July 1, 2006 [LINK]
Santa Cruz: Chau to Bolivia?
One of the consequences of the radical nationalist politics introduced by the new president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, is that the part of the country where most of the natural gas is found is experiencing a surge in secessionist sentiment. The department of Santa Cruz, in the flatlands of the southeast, has as much or more in common with the culture of Paraguay and Argentina than to the rest of Bolivia. Publius Pundit is tracking the recent march by 100,000 protesters in that region's capital city, also called Santa Cruz. One of the banners reads, "God doesn't want communism. The people want autonomy."
July 1, 2006 [LINK]
Good morning on Bell's Lane
I was recently contacted by Hal Brindley, a professional nature photographer who just opened a gallery in Charlottesville. Anyone with an interest in wildlife should visit his Web site: Creature Gallery. Immediately!
I went for a drive on Bell's Lane this morning, under the mistaken impression that there was going to be a bird club field trip there, but it must be for tomorrow. Anyway, I'm very glad I went, as I spotted a male Blue grosbeak singing in the top of a tree. I saw a female of that species earlier this year, but it is still a very unusual sighting. I also saw an Eastern kingbird literally "hitching a ride" on the back of a Red-tailed hawk. Jacqueline and I had seen a kingbird pull that stunt several years ago, and it's really amazing. Here are the rest of today's highlights:
- Indigo buntings (M)
- Field sparrow
- E. kingbird
- E. phoebe
- Red-tailed hawk
- Grasshopper sparrow (FOS)
- Yellow warblers (M, F, Js)
- Red-bellied woodpecker
- Downy woodpecker
- N. flickers
- Willow flycatcher
- [Blue grosbeak (M)]
- [Orchard orioles (M, 1YM, F, Js)]
- [Baltimore orioles (M, 1YM)]
- [Blue-gray gnatcatcher]
- [Brown Thrashers]
- [Goldfinches (M, F)]
[UPDATE: In my haste, I neglected to include the latter, bracketed species in the original post. To clarify about the Blue grosbeak, I saw it on the lane along Lewis Creek just north of Route 275 just east of I-81, where I have seen the orioles on a regular basis this summer. The Kingbird and Red-tailed hawk were in the same area.]
July 3, 2006 [LINK]
Devil Rays can't take RFK heat
My travel schedule finally coincided with a Washington Nationals home stand, so I took my niece Cathy and her friend Yanira to the the Sunday afternoon game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. We actually had front row seats -- in right center field, that is. The view from the far-away upper deck was not exactly ideal, as there were a few doubles and fly balls caught on the warning track beneath us that we couldn't see, but it was adequate. By leaning forward, I did see one of Marlon Anderson's great catches at the center field fence. The game was in honor of U.S. armed service men and women, hence the flags in the photo, but we arrived a few minutes late, so we didn't see any of the special ceremonies or the Air Force flyover. We also missed Ryan Zimmerman's first-inning home run that put the Nats on top early on. They got two more runs on three bizarre errors by the D-Rays in the sixth inning. On one of them, the D-Rays' center fielder and right fielder were chasing a fly ball hit right in front of us, and both backed off at the last second, possibly influenced by a fan sitting next to me who yelled "I got it!" The Nats held on to win, 6-2. The matchup between the respective cellar-dwellers in the AL and NL Eastern Divisions was not exactly championship caliber, but it was a fun, relaxing way to spend a summer day. I figure the Devil Rays may not be used to playing in the hot sun, since their home field in Florida has a roof on top. I don't know if the Nats are starting to rebound, but it was a relief that they won a series for the first time since the Yankees were in town two weeks ago.
I noticed there are some new seating sections behind glass below the mezzanine level in left field. That alone could not account for the 1,000+ increase in capacity this year, however. I spliced together three images to create a new panoramic photo showing the "roller coaster" roof profile, which is on the RFK Stadium page. There is also a new photo of the Nats' bullpen, which was moved from left field to right field this year. On our way home, we passed by the new stadium construction site, and I was surprised by the progress that has been made since my previous visit last month. There must have been a half dozen or more cranes in that strange empty "desert" in the middle of the city. "Analog" photo pending.
Absent from the lineup in the Sunday game was Alfonso Soriano, who is probably resting up for the Big Game next week, when eager pennant-contending teams will be eyeing him intensively...
All Star selections, 2006
The American League has been so dominant in interleague games this year, it will be a wonder if the National League even makes a competitive showing. Is it purely a coincidence that since interleague play began in 1997, the AL has won every single All Star game? For the record, here are my (biased) picks, with players who made the starting teams in bold face, and those who failed to get a reserve slot (or a "final man" alternative)
Ortiz, D., BOS ||First Base|| |Johnson, N., WAS
|Grudzielanek, M., KC | Second Base|| |Vidro, J., WAS
Rodriguez, A., NYY|| Third Base|| Wright, D., NYM |
Jeter, D., NYY|| Shortstop || Renteria, E., ATL |
Pierzynski, A.J., CWS|| Catcher || McCann, B., ATL |
Dye, J., CWS|| Outfielder || |Alou, M., SF
Guerrero, V., LAA|| Outfielder || Bay, J., PIT |
Ramirez, M., BOS || Outfielder || Soriano, A., WAS |
July 3, 2006 [LINK]
Election in Mexico: too close to call
In economic terms, Mexico is undergoing rapid (if uneven) modernization, but when it comes to politics, it is still in an early transition stage toward full-fledged democracy. That was evident from watching the broadcasts on various Spanish-language channels after the polls closed last night. Unlike the United States, there were no incremental tabulations as the returns from various states trickled in, so the talking head experts from Mexico rattled on about nothing in particular. Finally, the time came for the big announcement at midnight -- 11:00 in Mexico City. And the winner is ... we're not sure yet. What a letdown! The head of Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), Luis Carlos Ugalde, said there would be a district-by-district count, the results of which would be divulged on Wednesday. He took pains to affirm the independent, objective, scientific nature of his agency, warning citizens not to trust in election results from non-governmental sources. Felipe Calderon apparently has a slight lead over Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, but there are no truly officials figures to go by. See Washington Post.
Even though he is running behind Calderon in most exit polls, Lopez Obrador claimed that "According to our information, we have won the presidency." (See El Universal, in English.) The possibility of a disputed, razor-close election such as the United States experienced in 2000 raises various humorous possibilities (will Al Gore intervene?), but in a country where democratic norms are not so strong, things could get ugly. If AMLO ends up losing, such words will convince many of his sympathizers that the election is not legitimate. Early indications are that PAN will get the largest share of congressional seats, but less than a majority, meaning that Mexico will remain bogged down in a "divided government" situation. That reminds me, I have heard commentators refer to PAN as the "oficialista" party, based on the fact that they control the executive branch right now, but they are hardly in control of the government overall. PAN lost a large number of seats in the 2003 midterm congressional elections, so this seems to represent a significant rebound in conservative fortunes south of the border.
I am somewhat less worried about the possibility that AMLO might win and take Mexico in a radical direction, following the lead of Hugo Chavez. Mexico's very size and semi-developed status creates a strong built-in stabilizing force, much like in Brazil, where fears that "Lula" da Silva would wreak chaos were proven wrong. As one of the countries with the most potential in the 21st Century, Mexico cannot afford to indulge in some romantic quest for glory. AMLO might raise hell for a while, and investors might well liquidate substantial holdings, but any financial crisis would probably not last for long. But much depends on how the United States responds as events unfold. An overly solicitous attitude might undermine the pressure on Mexican leaders to act responsibly, while an unfriendly attitude could easily reinforce the zeal of radicals to push an anti-American agenda, however irrational it might be.
One of the interesting aspects of this election was the Mexicans residing outside the country were allowed to vote for the first time. That is standard practice for other Latin American countries, but Mexico is distinct from them in many ways. The turnout for Mexican expatriates was shockingly low, however: Only about 28,000 cast ballots, about one-tenth of one percent of the total population of eligible voters in the U.S.A., including those who hold American citizenship and those who are here illegally. Another unique feature of the Mexican election system is that there is no second round voting in case no candidate gets a majority. Virtually all other Latin American countries have some version of the two-round system, which makes sense in countries that have several political parties. In Mexico, there used to be one dominant party (PRI) and one token opposition party (PAN). Now there is genuine competition among three major parties, and it can no longer be taken for granted that one of their candidates will get a clear majority. If this election turns out badly, Mexico may move to adopt the two-round system in the future.
Bolivia votes for assembly
In South America, meanwhile, the people of Bolivia voted for a constituent assembly to draft a major constitutional revision pushed by new President Evo Morales. According to preliminary results, Morales will get a slight majority of the members, which means that he will need support from other parties to reach the necessary two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution. See Washington Post.
July 4, 2006 [LINK]
Sincerity on immigration policy
Mickey Kaus comments on the primary victory of GOP incumbent Cannon over a challenger who campaigned on a tough enforcement-only platform, saying that Cannon held on by pretending, at the last minute, to oppose the legalization / "comprehensive" approach favored by Pres. Bush. It's obvious that voters at the moment are highly responsive to candidates who sound convincingly tough on immigration, so I don't make as much of Cannon's apparent gesture of "appeasement" as Kaus does. He is right, however, to call attention to the rampant hypocrisy on this issue exhibited by many politicans. I am beginning to fear that many in Congress who favor an "enforcement first" option are not really serious about following up that necessary first step by confronting the awkward problem of what to do with the 11 million or so illegals who are already here. Ignoring all those people in legal limbo, after making a big deal about our borders being violated, would be contemptible and cowardly. (via Instapundit)
Minnesota GOP woes
Minnesota blogger / sports commentator Tony Garcia wrote a thoughtful piece on the many wayward Republicans in Minnesota who are putting party over principle. Hence, the lack of fiscal discipline. That of course has been a big problem among GOP legislators in Washington, as well, and even among some in Richmond. It is just another example of the gradual dissipation of the impetus for serious market-oriented conservative reform in the Republican Party, and the growing tendency to simply acquiesce in the status quo. Clinging to power for power's sake...
July 4, 2006 [LINK]
Augusta Bird Club in the news!
I thought I was going on an Augusta Bird Club field trip on Saturday, but it turned out to be scheduled for Sunday. To my surprise, that field trip was covered by David Royer for the Staunton News Leader, with a photo of Allen Larner and Peter Van Acker.
That article also makes note of a looming development controversy, of which I was only vaguely aware. The city of Staunton plans, some day, to build a new connector road that would slice right through the Bell's Lane area. Even though the landscape is rural, it lies entirely within the city limits. The landowners in that area benefit from special conservation tax breaks, which I think are an appropriate policy tool. Such a road would seriously disrupt, if not destroy one of this area's premier natural habitats. I know of no other place where Barred owls and Northern harriers are routinely seen in the winter, and Yellow warblers and Willow flycatchers are routinely seen in the summer. There are several large areas around Staunton that are suitable for industrial development, some of which are nearly vacant at present. As with the controversy over the proposed "mega-site" in Weyer's Cave, this proposal seems to indicate a glaring lack of awareness on the part of government officials of the public value of the land in question. Bell's Lane is one of the truly special parts of Staunton, and it must be conserved.
July 5, 2006 [LINK]
Zimmerman does it again
I continue to be astounded by how quickly Ryan Zimmerman is maturing into a first-class all-around player. His batting average now surpasses that of Alfonso Soriano, who has been in a terrible slump but got two home runs in Monday's 9-1 thrashing of the Marlins. Yesterday (July 4!), Zimmerman grabbed the limelight once again with his second career walk-off home run, turning a 4-3 defeat into a 6-4 victory with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. It's a virtual repeat of what he did when the Nats beat the Yankees on June 18. Manager Frank Robinson, who is very understated by nature, struggles to contain his elation at how well Zimmerman is doing. With 12 home runs and a solid defensive performance at third base, he is on track to being named NL Rookie of the Year. MLB.com
The Nationals have now won four games in a row, something they had not done since early June. Now ahead of the Braves, and facing the third-place Marlins tonight and tomorrow, they have a chance to climb further in the standings. Not that it means that much, since the Mets are so far ahead in the NL East, but it would help to regenerate some of the fan enthusiasm the team enjoyed last year. It is worth remembering that it was the disheartening loss to the Mets in RFK Stadium on July 4 last year that marked the downturn in the Nats' fortunes.
July 5, 2006 [LINK]
North Korea goes ballistic
Yesterday's launch of several ballistic missiles by North Korea served only to show just how desperate the regime is for international attention. The apparent failure of the Taepodong-2 ICBM soon after launch has backfired in terms of regaining the international prestige that Kim Jong-Il craves. The motive of trying to steal the U.S. thunder on the day that the Space Shuttle Discovery was launched was obvious, but it remains to be seen why North Korea launched several missiles in rapid succession. Perhaps to overwhelm and confuse our missile detection systems. Why would they take such a risky move without having a greater chance of success? Most likely, the technicians and military underlings were afraid to voice their worries about whether their missile was ready for testing. That was one of the greatest weaknesses of the Nazi regime as the fortunes of war turned against Germany in World War II, and no one wanted to break the bad news to the Fuhrer.
North Korea's desperation is accentuated by the miserable state of the country's economy. [Strategy Page] has an updated status report, making clear that the ultra-Stalinist regime is teetering on the brink of collapse. With most of the country's resources being allocated to the military, most people are severely malnourished, and industries are cannibalizing spare parts to keep machines running. For example, North Korea has refused to let the railroad engines and cars bringing relief supplies from China return. That is an incredible snub of its patrons in Beijing. We may be stunned to witness a sudden insurrection along the lines of the overthrow of Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu in December 1989. That was another example of a fanatical totalitarian regime that was committed to an all-or nothing grab for absolute power, sustained by a propaganda machine and cruelly repressive internal security apparatus.
So far, the U.S. reaction has been relatively restrained, just the expected pro forma condemnation. There is no reason for anything more at this point, since the threat is much less than some people had feared. Military experts seriously doubt that North Korea is anywhere close to building a nuclear warhead compact enough to be mounted as a missile warhead. The possibility that the United States may have deployed some kind of anti-missile device to cause the Taepodong-2 to abort prematurely cannot be discounted, but if so, the Pentagon certainly wouldn't announce it. We have deployed enhanced Patriot missile batteries to Japan for point defense of Japanese cities, which is most symbolic.
One positive consequence of this action is that the United Nations has been galvanized into action, and that the deep skepticism by the United States has been validated. Our ambassador to the U.N., the much-maligned John Bolton, has gained in stature, while China has been badly embarrassed by the irresponsibly defiant attitude of its quasi-client in Pyongyang. Likewise, this is also a wake-up call for South Korea, which has been more hostile to the United States than to its northern cousins for the last couple years. Now they know who their real enemies are. Japan has at least been closely cooperating with the United States in expressing flat-out rejection of any missile tests by North Korea. Another benefit is that the futility of the Clinton administration's policy of trying to induce North Korea into abandoning its aggressive WMD program via economic carrots has become clearer than ever. I look forward to hearing Madeleine Albright's spin on the latest developments.
All in all, the strategic situation has improved markedly since yesterday, but there are still big potential dangers ahead. Unless some of the North Korean military officers decide to take matters into their own hands, there is a very real chance that Kim Il-Sung will raise the stakes in this foolish gamble. The "soft" attitudes prevailing in South Korea may yet make it difficult for the United States and its democratic allies to resist some fiendish act of terrorist blackmail by North Korea. Seoul is very close to the DMZ, and the possibility that a squad of commandos might smuggle a nuclear bomb through a tunnel into the vicinity of the capital city cannot be dismissed. Smaller countries that strive to build power via a defiant foreign policy are prone to engage in irrational, daring maneuvers, as I emphasized in my dissertation. The United States and other established great powers need to exercise a combination of steady vigilance and creative diplomacy to offset the "tantrums" thrown by the adolescent "rogue regimes."
UPDATE: Austin Bay discusses how North Korea's missile adventures have solidified the U.S.-Japanese strategic alliance over the past few years. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi drew much media attention for his recent visit to Elvis Presley's Graceland estate in Memphis, but he had President Bush had more serious matters to discuss. Koizumi has pushed hard for economic reforms, with some success, at least by Japanese standards, doing much to repair the damage to U.S.-Japanese relations stemming from decades of stubborn mercantilistic policies. He will probably step down from his post in the next few months, after an unusually long tenure of nearly seven years as prime minister. (See the Foreign leaders chronology page.) The rise of China as a military threat has convinced most Japanese that their interests are best served by cooperating with the United States on economic and strategic matters.
July 6, 2006 [LINK]
Safeco Field update
The Safeco Field page has been updated with a new diagram that conforms to the new standard. That means that all of the "neoclassical" stadiums built since 1992 now have diagrams that can be compared to each other. A dynamic diagram for Safeco Field is pending...
Last night's game in Washington started off horrendously, as the Marlins got two home runs in the first inning off rookie pitcher Michael O'Connor. The Nats came back and took the lead, 4-3, in the bottom of the inning, which seemed to give them the momentum. But then the Marlins got four more runs in the second inning, forcing O'Connor out of the game, and scored eight (8) runs in the fifth inning. Ouch! The Nats had enough self-respect to close the gap to single digits late in the game, but it didn't matter. Final score: 18-9.
There were othe high-scoring games in the last couple days. The slumping Braves beat the slumping Cardinals, 14-4, the Tigers beat the A's, 10-4 (thus avoiding being swept), and the Yankees beat the Indians, 11-3, one day after the Indians massacred the Yanks, 19-1. (Sorry for the gratuitous, anachronistic ethnic cliché.) Also on the Fourth of July, the Orioles fell to the White Sox 13-0, and the Angels beat the Mariners, 14-6. A lot of commentators these days are lamenting the dearth of good pitching, which probably accounts for the increased number of very high scoring games in recent years. But like global warming, it's one of those gradual trends that is hard to explain in a way that is widely accepted.
Jonathan Karberg let me know about a few minor inaccuracies in the Busch Stadium III diagram, which I'll take care of later this month. Cullen Barrie is curious about how I derive my stadium profiles. Well, most of them are done by the old-fashioned "eyeball" method. Mike Zurawski noticed that the Cubs have planted ivy on the brick exterior of Wrigley Field behind the newly expanded bleachers. See MLB.com. Good idea!
Blogging will be light for the next ten days or so, as I head to South Dakota to attend my brother John's wedding. Diagram revisions will resume after mid-month...
UPDATE: No parking?
D.C. chief financial officer Natwar Gandhi warned that Mayor Williams' compromise plan to build a combined above-ground/below-ground parking complex north of the future baseball stadium is technically and financially unsound. Construction must begin by September if the whole project is to be ready by Opening Day 2008. See Washington Post. If they were able to get these issues ironed out, I would say that the April 2008 target completion date is realistic. Until then, I say July 2008 is more likely...
Zimmerman yet again!
Can you believe what a clutch hitter this guy is? Ryan Zimmerman knocked in the winning run in extra innings as the Nationals beat the Marlins this afternoon, 8-7. It was a weird game, starting much like last night's game, with Washington scoring five runs in the first, answered by Florida with seven runs in the second. The Nats tied it 7-7 in the seventh, and with two outs in the bottom of the 11th, Zimmerman grounded a single into center field, allowing Brian Schneider (who reached first on an error) to score from third. So, the Nats took three of four games from Florida, raising hopes that July may mark a big upturn in their fortunes -- the opposite of last year. They welcome the Padres to D.C. this weekend.
I have posted fans' impressions of Ebbets Field (Peter Piroso), Citizens Bank Park (Phil Faranda), and RFK Stadium (me). Just scroll down to the bottom of those pages and click on the proper link. It's still a work in progress, but it won't be long until it's ready for prime time.
July 6, 2006 [LINK]
Calderon wins (?) in Mexico
With all of the votes in Mexico now officially tabulated, the conservative candidate, Felipe Calderon is the apparent victor, with a slight lead -- 35.88% to 35.31% -- over the leftist-populist, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. "AMLO" remains determined to contest the vote count, however, and a possible rejectionist quasi-rebellion modeled on Al Gore in 2000 poses a real threat to stability in our southern neighbor. See Washington Post and/or BBC. The possibility of irregularities cannot be denied, but widespread manipulation seems unlikely. The only organization in a position to pull something like that, PRI, came in third place and would have no reason to do so. This is almost certainly Mexico's cleanest election in history, a vast improvement over how things were done in the 1980s and before. Isn't it something how people's expectations always seem to outpace the actual improvement in social and political institutions?
A caller on Rush Limbaugh this week made an astute observation: All ballots in Mexico are in Spanish only, effectively disenfranchising (or so some people would claim) millions of Mexicans who speak only Indian languages such as Nahuatl.
Venezuela joins MERCOSUR
Less than three months after withdrawing from the Andean Group to express displeasure with free trade agreements signed by Peru and Colombia with the United States (see April 23), Venezuela has joined MERCOSUR, the economic alliance led by Brazil and Argentina. See BBC. They will probably end up regretting having admitted such a hot head into their group. Business leader Jose Luis Betancourt said that Venezuela's government "has made a decision in which geopolitical criteria have prevailed over economic criteria." Actually, MERCOSUR has always had a strong geopolitical motivation behind it, as Brazil and Argentina sought to offset U.S. hegemony in the early post-Cold War era.
Earlier this week, Chavez met with Iran's President Ahmadinejad in a summit of the African Union in Cairo, expressing support for the latter's defiant posture on nuclear technology. See Washington Post. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Chavez intends to use the windfall revenues from soaring oil prices to begin a nuclear energy program in Venezuela -- for purely economic purposes, of course.
Air Forces hasten to modernize
A modest-scale arms race seems to be underway in Latin America, especially in terms of military aviation. The budget-minded governments are acquiring second-hand equipment for the most part. Chile bought ten used F-16s from the United States and 18 more from the Netherlands; see December 28. This is partly because of regional tensions stoked by Hugo Chavez, but the worn-out condition of most of its military aircraft is the main factor in some cases. Colombia, Argentina, are actively shopping for new fighters, while Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Uruguay may do so in the near future. Venezuela and Mexico (surprisingly) have been offered Sukhoi Su-27 fighter-bombers from Russia. See Strategy Page.
July 6, 2006 [LINK]
Court OKs Texas redistricting
The Supreme Court has upheld the controversial redistricting plan that got Tom DeLay in so much trouble. He was contriving to manipulate congressional districts in an unusually blatant fashion (i.e., "gerrymandering"), but that is considered "politics as usual" by most people. See Washington Post. Since fairness in representational apportionment is one of my main reform concerns, this is a disappointment, but hardly surprising. It's somewhat like the question of who has the power to initiate war, which many judges don't want to touch with a ten-foot pole, but I happen to think that that issue needs to be definitively resolved as well. George Will frowned upon what he perceived to be their "splitting the difference" on this critical issue, that is punting on a matter that is inherently political.
Speaking of "The Hammer," a Texas court ruled yesterday (see Washington Post) that DeLay's name must appear on the November general election ballot, even though he has already announced his resignation from Congress. The ruling was on the grounds that the Republican nomination process has already been completed, and cannot be reversed after the fact. It's too bad the judges in New Jersey didn't adhere so strictly to the letter of the law when they allowed Frank Lautenberg to substitute on the ballot at the last minute (well, month) for then-Democrat Senator Torricelli, who resigned in disgrace in October 2002. (See my October 8, 2002 post; scroll down).
King crowned Staunton mayor
The Staunton City Council met to choose a new mayor from among its members, and Lacy King emerged victorious. He replaces John Avoli, who had served as mayor for the preceding 14 years, but decided not to run for reelection to the City Council this year. The lone dissenting vote was cast by Councilman Richard Bell, who said he had no personal problems with Mr. King but did not like the way the decision was made, behind closed doors. See Staunton News Leader.
For the past few years, Mr. Bell has been the only City Council member affiliated with the Republican Party. He did his best to make sure that the various city development programs -- such as the Stonewall Jackson Hotel restoration -- were based on sound financial projections. He is a well-respected coach and special education teacher in Augusta County. Both he and Mr. King spoke to the Staunton Republican Committee last month, outlining their visions of Staunton's future, and discussing the controversial proposed "mega-site" industrial complex in Weyer's Cave. With all of the nasty intrigues in City Hall during the election campaign last fall, that joint appearance may be a good sign that more cooperative attitudes will begin to prevail in Staunton. Or maybe not.
Staunton July 4 photos
Steve Kijak posted several fine photos of the Staunton Fourth of July parade at his RightsideVA blog. Representative Bob Goodlatte, Delegates Steve Landes and Ben Cline showed up to "press the flesh." Looks like I missed a good time.
Robinson for Congress
One of the new Republican candidates for Congress in North Carolina, Vernon Robinson, is running a clever and very effective TV ad with a "Twilight Zone" theme, poking fun at hypocrisy by Democrats over civil rights, etc.. This was billed by GOPUSA.com as "Rush Limbaugh's favorite TV ad," but I don't recall him mentioning it.
July 13, 2006 [LINK]
All Star Game 2006
It looked like the Senior Circuit was finally going to break their long string of defeats at the hands of the AL upstarts on Tuesday night, but destiny proved otherwise. After the AL put runners on second and third in the top of the ninth inning, it seemed obvious to me that Trevor Hoffman (the Padres' closer) was having problems, and I was dumbfounded that NL Manager Phil Garner did not replace him. If he didn't think anyone left in the bullpen could have done better, that would seem to show that he shouldn't have replaced the pitchers almost every previous inning. Running out of relief pitchers, you may recall, was the reason why the extra-inning game in 2003 was declared a tie by Commissioner Bud. Haven't they learned from that? Anyway, Michael Young's triple won the game in especially dramatic fashion. Wow!
The loss by the "home league" was a real kick in the gut to Pittsburgh fans, who are suffering through yet another poor season by the Pirates. It kind of spoiled the feel-good memories about Roberto Clemente, who was remembered in a special ceremony. Pittsburgh has hosted the All Star Game four times, two each in Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium. On each previous occasion, the National League had won.
Home Run Derby
The Mets' David Wright wowed the crowd with his many long balls in the first round, but Ryan Howard rebounded from a slow start and ultimately prevailed in the final round. Thus, a Phillies player won for the second year in a row. I was amused by the special appearance on Fox's All Star Game broadcast by "Physics of Baseball" author Robert Adair, who explained the necessary bat velocity and weather conditions for a ball to reach the
Monongahela [Allegheny!] River on the fly. David Ortiz did it, as well as [Ryan Howard].
[BELATED UPDATE: Thanks to Brian Hughes and Dan ? for letting me know about the mistakes in the above paragraph, which are now corrected -- one week late! Brian points out that two Mets players -- Carlos Beltran and David Wright -- were solely responsible for both of the National League runs in the All Star Game, as well as for what would have been an RBI when Alfonso Soriano was thrown out at the plate.]
Ballparks in the news
Thanks to Mike Zurawski for filling in my information void with the latest ballpark news updates. The previously-announced RFK Stadium "grand reopening" set for July 21 seems to be fairly modest in terms of physical improvements, mostly related to landscaping and food vending upgrades. I had wished they would put in an old-fashioned manual scoreboard in right-center field, but such is not the case. One definite improvement from the fans' point of view is a sharp drop in ticket prices for the outfield upper deck seats, where I sat earlier this month. See Washington Times. Also, the D.C. Council approved a parking plan along the lines proposed by Mayor Williams, which I think is entirely appropriate. The Lerners may object, but they're not paying for it, so so what? There are major financial uncertainties, however, and one major slip-up could delay the scheduled April 2008 opening of the Nationals' future ballpark.
The Blue Jays are planning on further improvements to the Rogers Centre, and the team president Robert Godrey says "in two or three years, our stadium will have enough of a makeover that we feel we'll have a shot." See Toronto Globe and Mail. There are still several other new stadiums vying for an All Star slot, however, and I would be surprised if the former Skydome gets a second such opportunity before the newer ones. That article mentions a rumor passed along by one of the Fox sportscasters, that Yankee Stadium is likely to get the All Star Game in 2008, the final year before it is replaced.
Speaking of which, New York City has approved $1.58 billion the bond financing for the Yankees' and Mets' future stadiums, contingent upon IRS approval. "The agreement would save the city about $113 million in the next 40 years by relieving it from maintenance and repair costs that would have exceeded rent payments at the two existing stadiums..." How's that for a lame excuse for subsidizing wealthy team owners? I guess renegotiate rent payments to at least cover maintenance costs is out of the question. See bloomberg.com.
July 21, 2006 [LINK]
Baseball in South Dakota
While visiting my home town last week, I stopped briefly at Prentis Ballpark, humble but comfortable home of the Vermillion Red Sox. An American Legion (teenage) tournament happened to be taking place, and the home team won; see the Vermillion Plain Talk. About 150 fans were in attendance, most of them sitting in shaded areas to avoid the extreme heat. The grandstand was torn down two years ago, and seems to have been rebuilt to the exact specifications of the original. Historical preservation in small-town America! Pending a possible future diagram, the dimensions are:
- Left field: 300 feet
- Left-center field: 345 feet
- Center field: 357 feet
- Right-center field: 345 feet
- Right field: 326 feet
Nationals & Reds mega-trade
During my absence, the Nationals' reverted to their previous form, getting swept by the Padres and managing to win just one game each from the Pirates and the Marlins. The Nats traded away relief pitchers Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, and Daryl Thompson, as well as shortstop Royce Clayton, backup infielder Brendan Harris. In return, the received from the Cincinnati Reds outfielder Austin Kearns, and shortstop Felipe Lopez, and relief pitcher Ryan Wagner. I'm not quite sure what the point of all that was, but it probably has something to do with the fact that Nats' General Manager Jim Bowden used to work for the Reds. Majewski was pretty solid, and was one of the dwindling number of former Expos players in Washington. Alfonso Soriano will probably be traded away in the next ten days, unless he really was serious about wanting to stay with the Nationals, or unless the other teams are leery of his initial refusal to play left field.
"Grand (?) Re-opening" at RFK
In hopes of regenerating fan enthusiasm, the new ownership family, the Lerners, are hosting a "Grand Re-opening" at RFK Stadium this evening, as the Nats welcome the Chicago Cubs to D.C. It's mostly about adding more variety of food vendors, including kosher hot dogs and the tasty "half-smoke" sausage frankfurters, a local favorite. They are also installing a kids' entertainment center, presumably with video games for our short-attention-span youth. See MLB.com. All that is fine, but they would attract a lot more fans by expanding payroll and acquiring a better pitching staff. Also, I still think they should build an old-fashioned manual scoreboard in right center field.
MLB: D.C. is in "default"
Major League Baseball has accused the D.C. government of failing to meet the stipulated stadium construction deadlines, warning of unspecified punitive measures. See Washington Post. Such as franchise relocation? Not on your life. Much of the delay centers around the parking lot issue, and I think that the D.C. government should have discretion to build a fancier, development-oriented facility to maximize the promised spinoff benefits of the future stadium. After all, they're paying for it.
The mail bag
Thanks to Brian Hughes and Dan ? for alerting me to the geographical error in my July 13 posting, which I just corrected. PNC Park is next to the Allegheny River! My apologies for not being able to respond to all of the e-mail inquiries I received while out of town. I will try, and I do appreciate fan interest.
July 21, 2006 [LINK]
Oil-for-food scandal: Conviction!
One of the key figures in the Oil-for-food scandal, Tongsun Park, was convicted yesterday of money laundering. That name struck me as vaguely familiar, and indeed, he was at the center of the "Koreagate" bribery scandal in the late 1970s, as explained at opinionjournal.com by Claudia Rosett. She appeared on C-SPAN this morning, and aptly drew broader conclusions about the dysfunctional U.N. system. That is exactly why we need tough-talking, no-nonsense types like John Bolton to make sure the slimy weasels who cotton up to Kofi Annan are exposed and chased away.
In a perfect world, the United Nations could be counted on to reliably and impartially promote global security. In the messy, corrupt real world, unfortunately, that is not usually the case. One-world dreamers, mainly on the Left, are extremely reluctant to face up to the corrupt nature of the United Nations, which thereby tends to get worse for want of strong public scrutiny. That is why "containment" of Saddam Hussein was destined to erode over time, eventually crumbling: The incentives for cheaters -- some of whom speak French -- to exploit the "Oil-for-food" program was simply too great. Phony invoices and myriad other scams subverted that program's humanitarian purposes and ironically perpetuated the rule of a cruel dictator.
Lieberman & the Dems
Sen. Joe Lieberman has long been the favorite Democrat of most Republicans, and has been repeatedly "buttered up" in recent months by Sean Hannity. The primary challenge by the wealthy Ned Lamont, running on a Howard Dean-esque antiwar platform has put the Democrat leaders in a very awkward position, and Sen. Chuck Schumer had to force a grim grin when queried about who the party would support when he appeared on Meet the Press last Sunday. All this can be seen as a preview of the November general elections, testing whether the hard left can win enough votes. Lieberman has lost ground in some polls in recent days, and says he will run as an independent if he loses the Democrat primary. Interestingly, he was just endorsed by Bill Clinton, whom Lieberman strongly criticized during the various scandals of the late 1990s. Forgive and forget: I have to admit, that was a pretty grand gesture by our former president. See Washington Post.
July 22, 2006 [LINK]
MERCOSUR welcomes Chavez
Hugo Chavez addressed the seven other heads of state at the summit meeting of MERCOSUR members in Cordoba, Argentina, on Friday. There was much talk of addressing social inequalities, but the anti-American rhetoric was apparently subdued. His pal Fidel Castro showed up, which would have been unthinkable five or six years ago when conservatives still dominated in South America. See CNN.com.
Electoral uncertainty in Mexico
After nearly three weeks, the election in Mexico has not yet been resolved definitively. It took longer than that in the United States after the November 2000 elections, so there is no reason to panic yet. In spite of losing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's call for mass protests to back up demands a more favorable recount, Mexico remains more or less peaceful for the moment. Catholic bishops have asked for calm, and called for week of prayer for "reconciliation, understanding and peace." See CNN.com. On Thursday, the Electrical Workers Union took some wind out of AMLO's sail, affirming that the presidential elections were in fact clean.
Economic fragility in Bolivia
Financial anaylysts in the IMF have warned that Bolivia's economy would be in serious jeopardy unless the government of Evo Morales does something to encourage private investment, soon. See CNN.com. I would agree with the IMF -- in this case, at least -- that Bolivia needs reforms aimed at promoting social equity, but that does not mean that a "movement toward socialism" (the name of Morales' party) is required. Beyond that, officials in the IMF (and World Bank) must surely realize that the possibility of widespread non-cooperation in economic policy by Latin American governments would signify that virtually all the multilateral aid and stabilization efforts since the 1982 debt crisis would be rendered futile. Sovereign nations cannot be coaxed into doing what is in their own interest, and even though free trade is generally in the interests of the vast majority of people in rich and poor countries alike, there are circumstances in which the interests of the North and South diverge. This may be such a case, and we have to consider a substantial reducation in IMF/World Bank funding efforts. As for Morales himself, he has been acting a bit more adventurous and radical than I had anticipated, caught up in enthusiasm for Hugo Chavez's revolution, perhaps, but his style of governance is about as hesitant and ambiguous as I had expected.
July 23, 2006 [LINK]
Nationals sweep the Cubs
It was only the second time this year the Nats had swept a series, and it was an appropriate way to mark the beginning of the Lerner Era, as D.C. fans "painted the town red" at the "Grand Reopening" of RFK Stadium. The lack of good pitchers on the Cubs' active roster showed, as Washington scored seven runs in each of the three games. On Friday evening, the Cubs rallied with three runs in the top of the seventh to take the lead, but then the Nats did likewise in the bottom of the eighth, and went on to win by one run. In the Saturday game, Alfonso Soriano really put on a show for other teams who might be interested in him, hitting three doubles and a triple. Livan Hernandez pitched a solid [six] innings, giving up only three runs. He says he really wants to stay in Washington, and I think he means it. In this afternoon's game, the Cubs never got going, and only scored one run. Unfortunately for the Nationals, the rest of the NL East has been doing better lately, even Atlanta, so they are still stuck in last place.
I was extremely pleased to learn that several of the new food vending kiosks at RFK Stadium have been positioned on the mezzanine-level balcony above the west entrance to the stadium. It is a very pleasant, underutilized spot with a nice view, and I'm surprised no one had thought of that before.
Stadium stolen in D.C.!
Our Nation's Capital has been hit by a crime wave in recent weeks, prompting calls for a curfew, over the objections of civil rights advocates. But now the criminals have gone too far, actually stealing the brand new bleachers at Ballou High School's Fort Grebel Field. This was one of the public sporting improvements to which Major League Baseball agreed last year as a condition for getting D.C. government funding for the Washington Nationals' future stadium. The price of aluminum has risen sharply in the past year, and the value of the stolen bleacher benches was about $14,000, or a little less than $1000 if sold as scrap. How utterly disgusting. See Washington Post.
July 23, 2006 [LINK]
Allen and Webb debate
If a sympathetic newspaper like the Washington Post says that senatorial candidate Jim Webb failed to make any serious dents in incumbent George Allen, his performance must have been poor indeed. Local blogger Steve Kijak attended the debate at the Homestead in Hot Springs, and notes that Webb warned, in typically fatuous liberal fashion, that our soldiers are liable to be mistreated by the terrorist insurgents in Iraq in retaliation for the allegedly poor way we have treated prisoners at Guantanamo. See RightSideVA. What??? Last I heard, none of our guys had decapitated any terrorist suspects. Webb is stuck between a rock and a hard place. He probably is a sincere critic of the war, and no one should doubt that he has strong national security credentials. As long as he has to pander to the Howard Dean wing of the Democrat Party, however, he won't be able to do or say anything constructive with regard to national defense. Allen and Webb are scheduled to debate one more time, and at this point, there doesn't seem to be much reason to hold a third debate.
July 23, 2006 [LINK]
Birding in South Dakota, 2006
During my recent trip to South Dakota, I spent quite a bit of time exploring various locations, including some spots I had never been to before. I stopped at the Mulberry Point scenic overlook on the Nebraska side of the new Missouri River bridge , two spots on the same river southeast and southwest of Burbank, a few miles upstream at Clay County Park, The Bluffs Golf Course, Spirit Mound (north of Vermillion), and Cotton Park, which is on the Vermillion River, as well as random rural spots. I was rewarded with good views of many wild birds. Perhaps the highlight was seeing Bell's vireos, a life bird for me, at two different locations. I also got good views of Yellow-headed blackbirds and Cliff swallows, neither of which I had seen in years. Thanks to my brother John for his tips on where to go.
Clockwise, from top left: Red-headed woodpecker, Orchard oriole (adult male), Barn swallow, Lark sparrow, Dickcissel.
List of birds seen:
Notes in parentheses indicate whether the particular species is significantly more (or less) abundant in South Dakota compared to Virginia during the summer. Click on the camera icons to see photos of individual birds, or click on the photo itself to see my South Dakota (and Nebraska) bird photo gallery.
- Lark sparrows (not found in the East)
- Dickcissel (more!)
- Killdeers (more!)
- Barn swallows
- Eastern kingbirds (more!)
- Red-headed woodpeckers (more!!)
- Bell's vireos (LIFE BIRD!)
- Orchard orioles
- Baltimore orioles
- Great crested flycatcher
- Least tern (more)
- Bald eagle (juv.)
- Red-tailed hawks
- Sharp-shinned hawk
- Turkey vultures (less)
- Starlings (less)
- Cedar waxwings (more!)
- Robins (more)
- Bluebirds (less)
- Catbirds (less)
- Phoebes (less)
- N. rough-winged swallows
- Cliff swallows (1st I've seen in years!)
- Nighthawks (more!)
- Towhees (less)
- Downy woodpeckers (less)
- White-breasted nuthatches (less)
- Black-capped chickadees (less)
- House wrens
- Common yellowthroats
- Redstarts (less)
- Yellow warblers
- Yellow-headed blackbirds (not found in the East)
- Red-winged blackbirds
- Song sparrows (less)
- House sparrows (less)
- Chipping sparrows
- Field sparrows
- Grasshopper sparrow
- Rose-breasted grosbeaks (more!) *
- Indigo buntings (less)
* The last time I was in South Dakota, I happened to see some Sedge wrens within a day or two of the publication of a weekly bird-watching column in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader about that same bird in the same place. This time there were no Sedge wrens at Spirit Mound. It just so happened, that the very same author, Jerry Stanford, wrote a column about the Rose-breasted grosbeak during my latest visit, and indeed I saw several of them in Nebraska and South Dakota, including one that zipped through my father's back yard! Mere coincidence?
Throughout my visit, a Killdeer was brooding on two eggs it had laid near the driveway at my father's house, long after they were due to hatch. Killdeers don't build nests, they just lay eggs in rocky depressions to camouflage them. It (she) would squeak loudly and make threatening gestures and/or feign injury to divert our attention from the eggs whenever we approached. It was amusing but also a little tragic. There was also a Robin's nest in the back yard, and two swallow nests above the front porch. Quite a bird-friendly habitat!
No Mockingbirds, Titmice, or Carolina wrens are found in the Dakotas, whereas they are all very common in the East.
July 25, 2006 [LINK]
Post-election jitters in Mexico
The leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is still contesting the July 2 election, urging his supporters to engage in peaceful resistance. His Party of Democratic Revolution claims that 1.6 million votes were arbitrarily added to or subtracted from the official vote tallies, backing up their demands for a complete recount of all ballot boxes. "AMLO" is pushing (apparent) winner Felipe Calderon to agree to such a recount, but the decision is up to the Electoral Tribunal, which is not supposed to yield to such political pressure. See El Universal (in English). So far, no major independent observers have questioned the electoral tally, but the possibility of a prolonged dispute could put the Mexican economy in big trouble. In the era of NAFTA, that could cause serious harm to the U.S. economy.
In the Outlook section of Sunday's Washington Post, Jorge Castañeda put Mexico's uncertain condition in appropriate context, reminding us that this was only the fourth truly competitive democratic election in the nation's history. In his mind, accepting AMLO's claim of electoral fraud would undermine the country's institutions, but he thinks that a partial recount would help allay doubts among AMLO's supporters. The former leftist academician and diplomat is clearly worried by AMLO's affinity to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, showing his true (non-democratic) colors by refusing to accept the decision by the electoral authorities and waging the political battle in the streets. As he notes, Mexicans are still getting used to the idea of peaceful transitions of power. Calderon has already made gestures of conciliation with the other parties as he prepares to lead Mexico as of December 1, and the big question now is whether AMLO can be persuaded that he would benefit by respecting the nation's insititutions, as opposed to relying upon mass mobilization to get his way.
Chavez courts former Soviets
Fresh from his triumphant debut at the MERCOSR summit in Argentina, Hugo Chavez has embarked on another world tour, focusing his attention on countries that remain under the shadow of authoritarianism. In Belarus he met with President Alexander Lukashenko, widely regarded as a despotic stooge of Moscow, and signed some bilateral cooperation agreements. Today he is visiting Volgograd, once called Stalingrad, where the Red Army defeated the German invaders in the winter of 1942-1943. In Moscow, he is expected to sign additional agreements to acquire weapons from Russia, including 30 Sukhoi-30 fighter jets. After that, he heads to Qatar, Iran, Vietnam and Mali, trying to gain support for becoming a member of the U.S. Security Council for the 2007-2008 term. See BBC. Chavez is sparing no effort to anger and annoy the United States whenever possible, and there is frankly not much we can do about it but wait for the bad consequences of his agenda to become obvious to everyone. It will be costly for the United States to contain Chavez over the long run via diplomatic, economic, and intelligence means, and hopefully this will force Americans to rethink their (often-paternalistic or neglectful) approach to relations with Latin America and the Third World.
UPDATE: Honduras mining protest
Nationalist sentiment is on the rise in Honduras, as activists staged a protest against a law passed in 1998 that allows up to 34 percent of properties to be owned by foreign interests. For some reason, the Catholic Church has taken a leading role in the controversy: Bishop Monsignor Luis Alonso Santos said, "We do not want foreign capital that destroys our territory." See BBC. So why are they protesting eight years after the law was passed? And why not simply rally popular movements to hold foreign corporations accountable for upholding environmental standards, rather than just rejecting them outright? Honduras is very poor and is in desperate need of foreign investment. It sounds to me like someone is instigating the unrest; perhaps someone in Venezuela with a lot of surplus petrodollars...
July 26, 2006 [LINK]
Molting season: low energy
Princess and George began molting during our recent trip to South Dakota, so their cage and surrounding area is a bit messy with old feathers. They are constantly preening themselves as the new feathers begin to grow back, and they seem to be taking more baths than usual. Well, at least Princess is. It takes a lot of nutritional intake to grow new feathers, so we give them a special diet during this stressful period. Basil flowers are always a nice treat, too. Even so, they are both very lethargic, not singing or vocalizing very much, and not flying much, either. They will probably be back to normal by the end of next month.
With no eggs to care for, Princess is not as confined to the vicinity of her nest as she usually is. Today I was surprised to find her in the living room for the first time in several weeks, or months. Meanwhile, George has started resting under the dining room table again.
July 27, 2006 [LINK]
Nats keep winning (and negotiating)
The two home runs hit by Barry Bonds during the Giants' last visit to RFK Stadium last September put an end to the Nats' fleeting hopes for a post-season berth, but this year is a different story: Barry was hitless and runless in six at bats, reaching base twice on walks. Some of the Giants hit well in this series, notably Ray Durham, but the Nationals showed consistent, solid batting and high quality pitching across the board, thereby sweeping the Giants. That makes six consecutive wins, which is the most for the Nats since late June - early July last year.
UPDATE: Attendance for the six-game home series averaged nearly 33,000, a happy "Grand Reopening" for RFK Stadium indeed. It was probably boosted, though, by large numbers of Cubs fans and folks hoping to see one of Barry Bonds' home runs. The Nats now head to the West Coast for the first time this year, facing the Dodgers, the Giants (again), and the Padres. Then comes a grueling series of series against their NL East rivals, lasting until the end of August.
Meanwhile, rumors are still flying about where Alfonso Soriano will end up playing next month; the White Sox are a leading candidate. I'm increasingly convinced that his stated desire to stay in D.C. is sincere. With a wealthy new owner, a new stadium under construction, and a large local Hispanic fan base, it is an ideal place for him (or any rising star) to play. Soriano's agent Diego Bentz says his client "doesn't want to negotiate until after the season," which is why Washington will probably trade him; see MLB.com. Veteran Jose Vidro says losing Soriano would be a major blow to the Nationals. Bruce Orser asks:
Please tell me why any team would trade someone doing as well as Soriano?
It's like he is already gone.
Don't the fans care about him?
Well, the conventional wisdom is that the Lerners are devoted almost exclusively to rebuilding the "infrastructure" of the franchise, prioritizing the farm club system and hiring superior quality coaches. It makes sense, though it implies virtual indifference to the win-loss record of the team in D.C., which would risk alienating the new Washington area fan base. It is possible that the ballyhooed "fire sale" attitude (such as post-1997 Florida Marlins) is part of a sophisticated negotiating ploy aimed at luring as many teams into trade talks as possible, whipping up a bidding frenzy for Soriano, Hernandez, et al., and then either making big deals or standing pat. It is entirely possible that the main purpose of the "megatrade" with Cincinnati two weeks ago was to draw wider attention to Washington's eagerness to trade, or at least to create the impression that that was the case. Who knows what Stan Kasten and Jim Bowden have up their sleeves?
It is good to see Ryan Church back in the lineup, after getting demoted to the New Orleans Zephyrs in May. [He got a home run on Sunday, into the upper deck, helping to beat the Cubs. Former Red Austin Kearns started got off to slow start with Nats, but has begun to get some clutch hits.] On the down side for the Nationals, Jose Guillen has to undergo Tommy John surgery for a torn elbow ligament, and will therefore miss the rest of this season and possibly much of the next season as well. Given that he has complained about a sore elbow for weaks, as his batting performance lagged, it is strange that the diagnosis took so long. See MLB.com. Meanwhile, the promising but fragile pitcher John Patterson had successful surgery on his forearm, repairing some minor nerve damage, but he may miss the rest of the season as he undergoes rehabilitation. See MLB.com. The loss of those two key players pretty much eliminates whatever slim hopes the team had for a late season comeback.
New Yankee Stadium is OK'd
The IRS and National Park Service have issued the necessary clearances, so there are no more bureaucratic hurdles in the way of replacing The House That Ruth Built. Bulldozers are standing by. The New York Times reports: "Construction will involve paving over large portions of Macombs Dam Park and Mullaly Park and cutting down about 400 mature oak trees." What will become of all the birds and squirrels currently residing there? Did anyone think of that? Aside from the squandered historical treasure, it is outrageous to me that the new stadium will have 4,000 fewer seats than the current home of the Yankees, which is often sold out. For a city as big as New York, the capacity ought to be 60,000 at a minimum. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski, who also let me know that Tropicana Field opened the new tank full of "cownosed (!?) rays" on Friday. Thrill-seeking fans can reach in and touch the "alien" creatures that now dwell in right-center field. See MLB.com. What I want to know is, who would want to be on a team named after a creature that looks like it came from another planet?
I've pretty much caught up with my e-mail in box, and will report on some intriguing new tips I've received soon.
July 27, 2006 [LINK]
Conservatives & foreign policy
Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Somalia, Venezuela, and now Israel: At a moment when President Bush is facing an unusual combination of severe challenges to U.S. interests around the world, many conservatives are beginning to question his approach to foreign policy. George Will and William F. Buckley are among the leading conservative intellectuals who have lost all patience with Bush's neo-Wilsonian push for global democratization. The Washington Post details the complaints by many Republican legislators that Bush is being too timid on Iran and North Korea. Iran and North Korea have gleefully thumbed their nose at the world with their continued defiance on ballistic missiles and WMDs, and yet the United States has taken no serious action in response. To a large extent, the distancing from the White House by Capitol Hill Republicans is for political self-protection, as the latter grow anxious at the approach of the November elections.
Beyond that, however, is the growing realization that American foreign policy goals, as presently articulated, probably cannot be achieved with the means available at our government's disposal. Bush's push for democratization in the Middle East and elsewhere has ground to a virtual halt, with war-torn Lebanon being the most glaring example. Our military is badly overstretched in Iraq, our economy is struggling to absorb the oil price shock of the past year, and our diplomats are exhausted from countless hours of fruitless discussions with our allies in Europe and Asia. Unless I am mistaken, President Bush has not uttered the words "stay the course" in several months. My own view of U.S. prospects has become more sober in the last few months, but the gloom of Will, Buckley, and others like them may be premature. Politics has a fascinating tendency to sudden reversals of recent trends, and the White House may have been laying low in recent weeks to prepare for some surprise move to regain the strategic initiative.
Even if he does recover his footing in foreign policy, however, President Bush will still have to recalibrate our goals to reflect our diminished capacity to influence world events. This will be the biggest challenge yet faced by Condoleeza Rice: to apply her formidable brain power to the problem of how to neutralize the most pressing threats we face without risking even deeper commitment of U.S. military forces overseas, which we can ill afford. The patience of the American people is waning, and the risk of an isolationistic backlash is growing. I have a hunch the solution lies in greater use of intelligence operatives and elite special forces units.
July 28, 2006 [LINK]
Garcia prepares to lead Peru, again
Today is Peru's Day of Independence, which is also Inauguration Day every five years, and Dr. Alan Garcia Perez was sworn in as president, for the second time. His first term, from 1985 to 1990, began in a state of euphoria, as the gifted, young orator promised everything but the sun and the moon, but it ended in chaos and gloom. The atmosphere in Peru this year, in contrast, seems to be much more subdued, and most people do not expect any sharp changes in policy. Eight Latin American presidents attended the ceremonies, as did Prince Felipe of Spain. The best the United States could muster for this momentous occasion was Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, but that probably reflects the crisis in the Middle East, which demands the full attention of top Bush administration officials. See CNN.com.
This marks the second time that APRA -- the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance -- has won the presidential election in Peru. Unlike the first time in 1985, however, APRA does not hold a majority of seats in Congress, which is why Garcia is trying to reach out to other parties. Garcia's cabinet nominees have gone out of their way to emphasize moderation and policy continuity, a striking contrast to the brash, innovative agenda that was advanced in 1985. It is a politically diverse group, including Rafael Rey, a leading conservative figure and possible future president. Former Central Bank director Luis Carranza, fiscal conservative, has been named finance minister, an obvious gesture aimed at convincing global bankers that he will not repeat the reckless, spendthrift ways that doomed his first government. Allan Wagner, a prudent-minded professional diplomat who served as chancellor (foreign minister) from 1985 to 1987, is expected to be named defense minister. The fact that Aprista party loyalists do not dominate the new cabinet is a hopeful sign that Garcia will resist pressure to reward party activists with preference in government spending, as happened before. Garcia pledges to fight poverty as a first priority, which is all well and good, but that is the same thing he said before, and that it the same thing outgoing President Toledo promised. Will he be wise enough to realize that lifting people out of poverty is not a matter of earnest good will and charity, but rather of hard-nosed rational policies that give people clear incentives to work and save?
Garcia's success or failure in his second term hinges largely on his ability to gain the trust of a wary populace, a large number of whom voted for him as the "lesser evil." (Defeated rival Ollanta Humala has threatened to mobilize his poor Indian followers if Garcia doesn't do what he wants.) This time around, Garcia will need to show concrete actions, not just try to charm people with his vaunted charisma. He has pledged to roll back the salaries of high government officials, insisting on austerity. That's a good start in a poor country such as Peru, but even so, restraining his natural populist impulse will take lots of self-discipline. In this regard, an innocuous statement by the designated minister of housing, construction and sanitation, Hernan Garrido Lecca, hints at future problems: "Without water there is no democracy." (El Comercio) Garcia will be hard pressed to resist the demands of people who move to the shantytowns around Lima and other big cities, expecting that the government will provide them with water and electric utilities as a fundamental right. To avoid getting caught in that trap, Garcia must pay special heed to promoting development in the Andean highland regions, where most people are of Indian descent.
|Prime Minister||Jorge del Castillo|
|Foreign Relations||Jose Garcia Belaunde|
|Economy, Finance, & Commerce||Luis Carranza|
|Energy & Mines||Juan Valdivia|
|Labor & Social Promotion||Susana Pinilla|
|Agriculture||Juan Jose Salazar|
|Transportation & Communication||Veronica Zavala|
|Housing & Construction||Hernan Garrido Lecca|
|Women & Human Resources Dev.||Virginia Borra|
|Commerce & Tourism||Mercedes Araoz|
Another good sign, from my perspective, was that Enrique Cornejo, a professor at the University of Lima, has been serving as Garcia's chief economic adviser. He did some work in Garcia's first government, but is not an APRA loyalist. In 1994, I interviewed him for my doctoral dissertation, and he provided me with an in-depth understanding of the decision-making process during those chaotic years of the late 1980s. Notably absent from Garcia's government is Luis Alva Castro, an Aprista economist with a strong devotion to the party's founder, Victor Raul Haya de la Torre. Distrust between Garcia and Alva Castro hurt economic policy formulation from 1985 to 1987. If Garcia is as committed to pursuing a moderate, sensible policy course as he says he is, it would mark a real watershed in the history of Peruvian politics. The country used to be beset with sharp fluctuations in policy direction from one government to the next, which made investors wary of committing to long-term development projects. Given all the human and material potential of the country, Garcia's stated desire for an "investment shock" is a very real prospect.
While no one was looking (well, hardly anyone), the approval rating of outgoing President Alejandro Toledo began climbing a few months ago, and finished at 35 percent. It had been about ten percent for the preceding year and a half. He leaves Peru with the economy in good shape, with strong exports and financial stability. Peru weathered the financial crisis of 1997-2003 better than almost any other country in Latin America. Ironically, the financial and political stability that made this state of affairs possible was largely the result of the severe policies implemented by disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori (a.k.a. "Chinochet"), who is still in Chile, awaiting extradition to Peru.
Russia-Venezuela arms deal
As expected, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an agreement with Hugo Chavez under which Russia will sell 24 Sukhoi-30 advanced jet fighters to Venezuela, along with 53 helicopters. Sales of additional weaponry, including missiles and a submarine, are still pending. Putin endorsed Venezuela's bid to become a temporary member of the U.N. Security Council, going out of his way to snub the United States. (CNN.com) (Why is Russia still part of the G-7/G-8?) Chavez took the opportunity to express some thoughts on the United States:
It is a senseless, blind, stupid giant which doesn't understand the world, doesn't understand human rights, doesn't understand anything about humanity, culture and consciousness.
Well, at least we understand how to create a political and economic system that allows individuals to pursue their own dreams and improve their lives without fear of the government taking it all away.
UPDATE: Chavez is apparently upset at the United States for blocking the shipment of spare parts needed in the military aircraft that Spain was going to sell to Venezuela. That has effectively nullified a large portion of the $2.2 billion military sales package, but the sale of Spanish-built patrol boats is still going through. (CNN.com) Well, what does he expect? Anyway, that is what prompted turning to Moscow for advanced military equipment, which is just like Peru did in the 1970s. At least the Peruvian generals back then didn't act like clowns.
Campaigning in Nicaragua
Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, who ruled Nicaragua from 1978 until 1990, is on the campaign trail for the November 5 elections, and the fractured state of the conservative parties gives him a very good chance of winning. Hugo Chavez has pledged full support for Ortega, and even negotiated an agreement to sell petroleum to Nicaragua, completely bypassing the government of lame duck President Bolaños. (Washington Post) All is not well with the Sandinistas, however. Many in the rank and file resent the corruption of their leaders, many of whom have tossed aside their revolutionary ideals and have acquired large estates seized from the old wealthy class. The leader of the dissident reformist faction of Sandinistas, Herty Lewites, died of a heart attack earlier this month. He had been expelled from the party after challenging Ortega's leadership. The violent clash within the Sandinista party broke out just as I was visiting there last year.
July 30, 2006 [LINK]
Trading deadline approaches
One day remains for the trades to be carried out. Will Bobby Abreu be the spark that the Yankees need to wrest the division title away from the Red Sox? Frankly I doubt it, because the Yanks' vulnerability is in the pitching department. (Devil Rays 19, Yanks 6!?) It's too bad they can't unload Randy Johnson, who seems to be aging rapidly and no longer instills fear into opposing batters. The Nationals traded veteran reliever Mike Stanton (age 39) to the Giants for Shairon Martis (age 19!). Stanton was traded away by the Nats a year ago, and then signed up with the Nats again during the off-season, and the same thing may happen later this year.
FOX Sports announcer Steve Lyons has a hunch that Alfonso Soriano will end up staying with the Nationals, and I think so, too. After looking at what the White Sox, Yankees, etc. have to offer in exchange, it just doesn't seem worth parting with such a superstar. The Nationals are apparently putting pressure on Soriano to sign a contract extension now, since he will have greater bargaining leverage after the season is over. Alfonso says, "I'm going to be the happiest man in the world when those two days are over." See MLB.com. Nats' GM Jim Bowden was sitting right behind home plate at Dodger Stadium for the game on Saturday.
Dodgers sweep Nationals
One thing's for sure: The Nationals are prone to alternating hot streaks and cold streaks. After winning six in a row at home last week, they lost all three games at Dodger Stadium. Friday night was a blowout, 13-1, as Tony Armas lost control from the get-go, and some new reliever named Ray Corcoran (same family as the art gallery in D.C.?) did no better, but was left in to endure a grand slam and then some in the fourth inning. That oughta build character! In the next two games, the Nats took an early lead and then fell flat in the late innings.
The mail bag
Matt Warman thinks that the upper deck on the first base side of Milwaukee County Stadium was not extended to the foul pole until the 1970s, and after going through all my sources, I think he's right. More fact checking...
Brian Hughes calls attention to the fact that attendance at the Atlanta Braves-New York Mets game on Friday night set a record for Turner Field: 53,943. I noticed that, too. Nearly four thousand standing-room patrons!? Well, there is a lot of room on that plaza behind the bleachers, and behind the second deck near the left field corner... Too bad the Braves got swept by the Mets ...
Another old movie
I finally saw the movie For Love of the Game, starring Kevin Costner and Kelly Preston, much of which was filmed in Yankee Stadium. Costner played an aging Detroit pitcher, and it's too bad they couldn't have made at least some use of Tiger Stadium to film it.
July 31, 2006 [LINK]
Nationals keep Soriano!
Great news for Washington Nationals fans: They decided to keep Alfonso Soriano, raising hopes for a respectable last two months and a steadily improving future. Livan Hernandez will be staying with the Nats, as well, which is another big relief. I'm glad my hunch that all those trade rumors were mostly a ploy to maximize bargaining leverage turned out correct. Whew! [This apparently means that the Nats' new owners and Soriano's agent have reached a rough understanding of what a long-term contract with him might look like. See MLB.com. I guess we'll have to give credit to Jim Bowden for his risky, high-stakes acquisition of Soriano from the Rangers last December after all.]
Hall of Fame inductions, 2006
Congratulations to Bruce Sutter, pitcher for the Cardinals, Cubs, and Braves, for being admitted to Cooperstown on Sunday. Likewise to the 17 former Negro League players, living and deceased, who were chosen by a special panel of baseball historians this spring. Among them was Ernest Judson Wilson, of the Homestead Grays (Pittsburgh and Washington). For some reason, former Kansas City Monarch Buck O'Neil was not included, though he did speak at the induction ceremony.
Extreme old timers
Speaking of O'Neil, he recently became (at age 94) the oldest professional baseball player in history, playing in the minor league All Star game. He thereby surpassed the record set three weeks ago by Jim Eriotes (age 83), who played in a game for the Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Canaries, while I happened to be in the Prairie State earlier this month.
The mail bag
Tom Boyles searched in vain for the Hiram Bithorn Stadium page, so I will have to make it easier to find some of those "oddball" neutral venues.
July 31, 2006 [LINK]
Doha trade talks collapse! (?)
While the world's attention has been focused on Israel and Lebanon, the Doha (Qatar) Round of multilateral trade negotiations was suspended ten days ago, a severe blow to hopes for expanded internatonal trade. Delegates from the U.S., the European Union, Brazil, India, Japan, and Australia could not agree on how to reduce restrictions on imports of farm products, so the head of the World Trade Organization, Pascal Lamy, shut down the meetings in Geneva. There is no plan to reconvene in the immediate future. The Doha Round was launched in late 2001, in recognition by the United States and other Western countries of the need to promote economic opportunities in the Third World so as to counteract the appeal of political extremism and terrorism. This is one of those rare cases where many people grasped the connection between economic policy and national security, which is one of my primary research interests. The problem is that the connection between those two issues is a subtle, paradoxical one, and whenever a problem or issue can't be boiled down to a simple sound bite, there is a tendency for the perceived urgency to dissipate over time.
Political economy blogger Daniel Drezner (who is moving from Chicago to MIT) cautioned that warnings of total collapse are a routine part of such high-stakes multilateral negotiations, so it may not be the end of the world. He is strongly pro-trade, a position I with which I am largely sympathetic, but I place less emphasis on estimates of aggregate costs and benefits of trade. As anyone who studies social science knows, there are huge pitfalls when one tries to infer utlility comparisons from aggregate data. Moreover, there is a danger in adopting trade liberalization as a dogmatic mantra. To me, the point is not so much arguing how much or how little "society" gains (or loses) from trade, but rather in how to fashion a trade policy that infuses an economy with dynamic competition without causing large-scale disruption. It is a practical question requiring sharp observation and wise judgment. If none of a country's companies are going bankrupt, there is probably too much protection. If the number of bankruptcies gets to the point that the national unemployment rate climbs noticeably, there may not be enough protection.
"Do as we say, not as we do." That pretty much sums up the overall U.S. position on economic policy in the Third World: Balance your budgets! Eliminate import restrictions! And never mind our own transgressions! It is a sad fact that domestic political pressure makes it extremely difficult for advanced industrial nations to live up to their avowed free trade principles by putting their agricultural sectors to competition. As the editorialists at the Washington Post put it, "The truth is that both the United States and the European Union made political decisions not to confront their farm lobbies, even though agricultural liberalization is at the heart of the Doha Round." Though they are bit hasty to deride politics (ironic!), they are correct to point out that making concessions on farm subsidies would save billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars. Who would suffer? Mostly, wealthy sugar cane growers, cotton planters, and rice farmers in the southern "red" states. This is not to minimize the blame deserved by European governments who prop up inefficient small farms, hurting their own consumers as well as potential agricultural exporters in Third World countries.
The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee is none other than our own Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who represents Virginia's Sixth District. The U.S. Congress needs to enact policy reforms that promote world trade, without which the cause of peace and freedom will slowly wither away.
July 31, 2006 [LINK]
Chimney Hollow revisited
On Sunday I hiked along the Chimney Hollow Trail, and climbed to the point at which the trail turns toward the southeast along the ridge line. It is one of the shadiest places I know, so I figured it would be a good way to avoid the summer heat while getting needed exercise. The trail was damp from rain and thus full of colorful mushrooms, of which several photos will be posted soon. The biggest surprise, however, was coming across this Red-spotted newt, which was strangely docile as it basked in the sun. The bright color and small size (3 or 4 inches) indicates that it is a juvenile. Newts are just a particular kind of salamander; see U.S. Geological Survey.
Since breeding season is pretty much over, I didn't expect to see many birds, so I was easily satisfied. I saw several juveniles, with their blotchy, pale plumage, in close proximity to adults. Here's what I saw, in rough chronological order:
- Blue-headed vireos (A, J)
- Hairy woodpecker (F)
- Worm-eating warbler
- Black-capped chickadees (A, J)
- Carolina wrens
- Cooper's hawk (J -- prob.)
- Red-eyed vireo
- White-breasted nuthatches (A, J)
- Scarlet tanager (F)
I also caught glimpses of other warblers (I think) in the tree tops, and heard an Acadian flycatcher very close by, at the same spot where I saw one while leading an August Bird Club field trip in May. I also heard a Pileated woodpecker.