Poor Jeb


Molly Ball has a good article in The Atlantic about Jeb Bush. She captures his supporters’ frustration well. If I lived in Iowa, I’d probably vote for Rubio (I’ll post my rankings of all candidates in a day or two), but I think Jeb would make a great president, and it’s perplexing that more people don’t see that. I understand the appetite for change, but I hope the party doesn’t through out the baby with the bathwater.

Never Blog


Here’s a good blog post about why you shouldn’t blog.

I can’t say I disagree. The idea of it hurting career prospects rings true. When I was applying to grad school, I didn’t blog and even locked my twitter account so no admissions committee would discover I was a libertarian, or worse, a conservative. Now that I have nothing to hide, though, I like talking about things in public and, now that I’ve started selling some writing, this blog makes a good place for my fans (i.e., my wife and my parents) to find all of my work in one place. Sharing it all with the tens of daily readers here is a nice bonus.

Do Not Call Up That Which You Cannot Put Down


Several times over the last few days, I’ve come across the phrase “do not call up that which you cannot put down.” Mostly, I saw it in reference to Cruz’s dalliance with Trump people, but it’s been used elsewhere. Here someone uses it with reference to Planned Parenhood’s lawsuit against the people that recorded descriptions of their more grisly practices:

Cruz pandered to them in the hopes that Trump would collapse or withdraw and his followers would see Cruz as the next best thing. Good strategy, right? But now, Trump shows no sign of dropping out and with Cruz as his greatest rival, Trump is using the pulpit Cruz helped legitimize to call down damnation on his erstwhile ally.

The phrase comes from an H.P. Lovecraft novella, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and its use is a tribute to the triumph of nerd culture. Originally rendered in the story as “do not calle up That which you can not put downe,” it was found in the letters of an 18th-century alchemist and necromancer who had died years ago (or had he?) In more modern parlance, we might say: do not set loose any forces that you cannot later re-bind, if you need to.

In light of Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump today, it’s actually made me think of the whole right-wing populist movement as that which we have called up. We maybe didn’t recognize it at the time, but the McCain-Palin ticket of 2008 was a balance between establishment and insurgency. We didn’t use those terms, and we didn’t think of McCain as truly an establishment figure (he was a maverick, remember?) but that was the effect.  The ticket faltered and Palin “went rogue.” But she only had a platform because the establishment forces called her up, hoping to capture the power of the youth and outsider energy she seemed to represent.

I must admit, I was among the ones who cheered at her calling up.

Palin had a fiery spirit that I thought, along with her record against corruption and crony capitalism in Alaska, would charge up the staid Republican party and win the elections. But, as James Fenimore Cooper wrote, fire is a powerful servant, but fearful master. McCain set loose that populism, but he could not contain it. It’s not what lost him the election–no V.P. could have saved him after the markets crashed–but I’m sure picking Palin is a decision he still regrets.

The spirit is loose among the Trumpkins. Populism has always been with us; it’s the dark mirror of democracy itself, mass participation, but for a malign purpose, often heedless of ideas or ideology. In the absence of a perfectly educated, successful, and virtuous populace, it will always exist. Palin didn’t invent populism, but she was its avatar for a time. Now she’s passed the torch Trump, who is even more powerful.

Populism was always going to erupt in an economy like this one, especially in the face of demographic changes that seem strange to some people, but there was no guarantee of it erupting on the right. There is the glamour of populism in the Sanders campaign, as well. But with Palin as his forerunner, Trump was better positioned to harness populism’s fell power. It will undo him eventually, too, but that it exists in the Republican party is down to all of us who cheered Governor Palin’s nomination in 2008.

The Hall of Fame and History


Baseball’s Hall of Fame vote was announced a couple days ago and, as expected, Ken Griffey, Jr., was elected with near-unanimous support. Mike Piazza also got in, on his fourth year on the ballot. These were both good choices. For someone my age, these names–and especially Griffey’s–bring back a lot of warm memories of watching great baseball and being in awe of some of the players’ majestic abilities. Griffey was the signature player of his generation, to my mind, and Piazza also exemplified excellence at his position.griffeytt

It used to be that Pete Rose was the shadow hanging over all Hall of Fame discussions, the minor controversy that kept induction ceremonies from being pure, joyful expressions of baseball’s greatness. Rose is still there, of course (and I think he should be in the Hall), but now the issue has changed. No discussion of the Hall of Fame can take place these days without talk of steroids. PEDs. Cheaters. And what should be done about them.

Baseball has cleaned up its act, but every year the names on the ballot remind us of when MLB turned a blind eye to rampant cheating. The game’s clean now, but it’s past is dirty. For someone who has studied history, this is not a new problem. Every nation, including our own, has great leaders of the past who did or said things we would recoil at today. Do we praise Washington and Jefferson while ignoring their slaveholding? Jackson and his Indian removal? FDR and his Japanese concentration camps?

It’s my view that, yes, we do praise them, though not by ignoring their flaws.

We should never ignore the past, but we should understand that it is different than our own time. Jefferson was flawed, as was Barry Bonds, but noticing and learning from their sins should not blind us to their greatness. Saying that they were products of their times does not excuse their misdeeds, but it should help us to understand them. Few people are brave enough and strong enough to stand against the tide of majority opinion, especially when following that opinion works to their benefit. We should praise those who do stand up for righteousness, but also have some sympathy for those who follow the crowd.

Bonds was a great player before the steroids, as were Roger Clemens and many others who are tarred (with evidence or not) with the PED brush. Some definitely cheated. Others may have done so. They were still great players. The Hall of Fame is meant to recognize the best in baseball’s history and the players of the Steroid Era are no a part of that history.

For those whose skills were more one dimensional, and that one dimension was power, I can understand the reluctance to honor them. Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, and Sammy Sosa are such players. Their game was massive home runs, and steroids assisted them, giving them places in the record books when they would otherwise likely have had Rob Deer-like careers. I wouldn’t vote for them.

But for others who played in that time, the mere suspicion of PED use has been enough to keep them off many ballots. That’s not right. Opinions are changing, partly due to a purging of the Hall of Fame voters, but it’s not enough. If I had a ballot, Griffey and Piazza would have been on it, but so would Jeff Bagwell, Curt Schilling, Bonds, Clemens, and Fred McGriff. I’d possibly even vote for Rafael Palmeiro. (Tim Raines‘s exclusion is also wrong, but that’s a different issue unrelated to steroids.)

Next year, I hope more baseball writers do the right thing and recognize the greats of the game’s recent history. Jefferson belongs on Mount Rushmore, just as Bonds belongs in the Hall.