Politics & Policy

Correction

Writing about commercial rent control in New York City last week, I conflated Mayor Bill de Blasio’s support for a commercial rent-control measure instituted as part of a rezoning scheme in upper Manhattan with support for a different measure under consideration by the city council. The de Blasio administration in fact has had reservations about the bill under consideration and today officially came out against it. I regret the error.

Culture

Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today (October 22, 2018)

1. “The #MeToo Movement Has Forgotten Asia Bibi”

2. Synod stirred by tales of contemporary anti-Christian persecution

3. Today is the feast day of John Paul II. His Evangelium Vitae is worth rereading. I thought you might especially appreciate this:

An important and serious responsibility belongs to those involved in the mass media, who are called to ensure that the messages which they so effectively transmit will support the culture of life. They need to present noble models of life and make room for instances of people’s positive and sometimes heroic love for others. With great respect they should also present the positive values of sexuality and human love, and not insist on what defiles and cheapens human dignity. In their interpretation of things, they should refrain from emphasizing anything that suggests or fosters feelings or attitudes of indifference, contempt or rejection in relation to life. With scrupulous concern for factual truth, they are called to combine freedom of information with respect for every person and a profound sense of humanity.

His inaugural homily is worth rereading, too.

Continue reading “Ten Things that Caught My Eye Today (October 22, 2018)”

Elections

Those Early Voting Numbers Look Good for the GOP! Kind of. Sort of.

(Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

There is such a thing as reading too much into the early vote figures.

As of today, just over 5 million people have voted early across the country, either in-person or by returning absentee ballots.

Some localities are reporting higher early voting this cycle — “sharply increasing” in Cuyahoga County, Ohio; “tripling” in Georgia and Clark County, Nevada. But early voting has increased in every election cycle since 2004, so we would expect early voting to be up in most places. And bigger numbers for early voting doesn’t always translate to higher turnout overall. Around 40 percent of ballots in 2014 were early in-person voting, absentee ballots, or vote by mail, compared to 35 percent two years earlier and about 32 percent in 2010. (Remember, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington now vote entirely by mail.) But overall voter turnout in 2014 was the lowest since the Second World War. Big early voting numbers could mean wider general interest in the midterm elections, or it could mean that a larger chunk of the usual pool of voters decided to vote early this year.

If the historical trends continue, we can expect about 45 percent of all voters to cast ballots early, absentee, or by mail in 2018.

Back in 2014, some liberals looked at higher numbers of registered Democratic voters participating in early voting and insisted the polls showing their preferred candidates trailing had to be wrong. They were deeply disappointed on Election Night.

There’s a perception that high early vote turnout is good for Democrats and bad for Republicans, but that drastically oversimplifies things.

The early vote in Nevada is a little ominous; Jon Ralston has been covering the state’s elections for a long time and his analysis makes sense. But there’s a bunch of states where more GOP-affiliated voters have voted early than Democratic-affiliated voters, according to a new analysis of the data from NBC News: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, Tennessee, and Texas. (Basically, where almost all the dramatic Senate races are!)

Perspective is in order. In Indiana, Montana, and Nevada, the total early vote hasn’t hit 100,000 votes yet. Based upon the last midterms, Montana should have about 370,000 total votes, Nevada should have at least a half-million votes, and Indiana should have at least a million. Still, every vote you turn out early is one less you have to worry about on Election Day — and you’d rather have more of your voters casting ballots early than the other side’s voters.

Beto O’Rourke fans will look at the news that Bexar County in Texas saw 16,827 votes cast by 2 p.m. today; four years ago, there were 13,436 for the whole first day. Bexar County includes San Antonio, and is usually one of the more Democratic-leaning regions of the state; Hillary Clinton won 319,550 votes here and Donald Trump won 240,333.

But Bexar is usually Democratic-leaning; in the 2014 Senate race, Republican Jon Cornyn won 160,577 and Democrat David Alameel won 124,030. O’Rourke’s going to need to run up a big margin in those little blue dots on the Texas map to make up for all of the votes in those red stretches.

Some folks aren’t such big fans of the idea of “Election Month” instead of Election Day; you never know when, to pick a completely hypothetical example, the FBI director might suddenly announce the reopening of a criminal investigation of a presidential candidate.

Elections

Three New Polls Leave the Florida Senate Race Hard to Read

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (Kevin Kolczynski/Reuters)

With Election Day a little more than two weeks away, several new polls in Florida leave the outcome of the Senate and gubernatorial races highly uncertain. A CNN survey from this past weekend gave Democratic senator Bill Nelson a five-point lead, ahead of Governor Rick Scott 50-45 percent.

Meanwhile, this morning, Quinnipiac released its own poll of the race, putting Nelson ahead of the GOP governor 53-46 percent among likely voters, with only 2 percent undecided. The poll found that 60 percent of independent voters say they support Nelson, while only 38 percent say they support Scott.

These two surveys give the incumbent Democrat the biggest advantage he’s had in the contest since mid September, when another Quinnipiac poll put him ahead of Scott by seven points.

A new survey out today from St. Pete Polls, however, offered a different forecast. The poll surveyed 1,575 likely voters over this past weekend and found that Scott had a narrow advantage, with 49 percent support to Nelson’s 48 percent.

These three new polls are an excellent case study in the reality that survey data can only tell observers so much about a race — and they can’t be expected to predict outcomes with certainty. Even so, the new polling from CNN and Quinnipiac is in marked contrast to the polls from the last few weeks, which seemed to suggest a narrowing race.

The CNN poll indicated that Democratic mayor of Tallahassee Andrew Gillum leads Representative Ron DeSantis in the Florida gubernatorial race 54-42 percent, while St. Pete Polls showed a much narrower lead, putting Gillum ahead of DeSantis 47-46 percent.

Politics & Policy

In Defense of Ideology

(Pixabay)

Lee Edwards has a nice essay up today on the homepage laying out his primer for NRI Fellows on the question, “What is Conservatism?”

I am a fan of Lee’s, and I have no substantive quarrel with anything he says. It’s a very good introduction to the topic.

But — you know there was going to be a “but”–– he writes:

Conservatism is a philosophy, not an ideology. It is the collective wisdom of conservatives such as Evans, Kirk, Goldwater, Buckley, and Abraham Lincoln, who when asked what conservatism is replied, “Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?”

I understand what Lee is saying here. There is a very old and perfectly respectable argument that “ideology” is bad, a kind of a false mental construct that people rely on to make sense of the world. I was on a panel with Charles Kesler recently, and he took a similar swipe at ideology. Philosophy in general and conservatism in particular are supposed to be grounded in reality and facts, not false political abstractions. That’s why Russell Kirk used to quote H. Stuart Hughs on how “conservatism is the negation of ideology.”

I think this is wrong. Or it’s right, but only if you define ideology in this way. And I don’t think that’s necessary or correct. An adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried is every bit as ideological as its opposite orientation.

I think ideology is simply a worldview. We all have a worldviews: i.e., checklists of principles and generalizations that we think are both true and valuable. Allow me to quote myself for convenience’s sake. In my (horribly titled) book The Tyranny of Clichés, I write:

For the moment, consider instead the German synonym Weltanschauung, which means a “worldview” or “an orientation to how you see the world.” Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (to whom I am indebted) once remarked: “I know conservatives who say yes to Weltanschauung and no to ideology, but they seem incapable of distinguishing between them (not surprisingly, because there is no distinction).” Look up ideology and Weltanschauung in various dictionaries and often the most pronounced difference is in the spelling.

The irony of the modern (mis)use of “ideology” as a kind of false consciousness or product of brainwashing is that we get it from Marx — and Napoleon. Ideology was first conceived of by French liberal philosophers as the study of ideas: Biology is the study of life (bio), zoology the study of animals, etc. Ideology would be the study of ideas. But as the Little Corporal consolidated power, he coined — or at least claimed to coin — the term “ideologue” to mean someone so ensorcelled by dangerous or revolutionary ideas that they could not be trusted. As he became more statist, Napoleon turned on the intellectuals that he once supported, calling them “Windbags and ideologues who have always fought the existing authority.”

“As Napoleon’s position weakened both at home and abroad, his attacks on ideology became more sweeping and vehement,” writes historian John B. Thompson. “Nearly all kinds of religious and philosophical thought were condemned as ideology. The term itself had become a weapon in the hands of an emperor struggling desperately to silence his opponents and to sustain a crumbling regime.”

Decades later, Karl Marx took Napoleon’s idea of ideology and built the whole construct of “false consciousness” and similar drek out of it. At least Napoleon’s original “ideologues” chose their worldviews; Marx’s were brainwashed by their class status or “privilege” (a familiar argument even today).

I understand that this is ultimately an argument about labels. But I like such arguments. More to the point, I don’t think the distinction people make between ideology, worldview, and philosophy does the work they think it does in the real world. There are people who subscribe to an existentialist or nihilist philosophy. In practical terms, they also act in accordance to an existentialist or nihilist worldview or ideology. In debates, when someone claims that his opponent is being overly “ideological,” what he’s really saying is that his opponent is simply wrong about something.

But it’s also worse than that because it steals a claim of objectivity unearned by argument. If I say, “You’re an ideologue, while I’m just a pragmatist or a realist,” I’m implying that you are ignoring facts because of some kind of irrational brainwashing. We see this constantly in debates where pro-lifers are “ideologues” but pro-choicers are simply advocates of “reproductive rights” or “women’s health.” The simple fact is that both the pro-choice and pro-life positions are equally “ideological” or, if you prefer, “philosophical.” They simply start from different premises and place more weight on different facts. Indeed, the use of the phrase “women’s health” is more ideologically distorting than the phrase “pro-life.” Activists use “women’s health” as an ideologically freighted term to refer almost exclusively to abortion rights — not cervical or breast cancer or any other issue affecting women’s health. In other words, the anti-ideological language is the more abstract and unrealistic language.

Ideology is really just a system of generalization about how the world works — and how we should behave in it. There is nothing wrong with generalizations, so long as you understand that they are generalizations and that reality is often messier and more complicated than a rule of thumb. That’s one reason why I put so much emphasis on comfort with contradiction as an essential component of the conservative temperament — and ideology.

NR Webathon

Buffalo Us

Are you someone who comes to NR several times a day. I need you to work with me here. Check out the convincing appeal made by Alexandra DeSanctis today on behalf of our Fall 2018 Webathon (we’re seeking $225,000-plus to keep the lights on, the pencils sharpened, and the ace political reporters ace-ly reporting).

To date nearly 1,900 committed conservatives – people who understand that NR is vital and imperative – have donated between $10,000.00 (two kind souls) and $2. Heck, the mail today from even brought an envelope from Norway including a very cool 500-kroner note (that’s about $60.58US).

We understand: Sometimes it takes a while to reach for the wallet. For example, yesterday our pal “Anonymous” sent $100 and felt the need to admit this:

I’m 71 years old, life-long conservative, and this is my first donation to a political cause. Never felt the urgent need before.”

Thanks Anon, and it is urgent. For us as regards our institutional needs, but also for us – and for you — for the sake of our beliefs, given the relentless attacks by the unhinged Left on the causes we hold dear and on the principles at the core of the Great Experiment we call America.

If you are someone who spends a lot of time on NRO every day, but has never contributed to our webathon appeals, let me ask: Isn’t all of what we do – on behalf of the things you hold dear – worth something to you, given the many hours (days! weeks!) you have dwelt here in actual time? Isn’t it worth . . . $100? How about . . . $50? If it is, please make a contribution. Do that here.

Even if you are a notorious tightwad, I urge you to spot us $10. Challenge yourself to do the right thing. You know you want to, that you need to. Just do it! You will be surprised how good it will make you feel.

National Review

We’re All about Addition

Charlie mentioned NRPlus the other day. I want to join him in urging people to check it out and sign up. It’s the way to get access to all our content—including extra pieces behind our metered paywall—and has a bunch of other benefits, including an almost entirely ad-free reading experience, the ability to comment on pieces, and invitations to conversations with NR folks and conservative newsmakers and to special events. We’ve always prided ourselves on being a community in addition to a publication and a cause, and NRPlus is your ticket to being fully part of it. Please check it out.

Elections

Cramer Expands Lead over Democratic Senator Heitkamp in North Dakota Race

Republican congressman Kevin Cramer leads Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp by 16 points in the latest poll of the North Dakota Senate race — the biggest lead that Cramer has held so far.

According to the survey of 650 likely voters, Cramer leads Heitkamp 56-40 percent. The poll was conducted by Strategic Research Associates from October 12–19. The most recent poll prior to this one put him ahead by twelve points, and before that, an NBC survey gave him a ten-point lead.

The Strategic Research Associates poll is the first survey taken of the North Dakota race since Heitkamp was forced to apologize for publicizing the names and towns of several constituents, labeling them as sexual-assault victims in an advertisement without their consent. Their names were included in an open letter to Cramer, which Heitkamp’s campaign published as an ad last week.

The new poll seems to reflect a negative change in public opinion on the sitting senator. According to the data, she’s viewed favorably by only 37 percent of North Dakotans and unfavorably by 52 percent. In September, only 41 percent of her constituents said they held an unfavorable view of her. Cramer, meanwhile, holds nearly opposite numbers: He’s viewed favorably by 53 percent of North Dakotans and unfavorably by 38 percent.

Heitkamp and Cramer faced off last week in a debate, where the Democratic senator used her two-minute opening statement to apologize to the women affected and to the rest of her constituents for her error in judgment.

Cramer and Heitkamp were both first elected to Congress in 2012, she as senator in a close race, and he as North Dakota’s at-large congressman, representing the entire state. Heitkamp is widely considered to be the most vulnerable Democratic senator up for reelection in a red state that Donald Trump won in 2016; he took North Dakota Clinton by nearly 36 percentage points.

Politics & Policy

In Search of the Republican Agenda

My latest Bloomberg Opinion article concerns the Republican legislative agenda for 2019 — which doesn’t seem to exist.

Yesterday Chuck Todd asked Senator Thom Tillis (R., N.C.) for a response to the article. This link takes you to a video of the full interview. The senator had one comment about what a reelected Republican Congress might do: “We want to continue to work on infrastructure.”

Coincidentally or not, infrastructure is the only topic that came to the mind of another Republican senator I recently asked about next year’s agenda.

Politics & Policy

Exactly What Should a Liberal Arts Education Do?

(Pixabay)

Many educators say that a liberal arts education is good — at least for some students — but exactly what is it good for? How does it make an individual better?

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins dives into that question. Her point of departure is a talk given recently at Duke by English professor William Deresiewicz. He’s an outspoken liberal who nevertheless believes in liberal arts education and decries the way higher eduction is being turned in mostly vocational training.

“He believes,” Watkins writes, “that the study of the liberal arts ought to be a pursuit of knowledge for its own sake—not simply a set of hoops to usher students through on their way to a future career. And that students should be taught not what to think, but rather how to think critically and independently.”

Nothing to disagree with there.

But then we find out why Deresiewicz likes liberal arts education. Watkins continues, “In his analysis, studying the liberal arts isn’t about the search for the truth, but is rather a project of self-creation. It doesn’t matter what students study as long as they discover who they are through the process:

The crucial thing is to study, not the Great Books, but simply, great books…It doesn’t matter who created it or when…The canon is irrelevant in this respect. A real reader creates her own canon, for it consists precisely of those books that she has used to create herself.”

Good grief — self-creation. There’s no objective truth, so just create your own identity. Many bad ideas have their roots in that sort of thinking.

Watkins contrasts Deresiewicz’s view with that of Princeton professor Robert George. She quotes him: “Our critical engagement with great thinkers enriches our understanding and enables us to grasp, or grasp more fully, great truths—truths that, when we appropriate them and integrate them into our lives, liberate us from what is merely vulgar, coarse, or base. These are soul-shaping, humanizing truths—truths whose appreciation and secure possession elevates reason above passion or appetite, enabling us to direct our desires and our wills to what is truly good, truly beautiful, truly worthy of human beings as possessors of a profound and inherent dignity.”

That sounds like a much better grounding for liberal arts education.

As for Deresiezicz’s doubt that there are any real truths to be found through a liberal education, Watkins responds, “A measured sense of skepticism is good, but as G.K. Chesterton remarked, ‘merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.'”

Just so.

Health Care

Physicians Should Prescribe Pills, not Politics

(Photo: Vadimgozhda/Dreamstime)

They want to politicize everything! Now, in the name of promoting “health,” doctors are urged to engage their patients about politics.

At least, that’s the gist of a column in the New York Times by Bellevue Hospital physician and NYU Medical School professor Danielle Ofri, who argues that since part of a doctor’s work entails helping patients live healthy lifestyles, physicians should therefore engage their patients politically in the clinical setting to highlight policies (liberal, of course) that she sees as germane to that effort. From, “Doctors Should Tell Their Patients to Vote“(my emphasis):

Suddenly, like Dr. Virchow [a 19th Century German doctor who wrote a report castigating public policies he believed responsible for a typhus epidemic], we are recognizing that our purview extends to the entire structure of our society and that politics is, as he put it, “nothing else but medicine on a large scale.”

Political decisions that affect insurance coverage, access to medical care, housing, minimum wage, immigration law, water sources — just to name a few examples — exert medical effects that are comparable with those of major diseases. Just ask the people of Flint, Mich…

Now, as our society feels increasingly fractured, the health threats seem even more alarming. Growing income inequality, disregard of environmental hazards and the undermining of social safety nets all stand to harm our patients’ health. Dr. Virchow’s words from 170 years ago about the creep of religion into state affairs, the outsize power of the wealthy and the autocratic impulses of government feel unsettlingly contemporary.

Doctors have every right to–and should–engage individually and collectively in the political life of the nation. But should that extend to their interactions with individual patients in the clinical setting? Apparently so:

So is it time for doctors to pull out our prescription pads and, like Dr. Virchow, start prescribing democracy?

This may seem like a radical extension of the medical mandate, but the poorer and the sicker our patients are, the more likely they are to be disenfranchised. Those with the most to lose are least likely to have their voices heard.

Of course no one should be advocating political viewpoints in the exam room — patients need a neutral, nonjudgmental atmosphere to feel secure. But civic engagement is nonpartisan.

Considering the repeated examples she gives of the political issues doctors should address with patients–and the apparent approach she believes they should promote–does anyone believe her disclaimer that “viewpoints” would not be advocated in the exam room? I don’t. And frankly, neither does she:

When patients say they can’t afford their medicine, fear being bankrupted by medical bills or struggle to find treatment for an addiction, we typically offer sympathy for these heartbreaking and seemingly intractable issues.

But might it be our responsibility to point out that these problems are not just bad luck but also the result of political decisions?

Ofri wants hospitals to become centers of voter registration:

When patients are admitted to the hospital, they are asked about their tobacco use and their flu shots, their employment status and their religious affiliation. Why not ask if they are registered to vote? Just as hospitals and clinics help the uninsured obtain coverage, they should also help eligible voters register.

Is she kidding? The last thing sick people need while being admitted to a hospital is a nurse or clerk trying to get out the vote.

No. I don’t want to be harangued by my doctor about politics during a physical. I don’t want my doctor asking me if I have guns or preaching to me about firearms policy (as some have urged they do). I don’t want to hear my doctor pontificating about the Affordable Care Act or what our public policy should be about the opioid epidemic–all of which would happen inevitably once politics entered the exam or treatment room.

I’ll make Ofri a deal: If she urges doctors to wear MAGA hats–after all, low unemployment improves prosperity, which is good for the health of patients, and we now have record lows–I’ll reconsider my objections to her proposal. Somehow, I have a feeling the phone won’t be ringing.

World

Heaven, Hell, and Other Places

Farida Nabourema

The Saudi dictatorship has told a story: A 59-year-old journalist and critic of the regime got into a fistfight with a 15-man crew of killers in a consulate and, oops, things went wrong. Dead and dismembered journalist.

Another Arab journalist, Rami G. Khouri, issued a tweet: “An important element of this episode is that normal, ordinary people around the world now understand how normal, ordinary Arabs have felt during the past 5 decades of authoritarian governments that treat their citizens like idiots or sheep, almost always with foreign support.”

Today on the homepage I have a piece on a remarkable young woman, Farida Nabourema. She is a leader of the opposition to her country’s dictatorship, which has been passed from father to son and is now more than 50 years old. That dictatorship is in Togo, which is in West Africa.

All dictatorships tell lies, and I will give you one of that dictatorship’s most fantastic ones. There are more than 30 ethnic groups in Togo, mind you. It is a little country — 7.5 million people — but a very diverse one. And Farida and others grew up in school being taught that the dictator’s ethnic group, the Kabye, was descended from heaven. No other group was — just them.

Imagine that.

This absurd little lie, or big one, was taught not only in primary schools, middle schools, and high schools, but also in universities. Professors had to do it with a straight face; students had to listen to it with a straight face.

That’s how it goes.

Anyway, you will enjoy meeting Farida, who is a household name in her country — though she can’t live there, if she doesn’t want to be killed — and should be known by you and me as well.

World

Whitewashing the Record of Hugo Chávez

A supporter of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro holds a portrait of Hugo Chávez at a campaign rally in Caracas, May 1, 2018. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

It is depressing but not altogether surprising that Hugo Chávez still retains some support in Western intellectual life. The ongoing destruction of Venezuelan society should have been enough to discredit his apologists, but unfortunately it has not been so.

The latest attempt at rehabilitating Chávez’s legacy comes in the form of a New York Times op-ed by Eva Golinger, one of the late president’s most trusted advisers. “The Hugo Chávez I knew,” writes Golinger, “believed in social justice, equality and fundamental freedoms.” Against popular conceptions of Chávez as a quasi-dictator, Golinger asserts that Venezuela’s authoritarian turn has occurred only under Nicolás Maduro. Chávez “made many mistakes,” Golinger concedes, but nonetheless he “had enormous empathy for the poor and the marginalized,” he “made great strides during his presidency,” he “[helped] millions of people,” and he even “pardoned many of his adversaries, even those who attempted to overthrow him.”

Golinger makes little effort at addressing the substantive question of whether Chávez contributed to Venezuela’s degeneration into dictatorship. Here is all she offers in the way of an answer:

Did he have authoritarian tendencies? His military background left him with a firm belief in hierarchy. The longer he remained in power, the more entrenched he became, which is why term limits and checks and balances are essential to a healthy democracy.

Term limits are indeed important elements of democratic societies — elements which in 2009 Chávez abolished. Dislodging incumbents is difficult enough in advanced democracies; it is even more difficult in countries with little institutional accountability, where the government can fund massive clientelist programs to shore up support whenever it needs to. As Chávez well knew, removing term limits would have allowed him to become president for life. Only his premature death from cancer at age 58 prevented him from taking full advantage of this institutional change. Chávez undermined and destroyed the very mechanisms Golinger singles out as essential to democracies, and yet she musters scant criticism of his political projects.

Then there is the matter of “checks and balances,” to which Golinger also alludes. It is hard to overstate the extent to which Chávez obliterated checks on presidential power during his tenure. Shortly after coming into office in 1998, Chávez began implementing steps to take control of PDVSA, the national oil company, which was then autonomously run. Little by little, he fired its top management and replaced it with cronies. Then in 2002 he fired some 18,000 PDVSA workers — around 40 percent of its workforce — and had them slowly replaced with more of his backers. Apart from ruining PDVSA, these policies massively expanded the president’s power by giving him an endless source of funds to use for narrow political goals.

Chávez expanded the political power of the presidency as well. He packed the Venezuelan supreme court, took over the CNE (the body that is supposed to oversee elections and ensure their fairness), undermined press freedom by shutting down the opposition’s television stations, politicized the military by promoting officers based on loyalty rather than competence, and through a long sequence of constitutional changes transferred most decision making power from the legislature to the presidency. Such details are not mentioned in Golinger’s essay.

Nicolás Maduro’s autocracy, then, did not merely come into existence ex nihilo. Chávez bequeathed him an obsequious legislature, a loyal judiciary, and a personal oil company with which he (Maduro) could exert dictatorial power. Indeed, Maduro’s transgressions against liberal-democratic principles occur only under a specific institutional context that Chávez largely created. If Golinger’s article proves one thing, therefore, it is that one can continue to be a defender of Hugo Chávez only by committing violence against the historical record.

Sports

Unhittable Pitching

The other day Jay Nordliner tweeted out this column by Detroit sportswriter Chris McCosky, who thinks that hitters would strike out less if they tried harder when they had two strikes on them. McCosky agrees with Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, who says that “good hitters on good teams, they shorten their swing with two strikes and put the ball in play in big situations.”

But the main reason that hitters are striking out more is that the pitching is getting harder to hit. Pitchers have more room to improve by adjusting their mechanics, which come down to grip and delivery. A recent trend among starters, for example, is to forgo the windup and pitch only from the stretch, which helps their control. Hitting, by contrast, depends heavily on reflexes and eyesight, and it’s hard to improve on what you were born with in those departments. The average velocity of fastballs is always increasing. What’s worse, for the hitters, is that they’ve been seeing more curveballs lately.

A lot of breaking pitches that are called strikes now wouldn’t have been 20 years ago. In the late 1990s, MLB began to clamp down on the idea that an umpire could have a “signature” strike zone. At the time, most of the talk was that the zone would be higher and narrower, but “I think where you’ll see a difference,” American League umpire Rocky Roe predicted, “is the real good curveball, where the arc is coming through the strike zone. In the past we would have had a tendency to call it a ball.” When MLB started insisting that the ump had to start calling strikes strikes even when they were unhittable, pitchers began throwing more curves.

A third reason that MLB pitching is getting harder to hit: Managers now use their pitching staffs more shrewdly than in the past, or at least some are. Everyone knows that the performance of most pitchers declines noticeably the second time through the batting order. Finally, organized baseball is discovering the concept of the opener.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

Rosenstein Defends the Mueller Probe

Well, did you think Rod Rosenstein was going to say, “You got me. The Mueller probe was inappropriate and politicized?” No, you didn’t. And the deputy attorney general did not disappoint. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Rosenstein defended the investigation as “appropriate ... Read More
Culture

The Witches of Bushwick

In Brooklyn, there is an occult bookshop called Catland Books. “Catland” is, one imagines, an apt description of the homes of the women who congregate there. The operators of the establishment have announced that they are planning to hold a special hex session this weekend to make Supreme Court justice ... Read More