Friday, January 30, 2015

The Strange Case of Wikipedia and Shoeless Joe

Back in 1919, a group of players for the American League champion Chicago White Sox decided that they could make some extra money by offering to throw the upcoming World Series against Cincinnati.  They got in touch with gamblers and recruited enough other players -- eight in total, including the incomparable left fielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson -- to ensure they could carry off the scheme.

We've all heard the story about the 1919 Black Sox; they lost to the underdog Redlegs five games to three.  They were ultimately paid something around $80,000 in total by different sets of gamblers (the whole gambler side of this is really bizarre) and a year later were hauled before a grand jury, where they testified to their guilt -- including Jackson, producing the memorable, if apocryphal, story of him leaving the courtroom and being asked by a little boy to "Say it ain't so, Joe", whereupon the shamed Jackson replied "I'm afraid it is, boys."

The eight were acquitted in trial, but that was greatly affected by the theft of copies of their confessions to the grand jury, presumably as part of a conspiracy among the American League, seeking to protect itself, and others in Baseball, all of whom were better off with an acquittal.  The players, though, were banned for life by the new Commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis.The lifetime bans naturally have generated almost a century of pleas of the innocence of some -- particularly Jackson and the third baseman, Buck Weaver, despite the evidence. (For the record, Weaver, who was never paid a cent and was seen to play hard the whole Series, was banned for having attended early meetings and not tipped off his manager or owner).

There is so much to know you'd need a book -- here, of course, is the best -- but I'll summarize for this tale.  Of the eight players, some were a lot more complicit than others, which has led many to defend Jackson as having been lily-white despite his confession.  They point to his 12 hits in the Series and claim he "really tried."

Of course, he sat in on meetings where the eight conspired to throw the Series and did not immediately expose the plot.  He was also paid thousands for his complicity in the scandal.  And his performance was, ah, a bit erratic in the Series -- despite the numbers.

Two of the eight conspiring players were starting pitchers, two of the three to be used in the Series (Dickie Kerr, the third, was not in on it, pitched games three and six and won both).  In game seven, conspirator Eddie Cicotte really pitched, the players (who were then fed up with the gamblers' late payments) really played, and the White Sox won easily.  They lost the next day, though, after starting pitcher Lefty Williams was threatened outside his home.

In those three "clean" games, innocent old Joe Jackson got six of those twelve hits.  That .375 average of his that looks so good breaks down to .286 in the thrown games and .545 in the clean ones.  A little digging goes a long way.  In the field, observers (including Christy Mathewson) who were tipped off to the possibility of a plot, noted some plays where Jackson was late getting to the ball as well.  (A lot of America was suspicious, since the gambling odds had tipped to favor the much weaker Redlegs before Game 1.)
Joe Jackson was properly banned for life and it should end there.  But there are many defenders of his, who generally ignore the recorded facts of the case.  One was my boyhood hero, Ted Williams, who is allowed to be wrong this once.  And one of them, it seems, is not only the keeper and guardian of Joe Jackson's Wikipedia page, but is extremely fanatic about it, facts notwithstanding.

In doing some research a while back, I noticed the discrepancy in Jackson's performance between the thrown and the clean Series games, and looked up his Wikipedia page to see if it was properly noted.  It wasn't.  I made a reasonable edit to add that fact, and a day later noted that it had been removed.  I repeated it, and once again it was removed within a day.  So I let it go; it wasn't all that big a deal.

This morning I thought about it and decided to see how anal-retentive the individual was.

I made an edit to the article.  Where a sentence noted that Jackson's 12 hits was a Series record, and that his .375 average for the 1919 Series led all other hitters, I inserted a factual, nonprejudicial clause noting that half of those hits came in the three "clean" games and that he only hit .286 in the games the corrupt players threw.

Within six minutes it had been changed back.   I looked in the page history and discovered that someone called "Onel5969" who, according to Wikipedia, lives in Scottsdale, AZ and, according to me, has a real problem with the facts creeping into the entry about old Shoeless Joe, was the person making the change.  It would have been around 6:00am Scottsdale, AZ time, interestingly.

I also read through the whole page with a more jaundiced eye, and discovered that every effort was taken to ensure that Jackson's supposed innocence was presented, and the evidence of his guilt marginalized with vague references -- unlinked, of course -- to new evidence suggesting he hadn't been part of it, or hadn't taken the money, or hadn't confessed to the grand jury at all.

OK, I get it.  The guy really likes Joe Jackson.  I like him, too.  But it is, unfortunately, guys like Onel5969 that compromise the expectation of factuality, such as it may be, in Wikipedia.  This "people's encyclopedia" can easily suffer from the prejudices of its adherents, if the Joe Jackson armed guard is an example.

So for those who need the facts as presented in 1919 and 1920, well-documented since, and compelling to anyone without prejudice, here they are:  Joe Jackson participated in a conspiracy to defraud Major League Baseball, his team and its owner and fans; he did not immediately report it; he took money to throw games; his play suggests he participated on the field in a way to help lose certain games, and he confessed to a grand jury of his complicity.

He was kicked out of baseball after 13 years in which he compiled a .356 average, third best career mark in the history of the game.

It will never get him into the Hall of Fame, nor should it.  But you won't get that from Wikipedia.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Learning Cyber-Bullying

 It is suitably fashionable to decry cyber-bullying, wherein high school students and younger (and others) go online and say terrible things about other high school students and younger (and others).  This is often directed at real or imagined flaws in the person being bullied, and ... well, you know what it is.

"What it is" is simply an electronic version of what has gone on, in schools, since there have been kids and schools.  Kids can be cruel, and are perpetually competing with each other as their hormones kick in, some earlier, some later.  Give a kid a computer and Al Gore's Amazing Internet, and kids will do exactly what they have always done, except that now the whole world gets to hear it, instead of just those within earshot and the immediate network of gossipy peers.

Of course, the fact that the "whole world" now sees and hears the cruel things that kids say to each other, and that we can add pictures and even videos to amplify the assault, makes the impact much worse.  The added pain of worldwide distribution has elevated the problem to where it shows up on morning TV shows as an official Issue.

Now, I'm sure not minimizing it and don't intend to.  I was bullied 50 years ago by larger peers and I didn't like it.  Kids are being cyber-bullied and then killing themselves.  It needs to stop, and if you've got an answer, the world needs it.

But I'm going to remind us ("us" being the adult world) that we are far, far from innocent in all this, and close to being complicit.

I speak, of course, about our own propensity to cyber-bullying that even I have engaged in.  I refer, as you probably have not yet guessed, to the Yelp Phenomenon.

Who among us has not purchased a product or service over the years with which we were particularly unhappy?  In recent years, especially with the overwhelming tendency to online purchases, there has not been a human being to see, or call (without being routed to Mumbai or Manila).  Our anger at the defective product is elevated by the inability to speak to anyone, so we have to reach out and strike!

Enter Yelp (and every other online medium for rating a vendor and complaining).  We take to our laptops and write a scathing, one-sided and anonymous review of our memory of our experience.  I've done it myself, and I've done it far more often than I've written complimentary reviews of vendors I've really liked.

I have also been the owner of a business which had to complain constantly to Yelp about reviews that had factual inaccuracies, but with the writer's anonymity were difficult to address -- how could edf129553, who had a late delivery, get her problem solved if we didn't know who she was?  And this is rich, but follows the FTM theorem -- if you actually advertised with Yelp you had a much easier time getting inaccurate reviews removed.

But that's not the point.

We can be as sanctimonious as we like about cyber-bullying in our schools.  But it is exactly like the old cartoons where a kid swears and the father asks the mother "Where the #$%%* did that kid learn to say $^$%^&* like that?".  We are the original cyber-bullies, and we provide the examples to our children.

We are partly to blame when the kids follow our lead and use the Internet to do things like bullying that in the good old days would have stayed close to home.  I don't know the cure, but it seems that putting a big blanket over the Yelps of the world would go a long way toward returning civility to Internet dialogue.  Certainly we would be helped by good, sound and accurate consumer reviews of product and service companies.

But the anonymity and the venom are an unpleasant and counterproductive mix.  Moreover, they set an atrocious example to our children, who layer another weapon on top of their own, basic instincts.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Vox Clamantis for the Deserter

Tuesday morning's news came with the interesting headline, not unexpected in some circles -- the Army sergeant who had been traded back to the USA in return for five Taliban leaders who had been held in the facility at Guantanamo Bay, is bring charged with desertion.  The Pentagon's spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, backed off on that this morning (there is no "final decision"), but it appears imminent.

That the Army is doing this despite what must be immense pressure from above (read: the White House) speaks to the huge preponderance of evidence relating to Bowe Bergdahl's determination to desert his position and associate himself with the enemy (aside to the White House: the Taliban is, indeed, the enemy).

The president was out of the country, traveling to India so that the press could buzz about the first lady's attire while the president tried to persuade the Indians to help him fight that nasty global warming, and then to Saudi Arabia for the funeral of their king.  So it may be a few days before he puts himself in a position of having to comment on Bergdahl's imminent arrest and court-martial.

It's a good thing for Mr. Obama that, as he pointed out in the State of the Union address, he won the elections he ran in and is not running for anything else.  Because this is the type of embarrassment that even the guy who won reelection in the face of the Benghazi cover-up might have trouble with.

The Army cannot bow even to its commander in chief on this one. Bergdahl surely has such a tall stack of evidence piled up against him that the Army had no choice but to court-martial him, and given how much that "preponderance" had to be to indict him, knowing it would create embarrassment to the president, there's no doubt he will be convicted.

At the same time, the five Taliban leaders -- Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Mohammed Nabi Omari -- all of whom were considered high risks to be back in action fighting against the USA -- are back, released to Qatar and already, or soon to be, filling the leadership vacuum in the Taliban.

Barack Obama is an incredible danger to the security of the USA, as we are reminded every moment he is allowed to open the Gitmo doors and send back to the Middle East the leaders of the evil that rules in many places there.   It is simply incumbent on this Congress to slam the gate and stop the releases, the exchanges and every other action that returns these people to the hatred and violence they helped spawn.

No, Mr. Obama, you won your elections; but the Bergdahl case is going to cloud that legacy, fictional though it be, that you and your sycophants in the press have created for you.  You stupidly released five major threats to the security of your citizens, in exchange for a deserter whose rightful punishment would have been to remain in the hands of his captors.

For Heaven's sake, Mr. President, please, please go outside that yes-yes echo chamber you live in and get some real experts in there to start advising you.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Obama as Nero, But Not How You Thought

Friday's Washington Post had an interesting front-page article in regard to the scandal involving the New England Patriots and the deflated footballs.  The first line got my attention:

"In 67 A.D., the Roman emperor Nero used 10 horses in an Olympic race featuring four-horse chariots. He tumbled, failed to finish and was still declared the victor."

Maybe I'm the only one, but I couldn't help thinking how much that sounded like Obamacare. 

That disaster of a law passed only through a bizarre parliamentary maneuver called "budget reconciliation." It was initiated in the Senate, even though all such bills that involve taxation must, by the Constitution, begin in the House.  Of course, it wasn't meant to be called a tax, and the Administration in defending it did not want to call it a tax, but calling the individual mandate penalty a "tax" was the only way the Supreme Court could uphold its fragile constitutionality.

After the ridiculous shoving of it through the Congress, it then failed miserably.  About 80% of the number of uninsured prior to Obamacare are still uninsured, which was supposed to be the reason for the law in the first place.  Obama predicted about a $2,500 per year drop in premiums for the average American (again, to ram the law past a skeptical public), but many are seeing increases as much as $6,500 per year (my family) and more.

Getting in to the site in the first place was an unmitigated disaster, facilitated by $678 million in non-competed contracts awarded to friends of the administration (and the First Lady).  And as you can read here and here, we haven't even reached the twin disasters we will see in 2015 because of the huge hike in individual insurance rates associated with the ban on low-premium, high-deductible policies.

Obama, like Nero, has used ten horses to compete against 4-horse chariots.  He and his signature law have, accordingly, fallen on their faces into a pile of horse poo, in an incredible disaster.

Despite that, he has repeatedly declared himself the victor, and to Obamacare as a "success."  His minions in the press repeat the narrative like a bunch of journalistic bobbleheads, oblivious to fact.

Bully for you, Mr. President.  I'll bring you your fiddle now.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Question the White House Just Will Not Answer

I really know the answer; in fact I know exactly why they won't answer it, but I'm going to go down the path again.

On Wednesday, Valerie Jarrett, the White House's super-secret "advisor" whom the taxpayers have paid for six years now to help plot new ways to destroy the American economy, was on the Fox and Friends morning show to answer some questions in the aftermath of the State of the Union address the night before.

Now, I will give her credit for showing up on video link; Fox News is, of course, treated by this White House as if it were Radio Kazakhstan, one level below Al Jazeera and nowhere near the access provided to ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC.  At least they got to ask her some questions.

One question, however, and its answer, were enough to get a column's worth of concern, at least out of me.  Steve Doocy, one of the three hosts of the Fox and Friends morning news show, posed a question about tax policy, which you can see here.  Advance to about 5:40 and you can see it if you like.

Essentially, Doocy's question was that the top income tax rate, which is close to 40% for Federal tax alone, was really high -- if the White House thought that people earning enough to pay that rate were not paying enough to be fair, then what, exactly, did the White House think the highest "fair" rate was?

On the video, you can see Mrs. Jarrett confidently and firmly avoid answering the question for what I counted as a full minute and 19 seconds.  Now, when the question is that straightforward, the answer should be simple as well.  If she believes the top rate should be 50%, then just say so.

But no, she first slid over to capital gains rates and where those should be, and went off on that, and then something about women, and maybe football inflating or something.  By the time the hosts could get a word in edgewise -- and as you can hear, they tried hard -- 79 seconds had passed and nothing close to an answer was given.  Let me tell you, it's a skill to be able to speak for 79 seconds straight and say nothing.

As I said, I know the answer (a top rate of 25% is fair, there's no way in Hades that any working American should work more than 25% for the Federal government).  I also know why neither she nor Barack Obama will answer the question, directly or indirectly.

In the extreme, socialistic view of this White House and its leaders, all earnings belong innately to the Government.  Valerie Jarrett would be happy if all capital returned to the all-knowing Feds to redistribute as they, in their infinite wisdom, saw fit, in a wonderful, Animal Farm kind of way, with them as the pigs.

If they believed otherwise, they would put a figure out for public debate as to their definition of a fair tax percentage.  They don't.  When they're asked the question outright, they find any possible way to avoid putting a figure in the conversation, and moving the conversation away from a sensible conclusion. Were they to give a number, they know they would be held to it and forced to defend it, and that would not end well for them.

Ramble on, Mrs. Jarrett; you have your 79 seconds of fame.  But we are so on to you.  You want all our income, and we won't give it to you. 

We told you that last Election Day and we will continue to tell you, as long as you keep trying to grab our wallets..

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Friday, January 23, 2015

Well played, JB, Well Played

You may have heard that an invitation was sent this week for the Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress in a special session.  This would not otherwise get anyone's attention, except for one little thing -- the invitation came not from Barack Obama, the president and ostensible deciderer of USA foreign policy, but from John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

In his public statement, Boehner noted that “Prime Minister Netanyahu is a great friend of our country, and this invitation carries with it our unwavering commitment to the security and well-being of his people.  In this time of challenge, I am asking the prime minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life.”

Boehner specifically invited Netanyahu to address the threat of Iran gaining nuclear weapons which, theoretically, could be used against Israel.  That's the Israel which, until this administration, was thought of as an ally of the USA.

That is a problem for the White House, since Obama is trying to negotiate one of those legacy-builders, a nuclear pact of some kind with the Iranians, one of those things his canonizers can point to when they try to explain that he was somehow not the biggest failure ever to occupy the Oval Office.

The White House is not happy.  Josh Earnest, the poor unfortunate press secretary there who has to try to defend Obama from, well, the pesky facts, called it a "breach of protocol." It is, of course, clearly in the purview of the State Department and the rest of the Executive Branch to decide when foreign leaders whom Barack Obama hates should address Congress.

Oh, yeah, did I mention that Obama hates Netanyahu, has called him offensive names and wishes that Israel would just dry up so he can make nice-nice with the Islamic terrorists he won't call out by that name?

Congress, now led by Republicans, is not interested in giving Obama carte blanche to sign treaties with Iran, especially those that are spineless and have no expected productive outcome other than to give Obama something to point to in his last State of the Union address in 2016.  So they are quickly debating a law that would force the president to gain congressional approval for any such treaty with Iran.

Naturally, Obama would veto such a bill, but Congress can override the veto with enough Democratic votes.  And when you start looking at senators like Chuck Schumer of New York and other Jewish Democrats in Congress who are big Israel supporters with big Israel-supporting constituencies, you can pretty quickly get close to a number that makes the White House squirm.

What a game.  Obama, who has spent a lot of capital issuing Executive Orders to try to steal the legislative rod from Congress, now squeals when Congress responds by practicing a little foreign policy itself.  The White House, having fudged the lines of separation of powers, now is put in the unfortunate position of having to complain when Congress does the same thing.

And it is Netanyahu, a pain in the White House's collective glutei.  That only adds a little glee to those who are applauding the Speaker's invitation as a fitting response to Obama's six years of disrespect to the leading ally of the USA in the Middle East, and an excellent answer to his disrespect to the separation of powers explicit in the Constitution.

Well played, Speaker Boehner, sir.  Well played.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Forty Years and This Still Bothers Me

I have written far, far too many columns on very serious topics lately, and it is absolutely time for a piece on something that is completely irrelevant to today's world of torment and universal brouhaha.  So here's one.

Sometime in the mid-1970s, I was a poor young man with an MIT degree and no real job prospects.  I had gone to medical school at the University of North Carolina, quit after one year and moved up to Boston to start a comic opera company, which eventually became the Boston Light Opera that ran for a number of years.

That, however, was not a "living", so I was perpetually applying to jobs and, with the wretched economy of the time, not getting any offers.  Through the good graces of a friend, I was able to wait on tables and be a host at a restaurant to pay food and rent, but that was not a career choice.  So I applied to be many things, even including a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch (remember that; it's plot material) which, like the rest, did not respond to my application.

And then one day I saw an ad somewhere looking for a manager for a theater company.  There, I thought, whether it was a career or not, at least it was something I could modestly say I had skills at, having participated in the founding and management of an opera company.  I put together a resume and sent it along to the company, which was some kind of experimental theater group in Cambridge.

Remarkably, some time later, I got a phone call from a lady with the company, for an interview and what we would call today a "pre-screen."  She sounded to be in her 20s; we talked for a while about the company and what they were trying to accomplish, and what they needed for a manager.  Everything was going along reasonably well.

That ended abruptly when she asked a yes-no question, which may have been to ask if I were available to meet for an in-person interview on some specified date; it doesn't matter other than that it was a binary question.  My answer was affirmative, and I replied as any gentleman in 1970-something would have, who was raised as I was:

"Yes, Ma'am", I said.

You could have heard the icicles form on the other end of the line.  The tone of her voice changed, and after a moment she explained that I probably wouldn't fit very well with the group there.  She added, and I'm really sorry I can't recall her precise words, that I should "think about the way I answered her".  Moreover, I had just moved up from living in North Carolina a year or so back, and clearly did not sound like a native Bostonian (I'm not); so I also recall thinking that she was making judgments about me based on the way I spoke, and then lecturing me on top of it.

I do regret not answering her that she might want to "think about" who the real prejudiced individual was on that conversation and who was being elitist, but I did not say that.  I merely said that I thought I was certainly as qualified to be interviewed as anyone else she was likely to talk to, and if my politeness, speech pattern and the fact that I called her "Ma'am" was a problem, well, they were far less important than my capabilities as a manager.

I never followed up to see what happened to that theater company and I won't guess.  But I do suspect that the young lady on the other end of the phone is just as much the elitist today that she was in 1975 or whatever year that was.  It takes far too much effort to grow up and learn maturity, than I suspect she was ever able to put in.
- - -

Shortly thereafter, I got a letter from a law firm in Baltimore.  Apparently, Merrill Lynch had settled a lawsuit claiming that black applicants were not getting a fair shake.  As part of the settlement, every applicant over the specified period of time received a letter from the law firm with an affidavit to sign and return, if it was applicable.

Now, the text of the letter kept using the term "Negro" to refer to the aggrieved parties.  However, the affidavit itself did not -- it used the term "black", and led off with something like "I am black and I applied to Merrill Lynch between [the inclusive dates] and was not hired for a position as an associate ..."

So, unemployed chipmunk that I was, I went straight to my dictionary and looked up "black" to see if I qualified.  Sure enough, one of the later definitions in the list was "sad or disconsolate" (as in a "black mood").  Well, I was unemployed and had gotten dissed by a pompous little leftist at a pompous little theater company.  That sounded "disconsolate" enough to me.  I signed the affidavit and shipped it off to the law firm, and promptly forgot I had done it.

Sure enough, many, many months later, I received my share of the settlement.  It was a check for right about $83, more than enough to compensate me for the stamp and for the callous treatment at the hands of evil Merrill Lynch (to whom I had sent an application but who never contacted me and surely had no idea of my skin color).  In fact, if I got $83 for every unsuccessful application I sent that year, I'd have a pretty fair amount of cash then, maybe a total 1/10,000th as much as the lawyers got for that one case.

According to something in the way the letter with the check was worded, too, the State of Maryland somehow recognized me as being "black."  I didn't keep the letter, but 40 years later, I still joke about "being legally 'black' in the State of Maryland." I've never had the guts to use it in the EEO section of a job application, though.

There -- was that an unserious enough column for today?

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

If a Bowl Game Falls in the Woods

On Friday I received an email from the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network ("ESPN" to its legion of watchers) with a survey in regard to the new national championship game, asking what I thought of it, did I watch it, did I think the championship's new "playoff system" was fair, all of that.  They also asked if I could remember the sponsor (I couldn't).

They didn't, however, ask the fundamental question "Did you actually see the end of the game?", but I answered it anyway, in the essay section, since it was the only reason I bothered to answer the survey.

The answer, by the way, was "no, I did not see the end", and that was not because I wasn't interested in the outcome.  The answer was "no" because the game didn't start until some time after 8:30pm Eastern time, and didn't end until, well, some time after 11:30pm Eastern time and, let's not forget, that is on a Monday night.  Like many people, I work for a living and have an obligation to be perky and chipper at 8:00am on Tuesday mornings, which is not made easier by being awake and wound up by a (hopefully) exciting football game that ends some time at o-dark-thirty the night before.

This is one of those cases where scheduling inordinately inconveniences some to the benefit of others.  Those who live in the Pacific time zone joyfully celebrated the victory of (pardon me while I look it up ...) the Ohio State Buckeyes, or mourned the loss of the Oregon Ducks, had a drink to celebrate or mourn their loss (in California, dragged on their weed) and eventually went off to bed at a civil hour.

So let's ask ourselves the two logical questions:
(1) Why play the game on Monday rather than Friday or Saturday?
(2) Why start the game close to 9:00pm Eastern time on a weekday?

Well, start with the FTM principle -- follow the money.  The money is in two places of interest; that is, the television networks (in this case, ESPN, which means Disney) and the National Football League. The NFL controls the weekends, which is why there is college football on Saturdays and the NFL plays on Sundays and Mondays, with a Thursday here and there.

But the NFL is not stupid about the times of its games.  They don't do playoff games at 9:00 at night in the East; they don't do the Super Bowl at 9:00 at night in the East either.  Their game times for the playoff weekends with four games are essentially (EST times) 4:00pm and 7:00pm Saturday and 1:00pm and 4:00pm Sunday.  The two conference championship games on the last playoff weekend are 3:00pm and 6:00pm.

When the final whistle ends on the second game, it is about 10:15pm on a Sunday night, a mild stretch but perfectly reasonable for working folks.  When the Super Bowl ends, even with all the attendant spectacle, it is no later than 10:30pm in the East.

But the NCAA, no it still doesn't get it and neither does ESPN.  For that matter, Major League Baseball, which puts World Series games on at 8:30pm Eastern even if they're played in late October in freezing places like Boston, Chicago or Detroit, doesn't get it either.

If you take a huge population like, say, the entire football-watching populace living in the Eastern time zone, there will be, in ascending order of numbers:
(1) Those who will watch the college championship game to the bitter end regardless of who's in it
(2) Those who will watch it to the bitter end if they have a rooting interest
(3) Those who will watch it to the bitter end because they're not working the next day
(4) Those who will be asleep at the final whistle (I'm in that group)
(5) Those who will not watch it at all because they don't care enough to plan to stay up that late

Why, we have to ask, would you schedule games such as to alienate a large percentage of your fandom and make them wonder if you even care?

Of course there is a corresponding population set in the Pacific time zone, where the 'late" game starts at 5:30pm and we can't forget them -- but they have a comfortable pair of alternatives, one being just to watch the game live, in daylight, and the other called the DVR, which not only allows them to start the game an hour or so later, when they're ready, but to speed past the commercials.  That is not an option for those in the Eastern time zone, since by the time they could sit down the next night, the entire news cycle would have slammed the results in their face.

You know, and I know and the executives at ESPN and Disney know that they're not going to do anything about it.  But I said my piece to them (at least they asked) and, like the reason for this medium in the first place, things that needed to get said got said.

And for once, Al Sharpton wasn't involved.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Black Actors Can Be Just OK, Can't They?

There is probably no way that a movie about Martin Luther King can be reviewed fairly in a climate where he is canonized, or even deified, by his adherents.  This makes it a bit odd that the movie "Selma" received only a nomination for Best Picture (tough competition; there are eight nominees) and none for any of its actors for Best Actor/Actress nor Best Supporting Actor/Actress.

Naturally this immediately became a racial incident of Fergusonian proportions.  Although no one tried to point out any of the specific performances as being great enough to merit nomination, it was a good opportunity for the racism industry to jump all over it.  Maybe especially because there weren't any great performances; it's easier to scream about institutional racism; there you can be more vague.

Al Sharpton immediately -- I'm not making this up -- headed to Hollywood (on whose nickel we don't know) to "call a meeting" to protest the exclusion.  A meeting of whom, he did not say, but my first thought was to ask who was going to sit with him.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences?  Clint Eastwood?  Al did not say.

But this is decidedly not about Al.  Consider the following letter to the editor published Monday in the Washington Post.  It reads, in part:

"In denying the movie “Selma” best actor and best director nominations, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences again seems to have used claims of historical inaccuracy as a cover [“Hollywood’s most notable Oscars snub: Diversity,” front page, Jan. 16]. The 1999 movie “The Hurricane,” starring Denzel Washington, met a similar fate. A couple of people vigorously lobbied academy members, criticizing the movie for its supposed inaccuracies."

The Post has lately been publishing a few too many letters not worthy of a paper of the Post's prestige, in that the connection between the point made and the example does not exist.  In this case, the whole point is completely missing.

The letter-writer delivers a total strawman, maintaining that the reason the actors didn't get nominated was because of claims of historical inaccuracy.  But that's ludicrous -- if the Academy folks were going to deny a nomination because of historical inaccuracy, it would have been the Best Picture Oscar nomination that was denied, not the acting Oscar nomination!  I don't necessarily credit the leading lights in the Academy with great intelligence or insight, but surely they are astute enough to have "punished" the producers of the flick if they were historically inaccurate, not the actors.

Unfortunately for the letter-writer, the messy facts get in the way, and that pesky Best Picture nomination that "Selma" actually got simply shreds the argument.

Still, we haven't heard the last of Al Sharpton on this.  Moreover, in a very clever ruse, the protestors have immediately rendered the Best Picture vote as a binary "Selma vs. Everyone Else and If You Don't Vote for Selma You're a Bigot" race, rather than an octonary, equivalent race among eight nominated films to have been treated equally.

"Selma" is going to win Best Picture, not because of its quality (which did not include enough good performances to gain a single nomination for a performer), but because the racism industry has ensured that a plurality vote divides the Academy voters into the "perceived bigots", i.e., those who vote for any of the other seven films, vs. the "enlightened."  And the Best Picture Oscar that will be won by "Selma" will have an asterisk the size of Idaho attached to it.

You can take it to the bank.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Monday, January 19, 2015

Leave is Leave is Leave, Val

Valerie Jarrett, the super-secret, low-profile adviser to Barack Obama, put out a piece on LinkedIn Thursday in regard to a problem that has plagued American workers for years.

Yes, according to this post, "... President Obama will call on Congress to pass the "Healthy Families Act", which would allow millions of working Americans to earn up to seven days a year of paid sick time ..."

You remember "sick leave", right?  Back in the good old days, you would see employees get a week or two of vacation and a week of sick leave a year, or something like that.  Eventually, someone got the bright idea that leave was leave, and that rather than opening the process up to abuse by people claiming to be sick from the beach, many companies simply merged the two into a category called "personal leave", totaling what had been the number of vacation plus sick days  You could use it for whatever purpose you wanted, and if it was for illness, the employer would be a bit more flexible in letting you take leave on short notice.

So why, then, does the White House believe there is a need to go back to the old system that distinguishes vacation leave from sick leave? Oh, that's right, they haven't thought that through, because they don't understand the system.

The White House, of course, reads this column religiously, so let me explain to them: If you pass a law that mandates X number of days of sick leave, you can expect that eventually the average amount of earned vacation leave per year will drop by exactly (drum roll) ... X days!   Well, duh. We'll go back to the old system and "sick" employees will call in sick from the beach just like it was 1957.

The White House does not, of course, have any advisers on staff who get that, since none has ever run a business -- or anything else.  They are proposing this, apart from trying to appear relevant in their lame-duckitude, because to them it is simply a transfer of money (paid leave is money for whatever purpose used) from employer to employee.  They detest business, as a competitor to government for the hearts of Americans.  Small business is not any different to them from AT&T, GM and Exxon Mobil.

We all remember the law of unintended consequences, of course -- the one that put a bunch of boat-manufacturing employees out of work when Democrats in Congress pushed through a tax increase on luxury boats trying to soak the "rich" back in 1990.  We'd like to think that this White House actually cared enough that, if someone explained to them that the law would make no difference, they'd withdraw their support.  But this one, boys and girls, is for show only.  It won't get close to getting out of committee.

This one is to maintain the front page of the lefty press for a few days.  We figure that every couple weeks or so, they'll barf up some new nice-sounding proposal like this, get a lot of headlines, a lot of agitation in their circles, and the proposal will die quietly as soon as it is seen as counterproductive.

But Lord, it would be nice to have even one person in the White House who actually thinks about outcomes.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Friday, January 16, 2015

Calling a Club a Diamond

This whole week's events in France and the subsequent reaction have provided a few embarrassments to the White House, of course.  I will dismiss one, mostly, and focus on the other.

Barack Obama did not show up for the arm-in-arm parade of world leaders walking down the streets of Paris last week.  He took copious flak for that, and weakly protested through his assorted mouthpieces in the press and his own press secretary, Josh Earnest (one Democrat who is not paid nearly enough -- who'd want THAT job?), that it was a matter of logistics.  It was really difficult, they all maintained, to deal with the security detail needed to arrange such a visit.

I don't know why he didn't go -- for all that, they might not have even asked him to go; Netanyahu was actually asked not to go (he went anyway, after Abbas decided to go).  I sincerely doubt that the White House staff cogitated about the security detail.  Fortunately for them, though, the security logistics actually were a reasonable argument.  They certainly could have said "It's too dangerous for the president, let's send Biden (no one cares about him) or Holder (he's already there)", but they didn't -- which was a large mistake.

The larger embarrassment was and is related to the White House's utter avoidance of the term "Islamic terrorism" in discussing the incident.  Everyone else is using it; heck, our allies do, and even the Islamic terrorists themselves call themselves that.  Some of the leftiest papers in the USA use the term -- the Washington Post did on Thursday -- although they don't really ask the White House why they don't; that's left to Fox News.

The given answer is that Obama and his people claim that the murderers are "terrorists", yes, but not Islamic; they use Islam "wrongly" and therefore we shouldn't connect the two (I think I am fairly presenting their case).  There is "extremism" of many kinds, they say, so they won't focus on one over the other -- that was said by some functionary in regard to an upcoming conference and her refusal to use the "I-word."

But, here -- here is the real question that needs to be answered.  To quote Hillary Clinton's most famous line, "What difference does it make?"

Well, there's a difference to somebody.  Really; forgetting what they say, I am struggling to understand why they are truly reluctant to use the term.  What bad thing does the White House think is going to happen if the president of the United States actually uses the term "Islamic terrorism" when referring to Islamic terrorism?  When they sat around the table and said "No, we're not going to use the term", did anyone there ask "gee, Barry, why not?" (or did Valerie Jarrett simply hush them into silence)?

Did they think it would inflame the terrorists (who are already murdering innocents and plotting more major attacks) even more?  Did they think it would affect our allies (who already use the term)?  Was it going to change the attitude of the peaceful majority of world Muslims (who either already reject the terrorists or are innately "for" them; nothing Barack Obama says will change that)?

This is where someone has to have the courage to ask what is going on inside the heads of the White House these days.  I'm not talking about their Earnest rationalization for not using the term (which even they obviously don't buy); I'm talking about the internal, known-only-in-the-White-House reason for having the phrase banned in the first place.

There's something deeper, and we really need to know what it is.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Thursday, January 15, 2015

When TV Is Too Bully a Pulpit

This may be a bit bizarre as a topic for this column, but I guess it bothered me enough to write something about it, trivial though it may be.

At least five years back there was a study suggesting that when babies nap after learning a simple skill, they retain the skill the next day.  This was repeated recently and the results were the topic of some recent articles.  If you missed any of the write-ups, I'll share that it was pretty simple and compelling; only those babies who napped after learning the skill were actually able to repeat it; those who were not allowed to nap thereafter had to be taught it all over again.

Wednesday morning, the ABC "Good Morning America" show did a little fluff piece on the study, with a guest going over the findings and explaining what had been tested.  Nothing to note; nothing to write home about -- until the end.

One of the hosts asked the very reasonable question, although partly in jest, as to whether there was an application to adults, and whether we, too, would benefit from an occasional nap as an aid in retention.  The guest, and I'm paraphrasing, said that he didn't know, but he "thought so."  He made no rationale for saying that, whatsoever.  Worse yet, the last exchange between host and guest was essentially telling us (adult viewers) to take a nap because it would help.

Maybe one person in 1,000 would take offense at that, and maybe I'm that one, but here goes.  We were constantly taught in med school that "babies are not small adults" or words to that effect.  Babies are strongly developing organisms whose systems are attuned to growth and whose minds are attuned to learning.  In other words, what applies to babies is never to be assumed to apply to adults in the same way.

Yet here is a guest, ostensibly some kind of expert in the field, thoughtlessly extrapolating all over the place.  Think about it -- science is not an "I think so" subject.  Science is a "prove it" subject.  Had the guest simply given the right answer to the "adult" question and said "We don't really know, because babies are very different creatures", all would have been well.

But no, he gave no credible reason to "think so", went on to let the host advise people to nap based on an unconnected study, and let it go.  TV is a very bully pulpit, and now some of the millions of viewers will make decisions based on unscientific speculation.

No, I don't think having a few people nap is a bad thing, and it might be quite good.  But when ABC does a piece founded on a proper, peer-reviewed scientific study, the rest of the piece needs to be equally sound in its science -- and its conclusions.  Just remember how many people think that there's a connection between vaccination and autism because Jenny McCarthy, that renowned expert in biological research, went on TV to claim her son's autism was caused by a vaccine, despite zero evidence of it.

OK, it's just me.  But after 40 years, I probably have to find an actual use for that biology degree hanging on the wall.  If it is in defense of scientific method, and in contempt for meddling amateurs who don't quite understand what their audience can and cannot distinguish, all the better.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I Think I Will Say It, Thank You

Among the many otherwise not-as-significant things that I do, is to serve my MIT class as its secretary.  If you are not a member of the class, or not associated with the Institute in any way, the job of a class secretary there consists of three main duties -- the usual (and rare) administrative tasks of correspondence for a class of maybe 900 surviving members; searching for lost classmates so the Alumni Office can contact them; and writing a bimonthly column of "notes from the class" for the bimonthly alumni magazine Technology Review.

In the last role, I have written over 200 such columns over 40 years, most of which consist of 5-10 alumni having dropped a little item about what they've been doing since last they wrote (or in some cases, forever; we still get occasional first-time contributors).  It's fun to see what they have accomplished, whether family, profession, hobby, whatever.  Since in a class of 950 you may only recognize 75-80 names or so as familiar, and only really "know" 50, it's pretty cool to see.

At the end of each one, I consider dropping something in about me or my family.  Generally, if I have very few other contributions to form the column, or if something has happened to me worth noting, I'll say what I've been doing.  It normally does not get me in Dutch, at least until now.

The lag time from my writing the column to receiving the copy in print is about 4-5 months, so when I finish an issue and email a copy to the publisher, I send a copy to the class email list so they can see what their classmates have done in something closer to real time.  Around the same time, the class receives the printed copy of the magazine for which the Class News is then four months old.

Monday I did just that, emailing the "new" article to the magazine and the class, only to receive an interesting reply.  I'll share it here for you:  "Please no more rants about Obamacare. This was not the place for it."  Since I hadn't mentioned anything related to health insurance in the email, I had to look back and figure out what I had even done.

Sure enough, at the end of the class notes in a previous version, one or two back -- from four months ago -- I had summarized the article with a brief paragraph, noting that, like many our age (our class is most all about 63 years old), my family had our health insurance cost double despite no health change in 2014.  Since I was writing to all MIT students, I pointed out the irony that we were being told that we were not intelligent enough to decide how much risk we were willing to take on (i.e., by purchasing a high-deductible, low-cost plan that is now illegal).

If anyone should appreciate that, it would be a bunch of MIT grads, who generally dislike having our intelligence insulted.  I never mentioned the term "Obamacare"and referred only to my insurance company, and to "... people who know better have decided they know more than I do about my [tolerance for] medical risk."  Yes, I meant the Democrats in Congress who rammed the bill through despite the country's protests.  No, I didn't mention them, or Congress, or the government -- or Jonathan Gruber.

But after thinking the whole thing through, I've decided that if I want to rant about Obamacare, I'll decide what the place for it is, and not be pressured otherwise.

Because, after all, 14 people died in France last week because of their determination to speak freely, and in their honor and their memory, I will say what I feel, where I feel it can be said.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Oh Sure, NOW You're Charlie

I confess not to having been familiar with specific humor and political satire magazines of  the world prior to last week's attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris.  However, the name of that magazine rang a bell with me, and now I kind of wonder, as I see a million French people marching in the streets with their "Je Suis Charlie Hebdo" signs, where they had been before the attack.

What I remembered was that a few years back, then-French President Jacques Chirac was terribly critical of the magazine for having reprinted those famous Danish cartoons deemed anti-Muslim.  Now, France doesn't exactly have a sterling record of freedom of speech -- it is actually against the law there to deny the Holocaust, and plenty of francs have been paid in fines by its citizens for saying offensive things about one group or another.

That is how I remembered Charlie Hebdo, and a little searching of past newspapers helped me recall how vigorously the French government had tried to bring it down, and prosecute the magazine, and how hard they had tried to use the absurd anti-insult and anti-free-speech laws of this supposed free country -- to close the same Charlie Hebdo it now tries to defend.

I could point you to dozens of articles of past years documenting the efforts of the Chirac and, now, the Hollande administrations to shut off free speech by using the courts to close Charlie Hebdo for good.  Now, I don't even know if anyone is left at the magazine to publish again.  I know that they're saying things about actually printing their next issue on time, and certainly the world hopes that it can.

But I can't help thinking that whoever those people are, who are left at Charlie Hebdo to show up to work and produce that next issue, they must have looked out at the million Frenchmen who now take the time to get off their French butts and claim loyalty to all that Charlie Hebdo represents and, on looking at the million, said the French equivalent of "Oui, glad you're out there now, but where the %*(#$ were you when Chirac and Hollande tried to prosecute us?"

And I truly hope that when (and if) the next issue appears, their most biting satirical pen points out the irony of Hollande standing strong with the leaders of the free world claiming that he, too, "is Charlie Hebdo", after his government kept trying to silence it.

Oh yeah, not all the leaders of the free world were there.  Obama had two football games to watch.  Maybe he read a translation of Charlie Hebdo at halftime.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Monday, January 12, 2015

Educational TANSTAAFL

Surprise, surprise.  This week our president came out with his latest proposal to provide himself with a shred of relevance as his second term devolves into blissful nothingness.  This latest venture into European-style socialism is to propose that the Government -- and by that we always mean the taxpayer -- should provide a two-year junior college education to everyone, paying their tuition.

Naturally, Obama's presentation was rife with allusions to "investment" in our youth, and reminding us how badly education is needed and how much it makes us better as a country.

What it lacked were two things:
(1) The legal (i.e., constitutional) grounding that justifies the Federal Government doing anything whatsoever regarding education; Federal payment for tuition logically opens the door to determination of what schools are allowed to teach when they start being paid for by the Government (meaning, the taxpayer)
(2) The economic rationale for borrowing $60 billion over the next ten years from China to pay for it -- since we don't take in enough to pay for $600-700 billion of our current spending each year, the Government would have to borrow it (China is our biggest creditor) and we taxpayers, and our children and grandchildren, would have to pay both principal and interest

Look, you and I both know that this proposal is going nowhere.  The incoming Congress is sufficiently economically sensible that a new spending program like this isn't getting out of committee.  But is this what Obama is going to keep coming up with for the remainder of his term?  Last-gasp socialistic programs to give his many allies in the media and his few allies in Congress something to talk about, lest we forget who lives in the White House?

I just find it really depressing that we have gotten so cavalier about being $18 trillion (with a "T") in debt as a nation that these programs can be tossed out with impunity without the press asking critically about where the invoice for them goes -- and let there be no doubt -- it goes to you and me.

It is depressing that people think that it is appropriate to apportion the cost of voluntary activities like college enrollment to the population as a whole, much as the cost of maternity care has been apportioned to people like me, who have already paid for our own children -- well over thirty years since -- through the abomination of Obamacare.  That is the very definition of socialism.

Back we need to go, to a concept of personal responsibility.  If you want college, then pay for it.  If you choose to take on debt to do so, then plan it, and plan how you will pay it back to those who find you an adequate risk.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch -- TANSTAAFL, as we learned many years ago.  In the case of this absurd proposal, the price -- more debt to the Chinese, more potential Federal intrusion into college course content, less personal responsibility -- is huge, beyond money.  We must not only prevent this from happening, we must explain to the American people in detail why it is a bad idea.

Now it's time for lunch which, by the way, I have indeed paid for.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Great Inscrutable, Untouched Satans

Amid the vast forest, we sometimes get so lost in looking at a tree here or a tree there, that we fail to grasp the grandeur -- or see the point.

We doubtlessly see the reality of Islamic terrorism in the West.  The examples are numerous, both of success and failure -- the first World Trade Center bombing, the USS Cole, the 9/11 attacks, subway threats, murders like those in France this week and in Australia recently, and ISIS beheadings; Lord only knows how many such incidents have been averted, by chance or by the billions in anti-terrorist defense we are forced to employ.

Each such incident draws our focus to the incident itself, though, and away from the "forest."  We look at the terrorists themselves, their names, their countries, their families.  Are they part of ISIS, or maybe Hamas or Al Qaeda?  And the deeper we try to get inside them, the further the media get away from the fundamental question.

If they're murdering people because they are not Muslim, then why aren't they killing people in China?  Why aren't the Chinese spending huge sums on defending their homeland against Muslim terrorists?  For that matter, why aren't the terrorists attacking or even threatening Latin America (mostly Catholic) or Japan (mostly Shinto practices) or many other nations where Islam is mostly absent and the population would therefore be considered "infidels"?

That's the forest question.  And here is the forest answer -- because they don't really fear the USA, and they're scared to death of the Chinese.  Doesn't that make a lot more sense?  The Chinese are just as much infidels as Americans are, a tad worse because there are about 2.1% Muslims in the USA, most of which presumably don't subscribe to terror, while only about 1.5% of the population in China is Muslim.

But there has not been a 9/11 in China, and don't expect one any time soon.  Because for all we spend to prevent terror attacks, and believe me, we're really good at preventing them, the terrorists do not fear retribution from us (and certainly not those manly French).  They can sit back and laugh as Obama tries to make nice with them, by leaking a stream of murderers from Guantanamo back to their homelands, and refusing to call anyone a "terrorist", and saying wonderful things about Islam.  They laugh, then they kill, because they know that we won't stop them as long as Obama is in charge, and Obama-lites like Hollande in France are out there as well.

Can you imagine what would happen if some terrorist set off a bomb in Shanghai or Beijing?  I guarantee you that half of Syria would be blown off the map.  The Chinese leaders wouldn't take a poll first to see what their people thought, because they don't care.  That's called generating fear, and that's why the "infidels" in China aren't getting bombed any time soon.

Evil is evil.  You cannot play nice-nice with these terrorists and their organizations, and if ever you wonder what we should do to stop them -- and we had the chance with ISIS -- then just ask yourself WWCD (what would China do), not so much as a reflection on China, but as a reflection of what the terrorists do and don't do, whom they attack and don't attack -- and why.

That's all you need to know.  Fear is a weapon, and if we don't use it, we lose.  And those inscrutable infidels in China are watching us, too.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton    

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Rose that Doesn't Bloom

Yesterday, in discussing the morality of the Baseball Hall of Fame voters, and why I would vote to admit the two presumed PED users, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, I wrote the following:

"I rather imagine that a Hall of Fame without Bonds and Clemens is essentially denying their existence as top-five or top-ten greatest players ever."

I always take time to read, re-read and edit the heck out of these pieces before publishing them, and during that process, the thought kept coming to me: How do you write that sentence and not mention Pete Rose?

And that, friends, is why we have columns on baseball on consecutive days.

Rose, of course, is the former player who holds the Major League record for most base hits all-time, played for a very long time, including on several championship teams, was nicknamed "Charlie Hustle" for his aggressive play and approach.  He is also the guy who, as a manager, was suspended from baseball (and thus made ineligible for the Hall of Fame) for betting on games in which his own team played -- betting on them to win, it can be noted.

In the Rose v. Clemens/Bonds debate, there is less of an ethical quandary here than may appear on the surface.  The BBWAA has no choice in the matter for a couple reasons.  First, Rose was suspended (and therefore ineligible to be inducted) for the 15 years the rules at the time allowed for the voters to vote for him.  So the BBWAA couldn't elect him and cannot now take up his case anyway. 

Second, the Veterans' Committee, which in fact could take up the Rose case after the 15 years have expired and some other period has come and gone, can't induct him either, because of his suspension from the game.  So ethics aside, it is the rules that keep Rose out (as long as he is suspended), while Bonds and Clemens could be voted in at any time until their eligibility, which by rule is now ten total years, ends.

OK, that allows me to write yesterday's column and not mention Rose -- he's not eligible until and unless the Commissioner unsuspends him, and then would still have to be taken up by the Veterans' Committee because he is past the eligibility time to be voted on by the BBWAA.

That's when ethics come back in -- do you vote for a guy who was suspended from baseball for however-many years for gambling on his own team?  In fact, should he be unsuspended in the first place?

Yes and yes.  The first one is easier.  Rose was a Hall of Fame-caliber player for pretty much all of the playing reasons one could choose to provide; Rookie of the Year, one MVP and five top-5 MVP seasons, 17-time All-Star; all these suggest that he was thought to be of Hall quality in his playing time.  Clearly his career, in and of itself, demands the vote.  The character clause certainly compromises it, though, and were a voter to decide not to vote for that reason, well, a few decades under suspension might be interpreted as presenting enough of a character argument that I wouldn't argue the point -- except to trot out the same "denying history" argument I made for Bonds and Clemens yesterday.

The second question is waaaaay harder -- i.e., should the new Commissioner, Rob Manfred, lift the suspension, and thus reinstate his eligibility to be voted on?  That one is so much harder.  It takes into account some very conflicting points of history and ethical shavings:

(1) He bet on his own team to win (as opposed to throwing games, like the eight Black Sox in 1919)
(2) Betting was a known no-no at the highest level of offense, and drew known, lifetime suspensions
(3) Rose was far from up-front about what he did and did not do as far as gambling, for years
(4) Rose has been suspended for 25 years.  Given (1), and the fact that at 74 he has no more role in baseball other than a ceremonial one, it could be considered "long enough".

I do think a 25-year suspension satisfies our appetite for punishment and revenge, separate from Rose's eligibility for the Hall of Fame, which is a separate matter.  Manfred holds the cards as far as the suspension, the Veterans' Committee holds the cards as to his enshrinement in the Hall, and they can't even talk about acting until the suspension is lifted.

Bonds and Clemens, who could be enshrined in the Hall of Fame any January the voters choose, are about one set of arguments.  Rose, who by rule cannot, is a completely different set of arguments.

You have to love how baseball, of all things, gives us ethical points to debate that are meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but help us plumb the depths of our own morality.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Waiting to Get In

A few minutes ago, the National Hall of Fame and Baseball Museum announced its class of new Hall of Fame members, as voted on by the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).  Congratulations to the new members, including three pitchers, the eleven-foot-tall lefty Randy Johnson, the much-less-tall Pedro Martinez, the starter-cum-reliever John Smoltz, and the guy who started for long stretches as a catcher, second baseman and centerfielder, Craig Biggio.  You all belong there and will do honor to the institution.

Sitting on the outside include a couple guys who each garnered maybe 35% or so of the vote, with 75% needed to gain election.  You might have heard of them -- an outfielder named Barry Bonds, and a pitcher named Roger Clemens.  In their own space, Bonds and Clemens were in the top ten of players ever, and Bonds easily in the top five hitters as well as a good baserunner and almost always an above-average defensive player. 

They are, however, sitting quite unhappily on the outside of the Hall, looking in, and we all know why that's the case -- we are compellingly persuaded, at least the BBWAA is, that each was a user of performance-enhancing drugs through a significant part of his career, and in the morality of the press, that constitutes "cheating" and therefore renders them ineligible for election.

There are not many, and probably not any remaining arguments that have not already been used either to justify their enshrinement or their disqualification from the Hall of Fame.  You've heard them all if you've read this far -- one side claims that the numbers are what they are regardless of what drugs they took, and that they were already Hall-worthy before they started taking PEDs, and that there's really no proof or test that says they did, and that for a time it wasn't really against MLB rules, and that there are guys already in the Hall who did worse, like drunks and wife-beaters and greenie-poppers and, of course, racists (always the worst).

The other side reminds us that cheating is cheating, and that the numbers were inflated because of bodies built beyond God's design, and there's a character clause in the Hall election guidelines, and, well, they cheated.

I don't have a vote.  You have to be a member of the BBWAA for ten years before you get to vote, and I'm not even a member and have not covered baseball for a newspaper since writing columns covering the Jackson High baseball team back in 1967.  But that doesn't prevent me from having an opinion, in this case blissfully removed from political convention -- I don't even know if more liberals or more conservatives feel one way or another about Bonds and Clemens, and I don't care.

If I had a vote, though, I put both of them in.  Aside from what anyone might say to advocate one side or the other, I rather imagine that a Hall of Fame without Bonds and Clemens is essentially denying their existence as top-five or top-ten greatest players ever.  I think that in 100 years, it will be looked back on as a strange denial to have left them out, given their incomparable performances.  I think that their performance on the field will be remembered as being immensely worthy of the Hall and, given that, I say "Put them in."

I also say, "Remember what they did."  It is not the same as putting the proverbial asterisk on their plaques, because their field performance and their PED use will both be remembered, and the former will be qualified in our minds because of the latter.  But to omit them from the Hall is less rational than to include them, because they were indeed great, and their PED use will be remembered right along with them, an emotional asterisk.

As, of course, it should be.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Polygamy As Guilty Pleasure

OK, maybe not polygamy but watching polygamy.  Maybe that's not the right term either; I don't really mean watching people practice polygamy, except that's exactly what it is.  And it is certainly a mind-altering thing to do.

My wife and I watch an interesting set of shows, mostly taped and watched the next day or so to avoid commercials for cars, beer and feminine hygiene products, and to zip through those plaintive and depressing ASPCA ads.  Many, of course, are "reality shows", where people invite camera crews into their lives and expect us to watch.

Apparently, in some cases, they actually do watch.  One such show debuted its sixth or maybe tenth season or so this week; I'm referring to the amazing television show known as "Sister Wives."  If you somehow haven't heard of it, Sister Wives is the reality story of a polygamist family consisting of a man named Kody Brown, his four wives Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn, and maybe 17-18 children; I lost count.  They left Utah a few years ago and now live openly as polygamists, in four houses on a cul-de-sac in Las Vegas.

Note that I didn't say "a family led by" Kody Brown, because although he is the man of the house, and is a strong individual, I would not want to present the image of dominance.  To say that he is the "chairman of a committee" might better portray things, as there is plenty of input from all five in family decisions.  That characteriztion is, of course, necessary, since our general image of polygamy in the USA is colored by knowledge of cultish behavior and abuse by notorious practitioners, such as Warren Jeffs and his crowd.

The Brown household is nothing whatsoever in any way, shape or form like what you expected; more Ozzie and Harriet than Bonnie and Clyde.  Actually, it's more like Ozzie and Harriet and Harriet and Harriet and Harriet.  And that's the appeal to the show.  Twenty times an episode you have to snap yourself out of the scene about one child starting college, or another dating, another dealing with Asberger's, or the wives running their jewelry business, or going to the personal trainer, and remind yourself that this is a polygamous family.

In other words, the only thing about the Browns that is different from what my household was when our kids were between two and twenty, is that there are three more wives (and 15 more kids), and Kody is a lot taller than I am.  And that, friends, is precisely what I think the show is about.  Their faith is presented openly and, polygamy aside, appears not to be different to any concerning degree from Mormon or even mainstream Christian theology. 

The children appear amazingly well-adjusted (normality is hard to fake at that age), and at the same time, both properly disciplined and granted freedom of thought by their many parents (the decision to practice polygamy themselves is very clearly presented as optional).  The eldest child, son Logan, is a student at UNLV and is such a mature, impressive young man that if I had a job opening, I'd hire him no matter what.  The next eldest are daughters also now in college, and you could probably watch them talk for an hour and never guess they are from a plural family.  In fact, the scary inference is that if kids could be raised to be that normal, moral and "together", we ought to be encouraging polygamy.

OK, maybe not. I for one can't imagine how to deal with multiple spouses even if you were raised in the culture. My view of marriage after many decades of it is quite different.  But if this is polygamy -- and given their visits to other such families depicted on the show, it may be a lot more representative of the culture than the cultish stories are -- then the Browns have succeeded in opening our eyes to acceptance and tolerance of their choices in life.

Not all will be as accepting, and that's fine.  But if welcoming the Browns is an example of practicing the tolerance that the left demands of us, then fine; let me start by tolerating their family choices.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Monday, January 5, 2015

Devaluing the Racism Sin

As if it seems possible at all to stop writing about Al Sharpton, here comes another new grenade lobbed into the discussion.  The New York Post this week published a piece detailing Sharpton's record of shaking down a large roster of companies, from Pepsi (from whom he was paid a $25,000 a year retainer as an "adviser") to McDonalds, car companies, you name it.

What service did they get from the good "reverend" for their money?  Well, according to the article, in exchange for direct payments or donations to his National Action Network, these companies receive the right not to be called racists by Sharpton.  Seriously.

So if this is all true, and the money trail certainly suggests so, then along with bigot, tax cheat, inciter of riots and liar, we can now add "extortionist" to the lengthening list of offenses and unpleasant characterizations -- to a man who has made dozens of visits to the White House and is a close, unapologetic confidant of this president, who is himself similarly unapologetic about having a bigot, tax cheat, inciter of riots, liar and extortionist as his crony.

Worse, however, is the unintended consequence of Sharpton's actions on race relations in the USA.  Of course, he has severely damaged race relations in the USA just by being himself, but this exposure makes things even worse, in ways no one is thinking.

The best analogy is tokenism -- the unintended consequence of affirmative action programs, where black students admitted to colleges with quotas, or black applicants hired for jobs, have to fight the perception that they were admitted or hired, not for their ability and qualifications, but their skin color.

I've never felt racism to be nearly the worst of sins, but how, we must ask, can anyone ever again be accused of racism, if the accusation can be bought and sold by a race hustler?  How can Sharpton, or Jesse Jackson or any of the racism industry try to hurl a corporate, or even individual accusation now, when the accused can turn around and point to the accuser as an extortionist, and completely defuse, if not dismantle, the threat?

Eventually Sharpton will get shut down for good, the weight of his offenses and diseased credibility finally trumping his association with Barack Obama, Bill de Blasio and others who protect him, and unable to prevent the IRS or some other authority from slamming the door on him for a long time.  But until then, he has had one weapon removed from his arsenal, because his capacity to claim that anyone is a racist has been shown not to be of content, but of compensation.

This is a bad one, Big Al.  I'm sure you don't care as long as you get paid, but at some point you will realize who and what you are.  And today we can add "extortionist" to the list.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Friday, January 2, 2015

Accountability? I Don't Think So

Oh, geez.  So today Eugene Robinson goes off about the non-issue involving Steve Scalise.  Scalise, as you know, is the House Majority Whip, a congressman from Louisiana who apparently spoke before a group of white separatists formed by David Duke -- in 2002.  Since Scalise is not a member of the group, and apparently wasn't convinced to join -- he was the one speaking, after all -- it isn't clear what the big deal is. 

But that didn't stop Robinson from going on his high horse.  In his column attempting to associate Scalise's speech (which no one claims had anything to do with the organization in front of which it was given) with Republicans nationwide, he wrote the fascinating line, "We hold officials accountable for what they say and do."

Well, Mr. Robinson, the heck we do. 

You yourself, Mr. Robinson, wrote a piece a few years back about a Democrat, a fellow who did far worse on your moral scale than to speak before a group of white supremacists -- he was one.  He was a member of the KKK, later a Senator and long-time Senate Majority Leader.  Fellow name of Robert Byrd (D-WV).  Of course, you wrote about his "redemption" and how much he had "changed."

Funny how you didn't afford Mr. Scalise the opportunity to claim redemption or change, for an event of 12 years ago that neither you, nor we, even know his connection to.  But no, not only did you hang him, and assume him to be a racist of some kind; you tarred the entire 2015 Republican membership with the "R" word, based on an unclear act 13 years since.

Mr. Robinson, I am a Republican (though a conservative more than a party member), and I am far, far less racist than the man who until his death in 2010 was the Democratic leader of the Senate!  I'm sorry, Mr. Robinson, but if you're the one throwing the race card around -- and I hardly think racism to be the capital offense you do -- you'd better save your "advice" for your own party and your own tribe. 

Because there's also this fellow name of Sharpton spending an awful lot of time in the White House advising the president, considering he is avowed racist, anti-Semite, tax evader (I rate that as worse than racist, by the way) and riot inciter.

I think your next column about his racist tendencies will be your first, eh, Gene?

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton

Thursday, January 1, 2015

You Can Please Some of the People ...

Today, the first day of 2015, is the first day of a new playoff system designed to prevent the past complaints about who the true college football champion is or should be.  As you know, two games today will see the four teams selected as the best representatives of college football, with the two winners meeting, I don't know, probably next weekend.  Admittedly, since players started leaving for the NFL a week after their freshman season, it has gotten hard to get that excited about college football (save the Army-Navy game I have watched religiously since long before the time of Rollie Stichweh).

To be candid, I had a little trouble with the arbitrary nature of the old system, both before and after the adopting of the BCS standings method.  I used to room with an Arizona State grad in the 1970s, and remember maybe 1975 that the good ol' Sun Devils had a perfect season and didn't get votes as the #1 team and the National Champion.  It seemed so, well, wrong.

So even in this first year of playoffs, when four teams are selected by some committee (I think Condi Rice is on that committee, and I'm not joking), there is already complaint that someone's alma mater didn't even get into the playoffs.  Now, my alma mater actually did make the playoffs, albeit the Division III playoffs, otherwise known as the "colleges no one ever heard of" playoffs.  M.I.T. actually won its first round, before getting obliterated by a school I have already forgotten the name of that, which started with a "W", I think.

But I digress.  Here's the thing.  The National Championship should go to the best college team in the country for the year.  Which of 2-3 teams is actually best may be at issue; by the time you get to #4 or #5 you're talking more about whether teams should be in the playoffs, but you're not talking about whether they're best -- because they're not.

Major League Baseball does not try to insist that its World Series champ is the best team that year; just that it made it through the playoffs and survived to hoist the trophy.  I don't know about you, but that's not how I see college football.  I want it to be the best team.

So I don't want to hear that old Siwash U. deserves to be in the playoffs; I want to hear that either they are the best team already, and here's why, or don't bother.  If the committee didn't see fit to rank a team as even fourth, then we can be pretty sure that, even though there's always the possibility that they could win the two playoff games if they had gotten in, that they weren't the season's best team consistently enough to be there.

We're going to have four teams every year.  We know that there aren't exactly four legitimate contenders each year; in fact, there are usually not as many as four.  So most years, there will already be a team or two that doesn't belong there -- perhaps Oregon this year; I doubt anyone not embarrassed by all-green uniforms thinks Oregon is a better team than, say, Ohio State this year (in which case they have no business being national champions), even though they will probably beat Florida State tonight.

I do think that there are years in which more than one team can legitimately claim to be the best, so yes, a playoff makes sense.  I do distinguish between "the best" and "the one who survived the playoffs", which is why I would never want to go past four teams.

Some will be upset that their team didn't get in.  Some will be upset that a particular team did get in and theirs didn't.  Some will be upset because their team is so obviously the best that no playoffs are needed.  Some (like me) will be upset that players on the field actually will graduate from these schools without the ability to create an English sentence.

We'll need ten years to validate it, but I'm really sure that four is the right number, since two isn't always enough and eight is way too many.  No one will be completely happy, and that probably means it will work.

Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton