Friday, August 17, 2018

Unions, Democrats and the Interests of the Worker

As we are in our glide path toward 1,000 pieces in this blog and its imminent retirement, it becomes really hard to avoid saying something that I hadn't pointed out before.  I like a good point as much as the next guy, but not twice in a week, if you know what I mean.

So when had a recent conversation with my brother about labor unions, I had to do a lot of checking to make sure that I wasn't repeating myself in the topic we agreed made sense.  Well, I had done a column back in 2014 about the state of contemporary trade unionism, but the topic as different, though the conclusion still applies.

Rich and I were kicking around the notion that maybe the Democrats weren't even the best landing spot for union members anymore, and possibly even for the trade unions themselves (I specify that we are talking about private-sector unions here; government unions not only should not exist because of the corruption I mention in that article, but are incorrigibly and irreparably socialist and, therefore, the province of the Democrats).

Private-sector unions, historically, have always been glued to the Democrats, donating primarily (or solely) to them and being a large component of their infrastructure.

What, then, have the Democrats done for the unions and union members (which are not exactly the same thing)?  More specifically, what can Democrats do today that would have a positive effect on both the institutions and their membership?  And can the Republicans actually offer a better return on the unions' donations?

That's why I highlighted the word "today" in the last paragraph.  The 2018 Democrats are very little like the Democrats of 1947, or 1962.  Where once they were the province of the "working man", or purported to be, today they are made up of multiple constituencies, as I wrote last week -- the aggrieved ethnic-identity types, the socialists, the old-style workers, the government Democrats.

Being nothing like the Democrats of 60 years ago when the unions had much larger influence, it can be assumed that the Democrats of today don't have as much to offer the trade union and the trade unionist of today.

So what about the Republicans?

OK, it would be utterly paradigm-shifting to imagine trade unions leaning Republican, but is it that odd, really?  After all, trade union members certainly have jumped to the Republicans in elections before, most notably for Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, so does that suggest that maybe the unions themselves should shop around?

Let's note that, like the Democrats, the private-sector unions are far different from six decades back.  Membership is far down and still falling.  The unions' influence is as much as bankers and vote-bloc brokers as anything else; they manage massive pension funds that are arguably more important a role than negotiating contracts or legislative influence for worker rights.

The unions (as distinct from their membership) need to survive, to protect their income stream (dues), to manage their resources (pension funds) and, even if only incidentally, protect workers' rights.

The Democrats' policies don't necessarily mesh well with those aims.  For example, their aggressive "let anyone in" approach to immigration is anathema to unions, as it expands the pool of laborers to compete with skilled union tradesmen and thus drives down wages, as well as decreasing union membership and dues.  Their equally aggressive antagonistic view of banks and large financial institutions threatens the stability and success of pension funds.  Their overly aggressive demands have pushed manufacturing jobs overseas.

Do the Republicans offer more?  Well, they certainly offer more to the union member than one might think.  Tradesmen need jobs to be employed full-time, and a successful, roaring economy produces growth and the environment in which those jobs are created and maintained.

Given -- and you have to concede this -- that the regulatory environment has been protective of the worker, by statute as well as by rule, the union worker is really not at any conscionable risk of losing the standing (vis-a-vis his employer) that he holds today.  That is, the Republicans are not going to try to peel back much of that labor law where it makes sense, but neither are the Democrats in a position to add anything productive either.

The Democrats have long had a tight, cozy relationship with the unions that turned out Democrat votes for decades.  But they also have a tight, cozy relationship with black Americans, who have long voted for Democrats even though they have done virtually nothing for black America in return.

I've read that the black support for President Trump has tripled since he was elected -- elected on a message that included "What have you got to lose -- the Democrats just take your vote and don't do anything to help you!"  Last I looked, the president's job approval rate among black Americans was at an amazing 38% (Rasmussen poll), far up from 2017.

Union leadership people are very likely looking at the same thing and asking the analogous question.

Donald Trump had relationships with trade unions for his entire career as a builder.  They understand each other, to the point that he is a president who can actually get the union leadership to ask themselves if perhaps it isn't better to deal with a businessman who understands them and has negotiated with them -- rather than a political party that has taken their votes and then promoted policies like immigration that are simply not good for the working American.

Perhaps the Democrats have bitten one of the hands that has fed them.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Happy Anniversary

OK, a fast day because today is a day off.  It is anniversary day for my best girl and me, and I'm going to stay away from work and enjoy the company of my dear wife, doing whatever she has planned for us, and a plan element or two from me.

We have been together for many, many years and days like this help ensure -- and remind us -- that we will be together and very happy for many more.  Happy Anniversary to my best girl, and I'll see the rest of you tomorrow ;)

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

So Strzok Is Gone

Peter Strzok was fired this week.

Or last week, I'm not sure.  He no longer works for the FBI, the institution that he disgraced by being grossly insubordinate and using government communication media to write foul things about the Commander-in-Chief.  It won't matter, because sycophants and other morons have been raising a half-million for his retirement as a parting gift on a GoFundMe page, showing that indeed, you can't fix stupid.

Now, exactly what he was fired for specifically is not known to me, possibly because I haven't taken the time to read the articles (it's hard to trust any news outlet's accuracy these days), and possibly because such disciplinary matters are not usually public record.  It doesn't matter, really -- if you want to fire someone, it is usually not too hard to come up with something, except in the government, where it is darn near impossible.

I've been trying to figure out the lessons we learned from all this, and as I cogitate on them, I mainly come up with the fact that he should have quit, or been fired, many, many months ago after Donald Trump became president.

We have a dozen or so Federal departments at the Cabinet level, plus a number of other agencies doing this or that.  Far too many, of course, but it is really hard to dissolve one -- Education should be first, followed by Energy, CFPC, ad nauseam, but that's not the point either.

These departments are the core of -- well, in fact they are the Executive Branch of the government, carrying out the policies of the Administration within the budgets and guidance provided by Congress.  As such, they should be following the leadership of the president, as implemented by the secretary or other Cabinet officer in charge.

But there are more.

Every agency has multiple undersecretaries or deputy secretaries or assistant secretaries, each of whom is in charge of a vital function within the department.  For example, Defense has undersecretaries for things like Policy, one for Research, one for Personnel, and so forth.  Those are often what we refer to as "political" appointees, in that most are required to be approved by Congress on their appointment.

They are normally members of the Senior Executive Service (SES), a civil service level that is roughly equivalent to a general officer in the military, except without the uniform and too often without specific experience in whatever they're supposed to be managing.  But they do know someone, which is how they got appointed in the first place.

All that, though, is as it has been for many decades.  What is a bit different is that it has become a lot harder to get those jobs.  Not because, you'd think, it is hard to find the people, but because political appointees are now buried in politics.

There are over a thousand of those senior-level, policy-implementing jobs to be filled, and when a new president comes in it should be his or her important responsibility to get the list of nominees to those jobs in front of Congress so they can be rubber-stamped and start doing their jobs in a matter of days.  This is important, since the president cannot do that job for them, and in order to get all that policy implemented, you need people to delegate that to.

Unfortunately, though, the Senate has rules about that sort of thing, and that grants the minority the right to force 30 hours of debate or hearings on each of those nominees.  Good old Chuck Schumer is doing just that in an effort to slow President Trump's electorate-given mandate.  When you have a thousand people to vote on, you can get deep into a president's second year with jobs unfilled while waiting for the Senate, dragged out and delayed by a minority that can keep a president from having his or her people in place.

The SES types from the previous administration, of course, are under no obligation to leave unless they are fired, at least until they are replaced.  The Cabinet secretaries themselves all resign after inauguration, of course, but they leave scads of deputy-under-this-or-thats still in their roles.  When the change in president entails a change in party, as was the case going from Obama to Trump, it means that a new president cannot get his own agenda moving, because the leadership in the executive departments is in opposition to their incoming boss's goals.

Peter Strzok was an Obama type, although a career FBI agent and official (as opposed to a political appointee).  He would not have been replaced by an incoming administration, but his loyalty was not to the incoming Trump agenda, so he is sort of an odd example of my point.  He should have been gone, but more because he could not do his job impartially -- and let's be fair; his "job" at that time was working on investigations in which he had a big political stake, the Hillary private-server-mishandling-classified-documents one and the phony-bologna-Russia-collusion one.

The USA is a curious place.  Unlike some other nations, an incoming president can't just get loyal people put in on Day One and start taking action.  President Trump was inaugurated, and the next day had the entire Executive Branch run by people appointed by his predecessor and utterly opposed to carrying out the will of their president.  In one case (at Justice), the acting Attorney General actually had to be fired, because she refused to carry out a specific order of the new president.

Can't we do better?  Must we have months of a new government run by the Strzoks of the world, the disloyal leftovers, or cannot we come up with a system by which individuals who are nominated to SES and Cabinet-leading positions can simply take their positions as interim appointees subject to Senate approval?

Anyway, at least Strzok is gone, off doing whatever he is left doing (the DNC might hire him, I suppose, or he can live off his GoFundMe income, assuming it isn't taxable) and no longer in a position to sabotage our government.

I'd be happy to try to figure a way to avoid that happening again.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

No NFL in This House

Since I only recently discovered that I had written two separate columns a year apart referencing the same 1914 quote for different reasons, I did some research.  I had to, since I needed to make sure I had not stated this before.

There will be no NFL in this house.

OK, you knew that, not because I had already written this piece's theme before, but because it is actually the title, and most people at least do read the headline before going on to the piece.  I'd like to think my readers don't need to, because they want to jump right in to the content as fast as possible, but I'm not stupid.

I'm so "not stupid" that I can recall most of the reasons for doing so, or not doing so, whichever applies to banning the NFL.

Colin Kaepernick, the entitled former NFL quarterback who started the whole kneeling-for-the-anthem business, is out of work, unless being a professional nuisance is paying his mortgage.  He is not out of work because he knelt, despite what he and a bunch of other NFL players aver; he is out of work because he is not good enough to play in the NFL anymore.

Well, I'll give you this -- he is certainly not good enough to start in the NFL anymore, and if there are 50 backup-quality quarterbacks alive today, and if he were good enough to be compared to those backups, he still wouldn't be on a team -- because he doesn't offer anything that 49 other guys don't offer with considerably less baggage.  That baggage, by the way, is having the police and military, including veterans and their families, refuse to attend games, buy from sponsors or support the team that would have hired him to be -- again -- a backup.

So lots of other entitled NFL players started kneeling, so many that they can't get their stories straight about why they're kneeling, to where I literally cannot tell you why any of them is taking a knee.  By the time this peaked last season, the NFL was mired in a PR disaster of the highest level.

They tried, posting a $100 million planned donation that was supposed to go to charities of the players' choosing.  Yes, read the link.  Those charities, at least some of them, were some pretty offensive organizations with real questionable links (they could have just given it to the United Negro College Fund and called it a day without protest, but that would have been too easy).

The point was that it was supposed to buy off the players and get them on their feet for the national anthem.

Well, it didn't work, apparently, although I have not heard that the NFL is suspending its annual payments to those charities.  Some players are still kneeling, and as we head into the preseason, we're also left with the aftermath of the NFL having tried to put in a rule requiring the players to stand, and then having to waffle on that.  Frankly, I don't know what the rule is now.

Fortunately, I don't have to care.

My best girl and I have banned the NFL from our home TV screens.  I certainly don't need the NFL.  My hockey team, the Washington Capitals, won the Stanley Cup this year, and since they play in roughly the same season and then beyond, I can devote my sports attention, after the World Series at least, to hockey (I don't watch basketball anymore regardless; the colleges don't keep players in school long enough to become a "team", and the NBA is so full of contemptible people randomly producing illegitimate children that there's no one to root for).

I enjoyed the NFL in the 60 or so years that I watched it before last year.  Granted, I had a predictable reaction at the start of each season.  I'd miss football, but then I'd see a preseason game and some clown would score a touchdown and dance like a fool even though his team was down 24 points.  I'd go "That's why I don't watch as much football as I used to", and then watch the season with less loyalty than before.

The NFL is now a set of disagreeing owners led by a wildly-overpaid and acutely-incompetent commissioner, overseeing wildly-overpaid players with zero regard for, or understanding of, the people who ultimately allow them to buy those mansions and big cars (and those who defend them in uniform).  I've reached an age where I simply do not need to be taken advantage of by them.

I'm over 65, and it is a fear of all of us of that age that we will be taken advantage of, either by scam artists, or government, or technology we don't understand.  I will not be taken advantage of by professional football.  If the choice is watching the NFL or feeling good about my support for Americans in uniform in the military and law enforcement, there is simply no choice to make.

We will not watch the NFL here.  Go Caps.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, August 13, 2018

Insight into the Real Roe v. Wade Passion

My best girl and I frequently binge-watch television shows, especially in the summer when there are few new network show episodes, but really all year, to some extent.  Early on, we bought or were given some boxed sets of DVDs of show we liked, so they're fun to go through now that we have some time to do so.

One such show was "Boston Legal", which ran for five years about a dozen years back.  It was often as much comedy as legal drama, featuring a team in a law firm in Boston taking on odd cases.  The quirks of the show included occasional side jokes about the "network" or using the term "this episode", subtlely referencing the fact that they were, indeed, a TV show.

And, of course, it was a bit odd that two of the three named partners in the firm had gone a bit senile, one ("Denny Crane") played by William Shatner (who, at 75, referred to his creeping Alzheimer's as "mad cow disease" but still practiced law, at least a little -- the other was almost never seen after the first few episodes). 

Another core "thing" in the show was the relationship between Shatner's character and one of the younger lead attorneys, "Alan Shore" (played by James Spader).  Both were incorrigible skirt-chasers, Shore the classic liberal with no concern about treating all women as sex objects (clearly a Kennedy relative), Crane the old conservative with (naturally) lots of guns.  Let's just say there was no secret about the political leanings of the producer and writers.

Last night we were watching an episode from the fifth and final season.  In it, a fairly mature and well-spoken 15-year-old girl came to the firm for representation.  She had immigrated to the USA from China, and gotten pregnant.  Her father was deceased, and the mother refused to give her consent for the abortion the girl wanted, consent needed under 2008 Massachusetts law, we assume.

That law allowed for a judge to override the parent and allow the abortion, at least as portrayed in the episode.  That was the girl's petition; she had gone to the firm to ask for them to go to court to get the permission.  She was intelligent and rehearsed, knowing all her lines about how raising a child would cause irreparable harm to her and stall her education and career.

Shore and Crane were not representing her, but frequently discussed the case.  In those discussions, Shore (this was 2008) was positively panicked over the thought of Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion case, being reversed by the then-construction of the Supreme Court.  Panicked, I tell you, as if going back to the rule of law before that ruling would end the country as we knew it.

He was in his office alone, cogitating on the notion when Denny Crane walked into his office.  That would be Denny Crane, the once-great attorney and founder of the firm that bore his name, but now, mentally crippled by the onset of Alzheimer's disease and morally bankrupt as well.  Yet he made right then the single most profound point we would ever hear on the show.

The setting?  Shore had just discovered that the reason the child wanted to abort the baby was not about her own career or education, but because she was following a Chinese cultural leaning favoring male children, and discovered the baby was female.  This, Shore clearly thought, was morally troubling even in the face of his abortion-for-all mentality.

I'm quoting from memory here as to what Crane said, so forgive me.

"You people [liberals like Shore] need Roe v. Wade, Alan.  You need it because you can always point to it as the bedrock law that keeps you from having to confront your own morality, morality that says abortion is actually wrong.  You can't actually say that, of course, so Roe gives you the legal spine to avoid actually having to decide that something is right or wrong.  Without Roe, Alan, you'd have to look in the mirror."

I immediately made notes for today's piece.  Can you blame me?  Brilliance, utter brilliance from a geriatric, gun-toting lawyer with mad cow disease, on a left-leaning network TV show.

Now we just have to find a liberal with actual morals to understand it.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, August 10, 2018

Picking Winners and Losers in NYC

The once-great, or maybe never-really-great City of New York is at it again.  Yes, I hate the place and all it stands for, so maybe writing this is a guilty pleasure, but when the city steps all over itself, I do experience Schadenfreude of the highest level.

Most of us at one time or another have taken an Uber or Lyft ride, some of us a whole stinking lot of times (I've done it exactly only once, but then again I have a car).  I can't speak to whether or not it is a good experience, certainly not on one episode I've long since forgotten, but it is a popular service.

And a disruptive one.

Apparently, the taxi industry in New York City is noticing.  Cabs there have been a necessary evil forever, since the overpopulation and lack of garage space -- and compressed space lessening the need for them -- keeps down the car count.

The taxi folks have managed to build a tidy little business there -- a few years ago, a medallion, or transferable license to operate a single cab, was selling for well over a million dollars.  That tells you all you need to know.  The people there need cabs, and the industry has conspired with the city to constrain the number of them to drive up prices.

Then came Uber and Lyft, which I will refer to collectively as "Uber", because it's my column.  With an alternative to cabs (and I won't even get into the relative cleanliness or English fluency of the drivers, since I never go near New York and can't really speak to it, but the stereotype is good enough), people started using cabs less and less.

Medallions are now selling for about 90% less than they were only a few short years ago, because the competition is making them less valuable.  It's called "serving the marketplace", and if cabs were serving the marketplace instead of, apparently, screwing it, Uber wouldn't have a place.

Well, the good City and its communist mayor and bumbling council have apparently listened.  Not, of course, to the people of the city, who can now get from point A to point B cheaper than before and with a custom-summoned vehicle.  No, they are listening to the taxicab cartel that was apparently screwing the citizens before Uber came along.

New York City is now limiting the number of Uber cars that can be on the streets at any one time.  I haven't gotten into the details of the law, because the fact that the law exists at all means that the city government and its communist mayor have selected one business over another, rather than allowing the market to make that decision.

They have the right to do that, and they have the right to be voted out of office, if the people of the city hadn't already exposed their stupidity by voting for them in the first place.  That doesn't mean that it made sense.

These anti-capitalists, led by their communist mayor, passed that law not because they were doing a good deed for the people they serve, but because the taxicab cartel complained that their revenues were going down, and they could no longer gouge each other for medallion fees, or gouge the public.

Now, if the City were to have passed a law allowing the taxis to charge whatever they wanted and not be forced to obey mandatory rates set by a commission, perhaps they could compete -- as is done in a free market.  The cabs could then battle with Uber by charging lower fares, for example.  All that would be good for the people of the city.

Ah, the people.  The ones whom the City Council and the communist mayor apparently paid no attention to in the crafting of the bill.  The people who, as of the passage of the law, had less access to transportation than they had the day before, but with exactly no benefit to them.  The taxi cartel now has less competition, and the Uber types are limited in what they can do.  But the people who actually needed the service of being drive from point A to point B, well, apparently their needs are less important than the cartel.

The cab companies are the winners, and Uber and the people of New York are the losers, as chosen by the City of New York.   Ahhhh, they're Yankee fans, I shouldn't care.

And come these next Novembers, those people who lost will go to the polls and vote for the same council members and communist mayor they have been voting for in recent years.  They got screwed, and then they vote for the same thing.

You can't fix stupid.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Are They Letting Me Fix the History of Shoeless Joe?

OK, two baseball columns in a row.  I can't help it, I really want to update previous columns when the circumstances warrant.  And this is only somewhat about baseball anyway.  OK, "mostly."

Long-time readers will remember that a long time back I did a piece on the case of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, the remarkable baseball player who was on a Hall-of-Fame track until 99 years ago, when he was, at minimum, a peripheral part of the conspiracy of eight players that threw the 1919 World Series with his Chicago White Sox to the Cincinnati Redlegs.

While the original piece -- and please read the link; it is plot material -- covered the plot somewhat, the point was not really so much about the scandal itself, as it was about the way it was recorded in Wikipedia, the "people's encyclopedia" that lets most anyone write most anything and call it factual.

OK, that's a bit pejorative -- Wikipedia is a wonderfully helpful tool.  But in this case, that of old Shoeless Joe, the site was tightly monitored by a guy in Arizona who was keeping in content that argued for Jackson's innocence, and purging out anything that suggested he was actually a part of the plot and worthy of suspension.

As I wrote, I had addressed a particular issue in that Wikipedia page.  The Series was best-of-nine that year, and it went eight games.  Jackson's White Sox only won three games -- two which were pitched by Dickie Kerr, who was not in on the plot, and the seventh game, when the conspiring players, upset at late, low and missing payments from the gamblers, really played hard.  They won the game, shafting many of those gamblers who were still leveraging their knowledge of the plot to try to win big.

The argument by the Jackson apologists was that he "tried hard" throughout the Series, pointing to his .375 batting average that led all players.  So I put in a well-crafted edit, noting that his hitting was much better in the three not-thrown games -- half his 12 hits in the Series were in just those three games. In other words, the record suggested that he might not have tried quite so hard when the other conspirators weren't either.

I checked back the next day and my edit had been removed.  I did a few tests, putting it back, and discovered that it would be removed in minutes after updating, even though the remover was doing so at like six in the morning in Arizona.  That was in 2015.

So for jollies, I recently tried to edit the section again, this past week.  I noticed that there were some additional sentences in there in the intervening couple three years, all of which were in support of Jackson's "innocence."

I put in three changes.  The latest version, since 2015, had a note that Jackson had been accused of poor fielding in the thrown games, noting that it had been reported that there had been an unusual number of Cincinnati triples to left (where Jackson played) but that "contemporary newspaper accounts did not report any triples to left."

So I added a line that Baseball Register, the fairly definitive historical site, had at least two triples shown as going to left or left-center, both in thrown games.  The left-center one was notorious, as it was noted at the time that Jackson and the center fielder had looked at each other as the ball rolled between them.

I also noted that the article, after reporting on $5,000 being paid to Jackson, now stated that pitcher Lefty Williams, one of the conspirators, had later said that Jackson was "not at any of the meetings" and his name was only added to give the plot more persuasiveness (presumably to the gamblers).  So I added a parenthetical note that it made no sense for the plotters to give Jackson $5,000, an enormous amount of money in 1919, or anything else, if he wasn't part of the plot.

Finally, I put back in the reference to Jackson's hit compilation in the "clean" games, that had been taken out back in 2015 every time I put it in.

Son of a gun.  My changes are still there as I write this.  Of course, I also decided to set up a login to identify myself when editing Wikipedia, not that I do it very often.  The article is here, if you want to check.

I got a lot of feedback after I wrote the original piece, so I figured those readers who were interested might want to know that things had seemingly changed.

Unfortunately, this sordid history has not.  Shoeless Joe was rightly banned.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Historic Weekend in a Historic Season

Or "an" historic season.  I suppose that the choice of indefinite article is flexible, depending on how much you want to sound like a 1950s-era British television commentator.

The season, of course, is the baseball season, specifically that of the Boston Red Sox, whom I follow with an acute passion that has no anchor in geography whatsoever.  As I've noted a few times, I am certainly not a New Englander, and can trace that acute passion back to age three or four, several years before I first saw them live (in 1959, on the road) and 15 years before I was even in Boston.

I was 53 when they finally won a world championship in my lifetime -- their previous five had been in the early 20th Century; my father lived through four Red Sox championship seasons, but unlike the three I have experienced in the last 14 years, his four spanned 91 years, bracketed by the 1916 and 2007 seasons.

This year, however, is a different experience.

Aaron Boone, the manager of the hated and detested New York Yankees, recently commented that, in so many words, he would look up at the scoreboard and the Red Sox "never lose."  That was borne out rather elegantly this past weekend, when the two teams met head to head in a four-game series at Fenway Park.

Boston won all four games, including one in which they handily defeated the Yankees' ace starting pitcher, and the last, in which New York blew a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning and lost it in the tenth.  When the dust had settled, a Yankee team that had played, at this writing, to an outstanding .625 winning percentage in an excellent year, was sitting nine and a half games behind Boston.

The Red Sox started 2018 by losing the opening game (of course), before winning the next nine straight and 17 of the next 18.  They have lost so infrequently that:

- They went 56-29 in their first 85 games, and then started a ten-game winning streak
- In their worst ten-game stretch, in April, they still won four games
- They have lost only as many as three straight games (in that 4-6 run in April), and only once
- They have had separate runs of 17-2, 15-2, and 14-4, their current streak.

They are doing this with a manager, Alex Cora, who never managed in the major leagues before this year, and who has rather evidently made some moves that, to be polite, are a part of his learning curve -- learning that it is indeed OK to pinch-hit once in a while, for example.

I suppose that the forecasters thought that the Red Sox would have a pretty good season, but I'd assume from brief research that even the computers were maxing Boston out at perhaps 90-92 wins, even after winning the Eastern Division the past two years.  As of now, they are projected at 108 wins, which would be a franchise record.

So wha' happened?

My take -- and yes, everyone has opinions, but I've thought this through over a number of years -- is that the optimal situation for a club is not so much when it has a well-stocked farm system, but rather, in the first five years after a wave of talent emerges from that farm system simultaneously, or at least within that five-year window.

This happens only occasionally, because phenoms rising from the minors do not pan out nearly as often as teams would wish.  When it happens to teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, with very low revenues, those young teams don't stay together but are traded off before their salary demands make them impossible to retain.

The Rays of 2008 went to the World Series with Evan Longoria (age 22), B.J. Upton (23), Carl Crawford (26) and Dioner Navarro (24) all early in what would be long careers, and really leveraged a pitching staff with James Shields (26), Andy Sonnanstine (25), and Scott Kazmir, Edwin Jackson and Matt Garza (all 24).  Nine years later, most of those players are still in the majors -- but none of them Rays.

Boston, on the other hand, with the revenues to retain players and complement them with a free agent here and there, has no fewer than six of their regular lineup positions manned by players from their own farm system who are in no more than their fifth big-league season -- Jackie Bradley (28), Christian Vazquez (27), Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts (both 25), Andrew Benintendi (23) and Rafael Devers (21).

The fact that all these players are approaching their peak performance years (age 26-29) roughly together is the real key here.  Teammates who are going down the path with you for multiple years constitute a team.  Teammates who have serious talent -- Betts is an MVP candidate, the others excellent in multiple facets of the game -- and can grow for multiple years, produce winning teams.

The major-league record for wins in a season is 116, set by the Seattle Mariners of 2001, before crashing and burning in the playoffs.  That team seemed never to lose, save a four-game losing streak near the end of the season -- and, of course, the playoffs.

This one, which overcame a two-run deficit to beat Toronto with a 10th-inning rally last night, indeed never seems to lose.  But unlike late-20th Century Boston teams that faded late, this one seems to have not only the sustaining power to complete the season on a high in 2018, but to stay together and succeed for several years.

I can live with that.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

How the Democrats Lost the "Worker"

In yesterday's piece I talked about the lack of leadership in the Democrat left, and blamed Barack Obama for leaving a big vacuum in the party that he not only couldn't fill, but prevented others from preparing to fill it when his term mercifully expired.

I think a related topic in that piece is relevant.  I spoke to the notion that the Democrats are split into somewhat unrelated constituencies that aren't necessary in any kind of accord.

One of those constituencies was the "worker", typically meaning the blue-collar tradesman, steelworker, or other skilled person who had long ago been likely a union member, working in the same job or for the same employer for a lifetime.  Because the first half of the 20th Century was when the private-sector union arose, it was then that such workers became strongly Democrat, because to be Republican was to side with the businesses which employed them.

But it is certainly relevant that the blue states that broke to Donald Trump in 2018 were the Rust Belt states -- Ohio, of course, but also Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania -- where a healthy part of the electorate is made up of those same "workers" that were historical Democrat voters.

In 1980, in the Reagan campaign, the commentators referred to "BCECs" -- blue-collar ethnic Catholics -- a term that has disappeared so much that googling "BCEC" gets to about the 44th screen of responses before you get "blue-collar ethnic Catholics", and nothing from under 18 years ago.

By "ethnic", the term was referring to Polish, Irish and Italian immigrants and descendants, along with some other eastern Europeans like Slovaks and Czechs.  The stereotype was that they went to high school and then right into the factory, steel mill or coal mine, joined a union, went to Mass, married and stayed married, had kids, worked for one company all their lives and retired on a pension.

The stereotype was pretty real, and you can add to it that they voted Democrat because they were told to by their union, which then gave lots of money to the party to elect people who would vote in Congress and the states' legislatures the way the unions wanted them to.  Pretty tidy system, and it lasted for a long time.

That was, of course, before Jimmy Carter.

Carter's economic incompetence was so severe that people were confronting 16-18% mortgage rates by 1980.  Plants were closing because of a combination of foreign competition and lack of access to capital -- if you're a business needing to pay 15% for a loan to build a plant or upgrade equipment, and you're already paying high union wages to your people, something is going to break -- workers get laid off, or plants and equipment fall into disrepair, or businesses close and everyone loses their job, union or not.

The "BCECs" weren't stupid.  If voting for Democrats was going to produce the stagflation that cost them jobs or inflated the costs of their groceries, clothing and homes, then maybe Ronald Reagan's platform of tax cuts to stimulate growth was worth giving a vote -- certainly voting for another term of Carter was certain to cause continued problems.

"Trickle-down economics", laughed at by Democrats, actually worked.  The economy boomed and tax revenues, predicted by the doom-and-gloomers on the left, actually soared after the passage of the tax cuts in Reagan's first term.  Of course, Tip O'Neill's Democrat Congress went and spent $1.40 for every additional dollar the heated economy produced in taxes, but "spending" is actually not a metric of tax policy, and government spending is not a measurement of the success of trickle-down economics.

That election, and that presidential term, was the crack in the previous "blue wall."  The "workers", and by that term we are very much talking about BCECs, discovered that it was OK to vote for a Republican, even though they might not be very loud about it, given their unions' reputation for goonery.  But once they could cast a Republican vote voluntarily, it was no longer mandatory that they vote as they were told.

And that is where we are in 2018, as we were in 2016.  The horrific Obama economy, quite certain to lurch equally as badly into a Hillary administration, was as scary in its own way as the Carter economy of 1980.  The "worker" that the Democrats lost in 1980 was lost again in 2016.

That voter was lost because the second "C" stands for "Catholic", and the Democrats' antipathy toward Catholicism, and the left's rigid dogma about social issues like gay marriage and abortion, does not ring well for that voter.  Neither does socialism, and certainly neither does a policy on the borders that invites people to just walk over -- and compete against the BCECs for their livelihood.

Donald Trump, the candidate, was a builder.  It was a significant attribute that Hillary Clinton had never "signed the front of a paycheck" -- run a business and made a payroll -- while Trump had produced tens of thousands of private-sector jobs and dealt with unions all his life.  If you were a BCEC, you couldn't identify with Hillary, who promised to close your mine and kill your job, but you could at least understand where Trump was coming from, even if he were on the other side.

So then bang -- 2016, he gets elected president, cuts taxes and the economy booms.  Even more than Reagan, the now-President Trump takes loud, affirmative steps to bring more jobs to the USA and protect the American worker against unfair foreign tariffs, while the Democrats are opposing immigration enforcement and trying to throw open the borders.

If I am a BCEC voter who just got my full-time job in the factory, mill or mine handed back to me, then whom am I going to credit for that?    If I'm a shop steward who got a $2,000 annual cut in taxes with the new laws, whom am I going to credit for that?  Chuck Schumer?  Nancy Pelosi?  Maxine Waters?  Bovine feces, with a cherry on top.

I don't think the question is whether that voter is going to vote Democrat or Republican in 2018 and 2020.  I think the question is if that voter is ever going to vote for a Democrat again.  The question is when that voter's union is going to realize that its membership is simply not going to support donations to Democrats anymore, and that member will leave the union (if they can in their states) if it keeps donating to them.

The Democrats started losing the worker in 1980.  I'd argue that the worker is gone.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, August 6, 2018

Did Obama Suck the Leadership Out of the Democrats?

Saturday my best girl and I were talking over coffee and the news on TV.  She was asserting that there seem to be three kinds of Democrats out there now.  She was referring to "Democrats, liberals and leftists" and by that, she meant (A) blue-collar union types who have always been Democrats even through Reagan and Trump, (B) Hollywood types and some minorities, who have no concept of economic reality and live only for social and stereotypically race-based issues, and (C) socialists, communists, and the college-polluted millennials who follow them.

The Democrats (all of the above) have always been a mixed bag who came together at the polls -- sometimes -- even though they might not have always agreed.  They got Clinton elected, and had an easier time with Barack Obama because of his father's color, capitalizing on race-based guilt among white voters.

But now it seems harder to imagine any kind of reconciliation, and that is because there is no unifying principle on which they can agree.  The blue-collar types are thinned out already because many who hadn't already escaped to vote for Reagan turned out for Trump, and more probably will now that their paychecks are larger.  Union bosses -- private-sector union bosses -- have lost vast influence with declining membership and lingering gangster reputations.

This distinction is being covered up -- unsuccessfully, of course -- by the Democratic National Committee, which cannot afford to have its membership split up to the point where it can not turn them out to vote in elections, particularly this fall.  But at some point they are going to have to come up with a somewhat-unifying message other than "We oppose President Trump because of something-or-other!!"

In order to have a message, though, you need to have a messenger.

This is a situation for the Democrats that simply cries out for leadership of some kind; someone to provide that message as soon as they, you know, come up with one.  But there is no leadership to be found.

I propose that the reason for that gap is simply that Barack Obama sucked all the leadership out of the Democrats in 2009 and left them in an untenable situation.

Here's the thing.  When a president is elected, he becomes the leader of the party, the messenger of its goals and approaches.  There is no room for another person to take that kind of role.  But with that leadership position comes responsibility, and Obama simply did not take it.  He was, it should be conceded, a good reader of speeches but a terrible leader, and as his presidency wound on, it became clear that there was no direction visible.

No one in his own party could oppose him of course, lest they be called a racist, so the Democrats were stuck with an ineffectual, Jimmy Carter-like leader in Obama, with no capacity to run a government and no ability to grow a new leadership cadre, ultimately running by corrupting his Justice Department and IRS into a weapon against political enemies.  All the excitement they felt at his election in 2008 eventually dissipated when it was clear they were stuck with his jello rudder for eight years.

In essence, Obama made it impossible for a subsequent leader to rise within the party and posit a platform that the USA could evaluate and vote for.  Instead, they nominated the corrupt and entitled Hillary Clinton, who could not only not lead, but could not articulate any reason to vote for her that did not start and end with her uterus.

Yugoslavia was, for many years, run by Marshal Tito, who effectively held together several former countries with ethnic and political hatred for each other.  When Tito died, Yugoslavia blew apart, and no longer exists.  The Democrats are in a somewhat analogous situation now, with no one to hold their various constituencies together, because no leadership has been cultivated and no message created.

While all that is going on -- and mind you, there is still no leadership among the Democrats and certainly no platform for voters to consider -- President Trump has delivered what should end up being an over 3% GDP increase for 2018, record low unemployment for black and Hispanic populations in the USA, detente with North Korea, an actual effort to level tariff imbalances, a massive tax cut that has fueled job growth, and big cuts to job-killing Federal regulations.

In a perfect world for the Democrats, they would have someone about 25 years younger than President Trump, a good speaker (not just a speech-reader) with some clear, active ideas to make the country better.  But there is no such person, and there are no clear, active ideas being proposed at all, let alone any that would produce predictably positive results.

But of course, that is in part because they cannot even get their finger on the problems that Americans feel need to be solved.  If they think that the problem is income inequality, or race relations, and try to come up with solutions that will address those things (which are, as I've written, not correctable), the solutions will sound like big government control and will be rejected out of hand by the voters.

If they don't know the problems, they won't have solutions.

If they can't articulate solutions, they won't get elected.

If they have nothing to articulate, no leader can arise to promote them.

They're in a pickle.  And it doesn't bother me in the slightest.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, August 3, 2018

Ooh, Ooh, Francis -- Butt Out!

Before I start, I want to welcome my new readers from China, along with my regular readers from Russia.  I've no idea why you read this column as regularly as you do, but I know you're there and certainly appreciate it.  Perhaps it will improve your English.

- - - -  

You have to be of a certain age, of course, to get the title of this piece, dating back to the very early TV comedy "Car 54, Where Are You?" about two policemen and their adventures.  It starred Fred Gwynne (pre-Munsters) as Francis Muldoon, and Joe E. Ross as Gunther Toody.  Toody would often call his partner by saying "Ooh, ooh, Francis ..." in his raspy voice.

So that has nothing to do with today's week-ending topic, outside of the name of the current pope, which like Muldoon, is "Francis."  Neither actor was Catholic either, if it matters, which trust me, it doesn't.

This week, the pope, named Francis, approved a change to the official Catholic teaching, declaring that capital punishment constitutes an "attack" on the dignity of human beings.  Now, previously the church had been oh, just fine with executing murderers (and, in its own sordid past, people who didn't agree with other church teachings).

However, all of a sudden the church has decided that the previous policy is outdated, that there are other ways to protect the common good, and that the church should instead commit itself to working to end capital punishment.

"Recourse to the death penalty" they wrote, "on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme means of safeguarding the common good ... there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes."

"Consequently", it added, "the church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person, and [it will work] with determination for its abolition worldwide."

So I imagine that there are a lot of priests out there who are having a bit of a hard time processing the infallibility of this particular pope.  I'm not Catholic, of course, and we Southern Baptists can't even imagine our faith investing inviolability on a fallible (in our view) human being as Catholicism does, but they do.  So how, we have to ask, is it possible that previous, equally infallible popes have been just fine with a practice that the church itself has carried out, but this one, equally infallible, can say "Not so fast"?

But now, I guess, there is "increasing awareness" (their term) that criminals don't lose their "dignity" after committing (in this case) premeditated murder.  Huh?  What does their "dignity" have to do with getting punished for murdering another human, and with their dignity, which is now of no moment since they are, you know, dead.

I've sat on the jury of a murder trial, and I can assure you that the dignity of the ultimately-convicted murderer was never in our thoughts as we contemplated a verdict and a punishment.  But I digress.

In the Book of Mark, Jesus said "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and render unto God that which is God's."  Although the immediate topic was taxes, the message was certainly clear -- the rules of man on earth are for man to adjudicate and punish, and God's laws are adjudicated in Heaven.

That's where I have a theological disagreement with Pope Francis.  If God's Son comes and tells us that eternal justice is in His hands and not ours, we ought to feel comfortable passing and enforcing the laws and punishments that we determine carry out our earthly legal obligations, including the death penalty for premeditated murderers.  It is not for the pope to decide what is right and wrong for man to carry out, in the course of creating the laws of earth and fitting them sufficiently into the laws of God.

Well, maybe it is, at least for Catholicism, but we are a non-sectarian, not a Catholic country, and I would hardly want to see the pope quoted by anti-capital punishment types in a debate in some state house.  Besides, his moral authority is granted by the same people who voted in the previous popes, all of whom were just fine with capital punishment the way it was.  If  Pope Benedict, who preceded Francis and is still alive, had succeeded him instead, and reversed that edict (as he might have), whom would we believe?

I would be very happy if religious leaders would stay in their lane a good bit more.  I don't need for them to declare their teachings and beliefs on political topics (and this one is) and then pretend to cloak them in "awareness of dignity" arguments that have zero clarity.

Ooh, ooh, Francis ... render unto Caesar the laws of man, thanks.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, August 2, 2018

Hungry, Hungry HIPAA

I guess I'm not doing a lot of political pieces this week for some reason, perhaps because there's not a lot in the news and I don't have any really great insights to add on events like the North Koreans sending the remains of possibly 55 servicemen from the Korean War.  We could ask why they weren't sent back in, you know, 1957 or so, but those decision-makers are all dead now.

So ... I may have mentioned it in an earlier piece, but back in March my best girl broke her wrist in a bicycle accident.  It was actually a stationary bike, which would make it kind of funny to everyone but her.  In fact, though, it was quite excusable, being the first time she had used the new bike, and it was rather high for a diminutive user; the first time she tried to get off it, her foot caught as she was lifting it to dismount and the whole bike fell over with her attached, sending her to the wood floor and breaking her wrist in two places.

Long story shorter, she had a cast on it for a few weeks, and then a couple months of therapy with a hand-therapy specialist to regain as much motion and flexibility as possible.  It will never be back to normal, but close enough.  And that brings us to today.

Earlier this week, with all the therapy behind her, my best girl got a call from our health insurance company.  I say "our", but that's not quite accurate.  We're both on Medicare, same company and same plan, but Medicare is an individual thing; her policy is hers and not some kind of dependent case off mine.  So she has to talk to them regarding her records; I cannot.

The company, which shall remain nameless, is one of the handful of remaining companies that does the Medicare Advantage plans, which wrap around Medicare and add some coverage that Medicare doesn't do, and offers the benefit of handling all the government stuff and insulating you from their billing.  That is a good thing.

But the call that the missus got was from the insurance company, and asked if she had had a "bone density" test to check for osteoporosis.  Now please note that she didn't fall and break a hip; she tripped while dismounting an exercise bike and broke her wrist when it hit the wood floor.  My wrist would have broken and so would yours, no matter how porous or solid your bones may be.

So she explained all that to the insurance company caller in so many words, some of them fairly choice (she is, after all, Italian).  No, she said, she didn't need a bone density scan since the fall was an accident and the break was clearly not related to brittle bones.  Yes, she understood, they would routinely call in case of a bone break in someone past 65, but she was fine.

That should have ended it.  Except the next day, she received a call from our family physician.  Apparently they had been notified by the insurance company that she had broken her wrist and completed treatment and subsequent therapy, and that she needed to have a bone density scan.

Needless to say, she went through the roof.  All the treatments for the wrist and subsequent PT had been through an orthopedic group.  Her family doctor had not been told about the fall, nor was there any reason to have told him until her next checkup, and that would be months later -- and by her.  Why did the insurance company feel the need to contact her doctor to make sure she had a bone density test?


Yes, follow the money.  Sure, the patient said she didn't need the test and didn't want the test.  But apparently the insurance company doesn't get paid unless there are actual medical procedures done, I guess.  Or something relating to payments, or some other way that the company ultimately makes money, aside from just the premium.

So for some reason, the company took what seems like the strange additional step of calling her family doctor, who had not even been involved to that point, and telling him to get her to do a bone density test.

There is this thing called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or "HIPAA", which gets misspelled all over the place.  Essentially, it is supposed to govern the transmission and privacy of medical records, and what can and cannot be transmitted between practices without patient approval.

I assume that this somehow didn't violate HIPAA, but I'm not sure how.  Perhaps there is something on file with the insurance company allowing them to communicate to her family doctor.  Perhaps it is because the orthopedic practice and the family practice are part of the same large medical service alliance.

But she sure has heck did not authorize the insurance company to contact her family doctor when she already told them she didn't need a bone density scan.  And it creeps her out, not to mention me, that they would do such a thing, for no other perceptible reason than to get her to take a test that she does not need, for no obvious reason except money.

And that this must happen all the time.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Not Awaiting Windows 11, Thanks

Today is just going to be a rambling piece, based on not one solitary piece of factual information.  Sorry about that, but more often than I'd like, I'm just sitting down to write without knowing what it will be about.

The laptop I work on, previous to my current one, was not "born" with Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system.  It had the next earlier version, and at some point I upgraded to Windows 10 and worked with that for a couple years.

Then it sadly died, and I replaced it with the HP that I work on now, which already had Windows 10, the current version at the time -- and, nearly two years later, still the current operating system.

That occurred to me recently, and you can imagine where my mind wandered.  Maybe you can't, so I'll tell you.  Windows 10 has been out there too long for Microsoft's purposes, and they're going to have to foist a new operating system on us.

I hate that.

I'm not a particular fan of Windows 10, mind you, but neither do I dislike it.  I have learned to live with it, and it is a means to an end that I am now quite comfortable with.

Hint to Microsoft -- I'm quite comfortable with it, and I don't really care to see you messing with it, unless your next iteration is going to look and operate the same, only work better somehow invisibly, or just more reliably or something.  Or just keep it completely the same.

I don't know what they're thinking up there in Seattle about Windows 11, or whatever they're going to call the next version that they'll inevitably come up with.  But it has been far too long since they forced a next-generation upgrade on us, so I'm anticipating any day now that I will get an email from Olympus, telling me that for only $129.99 I'll be able to download and install the whiz-bang new operating system on my old, decrepit laptop.

And I won't want it.

The problem is that my professional interactions are with my clients, who are Federal contractors.  They need to be fairly current to maintain internal conformity (since they buy a lot of new laptops each year as people are hired, they have to upgrade their older inventory) and live on the most recent versions of Microsoft thingies.  So I have to stay fairly current as well.

I don't know what Windows 11 is going to have, or what it will be called, or when I'll be forced to install it.  But I predict that it will be all about easy access to, and enhanced performance of, things like Facebook (which I do not use) and Instagram (which I do not use or know what it is), and will be optimized to stream video and the like, when I simply want to work, and write these columns.

I swear it is going to give me much better performance of apps I never use, and force me to change my normal interface to give me what I don't want.  Sort of like Obamacare, when I had to buy pediatric dental insurance and maternity coverage even though I had no children in the house and maternity was 40 years in the rear-view mirror.  No wonder the tech giants are all big Democrat donors.

My hope is that the next Windows version comes out the day I retire.  I simply don't need it.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

And God Laughs, Justice Ginsburg

I suppose it was a bit of passing news over the weekend when Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice who would not recommend the U.S. Constitution to other countries, was asked about retirement plans.  Or just decided to make a statement,  Matters not which.

At any rate, she noted that Justice Stevens who was an elder colleague on the Court, had retired years back at 90, and so, in so many words, she thought she had "five years" left.  We were supposed to interpret that, I imagine, as saying that she would not plan to retire until President Trump's second term was over.  At least the math is close.

Of course, as the saying goes in many cultures and many languages, "Man plans, and God laughs."

We know God has a sense of humor, because how else could you explain the zebra, or Paris Hilton, or Hillary Clinton?  But I suspect that He laughs a lot when someone like Mrs. Ginsburg makes plans that presuppose her making it to 90.

Now, we should all plan for that eventuality, in the sense of being prepared should we live that long.  I get that, and preparation for an eventuality does not equate to an expectation of its occurrence.  I exercise and try to eat sort of right, and I'm already 67, and both parents and both grandmothers lived into their nineties.  So I should certainly prepare for the possibility, at least in terms of financial planning, although I can't say I "plan" to live that long.

What I do not plan to be doing is working.  Nor, I contend, should she.

First of all, my current plan (cut to laughter from God) is to work full time as a consultant until age 70, whereupon I'll tilt the work/life (i.e., time with the Best Girl and lots more golf) balance to maybe a quarter-time for work.  There is a lot of demand for my weird skill set, but I think that could work, part time for a while.  But not until 90, if I were to live that long.

We have Constitutional guidance, where Representatives must be at least 25 and Senators at least 30.  The President has to be 35.  Justices can be any age, including 11 ... or mentally 11.  I imagine that at no point did the Framers contemplate anyone wanting to sit in Congress, the (to-be) White House or the Supreme Court past the age of mental competence, so there is no mandatory retirement age.

But there should be.

The oldest truly notable participant in the founding of our Nation was probably Ben Franklin, who was never the president.  I feel the need to point that out, because high-school students can't be relied upon to know enough history to know pretty much anything, including that Franklin was never president.

It would be helpful if they knew that a really good reason that Franklin was never president, and never even considered to become president, is that when George Washington started his very first term as the very first president of the United States, Benjamin Franklin was already 83 years old.  Washington was only a year into that very first presidential term when Franklin died.

But I digress.

Well, not a lot.  We do start slowing down, mentally, in our 60s and 70s.  I write this column, in part, to practice and exercise my verbal skills so I can do a better job in my actual for-a-living profession.  But I can tell when I'm working to recall a word, that I'm aging.  I used to have a mental exercise when jogging, as recently as 3-4 years ago, where I would verbalize the names of each member of each of the international barbershop quartet champions back to the first one in 1939.  Don't you laugh, now; I used to know them.  Now, not so much.

It is imperative that we make no attempts to impose an age limit on SCOTUS justices for the ad hoc purpose of getting someone off the Court that we don't like.  That's wrong on every level.  But the Court is important, I mean really important -- and we have to have a comfort level that they're capable of doing what they are paid to do.  That they're not sleeping through arguments or, worse, forgetting precedents and how to apply them.

Do you trust a 90-year-old justice?  Me, either.

I would like for us to consider, most seriously, a Constitutional amendment by which any justice appointed after the final adoption of the amendment is to serve only through the Court term or summer recess during which they reach their 80th birthday, and are retired at that point from at least that Court.

Elections have consequences, and the appointments to the Supreme Court are among those consequences.  Of course, since such an amendment would not affect any current justices, the logical outcome is that future presidents would find themselves appointing relatively younger (and therefore more mentally crisp) judges to the Court, which would not be a terrible thing.

I value age and maturity as much as the next guy, but as I watch the subtle impact of age on my own mind skills, and realize that the oldest justice is 18 years older than I, I would certainly like for us to start contemplating a reasonable retirement for the Court, because a nonagenarian Supreme Court justice is not a pleasant prospect.

Thank you, Justice Ginsburg, for reminding us.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, July 30, 2018

We Have Great Singers -- We Just Don't Know It

It is probably not a secret that I don't really care for music that involves a guitar, a bass, drums and people either screaming, reciting words to a beat, or trying to sing in a drawl they didn't grow up with rather than letting the lyrics convey the story.  That means most everything since around 1955.  And if I have to listen four times to get even half the words, forget it.

If you didn't know that, please read this piece I did a few years back that says it all and which I stand by yet today.  I have always been this way about music.

Now, even some people who are not particularly musical may be aware of the phenomenon of the Russian bass.  Way back when, the composers of Russian church music wrote some bass parts that were extraordinarily deep by contemporary standards, to which very few basses could "get their pipes around them" and do a good job on.

So the composers started looking around for people with profoundly deep voices and pushed them to become singers.  Suddenly you had these big, deep Russian basses out there, impressing the socks off people.  But it wasn't that Russian men have particularly deep voices -- it was that the demand for ultra-low-voiced singers meant that Russian men with the God-given depth were more likely to end up as singers.

We have 330 million people or so in the USA.  Can you name even one USA-born operatic tenor?  Me neither, although I might recognize a couple if you mentioned them.  Is there any argument that the talent of one who can perform such roles, or perform the songs written for them as "art songs", vastly surpasses that of anyone on the radio today or out selling their songs on iTunes?

But "talent", per se, while it is certainly out there, is simply not developed.  When a spectacular voice appears on a competitive TV entertainment show like the frustrating America's Got Talent, the judges simply don't know what to do with them and they end up on the cutting-room floor, or the chopping block, and never get very close to the final competitions -- at least in the last few years.

So what do I want?  Well, if the Russian bass example teaches us anything, it is that if we want to see the talent within our community, we have to appreciate it.  The music written today simply does not value good singing technique, or even halfway-decent tuning.  What I want is for us to be raising a generation that values the kind of difficult-to-sing-but beautiful vocal music, and appreciates the singularity of talent it takes to perform it -- and the beauty of the result.

I certainly understand that the opera-loving community in the USA morphed into effete eastern snobs who insisted a century back that operas be sung in the original language so we couldn't understand the story (unlike the rest of the world, where they are predominantly sung in the local language).  That screwed everything up and kept us from appreciating the talent of the performers (even I can't sit there and watch people singing in French portraying a story I can't follow because I don't speak French).

But we still have 330 million people in the USA, not counting those who were born or who passed away since you read a few paragraphs back.  If America actually valued great voices, we would actually be developing them, and like the Russian basses, the USA would be lousy with great singers, because we already have them.

OK, I get it.  As long as sloppily-sung (or simply spoken-to-a-beat) stuff is making performers rich, no one is going to drive a movement to value actual singing talent anytime soon.  But I have a pen and a phone -- OK, I have a keyboard and a website -- and I'm going to use them.

I'm sorry, but I love beautiful music, and while billions of dollars are spent on contemporary "music" by poor slobs who don't understand that the emperor has no clothes (you did read the link, right?), I will continue to plug in my earbuds when I'm writing and listen to beautiful sounds, made by talented singers who survived the assault of crappy art to commit to developing into great voices.

If we appreciated it, there would be more.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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