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September 2006
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September 1, 2006 [LINK]

Copper strike ends in Chile

The Chilean mine workers union voted by secret ballot to accept the compromise offer of a five percent raise. Interestingly, the miners approved the deal overwhelmingly even though the union ended up making bigger concessions than the company. Thus the copper strike came to an end after almost a month. "La Escondida" is one of the biggest copper mines in the world. It is owned by BHP Billiton, a consortium of British and Australian investors. See BBC. Given the current boom in world copper demand, it would be foolish for the two sides to hold out for much longer, forgoing millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Copper is an unusual metal, as the vast majority of the world's reserves are found in just four countries: Chile, Peru, Zambia, and Congo (ex-Zaire). In the 1970s, Peru's military government tried to organize an international copper cartel, modeled on the success of OPEC, but copper prices fell sharply in 1974 just as they were getting organized. The volatility in markets for such basic industrial commodities is the main reason the management of the Escondida mine in Chile was reluctant to give workers a bigger raise. If the economy starts to slow next year, as many people expect, prices will come tumbling back down.

Golf courses in Caracas doomed

The government of Hugo Chavez has announced that it will take over the land occupied by three golf courses in Caracas, for the purpose of building new housing developments for poor people. As many as 50,000 new homes may be built. From,

Mayor Juan Barreto's office has ordered the "forced acquisition" of two golf courses and will soon issue another decree expropriating a third course in the ritzy hills of southern Caracas, city attorney Juan Manuel Vadell told The Associated Press.

It may sound frivolous to make this a principled issue of property rights, and it is hard to deny that many of those folks do need better housing. Nonetheless, a country in which property can be confiscated arbitrarily is a country in which wealth does not tend to regenerate itself. As in the former Soviet Union and in China before the reforms of the 1980s, the aggregate capital stock gradually goest to rust and wastes away, thereby diminishing job opportunities. Unless Venezuela changes course, it will end up as a miserable Third World country when its petroleum reserves become depleted in the next 20 years.

A similar issue arose in Peru during the late 1980s, when populist president Alan Garcia was threatening to take over the golf course in the posh district of Miraflores, two miles south of downtown Lima. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. Now that Mr. Garcia is trying so hard to appear moderate to avoid fears of another catastrophe such as his first term precipitated, it is unlikely he would be inclined to challenge the power of his country's wealthy elite. But you never know.

September 1, 2006 [LINK]

WaPo finally "gets" Plamegate

Earlier this week it was revealed that the source for Robert Novak's infamous op-ed piece that fingered Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife Valerie Plame as a CIA agent was none other than Richard Armitage. He's a respected veteran professional diplomat and had even expressed misgivings about the military mission to topple Saddam Hussein before the war began. In other words, he had no political motivation to leak that name, contrary to what many leftists and even much of the mainstream media had claimed. So today it was a great pleasure to read that the Washington Post editorialists set the record straight about this grossly distorted scandal -- it did not represent a political vendetta by Karl Rove or anyone else in the the White House. They stopped short of admitting they were wrong, and took pains to note that Scooter Libby other officials were careless with secret information.

Nevertheless, it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming -- falsely, as it turned out -- that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush's closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It's unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.

Given the firestorm of media scrutiny over this complicated matter, and even hints of impeachment charges from the Democrats, "unfortunate" is putting it very mildly. Well, at least they finally they got the essential point right. I've been harping on the fact that Wilson's own actions were what attracted attention to his wife's identity all along; for example, see July 16, 2005. Upshot: the whole scandal really was "much ado about nothing."

September 2, 2006 [LINK]

Nationals rebound -- finally

Livan Hernandez is a fine pitcher, and trading him away to the Diamondbacks was a big mistake, I think. Nevertheless, his weak spot was on display in his first game against the Nationals since being traded just over a month ago: He just doesn't know when to quit! He can pitch six or seven solid innings without breaking a sweat, but he tends to "hit the wall" in the eighth inning. That's what happened tonight as Ryan Zimmerman and Austin Kearns got home runs off Livan, thereby edging ahead of the D-backs 4-3. It was Zimmerman's 18th home run, so he's still a strong contender for rookie of the year. This marks the first time the Nats have won three in a row since late July, and each time they won by a single run. They beat the D-backs 7-6 earlier today, and prevailed over the Phillies 6-5 on Thursday night, both of which were extra-inning games. The Nats are 6-5 in extra inning games this year and went 4-5 in such games last year. Today was the second double header in Nationals history; they split a double header with the Phillies just over a year ago. On the down side, attendance has been less than 23,000 at the last three Nats games. All the rain associated with Hurricane Ernesto (which forced a postponement of last night's game until today) probably had something to do with the low fan turnout. That plus the Redskins.

The mail bag

Mike Zurawski sends word that the Athletics have given up on San Jose as a possible relocation destination, and that the Twins are now assured that their new stadium will get built. The Hennepin County Board of Supervisors approved the financial package needed to start construction, on an alarmingly close 4-3 vote. Reminds me of the D.C. City Council... See Also, I got an anonymous tip about some photos of Oakland Coliseum in the early years, including one that is under construction. In the other one, you can see the outline of a football gridiron that with the end zones near home plate and center field, rather than in right and left field as has normally been the case.

There's more mail to get to, but I've been putting in overtime preparing for the Next Big Thing in this Web site...

September 2, 2006 [LINK]

Leftists forestall Fox's speech

The battle for Mexico's future escalated even further yesterday, as President Vicente Fox was prevented from giving his annual state of the nation speech to the Mexican congress yesterday. Boisterous delegates from the Party of Democratic Revolution blocked the entrance to the chamber, and Fox finally gave up rather than risk a fistfight by forcing the issue. The shocking demonstration was apparently calculated to catch the Fox government by surprise, because most of the police had been deployed outside in the Zocalo. To their surprise, however, there was no gaterhing of PRD supporters who were rumored to be preparing to assault the legislative chambers. Meanwhile, the PRD delegates inside staged their mini-insurrection, bringing the country's official business to a halt. See Washington Post. Losing presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador seems committed to risk everything in order to get his way, and the way he has been behaving, it seems very unlikely that he would accept any electoral result other than a victory by him. Day by day, he and his party are becoming increasingly discredited in the eyes of the world. Even the Catholic Church, which owes no favors to the political establishment in Mexico, and which is generally on the "progressive" side of social issues, is turning against AMLO. Last week Cardinal Norberto Rivera expressed exasperation with the "crazy" people occupying the streets of Mexico City. It is hard to believe that a country with as much to proud of as Mexico could let itself teeter on the brink of anarchy just because an election was so close.

The coincidental arrival of Hurricane John on Mexico's Pacific coast served as an apt reminder of the high state of nerves and potential for mass-scale violence if this confrontation is not resolved soon.

Mexican bird expert jailed

As if the recent turmoil spreading from the teachers' strike in Oaxaca wasn't enough, a prominent birdwatcher in that state has been arrested and put in jail on weapons possession charges. Amnesty International has taken up the cause of Ramiro Aragon Perez, who has been training local Indian people to serve as guides for birdwatchers visiting from other countries, as a means to tap into "ecotourism" revenues for the benefit of poor people. The World Wildlife Fund helped fund this project. He also belongs to Oaxaca People's Popular Assembly, the apparent reason for which he was subjected to persecution by forces loyal to embattled Gov. Ulises Ruiz. See El Universal. During our trip to Mexico in 2003, Jacqueline and I were amazed to find such a wide variety of tropical and semi-tropical birds in Oaxaca, and in Mexico City as well. If the spirit of neighborly collaboration signified by NAFTA has any meaning at all, the cause of wildlife conservation in Oaxaca is something that all nature lovers in the United States should be concerned about.

September 4, 2006 [LINK]

Stadium impressions: operational!

Many months in the making, the "Stadium impressions" feature has now been activated for all stadium pages. That means you, the fan, now have the ability to share your fond memories of seeing games in young ballparks, old ballparks, and ballparks that are lon-n-g gone. Anyone can view those impressions, but in order to submit your own you must first register for this Web site. It is a regrettable measure aimed at thwarting spam hacking attempts, such as happened back in early April. Additional cyber-security restrictions may be implemented in the near future, so don't waste time. If you are worried about identity theft (who isn't?), see the new Privacy Note on the Terms of use page.

After you register, just go to the stadium page in question, scroll down to the "Vox populi" (that's "voice of the people" in Latin) section near the bottom, and click on the "share your impressions" link. NOTE: Only people who have actually been to the stadiums in question -- i.e., if you have seen a game or have taken an inside tour -- are supposed to submit impressions. Also, each person is entitled to one submission per stadium page, so please think carefully about what you want to say before clicking the "Submit" button. I've been testing that new feature for several weeks, off and on, and nearly all of the bugs have been eliminated. But you know how it is with Murphy's Law: Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. So, please be patient while the inevitable wrinkles are ironed out, and let me know if any persistent errors occur. Thank you.

If you ask me, that sounds like a pretty good reason to Sponsor a stadium page, or at least make a smaller donation. (An alternative Amazon Honor System account has been set up as well.) The next step will be to enable blog comments, hopefully in the next few days.

Nats match comeback record

Just when you thought they were down and out, washed up, and good as dead, the Washington Nationals completed a series sweep against the Diamondbacks, their first sweep since late July. Austin Kearns' 2-run double in the eighth inning put the Nats ahead; he is finally showing real improvement. The Nats really have showed a lot of spunk in the past four games, as each time, they were behind by at least two runs entering the eighth inning. In fact, it was the first time since 1918 that a team had come back to win in such a situation for four consecutive games, according to Pretty darned impressive. The Nationals bid farewell to Daryle Ward and Marlon Anderson, two second-stringers who often came through in the clutch for the Nationals, but were considered expendable for "rebuilding" purposes. It's too bad it had to happen just after Anderson scored the winning run for the Nats in that crazy extra-inning game on Thursday night. Four of the new players have already done well: relief pitches Chris Booker and Beltran Perez, plus shortstop Melvin Dorta and outfielder Nook Logan. You never know, they may be future stars. (But where do they get those names??)

UPDATE: Make that five wins in a row! The Nationals defeated the Cardinals 4-1 in this afternoon's home game, thanks mainly to starting pitcher Ramon Ortiz. He not only pitched eight no-hit innings, he actually hit a home run! If it weren't for the single by Aaron Miles and the solo shot by Albert Pujols in the ninth, Ortiz would have completed the first-ever no-hit game for the Nationals. See

Ashe & Shea Stadiums

It was sad to see Andre Agassi lose before reaching the quarterfinal round at the U.S. Tennis Open yesterday. His hotshot "style is everything" flamboyance moderated over the years, and unlike certain other athletes, he actually grew up. It occurred to me that Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows has the same letters in its name as nearby Shea Stadium, and in almost the same order.

September 4, 2006 [LINK]

Is GOP majority in jeopardy?

Sunday's Washington Post surveyed congressional races across the country, and found that nearly twice as many are deemed "competitive" as was the case in the early summer. The list of such vulnerable GOP House districts has grown from 19 to 36, with most of them clustered in the northeast and the Ohio River basin. Morale has fallen in the traditional Republican bastions of Indiana and Ohio, and the security issue has been worn out from overuse -- and by setbacks in Iraq, of course. Political analyst Charlie Cook was interviewed by NBC News, and has reached virtually identical conclusions. Chances that the Dems could pick up the six Senate seats they would need for a majority are much slimmer, however.

As a Republican, I view these trends (or apparent trends -- WaPo is part of the mainstream media, after all) with strongly mixed feelings. Of course I want conservatives to remain in the majority, but on the other hand I also believe in accountability for past performance, and I see little to be proud of in the last two years. President Bush quickly frittered away the precious "political capital" he accrued from his 2004 reelection by a misguided push for Social Security reform in the first half of 2005. Then Hurricane Katrina shed bad light on his decidedly passive approach to overseeing the government. It is no wonder that Republican congressional candidates take pains to distance themselves from the White House. Every man for himself!

But even on Capitol Hill itself, there is an alarming absence of leadership and signs of a rift within the party, as no leaders seem capable of articulating a coherent theme and agenda that might unite the economic conservatives and the social conservatives. Immigration? What should be a sure-fire win-win issue for the Republicans (if we only had more leaders with vision and guts) lies dormant, as the public frustration mounts. Meanwhile, the public has not entirely forgotten the various scandals of Tom DeLay et al., and the vaunted plan to build a "permanent" Republican majority by such contrivances as jerrymandering district boundaries and making unsavory alliances with K Street lobbyists now lies in shambles. Ah, how the nasty lust for power tends to defeat itself... Rather than engaging in thoughtful dialogue on how best to proceed, too many Republicans are sniping at each other and/or besmirching each others' motives. ("Are you a "RINO"?)

At this point, I think the Republicans will probably manage to hold on to a slim majority in both chambers, not because they have earned it, but because the Democrats have failed to articulate a compelling alternative agenda. Incessant whining about high gas prices, hurricane damage, and car bombs in Baghdad does not add up to a plan to govern. Just think where the Democrats would be right now if the Howard Dean and the kooks he inspires had not taken over the DNC. As in 1994, however, a groundswell of anti-incumbent sentiment lacking any strong policy direction could result in a radical though inadvertent shift in direction in Washington. Can the levee of old-fashioned common-sense conservatism hold together and prevent this potential flood of left-wing folly?

Hanger resists NCLB

Virginia Sen. Emmett Hanger has stepped up his opposition to President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" initiative, complaining that it puts a huge burden on school administrators, without any clear benefit. Good for him! Although I strongly agree with the objectives of "NCLB" -- striving to reverse the decay in this country's public education system -- I have become increasingly skeptical of the centralized policy measures it uses. In a federal system such as ours, the national government should take a back seat in culturally sensitive public policy issues such as education. The editors of Staunton's News Leader wished Sen. Hanger luck in his efforts, saying "He is going to need it."

September 4, 2006 [LINK]

More fall warblers arrive

Yesterday was sunny and pleasant, in the wake of heavy rain associated with Hurricane Ernesto ("Che"?), so I took advantage by taking a short hike on the east slope of Elliot Knob / North Mountain. I started by retracing part of the hike I did three weeks ago, and for most of the way I encountered virtually no birds at all. Just before returning to my car, fortunately, I did come across a cluster of neotropical migrants devouring insects and larvae, including two warbler species that I had not seen all year. In addition, I heard a Pileated woodpecker, a Scarlet tanager, and a Raven. Then I drove a few miles southwest to Augusta Springs, a wetland area that is now very wet. I circled the pond boardwalk and then hiked the upland trail, but saw hardly anything of note -- and far fewer mushrooms than I would have expected. As before, almost all of the interesting birds were at the very end. The day's highlights, in rough chronological order:

RT hummer (F) perched Not a bad day! * Asterisks indicate the species that were seen in both locations. On the drive back to town, I also happened to see a Kingfisher flying near the Middle River.

Swarm of hummers

Back home, meanwhile, the male Hummingbird that was hanging around our back porch feeder for over a month seems to have left for the season. Now we have two or three female or juvenile hummers zipping around all the time. To accommodate the increased traffic, we bought a second hummingbird feeder for the window, so Princess and George now get to see those tiny green wonders up close!

NOTE: This bigger-than-life-size photo of a Ruby-throated hummingbird (female, hence the non-ruby throat) is from last year.

September 5, 2006 [LINK]

Ruling in Mexico: Calderon won

Mexico flag The Mexican electoral tribunal ruled unanimously late this afternoon that Felipe Calderon of the conservative National Action Party be certified as the winner of the July 2 presidential election. This decision came shortly after the president of that court, Leonel Castillo, had recommended such a verdict. The judges rejected the various grievances filed by the Party of Democratic Revolution as not being significant enough to affect the outcome. Calderon's official margin of victory was 233,831 votes out of 41.6 million total. Tomorrow was the statutory deadline for the final decision to be rendered. Inauguration Day will be December 1. See BBC.

This will not put an immediate end to the historic dispute, but it will probably begin a deescalation of tensions, as reality sinks in. The leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had already said that he will pay no heed to the electoral court's decision, so the ball is now in his court. As an example of the absurd complaints he has lodged, "Lopez Obrador had argued that an ad campaign comparing him to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez illegally affected the elections." It may be a positive sign that AMLO is starting sound less focused on challenging the election results and more focused on "transforming" the country, which may include forming a "parallel government." He will ask his followers what course they want him to follow when they gather at the Zocalo for a convention set for September 16, Independence Day. See

Like George W. Bush, who took office in January 2001 after bitter disputes, Calderon will begin his term with a handicap. He will carry an extra burden of reaching out to the defeated faction, which could get him bogged down if he does not play his political cards astutely. The emphatic rejection of any dialogue or reconciliation by AMLO's Party of Democratic Revolution is both stunning and very telling. Their understanding of the word "democratic" apparently does not include peaceful, orderly, institutionalized resolutions of political disputes.

Few observers have taken note of the low-key approach to the Mexican electoral dispute that the U.S. government has taken. This is one of those situations where the less said, the better. Since Calderon is a pro-business leader with a friendly attitude toward the norteamericanos, the United States will be under pressure to make reciprocal gestures to the new Mexican government, and this may mean concessions on immigration reform.

September 6, 2006 [LINK]

"Crunchy conservatives": for real?

I've been reading Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-wing Nature Lovers, and Their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (or at Least the Republican Party) , by Rod Dreher. The author was featured in the Washington Post Style section a few months ago, and I was intrigued. I only fit into one of those groupings (can you guess?), but I'm generally very sympathetic to all of those offbeat folks.

Dreher lays out a comprehensive agenda for radical common-sense reform, and most of it consists of public policy measures or personal attitudes that I have long favored. Why "personal attitudes"? Because Dreher is keenly aware, as any traditional conservative* should be, that governmental action is simply not suited to tackle many of the social problems that plague us. He cites conservative philosopher Russell Kirk at several points, evoking an earlier, kinder era in which which thoughtfulness and toleration were still respected attributes among conservatives. Above all, Dreher rejects the nearly-universal assumption that conservatism is necessarily tied to a materialistic, wealth-maximizing lifestyle. To the contrary, he reminds us all of the many ways that Western consumerist culture tend to undermine traditional values and respect for authority.

Whereas eating for most Americans is either a boring routine or an occasion to splurge, to Dreher a meal is sacramental -- it is a ritual in which we reflect upon the cycles of life that have gone into making the food we put in our bodies. The pressure on the government to favor mass-produced food processing in its regulatory policy has had severe negative consequences on the public health. Ironically, small-scale meat packers were run out of business by inspection standards that were impossible for them to meet, and the result is that our beef cattle and hogs are now fattened, by and large, in enormous, filthy, overcrowded stockyards that are a literal breeding ground for all sorts of diseases, including "mad cow disease." The use of hormones and other drugs in livestock, plus the frequent slaughtering for human consumption of "downers" (animals that are too sick to stand up) makes one sick just to think about it. Here is the Shenandoah Valley, there is a growing controversy over the use of meat sold directly from farm to restaurant, based on the bond of trust that develops between regular sellers and customers. Sinclair Lewis, the author who exposed unclean meat slaughtering practices in The Jungle a century ago, could not have imagine how his reform objectives ended up backfiring because of the ties between big business and big government. Thinking about eating as a sacrament, as Dreher suggests, might make it easier for some of us on a budget to pay the extra price for organic foods and free-range poultry.

Likewise, too few Americans these days think of the houses in which they live as a real home, but rather as a status symbol. Dreher is scornful of the ubiquitous super-sized McMansions that spread out across the exurbs of our big cities, taking away prime farm land in the process. They simply lack the integrative quality that is needed for building a community of good neighbors. Dreher also upholds home schooling as a serious alternative for parents who are leery of the permissive, mediocre public school system, for which I long held out hopes that it could be fixed. Not in our lifetime, I'm afraid. All the frantic measures such as standardized tests and "charter schools" cannot hide the fact that public education in this country is rotten to the core. School vouchers may be a temporary expedient, but I think it is time to consider a widespread privatization of elementary, middle, and high schools.

Even though Dreher and his family are devout Christians (orthodox rite Catholic), he is leery of the politicized way that religious and moral issues are often treated by some conservatives. Me too. Whereas most Republicans these days are strongly in favor of the Second Amendment, few of them are active hunters or really appreciate the Great Outdoors, as Teddy Roosevelt did. Hence, they are generally less concerned about protecting Mother Nature. Dreher explored how it was that conservatism became tragically divorced from conservationism over the years:

It's true that Reaganism, for all the good it did, also mainstreamed a kind of conservatism that viewed environmentalism with contempt. Scorning environmentalists as tree-hugging kooks became a way of proving one's right-wing bona fides. (p. 163)

Ouch. The truth really hurts. So, what place could independent-minded folks with lingering counter-culture sensibilities have in the Republican Party of today? That is the $64,000 question that may well determine whether the party thrives or retrenches in the next few years. Many people think of Republicans as starchy, grumpy, wealthy white males, but that stereotype is gradually losing its validity. Meanwhile, many in the right wing of the party are growing anxious about recent political setbacks, and have taken to calling the moderates "Republicans In Name Only" -- RINOs. For his part, Rush Limbaugh brags about never wearing blue-jeans, which he associates with the "maggot-infested, dope-smoking, FM-listening, phony baloney, plastic banana, good time rock and rollers." (The precise description varies from time to time.) There's enough truth in that stereotype to make me crack a smile, but I think it's time to ease up on the name calling and instead start to attract new members into the conservative movement.

One Washington Post reviewer cast doubt on Dreher's "crunchy con" movement, and thinks that folks like us will remain marginalized from politics for years to come. Perhaps. The situation could change radically, however, if another energy crisis or an unforeseen calamity in our food distribution system (bio-terrorism?) forced people to rethink their lifestyles and values. For those who are mildly interested but are too busy to read the book, Glenn and Helen Reynolds recently interviewed Dreher and another author, and the podcast is available at

* Obviously, the Big Government "compassionate conservatism" that President Bush espouses (as exemplified by his "No Child Left Behind" initiative or the Medicare prescription benefit) has little if anything to do with the traditional conservatism that folks like Dreher and I espouse.

Campaign kickoff

Republican candidates George Allen (Senate) and Bob Goodlatte (6th District House) played a prominent role in the traditional Labor Day campaign kickoff parade in Lexington yesterday. Chris Green has a batch of pictures and impressions from the event, noting the low turnout among Democrats. Their candidate James Webb had already made plans to spend "Labor Day with his son, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Jimmy Webb, before his deployment to Iraq next week." See the Webblog. With all due respect for Webb's devotion to his son and his son's devotion to his country, it seems to me that Webb just doesn't have the "fire in the belly" needed to beat an incumbent. In all the media outlets that I follow, he has kept a very low profile.

September 7, 2006 [LINK]

Now that's more like it!

What a dramatic see-saw game that was in Washington yesterday! The lead changed four times, and when former Nat Preston Wilson hit a two-run blast into the upper deck in the top of the ninth inning, it looked like the Cardinals were going to win. But in the bottom of the ninth, Jose Vidro's clutch two-run line drive to the right field corner turned defeat into sweet victory. See Washington Post. So the Nats have won six of their last seven games, continuing their pattern of alternating hot streaks and cold streaks that has been going on for almost the whole season.

Congratulations to the Marlins' rookie pitcher Anibal Sanchez for throwing a no-hitter against the Diamondbacks last night. It was the longest lapse of time without a no-hitter in major league history, yet another indication of how reduced-size ballparks and other factors tend to favor hitters these days.

Tropicana Field

Tropicana Field The Tropicana Field diagram has been tweaked slightly. The dugouts and special bullpen seating areas have been adjusted, the distinctive "truncated" rotunda and concourse area beyond center field have been added, and the new tank full of live rays has been included.

UPDATE: My choice of Tropicana Field, the home of the Devil Rays, was prompted by a suggestion from Mike Zurawski, not by the tragic death of Steve Irwin, the "Crocodile Hunter" who was swimming too close to some sting rays off the coast of Australia. I will probably do Metropolitan Stadium next, as that is the newest one to be sponsored.

Register and join the fun!

Several baseball fans have signed up already, thus becoming eligible to submit their impressions of ballparks. Gus, a Nationals fan from New York, has already done so for the RFK Stadium page. Don't be shy: Register today!

September 7, 2006 [LINK]

Calderon seeks immigration deal

As expected, Mexico's president-elect Felipe Calderon declared that one of his first orders of business after his inauguration will be to negotiate mutually favorable terms for immigration reform in the United States. "Calderon said he will try to convince lawmakers that the accord is in both countries' interests." He hopes to arrive at a broad solution before Bush leaves office. See That's entirely appropriate under the circumstances, and we have little choice but to seek a compromise for the sake of political stability in our southern neighbor. Just imagine, though, if a U.S. president-elect said he intended to get involved in Mexico's policy-making. Why, there would be riots in the streets and rocks thrown at the U.S. embassy! Well, this is what we get for having a government and political parties that fail so miserably at addressing matters of vital importance to our future. First it was house cleaning and yard work, then it was construction, and now it's public policy formation. Like the late, great Rodney Dangerfield, "We don't get no respect!"

September 7, 2006 [LINK]

Immigration enforcement?

In the Wall Street Journal, June Krumholz describes the nasty consequences of Congress's failure to address the immigration quandary. Local communities such as Riverside, NJ and Hazleton, PA are taking things into their own hands, passing ordinances that require proof of legal status, which is fueling outrage among immigrant rights groups. Of course, this provides the perfect opportunity for racist groups to stir up even more trouble. Ms. Krumholz calls attention to various candidates in both parties who seem to be tapping into anti-immigrant sentiment in order to gain votes. It makes me ill just thinking about it. It's too late to get any legislative action done this year, but there will be huge pressure on the next Congress to act quickly -- whichever party wins the November elections.

Meanwhile, nineteen people were arrested in northern Virginia and are being charged with facilitating as many as 1,000 bogus marriages between U.S. citizens and illegal aliens who were seeking permanent resident status, i.e., "green cards." Interestingly, most of the immigrants in this case were from Ghana. The fraud came to light thanks to an alert court clerk in Arlington County who noticed that a lot of marriage license applicants didn't seem to know each other. Most bureaucrats probably just don't care, so if that clerk doesn't get a big bonus, promotion, and commendation for taking the initiative to tell his or her bosses, heads should roll. See Washington Post. If they were really looking hard, or if they had enough personnel and resources to investigate, that is, they could probably find ten times that number. This is another example of how any real reform in immigration is going to require a major boost in Federal spending for more bureaucrats, computers, and assorted equipment. That will mean higher taxes. Sorry, folks.

Bell just says "no" to junket

Staunton City Councilman Dickie Bell has opted out of a weekend retreat at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at University of Virginia, on the grounds that the $2,400 cost is unjustifiably high. The "two-day program [is] designed to teach goal-setting and team-building techniques." See the News Leader. Good for Mr. Bell! He is the only Republican on the city council, and this is just the kind of common sense, economy-minded deed by an elected official that make me proud to be a Republican. Insider's perspective: You could probably cut the average university's total budget by ten percent or more by simply axing all the silly feel-good seminars, workshops, and other busy-work created by professional "consultants." Doing so would give professors more time for what they are supposed to do -- teach and research!

More partisan bickering

Lowell Feld at Raising Kaine lashed out in a very ugly fashion at George Allen's campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, accusing him of lies, ad hominem attacks, and more. Wadhams had earned a reputation as a hardball politico helping John Thune to oust Tom Daschle in the 2004 senate race in South Dakota. (!) More recently, he drew attention by profanely dismissing a reporter's query about his boss's "Macaca" gaffe. For the record, the words in the heading of Mr. Feld's blog piece leave me unconvinced that he is really concerned with elevating the tone of this campaign. (Hat tip to Chris Green.)

September 8, 2006 [LINK]

Stadium impressions fixup

The "stadium impressions" feature has been modified in two ways: First, the form for registering impressions of ballparks only appears for those who have already registered for this Web site and are therefore eligible to use it. Non-registrants simply get a message saying they are not registered. That will avoid unnecessary clutter and confusion. Second, that form now uses the information you already provided when you registered, so you don't have to fill the same thing in over and over again. The downside is, anyone who has already registered will have to go through the registration process again if they want to submit their impressions of additional stadiums. Sorry for the inconvenience.

The mail bag: Filled to the brim!

With all the effort put into the new "stadium impressions" features, I've fallen behind on my e-mail again. My apologies as always. Charlie O'Reilly, who runs a very useful and informative ballparks Web site (updated link), took the time to share some thoughts on science, philosophy, and religion. I'm indebted to him for some of the information on the Hiram Bithorn Stadium page.

Jonathan Karberg provided me with excellent detailed descriptions of Busch Stadium II, some of which differ from my previous estimates, so I'll have to revise those diagrams in the future. He had previously filled me in on some of the details of Busch Stadium III.

Mike Zurawski sends three news items: The Miami Dolphins have "world class" ambitions for their stadium, which is undergoing the first stages of a $250 million renovation that will take three years; see (Will they replace the movable section with a permanent concrete structure?) The Commission on Chicago Landmarks presented an award for "Preservation Excellence" for the newly-expanded bleachers at Wrigley Field; see EPSN. And the San Jose Mercury News reports that MLB favors relocating the Athletics to Fremont, so as to tap into the Silicon Valley high-tech sector's cash stockpiles, but not further south to San Jose, which falls within the Giants' territorial domain. "Cisco Field"? The Giants, however, "are determined to keep the A's, currently located just 10 miles from AT&T Park, from moving farther away." Weird.

Chris Kassulke informs me that Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was torn down on August 2, 1997.

Dave Zanko informs me that the L.A. Raiders left in 1995, the same year the Rams left Anaheim Stadium across town. The Memorial Coliseum page has been duly corrected.

Bill Buck, a SABR Member, asks:

Do you have a list of current stadiums with square footage of playing area calculated? In play and foul areas? Has anyone developed this? I am doing some statistical research on park factors and am looking for this information.

Finally, I received this query from Mary Ann:

My uncle played for a team in Chicago, sometime between 1925 and 1930 called the Black Pirates. If I recall correctly it was mostly made up of Italian-Americans. Do you have any knowledge of this team and how I might find information on them? It is rumored that the sports writer of the Chicago Tribune wrote about my uncle and how promising he was as a baseball player.

Thank you for your help.

Does anyone out there know the answers to either of those questions?

September 9, 2006 [LINK]

Frist defends immigration record

Senate Major Leader Bill Frist tried to put the best light on the meager accomplishments of Congress on the immigration front this year, saying he thinks voters are willing to give the Republicans another chance. Although he now concedes that the demands by the House GOP for immediate action on border security [must be given top priority], he also said that the 12 million undocumented people already here must be dealt with, via a temporary-worker program and enforcement of labor laws at places of employment. According to the Washington Post,

The legislative standoff amounts, in part, to a back-door victory for House Republicans, who have insisted on tougher enforcement of immigration laws before tackling broader revisions.

Indeed, knowing a little bit about how Congress works and how public policies often emerge in a haphazard process is about the only thing that gives me confidence on this issue. As for the 12 million, of course there needs to be some kind of legal framework to process them, but that doesn't mean our members in Congress need to gnash their teeth striving for some kind of Perfect Solution. As is the case with most big, divisive issues, reform of immigration will be a messy, partial, and frustrating process. The important thing is to start moving, and not to enact any new measures (such as "guest worker" programs) based on phony sentimental premises that will only end up creating new loopholes for lawyers to exploit.

¡Sí, se puede! (otra vez)

The Hispanic immigrant community held another rally on the Mall in Washington on Thursday, and for the life of me, I still can't figure out exactly what they want. "Yes, we can what?" I suppose they're just trying to put the best face on desperately clinging to a status quo that they know cannot be sustained forever. I was watching on C-SPAN and saw Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) make a particularly obnoxious (bilingual) speech slamming the Republican majority in Congress for -- he said -- wanting to keep immigrants repressed and separated from their families back home. What a disgusting spin. It is the current system that tolerates a two-tiered system facilitating exploitation of workers. That would come to an end in an instant if only our laws were consistently enforced. The hard truth is, millions of Latin American folks would rather live here as indentured servants than in their own countries as (more or less) free individuals. As for living apart from one's beloved family members back in the home country, that is a purely voluntary decision in which prospective (illegal) immigrants must weigh the costs and benefits of seeking a higher paying job in the U.S.A. Don't blame those who make and enforce the laws for that!

UDPATE: Webb of hypocrisy

The candidate himself may be playing it very low key in terms of actual campaign appearances, but the first TV ads on behalf of James "Born Fighting" Webb have come out, so there must be someone in his organization who is serious about it. Unfortunately, Webb chose to make use of film footage of him standing with Ronald Reagan, as if The Gipper were giving him an endorsement from The Afterlife. For someone who switched parties, such a move is extremely presumptuous, to say the least. Nancy Reagan has already objected, and this phony stunt will probably end up angering more voters than it persuades. What's more, Webb is on record as having criticized the Reagan administration in sharp terms just after he stepped down as Navy Secretary, and his judgment on European defense policy at that time turned out to be grossly wrong. See Red State, via Chad Dotson. Perhaps the national security credentials of the pugnacious Scotsman are not as strong as many of us had assumed.

September 9, 2006 [LINK]

For a few warblers more...

I've only been doing a little bit of bird watching this past week, but I saw enough to make note of. Yesterday morning I walked behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad:

* Asterisks denote species classified as warblers but without "warbler" in their names. This morning (Saturday) I took advantage of the exceptionally nice, clear weather by going for a walk around Betsy Bell Hill. It was slow going at first, but after a while I finally came across a group of noisy birds foraging in the bushes:

It was my first-ever definite sighting of an Orange-crowned warbler in this country; I saw one in Mexico in 2003, and have had a few other "probable" glimpses. The broken eye ring, blurry streaks on the pale yellow breast, solid olive brown back, yellow undertail coverts, and a tail that is all dark underneath leave no doubt.

September 10, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Another rocky series for Nats

Just like in mid-June, a promising winning streak by the Nationals has been ruined by a four-game sweep inflicted upon them by the Colorado Rockies, who have thus become the only National League team that has not been beaten at all by the Nationals this year. (The Washingtonians lost three games against Toronto in inter-league play in late June.) All four of the games in Coors Field were high-scoring, as is often the case there, but the extra run production does not seem related to the thin air, as there were no more than the usual number of home runs. In the finale game this afternoon, Pedro Astacio lasted only two and a third innings, giving up six runs. In his defense, however, he did get a hit and score a run. Somehow, the Nats managed to get 17 hits but only 9 runs, while the Rockies got 13 runs off only 12 hits. Bad base-running? Twice they had the bases loaded with no outs, but only got two runs combined out of those situations. One faint glimmer of hope in the midst of late-season gloom is the new provisional center fielder Nook Logan, who got a triple and a home run. Friday night's game was especially wild, with eight errors altogether (six by Washington), and three straight innings of lead switches, from the sixth through the eighth. Too bad Denver couldn't muster more than 23,000 or so fans to witness all the excitement. A year ago, I would have been happy to see a game end with Jamey Carroll throwing the ball to Vinny Castilla for the final out. This year, however, they are both playing for the Rockies, so I was sad when it happened. I wonder if Vinny's family in Oaxaca has been affected by the recent violence there?

Construction zips along

Work on excavation and putting in the foundation pilings for the new stadium in Washington is just about done. "Clark Construction has said the ballpark likely will be completed on time as long as the steel framework is in place by October. The project is on target for that goal, officials said." The question of what kind of parking facility has not been resolved yet, so the April 2008 target completion date is not at all certain. See Washington Times. (via Mike Zurawski)

September 11, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Anti-Morales protests in Bolivia

Opponents of the constituent assembly convened by President Evo Morales staged a strike to register their feelings, but the protest was largely concentrated in the eastern Bolivian state of Santa Cruz. That part of the country is more modern, more European in terms of ethnicity, and most importantly, is where the natural gas that Morales covets so much are located. As explained by the BBC, the immediate dispute centers around the desire of Morales to make each article in the revamped national charter to be passed by a simple majority. It would still be necessary to gain two-thirds support to ratify the final document, but the opposition objects to "changing the rules illegally." The protests are becoming violent, raising the specter of a war of secession by the easterners. Publius Pundit has a boatland of on-the-scene photos of the protests, who notes that [pro-Morales, i.e., pro-Chavez] groups used cudgels to intimidate the protesters. I am sympathetic to the anti-Morales movement, but I'm not sure I share the opinion that "The force impelling them is the same as that which drove the American Revolutionaries of 1776." Comparing them to the rebels of 1861 might be just as apt...

This protest movement seems to have a dark side, however. In Santa Cruz, a molotov cocktail was thrown at the Channel 7 TV station, and a group calling itself the "Cruceña Youth Union" was blamed. See

UPDATE: Miguel Centellas, whose family lives in Santa Cruz, offers a bold assessment: "Evo can't crack down on the Santa Cruz & Tarija led autonomy movements." Why not? The hero of the highland Indians simply lacks support among the predominantly lowland (eastern) officer corps, and the police in Santa Cruz answer to local authorities, not the central government in La Paz. The question thus becomes, Is Evo willing to mobilize his supporters and form a militia force capable of duking it out in the streets? If so, things could get ugly very fast.

September 11, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Conserving land in the Valley

I recently noticed some huge brown signs along the side of I-81, the kind that announce things like parks and historical sites, but this one was advertising the availability of Augusta County for industrial development. "Heritage shmeritage!?" I gather that this is part of the Board of Supervisors' campaign to attract industrial developers to the proposed "mega-site" near the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Weyer's Cave. See my blog post of May 15, which highlights the environment- friendly attitude of Augusta County supervisors Kay Frye (a Republican) and Nancy Sorrells.

Worried that not enough people are doing their part to urge our local leaders to "Whoa down!," on Friday I paid a visit to the Valley Conservation Council, in downtown Staunton, and I learned a lot in a short time. The organization's primary policy tool for protecting land and water against pollution and other environmental harm is through "conservation easements," which are voluntary, perpetual obligations to set aside certain tracts of privately-owned land for the benefit of all. In return, the property owners get a substatial tax reduction. Another tool is the establishment of "agricultural / forestal districts" within which no non-agricultural use will take place. These voluntary agreements have a term of between four and ten years. In my mind, those are exactly the kind of enlightened, practical steps that are necessary. I only hope that enough residents of Augusta County wake up and push their leaders to adopt a more restrained, far-sighted development policy.

September 11, 2006 [LINK / comment]

9/11: Five years later

On the fifth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center, I would like to contribute to memories of our proud history by sharing photos I took of those awesome skyscrapers in 1987.

World Trade Center above World Trade Center below

We are living in troubled times, testing each of us as we strive to draw meaning from the assault on America that took place five years ago. As ABC's movie The Path to 9/11 makes clear, this country's government and people lived in blissed unawareness of the fact that, as early as 1993, we already were at war with Islamic terrorists (or fascists). It was not essentially a matter of law enforcement then, and it is not now either. The objections some people raised to that movie, which is a powerful and gripping dramatization (!) of the events leading up to 9/11, are a bad sign that some people loathe to face up to the harsh truth. On this solemn occasion, however, we should not quarrel about politics or lay blame for our past failures. I pray for national reconciliation and reunification, and that each of us be motivated to reflect on what he or she could do to make our nation stronger, safer, and even better than it already is. I am...

Proud to be an American!

September 11, 2006 [LINK / comment]

ABC in Montgomery Hall Park

I joined Allen Larner and Jo King and several other members of the Augusta Bird Club for a field trip at Montgomery Hall Park yesterday. It was mild and partly cloudy, very comfortable weather for walking around. Before we even left the parking lot, we spotted a pair of Cape May warblers in some nearby evergreen trees. Here's the list of what I saw, with conservatively estimated numbers of each species:

That makes eight warbler species altogether! In addition, I heard but could not quite see a White-eyed vireo in the bushes, and Allen Larner heard what he thought was a Black-billed cuckoo. Yesterday will probably go down as the peak day of the fall migration season for me, and without even leaving the city limits!

September 12, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Stadium construction Web cam

Webcam 091206 No explanation necessary: Clark Construction is letting the world take a peek at what they are doing at the South Capitol Street construction site. Just click on that image to see for yourself. They have finished the main concourse level on the southeast side of the stadium, and the foundation pilings have been put in place around much of the rest of the stadium. The view is toward the north; the U.S. Capitol dome is visible in the right center, next to the crane cable. I have a feeling I'll be checking progress there every couple days or so for the next 18 or so months. Note that the Web cam image will only display correctly on relatively recent Web browsers. (Hat tip to the David chapter of SABR. [Permission from OxBlue to reproduce this reduced-size image has been granted.]

September 12, 2006 [LINK / comment]

"Nonaligned" summit in Cuba

That anachronistic relic from the Cold War known as the "Nonaligned Movement" is regaining some of its former relevance, thanks to the resurgence of radical politics in parts of Latin America and the Third World. A summit of "nonaligned" country leaders is presently convening in Cuba, whose foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque declared, "the movement is more necessary than ever." Some of the major countries in attendance are on fairly good terms with Washington, however (India, Pakistan, and Thailand), so there may be some interesting dynamics coming out of the meeting. See The Nonaligned Movement was founded in 1961 and was a major focus of the foreign policy of the leftist-nationalist Peruvian military government during the 1970s. In practice, most of those "Nonaligned" countries had much closer relations with the Soviet Union than with the United States.

September 13, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Is the Mexico City protest fading?

In a possible sign of decreased tensions at long last, PRD protesters in Mexico City said they will remove their "tent cities" from downtown so that the September 16 Independence Day military parade may take place unhindered. AMLO has been much less visible in the last few days, possibly recognizing that he really did lose. Or maybe he's just tired. Meanwhile, as a gesture intended to raise mutual confidence, President-elect Felipe Calderon has urged that the ballots from the July 2 elections not be burned, as is the custom. "IFE president Luis Carlos Ugalde responded ... by pointing out the destruction of the ballots is required in election law." A monumental legal battle is pending. See El Universal.

That porous Mexican border

Based on a Freedom of Information Act request from the Department of Homeland Security, Judicial Watch reports that personnel of the Mexican government made 226 incursions into the United States between 1996 and 2005. It is not clear whether that number includes cases where the border was not marked, as in rough terrain, or in Rio Grande sandbars that may shift from year to year. There is no doubt, however, that on many past occasions Mexican police or soldiers were escorting drug traffickers or people entering the United States illicitly. Presumably, such incidents have fallen since President Bush sent National Guard troops to help patrol the border. Any compromises the Bush administration makes with the incoming government of Felipe Calderon with regard to immigration must be contingent upon an immediate cessation of all such activity. Respect between our countries must be mutual.

September 13, 2006 [LINK / comment]

The primary elections

In Rhode Island, Sen. Lincoln Chafee defeated a challenge by conservative Steve Laffey, which is probably for the best from a conservative point of view, given that the liberal Democrat nominee Sheldon Whitehouse would almost certainly have defeated Laffey in the general election. "The best is the enemy of the good." In the Democratic race for Senate in Maryland, Ben Cardin defeated Kweisi Mfume and millionaire real estate developer Josh Rales. Republican Michael Steele, currently serving as Lieutenant Governor, stands a good chance of picking up a seat for the GOP. He comes across as very sincere in his TV ads, identifying with average Americans who are sick of nasty political feuds and just want someone to get something done in Washington. And speaking of our Nation's Capital, Adrian Fenty trounced Linda Cropp in the mayoral primary, which is tantamount to a general election victory given the near-monopoly on power enjoyed by the Democrats. These races and others are covered at It is amusing to note that Mrs. Cropp had earned the resentment of baseball fans in Washington by her rather fickle negotiating tactics over the stadium financing issue from late 2004 to early 2006, which was clearly aimed at garnering support from lower class District residents, but which failed. Ironically, she was endorsed by her former adversary in that stadium controversy, Mayor Tony Williams. Fenty was consistently opposed to any significant public funding for a new baseball stadium. I disagreed with his reasoning and suspect that political calculations were behind it, but he at least seemed to have a more principled stance on that issue than did Mrs. Cropp.

Is Webb closing the gap?

The latest Mason-Dixon poll has James "Born Fighting" Webb climbing to within four points of incumbent George Allen, largely as the result of the "macaca" gaffe. See AP / News Leader. I'll believe Webb is a serious candidate when he makes a rousing, off-the-cuff speech to a large crowd. Today, several women who attended military academies renewed complaints that Webb's dismissive remarks about women long ago contributed to an atmosphere of sexual harrassment they suffered. They appeared in a televised press conference, but I have been unable to find a news story about it in the mainstream media so far. This is only the first of Webb's several vulnerabilities that have not received due attention thus far because the candidate himself did not receive much attention.

Chris Green, a former U.S. Marine, points to the new Webb TV ad as evidence that the candidate is not even in charge of his own campaign, based on the fact that the ad refers to him as a "Soldier, Scholar, Leader...." Marines, whose necks are made of leather, have thin skins when it comes to what you call them. Soldiers are in the Army; Marines are Marines!

Khatami comes to U.Va.

Former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami is on a goodwill tour of the United States, and paid a visit to the University of Virginia a couple days ago. Like the visit of Mikhail Gorbachev over a decade ago, some people took it as an affront to the Jeffersonian liberal ideals that the University represents. Brian Boddissey reports on Khatami's visit at Gates of Vienna. President Khatami was one of the few real-world figures who was mentioned in the movie Syriana. See August 30. As the movie pointed out, even though Khatami is a Shiite cleric, as all high Iranian officials are required to be, relatively speaking, he is a moderate who favors some tolerance. Unlike the current President Amhadinejad, furthermore, he never questioned the holocaust or threatened to destroy Israel. Unfortunately the mullahs who really run Iran behind the scenes objected to his modest push for reform, which is how Amhadinejad was thrust into power last year.

September 14, 2006 [LINK / comment]

9/11 and baseball

One of the blogs I should visit more often is "Baseball Crank", as he shares my interests in baseball and my general political outlook. Like me, he makes it easy for fans to see baseball-only blog content. He was on his way to work at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and wrote a survivor's essay shortly thereafter: "Why Baseball Still Matters." It's a plaintive invokation of Our National Pastime's vital role in keeping this nation united in these trying times -- or at least at peace with itself. Remember Joe Torre, Rudy Giuliani, and President Bush at Yankee Stadium after the baseball season resumed? If that didn't put a lump in your throat, nothing will.

Nationals rebound in desert

Each team scored a total of 14 runs in the three-game series, so the fact that the Nationals came away from Phoenix with two wins should count as a positive sign, especially after getting swept in Denver. Here are some other reasons for Nats fans to draw some (faint) cheer:

UPDATE: I just noticed they changed the players shown in the banner image on the Nationals' Web site. As I had anticipated on August 7, Jose Guillen's face is gone, replaced by Nick Johnson. Does that portend a trade?

September 14, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Brazil - India trade deal

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President "Lula" da Silva signed some major trade agreements focusing on technology and development of alternative energy sources during a visit by Singh to Brazil this week. Bilateral trade between those countries has quadrupled in the past six years, but at only $2 billion a year, it pales in comparison to their trade relationships with other countries. See BBC. Since both are on a similar path of industrialization thanks in great measure to a large, very productive work force, however, it is hard to see what kind of trade complementarities they might be able to exploit. They do share common political aspirations. Those two countries are the true giants of the "Third World," and each has achieved a considerable degree of economic development in the past two decades, in effect "graduating" from Third World status. Along with Nigeria, they are considered serious prospects for eventual inclusion as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

September 15, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Crunch time in Iraq (again)

It seems like every few months that passes in Iraq there comes another decisive moment, where the good guys either have to prevail or back out. The past two months have seem to qualify as such a "turning point," with nonstop horrific car bombings perpetrated by Al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents, and revenge killings by Shiite militia forces. The U.S. response was woefully inadequate -- beefing up troop strength in Baghdad by a brigade and extending the duty of a few units. Bleak as things seem, it would be foolish to put much stock in any predictions -- either optimistic or pessimistic. The truth is, we simply can't tell how much moral and physical resources the terrorists have left.

In recent days it was learned that Marine commanders are becoming pessimistic about containing the insurgency in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, west of Baghdad. Iraqi government forces have had little success in standing up to the tribal warlords, necessitating a heavy U.S. troop presence. For how long? The Pentagon responded by stressing that the overall security situation in Iraq is more complex, and indeed much of the country is fairly peaceful, and much progress is being made. Not in Baghdad or the Sunni triangle, though. See DefenseLink. Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, who commands the Multinational Corps in Iraq, said that Anbar province is of secondary important, and that "Baghdad is our main effort right now." Retreating into the fortress is not an encouraging sign, if that's what it is. See Washington Post.

Another worrisome sign is that Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT), a moderate who has consistently supported the war in Iraq, now supports legislation calling for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq next year. He led a House subcommittee hearing today, seeking frank assessments from Mideast experts. Prof. Fouad Ajami said he thinks the war in Iraq was "fated" from the day the terrorists struck us in 2001. The United States simply had to confront and defeat an Arab country, since the airline hijackers were Arab. He has often criticized U.S. foreign policy, but on this question he implied that the U.S. response was understandable. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) seemed a bit irritated by this, wanting unequivocal support for his anti-war stance, but it's an interesting point.

In the Washington Post two weeks ago, John Lehman wrote "We're Not Winning This War." (First James Webb, now Lehman -- what is it with these defeatist former secretaries of the Navy who served under Reagan?) To be perfectly honest, Lehman made some convincing points. Above all, the primary objective of the war -- to retore global security by dissuading other countries from flirting with WMDs and terrorists -- does not seem to be working in Iran, Syria, or North Korea. The rogue regimes comprising the "Axis of Evil" (which is not really much of an axis) is as defiant as ever.

Another way to assess the war is whether it is pushing the Iraqi government and security forces toward more competence and professionalism. The Winds of Change blog (via Donald Sensing), cited a U.S. Marine in Iraq who is becoming exasperated with the refusal of Iraqi military officers to rise above their past brutal, corrupt, tribalist ways. Hence the rise of the Shiite militias, which work tacitly with the Iraqi government. This goes to show that winning or losing in Iraq is the hands of the Iraqi people themselves -- we can help them, but ultimately U.S. actions will not be decisive.

After a period of quiet reflection during his August vacation, President Bush has come out swinging, with a series of major speeches. In Salt Lake City earlier this month, he invoked the term "Islamic fascism," a welcome blunt depiction of the threat we face that angered many people who seem to think being nice wins wars. More recently he warned that giving up in Iraq would show the enemy that we lack the will to prevail, making us more vulnerable to terrorism. I think he is probably right about that, but he really needs to make some tough decisions to show that he has the will to prevail. What should he do?

Above all, Bush needs to take decisive action in terms of deploying U.S. forces. Shifting a battalion here or a brigade there is not going to win this war. Incremental, risk-averse moves are one of the similarities with Vietnam that I find disquieting. If U.S. forces really are exhausted and at the end of their rope, then it is time to either expand our regular armed forces by at least ten percent, or else pull back. The former alternative would require a large tax hike, which would deeply annoy many conservatives. It is one hell of a dilemma. This is precisely the sort of situation where a wartime president ought to convene a special summit of leaders from both parties to reestablish a semblance of national unity in the war effort. They could be joined by retired "elder statesmen" such as former secretaries of state George Shultz, Zbigniew Brezinzski, or Henry Kissinger. (Frankly I doubt that Warren Christopher or Madeleine Albright would be of much use, but their presence might help a little.)

Many people ask whether we would have liberated Iraq if we had known what they ultimate consequences would be, but such speculations are pointless. I supported Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and even if worse comes to worse, I would stand by that original judgment. At various points during and immediately after the war, many observers (including me) criticized the way the war and the occupation were being conducted, and it is very possible that things could have turned out much better than they did in real life.

Did 9/11 unify us?

Steven Den Beste, who used to run his own blog, begs to differ from the widespread notion that 9/11 "brought us together." There is a particularly thoughtful comment by , who argues that Western intellectuals tend to blame their own governments for the problems of the world because their whole purpose in life is tied to influencing policy making, and non-Western governments are simply impervious to rational persuasion by outsiders.

September 15, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Broad-winged hawks: awesome!

I took a casual stroll along Bell's Lane late this afternoon, and was startled to spot a large kettle of Broad-winged hawks approaching from the north. Soon another group joined them, creating an awesome tornadic swirl, and I estimated at least 130 altogether. This was at 5:15 PM. The hawks gradually headed south, not southeast, so it is possible that they did not pass through Rockfish Gap, where the hawk watch coordinated by Brenda Tekin is taking place. I'll have to get up there soon...

I also saw:

I got a good look at the flycatcher from about 30 yards away. It was definitely a member of the Empidonax family, and the yellow color on the breast and belly were distinct enough that I am confident of the species ID. The habitat, dense wetland bushes, is also characteristic of that species. In addition, I saw an adult Black rat snake crawling out of one of the nest boxes built for Bluebirds.

The hummingbirds have almost disappeared from our back yard, sadly. Goldfinches have been dropping by more often, though, and today I saw three of them on the thistle feeder next to the window, including a juvenile that was alternatingly feeding itself and begging from its father.

September 16, 2006 [LINK / comment]

40 / 40: Soriano did it!

After a few failed steal attempts and one that was invalidated because of defensive indifference, Alfonso Soriano finally crossed the Big Threshhold in the first inning tonight. He thus follows Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez as the only ones to get 40 homers and 40 stolen bases in one season. It was nice that it happened in a home game, as the fans in RFK Stadium gave him an extended standing ovation. What's more, the Nats capitalized on his baserunning to build an early lead which they never gave up. They bounced back from last night's loss to beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 8-5. Too bad Soriano may be playing for another team next year...

What about Nick?

But lest we focus all our attention on this National League MVP contender, let's not forget the other National stars. In the Washington Post, Thomas Boswell lauded slugger Nick Johnson for finally performing on a steady basis, and staying healthy. He has amassed one of the highest on-base percentages in the majors this year. He leads the team in batting average (.292) and has 22 home runs, and is tied (with David Ortiz) for third place in the majors with 105 walks, behind Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi. It's called smart batting:

Some hitters look for high or low pitches, or guess "inside" or "outside." However, Johnson's sense of the strike zone is so acute that he doesn't need this popular "zoning" technique. So, he has the luxury of looking for a particular kind of pitch.

It's a good thing Jim Bowden signed Nick to a three year contract last winter!

Parking problems

According to the Washington Post, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission fears the new stadium parking complex project is about to collapse, and wants to pay a developer nearly a million dollars to void the construction contract. That was Mayor Tony Williams' big idea, trying to maximize the neighborhood development spinoff from the new stadium. As you can see in the artists' renderings, however, those buildings would be so tall that they would block the view of the Capitol dome except for a very few lucky fans. To heck with that! I've decided the Lerners' opposition to that project is well founded after all.

Pennant musings

QUESTION: Why is it that almost every time I watch the Yankees play this year, on TV or at the ballpark, they lose? They have been cruising to an easy divisional championship since the Red Sox fell apart in July, and another Subway Series is a very strong prospect. Would one more World Series victory in the "real" Yankee Stadium be too much to ask? Too bad the Tigers have failed to keep up with the pace they established in the first half of the season. And the Braves have long since resigned themselves to their first non-playoff October since 1990.

The mail bag

Chris Kassulke points out that Kauffman Stadium is within Kansas City proper, not in the suburb of Independence, as I had thought. Did the city limits change over the years? And Mike Zurawski found some more artists' renderings of the future D.C. stadium, which will have a grass slope in center field, like in Ameriquest Field. See

September 17, 2006 [LINK / comment]

AMLO chosen "parallel president"

Just as he had warned he would do, losing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador convened his followers in the Zocalo in downtown Mexico City (after removing his encampments prior to Independence Day, however) and was acclaimed "president" by a show of hands. In spite of the lack of a meaningful vote count at this mass gathering, no one spoke up to demand a recount. (For security reasons, the official Independence Day ceremonies had been moved to the town of Dolores Hidalgo, where the independence movement was launched in 1810.) The BBC story is headlined "Mexican political crisis deepens," but I think the worst is over. I'm betting that AMLO's move is mainly a gesture of symbolic defiance, to keep up the spirits of his PRD workers. We will know better two and a half months from now, when Felipe Calderon is inaugurated president of Mexico. Even if there are boisterous jeers at the swearing-in, and even if AMLO sets up a "parallel government," it wouldn't be much different from what happened in the United States in January 2001. The Mexican Left will probably gripe and moan to get as much political mileage from the close election as they can, but they probably realize they have a lot more to lose than to gain if they shift from rhetorical defiance to actual subversion. They aren't dumb, and in democratic politics, "tomorrow is another day."

September 17, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Green violet ear comes to Iowa

Green violet ear My brother John responded to a rare bird alert in Sioux City, Iowa -- a Green violet ear, which is a kind of hummingbird that normally lives in highland areas from central Mexico as far south as Bolivia. After waiting for a half hour or so, his patience -- and that of Monica! -- was amply rewarded, as this fine photograph attests. So how did this little guy end up several thousand miles north of his normal range? Maybe he was looking for the Field of Dreams. (Is this Heaven?) Ah, the mysteries of Nature...

UPDATE: Diana Pesek, a bird watcher from Iowa who was visiting this area a few months ago, saw my e-mail news alert and replied:

We had one [Green violet ear] last year over on my side of the state that stayed for about a week, coming to a feeder at a couple's farm home near Waterloo in northeast-central Iowa...

Could it be the same individual? A nonconforming rugged individualist, perhaps, or just defective navigational skills?

Afton Mountain hawk watch

I finally made it up to the hawk watch at Rockfish Gap / Afton Mountain this afternoon, after a regrettably long absence. While the human company was plentiful and friendly -- Brenda Tekin, Gordy Adamski, and a number of new folks -- the number of raptors we observed was quite low. After a couple hours I drove along the crest of the Blue Ridge on Route 610, but didn't see much there, either. Back in Staunton late in the afternoon, I went to Bell's Lane to see if that Yellow-bellied flycatcher was still there. It wasn't, but there were several dozen other noisy songbirds, to my surprise. Here's today's list, with rough estimates of how many of each I saw, segregated according to place, in rough chronological order:

Also, there were many Monarch butterflies at each place I went.

September 18, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Ahmadinejad visits Venezuela

Following the conclusion of the "Nonaligned" Summit in Cuba, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid a visit to Venezuela and the two rogue chieftains warmly embraced. Hugo Chavez announced that the two countries plan to set up a plant for producing gunpowder and other components of ammunition." It is almost (!) as if they are going out of their way to provoke the United States. See Chavez and Ahmadinejad talked about how much their countries have in common. Huh?? What characteristics do they share, besides oil deposits and the fact that their leaders routinely vent berserk rhetoric aimed at Uncle Sam? Venezuela and Iran have signed a wide variety of commercial and economic development agreements over the past year. If Third World history is any guide, however, such politically-motivated "business" ventures are not likely to last very long. Whenever factory bosses are more concerned with pleasing those to whom they owe patronage than in producing at maximum efficiency, such enterprises will start losing money. Before long, there will be no further reason for the governments to keep them going with subsidies.

September 18, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Allen - Webb debate double dip

Neither George Allen nor James "Born Fighting" Webb committed any gaffes on Meet the Press yesterday (the transcript is available at MS-NBC), and there actually was some thoughtful exchange of opinions, mostly about war and national security. Webb cleverly evaded getting sucked into the "withdrawal deadline" debate trap he had created for himself by invoking what President Eisenhower did to extricate us from the Korean War "mess" after he became president in 1953. What Webb neglected to mention was that the way Eisenhower forced the Chinese to agree to an armistice was by implicitly threatening to escalate the conflict to the nuclear level. Otherwise, the stalemated see-saw conflict would have dragged out for years and years, much like World War I. Invoking the Korea precedent as the basis for U.S. strategy in the Iraq war implies that we should make a similar threat to the real source of the conflict: Iran!

Webb managed to put Allen on the defensive at one juncture by pointing to the building of fortified compounds for U.S. troops, implying that our commanders are resigned to remaining in hostile territory for years to come. It is too bad that Allen didn't do better in criticizing Webb's alternative of redeploying U.S. troops out of Iraq to nearby friendly countries such as Qatar or Bahrain. It is the same thing that Rep. John Murtha has advocated, and it makes no strategic sense at all! Such a retreat would be very demoralizing the the moderate regimes in the region, making the vulnerable to subversion by Islamo-fascist terrorists. I would have to agree with Larry Sabato that Allen missed an opportunity to convince wavering voters that he is committed to serving a full six-year term in the Senate. By demurring on that question in front of a national audience, he practically declared his candidacy for president. At the end, Tim Russert asked both candidates what they would say to young people about their nasty tobacco chewing habit ("dipping"), and of course, there is no good answer for that.

Today's debate in Northern Virginia (shown by C-SPAN) was likewise constructive, though both candidates played it just a little too safe. Allen was pressed on the "Macaca" gaffe, for which he again apologized (appropriately), but he strained credulity by denying he knew what it meant. He resented having his mother dragged into the controversy, which is understandable, but he brought it on himself. Webb came across as restless and a bit grouchy, and he still doesn't convey a sense that he has a strong idea of what he wants to do in the Senate. I think he missed a big opportunity to make an impression on public opinion in the Commonwealth.

Campaign bloggers

Sunday's Washington Post took a look at the impact of bloggers that are paid by political candidates. They mention the new Allen's A-team blog, run by Chad Dotson of Commonwealth Conservative fame, as well as some others. Technically, it is not associated with the Allen campaign, and Chad makes it clear that neither he nor the others on the "A-Team" blog are getting paid for it. Speaking of which, A-Team member Riley points out that Jim Webb opposed the "Desert Shield" troop buildup in late 1990, just as he opposed the liberation of Kuwait. That does not speak very well for Webb's judgment in strategic matters.

Pope regrets offense to Muslims

The fact that an obscure remark by Pope Benedict to a gathering of scholars could result in so much violence and mayhem in the Muslim world tells us a lot about the world we live in. He said he is "deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries," which is not quite the same thing as an apology. His address at the University of Regensburg, Germany on September 12 cited a 14th-century dialogue between Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologos and a Persian scholar. The former said:

Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached. SOURCE: Washington Post)

I suppose the Pope could have made it clearer that he was not echoing that opinion, but I doubt the reaction in the Muslim world would have been much different. So what does this say about the doctrine of Papal Infallibility? (It only applies to matters of Church Doctrine, but it would seem that's what this case is.) Has a Pope ever been forced to make such a self-abasing gesture of contrition before?

Already, various Muslim extremist groups are using this gaffe as an excuse to kill Christians and burn churches. "Don't they realize that by reacting violently they are only contributing to the image of Islam as a violent religion?" Of course they do! In any case, fanatics are generally oblivious to irony. On a higher level, this incident demonstrates why the term "Islamo-fascist" is an apt description of the global movement that this violence represents. As with German, Italian, and Japanese fascism in the 1930s, the Islamo-fascism of today takes a miniscule plausible grievance and blows it all out of proportion, construing ordinary statements as intolerable insults or grave menaces. It basically recasts the moral foundation of discourse by presuming that a gradual shift of global political power in their favor is entirely natural, and that anything else constitutes a hideous threat. That is why gestures that seek to placate ("appease") the Muslim protesters are so utterly useless. It only rewards their previous aggressive behavior and encourages them to escalate their demands.

UPDATE: This is one of those cases where only Scott Ott's ScrappleFace can express just how totally absurd things have gotten: "Sorry Pope Considers Sainthood for Muhammad" (Hat tip to Stacey Morris.)

September 18, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Red-headed woodpeckers!

Another quick check of Bell's Lane late on this gorgeous afternoon yielded more pleasant surprises: At least one adult Red-headed woodpecker and at least one juvenile Red-headed woodpecker were chattering and flying about the tops of some big oak trees. I saw several of those woodpeckers in South Dakota in July (), but they are relatively rare in Virginia. This family was no doubt migrating southward. Today's list:

Oddly, there was much less bird activity overall than there was yesterday at the same time.

September 19, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Metropolitan Stadium

Metropolitan Stadium The Metropolitan Stadium page has been updated with diagrams that conform to the "new" standard, as well as additional versions for 1961 and 1977.

The sponsor of that page, Mark London, brought to my attention a (relatively) new batch of photos of the Met after it was abandoned by the Twins and Vikings, on Prescott's Metropolitan Stadium page. Some of those photos were extremely useful in getting the details just right. Thank you, Mark.

Old stadiums in "limbo"

Seeing those photographs of the Met after it was abandoned made me think about the broader phenomenon of stadiums in "limbo," which I define as that bleak phase between functional demise and structural obliteration. "The Met" endured four years of limbo, which is about average for the 18 past major league stadiums that were torn down more than a year after their teams moved on to greener pastures. The most recent stadium to be demolished, Busch Stadium II, never passed through "limbo," as it was demolished as soon as possible after the Cardinals were eliminated from the playoffs last year. The other former baseball stadiums that are still in "limbo" include:

One might also add [Jack Murphy / QualComm Stadium and Candlestick / Monster Park], except that football is still played in both those venues. The same thing applied to RFK Stadium prior to last year, given that soccer was played there after the Redskins left in 1996. One could argue that League Park, Jarry Park, and Braves Field qualify as well, inasmuch as they have been largely demolished, except for one section in each case. Memorial Coliseum was never really a baseball stadium to begin with, so it certainly does not qualify.

New stadium page sponsor

Many thanks to Steven Kindborg for sponsoring the Yankee Stadium and Ebbets Field pages. The latter goes straight to the top of my "to-do" list. Is one of your favorite stadiums in need of updating on this Web site? Please take a look at the Sponsor page. Steven's Web site is chock full of baseball memorabilia for sale, and includes a message board for folks hunting down rare items.

The mail bag

Speaking of Yankee Stadium, I got an e-mail inquiry from Jonathan Veilleux who wonders how far Mickey Mantle's famous May 22, 1963 blast that hit the roof facade travelled. I figure the edge of the roof was 10-15 feet behind the right field fence, so the total horizontal distance was almost 360 feet. If the ball was indeed still rising when it hit the facade (108 feet high), Philip Lowry notes in Green Cathedrals, it would have gone 620 feet. Robert Adair's The Physics of Baseball casts doubt on homers claimed to go much further than 500 feet, however. He estimates that Mantle's tape-measure home run in Griffith Field in 1953 -- claimed to have gone 565 feet -- actually travelled about 506 feet in the air, and then bounced the rest of the way.

Nats bounce back against Braves

The Nationals more than made up for yesterday's 6-1 loss to the Braves by beating Atlanta 9-2 tonight. Nick Johnson and Jose Vidro -- who is not known as a big slugger -- both got home runs, and the entire lineup except for Felipe Lopez got at least one hit. The big story of the evening, however, was rookie pitcher Beltran Perez, who allowed only one hit over six innings in his very first major league start. Awesome! See The game didn't really matter, however, as Atlanta is already eliminated from the pennant race, and the Mets just clinched the NL East with nearly two more weeks to play.

September 20, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Stadium impressions: Hel-lo?

I am glad to see that quite a few baseball fans (plus a couple other folks) have already registered to use the new feedback features on this Web site. To my surprise, however, very few of them have posted their own "stadium impressions" thus far. Perhaps it is because the link to make use of that feature is found way down near the bottom of the stadium pages. In hopes of generating more interest in that feature, therefore, I have put additional "Stadium impressions" links in a more prominent position near the top of those pages for which impressions have already been registered. I may add such links for a few other pages soon.

More on "Limbo"

Following up on yesterday's note, I have posted a new page: Stadiums in Limbo.

Home run expert

UPDATE: Bruce Orser, who has done a great amount of research on tape measure home runs, reports that the Yankees measured to the point on the facade where Mantle's 1963 home run struck, and it was 374 feet from home plate. I didn't think the upper deck was that far (30 feet) behind the right field fence. Bruce also writes, "All were in agreement that the home run was still going up when it struck the facade. The only dissenter is Hector Lopez who says it struck the facade straight on." Bruce also brought to my attention, which has a comprehensive database of home runs, including estimates on distance and trajectory angle, and with video clips to boot!

September 20, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Chavez escalates his ranting

Like an attention-addicted spoiled child, Hugo Chavez scaled new heights of rhetorical absurdity at the United Nations today, calling President Bush "el Diablo," and saying the room still smelled of sulfur from Bush's presence yesterday. Well, well, well. U.N. Ambassador John Bolton responded appropriately, showing neither outrage nor anxiety: "We're not going to address that kind of comic strip approach to international affairs." (Does anyone still doubt that Bolton was absolutely the right man for this job?) Chavez went on to gloat, "The United States empire is on the way down and it will be finished in the near future for the good of all mankind." From this somewhat arguable premise, he called for a total "refounding" of the United Nations, which he believes is obsolete because it is based on the post-World War II world power structure. Well, he has a point there, at least. (Hint: France!) Just think, this is a guy who is seriously lobbying to gain a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council. The State Department needs to make it very clear, in the appropriate discreet way: Any country that votes in Venezuela's favor is declaring hostile intent toward the United States. For more on the unseemly outburst at the U.N. General Assembly today, see the Washington Post.

It would be easy to dismiss Hugo Chavez as a total nut, just as it was easy for some people to write off the militaristic bluster of Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s. If Chavez were not an elected official (fairly or not) and therefore impossible to ignore, he would easily qualify for my list of "unmentionable wackos." (One person on that list called for Chavez to be assassinated!) The sad fact is, we all know people who get away with saying outrageous things because no one has the guts to contradict him or her. Eventually, the situation gets totally out of hand in these cases, often resulting in violence. Chavez has clearly chosen a path of no return that can only end in a large-scale violent confrontation. His very credibility now rests entirely on the continuation of an arms buildup and collaboration with regimes that sponsor terrorism. For him to back down at this point would signify that he is nothing but a clown. Of course, he is a clown, but he is much, much more than that.

Chavez is clearly spoiling for a fight, perhaps dreaming of dying a glorious death while resisting the "Yankee imperialists." People who do not follow international politics closely need to remember: Such rhetorical expressions of defiant foreign policy must be taken with a grain of salt. Yet even though the United States should not fret too much about what Chavez says, we must pay a great deal of heed to what he does -- such as harboring or supporting terrorists. Whatever his true intentions may be, we should strongly resist any temptation to punish him by launching a direct military assault on Venezuela unless we are attacked first. Because of setbacks in Iraq, the U.S. government no longer enjoys the diplomatic prestige necessary to launch a war of preemption. In the next year or so, however, we may have little choice but to impose a air and naval blockade, much as Kennedy did to Cuba in 1962.

September 22, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Montesinos is convicted

Vladimiro Montesinos, who ran Peru's intelligence services under the Fujimori regime, was convicted of orchestrating a deal involving the sale of 10,000 assault rifles to Colombian guerrillas. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. See Montesinos used to be the most feared man in Peru, and he kept a library of incriminating videotapes documenting all of his bribes, blackmailing almost the entire political establishment in Peru. It basically nullified all of the progress that Fujimori had achieved in terms of economic and political stability.

Colombian rebels seek armistice

The National Liberation Army (ELN), the smaller and less brutal of the two main guerrilla movements in Colombia, has expressed interest in discussing terms for laying down their arms. President Alvaro Uribe has drawn criticism for offering conditional amnesty to right-wing paramilitary groups, but he also pledged to offer amnesty on the same terms to the leftist rebels, and they have taken him up on the offer. Negotiations are supposed to begin next month in Cuba. See If this works out, it would be a huge boost in prestige for Uribe, who was just reelected by a large margin last May. It seems doubtful that it will have much impact on the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), however, since they are reaping big profits from the narcotics trade.

September 22, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Rangel stands up for America

Rep. Charlie Rangel, that charming, gravel-voiced rascal who represents Harlem section of New York City, took exception to Hugo Chavez's off-the-wall insults of President Bush at the U.N. on Wednesday. Well, good for him! As the congressman explains on his Web site:

I feel that I must speak out now since the Venezuelan government has been instrumental in providing oil at discounted prices to people in low income communities who have suffered increases in rent as heating oil prices have risen sharply.

In other words, Rangel was motivated to speak out because he fears that his low-income constituents may be susceptible to subversive bribery. Chavez walked the streets of Harlem trumpeting his cheap heating oil program, a stunning display of effrontery after what he said at the U.N. For Rangel, that was going too far. Too bad it had to take such an extreme statement of Bush hatred to elicit a modest gesture of patriotism. Even so, Rangel felt compelled to qualify his denunciation by drawing an implicit -- and wrong-headed -- parallel between Bush's characterization of rogue regimes as an "Axis of Evil" and the "diabolical" name-calling by Chavez. Well, at least grave external threats do serve to forge bonds of national unity.

I noticed that Chavez endorsed Noam Chomsky's book, Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance to back up his assertion that Bush acts like he owns the planet. How fitting that one fringe kook endorses another. See I think Rush Limbaugh was correct to point out that the mainstream media (WaPo, NYT) purposefully downplayed Chavez's remarks, relegating the story to the middle of Section A rather than the front page where it belonged. Such news should send warning bells across the country that a real menace is in our midst.

I wonder how many Catholics in his country and elsewhere were offended by the mock-pious way Chavez crossed himself while calling Bush the Devil? He may be skating on thin ice in terms of popular support.

September 24, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Nick Johnson suffers broken leg

It was obvious right away that Nick Johnson was badly hurt after bumping into right fielder Austin Kearns in the eighth inning of Saturday's game with the Mets, and that he would be out for what is left of this season. To say he "suffered" is putting it mildly. The care that was taken in putting a splint on his right leg left little doubt that it was broken, as was confirmed a few hours later. The surgery on Saturday night to set the thigh bone (femur) properly was deemed a success. With the titanium rod implanted by the doctors, his leg should be able to bear a full weight load within four to six weeks. see Nick is one of the Nationals' "core" players, with a very solid performance record, and is a great all-around guy. Plus, he bears a striking resemblance to Babe Ruth! We can only pray that his leg heals well during the off-season and that he will ready to play again next year.

This ugly accident was broadcast in living color on FOX Saturday Baseball, no less. The game started off well, and the Nats had a 4-0 lead in the middle of the fifth inning, but Mike O'Connor gave up six runs, and the Mets went on to win, 12-6. Ryan Zimmerman reached into the stands to make a fantastic catch of a pop foul hit by Shawn Green in that game, but the ump couldn't see it, so the effort was all for nought. The Nationals managed to win two of the three games so far at Shea Stadium, at least. The final game in that series will be Monday night.

Postseason comes into focus

Having lost to the Rockies this afternoon, it is now known for certain that the Atlanta Braves will be missing postseason play for the first time since 1990 (leaving aside the 1994 strike, of course). The Yankees and Mets have clinched their divisions, and the Cardinals and Athletics are on the verge of doing so, and the Tigers clinched at least a wild card spot. The only real divisional races left are the AL Central and the NL West. To refresh your memory on what has happened in the last four Octobers, take a look at the Postseason scores page, which will soon be updated once the divisional series begin next week.

Searching for parking places

Having given up on the plan for a mixed-use high-rise parking/retail complex just north of the future home of the Nationals, the D.C. government is scrambling to find other suitable parking places. The lease agreement requires that at least 1,225 parking spots be completed by March 2008, the target completion date. The team owners, the Lerner family, insists that 5,000 parking places will be necessary if the team is to succeed financially. (RFK Stadium has nearly 10,000 parking places.) There is plenty of industrial wasteland that could be used for parking in the Buzzard's Point neighborhood southwest of the Frederick Douglass Bridge, but fans would have to walk several blocks to get to the ballpark. The fact that the (virtual) mayor-elect, Adrian Fenty, was a staunch opponent of spending any public money on a new baseball stadium means that friction is sure to continue as construction proceeds. See Washington Post. I think any parking garages next to the stadium higher than two stories would be an eyesore. Take Metro!

Shibe Park memories

Jeff Lego has submitted his recollections of the games he saw at Shibe Park, and wonders where the other fans' impressions are. Me too! Don't wait any longer: register today, and submit your own impressions! (The links to do so are near the bottoms of the respective stadium pages.)

September 24, 2006 [LINK / comment]

More straggling warblers...

The weather here in Virginia has been downright chilly and bleak lately, an unfairly early autumn. Nevertheless, I went for a walk at Montgomery Hall Park yesterday and saw:

I would be surprised if I see that many warblers again this year. On Friday a Phoebe showed up in our back yard, with the characteristic yellow plumage on the belly that is seen during the fall. Phoebes occasionally visit residential areas during migration season, but it would be rare to see one in a built-up areas during breeding season.

September 25, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Nationalists thwart conservation

I have long argued that one of the most promising avenues for promoting cooperation between North America and South America lies in the area of wildlife conservation. For example, "debt for nature swaps" in which environmental organizations buy the debt obligations of Third World countries in exchange for securing a permanent set-aside of land in critical wildlife habitats. It is a perfect "win-win" solution to two of the most vexing dilemmas in the arena of global politics. Another approach is grass-roots action by private individuals with the desire and the means to make a difference. Like many American philanthropists, Douglas Tompkins, founder of The North Face outdoor clothing company, wanted to repay his good fortune for the good of mankind, and indeed for the good of Nature itself. He and his wife, Kristine McDivitt, former head of the Patagonia company, set about buying tracts of land in Argentina and Chile, totaling 4.7 million acres altogether. They used it to create nature preserves, and ultimately turned over control of some of them to local governments, to become nature reserves in perpetuity.

Now, however, the forces of nativism and xenophobia are rearing their ugly head in Argentina, as political allies of President Kirchner are threatening to undo the good works of Tompkins and others like him. Sunday's Washington Post recounts the objections raised by Araceli Mendez, a member of the Argentine congress from Patagonia who has sponsored legislation to expropriate Tompkins' land, on the grounds of national security. Perhaps even worse, a high official in Kirchner's government, Luis D'Elia, showed up at Tompkins' estate and helped to tear down the fence. Appearing with the ambassadors of Venezuela and Bolivia soon afterwards, he justified the action by resorting to crude demagoguery:

What is more important, the private property of the few, or the sovereignty of everyone?"

How utterly insipid. In effect, D'Elia is pandering to absurd rumors (stemming from the presence of a new U.S. military base in Paraguay) that Tompkins is not really a high-minded friend of Nature, but is a covert agent working for the Pentagon! What could possibly explain such deranged paranoid fantasies? It may be that efforts by Tompkins to get his land-owning neighbors to adopt more environmentally friendly land-management practices, which are widely accepted in the United States and Europe, were taken as a grave offense in Argentina. President Kirchner has stayed out of this controversy, thus far.

It is important to remember the economic circumstances that paved the way for Americans to buy up so much real estate in Argentina: The massive devaluation five years ago that came about because of the fixed-exchange rate system put in place by former President Saul Menem, which was sustained -- ironically -- by financially unwise loans from the International Monetary Fund. This policy artificially shielded Argentina from market forces and thereby sustained a high rate of consumer spending until fundamental macroeconomic conditions were so far from equilibrium that a crash became inevitable.

This situation will put heavy pressure on nature activists in Argentina, many of whom normally are counted among the left-of-center "progressive" political forces. One leading group is the Argentina Wildlife Foundation, which has been supportive of Tompkins' work. Will they stand by while environmentally precious land is arbitrarily taken away -- most likely to be doled out to political favorites? Well-meaning environmental activists in the United States and other wealthy countries do need to remember to be sensitive of nationalistic sensibilities in Latin America and elsewhere in the Third World. Patient, earnest collaborative grass-roots work is the only way to overcome suspicions and achieve real progress -- or prevent further damage, at least -- on the international environmental front.

For background information on the status of various projects aimed at saving critical habitats in the New World tropics and subtropical regions, see the Latin America Wildlife conservation page (under construction).

September 25, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Clinton loses his cool on FOX

If you ask me, Bill Clinton's furious, hot-headed retort to Chris Wallace during a Fox News interview about his administration's lapses in dealing with terrorism suggests a guilty conscience. He really flew off the handle, shrilly blaming neoconservatives for not stopping Osama bin Laden. In contrast, "At least I tried." Sheesh. That aggressive finger-wagging and hints of a "vast right-wing conspiracy," just like 1998 all over again! The questions put by Wallace were perfectly reasonable, and could have been answered fairly convincingly without much loss of face by Clinton, but he simply could not stand to share any of the blame for 9/11. Tony Snow put it succinctly (see "He retorts, you decide." Clearly, the former president doth protest too much. The harder he strains to magnify his legacy, the smaller he shrinks in stature. The Washington Post reports that Clinton was angry because he thought he was going to be asked about his global climate proposals. Perhaps. Personally, I prefer to minimize the role of politics in debates over who failed the most in dealing with the threat of Al Qaeda. As I wrote on April 19, 2005,

To me, it's fairly obvious that both President Bush ("W") and President Clinton could have been more alert to the threat of terrorism, and even more obvious that partisan bickering over which of the two leaders did a better or worse job in that regard is not only pointless, but serves to divide us further, which is exactly what our enemies want.

Clinton's strident self-justification not only backfired, it unnecessarily stoked partisan animosity, just when we should be striving for national unity.

Bush compromises on "torture"

Last week's agreement between President Bush and the "rebellious" moderate Republican senators (Warner, McCain, Graham, and Chaffee) was a rare moment of common sense prevailing in Washington. Of course most Americans want our government to abide by the Geneva Convention to the maximum extent possible, but most of us do not want to subject our judicial processes to foreign oversight. Bush has pushed his discretionary executive powers a bit too far on more than one occasion, and it was entirely proper and necessary for the U.S. Senate to play its constitutional role in checking executive power. Fortunately, leaders on both side of Pennsylvania realized that we are all on the same side in this war, so there had to be some reasonable middle ground to satsify the concerns of both security and justice. Of course, Washingtonians tried to spin the agreement to make one side or the other look better, but as Ann Althouse (via Instapundit) warns, we shouldn't take such explanations at face value. So does it really matter which side compomised more? Not to me.

September 25, 2006 [LINK / comment]

First Ruby-crowned kinglet of fall

I figured a quick walk behind the good ol' Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad might be worth a few minutes of my time this evening, and my hunch proved correct. I caught tantalizing glimpses of very small yellowish birds in the tree tops as the light faded, and eventually I got a good, close view of a Magnolia warbler, with no markings, so it was probably a juvenile female. Then I saw an even smaller bird with wing bars but no yellow color, and luckily it stayed in view long enough for me to identify it as a Ruby-crowned kinglet. It's the earliest in the season I have ever seen that species, beating my old record by four days. I also saw a Phoebe with the characteristic yellowish tinge of fall.

This morning a hummingbird showed up at our feeder on the back porch, the first we have seen in over a week. Meanwhile, the Goldfinches are quickly losing their yellow breeding plumage as the summer quickly turns to fall.

September 26, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Nats derail, get back on track

They literally did derail on the train back from New York last night. Fortunately, it was only a minor incident, and no one was injured; see The Nationals had to catch an emergency replacement train to Washington, losing precious hours of sleep. The Phillies are fighting tooth and nail to grab the NL wild card spot, and the first inning in tonight's seemed to indicate they were going to run roughshod over the bleary-eyed Nats. Somehow, Ramon Ortiz settled down after that and didn't allow any more runs over the next five innings, while a clutch double by Ryan Zimmerman in the third inning put the Nationals ahead for good. Brian Schneider batted in an insurance run in the eighth inning that proved to be decisive, as Chad Cordero allowed a run in the top of the ninth. The Phillies still fell short, though, 4 to 3.

With 19 home runs, 107 RBIs, and 47 doubles already (sixth in the major leagues), Ryan Zimmerman is becoming the clear favorite to win the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year Award.

PNC Park on CBS

Did anyone catch the premier episode of the new CBS drama series Smith? The opening scene took place on the Allegheny River, with PNC Park in the background, all lit up at night. That sure caught my attention!

September 27, 2006 [LINK / comment]

More debates on transportation

The Virginia General Assembly is conving in a special session to iron out a compromise on funding transportation improvements. It now appears that Gov. Kaine's proposed broad-based tax hike is all but dead, a triumph for fiscal restraint. The Commonwealth Transportation Board has come out with a sensible compromise solution to the traffic congestion on Interstate 81, only widening certain "choke-points" such as hills and urban areas. See Richmond Times Dispatch. This basically sounds the death knell for the extreme eight-lane proposal of Star Solution, Inc. (See Feb. 8, 2005 blog post for background.) If gasoline prices start going up again (a very small "if"), traffic is likely to stabilize or even decline, obviating the need for wider superhighways.

Staunton's News Leader recently warned the local anti-tax Republican legislators that they had better get realistic in fashioning a compromise soon: "No more passes," the headline reads, implying that the editors' support of elected officials is a precious commodity not to be taken for granted. I think our delegates -- Chris Saxman, Steve Landes, and Ben Cline -- deserve major credit for standing up to pressure from the bureaucratic establishment, i.e., VDOT. Delegate Landes penned an op-ed piece that emphasized the necessity of reforming the ways that transportation projects are carried out. Too often they end up as gold-plated, over-wrought boondoggles.

Here's an alternative transportation funding solution that would raise millions of dollars very quickly: Just levy a $100 fine on every truck that parks along exit ramps and rest areas. Among the side benefits, that would also ease traffic congestion on I-81, give more business to truck stops and motels, and make rail transportation more competitive. Rest stops in Virginia at night have become dangerously overcrowded with semi-trailer trucks that are basically freeloading at the public's expense. Enough of that, already!

September 27, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Is Iraq war spreading terror?

According to the "flypaper" theory advanced by some proponents of the war in Iraq, the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq attracts terrorists to a military theater where they can more easily be killed. But are there more where they came from? That is the fundamental question. Some U.S. intelligence officials are convinced the war is backfiring by creating more terrorists. That is the position of the formerly anonymous Michael Sheurer, for example. The New York Times (who else?) spilled the beans about a classified National Intelligence Estimate, as reported by the Washington Post. The White House has authorized partial release of the NIE, which is available HERE -- via Glenn Reynolds, who writes:

While we should fire the leakers on general principles, we should probably also fire whoever wrote this -- for producing a meaningless document full of empty bureaucratic twaddle. If the jihadists win, they'll have more prestige! And they will probably use the internets! Do tell. Jesus Christ, if this is the quality of intelligence we're getting, no wonder we haven't won yet.

Indeed, that document is hardly as novel or explosive in content as some claim, merely stating some bland generalizations about ongoing trends and the underlying factors that are believed to be driving them. Like the "Downing Street Memo" that supposedly debunked the Bush administration rationale for war, it consists of opinions by one set of experts. In other words, it is not the final word on the matter.

So what is the correct answer? If those intelligence analysts simply mean to say that military means are not sufficient to defeat the terrorist threat, there is no question about that. But if they are saying that removing an overtly hostile and dangerous regime yielded a negative net strategic outcome for us, I simply do not get it. Even if Iraq descends further into civil war, sponsored by the mullahs in Iran, how does that make use less safe? There is simply no way for human intelligence to unravel such a puzzle. In fact, the very way of posing the question makes a direct answer impossible, because there is no valid alternative against which to compare likely outcomes.

On a more basic level, one might say that the war in Iraq is "causing more terrorism" in the same trivial sense that U.S. involvement in both World Wars "caused" more extreme military action by Germany. War is like an arm wrestling match in which increased effort by one side elicits increased effort by the other side, in a cycle that escalates and repeats itself until one side gives up. That's the way it always has been, and it's probably the way it always will be. So there is not as much reason to worry about an "increased" terrorism threat as most people think: It was a question of whether we would confront the Arab-Islamic extremists early on, or wait until the means and willpower of the Western world had been sapped, too weak to defend itself any more. I choose the former.

I think it probably would be correct to say that the war in Iraq would be undermining our security if the war in that country is allowed to drag on inconclusively for years on end. If, on the other hand, the United States could muster the resolve and resources needed to hunt down terrorist insurgents in Iraq, punish those who harbor them, and provide a clear sense of security for the fence-sitting bureaucrats and businessmen in Iraq, then the military enterprise would succeed and we would be safer, almost by definition. That is a huge "if," however. Until the November elections are over, it is very unlikely that President Bush will send any signals about wanting to devote a greater effort to winning the war. (Shhhh! We don't want to frighten voters just as gas prices are dropping, to the Republicans' delight.)

Speaking of the goal of "making us feel safer," Christopher Hitchens caustically ridiculed the very notion in a panel discussion that was shown on C-SPAN. In his mind, the task of national leaders is to bluntly tell the people in frank terms what a great threat we all face, not to hide it from us with a phony "security blanket." That's where the sober, grim determination recently expressed by Senator McCain comes in very handy. We have a long, tough road ahead of us, and the public has become wary of cheerful reassurances.

September 27, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Hawk watch? Not really...

Responding to an urgent call, I went up to Afton Mountain to help out with the hawk watch this morning. At first, the skies were clear blue, which you might think would be ideal conditions for observing hawks -- but you would be wrong. It's actually harder to keep track of them when there are no clouds to serve as reference points. After a while, Tom Pendleton and a few other nature enthusiasts showed up, but we saw relatively few hawks. We were fortuntate, nonetheless, to see some surprising appearances by other bird species. Today's list:

* The parula (a colorful member of the warbler family) crashed into a window of the Afton Inn, and fell to the sidewalk. I gently picked up the tiny thing, examined it, and then set it down in a safe place with a cup of water. After almost an hour of rest it started to stir, and while we weren't looking it flew away.

** Lark buntings breed exclusively in western states, but a few stray to the east occasionally. None have ever been seen in Augusta County. All I can say is I saw two medium-small black birds with a bluish tint and definite white wing bars; I had them in view for about ten seconds. Another possibility is a Bobolink, but I'm sure I would have noticed the buff colored back side of the head.

UPDATE on hawks:

I just learned from the hawk watch coordinator, Brenda Tekin, that 872 Broad-winged hawks were seen after I left this afternoon. (Jacqueline is extremely dubious of such high counts. ) Also, 30 more Sharp-shinned hawks, five more Peregrine falcons, and a few others. As Homer Simpson would say, "D'oh!"

September 28, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Adios, Frank Robinson?

"Inside sources" report that the Washington Nationals owners will not offer a renewed contract to manager Frank Robinson. It's not a big surprise, as many of us have raised questions about his judgment at various points. I only hope that this situation is handled in as dignified and respectful way as possible, as Robinson deserves no less. [UPDATE: Stan Kasten and general manager Jim Bowden each met with Frank Robinson this afternoon, erasing any doubt the owners' intentions. See] Coincidentally, I came across a photo of Frank at Ebbets Field when he played for the Reds; see (Thanks to Bruce Orser for the tip.)

That was quite an amazing back-and-forth game between the Nationals and the Phillies last night. The Nats were ahead for most of the game but fell one run behind in the eighth inning, then they tied it with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth, but could not close the deal. The Phillies got a run in the tenth, and the Nats did likewise to keep the game going. Three scoreless innings ensued, and then the Phillies got two runs. Once again, the Nats rallied, but only managed to get one run, thus losing, 8-7. So, the Phillies' playoff hopes are still alive. Ryan Zimmerman hit his 20th home run, while Alfonso Soriano went hitless for the third straight game.

UPDATE: Tonight's Nationals-Phillies game just got underway at 11:30 after a five-hour rain delay. They ought to give a medal to any fans who actually stayed to watch it. I'm going to try to see one of the games against the Mets this weekend... The Twins, Astros, and Dodgers have been closing in fast on the Tigers, Cardinals, and Padres, creating some very bizarre tiebreaker scenarios. There could be as many as three playoff games on Monday, possibly throwing the entire postseason schedule into turmoil. Down to the wire!

The mail bag

In a ceremony at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox dedicated a plaque to Johnny Pesky at the right-field pole named after him, on the occasion of his 87th birthday. See Also, the Cleveland Indians are going to build a new "Heritage Park" behind the center field picnic area at Jacobs Field, and you can buy your own paving bricks with your name inscribed. See Prices start at $150... (Hat tips to Mike Zurawski.)

Frederick Nachman has been corresponding with me on the fate of Comiskey Park, and tells me that an old sign prohibiting the resale of tickets is still attached to an old tree nearby. I have a hunch that the parking ramp across the street from U.S. Cellular Field was built around the steel framework of the original Comiskey Park grandstand, inasmuch as the shape and position of the structure are virtually identical to the old structure. Frederick insists that is not the case, however, and he has been there to take pictures, so he should know. Would any other Chicagoans care to opine on the matter?

Stadium impressions

The new "stadium impressions" feature is starting to catch on. Ronald Theriot has some good things to say about the Metrodome, Mark London recalls a rock concert at Metropolitan Stadium, and James Sutton fondly recalls the passing of Busch Stadium II. If you'd like to share your recollections, just register and click on the "impressions" link at the bottom of the stadium page in question.

September 28, 2006 [LINK / comment]

Richmond special session ends

Failing to narrow their differences over transportation funding, the Virginia General Assembly has called off their special session that was supposed to last two more days. There is virtually no chance that they will reconvene before the next regular session in January. Apparently, the squabbling in Richmond between moderate Senate Republicans and conservative House Republicans is as bad as ever. The inability to reach a compromise is another black eye for the Republican Party, but no deal is better than a bad deal. For the time being, taxpayers can breathe easier, while motorists get even more frustrated. Unless regional transportation authorities for Northern Virginia and other congested areas are created, it appears that toll roads are in our future. So be it.

Truck stop controversies

In their meeting on Wednesday, the Augusta County Board of Supervisors voted against holding public hearings for granting permits to expand truck service centers. Supervisors Kay Frye and Nancy Sorrells were the dissenters, in a repeat of the controversy over the proposed industrial megasite at Weyer's Cave. See the News Leader. I am sympathetic to those who want to rein in truck traffic, but the reality is that those trucks are already on the road, and they need a place to stop. As I wrote yesterday, there is a terrible problem with trucks clogging public rest areas. The only solution is a long-term one: shifting freight traffic to railroads!

September 29, 2006 [LINK / comment]

"Battered conservatives"?

Conservative commentator Chuck Muth is mad as heck and he's not going to take any more putdowns from what he perceives as the moderate GOP establishment. I agree with some of his analysis of what is wrong with conservatives and the Republican Party at, but his call to action on behalf of "battered conservatives" is less than convincing. He criticizes Bush's "big government conservativism" and chastises former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie for having declared that "the hostile-to-government Reagan Revolution was dead." That phrase may reveal part of the problem with the standard conservative diagnosis of GOP woes, however. Even though I share Muth's leanings to some extent, I am emphatically not "hostile" to government -- I am just very wary of increasing its power. As a former bureaucrat, I am keenly aware how the derisive attitude of many conservatives undermines morale in the civil service, and discourages talented people from making a career in the government. That is a bad attitude, and serves to reinforce the impression held by many centrist voters that the Republican Party is simply not interested in running the government or enacting serious policy initiatives. These days, anyone in the Republican Party who calls for serious analysis of policy alternatives has a right to feel a bit "battered." In general, favoring a smaller government should not be equated with wanting to strangle government.

Truck stops: flawed process

Even though I think there is an urgent need to expand truck stops in this area, I have to agree with today's News Leader. Yesterday I noted the parallel between the lack of transparency and public involvement in this case with the case of the proposed industrial "mega-site" at Weyer's Cave, and I should have emphasized that aspect more strongly. It is the subtle distinction between policy substance (what is decided) and process (how the decision is reached).

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