possible.

Web page updates

I have updated the Latin America Introduction page and the Latin America Current situation page.


January 26, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Bush's final pardons

What a contrast to Bill Clinton pardoning Marc Rich and dozens of other sleazebags in his final hours as U.S. President in January 2001! Outgoing President George W. Bush only granted clemency to two people on his last day in office, as noted in the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog:

Bush commuted the sentences of Jose A. Compean and Ignacio Ramos, two former Border Patrol agents imprisoned for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler.

The commutations for Compean and Ramos bring Bush's total number of pardons and commutations to 200, the fewest of any two-term president in modern times.

Those two guys were heroes, and deserved the pardon. Don't forget the invasions of January 2005, which is what prompted the movement to build a fence along the border.

Do-over oath of office

Just to make sure all the legal bases were covered, President Obama took the oath of office for a second time after it was garbled on January 20. This time, however, he did the swearing-in without using a Bible. Hmmmm.... Justin Webb comments on that at BBC.


January 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Rod Blagojevich's last stand?

Almost anyone who has been involved in politics for a while has come across someone like Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich: young, charismatic, slick, ambitious, and without an ethical bone in his (or her) body. As the Illinois Senate begins the impeachment trial of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the main question is, How far will he go to hang on to his job in the governor's mansion? Can he still redeem the bright and shining future that until recently lay before him, or is it too late?

So far, it seems that Blagojevich is pulling out all the stops, going on a PR offensive and pretending to be the one true champion of the hard-working little guy, standing up against the Evil Establishment. (If Barack Obama had that much "audacity," he could rescue the American economy by noon tomorrow! smile) "Blago" is simply too much to be parodied. His decision to go on the TV talk show circuit rather than appearing at his own State Senate trial may create such a circus atmosphere that his conviction and removal from office may be held up for a few days, but it won't change the outcome. Blagojevich's deluded state of mind -- comparing himself to Gandhi and other martyrs -- elicited widespread ridicule, and Chicago Mayor Daley simply said "Cuck-oo!" Blago's lawyer, Edward Genson, has resigned in exasperation over his client's refusal to listen. See Washington Post and the Chicago Sun-Times, which has the taped conversations between Gov. Blagojevich and some of the prospective (?) U.S. senators.

And, speaking of "young, charismatic, slick, ambitious, and without an ethical bone in his body," it was learned that a church in Colorado paid hush money a 20-year-old man who apparently had a sexual relationship with Rev. Ted Haggard, the moralizing Christian Conservative pastor whose sinful proclivities were exposed just before the 2006 election. (The timing of that news leak was as obvious as the hypocrisy of the perpetrator himself.) See CNN.com.

Curt quits RPV post

No, not Kurt with a K, but Curt, as in Walter Curt, the major financial supporter of the Scott Sayre campaign against incumbent State Sen. Emmett Hanger in 2007. Mr. Curt has resigned as Treasurer of the Republican Party of Virginia, calling it "dysfunctional," another indication that the recently-ascendant "youth movement" is failing to get anything done in the party. (Perhaps all the threats to quit the GOP by right-wing fringe activists such as Richard Viguerie are having an effect.) In his letter to embattled RPV Chair Jeff Frederick, who -- at the age of 32 -- won control of the state party organization at the convention on May 31, Curt cited "interpersonal difficulties, years of internal malaise, Luddite attitudes," and other factors that make future electoral success for the Republicans very unlikely. See the Richmond Times Dispatch; hat tip to Waldo, who predicts that Curt will be branded a "RINO" and ignored.

Personally, I think "dysfunctional" is far too mild a word to describe a once-proud political organization that has been, for the most part, taken over by a bunch of nuts. After years of infighting and dirty smear tactics waged by the right-wing "grassroots rebels" against RINOs their fellow Republicans, I'm afraid it will take the Virginia GOP several long, hard years of reflection and rebuilding before it can start to compete effectively once again. As things presently stand, any reasonable conservative-leaning person who tries to work within the party's formal organization is simply wasting his or her time. Luckily, other, more friendly venues exist...


January 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Cell phones vs. Gorillas

It took me years before I finally started using a cellular telephone on a regular basis, and I still think they hinder effective interpersonal communication as much as they enhance it. As with most such technological advances, there are some collateral environmental issues to think about. It happens that cell phone circuit boards rely upon a particular rare metal alloy called Coltan, which stands for Columbite-Tantalite, which is composed of the elements Niobium (atomic number 41) and Tantalum (atomic number 73, in the same valence column, the next row down in the Periodic Table). Most Coltan is mined in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (ex-Zaire), which is where one of the few remaining populations of Mountain Gorillas live. Unless someone can figure out how to allocate some of the vast revenues earned by the cell phone industry to protect that precious wildlife habitat, Mountain Gorillas may become extinct. See cellular-news.com; hat tip to Connie.


January 28, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Marlins' ballpark saga: Ch. XXIV

We've heard this one a couple dozen times or more before, but a final decision on public funding for a new ballpark to house the Florida Marlins may actually take place on Feb. 13, when Miami and Miami-Dade commissioners are supposed to vote on the matter. The current plan is for a 37,000 seat, retractable-roof stadium on the site of the former Orange Bowl. However, the artist's renderings do not show a "deep "Bermuda Triangle" outfield area (like the one in Dolphin Stadium) as was mentioned back in November. The goal now is to finish the stadium by 2012, but with the economy the way it is now, who knows? See the Miami Herald; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.

Here's a thought: Given the bleak budgetary situation across the country, and the hostility to using precious public funds for the purpose of making expense-account corporate fat cats comfortable in luxury suites, why not turn the Miami ballpark into a public works project like what was done in the 1930s? Pay minimum wage, with basic-level health care benefits and maybe barracks to live in. That would give valuable experience and training to thousands of unemployed workers, which would have much more of a stimulative effect than many of the proposals that are currently being debated in Congress.


January 28, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Appointed senators: vulnerable?

President Obama is the first sitting senator to be elected president since John Kennedy in 1960, and he has brought along three of his colleagues with him into the Executive Branch. It's an extraordinary situation in which four Senate vacancies have been created. The Washington Post reports that Republican strategists are optimistic about their chances of regaining three of those seats in the next election. Here are the seats in question, with the new "replacement" senators and their better-known predecessors:

  • Roland Burris / Barack Obama (IL)
  • Edward Kaufman / Joe Biden (DE)
  • Kirsten Gillibrand / Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY)
  • Michael Bennet / Ken Salazar (CO)

The choice of Kirsten Gillibrand (a conservative "Blue Dog" Democrat from rural upstate New York) dismayed urban liberals who hoped that Caroline Kennedy would carry forth her family's banner. "Sweet Caroline" withdrew abruptly earlier this week, possibly because of rumors reported by Bill O'Reilly that she had had an affair. Too bad. The Post article mentions that Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) is proposing a constitutional amendment to require a prompt popular election for replacement U.S. senators. We can call it the "Blagojevich Amendment."

This may be a bit macabre to consider, but two more senators -- Ted Kennedy (MA) and Robert Byrd (WV) -- are ailing and may not last much longer either. In that case, there would be six appointed senators at the same time, probably a record.

SCHIP follies

The gargantuan "economic stimulus" bill has attracted most of the public's attention lately, but George Will comments on a smaller, but no less sinister initiative: the reauthorization by Congress of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), for which funding was doubled. Will calls this "mission creep," and notes,

Grace-Marie Turner, a student of health-care policies, says this SCHIP expansion is sensible -- if your goal is quickly to get as many people on public coverage as possible and to have children grow up thinking that it is normal for them to get their health insurance from the government. That is the goal.

Stimulus dirty details

It has occurred to some people that it might be a good idea to actually look at what is in Obama's stimulus package before passing it. That's the idea behind readthestimulus.org; via Instapundit. Now seriously, how many people are actually going to spend more than a few minutes pondering what's actually in there?

All across the fruited plain, meanwhile, citizens are moaning, "Is this going to be on the final exam?"


January 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Indigenous politics in Chile

Compared to its neighbors in South America, Chile stands out in several ways. It is one of the most prosperous countries in the continent, and it has made a remarkable transformation over the past two decades from a deeply divided society ruled by a military dictatorship to stable democracy. In cultural and ethnic terms, it is almost as European as Argentina, to the east, with a relatively small indigenous minority. Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia have significant indigenous rights movements, and thanks to a history teacher named Gustavo Quilaqueo, Chile has begun to emulate that political phenomenon, ironically. He has led in the creation of a political party representing the Mapuche tribe, centered in the province of Araucania, in the cool and moist southern part of Chile. He is aware that it will take several years for the indigenous peoples in Chile to become a major political force. See BBC.


January 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Steele wins RNC chairmanship

After a long, cold "winter of discontent" in the Republican Party following the defeat in November, and after eight years of wayward leadership in the Bush White House, this has to be one of the best pieces of news for the Party of Lincoln in a long, long time. After extensive deliberations and much arm-twisting, the Republican National Committee chose former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele to serve as party chairman for the next two years. He was chosen on the sixth ballot, prevailing over South Carolina Republican chairman Katon Dawson by 91 votes to 77. (The incumbent RNC chairman, Mike Duncan, withdrew his name prior to the final round.) Steele's brief but rousing victory speech left no doubt about his energetic approach, competing all across the country, and not putting up with nay-sayers: "And for those of you who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over!" The speech was broadcast on C-SPAN this evening, and is already on YouTube; also see his "Blueprint for Tomorrow".

Steele is not a current member of the Republican National Committee, and is thus considered something of a party "outsider," relatively speaking. He gained widespread respect for his service as Lt. Governor of Maryland, from 2003 to 2007, when Republican Bob Ehrlich was governor. Michael Steele is a fresh, enthusiastic voice for reform in the party, making a clean break from recent years. The Washington Post noted that there is a widespread "backlash against Bush" in the RNC, which is probably an understatement. Hopefully, the growing realization that the former president led his party astray will not be accompanied by undue recrimination. We must face the recent past openly and fearlessly if we are to learn from the mistakes, but we should not wallow in those mistakes, either.

For many people, Steele's African-American heritage is the most significant feature about him; it's the title of the CNN.com story on his election, for example. For me, Steele's victory is a welcome sign that the center-right-oriented Republican Leadership Council is regaining in influence within the party. Steele was a principal leader of the RLC until a few months ago. Often castigated by some in the party as "not conservative," they are in fact the best hope the GOP has for attractive new voters (or bringing back former Republican voters) and thereby regaining majority status.

Goodbye to Blago

Crooks almost always get their comeuppance in the end, and Gov. Rod Blagojevich's political career came to a swift and merciless end yesterday. The Illinois State Senate not only voted 59-0 to remove him from office, but also passed a resolution barring him from ever holding public office in the state again. Maybe he can move to Indiana -- after his jail sentence has been served!


January 31, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Dodger Stadium update

Dodger Stadium I finally managed to get all the revisions to Dodger Stadium finished. The profile is much more accurate than before, but is still subject to further scrutiny. It's an odd situation because the stadium was built into the side of a big hill, so the two profiles show the different ground levels behind home plate versus at the end of the grandstand near the right and left field corners.

Joe Torre vs. the Yankees

While we are on the subject of the Dodgers, Rob Neyer takes a "peek inside Joe Torre's book," in which A-Rod is not portrayed in a flattering light, and he makes an interesting observation: via David Pinto.

Beginning in 1996, the Yankees won four World Series in five years. In those five years, they averaged 97 wins.

In the eight years since, of course, the Yankees have won zero World Series. Incidentally, in those same eight years they've averaged 97 wins.

Very interesting indeed. So perhaps Mr. Steinbrenner's impatience with winning more World Series trophies was a little misplaced. Torre was the perfect embodiment of the Yankee standards of class and excellence, and it's a shame he is gone.


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