Friday, March 23, 2018

Could Psychiatry Have Worked?

I am not exactly a TV medical-drama junkie, even though I went to medical school.  But I do watch some of them and have over the years.  I can't tell you what makes me watch one and not another, and for the purpose of this piece it really doesn't matter, but I watch some and have over the years.

The other night there was an interesting episode of one that I do indeed tape and later watch.  That would be "Chicago Med", which is a pretty typical hospital drama with a new set of patients each week and lots of romantic interactions between the staff members, mostly centered around the hospital's ER.

Now, this is, after all, network TV, which means that you get lectured at quite regularly, whether you want to be or not.  The lectures, of course, are politically correct, so businessmen are bad and need to die, the leftists are good and conservatives and religious people are bad, unless they are Muslims.  you get the idea.  And I do find myself shouting "Stop lecturing!" at the screen.

I shout that often, or at least think it often, so I know that we are being lectured every episode.  And that is what made this particular episode curious, because I couldn't quite figure out what I was supposed to take away from it.

In this case, a white man in his 50s was admitted to the ER after a fall, with serious other symptoms that the doctors quickly diagnosed as advanced throat cancer.  This would require aggressive treatment, but was treatable -- except that the patient wanted to die.

You see, he was a pedophile, but one who had never touched a child in his life because he had the moral strength to resist the urges he had.  So he wanted to die, because those urges were so strong, and the outcome of acting on them so awful, that he felt it better to leave the planet without having ever acted on them.

So follow this, because it is important ... there is good and bad, and there is sick and well.  This man, to me, was a sick, good man.  He was psychologically ill because he was moved to prey on children, but he was a good man because he resisted the urge to do evil -- yet the show never dealt with that!

The drama involves the ER doctor, who is committed, at least until the end, to trying to save his life and convince him to take the treatment, and a judgmental nurse, who clearly does not want to help save him -- even though, again, he never actually did anything.  Eventually, he has a severe episode, the doctor accedes to the patient's wishes and does no heroic treatment to save him, and he dies.  The nurse questions her ethics, we roll credits, and all is well, I guess.

But here's the thing.  This show has not one but two characters who are psychiatrists in the cast, and both are seen frequently.  The patient, remember, was not a criminal, since he had not actually done anything with his urges and was ready to die to avoid any such action.  So why was no psychiatric treatment for his pedophilia ever once suggested?

I'm not even saying there is such a treatment; I don't really know about psychiatry and how successful it can actually be in different cases.  And they do seem to lead the entire medical profession in trying to normalize certain behaviors that I might choose to disagree with.

But in this case, no such treatment was proposed; no alternative offered, even though psychiatric efforts are a significant part of the show's premise.  Forget the cancer; suppose that a 55-year-old man had walked in, perfectly healthy, no cancer, to the same ER and announced that he had overwhelming urges to pedophilia and had managed not to act on them.  What would they have done with him then?

From a dramatic standpoint, that might have made the show a lot better, regardless of the availability of a treatment for him.  After all, that character -- a non-functioning, ethical pedophile -- well that is not something we know about, so the dramatic tension would have been something.

It is fiction, I know.  But the show clearly, intentionally missed a fascinating plot evolution they could have explored.  Since they are such lecturers, we have to suspect that they did not want to go that route, possibly because it would have had to have raised the question about whether things like homosexuality could be addressed by psychiatry.  But with two psychiatrists in principal roles, how did they not look at that approach?  Were they lecturing us somehow, and we missed the lecture?

I don't know, but I'd sure like the writers to ask themselves that.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, March 22, 2018

What Is "Social" About It?

I saw a story the other day about a schoolgirl of maybe 11 or 12 who had committed suicide after having been cyber-bullied.  It took a while and, perhaps, it had been intentionally obscured in the accounts of the story that the girl had been going through puberty, perhaps a bit sooner than her peers.  Either way, it was an unfortunately not-so-uncommon occurrence, and the lesson may not be learned well enough any time soon.

Kids will be kids.  Junior high school is not a fun place and high school is, unfortunately, not much better.  Humans, regardless of the circumstance, are hard-wired to be seen as an ideal mate.  From a young age, our social pressure is to distinguish ourselves in some way that makes us seem attractive to the opposite sex, even when that extends to whom we associate with -- and whom we avoid.

That drive, as I wrote a couple years ago here, is a fundamental enabler of racism, because we are trying, in our juvenile way, to make people who are not "like us" seem less attractive by contrast.  It is the root of the phenomenon by which we tear down others to make ourselves look better -- even our own parents, children and siblings.  You can understand, then, that by extension, even in a racially pure community, teenagers will find a way to distinguish themselves in another way, either by their height, or their intelligence or talent, or freckles, or whatever.

We do that, and we do that most especially in our teen years.  Coincidentally, that is also a period in which our sensitivities are particularly heightened and our inhibitions loosened.  Which makes it a prime canvas on which to produce a bullying culture -- and, in our electronic age, a prime framework for the most anonymous malpractice of all, cyber-bullying.

We will not stop bullying by banning it, because teens will bully -- they are genetically driven to do it and they will follow it unless punished into minimizing it.  But as parents and school leaders, we need to figure out how to control it, to where we do not have innocent children feel compelled to take their own lives -- because death is easier than enduring the life their school society has imposed on them.

This is a case analogous to the whole gun-control debate as far as school shootings.  Banning the weapons, in the latter case, is fruitless, as well as unconstitutional.  The worst cities in the USA for gun violence, for example, are those with the strictest laws.  But the Constitution does not address electronics.

Are we not capable of parenting and school-running to where we can address the most pernicious elements of "social media"?  I mean, the lefties in charge of Facebook and Twitter would surely love to ban firearms ownership for people of every age, if they could.  But how would they feel about, as with alcohol, tobacco and other adult Web sites, having a minimum age of 16 or even 18 for someone to have an account?  If it were going to hit their wallets, would they be so cooperative even if we could dramatically affect the rates of bullying and teen suicide?

I remember the "paper" version of all this way back in the '60s, when there would be -- I forget what they were called, but perhaps "popularity books."  There would be a page for everyone, and you would anonymously write opinions about them on their page, and pass the book around to the next fellow teen.  The notes weren't always the kindest, because teenagers and anonymity do not make a good combination.  That was even back in the days when "computer" meant "room full of spinning tapes and huge cabinets, set on top of a raised floor" -- and was lilliputian in its power compared to what is on our phones today.

Kids are like that, especially those who have not come to understand the love of God, the morals of humans and the capacity to understand what happens when you hurt someone.  Kids will always be like that.  We need to give them an understanding of how to balance their innate drives with what is right and wrong in a civilized society.

But first, perhaps we should take a good look at their access to social media.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Keep Talking, Hillary, It Can Only Help the Nation

I haven't exactly been able to figure out what to do with the absurd story out of the mystical subcontinent of India, involving Hillary Clinton.  The loser of the 2016 presidential campaign has not gone off quietly into the night, or even stayed in the woods.  Rather, she is out there doing speeches.

The problem, of course, is that the speeches she is giving -- and make no mistake , she is being paid a bundle for whatever brilliance she is sharing with the world -- are focused not on making that world better, but on explaining why she is not president, and selling her book.  Over and over.

Now that's kind of ironic.  Part of the reason she is actually not president, and Donald Trump is, is that she was never able to explain to the voting American why she should be president, at least outside of the fact that at least at one time she had a uterus, and may still have one.  So she loses because she can't figure out why she should be president, but now she is getting paid scads of money to say why she is not president.

It is not lost on us that the vitriol, which we thought might have peaked with the "deplorables" comment during the campaign, has now become a staple of her ... what do we call it, "post-stump speech"?  For example, apparently we, who voted for someone else in 2016, "*don't want to see black people get their rights*" or "*see women getting jobs.*"

I'm not kidding; she actually said that, and we heard her clearly.  Apparently, unlike her former boss, Barack Obama, who mandated that no one record his speech to a sports analytics conference a few weeks back, Hillary doesn't really care if we heard this speech.  Of course, Hillary's speeches to, I don't know, Goldman Sachs for one, well, back then her words were so precious that she was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to say them, but no one could record those either.

I guess it is different now.

One would think that the most recent standard-bearer for a party would be regarded as its de facto leader, especially when there is absolutely no other person who has a better argument for being the leader of the Democrats.  But she doesn't appear to be leading anything except the drumbeat to try to sell her book, which is about -- once again -- why she lost the 2016 campaign.

The thing is, whether she wants to be or not, she is at least one of the leaders of the Democrats.  What she says is regarded that way, because she did run in 2016, and her husband was the president, and because the other people who could be the party leaders are as awful as she is.

So, her being a de facto leader, what she says is important.  And when she says that we who did not vote for her "didn't want to see black people get rights", she is simply making a fool of herself, and more importantly, is corrupting the message of the Democrats.  Because she is who she is, that message is coming across as "We Democrats think that you are stupid, that you are bigots, and that you hate anyone not like you."

I don't really think that is what they want people to think they believe about Republican voters; at least I hope they don't believe that.  But their leader is saying that kind of thing, and they either have to reject that message publicly or embrace it, because it is out there.  They cannot ignore it.

From an election standpoint, as much as Republican candidates will run on the people's fear of a corrupt moron like Nancy Pelosi becoming, God forbid, the Speaker of the House, they will also run on the characterization of their opponents as being in league with the bitter views of Hillary Clinton, the sorest of sore losers.

Personally, I think that is great for the 2018 campaign, and if it is good for keeping Democrats out of office, it is certainly good for the USA.

So keep talking, Hillary, keep blathering that offensive spew that people are bad, or bigoted, or ignorant, just because they didn't vote for you.  Keep saying, incredibly, that women go into the voting booth so subservient to their husbands, or boyfriends, or bosses, that they didn't vote for Hillary "because they were told not to vote for her."  Does she have a clue how that comes across?  Does she know how she has just portrayed women, as so weak that they can't make a decision for themselves?

Keep it up, ma'am.  It only helps the nation.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Idaho Champagne Story

Not everything in these pages needs to be controversial or even of broad interest.  Always remember that this column is still just "writing practice", even 850 columns later.

I suppose that the passing of Mary Tyler Moore a year or so ago will sadly allow some of us to forget her eponymous TV show of many years ago, and that would be a shame.  A show rides on the strength of its character development, and the writers of that show certainly built characters with equal parts flaws and nicer attributes, and put them together with tremendous plots and excellent comedy writing, and recurrent themes that were always good for a laugh.

One such theme was the parties that the Mary character would hold at her home.  She would invite coworkers and friends, and for as much preparation as she might put in, people were often standing around waiting for something to happen.  Her friend Rhoda might try something to liven the place up, but people would generally just take a drink and leave early.

At one such party, a few folks were on the couch around a coffee table, bored, when Rhoda desperately looked around for a conversation starter.  She reached over to the coffee table, picked up a bottle of wine, looked at the label and said "Hey, I didn't know they made champagne in Idaho!"

I remember hearing that when the episode first aired, and rolling on the floor laughing.  Maybe you had to be there, but in context it was a hysterical line.  And I credited that line to the writers of that show for a long time, before Al Gore's Amazing Internet informed me that in fact, that exact line had first been said dismissively by Ingrid Bergman in the movie "Cactus Flower", and possibly before that in the Broadway version of that story.

I didn't know that back in 1987, when I was working as the MIS director for a company that was into distance learning and computer-based education, at least such as the technology was in 1987.  We had an affiliation with Boise State University, a pioneer in distance learning and offering remote degrees, and I had hoped to wangle a trip out there, since at the time, Idaho was one of four states I'd never visited.

I didn't get there, at least that year, but my company, based in Alexandria, Virginia, did host the team lead of some of the distance-ed work we were doing out at Boise State.  We went out to lunch during his visit, and naturally, in the provincial way I might have been acting at the time, I happened to mention the joke from the show to him.

He looked at me a bit oddly, and mentioned that it was sort of a strange thing that I thought it funny, since they certainly did make champagne out there, and would be happy to send me a bottle.

Aside to any possible Frenchmen reading this (and my readership does include people with French IP addresses) ... yes, I know that if the stuff is not actually grown from, and made in, the proper part of France, you are not supposed to call it "champagne."  The good news is that I don't really care.

True to his word, the young fellow did send me a bottle when he got back home.  It had been made at the Ste. Chappelle winery in Caldwell, Idaho and it was truly unmemorable, although in fairness that was 30 years ago and I only remember what I thought at the time.  But I kept the empty bottle for decades after opening it, positioning it in a prominent place in my various offices over the years.  It was, after all, a conversation starter.

I did, in fact, get to Idaho a few years later (and North Dakota in 2011, leaving only Alaska and Montana).  I was changing planes in Spokane in 1993, and with nothing do do for a few hours, rented a car and drove the 30 miles to the Idaho line.  I turned around in a Welcome Center, picked up a brochure with a beautiful picture of a mountain lake, that I would later frame; a couple cookies courtesy of the ladies auxiliary of a local Coeur d'Alene service organization who would not accept a donation; and a lottery ticket to amaze my friends.

I should then have stopped using Idaho as the place I'd reference when I wanted to refer to somewhere remote and relatively uninhabited, but I still do.  It is in seven other columns on this site alone, five of which use it in just that manner.

So call this column "atonement."  Idaho, I'm sorry.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, March 19, 2018

How Long is "Too Long" in Congress?

You are possibly aware that Louise Slaughter died on Friday at 88; more likely so if you lived in the Rochester, New York area.

That is because Louise Slaughter was a member -- still -- of the U.S. House of Representatives, having been elected over 30 years and being the sitting representative from a Rochester area district upon her death.  Yes, friends, that means that an 88-year-old woman was actually sitting in Congress doing the duties of an elected official.

I don't think this will be a political piece, in the sense that I'm writing it because she was a Democrat and wouldn't have written it had she been a Republican.  There are eight sitting senators over 80 as I write this, and seven are Republicans; the oldest House member now is also a Republican, and he is 87.  Strom Thurmond, a senator until after he turned 100, was also (eventually) a Republican.

My father, about whom I've written a few times here, was an accurate marksman at age 95, and while in his last few years, he had a little difficulty sometimes hitting on just the right word when speaking, his mind was still quite sharp, and he was even driving -- OK, that was not a good thing, but he did it.

I occasionally play golf with a fellow who is 83 now; he is an excellent golfer for 83, possibly as a logical physical outcome of his career as a minor-league baseball player in the 1950s.  I hold him as a standard of what someone of that age can be.

I had another friend who was 83 once; he was a fellow barbershop singer when we both lived in Virginia, and a very active guy; his brother had played in the NFL and it too was a pretty athletic family.  My favorite story of his was when he told me he "had to go" to western North Dakota on an elk hunt (he was 82 then) with his son and other family.

"I really have a lot of other things to do", he told me, "but I'm afraid that if I don't go, they won't ask me next year." 

Those, however, are the exceptions, not the rule.  And considering that at Mrs. Slaughter's death she was the ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee, the irony is not lost.

But even allowing for either the weak-mindedness of the electorate in Rochester, New York, or their lack of ability to determine whom they actually get to vote for in the elections (sitting members are almost impossible to primary out even at 100), you have to wonder.  I cannot imagine how it is not a good thing to impose an age limit, if we cannot ever pass term limits.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) are 83; Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is 82.  Their terms are six years, and I know that at this point Feinstein is running for yet another term (Hatch is retiring).  We see them on TV all the time, but whether they are physically up to the demands or not is not necessary clear.

We must be 25 years old to run for a House seat and 30 years old to run for the Senate.  The Framers felt that there was a connection between competence and age, that was so important as to have been put into the founding document of our nation.  They clearly felt that, in order to represent one's state or district, one had to have matured and have to have lived enough to make clear and rational decisions based on experiencing cause-and-effect relationships -- even though there are some 20-year-olds out there who could do a decent job in the House.

So if the maturation of the human brain is an element in the Constitution's determination of who can serve, then is it not at least reasonable -- is it not at least worthy of a serious discussion -- to talk about age limits for senators and congressmen, based on the presumption that the selfsame brain deteriorates at a certain age for all of us?

By August, three of the eight Supreme Court justice will be over 80.  Theirs is an extraordinary mental burden, to have to decide first which cases are of significant import as to have them decided in their Court, and then to hear the cases to determine the application of the law based on the Constitution and legal precedent.  Do we think it's a good idea to be having that done by someone who is, say, 85, and not subject to a mandatory retirement?

In the USA, we no longer have the capacity for a "national debate" on most anything, because everything is partisan anymore.  But one way or the other, we need to have some form of discussion on the logic and implementation of a mandatory retirement age for the Legislative and Judicial branches.

I don't think there is a magic age, but we need to protect our nation from having our laws made and ruled upon except by people of sufficient maturity but who are not yet senile.  May we at least toss that idea around?

I'm sorry, but an 88-year-old capable of serving a House term, let alone making rulings on the Supreme Court, is the extreme exception.  We really don't need to take the risk.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, March 16, 2018

Getting Blindsided by a Shark

So OK, this piece, being a Friday one of lighter scale, is neither about getting blindsided nor about a real shark, and it's not about any "The Blind Side" characters either, or Sandra Bullock or Michael Oher.

We recall the phrase "jump the shark" in regard to a television show that has gone on too long, and has pushed its plots and abused its premise to where it needs to go away.  It derives, of course, from a notorious episode of "Happy Days" when Fonzie somehow jumped over a shark for some reason (I have not seen it, nor do I care to), convincing the producers that it was time to end its run, a bit after the audience had already done that.

In some cases, a show jumps the proverbial shark in a few years, while others go even ten years without losing their appeal, especially if the writing staff stays intact and fresh.  In one case, the topic of this short piece, it took far less than a year.

You may have watched the TV drama "Blindspot", which debuted in 2016, and is now in its second season on one of the major networks (I tape most everything I watch, so I mostly don't notice or care what station they're on or what network delivers them).

"Blindspot" has a pretty odd premise to start with.  A young lady is found naked on the streets of New York in the pilot, covered completely in tattoos with all manner of symbolism that is not intuitively obvious to the casual observer.  One of them explicitly references the name of an agent with the FBI, so she is turned over to the agency, where it is also confirmed that she has no memory of anything at all, of course.

It does turn out that, although she can't recall why or how, she speaks a few dozen languages fluently, and has splendid martial-arts skills and facility with firearms.  Who knew?

Naturally, she quickly becomes some kind of consultant to the FBI New York office, which is apparently just staffed by heroic, get-shot-only-in-the-hand types.  The FBI office has a hotshot female tech whiz, who starts assessing the images of all the tattoos as if they are, as you would assume, all manner of message to the FBI.

Now, you might think that someone with that kind of skill would never be allowed outside the facility, let alone on actual armed, tactical investigative missions and arrest, but you would be wrong.  This is, after all, TV.  She goes out armed with the team a whole lot.

So it started to hit me that this show might have jumped the shark within the first four episodes of its debut season.  I was starting to have trouble following the plots, because we were discovering two disparate developments.

First, it was starting to come out that there was this shadowy organization that the tattooed lady (I keep wanting to call her "Lydia" for just that reason, though they called her "Jane Doe") had belonged to before being dumped on the street.  They seemed to be intent on overthrowing the U.S. government, but we couldn't quite tell why.

However, that plot line seemed to be running independently of the week-to-week tattoo plots.

You see, the tattoos were made up of ... well, I struggle to describe it right, but they seemed each to be a key leading to a criminal activity that was going to happen.  There was often no connection whatsoever to any of the previous criminal activities; sometime it was a drug issue, sometimes it was a plot to blow up a city, sometimes it was an assassination.  They never seemed connected, except for the fact that their plot was encoded in a tattoo somehow.

The shark ... ah, the shark.  It took just a few weeks before I started asking by best girl, with whom I was watching the show weekly, the same questions.  "OK", I asked, "the girl was dumped on a street with all these tattoos that led to criminal plots to be pulled off on a certain day.  But every week, the wonder-girl tech whiz solves a tattoo, then the FBI team takes Jane and goes out and prevents it literally at the last minute, even though there is no logic to how the tech whiz happens to solve a tattoo on the very day that particular plot is supposed to happen."

The missus would tell me that I shouldn't worry about that stuff, and I would set it aside.  Then the next week, Wonder-Girl Tech Whiz would solve yet another tattoo clue, and the FBI team would go out and, sure enough, that very day the shipment of nerve gas was supposed to arrive, or the assassination plot was supposed to take place.

So think with me.  The people who put the tattoos on her knew about all those unrelated criminal plots, even though they were not connected.  They didn't do anything themselves to stop them, but instead of, you know, sending a letter to the FBI, they shoot Jane full of memory-erasing drugs, tattoo obscure clues to all of those plots on her body, and dump her in front of the FBI.

What did they exactly want?  Did they want the FBI to solve the crimes?  If so, why did they make it so hard to decipher the clues?  If they didn't want them solved, why did they bother doing any of that stuff?  If they wanted the FBI to discover the clues very slowly, like maybe one a week on Wednesday nights, then how, pray tell, did they make it possible for the clues to just happen to be deciphered on the very day the crime was to take place?  After all, tech whiz lady had no particular sequence in which they were to be solved.

And I'll bet the FBI wishes it had some of that amazing tattoo-deciphering software that tech whiz lady uses, but I suppose I digress just a bit.  At any rate, you can probably imagine that even the biggest crime-story drama fan would start getting a bit curious about the way this show was evolving in its first month or so.

We continued to watch it for the whole first season, even though my best girl got tired of my saying "How could he possibly have known that?"  But one episode into this current season, this past September, after the writers had married the FBI team lead off with Jane, and they had ended up in the Himalayas somewhere (don't ask, I can't answer it), we both agreed that we were never going to be able to understand it, and Blindspot was deleted from our recording list.

For some reason, I have never gone online to try to see if people generally react to the show the same way that we did, with the same questions.  I've never discussed the show with anyone else, so I don't know if there actually are answers to all that, or if most people just let it go ... or have intentionally not thought about any of that.

Either way, the show was a really early shark-jumper, pretty much by the time we couldn't figure out all the coincidences that we had to ignore in order to follow it.  We shall see if it survives to a third season; I've no idea even what other logically-flawed notions they tried to get us to accept in its second.

Enjoy the weekend!

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

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Gone to the Dogs

Last Sunday I went to a brew pub in a nearby city which, like the pub, shall remain nameless.  For one thing, I don't exactly want to sound like I'm singling out the pub, or the city, or even the industry, because it's not just them.

Brew pubs are a growing style of bar these days, as the craft beer phenomenon has gotten a lot of traction.  Now, I am good with a Corona Light myself, and don't really appreciate the heavier, more flavored versions of beer that are brewed a barrel or three at a time, as opposed to in massive breweries.

That's unfortunate, because I kind of appreciate the atmosphere of a typical brew pub, even if rarely is the beer itself anything I would enjoy, and certainly not think to bring a six-pack of it home for later.  But that's how it goes.

I happened to go into one of the larger (floor space-wise) pubs Sunday, with maybe a dozen tables where the patrons sat, and a ping-pong table at one end, again one of the typical accoutrements of the inside of such a facility.

What was not, I thought, typical was the fact that a half-dozen unleashed dogs were running around as well, guests of the patrons who had come out for the afternoon, some kind of dog-friendly accommodation made to attract people who wanted to take their pooches and get a drink.

Now, I suppose this is not news that I do not really like being around dogs, so it was not a particularly pleasant experience for me, even given that they tended not to come over my way and bother me while I was there.  Bars are for me to drink at, not my pet (my cat will sniff near an empty glass of wine, but is not big on beer).

And you would not have noticed much askew if you were not looking for it.  But I, a bit shocked at the canine presence in the first place, did keep looking around.  And I saw a few things that I wasn't real thrilled about, starting with the fact that no one seemed to be paying constant attention to their dog, but rather just let them run around as if minding them were someone else's task.

That led to at least one occasion when one of the animals chose to relieve itself, such that the bartender -- who was the only employee there -- had to go clean up a mess.  That it happened in the first place was unfortunate; that it happened in a place where people are served consumables is uncomfortable; that the bartender had to do the cleaning was sad; that he chose not to immediately wash vigorously was enough for me not to order any more beer.

Needless to say, the dogs, having only that day been introduced to one another, were quite curious about each other's backsides, as there was consistent sniffing of each other and a fair bit of chasing, which at least in the half-hour I was there, did not result in anyone being tripped.  Fortunately.

I am not an insurance adjuster, but if I were the owner of the place, I think I'd be really concerned about a liability lawsuit from something I had no control over, but which would have happened had the wrong dog collided with the wrong person carrying a flight of glasses.  I would be concerned about the fact that, had I not actually seen an obscure sign that this dog invitation takes place only on certain afternoons, I surely would never have returned (of course, seeing the bartender not wash up after cleaning after a dog would have done that regardless).  None of us really has business we can blow off that easily.

Of course, I followed that by heading to another brew pub, much smaller, one person on staff, and was greeted by that bartender's dog, who comes to work when its owner does.  Again -- it's just me, but when I go for liquid refreshment, I am not interested in the attentions, good or otherwise, of an animal.

I've no idea if this sort of thing is now commonplace (I was two for three this day), but I hope it is more a rarity.  I hate to come across like that, but we all know people who think their singing is wonderful, and who want to serenade us when we really don't care for it.  Having someone's dog running around you or greeting you in a place where you're drinking and not expecting animals, well, it's the same thing.

I really don't want to hear you sing, even if you think you have the greatest voice, unless I ask you to; and I really don't think your dog is the most wonderful critter ever.  Please keep both tucked away where they belong. 

Stepping off grump-mode podium now.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Worst Storm from Stormy

It is certainly helpful to the left, so they believe, to subvert President Trump rather than choosing to work with him.  It is not exactly the historic role of the opposition party but, as the swamp has evolved, at the same time race-based redistricting has forced Congress to more polarization, it appears that it is what we will have to live with for the duration.

This is why we have, more than ten years later, some kind of "news" relating to an affair that the president may have had with a porn star, or stripper or something like that, many years before when he was a businessman.  She then supposedly signed a non-disclosure agreement with a lawyer for the Trump folks, and was paid a bunch of money by that lawyer not to say anything.

Now she is apparently saying that she will give the money (a hundred thou or two, I think) back if she can be released from the NDA and become free to say what she wants.  Of course, we assume that George Soros, or some other loaded lefty donor, is the one who would come up with that money to pay back the lawyer, if logic prevails.

That, apparently, is supposed to ... well, that's kind of what this piece is about.

With the RussiaRussiaRussia thing obviously not going to turn into anything except a hole in the taxpayer wallet, assumedly the left needs to come up with something else.  So they have come up with Stormy.

My question is this.  What would any of this be expected to accomplish?

Let us suppose, for example, that all of that stuff is true, that there actually was an affair, that the lawyer paid off the porn star to say nothing.  Now what?

First of all, it doesn't exactly add anything substantive to our general assessment of then-Mr. Trump's approach to marriage (I think he was married when this was supposed to have happened).  He has been married three times and divorced twice, and there have been plenty of assumptions about fidelity during that time.  To add yet another instance to a track record from his somewhat younger days changes pretty much nothing.

I'm not a fan of infidelity.  I do regard it differently from the unwanted groping of Al Franken, or the abuse of power, consensual or not, with a young intern by Bill Clinton, and by countless starlets by the then-powerful Harvey Weinstein, or pretty much any situation that is either not consensual or constitutes an abuse of power.  I do not like even consensual infidelity.

But even if this were to be true, it, too would constitute a consensual, though distasteful, episode, that would merely complement other such actions in what we're told was the man's earlier life.  In other words, we know, or assume we know, about that side of the man's personality and character.  We knew that, or assumed that, when we voted for him, and we know it now.

So what, exactly, should be expected to change such that it's worth it for Soros, or whoever, to cough up a couple hundred grand (or be willing to)?  I certainly don't get it; it will not change a single vote next time around, and it's not going to affect any legislation that is being contemplated now, or for as long as Trump is president.

So this can only be coming from the notion of the "Aha! - see what a bad guy he is" school of politics.  And while the left's shills keep this stuff on the front pages of the papers and all over CNN and MSNBC and network news, President Trump is simply working to check off one policy promise after another that got him elected in the first place.

There is only one thing that is going to change in the 2020 election that could make a difference in a reelection campaign -- whether or not he is able to accomplish what he said he was going to try to do.  If immigration and firearms legislation follow the path of the tax cut and get implemented, there is not a Democrat with anywhere near enough clout to win the presidency, as long as it is a reasonably fair election.

It is a pretty sour commentary that anyone thinks this Stormy thing is a big enough story that anyone would care enough to have it matter, but they have some odd ideas in New York and Los Angeles about what moves the needle.  I would just suggest to them that if their interest -- even if 10% of their interest -- is in making the USA better and not just seeking power, they might want to take a different tack, as opposed to looking for scandals.

Try offering to help govern.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

How Much Government, Really?

So I had the news on in the background while working yesterday, and I was a bit startled -- OK, not so much "startled" as "curious" to see Betsy DeVos being interviewed in regard to the whole school-shooting and gun-control topic.

Now Betsy DeVos, as you know, is the secretary, the person in charge, at the Department of Education.  I assume, since she was actually on the air and discussing the issue, that her department is going to have some non-trivial association with whatever solution Congress is going to come up with, to address the terrible situation with school shootings.

But my reaction was different.

You see, any time I see the Department of Education (or Energy, for that matter, or several other Federal entities) quoted as having done anything, or its leadership quoted as having said anything, I apply a filter. 

I don't believe, you see, that there is a need for a Federal Department of Education, since the Constitution was pretty specific about the role of the Federal government vis-a-vis the States, and the Tenth Amendment assigns that role -- because it is not specifically given to the Federal government -- to the States as a "power not delegated."

I particularly feel that way about education, because education in the 1780s, when the Constitution was drafted, is fundamentally the same as education today.  Children go to school, and they are taught what is determined, at the appropriate level of government, what they need to know.

The Founders felt that the specific decision of what is to be taught rests with the local authorities, not the Federal ones, presumably so it can be best influenced by parents.  That is why education was not made a Federal responsibility and was, by the Tenth Amendment, barred from being a Federal one.  Whatever has changed over the years in terms of what classes' content is, the Constitution still applies, to me, for that very reason -- more so even than Energy, which was not an issue in 1789 in remotely the same way.

Feeling that way, I saw Mrs. DeVos and immediately thought, "That's not her job as Secretary, it is a law-enforcement issue and should be under the purview of the Department of Justice.  Justice yes, Education no.  Now, since we have such a department, I get that she is not exactly uninvolved, and would expect to have to provide input, but I think any initiatives need to rest solely within Justice.

We have a Special Counsel investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, an investigation which is certainly, at this point, wasting taxpayer money by its existence, having found exactly no such collusion.  Yet we also have committees in the House (which finally, mercifully dismissed the whole thing just last night), and in the Senate doing exactly the same thing, and I believe that Justice is doing stuff in that area as well.

Now I have a friend, Al Graham, who was a fraternity brother in the Phi Delt house at MIT, a couple years older than I.  He was an All-American swimmer as an undergrad, and one of my favorite guys in the house, a reason I pledged there.  A group of us, back then, were watching the 1972 Olympics together, when the exploits of Mark Spitz, the multi-gold medal swimmer came up.

Al had a very understated sense of humor when he chose, and this time he drily suggested that seven gold medals meant that there was too much going on.  "There should be one medal for 'swimming'", he insisted, "and one medal for 'running', and one for 'jumping'".  It seemed far too complex, he insisted, to have so many competitions for what seemed to be the same actual sport in his eyes.

I don't know what Al would think today, but his words came back to me when I thought about how taxpayers were paying for too many different entities to do the same thing, when only one of them -- the best-qualified and most constitutionally-suitable -- should be doing so.  There should be one committee to investigate X, I'm sure he would say, and another to investigate Y, and one Cabinet department to do Z.  If we are talking about crime, it is the Justice Department ... period.

Maybe Al should have been president.  Or maybe the fellow running things from the White House today, who appears very open to that kind of efficiency with tax dollars, well, maybe he could start turning even more of that kind of thinking into refining duplicative efforts.

Or maybe Congress just needs to read this column a bit more.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, March 12, 2018

The Wind, The Sun, and the Media

Do you remember Aesop, the fabulous fable-writer who, whether he actually lived or not, has had handed down, in his name, a host of stories with morals true and applicable to this day?

One of them is particularly relevant to a specific aspect of today's political life.  I quote it for you here:

"The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveler coming  down the road, and the Sun said: 'I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveler to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.'   The Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveler. But the harder he blew, the more closely the traveler wrapped his cloak around him, until at last the Wind gave up in despair.  Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveler, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on, and removed it, carrying it aside him with a smile.  Persuasion, my friends, is better than force."

In the shadow of yet another over-politicized Oscars show that, yet again, I didn't watch, that fable seemed relevant to me.

Hillary Clinton is still explaining to the world "What Happened", and why she lost.  I believe the latest count is 447 reasons why, and that's if you even include the fact that she was, you know, a terrible candidate with absolutely no compelling reason why she should have been president.  I don't know that her book includes that one.

Well, let me try another and, though the election is long past, it still applies.

I'll make this easy, since you have now read the fable.  Donald Trump is the metaphorical Sun.  The media are, all together, the metaphorical Wind.  The American people are the metaphorical traveler.

Got it?  The media (and the left, but I repeat myself) have so overblown the whole we-don't-like-Donald-Trump thing, since the day he declared for the presidency, that the voting public (and, probably, the non-voting public) have simply wrapped their coats tighter around them.  Tired of the absurdity of many of the "news stories" that tun out to be fake; tired of the whole Russia narrative that turned out to be nothing more than the quadrennial Russian attempts to sow discord; tired of people in Hollywood claiming to know what we need; tired of liberal solutions that don't work and political correctness; we have all zipped up our cloaks.

We have shut the media out and they no longer have the credibility to tell us what to do with our coats.  President Trump has come out and said and done what we would have wanted to have had done.  He has literally put money in our pockets, he has cut needless regulations, he has called people out who don't do their jobs.  His businessman's approach is the sunshine that our country needed and wanted.

He has offered a different metaphorical sunshine, by opening up many meetings with congressional, business and community leaders to the press, sometimes for the entire time of the meeting.  When these are broadcast, we all come to know that this president is who he is, with or without a camera present.  More importantly, when such meetings are open, the media cannot successfully distort what happened, lest they expose their penchant for faking the news.  Sunshine, the best disinfectant as well as warming travelers.

He has persuaded us, when the media and the left tried to force us, and his approach has illuminated our understanding of what actually works.  The hammer and sickle of the previous administration, driving mandates down our throats, was why the left was rejected, compliant lapdog media notwithstanding, in 2010, and 2014 and 2016.

Persuasion, my friends, is indeed better than force.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, March 9, 2018

Plants, Drugs and Freedom

The essays on this site are not only published here for the world to enjoy (including, as I have written in the past, an apparent odd viewing by a lot of Russians).  About two-thirds of them are also available on a platform called "Steemit", which is a site where people produce content and are paid for it, although it is paid in a cryptocurrency with very little value.

Because it is a separate site, and "pays" for content (I would do some kind of air quotes if I could, but the real ones will do), it draws a different set of readers from those who follow this column religiously.  I'm grateful to both, of course.

So ... one of the readers on Steemit replied to a recent column that mentioned President Trump.  Although the topic of the column was not actually about this, the reader replied with a lengthy critique of the president for, and I will characterize the point being made, wanting to ban certain plants.  The writer's point was that plants are creations of God, and that man did not have the authority to regulate their availability and use.

I do not want to mischaracterize what the person was saying (I'm going to use male pronouns here but I do not know the writer's sex).  First, I am not sure if English was his native language; although all his postings are in English, they're far from perfectly written, enough so that I assume it is either his second language, or his posts are typed on a texting device without spellcheck. Second, he clearly cares a lot about this issue, and I respect his (and others') opinions.

So I got to thinking about it, too.  Of course, the writer's point was that the FDA should not be regulating any plant derivatives, even when made into pharmacologics, because plants are not under man's purview.  Moreover, his equal point was that humans should have the right to decide to put any such derivatives in their bodies, without a government regulating that and abridging the right.  For President Trump to wage a campaign against opioid abuse was, effectively, to say that government had the right to regulate what we put inside of us.

I have definitely had varied thoughts in this regard. 

Tobacco, for example, kills over 400,000 Americans each year, with zero benefit to the smoker from its use.  If someone wants to smoke in his home, with no one else there, I suppose that's his or her funeral, but because the pernicious effects of its use are so massive -- and also affect those exposed to it -- I am fine with the FDA regulating its sale and use, which it only recently has been given the right to.

But I am a conservative, and we have to align (A) personal freedom and the notion of that freedom being transcendent, with the fact that (B) people harm themselves and others.  I struggle with that when I also write about the use of pot.  Marijuana is a recreational drug, and it is also a pain-killer in certain situations.

Again, I am fine with people in their own homes using the stuff where it is legal (and by Federal law, that means nowhere in the USA, but that's another thing).  Where I have the most issue, as I wrote about in detail here, is in its "medicinal" use.  If pot is indeed a valuable analgesic, and it can be prescribed, then it should not be provided through pot stores in Colorado and California; and not smoked but carefully dose-regulated through licensed pharmacists and prescribed, only by physicians.  No other analgesic except over-the-counter NSAIDs and acetaminophen are allowed to be dispensed that way, and they have been researched every-which way to Sunday for decades.

Ultimately, the issue is whether government -- the one here in the USA or anywhere -- has the right to regulate plant life and its use.  Is this truly an issue of what a free society should be allowed to regulate at all, or is an FDA an innate enemy of freedom for that reason?  Is the existence of life on earth its own defense against mankind's appropriation of it?  Is that the Libertarian view?

The balance between the need for a society to (A) protect itself and (to some limited extent) collectively support itself (communism being the classic example of the latter going way too far), against (B) the freedom of the individual to develop his own life and act accordingly, is actually a reason why there are governments in the first place.

I think that there is a scale of that freedom, with the nanny-state types at one end and the pure Libertarians on the other.  While I probably come down pretty much in the middle, with a 1% lean toward the nanny-staters for things like tobacco, I get and respect the views of those who find excessive government control to be repulsive.  Of course, freedom is on a scale as well and, while I want to be free, I want at least a measure of security as well.

Not that I would sacrifice too much of the former for the latter, lest I deserve neither.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Memorializing the Yawkeys in Boston

I did not grow up in New England, or near it.  I have lived in many states, but spent the majority of my life in Virginia and live in the Carolinas now.  I lived in Boston only during college and for a few years after medical school.  But I can assure you that my affection and teeth-grinding fandom for the Boston Red Sox goes back nearly to my toddler stage.

So I have known the name of the late Tom Yawkey, the long-time owner of the Red Sox (with his wife Jean), my whole life.  Yawkey had owned the team for 18 years when I was born, and I was 25 when he died.  Do the math.

Yawkey was a beloved figure in Boston while he owned the team.  He earned that loyalty early on, investing a lot of his own money in renovations to the park and stocking the team with better ballplayers than the team had seen since its heyday, four world championships in the 1910s.  He earned a lot more regard as an owner, generous with his players, paying them better than most owners would, although he then hired managers who were mostly drinking buddies of his.

The lasting legacy of his is the Yawkey Foundation, a massive charity which ultimately owned the team for a few years after the death of Jean Yawkey (and reaped a huge windfall to its endowment when the team was sold).  The Foundation has donated tens of millions of dollars to worthy charities, including the Jimmy Fund, the iconic children's cancer research organization that has done so much marvelous work advancing research in pediatric cancer.  Countless lives, over more than 60 years, have been saved through the Fund's support of the Dana-Farber Cancer Center, which does the great work.  

I can assure you that, wherever he may be right now, of all he ever did, Tom Yawkey is most proud of what his Foundation has accomplished for those children.  Perhaps he is nearly as proud of the 20,000 acres of South Carolina marshland he donated, for what is now the Yawkey Wildlife Preserve.

We will also stipulate that Tom Yawkey owned the team that was the last in baseball to integrate.  With the opportunity to sign such players as Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson -- literally, the Red Sox had the inside track and could have had both of them -- Boston passed on them.  Whether Yawkey was personally opposed on racial grounds, or he thought that integrating the team would have hurt ticket sales, they passed.

There appears enough reason to stipulate that Tom Yawkey was fairly typical of the time as far as racial attitudes were concerned, and we'll go with that.  The conventional wisdom is that he was bigoted, and it's hard to argue -- although it will never be clear the extent; Yawkey was a hard drinker, to say the least, and his words and actions in regard to some issues and actions involving race may have reflected his true feelings -- or just "going along."  But we'll assume typical '30s-era bigotry, for argument's sake.

This all comes up because the Boston Red Sox have now gone to the City of Boston and asked that the short street on the south side of Fenway Park be renamed.

When I lived there in the early '70s, the street was called "Jersey Street" for some reason (the streets in that area of the Back Bay mostly have old British names).  After Tom Yawkey's death in 1976, the city renamed it "Yawkey Way", which it is called to this day, a monument to the owner of the team and his relationship to the team, and the charitable efforts of the man himself.

The City of Boston is going to have fun with this one.  Obviously, the team owners, John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino and a few others, feel a compelling need to erase the name "Yawkey" from our collective consciousness, and figure that using the "bigot" allegation, true or not, well, that seems like the right way to go about it.

Of course, there are three obstacles in such an action.

The first, of course, is that most people have a compulsive objection to attempts to rewrite history, whether by removing statues of Confederate generals or using textbooks to advance a political agenda.  When the cost will also include heavy expenses by the innocent businesses on the street that heavily use the name "Yawkey Way", including in their names ( for one), well, there has to be a better argument.

Second, of course, is the element of charity, particularly the fact that Yawkey's eponymous Foundation, so tightly associated with Boston and the Red Sox, has done such marvelous service.  The Yawkey Foundation is the lasting legacy of Tom Yawkey, more even than the team which was owned before him and is owned by others now.  Their work, unlike, say, the Clinton Foundation, is spotless, selfless, and for causes we can all support.  To erase the name of its founder simply smells.

Finally, there is simply the whole political correctness aspect, which is the frustrating part of the discussion.  I would like to think that much of the 2018 USA is tired of being forced to adopt a specific frame of reference for everything, and being castigated for questioning that basis.

I'm willing to concede Yawkey's attitude toward people of other races in his earlier days.  I'm willing to concede that I have preconceived notions myself about people of different national origins and races, not that I don't generally take each person on their own merits on meeting them.  I'm not even sure that Tom Yawkey was any different, except that he had to make decisions from a group perspective, while I have the freedom to take each person as he comes along.

But the whole PC-as-public-policy thing is such a slippery slope.  I mean, suppose they pick an actual person (deceased only, according to Boston law) to rename the street after.  What is to say that we find the tragic flaws of that person, and a whole other set of aggrieved people point out that the new guy cheated on his wife (maybe not such a flaw in JFK-loving Boston), or drank to excess and caused the death of a young girl (oops, sorry, brother Teddy), or ... well, you get the idea.

We're not all saints, and we're not all sinners.  We are both, which makes us human, and our PC friends need to figure that out.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Melting Snowflakes at UConn

The University of Connecticut has invited a lady by the name of Linda Sarsour to make a speech of some kind on campus this month.

Now, you may not have heard of her, but Linda Sarsour is some kind of fringey Muslim who believes in Sharia law (we don't know if she herself was mutilated, according to its teachings, nor do we care much), who has made disparaging remarks about Jews and has expressed support for Antifa, the domestic terrorists who turned Berkeley into a bomb site.

She also had some part in organizing women's marches which, I guess, must offset all the far less-mainstream and threatening opinions an things she has said, at least in the eyes of the people in charge of the University of Connecticut.

That is because UConn has taken exactly zero steps to "protect" its students, such as providing special services, including mental health counseling, for them.

Now, I suppose that you are wondering why that would even be necessary.  Aren't UConn students, after all, mature enough at ages 18-22 to hear the words of some wacko Antifa-loving, anti-Semitic Muslim fascist without needing to go see a shrink?

Well, yes, they are ... or at least they should be.  But when the campus Republicans invited Ben Shapiro, the young and dynamic conservative speaker to the very same campus, the university felt it necessary to go to great lengths to ensure that the snowflakes in their student body were not driven to faint collectively at what he might say.  They arranged for "counseling" and mental health support for students who might find themselves so offended.

I'm serious.  They did.

None, of course -- absolutely no such services are being offered to the students who might find Sarsour's rhetoric -- and I've no idea what she is going to say, but we can guess -- equally offensive.  And although Berkeley had to try to provide heavy police support when a conservative speaker was actually allowed on campus last year, no such policing, no such snowflake services, are offered up when leftists speak there.

Will someone please -- OK, I will do it -- point out the fact that those services are not needed when leftists speak, because conservatives don't actually need them.  We are sufficiently self-disciplined to be able to listen to opposing views and not get all wound up, not smash buildings, not steal TV sets, and definitely not fall into a swoon and need mental health counseling.

More than noting our capacity to listen critically, it is an amazing indictment of the left that they actually need to be comforted when told that cutting taxes is actually a good thing, or that Democrat-run cities like Chicago are not exactly bastions of good race relations, or that Jesus Christ died to redeem our sins.  But the left, apparently, needs all this.

Connecticut will have likely gotten tons of snowflakes dumped on it by today's storm, but I would offer that the state, and its flagship university, have far more to fear from the snowflakes it purports to be educating there.  If UConn feels that it has to offer counseling when a conservative speaks, but can whistle "la-la" when an Antifa-loving radical speaks there, well, that says a lot about the university.

And its students, and the state.   And about what we have to fear from the left.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Real Goal of a Trade War Threat

We're all aware of the tweet-storm last week and this week already, driven by President Trump's stated intent to apply tariffs to imported steel and aluminum as a means of protecting the American industries in those areas.

This one, I think, may be different.

Let's take a look at this in context, and a lot of context is needed.  First, there is no doubt that President Trump "started" this most recent development, but the overall situation long predates his presidency.  Asia and the European Union (as well as our neighbors to the north and south, but that's for another piece) impose high tariffs on imported goods, such as automobiles, which is why you see so few American-made cars, relatively, in those places, and why there is a black market in high-end American cars in China.

The USA, on the other hand, lets European and Asian cars (and I'm just using cars as an example) in with a far lower tariff than is applied to our goods going there.  We can import, but we can't export easily when our products, with added duties, cost so much overseas.  And the same applies to goods like steel and aluminum, which we can import easily but face high tariffs abroad that prevent our exporting these products.  President Trump calls that "stupid" because, well, it is.

The trade deficit, the difference between what the USA exports and the value of its imports, is gargantuan.  Now, we expect that to some degree, because we're a huge consumer with a huge economy, and we consume everything here, except maybe Vegemite.  But a massive trade deficit means that our dollars are leaving the country, net, and artificially affects the value of our currency.

Most importantly, barriers to exporting hurt the USA economy by damaging manufacturers who are cut out of the world marketplace.  They can't sell abroad, so they can't hire; and since importers of the same products don't have high tariffs here, they can compete too easily with USA-made products and put American factories out of business.  Those American companies can only fight it by building factories abroad to avoid the tariffs, if they want to sell to Europe and Asia.

As on most issues, Donald Trump is far different from presidents in the past on this.  Obviously, as a businessman who has been buying steel for his buildings for years, he is acutely aware of those prices and why they are what they are.  But he is no longer a businessman; he is the President of the United States, and he needs to determine the solution that works best for the entire country.

The crying and screaming last week about a "trade war" missed the point.  The "point", at least in this administration, is the specific outcome that we would like to have as a nation

You see, although President Trump stated that he would be planning to match tariffs -- you charge 40% to import U.S. steel, well, we will charge 40% to your nation's steelmakers to sell it here -- that's not what the president wants.

No one wants big protectionist tariffs on both sides.  The outcome that President Trump actually wants is for comparable tariffs to be on both sides, and he wants that done not by our raising our tariffs but by the EU and Asia lowering theirs.  "Lowering", as in down to something that puts each nation's manufacturers on a more comparable footing.

I'm pretty sure that even though the president has said he will raise U.S. tariffs to the level of the protectionist foreign ones, that is not what he wants -- he is hoping that his is the first decisive action, in a sequence that will actually lead to major cuts in foreign import duties in the EU and Asia.

Donald Trump, ever the negotiator, has put his first offer on the table.  "I am willing to make it very difficult for you to sell your products to the USA and crush our industry", he is saying.  "And I will absolutely do that."

We have to hope that someone is in the ear of the fat globalists in the EU, telling them that they're dealing with a different President.  "He may be a lot different from you, but you can work with him.  He is looking for fairness, and even in your ivory globalist tower in Brussels, you can see that your duties are grossly protectionist."

I have a feeling the Chinese already know that, and slowly but steadily, their tariffs will ease down and their ports will open.  They're not stupid, and the feelers from Beijing to Washington are probably already, quietly, very quietly, on their way.  The EU leaders, unelected types that they are, may be far too full of themselves to see it.

But Donald Trump is looking for lower duties from them, not higher ones here.  Remember that I said that, when this kerfuffle is over.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, March 5, 2018

COBOL and My Grandfather

OK, so this is not really about my grandfather and whether I am or am not actually turning into him.  In honesty, it's not really possible to speak coherently about either of my grandfathers, since one passed away almost thirty years before I was born, and the other when I was ten, so I don't really have memories to share.

It is about computer programming, of the kind that people used to do in the bad, old days of English-like languages, the ones that were created in the 1950s and 1960s to tell computers what to do.  And, apparently, grandfathers.

I was laughing at myself to my best girl the other day, which I'll get to at the end of this piece.  It actually had to do with programming.

In 1968, I was a summer student at a program where high-school students heading to their senior year could spend a couple months taking college classes on campus.  That's where I first realized that I readily understood what an "algorithm" was, and that I might want to program for a living because I had a knack for it.

Algorithms, then and now, are simply series of steps you tell a computer to take such that, if you tell them properly, they will do something with the data you give them to compute some kind of output you're looking for.  Back then, you would write the algorithms up as a "program", using a language like FORTRAN or COBOL (that summer class taught FORTRAN) with a certain syntax that included "routines" (smaller series of steps).

Trust me, I'm making this simple to make the point.

COBOL was more attuned to business and accounting than the more math-based FORTRAN.  The steps were organized into paragraphs, which had a paragraph title (usually full of hyphens) so it could be referenced.  A "routine" or "subroutine" would be referenced by telling the computer to start with the first paragraph of the routine.  In COBOL, that statement might be something like "PERFORM CALCULATE-ROUTINE".

When I was about 25, I actually did start programming for a living, for the old Burroughs Corporation in Boston.  I would only be an actual "programmer", as in that being my actual main task, for a few more years.  But I would write code, either as part of my job or as a consultant, for over twenty-five years.

Now, programs for a new requirement typically involved lots of routines that had been written for other programs many times before.  So programmers would develop reusable code that we would just slap into new programs, rather than reinventing the wheel. 

One such reusable chunk of code was called "JU", a series of COBOL paragraphs comprising a routine to do Julian date conversions.

Julian dates, of course, reflect the old Julian calendar somehow.  They are simply a mathematical expression of a date that is the two-digit year followed by the three-digit day of the year.  January 1st, 1985 would be 85001 in Julian, while December 31st, 1993 would be 93365.  Why did you need this?  In those days before Excel, Julian dates made it much easier to compute the number of days between two dates.  You would "send" the date to the JU routine and it would convert it and "send" it back, then your code would be able to do some kind of math computation.

I must have written the code instruction "PERFORM JU" a hundred times in a hundred different programs, all with the same code cut and pasted into a new program.  Of course, Julian date usage died when we entered the Y2K crisis in the late 1990s and we had to worry about four-digit years, but by then more contemporary languages, ones that did that sort of date-handling for you, had displaced COBOL and FORTRAN.

So last Wednesday, something reminded me of Julian dates for some reason.  Having not thought of "JU" or COBOL or any other programming in a long time, I started telling the missus about Julian dates and that today's programmers, of which I am decidedly not one, wouldn't know what I was talking about.  Their modern languages do all that stuff for them, all in the background.

As I was talking, I realized that I was ridiculing today's programmers for not really "understanding" what they were doing, or what their languages were really doing in the background.  And it struck me that I was saying that what I had had to do, 40 years ago, to write a program was somehow better than what the young Turks do these days -- much like my grandfather might have told me about having to walk two miles through snow drifts to get to school, in hand-me-down boots.

I had become my grandfather.  I had looked at the next couple generations after me and was contemptuous of how easy they seemed to have it.  Of course that was all about programming, and not walking through snow to get to school, but you get the idea.  It's bigger than that; it's how the elders of a generation look at those after them; I'm sure that 60-year-old Romans in 50 B.C. did the same thing, in some way in looking at the whippersnappers of the era.

So I laughed at myself.  And naturally, my best girl laughed more at me than with me.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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