Alex Rodriguez appears at a news conference following the announcement of his suspension from Major League Baseball for 211 games. (John Gress/Reuters)
There was a time, believe it or not, when Alex Rodriguez was popular. Really, genuinely, popular. Granted, it wasn't recently -- you'd have to go back to the Clinton Administration -- but as a young shortstop for the Seattle Mariners in the late 1990s, A-Rod was considered one of the game's true bright lights.
It wasn't just because of his on-the-field accomplishments, though these were remarkable: In 1996, at an age (20) when most players were in college or the low minor leagues, Alex Rodriguez was already the best in the American League. But A-Rod, too, was a saint: a humble, decent (Christian, natch) young man who called his mom five times a week, avoided alcohol, and worshipped his veteran teammates. "A guy this sweet," wrote Gerry Callahan in a fawning profile of Rodriguez for Sports Illustrated that year, "must be hiding some cavities."
If only Callahan knew what was coming. Seventeen years later, this very same Alex Rodriguez is the most hated player in baseball.
How hated? His fellow players voted him as the "biggest phony" in the majors. His own boss, New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, told the media that he should "shut the fuck up" after A-Rod tweeted his satisfaction at being medically cleared to play. (Cashman disagreed with this diagnosis). His own fans boo him mercilessly. And The New York Post, its finger forever on the city's pulse, summed up its feelings for Rodriguez with this headline:
A full account of the reasons behind A-Rod's unpopularity would require volumes, but here are the highlights. First was the contract -- 10 years for $250 million -- which Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers in early 2001. Then there was his colorful private life: the extra-marital affairs, the dalliance with Madonna ("she's my fucking soulmate dude"), the unfortunate photograph in Details magazine of Rodriguez kissing his own reflection in a mirror, and the better-left-unexplained "centaur painting."
For all of his off-field problems, there was one thing that couldn't be taken away from A-Rod: his accomplishments on the field. But then came his revelation in early 2009 that, as a member of the Texas Rangers earlier in the decade, he had used performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Suddenly, his once-pristine playing career came under suspicion. A-Rod being a buffoonish, narcissistic philanderer? Fine, he's a famous athlete -- it's normal. But a cheater? That was too much. For in the morality play that is 21st century baseball, any number of crimes are tolerated -- but using drugs to improve one's play on the field is not one of them.
And so this week, Commissioner Bud Selig did what fans had wanted him to do for years: He threw the book at A-Rod. Rodriguez was one of 13 players suspended for his link to BioGenesis, a since-shuttered "anti-aging" clinic in south Florida that allegedly supplied athletes with PEDs. The other 12 players, each first-time offenders, were suspended for 50 games each, as per guidelines established in baseball's (unfortunately-named) Joint Drug Agreement. Rodriguez, on the other hand, was banned for 211 games -- enough to keep him out of action for the rest of this season and all of next.
Never mind that Rodriguez's suspension is more than twice as long as any other non-permanent ban in baseball history. Or that, in recent baseball history, any number of criminals, drunks, and scoundrels have avoided any punishment from the league. Or that Alex Rodriguez -- still -- has never failed a drug test, which is (in theory) the basis for suspending players under the JDA. Or that Major League Baseball's investigation of BioGenesis relies heavily on one witness -- clinic founder Tony Bosch -- who may be slightly less than reliable. Or that 211 games is an arbitrary total, dependent more on the whims of the league's game schedule than any sense of proportional punishment.
Rodriguez, alone among the BioGenesis 14 (counting Ryan Braun, banned for 64 games last month), has chosen to appeal his suspension. In the coming days, then, Selig and Major League Baseball will reveal, precisely, what merited the 211 game suspension. It may be that the league has incontrovertible evidence that Rodriguez' sins were grave enough -- he is alleged to have tried to obtain and destroy evidence, a claim A-Rod denies -- that an ordinary 50-game suspension would be insufficient. Or, possibly, an arbitrator will determine that Rodriguez should be regarded as just another player who made an error in judgment, rather than a pariah deserving of harsher punishment.
Either way, it's hard to escape the sense that the Alex Rodriguez suspension was Bud Selig at his worst -- tackling the steroid problem by going after a player who had basically run out of defenders. Not that I, or anyone else, should feel sorry for him. Alex Rodriguez has lived a charmed life. Through his career, he has earned more than $350 million in salary (plus more in endorsements), dated Hollywood stars like Cameron Diaz and Kate Hudson, and won a World Series -- all the while playing a children's game for a living. He's hardly a sympathetic character. But that doesn't mean that he deserves special opprobrium -- cavities or not.
New presidents often err by either trying to impose their will on Congress or being too hands-off. Trump is on course to commit both errors on his top two legislative priorities.
Mucking up an interaction with Congress is a rite of passage for every new president—usually on health care, and especially for those with limited experience in Washington.
The twin pitfalls for a new president are the same ones the great Tommy Lasorda described in his approach to baseball: “I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.” A president can try to push his vision aggressively on Congress, risking backlash from members—let’s call that the Bill Clinton approach. Alternatively, he can try to hang back and let Congress act, risking the chance that without presidential leadership, members will come up with something he doesn’t like, or even worse that they can’t pass. We’ll call that the Barack Obama approach.
The MIT economist Peter Temin argues that economic inequality results in two distinct classes. And only one of them has any power.
A lot of factors have contributed to American inequality: slavery, economic policy, technological change, the power of lobbying, globalization, and so on. In their wake, what’s left?
That’s the question at the heart of a new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, by Peter Temin, an economist from MIT. Temin argues that, following decades of growing inequality, America is now left with what is more or less a two-class system: One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy (but still mostly white) lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.
In 1985, Neil Postman observed an America imprisoned by its own need for amusement. He was, it turns out, extremely prescient.
Earlier this month, thousands of protesters gathered at Washington’s National Mall to advocate for an assortment of causes: action against global climate change, federal funding for scientific research, an empirical approach to the world and its mysteries. The protesters at the March for Science, as scientists are wont to do, followed what has become one of the formulas for such an event, holding clever signs, wearing cheeky costumes, and attempting, in general, to carnivalize their anger. “Make the Barrier Reef Great Again,” read one sign at the March. “This is my sine,” read another. “I KNEW TO WEAR THIS,” one woman had written on the poncho she wore that soggy Saturday, “BECAUSE SCIENCE PREDICTED THE RAIN.” Three protesters, sporting sensible footwear and matching Tyrannosaurus rex costumes, waved poster boards bearing messages like “Jurassick of this shit.”
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
Recent border battles have once again redrawn the lines of the metro area.
On the Saturday before Election Day last November, Jason Lary, a former insurance executive, crouched on a rough patch of grass at the center of a busy intersection 20 miles outside of Atlanta in DeKalb County. Lary was holding a hammer, and he tapped carefully on the thin wire base of a campaign sign. “My hand is like Fred Flintstone’s right now because I banged my hand in the night,” he said, noting his latest sign-related injury. This hazard, though, was worthwhile: “If you don’t start [the sign] with your hand, it will bend. It takes longer—guys are 10 times faster than I am. But my sign’s still gonna be up.”
This was a non-trivial advantage for Lary, who for the past month had begun most mornings with a kind of ground-game whack-a-mole. He would put up signs under the cover of night, only to have his opponents dislodge them by hand or, when that failed, run over them with their cars. Nevertheless, Lary was feeling good. “My opposition? Worn down,” he told me. “They don’t even have any more signs. And I kept a stash, knowing this time was coming. This is not my first picnic with nonsense.”
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
Cases of brain-infecting amoebae underscore the importance of purifying water before you pour it into your sinuses.
Allergy season is upon us once more, and for many allergy sufferers, that means it’s time to pull two crucial items to the front of the medicine cabinet: 24-hour non-drowsy loratadine, and a neti pot—a teapot-like device used to flush the nasal passages with saline in order to clear allergens and soothe sinus pressure. (It can be seen in action in this very popular gif.) The constant mockery of my loved ones doesn’t prevent me from using a neti pot to ease my congestion. It’s too effective to give up for the sake of pride. But I have also used my neti pot with considerable apprehension since 2011.
That year, a 20-year-old man from Louisiana died of encephalitis caused by Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba commonly found in lakes and rivers in the American South—but which rarely causes infection. More unusual still was the fact that the young man hadn’t had been swimming in freshwater lakes or rivers anytime recently. Then, a few months later, a 51-year-old Louisiana woman also died of encephalitis—primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) to be exact, which is the condition caused when Naegleria fowleri infects the brain. Shortly before she passed away, her doctor learned that while she hadn’t had been swimming in freshwater either, she had recently used a neti pot. Researchers later learned that the other victim had also used a neti pot, and subsequent testing found Naegleria fowleri in both patients’ brain tissue as well as the tap water in their homes. Using a neti pot had allowed the amoeba to reach their brains.
On Wednesday, the administration launched a new office to “assist victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens.” Some rang in with reports of UFOs.
The term “alien” is used in legal contexts to denote those present in the United States who aren’t citizens. But some callers are using a new hotline launched on Wednesday for victims of crimes committed by aliens to report that they’ve been victimized by extraterrestrials.
On Wednesday, the Trump administration launched the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement Office. The office, which was originally announced in a January executive order on immigration, intends to “assist victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“All crime is terrible, but these victims are unique—and too often ignored,” said DHS Secretary John Kelly in announcing the office. “They are casualties of crimes that should never have taken place—because the people who victimized them often times should not have been in the county in the first place.”
The Affordable Care Act was behind the last lapse in federal funding in 2013, and Democrats threaten revenge if Republicans try to jam through their repeal bill before a spending agreement is reached.
Republican leaders returned to Washington after a lengthy Easter recess with two discrete goals for the week: Keep the federal government from shutting down, and maybe, if they had the time and the votes, finally pass their bill to replace the Affordable Care Act.
Congress being Congress, this presented a test significantly more difficult than, say, walking and chewing gum at the same time. And as a deadline for funding the government draws near, one GOP priority is threatening to derail the other.
House Democrats on Thursday warned that they would withhold their support for a short-term extension of government funding if Republicans first tried to rush through legislation decimating Obamacare, while an impatient President Trump accused them of wanting to shut down the government for not agreeing to his demands. The rhetorical volleys injected a new round of drama into a spending showdown that had seemed close to a resolution. But it wasn’t clear that any of the threats would actually be carried out.
For better or for worse, all roads to avoid global calamity run through Beijing.
President Donald Trump is right: North Korea’s nuclear program is on a dangerous trajectory. But there is no quick fix. Nor is there an imminent threat, and it does not help to create the impression that there is one. A show of force, if carefully calibrated, can be helpful. But rhetorical excess, personal provocations directed at North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, and stunts like calling the Senate to a White House briefing don’t help.
Moreover, for all the bellicose posturing from Washington and Pyongyang, the most likely outcome of this latest flare-up of tensions around North Korea is more stalemate, as the Kim regime continues work on its nuclear-weapons program—unless the Trump administration considers some new, non-military, approaches.