Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Right-Wing Media Ecosystem -- Am I Part of That?

I know it is probably trite to keep saying this, but it's not really my fault.  After all, I am perfectly capable of going on to write about all manner of different things, even topics unrelated to politics.  Like sports, or entertainment, or having to set a production of "The Mikado" in Italy to avoid "cultural appropriation."  But I have to say it, because the news is what the news is.

Hillary Clinton refuses to go away.

Now she is back -- OK, she never goes away, so "back" may not be the right word -- but appearing once again, in front of something called the PEN World Voices conference, with yet a new message for the unwashed masses who dared to pull a "Not Hillary" lever in 2016, and presumably for those who pulled one for "Her" as well.

It has become a joke to rename all the excuses she has given since November 2016 for losing the election -- Barack Obama, James Comey, Fox News, CNN, stupid people, smart people, her campaign manager, her husband, Superman, Otis Redding and Chiquita Banana.

And now we get to add a phrase I had not heard before, but which I did find, in a search, as dating back right after the election.  That would be the "Right-Wing Media Ecosystem", which I will abbreviate to "RWME" because I'm old and don't feel like spelling it out three more times.  According to Hillary, "mainstream political coverage was influenced by the right-wing media ecosystem and other factors to depart from normal journalistic standards."

I'm not 100% sure that I know what that term, RWME, is supposed to refer to, but I did do a tad of research, and have determined that it has to do with outlets like Breitbart, which last I checked were equally protected by the First Amendment as are all the "mainstream" media, where there was pretty much universal support of Hillary.

Apparently, according to her, there are efforts underway to crack down on conservative outlets to "avoid errors that helped Trump into the White House."  I actually don't know what those efforts are or, more pointedly, who is making them.  After all, the media do not police themselves too much, being protected by the Constitution and all.  They have ombudsmen and the like, but they can pretty much say whatever they want.  But the FBI can't do anything, nor can state or local police.

She also felt that it was vital for people to battle "fake news" by buying newspapers like the Washington Post, which she actually named, presumably meaning newspapers where the editorial policy influences reporting.  That's because the notion of "fake news" applies to the Post as surely as it does anywhere else (see my 5-6 pieces about the fake rape story at UVa, and their unwillingness to publish the name of the perpetrator).

"It can’t only be journalists who stand up and speak out", she said. "We can all do more. We can all subscribe to newspapers. We can support libraries and schools that teach media literacy to young people, and empower them to be thoughtful readers and consumers of news.”  Note: I don't have a handy list of those "libraries and schools" that teach media literacy, but I'm guessing that they're concentrated in New York, California and Massachusetts.

So I'm going to try to get some of that "support" by teaching media literacy  and thoughtful news consumption right here in this column, and hope that many of you who read this will "support" me by sending a fat check or two to make sure this column survives.  And I'm going to tweet this column to Mrs. Clinton herself to see if she will back up her puffy words with hard-earned cash.

Media Literacy Lesson #1

1.  The media LIE.  Constantly.  If their typesetting machines are moving, you can assume that the likelihood of their story being true is next to zero.  Or less.

2.  Most important -- "media" is a plural.  The media are this or that.  Media is the plural of "medium" and should thus always be treated as a plural.  Sorry; had to get that in, but consider it a lesson.

3.  The mainstream media are biased, overwhelmingly to the left -- meaning the news sections at at ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, with Fox on the other side.  They are biased that way because people who go into journalism are mostly there because they have nowhere else to go, not being smart enough to major in math or engineering or business or physics.  Lacking the intelligence, they really need that government help that the left promises.  Ironically, they think you are stupid, which is precisely what Jim Acosta of CNN just said in public.  If he thinks Trump voters' elevators "might not hit all floors", as I literally heard him say thirty minutes ago, how can you trust him to report on that president accurately?

4.  Newspapers are very good to line bird cages or litter boxes with, because the media have gotten to the point that you cannot trust the independent thinking of the reporter or the editor to avoid having personal bias creep in.  Extra credit note -- that also affects Hollywood, where 99% of the shows feel the need to preach to you when they should be trying to make you laugh.  Reporters do the same thing.

5.  The people who listen to the news from the "RWME", like Breitbart, are going to vote for conservatives no matter what they listen to.  All those blue-collar types in the states Hillary mostly ignored, like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, didn't vote for Donald Trump because Breitbart told them to, but because Hillary had nothing for them but four more years of what Obama had done to them the previous eight.

There -- I have now taught media literacy and should be entitled to "support."  After all, I was writing this column daily during the election season, and UberThoughtsUSA should definitely be included in the RWME given some of the things I wrote.  But I can also help with that education thing that Hillary was talking about, and surely she expects that support should apply to all voices, right?  Diversity of opinions?

Look -- she lost the election and simply won't go away.  Worse, instead of going off to build houses for the poor like Jimmy Carter, she is on a non-stop whine and cheese tour, ostensibly to sell her book about -- guess what, troops -- why she lost the election.

Can you imagine if she had won?  Gag.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Barbara and Robin, and Contact Lenses

I was able to see an hour of the broadcast of the funeral of former first lady Barbara Bush, who was, of course, one of two women in our nation's history to have been both first lady and the mother of a president.  That seems about an every-200-years event, but I would bet one tenth of the baby-shoe money that it will happen again, sooner than we think.  Apparently we have made the cult of personality into a dynastic thing, to where children of presidents are thought to be logical successors.  Thank you, Twitter, I guess.

At any rate, the funeral was quite beautiful, with perhaps less of the sadness and more of the uplifting and celebratory parts, as would befit a situation where the person had lived a very long life, and for whom it can be said that they had won the battle of life.  Barbara Bush, who passed away at 92, certainly could have that said about her.  It did strike me how very not-sad the event seemed to be, and in her case, at her age, with her accomplishments, that was a good thing.

Among all the tweeting about her passing and the funeral -- and a lot of people should be ashamed for wasting bits and bytes on negatives, and for publishing them -- there was one wonderful reaction that got my attention.  It was from the Mississippi-based cartoonist Marshall Ramsey, and it alluded to a sad and defining moment in Mrs. Bush's life.

Back in 1953, the Bushes' second child and first daughter, Pauline Robinson "Robin" Bush, had died of leukemia shortly before turning four years old.  We had read over the years, and particularly recently, how the death of her daughter had affected Mrs. Bush so dramatically, as we might have readily assumed, but perhaps more than we'll ever know.  The Bushes began a fund for research into the disease, having gone to extraordinary lengths to explore treatment options in those early days of research.

As Mrs. Bush was in her final days and receiving palliative care, and the news spread about her being in her final days on earth, it was frequently noted that she had indeed lost a daughter 65 years back, and that she might soon be reunited in Heaven.

Mr. Ramsey apparently took notice, with this tweet:

#BarbaraBush was tough, witty, blunt, protective and beloved by many. But she also suffered one of the most painful losses a parent can face. I pray she and her daughter Robin are together today. No parent should lose a child.

... and with this cartoon, via the Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger:


I wear contact lenses, as I have for 49 years.  They are the "hard" kind, as opposed to the disposables and, as such, while they provide better vision than soft lenses can, they are also susceptible to a bit of dust getting underneath them, particularly when it's a bit windy or the golf cart is going a bit too fast.  When that happens, and I'm outside and can't remove them, it is really helpful to be able to generate tears on demand to flush out the microscopic debris.

I now have a pretty good image of the above cartoon engraved in my memory, subject to being recalled as needed.  I'm pretty sure I won't have a lot of difficulty with my contacts outdoors anymore.

RIP, Mrs. Bush, and Robin too.  And thank you, Mr. Ramsey.  Thank you so much.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Monday, April 23, 2018

What to Do with Comey Now?

The name of former FBI Director James Comey is on, oh, so many news programs these days as he runs around the country peddling his book, called ... oh, I forgot.  It was some pompous title like "Above the Fray", or "Nannie Nannie Boo Boo" or something that was supposed to portray that he is wonderful and non-partisan and the rest of us are, well, not.

The left doesn't quite know what to do with Comey.

He is one of the 4,266 (and growing number of) reasons, according to Hillary Clinton, that she lost the 2016 election.  By the way, #4,266 was a "right-wing media ecosystem", according to a speech she gave at Cooper Union over the weekend (presumably for a fee about a tenth of what the Russians paid her).  I'll have to get to that pretty soon, along with the smirky grin she gave while saying those words.

So the former FBI Director is now in the headlines, although not all of them are what he might want to see on a book tour.  You see, someone is lying now, and/or has been, among the interesting trio of former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and the formerly respected James Comey.  The lies are implicit in contradictions among their public statements and sworn testimony before a congressional committee.

We know that at least one of those lying is Comey, since he has testified both to never asking anyone to leak classified or sensitive material (all material created at the FBI is at least sensitive, in that employees are sworn not to release any of it without permission), and then to having given such information to a professor to leak it to the media.

We know that Lynch is strongly suspect, since if you are to believe Comey, she asked him to refer to the Hillary Clinton investigation as a "matter", meaning that she wanted it not to rise to a more scrutinized level (so that, we assume, Lynch would still have a job in a Hillary administration).  We also know that McCabe was part of some as-yet-unclear conspiracy at the FBI with Peter Strzok and Lisa Page to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president and, more particularly, to do something to him if he were to be elected.

So among the three of them, along with Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General to whom Comey actually reported and who ultimately fired him, there is a lot of lying going on, specifically as regards that leaking of classified material, not to mention potentially conspiring to bring down a presidency.

What, indeed, should become of Comey?

We, of course, are a nation of laws.  And the answer is simply that Mr. Comey needs to be (as he is) the subject of a criminal referral for the confessed leaking of classified or sensitive material in violation of his agreement with the United States of America not to do that, and the laws governing the handling of such material.  If he wants to go out and sell books about his life, well, he is free to do that.  He may need a lot of cash for the legal fees to keep him out of jail, so he'd better hope a lot of Democrats buy his book.

Oh wait, they hate him too, and wanted him fired right before the election.  Of course they probably think he is a hero now, because President Trump had him fired, and as we see with the promising news on North Korea that the leftist outlets are pooh-poohing, "good" is defined as "anything against President Trump."  So they might buy the book.  I won't be, and please don't give me a copy.  I am allergic to sanctimony.

At any rate, since I mentioned that we are a nation of laws, Comey should be properly investigated for the leaks and for possible perjury, and be properly punished if indeed he is charged and convicted.  But we do wonder if today's Justice Department could even summon the collective will to punish one of "its own" swamp denizens.  Peter Strzok, incredibly, still works there, as does Lisa Page.  Not only are they not being investigated, they're still working there.

I do think that the Comey book will serve the good legal purpose of keeping his name out in front for long enough to where the discussion of his possible perjury and passing of classified material will practically force a criminal case to be pressed.

Last week on the news, some Democrat commenter noted that he had just been to the FBI for a few minutes (or words to the effect that he had not been over there for very long) and that "Comey was a legend over there."  Now, I've been to the FBI many times in my time, and the next time that someone mentions the name of the current director in the course of normal conversation will, I assure you, be the first.

So I picked up the phone and called a friend of mine who worked there and is regularly in the know.  Let's just say the word "legend" was accurate, but not in the positive way that the Democrat was suggesting he picked up in "a few minutes" of being there.  FBI agents respect the law and are very contemptuous of those who violate their sacred trust.

Let it go to court, and Comey can make his case there, again under oath, that he did no wrong.  We're all waiting.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Friday, April 20, 2018

Still Waiting for "Jackie's" Prosecution

We all remember the tumult at the University of Virginia a couple years back.  Oh, the earth spun a little slower, or faster -- metaphors fail me when it comes to stuff like this.

At any rate, you surely remember.  A woman named Jackie Coakley, who was a student at UVa at the time, had an issue with a boy who was not paying her enough attention, or didn't see her as a romantic interest, or something like that.  She decided to get the attention she wanted, by making up a completely baseless story about having been gang-raped at a fraternity house, Phi Kappa Psi.

She was then connected to the good folks at Rolling Stone magazine, which ignored all journalistic standards by publishing the account -- calling her just "Jackie" to protect her identity, mind you -- without doing a shred of research to validate any of the facts of the story.  Had they done so, of course, they might have realized that some of the names in the account didn't exist, and that there was no party at all at the Phi Psi house on the night Miss Coakley claimed to have been assaulted -- at, she claimed, a party.

Rolling Stone ran the story anyway, to their journalistic and financial detriment.  Teresa Sullivan, the president of UVa, promptly shut down all the fraternities and, bizarrely, the sororities as well (don't ask), in a "ready, fire, aim" response, without allowing even the Phi Psis the due process to point out all the inaccuracies that made the article suspect.

Ultimately, Rolling Stone got sued, paid out a big settlement to get out from under their own stupidity, and took a big black eye as far as journalistic competence.  The collateral damage included a UVa dean, as well as the entire Greek system there and, well, no one thinks a lot of Teresa Sullivan anymore either.  Rolling Stone was hardly innocent, but this whole episode cost them whatever reputation remained.

All of this, we might point out, happened only because a petulant, amoral female student wanted attention, and because the climate against sexual assault has risen to where the assumption is of guilt rather than innocence.  We must, apparently, not give out the names of accusers even after they have been shown to be liars.  And no one, from a university president on down, or on up, gets the notion that due process for the accused is actually a core principle of our justice system, to be applied before punishment is meted out.

So where is good old Jackie Coakley these days?

Well, she is married and is now "Jackie McGovern", living her life, la-la-la, scot-free despite being the central figure in a mammoth fraud that has cost people their jobs, institutions their reputations, and a magazine a spitload of money.

And nobody -- nobody -- appears willing to take her to task, either in a civil suit (Rolling Stone might want to think about that) or in a criminal case, given that she perpetrated a massive fraud with some pretty serious consequences and material damages.

Why not?

I have no assumption to make as to whether she has not been sued because she is a shallow pocket, incapable of affording a large settlement in a civil suit.  But I have a pretty good notion that she violated some serious criminal statutes; after all, participating in a fraud involving the mails (a magazine) or wire (somewhere along the line) is a Federal issue.  Where are the Feds?

There is certainly a good argument to make that it is often necessary to prosecute as a deterrent to the next person willing to try the same felonious act.  I have argued in these pages that the FBI needs to go hard against the Clinton Foundation for just that reason, lest the next powerful person or couple use a phony-baloney charitable entity to disguise an influence-peddling scam.

Given the anti-violence, anti-rape climate we are in, it is imperative that equally phony-baloney accusers like Jackie Coakley McGovern are hauled into court and toted off to prison, lest rape accusations equate to a cry of "Wolf!", to become a weapon of revenge.

Where, we ask, are the Federal cops?  You all know where she is.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Where Yahoo Fails at Whatever It Is It Thinks It Does

I don't exactly know anymore what Yahoo, one of the older Silicon Valley "technology" companies, does anymore.  Back in the day, we remember it being a search engine and that was pretty much it.  If you wanted to know something from the Internet, you had a choice of search engines to use, like Lycos or Yahoo or a couple others I can't recall, or Ask Jeeves, before it became mostly Google.

And we got to the Internet using Netscape or Mosaic or something.   Ah, the good old days.

But Yahoo is still around, as are the others, I suppose.  And like Facebook, Twitter and other indefinable technology services from the same part of leftist America, it has what we would call a "news feed."

Now, news feeds, which are simply links to headlines that are from news services, mainly online mainstream or lesser media, are plentiful.  So, of course, are those links, which is why there is some type of thought that needs to go into deciding what link will sit at the top of the list.

That thought is necessary, because the top of the list is the most likely to be linked to, which means someone has to use some kind of choosing method (an algorithm, since everything moves too fast for a human) to decide what goes on top and immediately thereafter, and what you particularly would want to see.

Now, in a better world, all of those links would be to impartially-reported stories of broad interest, not tilted much to one side or another.  That would be a better world, all right, and actually possible to do if, indeed, there ever were such articles, or ever were such reporters capable of, you know, reporting.

Nope, none of those and apparently no unbiased presentation algorithms either.

Certainly that is not the case at Yahoo, which as I mentioned is located in Silicon Valley, where there are 10,000 safe-space snowflake types for every actual conservative.  Apparently.  Certainly that ratio must be fairly close as regards Yahoo employees.

I say that because at 1pm Eastern Time yesterday, I happened to click on the Yahoo news feed, only to find it led by a headline -- so help me God -- that positioned as the most important story on the planet, one with the following headline:

"Twitter Users Shred Donald Trump over Barbara Bush Tribute Typo"

You may think I am making this up, but no, that story was at the tippy-top of the links, meaning that we were supposed to regard it is the most significant thing that had happened for which there was a linkable article.

Well, I had to read it, of course.  As it turns out, the White House Communications Office (not the president himself) had put out a message expressing respect for the former First Lady on her passing at 92 this week.  It had a date on it of April 2017, as opposed to 2018.  When President Trump tweeted a link to it, or copied the content into his tweet, the typo on the date was till there.

The article was in the "Huffington Post", a far-left, online-only medium which Yahoo points to a lot, so we can readily infer that it pays Yahoo a lot for that privilege, even though there isn't any real "reporting" to be found there.

But even if you can reasonably scratch your head as to why this "story" should be linked to at all by Yahoo's news feed, let alone positioned as the most important story, let me really make you scratch your head.

The article was not actually about the typo, which it sort of explained was not the president's doing but was that of the White House.  It was -- follow this -- about what people with no more qualification to comment than their possession of a Twitter account, had said about President Trump.  Got it?  The article was not about the typo, but about what Internet trolls of the living-in-mother's-basement variety were writing.

This was apparently important to Yahoo, based on where the link was positioned.  But who exactly was supposed to care what the Mom's basement types barfed up on Twitter?  How did reporting on that represent actual news, or even a diversion from news?  Remember (and I looked) -- these Twitter users were pretty much all writing from the presumption that the president himself had made the typo, which meant that all that "shredding" they were doing was fundamentally in error to start with.

I wrote sometime, not that long ago, how we seemed to have lost the news media as a remotely reliable source of what was actually happening.  I think the "seemed" is no longer apt; that the news media are no longer serving any possible role that can be called the service of the nation.  As they waltz through life with Constitutional protection -- and I would never change that -- I have to scratch my own head and ask if the First Amendment has allowed a monstrous perversion of what the Founders envisioned.

Because if the most important story on the planet is about a bunch of misinformed people tweeting, perhaps it's a happy place after all.

Except, I suppose, for their mothers.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

God Rest Ye, Mrs. 41

We are saddened to hear of the passing of Barbara Bush, the First Lady from 1989 to 1993, wife of George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President and mother of George W. Bush, the 43rd President, a curious confluence that she shared only with Abigail Adams.

She brought a dignity and maternal (and grand-maternal) hominess to the role, along with a respect for the institution and a deference after leaving the White House that we could only wish her immediate and second-subsequent successors in the role could have learned.

Ninety-two years is a long life, and in her case one that only the sad trolls of Al Gore's Amazing Internet will take issue with.  May the Lord rest her and keep her, and cause His face to shine upon her forever.

Bless you, ma'am.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Legitimate Legal Role -- and Defense -- for Facebook

Once again, I want to write about Facebook, which is still ironic in that I still don't have a Facebook account and so don't actually use the product.

But I do not have to be a user of Facebook, or even a fan, to feel that some of the legal precedents that are about to drop down on us, from legislators and judges who barely understand the technology, may cause serious issues down the road if extrapolated in the wrong direction.

Last week I noted that we have to be careful about the criminal and civil liability that we ascribe to the medium, whether Facebook or Twitter or whatever.  We don't hold the U.S. Postal Service liable when bomb threats are mailed -- in fact, USPS is protected by statutes that make it specifically illegal to use the mail for that purpose.

Keep that thought.

I contend that for whatever little I think of Facebook and the leftists that run it, they are entitled to legal protection, and the expectation that legal precedents will be consistent when applied to them.  If they are not facilitating terrorists or radicals, but merely fairly providing the same platform they provide to everyone else, then they are (or should be) absolved of legal liability for what goes across their wires, same as the USPS.

So -- what should Facebook actually do?

They're going to identify the bad actors, because they can.  We know that.  They're not going to identify all the bad actors, because that would take far too much effort to be reasonable.  Moreover, the decision as to what should and should not be allowed on their wires should not be so regulated as to impose liability itself, given how subjective that is.

What is "reasonable" is for there to be a process that the law and the courts recognize as being appropriate.

What I believe that process to be is that Facebook and its ilk should facilitate the reporting of such bad actors by its users themselves, and set up a team big enough to provide a cursory, "triage" review of such items, posts, pictures and posters reported to them as suspect.  If indeed there is an issue that may represent an illegality, then they report it to law enforcement, with the expectation that the FBI or other entity (I think we're talking FBI) will take appropriate action.

But Facebook will, under my concept, neither shut down nor suspend that account until directed to by request from law enforcement.  That removes non-badged, political types in Silicon Valley from making their own decision as to whether, say, Diamond and Silk, the two black conservative sisters who are social media icons, are "unsafe" for the tender snowflake ears of their user community, and absent specific FBI direction, will not and may not do their own enforcement.

Facebook gains the presumption of protection from excessive liability.  Their users, as long as they are not violating the law or making overt threats, can use Facebook to their hearts' content and make money the way that people make money on Facebook, however one does that.

Mark Zuckerberg would have to decide whether his leftism or his wallet is more important, but that's his decision.  I know what I would say.  And I think that the above needs to be negotiated with the Federal government with input from the courts before -- what a novel thought -- case law puts it in the hands of the wrong court.

Let's talk about it, shall we?

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Monday, April 16, 2018

Not Wanting to "Imagine"

Recently I happened on some event, an over-dramatized sporting event if I recall correctly, but it really doesn't matter exactly what.  At some point, there was some aspirational point in the event, and for some reason -- habit, I guess, inadequate original thought -- the background music was the Beatles' song "Imagine".

I turned to another channel.

I would like to think it is not just me, but I really have a lot of issues with that song, and would be very happy if I never had to listen to it again.  OK, if you play an instrumental version, I suppose I wouldn't walk away.  It has a decent enough tune with harmonic variety we didn't always see back then.  And it wasn't really a Beatles song but a John Lennon solo, to be fair.

But you see, it starts out asking us to "imagine there's no Heaven", and kind of goes on a George Soros dream from there; no countries, no religion, no possessions, and, we would assume, a bunch of happy communists in the background pulling all the strings behind the curtain, because ain't no one going to do any productive work in that fantasy land.

I really am bothered on so many levels.  First of all, I have no interest in wanting there not to be a Heaven.  Heaven is the aspirational goal, after all, the promise made by God if we will accept His love and forgiveness for our sins.  Why would I not want that?

And what is the aspiration that the song offers us?  A "brotherhood of man", where we all gather round in a big circle, speak the same language and go la-la-la.  No borders, of course, because there are "no countries", which we are also supposed to imagine.  You want to "imagine" something?  Imagine about two hours of that.

We can logically assume that means no cultures, either, since that would make us actually different and not all run through a leftist meat grinder until we are all the same, obedient types easily able to be inculcated by some Dear Leader, if you know what I mean.  No cultures, gee, the left wouldn't like that.

Way back when I was a boy, my dad pointed out a children's song that was in the background of some event, or on the radio.  It seemed innocuous enough until he explained the not-very subtle message that was similar to "Imagine" in that it too called for some utopian unreality where we were all the same.  My dad, who always voted Democrat but I'm sure would not do so today, used the line "That's straight from Moscow" to describe it (Dad was not quite 93 for the 2008 election but I'm guessing he might have actually voted for a Republican; I'll have to guess on that one).

I didn't quite completely understand at the time, but I did learn to listen to lyrics after that, and I expect that John Lennon's imagining and my own would have few points of similarity.  Given his political proclivity, I'm sure there was intent.

I didn't want to start the week off on a downer, given that everyone seems to love the song, but I'd been meaning to do this short piece for a while.  Hearing the song again reminded me that I always react negatively to it -- and hope that you will at least remap your interpretation of the words a bit next time you listen to it.

I will be busy reminding myself that there is indeed a Heaven, and that's a good thing.


Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Friday, April 13, 2018

Marriage, Myers and Briggs

It's Friday, which means ... well, nothing.  Except once in a while, the Friday pieces here are going to stray into something less important than sports or even politics, but reflect something that struck me during the week.

As you know, I watch some TV shows that may sound odd for a healthy adult male with an actual wife, to watch.  We're down to taping only one "Real Housewives" anymore (New Jersey), although that one is on its last legs.  I record every Red Sox game and watch it when I go to bed, possibly as an offset to regain my man card.

And we religiously watch a host of "reality" shows.

One such show is called "Married at First Sight", and is truly one of the remarkable pieces of television out there.  If you have not seen it or heard about it, MAFS is in its fourth or fifth season, and is essentially a televised experiment in social assorting.

Men and women apply for it, because they have had no luck in the usual matchmaking arena and truly want to get married.  A team of psychologists, who are integral parts of the show, review a host of questionnaires and select three couples to be participants, who have been matched using the team's algorithm for likely compatibility.

Of course, this is not just a simple matchmaking exercise or dating app -- if you apply, and you are selected, you will be legally married to the other person.  Moreover, as the title suggests, the couples literally go to the altar not knowing anything about the person whom they will meet there, and have to say "I do" to a perfect stranger.

You are not going to sign up to do that unless you are bloody well sure that you're willing, because getting out of a marriage is not fun, and you're going to have cameras in your face for the six or eight weeks or so that you will live as a married couple, honeymoon and all, before Decision Day.  All the fights, all the warts, all the intimate moments -- OK, not all -- are part of the show.

On that day of decision, after a couple months together, each participant must decide if he and she want to stay married, or get a divorce.  Both parties must indicate their intent, separately, and we infer that they are not supposed to tell their spouse what they're going to say until the filmed decision.

The show is quite dramatic, obviously, but it is a credit to the team that I think a bit more than half of the couples have actually both decided to stay together -- last year, if memory serves, all three couples decided to stay married, and the hostess of one of the ancillary pre-show interview shows is actually still married to the man she met at the altar in season 2 or 3 -- and was immediately repelled, by the way -- but now has a child with him and is happily married.

So -- I mention the show because I watched a recorded episode Wednesday night, and something struck me, a memory I wanted to share.  This one couple was having a disagreement about something, and as they were trying to resolve it themselves, one of the two said to the other something akin to "I understand why they matched us ..." and "We have so much in common ...".

The couples often say that very same thing, all of them, because in truth they are in a process of discovery about their new spouse, and sometimes laugh when they realize how closely matched they are.  Questionnaire leads to algorithm, which leads to matching people who would not otherwise have met.  And the algorithm for matching has gotten better as time has gone on.

At any rate, when the person mentioned how well they'd been matched, I had a flashback.

Back in the 1990s, I was working for a 1,000-person company in Virginia, and for some reason all employees were asked to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ("MBTI") test, which is a psychological quiz.  You have probably taken it, or heard about it.  In essence, it takes four personality scales and measures you on each, and assigns you a letter based on which half of the scale you fall into -- for example, Judging ("J") vs. Perceiving ("P").  You end up with a four-letter designator, of which there are 16 possibles.

I'm an ISTJ, in case you are interested (and which those who have taken the test and know me have no problem assuming).  And by the way, you can only take the test once in your life, because if you try to take it a second time, you'll immediately see what the questions are asking relative to the type indicators, and will be unable to answer them without prejudice.

So I took the test in 1996, I think.  At the time, although MBTI had been around for 50 years, I had never heard of it.  So my answers were honest, and I'm pretty comfortable with the thought that I am really an ISTJ.  But I digress.

The test was administered one day, and we returned the next for the results.  Except there were about 20 of us in the one group who had taken it and returned, and they did not explain anything to us on Day 2 ... immediately.  Instead, they illustrated the results through experiments before telling us what we were.

I recall one of them.  We were supposed to address some kind of problem that might have had multiple answers, and given 15 minutes to finish.  We were put into four groups and told to work together to solve it.  One group was done in a minute or so, la la la, but my group, well, we were still deciding on the answer when the bell rang, because there were different ways to approach it, leading to different outcomes.

Remember, we didn't know the MBTI letters or what they meant or anything, for that matter.  All the four of us knew was that we needed to solve the problem.  And the leader was laughing hysterically at us after the time was up -- I remember her saying about us, "That's so J", meaning that we judgmental types worked through problems completely differently, while the Ps, the perceptive types, just picked an answer and went off on their merry way.

But she was right, of course, and the exercises were all meant to show us the value and legitimacy of the tests.  And the company actually used the outcome to deal with relationships -- if you're an ISTJ (introverted, sensing, thinking, judgmental) and have to work with an ENFP (extroverted, intuiting, feeling, perceiving), you will become very frustrated very quickly -- but if you know that's the personality of the other person, and that it is innate and unchangeable, you will deal differently, factor in his or her way of doing things, and get less frustrated.

I learned a lot from that exercise, particularly when my wife took the test.  Ten years later, I was a part of the board of a major arts organization with a new director.  We all took the test (or submitted our past result), and we were taught how our interactions on the board would be better if we understood where each other was rooted psychologically.  It worked that year quite well.

And I gained some reasonable faith that an experiment like Married at First Sight could actually work.  As I saw the couples look wonderingly at each other and understand why they were put together, I keep hearing "That's so J" in my mind, and get it.

Have a nice weekend!

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Newspaper and the Ballot Box

I saw a rather interesting piece on the news on TV this past Monday morning.  It was about a piece they'd read in the leftist journal Politico dealing with the geographical areas which had voted disproportionately for Donald Trump in 2016, relative to their voting for Mitt Romney in 2012.  The data analysis suggested that the fewer available daily newspapers, the more likely they were to have voted for President Trump.

You can read the piece here, if you don't mind the fact that it goes on past its point for many, many paragraphs.  Read it around 10:30 tonight, if you need help sleeping.

For today, we will concede the data and certainly the stated analytical outcome.  The fewer the daily newspapers, the more the citizenry tended to go for Trump in the voting.  It is fairly intuitive, so there's no point positing that it didn't happen.

Of course, the article's two verbose authors -- and if you read my column regularly, you understand "verbose" -- chose to make conclusions from the analysis that supported their own viewpoint.  Imagine that, a leftist journal has two leftist writers make the one of two possible conclusions that supports a leftist narrative.  Duh.

"Two conclusions", you ask?  Oh, yeah.

The article goes on to point out that there is a dearth of daily newspapers in certain areas, and where there were no print journals with print-journal opinions for the "dumb citizenry" to read, or where the subscription rates to daily news media were the lowest, 2016 Trump outdrew the votes for 2012 Romney fairly regularly.

The authors of the piece jumped directly and enthusiastically to the logical leftist conclusion.  President Trump won those areas, they inferred, because the citizenry, absent the necessary guidance of the brilliant daily news media, was uninformed about what a disaster the mainstream media felt that a Trump presidency would actually be.  The voters were ignorant, they went on, and therefore voted for Trump -- in their words, the voters in those areas actually (hold your breath) believed what he said and what he told them he was going to do!

The converse, they pointed out, was also true -- that Hillary Clinton had actually done better in places where the subscription rates were the highest (such as DuPage County in suburban Chicago), better than even Barack Obama had done.

Unfortunately, the authors blindly took the one of two equally logical inferences as gospel -- and naturally, they took the inference that fit the leftist narrative.

But there was another logical inference to make, one they logically ignored.

You see, there were two ends to the spectrum; in fact, their pointing out the situation in the suburban Chicago county actually supports the contrary assumption even better.  The authors decided that the uneducated, the dummies that didn't subscribe to newspapers, blindly believed what Donald Trump told them.  And that's why they voted that way.

But the other side is what happens when voters are exposed to the news -- the news, that is, as curated by the left-leaning daily media.  The article itself pointed out that newspapers rarely supported the president in their endorsements, meaning that those voters who were actually subscribers were far more likely to get one-sided, anti-Trump biased editorializing, and in cases like the Washington Post and New York Times, anti-Trump biased reporting as well.

It's perfectly sound to think that Trump might have won even more voters in even more precincts, had that bias in the daily media not been there.  If that is the case, then Politico's conclusion would be completely different in its focus.  It could have taken the very same data and decided that the daily media had done a really good -- though ultimately not quite "good" enough -- job of trying to turn the subscriber against voting for President Trump.

I hope you follow this.  Absent the hectoring of the daily media, the American voter was far more likely to decide that Hillary Clinton was a crook, who more deserved to be in prison than in the White House; and that voter was far more likely to conclude that she had no real argument for becoming president other than her being female.

The same voter, absent media hectoring, was apt to listen to Donald Trump and, already fed up with our wimpy foreign posture, our skyrocketing debt, his or her own doubled insurance premiums because of Obamacare (my "doubling" case documented here), the whole PC mentality ... and to decide to vote for Mr. Trump.  It wasn't so much that the voter hadn't heard the biased "truth" from the media that Politico loves; it was that he or she was perfectly capable of making up his or her own mind.  And that meant voting for Trump, because he said he was going to take steps that the voter approved of.

I honestly don't know what 2020 will look like on that front; even in the last year the number of subscriptions to daily news outlets has plummeted.  But it won't stop them from trying to sabotage this president.

And it won't stop Politico from totally misinterpreting its own data.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Heck with Facebook -- Fix the Phone Calling

It must be because it was Tuesday.  Or because it was a day of the month ending in a zero.  Or maybe it was a holiday in Mumbai, or because it was not a holiday in Mumbai.  I don't know, but I do care, a lot and more every day.

I have a cell phone, like everyone else, and my best girl has a cell phone.  We have a land line in the house.  You might as well know that, because at this point every boiler room in India not only knows that, but what the numbers are, what the time zone is and how much hair I have left.

I say that because yesterday the phones in the house -- all of them -- apparently became Target #1 for every phone scam on earth, the ones where the phone rings from a bogus or pirated number in Albuquerque or Great Falls or Wichita or Spartanburg.  If you were to pick it up, you'd get Vijay or Krishnan or Amit, calling themselves Ralph or Charlie or Dave.  We all get those calls.

This Tuesday took the cake though, since there must have been at least five such calls on each of the phones here.  Mine were fun; two of them were from the "Finance Department of the United States", of which there is, of course, no such thing, but Vijay -- sorry, I mean "Ralph" -- wouldn't have known that.  Another was from Leesburg, Virginia, and that one said that I had recently inquired about selling a house (?).

So on the same day, Facebook demigod Mark Zuckerberg faced a bunch of senators to answer questions, misleadingly, of course, about data breaches and that sort of thing.  And I readily concede that is a serious issue that needs addressing.

But I would really like to know what the selfsame Congress is doing to investigate why Americans -- all of us, I daresay, at least the ones with phones -- are being bombarded on a daily basis with calls that co-opt an actual phone number to mask their Indian boiler room.  I mean, I'm not happy when I am working, or carrying a drink, or a pile of laundry, or about to tee off, or doing something else valuable, and the phone rings.  Add on to that the annoyance when that call is from the "Vindows Department" claiming to know that I'm having issues with my computer.

Is anyone in authority in Washington doing anything about this?  After all, it is textbook wire fraud to use a commercial medium to misrepresent oneself with the intent to defraud, and since there is no such thing as a "Vindows" ... excuse me, "Windows" Department, there are laws getting broken here.

I'm going to start with my own congressman here and see what is being done (I'm betting the answer is "nothing", but at least I'll get sympathy).  Or perhaps we need to start calling those congressmen on their cell phones and claiming to be from the "Vindows Department" and see if that works.

Of course, our representatives are surely getting those calls too.  Aren't they? Hmmmm.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Where Facebook is To Be Defended

I do not use Facebook, let us start with that.  I don't think anyone really cares what I had for breakfast, let alone needs a picture of it.  I have no old loves from the '60s to have to figure out what they're doing (I married mine), which I would not bother to do regardless, given that I have a loving family.  I certainly would not voluntarily choose to get my news feed from a leftist-leaning organization with a history of censoring conservatives.

I'm also not particularly interested in having personal data of mine available to the rest of the world under someone else's control -- if 870+ essays online doesn't give someone enough personal information about me, I certainly don't need to make it easier for someone who just wants to sell me a car.  I will not defend Facebook for any of that, although I cannot imagine why they are (A) in California and paying the absurd taxes there, or (B) not all Republicans, given that the Democrats would confiscate their entire income if given free rein.

Right now, Facebook is about to have its CEO grilled by a congressional committee about its failure to protect personal data, and how it is sold -- excuse me, "made available" -- for a price to those people who want to sell you a car.  More particularly, the issue is going to be its vulnerability to have all that data accessible to Chinese and Russian hackers.

Well, that's their problem.  They built their company; they can defend it.  Or try to.

Nope, I'm going to defend them in a different forum for a different topic.  I'm talking about what happens when someone posts a video or a message or some such thing relating to an upcoming criminal act.

Let's say one of the ISIS clowns still remaining posts a message that he or she is going to attack a target somewhere, and posts that specifically on their Facebook page.  I don't know the mechanics (I'm not on Facebook), but let's say something like that happens.

The attack then happens and people are injured or killed.  And the family of one of the victims sues Facebook, claiming that because a notice to the effect that the attack was going to happen got posted on their site, Facebook is civilly liable for damages for ... well, something.  Their pockets are absurdly deep, so it would be worth the try.

I'm here to tell you that I don't buy that for a bit.

In such a case -- and mine may be hypothetical, but something akin to that scenario has definitely happened -- we have to ask what the responsibility is of the medium, when they have a billion users posting all the time, and their stated purpose is not as a news-filtering operation but to "connect people" so they can communicate.

I don't actually think there is a case.  I'm not a lawyer, do not access Lexis-Nexis to look up case law, but I can be at least minimally wizardly with logic.  Facebook created a platform by which people can communicate with each other.  They did not tell their users, and they did not promise their paid customers, that their role included protecting them from unreported threats and the like.

The contract is between the user and the medium -- the ISIS clown, in this case, and Facebook.  Whether the victim was a Facebook user is totally irrelevant; their claim would be that Facebook "should have known", meaning that they should have read the posting from the ISIS clown, deciphered the intent and done something, like notifying the FBI.

But that is changing the role of the medium, and I don't buy it.

Let us suppose that the terrorist called one of his buddies and used an iPhone on a Sprint network to make that call.  It's absurd to think that Apple should be held liable because they sold a product that was used to make a call that coordinated a terror attack.  It is equally absurd -- though another step closer to the Facebook scenario -- to hold Sprint liable because their network was used for that purpose, as if they are supposed to monitor calls on their network.

So what is the expectation in law that distinguishes Facebook and its peers, such that they should be expected to know what is being communicated over their medium, where the phone companies are not?  The selling of data doesn't even apply here, and although that is this week's news, that's a whole 'nother issue.  This is strictly about needing judicial precedent to establish that a communications medium is not liable for the normal manner in which it is used, not a phone company and not Facebook and its peers.

It gets a bit creepy when you start to ask whether the fact that Facebook does pull data from its users makes it a bit more liable, in that they can monitor actual conversations -- and do -- in order to mine them.  But I cannot fathom the impact of a ruling that applied liability to a medium for actions taken during the normal communications role of the medium and its users' normal communications -- even if those communications are used to plan harm.

It is reasonable to expect such media to be cooperative when they do recognize tangible threats.  But I fail to see how we should assign accountability for assisting in subsequent actions, unless they failed to take what could be deemed reasonable actions after recognizing the threat.

Of course, the better tack for Facebook would be to stop reading any messages on its platform.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Monday, April 9, 2018

Bridge, A Book and Ten Bucks

Once upon a time, I was a teenager in high school.  Among other things I did, and it's funny to think how many there were and how we jammed so much into our lives, I liked to play the card game called bridge.

I was able to find a half-dozen or so other kids in school who played, and every once in a while we could get exactly four to sit down long enough to play the game for real.  As I think of it, that was not particularly often, given that getting four teenagers to commit to be at one place at one time for any period of time is pretty much like putting toothpaste back in a tube.  Or herding cats.

Anyway, I didn't actually play the game very often, but I did read the bridge column in the daily paper religiously.  I would cover the defensive hands with two fingers and try to figure out how to play that particular hand, then read the column to see how the expert had done it, or how the columnist criticized the expert for doing it poorly.

If you don't actually play the game and read bridge columns, it doesn't matter; this is really not about bridge; just know that it is a card game, that what passes for newspapers now (and certainly back then) when there were papers, well, they all ran a column helping you learn how to play.

So this one day, some time in the mid or late 1960s, there was a column titled "A Great Big Book About the Game" in the day's paper, by the British-born Freddie Sheinwold, a famous player and syndicated bridge writer.  It's 50 years and I still remember the column's title.  There was a hand to play, but for the most part it was praising a new book called the "Encyclopedia of Bridge", something like that, which had been recently published.

I was enraptured.  I had to have the book.  I figured it was the real "how-to" book I needed to make my game a lot better, and asked my folks for it.  Now, Dad and Mom were both employed, but we didn't have loose money around, and the book cost $10.00.  Back in the 1960s, that was a lot of money for a non-essential, at least in our home.

I did, however, have a birthday or Christmas or something -- it's been a long time but I think there was an occasion involved -- and Mom did order the book for me.  I was really grateful, and was looking forward to reading it inside and out, and learning a lot more about getting better, given the scant opportunities actually to play the game.

Of course, when the book arrived, it was everything that Sheinwold said it was.  The problem was that I hadn't really read the column itself well, otherwise I would have realized that the book actually was an encyclopedia and not a textbook.  It was a huge book, but it was an alphabetically-listed encyclopedia (I tried for a synonym, but that's really the best word) of everything to do with the game of bridge, its history, its stars over the years, all that.

For that, it was great.  For me, not so much.  It was not what I expected, and my immediate reaction was panic, in that my parents had spent $10.00 (this was around 1967, remember) for something that was not what I wanted.  I begged my mother to try to return it and get a refund, and was fortunately able to explain (I think) why it was not what I thought it was.

She was indeed able to return the book fairly easily and got a refund, and all was well.  And although she lived another 40 years, I have a feeling that for the last 39-and-a-half years of her life, she completely forgot that the return had ever happened, and the incident ultimately was trivial to her.

But it was so not trivial to me, in that over 50 years since, I'm writing this.  Why?  Because it is, above almost everything else in my life relating to finances and thrift, the one incident I think of the most.  Even now, when I hear "ten dollars", it often strikes a bell with me and I consider what I'm buying.  Of course, I go ahead and buy it anyway, given what ten dollars gets you any more, but I think of it.  I remember the panic.

Most importantly, I think, that lesson stays with me because it wasn't my ten dollars.  Someone else, for whom ten dollars was a lot of money, was willing to spend it for me, and I was, by God, going to make sure that it was for something I valued.  I was not going to keep it, if it was not valued, and if I could possibly make sure it could be returned.

If you are reading this far, I hope you realize that this story is true, but it is a moral-carrying tale as well.  I would like to imbue every single congressman, every senator and every state and local legislator with the notion that spending other people's money, money that they have had to work for, is the ultimate in stewardship.  Every single penny of that money needs to be spent wisely, and solely for the purpose for which the governing Constitution allows.  Otherwise, they should panic.

I have played three hands of bridge, maybe, in forty years.  In my life, I'm sure I have read ten bridge columns in the paper for every hand I actually played.

But one of my great life lessons came from one of those columns.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Friday, April 6, 2018

Baseball and Budweiser

OK, so I'll end the week with another baseball column, this one a reminiscence of sorts.  It's not that there's not fun stuff going on in other parts of the world, but this anecdote came up this week and reminded me to relate it, while I figure out just what an "oligarch" is.

I used to live in northern and northwestern Virginia; most of my life has, in fact, been spent there.  We no longer live there, which given their weather is a happy circumstance, but we were indeed there some years ago when the Montreal Expos were economically evicted from their home city and wretched park (I was there in the '70s and I can assure you it redefined "wretched").

Through the efforts of some, the franchise was determined to be moved to the Washington, DC metropolitan area, where they would play in creaky old RFK Stadium until a suitable new park could be built.  They would be named accordingly, as the final stadium site would be determined before the new team would actually be moving out of Montreal.

I was hoping that the new stadium would actually end up in Loudoun County in northern Virginia, close enough to be accessible to the metro area fans; far enough from downtown to be substantially safer, and in an extremely professional area with many people who could afford the tickets -- not so much wealthy as professionally comfortable.  Nearby Fairfax County, also in Virginia, would provide a huge and comparably "comfortable" ticket base.

Of course, that never happened; for whatever reason the city of Washington was allowed to build a new stadium in a less-than-great area of a less-than-great city, and that's what is there today.  They kept "Washington" and reverted to the "Nationals", the name the American League's erstwhile Senators had had for certain periods of their existence, before they became the Minnesota Twins (the Senators who replaced the departing Senators in 1961 ultimately became the Texas Rangers and never were called the Nationals).

After a short period in RFK, the new Nationals Park opened in 2008, just ten years ago.  I had no specific plans to go to a game that first year, but a visiting brother-in-law from out of state wanted to go that summer, and I was perfectly happy to do so.  We summoned another brother-in-law who lived in Virginia, grabbed my older son (34 at the time), we got four good third-base-side seats and off we went.

The park itself was OK, but just OK.  After Oriole Park at Camden Yards was built and opened in 1992, redefining the charm of the retro baseball-only park, most of the subsequent parks were done not in its image but in its concept, most to positive reviews.  Nationals Park, 15 years later, was just OK, sort of like the bland new Comiskey Park in Chicago, and its location in DC didn't help.

But I slightly digress.

Along about the fourth inning or so, the irresistible pull of the James Earl Jones Memorial "dog and a beer" came along, and I was dispatched, or volunteered, to procure four hot dogs and four cold drafts for the four of us.  I walked back to the nearest stand where I could buy both, and waited in line patiently.

The draft beer was Budweiser, which was OK, and the hot dogs were meat, or likely were meat, of some kind, which were readily able to be olfactorily masked with sufficient mustard to tolerate.  I brought all that back to the waiting hands of my son and brothers-in-law.

It only took two or three slurps from the beers before we all collectively realized something was wrong.  It wasn't that something was in the beer that shouldn't have been there, like cyanide or motor oil; it was just that the beer was -- there's no other way to put it -- really bad.

Now I suppose we choked down the remainder of the beers reluctantly, at least enough to wash down those meat-variable hot dogs.  But we weren't happy.

Now I have a curious relationship with Budweiser.  It is, of course, a beer with a long history in this country, nearly as long as the Anheuser-Busch brewery company that produced it.  My first beer was a Bud; my Dad was a Budweiser drinker -- not that he ever made it seem like it was his only choice, or that it was better, or even that he drank beer very often, it was just what he drank.  And when I was maybe 11 or 12, once in a while if we were having sandwiches and Dad had a beer, I had one too.  His notion was that there was no point beer being a mystery to me or my brother, and truthfully neither of us became especially big beer drinkers.

Back in 1984, my wife and I took a one-week trip to St. Louis, mostly to attend the convention and contests of the Barbershop Harmony Society, of which I was not yet a member.  Back then, the week of the 4th of July in St. Louis was also the week of the Veiled Prophet fair, a wonderful and peculiarly St. Louis institution.  Strung out along the banks of the Mississippi were all manner of fair-like stands and entertainment, and a lot of it was put there by Anheuser-Busch.

We also toured their St. Louis brewery that week, which was certainly interesting given that it was pretty old even 34 years ago, and their goal was to produce essentially identical-tasting beer regardless of where you got it.  And brewery tours are, let's face it, fun.  They end with fresh beer -- how can that be bad?

So while I'll probably never say that I'm a Bud drinker, and don't buy six-packs of it when I'm buying non-craft beer, I do feel positively toward the brand.

I got home the night of the game, and was still pretty steamed about how awful the beer was, when the words that came out of my mouth during one rant echoed back to me.  Anheuser-Busch, I declared, would probably be pretty ticked-off themselves if they tasted that crap that was being poured under their name.

"Under their name ..." I thought.  And then I suppose that it occurred to me that Anheuser-Busch probably was not sending a taste-tester to Nationals Park to make sure the beer was good, and that maybe I ought to alert them.

And I did.  I sat down at my laptop, logged into the 2008 version of their website, found the "customer comment" section and typed away.  They would be embarrassed, I told them.  If they were to go to Nats Park and taste the carbonated turtle urine that passed for Budweiser there, they would be unhappy, and I was writing this to defend the good name of an old and respected company.

I don't know what I thought would happen, but the next afternoon, my phone rang.  "This is ----- from Anheuser-Busch, and I am the director of public affairs [or something like that].  We got your message.  Tell us about it."

I did.  I told them what I thought, and I told them that I cared enough about their brand that it upset me to think that they mightn't know what was being served with their name stamped on it.  No, it was not my main brand of beer, for as much as I even drink, but I had a soft spot for the first brand I ever drank, and had a feeling they would want to know they were being embarrassed.

This piece would be better if I actually knew the outcome; obviously I don't since I never had a draft Bud there at Nationals Park again, but I suspect that the company went back and made bloody well sure that the vendors cleaned out their machinery on a bit more regular basis and did whatever they were supposed to do, but had not been.

I think I did the right thing.  I'm not going to tell you that part of my exacerbated pique on trying the beer was underlying, steaming resentment that I had to go to DC to see a team I had hoped would be playing in Virginia, but it was probably not a big part of it.  I did what I did in part because of the enjoyable time I had had 24 years previously at their brewery, where we were treated very well and the good will remained.

Brands are important; I suppose that you have achieved some measure of brand success when your customers are the ones defending it.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

$400 Million, My Foot

G'day.  This one is not about Congress again -- they tip $400 million in the Capitol bathroom without thinking, and budget items that small don't even rise to their level of interest.  And it's certainly not about feet, of the anatomical or the 12-inch variety.  After all, I'm behind the metric system, every inch of the way.

Nope, this one's about baseball.

The $400 million I'm speaking of is the number being bandied about as the multi-year contract value of the agreement that will be made between some unlucky major league team and Bryce Harper, currently an outfielder with the Washington Nationals, the team which drafted him and then brought him to the majors in 2012 at age 19.

You can obviously count, so you will have figured out that this year, (during the playoff season this October), Harper will turn 26.  You may also know that a few weeks thereafter, he will become a free agent and available to sign a contract with whomever he chooses.  And the value and length of that contract is entirely negotiable.

Harper is represented by the Scott Boras organization, meaning that we will not expect that contract to be signed or even agreed to until after the first of the year, by which time lots of press releases will have come out and lots of less-than-factual statements made.  Boras has a tendency to have his clients wait until late in the offseason to sign, waiting for a few more dollars to be offered.

And we can imagine that a Boras team member is the one who first poofed the mythical $400 million figure out into the open air to be kicked around as if it were ever going to happen.  The obliging media have, of course, written scads of words about it, as if it were actually what Harper is going to get paid in his next contract, as opposed to a first volley from his agency.

But it's not, at least not as likely, as we think.

Let's take a look at what that means -- and it means a lot.  First, the total is actually important, because unlike football, baseball contracts are guaranteed.  Harper could strike out in 99% of his at-bats under the new deal, and he will still be paid.  The once-great Albert Pujols is clogging up the Angels roster, and still will be for a few more years, even though he was 19% worse than a league-average hitter last year and got $26 million for doing so.  And he'll get the remaining $114 million on his contract even if the Angels released him tomorrow and put even a nearly league-average player in his place.

Harper could see a deal that lasts ten years, given that he is going to be 26 in its first year and would be a still-not-too-old 35 in its last.  But would a team give him $40 million per year, not knowing that he wouldn't go all "old Pujols" on them after a few years?

Well, in a sane world, of course not.  Harper has six years of track record in the majors to look at, and that's a pretty fair sample size.

The good -- Bryce Harper is an outstanding player.  For his career, he has been an amazing 41% better than a league-average hitter, including 57% better in 2017, and a slightly above-average fielder, mostly out in right.  He was the 2015 MVP, and an All-Star five times.  At 26 this fall, he is only now entering the prime of his career.

The not-as-good -- Bryce Harper has averaged fewer than 130 games per season, three times playing in under 120 games (out of 162).  He has logged a lot of disabled-list time, and players who get hurt tend to get hurt more.

But let's us get serious here.  There is yet another figure, one that I have not mentioned as yet ... and that is $197 million.  That figure is the luxury tax threshold, meaning the amount of allowable payroll (average annual balance of the major-league roster) a team can have before salary dollars beyond it are "taxed", meaning that teams paying over that amount fork over an additional percentage of the excess to MLB headquarters to be redistributed to other teams and players' pension costs.

In 2019 that tax threshold will be $206 million.  There are 25 players on a major-league team, and 40 on the overall roster (including minor leaguers with options, players on the 10-day disabled list), and possibly a few on the 60-day disabled list.  To have one member of the 25-man roster carry a $40 million price tag means that even if the team is a bit over the luxury tax threshold, some 20% of the entire 40-man roster payroll is taken up with the salary of just one player, and thus unavailable to spend for others.

If that player is a bit brittle -- and missing 50 games or so in half your seasons qualifies -- that can be a huge issue.  When that player is not on the field, you don't play a team of eight players, you have to put someone else in there, and that "someone" would not otherwise even be playing, else he would not be on the bench in the first place (but would be starting).

If a brittle player is out for a while, the team has to replace him more permanently (i.e., with a starter-quality player) and that player will come at a cost if he is going to provide decent production, let alone Harper-level.  Since he would not have been on the roster, he'd have to be acquired, which means his salary is added to the team payroll, and if they're already in tax-land, it means that salary is even costlier.

Finally, let's get to supply and demand, particularly demand.  In order to add an outfielder asking for $400 million, there has to be a team which (A) has $40 million each year to commit to one player, (B) has a really high risk tolerance, and most importantly (C) has a vacancy in one outfield position to where upgrading to a Harper is actually worth $40 million.

Why do I note that (C) thing?  Because every team has a full outfield, as evidenced by the fact that they actually go out and play every night with three outfielders.  Duh.  If you have three guys as good as Harper, you simply don't need him at any price.

Of course, no team actually has three outfielders that good, but some of them have three pretty good ones -- the 2017 champion Astros, for example, used George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez and Josh Reddick in the World Series.  They're already on the team, with no additional cost beyond their current salaries.

If the Astros were to want Harper, injury history notwithstanding, they would have to decide -- read carefully -- not that that Harper himself were worth $40 million a year, but that they were willing to pay $40 million for the difference between Harper and the outfielder he replaced.  Make sense?  To the Astros, they may think that Harper may be better than one of their guys, but that paying $40 million a year just for a few more homers and 50 points of OPS is senseless -- and that would take them out of the competition.  Down to 29 teams.

So take out the teams with decent outfields already -- and there are quite a few.  Forget those in small markets who don't approach the luxury tax limit already, and couldn't dream of tying up that much payroll in one guy.  Before long, you're down to a very small number of teams, including the Nationals, for whom his salary would not be an upgrade cost since he's already there.  And then let out those with more common sense than to pay anyone that much, and those who have been burned one too many times (I'm looking at you, Angels) to want to go down that route again.

Before long, the demand side of the curve, the number of teams still "in the hunt",  gets so small that either Harper and Boras go back to the Nats and ask for their best offer (Washington certainly wants him back), or decide to wait out the market.  Boras tried the "waiting" tack with J.D. Martinez, floating that "$200 million" figure all the while, only to find that for pretty much the same reasoning, the demand side ended up being only the Red Sox.  The Sox agreed to the $110 million, five-year deal they had originally offered months before, when they decided on their terms what he was worth.

So unless even one team is ready to do a $400 million version of the massive contracts that crippled the Angels (Pujols), the Red Sox (Carl Crawford and Pablo Sandoval), the Yankees (Alex Rodriguez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, et al.), I would take the "under" on Harper's new deal's average annual value.

And I'm actually hoping I win that bet, for the good of Baseball.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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