America's Pastime

Oct 12 2019
This week baseball’s postseason playoffs were proceeding uneventfully when St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley threw the Atlanta Braves a curve ball. In between games one and two of the Cardinals-Braves series, Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, criticized a controversial Braves fan ritual: rhythmically simulating a tomahawk chop while humming something that is either a Native American war song or Atlanta’s idea of one.    

Braves officials took the complaint seriously. When the decisive game five rolled around, Atlanta fans didn’t find in their seats the complimentary foam tomahawks that had always been there for playoff games. And the loudspeaker didn’t, shortly before the first pitch, prompt the tomahawk ritual by playing the war song. 

If you were a superstitious Braves fan, you might have worried that this desecration of ritual would anger the gods. And sure enough: St. Louis scored—which, for those of you aren’t baseball fans, meant that the game was over before the other 8.5 innings were played. (Final score: 13-1. The Cardinals moved on to the National League Championship series, and the Braves went home.)

Before I say more about the tomahawk ritual per se, I’d like to say one thing about the recurring controversy over Native American sports names (which typically focuses on the Braves, the Cleveland Indians, the Washington Redskins, and the Kansas City Chiefs). Namely: these four names fall into two groups, and one group seems more offensive than the other. 

How the Blob’s lawlessness brought mayhem to the Middle East

Oct 12 2019

This week’s abrupt withdrawal of US troops from a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria inspired a variety of criticisms, as politicians and commentators of all major ideological stripes condemned Trump for ordering it. 

The main criticisms have a lot of validity, in so far as they go. In greenlighting Turkey’s military incursion into Syria, Trump indeed, as charged: (1) abandoned the Kurds, who at America’s behest had spent the last few years fighting ISIS; (2) probably helped ISIS, at least in the short run, by diverting Kurdish attention and resources toward fighting Turkey; (3) ensured the death or displacement (a.k.a ethnic cleansing) of lots of Kurds.  

But there’s one criticism I haven’t heard, and I think this silence is an indictment of the entire Washington foreign policy establishment—and more evidence that it deserves its evocatively pejorative nickname, the “Blob.” 

In defense of ‘America First’

Sep 28 2019
This week president Trump went before the United Nations and declared, “The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots.” A year earlier he had gone before the United Nations and declared,  
“We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.” Sense a pattern? 

In last year’s address Trump also, as he often does, zeroed in on the particular manifestation of globalism that seems to most concern him— “global governance,” which he says poses a threat to “national sovereignty.”  

Some people might consider it impolite to go before the UN and denounce globalism and global governance—kind of like, I don’t know, being given a speaking slot at a Trump rally and then using it to denounce xenophobia. But Trump’s annual UN ode to patriotism and national sovereignty has one virtue: It crystallizes the confusion that drives his opposition to global governance. 

How Trump and MBS helped get that giant Saudi oil plant blown up

Sep 21 2019
Washington spent the first part of this week trying to figure out who blew up some Saudi oil facilities. Was it Houthi rebels in Yemen, who proudly claimed responsibility? Or was it Iran? Or was it both—an attack conceived and orchestrated by Iran but executed by Iran’s Houthi allies?

There’s an important and underappreciated sense in which the answer doesn’t matter. The moral of the story is the same regardless of how the blame is distributed between Iran and the Houthis. Namely: If you don’t want people to blow stuff up, don’t attack them in the first place!
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