Today is the day we ponder that existential question: are you even a historian if you don’t like baseball?~Me, on Twitter in 2021
Baseball is back this week, which was a bright spot in what was otherwise an exhausting week. Nothing particularly bad happened other than a couple nights of poor sleep, too many commitments, and a weather front that played havoc with my sinuses, all of which conspired to have me dragging through Friday. But, on Thursday night, I tuned into ESPN for the opening night game between the Houston Astros and the Chicago White Sox. Other than a mild rooting interest in the players on my fantasy teams and a long-time distaste of the White Sox based on a division rivalry with my team (the Minnesota Twins), I didn’t have a strong rooting interest in the game.
And yet, I loved the broadcast. Some of the things I enjoyed, like the incorporation of analytics into the broadcast and little gimmicks like having a player mic’d up so that he can answer questions while on the field were nice touches that the broadcast had begun incorporating over the past few years, to great effect, but I thought that these elements blended perfectly with the pace of the game that noticeably picked up because of the rule changes new this year, like the addition of a pitch clock. The feel of the game was the same–the game still lasts the same number of outs that it always has, and each pitch is still punctuated with a reset from the fielders that allowed the crew to carry a conversation with Alex Bregman that would be unthinkable in any other sport, but the pitch clock cut the dead space that announcers often feel compelled to fill with inane small talk. The extra half an hour can help kill a long July afternoon, but it drags excessively over 162 games.
Over the past few years I have allowed my sports attention to wander toward basketball and football, but, even with the final four upon us and the NBA playoffs just around the corner, opening day reminded me why baseball was my first love.
This week’s varia:
- Neville Morley has a nice reflection on academic overwork and the ways in which academic community can both exacerbate and ameliorate aspects of it. Echoing something Jonathan Malesic talks about in The End of Burnout, Morley suggests that looking to the Rule of St. Benedict might offer a route forward inasmuch as the rule is designed to create community. This post resonated with me because I’ve been thinking about issues of academic work and legacy (again) these past few weeks. My first book came out earlier this month along with the near-simultaneous publication of my latest article, both during one of the busiest academic years I can recall in my teaching-first job, and, yet, I’m already feeling the pull toward other publications that are often used as markers of academic worth—three new article-length pieces and the next of the three additional monographs I have in mind. I can’t imagine anything will happen if I never finish this work. I am not George RR Martin with a legion of fans impatiently waiting for my next intervention, after all. But the combination of personality and conditioning make the feelings hard to resist. In my case, I am trying to remind myself of the lessons I try to instill in my students: center yourself in the process and the product will follow, and a healthy community is more important than any individual accolade.
- NPR has a piece on UnGrading, a pedagogical model where students don’t receive grades in a traditional sense for their assignments. The piece casts a skeptical eye at the practice, pointing to evidence that students often feel that they do their best work when being graded. I am of two minds about this because, yes, I think that there are some number of students who are conditioned to believe that “not being graded” means that they don’t have to work hard and there are some ways of implementing such a system as one might on a broad scale that will lead to professors not giving the extensive feedback that UnGrading and other alternative grading models require. However, I also think that giving students at least some agency over their grades can be empowering, and I have started taking an ungraded approach to participation grades where the students write a metacognitive reflection of their engagement with the class that I plug into a formula based on things like attendance. Some students invariably overrate their performance, but I find that with a little guidance most students offer sincere reflection.
- GPT-4 learning language model managed to hire a person online to complete a CAPTCHA, pretending to be blind.
- Joe Biden wants unionized campaign staff. Even as a PR stunt, I find this development interesting because it is the latest move to unionize workplaces that have historically not been unionized—you know, as someone who works in another such field.
- The Daily Kos has a rundown of states where Republican-led legislatures are curbing ballot initiatives because the voters keep passing things like Medicare expansion, marijuana legalization, voting measures, and rejecting right to work laws. My state of Missouri, which makes this list, did each of those things since 2016, despite voting for Trump with 57% of the vote.
- Missouri’s legislature passed a budget that eliminated all funding for public libraries, in retaliation for a lawsuit from two library groups challenging a new state law that bans some library materials, as well as banning the state from contracting with any company with a diversity statement, which very well might include companies like Coca Cola.
- Missouri’s lawmakers are overturning local ordinances in the name of preventing communities from interfering with the relationship between a patient and their doctor. What’s that, you say? This is above overturning local bans on declawing cats and not about protecting patients? Of course it is.
- Speaking of local ordinances: the board Ron DeSantis appointed to oversee the special district by Disney Properties discovered upon taking office that the outgoing board signed a restrictive covenant with Disney giving the company power that becomes void “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England, living as of the date of this declaration.” On the one hand, I dislike giving any one company this much power. On the other, DeSantis’ actions are downright authoritarian.
- A New York State Grand Jury voted to indict Donald Trump on business fraud charges related to his paying off Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election. This has predictably resulted in a storm of outraged hysteria from Republican politicians, which mostly reminds me of two things. First, no politician should be above the law, and the people who reduce this piece of news to “the politics”—whether in the business of stoking outrage or looking to the horserace of the 2024 election—infuriate me. Second, I find these outrage cycles utterly exhausting.
- NBC News has a piece on Heather McDonald whose collapse is featured in the anti-vaxx film Died Suddenly…even though she’s obviously not dead. The piece is prompted by a bill in Idaho that would make administering an mRNA vaccine a crime.
- Atmos has a good piece on the environmental toll of Mezcal production, which can be sustainable—except that the agave plant takes years to mature, meaning that booming demand for the liquor is leading to clear-cutting forests and farmers turning to espadín, a variety of agave that matures two to four times faster than other varieties.
- There were massive protests and a general strike in Israel this week in response to Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempted judicial overhaul, which would insulate him from future corruption charges and serve the interests of the super-religious members of his coalition in their efforts to codify Israel as a fundamentalist Jewish state. The Washington Post has a piece about the Kohelet Policy Forum, a secretive think tank, that lay behind the attempt.
Album of the Week: Turnpike Troubadours, A Long Way From Your Heart (2017)
Currently Reading: S.A. Chakraborty, The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi, Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children; Michael Kulikowski, The Triumph of Empire