• Joel Baden makes a very interesting point about Cyrus and Israel, and about what people are really saying when they call for an “American Cyrus”:
When Cyrus conquered Babylon, he did not declare that he and his gods had defeated Babylon and its gods, as would have been typical at the time. Instead, he announced — not without his own brand of chutzpah — that it was the gods of Babylon who had brought him there.
By appropriating local religious beliefs, Cyrus was able to authorize his imperial domination and curry favor with the conquered peoples.
Baden argues that it wasn’t so much “Our God has raised up a foreign power to save us” as it was a foreign power convincing others that their own gods wanted them to kneel before him.
• Yes, steroids played a role in the McGwire/Sosa-era of absurd home run totals in Major League baseball. But so did liberation theology — or, rather, the backlash against liberation theology from colonialist multinational corporations.
“How Much of a Role Did Steroids Play in the Steroid Era?” Ben Lindbergh asks for the Ringer. He concedes that the players may have been juiced, but lays out the evidence that the balls were too. Most of the league thought so — arguing that the balls were more tightly wound than ever before.
They were. For decades until then, official Major League baseballs had all been hand-stitched in Haitian sweatshops. But then in late 1990, the island nation held its first democratic election, with an overwhelming number of voters supporting the former priest and liberation theologian Jean Bertrand Aristide. Multinational corporations that had operated in Haiti for years under cozy arrangement with the Duvalier dictatorships feared a backlash, and they were terrified of the soft-spoken, diminutive Aristide.
One such corporation was the parent company of Rawlings, which panicked and pulled its baseball-making operations out of Haiti, relocating to Costa Rica, where new factories and new methods produced new baseballs. Different baseballs. The balls slugged by McGwire and Sosa and Bonds were not the same balls hit by Roger Maris and Hank Aaron. Because of liberation theology.
(Oh, and Barry Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame. The man barely ever saw a fastball in the strike zone for the better part of a decade, which would make anybody grumpy. Then when the reporters who never liked him started celebrating the enhanced versions of McGwire and Sosa, I think Bonds decided to try the stuff they were using to see what he could do, and it turned out that what he could do on that stuff was terrifying.)
• Erik visits the American grave of someone truly deserving of all the invective he can muster: “This is the grave of Anthony Comstock, arguably the single worst American to ever live.”
That’s a dishonorarium for which there’s a lot of stiff competition. If we’re going to make a shortlist of potential “worst Americans to ever live,” the hardest part becomes keeping it short. One is forced to start making judgment calls about the relative odiousness of those who have been acutely and spectacularly evil — your Tim McVeighs and Jeffrey Dahmers and William Calleys, versus those whose harm and evil was far more influential and did massive lasting harm — your John C. Calhouns and Roger Taneys and Andrew Jacksons. Some candidates suggest themselves as a kind of archetypal embodiment of particular forms of awfulness — George Wallace, Andrew Carnegie, Leona Helmsley, Rush Limbaugh, Frank Rizzo.
But then the more you think about Comstock and the people who followed him, the less strange that seems.
• Asked about potential replacements for Nikki Haley after her sudden resignation as the Trump administration’s UN ambassador, Donald Trump suggested that his own daughter, Ivanka, “would be dynamite.” He then said he wouldn’t nominate her because, “I’d then be accused of nepotism if you can believe it.”
And, well, yes — yes he would be “accused” of nepotism because he would be practicing nepotism. This would not be an “accusation,” but merely an observation. Hiring your own family members is exactly what “nepotism” means.
Trump loves to play this trick. He loves to characterize objective observations as criticisms or attacks, or to reframe the uncontroversial use of words according to their meaning as “accusations.”
He didn’t invent this trick, though. It’s something that arose from Very Bad Journalism of the sort that refuses to identify objectively negative actions as negative lest that objective naming of the thing be criticized as a criticism or as evidence of bias. Thus no matter how flagrantly corrupt a politician’s behavior might be, that corruption will only ever be named or identified at a distance, one or more steps removed, often through the passive voice. They will say a politician “has been accused of corruption” after accepting kickbacks and quid-pro-quo bribes on videotape. Or they’ll restate any disinterested negative points as the mere assertions of interested, biased “critics”: “Critics say the kill the puppies bill will result in puppies being killed.”
These “critics” never need to be named or directly cited — their function is to ensure that the reporter is not responsible for objectively identifying objective reality, because the reporter fears doing so will get them attacked for not being objective.