Houston Asterisks

I don’t care much about baseball, so I don’t really have a dog in this fight. But Rick Morrissey of the ChicagoSun-Times asks a good question: if the Houston Astros will be allowed to keep their tainted 2017 World Series title, what’s the argument for un-personing Pete Rose?

For the longest time, I had zero tolerance for the lying, gambling, hair-dyeing Rose. Major League Baseball had given him a lifetime ban for wagering on big-league games as a player and as a manager, making him ineligible for Cooperstown induction. With a laptop in one hand and a Hall ballot in the other, I railed against him. He had damaged the game, and there was no place for him wherever honors were being handed out.

But then Monday happened. Major League Baseball punished the Astros for their enthusiastic cheating on the way to the 2017 World Series title. It suspended manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for the 2020 season for their part in a sign-stealing scandal, fined the franchise $5 million and took away its next two first- and second-round draft picks. Soon after the announcement, the Astros fired both men.

That might seem like a harsh punishment, but it doesn’t address the result of all that cheating: the World Series title. Winning one is the ultimate team accomplishment in baseball. There’s no way to dilute the fact that Houston conned its way to a championship. An MLB investigation showed that the Astros used the sign-stealing system during the 2017 regular season and into the postseason.

[…]

All of this paves the way, at least intellectually, for the recognition of Rose in the Hall of Fame. He and the Astros both committed cardinal sins in the eyes of baseball, but only one of them is a complete pariah.

The Hall will be forced to acknowledge in some way that the Astros’ 2017 World Series title, and possibly Boston’s 2018 title, was tainted by cheating. But a lifetime ban means Rose can’t get inducted into the Hall. The scales of justice seem to have some balance issues.

Divorce trial by combat

Honestly, compared to several family law matters in which I’ve been involved, this would be much less painful:

A Kansas man has asked an Iowa judge to let him engage in a sword fight with his ex-wife and her attorney in a trial by combat that will settle their ongoing legal dispute.

David Ostrom, 40, of Paola, Kansas, said in a 3 January court filing that his former wife, Bridgette Ostrom, 38, of Harlan, Iowa, and her attorney, Matthew Hudson, had “destroyed (him) legally”.

The judge had the power to let the parties “resolve our disputes on the field of battle, legally,” David Ostrom said, adding in his filing that trial by combat “has never been explicitly banned or restricted as a right in these United States”.

He also asked the judge for 12 weeks’ time so he could secure Japanese samurai swords.

Maple Leaf Rage

When I first saw a tweetstorm by Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain blaming Donald Trump for Iran’s shootdown of Ukranian Airlines Flight 572 – on his company’s official Twitter feed, no less – I was immediately reminded of the immortal words of Ann Coulter:

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

The far-right commentator was mourning the loss of her friend Barbara Olson in the 9/11 attacks when she penned these provocative, fiery words. I have no doubt Coulter was sincerely stricken with grief and anger when she wrote this. But that sure doesn’t excuse it.

Michael McCain isn’t nearly as repellent a person as Coulter, and his angry tweets don’t come close to her borderline promotion of genocide. But in both cases, their heartfelt grief led to lash out at people who didn’t deserve it. And, yes, there are many good reasons to lash out against Trump, but this one isn’t on him.

After the Flight 752 disaster killed his colleague’s wife and 11-year-old son, Michael McCain, chief executive of Maple Leaf Foods Inc., took to Twitter on Sunday night to admonish the Trump administration for escalating tensions with Iran.

“I am very angry, and time isn’t making me less angry,” McCain wrote on Maple Leaf Foods’ official Twitter account. “A MLF colleague of mine lost his wife and family this week to a needless, irresponsible series of events in Iran.”

McCain is at the helm of a major Canadian meat processing empire, with 12,500 employees and production facilities in Canada and the U.S., including a planned $310-million plant-based protein plant in Indiana.

[…]

Without ever naming Donald Trump — referring to him instead “a narcissist in Washington” — McCain criticized the president’s abandonment of the Iran nuclear agreement and the recent U.S. killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

Iran retaliated with missile strikes on U.S. military positions in Iraq, then hours later, Iran fired on Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752, killing all 176 on board, the majority of them en route to Canada via Kiev. After initially denying any involvement, Iran admitted on Friday to shooting down the plane, calling it a “disastrous mistake” caused by human error. Iran said the air defences were fired in error while on alert after the missile strikes on U.S. targets in Iraq.

It would be one thing if McCain blamed Trump and Iran for the shootdown, like this past weekend’s Chronicle Herald cartoon. I still don’t think it would be accurate, but at least it would acknowledge that the people who actually shot down the plane must bear some responsibility or their actions.

But if you knew nothing else about the incident, you would read McCain’s tweets and assume the U.S. shot down the jet. Whether he meant to or not, McCain treats the Iranian government and military not as professionals but as wild animals who just can’t help themselves.

Which, ironically, isn’t that far off from the way people like Coulter view the people of Iran – many of whom are risking their lives to hold their own leaders accountable for this disaster.

It's Iran's fault. Period.

As we argue about who is really responsible for the downing of Ukranian International Airlines Flight 752, Tom Nichols – whose anti-Trump credentials are second to none – places the blame squarely on the country that actually shot down the plane.

Trump is a reckless, ignorant fool. He is not responsible for everything bad that happens in the world, and to say otherwise is to deny everyone else any responsibility for their own actions.

In other contexts, that would be considered racism.

As for Iranian cooperation and openness in finding out what happened, this is not a promising sign:

Our worst fears confirmed

The crash of Ukranian International Airlines Flight 752, which claimed the lives of 176 people – including 62 Canadians, many of them with connections to Halifax – was likely caused by an Iranian surface-to-air missile:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says intelligence now indicates the Ukrainian passenger aircraft that crashed outside of Tehran on Wednesday, killing everyone on board — including 138 people destined for Canada — was shot down by an Iranian missile. 

“We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” he said during a news conference in Ottawa, adding that it might have been an unintentional act.

[…]

The crash happened just hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers, in response to U.S. President Trump’s decision to order the targeted killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani

When asked if the U.S. air strike was in part to blame for the crash, Trudeau said only that Canada needs a thorough investigation.

I’m not normally inclined to give the Iranian government any benefit of the doubt, but I really don’t think they intended to destroy this civilian plane. At a time when they’re on the verge of war with the United States, this is the last thing they needed. Plus, 82 Iranians were among the victims.

When the U.S. Navy shot down Iran Air Flight 655 in 1988, it was because they mistook the plane for a fighter jet. The downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine was likely carried out by Russian-backed separatists who thought they were firing on military aircraft. The most likely explanation is that the same kind of terrible, negligent mistake happened here.

As for President Trump, I guess you can say he bears some responsibility for this, in the same way President Johnson bears some responsibility for Forrest Gump’s friend Jenny getting abused by her boyfriend. The word “crossfire” is being thrown around, but at the time this happened only one side was actually doing any shooting.

The orange one himself is much less bellicose than you might expect:

Trump declined to share his theories around why the plane crashed but said he thought “something very terrible happened. Very devastating.”

“Well, I have my suspicions. It was very – I don’t want to say that…because other people have those suspicions also.”

He also said someone “on other side” could have “made a mistake.”

Trump is being roasted online for his cavalier remarks about the plane ” flying in a pretty rough neighborhood.” Maybe not the most sensitive way to put it, but my goodness, could you realistically expect anything better?

World War III? Not necessarily

“Let’s Go Places.”

Gen. Qasem Soleimani is dead. Good.

And now we’re speculating about whether this could trigger a Third World War. Not good.

David Schanzer, a terrorism expert and professor of the practice at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, warned the killing “will strengthen the Iranian regime domestically, the exact opposite goal of our policy.”

“President Trump’s decision to escalate hostilities by killing Qassem Soleimani epitomizes the failure of his strategy for dealing with Iran,” he said in a press release obtained by McClatchy News. “ … By engaging in a unilateral act of aggression inside Iraq, we have pushed our Iraqi allies even closer to Iran.”

Quincy Institute analyst and Colby College International Relations Professor Steven Simon said it is unlikely weapons of mass destruction will fall on a city such as Chicago in the near future.

Still, many on Twitter feared the worst.

People on Twitter always fear the worst. Still, while I’m shedding no tears for this guy, I’m anxious about what happens next. If the 21st century has taught us anything, it’s that killing even the most deserving bad guys doesn’t automatically result in peace.

The one halfway-decent thing you can say about the Trump Administration is that it hasn’t gotten America trapped in any more Middle Eastern wars, but who could possibly have any confidence in their ability to handle a major international crisis?

Hopefully, Daniel McCarthy’s take on this is correct:

Iran’s Islamic revolutionary regime might well want revenge. But is avenging Soleimani worth risking the regime’s existence? If killing him was an act of war, is this a war Iran is prepared to fight and win? How, exactly? Iran couldn’t win a war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1980s. Contrary to what neoconservatives might want you to think, Iran has not become a military superpower akin to Nazi Germany in the 30-odd years since then. Also contrary to what neoconservatives sometimes say, Iran is not irrational to the point of being suicidal. But some panicky anti-war supporters of President Trump have adopted this implausible view of Tehran. They think honor will demand that Iran retaliate, leading to out-and-out war.

But nation-states are not 18th-century gentlemen fighting duels. Most regimes are concerned above anything else with their own survival. This is as true for Iran as it is for North Korea, another country which is not about to attack the United States, despite what much of the press and foreign-policy world would like you to believe. 

Are US forces in the Middle East in danger of being targeted by Hezbollah or other Iranian proxies? Here too the stakes are clear. President Trump ordered the strike that killed Soleimani because Iranian-backed demonstrators and militias were harassing the US embassy in Iraq and an American contractor was killed in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base in December. The Trump administration has said that Soleimani was planning more mischief, which is easy to believe: far from being a martyr to peace and non-interventionism, Soleimani was a man whose business was fomenting war and insurgency. It’s tempting to call him an Iranian neoconservative. He was in Iraq on a mission of exporting revolution.

[…]

Donald Trump was elected to put Washington’s emphasis back on the well-being of Americans, rather than on the imperial politics of the Middle East. A war with Iran would be a betrayal of his mandate — a war that would lead to other wars and more prolonged occupation of the region. His domestic agenda, all his policies on trade and immigration, would fall by the wayside in the same fashion that George W. Bush’s did as a result of the Iraq War. He would become another war president, and another failed president. But killing Soleimani doesn’t make that inevitable — on the contrary, by itself Soleimani’s death brings an end to one of the villains whose role in stoking anti-American violence in the region made it harder for us to leave. President Trump has struck a blow for peace.

“President Trump has struck a blow for peace.” I know those words, but that phrase makes no sense.

UBC caves to the mob

Berkeley 1964 vs. Berkeley 2017.

I hadn’t even had time to break all of my New Year’s resolutions before the first big university free-speech controversy of 2020 popped up:

The Post Millennial editor-at-large Andy Ngo had his speaking event cancelled at UBC after safety concerns due to potential violent protests from antifa groups. Ngo’s scheduled presentation, ironically titled “Understanding Antifa Violence,” was scheduled to take place on January 29 at UBC’s Robson Square in downtown Vancouver.

Conservative legal advocacy group, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) has issued a press release and legal demand letter on behalf of student group The Free Speech Club demanding that UBC reinstate the event.

According to the letter, The Free Speech Club, received a phone call on December 20 from Ron Holton, Chief Risk Officer at UBC, stating “[t]he reason for the cancellation is the concern about the safety and security of our campus community.” The JCCF points out that no specific concern was mentioned.

The defining conflict of our time isn’t between left and right. It’s between those who believe speech is speech and violence is violence, and those who believe speech is violence and violence is speech.

Looks like the University of British Columbia has chosen its side.

What a time to be alive

On this last day of the 2010s, what defined the decade for you? Probably climate change. Or the election of Trump. Mass shootings. Civil War in Syria. A man-made humanitarian catastrophe in Venezuela. Twitter mobs. Fake news. The Cats movie.

With all this horrible news on social media, and everyone arguing with each other about it, no one really noticed that we’re living in the most peaceful and prosperous era in all of human history. Matt Ridley makes a strong case in The Spectator:

Let nobody tell you that the second decade of the 21st century has been a bad time. We are living through the greatest improvement in human living standards in history. Extreme poverty has fallen below 10 per cent of the world’s population for the first time. It was 60 per cent when I was born. Global inequality has been plunging as Africa and Asia experience faster economic growth than Europe and North America; child mortality has fallen to record low levels; famine virtually went extinct; malaria, polio and heart disease are all in decline.

Little of this made the news, because good news is no news. But I’ve been watching it all closely. Ever since I wrote The Rational Optimist in 2010, I’ve been faced with ‘what about…’ questions: what about the great recession, the euro crisis, Syria, Ukraine, Donald Trump? How can I possibly say that things are getting better, given all that? The answer is: because bad things happen while the world still gets better. Yet get better it does, and it has done so over the course of this decade at a rate that has astonished even starry-eyed me.

[…]

Efficiencies in agriculture mean the world is now approaching ‘peak farmland’ — despite the growing number of people and their demand for more and better food, the productivity of agriculture is rising so fast that human needs can be supplied by a shrinking amount of land. In 2012, Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and his colleagues argued that, thanks to modern technology, we use 65 per cent less land to produce a given quantity of food compared with 50 years ago. By 2050, it’s estimated that an area the size of India will have been released from the plough and the cow.

Land-sparing is the reason that forests are expanding, especially in rich countries. In 2006 Ausubel worked out that no reasonably wealthy country had a falling stock of forest, in terms of both tree density and acreage. Large animals are returning in abundance in rich countries; populations of wolves, deer, beavers, lynx, seals, sea eagles and bald eagles are all increasing; and now even tiger numbers are slowly climbing.

Perhaps the most surprising statistic is that Britain is using steadily less energy. John Constable of the Global Warming Policy Forum points out that although the UK’s economy has almost trebled in size since 1970, and our population is up by 20 per cent, total primary inland energy consumption has actually fallen by almost 10 per cent. …

Read it all. Obviously, everything in the world isn’t good – as I write this, the US Embassy in Baghdad is being stormed by Iranian-backed militants, a situation it’s hard to imagine ending well. But our remarkable advances in combating poverty, disease and conflict are just taken for granted.

I grew up during the era now nostalgically portrayed on Stranger Things, and I remember living with near-absolute certainty that we were going to be incinerated in a nuclear war. People now look back on the nineties as a golden age, but it sure didn’t feel like it at the time. Grunge music didn’t take off because people were happy.

It seems like people always scorn the present, fear for the future, and reminisce fondly about the past. Ten years from now, I bet we’ll all be looking back on how great the 2010s were and how much the 2020s sucked.

By all means, keep working toward a better world. It can always be better. But don’t forget how far we’ve already come.

Have a happy new year, and I hope 2020 is our best year yet.

Maybe some people just shouldn't be lawyers

Child-protection work makes up a significant part of my legal practice, and it can be absolutely heart-wrenching. Representing a criminal defendant and having his/her freedom largely in your hands is nothing compared to the pressure of representing parents who may literally have their children taken away.

And when your clients are of First Nations descent, it can be even more emotionally challenging. Not only are you representing an individual whose family may be torn apart, but you’re often seeing the effects of centuries of discriminatory and devastating government policies and social marginalization.

There’s really no way to fully prepare for this until you actually start doing it, but our law schools are not helping anyone by shielding prospective lawyers from these cases. But the University of Toronto has chosen to do just that:

The dean of the University of Toronto law school has apologized for a class assignment that he said relied on racial stereotypes about Indigenous people.

Some students in first-year law objected last week after being asked to consider a hypothetical scenario in which Indigenous parents, struggling with drug and alcohol issues, had placed their three children in care. A non-Indigenous family looked after the children for two years and was prepared to adopt them.

But the father, who had stopped drinking and remade his life, wanted to maintain access to the children. The students were asked to write a memo about the case, taking into account a 2017 Ontario law that gives priority to maintaining familial and cultural links for Indigenous children.

Edward Iacobucci sent an apology for the content of the assignment to all first-year law students last week. The dean wrote that the hypothetical scenario “included several troubling stereotypes about Indigenous people.”

[…]

No students would speak to The Globe on the record, but, in addition to concerns about the impact of stereotypes, some students said they did not feel properly supported in having to read upsetting details in real-life case law relating to the hypothetical case.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and a leading advocate for Indigenous children in the child welfare system, reviewed the assigned scenario and said on its face she found nothing problematic.

“Frankly, if students don’t learn about how to respond to these cases in university, I would be concerned about their capacity to do so when they graduate from a school of law,” Ms. Blackstock said.

“The reality is that First Nations kids are overrepresented among children in child welfare and that the leading drivers of it are poverty, poor housing and substance misuse linked to multigenerational trauma arising from colonialism writ large and residential schools in particular,” said Ms. Blackstock, who is also a professor of social work at McGill University.

More than half the children in foster care in Canada are Indigenous, even though they make up only a little more than 7.5 per cent of the youth population. …

Imagine a medical school apologizing for upsetting its students by teaching about pediatric cancer or Lou Gherig’s Disease. Imagine an engineering school apologizing for upsetting its students by teaching about fatal bridge collapses. That’s basically what’s happening here.

Being a lawyer is a noble pursuit, but it’s not for everyone. You are regularly forced to confront fact situations that may be disturbing and challenge your preconceived notions. A law school education should help you mentally and intellectually prepare for this.

The University of Toronto has chosen to coddle its students instead. And I suspect other law schools will follow.

Update: a U of T law student responded on Twitter.

When antisemitism is just a side issue

As I write this, we’re just a few hours away from finding out if this Iranian state-television host will become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom:

Corbyn’s chances of winning are slim, but after 2016, who can rule it out?

Bret Stephens acknowledges that many, maybe even most Labour voters aren’t antisemitic. But by their actions, they’re showing that they don’t think antisemitism is a deal-breaker:

…a ballot for Trump did not automatically mean that his voters shared his bigotries. Nor did it necessarily mean that they weren’t embarrassed by them.

It just meant that those bigotries weren’t deal-breakers. If their candidate was a birther, they could live with it. If he thought celebrity was a license for sexual predation, they could live with it. If he wanted to impose a religious test on immigrants; or discredit a judge on account of his ethnic background; or characterize the bulk of Mexican immigrants as “rapists” — that may all have been very unfortunate.

But, again, they could live with it. To adapt a line, they proved that the only thing necessary for bigots to be normalized is for the unbigoted to shrug.

[…]

As with Trump’s voters, there are all sorts of explanations and excuses for why Britons might vote Labour. Some feel disgusted by Johnson, who (like Hillary Clinton) stirs deep personal antipathies. Some see a Labour government as the likeliest way of stopping Brexit. Some are convinced that only Labour can save the country’s National Health Service.

The rationales vary and multiply. But they stop at this: Under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party has become, in the words of many of its own members (or former members), “institutionally anti-Semitic.” Dwell on the word “institutionally”: It means it isn’t just a matter of some bad apples. The question for the British electorate — and for anyone else who takes a rooting interest in the country’s politics — is whether or not they seriously care.

The latest evidence comes in the form of a recently leaked 53-page document by the 2,500-member Jewish Labour Movement (J.L.M.) to Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission. It chronicles “relentless” and “daily” incidents of anti-Semitism within the party.

Just this week, in Jersey City, we saw where this sickness can spread if it’s left unchecked. And we’ve learned that some people are only concerned about it if they can use it blame the other team.