Archive: February, 2023

Jimmy Carter, personal hero


After the news broke earlier this week that 98-year-old Jimmy Carter has elected to go into hospice care rather than pursue treatment for whatever is ailing him (I suspect a return of his cancer), a number of stories hit the proverbial papers about him. Kind of pre-obituary editorial pieces that seek to remind the reader that, whatever one may think of President Carter's time in office, the fact of the matter is that James Earl Carter Jr. is and always has been a damn fine human being.

I would go even farther than that and posit that Jimmy Carter is one of the best people to ever walk the Earth, and I say that with as much confidence as I possibly can concerning a person I've never actually met.

President Carter has been one of my heroes since I was a teenager. Not because he was the first president I was cognizant of in real time—I was all of seven years old when he was elected and just shy of twelve when he left office—and not because his successor was an idiotic simpleton that begat policies that continue to damage the country to this day, though both of those things are true. But because even as a pre-teen, when I was beginning to understand politics and what government does and is for, I saw Jimmy Carter advocating for the future in a way that emphasized empathy for all. And, sure, the fact that the next guy preferred to solve things with military adventure and by sticking it to the underprivileged brought out Carter's humanity in a way that wouldn't have been as obvious otherwise.

"It's very difficult for the American people to believe that our government, one of the richest on Earth, is also one of the stingiest on Earth."

—Jimmy Carter

The "common wisdom" of the zeitgeist lauds Carter for his post-presidency but gives him failing marks for his four years as President, but that's bullshit and I think history will recognize his term as a bright spot in an otherwise troubling era of American politics.

I did some research on recent presidents for a high school project a group of us were doing that required us to create founding documents for an imagined new country. Most of us, unsurprisingly, ended up presenting a constitutional structure not far removed from what we were living in; we may not have been the sort of gung-ho patriotic Americans that slap flag decals on our trucks and yak about 'Murca, but it's what we knew and we were smart enough to know it was a pretty good setup compared to some others. My group opted for something that was kind of a cross between the US constitution and a parliamentary setup like you'd find in Canada or Britain (no royalty, though), one that allowed for votes of no confidence and a maximum of six years in office for the president. As my teacher pointed out, this was likely because at the time we had a president we did not like and were indulging in a little wish-fulfillment, which was undoubtedly true. Part of my thinking was that here we had just reelected Bonzo's trigger-happy sidekick by a margin that astounds me to this day, giving him eight years in office, while the brilliant nuclear engineer that championed human rights around the world only got four years; therefore we need to split the difference at six years to check the stupidity of voters. (I've since changed my tune on that, I generally oppose term limits so long as elections happen often enough; the problem is with campaign laws, not term limitations. There are still millions of stupid voters, though.)

“The last three days that I was president, I never went to bed at all. I never went to bed until we had negotiated the final release of the hostages.”

—Jimmy Carter

In my limited research—which consisted mostly of mediocre encyclopedia articles and some newspaper pieces found in public library microfiche; we didn't have the Internet when I was in high school, you know—I learned about President Carter's diplomacy with Israel and Egypt, his push for national health insurance, and his attempts to put the country on a course toward renewable and sustainable energy. But most of what I found were negatively slanted accounts of economic inflation and blame for the Iranian hostage crisis. I didn't know much of anything about economics, but I did know that Carter's efforts got those hostages home without firing a shot and that the new guy ripping out the solar panels atop the White House was a dick move that undermined a solid environmental policy agenda. (Something I didn't learn until later was that the hostage crisis itself came about largely because Carter gave in to outside pressure to do something he did not want to do—outside pressure that boiled down to essentially a con by Henry Kissinger and others that erroneously convinced Carter that the deposed Shah of Iran had to be granted asylum here because he otherwise could not get proper cancer treatments; turned out the Shah could have gotten just as good if not better care where he was in Mexico and admitting the Shah kicked off Iran's taking of hostages. When the asylum proposal was initially brought to him, Carter's reaction was "fuck the Shah"—this from a guy who almost never swears—but Kissinger and co. manipulated him on humanitarian grounds with the cancer treatment story. Yet, you never heard Carter placing blame on Kissinger et. al, he was president and he owned it.)

Post-high school I read more. I learned about the Panama Canal treaty and why that was such a big deal and how it had positive impacts throughout Central America. About the creation of the cabinet departments of energy and education. About the Superfund toxic cleanup law. I read about how he studied nuclear reactors at Annapolis and led a Navy mission to prevent a nuclear meltdown. I saw news stories about the current administration relaxing Carter-era fuel economy regulations, with Lee Iacocca (remember that asshat?) giddily crowing about how his company and others lobbied to “put up a tombstone [that reads] ‘Here lies America's energy policy'”; about American saber-rattling in various corners of the world, including playing both sides in the Iran-Iraq war and, of course, the illegal mess of the Iran-Contra scandal—all of which I knew would not have happened had Carter been reelected.

“It is difficult for the common good to prevail against the intense concentration of those who have a special interest, especially if the decisions are made behind locked doors.”

—Jimmy Carter

I read Carter's memoir of his presidency, Keeping Faith. I found it fascinating, especially as it didn't seek to sanitize his flaws. One knock on Carter as president that I think actually holds water is that he tended to micromanage; a more important one is that he didn't play politics. I found it oddly(?) appealing that the president of the United States didn't think he needed to lobby Congresspeople to share his view, at least not in the traditional sense, that once he presented a good argument that a policy was the right thing to do that enough in Congress would see the evidence right in front of them, no lobbying necessary. Still, a bit of traditional politicking might have helped with some of his legislative frustrations; he didn't like trading political favors, didn't think crafting policy should have anything to do with making quid-pro-quo deals and felt such things had an aura of dishonesty about them. (According to his vice-president, Walter Mondale, "the worst thing you could say to Carter if you wanted him to do something was that it was politically the best thing to do.") Even so, more liberal lawmakers were pissed that Carter took an incremental approach instead of sweeping change tactics—some things never change, right?—and Ted Kennedy might have had a my-way-or-the-highway attitude regardless. (We might have Ted to thank for not having any kind of national health insurance reform until the Obama administration.)

You can look back on some of Carter's speeches and writings from his term of office and think, "wow, he was prescient" because he recognized climate change (though it didn't have that name yet) and the dangers of relying on fossil fuels. "We must prepare quickly for a change," he said, not three months into his presidency in 1977, "to strict conservation and to the use of permanent renewable energy sources, like solar power." But really, this wasn't precognition or anything even slightly weird, this was just basic sense and science. It's just that since 1981 this country's leadership hasn't given a damn about such things until very recently. (And yeah, I blame Bonzo's sidekick for that.) The man is a nuclear engineer, he knows details are important and how things interrelate, he could see what ramifications an action today would have a decade down the line.

"I believed what my father taught me about the separation of church and state, so when I was President I never invited Billy Graham to have services in the White House because I didn't think that was appropriate."

—Jimmy Carter

His famous (infamous?) speech in ’79 that has unfortunately become known as the "malaise speech" I find remarkable for a couple of reasons: It's refreshingly blunt, for one, voicing criticisms of himself from others but also kind of laying into the public at large; not in a mean way, of course, but bluntly stating that society wasn't trending in a helpful direction. "Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption," he said. "Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose." Not exactly the politically safe pandering one might expect from other officeholders. Carter also becomes visibly frustrated when making his case for energy policy—remember, this is during the OPEC embargo, which not only made for long queues at gas stations but fueled high inflation generally—telling the viewer that "the energy crisis is REAL" (and one might imagine an unspoken addendum, like "I'm not screwing around here, this is important, so GET IT THROUGH YOUR THICK HEADS"). And he warned us that we'd be where we are today in terms of our politics if we didn't wise up: "We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure."

"We must embrace human rights and aggressively challenge our society’s acceptance of violence, which should never be seen as normal or as the preferred means of solving problems."

—Jimmy Carter

I read several of Carter's subsequent books, too. I enjoyed some of them, like Talking Peace and Our Endangered Values, but the White House years held more interest for me. White House Diaries is a really interesting read. I admit, though, I couldn't get through his novel The Hornet's Nest. Maybe I'll try again someday.

The post-presidency of Jimmy Carter has been impressive beyond anyone's expectations, but the thing it most demonstrated to me was that this guy was and is the real deal. He campaigned for the presidency in the wake of Watergate with the promise that "I will never lie to you" and he meant it. He was a staunch Baptist but fervently believed in the separation of church and state for real, not in the lip-service way most so-called Christian politicians do, and even bucked the church when it violated what he regarded as higher principles, as when he severed association with the Southern Baptists Convention over its decision to ban women from serving as pastors. He couldn't be president anymore, but he nevertheless kept doing international diplomacy as a private citizen when possible, created a conflict-resolution institution, continued championing global human rights and global public health, and famously volunteered with Habitat for Humanity into his 90s. This guy didn't just talk a good game, he walked the walk.

"I was familiar with the widely accepted arguments that we had to choose between idealism and realism, or between morality and the exertion of power; but I rejected those claims. To me, the demonstration of American idealism was a practical and realistic approach to foreign affairs, and moral principles were the best foundation for the exertion of American power and influence."

—Jimmy Carter

If only people had had better priorities in 1980. We had a President who told us the truth even when we didn't want to hear it, one that would exhaust every diplomatic channel before considering using the military, one that believed government should work for everyone and strive for equity. And then we tossed him aside because people liked the myopic simplicity of the cowboy actor.

Jimmy Carter is the standard for integrity among human beings. That, above all the policy stuff, all the moral high ground, all the detailed brilliance, is why he has remained one of my heroes. I look up to Jimmy Carter as much as I might a heroic fictional character.

"Who are your standard bearers, the people you would emulate?" Well, I gotta go with Captain Picard, Hawkeye Pierce, Peter Parker, Toby Ziegler, Atticus Finch, and Jimmy freakin' Carter.

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Another rant about Rob Manfred

Hey Rob, you're bad at your job and nobody likes you.

We're getting close to baseball season 2023. Which is, for some of us, all kinds of fun and cool. However, because we live in the Rob Manfred Era of Major League Baseball, it also means we need to prepare for what is now an annual period of adjustment to the new ways Commissioner Manfred has decided to screw with the game and piss us all off.

I've written plenty about Rob Manfred's penchant for damaging the game of baseball over at that-other-site-I-used-to-run-that-is-now-defunct-and-one-day-I-will-put-selected-posts-up-here-as-a-form-of-archiving. He is without a doubt the worst person to ever occupy the office of Commissioner of Baseball. He doesn't appear to even like baseball. He's all about incessantly tweaking anything he can think of if there's the slightest possibility it might mean more money for team owners in the short term. (Fuck the long term. Compared to Manfred, even Mr. Magoo has telescopic HD x-ray vision.)

Ever since Manfred took over the job, he's been altering the game in both large and small ways. To date it hasn't gone so far as to make the game unrecognizable, but give the guy a few more years and we'll be watching blernsball or Calvinball.

A lot of the alterations are "behind the scenes," dealing with money stuff and organizational rules about how long a stint on the injured list is, how the amateur draft is conducted, how many times a player can be shuttled back and forth to the minor leagues, that sort of thing, and those might be good or bad but they don't actually affect the game as it's played on the field from first pitch to last out. It's the on-field stuff that grates my cheese the most.

2023's new rules include:

  • A pitch clock
  • Bigger bases (18" square rather than the traditional 15")
  • Restrictions on where defenders may position themselves
  • Severely limiting what a pitcher may do to hold a runner close to a base

This, of course, is on top of other rules that were implemented since 2019, which include:

  • The automatic intentional walk
  • Three-batter minimum for pitchers
  • A limit on how often catchers can go to the pitcher's mound
  • Proscriptions on what players may and may not pitch and when
  • The "zombie runner" in extra innings, which was supposed to be a temporary COVID-era measure that has, as of last Monday, been made "permanent."
  • The metastasization of the cancer known as the designated hitter rule
  • Diluting the season with added Wild Card teams in the playoffs

The only new rules I don't detest are the mound-visit limit and the three-batter minimum. Those actually add an element of strategy while addressing Manfred's complaint, which was so-called "dead time" while pitcher and catcher discussed tactics and too many pitching changes. Otherwise, these changes all completely suck. I could go into why for each of them, but I'll spare you that for now.

 Manfred's stated goal with all these tweaks and changes is to "increase the pace of play," by which I think he really means "make the game more accessible for those with attention-deficit disorder." (Come to think of it, Manfred himself may well have ADHD, which would explain some of this nuttery.) His actual goals are open to speculation, but you would not be out of line to think dumbing things down is high on the list.

Unquestionably the experience of the game has slowed, for lack of a more accurate shorthand, over the past couple of decades. Relief pitching has become far, far more prevalent and that brought along the "dead time" of more pitching changes during games; existing rules regulating batters stepping out of the batter's box were not enforced and more and more players developed Nomar Garciaparra-like habits; the steroid-era created so much more emphasis on home-run power that more and more and more players adopted approaches to hitting that made "This misnomer of a phrase refers to a plate appearance resulting in a strikeout, a walk, or a home run. A “three-true-outcome hitter” is statistically unlikely to do anything else in any given time at bat.three-true-outcome" players common rather than rare; certain matchups like Yankees-Red Sox came to have so many mound meetings that if you worked it right you could time a trip to the concession stand during one and not miss a pitch. And, of course, TV demanded more commercial time, about which there's only so much anyone would be willing to change.

Imposing some sort of "correction" on the game to address this slowing isn't in and of itself something I would oppose categorically. On the contrary, I would very much like to see the obsession with home runs fade away and contact-hitting return to favor. That would reduce the number of pitches per at-bat, reduce the incentive for defenses to employ position shifts, even cut down on relief usage by allowing starting pitchers to go deeper into games before tiring. But you don't accomplish that by imposing a pitch clock; or, if you do, it's a side effect rather than the plan.

The pitch clock might work out OK in the end, but it sure seems problematic. It's pretty brief—not so much for the pitcher as for the batter; pitchers will have 15 seconds to start their throwing motion (20 if there are runners aboard), batters must be in their stance and “alert to the pitcher” within eight seconds. The problems come in when the time is exceeded and a ball or strike is added to the count to penalize whichever player wasn't ready in time. Imagine that happening during a tense moment in the late innings of a tight game. One effect might be that pitchers don't throw as hard, which would be welcome. Another might be that pitchers get hurt more often, which would not.

Larger, they look weird, but this will quickly become "normal" and not be much of a thing. It's just a way to increase offense, get more safe calls, but it might make for fewer collisions and injuries to first basemen. I can live with it.

The restriction on pick-off attempts is the worst of these new changes, it's a naked tipping of the scale away from the defense in favor of baserunners. It'll turn every pitcher into Jon Lester, except he won't even be able to step off the pitching rubber or hold before the pitch to keep a runner close to the base. It's a much more significant change to the game than I think anyone realizes at this point. Don't get me wrong, I love stolen bases—my favorite team of all time is the 1985 Cardinals, after all—but don't cheapen them. Cat-and-mouse between a pitcher and a Lou Brock or a Vince Coleman on first was part of the tension, part of the thrill of getting  a steal. Now it's gone.

Manfred has done away with the pitcher-runner tension, eliminated all strategy related to pitchers batting and worsened the existing DH rule to favor Shohei Ohtani alone while enacting rules that make future Ohtani-like "two-way" players nearly impossible, imposed radical restrictions on who can play where and in what circumstance, destroyed the potential for epic extra-inning games, cheapened the meaning of the long season schedule with almost participation-trophy tiers of playoffs, and that doesn't even get into his penchant for negotiating in bad faith, his pathetic response to cheating teams, his dishonest remarks to the press, basic stupidity about the game, and utter disregard for fans and consumers of the sport—his ostensible constituency as commissioner of baseball.

Or is it even ostensible? The fact of the matter is that ever since Bud Selig, then the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers (and thief of the Seattle Pilots), succeeded in his coup d'etat to overthrow Commissioner Fay Vincent to install himself in the position in 1992, there has been no figure in the MLB hierarchy that represents the baseball consumer. Selig made the job into a mouthpiece for ownership, an autocratic office firmly entrenched with championing the interests of club owners and club owners only. Calling the position "Commissioner of Baseball" is improper. Needs a new title, like "Agent of Greedy Asshats." I mean, there isn't a "commission" anymore. There aren't even league presidents to mediate.

The Commissioner position was created (well, technically reformed, but for all practical purposes created) in the wake of the Black Sox scandal and ensuing threats by National League officials to effectively destroy the American League by absorbing big-city AL teams into its own circuit. To contend with the public relations nightmare, an outsider was brought in to safeguard the national pastime as chair of the reimagined National Baseball Commission, which was to be made up of, by design and specific intent, people not otherwise affiliated with the business of professional baseball. That chairperson was Kennesaw Mountain Landis, who insisted on being a commission of one and, as he knew the lords of the Majors needed him more than the other way around, negotiated himself ultimate authority as the commissioner to act "in the best interests of baseball" as a whole, not of club owners or ballplayers or media figures or any other isolated group. Essentially, to represent the consumers, the public, as well as mediate disputes, regulate conflict, and be a check on ownership (players of the time didn't have any power to check). Subsequent commissioners had the same authority, purview, and requirement to be otherwise unaffiliated with the business of the leagues. Until Bud Selig's coup, which almost immediately begat the 1994-95 strike. (The revisionist history of Selig's reign reminds me a lot of how people talk about George W. Bush—"he kept us safe." You know, except for that one time. "Selig presided over great growth of the game," you know, except for that one time.)

Manfred claims to have the fans' interests at heart. “I think that the concern about our fans is at the very top of our consideration list,” he actually said with a straight face during the last collective bargaining sessions with the players' union, after which he imposed a lockout and canceled the beginning of the 2022 season.

Baseball doesn't have a commissioner, it has an agent of greed, and in this case one that doesn't like the sport and wants to make it something else.


I'm trying to keep an open mind on the pitch clock. But I suspect the law of unintended consequences will rear its ugly head and it'll be bad.

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Social media redux


A few months ago I posted about social media and how its landscape is changing in the wake of Elon Musk's Twitter fiasco. I'd signed up at Hive at that point, looking for a Twitter alternative, but I didn't stick with it and, frankly, it has a severe limitation in that it doesn't have a desktop version, it's phones only. It also was going through the expected growing pains of lag time and function misfires and such, and maybe it's better now, I don't know. Because I don't check it.

I don't check my other platforms either, not often. I still waste tons of time looking at my phone, of course, but it's shifted from Twitter and Facebook to SimCity and sudoku.

But now there's Spoutible.

I got interested in this new platform after listening to an interview with its creator, Christopher Bouzy, on Bob Cesca's podcast. I signed up there and have found it to be just as Bob said it was: "Twitter without the fuckery." I'll be checking in there more often, I think. It needs to build its user base, of course. Social media only works when people post things and right now my feed is "spouts" from just a few people. Hopefully by the time baseball season gets here—and that's when I generally use such things more frequently—there will be more folks to interact with.

Anyway, if you like/liked Twitter, check it out. I'd like for it to succeed.

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State of the Union


When I revived this here blog no too long ago, it was my intention to be posting relatively frequently. Once a week, maybe. More if there were things in the world worthy of rants/opinions/praise. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it hasn't worked out that way.

No excuses, really. My brain keeps running its continual mood roller-coaster, my time-management skills haven't improved any in the new year. But still. I mean, it's not due to lack of material.

For example, there was that fantastic State of the Union address last week that has generated so many different takes by the punditry that it's hard to keep one's head from spinning: President Biden brilliantly focused on his strength as Scranton Joe, appealing to the blue-collar working-class constituency. The president showed a degree of cunning and baited House Republicans into the trap of committing to protect entitlement programs. Biden disappointed with almost no attention paid to climate change policy. The president's call for policing reforms was much too tepid. How could the president ignore the Supreme Court's insane neo-fascist activism? And those are just the takes from the left.

Personally, I thought it was a fantastic speech. I agree with all of the above takes, really, but (a) you only have so much time in a State of the Union address, especially if your name is not Bill Clinton; and (b) the modern news media is largely for shit, and one must be careful to protect from an overabundance of opportunities for cable talking heads to distort and obsess over pet bogeyman issues and/or minor points. Given that, the president and the White House staff did a great job threading their various needles. I was a little concerned that some in the press would harp on the few times he misspoke/had issues with his stutter-compensation (e.g. saying "off the books" when he meant "off the table," or the common thing where his annunciation is weak as he powers through a stutter reflex), but thankfully those were ignored.

And he went a long way toward shutting up the Democrats who think he's too old to run again. Yes, yes, he's 80. Yes, that's older than even that dottering fool Reagan was when he was in office. But 80 isn't what it used to be, Biden is in good health, and Reagan isn't a fair comparison because he had Alzheimer's. There's no question that being president is a taxing gig (presuming one actually does the work, unlike the previous guy), and advanced age isn't known for providing boundless energy, but Joe Biden has been by many measures an incredibly successful president and has an unparalleled support staff. And his vice-president is wholly competent and ready to step in should he take a turn health-wise and need to invoke the 25th Amendment. On the basis of age and health alone, reelecting Joe Biden at age 82, which he will be shortly after election day 2024, is a far more reasonable prospect than reelecting clearly-befuddled Reagan at 75 in ’84 or stroke-addled Woodrow Wilson at 60 in 1916. FDR in ’44 too, though the public didn't know the full extent of his health problems (not just the polio, he had myriad heart issues from decades of chain-smoking; still, good thing he switched VPs from Henry Wallace to Harry Truman for the ’44 run). Hell, Jimmy Carter didn't have any serious health problems until he was 91 and he had been doing international diplomacy and building houses and generally being a better human being than anyone who'd ever been president before and since.

Still, even after a great SOTU that saw him handle crazy Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene and her fellow hecklers with aplomb, the president's approval rating is incomprehensibly low. Again, I point to the shitty modern news media for the why on this. Because there's no way that the accomplishments of economic recovery from the pandemic, public health improvements with the pandemic (despite the nothing-we-can-do-about-it-now idiocy among the public that resulted in the fact that COVID-19 is still a thing), climate-crisis legislation, actual infrastructure improvements, a 50-year low in unemployment, student debt relief, Justice Jackson, etc., etc. nets a sub-50% approval rating without help from propaganda outlets like Fox "News" and generally shitty media coverage that insists on both-sidesing things beyond any rational measure.

The 538 polling average—which matches pretty well with the well-respected ABC/Washington Post poll—has President Biden's approval/disapproval as 43%/52%. In-fucking-sane. Even Trump's high-water mark was 46% and he did nothing to deserve better than maybe 2%. George W. Bush, the worst president ever before Trump shattered the scale, never polled lower than 45%. Our news media, with its profit motive and increasing reliance on internet platforms easily influenced by disinformation, just sucks.

Also, a lot of Americans are morons and/or willing and eager victims of political abuse by a Republican party that has been steadily devolving into a terrorist organization since Nixon's day. (I refer you to the Republican response to the SOTU, delivered by total nutjob and somehow governor of Arkansas Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who spouted a textbook example of gaslighting and was completely incomprehensible to anyone not immersed in the fantasy fever dreams perpetuated on the Fox Propaganda Channel.) What those polls tell me is less about Joe Biden's popularity and more about how prevalent Stockholm Syndrome is among millions of Americans.

You go, Joe. You're doing great, no matter what polling says.


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