Headline: T— Accuses Obama of Being “Grossly Incompetent”

From political activist Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion:

If you’re a thief, accuse your enemies of thievery. If corrupt, accuse your rivals of corruption. If a coward, accuse others of cowardice. Evidence is irrelevant; the goal is to dilute the truth and the case against you with “everyone does it”.

T—-’s unfounded attacks on others of the things he is demonstrably guilty of aren’t mere projection. They are a tactic to lower the moral bar for all, to wave off his corruption and abuse as normal.

This has been the ploy of dictators for decades, to say that anyone accusing them of crimes is a hypocrite. Not to say they are good, but that we are all bad, that there is no good or evil, no truth, just power.

Unquote.

Although T—–, being a fool, takes it one step further. He brags that he is, for example, the most competent person in the world, making himself look ridiculous, in addition to monumentally dishonest.

I Wish Ever Reporter, Columnist, Editor and Publisher (and Every Voter) in America Would Read This Before It’s Too Late

Paul Waldman of The Washington Post says “We’re Already Seeing the 2020 Version of ‘But Her Emails'”:

Here we go again.

If you think we learned anything from the “But Her Emails” debacle of 2016, in which the fact that Hillary Clinton used the wrong email was treated as far and away the most important issue of the presidential campaign, I have some bad news for you.

And right about now, Republicans probably can’t believe their luck. They’re like a three-card monte grifter who keeps pulling the same trick on the same guy who stops at their table every day and never seems to figure out he’s being conned.

Yes, I’m talking about Tara Reade’s allegation that then-Sen. Joe Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993. We’ve now entered the “Show us the documents!” phase of this game.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that Reade is lying; I have no idea, and the evidence we’ve seen so far is not conclusive in either direction. Moreover, in all likelihood we aren’t ever going to get proof, and we’ll be better off if we acknowledge that now instead of acting like a smoking gun will emerge if we dig hard enough.

But now this question has come to rest on Biden’s Senate papers, currently held at the University of Delaware. Despite the fact that those papers reportedly don’t include personnel records and there’s no reason to believe they contain anything at all about Reade, we’re hearing the first round of demands for Biden to publicly release them.

Transparency is a good thing, and if people want to argue that the release of those papers will be useful in giving us a full picture of Biden’s career as a senator, then that’s fine. I’m sure it would be of interest to historians to see drafts of Biden’s speeches or notes going back and forth between him and his staff as they write legislation.

The problem is that we’re already starting to treat those papers as though they will contain deep and shocking secrets that could transform everyone’s view of Biden and therefore must be brought into the light lest the electorate make a terrible mistake in November.

And we know that Republicans are just itching to get their hands on all those boxes, so they can find some sentence in a memo that can be taken out of context and turned into evidence that Biden is a villain, then plastered across Facebook and Twitter.

We know this because we’ve been here before, repeatedly.

In 2004, Republicans made the scurrilous charge that John F. Kerry lied about his Vietnam War service and didn’t deserve the medals he was awarded. Demands that his service records be released were repeated throughout the fall campaign.

In 2016, Republicans alleged that Hillary Clinton had concealed shocking proof of everything from Benghazi to Jimmy Hoffa’s murder to the Loch Ness monster in her personal emails. Demands that she produce them were repeated throughout the campaign.

It worked. One study of 2016 found: “In just six days, The New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.” Other outlets weren’t much better.

The common thread linking Kerry, Clinton and now Biden is the allegation that hidden documents contain incriminating information, and if we can get our hands on them, then everything will change. As Republicans know, this plays right into reporters’ suspicion of secrecy. The result is wave after wave of news coverage that assumes that the Democratic candidate is concealing something nefarious.

And yet somehow, President Trump — the most dishonest and corrupt human being to ever sit in the Oval Office — largely manages to avoid that kind of coverage, all while he wages an unending war on transparency, including firing every inspector general who reveals his administration’s misconduct or incompetence. No one has more to hide than him, yet whenever those questions come up, they disappear in relatively short order. Reporters ask, he lies and evades, and then they move on.

Perversely, it’s precisely because Trump is so adamantly opposed to any kind of transparency that he gets fewer demands for transparency than Democrats do. We in the media wind up saying, “What’s the point of writing another editorial demanding he release his tax returns? We all know he won’t.”

Indeed, the Times reported back in the fall of 2018 — based on extensive documentary evidence — that the president of the United States and his family engaged in a years-long tax evasion conspiracy that defrauded the federal government of hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet the story simply disappeared.

What if the hundreds of reporters who had been assigned to investigate Clinton’s email account were assigned to follow up on that? But they weren’t. So how many Americans know about it? Five percent? One percent?

The same apparently applies to the voluminous allegations of sexual misconduct, up to and including rape, that women have made against Trump. Biden’s running mate will be asked dozens or even hundreds of times about Tara Reade. How many times has Vice President Pence been grilled about Karen Johnson, or E. Jean Carroll, or Summer Zervos, or any other of the 24 women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct?

Yes, Biden should be transparent. But let’s apply the same standards to Trump that we apply to him. And let’s not be fooled, once again, into going on a months-long crusade to uncover documents that swallows the entire presidential campaign, just because Republicans claim they must contain something incriminating.

We’ve been through this before, and we know how it ends.

Unquote.

Yesterday, The Guardian had three stories about this on their digital front page. The New York Times has three opinion columns about it, including one that calls for Democrats to develop a Plan B:

To preserve the strides made on behalf of victims of sexual assault in the era of #MeToo, and to maximize their chances in November, Democrats need to begin formulating an alternative strategy for 2020 — one that does not include Mr. Biden.

Given that the election is six months away, that might be the dumbest piece of political advice ever printed (no wonder there were more than 5,000 comments). 

In USA Today, a former prosecutor explains why he’s skeptical about Ms. Reade’s story, even after presenting the reasons to believe her.

I don’t plan to write about this again, unless it looks as if those same voters are heading toward an even worse decision than they made in 2016 (four years ago, nobody had seen this president in office yet — there is really no excuse now).

Selections from A Journal of the Plague Year

From the opening pages of Daniel Defoe’s novel (the plague struck London in 1665; the book was published in 1722):

We had no such thing as printed newspapers in those days to spread rumours and reports of things, … as I have lived to see practised since. But such things as these were gathered from the letters of merchants and others who corresponded abroad, and from them was handed about by word of mouth only; so that things did not spread instantly over the whole nation, as they do now.

This last bill [count of burials] was really frightful, being a higher number than had been known to have been buried in one week since the preceding visitation of 1656.

We continued in these hopes for a few days, but it was but for a few, for the people were no more to be deceived thus; they searched the houses and found that the plague was really spread every way, and that many died of it every day.

… all that could conceal their distempers did it, to prevent their neighbours shunning and refusing to converse with them, and also to prevent authority shutting up their houses; which, though it was not yet practised, yet was threatened, and people were extremely terrified at the thoughts of it.

… the richer sort of people, especially the nobility and gentry from the west part of the city, thronged out of town with their families and servants in an unusual manner…. it filled me with very serious thoughts of the misery that was coming upon the city, and the unhappy condition of those that would be left in it.

… there was no getting at the Lord Mayor’s door without exceeding difficulty; there were such pressing and crowding there to get passes and certificates of health for such as travelled abroad, for without these there was no being admitted to pass through the towns upon the road, or to lodge in any inn.

I had two important things before me: the one was the carrying on my business and shop, which was considerable, and in which was embarked all my effects in the world; and the other was the preservation of my life in so dismal a calamity as I saw apparently was coming upon the whole city.

It was a very ill time to be sick in, for if any one complained, it was immediately said he had the plague.

… we perceived the infection kept chiefly in the out-parishes, which being very populous, and fuller also of poor, the distemper found more to prey upon than in the city…

... it was a most surprising thing to see those streets which were usually so thronged now grown desolate…

[In Holborrn,] the street was full of people, but they walked in the middle of the great street, neither on one side or other, because, as I suppose, they would not mingle with anybody that came out of houses…

Punished by a Philosopher

I was slightly tempted to discuss a new book that lays out the argument for considering The Toddler to be a toddler (The Toddler In Chief by Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University). But even thinking about that subject would be a form of punishment.

Instead, I’m going to consider a different kind of punishment: being subjected to a bad philosophical argument. It’s not the worst kind of punishment. It’s often interesting or amusing to consider what a philosopher says, however implausible it might be.  Punishment is what came to mind, however, when I went from reading about the Toddler book to reading Richard Marshall’s interview with Yale philosophy professor  Michael Della Rocca. (Note: This isn’t the typical post I’ve published in recent years in terms of either subject matter or length; there’s nobody watching if you’d like to turn back now.)(PS: Another option is to read the final few lighthearted paragraphs.)

Professor Della Rocca specializes in metaphysics and early modern philosophy — “Early Modern” primarily refers to the ideas of Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibniz and Locke, all published between 1615 and 1715.

This is the argument that Della Rocca makes:

… in virtue of what are [any two things] A and B not identical? If one answers: “in virtue of being in different locations,” then the question just re-arises in a different form: in virtue of what are these locations not identical? … So this response … goes no distance toward offering genuine illumination on the issue of what it is in virtue of what A and B are distinct.

Why do we need “genuine illumination” on what makes A and B distinct? If we have what seems to be an excellent reason to believe A and B are different things (one’s here and the other is over there), why shouldn’t we believe they’re different without being required to explain the difference sufficiently well?

Della Rocca continues:

I take such why-questions seriously—i.e. I think that they demand an answer, and I’m certainly not alone here. Such questions are for me a hallmark of rationalism. Rationalism can mean lots of different things to different people, but for me the Principle of Sufficient Reason (the PSR) is central to rationalism. The PSR is the principle according to which there are no brute facts that obtain or no things that exist without an explanation. That is, each thing or each fact has an explanation. The PSR is the guiding force of Leibniz’s and Spinoza’s work….

The Principle of Sufficient Reason tells us that every fact, including whether or how A and B are different, requires a sufficient (genuinely illuminating? satisfactory? compelling?) reason to admit the difference exists or explanation for why or how it exists. But must we accept that Principle? Is it true?

Professor Della Rocca doesn’t say. Instead, he points out that philosophers often demand reasons and explanations, and once you start down that road, there is no reason to stop until you get to the finish line, i.e. you are justified in demanding reasons or explanations in every case, until you get one that’s “sufficient”. That is the Principle of Sufficient Reason. (Bright children who keep asking “why” questions until their parents lose patience may be covert adherents of the PSR.)

[Philosophers] accept explanatory demands in particular domains, and I point out that it seems right that they do accept these explanatory demands. I think that explanatory demands are the lifeblood of philosophy, and you don’t need me to say that they make sense and should be taken seriously. People already do take them seriously. After showing that certain explanatory demands are accepted, I then try to make life difficult for my interlocutors by showing how the explanatory demands that they already accept lead to surprising or even troubling consequences.

He holds that one such troubling consequence is being forced to accept the principle known as the “Identity of Indiscernibles”.

This is the case with my defense of the identity of indiscernibles. I begin with explanatory claims that very many philosophers embrace or seem to embrace—claims to the effect that such-and-such a situation is to be ruled out precisely because it would involve inexplicable facts. I then ratchet up the pressure by showing how this explanatory demand generates momentum to go further and, in this case, eventually generates pressure to accept the identity of indiscernibles and indeed the full-blown PSR.

I believe the idea here is that if we cannot sufficiently explain what it is, for example, for A and B to be in visibly different locations, not only should we withhold judgment, but A and B aren’t in different locations at all. The same rule applies to the other apparent differences between A and B, their color, their size, I suppose their importance, whatever difference you care to name. But if there are no differences between A and B, they must be the same thing. They are identical. A = B.

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Since the variables A and B can be assigned to anything, we end up with a version of the classic philosophical position called “monism”. Generally speaking, monism is the position that reality is one thing and not a collection of things. The ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides is credited (or discredited) as an early monist. Della Rocca thinks Parmenides was serious about what sounds like an incredible position:

Parmenides, as I interpret him, is a strict monist in the sense that he denies that there are any negations or distinctions whatsoever (i.e. one thing’s not being another). Indeed, for Parmenides, such distinctions, such negations, and any multiplicity are unintelligible—they cannot even be thought.

Parmenides’ successors—notably Plato and Aristotle—were haunted by Parmenides’ vision, and they sought to make the world safe for distinctions and multiplicity. Whether they succeeded is another matter. My view is that this move in Parmenides from the PSR to a strong version of monism or a rejection of all distinctions and multiplicity is repeated time and time again in the history of philosophy. Attempts to avoid this result either by limiting the PSR or denying it outright fail.

Della Rocca than presents his own take on monism:

I endorse Parmenideanism in my own voice for reasons stemming from the PSR…. Thus, there are no differentiated substances or beings, actions, knowledges (instances of knowledge), or meanings. There is, one might say, being or substance, but not substances or beings; there is action, but no actions. For me, these terms (“substance”, “action”, “knowledge”, “meaning”) are not count nouns, but are something like mass terms.

The challenge in each of these cases is this: we ordinarily think of actions, etc. as differentiated, as relational, but for me there is no good way to make sense of such differentiation, such relations, and so—in order to save or redeem the concepts of substance, action, knowledge, and meaning—we have to ascend to an undifferentiated, non-relational version of these phenomena, if they are to be saved or redeemed at all.

We take the reality that we were trying to capture in terms of differentiation and, instead, we capture it better by appealing to undifferentiated versions of these phenomena. In this way, my account is deeply skeptical, not in the tame sense of denying that we know that there are instances of these phenomena, but in the sense of denying that we have a coherent conception of these phenomena, at least of these phenomena as involving distinctions.

I think this is the structure of Della Rocca’s argument, even though it’s not how it’s presented in the interview:

1) The Principle of Sufficient Reason is a fundamental, highly plausible principle.

1a) It is so fundamental that it might not be justifiable, but to be consistent, anyone who has ever required a good enough reason to believe something exists or some statement is true should require a good enough reason in every case.

2) Once we accept the PSR, we realize that the explanations we ordinarily accept are insufficient, because we can ask for those explanations themselves to be explained.

4) Among the insufficient explanations are those that attempt to explain how or why two or more things are different (e.g., “you might think these two objects are different because they are in different locations, but in virtue of what are their locations different?”).

5) Since such explanations are insufficient, the supposed differences don’t exist.

6) The Identity of Indiscernibles is another plausible principle. But it says that if there are no differences between two things, the two things are only one thing; “they” are identical.

7) Therefore, we should adopt some kind of monism, the view that reality is somehow one thing; the universe doesn’t consist of many things (such as electrons and gluons, or apples and oranges). Neither does it consist of only a couple of things (like mind and matter).

8) In particular, we should think of certain things, action and meaning, for example, as one thing (action or meaning) rather than many things (e.g. the actions you performed yesterday or the meanings of the words in Della Rocca’s interview).

I don’t think I’ve expressed the argument very well, but, since it’s part of an interview, it’s not presented with crystalline clarity. No doubt it’s clearer and has more detail in Della Rocca’s articles or books.

Nevertheless, I think it’s nuts. On the face of it, denying that reality is made of different things, things that have relationships and distinctions between them, seems so wrong, so counterintuitive, one wonders if “all is one” means something deeply and obscurely profound, not what it appears to mean.

Anyway, here are a few observations.

The obvious place to start is the Principle of Sufficient Reason. What makes a reason or explanation sufficient? Ordinarily, when we evaluate a reason or explanation, we think it’s sufficient if it meets our purposes now and (we hope) in the future. But the Principle of Sufficient Reason doesn’t include a statement of purpose, so the meaning of “sufficient” is hard to determine.  If somebody is visiting our house for the first time, it would be helpful to tell them that there is a tree on either side of our driveway, and their leaves are (somewhat surprisingly) different colors. Asking for further explanations of these facts would be a waste of time. It wouldn’t change the original facts about location and color. It would serve no purpose.

But Della Rocca thinks apparent differences like location and color require further explanation. Perhaps physics could do the job. A physicist can explain various characteristics of spacetime and light. But only up to a point (or down to a point). The further the explanations proceed, questions will come up. Why do certain constants have the values they do? Is there a reason for the strong nuclear force to have the strength it does? Or is it a brute fact? If it’s a brute fact, the PSR is false. Does everything happen in a chain of cause and effect, even at the quantum level? Or are quantum events random? How about the Big Bang? Did it happen for a reason or simply happen? If there are any brute facts, or anything happens (or once happened) randomly, the PSR is false. Why presume it’s true, as Della Rocca does?

In step 5 above, there is a leap from “such and such explanations of difference X are not sufficient” to “the supposed difference X doesn’t exist”. But being unable to explain X doesn’t demonstrate that X is unreal. There must be other evidence for the existence of X, or why bother trying to explain it?  The most we should infer from our inability to explain something is that we don’t understand it as well as we’d like to. We might want to reserve judgment. If we want to further justify our belief in X’s existence, we have more work to do.

One of the more surprising claims Della Rocca makes is that there are no relations or distinctions. He begins by referring to actions and then broadens his thesis to cover substances, meanings and knowledges (which is, in fact, the plural of “knowledge”). Revisiting a paragraph from above:

… we ordinarily think of actions, etc. as differentiated, as relational, but for me there is no good way to make sense of such differentiation, such relations, and so—in order to save or redeem the concepts of substance, action, knowledge, and meaning—we have to ascend to an undifferentiated, non-relational version of these phenomena, if they are to be saved or redeemed at all. We take the reality that we were trying to capture in terms of differentiation and, instead, we capture it better by appealing to undifferentiated versions of these phenomena….  we [do not] have a coherent conception of these phenomena, at least of these phenomena as involving distinctions.

Della Rocca says we should think of substance, action, knowledge and meaning as “undifferentiated” phenomena. Yet he differentiates between substance, action, knowledge and meaning. Why? Following his lead, we have to ask what the difference is between substance and action, for example. Is there a “genuinely illuminating” explanation of the difference between them? Or between them and phenomena like quantity or intention?

For that matter, Della Rocca (like Parmenides did in the past) uses words to communicate. If there are no distinctions or relations, why choose one word rather than another? Why say “attempts to deny” instead of “deny to attempts”? Why not say “cornflakes green belief” when he greets a colleague in the philosophy department? If meaning is an undifferentiated phenomenon, the words one chooses and the assertions one makes shouldn’t matter.

Finally, the typical monist response to being challenged regarding the existence of different things is to invent new language. The English philosopher G. E. Moore once said (in his “Proof of an External World”) that he could prove the existence of the external world by holding up one hand and then the other while intoning “Here is one hand … and here is another”.

From the article on “Monism” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

[In “The Philosophy of Logical Atomism”, Bertrand Russell declared:]

“I share the common-sense belief that there are many separate things; I do not regard the apparent multiplicity of the world as consisting merely in phases and unreal divisions of a single indivisible Reality.”

Whether due wholly to argumentative force or at least partly to historical contingencies, such declarations [as Russell’s and Moore’s] had the effect of ending any interest in monism … for nearly one hundred years. And so philosophical fashion swung from some form of monism in the nineteenth century, to some form of pluralism in the twentieth century.

By “phases and unreal divisions”, Russell was referring to a standard response a monist might give to Moore’s proof of an external world. Again from the Stanford Encyclopedia:

For instance, when one claims that there is a hand here, the … monist might hold that what is strictly the case is that the world is handish here.

I don’t see much difference between “here is a hand and here is another” and “the world is handish here and also handish here”, or “handing here and also there”. But I don’t find monism appealing.

Wittgenstein is often quoted as saying “philosophy leaves the world as it is”. What he actually wrote (in German, Philosophical Investigations, 124) was on the relationship between philosophy and language: “philosophy leaves everything [i.e. the way we actually use language] as it is”. I don’t think that’s true, but what Wittgenstein wrote could be interpreted in a way that pertains to Della Rocca’s argument for monism.

Philosophers often argue about which terminology to use to describe facts they agree on. All philosophers agree that people have hands. But, if we want to be as precise and accurate as humanly possible, how should we talk about that fact? G. E. Moore insisted he had two hands, by which he meant that his hands were objects external to his mind, that is, part of the external world, something he would only bother pointing out when responding to “idealist” philosophers who denied such an external world exists.

Della Rocca would agree that Moore had two hands, and probably agree that Moore’s hands weren’t ideas in Moore’s mind or anyone else’s (like the idealists did), but he wouldn’t want to say that Moore’s hands were part of anything. I don’t know exactly what he’d say, but he’d have to somehow refer to them as aspects (?) of the one reality while denying that they are distinct objects related to each other (in Russell’s words: “unreal divisions of a single indivisible Reality”). He thinks that when we really get down to it, notions like “difference” and “relation” make no sense. That makes no sense to me. And people continue to have two hands regardless.

Philosophical arguments like the one between monism and pluralism (there are many individual things) have been going on for centuries. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Quoting Wittgenstein again:

Philosophy hasn’t made any progress?—If someone scratches where it itches, do we have to see progress? Is it not genuine scratching … or genuine itching? [Culture and Value, 86e].

And once more:

I am sitting with a philosopher in the garden; he says again and again “I know that that’s a tree”, pointing to a tree that is near us. Someone else arrives and hears this, and I tell him: ‘This fellow isn’t insane. We are only doing philosophy” [On Certainty, 467].

I’m done. If you read this whole thing, you’ve been punished enough.

The Story of My Avatar Instead

I need to try one more suggestion from the nice people at WordPress.com to see if it will fix the strange, somewhat embarrassing “Likes” problem this blog is having (mentioned in earlier posts). Whenever I publish something, my internet avatar magically appears, indicating I liked my post, even though I didn’t hit the “Like” button.

Out in the world, President Lysol (aka The Toddler) is doing everything he can to help corporate America while forcing workers to stay at their jobs in meat plants. Here instead is the story behind my avatar.

When we were fortunate to visit Rome some years ago, we spent an afternoon at the Vatican. Walking around St. Peter’s, I was struck by a particular statue. It’s not a well-known work of art and depicts a saint who I don’t think is very well-known either: Saint Veronica. (Let’s say she isn’t well-known in my circles.)

From Wikipedia:

Saint Veronica, also known as Berenike, is a celebrated saint in many pious Christian countries. [She] was a woman of Jerusalem in the first century of the Common Era, according to extra-biblical Christian sacred tradition [meaning she doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the Bible].

According to Church tradition, Veronica was moved with sympathy when she saw Jesus carrying his cross to Golgotha and gave him her veil that he might wipe his forehead. Jesus accepted the offering, held it to his face, and then handed it back to her—the image of his face miraculously impressed upon it. This piece of cloth became known as the Veil of Veronica.

The statue was sculpted by Francesco Mochi (1580-1654). Wikipedia indicates it’s his best-known work, but also tells us “his reputation for bitterness and irritation regarding the overshadowing of his career [by other sculptors] significantly decreased the number of commissions he received”.

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I immediately liked it (although at first, demonstrating sheer ignorance and/or a lack of perception, I thought it depicted a young man with long hair). There was something compelling about Veronica’s posture, her flowing robes and the expression on her face. Thus, Mochi’s sculpture eventually became my avatar, here enlarged (notice the simple, unimpressive rendering of Jesus’s face on the veil):

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One more thing about Veronica’s veil from a site about St. Peter’s Basilica:

The crusaders brought a “veil of Veronica” to Rome from Jerusalem. It was highly venerated, especially during the Middle Ages and was mentioned by Dante in the Divine Comedy (Paradise, XXXI, 104) and in the Vita Nuova (40,1).

Plus one more thing from the same site regarding Francesco Mochi and his sculpture:

This work received much criticism because of the excessive motion, which was not suitable for the subject or the location. [It] was the brunt of shrewd anecdotes. So it was said that when Bernini [Mochi’s famous competitor] asked where such wind came from that moved the clothes of the Saint, Mochi answered sarcastically: “from the cracks that were opened by your ability in the dome [referring to the unfounded rumor that Bernini had accidentally caused some damage to St. Peter’s].

So we can add sarcasm to Mochi’s bitterness and irritation.

PS: As you can see, the fix worked. I had to stop following this blog, which I started doing months ago to see the email WordPress generates when I publish something. Why this recently became a problem is still a mystery. Alas.

A Baseball Legend Few Fans Know About

It was a time before radar guns, but they say his fastball was the fastest in the history of baseball. In fact, much faster. I’d never heard of him until yesterday.

From The Washington Post:

Steve Dalkowski, who entered baseball lore as the hardest-throwing pitcher in history, with a fastball that was as uncontrollable as it was unhittable and who was considered perhaps the game’s greatest unharnessed talent, died April 19 at a hospital in New Britain, Conn. He was 80 and died from Covid-19.

Mr. Dalkowski pitched nine years in the minor leagues in the 1950s and ’60s, mostly in the Baltimore Orioles organization, without reaching the major leagues. Yet, in that time, he amazed — and terrified — countless hitters with a blazing fastball of astonishing speed.

He was not a big man, only about 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, but he possessed lightning in his left arm. He had almost a slingshot motion, somewhere between a sidearm and overhand delivery.

Ted Williams, who played against Bob Feller and other fireballers during his Hall of Fame career, was said to havefaced Mr. Dalkowski in one spring training and called him the “fastest ever.” Another major leaguer, Eddie Robinson, swung and missed at 10 pitches before he could make weak contact with one of Mr. Dalkowski’s fastballs.

“As 40 years go by, a lot of stories get embellished,” Pat Gillick, Mr. Dalkowksi’s minor league teammate and a Hall of Fame general manager, told Sports Illustrated in 2003. “But this guy was legit. He had one of those arms that come once in a lifetime”….

The fastest documented fastball in baseball history was thrown by left-hander Aroldis Chapman, currently a relief pitcher for the New York Yankees. Chapman had the speed tattooed on the inside of his left wrist: 105.1 mph.

People who saw Mr. Dalkowski said he threw at least as hard. Radar guns were not in use when Mr. Dalkowski pitched, but his catcher in the Orioles system, Cal Ripken Sr., estimated his fastball was between 110 and 115 mph.

Ripken spent decades in baseball, eventually becoming manager of the Orioles. He saw Sandy Koufax, Goose Gossage and J.R. Richard pitch, and he watched from the third-base coaching box as Nolan Ryan threw fastballs clocked at more than 100 mph.

“Steve Dalkowski was the hardest thrower I ever saw,” Ripken said.

In one game Ripken was catching, he called for a breaking pitch. Mr. Dalkowski missed the sign and threw his fastball instead. It hit the umpire in the mask, breaking it in three places. The umpire was knocked unconscious.

In 1957, when Mr. Dalkowski was 18 and in his first professional season, he tore off part of a batter’s ear with an errant pitch. That batter was Bob Beavers, then in the Dodgers organization.

“The first pitch was over the backstop. The second pitch was called a strike, I didn’t think it was,” Beavers told the Courant last year. “The third pitch hit me and knocked me out, so I don’t remember much after that. . . . I never did play baseball again.”

That was Mr. Dalkowski’s problem throughout his baseball career: He had the best arm in the game, but he could not control his pitches.

In high school, he pitched a no-hitter in which he walked 18 batters and struckout 18. Another time, in an extra-inning minor-league game, he walked 18 hitters and struck out 27 while throwing 283 pitches — far more than a team would allow a pitcher to throw today.

In 1960, when he was with a minor league team in Stockton, Calif., Mr. Dalkowski struck out 262 batters in 170 innings — an astonishing rate of 14 strikeouts per 9 innings. But he also walked 262 batters.

His pitches sometimes flew over backstops and sent spectators ducking for cover. On a dare, he threw a ball over the center field fence — 440 feet away. Another time, he won a bet with teammate Andy Etchebarren and fired a ball through a wooden fence.

He once beaned a mascot with a fastball — a scene depicted in the 1988 baseball movie “Bull Durham.” The film’s screenwriter, Ron Shelton, played in the Orioles minor league system a few years after Mr. Dalkowski, but stories about him were still being told. He based the character of “Nuke” LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins, on Mr. Dalkowski.

“Playing baseball in Stockton and Bakersfield several years behind Dalko, but increasingly aware of the legend,” Shelton wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2009, “I would see a figure standing in the dark down the right-field line at old Sam Lynn Park in Oildale, a paper bag in hand. Sometimes he’d come to the clubhouse to beg for money.

“Our manager, Joe Altobelli, would talk to him, give him some change, then come back and report, ‘That was Steve Dalkowski.’ And a clubhouse full of cocky, young, testosterone-driven baseball players sat in awe — of the unimaginable gift, the legend, the fall”….

Coaches tried everything with Mr. Dalkowski: changing his stance on the mound, his grip on the ball; they asked him to aim high or aim low, to relax as he threw. Nothing worked.
In 1962, Mr. Dalkowski was assigned to the Orioles’ Class A affiliate in Elmira, N.Y. The manager was a young Earl Weaver, who later managed in Baltimore for 17 years and went into the Hall of Fame.

Weaver encouraged Mr. Dalkowski to throw his slider for strikes and not to throw his fastball at full strength every time. When he got to two strikes on an opposing hitter, Weaver would whistle, as a signal for Mr. Dalkowski to bring his best fastball.

“Earl had managed me in Venezuela in winter ball. We got along,” Mr. Dalkowski told the Sun in 2003. “He handled me with tough love. He told me to run a lot and don’t drink on the night you pitch. Then he gave me the ball and said, ‘Good luck.’ ”

Mr. Dalkowski would go on to have his best season, with an earned run average of 3.04. He had 37 consecutive scoreless innings at one point….

The next year, in spring training, Mr. Dalkowski was fitted for a big league uniform, finally about to realize his dream.

“He had the team made easily,” Orioles manager Billy Hitchcock told the Sun years later.

But on March 22, 1963, while pitching to the New York Yankees in a spring training game, Mr. Dalkowski felt something snap in his elbow. He was 23.

He tried to come back from the injury, pitching in the minors until 1965, but the lightning was gone. During his minor league career, he won 46 games and lost 80. In 956 innings, he struck out 1,324 batters and walked 1,236.

He never made it to the majors….

After his elbow injury in 1963, Mr. Dalkowski disappeared for years. He became a migrant farmworker in California — and a down-and-out alcoholic.

After failed rehab attempts, Mr. Dalkowski’s sister brought him back to [Connecticut] in 1994. He spent the rest of his life in an assisted-living facility, within blocks of the high school baseball field where he first found glory….

Unquote.

If it was a movie, they’d find an upbeat ending. They’d probably use this:

He rose from a wheelchair last year in Los Angeles to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at Dodger Stadium.

Spinoza Made a Difference

Baruch (sometimes Benedict) Spinoza was a 17th century Jewish philosopher who famously referred to reality as either God or nature. Scholars have been arguing about what he meant ever since, but whatever he meant helped get him “excommunicated or expelled from the people of Israel” in 1656. In 2012, a rabbi declined to remove the ban, citing Spinoza’s “preposterous ideas, where he was tearing apart the very fundamentals of our religion”.

From Witcraft: The Invention of Philosophy in English by Jonathan Rée (Spinoza wrote in Latin but couldn’t be left out of the book):

Christians had never taken much interest in atheism: the Bible dismissed it as the delirium of “fools”… After Spinoza, Christians would find themselves doing battle not only with heresy and heathenism, but also with sheer unbelief. Atheism was still a dangerous word, however, and it was sometimes replaced by a new coinage: deism, which implied rejecting revelation, ritual and tradition, while retaining a residual belief in an impersonal divine power, perhaps on the lines of Spinoza’s “God or nature”.

Ordinary Christians were alarmed: “at this day Atheism is slily [i.e. “slyly”] called Deism by those that are indeed Atheists”, as an English pamphleteer observed in 1695: “they would disguise it by a false Name, and thereby hid the Heinousness of it”. By that time, a clandestine network of atheistic and deistic pamphleteers was operating across northern Europe, building on Protestant contempt for Catholic superstition and extending it to religion as a whole. They used the arguments of various “new philosophers” — principally Descartes, Gassendi, Hobbes and Spinoza — to attack beliefs in miracles, apparitions and omens, and derided the doctrine of transubstantiation, which asserts the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in consecrated bread and wine.

As far as they were concerned, everything in the physical world was governed by universal laws of nature, and the Bible was no holier than any other book. “Such is human malice and stupidity” — to quote a notorious  pamphlet called the Traité des trois imposteurs — that men choose to pass their lives in duping each other and worshiping a book handed down from an ignorant nation”. Manuscript copies of the Traité circulated in Latin and French in the 1690s, promoting the idea that religion is a fraud perpetrated by “the three imposters — Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. The pamphlet grew larger and bolder as time went by, and when it was printed at the Hague in 1719, it was bound with other works under a title that was not much less provocative: La Vie et l’Esprit de Spinoza….

[Sophia, Electress of Hanover, who almost became Queen of England] spent several years mingling with scholars in Heidelberg… Above all, she became an admirer of Spinoza: she described his Tractatus as “extraordinary and entirely reasonable” and supported a plan to offer him a professorship. She was appalled when he died shortly afterwards, suspecting that he had been murdered by partisans of “faith without reason”, and reflecting that “most of the human race … lives on lies”. 

Unquote.

If you’d like to know more about Spinoza’s philosophy, including his critique of religion and the Bible, as well as his liberalism and secularism, give his Theological-Political Treatise a try. When it was published, it was denounced as “godless,” “full of abominations,” “a book forged in hell . . . by the devil himself”. Stephen Nadler’s A Book Forged In Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age is another option. If anyone was ever born before his time, it was Baruch Spinoza.